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Jansen Tanner: The Chess Master

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    Act XXX: The Truth About Homecomings

    The lock on the front door was opened by Leia's set of keys, as she led Josh and I into the mansion itself. Leia looked around casually, then called out with caution...

    "Damon? Devyn? Anybody? I'm calling out because I don't want to get pounced!"

    Jonie Dreamsea emerged from the library and stopped short at the library door.

    "Leia? Um... But... Who is that?"

    Leia smiled at Jonie.

    "Oh good! One of the normal residents. Where's Dominic? It's really important that we speak to him."

    Jonie blinked her eyes.

    "But... um... Okay... Dominic and his friends went to the Furry Realms on a mission for King Bighorn... at least... he was supposed to have gone there..."

    Leia nodded her head, then turned to the two of us.

    "Josh, you can use the phone in the kitchen to make your phone call."

    Leia pointed the way into the kitchen. Josh thanked Leia and headed into the kitchen to use the phone. I then looked at Jonie.

    "Your name is Jonie? Calm down and don't stutter. This is very important. Where exactly in the Furry Realms IS Dominic? It's extremely important that we find him."

    Jonie had to sit down. She was that much in shock.

    "Dominic is heading up the security team at the kings summit. I don't know where the summit is being held, but someone is bound to show up sooner or later. Um... Are you...?"

    I nodded my head and flashed my badge to Jonie.

    "Jansen Tanner, White Bishop of Chess."

    I then put my badge away.

    "Great. How are we going to get to him in time now?"

    Leia hummed.

    "I think I know a way. Jonie... did Dominic leave his Artemis medallion in his den?"

    Jonie nodded her head.

    "Yeah, he didn't think he'd need it, this time."

    Jonie led Leia and I into the office/den, to the case where several special items were stored.

    "There it is."

    Leia smiled and picked up the Artemis medallion.

    "Here goes nothing..."

    Leia rubbed the medallion three times, then waited. Almost instantly, with an accompanying flash of lightning and thunder, Artemis and Apollo appeared in the office/den. Artemis was surprised when she saw that it was Leia who summoned her. But she was even more surprised when she saw that I was standing with Leia.

    "Jansen Tanner?! But... you can't be here! Dominic is supposed to be you and..."

    Then, Artemis stopped and took a good look at me.

    "By Zeus, it IS you!"

    I smiled.

    "Artemis, lovely goddess of the hunt... and Apollo, grand god of the sun..."

    I kissed Artemis' hand, and shook Apollo's hand. Then, I continued.

    "Artemis, we called you because we need to find Dominic immediately. Jonie told us that Dominic is on a mission in the Furry Realms, but not where. That's why you were summoned."

    Artemis blinked her eyes.

    "Athena recently said that Jansen was smarter than Dominic. I didn't understand what she meant then, but the light is starting to shine now. How'd you pull it off?"

    I smiled again.

    "Never tell a Tanner what will happen to them before it happens. Thanks to all the warnings I got from you and your friends, I was able to make some magical arrangements upon returning home. I controlled the time gate and arrived at the Saudi Arabian campsite of a genie hound friend of mine. He granted me a very special wish..."

    Leia grinned, as I continued.

    "...a wish to create Dominic Bastian Vanlyone as his own person in my time period. He was to be an exact twin of me in every way and form, memories included. As an extra bonus, I arranged for that special memory loss magic that was on me to be fully removed from me and affect Dominic fully. I then made a deal with my employer to let Dominic think he was Jansen Tanner and continue working as me, while I continued working for the organization away from headquarters. Also, whenever Dominic was near death, I received a special warning that allowed me to make special arrangements to have him brought back to life. This last time, I happened to be in Cairo, Egypt, at the temple of Ra when I got the warning. I made a deal with Ra and had him reincarnate Dominic into that lion form he was fond of. Josh Savage Jr. caught up with me in Cairo and explained the mess that was going on back home here in Rocky Falls, Missouri. So, the two of us used Dominic's own portal gateway to return to the mansion, where we exited through this den and proceeded around to the driveway where we met up with Leia."

    Josh emerged from the kitchen, at that time, and stood with Leia. Evidently, seeing two more gods meant nothing to Josh. Leia nodded to Josh to be quiet and listen.

    Artemis smiled.

    "I must admit, Jansen, you certainly have earned your reputation. Okay, I'll help you find Dominic before it's too late. Our white cervine friend predicted that Dominic was going to die, yet again. I have to assume that is why you're here now."

    I grinned.

    "You mean the White Stag? You can say it out loud. As a Chess agent, simply knowing he exists is all the desire I need. Now, if you have any idea where Dominic is and what he's doing, you need to come clean and tell us."

    Artemis hummed.

    "You've never been dead, have you?"

    I chuckled.

    "As Athena said, I'm the smarter one. I know how to stay alive."

    Artemis hummed.

    "There is one person who might know where Dominic and the others are. I think you've met him before, if I recall correctly."

    I knew that Artemis was referring to Reed Huxley. It was going to be nice to see him again. But before I could reply to Artemis' statement, Sallee, Jo, and Shane entered the den. And boy, Jo and Shane looked relieved to see me. Sallee was... the third Tanner sister was always the hardest to read... And I wish I could've read her this time, too... as I got belted by Sallee!

    Shane and Jo smirked, as I picked myself up off the floor.

    Sallee growled.

    "Why was I the LAST one to learn about this whole fiasco? Tell me that!"

    I didn't want to reply that Sallee was the biggest blabbermouth in Rocky Falls.

    "Don't ask me... Ouch... Jo was the first one I told."

    Jo grinned.

    "Unlike some siblings, I know how to keep my mouth shut!"

    Sallee started to object, but Leia stopped her. For that I was glad. A Tanner argument isn't something that I wanted to deal with right now. I needed to deal with Dominic before he did something extremely stupid.

    Shane grinned and winked at me.

    "I believe Artemis was about to tell us who might know where Dominic is, correct?"

    I nodded my head, and turned to face Artemis once again. Artemis looked as if she was glad the attention returned to her.

    "Reed Huxley should have a good idea on where Dominic is. And asking him shouldn't be too difficult of a task."

    I smiled.

    "Reed. Yes, I would be glad to see him again. Shall we head over there?"

    Moments later, after walking through yet another portal gateway, for which I could see which one led to Reed's workshop, this time, as I had been shown the gateway from Reed's side of the stone archway. We proceeded forth and found Reed relaxing in front of his TV set in his full werekangaroo form. He looked as if he'd just sat down. And he started to get up when he saw our group but I stopped him.

    "No, Reed. You've been on your feet all day, looks like. All we need to know is where Dominic is. It's come time to tell Dominic the truth."

    Reed smiled, pulling me into his lap!

    "Yer mah favorite mate in the whole world, Jansen. And yer right... Ah just finished making a 'ome remedy cure for Gotaki and Jago. Dominic and party are off in the Furry Realms in the Lutraon Kingdom. Jago is running around doing mini quests for some new friends 'e met."

    I hummed, petting Reed's shoulders.

    "I hope we can find Dominic before he gets himself killed again. It's very urgent."

    Reed smiled, letting me up, as he too got up.

    "Ah better come along, just in case. Dominic, despite his ability to get into dangerous situations, is actually... well... Ah really like 'im. Ah'm sure yas understand... Damon and Ah kinda can't live without 'im. We needs 'im."

    Artemis smiled at that.

    "Circe and I both regard Dominic like that, as well. We need him, too. Come, then. We'll teleport to the Lutraon Kingdom and ask someone where Dominic is staying."

    One thing I rather enjoyed about traveling with gods is that they could zoom your whole group into a location faster than anything. And Artemis was no slacker, from what I did remember about her. Back when she was in disguise as Diana, she struck me as being a real worker, unlike some siblings I knew of...

    Soon, we found ourselves in the coastal grandeur of the Lutraon Kingdom in the Furry Realms of Hollow Earth. Now I knew what Dominic meant during the time we had teamed up against the two Infinity Vales. When Dominic told me of worlds beyond the norm. Of course, I had already been to Atlantis and Asgard, but this was a place that was simply within the same dimension as the one we lived in. Artemis and Reed procurred the information we sought and afterwards, we were entering Sir Dominic's sleeping quarters, where General Damon Kestornath and the demonic hellhound Devyn were resting, awaiting Dominic's return from a meeting.

    When Damon saw our party entering the chamber, and he saw me, he seemed to figure things out fast.

    "Jansen Tanner. I never forget a scent. You and Dominic may look alike, but Dominic has that weird... off scent... sort of like a lion... while you have that definitive wolf scent. Dominic should be returning soon. The Lutraon Queen wanted to talk to him this morning."

    Artemis arched her eye at Damon.

    "She did? We just saw her with some sea otter knights and the king himself and Dominic wasn't with her. I'll be damned... could he be in trouble already?"

    Devyn suddenly stood up.

    "I smell something like Ares approaching the door, but it walks like Dominic."

    We all turned toward the door, as Damon and Devyn prepared themselves for pouncing whoever came into the room without knocking. The strange-smelling figure barely had entered Dominic's quarters when he was suddenly ambushed in an attack. Damon and Devyn fought and pinned the figure to the floor after several minutes. Finally, Damon inquired of Artemis.

    "What the hell is this thing, anyway? It looks like Dominic, but it isn't."

    Artemis approached slowly.

    "It is a simulacrum. A living golem created by Hephaestus, though someone has altered this one to look and sound like Dominic. And I can guess who..."

    The simulacrum spoke.

    "Ares will triumph in the end."

    Artemis pulled out one of her vorpal arrows.

    "Like he did the last time? Damon, you may kill this simulacrum. It has no further use."

    Artemis put the vorpal arrow away. Damon grinned.

    "With the utmost pleasure!"

    And Damon then proceeded to dismember the simulacrum, then Damon disintegrated the remains in holy fire, until there was nothing left. Suddenly, the white stag appeared in the chamber!

    "What I had envisioned has come to pass..."

    Then, the white stag saw me standing there.

    "What the...?"

    Josh blinked his eyes.

    "You mean there really is a white stag?"

    I grinned.

    "Yeah, but trust me. Catching him for three wishes really isn't worth your trouble. If you need a 'no strings attached' wish granted, my genie hound friend can just as easily grant your wish as this white stag can. And he's easier to find and talk to, as well."

    The white stag stared at me.

    "You tricked me!"

    Artemis chuckled.

    "He tricked me too, but he has a good reason for doing so. In fact, if this scene of Dominic dying is what you envisioned, then you tricked yourself, as well. That wasn't Dominic we just destroyed. It was a simulacrum. The real Dominic is elsewhere. But so is Ares."

    I grinned.

    "I am surprised that Dominic never asked who 'the harvest stallion' was. But enough nostalgia. We need to find Dominic and get everything settled out, before it's too late."

    The white stag never took his eyes off of me.

    "What do you mean 'before it's too late'?"

    I then explained.

    "Remember the last time Dominic got brought back to life? Ra was involved. Well, thanks to me, Ra granted that life to Dominic. But there is a catch this time."

    The white stag arched an eye.

    "What kind of catch?"

    I replied.

    "The catch was this... Ra would bring Dominic back to life, but if Dominic were to die again, he'd automatically come back... as a teenager."

    The white stag hummed.

    "Then I suppose we should try to locate Ares. Finding him should be easier than locating Dominic. For I am sure Ares is trying to locate Dominic as well."

    Artemis nodded her head.

    "My brother is going to get sorely punished this time. I thought he had learned his lesson the last time. I guess I was wrong. Let's go find the scummy god."

    Have I mentioned how much I like it when gods decide to get things done? Well, this was certainly one of those times. It took some searching, but by the next morning, Artemis and Jo had Ares hog-tied in the stables. And Jo was offering to let Artemis use her branding irons.

    King Lutraon had just announced that the kings summit would continue for another week, when Gotaki, Damon, Devyn, Jago and Faroth Walker entered the stable courtyard. They came to a stop when they saw Artemis half-standing on a hog-tied Ares, with Jo next to her. The rest of us were standing nearby. Jago hugged Jonie, then asked.

    "What are you guys doing here?"

    Then, Jago noticed that the person he thought was Dominic was actually me.

    "Um, why is Jansen Tanner back again? Where is Dominic?"

    Gotaki seconded the question.

    "Yes. Where is King Lion?"

    The white stag stepped forward.

    "Dominic was almost killed by Ares. He is currently in Santa's Village at the North Pole. He's lucky that he remembered that he was wearing Robin Goodfellow's magic ring. He was able to transport himself out of Ares grasp and into a white reindeer's body. Dominic will rejoin us back at the mansion. As for Jansen Tanner, he is going to inform Dominic about something important, then hopefully..."

    The white stag shot icy mental daggers at me.

    "...he will go back to where ever he was before all this started."

    I grinned.

    "After I tell Dominic the truth about himself and the Ra catch, I'll be heading out again. I am the real Jansen Tanner after all. There can only be one."

    Jo piped up.

    "What?! You're going to leave again? But you just returned home! Why are you leaving?"

    I growled back at Jo.

    "Cassander Vulcan is an ivory graveyard thief and if I stay in the same area as him for any length of time, he'll end up being murdered and I'll make sure the whole area knows who did it!"

    Gotaki smiled.

    "Imagine that. Jansen Tanner has some backbone after all. Maybe I was wrong about him."

    Gotaki opened the shadow gate back to the mansion, and we all headed through it.


    She and Joe were laughing! She took a breath, then released it.

    "The white stag must hate Jansen a lot! And Ares seems to constantly get himself into trouble whenever he goes after Dominic."

    Joe grinned, as he ate some popcorn.

    "This is better than a movie, love. There wasn't anything good on TV, anyway."

    She and Joe took a short break, used the bathroom, and refreshed their sodas and popcorn, before they once again sat down to read more of Jansen's agent history.



      Act XXXI: This Isn't Your Life

      I don't know why Dominic took so long to return from Santa's Village, but I waited in Dominic's office the whole time, with the White Stag, Damon Horse, Reed Huxley, and Gotaki Riverclaw. And when he did arrive, and saw me sitting there with a very serious look on my face, I was almost certain that Dominic thought that he had returned to the wrong time period. Dominic looked at me with an incredulous look on his face.

      "Why are you here? I thought I sent you back to your own time period."

      I grinned.

      "You did. I am the present day Jansen Tanner."

      Dominic sort of went into shock when I said that. I quickly stood up and rested a hand on Dominic's shoulder, looking him in the eye.

      "Dominic... I know this comes as a shock to you but you're not Jansen Tanner. In fact, before that time trip, you never even existed. I had you created with my genie hound's assistance. I had you created to be my near identical twin, with only part of my memories up to your time visit, and... with the forget magic the gods had set on me. Never tell a Tanner what will happen to them before it happens. The memories you did have was just off enough that it made Leia suspicious, and she tried to find out who you really were. And that's when she ran into the problem that Danath Gaul and I ran into when we tried to find out who you were. You simply didn't exist. But then, Leia hired Josh Savage Jr. to go looking for the real me, because Leia knew you and I couldn't be the same person."

      Dominic sighed, slowly lifting his gaze up to look at me.

      "My entire life has been a lie?"

      I hugged Dominic, gently.

      "No life is ever a lie, Dominic. But the truth is, I had no right to do what I did. I didn't want to forget what I knew, so I effectively had myself magically cloned. You were Dominic Vanlyone from day one. I am surprised that you never wondered who 'the harvest stallion' was, and why Danath always conversed with me in hushed secrecy."

      Dominic closed his eyes for a long time. When he reopened his eyes, Dominic looked me over.

      "Ares has been trying to kill me ever since he first met me."

      I nodded my head.

      "I know. The last time you were dead, the Egyptian god, Ra, assisted in your restoration, thanks to me. Anubis contacted me and told me what had happened to you, and I asked him to bring you back to life. Hogan Slade shot you in your time period, and I happened to be on a mission at the time. Anubis contacted me, and I made a deal with the Egyptian gods to have you restored to life. But... there is a catch, this time. The next time you die, Dominic, you'll be auto resurrected as a teenager. Ra was very specific about this. You've lived your life in a far too foolhardy manner. You need to slow down and live for the moment. I don't know what your friends, the White Stag, Damon, Reed, and Gotaki, would do without you. They need you as much as you need them. You need to think about your actions, Dominic."

      Dominic glanced over at the White Stag, then Damon, Reed, and Gotaki.

      "They're like family, Jansen. I need each and every one of them. So... instead of my being you, I am more like your brother... is that it?"

      I patted Dominic's shoulder.

      "Yes, that is a better way to look at it."

      I grinned.

      "If you want a nice way to cheer yourself up, ask Shane about pink tutus in San Francisco and see what he has to say about it."

      Dominic grinned back at me.

      "And you can ask Shane what being mounted by an Agassian fifth circle beast hound is like."

      We both chuckled and there were smirks from the others in the room. It looked like Dominic and I were going to be able to function separately, after all.

      After the office meeting, Dominic and I had several things to prepare and get accomplished. Namely, setting up more of those gateway portals and such. Danath and I thought they were a good idea, for agent usage and I began directing Dominic in places to set up these portals to and from. The added locations, surprisingly to Dominic, were of the following locales... the Charming Goat Inn and Tavern... the Xim Complex... the lobby of the Psi organization... Locke Radson's Australian ranch... a private office in the Manhole building in Las Vegas... and... a side chamber in the temple hall of the Nubian Cult in Cairo, Egypt. This would make getting around the world a lot easier. And I wanted these extra locations set up before Dominic lost the power to make them, if such an event ever occurred.

      I think Dominic was more impressed that I was responsible for getting Psi and Chess into the alliance that they currently had. It was pretty impressive. And Krystal Silverly interested me to no end.

      After Dominic and I finished our visit together, I then headed into the city of Rocky Falls to clear up some legal business. I, of course, kept my business trip as secretive as possible. I really didn't want a lot of people to know that I was back in Rocky Falls.

      Especially that bastard, Cassander Vulcan.

      I think I spent a week or so in Rocky Falls. Longer than I had intended to be there. Lucky for me that Danath was soon contacting me on my portable vid-phone.

      "Jansen? There's been a sasquatch situation up in Vancouver. You're the closest agent to the region, so I contacted you. Think you could go check up on the old girl?"

      I smiled, as I replied.

      "I'm on it, Danath. And thanks."

      I turned to Dominic and the others.

      "Duty calls, Dominic. Remember what I told you. Don't get killed anymore. Think about your actions. You have a fine team of friends who really care about you. We'll be in touch, I am very sure."

      Dominic and I shook hands and I turned and walked through the Xim Complex gateway portal, finding myself instantly in Northern California. I was officially back on duty. I quickly hit the showers, dried off and resuited myself in my new Chess Master uniform. I mean, Danath could keep the casual look. But I preferred to wear something that let the people I dealt with know that I was indeed who I said I was.

      I then hopped into my Chess issue sportscar and began the drive up to Vancouver.


      Joe grinned.

      "I told you he sneaked into town and then left again."

      The woman playfully backhanded Joe's shoulder.

      "Hush. There's a lot more history to read."


      Vancouver. I really hadn't had any dealings in that region before and I wasn't sure what I would encounter up here. What I did encounter was something I surely wasn't expecting.

      When I arrived on the scene of the lumberjacks camp, I saw trees and boulders rocketing back and forth between two hills. I asked the camp foreman how long this had been going on and was told that had started roughly a week before, but at that point, it was merely bones and bushes being hurled back and forth. When it had reached whole trees and boulders, the lumberjacks had called the Chess hotline.

      While I was standing there evaluating the situation, another vehicle pulled up to the camp. I turned to look at it and recognized the Psi emblem on it's hood. I think I actually rolled my eyes and sighed when I saw that it wasn't Krystal who was getting out of the Landrover.

      "A Psi agent. Why am I not surprised?"

      The male Psi agent looked my way and was actually surprised to see the Chess Master uniform.

      "Chess... no one told me I'd be encountering Chess up here. I am Santiago Panchito, though my fellow agents often call me Slow Sandy. I happened to be in the region when I heard of this occurence. I wasn't assigned to this or anything but I thought I'd look into it, anyway."

      I hummed as I held up my vid-phone.

      "Danath. What can you tell me about a Psi agent named Santiago Panchito? Nickname of Slow Sandy."

      There was only a brief delay before the answer came forth from the vid-phone.

      "According to Marla, Santiago was fired from Psi for botching a given assignment. Evidently, Psi doesn't tolerate failures, which is a shame. Satiago's scholastic records show that he's pretty smart and trustworthy among his fellow Elk's Club members."

      I lowered the vid-phone, gazing at the now dejected looking Santiago.

      "Fired, is it? I'm not going to force you to leave, Sandy, but I am assigned to this case, therefore, you follow my orders while you are here. Understood?"

      Santiago sighed, as he was actually starting to turn around to leave.

      "Marla fired me for exposing a lost Pegasus to a news media person. It was really an accident, because I didn't know the reporter was there. Next thing I know, they're reporting it at their small town TV station, but luckily, Marla caught wind of the story and put a cease and desist order on the story itself. Afterwards, Marla fired me as a security risk to the team... but she let me keep the Landrover that I had earned. I've been wandering around looking for a mission that I could do to prove that I have what it takes to be on the team. I guess I better just give up, seeing as how Psi is allowing Chess in the region now. I don't stand a chance..."

      I hummed.

      "Sandy... you have training and an education that is valuable to any situation. You said you happened to be in this region. What can you tell me about sasquatches?"

      Santiago lifted his head and stepped forward, watching the trees and boulders sailing through the air, back and forth.

      "First of all, I can tell you that this isn't an attack. It's a mating courtship display. Such activities will last for 3 weeks, at the end of such time, the two will calm down and take their heated bodies to a location that is both private and secure, where... need I go on?"

      I chuckled, as I was reminded of Saul du Morvan and Astraea Tirzal back during that one time when I almost got to see a gargoyle mating. Saul was kind enough to indicate that such a mating wasn't something that a human would want to watch.

      "Good. And no, you don't have to go on. I know full well what mating rites among the special species can be like. I have two gargoyle friends in Europe who warned me before they did their thing in the gentleman's cavern home."

      Santiago nodded his head and began to leave again. I quickly spoke up.

      "Where are you going? Do you always turn your back on your superiors like that?"

      Santiago stopped and turned to face me again.

      "There isn't anything we can do here. Marla doesn't want me and surely Chess has no use for a has been like me. I was just going to get out of your way."

      I was beginning to get one of my crazy Tanner ideas.

      "What if I hired you?"

      Santiago blinked his eyes.

      "What for?"

      I grinned.

      "Look... we already know that Psi and Chess can't be everywhere at once. According to my employer Danath Gaul, it just can't be done. Therefore, I am proposing the formation of a third agent team, answerable to me and Krystal Silverly. I haven't decided what to call this team, as yet, but someone with your skills should be retained and not simply released."

      Santiago was starting to smile.

      "And I could be an official agent again, is what you're saying... What do I have to do?"

      I hummed, glancing to the South.

      "First of all, I'll need to contact my friend, Mark 'the wonderland rabbit' Jolson, who happens to be stationed near here at the Mystic Citadel, which is owned by Valerian Mouse. Are you game to follow my lead in this, Sandy?"

      Santiago nodded his head immediately. It was a chance to once again join the good fight with those who cared about their work.

      After informing the lumberjacks of what was to be expected from the sasquatches, Santiago and I drove back to the South. I led the way in my sportscar, with Santiago following me in his Landrover. It seemed like that I was going to get to see Mark again. It had been ages since I'd even spoken to him, but this was important enough to me to promote a meeting between us.

      The Mystic Citadel was not a location I had ever had reason to visit before, but upon seeing the place, I could see it's grandeur and mystery. It was obvious why a great archmagi like Valerian would choose to live here. It was like a rustic nirvana.

      Santiago and I walked up to the front door and I rang the doorbell.

      When the door opened and we saw the Red Balrog Warrior walk out of the door past us, I wasn't sure what we had arrived in time to see. I had only barely had known what Balrogs were, let alone having seen one, and this one was obviously a warrior of immense honor and greatness. He walked out into the driveway, opened some sort of magical portal, walked through it, and the portal closed without a trace.

      Just then, we heard Kwy-saugi Raeyu's voice behind us.

      "Ah, so the doorbell did ring."

      Santiago and I turned back around and before us was the stellar dragon himself in his dragon form. And he was dressed in ceremonial robes and was likewise scented in oils and ceremonial fragrances.

      "What brings you to the Mystic Citadel, Jansen Tanner?"

      I smiled, as I bowed to Raeyu, then I shook his claw, as I introduced Santiago to Raeyu.

      "Actually, we came to talk to Mark Jolson. Is he around?"

      Raeyu invited us within the Mystic Citadel itself and into the central garden where Raeyu served us some tea.

      "Mark and Valerian are currently off at a gathering of mages and are not due back for some time. And aside from the other interesting beings who dwell within the citadel, I am here to greet guests and answer questions."

      I just had to ask.

      "Was that really a balrog? I've read about them, but I have never known any to actually cross over into our world. What did he want, if I may ask?"

      Raeyu smiled.

      "King Fellsmaugh was here doing some research on Chronos Portals. Evidently, their current enemies, the Kohoblins, are using one to do hit and run attacks on the Balrog's main city."

      Santiago smiled.

      "Therefore he was doing research to see what ways could be implied to prevent the portal from being able to open within the city?"

      Raeyu nodded his muzzle.

      "This is indeed correct."

      I then proceeded toward explaining my newest idea to Raeyu. He listened to my idea with an open mind, then he made a remark.

      "I would normally not feel justified in making such a suggestion, but I feel that you should have a mage on your new team. A representative of magic. I cannot suggest such a person, but the idea has been submitted and I am sure you will ponder this with reason."

      I had to admit... Raeyu could come up with some good suggestions. It was a shame that I wasn't going to get to see Mark. But such is life. I thanked Raeyu for his suggestions, then Santiago and I saw ourselves out of the Citadel and back to our vehicles.

      "Our next stop will be the Xim Complex. My home away from home. The new team will be based there. I'd suggest that once we're there, you take some time to unwind, get used to the new surroundings and prepare yourself for the coming missions that are sure to come. I, on the other paw, have a certain job that I have been procrastinating against, but it is high time that I begin working on. You see, I have another vacation coming up and I think it'd be a good idea if I pursued this job while on my vacation."

      Santiago arched an eye.

      "I could help you..."

      I quickly stopped him.

      "No, this involves werewolves and while I have protection from them, I cannot guarantee your safety. This is something I need to do myself. It's part of a blood oath."

      Santiago nodded his head.

      "Those are important. I can understand what it means to make a promise to someone important. I will stay at the Xim Complex and prepare myself, as you suggested. And I'll be awaiting your call. And thank you for giving me this chance to live again."

      The two of us drove down to the Xim Complex, where I parked my sportscar, then filed my report with Danath. Then I officially announced the start of my next vacation and left the conference chamber. My third official Tanner vacation. Big fun!

      Who all remembers what my previous two vacations were like?


      The woman and Joe both piped up.

      "I do!"


      My first planned stop was in San Francisco and that meant checking in with both the Foo-Chings and with my clan brother, Jael, of whom I was hoping was alive and well.

      I wasn't sure what my friends' reactions would be toward my latest job, but this was something that demanded answers. And... it gave me an excellent excuse to put my investigative skills to the test. Yes, I was going to be playing private detective once again.

      Getting there would be easy. God, I loved teleporting under my own power! I was soon standing at Xim's Rest. I sighed, as I knelt and kissed Xim's headstone.

      "My fallen friend. Answers you will receive on this vacation. I am finally going to investigate the events that led Hogan Slade to want to kill you. True justice will finally be gained for not only you, but for all who have suffered because of this event. It's finally time we learned the secret origin of Infinity Vale."


      She and Joe were currently snuggling, while reading the history.


      Naughty, naughty. Get a room, you rabbits. *wink*


      She and Joe started laughing, as Joe stuck his tongue out at the computer monitor.

      "You're just full of surprises, aren't you, Jansen? This is the best night I've ever had in quite a long time! So now, you're going to be investigating Hogan Slade?"

      She grinned, as she ate some more popcorn.

      "Every time Jansen takes a vacation, he ends up in Las Vegas. What do you want to bet that he ends up in Sin City again?"

      Joe pulled out a dollar.

      "I'll take that bet, honey! And we'll see where he ends up, together!"

      She and Joe repositioned themselves in the chair, and resumed reading Jansen's agent history.



        Act XXXII: The Secret Origin of Infinity Vale

        Doing this job required that I step away from being a member of Chess and step back into my previously chosen occupation... that of a private investigator. They say that at times you come full circle and it seemed to be very true.

        My first stop was my old San Francisco digs, the flatstone that was owned by my old friend, Detective Gideon Langston. Strange how after all this time I still call this place my home.

        When I walked in the door, I got an unexpected surprise, for standing just inside the door was Gideon and just beyond him was someone who looked a lot like how I looked several years ago. At first, I wasn't sure if I had stepped back in time or had walked in on a similar situation from a time past.

        "Gideon? What are you doing here?"

        Gideon turned to look at me suddenly and actually smiled.

        "Ah, just the man I was warning you about... Sandy Kenley, meet Jansen Tanner. He's the detective who operated out of this very building many years ago. I am sure the two of you will get along very well."

        At that point, Gideon made to walk past where I stood, and as he got within whispering range, Gideon whispered something to me.

        "Go easy on him, Jansen. It's funny... he went to college where you did. And he's about as much trouble as you are. Notice I said 'about'..."

        Then, Gideon headed on out the door, leaving me to deal with this aspiring private detective. I turned back to look across the room at Sandy.

        "Just call me Jansen."

        I then proceeded about my business as if Sandy wasn't even there. This must have surprised him, because he got up from the desk that I almost never sat at and followed me into the kitchen.

        "Gideon tells me that you got your start here, Jansen. He didn't mention why you return here periodically. What brings you back this time?"

        I had been bent over in the refrigerator when he asked that question. I was smiling because this kid reminded me so much of myself. I pulled some sandwich meat, a loaf of bread, and some mayonnaise out and began to make a sandwich.

        "First of all, Sandy... the things I do now is not what you want to be involved in by accident. I am on a case right now, but the subject matter isn't something the normal detective would handle. Nor would he want to."

        I turned to look at Sandy. He was about the height I had been many years ago. His hair color and eye color was the same as mine, yet he dressed slightly different from how I'd dressed in those days. Plus, he wore a silver cross around his neck. That made me smile. The kid wasn't as stupid as I had been.

        "I am investigating the past of a werewolf hunter."

        That made Sandy's eyes pop open and made him move back a step.

        "A werewolf hunter. Gideon did say you investigated some strange stuff, just not what. Um, do you need some help?"

        I dropped my smile, as I began to make the second sandwich.

        "I wish you hadn't asked for that. We'll be meeting some werewolves. For that reason alone, I don't think you want to come with me. I cannot promise your safety."

        Sandy sighed.

        "I'd just be in your way, you mean..."

        I stopped and turned my gaze to the kid.

        "Sandy... in a way, I really wish Gideon had warned you better about me. I'm the current Chess Master of the Chess organization. Chess stands for the Central Headquarters for Ethereal and Supernatural Studies. I didn't just join the organization; I got involved in something that was reportedly far beyond my capabilities to handle. Somehow, I got lucky. You don't encounter evil vampires every day and live to tell the tale."

        Sandy had his hand on his silver cross and his complexion paled greatly.

        "Please... in God's name, let me help you this once."

        I was still looking at the kid. He was pleading to be allowed to help me. That had to hurt a lot. I didn't remember my ever begging to help another detective. His past with Gideon must been very different. I refrained from asking what had happened. I finished making the pack of sandwiches and placed them all into a lunch pail.

        "You really want to help out, don't you?"

        Sandy slowly stepped forward.


        Gideon must've put the kid in his place one time too often. I'd never seen such a timid private investigator. It was almost cute. But it was also sad, in a way. I just had to know.

        "What did Gideon do to you?"

        Sandy's gaze slowly drifted down at his own feet, as he took a very slow breath.

        "My friends and I were junior sleuths. Every time we were involved in something that we thought was harmless, Gideon would show up... and he'd get mad. Really mad. He was often saying, 'Another Jansen Tanner I don't need.' During the last sleuthing outing we were on, we encountered Gideon again, only... we didn't know it was him... and... he accidentally shot me..."

        That shocked me a lot. Gideon was usually the most cautious detective in the west. If he shot Sandy, the circumstances must have been outstanding. Sandy then continued.

        "...I woke up in the hospital. The doctors said that I almost didn't make it. When I was released, Gideon was there to greet me. I ran from him. He caught me and put me in the car, kicking and screaming. I was scared to death of him. He... he..."

        I placed a hand on Sandy's shoulder.

        "That's enough, Sandy. It's in the past. Let it go. Where I'll be going, there is no room for fear. If you want to come along, you can. But you must do exactly as I say. I want to hear you promise as if you mean it. Because if you're scared or you don't do as I say, you could get hurt. So, what will it be?"

        Sandy lifted his gaze to me.

        "I promise to do as you say."

        I smiled.

        "Good, now let's get moving. Though I am not sure if the Clan will meet with me if you're around, so... you have to let me warn them before we meet them. They have their reasons."

        I led Sandy out of the flatstone building, where we got into my Chess issue sportscar. I then picked up the videophone and pressed the buttons for Danath Gaul.

        "Danath? What do you have on an U.S. Citizen named Sandy Kenley?"

        Moments later, Danath replied back.

        "Sandy Kenley you said?"

        I arched an eye.

        "That's what I said. What's going on, Danath?"

        Danath was hesitant to reply.

        "Is he sitting there beside you?"

        I glanced aside at Sandy.

        "Of course. He was in my San Francisco digs."

        Danath spoke very quietly.

        "Jansen... Sandy Kenley... is dead... He died in Phoenix, Arizona, from an accidental shooting. Either the kid next to you is an imposter... or a ghost. He had been attending the University of Phoenix at the time. The shooter was Gideon Langston."

        I almost dropped the phone. Almost.

        "Thank you, Danath. I'll be in touch."

        I turned off the phone and looked at Sandy.

        "Why didn't you tell Gideon that you were a ghost? Or were you even aware that you'd died?"

        Sandy sighed.

        "Please don't rob me of one good detective mission. I beg of you, in God's name..."

        I sighed, then I turned to Sandy and smiled.

        "A ghost detective. That's certainly different. Perhaps it doesn't have to be just one mission, Sandy. But you're going to have to accept the fact that you're already dead. You can't die twice. One good mission, you said. Okay, you've got yourself a mission. Danath thinks I am crazy any way, so this shouldn't be any different. Let's get this trip moving."

        Sandy smiled, as he fastened his seat belt.

        "You won't regret this, Jansen. I promise."

        I then got the trip moving. Our first stop was the entrance to the Undercity, which was located inside of a cloak shop in San Francisco's Chinatown district. And not just anyone could enter the back room without some definitive clout. Fortunately, I was one of those people who had that kind of clout. When Sandy and I entered the cloak shop, the owner, a scruffy brown haired slender man, glanced our way. His eyes slowly widened when he saw my Chess uniform.

        "I've done nothing wrong, Chessman! I swear it!"

        I smiled.

        "Calm down, Fran. It's me, Jansen Tanner."

        The scruffy man, Fran, stepped out of the shadows to get a better look at me. That's when Sandy saw what Fran was... I was sort of glad to be able to know a weredolphin, though Fran was deftly afraid of Chess and I couldn't blame him. Fran looked me over then smiled slowly.

        "It is you, Jansen. Thank Poseidon... What can I do for you today?"

        I smiled and told Fran why I was even in San Francisco in the first place. He placed a flipper to his chin and thought for a moment, then he gave me directions to the Slade residence just east of Fremont, California. I thanked Fran and updated him on recent news from the Mediterranean, including the fall of Skam, then Sandy and I were on our way. We were soon in the sportscar once again, heading for the Slade residence in the northern part of the Diablo Range.

        As we were driving under an overpass, something heavy landed with a thud in the backseat of the sportscar. Good thing I had the top down or the backseat wouldn't have been an easy target. Fortunately, when the voice spoke, I was relieved.

        "I'm coming with you, Jansen. The Clan decided to lend you our support in this. Besides... it was my brother."

        I grinned.

        "Glad to have you along, Jael. And you're right... this is for Xim. This whole mission is to learn the truth on Xim's behalf. By the way, meet Sandy Kenley, a ghost detective."

        Jael sniffed Sandy, then smiled, as he shook Sandy's hand.

        "Glad to meet you, Sandy. I'm a werewolf, of course. You don't have a scent, like Jansen does, so I know that you're a ghost."

        Sandy shook the furry hand, then turned to me.

        "What do you think our reception at the Slade residence will be like?"

        I hummed.

        "Hopefully, they don't come out shooting. I mean, their son is currently a chipmunk on Circe's hidden island, so they may not be glad to see a Chess agent."

        The rest of our drive was quiet, fortunately. Well, not exactly quiet. I just don't care to repeat the words of the traveling song that Jael kept singing. It was pretty disturbing.

        When we turned the sportscar into the driveway, Jael's nose immediately turned into a quiet snarl. And I soon saw why... planted all around the entire yard was a four foot wide patch of wolvesbane. Let me explain the significance of wolvesbane to werewolves. Contrary to popular belief, scratching yourself with wolvesbane under the light of a full moon won't change you into a werewolf. You'll just get a nasty rash and an uncontrollable itching sensation. The stuff can be poisonous to humans. To a werewolf, however, it will not kill them, nor will it drive them away. Instead, the stuff has an odor that causes a werewolf to respond very violently. And I had a werewolf in the backseat of my sportscar. Not a fun thought.

        I quickly dabbed some baby powder into a handkerchief and helped to tie that over Jael's nose. The snarl faded almost immediately. Thank goodness. Then, the three of us got out of the car and approached the house. Well, we started to...

        "That's far enough! Just get back in your car and get out of here!"

        Of course, I didn't move. My badge was in hand immediately, as I struck my pose.

        "Jansen Tanner. Chess Master. I'm here to speak to the parents of Hogun Slade."

        The man who came around the corner of the house had not lowered his rifle. Have I mentioned how much I dislike guns? The man was looking the three of us over from where he stood.

        "Chess Master, huh? And what of those two?"

        I replied.

        "Sandy Kenley, ghost detective. And Jael of Clan Goldengate. They're with me. We're investigating Hogun Slade's past."

        At that moment, Sandy stepped toward the house and the man swung his rifle at Sandy. That was the break I needed, as Jael and I tackled the man and disarmed him of the rifle. As Jael held the man securely from behind, I and Sandy stood in front of the man.

        "I wanted to do this the non violent way but you forced my hand. Now, I want you to tell me all about Hogun Slade. And don't lie to me... Jael can detect a lie very easily and he's not too happy about the wolvesbane planted around here. As you can see, it's not keeping him away."

        The man was quickly realizing what I meant, as he also realized what Jael had to be.

        "Oh- okay... Hogun Slade is one of my two sons."

        I arched an eye.

        "Two sons? I only knew of Hogun. Who is your other son?"

        Mr. Slade replied quietly.

        "Blake. He's the younger one who is currently in a recovery center in Las Vegas."

        I was starting to get the whole picture.

        "You better come clean and tell me everything. Especially if you ever want Hogun to come home again. What you tell me will help me get Hogun back here."

        Mr. Slade sighed.

        "Several years ago, the three of us were hunting game in the Diablo Range. We were after small game, as that was safer than going after big game. We're all very good with a rifle. Hogun and I were dressed in camoflage, while Blake was wearing normal clothing and a necklace made out of the wolvesbane flowers. At that time, we didn't have this stuff all around the house like this. We had been pretty successful on the outing... we had bagged several squirrels and a few rabbits. We were about to head back. Blake told me he was going to use the restroom and I told him to go ahead. How I wish I wouldn't have suggested he do that... I should have asked him to hold it in until we got home... anyway... he was just barely out of sight when suddenly, there was a scream and a horrible snarling roar. Hogun and I thought that Blake had encountered a bear. We ran to see what was there and we saw the hairy wolfman with a lightning bolt mark burned into one side of his head. Hogun fired a warning shot, then the wolfman bolted and was gone. Blake hadn't been injured, that time, but all three of us were ready to head back to the house. Then... that night... Hogun awoke to some sort of scuffling sound. He awoke me silently and we grabbed our rifles and followed the sound. And then, we saw them..."

        Jael then snarled a little.

        "...Lightning bolt mark... keep talking..."

        Mr. Slade nodded and continued.

        "There were four of them being directed by a larger one and they had Blake by each of his arms and legs. There was a full moon that night and it was very clear what we were looking at. I'd seen werewolves in the movies, but this went way beyond that. The larger one then raked a claw down Blake's chest and Blake screamed. Then all hell broke loose, as Hogun and I open fired on the werewolves. The smaller ones dropped Blake on the ground and darted away, but the larger one leapt at us. But he didn't get far, as my wife, well, ex-wife, fired the family crossbow out of the backdoor and sent the big guy rolling across the lawn. You see, the crossbow had been loaded with a blessed silver crossbow bolt. That seemed to do the trick, as the big guy got up and shouted, 'I will return for what is mine,' and then, he was gone into the darkness. We didn't know what he meant until the next evening, when Blake started screaming for no reason. That's when we saw the fur growing out of his body. He was begging and pleading for help, but we were powerless to stop it. We managed to trap him in the game freezer until sunrise, then... I started calling doctors, seeking help. We were in over our heads..."

        Sandy came over and patted the man's shoulder.

        "And that's when you found out that none of the doctors could, or would, help you. Right?"

        Mr. Slade nodded his head.

        "They talked down on me, saying that I was crazy. That I was making the whole thing up. Then, during one of the days that Blake was himself, he was reading a magazine that we'd given him and he found an advertisement for a place called The Sanctuary Recovery Center. And there was a phone number. He pointed it out to me and we called the number. It was our last hope, Mr. Tanner. We were desperate. The person I spoke to, a Mr. Sterling Hawk, told me that cases like our's happened all the time. And he said he could help us. A few days later, he arrived with a padded security van and we loaded Blake up and that's the last we ever seen or heard from him."

        I hummed. A trip to Las Vegas was in order. And yes, Joe, you owe your wife a dollar!


        Joe handed over the dollar gracefully with a grin.


        Mr. Slade then continued.

        "A few days after that, Hogun showed up with a whole bunch of crazy hunting equipment. He swore by all that was holy that every werewolf in the world was going to pay for killing Blake. I tried to tell him that Blake was still alive but he wouldn't listen to me. It was like he had gone over the edge. And then, he left... and we never saw him again. A few days after that, I started planting the wolvesbane, not to keep werewolves away, but because when they flower... Blake loved the flowers... sob..."

        Jael released Mr. Slade at that point, as the man slowly sank to the ground, sitting there sobbing. Jael looked to me with a sigh.

        "I know what this man is going through, Jansen. I planted flowers all over Xim's grave site, too. They were Xim's favorites. We have to bring the Thunder Wolf Clan to justice, old friend. This time, they've gone too far. We have to make sure the right werewolf pays for this injustice. Just give the word and it's done."

        I shook my head.

        "We are not going to institute a lynching, Jael. That isn't justice at all. What we're going to do is contact Baron Grimm Gott'schlecht and we'll do this right. If you lynch them, you'll be no better than they are. Comprende`?"


        She grinned as she put the dollar into her purse.

        "I told you he'd end up going there. And I wonder if Falcone will be glad to see him when he gets there? All he wants to do is romp around with Jansen..."

        Joe arched an eye.

        "Who is Falcone?"

        She grinned, as she sat back down and sipped on her cola.

        "Falcone Robynson is a cute were-hawk that Jansen met in the Sanctuary the last time he was in Sin City. The poor guy is in heat all the time."

        Joe laughed, as he and his wife resumed reading Jansen's agent history.



          Act XXXIII: New Moon Over Were-Sin City

          "I messed up, didn't I?"

          Sandy the ghost detective had finally broken the silence that hung over the three of us during our trip down the highway toward Las Vegas. I kept my eyes on the road and replied.

          "How do you mean?"

          Sandy turned to look at me.

          "At Mr. Slade's home... when I stepped toward the house. That didn't go like you planned, did it?"

          I had to smile at that.

          "I knew you were a ghost, Sandy, so your stepping that way was the best way to make Mr. Slade aim his gun another direction. I mean, it's not like you can die twice. How are you holding up back there, Jael?"

          Jael had been in the backseat of the sportscar last time I'd looked and I didn't know if he'd ever been in a Chess issue sportscar before, so I was a little concerned about him. Sandy turned and looked into the backseat and smiled as he turned back to me.

          "Jael is asleep, Jansen."

          I nodded my head with a smile.

          "Good. It's probably for the best. I don't know how I'd explain a werewolf and a ghost to a highway patrol officer, if we met one out here."

          Sandy grinned.

          "With your luck, he'd be one of the special folk."

          We both laughed at that. Anyway, I don't know how I've always lucked out in never encountering a law enforcement officer on the highways. Surely the law didn't instantly know a Chess operative on sight. Or maybe the old Tanner luck continued to hold out. Or maybe... they knew I was related to a batch of very dangerous bounty hunters. But my best guess was that they knew that I was related to Shane Wayne.

          When we finally arrived in Las Vegas, I think it wasn't a second too soon, because Jael voiced a request to use the fire hydrant. The were-bear bartender at the Manhole showed Jael where he could do his business, while Sandy and I headed up toward Sterling Hawk's office. I must admit... this is one of the first times I've ever been in the Manhole during the daylight hours and it was about as deserted as a ghost town, er, never mind.

          Sterling was in his human form, for a change and clean to boot. We shook his hand, then we explained why we had come to Las Vegas on this trip. Sterling nodded his head and grabbed a file out of his filing cabinet.

          "Blake Slade. Nice kid. He was scared, at first, but he opted to stay a werewolf even after he found out that there was a cure for it. He's been receiving control treatments and has been progressing quite well."

          I coughed as I prepared my question.

          "How soon do you think before he'll be allowed to visit his father?"

          Sterling had to cough at that point.

          "I strongly don't think that would be a good idea, unless his father agreed to come visit him. If I recall correctly, his home has that wolvesbane planted all around it. And that would harm Blake immensely if he got within scent range of that plant."

          Sandy arched an eye.

          "Couldn't Blake just do what Jael did? Place a handkerchief over his nose and muzzle?"

          Sterling smiled.

          "He probably could, although someone would need to monitor his visit the entire time. I assume you both would like to meet Blake?"

          I hummed.

          "Actually, it's Sandy, myself and Jael, who is downstairs waiting on us. Sandy is a ghost detective, so he's okay, Sterling."

          Sterling smiled.

          "Ah, a ghost. I was wondering why you didn't have a scent. Very well, shall we head out to the Sanctuary then?"

          At this point, I was glad to be heading out to the Sanctuary. The last time I was there, I had made a lot of good friends who had helped me recover from my near death injuries. Fortunately, on this visit, Sterling showed me the underground shuttle rail that connected the Manhole to the Sanctuary. And this explained to me on how Sterling often could get to the Sanctuary before I could drive there, the sneaky were-hawk.

          I think Jael was pretty happy to be at the Sanctuary because he had removed his cloak and was howling at the artificial moon.

          And someone else was pretty happy, too, as I got pounce tackled by the ever hyperactive were-hawk named Falcone Robynson. And Sterling just as quickly pulled Falcone off of me.

          Thank goodness.

          "He's working, Falcone. It's not a pleasure visit."

          Falcone sighed.

          "But we almost never get to see him around here, Sterling..."

          Sterling petted Falcone's head.

          "I know, but he's the Chess Master now. And he's working on a case. I'm going to release you now and you better behave yourself."

          Falcone was released and he gazed at me with forlorn eyes. It was obvious how much Falcone liked me. Aren't you glad you're not here, Joe?


          Joe smirked.

          "Better you than me."


          Sandy grinned.

          "So where is Blake Slade?"

          Sterling pointed to dome number 12... MacDonald's Farm.

          "During the daylight hours, he works with the weres on the farm. And at night... he sits in a makeshift flower garden. I really wish he'd pull through this. Maybe you can help him, Jansen."

          I nodded my head.

          "I'll talk to him, Sterling. That's why I am here, after all."

          Jael and Sandy escorted me into Dome 12, then allowed me to proceed on my own. It was probably for the best, after all. I was getting ready to speak with the brother to Hogun Slade. And this had to be handled with all the utmost subtlety in the world. After asking around a bit, I finally came upon Blake Slade pitching hay in the barn with a pitchfork.

          "Blake Slade, I presume?"

          The young man stopped pitching hay and slowly turned to see who had spoken.

          "Who are you? How do you know my name?"

          I presented my badge.

          "Jansen Tanner, Chess Master. Western Hemisphere Division. I recently spoke to your father. He told me how I might find you. Sterling tells me that you have a problem that he cannot break you of. Perhaps you would talk to me about this problem..."

          Blake sighed as he set the pitchfork aside.

          "It's my brother. He thinks that I am dead. Plus... I've recently heard that he's trying to kill off all werewolves. This worries me because he might accidentally kill me and then... he'd have to face the fact that he murdered me. I'd like to somehow get word to him that I am not deceased. I'd like for Hogun to come and see me. Here in the Sanctuary. But I don't know how to get a hold of him. If perhaps you are willing to aid me in my time of need, Mr. Tanner... please contact Hogun for me and tell him of my request."

          I came over and hugged Blake, patting his back.

          "Your brother got himself into a spot of trouble, Blake. He's currently the permanent guest of the sorceress named Circe. He accidentally shot his rifle at her and she... she changed him into a chipmunk. He's been stuck on her island ever since."

          Blake gasped, then sobbed.

          "Oh no! No... no... please, Mr. Tanner. I beseech you... rescue him and bring him to me."

          I hummed as I stepped away from Blake.

          "I'll do what I can, Blake. But I need your promise that you will progress in your recovery sessions. Sterling said that you were doing well for a while. Then you started to fade. If it's because of your desire to be with your brother, then I will bring him to you. But you must promise me that you will recover. You wouldn't want Hogun to see how weak you've become, would you?"

          After that, Blake walked around with me, then greeted Jael and Sandy. Jael introduced himself properly and by what twist of fate linked him to the Slade family. Blake was almost devastated, but he remained strong, for he had promised me that he would recover.

          Soon afterward, and after spending an afternoon with Falcone and Sterling shooting the breeze, Jael, Sandy and I returned to San Francisco, where I delivered a report of Blake's progress to his father and how visitation was allowed at the Sanctuary. Then, we drove back into San Francisco to my old detective shop digs. At that point, Jael mysteriously parted company with us, in that sneaky werewolf way of his, while Sandy and I had a meal and bedded down for the night in seperate bedrooms. As I lay myself down, a thought crossed my mind. How did ghosts sleep?

          Come the next morning, my videophone rang and it was Danath Gaul. I smiled at him as I had breakfast.

          "Good morning, Danath. Well, it's morning here in San Francisco. What's up?"

          Danath smiled back, but not in a menacing way. That had to mean that it wasn't a mission.

          "Are you about done there in California?"

          I smirked and winked at him.

          "Almost. I still have to contact the Baron about a werewolf pack, then I have to plan a trip to see Circe. Why are you asking? You don't have that I have a mission for you look on your face."

          Danath laughed out loud.

          "I must be getting better at hiding my expressions from you. I do have a mission of sorts for you. You probably won't think of it as much of a mission, but this is likely right up your alley, seeing as how they requested you by name."

          I grinned. This of course meant that I'd get to see someone that I'd already met once before.

          "So who's been asking for me this time?"

          Danath made a very peculiar sound.

          "Yip! These four legged foxes with humanoid torsoes contacted their local mage and through him contacted Chess to ask if you would escort them to this year's Taurean Gathering in northern Greece. And because I know how much you like them furry guys, I told them that you'd do it."

          I laughed at that.

          "You just want to hear how they molested me again! Anyway... Sandy Kenley did okay for his first time out with Chess. He's a ghost detective and perhaps Chess might make use of his services in the future as a Chess contact. Before you get mad, Danath... Sandy desperately wanted to go on one good detective mission and being how I'm a nice guy, I couldn't say no. He's absolutely beaming with excitement over how well we did yesterday."

          Danath hummed.

          "Very well, Jansen. We'll grant Sandy contact status. I assume he'll be haunting your old San Francisco digs as his base, so that will be a good place for us to send him information and messages whenever Chess has to be in that region."

          I grinned again.

          "I am going to be leaving my sportscar with Sandy, for now. I won't need it for my trip to Germany, as you well know by now. I have the Baron's favor, after all."

          Danath grinned back.

          "You have Freke and Gere's favor, as well. Maybe someday we'll have to reunite them with you."

          And with that, Danath cut the videophone connection. I hated it when he got in the last word. But maybe he was dealing with new Pawns or something over in Greece. Whichever it was, I knew that my vacation in the states was at an end, once again. I conferred with Sandy on what my latest plans and mission were, and I promised to return to check on him. We then said our goodbyes just as a customer entered the front room asking for Detective Kenley. That was my cue to leave and I did.

          Like I said, I wouldn't need my car for what I was about to do. You guessed it. I was about to use my wolf trick teleportation power. Like the moon door power, I try not to abuse these powers that I have been given by those I have earned the favor of. In some cases, this power is like flying by the seat of your pants. Oh well... time to get this over with, right?

          Sometimes I really hate the time difference between the different places around the world. It had been nearly 9 A.M. in San Francisco when I began the teleportation. I arrived at the castle of the Baron at 6 P.M. Just in time for dinner with the Baron. And I had to oblige his request, even though I had just had breakfast only an hour before.

          After dinner ended, I explained my presence at that time and informed him about the crime that the Lightning Mark clan had committed and the series of events that it had caused concerning Hogun Slade. Baron Gott'schlecht quietly took all of this in. Apparently, he had heard it all and my news was little in comparison to the things he obviously had put up with in years past. When I finished my tale, the Baron agreed that true justice would be done. But first, I had to find Hogun Slade and that meant tracking down Circe. And from previous experience, I knew that Circe would not be on her island at this time of year. This was the time when she was with her two sisters and that elusive traveling carnival. Circe's Sideshows is what it was called. Finding it was nearly impossible. However... I had a plan for finding it.

          I found myself at the front door of a secluded doctor's residence in the northern America. I really hoped that I wouldn't be turned away, but this was my best chance of finding Circe, as odd as this seemed. Getting here was even easier, thanks to a local den of rabbits. I then knocked on the door and awaited a reply.

          I had been about to knock again when the door opened. Standing there before me was a man who appeared to be more horse, bull or goat than human. Of course, the being saw the uniform that I wore and about closed the door in my face. Almost... I prevented the door from being closed.

          "Doctor Comus? I'm Jansen Tanner, the current Chess Master. I am trying to locate Circe and I was led to believe that you had the ability to locate her whenever you liked. If you can help me, I would appreciate it."

          At that moment, Doctor Comus walked up from behind me holding a sack of groceries.

          "Mr. Tanner? I am Doctor Comus. You've been talking to one of my patients. To what do I owe your presence tonight?"

          I smiled as I shook the good doctor's hand.

          "I was told that you could find Circe's carnival no matter where it was. I need to find and speak with Circe about an important matter. One of her guests is now needed in a case I am working on. And that means that I would need her permission to collect that guest."

          Doctor Comus invited me into his home where I was given a tour of some of Doctor Comus' more interesting patients. Most were victims of Circe's carnival, while others had other transformation accidents through other means. Finally, the two of us entered Doctor Comus' office where he pulled out an odd looking tome with a picture of a carnival on it's cover. He opened the book to a map of the United States and spoke a command word. Almost instantly, there came a glow on the map.

          "And that is where you will find Circe's carnival at the current time."

          I smiled and shook Doctor Comus' hand again and gave him one of my business cards.

          "Thank you so much for your assistance, Doctor Comus. If you happen to need my assistance in future, just give me a call and I will respond as soon as possible."

          Doctor Comus nodded his head.

          "I'll keep your offer in mind, Mr. Tanner. Good luck in your search."

          And with that, I departed the good doctor's home and utilized the wolf trick magic to home directly in as close as possible to the carnival's latest overnight stop. It was about 11 P.M. locally just west of Sisters, Oregon, in Deschutes county. And sure enough, there sat Circe's traveling carnival. All laid open and the sounds of exotic animals here and there. I wisely approached the ticket booth at the front of the carnival where a large muscled brute with a big mustache snarled at me. I simply pulled my badge and showed it to the brute.

          "I'm looking for Circe. It's business."

          After that, I was escorted to Circe's main tent where I got to witness her changing a rude man into a dog. I had to grin as she finished her work.

          "How naughty was he, Circe?"

          Circe also had to smile when she heard my voice.

          "He acted like a dog, so I thought he should be one. What brings Chess to my carnival? Or are you seeking a change yourself?"

          I laughed then replied in a quiet yet serious manner.

          "It's business on behalf of Baron Gott'schlecht. It's time for Hogun Slade to go to court. I need your permission to fetch him for the hearing in the Baron's kingdom."

          Circe smiled as she allowed one of her sisters to take the new dog away.

          "Justice for Hogun Slade, is it? I hope you realize that Hogun Slade's future self was killed by Dominic during your fight on my island. It's the younger Hogun Slade who is currently a chipmunk. But I do not think we should tell him least not yet. He does deserve a fresh new start. However... Hogun Slade currently isn't on my island. He's off with Jago Fox and his friends on their way to the Taurean Gathering in northern Greece. He apparently made a deal with Jago for some time off of the island. Of course, they are escorting my consort, Ren of the Northern Herd."

          I hummed when I heard that Hogun was likely going to be at the Taurean Gathering where I was slated to escort the foxtaur boys anyway. Two birds with one stone, as it were. Not Blackstone, of course, though I wouldn't have minded running into her at some gathering as the caterer.

          "Any chance of your turning Cassander Vulcan into a slug?"

          Circe had to laugh at my suggestion.

          "I wish I could...but I do have limitations. Besides, I wouldn't want to insult real slugs by making Vulcan one of their species."

          I thanked Circe for her information, then I departed her carnival to prepare for my moon door trip to England. That's right, I said moon door. I was clearly able to see the moon in the eastern sky, therefore, I was finally going to be able to make use of that power. A power that I didn't use very often. I more often forgot that I even had the power. As I was beginning to leave the carnival, I saw a donkey in a small corral staring at me. And it was saying something.

          "Will someone please change me back into a boy? Please? I promise to be good!"

          I knew not to get involved. This was Circe's business and whatever the boy did to get changed into a donkey in the first place must have been pretty bad. A little punishment never hurt anyone. Though I would return at a later date to enquire about restoring a few people.


          She poured herself and Joe some cups of coffee during this break.

          "It will probably take Jansen another three months to return to the United States. That seems to be his pattern for doing things in the organization."

          Joe sipped on his coffee as he hugged on his wife.

          "I wonder what the Taurean Gathering is like?"

          She sat back down and sipped on her coffee.

          "Oh it's probably about like every other gathering that Jansen has ever been to. Centaurs, satyrs, and the like... along with some gods and goddesses."

          Joe giggled, as he and his wife resumed reading Jansen's agent history.



            Act XXXIV: S'taur Gazing

            When I stepped through the moon door into Northern England, I was quickly pounced by nearly the entire pack of foxtaurs. But their local foxtaur mage called them off, and we were once again traveling via moon gate to northern Greece, to the location of the Taurean Gathering. Unlike the Tranquility Moonrise festival that I have unfortunately never have been invited to attend, the Taurean Gathering was a collection of every kind of taur that ever existed. As the foxtaurs parted company with me, I headed over to announce my presence to the centaurs in charge of the gathering itself. I flashed my badge to them and introduced myself to them. I think they were extremely happy that a Chess Master, particularly a Tanner, was at their gathering this year.

            That is when I learned that Skerrit and Pan had taken a patrol of centaurs down to rescue Ren of the Northern Herd and party from a spot of trouble that they had gotten in. And far be it from my getting involved in the affairs of gods, I chose to look around the gathering itself for a brief period of time. It was while I was doing this that I once again encountered Valerian Mouse.

            "We meet again."

            Valerian Mouse couldn't help but to smile as he heard my voice.

            "Raeyu told me that you stopped in recently and he suggested that you needed a mage for your new team. Perhaps we can strike a bargain along those lines, being that you and I will be working the same region together, most often."

            I grinned at that.

            "I am sure you and I can come up with something. But for now, we will enjoy this outing."

            Valerian smiled, appreciating my tact of the moment.

            "Thank you, Jansen. And for the record, I thank you for revealing to me years ago that you were not Dominic. That has made my life a whole lot easier."

            At that moment, Ren of the Northern Herd gave me a surprise and powerful hug from behind! And believe me when I say this... when a centaur hugs someone, you literally don't have a choice in the matter. Then, Ren saw that I wasn't Dominic and he blushed with embarrassment.

            "I am so sorry, Jansen. From behind, you look just like Dominic."

            At that point, Ren released me and I just grinned back at him.

            "This is the Taurean Gathering, Ren. You can do as you like. I am glad your party arrived here in one piece. I need to speak with Hogan Slade. I have Circe's permission to fetch him for a trial."

            Ren was pleased to tell me where Gotaki, Damon, and Slade were gathered at, and I proceed over to their location. When I got there, I quickly saw that Gotaki looked very depressed and the chipmunk had a bandage on his chest. Damon the Agassian Demon Horse was standing there drinking a beer.

            "Gotaki? You don't look too good. What happened?"

            Gotaki Riverclaw glanced in my direction.

            "Jansen. I didn't expect to see you here. Jago is mad at me. I think... I think he hates me."

            I hummed.

            "Tell me exactly what happened, Gotaki. I am sure he doesn't hate you."

            Skerrit and Pan approached me at that point and, thankfully for Gotaki, explained to me what happened during and after the rescue battle. And how loudly Jago had growled at Gotaki and what he said... and what she had said to provoke it.

            "During the heat of battle, Gotaki, warriors like yourself may say anything. You were all hyped up and could not be held accountable for what you said. If you'd like, I will speak with Jago myself."

            Gotaki smiled at me.

            "I would like that a lot. Thank you."

            I then turned to the chipmunk... Hogan Slade. I knelt down in front of him and he got his first good look at just what exactly I was. I was sure that I had caused him to have a heart attack.

            "You- you- you're... a Chess Master? I was a fool to fight against you!"

            I petted on Hogan carefully.

            "The reason I am here, Hogan, is because we found the specific werewolf and his specific clan that infected your brother Blake, who isn't dead, mind you... Blake is recovering in Las Vegas at a lycanthropy recovery sanctuary there. And the one thing he wants more than anything else... is for you to come visit him. When he heard that you were a chipmunk, he begged me to save your life. Also, Baron Gott'schlecht of the Black Forest wants to meet you, Hogan. He will be overseeing the trial concerning your brother. However... once justice has been done, your own trial will begin. You did kill a werewolf named Xim, a very dear friend of mine. When you killed him, you got me, a Tanner, after you. I swore a blood oath to bring you in. I am sure Xim's brother Jael would love to tear out your heart for what you did, he is forbidden to do so... by the Baron's orders."

            Hogan blinked his eyes at me.

            "I never realized how many contacts you had. You found out what I could not."

            I nodded my head.

            "Hogan... I think you were just a little misguided in what you did. You're the only man who's ever tried to kill me. I'd like to offer you a job once this is all over with... in my own team sponsored by Chess itself. If you're interested that is..."

            Hogan sighed.

            "If I ever become a human again, I'll join you, Jansen. I will stand trial before the Baron. He must be a massive wolf. I have heard some rumors during my travels. Thank you."

            I then let Hogan contemplate his future as I proceeded to find and enter Jago Fox's tent. I found him sitting there staring into his own lap. Apparently he had been crying somewhat. I then placed a hand on his shoulder.

            "Is it really all that bad, Jago Fox?"

            Jago turned his head slowly and looked over his shoulder. I, of course, stood there in my Chess Master uniform.

            "What are you doing here?"

            I smiled.

            "I'm this year's English foxtaur escort. They specifically asked for me, by name. Skerrit and Pan told me what happened. Personally, I don't think you did anything wrong. Hogan deserves to be human again. I think Gotaki said what she said in the heat of being in battle mode. She's a lot calmer now but she's more worried about you."

            Jago sighed.

            "I lost my temper and yelled at her. I didn't mean to, but when she asked, why should she help, I totally lost it... She's asking about me?"

            I nodded his head.

            "Actually, yes. I may not be Dominic, but if Dominic chose you as a companion, you must have some honor and loyalty in that body of yours, somewhere. Now, come on... Gotaki doesn't look pretty standing out there all alone... and Hogan and I had a talk earlier, too. I offered him a job in Chess, once he gets his human body back, that is."

            Jago arched an eye.

            "Why would you want to hire him? He tried to kill you."

            I grinned.

            "He's the only human who's ever tried to kill me. All the rest are supernatural in origin. And besides, Hogan has some respectable skills. He told me that a werewolf maimed his younger brother several years ago, and that's why he swore to hunt and kill all werewolves. But, doing further questioning, he revealed that it was a rogue werewolf that had done the deed, and with some minor investigations, I was able to track down the pack that werewolf was in and report it to Baron Gott'schlecht. I've promised Hogan a more proper justice against the werewolf and the pack that caused his brother the harm."

            Jago smiled a little.

            "Um... I was starting to like Hogan... regardless of what he'd done before..."

            I smiled and helped Jago to his feet.

            "Hogan has led a misunderstood life. Now that the truth has been revealed, I am going to help Hogan obtain the final justice against that rogue werewolf in a court of good werewolves. I think Hogan was surprised that Chess had so many connections. But... if you like Hogan so much, maybe I can tag you up with Hogan's younger brother. You see, Hogan didn't wait around, originally, to see if his brother would live through his injuries. Blake Slade is recovering at the were-sanctuary near Las Vegas. If you want, I can give you an authorized reference to meet with the owner of the sanctuary."

            Jago hummed.

            "Blake Slade... I'd like to meet him, after the Taurean Gathering ends... I have to make sure Ren makes it home and make sure Circe restores Hogan to a human. And just so you know, Hogan promised me that when he becomes human again, he'll never touch another gun, nor will he ever try to kill you again."

            I smiled.

            "I didn't know that, but am glad to know it now. And I'll make certain you know if he breaks his word, but he may have to use a gun again. Chess agents are assigned guns, for self-defense. Though I am the only Chess Master who doesn't use a gun."

            Jago blinked his eyes.

            "You're the Chess Master? But... but... you were wearing a White Bishop jacket when you told Dominic the truth about himself..."

            I grinned.

            "I wore what I wanted the people in Rocky Falls to see. I've been a Chess Master for about a year. My former employer wanted to retire and he was very tired of my doing things 'the Tanner way', so he called me up and flat offered the position to me. I took it."

            Jago grinned.

            "Your sisters will kill you when they find out."

            I grinned again.

            "Not if they don't find out."

            Suddenly, Sallee's voice was heard directly behind me.

            "A little late for that, Jansen!"

            I turned and saw Sallee standing there.

            "What is SHE doing here? The biggest blabbermouth in all of Rocky Falls!"

            Sallee growled a little and tackled me, wrestling me to the ground! Jago wisely got out of the way, leaving the tent, giggling.


            She giggled as she hugged Joe.

            "Sallee is almost as big a firecracker as Jo is."


            When Sallee was finished wrestling with me, and winning, mind you, she got off of me and told me what the poachers had done to her filming equipment. She was understandably upset. I took some rare pity on Sallee and used my vid-phone to have Danath transport in replacement filming equipment and film for Sallee and her crew. And let me tell you now... a happy Sallee is a pleasant Sallee. And it was the top of the line video equipment available, too. She was ecstatic.

            As for Hogan, he was dealing with chipmunk life still. Hogan looked at the bandage on his furry chest again. He was thinking, (What was I thinking? A small chipmunk like me thinking that I could prevent Jago Fox from being sniped? Instead, I about lost my own life.) He sighed, as he looked around to see where all the others were at. And suddenly, right in the line of his sight... Circe appeared! She was wearing the outfit of a circus ringmaster instead of her usual beautiful dress. Circe walked over to where Hogan sat, kneeling to look at him.

            "Hello Hogan Slade. A scar of war?"

            Hogan sighed and shrugged.

            "I suppose you came to take me back to the island, didn't you?"

            Circe petted Hogan's head then stood back up again.

            "Heroes don't receive rewards by continuing to be punished, Hogan. You won't ever have to return to the island again. If you'll excuse me, I need to go check on my consort, Ren."

            Circe then turned and walked away. Hogan was surprised by that statement. Even more surprised that Circe was simply walking away. Then, the pains of transformation hit him! Circe had set a delayed reaction on Hogan, giving her time to turn her back. Hogan grew in size, as his fur receded into his skin, his head hair regrew, his muzzle receded into his face. He felt his legs reshaping, as well as his arms, hands and feet. He could feel the tail also receding into his tail bone and his manhood reforming into the shape that it had once beheld. Hogan lay on the ground, heavily panting and naked. He was no longer a chipmunk. He had done it. Hogan had earned his humanity back. He slowly lifted his head, as he noticed that the scar remained on his chest. A reminder of the deed that had helped restore him. That's when he noticed Damon standing there, smiling. He handed Hogan a full body robe.

            "It's temporary but will aid you in keeping you decent. How does it feel to be human again?"

            Hogan put on the robe and tied the robe's sash around his waist.

            "How does it feel? Part of me wants to jump for joy... but another part... feels like something is missing. I feel like I've been living in a shadow of my real life. Is this normal?"

            Damon patted Hogan's shoulder.

            "Very normal. Come, you must be hungry. For real food; not forest critter food."

            Hogan grinned.

            "Yeah! I'm starved! Real food at last!"

            Damon escorted Hogan over to the feasting tables, helping Hogan get a good assortment of food and drink. As Damon and Hogan filled a plate, Circe stood quietly at a distance. Circe pondered if she should tell Hogan the truth. She knew that Hogan had earned a second chance at human life. Circe shook her head. Hogan would not learn that his older self was slain by Dominic. Sallee had new cameras and equipment, provided by me, of course. Sallee, Casey and Emilion were walking around shooting new footage.

            I had rejoined Valerian Mouse for more of our previous conversation when the Golden Yak showed up looking quite amused. She wouldn't say what she had done but I got the feeling I was about to find out. And sure enough...

            ...from somewhere across the gathering grounds, a horrific sound of thunder shattered the silence! Ares stood there in the midst of the gathering wearing his full battle armor, with his sword held at the ready. He immediately started looking around his immediate area.

            I, Circe, Pan and Skerrit all converged on Ares at about the same time. Circe was the first to speak.

            "What are you doing here, Ares? You don't look like centaur!"

            Ares growled.

            "Very funny, Circe! Now where is he? And don't you dare say that you don't know who I am talking about!"

            Jansen exclaimed,

            "Ares, old boy... Dominic simply isn't here. Or have you forgotten that he and I simply look alike. But the trip shouldn't be a total loss. Why don't you enlighten us on what the stupid twit has done this time."

            Pan grinned.

            "Jansen has a point, Ares. Have some wine and tell us a story on what Dominic has done this time. We all know how much trouble he can be."

            Skerrit fetched Ares a goblet of wine then awaited patiently for the explanation. Ares took a slow refreshing drought.

            "Dominic and that dratted Golden Yak dropped a mountain on top of me over in Tibet. I almost didn't get out from under it."

            Jansen arched an eye.

            "Dropped a mountain on you? I somehow can't see Dominic doing that. But as sorry as it sounds, you were in the Golden Yak's home territory without her permission. You're lucky to be alive, Ares. But what made you think that Dominic would come here?"

            Ares grinned.

            "He attended this event last year and it was closer for him to come here than it would be for him to go all the way back to Missouri. So, I was checking here first."

            Circe grinned.

            "At least you didn't get vorpally severed, this time. I would think that you would be getting tired of having that happen to you."

            Ares chuckled.

            "You would think I'd learn to leave him alone, but I just can't. There is something about him that just raises the hackles on the back of my neck, forcing me to hunt him down and attack him."

            Just then, Jago and Gotaki came over to where Ares and the others were.

            "I'd say that which is making you hunt Dominic down is that Dominic isn't normal. He's a god, like you are... a god of war. An Egyptian god of war."

            Jago winked. Ares arched an eye!

            "Dominic is really Anhur? No wonder he entices me to attack him so often. Gods of war often find it hard to resist the challenges of testing their skills."

            Jago nodded his head.

            "Yeah, that's who Dominic really is. He isn't around, but the dratted Yak is..."

            After that, Ares actually settled down and enjoyed the break with the others and was actually quite hospitable, surprisingly. As it is often said, time flies when you're having fun. And the taur gathering was no different. Several days later, the festivities came to an end.

            Hogan had joined me when I departed with the foxtaurs to escort them home to England. And after that, Hogan and I were off again, via my wolf trick power, directly into Baron Gott'schlecht's throne room. And that is when Hogan got his first look at the famed Big Bad Wolf of legend.

            "Is that... who I think it is?"

            I grinned.

            "Hogan Slade, meet Baron Grimm Gott'schlecht. But you might know him better as the Big Bad Wolf."

            The Baron looked at Hogan with his yellow eyes.

            "So, you're the one who was misinformed so badly that you thought werewolves should die. What have you to say for yourself?"

            Hogan released a sigh.

            "I am sorry. And I am guilty of killing two werewolves. One was Jansen's friend Xim... the other was an English werewolf who had been stealing livestock from a farmer. I made a mistake. I know that won't bring them back to life but I am willing to make restitution."

            The Baron nodded his head with a slight smile.

            "Being a chipmunk can make a man humble and rogues who steal deserve their fate. Therefore, you are only accountable for one werewolf. The brother to Jael of Clan Goldengate. And as is the law in my kingdom, the family you have wronged has the right to name your punishment. Jael, come forth."

            And Jael stepped out of the shadows where he had been waiting. He stopped in front of the Baron, bowing to him, then he turned and looked at the man who took his brother away from him.

            "When I first learned of you, I wanted nothing more than to hunt you down and do to you what you had done to me and my clan. But as Jansen said, doing so would make my clan worse than the one responsible. Therefore... because you have taken my brother away from me, what I request is that you assume his place in Clan Goldengate. And while you won't be a werewolf, the Baron will make sure you can change into a wolf at will, but never a wolf man... until you earn that right."


            Joe blinked his eyes in surprise and shock at the Baron's sentence over Hogan Slade.

            "I somehow don't think that method of justice would go over here in America."

            She nodded her head in agreement with Joe, as the two resumed reading the agent history once again.