True Slayers: Reckoning, Part Sixteen

I only have a couple afternoon classes on Tuesday so after seeing Ayami and Kagome off, I got to go back to bed. The fun would start later in the day – Jack had decided that long since, figuring that sleep would be in short supply during the round up.

James was again on the stoop, this time Lisa joined him as her classes were all MWF this semester. Once again, the guy, now definitely an arcane, came out and started searching but this time his heart wasn’t really in it. He kept looking at the stoop of Jack’s building. He obviously suspected but didn’t seem to know what to do about it.

They waited, James typing as usual, Lisa leaning on his arm and letting him work. The guy went down the block and disappeared around the corner. James sent a text via email. Mr. Schmidt had the day off and was spelling Jack so he could get some sleep. Mr. Schmidt went to the back but no one tried to come in. He texted James and James had him call Tresmayne. No, nothing was trying to come through the attic and Tresmayne had no sense of any creatures about.

Arcanes are weird, like I said. If he still had his soul, he wouldn’t need an invitation – he could enter a sanctuary like any other normal person. But that evidently wasn’t his first choice. He came back from the opposite direction – he’d walked around the block. With an air of resignation, he mounted his own stoop and went inside.

I got an emergency text from James about thirty minutes later. I was already up – not happy, but up. The guy had changed clothes and was on his way to our building. So, he had remembered Mama’s invitation. Good.

I got dressed, double checking my own concealment. Not knowing if he had a soul or not, it seems a reasonable precaution. I slipped down the stair, listening in as Mama greeted him and invited him into the parlor.

Mama already had everything laid out for the visit so she didn’t need to go into the kitchen. She offered him coffee as I quietly listened from the kitchen. He accepted and complemented her again on the pie. He had good taste, I’ll give him that. Mama’s apple pies are simply scrumptious!

The conversation was standard visitor fare – how are you, how long in the neighborhood, work, hobbies, et al. Our guest was Mr. Roland Chambers, lately of Ontario. He was a programmer who had moved to NYC to take a position with a Fortune 500 that needed some systems over-hauled and re-written. It had to do with medical insurance so Mama knew a bit about that part. Yes, he was feeling much better – he certainly didn’t look it when I saw him later.

I had my phone on vibrate so when the text came only I knew about it. I went to the back and let Jack in. He was to give me a minute to get to the hall which he did. I opened the front door and hit the bell. I was up against the parlor wall when Mama came out to answer. She pretended to talk to a salesman until we heard Mr. Chambers yelp. Mama went to another room – I went into the parlor.

Jack had come in through the kitchen, of course. Mr. Chambers looked like he had seen a ghost. I suspect he’d have been happier if it were a ghost. My walking in made it worse.

“You… it was all a trap… Please, don’t kill them…”

It struck me as sad that the first thing he thought of was the lives of his familiars. From what he’d told Mama he had no family, no friends here. I got the feeling his only family were the pets he kept.

Jack just shook his head, “That’s not the plan. Let’s get a few things straight, first.”

Tresmayne came in from behind Jack and crossed over to Mr. Chambers. He extended his hand like the gentleman he is and Mr. Chambers, to his credit, took it. Tresmayne completed his greeting and turned to Jack, “Human, he’s still ensouled.”

Jack nodded rather grimly. That complicated the plan.

“Of course I am.” Mr. Chambers said miserably. “Never wanted to be a witch – just to be able to talk … with my pets.” He seemed a little embarrassed by that. “Anyway, he didn’t want a warlock – he wanted an arcane like me. More familiars that way.”

Jack took a seat beside him, “That figures. Why did you go along?”

“What do you mean? I couldn’t help it.” Mr. Chambers replied.

Jack, Tresmayne and I exchanged glances. Jack barked an order to stand – Mr. Chambers was up like a shot. He looked at Jack in total confusion. Jack smiling like a Cheshire cat did not help matters.

Not being a creature, Mr. Chambers couldn’t be possessed but he had begun to lose his soul and could be commanded. I had classes and left after Jack had managed to calm Mr. Chambers down and convince him that no one was going to kill him or his pets. Jack told me later I didn’t miss much.

They were still at it when I got home. Jack and Tresmayne had been joined by Mr. Schmidt and James. There had been a ton of detail to discuss, once Mr. Chambers was on board. Like James, Mr. Chambers was very happy to help – Vinnie had been even rougher on him than James.

I curled up in the chair by the window and just listened. They brought me up to speed and the story wasn’t a pretty one. I didn’t need Jack to explain this time – Mr. Chambers wasn’t a creature and that had made Vinnie nervous. I suppose it was something of a blessing that Mr. Chambers had no living family – I shuddered to think what Vinnie would have threatened in that case. What he did do was more than bad enough – James had been without food and water for two days – Mr. Chambers had been beaten and starved for more than a week.

Worse, since he could be commanded, Vinnie used that to keep him weak. No wonder he looked so thin – he hadn’t had more than a two meals a day for months. He was allotted 2000 calories a day. I asked Mama later – that’s a weight loss diet for a man his size, one designed for a slow loss. That would be okay if he’d been overweight but he’d been skinny his entire life.

With Jack’s help Mama had already set about fixing that problem. Jack countermanded the order keeping him on the diet and Mama started feeding him. She gave him strict instructions for the first few days – and our number so he could call her if he got sick. He didn’t look like he minded – he was in heaven as he put her tomato bisque and toast where it belonged.

Jack told me a short while later while we were in the kitchen getting drinks for everyone that it had occurred to him that keeping Mr. Chambers weak probably made him more susceptible to command. He briefly toyed with changing the plan so that it wouldn’t rely on Mr. Chambers so much. Mr. Chambers needed to get stronger more than we needed to catch Vinnie.

I had really liked Jack up until that moment. For him, it was a simple statement of fact – he didn’t give it any particular emphasis when he told me. He went on telling me about something else I never heard. At that moment, when Jack put someone else’s needs before ours – despite all the bad things that had happened – that was the moment I fell in love with him. Doing what Vinnie had done – or even profiting from it – had not even crossed his mind as an actual possibility. He didn’t have that kind of cruelty in him.

As we distributed the various beverages, Mr. Chambers and James were talking shop. We’d known Vinnie’s real name since the night the Mistress had Mr. McKenzie call us. We were already in the habit of calling him Vinnie, however. There were a lot of details we didn’t know – where he lived, where he worked, et cetera. Two really ticked off programmers both of whom had done their share of hacking were discussing how they were going to pull Vinnie’s life into the brightest, most public spotlight they could manage. I didn’t even feel a pang of sympathy for Vinnie.

Jack had gone home while I was in class. Through the parlor window I saw the first werewolf leaving Jack’s building and merely told Jack. I’d known Jack would dismiss the extra creatures – they would still be in town and had all, the adarna included, wanted to be part of taking Vinnie down. Evidently, Vinnie didn’t have any friends. I could well imagine why.