Emily was called to come to the police station only a few days later. She wondered if they had discovered Swenson’s secret lab location but was told, “No,” and then she was told to bring her friends. While Emily and Maria waited outside the dorm for Jessica and Amina, Maria got to introduce her new roommate who was already moving things in. Apparently, Melissa’s Lisa trashed their old room and left early.
“Melissa got special permission to move in before the semester’s end,” Maria said.
“Tough luck,” Emily responded, but she smiled and said welcome when Melissa arrived. Melissa had her arms full of flowers, incense burners and such things. “What is with all this stuff?” Emily did not mean to be rude, but she was curious. They were not supposed to burn anything in their rooms.
“It is for my Abby,” Melissa said with a happy little face.
“Your Abby?” Emily felt confused. Was this some new college fad she missed out on?
“Her first roommate,” Maria explained.
“The one that threw her—that threw you out after only a week?”
Maria nodded. “I think she is building a shrine.”
Melissa dropped her little smile. “Abby did not throw me out. She wanted a single room and I volunteered to leave.”
“Didn’t get along?” Emily wondered.
“No. She is magnificent and perfect. Abby is a holy goddess. No one expects her to have to live with a plain mortal like me.” Melissa’s facial expression implied that Emily was just being stupid.
“The one that threw you out?” Emily felt really confused.
“Oh!” Melissa shook her head and turned to walk off. “You will learn. Abby is holy and perfect in every way. All praise to magnificent Abby.”
“That was weird.” Emily turned back to Maria as Jessica walked up. Maria simply shrugged and straightened her glasses.
“It seems I have a talent for picking weird roommates.”
“Are we ready?” Jessica asked when she came up with Amina following.
They walked, and neither Amina, Maria nor Emily spoke, but that was fine since Jessica was perfectly willing to do all the talking.
When they arrived, Amina, Jessica and Maria were hustled off to a room where there were several phones being manned by the police. Latasha and two friends Latasha introduced as Keisha and Janet were in there also talking over the phone. They had been given scripts. Ashish grabbed Emily and pulled her aside.
“It is probably coming down soon,” he said. “We got word that bodies have not been getting into the graves, of late. One of the local funeral directors brought in a medical donation form that looked suspicious. The man who delivered it stressed that the director was to instruct his staff to be sure they did not mention the donation of the body at the burial service. They were to go ahead and bury the empty casket as if it was the person, but he would actually be taking the donated body to Philadelphia. Not mentioning it was to avoid friction with some of the relatives who would not be pleased.”
“So they are calling around to see if the same thing is happening elsewhere?”
Ashish nodded. “We are getting confirmations from as far as Philadelphia and Camden both, and in between, and all in the last week.” Ashish opened the door. Lisa was on the phone.
“Well, I’m sorry you can’t make it…I understand…see you another time, goodbye.” She hung up and asked Ashish to bring Latasha in. He did, and then Lisa started to tell them what to expect.
At the same time, a man walked into the police station and up to the front desk. He had cut his hair and trimmed his beard to an acceptable level, and he dressed in a suit. No one would know him for the wild haired old geezer that ran the knife and T-shirt kiosk at the mall, though he was still old, and he carried a cane besides.
“Can I help you?” The officer at the desk was polite.
“Yes, Mitzy.” The man read the police officer’s nametag. “I am here to see Detective Lisa Schromer.”
“Let me see.” Mitzy picked up the phone. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No, that’s alright. Just tell her Henry Schultz is here to see her,” the man paused and scratched his beard before his face lit up. “Never mind. I know where she is.” He started to walk into the back room. Mitzy jumped in front of him to block his way but Henry spoke again, softly.
“I am an old man with a cane. What can I do? Please, dear Mitzy. Just tell her I am here and on my way back. Hmm?”
Mitzy looked into the man’s eyes and let him through. She got Detective Schromer on the phone, told her, and then paused to scold herself. Why did she let that man back there? That went against all police protocol.
“Am I interrupting?” Henry stuck his head in the door even as Lisa hung up her phone. She stood and stepped back with enough force to knock over her chair. Latasha felt the sudden urge to fight or run away, and since she did not know which was best, she just froze where she was. Emily took a second to recognize the man, but when she did, she felt more like reacting the way Lisa reacted. She stayed where she was, but became very wary.
“What is a member of the council doing here?” Lisa asked.
“Ah, good. So that much is taken care of.” The man entered the room and set his cane by the door.
“What’s a council?” Latasha asked through gritted teeth.
“Who are you?” Emily asked over top.
“Heinrich Schultz, born in the year of our Lord, 1640 in the midst of a war. Mind if I sit down?” There were four chairs in the room. Detective Lisa pointed to the empty chair, picked up her own and let Latasha and Emily scoot around a bit so they could all face the man.
A police officer stuck his head in. Lisa yelled, “Get out,” and the head vanished.
“The council is a very small collection of men that meet once every fifty years, gathering from all over the world. On average, we live to be about five hundred if we are not killed. Mostly we are killed. I was almost killed a dozen times or more before the Hundred Years War was over. You see, unlike the elect, we are strictly mortal and human without any extraordinary power unless we are activated.”
“You have been activated.” Emily said, but it was a question.
The man nodded. “Often it is because one of the elect has gone rogue. You see, when the goddesses made you lot, the gods thought that was a good thing, but they wanted to be sure there was a safety valve, just in case. Then a few other things were added to our charge that the goddesses did not think of.”
“Man, you are old,” Latasha finally unclenched her teeth.
“Yes, and not saddled with a wife and children. None of us are. We need to remain free agents just in case. I have lived my whole life just in case.”
“But why are you here?” Lisa did not let go of her original question, but again Emily spoke over top.
Heinrich shrugged. “It happens. The temptations in this world are beyond counting, Father Martin used to say. Only one was born pure and managed an entire lifetime without sin. Of course, it might also be because of a witch or some such thing and not one of you elect at all.”
“What?” Emily and Latasha both asked.
Again, Heinrich nodded. “That was one of the things your ladies forgot. When active, we are far more resistant to all forms of magic than you lot.”
“But why are you here?” Lisa asked a third time.
Heinrich ran his fingers across the table before he spoke. “The truth is, we are not omniscient. All I can say is no member of the council has ever been activated without good cause. That reason will present itself in due time. Meanwhile, I have caught wind of what you are planning. That alone may be the reason. It has never been done before on the scale you are contemplating, not in the history of the world.” He sighed and looked around the room. “It is this age. Everything has to move. Nothing stands still anymore.”
“What are you talking about?” Latasha was curious now.
Lisa was going to answer, but Heinrich held up his hand and spoke to reassure Lisa that he indeed knew what she had planned. “There are three of you in this one small city, the odds of which are beyond calculating. There were three in London at the height of the British Empire, you know, Queen Victoria, Jack the Ripper and all that. Three was rare, but at the time, London was one of the biggest cities in the world and while they knew each other, they lived so far apart and traveled in such different circles they rarely interacted. The three of you here in this small and rather insignificant city defies reason.”
“I’m not native to Trenton,” Emily said.
“None of us are. Hush,” Lisa quieted her to listen.
Heinrich continued. “There were three elect who met in Saint Louis in 1890. There were three who met in Boston at the end of the first World War. There were four who met in Baltimore just before Pearl Harbor. But here you have invited how many?”
“Twenty confirmed,” Lisa said.
The man stood suddenly, but his demeanor remained calm and kindly. “That makes twenty three at a minimum. Such has never happened in all of history. It may be that I am simply a precaution.” He shrugged and turned to leave.
“Thank you for the sword,” Emily said, not wanting to appear ungrateful for such a fine weapon.
“I made it myself by hand as all of the best swords are made. May it give you good service.” The man smiled for her.
“Could you teach me how to use it?”
The man paused before he smiled again. “It would be my pleasure.” He picked up his cane and said one last thing to the three. “See you around.” When he stepped out there were two officers there to escort him all the way out. “Thank you for your kindness to this old man,” they heard him say.
“Teach you the sword?” Latasha spoke almost before it was safe. “I mean he seems nice, but kind of creepy. Didn’t you feel that way?”
Emily explained. “He is going to be watching us. We might as well keep him in a place where we can also watch him.”
“No, I got that part,” Lisa said. “Good thinking. But whenever a member of the council shows up, most of the time it means something bad for us or one of us. All I can say is I guess the three of us passed his tests or standards or whatever. Otherwise I don’t think he would have been so up front and honest with us.”
“So, twenty three?” Emily was already on a different subject.
“Tomorrow night. Bring your handmade sword.”