Some Guys Have all the Luck, Part Five

Work was predictably not fun. I was tired, cranky and mad at the world. I tried to hide at my work station but the guys were in a festive mood and weren’t taking no for an answer.

They dragged me almost literally to Guido’s for lunch. Gino, who still hadn’t mentioned those bent up arrows, insisted on buying for me, mostly to head off my usual objection of not wishing to spend the money. They did give me a chance to change, which should have been the tip off that something was up. Had I been in a better frame of mind, it would have, but as things stood, I walked into Guido’s completely clueless.

To my credit, I didn’t actually jump when fifty people started hollering ‘surprise’ at me. Probably more from the shear shock than any self control. The first thing that caught my eye wasn’t the crowd but one particular face – Chester was there.

I roughed up Gino’s hair, "You skunk!"

Gino grinned like an Italian Cheshire Cat. The guys were pounding my back and pushing me toward Chester, not that I wasn’t already going. I got to him and dropped down to one knee next to his wheelchair.

"Good to see you." was all I could squeak out.

"Good to be here, Kid. I hear I have you to thank for that." Chester replied.

I shook my head, "I didn’t…"

Marta thumped me on the head, "You stop that, you dumb boy. We know what you did. Let us thank you proper, okay?"

I rubbed the new bump, "Yeah, okay, Marta…"

Five hours later, I climbed the stairs to our stoop. I was dog tired and walking on air at the same time. Crystal was due to come to our house for supper so I had only an hour or so to sleep before getting ready. I made the most of it. I’m pretty sure I was asleep before I even landed on the bed.

Tim woke me by shaking the daylights out of me. "What the heck?" I demanded.

"Sorry, you said wake you and nothing else worked." Tim shrugged.

I nodded as I climbed out of bed. "Time?"

"You got thirty minutes. Hit the shower, I’ll see you at dinner." He pushed me toward my bath.

"That bad, huh?" I sighed as I went in.

I got myself ready and opened the door to leave. I jumped, startled to see Wolff and a black lady I didn’t recognize already there, Wolff’s hand hanging in midair as he was evidently about to knock.

"Sorry, Master Jack. Didn’t mean to…"

I waved him off, "No, not your fault."

He nodded and turned to his companion, "May I the pleasure of introducing Miss Nyota Chebet of Kenya."

I extended my hand, remembering the name, "Your Crystal’s friend. Nice to meet you, Ma’am."

"The pleasure is mine, Master Jack." she replied.

I explained that my family was still mostly in the dark and invited her to supper, along with Wolff who had thus far declined such invitations. He seemed inclined to beg off again but seemed to think better of it and agreed to join us. I showed them across the hall, my manners finally showing themselves.

I was thinking as I showed them into the dining room that I would have a big surprise for Crystal. It turned out there was another surprise in store for me.

Lisa came up, dragging some guy behind her. "James, my brother Jack!" she introduced us excitedly. "Jack, this is James Thompkins!"

Some Guys Have all the Luck, Part Four

I’d ruled out the nasty rooftops and wasn’t about to consider any place that my family could see us. It was too late at night to go anywhere to eat since I didn’t want her father angry at me. The nearest park was five blocks away which was five too far away from home at the moment. My place wasn’t even considered for the same reason I wasn’t running down a list of open restaurants. The movies make this look so easy – where the heck can a guy get a romantic spot when he needs one?

The point became moot when my phone rang. We were halfway down the fire escape but I knew Tim wouldn’t call unless he thought it important.

"Yeah?" I answered the phone.

"Lisa is up and talking about that guy. Not about leaving or anything but you did want to…"

"Yeah, I did." I interrupted. "I’ll be home in five minutes. Don’t let her get any warm milk."

"Roger." Tim ended the call.

I explained to Crystal on the way down. She merely smiled and said good night. I managed a half decent reply and watched her turn to go to the backdoor of her house. Any other girl I’d have walked home, even just that last few yards. With her, I’d have to rescue anything stupid enough to start the fight – and frankly, I wouldn’t be so inclined.

I jogged home. I still had a bad feeling about Lisa’s guy and I wanted to hear as much as she was in the mood to tell me. Crystal could get tons of info in a few minutes but I needed time. Interrogating your sister never ends well for either of you – a fact I learned the hard way over the years.

Lisa was in the kitchen chatting Tim’s ear off. I noticed she had orange juice and not milk. Good. Warm milk puts her out faster than SleepyTime pills. I tried to be as nonchalant as possible as I wandered in and hit the fridge.

If Lisa noticed me, she didn’t say. I got myself a soda and propped up on the counter. It was no surprise that Lisa was chatting to Tim like that, they were twins, after all. I was just glad she didn’t shut up the instant I walked in.

Four hours went by. How the heck do girls manage to have so much to talk about on a guy they literally just met? With Tim guiding the conversation ever so carefully, she told us how they met (on campus, he ‘ran into’ her at the bookstore), his eye color (gee, that was helpful, Tim), his plans for the future (architect), where he grew up (seems he spent a lot of time out west), who his mother was (Imogene Thompkins, an actress), what his favorite color was (blue and at least Tim didn’t ask that one) and every other imaginable bit of trivia about Mr Thompkins. She hadn’t told us why we shouldn’t beat the guy black and blue but neither of us were actually stupid enough to do it although we’d have both liked to.

The bookstore bit was new. Crystal hadn’t asked how they met, evidently. Tim and I had exchanged knowing looks while Lisa was prattling on about it – both of us had ‘met’ girls that way more than once. The guy attends Julliard so why was he on NYU’s campus? Lisa volunteered that one – NYU had a book he needed. Yeah, right – Mr Perfect hasn’t heard of Amazon? Tim and I had both suspected but now we knew – this guy had set out to meet Lisa.

I’m no Olivier but I did a heck of a performance. Every word was making me angrier. Something guys know that girls don’t get: a guy like that doesn’t ‘just meet’ a girl. It’s a careful, planned attack. This wasn’t gonna end well. Oh, he wasn’t going to physically hurt Lisa – she had five brothers to make danged sure of that – but it sounded more and more like this guy was using my little sister. That guaranteed a heart break in her future; one her big brother couldn’t save her from. It took all my self control not to let her see.

Lisa finally wound down and scurried off to bed. Tim and I didn’t bother to talk – we didn’t need to. He set off for his room and I for my apartment. I could still get a couple hours shut eye before work.

The alarm went off much sooner than I felt it should have. It didn’t feel like I’d slept at all. I was gonna have to seriously think about a night job, I realized as I crawled out of bed.

Some Guys Have all the Luck, Part Three

Crystal has the sort of laugh a guy can get lost in, even when she’s laughing at him. Normally, I’d have been embarrassed but at the moment, I was just glad she wasn’t mad any longer. I chuckled myself.

My inclination was to settle the matter right then and there. On the one hand, we were under a starry sky on a bright moonlit night. On the other, we were on a dirty rooftop. I will never understand what people think is so great about rooftops – they’re nasty. All the tar, mechanicals, bird poop, and every bit of conceivable trash that you find up here – this is not my idea of romantic. I may not be Romeo but I’ve got enough style to pick someplace nicer than a filthy rooftop to romance a girl.

I got to my feet, “We have to get back to your…”

We both sensed it a split second before Tresmayne dropped to the roof from the next building. He was carrying the smaller werewolf in his mouth. Werewolves don’t seem to come in ‘small’ and seeing them together made me realize just how freaking huge Tresmayne is.

Evidently, his concealment can hide anything he has hold of because we hadn’t sensed the smaller one until the last second, either. I promised myself silently to remember that tidbit. That could a useful trick and it could also be used against us. That concerned me more.

“It’s alive.” Crystal commented blandly.

I nodded. I was beginning to get used to having conversations about werewolves but her nonchalance was pushing the point.

Tresmayne let go of his prey and it fell to the ground. “As you wished, Master Jack.”

I hadn’t begun to figure out all the different types of these things let alone gotten to where I could recognize them, “Thanks. What kind is that?”

“Pseudo-traditional. A young one, not very powerful at all.” Tresmayne answered me.

“Can they talk?”

Crystal shook her head, “Not when they’re young. Some of the elder ones can but most can’t.”

“I can translate, Master Jack.” Tresmayne offered.

“Good, thanks. Ask it who sent it.”

Tresmayne merely looked at it and growled.

The smaller wolf growled back.

Tresmayne growled louder. The air rumbled from the force.

It had the desired effect. The smaller werewolf rolled onto its back, surrendering like a dog. It made a lot of dog-like noises.

“He does not know his master’s true name. He has standing orders to attend his master every time he converts. He does not know if his human side knows his master’s name, either.”

“How does he find this guy?” I asked.

The smaller werewolf made more noises without any prompting from Tresmayne.

“It understands me?” I asked.

Tresmayne nodded, “He says if there is no scent, he has orders to go to a certain place and seek his master from there. He will show me if you so command.”

“If I… did he say that?”

Tresmayne nodded, “Yes, Master Jack.”

“He needs a new master.” Crystal explained. “You’re asking him to betray the other one. Which means it can’t be the Huntmaster!”

Tresmayne nodded, “Very astute, Mistress Crystal. The Huntmaster could not be betrayed. It must be someone of lesser stature.”

“And he thinks I can do that?”

Tresmayne cocked his head and looked at me, “What? Oh, I see. No, Master Jack. He merely intends to trade loyalties. He knows nothing of your ability.”

“You certain?”

Tresmayne nodded, “Yes, Master Jack. It does not translate well into human words, but he clearly meant a change of loyalty and not being subdued by power.”

“Good.” I didn’t need that bit of info getting around, especially since I didn’t know myself what it might mean. “Can… er, what do I do with him afterwards?”

Crystal chuckled, “It’s not black or this wouldn’t be so easy. Fairly light gray, I imagine?”

Tresmayne nodded, “Aye, Mistress Crystal. The Mistress will accept him into her pack when we’re done, if that’s Master Jack’s wish.”

The Mistress was welcome to the pet werewolf. I certainly didn’t want it. But I did want the information. “Okay, that works. What do I do?”

“Merely give the order, it is enough.” Tresmayne answered.

I nodded, “Okay, Werewolf, you show Tresmayne where this place is and answer any questions he may have. As long as you obey, he’ll take care of you, got it?”

The danged thing rolled onto its feet and bowed to me. I nodded, trying to take it graciously but feeling like an idiot.

Tresmayne growled and the smaller werewolf took off like a scalded pup, Tresmayne on his little heels. I mentally promised myself I would not name that thing. This was just way too weird even for me.

“Wow, was that your plan?” Crystal asked.

I turned to her sheepishly, “Well, not the getting a new pet part, but I did want to get info from the thing. Guess it worked out okay.”

“I’d have never thought of doing that.” Crystal commented.

“You’re used to killing them. I’m not.” I shrugged, “Anyway, let’s get back. I have to let Tim know it’s safe.”

She nodded, “You’re really good at this.”

I shrugged. I felt really stupid. I knew full well I was playing catch up and it didn’t feel like I was catching up. But I accepted the compliment as graciously as I could as I took her arm and we headed back.

A thousand things I needed to worry about but the only one in my head at the moment was finding a romantic spot for an important chat.

Some Guys Have all the Luck, Part Two

Climbing up the fire escape on Crystal’s building, I rehearsed my apology in my head. Having sisters means knowing when to argue a point and when to just apologize and figure it out later. This was definitely the latter case.

Or so I’d thought. My mind changed the instant I got to the roof and caught sight of Crystal. She was sitting on the AC unit with her face in her hands. The constant spasms told me she was crying even if I couldn’t hear it.

My gut instinct was to get angry – how the heck was this my fault? But I’d no sooner thought it than I realized it wasn’t her fault, either and I had no idea what ‘being commanded’ felt like. I doubted it hurt but it was probably scary as heck. It would certainly freak me out if someone could merely tell me what to do and I’d do it with little or no ability to stop.

I had myself under control by the time I reached her. I knelt beside her and put a hand on her arm, “Crystal?”

She didn’t look up. “What did you do to me?” she asked quietly.

I stifled the urge to sigh, “Wolff says it was a command. I swear I had no idea I was doing it – I didn’t even know I could or that anyone could. I am so sorry…”

“Command?” She looked up finally. The puffy, bloodshot eyes were pained.

I nodded, “Yeah, he said he felt it. He was in my apartment when I got down – that was what took me so long to get here. Anyway, he says it’s possible but he’d never heard of a slayer being able to do it. I didn’t mean to, I swear.”

“Like a creature?” she sounded even more incredulous.

“That’s what he said. You know more about this stuff than I do and he knows more than both of us but it was evidently a new one on him.”

“You can command other slayers?”

I bit my tongue. Now was not the time to become impatient and it was definitely not the time to tell her she was asking silly questions. “I guess – or maybe it was a fluke of some kind. I will call Ethan tomorrow and ask him about it.”

“What kind of slayer can do that?”

I couldn’t decide if that was directed at me or if she was wondering aloud. I shrugged. I honestly didn’t know the answer anyway.

Crystal sighed deeply, “Don’t ever do that to me again.”

I took a long deep breath. I probably should have just lied to her but my parents didn’t raise me that way. “I can’t make that promise.”

It got the reaction I expected. She glared at me, “Why not?”

“Because it might be necessary.” I realized instantly that hadn’t come out right. “I don’t mean for me. Look, we do dangerous stuff, right?”

She gave a curt nod.

I groaned silently, She was mad, all right. “If it came down to doing that or letting someone die, I’m doing it. I’m not gonna watch you or anyone else die if I can help it. That’s just how I am. What I can promise is that I’ll never do it unless I have a danged good reason to…” I couldn’t read her face but I finished anyway, “at least, once I get where I have control over it.”

Time goes so much more slowly when a girl is mad at you. It seemed a couple lifetimes passed in the fifteen seconds or so before she spoke, “I guess… I know you’re right, in my head, but…” She shook her head emphatically, “No, it’s okay. That makes sense, I guess. As long as you don’t do it on purpose without .. a good reason…”

I didn’t like how her voice trailed off, “What?”

She bit her lip. I’d been with her enough to know she was uncertain. “We… you and I… whatever we are… or are gonna be… maybe…”

I nodded. We were in an awkward phase but I knew what she meant, “Got it.”

“This… changes things.”

I blinked, “How?”

“How can… you can’t be partners with a subordinate.”

I had to think for a minute. First because it wasn’t a connection I’d normally have made and then because she had a point. It took me a moment to sort it out, “No, you can’t but that doesn’t change anything. It’s like you talking to swords – something you do sometimes that affects your job; you don’t talk to your sword like a boyfriend, right?”

She chuckled despite herself, “Gwen would pitch a fit. I guess I see where you’re going. But…”

I shook my head, “No buts. You aren’t my subordinate and I’m not stupid enough to mistake my girlfriend for my employee. Er, that is, if we were ever to…”

I could feel my face turn red. Crystal looked at me blankly for a moment then burst out laughing.

Some Guys Have all the Luck, Part One

After Crystal stopped yelling and I promised I’d come right over, I stood on my roof staring at the now dead phone. What the heck just happened, I didn’t know. I mean, yes, I’d yelled but she was half a block away – I couldn’t fathom what she was so upset about.

I wasn’t gonna figure it out standing there so I shoved the phone back in my pocket and headed down the fire escape. I got to my own window without waking the neighbors and climbed back in.

Tim was still in the living room. Wolff had joined him. I looked at them both. I guess I looked like I was confused because Wolff started talking.

“I heard you a few minutes ago. Your brother tells me you had a conversation. Is it permissible to talk now?”

‘Permissible?’ That was weird. Since when did anyone need my permission for anything? But I let it drop, “Yeah, may as well. Make it quick, I gotta go see Crystal. Evidently, I’m in the doghouse.”

His eyes narrowed, “The… doghouse?”

Tim chuckled, “He’s in trouble with his girlfriend.”

I shot him a dirty look, “We’re not official or anything. And you got nowhere to talk.”

“Mistress Crystal is angry?”

I nodded, “Yeah, beats me as to why. I apologized for shouting. Anyway, what did you need?”

His jaw literally dropped. This was getting weirder – Wolff was usually quick on the uptake. “Do you not know what you did just now?”

I felt like the kid who got to class late and was looking at the wrong chapter. “I yelled at her.”

Wolff shook his head emphatically, “You commanded her.”

I shook my head while scratching an errant itch up there, “No, I just… Well, I did kinda tell her what to do but it’s not like an order or anything…”

“You ordered her around?” Tim asked incredulously, “No wonder she’s ticked. You better get over there and apologize before you end up looking for a new girl.”

I glared at my brother, “I did not. And we are not, I mean, not yet… You are really ticking me off now.”

Tim struggled to keep from laughing, “You are too…”

Wolff intervened, “No, no, you misunderstand. You commanded her – not a mere order but with the power of command.”

It was my turn to gape, “I what?” I had read those confusing books even if I didn’t get all of it. The power he was talking about was for the True Born – a master or mistress – not a slayer like me.

“You commanded her. I felt it myself, Lad.”

“But she’s a slayer…” I protested.

“Aye. But it can be done. I’ve just never heard of another slayer doing it.”

“Um, she’s gonna be even more mad if you guys waste much more time.” Tim interjected.

Tim can be a jerk sometimes but he was right. I nodded, “Yeah, I gotta go get her. I guess I’ll go get the whatever it was…”

“Werewolf.” Wolff offered.

“Okay.” I filed that under ‘yet another thing I need to learn how to do’. “I’ll go after it if its still close enough once I talk to Crystal.”

“You don’t want me to go?” Wolff asked.

It honestly hadn’t occurred to me. But I saw an immediate problem, “No, I want to take it alive if we can. I want Crystal and you here for security.”

“I can take it alive if you wish. Far easier for me than you, if I may be so bold.”

The sudden deference was unnerving but I didn’t have time for that. I felt like an idiot having never thought to ask him such an obvious thing. Now wasn’t the time for recrimination, either. “If you can get it, yes, go on. I’ll go talk to Crystal and we’ll meet back on her roof.”

Wolff bowed respectfully and left.

I stood there longer than I should have. Tim poked me in the ribs, “Girlfriend, you idiot. Straighten out the girl trouble then wonder about the other junk.”

I grinned. My brother had a knack for prioritizing things. “Yeah, you’re right. You gonna be here?”

Tim grew serious and shook his head, “I’ll be at home. You got your phone?”

I nodded somberly, “Yeah. I won’t be far.”

“Good, I’m fresh out of silver bullets. And here I was worried you were doing something crazy like drugs.” Tim grabbed the knob and headed out.

I sighed as I followed, “You expected something that normal in this family?”

Through the Looking Glass, Part Twenty-one

Jack went out the window and was on the roof seconds later. He scanned the rooflines quickly. Crystal was on the building next to her own and racing away.

"Stop!!" Jack bellowed.

Having sensed the werewolf and come to the roof, Crystal wasn’t about to let the creature escape. It was moving away fast but she knew if she moved fast she stood a good chance of catching it before it got very far. Chasing and slaying creatures was her job, even if she didn’t understand what all was going on right now. She took off running.

As she gathered herself for the leap to the next roof top Crystal vaguely heard someone yelling. She didn’t notice that, merely registered it. She was suddenly much busier noticing an overwhelming sensation she’d never felt before. She skidded to an immediate halt and looked around in disbelief. She instinctively knew she could have disregarded it but she didn’t feel the desire to. It was too weird – she hadn’t stopped because she wanted to but because someone told her to. She’d been told the Mistress could command slayers but the Mistress wasn’t here. What the heck just happened?

Jack dialed Crystal’s number, muttering at himself for not having set up his speed dial yet.

Crystal mechanically pulled the phone from her pocket and answered it, still looking around for whomever had just done whatever that was, "Yes?" she said.

"Hey, let it go – don’t go chasing things. It’s time we quit playing this game by their rules." Jack’s voice told her.

Crystal looked toward Jack’s building. The voice she’d barely noticed, it could have come from there, "Did you just yell at me?"

"Yeah, sorry, I didn’t want you running after that thing – it’s just another set up."

"What else did you do?" Crystal demanded.

"Huh? Nothing, I just called and…"

"With your voice – what else did you do?" Crystal insisted.

"Nothing. Look, I’m sorry I yelled if that’s what you’re mad about but…"

"What did you do?!" Crystal half shouted into the phone.

"Nothing!" Jack repeated.

"That wasn’t nothing! What the ____ did you do to me?!?!?!" Crystal screamed.

Through the Looking Glass, Part Twenty

Tim was still silent. Jack had finished his story five minutes earlier. Neither brother had spoken since. Jack leaned back on his sofa and waited. His brother would talk eventually – when made no difference. Jack guessed Tim was trying to find a way of saying ‘I don’t believe you’ without actually admitting his disbelief. Not that it mattered, Jack had no intention of holding it against Tim – after all, if the roles were reversed Jack wouldn’t believe this story, either.

Jack was half asleep when Tim finally spoke, "That is the worst lie I’ve ever heard, or would be, if it weren’t true. Never had this much trouble believing you before."

"Eh, I barely believe it myself." Jack lifted his head to face his brother.

"So, once this is all over, what happens? You gonna move or what?"

Jack chuckled. Of all the things that could have bothered him, Tim was only concerned with one, his brother’s future. Jack shrugged, "Not planning to. No reason to, actually, Crystal says the reason we are called ‘slayers’ and not ‘hunters’ is that creatures tend to find us instead of making us hunt them. Convenient, I suppose, but it means there’s plenty of work wherever we happen to be. So no, you can’t have my apartment."

Tim laughed, "Dang, I was looking forward to not sharing a bathroom."

"That reminds me, when are you and Kev moving upstairs?"

"Next week. Poppa and I are repainting the apartment this week."

Jack sighed, "You’re not gonna like this, but I want to tear out some wall sections."

"You think something is really there?" Tim asked.

"Can’t be positive but I don’t want anyone sleeping in there until I know for sure."

Tim slicked back his hair, "It was gonna be hard enough moving in the old man’s place – if you want to do it, we’re gonna have to do it tonight before Poppa starts painting."

Jack nodded, "You think we can borrow that spy get up Mike has?"

"The fiber optic video camera? Sure, he won’t mind. Why?"

"Little holes are easier to fix than big ones." Jack replied.

"Ah, gotcha – we poke a small hole between each stud and use the camera. Smart."

Jack shrugged, "It beats having to sheetrock whole sections of…" Jack suddenly whipped around toward the front of the house.

"What?" Tim demanded.

Jack jumped to his feet, "Oh heck no – two nights in a row? I do NOT think so." Jack growled more to himself than to his brother as he reached for his ball bat.

Through the Looking Glass, Part Nineteen

Jack woke long before he wanted to. The alarm clock diligently performed its duty and Jack had to convince himself not to hurl the thing out the window. He settled for slapping it harder than necessary to turn it off.

Breakfast didn’t improve his mood but did improve his consciousness. Still sipping on his juice, Jack returned to his bedroom to dress. He glanced at the notes he’d made the night before. This thing was more convoluted than a plate of spaghetti. First he’d bought the idea that these things were somehow after him and then it had occurred to him that there was one huge coincidence he hadn’t accounted for and now he was abandoning that for the idea that they were after something else entirely. He wondered if whoever they were, they were mucking around half as much?

Mucking around – of course! Jack sat quickly and began to write. He wasn’t up against some omniscient supergenius – it was a plan in flux. This was still the opening and not the mid game as Jack had been assuming. It was a battle for position with both sides feeling each other out and having to respond to the unexpected.

Jack grabbed his phone and dialed. He got lucky and found Ethan at home. Forty-five minutes later, Jack hung up and pushed back his chair. He had to dress now if he was going to make it to work at all.

On the way home after work, Jack made a quick stop by the phone shop. He grit his teeth as he purchased his first cell phone. The last thing he wanted was a way for his family to be in constant contact – a guy needs some time to himself, after all. But the night before had convinced him of the necessity. He picked the best replacement plan he could find – chasing vampires over rooftops would eventually result in cellphone destruction, that seemed obvious.

Crystal’s day had been uneventful, unless you counted the A on her logic quiz. She was on air for the first ten minutes after class let out. School, friends, homework, home, friends, family – Crystal’s day was pretty much normal.

On the stoop, Crystal sat chatting with Donna, Jack’s sister. They waved dutifully as Mr Wolff passed by on his way to the building. A few kids skateboarded past, one failing to pop a wheelie as planned but recovering before falling. Kids played on the sidewalk and people went about their lives. Crystal smiled, enjoying the normalcy.

She saw Jack coming up the sidewalk first but Donna called to him before she could. Jack looked over and waved but went inside his own building. Crystal felt momentarily stung then silently chided herself. He was just busy so there was no reason to wonder about everything he did. He’d be back out.

Jack did indeed come back out, but he went down the street instead. Crystal stifled the urge to sigh. This was silly – she hadn’t known Jack three whole weeks yet and they’d only been on one date. Yet she was already worried about breaking up – how silly can you get?

But silly or not, Crystal still had an uneasy feeling. She tried not to let it show as she continued chatting with Donna.

Jack came back, waving again at his sister and Crystal before running back into his parent’s apartment. He took the milk he’d just gone to the store for to his mother. Unable to answer her next question, Jack took out his new cellphone and dialed Crystal’s number. He grinned as she answered and grinned wider when she squealed her approval of his new acquisition. He was never gonna get tired of making her laugh like that.

He relayed his mother’s question and waited as Crystal went in to ask her own mother. A bit more back and forth and it was decided: Jack would be having dinner at the Abernathy’s tonight. With a quick peck on the cheek for his mother, Jack left to get ready.

Jack had hoped to talk to Crystal which was usually easy enough at the Abernathy’s home but her father had brought home a couple of acquaintances from work so conversation was limited to normal people things. The two men lingered long enough that by the time they left Jack also had to leave. He begged off, promising to make time to see Crystal before she came over for supper the next night. With a sigh, Jack closed the Abernathy’s door behind him and headed for home, knowing full well there was someone waiting for him by now.

Tossing his keys on the shelf, Jack grunted at his brother. Tim grunted back without looking up from his magazine. Jack took care of a few odds and ends before sitting down across from his brother.

Neither spoke for more than a minute. Jack wasn’t sure where to start and Tim wasn’t going to say anything until Jack did. Jack finally sighed heavily and began, "So, it’s like this…"

Through the Looking Glass, Part Eighteen

Jack changed his mind. He sent Crystal out to the rooftop to make her way home from there. Tresmayne returned to his apartment. Jack followed a short time later, leaving the Myers apartment exactly as he had found it.

Mr. Wolff greeted Jack at the door, “Come in, Lad.”

Jack nodded as he entered, “You transform pretty fast.”

“The advantage to being an ancient.” Wolff replied as he closed the door. “All I have is bourbon.”

“That’ll do fine. We just have to smell drunk, not actually be drunk.” Jack replied.

Fifteen minutes later, both smelling like they had been living in a distillery, Jack and Wolff descended to the fourth floor, making enough noise to wake the entire house. They continued all the way down until reaching Jack’s apartment on the first floor. By then most of the household was awake and the Myers’ apartment had been discovered a second time.

As they reached the hallway, Jack noticed a figure standing by his door. Getting closer, he realized it was his brother Tim. Tim merely shook his head at his older brother and wordlessly returned to their parent’s apartment. Jack groaned inwardly, this plan got A’s for keeping the cops off of him but F’s in the ‘not making your family mad at you’ department.

Seven hours later, having been questioned again by the cops, screamed at by his sisters, yelled at by his father and having made his mother cry, Jack slunk off to his own apartment. He called in to let his boss know he would be taking the morning off for a personal matter, namely sleeping off the fatigue from the evening’s exercise and the general illness from the alcohol. Jack was truthful enough to not be lying but spared his employer the more fantastic details. Disgusted with himself for more than a few reasons, Jack got into his pj’s and threw himself at the bed.

His eyes had barely closed when the bedroom door slammed open. “What the **** do you think you’re doing!?” Tim boomed at him.

“Sleeping.” Jack replied tersely. “Yell later. I need to get a couple hours sleep and go to work.”

“Oh no, you are gonna talk now.” Tim insisted. “What is going on?”

“Is Momma still crying?” Jack asked quietly.

“Yes.” Tim replied needlessly. Jack already knew that – he knew full well that was the reason Tim was so mad now.

Jack sat up. “You’d never believe me.”

“I didn’t ask questions last night when you wanted me to stand guard. You wouldn’t have asked if there wasn’t a reason. I need to know what’s going on now. I believed you when you told me Haley Remona liked me in fifth grade. I’ll believe you now.”

Jack chuckled despite himself, remembering how incredulous Tim had been that any girl might like him. “Let me sleep now. We’ll talk tonight – I’ll give you the whole thing.”

Tim grunted, then turned and left.

Jack fell back on his pillow, asleep before he got halfway down.

Through the Looking Glass, Part Seventeen

Crystal stopped and dug into her pocket. A few clicks later and she had Mr Ethan on the line. She explained quickly and he promised to make sure Tresmayne knew. How he was going to do that when Tresmayne was surely in wolf from at the moment, Crystal didn’t know or care. Tresmayne was a lot closer to the house than she or Jack. She’d felt Jack’s quarry die and hadn’t seen any others. Three vampires to handle two slayers? That couldn’t be right. Had it been a trap like she suspected and it merely failed? Maybe, but she didn’t like it. She debated waiting for Jack to catch up but decided against. It would be a pain to try to locate each other now – better to go home and meet up there. Crystal took off running, vowing to herself to buy that boy a cell phone. This was ridiculous.

Jack made a quick search for Crystal. She had obviously killed that vampire so she was probably fine. She hadn’t hung around which was smart. Home was the logical place, especially for a girl. Jack paused only long enough to tap out a Morse code message to his brother. Getting no reply, Jack leapt across an alleyway, heading for home as fast as he could manage. Unlike Crystal, he had a very good idea of why there had been only three vampires – you don’t send your main force as a decoy. What he really didn’t get was why. Obviously it had something to do with him but frankly, he wasn’t this danged tough. All this cloak and dagger nonsense just to kill him? Nah, couldn’t be and ditto for capture – there must have been a million chances before he was fully ’emerged’ and more than a few after. Which lead him to another possibility – maybe he wasn’t the main event but the side show?

Crystal reached her block just as she felt Tresmayne drop his concealment. It startled her and she almost fell. She’d sensed him before but never with his concealment completely down – his presence was overwhelming. That scared her – why would he suddenly decide to make his presence so strongly felt? The only thing that came to mind was that he was trying to scare something off but Jack wasn’t at home so it couldn’t be after Jack. But both his family and hers were there and were exposed. She cursed herself for her stupidity. It wasn’t a trap; it had been a decoy.

Jack also felt Tresmayne’s suddenly massive presence but he took little notice. He didn’t have to guess – he knew why. He made a beeline for the house. If whatever it was had hurt anyone it was not going to die quickly. Grimly, Jack grabbed the nearest fire escape and descended to street level. He ran the last block at incredible speed, slowing only as he reached his stoop. He was up it in one bound. He turned and looked at Crystal’s building. That door was closed. He’d check out home then there. He could feel Tresmayne’s presence in his own building. That didn’t bode well. Swallowing his heart, Jack went inside.

In the gloom, two red eyes glowed like freshly blown embers. The blackness concealed the huge figure but Jack didn’t need to see it – he could already sense Tresmayne. Jack motioned at his parent’s door. The massive head shook decisively then turned back down the hall. Jack followed grimly, gripping his ball bat ever tighter.

Crystal woke her parents as she opened their bedroom door to check on them. She couldn’t have been more relieved as her father demanded an explanation. She gave him a quick one and closed the door. There was ice in her stomach as she went out the front and raced across the street to Jack’s building. The door was already open and she could sense Tresmayne one flight up. As quietly as she could, she dashed down the hall to the stairwell. Up one flight then another, Tresmayne was still moving upwards. On the fourth floor, he stopped. One more flight and Crystal reached the hall. The place stank of blood.

Jack was already inside the Myers’ apartment, thanking God they were out of town. Only their cats, Oscar and Mayer, had been home. The living room was a disaster, both the unfortunate cats and the furniture had been torn to shreds. He turned to Tresmayne, “What happened?”

“About the time Ethan contacted me, I felt the vampires and returned. You two were away and I felt another presence. Not a strong one, just a pseudo-modern werewolf. I came in while it was killing the cat. I killed it.”

“Was that when you dropped that concealment thing?” Jack asked.

“Yes, I wanted anything else in the area to…”

Somewhere below, a child screamed.

Jack turned to go but Crystal caught his arm, “You’d better put it back up now, Mr Tresmayne.”

He nodded sadly, “Done.”

Jack pulled away, “That kid…”

“Is having a nightmare.” Crystal finished the sentence calmly, “Everyone in this building if not the block is going to have nightmares tonight.”

Jack looked around at Tresmayne, “Because of him?”

Crystal nodded, “Yes, with no concealment even normal people sense a traditional. They don’t do it consciously and they don’t know what it is so their brains try to make sense of it and that usually means nightmares. A lot of the traditional forms capitalize on that fact.”

“It makes them freeze up?”

Crystal nodded, “If they are awake, yes.”

Jack nodded. That’s why Tresmayne hadn’t dropped his concealment totally before now. “Okay, you two get out. I’ll have a look around and then find some way of explaining how I discovered this mess.” He looked at the sad remains of what had been Mayer, “Why kill a cat? It’s no threat and surely it didn’t attack something like that? Why…”

Instantly, the answer leaped to mind. Furious with himself, Jack put his fist full force through the wall. Crystal grabbed his arm but he only calmly pulled it back, “I’m a damn fool. This has nothing to do with me – it’s the building.There’s something here they want and I’m just an obstacle. But why all the run around? Why do they need so many distractions?”

“I don’t…” Crystal started to speak.

“Because a creature can’t get whatever it is!” Jack answered his own question. “A human has to do it and a human needs privacy and time. They killed Mr J to get his room vacant. Attacking me was just a way of keeping me distracted – so was half killing Chester. Now they send a stupid werewolf to kill the Myers and the idiot thing kills the cats because they were the only living things here.”

“Your sister?” Tresmayne asked.

Jack nodded grimly. That now made perfect sense, too. “Yeah, my sister. I wanna meet this Thompkins guy. I doubt he’s the one but I bet I can find out through him.”

Tresmayne nodded, “So we need only protect those who reside in this apartment?”

Jack shook his head emphatically, “No, the other way around. We protect everyone in the building – if they can’t get to the Myers they will start randomly going after people in the building to throw us off the scent and distract us.”

“What could be here that they would want so badly?” Crystal wondered aloud.

“That I don’t know. But I intend to find out.” Jack declared through clenched teeth.