Alaister walked his last customer for the day to the door. Her name was Alex, and she had two constants in her life: her kids laughing and fighting and running around her like a madly orchestrated circus, and the fact she always came in at the last minute, just when he was about to close. He didn't mind, the kids were honest and nice tempered, and any sale was welcome. He had a pretty short commute home.
He flipped the sign over, and locked up. Tomorrow was his day off. He always closed the store Monday and Thursday. He would have chosen Wednesday as his second day off, but he noticed that the comic book store a couple of shops down from him received its shipments on Wednesday. Since a lot of people who came out pick up their monthly books would also stop and look in his shop, Wednesday was one of his best nights.
Okay. He'd bottle some herbs and oil and put them in a sunny window while he cooked supper. He'd watch a movie and stuff tea bags for his
The phone was ringing, somewhere, distantly. He opened his eyes, blinked at the TV.Clint Eastwood was clinging to the roof of a snow covered cable car. Alaister stood, cursed when one of his more fragile volumes slid of the couch and thunked to the floor.
"I don't mind you sitting on my head. Or my lap, or even hanging from my neck. But you must let mommy type!" Andromeda pickedZelda up, the cat's claws pulling a few delicate filaments of long black hair as Andromeda set her down on the floor. Zelda was enjoying the attention, what ever had been bothering her earlier was gone. She circled, deciding what part of Andromeda's anatomy she was going to clamber over next.
Helena wasn't much on patting herself on the back, But today she thought she deserved it. About, oh, five months ago, she'd stayed at a Super Eight in New York...Batavia, she thought it was, right off the New York expressway. After dinner she stopped at a gas station, filled up, and bought herself a six pack of Heineken, mostly because she thought it was neat to buy beer at a gas station. She was half way through her second bottle, watching nothing much on TV and keeping half an eye on her car, when she remembered something from a John Sanford novel. Brilliant, she thought, practically untraceable. So she saved the bottles, wiped them down, resisted the temptation to keep just one for herself, they were such a pretty green, and etched them. Just like Mr. Sanford had that silly woman do, up and down, around and around, until the bottles looked like they were in nets. Well, when you squinted, any way. She hid them in the trunk of her car, and now they finally came into their use. She sat with four of them lined up in a neat row at her feet. She watched the activity below, the deceptively human forms laughing and joking with each other as they bedded down for the night in their cabins. Calls of good night and pleasant dreams echoed down the valley, and up to her.
Helena looked up at the sky. Tomorrow would be a full moon. She should wait, be sure. She looked back at the two cabins. No. Tomorrow they would also be at full power. She knew she was right, her instincts, the little primeval part of her at the base of her spine recognized these things for what they were, and urged her to run.
She waited a bit, as silence settled around the camp. Her rear end began to get numb with cold, and she kept twitching. After awhile she uncorked the kerosene and filled the bottles, then put in the wicks. She had waited to do this, fearing the things below would smell the fuel on the wind. One by one she lit and threw the bottles. They arched in the air, and it was right pretty, the way the fire made them look like falling emeralds. She aimed well, and they shattered across both roofs. She turned, ran up the hill, climbed a tree she had selected earlier, and took up her rifle. Now, she thought, if the police, or any other kind of thing investigated this, they'd start by casing the beer distributors and bars in the area. They'd never get a lead on her, because she bought her last beer several hundred miles and a couple of states away. And, she thought with a mental note, she wasn't going to buy any more, not for awhile. She checked the sight again on her rifle, using the telescope to keep a watch. There were screams, now, and they were finally beginning to run out of the house. She aimed again, took a deep breath, and went to work.
At Eight o'clock in the morning, Alaister walked three blocks to the old brick building that housed the telephone company in the hope that they would have an old reverse phone directory. As he went in, looking at the small cubicles created by short white cloth walls on aluminum frames, and the rows of computers, he marveled at how different it must be from the architect's intended use. His boots made muffled stomping sounds as he passed terminals where switch boards used to be. A kindly lady who might have been old enough to document these changes for him directed him to a dank little room in the very back, between the rest rooms. The reverse phone book he was looking for was helping to stabilize a table leg. He had an interesting time wiggling it out, with out knocking the other ones over or causing the books on top of the table to avalanche. The person who owned his number before him was Majel Barnes. He kept looking. Several books and a couple of minor spills later, he had a pretty complete record of the telephone number's history. So far, no Harrys. He sighed, rubbed his eyes. The number could have belonged to Harry for a short time, between the publishing of the directories.
He left, making it back to his own store in time to miss a UPS delivery. He though for a moment, then got into his car and went to the courthouse. Maybe Majel was married to a Harry Barnes.
It took him an hour to drive to the nearest county courthouse and back, but when he set foot through his door again, he had his answer.
It wasn't Majel Barnes. Someone had misspelled, or misread the entry when they typed it in. It was Major. Major Harry Barnes. He was, at least back then, a policeman.
The phone was ringing. Helena struggled from the muzzy depths of sleep to slap her hand on the receiver. "Hello?" she said, will forcing her voice clear and awake. She ran a hand over her face, relieved that the burning, scream filled dreams had been interrupted.
"Miss Hunter? I've just been out to admire last night's work. You are as efficient as they say."
She looked around the hotel room, feeling eyes on her from every direction. She thought no one knew. She swallowed, trying to decide which tack to take.
"Who are you?"
"Do you think you're the only one who wants to see these monsters stopped? There's quite a few of us, and we feel that we need a lady such as yourself. With no help you've managed to cut a swath from California to Pennsylvania with out injuring even one innocent. I particularly liked the way you handled the coven up near Niagara Falls."
"Sir? I have no idea what you're talking about. Is this some kind of joke? Did Lori put you up to this?" She asked, pulling a name out of thin air.
"You don't have to hide any more. We're on the same side. Who was it? What loved one did they steal from you? An aunt? A father?"
She barely heard the last part, as she carefully placed the phone back on its rest. "The whole town." She answered, standing up to dress.
She knew that they must be watching her, waiting for her next move.
She was packed and ready to leave in five minutes. She took the plastic bank bag out of its hiding place in the knapsack and put it in the lining of her coat. She searched the room, looking for traces, wiping down knobs and any other surface she might have touched. Her hair was still wet from the three washings it had taken to get the smoke smell out of it, so she brushed and braided it.
She made a mental inventory of her car. She had to take it, because some evidence of last night's work might still cling to it.
A glance through a crack between the curtains showed that the lot was mostly empty. The clock read that she had a half an hour until check out time.
She took some drain cleaner out of the suitcase, and dumped the entire contents down the shower drain. This is where she washed everything last night, her clothes, boots, and body. She had gone down, afterwards, and heaved the bodies onto the pyre made by the cabins. The task had not been pleasant or easy.
She chased the chemicals with lots of hot water, then stuffed the empty bottle into the trash, which she would take with her and throw out elsewhere. She took up her bags, did one last check.
The phone rang, again, and she let it keep doing so as she walked down the hall to the front desk.
She drove her little Dodge Aries to the car wash, checking it over carefully. In the shadow of the bay she took another stash of money from the wheel well, a few valuables. They went into the knapsack.
She drove her newly cleaned car to the mall, driving around and around, trying to see if any one was following her. No one seemed to be. Then she parked in the lot close to the bus station, and walked to the mall. She glanced back towards it, when the first set of glass doors had closed behind her. She felt as if she was leaving a beloved pet behind in the pound.
Maybe the police would pick it up and check the registration. The owner wouldn't answer, and maybe they'd try the Sheriff's office. When Della or Mike didn't answer, maybe someone would go looking. They would only find ash, a few bones, a few charred beams, some crumbling piles of bricks, and a couple abandoned houses with dinner still on the table. It'd be a Dateline Mystery. She flashed a derisive smile at her reflection in the next set of doors, and went inside.
The path's stones were still tinged brown. Andromeda picked her way around the spot carefully, looking for clues. She had spent several minutes looking for prints, hoping to see something strange that would give her a direction. There were too many prints from the police and from bystanders to tell.
She came to this spot pre-frustrated, because she had spent a rather unpleasant hour with Margo and Mary, trying to discover if they knew anything. They'd been as useful as saltwater in the desert.
They were both lying to her, and she didn't yet understand why.
She stepped over the police lines, knelt close to the stones. They had done a thorough job cleaning up, but she could still smell death and impending rot, caught by the small rocks and the mud beneath them. She tried to discern any messages the pattern of blood might hold.
She looked up at the sky, at the vault of trees. She had always felt close to the woods, to the sky and weather. They were in the middle of a short thaw right now, but she knew the snow was going to return soon. She enjoyed the sun on her face, and remembered the funny shadows the moon had made on Olivia's skin.
She'd been coming up the path, away from the greenhouse. If Olivia, when Andromeda and Alaister had found her, had been standing, she would have faced the house. "Dummy." She reprimanded herself. She stood, and looked down the path. Even from here, she could see the green house, in little flashes of reflected light, here and there through the trees.
"I didn't see her, though." she thought, knowing she would have to have passed Olivia, or at least heard her.
Someone had cut back the brush around the greenhouse for the winter, but dead weed stalks and briers still circled it, making it impossible to go any further into the woods noiselessly. She studied the little house, daylight robbed it of its magic, and it sat, perfectly clean, but empty.
She looked closer at the glass. Not even the patina of dried rain and snow marred it. Andromeda frowned, wondering why anyone would bother cleaning it so recently, with so much winter left to come.
She went inside, but there wasn't much to see. She looked at the dirt and water stained tables, marked here and there with a half circle of white from a pot bottom. A ratty hutch with a stack of broken clay pots leaned in one corner. She stood there for a time, trying to get a sense of the place as it had been in the glory of its purpose. An escape, perhaps, since it was so far from the house. There was no ready water supply, though, and she shuddered at the thought of carrying water all the way down the path.
She picked up a shard of clay pot, and muttered, "If I'd gone to all the trouble of sweeping and polishing, I certainly would have thrown these out. Or at least boxed them up."
She walked outside, around to the back of the building. She could hear water, and she followed the tramped down weeds to a tiny spring. The water was cold, untainted, and it solved the question of how they watered the plants.
The ground was covered by a mat of bruised grass, and there seemed to be prints, but she couldn't tell what they were. She followed them around the other side of the greenhouse, hoping to be able to see more when the path turned to mud. They were blurred, hard to really focus on until one place where the owner of them had stood...or crouched for a long time. The mud was pretty stiff, so they were not recent. She studied them for a moment, wondering why anyone would run around in bare feet in this weather. A werewolf? She looked in the window, wondering what they had been staring at. Saturday night she had stood with her back facing this window.
She followed the prints, which faded away again as they skirted some brush and took again to grass and leaves.
She looked at her watch, saw that it was already nearing three o'clock. She had a place she wanted to reach before dark, but she would have to hurry. She glanced around, a little self conscious, and hoped no one was watching.
She crouched down, her nose only a few inches from the ground. Ever since she was a teen, she had noticed that her sense of smell was very keen. She never used scented detergents of perfumes because most manufactured smells drove her crazy. Concentrating, she breathed in loam, decaying leaves, sleeping grass, a musky dark smell that seemed to belong to a wolf...but wasn't quite right, somehow, and a tiny bit of blood. She couldn't smell magic, or anything certain enough to help her.
She followed the scent, which was getting fainter and fainter the further she went. She was on all fours, following the path, skirting trees and thickets. It soon disappeared, but not before she had followed enough of it to discern a general direction. The trail was leading toward the outbuildings that lay on the edge of the woods behind the house.
"Loose a contact?"
She gasped, her attempt at spinning about quickly
Alaister stood there, hands in his pockets, attempting not to grin.
The last of daylight was gone by the time Andromeda neared her destination. She slowed at every driveway, looking for a street number. The trees were thick, only the occasional twinkle of light showing the existence of a home. She was in the middle of whatAlaister used to call "deep country", the perfect place for a pack of Werewolves to have their home.