Safe Place

Dave looked at the drab terraced house and frowned.  “So this is the house that comes with the job?”

Sir Ewan didn’t answer but opened the wrought iron gate and took three steps across the small, paved front yard to reach the shabby front door.  He searched through a bunch of keys and finally found the one for the front door.  He handed it over to Dave, watching him closely. 

Dave held the keys in his hand for a moment.  The April weather had turned and the wind was cold on his neck as he looked down.  A house that went with the job.  That was something Dave had never, ever wanted.  The last thing he wanted was to be stuck in the same rut, day in and day out.  It looked like he was out of luck.  He may not have chosen this job, but the job had chosen him. 

“It’s that one, there,” Sir Ewan reached over Dave’s shoulder and pointed.  “Stop acting like a lass in a dress shop and open the door.  People will start looking.”

Dave pulled himself together and opened the front door, starting a mental list as he did so.  The front door needed a new coat of paint. 

There were a few circulars at the back of the door but the place looked depressingly empty.  Dave stepped in and Sir Ewan followed him, shutting the door behind him.  Dave looked around and added redecorating the hall to the list.  “I’m allowed to decorate, right?”

Sir Ewan shrugged.  “I suppose so.  Callum never bothered.”  He thought for a moment.  “The paladin before Callum was someone called Frank Ellis.  He didn’t bother, either.  He spent most of his time in his garage.” He followed Dave through the door on the left side of the hall.  “Frank was a mechanic and owned a garage.  He still offers good rates and you can trust him and his son to look after you.”

“I’m between cars.” Dave said carefully.  He found the idea of being able to retire from being a paladin incredibly reassuring.  The room was less comforting.  A large table took up most of the centre of the room and it was surrounded by hardbacked dining chairs.  It wasn’t a dining room, though, but a meeting room.  The wall nearest the door was completely covered with bookshelves which were full to overflowing.  S with smaller books were wedged across the top of larger books and some double banked.  A row of old fashioned filing cabinets lined the other wall.  Dave walked over to the window.  The drab curtains looked older than he was, but the windows looked less dated.  They had iron frames and it looked like the glass was toughened.  Dave tapped the glass.  “How often are these windows smashed?”

Sir Ewan thought.  “Not in the time I’ve been here, so not in the last few years at least.  In fact, the non normals usually stay away from the Citadel.  I don’t this place has ever been attacked.  The Chapter House for the Templars is usually fine as well.”

“Where is the Chapter House?” Dave looked closer at the bookcases.  Some of the books looked antique, with worn spines and battered corners.  He took one out to find it was a gazette of the businesses of North Yorkshire, 1832.  He put it back carefully. 

“You cover up to Thirsk and down as far as Tadcaster.” Sir Ewan said helpfully.  “It’s useful to know what’s been going on.  Most non normals live a lot longer than us and it’s helpful to know if a name keeps cropping up or if a place has a history.  These filing cabinets keep copies of reports.  Some of the older ones have been scanned and put on a secure website.  You’ll get the details of the login and that in the post.”

“I’ll need a car, then.” Dave walked out of the meeting room and found himself facing the cupboard under the stairs.  He knew a little about locks and security.  This was a very secure cupboard.  He tried a few different keys before finding the right one.  A small panel slid out and Dave looked blankly at a keypad.

“It’s been reset to 1307.” Sir Ewan leant against the stairs.  “That’s the standard Templar code.  The instructions to reset it to your preferred number are inside.  As for the car,” Sir Ewan watched Dave tentatively key in the numbers, “Frank will be able to fix you up with something decent.”

Dave pulled the door open and stopped dead.  “What the…?”

Sir Ewan reached around him and flicked the cupboard light on.  “This is the hardcore kit.  There’s the handguns and rifles in the safe – do you know how to shoot?  Don’t worry, I’ll book you into the firing range.  Ammunition in the smaller safe – silver and standard.  Swords aren’t used much, but they’re surprising useful against undead.” He pulled open one of the built in drawers.  “It’s considered polite to keep this sort of stuff out of the way from any visitors.  This is extra strength garlic, garlic essence, garlic salt – you’d be surprised how much difference that can make, the salt seems to give an extra kick.  That’s aconite, hawthorn twigs, holy water and the rest.  Keep checking them for freshness.”

“I’ve never used a gun.” Dave said quietly.

“And you may never have to.” Sir Ewan pulled out another drawer.  “Sets of knuckle dusters, mostly silver.  Strictly speaking they’re completely illegal so don’t show them around if you can help it.  There’s some silver caltrops, wire, dust – that’s tricky to use.”

“Silver knuckle dusters?” Dave remembered the fight with the rogue werewolves and the knuckledusters he was wearing when he punched the leader in the face and killed him.

Sir Ewan caught the tone.  “I think that’s about it.  You need to keep this stuff maintained and up to date.  It’s a life line.” He pulled Dave back and shut the door, sliding the keyhole back over the keypad.  “The Templars keep a supply as well.  Let’s look over the rest of the house.”

It was wonderfully quiet in the White Hart.  A few tourists had been in and wandered around and a Miss Patience had called in and picked up an athame but today had been blissfully free of coach parties and deliveries. 

“I know that I shouldn’t enjoy it being quiet,” Fiona admitted, “But it does make a nice change.”

“We still need that extra pair of hands.” Kadogan reminded her.  He lounged with effortless grace against the till.  “Miss Adele Cosgrave has retail experience.  Perhaps she will take up one of the spare rooms upstairs.”

“Perhaps Steve will move in to replace Dave.” Mrs Tuesday gave a sidelong glance at Fiona.

“I hope not.  Armani is enough of a problem as it is.” Fiona didn’t rise to the bait.  “Are you sure that Dave will move into the Paladin’s house?”

“The correct term is citadel.” Mrs Tuesday said.

“Or lair.” Kadogan grumbled.  “I am confident we will be able to rent rooms. It is a desirable location and there are brownie cleaners.”

“I don’t know.” Fiona absently straightened the box of till rolls.  “It would have to be someone used to dealing with non normals.  How many are there of those?”

“Dave didn’t realise for ages.” Ian moved a little restlessly.  “To be honest, I prefer to be busy.  I’m not one for hanging around.”

Fiona nodded.  “Louise has already gone home.  Give it another half hour and me and Mrs Tuesday can probably cover for the rest of the afternoon.”

Mrs Tuesday was looking out the window.  “Hang on a minute.” She peered through the glass.  “Well I never!”

Kadogan followed her gaze and swore.  Fiona looked at him in astonishment as he pulled Ian aside and muttered a quick instruction to him.  Ian nodded, his face set, and dashed into the back storerooms.  Kadogan turned to Fiona.  “Please make tea for these new customers.  They are relatives of Mrs Tuesday.”

Fiona started pulling together a large tray of tea, watching with interest.  Mrs Tuesday held open the door to what was obviously an elderly gentleman and his wife, together with their doting son or grandson.  The man behind them was probably a boggart if he was related to Mrs Tuesday but he looked like a drug dealer’s enforcer who was off duty.  He grinned at Mrs Tuesday.

“Hello, Auntie Jane.  You’re looking well.”

“Geraint!  It’s good to see you!”  Mrs Tuesday reached up and gave him a hug before turning to the elderly couple.  “It’s so good to see you two.  How are things?  Has Karen managed to sort out the jumble cupboard yet?” Kadogan coughed politely behind her and Mrs Tuesday spun around.  “I’m sorry, I’m forgetting my manners.  These are my cousins, Mildred and Cecil Appuck and their son, Geraint.  I haven’t seen them for a while.”

Fiona poured tea and put out biscuits as Mrs Tuesday introduced everybody.  Geraint fussed over his parents, making sure they were sitting comfortably and carrying the tray over to the frail looking couple with protective care.  Kadogan and Ian were looking tense, so Fiona guessed that Geraint had a reputation, but he was so sweet to his parents that she couldn’t worry too much.

“It’s nice of Geraint to spare us some time from his work.” Mrs Appuck said fondly.  “He’s such a good son, isn’t he, Cecil?”

“He is, Mildred.  I’ve always said that we are blessed.”  Mr Appuck nodded.  “Geraint here just dropped his work and brought us here when he heard we were thinking of a visit, didn’t he, Mildred?”

“He did,” Mrs Appuck nodded.  “I said to Karen that he we were so lucky to have Geraint think of us, didn’t I Cecil?”

Mr Appuck nodded again.  “Of course, all our sons are good to us, aren’t they Mildred?  They never forget us on our birthdays, do they?”

“They don’t.” Mrs Appuck agreed.  Fiona watched in fascination as the old couple nodded at each other, getting almost dizzy in sympathy.  Mrs Appuck took a small bite of her scone.  “I always say that we’re lucky with our sons, don’t I, Cecil.”

“That’s right, Mildred,” Mr Appuck agreed.  “So many kids don’t bother.  And then look at Jane.  Her kids never forget her but they’re out of the country at the moment.”

“Of course they’d come back in a second, Jane, wouldn’t they, Cecil?” Mrs Appuck put a hand over Mrs Tuesday’s arm.

“I don’t feel neglected.” Mrs Tuesday managed to insert into the conversation.  “And did you know Edy’s youngest is here.”

“Never!” Mrs Appuck turned to her husband.  “Did you hear that, Cecil?  Young Evan’s in York.  I didn’t know.”

“Evan’s in York?” Mr Appuck looked astonished at the possibility.  “Well I never.  I thought Edy would never get him out of Ipswich.  I said that, didn’t I, Mildred?”

“He was very happy in Ipswich.” Mrs Appuck took a delicate sip of the tea.  “But youngsters need to stretch themselves.  I always say that, don’t I, Cecil?  Our lads have gone all over.”

“They’ve gone all over.” Mr Appuck said earnestly to Fiona before turning to Mrs Tuesday.  “So, what’s young Evan doing?”

Fiona was almost relieved when an overlarge white SUV spun into the car park, narrowly missing Geraint’s immaculate BMW and sliding on the gravel into the edge of the flower beds just out of view.  “The brownies aren’t going to be happy about that.” She muttered to Kadogan.

“I think the brownies are the least of our worries.” Kadogan looked stressed. 

Fiona turned around to see what Ian was doing and found that instead of Ian a large, immaculate Alsatian dog was in an alert sitting position.  Ian’s tail was still and his ears were forward.  A hint of a snarl played around his muzzle.  Fiona wished she knew what was going on. 

Fiona’s heart sank as four young men walked in.  They were a little bit drunk or a little bit high, swaggering about in expensive jeans and trying to throw their weight around.  It would take tact and a lot of luck to get them out of the shop without them damaging the fittings.  She glanced over at Kadogan.  He was looking slightly relieved and, in her limited experience, ready for violence.  Mrs Tuesday wasn’t showing any sign of stress but instead was looking at the photos Mrs Appuck was inexpertly bringing up on her phone.  Ian had stood and looked ready to spring.  To her amateur eye, the lads looked normal.  They were early twenties and had spent far too much time grooming with limited success.

“Have you seen such a load of pathetic garbage?” The ring leader with the designer jeans and the EDL tattoo waved his hands at the bookshelves.  “Who wastes their money on this…” He broke off and looked towards Fiona.  “Hello, darlin’, let’s have four cuppas, nice and hot, just like me.”

Fiona cringed inwardly as she pulled out a tray and placed the cups.  Kadogan and Ian were both looking predatory now and Geraint was looking deliberately relaxed.  She flinched as the ringleader knocked deliberately into Mr Appuck. 

“Watch out, grandad.” He turned to his cronies.  “That’s what’s wrong with York.  You can’t move for coffin dodgers and undesirables.”

Fiona nearly didn’t breathe.  She knew how lethal Kadogan and Ian could be and she had heard enough about boggarts to have a healthy respect for Geraint. 

Geraint leaned forward and put his hand on Mr Appuck’s arm.  “Are you okay, dad?”

“I could probably do with a bit of fresh air.  I always say that it’s amazing how fresh air does you good, don’t I, Mildred?”

“He does believe in fresh air.” Mrs Appuck nodded.  “Are you coming, Jane?” She and her husband stood up, tucking their chairs in neatly and heading for the door.

“I’d better stay in here.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “What with the wind getting a bit cold.  But I can explain all sorts of curses to the young gentlemen.”

“Yeah, we could do with some new curses.” One of the lads yelled as the others howled with laughter.

“It could be worse.” Sir Ewan lounged back in the comfortable armchair opposite Dave. 

Dave nodded.  “It really could.” The back room was very comfortable.  Somebody had thought about it.  There was a couple of good, well padded chairs and a long, wide sofa.  Dave had taken the spot opposite the tv and found the small table at his elbow was placed just right for a drink.  He looked around.  The house was sparsely and badly decorated but it was clean, warm and rent free.  “I’ve trained as a painter and decorator.  I’ll probably put a lick of paint over it.”

Sir Ewan nodded.  “You’ll have the time.  At the moment things are going crazy with Lord Ragnar’s situation and there are likely to be a few rogues around, but once it settles down it’s likely to go quiet.”  He stretched his legs out in front of him.  “You can go months without an incident, just keep showing the face, paying attention and generally keeping an eye on things.  Of course, then you can end up with a crisis and sometimes all Hell literally breaks loose – well, a portal to it at least.  Then you are back to not much happening and elderly boggarts baking you cakes.  Watch out for Mrs Cadwallader.  Her cakes are amazing but never touch her pastry.”

“Right.” Dave wondered if Mrs Cadwallader was like Mrs Tuesday and whether the cake would be worth it.

“The issues with Lord Ragnar are tricky.” Sir Ewan said.  “No-one knows how that’s going to play out, and you’re on the fringes on it more than if you were just a paladin.  You work for Kadogan, Kadogan is Lord Ragnar’s right hand man.  You may be targeted.” He shrugged.  “But then it will settle down back to the occasional scrap, keeping an eye on stray werewolves and vampires with addiction issues and breaking up the fights down in Fulford when the goblins and their neighbours get lairy.  That reminds me, I need to introduce you to the local police liaison.  Hang on.” Sir Ewan pulled out his ringing phone.  “Yes.”

Dave added something to the top of the mental list – get a notebook and make notes. 

Sir Ewan jumped to his feet, his face set and pale.  “We need to get to the White Hart.  Geraint Appuck has turned up there and that means all bets are off.”

Fiona’s feeling of unease was growing.  She knew Mrs Tuesday well enough to know that the lads were getting played.  The old boggart was explaining all sorts of details about curses and charms and holding the bewildered lads’ attention with consummate skill.  She was also being a lot more dithery than normal.  She wouldn’t open the case with the athames as ‘they were a bit sharp and it made her nervous’.  Fiona had never known Mrs Tuesday be nervous about anything.  She jumped as the shop door jangled and Mr and Mrs Appuck came back in.  Mr Appuck looked a lot less shaky.

“Those gardens are lovely.” Mr Appuck said to Kadogan who was lounging around by the till with an air of malevolent anticipation.  Ian was still sitting upright but looking a lot less stressed.  His tongue flopped out and he was panting slightly with a big doggy grin. 

“A local firm tends them.” Kadogan said.  “They have very reasonable rates.”

“They have a lot of skill.” Mr Appuck said thoughtfully.  He shook his head slightly as if bringing himself back to the present.  “I was a market gardener before I retired.  I did mainly brassicas, didn’t I, Mildred?”

“He did mainly brassicas.” Mrs Appuck also looked refreshed.  “Though he did win some prizes for his leeks and alliums, didn’t you, Cecil.”

“I was good with the garlic.” Mr Appuck confided.

The lads were sobering up now, and the quiet one at the back looked around.  “You don’t sell any garlic here, do you?”

“We don’t like to offend anyone.” Mrs Tuesday said, sounding slightly older than her years. 

“We believe in being open minded.” Kadogan said.

Geraint walked over to the till and put a selection of herbs and seeds on the counter along with a gardener’s almanac.  “Could I have these, please, love.” He glanced over at the lads.  The most sober of them was looking around and checking his phone.  He was obviously looking stuff up online and not liking the answers.  “After seeing what Auntie Jane can do, I never trust a little old lady.”

Fiona started wrapping them up.  “She’s such a strong character,” she said diplomatically, “but I worry that we’re taking advantage of her.  She’s always here and always busy.” She waved her hand.  “No charge.  The least we can do is treat Mrs Tuesday’s family.  And you’re always welcome.  It’s nice to see family come together.”

Geraint’s eyes narrowed.  “You have no idea who I am have you?” He said.  He looked down at Ian who was still in wolf form and pressed close against Fiona’s legs.  “He knows who I am, but you don’t.  But you’re still happy to give a freebie to an old couple.” He looked across to where his parents had sat back down to pour fresh cups of tea. 

“Like I said, it’s a family thing.” Fiona shrugged.  “It’s sort of like a family here.  We look out for each other.  Though I’m not sure exactly what Mrs Tuesday is up to.”

Geraint chuckled evilly.  “She’s just distracting the mark from the real game.”

The door jangled again and Dave and Sir Ewan raced in.  Sir Ewan almost skidded to a halt in front of Geraint.  “What the hell happened to that white SUV outside?”

“I’ve not been out.” Geraint said blandly.  “I’ve been in here listening to Auntie Jane and chatting with Fiona here.”

Sir Ewan looked down at Ian who barked an affirmation.  “Then what happened to the car?”

“What’s happened to the car?” The leader looked at Dave and Sir Ewan’s set faces and ran to the door.  “My car!” For a moment the young man looked too stunned to swear.  His mouth opened and shut.

Fiona looked at Dave.  “What’s happened?”

“I’ve never seen a car like that outside a breaker’s yard.” Dave said, still wide eyed.  “But it normally takes longer than an afternoon.”

“It wasn’t here this morning?” Sir Ewan followed the lads outside and Fiona went with them.  

The leader turned around, his face pale.  “We only parked up half an hour ago.”

Fiona stared.  She had seen the gleaming SUV sweep in to the car park and she could see the damage done to the plants where it had slid into the planting.  Now it was a shell of itself – literally.  Every window had not only been broken but smashed to tiny fragments that gleamed across the tarmac.  Every light was smashed.  There was hardly a scrap of the gleaming paint left on the body of the car.  The tyres, stacked to one side, were shredded into feathery strands that blew around along with the padding from the upholstery.  The material that had once covered the customised seats was spilling out of the gaping boot of the car in pieces no bigger than Fiona’s hand.  She stepped a little closer and could see the wires wrenched out of every channel and bent engine parts scattered liberally, although the battery had been neatly placed to one side. 

“They even drained the oil first.” The leader pointed to a tub to one side of the rockery.  “Who did this?  How did they do this?” He turned around to Sir Ewan.  “I want some answers.”

“Some curses are quite detailed.” Mrs Tuesday said blandly.  “But they’re often quite environmentally responsible.  You’ve not offended anyone recently, have you?” She glanced back inside the shop where Mr and Mrs Appuck were happily sipping tea with their son.  “Tricky things, curses.”

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