“WHAT HAPPENED THEN?” DIANA asked. “I mean, it’s obvious that you survived.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m still kicking.”
We still sat in the squad car which was now parked in front of Police Headquarters.
“So you’ve never found out who you were before that day?”
“I’ve learned a little,” I said. “I was Norman Oklahoma before that day, I know that much. I fought monsters, I know that too. In fact, that green band I wore signified a special unit in the Union Army. We were monster fighters, though we had a few of them on our side. The problem was that the Confederates had more than their share fighting for them.”
“Who was Faraday?”
“Vampire,” I said. “And an old one to boot.”
“So what happened? You kill him?”
“No,” I said. “There’s really not that much to tell. I escaped, settled here in Eudora, and I’ve been fighting monsters ever since.”
Diana was bright enough to see that there was more to the story, more that I didn’t feel like talking about. She was also bright enough to let it drop.
“Help me in?” She asked.
“Of course,” I said.
“What’s your next move?” She asked as I helped her up the steps.
“I have sources,” I said.
“Sources? Like monster sources?”
“Yeah. Most anything of that variety that happens here they know about it. I’ll see if they can point me in the right direction. Otherwise I’ll head back to Frank’s for the tracking potion. I mean, I have to do something,” I said. “I ain’t fond of waiting.”
“You’ll fill me in?” She asked.
“You know it.”
“So, where you going then?” She asked. “Where does one go to get information on the monster world?”
“The bank,” I said.
Once upon a time, in the small town of Eudora, Kansas, on the Northwest corner of Eighth and Main, there stood a bank.
Chapman’s Bank of Eudora had been family owned since 1857. It had been the only bank in town until the Eudora Savings and Loan went up right across the street back in ‘64.
Five years ago, Ben Chapman moved the bank to a new lot on the south end of town out near the highway. The move made sense considering the town had begun expanding in that direction. New housing, new businesses. It was all happening out where you entered and exited State Highway Ten.
When Chapman’s Bank made the announcement that they were going to move, twenty-two year old Nicky Spencer, fresh out of college, bought the building that the Chapman Bank was due to exit. Once the move had been complete, she converted the old Chapman Bank building into a comic book store.
She did little in the way of remodeling, preferring to stick with whole bank motif. All high end books were kept in the cage behind the counter, the even more rare and expensive in the vault.
Nicky even kept the drive up window service so that customers with a weekly pull subscription could swing by each week and pick up their comics without leaving their car. It didn’t get utilized much. Most die-hard collectors and even just general fans of comics preferred to come inside to browse all the new releases and talk shop with fellow customers. The window did come in handy, however, on rainy days.
The Comic Bank is what she called her store, and it was quite famous among the comic community around the country. Readers from as far as Topeka and Kansas City made the trek in each week just to pick up books. This level of popularity was due partly to the idea of turning a bank into a comic store, and many first time customers showed up just to see it. But most stayed because Nicky ran a clean and friendly establishment that made everyone feel like they belonged. Plus, she’d converted two of the back three offices into one big gaming room. On Saturdays she’d have gaming tournaments featuring all types of games: Role playing, collectible card, and table top.
But what really kept the Comic Bank afloat and paid all the bills when many readers were switching to digital comics was the Basement. Yeah, that’s with a capital B.
When the building was still the home of the Chapman Bank of Eudora, the basement held the book keeping staff. Now, as the Comic Bank, the Basement was used, as far as most folks were concerned, for storage. For those few of us in the life, however, the Basement was the place to go if you needed to purchase various magical items, spell components, and other assorted objects linked to the occult.
It was also a great place to get information.
When I entered the Comic Bank, I found Nicky in her usual spot: Behind the counter, sitting on a stool, and reading a comic.
She rose as I entered, which only reminded me how incredibly intimidating a figure she was. She was nearly seven feet tall with muscles like one of them ladies of professional wrestling. And she moved like a tiger on the hunt. She was grace with a hint of danger, a coiled spring ready to strike.
But it wasn’t her size or the way she carried herself that made her stand out in a crowd.
She had ebony skin, green eyes, and flaming red hair that reached the small of her back. She was, not to put too fine a point on it, a rather striking woman.
“Norman,” she said as I approached the counter. “That’s twice you’ve been in my shop this week. I feel honored.”
“I’m afraid this ain’t no social call, Nicky. I’m in need of some info if you got it.”
I’d been in earlier in the week to pick up my new books. I’d been reading comics since the Second World War. Back then we read a comic, then tossed it. Usually donating the paper toward the war effort. It’s still how I read books today. I hold no truck with this whole collecting nonsense. Of course, I don’t go around telling folks that. Not around here, anyway. If these people found out I was dumping books off at the recycling center they’d probably string me up.
“Ask away and if I got the info, it’s yours,” Nicky said.
About that time the front door dinged open and two young fellas walked in. They were loud and laughing and just being generally obnoxious. Typical young people behavior. I ignored them as they crossed over to the new release books.
“What do you know about a religious cult called The Brotherhood of Minos?”
“Not much. They worship a deity they call Asterion, refer to him as the Bull God. Other than that, they don’t have much of a presence. I would classify them as Mostly Harmless.”
“I have reason to believe that they may have abducted a girl,” I said.
“Maggie Keaton? I’d heard about that. Such a shame. But the Brotherhood of Minos? They hand out pamphlets at high school football games. They don’t kidnap people.”
“I have it on good authority that they have,” I said.
Then she glanced over at the two fellas over by the new releases. Each had a comic in hand, the covers folded back.
“Gentleman,” Nicky said in a voice they could both hear. “We don’t treat our books that way here. If you are going to read, please handle the books carefully.”
The two fellas each gave her a nod and held the books in both hands, cradling them gingerly, almost sarcastically. Then they looked at each other and laughed.
“Anyway,” I said. “Oz is brewing up a tracking potion now, but that’s gonna take a few hours.”
“A potion?” she said. “What’s he using?”
“We got a lock of her hair.”
“Then what’s he wasting time with a potion for. He could cast a tracking spell that will lead you right to her.”
“He tried that,” I said. “It didn’t end well.”
I told her about the goblins. Then I told her about the ogres.
“Goblins and ogres,” she said. “Whoever’s running the Brotherhood out here has some pull.”
“Yeah, more than I’d like. Anyway, while I waited for Oz, I figured I’d beat the bushes a bit. Thought maybe I could get to her a mite quicker.”
She thought for a moment.
“Damn, Norman,” she said, finally. “There are over a dozen places I can think of just off the top of my head. And that’s here in town. They could be in Desoto, Baldwin, McLouth, Gardner, Lecompton. Heck, they could be set up in KC for all we know.”
“What about Harold?” I asked. “He in?”
“He’s running the counter down in the Basement,” she said. “But he’s not going to know much more than me. We were talking about the kidnapping earlier.”
“Yeah, but that was before you knew it was the Brotherhood. Maybe he’s heard something about them specifically.”
“If he had, he would have told me.”
“Yeah, maybe I’ll go down and talk to him anyway.”
“Be my guest,” she said. “I hope he has something more to offer than—” she stopped talking. Her eyes glued on the two fellas standing by the new releases again.
As before, they were reading books with the covers folded back.
“Excuse me,” she said.
She strode out from behind the counter and stalked toward the two fellas. Engrossed as they were in each other’s comics, all of their attention put towards pointing out images in each book to each other and then giggling like a couple of little boys, they hadn’t noticed that doom was descending down upon them.
“Gentleman,” Nicky said in a low, calm voice.
The two looked up. Nicky towered over them.
She bent slightly and smiled, showing teeth that gleamed like the arctic snow.
“You’ll both be wanting to place those two comics back on the racks as gently as possible before I fold the both of you in half as a tribute to the way you are treating my books.”
The two guys could only gape.
“Furthermore, you will both leave my store, never to return. If I see the two of you in here again, I’ll reach my hand,” she held out her right hand. It ended in long, blood-red nails, “down each of your throats, pull out your lungs, and show them to you. We on the same page here, boys?
The two fellas dropped their books to the floor and ran from the store as fast as a pair of Olympic sprinters. One of them had tears streaming from his eyes.
“What’s all this commotion?” A dwarf had come up the stairs from the Basement, and stood glowering up at us.
By dwarf I mean just that. Like what you might read about in a fantasy novel. He stood at a little under four feet, had a beard of black that he’d tucked into his belt, and would have looked more at home in a horned helmet and chain mail then the t-shirt, jeans, and trucker’s cap.
“What commotion?” Nicky asked, laughing. “I was just throwing out a couple of kids. I didn’t even raise my voice.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” The dwarf asked, turning to me.
“Harold,” I said, tipping my hat. “What can you tell me about the Brotherhood of Minos?”
“The Brotherhood?” Harold scowled. But then, he always scowled. Then his eyes widened and they looked from me to Nicky then back to me. “The Brotherhood. Damn, I’d forgotten that they’ve been lurking about. They must be the ones took that girl last night. Makes sense, what with the Fall Equinox and all.”
“Fall Equinox?” I said.
“You know,” Harold said. “For someone who’s been hunting monsters for over a century you think you’d know a thing or two.”
I didn’t respond.
“Fine,” Harold said. “The Brotherhood of Minos isn’t new. They have roots that go back to ancient Greece. Like Zeus and Hera and all that, right?”
“Okay,” I said.
“Well, they haven’t had much of a presence the last few hundred years but back in the day they spent a lot of time killing a lot of people. Fourteen every year to be exact. Seven boys, seven girls. Sacrifices to the so-called Bull God.”
“Fourteen?” I said. “But Maggie is the only disappearance that’s been reported.”
“From what I recall, this would go on for fourteen nights. And it starts the night of the Fall Equinox, midnight to be exact. First a girl, then a boy, then a girl and so on.”
“So they may be thinking of taking someone else?” Nicky said.
“Any idea where they might be setting up shop?” I asked
“Hell, I don’t know,” Harold said. “They could be holed up in your bedroom for all I know.”
That, for some reason, made him laugh. Then he turned his back on us and tromped back down into the basement.
“Thanks, Harold,” I said, a smile in my voice. “You were a big help.”
“You’ll figure it out, Norman,” Harold called back. “You’re a big boy.”
“Wait, Harold,” I jogged over to the stairs. “One of these guys from the Brotherhood is a wizard.”
“So?” Harold said.
“So, you got anything down there that might help me in some fashion tonight?” I asked.
Harold thought about it for a moment.
“What about the knuckles?” Nicky said. “They’d come in handy.”
“Yeah,” Harold said. “They surely would.” Then he looked up at me. “You’d have to get in close to the guy.”
“I try not to get too close if I have my way,” I said “It’s why I carry guns. But I can get in there if I need to.”
“Then come on down,” Harold said. “I have just what you need.”
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