The next day Crystal called and arranged the meeting. She had accomplished her one other goal the night before: she now knew Jack’s landline number and that he was considering getting a cheap pre-pay but had not yet done so. It amused Crystal: Jack was so much more urbane than she was yet did not yet own a simple cell phone. If ever he did decide to tease her about being from the country she would have ammo for a retort.
Jack took off work early and got home in plenty of time to get cleaned up and to field more than a few questions from his ever curious, and flat out nosy, family. Having missed family dinner the night before there hadn’t yet been a good opportunity for everyone to question him about his odd behavior two nights earlier. Jack simply told them he had gone to the cemetery and talked it over with Crystal and everything was fine now. Technically true, Jack was at least not lying to his relations but it brought home what he’d already realized: keeping this slayer business secret was going to be a very big pain.
At half past six, Jack sat down once more at the Abernathy table. This time the family was joined by two men. The younger was a middle aged, distinguished blonde gentleman of obvious means, Ethan Collinsworth. The elder, by a small margin, was a tall, dark haired, wiry man with a distinct Eastern European accent, Heinrich T. Wolff. Jack pegged it as Croatian or Slavic, although he couldn’t be certain, rather than German as the name implied. Jack suspected Tresmayne was using an alias instead of his true name. Well, if Jack were a werewolf he’d probably use an alias, too, he thought.
Mrs. Abernathy, with evidently some help from Crystal, repeated her performance from the night before and perhaps even topped it. Chicken fried steak with copious amounts of white pepper gravy that fell apart at the slightest touch of the fork, perfectly done rutabagas with a light seasoning of butter and salt, fresh tomatoes with a dollop of creamy mayonnaise, and ham seasoned Italian cut green beans piled high on each plate. The dessert was a heavenly concoction called ‘banana pudding’ made with pudding, cookies, banana slices and topped with whipped cream.
The delicious food was accompanied by pleasant conversation. The two youngest at the table, Jack and Crystal, had the opportunity to listen to four accomplished adult conversationalists. The effect was mesmerizing. The elders seamlessly and effortlessly discussed topics as they came up with a kind of poise and polish that one might expect from a Jane Austin novel rather than modern New York.
Jack actually found himself regretting it when dinner ended. The two women refused assistance but had the table cleared in no time. Crystal resumed her seat as her father vacated his. The elder Abernathy’s excused themselves leaving the foursome to themselves.
Ethan leaned back in his chair, “Now, that’s the kind of meal that makes a man forget why he’s come.” he said, smiling at Crystal.
“Thank you, Mr Ethan. I’ll be sure to tell Mama.”
“Not at all. It was a wonderful meal. I wish half my meetings had such good food accompanying them.” He grew serious, “But we do have things to discuss.”
Mr. Wolff turned to Jack, “I’m sure you must have more questions by now.”
Jack nodded, “Yes sir, I do. I figure there must be about a million things I don’t know about being a slayer and that I need to learn. But honestly, that’s not my biggest concern now. As I told Crystal, I’m concerned about any danger there might be to my family. From what you told me in the cemetery and what Crystal has told me about herself, having one of these creatures attack family or friends at the get go is unusual; having them then gang up on the new guy is practically unheard of, am I right?”
Ethan nodded, “Absolutely. It’s normal enough for a creature or two to be attracted to an emerging slayer and try to kill them but this kind of tactical assault is more than a little out of the ordinary.”
Jack had to grin at the word ‘ordinary’ but was quickly serious again. “Crystal said you thought they were ‘commanded’? By whom or what?”
“Whom.” Ethan offered, “Unknown. I can eliminate a few possibilities. On the plus side it cannot be the Hunt Master. He’s in Europe and frankly, if he were calling the shots you’d already be dead. It’s not any of the known witches who have such capability – I can did some extensive digging and can account for all four of them. Two aren’t in the country, one is in the hospital with an extended illness and the final one is in California. I know of three others that have various means of controlling creatures and they, too, can all be eliminated for being much too far away at present.”
Jack exhaled, “That’s not good news. So you have no idea at all who could be coming after me like this?”
Ethan shook his head.
“I hope I’m wrong, but it seems unlikely that whoever it is is going to give up just because I am now ‘fully emerged’, assuming they even know it.”
Wolff spoke, “They know it, my boy. They know too much about slayers not to recognize something that obvious.”
“Could is be a slayer?” Jack asked.
Ethan and Wolff exchanged glances. Ethan answered, “Slayers can’t command as the Mistress and the Huntmaster do but I suppose one might find a way. That would explain a great deal…”
Jack sat back, “So, the big question is, will this person or persons unknown come at me straight on now or will they go after my family?”
Crystal looked at Jack in a kind of awe. He was so much better at this than she was and so calm about it. Crystal would have been freaking out if there were any possibility of creatures ganging up on her loved ones. The very thought sent chills down her spine.
Wolff answered, “We simply don’t know.”
“Pardon my rudeness, but that’s not good enough.” Jack replied flatly, wtih no hint of heat or anger.
“No, it isn’t.” Wolff agreed. “Ethan and I had already discussed that problem. You children are away during the day, yes?”
Both ‘children’ nodded.
“Ethan has responsibilities elsewhere so I will be the one. I understand your parents have an apartment to let?”
Jack nodded slowly, “Mr J’s is vacant now and there’s on we don’t usually rent up in the attic.”
“Ah, that sounds even better.” Wolff replied, “Another slayer is coming to assist and will take over from me when she arrives. In the meantime, I will speak with your parents about that attic apartment and, hopefully, stay there. I can be here during the day and you two will be here at night.”
Jack turned the plan over in his head, seeing immediately the weakness. “Whoever this is knows way too much about me. If they want my family, they can still attack while someone is away and vulnerable.”
“That’s true but not so likely. All the creatures that have attacked you thus far have been Creatures of the Night. Not all are nocturnal but all are strongest at night; they are unlikely to try anything in the day with my trail around. Your family won’t know what I am – but any creature or slayer in the area will have no doubt. Only a slayer would attack anything anywhere near me in the daytime or anything that might possibly attract my attention. Even if you are right and the person behind all this is a slayer, they haven’t shown any inclination to show themselves. I think it will be good enough until Nyota can get here.”
“Nyota’s coming?” Crystal asked.
“Aye, Mistress Crystal, she should be here in two weeks time.” Wolff responded.
“But why Nyota? All the way from Africa?”
Ethan smiled, “She’s been your mentor but you don’t know what her specialty is?”
Crystal blushed, “It’s defense, I think.”
Ethan shook his head, “It’s protection. That’s why I asked her to come.”
“Whoa, you guys are getting a little ahead of me. What are ‘Creatures of the Night’ and what is a ‘specialty’?” Jack asked.
“My apologies.” Ethan replied, “Let me explain…”