Merrick returned to the church a couple of hours later, still unsure if he would be able to tolerate Daggs' orphans for more than a few seconds, much less the length of time it was probably going to take for him to learn the witch doctor's whereabouts.
Maybe there was another way of finding this Ajanti bastard, he thought.
He parked the bike under a tree where he spent the next few moments observing the members of Bart through a hole in the church's wall; blocking his view somewhat was the back of Kody's head.
"You can join us anytime you want!" Kody shouted over his shoulder.
Father Ramirez peered outside. "Are you sure he's out there"
"Yes," said Kody, "I'm sure. He's under that tree right now, watching us."
Bomber took the priest's place at the window. "Hey, Mr. Macho, why don't you stop screwin around and get yer ass in here; our captain's got a few questions she'd like ta ask ya." When Merrick gave no reply, Bomber threw his hands in the air and walked off to help August unload a couple of dirt bikes and a quad racer from the RV.
Merrick dismounted the chopper and entered the church just as the team's archivist was exiting the back of the RV on a really nice cruiser. Painted in flames on the motorcycle's tank were bible verses. On one side of the bike's tank was scrolled Proverbs 14:19: The evil bow before the good; and the wicked at the gates of the righteous. On the other side was Proverbs 11:19: As righteousness tendth to life; so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death. The bike's rims and highway bars also sported crucifixes, something else Merrick might have expected from a priest.
"Well, look who decided to join us," Bomber said. He glared at Merrick from beneath the brim of his cowboy hat. "Get tired of just watchin the humans instead of bein one?"
Merrick, jaw clenched, glared at the man who was in his mid twenties and as big as a linebacker. "Getting tired of being a sheepherder?"
Bomber made a move for Merrick, but before the cowboy could get more than two paces, Cricket left the sword she was working on at the forge and grabbed him by the arm. She then dragged him over to where the card tables still stood littered with artifacts and punched him as hard as she could in the chest. "Time to get to work," she told him.
"Damn," said Bomber. "Why do ya have ta punch so hard?"
Father Ramirez revved the motorcycle's engine, then shut her down and joined the others at the tables.
"Okay," said August, "now that we're all together, which seems to be important whether certain people like it or not,"-she jabbed a thumb in Merrick's direction- "let's cut the crap and get down to business."
"First things first," Merrick told her as he slowly approached the group.
August, obviously perturbed, placed her hands on one of the tables and looked up at him. "Well," she said through a strained smile, "we're waiting."
The biker, for no particular reason, locked eyes on Kody. "Do any of you know where I can find-"
"-a witchd octor by the name of Joseph Ajanti?" Kody finished for him.
Merrick nodded. "Do you know where I can find him?"
"No," Kody answered, "not exactly."
Everyone stared in silence at the scrawny boy leaning against a stack of crates containing an assortment of the demon slayers' weapons.
Kody shifted nervously from one foot to the next, and said, "It's not the right time."
Merrick raised an eyebrow. "What's that suppose to mean?"
"I don't know," said Kody defensively. "It's just . . . not the right time yet, that's all. When it's time to find Ajanti, we'll find him."
"What's this we shit? There's no we, there's only me. I told you guys, I work-"
"You work alone," said Bomber. "Yeah, we know."
August pounded her fist on the table and shouted at the others. "We don't have time for this shit, people! Now the enemy is planning something big-something really big by the sound of things." She regained her composure and looked at each one of them in turn. "So we need to get our shit together, and the quickest way to do that is stop pissing off and start-"
"Hey, girly! No swearin," said Bomber.
August looked at him incredulously at first, then relaxed a little and laughed. "Interrupt me again cowboy and I'll have to pull out a Daggs' specialty on ya." She clenched her hand into a tight fist. " 'The ballcrusher.'"
Cricket snickered before looking up at the ceiling and clicking her tongue several times.
"What is it with you girls and crushin a man's biological kingdom?" Bomber asked. He then screamed and took a few steps back as a vampire bat landed in Cricket's hair.
"What the hell is that thang doin flyin 'round loose?! I thought you had it locked in a cage."
The girl reached up and plucked the bat from her hair and placed it on her shoulder. "Go ahead, August. You were saying?"
"Something big is being planned by our enemy, and as much as it might suck,"-August looked from the bat to a wary Bomber-"no pun intended, it's up to us to pull the pieces of the puzzle together and figure out what that something is." She began sifting through the pile of scrolls until she found the one she was looking for: a scroll made of human flesh and bone. "Now the scroll doesn't tell us what will happen if Lucifer reclaims the Stone of Light (we can only assume that it won't be good), however, it does tell us that the Seal of David is a map that shows the location where the stone can be found."
The woman, beginning to show signs of extreme fatigue, sighed and messaged her temples with her fingertips. "We need to focus on finding the other two pieces of the seal and keep them away from Abaddon until we learn more about Lucifer's plans for the stone."
"Do you think there's any way of getting the other two pieces back?" asked Cricket.
August shook her head. "No, I think they're lost to us. The best chance we have right now is finding the two remaining pieces before Abaddon does." She turned to Merrick. "Did Jerrod ever mention anything to you about the Seal of David or my father, Dr. Fairbanks?"
Merrick shrugged. "I don't recall."
Bomber glared at the biker. "Look, man, if you know somethin you're not tellin us-"
"I said I don't recall!"
"Then who's this Ajanti character?" asked August.
Merrick picked randomly through the items strewn across the table in front of him."A man who can summon a possessor."
She drummed her fingertips on the table. "And you need one of those for . . .?"
"I need one so I can pick a fight with Satan's little schoolgirl." A vision of Abaddon dressed in a plaid skirt and knee-highs brought a smile to the biker's face.
"Now that's what I'm tallkin about." Bomber raised his hand to high-five Merrick, but the biker wasn't having any of it.
Kody cleared his throat and did his best to sound tough as he told Merrick how it was going to be. "Sorry, guy, but if you don't help us, we can't help you, that's just how it is. We're not the ones who came looking for you; your friend, the angel, led us here."
"That was an angel?" asked a surprised Father Ramirez.
"Yes," said Merrick. "Not what you expected, huh?"
"No, not at all," answered the priest. "Which one was it?"
The biker, appearing bored, sat down next to the hole in the wall overlooking his bike. "Let's just say that he's one of your boss' top warriors-or the top warrior; the other commander is a philosopher and pretty damn useless if you ask me."
"Don't blaspheme the Lord and his servants in my presence! I might have been excommunicated, but I'm still a man of God!" The priest then calmed himself and began to pray for Merrick's soul.
"Cricket, how are we on weapons?" asked August.
"Everything's restocked, and I've finished casting the last of the bullets and reforging Father Ramirez's sword. Oh, and I made these for you." She pulled out a pair of newly forged kamas and handed them to August. Cricket went on to tell the others about some of her latest ideas concerning the team's weapons department while the bat perched on her shoulder busied itself with drinking her blood.
"Is that thang suckin your blood?" Bomber interrupted her.
Cricket looked over at the tiny bat and smiled. "Yeah," she said, "it's his feeding time."
"Why don't you get a normal pet, like a snake or somethin?" Bomber asked.
The bat squeaked and hid behind the girl's neck.
"A bat's a normal pet!" cried Cricket; she reached behind her and stroked the frightened animal with her fingertips. "Besides, snakes aren't cuddly. You can't teach em tricks or take em on walks or hug em."
Bomber smiled sarcastically. "It's still kinduva weird pet for a vegan, don't ya think?" Then: "Hold on a second! Wuddaya mean 'snakes aren't cuddly'? They constrict, don't they? That's like a hug."
The sixteen-year-old rolled her eyes before placing her furry companion back onto her shoulder and cooing: "He's ridiculous, idn't he, Mr. Cuddles? Yes he is, yes he is. But that's only because he doesn't understand you. Maybe you should give him a little kiss to show him how sweet you are."
Bomber's body shook involuntarily with revulsion. "Mr. Cuddles. Damn thang's probably got rabies," he mumbled to the priest, who nodded in agreement.
"Alright," said August, getting back to the subject, "we're good on weapons. Bomber, how about transportation?"
"I should have everythang as good as new by mornin; that is, if we don't have ta worry about slayin one kinda demon after another all night."
Kody took a bag of jerky from his backpack and handed a piece to the mechanic. "How many kinds of demons are there?"
Bomber accepted the strip of jerky and bit off the end of it. "Let's see, you've got yer tempters, possessors, dopplegangers, hybrids, fiends, reapers and necromancers; and of course there's yer warrior and elemental demons. Then there's the real nasty ones we like to call scum, bastards, or anything else that just happens to pop into our heads at the time." He took another bite of jerky. "Does that answer your question, little partner?"
Cricket punched Bomber in the arm. "Be nice; Daggs saved him just like she saved the rest of us, which means he's a member of Bart now."
"What?" Bomber said. "You don't like the team's name?"
Kody watched Cricket, who was preoccupied with her pet once again, from the corner of his eye as he offered Bomber another piece of jerky. "Why did you guys decide to name yourselves Bart?" he asked the cowboy.
Bomber reached into the bag and pulled out a handful of dried buffalo meat. "Because we figured one name was as good as another."
"So . . . it doesn't like stand for something?" Kody asked.
"No, it doesn't like stand for somethin," Bomber answered. "It's just a name; that's all."
This time it was August's turn to punch him. "Behave yourself." She took the piece of meat out of his mouth and began to chew on it with a lost-in-thought expression on her face. After a few seconds of thinking and chewing, she said, "Merrick's definitely the key to finding Jerrod's piece of the seal. So I say we stick to him until he decides to tell us what he knows, or until his memory improves."
"You'll find sticking to me is a lot harder than you think."
"Oh I don't think it's gonna be all that difficult considering there are-how should I put this?-influences other than ourselves involved."
"Good," said Kody, "now that that's settled, we'll all meet here tomorrow night and then head out to the crossroads."
Bomber swallowed down a mouthful of meat and asked, "Why the crossroads?"
"Because that's where the path to the witch doctor begins," answered Kody.
Merrick, knowing that he would hear no more information concerning the witch doctor until the following night, stood up and walked through the hole in the wall. Outside he lifted a hand halfheartedly into the air to let Cricket and Kody know that he acknowledged their "goodnights," then he pulled out his ax and made a pallet under the tree next to Mutt. Although the bike had chosen him to be its rider and would start for no one else but him, he still liked having it nearby; besides, there was no reason why someone determined enough couldn't just haul it away.
The biker reached under his shirt and touched the belt buckle that Jerrod had given to him on his sixteenth birthday. He traced his fingers over the smooth part of the meteorite before stroking the corner with the grooves etched into it.
Merrick grinned and closed his eyes.
He had something the demon wanted.