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My job that morning was to banish a demon, but I was determined to finish my cup of coffee first.

I sipped my java in front of Demetrios’ warehouse in Sunset Park, enjoying the panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline and the New York harbor. Next to me, Demetrios was shaking like a leaf.

“What in the world are you thinking, Conrad?” Demetrios spoke in his typical rapid-fire fashion. “You’re just going to go in there, alone, to face this infernal thing? Without any help or backup from others at the Watch? Without even a priest? This is all kinds of crazy.”

“I can handle it,” I said, trying to project casual confidence. “You did ask for this to be resolved quickly, and it’s not like I haven’t dealt with an occasional demon before.”

In fact, I’ve never even seen any demons. I’m not in any way equipped to deal with a supernatural being of that magnitude. That’s the bad news. The good news is, I’ve never heard of a demon showing up in Brooklyn. Even if one arrived, it wouldn’t be slumming in Demetrios’ warehouse. And if, by some miracle, a major baddie decided to take up residence here, Demetrios wouldn’t have survived the encounter long enough to come crying for my help. Something else was going on, but if the guy with a checkbook wanted to believe the job to be extremely dangerous, who was I to dissuade him?

“Quickly, yes,” said Demetrios. “You wouldn’t believe how far behind this has made us fall with the deliveries. My customers are screaming bloody murder. On top of everything, there’s a shipment of Sumatran persimmons that is already beginning to rot. So I hope you really know what you’re doing. I don’t relish the thought of having to scrape what’s left of you off the container walls.”

“That’s the Demetrios I know and love. Sentimental to the end. Here, hold this.” I handed him the empty foam cup and headed for the entrance.

The warehouse was packed with every kind of package and crate imaginable. Huge metal shipping containers clustered in the center, with just enough room left to maneuver them in and out. Around the edges, mountains of smaller parcels occupied every available nook and cranny, arranged in an order apparent only to Demetrios and his staff. There was plenty of room to hide for whatever was haunting the building.

Since I didn’t know what sort of trouble to expect, I brought as many weapons, charms, and amulets as I could carry without making my reliance on such tools apparent. I’ve made a lot more enemies than friends over the years and having any of them learn the truth would be incredibly dangerous.

Far as I know, I’m unique. Only one out of every 30,000 people is born gifted. They can See magic and cast it. I can See perfectly; casting is another story. Not even my superiors at the Watch know about my disability. I suspect they wouldn’t keep me around if they ever found out. So I pretend to be a badass wizard and do my job well, giving no one cause to think otherwise. One day I hope to find a cure for my condition. Or, failing that, at least a damn good explanation.

I worked my way through the labyrinth of packages until I heard faint growling sounds emanating from a few aisles over. I pulled out a revolver loaded with silver bullets doused in holy water. Cliché, I know, but in my experience only the most effective solutions get to become clichés in the first place. Weapon drawn, I advanced slowly toward the noise. I turned the corner of a ceiling-high shelving unit stocked with wooden crates and found myself face to face with a Lovecraftian nightmare.

The creature was shaped like a ten-foot-tall bulldog, with several rows of jagged teeth protruding from its oversized mouth. It stared at me with cold fish eyes and emitted a low rumble from deep within its ugly-as-sin belly. Definitely not a demon. I smiled in relief as I studied the telltale shimmer barely visible around the critter’s frame.

“Nice doggie,” I told it as I rummaged through the inner pockets of my trench coat. Moving very slowly so as not to spook it, I withdrew a plastic pill bottle filled with orange powder.

“Want a treat?” I said in a soothing voice as I holstered the revolver and struggled momentarily with the childproof cover.

Annoyed with my apparent lack of desire to run away terrified, the critter let out a thunderous roar that, I hoped, Demetrios could hear outside. While it was busy posturing, I took a pair of quick steps forward and flung the contents of the pill bottle at its midsection.

The monstrous visage quivered, gradually losing its shape, and disappeared. At my feet lay a furry little animal that looked like an ugly koala bear, knocked out cold by the sleeping powder. The Sumatran changeling snoring on the ground before me was a harmless creature. Its kind project images of big, scary monsters in order to repel predators, but they’re all bark and no bite. Poor thing must’ve gotten into the persimmon shipment and munched the long journey away, happy in the container full of its favorite snacks. The potent orange mix would keep the changeling dormant until I could get it to a buddy of mine at the Bronx Zoo who cared for a menagerie of supernatural animals.

I checked the rest of the building to make sure there were no more changelings. Also, just to be nosy. Demetrios ran the city’s largest shipping company that handled arcane imports and I was always curious to know what he was up to. After a sufficient amount of time spent wandering the aisles I took off my trench coat and wrapped it gently around the changeling. Carrying the bundle under my arm, I exited the warehouse.

“That was one nasty hellspawn.” I smiled at Demetrios, who was pacing nervously outside. “See, it even made me break a sweat.”

“Is it gone now? Did you banish it?” he demanded.

“It will not be bothering you again,” I said with utmost confidence.

Demetrios was thrilled to pay me handsomely for a morning’s work, and all it cost me was a vial of sleeping powder. What’s more, he would tell anyone who cared to listen about how I went one-on-one with a demon and won. So grows the legend of Conrad Brent.

When I drove off from Demetrios’ parking lot, I noticed another car pulling into traffic behind me.

I was being followed by amateurs. The black Lincoln Town Car lingering in my rearview mirror had stalked me along the congested Brooklyn streets without any grace or subtlety. Its driver must have thought he was very clever, always keeping one or two vehicles between us. I made a few turns, just to be sure. The Lincoln stayed with me, conspicuous as a polar bear in the desert.

Sensing my concern, my car’s various magical protections began to activate. To say that my car didn’t look like much would be an understatement. It was an ‘84 Oldsmobile with crooked bumpers, a few months overdue for a car wash. On the inside though, it sported more nasty tricks than the Batmobile. It had the best defensive enchantments money could buy, and a few that were literally priceless. All of them woke up as the car prepared itself for a possible confrontation. Some of the arcane shields interfered with the radio, which only served to annoy me further. I pulled over and watched the Lincoln pull into a parking spot a few yards behind me.

I got out of the car, strolled over there, and tapped on the driver side tinted window.

“Hey there, chum. I got news for you: you aren’t very good at this trailing thing. So either leave me alone and go back to picking up fares at the airport, or roll down this window and explain what it is you want.”

The driver didn’t respond. Instead, the passenger door opened and a petite redhead in a business suit climbed out.

“Don’t frighten the help, Mr. Brent. He was simply doing his job.” There was a healthy amount of amusement in her voice, as though she was delighted by this turn of events. She spoke with a hint of a British accent. Her looks and her voice were almost enough for me to forgive the imposition. Almost.

“Well,” I grumbled, “he wasn’t doing it very well.”

“On the contrary,” she said, “I intended for you to see us. I had no doubt that a man of your reputation would notice being followed. What I really wanted was to see how you’d handle it.”

She offered me a business card. According to the fancy font her name was Moira O’Leary and she was a security consultant.

“Watching someone react to a perceived threat is very instructive. I like to learn as much as I can about the people I’m going to work with. I’ll admit that your rather… direct approach was delightfully unexpected.”

“I’m glad I managed to entertain you,” I said, “but what makes you think we’re going to be working together?”

“Oh, we will.” She smiled. “Your boss owes my client a favor or two. I’m sure he’ll be in touch with you shortly. He might even say ‘pretty please.’”

Not bloody likely. Mose didn’t have to say please because no one was foolish enough to question his orders. When he said jump, you jumped, and you didn’t dare to ask how high.

“My organization isn’t in the habit of owing favors. Your client must be pretty special,” I said, fishing for a little more information. Turned out, Ms. Security Consultant wasn’t going to make me guess.

“Of course he’s special,” she said sweetly. “He’s Bradley Holcomb.”

O’Leary wasn’t kidding; people at the offices of the Watch were falling all over themselves to accommodate her real estate magnate boss. I was told to assist him in any way I could, with special emphasis on the fact that these orders came from Mose himself. I called the number on Moira’s business card and was promptly summoned to Holcomb Tower.

I don’t like venturing into Manhattan. It is the capital of Weird in the New World. Beings of immense power walk the streets beneath its gleaming skyscrapers. Terrible schemes are hatched behind closed doors in offices with prestigious addresses—and I’m not just talking about the Wall Street financiers. Dangerous men, women, and creatures of all kinds congregate there, and they make Brooklyn feel like a sleepy suburb. I try to keep my visits into the Big Apple’s rotten core brief and infrequent. But, sometimes, things can’t be helped.

I was ushered into a large office furnished with a mismatched collection of items of art and antiquity. They may not have fit together particularly well, but they all shared one common trait: hefty price tags. A supersized mahogany desk was installed in the center of the room. Leaning back in a lambskin office chair was the man himself.

Bradley Holcomb, real estate king of New York, reality TV host, and—at least in his own mind—a curator of the upwardly mobile lifestyle. His name, slapped indiscriminately on everything from condo developments to cologne, was the gilded standard for the bourgeoisie. Even surrounded by the opulence of his office, Holcomb looked less impressive in person than he did on TV. They always do.

“Mr. Brent,” he said, studying me intently, “thank you for coming to see me on such short notice. Also, forgive me for staring. All kinds of important people visit my office, but I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting a wizard before. I imagined you to be …” He paused, looking for the right words to express his disappointment with my being so ordinary, “…older.”

“In my experience people rarely live up to their hype,” I said. Holcomb either chose to ignore the barb, or it went over his head. He continued to ogle me as though I was some kind of a circus freak.

“What is it I can do for you, Mr. Holcomb?” I prodded.

“I’ve been working on a fascinating project,” he said, snapping out of it. “I acquired a nice plot of land adjacent to Marine Park. Beautiful space. Naturally secluded, yet right off of Belt Parkway, so it’s easy to reach. I’m building a high-end theme resort there. Gonna make the place look like ancient Rome.”

Holcomb’s face lit up and his entire demeanor shifted when he started talking about his hotel. He became almost likable.

“It’ll be a perfect combination of classic style and ultra-modern amenities. I’m even building a miniature copy of the Coliseum, with a boxing ring in the center. Holcomb’s Rome is going to make theme hotels in Vegas and Atlantic City look like gaudy McMansions in comparison.”

I nodded patiently. Holcomb would know a thing or two about gaudy.

“It took forever to get the permits,” he said. “But once construction began, strange things started to happen. Floor plans went missing from a locked safe. Every worker on the demolition crew simultaneously came down with terrible headaches. Sabotage of all kinds has been derailing the project.”

Holcomb reached for a stress ball on his desk and squeezed it, hard.

“I’m a practical man, not taken to flights of fancy. When it was first suggested to me that my problems were supernatural in origin, I laughed it off. But I’m not laughing any longer. I tripled security, accomplishing exactly nothing. Then a business associate recommended that I hire O’Leary as an arcane consultant. She was the one who filled me in on the crazy stuff going on in the world that we muggles aren’t supposed to know about.”

“We prefer to call you ungifted,” I said.

“Whatever works,” said Holcomb. “O’Leary told me about the Watch and helped me get in touch with Mr. Mose. It wasn’t all that difficult to persuade him. Money, it seems, can buy magic just like any other service.”

Mose must’ve charged this arrogant fat cat through the nose to make me do house calls like some sort of a plumber. Still, someone was using magic to mess with the ungifted — exactly the kind of thing the Watch was created to guard against. The fact that the victim was Holcomb didn’t obviate my obligation to look into the matter.

“All right,” I said. “Fetch whatever maps and floor plans for this thing that weren’t stolen from your safe and let’s take a look.”

Perched between Marine Park and the coastline of Deep Creek was one of the last undeveloped areas remaining in the borough of Brooklyn. Thousands of people drove past it every day, commuting via the always-busy Belt Parkway. There was no off-ramp by Marine Park. Drivers could only marvel from afar at the glimpses of primordial wilderness and the scenic view of the Atlantic.

Holcomb would change that. His plans called for building an Exit 10 off Belt Parkway, which would deliver travelers right to his new hotel’s front door. For now, I had to drive all the way to the Flatbush Avenue exit, park at the Gateway Marina, and walk.

I spent several unpleasant hours slogging around Holcomb’s construction site. Whoever was messing with the project was thorough, devious, and definitely supernatural. Signs of arcane interference were everywhere. Tree trunks had runes carved into their bark, enchantments spun like shimmering spider webs hung from the tree branches, and stones covered with glyphs were spread along the sandy beach. An ancient magic was at work, intent on disrupting the construction. It was effective and considerably unpleasant, but never lethal.

This magic was different from the types I’d encountered in the past. I was clueless as to what manner of creature was protecting its territory, but had a pretty good idea of how to flush it out. I set to disarming the trickster traps and clearing the area of supernatural hindrances.

It was slow going. With no magic of my own, I had to rely on various arcane tools. Each action that any other gifted could perform by merely flexing their abilities was taking me minutes of careful tinkering with artifacts that operated on other people’s stored power. My feet got wet and the bottom of my trench coat was caked with mud. I cursed as the wild shrubs scraped against my skin. There’s a reason I choose to live in an urban environment. I’ll take a paved road over a grassy path any day of the week.

“You shouldn’t do that.”

I was knee-deep in disrupting a particularly elaborate enchantment when a voice caught me by surprise. I spun around to see who managed to sneak up on me. It was a man in his late forties, dressed in an earth-tone windbreaker, tough khaki pants, and hiking boots. He was far better prepared for an excursion to this area than I.

“Don’t break it,” he said. “Do you have any idea how much effort goes into weaving an enchantment like this one? It’ll take us weeks to repair all the damage you’ve caused today.”

“Repair?” I said. “Oh no, no. We can’t have that. The Watch takes a dim view of magic being used against the ungifted.”

“I know who you are and what you represent, Mr. Brent,” said the stranger. “My people have deep respect for the Watch. It is a grave disappointment that you choose to side against us.”

“Back up for a moment,” I said. “I’m not picking any sides. I don’t even know who or what I’m dealing with, and I don’t like that one bit. Care to bring me up to speed?”

“My name is Graeme Murray. I sit on the ruling council of the Circle of the Sacred Oak.” He saw a blank expression on my face and elaborated: “We’re druids, Mr. Brent.”

I displayed my encyclopedic and brilliant command of history: “I thought druids were, you know, extinct?”

“There are still a few of us around, carrying on the traditions of our forefathers. Walk with me, Mr. Brent, and I will endeavor to, as you put it, bring you up to speed.” The druid headed deeper into the brush. I followed him, the still-active enchantment threads glowing faintly behind us.

“My people ruled the British Isles since the beginning of history,” said Murray. “Openly at first, then behind the scenes, after the Romans came. But things were changing. With time, our numbers and influence began to wane. To make matters worse, the ruling council got us mired in a war against the Cabal in the 1700s.”

I’d heard about the Cabal before. It was a shady organization of European mystics and sorcerers. They were vastly powerful in the Victorian era and still influential in modern day. The Watch and Cabal had butted heads many a time in the past.

“The Cabal devastated us. Druids were hunted in Britain and Ireland like common criminals. Siobhan Keane, one of the few on the ruling council to oppose the war, gathered her remaining loyalists and set sail for the New World.”

We walked toward the far end of the property, near the edge of Marine Park.

“Druids share a bond with the land; most would rather die than abandon their sacred groves. To convince so many to leave the British Isles, to begin life anew elsewhere, was a gargantuan feat. Siobhan Keane wasn’t merely a leader—she was our founder, our savior, as important to us as Jesus and Mohammed are to their followers.”

We arrived at a small clearing, surrounded by ancient oak trees overgrown with mistletoe.

“This,” said Murray “is Siobhan Keane’s final resting place. It’s the one sacred site for my people in exile, and we’ll do whatever we have to in order to prevent anyone—gifted or ungifted—from bulldozing it down.”

The two of us stood quietly for a moment and listened as the Atlantic breeze rustled the yellowing leaves in nature’s requiem for the queen of the druids.

It took some doing, but I managed to set up a meeting between Holcomb and the druids.

We sat in the conference room of a nondescript hotel by the airport. Holcomb probably didn’t feel comfortable inviting a bunch of hostile gifted into his home office. He wouldn’t even take my calls, leaving it up to O’Leary to handle the preliminary negotiations. The man was a big fan of delegating, at least according to his reality TV show. To her credit, O’Leary got him to consider the druids’ side of things enough to come meet with the ruling council of the Circle of the Sacred Oak.

Six rather ordinary-looking men and women, my new pal Graeme among them, sat around the large oval table broadcasting various degrees of annoyance, frustration and overall bad karma. Holcomb was running late. Really late. The druid leaders didn’t appreciate being made to wait. Several of them took to shooting venomous glances my way, as though the real estate mogul’s tardiness was somehow my fault. I kept a neutral expression, hating every minute of it.

After what felt like hours, the conference room door finally swung open to admit Moira O’Leary and a dozen grim-looking men. They fanned out in a semi-circle, taking positions against the walls and blocking the entrance. Every one of them was gifted and every one of them was heavily armed. They aimed their weapons at the druids.

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded a councilman. “Where is Holcomb?”

“He won’t be coming,” O’Leary said. “Mr. Holcomb has left it up to me to deal with this nuisance.” She turned her attention to me. “I want to thank you, Conrad, for flushing out the pagan scum. We’ll take it from here. You should leave. Now.”

The double-dealing, two-faced mercenary had played me. And I was just beginning to like her.

“These people are here to negotiate.” I remained seated, so O’Leary and her goons couldn’t see me searching through the pockets of my coat. “You wouldn’t want to jeopardize that with some sort of a rash vigilante action.”

O’Leary laughed.

“Rash? We’ve been hunting their kind for centuries. Don’t let the nature-loving act fool you. They are terrorists, ruthless killers of women and children. They’ve waged a guerilla war against the Cabal for several hundred years, and their hands are elbow-deep in blood.”

So she was a Cabal agent, and the hate in her voice sounded genuine. I wished I hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning.

“Our faction wants no part of your war,” said Graeme. “Our ancestors traveled across the ocean so that we could live at peace.”

“These people are civilians, Moira. Look at them. They didn’t try to hurt Holcomb’s workers and they’re certainly no threat to the Cabal.” I smiled and waved my right hand, palm out. “Come on. You know these aren’t the druids you’re looking for.”

No one even chuckled. So much for diffusing the situation with humor.

“Do keep in mind that these negotiations are guaranteed by the Watch. I’m sure both of us would rather avoid the possibility of friction between our organizations?”

O’Leary was having none of that. “We have no quarrel with your band of do-gooders, so long as you stay out of our way. You’re free to go and play at policeman somewhere else. But if you stay, you die with them.”

The smart move would’ve been to take her up on her offer. I had no business interfering in a centuries-old war. Besides, what chance did I have against a dozen gifted? Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to walk out and leave six innocent people to their doom. After years of making careful, calculated decisions I surprised myself by abandoning caution and following my gut.

“You really shouldn’t have called me a cop,” I said, rising from the chair. “It upsets me.”

Before anyone could react I drew a pencil-thin turquoise glass vial from one of my pockets and threw it as hard as I could against the wall.

The vial shattered, unleashing a Chinook wind bottled inside. Powerful gusts wreaked havoc in the confines of the room. Hurricane-like currents lifted people and chairs from the ground. Intense fog made it impossible to see beyond arm’s length. The air had become hot and moist, as though someone had run a long, steamy shower.

The pandemonium around me kept the bad guys busy and gave me a chance to set up a portal. Transportation magic is unreliable and takes at least a dozen heartbeats to activate. What’s worse, a portal charm is only good for a single one-way trip and very difficult to replace. I winced as I activated it, but using up a prized possession was better than facing a Cabal army.

Someone managed to open the conference room door and the Chinook swooshed out into the hallway. As the fog began to dissipate, everyone could see a portal the size of a manhole cover floating a few feet above the floor.

“Go!” I shouted at the druids while ripping a golden bracelet off my wrist. The action triggered a force barrier, cutting off the other half of the room. That particular toy was reusable, but it would take four lunar months to recharge. This mess was costing me dearly.

Druids stumbled toward the portal but the Cabal mages got their act together. They unleashed a coordinated attack on the barrier and within seconds it began to collapse. I desperately tried to think of a way to buy us more time but had no trinkets capable of stopping a dozen hostile gifted working in concert.

A druid woman in her early fifties turned around. In a few steps she was at the barrier, touching it lightly with her fingertips. Her entire body began to shimmer as she worked her own magic. Infused with whatever power she lent it, the barrier strengthened despite the continued attack from the other side. She appeared calm, almost serene, but I could see the new wrinkles appear on her face and her hair visibly turning gray as she gave up her life force to maintain the barrier.

The rest of the druids were through the portal now. It was beginning to wobble and would dissipate soon. I took one last look at the woman who did not hesitate for even a moment before choosing to sacrifice herself in order to save her people. A small part of me wanted to stay, to fight and probably die alongside her once the barrier failed, but I knew better. I was no hero. I was just a guy with a few arcane gadgets and lots of bravado.

I hurled myself into the portal, fervently hoping that its erratic magic wouldn’t teleport me into a concrete wall.

The portal spat me out in a parking lot. The five druids were just getting their bearings when I arrived. Graeme helped me up.

“Thank you,” he said as I brushed dust off my coat. “It seems you’ve chosen a side after all.”

“Couldn’t just walk out on you lot. Would’ve been bad for my reputation.”

We watched the portal flicker and finally collapse. No one else would be coming through.

“They got Alice,” said one of the druids, tears rolling down his cheeks. “This can’t be left unanswered.”

“We must gather everyone,” said another. “Sound the call. We will march to the Holcomb Tower and bring it down on the treacherous bastard’s head.”

“Hold on,” I said. “Holcomb isn’t gifted. He told me that, until a week ago, he didn’t even know that our kind existed. I don’t buy him as a member of the Cabal.”

“You only have his word for that,” said Graeme.

“I’ve watched this guy on TV,” I said. “He isn’t that good a liar. I bet O’Leary set up the trap by herself and never even told him about you.”

“We will rip the truth out of him,” growled another druid. Everyone began to speak at once. The druids were primed to take some sort of action, anything to avenge Alice and lash out at their persecutors. Then my phone rang, and O’Leary’s number displayed on the caller ID.

“Yeah,” I grunted, taking a few steps away from the druids. Bent on their revenge plans, they barely noticed.

“That was very impressive,” O’Leary said with that hint of cheerful amusement in her voice I would find endearing had she not just betrayed and then tried to kill me. “I suppose I should have expected no less.”

“What do you want?” For once, I wasn’t in a mood for banter.

“I assume you’re still with the druids,” said O’Leary. “I want you to pass along a message. We’ll be waiting for them at the tomb of their precious founder. If they don’t show by sunset, we’ll burn down the trees, demolish the stones, then dig up her grave and spend a fun evening coming up with ways to desecrate the remains.”

“That’s a big mistake,” I told her. “You and your people should leave town, before the Watch stomps on you, hard.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “Mose will never get the Watch involved. After all, the druids were the ones picking on the ungifted. I’m merely trying to set things right on behalf of Mr. Holcomb. Whatever other disagreements my organization may have with the druids falls well outside of the Watch’s purview.”

I said nothing, hating the fact that she was right.

“I suspect,” she went on, “that Mose won’t be too pleased with you for siding with them just now. So why don’t you be a good boy and give the tree huggers my message. They won’t be able to resist trying to protect their sacred swamp and we’ll mop ‘em up. Everybody wins. Mose doesn’t even have to know about your error in judgment. What do you say?”

“I’ll pass the message along,” I conceded. “This isn’t over.”

She started to say something snide, but I ended the call.

I relayed the message to the druids and contemplated my next move. There were less than four hours of daylight remaining.

O’Leary’s plan was working perfectly. Compelled to defend what they believed in, the druids showed up in force, like so many lambs to slaughter. Nearly thirty men and women joined their leaders in an effort to protect their sacred ground. They were all gifted—but they were no warriors, and no match for the hardened Cabal mercenaries.

I walked with them, prodding along a prisoner. By my side, disheveled and dragging his Italian loafers through the brown mud, was Bradley Holcomb.

Moira O’Leary and her people waited for us at Siobhan Keane’s gravesite. There were nearly three dozen Cabal fighters this time, weapons and magic at the ready. They parted to let our procession approach.

“I’ve got your boss,” I told O’Leary once we reached the clearing. I shoved Holcomb back into the arms of several druids. “If any fighting takes place here, I’ll make sure he’s among the first to die. So, why don’t we talk things out instead?”

“You’re a fool,” said O’Leary. “And a desperate fool, at that. I heard that you abducted Holcomb from his office in broad daylight. Talk about abusing the ungifted! And for what? Did you really think that saving his skin would get me to back off? Now that we’ve lured out the druids, Holcomb is useless to me.”

Bradley Holcomb straightened up, stepped forward and looked down his nose at O’Leary.

“You were right, Mr. Brent,” he said. “It appears my arcane security consultant never had my best interests at heart after all.”

“Moira,” Holcomb said with as much aplomb and dignity as he could muster under the circumstances. “You’re fired!”

That was all we needed to hear. Holcomb stepped back into the relative safety of the cluster of druids and four of my fellow members of the Watch dropped their concealment spell. I would take any two of them against all the Cabal goons present. Together they were an overwhelming force that should make any sensible gifted think twice.

Cabal agent Moira O’Leary wasn’t the sensible type.

O’Leary signaled her men to attack. The tranquil burial site turned into a war zone. Fireballs, curses and bullets flew as both sides unleashed everything they had at each other.

Terrie Winter of Queens wielded an enchanted staff so powerful you could physically feel the presence of its magic. She moved gracefully, jabbing at enemies and dodging their attacks in fluid, ballet-like motion.

Father Mancini from Staten Island held a large silver cross with sharpened edges in one hand and a .44 Magnum revolver in another. He had no trouble reconciling his arcane ability with his faith, and Lord help any gifted sinner who got in his way. The good priest stood his ground, striking down any Cabal fighters within reach while quoting scripture.

Gord from the Bronx stood seven feet tall, courtesy of the giant blood somewhere deep in his family’s Romany past. He carried a sawed-off shotgun that could blast through any obstacle, physical or magic. Gord fired off a few shots, and then took several large strides that placed him in the midst of the enemy. He used his shotgun as a club, tossing men around like rag dolls.

Manhattan’s John Smith stood empty-handed and smiled nastily at his enemies, his own magic far more powerful than any mere weapon. Elegant in a three-piece Armani suit and a white silk scarf tied around his neck which contrasted smartly against his ebony skin, John cast spell after spell, conjuring ephemeral horrors. They materialized in the air, swooping from above to maul the Cabal mages with their ghostly fangs and claws.

I used whatever protective charms and devices I had to keep Holcomb and myself out of harm’s way, but my supplies were running out fast, and Cabal mages were about to corner us. Suddenly, a ten-foot monster appeared before them, gnashing its teeth and growling loud enough to be heard over the sounds of the fighting. Cabal goons took a good look at it and decided that they were needed elsewhere on the battlefield.

I would have to recapture the Sumatran changeling after this was over.

Unable to defend against the far superior talents of the Watch, those Cabal fighters who could still move broke ranks and fled. I watched O’Leary and a handful of her people escape through a portal similar to the one I used earlier. After being routed so thoroughly, I didn’t expect to be seeing her again anytime soon.

“Guess this means you owe each of us one, for a change,” said Father Mancini afterward.

“That,” added Terrie Winter, “and you’re the one who has to explain this mess to Mose. He won’t be pleased about being kept out of the loop. I think I’ll go ahead and skip that meeting entirely.”

Reporting to Mose wasn’t something I looked forward to. This was definitely one of those scenarios where asking forgiveness was easier than asking permission. The big man wouldn’t have approved—and my theory about Moira becoming fair game for the Watch once Holcomb severed his connection with her was tenuous at best. Still, everything worked out, and Mose wasn’t the type to punish success.

I walked over to Graeme and the rest of the council. Holcomb was talking at them faster than a used car salesman.

“It’s gonna be great,” he said. “Just picture it: Holcomb’s Stonehenge! We’ll build a replica of those standing stones instead of the Coliseum. Make the hotel druid-themed. We’ll leave this shrine alone, and fence it off from the tourists. Your people can come and go whenever they please, and no one will be the wiser.”

Holcomb was actually making sense. The druids must’ve thought so too; they were listening intently to what the real estate mogul had to say. After all, who would suspect one of Holcomb’s resorts to be anything more than it appeared? Besides, Holcomb’s legal ownership of the site would help secure the Watch’s protection in case the Cabal ever decided to take another run at the druids.

I left them to talk business. Holcomb might not have been gifted, but he was sure good at his job. The man was about to convince an ancient order to let him build a theme resort around their sacred site. And if that sort of salesmanship doesn’t take a bit of magic, I don’t know what does.

This story originally appeared in Galaxy’s Edge magazine.

Conrad Brent is a wise-cracking, irreverent, morally complicated character and I love telling his stories. I have several more short stories planned out, as well as an eventual novel. The title for each story is an intentional (and sometimes groan-worthy) pun on a popular book or movie title set in my home borough: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream were my first two victims.

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