"The American cowboy ethic seeped into their board rooms, turning every business deal into a replay of the gunfight at OK Corral." -- James Burke


            "You wanna me d'what?"

            There they were; Cornelius, David, and one of their contacts. They sat around a table in an Andersonville bar, fifty miles from the capital city. Here on Avalon, anything could happen, so it was best to keep some ears to the core so that you knew when it all came down. Now it had. The Cialt Brotherhood had stopped selling drugs. Many factions were moving in on their networks but few were asking why. Now David Depual was asking why.

            "We need a man to pull some CMA duty. Clean-shaven, blend-in, no questions asked." Cornelius was asking the questions; David paid attention. The vampire had been around long enough to know when to speak and when not to. This was scum. His werewolf friend had a better handle on them then he did.

            "CMA? Cover my ass? Look bro, we gotta lot o' wiseguys, but dey ain't... uh, clean-shaven. It's going to cost ya."

            "We'll pay it." Scipio relented. The rather greasy contact smiled like a vulture until the black man added, "However, you're going to have to inform us about Cialt."

            "Da brothers? Who cares?! Der outta da game."

            "We know. Why?"

            "Who knows? I don't."

            "Any Fed trouble?"

            "Hell, no. Der da cleanest rap o' dem all, n'dat's the Word's truth."

            David leaned forward. "How so?"

            The contact snorted. "Dey 'elp out all the vets ya see. When some TI gets home, small pen-shion, no work, da brothers 'elp em out. Crazy holy rollers." The greaseball took another drink. "Fed won't touch em even tho dey know der pushing."

            "I see." Cornelius answered him, taking out his wallet. "Now, how much for your friend's services?"           

            "How long?"

            "Three days."

            "Hmmm... uh, I say five grand."

            "Bullshit, Damon. No one's worth that much."

            "Ya wanna da best, ya pay."

            "With most of it going to you? No deal. Two and a half."

            "Four or my ass don't 'eave to make the call."

            "Three, or your ass doesn't move again." Scipio gave him one of those smiles that makes gargoyles run.

            The contact, Damon, got a little nervous. "Uh, man... three don't cover my x-penses."

            "500 a day for your wiseguy, leaving you to skim off half? Not bad work for a guy who doesn't do any."

            Damon actually looked hurt. "Man, you know dat's not where it's at!"

            "Tomorrow, here, same time." Cornelius pulled out a credit chip, fingered 3,000 credits, thumb-scanned it, then slid it over. "Have him hold a yellow carnation."

            "Vat-grown? Hell, man, dat's going to cost!"

            "Then pay it. Twenty credits won't bankrupt you." Cornelius got up; David followed suit.

            Once past the bar, the two talked freely. The vampire was the first to break the silence. "So, do you think he's telling the truth?"

            "Yes," Scipio replied, "I know it. If Damon doesn't know, then no one does."

            "Then we should go to the source." David replied. Cornelius looked askance at him, not sure what his boss was thinking. "The central abbey. They would certainly know."

            Scipio raised his eyebrows and nodded. "Yes, they will." The werewolf didn't like the idea of walking into a drug headquarters, no matter how saintly the appearence.

            "Then we'll cut to the chase." David smiled, leaving his weary friend rather disturbed.


            The next night, they met up with their gunman ("Charlie," he said) and proceeded to the central abbey. No one stopped them as Charlie led them into the place; the wiseguy dressed as a noviciate. Once they reached the Reverend Father's door, David smiled. "Okay, Charlie," the vampire whispered, "stand guard out here. If anyone comes, act stupid. If they're packnig, shoot 'em in the back."

            "Got it." Charlie nodded.

            Scipio pointed at him. "Knock."

            The ersatz monk knocked, standing back from the door, hand on his weapon. "Dominus?"

            "Gloria in nomine Domine." came the muffled response. Charlie nodded and the other two walked in, Cornelius leading the way. What they entered into was a large office, book-lined walls, and a beaming face behind a polished mahogany desk. The Reverend Father looked like a cross between Father Flanagan and Dirty Harry, and yet he didn't seem surprised to see them. "Gentlemen, please... take a seat."

            Cornelius checked them out first, then they both sat down, the door closing behind them. The scruffy monk looked at them for a moment then smiled. "So, M. Umayyad, of what do I have the honor of your presence?"

            David decided to play it smooth; the Reverend Father was too calm. "Your eminence, my associates and I were curious why our regular shipments to you were stopped. If we can possibly assist you with any troubles..."

            "No, M. Umayyad, the Monastic Order of St. Cialt has no troubles. We simply do not require your services."

            David scrunched his eyebrows in frustration. "Surely your business will suffer without..." 

            "Business, business..." the Reverend Father interrupted, "this was never about business. This was about helping our brothers in need."

            "Your eminence, I'm certain there are STILL brothers in need. You need our services."

            "Christ said, 'the poor will always be with you.' True, however, circumstances have changed that. We have received a rather generous donation..."

            Just then, the door burst open, and a beauteous creation came forward. It was gorgeous woman with long black hair, pale skin, and clearly seen through the black skimpy clothing she wore, a body that launch a thousand ships. However, she was in no mood to be playful. Once she saw the Reverend Father, the vampire started yelling. "A hundred grand you owe me... and DOUBLE the expenses!! Otherwise, maybe the Federation would like to know more about their 'saintly' brethren! Bad business tends to worry the most greased of wheels..."

            "Emme Macoure, please! There's really no need..."

            "No need?! I've gotten ripped off, shot at, and..." Just then, she noticed the other two gentlemen in the room. "...who the hell is this?!"

            "Emme Macoure, could we continue this in my study? In private?" The woman just threw up her hands, showing her indifference and frustration at the same time. "Very well. Gentlemen, if you'll excuse me." The monk then led her through a secret panel, then with a wave of his hand, the door closed behind him.

            Once they disappeared, Cornelius looked through the open door at Charlie, who was still slightly shuddering. The werewolf looked bewildered, trying to figure out why a professional hitman would be scared. Finally, the wiseguy noticed Scipio's stare, nodded, and shut the door.

            David cocked his head slightly and looked at his friend. "What was that all about?"

            "Not sure." Scipio aimed his ear towards the secret door. "Something about payments, covering expenses... hard to hear. Employee?"

            "If so, not a very satisfied one. Pusher? Smuggler?"

            Scipio shrugged. Just then, the girl walked out again, heading toward the door. Cornelius kept his eyes focused on her, so intensely that she noticed it through his thick sunglasses. David acted nonchalantly about it.

            The woman raised her eyebrows and stopped in front of Scipio. "See anything you like, tough guy?" Then she laughed, shot a hip at him, and left the room.

            David looked over at Scipio once she left. Cornelius watched her leave, finally caught Charlie's eye, and he motioned something to him. Finally, he caught his boss' eye again, and replied, "Wyrm."

            Vampire. Great, Depual thought, now there are two of us in town; almost makes the game worthwhile. Just then, the Reverend Father returned from the secret chamber. "Thank you, gentlemen. The lady is often distressed. I can hardly control her sometimes."

            "Who is she?" David asked.

            "Just an associate of mine, as you are."

            "You said you had received a large donation?"

            "That's hardly important to you, is it? Besides, like I said, we no longer need your services."

            "Sure we can't change your mind?" Depual knew better than to try his powers against a man who was surely former Tech Infantry. In fact, most of his order was; the Cialt Brotherhood was polite, but deadly if they were crossed.

            "Not today. I'm sorry, gentlemen. Let me know if I can be of further assistance." Then they left. Cornelius had sent their gunman to tail the beautiful vampire. The thought of her made David thirsty.

            "Go back to the bar, Cornelius. If the contact gets back to you, inform me at the hotel. Meanwhile, I'm going to grab some dinner."

            Scipio said nothing. Although Depual knew the risks, it was better to stay in good condition than to face another vampire without blood. That meant his werewolf friend would have to disappear. Cornelius had work to do, it was David's night to howl.


            The next day, David slept on the bed, safe behind double curtained windows, still sated by the feast. Once night fell, Cornelius returned. "Charlie said that he followed her up to the Archimedes Orbital Station. Her ship SAC is a false one, probably stolen, and that her hyperdrive engines were faulty. She's a smuggler for them."

            "Yes, but smuggling what? If not drugs, then what?" Cornelius shrugged. David was no closer to solving this problem than he was before. What was the plan? What could that smug monk be thinking?




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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.