The next two days were tense but uneventful. Patton’s lawsuit was filed, but an earthquake near Memphis Tennessee filled the news cycle so its publicity aspect was a dud. Patton spent the entire time trying to live his life while looking over his shoulder, but the expected assault by Caldwell and company didn’t occur.
Patton managed to scrape up enough money to buy floor joists and plywood so he could start rebuilding his kitchen. The materials were delivered Friday afternoon, so he persuaded Rich to give him a hand over the weekend. He was actually looking forward to the experiment of blending magic and conventional construction techniques.
The Gruff sisters loved the way Patton’s lawn used to be. Before everything was dug up it had been a vibrant mix of native vegetation and commercially grown grass, with a sprinkling of wildflowers for variety and spots of color. Patton never fertilized, never watered, and let it grow longer than most people, and the end result was a healthy ground cover that greened up early and stayed green in all but the most severe draught conditions. So what if it wasn’t a manicured look? The birds, bees and bunnies loved it!
On Saturday morning the witches were the last to arrive at Patton’s house. They had purchased an interesting assortment of seeds and enriched soils from the garden center on the way over, and now were planning to hand plant grass and wildflower seeds in little patches.
When they arrived Margaret took one look at Rich and said, “Honey, you need a shower.” Before he could say anything she had his hand and was leading him inside.
“Not too much soap!” Elaine called after them.
Patton looked at her. “What’s that all about?”
“Oh, we’re killing several birds with one stone,” said Yvonne as she opened up the back of the van and started arranging the sacks there. “To start with, you need water in your leech field. A nice long shower will do that nicely.”
“And Margaret’s been missing her man,” added Elaine. “Again, a nice long shower will help that. And finally, well, Rich needs a shower. You’ve been working him too hard.”
“He needs a shower? Like I don’t?”
“We’ll take care of you later,” said Yvonne. “Can’t let a running shower go to waste!”
Patton went and retrieved a beer from the cooler, then came back to watch the witches work. The van was parked with its open tailgate toward the barren yard and the sacks of seed were open in the back. Each witch squatted over a separate patch of dirt. With small waves of their hands seeds and soil were summoned from the van, the trickles almost invisible in the sunlight. They blended in flight and fell to earth beneath the waiting hands.
Another gesture, and moisture seeped up from the earth. Small puddles formed and almost immediately receded, taking the seeds into the earth with them. A pulse of Life Magic, and spindly sprouts could be seen emerging from the soil. The witches didn’t sit back to admire their handiwork, but immediately stood up and moved over a few feet to repeat the process. Square foot by square foot greenery was returning to the back yard.
For a time Elaine was doing the planting by herself, while Yvonne was scouring the yard looking for patches of native plant life that weren’t available commercially. There were mosses and tiny succulents, chives, vines and other plants that most people considered weeds, but were part of the secret to keeping that lawn green during stressful weather periods. She carefully thinned any clumps she found and sent her selections floating low across the yard to rest temporarily under the van, to be worked in along with the rest of the planting.
About an hour later Patton heard the shower shut off and a pleased looking Margaret came out of the house, followed by an extremely clean smelling Rich. “Is anybody ready for lunch?” she called.
“Uh, we have a slight problem,” announced Patton. “We’re out of beer.”
“Hey, don’t blame me!” said Rich. “I haven’t had a chance to drink any!”
“That may be, but you’re going to have to go get more.”
“Oh?” he complained. “Why’s that?”
“The van’s otherwise occupied, and your car’s the only one that can get out.”
“You drank it, you buy it!”
“Boys! You both go,” Elaine commanded. “This will give us a chance to relax …”
“And talk about you behind your backs,” finished Yvonne. Margaret just smiled wickedly.
“Fine! We’ll both go,” said Patton and Rich together.
Elaine, Margaret and Yvonne were all sunning themselves in lawn chairs against the side of the house while they waited for Rich and Patton to return from their shopping trip. They were expecting wizards, but not these wizards.
“Well lookie here! Pretty maids all in a row!”
“I think these are the witches, Boss,” said Fuentes.
“I know these are the witches. The question is, what do the witches know?”
Elaine opened one eye to glare at the intruders. “I know an awful lot, including how to deal with twerps like you. Would you please leave before things get ugly?”
“You’re right, toots, it would be a shame to make you ugly. At least, not yet.”
Margaret opened her eyes and joined the discussion. “You’d better watch what you say, jerk. It could get dangerous.”
“For you,” added Yvonne. Things suddenly got very quiet in the back yard, except for the the alarm call of a large crow that took off from the top of the chestnut tree and flew away, cawing as it went.
“There’s no need for violence, sweetheart. Just tell us what we want to know and we’ll leave.” Caldwell’s syrupy charm was cranked up high, but the sisters were having none of it.
“If only it were that easy,” said Elaine. “OK, I’ll play along. What do you want to know?”
“First off, I take it that Mr. Patton isn’t home right now, otherwise he’d be out here by now trying to get up in my face. Correct?”
Elaine just looked at him.
“That’s what I thought,” continued Caldwell. “But maybe you can tell me anyway. Who is Patton’s dealer?”
This time Elaine answered him. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I understand you already interrogated Patton once. The fact that you didn’t ask the right questions, or chose not to believe his answers is your problem, not ours. I think this conversation is finished.” The witches all stood up and turned to go into the house. Fuentes grabbed hold of Yvonne’s arm, and things suddenly got ugly.
Margaret summoned a construction rake to her and started going after Fuentes. She swung the rake down, trying to embed the short, curved tines into his skull, and when he deflected that continued swinging the rake around to jab him in the chest with the handle. While she was keeping him busy deflecting her blows Yvonne called a small garden fork to her free hand and started whacking at the hand holding her arm, not worrying that a miss might gouge her rather than him.
Nieves shot a bolt of lightning at Margaret that shattered the rake in two. She promptly sent the broken handle at his face while keeping up her attack on Fuentes with the rake’s head.
There was a bed of myrtle growing in the shade of the chestnut tree next to the patio. Vines shot out and twined around Fuentes’ ankles, pulling him to the ground. He refused to let go of Yvonne, however, and dragged her down with him. The tangle of bodies on the ground deprived Margaret of a clear target so she pirouetted into a side kick that caught Nieves in the side of his hips.
All of the bees that were busily pollinating the nearby flowerbed flew at top speed to the witches’ aid, swarming their attackers and inflicting painful stings.
Songbirds dive-bombed the wizards, attacking them with beak and claw, before rising to the safety of the branches overhead. As the wizards looked up to target the feathered attackers they were shocked by the sight of squirrels leaping kamikaze style directly at them, claws spread wide and mouth open to reveal nasty yellow teeth. The wizards were too surprised for spells, relying on instinct honed by years of street-fighting to duck and weave in attempts to avoid the furry attackers. But the little buggers were fire-and-forget weapons that bounced off the ground and homed in on their targets, biting and clawing their way up the legs of their enemies, seeking out the soft targets.
Caldwell was the only wizard who kept his wits about him. While Fuentes was struggling on the ground and Nieves was squirrel hurling, Caldwell was able to construct a shield around himself even as he was dodging fur and feathers. Once his shield was in place he could return his attention to his beautiful adversaries.
A wave of his hand knocked Margaret senseless against the side of the house, and the squirrels suddenly switched from fight to flight. He saw Elaine preparing herself against a similar magical attack, so he darted forward and struck her in the side of the head, throwing her down next to her dazed sister.
Meanwhile Nieves clapped his hands, sending out a spell that knocked down all the stinging insects. And Fuentes yanked at the vines, simultaneously loosening their grip on both the dirt and his legs. He rolled over on top of the squirming Yvonne. “Hey, Boss! Waddaya want me ta do wit’ dis one?”
“Why don’t you two put her in the car, just in case we need some leverage. I’m gonna take a quick look around while we wait for Patton to return. Maybe I can find the answer so’s we don’t have to listen to his lies.”
Patton and Rich were just putting their purchases in the car when a large crow swooped down on them, cawing. It circled them twice and then took off, heading back in the direction from which it came.
“I got a bad feeling about this.”
“That bird came from the direction of the house. I think we need to hurry.” They hopped in the car and took off.
As they turned into the driveway they saw Nieves and Fuentes forcing Yvonne into the back of their car. As they watched, Fuentes smashed her head into the door frame, knocking her out.
Rich let out a “Shit!” and steered his car to a stop bumper to bumper with theirs. He locked the brakes and dove out of the car. Meanwhile Patton was practicing his newfound levitation skills, pelting the kidnappers with handfuls of gravel from the driveway. They dove into the car after their victim in an effort to avoid the gravel hailstorm that was engulfing them.
Caldwell appeared at the back of the house and sent a bolt of lightning at Rich, who ducked behind his car door and then returned fire in kind. His shot either went wide or was deflected into the trees behind Caldwell, who didn’t bother to duck but came striding into the fray. He let loose another jolt that hit the BMW square on and electrified it. The static discharged into both Rich and Patton, flinging them away from the car and out into the open.
Before he could build up another burst, however, a frying pan came curving around the corner of the house and straight into the back of his head, knocking him on his face. Margaret and Elaine came after it, Margaret armed with more yard tools and Elaine carrying another frying pan.
Fuentes had gotten his car started, and he threw it into reverse and backed up to where Caldwell was climbing to his feet and spitting out gravel. The passenger door opened and Caldwell dove in, and before it could close the car was heading out onto the lawn, straight at Rich. He dove to one side and the car sped past and out onto the road, where it sped away.
Rich leaped into his car and tried to start it, but that last jolt must have fried the electronic ignition. He took out his frustration on the steering wheel.
“What happened here?”
“They kidnapped Yvonne!”
“Is that what they were after, or did something else happen, too?”
“Those guys showed up out of nowhere and started asking questions. They wanted to know who your dealer was. Do you know what they’re really after?”
“Damned if I know. When they asked me they said something about my supplier. Maybe they’re trying to get in touch with some terrorist group, and think I’m somehow connected.
“Anyway, I take it you got into a fight with them, and they grabbed Yvonne as a shield or something. Do you think we can find her and get her back?”
“She’s our sister. We can find her anywhere in the county. You can too, if you just feel for her aura.”
Patton closed his eyes and cleared his mind. He concentrated on his memory of Yvonne’s aura, her essence. He had an image of himself lying on the beach with his eyes closed, trying to determine the angle of the sun by how it felt on his face. Now he was trying to determine the direction to Yvonne by feeling her aura shining on him across the distance. There! It was faint, but there was a definite direction to it. He turned his head from side to side, trying to fix the direction, then when he felt he was facing directly toward her he opened his eyes. He found himself looking across the backyard in the direction of downtown Rochester.
“I think I know where they’ve taken her.”
Just then the sensation of her aura was abruptly cut off.