Excerpt - In Loki's Keep

Twenty-five years ago...

Brad Segan narrowed his eyes, trying to make out what he was seeing in the median ahead. “Pull over, all right?”

“Going,” his partner said, putting on his signal to get into the right lane.

While Jack Wade maneuvered the black-and-white through traffic and into a shopping center parking lot, Brad kept his eyes on the median and called in to report the naked guy on the guardrail.

“Only on the full moon,” Jack said as they left the car.

When Brad was younger, he thought it was just a story that the world got weird when the moon got full. After four years as a soldier, much of that time in the Middle East, and another six years in DC as a cop, he knew it wasn’t just a story. He didn’t know why it was true but he knew it was.

Brad grabbed the blanket from the trunk, in case the old guy wasn’t in the mood to get dressed. He held up a hand, stopping traffic as he and Jack made their way to the median. Jack had been a cop a lot longer than he had and so Jack usually took the lead when the time came to talk. He took the lead when a time came that might mean getting shot, too. Jack was a good man, a great partner, and Brad had learned a lot from him. In a couple years, Jack would retire, and Brad would be the one teaching. Would he be ready? Could he ever be?

The radio on Brad’s hip crackled to life, announcing Vance and Reid were en route.

Jack smiled as he approached the man on the rail. The old guy looked as if he hadn’t shaved in a year and smelled as if it had been longer since he bathed.

“What’s going on here, sir?” Jack said.

“The Rapture!” the man said, raising his arms skyward and bouncing in his excitement. “It’s coming!”

“Tonight?”

“Tonight,” the old man said, lowering his head to fix fevered-looking eyes on Jack and then Brad. “Can you hear the angels singing, brothers?”

“I don’t hear them,” Jack said.

“Such beautiful singing I have never heard.”

Jack ran his eyes over the gawker-filled cars slowly inching past. “Maybe it’s too noisy with all the cars.” He looked up at the man. “But I sure would love to hear ‘em.”

“Get a little higher,” the man said.

Jack climbed onto the rail with him. He canted his head, looking skyward. He shook his head. “Still not hearing ‘em.”

“You have to listen with your heart,” the man said.

“I see,” Jack said. A moment later, he spoke again. “I’m wondering, could I hear them better over there?” He pointed to the night-empty parking lot where they’d left the car. “Seems a lot quieter.”

“That just might do it,” the old man, nodding so emphatically he almost tumbled off the rail and onto a Honda.

Brad grabbed his arm, steadying him.

“Thank you kindly, young man,” the man said. “God will reward you on this night for your service.”

“Cool,” Brad said. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank The Lord. For He is good.”

“I’m Jack Wade. And this is my partner, Brad Segan. What’s your name, sir?”

“You can call me ‘Father.’”

Jack jumped down from the rail. He turned, fixing his eyes on the man. “I’m going to go see if I can hear the angels. Would you mind coming? Just in case I need help?”

“I’m sorry,” the man said, sweeping his hand to indicate the cars. “I need to see to all these lambs.”

“I can understand that,” Jack said. “But I’m the one who stopped. And I’m asking for your help.”

“You stopped because you’re a cop,” the man said. “You want to take me to jail.”

“No, sir, I do not want to take you to jail. I’d prefer we get to take you home. But where we take you is going to depend on you. And I was not lying. If there are angels, I want to hear them. Now. Where are your clothes?”

“I left them.”

“Where?”

“Don’t need them anymore,” the man said. “Adam and Eve had no need of clothes when they were innocent.”

“I assure you, if they’d lived in DC in the middle of October, they’d have put something on,” Jack said. “It’s a cold night. You’re already showing signs of hypothermia. You need to get down from there. And get somewhere warm.”

“I’ll be plenty warm when Jesus comes.”

Brad heard a siren in the distance. He hoped they could get the old guy down before the car got there. Vance wasn’t as patient a man as Jack was.

“You need to wait for Him somewhere else,” Jack said. “You don’t need to be here, in the middle of traffic, where you could get hurt or cause somebody else to get hurt. And you don’t need to be scaring all these little girls in these cars with sights they ought not be seeing. Now get down from there.”

“God made me beautiful in His image,” the old man said. “And this is how I’m going home.”

Jack turned toward Brad. He lifted one brow. Brad knew he heard the siren now, too. The other brow went up. Count of three.

They moved as one, Jack yanking the old guy down and Brad catching him in the blanket. He wrapped the old guy up tightly, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him across the lanes while Jack stopped the traffic.

The old guy fought like a butterfly trying to escape the chrysalis and it was all Brad could do to hold him, without hurting him. All the while, the bundled man called on God to strike down his enemies.

The black-and-white carrying Vance and Reid pulled alongside Jack and Brad’s, lights flashing.

“What do we got here?” Vance said, stepping from the car.

“Elderly gentleman,” Jack said as Dan Reid opened the back door. “He needs to go to the hospital for assessment.”

Dan circled the car, moving to the far door and reaching in to help Brad deposit the old guy without hurting him. They grinned at each other over his squirming, screaming, blanket-wrapped form.

“Full moon,” Dan mouthed.

“It’s The Rapture,” Brad mouthed.

They gently closed the doors, locking the old man inside. “No blessings for you, Golden Hair!” the old man screamed. “You see where God puts you for trying to silence His Word!”

Brad and Dan slumped against opposite sides of the car, glad the deed was done. “Did he just call you ‘golden hair?’” Dan said through a snicker.

“Shut up,” Brad growled.

The two older officers finished talking and they all headed to their respective cars so Vance and Dan could take the old guy to the hospital.

“Hey!” Dan called.

Brad turned.

“Catch ya later,” Dan said, then winked. “Goldy.”

The night wore on, with one bizarre turn after another.

Three o’clock came and went. Brad poured coffee from the thermos and handed the cup to Jack.

Only a few more hours to go and he’d be home, sinking into the bed where slept the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. There was a fifty-fifty chance there’d be a six-year-old in the middle of the bed. She’d been having nightmares lately. Even if she wasn’t there when he arrived, she’d be there soon, eager to get her morning hugs. He smiled, thinking about the three of them lined up there together, sharing the morning.

The radio crackled. Dan’s voice came, reporting a possible crime-in-progress. He gave the location and ended with, “We got somebody screaming bloody murder.”

“This is one-oh-two,” Brad told the dispatcher. “We’re five blocks from there.”

“One-oh-two, proceed.”

Vance and Dan kept their radios live, transmitting as they made their way toward the scene, and the screams twisted Brad’s gut.

They’d almost reached the destination, an abandoned building at the end of a rundown block, when Dan’s voice came. “What is that thing?” he breathed.

Shots fired. Another scream sounded. “Officer down,” Dan said, his voice trembling. “Vance is down.” More shots. “I’m—” The transmission stopped.

“Reid?” Brad said. Come on, buddy, answer me.

“One-oh-two, disregard,” the dispatcher said. “Return to patrol.”

“Are you crazy?” Brad said. “Vance and Reid are in there. Vance is down.” And I’m scared Dan is, too.

Another voice came on the line. “This is Captain Frank. A special operations team is en route. Return to patrol.”

The special ops team wouldn’t get there in time to do any good. Jack pulled to the curb behind the other car. Already, Brad was opening his door.

“Stay here, son,” Jack said as casually as he would if he were going into a store for a gallon of milk. He opened his door.

Brad was already on the pavement. He shut his door and they moved toward the dark building, eyes scanning and guns panning.

“You got a wife and daughter to think about, Brad.”

Brad almost faltered.

“Go back to the car,” Jack said again.

Go back to the car. It sounded so good. And it was what the captain wanted. Insubordination would get him fired, at the best, and locked up, at the worst. But Dan was in that building. And soon Jack would be, too.

Brad swallowed. “I can’t.”

Jack nodded. “Things happen sometimes. Things nobody explains. I think we’re about to get some answers.”

They moved into the darkness and, back-to-back, made their way through what used to be a department store. They didn’t have to wonder which way to go. The screaming and bumping told them. Beneath all that was a low-pitched growling.

All of a sudden, there was movement of a different kind. Something huge was barreling right toward them, thundering through the pitch-black night. Instinct turned Brad, lining his gun up with the threat. A light came on, Jack’s flashlight, and it illuminated something out of a nightmare.

Hellhound. That was the word that came to Brad’s mind. It looked like a wolf but it couldn’t be, not when it was as tall, on four feet, as he was, on two. Its huge teeth glistened dark with men’s blood and strips of flesh hung from its gaping maw. The eyes, bright green orbs, glowed with a madness no animal could know.

“Shoot for the eyes,” Jack said, and they fired together.

They fired over and over and the thing still came. Even after one of the shots tore through an eye, it still came.

“Son of a whore,” Jack said, throwing his empty gun at the thing. “Run, kid. Get outta’ here.” Drawing his baton and throwing down his flashlight, Jack ran right for the monster as his gun bounced off its forehead.

Next came something Brad would never forget, the sound of Jack Wade screaming in agony. Brad’s hands tried to tremble as he loaded another clip but he willed them to act right. He picked up the flashlight, his eyes scanning for possible weapons. He found a broom. He broke the handle over his knee, liking the jagged edge it made.

Armed with a gun, a pocketknife, a broom handle, and a baton, Brad Segan went to battle.