Andrea and Janet ran along the road for what seemed to Janet like hours pausing only to hide when they saw approaching headlights. Each time, they felt almost certain that their pursuers had found them. Janet would hold her breath, waiting until the headlights disappeared before allowing herself to heave a shaky sigh of relief.
Her mind continued to grapple with what she had seen in that kitchen. Surely, it was some form of hallucination brought on by the roofies in her soda. She wanted to tell her sister but could not figure out where to begin or how to describe it. When they finally reached the old tumbledown barn, squeezed in through the sagging wooden doors and found Ethan’s car where he said it was concealed, Janet nearly wept with relief.
“Where are we going Andrea?”
“Downtown St. Louis. There is a man there who is going to facilitate the sale of the talisman.”
“How do we know we can trust this guy?”
“We don’t but what other choice do we have? We need cash. He seemed harmless enough over the phone. He’s got a shop where he sells antiquities.”
Andrea shrugged out of her summer-weight jacket and handed it to Janet.
“Here, put this on. The talisman is sewn into the lining. Since everybody seems to know I’ve got the thing, it will be safer with you. That way if anything happens to me, you’ve still got a bargaining chip.”
Janet lapsed into silence. She didn’t like the thought that something might happen to her sister. They were on their way a few moments later and reached their destination in two hours. Andrea parked by the alley and they made their way to the back door.
Andrea’s knock was answered by a small brown man wearing a white long shirt and pants. He bowed deeply and stood aside, gesturing for them to enter. Janet followed her sister into what appeared to be a small office dominated by an ornately carved mahogany desk.
The palest man Janet had ever seen sat behind the desk staring at them. One look at his white hair and red eyes told her that he was an albino. They were directed to two seats in front of the massive desk. The albino spoke first.
“Welcome ladies, allow me to introduce myself. I am called Dorian and my friend here is Jagathy. We were beginning to think you weren’t coming.”
“Yeah well, let’s just say we ran into a few roadblocks. We had no idea the talisman was in such demand.”
“Did you bring it?”
“Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. Do you have the money?”
“Let me see the talisman first.”
“That’s not how this is going to work. You show me the cash right now or we walk.”
Dorian gazed appraisingly at her for a few moments before opening a drawer at his left elbow and pulling out bundles of cash which he stacked on the desk in front of him. Andrea reached over and tugged at a thread along the bottom of the her jacket. The talisman slid out into her hand and she briefly dangled it in front of Dorian’s face before yanking it away from his eager hands and handing it off to her sister.
“Not so fast, I’m going to need to count the money. No offense but I don’t plan on coming back so, I want to make sure it’s all there before we conclude this transaction.”
Dorian shrugged and began counting out the money under Andrea’s watchful gaze. Janet looked down at the stone in her hand, curious to see why anyone would pay a small fortune for one little stone. It was pretty, to be sure but unremarkable as amethysts went.
The stone had been cut into flat disk, banded by a gold setting covered with Egyptian hieroglyphics. It fit in the palm of her hand. With the stone against her palm, Janet could see a symbol engraved in the center of the stone itself. She held the stone up towards the light on Dorian’s desk and peered at the symbol.
Janet realized that it was an Egyptian eye symbol and then was overcome by blinding pain in the center of her forehead. The stone twirled in front of her eyes and she caught a glimpse of Dorian through the stone. He was outlined in rings of multicolored light. A dark, muddy gray ring of light pulsed close to his body and Janet spoke without thinking.
“Don’t trust this guy Andrea. He’s scared to death. Something is wrong.”
The pain seemed to expand until it felt as though the top of her head would burst. Janet she screamed, dropping the stone to grasp the sides of her head. She leaned forward, breathing rapidly, praying that something, anything would ease the unbearable pain. Janet was dimly aware of her sister’s hands on her shoulders and allowed her head to be raised.
“What’s wrong Janet? What happened? Your nose is bleeding!”
Andrea accepted a tissue from Jagathy and pressed it to her sister’s nose, urging her to keep her head back until the bleeding eased. Out of the corner of her eye, Andrea saw Dorian’s pale hand steal across the table towards the talisman. It closed around the stone as Andrea grabbed him by the wrist with both hands, pulling him towards her with her feet against the massive desk for leverage.
Dorain lost his balance and fell atop the desk, striking his chin. His mouth clamped together with a loud clack and he groaned. Andrea went down into a crouch on the floor, pulling his wrist over the edge of the desk.
She ducked under its lip to dodge his other fist, lifting her feet and hanging her weight on the end of his arm. Andrea gave his wrist a vicious twist. Dorian cried out and his hand opened reflexively, depositing the talisman into her lap. Andrea pressed the stone into her sister’s hand and told her to run.
“What about you?”
“I’ll be alright. Just get out of here Janet.”
Her sister hesitated momentarily. Jagathy was standing by the back door staring at her with his piercing black eyes. She jumped up and ran out through the office door into the darkened store. Andrea released Dorian’s hand and fell backwards onto her buttocks.
“You broke my wrist you bitch! I’m going to kill you!”
Dorian rolled off the side of the desk and came around, tossing the chairs out of the way with one hand. Andrea was ready for him with her revolver cocked. He stopped short, staring down the barrel. Their eyes met and when Dorian imagined that he saw fear, he advanced on her. Janet yelled and Andrea could hear her stumbling around in the other room. Jagathy spoke up from his place by the back door.
“Stop! I’ve seen enough. Dorian come and sit back down.”
“But this bitch broke my wrist!”
“It’s no more than you deserved now sit down!”
Andrea got to her feet with the gun leveled at them both, just as her sister was pulled into the room. A fierce looking, raven haired woman had her sister in a headlock. She released Janet from the hold and roughly shoved her to the floor. Andrea instantly recognized the woman.
“What the hell are you doing here? You set me up didn’t you? Look, I’m sorry Steve stole the talisman from you. I would give it back but I need it. My sister and I have got to get away from here. People are trying to kill us!”
“So you are the one who stole the stone from Daksha,” said Jagathy.
“Well, technically Steve stole the stone. I just kind of facilitated it.”
“Have you heard enough Palin?”
A police officer with a striking resemblance to Daksha stepped into the office with his weapon trained on Andrea.
“Yes, I’ve heard more than enough to justify an arrest. I’ll wager that gun in her hand is the one she used to murder her partner in crime. Ma’am drop the weapon or I will shoot you.”
Andrea stood motionless, running through different scenarios. What should she do? What if that man wasn’t a cop? She had to protect her sister. Should she just shoot him and take her chances with the others? She didn’t have to kill him, just damage his shooting arm.
If her sister could take care of Daksha or at least keep her busy for a few minutes, she could deal with the men. Dorian was already injured. Jagathy was elderly and so small that she was sure she outweighed him. Jagathy watched Andrea in silence for a moment and then chuckled.
“Amazing, you’re cornered yet you actually think you have a fighting chance to get out of here in one piece with your sister in tow. Let me give you some food for thought. Palin has you dead to rights with a murder weapon in hand and a stolen artifact for which Daksha will press charges.”
Jagathy paused long enough to let his words sink in,” You are facing some very serious consequences and at the very least, your sister will be charged as an accessory after the fact for her part in your little adventure. I came here prepared to make sure you got prosecuted but after watching Janet activate the talisman and use her third eye, I think I can offer the two of you a more attractive option.”
“I’m listening,” Andrea said.
“What do you know about the doorkeepers?”
“Not much, I know that it is an order that dates back to ancient times when they would guard religious assemblies against spies and magistrates.”
“Very good Andrea, that’s more than most people know. However, the order has evolved a great deal since then. We still protect religious leaders and stand guard at pivotal religious meetings and assemblies but we are also watchdogs with field agents who engage in what you might call spiritual warfare.”
Jagathy smiled at the puzzled look that creased her features,” The agents work in pairs consisting of a seer and a warrior. I was on my way to retrieve that talisman you and your friend stole. It was being used by Daksha’s partner when she was killed during a mission. Daksha was trying to convince me to allow her to soldier on alone but now, I’m thinking perhaps you and your sister might be the better choice.”
“Let me get this straight, you’re asking me and Janet to go on some sort of mission? Sounds bogus to me.”
“Well, Palin can always go ahead and arrest you. Maybe being locked away for the rest of your life won’t be as a bad as it sounds,” Daksha sneered.
“You don’t scare me. I shot Steve in self-defense. He broke into my home for fucks sake! What was I supposed to do, let him kill me?”
“Do you really think that people are going to believe that once Daksha tells them about the two of you robbing her? It will be obvious to anyone who hears about it that you shot him because you didn’t want to share the proceeds from the job you pulled with him.”
“But Janet and I don’t have any experience as agents.”
“From what I’ve seen you both have a certain amount of innate ability; you as a warrior and her as a seer. Daksha and I can give the two of you a crash course in whatever you need to know. The rest you’ll figure out as you go along. Some things can’t be taught.”
“Didn’t you just say that Daksha went and got her partner killed on one of these so-called missions?”
“I didn’t get her killed you asshole,” spat Daksha.
“As you say, I’ll I know is that the poor woman is dead. I don’t want to put my sister in any more danger. She didn’t ask to get sucked into all of this. She’s innocent.”
“You mean she was innocent. Now, she’s in this up to her neck. I will not lie to you. What I am asking you to do is very dangerous, but life is fraught with danger. At any given moment you might be in a fatal car accident, be struck down by an assailant, contract some deadly disease. The possibilities are endless. Life is tenuous at best. Why not do something meaningful with the time you have here?”