Witches Protection Program
Wes Rockville, a disgraced law-enforcement agent, gets one last chance to prove himself and save his career when he’s reassigned to a 232-year-old secret government organization.
The Witches Protection Program.
His first assignment: uncover a billion-dollar cosmetics company’s diabolical plan to use witchcraft for global domination, while protecting its heiress Morgan Pendragon from her aunt’s evil deeds. Reluctantly paired with veteran witch protector, Alastair Verne, Wes must learn to believe in witches…and believe in himself.
Filled with adventure and suspense, Michael Okon creates a rousing, tongue-in-cheek alternate reality where witches cast spells and wreak havoc in modern-day New York City.
Wes took the subway to Brooklyn, his stomach reminding him that he had missed both lunch and dinner. It was late, and the streets were deserted. His shoes slapped the pavement as he checked the brownstones for the address. He searched the block, noting the numbers skipped the address he’d memorized. Panic welled in his chest, and he wondered if he reversed the numbers with his scrambled brain. Thirty-four oh five, then oh six, then oh nine. What happened to oh seven and oh eight? Squeezing his eyes, he racked his mind to recreate the address. Nothing came back but the phone number. Dragging out his cell, he punched the digits, cursing when a recording came on. He was too late. He should have cabbed it. The office was closed.
“What? What, what?” he said. A truck passed, its noisy exhaust drowning the message. Wes ambled to a darkened corner of the street, pressing the phone to his ear to make sure he heard the message correctly. He stared absently at the setting sun that washed the sky to a faint pink. The light wind ruffled his jacket, sending a chill down his spine. It was an unfriendly street; there was not a pedestrian, baby carriage, or even a delivery bicycle in sight. The policeman in Wes scoured the facade of the brownstones, looking for a hint of life. There was not even a chirping bird. The sound of cars racing overhead created a wind-tunnel effect, so the whole place had an unearthly air.
“The line you’ve called is currently out of service.” Shit, he messed up. He blew air through his lips in a rush. “Please leave a message after the beep.”
Closing his eyes wearily, he repeated the number again, then looked back at his phone, the glare painting his face blue. The sun disappeared, bathing the entire street in gloomy shadows. Wes shivered in the cold. Wait a minute. He paused. What line that’s out of service takes messages? He redialed the number. Wes anticipated the beep and held the phone close to his mouth. He said softly, “Alastair? This is Wes.”
His phone buzzed with an interrupting incoming call. Swiping his finger, he heard a woman’s voice say, “Rockville?”
“Yeah,” he confirmed.
“Look to the basement. To the left of thirty-four oh six. See the green light?”
A pinpoint of light about the size of an eraser blinked twice. “Come on, Rockville. You’re late, and I want to go home.”
Tentatively, he headed down the grimy steps, a buzzer sounding as he turned the ancient handle of the door. He stood silently, his eyes adjusting to the bright light after the dim stairwell. There was an ocean of cubicles that seemed to stretch for a mile. The subtle sound of phones ringing became a steady thrum. An older woman with a lopsided bun and half-moon, cat-shaped bifocals greeted him. Friendly eyes looked at him above the lenses.
“You’re Harris Rockville’s kid.” She had a smoker’s voice, gravelly, and had enough hair on her chin to qualify for a beard. She pulled a pen from her messy hair, noted something on her clipboard, and cracked her gum. Wes looked up, his surprise making her grin. “Yeah, it’s shocking, right? You never expected to see such a state-of-the-art office in this dump.” She laughed. “You better make time. Alastair’s waiting for you, and he don’t wait for nobody. My name’s Bathsheba, by the way.”
“Bathsheba, right,” Wes said absently as he took in his surroundings.
There were dozens of people working. The hum of voices droned into white noise. Television screens with grids and charts hung overhead. Wes noticed they were maps of cities with dots indicating tracking of some kind.
“Follow me, kid.” She led him down a gray hallway with mulberry-colored carpet, more plush than anything he’d ever seen in a governmental office. The place had to be a city block wide, with corridors branching off to other conduits. Here and there, a doorway opened. Wes saw that many were filled with groups of people sitting at polished conference tables. Some rooms were dark, with shades drawn, the light of a presentation on screens peeking through the slats of the blinds. Staff walked through the hallways, nodding to each other. Some were in pairs. All had a badge hanging on a chain or attached to a pocket. He squinted, but he couldn’t make out the impression on the shield. Forget about attempting to read it. He shrugged; while it looked official, it was unfamiliar. For a person who grew up with an entire family in law enforcement, he found it odd that he’d never seen it before.
“What is this place?” he asked.
“This is where the magic happens,” she told him cryptically.
She opened the door, whispering, “Prepare to be amazed.” Then, with a giant pop of her gum, she disappeared.
“Where…” Wes turned, looking for the woman, but couldn’t see her anywhere. “Where is…”
“Oh, she’s gone. Come in already,” a male voice ordered impatiently.
Wes spun to the speaker, his eyes settling on a small man seated at a glass desk. He was in a neat gray suit but wore a black turtleneck, which made him look like some odd, eccentric leftover from the beatnik generation. He was older than Wes’s father, Wes guessed somewhere north of sixty, with the thickening middle of a sedentary life, a tanned complexion, and silver hair. His chubby face sported a neatly trimmed goatee. Wes wondered where his beret might be. The man studied Wes with interested black eyes that glowed with merriment.
“What kind of department is this?”
“Mr. Wesley Paul Rockville. Son of Harris and Melinda, brother to Lauren and Andrew. Tough act to follow. Runt of the litter?”
Wes bristled, wondering where this pint-size dude got off calling him a runt. At six foot three, he was hardly considered small. “I fail to see what this has got to do with my reassignment,” he said icily.
The older man ignored him. “The young gun who had his free will sucked right out of him.”
“No one took my free will!” Wes shouted, his face hot.
“I think Miss Genevieve Fox did a pretty nice number on you.”
“What are you talking about?”
Alastair cocked his head, a smile playing on his lips.
“I don’t think this is funny, um…Alastair. I’m getting out of here.” Wes had had enough. He was pissed and hungry.
“Sit down, Agent Rockville. It’s time you learned about your new assignment.”
Wes stood, the muscle in his jaw ticking, his teeth grinding. He took a deep breath, plopping into the leather chair opposite the strange-looking man. “This doesn’t look like any government agency I’ve ever seen.” He relaxed, allowing his legs to twist the chair so he moved with nervous energy.
Alastair sat quietly, observing Wes’s bouncing leg. Wes forced himself to stop moving.
“We are quite secret, I assure you. What did your father tell you?”
Wes’s lips compressed in a mutinous line.
“I asked you a question,” the older man said quietly.
“He told me I was being reassigned here, and if it doesn’t work out, then I’m finished.”
Alastair nodded. He sat back, his short, stubby fingers idly rolling an expensive pen. Wes gazed at the large, oblique window, staring at his bored reflection.
“Your former position was in a branch of the police founded by your grandfather. Only the best are selected.”
“I know my family history,” Wes said rudely. “Are you implying that I was unqualified?”
Alastair ignored Wes’s response. “We are a sort of extension of that unit. A Black Ops, if you will.”
“You’re delusional,” Wes said, leaning back in his chair, lacing his fingers over his flat stomach. He shook his head slowly. “There’s no such thing as Black Ops with policing organizations. Besides, if I wanted to be in Black Ops, I would have joined the army.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Alastair said. “What do you know about witches?”
Wes turned to look at him, his face puzzled. “Witches? You mean like Halloween?”
Alastair sat forward, his face intent. “No.” He shook his head. “I’m talking about broom-flying, caldron-stirring, soul-sucking, mean-spirited witches who wreak havoc on society.”
“Is this a joke?” Wes was not amused. “Because if my brother put you up to this, I don’t think it’s funny.”
“Miss Fox was a witch—a bad one, category eight, ten being the worst.” Wes made a rude noise, but the older man continued as if he hadn’t heard it. “She looked you right in the eye and disintegrated your free will.”
Wes stood. “This is ridiculous. She hypnotized me and every man on that bus.”
Alastair shook his head. “Is that what they told you?”
He pointed his pen into Wes’s face, and Wes felt the intensity of a light beam burning his retina. He turned his head. “Cut that out.”
“You want something to drink?” He opened his bottom drawer, taking out a silver flask. Wes refused. “Take a sip. You’re going to need it.”
Wes grudgingly took the container, sipping carefully at the contents. It was Frangelica, hazelnut liqueur, sweet and nutty, strangely relaxing. It hit his empty stomach with the force of a bazooka. “We’re a bit new to be drinking buddies.”
Alastair laughed as he took a healthy swig. “Oh, rest assured. We are not drinking buddies, but you’re going to need this by the time we’re through. Some of what you are going to learn is a bit…hard to swallow.”
Alastair rose and came around the desk. He perched his hip on the corner as if he were sharing a cozy story. The room had a strange intimacy, closed off from the rest of the world. “The program you are so fortunate to be a part of was established many years ago to protect witches.”
“You’re crazy, dude.” Wes smiled lazily.
“Not so crazy. They’ve been around for years, living underground, hiding their abilities. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The history of witches and our country goes way back. Please pay attention to the monitor.” Alastair gestured to the far wall. Wes noticed he aimed a remote at the blank space.
Images flickered on a screen Wes hadn’t noticed was there. It filled the room with cinema-quality actors, and Wes stretched out his long legs, getting comfortable.
It was in black-and-white, grainy documentary style. The words Salem, Massachusetts, 1692 identified the time period. Fields of corn and small cottages: clearly New England during colonial times. Villagers milled about primitive streets. Wes admired the realism of the set. The camera focused on an old crone scrabbling through packed-dirt streets. She was short; her basket rested on her ample hips, and her face was hidden by a mob cap. A man’s gravelly voice spoke as the scene changed to a one-room farmhouse, where a woman bent over a boy who lay sweating on a cot.
“I knew we shouldn’t-a let Goody Prudence in with her potions.”
“We had no choice, husband. Daniel’s fever still rises,” his wife told him, dashing a tear from her gaunt cheeks. “I know not what to do.”
The man stood before a huge hearth, his foot resting on a fender. He stabbed at the logs, his face angry. “The boy doesn’t improve even with her potions! I never should have listen to ye.” He bit hard on his pipe, his dark eyes squinting in the dim light of the cottage. “Aye, she’s evil, that one. John Darby told me so, he did. Aye, her with her potions. They be poison, and she done kilt the boy.”
The woman gripped her stomach, howling with misery. “Never say so, husband. I trusted Goody Prudence.” She paused, looking forlornly at her sick child, her face twisted with anguish. “Mayhaps he’ll improve.”
“His breathing worsens. Why did you bring her?”
“She birthed our boy. Her herbs have worked before.”
“Kilt John Darby’s cow,” the man said, his eyes boring into hers. “Fought over the north pasture. Don’t ye remember, Bess? The magistrate ruled for Darby. She gave him the evil eye then.”
Bess considered her husband’s words, then said slowly, “Aye, I remember. She be staring at me fierce. Did you see the mark on her chin?” she added maliciously.
“The cow died. Now our boy.” He rested his head on his arms and leaned on the wooden mantle of the fireplace. “She be a witch,” he said quietly.
The room dissolved to a street scene. The older woman was harried by a group of men holding lanterns and pikes. Wes sighed, thinking he wanted to laugh, but he had to admit he was curious. A familiar voice that sounded like an actress he had seen in a movie the night before narrated more of the story. She must be slumming, he thought with a snicker.
“People believed that many women had powers that could render others sick, ruin harvests, even kill livestock. It was a ghastly time, and nobody was safe from these accusations.”
“It’s that Jennifer An…” Wes said with astonishment. “You know, what’s her name? The actress from that show everybody loves? What kind of budget do you guys have?”
“Shh,” Alastair admonished him.
The saga continued with the old lady running through dense foliage, her clothing ripped. Dogs barked in the distance.
“You have any popcorn here?” Wes asked. Alastair ignored him.
“Anyone could be branded a witch,” the voiceover went on. “Once they were accused, they lost everything from their farms to their families, and finally—”
Wes winced as the old woman was captured and beaten. This was rather graphic for a training film. He squirmed uncomfortably.
“—their lives,” the narrator finished. The screen filled with scuffed and worn boots dangling from a tree.
“OK, I’ve seen enough.” Wes stifled a yawn; he hated history. His stomach rumbled.
“No, you haven’t. We can’t move on until you fully understand what we are doing here,” Alastair informed him curtly.
A courtroom was the next scene. Two groups of women were standing before a high bench. An imperious judge, clad in black with a white-scrolled wig, stared down his long nose at them. As the camera panned the room, Wes realized that half the women looked clean and attractive, while the other group was scruffy and unkempt.
That actress’s voice continued. Maybe he was wrong, but her voice was so familiar. He tried to place her. It was one of those celebrity chefs. He was sure he recognized her from somewhere.
“Pay attention, Wes,” Alastair whispered.
“The problems escalated as harvest failed, and squabbles broke out in the villages. Both petty jealousies and long-standing feuds were the catalysts to get the law involved. Soon the sisterhood of witches turned on one another.”
Wes perked up as the pretty group of women flirted with the judge.
“Looks like a potential catfight,” Wes murmured.
“Are you taking notes? There’s a test afterward…I’m kidding, Wes. The information will all come together. Relax.”
One woman loosened her collar; another tucked an errant hair under her cap. Licking her lips, she coyly said, “It wasn’t me, good sir. Goody Abigail”—she pointed a slender finger at a slovenly woman on the other side of the room—“she put ideas in my head, she did. She made me bark like a dog.”
The room erupted. The judge slammed the hammer on his gavel. “Quiet! Quiet. Go on, mistress. What else did Goody Abigail do?”
“She spake in tongues!” another shouted. “She be a witch.”
“Look at her, Judge,” the first female said, her voice seductive. “She looketh like a witch.” She walked over, circling the old woman, sniffing. “She has an odor of brimstone and sulfur. I saw her…” She spun to face the judge, her voice loud. “She danced with the devil! Naked!”
Shouts overwhelmed the judge’s cries for order. Now Wes watched raptly as the frumpy witches were led to the gallows. The voiceover continued with more sad details.
“The accusations caused a great schism. Witches split into two factions: the Davinas and the Willa. Both groups continued to practice their brands of magic even though they disappeared into the fabric of society. Davinas mastered medicine and healing. You may have known one as a teacher or a nurse. They used their powers for the good of mankind. The Willa went dark—very dark—embracing the nefarious arts and anything that thwarted goodness. They hid their intentions and were shunned by society but used circumstances to make mayhem. For close to a century, no one could identify them, and no one was safe.”
Wes recognized Mount Vernon, President George Washington’s home. He had been there on a field trip in the fourth grade. The plantation bustled with activity; the Potomac sparkled with the sun’s rays. The camera swooped into the main entrance, finding the first family enjoying domestic bliss. Martha Washington, her dress spread around her like spilled lace, sat in a dainty chair, stitching on a tambour while the general was sprawled in his armchair, reading.
In the distance, cackles filled the air. Mrs. Washington dropped her embroidery, her face white. She rose, walking slowly to the window. “General, do you not hear it?” she whispered.
“Stay away from the window, madam. They are far off,” he said sharply.
The echoes of ghostly voices screaming, “Martha, Martha, Martha!” filled with room.
“Nay, husband. They draw near. George,” she said and turned, her hand near her face with alarm, “you must do something.”
The narrator filled in more information. “It wasn’t until this land became my land that the government decided to create an organization to protect woman at risk. The Davina Doctrine went against everything that the Willas stood for. Even though they ran the risk of persecution, they chose to work with law enforcement to expose the evil deeds of the rival sisterhood. President George Washington established secret legislation under Title VI of the Control Act of 1792. The law was enacted to protect the good witches that exposed the evil deeds of their sisterhood.”
The screen went dark. There was only a chair in the center of a dimly lit stage. A single spotlight focused on the top of the blond actress’s head. Wes was right; it was the actress he suspected. She had a hit sitcom and two Emmys, and there was some recent Oscar talk about her last movie.
“Yes. There are witches. Living among us. They are women who believe in using their power to protect love and life. And then there are some who use their powers for all the wrong reasons.”
The camera came to rest on her beautiful face. She winked saucily as she placed a triangular witch’s hat on her head. “Welcome to the Witches Protection Program.”
Alastair smiled broadly. “I love that part.”
“That was Jennifer Anis—”
Alastair went on as if Wes hadn’t spoken. “Operations have been kept secret for over two hundred years. Davina witches in the program are given twenty-four-hour security while in a high-threat environment. Money for housing, schooling, essentials, and medical care are provided. As of today, over sixty-three thousand witches have been protected. In the entire history of our fine program, we’ve never had a breach of security in which a protected witch was harmed.”
Wes laughed, shaking his handsome head. “I don’t believe in witches, sir.”
“By the time you’re done, oh, I promise, you’ll believe in witches. No one grows up thinking they’re going to be protecting a person who uses magic and spells to get what they want.” Alastair rounded his desk to take his seat again. “But when someone needs to be protected, does it matter who they are?”
Wes looked back mutely, unable to think of answer. He was wondering why someone with an Emmy and a possible Oscar was doing public service films.
Alastair went on. “Believe it or not, we need witches in society.” This caught Wes’s wandering attention. He smiled at the younger man’s expression of disbelief. “When a witch changes from being a belief to being a force of nature, that’s when a witch goes bad. My job—” He paused. “Our job—is to protect the good ones and investigate the bad ones.”
“Yeah, sure. And what about the trolls and pixies?”
Alastair shrugged indifferently. “Oh, they never give us any trouble.”
“I was kidding.”
“I know, Wes. I’m not.”
“Is my father aware of all this?”
“Indeed he is. We finish what his division can’t. He has assigned you here because if you can succeed here, you’ll succeed anywhere.”
“Is that your motto?” Wes asked with chuckle.
Alastair walked over to a blank wall and waved his hand, and a portion opened with a hiss. Wes joined him, whistling at the array of weapons attached to designated spots. They weren’t any kind of firepower he’d ever seen before.
“You bet.” Alastair reached in and took out a lethal-looking automatic that had a huge bulb at the end of its semitranslucent muzzle. It was covered with bronze gauges and metal gears mounted atop an antique grip.
“What kind of gun is that?”
“It’s a Steampunk Vaporizer. It’s good for long distances.”
“I prefer my Glock.” Wes pulled his gun out from inside his jacket.
Alastair clicked his tongue. “That toy will be shoved so far up your ass, you’ll be praying for it not to fire. Catch.” He threw the weapon to Wes, who caught it expertly. He hefted the surprisingly light gun. Wes aimed it at the wall, looking through the crosshairs of the scope.
Alistair nodded. “It’s locked and loaded, so be careful.”
“I bet you were a big Dungeons and Dragons fan,” Wes said, taking a bead on an imaginary target.
Alastair ignored him, then held up a slim, plastic-looking rectangle about the size of a candy bar.
Alastair smiled, revealing a line of gleaming white teeth. Wes noticed his eyes were black and amused. “A Darrow Trance Lifter. They stopped making them for a while. This one’s old but works like a charm. Ha.” He laughed at his joke.
Wes laid down the rifle, examining the device. “How do you use them?”
“Point and shoot. Don’t overthink it.”
He handed him an ancient-looking handgun similar to a Colt. It was shaped like a revolver with a cylinder attached and bubbled with green liquid. The grip was made from a metal Wes had never seen before. Despite its size, it was surprisingly light in his hand. All these weapons felt like toys.
“Lastly, this one should be on you at all times.” He tossed him a polished disk. “Open it.”
Wes caught it and carefully touched the lever, watching with fascination as it opened like a clamshell. He turned it over, looking for buttons or holes for a laser. He was expecting something…more. Confusion showed on his face.
“It’s a mirror. You’ll know when to use it,” Alastair informed him.
“Come on. This is bullshit. None of this is real.”
“I assure you, Wes, it’s all very real. These are the only known tools and weapons to stop a witch,” he told him as he walked to his desk. Opening a drawer, he took out a roll of duct tape, which he pitched to Wes. Wes caught it, shrugged, and put it next to the gun.
“It’s the little things that will save your life,” Alastair told him. Reaching down, he shuffled through a few folders, found what he was looking for, and held it up for Wes. “Your first assignment.”
“OK, so let’s say for a minute that this is all legit—witches exist.”
“Along with trolls and pixies,” Alastair added, his face utterly serious.
“Right, yeah, witches, trolls, and pixies. Where have they been for the last three hundred years?”
Alastair leaned back in his oversize chair. “Right under your nose. Have you ever felt compelled to buy a product you didn’t need? Stopped for a meal when you weren’t hungry? Ask out a girl you never noticed before? They’ve been around for years, living and working alongside of us. The Willas ran underground when women got the right to vote at the turn of the last century. But they pop up to stir the pot every now and then. Make life dangerous for the Davinas. That’s where we come in. We protect and relocate the good witches. Keeps the peace.”
“Pretty big operation for something that happens every now and then,” Wes told him.
“Cuban Missile Crisis, the mortgage meltdown, Hurricane Katrina. Are they big enough?”
“Hurricane Katrina?” Wes asked with disbelief.
“I told you, when a witch changes from being a belief to a—”
“Force of nature, that’s when they become bad,” Wes finished.
“Good. You were listening. Something big is going on. There’s been a lot of chatter for months. This all could be connected in some way.” He held up the folder again. “As I said, your first assignment.”
Wes took the folder ungraciously and snapped it open to look at its contents. It took him a while to organize the material so he could understand it. “I can’t believe this. I’m not doing it.”
“OK, then your choice is to hand in your resignation and explore the employment opportunities at Frankie’s Fried Fish on the corner. You won’t have to work hard at disguising your reading problem there.”
Wes threw down the folder. “Who told you about that? Nobody knows, and I am able to read just as well as the next guy. It takes me a little longer, is all.”
“I know. I timed you. So, being that I have a boss to answer to and that boss wants me to take you to meet Junie ‘Baby Fat’ Meadows of the Meadows Witch family, I strongly suggest you pick up the folder and get to work.” Alastair grabbed his trench coat and an umbrella from a stand. “Come on,” he called from the door. “It’s time to earn your paycheck.”
“Yeah, sure.” Wes started for the door. Alastair stared pointedly at the duct tape abandoned on the chair. Wes rolled his eyes as he grabbed it.
They were seated in Alastair’s black SUV, the older man driving as he described the informant.
“She’s a great gal. I’ve known her for years. She’s a thirty-two-year veteran operations manager for the Red Hook Port in Brooklyn. Quite a character, makes a delicious stew. Do you like stew?”
“No,” Wes said sullenly. “You allege that she’s a witch.”
“I don’t allege anything. She’s a witch.”
“So is she a Davina or a Willa?” A gentle rain pattered against the windshield. The lights looked unfocused and softer.
“She’s Davina, through and through.” Alastair put on his wipers. They streaked across the window, smearing the view so that everything looked as muddled as Wes’s mind.
Wes glanced at Alastair, asking sarcastically, “So can I look her in the eye? She won’t suck out my soul?”
“Indeed,” Alastair replied, but he said nothing else. The silence thickened until Wes squirmed uncomfortably. “All right, so what did”—Wes checked the information in the folder—“Baby Fat do to earn this visit from the Witches Protection Program?”