He was dozing gently in his recliner. The television was on, but the volume was so low that it could barely be heard. He had a tendency to turn the volume up very high when he was actually watching; but he wasn't watching now, he didn't want to disturb young Teddy who was asleep in the guestroom. In fact, he couldn't hear it at all.
He had purchased Teddy's services for the night. Which meant that he had bought Teddy's company for the night. They had gone to Teddy's favorite Italian restaurant where Teddy had eaten his fill including two desserts. He had tried to get Teddy to try a different Italian restaurant. One that he thought was much superior to this chain, but Teddy liked this one, so that was that. Then they had swung by the closest mall to buy a few things that Teddy needed, then they'd come home to his apartment. Teddy had luxuriated in the bath and had gone to bed. Gone to bed by himself and for sleep which was what happened when he was with the Old Guy.
Teddy was only fourteen; but the Old Guy was hoping that he might have found a job for Teddy that would get him off the streets. Still, it's hard to find a job for a fourteen year old runaway. He felt, though, that one had to try. But there were so many kids. He finished his cognac and decided he would go to bed. It was eleven-thirty.
But before he actually moved, there was a gentle knocking at his door. That was odd. He peered through the peephole and could see two shadowy presences in the dim lights of the hall. He had decided to replace the lights himself. Since he owned the building, he might as well. It wasn't a question of cost. It was remembering to do it; or telling the super to do it. That was the problem. He was seldom on the landing at night and, he smiled inwardly, perhaps his memory wasn't quite what once it had been.
"Who is it?" And he lifted his long-barreled Colt revolver down from it's niche at the top of the Victorian hat rack that stood beside the door.
"Hi. Sorry to bother you so late. It's me, Gary. I have a friend with me. And my new dog."
That sounded good. Gary had been a real problem. He was a young looking thirteen year old and had been a regular guest. But he'd never come late like this. Still, if he had a dog, maybe good things were happening. He released the latches, except for the chain, and looked out and into Gary's innocent face. He put his gun up and opened the door fully.
"Please be quiet," he cautioned his guests. "Teddy's in bed and he needs his rest."
"Hi Mister DeLucca. This is Jamie Wolsey and this is Copenhagen. Copey's my familiar. We need to talk." Gary smiled broadly.
He shook hands with Jamie and admired Copey. He would have liked a dog himself, but felt a city apartment was too confining for a dog of any size and he had no enthusiasm whatsoever for small dogs. Copenhagen was beautiful and it seemed like he knew it.
Interestingly, Lamborghini his tabby cat, had taken one look at Copenhagen and gone back to sleep. There could be no more formidable vote of confidence than that.
He had wondered, for a second, about Gary's use of the word 'familiar', but thought it was probably some new kid-slang with a meaning altogether different from what it meant to him. He had immediately thought of Kim Novak when he heard the word.
"Gary usually calls me Mr D," he smiled on Jamie. "If you're a friend of Gary's, then you're a friend of mine. Here, please sit down, can I get you something?"
Gary smiled. Knowing Mr D as he did, he knew it would be best to ask for something. "A coke or some orange juice would be nice, if possible. And Copey might enjoy a little drink of water."
Refreshments at hand, Gary commenced. "I've been rescued. Some bangers had grabbed me and were going to sell me to a bigtime pimp."
"And young Jamie, here, has he been rescued too? Do either of you need anything now? Food? Rest? Anything?"
"Thanks, Mr D. We do need some help. Just probly not what you were thinking of."
"Well, it's late, and we should all get some rest. Here, let me set-up the futon for you and your friend. That's all right I guess? And I've just the blanket for the handsome Copenhagen. You know where the bathroom is."
Bowing to the determined march of old-time manners, they retired.
As it happened, they were tired; they fell quickly asleep and awoke mid-morning to the sounds and smells of breakfast.
The Old Guy provided a sumptuous breakfast: pancakes with two kinds of syrup, a platter of ham and bacon fried to perfection, a large bowl of scrambled eggs with spinach and cheese. Toast for those who wanted it along with several different jams. Coffee, milk, and two kinds of juice.
The Old Guy ate sparingly himself, though he savored his coffee; but seemed to enjoy watching the food fend off youthful appetites, not to mention a German shepherd. He had been nonplussed when Gary provided the dog with a bowl full of sparkling apple cider, but the dog had consumed it with every indication of enjoyment.
"Thank you for breakfast, Mr DeLucca," Jamie began. "My name is James Wolsey and I used to go to high school here. But me an my pals, Chris and Paul, decided to pick on this kid on the sidewalk one day and it was the best thing we ever did. We were gonna embarrass and humiliate him; we were gonna bully him for no reason except he looked weak; and instead, he was the one who rescued us. Today I am James Wolsey, leigeman to His Royal Highness Justin ap Henry VII Indomitable and it is in his service we are here."
He's quite correct. Copenhagen continued. My name is Copenhagen and I am Master Ashmore's familiar. Gary will enjoy telling you the story of his rescue so I will leave that for him, but we are here to punish a pimp and rescue other children.
"I brought them here because I know you are a good guy and I think you'd like to help us. Just like you've helped me and Teddy and those other kids."
The Old Guy looked at them solemnly. He was a combat veteran of a forgotten war; he was a gay man who had lived through a time of great change and of plague; he was also a college graduate who had been successful in life and owned the apartment building he now lived in.
He was a man who went into dangerous places from time to time in an effort to help street children. Places not only of physical danger, but that might put him at risk of potential embarassment or liability. He was an older man, after all, and it was all too easy for some to think the worst.
He remained calm. He had seen a lot.
He looked steadily at Copengagen. "A familiar?"
Just so. I was apprenticed to Bucephalus in 335 BC. I remained in Alexander's service until Babylon and then was in service to Ptolemy. Once all was secure in Egypt, I was unattached but was now a Journeyman. Like many of us, I was very busy protecting witches, wizards, and other innocents from various waves of persecution through the years. I was appointed a Master Familiar in 1689. My assignment before this one, was to the Duke of Wellington. This, however! This is going to be a great assignment.
Gary picked-up he story. "You know, Mr D, that I'd only been in town a coupla weeks when you found me. Remember? I was really hungry. I'd talked to a couple of the other kids and I was pretty much for sale, but hadn't done it yet. Then you came along and said 'Come with me' and I knew, somehow, that everything would be okay. And you fed me, got me some new clothes, and let me sleep at your place; you gave me some money, and when I asked you what you wanted me to do, you smiled and said, 'Relax – and be my company.'
"So when those gangbangers jumped me and I figured out they were gonna sell me to the Rajah I was terrified. I'd heard some stories about him, which I didn't really believe until I was really for sale to him. But then, just like when you found me, Copenhagen found me, and I think we need your help."
"What can I do?
Today he had to work the bus depot. Which was sort of okay. All he had to do was watch for likely runaways and see if he couldn't get them to come with him to the big house where they could be doped up and groomed to work either the house or the street. Usually, the bus depot runaways had little experience of the streets and had to be kept in the house for a few weeks; they were premium because they appeared innocent and inexperienced and usually were. Kids who had been on the street for a few months had a different attitude and could usually be trusted to work the streets with some muscle to watch them: they'd want their fix, but of course - they had to pay for it, that was the way of their world.
He was a young looking seventeen and his drug abuse had not yet prematurely aged him; he tried to dress young, and usually had no problem meeting these lost kids. He was an accomplished Artful Dodger, of course his education had been interrupted and he knew nothing of the Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist , or that his line of work was both ancient and ignoble.
'Hah!' He thought. There was a likely mark just getting off the bus with a duffel bag; looked like he was just off the farm, too. Even better. All that was missing was a battered straw hat.
He watched him wander around the station for a few minutes, until it became reasonably certain that no one was waiting for him. When his target stepped out onto the sidewalk, the Dodger began his approach.
"Hey. New in town? Ya waitin' fer somebody? I'm Lenny and I bin here fer awhile. Know some angles. Yep." He offered his fist for a bump. The bump was cautiously returned and the Dodger began his line of patter as they moved up the sidewalk. At the first alley, a Bwca trooper in his blue working fatigues, stepped out of the alley, and kicked the Dodger on his kneecap with a heavy hob nailed combat boot. The Dodger staggered and was falling when his supposed victim stepped in and followed through with a glancing blow to the head. The Dodger completed his fall quietly.
"Well done," observed Babieca and then the trooper and his comatose prisoner flashed off the streets. "Come on," Babieca continued, "we have to get you onto another bus before the shit hits the fan."
"Sweet," Ralph Cyffylog murmured, hefting the blackjack the Quartermaster Sergeant had lent him.
The operation was going well. In the first stage, a platoon of troopers and Bwca youths, led by Captain (Reserve) DeLucca, 24the Regiment of Foot fanned out to identify the street enforcers and scouts that the Rajah had on the streets. Captain DeLucca fell easily and competently into the role; he had been, after all, a lieutenant in the 5th Cavalry a generation ago, in a tropical valley half a world away.
Led by Gary and Teddy, with Jamie and Copenhagen in close support, they fanned out through the principal areas where younger prostitutes worked, and warned off all of the working boys and girls. They told them there was big trouble coming for Rajah, and most of them had heard about the warehouse massacre which had been left for the local authorities to discover. It was a news sensation widely reported on the local news, and of more importance to the working kids via social media and cell phones. Not all of the boys and girls would accept assistance, from someone they didn't know; but many of them went to the LGBT shelter that was recommended to them. Captain DeLucca was on the board of directors of that shelter, so there was no problem with full cooperation at the shelter. They would be safe there, guarded by two squads of Bwca infantry.
Major Owen ap R Evans was in command of the street operations. And Brigadier Spurgeon was in overall command.
Ramen was really pissed. He had three kids to watch in this little plaza and all three of them had just disappeared. And they hadn't disappeared with tricks, either; they'd disappeared with other young kids who he'd not seen before and they didn't look like street kids. Ramen was puzzled and not sure what to do for a moment. He had given himself his street name because he had once heard the phrase 'top ramen' and had assumed that it meant first class, or some such. He decided to follow one of the kids and find out what was going on and then later, he'd beat the shit out of all three of the kids. He smiled. He really enjoyed his work. Still, he had to be careful. He'd like to use a little fire, or do some knife work, but these three kids were new to the Rajah and he couldn't disfigure them as it might alarm the johns. But his smile returned. That just meant he couldn't disfigure them. Yet.
Ramen got up from the ornamental bench near the little fountain and started after the kid who was the last to leave. He tripped on something and fell heavily onto the sidewalk and was partially stunned. He looked up to see two young men wearing identical dark blue clothing with blue caps that had a ribbon fluttering from the back. It looked like some kind of uniform but it was entirely too foreign a look for his very limited experience to identify. He wasn't sure that he'd been tripped by either of these guys, but he was going to fuck them up for getting in his way.
"Fook," one of them said casually. "'E ain't out."
"An 'at wore a nasty fall 'e took," the other observed conversationally.
Private Jones, Fourteen i then stamped hard on Ramen's ankle and a second later Private Winn kicked him hard in the chest. Ramen was again knocked quiescent but was still conscious.
"Fook," it was Private Winn. "All them farmil'ars is busy. Wot're we ta do?"
"We gotta fix 'im so'se 'e can't go far. We kin get 'im later." Private Jones felt he had to make a decision as he was up for Lance-Jack ii . Lance-Jacks made important decisions and something had to be done. "Let's put 'im in 'ospital."
Ramen screamed loudly when they broke his right leg. He passed out when they broke his left leg.
The two Bwca privates then seemed to almost vanish. No one who knew a Tommy Knocker would be in the least surprised.
Rajah was concerned about the warehouse massacre. It didn't really make any sense. Three of his men were dead, and two of the gangbangers. The other three bangers were missing. Their homies didn't know where they were and he believed them. They'd done business before. Plus the bangers had abandoned their car and that was most odd. And, he remembered, his money had been left in the bullet riddled van according to the newspaper. He'd not been robbed, but it was unlikely he'd ever get the money back. Somehow he didn't think the police would release the money to him just because he said it was his.
Nope. Whoever did this hadn't known about the money and the bangers had. Why they thought the idiot bangers might be useful alive remained to be seen, but it was clear that someone was trying to put him out of business. The more he thought about it the angrier he got.
"Fuck off," he ordered; slapping the young girl he had planned on playing with this morning. She wasted no time scuttling from his room. Her idea of play was way different from Rajah's.
Rajah fingered the ropes of pearls he was wearing. He liked pearls and had quite a few of them. Some of them were even genuine. He'd been enchanted by a movie he'd seen as a boy. It was about a maharajah that was given his weight in gold and jewels on every birthday. Rajah was wearing a silk bathrobe from an upscale shop and several ropes of pearls that he had first come upon while disciplining his whores. He also wore several heavy gold chains. This style of dress seemed right for a maharajah and he sought to emulate this remembered maharajah, though his actual knowledge of princely India was nil.
But while his street name and his choice of dress might seem eccentric, he was deadly earnest about his business. There were people out there who wanted to have sex with young boys and girls and they would pay very good money for it. So, while there were no birthday baskets of jewels, there was a steady influx of cash. So much cash, in fact, that it was a problem converting it. Most of his operating expenses, for dope, and muscle, and those sorts of necessities, he could pay for with cash; but still, it mounted-up, he had several bank accounts under assumed names but he could only deposit a small amount in cash or the bank had to report a large cash transaction and these accounts couldn't even begin to handle all his cash. He had two lieutenants whose job was to buy things with cash, and attempt to sell them for a check; they also bought money orders to pay some bills as well as Savings Bonds. It was a pain. Still, he supposed, other people had worse problems, and this brought him back to this new problem: competition. Serious competition!
"Connie! You asshole! Get in here!" Rajah shouted to the assistant he thought was just in the next room. He needed to start getting some answers. He needed to get his enforcers working the streets.
Two platoons of infantry and a squad of sappers iii had moved to isolate the old boarding house that Rajah had taken over for his brothel. It was located in a down-at-the-heel section of town where people pretty much attended to their own affairs. There was usually a considerable amount of street noise and construction work during regular hours.
Captain DeLucca smiled. He was enjoying this. He'd been accepted by the other officers without rancor or attitude; the men were cheerful and competent and tried to work with him when it came to drill commands and movements. They had a much more stylized, very British, manual of arms and drill. It took some getting used to, but no one was fighting him. In fact, they had quickly recognized the importance of rearming the room entry teams so that two of the men had pistols and the other two had rifles. Much more flexibility and short range fire power.
He'd been surprised, when his orderly brought him his uniform for the first time, to note that all of his United States medal ribbons were in the right place and in the right order.
Everyone's in position and ready to go, Babieca reported to him.
They had established a perimeter around the house with soldiers in their blue fatigue uniform though equipped with full combat kit. In the basement, the familiars had infiltrated a platoon of infantry, in their proper red jackets, as well as a squad of sappers with explosives and other equipment.
"Go…go…go," Captain DeLucca ordered, for the first time in almost fifty years.
In the kitchen, the door to the basement crashed open and the 24th Regiment of Foot exploded into the kitchen all ferocious faces, scarlet tunics, blancoed belts, and gleaming bayonets. Two of Rajah's men were sitting at the table drinking coffee. One was hung over. One was just relaxing. Most of the house was asleep, and it was too early for new customers. The hungover guard died. He went for his pistol and was shot in the head for his trouble. His associate sent his hands soaring to the sky. A bayonet stopped inches from his midriff. One of the boys was standing by the fridge, preparing to drink some milk from the carton. He stood as if frozen as the Regiment surged by, into the main parlor, and then began rumbling up the stairs. The soldiers saw him, but he was in his underwear with a milk carton in his hands and clearly posed no threat.
"Yer safe now lad," one of the soldiers explained as he rushed by. Colin preferred that his men know as much about a mission as possible.
The clumping of heavy boots on stairs and upstairs floors was thunderous. Locked doors collapsed with a crash to reveal three girls and two boys and their customers who had paid for the night. Two shots rang out. There was more thunder and then a fusillade of shots. The thunder eased. There were no further shots. The noise became murmurous: just an assortment of bangs, thumps, and the odd bit of furniture crashing from time to time. Lawrence, the boy with the milk, took a deep drink, carefully closed the carton, replaced it in the fridge and wondered what to do next. He listened carefully as there was some additional noise from the basement. Major Evans, Captain DeLucca, GSM Aberhonddu, Wizard Abstruse, and Copenhagen came into the kitchen. Lawrence thought this was a most interesting morning.
"Do yer live 'ere, son?" GSM Aberhonddu inquired of the lad standing by the fridge in his underwear and a milk moustache.
"Yup," Lawrence nodded.
"Do yer wanna go to yer room fer some clothes or summat?" The GSM continued.
"Nope," Lawrence shook his head. He may only be sixteen, but it had been a hard sixteen, and he thought there might be something to learn in this kitchen that might be very useful to him. The fact that he was only wearing his underwear was of no consequence. He'd ceased to have a sense of modesty a long time ago. He slowly eased into a corner.
A corporal entered, moving purposefully and came to attention saluting before the officers. "Sirs, Corporal Jones, Eight begs to report!"
"Sirs, there be four dead-uns. All was armed. En-sign Lewys says that the Rajah wallah be one of 'em. We got six injured. There was two kids tied to beds and knocked out. Doc says they'd been doped-up. Three johns got rumpled when we entered the rooms and they wuz in the way. One kid wuz grazed by a bullet from one of the pimps, but'll be okay. Just a skritch."
"Any of our folks?"
"Sar'nt Dennison got poked in 'is bum wid a bayonet. 'E'll be okay. Doan know who did the pokin'."
"Well," Captain DeLucca observed, "these things do happen."
"If you please Wizard Abstruse, take charge of the kids, I think we'll need to take most of 'em home for now." Major Evans decided. "They'll need some peace and quiet to recover, I suspect. In fact, just take them all home for now; we can sort it out later."
"I can help show you around," Lawrence volunteered. "Should be safe to get dressed now and there are some hidey holes that may be occupied."
"Why thank you, I'm Chief Wizard to the Prince Royal and would consider it a favor."
And so fourteen children were rescued from the brothel, a further seven were taken from the streets. These children had all been in drug induced bondage and had been working as prostitutes. They were removed to the garrison hospital for treatment.
Five johns were in custody. As they'd not been violent, and hadn't forced the kids, Wizard Humphrey told them that if they ever sought to have sex with a kid again, they'd hear from him and they wouldn't like it. He worked some gentle wizardry to drive home his point. Gary smiled sweetly, and chillingly reinforced Humphrey as he told the johns some of their deepest and most personal secrets.
Lawrence had attached himself to Wizard Humphrey and had almost instantly become indispensable. He was wise and capable beyond his years.
There were eleven prisoners. Two were guilty of crimes against humanity and their sentences were swiftly carried out. One of the others was sentenced to life imprisonment as he had not participated in any of the crimes, but had known they were taking place. The others had all been addicted to drugs and that addiction had been used to manage their conduct. They had been sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. Accordingly, Wizard Humphrey ensorcelled their freedom of movement and they were required to bunk with the Regiment, or as assigned, and report to sick call every morning for treatment. Then they had regular work assignments for the remainder of the day.
Interestingly, Lawrence had never become addicted to the drugs provided him. He had pretended to use them and had disposed of them with improvised sleight of hand or pretense. Wizard Humphrey was delighted to discover that there was more than mere sleight of hand to some of these disappearances. Humphrey now had an apprentice.
Lance Corporal Jones, Fourteen, was basking in the warm glow of his lance-corporal-dom. He admired his newly decorated sleeve. "Yuh know," he commented to Private Winn. "Oim fer rite lik'n our Cap'n Delucky."
"Fook! 'E give us two weeks at jankers, is what 'e did!"
"But Winners, 'e suspent it fer six months. An' 'e made me lance onyway."
"So now oi gots to worry fer six months!"
"'Ow long we be in t' army, Winners?"
"Ten year, yer knows that."
"Ow many time we had to bust a bloke up like we did?"
"Only the once, yer knows that."
"'Oim thinkin' we can go six month wivout bustin' some bloke up, don't chu think?"
Private Winn, not at all over trusting where officers were concerned, meditated gravely on the matter.
i Jones is a very common name in Welsh regiments. In this case, our aspiring Lance Jack is the 14th Jones on the roster. The number is frequently used as a name.
ii Lance Jack is slang for 'lance corporal' the first rank of promotion available to the private soldier.
iii Sappers are military engineers concerned with field fortifications, bridges, camp construction, demolitions and such.
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