A Slayer’s Work: Part Five

I’m not sure what Lisa, the last of my four sisters, had been up to this morning. Probably helping search since she is an avid hiker. She’s spent most of the trip up here glued to her phone texting her boyfriend. He’d had a freelance project that had to be finished – meaning he couldn’t risk an uncertain wifi connection – and had stayed in NYC. I had a suspicion he’d have gotten more done had he come along.

That was probably why she wasn’t now glued to her phone – he actually had to work. Lisa does three things: talks to her boyfriend, studies and walks. She’d sleep on her feet if she could. So where normal people would have had enough hiking for one day, she  was now ready to go on the group hike we’d planned.

There really should have been more groaning. We’d all been up since dawn or too close to it, in my case, and on our feet pretty much all morning. But no, not only was there next to no complaint – and I’m not sure we should count Mike’s since he just didn’t want to give Jane and Tina a shot at getting even – everyone seemed to be excited about it. I didn’t want to be the only one griping, so despite a strong preference for an afternoon nap, I was making darn sure Crystal was on my team.

I succeed there – ended up with Kevin, Clifton and Tim to round it out. This was Donna and Marty’s doing – neither of them like just hiking so they had lobbied well before the trip for a scavenger hunt of sorts. We would have three teams, each with a copy of a field guide, and we would have four hours to find ten different types of leaves, one funny looking stick (extra points for the funniest) and assorted other things you can easily find in the woods and not make the park mad at you.

I was feeling tired, not competitive, which was probably why I wasn’t enjoying it as much as the others. Still, it was better than our last family trip when Lisa dragged us halfway up a mountain to see a dried up creek bed.

We found a trail and set off. We had completed most of the list inside of the first thirty minutes – Clifton got all the leaves before we were ten yards down the trail. But the ‘funny looking stick’ was still eluding us. With my parents as judges, I knew what would amuse them most – but the woods weren’t yielding any likely candidates.

It was a nice hike. good company, something entertaining to do – it really wasn’t bad at all. But I still wasn’t really feeling like I should. I kept thinking it was just the tiredness but now my nerves were playing with me. I felt – off. Not uneasy, not like we were being watched, just like things weren’t right.

No one else seemed to have similar feelings. Crystal was absolutely bubbly – that right there made the hike worthwhile. Kevin and Tim were having a good time learning from Clifton about tree sap – I’m just reporting the topic; I wasn’t paying attention to it. I was the only stick in the mud, doing my best not to show it.

We’d been out about two hours when Clifton’s radio buzzed. The ranger’s office was asking him to come back in but didn’t say exactly why. He figured paperwork since he’d helped with some of the organization for the morning’s search parties. Tim decided to accompany him and take our finds back to the lodge – and dragged Kevin with him. God bless that brother of mine.

That left my gorgeous girlfriend alone with me to find a funny looking stick. A well marked trail, a lovely afternoon and a beautiful girl all to myself – NOW I was feeling it!

Walking and talking, we followed the trail. Crystal spotted a fallen tree just off the trail and we found a broken branch that looked like an old couple trying to kiss – but missing. Two branches had grown together and one had died before the tree – at least that’s how Crystal explained the weird formation. We took it – it was honestly the only stick that had struck me as funny all day.

We still had time so we went further down the trail instead of turning back. I was really enjoying myself for the first time. I don’t get to be alone with Crystal like this much – families are that way – so I was in no hurry for it to end.

In the back of my head, something bugged me. That feeling again – something was just not right. But it was way back in the back of my head – even weirdness has a lot to compete with in Crystal. Still, it started to grow. Not right became really not right. Really not right became uneasy.

Lovely splashes of sun through the lush green trees took a somber note for no real reason. Chatting love birds grew quieter in each other’s company but neither knew why. The noisy woodland became eerily, even deathly quiet. Something was wrong.

Crystal and I looked at each other, knowing now that we both were having the same experience. I sense no creature and neither did she, but the forest felt heavy, dark. Something seemed uncanny about the day – the sun was still bright, the breeze still perfect and yet it was as if we’d stepped into another, similar but sinisterly different dimension.

We came to a bend in the trail and went around a large tree growing in that bend. Just past it was a clearing – a tiny glen, Crystal says. Still overshadowed by trees but with no undergrowth to speak of. It did have something in it – you just won’t believe me when I tell you what.

Heck, I don’t believe me and I was looking at the thing.

A Slayer’s Work: Part Four

“Come on, Jackie Boy, rise and shine.”

I was not in the mood to do either of those things. Turns out that even in nice cabins, camping involves an obligatory lack of sleep. “Five more minutes, Poppa.” I told my father as I pulled the pillow over my head.

“You said that an hour ago.” He told me as he began to shake my shoulder, “Come on now. Let’s get a move on.”

I knew it was a losing battle but I stubbornly hung on a moment m,ore before conceding defeat and sitting up. My father does not believe in sleeping past sun up. It’s a religion with him – no wasting of daylight in our house. I went through most of grade school with bags under my eyes. It didn’t matter what time I went to sleep; I am simply not a morning person.

But Poppa was still calling me ‘Jackie Boy’ knowing I hate it – which meant he was to the point of trying to annoy me into getting up. A glance at the clock told me the sun had been up a couple hours. I was not inclined to join it but I wasn’t getting a choice.

Before ten am and coffee, I’m not much of a person regardless but I stifled the urge to argue with my father as he insisted on me getting dressed and coming to the lodge. Evidently, he wasn’t convinced I could do that all by myself as he was still in the living room when I emerged from the bedroom, fully if not happily, dressed.

“Your Momma wants to talk to you.” Poppa informed me as we walked.

Great. Firing squad at dawn. She probably thought I really did hit that little idiot.

Entering the lodge improved my mood. It was still filled with the wonderful smell of breakfast. I knew I was probably too late for the cinnamon rolls but I also knew Momma wouldn’t kill me on an empty stomach.

I was wrong – Momma had saved me two rolls to go with Mrs. Abernathy’s French toast. I knew then I was doomed but I wasn’t sure I cared. At least my last meal was great.

Momma came and sat across from me as I finished the last of my toast. I looked at her expectantly – stalling only makes it worse with Momma. Besides, i hadn’t actually hit the little turkey.

“What did you see last night?” she asked, direct and to the point as usual.

It caught me a bit off guard. I was expecting a talking to about not bullying my youngest, most annoying brother. It took me a second to answer.

“I saw something big right outside the window but I didn’t get but a fraction of a second’s look at it, Momma. I can’t describe it – it was just a blur.”

“Your Crystal said none of you knew what it was but thought maybe a day creature under concealment?”

I nodded, “Yes, Momma, I know how dumb that is but we can’t sense anything and Clifton is sure it’s nothing natural – or Bigfoot, whatever that is, if it is.”

“So he said. Any sense at all?”

I shrugged, cleaning my plate, “I woke up because it felt like I was being watched – but it didn’t feel anything like a creature. Mike started yelling almost the second I woke so I could have been wrong – but I really don’t think so.”

“Tell me about it.”

I filled her in on what had happened, including how I woke up. Ever since she found out about the mess up regarding who my mentor is, Momma’s taken a rather keen interest in anything I might not understand. her own power is long gone but to be honest, her experience is invaluable. If she hadn’t asked, I’d planned to ask her later in the day – much later, of course.

“Day or indeterminate.” Momma told me. “Some day creatures stalk at night – a few even hunt at night. Were you concealed?”

I shook my head, “I practice every day but I haven’t gotten to where I can do it asleep yet.”

“Did your father tell you what happened this morning?”

I suddenly had a feeling of dread wash over me. Now that I thought about it, none of my usually boisterous and noisy family were present. I had just figured they were playing around the camp but I hadn’t seen anyone walking over here, either. “No, Momma.”

“A boy went missing. His parents and he were heading for the boathouse and he stopped to pick up a rock. they walked past and when they turned to call him to come along, he was gone. I spoke to the couple they are staying with – the woman saw the boy stop and turned to get something herself. She heard his mother call for him a second later – no more, she says she’s sure.”

I’m no woodsman, but you don’t need to be in this campsite – the trees are spread out and all the undergrowth has been cut – you have to walk at least a hundred yards in the opposite direction from the lake to get to where the undergrowth is. A kid couldn’t disappear that quickly.

“How old?” I asked.

“Six.”

Old enough to walk alone but no where near old enough to do a hundred yard dash without anyone seeing him.

Momma was already answering my next question, “I know several – four I can reach. Two can’t come, one can’t come until Wednesday and I’m waiting to hear back from the fourth.”

I nodded, getting to my feet. We wouldn’t have a day slayer to help today. “Where?”

“They were organizing a search from the main office. Donna is keeping the youngsters busy and I’m going to help with the kids so more people can volunteer.” Momma told me as I took my plate to the kitchen.

That meant she and my sister Donna would handle the nursery duties so available and willing adults could lend in the search. Logistics was Momma’s specialty – she’d probably already arranged for a lunch crew as well.

I gave her a kiss on the cheek as I left. I’m no woodsman, but I am a slayer. If nothing else, I’m an able bodied male who can beat bushes as well as the next guy. Since I couldn’t track whatever it was as a slayer, I could darn well provide the extra boots.

Four and a half hours later, I was cresting a hilltop alongside one of the park rangers when he got the call. Little David Withers had been found, safe and sound, ten miles away.

I only got that last bit because Bert, the ranger, couldn’t believe it when they told him on the radio where they had found the boy. He’d blurted out that it was ten miles away.

The good news is the boy is safe – that’s the important part. But there’s no way in heck a six year old walks ten miles in about six hours. At that age, they don’t have the stamina to keep walking like that. A grown man, sure, no problem in half that time or less. But a six year old kid? No way.

Whatever had taken him hadn’t decided to keep him – or hurt him. That ruled out every night creature I could think of and most of the few day creatures I’d read about. I didn’t like this. I hadn’t liked it before – I liked it a lot less now.

I tried not to show it when we reached the office – the crowd was understandably jubilant and there was no reason to ruin the mood. Same thing when I got back to our lodge, now full of volunteers along with our group. Momma was in the process of feeding them, of course. I got a ham sandwich and a soda and went to find Crystal.

I only got as far as the porch – she and Clifton were headed our way. We got them food, picked up my brothers Tim and Kevin along the way and set out for the pier in hopes of having a somewhat quieter place to eat.

Excepting that my sister Donna and her new friend Melissa had beat us to it, it was quieter – at least quieter than the madhouse our lodge had become. The girls chatted as we ate. Kevin made Tim fill him in on all he’d missed the night before. Clifton provided the official story – he just didn’t look like he believed it.

Neither did I. Those tracks weren’t human, that much even I knew but the official story had a stalker lurking around overnight and managing to spirit Little David away this morning. Made no sense – an adult couldn’t have disappeared with a kid that fast either – but that was the story they were sticking to ‘pending further investigation.’ Translation: they had no clue, either.

I suppose I can’t fault them for wanting to keep people calm. They were going to have extra rangers on hand for a few days and lock the park gates at night. They were doing their best and my sarcastic thoughts about how a locked gate with no fence was surely the best protection from a giant that can out sprint an Olympic gold medalist while carrying sixty pounds of dead weight weren’t going to help. I kept them to myself.

Donna and Melissa finished first and wandered back to help finish up whatever they had going with baby sitting duty. Kevin decided he’d better corral Mike and Marty before they got bored and started mischief. That left Tim, Clifton, Crystal and I, and none of us were doing much talking.

Tim, strangely enough given how quiet he usually is, finally spoke, “Not a dang bit of that makes sense. And neither of you killed anything, right?”

Crystal and I confirmed his suspicions. I went ahead and told him that Momma had called for back up.

Crystal then had to explain the difference in periods to her cousin – and my brother. Heck, I wouldn’t know either if I didn’t absolutely have to – weird and useless information unless you kill supernatural creatures as a hobby.

Clifton finally motioned for her to lean over. She did and he whispered in her ear. She shrugged, “I don’t know. Did anyone…?”

Clifton shook his head, “No, I’m sure they didn’t. No one talks about it but they always have the funny look about them. I was there for the debrief – none of them looked like they saw anything weird.

“I’ll ask the day slayer when they get here – otherwise, I’d have to see it.” Crystal told her cousin.

I didn’t ask. Whatever he was nervous about, Crystal was confident it wasn’t our troublemaker. I’d ask her later, if and when we were ever alone.

Which wasn’t going to be now. Kevin, Mike, Marty, Tina and Donna were on the shore hollering for us to come. I knew as i got up we were going to have a busy afternoon.

Normally, well, busy is normal for my large family, so it rarely bothers me. But now, I felt uneasy. I glanced around seeing only lake and trees but still, it felt like there was something in the air – something heavy and dark.

A Slayer’s Work: Part Three

At two am when Mike started screaming again, I seriously regretted not putting him in the cabin with the girls.

I should explain. I was already just waking up – something felt wrong. I wasn’t sensing a creature but still, it felt like someone was watching me. Being a slayer, I rarely get the creeps but this was just enough to wake me – and really annoy me.

My eyes had just opened and I was staring at the wood paneling beside my bed when Mike began his wailing. What happened next took a lot less time to happen than it will for you to read this. I threw myself over, tossing the covers as I did. I looked at Mike but knew instantly he was looking at the window so I spun in that direction as my feet hit the floor.

Outside, there was something. Big – really big – was my only impression before it disappeared.

Slayers are inhumanly fast at times. that’s how I could do all that in a fraction of a second. That’s also how I could catch my now infuriated youngest brother as he went for the window with a stick he’d found earlier.

It was a good sign, really. He was past being afraid and well into being ticked off by whatever had been messing with him. But it was gone and I wasn’t at all sure he was going to bother with niceties like opening the window before trying to hit the thing that wasn’t there anymore.

“Whoa, whoa, calm down!: I ordered as I got a hold of him, “It’s gone.”

Mike said words I won’t repeat – and promised later not to tell Momma about.  He’s the family runt, troublemaker and hothead – and right that moment, he was twisting my arm half off trying to get at the thing.

Marty was on his feet and had enough sense to go get Tim in the next room. Tim told me later he was coming out of his room when Marty got to the door. They got back quickly and Tim and I wrangled Mike together until he finally started to talk sense. To his hotheaded credit, it only took a minute or so.

Leaving Mike to Tim, I borrowed the stick to go investigate. I grabbed my flashlight along the way and met Clifton in the living room. He had pants and shoes on – I was still in PJ’s but honestly doubted anything was still out there. wordlessly, we went onto the well lit porch and then into the darkness.

I gave up doubting things when I became a slayer – I kill vampires, who am I to doubt other weirdness in this world? I admit, the prints in the dirt were not what I was expecting but I promptly rationalized that they were just bear tracks. Really big ones.

Clifton knelt beside the tracks and looked closer. He looked none too happy once he got back up. “Let’s do a walk around in case it’s still here.”

I nodded. Bears do not belong in the campground. If it were still here, it needed to not be.

But a complete walk around the campsite, with the obligatory poking into every dark corner, produced no bear or anything else furry. I did see a tree frog I stopped to quietly move from my sister’s cabin window to the edge of the woods so both of them would live a lot longer. Otherwise, nothing. No critters, real or unworldly, at all.

As I finished my frog rescue, Clifton spoke, “What do you make of those tracks?”

“By the window tonight?” I was still convincing the frog that he could safely let go of my hand.

“Those and the others on the dirt road.”

I finished and stood up. “I didn’t see the others – I’m not exactly Paul Bunyon, but the ones i did see looked like a really big bear.”

We started toward the front of the cabin, but he was gawking at me, “Bear?”

I sighed and shrugged at the same time, “I only know what they look like from a book we used in Scouts. Never seen anything like one before tonight.” I paused as it hit me, “Um, but what else would be that big out here?” Not knowing Clifton well, I did not want to voice my second choice.

He just shook his head, “A grizzly couldn’t make a track that big. I worked out of Tacoma last summer and got to see a few in the wild. Bear don’t make tracks that large unless they are stepping on their own tracks – but that isn’t what those were.”

I stifled the urge to sigh again. Clifton works search and rescue for the Forest Service – he’s a trainer and an expert woodsman. I’m the guy a rabbit managed to spook when I was a kid – he’d know better than me but he didn’t seem to want to put a name to option two either. I decided it would be quicker to just get it over with, “Okay, that leaves what, bigfoot?”

He shook his head again and abruptly changed course, “No, I … saw some of those, too. These were… Heck, hang on.” He hopped up on the girls porch and tapped twice, followed by three more.

He stepped back down to where I was. We could here movement so we just waited.

Crystal’s voice was speaking as she opened the cabin door, “Yes, I’m sure. Go back to sleep, it’s just my cousin.”

I heard Jane’s voice reply but didn’t catch the words.

“Night.” Crystal responded, then closing the door, turned to us, “This had better be good. Do you know what time it is?”

Clifton nodded, “Sorry, Crysie, but I need you to look at something. It’s got to be from your side of the street but neither of us recognize it.”

Crystal joined us, pulling her robe around her in the chill morning air, “What? Can’t be – I haven’t sensed a thing. You?”

Meeting her gaze, I gave an emphatic shake, “No, but something woke Mike and me – it was at the window. I didn’t get a good enough look. It left tracks but I don’t know what they are either.”

“Why does it have to be a creature, Cliff?” Crystal turned to her cousin.

We were almost there. “Let me show you.” he replied.

We got to the spot. The light was out in the window but the other cabin lights were still on. We showed Crystal the tracks.

She did pretty much the same stuff her cousin had as she knelt beside them. The Scouting program down south must be better than ours, I concluded. Crystal took a lot longer than her cousin had before she finally got back up.

She shook her head, “It’s nothing I’ve seen before – not a creature of the night at all. I mean, it could be a creature of the day, those are hardest for us to sense, but it gets less than ten feet from a true slayer, even one from a different period? That seems really unlikely. Could you track it at all?”

Clifton nodded, “Yeah, just a short distance – I’ll show you where they end.”

“Okay. Just to be sure, those Sasquatch things don’t have claws like that, do they? I mean, I’ve only seen casts in videos…” Crystal asked her cousin.

“No, they don’t. That’s why I figure it has to be something you guys deal with – it looks like a cross between a pigeon toed bear and a bigfoot with a limp. Here, I’ll show you.” Clifton took one step more before kneeling in the roadway, “See?”

I saw dirt with scratches in it. Mostly dirt. Crystal knelt beside her cousin so I joined them, but they proceeded to talk about the tracks they were looking at in ways I couldn’t follow.  Even with them pointing out features, it was just swirls in the dirt to me. The gist was the thing was really big, walked funny and was definitely dragging one leg just a little bit.

I was silently apologizing to all those film writers I’d  laughed at over the years because I didn’t believe you could get that much from lines in dirt as we reached the end of the tracks. We all knelt again but this time the cousins were a lot more animated about their findings.

I loaned Crystal my flashlight and they split up, trying to find more tracks. I just knelt there, trying to think back to my first sensation after waking. It hadn’t been a creature, I was certain. At least, it hadn’t felt like one. Then again, I’ve never met a day creature. Sonia, the day slayer I have met, says the sensation of period is pretty close between slayer and creature – so a creature of the day should feel a little like her. But I’d just emerged when I met her and had almost no sensation of her.

I was considering if it could have been concealed when the cousins returned. It was kinda fun, listening to them squabble like siblings. Clifton was the closest thing to a brother that Crystal had and it showed. But they weren’t actually angry with each other – it was frustration and predawn hours taking their toll.

Once again, they’d found no further sign. That bothered them both because the loose dirt hadn’t ended; the tracks had. Even with the huge steps it seemed to take – Clifton tried to imitate one and couldn’t make the same distance even stepping as far as he could without losing his balance – there should have been more tracks to the wood line.

At least according to them. Crystal and I briefly mulled the idea of concealment. That seemed to explain it best – although why a concealed day creature would stalk a cabin with a true slayer in it in the middle of the night was something we couldn’t explain at all.

Which left me with nothing to tell my siblings as I returned to the cabin and Clifton walked Crystal back to hers. They were my brothers, so I was stuck with the job but I would much rather have been with my girlfriend, even if she was still fussing at him when we parted.

Getting Mike calmed down took another hour. Clifton, once he returned, helped considerably. Mike gave his word more credit – he’s an expert; I’m just his dorky brother. But he wasn’t happy when he finally agreed to go back to sleep. He took one of the couches and I took the other. Marty joined Kevin, who slept through the whole thing, Tim and Clifton in their room. I couldn’t honestly blame him.

I managed to stay awake until Mike drifted off. I was right behind him.

A Slayer’s Work: Part Two

Dinner was pure heaven. Enough food for everyone to have thirds – and we did. Momma’s cannoli, Mrs Abernathy’s coconut cake and a mountain of wonderful food in between – bliss.

Well, as ‘bliss’ as you get with a huge crowd and younger siblings.

I had to convince Tina that frogs were not carnivorous and couldn’t eat her toes. I threatened Mike with sleeping outside in a wet sleeping bag to get him to stop telling her that nonsense. Crystal’s cousin Clifton was gracious enough to explain the difference between insectivore and carnivore when my nitwit little brother Mike brought it up. I meant it when I told him one more word and I’d let him explain this mess to Momma.

Really should have sent him to sleep in the girl’s cabin at that point. I let him sulk off instead. I had my mind on Crystal and not Mike’s penchant for sister torment.

The dishes were all done and I was looking for Crystal to suggest a visit to the pier when the screaming began. Counting Momma, three slayers were present along with a total of six men, and yes, we’d come armed. Clifton and Tim both had rifles, Poppa had his handgun and Mr Abernathy had a baseball bat. I grabbed a stick – being an eclectic slayer means I don’t have to worry about carrying a weapon, whatever is at hand will do just fine.

But I was the only one to grab anything – girl screams at night with Mike and Marty around were not likely to require weapons. I knew that as well as the others – I just wanted something to poke my idiot brother with.

This time Jane was in hysterics because something had been scratching at the window and jumped out at her when she’d tried to see what it was. I did actually make it to Eagle scout, even if I can’t tell a acorn from a sapling. The soft ground under the window and the hastily discarded ape mask told the tale. The trail was all of fifteen feet – Mike was still hiding behind a shrub when I poked him.

It was his turn to let out a blood curdling scream. That only annoyed me more – Momma was gonna think I’d hit him. Then I noticed he wasn’t moving – he just sat there, staring into the woods.

The others were running up as I knelt beside him, “Mike?” It took four tries and a good shake to get him to look at me. For the first time since he was six, he threw himself into my arms and started crying.

I carried him back to our cabin. I didn’t know what this was, but he was gonna be embarrassed enough when he came out of it. Poppa got Momma and sent her in. I left Mike to her – he wasn’t talking yet and when he did, it would be better if Momma took care of it.

The whole thing ruined the mood for the night. And it meant that I ended up on the pier with Crystal, her cousin and three of my brothers. Crystal caught me up on the girls’ side. Jane and Tina were now sleeping in the same room with her. Tina is only scared of things that don’t have fur. Jane isn’t easily frightened, either. But they’d already had enough.

Kevin made a couple stupid wise cracks about not telling ghost stories around the fire tomorrow night. Not that that was a possibility – half of us don’t scare and the other half end up waking Momma in the middle of the night if we spook them, which has gotten our backsides tanned more than once.

Slayers make the worst ghost story tellers anyway. Ghost shows itself, gets slain, the end.

A good horror tale should leave you wondering what’s in the dark at night. Ours leave no room for doubt – then it dies. The end. Yeah, pretty poor stories if you’re trying to scare someone.

Crystal asked me about Mike and I told her what had happened. I didn’t have to ask – she hadn’t sensed anything any more than I had. If she had, she’d have hunted it down and killed it already.

Of course, there are a lot of things in the woods that aren’t creatures – at least not the kind we hunt. I figured he’d seen a raccoon or something staring at him and freaked out from the eye shine. The first time I went camping in the Scouts, I woke up late that first night and came face to face with the biggest rabbit on the planet as I tried to find a place to relieve myself. None of the guys ever knew but I had been spooked for a moment with the light first hit it. Glowing eyes just look wrong.

We did have a nice time looking at the moon and stars over the lake. But it was way too short – and had far too many people for my taste. I like my family – but I also want time with my girlfriend. A lot of time with my girlfriend that involves moonlight, stars, soft music and nothing trying to kill us. I usually only get the first and the opposite of the last.

I ended up bunking with Mike and Marty.  Clifton and I switched after Momma promised Mike I’d be close. I didn’t razz him about it – he was already looking like he couldn’t decide which was worse, the fear or the embarrassment.

But I really should have made him sleep with the girls.

The Dogman Chronicles: Dogboy and Rover, Part Five

Morning at the office, I’m on time and I don’t look anything like I feel. I’m certain, because when Sonya brought in my coffee, she didn’t fuss about my health. An hour later, she hadn’t sent anyone in to check on me so I’d clearly passed the morning inspection.

I got the chores all done – email, correspondence, decisions – all the stuff that Sonya needs me to actually do. It took two hours – this probably means I’m not nearly as necessary for my own company as I think I am.

Regardless, I had Sonya make lunch reservations and call Bartlett for the invite. I’d be paying for top sirloin at a suitably well enough starred restaurant for both of us, partially to make up for the last two weeks and partially to butter him up for the favor I’d need to ask.

I’m glad John isn’t a woman – he knows me so danged well that Sonya would be trying to get us hitched if he were – I’m not sure the fact that he’s already married would stop her. half way through a really good steak, he had already figured out what I was up to. Well, it does save time but it’s also annoying.

Neither of us smoke but John used to, long before he married. He still has that push back, getting ready to light up after a meal habit only now he fulfills his need by twirling silverware. Idly twirling a knife through his fingers, he gave me a wry glance, “So, what is it this time?”

I took a sip of the red wine I hadn’t yet finished and pushed my plate away. “Do you remember the Henderson case about a year ago?”

He nodded, not missing a beat with his twirling act, “Sure, would be terrorist who’s only accomplishment was to scare the heck out of some kids, right?”

“That’s the one.” I nodded, easing back in my chair, “I took it as a favor to a friend. he made some threats on social media, did what, six months? And then decided to make some more.”

“Sure, I remember. He got three years in the Federal pen. Should be out next year if he… What?”

I was shaking my head, “He’s dead. Killed by another inmate about a month ago. Some idiot sent him to a max.”

John stopped the twirling. I could see he did recall not only the case, but Henderson. That butterball wannabe had no business in a prison population filled with killers and worse. Neither of us would have said he didn’t deserve the time – he did, especially after some of the threats he made. But he didn’t deserve death for being a jackass.

“Hadn’t heard.”

“Me neither until last night. Someone is very interested in that case – interested enough to try to break into my computer files. I need to know why.”

John resumed twirling, “I’ll take that to mean you already have a who. No connection?”

I shook my head, “None I can find.”

Bartlett nodded absently, “Give me what you’ve got and I’ll see what I can do. Davidson worked that case, as I recall. ”

I finished my wine, “Yeah, which is why I need you. We weren’t friends so I haven’t heard from him since his retirement.”

“He’s still investigating – you wouldn’t believe me if I told you what – but I still hear from him. I’ll give him a call and see what he remembers.”

A Slayer’s Work: Part One

I’m a city boy and proud of it. Nothing wrong with the country or the South – I’ve got a girlfriend that comes from both – but I do best around concrete and noisy people. I can in fact sleep on the subway – although I don’t so that my younger siblings don’t learn the habit from me. I can negotiate all five boroughs of New York with ease.

I’m not afraid of the country. I like trees. I can even mow grass – that skill having been acquired years earlier when my brothers and I were trying to earn extra money while staying with my Aunt and Uncle for a month. I don’t have anything against country – other than I stink at it.

I get lost in Central Park if I get too far off the paths, okay? Trees are nice – but they all look the same. I hated camping as a Boy Scout – oh, loved the hiking and fishing and goofing off – just not the danged Map Reading, Using a Compass or any of the other ‘get there from here’ type badges I had to earn. Give me a street map and I can get anywhere – marking a trial and you might as well just go ahead and call Search and Rescue ’cause I’m going to get lost.

I know this had come up in conversation – although I admit, I doubt Crystal realized just how bad I am at this. Still, you would have thought at least she’d have tried to convince her parents that a weekend with both our families in the Adirondacks was a bad idea for my sake. But no, she was looking forward to it.

I am one of nine kids. She has three cousins visiting. Counting parents, that’s seventeen people – how can camping possibly be a good idea?

I was wondering that for the millionth time as my brothers and I finished packing the rental bus. Tim has a CDL so we didn’t have to pay for a driver at least. I didn’t know the details – my Momma  had told me to fork over $75 and I’d done so dutifully. Coming from a large family does prepare you well for knowing what battles to pick – there were sixteen of them versus one of me. Not a hard choice, really.

I suppose I was softening up a bit on the trip up there. Country is beautiful, I have to admit and the gorgeous girl seated beside me certainly sweetened the deal. I never get tired of looking at Crystal. Even when she’s ready to take my head off – which only happened the once – she’s still a show stopper.

I softened up a little more when we checked in at the lodge. This was fairly nice – rustic in appearance but not reality. I’d known we were supposed to have cabins – Momma had told me that much – but ‘camping’ still meant ‘pup tents’ to me so I’d envisioned ramshackle shacks and outhouses. Actually, I was hoping for outhouses – we hadn’t packed any spades.

I softened to butter when we got to the cabins. AC, electricity, running water and kitchenettes – this was the best version of ‘camping’ I’d ever seen. Sure, I was sharing a cabin with my four brothers and Crystal’s cousin but two bedrooms and seven bunks? I could live with this!

Unpacking wasn’t much of a chore – I had visions of lazing under a shady tree by the lake and quiet, star lit evenings with my best girl running through my head. Oh sure, my day dreams were punctuated by shrill yells as the girls discovered a frog by their cabin door and lots of questions and comments from my younger siblings – but that was my normal life. This could work.

Crystal and her cousin Terri rescued my two youngest sisters from the frog. I finally convinced my brother Mike that sleeping in the other bedroom with Marty and Crystal’s cousin was not the same thing as eating at the little kid’s table since Crystal’s cousin was older than me. I was stuck with Tim, who cannot sleep without tossing and Kevin, who keeps defying medical science with his freight train snore and perfect sleep test findings.

In hindsight, I should have just let Mike sleep with them.

The five cabins – one spare had no beds – ringed a communal lodge with a full kitchen. We’d finished unpacking, saving my sisters from wildlife, corralling everyone and the general chaos of large group arrivals so we decided to head for the lodge to check it out. Opening the door, I realized it was official – we were in Heaven. Momma and Mrs Abernathy had already found the kitchen and begun the process of transporting us to culinary bliss.

Southern cuisine and Italian cuisine are both wonderful in their own rights – although being my Momma’s boy, I do lean partially toward Italian – but together, they are something else again. If I’d had known this was what a kitchen would smell like with the two of them cooking at the same time, I’d have built them a joint kitchen somehow.

Sitting in the lodge, holding Crystal’s hand, listening to the happy blather and reveling in the ambrosial scents wafting from the kitchen, I was the happiest camper in the place.

But I’m also a slayer – of course, it couldn’t last.

 

The Dogman Chronicles: Dogboy and Rover, Part Four

It’s two weeks later. Bartlett has had his fill of pretending to be trying to get anything more out of me and his superiors have finally gotten over the idea that he can. It’s been two days since he last bothered to call and four since the last front page story about the ‘incredible’ rescue raid.

I don’t care about any of that as I awake violently from that same &%*^$ nightmare. I actually use the words I won’t type as I get up to go get something strong enough to make me sleep whether my subconscious likes it or not.

The house phone buzzes as I get to the kitchen. Yes, I still have a land line. No, you can’t have the number. It’s main purpose is to keep prying wifi from wondering why I get calls from my own basement from a guy named Rover. Yeah, I’m the cautious type – it’s kept me more alive than not so far so I’m sticking with it.

“Me.” I say into the handset. Sure, there are fancier codes – but voice recognition works perfectly well on a hard wire. I listen to a few beeps and chirps and hang up.

I grab a coke from the fridge before heading downstairs. I won’t be able to take the meds I’d intended but at least I don’t have to be thirsty.

When I arrive, the control room is brightly lit and all sorts of completely useless but cool looking lights are flashing everywhere. I went for a ‘Star Trek’ meets ‘Tron’ decor when I built the place. My temperament and beginning headache at the moment are making me regret that design choice.

I put my behind in the seat and take a long swig before beginning to work, “Rover?”

“Yes sir. Hacking attempt on 157.658.36958 at 2:34. Blocking successful. Notification as per Protocol 7.”

So you know, ‘Protocol 7’ simply sounds better than ‘you told me to wake you up so I did’.  I groan inwardly and have Rover pull up the case related to that account.

I’d expected it to be someone trying to track down my gas company shenanigans from the recent case but instead I got a case nearly a year old. Rover normally handles attacks without notifying me even on current cases, unless they fit into a few key specification. This one fell into ‘too old for anyone to be caring or should be’ and the attempt hadn’t been a spider or bot.

Great, just what I need at now three am. I pulled up the attack – pretty hamfisted and definitely human. I set Rover on the electronic trail and settle down to a lovely morning of cola and case review.

By five, Rover has all the particulars on Mr. Steven Gomez McClain. Mother Maria Lucia Gomez is from Spain, not just an Addams Family fan, according to Rover’s excruciatingly detailed research. By five, I’ve reviewed the case, read Rover’s report and finished off the last of three cokes.

Now my head really hurts despite four aspirin and shutting down the more colorful lights. It’s not the lack of sleep – it’s that I’ve got to get to the bottom of this today or call her tonight – and I’d rather have teeth pulled than call her.

Back upstairs, having pooped two more aspirin and downed another coke, I throw the covers over my head and will myself into slumber. Ten am will come much too soon…