The priest and the hag...
Jack looked out the helicopter window and then spoke to the janitor-turned-marine that sat next to him and said, “I thought you said we were going to meet with Colonel Lanier at Nellis. It looks like we are headed over the mountains and into California.”
The marine looked at Jack and said, “There has been a change of plans. Lanier will be meeting up with you in a couple of days.”
Jack felt the old warrior prickles starting to stand up on the back of his neck.
“Then where is it that you are taking us?” he asked, well aware that he was in no position to argue the situation regardless of whatever spidie-senses he may be experiencing.
The marine sat back and…said nothing more.
“Jack, is everything alright?” asked Annie.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “It seems that we are being taken somewhere other than to JD11. I think it’s best if we just go along for now. But, I want you to be ready to move quickly if the need arises.”
Annie closed her eyes for a few moments before opening them and saying, “He is with the Colonel now. They will meet us soon, Jack. There is no need to be alarmed. Everything is going according to His plan.”
“Did he tell you that?” Jack asked, trying to not sound skeptical.
“Of course,” she said before closing her eyes and dropping off into a well needed nap.
He’d arrived in Bucharest the night before; in search of information that only a very specific reliable source could provide. He, and his well-armed escort walked down a narrow side street paved with ancient cobblestones, only two blocks from the city square. They eventually came up on a small café that served cheap food and strong wine to local shadow dwellers. This clientel was typical of the black-market culture whose illegal beat served as the pulse of the ancient city; they were equal parts needed and vilified. Truth be told, without such substrata entrepreneurs, the highly visible free market that bustled and basked openly in the city lights would collapse upon itself.
Those that lived and worked there knew that if you wanted something of substance; something that couldn’t be had elsewhere, you had to go deep beneath the surface. If you went far enough away from the city’s outer sheen, you could get anything.
Tonight, the man in a hooded cloak sought something he knew could only be found in such a place; something very particular that could only be acquired in a particular café, from a particular person, down a narrow street, only two blocks from the lights.
The escort held up a hand indicating they should stop and get a sense of the situation before proceeding. Outsiders were unwelcomed and frequently entered the darkness only to disappear forever from the light. Satisfied that they were not in imminent danger, his escort indicated for his charge to follow him through a heavy door and into the café.
It was dark inside; lit only by small candles on each of the tables scattered about. While no one looked up when he entered, the man had no doubt that he was being closely watched. He didn’t care. He knew that whatever secret brought men like himself here, it was undoubtedly small compared to the secrets the regulars carried with them and they slunk through the night.
“Where is she?” he asked his guide.
The guide nodded towards the barkeep who pointed a wine bottle towards a dark booth on the far side of the room. The man could see a small shape sitting there. Leaving his guide behind, he walked slowly between the tables until he stood next to her.
She was clearly old. Her head was covered with heavily matted grey hair. He couldn’t see her eyes as they were set too far back into her withered skull-like face. Her head turned slowly as she looked up at the newcomer.
In a surprisingly deep and smooth voice, she said, “What do you want, priest.” The last word was spat out with obvious distaste.
He smiled and sat down across from the hag.
“I am seeking the truth.”
She nodded knowingly. With snake-like speed, she reached out and grabbed his wrist in a surprisingly strong grip.
The priest said nothing as she held on tight. After a moment, she began to sway back and forth slightly; her lips silently mouthing perhaps a chant, perhaps nothing but the babble of a mad old woman. The priest looked nervously around to see who else was looking in at the spectacle.
Surprisingly, all heads managed to be pointing elsewhere. The locals knew to keep their noses out of the business of others.
Eventually, the old woman swayed to a stop and her eyes opened. They looked directly into the priest’s eyes. He was taken aback by their newfound youth and evident joy.
“What is it? What have you found?” he asked excitedly.
“He has come…”