24 - The Big Easy

Upatu and I spend only one night of our honeymoon together before receiving orders to travel to New Orleans to meet the FBI. Upatu promises me that we will make time for ourselves after we complete our adventure. Easy for him to say.

Wolf follows us with his own truck and trailer, He was pressed for time himself, trying to meet us at the designated spot. He just finished flying an arthritic Shadow, his companion of many years, to the Wolf Street School. The students in New York were delighted to adopt the aging and loyal wolf.

Losau, their baby Hero Tokell, Squire Mike the Piper, the puppy Tokell, and Snow the great white wolf ride with Wolf, so his other squire, Athena rides with us. She and Wana argue and fight like sisters, but hang tightly together. At one stop for lunch the two girls wander out of the restaurant and arrive back fifteen minutes later. I look up from my burger to see Athena wearing a nose ring.

Barbarian, is the only word I can think of; we are barbarians. Wolf is going to kill Athena, or me, or both of us. I might as well get a ring myself. At least Athena doesn't have a tattoo, or does she?

I get a chill up my neck. My little girl Monell is with the Mojave, and I envision her with a cute little blue chin tattoo like mine. Nah, she's too young for the Mojave to mark her. I ask, "Athena, that is a lovely ring; do you have a tattoo to match it?"

She smiles and points to the sleeve of her upper arm.

I cringe.

She relents and says, "Just kidding; there is no tattoo, and the ring will be removable later after it heals. I did see some wonderful tattoos they can do."

"It seems strange for the daughter of Zeus, and goddess of wisdom and war, to be tattooed," I snark, fully aware she is only human.

"He will just have to deal with it. I can handle him."

I look at her a long time; she is not smiling. "Have you told this to Wolf?"

She offers a sly little grin and says nothing.

Wolf and Losau, sitting on the other end of the cafe, finish their Po-boys and wander over. "Are you ready to go…" He looks between Wana and Athena and points. "What is that?"

Athena giggles, covers her nose, pulls her hand back, and the ring is gone. It is a fake piercing ring. Wolf points to the little trickster, and says, "You, in the truck, now. Athena's neck flushes and she leaves while Wolf pays his bill, having lost his sense of humor. I notice what Wolf did not, there is no ring in Athena's hand.

My sense of humor also vanished. I pay my bill and order Wana to sit in the truck next to me. I drive as we leave town. On the highway I fume a bit more, before I but calm down. No harm done, except a nerve rubbed raw. I glance at her; she seems contrite and looks down. I'm her knight-master, but I'm also her older sister, and not much older, I'm the adopted one. As a blond, white woman, I look out of place among the Mojave, despite my tattoo. "Barbarians, he called us barbarians."

"Who did?," asks Wana.

"The Lion, that's who. Look at us, me, you, Upatu, and Losau; even Wolf did not escape the tattoo needle. We all belong to some barbarian tribe."

Wana sits quiet a minute before saying, "The Lion, said the Romans called the British barbarians."

I'm quiet for a minute until I can't hold it in, and give a most unladylike snort as I laugh at our situation.

The GPS says we will arrive in New Orleans in an hour, but transporting horses slows us down. We make one last stop at the Slidell rest area to clean the trailers and check on their condition. Two men approach us and the first, big and beefy man, holds out a wallet with his identification.

"Miss, I'm agent Carter of the FBI, we are to escort you into the city and show you to your lodgings. Follow us, please."

My instinct screams, he's lying. "Sorry, Sir, you'll have to wait until we service the horses and I, for one, have to go relieve myself. Come on ladies, let's freshen up." Wolf, Mike, and Upatu you watch the horses as we go to the restroom. Inside I call Agent Brannon, a man I do know, and tell him of my suspicions.

"Agent Carter hasn't reported in for two days, and he certainly is not a big man. I'll notify the local office. Don't do anything stupid," says Brannon.

"I'll play it safe; you can count on that."

"I was afraid of that. I'm sending agents to take care of them as fast as possible."

We stroll back to the trucks and take in the view. I spot six men scattered about looking at Wolf and crew or at us. Mike the Piper is returning from the pet area with Lady Gay and Snow. I signal to him to unclip their leashes. Standing in front of the supposed Agent Carter I place my hand behind my back extending two fingers to signal trouble, and flash four fingers twice for the eight men, count to three, and slam the toe of my boot on the side of his head.

The heel of Wolf's hand slams into the other man's chin and the tip of his tongue spins off to land somewhere in the green grass. The squires attack the other men who rush in, Losau, with Hero still on her back, runs for the truck, while the two wolves attack men who've pulled handguns.

The fake Agent Carter is out and not moving. I toe him to make sure. Wolf handled his man quite well, so I walk over to the man Lady Gay has by the shirt sleeve. I kick his gun away before I grab his collar and twist. "Who are you?"

"None of your business, chit." he answers.

I back hand him across his face and he starts to lunge at me. I nail my knee into his sternum while Lady goes for his throat. I hook her collar and pull hard. The man writhes and tries to gulp air. I glance sideways to see the unmistakable Snow standing on the chest of a man and Losau laying the tip of Hombre, her shortened Conquistador's sword, on his throat.

"Move and I will slice your throat." She says it in perfect English. She knew English all along, and I bet Wolf is unaware. She is a dark one, keeping her secrets well hidden.

In less than a minute all eight attackers lay on the ground, unconscious or otherwise immobilized. I order Lady Gay to guard while I fetch rope to tie the men. Returning from the horse trailer, I see a large crowd of gawkers gathered close by and panic grips me. They could have misinterpreted our actions. A trucker walks up dangling a crowbar in his hand, but instead of attacking he smiles, "You're that lady knight aren't you?"

Surprised by his familiarity I say, "Uh, Yeah, could you call the police. Please?"

"I've already done it. Can I give you a hand tying these jokers?"

"Yes, Sir, How do you know me?

"I'm sorry. Hello, I'm John Ryker, at your service, Ma'am. You were all over the news a year ago; can't miss your face. Besides, you probably know my cousin Bill Ryker, the Rogue Knight." He turns to face the other truckers and says, "This here is the fabulous Lady Knight Grace Wachinga. You all remember what happened at B.S. City. Well, this is herself, in in the flesh."

The truckers cheer me.

"What is B.S. city?" I ask.

"Washington, girl. More lies come out of that place than from the devil himself. Did they lie to you?"

They did lie to me, but I don't say that. What I do say is, "I am forbidden to talk about what happened in Washington."

John Ryker winks at me and with his trucker friends helps to hog tie the thugs. He sticks around until the state troopers arrive and backs up our explanation of what happened. Several minutes after the troopers arrived the real FBI from New Orleans show up and start throwing their weight around. They're not happy; I ruined their arrest. A trooper tells me one of the men we captured is on the most wanted list; we're due for a reward. I give him my lawyer's card, but I doubt I'll see any reward money.

Special Agent Howell interrogates me and then consults with the agent who interrogated Wolf; probably checking if our stories match. After several rounds of interviews they are satisfied. At least Agent Howell doesn't try to manhandle me like Brannon once did; he is probably familiar with my FBI file. We are allowed to go on to New Orleans with a warning to report to the FBI office as soon as we arrive.

John Ryker stays after the other truckers leave. "I'll lead you into the Big Easy and see that you don't have trouble again. Let's roll."

I've noticed Ryker is a real take charge guy. I ask "Mr. Ryker, were you in the military?"

"Ma'am, I was regular Army, unlike my cousin Bill who did black ops. I learned that I like to travel; so here I am, free as a bird. Free to go where and when I want. God help me, I love being an independent trucker. So where are you going? I'll guide you."

"We appreciate your company. It's the Riverbend Stables in the city."

The drive is quick, the scenery from the Interstate 10 causeway is of spectacular green wetlands. In the city Mr. Ryker follows the best route to the stables. We board our horses for an exorbitant fee, rent parking space for the trucks and trailers, and say our goodbyes to the trucker. The horses need to be exercised, so we saddle them up and ride in single file along the levee of the mighty Mississippi river to the French Quarter, stopping at the first police station we come across to show our permits for our swords and other weapons. It's not necessary, but it's a bad idea to be on wrong side of the police.

We go touristing first; the French Quarter is crowded and the streets narrow, but people make way for us. Wolf is strategically riding Nudge, his powerful Percheron, in the lead. We stop in Jackson Square and find an open parking space. We array the horses side by side, and as punishment for their earlier joke, we assign Wana and Athena to stay and watch them along with Lady Gay and Snow. The rest of us stroll over to Cafe Du Monde for coffee and beignets, rectangular donuts covered with powdered sugar. We send Mike with a bag full over to Wana and Athena with a warning not to feed them to the horses. I'm sure they will do it anyway; it's good to keep the the animals happy.

We walk past St. Louis Cathedral up to Bourbon Street, taking in the sights. A man sitting behind a table in a doorway to the sidewalk sells drinks, beer and hard liquor, in plastic cups. I ask him, "How can you do this?"

"Ma'am it's legal as long as it's in paper or plastic cups."

"I'll try some of that good bourbon I hear about."

"Ma'am, if you don't mind me asking, are you pregnant?"

I look down at my protruding and uncomfortable belly. There is no hiding it. "Yes, I am."

"Listen to me young lady. I'll risk a fine by not selling to you. I'm not going to preach, but I have morals. And that tattooed little mother, is she nursing? Nothing for her either. Now, for your two men, here are two bourbons. You promise me to not drink alcohol and their drinks are on the house. I suggest that oyster bar across the street, They have the freshest squeezed lemonade, and the oysters are the best in these parts. "

I thank the man, and fume, while Wolf and Upatu enjoy their free drinks on the walk across the street. I bet Upatu has never had anything so good, nor have I. In the bar we each have a dozen oysters on the half shell. The man behind the marble counter splits them open in front of us and smiles kindly at me. I let the first slippery oyster slide off the shell onto my tongue and down my throat. Mmm… It is good. I chase it with the best glass of lemonade I ever dreamed possible and eat the rest of the oysters with lemon juice and cocktail sauce. When we finish, my plate of empty half shells is stacked twice as large as Wolf's plate.

Back outside we encounter a street musician, playing jazz on a clarinet. Wolf places five dollars in the open case and I match him. Mike the Piper pulls out his ocarina and joins in providing counterpoint to the man's main line. With a twinkle in his eyes, he points to a spot next to him and Mike steps over to it. I always knew he was good, but jazz, how?

We leave Mike with the musician and visit several gift shops. The stuff is either tacky or very expensive. Losau pleads with Wolf to buy her a tee shirt with a crawfish print, and he relents. As soon as she has it in her hands she starts to remove her old shirt and I stop her with a sharp Kaniwa warning. I ask the shop owner if there is a place to change and he points to a screen in the corner, so I pull her over. She hands me sweet little Hero, doffs her sword, and has her shirt off down to her bullet proof vest. I hurry her to redress and hand the tiny infant back. Yuck… I think she is wet.

Out on the street I am stopped by a clean shaven man wearing a purple polo shirt. He is holding out a FBI identity card. I read it and say, "Special Agent Andrews, what is your pleasure?"

"You are neglecting your mission. I'm here to collect you and bring you to the police station."

With my hand idly resting on the hilt of my sword, I say, "I think not. We will conduct our business in an open place, perhaps Jackson Square so we can be near our horses."

The agent's face turns red as we stand around him. "I have my orders."

"Are we under arrest," asks Wolf.

"Carrying swords can be interpreted as brandishing weapons. Are you ready to come with me?"

"We have to retrieve our horses," I say in defeat. He passed my test; he is who he says, but I still don't like him.

"Misses Wana and Athena are already leading them to the office."

We start walking several blocks further away from the Mississippi river to a police station, and large office. I ask, "So what is this all about?"

"Four days ago a teenage girl named Jessica Howard was snatched off the street in broad daylight. And we want your help in recovering her alive. We know the capability of your team. Her parents are important politicians in the state. They want her back, but except for finding the van used in the kidnapping, we have no leads."

"Why bring us into it? The FBI has extraordinary detectives I'm sure."

"Because, Mrs. Wachinga, Jessica Howard is your cousin."