A Bolt from the Blue

by D'Artagnon


The Next Morning

"It's the damnedest thing, Ozzy," fire chief Ian O'Rourke said, resting his hip on the edge of Canterbury Police Sergeant Ozbourne's Dodge Challenger. The chief's consternation was plain on his face, in his body language, and in the slight inhale pause before speaking, as if he was having to gather his thoughts and strain them out, one at a time. His "back bay" accent betrayed some of his stress as well.

"How do you mean, Rourky?"

"The evidence doesn't add up," the chief said, pulling off his CFD cap, exposing his bald scalp, so he could rub some sense back into his brain. "I mean, there's evidence of accelerant all ovah, but…" and he sighed.

"The kids' story ain't doin' straight sums?" the cop asked.

"It's not that. Look," the chief said, standing up and walking back to the ruined shop. The upper floors had been vaporized in the blast. The intense heat below had roasted the framing section above, leaving only the brick works and major timbers from the basement to the main floor. Even the hardwood floors of the shop had succumbed to the heat, leaving basically the remaining bricks as just a shell. Ozzy followed, reluctantly.

"The furnace was theah, where that big slab of slagged metal is. Theah's a slight angle in the cellah flooah, caused the heavier metals to pool that direction when they was liquid."

"Okay, I'm following you so far."

"Except," the chief said, pointing his finger up before leveling it at the remains of the stairs heading down into the basement from the alleyway. "Except in that coahnah. That pool o' slag shoulda flowed that way," he motioned towards the remains of the furnace. "But it went right this way, towards the back coahnah of the alleyway."

"Splash from the explosion, maybe?" Ozzy offered.

"Excep t," the chief said again, raising his finger. "If the metal had splattered, we'd be seein' little pellets of metal around the periphery, off this wall. Instead, what we have…" he searched for a word, his hand gesturing up higher and higher before he just let it drop to slap against his thigh. "What we have makes no friggin' sense. I been investigatin' fires in this town, arson, accidents, poor upkeep on homes and businesses, poorer judgement about outdoor cookin', dumb people pluggin' too many cords into a light socket, cat knocked oveah a candle, you name it. I seen every type of fire theah is, all the way back to my Navy days, with metal fires on ships, explosives, fuel fires. All of it. I've seen oil well fires in the Middle East durin' the war. Neveah in all my days," he said, exasperated, "have I eveah seen hot liquid metal run up hill and two feet up a wall after hittin' the molten point, much less it stayin' theah, or goin' flat to it. No pooling, no drippin'… I tell, Oz, taint natural."

"No runs, no drips, no errors," Ozzy said, as if remembering an old TV commercial. "Could any of the other chemicals in the shop have done it? Dry cleaning stuff under pressure, maybe?" the cop asked. He looked down at the inside corner of the basement, carefully picking his way down the shattered stairs. After nearly falling with a misstep on crumbling cement stair fragments, he came to stand in the blasted, charred remnants of the shop's basement. The smell of burning and chemical reactions going bad stung his nose. He rounded the wall between basement stairs and the back corner of the basement where the fuel tank for the furnace had stood.

A gleaming sheen of polished metal plated the walls and floor of the corner, pressed tight to the fieldstone and brick of the basement wa ll. Like so many of the older homes in Canterbury, and older is saying a lot, the basements were originally rocked in with local stones, piled against the dug-out cellar walls. The nearly half inch of metal seemed impossibly uniformly caked on the inner surface of those stones, conforming to their shape, perfectly, even showing texture marks. Ozzy compared the sheet of metal to a nearby section of stone, actually feeling one, then the other, and finding the same surface features on both. Identical to the touch.

"Accordin' to the insurance records, the dry cleanin' chemicals was already out of heah. Sold to the owner of that little bodega ovah off St. Claire Ave. He still has them in storage. And he's always passed inspection. He said he was gonna start up a cleaners with his kid. I tell ya this, if it was some kinda cleanin' chemical, I don't want any starch like that near my drawers."

"Me neither," Ozzy grinned, his moustache lifting slightly at the corners. "What about the drug chemicals? CPD had this place under surveillance for drug lab suspicion. Synth opioids, heroine, pain pills. The gang that used this place can't seem to keep a lab open in one place for too long anymore. They keep moving operations."

"Your boys gettin' close, eh?"

"I wish. Something else is keeping them mobile. It's tricky as hell to track them because of it, but it is keeping the traffic down," Ozzy admitted.

"Rival gang?"

"Hard to say. Whoever's doin' it, well, first good onya. Next, stay outta police business."

"Vigilantes? Really?" the chief asked.

"It's a brave new world, Rourky. Dinosaurs like you and me are a vanishing breed. Okay, so we don't know of any chemicals that can do… this," Ozzy said, pointing to the metal plastered into the corner. He stepped back and noticed something. "We got any reason why it forms a perfect triangle?"


"The sides, leading out to the points. I got a tape measure up in the cruiser, but I'd be willing to bet two weeks-pay that these sides are exactly the same length. Angles look to be the same as well."

"Sunovabitch!" Chief O'Rourke said, moving to see better from the blackened alleyway above, peering over the bricks at ground level. "I think you're right. Why didn't I see that befoah? Good eye, Oz. You ought to be a detective."

"I'd rather just be a good cop. So, what could explain this?"

"I honestly don't know. Beats the shit outta me."

"That a technical description, Chief?" a younger female voice asked. Both officers looked over to see an athletic young woman ducking under the police tape, a steaming Styrofoam cup of coffee from a local donut shop held loosely around the lip of the cup as she walked over.

"This is a crime scene, young lady," the chief admonished. "No press allowed past the…" but before he could finish, she reached through the open front of her jacket to produce a leather backed silver shield suspended from a stainless steel chain.

"Chief O'Rourke of CFD, meet Lieutenant Dana Darling, Canterbury Police Department, our newest detective."

"Oh. Sorry, Lieutenant. Didn't see the badge," the chief said, reaching out to shake her hand.

"Not a problem, Chief O'Rourke," she smiled, shook his hand, firmly, and then took a swig from her coffee. "So what's beating shit out of whom?"

"Well, it's the damnedest thing, Lieutenant," the Chief began again, explaining the fire-scene to her. Ozzy stepped back behind the yellow police tape and pulled out his private cell phone. He tapped in a quick number and waited for someone to pick up on the other side of the call.

"Hey, it's me. I'm sending you some pics. I t hink we got more problems," the cop said. "Bigger ones than expected."

The Bergeron family car pulled up in front of the stately white with green accents painted three story Victorian, three parking spaces away from a cheery hand painted sign which read Andover Animal Hospital and Emergency Center. The Johnson's car pulled in beside the Bergeron's, even as a very nervous Glen unstrapped his safety belt and bent to help his little sister out of her car seat. The families gathered and entered the veterinarian's building, the boys eagerly leading the way. As the kids and moms entered the hospital, Glen's father tapped Peter's father on the shoulder and motioned with his head to hang back outside a moment. After their families had gone in, the two men squared off.

"Been a while since we talked," Allen Bergeron began. "I know since the boys have become friends again since Glen's accident."

"Dunno if being struck by lightning counts as an accident," the elder Johnson countered, wryly.

"Not sure what else to call it. Act of god, trick of nature, whatever. Point is, I wasn't aware how things turned out for you after what happened in Lafayette Square last summer. I didn't know that you'd lost your job when the Feds shut down things at DyNAwerks."

Johnson inhaled, puffing his chest out slightly. His face hardened a bit as his arms crossed over his chest. "Uh, yeah. Where's this goin', Al?"

"Rick, I don't want to upset you," Allen said, raising his palms out towards the other man in a conciliatory gesture. "And I'm not looking to give you a handout. But I know how hard it is to get good jobs right now. Places are mostly full up to full staffing, or asking way too much for experience and training to even basic entry level positions. And let's face it, the price of gas is n't going down any time soon."

"Go on," Peter's father said, defensively.

"So, here it is. My company has an availability. Sub-management, very technical stuff. Lab based. It's not a super high paying position, but I can say this much; the company prefers to promote from within and the last three people who had the job I'm talking about were promoted within six months, both in salary and in position." The two men stared at each other for a space of heartbeats. "It's not a handout, it's a hand up. I know you have the skill set our management team is looking for," Glen's father said. "Just give it some thought, yeah?"

"I still haven't forgotten," Rick Johnson said, his arms still crossed over his chest.

"That was a long time ago," Allen replied, not without some shame. "We were just kids, still all kinda screwed up by what happened. Seeing Stamos still alive was a shock to the rest of us. It must have been crazy when you realized you worked for him."

"Nobody there knew, okay, Al!" Rick shouted, taking a step as if to walk around Allen. "None of us realized who he was! We thought we'd killed that son of a bitch years ago!"

"Lower you voice, man. We're in public here," Allen cautioned. "No one blames you. Stamos tricked all of us. I just thank God that he didn't get his claws into any of our kids. The thought of him doing to Glen and Peter and Carolynn what happened to us…" Allen said, his arms extending in frustration. "It would mess up my thinking, my whole life," Allen said, consciously not saying "as well," at the end.

"I worked for sixteen years for that company," Rick said, shaking visibly. "Sixteen years! I brought my kids around that bastard. My wife. I paid off my mortgage, put my daughter through all the rehab for her club foot. My marriage suffered from all the o vertime hours I was asked to do out there. I…" and he faltered a moment, rubbing his hand down his face to clear the tears and partly cover his mouth as the trembling got worse. "My whole life was paid for by the guy who nearly killed me, raped me, raped my wife and my friends…"

"So this is a chance to start fresh," Allen said, reaching out to lay a hand on Rick's shoulder.

"I still haven't forgotten, though. What you did?"

"We were dumb kids, man. Grace didn't know what to do. When she lost that baby…"

"My baby!" Rick said, whipping his arm out to get Allen's hand off his shoulder.

"We don't know that," Allen said, holding his hands out. "So many of the girls who got pregnant at that time were because of that…" Allen stopped himself from saying more, clenching a fist in anger and frustration. "Like my sister, if you remember. And she lost that baby, too. It's a miracle that she was even able to get pregnant again."

"But what you did?! Moving in on my girlfriend?"

"We found each other, when we were both vulnerable. She and my sister connected. That led her to me. It wasn't… I didn't take her from you, Rick. She had already realized that the both of you were too damaged to continue together. She… she thought that she'd let you down somehow. That when he raped her so soon after the two of you had been together the first time… she sought to spare you from feeling the same guilt she did. That we all did, I guess. But that wasn't our fault either, Rick."

"Shoulda been somethin' we coulda done!" Rick spat, whipping the back of his wrist under his nose. His face showed red rings under his eyes.

"We were just kids, Rick. We didn't know any better. He made us all feel so… so dirty, worthless… ashamed to even look at each other."

They stood and stared, each looking back and forth b etween the other man's face and the ground. The silence didn't mask the chill in the early fall air. Finally, Glen's father spoke up.

"I should have stood by you more," Allen said, reluctantly. "I was scared, ashamed… lost for a long time. Grace and I kept each other sane for a while there, when the nightmares kept robbing our lives."

"It was the same for me and Leesa," Rick admitted, visibly calming. "We got wasted and just talked one night til noon the next day. We just… got swept up in all the honesty."

"Something there is good, Rick. Worth fighting for. I might be able to pull some strings with a friend of mine and get her an interview at American Electrical. I know a guy that worked with my dad in the warehouse. No promises, but I will see what I can do. Think about it, okay? If not for you and Leesa's sakes, at least for Peter's. He doesn't deserve our mistakes screwing up his chance at a good life. That would be like letting Stamos win."

"I'll think about it. And… I want to thank you for looking out for my kid while me and the wife have been… hurting."

"I'd do it for any kid. Hopefully, maybe in the future, you and I could be friends again."

"Maybe," Rick said. He looked away at the clouds over the eastern hills, the pinks and oranges and purples of early morning giving way to the palate of grays and blues that make up the New England autumn sky. "We should go in before they realize we're still out here. Leesa will think I'm starting fights."

"Yeah. They make us better men at times," Allen said, stuffing his hands into his pockets.

"True. But they can make us the whiniest of bitches, too," Rick said, a slight smile perking under his tear-stained eyes. He pulled a tissue from his windbreaker pocket and wiped his face up. "I think what hurt the most wasn't that she left me," Rick said, looking Allen in the eyes. "It was that I couldn't feel enough to go to her. And that she couldn't find me anymore. I didn't lose her so much as I lost myself. And I gave her no reason to come to me. I'm…" and he took a deep breath. "I'm glad she had you when she was lost too."

"I'm glad you are finding your way back to us," Allen said, offering Rick his hand. "Not a handout, just a way out. You gotta do it yourself."

"We all do. Wont be easy. That bottle calls to me, sometimes."

"If you ever need someone to talk you out of a tree or out of a bottle, call me," Allen offered. "Besides, the way our kids have been through the wringer lately, I get the feeling we're about to be seeing each other, a lot."

"Yeah," Rick replied, almost numbly. "Adversity strengthens some bonds, strains others. Gawd, Leesa must hate the shit outta me."

"Takes two to move apart. Takes two to come together," Allen said. "Maybe when you're both better for yourselves, and better for Peter, you'll be better for each other, too."

"Yeah. Gotta start somewhere." He looked up. "Fresh start."

"We'll talk. But if you want the job, it's pretty much yours."

Rick nodded, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and was about to light one. He then looked at the lighter in his hand, the cigarette so casually drawn from the pack, set into his hand with such familiarity. He shook his head, realizing what he was about to do, and…

Turned to a nearby trash bin, tossing lighter, pack and loose cigarette in. He stared at them in the trash for a long moment, before sighing deeply and turning back to Allen. "Got to start somewhere," he said, shrugging. The two men nodded and then walked up the porch steps into the vet's.

"Okay, only two of you in at a time. He's still very week," the veterinary nurse said as they approached Treatment Room #3. "He's awake and aware of things around him, but still very tender at his wound site. So be careful where you touch him. Let him smell you first."

"It's okay, boys. You two go in first," Glen's mom said. Carolynn lay in her arms, a little groggy and wanting to sleep more after all the excitement of people coming by the house so late after bedtime. Grace and Leesa sat in the small waiting room, while other pets and their owners waited to be called back for their various appointments. Small dogs roamed freely, sniffing almost everything, a very chill abysinian lay in its owners lap, contentedly ignoring the canines. A great dane with a large bone-shaped name tag which read "Brutus" sat calmly while his tiny female human owner animatedly played some word puzzle game on her cell phone. Through it all, a friendly ferret named Jazz wandered the room, sniffing at animals and people, rubbing against those that would allow it, and seeking pets to his glossy coat. So naturally, Carolynn was happy to oblige, giggling at the ferret's antics when it came over to inspect the sleepy toddler.

"I'm sorry," Peter's mother said, her eyes locked forwards on a poster showing multiple dog breeds.

"For what?"

"For being a bad mother," she replied, still unwavering.

"Leesa," Grace began, but seemed to reconsider her next words, realizing the frailty of Leesa's mental state. The shock of hearing what had happened to Glen and Peter the night before had the effect of almost instantly sobering Peter's mother. The guilt seemed to be a natural consequence of her thinking clearing from the alcoholic fog.

"I am. I'm a bad mother."

"No, you're not."

"My daughter… hates me. And when Peter needed me… I was so drunk I had to drink coffee in the shower to wake u p. I'm a bad mom."

"You're here for him now," Grace said, laying her hand on top of Leesa's knee. "Both of you are."

"Yeah, I'm a swell wife, too, huh?" the other woman grunted. "I'd rather spend my days chasing the bottom of a bottle than deal with my husband." She twisted her head slightly in order to wipe a tear off her cheek.

"All couples go through rough patches. That's life," Grace countered. "I think you want to do something about it, something better."

"It's been so hard. Jobs, the kid, my mother dying suddenly last year, my daughter hasn't returned a call in months off at school…" Leesa leaned over putting her face in her hands. Grace put her hand on Leesa's back as she began to cry.

And then something extraordinary happened. Leesa felt a small hand come to the other side of her back rubbing softly. She looked over to see Carolynn kneeling on the seat beside her, Jazz contentedly in her lap, gently patting her shoulder.

"Don't be sad, Peter's Mom," the little girl said. "Petey will be okay. He helped Chase, he helped Glen. He can help you, too." Grace felt so proud of her little girl. But the change that came over Leesa was far more impressive. She smiled, despite the tears on her face.

"How do you know that, sweetheart?" Leesa asked.

"Because," Carolynn said. "Glen helped me. I helped Mommy. We all help each other. That's what mommies and daddies and kids do."

The two women exchanged looks, Leesa smiling through her tears and feeling like the weight of the world had shifted from someplace sore to someplace easier to deal with. Someplace that she could figure a way to set it down without it crushing her in the process.

"Out of the mouths of babes, purest truth and wisdom comes," Grace said, smiling to her daughter. "I think we'd love to have you and Rick over f or dinner tonight," she offered.

"I think we'd like that. Have to talk with Rick about that. I think… I think we got some talkin' ta do."

The boys followed the nurse down the corridor, passing exam rooms where pet parents and their four-legged companions consulted with medical professionals. Some seemed nervous, some seemed calm. Glen himself felt very tense. He concentrated on keeping his cool. His brief discussion with Thunderbird was still on his mind. The difference between reality, dream and the odd sense of magic and energy he felt running just under his own skin was still chasing thoughts around in his brain.

He shook his head as they reached the next to the last room on the left before the nurse pushed open the door to admit the boys. Glen's steps quickened when he saw Chase laying on his side on the exam table. The ever dangerous tail swept up to start a slow but heart-felt thump-thump-thump against the cushion. He had two tap lines draining saline and blood into him, suspended over the table on a long, slender metal bar. His chest and right side were bound in bandages, a slight pinking on his flank bandage showing where the wound was still seeping very, very slightly.

"Chase!" Glen said, his voice brightening. The tail thumping continued as Glen rushed to the dog's side, holding his hand out for Chase's dry but mobile nose to take measure of. Quickly followed by Peter's paw. Licks followed, and the boys made a point of putting their faces down where the dog could lick them without having to stretch up.

"You're gonna be okay, Chase. You're gonna be just fine, boy. I told you, things are different now," Glen said, burying his face in the thick fur of Chase's nose while Peter gently scrubbed his fingers through the fur on Chase's muzzle.

"He's a very l ucky dog," the nurse said, crossing her arms over the gold colored scrubs she wore. "The bullet that entered his chest deflected off bone and skidded out of his body without grazing any arteries or major organs."

"Will he be able to run and play again?" Glen asked, anxious.

"He'll be as right as rain," the dark haired nurse smiled, leaning down to Glen's level. He noticed the bandana tied around her pony-tail was also a matching golden tone, with fire hydrants and cartoon dogs scattered across the fabric, randomly. "He may limp for a while, but he is a tough guy. He did lose a lot of blood, so, it will be a bit before he's back to full strength. The doctor will talk to your parents about his medicines and recovery schedule. But he's going to make a full recovery. Which at his age, that's saying something.

"Hear that, boy?" Glen said, petting the side of Chase's neck. "You'll be splashin' trees and mail boxes again in no time!" Glen turned to the nurse and smiled. "Thank you, uh," he said, looking at her scrubs for a name tag. It swung on a lanyard but was twisted around so that her name was hidden from view.

"Sage," the nurse said, smiling sweetly.

"Thank you, Sage," Glen smiled back.

"My pleasure," Sage smiled, picking up a clipboard beside Chase's table, turned and walked from the room.

The two boys went back to giving Chase some attention.

Late that evening, a shadow flitted about. It seemed to follow the lengthening of other shadows around town, stretching from darkening place to partly shaded pool of near darkness. The figure creating the shadow seemed to be blending with shadows as it went. Slipping into them, becoming one, leaping across streets and back yards with practiced ease. Eventually, the shadow managed to slither itself around to just over the window of Glen's room. It took solid form, hovering on the impetus of dark magic, staying in the shadows as if supported by them.

A familiar wiggle in her pocket shook the shadowed figure out of her silent observations. In the bedroom beyond Peter and Glen were kneeling, shirtless, playing some racing game on the PlayStation4. They had no idea she was there. That she was watching. That she saw with jealous eyes their budding romance as they played their silly game.

The wiggle happened again, and she knew better than to let it wiggle a third time without answering. She drifted back from the window, slipping a small mirror compact out of her pocket. She opened it carefully and spoke the word. The mirror shook and darkened, and she knew then that her special friend was with her, with instructions.

"Report, witch," a voice said from the mirror's darkened depths.

"I did as you asked. I keep trying to get him interested in me. He's not goin' for it."

"Then you have two choices. You either try harder, or get someone else to do it," the voice from the small compact in Jill's hand said. "Or I will."

"But he doesn't hang out around me anymore. He doesn't even get that I'm trying to get his attention by avoiding him. He wont even friend me on Facebook or Twitter."

"I told you, you silly bitch!" the voice said, threateningly. "Either his soul or yours. Now which will it be?"

"But he's always got people around him. And he hangs with that little faggot, Peter. Peter, Peter, Penis-Eater. Such a loser!"

"Then you'll just have to peel Peter aside, wont you, Jillian?"

"It's too hard," she complained.

"You knew this was dangerous when you started. No witch has ever completed her first contract of power without getting a little blood on her hands. You can't make an omelet unless you kill a chicken infant. That's the truth of life, magic and power, and death," the voice droned on. "You either have the will to do it, or you're still the scared little girl who begged for the book. So which is it? What's it going to be, Jillian? You either bring us back the book with another sacrifice, say Peter or that brainless lout you sleep around with now, Jason, or…"

"Or?" she asked, a little afraid of the voice's almost lusty, hungry tone when talking about taking Jason away from her. It didn't seem to bother Jill much when Peter's name was mentioned in the same inflection and need.

"Or you deliver Glen Bergeron to us, intact. If you do that, the book, and all of its secrets… are yours."

"And I'll be the one?" the girl asked, avarice and excitement in her voice. "The grand witch?"

"My one begotten childe, at my left hand, in power," the voice promised. "My viceroy in ruling your tiny world. You will have wealth, power, prestige, and more men and boys begging to be by your side, and in your bed, than you could ever dream of commanding. I will give you power over life and death for the whole Earth," the voice growled. "Just bring us Glen Bergeron."

"By your command, great one," Jill said, slowly closing the compact and sliding it into her pocket. One thought reigned supreme in her mind as she hovered outside Glen's bedroom window, watching as Glen and Peter snuggled together under a blanket, competing as boys do, yet enjoying each other's closeness in ways that Jill somehow could never see as fulfilling. One truth about her path to power stood out in her mind as she used her shadows to melt back homewards.

Peter Johnson had to die.

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