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.”

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…

The Dogman Chronicles: Dogboy and Rover, Part Three

Home sweet penthouse. Not the best part of town – but good enough. The place had two main attractions: it’s one of the only properties in Chicago with the land use rights still grandfathered in and it was the only seven story building in my budget.

I live at the top – appearances more than anything. Where else would a part time landlord live? I rent out apartments in floors two through six and storefronts on the first floor. Rents are reasonable for the area – not to low so I’m not constantly being asked about vacancies; not so high that I can’t look people in the eye when I walk by. I do pay for a doorman – no one wants customers accidentally wandering up into the residential part – but I also built a private elevator. There are a lot of times I don’t want to be seen.

Tonight not being one of them. I greet Jose as I enter and collect the already delivered pizza. Jose is a native of Chicago, unlike me, and is proving to be quite useful. He knows neighborhoods. He can’t tell you when the Great Fire was, but he can tell you which gang is in which neighborhood, their history, who to talk to if you want to know about a given neighborhood and where the best pizza in any five block area is. He’s studying anthropology at DePaul.  I am seriously considering offering him a contract when he graduates.

As soon as the apartment door opens, the AI turns on the lights. I close it, listening instinctively for the lock to click and continue to the kitchen as it does. I finish half the pizza as I’m wandering about. Changing clothes, tossing in laundry, finding the cable I’ve been looking for the past week, starting the dishwasher I’ve left stuffed for three days, just the usual day to day things that a guy has to do.

Poking the remaining pizza into the fridge for tomorrow’s breakfast, I ask Rover for tomorrow’s schedule, any new email and to post something on FB so my friends think I’m still alive. It’s seven pm when I crawl into bed to finish making up for all the sleep I didn’t get.

I was up again at nine – this time feeling like it. A short ride in the private elevator took me to the part of the building that only the guys that dug it in the 1880’s knew about – two additional stories worth of basement. The original deeds show it, of course – that’s how I found it two decades ago. The old documents may someday go online – but not under our current cheapskate administration. Most kids today couldn’t pull the paper if their lives depended on it – my secret basement is public record, yet probably more secure than it was when I pulled the deeds back then.

It’s an object lesson in why you get title searches before buying property. The building, originally four stories above grade, was sold in 1898 and again in 1899. One of the three levels of basement was not recorded in the 1898 transfer. A second level was also left out of the 1899 transfer. Since 1899, the deeds have all shown only one level below ground – it wasn’t corrected in 1956 when the final three stories were added although I presume the contractor knew about it as several additional supports were driven down to the bedrock at that time.

Real estate law is interesting. I learned about it when I was researching for the kind of building I would need – and if I’d done that five years sooner, my degree would be in real estate law instead of criminal justice. Probably just as well – I had to take a lot of community classes in construction in order to finish the space myself and law school wouldn’t have allowed for that. Although, I do not miss having to cart bags of concrete down here one at a time.

Which is why I look at the wall I’ve been meaning to tear out and pretend not to notice that I haven’t started yet. I really do need to rebuild it to have additional room for the new air filtration system I want. Thus far, I’ve gotten out the sledge. I haven’t broken the first brick, let alone the concrete floor.

And I won’t tonight, either. Rover hits the lights as I enter the computer center. I’m mostly self taught as a programmer and hacker – and frankly prefer to hire out most of those tasks. But there are some that if I want my privacy, I have to do.

“Rover, pull up DB-179.” I tell the AI as I sit down.

“Roger-wilco. There is a new file. Shall I open it?”

“Yes, please.” I watch the screen as it pulls up. Max came through. No surprise there.

I start tapping away. The question is how Max did his magic – but having seen the case files I already have a pretty good idea. Sure enough, I find just what I expect. It’s easy since Max already did the hard part.

Now to go a lot deeper. I counted twenty five girls on that woman’s tablet last night. The one I wanted just happened to be fifteen minutes away and the others all gone? Heck no, not buying that. Max had already found the second safe house – this one fairly close. Smart – it’s a precaution against a raid – have an emergency safe house nearby. Did something tip them off? Certainly – I don’t believe in coincidence.

It takes me an hour but I find the shared file the madame was using. It’s empty – but she’s only deleted files. Ten minutes later, I’m anonymously forwarding the entire file, fully restored, along with all the juicy identifying tidbits to the police tip line. Our last commissioner had the brains to create an online tip line. If he hadn’t retired I’d have voted for him again.

Anyway, that work’s done. The cops now have everything they need to nail these cretins. The more important job comes next – finding the real safe house.

It’s after midnight when I finish that part. Now the fun part. Ten years ago, I’d have had to go myself. Now, meters are all really ‘smart’ – which also makes them really dumb.

Fun fact – you can’t refuse entry to utility workers in an emergency.  Hacking the meter is child’s play even for me – and I’m not a great hacker, I must admit. The gas company is now getting what I want them to get. Rover looks up the specs so we send them the ‘right’ wrong information. Boiling a frog now – can’t go too fast or the gas company will be calling for the cops before the girls are all brought home for the night. Too slow and Bartley will be on duty.  Besides, leaks are usually a bit more gradual.

It takes a bit of fiddling, but the gas meter is now reporting increased usage. That will rise exponentially in the next few hours. By daybreak, the gas company’s warning systems will be howling.

Ah yes, and the last piece of the puzzle. Hacking the gas company side, I set up a quick program to change the location phone number – and to change it back tomorrow. No early warning for the scumbag parade – and only if someone really cares is the hack going to show up. This is why I love Rover – he keeps track of the niceties that I’m likely to forget at 2:15 am. Rover runs down the job checklist for me one final time. Good thing – I forgot to set up the automatic tip to the media.

Everything done, tracks covered as reasonably as possible, now it’s up to the cops. With media on hand, the raid should go smoothly. Bartley will know, of course, but he won’t care. The lovely thing about criminals covering their tracks is that you can use it against them. They can’t holler about their civil rights when the cops legitimately could not have known they were raiding the same group. I don’t believe in coincidence, but the public does. At least, in this case, they will willingly suspend disbelief – it doesn’t pay to be scumbags when the media focuses on you.

It’s three am again as I tuck myself in. A few years ago, I’d have stayed up to baby sit the operation until the cops had done their part. But I’ve grown older and wiser – I look somewhat less suspicious when I don’t look like a walking zombie. I need my sleep.

A minute later, I have it.

The Dogman Chronicles: Dogboy and Rover, Part Two

I eventually braved my outer office and my secretary. Signs were good – she didn’t throw anything. I did not ask why she had been so angry – I was still in favor of avoiding the throwing things part. I did get a few routine matters cleared up, assigned the new caseload to the various managers and answered all correspondence. Then, bidding Sonia good night, I departed.

My company, my rules – so why do I tolerate a secretary that can be that irascible? Simple – try finding a real secretary nowadays. Sonia can take dictation, knows shorthand, spells better than my computer, and could manage the place for a month without me. Other than my signature and occasional input, she doesn’t need me – which is not true the other way around.

Besides, she only really throws notebooks and paperclips and then only at John because he deliberately riles her. For my staff, she’s a second mother. Woe be unto anyone foolhardy enough to mess with her kids – biological, adopted or honorary. If I believed in reincarnation, I’d guess she’d been a bulldog in several former lives.

If she ever does start throwing staplers, we’ll just get rid of them all – Sonia was my second secretary and this business wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without her. It’ll probably go under a few years after she retires. Which reminds me, I need to call her eldest son and make sure he’s on hand when she sees her real retirement package. I don’t cheat anyone – I sure as heck won’t cheat her – so she’s not taking the standard option package she selected when we put these things together. She’s taking the premium I paid for – I just need her son there to keep her from killing me when I tell her. I’ll figure out how to tell her about the 401k sometime later this year, before the new tax rules. I make a note of it and file for future, I hope distant future, reference.

I get the car from the underground parking lot. ’77 Trans Am Firebird, fully rebuilt, black with the firebird in gold – yes, I own every Burt Reynolds movie ever made. Bandit was the first movie I remember ever seeing in a theater and the first time I ever thought superheroes might be real. It was a dingy dollar theater, the movie was fifteen years old then and my foster sister treated me to popcorn. The Bandit is one of my few good childhood memories; the car is a reminder that the past isn’t all bad.

“Rover.”

“10-4, Good Buddy?”

“Order pizza,” I tell the AI, “The usual. Also, reschedule tomorrow’s training at the gym for Friday.”

“Roger, wilco. Over and out”

Yeah, I’m stuck in a decade that ended before I was born. At least I didn’t name it KITT.

 

The Dogman Chronicles: Chapter One: Dogboy and Rover

Before I could drift off again, someone started pounding on the door. I didn’t bother to get up or to ask. “GET IN HERE ALREADY, BARTLEY!” I roared, immediately regretting it.

As the door opened, Sonia was in full roar letting the young lieutenant have it with both barrels. The combination of Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, English and a smattering of fluent cursing in all four would have probably intimidated anyone else. John Bartley just smiled politely, looked appropriately chagrined and backed into my office. He knew better than turn away from her while office supplies were at hand and she was that mad. Ironically, he’s the only one that needs to know better.

Little sleep and more alcohol than I like did not go well with yelling, at least not as far as my now aching head was concerned. I glared at him as I got up to go to the minibar.

“Please tell me you just forgot to ask something and how to use the phone.” I growled as I fished out the aspirin from the bottle.

“Sure, would that make you feel any better?” he asked like the bright eyed smart alec he is. John Bartley was born in the wrong decade. Square jawed, good looking, all American poster boy of a bygone era, he’d fit perfectly into any movie from the Forties or Fifties. His lifestyle fit as well – cop with wife and 2.5 kiddies at home.

“Probably not.” I admitted, downing the aspirin and OJ chaser. “So, what do you need? I gave up everything I could last night…”

John watched me rinse out the glass. He’s not the nervous sort but he wasn’t happy to be asking for favors. “Well, we ran down the addresses you gave us but they’d already been cleaned out.”

“How’s that? What tipped them off?”

“Nothing. The kid you caught said they were already moving out – had been a couple days. Your girl was the last one – just happenstance you got there when you did.”

“You believe that?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

He shrugged, “About half, maybe. I think they were already moving – we found a few witnesses that back that part up at least. You said fifteen minutes, right?”

I nodded, leaning on the cabinet, “About that, yeah.”

“Then either she was last or…”

“They hadn’t moved far.” I finished the thought. “And you have no complaint, and no warrant, right?”

“I got hundreds of complaints, just none I can tie to this.” Bartley snapped. “Anyway,” his tone softened, “we were wondering…”

“If we just might have an extra tidbit in reserve? Sorry, no. And I don’t do pro bono, you know that.” I finished my OJ and headed for the desk. “Got nothing for you. Someday you’re gonna have to start working for a living.”

He just watched as I slid behind my desk, and listened as I berated him for police incompetency,  being a mooch and having bad taste in baseball teams. I dialed a familiar number, and added a glare at Bartley for effect.

Someone picked up. “Hey, Max, it’s me. Sonia give you the news?… Good, good. … Say listen, there’s a dumb jerk cop in my office that wants to track down the rest of those kids but has his thumbs all tied in the Constitution so I thought I’d warn you not to get bored and try finding the new place then accidentally dump the address in that private shared file thing. The cops might find it and that would be bad for the Constitution and stuff.”

Max grunted on the other end something about young people having no respect for elders and for me to get off his lawn, then hung up.

“He says get off his lawn.” I told Bartley.

“I’d have to buy him one first.” Bartley replied.

He was turning to go when Sonia buzzed me. He eyed the door a bit more cautiously – staplers hurt when hurled by irrational secretaries. I picked up, listened. Listened some more. Listened a lot more. Both of us sat down and I kept listening.

After what seemed an hour, Sonia finally made enough sense for me to get the gist of it. I finally dared to speak, “You know, you could ask him….”

I didn’t chance that again. Five more minutes of listening and I meekly promised to do as requested. Some battles you can’t win – and some you shouldn’t try.

“You may want to use the elevator in the office.” I told him. “Friday, I wanna know what the heck you did. Anyway, she wants to know when Melinda is due.”

“End of next month.” He grinned, “The twenty-eighth is when they plan to induce if the munchkin doesn’t come sooner. We’re gonna call her Emily Sonia – I swear, it’s Melinda’s grandmother’s name.”

“You told her?” I asked incredulously.

“Sure, when we thanked her for the diaper subscription. I can’t decide if she’s happy or not. About that anyway – obviously not happy now.” Bartley explained.

“Okay, fine.” I texted the date to my irate secretary, “It’s on her calendar…” A reply came. “You need a sitter for the boys?”

“My sister is supposed to come – would she mind being backup?”

I texted, she replied, I relayed and he left through the private elevator. Not the most insane day I’ve ever had at the office, unfortunately. I went back to my desk and dutifully checked my email. I didn’t want Sonia any madder than she already was and I really didn’t want to think about what the heck a ‘diaper subscription’ might be.

 

The Dogman Chronicles: Prologue, Part Three

I’m awake at six. I don’t want to be but years of habit do not end because you are severely sleep deprived. Morning calisthenics out of the way, I trot down to the hotel gym and get some sweating in.

Breakfast is ordered and waiting for me when I get back to the room. Morning necessities are completed, bags packed and a sizable tip left for the young lady who made sure I had extra marmalade which puts me on the pavement by nine. A quick side trip to dispose of the rental and a quick taxi ride to pick up my own ride put me only slightly behind. I walk across the threshold of Hund Investigations Incorporated at 10:04.

I take the private elevator up. Three hours sleep is not enough to make me suitable company for any human that wants more than a hello. I’ll need a lot more coffee for that. I’m not surprised to find my coffee waiting for me on my desk alongside the paper copy of the report I submitted last night. Computers will never replace a really good secretary.

I scan the report for the corrections and initial each as I okay them. Sonia was born in Russia and grew up in Israel, She didn’t learn English until she immigrated here in her thirties yet she’s better than my tablet’s spell check. I sign off on the report and toss it in the outbox.

Nothing in email or the inbox needs immediate response. I finish my coffee, wander over to the couch and catch up on the rest of my sleep. It’s good to be the boss sometimes.

I wake up vaguely pondering for the millionth time why exactly Sonia is so danged convinced that I need to still do field work? I used to think she just didn’t understand the changes as the business grew but she can direct managers better than I can so that’s out. Then I thought she just wanted me to keep my hand in as a way to stay sharp but she doesn’t care what I work as long as it’s a case and I leave the office at least once. Dog finding cases satisfy her so that can’t be ir, either. I began to suspect she wanted me out of the office and out of her hair, but there is no pattern to it other than me bringing in direct revenue at least weekly and she can take any day off she likes and knows it. So that makes no sense/

Lately, in the back of my mind, it’s begun to worry me. There’s one other possibility – the one that scares me, There;’s only one thing in my life she isn’t supposed to know. Is that it? Has she found out somehow and wants to either keep me sharp or keep me too busy to engage in my extracurricular activity? I don’t see how. That seems too fantastic/

Yet its the first thing on my mind as I wake up. I’m used to trusting my instincts but I don’t want to this time. That’s not a part of my life to be shared. It’s the part that keeps me going, keeps me sane, but it’s no where I want other people to be, especially not the ones that mean anything to me. That dark place in my soul has no room for – let’s just say, no one else should ever go there. These journals I keep are enough. No one needs to know the monster I really am.

The Dogman Chronicles, Prologue, Part Two

Runaways are easy to find. In the old days, you had to figure out how they got out of town – if they did – and from that where they went. Now, you just need the parent’s permission and a well paid hacker gets you everything they ever posted online – along with all the accounts their parents don’t know about. More often than not, there’s an address. Kids either want to be found or they are stupid – either works for me.

My well paid hacker is a sixty-five year old retired programmer who does endangered kids work  pro bono – or stupid runaways for a reduced fee. The only development in the files Sonia had sent was that Max had returned the fee – Miss Allen was moving down in the world from ‘stupid’ to ‘endangered’.  I skimmed the updates to find out why.

In the old days, a gumshoe didn’t really need to be told why – he knew. Fact is, I already knew, but thoroughness is a good way to do business. Nothing in the files that would alter my intended approach – I’d had a bad feeling about this one. Sonia says I have bad feelings about all of them – maybe so. Once in a while, it would be nice to be wrong.

I drove to where I planned to leave the car. Getting out, I started in the direction opposite of the intended destination. Streets have eyes, both human and electronic. No sense giving anyone a head’s up.

I bought drinks at a couple bars and schmoozed with girls too young to be doing this but too old to be illegal. I watered a few floors and even a waitress, making sure to have something on my breath and a quick dab in my eyes. No one believes a white eyed drunk, after all.

Took a lot longer than I liked – but no longer than I expected. A bartender scouted me out. A woman more than old enough to know better made the approach. Was I perhaps interested in something say a little younger? Sure, I might be. The kind of conversation that takes up two pages of dialogue in old mystery novels – all that’s changed is the slang and the price structure.

We negotiated. We settled on a price. She pulled out a tablet and we perused the available listings in a private booth. I took my time, wavered a bit between several similar looking babies and finally selected the one I wanted. I was given a hotel key for the agreed ten percent down. I paid and bid the madame a good night.

Walking the block to the hotel, I fiddled in my pockets like a nervous school boy.  I’d seen eyes on me coming out which didn’t matter. I’d expected as much and hadn’t planned on using text anyway. Old school sometimes rules.

I let myself in, went to the minibar and poured a drink. Grabbed a Coke as well – might as well keep up appearances. I made a point to keep pushing back the curtains – a habit new clients often have while they wait. No point, I knew – they wanted the cash and wouldn’t have gone so far if they weren’t intending to complete the transaction. Now, that didn’t rule out larcenous and murderous sidelines but those tend to be self limiting. People who have multiple layers of security tend to be more business like.

Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock. Opening the door revealed a twenty something with greasy hair and dead eyes escorting my purchase. He shoved her into the room without a word and closed the door.  He met my eyes only for a split second – he was carrying and knew I was. No trouble, please – too much hassle. I let him think there wouldn’t be any.

She looked stoned, which she no doubt was. She started shedding clothes but I told her I liked a little more lead up – she picked up her jacket and put it back on. Junior was no doubt listening in and probably bored. I made it worse. Sat her down, gave her the Coke, started rambling about my non-existent wife and kiddies. I swear I heard a disgusted sigh on the other side of the door.

Talkers are a thing – they just want to talk to a girl and will pay for the privilege – then roll in the hay as a bonus. I’d paid for two hours – a pretty good indicator I either wanted an ear or I was going to damage the merchandise. The price was high enough to cover either eventuality.

My pager finally vibrated – I silently wished that had happened before I gave poor little Marilyn the flu twice in one month. The girl just nodded absently as if she heard when she really hadn’t. My hypothetical kids could have all had cancer and been knife jugglers – she wouldn’t have cared. I doubted Junior cared, either, but he might be sharper than he looked.

She was still sipping her Coke. I got up and went to the door. I cracked it to ask about altering the arrangement for another 30 minutes. Junior said he’d check and started texting. He got an answer, told me, I agreed and he put the phone away.

Idiot. I tossed open the door and tossed Junior face first into the wall. The plain clothes cop that had been pretending to searching for his room grabbed the kid and finished the job. Cops were everywhere – Lt. Bartley had come through.

Miss Allen was still sipping her Coke, too drugged out to know where she was or what had just happened. I told her who I was and that she was safe. She just finished the Coke.

Two am, reports finished, interviews done, runaway safely in hospital waiting for Mom and Dad, I crawled back into my flophouse home, retrieved my property and checked out to go to a real hotel. By three, I had scrubbed my skin raw, gotten into PJ’s and was throwing myself at the bed. I didn’t want the particulars of what the kid had been through. I didn’t want to know if she could even remember. I knew enough to know I knew too much.

Then it was finally dark.

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.