True Slayers: Reckoning, Part One

The morning was still and cold and I didn’t like it. Neither Samantha nor Finley had called out to me and standing on the rooftop of my own building, I couldn’t see anything wrong. But I still had an ominous feeling and I did not like the looks of things.

It was still very early. A few people were on the street. New York doesn’t seem to ever have empty streets. Ladies from the building down the street were walking to the bus stop, wearing jackets in the unseasonable cold. A man who sold hot dogs was getting his cart out, getting ready to push it to his corner, some twenty blocks away as he had for the last ten years, so Jack’s mother had mentioned once.  Mrs. Schmidt was getting her paper from the stoop of Jack’s building, along with the four others. She was the building paper distributor, and had been since moving in.

The occasional car passed. A stranger would walk the block and continue on. More people began to come out, peeking out the doors and diving back in for coats they wouldn’t ordinarily need this time of year. Nothing amiss, all perfectly ordinary for a New York morning, but it felt wrong.

Slayers live a lot by their instincts. Unlike Jack, I’m not smart, at least not the right kind of smart – I don’t think strategically. Teri can beat me at chess and she can’t beat anyone else. I couldn’t say what was wrong – couldn’t see anything that was out of the ordinary – but my instincts were screaming at me and I knew better than ignore them.  So I stood on the rooftop, glad I’d grabbed my coat instead of my jacket, and held Grace’s pommel in my hand, watching New York stirring from its slumber.

Night creatures are what I slay, but even night creatures can be active in the daytime. Slayers can be active any time. This Vinnie guy was supposedly a slayer, a black slayer. I’d never met one before, a slayer who kills not to protect but to harm. I’d read about them, heard about them, had a few nightmares about them, but never actually seen one. I’d never wanted to until five days ago.

Oh, I wanted to put a stop to all the attacks. I hadn’t forgotten that I hadn’t been here when a man died – or that another man nearly lost his life with Jack there. But the slayer behind it didn’t seem real to me. Maybe because we were guessing so much of the time, not knowing why this was all happening. Maybe because I wondered if it wasn’t the Hunt Master himself, behind all this. Or maybe because I just don’t have the knack for thinking strategically. Whatever the reason, he hadn’t seemed real – now, he was very real to me.

Finley had scared the crap out of me that morning – his booming voice felt like he was in the room instead of across the street, secreted in an attic. When I tell people what a sword said, I’m translating, a lot. They don’t talk like people – even when they use words, it’s a montage and not always in correct order. Finley was showing me what Arnie had shown him – a cat and a tube and a window and Jack in bed and the cat again. It took me a couple minutes to work out what Finley was telling me. Thank God Jack picked up the phone – it took me so long to work it out, I was afraid he’d already be…

But he wasn’t. He was fine – didn’t feel it, he told me later – well enough to catch the werecat responsible. Well enough to make adjustments to his plans and work out the details faster than I could even start to figure out. He lived; he was okay. My first official boyfriend and I almost lost him because I was slow figuring out what a sword meant.

More to the point, I almost lost him to some unseen schemer that evidently didn’t care about us, only about distracting the Mistress. I was mad at myself for being so slow – not being smart in the right way. But I was far angrier with the black slayer who tried to kill my friend and had reeked so much havoc on his friends and family.

I’m not smart. But I do have experience and I know when to listen to my instincts. Something wasn’t right. Grace chafed a bit, flustered by the lack of activity. I shushed her, concentrating on the feel of the street, the people, the atmosphere. It was edgy – like people expecting something to happen. Was that just me, projecting my own nervousness? No, it didn’t feel like that at all. Something in the chill morning air was not what it should be.

Gwen, still sheathed at my hip, stirred. I felt it too. Samantha was stirring now, something unsettling her and she was letting us know.

I’d put Samantha on the first floor initially but had moved her to the basement after the incident. She was showing me now a man, fiddling with the furnace. She didn’t mind that – she knew the man, had seen Mr. Scarlotti when he had helped me place her in the hallway ceiling. Something else bothered her – something she couldn’t see and wasn’t close to. Something – outside?

I moved to the corner of the roof top to look at the corner where Jack’s apartment was. I could see into the alleyway but didn’t see anyone or anything at first. My eye traveled up the side of the adjacent building. Halfway up, what was that? Tiny and dark – Ayami, maybe? No, cats can sit in windows but this was hanging off the wall.

Finley was further away, still in the attic, but I called to him. Did he feel it, too? Yes, there was a presence, not a slayer and not a creature, either. It didn’t worry Finley – it was just a familiar and those were no threat.

Swords can be a wealth of information – but they are dumb. Finley was on the look out for threats as I’d asked – it was my fault for not telling him to let me know about anything out of the ordinary. I sighed. I should have asked Jack how to phrase that request. He was going to think I was such an idiot.

I had him on the phone in seconds. I could still see the familiar, it hadn’t moved. I told him where it was. What did he want me to do about it? Nothing, he said – it was working for us whether it knew it or not. Cryptic to me, but the way he said it made me think this was not unexpected and not unwelcome, either.

The sun was getting higher now. More people milling about, more coming out, more going up and down the street. The familiar moved to a window sill where it could better hide from the human throng. I got a pretty decent look – a weasel, looked like. Yep, exactly the kind of familiar I’d expect from a rat.

But it’s extremely rare for slayers to have familiars. Witches have them, only rarely slayers. I felt sure Jack knew that but I texted him just the same. He came back telling me it was a good point. A few minutes later, he texted again asking about its movements. None, I told him in text.

As the sunlight hit the alley, the familiar had had enough. In a flash, it was gone and with it the unsettled feeling I’d had all morning. I texted Jack and sheathed Grace. She snorted a bit, still miffed we hadn’t killed anything. For once, I kind of agreed. I didn’t like letting that thing snoop around my neighborhood and my friends. But I’m not the strategist and I wasn’t going to mess up his work with my stupidity.

The street was getting busy now. Morning had officially come and with it, the start of the new day. I turned to go in, having my own day to start as well. I had a feeling I hadn’t seen the last of that little weasel. Gwen was thirsty now for weasel blood. I wasn’t inclined to disappoint her forever.

True Slayers: The Right Track, Part Nineteen

The outcome was she beat my socks off. Scrabble tip: anatomy terms are really good for triple word scores and using up letters like X and Z. We’re playing Clue next time – she still doesn’t get that game. I might stand a chance.

It was getting late and I had to be back in bed. Thompkins nodded as I entered but was still glued to his computers. I made a mental note that I’d be installing those burglar bars if he ever wanted them and went into my bedroom.

Visitors came and went. Marta stopped by for the shop – she wanted a play by play of my recovery so far. Fortunately, Momma had come with her and provided all the non-existent details. In the process, she told not a single lie. She recounted everything that had been done for me – all true if unnecessary – and her very real and equally unnecessary discussions with a rehabilitation center in Meridian Mississippi that the new neighbor Mrs. Abernathy had spoken highly of – and went on to discuss Mrs Abernathy’s career as a nurse. Marta left just as in the dark as before but completely satisfied. My mother missed her calling – she should have been a politician.

A few more folks, mostly neighbors not living in the building, dropped by. Nothing I couldn’t handle myself although Momma stayed through a couple more. I still didn’t like this and still felt like a heel for doing it.

Poppa came to relieve Momma on the last two. When Mrs. Jameson from the next block over left, Poppa pulled out the cribbage board. We played a few games, mostly to stay busy in case of more visits. We ended up in a tie, rare for us.

“Jack, what’s eating you, Son?” Poppa asked after I made a particularly boneheaded move.

“Nothing, Poppa, just been cooped up too long.” I replied, more concerned about how to save my game from my stupidity.

“Hmm, you were looking kind of funny at that Jameson woman.”

“Was I?” I still wasn’t paying attention to what Poppa was saying because I had realized my cribbage game was now in a hopeless mess.

“When I told her you might go to Mississippi, you looked like you ate a frog. Now, me, I wouldn’t mind a trip down South. See one of them big houses and try some fishing, maybe.”

“Fishing?” I looked up confused.

“Michael says there are some pretty good places, especially for bass and catfish. They don’t do so much fly fishing as boat fishing which suits me – my right hip doesn’t feel right for a day or two after being in the river nowadays.”

“I didn’t even realize you’d met Mr Abernathy.” I told Poppa.

“Oh sure, he came by a few days after they moved in. Paid his respects, sounded me out about some boy interested in his girl.” Poppa winked.

I laughed, “Okay, that I believe.” I grew more pensive, “But Poppa, you know I’m not going down there.”

“Not right now, but maybe later. Things go well, you should go meet the girl’s friends and family. Not rushing, mind you, but she’s a good girl and if you’re lucky, maybe she’s the one. And a few grandkids wouldn’t hurt – maybe a boy that likes racing.”

“You sly – Tina is still in Middle School! What do you need grandkids for?”

“A man can want what he doesn’t need. Besides, I was thinking about that year you kids did the derby. I have an idea…”

“Well, you don’t need to wait for grandkids.” I chuckled as I explained about Jo-jo.

Cribbage done, Poppa settled back in the chair, “I still want to know what’s up with you, Son.”

Poppa doesn’t do this often but when he does its like talking to a clairvoyant. There’s also no fighting it.

I sighed, “Poppa, it – it doesn’t feel right, letting people think I’m sick.”

Poppa looked out the window, “How… how close did you come, Son?”

I paused. I didn’t want to talk about this any more but I knew I wasn’t going to get out of it. “Pretty close, Poppa.” I admitted. “I wasn’t so sick when I got up but if I’d gone back to bed like I planned, I probably wouldn’t have woken up.”

He nodded, “This plan of yours, you think you can get that thing that killed Daniel?”

I nodded solemnly, “Yeah, I do. I could be wrong but I don’t think so and if I’m right, he should play straight into our hands.”

“So, you’re feeling bad about letting people think you are worse off than you are which you are doing to get the thing that killed Daniel and stop the … man … that keeps trying to hurt you, your friends and your family.”

Technically, that summed it up pretty well but I wasn’t quite ready to agree with where he was going, “Well, yes, but Poppa…”

“Boy…” Okay, now, I knew to shut up. Poppa only called me boy when he was deadly serious – or about to wear out my backside.

“Do you really think all your friends and family are stupid?”

“Um, what?” I thought I knew where he was going but I couldn’t recall Poppa ever even using the word ‘stupid’ let alone asking that question before.

“Lying – which you haven’t done yet – to protect others isn’t wrong. No one is dumb enough to be mad at someone for telling them something that keeps them safe or helps them get safe even if it isn’t true. As long as there’s good cause – and nearly losing your life is pretty ________  good cause in my book – and will be in everyone else’s when the time comes.”

I didn’t say a word. I couldn’t. In a minute or so, it would sink in that he was right. But that was the first time in twelve years that I’d heard Poppa curse.

I finally managed to mumble something in agreement. Poppa stood up and told me good night. As I watched him leave, it hit me – he’d lost his best friend, had his little girl try to leave and nearly lost a son. Vinnie’s little campaign of misdirection had cost my father dearly. It had cost all of us much too dearly.

I stopped feeling like a heel for doing what needed to be done. I started thinking a lot more clearly than I had in a while. Vinnie had hurt everyone I care about, either directly or indirectly. He had used people that had enough pain in their lives like little Ayami. Crystal had been wounded. Little Grace Myers was still nearly inconsolable for the loss of her precious kitties. That __________ Vinnie was one hundred percent rat and he had to be stopped. It was past time that he got more than a little of the pain he had been dealing out.

It was time to let the rat take a bite of poisoned cheese.

 

True Slayers: The Right Track, Part Seven

Being one of two early risers in a house of night owls, Jack didn’t get many early morning calls. Almost none, since his mother, the other morning person, was usually busy with breakfast by now. The only way to find out was open it. Jack sighed as he slipped off the chair and went to the door.

The intruder was Tresmayne. He had news for Thompkins about the kidnapping – Tresmayne having watched Thompkins at work from the shadows. Tresmayne had made a much more thorough search of the area after everyone had left. What he found, he relayed to the faodahl. Tomorrow, they would hunt together to make sure there were no others involved.

Jack had only listened to the highlights – he had no reason to think this was related and every reason to think it wasn’t. The crime scene was nearly a mile away. Tresmayne’s inhuman nose found evidence that it had been used previously, five times over the last two years. Thompkins had been the only one called out – it was nothing a slayer would detect – and he hadn’t been interfered with. No vampires had jumped out at him or any such nonsense. Tresmayne had been there so there was no doubt. Finally, Thompkins knew his job better than Jack did – and Jack wasn’t going to cause problems for something so important. It was best to leave this to him.

No, this sad bit of weirdness wasn’t part of Jack’s concern – and he had the feeling that the less he knew right now, the better. A big brother has certain feelings about kids younger than himself – and what to do to those who would harm them. Jack went to the shower, for more than one reason.

It was reassuring, in a strange way, Jack realized as he turned up the hot water a notch. With all the craziness it was easy to lose sight of the fact that slayers have a job to do – and a reason to do it. Creatures like the faodahl would be easy prey for their more powerful were-cousins, and would quickly be overwhelmed in a world were there were no slayers to dispatch the creatures that refused to stay inside the lines. Sometimes, just sometimes, humans needed a little help here and there – slayers helped to make it possible for that to happen, as it had last night.

Heart officially warmed and properly attired, Jack let himself out. He whistled to himself as he headed for the bus stop, wondering if he ever wrote a book, would anyone believe he’d left two werewolves in his apartment this morning?

Crystal also woke earlier than usual. She glanced out the window – no one she knew was yet on the street. Thanks to the possession, she’d sensed Thompkins leaving last night and had seen the shadow that was Tresmayne following. She might have wondered about it, had her radio station not interrupted for an amber alert earlier. Having a faodahl around was a good thing, she decided.

Mississippi being in Central time, Crystal couldn’t yet call even the earliest rising of her friends. Four am was too early even for Teri, Crystal realized a split second before hitting the speed dial. She settled for grabbing her computer and starting on the zillions of emails she owed various friends and acquaintances. She finally had time to catch up with everyone – assuming she could manage in the two weeks before fall semester started.

The day went slowly. For Jack, it was to be expected. The summer almost over, people were bringing in odd jobs that were parts of their as yet undone summer projects. Today, the project was offsite – a wrought iron fence in need of repair that was too big to bring into the shop. Jack and Gino spent the day going up and down ladders as they welded the repaired finials back onto the main posts – all sixty of them. The finials weighed nearly ten pounds each – both men were sore before lunch.

For Crystal, once email and a few calls had been dealt with, there just wasn’t as much to do. She’d decide on her classes later this week, although she was pretty sure she’d be taking the Metal in Art class. She wanted to meet that instructor beforehand – and find out just how heavy this stuff was going to be. But that appointment was two days away. She and Kagome were talking about taking Trigonometry and English 102 together – Kagome was a math wiz and Crystal was pretty good at tutoring in English – so the team up made sense. Not yet sure of her major, Crystal wasn’t sure she needed trig – but who needed Intro to Logic, for that matter? And she, Monica and Jessica were considering taking Intro to Track and Field together. The result was Crystal had nothing more to do than decide – which left her nothing to really do today. Boring!

Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, Jack would tease her later. But it occurred to Crystal that they had not sorted out who was and was not a slayer and that it might be a good idea to find out. Granted, most were in a sanctuary because they were retiring and beginning to lose their powers, but Jack’s mom had already demonstrated, they could still know things and help in ways no one might think of. And, it would give her something to do…

Jack was under a tree, fiddling with his thermos and trying to pretend this was cooler than the fence line. Cool green grass nothing – everything was hot now. He and Gino were not at all sure they’d be able to finish today – the black iron was getting much too hot for handling even before the torches were lit. Having to handle everything with gloves slowed them down – and the extra heat complicated the welding somewhat. Jack had just convinced his thermos to open when his phone rang.

Closing the thermos and assuring it silently that the battle was not done, Jack fished the phone out of his pocket and answered. It was a marketer. Jack politely convinced the young man on the other end that no, he didn’t want a time share in Cancun and no, he wasn’t interested in whatever special was being offered. he had just hung up when it rang again.

“No, I don’t need a trip anywhere.” Jack informed the phone rather more forcefully than necessary.

“I thought I told you to get registered on the Do Not Call list.” Crystal replied.

Embarrassment and apologies followed, although Crystal seemed to be having much too much fun with the thing.

True Slayers: The Right Track, Part Five

The next night was the Abernathy’s turn to host. Tresmayne came along after much cajoling from Crystal. Nyota and Jack were expected – and since Jack’s original plan of staying in Crystal’s parent’s good graces most certainly had not changed, he was presentable and on time. Thompkins was excused to be with the Scarlotti’s – one Scarlotti in particular.

Crystal had already brought her parents up to speed. Polite company does not discuss the happenings in the neighbor’s home, conversation was directed at other topics. Mrs Abernathy and Tresmayne fell to discussing their various travels in Europe, he being more widely traveled than what she had done in her youth. Mr. Abernathy and Jack were discussing the SEC. Crystal and Nyota settled for switching back and forth between the two – with intermissions as Crystal attempted to explain American football and just what a first down was.

Jack bailed her out when Crystal got bogged down in why a first down was better than a fourth down. Once he went back to discussing the upcoming SEC championships – more than seven months away – Crystal and Nyota decided to stick to the safer option of listening to a conversation about a continent neither had ever set foot on.

Dinner out of the way and the youth busily attending to the table, the adults adjourned to the parlor. A few minutes passed, mostly with Jack telling bad jokes to Crystal as he washed and she dried, when Mr Abernathy called them into the parlor.

“Jack, your light is on – didn’t know if you knew.” Mr Abernathy informed him.

Jack shrugged, “I sort of have a roommate now – I imagine that’s him. Or one of my brothers borrowing my couch. Or one of my sisters borrowing my bathroom. Or my mother putting my lunch in my fridge. Or maybe my father using my table to assemble something – his workbench is getting a bit full.”

“Sounds like you get a lot of privacy.” Mr Abernathy winked.

Jack chuckled, “It’s an improvement over living at home – at least I usually don’t have four other guys in the room trying to out-snore each other.”

“Your brothers all snore? At their age?” Mrs. Abernathy, retired nurse, asked.

Jack shook his head, “No, they just like to pretend – and then it becomes a contest – and then it becomes a fight – and then we all get out tails worn out and go to bed.”

Everyone chuckled at the joke, except Jack, who smiled even though he was serious, and Tresmayne, who rarely chuckled. He did smile a bit, though.

By the time Crystal and Jack had finished the dishes and returned, Jack’s living room light was out again. It could be seen only because the curtains were open, which was unusual but Mrs Abernathy explained that the mechanism was jammed and she was going to replace the rods anyway this weekend. That probably explained why the Abernathy’s hadn’t ever noticed the frequent goings on in his apartment, Jack surmised to himself. Jack noticed his living room light going on again – and off – and on – several more times. That didn’t bother him in the least – he had always known his family considered his apartment an extension of theirs.

When he saw a shadow jumping up and down, that did make him wonder a bit. But curiosity never got the better of him. Once the light stayed on, he figured Thompkins was back at work on his novel.  Maybe a play by play of several weeks wasn’t the best way to do that, Jack conceded to himself.

Amazingly, nothing decided to invade the neighborhood, no one decided to admit they were really a superhero in disguise, the Mistress didn’t show up – they passed a perfectly normal, ho-hum, nothing weird or troublesome, evening. Jack had secured a Saturday outing with Crystal while doing the dishes and settled for yet another handshake goodbye at the door.

He was pretty sure he saw a glint of light out of the girl’s bedroom – Tina, no doubt – but otherwise, he and Tresmayne had the street to themselves and a dozen or so folks wandering through. They parted at the door and went for their respective domiciles.

Thompkins was still up, still typing and still humming. While it didn’t annoy Jack as it had before, it still struck him as strange. However, things might have gone well with Lisa so that might explain it. That thought brought a question to mind that Jack broached after the pleasantries.

“I meant to ask you – you said ‘if you were human’…”

“That I’d propose?” Thompkins looked up from his work, “Yes sir. I suppose I should have said ‘right now’ – I mean, if there’s no objection and she’s agreeable, it is possible.” He sighed, “But not easy, life with a creature. Even a rather benign type like my own, things are difficult and complicated.”

Jack seated himself, “You really – if everything were normal, you’d still…”

“Be in love with Li-li? Oh yes.” He paused, hiding his embarrassment. “Oh, I’m almost done – the first twenty pages are there on the coffee table for you.”

Jack nodded, lifting the stack of papers, “Thanks.” He scanned them absently, “Footnotes? You are thorough.”

“I try to be.” Thompkins seemed pleased by the compliment.

Jack settled down to begin reading. He didn’t get far, “Wait, are these dates right?” He flipped a few more pages, “You met Lisa four and a half weeks ago?”

Thompkins nodded, “That’s right.”

“That little pipsqueak…” Jack continued skimming, “Here it is…”

Thompkins returned to his typing as Jack read. Twenty minutes passed as Jack read the same four pages three more times.

He turned to Thompkins, “Did Vinnie ever say anything about me?”

Thompkins nodded, “That you were a slayer and Li-li’s brother.”

“That’s it? Nothing about my slayer type?”

Thompkins shook his head, “That wasn’t in the dossier, either.”

Jack nodded absently, “Of course not – he found out pretty much the same time I did. That was a rabbit hole.”

“Sir?”

“We kept thinking he was interested in me – or the house. But if he didn’t know anything more than that before sending you, it’s just coincidence that we are the same – wait, maybe we AREN’T the same type.” Jack paused, reviewing the events in his head, “Let’s see, several vampires, several werewolves, several ghouls, a faodalh, and that’s about it. Either he just doesn’t know any others, or he can’t command slayers.”

“Steward?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you know if color would matter?” Thomkins asked.

“If color… By golly, you’re right. If color doesn’t matter, he can’t command slayers – I’ll be right back.”

Thompkins resumed humming as Jack left the apartment.

Forty minutes later, Jack returned. He tossed his keys in their cup and locked the door. “You were right.”

“Sir?”

“Color matters, but not so much that it can’t be done.” Jack replied, “We had to look it up but there were some records of commander type slayers commanding opposing slayers – enough to stop them occasionally but not something they couldn’t resist at all. If Vinnie were that type, he needed only be close enough to issue a command at the right moment. But he hasn’t done that – he’s avoided being around here. I’ll bet you he is a command type and not a commander type.”

“Mr. Tresmayne?”

Jack blushed a bit, “Well, that was where I started – but we ended up on the roof with Crystal – she had the right book.” He chuckled as he walked into the kitchen, “I’m going to have to go up there and build a patio or something. I swear, I spend more time with her on rooftops than anywhere else.”

Thompkins chuckled and closed his laptop, “I finished while you were gone – but the printer is out of toner. I will have the pages printed for you when you get home tomorrow, if that’s alright?”

“Sure, that’s fine.” Jack responded, debating with himself between juice and soda as he air conditioned his apartment with the fridge. “Hey, out of curiosity, was that you turning the light on and off so much earlier?”

“Um, partially. I came to get my laptop. Your sister Donna came to use your shower. Your brother Marty came to practice his guitar. Your mom came to bring your lunch – I did offer to do it for her. And your dad assembled a tricycle for Mr. Myers.”

Jack laughed, “I knew it – I just didn’t think it would be all in one night. I wonder who was jumping up and down?”

Thompkins blushed, “Um, that was me, when I came in for the evening. Your parents – things went well, and…”

Jack returned from the kitchen, “Gotcha. Done that a few times myself.” He glanced at the clock which told him what he already knew, “It’s late, I’m hitting the hay. Good night.”

“Good night, Ste… Sir.” Thompkins replied.

 

True Slayers: The Right Track, Part Four

Lisa shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t…”

“Don’t you play coy with me, Little Sister.” Jack warned. “Plan A didn’t work – I haven’t a clue why you thought it would – or more likely, you didn’t think it through at all. Whatever, it didn’t work – everyone got upset and there was no way moving out was going to let you have any peace and quiet with this family. At some point, you knew that so you went to Plan B. You didn’t move out – and you didn’t bring him over here to meet Momma until you were sure.”

“Sure of what, Jackie Boy?” Momma asked.

“That a house full of slayers weren’t going to turn her boyfriend into chop suey.” Jack answered, then turned back to his sibling. “I even bought that line of yours about being insecure – the real reason you were ready to move in with him was that at first you didn’t think you could ever bring him safely here, isn’t that it, Lisa?”

Lisa gave a curt nod, “This is why I hate playing Risk with you – you’re always ten steps ahead. But you’re wrong – it wasn’t a line. I mean, sure, I knew it was too good to be true but I wanted just once for someone to really like me. It happened and he’s perfect – except for being puppy chow in a house full of dogs.”

“So how did you do it?” Jack demanded.

“And this is why I beat your socks off in Monopoly –  you never read the rules all the way.” Lisa snorted, “It doesn’t matter if he’s a faodahl or a vampire or a freaking dragon – what matters is what color he is. Read the stupid books already – good or evil matter – creature or not doesn’t – at least not that much.”

“You can see color?” her mother asked incredulously.

Lisa shook her head, “No, Momma. I knew he was a good guy – I really did. I knew he was … he wasn’t there because of me, not at first. But…” She turned to look at James, “You really stink at role playing, you know that? I knew when you first walked up you were faking it. That’s why I didn’t give you my number that first time. But when we got to actually talk – you stopped faking. I think I actually scared you when I suggested moving in.”

Thompkins nodded dumbly, “You did, Li-li. I – you were right, I was sent here, not my idea, don’t suppose that’ll matter to you…” Thompkins paused and drew a deep breathe. “I have had this conversation with you a million times in my head. Until yesterday, having it with you for real was just a fantasy. I guess I kinda knew you were on to me. That, and that you weren’t even a little put off when I got all geeky, that made me start loving you. But I’m not like you – may never be – and this – us – it started all wrong. I knew I’d have to tell you the truth – I just didn’t realize you’d already guessed.”

Lisa giggled, “Guessed? I mean seriously, what ‘guessing’ was there? You came on strong, then when I turned the tables you were trying to talk me out of it without actually making it sound that way – and you were way too desperate. You could have just said let’s wait a while – you were babbling about your apartment needing painting instead. You were spooked – it took me a couple days to put it together but I didn’t have to guess. You were supposed to, what, lure me away from my family? When it looked like you might succeed, that was when you panicked.”

Lisa turned back to her brother, “That was when I knew he wasn’t a bad guy.” She sighed, “Truth was, I knew I couldn’t move in with him – that would never work, Momma’d kill me and probably wasn’t safe anyway. I didn’t think I could bring him here – and you were acting all weird and stuff. Besides, Mr J had just been killed – I didn’t know but with all the weird stuff I didn’t want to chance things being connected in ways I didn’t understand.”

“So, the big announcement was an act?” Crystal asked quietly.

Lisa nodded, “I figured that would get Jack to look into it without my telling him – if it was related, if I was wrong about James, Jack would figure it out – that’s what he does best. If not, it bought me some time to get in touch with Uncle Cyrus and Aunt Kimmie.”

“You sneaking little – why didn’t you just tell me?!” Jack demanded.

“Bobby Whitaker.” Lisa replied blandly.

“Oh for the love of Pete – he was Donna’s boyfriend and that was when we were, what, twelve?” Jack glared at his sister.

“Tell me again – my boyfriend is an Irish werewolf spy and Bobby was just a jerk carrying out a dare – which one is more likely to get his head handed to him, in this case literally?” Lisa glared right back. “I thought James was okay but I didn’t know for sure until Aunt Kimmie came and took a look at him for me. I didn’t want you killing him before I could find out – and even then if it… ” The pause was long and pregnant.

“I didn’t have anything to do with anyone being killed.” James said quietly. “We’re not like traditional werewolves but we’re not… safe, either. Li-li…”

“I know that. But…” She turned to him again, “Mr J was family. I never really thought you were involved – I might not be as good at Risk as Jack is, but I did learn from him. You have to consider all the possibilities. Using me, that would be bad enough but on top of helping… No, if that was what you’d done, I wasn’t going to ask my big brother for that one.”

“Wow.  If I were human, I’d ask you to marry me now.”

“The only non-slayer in the room was ready to kill you herself if she needed to and THAT makes you want to propose?!” Jack asked incredulously.

“Loyalty and strength – who wouldn’t propose to her?” Thompkins replied, still looking at Lisa.

Mrs. Scarlotti went to the house phone and dialed. Lisa and Thompkins were whispering quietly. Tresmayne and Nyota decided the kitchen was the safest place to be. Crystal tackled trying to calm Jack down. Mr Scarlotti went to the restroom.

Mr Scarlotti was back when his wife got off the phone. Nyota and Tresmayne listened from the safety of the kitchen.

“I spoke to Kimmie. She thought you had already – we’ll talk about that later. She confirmed your story – says he’s about a 7 on the white scale, which means more to her and the Mistress than to me. But white he is…” She turned to Thompkins, “Which is no excuse for trying to take my baby girl…”

Jack sat back down as his mother read Thompkins the riot act. He still wanted to strangle his sister, had no clue what to tell her about the night before, had a new question for the Mistress about normal people reading things they shouldn’t be able to and had the beginnings of a lovely migraine to go with it. Despite all that, somehow, the day was ending on an up note. Only in Jack’s inanely weird world would this evening’s revelations be considered an improvement.

True Slayers: The Right Track, Part Three

Work had been okay but it hadn’t really improved Jack’s mood. Mad at himself, he’d spent the day trying hard not to take it out on everyone and everything in sight. Bernie, who normally ignored everyone and slept through the day, had decided to become Jack’s ‘friend for the day’, opting to sleep by Jack’s station and even deigning to rub past his leg a few times.

That was also the highlight of Jack’s day. Putting together an ancient chandelier and managing to not have any parts left over – without ‘accidentally’ losing them in the parts box – was Jack’s biggest accomplishment. As he hiked the last block home, it occurred to him that normally, he’d be happy with a day spent making something beautiful out of a box of puzzle pieces, but somehow, it hadn’t worked today.

He glanced at his watch. He’d thought he’d left a little late but hadn’t paid attention. Now he realized he’d left a lot late. No one was outside as the gloom of night had already come. Jack took the stoop steps three at a time, went in and shoved his head in his parents apartment to holler at his sister Donna that he was home and getting ready. Donna nodded and told him she would tell their mother. Filial duty accomplished, Jack ran into his own apartment to get himself presentable.

Crystal and Nyota were having dinner with her parents. Tresmayne – there didn’t seem any reason to keep calling him Mr Wolff – would join them later. Thompkins was seated between Marty and Tim – Jack couldn’t help but grin at that and the consternation of his sister Lisa, two seats down.

Poppa said the blessing and Jack snagged the biscuits, a gift from the Abernathy’s. Mike began to argue. Donna smacked Jack’s head for hogging the biscuits. Tim was loading his plate while Marty was grilling Thompkins. Lisa was having it out with Jane over a hair dryer. Kevin was trying to get Tina to select a dish so he could pass it. Just another family meal at the Scarlotti’s.

Crystal and Nyota joined them just after the dishes were done and Tresmayne came in shortly thereafter. There was no particular reason – there had been enough useless talk the night before – it was just natural.

What wasn’t natural was Tim excusing himself to ‘go out’. The idiot still hadn’t told Momma about Gina, Jack realized. Marty and Mike decided to go to a friend’s house to play something called a role playing game – they were excited about it being their first tabletop game, whatever that was. Donna took Tina and Jane to the mall, unable to convince Lisa to tag along. Kevin went to work on the paint in what would be his and Tim’s apartment – assuming his lunatic eldest brother didn’t decide to disassemble it again.

As everyone settled into the living room, Thompkins was explaining something called D&D to Lisa which evidently had something to do with what Marty and Mike were up to. Jack wasn’t interested – he might not have had the best day but he did have enough on the ball to be more interested in Miss Abernathy than his younger brother’s geeky games.

Discussing Crystal’s stellar academic performance was much more interesting – especially as her eyes sparkled as she told the harrowing tale of passing Intro to Logic. But even in a house of weirdness, some comments will catch your attention.

“Oh sure, they have vampires and werewolves in the Monster Manual, too. It’s just that dragons and bugbears are more common…”

“Oh? I get it. Hang on.” Lisa’s voice told Thompkins.

Jack couldn’t help a sideways glance. Lisa was up and on her way into the kitchen. Why, Jack couldn’t and didn’t want to guess. He went back to looking at Crystal’s schedule for next semester.

Time passed – Jack was actually interested that Crystal was considering an art class that involved welding. That he could help with, unlike Logic or Algebra. He was telling her about the chandelier he’d re-assembled today when he heard Lisa return.

“Like this?”

Jack again glanced around – Lisa was handing Thompkins a cookbook.

Thompkins took it and looked like he’d just eaten a bug, “W-where did you get this?”

“It’s Momma’s.” Lisa replied nonchalantly as she seated herself. “I’ve never heard of a bugbear, but there’s a lot about vampires and stuff.”

That got Jack’s complete attention. Crystal caught it as well and looked past Jack to see the book.

To Jack’s eyes, it was Momma’s Kitty Keller’s Best Recipes Cookbook which had graced the kitchen shelves as long as Jack had been alive. What in the world was Lisa babbling about?

Momma got up slowly and came over to them, “Lisa, can you read this?” She asked, pointing at the cookbook.

That was past weird. Of course she could read it – she’d been cooking out of it since she was seven.

Lisa nodded, “Yes Momma – I can read it.”

“And what is it about?”

“The different kinds of Creatures of the Night, how to identify them and kill them. Oh, and there’s a really funny part about deep frying ghouls…” Lisa actually giggled.

“You can read the Compendium?” Crystal blurted.

Lisa shrugged, “Sure, why wouldn’t I be able to?”

“Normal people aren’t… ” Crystal stopped speaking.

“When did you learn to read it?” Momma asked.

Lisa shrugged, “When I was little. I noticed that if I thought about nothing in particular, the book didn’t look like a cookbook anymore. I figured James would see it the way I do, since he’s like Jack and you. Is that wrong?”

Momma knelt beside Lisa’s chair, “Not wrong, no. But how did you?”

Lisa looked away, the tension getting to her, “Jack was always the special one – the one who’d be like you. Poppa and you said so once, just once, when I was really little. I remember someone coming in out of the rain, all bloody, and you and Poppa taking care of him. He asked for sanctuary and you said that was what this place was. You were talking while the man got cleaned up, that was when I knew. ”

“You, you were a baby then.” Momma replied.

Lisa nodded, “I was really little. I couldn’t talk yet – really frustrating. When I got old enough to talk, if I said something too old for me, you’d look at me funny so I stopped doing that. If I couldn’t be special, I didn’t wanna be weird.” She sighed, “That was stupid, huh? I shouldn’t have – I just wanted James to know I wasn’t as stupid as you all think.”

“Lisa, no one…”

“Sure you do, Momma. I’m supposed to just not notice that a vampire killed Mr J? That Jack finally does what you said you used to do? That a werewolf moved in?”

She turned to Thompkins, “Or that I fell in love with a faoladh. It’s in another book. You probably think I’m stupid, too.”

She got up, “Maybe I am…”

“Like ____ you are.” Jack stood, not even apologizing for the profanity. “You do know that until now, I thought that WAS a cookbook. Heck, it still looks like one to me. You’re an annoying, sneaky little twit and I’m gonna wring your neck for scaring the daylights out of everyone – but stupid you are NOT.” Jack’s eyes narrowed as he got into his younger sister’s face, “Okay, out with it – how did you make sure?”

True Slayers: The Right Track, Part Two

The explanation to his father could have gone better in Jack’s estimation. Better still would have been not having to do the deed in the first place. Crazy nonsense, random encounter vampires, cat killing werewolves, house full of monster killers, one dearly beloved friend lost and another hurt, a sister in love with a weird Irish werewolf, oh, and let’s not forget the bizarre command power he didn’t understand or have full control over – any one of which would have made Jack think twice about having a possible albeit innocent mole in the house – there was zero chance he was letting this get any further out of hand.

It made Jack strangely more irritable to find Thompkins humming as he typed merrily on one of his laptops. A quick glance confirmed that it was the play by play Jack had ordered. Why Thompkins was so danged happy about it, Jack couldn’t guess. Maybe he was finally convinced Jack wasn’t going to kill him at the first opportunity. Maybe – but that didn’t seem right to Jack. The next question was why the heck did it annoy him so much?

That was easier – he really didn’t like what he had done. Necessary, yeah, but still. Slavery ended a hundred and fifty some odd years ago and about eighty too late then. This just wasn’t right. Thompkins had been used and discarded only to have Jack himself do this? Wrong, so wrong on so many levels. His father hadn’t said so – hadn’t said much at all, really, but Jack knew he had to be disappointed in his oldest, and stupidest, boy.

He couldn’t change the past but he could get on with the future. The ramifications of Thompkins relationship with Jack’s sister were now a hopeless confused mess that Jack would have to sort out somehow. He’d leave that to later – he needed now to make some kind of sense out of this madness.

A short talk with Mr. Myers confirmed the suspicion that Oscar and Mayer, the cats, had both been Mr. Myers familiars. No match for a werewolf without their slayer the cats had still put up a fight. Mr. Myers had found enough fur and blood to train his sword.

That had made the short talk a bit longer – so some swords can get a ‘taste’ for a particular target. A sword with a communicative owner – which Mr. Myers as a empathetic type slayer naturally was – could learn the taste and identify the target if the sword got close enough.

Adding ‘talking inanimate objects’ to his growing list of weird things in his life, Jack moved on. Going to his own computer, he opened the email Mr McKenzie had forwarded and reviewed the answers to the long list of his questions. If he ever did meet the Mistress, she was probably going to be annoyed with him, too, just from all the pestering.

Five more conversations, including a large pow-pow of the entire company, left Jack drained, no further along than he had been and beginning a beaut of a headache. After everyone finally left and the clean-up was done, Jack downed more aspirin than he should of and hit the hay. His last conscious thought was ‘Why the heck is he still typing?’

The next morning, Jack would ask the question. Coming out of his room, he found Thompkins right where he’d left him, albeit now surrounded by food and drink.

“What – didn’t you sleep at all?”

Thompkins shook his head without looking up, “No, Sir, I got going and wanted to work.”

“Dumb question – you can stop if you want, right?” Jack asked, holding his head and walking to the kitchen.

“Oh sure, why do – oh, I get it. Yes Sir, I can stop if I want – you allowed it.”

Jack winced at the word ‘allowed’ and poured a large glass of orange juice, “Okay, just checking. Oh, and for the record, if I do something that stupid, say something, okay?”

“Yes Sir!”

Thompkins was way too happy for Jack’s peace of mind at the moment. Jack downed half his juice and nearly that much of the aspirin bottle.

Jack came back out, sooner than he really wanted to. “Okay, from what Tresmayne tells me, you couldn’t betray us now if you wanted – which I know already you didn’t.”

Thompkins nodded, still typing.

Jack continued, “That was – that was why. Just to be perfectly clear – and because I don’t want to make a stupid mistake – you don’t need my permission for anything you wouldn’t normally need it for. Borrowing my sweater, yeah; coming and going as you please, no.”

Thompkins looked up with a wide grin, “Yes Sir – got it. Thank you!”

Jack nodded and returned to the kitchen. He’d had enough. Sometime soon he’d have to ask but for now, he just couldn’t take Thompkins strange happiness at a time like this.

Finishing his cereal and juice, Jack glanced at the clock. Weirdness would have to wait – work wouldn’t and he sure as heck wasn’t explaining being late to Mr Salvador today.

For Crystal the morning was better. Used to the being up at all hours and able to sleep walk at will, she had gotten more of her eight hours than Jack had and could function fine on what she’d gotten. Her mind wasn’t on the strange goings on at the sanctuary across the street – they were on whether or not her final grades were posted. Once breakfast and parents were attended to, Crystal made a beeline for school.

That afternoon, still on top of the world with a B+ in Intro to Logic, Crystal strolled up the street to her home. On the stoop across the way she saw Thompkins sitting on the balustrade and typing on his computer, surrounded by a gaggle of teenage girls all giggling and laughing about who knew what.

Crystal ran inside to dump her books and give her mom the good news. That took longer than Crystal had thought because her father was home early and she had to tell him as well – which resulted in a celebratory dance around the living room and two bowls of Rocky Road.

An hour later, Crystal emerged to find the teenage crew gone and Thompkins still hard at work on his computer. The sun was dipping below the roof line as she crossed the street.

“Hey.”

Thompkins stopped long enough to look up, “Hello, Mis.. er Miss Crystal. How are you today?”

“Great, I passed all my finals. Yourself?”

“Wonderful – I think I’m about halfway done! It’s going much better than I’d hoped.”

Crystal smiled, “Yeah, I imagine so – makes a difference when you’re willing.”

Thompkins nodded, taking her meaning, “Yes, it does.”

Crystal seated herself, “If I’m being too pushy just say so – but have you told Jack how you…”

“…Feel about his sister?” Thompkins finished the sentence. “No, before last night there was no reason and there hasn’t been time really since. You are very astute.”

Crystal shook her head, “No, I’m a girl – some things we get that guys don’t. Others, like the point of watching NASCAR, only guys get.”

Thompkins chuckled, “I’m Canadian – I’m afraid I don’t get the point of watching cars go around in circles really fast for hours on end. Golf is more interesting to watch – when paint drying isn’t on.”

It was Crystal’s turn to chuckle, “So, you’re okay with the possession?”

Thompkins stopped typing and looked up, smiling broadly, “Oh yes, I…” he suddenly stopped speaking and glanced at his watch, “Oops, I’m sorry – it’s almost time to call my mother. I got so busy…”

Crystal smiled, “No problem – I’ll see you later.”

Thompkins nodded in reply, scooped up his laptop and raced for the door.