As this is the embarrassing part, I guess I should tell it myself. James doesn’t like to embarrass me and Crystal still gets the giggles when she tells it. Anyway, it should be told as straight as possible. Maybe it’ll help someone else down the line be less of an idiot than I was.
So, I called for everyone’s attention and they all turned to look at me, all expectantly. Before I could utter another word, as God is my witness, there was a knock at the door and my brother Marty’s voice hollered.
“Hey, you have a visitor.”
Sighing inwardly, I told him, “Just come on in.”
The door opened and Ethan Collinsworth stepped in, with a quick word of thanks to Marty.
We had another long intermission while he explained he had just gotten back from Louisiana, apologized evidently again to Mertyn about some mix up with the phones, apologized to Crystal for not responding to her email a week earlier, spoke to everyone in the room to apologize for not being here earlier and finally to me to apologize for interrupting.
Mrs. Henderson asked if we still needed her and Jo-jo, tomorrow being a school night. I assured her we could get by and thanked them for coming. Several more spouses excused themselves to go get children and get them to bed. That left us with a room full of over twenty slayers, two normal people, and three creatures.
I got Thompkins, our secretary, to run down the highlights of what we had learned. There were a few more added as people recalled some other minor incidents, several now dating to the two weeks leading up to Mr. J’s death. That took up more time – I really needed a good timeline and we had to work to get it. There were five incidents in total, but other than Jo-jo, no one had sighted a creature. They had sensed creatures, both vampires and werewolves fairly close to the building, but no one had thought much of it.
Collinsworth helped out here, explaining that creatures are not able to sense a sanctuary – they can pass right by one without knowing what it is – unless they try to enter. Mertyn confirmed he had only been able to enter because the Mistress had given him permission. Ditto Tresmayne. Thompkins had permission initially from Lisa or he, too, would have been unable to enter. Sensing creatures nearby wasn’t a real cause for alarm – without invitation, none of them could enter – something every slayer, other than me, knew.
“Okay, that thing came in Mr. J’s window – I don’t think for an instant he’d have invited it.” I told Ethan.
He nodded, “But it was under command – a human slayer gave it ‘permission’ to enter. Must have – it could not have come in otherwise and shouldn’t have been willing.”
“He’s right, Jack.” Tresmayne affirmed, “Without invitation, a sanctuary is unpleasant to say the least. For a traditional like myself, it’s like coming into contact with a bane.”
“Something that repels and poisons creatures like garlic for a vampire or wolfsbane for werewolves.” Crystal offered.
“Got it.” I mentally wondered why that tidbit hadn’t come up in all the books I’d read or if I’d ever get all this stuff straight.
“For a modern, like meself,” Mertyn continued the thought, “It’s like a constant sense of danger. We can overcome that but only for a short while. Even a modern isn’t going to enter a sanctuary uninvited. It’s too disconcerting”
My brother Tim picked that moment to poke his head in. He glanced at me, I nodded and he ambled in. It’s weird – I mean, well, it is weird. He and Lisa are twins but he and I are the ones that can communicate without talking. He and Lisa talk all the time – she’s the only one that can get him going – sometimes still in their ‘twin language’ from when they were babies (which they do primarily to annoy Mike and Marty). But more often than not, Tim and I can understand each other without a word.
What this meant was that the kids had all been picked up, everyone was getting ready for bed at our parent’s place and he wanted to see what was going on here. My part was basically, okay, sure, you already know most everything I do. He shot me a wink on the way to his seat that said you are going to have to fill in the blanks later. I shot him a look that is basic brother for you’re being a jerk.
Wondering if it was possible to get this train wreck back on something like its tracks, I started again, “Okay, listen…”
A strange look from Tim stopped me. My taciturn brother comes in handy at times – I was getting tired and starting to command instead of ask. “Sorry folks.”
There was a general murmur of assent. We’d already covered the ‘I’m still getting the hang of this, don’t get mad if I mess up’ bit a couple hours earlier. I stopped, thinking about how to phrase the question.
That, of course , opened the floor for general commentary. Visions of an all nighter danced unpleasantly in my head. I still had all those danged finials to help Gino with tomorrow and I wanted some sleep before then. I mean, if it’s not too much to ask.
Crystal gave me an innocent, ‘are you going to do something’ look. Girlfriends can be every bit as annoying as sisters. But she was right. Time to try again and see who else would come in…
“Wait, wait…” I tried hard not to make it a command. I got the desired result – everyone stopped talking and looked expectantly at me – without any compulsion to do so. I gave up on perfecting the phrasing and just blurted, “Since this – since Mr J died, how many of you have contacted the – her?”
Almost every hand went up.
Mr Myers spoke first, “I sent her an email about a week afterwards. I could have sworn there was a vampire outside our window. I gave chase but never caught up or saw it. That was before the werewolves were sent in to attack the cats.”
Momma shrugged, “I sent her a letter when I realized you were emerging…”
Crystal: “Email, once a week or more.”
Poppa: “Called after you told us about those things that attacked Chester.”
Thompkins: “Weekly emails since Mistress Crystal sent me the address.”
That stopped me for a second, “I thought you were afraid of her?”
He shrugged, “I was, am still a little, but I thought it was what you wanted. You said we needed to be more thorough – I thought you meant professional.”
I literally sighed, “That was probably smarter than what I did mean…”
The litany continued:
Ethan: “Weekly reports, email.”
Mr. Henderson: “Called every other week – you seemed to be having some trouble…”
Tresmayne: “Daily reports, special delivery.”
Mrs. Schmidt: “I left her a voicemail last week.”
Mr. Schmidt: “Emailed about once a week.”
And so it went. All but two people had contacted her – and the two exceptions were the ones who’s powers were all but gone and hadn’t actually noticed anything. They would have contacted her after Mr. J’s death but had talked to others who had already done so.
Which meant the whole building had been in near constant communication with her and no one bothered to tell me. I’d been chasing my … tail… like an idiot the whole time. Worse, now that I thought about it, I felt like total moron for not asking anyone. Oh sure, there were people I hadn’t known to ask but I hadn’t asked Crystal or Ethan, either. Who would you contact if your house was being attacked by monsters, the woman that can unquestionably help or the idiot that is making Ghostbusters look like a drama? Yeah, me, too.
Ever have one of those moments when it just falls into place? Like shaking a puzzle out of the box but it lands on the floor fully assembled? It was so danged obvious now.
And yes, I’d thought it was obvious before. But I was sure now in a way that I can’t describe – kind of like knowing how to kill a monster I’d never seen before but knowing for certain just that same.
Still, I was done being an idiot. I turned to Mertyn. “Okay, this may sound dumb but I need an answer. If you were going to distract her from something, what would you do?”
He grinned, almost sheepishly, “Well, lad, remember I know her better than most so what I’d do might not be what anyone else would do, but to answer your question.” He placed a fatherly arm over Thompson’s shoulder, “I’d take this wee wolfling and toss him into the nearest pond.”
Thompson looked askance. No one else noticed – they were riveted to the howls of laughter coming from Tresmayne.
Mertyn patted Thompson’s shoulder, “Dinae worry yourself, Pup. He’s just laughing because it would work.”
Tresmayne managed to get his control, if not his composure, back, “It would, too! She’d dive in after him!”
Mertyn nodded, “Ye dinae know the half of it – last time we were in Manhattan she ended up doing just that five times – two in the same night! She even saved that whelp Connors knowing he can swim!”
Tresmayne was wiping away tears, “To be fair, though, he has those seizures when he’s in human form.”
“Does he now? Well, that explains why he dinae come up quickly. I dinae know that part.” Mertyn answered.
In books, werewolves and vampires talk like they stepped out of a history book or get all cryptic. In my living room, they talk like old buddies. Weird, yet normal – my life in a nutshell.
Getting my own focus back in order, “Okay, but what if you wanted her more than distracted for a minute?”
Mertyn cocked his head at me, “I see where you’re going – aye, but this has nay been much of a distraction to her. She gets more letters, emails and calls than that in a day.”
I wasn’t done, “This thing in Russia, you know anything about it?”
He shook his head, “That has to do with her day job.”
I suppose it should be obvious that the Mistress of the Night has to eat like anyone else but her working nine to five had never occurred to me, “What does she do?”
“She works for the Secret Service.”
He said it deadpan with a straight face. He meant it. But seriously, WHAT?! Before blurting that out, it dawned on me the Secret Service has to have secretaries like any other organization…
“Aye, she’s an agent, specializing in foreign threats to the treasury.” he continued.
Of course she was. Yeah, right. On the bright side, I now knew of at least one person with a life weirder than mine.
“Dumb question, do they know what she does at night?” I had to ask. It was just one of those stupid things you do when your brain tells you the world has taken a proverbial left turn at Albuquerque.
“It’s, complicated. Some do, yes, but most humans are happier not knowing we exist.”
I nodded, satisfied at last – at least as satisfied as I was going to get. Secret Service? Yesh…
Then I realized it killed my ‘hunt master’ theory – anyone who knew about her and had the right connections could be behind this. Although the Hunt Master still topped my list, it wasn’t a list of one anymore. For that matter, it shouldn’t be my list any longer, either.
I picked up the phone and dialed the number I’d thought I never would.
“Hello?” a female voice came on the line.
I was ready – I thought – but her voice sent a tremble up my spine. I felt like a little kid meeting Santa. “Yes ma’am, this is Jack Scarlotti.”
“Oh, hi, I’ve been expecting you to call.”
A kid who just got everything he wanted for Christmas. “Er, yes, ma’am. This mess, I don’t think it has anything to do with us, or me, not really. From what these folks tell me, you’re getting a earful about the goings on around here every day.”
“It caused a bit of a stir, I did notice. I’m sorry I couldn’t come…”
Christmas came early. “No, actually, you don’t need to. I think – I know what’s going on now. This whole back and forth, messing around with this tack and then that one – it’s all distraction. There’s nothing here they can want – or get at – so it’s not aimed at us. I – it’s just enough nonsense to make you have to stop and answer us without making you drop everything and come yourself.”
“A feint to get me off my game?”
“Yes, Ma’am. A bee, as we’d say in my family.”
Tim threw a pen at me. I dodged and kept talking, “Something just distracting enough to be a pain – especially at a critical moment. Anyway, ignore us. I have an idea and we certainly have enough power right now.”
“Excellent work.” Okay, Christmas, birthday and Fourth of July all rolled into one – her praise made my heart swell like few other things ever had. “You obviously already have a feel for command, so take charge and try your idea. I do want an update from you – weekly will be fine – but I’ll put the rest off for now as you suggest. Was there anything else?”
Just weak knees and a desire to whoop like a kid, “No Ma’am. Good-bye.”
I think the hardest thing I ever did was not jumping up and down like a little kid once the receiver clicked.