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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 49

Act V

Victory

Chapter Six


Waterloo city inspectors condemned Amy’s apartment building the day after her meeting with Ben Kiel. Nobody seemed to know what the issue was, but the eviction notices were taped to every door in the building. Amy had one week to find somewhere else to live.

Her best friends, the ones who’d survived the spate of deaths plaguing Amy’s life, had out-of-town family coming to visit. Even acquaintances couldn’t find room for her to stay for various reasons – fumigation, they didn’t want any disruption to their newborn baby’s life, husband and wife sleeping apart, and working odd hours. One on-and-off friend had broken an ankle that morning and couldn’t risk getting it bumped in her small apartment.

When Amy heard from Ben Kiel that he’d rented a room for her at a hotel along Highway 218, she was surprised. “I’m not even paying you.” A wave of gratitude washed over her and she had sit and rest her elbow on the table simply to keep from dropping her phone.

“It’s the right thing to do, Amy,” he said. “It’s not the best of places, but it’s not the bottom of the barrel, either. You can move in after work tonight. I told them you’d be late checking in, so nine tonight is okay. I have an idea about why this is happening.”

“I’m pretty sure I do, too.” Forces were being arranged to block her from doing something. Too bad she didn’t know what that thing was.

She had three hours to pack everything into her car, including her aloe vera plant. She’d need to keep it on the store counter for her six-hour shift. Freezing the roots would kill it. She could check in at the hotel after work, and she’d be living so much closer to work she could almost walk back and forth – almost.

Amy’s problems weren’t solved, however. When she arrived at the hotel with her aloe plant after work the clerk told her, “We don’t have you listed.”

“Are you sure? I was told by my lawyer he had a reservation for me.” She placed the terracotta pot on the counter and gave him her best smile to disarm him. Over the last few months Amy’d had to practice smiling. With so much tragedy in her life it took effort to not be downcast. However, there was no reason to inflict her problems on everyone.

Despite her friendly gesture, the clerk, Gavin, seemed dismissive. “Nothing for Amy Drabbs. There’s only one open room, and that reservation is not for you.” He turned his back.

Amy squinted in suspicion. “What’s the name on that one?” Why had he been borderline rude? She’d done nothing.

Gavin turned back and gave Amy a blank stare. “I cannot give out information like that.”

Amy looked around and checked for the oppressive feeling she’d noticed around Andy in the weeks before he’d died. The subtle depressive pressure wasn’t entirely gone, but certainly had faded. “Let me make a phone call.” The way the clerk eyed her discount winter coat made her self-conscious.

She stepped to the far side of the lobby and called Kiel, then looked back to Gavin. She didn’t trust him.

“Mr. Kiel,” she began when he answered, “there seems to be a problem with my hotel room. The receptionist says there’s no room with my name reserved.”

Kiel grunted in frustration. “Hang on, Miss Drabbs. I’m picking up another phone to straighten this out.”

Gavin’s phone rang a moment later. After giving his recited greeting he listened a moment, and Amy could hear Kiel’s muffled voice in her own device, along with an airport public address announcement.

“No, sir.” Gavin sat up straighter. “Sorry. There’s no room under that name.”

Kiel gave the clerk two more names, and both were denied. The third name was different.

Gavin tapped his computer keyboard. “Yes, sir. Victoria Howe was expected at seven, but hasn’t shown up yet. In another fifteen minutes I’ll have to give it to someone else.”

Kiel came back to Amy’s conversation for a brief update. “I figured someone would try to make you homeless. I had some of my people make other reservations so we could proceed with this lawsuit.”

Amy smiled. She knew something of the forces arrayed against her, but hadn’t anticipated this move. She was glad the lawyer had.

Gavin listened for a minute. “Then why didn’t she ask for the reservation for Victoria Howe?”

Amy heard Kiel explain. “I made the arrangements for her and forgot to tell her to use her Howe identity.”

“Understood, Mr. Kiel. I’ll give the room to Ms. Drabbs.” The clerk hung up.

Amy was pleased. She may be gentle as a dove, but Kiel was wise as a serpent. Between the two of them they were covering all their bases.

Something told Amy to sign her own name instead of using the Victoria identity. Usually when she had a feeling of that sort it was wise to go along with it.

After neatly tracing out her signature, Amy collected her plant and the key to room 313. She’d have to climb a couple of flights with her luggage, but at least she had a place to stay.

She smiled a bit. Maybe things would be better now.

***

From across the cold parking lot Ruax listened to the windows of the hotel lobby vibrate. He could make out just enough detail to follow the conversation, but not enough to hear the lawyer. He’d move closer but knew Guttersnipe could perceive his presence.

Why would she use the beagle’s last name to stay in a hotel? Perhaps he should check with Chamos.

Then he heard a report of displaced air filling the vacuum left by a vanishing Brother.

Too late.

Pop was on his way.


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.



  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 48

Act V

Victory


Chapter Five


In the months since Michael Grambic had died, “Howe” had built a secure room in his Wilmington Island home. The most important feature of the room was it would take a human a long time simply to unlock the door.

Chamos rode Howe into the room and locked it up – six deadbolts and a combination lock. Of course, Chamos had no need of using a key to open the deadbolts. A mere thought from a Brother could work them all simultaneously.

Howe, on the other hand, without the powers of the Brotherhood, had no hope of opening a single one without a key. A comfortable recliner stood centered in the room, complete with manacles for wrists and ankles.

He sat, and with a thought fastened Howe to the chair. Metallic restraints were enough for Chamos to be comfortable vacating his gelding. He appeared in physical human form. “Stay here, nice and quiet, and you won’t suffer – as much.”

Howe’s eyes burned with hatred. “What are you doing?” That he didn’t yell showed a level of self-restraint. On the other hand, the man obviously knew the room was sheltered using the best acoustical tile on the market.

“You know what’s going on,” Chamos replied. “I’ve been inhabiting you long enough you should know pretty much everything relevant about me.”

“Yes, but your goals don’t make sense! What did an astrologer or politician or wizard have to do with soundproof tiles?”

Chamos scowled, and Howe shrank back in fear. “You don’t know enough, evidently. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Even if you manage to escape the chair you won’t be able to open the locks before I return.”

A moment later Chamos arrived in the space between spaces where the Brotherhood met. Kulak was waiting.

“Taking your time, Chamos?” Though sound didn’t exist, communication between Brothers could easily be interpreted as if they spoke.

“I can’t simply vacate without preparations. You know how it is.” Chamos suspected Kulak had more experience than most Brothers. Riding a human, while fun, took some effort and a lot of practice to do it right. Eventually the human welcomed not needing to make decisions. Then a Brother could leave for hours without a problem.

Kulak grinned. “Indeed I do know how it is. Some are more welcoming than others, so Howe must be resistant.”

“Endless screaming. It’s wonderful.” Chamos let a smile slip into his malign countenance.

“You’ll tame him. Any bets on how long it’ll take?”

“Loser spends a week with Pop?”

Kulak shuddered. “Never mind.”

Chamos brought up the topic of the meeting. “You called. What did you want?”

“One of my staff tells me a lawsuit has been filed in Georgia contesting the will of the late Michael Grambic.”

“It was probably inevitable.”

“How is it you didn’t know about it already?” Kulak twisted his face into a hideous scowl. “It’s your job to control that situation.”

Chamos wasn’t impressed with Kulak’s displeasure. He’d known his boss long enough to understand he was simply a blowhard. “I’m inhabiting one of the most powerful people in Georgia. Howe deals with courts and lawyers all the time. Grambic, when he was alive, even delegated most of his legal affairs to Howe. This is a minor annoyance.”

“Not this time, Chamos. There are enemy spies lurking about. Don’t underestimate what’s going on, or you’ll spend a week with Pop just on general principle.”

“You don’t need to threaten me.” Chamos prepared to leave. “I already have enough invested in this project. If it fails, we both know what will happen.” Chamos only suspected what would happen, but hoped he could bait Kulak into confirming that suspicion.

Kulak grunted. “Havoc must be created, Chamos. Go. Do that.”

Not a denial. Then it was true – the scorched earth policy of the Brotherhood was the only tactic left. Then the only way to actually harm their archenemy was by hurting His people. Through the millenia he’d been doing that, but now he knew there was no hope for his kind.

Chamos returned to the secret room just as Howe managed to open the first lock on the door. The recliner, somehow, had been reduced to flinders and the human had managed to use a bit of metal as a lock pick.

Howe must have sensed the presence of his tormentor. He backed into a corner, swearing. Then the remaining tatters of his composure fractured and he screamed, “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”

Chamos’ response was ice cold. “You wanted Him to leave you alone. That’s why I can use you as I wish.” He glanced over the remains of the chair. “Looks like I’ll need a new way to secure you. Next time it won’t be so comfortable.”

Howe gave a wordless shriek and attacked, but Chamos simply dove into the human once again. Ephemerals had no inherent defense against the Brotherhood.

Chamos/Howe said aloud, “Handcuffs bolted to the floor. I’ll give you a pad, but if you defy me again I’ll remove even that.”

The tiny corner of “Howe” that was still Howe sent a stream of invectives at Chamos. Anyone else would have blushed, but Brothers had heard far worse.

“Shall we see about your new restraints?”

Using a twitch of his personal will Chamos unlocked the rest of the deadbolts and swung the thick door open. The late Michael Grambic’s butler waited in the faux granite hallway. “What is it, Charles?”

“A man is at the door and wishes to see you.” He glanced past Howe. “Would you like me to clean up that mess, sir?”

“Please do.” Chamos stepped into the hall to allow the butler to enter the sanctum. “Do you know why he wants to see me?”

Charles stopped in the threshold and turned his back on the destruction. “I’ve heard Mr. Grambic has a cousin suing to contest the will.”

Chamos smiled. The butler was an asset to be utilized. “Give yourself a thousand dollar bonus, Charles.”

The butler nodded impassively. “Thank you, Mr. Howe.”

The dwindling resistance of Victor Howe tried calling to the butler, sobbing. “Help me, Charles!” None of the plea found voice, squelched by the Brother dominating him.

“Before you clean the mess, please show the man to my day room.” Chamos didn’t know how he’d handle the man, whom he suspected was a process server, but humans were simple to figure out and manipulate.

All in a day’s work.


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.



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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Part 47

Act V

Victory


Chapter Four


Kiel visibly pulled his attention away from the window and pointed at Grambic’s will. “Back to the issue which brought me here. I watched Mr. Grambic’s executive assistant sign and date the last page. The two witnesses are dead – killed the next day in a car crash – and the notary doesn’t recall signing, though experts say those three signatures are genuine.

“I’m convinced this is a fraudulent document. Miss Drabbs, you were intended to be the major recipient of Mr. Grambic’s estate, and you’ve been cheated out of your inheritance. Do you want to do something about it, or let the criminal go without a fight?”

Amy didn’t know how to respond. She looked at Pastor Brill for guidance, but he merely gave a slight shrug. She asked, “Well, what’s in that estate?”

“Grambic Tiles, worth about two hundred million dollars. His mansion along the Savannah River, a few million dollars more. His other holdings – cash accounts and investments – about twenty-five million.” Kiel held Amy’s gaze. “His net worth was just over a quarter of a billion dollars, and someone stole it from you.”

Amy leaned back in her chair, speechless. She couldn’t comprehend hundreds of millions of dollars. A clerk at a convenience store would never earn that in a dozen lifetimes, though she hoped to become a veterinarian and make a decent living.

“Two hundred . . . million.” Amy looked from Kiel to Brill and back again. “What would I do with that kind of money?”

Pastor Brill cleared his throat. “Wrong question, Amy. Think about what you could do.”

Amy noticed Kiel’s unnerving stare and wondered what he was looking for. “Money is the root of all evil.”

“No.” Brill shook his head. “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

Amy smiled. “Just checking to see if you’re listening, Pastor.”

Kiel smiled and slid the will back into his briefcase. “I’m convinced we have a case.” He pulled out another packet of paper. “This is an agreement for me to represent you in a lawsuit to challenge the existing will.”

“I can’t afford to hire a lawyer.” Amy didn’t even look at the papers.

Kiel tapped the top sheet. “This is a contingency contract. I don’t get paid a cent unless we win. Then my rates will be half the going fee schedule.”

Brill raised an eyebrow. “Why would you do that?”

“I’m fully aware of her financial situation. Though I have a check for her in the amount of a million dollars, I suggest she not cash it. Doing that would be tacit acceptance of the will, and work against us in court.”

Amy gave a weak smile. “I think he means why half normal rates.”

“I liked your cousin,” Kiel said. “He treated me well, he paid his people above what would normally be expected, and wouldn’t stoop to underhanded tactics to get things accomplished.” He smiled. “At times he’d use his wealth as a club, but only to clear his path of useless detail. He never used money for nefarious purposes.”

“He’s gone now,” Brill pointed out. “Why would you help Amy now?”

“I don’t like the man who did this to you.” Kiel’s expression turned ominous. “He’s cheated you out of something of real value, when his other option would have been better for everyone involved – himself included.”

Amy took a pen and considered, clicking the ballpoint open and closed.

“Let’s do this.” She signed.

***

Chamos felt something change. A fundamental shift happened that presaged difficulties ahead. A moment later he received a summons to return to the Brotherhood.

“Miss Peralta.” He forced a resistant Howe to climb out of the office chair. “I’m taking the rest of the day off.”

The secretary nodded and pressed a button on her desk to call the elevator. “Have a nice day, sir.” The tone of her voice was perfunctory.

Chamos smiled at the transparency of Peralta’s indifference. Howe’s expression reflected his master’s humor.

Jousting with Peralta could be a fun way to spend a few hours, but he needed to get back to the Wilmington estate. He couldn’t leave an awakening Howe unattended while he visited the Brotherhood.

Chamos had prepared a special room so his . . . client . . . couldn’t thwart the Brotherhood while unoccupied.

***

Howe lamented the actions he’d taken. Since being “hijacked” by the entity called Chamos, he realized how self-centered he’d been. Hiring the mercenaries to murder the man who had blown up the factory in Paris, forging Grambic’s signature, giving himself a bigger raise than Grambic had suggested, and so many other acts over the years. He now knew he’d somehow left himself open to Chamos.

Howe marshaled his willpower. The horror of being forced to watch “himself” from the inside, unable to affect his own body, was a crushing weight on his psyche. He had to fight back. Somehow he’d push Chamos out and regain control.


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Please share on social media, and leave a review on the page linked above.



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