Lilith stepped out of the cab the instant the automatic lock disengaged. She marched up the short walk to her apartment building as quickly as her tall heels and tight dress would allow, peeling the shoes from her feet and carrying them in her hand as soon as she crossed the threshold into the building.
The intimate Uptown apartment was warm with its wooden furniture and soft yellow light. The decor had a sleek modern styling that was pragmatic and lean, yet arranged with a care that made the cozy space feel like home.
Lilith dropped her purse and shoes by the door and pulled the pins from her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders. Sighing with frustration she made her way to the kitchen, stopping along the way to pick up her long black cat. She held the cat under the shoulders, letting his body dangle limply as she stared deep into his big green eyes.
“Oh Nyx, another loser. What’s a girl gotta do? I have to keep reminding myself that if I knocked off every asshole I went out with I’d have the DPD swinging through my windows.”
Lilith set the cat down on the couch where he stretched for a minute and then curled up in a tiny ball. Pouring herself a glass of wine she moved from the kitchen into the back office. For a moment she just stood by the window admiring the beauty of the city with its endless parade of lights and sounds. She understood why Xavier held the city so close to his heart, although she was beginning to worry if the lust for such worldly places had started to poison his judgment.
Turning from the window, she sat at her computer, the large monitor displaying a map of Delphi, divided into districts, and again into neighborhoods. Touching the screen, Lilith pulled up lists - lists of people, schedules, skills, some were knights that worked under her, some potential fodder, each of them manicured, cultivated with extreme care.
After a moment of review, Lilith closed her current files and opened a different one, listing everything she knew about Py and Logan’s activities over the past few weeks.
“What are you up too^” She mumbled to herself meticulously, marking her map with the latest places the pair had visited.
Bringing Xavier his “Mr. Black” had insured an angle into Vergeron, and helped to alleviate some of the tension between the two of them. It also meant Lilith might finally have way to determine if Py and Logan were investigating on Vergeron’s behalf. She’d had her man at the DPD send her a copy of the criminal database before crashing it. Lilith new everyone Py and Logan had visited were considered persons of interest in police investigations, so maintaining that evidence felt important. Most of the records were pretty chewed up, not much to go on, the concerning part being that many of the records had been damaged deliberately. Her plant had also told her the logs, which recorded access to the database, didn’t show any unusual behavior within the department. In other words, there was no proof Logan had stuck his nose anywhere it didn’t belong.
Lilith was guessing, just from observation, that the dynamic duo were stalking an answer to the ‘how’ of Cartwright’s power, and to that end she’d decided it was best to give them an answer to that particular question. Lilith had constructed what she thought was a serviceable red herring. Several years ago there was extensive research on what was essentially a really nasty weaponized version of LSD. By planting some partial copies of a formula along with some lab equipment she could create the illusion that Cartwright had been cooking up a cocktail of hallucinogenic toxins here in Delphi. By including a few exotic ingredients in the formula, Lilith created a scenario that could have investigators chasing their tails for months. By building a few labs in different parts of the city and leaking the location of each lab through a different informant she should be able to gain some insight into where Py and Logan were getting their intelligence. With any luck this would kill two birds with one stone, locate the source of Py and Logan’s information, and give them an excuse to terminate their investigation.
“Hey computer, call Nigel.”
“Yes, Lilith.” Her computerized digital assistant replied before initiating a video call.
“Hey Lilith,” Nigel spoke, absently adjusting his glasses on his nose. “Gee, you’ve got a pretty mouth.”
“What…” Lilith stared blankly at the screen before suddenly remembering the dark red pigment still adorning her lips. “Oh, hell.” She exclaimed, reaching for a tissue and wiping the makeup clean.
“That looks pretty fresh. Let me guess, another loser.”
“Shut up Nigel. How is everything looking for tonight.”
“Everything's shaping up. We’ve got three men on staggered shifts, each in a different part of town. Every agent will have a covert team watching the area for suspicious activity. If anything weird happens we’ll be ready for it.”
“Good. I’m setting up new rotations for next week. People will be going out in three man teams starting tomorrow.”
Nigel frowned. “That’s going to be hell on the men. Who’s putting in the extra time?”
“Everybody, all hands on deck. You guys up north have had it pretty easy while we’ve been dealing with the situation down in Old Town.”
“Damn it Lilith, my guys are lovers, not fighters. You can’t send them into that hellhole.”
“We’re all fighters now. Make sure your team is ready.”
Nigel sighed loudly. “It’s going to be hard to hunt in packs of three. Draws a lot more attention.”
“Yeah, I’m working on that. Look, I’m off to rendezvous with first squad. If things go well I’ll be up in your neighborhood later. If anything happens I want to know about it immediately.”
Nigel gave her a firm nod. “You got it.”
“Happy hunting, Nigel.”
The video call ended and Lilith made her way into the bedroom, retrieving black military style clothing from the closet. Dressing in silence her mind wandered through the mysterious web of intrigue that seemed to be deepening by the day.
Moving to the door, Lilith pulled a long red coat over her bullet proof vest and made it quickly out of the apartment. It was going to be a long night.
Making her way into the quiet suburban park, Lilith sat on a secluded bench and fired up her e-cig, leaning back with billowing smoke, feeling like a woman in a black and white detective movie.
“What’s the status?” Lilith spoke into the discreet mic that was hidden in her ear.
“Jed should be in view now.” The reply was immediate and Lilith watched intently as Jed made his way down the illuminated path that ran through the little grass hills. Within a few minutes he managed to stop a pair of young ladies out walking a large yellow dog, speaking with them congenially in the circle of an overhead light.
“Looks like Jed’s got ’em eatin’ out of his hand,” came Kevin’s voice over the mic.
Lilith knew there were five other people on the scene, who they were, and precisely where they should be, although she refrained from making a visual confirmation, as to not inadvertently give away their positions.
“No, they're just being polite.” Lilith spoke with a little smile. “They’ll be moving along any minute. Sound off.”
“Kevin, reporting as ordered.”
“Angie, on point.”
“Rebecca, standing by.”
“Where’s Anderson?” Lilith asked with some frustration. “ Anderson, you there… Somebody figure out where the hell Anderson is.”
“On it.” It was Alex, the unit commander, who responded.
As predicted the young women moved on and Jed, having missed his chance, started sweeping about for a fresh victim.
“Any read on Anderson?” Lilith asked, growing increasingly impatient.
“Umm, no. I can’t find him anywhere.”
“What do you mean you can’t find him anywhere?”
“I've been checking in with everyone I can think of. Nobody’s heard from him since last roll call.”
“God damn it!” Lilith exclaimed into her mic. “Abort mission. Fuck, abort the goddamn mission. Find Anderson, go right now!”
“Damn it!” Lilith screamed into the night, jumping to her feet, throwing her cigarette on the ground and smashing it. In frustration she pulled off her trench coat and bullet proof vest, tossing them aside. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before pulling a phone from her pocket and calling Nigel.
“Nigel, Anderson’s come up missing. Take squads two and three and sync up with squad one.”
“On it, boss.” Lilith terminated the call.
“Damn it… How do they always know?”
Lilith sat back on the bench, hanging her head and contemplating her next move. As she gazed into the damp grass, a shadow slowly crawled across the ground toward her until Lilith could feel the presence of a figure looming over her.
“What is it Jed?” Lilith asked, glancing up impatiently at the nervous looking man. Jed was young, early twenties at the latest, with close cropped blonde hair and a soft, well groomed attractiveness that made him a perfect lure for nights like tonight.
“Lilith…” He stammered. “Priestess... I know it’s not a good time, but can I make a confession?”
“Sure Jed.” Lilith replied, her face softening, motioning toward the seat next to her. He’d said one of the few things that would warrant such a change in Lilith. She took her position as Priestess seriously, and was more than happy to listen. It had been a long time since she’d sat a confession and it would feel good to hear somebody else's problems for a change.
Jed moved to sit next to her before continuing. “Priestess, what’s going on? I mean, it all seemed so easy before. Like god was always standing just over my shoulder. Now my friends are dying, people are losing their gifts, the Apostle is questioning everything we do. It seems bad. I’m just saying… I guess I don’t know what I’m saying.”
Lilith reached over and gave Jed a comforting pat on the shoulder. “I understand. I’ve lost a lot of people over the years and it never gets easy. Sometimes it’s hard to see how it all fits into god’s plan.”
Especially right now.
Jed glanced up expectantly. “Is this god’s plan? For all of us to suffer like this?”
Lilith gave a little chuckle. “We’re spoiled, you know that? Some people are asked to keep their faith based on nothing more than a vague promise of happiness in the afterlife. We see miracles everyday. Real miracles. We can’t forget that sometimes even we need to have a little faith in the mysteries of god.”
“So I shouldn't question?”
“It’s to court ruin^” Lilith muttered to herself.
“What was that?” Jed said expectantly.
“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about something someone told me once. How bout this? I’ll give you a five minute reprieve. No judgment, get it all out of your system.”
“All right,” Jed said, seeming emboldened by Lilith’s offer. “Sometimes the smell of blood makes me puke, and that shit’s everywhere. What the fuck is that about?”
“Yeah, blood’s pretty gross.” Jed smiled appreciatively. He seemed to loosen up with Lilith’s empathy, rolling his shoulders and visibly relaxing.
“Some of us made a deal with the deacons to call us when the Apostle leaves the church so we can do our offerings when he’s not around.”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that one.” Lilith couldn’t really blame them. While their faith wasn’t without disconcerting rituals, the Apostle was a floating nightmare.
“Ok, this is my last one. Lilith, I've got to know,” Jed had turned his gaze to his own hands, which appeared clenched together rather tight, “how do you deal with some of the psychopaths you’ve got working for you? Some of the knights are crazy as fuck.”
Lilith was a little surprised by the frankness of the question, though since it was something she herself had asked Xavier, she couldn’t blame Jed for thinking of it during his own crisis of faith. It burned her to the vary core that the response she formed was not only something she believed, but nearly the exact thing Xavier had told her a few weeks ago.
“It’s not easy, Jed, but some of those lunatics are uniquely qualified for what they do. I myself have had to do some pretty unsettling things to hold the knights together, and I can’t always do it alone. We’re soldiers after all, although I think some of us have started to forget.”
Jed unclenched his hands and gave a nod, seeming to accept Lilith’s words far easier than she had accepted Xavier’s.
Jed gave a little snort. “You know that Snyder likes to bite the heads off of pigeons.”
Lilith reflexively grimaced. “Don’t remind me.”
“And I heard Trevor once beat a man to death with his own leg.” Jed seemed better, more playfully bantering now than confessing.
“You’re lucky if that’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard about Trevor.” Lilith replied, letting herself enjoy the release of tension along with Jed.
“But the worst was that guy Cartwright. That freak gave me nightmares.”
Lilith felt her body tense and did her best to keep her response casual. It was no secret among her knights that she’d absolutely despised Cartwright, and Jed almost certainly thought he was commiserating by voicing his own disdain for the man.
“Yeah, Cartwright. Fuck that guy.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t overthink it.” Jed said, taking in a deep breath of cool night air.
Lilith adopted what she hoped was a reassuring smile and gave Jed a gentle punch on his arm. “Exactly right young man. Now, you’re five minutes are up. Time to get going.”
“Alright, no more questions.” Jed said, rubbing his arm in mock pain.
“Good, go help the others look for Anderson.”
“Thanks Lilith.” Jed got up from the bench and walked with renewed purpose into the night.
“No more questions, Jed.” Lilith spoke to herself after Jed was out of earshot, hoping she’d steered him toward salvation. “After all, to question god is to court ruin. Harsh words. Hmm, Cartwright, that fucker’s been dead for weeks and it’s like he’s still out to get me. Fuck that guy. Cartwright… Oh no^”