James mock-bowed and motioned to the back of the SUV, where their crowbar was stored. “After you, boss man.”
Dutch huffed and said, “Time was a young’un like you would do the heavy lifting out of respect for your elders.”
“New age, new rules,” James quipped, deploying one of the Scarborough Organization’s unofficial mottos. Being a rogue arm of the Confederate government, they had a lot of new rules to adjust to. The country, and indeed the world, was a different place than when President Jefferson Davis and General Lee had created the Organization almost two centuries ago.
When the war was winding down to its inevitable conclusion, The Scarborough Organization had gone underground. After the surrender at Appomatox it had simply never resurfaced, continuing to operate in the shadows to protect the former Confederate States from any and all supernatural dangers. This had caused several changes in their rules and mottos. James, however, liked to use that particular unofficial motto as a way to enable his own laziness.
Dutch rolled his eyes and grabbed the crowbar. He briefly had a satisfying vision of taking it to James’s hide and teaching him a thing or two about how to properly respect one’s elders, but he let it slide. It wouldn’t be worth the chewing out he’d get from Valerie. Besides, as satisfying as it would be to beat James blue, there was no way he could go into those sewers alone and hope to survive.
Dutch used his key fob to activate the lights on top of the SUV. It was camouflage, making them look like emergency personnel rather than some random creepers sneaking into the sewer at night. James did his part, the part that didn’t involve lifting a hundred pound piece of iron, and got out the caution tape and traffic cones. He set them up around the aperture while Dutch was straining and heaving to remove the cover. Finally the manhole was open and the two were facing the open darkness of the Charleston sewers.
James affixed his mask and gestured with his gun. “Age before beauty.”
Dutch shook his head and said, “Y’know, sometimes I think you’re trying to get me killed.” He strapped on his own mask.
“Oh, no, that would be stupid,” James returned, the mic in his mask making sure Dutch could hear every bit of smug in his voice via the earpiece. “I just wanna make sure that I don’t run into trouble first.”
“How very valiant of you.”
“Well, I’m just that kinda guy, I guess.”
“Fine, I’ll go first.” Dutch shrugged and made for the opening, then stopped. He looked up at James. “If something happens, I’ll let go, and you start shooting. The D.R.A.G. armor should take care of the fall. I’ll be fine. Just don’t let anything take me.”
James readied his submachine gun. Even through the mask, Dutch could tell he was grinning. “Don’t you worry, boss. I’ll light those ratmen up if they try anything.”
“Good. Do me a favor and actually aim this time.”
“I’ll do my best, boss man.”
Dutch sighed again and began descending the ladder. It quickly became too dark to see, but that was remedied by the special contacts Michael had designed. The ladder was slick with slime, but Dutch persisted until he reached the bottom of a large pipe that he was just able to stand in. He looked up the manhole and called, “Okay, I’m down. Come on in.”
James slung his weapon and began the descent. In short order he stood next to Dutch, sweeping the pipe with his gun. “Where do we go from here?”
“Damned if I know,” Dutch replied, and tapped his earpiece. “Michael? We’re in the sewers. Which way to the rats?”
Michael’s voice came back, “All right, there you guys are…and that should be the rat town. Go left.”
“Which left?” Dutch asked. “My left or this idiot’s left?”
“Hey!” James blurted.
“Do you remember which way is South?” Michael asked.
“Yeah, I do,” Dutch said patiently.
“Then go that way. I’ll tell you if you’re on the right track or not.”
“And how will you do that? Not exactly like you’ve got cameras in the sewers.”
“It’s tech stuff, you wouldn’t understand. Don’t worry, just listen to my directions and you’ll get there.”
“Okay, so South then.” Dutch grunted and motioned for James to follow.
“Oh, one more thing I should tell you,” Michael said. “I can’t tell if anything’s coming towards you. Keep your eyes and ears open. You don’t wanna get jumped by a raiding party. Or worse…”
James frowned. “What about the sewers? We’re not gonna drown in a river of crap, are we? Because if we do your ass is haunted, Michael.”
“No worries, it’s the middle of the night. There aren’t gonna be a lot of people flushing right now. Just be sure to wipe your feet before getting back in the SUV.”
They crept along the tunnel, taking occasional directions from Michael. After about ten minutes Dutch asked, “Where are we going, exactly? How do you know where the town is?”
“Well,” Michael responded, “Charleston is an old city, so there’s a lot of abandoned structures. My research into the city records indicates that there’s some parts of the sewer that aren’t used anymore. Best guess is that’s where the rats would hole up.”
“So you have no idea.”
“Not a clue.”
Dutch groaned, and they continued on. At least the masks keep the smell out. He turned a corner and froze.
His night-vision contacts only let him see so far. Beyond that it was pitch black, but Dutch thought he could see something moving. He heard a rustling, then a scrape of claws.
James turned the corner and almost bumped into him, coming up short.
“What is it, boss?”
“You don’t hear that?” Dutch leveled his gun at the tunnel before him.
James was about to respond, but was cut off by a loud screech and the sound of rushing paws. His eyes widened as, out of the darkness, ratmen appeared, charging dead at them. There had to be at least five of the creatures, and they did not look happy.
Dutch didn’t waste a second. He took aim and opened fire, dropping two of the monsters.
The rest stopped, eyes wide, nostrils twitching in the darkness. They hadn’t expected anyone coming to their part of the sewers, and they certainly hadn’t expected anyone to come well-armed.
James clapped his hands over his ears, but the ringing continued. He cursed himself, fumbled in his coat pockets for his earplug, jamming it in his ear. He lifted his gun again and pointed it down the tunnel at the ratmen. They were standing in a tight group, chittering to each other and looking over their shoulders at the two humans.
Dutch raised his gun with one hand and, keeping it trained on the group, reached into his shirt and removed his badge, flashing it at them. “We’re from the Scarborough Organization,” he shouted. “We have word that you killed a woman and abducted her child. You’re going to hand the child over and we’re going to leave. Nobody else has to die if you cooperate.”
One particularly bold rat stepped forward from the group and spoke. Its voice was high-pitched yet rough, as if it wasn’t used to communicating in a human tongue. “We no have baby. You leave place. We let you go if leave now!” It extended a scabrous paw, pointing with a clawed finger back the way the two agents had come.
The older man grinned evilly, replacing his badge and taking a firmer hold on his gun. “I never mentioned that the kid was a baby. Now how would you know that?”
The vermide looked nervous, shifting its eyes around warily. “N-no children! No babies! No humans here! You leave! Now!” It tried to put force into its voice, but its knees knocked together, and its paws shook.
“If there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s lying rats,” Dutch said, and raised his gun to fire.