MONDAY 3:38 A. M.
Wabash Ave. and W. Van Buren St., Chicago, IL
This morning like the thousand before it, whispered, "Nothing to worry about, I'm just another day."
The first breath of breeze from Lake Michigan flitted through the streets. While bakers along with other early denizens, dreamed of coffee and still wiping sleep from their eyes, headed for work. The bundles of Chicago Sun Times Morning Edition, tossed from delivery trucks, bounced on the sidewalks. While leviathan city street sweepers, caution lights blinking, lumbered along on their rounds brushing trash from the gutters and the 'EL' trains rumbled past on the overhead tracks.
Nothing seemed out of place or extraordinary in any way, until the manhole cover in the bakery's alley shifted position and set off the 'Nexus Portal' alarm.
By comparison to the reaction this minuscule movement produced, four alarm fires are completely ignored. But, of course, four alarm fires only summon Firemen, Police and Paramedics. Not Dwarves that crush rock barehanded for fun, nor Elven Princes wielding 'Monomolecular' sharp swords and certainly not Diamond hard Blue Dragons.
At that moment Puff's distinctive mental voice chimed in, 'I've got this one, ' she broadcast, 'Come to Mama you little flea hoarding collection of garbage.'
The Demon now poking it's head out of the manhole had obviously never heard the saying 'There Is No Free Lunch', or perhaps it just mistook the 'Realm of Men' for 'The Promised Land'.
Whatever fallacy this thing was operating under was cleared up immediately by decapitation; courtesy of the aforementioned Dragon and the remains unceremoniously returned through the 'Nexus Portal' by a tail tip. After all, living above the alley on top of the bakery building, she didn't have far to travel.
Her plaintive cry flew through the mind net, 'Whew!! Don't these things EVER bathe?'
The laughter floating around the side of the building in answer, and the mental 'Nice job Puff'. Were almost as good a reward as the tray of Chicago's best pastries that materialized in front of her ... almost.
The return mental image of 'A dragon buffing its claws with pride on a pair of coveralls' raised a bigger chuckle and got her a scratch behind the ears too. Of course, being a practical girl, it was pastries first please. But, ear scratching coupled with pastry eating, was making a seriously determined run at the 'top ten' slot on the Draconic 'Things I Like' list. The Purr kicked into high gear just to prove it.
Yeah, it was just another typical Chicago day break.
MONDAY 8:35 A. M.
Fox River Run, Aurora, IL
The Fox River area north of Aurora IL would never have been considered a headquarters for organized crime by anyone driving through it. Homes around there ranged from the lower end of one point six million, to in excess of fifteen million. The security the area was laced with, was very discreet.
Of course, there is always an exception to every appearance. Nestled along the banks of the Fox river rested the home of one Allen Joseph Mitchell II. This home didn't need even the 'discreet' security offered in the area. It was protected by 'reputation'. Anyone stupid enough to even think about a B & E at this residence just simply disappeared off the face of the Earth.
Mitchell's family had connections with the Chicago City Government going back almost three generations, or at least as long as the 'Daley show' had been in charge. He was also one of the largest philanthropic donors in the entire Chicago area. His PR firm had told him it was good for business.
Mr. Mitchell's interests ran in two distinct channels: power acquisition and efficiency. These two interests worked hand in glove with each other. Power being his personal drug of choice and efficiency being the glue that held it all together. These interests were not truly a surprise considering his family background. He had been born Antonio Giuseppe Maldanado and had been hand raised on power from day one.
For the past six to nine months he had been keeping an eye on a section of downtown that was showing all the signs of a rebirth, but without the proper financing ... his financing.
Perhaps he should have had that second cup of coffee this particular morning. Fuzzy thinking can lead to hasty decisions, as he was about to prove, by making the greatest criminal blunder in recorded Chicago history. Well, certainly the greatest since Al Capone's 'boo-boo' with that empty cigarette pack.
A discreet call assured him that fifteen teams would be canvassing the area by tomorrow. Their orders were very simple. Find out who the money was behind this new renaissance. After that information was in hand, 'other' discreet calls would be placed.
MONDAY 9:15 A. M.
Hell, Upper Level 1.5
Alzor, Lord of Hell Upper Level one-point-five was ready to chew his own tail off. Even knowing that the denizens of his realm operated on a purely instinctive level, didn't help alleviate the frustration.
'These incompetent twits couldn't get ANYTHING RIGHT! Six mortal months they've been at it. Throwing attack after attack at the Nexus, and still had NOTHING to show for it#!' His mind raged. 'I have got to try something new before I run out of idiots.' Then, wincing at the inevitable, he thought wryly to himself, 'Oh hell, come on. Quit chasing your tail around and summon the damn council. You could get lucky.'
His mind scream shot out. 'Assemble#!' Instantly the council of twelve lay in obeisance before him. The fear wafting from the group was oh, so tantalizing, that it took a supreme act of will to suppress his feeding response. 'Hum, the little bugs are quick today.' Mused Alzor. 'Very well, let's see if they can come up with anything useful.' The hissing command erupted, "Find a way through that Portal, or pay with your lives." Followed seconds later by. "What are you still doing here?"
Bursting soap bubbles operated in slow-motion compared with the disappearing act the twelve pulled.
'I wonder if there isn't a more powerful motivator than fear?' He pondered. 'Nah. Not a chance.'
The hunger continued to churn within and torment his bowels. 'The world of Men, what a smörgåsbord.' The thought coursed through his mind, while hunger, pain, and fear fought for supremacy in his guts.
MONDAY 10:45 A. M.
Wabash Ave and W. Van Buren St, Chicago, IL
Mike was still chuckling hours later over Puff's description of the latest string of Demon attackers. He really did think that 'Idiot Unwashed Uncouth Philistines' had a nice ring to it. Even the acronym was kind of snappy when pronounced phonetically. 'IUUP' sounded like hillbillies agreeing on something, and he half expected to hear 'Dueling Banjos' start up anytime now.
The unbidden thought then struck him from out of nowhere, "God, has it really been fifteen years now?' Mike mused, 'The day I learned that Pop's 'Irish Stories' were actually based in fact seems like yesterday. Where the heck did all the years go? Of course, those first three years under Prince Elnore's tutelage were a real bitch at times. If I ever hear, "Once again, Michael.", I'm fairly sure I'll kill something. But, I've got to admit, I've met some wonderful folks along the way and really wouldn't trade a day of it for anything in this world.'
About that time Detectives Rick Fields and Stan Costanza pulled into the curb in their brand spanking new 'Snoop-mobile', as Stan had nicknamed the vehicle. Waving at 'his troops' Mike grabbed an A. M. Edition of the Sun Times and strolled on over. "So, you guys coming for news, pastries or some of Margarethe's Coffee?" He asked meeting them on the sidewalk.
"Yeah to all of the above. Besides, he kept bitching about his loose trousers." Stan quipped, while hooking a thumb at Rick. "He also said something about wanting to check on Puff after this morning's attack." Turning to Rick, he said, "Oh go on, go check on your kid. We'll meet you in Angelo's break room." While Rick turned to head into the alley and see how his adopted Daughter was doing.
As he and Mike headed for Angelo's bakery, Stan asked, "Hey compadre, how's the 'Best Defense' plan coming along?"
"Think I might have the finishing touches in place in the next day or so. You ever read about those Neutron Bombs the U. S. developed toward the end of the Cold War? You know, the ones that would 'Take out the People, but Leave the Buildings'? Well, imagine one that only takes out Demonic substance." Mike said with a chuckle and raised eyebrows wiggling.
"Well, I really hate to be a Puerto Rican cliché but, 'Holy Mother of God'." Stan tossed back while shaking his head in wonder. "You really don't think small, do you?"
"Nah. No sense in doing that. Those Demons are playing for keeps and we should too." Mike returned. "You should see some of the designs Ella's come up with. Not only will they work, they'll be downright pretty too. Besides, Valentines Day is coming up soon and I really think we should send... 'only the very best'," followed by the infamous chuckle.
The "Holy Mother of God," whisper was very heartfelt this time.
After meeting Rick in the Bakery break room, all three fortified themselves with a couple of Angelo's 'Bolo de Sol' pastries and a big mug of Margarehte's love.
"So, how are you doing there... 'Detectives'?" Mike asked with a grin, after the first few bites and sips.
"Yeah, that's still hard to believe sometimes even after four months on the job." Stan, the former patrolman, grinned back. "But, when we could solve cases that had the whole department pulling their hair. What can you expect except "Here's your shields 'Tonto and Kimo Sabe' ... go get em." At least the brass knew what real talent looked like when it smacked them in the nose."
Then turning to Rick, Mike asked, "Hey, how's your lady Alice down at City Hall doing and where the heck do you find the time anyway?"
Rick, with a sheepish yet determined grin said, "She's doing great and if you're going to be serious about a relationship, well, you just make the time. That's all. Guess having to keep an eye on Puff cranked up those old nesting instincts again. Speaking of which, how's Ella doing, 'Uncle ... Mike'?"
"Holy Mackerel is that kid hot. Just talked with Elnore this morning and they've had to contact three other Elfrealms to bring in more teachers for her," Mike said, with 'Daddy' pride spread all over his face. "Elnore's like a kid at Disney Land with a 'Free E Ticket Pass'. Can't get him to stop grinning and he keeps walking around whispering, "I can't believe it, Four Mages. Oh thank you Danu." Then he goes back to beaming at everything again. I'm afraid he'll crack his face at this rate."
"That's great to hear Mike. I really love that kid and I'm glad Elnore's just this side of euphoria too." Rick replied, then asked, "So how are Galden and the rest of the Dwarven Clan doing anyway?"
"You ever see Dwarves grin? Well, you will next time you run into any of them." Mike quipped, "Guess it has something to do with having one hundred and seventy-eight pounds of Red Diamond left over from Puff's Egg Case. Best part of all is that after they started exploring the Deeps region, they uncovered another three hundred and twenty-two eggs. That report was from yesterday, and they're still hunting. Looks like Puff will have some brothers and sisters soon. Those darn Dwarves have adopted the entire clutch of Eggs ... and I swear I'm going to nickname the whole Clan 'The Nanny Brigade'. Every time I see any of them the term 'Hog Heaven' comes to mind."
Stan tossed out, "Just so long as they don't start dancing. Rick and I caught a taste of their 'applause' and that was scary enough. Sounded like the opening bars of 'We Will Rock You', or a small sound bite from 'Riverdance'."
Just then Stan glanced at his watch and blurted out, "Hey Pard, we have to split. Got that 11:15 appointment and then we have to get your butt to City Hall if your going to take Alice to lunch on time."
Jumping up, Rick yipped, "Right. Got to run Mike, good talking with ya."
Raising an eyebrow at Stan, Mike said, "Keep your eyeball on 'Kemo Sabe', okay? I don't think his head's totally in the game. Courtship takes tons of focus and doesn't leave a whole lot for anything else."
Heading for the door and chuckling, Stan said, "You got it white man. Now, 'Hi Ho Silver, Away!' the 'Soggy Bush' and I have left the building."