A Lullaby For The Lost
For the second time in twenty years, the Boys are responsible for the disappearance of a young child. Or… are they?
As luck would have it, the missing child isn’t just any little girl, and the fur flies when the Missing posters appear. Part 2 of the Sweet Justice Series.
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Romance, Supernatural
Characters: Alan Frog, David, Dwayne, Edgar Frog, Grandpa, Laddie, Lucy Emerson, Maria, Marko, Max, Michael Emerson, OCs: Multiple, Paul, Sam Emerson, Star
Warnings: Adult Themes, Blood play, Drug Use, Mild Violence, Unspecified Warning
Stats: Posted: 18 Nov 2007 | Updated: 4 Dec 2007 | Chapters: 21 | Status: Complete | Word Count: 77,374 | Status: Complete | Length: 75-100k
The Sweet Justice Series #2: A Lullaby For The Lost by PythonPrincess
[nextpage title=”Chapter 1: Dances With Wolves”]
Chapter 1: Dances With Wolves
Winter had descended upon Santa Carla, bringing longer nights often laced with a cold, stiff sea breeze. The costal fog usually wasn’t as thick during the colder months since the warmer air interacting with the colder water didn’t work against each other to create it, like it did in the summer. But, in the summer, it hardly ever rained. The wet weather came in the winter.
It was mid December, and the boardwalk was decked out with seasonal décor. The twinkling lights that shone year round were twice as bright now with the addition of some holiday bulbs around the exteriors of many of the shops and the arcade. Even in inclement weather, the tourists flocked there to take in the sights and shop, even when the rides had to shut down.
Yet, the beaches were eerily silent, especially on weeknights or during stormy weather. This made hunting a chore for a hungry vampire.
Still, Dwayne wasn’t about to give up. Marko had made a remark the other night that had been a temporary, hopeful sign. He’d mentioned that the college kids were starting to pour into the Seafarer, where he tended bar on a part-time basis, in droves, which meant that it was holiday recess for the students.
“Feeding time…come and get it, boys,” he’d sung with a smirk.
So, where were these damn college kids now? Shouldn’t they be having some righteous bon fire parties, right down here on the beach Dwayne was hungrily prowling?
No, of course not. They were all seeking drier ground to indulge their alcoholic pastimes. The weather had been testy the last couple of nights, with intermittent rain showers and drizzle, followed by dry spells. Glancing at the sky, Dwayne saw nothing but a wide expanse of stars, a few scattered silhouettes of clouds, and the full moon beaming down on a placid sea.
Just as he was about to give up on the beach and go find a bum to roll beneath the bridge on Front Street, (always good for a desperate bite…if Paul, David and Marko hadn’t eaten the entire night’s menu of them by now), he smelled it.
Blood. Fresh Blood. Coppery, sweet, and unmistakable.
There was no time for Dwayne to slow down his reactions, or even think about it any. His features shifted; his eyes glowing like two feral, hot coals, and his fangs extended as he opened up his mouth to take in more of the scent. Where was it coming from?
The wind had carried the scent to him, so he turned in the opposite direction, gazing first at the boardwalk, and then down towards the pier. He caught the scent again. It was coming from the direction of the pier; more specifically, from below the pier.
Munched surfer, maybe? Shark attacks in these waters were rare, but not unheard of, and there were a few diehards that enjoyed night surfing, even in the winter time. Whatever, Dwayne didn’t care. He was on the same level with the scent, so taking to the air would be pointless. Besides, he was awfully close to civilization. At this hour, there were still employees closing up stores and restaurants, even though most businesses were closed.
If he had taken to the air, he might have seen the squad cars parked on the pier….
Not that he would have cared any. A dinner that didn’t fight wasn’t necessarily the best meal, but it was better than going hungry.
Dwayne searched with his sense of smell more than his vision. Merely by looking, he wouldn’t have seen a thing. Whatever was lying there was bleeding out someplace out of view behind piles of boulders and wooden pilings close to the shoreline. The sea lions that called this place home were oddly silent. In fact, they even seemed to be absent.
Then he saw it; a pale sliver of skin belonging to an outstretched hand. His eyes traveled upwards to see clotted, congealing blood all over the shoulder of a mangled hoodie sweatshirt. One of the victim’s sneakers had been lost in the attack, revealing a foot wearing a plain, white sock.
The victim was clearly out cold. Dirty sand and blood was mixed into her blond, matted ponytail. By now, Dwayne could care less. He was hungry, and the blood smell was driving him mad. He reached in and snatched the mortal from her hidey hole, and was instantly greeted with two, rather nasty surprises.
The first was the growl that came from somewhere nearby, and the smell that accompanied it. It was the extremely unpleasant smell of werewolf urine. Someone was marking his territory. This kill was his.…(or hers), and Dwayne was an intruder.
Dwayne couldn’t see the wolf. That bothered him. Where the fuck was it? He glanced down at the victim in his arms and was greeted with the second horror. She was merely a child, no older than Laddie had been when he’d been brought into the pack!
He didn’t eat kids. Plain and simple. He’d rather go hungry. Past and present meshed together into a solitary moment as he relived that hellish night that made him immortal but cost his little brother, Craig, his life. No, Dwayne didn’t eat little kids….and werewolves shouldn’t either.
“Why don’t you just go home, sucker…See this tooth I’ve got dangling from my ear? It comes from one of your kind that I killed…and I’ll kill you too, just as easily,” Dwayne threatened.
Of course, he was bluffing. When werewolves were killed, they reverted back to their human forms almost immediately. He only hoped his opponent hadn’t seen the death of one of his own kind and didn’t know that. He wasn’t bluffing about killing werewolves, though. In his time, he could honestly say he’d dusted about two of them. Not easily, though, and always with at least David at his side.
The growling stopped for the moment, but the air was still charged with static. Dwayne took a deep, unneeded breath, and proceeded to back out of the dank hiding space with the child securely in his arms. He only managed to pick his way over a few of the larger boulders obstructing his path to freedom before he heard a sharp ‘yip’…
And then he was pummeled from behind and forced face first into the sand. His back was ripped into with claws as sharp as daggers. Immortal blood seeped from his wounds as he gained his feet and staggered back, ramming his back hard against one of the wooden pilings supporting the pier. When this didn’t dislodge the werewolf, Dwayne desperately moved to one of the cement ones.
Finally, the beatings began to take their toll, and Dwayne was able to reach behind with his fully extended claw-nails and rip the attacking wolf from his back. He stared at the lycanthrope in horror. Its muzzle was a burnt, ruined thing. The fur had been singed away, and the skin beneath was blackened and blistered. Saliva dripped from its inflamed mouth. Dwayne could see the pain in his enemy’s eyes.
No wonder the fucker hadn’t bit him. He could almost pity the creature. Silently, they regarded each other. Dwayne was weakened from hunger and blood loss but obviously still standing and not going anywhere. The werewolf was still steadily standing his ground too. Even though he couldn’t bite (not without extreme pain, at least), he could still gash with his powerful claws. And, one earsplitting howl would send an alert to any of his pack mates in the area. For all Dwayne knew, there could be more of them nearby. Unlike vampires, werewolves often hunted in packs. Yet a wounded one would likely separate himself from his group, just like any other wild animal. This way, his pack mates wouldn’t try to steal his kill.
Still, a lone werewolf guarding his prey was one thing. A wounded, solo werewolf who feared an attack from an angry vampire might summon for help. Dwayne was not off the hook yet. He had to get out from under the pier before he could take to the air. Then, he would be home free.
The child had been dumped in the wet sand at Dwayne’s feet when the werewolf had launched at him. She started to stir; moaning in pain. Any noises she made were drowned out from people up on the pier above by the crashing of the ocean’s waves against the pilings, but both vampires and werewolves had very keen hearing. They continued to circle around the girl in their twisted game of Ring Around the Rosey; eyes like burning embers locked to silver bright eyes like the moonlight. Then a loud noise split the air: Two loud wails of a police car’s siren. Suddenly, the showdown was over. The werewolf, sensing another sort of danger at hand, turned tail and fled, leaving his victim to another morbid fate.
Dwayne regarded the little girl with an emotion that was as close to actual pity as a vampire could get. Maybe it would have been better off if the werewolf had finished what he’d started. Now the kid was going to have some serious, lifelong issues, and she wasn’t going to have to wait until puberty to start noticing some big changes. Maybe just a month…
Soon, the kid would have her whole family wolfing out. Or, they’d be dead, and she’d be an orphan. Not a good situation. Dwayne decided right then and there that the police couldn’t find this child. Her parents, whoever the poor bastards were, would be better off believing she was dead…
Because someone was going to have to take care of that. Maybe David could. Or those stupid comic shop owners. Dwayne only knew he couldn’t do it.
He didn’t kill little kids.
Silently, he scooped the semi-conscious child into his arms and made his way out from beneath the pier. Before he took to the air, he made certain that no cops were in the vicinity with their guns aimed at him or something. One never knew…(not that he was afraid of bullets really, but getting shot would hurt, and he was already in enough pain.) The distance to the hideout was a short one, and Dwayne was glad. The smell of the girl’s blood was driving him nearly insane, especially since he’d been injured in his spar with the werewolf. Those wounds were still healing. Injuries inflicted from another supernatural entity took longer to heal.
Dragging the mortal down into the tunnel that led to the sunken ballroom without causing her further injury was a struggle. No other mortals had been down here with the exceptions of Laddie and Alex..and they’d come down on their own hands and knees, not needing to be dragged.
“Dwayne, what the hell? Was there some beach party massacre you didn’t clue me in on?”
David’s voice rang out as soon as he saw Dwayne’s head pop in through the tunnel. He smelled blood. Though he’d fed already, the smell still excited his senses.
“I wish. No, actually, I did my own fucking version of Dances With Wolves under the pier tonight. All for this…”
He hauled the girl forth and stretched her out on the floor. David’s eyes scrutinized the child; from the dirty ponytail and the bloody hoodie, to her damp jeans and one missing shoe. Suddenly, he began to chuckle. It was an eerie, twisted noise, filled with mirth and darkness.
“My, my, my, look what the cat dragged in. Let me guess. She was werewolf chow,” he said.
“Yeah. I smelled blood on the beach, and I followed the scent until I found her under the pier. Then, wolfie jumped me. He’d been hiding nearby, guarding her,” Dwayne explained.
“You were jumped by a werewolf?”
“That’s just what I said.”
“Did it bite you?”
“No. That’s the strange thing. His mouth was all burnt up, like he’d bit into an electric wire or something. But he still had sharp motherfucking claws, though. Tore me up, right through my jacket!”
“Lets see,” David said, motioning for Dwayne to remove his jacket and the T-shirt he usually only wore in the colder months. Then, he moved behind his Childe and examined the gouges that were only starting to heal.
“He tore you up alright. The bottle will fix these pretty fast, though.”
A few minutes later, David had applied bottled blood to each of the gouges on Dwayne’s back, and then he passed the bottle to him so that he could drink from it and replace what had been lost. Dwayne was feeling much better, then. His head felt clearer, and he could concentrate on the situation at hand with more focus instead of fiending for blood so badly.
“What do we do, David? I couldn’t just leave the kid there for the cops to find. They’d take her to the hospital, call her folks, fix her up, send her home…but come the next full moon, we know what will happen.”
“We certainly do. What is it with you and finding the kiddies, Dwayne?”
The brunette shrugged and flopped down on a chair.
“It’s a latent talent, I guess,” he sighed, “Although I can’t really claim credit for Laddie. Star actually found him; or rather, he found her.”
“Maybe you’ve got a kid out there somewhere you have yet to discover,” David smirked.
“I always eat what I screw. I follow the rules,” Dwayne replied without blinking his eyes.
“Nothing better than the old fuck ‘n’ feed for birth control, eh?” he twitched another smile before he continued, “For the record, I think you did the right thing. The kid couldn’t go with the cops. By the time anyone figures out what’s going on, her folks and half her third grade class would be getting kind of shaggy at certain times of the month. The last thing Santa Carla needs is any more stinking werewolves. A kid wouldn’t know how to stop herself from making others, or from making random, impulsive kills. I’d just like to know what the stupid wolf that bit her was thinking…”
“Dinner,” Dwayne replied.
“Yeah, but what stopped him from finishing? You said his mouth was all burnt up.”
“It was. I imagine that’s what stopped him. He couldn’t even bite me, let alone polish off his meal….”
“Think about it, Dwayne. He was able to put the initial bite on her. She’s pretty well mauled up here,” David said, pointing to the child’s shoulder.
They both bent to examine the form of the girl, who was now fast asleep thanks to Dwayne’s ability to coax her back into a faded state. He had done so prior to hauling her down the passageway into the buried ballroom to lessen her chances of feeling any pain on the way down.
David carefully poked at the torn edges of her sweatshirt, pulling ragged pieces of cloth out of the livid wound. He lifted one blood soaked piece of material and saw a thin chain. His eyes traveled upwards. It was suspended around the girl’s neck, but had somehow been pulled off center. Instead of dangling below her throat, the chain was now pulled sideways, towards her shoulder. David traced the chain very lightly, and followed its progress. Whatever was on the end of it was lodged in the wound.
With a delicate yank, David pulled the chain free. Fresh blood welled up from the small hole where the charm had been buried. Fortunately, it hadn’t been bored in too deeply. By some miracle, both the small charm and the delicate little chain had survived the close encounter with a werewolf completely intact, if not a bit gore stained.
David was no rocket scientist, but he now knew why the werewolf had been unable to finish off his prey. This little necklace had saved the girl’s life; yet it had cursed her to the underworld at the same time. Wordlessly, he removed it from her. She wouldn’t be able to wear it much longer. Both the chain and the charm; a little monogram of the letter ‘L’, were made of sterling silver. Of course, touching it did him no harm. Unlike werewolves, vampires could touch silver. They could not be killed by it, either. Yet, silver backed mirrors and the silver based chemicals in photographic equipment were the worst offenders in a vampire’s inability to see their reflection.
“I found the culprit. The wolfman got a mouthful of this,” David said, holding up the little necklace.
“That’d do it,” Dwayne responded, eyeing the charm. He’d never quite seen what silver could do to a werewolf before. Now he knew. It was ugly; as bad as sunlight to a vampire. Then, he noticed that the changes were taking hold already. The girl’s shoulder was starting to heal. Now that David had removed the silver from the wound, her changing blood could go in and repair the damage.
David stared in silent wonder.
“You know, I’m thinking she’ll feel much better in the morning. I suppose we should set Thorn up to guard her so she doesn’t think about making a run for it…”
“Yeah. I’ll go have a little man to dog chat with him. Then, I’m going to see if I can’t break a vein or two down on Front Street.”
“Be careful out there. I’ll make up someplace nice and cozy for the little one to sleep,” David said, looking around. The girl would have to make do sleeping on some blankets on the beat up couch down here. That was the only thing that served as a bed. He watched his oldest Childe disappear to the upper portion of their hideout, where Thorn kept his watch. Once Dwayne was gone, he turned his attentions back to the youngster stretched out on the ground.
He didn’t have to hide his amusement, now.
“This is rich,” David muttered to himself, quickly assembling all that could be found. It didn’t amount to much. There were only two blankets in the entire room. Vampires didn’t sleep with them, but Alex kept a couple on hand to wrap herself in when she came to visit.
Once he’d made a comfortable nest for the child, he lifted her up and laid her on the couch, wrapping her up like a pint sized burrito. Then, he smiled at his handiwork. This was where any paternal instincts he had stopped.
“I can read Dwayne’s thoughts, and he wonders if I’m going to kill you for him, because he can’t do it himself,” David said aloud to the sleeping girl, “But, the answer is…no. Not yet. You have a purpose, young one, just like the sun and the moon and the stars. One day soon, Dwayne is going to figure out just what your purpose is.”
And then, he thought silently to himself, with a sly smile on his face;
‘Let the game begin.’
[nextpage title=”Chapter 2: Tears For The Lost”]
Chapter 2: Tears For The Lost
The patrol cars pulled off of the pier; their lights swirling a lazy blue-red, blue-red. With two shrill blasts of their sirens, they pulled away. There was no telling where they were off to next. Maybe to go file some reports…
Hopefully, they would continue the search.
Lucy Emerson stifled another sob. How could this happen? The whole damn thing was her fault! She never should have let Leah go feed the sea lions while she finished up business at the video store.
The officers taking the report had offered to escort her home giving her frantic state, but Lucy had declined. She knew that police cars coming up the driveway of her father’s house would upset him. Old men didn’t need shocks like that. Besides, she still had her SUV, parked on the pier. In it was Leah’s suitcase, filled to brimming with all of her personal belongings and toys. The cops had asked to take a look at some of her clothing, so they could judge her size. Lucy had obliged, and had also given them the most recent school picture of her she had; the one Jennifer had sent only a couple of weeks ago.
Jennifer was Leah’s mother. Mother and daughter lived in Los Gatos, while Sam, Leah’s father, lived in San Jose. Sam and Jennifer hadn’t been together in an age, but Sam kept in regular contact with his daughter, and was fond of spoiling her. He insisted she wear the most fashionable clothing, even if Jennifer couldn’t afford it on a single mother’s wages. No problem. Sam had no issues with paying his child support and he went above and beyond to supply his daughter with many of her other needs, as well. In that respect, he was a very good father.
What was Lucy going to tell them? How was she going to tell them?
She had offered to pick up Leah and keep her for the week, knowing full well that the child had been let out of school for the holidays and would have no one at home to keep an eye on her while Jennifer worked. Therefore, Jennifer would have to pay to send her to the local recreation center, which was expensive. Why not save that money for Christmas shopping? Since one of Lucy’s three stores was in Los Gatos, she drove there early that morning, picked up Leah, and took her on her rounds with her to the local store, then to Moss Landing, and finally, to Santa Carla. For the rest of the week, her dad would be home, and he never minded keeping tabs on his only great grand-daughter. Despite his age, he had amazing ways of keeping kids in line.
Now, everything was a runaway train of disaster. Leah had been getting restless around six o’clock. Lucy hadn’t thought that tying things up in Santa Carla would take so long; they had stopped in about 4:30. However, Lucy soon learned that the evening shift worker, Chad, had called in sick. That would leave Maria to pull a double shift if some relief wasn’t found. Lucy realized that Maria couldn’t pull a double shift in her condition. Her recently announced pregnancy was making itself known, now, and pregnant women didn’t need to be standing for long hours at a counter. Lucy told Maria that she’d take Leah home and return and close the shop herself if no one could be found. But, at 5:30, Lucy got a hold of Evan, another one of their part-timers. He told her he’d be in, but needed about half an hour to forty five minutes to get ready.
Perfect. Maria was sent home. By then, Leah was looking fidgety, so Lucy explained everything to her and told her they’d pick up dinner on the way home. She promised her breaded fish and chicken from the Sea Shanty, one of Leah’s favorites. The girl had brightened considerably, and then had asked if she could go buy some fish to feed the sea lions. The vendor and the area where people fed the sea lions were down at the end of the pier, but it wasn’t too late yet. There were plenty of people milling about, and Lucy felt it would be okay as long as the girl was back in twenty minutes. They agreed on the time, Lucy slipped her a $5, and watched as Leah skipped out the front door.
That was the last time she saw her granddaughter that night.
Lucy managed to lose track of time while she took care of the customers that frequented the store. This time of year, business was brisk. Patrons were snapping up the video games and movies they sold to give as gifts. Others bought gift certificates for work exchange presents and stocking stuffers. It was the same at the other locations, too. By the time Evan strolled in to assume his shift, more than twenty minutes had passed.
“You didn’t see my grand daughter on the way in, by chance, did you?” Lucy asked as she finished with her last customer.
“Uh…little Leah, right? No, ma’am, I sure didn’t,” Evan replied, stepping behind the counter.
Lucy glanced nervously at her watch, and then at the clock on the wall. Leah had been gone for nearly 45 minutes!
“Well, I’m going to go have a look for her. She went out to feed the sea lions, but was supposed to be back here twenty minutes ago. I’m sure the time just got away from her.”
“Yeah, probably. Kids that age aren’t in the habit of checking their watches.”
Evan was right, of course. So, Lucy had quickly made her way down to the end of the pier, keeping her eye peeled for any guilty looking eight and a half year old girls as she went. She saw none. When she got down to the back end of the pier, she didn’t find Leah, either.
It was easy to tell her granddaughter wasn’t there. Only a few others were. There was a younger couple nuzzling each other on one of the benches, an old man with a quilted flannel shirt on fishing, and a middle aged woman with a dog tossing fish over the rail. Lucy evaluated her choices and approached the woman with the dog.
“Excuse me, Miss, I hate to bother you, but did you see a little girl out here awhile ago? She came to feed the sea lions…..,” Lucy asked in a wavery voice.
“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did. The sea lions aren’t active tonight though, at least not yet. It could be too early for them. Anyways, she got kind of disappointed and left not long after she came out here,” the woman replied.
“Did she look like this?” Lucy continued, pulling out Leah’s picture from the wallet in her purse.
“Yeah, that’s her.”
“How long ago would you say she left?”
“I dunno, but she wasn’t out here long. Maybe ten minutes. She went that way,” the woman said, pointing.
Back towards the shop.
“Thank you,” Lucy said. At that time, relief had flooded her voice. Maybe the woman hadn’t been a good judge of time, and Leah had been out there longer than she’d thought. At any rate, Lucy hurried back to the store, thinking she’d find her granddaughter waiting.
She’d been wrong.
After spending another hour on her own, desperately combing the pier, Lucy tearfully gave up and called the police.
The police didn’t act on missing persons reports for adults until the individual was gone for 48 hours. With children, it was different. The Santa Carla P.D. had assured Lucy that they would do all they could to find Leah and bring her home. At first, just one patrol car arrived. But, after taking Lucy’s report, two backups were called for. One of the back up units would question people and business owners on the pier. The other unit would comb the pier and the beach. Lucy was asked to give detailed descriptions of those she saw when she went to the rear area of the pier; especially the woman who’d claimed she saw Leah. Lucy cursed herself for not asking the witness what her name was, but by then, that was just one of the mental curses she was hurling at herself.
The store was shut down for the remainder of the night, and a statement was taken from Evan before he was allowed to go home. He looked stricken. Though he didn’t know Leah well, he’d seen her a couple of times when Lucy had brought her along on her rounds before.
One officer remained in the store with Lucy at all times, keeping in contact with the others on the search, and helping Lucy set up a vigil. His name was Lt. Chelli, and he seemed genuinely nice. He had a way of calming her; telling her that she’d done no wrong, and that kids had a tenancy to wander off sometimes, despite the best, most vigilant supervision. He then confided in her that his own daughter had run away from home once, and despite his best efforts, she hadn’t turned up until she wanted to be found.
Then, Lucy recognized the name.
“Chelli. Is your daughter Star?” she’d asked.
“That’s right,” he’d told her with a smile, “So that makes us family. I think if it hadn’t been for you, I’d still be wondering where my kid is, so I owe you one.”
“Oh, I didn’t have anything to do with finding her,” Lucy protested, “That was Michael. He met her…”
“But you’re the one that convinced her to call home and tell us where she was. You said her mother would be worried sick….”
“I did, but I was speaking the truth…”
“She took your advice. There’s still a lot she hasn’t told us about those months she was gone and why it was she decided to run off in the first place, but in the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter. She’s safe now, and we know she is, thanks to you. And, at the same time, we wrapped up another missing child case. Maybe you didn’t solve that one either, but the department is grateful that Gabriel Thompson turned up safe and sound at your place, as I’m sure his parents were.”
“He was just a little, lost kid, I guess,” Lucy sighed.
“Well, that happens from time to time around here. Maybe that’s all that happened to Leah. She wandered off, enticed by the lights on the boardwalk with a little loose change jingling in her pockets, and got lost. I’m having my squad look into it. Santa Carla has its reputation, but we’ve really done a lot to clean things up around here. At any rate, I’ve alerted the boardwalk security to keep their eyes peeled for her, too.”
Lucy hadn’t thought of the boardwalk. From the pier, lights from the attractions, especially the Giant Dipper could be seen. It was a relatively clear night, and the distance from the pier to the boardwalk was misleading. Leah might have been tempted to go, thinking she could get there in a few minutes, not realizing how far down the beach it actually was….
Lt. Chelli snapped into her thoughts.
“When it comes to missing kids on the boardwalk, security over there has an A-1 staff. You wanna know who heads things over there now?”
“Mmmm, who?” Lucy asked.
“The very same Gabriel Thompson that turned up at your place twenty years ago, that’s who. So, if there’s a little girl lost on the midway, he’ll make damn good and sure she’s found.”
Lucy collapsed back into her chair like a boneless rag doll. Mixed tears of fear and relief streamed down her face. The hours were passing, and still; no sign of Leah. Yet, Lt. Chelli was giving her every hopeful indication that she would be found, and that there were good resources at their disposal.
There must be. The amount of missing posters tacked up on the public bulletin boards had dramatically decreased. Most of what remained was for runaway teens and missing pets.
Then, Lt. Chelli began the unpleasant task of digging around Leah’s personal life. What was the custody arrangement between her parents? Did her son know she was here? Could he possibly have taken her?
“Sam? Oh, Lt, Sam wouldn’t do a thing like that! He spoils her rotten…buys her all these name brand clothes from Abercrombie and Fitch, Aeropostle, and Baby Gap, and he’s always current on his child support, but here’s the thing. Sam just doesn’t have the time to be a full-time father. He’s a game designer, and he works long, strange hours. Pulling a stunt like that would be pointless,” Lucy explained.
“Even to get back at the ex?”
“He and Jennifer get along okay. They just couldn’t get along well enough to marry. Really, I think they both made the best choice, and Sam didn’t fight the custody or the child support rulings. Like I said, he even goes above and beyond it. He just doesn’t always stick to his visitation schedule…which is not good, but that further dissuades me from thinking that he’d take Leah in a sudden custody dispute.”
“Her parents don’t ever fight?”
“I don’t know that they don’t ever fight, but if they do, it’s not about Leah’s living situation. Jennifer and I talk quite a bit. She’d tell me everything if that was the case,” Lucy replied.
“Are you close to your son?”
“Oh, always, but I don’t get to see him much. He’s so busy. We talk all the time too, but with Sam, he never tells me anything that he thinks would worry me. I used to be very overprotective of him, and now the tables have turned, I think…”
Lucy gave a nervous giggle that ended in more sniffles and sobs.
“What am I going to tell them?” she wondered aloud.
“Maybe you won’t have to tell them anything more that a ‘Leah got lost for a little while’ tale,” Lt. Chelli consoled her.
At quarter after ten, one of the units radioed in. Chelli stepped away from Lucy to take the message, and Lucy was unable to hear what the contact was about. She only heard him respond:
“I’ll ask her. Ten-four.”
“What sort of shoes did you say your granddaughter was wearing?”
“White sneakers. K-Swiss ones, I believe.”
“Girl’s size 4,” Lucy answered.
Chelli nodded and spoke into his radio.
“Affirmative. Over and out.”
“What did they find? Shoe prints?”
“One of her shoes, they believe. Officer Pete and Officer Salazar are bringing it in.”
These two had only stopped into the store for a brief amount of time before being dispatched to the beach. The other set had remained to question the shop patrons before being sent off to question the folks on the pier; and then later, to patrol the boardwalk. Lucy’s heart withered when she saw the sneaker, neatly contained in a Ziplock evidence bag, dangling from the hand of Officer Pete.
“I think it’s time we notified the Coast Guard,” Salazar said in a grim tone.
“The Coast Guard!” Lucy cried.
“Calm down…lets not jump to conclusions. Where’d you find it?’
“Jammed between two boulders at the edge of the pier. It looks like the kid may have decided to do some rock climbing and lost her shoe. But, the boulders in the area were pretty slimy and just barely in the water…when we found it. When the kid was out there, the tide was higher. She may have fallen and got swept out,” Pete explained.
“You searched under the pier?”
“We went as far as we could get,” Salazar replied.
“Alright, I’ll make the call.”
“Leah wouldn’t have done that! She would never have climbed on wet rocks! She knows about undercurrents….She knows better!” Lucy protested, hugging her shivering body.
But the evidence was now on the counter for her to see for herself. Inside the bag was a completely sodden shoe. It was unmistakably Leah’s.
Of course, Lucy was right. Her granddaughter did have enough sense not to go climbing on slippery rocks when the tide was up. One sometimes just didn’t have a choice when a werewolf was on your tail.
And the sea told no secrets. It neatly washed away the trail of blood that could have led the officers straight to the beast’s concealed hideaway.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 3: The Devil Inside”]
Chapter 3: The Devil Inside
The sleeping child passed the night oblivious to all that happened around her. Dwayne returned, then later, Paul and Marko. Conversations ensued; they were filled in on all that had happened. Yet David kept his little secret to himself for now.
He knew the girl’s identity. He’d known it the moment Dwayne had laid her out on the floor.
The last time he’d seen little Leah, he’d brought a delivery to Old Man Martin last summer. The girl had been there; had answered the door, and had hovered around while he and the old fart did business. David had scanned her mind at the time, learning who she was.
She was the daughter of the younger Emerson brother, the brat with the dog and the bow and arrow. How it was that sniveling little Sam had managed to grow up and produce offspring was one of life’s greatest mysteries. David thought the lad had some feministic tendencies the few times he’d seen him, but one could scarcely judge all there was to know about a person simply by the way they dressed. Besides, it had been the eighties.
Fate was evening up the score. Two decades ago, at the ripe age of seventeen, Michael Emerson had nearly become a vampire. Fate had been cheated. Tonight, eight year old Leah Emerson was a were-child. As far as David knew, there was no half-werewolf clause. Either you were, or you weren’t. No in-betweens.
Yet, he wondered about the silver necklace she’d worn. Had it offered her any protection at all besides preventing her from becoming dinner? David had no books around the hideout concerning werewolves. In fact, he rarely read at all if he could avoid it. What he knew about werewolves could fill his shoe. They wolfed out at the full moon, attacked any mortal creature they came across while in this form and ate it, and reverted back to their human form during the day. They could be killed by beheading or a shot to the heart with a silver bullet. Any mortal creature bitten by a werewolf that survived the attack became a werewolf themselves. And, most importantly, he knew, if you see one, regard it warily. If it makes any aggressive moves, kill it. The vampires and werewolves of Santa Carla had an uneasy truce in existence. No werewolves came sniffing around their hideout, though they could likely find it easily enough if they wanted to. Similarly, David and his boys didn’t go on wolf hunts. They knew the places the wolves congregated on full moon nights, and they didn’t go there. So, any aggression would mean a territory dispute. There could be no disputes. Any invading, attacking werewolf that escaped the Boys would surely be ripped apart by the local wolf packs. Period.
David shook his head wearily before he retired to the back portion of the hideout to rest. There was only one place to bone up on werewolves besides the public library. (And surely, David was not in possession of a library card. Even if he was, he’d maybe get in one good hour’s time to find any books before they shut the doors for the night. There were definite disadvantages to being a vampire). He’d have to sniff around the Frog Brothers, without dumping his hand as to why. Surely, he could invent a reason…perhaps a story about smelling werewolf scat in the area and wanting to learn more about how they demarcated territory….
That sounded good enough. He’d take care of it when he felt the time was right. After all, he had about a month before Leah went through her first change…he hoped. Maybe he wouldn’t even need to keep her around that long.
Leah awoke, with no idea as to whether it was day or night. She had no idea where she was. She only remembered that dog on the beach…
That turned out not to be such a nice doggy after all.
Her mind reeled with memories that seemed only half real. Well, some of them only seemed half real. The others were strange and floaty…they made little sense. She remembered going to feed the sea lions, but being disappointed when the fish she tossed over the rail only got swept out to sea. No sea lions came for them. It didn’t take her long to get bored. Glancing at her watch, she realized she still had ten minutes. She also had a couple of fish left. What if she went down to the underside of the pier and fed them from the beach? Maybe they couldn’t see the fish from where she was standing….
She’d been joyfully rewarded to see a bull and a cow that had pulled their massive bulks up onto the framework of the pier, so she’d tossed them her remaining fish and watched as they splashed down into the water after them. Then, she’d realized she was out of fish and out of time. Gran was waiting for her. So, she’d turned to head back, leaving the water and the sea lions behind her. That’s when she’d heard whining. It was coming from right behind her. Dog whining…
She turned to find a big dog regarding her silently. It was whining, like maybe it was lost. The dog looked to be some wolf like breed; the sort her dad told her he used to have when he was a kid. Leah didn’t think he was a….Siberian Husky? Right, that’s what Dad had said Nanook was, but this dog was kind of wolfie like a Husky. Dad talked about Nanook like he missed him a lot. Maybe, if this dog was lost, Dad might like him…
“Hi, doggy! Where’s your owners?” Leah had called breezily.
The dog stopped whining. Then, he bared his teeth at her. Leah only had a moment to gather her legs up under her before the dog charged.
She ran mightily. The dog was herding her up onto the rocks. Leah scrambled over them in a mad dash for safety, but then, one foot got caught between two boulders. She was thigh deep in water and was unable to run very fast at all. With water swirling all about, she couldn’t bend down to tug her shoe free, so she yanked her foot free from the shoe.
The dog was treading water after her. She had no idea dogs could swim so fast! Running was even more difficult with one shoe on and one shoe off. It was only a matter of time before the dog caught up with her. He nailed her by the hood of her sweatshirt, and was suddenly hauling her with him. Sand and rocks slid beneath her exposed back, but she couldn’t scream. The collar of her shirt had been yanked up so close to her throat, she could barely breathe. She knew her skin was getting scraped up good and raw, but all she could do was flail her arms and legs and try to grab on to anything within arm’s reach. There had been nothing.
By the time the dog had finished dragging her, Leah was close to fainting from lack of air. But, the dog wasn’t finished. She felt him close his jaws around her shoulder; she heard her bones splinter beneath the massive pressure, and she felt a flare of pain explode through her being unlike anything she’d ever experienced in her short life.
“HE’S EATING ME!” her thoughts screamed in her head.
Then, he bit her again, and Leah’s world went black.
Where was she now, and how had she escaped the killer dog on the beach?
Leah sat up slowly and a blanket fell away from her. She rubbed at her eyes and glanced around. It was very gloomy in this room. The only illumination came from some candles and two kerosene lamps that had been left burning for her benefit. She didn’t know this, of course. There were no windows or doors…
Wait. There was a door. A double door, to be exact. It was old fashioned looking, with ornate carvings on it, and cast iron handles. Leah wondered where it led. It was the only entrance or exit she could immediately see in this spooky old place.
She was lying on a couch. It was the old fashioned kind, with crimson upholstery and claw like legs. There were at least four other chairs in the room, too. They were mismatched. One was a wingback chair. Another was a velvet cushioned chair that looked like it belonged in some old granny’s parlor. Another looked like a padded dining room chair; the kind the Dad would sit in at the head of the table. Then there was a velvet beanbag chair. Leah liked that one. Then, there was the wooden rocker with a padded foot stool. There was a tie-on cushion attached to the seat of the rocker. Leah liked that, too. She wondered who all these chairs belonged to.
Her eyes drifted around, taking in other sights. There was a half completed paining on a rickety wooden easel. An electric guitar leaning against the dining room chair, and an open, folded over bag of Cheeto’s stashed beside the bean bag chair. Still, her questions were left unanswered. Where was she?
Maybe all that bad dog stuff had been a dream? Still, how could it be that she was now in some weird, dark, creepy place instead of at Gran and Great Gramp’s house?
It made no sense until she looked down and saw the condition of her sweatshirt. It was tattered, torn, bloodied and dirtied. Instantly, her hand flew up to her shoulder; searching…feeling…
And finding nothing.
There was no evidence that any wolf-dog had bit her whatsoever! Yet, when she prodded the area, she could feel soreness, like there was a big, ugly bruise down there that she couldn’t see.
Leah was immensely puzzled. How could something like that heal up so fast?
Her fingers were also quick to detect that something was missing. Suddenly, her eyes flooded with tears. Her necklace was gone! Stupid dog!
Aunt Star had given her that necklace when she’d flown out to Phoenix for her visit last summer. It was a belated birthday gift, and it meant the world to Leah, especially since Leah admired Aunt Star. She was so pretty. She’d also gotten her mom’s permission to let Aunt Star pierce her ears, and now, she had two little amethyst studs in her ears. They were her birthstone. Her birthday was February 4, and soon, she’d be nine. Leah’s hands flew up to her earlobes. The studs were still there, at least.
Sighing, Leah glanced around her gloomy enclosure again. Then, she tested her weight on trembling legs. Those Cheeto’s left by the bean bag chair looked awfully good, and she was hungry.
She managed to make it off the couch and halfway across the room when she heard a noise. It was coming from overhead. Looking up, she noticed a tunnel for the first time. Then, she saw…
A dog’s snout. Sniffing…..
Then, his head poked through. He glared malevolently at her, baring his teeth and growling. Leah shrieked.
Suddenly, she knew where she was. The wolf dog had brought her home to his hideout!
Leah was afraid to twtich, afraid to breathe. The dog regarded her silently, as if daring her to move. Finally, Leah did move. She had to get out from underneath his fiery gaze.
The dog barked and snarled into the room, filling it with an unholy noise. Leah shrieked again and rolled for the safety of the couch. Only this time, she huddled beneath it. She’d managed to snatch one of the blankets that she’d been wrapped in, and she buried herself in it the best she could, cocooning herself from any danger she could imagine. If you couldn’t see it, it wasn’t there.
Finally, the dog was satisfied, and he stopped his infernal barking. Silence filled the gloomy room once again, only to be disturbed by the occasional, hitching breath of the frightened child hiding beneath the couch.
Thorn licked his lips in satisfaction. He’d feasted on enough fear from that kid in a few minutes to last him a few days….
Too bad he couldn’t jump her. She was tainted goods. Her mortal blood was dying. Immortal shells were only good for temporary jumps.
As for the body he inhabited now? Well, it wasn’t such a bad swap. The mortal shell of a dog wasn’t the best existence, per se, but this particular dog was going to live a very long time. His life was being extended by vampiric plasma. As long as he received his infusions, he’d live indefinitely. It wasn’t the same as a werewolf or vampire body, where there was no mortal blood. The dog’s body was still mortal, and could be killed by mortal means, if anyone thought to do so. But, as long as he received his transfusions, he wouldn’t fall prey to sickness or the ravages of old age.
It wasn’t an entirely horrid situation for a fear demon to be in. As long as no one murdered this dog, and as long as the dog stayed away from traffic, things weren’t too bad.
He just had to make certain his guardians didn’t figure out the secret, which meant that he had to play nice with the two that had been responsible for his bumping in the first place.
Well, that was alright. It wasn’t the first time he’d had dealings with David. It wouldn’t be the last.
“Hello, little one, where are you?”
David entered the sunken ballroom through the double doors that led to the secret passageway where the Boys now had their sleeping lair. Behind him followed Dwayne, Paul and Marko, who were every bit as curious to see how the kid had fared through the day.
There was nothing on the couch except one blanket. Glancing around the room, David could not detect the child’s presence anywhere…at least not by sight. He could smell her, though. She was in the room somewhere.
“She wants to play hide and seek,” Paul said, beginning a random search of the room. Like David, he too could smell the girl. He hoped it wasn’t just a lingering trace he was detecting, and that she had managed to get herself into the upper chamber somehow. Not a good situation, if Thorn found out about it.
Dwayne wasted no time with words. He knew there was only one place the kid could be hiding without Thorn making an unholy raucous, and since he was quiet, it must mean that the girl was….
Under the couch.
“She’s right here, guys,” he said, once his suspicions panned out. There she was, huddled up in the blanket that Marko had given Alex, crammed under the couch. Two sky blue eyes stared out at him with an expression glazed in terror.
“Come on out,” David coaxed her.
The child stared at him wordlessly, but after a moment, she shook her head.
“Come out, little one. No one wants to hurt you, here.”
Once again, she regarded him silently. Then, she burst out in tears. Pitiful wails filled the enclosed space that the child lacked the self control to try to stop.
“Dog!” she cried, “T-the d-dog will get meeeee…”
“No, no. That dog isn’t a problem. You were found and taken away from there…”
“He’s Up There! He found me! He’ll get me if I come out!”
“That’s not the same dog. That’s Thorn, our watch dog. He was just barking because he doesn’t know you. It’s okay. See, if that dog ever tries to come back and hurt you, Thorn will take care of him. You’re safe here…”
This came from Dwayne, who was crouched beside the couch.
“So, you see; its okay. You can come out,” David said.
The child’s sobs quieted, and a few minutes later, she finally braved poking her head out. When no dog came charging at her, she rolled the rest of herself onto the dusty, old, tiled floor. Then, she blinked at looked at the four young men assembled before her. After a few minutes, she narrowed her eyes at David.
“I’ve seen you before, I think,” she told him.
“It’s possible. I’ve been around here quite awhile. Now, let’s get you introduced, shall we? The gentleman that found you last night is Dwayne. He’s right there.”
Dwayne gave the child a small, sad smile. The girl’s mouth opened as though she was about to say something, but soon, David had her distracted.
“This here is Paul, and this is Marko. And I’m David. Now, what’s you’re name?”
“Leah,” she answered simply.
“Good enough. Leah, it is. Well, then, Leah, it looks to me like you need some food. Marko, go get us all some dinner. Paul, Dwayne, why don’t the two of you dig around and see if you can’t find this kid a T-shirt and a hairbrush. That sweatshirt of hers is ready for the dust rag pile.”
“Right-O. Hey, Marko, looks like you’ll be coughing up another T-shirt. Anything the rest of us has would fit her like a tent,” Paul remarked.
“Shit, like mine wouldn’t,” Marko responded, heaving himself into the tunnel that led up….
Up to where Leah supposed that mean old dog was.
“It’s alright if it’s too big. It just has to stay on,” David said.
The two others disappeared to do their assigned tasks, leaving David alone with Leah. The girl had been watching the others, but she had been concentrating on David’s features, trying to remember where she’d seen him. Finally, it came to her.
“You delivered that skanky old skunk to Gramps. I remember you now,” she told him.
David chuckled lightly and lit up a smoke.
“That’s right, I did,” he replied, exhaling his puff.
“Smoking’s bad for you. You’ll get lung cancer.”
“So it says right here on the pack, little girl, but knowing that doesn’t stop me.”
“You could make me sick from second hand smoke…”
“So don’t breathe,” David told the child.
“How am I supposed to not breathe?” Leah asked indignantly.
“You can start by shutting up. This is my house; I’ll smoke if I want to. You don’t like it? Don’t breathe.”
Leah slumped back against the couch cushion and sighed.
“Where am I anyways? When can I go home?” she asked.
Now it was David’s turn to sigh. He had no patience with kids, and this one was not silent like Laddie had been. He knew she could be useful to help shock some of the missing memories back into his eldest fledgling’s head, but he had no idea just how. At this point, maybe it would just be best to let sleeping dogs lie, take the kid up top, chop off her head Highlander style, and toss her into the sea.
But that would be no fun. He wanted to see the missing posters, and he hoped they would flush out bigger prey.
Maybe Michael Emerson would be very upset when he learned his niece had vanished.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 4: Beyond the Sea”]
Chapter 4: Beyond the Sea
Jake Martinez heard the alarm bleat, and moaned. He cracked an eye open. It was 6 a.m. His clock continued its insistent beeping until he smashed his fist upon it.
He felt like shit.
Still, he had to go through the motions of getting ready for the morning, and lying in bed feeling sorry for himself wouldn’t help any. Vague images of the night before shifted through his sleep fogged mind.
Where had he gone last night; and what had happened?
He slid into a pair of blue jeans and pulled out a T-shirt and a hooded sweatshirt to wear. But, when he went to pull the T-shirt on over his head, he was met by instant pain as the cloth slid over the front of his face.
“Oh, crap!” he moaned.
Waves of dizziness poured over him, forcing Jake to take a seat on the edge of his bed. When he was calmed, he looked at his hands. They were normal looking, mostly. Only a few bristly hairs remained. No more claws…for now.
He knew he didn’t have ears on the top of his head anymore, either. Noises registered, and he could hear them with ears that were now situated on either side of his head. The rest of the house was getting ready. His younger twin sisters, Gabriela and Miranda, were beginning their usual tussle over who got to use the bathroom to get ready first. They had both gone out last night with his folks. At thirteen, they still needed supervision at night.
But when they’d been ready to go, he hadn’t been. At fifteen, the shift from human to wolf was an uncertain thing. Hormones affected it. He hadn’t even begun the transformation when his old man had come home from work last night. On hunt nights, his Dad didn’t linger around the office shooting the breeze with co-workers. He got his ass home early to avoid wolfing out in public.
Yet the girls were already sprouting tons of fur, and Gabby already had her ears. Miranda’s eyes were glowing. They were both hungry. Mom had been waiting patiently, telling them..
“Soon. Soon your father will be home and we can go.”
But Jake wasn’t anywhere near ready, even when his parents let themselves go all out wolf. His sisters weren’t going to wait for his slowpoke ass, either. So, his old man had told him to meet them at the clearing in the woods when he was ready.
Too bad he hadn’t. The shift had occurred suddenly, like it was apt to do in teenagers. Jake felt the rush, and then scooted out the back door, licking his new wolf’s chops in anticipation. (Anyone visiting the Martinez home would think the flap in the kitchen door was for pet dogs. It wasn’t…it was the family’s easy access wolf exit. No pawing of door handles required.) He had kept his nose low to the ground, searching for the scent of his pack, but was soon overcome with the need to hunt NOW! The lush winter landscape of the hills and the sparse forest in the hills of Santa Carla rushed beneath his padded paws. He knew to avoid the streets and the public areas…
But the public areas were where the food source was at.
It was still early in the evening when he arrived on the beach. Around him, the smell of prey wafted in the sea breezes. It came from all directions but one; that being the sea. So, he hunkered down below the pier, gazing hungrily out at the sand drifts. Finally, he got lucky. The girl that appeared on the beach and greeted him was small game, but she was game enough. Chasing her down wasn’t hard; nor was dragging her far beneath the pier. But when he bit into her, his mouth exploded in pain. He could feel sparks shoot up around his teeth, singing his tongue, forcing him to let go. With nothing else to do but wonder what had happened and wait for his wounds to heal themselves, he’d hunkered down in the sand beside his intended meal.
Then, HE came. One of those vampires Jake had heard so much about. Before long, he found himself in a challenge for his food; one he felt he might have been able to win had he been able to bite the offending vampire. But alas, Jake was already in too much pain and shock. The vampire was able to throw him off, and a wary standoff had taken place until the police siren sounded.
Jake might have howled to sound out his troubles, but he knew the way Santa Carla worked. His dad had told him that roughly two thirds of the Santa Carla P.D. was werewolves…but they were all off rotation on full moon nights, of course. The police up on the pier were ‘morts’, and were not his friends. There was only one thing left to do, so he turned tail and fled. There was no more hunting for him that night. He ran straight home, scampered in through the door flap, and dashed to his room. He didn’t want his parents or his sisters to come home and see him like this.
It looked like they would anyways. Sighing, Jake finally braved a look in the mirror.
Okay, so it wasn’t as bad as it had been last night. Still, his mouth was reddened and raw, and the inside of it still hurt like hell, too. How was he going to explain this at school?
A knock sounded on his door.
“Who is it?” Jake asked, steeling himself.
“It’s your father. We have to talk.”
The door opened and Jake’s father stepped through the door. He was already dressed for work in one of his sharp looking business suits. No one in Santa Carla would ever guess that the Lt. Mayor was really a werewolf….unless they already knew better. Or, unless they looked closely. The older a werewolf got, the harder it was to regain human form after the full moon. David Martinez appeared to be a middle aged man of Hispanic descent during the day, but at night, things got hairier except during the new moon. However, during the full moon times, even during the day, Jake could see flecks of silver floating around in his father’s brown eyes. He wore sunglasses everywhere during these times. His mother’s eyes didn’t do that, even though she didn’t look much younger. Jake never asked, but maybe his father was really much older than he looked.
“Where were you last night? We waited for a very long time…we were worried. Even the Elder was worried,” his father said. His tone of voice was mixed with concern and that parental sternness that told Jake that his old man was definitely upset and disappointed with him.
Then, he got a look at his son’s face.
“What happened to you?”
“I-I don’t know,” Jake stammered, “I got hungry and distracted, and the next thing I knew, I was down on the beach. I found some prey, but when I bit into her, it burned!”
Talking caused him more pain than he cared to admit, but he did not wish to show this to his father.
“Did you look to see if she was wearing any silver jewelry or fastenings on her clothing before you bit in?”
“She was just wearing a sweatshirt and jeans! I saw nothing!” Jake protested.
His father bent close and examined the injuries.
“Those are silver burns. That’s what happens when you get into close contact with silver. ‘Morts’ like their silver jewelry. You should never bite where they could hide it. We’ve gone over this. Bite the head or the chest; kill the victim, and then rip away the clothing as you eat. That way, you’ll avoid this sort of thing,” he lectured.
Jake nodded. Of course, it made perfect sense.
“I take it you weren’t able to finish off your meal. Tell me, son, and this is very important. Did you kill your victim?”
“I don’t know, Dad. My mouth was fried up so bad; I couldn’t even close it, let alone bite her head. I hid beneath the pier with her and waited to heal so I could finish her off. But, then….This vampire comes out of nowhere and steals my dinner!”
“Vampire? Oh, really?”
“Yeah, a big tall guy with big, tall fangs and a bad attitude. I attacked him, though, and opened up a can of whoop-ass on his back, but I couldn’t chew him up no matter how hard I tried. Then, there were the police sirens….”
His father seemed to genuinely be listening, and Jake felt the first pricks of hope surge through him. Yeah, okay, his old man wasn’t too bad when it came to talking about stuff, but usually he was busy, and sometimes, he could get short tempered. This morning, he wasn’t. Either the hunt had been good last night, or he really believed him.
“No victim is worth going up against vampires and the police, especially when you’re injured. Now, what did this vampire look like?”
“I told you…he was tall with huge fangs and glowing yellowish-orange eyes. And long disgusting fingernails that don’t belong on anything that looks like a human.”
“What else? Hair color? Age? Race?”
“Oh, he was dark haired, and he looked a little older than me, I think, and he might be Latino, but I think he was mixed. His hair was kind of long, too. Oh, and he was wearing a leather jacket. I ripped it up good. And…he had a wolf’s tooth earring that he said he got from killing some werewolf before.”
The more Jake told; the more hopeful he felt that he wouldn’t be spending the next 50 years in some sort of housebound purgatory. His dad seemed awfully interested in this vampire. Telling the story as detailed as possible was worth the pain in his mouth if it kept his old man from remembering that he disobeyed a pack rule. One didn’t go off on their own to hunt unless permission was granted from the Elder. The Elder was the leader of their local pack. He was so damn old; he lived in the woods like a real wolf because he couldn’t regain his human form anymore. That eventually happened to all werewolves.
“The vampire took the prey?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I left her with him. I figured if he wanted her so bad, he could have her and risk getting caught by the cops. Besides, biting her hurt me, so I figured maybe the same thing would happen to him. Justice served.”
“Vampires only have adverse reactions to the silver in photographic chemicals and the silver backing on mirrors. It’s why they can’t see their reflections. If he drained her, silver or not, she’s as good as dead now,” his father explained.
“Well, he looked pretty hungry to me, so I’ll bet he ate her…”
“I’ll be taking your report to the City Council. They need to know about this. Those damn vampires are supposed to stay away from the boardwalk…I take it that’s where you were?”
“Around and about,” Jake replied.
“As for you, I guess you can’t go to school looking like that. Next month, when the moon comes, we’ll be making sure you leave with us. From now on, you don’t hunt alone. Do you understand? The Elder will have to know about this, and I’m sure he’ll have some sage advice for you.”
“And, you’re not to be playing video games while your home today. I suggest you make sure your homework is finished from last night, because I’m sure you’ll have lots of make-up work.”
With that, his father left, and Jake flopped back on his bed and sighed. It could have gone a lot worse, he supposed….
He could have been grounded for life instead of relegated to a day of homework and no video games….and hunt restriction.
But, it beat going to school.
The story made the paper the following morning. The headline that greeted Santa Carla Sentinel subscribers stated: Los Gatos Girl Missing; Feared Drowned.
Gabriel Thompson had gotten a missing child alert sometime past eight o’clock last night. He didn’t know what bothered him more; the fact that a child had vanished, or…
The girl’s name. He knew Leah Emerson; at least he knew of her. Her father, Sam, was Michael’s brother, and one of the young teens that had damn near destroyed all of the Boys. He’d been the one that had launched the arrow right through the heart of his Sire and sent him on a collision course with a plugged in stereo system and about 20,000 volts of electricity.
Even still, Gabe harbored no hard feelings towards Sam Emerson. After all, he was only defending himself. Surely, Dwayne would have killed him if he hadn’t gotten lucky with that bow and arrow. Not to mention, of the three younger teenagers that night, Sam Emerson was the most level headed. The other two; the Frog brothers, had wanted to stake Gabe merely for being a half vampire. Sam had shown no inclination towards such violence. He’d only wanted to protect his family.
When Gabe had first gotten the alert, he and the one other swing shift guard on duty, Tiffany, (the girl he’d bought his ball python from), had taken the alert seriously, of course, but they didn’t suspect the worst. The kid would turn up. Lots of kids went missing for a little while and their parents alerted security. It was different when the APB came from the police.
As far as he and Tiffany could ascertain, the kid was not on the boardwalk. Santa Carla P.D. had even sent two officers down to assist. By the time his swing shift was about to end, the kid still hadn’t been found. Then, Tiffany was dismissed, but he lingered. Alex was working grave that night. She clocked in and he informed her of all that was going on.
At 11:15, the two officers were called away. They told Gabe that some evidence had been found that suggested that the kid may have slipped into the sea. The Coast Guard was being called in. He and Alex were told to check in if they saw something, but otherwise, they were leaving.
With the exception of the arcade, the boardwalk was closed. It was highly unlikely that a lost kid was still hanging around, especially without alerting someone. A total of three security guards and two police officers had combed the area and found no trace of her. Gabe wasn’t clued in about the ‘evidence’ that was found to suggest that little Leah may have fallen into the ocean.
Gabe stuck around for quite awhile, unable to just give up and go home. He couldn’t. After midnight, the patrol cars were gone. The beach was dark and shadowed, and the full moon illuminated the gently swelling waters of the sea. Somewhere out there, the Coast Guard was dragging the area for the body of a child.
He thought about his own disappearance twenty years ago. Months had passed before he was reunited with his family. They had probably given him up for dead, although no one ever told him that. He wondered if the police had searched for him, or if the Coast Guard had patrolled the waves, looking for his sodden, drowned form. Did they even bother to search hard back in the days when missing posters decked the bulletin boards like a decoupage wall? Maybe they didn’t, and that’s why he’d been ‘permitted’ to be missing for so long. This was long before Amber Alerts. Milk carton pictures were about as advanced as it got, and Gabe learned later that his picture had been featured on many. Still, many people didn’t bother to study the back of milk cartons, and ultimately, they wound up in the trash.
The next morning, the newspaper said everything that the pair of cops hadn’t told him. One of Leah’s shoes had been found lodged between two boulders at low tide, but the police speculated that the tide was much higher hours earlier when the girl had been there. Even though the Coast Guard failed to find her body, the police were, at this time; suspecting that the case was a drowning unless other evidence presented itself.
‘Bullshit,’ a quiet voice whispered in his head.
Something wasn’t sitting right, even if he couldn’t deny the facts. He reviewed them in his mind. ‘ Kid is reported missing after she doesn’t return from feeding sea lions. This happens around 6 o’clock to 6:30, but the police aren’t called until 7:30 or so, because Lucy Emerson went out to look for her on her own first before panicking. The fuzz shows up by quarter to eight. At 8:13, I record the police contact to the boardwalk security in the incident report, and then we start looking for Leah.’
He stopped here, and thought. Only two hours or so had gone by since the kid reportedly went skipping out the door, until Gabe himself was notified to search for her on the boardwalk. These, of course were the earliest hours of the evening.
For some reason, his mind reverted back in time twenty years past. He’d been missing all freaking day, wandering around the boardwalk like a vagrant dog. No one had paid him any mind until Star and Dwayne ran into him. What time had that been?
He couldn’t be sure. All he remembered was that the month had been April, and he’d just returned to school after Spring Break. It had been full on night when he’d been discovered, and night came later in April than it did in December. Still, he guessed it was around eight or nine that he’d been found. The boys were still in the mood to goof around, but were getting ready for their nightly head count. Gabe hadn’t known any of that then, but he figured it out later when he learned of their true nature and grew accustomed to their habits. Usually, after they got up, they farted around on the boardwalk or did stupid shit like hang off of bridges while the train passed overhead, or they raced their bikes until later in the evening. They never got serious about hunting until the boardwalk closed, unless they went somewhere else that night.
Regardless of the season, he doubted their habits would change that much. Sure, they’d be awake by six o’clock on a winter’s night, but he highly doubted that they’d be out hunting just yet. No, they probably wouldn’t even be ready for that by eight. Therefore, the one ghost that haunted his mind was starting to fade a bit.
Gabe doubted one of the boys had run across Leah and taken her to the hideout as a ‘pet mortal’. In fact, hadn’t they realized the damage that had been done to him by turning him so young? (Well, turning him at all without finishing the job… When the head vampire at the time of his turning, Max, had died, all half vampires like himself, Star, and Michael reverted back to normal…..if there was any such thing as normal after you’ve had Sire’s blood swimming around in your veins for who knows how long). Gabe would never be normal, and he doubted that Star and Michael were either. So, why would the Boys turn around and do that to a little kid again, knowing what it did to him?
Because Leah was Sam Emerson’s daughter!
Once again, he rebelled at the thought. Yet, a part of him hoped that the child was with them instead of with the sharks at the bottom of the Pacific. After all, the Boys had done him no intentional harm, and his days with them had been among the happiest in his childhood. Unfortunately, he didn’t think Sam Emerson would feel the same way.
He wondered if he should pay the Boys a visit. It had been awhile since he’d done so; a month perhaps. Alex was off the next night, so maybe they could go together. Gabe decided he’d run his thoughts past her and see what she thought. Though he didn’t expect her to understand what he’d been through as a child and how it could relate to what was happening now, she had been on shift last night. Like him, she’d been fervently hoping the girl would be found and had been crushed when the police were called away. Alex was also a firm believer in instinct. And, since she was a half vampire herself, her abilities to mentally link with the Boys was a little stronger than his. Maybe she’d be able to sense if they seemed agitated or secretive.
With one, last disgusted look at the paper, he crumpled it up and made to throw it in the trash. Then, he changed his mind. There was a picture of Leah with the article, and he decided to keep it around. It might come in handy. Something told him that she was more likely to be seen around town than under the sea.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 5: The Fur Flies”]
Chapter 5: The Fur Flies
David Martinez found out that he had a dirty little secret on his hands. The picture of the kid was posted in the newspaper, and so was her story. Feared drowned, at least, not savagely mauled by a strange dog! Still, the facts were that this one had made the news, and his son was responsible for it.
Two days later, no progress had been made on the investigation. Martinez decided to level with the Commissioner. He knew he should, and he knew that the Commissioner would keep any werewolf angle of the investigation out of the spotlight. After all, Commissioner Vic Erickson was a werewolf himself.
Without revealing that his son had been to blame, Martinez requested a special session of certain City Council members. Something needed to be done about those damn vampires.
The session was called after regular City Hall hours concluded. Only those members that were not mortal were informed of it. This way, the floor was free for any sort of discussion. The Commissioner was invited to attend, as well, though he pledged to remain quiet about any possible involvements concerning vampires and Martinez’s son. For the moment, at least, some things were better left unsaid.
Shelby Trammel Frog took her usual seat at the proceeding, and prepared to call the meeting in session. There were eight council members in attendance including herself; nine if she counted the Commissioner. She was curious about his presence as he usually did not attend City Council sessions, but there had been a serious incident in the last couple of days. She vaguely wondered if he had some secret scoop on the investigation that was being left out of the news.
Seated around her were the non-mortal members of the City’s governing heart. David Martinez, the Lt. Mayor, sat rigidly in a chair at her left. There were four other werewolves in the room, including the Commissioner. There were three ghouls. Then, there was Shelby.
Unbeknownst to anyone else in the room, there was a mortal in attendance. Shelby Frog had been exorcised of her fear demon last June. She still wore an amulet around her neck to prevent another fear demon from jumping into her; or to prevent the same one from returning. The amulet had been made by her husband and her brother in law prior to the exorcism. They also wore amulets, as did the rest of both of their families.
Shelby wondered if the amulet kept the exorcism a secret from the other fear demons she worked with. So far, it seemed that no one suspected that she was altered in any way. Still, it was difficult maintaining a ghoul’s eye view of politics, and she found herself looking forward to the end of her term.
The amulet around her neck grew warm with the presences of the other demons in the room. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Then, she glanced at her Lieutenant and made the motion that brought the session in order and gave him control of the floor.
“I have a concern about this investigation that I don’t feel unwarranted bringing up. Some facts have surfaced that Commissioner Erickson will be discussing soon. But, there’s something going on that we cannot ignore any longer. I’ve had too many reports of those damn vampires hanging around the beach and being seen in the vicinity of the boardwalk. Am I alone here?” Martinez opened.
Shelby took in a deep breath. The vampires?
“I’ve heard a couple of scattered reports, but I’ve never seen anything myself,” Councilman Calvert stated. Like Martinez, he was a werewolf.
“I never knew what they looked like to begin with, so frankly, if they’ve been around, I wouldn’t know it. I’m sure they don’t bare their fangs and scare the living daylights out of all the tourists, so no one on the beach or at the boardwalk would know to make a complaint about vampires hanging around,” Councilwoman Pratt said. She was one of the newest members on the board, and was one of the three ghouls present.
“No, Ms. Pratt. Vampires don’t run around baring their fangs at tourists. We know them by their other activities.”
Martinez’s tone was distinctly patronizing.
“What sorts of other activities would vampires be into besides sucking blood?”
“Our local variety is a group of hell raisers. There are four chief members, and though they aren’t supposed to be recruiting any more, one never knows. There could be more of ‘em. Their leader is a guy by the name of..David..uh..”
“Owens,” Shelby interjected.
“Yeah, David Owens, and this guy has been around quite awhile. His birth cert says he was born in 1915. You won’t be seeing pictures of these guys, but Shelby has them pretty well I D’d. I only know the leader’s name.”
“The other guys are Dwayne, Marko and Paul. Dwayne is the only brunette in the group, the others are all blond. They have motorcycles and have been known to ride them in prohibited areas. In the past, about twenty years ago, these guys were almost always on the boardwalk, and almost always causing some minor disturbance or another. They often clashed with a punk gang that the locals called the Surf Nazi’s. Yet, records show that the scuffs they got into were never serious enough to involve the police. None of our local fang gang has ever seen the inside of a Santa Carla jail cell. But, in the summer of ’86, something big did go down between the Boys, their Head, and some locals. This happened up at Old Man Martin’s house. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors…,” Shelby explained.
“Right. I know all that. The head vampire bought a stake. The Boys survived somehow,” Pratt recalled.
“Well, my uncle, when he was in office, drew up an edict to keep the Boys in line, fearing that they were out of control. Several mort’s found out about them, and some serious damage control was needed to explain away the death of Max Irving. My uncle’s edict declared that the Boys were to refrain from gathering all together within city limits in public domain. They were to refrain from hunting from the local populace with the exception of an occasional drunk or vagrant. They were to avoid contact with any of the mortal participants involved in the events of the summer of ’86….”
“And they were to stay off the boardwalk and away from the damn beach,” Martinez spat.
Shelby cleared her throat.
“Actually, that was never part of the original edict. They can be on Beach Boardwalk property; just not assembled as a complete group. In fact, the edict has their number limited to two in a public setting. That means any public setting in Santa Carla, and the edict did not stipulate that they cannot meet up outside of Santa Carla as a whole group, even if it’s right outside the City limits,” she clarified.
“So then, you’re saying that any one particular vampire can prowl the beach at night and pick off surfers and kids at bonfire parties?”
“No. Any one vampire may prowl the beach, but the only thing he’s allowed to pick off is the occasional bum or junkie. The rules are the same for the vamps as they are for you. My uncle made that clear. Santa Carla had to clean up its image some, or people were going to stop coming. Then, we’d all suffer.”
“What vampire report has you so riled?’ Councilman Aldrige asked. Of course, since he was one of the three ghouls, he didn’t have the slightest idea what was ruffling Martinez’s fur so badly.
This was where Commissioner Erickson made a motion. Shelby granted him the floor.
“The child involved in the alleged drowning the other night was the daughter of Sam Emerson; youngest son of Lucy Emerson, who currently owns Video Max. She bought out the local store, and eventually, she bought out Irving’s whole damn chain. But, Lucy Emerson originally started her career at Video Max as a clerk. She was hired by Irving a few weeks before he bought the big one. Her eldest son, Michael, got involved with our fang gang right around the same time, according to reports. He also got involved with Lt. Chelli’s daughter Star, who’d run away from home and was hanging out with the local flavor. At any rate, while Michael and Star get involved with the vamps, Max takes a liking to Lucy and starts dating her. A few weeks later, I guess the whole damn thing went to hell in a hand basket. This Sam Emerson was reportedly responsible for taking down at least one of the vamps in the massacre at Martin’s place. Apparently, he started getting a clue that his brother’s friends and his mother’s boyfriend weren’t exactly normal, so he contacted our local vigilante squad, who was in business even way back then, and this is what caused the showdown.”
Erickson fastened a gaze on Shelby when he mentioned the ‘local vigilante squad’. He knew who she was married to. So did everyone else. But, everyone else in the room also thought they knew why…to keep Edgar Frog and his brother Alan in line.
“So, you’re playing pin the motive on a vampire?” Shelby asked, “I thought the police report clearly indicated that the girl drowned.”
“That’s just the press release, my dear. You should know that. And, for the record, yes, so far, it does look like a drowning. But, Lucy Emerson was very emphatic about stating that her grandchild knew better than to go out on the rocks or into the ocean. Especially at night. I mean, come on, what brain dead eight year old tries to go swimming or rock climbing at night? We’re thinking something chased her there…”
“Like…a vampire?” Councilwoman Wilson asked. She looked hopeful at the thought, since most werewolves and vampires did not get along. Pinning a crime on a vampire was always good sport.
“We think we know which one, too. The Native looking one. A person questioned on the pier reports hearing a strange noise that sounded like screeching brass wings in the air that night. Another young man reports that he saw a tall, long haired, young looking Native American or Latino man in a leather jacket and a pair of jeans on the beach shortly before the kid vanished.”
Suddenly, Shelby’s stomach lurched uncomfortably. She hated remembering anything that had to do with David Owens or her previous rendezvous with him as a ghoul. There’d been several, but the last one had been…
She focused her mind back to one or two times before. The demon inside of her had jumped into David, and then back into her. Shelby now had the knowledge stored in her brain, of the ghouls’ experience in David’s body. There was something not right about this…
“Dwayne Runningwolf…this is the one you speak of. But, their leader has told me that his injuries from that night were so severe, he still has no memory of the incidents up at Old Man Martin’s house. So, if he can’t remember Sam Emerson, what would compel him to do a swipe, chomp and dump on Emerson’s daughter?” she asked.
“Maybe he remembers now,” Erickson growled, “But the facts are plain. Two witnesses, one of whom ID’s him, and the other who hears vampire noises. And, we all know that it wouldn’t be the first time the Boys have snatched a little kid…”
She had to admit, it didn’t sound good. If it was true, then Dwayne had directly disobeyed one of her uncle’s edicts. Shelby knew the Boys were getting a bit more daring since her demon had been exorcised, but surely they wouldn’t be that stupid!
“Well, then, I suppose I’ll be setting up a meeting with Owens,” she sighed.
“Why don’t we all have a little powwow with Runningwolf? Frankly, I’d like to drop his ass in the tank and let him fry….”
“You of all people should know that things aren’t handled like that around here. Werewolves may dislike vampires, but would you be so hell bent if the evidence pointed to one of your own kind?”
Oddly, both the Commissioner and Lt. Martinez squirmed in their seats.
“So, you’re going to question Owens. Maybe I should come along.”
“No offense, Commissioner, but David Owens knows what you are as surely as he knows what I am. He can barely stand me, but we are able to see eye to eye on most issues. However, I can assure you, you’ll get nowhere with him,” Shelby stated.
“So, what does Uncle’s edict say about bad little vampires that break the rules? If we can’t lock them up in the hoosegow until sunrise, what can we do?”
The Commissioner was clearly annoyed with the grey line that separated police work from politics. Yet, in his position, he walked that grey line every day.
“The edict calls for Banishment. Runningwolf, if found guilty, will be required to part from his pack and leave town. And, if his pack can’t bear to see him go it alone, they’ll have to leave with him,” she replied.
Several satisfied smirks followed her parting remark. The werewolves, in particular, liked the sound of that. It would mean more meat for them….
The meeting was adjourned shortly afterwards, with little more accomplished than the usual growling and glowering that accompanied almost all sessions like this.
Commissioner Erickson was a real piece of work, and Shelby hated dealing with him almost as much as she detested dealing with David. She hadn’t talked to David in three months, since things had been relatively calm. Still, sometimes, she heard him stirring around in her mind.
That wasn’t the only thing stirring around inside of her. It was the reason she hated thinking about any of the events that had occurred last summer, even if it had resulted in her own soul’s reclamation of her body. The fear demon had used her like a mortal meat puppet, and David had used her, too. She’d been bitten, fucked, and then chucked back into her own body. But, of course, the fear demon had used her husband, too. ‘It’ had made love to him and conceived of him the children she had now.
But she simply didn’t know who the father of the child she was carrying now was. Worse yet, she suspected that Edgar wondered, too. They rarely discussed baby names together like she remembered that they had with Tyler and Kirsten. Yet, he was never unkind to her. In fact, he peppered her with questions every day, like: ‘How are you feeling? Normal?’
She knew what he meant. Shelby had been bitten by David, and was supposedly subject to his mental maneuverings; a thought that filled her with loathing. Supposedly, though, it didn’t make her a vampire since no blood had been exchanged. Specifically, she did not drink any of his blood. Still, she found herself drinking far more caffeine than her doctor recommended. She slept late on weekends. And strangely, no matter how lethargic she felt during the day, her energy would always resurge after sunset for a little while, at least. Fortunately, her nighttime sleep pattern was unaltered, and though she had a few strange cravings every now and then, she didn’t find that she had an aversion to garlic…
It had been nearly six years since she’d been pregnant, so it was hard to compare symptoms to know if what she was feeling was normal or not. Prenatal vitamins kept her energy levels up some, but she knew she was going to have to lay off the caffeine before too long. It wasn’t good for the baby.
At five and a half months, the fetus within could now kick and be felt. One thing was for certain. The baby was never active during the day. This bothered Shelby to no end, but she kept her fears to herself. In fact, she had kept her entire pregnancy quiet until just recently. Having an extra fifteen pounds on her slight frame meant she could hide the growing lump a bit longer than some sucked up little Nicole Ritchie. Some of her co-workers likely thought she was putting on a little more weight. Though she had finally divulged her condition a couple of weeks ago, she still dressed to hide it. Shelby hated maternity clothes, and it could be hard to find nice, professional work clothes for a pregnant woman of short stature. Hell, it was hard when she wasn’t pregnant! So, for now, she simply bought a couple of suits that were a size too big and generously cut. They wouldn’t last long, but they’d last her long enough to shop for something decent to see her through the rest of her pregnancy.
And, hopefully, her clothing would disguise her condition from David. Regardless of whose child it was, it would be passed off as Edgar’s. If the child was David’s, he could have nothing to do with it. No court of law anywhere would give visitation rights or joint custody to a bloodsucking vampire!
[nextpage title=”Chapter 6: Lights Down, We Drown”]
Chapter 6: Lights Down, We Drown
Sighing deeply, Sam Emerson stared morosely at the tepid cup of coffee in his hand. Santa Carla still sucked, even fifteen years after he’d left. As a kid, he’d never wanted to move to this town from Phoenix in the first place. But choices like that weren’t given over to fourteen year olds to make. He’d gone when Mom and Michael went, voicing the majority of his complaints to his older brother. When Michael got tired of hearing them, he’d turned to his dog, Nanook.
Old Nanook was long gone now, and buried in the pasture, not stuffed in the house somewhere, thank you. At Grandpa’s house, stuffed meant literally…stuffed. Well, preserved or whatever his grandfather did when he created his taxidermy masterpieces out of dead critters. Grandpa had offered Sam a nice, special preservation of his beloved pet when Nanook had finally been put down at the age of 13, from an untreatable brain tumor that made him blind and caused seizures. Sam had blatantly refused. He couldn’t bear to see Nanook looking like he was alive, but knowing that he wasn’t or never would be again.
Now, a morbid thought crossed his mind, one he tried hard to shut out. What if the Coast Guard did find Leah’s body? Would Grandpa offer to stuff her, too?
It was Day Three. His mother had tearfully called him up sometime after midnight the night it happened, and told him everything that happened, apologizing profusely and blaming herself mercilessly. Sam had arrived in Santa Carla the following morning. He’d slept very little the night his mother called, and every night since he’d left. Jennifer, Leah’s mother remained in Los Gatos, by the suggestion of the Santa Carla P.D. They asked her if Leah knew how to call home from payphones or cell phones, even if the call was long distance. Jennifer had informed them that Leah did. Therefore, it was recommended that Jennifer keep a ‘home base’ for Leah in case she tried to call home. They promised her they would keep her informed of all the latest developments, and if Leah was found, she would be contacted immediately, regardless of the time. (Even if her body was all that was found. They hadn’t said that, but it was implied.)
With each day that passed, hope dwindled. The Coast Guard had given up dragging the ocean, stating that Leah’s remains would wash ashore after awhile if she’d drowned. Each morning, the police scoured the beaches and the cliffs surrounding them to see what the tide might have dropped off in the night. So far, nothing.
The rest of the house was asleep, so it seemed. With Grandpa, though, one could never tell. Old folks had strange sleeping habits, and Grandpa had strange habits, period. He had a small bedroom downstairs off of his nasty old taxidermy room, and as far as Sam could tell, he was still in there. Probably reading his TV Guide. The old codge still didn’t have a TV; claimed he couldn’t stand the racket. But, he liked to read the TV Guide, and had said long ago that if he read the TV Guide, he didn’t need a TV. Mom kept a television set upstairs now, for herself. She even had cable.
Sam dumped the rest of his coffee in the sink, and glanced at the little digital clock on the coffeemaker. It was nearly eight in the morning. Running a hand through his messy hair, he decided that it was time to shower and get ready for the day. Get ready to do what…wait some more? He needed routine, though. Brooding was getting him nowhere.
Rummaging through a hastily packed duffel bag, Sam pulled out some clean clothes to change into once he was upstairs in his old room. His mother’s door was cracked shut; she was still in bed. No wonder, she’d been up ‘til one o’clock in the morning keeping a useless vigil at the phone. Noting this, Sam quietly clicked his own bedroom door shut. If he was going to get through another day like yesterday, he was definitely in need of some help.
Having the police sniffing around made Sam nervous; especially since he had an illegal substance in his luggage. Carefully, he spilled some cocaine out of the tiny Ziplock baggie onto a mirror he’d packed. Then, he used a credit card to line it up, and a rolled up dollar bill to snort it with. Afterwards, he carefully packed his stash away so no one would accidentally discover it. His eyes watered a bit, and he sniffled, but already, the drugs in his system were perking him up faster than the coffee had. At least for now. In a couple of hours, he’d need to refresh himself.
If he was at home, and circumstances weren’t what they were, Sam would be having a serious mental conversation with himself. He’d been in and out of rehab for the last 6 years. He knew he needed help. Yet, right now, any guilt about his drug use was a moot point. He needed to feel numb. His mom was a mess, Michael wasn’t here to mop her up, and Grandpa was nuttier than a squirrel’s breakfast. In addition to worrying about his daughter, he was now the man of the house, even if the promotion was temporary. Sam couldn’t cope with the demands without a boost that would take away the stress and replace it with nothingness. He wasn’t Michael.
The phone rang after he’d just returned from the bathroom, toweling off his damp hair. There was an extension in his room now, and one in his mother’s in addition to the one downstairs. Sam nearly jumped out of his skin. A lead?
He snapped the phone off the receiver on the second ring.
“Hello, is this Sam Emerson?”
“Speaking. Who is this?”
“I figured you might be in town. Listen, I apologize about what’s happened to your little girl, but we’ve gotta meet. There’s more going on than the police are saying…”
“Who is this?” Sam repeated.
“You don’t recognize me? It’s Edgar, for Christ’s sake! Have you been gone that long?””
“Edgar! Right. Now I recognize your voice. Sorry, it’s been an age.”
“Yeah, it has. But, this is important, man. We can shoot the breeze later. I got some shit to fill you in on. Can you get away for a little while?”
“Yeah. I’ll just notify the P.D. to call me on my cell phone if they need to get in touch with me. What time do you want to meet?”
“Any time. You know where to find us.”
Sam wasn’t able to pull himself away from the house until after 5 o’clock that night. The next time the phone rang, it had been some newspaper wanting a human interest story. His mom had picked up the phone that time and had fallen apart almost immediately after politely telling the reporter to go to hell. Sam felt bad about leaving her in a state, and when she was finally calmed down, he let her know he was going to do some private sniffing around on his own. She hadn’t objected.
The comic book shop had seen some minor changes since the last time Sam had visited it. The whole front of it was enclosed with glass, to help cut down on shoplifting. Edgar and Alan had obviously spent some money remodeling, yet the store still retained its older charm…
If charm was what you could call it. Mysterious atmosphere was more like it.
“I’m glad you finally showed up,” Edgar told him, appearing suddenly from behind a tall display shelf lined with comics. Just like the old days…
“Sorry. I had to take care of my mom. She’s a bit of a wreck, you know,” Sam defended.
“No problem. I totally understand.”
Oddly enough, it honestly sounded like Edgar did understand.
“We’ve learned some shit that will blow your socks off,” Alan said. He had just finished assisting a customer, and was now joining the conversation.
“Does it have anything to do with Leah’s disappearance?”
“It could. We don’t know yet, but we intend to find out. On our own, just the way we like it. The cops have pretty much cleared out of the area. The Coast Guard only patrols the beach in the morning…so now’s the perfect time to do some investigating,” Edgar replied. His face was set in that grim determination that Sam remembered so well.
Edgar turned and motioned to a boy that looked to be about Leah’s age. He was perched on a stool near the cash register, flipping through a Game Informer magazine. Beside him on the counter, a Nintendo DS sat idle.
“Tyler, be a sport and watch the shop for Uncle Alan and me. Let me know if any customers come in.”
“Okay, Dad,” the boy agreed.
Edgar then ushered the way into the back section of the store, where the brothers kept all of their vampire hunting paraphernalia. Apparently, they were just as gung ho about nailing vampires as they’d been before, even though all the local vampires were dead. Did Sam doubt they wouldn’t be?
“I have an inside source that tells me that your daughter may have been nailed by a vampire,” Edgar told him matter of factly.
“You’re shitting me, right? We killed all of them,” Sam hissed, feeling a flush creep into his cheeks. If there was one thing he didn’t like to be reminded of, it was that summer twenty years ago, when he’d learned that vampires were real. He also learned that they died in some pretty messy, but awesome ways…
“I wish that were true,” Alan replied grimly.
C’mon. Are you guys smoking crack or something? There’s no way any of them could have lived through what we did. The one I nailed with my Grandpa’s bow and arrow blew to pieces in the living room, in case you don’t remember cleaning him up that night….”
“Yeah, we know. We were there. How surprised do you think we were to find out that Twisted Sister shot right back up out of the ground, even after his baptized and liquefied guts blew your plumbing all to hell?”
“Your saying that they’re all alive…even the one we staked in the cave and the one that tried to kill my brother?”
“All of ‘em. Except the Head Vampire. Sucks for him that the stake drove right through him and sent him into a burning fireplace instead of a plugged in stereo. Anyways, he’s history. The others aren’t,” Alan explained.
“Well, I don’t get it. You guys told me that if the Head Vampire bought it, all the other vampires would be toast, and the half vampires would revert to normal. Michael, Star and the kid all went back to normal. How come these guys aren’t dead?” Sam asked. His eyes were narrowed almost as though he was annoyed with the two vampire hunters.
“There’s so much conflicting information on vampires with all the different cultural myths, that it can be confusing. Simply put, we were wrong. Yeah, the half bloodsuckers returned to normal, but it didn’t necessarily spell curtains for the other guys. Especially since we all made a few other critical errors when assessing the aftermath,” Edgar stated.
“Bone antlers don’t count as wooden stakes. The vampire that fought your brother was therefore only wounded. He lost enough dead blood to black out, but not enough to mean lights out for good. Then, there was Twisted Sister. I’m still having trouble with this one, because Alan and I saw what happened to him after your dog shoved him in that tub full of Holy water. But, apparently, Holy water is not a permanent means of death, either, especially if there’s any sort of intact remains left behind. In his case, there was. Your mom passed out when she saw his bones bobbing in the bathtub…”
“Yeah, I remember. And she didn’t totally pass out. She just got real queasy and had to go to bed. Anyways, what about the one I nailed? There was nothing ‘intact’ about him,” Sam argued.
“Well, first,” Alan said, “We’ve carefully reviewed the weapons inventory we had that night. Your grandfather’s arrows were wood….but, they were tipped with either bone or flint arrowheads, which is no better at killing a vamp than antlers are. Chances are, Tonto was wounded and stunned, but he would have survived the shot…if it hadn’t been for that lucky stereo. Still, here’s where we made our other critical mistake,” Alan said.
“We didn’t decapitate them and burn the bodies. We buried them, where even the sunlight couldn’t get to them. Underground, weakened vampires can regenerate. We fucked up,” Edgar demurred.
“Yeah, we should have just chucked all the bodies out in the pasture and let the sunlight take care of them. That would have finished them, with or without their heads,” Alan finished.
Sam gazed from one brother to the other in silent contemplation.
“Guys, I don’t know what this has to do with Leah, but using her disappearance as a vampire hunting excuse is sick. I’m not up for it.”
“We don’t have to hunt them. We know where they are more or less. We’ve seen a couple of them…what’s his face; David and Twisted Sister. The others are around, we’ve had it confirmed. So, we don’t need to hunt them. We just need to poke around and see if there’s any evidence that might suggest one of the vampires saw her and nabbed her. You should know by now that we know what to look for,” Edgar said.
“What if we get out there and find out it’s a big, fucking waste of time?” Sam questioned.
“Do you believe your kid just drowned?” Edgar asked.
“No…I don’t know…”
“If you have any remote spark of hope for her, you’ll come with us. Only you can search for her the way it ought to be done. You’re her dad. Even if you think we’re full of shit, would you rest easy knowing you left even one stone unturned?”
Sam didn’t have to think about that. Of course, the answer was no.
The shop closed for the night at ten. Sam made sure he was good and tweaked before setting out with the Frog Brothers for any sort of vampire hunting adventure. He’d stashed enough blow in his glove box for one good toot, and he retrieved it and used the shop’s washroom to line up and snort. He wasn’t stupid enough to be caught carrying any on his person in case they encountered any cops. He also put on the dark sweatshirt that the brothers had loaned him for the night. Edgar made a quick trip to drop his son off at his house, and then returned. Alan assembled the weapons.
They only took enough gear to comfortably carry. The brothers were armed with stakes, of course, and a water pistol containing Holy water apiece. They also equipped Sam. He felt sort of stupid as a grown man carrying shit like this out onto the beach, but then again, right now, he didn’t feel much of anything. Once it was ascertained that they all had working flashlights with fresh batteries, they were ready to go.
The morning had started out crisp and clear, but by early evening, a storm system blew in. Now, the skies were completely covered in billowy, non-descript charcoal shadows that blotted out the stars and the waxing moon. As they trudged out of the shop; down the steps of the boardwalk, and out onto the beach, a light drizzle began to fall. The ever burning lights of the midway provided enough illumination for them to make their way without switching on their flashlights for part of the distance. The remaining quarter of a mile they walked in darkness, with only the black, hulking framework of the pier to serve as their guide. The closer they got; the more light they had to see by, thanks to the streetlights positioned on the paved surface of the wharf. There were also a few restaurants that hadn’t closed for the night up there. Still, the light was not meant to shine downwards. Even then, no one dared to turn on their flashlights. Not yet.
“I’m thinking the shoe was found somewhere around here. It had to be in a spot the cops could find just by scouring the ground,” Edgar said, indicating an area of rocks and boulders close to the water’s edge. The area was not quite beneath the pier.
“There’s no way to know for sure,” Alan replied.
“Yeah, well it hardly matters. We’re not here to look for a shoe that’s already been found. Let’s go in.”
Sam shivered and it wasn’t completely because of the cold, damp, drizzle.
Once beneath the framework, they switched on the flashlights. Three beams of white light bounced from piling to piling, and then down on the ground. They were searching first for any signs of clear and present danger, like cops….or flesh eaters. Instead, they encountered the massive bulks of some reclining sea lions, using the framework as a place to hang out. Most of them slid off the woodwork and plopped into the water. A few less skittish ones regarded them with big, brown unreadable eyes, but stayed put.
The sea lions were lounging on the framework out over the water. The men went the opposite direction; beneath the pier but away from the shoreline. There was plenty of dry land beneath the wharf, but the ground slanted upwards. The farther up the beach they went, the lower the clearance was between the ground and the bottom of the pier. Evidence of vagrancy could be found. A few tatters of a plaid blanket, empty bottles of booze, and the remnants of some pitiful campfires littered the sand. Tonight, it was likely that even more bums would come crawling beneath the pier for shelter to escape the elements….but usually, they wouldn’t show up until the liquor stores closed.
“Some guys never learn,” Edgar spat, as he swerved to avoid a propped form sitting wrapped against one of the cement pilings. So far, this whino was the only person they’d encountered on their search. His gangly legs were stretched out in front of him, and Edgar almost hadn’t seen them. Fortunately, the man was fast asleep.
“Yeah. He’ll be easy pickins’,” Alan agreed.
The bum was conked out just where the space started to get cramped. Sitting as he was, though, he had no problems. Right now, they were still barely beneath the pier, but with their flashlights shining inwards, they couldn’t be seen by anyone on the beach. If this bum hadn’t been discovered by the cops, where he was still in plain sight of any patrols, it was proof to Sam that the patrols hadn’t been looking for his daughter tonight.
Edgar motioned for the group to follow him in.
“Any vamp putting the bite on someone would probably do it around here. As a rule, they don’t like running water, although I’ve since learned that it’s not deadly to them. It’s more like garlic…an allergy. And, I don’t know that sea water counts as running water, since it’s salt, but it’s a good shot that no bloodsucker is gonna want to be standing knee deep in water while feeding,” he explained, “But, since the clearance gets lower the higher we go, only a midget vampire would go any higher. At least he’d still be able to stand upright here.”
The others nodded. The logic made sense. Still, their flashlight beams uncovered nothing but ghostly white looking cement pilings, sand, and boulders….
Suddenly, Sam’s flashlight played over one of the cement pilings. There were red streaks on it….
It looked like blood.
Alan’s flashlight beam met Sam’s, and they leveled a gaze at each other. Then, they heard Edgar call:
“Guys, over here!”
Deeper inside, and farther up, where Edgar hadn’t thought a vampire would go; his flashlight had also uncovered something. There was dried blood spattered on a boulder. Then, he looked into the slightly damp sand near the boulder and saw some shreds of cloth.
Alan and Sam scrambled through the sand, trying to kick it out of their shoes as they ran.
“Ah, God, what’s that smell?” Sam asked as a waft of foul air suddenly blew out around him. He then stared down at what Edgar was regarding; his mind numb with shock.
Another gust of wind blew under the pier, stirring up that God Awful smell. It reminded Sam of when they’d encountered the odor of the undead in the cavern, yet it was different. Mixed in was a feral scent; yet something familiar, too.
Sam knew dog piss when he smelled it. He remembered cleaning tons of towels in Nanook’s final days, when his companion hadn’t been able to get himself outside in time, and had lots of accidents. Only this was worse than dog piss…it was twenty times worse, even, than the piss of a sick dog!
But, it had the same fearful scent to it. If Nanook hadn’t been able to communicate his wants and needs to his family verbally, he found other, instinctual ways. Sam had known Nanook was very sick, and in his final days, he sensed fear in his pet, too. He’d smelled it. He had no choice but to have the vet release Nanook from his suffering.
Sam wiped the memories from his mind. It was almost like Nanook was trying to tell him something…
“Ack! There it is again! It’s not a vampire, I’m pretty sure,” Alan muttered, fanning his nose.
“No. It’s werewolf,” Edgar confirmed.
A werewolf that had obviously had a bite to eat under the pier.
Sam glanced around nervously. Whatever it was that left the scent might still be there. Almost as if he could read his mind, Edgar turned to him.
“Don’t worry. The moon’s not full tonight,” he said, “the Wolfman won’t be out.”
“Yeah it was full a few nights ago. I’m pretty sure it was the night Leah went missing. I’ll check the charts to be sure,” Alan said.
Sam stared at the gore streaked boulder. Then, he knelt down, fighting the urge to vomit up the rising bile in his throat. He didn’t have any fancy equipment like the guys on CSI. The Frog brothers didn’t either. There was no way for them to type the blood that had congealed and dried on the rocks. The tatters of material left behind appeared to be a grayish-blue where they weren’t spotted crimson. It was impossible to know if it was tatters of Leah’s clothing. There was one thing he saw in all of the mess that sent his heart into spasms of distress despite all the cocaine he’d snorted.
Cemented into the dried blood on the boulder were a few hairs. The ends that stuck out of the congealed clot and wavered in the draft were blond; the exact honey blond shade of Leah’s hair.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 7: Remember the Reaper”]
Chapter 7: Remember the Reaper
The threesome made the walk back to the shop in relative silence. It appeared that their initial questions were answered, at least. Likely, Leah hadn’t drowned. Nor, had she been sucked dry by a vampire. Instead, it looked like she was werewolf meat.
Sam looked grim as Edgar keyed open the shop doors. He looked half dead, to be exact. But, Edgar supposed he’d feel the same way if he’d been down beneath the pier examining the only mortal remains left of his child. Neither Edgar nor Alan knew just what to say to their estranged friend of their adolescent years.
They unloaded their gear in the back room in a thick silence. Alan browsed the titles of a couple of books on a bookshelf stored back there, and pulled out a copy of Poor Richard’s Almanac. Sam supposed this was the reference he’d meant when he stated that he’d ‘check the charts.’ Edgar led the way out of the room, followed by his brother, then followed by Sam. Suddenly, Edgar stopped short, and Alan and Sam nearly ran into him and into each other.
“What the hell are you doing here? We’re closed for the night, can’t you read the sign?” he demanded.
“The sign says ‘closed’, but the door was open. Rather contradictory, don’t you think?”
“It wasn’t open,” Edgar contradicted.
“It was unlocked. Same difference.”
Sam couldn’t see into the interior of the shop with both Edgar and Alan blocking his view. There was nothing wrong with his hearing, though. He recognized that creepy voice, even if he’d heard it for just a few nightmarish moments in his life.
“Yeah, well we’re heading home. It’s been a long fucking day for us ‘mort’s’, and some of us sleep at night,” Alan stated.
“That’s alright. I won’t be taking up much of your time, boys. I’d come back tomorrow, but I’ve been waiting around here for awhile, now. I’m starting to get awfully hungry, too, so I promise I’ll keep it short…”
The voice was edged with sarcasm and laced with innuendo that Sam understood too well. The Frog brothers were right. The vampire Michael fought and tossed on the antlers had survived his ordeal. He was standing in the shop right now. Sam’s skin crawled with revulsion and dread.
“You don’t scare me. So, what do you want besides six good, red pints?” Edgar quipped.
“Information, actually. What do you boys know about werewolves?” David replied, brushing off Edgar’s sarcasm in favor of getting to the point.
“Enough to know that out of the three of us here, you’re the only one that doesn’t have to worry about being a full moon Scooby Snack. Why do you care?” Alan fired.
Sam realized his friend was bluffing. He was trying to fool the vampire into thinking that he wasn’t there. Sam knew to keep his mouth shut at this point. He didn’t dare move. All the comics he remembered reading as a teenager said that vampires had especially keen senses. If he withdrew into the shadows of the back room to conceal himself, the vampire would probably hear him.
What about smell? He did his best to stifle his fears. After all, this particular vampire had been out to get Michael, not him, right?
“I care about an amazing number of things, if it’s any business of yours. I especially care if I smell werewolf scat near my place of residence. Maybe you wouldn’t be able to smell it, but I guarantee you, after one swig of my blood, you’d smell it and lots of other things too….”
Then, the vampire chuckled, as if he was amused at his own wit. Seconds later, he stopped.
“El Paso, as they say in Texas. I ain’t drinkin’ vampire blood, but thanks for the offer, pal,” Edgar sniffed.
“I wasn’t offering. I’d stake myself before allowing either of you into my pack. But, you’re really trying my patience. I’m only here to get some information, and here you boys are hassling me.”
“You’re full of shit. What do you know about the disappearance of Leah Emerson?” Alan fired.
“I’ll tell you what I know. Zilch, except for the fact that one of my boys is being fingered for it, and he had nothing to do with it. From what I understand, the Underground Law Enforcement isn’t even willing to consider any other suspect, and that leads me to one conclusion. It’s either werewolves or ghouls that did in with the kid, and since ghouls don’t eat little girls; that means the dogs are trying to bury a bone.”
Edgar and Alan both relaxed a bit, but they did not relinquish their guard any.
“She sure the hell didn’t drown,” Edgar muttered.
“I’ve got some books in the back on werewolf stuff. I’m not sure how much good it will do you….,” Alan trailed.
“What I’d like to know is if the books contain anything specific on preventing someone who’s been bit from becoming a werewolf…or what sort of things could be expected if blood was exchanged through the bite of a werewolf to another immortal. Why you’re back there checking your stock, why don’t you say ‘hi’ to Sam for me. I know he’s behind you…”
Alan slowly backed into the weapons room, shooting Sam a sympathetic glance. Then, he set about checking their shelves for anything werewolf related.
“Why would you care about any of that?” Edgar asked with his eyes narrowed.
“This won’t go down without a fight. One of my boys has never faced a werewolf up close and personal. He also tends to be the most impulsive. I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up getting bit in the ass…so I want to make sure he doesn’t start howling at the next full moon….”
Edgar grunted and muttered something under his breath that sounded like ‘so stake him and spare him the trouble,’ but Sam couldn’t be sure.
Alan returned with his arms laden with books. Sam grabbed a couple from the top of the stack to prevent them from slipping to the floor. Then, he grimly followed his friend into the main enclosure of the shop, where the vampire waited.
If the Santa Carla Public Library was short on books about lycanthropes, it was because the Frog brothers owned them all. Between the two of them, Sam and Alan carried at least a dozen books, which they stacked on the counter by the cash register. There were even two fictional works, which David found amusing.
“The best authors spend a great deal of time researching their subject matter. Don’t laugh,” Edgar told him soberly.
David fastened his icy gaze on Sam, who was now perched on the seat that Edgar’s son had been occupying earlier.
“Well, then. Which would you recommend?” he asked him, never breaking his calculating stare.
“Any of these books that could tell me the most painful and permanent means of killing a werewolf would be my choice,” Sam answered quietly.
“Sounds like my choice for good bedtime reading, too. It seems we agree,” David told him.
“Must be kind of hard for a bloodsucker to read a bedtime story while hanging upside down…’ Edgar muttered again in a voice that was barely audible.
“You’re just full of them tonight, aren’t you?” David cracked.
“Look, I told you. Maybe it’s early for you, but it’s late for us. We’ve been here all day, and we’re tired. Pick your books already,” Alan prompted.
David said nothing, but he casually glanced through the books, peeking between the covers of a few of them.
“Pick this one. It’s got a little bit of everything,” Edgar suggested, indicating a medium sized volume, “And don’t bother with this one. It’s packed with all kinds of werewolf myth origin crap that will bore the shit out of you. This book here is another good pick. The author actually treats the subject matter like its real and not a myth, but he tends to get long winded. And, if you’re looking for something that might protect your bloodsucking buddy, this might be a good choice. It’s not just about werewolves. Sometimes, having a reference right there that compares the similarities and the differences between various entities is a help. This book is kind of like that.”
David selected the three recommended books and favored the Frog brothers with a dry smile.
“See, was that so hard?” he asked.
“Don’t let the door hit you where the wolf should have bit you,” Alan replied caustically.
“Say ‘hi’ to Michelle for me.”
Alan could barely mask his fury. Sam had no idea what that last exchange was about, but at this point, he was too tired and upset to care. His last toot of coke had worn off some time ago, and he was starting to feel dragged.
David’s unsettling gaze fell on Sam one last time. One corner of his lip twitched up in something that could have been a smile. Then, he nodded, turned, and strolled out of the store with a casual air of cool confidence.
‘Two Frogs down and another to go tomorrow night,’ David thought to himself as he straddled his bike.
He’d shown up at the shop right at closing, knowing that the brothers would still be inside, counting out the till and straightening out the racks of comics before they went to their respective homes. He’d arrived a few minutes too late, and had found no one inside. Then, he had sighted three distant figures making their way down the beach, towards the pier. At the time, he hadn’t known that Sam Emerson was the third member of the expedition, but he knew the Frog brothers forms. He knew the way they walked; Edgar with that cocky gait; and Alan with a more casual shuffle…unless he was agitated. Then, he got stiff as a board.
He was going to have to do something about Shelby’s husband, eventually. That mouth of his really needed to be ripped off of his face. Even worse, he was one of the few mortals that had learned to block most mental maneuverings. Alan Frog was obviously the more suggestible of the two of them, and alone, he was actually rather easy to work with.
Then, there had been Sam Emerson. David had watched as the threesome returned to the shop about an hour and a half later. He hadn’t recognized the younger Emerson brother by sight as much as he had by scent.
Oh, how that kid had changed. Well, he supposed all kids did, with the exception of the Frog brothers, who just simply evolved. David hadn’t spent much time in the company of Sam Emerson twenty years ago; at least not personally. His first real glimpse of the kid had come at Michael’s house the night of their last confrontation. He hadn’t been thinking too much about the boy whose ankle he’d grabbed in the cave after Marko had been staked. Now, of course, he knew it had been Sam’s, but back then, he had been in a blind blood rage, further complicated by the burn that he’d gotten when his arm had gotten dragged into a beam of sunlight.
David had watched as Sam had struggled to wake Michael after Dwayne had kicked him in the face while swinging from the chandelier after they’d all flown in through the fire place. Then, he watched the struggle ensue between this scrappy, puny mortal, and Dwayne. He had to admit, the kid had balls. He’d kept his cool; even more so than Michael had. Quite impressive for a pubescent brat.
His more intimate knowledge of Sam Emerson came from the mind of his older brother, Michael. In Michael’s mind, Sam was the All American Perfect Kid. Despite having something of an inferiority complex to his younger brother, Michael still loved him dearly. Most of the stuff Sam did that annoyed Michael didn’t really annoy him much at all. He just pretended to be annoyed because older brothers were supposed to be. It was clear to David that Michael didn’t want the pack anywhere near his kid brother. Too bad Max had other ideas.
Sam Emerson today was a shell of the boy he’d been. David knew that the loss of a child weighed heavily on his mind, yet other issues had been taking their toll on him long before Leah went missing. Sam still looked young. He was one of those people that would stay young looking until they woke up one day and were suddenly old. His taste in clothing had settled down considerably. He wore a nice Rolex watch, too. The punk had money. After seeing so many mental pictures of young Sam in Michael’s mind wearing such bright, garish clothes, his wardrobe change alone had made him difficult to identify by any other means but scent.
When David scanned his mind, he was rather surprised to find a mental framework that wasn’t unlike Michael’s had been. Maybe they didn’t look too much alike on the surface, but beneath the skin, they had much more in common than the same parents. Apparently, Sam compared himself to his older brother and felt that he came up short. Interesting…
But not. Somewhere beneath that cocaine induced, grief enhanced catatonia was a calculating little puke that had blown his eldest Childes’ thoughts into a scattered array of broken glass. He’d stolen Dwayne’s memories the night he’d lobbed that arrow through his chest and sent him sprawling into that damn stereo. Dwayne’s recollections of the past had more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese, and he was still unable to remember the events that had happened at Michael’s house twenty years ago unless he was tanked on a good dose of Sire’s blood. Soon enough, though, he’d forget again…
The thought made David shake with rage. Grief of no grief, he’d wanted to yank Sam Emerson’s head right off his shoulders and scramble his brains around a bit more than he was currently scrambling them himself. Yet, David had developed plenty of restraint. He could wait. How fortunate the little bastard had come to town. He hadn’t realized the extent of his anger towards the younger of the two Emerson’s until tonight. Up till then, he’d focused his rage primarily on Michael and Star.
For now, David felt content that fate was finally lining things up properly. The Frog brothers had admitted without saying that they felt that werewolves were responsible for Leah’s disappearance. (He’d read that in Alan’s thoughts). He could manipulate that fact, in addition to what else he uncovered in these books, to clear Dwayne of any wrongdoing. He had a lot of reading to do between now and the time he was scheduled to meet with Shelby tomorrow night. Shelby had contacted him earlier that evening and told him of the City Council meeting that had been held the night before, and what had come of it. The bastards were trying to blame Dwayne. Someone had seen him on the beach that night, and David suspected he knew who it was….or at least what it was. Somewhere in town, there was a werewolf with a big, burned mouth.
Though David still wished Dwayne had turned his back and walked away, the thought of the town filling up with more werewolves because Leah Emerson was allowed to roam free was not a cheery thought. Dwayne had done what he had to do, and now it was up to David to protect his Childe.
He had to do so without anyone suspecting that they actually did have the kid.
Eventually, only Sam Emerson would be permitted to know the truth, David decided. Then, he’d take that secret with him to his grave. Maybe he’d toss the kid in with him as an added bonus.
David returned to the hideout with the books, only to be confronted with a surprise. Sitting in the sunken ballroom were Laddie and Alex. Apparently, those two had just decided to show up unannounced, unless Alex had called Paul on his cell phone and let him know they were coming…
But he doubted it. Paul would have made excuses as to why the two of them should stay away for now. He could be reckless and impulsive, but Paul wasn’t stupid by any stretch.
The kid was using the small parlor table in the room as a surface on which to color some pictures. Dwayne had sacrificed one of his sketch pads to her, and a couple of pencils, too. After a hunt the night before, he’d tossed her a pack of color crayons. Apparently, the girl was a budding artist. She loved to draw horses. For an eight year old, her drawings weren’t half bad.
Paul had taken some of his own money and gone to a 24 hour Wal-Mart. There, he’d bought the kid another sweatshirt, a pair of sweatpants to match, a long sleeved T-shirt, a package of socks, a package of girl’s undergarments, and a pair of shoes. He’d also grabbed up a toothbrush and her own hairbrush. Leave it to Paul to think of something like this…he’d spent a couple of stints in juvenile hall and a period of time in a boys’ group home as a mortal teenager. He knew how important having a few essentials was.
David supposed he should offer to split the cost of the items with him, since Dwayne couldn’t. The $1800 dollars Dwayne had earned over the summer by selling his painting of Thorn on the beach was pretty well spent. So far, though, Paul hadn’t requested any donations from his Sire or from the only pack brother he knew that had a regular income besides himself. He seemed to want to do it out of the goodness of his heart.
It was always Paul and Dwayne taking care of the young ones, he thought. They’d been Laddie’s primary male role models as well, although Star had seen to most of his mothering. David simply had little patience with kids. He’d grown up an only child, and had never spent much time around them. Marko was similarly awkward around kids. He’d been the only son; his only other sibling was a sister who had been two years younger. Marko didn’t remember spending any more time around small children in his life than David had.
Dwayne was a natural big brother, since he’d been the eldest of six other siblings. Often, his mother had left him in charge of their care when she worked. Though Paul had grown up as an only child, he’d spent his childhood wishing for a sibling to talk to. In the group home, he’d found that some of the younger boys there looked up to him. He got to play big brother for real and decided he liked it.
Still, this girl was no Laddie. It was plainly obvious, by her second night in the cave, that she truly was the spawn of Sam Emerson….at least the Sam Emerson David had encountered twenty years ago. She talked too much and she never shut up! Mostly, it was about stupid little girl stuff, but sometimes, David would prick his attention towards her inexhaustible drabble if something about her Daddy came up. Or about Uncle Mike and Aunt Star…
David kept his book stash concealed for the moment. Then, he eyeballed the two unexpected guests sitting on the couch. Alex’s expression was neutral, but Laddie looked pissed. He had obviously gotten finished with throwing a very un-Laddie like fit.
“I see you’ve met our guest. Have you been properly introduced?” David asked the two youngest members of his pack.
“Yeah. Dwayne told me what happened. What the fuck? Why couldn’t someone tell me? I’ve spent countless hours combing the boardwalk looking for her, when you’ve had her all along….” Gabe sputtered. He eyed David head on and didn’t avert his gaze.
“I’m not asking you to agree with my decisions. The day you become head of your own pack, you may understand why things are the way they are. Until then, I expect you to keep your mouth shut,” David chastised.
Alex cleared her throat nervously, and David fastened his intense gaze upon her.
“What is going on, exactly?” she asked.
“Little pitchers have big ears. In about 25 days, they’ll be very big. Now isn’t the time to discuss it,” he told her.
The two on the couch exchanged glances. They had only been told an extremely watered down version of the events surrounding Leah’s discovery due to the rated G audience in the room. Suddenly, the idea of a wild dog attack by an animal that looked sick made sense. Laddie looked sick to his stomach.
“Have you turned her?” he asked.
“How can we? There’s no telling what we’d get,” Marko replied from his beanbag chair.
“Tonight isn’t a night for questions. It’s a night for learning answers. So is tomorrow. I’ll have a better grasp on the situation by then, hopefully. Not a word to anyone, you two…” David warned.
The two mortal (or at least, half mortal) members of the pack left a short time later. Laddie still looked mad, but schooled. David trusted that he wouldn’t spill his guts. There was no other choice. Of course, David realized that this was a sensitive situation for him to confront, but if there was ever a time for Laddie to prove his loyalty to the pack, now was it. The others would then be left to judge how much influence Star really had over him as a youngster.
Star’s name left a bad taste in David’s mouth. She’d gone traitor. Time would provide a way to deal with her mutiny. He only hoped he wouldn’t have a similar axe to grind with Laddie.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 8: Keeping Secrets”]
Chapter 8: Keeping Secrets
Shelby Frog stood outside of her government-issue Town and Country, staring at the broad expanse of sea and sky. Each night would be a little longer than the next for another week or so. After the solstice, the days would gradually get longer again. It was the same repetition year after year, of course, and Shelby wondered how long she would actually be able to endure the repetition of time, season after season, for eternity.
Did thoughts like those ever enter into the minds of vampires, or did they just live night to night, not caring about the things that changed in life, and the things that were inevitable. Did they think themselves truly immortal? Was there such a thing? After all, Armageddon was bound to destroy the world one day, be it the will of a higher power, or just nature taking its course. When that day came, Shelby felt mildly comforted knowing that she would be moldering deep beneath the Earth by then. Maybe David and his boys would be sitting in their cave when the time came, forced to stare the end of time face to face.
Did they think about where their souls would go when that day came? Was there a hell?
Sometimes, Shelby didn’t believe that there was. How could any place exist that was worse than what she’d lived through most of her life while a ghoul abused her body? Of following yourself around while you watched someone else live your life? How could anything be worse than waking up next to the man you’d been married to for eight years and realizing you hardly knew him…or more like, he hardly knew you? That you hardly knew yourself anymore?
In her thirty four years, she’d been ghoul free for only the first twelve. For the remaining twenty two years, a demon had plotted out every major decision in her life….for its own purposes. It hadn’t cared that she dreamed of being a veterinarian when she grew up. It hadn’t cared when she lost all of her friends in the seventh grade because she wasn’t nice to them anymore. (Sticking a spider in her best friend Trish’s hair had been the last straw…Trish had been morbidly afraid of arachnids, and the fear demon in Shelby hadn’t cared about her friend’s phobia. In fact, it had fed from it.) Fear demons only cared about one thing, ultimately. They weren’t called fear demons for nothing. Now, Shelby found herself struggling to play it straight to all of her co-workers that still believed she was a ghoul, while keeping her fear and distaste of them buried so they couldn’t taste it. One day, she figured one of them would catch on. After all, her life was so filled with doubt and anxiety right now, it would be a miracle if she could keep it swallowed long enough to make it to her maternity leave.
And now, she was forced into a meeting with David; one of those spectral haunts that always lingered in the darkest shadows of her soul.. David could taste things almost like a fear demon, because he had the ability to touch minds. If he cared to, he would be able to look right into Shelby and read everything like a book. He would know that she and Edgar were at fits and starts. Sometimes, she sensed that her husband mourned the loss of the ‘Shelby he’d known before’. Other times, he was strangely caught up in discovering the ‘New Shelby’, because he was figuring out that she might be someone he liked. Then, there were the times in between; the times when they stared at each other with a hint of recognition, but little more.
Edgar didn’t completely trust her yet, even though he was relatively certain that the demon was gone. Try forcing trust on a man who’d spent eight years in marriage being dominated by a ghoul he hadn’t even known was present. He detested the dark elements in life, and it sickened him to think that he’d actually been married to one…Had loved one, blindly! Yet, he had developed something that he might have lacked in his younger days. Now, he had compassion for those left in the aftermath. One didn’t just go into a house and slay vampires, or rid a woman of an evil presence in her body without there being victims; people whose lives had been torn apart by the horror before it was vanquished. Edgar’s love allowed him enough compassion to see that the demon had been wearing his wife’s face, but the person inside now didn’t deserve the wrath for the consequences wreaked by the ghoul. He was giving Shelby the best chance that he could. She was grateful to him for it. Despite their occasional awkward silences and questioning looks, they were discovering that they still had common ground. It was a start.
Maybe they’d get through this. After all, it wasn’t like they could go to a marriage counselor and discuss their troubles truthfully. Now, the biggest question that remained was the one growing in her stomach. One day, Edgar would probably come right out and ask her if there was any possibility that the child wasn’t his. She knew she couldn’t lie to him if he did. He deserved to know the truth, no matter how painful it was. Shelby just couldn’t bring herself to tell him on her own.
Most likely because it was best to deny the whole thing for as long as she could. Keeping neutral about it might prevent a certain vampire from thinking he had any reason to snoop around in her personal life.
A stiff wind kicked up, blowing last night’s storm system away before it had a chance to bring much rain. Now, the air was crisp and damp with the sea. Shelby’s fingers were starting to get very cold, but she didn’t feel like waiting inside the car. Her thoughts couldn’t stifle her outside. It was easier to get a handle on herself and focus on mundane things like the breeze, how cold it was, how loud the sea sounded from the bluff…
“You really shouldn’t stand so close to the cliff. The ground’s unstable, you know…”
The voice was David’s. Strangely, he sounded no different on the phone than he did in person. She could always hear his voice, so clearly…even in her dreams.
“I’m not planning on falling off unless you’re planning on pushing me over,” Shelby replied. She kept her back turned to him.
“Why would I do a thing like that?” David asked.
“To get a thrill. Who knows? What do you guys do for fun when you know you’re going to live forever?”
She finally turned to face him and regarded him quietly.
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing we don’t do. We don’t kidnap little girls.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Things are not looking good for Dwayne, though. I told you, the Commish wants to fry him. The Coast Guard found some remains this afternoon, but they’re not those of a child. They’re fairly convinced that they belong to that Greek tourist who went missing last month. The Commish has ordered a detailed autopsy to be performed on her, so if you or one of your boys nailed Eleni Vardalos, you’d better say so now….”
“What’s a missing Greek tourist got to do with a kid?” David asked.
“I told you. Martinez and the Commissioner want you guys out of here. If an autopsy can substantiate that the victim died as a result of one of you boys defying my Uncle’s edict, then things could get much uglier. The more fuel he gets to add to the fire, the happier he’ll be.”
“Tell your damn Commish that I don’t like Mediterranean food. Too spicy,” David quipped.
“I didn’t mean you specifically, David. Frankly, I doubt any autopsy would prove which one of you did the deed if you did. At this point, I’m not even sure a cause of death can be determined…unless they’re able to tell from a bunch of sodden bones that a person was drained of all their blood before they were dumped into the sea,” Shelby stated.
“Why don’t the boys in blue look for some nice gnaw marks on the bones? The sort a dog with a real Cujo complex would leave?”
“I would if it was typical for werewolves to dump their leftovers in Davy Jones’ locker. But, that’s not their way.”
“Just what do werewolves do with the leftovers? Give the bones to their pups to chew?”
“No. Think about it, David. You give a dog a bone, and what does it do?”
David smiled at her. Nice logic.
“So, what am I supposed to do about my Childe? He didn’t hurt anyone that night. Has anyone checked the area out really good, and combed it the way it ought to be combed? Someone like your husband, maybe?”
“We both know he went down there last night. I understand he saw some incriminating evidence, too. Before the Commish finds out through some round about way, I would like to go down there myself tonight and photograph the area. That way, there’s a record of the crime scene before he can order his men in there to clean it up.”
“I’m surprised he hasn’t already,” David remarked.
Shelby opened her car door and retrieved two cameras. One was a standard 35 mm with a flash. The other was a digital camera.
“Do you know much about photography?” she asked.
“Only about enough to know that no matter how nicely I comb my hair, I still won’t show up on that 35mm of yours…”
“Then, you take this. All you have to do is point and shoot.”
Shelby tossed him the digital and strapped the other camera around her shoulder. Then, she glanced at David with a slight look or apprehension.
“I can’t risk parking my car on the wharf. People will recognize me….”
“You’re not afraid of a little air anymore, huh?”
“I never was.”
The idea of allowing David to touch her after what she remembered repulsed her, yet it sent an odd shiver down her spine, too. Shelby bit her lip to keep from betraying any emotion, even though she knew damn good and well that David could reach into her thoughts any time he wished.
She was wearing a long, dark, brown leather coat, which concealed her condition quite well, even if it sucked at keeping out the cold. David gave her a slight, challenging smile as he slipped the digital camera into his jacket pocket. Then, he pulled her to him and swept her up into the winds.
It was easy to be fearless of heights when all one could see below was a swiftly moving blur. David’s flight seemed completely unhampered by carrying her extra weight, and she fervently hoped that he didn’t notice the extra 13 pounds her pregnancy had caused her to gain so far. She hardly felt their landing.
Shelby couldn’t say it had been unpleasant to be in the vampire’s embrace; sailing through the air, yet she stumbled away from him quickly as soon as they touched down on solid ground. Then, she looked around carefully, making certain that no one was on the beach. Cars could be heard on the pier overhead as it was not terribly late. They would have to be quiet and quick. She pulled a flashlight from her deep coat pocket and stepped under the pier’s framework. David followed behind, keeping a very leisurely pace. Shelby could sense his presence more than she could hear his footsteps. Was this vampire stealth? The nameless lump in her stomach began its restless flops and kicks, signaling that it was awake for the time being.
Suddenly, David made a beeline for the section of the pier up higher above the shoreline. His pace wasn’t so leisurely anymore.
“Do you smell it?” he asked at the same time she was nearly overcome by a powerful stench.
Shelby put her hand over her mouth to keep from retching. She was rarely morning sick anymore, but strong smells could still set her off.
“That’s a werewolf’s markings. You look like your going to hurl. Can you stomach this?”
She nodded, her hand still clamped over her mouth. It wouldn’t be a good thing to contaminate the scene with vomit. He turned and continued onwards, until he reached a large boulder deep beneath the pier. Then, he turned back to Shelby.
“Now’s the time for pictures,” he told her, pointing at the rock.
The smell permeating the area was still strong, but slowly, Shelby was becoming accustomed to it. She pulled out her camera and started taking pictures, trying not to think about what she was seeing. It was disturbing, in more ways than one. Perhaps fear demons did have some desire for human blood; a desire that stained Shelby’s mortal shell. Or, perhaps something else was suddenly making her stomach spasm with nausea tinged hunger pangs. Something that she’d best not think about at the moment.
“How many do we need?” David asked, casually snapping off a few more pictures with the digital she’d loaned him.
“We’re done,” she whispered.
She couldn’t take one more minute beneath that pier.
Five minutes later, Shelby was safely on the beach, threatening to hurl up the
remnants of the annual Children’s Charity Christmas Luncheon she’d enjoyed hours earlier. Her mouth had suddenly gotten dry, and then too wet; and she spat a couple of times and gagged. A cold sweat broke out on her forehead as she fought down her gorge. David stood nearby but upwind, keeping a wary lookout while fiddling with the digital camera. When the sick spell finally passed, she stood upright and took a deep gulp of the night air. Her knees were still weak, and her mouth was suddenly dry again. Somewhere in her purse was a roll of mints, but her purse was locked in her car.
“Most mortals can’t smell the markings so strongly. They might catch a whiff or two, but only a dog owner might know that the smell was vaguely canine,” David told her, “Maybe you’re still attuned with stuff like that because of that demon…”
“I know I am. My doctor says that my vision is better than 20/20. I never knew it could be better than that,” she responded shakily.
“I want copies of the pictures you took. Just in case the dogs in the Hall try any funny stuff. Can’t have them tampering with our evidence, now can we?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem. Edgar knows someone who will develop them and keep his mouth shut.”
She finally had enough presence of mind to put the lens cap on her camera and pack it back into its carry case that she still wore slung around her shoulder. Then, she slipped the flashlight back into her coat pocket.
“This camera is neat. I want one,” David decided verbally.
“Now you know what to ask Santa for, then.”
He actually laughed a little at her sarcasm before lifting her into the air again. Shelby’s stomach turned and flopped in protest, but the further from the pier they got, the less intense her distress was. She felt another odd hunger pang squeeze her insides, which the baby must have felt. The pangs were answered by a few good baby thumps. Tonight, her stomach just seemed to have a life all of its own. As if it was possessed by some demon…or other unworldly sort of being.
Once again, the descent was gentle, and Shelby was deposited neatly by her car. Her mouth suddenly watered for one of those mints in her purse again. Good, a nice, normal craving…
“You could have just given me the cameras and told me what you needed. There was no reason to subject yourself to that,” David told her. The normally smooth tones of his voice bordered on sounding as though he was lecturing her.
“I had to know for myself. You say its werewolf, and now, I believe you without a doubt, which confirms my suspicions that the Commissioner is covering something up. They all are.”
“So are you.”
Shelby knew his accusation had nothing to do with the investigation.
“I’m not covering anything up. My biological functions shouldn’t concern you,” she replied curtly.
“Are you sure?” David asked.
“The baby is Edgar’s. Don’t get any funny ideas.”
In a sense, she genuinely meant it. Legally, the child would be his, regardless of paternity, unless he contested it.
David said nothing, but he moved closer to her to hand her the digital camera. She should have known better than to trust him. No sooner had she pocketed the small camera, David reached out with a gloved hand and gave her a very gentle shove against the side of the car.
“What have I told you before, Shelby? You can’t hide things from me, so why bother trying?”
“You don’t know anything more than I do, which is nothing.”
“We’ll see about that, David replied.
Once again, he reached out at her. This time, he took hold of one of her cold hands. Even though he was wearing his black, leather gloves, Shelby felt a surge of electricity at his touch. Though she wanted to, she realized it was useless to try and pull away. His arctic stare was fastened on her face; she didn’t see the slightest hint of a shift come over him. Yet when he placed her index finger between his lips, she knew what he was about to do even before one of his fangs pierced her skin. He used only enough force to break the skin and nothing more. At once, her heart began to flutter oddly, and her pulse throbbed in her ears. It was almost as though her body was subconsciously willing all of her blood out of that one tiny puncture for him to taste. Her back fell limp against the side of the car; her feet barely managed to support her weight. All the while he gently sucked at her finger; David never broke eye contact with her.
Finally, he released his hold on her finger, making her fingertip trace a delicate trail on his bottom lip before he relinquished her hand. A faint trace of red was left behind, which he purposely let her see him lick away with the tip of his tongue. Not surprisingly, it was impossible to tell that he’d pierced her finger by looking at it. The puncture mark was healed. But she still felt a sting of pain where he’d left his mark.
David smiled at her; a very faint smile that betrayed absolutely nothing.
“I know something you don’t, now.” His tone was almost taunting.
Shelby’s face flamed.
“It’s not a joke. Don’t play games with me. I’m tired of being played with!” she cried.
“No one’s playing games here. I’m not toying with you. I’m telling you the truth. And, of course, if it is mine, you’re absolutely right. There’s not much I can do about it, now is there?”
“If it’s yours…but you said you know something I don’t. Am I to take it that you know the paternity of this child simply by tasting my blood?”
“If I Sire anyone; either a Childe or a child, I’d know it. The blood tells many secrets,” he replied.
“Only if you were drinking the baby’s blood, which is simply disgusting…”
“Your baby communicates with your blood. It lives off of it like a vampire. An umbilical cord is nothing but a blunt fang connecting it to you. It feeds and grows…its how we all start out. Ironic, isn’t it? We spend the first nine months of our lives in a vampiric existence…yet are born mortal….”
She didn’t want to consider it. The thought that she’d been like a vampire while in the womb didn’t set well with her since she had spent a better part of the next thirty four years of her life as a ghoul. Suddenly, she felt very tired.
“Go on home, Shelby. Grow your little mortal,” he urged her. He could sense her exhaustion, and perhaps, for the first time, he even had some compassion for it.
“The pictures. Where do you want them?”
“Stick them in an envelope and tape them behind my license plate like you did with those documents. Pretty clever.”
“Right,” she replied.
“I may need to meet with your again before long. You see, it’s very important to me that Dwayne is cleared.. I won’t let him be banished. So, I’ll be relying on you to be my eyes and ears.”
“Yes, David, I understand. Just keep in mind that you’re not the only one raising a family here.
David didn’t look too sympathetic at that remark. Instead, he unbuttoned her coat and pulled it open, searching for the swell that indicated pregnancy. It wasn’t easy to see beneath her carefully chosen suit, but when he located it, he placed both of his hands on her stomach, one on each side. Instantly, Shelby felt a rolling jab inside. David smiled another one of his twisted, sardonic smirks that was his trademark. Of course, he’d felt it too.
“Go home now,” he told her. All traces of humor were gone from his face. Suddenly, Shelby saw a strange light come into his eyes. They took on a shine that was much more feral than usual, and she understood. She had been hungry earlier that night, but now it was his turn.
Without a word, she climbed into her car. David didn’t try to stop her. In fact, as soon as her engine caught, he was gone. He left without telling her what he knew.
Did she want to know?
[nextpage title=”Chapter 9: Slay Bells Ring”]
Chapter 9: Slay Bells Ring
‘Later on…If ya wanna’,
We can dress like Madonna,
Put on some high shade
And join the parade,
Walking ‘round in Women’s Underwear…’
Paul was prancing around the sunken ballroom, in his usual high spirits, singing an off color Christmas carol that had Leah laughing loudly.
David would have been more amused by his Childes’ antics if he didn’t have so much to think about. The books were piled up on the small parlor table before him, and he thumbed thought them all, looking for any help on the specific elements that come into play recently. He also had a copy of that morning’s Santa Carla Sentinel.
True to Shelby’s words, the Coast Guard had netted the remains of what appeared to be a female victim of some sort. Early speculation indicated they might be the remains of that missing Greek Tourist, who’d come to town late in September, and had disappeared the first week of November. Apparently, the tourist, Eleni Vardalos, had been an avid surfer and para-sailor. She was supposed to be doing a write up for the Greek travel agency for which she worked. Vardalos never went home.
He had no particular cares about any tourists, Greek or otherwise. One couldn’t always tell where victims came from. When someone was marked as food; that was it. But, over the years, the Boys had come to learn that foreign tourists made lousy kills if one was after more than just blood. They rarely carried cash or coin on them; preferring Traveler’s Checks and credit cards to fund their vacations. Neither was good for transferring liquid assets from a victim to a vampire. Both credit cards and traveler’s checks often required and ID to be presented at the time of purchase and payment.
Not that this was a major hindrance to the Boys. They’d all learned, by now, how to acquire more cash from their victims than what could be kept in a wallet or a purse. Most folks avoided carrying a great deal of money on their persons anymore. Still, ATM cards were no problem if a vampire got the chance to mentally coerce the victim into giving up their PIN numbers prior to their death. Before the victim was reported missing and a stop could be put on their bank accounts, David and the others could have hit ATM machines all over town and cleaned out the account.
Dirty, but necessary. In fact, this sick little scheme kept David with more money on hand than his side job with old Gus Martin. Unfortunately, the cold months brought fewer tourists, which then meant less money.
Unless, of course, one was like Paul or Marko, with at least semi-respectable jobs they each had. Where Marko tended bar at the Seafarer, business was brisk, and his tips were more than usual most nights. Paul still hadn’t received any word about getting a promotion, but his base wage at the call center, where he worked at a sex hotline, paid decently for someone that had no worries about rent or utilities.
Dwayne was making a modest amount of money on the jewelry he’d made and consigned to a couple of local shops. He’d have enough to support his own means for the frequent fast food runs the Boys made; where a good majority of all of their money was spent. Even though blood was their dietary mainstay, a few mortal habits died hard. David smoked regularly, Paul had to have his pot stash, and Marko craved junk food. Dwayne was a bit of a gambler, David knew. He liked to hustle pool games. If the boys decided that a trip to the snow was in the works for a weekend, Lake Tahoe was the place to go, and Dwayne would lose himself for hours at the poker tab.les…or on the slopes doing a bit of nighttime snowboarding. David liked to gamble too, but he had to admit; his eldest Childe had a gift he didn’t there.
There wouldn’t be any trips to Tahoe for Christmas this year. It was less than ten days away, and they had some problems on their hands.
In the off chance that one of his boys had offed this tourist, David needed to know about it. Forewarned was forearmed.
“Paul, why are you still singing that retarded song?” David demanded. It was the third round in two hours that Paul had belted out.
“I’m wrapping presents. You’re supposed to sing when you wrap presents,” he replied.
“What? You’re wrapping fucking presents?”
“Yep. If you’d like, I can sing ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.’”
“Spare me. Can’t you see I’m trying to read?”
“Sorry. Wasn’t paying attention.”
“I like his singing! Do you know Jingle Bells?”
This came from Leah, who was now trying to make her own jewelry creation from some cast off supplies Dwayne had given her.
“Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robin laid an egg…The bat mobile lost its wheel and the Joker got away-Hey!”
“Keep it up, Paul. I’ll have you singing ‘All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” David growled.…(and Paul knew exactly which two his Sire meant.)
“How come he’s always in a bad mood?” the girl asked, wrinkling her nose at David’s sarcasm.
‘Cuz we’re bugging him. Here, why don’t you put the bows on these?”
“Paul, when will I get to go home? I don’t want there to be no Christmas…”
Paul glanced at David. The child still had no idea as to why she was being sequestered in this strange place with these guys she didn’t really know. She’d been told a story; one about the dog that bit her maybe being sick, and she shouldn’t go home until they knew she wasn’t sick and could pass the illness on to her Grandma and Great Grandfather. A far fetched story for certain, but a few vampiric mind tricks had made the story seem completely reasonable to her. Similar tactics had been employed on Laddie once to keep him compliant.
“There’s gonna be a Christmas, kiddo. You’ll see,” Paul promised her.
Now David understood why Paul was wrapping presents. He shook his head and sighed. Things were going too far. Maybe it was time to clue his pack in on Leah’s identity.
“I like you guys, but I miss my family. It won’t be the same…”
“Don’t tell me you’re worried about Santa Claus not finding you here. He will.”
The girl relaxed a bit, but still looked melancholy and doubtful.
“You mean to tell me that you still believe in Santa Claus?” David chided.
“Why not! Vampires are real, why can’t Santa be?” she replied.
“Vampires…whoa, girl!” Paul cried with a mocking smile and a disbelieving shake of his head.
“Yes, vampires. I saw a vampire one night. A real vampire. Only he didn’t suck my blood.”
“Well, see; that should tell you right there that you didn’t see what you thought you did,” David said, “After all, if you really had seen a vampire, he would have sucked your blood.”
“He didn’t. He just rescued me from the mean dog and brought me here. I can remember it now,” Leah said. Her voice sounded a bit bloated with bragging.
Once again, Paul and David glanced at each other. What to say now?
“So, then, tell me Leah. If you believe in vampires; what about werewolves? Do you believe in them?” David asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what. There is such a thing as a werewolf. That’s what Dwayne saved you from on the beach.”
“If that was a werewolf, how come I’m not one?” the girl shot back.
“That’s what we’re waiting to find out. No you know why you can’t go home. We can’t let you leave until the next full moon. If you wolf out, you’ll be a werewolf, and it would be too dangerous for you to live with your family. You’d kill them. But, if you don’t wolf out, you go home.”
“Why could I stay here then, instead of home? Aren’t you afraid of me if I turn into a werewolf? Leah asked. Her tone suggested she clearly did not believe David.
“You said it yourself, kid. You’ve seen vampires. Werewolves don’t eat vampire meat.”
Leah appeared to be caught off guard. She regarded David quietly, (which to him was a blessing, since the kid was always babbling about something), and then turned her gaze to Paul, who was trying valiantly to curl some ribbon on a package with a pair of scissors.
“Are you guys really vampires? You sleep all day long. You’re never awake during the day…”
David gave the child a small, impatient grin.
“Didn’t you just get finished saying that you saw a real vampire?”
“I-I don’t know what I saw…I was just waking up from that dog bite. I could believe it if you were a vampire, but Paul and Dwayne are too nice to be vampires,” she finished, chewing her lip nervously.
“What, you don’t like me?” David asked, mock concern affecting his tone.
“Paul?” she questioned. Already, she’d learned that the best way to get direct answers was to ask one of the ones that really seemed to care about her. David always acted mad at her, and Marko mostly ignored her. Maybe because he was busy working lots…
Did vampires work? How could they?
She whimpered almost indiscernibly her eyes full of pleading.
‘Great, David,’ Paul thought to himself.
“Come here, Leah. It’s time we had a little talk,” he cajoled her.
“You can’t be a vampire, Paul! You eat Chinese food and stuff!” she cried.
“I’m a Chinese Food vampire. Well, actually, I love Tia Maria’s fried burritos the best, so I guess I’m a Burrito Vampire. And Dwayne is a fried fish vampire, cuz his favorite is the Sea Shanty…Marko’s actually the Chinese Food vampire.”
“So then David’s a bloodsucking vampire?”
Paul sighed sadly.
“We all are, sweetie. But we’re not like the creepy ones in Salem’s Lot, see. We don’t go chasing around after little girls for dinner. We won’t hurt you.”
“I don’t know what Salem’s Lot is…” Leah trailed, looking somewhat nervous, “I thought what I saw was a-a dream!”
“Then why did you say it was real, Leah?” David challenged her.
“Get off her case already! She’s just a kid!” Paul cried.
David set his book down and gave his youngest Childe a dangerous look.
“You guys are like the vampires in the game my Daddy made. He won’t let me play it, but Ryan plays it all the time at Uncle Mike’s house….So does Chris and Zack when Aunt Star isn’t around….”
“Your father made a game about vampires, did he?” David asked, suddenly interested in the girl’s inane chatter.
“Uh-huh. You have to kill all these vampires before you can get to where the Head Vampire has the family hostage…It’s hard. And spooky…”
David cracked a real smile.
“So, tell me. Do these vampires look anything like…say….us?”
Leah nodded solemnly.
“I Think so. It’s like Ryan’s video game came to life…”
“Cool…I think I want a copy of this game….We can check it out at Laddie’s. He has a few of those game systems for those games, hasn’t he? By the way, who’s Ryan?” he asked. He made an effort to soften the tone of his voice. It made the girl more cooperative.
“My cousin. Ryan’s my cousin. He’s bigger than me, though…I’m not even sure he’s a kid anymore ‘cept that he still has to do chores and stuff. Chris and Zack are a little older than me.”
Having something else to talk about seemed to calm the girl down, and restore her to her usual babbling self.
“Ryan buys all those games that say ‘rated M’ or rated ‘T’ so that his brothers can’t play his games. But they do anyhow. He even let me play a couple of times. He just won’t let Brett play any, ‘cuz he’s just too young. He’s only three. And Ryan said I could only play if I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone. Now that I did, he’ll probably never let me play again…”
“So, what’s this game called, Leah?” David asked.
“Murder Capital of the World,” she answered.
“Do any of the vampires suck burrito blood?” Paul asked, trying to lighten the mood some.
“No, they ride around on motorcycles and suck real blood.”
For some reason, this sounded hysterical to Paul, who finally started laughing.
“Well, just think about it, Leah. You could be the big inspiration for your Daddy’s next game. He could make a game about vampires fighting werewolves…just for you,” he finally gasped.
“I’m not a werewolf!” she insisted loudly.
“No, but that dog that bit you was; and you know what happens to people that get bit by werewolves, don’t you?” David said, picking up one of the other books he’d borrowed from the Frog brothers. He held it up so that the girl could clearly see the front cover. It featured a man with a human body, but the face of a demonic, snaggle-toothed werewolf.
Leah shrank away from the picture, biting her lip in an effort not to cry.
“David, you’re freaking her out,” Paul said.
“Party’s over, little girl. Now you know what we are; and now you know what you are. That’s why you can’t go home.”
The child began to cry.
“I-I am NOT!” she wailed.
“Hey, come here,” Paul told her, motioning for her to assist him by waving a gift that still needed its ribbon curled. Finally, she obliged, even if it just meant that she could be standing further away from David and his nasty book.
“Babe, we don’t know if you’re going to wolf out or not. See, you were wearing a silver necklace that may have protected you from that. You can have it back as soon as we know if you’re really a werewolf. If you are, the necklace will hurt you to wear now. But, if it protected you, we’ll know by the next full moon. If you don’t wolf out, you’ll get your necklace back and get to go home, okay?”
“Is the full moon after Christmas?” she asked through her tears.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to spend this Christmas with us. But, don’t worry. We’ll make it fun. Alex…you met her, right? Well, Alex says she’s going to bring over a whole big batch of Tamales on Christmas Eve. She makes them with her aunt this time of year. And, we’ll have presents, too. Even vampires like presents,” he told her reassuringly.
“But what about my Mommy and my Daddy and my Grandma and Great Grandpa?”
“They’ll save your presents. You know they will. In fact, when you go home, they’ll be so happy that they’ll buy you twice as much.”
This seemed to comfort her, yet it drew a fresh torrent of tears, too. Spontaneously, she crawled up onto Paul’s lap and buried her head in his chest. Paul accepted her company warmly; setting the gift he’d been trying to decorate for the last half hour, and wrapping his arms lightly around her.
“Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer…” he began to sing.
David watched the scene with a feeling that he wanted to call disgust, but he knew it wasn’t. Somewhere in Paul was a tender heart he lacked. For all he knew, Paul was still half-kid, and expected Santa Claus to drop in with a ton of presents for the girl. He obviously had what it took to calm her down.
Paul was meant to be a father. David wasn’t. Sighing, he gathered his books up to take to the top portion of the cavern where Thorn kept his vigil unless Dwayne was home. He could get some reading done up there and wonder when his oldest Childe planned on getting back. With so many politicians out after his hide, David didn’t want Dwayne out and about much. Yet, he needed to hunt, so David made him promise to hunt out of town. That was likely the reason he hadn’t returned yet. He might even wait around for Marko’s shift to end at the Seafarer, so they could hunt together.
Once in the upper portion, David set about reading by candlelight. Every now and then, he’d stop to find Thorn staring a hole through him. Stupid dog.
He found he was no more able to concentrate on anything worthwhile up here than he had been when Leah was playing questions and answers in the ballroom.
Thoughts bled through the text he tried to read, and some of it didn’t make much sense. He found himself re-reading passages to make sense of them. This was one time where having merely a ninth grade education got the better of him. Still, struggling with the long winded texts was better than concentrating at what was really eating at his mind.
Maybe he needed to develop more patience with that kid. True, he hated her father, and had no real feelings for the girl either, but he knew something now that he hadn’t known when Leah had first been brought to the cave.
David was going to be a father, and not in the vampiric sense. All those pointed lectures he’d dished out to his boys hadn’t done him a lick of good. Worse yet, his child would be raised in the home of a man who hated vampires with a passion. His child would grow up and call Edgar Frog ‘Daddy’. He wanted to rip Edgar Frog’s throat out right then and there!
But why? Someone had to raise this kid, because he surely couldn’t. There would come a day, of course, and Shelby had best get used to that idea now…
The Frog’s would get his child for the first 18 years of its life. But, once the child reached adulthood, David would be ready, like Paul had been, to accept his responsibilities with Alexandra. Then, that child…son or daughter…would be born into darkness and live the life any child of his would be destined to have.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 10: Silent Amends”]
Chapter 10: Silent Amends
Commissioner Vic Erickson had the preliminary report in his hands. The coroner had already done the autopsy on the remains of the body that had been drug in by the Coast Guard. Remains was hardly a good word to use. The report suggested that the corpse had been in the water for nearly a month. There was little skin left. Any clothing the victim had been wearing was washed away, along with any concrete identification. Dental records and possibly, some analysis of any bone marrow found in the bones would be the only way to identify the victim. Fortunately, forensics had been lucky in obtaining international cooperation with the investigation. The remains did, in fact, belong to the missing Greek tourist, Eleni Vardalos. Dental records from the woman’s native country had been provided, and a match was made.
Still, there was no evident cause of death. No one could stipulate foul play at this point in time. Tox-screens were still pending to see if traces of drugs could be found in what was left of the tourist. What made the commissioner frown was the fact that the cervical bones; those of her neck; were not sufficiently traumatized to suggest that her death had been a result of a vampire attack. There was not enough flesh clinging to the area to provide any incriminating bite wounds. Frankly, there was no real sign of trauma at all to the woman’s bones. As far as the coroner was concerned, pending further evidence, her death looked like a drowning.
Erickson had dug into the woman’s past to see if she’d been traveling with anyone. Apparently, she’d been alone. It was her employers that had grown concerned with Vardalos’s lack of contact. She was supposed to be keeping in regular touch with the travel agency she was writing the article on Santa Carla for. When she’d missed some critical deadlines, they’d asked the American Embassy for help. Eventually, Santa Carla P.D. had gotten involved. Santa Carla P.D. confiscated the woman’s lap top computer and all of her personal possessions left behind in her hotel room. She’d disappeared with a camera that had been given to her by the agency to take photos to accompany her article. Apparently, she was the agency’s ‘Off Season’ travel writer, which meant that she reviewed destinations during their off seasons to help consumers find bargains and things to do when prime touring season had past.
The camera, of course, never turned up. It was likely at the bottom of Davy Jones’s locker, and any evidence of what had resulted in her end was on the ruined film in the bottom of the sea….
Or not. If it was vampires, the doomed travel writer could have snapped pictures all she wanted; and not a one of those fang faced hooligans would have showed up on film.
It looked like the death of Eleni Vardalos was simply going to be locked up into the accidental death files. There was nothing yet that could incriminate any of those damn vampires in her death.
The kid still hadn’t turned up. The Coast Guard did say that it could take months for a body to wash ashore, and it could take equally as long for them to find the missing dead at sea. They had better resources than the Santa Carla P.D. for performing search and rescues, or search and recoveries, but even they had limits. The Pacific was a mighty big place. Erickson was beginning to think they’d find Amelia Earhardt’s bones before they found Leah Emerson’s.
Off the record, Erickson had gone and questioned Jake Martinez himself. Jake was a good kid. His grades were halfway decent, he was respectful to those in authority, and he was truthful about what had happened that night. Not to mention, he was very contrite. The kid had learned his lesson. In fact, Erickson believed the kid felt bad that he had attacked a child in his feeding frenzy. He promised to never hunt without his pack again, which was a lesson Erickson wanted to make certain the boy understood. Lots of people were covering up his mistake, but young Jake had confessed without any prompting and seemed willing to take any punishment meted out to him. Erickson hoped a good slap on the paw was all this kid would get.
Christmas time was usually a festive time around the Martinez household. Just like other kids, the Martinez children made out their lists of things they hoped to get, and their parents selected what was appropriate, wrapped it up, and stuck it under the tree. Jake was enrolled in a voc-ed class at high school, working for a modest amount of money as a tutor in the computer lab. For the first time in his life, he had a bit of money to spend on gifts this year. Sadly, his spirit was in the dumps.
Jake had read the papers. He knew that there was a little girl missing, and that he was responsible for it. Hunting was one thing….
But he wished he hadn’t gone for a little girl. All around town, posters of the child he’d bit were plastered on bulletin boards. Occasional news stories came on in the evening. In the town of Los Gatos, where the girl was native to, a prayer vigil was being held, and at her school, little kids wore yellow ribbons tied to their jackets to commemorate Leah Emerson.
Jake wondered what her fate was. That vampire had obviously taken her. Had he killed her? What had that vampire said that night when they’d confronted each other? His memories were scattered. Jake had been in some serious pain. Still, he remembered that the vampire had talked to him. He just couldn’t recall much of the conversation. All he remembered was the wolf’s tooth dangling from the vampire’s ear, and that the vampire had bragged to him about killing a werewolf to get it. Even though Jake was completely healed now from his ordeal that night, his memories of it were dim. That was not unusual when one went wolf. Instinct ruled intellect at those times, and it was intellect that recalled memories.
Jake had no notion as to why he felt the child might still be alive. The clue might be in the conversation from that night that he couldn’t recall. Or, maybe he was feeling some sort of odd pack connection. Whatever the case, he read the newspaper every day to see if a little body had been found. So far, only a grown woman’s body had been.
The Martinez family drove to a stand in town where Christmas trees were sold. While his parents and sisters went from tree to tree, deciding which one would grace their living room that Christmas, Jake tried to put on a smile. He tried to participate. To the rest of the family, he looked like ‘Everyday Jake’; a bit prone to adolescent mood swings…maybe feeling a bit embarrassed at his age to be seen with his family selecting a tree when he might be wishing to hang out with some friends. Abuela Juanita was making tamales by the ton. She brought some over a couple times a week to make sure the family never ran out. Jake usually adored them. This year, his appetite was flat for tamales or anything else. Still, he did his best to eat his share and make appreciative noises over Abuela’s efforts. He didn’t want to talk about what he felt inside.
Later, that evening, they went Christmas shopping. Jake had his money and his list of things to get for his loved ones. Miranda and Gabby were too old for toys and dolls now, but he found himself lingering at the children’s section anyways. He found a stuffed, white kitten that really meowed when batteries were put inside. Looking around to make certain that none of his family members were around, Jake put the kitten in his cart and hurried to a check out line. He was the first to complete his shopping, and he was already waiting patiently for his family when they finished up. The stuffed kitten was in a bag, safely hidden from prying eyes.
For days, Jake debated what to do with the kitten. Several times, he questioned himself over why he’d bought it in the first place, but deep down, he knew. Gaby had seen it in his room finally, and teased him about having a girlfriend he was buying a present for. He’d lied and told her his school was having a ‘Toys for Tots’ giveaway, and he’d bought it for the charity. That shut Gabriela up. With such a story made up, Jake knew he needed to get rid of the stuffed pet, and he decided that he would do so that very night. He waited until the house had settled down, and he knew everyone was asleep.
His father’s bouts with night time insomnia rarely troubled him this time of the month; close to the new moon. Therefore, he was unlikely to get caught as he slipped out of his bedroom window, toting the kitten in his backpack. Fortunately, the Martinez house was a ranch style with only one floor. His bike was in the back yard beside his sister’s. Making as little noise as possible, he opened the gate, unlocked his bike, and pedaled away from the house.
Jake hadn’t figured on the amount of time it would take to ride from his house, up in the hills on the outskirts of town, to the beach. It hadn’t taken him long to get there on four paws, but the bicycle ride took an hour. He also decided not to leave his bike anywhere near the pier. It could possibly alert the Po-Po’s to his presence if they found it while he conducted his business. Still, there was no way he could ride a bike on the loose sands of the beach and expect to make any progress. Therefore, brought it down the steps where the boardwalk emptied onto the beach, and chained it to the stair rails. Now, he would have to walk almost half a mile to get to the pier, but at least his destination was not readily detectable.
There were a couple of rumpots huddled close together around the remains of a small campfire just beneath the pier. They each had a tattered blanket wrapped around their miserable forms, and an empty bottle of booze between them. Jake carefully sidestepped around them, but neither stirred. Before long, he had found his hideout. Jake knew right where it was. Once he got to the blood stained boulder, he pulled the stuffed kitten out of his backpack and set it down by the rock. It was the only way he had of paying respects to the girl he’d nearly killed, and making an apology at the same time. The vampire’s words had come back to him. He had told him ‘I don’t eat little kids and werewolves shouldn’t either…’
Only the words hadn’t been said aloud. The vampire had thought those sentiments, and through the bond of a similar unholy blood they shared, somehow Jake had heard them.
So, maybe the vampire hadn’t killed the child after all. If not, then where was she now? If the child was alive, she would now be a pack sister to him. One day, she’d come back. When she did, Jake wanted her to know she’d be accepted.
Alexandra Melendez was not having the easiest of nights. Two shop owners had reported thefts in their stores, and they were blaming boardwalk security for being lax on their patrols. Each had complained about it at to the head of security, Gabe Thompson. But, the owner of Buried Treasures, one of the boutiques that had been stolen from, had also confronted Alex about it while he was closing up shop for the night. She had to inform him that boardwalk security was not responsible for patrolling the interiors of the stores, and that he should have some of his own loss prevention measures in place. The owner had then gone off on a rant about how useless she was, how useless boardwalk security was in general, and how she had been rude to him. He planned to report it to her boss the next day.
At the time, Alex hadn’t been rude to the shopkeeper, just businesslike. Still, as his tirade escalated, Alex felt her fangs descend. Her eyes would start flaming next. She knew she had to get away from him, or he’d be dinner. She mumbled something about checking the log books because she knew that a couple of young teens had been apprehended for suspected shoplifting earlier that day, and if any of the recovered merchandise was his, she’d be sure to let him know so he could identify and claim it. Then, she excused herself and made a bolt for the security bunker, where her soda bottle laced with her Sire’s blood awaited. When Alex had calmed down and was ready to resume her shift, the shopkeeper was gone.
Next, just after midnight, she’d been escorting arcade employees to their cars. One of the young men in the group made a pass at her. Though she was able to back out of that situation without going fang, she was still quite agitated. She still had six hours left of what was turning out to be a shitty night on the clock.
Alex had to admit, it was getting harder every night to resist the calling of her nature. Still, she had made some promises; to herself and to her boyfriend. Her mother had married Dean a few months back, and would only continue working at Video Max until her maternity leave. Dean made enough money to support the family without her income, so Maria could be a stay at home mom for the first time in her life. Still, someone was needed to train the new manager, and Maria had promised Lucy she would stay on as long as needed to do so. Alex had promised herself that she would not make her first kill before her new sister was born. An ultrasound that Maria had undergone just a month ago had revealed the baby’s gender, and now, baby Isabella was more than just a generic lump in Maria’s stomach. Alex couldn’t wait to see her, and she was going to be her mother’s back up labor coach. That way, she’d get to be there the minute her sister was born. If little Isabella chose to make her grand entrance into the world during the daylight hours, Alex had to refrain from making her first kill if she planned on being present.
Then, there was the promise that she’d made to her boyfriend. She and Gabe had been secretly dating since the summer; secretly as far as their workplace was concerned, at least. Since he was her supervisor, they both felt it necessary to keep the nature of their off the clock relationship private. Away from work, though, they kept no secrets. Maria was aware that Alex was seeing him. She thought him a nice enough young man, but she had some concerns about his age. Gabe was nine years Alex’s senior. In the end, though, Maria refrained from interfering. Alex was an adult; she would be twenty in April. And, Gabe treated her well, had a job, and wasn’t into drugs or drinking. They seemed happy together. Therefore, Maria realized that age wasn’t everything.
Of course, Maria didn’t realize that there was much more that the couple shared. Gabe had been given vampiric plasma from his Sire, to hold him over until the time came to reinitiate him into the pack. They both suspected they knew why Gabe hadn’t been reinitiated yet, even if nothing official had been said about it. David’s decisions ruled supreme, even if Gabe was Dwayne’s Childe. Apparently, David didn’t feel that Dwayne was up to the task yet. Neither Alex nor Gabe understood his logic. Dwayne looked and acted fine to them. Yet it had been Marko, Alex’s Sire, who’d finally clued them into what was going on. He explained to them that both Dwayne and Paul had suffered the worst injuries from the attack in the summer of ’86. Apparently, even though the two fledglings couldn’t see it, both of them were still healing. Dwayne had memory problems that ranged from mild to moderate depending on his need to feed. Paul required more sleep than the most vampires typically should, and if he was injured in any way, his body was slower to heal. His skin was also very sensitive, and he was forever cutting the tags out of his shirts to keep them from scratching his skin. Whatever the case, with those two, David did not feel they were strong enough to deplete their systems of the blood it would require to fledge a new pack member. Therefore, Gabe was given small amounts of blood plasma to sustain him until Dwayne was ready to assume his full duties as Sire. The blood plasma kept Gabe from ageing or getting any major illnesses. It would not, however, assure him immortality in the event of a serious accident or a physical attack on his person.
Therefore, Alex had pledged to Gabe that she would wait to make her first kill until he’d been brought over into darkness again. She knew that Gabe would feel hopelessly alone if he had no one to spend his solitary daylight hours with him. Though he was not a half vampire, and did not crave blood, he understood Alex’s desires. He had been like her once in his childhood. He knew ways to help her cope. Someone had been kind enough to help him cope when he’d been young, and he passed on those techniques, hoping to keep Alex with him until his Sire was strong enough to blood him. Alex sometimes felt that Gabe was the only person that kept her sane.
At one thirty, while conducting a perimeter rounds check, Alex caught a strange glint of metal on the stairs outside the arcade, leading down to the beach. She turned on her flashlight as she headed over. A bike was parked down on the sand, chained to the handrail. She played the beam of her flashlight over it, taking in the details. It was a men’s mountain bike. The silver paint was in excellent condition, as was the seat. Both tires looked to be inflated. Obviously, this wasn’t a bike that someone had just dumped here. (And if it was, why bother to chain it up?)
Then, her keen vision detected a shadow on the beach. This time of year, most people did not have bonfire parties, so it was rare to see someone out on the beach at this late hour. The shadow was making its way from the water’s edge, slowly up towards the boardwalk. Soon, the person was caught in the beam of Alex’s flashlight, and she could see the individual clearly. He was a young man; a teenager, perhaps. His dark hair was tossed by the breeze, and he had a blue back pack strapped to his shoulders. He froze in the flashlight’s beam, and looked as though he was debating whether or not he should make a run for it. Still, he kept glancing at the stairs, and Alex then knew for certain that the bike belonged to him.
“What are you doing out here this late at night?” she called to him.
The boy didn’t answer, but he slowly advanced towards his bike, having decided that bailing out wasn’t the best course of action.
“N-nothing. I just couldn’t sleep,” he stammered once he reached the steps.
Alex glanced warily at the back pack. Runaway? Spray paint tagger?
“What’s in the back pack, Junior?” she questioned in a firm tone.
“N-nothing,” he stammered again.
“Hand it over,” Alex ordered.
Surprisingly, the boy turned the back pack over without a fight. Instead of finding cans of spray paint or indelible ink markers that kids used as graffiti tools, she found nothing. Absolutely nothing; not even any swiped merchandise from Buried Treasures or Taffy Time, the candy store that had reported thefts.
“What was in here?” she asked him.
“Nothing, okay? I like to come to the beach and see if I can collect shells sometimes when I can’t sleep, but I didn’t find any interesting ones. Can I go home now?” the boy pleaded.
“I’m afraid not. The cameras have picked you up, and there’s a recording of the two of us talking right now. I’m going to have to make an incident report.”
“An incident report! But I didn’t do nothing!” the boy protested.
“You are aware that being on boardwalk property after closing is considered trespassing, aren’t you?”
“But I wasn’t on boardwalk property! I was on the beach! That’s public property!”
“Your bike is on boardwalk property. Look, don’t make this hard on yourself, okay? I just need to take down your name and write this down in the incident report. Then, if you’d like, I can call your house and have someone come pick you up. It’s not safe for people to be out here alone.”
“No! Don’t call my folks. I don’t want anyone to know I left the house! Please!”
Alex pulled out her notepad and a pen. The boy was busily twirling the combination lock on the chain to free his bike.
“What’s your name?” she asked him.
“Why do you need my name? I swear, I wasn’t doing nothing wrong!”
Alex sighed, and when she took her inhale, she noticed a strange smell. The scent was quickly caught on the breeze and scattered, but she detected it nonetheless. Unfortunately, she could not identify it except to say that it smelled strongly of dog. Wild dog…
“Don’t make me call the cops,” she warned.
“Jake,” the boy finally mumbled.
“Martinez. Can I go now?”
“How old are you, Jake?”
“15,” he replied.
“I really should have the police escort you home,” she told him.
“NO! I’m fine, okay? I’m going home now. I just want to go home. Will you please stop hassling me, now?”
The boy finished with his lock, and looked up; casting a pleading glance to Alex.
Alex wasn’t certain, but she thought she could see flecks of silver dancing around in his deep, brown eyes.
“Go home, Jake, and don’t let me see you down here after closing again, or I will call the cops next time.”
She followed behind Jake as he pushed his bike up the steps and onto the midway. Then, he straddled his bike and took off; pedaling as fast as his legs could carry him.
In his retreat, Alex smelled that scent again. Definitely dog.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 11: Vampire Wonderland (Christmas in the Cavern)”]
Chapter 11: Vampire Wonderland (Christmas in the Cavern)
Paul was murdering Christmas carols again. He had made definite progress on the guitar he’d bought over the summer, and in some cases, he was able to add musical accompaniment to the songs he belted out.
‘Bats on Wing, are you listenin’?
Vampires land, their eyes are glistenin’
It’s a scary-assed sight
For mortals tonight,
Walking in a Vampire Wonderland.
In the store, there is Betty,
Her little veins are like spaghetti,
I hold her real tight
As I suck and I bite,
Walking in a Vampire Wonderland…
On the beach, we can make a snowman,
But in Santa Carla, he’ll be made of sand,
We’ll make a feast of all the Christmas shoppers,
Come along and join us, it’s so grand…
If there’s a mortal I desire,
Maybe I can be her Sire,
I’ll finally get laid
With the fledgling I made,
Walking in a Vampire Wonderland.
Walking in Vampire Wonderland!’
David gritted his teeth at all of this holiday cheeriness, but the others hooted and hollered in appreciation of Paul’s skills. Leah obviously adored Paul and Dwayne by now. She was busily coloring Christmas cards for them.
Why shouldn’t she? Those two loved having the kid around. Now that she knew the truth about their vampirism, they capitalized on it in ways that made her feel less afraid. In the dark hours of the morning, they sometimes escorted the child to the upper portions of the cavern, past the ever watchful Thorn. The clearance from floor to ceiling there was ideal for a nice game of catch, where one would fly up with her, and then toss her to the other. By now, Leah was utterly fearless. She had no idea that these two same vampires had taught an eight year old fledgling to fly in the same manner twenty years ago.
Even Marko was loosening up some. He didn’t pay much attention to the girl’s babble, but he wasn’t above joining in the game of ‘Catch the Kid’ from time to time. One night, he even came back from his shift at the Seafarer with something hidden under his jacket. David could only guess that it was a Christmas present for their guest. Finally, Marko had approached David, fastening his soulful hazel eyes on his Sire.
“Bah-Humbug, Scrooge! When’s the last time we ever had Christmas around here? I kinda miss it.”
“Those two are getting attached to a kid that isn’t staying. If she wolfs out around the New Year, she’s dead meat. If she doesn’t…”
“She’ll be hanging around for an awful long time, right? Like Laddie. So, why shouldn’t the kid have a good time this Christmas, regardless of whether it’s her first with us, or her only one…”
“She won’t be staying with us, like Laddie,” David told him.
“What? You mean you’ll send her home?”
“No. She’s dead meat either way.”
The sincerity in David’s tone made Marko back up a bit. He was not one to question his Sire, but David was obviously hiding something. Marko didn’t like to be kept in the dark.
“Why would you kill her if she doesn’t go to the dogs?”
A sick sneer lit up David’s face.
“I’m sure Paul already has a clue. She made a couple of slips one night while you were working and Dwayne was out hunting. She was babbling like she always does; only she mentioned two people whose names I’m sure you’re familiar with.”
“Aunt Star and Uncle Mike. Get it? I’m surprised I’m the only one that knows who this kid is. Her disappearance hit the papers pretty big. Obviously, I must be the only one that reads the Sentinel.”
“Aunt Star and Uncle Mike? She’s related to….well, which one?”
“Michael is her blood uncle. His snot bag little brother is Leah’s father. Now do you get it?”
“Christ, David, that’s twisted, even for you,” Marko muttered.
“Marko,” David stated, his eyes filled with that icy calm and sincerity that told his Childe that he’d better listen up, “Sam Emerson was one of the three boys that wormed their way into our sleeping cavern and staked you while you slept. Maybe he wasn’t the one wielding the wood, but he was in on it, so he’s just as guilty.”
“Granted, he was. But Leah had nothing to do with that. Hell, she wasn’t even an itch in his pants back then. If I ever see Sam Emerson, I won’t hesitate to suck him dry. Then, I’ll spit out his blood….”
“You may just get your chance, too. Leah’s the bait. I just have to know how it will go down. If Leah wolfs out, I’ll have to prevent her from chowing on Daddy. She’ll be ready to put the bite on any mortal, regardless of who it is. I’d like to offer him up to Dwayne. See if Emerson’s blood doesn’t set his mind back to rights. After all, the memories contained in my blood are also contained in Emerson’s. Dwayne sucks him dry, gets his revenge, and will always have those memories in his mind again; thanks to Emerson….”
“Okay, sounds like a plan. Then, what?”
“Do you really think that little Leah would find us too friendly after we used her as bait to lure her father? Her days of Dwayne Worship would be over. It would be a mercy to drop her in the grave with her old man.”
Marko sighed. David’s plan was twisted; probably one of the most twisted ones he’d ever conceived of. Sometimes, Marko wondered about David’s sanity.
Holidays were hard for Gabe. He had no family to spend his time with anymore, except a great aunt and some distant cousins that lived out of state. Still, his great-aunt, even if she seldom talked to him all the rest of the year, never failed to send him a box of her homemade goodies and a Christmas card. She was getting up there, he knew; she had to be nearly 80. Yet, from the few times he’d ever remembered seeing her, she was always in the kitchen baking something. Right on schedule, three days before Christmas, Gabe had his box. There were homemade chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, peanut brittle, walnut brownies and a tin of Chex Mix. He made certain his Great Aunt had gotten her Christmas card, too.
Auntie’s package had taken up almost all the room in his mailbox, but there was another envelope wedged in there, too. He took it in with his goodie box, and opened the envelope while munching on a sugar cookie. It was a Christmas card from Star and Michael; one of those photo ones that people can have made. On the outside, it read ‘Happy Holidays from the Emerson Family’. The family was wearing shades of green and red; Michael a dark green sweater, and Star a red one. The boys were dressed accordingly, the eldest, Ryan, and the youngest, Brett in green, and the twins, Christopher and Zachary in red. They looked cheerful and happy, but usually, pictures like these had to be taken well in advance, prior to the holiday season. They’d probably sat for the photo in November, before Leah had gone missing.
A letter in Star’s handwriting was contained inside the card. Naturally, she knew of Leah’s disappearance, and was distraught. The only thing stopping them from making the trip to Santa Carla was the amount of kids they had, and the fact that there was little they could do but hope and pray. She said in the letter that she had spoken to Lucy, and that Lucy had assured them that there was nothing they could do. Michael had offered to come out alone, but apparently, Sam told him it wasn’t necessary. He’d rather Michael wait until there was a concrete reason….
Like a funeral.
Which Gabe knew there was no need for. At least not yet.
Guiltily, he set the card aside. He had always been close to Star, and wished he could tell her where Leah was; or at least assure her that she was safe. Christmas really had to be sucking hard for the Emerson’s.
At the very least, he knew he could make things easier on the kid. With the ghost of a smile, he loaded up most of his cookies and whatnots, and sealed them in a Ziplock bag. He knew of one little girl who’d probably like them even more than he did. He wished he could take the card to her, too. Some internal instinct advised him against it, though. No doubt, David would get a hold of the photo, and it would set him off.
Alex woke up around six o’clock in the evening to find Gabe wrapping a box in Christmas paper. She hadn’t officially moved in with him, but she did stay over quite often.
“What’s that?” she asked as she measured scoops of coffee into a filter to prepare herself an evening blast of caffeine.
“It’s goodies. Here, I saved some cookies for you, but I thought I’d take these to the Boys, so they could give them to Leah. My Great Aunt sends me a goodie box every year,” he answered.
“Wow, that’s awesome! What a great idea! I promised them some of my Tia’s tamales, so if you want, we can take everything together when I’m off tomorrow night,” she suggested.
“Great. Listen, if you’re up to it in the morning, maybe we could…”
“We could what?” Alex asked, a devilish grin shining in her pretty hazel eyes.
“Well, that too…but we could get the kid a couple of things. I remember how the Boys used to win me prizes on the boardwalk some nights, and if it wasn’t for that, I’d have no toys to play with. Leah must be kind of bored…”
Gabe had only told Alex on one occasion that the teddy bear he still kept in his room had been given to him by Dwayne.
“You’re so sweet. I’ve been saving some money since August for Christmas….”
“You’ve been saving money? Really? Every time I turn around, you’ve got some new teddy bear or little outfit to give to your Mom for the baby!” he laughed.
“No, I mean it. I cut way back on stuff I don’t need, because I wanted to…you know…buy some stuff for….”
“Yeah. I know it sounds kind of dumb, since they probably don’t celebrate Christmas, but…”
“It’s not dumb at all. It’s actually really sweet. We’ll pool our money together and get something for everyone. That way, you’ll still have some shopping money left to buy for your mom and what’s his face…”
“Yeah, him. You should probably get him a little something since he’s going to be your step father.”
Before Alex left for work that night, she was favored with lots of affection. Gabe couldn’t help it. He’d been thinking his Christmas would be lackluster and dreary, but he should have known better. With Alex and her positive attitude around, nothing was ever dreary for long. The thought of Christmas shopping filled him with a joy he’d been missing all season. Now, he just debated two questions: Would Alex like what he’d already bought her?
And what in the hell should he get David?
Gabe quickly learned that women had shopping skills that far excelled most men. Even though she was tired from a long shift at work, and the sunlight wreaked hell on her energy levels, Alex could not deny the inbred call of the shopping mall. They departed for their expedition as soon as they knew the mall would be open. Once inside, the lack of direct sunlight in all of the stores invigorated her some. An iced coffee at the Pavilion did the rest. Together, she and Gabe knocked over the toy store first. Children were easier to buy for. Then, it was time to debate over what to get each of the Boys.
“I know what David wants. I just can’t afford it on my own,” Alex sniffed over her coffee.
“That’s why we’re pooling our money, darling. And, maybe we can bargain hunt. What does he want?”
“A digital camera. I heard he’s been playing with Paul’s camera phone lately, but he’s pissed because it doesn’t have a flash…He wants a real camera,” Alex replied.
“Oh, that shouldn’t be too hard. We can’t afford one of the high end ones, but we should be able to take care of that for him,” Gabe replied. He was so relived that Alex knew what to get. In fact, he’d be willing to spend almost about any amount of money just to have the right idea jump out at him.
“But one question. He doesn’t have a computer to download the images on. What good would a camera do him?”
“I’m afraid that’s where you come in, Gabe. He knows you do. Maybe you could teach him how to download and print stuff from your computer when he comes to visit…”
“Well, it’s not like he doesn’t spend lots of time surfing the web anyways when he visits. Shouldn’t be a problem…Now, what about your old man? What are we getting him?”
Alex smiled triumphantly.
“I already know what he wants. I bought it last month when it went on sale,” she replied.
“Oh, yeah…I remember what you got him. I’m just wondering what I should get him…”
“He’s easy, babe. We’ll just hit the music store. I’m having trouble with Dwayne….he’s so quiet, y’know? I have no idea what he likes,” Alex sighed.
“He has three passions; skateboarding, painting and jewelry making,” Gabe replied.
“Oh, yeah, right. And he has a thing about Zombie movies. He’s always asks you if you have any when he comes to visit.”
“See, you know him better than you think…but what about Marko? He’s your Sire. Any idea what he’d want?”
It was Alex’s turn to smile. She then opened up a sale ad from a flyer she’d picked up at the mall’s entrance, and pointed out a couple of things. Gabe gave her the thumbs up.
Neither of them mentioned the gifts they’d purchased each other. Alex had a new leather bomber jacket hidden away at her apartment for him that she’d just gotten out of layaway last week. Gabe had found a nice pair of designer sunglasses for Alex that he planned to give her with along with another small gift.
Once they got back to Gabe’s house, they had quite a load of gifts to wrap. They spent the rest if the afternoon eating popcorn, watching ‘A Christmas Story’ on TV, and wrapping all of the presents until Gabe had to leave for his swing shift.
Alex had traditional family plans scheduled for Christmas Eve that Gabe knew were important to her. It could possibly be the last Christmas she would spend with her family as a mortal. She had been spending a couple of days a week for the last couple of weeks helping her aunt prepare tamales, which was one of her family’s traditional holiday foods. She would spend Christmas Eve in Watsonville with Maria, Dean, and her mother’s family. They would enjoy tons of food, open gifts, and attend midnight mass together. Some of Maria’s extended family would be meeting Dean for the first time. An invitation was also extended to Gabe, who’d likely be spending Christmas Eve alone, and he was flattered (and nervous) at the idea of being included in Alex’s family’s Christmas celebration. Sadly, since he had to work on Christmas Eve, he would only be able to stay a little while.
The day before Christmas Eve, both were scheduled off. Early that evening, Alex called Paul and let him know that they were planning on dropping by. Paul sounded overjoyed, and made plans to ‘suddenly get sick’ so he would not have to work. Marko would be pulling a Christmas Eve shift at the Seafarer, and was given the night before off. Therefore, the timing was perfect for their impromptu Santa Claus act, even if they’d be delivering their gifts a full twenty four hours before Jolly Old Saint Nick usually did.
Climbing into the access tunnel was not an easy thing while burdened with a heavy duty trash bag loaded with wrapped presents. Worse still, Alex had a Tupperware container stuffed full of tamales from her aunt’s house. Despite the obstacles, Gabe and Alex managed to unload their haul without damaging their cargo of gifts or getting dirt in the food.
To their surprise, the ballroom actually looked a little festive. Hand colored rings of paper had been linked together and glued and then strung around the cavern. Leah had obviously been busy. In addition, she and Paul had made stars out of Popsicle sticks, glued and glittered them, and made a couple of hanging mobiles out of them. A Christmas tree of sorts was even present. Leah had drawn one on a large piece of sketch paper from Dwayne’s pad. Then, she’d colored it in and glued real beads that Dwayne had given to her from his jewelry making supplies as ornaments. Then, they’d tacked the ‘Christmas Tree’ up on one of the walls. Beneath the tree, there were already a few clumsily wrapped gifts.
“Ho, Ho, Ho!” Gabe called cheerily.
“Where’s the ‘ho? Did you bring me one for Christmas?” Paul asked. He was making a desperate attempt to comb down his hair, which was still a little damp, as he’d just returned from the YMCA, where he’d taken a shower.
“You wish! Sorry, I couldn’t fit Blow Up Betsy in the bag; otherwise I’m sure she would have liked to tag along,” Gabe joked.
“Ah, don’t worry about it. I’d have her deflated in ten seconds flat if I got too frisky with my fangs…”
“Ah, ewww!” Alex moaned, rolling her eyes.
“I smell food. Where’s the grub?” Marko asked from his customary spot in his beanbag chair.
“It’s in here, and no, it’s not Chinese. Its tamales,” Alex told her Sire with a wink.
Dwayne was seated on his velvet drawing room chair, fixing one of the wheels on his skateboard. In the rocking chair next to him sat Leah. She was wearing a pair of headphones and listening to a personal CD player, which was likely Paul’s. When she saw Alex and Gabe enter the room with the bag of presents, her mouth dropped. Then, she pulled the headphones off.
“Where’s David?” Gabe asked, looking around fruitlessly.
“Oh, Scrooge is in the back, reading some stuff. He’s been a real shit head lately and he spends most of his time by himself, cramming his head full of who knows what,” Paul offered.
David in a bad mood was not a festive thought.
“He’s in a crappy mood? What else is new? He always acts like someone pissed in his Cornflakes,” Alex said, unloading the container of tamales onto the small, antique coffee table.
“He’s been especially testy lately,” Marko said.
“Well, we have something to cheer him up, so maybe he’ll chill out and get happy,” Gabe replied. Then, he started stacking the presents beneath the ‘tree’.
“I hope so,” Marko answered. He shoved himself out of the beanbag chair and disappeared through the double wooden doors to fetch his Sire.
Dwayne finally gave up on the skateboard and uttered a string of words under his breath. Only someone fluent in the language of the Ojibwa tribe would understood what he’d just said. His skateboard was at least 15 years old and had seen the best of its days.
“What, are you being a Scrooge too?” Gabe asked, shooting his Sire a bemused look.
“Nah. Just frustrated,” Dwayne replied sheepishly, “So you two are playing Santa Claus, eh?”
“Yeah, you could say so. Why don’t you come get some tamales before they all get eaten by Paul?” Alex told him.
Dwayne rose from his seat and motioned for Leah to follow him.
“Ever had tamales?” he asked her.
“I don’t know. I think so…” the girl answered.
“Well, try one out. Alex makes some tasty grub,” Dwayne urged.
“Yeah, and if you eat your dinner, we brought dessert,” Gabe promised.
The child looked immensely pleased, and accepted a loaded plate from Paul, who’d dug up a stash of paper plates from somewhere in the room.
“What is this, Christmas dinner?”
Alex and Gabe looked up when David entered the room. Marko was right, it seemed. It looked like David had been having a couple of bad nights. His face was drawn, and it looked like he’d lost a little weight.
“Yeah, this Christmas Dinner, Mexican style,” Alex told him.
“Don’t Mexican people eat turkeys?” Leah asked innocently.
“Yeah, of course we do. But we also eat tamales…lots of them!”
“Mmmm, this is better than the grub at Tia Maria’s!” Paul complimented. His mouth was still full, as it seemed he barely started chewing one bite before he’d load more food in.
Marko loaded up two plates; one for himself and one for his Sire. Once everyone else was served, Alex and Gabe helped themselves. Then, they all found seats. Each of the Boys had their favored chairs, and Leah had temporarily taken residence in Alex’s rocking chair. She didn’t mind however; since she’d much rather sit close to Gabe on the couch tonight. Before Dwayne made himself comfortable, he grabbed a couple of tamales from the tray and took them to the upper chamber where Thorn sat guard. Even the dog would enjoy some Christmas dinner.
“Check out that stack of presents, David. Those two have been busy,” Paul said, indicating what lay in wait beneath the picture of the tree.
“Great. Pretty soon, this kid will be able to open her own toy store right down here,” he replied sourly.
“Who said they were all for Leah? We went shopping for everyone,” Gabe said, narrowing his eyes at David. He was careful to keep his tone respectful, but he couldn’t help the bit of annoyance that slipped into his gaze.
“Can I play Santa?” Leah asked excitedly.
“Looks to me like those two already did,” David told her.
“No, she means she wants to pass out the presents. It’s just an expression,” Alex explained.
“Can I?” Leah repeated.
“Ask them. It’s their loot.”
“Sure. Of course you can,” Gabe affirmed.
She jumped up to start giving out the gifts, but David ordered her back to her seat.
“Finish eating. When everyone’s done, you can pass out the presents.”
His tone was strict and no nonsense. Leah obeyed without question. Alex and Gabe first gazed at each other, and then to the other three Boys. No one said anything. It seemed to the couple that perhaps David was tiring of babysitting. Maybe he’d let the girl go soon…
“I figured we’d be having some sort of Christmas around here. I’ve got a couple of things to bring out,” Dwayne commented once he’d finished his dinner.
“Yeah, me too,” Marko added.
“Well, I kind of thought someone around here was in the holiday spirit, since there was already a few presents under the tree,” Alex said.
“Those are mine. I got my shopping done early,” Paul said with a toss of his messy hair.
Dwayne and Marko returned to the ballroom with their arms full. Neither of them had wrapped their gifts in Christmas paper. Dwayne had his gifts in boxes wrapped in plain brown paper that he’d fashioned from discarded shopping bags. Marko hadn’t wrapped anything at all. He added his contributions to the pile, still stored in the plastic bags they’d been carried home in from the various shops he’d visited. David made no move to add to the pile, but somehow, this surprised no one.
“Is it time yet?” Leah begged. In her excitement, her eyes were taking on a silver sheen that no one commented on.
“Yes,” David sighed, “It’s time.”
The girl wiggled out of her seat and pranced over to the pile of presents. Meanwhile, Gabe set up a platter of all the goodies his great aunt had baked. When David eyed the selection, if finally seemed as though his mood would brighten. By the time Leah had stacked a few gifts over by his chair, he actually looked like he was in a good mood. When he unwrapped the digital camera that Alex and Gabe had chipped in and got him, David finally shed the last vestiges of whatever had been eating at him. Immediately, he set about reading the instruction manual.
“It’s fully charged, too. When you need to recharge it, you can pop it by my place,” Gabe offered, “and then I’ll bring it back when it’s done.”
“Well, let’s see how this works,” David said, pointing his camera around the room and randomly taking pictures of everyone.
“There’s still more presents to open,” Marko called out to his Sire.
David responded by snapping a picture of Marko; making sure that the flash would go off in his eyes. He wore a mischievous grin as he did so. Marko rubbed his sensitive eyes and then playfully flipped David the finger.
Gabe looked over to his Sire and saw that he was staring wordlessly at the new skateboard he’d just unwrapped.
“Wow, Laddie. You shouldn’t have,” he whispered.
“Hell yah, I should have. Your old one is falling apart!”
Paul was hooting in his corner, holding up his ‘Monsters of Rock’ song book that Alex had given him.
“Somebody’s been learning to do some mind reading,” he cried joyfully.
“No, more like somebody’s been pissing and moaning for that song book for the last three months,” Alex laughed.
Marko was thrilled with the Nintendo DS games that Alex and Gabe had selected. Now, he wouldn’t be complaining about not having any new games for some time.
As for Leah, she was tearing through her packages with abandon. Suddenly, she had a horse puzzle, her own sketch pad, a Bratz doll, a couple of pairs of pants and two new T-shirts, some decorative hair accessories, and several ‘Baby Sitter’s Club’ and ‘Goosebumps’ books.
Unbeknownst to Gabe, Alex had clued her Sire in on their plans after their shopping spree, while Gabe had been at work. Marko had gotten the lowdown on who was getting what (except for his own presents, of course), and had gone to Wal-Mart later that night. When he selected his gifts, he chose ones that, in most cases, would compliment the ones Gabe and Alex had chosen. Since tips had been excellent this month, Marko had the money to splurge a bit. Soon, Dwayne was excitedly chattering as much as anyone else when he unwrapped the portable DVD player Marko had sprung for. Then, he was in horror movie heaven when he got to the gifts Alex had purchased. She had found ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and ‘Night of the Living Dead’ for him, intending for him to be able to watch them at Gabe’s. Now, he could watch them whenever he wished.
David was similarly stoked when he unwrapped his gift from his Childe. Marko had found him a boxed set of the Highlander television series. To watch the DVD’s in the ballroom, he’d need to borrow Dwayne’s new player, but watching TV or movies was such a novelty to them, it was suddenly like the whole pack had good things to watch without having to go to Gabe’s house. Marko had also gotten his Sire a digital picture frame. David could transfer his favorite pictures from the camera to the frame, and be able to view them without requiring a computer or a printer. Paul was gifted with a new ‘rock box’. This one was the first he’d ever owned that played CD’s. Immediately afterwards, he opened his gift from Gabe and was rewarded with CD’s from Rob Zombie and Disturbed. Marko gifted his Childe with a South Park hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with ‘I Killed Kenny’ on the front. Alex always laughed whenever Marko wore his South Park hoodie, and now she had one of her own. Gabe received something in an envelope.
He opened it up and revealed a gift certificate to ‘Think in Ink’, the local tattoo parlor.
“Whoa…dude!” he cried happily.
“You can’t get it done unless I’m there. I wanna see that bad boy,” Marko told him.
“You’re getting a tat? Awesome! Lucky you!” Paul said. His eyes were unable to hide a moment of envy. Vampires could not get tattoos. They’d heal over as soon as they were applied.
“Now would be a good time to get one if you want one,” David said ominously.
Gabe’s next gift was from Dwayne. Most of his gifts to everyone were ones he made himself, since he didn’t have much money, but no one thought any less of them. Dwayne had found another wolf’s tooth (or he’d been saving it), and fashioned Gabe an earring of it that matched his own.
Finally, Alex and Gabe swapped gifts with each other. Alex watched nervously as Gabe unwrapped his new jacket.
“Holy shit! This is awesome!” he cried as he tried it on. Alex had chosen wisely and the jacket fit him perfectly. Of course, she’d used the size of his old, fleece lined denim jacket as a guide.
“Well, look who’s finally decided to dress like he belongs,” David remarked, taking in the sight of Gabe in his new leather bomber with the wolf tooth earning dangling from his earlobe.
“It’s not a work night. I can get away with it,” Gabe laughed. Then, he presented Alex with her gift. There was only one box, but two things were packed inside. The first was a pair of designer label sunglasses. Nestled beside them was a velvet pouch. Alex opened that to reveal a filigreed Black Hills Gold heart charm on a gold chain.
Her jaw dropped in surprise, and then she threw her arms around Gabe and gave him a hearty hug. While he unfastened the clasp of the necklace and put it around her neck, Alex was bouncing lightly on the couch in excitement, much like Paul often did. Once the necklace was in place, Gabe leaned in for a kiss. Neither of them was expecting a flash to go off in their faces.
“You two should really see how disgusting you look doing that,” David smirked, handing Gabe the cameral. On the digital readout, he could see the kiss that he and Alex had just shared.
“You just wait. The first chick you bring down here, I’m going to be here with a friggin’ video camera!” Gabe threatened in mock.
“Promise? That could be kinky,” Paul commented.
The moan that echoed around the ballroom was a collective one, and soon, Paul found himself being playfully bombarded with crumpled up pieces of discarded wrapping paper.
Finally, Leah stood up. She had made a hand drawn Christmas card for everyone. Alex and Gabe’s had been finished just before they’d arrived. With an air of importance, she passed them out to everyone. Even David got one. His attitude towards Leah softened considerably for the rest of the night.
At last, before the festivities drew to a close, Thorn was given his gifts. A brand new rawhide chew bone was presented to him, while Dwayne held on to the box of dog snacks he favored. Thorn barely raised his head when his bone was given to him. Then again, Christmas wasn’t exactly the high point of a dog’s life. It wasn’t the high point of a fear demon’s either.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 12: Cold Case”]
Chapter 12: Cold Case
Lt. Chelli and his squad were called into the Commissioner’s office at 9 a.m., three days after Christmas. He delivered the word to them that the investigation of the disappearance of Leah Emerson was to be put into inactive status. Chelli’s squad was to disassemble and be put to other duties, and Chelli was to oversee them as per the usual.
“This is a missing child case. We can’t just let it go,” Chelli argued, swallowing thickly. He remembered his promise to Lucy Emerson and was not prepared to give up the search.
“This is a drowned child case. The Coast Guard is as certain of it as they can be without actually having a body. Let the family know so they can put her to rest,” Erickson ordered.
“With all due respect, sir, they will never be able to put her to rest without…”
“Sadly, some people have to. We have some family crisis counselors we can set them up with. But, we’ve done all we can. Our officers are needed elsewhere now.”
Chelli knew the Commissioner’s word was final, and even one last argument wouldn’t sway him. He felt embittered; obviously, Erickson didn’t know what it was like to lose a child. All the crisis counselors in the world wouldn’t be able to mend the hole in the Emerson’s hearts. Critical stitches were missing.
Erickson hadn’t been the commissioner when Chelli’s daughter, Star had gone missing. Her disappearance was treated as a run away teenager case, but her whereabouts had still been investigated. Then, the Thompson kid had vanished. Though missing persons reports were the norm in Santa Carla in those days, kids were rarely reported missing. The town had been shaken up by the sudden disappearances of a high school junior and a third grade boy within the same two week span. Suddenly, Star’s disappearance was looked at as a possible abduction; for certainly, the eight year old boy’s case was.
For months, nothing concrete turned up. A few yokels called in to the police station from time to time saying they spotted one or the other (or sometimes, even both of them together) late at night on the boardwalk. Yet, when questioned, the witnesses could rarely pull together enough details to make the investigators believe they’d done anything more than glimpse at the Missing posters that were plastered all over town.
The strain had been too much for Chelli’s marriage. They had already been on thin ice to begin with. Susan had a hard time dealing with the varied shifts that Chelli worked. Often, she felt alone, especially when Star and her younger sister Serenity became teenagers. Suddenly, the girls were more interested in their social lives, and Susan found she had no one to talk to. Chelli remembered how distant he’d been back in those days. Police work wasn’t something one could discuss with the wife. Eventually, the couple began to fight. During the height of their marital distress, Star went missing. Rather than deal with his disintegrating family life, Chelli did the one thing he was familiar with: Police work. He scrutinized every detail over and over, trying to solve the puzzle. While trying to find the one missing member of his family, he neglected the ones that were still there. Before long, Susan asked for a separation. She also took custody of Serenity, who’d been fourteen at the time.
Once Star had been found, Chelli had hopes that he could reunite his family. Unfortunately, it was too late for their marriage. Despite that, he and Susan decided to put away their differences for the good of their daughters. As a result, the divorce was as peaceful as possible, and both remained committed parents to Serenity…and to Star when she came back home. Today, he and Susan could talk quite civilly, even if they didn’t consider themselves close. One never stopped being a parent; even when the kids were grown and out of the house.
Chelli was living proof of how tragedies like this could pull families apart. Fortunately, the Thompson family had better coping skills than he and Susan had. They had remained a united front throughout the entire investigation of their son’s whereabouts. Chelli would hook Lucy and Sam Emerson up with them for support during their ordeal if both the Thompson’s weren’t dead. They had met their untimely ends in a bus accident while taking a casino tour to Reno nearly two years ago.
Crisis counselors didn’t know squat. It was people that had lived through an experience like theirs that could help the Emerson’s cope with whatever outcome resulted…..and all of the uncertainty and waiting in between.
Chelli was forced to obey the Commissioner’s orders up front, at least. No more officers would be dispatched to look for the kid. Furthermore, any investigations he did would have to be off the clock. Still, he’d made a promise, and he was a man of principle. He didn’t break his promises. If the kid really had drowned, Chelli wouldn’t rest until he had sufficient facts to give to the family. One soggy shoe didn’t seal a case in his book.
And, if some other fate had befallen Leah Emerson, Chelli vowed he wouldn’t rest until he learned what it was.
Sam Emerson clutched the phone tightly, holding it to his ear while he vainly tried to seal out his mother’s sobs. The cops had come and told them that they’d turned over every leaf, but it was time to admit the inevitable. Sam bit back his retorts to suggest to them that they hadn’t considered EVERY possibility. Somehow, suggesting to the officers that a werewolf had mangled his daughter would likely get him locked up in the Rubber Room.
“No, Mike, no word yet, except from the cops. A pair of dumb shit officers came over this afternoon and told us that they’re putting the investigation on the back burner.”
“Sammy, are you sure you don’t need me out there? I can catch the first flight and be there by morning…”
“No, Mike, why? There isn’t jack you can do….”
“What about Mom? I can hear her back there…she’s falling apart!”
“Mike, just stay put. Mom’s stronger than you think, but if she starts losing it, I’ll send her out to you guys. Maybe a change of scenery would do her some good.”
“What about Grandpa? How’s he taking this?” Michael asked.
“He’s in la-la land. Total denial. He keeps muttering stuff about ‘all the damn vampires’, if that gives you a clue.”
“He’s really starting to lose touch, isn’t he?”
“What do you expect? He’s 84 years old,” Sam replied.
“If you send Mom out here, what about Grandpa? Can he travel?”
“I’m sure he could, but he won’t. You know him. No TV, no electric clothes dryer, no dishwasher…no airplanes. I’ll keep an eye on him,” Sam said.
“How long are you going to stay in Santa Carla?” Michael asked.
“As long as it takes. I’ve made arrangements with my contractors, so I can work at home. I went home the day after Christmas and got what I needed in case I’m here for awhile.”
He had also stopped in to check on Jennifer, who was a wreck. For once, she had looked happy to see him. He’d also made contacts to supply himself with an adequate amount of ‘coping dust’.
“Star wants to know if her old man is in charge of the investigation.”
“Lt. Chelli? Yeah. He is…I mean, was before the department reassigned him,” Sam answered.
Suddenly, Sam could hear movement on the other end of the line.
“Sam, it’s me, Star. I just want you guys to know that my dad won’t give up, no matter what the department tells him. Let Lucy know for me, will you?”
“Yeah, I will,” Sam agreed.
The phone call ended a short time later, and Sam exhaled a huge sigh of relief. It was important to keep Mike out of Santa Carla. He didn’t need to run into David again. One family tragedy was enough.
Some time after the pair of officers had informed Lucy and Sam of the status of the investigation, Lt. Chelli stopped by. He was off duty now, and wore plain clothes. Lucy allowed him in. Her tears had stopped by then, but her face was still drawn and pale.
“I don’t know exactly where I’m going to go from here, but I just want you to know that I meant what I said when this whole thing started. I won’t give up until we have an answer,” he reaffirmed.
“Star said you wouldn’t. I just talked with her a few minutes ago,” Sam said, taking a seat in the living room where Lucy and Lt. Chelli were sequestered.
Lt. Chelli smiled.
“She would know.”
“You don’t know what a relief it is to hear you say this, Lt. Chelli. I can’t believe everyone else is just giving up!” Lucy cried.
“The bottom line is funding. It gets expensive chasing dead ends, I’m afraid. But, my work won’t cost the department a thing. By the way, you can call me Stan. We are family, after all,” he told them. Though he implied such to both of them, his gaze primarily rested on Lucy.
Sam gritted his teeth. A ghost from many years ago stirred in his mind, resurrected by Lt. Chelli’s words: “We are family after all…”
His mind flashed back to a scene from twenty years ago. Max, standing in the living room, gone all fang-glory, leering at Lucy and explaining the plans he’d made for her, himself and Michael…
‘Just like one big happy family…’
Did Lt. Chelli believe in werewolves? Vampires? Did he know how close his daughter had come to being a creature of the night?
“I have some leads I’m going to investigate. I’m still in contact with Gabriel Thompson. He told me that one of his employees had a run in with someone on the beach on the 22nd of December, and reported it in the log book. She’s been off the last few nights, but tonight, she’s reporting back to duty, so I’m going to ask her some questions,” Lt. Chelli was saying.
“Will you let me know what comes of it?” Lucy asked.
“I’ll keep you posted on everything. I know it’s frustrating when things are so slow, but I just wanted to let you both know that I’m on your side, and I’m not giving up.”
“Thank you so much, Lt. Chelli…I mean, Stan,” Lucy said as she wiped away a fresh set of tear tracks. Only this time, the tears she shed were more of relief than grief. Someone was still holding out hope.
“Yeah, thank you. This means a lot,” Sam told him.
Lt. Chelli left a few minutes later. Then, Sam looked at Lucy.
“I’m glad he’s on our side. He said he has some leads, and I have a couple of my own. I won’t be out late.”
“Sam? What leads? Where are you going?” Lucy asked.
“I don’t know if you’d really call them leads. I just want to talk to Laddie myself. He might be able to give me a ‘missing kid’s’ perspective on things. He was gone an awful long time and never contacted his folks, you know. Maybe he could tell me why…it’s one of the things that’s been eating at me. If Leah’s alive, why hasn’t she tried to call” he explained.
“Just be careful, Sam. You know the police might not like it if you go sticking your nose in the middle of their investigation…”
“Mom, there is no more investigation, remember? I’m Leah’s father, and I’ll stick my nose where I damn well please.”
After he revitalized himself with his ‘coping powder’, Sam climbed into his car and headed down to the boardwalk. Instead of stopping in to talk to the head of boardwalk security, he went to Frog’s Comics. Both of the brothers were there, as usual.
“The cops have called a stop to the investigation. Well, the official word is that they’ve put it on the back burner,” Sam informed them angrily.
“Bullshit. The Commish is just pulling the mortal cops off that particular beat. He doesn’t want any more humans poking around, in case they get wind of something other than human,” Edgar told him stoically.
“The Commish? Is he…?”
“He’s a werewolf, according to Ed’s wife. She knows…she has to work with the bastard,” Alan explained.
“Your wife is a cop?”
“No. She’s the mayor. You knew that, didn’t you?” Edgar asked.
“Well, I knew you got hitched, but I didn’t know you married the Mayor of Santa Carla,” Sam replied.
“She wasn’t the mayor when we first got married, but she is now and has been for the last two years. Anyhow, Shelby knows who’s what in the City Council…and she also knows what Commissioner Erickson is.”
“Besides ‘full of shit’,” Alan added.
“So, then, what’s the deal with Lt. Chelli? He’s the one that told us that the investigation was being stalled, but he also told us that he plans to investigate on his own. Is he one of them…or one of us?”
“Lt. Chelli. Shelby’s never mentioned his name when talking about ghouls and werewolves. And, if the dude gets around in the sunlight, it’s pretty safe to assume he’s not a night stalker, either,” Edgar said.
“Has he seen anything? Given you any leads to suggest that he knows anything more than what the papers are spewing?” Alan asked.
“Not really…He did mention that one of the boardwalk security guards saw someone out on the beach a few nights ago and logged the incident down in the record book.”
The three men gazed at each other apprehensively.
“No…couldn’t have been us the guard saw. We haven’t been out there for over a week.”
“Someone else then. Maybe the wolf,” Edgar stated.
“Hey, they have surveillance cameras that do regular sweeps. I wonder if there’s anything recorded? If so, we might get a possible ID on the suspect-” Alan suggested.
“Yeah, and then we’ll be able to see if the ‘perp’ is listed in our ‘Werewolves, Vampires and Ghouls directory,” Edgar finished.
“You guys have a directory on the werewolves, ghouls and vampires in this town?” Sam asked.
“Damn straight we do.” Edgar replied.
“Next question, then. Do we clue Lt. Chelli in to the fact that we’re doing our own investigation, or should we just let him do his own thing?”
“Hell no, we don’t clue him in. Let him investigate to his heart’s content. Meanwhile, we’ll be watching him. Just because he’s not in our book doesn’t mean he might not be a future candidate. One never knows about people in this town,” Alan replied.
Sam had to agree.
“When did he say he was going to question the guard?” Edgar asked.
“I got the impression he’s going tonight,” Sam replied.
“If it wasn’t Laddie that saw the perp, then it had to be one of the two grave shift guards. Either the big, bald Jamaican guy..”
“Jules, I think his name is,” Edgar said.
“Yeah, either Jules or Maria’s daughter, Alexandra,” Alan stated.
“Yeah, you know, Maria. The chick that works with your old lady at Video Max.”
“I know who Maria is. I just didn’t know she had a daughter,” Sam said.
“Now you know. Anyways…”
“Wait,” Sam interrupted, “It has to be her, then. Lt. Chelli specifically mentioned that the guard has been off for the last few nights, and is returning back tonight. He referred to the guard as a ‘she’…and, it also means that he is planning to talk to her tonight.”
“Well, then so will we. The night guard comes on shift at 11. He’ll probably question her first. We’ll stick around and question her after he leaves,” Edgar said.
Just as they thought, Lt. Chelli was waiting for Alex as soon as she came on shift. The three men waited patiently while Chelli asked his questions, but from their distance, they could not hear the conversation. He stayed for about fifteen minutes, and then he left Alex to finish the rest of her shift in peace.
Or so she thought. Ten minutes after the police lieutenant left, Alex saw the Frog brothers heading straight towards her. With them was another man she didn’t recognize.
“Hey, guys, how’s things with the shop?” she greeted casually, although the look in her eyes suggested that she knew they weren’t there to discuss store security.
“Things are groovy. Say, this is Sam Emerson, little Leah’s father. He heard from Chelli earlier tonight that you saw someone on the beach a few nights ago, and that he planned to question you about it,” Edgar opened.
“Yeah, Lt. Chelli stopped by here a few minutes ago,” Alex answered. She studied the trio carefully. Having the Frog brothers around asking questions made her nervous. What should she say to them…and to the girl’s father, who stood not three feet away from her.
“What about this guy you saw on the beach?” Sam prodded, “Did he act suspicious?”
“Anyone that is out on the beach by themselves past midnight looks suspicious in my book, so I approached him when he was coming back to unlock his bike from the stair rails. I hate to disappoint you guys, but he was just a kid…a teenager, really. He said he couldn’t sleep and that when he gets insomnia, he walks on the beach.”
“And you believed his load of crap?” Edgar voiced.
“Excuse me? What was I supposed to think? It’s not like he was wearing torn, bloody clothes, and it’s not like I caught him dumping a lump wrapped in a tarp off the side of the pier,” Alex snapped.
She knew she had to watch her temper, but Edgar’s comment pissed her off. Suddenly, she wished she could pull her new shades down over her eyes in case they flared.
“Chill out, Edgar. Let me handle this, please,” Sam interjected. Then, he turned to Alex. His eyes had a pleading expression, but Alex thought she noticed something else about him, too. His eyes were glassed over, just like Paul’s got when he’d been getting high on coke or crank. His pupils were very wide, too, even though they were all standing in a fairly well lit area.
“So this guy was a teenager?” he asked.
“Yeah, maybe fifteen or sixteen, if that. He was Hispanic and smallish for his age, but I could tell he was well into his teens because his voice was deep; and he had a bit of a caterpillar moustache on his top lip. He was on a bicycle…a silver mountain bike. No helmet. He wore a black ‘Harbor High’ sweatshirt and a pair of dark blue jeans,” she answered.
“Did you ID him?” Alan asked.
“He didn’t have an ID on him, but he told me that his name was Jake. I told him that he was trespassing, and the idea seemed to scare the shit out of him, so he bailed.”
“It didn’t seem odd to you that a teenaged kid was out on the beach by himself?” Edgar pressed.
“Actually, you’d be amazed how many teenaged kids I see skulking around the boardwalk at night. They make up at least half of the trespassing incident reports I write. The other half is bums. But, I already told you that anyone I see walking around on the beach alone, late at night, will arouse my suspicions. He wasn’t supposed to be there, plain and simple. What surprised me is that I didn’t find any evidence on him to suggest that he was there to spray paint graffiti on the walls.”
“Did you notice anything else odd about him? Was he unusually pale, have bad breath or long fingernails or anything like that?” Alan asked.
“Christ, the kid was not a vampire, okay? But…come to think of it, there was one strange thing I noticed, but I don’t know if it had anything to do with the boy or not…”
“What?” the three of them asked in unison.
“I kept smelling ‘dog’. Like maybe he lives in a house with lots of pet dogs or something,” Alex answered.
The three men exchanged glances. Then, Edgar regarded Alex again.
“Dog….or werewolf?” he asked.
“I’d have to say ‘dog’, simply because I don’t know what a werewolf smells like.”
“Any chance we could view the surveillance tapes from that night?” Alan asked.
“You’d have to get permission from my supervisor. He’s the only one that’s allowed to handle them.”
They all nodded in understanding.
“Thanks, Alex. You’ve been a big help,” Sam told her sincerely.
She nodded to him soberly.
“I hope everything turns out okay. My supervisor comes on shift at 3 o’clock in the afternoon tomorrow. You can talk to him then,” she offered.
Then, she dismissed herself to start her rounds. Sam reviewed what she’d told him in his mind. He knew that ‘dog’ smell, and he couldn’t wait to see the tapes the next day. Finally, after all this time, he dared to hope that a real lead had surfaced.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 13: Search and Seizure”]
Chapter 13: Search and Seizure
Erickson had no plans to abandon the investigation, unbeknownst to Lt. Chelli. He simply shifted the case into the hands of two of his best detectives; Jim Montgomery and Bob Branch. He knew these two would get to the bottom of it, and they would do it his way.
Like Erickson, Montgomery and Branch disappeared from sight during those sensitive full moon times. Otherwise, they were an excellent team. Who needed police dogs when his detectives could put their noses to the ground and sniff out the truth…or at least Erickson’s version of it?
There was still about a week until the next full moon. That would give his men plenty of time to gather enough evidence to pin the kid’s disappearance on Dwayne Runningwolf. Then, the Lt. Mayor’s brat would be off the hook, and everything would go back to normal. Montgomery and Branch were not as young as they looked. Both appeared to be men in their mid forties. Branch had salt and pepper hair, was tall, and clean shaven (for most of the month, anyways). Montgomery was even taller, very wiry, and wore a groomed mustache that matched his red-blond hair. As the month approached the full moon, both of the detectives, like Erickson and the Lt. Mayor, wore sun shades in public. Their eyes were beginning to show signs of their true ages. Silver flecks could be seen in the normal irises of their eyes if one looked carefully. This was a normal occurrence once a werewolf reached middle age; which was an age considerably older than mortals.
Montgomery and Branch could shift themselves from wolf to human form and back again with relative ease, as long as the moon was not new. This was a skill a werewolf developed with age, unless an immediate threat to life or limb was present. Then, any werewolf could, regardless of age.
“Look, I’ve gotten nowhere with the Mayor. She would be hasty to act if this was a ghoul issue, and she did confirm that she spoke with Owens, but it’s not Owens I want. Our witness fingered Runningwolf, and he’s the one that should have been questioned from the beginning. Frankly, I’m quite sure that Owens would do just about anything to cover up the tracks of any of his subordinates, including lie to Shelby. And, as much as she likes to think she runs the show with her damn old fart Uncle’s edicts, the fact is that she’s a politician, not a cop. This is a police investigation, and it’s high time I ran it my way,” Erickson stated in his meeting with the two detectives.
Branch had a copy of the report given to the Commissioner from the Lt. Mayor. It contained the testimony from his son concerning the events of the night of December 16, as told by the senior Martinez.
“Would we be allowed to question the boy ourselves?” he asked.
“If you feel the need to do so, wait until nightfall. I don’t want anyone to see detectives coming or going from the Martinez residence during broad daylight, and I don’t want to drag the kid down to the station.”
“Has Runningwolf been seen in the vicinity since the 16th?” Montgomery asked.
“Not that I’m aware of. Apparently, those boys have been keeping a low profile lately, which further makes me suspect that they’ve got something to hide. I’m sure the bastard drained the kid, but so far, the Coast Guard hasn’t found her stiff yet. So, maybe he buried her…or cremated her remains somewhere.”
“Yeah, and I’m sure those boys think they’re pretty inaccessible now that the access means across the gulf to their former hideout has been obliterated. Ten to one odds they’re still skulking around in that damn sunken hotel,” Branch muttered.
“Likely so, and of course, I’ll have you gentlemen go sniff out the area and see if you can’t pinpoint where they’re holing up. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get a whiff of where Runningwolf disposed of the kid. That’s the best case scenario. We get a body, we have a case. Even one that’s been in the ground for two weeks will have enough forensic evidence to show cause of death. And if all you find are ashes, there should still be enough DNA present to identify in bone shards or tooth fragments. Even if a cause of death can’t be established, we can still build a case on substantial evidence. But, I’m going to make one thing clear, right now. Under no circumstances are either one of you to enter the Boys’ domicile. You go there, collect your evidence, record your findings, and radio back to me. I don’t want any confrontations, or defenseless, dead vampires. It would make us look real bad, got it?”
“Suppose we find substantial evidence? What’s our next course of action?” Branch asked.
The Commissioner gave his two detectives a toothy smile and filled them in on the rest of the plan. Then, he gave them their special weapons permits and dismissed them.
Detectives in human form would have had a difficult time crossing the gorge separating the site of the old sunken hotel from the mainland. In wolf form, however, the two investigators were able to climb down the steep embankment, swim across the sea water channel, and climb back up the other side with little trouble. They would have even been able to jump across, but making the swim had an advantage. The briny water would cling to their coats, and though they shook themselves thoroughly to keep from leaving any sort of a trail, the salt water would help disguise the overpowering scent of wolf.
They left their unmarked squad car on the other side of the bluff, and their plain clothes were left inside the car. This sort investigation was best conducted in lupine form. It was broad daylight, so care was taken to park the vehicle as far off the road as possible. Still, Branch and Montgomery weren’t particularly concerned with being seen. Hudson’s Bluff was not exactly in the middle of town. The worst possible scenario they could encounter were the vampires; which wasn’t likely. That was one advantage werewolves had over bloodsuckers.
True to their dog instincts, they searched with their noses to the ground, sniffing for evidence. Already, they had familiarized themselves with Leah Emerson’s scent from the evidence gathered from Lt. Chelli’s investigation the night she disappeared. Even though the shoe had been washed over in sea water, it still had enough of the girl’s scent left behind to be of value. Before long, the duo found the sunken hotel, but they quickly ascertained that it was vacant. Perhaps it hadn’t been vacant for long; they could detect the scents of vampires, mortals, and oddly, they also picked up the scent of a dog. But, the dog leavings were several months old, at least, and none of the mortal scents was Leah Emerson’s.
Vampires were territorial creatures every bit as much as werewolves were, and the investigators were well aware of this. They knew that the vampires had to still be in the area. This was ‘their turf’. So, they pressed on, glancing up every so often at the sun overhead. After two and a half hours of sniffing and pawing, the large grey and white wolf that was Montgomery made a sharp growling noise to the mottled tan and black wolf that was Branch. Branch snapped his head up from a suspicious looking indentation in the ground he’d been sniffing at and acknowledged his partner. Then, he trotted over to where Montgomery stood before a limestone cliff. Up overhead, there looked to be an entrance to a cavern, but it was difficult to make out visually. There was no mistaking what was hidden overhead by scent, though. Montgomery had found the vampire’s lair.
The cavern’s entrance was some six feet off the ground at least, and it would not be an easy task for a mortal or a wolf to access, as the limestone cliff face that the cavern was embedded in was slippery as hell. However, access was not what the wolves were interested in. It was Montgomery that found the vampire’s lair, and it was Branch that picked up the scent of Leah Emerson.
What disturbed him was that her scent wasn’t coming from the ground below. It came from the air up above. He communicated this to his partner in a series of soft growls. Then, they both decided to scale the rocks and sniff the exterior of the cavern without actually going inside. It was the only way they would know for certain.
It took them the better part of twenty minutes to scrabble up the slippery cliff and climb the whole way to the top. Their silvery eyes quickly adjusted from the brightness of the outdoor light to the dimness inside the anteroom of the cavern. They could smell the presence of the child quite clearly, as well as the vampires, and other presences, as well. They could faintly smell another mortal, and also one was what the vampires liked to call a ‘half vampire’, or an ‘altered mortal’. Then, they smelled the dog. They smelled him before they saw him. Just as their eyes were acclimating from light to dark, a furious white form charged out of the anteroom, snarling and gnashing its teeth at them.
It wasn’t just any dog. It was an ‘altered dog’!
It was a mad dash for their lives. The two detectives scrambled back down the face of the cliff as fast as their four legs would carry them. The hellhound pursued them, snarling and barking; nearly matching their strides. There was no time to ford the gorge on the way back; the only option they had was to blindly jump. Even still, the white dog followed suit. The detectives barely made it to their car, transforming as they went. Once inside the vehicle, the hellhound jumped and clawed against the door, leaving a trail of slaver on the window.
“Floor it!” Branch cried in horror.
Montgomery didn’t have to be told twice. It looked as though the dog just might have enough strength to break the window if allowed any more time. He pulled away from the shoulder and onto the road, and the dog pursued them for at least a quarter of a mile before giving up the chase. Only after the white shepherd vanished from the sight of the rear view mirror did both detectives realize they were traveling in the vehicle buck naked! Their garments were still waiting for them to change back into in the back seat…..
“We’re not so sure she’s dead. Or, if she is, they disposed of her remains inside the cavern somewhere,” Branch reported to Erickson an hour later. By now, they were dressed, cleaned up and composed. They hadn’t had time to make a written field report, but a verbal follow up was necessary considering the circumstances. The detectives were now enjoying a cup of coffee at the Sea Shanty on the pier, and Branch was making his report by cell phone.
“They have themselves a hellhound, eh? Figures. It’s just as well that you didn’t engage it this time around, and avoid doing so if at all possible, but I won’t lose any sleep over a dead hellhound and neither should you. Rip its fucking head off if it becomes a problem. Now, I’ve got the reports here on where our boys have been popping up lately. Not all of them are confirmed, but, in the immortal words of Rhett Butler, Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. You two are going to stake out the hidey hole. They’ll be expecting trouble tonight, so you’ll begin your post two nights from now. Meanwhile, you can conduct your interview with Jake Martinez and write up your field report.”
“Yes, sir,” Branch said.
“Then, I’ll have Lerner and Johnson patrol the boardwalk, Donato and Carroll will take Front Street, Jeffries and Ayers will watch the downtown mall and the bus depot, and then, I’ve called in a favor to a buddy of mine in Capitola. Seems like one of those fang faces might be tending bar at the Seafarer, so I’m sending Grist over there to check on that lead. With any luck, it’ll be Runningwolf. If not, it’s a safe bet they all hang out over there for the Bloodsucker’s Happy Hour if one of them is serving up Bloody Mary’s over there….”
Leah had been napping when she heard Thorn start snarling and barking. The sound was so horrid, it was almost enough to make her pee her pants. Her heart was hammering in her chest, and her blood was throbbing in her ears. At least Thorn wasn’t barking at her for once!
Who was he barking at?
The Boys were asleep. They always slept during the day, and Leah knew why, now. They had told her; even if she kind of didn’t believe it. She wasn’t sure if she believed in vampires. She believed in ghosts, but she knew closet monsters were a bunch of baloney because Grandma said so. But vampires?
Scary dogs were real, though. She still had nightmares about that dog that tried to eat her. In fact, she’d been having a dream about that stupid dog when Thorn had started barking. Leah could even smell that scary dog….
It was so close. So close, in fact, that when she woke up, she could still smell it.
Suddenly, Leah noticed that Thorn’s barking sounded like it was becoming far away. Had he left the cavern? The scent came to her again; very strong. Only this time, it wasn’t so scary, it was just…unwanted. It wasn’t the scent she desired, and she didn’t understand. Her skin began to itch and she scratched at it; noticing that she had some red welts breaking out on her arms. In the middle of the welts were some coarse, light brown hairs. She couldn’t see her eyes shift from blue to silver. Her anxiety grew and she began to pace. A tiny whimper escaped her throat. Finally, she couldn’t stand it. She had to see if Thorn was still there or not. What was that smell? Who was there? Who? Who? Who?
Her mind was barely a child’s anymore by the time she crawled up into the upper chamber, even though her body still largely resembled one. Her suspicions were confirmed. Thorn was no longer there, but she smelled his marking, very strongly. He was defending his territory. Whoever had come was not clan. Instinctively, Leah found a spot at the front of the cavern and let her own water loose. Then, she crawled back down to the safety of the ballroom, curled back up on the couch, and fell back into a fitful doze. By the time Thorn returned, she had no memory of what had happened.
“Someone’s been here,” David growled, pacing around the ballroom later that night. He was, of course, stating the obvious, because all four vampires could smell the reek of werewolf despite the precautions the detectives had taken earlier that day.
“Did anyone come inside, Leah?” Paul asked. For once, his tone held no hint of humor whatsoever.
She shook her head emphatically.
“No, no one. But I think Thorn left for awhile, but I’m not sure,” she replied.
Dwayne whistled for Thorn. The dog took his dear sweet time answering his master’s call, but eventually he padded into the ballroom.
“I don’t see any bite marks,” he stated after he gave him a good once over.
David sighed and finally took a seat in his chair. He then leveled a gaze at Dwayne.
“Sketch us a picture of that damn dog. We’re going on a mutt hunt,” he said.
“How’s that going to help. There were at least two of them here today,” Marko leveled.
“Of course there was more than one. They hunt in packs. But I’m willing to bet the wolf that nabbed Leah was one of them, and he’s wants to finish the job. He obviously knows we have her now, so he’s brought back up, but if we can identify him, it won’t matter who the others are,” David responded.
“True enough. I’m just having trouble understanding what he wants with her now if biting her the first time burned his stupid mouth….”
David didn’t answer.
“Time’s running out,” Paul whispered.
Dwayne picked up the sketch pad and selected some colored pencils. After a few minutes, he began to work, and the details began to emerge. David held his breath. Relief washed over him when Dwayne produced a finished image fifteen minutes later. His memories of the night hadn’t failed him. He didn’t have to ask Dwayne if he was certain if this was what the creature looked like, because the stricken expression on Leah’s face answered any question he could have asked.
“Looks like we have our man, so now we need a plan. Paul, you’re going to stay here with Leah…”
Paul looked a bit indignant, but David gave him a stern look.
“You’ve had no experience with werewolves. And, I don’t like to point out the obvious, Paul, but if anything happens to you, it takes you longer to heal. Stay here and don’t bullshit me.”
Paul didn’t argue, but he still looked defeated. However, Leah looked happy with the arrangement.
“You two, we gotta play this smart. We’re being watched, so we can’t congregate together. It’s important that we keep in touch with each other and keep in touch with Paul. Keep to the air as much as possible, and keep your channels open. Dwayne, have Thorn on backup with the kid so that Paul can be ready to respond to us at any given moment if one of us needs immediate back up. And, we all need to be ready to respond to Paul if he sounds the alert that he needs help.” David ordered. Lastly, he looked severely at Leah.
“Under no circumstances are you to leave the cavern alone. You only leave if Paul takes you. Do you understand?” he told her.
The girl nodded her understanding and went and climbed into Paul’s lap.
Just as the werewolves were familiar with what territory the vampires called theirs, the Boys knew where the wolves primarily habituated. Most of them owned or rented homes up in the hills of Santa Carla, near the wooded areas. Others lived in nearby towns like Felton, Scotts Valley, Lompico, and Boulder Creek, which were towns situated off of Highway 17, in wooded regions. They commuted to their jobs in Santa Carla or San Jose. The territory would be entirely too large to cover in one night, they knew. Still, the vampires had the advantage of flight, and between the three of them, they could still cover a great deal of ground. Even if they didn’t spot their suspect visually, they hoped to pin his location down by scent.
Separately, they flew from the cavern and made a pass over the pier. Once they’d revisited the pier, they each knew that there were three wolves involved. Two had been at the cavern, and they were different from the one that Dwayne had encountered on the beach. They communicated this to Paul, who waited at the hideout. Then, they continued on their search.
Dwayne’s contact with the wolf on the pier was the longest, and he picked up traces of his scent on the boardwalk. They were faint but still detectable. The wolf had been here since his foray to the beach when Dwayne had encountered him, yet he hadn’t been here within the last couple of days. Dwayne was required to land and walk a short distance, milling around in the crowds of the boardwalk. The scent was the strongest closest to the stairs leading to the beach. From there, it weakened considerably, but Dwayne could still smell the trail. The scent was still the same, frightened dog scent he’d encountered before, but perhaps not as urgent. The trail led right off of the midway; and down Beach Street…
Almost the way someone in a car or on a bicycle would travel.
Once he was sure of his bearings, Dwayne heeded David’s warnings and took to the air again. He communicated his whereabouts to David and Marko, who in turn, kept him up to date on their progress. Marko was sorting out the scents of the two afternoon invaders; while David had a hunch of his own that he was following up on. Dwayne was given a mental image of the Police Commissioner, and David’s plans to spy on him.
An hour into the search, Marko finally found himself a quiet place to collect his thoughts. He sat on a memorial bench beneath the outstretched wings of a marble angel in the Dominican Hospital Cemetery. It seemed to be the only place in town where werewolves weren’t tonight….
He picked up the scent of the two intruding werewolves quickly enough, and was able to follow them clear down the road leading away from Hudson’s Bluff. It seemed that the fleabags had stopped all over town, though. Then, things had gotten confusing. Soon, Marko picked up the scents of other wolves in the vicinity…
Lots of other wolves.
It seemed that everywhere he went, he could smell them. Before long, the original scents he’d been tracking were overpowered, and he knew it wasn’t his imagination. He was being watched. Unfortunately, when the werewolves were in their human forms, it was hard to tell them from the mortals unless he was up close. The best thing he could do was get the hell out of Dodge and let the others know as soon as he felt safe.
David received the mental distress call from Marko, warning him that the werewolves were extremely active, despite the fact that the full moon was still about a week away. Marko had prowled many more places than David had, following the scent of the two wolves that had visited the hideout earlier, and apparently, he’d discovered evidence that there were more around that what the Boys originally thought. Images flashed into David’s mind. Marko was confused, but he’d detected perhaps four others, and he suspected that he was being watched. None of the wolves had made any indication to Marko that they’d noticed him, but obviously, if a confrontation was what they’d wanted, they would have ripped the Boys to shreds that afternoon while they’d slept. Or, the twosome would have called some back ups to the hideout and confronted the vampires that night at sundown…
‘Go back to the hideout,’ David told Marko.
Better safe than sorry.
His own situation wasn’t particularly precarious, but he was not having much luck finding the Commissioner, either. Erickson’s address and phone number were a matter of public record; they could be found in the white pages of the phone book. He lived in a nice, A-frame style home in the back woods area of Boulder Creek. When David went to investigate his residence, it appeared that the Commissioner was out for the evening. David’s next stop was City Hall, thinking that perhaps Erickson was attending a late evening council meeting. Once again, he bombed out. He really had no sense of the bastard’s scent, so tracking him anywhere else was unlikely. Therefore, he made contact with Dwayne, who was still on the trail of the pier wolf. Then, he decided to touch bases with Marko and get a recounting of the places he’d been when he’d felt ‘watched’. David hoped he could quietly turn the tables on the fleabags.
Branch and Montgomery finished taking the verbal statement from Jake Martinez, writing down everything he said word for word. They were both uncommonly nervous, since the entire session was supervised by the Lt. Mayor. It was almost as if the kid was being coached what to say, and what not to say, yet the two detectives were not surprised by this in the least.
The kid seemed very remorseful about attacking the kid, and he had dwelled on that quite a bit. Yet, when shown sketches of the four vampire suspects, he had conclusively identified the one he’d encountered on the night of the 16th of December as Dwayne Runningwolf. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the detectives now had enough proof to make an arrest. Of course, they would not be arresting Jake Martinez in connection with the disappearance of Leah Emerson. That’s just not how things worked….
“If you think of anything else, don’t hesitate to call us,” Montgomery told the kid, offering him his business card. The Lt. Mayor intercepted and took the card instead. He was obviously very protective of his son. Then, he offered his hand to each man in a firm, to the point handshake.
“Good evening, Gentlemen,” he told them.
“Good evening, Sir.” The detectives returned in unison. They were then shown out the door while the young man looked on with wide eyes.
A gentle breeze stirred the pine trees outside the Martinez residence, and suddenly, the detectives sniffed the air. Then, they sniffed again.
The front door of the Martinez’s house had been about to shut, but suddenly, it stopped in mid swing. The Lt. Mayor smelled it too.
The detectives drew their weapons. These weapons were specially issued guns that shot Holy water pellets. Only officers with special security clearance were authorized to carry these weapons.
Branch motioned for Martinez to shut his front door. Martinez obeyed mostly; shutting it all but to a tiny crack. The investigators kept to their human forms except for their eyes; which began to take on a luminescent silver glow. Lips parted and nostrils flared; all the better to take in the scent of the preternatural presence skulking in the shadows.
Then they heard a high pitched sound that would have been nearly undetectable to human ears. However, the detectives heard it quite clearly. The vampire was taking flight.
There was no choice but to transform. They tucked the weapons into their jaws and pursued on four swift legs until the vampire reached a clearing. Branch was the first to transform. He lined up a shot. It missed by a wide margin. Montgomery transformed behind him and fired. There was a hideous screeching noise. Then, the vampire plummeted to the ground.
They both knew that Holy water pellets would not kill the vampire. It would only temporarily disable him, and that was the whole idea. With their weapons drawn, they hurried over to the clearing to apprehend the suspect and bring him in. It would be the first time in Santa Carla’s history that a vampire ever went to jail.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 14: Presumed Guilty”]
Chapter 14: Presumed Guilty
Dwayne had picked up the scent of the pier wolf and followed it into the isolated homesteads of the hills of Santa Carla. The landscape looked vaguely and unsettlingly familiar to him as he flew overhead. Something had been niggling at his memories, but he had been unable to visualize it. As he drew in close to the source of the scent, suddenly, he had picked up on an overwhelming amount of others’, too. There had to be at least six other wolves on the property…
Including faint traces of the two that had come to the vampire’s hideout that afternoon.
Still, Dwayne was bound and determined to see if he could find out which resident in the home was the wolf he’d encountered on the pier. Quietly, he’d crouched in the crotch of a tree and observed the house. He could tell that the residents of the home had visitors, judging by the car that was parked in the driveway with an exempt license plate. Its engine was still warm. The household’s cars were parked in the garage.
After some time, the front door opened, and two men stepped out onto the porch. They were dressed casually in button up shirts and pressed jeans. The man showing them out was none other than Lt. Mayor Martinez! Dwayne had seen his picture in the paper.
Still, he remained motionless. None of these men were his quarry. But, now he knew that the two men on the porch were the two that had come to the hideout…
Suddenly, those two men began to sniff at the breeze, and Dwayne knew they smelled him just as surely as he smelled them. He had to get the hell out of there. At least he knew who their daytime intruders were, and he knew that the wolf from the pier was a member of the Martinez family. Good enough.
He didn’t bother to toss a glance over his shoulder to see what the dogs were up to. As quickly as he could, Dwayne made for the clearing in the trees, so that he could get as much altitude and distance between himself and the fleabags as possible. That’s when he felt an explosion of pain flower in the back of his head. Then, he felt nothing.
“I could get in trouble for this, y’know,” Gabe told his audience in quiet tones, as he rifled through the security feeds, checking the dates.
Edgar and Alan Frog looked at him squarely. Their faces were completely unsympathetic. Only Sam Emerson’s gaze reflected any sort of gratitude.
“I understand your predicament; trust me, I do. If it was for anything less important, I wouldn’t ask you to do it….”
“I know. I’ve been looking for Leah every night since she was reported missing. If doing this helps find her, I’d be willing to risk my job. I’m just not supposed to allow unauthorized people to view the tapes. That’s where I can get in trouble,” Gabe stated.
“No one has to know. We won’t tell a soul,” Alan reassured.
“Yeah, well we need to hurry this up. There’s a couple of coppers on the beat tonight. They requested to look over the incident report from the night of the 16th, and I’m sure they’ll start snooping everywhere else, too.”
With that, Gabe popped the tape in the VCR and fast forwarded it until the time frame showed the corresponding one that Alex had logged down in the incident book. At first, the grainy black and white feed showed only a non-descript looking men’s mountain bike leaning against the stair rails down below the arcade, on the beach. Time elapsed, and a shadow was seen approaching the bicycle from the beach. Then, the shadow became clearer a couple of frames later. It was obviously a teenaged boy. In the next frame, Alex was seen confronting him…
Gabe cringed. In his haste to shut the Frog brothers up, he’d forgotten about the fact that Alex looked washed out on camera!
“Holy shit! She’s a bloodsucker!” Edgar cried.
“Of course! We should have known it! She only works at night…she wears shades half the time…why didn’t we see it…” Alan moaned.
“She’s not a bloodsucker!” Gabe protested.
“Oh, yeah? Then what do you call her?”
“She’s a half. And she can’t help it…so don’t mess with her. She’s never made a kill, and she has no intention to, so by God, don’t fuck with her. I mean it.”
“You knew about this?” Edgar asked, leveling a deadly gaze at him.
“I’ve known about it for awhile. But like I said, she can’t help what she is, and I’m not going to get into it right now, because it’s none of your damn business. You wouldn’t understand. Besides, I just noticed something else….about the kid. I’m going to back up the tape. Tell me if you guys see it…”
Gabe rewound the feed, and quietly, the four of them squinted at the grainy images.
“His eyes,” Sam commented, “they sort of…glow, like they’re made out of reflective tape or something!”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Alan commented, “Just like his bike reflectors do. And, look, it’s not the angle he’s standing at, either, because in this shot, his eyes do, too. Yet, Alex’s eyes don’t, even though she’s a night stalker…”
“So what does that make this kid then?” Sam asked.
“I have no idea. Shelby’s eyes didn’t glow quite like that, so I don’t think he’s a ghoul, so maybe he’s a werewolf,” Edgar said.
“Yeah, but the moon’s not full, so why would he be going wolf?” Alan asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe they all do that on film. After all, don’t photographic chemicals have silver in them?”
Suddenly, a searing pain shot through the back of Gabe’s head, making his vision blur and his heart skip a beat. He didn’t realize that the same thing was felt by every single member of his pack, and that it was a signal that one of their own was in trouble; at least not yet. He also didn’t realize how pale he’d suddenly become, or how blank the expression on his face was. The agony burned through his mind like a mental brand, and when he was finally able to catch his breath, his Sire’s image came into focus. Then, he heard the mental alarms being sent out from his pack brothers. Now they all knew that something had happened, yet they were all frantic, because no one knew exactly what had happened. Oddly, his Sire’s voice was quiet.
“Yo, Earth to Laddie, Come in,” Edgar called.
“Guys, you’d better head on out before the fuzz start poking around. My alerts are going off,” he warned them. His voice sounded distant and difficult to hear over the pounding of his pulse in his ears.
“Laddie? Are you okay?” Sam asked.
“Yah. I’m okay. I just have a headache…I need to get something to eat,” he lied.
“Sure. By the way, do you recognize the kid at all?”
“No. I don’t know who he is, but Alex logged his name as Jake. That’s all the info we have on him.”
Dwayne woke up to a surreal pain burning inside his head. He tried to reach up and rub the back of his skull, but he found his hands tethered behind his back with handcuffs. This would not be a difficult situation for a vampire to break out of if someone hadn’t gone through the trouble of making him very weak while he’d been unconscious, and Dwayne didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how that had been done. A significant quantity of his undead blood had been drained from his body by means of a syringe, rendering him incapable of any sort of preternatural strength.
The cell he was held in was a basic 6 X 6 with a hard cot, a stainless steel toilet, and a small sink. There was no privacy. Overhead, there was a tiny square of a window that looked out onto the exercise yard. There was no sort of window covering with the exception of parallel iron bars over the window to protect Dwayne from the sun’s rays. He knew his goose would be cooked when the sun rose. Yet the pain searing his head was so bad, he could hardly bring himself to care. Maybe it would be a mercy, but he figured mercy wasn’t something that was afforded to the undead.
He could smell others on the cell block, but they were all mortals, of course; mostly drunks, too. The smell of alcohol and vomit hung strong in the air. It nearly drowned out the warm smell of human blood. In his drained state, he should have been ravenous, but Dwayne couldn’t even concentrate on his hunger pangs through the pain in his head. Every now and then, disembodied voices floated in from other cells; prisoners making taunts to one another, some calling out to guards or demanding phone calls or lawyers; still others moaning their private miseries to themselves and sobbing softly. Dwayne remained curled up on the ground where he’d been thrown in. If he kept his eyes closed, the pain was tolerable….
An image drifted to him of Laddie, sitting in a room with some other people. Laddie suddenly went pale, as though he was in pain, and Dwayne knew that his Childe had felt his distress. He was both heartened and saddened by this knowledge.
Suddenly, the image in his mind’s eye warped, and Laddie was visually transported back in time twenty years; looking just like the nine year old boy he’d been when they’d first encountered him. Instead of wearing his boardwalk security uniform, he was now wearing that brass buttoned coat and the black jeans he always used to wear. Then, Dwayne noticed the others in the room with him. They were still there, as they’d been before, only they were also transported back in time…
And they were familiar, too.
Two of them were the comic shop keepers, Edgar and Alan Frog, now appearing as teenagers, dressed in camouflage clothing….
The other boy wore blue jeans and a light blue windbreaker; his dark blond hair all gelled up and preppy, and a diamond stud in one ear. Something painful was eating at the layers of scar tissue in his brain, and for the first time in years, this boy’s name finally whispered to Dwayne:
The images faded as quickly as they came, yet for once, Dwayne did not forget them. He struggled to reconnect with Laddie, hoping to reassure his Childe that he was okay. Then, he tried to assert himself to his Sire. He was so drained that he had no way of knowing if he had the mental strength to forge an intentional link, but he knew his life depended on it.
David wanted to kick himself, incinerate himself and stake himself for being so foolish. He should have known that the dogs would have gone for Dwayne, yet he’d been so hell bent on getting to them that he hadn’t thought of what they’d really been after. Truthfully, he hadn’t thought they would have tried anything so rash.
He knew when it happened when he heard the distress call from his entire pack simultaneously and felt the pain sear through his own mind. It had been just like the afternoon when Marko had been staked in the sleeping lair…somehow they had all known and felt his agony, even though they’d all been asleep.
David had no idea where Dwayne was or exactly what had occurred. All he knew was that his Childe was hurt and unable to respond to him. And, he knew that the rest of his pack was sick with worry…every last one of them; including Laddie and Alex.
The last communication David had with Dwayne, he’d told him that he’d located the trail of his pier wolf and knew where he lived. Though David hadn’t gotten an exact location from him, he did know that Dwayne had been up in the hills. The visual picture he’d flashed his Sire had shown David that the location was somewhere close to Old Man Martin’s house. David was torn between heading up there and heading to the hideout to check on the wellbeing of his other fledglings. After a quick mental check with Marko and Paul, he ascertained that they were worried, but otherwise alright. He communicated to them to keep their mental channels open for any messages from Dwayne, and also to do anything they could to reassure Alex and Laddie that he was taking care of things. Then, he flew off in search of his lost Childe.
About a third of a mile from Old Man Martin’s house, David picked up the scent of the pier wolf. He followed it, knowing that this had to be the path Dwayne took. Before long, he came to a large, ranch styled house. There were no cars parked in the circular driveway, but lights were on inside. David smelled wolf so strongly that he wanted to gag. All of the trees in the back yard were marked, and a tire swing hanging from a large oak was nearly mauled by chew marks. Yet there was no huge dog chained in the yard that could have done that sort of damage…
He circled around, keeping a safe distance off the ground to avoid being seen by anyone coming outside. There was no sign of Dwayne anywhere. The scent of the pier wolf was mixed and mingled with the scents of so many other wolves now that he nearly lost it; but David faintly detected other smells that were vaguely familiar. They resembled the wolves that had come to the hideout earlier, but with so many other wolf scents, it was hard to tell.
Finally, David did detect the scent of his Childe, once he found the right tree. Dwayne had been here, for at least a brief time. His hand had touched the bark; his feet had found purchase in the crotch of the tree while he’d watched the house. But, for all David knew, it could have been hours ago. Dwayne’s smell was fading. Since the undead had cold blood, their scents didn’t linger long. A couple of hours at most. Only if they marked their territory in the way of a werewolf would their presences last longer, and from time to time, they did so…particularly to keep werewolves at bay. Sometimes, it was necessary to speak a werewolf’s language.
Knowing he would find nothing more here, David backed away and conducted a search of the nearby area. The pier wolf’s scent grew weaker, but the collective scents of many werewolves grew ever stronger. The hills were full of them, David knew, and their pack gathering place was deep in the woods nearby. He tried to shut the smell of wolf out of his head and concentrate only on the smell of vampire, with little success. Finally, it wasn’t what he smelled that roused his suspicions. It was what he saw.
One of the trees near the clearing had a chunk of wood blasted off of it like it had been blown away by a bullet. David landed beside the tree and searched the ground nearby until he found the offending shell. Then he reached down and picked it up to examine it; and dropped it on the ground almost as quickly as he touched it.
The son of a bitch burned like hell! His fingers were blistered from the contact as though he’d touched sunlight!
“Oww, Fuck!” he cried. Then, he bit his lip as he heard his voice reverberate loudly around the clearing like a shot.
A tiny bead of grayish liquid remained on the tip of one of his fingers, and David knew what it was, even without sniffing at it. It would have no scent anyways, save for the gunpowder used to propel it out of the chamber. Damn Holy water!
A feeble push entered into David’s mind as he took to the air, and he knew it was Dwayne. Only a fuzzy image of a darkened room presented itself, and a garbled message about being worried about sunlight entering in through a window. David tried to push back, but a barrier of pain blocked him. If he was physically with his Childe, he would be able to work him through the pain, but their distance was too great. David was able to sense one other thing, too. Dwayne was very weak; most likely because he’d been drained. Even a lowly half vampire had more strength than his Childe had right now.
David still had no idea where Dwayne was at the moment, but he knew one person who could find out. And that person had approximately 7 hours to locate his Childe and deliver him safely from a pain free, windowless existence, or someone’s head was going to roll.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 15: Rock, Paper, Scissors”]
Chapter 15: Rock, Paper, Scissors
Shelby Trammel Frog sat at her desk, subconsciously stabbing little holes in her desk blotter with a letter opener. She glared at Commissioner Erickson, who sat across from her in a padded guest’s chair.
“I swear, I should call Animal Control; have you tossed in the Pound and neutered,” she hissed, “You are way out of line!”
“There, there, my dear Mayor. Animal Control is under Police jurisdiction,” Erickson wisecracked.
“That’s alright. I really don’t require the Pound for a proper castration. A good sharp Machete would do the job nicely. Isn’t that right, Mr. Owens?” Shelby asked with a sick smile.
David, sitting next to the Commissioner in a padded chair of his own, returned her smile with a twist of his own lips.
“Actually, I’d prefer a dull one,” he replied, “A dull silver one.”
“With all due respect, Madam Mayor, it’s very late. Can we get down to business?”
“I’d be quite happy to. I don’t like getting calls at eleven o’clock at night informing me that detectives on your squad are blatantly out of compliance with proper arrest and detainment procedures. I understand you have Dwayne Runningwolf in custody. Kindly tell me what he’s being held for?”
The Commissioner smiled something akin to a wolfish grin.
“Come now, Mayor, you know what he’s being held for.”
“I thought you said you wanted to get down to business. I’m not in the mood for your stupid games.”
“We want to question him in regards to his involvement in the events on the night of December 16th and the disappearance of Leah Emerson,” Erickson answered.
“So you pumped him full of Holy water and stuck him in a cell where the sunlight will hit him come dawn?” David snapped, “Sounds like you’ve already sentenced my boy to death!”
“Did your detectives even inform Runningwolf what the charges against him were? Did they read the Miranda to him? Offer him a lawyer?” Shelby asked.
“I-I can assure you t-that they followed proper police procedure…” Erickson stammered.
“I’m sure they didn’t. I’ll be asking Runningwolf myself just as soon as we leave here. Further more, the area where he was arrested wasn’t even Police jurisdiction because it’s just outside the City Limits, making it Sheriff’s jurisdiction. The worst charge Runningwolf could have been brought in on was trespassing, but that could have only been possible if the Martinez’s had actually called in a complaint to the Sheriff’s department. Since they didn’t….”
“Well, my men did catch Runningwolf in the act of trespassing, making it a viable charge, regardless of jurisdiction,” Erickson stated.
“Yes, but that’s not what you brought him in on, is it?” Shelby countered.
“No, but I’d be happy to add it to his rap sheet.”
“Meet me at the police station in one hour. So help me, if Runningwolf is hurt, you’ll be in for a world of hurt. No one is to ask him any questions, do you understand?”
“Why the hell not?” the Commissioner asked. His eyes were bulging from his head with anger.
“Because I’m fairly certain he hasn’t been appointed a lawyer, and it’s his right, that’s why.”
“You act like this case is going to court. What’s with you?”
“The kid has mortal parents. You never know what might leak out. We have to treat this investigation like any other, as much as possible. Why do I have to spell that out for you?”
The Commissioner was shown out of the office, and after he left, Shelby was not shy about slamming the door behind him. To hell with any security guards and janitors that might be working in the building after hours.
David got up and met Shelby at the door. He could tell that she was livid with anger. Her eyes had an odd, glassy shine to them, even though she was no longer inhabited by the fear demon.
“You handled him rather well, I think,” he smirked, giving her a congratulatory nod.
“This isn’t over yet. I still have to find Dwayne a lawyer. If those bastards did manage to get anything out of him, they’ll be able to make the trespassing charges stick, and even though they’ll be forced to let him go tonight, they could come back to your hideout with a real warrant tomorrow.”
“Son of a bitch,” David swore.
“Don’t worry. Trespassing is a misdemeanor, and it’s not in my Uncle’s edict. He can’t get banished over it. Worse comes to worse, he’ll get fined. It wasn’t like he caused any threat or damage to the Martinez property.”
“No, actually, the officers shot up a tree on the Martinez property trying to arrest him….I would have taken the bullet as proof, but it was soaked with Holy water, and I wasn’t wearing my gloves. I couldn’t get it.”
“Do all of your boys have cell phones?”
“The two back at the hideout do.”
“Are your gloves back there?”
“Yes,” David answered.
“Call one of them; tell them to put your gloves on. Then, tell them where the tree and the bullet are. Have them get the bullet for you.”
“Marko has gloves of his own. Wait. I got a digital camera for Christmas. I’ll have him get pictures of the tree, too.”
“Have your other boy…Paul Gifford, right?”
“Have him meet us here. I have a job for him, too.”
“Wait..he can’t come. He’s uh..not feeling so well. You know some werewolves tried to come to our hideout this afternoon…and Paul heard them and woke up. Well, he tried to chase them away and got a bit too close to the opening. He’s nursing some burns tonight,” David lied.
“He’s okay, isn’t he?” Shelby asked. Her face reflected genuine concern, and David actually felt bad about lying to her.
“He will be. He’ll just need a night or two to recover.”
“Okay, well then, Marko is going to be a busy boy, then. When he’s finished with the pictures and the evidence retrieval at the Martinez site, I want him to investigate down at the pier again. If the evidence has been cleaned up, I want him to take pictures again. We’ll compare the shots he gets with the shots we took earlier. Then, we’ll take some more after the full moon passes.”
“Maybe you should have run for Police Commissioner,” David joked.
“Too many damn werewolves on the squad,” Shelby replied.
“By the way, did you ever get my copies of those pictures?”
“I have them. I’ll get them to you after we get Dwayne out of the tank. But you’d better get a hold of Marko. I’m going to work on getting Dwayne a lawyer.”
David had to suppress a guffaw.
“Who’s going to defend a vampire?”
“I have connections,” Shelby answered.
Shelby went back to her huge mahogany desk, and started flipping through her rolodex. There were some numbers that her secretary just didn’t have possession of. Meanwhile, David hit Marko’s number on his speed dial, and gave the hasty instructions to his Childe. He could hear Paul’s loud protests in the back, but he chose to ignore them. As usual, Marko made no argument. Of course, he knew Marko would carry out his orders exactly as they were given.
A business card was stapled to one of the manila dividers on Shelby’s rolodex file, and she selected this file and pulled it from the rolodex. She hoped her contact would be up at this late hour. Already, it was half past twelve in the morning. How time flew when one was not having fun!
‘Tori Marie Finch-Attorney At Law: Specializing in Defense and Disability-Will Work on Contingency. Tel: 510-555-8651 Fax: 510- 555-8655.
She worked the business card away from the manila index, and found Tori’s home number written in ink on the back. Of course, Tori would not be in her office at 12:30 in the morning. Then, she dialed. The call was answered on the third ring.
She and Tori had been friends in college. Though Shelby had been possessed by a ghoul at the time, she had gone through the motions of pretending to be normal as not to arouse suspicions, so that she could attract people to herself to feed from when they became afraid. One night, she and Tori had been invited to a frat party, and they’d accepted. One of the jocks there had taken a liking to both of them. Shelby, the petite, pert little red head, and Tori, the mysterious, long legged brunette had intrigued him, and he’d invited them both to a private little grouping with some of his friends. There, some wine had been passed around. Shelby had taken one sniff of it and had declined, knowing that there was something funky with it. Still, being a fear demon, she didn’t bother warning her friend. Tori had cheerfully chugged, not knowing that the drink would change her life forever.
The cops busted up the party not long afterwards, and Shelby and Tori had returned to their dorms. They never saw the frat jocks again, and Tori never knew what was in that weird wine she drank. All she knew was that she started feeling strange….and she started having bizarre cravings. A few nights later, some weird men cornered her. She’d never seen them before. They weren’t the jocks from the party. They told her that she was an intruder, and that she’d have to leave, or they’d kill her. A couple of them started to rough her up. Tori saw fangs, glowing eyes and long fingernails…
And one of them saw her college ID when it fell out of her book bag. They realized that she was a university student, and the leader demanded to know what happened to her. How did she become a ‘half vampire’? Tearfully, she told him about the jocks and the wine and the party at the frat house. Suddenly, the gang seemed to lose interest in the piddly little half vampire they were taunting. They warned her to never make a kill; if she did, she would either have to join up with them, or leave San Francisco for good. Then, the leader turned her around and stuck his fangs deep into the back of her neck; sealing the deal. Tori never saw the Bay Area Fang Gang again, but she knew they still had to be around. 13 years later, she fought the cravings and still hadn’t succumbed to them.
“Tori, I’m glad you’re still up. Listen, I have an interesting case for you. I hope you don’t have too many retainers already, because you’re going to want this one…”
Toir recognized the voice as her old school chum, Shelby Trammel. Well, more correctly, Shelby Frog. She’d been at Shelby’s wedding a few years back. Who could marry a guy with the last name Frog?
“Yeah, I’m up. Aren’t I always?”
Tori didn’t sleep much. She really didn’t have to. It was one of the advantages of being a freak. She jacked herself up on Red Bull, black tea and Chinese vitamins during the day, and got a natural energy rush at night.
“It’s a defense case, so your paycheck is guaranteed from the City of Santa Carla, but it’s on the hush-hush. Your client is a man by the name of Dwayne Runningwolf. He’s being charged with a schmoo of crap ranging from trespassing to kidnapping, and God knows what else the Commish wants to throw in the bag. And, here’s the kick. He’s a bloodsucker, so the two of you should get along famously.”
“Gee, thanks. I don’t consider myself a bloodsucker, Shel.”
“Well, you know what I mean. Will you take the case? The guy is actually innocent. Your favorite kind of client….and your favorite kind of case; you know, the kind where you actually get paid up front,” Shelby said.
“Okay, sign me on. I have to sign some paperwork tomorrow morning at the DA’s office at nine o’clock, but I can swing by after then,” Tori replied.
“Great. Just come straight to City Hall. I’ll be here. I’m working on getting your client released tonight, but I’ll arrange a meeting between the two of you for tomorrow night.”
Shelby gave the lawyer directions to City Hall, and then they concluded their phone conversation. David raised an eyebrow at her.
“I told you I had connections,” she said to him.
“The lawyer is a vampire?” David asked.
“No, she’s a half. She’s been for about 13 years or so, and she plans to remain that way indefinitely. Don’t ask me how she got that way; it’s a long story. Now, before we head to the police station, there’s one more thing I want to discuss with you.”
“It’s about keeping your ass out of trouble. David, there’s no reason any of this trouble had to happen tonight if you and your boys hadn’t gone looking for it. I may not be a fucking ghoul anymore, but I’m still the mayor, and I know everything that’s going on in this town. I want you to promise me something….”
She got up from her seat and planted herself in front of David so that the desk no longer hid the expanse of her growing stomach.
“I don’t make promises I can’t keep Shelby, you should know that,” David told her.
“Maybe you should start re-evaluating what’s important. I know that Sam Emerson is in town, and I’m fairly certain I know what’s on your bloodthirsty mind. But, forget about it! If you try any funny stuff, David, you’ll be banished, and I won’t be able to prevent that. I may be powerful, but I’m not God around here.”
“I don’t expect you to be,” David hissed.
“Then what do you expect? Is some mortal’s blood worth the price of being banished?”
David gazed into Shelby’s blazing green eyes. The emotions and lack of sleep she’d experienced that night cast an almost demonic glow into them, yet all he saw when he looked into them was a frightened, tired mortal who was expecting a child of a not entirely human nature. The stress was beginning to take its toll on her body, even if she didn’t know it yet. He could smell toxins building up in her blood; excretions that stress put there. Maybe he should have found a way to get his Childe out of harm’s way without involving Shelby…yet could he have done it as cleverly as she had? He doubted it.
Gently, he took her face between his two, cool hands, forcing her to look into his powder blue eyes.
“No mortal is going to force me to leave my home. I was here long before they were, and I will be here long after them. I promise you,” he told her.
“That’s not what I mean. I don’t want empty promises. I’m well aware that no mortal can make you leave. The edict, David. I want your word that you will obey the clause and not seek any revenge on Sam Emerson. He’s been through enough, don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t think. That little bastard ruined my Childes’ mind! He fried it! And since Dwayne can’t remember enough of Sam Emerson to take care of him on his own, it’s up to me…”
“No, God Damn it, David! Sam Emerson was acting in self defense that night! Why can’t you get it through your peroxide blond head! It was either Sam or Dwayne! What makes you think that Sam didn’t have the right to defend himself? I sure the hell would have! What sort of moron would have just stood there and said ‘oh, shucks…go ahead and rip my throat open?” Shelby demanded.
“What sort of retard would sneak into a vampire’s lair and stake my Childe…while he slept! What a lowlife, cowardly thing! They all deserved to die; your husband included!” David spat.
“You would have been well within your rights if you’d killed them there, or as they fled. But, you sought your vengeance in a private domain. At their home! What you did was just as cowardly. Vampires against mortals…Grown adults against kids, for Christ’s sake! And, since Dwayne didn’t technically die, don’t you think it’s time to bury the hatchet?”
“I’d like to bury the hatchet, right in the back of Emerson’s head! What difference does it make if I rip his damn head off, or he does it to himself. Do you know he’s shredding his nose up on coke?”
“Then let him. Sweet justice is served. Leave him alone. If I have to beg, David, I will,” Shelby said.
“I can guarantee that the Commissioner is getting his rocks off torturing your Childe as we speak. I really don’t want to see him put you through the same thing before he orders me to banish you. It would give him such great pleasure. Don’t forget, he gets at least two more years in office; the same as me…Please, David. Think about it…”
“If he ordered you to banish me, you’d have to do it?” David asked.
“If you disobey this edict and harm Sam Emerson, I’d have no choice. No threat in the world you could heap on me could prevent it, especially if he has you drained and chained. Swear to me, David. Please.”
David lowered his forehead to Shelby’s so that their eyes were just millimeters apart. Then, he tilted her head ever so slightly and settled a soft kiss on her lips.
“Sealed with a kiss,” he whispered to her.
It was the hardest promise he’d ever sworn to.
The police station was only a short distance away from Shelby’s office in City Hall. By now, Dwayne had been dragged from his dark cell in the holding area to a questioning room. He was still cuffed and was now seated in a folding chair. The only other furniture in the room was a long table, and a couple of other folding chairs. Commissioner Erickson occupied one of them. He had a cup of coffee on the table before him. Steam rose in visible tendrils from the cup. A uniformed guard was stationed at the door. A few minutes later, a knock sounded, and David and Shelby were shown in. Following them were the two arresting detectives, Branch and Montgomery.
David rushed over to Dwayne’s chair, but the Commissioner shoved out of his seat and intercepted him.
“Ah-ah…he hasn’t been released yet. No touching the merchandise. You’re lucky we’re even allowing you in here since you’re not a cop or a lawyer,” he told him severely.
“I’d like to see the arrest reports, right now,” Shelby ordered.
The two detectives looked at each other nervously.
“We’re in the process of writing them up,” Branch declared.
“I guess we’ll have to rely on verbal testimony, then. We’ll start with you two. Suppose you tell me what happened tonight.”
Both the detectives went into a detailed accounting of what had happened that afternoon; how they’d detected Leah Emerson’s scent at the Boy’s hideout, and how they’d found Dwayne Runningwolf skulking around the Martinez residence. That’s when they’d made the arrest.
Shelby raised an eye at David. This was a new development.
“I see. So you know for sure that you found our hideout, do you?” David challenged, “Did you actually see us; you prim assholes?”
“Your damn dog chased us!” Montgomery spat.
“Do you know for certain that it was our damn dog? Did he speak to you in dog language and tell you he was ours?”
“That’s quite enough, Owens. One more outburst; and you’ll be asked to leave,” Erickson said.
“Do you have the child or not?” Shelby asked.
“No.” David lied.
“Dwayne?” she asked, eyeing the dark haired vampire.
Dwayne only stared off into space, his eyes looking glassed over.
“What the hell did your boys do to him?” Shelby demanded.
“They pumped him full of Holy water!” David yelled.
“Owens, what did I tell you!” the Commissioner thundered.
Shelby pushed herself out of her folding chair and went around behind Dwayne’s seat. When she parted the hair on the back of his head, she nearly choked on gorge that tried to shove itself up from her stomach without warning.
Though it was trying to heal, there was a definite hole, through which she could see bits of bone matter and congealed gore. Without enough vampiric blood in his system, Dwayne was unable to complete the healing process, yet of course, he hadn’t been drained to the point of death, either.
“This man needs medical attention, now! I’m initiating orders for his immediate release on the grounds of arrest and detainment under cruel and unusual circumstances. This is disgusting. Any further questioning of the suspect can take place when he’s healed and has obtained legal counseling,” she announced with all the authority she could muster.
“Madam Mayor, I’m beginning to wonder about you….you’re not like your Uncle at all,” the Commissioner mused, just loud enough for the others in the room to hear.
“Oh, you’re quite wrong about that,” she smiled. The bright fluorescent lighting caught the odd gleam in her eyes as she spoke, “I really like watching you squirm. Have a nice night, Commissioner.”
[nextpage title=”Chapter 16: Kolchak the Night Stalker”]
Chapter 16: Kolchak the Night Stalker
Marko remembered the nights when he, David and Dwayne had shared the tiny apartment in Seattle for a time, and he’d worked at the XXX Bijou for almost a year. They hadn’t known Paul yet, but they’d had indoor plumbing and the comforts of electricity, at least most of the times. They also had a black and white TV set with rabbit ears and temperamental reception. The one show that Marko saw in reruns was the one that starred Darrin McGavin as Kolchak the Night Stalker. It had enjoyed its short first run in the early 70’s. In the late 70’s, one of the few stations that didn’t sign off in the middle of the night had a spook show/sci-fi marathon that showcased Kolchak in one of it’s regular rotations. Whenever Marko was off, he made a point to catch it. Tonight, he suddenly felt like Kolchak the reporter, with a camera strapped around his neck, chasing down proof of the existence of werewolves and vampires…
Except for one thing. He was one! What would old Kolchak think of that?
Before long, he found himself on the Martinez property, creeping around from tree to tree, looking for the one that David had told him about. He smelled the stink of werewolf all around, and suddenly, he felt the desire to whip it out and take a piss on a few of the trees himself. That would show them! Yet, he didn’t dare. That would be begging for trouble. Besides a permanent scar than ran him through from front to back where the stake had taken him in his sleep, Marko also had some very faint werewolf scratches on the left side of his back; scars that would never heal from a battle he’d been in hours after he, Dwayne and David had first come to Santa Carla. Max had been the one to heal him up. Thankfully, the werewolves they’d encountered were dead and gone. Marko had managed to kill one of them himself, which had enraged the wolves and caused them to gang up on him. He was only lucky none of them had bitten him before David and Dwayne coolly dispatched them.
If there was one thing in the world Marko hated now, it was werewolves. They smelled disgusting, they freaked him out, and in most cases; they were bigger than him. At least they couldn’t fly unless he threw one. That thought made him smile. They sure the hell did fly when thrown! Their heads flew one way, and their bodies flew the other! Hah! Hah!
At last he found the incriminating tree; and the bullet in the dirt. Carefully, he scooped up the bullet and deposited it into a Taco Bell burrito wrapper that he’d found lying around the ballroom. Then, he stuffed it into the pocket of his jeans and started snapping pictures of the tree. He was only able to snap about five or six shots before the flash made his eyes hurt. Sometimes, there were disadvantages to having sensitive vampire eyes. Marko startled when he heard the sound of dog barking in the distance. He couldn’t tell if it was just some ordinary house hound or werewolf, but he wasn’t taking any chances. Before he could be discovered, he took to the air and made his way to the next destination on his list, blinking wildly as he went. His trip was made in near blindness, but vampires really didn’t need to see. Instinct was their biggest guide.
The two werewolf officers patrolling the boardwalk had no idea that a vampire was skulking around the pier that night. By then, they had already stopped in to question Gabe. They had also requisitioned the log books, and were combing them over in the comfort of the security bunker. By now, Alex was on shift, watching the two with dark, silent eyes. She had no idea what these two cops were doing in the bunker, and why her superior was still on premises. Gabe wouldn’t leave, even though he looked like he felt awful.
After a few minutes, they demanded the security tapes, too. One of the cops took them and said he’d be going back to the station. The other remained behind and continued his patrol.
“What the hell is going on? I got a distress call…and now this!” Alex cried, as soon as she knew they were alone.
“I don’t know any more than you yet. I just know that Dwayne’s in some sort of shit, and it’s got to do with that kid, I’m sure.”
“I’ve got that much figured out. Do you think that boy from the beach had anything to do with it?”
“I noticed something about his eyes on camera. They glowed, like bike reflectors. Did they in person?” Gabe asked.
“Hell no! I would have seen something like that!”
“Was there anything else strange about him?”
“At the time, no, but now that I think about it, yes. I smelled the same scent that night that I smelled tonight when those officers were down here. It was…dog!”
“Right. Those cops are werewolves, and so is that kid,” Gabe answered.
“Werewolves! Son of a bitch!”
“Alex, they’re going to learn about you. It’s obvious that you’re a half vampire. Just be prepared if they come around and start questioning you.”
“I’m innocent! The tape will clearly show that I was just doing my job,” she defended.
“Don’t worry. I’ll back you up 100%. It’s just that the tape doesn’t show where that kid was coming from…just that he was out on the beach, damn it.”
“Do you think he was Leah Emerson’s attacker?”
“I don’t know. But I think the cops know who was, and they want to cover it up and blame it on Dwayne.”
“Why did they take her…I just want to slap them silly! I know they think they were doing her a favor, but now I think…God, I don’t know what I think!” Alex moaned.
“Alex, they thought they were doing the right thing. It was so much easier to make someone disappear twenty years ago. They got away with it back then, no questions asked, remember?”
“I know. It’s just so hard to think clearly. Dwayne still hurts, I can feel it.”
“So can I. How are you holding up? Are you needing anything?”
“I already drank everything I brought…and I know Marko is busy. I called Paul, and he told me. I can’t leave here to feed from him, so I’m screwed…”
“If you promise to just take a little, I can give you some,” Gabe told her.
“Oh, God, I can’t do that!” Alex protested.
“Yes you can. Star and I used to do it all the time to stop the cravings. I’ll tell you when to stop. Mortals donate blood at blood banks and survive, you know. It’s no different, really…”
Already, Alex had shifted, and she needed no further prompting when Gabe brought his wrist to her lips. The smell of warm blood beneath his skin was just too much of a temptation, and her virgin fangs bit in; savoring the hot flood that filled her mouth. Never had mortal blood passed over her fangs, and the taste was exquisite. Her eyes rolled back into her head, and she would have drained him without a second thought if he didn’t release the suction himself and pull his arm painfully away.
It took a few minutes for the blood rush to die away, but at last, Alex’s features shifted back to normal. She opened her eyes and drew a deep breath, and then gazed at Gabe with a concerned look in her eyes.
“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” she gasped.
“No. I didn’t let you take enough to harm me. I know when to make you stop. I told you, I’ve done this before,” he answered.
Even still, he looked a bit pale in Alex’s opinion. She rose from her folding chair and threw her arms around him, content to listen to the sound of his still beating heart. She didn’t want to tell him that she wouldn’t have stopped if he hadn’t stopped her. Yet, of course, she knew that he knew.
The scene of the crime was a dark, dreary place that stunk, but not quite as bad as the Martinez residence had. Marko found evidence of blood on a boulder, but he found one other thing that puzzled the hell out of him. Perched on a pile of damp sand nearby was a stuffed, white kitten.
“What the fuck?” he muttered.
Out came David’s camera. He started snapping pictures. The kitten stared silently at him with glued on amber eyes made of glass. Then, he left, making sure to fly out over the sea so that he’d leave as few footprints and scent markers as possible. Kolchak would be proud of him.
Marko was greeted to the sound of a child’s hysterical crying when he returned to the hideout, but really, in his opinion, there was nothing to cry about. David had just returned with Dwayne, and had him stretched out on the couch.
Leah was obviously upset because Dwayne was a mess. The back of his jacket was stained with blood, grass and dirt. His eyes had a faraway look, and every now and then, he muttered some nonsense shit that made absolutely no sense at all. Yet, Dwayne seemed to think it did.
“He’s all cracked up. The fleabags shot him in the head with a Holy water slug!” Paul cried.
“I know. I found it,” Marko replied grimly, fishing it out of his jeans pocket.
“D-David says he has t-to dig it out of his b-brains!” Leah wailed.
“Leah..it’s not like Dwayne will care. Look at him. He doesn’t even know where the hell he is. Besides that, did you know that the human brain can’t even feel pain?” Marko stated.
“Ba-loney! I’ve seen what my great grandpa does to the animals he stuffs, and he scoops all the brains out, and it’s gross! David’s gonna do that to Dwayne! No, don’t let him!”
“Oh, shit, sweetie. It’s not like that at all. David’s not going to scoop anyone’s brains out! You’re right…..that is fucking sick. He just needs to get the slug out. It’s full of poison that’s hurting Dwayne. You don’t want Dwayne to be sick do you?” Paul asked.
“No,” Leah sniffled.
“Then trust David. He doesn’t want Dwayne to hurt anymore than you do. Maybe you can even help him.”
“How?” she asked, wiping her nose on her sleeve.
“He’ll need some stuff. Go ask him, real nice like. Ask him what he needs, and I’ll help you get them.”
Leah nodded quietly and sidled over to the couch. David turned and regarded her presence warily.
“What do you want?” he asked her severely.
“What kinds of stuff do you need for Dwayne’s operation? I could get them for you…Paul said he’d help…,” she said softly.
“Alright. You two can fetch me some rubbing alcohol and the first aid kit. Everything I need should be in it. Paul knows where it is. Oh, and bring the wine bottle and a couple of blankets, too,” he told her. This time, his tone of voice was much softer.
“Okay,” she responded. Then, she scampered off to do David’s bidding, just as obediently as Marko would. David smiled in spite of himself. A part of him would miss her when she was gone.
He turned his attention to his oldest Childe, who had fallen silent and closed his eyes. His skin tone was an alarming shade of gray, and David knew he needed to feed, but he only wanted to give him just a little bit of blood for now. Dwayne would be better off in a state of distorted reality for the procedure that was ahead, but he would need a little blood in case he lost any more when David fished the bullet from his head. Leah appeared quickly with the first aid kit and the rubbing alcohol. Paul had the blankets, and Marko the wine bottle. David took the bottle of wine from Marko and supported Dwayne’s shoulders, bringing him into a semi-sitting position so that his drink wouldn’t spill. Then, he brought the bottle to his lips and allowed him several good swigs of blood.
Before he was laid back down, Paul wrapped one of the blankets around his brother’s shoulders and spread another over his body. Already, some of the sickening grayness was leaving Dwayne’s complexion, but he was still pale and listless. David knew this was for the best.
Before the procedure got underway, they heard a disturbance in the upper chamber. Thorn was growling, yet he was not having an outright conniption. A male’s voice told him to stuff a dog biscuit in it. Instantly, they recognized the voice as belonging to Laddie.
“Hey, Laddie, you’re just in time. We’re going to fix up your Sire, and he should be good as new by tomorrow,” Paul told him once he made his way down into the ballroom.
“You sprung him?” Gabe asked.
“David did. He got Shelby to pardon him somehow, but David says he’s not in the clear yet. He’ll tell us more later.”
“I need you all to be quiet,” David barked.
He had rolled Dwayne over onto his side by then. With the rubbing alcohol, he had sterilized a pair of small scissors and a pair of tweezers. Then, he’d snipped away sections of Dwayne’s hair to expose the damaged area. Using the tweezers and the scissors tips, he’d probed inside the wound, pulling out little shards of bone, and finally the metal slug. When he was finished, he washed out the hole with the rest of the contents of the bottle of wine. Everything he pulled out of Dwayne’s head was resting on a blood soaked gauze pad on the coffee table beside the couch.
“We’ll need to give that slug and the one you found at the Martinez property to Shelby for evidence.” David told Marko.
“Want me to get a picture, too? In case the werewolves find a way to destroy the evidence?” Marko asked.
Marko lined up a shot of the bloody evidence, and then took another picture of the two slugs on the table together. Let the dogs argue that!
“All right, it’s time to finish up Dwayne. I’ll need a vein or two,” David ordered.
Even though his eldest Childe was out of it still, David knew he’d felt pain from the procedure. His face had shifted and hadn’t shifted back, David himself felt vague twinges of a headache, and knew he needed to feed Dwayne. He was the first to shove his coat sleeve back and put his wrist to Dwayne’s lips; shoving against his fangs himself to puncture his own flesh. When the blood began to flow, Dwayne instinctively latched on himself. But David’s blood alone wouldn’t be enough, and since the supply from the bottle had been exhausted to heal the wound, David broke the suction when he started to feel weak, and summoned Marko next.
The same procedure was repeated. Paul looked almost antsy to have a turn. He’d never had the privilege of nourishing one of his pack brothers back to health before. Finally, Marko broke the suction, and David carefully examined Dwayne to see how close he was. He didn’t share with Paul that he wasn’t certain if he really should be giving nourishment to Dwayne yet or not. But tonight, there was no choice. The wolves had done quite a number on him, and if he was taken back into custody tomorrow night, they would surely drain him again. With a nod of his head, he called Paul to the couch. Paul eagerly rolled up his sleeve and allowed his pack brother to latch onto his wrist.
He never knew that nourishing another could be so exhilarating or so exhausting. Within a few minutes, he could barely keep his eyes open. Yet, he could sense that Dwayne was growing stronger, and he could even feel himself feeling better than he had all night. He didn’t want to stop. Finally, David inserted his fingers between Dwayne’s mouth and his wrist, breaking the suction.
“That’s enough,” he said sternly.
“But he didn’t feed that long,” Paul protested.
“Still, we’ll need your help filling the bottle tomorrow. And, if they take him again, who’s going to feed him then if they drain him? Save some for later. Now, let him rest. We have some things to discuss.”
Paul nodded sleepily. He was too tired to argue. When he stood up to follow David, he stumbled a bit. Maybe David was right after all.
“Laddie, I need you to stay with Leah and Dwayne for the next half hour. Paul, Marko and I need to find ourselves a quick bite to eat. When we return, we have some shit to discuss before it gets light. We don’t have much time, so we need to go now,” David instructed.
The other two half-drained vampires nodded in agreement. When David said ‘quick bite’, they knew what he meant. Find some homeless trolls on Front Street, drain them quick, and toss them in the deep dark sea. No muss, no fuss. This time of year, there were always bums hanging around, because the homeless shelters were always filled to capacity It was a sad fact of life.
Within 45 minutes, they had done their dirty deed and returned to the hideout. They were surprised to see that Dwayne had actually moved. He had kicked off his shoes and was curled up on the couch. Leah was snuggled up in the blankets beside him, fast asleep. Laddie sat cross legged on the floor, using the coffee table to play a quiet game of solitaire. He was taking care not to disturb the evidence that was still resting on the bloody gauze on one corner of the table.
“Did everyone behave?” David asked Laddie, motioning him over to take a seat in the main circle of mismatched chairs in the center of the room.
“See for yourself,” Gabe responded with a smile.
“Good. Be sure to let Alex in on everything you hear. I hate that she can’t be here tonight.”
“I’ll tell her. Don’t worry. It’s one reason I came,” he replied.
“Okay, well this is what I know. The dogs busted Dwayne while he was sniffing out the Martinez property. He picked up the scent of the pier wolf and followed it there. The scents of the two wolfs that visited us here this afternoon…well, technically, it was yesterday afternoon now…were also there. It turns out, they were a couple of police detectives. They were also the pair that busted Dwayne,” David explained.
“They were cops?” Paul asked.
“You heard me. While they were here, they smelled Leah. They know she’s here.” David said.
“Did Dwayne tell them that?” Marko asked.
“No, frankly, I don’t think Dwayne told them a damn thing.”
“Then all they did was sniff a thing or two. They don’t know shit.”
“They smelled her, Marko. They could come back with a search warrant. We need to get her the hell out of here.”
Unbeknownst to the party talking in the circle of chairs, Leah had awoken when the boys announced their presences and summoned Laddie over to join them. She raised her head from the pillow of Dwayne’s arm and listened quietly to the conversation, even though she knew that eavesdropping wrong.
“Where’s she supposed to go?” Paul asked with a grunt of frustration.
“I don’t know. Maybe Laddie can hide her for awhile.”
“No way. Count me out of this one” Laddie stated emphatically, “The boardwalk has dog cops patrolling the beat now, and I’m dead meat if they smell Leah on me. Not to mention, I’ve got the Frog brothers and her old man questioning me on a regular basis. No way, Jose!”
“No, he’s right. We can’t risk him on this one. Maybe we can do the divide and hide routine. Take her on a hunting trip or something,” Marko suggested, “Hell, we used to tote Laddie around with us all the time.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that, but Dwayne will be in the drink tomorrow night getting questioned, and the two of you will be at work…and Dwayne will need me down at the station. So, who does that leave with Leah?” David cracked impatiently.
“We’ll stash her someplace safe with Thorn. Hey, I know! Stowe Elementary School isn’t far from where I work. I’ll take her there with me, drop her off with some grub, my walkman and my cell phone, and tell her to wait for me, and then I’ll pick her up when I’m off. The school is out for Christmas break, so no one will notice. There’s no reason for the dogs to be sniffing around the school, and Thorn will be there to keep her company,” Paul suggested.
“Bravo, Paul. And, of course, Thorn will scare of any wolves that come with search warrants during the day. We just need to make sure that her belongings are out of the cave before we leave. I don’t think we need to be present for them to come in if they have a warrant. They can toss the place from top to bottom, so we have to make certain there’s no evidence of Leah here,” David told them.
“That won’t be a problem. It’s not like she has much,” Marko said.
“Laddie, dude, you’ll have to help us out that much. Take everything you can and buy a small storage locker for it first thing tomorrow morning,” Paul told him. He pulled out his wallet and handed Gabe a couple of twenties.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it covered.
“No, really. I don’t know how long we’ll be needing it for, so take the money.”
Solemnly, the group disbanded, and Laddie began the task of gathering up Leah’s things, with the exception of a change of clothing, her hair brush, her tooth brush, and her shoes. These necessities she’d need for the following day. Everything else went into two large bags. Gabe rode with one lashed to the back of his bike, and Paul followed him home with the other on his. By then, it was getting close to dawn, and Paul had no time to linger. The boys then helped Dwayne to the rear section of the cavern, where it would be more beneficial for him to spend the day sleeping. All of the undead blood in his body would settle in his head when he slept upside down on the bar, which would aid his body to complete the rest of the healing.
By the following night, Dwayne would most likely be fully restored.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 17: What Little Girls Are Made Of”]
Chapter 17: What Little Girls Are Made Of
The ball room was as quiet as a tomb when Leah awoke sometime the next day. She knew it would be. As usual, the oil lamps and candles were left burning for her to see by.
At some point, Dwayne had gone back to his usual place to sleep, leaving the couch all to Leah. Though she missed his presence, she was glad. It made what she was going to have to do that much easier.
No way was anybody going to leave her alone in a room with that stupid dog for even 5 seconds. There was something wrong with him. He hated her, and would probably eat her alive the first moment he had a chance to. Somehow, between now and tonight, she was going to have to find a way to slip out past him, and instinctively, she knew there way to do it. If she didn’t find it, it would find her.
True to form, the moment she slid off the couch, Thorn stuck his head down the shaft and started barking and growling at her, but this time, Leah paid him no mind. She was used to his antics by now. Also, she knew that Dwayne had told Thorn that he was never to come down here and put the bite on her. She didn’t know how he talked to him and made him understand, but so far, the dog had obeyed his master. Then again, Leah had seen Dwayne’s face shift in his sleep last night. She supposed she’d obey him too, even if she was just a dog…
Even still, vampire or not, she hadn’t been afraid of him. She didn’t know who she’d miss more, Paul or Dwayne. She’d miss them all; really, even David and Marko, but she’d miss Paul and Dwayne the most. Tears misted up her eyes as she thought about it. This dark ballroom had been her home for nearly a month now. She’d spent Christmas here. With each day that passed, thoughts of her true home grew more distant. Why was that? Of course, she still missed her mother, her father, her grandmother, and even her crazy old great grandfather…
But thoughts of missing them weren’t making her cry right now. She knew she couldn’t go to them right now. Especially now that those course, light brown hairs were poking out on her arms….
Suddenly, Thorn’s barking grew more insistent. Then, his snarls and growls became downright ferocious. Leah’s clothing felt tight and restricting, and with a vicious yank, she tore them away from her body, which was now completely covered in a tawny, brownish pelt. No sooner had she tossed her clothes on the floor, her hands and feet painfully warped into paws. She gazed up at Thorn with two, glinting silver eyes and whimpered, licking her elongated chops. Then, she sniffed around the ballroom for a bit, looking for an easy breakfast. Marko’s Cheeto’s were easy access, so she clawed open the bag and ate the entire contents. Then, she settled down on the rug with one of David’s boots and chewed on it for a bit to ease her aching gums. Thorn watched her the entire time.
Finally, her internal clock urged her on. She rose from her snug spot and met Thorn’s gaze unwaveringly. Even though she was not fully grown yet, she was about the same size as the hellhound, and instinctively, she knew they were about evenly matched for strength. For the first time since she’d come to the hideout, she was not afraid. Gathering up all of her power into her haunches, she made a gigantic leap into the shaft, straight at Thorn. Suddenly, two balls of fur were rolling on the floor of the upper chamber, fangs bared, teeth gnashing. No silver charm would protect Leah from fate today, but no vampiric plasma would protect Thorn, either. She felt his jaws clamp around one of her forelegs; she heard the bone crunch before she felt the pain. In those moments beforehand, she was able to drag the sharpened claws of her free paw across his eyes. Blood spurted from his face, and she knew she had succeeded in ruining the sight in at least one of his eyes, if not both.
From that moment forward, it was difficult to know who had the advantage. Thorn was blinded, Leah was crippled. Neither was willing to give up the fight. Thorn was forced to let go of Leah’s leg, but he snapped again, trying for her neck. He missed by mere inches. Leah wriggled out from under the white shepherd and made a lunge of her own. Just as her jaws closed around his throat, the dog collapsed in a limp heap on the floor of the cavern. She hadn’t even applied the killing pressure…
An image of Dwayne passed through her battle emboldened mind. He would be so upset to find his dog lying dead up here…
Perhaps Leah hated him with every cell in her body, but Dwayne loved him, and she still loved Dwayne, wolf or not. She felt a new loyalty to him now that was hard to describe in human terms. Her opponent was down, and she had won the fight. Leah let go of Thorn’s throat and slowly limped out of the cavern.
Hellhounds were supposed to be practically immortal. But, fear demons couldn’t change the biological breeding in which hellhounds were designed to behave. So, when Thorn had engaged the werewolf into a fight, the fear demon had no choice but to fight, even if fights with werewolves weren’t a fear demon’s cup of tea.
Damn it all if the stupid hellhound hadn’t lost, too!
No one noticed as a streak of whitish-blue light exited Thorn’s body, and another one took its place. Shortly after Leah left, Thorn weakly raised his head and whimpered. He was badly scratched on his face, couldn’t see out of his left eye, and could barely see out of his right. Worse yet, he couldn’t exactly remember just how he’d gotten in such a predicament. It all seemed like the sort of bad dream that left him twitching at his brunette haired master’s feet…
He was wishing for his master and a big juicy red meat steak, right about now.
Leah was surprised how much ground she was able to cover with only three legs to walk on. Despite her injury, she was still able to limp down the side of the gulf and back up the other side. Then, she continued on a three legged sprint for a few miles to the only place she knew to go. The place where it all began. Beneath the pier, she found refuge for the day, in a den that didn’t smell entirely unwelcoming. Something was waiting for her when she arrived. It was a stuffed kitten that smelled strongly of a pack brother she’d only met once.
He was the one that had initiated her into her wolf-hood.
If Leah had the strength, she would leave the confines of her dark den and seek him out, but her leg needed to heal. It wouldn’t until nightfall. Then, she’d need to feed, or she would shift back into human form very quickly. A wolf could not hold their changeling form when it was not the full moon without feeding very easily, but changes came easier when it was close to the full moon as it was now. Since she was not a hormonal adolescent, whatever form she affected would likely hold well enough, unlike Jake, but being young, she lacked the self control to stop sudden shifts when she got scared, angry, or hurt. The pain she felt helped to keep her in wolf form as the afternoon passed. She spent her time licking her leg, gnawing on her stuffed kitten, and napping.
David was the first to awaken, as usual, and he allowed Dwayne the luxury of sleeping in for a little while. As usual, Paul still snoozed on the bar beside him, but Marko was soon awake; almost always in tune with David’s rhythms. Paul would likely sleep for some time yet, too. He was almost always the last up, but he’d had a good draining the night before, and the feeding he’d taken to replenish it had only restored some of his blood…and it had come from a bleary eyed drunk.
David stretched and felt the bones in his back pop back into place. He felt a bit drained himself. Like Paul, he’d also been drained to the point of seeing little black dots in front of his eyes, and his nourishment had come from an inebriated bridge troll the night before. Not exactly the best meal one could ask for after nursing a Childe back to health, but better than nothing. Marko was looking a bit hung over, too, but his smile was as cheery as ever. David found himself thankful for the 40 millionth time that he didn’t have to face a time clock and a boss like Paul and Marko did.
“We should get Paul up soon or he’ll be late for work,” David said.
“He’s still got oodles of time. His shift doesn’t start ‘til midnight,’ Marko replied.
“I want him to feed well, first. And, we have to refill the bottle and get the girl and Thorn to the elementary school before he reports to duty.”
“We should give them both another hour, then?”
“That’ll do. I checked out Dwayne’s head earlier. It looks good. Not a mark.”
“He’s gonna be pissed about the bald spot,” Marko chuckled.
“He can just live with it Besides, if he wears a ponytail for awhile, no one will notice,” David answered.
They selected clean clothes for the evening, changed, and padded out to the ballroom where they’d all left their various assorted boots and shoes. Dwayne’s favorite footwear, his Converse sneakers (perfect for skateboarding), were still at the edge of the couch where he’d kicked them off the night before. Paul’s combat boots were right by his guitar. Marko and David both wore biker boots, but Marko’s were a size and a half smaller than David’s. His were right by his beanbag chair, but his Cheeto’s were missing. So was one of David’s boots.
The other one of David’s boots was where he’d left it, by his velvet parlor chair.
Scanning the room, David quickly located his other boot. It was on the throw rug, along with the mutilated remains of Marko’s bag of Cheeto’s. He bent to pick up his boot, and grimaced in disgust. It was covered in chew marks and dog slobber!
“Son of a bitch!” he swore, “Who let the dogs out! Thorn’s been down here! I’m gonna rip him a new asshole!”
“God, David, how do you know it was Thorn? Look around? Do you see Leah? Maybe the Dog Cops broke in here and stole her….” Marko said; his eyes wide with shock.
“Fat chance. He would have ripped them to shreds,” David replied. “THORN! GET YOUR DOG BUTT DOWN HERE!”
His bellow was met with a loud, pitiful whine that echoed down the tunnel. Both boys looked at each other, and then rushed up the shaft, one after the other. The sight that met them shocked and horrified them. Thorn was curled up on the floor of the upper chamber, shaking and whimpering. His face was a horror of matted fur and caked blood.
“Jesus, Marko, you’d better go get Dwayne. This doesn’t look good,” David breathed, “And bring a blanket when you come back. He’s in shock.”
Marko wordlessly did as he was told, unable to stand the sight of their protector companion suffering so horribly.
“It’s alright, buddy. We’re going to take care of you. You’re one of us,” David whispered, approaching the dog carefully. He had a limited knowledge of animals, but knew that they could act unpredictably when injured.
Thorn made a feeble attempt to lift his head and acknowledge the head vampire. David crouched down beside him and put a tentative, comforting hand on his flank. He was relieved when the dog thumped his tail against the ground three times. A few minutes later, Marko returned with Dwayne and a blanket.
“What happened to my dog?!” Dwayne cried in horror.
“We don’t know. He’s going to need another shot of plasma, and we’re going to need to refill the bottle and wash out his eyes. That should fix him up good,” David responded.
Marko handed the blanket to David, who lightly covered the shivering dog. Dwayne crouched down beside Thorn and began whispering to him softly. Thorn’s ears perked up immediately, and his shivering subsided noticeably. Then, Dwayne ran his hands up and down the dog’s body, checking for other injuries that might not be apparent to the eye. He seemed to be tender around his throat, but there were no teeth marks or blood that could be seen.
“What I’m thinking is that we’re in some deep shit,” David surmised, “I think the wolves were already here, and that Thorn tried to play hero; two against one to keep them away from Leah…but that they took our girl.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Marko replied, “I found her clothes downstairs. It looks like she…or someone else just ripped them off and tossed them away. Also, no shoes. Her sleep shirt is down there, too. You wanna tell me that they bothered to beat the crap out of Thorn, crawl down the tunnel, rip Leah’s clothes off of her, and then haul her up and take her away? They may be cops, and werewolves too, but I doubt they’re perverts…”
“So what are you suggesting?” Dwayne asked.
“I’m thinking we have a runaway wolf on our hands,” Marko answered.
“You think she did this to Thorn?”
If Thorn challenged her, she might have…”
“Yeah, and the chew marks on my boot. Puppy behavior. Thorn’s never chewed anything since we’ve had him here, but a young wolf cub might,” David stated.
“We need to find her and get her back here,” Dwayne cried.
“Oh, no. She’s better off gone. If she ever shows up here again, she’s not welcome. Hellhound mauling werewolves and vampires don’t mix. Besides, we came to a few conclusions while you were out cold last night. We’re pretty certain the fuzz will be back here with search warrants to look for her tonight. They sniffed her presence while they were here yesterday. Marko, I want you to wake Paul’s ass up. The two of you gather up every last trace of Leah, make a bonfire on the beach, and burn it. Then, you two get back here and work on refilling the bottle so we can heal up Thorn. Dwayne, get him his plasma injection,” David ordered.
The two vampires quickly set about their assigned tasks in very somber moods. No one asked David what he was assigning himself to do. Quietly, David rummaged around the two chambers until he located a large plastic bin that Marko used to store his clothes in. Not caring if his second youngest Childe would be pissed off if he borrowed it for the moment, David dumped the garments on the floor, and grabbed the bin. Then, he located the box of laundry powder, and dumped a scoopful into the bin. Next, he found a ripped up ‘kill T-shirt’ from the pile of discards that was set to be burned when time allowed, and dumped that into the bin. His final stop was to take his bin to the sea and fill it up with soapy sea water. This he used to clean up the bloody mess on the chamber of the upper cavern. It wouldn’t do for any werewolves with a search warrant to come up and smell a wolf vs. hellhound fight all over the place. He figured Thorn would need a good bath too, once he was feeling a bit better.
In order to cleanse the entire floor, David was required to dump the bin and replace the soap and water three times. He made certain to dump fresh sea water all over the front entrance of their hideout. Also, he repeated the cleaning procedure down below. When he was finished, he removed the rug and the blankets Leah had slept with, and flew them out to the bonfire Marko and Paul had built on the beach. With a grunt, he tossed them on, watching all evidence of their young visitor crackle and burn in the night air. He was a soaked mess by now and would require a change of clothes, but he was satisfied that the dogs wouldn’t find much to incriminate Dwayne when they conducted their search….if they did. Before returning to the cave to change into clean clothes, David found himself an unwitting runaway to snack on. He would now be quite able to contribute his share to the blood bottle and speed up Thorn’s healing.
It was almost as if David knew the call would be coming momentarily. For the occasion, David selected a nicer shirt; one of the few button up shirts in his wardrobe. Like almost all others he owned, it was dark; only this one was navy blue. He paired it with black jeans, and grimaced as he gazed at his boots. He could still see the damn chew marks in the left one if he looked closely, but fortunately, the tooth marks didn’t go all the way through. She’d done most of the damage to the heel. Damn her hide!
“Dwayne, are you ready?” David called to his eldest fledgling.
“Ready for what?”
“That was Shelby. You’re wanted down at the police station for questioning. This time, you get a lawyer. Meanwhile, they’re sending a couple of mutts down here with a search warrant, so Paul, Marko, look sharp. Give nothing away….answer no questions, got it?”
“No prob. We’ll have Thorn back up before they get here, too. He’ll give ‘em hell like he’s bred to do,” Marko replied.
“Dwayne, you can’t go to the police station looking like that. Put a damn shirt on,” David chided.
The same group was assembled in the questioning room that had been assembled the night before with the exception of an additional person. She was a slender woman of slightly taller than average height. Though she was actually in her mid thirties, she looked like she was more in her mid to late twenties. She also looked like she’d spent half her life staying up all day and half the night, which would not have been an understatement. In regular lighting, her makeup did wonders to hide the bags beneath her eyes and the pallor of her skin, but the fluorescent lighting in the questioning room was harsh. It did no favors for the vampires, and it did none for her, either. David remembered what Shelby had told him about Dwayne’s new attorney, Tori Finch. She was a half vampire. Without being told, Dwayne could smell it, too. So could the werewolves in the room. Suddenly, the Commissioner glared at the two women in the room with open animosity.
“What sort of trick is this, Madam Mayor?” he asked, his voice barely masking a snarl.
“No trick. The suspect is entitled to fair representation, which is certainly better than the treatment your boys afforded him last night. Now, where shall we begin?” Shelby asked, her lilting tones infuriating the Commissioner even more.
“I’d like to know how my client was identified as the prime suspect in the girl’s disappearance in the first place. Has he admitted any guilt?” Tori asked.
She passed a look to Dwayne that clearly said ‘Be quiet. Say nothing.’ Dwayne had no trouble with a suggestion of that sort. He was inclined to say nothing on a usual night anyways.
“We had an eyewitness identify him as being present the night of her disappearance,” the Commissioner replied smugly.
“And who was this alleged ‘eyewitness’?”
“Bullshit. You really don’t want me going to a judge and subpoenaing the records, now do you?” Finch challenged.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Don’t fucking try me. Now, who’s the God damned eye witness?”
“What judge would hear a case like this?”
“It might have to go out of jurisdiction, but there is night court, y’know. Ever hear of Judge Harrell? He tries cases in the City, and he’d love a veiny case like this….”
Tori Finch settled back in her chair and smiled, allowing the tip of her fangs to show just a bit.
“You bitch!” Erickson hissed.
“You’ll have a hell of a time getting this case out of the County lines…”
“I hear Hell is nice and toasty this time of year. Name, please…”
“He’s a juvenile.”
“Your point being? Look, this is a confidential questioning. The information isn’t going anywhere, so cough up the damn name already. My client only has until the fucking sun rises!”
“Jake Martinez,” Erickson muttered.
Shelby’s eyes flew open wide.
“Jake Martinez! He’s the Lt. Mayor’s son! Now this is all starting to make sense!”
“None of it makes sense. He saw the suspect with the kid in his arms, trying to drain her dry…That’s what’s in the report,” Erickson stated.
“That’s one version of the report. I’d like my client to make his statement now,” Tori said.
She turned to Dwayne, who in turn gazed at David. His eyes were beseeching. He knew what had happened that night, but he was afraid to tell. How much should he reveal?
‘Don’t tell them that you brought her to the cave. Tell them everything else’, David’s voice sounded in his head.
“I was flying over the beach on my way to Front Street. There’s always bums there, and I was hungry. I don’t know what time it was, because I never wear a watch….but I stopped dead in my tracks because I smelled something. It was…”
“It was what?” Tori urged.
“It was blood. Fresh blood. A scent like that will drive a guy like me out of my mind, so I was compelled to follow it. I-I found the source of it under the pier. That’s when I found the victim. She’d been ripped up pretty bad..”
“So you did find the girl!” the Commissioner interjected.
“Yeah, but something else found her first!” Dwayne cried, “And it started growling at me. The next thing I know, a werewolf flies out from the shadows and jumps on my back! I fling him off, and notice that his mouth is all burnt up! He can’t bite me, and he can’t finish off the girl, either…”
“So, that’s when you decide to,” Erickson concluded.
“No, I swear, I didn’t touch her! I don’t eat little kids!” Dwayne swore.
“Well, Mr. Runningwolf, I know better. You have a bit of a record. It seems that you may have been involved in a murder as far back as 1958. Perhaps you’d mind explaining the circumstances involving the unsolved death of your brother, Daniel Craig Runningwolf, aka Craig, age 12 the night he was brutally killed on December 27th, 1958? Seems like December is a bad month for you, isn’t it?”
Suddenly, Dwayne’s face contorted into a mask of fury and fangs. He shoved himself out of his seat and lunged for the Commissioner, who was sitting across the table from him.
“FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE!” he sputtered.
Instantly, David was up out of his chair, hauling his Childe back into his seat by the belt loops on his jeans.
“Beating a dead horse is getting us nowhere, pardon the bad comparison. Mr. Runningwolf was not brought in here to be questioned about the mysterious circumstances concerning his brother’s death,” Tori leveled.
“Murder has no statute of limitations,” Erickson said.
“Then let the state of Minnesota file charges, damn it! We’re only here to concern ourselves with Leah Emerson. And, Mr. Runningwolf has clearly made a statement that implicates another in the incident. So, he says a werewolf was involved. As soon as he calms down, I have some more questions for him.”
Then, she turned to Dwayne.
“You can’t let him bait you like that. He wants to see you fly off the handle. Get a grip on yourself,” she told him.
David firmly grasped Dwayne’s face between his cool fingers.
“She’s right. Behave yourself.”
Dwayne closed his eyes and cleared his mind, and after a few moments and some steely resolve, his features shifted back to normal.
“I brought a sketch Dwayne made of the werewolf he encountered down at the pier. He’s had several dreams of the incident,” David said, shoving the drawing across past Dwayne to Tori.
Tori took the drawing and examined it closely.
“You’re an excellent artist, Mr. Runningwolf. I doubt the police artists could do this good. You might consider a job on the San Francisco police force as a sketch artist,” she told him with a smile.
“Trying to tempt my Childe away from me?” David asked. His tone was not entirely amused.
“I don’t think you’ll have much to worry about, Mr. Owens. Convicted felons typically don’t get jobs on the police force,” Erickson smirked.
“Don’t be so quick to convict. Dwayne says he encountered a werewolf the night of the 16th. It’s awfully strange that Jake Martinez is also a werewolf….What is a young werewolf doing out on the pier on a full moon night, when he should be hunting with his pack mates?” Shelby inquired. She made a steeple with her hands and was resting her chin on them thoughtfully.
“My thoughts exactly,” David smarted.
“In fact, I know for sure there was a werewolf down there that night. David, the pictures…”
Shelby and David smiled knowingly, and each of them pulled out their matching prints from Shelby’s 35 millimeter camera. In addition, Shelby pulled out the prints she’d had made from her digital. David brought his digital. The images were still on the memory card, but could be seen on the readout. He also brought the bullets and the pictures Marko had taken of them.
“As you can see, these pictures clearly correlate with what Dwayne Runningwolf has made in his statement. As far as we could surmise, there was plenty of evidence to show that a werewolf had been on the premises, including hair samples. But, there was very little or nothing to show that a vampire had been there except for an eyewitnesses’ statement. So who should be here for questioning Dwayne Runningwolf, or Jake Martinez?” Shelby summarized smugly.
“These photographs are not police sanctioned. The evidence could be tampered with,” Erickson protested.
“Well, answer me some other questions, Mr. Runningwolf. Did the arresting officers read you your Miranda rights?”
“What are Miranda rights?” Dwayne asked.
“The ‘You have the right to remain silent’ speech.”
“Did they read the charges against you? Tell you why you were being arrested?”
“No. They just shot me in the back of the head.”
“Then I declare that the whole arrest was bogus. A judge would throw it right out of court.”
“Absolutely!” Tori agreed.
“Maybe your two star detectives will be a little smarter when they bring young Master Martinez in for questioning,” Shelby said.
She gave a stern gaze to Branch and Montgomery, who had been sitting quietly in their seats throughout the entire evening’s questioning.
“One last question. What happened with the kid? What did you do with her?” Tori asked.
“There was a cop siren that sounded over head on the pier while the wolf and I were circling around each other. He fled, and then I did. I guess neither one of us wanted to be caught with a bloody kid on our hands. I don’t know what happened to her afterwards,” Dwayne stated, “But if that wolf bit her, then my guess is, she’s wandering around the hills of Santa Carla, hungrier than hell.”
[nextpage title=”Chapter 18: Call of the Wild”]
Chapter 18: Call of the Wild
Two fresh officers were sent to the hideout with a search warrant. Paul was the only one home to show them in by the time they arrived. It was New Year’s Eve, and Marko had no choice but to leave for work. His shift was scheduled to start at 10.
Paul watched with distaste as the two wolves in cops clothing tossed the place from top to bottom. Thorn looked to be resting on the couch. His eyes looked much better now. Only under close scrutiny could anyone tell that he’d encountered trouble earlier in the day. Despite his reclined state, the dog was warily tracking the progress of the officers, and watching every move they made. His prior entanglement wouldn’t stop him from protecting his blond haired master if called to do so.
“Hey, guys, I got some doggie biscuits here. Want some?” Paul chided, as he observed the officers rooting through his stack of heavy metal CD’s. What were they hoping to find, a stack of incriminating KIDZ Rock discs? Leah had never been that tacky anyways.
“Shut up, Death Breath,” One of them growled back.
“Where do you and the rest of your fang gang stash your coffins?” the other asked.
“We don’t have coffins, asshole. If you wanna know where we sleep, I’ll show you, but I’ll tell you right now, if you guys are wanting a threesome, I’m not into that kind of kink unless you can wait a couple of hours. Then, you can call me up at 1-900-Sex-MeUP and ask for Randy Ready….I might cut you a law enforcement discount….”
“You’re just a laugh a minute. Where’s your sleeping quarters, funny guy?”
Paul had few qualms about showing them the dark anteroom where the boys hung out each night. It was the one area of the underground sanctuary where Leah had never actually been. The two cops whipped out their flashlights and played them around for a few minutes, taking in all that there was to see, which wasn’t much. On the way out, they carefully examined the corridor leading back into the ballroom. Without any further words to him, they climbed back up to the main level. He could hear them bumping around on the first level of the chamber for a few minutes. Then, he heard nothing, but he could still smell them for a time. They were sniffing around outside. Thorn knew they were, too. His ears were pricked up in concern. At last, they left. Their smell faded into the distance. Paul went to his weed stash, rolled up a huge joint and began toking in relief. Then, he found his favorite cheesecake magazine and started leafing through the pages. He seriously needed to get himself in a dirty frame of mind to pull himself through his shift tonight.
Sam leaned against the railing of the pier, looking down at the water dejectedly. He had just visited the Frog brothers, but decided he wasn’t much in the mood for their company tonight. The sea lions below were begging for fish, and he tossed them some of the last scraps he had, thinking to himself that this was the last thing that his little girl had done before she’d…
What? Been devoured by a werewolf?
He and his friends had combed the beach, the pier, and the boardwalk several times over the last few weeks. There had been no sign of Leah. The cops had given up on the investigation, and now, maybe it was high time he did too. He knew the truth. Never once had his daughter called him on his cell phone, called her grandmother’s house or called her mom at home or at work. She was gone without a trace.
Sam knew the legend that the sea never gave up its dead, but he was still convinced that his daughter had never been a victim of the sea in the first place. Still, Santa Carla just as infrequently gave up its dead, either. He had known, from the first day that he saw the sign ‘The Murder Capital of the World’ spray painted on the back of the ‘Santa Carla Welcomes You’ sign that this was no ordinary town. Daughter or no daughter, he was beginning to relish the idea of returning home to the safety of San Jose.
Dwayne and David exited the police station, and David glanced at the time reading on his cell phone. It was 10:58. Paul would be getting ready to leave for work. He patched a quick call through to him to see how things went.
“Yeah, they were here, alright. They sniffed around, said nothing, and left,” Paul reported.
“Everything went okay, then?”
“I think so…”
“He’s doing fine. You might want to pop by that butcher shop on the pier and pick him up a fat, juicy steak, though. He’s lookin’ kind of hungry.”
“I think they only sell fish there,” David said.
“Ask him if he cares….a nice bloody halibut steak will do him fine. A good change of pace. Thorn likes fish, don’t ya, Thorn…”
David heard the dog yip on the other end of the line.
“We’d better hurry, then. They’ll be closing up shop soon.”
“How did things go with Dwayne?”
“They went pretty decent, I think. We’ll fill you in later. Have an interesting night at work.”
David then turned to Dwayne, who looked rather conservative himself, dressed in his leather jacket, with a long sleeved, white thermal T-shirt visible beneath it, and his long dark locks pulled back into a ponytail to hide the bald spot that David had inflicted when administering first aid to him the night before.
“We have an errand to run, and then you can feed. I’m sure you must be starved.”
“I can hold out. Where to?”
“Paul wants us to get your dog a nice, bloody Halibut steak at the butcher shop on the pier before they close.”
“What time is it now?”
“About eleven,” David replied.
“They might already be closed,” Dwayne replied.
“Maybe. It is New Year’s Eve. It’s hard to tell. Some folks shut down early; others stay open later to drum up more business. At any rate, if they’re closed, we’ll just take what we need. Never had a problem with that…”
He let off with a sinister chuckle, and they took to the air. Neither of them had bothered with their bikes that night, since they were parked in the City Garages, which were so close to the Police Station.
From up above, they could see a few scattered bon fires lit on the beach. One of the dwindling ones would be the one that was burning the evidence that he, Paul and Marko had fed into it; disposing the last traces of Leah’s presence in their cave. By now, all scent of hers would be charcoaled beyond any ability for werewolves to sniff it out. What they couldn’t see from their airborne vantage point was that they were being followed. The Commissioner and his men decided to track Owens and Runningwolf one last time before issuing a warrant to bring Jake Martinez into the station. The report they’d received from the two officers that had run the search at the vampire’s hideout didn’t wash with the earlier findings reported by the two detectives that had visited the hideout the day before. The vamps were up to something.
In order to track the fang faced bastards in the air, two of them had to take to wolf form, while the Commissioner followed behind in an unmarked squad car with the investigator’s clothing. Sometimes, shifting could be a damn inconvenience. Still, his men on four legs on the ground were just as fast and able to cover as much distance as the two vampires in the air. Erickson was able to track his detectives in the car quite easily, even if he couldn’t track the vampires. Soon, it was obvious that they would all rendezvous at the pier. How convenient.
Leah slept much longer than she should have. She rose and tested her weight on her damaged paw. A momentary surge of pain flared up her foreleg, but soon subsided. Each time she tested her weight on it, the pain grew less intense. She would be alright. It was mostly healed.
The smells of fresh fish and mortals lingered together from up above on the pier. Suddenly, she was ravenous. Licking her puppy sized wolf chops, she backed out of the safety of her hideout and cautiously sniffed her way out onto the beach. There was nothing down here that she could see, that was enticing. No bums, no garbage cans…but she knew where she could find some…
No restraint held her back. She had the impulses of an eight year old child, locked into the maturity of an eight month old wolf cub. Without an elder to guide her, she was reckless and foolish, and unschooled. Before she’d made it halfway down the blacktop of the pier, she smelled another familiar scent. It was mortal, but it was home. It was more familiar that the pack brother that had initiated her into her wolf-hood…
With a fast trot that denied any pain that she might be feeling in her lame leg, she made her way to the back of the pier, where a lone man stood tossing fish over the railing. She sidled up next to him and put her front paws up on the railing next to him, whimpering loudly to catch his attention.
The man looked down at her and smiled, tossing her a piece of fish. Leah devoured it hungrily, and then pressed her cold nose into one of his hands.
‘Recognize me’, she silently begged.
“Boy, you must really be hungry, you poor thing. Here. Have another. It’s the last one I have,” Sam said to the hungry dog, gazing at it…no…her…with pity. The dog took it politely yet eagerly and devoured it in two bites. Sam wondered what sort of dog she was. Not fully grown, by the looks of her. She had to be some sort of wolf breed, but not Siberian Husky…
She was lovely, whatever she was. Her fur was variegated shades of light brown. He didn’t think wolves came in those colors, and her eyes were two spectacular, luminescent, silvery discs. She would be a big dog when she finished growing, but Sam had a big yard, and she didn’t look like she had a home….
Suddenly, the dog looked up and made a strange noise in the back of her throat. It wasn’t a growl; it was almost a doggy question mark. Then, she tore off halfway down the pier, stopping at the butcher shop. Two gentlemen had stopped in front of the business, obviously looking to see if it was still open. Sam knew they had closed an hour ago. He knew this because he’d gotten his fish there about that long ago, just before they’d shut down for the night. Quietly, he followed her, curious to see if these men were the dog’s masters.
The she-wolf was circling them, whimpering at them and behaving towards them much the same way that she had when she’d encountered him. The dark haired man of the duo watched her antics for a few moments and whispered a name to her.
The name chilled Sam’s heart.
Suddenly, the dog stopped her strange antics. She rested against the man’s knees as though she was exhausted.
The other man gazed at Sam with cold, calculating blue eyes. Suddenly, another chill ran through Sam. He knew who he was. It was David!
“You don’t recognize your own daughter when you see her? She was trying to tell you something, you idiot!”
“What did you do to my daughter, you asshole? You were in the Frog brother’s store a couple of weeks ago wanting books on werewolves. Why, so you could turn Leah into one?”
“I had nothing to do with this, you piss ant. Actually, it was the Lt. Mayor’s son that did this to her. You might remember Dwayne here…you certainly didn’t do him any favors a few years back, but he did you one. He rescued your kid from a fate worse than death and nursed her back to health. Too bad she’d already been bitten. There’s nothing any of us could do about that…Once bitten, always wolf. Now, the cops are after him for a crime he didn’t commit, you self righteous little punk, so get off your high horse and give him a break!”
“You guys have had Leah all along?” Sam cried hoarsely, “Why the hell didn’t you say something? I’ve been pulling my hair out day and night with worry, thinking my daughter had been eaten alive…” His voice cracked with emotion that he’d been penning up for nearly a month.
“What were we supposed to say? By the way Emerson, we’ve got your kid, but you can’t have her in case she wolfs out?” David deadpanned.
“You didn’t think I’d believe you? I’ve fucking believed in vampires since I was fourteen years old, for Christ’s sake! I’m a god damned therapy case because of it! Are you out of your fucking skulls? Of course you could have told me! She’s my daughter! I love her more than I love my own pathetic life! Jesus! She’s the only thing I’ve done right!”
“Well, take a good look at her,” David taunted, “Cuz she’s gone to the dogs, Emerson.”
“Cut it out, David,” Dwayne urged.
David turned his icy gaze onto his eldest Childe.
“He deserves this. Do you know who this twerp is? This is the very one that…”
“I know who he is. I remember everything now. That bullet to my head did something to me…I can remember now. Maybe he deserved some payback, but fate has already meted it out. He’s suffered enough.”
“Karma, David. I’ve always been a strong believer in Karma. What goes around comes around. Don’t keep playing with it.”
He then crouched down to the wolf pup leaning against his knees.
“Leah, can you transform back?”
She looked at him with a piteous expression and whined softly.
“She’s too weak. She had a scuffle with a dog earlier today, and I suspect she needs some good food before she can return to the form you’re more used to seeing her in,” Dwayne said stoically.
“What, like she has to make her first kill?” Sam asked breathlessly.
“Well, I’m not up on werewolf lore, but she needs raw, bloody meat. Something along the lines of what we’re here to get Thorn. We’ll get her some too, and see what happens.”
Before they had the chance to raid the butcher shop for cast offs, lights were shined in their faces. Behind the flashlights were the forms of Commissioner Erickson, and Detectives Branch and Montgomery.
“Would you look at this? Guilt by association. If I’m not mistaken, we have here one missing wolf child in the company of Mr. Dwayne Runningwolf and Mr. David Owens. What a surprise!” the Commissioner said caustically.
“Well, I guess that means the case is solved, and Leah isn’t missing anymore. I’m her father, Sam Emerson. I actually found her. My daughter came to me,” Sam interjected.
“Keep your trap shut, Emerson, or we’ll haul you in for filing a false report. Just let us do our job, and you stay out of it,” Erickson snapped.
“What? I did nothing of the sort!”
“I’m warning you. Not another peep!”
Suddenly, a growling was heard from the base of Dwayne’s knees. The Commissioner looked down to see Leah baring her teeth at him.
“Aren’t you cute? Don’t get cheeky with me, lass. I’ll teach you the meaning of ‘respect your elders’ if you insist’.”
Leah, of course, persisted with her teeth baring antics. After all, she’d whipped a hellhound into submission earlier that day. The only other werewolf she’d ever encountered had been a teenager. She had no idea how big a full grown, mature Alpha Male was.
David gazed at Dwayne.
“This is going to get ugly,” he told him.
Dwayne nodded and the two of them wordlessly shifted.
“Uh-huh..” Sam muttered, taking steps backwards.
“Don’t worry. This isn’t for you,” Dwayne told him, “But you may want to get out of the way. Things could get ugly.”
“You boys, it seems are breaking an edict. Harassing a mortal known to be involved in the events of the conflict at Gus Emerson’s house during the Summer of ’86,” Erickson taunted.
“We weren’t bothering him in the least. You guys, on the other hand, are defiantly breaking a law. Not counting Leah, you are assembled in a public place in City Limits in a group numbering more than two. If I’m not mistaken, the law applies to werewolves as much as it applies to us. Touché!” David cackled.
“Police work is exempt, you self righteous little prick.”
“Would you call this police work or police harassment?”
“I’ll give you police harassment!” Erickson threatened, suddenly shifting into wolf form. What emerged was a gigantic gray wolf. Unlike the others who had silvery eyes, his were a menacing, reflective gold.
“Bring it on, fleabag!” David yelled.
Two other wolves appeared at the Commissioner’s side. They were considerably smaller, but no less threatening. The two vampires sized up their competition. For the moment, it looked like David would be handling the Commissioner, while Dwayne would take on the two smaller flunkies…
But then Leah squared herself up, baring her fangs. For all she was worth, she intended to fight, too.
“Leah, NO!” Sam yelled.
Daughter paid no mind to father. Her blood was boiling and she was desperately hungry. Even the meat of her own kind would satisfy the urge to feed, as wolves were carnivorous beings. She was the first to spring. The agility of youth and speed of small size actually gave her an advantage over Branch, her chosen opponent, and she was quickly on his back, growling, and attempting to sink her teeth into the flesh on the nape of his neck. However, his superior strength soon won over, and he was easily able to flip his opponent over. A wrestling match between the two of them quickly ensued. Meanwhile, the vampires soon had troubles of their own. Just as David suspected, the Alpha Male of the wolves had David pegged as the Alpha Male of the Vampires. The wolf was the larger of the two opponents, but the Commissioner soon learned that David was the stronger of the two of them. While they grappled and fought, Dwayne and Montgomery simultaneously came to blows. Their argument was very short lived. No sooner had they started grappling did Dwayne get a hold of the detective’s neck in a choke hold and snap it. Then, he tossed the limp werewolf’s body over the railing into the ocean. For his trouble, he only had a few scratches.
David was airborne with his huge opponent. Huge jaws were snapping in his face, but for the moment, the Commissioner was failing to make contact. David’s face was bleeding from a few good scratches he’d endured from claw swipes during the course of the fight. Likewise, Erickson had a few bleeding cuts inflicted upon him from David. Yet it seemed that neither one could get the advantage for long. But, David did have one advantage that a werewolf would never have: opposable thumbs. Once they were airborne, David flew himself and his opponenent far out to sea. Then, he merely let go, giving his challenger a swift kick, forcing him to unhook any claws that might be holding him fast to David’s clothing. Then he watched as Erickson splashed down into the dark waters below. It wouldn’t spell the end for the Commissioner, but it would certainly give the Alpha Male the clear indication that he would never win a fight against the Alpha Male of the vampires.
That left Branch and Leah left fighting. Dwayne caught his breath and surveyed the scene. The two were still scuffling, and Leah seemed to be holding her own. Then, the elder dog nipped her on the scruff, paralyzing her, and did something so shocking that Dwayne found it impossible to get his legs moving in time. He understood the theory behind it, but it was so disgusting….
In his mind, Leah was still an eight year old girl!
The detective, who must have decided that he won the fight, mounted the smaller dog from behind to subdue her, and began to assert his dominance over her the way male dogs typically do to females…
“GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY LITTLE GIRL YOU SICK ASSED PERVERT!”
Before Dwayne could react, or before David could get back from his engagement with the Commissioner, Sam Emerson hurtled himself at the detective werewolf that was yumping on his daughter, and roughly shoved him off of her.
Leah rose painfully to her feet and made an attempt to shield her father from the inevitable, but there was nothing her small body could do to stave off the attack.
Branch moved in for the kill. Dwayne moved in to intercept, but before he could pull the snarling werewolf off of Sam, the dog had already tore a hunk of jacket covered flesh from his arm. The dog was still snarling and foaming at the mouth, blood and gore dripping form his chops. Dwayne had him by the tail. He whipped him around, banging his head into the rails of the pier until his neck broke. Then, like his partner, he flung him into the sea.
“What did I miss?” David asked when he heard another plop go into the darkened waters.
“We’ve got trouble.” Dwayne responded morosely.
Sam was doubled up on the pier, clutching his bloodied arm. Leah was trying to nudge his hand away so that she could lick at it and try to heal it.
“Great. Like father, like daughter,” David sighed.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 19: Karma”]
Chapter 19: Karma
At last, there was silence in the ballroom. David had begrudgingly revoked his earlier statement declaring that Leah Emerson was no longer allowed back to the cave. She sat in Marko’s bean bag chair, wearing Dwayne’s long thermal shirt as protection from the cold that always seemed to permeate the Boys inner sanctum. Finally, after eating a bloody hunk of fish, she had found the strength to resume human form, and the joy she had felt at being reunited with her father had almost been heartwarming even for a vampire.
Even for a vampire that hated Emerson’s.
Sam Emerson was obviously still in shock from the bite wound that the now deceased Detective Branch had inflicted upon him. Since Commissioner Erickson was still alive and would pull himself out of the cold and onto the Pacific beach within the hour, he couldn’t be left there. David and Dwayne had little choice but to airlift him and Leah to the hideout. After all, Sam Emerson would never be the same again. He would now be a creature of the night, just like his daughter. He would need to live by a new code and learn the rules. David had plenty of pilfered books from the Frog brothers that could start his education off right. Just wait until those two do-do’s figured out what had become of their friend!
There was no need to flush Sam’s wound with immortal blood. It would heal on it’s own in a short amount of time. David had checked him over to make certain he wasn’t wearing any silver jewelry. The only thing that looked suspicious was the Rolex watch, but Sam informed him that it was made of stainless steel. Now, Sam was stretched out on the couch.
Karma, indeed. David had to give his eldest Childe some credit. Being a werewolf was worse than death in David’s book.
Quietly, David scribbled the events of the night down in his journal, making little noise so that he wouldn’t disturb the two resting guests. Eventually, they would lose Leah. But, in some ways, David had to admit that he felt better about her fate. She was being returned to the family she belonged with. Things would never be the same, but when did life ever stay the same?
Well, some things did always manage to stay the same. He’d come very close to losing Dwayne. As he’d always known, losing his eldest Childe would be like losing his sanity. Once Dwayne’s safety had been assured, David’s rationale had been returned to him, and the decisions he’d made were much more reasonable. They had to be, in order to keep Dwayne from being banished….or worse!
Yet, he couldn’t completely credit Dwayne with keeping him sane in this round.
Across town, sleeping fitfully in a bed with another man; was a woman pregnant with his child. She had begged him, for his own sake; not to bring any harm to Sam Emerson. In the end, he had promised her. And, in the end, it had been the Commissioner and his men that had done the evil deed. Sam Emerson himself would testify to that. In some ways, it was a damn shame that Montgomery and Branch were fishy food in Davy Jones’s locker. But, the Commissioner would live for his retribution.
Somehow, David suspected that the Lt. Mayor and his boy would come up with clean noses. Yet, he didn’t hold any animosity towards them, really. Especially towards the kid. Teenagers did stupid things. Hell, he’d been young once, and technically, he always would be. Fathers protected their kids. Hadn’t Max always done his best to protect his Boys? At least Jake Martinez had let Leah live. Later, apparently, he’d tried to make amends and bring her a stuffed kitten, as either a gift or an apology. Obviously, he felt bad about his actions, which was more than could be said for the Commissioner or his hired mutts. The kid deserved some mercy. The Lt. Mayor might deserve to be fired if he didn’t have a family to feed. The Commissioner, on the other hand…
David nearly broke his pen thinking about it. He knew what Dwayne would say. Karma…
Yes, Karma would come around and bite Erickson in the tail. He knew what Shelby would say, too.
Don’t take personal vengeance out on him yourself. You and your boys won. Keep it that way.
It was almost over. Tomorrow night, Jake Martinez would make his statement at the police station, and finally tell the truth. It would go on some unofficial record, but he would know that Leah Emerson had finally been found. He could sleep peacefully at night now. Whatever punishment he was in store for would be meted out, but he could live his life in peace. Chances were, he’d get a slap on the paw, and his punishment would be meted out by his pack, and not by the long arm of the law. After all, as it turned out, Leah Emerson was not a local. She was a girl from Los Gatos. Only certain family members of hers were locals, but she herself did not qualify as one. He had not been on the beach that night in a pack of more than two. Though the girl was not a vagrant or a runaway; and even though eating ‘tourists’ was ‘frowned upon’, there was technically nothing in the Trammel Edict that he could be prosecuted with, anymore than there could have been anything to prosecute Dwayne with. Tori Finch had called David up a little while ago and informed him of this, and asked him to pass that on to Dwayne. Even if Dwayne had been responsible for Leah’s disappearance, he would have gotten off essentially Scott free.
Further more, Jake Martinez had never lied to law enforcement agents about what had happened that night. Neither, actually, had his father. In fact, records had it that David Martinez had gone straight to Erickson the following day and reported the incident as soon as his son told him about it. He had done the right thing. The cover up had come from a higher level…the Commissioner’s office. He had pulled the police Lt. and the squad already assigned to the investigation off of it, and put his own men on it. David only hoped that Erickson wouldn’t try to implicate Shelby in the whole deal. He also hoped that Lt. Chelli wouldn’t take the heat. David had a personal interest in Lt. Chelli, even if Chelli didn’t know it. He may have a vendetta against Star, but he had no wish to see an innocent man, who was coming up on retirement age, and had put in extra hours on the job, go down for something a crooked werewolf had done. That was dirty pool…but it was something the Commissioner would do.
Maybe David would put a bug in Shelby’s ear the night after tomorrow. City Hall would be closed for New Year’s Day, but would resume on the Second.
He heard noises in the upper chamber, and knew that Dwayne had returned from his first feed of the New Year. He also had Laddie in tow, along with Leah’s belongings from the storage facility they’d broken into after hours. The kid needed her clothes back.
Thorn had curled himself up on his Master’s chair, but now, he obediently jumped down, full of the vigor and youth he always possessed.
Another person was with them, wearing a gold 2007 crown atop her head. It was Alex. She carried a bottle of sparkling apple cider in one hand, and a bottle of Champagne in another.
“Happy 2007!!” she cried enthusiastically.
“Well, I can’t say it’s been happy yet, but…”
“David, I have something I want to ask you, and I’d like to wait until Paul and Marko get back, but I don’t think I can. Neither of them will make it back until almost sunrise, so maybe we’ll just have a surprise waiting for them when they return,” Dwayne said.
“A surprise?” David questioned.
“Yeah. Laddie’s been waiting an awfully long time for me to…finish what was started a long time ago. Now that I’m whole again, what do you say?”
Suddenly, there was a stirring from the couch. Sam struggled to sit up.
“You mean you want to be a vampire, Laddie?”
“It’s been my destiny for a long time. I can’t explain it, but…I guess if you were in my shoes, you’d understand,” Gabe replied.
“You’re going to have to kill people!” Sam protested.
“Can it, Emerson. In less than a week, you will too,” David told him.
Sam’s jaw closed with an audible gulp.
David turned to Dwayne, and then to Laddie.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes. This is what I want.”
“Then, by all means. Welcome back, in full. But, Laddie, this time, it’s for good. No half status. You will be expected to make your first kill within a reasonable amount of time.”
“If it’s alright with you, Alex and I would like to do it together,” Gabe said.
“When are you planning to do it?” David asked, affording Alex a severe look.
“Isabella is set to be born on March 7th, but babies don’t come on a reliable schedule. However, she has to be born sometime around then. My mom is marrying Dean on Memorial Day Weekend when she knows she’ll be able to enjoy her honeymoon. After that, I’ll be ready. I don’t think I’ll be able to hold out much longer,” she replied.
“Fair enough. You two have until June 1st to get your affairs in order,” David issued.
Two matching smiles beamed in unison.
David knew he was being rather lenient, but he remembered the consequences of the time when he wasn’t.
Gabe eyed the bottle.
“No, not that way. There’s none of my blood in it right now. It will have to be this way,” Dwayne said, enfolding Laddie into a deadly embrace. Without warning, he sunk his fangs into the young man’s neck, eliciting a gasp of pain and surprise from Gabe. Yet, he hardly struggled. Soon, he sagged against the taller vampire as his life’s blood was pulled from his body. His eyes remained open but unseeing.
Alex looked on, half in horror, but half in wonder. David watched with a small smile.
Then, Dwayne gnawed at his wrist with his fangs, causing his now warmed blood to flow copiously. When he pressed the flow to Gabe’s mouth, he instinctively began to draw it in, becoming more animated with each mouthful he took. Soon, he no longer needed his Sire’s support to stand. Then, David rose, slashed his own wrist, and gave some to Gabe to drink. After a few swallows, he motioned Alex over to do the same. Finally, he lifted the bottle to Gabe’s lips. The bottle had been filled earlier with the blood of Paul and Marko to heal Thorn’s wounds.
“Now, you’re one of us. You’re the Childe of Dwayne, but a part of us all. Welcome, Brother,” David announced.
Gabe slid boneless into a chair that Dwayne offered him, and Alex began pouring glasses of champagne into mismatched mugs and Styrofoam cups and passed all the way around. She would have poured a glass of sparkling apple cider for Leah, but the child was still curled up, fast asleep. She even passed one to Sam, who watched the proceedings with part revulsion and part fascination.
“Cheers to the New Year, and Cheers to the New One of Us!” she cried, lifting her glass.
“And Cheers to Peace. By the way, you’d better hope there’s some of that left for Marko and Paul, or our new found peace will be short lived…,” David announced.
“There’s plenty,” Alex replied.
They all lifted their glasses and drank the bubbly wine in one sip. Gabe felt the rush hit his head almost immediately, and he smiled at the warm flush that went through him.
“So, any thoughts about your job? How are you going to cope with a swing shift while you’re a half vampire?” David asked.
He shrugged tiredly.
“Right now, I don’t give a rip,” he replied.
“Maybe that half vampire lawyer I met tonight could give him some tips. He’ll need some if he plans to stick it out ‘til June,” Dwayne said.
“Yeah, well that’s all fine and great, but don’t let her talk you into working for San Francisco P.D. as a sketch artist,” David warned.
“I don’t think she was really serious.”
“You never know. Look, San Francisco is fine for an occasional hunt jag. But if any of us were to stay there for an extended time, the local gang there would run us out on a rail, so don’t get any ideas,” he stated.
“Alright, fine. Maybe she could just give Laddie some tips on staying awake during the day, that’s all. Period,” Dwayne pouted.
“What’s the matter, Dwayne? Is somebody hot for the lawyer lady?” Alex teased.
“What? No. I don’t do college type chicks,” he answered abruptly.
“College type chicks?”
“Yeah. College type chicks that look like they have degrees pinned up on every wall in their big, fancy apartments. She’d be the sort that’s in to Plasma TV’s. I’m the sort that’s into Blood Plasma. Say’s no to me.” Dwayne answered smugly.
Alex giggled heartily.
“Well, maybe she likes art…”
“Enough out of you, Yenta,” David snapped.
Then he muttered to himself:
“Every time I think that girl can’t possibly be Paul’s daughter, she wings a surprise on me…”
Before the conversation went anywhere else, a loud snore issued from where Gabe had chosen his chair. He had fallen into a deep half-vampire’s sleep, further exaggerated by the cup of champagne he’d had.
“We’d better get him home, Alex. Dump some cider into a cup for Leah, pour the rest of it out and give the bottle to me,” Dwayne ordered her.
She did as she was told, and watched as Dwayne once again gnawed his wrist open to give Gabe a booster of Sire’s blood to keep at home for when the first cravings hit him tomorrow. She would be on hand to tell him what to do….if he didn’t already know. He corked the bottle and handed it to her when he was finished. Likely, he would need another kill before the night was through. Then, he lifted Gabe in a fireman’s carry and started out of the ballroom; Alex hot on his heels.
“Happy New Year, everyone!” she called as they parted.
January 6, 2007
Jennifer Britton had a hard time believing the incredible tale her daughter told when she’d finally been returned home a few days ago. Unbelievably, it had been her ex-fiancé, Sam, and his mother, Lucy, that had brought Leah safely home. Then, Sam had launched into this incredible tale about how Leah had been bitten by a…werewolf…
And hidden by a foursome of…vampires…for nearly a month for her own protection…
And that half the police force in Santa Carla had covered the whole damn thing up. Yet, Leah backed her father up emphatically, while Lucy stood by with a shocked expression on her face, looking like she needed a drink.
Then, Sam had laid the big one on her. He said that it would really be in Leah’s best interest if she lived with him from now on. Jennifer protested and told him to go straight to the depths of Hades. Just because he found her didn’t give him the right to exercise paternal rights over her when he’d hardly paid her any mind before. Besides, there was one other issue that he had yet to overcome..
Sam had blatantly laid that one out on the line, right in front of his own mother.
“I don’t need cocaine anymore. I’m changed. Since this whole thing happened to me, I haven’t needed a single hit. Maybe it’s the best thing that could have happened to me. I don’t know…Time will tell…”
“Cocaine! Sammy?” Lucy squeeled.
“Mom, I can’t believe you didn’t know. I’m surprised Mikey didn’t rat me out,” Sam said.
“Michael knew and didn’t tell me?”
“Mom, it’s not his fault. The blame is entirely mine. I was clean for awhile, but I had a relapse. Well, truth be told, I’ve had a couple. But, I’ve been clean since this whole thing happened, and I know it’s for good.”
“You’ve said that a hundred times,” Jennifer argued.
Sam looked down at his feet.
“Jen, if I didn’t mean it this time, would I be saying it in front of my own mother and in front of my own daughter?”
“We need to talk about this some more. You can’t just uproot a child from everything that’s familiar and throw her into a new environment and expect her to be okay with it….”
“She’s like me now, Jen. You don’t understand.”
“No. My decision is final. How many times have you flaked on her visitation? Let’s start there, Sam. Let’s start with visitation, huh? Why don’t we start with weekends? I’m willing to give you a chance. You show her that you really mean it, and we’ll talk. Maybe by summer, I’ll have a change of heart…..”
No one in the room could argue that Jennifer wasn’t being fair, even if she didn’t understand. In the end, Sam was forced to admit defeat. He returned home. The first night of the full moon came that evening, and he experienced his first changes.
He found himself running for his life. San Jose was full of native werewolves that didn’t want him there.
Jennifer didn’t understand why she found her daughter’s bedroom window open each morning, and why there were course hairs sticking to the window frame and the sill each time she went to shut it. She couldn’t afford to heat the great outdoors. Yet, she’d find her daughter in bed, peacefully asleep each morning.
On the night of the 6th, the last night of the full moon, everything changed. The local werewolves of Los Gatos knew there was a strange wolf in town. They knew she was reckless unschooled, and not a member of any local pack. Her presence was unwelcome. That last night, she was followed home.
Leah sensed them on her trail, but she was unable to jump through her bedroom window, transform, and slam in closed enough in time to prevent two werewolves from jumping in after her. They tried to pin her against a wall, but she leapt over her bed and dashed through her bedroom door; much more familiar with the layout of her house than they were. Madly, she dashed through the hall, transforming as she went.
“Leah?” Jennifer called from the living room. She was working on a sales report from her laptop in the living room. The sight of her daughter dashing through the hallway, buck naked, had her instantly alarmed, and she rose from her seat and started towards her.
“No, Mommy, RUN!” Leah cried.
“Leah, what is it?”
Suddenly, the two wolves burst from the girl’s bedroom. One made a beeline for the child. The other made a dash for Jennifer. Before Jennifer had a chance to react, the wolf was on her, tearing at her throat, ripping it out. Sprays of crimson shot out on the walls. Leah shrieked in horror, her feet carrying her subconsciously past the horror show of her mother’s mauling and into the sanctuary of her bedroom. The wolf pursuing her was close behind, but not so close that Leah didn’t have a chance to slam her mother’s bedroom door shut, buying her a few precious seconds.
What to do…What to do…
What had saved her before?
Mommy had lots of it in her jewelry box.
Leah located her mother’s jewelry box on her dresser and lifted strands of necklaces, bangles, and rings from the box, sliding them on her neck, hands and wrists by the dozens. She didn’t care what was silver and what wasn’t, at this point. Then, she backed herself into her mother’s walk in closet and waited for the inevitable. Tears slid down her cheeks as the horrid scene replayed in her mind. Her pretty mother being attacked by a wolf, just the same as she had been…just the same as she was….
The closet door crashed in, and a black wolf with silver eyes and salivating chops glared in at her. He approached her warily; his eyes taking in her talismans. Then, he backed away with a snarl. This dog was smarter than the one that had bit her had been. He knew he’d been outsmarted.
There were some more sickening noises out in the living room. Leah didn’t want to think about what was happening. She just wanted to call her daddy.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 20: Back to the Murder Capital of the World”]
Chapter 20: Back to the Murder Capital of the World
Los Gatos headlines had screamed “Wild Dog Attack Kills Local Woman In Her Home”. No mention was made of werewolves. Folks in Los Gatos were naïve to that sort of lore. Naturally, after the tragedy, Sam was given custody of Leah. He packed up both of their belongings, and at least for the time being, until he could find them a place of their own, moved them into Grandpa’s house.
He still hadn’t told the Frog brothers what had happened to him the night on the pier, and he didn’t know if he could bring himself to. It would have been one thing for them to have known about his little coke problem. It was something else for them to know he’d gone to the dogs. Sam didn’t know what bothered him more, the idea of the Frogs knowing that he was a werewolf now, or his daughter’s constant requests to ‘go see Paul and Dwayne?’
That was one he couldn’t quite stomach. That, and the way Grandpa kept looking at him. Like he wanted to stuff him when he wolfed out, or something…
Mom had explained everything to Grandpa. It wasn’t like it was either of their faults. Leah had been attacked by ‘TeenWolf’. He’d protected his daughter from being kiddie raped by a wolf cop, of all things! What was he supposed to do, let the bastard yump his kid right in front of him? He only hoped his senile old grandfather would have had the sense to do the same damn thing, or at least stuff the fucker right then and there!
The only saving grace was that Leah seemed to hardly remember any of the night of the incident on the pier. She had a few more memories of the night her mother died, but they were rather selective. It seemed that when wolves shifted to and fro on full moon nights, particularly when young, newly made, or very old, their memories were vague. Sam could be thankful for that. His own memories after his bite; and of his first nights in transformation weren’t crystal clear, either. He did seem to remember something about Laddie drinking wine and becoming a vampire….
Yet it seemed surreal, like maybe it had been a dream. Something told him it wasn’t, though.
Before Sam could be settled in his new life as a werewolf, two things would need to be accomplished. Because he’d been made in Santa Carla, he belonged to the Santa Carla pack. He would need to establish himself and Leah here, and introduce them to the others. This, he suspected wouldn’t be too hard. Perhaps, he’d look up the boy that had bit Leah, and introduce them to his family.
The hard part would be telling Michael. Once upon a time, Michael had begrudgingly told him that he was a half vampire…
Okay, so it was only because Sam had noticed his faded reflection in the mirror after Mike had tried to attack him in the bathtub….
But, still, Mike hadn’t lied to him. Mike wouldn’t.
He owed it to his older brother to tell him everything. Michael was still poised on the other end of the phone in Phoenix, waiting for any news on Leah. Maybe he should tell him first. It was time to stop being a chickenshit.
Sam grabbed his cell phone and took it out to the relative quiet of the sun porch. The afternoon shadows were fading into evening, and he wrapped a blanket around himself to ward off the chill of the oncoming night. Then, he pressed the speed dial button for Michael’s number and waited for him to pick up. One of his nephews answered, and for the life of him, he didn’t know which one it was.
“Hey, buddy, which one am I talking to?” he asked, trying to sound jovial.
“Depends. Who am I talking to?”
“It’s your Uncle Sammy.”
“Oh. I’m Zach.”
“Are you sure you’re not Chris?”
“Not the last time I checked…”
“Okay, Zach, is your Dad home?”
“Just a sec’”
“Hey, Chris! Go Get Dad…”
“You go get him! I’m doing my homework!”
“Hold on a minute, Uncle Sammy. I have to go get him…”
Sam rubbed his ears. The whole exchange between his twin nephews had been done in loud decibels that might not have bothered him before, but it seemed to him that his hearing was more sensitive now.
After a few moments, Sam could hear a heavier tread of footsteps approaching the phone, and he knew it was Michael.
“Sammy?” his brother said.
“Mike…” Sam started.
“Mom called and told us about Leah. Why didn’t you call before now?”
“Mom called you? Did she tell you everything?”
“Everything? What else is there to know? She said that Leah’s been found and that you helped the cops find her! That’s fantastic, Sammy! Why didn’t you tell us?”
“God, Mike…so much has happened since then. That’s not the whole story…You’d better sit down.”
“Jennifer’s been murdered, Mike.”
“What? Jennifer? As in Leah’s mom?”
“Yes, as in Leah’s mom. It just happened a couple of days ago. Her funeral is tomorrow. The shock is still wearing off.”
“How the hell was she murdered?”
“This is where it gets messy. See, I didn’t find Leah. She found me. Mike….Leah was…attacked. By…a werewolf…”
“By a what?” Michael asked.
“Mike, don’t sit there and pretend that you don’t believe in them when you used to be a creature of the night…well, at least a half of one…They exist, just like vampires do. We just never saw them until Leah became one,” Sam explained.
“Are you trying to tell me that my niece is a werewolf?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you. But, it’s not her fault, Mike. She…didn’t know what had happened to her, and she was wandering around the hills of Santa Carla, scared and….well, y’know…wolfed out…until she finally found me on New Year’s Eve on the pier,” Sam explained.
He purposely left out the part about the vampires. Somehow, he felt it wise not to drag in any reference to Michael’s old gang and the fact that they were alive….well sort of alive…and well, at this point. Really, that fact was trivial.
“This is crazy,” Michael muttered.
“It gets crazier,” Sam said.
“How could it get any crazier?”
“Some of the cops investigating the case are werewolves, too. They knew what happened to Leah, and intentionally covered it up. They wanted us to think she drowned so we wouldn’t look any further. But, you know the Frog brothers. They smelled smoke, and they convinced me to dig deeper. So, I did. That’s why I stuck around so long. There were a few others that smelled a rat, too. Remember Laddie, the kid that went missing with Star and the vampires? He didn’t trust the story, either. He’s working as the supervisor of boardwalk security, now. Well, we all put our heads together and came up with a whole new theory…”
“Involving werewolves,” Michael stated.
“Mike, we were right. On New Year’s Eve, when Leah found me, she wasn’t in human form. And, the cops were chasing her down, too. One of them wolfed out…and….”
“And what?” Michael asked.
“Tried to subdue her. In the most hideous way. Michael, he was yumping on her! Well, I couldn’t tolerate that, so I tried to knock him off of her. The bastard bit me!”
“He Bit me, Mike. You know what that means; don’t you? Now, I’m just like Leah. Do you know what I’m saying?”
“Sam, I think you’ve been snorting a bit too much rock there..”
“Fuck you. Ask Mom yourself. And, while you’re at it, why don’t you pick up a copy of the Los Gatos Times and read the front page from January 7th! Jennifer’s death made the front fucking page, asshole. A pack of wild dogs broke into her home and ripped her apart! Wild dogs, Mike! You wanna know why? Because they wanted Leah, that’s why. She’s not a Los Gatos native werewolf, because she was whelped in Santa Carla! I was chased out of San Jose for the same damn reason on the first night of the full moon….”
“Well, Sammy, I just have to be fair. The first thing you asked me when I woke up from my initiation night was ‘Are you freebasing? Inquiring minds want to know…”
“I was a kid who didn’t know shit from shinola. When I saw what you were and realized it for the truth, I accepted it, even if I did call you a God damned, shit sucking vampire! Did I not say I’d stick by you? Did I not do so?”
“Yeah, Sammy, I’ll say you did. So, you really are an honest to God werewolf?”
“I guess so. Believe me, bro, this isn’t easy for me to accept. It’s not easy for Leah, either. She just saw her mother murdered by the very thing we turn into once a month. She and I are making a pledge to try not to kill people. If we can stick to it, we will.”
“Jesus, Sam, do you think you have killed anyone?”
‘I-I don’t know, Mike. I can’t remember anything, and it bugs me. I’d rather not think about it. But, we’re just going to stick to the woods where not many people live, so that we can avoid temptation. I’ve since read that we can do that. Werewolves can subsist on game and livestock, too. That’s why they’re so rarely seen.”
“Thank God for that. Do you suppose that’s what Leah did while she was missing?”
Sam gulped for air for a moment.
“She doesn’t remember. But I imagine so. It’s all she could have done.”
The hardest part was over, and Sam was relieved. For better or for worse, he had told Michael, and it seemed that his brother understood, and was on the road to understanding it, even if he didn’t completely accept it yet.
Now, he had one last errand to run. With a tentative smile, he folded up his cell phone and stepped back into the house to fetch Leah. The smell of spaghetti sauce assailed his nostrils the minute he walked into the kitchen. The aroma was enough to draw his grandfather out of his taxidermy room.
“Wow, what’s with the fancy fixings?” Sam asked.
“Oh, I’ve invited Lt. Chelli over for dinner as a thank you for all the fine work he did,” Lucy answered.
“Company? We’re having company over for dinner again?” Grandpa groused.
“Dad, we haven’t had company over for dinner since Max came over twenty years ago,” Lucy replied with a faint smile.
“Right. And now we’re having company again?”
“Uh, I’d like to stay, Mom, but Leah and I have some business to take care of,” Sam stated.
“You’re not staying?” Lucy questioned.
“Well, we would have if we’d known in advance. I promise, we’ll try to keep it brief and be back on time, but, it’s just such short notice…”
“Well, okay sweetie. Just do your best.”
Sam found the Lt. Mayor’s address in the residential listings in the white pages. How convenient that those holding public offices usually had their home numbers and addresses listed. He also found that the drive was not very far. The Martinez residence was only three houses away, but in their neck of the woods, that amounted to nearly a mile.
Leah clutched a battered, chewed up stuffed kitten in her arms. Sam had no idea why she insisted on bringing it, but he didn’t argue the point. He parked his vehicle in the circular driveway of the impressive ranch style home, and looked around before getting out. No other cars were parked in the driveway, but lights burned inside the house. Leah opened her door and dashed up to the front porch before he had a chance to stop her. As soon as she rang the doorbell, the massive oaken front door opened, and a teenaged boy wearing baggy jeans and a hoodie sweatshirt appeared in the doorway. They quietly studied each other for a few moments. Then, the boy broke out in a broad grin, but tears leaked out of his deep, brown eyes.
“I’m so sorry I hurt you. I’ve been looking for you…hoping I’d see you again, so I could tell you!”
“I had some friends protect me. There were some bad cops that tried to hurt me,” she told him sincerely, “And then, some bad wolves broke into my house and killed my mommy!”
The boy looked puzzled at this development. His gaze traveled up and he met Sam’s eyes for the first time.
“Oh, yeah, and one of the bad cops turned my Daddy into a werewolf, too!” Leah added.
“Holy smokes!” the boy cried.
“Why don’t the two of you come inside?”
A man appeared at the door behind the teenager, who could only be his father. The boy moved aside, and the man motioned for Sam and Leah to follow him in. Once seated in the family room, they found themselves surrounded by the rest of the Martinez family; the wife, and two daughters. The Mrs. was introduced as Adelina, and the girls were Gabriella and Miranda. The teenaged boy was Jake, and the Mr, of course, was the Lt. Mayor, David Martinez. Sam found it hard to believe that they were a family of werewolves; yet when he gazed at himself and his daughter, it was hard to think of himself and his little girl as werewolves, either.
“There was an article in the paper about Jennifer. It stuck out when it said she was survived by her daughter, Leah Emerson. Please, let me extend my condolences. Our pack will rightfully be exacting revenge on them for what they’ve done,” David Martinez told Sam.
“You can do that?” Sam asked.
“We can do that. Indeed so. Leah is one of our own, and so, in fact, are you now. It was only a matter of time before you found your way to us. Though Jennifer was mortal, her death was a senseless killing, and it was done in a fashion that was…how shall we say…not permissible. There are rules. You will both be expected to learn them. When we kill, we do not leave bodies for the police to find. We bury our kills. It is our way. The only exception to the rule is when we kill wild game or livestock. Such killings as these often get blamed on coyotes, bobcats, or wild wolves, so why bother? Even though Jennifer was killed within their territory, she was the kin of one of our pack, so retribution is our right. We will take our petition to the Elder at the next full moon.”
“I don’t want my daughter to be a part of this,” Sam insisted.
“No. She is a feisty one, but she still has much to learn. Leah will only be hunting game and small livestock until she comes of age. Furthermore, she will only be allowed to hunt with the pack,” Martinez told him.
“I don’t ever want to hunt people. I heard them eating my Mommy,” Leah murmured.
“That is purely your decision.”
“I see you got the kitten I left you,” Jake said with a smile.
“You left me this? I thought it must be you…Why did you give me this after you bit me?” she asked.
“I told you. I was really sorry about what I did. Sometimes, when moon madness hits, you don’t have control over what you do. You’ll soon see for yourself if you haven’t already. I hope you don’t ever lose control like I did,” Jake explained to her.
“So you lied about that toy drive at school!” Gaby exclaimed.
“You wouldn’t quit bugging me. Sometimes, I wish you’d just stay out of my business,” Jake retorted.
“That’s enough, you two,” Adelina admonished.
‘God, this is just like any other house’, Sam thought to himself.
“Did your mouth get better?” Leah asked innocently.
“Yeah, I’m okay now.”
“I found out what it was that burned you. It was the necklace my Aunt Star gave me. It saved my life that night; and knowing that saved my life again when those wolves came and killed my Mommy. She had a jewelry box in her room full of silver and stuff, and I ran in there and piled everything on that I could, and then I hid in the closet. I just wish that my Mommy didn’t take off all her jewelry when she gets home from work. If she was still wearing any, maybe she would have lived too…”
“You’re lucky the silver didn’t burn the crap out of you,” Jake told her.
“Well, there was other stuff too. Plastic beads, gold…I just grabbed everything. Maybe the silver wasn’t touching my skin. I don’t know. I didn’t have time to sort through and only take the silver. I just piled it all on.”
“Now, that’s way smart. Good going!” Miranda interjected, popping a huge piece of bubble gum, “Hey, Dad. When you go waste the Los Gatos werewolves, will Gaby, Jake and I get to come?”
“Absolutely not,” Martinez said sternly.
“Rats,” the girl muttered.
“Sam, the next full moon starts on February 1st. We’ll need to have several meetings before then. You and Leah will need to meet the Elder. Plan on meeting us here twice a week, starting on…well….see, today is the 9th, so let’s meet again on the 12th. That’s Friday. Around 7?”
“Friday at 7 is fine,” Sam replied.
“Once again, you have my sincerest condolences. I wish there was more I could say. Just know that actions speak louder than words,” Martinez stated. Sam was quick to notice the predatory gleam in his eye.
A bug’s life was a slow, boring existence, with hardly a chance to bring fear into the lives of anyone it encountered, lest it be found beneath the pillow or doing the backstroke in the soup of some unsuspecting mortal, yet this was the only mortal shell the fear demon could find to enter into once it had been forced out of the hellhound.
But, at least it was a life. And, it could easily encounter a better chance as it ambled along, munching on leaves…
Unless it was spotted from above.
What an unhappy day! A bird would have been a better mortal shell if this particular fear demon didn’t have a loathing for air. The moment the bird spotted the beetle on the leaf and scooped it up in its beak, the demon knew it was done for. Valiantly, it tried to shift into the bird’s body, but fear overcame it. Then, back into the beetle’s body it went…where fear still reined supreme…
And then the bird devoured the beetle, and the demon.
The demon, unable to tolerate being inside the bird’s body, had no place to go, but out…
Until it ran out of time.
[nextpage title=”Chapter 21: Epilogue: The Cat’s In the Cradle”]
Chapter 21: Epilogue: The Cat’s In the Cradle
A child arrived just the other day,
Came to the world in the usual way,
But there were planes to catch,
Bills to pay,
He learned to walk while I was away,
He was taking before I knew it,
And as he grew, he said
I’m gonna be like you, Dad,
You know I’m gonna be like you….
The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon,
When you coming home, Dad, I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, yeah,
You know we’ll have a good time then….
~~Cat Stevens The Cat’s in the Cradle
January 11, 2007
She wasn’t due until the middle of March, but Shelby’s water broke on a cold, bleak Thursday morning, in the middle of a fiscal meeting. It started as a small trickle, which gave her time to excuse herself and get to the ladies’ room with her cell phone. In the bathroom stall, she dialed her obstetrician’s office and was told to go straight to the hospital.
The contractions hadn’t started yet, so she called Edgar, and told him to meet her at Dominican, and then she calmly drove herself to the emergency room. All the while, she wondered if the doctors would be able to stop the labor if her waters were leaking. Was it possible? What about the risk of infection?
Her hopes were dashed when she was brought into an examining room. The maxi pad she’d used to stop up the seepage of amniotic waters was soaked through. There were traces of meconium in the waters too, which indicated fetal distress. Soon, she was given a thorough examination, hooked up to a fetal heart monitor, and told that if her labor didn’t start soon, she would be induced. An injection of surfactin was given intravenously, and Shelby was told that this would help mature the baby’s lungs. Then, there was nothing left to do but wait.
“The kids are with Michelle,” Edgar told her when he arrived. He looked breathless and shocked when he saw Shelby hooked up to the fetal monitor, with the IV feeding her the required dose of medicine for the baby.
“I don’t even know what started this. I’m not even in labor yet. The doctor says I’m dilated 4 centimeters; and effaced 70%, but I’m not having contractions. He says he’d let me go for a little while if the baby wasn’t showing signs of distress,” Shelby told him.
“What sort of distress?”
“Meconium in the water.”
“Eww, you mean the baby took a crap in there?”
“That’s so damn poetic, Edgar. Babies don’t do that unless they’re stressed out Something’s wrong!”
“Okay, I’m sorry. I know. If that’s the case, why are they waiting around for you to go into labor? Why not do a C-Section?” he asked.
Shelby frowned at him.
“That’s major surgery, darling. I’m sure they’d only do that if it was a last resort!”
By 7:30 that night, Shelby still hadn’t made satisfactory progress with any contractions. Her obstetrician, Dr. Dillon, decided it was time to start a line of Pitocin, which would artificially stimulate contractions. Two hours later, she was in hell.
Though Edgar had coached his wife through the last two labors, nothing could prepare him for a child birth that was induced with pitocin. Though any labor contraction was painful and difficult to bear, coaches and laboring mothers were told to expect that the contractions would start out, peak, and then taper. As labor progressed, the contractions would increase in intensity and in frequency, but they would still maintain the same rhythm. With pitocin induced contractions, a laboring mother could expect no rhythm. The peaks and tapers were more like jagged starts and stops. Some would be mild, others extreme, and one never knew what to expect. Sometimes, there wasn’t even a break between the end of one contraction and the beginning of the next. Then, there could be a long spell of five minutes before another one hit. Edgar gave up trying to coach Shelby to breathe when she gave up trying to. Finally, all she muttered was a string of swear words under her breath that would make a truck driver blush. During one respite, she fell silent; her face flushed, her hair matted, and her eyes rolled back into her head. Dr. Dillon came in for an examination, and she instantly pulled her head up off the pillow.
“Don’t you fucking touch me,” she moaned.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Frog, but I have to see how you’re progressing,” he told her firmly.
“You’ve seen everything there is to see down there,” she gasped.
Then, she let out with a tortured moan as he began the examination.
“We need to prep you for surgery, darling. It’ll be all over soon.”
“Surgery! What the hell!” Edgar cried, “Why put her through all of this only to take her to surgery now? Why now?”
“We have a cord prolapse. This is an emergency,” the doctor replied.
Nurses began swarming into the room to prep Shelby for the procedure. One of them approached Edgar.
“Follow me. You can scrub up and watch,” she told him.
He only had time to cast a worried look to his wife, wave to her and blow her a kiss as he was led from the delivery room. Out in the hallway, he ran into Alan, who had just managed to close up shop and make it to the hospital.
“How’s it going? Niece or nephew?” he asked breathlessly.
“C-Section. They’re prepping her now. I’ll let you know how everything goes. Wait here,” Edgar called to him.
Alan knitted his brows in concern and watched his brother leave with the scrub nurse. Minutes later, the rolling bed with Shelby was whisked down the hallway towards the bank of elevators and the waiting OR.
Shelby was laid out on the surgical table and draped so that neither she nor Edgar could see the site where the surgery would be performed. Edgar stood at her side, dressed from head to toe in a light yellow surgical gown, with matching shoe covers, a matching cap, and a mask to cover his nose and mouth. Shelby could hardly recognize him, save for his eyes. Her auburn tresses were covered with the same sort of hair covering that Edgar wore, and oxygen prongs had been shoved rudely up her nose. Every now and then, she tried to adjust them, but a nurse would inevitably come by and put them back the way they had been. From the waist down, she was completely numb; thanks to the epidural she’d been given prior to being rolled in to the operating room. With the exception of the nerves she felt pending the surgery, Shelby felt so much more serene now. There was no more pain!
A heart monitor was attached to her forefinger that measured her own vitals, and the intravaginal scalp monitor that had been inserted earlier was still in place, monitoring the baby’s vitals. It gave Shelby the shivers knowing that there was a tiny probe screwed into the top of her baby’s head, but she knew that both of her other children had endured the same ordeal and had come through it just fine, with no memory of it. This one would too. When it was over, there would only be a tiny scab left as a reminder of the procedure. Then, suddenly, her baby’s vitals went cold.
Shelby felt a moment of panic.
“Don’t worry. We had to unhook the monitor,” one of the nurses consoled her.
“Oh, ok,” she replied, willing her heart back down to a normal rate. She had seen her pulse dramatically spike up.
The doctor ran a brief series of tests to see if she was numb enough for the surgery to begin. Then, she saw him smile through his mask. She could tell he was smiling by the way the corners of his eyes crinkled up.
“This will all be over in about 45 minutes. You won’t feel any pain, but you’ll feel some pressure and some pulling sensations. Are you ready?”
“Do we know what you’re having yet?”
“No. We couldn’t tell in the ultrasound. The baby had it’s legs crossed…”
“Ah, well, the moment of truth is at hand.”
“Dad, are you ready?”
“Yeah, as ready as I’m going to get.”
Edgar watched as an impossibly small isolette was rolled into the room, along with a bunch of equipment. Nurses stood by the ready, and the neonatal specialist was already on call.
Shelby felt pressure as the first incision was made. Edgar reached out with his gloved hand and took her hand, squeezing it lightly. They locked eyes as the doctor continued cutting into her abdomen, and the surgical nurse suctioned away the blood and fluids. The drape hid what Shelby felt as an immense pressure that made her groan.
“Does it hurt?” Edgar asked in alarm.
“No..he’s right, though. Pressure,” she panted.
“It’ll be over soon. He’s going in for the baby. Look now, see,” one of the nurses prompted them.
There wasn’t much to see through the drape, but they both could tell that the doctor was indeed doing something inside of her.
“The shoulders are delivered,” he called, ‘Time?”
“11:54,” the surgical assistant replied.
Then, he pulled a tiny, wet bundle out and held it up to the light for the waiting parents to see.
“It’s a boy!” he announced.
Before either of them could look at him too closely, he handed him to one of the waiting neonatal nurses to be carefully examined.
Tears streamed down Shelby’s face. She hadn’t heard her baby cry.
“Is he alive? She asked.
“He’s alive and seems fine. The neonatal specialist needs to have a look at him.”
“Edgar, please go see….”
Edgar shuffled off in his funny shoe covers, and Shelby watched him go, but before he made it halfway across the room, she suddenly felt her vision go gray. She closed her eyes, and heard a faraway voice that sounded like a nurse yell out in alarm,
“Doctor, we have a bleeder here!”
The steady beeping that had been her pulse began to slow. She could faintly hear a commotion in the room. Edgar was being thrown out, and he was protesting. Her son was starting to cry. Suddenly, she could see him clearly for the first time.
He was so tiny; so fragile. His hair was such a pale shade of blond that it hardly looked as though he had any, yet he had plenty. And then there was his delicate bow of a mouth. The top lip was curved just like…
If there had ever been a doubt in her mind before, there was none now. Before her mind faded to darkness, she had just a moment to whisper a prayer.
‘David. Come to your son. He needs you.’
Modern medicine had saved Shelby in the nick of time, and she lay still and sleeping; as pale as the sheets she rested on, in her quiet room. David dared not check in on her, but he could sense her presence. In the room with her were Edgar and Alan. Only two visitors at a time were permitted, and because of her delicate state, only family could be allowed. That was all right. He could send her an anonymous bouquet of flowers, and he knew she’d understand. His chief concern was the child. He’d heard Shelby’s message loud and clear. When she’d lingered on the side closer to death than life, she’d reached him.
Somehow, she knew the truth, now. She’d even told him their son’s name. David stood outside the nursery windows, peeking in at the rows of newborns, bypassing all of the incubators with pink cards, looking at only the blue ones. None of the infants’ tags had first names on them. They were all registered by last names: Baby boy Jones, Baby Girl Hastings, etc. He didn’t see any Baby Boy Frog.
Then, he saw a smaller room, partitioned off the main nursery. David moved over to these windows and saw that the babies here were either very small, extremely large, or hooked up to monitors and machinery. There was even a set of tiny little triplets in isolettes next to each other; two girls and one boy. The sign stenciled on the door read ‘Neonatal Intensive Care’. The newest additions to this ward were conveniently kept right up front, so that parents and relative could ogle their newborns. That’s precisely where David found ‘Baby Boy Trammel-Frog’.
His son was swaddled from head to toe in hospital issue blankets. A cap had been put on his head to keep his head warm. One of his baby blue eyes was open, and the other was closed. When David looked closely, he could see the palest blond eyelashes ever imaginable…
Were his own eyelashes that pale? Had he ever been that small?
He looked at the blue tag on the incubator. ‘Baby Boy Trammel-Frog weighed in at three pounds, nine ounces. He was seventeen and a half inches long. No, David didn’t think he’d ever been that small. Marko, maybe…
That thought made him smile, and somehow, he could almost imagine that his son smiled too.
“Someday, you’ll meet your Uncle Marko. And your Uncle Dwayne, and your Uncle Paul, and your Uncle Laddie and your Aunt Alex, too,” he whispered to his small son.
One day, when he was old enough.
The baby’s eye met David’s in an unfocused gaze and then fell shut. David watched his baby sleep for a moment and smiled.
“Good night, little Owen. I’ll see you again soon,” he promised.