matapam (pamuphoff) wrote,

_Alignment_ part 9

Chapter Eleven Fired

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Waning Half Moon

Earth, Jupiter and Saturn 13*

"You ought to move in here. There's no rush to sell the house, you know?"

"I have a job." Del broke off when her phone beeped. "Hello?"

"Del . . . "

Oh hell. Her boss.

"The company has been purchased by XKZ Financials. We've all been fired."

"Well . . . Hardly unexpected. But . . . everyone?"

"Yes. They're closing the office as fast as they can. They don't want to renew the lease next month." The poor man sounded a bit lost. Stunned. "And their running cheap. Two weeks separation, one week's pay for every year worked for the company. And vacation, which . . ."

"I've already used, and some sick days as well."

"I'll have Marti box up all the stuff in your office. Where do you want it shipped? And your last check, too."

Straight to Hell?

"Send it here." She reeled off the address, and clicked off. Looked over at her sister. "Well. I had a job. We've been bought out—for our contracts, not our skills. Everyone's been fired."

"Yipee!" Prissy jumped up and threw her arms around her. "You're going to stay!"

Del blinked back sudden tears. Prissy actually cares? She looked around the decrepit house. "For a while. I mean, here I am on the outskirts of the Silicon Valley sprawl. I might as well job hunt here, first."

And I can look into these weird . . . occurrences.

If I dare.

Chapter Twelve Bikers arrested

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Waning Crescent

Earth, Jupiter and Saturn 7*

Renaldo Silva came home late Sunday night, and brought three dozen friends along. The Harleys broke the quiet of the night as they revved their engines and roared up and down the town streets. The PD started getting complaints about eleven about the noise. About the 'Hell's Angels' and the black leather and chains. Then they started getting calls from people who recognized Renaldo.

"That's not good." Hugh looked over at the Chief. "Who lives in that house, now? The Wickersons?"

"Yeah. They called. They went over their back fence to the neighbors on the next street. Said they were going over to Gina's sister's house for the night." The Chief paced with his shoulders humped. "I don't know which way to play it. Cool, and maybe they'll just go someplace more fun. Or a show of force might persuade them to leave."

Hugh could hear, even through the closed doors and windows, the swarms of car alarms going off about half a mile away. "They're just riding around kicking parked cars, so far."

The Chief nodded. "I'm going to let the Sheriff know we got a situation, CHP as well, I suppose. But I'm not asking for help yet. Not until they do something serious enough to arrest them. Reynaldo thinks warnings are just a sign he's headed in the right direction."

Hugh nodded. He'd had his own encounters with Renaldo before he'd joined the police force. The oldest of his two younger brothers had palled around with Renaldo, and Hugh, with legal custody of both his brothers had been hard put to limit the damage. At least he'd gotten Matt off to college, while Renaldo had joined a biker gang, dealt drugs, and gone to prison. His family had moved away, but apparently Renaldo was feeling nostalgic. "I really wish it was some other police force that had put him in prison." Hugh opened the front door and listened. Motor cycles and car alarms. No screams, or crashing or breaking noises.

"Yeah, that was some night." The Chief shook his head. "Not that it was a record heroin bust, but it was a record for Reilly Creek. For me. Damned lenient judges. Back out after three years, and right back with his motorcycle buddies." He stalked back to his office and started phoning a warning to the other police forces around.

And perhaps the Chief's plan was working. The motorcycles left the residential streets and buzzed around the business district, circled the block containing the PD, City Hall and Courthouse, and finally headed south and out of town.

"Should I follow them?" George Lane was nearing retirement age. But he'd married late and had young kids, and was determined to put them through college before he actually retired.

Hugh sighed. The twelve man (and woman) police force had three closing in on retirement, including one of the four women. Actually the Chief was getting on in years, too. And the oldsters and the women could act as macho as they wanted, but Hugh wished there were a dozen young men, not five, for jobs like this could have been. Could still be if the bikers turned around. The pace Reilly Creek is growing, we need more people, period.

"No. I don't want any provocation." The Chief snorted. "Damned courts have us all playing safe and acting like wussies."

They all jerked around at the distant sound of a siren. The Chief cursed and stuck his head in the communications room.

"One of the Sheriff's deputies is calling for backup." Francine's voice carried to Hugh and George.

They grabbed keys and headed for the lot at the back.

Hugh was first out, the Chief jumped in with George and they were right on his tail. Francine would call the others . . .

The first intersection out of town was hosting a small scale riot. Hugh and George blocked the road to the north, keeping their lights on the action. The bikers advanced, clubs, no, bottles in hand as they stepped out of the cars. The bikers were just drunk enough to be uninhibited and unpredictable. They thumped their beer bottles on the Sheriff's car in the middle of the intersection and managed to break enough of the bottles to be dangerous.

More deputies drove up and blocked the intersection to the south. To the east, the cross street was a dead end. A Highway patrol car braked to a stop on the west side of the confrontation.

Hugh stepped out of his cruiser. “Now, you lot have had a bit of fun, making noise and scaring people. But you really don’t want any serious jail time, do you?” And suddenly the bikers were backing down a bit, the broken bottles discarded . . .

They managed to arrest the whole thirty-six of them on a variety of DUI and D&D charges without even a wrestling match. There was plenty of verbal abuse, and some of the women were poisonous enough to be scarier than the men. All the cars were needed to haul off the warm bodies, and Earnie's Tow showed with a flat bed trailer to remove the two dozen hogs. There was an impoundment lot behind the Sheriff's shiny new jail, which was, barely, able to handle the sudden influx of three dozen prisoners. Like almost all such facilities, it was already over its official capacity. There were auxiliary facilities, but they were low security. The now hundred and forty people here were either awaiting trial without bond or required higher security. The bikers should feel right at home.

Hugh overheard the Chief talking to the Sheriff, an old friend-and-rival, thanking him for letting the bikers get out of town before stopping them. The Sheriff glowered, but the bikers were all his.

Chapter Thirteen Hill Attack

Friday, 18 July 2020

Thin Waning Crescent

Earth, Jupiter and Saturn 7*

"Merrick, I heard the horns. You will stay home tonight."

Merrick Pyotrovich Resanov scowled at his father.

"You young bloods are going to cause problems. Worse than the complaints I've already had. One of these nights the peasant you're playing with will turn out to be armed, or have a husband. I can hang him afterwards, but that won't bring you back to life. Tonight you stay home."

"Gregoryi says he's got proof the old woman on the ridge is a witch."

"Gregoryi should be sent off to serve in the Tsar's army for a few years. Then he'll stop talking about killing old women and raping girls. The boy has problems. I do not want you around him so much."

"We're all just bored, dragged up here for the winter. If you wanted winter sports, you should have built your 'Winter home' further up the mountains."

They'd been walking toward the dining room as they spoke, and Merrick's youngest sister heard that last.

Lena was a year his junior, beautiful, and magically talented like the rest of the family, saving only himself. "He actually has a point, for once, in his whining."

Pyotr eyed her grimly. "My Grandfather built this house to show that we occupied the whole of northern California. And to keep an eye on the damned Papists. We will leave in three months for the coast for lumbering and the sea otter harvest." His attention switched back wholly to Merrick. "And you will stay out of trouble."

Merrick grumbled, but sat at his father's left, across from his mother and listened quietly while she repeated the specks of news she'd gleaned from what had probably been hours of gossip with her cronies. Her eyes were a deep, dark blue, like his own, but every time he looked into those eyes, he wondered if she didn't harbor a great deal more power than she ever allowed anyone to see. Was she subtle? Trying to not upstage the husband who was twenty years her senior? More likely, Merrick was simply wrong. As usual.

Lena put in an occasional snippy comment, generally aimed at Merrick. He barely heard them, any more. Sonya, two years his senior and her husband were visiting from the Coast, where Yemelyan was the Boyer's manager. Why she'd ever married the old man, position and money not withstanding, was beyond him. They both ignored him and talked past him to the Boyer. Merrick stayed sitting until the late dinner was done, and walked his father to his chambers before walking on to his. He didn't look back. He knew his father was watching him. The old man was nearly eighty, surely he'd die soon and pass the Tsar's land grant to Merrick. The Spanish held California up to San Francisco Bay. The Tsar claimed everything from there north. Inland, Russia laid claim to the Great Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains. The boundaries between their land and the Spanish to the south, and the British and French claims to the east across the mountains were sufficiently nebulous that only the worthlessness of the dry lands prevented a three or four way war.

In his rooms, Merrick let his servant undress him, and another man brought hot water. He waved them both off then, and once alone, dressed in his loose black trousers, black silk shirt and tall boots. His favorite sword. Not that there was anything special about it. Long, sharp, dark. Associated with the wild runs of these long winter nights.

All the old houses in the books had secret ways. He had to satisfy himself with the servants' stairs and the kitchen door. Yuri was there, with the horse. His father didn't know about the bay stallion. Merrick had bought him as an awkward, undersized late yearling, captivated by the metallic sheen that was the hallmark of pure Akhal Teke desert horses. He paid a farmer to keep him outside the manor. Since his older brother had been killed riding a poorly trained stallion, Father had bought Merrick nothing but mild mannered geldings suitable for a girl.

Fire had outgrown his awkwardness, and matured to a good height. A red bay, leggy and fast. Merrick swung aboard. "Where are we meeting?"

"Other side of the village. The Hag lives a few miles beyond."

"Excellent." He walked the horse until they were well away from the manor house. Then they galloped down to the road and headed for the village. The village had a wall, designed to keep bears and coyotes away from the livestock at night. The local Indians, the Meleks, had been nearly exterminated two centuries ago by a Spanish expedition. Since1806 when his great, great, great grandfather Nikolai had negotiated the treaty with the Spanish Governor of California Alta, the natives had been better treated, but mainly ignored, as they seemed to desire no contact. They had never been dangerous.

Merrick and Yuri circled the village, such as it was. Merrick curled a lip at it. Most of the inhabitants were the descendants of Russian seal and otter hunters and their Aleut and Siskiyou wives from the early years of the Russian-American Company. Hunters still, at least part time. The village was barely self-sufficient in garden vegetables and wheat. When he took his father's place, he was going to dam the river and institute modern agricultural practices, starting with irrigation. And perhaps some enthusiastic farmers. His father frustrated him, doing so little in an area with so much potential. And tonight he was going to take that frustration out on someone who deserved it. Some-one who was said to have the magic that Merrick would give his right arm to possess. Why hadn't he inherited the talent from his parents? They were both talented, weakly, to be sure, but how had it skipped him altogether?

Another frustration the witch would suffer for. His stomach lurched. What am I doing? Am I insane? It's not the fault of some old woman.

Around the village on the far side they walked up the road until more horsemen moved out of the shadows cast by the half moon. They all nodded, all known to each other.

"The hag's on the ridge across from the convent farms. They call her God Touched, and let her stay." Gregoryi's voice in the dark.

"I heard the villagers talking about her, she collects herbs by moonlight, so we should be able to find her while she's away from the Sisters' protection." Pavel sounded eager.

Merrick hid his frown behind the black silk kerchief he pulled up over his lower face. That the Spanish Church had gotten a foothold here before the Tsar was a constant irritation. Since the collapse of the Treaty, the Spanish had gone out of their way to establish missions. Not that any sensible Melek would speak to a Spanish Catholic. But the convent, so close to his manor was a constant reminder that his claim to these lands was weak. And no doubt the Nuns spied for the Spanish Governor. Probably gossiped with the village women to find out what the few pure Russians were doing. If only he could remove the entire convent . . . but tonight a single holy woman would suffice. Perhaps we can just frighten her into going away.

"We'll need to make sure she's not a virgin before we send her to her just reward." Gregoryi turned his horse and headed toward the river.

Merrick’s stomach twisted. What am I doing?


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