True Slayers: Heroes, Part Six

That insane woman invited me to lunch! Like I should talk, finishing off number seven, I accepted! Does anyone have the number of Bread Sticks Anonymous? Between her bread sticks and my Mama’s corn pones, my waist doesn’t stand a chance!

I was on number nine. An idea had occurred to me three bread sticks ago but I hadn’t had the courage to ask. But the more I thought about it – between tips on good cannoli and a discussion of rolling versus pressing dough (rolling for the win) – the more sense it made.

I made my best puppy dog eyes to get her to let me set the table.

I was sorting flatware, still mulling on my idea, when Mrs. Schmidt came by.

 

[Author’s Note: Okay – TOMORROW it gets fixed. I hate when I know what I want to do and my brain decides to take a vacation in the middle of it… Grumble…]

 

 

 

True Slayers: Heroes, Part Five

I wasn’t helping, I was munching. Mrs Scarlotti makes these heavenly garlic bread sticks and I had my mouth blissfully full.

“Well, yes, I’m sure I have addresses and phone numbers for most. There are a few that you shouldn’t contact – they would rather not, I imagine. I’ll make those calls to be sure.  Just give me a few days and i’ll make up a list for you.” Mrs. Scarlotti was telling me as she stirred something that smelled equally heavenly.

I realized then that if I hoped to have a waistline, I could never marry Jack. Of course, I also couldn’t ever eat at the Scarlotti’s again. Oh well, hope he likes me chubby!

I swallowed, “That’ll be great, Mrs. Scarlotti. I really appreciate it.”

She shook her head. A few stray grays showed themselves in the cascade. Funny, I’d never noticed them before. Mr. Scarlotti has barely any black left but Mrs. Scarlotti was almost completely black – the few gray hairs that hinted at her real age were scattered and her roots were obviously natural. Munching yet another breadstick, I wondered if that wasn’t the left over of being a slayer. Funny, the Scarlotti’s looked so perfect for each other – never before had it occurred to me that she looked younger than he did.

“I talked to Jack yesterday. He thinks it’s time to take down the Blade Brigade.”

Mrs. Scarlotti laughed, “Is that what you were calling them?”

I shrugged, “Yes Ma’am – couldn’t think of anything better.” I got out between swallows. “I’ll go get Finley as soon as the guys are ready to start on the attic.”

“Oh, Tresmayne has already left?”

“He moved to the hotel last night. He’s planning to come for dinner to say his goodbyes.”

“Ah, good. Never thought I’d ever meet any of the cadre.” Her voice hinted that the honor was tinged by the reason. Couldn’t say I blamed her.

“Me neither. Weird, I met the Mistress when I was a little kid but it’s almost as exciting to meet them.”

“Not so weird, dear. Just because you’ve met the President doesn’t mean it’s not exciting to meet the First Lady.”

“I guess not.” I finished my third bread stick, “These things should be illegal, you know.”

She laughed, “So my Donna tells me. Oh, did I tell you? That boy’s parents are coming down next month.”

“That… James?” I asked.

“Yes, my Lisa’s boy. He’s not so bad.”

I just nodded, stifling the urge to smile. Mrs. Scarlotti was coming around slowly. At least she wasn’t as mad at him anymore.

“Nice.” A bread stick was waving itself temptingly in my face. “Where is everyone?”

“Poppa is fixing the car, so the boys are out helping. Donna and Jane are painting the Schmidt’s bathroom – been promised for a long time. Lisa took Tina to get school clothes – already she grows out of her blouses this year.” Mrs. Scarlotti told me as she took out yet another set of pans.

She waved off my offer to help as she pulled even more food from the fridge. I watched, trying to guess what she was making but it was too early in the process. Cannoli, maybe?

I got up, mostly to get away from those bread sticks before I ate them all. “Jack said he still doesn’t know how everyone found out – no one will tell him.”

“Found out?” Mrs. Scarlotti laughed, “That boy of mine, so smart but sometimes, so dumb. No finding out – this may be New York but it’s a close neighborhood. Just because we don’t talk about everything doesn’t mean people don’t know. Really, child, you think no one notices when you two go tramping over rooftops? Normal people may not recognize creatures but they are put off their ease by them – and Tresmayne dropped his concealment that once. Scared people for five blocks!”

She started rolling dough as she chuckled, “People talk – not just slayers. Sanctuaries are strange places – refuges that attract trouble sometimes. Now, mind you,  most people never accept what is truly happening, that’s a bit much, but they know things are going on. Besides, that ‘argument’ in the street – that was like an advertisement that something was happening.”

I nodded, remembering how fake it had looked to me.

“People asked questions – knew there was trouble. Then that boy sits there all night – how could they not know there was trouble? Add the internet and they know almost everything – everything they want, anyway.”

I felt stupid. It made perfect sense – heck, most of my friends at home knew I was a slayer and I’d only told one person ever, and she already knew. Slayers are the least secret secret in the world, I guess.

“No one wants to admit they saw a vampire – who would believe? They don’t want to believe – too frightening. And they don’t need to believe – creatures aren’t part of their world, only part of the shadow. Slayers keep the shadow world where it belongs – no need for normal people to string garlic in the windows and wolfsbane on the sills.”

“Unless we fail.” I replied, succumbing to another bread stick.

She knew exactly what I meant, “Unless we fail – but God doesn’t make perfect slayers – just humans who are slayers. I hope…”

It took a minute before she continued, “Daniel never believed in anything – refused to believe. Even when it was so obvious – he helped a young slayer once. Found the boy delirious in the street. Torn up from battle, wounds no man could make, no weapon does, but still refused to believe what that boy said. Because if the boy had really been in a fight with werewolves then Daniel might be wrong about God – and that he would not consider. But I wonder – I wonder if..”

“We weren’t supposed to save him?”

“Stupid old woman talk, I know…” She started filling the dough with meat.

“No, not so stupid. He sounds like a very practical man, Mr. Jenkins, I mean. Maybe the reality of a creature made him reconsider – while he still had time.”

Mrs. Scarlotti nodded.

I chewed my bread stick. Killed by a vampire in a sanctuary – I’d known from the start that Mr. Jenkins was an atheist or agnostic – no one else would be so vulnerable in a sanctuary, except the familiars, of course. I didn’t need to be told although now I knew it was atheist from what Mrs. Scarlotti had just said. It’s an awful way to die, being killed by a vampire, but how much more awful to have no chance of going to heaven. I was glad I never had to make decisions like that – only God would be wise enough to know when letting normal people see our shadow world – or even suffer from it – would actually be best. I prayed this was one of those times and that it had worked.

“Any chance of me actually helping instead of eating all your bread sticks?” I asked.

She laughed, “No, not today. today, I want to do it myself. And I have two more trays to bake – eat all you want.”

“That’s not fair – I can’t resist these things!” I kidded as I started on number five.

True Slayers: Heroes, Part Five

I don’t know how Jack felt about it – at least I didn’t then. A couple days had gone by and I still wasn’t sure how I should feel about it. I sat staring at my stuffed animals – a menagerie that I’d had all my life and that Jack seemed intent on making even larger – and tried to come to grips with what had happened.

I mean, it was so awesome, all those people coming to our rescue but at the same time, it wasn’t right. That was my job, right? Being the hero? Man, that sounds stupid out loud. My brain knows better but my heart says I screwed up somehow.

Ayami was back at Kimberly’s and my huge room seemed awfully lonely now. I have a sleep over at Kimberly’s house this weekend so that’s good.  Jack brought me a new teddy bear yesterday which was really sweet. It’s on my nightstand for now. Basically, things were getting to actual normal.

That’s good, right? I have so much studying to do – both for college when classes start back and as a slayer – I have really messed up this mentoring thing and need to get it in gear.

Mr. Myers and Mr. Schmidt are taking Jack under their respective wings. He says he’s learning a lot. He was so sweet – he wanted to make sure it didn’t bother me. Which it didn’t when he asked but now – am I letting him down?

I guess not. Mr. Schmidt is a true slayer and has decades of experience I don’t have. Mr. Myers is a retiring slayer but he fought in the last Gathering – I’ve never even seen one. They both have so much to offer – stuff Jack needs more than any other slayer would. He commands slayers – he has to understand things the rest of us will never need to know.

And he has so many ideas already. Ideas about how slayers are trained, how to gain intelligence – yes, he had to explain what that was to me – how to do things I never even considered a slayer or group of slayers might need.

To me, slaying is just what I do when creatures show up – assuming it needs doing. Kinda like homework, although I admit, it can be so much more fun, it’s just something I have to do. Okay, so I know the difference between a traditional werewolf and a pseudo-modern werewolf and everything that Dashnund (no, not the dog) vampires are vulnerable to (unless it’s one of the very rare intelligent ones – those things are danged near impossible to kill). Stuff I have to know that no one else even cares about – but it’s just to do my job.

So unlike Jack – he wants to improve things. Heck, I’d never even thought about things needing improving.

I’m not still stuck on thinking I’m stupid – I’m just a different kind of slayer, that’s all. But how do I help him? I’m still supposed to be his mentor but I think he needs a great deal more than just me.

Hmm,  you know, I think Mrs. Scarlotti is probably finished with breakfast by now – she might have a few minutes to talk. Or I could help with lunch – whatever. She’s been hosting slayers for longer than I’ve been alive – she must know lots of them. People Jack can talk to and learn from – maybe I can help organize that, interview people – I’ll need a project for Practical Journalism 102 next semester, anyway.

Beats sitting here staring at the big pink bunny Jack bought me for our second date. And besides, I need to seal Arnie before he goes back to Kevin. Not looking forward to that – Arnie probably doesn’t understand what all happened. Of course, he may not care, either. he’s just a blade, after all.

Anyway, time to get going.

True Slayers: Heroes, Part Four

There were statements to be given and I again found myself being less than truthful with the police. Not that it mattered, Chambers was their star witness – as far as they knew, I’d merely introduced him to Thompkins. No mention of vampires, doppelgangers, werewolves, werecats, slayers or talking swords – which didn’t bother me so much.

What did stick in my craw was that there was also no mention of the murder of Mr. Jenkins. There was no way to tie Vinnie to that without mentioning his pet vampire – a creature that was now mercifully turned to dust. That case would remain forever unsolved. Vinnie would never have to account for it. That did not sit well with me.

We’d sorted things out and gotten everyone home safely hours earlier. In a few more, I’d be getting ready for work. Sanity kept knocking at my brain, asking if I didn’t want a little sleep before then. But I sat by the window, looking out at the street instead.

Plans are just starting points. That mine get upset stopped bothering me when I was six – I’ve too many siblings, extended family members and friends to ever expect that plans will run the course that is set for them. Calling Officer Compton, that had been my idea. Virtually nothing else that happened had anything to do with my planning, once Vinnie came out.

I can’t remember the last time, before this, that everyone was in the street like that. I saw people I knew only in passing as well as people I’ve known my whole life. I see Mrs Elmore once or twice a month when it’s my turn to take her whatever dish Momma had prepared or once in a great while when helping get her to the van for her doctor’s appointments. I was debating how angry I should be at my brothers who almost certainly had gotten her down the steps.

Slayers aren’t safe – we instinctively use weapons perfectly, are ridiculously strong and can move faster than any normal human ever could. People could have been killed. Why the ____ were they all out there?

And Mrs. Elmore – where did she – how did she –  I mean, sure, she has asked me about my faith dozens of times but what she did that night – it was like she knew Vinnie. Knew his soul. Knew just what to say.

They had known a lot from the online stuff – that was most of what had people riled – but how they knew it related to our neighborhood, I didn’t know, sitting there with the lights out as morning broke over the East Side.

I poured myself another OJ. I wanted something stronger to go with my mood but that was a bad idea and I knew it. So I sipped my OJ as I went back to my mullings.

Slayers exist to protect normal people from creatures run amok but instead normal people had protected slayers from a slayer run amok. I wasn’t sure how to parse that. People had been in danger because of my stupid plan. I knew how to parse that – and I was still angry with myself about it.

But what I kept coming back to was Mr. J. This time two years ago, Daddy, he and I were putting a new bathroom into what became the Myers apartment. Last year, he gave me coveralls for Christmas. He’d dropped by to borrow a wrench a week before he died. I still had the feeling he would be hollering out the window at the kids or helping Daddy with one of the cars or laughing at me trying to keep my siblings from whatever new disaster they’d concocted – any minute now, I should hear his voice booming down the hall. The world still didn’t seem right without him.

His bayonet lay on my end table. I wondered idly if it knew, if it was happy now. The actual killer, the vampire, was dead but that crazed thing hadn’t been the murderer. it would have gone in and stood on its head instead, had that been Vinnie’s instruction. It didn’t care – it just wanted to please its master. Vinnie had caused Mr. J’s death.

How had I not known he was an atheist? In this crazy mix of Protestants and Catholics, how had he gone unnoticed? I knew he knew Mrs. Elmore – he’d helped Daddy dozens of times when her building’s super couldn’t build or repair something. Mr. Vole being older than Mrs. Elmore, that was most of the time. They’d built her ramps in the apartment, installed all manner of handicap equipment – I can’t believe she didn’t.

She did, of course. She is one of those people – give her five minutes and she will witness to you. For whatever reason, Mr. J didn’t listen.

That wasn’t the real problem, I began to realize as the sun peaked over the rooftops. Why didn’t she nothing. Why didn’t I? I saw that old man every day – and I never even asked him. He went to church – I assumed everything was okay. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t ant that cost Mr. J his life. In a building full of slayers, he wasn’t safe because his soul wasn’t safe.

I now have a head full of insane vampire trivia. Traditional vampires have to be invited in to any home. All vampires can be ordered out but only of Christian homes. Vampires can kill Christians but they can’t mesmerize them. Jews have very similar protections the symbols being the only real difference but no other faiths are protected. Vampires prefer atheists – they are simply the easiest prey.

What went through his mind as the life was being drained from him? When he knew he couldn’t fight and couldn’t get help, when he knew he was dying, what did he think about? Was it just fear? I kinda doubted that – it wasn’t like him. Did he cry out to God? Did he finally realize he needed God? It wasn’t in time to save his life but was it in time to save his soul? Dear God, I hope so.

He didn’t get justice – and won’t get it. But maybe, just maybe he got mercy instead. Maybe all those pies he ate with Mrs. Elmore, all the talks with Momma, all the Sundays in church – maybe all that paid off in his final minutes. I remember a sermon where the pastor said we don’t want justice, we want mercy – meaning we don’t want justice when we’re the ones in the wrong.

For all my planning, we’d been saved by the people around us – the normal folks. People who didn’t get up late at night to chase a vampire over the rooftops – people that just lived their lives like anyone else. The real heroes didn’t have fancy powers or an encyclopedia of the undead (yes, I have a copy) – the real heroes were people like Mrs. Elmore who could care about a jerk like Vinniie and all the others who stood in the way.

I got up automatically to get ready when the alarm went off. Pulling off my shirt, it dawned on me that maybe he did get the justice he’d have wanted, Mr. J, I mean. As I showered, I remembered being nine. John and I saw Petey, Mr. J’s ancient hound in the street, hit by a car. The guy stopped and got out but Petey was already dead. I remembered being so angry but then Mr. J got there. the man apologized and Mr. J shook his hand. He told us later that it was enough that the man apologized – he couldn’t stand seeing anyone hurting. He didn’t want revenge – Petey wouldn’t have wanted that, either.

Stopping Vinnie from hurting anyone else, that would have been enough for Mr. J – all he would have wanted. As I dressed, I thought about what I hadn’t done – hadn’t said. I couldn’t undo the past but I could make a better effort in the future. Maybe that was even more my duty now – slaying is a last resort. Might not happen, of course, but a world full of saved souls wouldn’t need slayers at all. And there wouldn’t be any more Mr. J’s, dying alone in pain and terror – and leaving behind friends to wonder about whether or not they’ll be seeing them again.

That last part is between Mr, J and God. As I grabbed my lunch from the fridge and a bagel to munch on the way, I had the strangest feeling that things were okay with Mr. J now. Whatever those last minutes were like, God hadn’t given up on the old man. It was not my business whatever they had decided that night, but I started to whistle as I locked the door behind me. I had real hope that everything was okay. Now, I had to get real moving because I didn’t want to be late for work.

 

True Slayers: Heroes, Part Three

At first, it was just angry rumbling. I couldn’t make out many words but the tone was plain enough. If Vinnie had had an avenue of escape, he’d have run – so would I, in the same situation. I was beginning to think Mr. Myers had lost his mind – this could not end well – it was bound to come to blows.

I heard the broken English of Mr. Ruggiero from the next block over as the murmuring started to die down. “…is no right, you come, cause much trouble. Why you do that, Boy? We make you mad?”

“No…” The voice answering had to be Vinnie’s simply because I didn’t recognize it. High and thin, not at all what I’d expected.

“Then why?” Miss Dawson asked. I hadn’t seen her in months – her daughter had a baby  a few weeks before Crystal moved in. I’d had no idea she was back.

No answer came.

“You should answer deese nice peeples.” I heard Sonya’s voice say. “You know.”

Vinnie looked around at her, probably as surprised as I was that a day slayer was present. That close, he had to know but I was too far away to sense her. I almost chuckled, knowing he had to be disconcerted from that – he was probably now more concerned with how a slayer had gotten so close without his noticing.

“We know what you’ve done, young man.” Mrs. Elmore spoke.

The murmuring died to let the elderly woman’s voice be heard.

“I don’t suppose the why is so important. Pride, power, greed, jealousy, revenge, anger – some combination, perhaps. It doesn’t matter so much – what matters is all the suffering.”

She paused. Vinnie was now looking at her, no longer concerned with Sonya.

“Not just the suffering you caused – your suffering matters too…”

Vinnie literally blinked.

“Yes, of course, it matters. But young man, are you really so foolish as to think you’re going to alleviate your suffering by making others suffer? It makes you feel powerful. It makes you feel vindicated. But it doesn’t make you feel better – not for very long, does it?”

Vinnie didn’t move, staring now at the old woman in her wheelchair.

“The pain comes back and you need something new to make it go away. A new distraction, more revenge, more money, more power, a new challenge – anything so that you don’t think about what really hurts. But in the process, you create new demons that come when you’re weak – guilt…”

“I DON’T feel guilt!” Vinnie screamed at the old woman.

“No? Shame, anguish – whatever, it comes and makes those long nights all the worse. Young man, do you think you are the only one?”

Vinnie just stared, taken completely by surprise.

“You’re not. The world is full of hurting people. Making more of them hasn’t really made you better, has it?”

“Old woman, you don’t know me!” Vinnie snapped, gaining control finally.

“I don’t need to – I know myself. I know my friends. I know my enemies – yes, even them. You’re just as human as the rest of us, young man. And you don’t have to be alone.”

“Oh, so that’s it – the God speech – save it. I don’t want your Savior.” Vinnie retorted.

“You’ve heard the Gospel then, good – and bad. It’s better for those who haven’t heard it than those who reject it. What scares you so? That God might forgive you – or that you have to forgive those who hurt you?”

Vinnie started to speak but thought better of it. Cursing out an old lady under the circumstances wasn’t wise. I was surprised he realized.

I had a pretty clear look at his face by then. I could see wheels moving behind those dark eyes. Maybe it was being cornered, maybe she just caught him off guard – maybe he could hear that she cared – I don’t know but it was getting to him. And he didn’t want to be gotten.

“What do you know, old woman?” He finally asked sarcastically.

“Much more than you want to admit right now, young man. When the time comes, find someone who will listen – a pastor, a friend if you still have any – or you can come to me. I live in 304 in the building behind me. Right now, you’re fighting yourself – then you’ll try fighting the world again. But eventually, you’ll need a friendly ear.”

“So you can preach at me?”

“So someone can help you – in more ways than just one.” She replied steadily. “But if it’s preaching you need, so be it. What you’ve been doing is wrong – you cannot use people they way you’ve been doing. Stealing, lying, manipulating – hurting – they are all wrong. Evil things in your heart, evil things in your actions and evil things you will answer for to the one Judge that can’t be ignored. But first, your own heart will condemn you – it already has, I hear it in your words.”

“You’re imagining things, old lady.” Vinnie’s voice went up a half note despite himself.

“You’re defensive, young man. And you should be – you’ve much to answer for. God loves you and will forgive you – but the consequences you will still have to deal with in the here and now. How hard you make that on yourself is up to you, but you will not be doing it here. When you’re ready to be helped, you’re welcome but while you are intent of hurting others, you are welcome nowhere.”

At that last bit, I saw real shock cross Vinnie’s face for just an instant. It had never crossed his mind that he was unwelcome – strange, considering the guy seemed to hate everyone.

“If you’re finished, Gladys,” Mr. Henderson spoke, “I believe this young man has somewhere else to be.”

Thomas Compton, an old cop that had walked the beat in this neighborhood when I was little, caught Vinnie’s arm. Another man, also a cop, got the other. Police in uniform began to close in as neighbors made way.

“I can’t get out as much as I used to but i will send you some things – and I will visit.” Mrs Elmore told Vinnie.

I don’t know if he heard her. The shock seemed to take all the fight out of him.

 

True Slayers: Heroes, Part Two

The man crossed the street to Crystal’s side of the block. His foot hit the curb and he wheeled immediately toward Chambers, making a beeline for him. My brain conceded to my gut – this was it.

Nothing else moved. Chambers pretended not to notice. As he closed the distance I had a vague sense of an approaching slayer but I couldn’t be sure if that was my senses or just what I expected. It wasn’t strong – not like it should be for an unconcealed slayer. But this guy had layer upon layer of subtly – I didn’t believe he wasn’t concealed, that wouldn’t make any sense.

I had the same vague sense of the other slayers around me and the creatures as well, although only Chambers was unconcealed. Expectation, not reality, I concluded and forgot about it. My job was at hand.

He stopped in the middle of the street. he glanced around, not particularly interested in the scenery that I could tell. It was the causal glance of habit, not the studied searching of paranoia.

No, he wasn’t that cocky – he knew we were here. Had to – it was an obvious trap, after all. So it was ego that brought him here – that and a bit of desperation, I suspected.

He stared briefly at Chambers and shook his head dismissively as if to say, no, that’s not why I’m here. Fine by me, I thought, I’d much rather you tried that. But you’re making the first move, not me.

Ten seconds became an eternity. If my senses had been heightened before, they were in the stratosphere now. Reality played out frame by frame, all in high definition. I knew he was moving before he moved. The thing I thought least likely – typical. This guy didn’t like to be predicted.

Size makes no difference to Nyota, as long as it’s a spear. She’d had dozens of them in her arsenal – the one she used now wasn’t as big as a dagger but it found its mark before his hand cleared his coat. He dropped the gun, unable to hold it with her spear in his wrist. He didn’t even spare her a look.

He glanced up toward me. He wasn’t so much challenging me as re-assessing his options. He did not fluster easily – but I’d expected that. Nyota slipped back into the shadows. Chambers just sat. We waited.

He causally pulled the blade from his arm, as if he were dealing with a kid’s bubble gum. The blood dripped slower now, the sure sign of a slayer. Not that I’d had any doubts.

I felt the change and made my own. Now it was a battle of wills – which one of us would Chambers obey. A few weeks earlier, there would have been no contest but that was his mistake. If he wanted to take me out, he should have done it when I was weak. I wasn’t weak now.

Chambers grunted, almost groaned, from the conflict taking place in his spirit. He might want to obey me, but Vinnie wasn’t going to let that happen, if he could stop it.

Time stopped. Nothing moved, nothing seemed to breathe, but the battle raged. Chambers got up but just stood, not yet able to resolve the conflicting orders. I should have wondered how that was affecting him but instinctively knew that I had only one priority or I’d lose. And I wasn’t going to lose.

I don’t know how long it went on – a lot longer than it seemed. My focus was on the battle as was Vinnie’s. I’m sure he didn’t notice, either, because he just kept fighting me. Cocky didn’t begin to describe this guy’s ego. Did he think if he beat me he could handle two freaking ancients that serve the Mistress directly? Heck, maybe the idiot did. I’ll never know, I don’t suppose.

Things were happening but neither of us were aware. It ticked me off – he was so danged strong. That didn’t make me fear losing – it made me mad and more determined. the harder we fought, the more determined I became.

That should have scared me – did much later – because this was nothing like me. Sure, I’d been in fights, won and lost them, but I was the one that cut them off before they began, mare than wanting to fight them. This wasn’t like me – in a way, it was like someone else had replaced me and I was just watching on the sidelines – but at the same time it was very much me myself in the fight. Determined, angrier than I’d ever been, steely nerves, coldly dispassionate, and not giving an inch – a warrior with a battle to win.

I didn’t know who was ahead, where the battle stood – it seemed too early to tell so that didn’t bother me. Then, something happened that demanded my attention – Chambers was moving toward the building but not at my direction.

What? How the heck had that happened?

Vinnie lost his concentration first – that was some consolation later. It gave me a chance to look at Chambers. What I saw I didn’t believe. Three of the folks from his building were pulling him inside, away from Vinnie.

Vinnie and I both started looking around the street, he was probably more shocked than I was but not by a lot. The empty street was full now – even Mrs. Elmore in her wheelchair was out. All the neighbors – everyone who lived on that block and parts of the next two, were standing in the street. People were moving, getting between Vinnie and Chambers.

The gun was gone. I had enough sense to look and saw Nyota walking back to her station with it. Good, someone had some brains – I wasn’t counting myself at the moment. At the moment, I was too busy breaking into a cold sweat. A slayer isn’t someone you trifle with and there were way too many innocents – normal people – way too close to him. That gun couldn’t be his only weapon – it was probably a show of contempt. Vinnie was dangerous and surrounded by the people I cared about.

I was halfway down the left side fire escape before I knew I’d moved. I could hear Crystal above me, to the right, also at a dead run heading down. Mertyn and Tresmayne had dropped most of their concealment – enough that Vinnie couldn’t not know they were there but without scaring the pants off everyone else. Slayers were following suit, it felt like little explosions going off as every slayer made sure Vinnie knew he had a lot more than normal humans to deal with if he started anything.

I was on the ground, and completely unwilling to trust Vinnie’s sanity when Mr. Myers caught my arm. “Wait,” he hissed, “listen to them. Don’t rush in!”

Crystal skidded to a stop beside us and we listened.

True Slayers: Heroes

It was getting late and I was beginning to wonder if this was going to work. It should – I didn’t think Vinnie had the humility to walk away from a total loss. I’d heard and read the accounts from both Thompkins and Chambers – Vinnie wasn’t the kind that could admit defeat or let go. He should show up.

Well, in truth, showing up would be stupid – if he had any brains he’d simply start over somewhere else. Yeah, he had brains but I was betting his pride would overrule them. Steep bet on a guy I’d never met but you work with what you’ve got.

Crystal was on the rooftop of the adjoining building by now. I couldn’t see her face, just the outline out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t taking my eyes off that street.

Chambers was just barely in view from where I was. Tresmayne had him covered from the top of Crystal’s building now. He’d jumped from mine – I won’t be trying that anytime soon.

The alleys were covered by various slayers. Thompkins had window duty from my apartment. If Vinnie showed, Chambers wouldn’t be in any danger. If.

If Vinnie was watching from somewhere, he had to be suspicious. Chambers had sat there forlornly for hours now – staying on the street instead of going to his apartment. Maybe Vinnie had more brains than I thought. Maybe.

Or maybe he was waiting for the neighborhood to be asleep – at least as asleep as a New York neighborhood gets. That seemed more likely and even if not, there was nothing to do now but wait.

I went deer hunting with a distant cousin when I was fourteen. It was the most boring thing I’d ever done in my life. My cousin got a small buck and was ecstatic all the way home. But for me, the excitement of the kill didn’t begin to make up for the hours of extreme boredom just waiting for the unsuspecting deer to show itself. That, and I admit I’d seen Bambi once too often with my sisters – it just wasn’t my thing.

But now I was beginning to understand what my cousin had tried to explain. Where I was bored past tears, he was on fire, every nerve and muscle at the ready, all his concentration centered on that instant when he had a good clear shot. I was feeling that now.

Hard to describe – I knew that street like the back of my hand but now I was perceiving it as if under a microscope. Every line, every crack, every tiny movement – it was as clear as a HDTV image in freeze frame. I knew it was late, knew time was passing but I didn’t feel the passage of time, other than as it related to whether or not Vinnie would show himself. I stood on that rooftop feeling like a perched hawk, watching and waiting for dinner to walk by.

Eclectic slayer – I guess that’s why I hadn’t even bothered to bring a weapon, not even a bat. Whatever came to hand would be fine – strange way to feel about the possibility of being involved in a fight with a guy who wants me dead, but there it is. That wasn’t the plan – I wasn’t expecting to need to fight – but good strategy considers all the known possibilities along with the wild cards. Yet I hadn’t brought a weapon. Either it’s an eclectic slayer thing or I’d done something stupid. I mentally put that on the long list of things to ask the Mistress about someday.

The street felt wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on why at first then I realized that despite the hour it still looked like daytime. Oh, it was dark enough, but curtains and drapes that normally closed after dark were still open. Lights that would normally be out were still on. Most lights were out – it wasn’t something a passerby would notice – but the wrong ones were still on. It was like no one had gone to bed.

Maybe they hadn’t – there had been a lot of fuss of late and especially tonight. Maybe in my hyper-aware mode I was noticing lights more than I would normally. But I didn’t think so – I knew this street and the people on it. Mrs. Kelly across the street to the left of Crystal’s building, and third floor up had never had a light on after nine pm in my living memory but there was a little lamp glowing in one of her windows.

I noticed but strangely didn’t care. I was still concentrating on Vinnie – still very much the hawk waiting for his prey. Nothing else really mattered – although I saw incredible detail, I only cared about the one detail I didn’t see – Vinnie.

Half bidden, the thought crossed my mind that Chambers, unlike Thompkins, would be feeling the cold. He hadn’t moved, hadn’t adjusted his jacket. He was like the professional actor that pretends the other guy hadn’t flubbed his lines and the set didn’t just fall on his head – he just keeps acting. Had to respect that – later. For now, it was merely noted in the back of my brain.

I sensed a vampire but that didn’t bother me. After a moment, I knew why, Mertyn had joined Tresmayne for whatever reason. He wasn’t a threat and I didn’t care until I had to.

Time kept passing. It was weird – like looking at a clock, knowing time is going on normally, but feeling like time had stopped. Like looking at the passage of time through a window – seeing it but not being part of it. I knew it was past midnight now but didn’t feel like it had been the five hours that had actually passed. Impassively, yet keenly aware, I continued to watch.

A shadow moved where it shouldn’t at the end of the next block. A passerby? Maybe. It grew closer, shapes blending from shadow to form. By the time it was ready to cross the street to our block, I had it in perfect view. A man, 6′ 2″, long coat, collar up, hat low. Nothing surprising, it was cold even if I couldn’t feel it. My brain said ‘passerby’ but my gut was screaming something else.