No Reflection Needed

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


Comedy, Politics and Blood is abound in this on point fan story based on one of the best selling PC Franchises of all time.

Submitted: July 14, 2017

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Submitted: July 14, 2017

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CHAPTER 1

 

 

Should have stayed in.

That would be the average person's reaction to the seizure-inducing strobe lights cast from the Grind's windows. Pushing past the line outside, he was greeted by a worsening throb in his temples.

“Mac!” The bartender on duty waved him down, screaming over the crowded dance floor. The thrown-together stage at the center caved under the weight of the entertainment. The dainty lead singer nearly toppled from the milk crate stair steps during the chorus. “Nice job getting Windy and the Byrds in. Got a request?”

“If you're talking about a drink, surprise me and make it strong,” Mac stayed put, his friend rushing to wipe off the bar before grabbing a clean shaker. “Didn't think she'd be available. She signed some pretty little contract with an executive at Starlight. He has her plane tickets for this weekend.” Having his drink in hand at record time, Mac paused with it to his lips, panning his vision around.

“You want another?” He answered the question with an indifferent response.

“Uh, yeah. Sure,” Crowded by several patrons, many too plastered to order without slurring their words, he moved to an available table under a shaded windowsill. Checking the time on his phone, he slipped it into the front pocket of his blazer. It wouldn't kill for him to sit and soak in the ambiance, even if it worsened the pulse behind his eyes. “You ever get sick of the same around here? You'll go deaf from all the bass,” The bartender sat two drinks down, having made the second to stay ahead.

“If I do, you're the reason,” Patting him once on the shoulder and stopping to let his grip sink in, he winced upon seeing another man enter the club. “There's Vlad.” Mac shrugged.

“Huh, and no Elvira. Surprising,” He cleaned through half his drink, watching as Vlad struck up conversation with an unsuspecting woman. “Looks like he's luring in dinner for the night.”

“If you see Elvira, tell her Wayne misses having her by,” Wayne noticed the eye roll and quickly added. “Th-That is if it isn't an inconvenience.”

Polishing the third glass, Mac lurched when he felt chest pocket vibrate. He answered without a second thought.

“Yeah....The Grind why?.....” He placed a finger in his free ear. “Canceled!? I had entire week set with her!....I don't want to hear it, everyone's dog dies eventually...” He sighed, “Fine, I'll call Clavier and see if he can hold at Weylon's....He turns his nose up at dive bars, has since the first album dropped....alright, I'll let them know.....What about it?....the 501 is Morrigan's territory, call her if they need a fill in. Yeah, okay....I'm heading out now....bye.”

“Leaving me to fend for myself?” Wayne asked when the glasses were returned.

“I'm needed elsewhere,” There was far too much to explain for him to go into detail, “Weylon's put out an S.O.S.”

“Good luck with that,” Hissing at the scolding plate of onion rings pulled from the microwave, the mixologist handed them off before blowing on his fingers, “I don't do the entertainment.”

“If you did, you might be able to keep someone.”

“Stop getting butter-faces.”

“Just close your eyes and play pretend. It's what I do.” They shared a laugh before finally going their separate ways. With the line still piling through, the place would be packed until daybreak. As Mac left, hailing a cab and cursing his phone when it rang once more, he realized it was going to be a long day indeed.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Third time this week,” Of the employee's on staff at the downtown Quick-E-Mart, Emrey saw the inside of his boss's office more than most. Standing with his bloodied deli gloves on and apron untied, he knew his fate the moment he walked in. “Today, Tuesday and Monday.” Mr. Harlash had his desk decorated in papers, as if he needed evidence of the young man's wrong doings.

“Mr. Harlash, I can explain.”

“Listen, Henry-”

“Emrey.”

“Er, right,” He folded his fingers, placing them on his over-sized stomach. “You're a good kid. The customer's love you, the staff loves you. But this is becoming more than I can handle.” He held up his timecard, “Two hours today-”

“Y-yes I know but-”

“Missed half your shift before that.”

“If you'd let me explain-”

“I hired you on your father's word and your making that word look pretty weak.”

“I had a gig last night and I didn't get back until late.” Emrey was beyond frustrated, having been unable to explain himself. (His elderly father being jerked in the middle didn't help).

“And the other two?”

“I was asked to perform at Eugi's. The bartender called when his talent manager was too busy.”

“And how long will this to continue?”

“Last night was it...Sir.” Frozen in his spinning chair, Harlash stroked his chin. This wasn't the first time Emrey had been on thin ice for his attendance, and from the sounds of it, it wouldn't be the last.

“I know we've had this talk before, but it goes through one ear and out the other,” There was a slight pause. “Since I have only one other attendant at the deli, I'll be kind enough to keep you. But you won't be eligible for your five cent raise when evaluations come around. Consider this the start of your probationary period.”

“Last night was it, I should be fine from now on.” Putting his arm around the boy, Harlash shook him slightly. He did this as one old friend would to the other, despite Emrey wanting to slug him.

“Look, Siegfried, I think it's best you take what you have and go with it,” The mocking tone in his voice made Emrey want to grind his liver in the cheese slicer. “Now get back there and help Ace. We had a delivery and I want the beef shredded before the three o'clock rush.” Feeling two inches tall, Emrey did his best to smile when facing the lunch crowd. Yanking his hair net from the coat hook, he stuffed the hickory threads on his scalp underneath. Of all the comments tossed his way, he was surprised Harlash didn't scold him for defying dress-code. In his rush to get out the door, he crammed his feet into his converse, leaving his work shoes in front of the bathtub. His white button down was half-undone with a faded tank-top beneath. He looked like hell, and considering what had gone down, he felt like it too.

“Knock knock,” An hour in, with all prepackaged meats on display and a third of munster cut, Emrey received help in the form of Ace sneaking in through the fire exit. “Pssst....PianoMan, you clock me in yet?”

“Deidre did.”

“Awesome,” He kicked his way in with his foot. “Brought you a little something, as a thanks for saving my hide.” Holding up a 14oz coffee, he took a sip of his own.

“Oh, my little caffeine angle,” Emrey took a drink and sighed as the magic set in. “You got it right too.”

“Yep, Amaretto with exactly four vanilla creamers, two half-n-half, and one packet of sugar,” Slipping his own apron on, Ace tied it around front (being that it never stayed fastened the other way). “Sweet-n-low before you ask.” Emrey chugged until he had to stop for a breath.

“I could just kiss you.”

“Lets not and say you did,” Flipping on a light that had been missed, Ace turned a sign inside of the case. “What's with the face? You have 'bitched by Harlash' written all over you,” Despite the average crowd, very few bothered to look towards the deli as the two spoke. After getting an abbreviated run down of the morning's events, Ace shook his head. “Man why didn't you text Deidre or Biancca, they'd have clocked you in. Harlash never leaves his office unless we aren't in the computer.”

“Unlike some, I'm responsible with my irresponsibility,” After serving an elderly woman who was specific on the width of her colby-jack, he leaned against the wall next to the egg salad and folded his arms. “It's my own fault.”

“Yeah, well, a gig's a gig. Shit happens.”

“I bet yours last night was amazing. The Byrds really went places.”

“No. Windy went places,” Ace scowled. “She signed as a soloist at the last minute, told us all after the bar closed. Her birds are caged.”

“I could always use a partner.”

“A pianist and a drummer alone would be weird, even if I could convince Biancca to sing over Pachabele and Tchaikovsky.”

“Windy managed.”

“She improvised over a recording of Fur-Elise. It sounded like a walrus farting into a trashcan,” The three o'clock rush came and went without much of a rush to be seen. Aside from supplying a co-worker with a turkey and cheddar sandwich, sales were minuscule and the lone deli workers cleaned to stay busy. “What?! No Way!” Ace was checking his phone and nearly caused Emrey to catch his hand in the slicer.

“Could you say that any louder? There's a family on the other side of town that didn't hear you.”

“Listen to this, Ebenezer Clavier is performing at Weylon's Haunt all this week!” He held up his phone, as if his friend had no reason to trust him.

“That's cool.”

“Just cool? Eb Clavier? Platinum selling pianist, Golden-Orb winner? Why aren't you having one of your squeal episodes?”

“Because that's reserved for musical theater.” Throwing the butt ends of a pork thigh in the garbage, Emrey peeled off his gloves and reached for the plastic wrap.

“We should head over to see Clavier after the place closes, consider it job shadowing.”

“Unless I have a gig, I'd rather just go home.” His voice dampened slightly when Harlash poked his head from his office door, gaping in his direction, “I've been cutting it close as is. Dad got me in here, I don't want to embarrass him...”

“Dude, Clavier never makes public appearances. Says so in the article,” He skimmed down to where he was last reading. “'Clavier, a secretive performer who often refuses to tour, was convinced by talent manager Romeo Rake at the last minute-'” He snickered. “Romeo. Nice.”

“He goes by Mac.”

“How would you know?”


“We were...friends in highschool,” Wiping the table down where the pork once was, he continued. “By that, I mean I was in highschool. He got me a few gigs at some dive bars.”

“So, just friends huh?” Ace rung out another customer, placing a price sticker on a wrapping of meat.

“I got a little caught up in show. He was older, and took an interest in my music. We hung out a bit, then Mom found out and threatened to call the police,” He sighed. “I tried to explain my feelings weren't mutual, but she wouldn't listen. We lost contact after graduation.”

“Tragic,” Ace, sensing the downturn of his friends spirits, grabbed his cheeks and drew him in. These violent delights have violent ends. And in their triumph die, like fire and powder. Which, as they kiss, consume.”

“Shut up jackass,” Smiling, Emrey picked his own cell phone off a stack of wooden skids and put it to his ear when the ringtone chimed. “Hello...”

Ace was upfront, dealing with a rather peculiar person asking for “Alpaca rib-eye” when an excited Emrey came storming up and hugged him from behind, “Bad touch!”

“I got a call from the 501!”

“You have a mall from the firegun? Slow down champ and repeat.”

“The 501! They want me to fill in for their pianist!”

“Plasma 501? That's a lounge, how the hell did a lounge get your number?”

“The bartender at Eugi's recommended me! They want me to come in at ten!” THIS was a squeal episode. Emrey didn't care how many patrons were staring at him. “Oh god what should I wear, I got blood on my nice shirt....maybe I could ask Dad...wait, what will I play? Pachebele isn't ritzy enough...”

“Calm down spaz, you're scaring the children,” Ace ruffled his hair net. “I've heard you perform, whatever you choose will be awesome. Now put your gloves back on, Alpaca rib-eye doesn't cut itself.”

 

 

 

After clocking out at six, Emrey took his bike down the main highway and into a heavily wooded grove. Circling around a large lake, he came upon a fence surrounding the property his parents owned. While they usually kept the gate locked, making it impossible for even the mail man to get in, he was lucky to have been spotted by his baby brother, who alerted his father on the porch swing.

“I don't think she'll be able to get the stains out,” On the upper level of the home, Donnahvan Huntley held up his son's dress shirt, squinting at it through his thick lenses. “Boy you need to stop murdering animals with your good clothes on.”

“I don't do the killing, I maim the corpses.”

“Right,” Taking up his cane, Don gave his son an affectionate pat on the cheek. “Get yourself dressed Em. I'm going to check on your mother.”

Hows the book coming?”

“Should be on the shelf by spring, or so the publisher keeps telling her. She's quite the wordsmith.”

“When it comes to mulch and manure. Lend me a copy when it's out. I always like to keep up on planting trends.Downstairs, the television blared reruns of the Frances Fishing Hour with the youngest of the Huntley boys staring at the screen, his thumb in his mouth.

“Hannigan put your pants back on,” Maria turned to the stove, giving her husband a second of attention as he meandered down the spiral stair case. “Did you have a talk with him?”

“Hmmm? Oh, yeah, told him to set a better alarm and wear a trash bag.”

“Don.”

“Yes, oh paranoid love of my life?”

“I'm not paranoid, I just-” She withdrew her wooden spoon, glanced up the stairs to see if her son was coming. “The 501?”

“Honey it's a lounge, this might be the break he's been pawing after.”

“There are other lounges.”

“And there might not be another opportunity like this.”

“I don't want him around that building, around them.” Re-situating the cavatini already on the table, she cleared her throat, “Their kind isn't interested in talent.” She turned the stove-eye off and grabbed a clean plastic bowl from the sink,

“They're in the city, yes? What stopped them from going after him before?”

“But-”

“He has to make his own decisions.”

“And if he decides to become one of those monsters? Then what?” Maria regained her composure and set the creamed corn on the table.

“Would you hate him for it?” It was a difficult and, perhaps heartless, thing to ask.

“No, but he's my baby, am I not supposed to worry?” Thudding footsteps above them dulled any chance for resolve.

“Does this look alright?” The conversation ended when Emrey came into the kitchen with his shirt buttoned incorrectly and his tie on wrong.

“If you're going for the afternoon drunk look,” Don did what he could, loosening the tie and draping it over the boy's shoulders. “Go get your brother from the living room, your mother won't let you go until you eat.” With the toddler in his highchair and Maria spoon-feeding him generous amounts, conversation at the table was sparse.

Emrey knew his mother would be upset. If she was worried about him getting hurt, she didn't have to be. He hadn't personally been to the 501, but they had bouncers there for a reason.

“So...Mom, have you heard from Miles?”

“Yesterday actually,” Maria held Hannigan's wrist when he began to play in his mashed potatoes. “Finally finished his certification.”

“Oh, that's cool.”

“He has two office's hankering after him.”

“What about Haley?”

“Still on the road...what does she do again dear?” Donnahvan had a noodle hanging from his lip,

“Fire-eating.”

“Oh yes, she also tames the llamas.”

“Yeah, I saw her work last time the carnival came in,” Emrey pushed his empty plate away. “She burped and singed off her eyebrows.”

“She had to burrow my make-up pencil. Never did get it back,” Chuckling, Maria added, “How have you been? Harlash been good to you?” 

“I suppose,” In fear of disappointing them, he continued to ramble. “I sliced up a pig today.”

“Any gigs?” Don caught on and tried to intervene.

Maria leave the boy alone.”

“I have the right to ask.”

“I'm not calling in Mom.”

Emrey you know how I feel about this-”

“About what?” The young man took a deep breath. “You've been supportive up until now, what's changed?”

“Some of these jobs your taking are dangerous. You could be mugged, drugged, murdered. You don't know what it's like out there,” Alone in the quarrel, Don took Hannigan and made a quick escape, leaving his cane upright against the chair.

“I've been working at this for too long to give up,” Standing, he took his suit jacket and threw it on. Maria opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted. “For once, let me walk out the door without a lecture.” Taking a moment to put his plate in the sink and push his chair in, Emrey left the dining area and went out the front door. From there he traversed the front yard, got on his bike and went off to the 501.

 

CHAPTER 2

 

From the outside, the Lounge looked no different than any other. It was a skyscraper, reaching high with a winding cavernous basement beneath. Anyone who entered the Plasma 501 would notice an uncertain shift in the atmosphere. It was uncomfortable to many.

“Well, now the party has arrived,” Mac came up from the subway, and hardly flinched when a voice called to him from the shadows. Seeing Elvira in her typical attire, with her dark plum overcoat and fishnet stockings, did little other than annoy him. “You're late to the dance sweetheart, where have you been?”

“We all work,” He answered, walking side by side with her as they entered the building and got onto the elevator. “No Vlad super-glued to your hip tonight?”

“Don't be snide, he's upstairs enjoying the hor'derves. You should yourself, you look famished,” She chuckled. “All that scouting has you by the throat.”

“I'm not here to play,” Mac commented, watching the lights ascend with the elevator. “I have to speak with Morrigan about her fill-in for the evening.”

“Here I thought you found our new piano boy,” Elvira touched up her lipstick while looking into her compact. “He looks delicious.”

“Keep your teeth off him.”

There was a chime before the doors opened to a red diamond carpet.

“Now if you'll excuse me,” Elvira escaped to a side passage. Inside, Mac could see Vlad with the girl he found at the Grind. Partially nude and her eyes glazed over, he was upon her with his teeth deep in her throat. He took a moment to withdraw when his partner entered, licking a droplet from the victim's collarbone. “I have business to attend to.”

The first room where the entertainment sat was empty save for a couple on the dance floor, whispering in hushed tones. Their tune changed when they saw Mac.

“I tried calling you,” Morrigan said, nudging her husband to follow. “Does Elvira know why you're here?”

“She thought I sprang for the entertainment,” The piano player himself was obscured by the risen lid on the black baby grand. Mac acknowledged his existence by perking his ears to the sound of Hayden. “I swung by the Grind as you asked.”

“Wayne?” Morrigan's husband, Logan, chimed in.

“About as dead as the rest of us.”

“Damn it,” He gritted his teeth. “She didn't even ask. Not Jessica or William. Back in town a month and she's already causing problems.”

“As much as I'd love to point fingers, we have no proof outside of suspicion,” Morrigan handed her drink to her partner. “We'll keep an eye on her, it's all we can do.” Noting when the music switched from Hayden to Handle, Mac asked.

“How's Belisama. She was skinning a squirrel last I saw her.”

“Just got on the honor-roll,” Logan said. “We had her in here earlier after school. She had ballet, but it was canceled after the home-ec teacher caught himself on fire.”

“Making no bake cookies no less,” Heading up the stairs, Morrigan trailed after her husband. “Speaking of which, feel free to stop in if you find yourself near by. Doesn't look like you've been eating.”

“Why does everyone keep telling me that?”

“Because it's true.” They weren't the first to notice. He had been hungering for something since he woke but was too busy to worry. Though, upon entering the 501 and going through the ropes, a strange scent had been tantalizing him. One that made his stomach complain worse than it had in a long, long time.

“Mac?” The source of his temptation revealed itself as the pianist. The unmistakable scent drew him in like flies on a freshly laid pile of dog shit. “Mac Rake?”

“Yeah?”

“You don't recognize me?” Emrey realized the questions stupidity, but went with it. “Emrey...Emrey Huntley.”

“Emrey...” A pause. “I meet people everyday kid, you'll have to jog my memory.”

“You helped be get me into a few bars.”

“A part of the job. Still pulling a blank.”

“....the restraining order.”

“Ohhh! THAT Emrey.” His attempt to feign stupidity must have worked, because the man in front of him believed it. It was hard NOT to remember Emrey, even with the time that had passed. Sure he remembered him. Nice guy, gifted pianist, needed someone to get him a few gigs when his dipshit mother wasn't calling the police.

Smoothing the fabric of his shirt, Emrey's smile faltered. “This is my first major gig in a while, I was hoping I looked the part.”

Stupid naive kid.

Mac wanted to find Morrigan and smack her. Here Emrey was, standing in a den full of vampires like a child in a toystore. And with his scent....

Inhaling, he felt his insides shake. The kid smelled as good now as he had back then.

“Anyway....” The awkwardness was there, and Emrey blamed himself for it. “I should get my pay and go. I don't think I'm welcomed here, I've been getting strange looks since I started.”

“That's just the bouncer, he lost an eye to a mower blade.” Mac swallowed, feeling a bit more stable.“If you aren't in a rush, how about a drink? On me?”

 

 

 

“One-Fifty,” Emrey did a third and final count of his pay. “Plus a twenty in the tip jar. Some kid kept asking for the funeral march.” Cramming his money in the front pocket of his shirt, he poked at his glass with little enthusiasm.

“Not much for drinking?” Mac, the opposite, set a second drink aside and laced his fingers on the bar,

“Never was, even in school. Every one else went to keggers for the booze,” He grinned. “I went for the jocks.”

“Glad to see you haven't changed. Morrigan told me you just got back in town, you stuck living with the folks?”

“It's not too bad," Emrey shrugged. “My brother was born after Dad retired. Money's been tight so I figured I could stick around and help them straighten things out. You know, medical bills and all that,” The conversations hadn't changed, Mac remembered Emrey never talking about himself. It was always his parents, always about what Maria was getting published or what Don had been up to with the store. “Here I am going on about myself.”

“I'm not that interesting,” Mac said. “Still helping people dink around in bars. Nothing changes.” He kept the issues with Elvira hush, there was no point in confusing people with the complexities of their politics.

Inhaling and catching another strong whiff of his friend's scent, Mac received his third drink and buried his nose in it.

This hasn't changed either.

Both men sat in silence there after, Emrey strumming on the wooden table top and Mac trying his hardest not to breath.

Coming up for a quick drink before taking off, Elvira spotted them and weaseled her way in. “I spy a conversation I'm not a part of.”

“There's a reason.”

She encroached upon their guest and received an unexpected glare from Mac.

“This your first day playing at the 501?”

“Yes ma'am.” Emrey was oblivious to the danger,

“Ma'am? Did you hear that. If only I was afforded such courtesy by others,” She played with a strand of his bangs. “Aren't you just adorable? You should come around here more often sweetie, my partner and I would've loved having you tonight.” She received a shrug as a retort.

“I do try to perfect my repertoire beforehand. ”

“You're what?” Elvira waved it away. “Sure, whatever. What are you doing tomorrow evening? I have a... party and we need entertainment.”

“Sure I'd love to-”

“He's busy,” Mac interrupted, standing. “I have an opening elsewhere that I need him to fill.”

“Isn't that his choice?”

“You and I both know you don't care about choice,” Grabbing Emrey's arm and pulling him up, Mac almost jerked his shoulder out of place. “Keep the change.” He threw a twenty down for the bartender and barely gave Emrey a chance to retrieve his coat before storming out.

 

 

“Remind me, were you always this stupid around strangers or did I catch you on an off day?” Walking under a frail mist of rain, Emrey had to run to keep up.

“Excuse me?”

“No wonder your mother's up your ass.” How could he NOT see what Elvira was doing? Sure Mac had a good seventy years on him, had more experience, but it was common sense,

“She was offering me a job,” Emrey fumed, his hair damp and his bangs limp across his forehead. “Private parties pay more depending on the clientele, you of all people would know that.” They continued walking, letting the belts of rain fill in the silence. Turning the corner at the bookstore, Mac was feet from the nearest subway tunnel.

“Tell me this, how long have you lived here?”

“Why?”

“Just answer it. Born and raised?” There was a nod. “And you're this sheltered?” They walked another short distance before pausing once more. “Look around,” Emrey did as he was instructed. “Where are we at?”

“An ally.”

“Yeah,” He seized the boy's shirtsleeves, slamming him into a brick wall. “You followed me without hesitating, and now we're alone. I can do whatever I want,” A set of nails dug into his arms. “Did you think you could trust me? You think all that being nice was genuine?” His message effective, Mac gave another sharp intake before letting the body go.

Tossed to the street and into a puddle, it took Emrey a moment to realize he was free. While a normal person would have run, he stayed, swallowing to lessen the beat of his heart.

“That party,” Mac began, his body's silhouette a shield for the street lamp behind him. “You wanna know what'll happen?” There was nothing but a shameful stare back. “They don't need entertainment, they need an entree.” Instead of rolling around in the streets like gutter trash, Emrey climbed to his feet and cringed at the splattering of mud on his father's dress shirt.

“You expect me to read minds?” He mumbled, not sure if he should be angry.

“I expect you think,” The comment was short and bitten as Mac picked his friends coat from where it lay. “Nothing Elvira offers you is worth taking. Understand?” There was a nod. “Good. Now come on, I'll take you home.”

 

 

It was nearly dawn when Emrey crossed through the fence, yesterday's newspaper under his arm. With the sky a robin egg's hue, he thought of his nine to three shift at the deli and groaned.

Climbing the porch steps, he looked through the fragmented glass arch on the door to behold his mother asleep on the couch, her crochet in limp hands. The small mounted television set served as the only light source, casting a glow on Maria and the wall behind her.

“Sorry,” Emrey apologized when the tumblers in the lock snapped his mom from her stupor. “Didn't mean to wake you.”

“It's fine sweetie,” Maria yawned, popping her fingers (out of habit). “I was working on the third scarf chain and must've dozed off...” She checked the partially singed wall clock above the door frame (singed from a cooking fire she refused to speak of). “Did you just now get home? I thought the 501 closed at two.”

“Uh, went to the diner,” He didn't see the point in lying, despite not mentioning with who. She was concerned enough without him opening THAT can of worms. “Kind of a long night.”

Folding her work and setting it on the coffee table, Maria placed the pastel blue yarn atop of it.

“No problems? Paper said the place would be packed.”

“Moderate crowd, nothing I'm not use to,” There was a pause with both grasping at the straws of an already waning conversation. “Did Hanny get to sleep for you okay? He's been a terror.” Maria chuckled.

“Just the age. He ripped the wallpaper down behind his crib.”

“In protest of the injustice. Wait until he goes to school.”

“If he pulls the fire alarm like you did, I'll toss him out a window.”

“Yeah, get him prepared for when he starts sneaking out of them.”

“Don't remind me,” Muting the television, Maria reached for the floor lamp beside her, turning it to a slight dim. “What time do you need to be at the store?”

“Nine, I figured I'd pass out for a couple of hours, get a shower and head over.”

“I washed your work pants, they're folded on the ottoman.”

“Thanks mom,” Content that she didn't notice the brown stain on the stomach of his button down, Emrey was heading through the living room when he was called once more.

“Emrey?”

“Yeah?” When he didn't receive an immediate answer, he doubled back,“Mom?”

“If something were to happen to your father and I, would you be willing to take care of your brother?” The question was said in such a fretful, shaky manner that Emrey felt the blood in his veins run cold. He swallowed.

“Of course. B-but you and dad are fine, he's old but he still has some fight in him.” Staring down at the hands laced in her lap.

“They-” Her teeth grabbed at her lip. “They found another one.”

“Another?” Her son took a step back. “What? You mean, another...”

“In the right one. I was gonna tell you at supper, before-”

“I was being an ass, I'm sorry.” To stop his legs from giving out, Emrey sat on the edge of the coffee table.

“No, we've all been stressed. The doctors caught it early, they think if they go through with the mastectomy this time, it'll stop it from spreading. They're going to start me on chemo before hand,” Grabbing the front of her head, Maria pulled the wig from her scalp. Holding it, she scraped her nails along the small tufts of gray beneath. “Your father says I'm beautiful...He must be seeing something I'm not,” She sniffled, her eyes glossy in spite of the dryness of her cheeks. “I don't think I can do this again.”

“I can ask for more hours, we'll make it.”

“Honey I don't want you wasting your money on this,” She gripped his knee. “Just promise me your brother will have a place to go.”

“Totally, you won't have to worry.”

“Also.”

“What? Dad have dick cancer too or something?” Maria couldn't help but laugh, doing so harder than was necessary,

“No, no nothing like that. We're selling the house,” She continued before her child could object. “It'll get us started on paying off all we owe. The medical bills, the frivolous purchases-”

“The student loans?” Not catching the guilty tone used, Maria carried on.

“Everything. And once the application for the apartment goes through, we'll start packing,”

“What about the greenhouse? You've put years into it.”

“We have a buyer, and she's a close friend. She has the cash and the heart to get her fingers dirty,” Staring at her pride and joy from the window next to her, she sighed. “It's best we cut our losses. If we can start on the right foot before the surgery, we can get it under control with payments instead of contemplating bankruptcy.”

“You never told me it was that bad.”

“It isn't worth you worrying yourself sick,” She kissed his cheek. “I do enough of that for all of us. Now get some sleep, Harlash doesn't need a bear cutting meat.” Emrey wanted to ask her how he was supposed to sleep after having a weight dropped on his chest. He couldn't think of work, he couldn't even think of his date with Mac.

What if his mother didn't make it? What would happen to Don? Or the rest of the family?

If Dad still had the store...

But he sold it for my loans....

“Good night sweetie, you have a long day ahead of you.” Those were Maria's last words before disappearing up the stairs.

Lying back on the couch with the quilt tossed across his middle, Emrey stared at the ceiling until his alarm went off, leaving him without any sleep to combat the depression.

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

Shades pulled and linoleum floors gleaming from another wash, Harlash would have been disappointed in the lack of customers had he taken a moment to leave his office. There was far too much for him to do, however. Between the truck delivery, the broken box of ranch that ruined a pallet of perfectly good toiletries, and his old business partner calling in regards to his shares, he hadn't the time to bother with menial things like advertisement. That's what he had employee's for.

Out on the floor, the only cashier on the clock did the fourth wipe down of her register, pulling the pins from her shoulder length hair and rearranging it before putting it back.

“Hey Ace.” Diedre hit the silver domed bell beside the deli register.

“I'm in the cooler,” The voice called from a half cracked door, propped open by a wrapped wheel of provolone. The bell continued to chime until he stumbled out, his face flushed from the sudden shock of warmth. “Will you stop ringing that damn bell? I've got enough of a headache trying to salvage what the truck brought us.”

“Any idea what happened? I tried to ask Harlash but he was too busy yelling at Jordans over the phone.”

“'Bout time he did,” Ace complained, picking up his door-stop and chucking it into the fridge. “There's nothing on these pallets that's serviceable. I told him to go through DFG but he turned his nose up at it. Says Jordan's is cheaper.” Balancing her elbow on the counter, Diedre rested her cheek on her palm.

“You get what you pay for.”

“And you wanna know what we got? Three skids of ruined cod because the idiot truckdriver didn't tie them down. Salad dressing broke in the back. When he finally got here, the rig smelled like molded vag.” The cashier pulled out her wallet and fiddled for the dollars behind her ID.

“Can you get me a honey ham on dark rye?”

“Take a good look at the display princess, that's all I have,” It was lucky for both that they were slow or he'd have a horde of angry customers. “I've got pickle loaf, swiss and three-day old turkey.”

“There's no ham in the back?” Diedre put her money on the counter regardless,

“Power went out during the last thunderstorm. I salvaged what I could and spent the rest of my shift writing waste reports,” Ace complied when his co-worked pointed to the pickle loaf. “None of this would be happening if Don ran the place,” Diedra chewed her lunch begrudgingly, not being the biggest fan of what she was forced to chose from. Swallowing, she fought her gag refle., “Sold the store to Harlash to get ahead on Mrs. Huntley's medical bills. Sweet woman, shame what happened to her.”

“So Emrey's-”

“Don's kid, yeah. I think something about that crawls under Harlash's skin,” Shutting the register door after opening a roll of nickles, Ace looked behind Diedra to an emptied isle.“Speaking of which, where is the PianoMan?”

“Trying to repair the toilet in the ladies room.”

“We have a maintenance man.”

“Not anymore. The boss asked him to work off the clock and he walked out.”

“So I guess Emrey's a cheap fill-in,” With a final, loud flush, the subject of their exchange came out of the bathroom. A rubber glove grasped what was once an intact plunger. “You get it done Billy Joel?”

“I found the clog,” He held up a fish, letting it flop. A sour demeanor was to be expected, as he had been going at the toilet for a good couple hours. It wouldn't have killed him to be put on truck duty with his friends. Instead he clocked in and was given a plunger and a list. “Who flushes a herring?” Tossing it in the nearest trash can, he did the same for the tattered gloves. From there, after making sure his boss wouldn't slither from his office with anymore demands, he grabbed an energy drink from the discount rack, picking at the 60% off sticker blocking the can's barecode. “Hey cashier. How about checking me out?”

“You look good from where I'm standing.” Diedre threw the bottom crusts of her rye into the trash.

“How much?”

“One Thirty Two.”

“Geez, how much did it cost before....” Counting a collection of coins in his palm, he let them tinkle onto the conveyor belt and dug around in his pockets. He found a penny and half a gum wrapper. “You have a quarter?”

“Honey just use your discount.”

“He doesn't have one,” Ace called from the back. “Just put it on my account.”

“Is there anything Harlash didn't take from you?”

“My dignity.”

Diedre pressed a few more buttons.

 “Seventy three cents,” She placed the drink in a bag, then put a wrapped deli sandwich along side it.“I don't wanna hear it,” She scolded before any objection could uttered. “It's already paid. Eat it or I'm calling your mother.”

“What's he doing now?”

“He isn't eating.”

“Boy, don't make me call your mama!” Emrey sighed.

“Don't you two have better things to do. Like inventory?” He took his change and dropped it in the School “Llama Fund” bucket. “I have enough people riding my ass, and not the good way.”

“If we want to be worried, we have every right. Ace says he hasn't seen you at any gigs around town.” Guzzling his drink and immediately regretting it when he agitated his sensitive stomach, Emrey was tempted to think of a lie. He couldn't push himself to do so.

“I have an agent,” He admitted. “Just, with the move, I've been working more than usual.”

“I heard about the pizzaria.”

“Yeah I started yesterday. I put my two weeks in when I arrived this morning. If my last check here is decent, I'll have enough to finish out the deposit on my new place.”

“Just don't push yourself too hard.” From his office, Harlash emerged just as Emrey shoved his lunch down his gullet.

“Hey Larry.” Emrey sighed internally.

“Yes sir?”

“Throw this on and go stand outside for me.” Picking up the costume at his feet, the employee strained just to carry it.

“What is this thing?”

“An old mastodon outfit I found in the janitor's closet,” Harlash said. “Slip into that and try to draw in customers. This place is dead.”

“Uh, Sir,” Emrey objected, leaving the massive costume head on the ground. “It's gotta be at least a hundred outside.”

“I'll call you in after a few minutes. Consider it an experiment.”

Slipping into it and struggling to walk with the extra thirty pounds, Emrey waited until he was at the door before putting the head on.

“Do me a favor,” He said, muffled, to Diedre. “If you see me on the sidewalk, turn me over. I wanna be golden brown all the way through.”

“And serve you with A1 sauce, got it.”

 

 

 

It was late into the evening before the struggling mastodon made it to his apartment. Standing in the elevator, sweat rings on his neck and under his arms, he held his bike alongside him and the head by it's tusk.

I'll call you in in a minute...” He grumbled. “Just an experiment.” The looks he received were bad enough, but having to ride home dressed like a side-show reject was the worst of it. With no where to put the animal's skull, he was forced to ride with it on, making it impossible to steer. “Keep it over night, you'll need it tomorrow...” The doors peeled apart, a drab, windowless underground storage area greeting him. Going to his door, he fiddled with his keys for a good five minutes before finally getting in. On the other side, sitting with his thumb in his mouth, Hannigan stared back.

“Buh.” He muttered one of the few words at his disposal.

“If you were going to hire a bouncer, make sure he's potty trained first.” Emrey picked his brother up after the babe reached for him,

“He's the cheapest you'll find,” Maria flattened the last box and sat it in a small pile. “Toss him a few bits of cereal and he's placated,” She smirked. “Miles decided to stop by, give the place a look over.”

“I could've unpacked myself mom.”

“Oh I know, consider this a housewarming visit.” She paused. “Or...basement warming. Weren't there better places for you to chose from?”

“250 a month, free utilities. And I can keep whatever falls down the ducts,” He swallowed a chuckle in lieu of his mother's eyebrow rising. “Ahem, so, where's dad?”

“He went to speak with Harlash about the store,” Motioning to his costume, she added, “Looks like he missed your little sidewalk party.”

“Just some free advertisement.” Emrey was thankful that the two's paths hadn't crossed. His father seeing him like this would be the ultimate in embarrassment.

“Alright, everything should be plugged in,” Miles, a man in his late twenties with looks that favored his mother, gave Emrey a not so gentle pat on the back. “Nice cracker-jack box you have here. How many riveting games of Rock-Paper-Scissors did it take?”

“For your information, it was hacki-sack.”

“Yeah, the landlord's sack,” He stepped aside when Emrey swung at him. “Should have heard mom this morning when you left for work. She's been blubbering worse than when I moved out....hell worse than when Maureen was born. Speaking of which.” He had no need to call, as his daughter was already attached to his leg.

“Your house looks really cool,” She smoothed the fabric of her pink day dress. “Dad told me to say that by the way. I think it looks like one of those castle dungeons. If you had a guillotine we could reenact the French Revolution.” Trying to ignore his daughter's obsession, Miles pulled Hannigan from his brother.

“Here, take your uncle over in the corner and keep him occupied,” Maureen coddled the infant as any once would expect, letting him walk beside her. “French Revolution...she's been studying gothic literature for her next scouts badge.”

“It's nice having her here for the summer.”

“It'll be longer if I have my way,” Miles folded his arms, listening to his mother as she rustled around in the other room. “Lacey's been blowing the support money. She kept claiming the two of them weren't getting along, but I doubt that's Maureen's fault.”

“I've got my own place now, if you ever want to send her over I wouldn't mind.”

“It'd give her something to look forward to. I want life to be normal,” He exhaled. “As normal as it can be.”

“Emrey,” Maria waved him over. “I set up your posters next to the milkcrate desk. Your clothes are on the kitchen chair, and I put a months worth of ramen in your cupboards,” She also sent over a couple of her unused pans and a set of wooden spoons. “Oh, and the alpaca fur rug is from Haley. She says congrats by the way. The circus is going through Strangetown so she can't get over to say hi.”

“This is great and all, but where's the futon?”

“In the bathroom. You'll have to drag it out if you want a shower.”

“Why?”

“We ran out of room,” She turned him by his shoulders. “That took up most of the space,” In what would have been his bed-area stood a mahogany upright piano. “The opera singer from three houses over came by to tune it for us. We found it at an antique rodeo and put down a bid. All it needed was a little polish.”

“I-” Emrey may have seen many baby-grands but he hadn't ever thought of owning one. “How... how much did this cost?”

“That isn't what you ask when someone gives you a present,” Maria tapped the tip of his nose. “Now you can toss out that old keyboard and play Tchaikovsky without the third b-flat shocking you.” Standing near the 88key set, Emrey gave the ivories a quick second of affection, running the Cmajor scale from bottom to the top.

“It sounds beautiful,” Pulling the lid down, he frowned. “Mom this is great, really, but did you use the house money for this?”

“That doesn't matter.”

“It's a Brigg Boudoir, it's Victorian. These things aren't just expensive, they're rare. I don't deserve something like this.”

“Emrey Joseph Huntley, don't tell your mother what you deserve.”

“But your surgery.”

“What about it? You ever expect to be a big shot piano player with sub-par equipment?” She sent no love to the duct-taped keyboard in the corner. “All your father ever wanted was to get you a nice piano. We wanted to give you your grandmothers, but your Aunt Tiff busted the lock off our storage unit and took it. Our finances aren't your problem, we would rather see our son successful than see ourselves rich,” She accepted when her son came over and embraced her. “Be sure to hug your brother, he had to move it.”

“It wasn't so bad,” Miles said. “I only shit myself twice.” The harmonious scene was cut short by a knock, interrupting Maureen's game of peek-a-boo with Hannigan.

Emrey half expected it to be his father, that was until Miles pulled the door back to reveal Mac on the other side.

“Can I help you?” Struggling to withdraw the parasol on his shoulder, Mac had an unlit cigarette balanced precariously on his bottom lip. (Likely from the pack of menthol's poking out of his pocket).

“Is Emrey here?” He squinted, reading the half scribbled address on the paper he held. “I might be one building over. That's the last time I take instructions from a bear on the street corner.”

“I told you it was a mastodon,” Emrey slid past his brother and opened the door the rest of the way. “I also told you I wouldn't be alone until later in the evening,” He whispered this, aware that his mother was within range. Waiting until his friend lit the smoke between his lips, he added. “You said at the diner you quit.”

“With talking animals about, now's a great time to relapse,” He gave another half-hearted grin, the left side of his mouth turning in a smile that dripped of his typical smart-ass charm. Emrey felt his heart skip at the sight of it. “If the sprinklers go off, we'll both get a show. What do you say Mr. white t-shirt?”

“Emrey....dear,” Maria's voice reminded the young man why he feared his guest coming early. “Are you going to introduce us?”

“Oh yeah, uh, Mac this is my mom and brother,” He pointed back to his guest. “This is Mac, he's my,” A pause. “Agent.”

“I'm sure he fancies himself as one,” His mother wasn't the least bit convinced. “Never the less, good to see you again Mr. Rake. It would seem my son has rekindled with more than just family since coming home.”

“Mom,” Miles took Hannigan after scooting his daughter into the hall. “We'll be waiting in the car.”

“Why? Don't you want to meet the man who tried to seduce your baby brother?”

Emrey jumped to the defense before Mac could.

“We were friend's. I told you but you wouldn't listen.”

“And we told you to stop sneaking out and hanging around at those damn bars! All I could imagine was you coming home with more holes than a human pincushion.”

“Look, I'm sorry-”

“Don't apologize,” Depositing the long, curved filter of ash from the tip of his smoke, Mac bit the filter once replacing it. “Letting him out of the house as a kid might have quelled his urge to sneak around. Don't blame me for your failures as a parent,” A string of gray haze was exhaled through his nostrils. “Tell me, how many years he was taught at home? What friends did he have, or was mommy and daddy enough?” Upon seeing Maria, he didn't expect her to forget the skeletons between them. He did, however, expect her to be less psychopathic now that her baby was of a respectable age.

“How I raise my children is none of your concern,” Maria picked up the scarf she brought, wrapping it around her throat. “After your guest leaves, you can call me. We'll have a talk.”

“Yes'm.” Sitting on the two boxes that served as a love seat, Emrey waited until his mother stormed out before cradling his face in his palms.

He never understood this, the feelings he had towards her. She'd do wonderful things, only to drive him up the wall with her constant paranoia.

“I have that to listen to,” He scowled. “I have enough to worry about without dictating the two of you.”

“Hey, don't start with me momma's boy. I showed up when you said. Pardon me for not expecting torches and pitchforks,” Mac dropped the used butte into his ash can. “Besides, everything I said was true and you know it.” Letting himself sulk a bit longer, Emrey's brow furrowed, revealing a faint pair of lines above his nose.

“This was the last thing she needed,” He sank down when the top of his “seat” caved. “They sell the house and waste the money on that thing,” He pointed to his newly beloved upright. “ If I hadn't flunked out, they wouldn't be in this mess.”

“Right, because some useless fine-arts degree's gonna heal your mom's tits,” Mac leaned his umbrella against the wall near the mini-fridge. “That's been your conniption this entire time?”

“It's my fault.”

“How?” He didn't realize just how far Emrey's feelings went. Sure, they spoke about it at the diner, made mention of it on the phone, but it was never brought to his attention like it was now.

“If I wasn't such a failure, she wouldn't have to worry,” Emrey sniffled, taken back by the sudden realization that his eyes were watering. “They said they caught it early...that they'd be able to kill it once the radiation started. But the last time they put her on that shit, she could hardly walk,” His throat hitched, fighting against his baser emotions to not break down. He was losing control, and it enraged him. “She's constantly trying to control everything I do. Then she does something nice after we have a fight and I hate myself for being mad!” Stressed, tried and conflicted, Emrey felt nothing but disdain for the tiny apartment he had once been so proud of. In a manner of speaking, nothing felt right since Maria told him of her diagnosis. Food tasted foul, every note he played was harsh and off key. The act of getting out of bed was a struggle. Life had become the gas pedal glued to the floor and he was the sloth basking in front of the tires.

“There's going to be days where you can't stand her, that doesn't change who you are as a person.”

“I just...” Wiping his cheeks, Emrey was more humiliated that one of his few acquaintances had seen him like this.

“Don't want her to go?” Mac wasn't expecting it when the question flew from his lips, but when a set of arms wrapped around him and Emrey's features hid in his shoulder, he wasn't sure what to do.

God he's warm.

Mac laced his fingers around the body pressed against him, doing so after very little contemplation.

This was a mistake.

He told himself his coming over was to check out the new place, maybe see how the move went.

His scent....

Mac ran the tip of his tongue across the pointed edges of his teeth, his mouth watering and his stomach answering with a hungry complaint.

“If mom really wants to know,” Emrey answered, unknowingly making his friend's plight worse by re-positioning, giving Mac the prefect trajectory to sink his teeth in. “I think I hung around you because you listened,” He chuckled. “She was so emotional and Dad was always trying to hold her together. They were there for recitals and stuff, but when you and I spoke, we were on the same level,” Then, seeing the situation he was in, he backed away. “Sorry...I didn't mean-If I made you uncomfortable-”

“No,” Mac started to ring his fingers before stuffing them in his pockets. “I...can I use the bathroom?”

“Sure, you don't have to ask,” Emrey was digging in the cabinet, shuffling through a plastic dishware set he had bought from a yard sale, “You want a drink? I bought some of that instant coffee crap from the grocery. I think it tastes like dirt but Ace swears by it.” Turning back with the tap running, he realized he had been prattling to himself. Mac was already in the bathroom, splashing cold water on his face.

I've wanted people before, but not like this.

His warmth...that fucking smile. God I wanna punch him!

He hadn't been able to feed since the two reunited. Nothing tasted good to him, his body rejected every person he tried to sate his appetite with. His friends were beginning to notice too, Morrigan especially.

Maybe if I talk to him, he'll let me...

Trickling piano music took him from his fantasies. This was typical, obviously, but the song dancing on the air from Emrey's upright dug past the skin.

Going back to the other room, he saw his host where he was most comfortable, dancing his fingertips across the piano as if no effort or thought was needed. There was something to the way he played. Emrey didn't move with the music as so many did. He stayed still, planted: as if he co-existed with the notes. If he was a pond, he'd be a still pane of glass with his talent dancing on the surface. It was in this that Mac forgot his cravings and listened.

“It plays beautifully.” The sound was cut when Emrey began to talk, “Sorry, probably rude to play when entertaining guests, but it helps calm me.”

“That song.”

“Pachabele's Canon," He replaced the lid. “Favorite of yours?” Mac found himself reaching for another cigarette,

“Nostalgia,” He held the pack in a grip that seemed to be shaking. “This might be a pussy thing to say, but I've never heard it played so well.” Emrey had to register the compliment.

“Thanks,” He rested both arms across the mahogany top after standing. “My grandmother had this huge ivory baby-grand. According to dad, when I was a little, I always tried to crawl up alongside her when she played,” He gave another serene smile, despite the depression in his voice. “I was seven when she died. We were cleaning out her house and I climbed up on that dusty stool. Of all the years I spent listening to that song, it only took me minutes to learn. Every time I play it, I think of her,” He cleared his throat. “I, uh, have coffee made.”

“Caffeine doesn't really sit with me.”

“Same here. It's decaf. If I tried to drink the real shit this late you'd have to peal me off the ceiling,” Mac did the polite thing and accepted the glass handed to him. Though, once the liquid touched his lips, the very smell of it turned his stomach. “Are you alright?” Seeing him gag, Emrey grew concerned. “If you don't like it, you don't have to take it,” He paused. “Wait, can vampires not do coffee?”

Mac forced himself to take a gulp, “If we couldn't, my friend Logan would've thrown himself into a tanning bed and turned it on high,” He couldn't manage another mouthful and put it down. “It's just my stomach. It's been giving me fits.”

“Have you not been eating?” Emrey said it with the sternness of his own mother. “I don't have much, but I could cook you up some ramen,” He looked into his fridge. “I also have a half eaten container of icecream.”

That's not what I NEED.

Mac sensed the danger and decided it was best to leave.

“I'll pick something up on my way home.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, don't forget your gig at Mori's Friday,” He tossed his coat over his shoulder, picking up his umbrella and opening it with a flick of his wrist. “I mean, you're working there now so it shouldn't be a hassle to throw off the apron and run onstage.” Tossing the empty cups in the sink, Emrey shrugged.

“I'd rather change clothes. I don't want to muck up Mori's organ.”

“We'll put a cherry on your head and call you a crepe.” They shared a few more words, mostly asinine in nature, before Mac showed himself out. Standing in the elevator and listening to the static from the busted speaker, he told himself to keep his distance. Feeling Emrey against him, his frigid being shocked by the breath of existence, was addictive. But he didn't want to give in to his baser instincts, he didn't want to destroy the trust he had. He had yet to admit it out loud, but he wasn't fond of Emrey leaving for university. He never confessed this due to many issues: one being he was with someone else at the time and secondly, his feelings towards a then teenager left him ashamed.

“Yeah?” Answering the cellphone that never seemed to stop ringing, Mac tried to sound more receptive than he felt. “....Home why?....Another one? If you need me to. Alright, see you then.” Having not lasted long, the call ended with the parting of the elevator doors. From there he stepped outside to a world he wasn't happy to greet.

 

 

CHAPTER 4

 

Is the door locked?”

“Yes'm.” The bouncer answered when turning the lock until the tumblers clicked.

“If anyone tries to come in, chuck them out the window,” The basement of the 501 was kept secret from most save for those 'lucky' enough to make it past the velvet rope. Though, as she walked down the last flight of steps, listening to her heels echo off the colorless floor, Jessica Talon's only reason for being at the lounge was for business. “You're all here. Good.”

“Word of advice, If you're going to call a surprise meeting, show up on time,” Morrigan sat on one of the many stone benches strewn about the place. “I had to call Mac in to cover an interview for me.”

“It was last minute for all of us,” Jessica commented. “William, did you bring the girl?”

“Yeah, and hurry this up, I'm on my lunch break. The commissioner's going to have my badge if I'm late again.” The vampire, a burly, rather tall man with a cocoa bronzed complexion pushed a girl to the front.

“I hate to do this in a rush, but we've only so much daylight,” Approaching the child, barely out of her teens and terrified, she offered her little but a discerning glance. “Tell me, why do you bring this girl before us?”

“She's the niece of a joint friend,” Beau, the only other member of the group save for those mentioned (and Logan), motioned towards William. “She's been ill for most her life and her family fears it will claim her. Medicine has done all it can, this may be her last resort.”

“Her name?”

“Hannah.”

“The Smyth girl,” Jessica nodded. “I see her mother running with the paparazzi from time to time.”

“Her aunt was the one who raised her.”

Fiddling with an uneven pigtail, Hannah shied back when the leader of the small group moved in.

“I see no reason to deny her request,” Having stood long enough, and having been there before anyone else, Logan sat next to his wife as Jessica spoke. “Once you turn, you're free to carry on with your everyday life. You can use the powers bestowed upon you as you see fit. However, if at any time you contemplate turning another soul, they, and their request, must be brought before the committee. Am I understood?” There was a nod. “Great. Now, who's doing the deed?”

“I told her aunt I would.” Beau approached with a pocket knife unsheathed at his side.

From where she stood, Jessica deduced that Hannah was already prepared. She didn't cringe when Beau bit into her neck and faded into unconsciousness before he could drink from her.

“She took that better than I expected,” She snapped her fingers. “Logan, the goblet.”

“Yeah, I don't have it.”

“You don't- I sent you a text! It's a part of the ceremony.”

“What ceremony? We're standing in a cluttered basement under a closed lounge. You brought in cupcakes for the last one.”

“It was the first batch I didn't burn, I was proud.”

“In her defense,” William stepped in. “The boys in blue liked the almond milk frosting.”

“Nice to see someone enjoys my culinary prowess.”

“Or lack there of,” Logan reached into his pocket. “Here, a cup from the water cooler at work. I got the call and jammed the thing in my pants.” Having to plug a hole at the bottom of the wrinkled, cone shaped cup, Beau slit his wrist and fought to squeeze what he could into the receptacle provided.

“How long has it been since we've done this?” He asked, opening the teen's mouth and pouring in the contents in.

“Months maybe? Few come forward to ask anymore.” Morrigan moved aside, helping to put Hannah on the alter.

“Now that the girl is taken care of,” Jessica folded her arms. “Did you thank Mac for his work, spying on Wayne and such?”

“Of course. I also said we still had an empty space available but he was reluctant.”

“Always is.”

“However, our suspicions were correct.”

“Figured. I hated sending someone outside of the committee in, but Elvira would suspect.”

“Wasn't much need to, she was bragging here at the 501 the evening Wayne turned.”

“Nero fiddled while Rome burned,” William replaced his trooper hat upon his head. “This is the third instance this month. She's been gone for years and now that she's back, she's lashing out. What can we do aside from pulling her teeth?”

“If we try to reason-”

“There is no reasoning,” Logan snapped, interrupting Jessica. “There never has been. She's no longer in charge so she's going to drag us all down with her,” He glanced over when he felt his wife brush the side of his arm. “She's going out of her way to sabotage what our community has. As far as I'm concerned, she's threatening my family.”

“Even if we knew where she was,” Morrigan said calmly, being a foil her partner's rage. “She vanishes before we have the chance to act. I'd say we should wait here and have her come to us, but she hasn't showed her face at the 501 since her last visit. She must have followers where we can't see because she's always one step ahead. ”

“As are we,” Jessica pointed to Beau. “Once Hannah turns, we'll have our own recourse. Her aunt is a close work acquaintance with Elvira, she knows the girl personally and will be willing to let her close. It'll give us a chance to find her and have any final conversations.”

“You don't think she'll question the child's transformation, no one turns but through us.”

“That hasn't stopped her or the underground movement she's been festering,” William checked his watch, turning the volume dial down on the walkie attached to his belt. “All of this plotting, against our own kind no less,” He tapped Beau's shoulder as he went to go, offering him a ride home before going back to the station. “When bloodlines clash, I suppose.”

“It's her ego,” The correction came with the flickering of the single candelabra on the wall. “She hails from a prestigious family, one that she's proud of, and rightfully so. I could say the same for myself, even if my lineage doesn't hold a candle to the complexities of hers. However, unlike our 'once' good friend, I wasn't on top. I wasn't using my bloodline to evoke fear and obedience. She might be of our kind, but if she's against maintaining order within the city, she's against us,” Jessica swallowed, as if ingesting the words she never bothered to speak. “If any of you feel hollow due to this, I understand. There's no pride when ego's are bruised.”

“And if we do find her?” The final sentence from Beau seemed to ignore everything that was said. “What do you intend? You say speaking with her has become asinine, what can we do?”

“Sadly, all I can do is appeal to her madness,” Jessica nodded with her last words spoken. “Lets hope she isn't too far gone to listen.”

 

 

CHAPTER 5

 

Adjusting his apron, Emrey made it to the phone on the third ring, jumping over the legs of his boss, who was trying in vain to fix the ice dispenser.

“Thank you for calling Mori's, would you like to try our Balsamic chicken on wheat?” Tapping his tooth-mark riddled pencil against his note pad, Emrey scribbled the order down without memorizing any of it. “Would you like that large for two dollar's more?....Okay, Stuffed crust?.... It's mozzarella. You're address....Third floor? Alright, we'll have that out in fourty-five to fifty minutes,” He ripped the ticket from it's book after replacing the phone on the modem. “Mori you've got an order from Maloney.”

“Maloney?” Scooting from his place under the uncooperative machine, Mori moved slow and clumsily for a lanky man. “Hand tossed Alfredo Luau, light cheese, light sauce, dry crust with an anchovy, kalamata olive pesto on the side?” Emrey stacked a line of saucer places on the rack next to the rolling table.

“You can remember her order, but forget to turn the sign.”

“Her order's easy,” Mori pulled a prepared ball of dough from the cooler and started to form it against the table. “She likes to scream it when she rides me.” His employee snickered into his soda, swishing a small chunk of ice between his cheeks.

“I'm guessing YOU'LL be delivering the pizza then.”

“Sure,” The giant bread oven creaked open. “And I'll be giving her the tip.”

“I'm so proud of you my little porn star,” Emrey figured the evening would go as it had been since he began working at Mori's: a small handful of deliveries, a few walk ins that would taper off to a quiet close. Even with the excitement of his gig, he didn't expect many to show. “You got a first aid kit around here? That blister on my heal burst on my last bathroom trip.”

“Hanging on the wall next to the mop sink. When are you gonna quit being that shop's mascot and work for me full time?” There was no room for an answer. “The hours are flexible. I'll give you days off for your little piano recitals. I even have health coverage.”

“Telling me to rub dirt in it isn't health coverage,” Emrey threw out a hand full of candy bar wrappers from the box before finding a singular dot-sized bandaid. “I've got another week and you'll have me all to yourself,” He wouldn't give Harlash the satisfaction of giving up early. “I forgot to ask, did you have any dine-in's before I came? I want to know what to expect for my gig tonight.”

“Afraid not,” Shutting the lid on the pizza box sitting out for the Maloney order, Mori felt for a delivery bag on the ground at his feet. “I'll give you props for wanting to perform here. The only thing I get around here is flood waters.”

“And you want me to work full time,” Emrey turned at the sound of the door bells clanking. “I'm surprised you keep the place open.”

“Doesn't take much to run it,” His boss hit the ice receptacle with his fist. “When my machines work!” The bells chimed again to signify the door closing, but instead of waiting in the dining area as most would, Mac invited himself back to the kitchen counter.

“Hey there good looking,” He smirked at Emrey. “Oh, and you.”

“Is that any way to speak with an employee at one of the most exclusive pizzaria's in town?”

“I think you mean illusive. It's so dead I felt my pulse.” He looked the same as Emrey remembered from their last encounter; cigarette between the lips and bags under the eyes. Though, the bones in his wrists appeared more prominent, the angles of his face more pointed. There was even a sunken glow to the unshaven planes of his cheeks. The smile was still the same, but it didn't distract from the main issue.

“Morrigan was right,” He dodged a wrench thrown in a rage by Mori. “You look half passed death.”

“Comes with the title of being a zombie with fangs,” Mac's brows came together. “Since when did you start speaking with Morrigan?”

“Last names Hemlock right?” He received a nod. “They're regulars. We're the only pizza place that'll crush plasma fruits into our sauce,” He added. “She mentioned you weren't eating. If you're staying for my gig, at least let us feed you.”

“I'll get something on the way back.”

“Just like you were going to last time? Don't think you can get away with lying to me.”

“You sound like your mother,” Mac found it more cute than anything. “I was just popping in to see if you were settled. I didn't part on the best of terms, all the bullshit I caused with Maria.”

“If she remembers it, she isn't saying.”

“How's she doing?”

“Good, decorating the new apartment. She goes in on Monday. I promised to watch Hannigan so Dad can wait in the ER,” Absentmindedly wiping a damp rag in a circle on the counter-top, Emrey frowned. “I hope they don't cut into the cancer by accident. That's what happened to Grandma. They sliced through a melanoma and she was dead within three months.”

“She'll be fine,” Mac felt his attempt to sooth was lacking. “With how much she fights everything else, this should be no problem.”

“I'm smelling smoke,” Mori commented, coming from the back with a glare of vengeance and pants soaked from the knees down. “Who's smoking in my restaurant?” He saw Mac and reiterated. “Oh, you. Never mind. You found me my best worker, I'll wave it.”

“I'm your only worker Mori.”

“Even better, there's no competition,” He scratched his head. “Where's my phone book? I'm calling maintenance.”

“It's under the short leg at table three.”

Dropping the ash from his smoke, Mac took one last drag and snuffed it out against his shoe.

“I thought I was gonna get reamed by an angry Italian.”

“He's Greek,” Emrey said. “We here at Mori's like to go AGAINST stereotype. Now go wait out front, I'm putting an order in for you.” Disobeying as he did best, Mac leaned against the wall behind him, looking out at the main floor. Mori's place had it's own charm to it, a small pizza joint built under the bridge connecting the bustling uptown clubs with the quieter suburbs to the east. The clientele was small, but loyal, the inside was tiny, but clean.

Why am I here?

His intention had been to go back to his place, maybe grab a quick shower before passing out. On the way he saw the road leading to the restaurant, remembered Emrey would be there, and drove into the pothole riddled parking-lot without a thought.

No shame in checking.

Another clanking of the bells against the uneven hinge pulled him from his daydreaming. Sidetracking him further was a shadowed figure, standing on the linoleum by the first set of tables.

“Mac, you cool with rigatoni? Mori's been meaning to get rid of it,” Emrey threw a few slightly bruised plasmafruits into a blender. “Mac?” What could've been an encounter ended rather abruptly when the figure saw him. In a sudden and immediate transition, the customer fled the same way he entered, causing Mori to jump when he dislodged the chimes.

“He usually makes it further than that,” The owner flipped through the pages in his phone book as he ventured to the kitchens. “Owens heating and plumbing...Don't I already have that number hanging up?”

“Is he a regular?”

“For the past couple of days,” Mori bumped the temperature up on the stove. “Comes in asking for Emrey, then leaves before he shows.”

“By name?” Having not gotten a decent look at the customers face, he asked. “He stand about this tall, dark hair? Scar on the chin?”

“Yep, that's him. I wouldn't mind so much if he'd order something.”

“Did you know about this?” Putting Emrey on the spot, Mac wasn't the least bit happy when he shrugged.

“Just recently.”

“And you didn't tell me?”

“How was I supposed to know he was dangerous?”

“Weird creepy guy comes asking after you and you aren't suspicious?” Turning his cellphone on, Mac started to meander through his contacts. “Might as well make that to-go a dine-in. I'm not going anywhere.”

“Do you want a drink?”

Clenching onto his phone as he put it to his ear, Mac swallowed.

“No. Just...don't leave after your gig. I'll drive you home.” Organizing the menus on the counter, Emrey shifted where he stood.

“What about my bike-”

“I'll stick it in the trunk,” He pulled the receiver of the phone away from his mouth. “And if that guy comes back in, you get me. Don't talk to him, got it?”

“If you would tell me what's going on-”

“Got it?” Mac placed his hand over Emrey's. “I'll explain later. There's more important things I have to deal with, okay?” Praying that the small second of contact wouldn't end, Emrey nodded.

“Y-yeah.”

“Good,” The line finally picked up and Mac strode to the dining area, leaving the lone worker shaken. “Logan, you busy at the moment.....Can you meet me down at Mori's, we need to talk....well bring her with, dinner's on me. Besides, Emrey's playing tonight, she'll get a kick out of it....Yeah, I'll put the order in, see you later.” The cell found its way back into his shirt as he sat at a table, keeping an eye out as business continued.

 

 

Not much about Mac had changed over the years. Though Emrey was surprised to find his choice of transportation had. Placing his bike in the trunk with his work apron and music sheets, he couldn't help but admire as he made his way to the passenger's side.

“'67 Fastback,” Mac commented, giving the hood a sound pat. “Bought if off the junkyard last autumn, had a buddy of mine fix it up and tint the windows.”

“What happened to good ol' Clarissa?” With the interior made up of sleek black leather and matching floor mats, Emrey was hesitant to sit inside.

“Drove her off a bridge after a fight with my ex,” Dialing the radio down to soft murmur upon starting the engine, Mac adjusted his overhead mirror. “Because, as you know, I'm about as suave a lady's man as it gets.”

“Someone give you a fifth of vodka and dare you to drive?” The banter between the two was rather forced, mostly due to the obvious discomfort of the evening's activities. Emrey predicted right, as he had only played for a small handfull of people and, as payment, received twenty bucks and half a case of malt liquor. Mac had a friend swing by, but appeared more engrossed in whatever they were talking about. There was also that same little girl, the Hemlock girl, chucking quarters in his hat and asking him to play Chopin's Sonata in every key but b-flat.

“Which street is it?”

“17th Avenue,” His fingertips grazed the hand Mac had touched, igniting an explosion of jitters in his abdomen. “About the guy. With you letting me play in the 501, I've been getting more requests. When I heard he was asking after me I thought it was a job.” Turning down the wrong street, and cursing himself for it, Mac tried (and failed) to get his mind back on track.

“Don't worry about it,” He said. “I tend to lose tact when I'm concerned,” Telling himself to take Logan's advice and calm down, he struggled to keep an even keel. “I doubt you'll stick around if I'm constantly questioning your intelligence.”

He wants me to stay around? There was an unexpected giddiness to this thought, causing the person in the passenger seat to nibble on his bottom lip.

“The man that's been coming into Mori's isn't a friend,” Mac continued. “Do you remember that woman at the bar, who invited you to her little feeding frenzy? Vlad's her partner, and I'd bet the leftover pastrami in the back seat that Elvira has something to do with this.” He found an untraveled back way, cutting in-between an ally with houses on either side.

“What does she want with me?”

“Blood maybe. I can't be sure, I'll speak with the committee, until then keep your nose clean.” Stopping at a train rail with a sluggish locomotive limping along, Emrey clenched into his knees with his nails.

“I'm not doing anything save for work. Am I supposed to wet myself every-time a stranger looks at me funny?”

“It's obvious there's more to this; I want you to stay safe.”

“And I want to be treated like an adult,” He jolted at the lathargic blare from the train. “You , Mom, Ace, all of you say the same thing. 'I'm too passive,' 'I don't know what I'm doing,' 'I need to be careful.' How do you expect me to KNOW anything when you freak every time I cough wrong?!” He hated to lump Mac into the same category of Maria, but it wasn't hard to see the similarities. Mac would be as overprotective as his mother had he any children to contend with. “When I was younger, I talked with you because you looked at me like a person. You weren't scared after me. You listened. What's changed?”

Tapping the gas upon realizing the tracks were clear, Mac gripped the wheel with a faltering resolve,

“It's classified.”

“Then why did you bother bringing it up?” Emrey wasn't ready to let this go. He didn't care if Mac kicked him out of the car. Something was up, and he was caught in the midst of it. “You told mom to start treating me like an adult, why don't you?”

“It's not that simple to explain,” He tried to think of another excuse, producing more than jumbled thoughts that were fruitless to him.“If I tried to go through it all with you, we'd be at it for hours.”

“Fine, then park. I have all night.”

“It isn't...” Mac jerked the wheel, doing a sloppy U-turn next to a vacant jewelry store. He patted his shirt, desperate to light a cigarette and dilute the scents tantalizing him. It wasn't just the exchange that left him at a loss. Being near Emrey made his stomach howl. “Logan was right, I'm losing my mind,” He tossed the empty cartage in the back with the rest of the trash, scraping his nails through his hair. “What I say here can't leave this car, got it? Don't tell Mori, don't tell your parents, and if you see her, don't tell Morrigan,” With that out of the way, he soldiered on.“Elvira wants you, if that hasn't already been made obvious.”

“Any idea why?

“I think, maybe, she assumes we're together... Ever since I came here, she's managed to screw over every relationship I've had. I'm not saying they were perfect, but her poking around didn't help,” If there was one thing he didn't often speak of, it was his previous romantic endeavors. Not that he was ashamed, he simply saw no reason in reliving the past. “Before she was kicked from the committee, she enjoyed flexing her power. Every person I became involved with was harassed incessantly.”

“Doesn't sound like they had forever in mind if they were willing to leave over something so petty.”

“Like I said, things weren't perfect. The only ex I've remained in good spirits with left for Twinbrook after another of Elvira's goons vandalized his apartment and scalped his dog. They lit his fucking gold fish on fire while it was still in the tank,” He pursed his lips. “Now she suspects you of the same and she won't listen to reason.”

“You said there's a committee. Why not tell them?”

“I already have. Why do you think I called Logan over? We've had enough trouble with her turning every person she gets her hands on.”

“Not to instill logic in her plans, but isn't that counterproductive?”

“That's what we're trying to prevent,” Once the information began to dribble forth, and Mac found a way to speak, he discovered it was easier than he first speculated. “A while back, before your old man was in diapers, a bunch of younger vampires moved to the city. Jessica proposed we cut back on who we turn. I was still new so I adjusted easily, the older generation was more vocal. Some left, others fell in line. Elvira was the only one who seemed adamant, and for no good reason. She riled up protests against the committee until they had no choice but to throw her out. She poked around for a little bit after, but eventually left with Vlad. She came back into town a few months ago, still as bitter as the day she left. She has no interest in listening to logic. If we overrun the population, it'll be a detriment to all of us.”

“Too many chiefs, not enough Indians?”

“We all understand now that we can't appease her ego, but with her threats growing in violence, Jessica fears what she may do.” The explanation helped to clear up why Mac was acting strange.

“So she wants me because she thinks we're screwing, and she gets off messing with you?”

“In a manner of speaking,” He stared at Emrey's silhouette, cut down the middle by the glow of a flickering lamp post. “I don't know what Vlad's intentions were, but I don't want you being alone until we figure out what's going on. I'll take you where you need to go.”

“If they're following me, they'll know where I live. And if they think we're a thing and they know where you live-”

“I know, okay?!” Mac hit the wheel, causing the horn to go off. He saw Emrey jump and backed off, breathing to calm his nerves. “Maybe if you left town,you'd be safer.”

“Mac, my family's here. With mom being sick, I can't leave.”

Mouth watering, stomach screeching and his temples now pulsing, Mac tightened every muscle,

“Since I've said everything else, I might as well admit, I don't want you to go either,” He sighed. “When your mom started poking around, and you said you were leaving for college....” In the seat beside him, the giddiness Emrey had been toying with exploded like a volatile bomb in his chest.

“We'll think of a way. You said you have these committee friends, maybe they have a plan.” He rubbed a hand down the shoulder of Mac's jacket, receiving a terse response.

“Don't.” The person near him shied away.

It's too late.

Mac knew it was. The urge was too strong. He'd been playing with fire for too long. He had to get away before he reacted on his urges.

“I'll get you back home and we'll talk later.” Dejavu from the restaurant flashing over him, he seized when a set of fingers stopped him on the keyring.

“Not until you tell me what's wrong. I saw you with your friend and you hardly picked at your plate,” Emrey smiled, trying to calm the person beside him. “You've told me a lot already, a little more won't hurt.”

“I can't,” Mac swallowed. “Maybe it's best you walk the last block, I-I can't be around you right now.”

“Wait, what did I do?” Emrey's seat was unbuckled for him. “If it's food poisoning, Mori made the sandwich.”

“Emrey please,” Mac slumped over and pressed his forehead to the wheel. “I'm losing control.” Desperate, he resorted to biting his own tongue.

“Listen, let me call Morrigan,” Worried there was an issue he wasn't 'biologically' prepared for, he retrieved his cellphone. “I'm not sure what's wrong, but maybe she will-” He never finished, having the phone slapped away as the last shred of Mac's will power went with it. Snapping the buckle on his own seatbelt, the driver lunged, latching onto Emrey's shoulders and slamming him against the window.

“I told you...” With the way they were positioned, Mac had both of Emrey's legs pinned under his, his teeth throbbing at the thought of what was coming next. “...I'm sorry.” From there, actions mechanic and mind desperate, he yanked a fistful of Emrey's hair, burrowing his fangs into the flesh of his neck. Beneath, Emrey felt the sting and immediately succumbed, his world hazy with a strange numbness. Squirming in an attempt to flee, he thrust up, feeling the hardened groin of the man straddled over him. It was then, his vision fading, that he lost all muscle control and faded, greeting darkness with confusion.

 

CHAPTER 6

 

 

Vlad's flat, a ramshackle highrise, had a decent look of the river cutting through the city. It was almost dawn when Elvira tugged the curtains in the main room shut, staring with little excitement at the array of pink hues splashed among the darkened clouds. She knew she was playing with fire, staying in one place for more than a single evening, but she had grown weary of the constant up and go.

“There's no one in the lobby,” Vlad waited until his door was shut before speaking. “Now's the best moment, if you wish to flee while there's still stars in the sky.”

“I think it best if I wait until the morning,” Sitting her parasol on the living room end-table, she plopped down on the sofa beside it, undoing the clip in her hair and shaking her head. “It'll be easy for me to slip in and out without detection.”

“You aren't worried about anyone seeing?”

“Jessica wouldn't allow the cattle to know of our affairs, they'll think of me as just another person,” She didn't favor traveling in the sunlight.. But if that's what it took, she'd bite back her complaints. “If it's early enough, even the mortals won't be about.”

“Where will you be after this? It's best I keep in touch, in case of change.”

“The Maloney woman, she moved recently. Says she's willing to rent out the guest bed. Work place connections have always worked in my favor,” She nibbled at the pointed tip of her nails, resting her heals on her partner's coffee table. “Since you're back, what of the little piano boy?” Vlad's head was in the fridge, pilfering through what little he had. He responded with a shifting gaze,

“I managed to get there when he was on the clock,” He knew his answer wasn't what she wanted, and could see her mood souring. “Not that it did me any good, Mac was already up his ass when I arrived.”

“Of course you'd pick the one day they were together.”

“We know where he works,” Vlad snapped back. “That's what you wanted, that's what I got for you.”

“Yes, and now that Mac's aware, the entire committee's going to be up in arms. They'll see him as a tool to find me.”

“You have only yourself to blame, with your constant obsessions.”

Elvira waited for the proper moment, lashing out when her partner grew near and attaching herself to his shirt sleeve.

“If you call fighting for your rights an obsession, you fail to understand the real issue," She gave him a quick shake, doing so with a stone cold glare in her cat like eyes. “Tell me, where were you before this? You were a pathetic farm boy, living in a forgettable hick town.”

“I need a moments peace,” Vlad confessed, doing so at a near whisper. “All of this crap, the running, the fighting, the hiding. If I knew I'd spend a century as a pet to an indecisive woman, I'd have turned your offer down flat,” This was difficult to admit, as everything Elvira said was right. He wouldn't be where he was without her. She bestowed her gifts to him and he lived far beyond any mortal ever could. He enjoyed the fruits that his powers bore, and for what seemed like time immemorial, they were happy. “There was a point that I thought myself lucky to be like this. But we aren't what we use to be. I left the city when you left, I came back when you grew tired of your family. I've done everything asked of me.” His face, ageless by design, felt heavy. “The fights aren't worth it. It isn't worth losing our sanity.”

“Vlad...”

“Don't. Find someone else to do your bidding, there's plenty of morons to chose from.” Trying to hurry the process, he began to gather her things. Elvira didn't retaliate. As he walked about, scoping her umbrella from where it fell on the floor and stuffing her thigh-high red silk nighty into a plastic grocery back, she stayed mute.

“If there are so many,” She said, rubbing her arms. “Then why do I keep coming back to you?”

“Because I keep letting you in,” Vlad was disgusted with himself for all the instances with which he had.

“You know, a woman at my age has had many partners,” She took her bag when it was offered. “None ever lasted quite as long as this. Perhaps it was the spontaneity of it all that kept us hooked,” Her lips curved at the corners. “I saw you, standing all by your lonesome next to that subway and I just knew. I remember, back then, I felt so worn out, so lifeless.” Reminiscing as she usually did when the two hit a rough patch, she used the tipped point of her fingernail to scrape a single strand from her lover's line of sight. “Our first date-”

“Caught me trying to snitch the radio from your Winnebago.”

“I'm still convinced you asked me out to save your hide,” She giggled. “You took me out to the diner, paid all in coins. Spent the rest of the evening changing the epitaphs in the cemetery. What was that one you wrote, on Tilaman Abbots?”

“You're standing on my head.”

“'Somewhat missed' on Jacqueline Chamberlain's,” She sighed, trying a nicer approach with a soft stroke of Vlad's arm. “We carved our names into the south wall of the mausoleum, and fell asleep on the embalmers table after making love in the catacombs,” She held her overnight bag close to her chest, hugging it as a concerned mother would to a sick child. “I see now that I've failed, letting all of this political nonsense go to my head. Maybe what you really need is a moment for us to be as we were.”

“There's no chance. You of all people should know we can't go back. You've dragged us into a battle that isn't ours.”

“It was ours the second Jessica took over,” Elvira stated, still maintaining her civility. “She has them all convinced of who the bad guys are. I'm the enemy, you're the enemy, those who want things to be the way they once were are the enemy,” Her breath hitched. “You think I like putting the one I hold dear at risk? You think I like jumping from home to home, knowing I'll never find peace?” Wiping the side of her fist under a set of dry eyes, she continued. “Perhaps it's best I let you be. My way of thinking is hurting more than it's helping,” As to be expected, Vlad appealed to her pleas and allowed her to sink into him, cradling her broken (or thought to be broken) body in as soft of an embrace as he could.

“Your thoughts are best for the future. She doesn't see that from where she's standing.”

“On that high horse of hers...she can't fathom losing everything, she's never had to face it,” Tossing his keys into the small wicker basket with a collection of other useless items, Vlad took her bag for her.

“I'll take you to Polly's myself, we'll go by subway. They'll recognize my car.”

“No,” Silenced by a soft scraping of her lips to his, Vlad became puddy in her fingers. “Take me to bed.”

“You're at risk staying here.”

“I want us to be as we were. Some things change, but can't we pretend for one day?” She scratched at one of the buttons on his shirt. “Are you afraid to touch me?”

“That's what I'm doing now,” Picking her up, Vlad returned the favor and kissed her, letting the contact linger as her legs wound around his waist. Using his free arm, he swept the items from the small, two person dining table.

“You're lucky those candles weren't lit,” Elvira murmured, on the table with her net of black hair scattered about. She let him loom over her, never objecting when he tore the buttons on her dress. “I love when you get violent,” She sat up partially. “ Though you'll have to replace this table again if you aren't careful.”

“Shut up and lay back,” He slammed her down, receiving a laugh. Grabbing ahold of the tan lace underwear hugging her waist, he was none to gentle upon removing them. Tossing them back, he failed to realize when they landed in his sink. “Stop squirming or I'll tie you down.”

“Promises, promises,” Her mischievous nature was placated, welcoming him to take her without any playful banter. Relaxing with her eyes shut, she sighed when her partner's tongue began to trace the soft crease between her legs. After a great deal of taunting, he pushed the tip to the pulsing epicenter beneath. This continued without cease, the body beneath him arching as her approach grew near. When the first climax hit, Elvira excepted it in silence, retracting her claws from her lovers shoulders and laying back to bask in the satisfaction. “Must be a new record. Then again, I never keep track when you're on me...”

“Let me get in you and we'll see how it goes,” Straddled over her at the complaint of the table, they became joined. Fiddling with the hooks on her bra, Elvira unlatched the hinge in front, spilling out for him.

“Aren't you forgetting something?” Having the garment ripped from her hands, Vlad strung it tight about her throat until her air was sufficiently subdued. “Left the rope in the bedroom?” She gasped, her grin still in place with the first movements inside of her.

“This'll do,” Vlad wrapped the shoulder straps tight around his knuckles, pulling tighter when she gagged. “I told you to stop squirming.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

Pulling into the back lot of the pizzaria, Emrey rammed his bike into the rack. Today was supposed to start out better than this, he had his shift at Mori's, then he could celebrate being free of Harlash for good. (He was a one job man now).

“Than don't pay!” Mori was busy screaming into the phone when his employee came in. “Next time I'll spit in your drink too!!” His attitude fared no better when Emrey appeared in yesterday's clothing, his hair unbrushed and his cheeks flushed from excursion. “ I should shred you up and put you in the salami! You're shift started at nine!”

“I-I'm sorry, I always set my alarm before bed-”

“Buy yourself a couple more, half the city's here and I've been at it alone. We have a full house upfront,” Pulling another pizza out of the oven, Mori started slathering the crust in garlic butter, uncaring of the mess he was making. “Maybe if you laid off the drink you'd have been here before all hell broke loose.”

“I'm sorry okay?” The last thing Emrey wanted was for his new boss to hate him like Harlash did. “I don't remember what happened last night....”

“Yeah, drink.”

“Not that. I remember my shift at the store, then I made it here, Mac came in to see me and I remember the gig. Next thing I know, I'm late.” He rubbed the side of his neck, swallowing at an irregular sensation.

Having a change of heart, Mori slid a pizza into a box and marked it as CARRY OUT with orange pen.

“You're looking pale. Between this place and your gigs, I didn't think how tired you were,” He pulled a comb from his back pocket. “Take my old button down next to the fridge and brush through that mane of yours. I need you on the floor today.”

“Mori, I don't have the menu memorized.”

“Neither do I, now hurry up before the customers start getting pissy. I'll put a pot of water on the warmer so you can drink your coffee,” Dragging himself ito the men's restroom. All attempts he made to groom himself with hair sticking up around his ears. He gave up and stole the hair gel Mori kept under the sink.

Why can't I remember...

He recalled the gig, playing for the sparse crowd. He remembered Mr. Hemlock and his daughter,

Then I was in bed...

He had no idea how he ended up in his apartment, and the more he thought of it, the more Mori's suggestions made since. Maybe he did go out after the place closed. It was against his nature, as partying never appealed. Though, he was with Mac, and he never could act natural around him.

Tugging his sleep wrinkled vest free, Emrey slipped on Mori's shirt, tucking it into his pants before tying his apron.

Leaning in to adjust his collar, he let the first button go. It was then, rubbing the sore, pulsating area of his neck, that he spotted two identical pinpricks along his jugular. They looked like mosquito bites, both red and risen with bruising around the base. He was dismayed to find, as he continued to search, there was another splash of bruising along his shoulder.

“What the hell?” He scavenged for his phone in the vest he tossed aside.

Had he suffered some kind of trauma?

He still had all of his personal belongings on him, so he hadn't been mugged.

“Mac, it's me,” He shuddered through the introduction after being sent straight to voicemail. “ I think something happened last night but I can't remember. Give me a call when you get this.” He hung up, unsure of this own words.

He should be up by now.

Why didn't he answer?

Once out of the bathroom, still weak but resolved, the lone waiter had a few tables to contend with. Each ring of the front door bells ignited an excitement in Emrey that was immediately dampened when he realized it wasn't Mac.

He was able, as the shift went on, to recover his memory. It was mostly in small chunks, triggered by words spoken or Mori's rantings. He would go on to recall the conversation he and Mac had about Elvira's insanity and how Emrey couldn't tell the Hemlocks. Mac started to complain of something, perhaps not feeling well, and that's all his brain could muster. It as a blank slate beyond that.

Five hours and four unanswered texts later, Emrey finally received an  answer in the form of Morrigan, coming in after the last of the customers left.

“Mac's not here, if that's who you're looking for,” He tucked a washrag into his apron rope, setting the aerosol can of glass spray next to the menus.

“Oh no sweetie, I was popping in to give you this,” She unfolded a crinkled piece of notebook paper from her purse. “Eugi's needs a pianist this Thursday, I went ahead and fit you in after the bassist.”

“Mac sending you on his errands?” Considering he hadn't heard anything from his friend since their talk, this worried him further. Tapping the counter, he called for his boss, “Mori, put in a number five.”

“You don't have to order for me, one can't keep my figure on Italian food.”

“It's on the house,” After more swearing, Mori appeared with flushed cheeks and the left pocket of his jeans torn out. “Thank God you left the little one at home, the boss has had a sailor trapped in his teeth all morning.”

“She's serving out a detention. Turns out the music teacher wasn't fond of her strangling students with her violin strings,” She sighed, content. “Seems like yesterday when she busted out the windows in her nursery,” She was given a two second look of acknowledgment from the building's owner after her order was put in. From there he scrounged for his tool box, picked up the phone and began shouting (in his native language no less) to the unfortunate operator on the other end of the line. “You should have my number, if not, I wrote it on the paper. I'll give you call if any new gigs come up.”

“Wait, isn't that Mac's job?” Reapplying an umber shade of red gloss, Morrigan paused, her lipstick held in place.

“He didn't tell you?” There was a confused twist to the employee's features and she had to stop herself from swearing. “That son of a- so much for professionalism.”

“I don't understand,” Emrey could feel the bad news coming, sinking its teeth like a rabid fox in delirium. “I've been trying to contact him all morning but he won't answer.”

“Because he's not your agent anymore,” She pointed to herself. “I am,” Perhaps it was the confusion of the night before, but the news caused his heart to plummet. “He has a few new clients and couldn't juggle all of them at once. He was supposed to call and tell you himself so THIS wouldn't happen.”

First he won't answer his calls, now this.

Is he trying to push me away?

Mac wouldn't...use me.

“I won't be at Eugi's for your performance, so the bartender will pay you,” Morrigan continued to ramble on, unknowing of the attention she wasn't getting. “I'll be sitting up front, let me know when my take out's ready,” 

Somethings wrong.

He and Mac lost contact originally because of college, and ever since they reconnected, he saw him everywhere he went. His friend wouldn't use him for blood, he didn't have the heart.

From the conversations they had, he learned that Mac was at the Grind every Wednesday evening. If he wanted to speak with him, he'd have to wait until then.

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn't often Jessica opened her home to the city below. Politics stayed at the 501, rumors and gossip died at her door. She wouldn't have drama with in the walls of her penthouse, her aforementioned discomfort to the hearsay was a precaution for the precious cargo she shared her quarters with.

“Where is he?” Clenching her phone, her sweaty palms found it difficult to maintain a grip. “She knows who he is. I should've gone with him.” Much to her relief however, the mechanical grinding of the elevator cables announced the coming of someone to her door.

“I had to run to the ATM before stopping off at the bookstore,” With a bag on his arm, Rafael re-latched the lock, “They declined my card twice.”

“It's a ten minute trip at most.”

“Yeah, and I had to go to the ATM,” He shut off the television before collapsing on the sofa, stretching out as if all was well. “Oh by the way Richie called, he has a game next Sunday, he wanted to know if you were coming along.”

“I think it's best that I don't.”

“Just like it was best you didn't go to Sebastian's first birthday? I'm guessing you'll swing a no on the baby shower too?” Jessica thought about snapping back. Instead, she maintained what little decency she had and pulled the curtain open at the first signs of dusk. “They're starting to think you don't like them.”

Throwing her cell phone down, Jessica stormed into the darkened kitchen. She had to bring her temper down, she didn't like being wound around her partner. She always feared the worst.

“She knows you, she knows your connections.”

“This again?” Rafael made it to her, caressing her shoulders as he often did when she was tense. “I'll be alright, she hasn't done anything to me yet.”

“It's more than that,” Jessica's nails ingrained themselves into the limestone counter-tops. “We turned that girl, she was supposed to get insight on Elvira's next move. But a member of my own committee, a trusted friend, was in on Elvira's scheme the entire time,” Her fist went where her nails once were, slicing a crack clean through. “That poor child, William said she had the mercy beaten out of her. We promised her Aunt we'd take care of her and now look what's happened,” Ever calm, her lover pressed a kiss to the back of her neck,.“I'm no better than she is.”

“Plans fall through, that doesn't make you similar.”

“When you use your family and loved ones to justify your means, it does,” The reassurance from Rafael didn't help the bubbling mess in her stomach. She was fueled by a many things, anger being the most prevalent. Shame and guilt weren't too far behind. “I need a minute.”

“I'm not letting you bury this. You'll make yourself sick worrying if you don't talk.”

“I'll take a walk around the block and be back when William brings the girl.” She went to turn and fared no better when Rafael refused to move.

“Fine, I'm going with you. Since you're so concerned with me being left alone.”

“Raf, please.”

“Whether you talk or not, I'm coming along.” It was when Jessica took a step and he followed that the combination of her emotions spilled over.

Had she been a mortal of no significance, placing a hand to her partner's chest would've done nothing. Instead Rafael took an unexpected journey backwards, colliding with the wall and sliding down, a shelf of ceramics meeting an untimely end around him. He hadn't registered the assault, still shaking the blurs from his thoughts when he was met by a frantic Jessica.

“I think we broke mom's coaster set.” He was able to inject some humor but his girlfriend wasn't as open to it,

“You're bleeding,” Trying to sit him upright, Jessica maintained very little stability as she collapsed on her knees. “I didn't meant to, I just wanted to be alone,” It wasn't as bad as she was playing it up to be. Aside from the shattered knicknacks, Rafael had a small gash on his cheek, a tiny trickle oozing from it. “I'm sorry,” Face hidden by her fingers, Jessica slumped forward against his shoulder. “I'm so sorry.”

“See, this is why we talk,” Humor fell flat once again. “You wind yourself up so tight sometimes.”

“Why are you pitying me?! I dented the plaster with your head!” The thought of what she had done worsened when the paranoia kicked in. “Had you been a few inches to the right, you would've gone through the window-”

“Jess.”

“I wouldn't have been able to save you,” Her cheek set on his collar bone, content with his warmth and the embrace of his arms around her. “She'd have something to laugh about then.”

“We've been over this,” Sore between his shoulder blades from where he landed, Rafael pushed past it and lifted her face to his, his fingers encompassing her cheeks. “She isn't going to take me Jess. I understand you're situation, I understand who you are. It'd be criminal for me to leave you like this.” He let her go, allowing her lips to scrape over his. “Besides, I'm you're knight in fleshy armor. I'm everything you could ever need, a midnight snack, a midnight lay, and a good judge of lipstick shades.” The screech of the intercom interrupted the distress between the two.

“Jess?” The voice coming from the crackling speaker caused Jessica to sigh,

“William's here with the girl.”

“You want me to set up the cot?”

“We haven't decided where she's going yet,” Trying to re-situate her appearance, she called to the two waiting below. “Come on up, is anyone else with you?”

“Just Hannah.”

“Alright,” She turned back to the kitchen. “Raf do we still have the plasma-aid in the fridge?”

“Red tape on the handle?”

“Yeah.”

Still in his uniform with a flustered girl under his arm, William was sure to pull the locks back into place once he had Hannah inside and safe.

“Where did you find her?”

“Outside of Tradewinds Shipping.” Trembling on the couch, their frightened guest shied away when Jessica reached for her, scraping a gentle thumb over a cut on her bottom lip.

“It's okay,” The swelling in her left eye and the obvious trepidation caused the guilt Jessica felt to intensify. “Poor dear. Raf, get the kit.” The sound of glass clinking in the kitchen paused momentarily.

“ 'Kay babe.”

“Now,” Jess frowned. “Since you're both here, mind explaining to me what happened?” Draping a blanket over Hannah's shoulders, William tossed his hat on the coffee table.

“Hannah set an appointment with Elvira, offered to leak secrets on our knowledge of her location. It was all set perfectly, then she shows and the bitch goes ballistic. I'm surprised THIS is all that happened to her.” Arms folded, Jess managed a smirk towards her lover when he entered with a tray of drinks and the first aid kit in his teeth.

“I wan ou' of ams...”

She pulled the handle free and clicked the lid, shuffling through bottles of antiseptic and cotton balls.

“And you're sure Beau was behind this?”

“He was there,” Hannah whimpered, trying to pull the tangled ribbons free that once held up her pigtails. “I saw him in the corner...Aunt Kat....” She sniffled. “She never tried to stop her.”

“Katrina Pala?”

Handing out the glasses while sipping from his own (marked with a sharpie for safety), Rafael appeared contemplative when hearing,

“Explains her issues at work. Fatigued, weird markings on her wrist. Not becoming of me to pry into the division manager's affairs though.”

“What else happened Hannah?”

Wounds treated with gentle fingers and an environment of concerned friends helped Hannah to push her fear down.

“I went in, all I saw was Vlad and Elvira. They were at the Maloney home, something about Polly being out of town,” She pulled the blanket tighter. “They were arguing a lot, Elvira kept telling him to be quiet. I was left in the foyer when I heard the tumblers in the door turn. I saw Beau and thought he was there to help, but he was the one who locked me in,” Her lips trembled uncontrollably, her drink leaking out the corners of her mouth. “She-She ordered them around like mindless animals. Aunt Kat stayed in the dining room when I was hit. I don't remember how many times, just that I was on the ground and Elvira was standing over me.”

“Making an example of a child,” Rafael commented, in on the politics despise Jess always discouraging it. “That's a new low if I've ever heard of one. Even for Elvira. There's enough blood on her clothes, that's for sure.”

“It's Vlad's,” Hannah swallowed. “I escaped when he pushed between us. Elvria was outraged and went crazy. He hit the ground beside me with blood in his mouth, he started coughing and got it on my blouse. I manged to unlock the front door and run, I expected Beau to chase after me, but it never happened.”

“First Katrina, now our very own,” William grumbled. “More are turning for her cause.”

“It isn't a cause,” Jessica snapped the lid shut on the first aid kit. “I let my hunger for vengeance blind me. I'm as much to blame for this mess as those who caused it. I'm sorry,” No one knew how long Beau had been walking in Elvira's shadow. Whether he had always been loyal to her and conned his way into the committees' meetings was yet to be known. “If Elvira's plan was to make us question one another, she's done a decent job of it.”

“If it will put your mind at ease, I could write up a warrant in for her arrest.” Jessica would later learn that William had been knulling this around before Hannah's unceremonious beating,

“Being a nuisance isn't a crime.”

“Assault is,” Both focused on the shaken and bruised girl curled on the love seat, petting Jess's cat Popcorn after he escaped from the bedroom. “The department set up a hidden cam on the lobby floor of Polly Maloney's apartment building. The Janitor was selling paraphernalia to teens and we needed hard evidence. Footage of Hannah entering the elevator won't be enough, but it'll get Elvira in for questioning. I'll get the tape, take the girl in to snap pictures of her wounds and get a statement. I can't promise it'll help, but it's better than chasing our tails.”

“It'll put more pressure on Elvira, make it harder for her to sneak about,” None of this was finite and Jess'd likely lose sleep thinking over the details. Seeing who Elvira had become sent her mind back to a time that was less complicated, less painful. “There was once a day I considered her a friend, I could tell her any secret and be sure of it's safety. However, our bond was contingent with the position of power she hel,.” She paused, her mouth angled down. “We'll pull the futon out for Hannah, I'd prefer if the two of you stayed for the evening.” Rafael clapped his hands together after pulling the extra blankets from the ottoman.

“Excellent, I'll make coffee. You can work the kinks of out your little plan and I'll hook up the Gamestation for Hannah,” Picking up her cat, Jess tossed him onto the bed and shut the door.

“She'll be staying with me starting tomorrow. I already called Kirb and Suzy, they're setting up the guest room,” William went ahead and pealed his jacket off, standing in a white t-shirt and uniform slacks. “Her Aunt's in no fit state to have her, and her mother's like tylonal for syphilis,” Alone after Hannah was lured into the kitchen with the promise of koolaid and chocolate cake, Jess took William's coat and folded it, smoothing out the wrinkles.

“The committee is no longer recruiting until further notice,” She stated. “I think it's best.”

“We don't know who we can trust, I'm surprised you waited this long.” William received an indifferent shrug.

“It wasn't always like this....” The statement hung on despite Jess falling silent, contemplating whether she could continue. “Before you, or Logan. Before the drama. We confided in one another, we understood the power we had and bonded over it. When the committee formed, we were both offered the an authoritative position and I wasn't confident enough to accept. I thought she cared, but I see now that I was a means to an end, a stepping stone.” Arms folded, she barely stirred when William placed a hand on her shoulder.

“I'd say you shouldn't blame yourself, but we know where that will lead.”

“You sleeping in the hall,” Jess shoved him playfully. “Lets get to the table before Raf and Hannah scarf what's left of the cake. It took me two hours to make and I haven't had a plate.”

“Two hours. No wonder you complain about time wasted.”

“The cream kept separating and I ran out of eggs, now shut up and sit down.”

 

 

 

 

 

“You know, the BLT without the B defeats the purpose,” Ace lifted the sunglasses slipping from his nose. “They have salads....”

“My dad's had two heartattacks in his lifetime,” Emrey scraped the fries aside from his plate, onto his napkin. “Besides, Bacon goes straight to your thighs.”

“You calling me fat piano boy?” The strip of limp, greasy bacon hanging from Ace's lips did him no service. “Hey, I got some gnarly pecks. You need 'em when you're in construction. I haven't even gotten you a ticket to the gun show.” Emery smirked, liberating a piece of mayo slathered lettuce from it's prison.

“Yeah, those potholes have really filled you out. Good luck with that when winter rolls around.”

“I'm moving out to Pleasentview when the work slows. Sis needs help with the store, mom's elephantiasis has gotten worse,” Emery sighed, cheek balanced on his palm. He continued to dissect his lunch, not caring to eat it. “I'll be back in the spring, no need for the blues.”

“Hmmm....oh, not you. I'm just thinking.” Luncheon with Ace wasn't enough to do his emotions justice. Between his difficulties with Mac and his mother's impending surgery, joy was sparse.

“Here I thought I meant something,” Ace grinned with a toothpick splintered in his teeth. “I'm not just a hot piece of tail.”

“Don't you have a date with Diedre?”

“She's working with her old lady at the news station. Renae yanked her from the store when she caught her snaking the sinks,” Trying to wipe the grease from the front of his work jumper, Ace gave up and crumpled his napkin, tossing it onto his place-mat. “Now stop changing the subject or I'll make you pay the bill.” Though he didn't show it, Ace was never appreciative of his friends being upset. Especially Emery, who smiled the most. “Well?”

“I...kinda lost my agent.” Emrey's bank account was in the red and he wasn't in the mood to clean dishes.

“Oh,” The conversation stalled long enough for the waiter to stop by and collect the debit card Ace threw down. “So he, like, dumped you or somethin'?”

“If you wanna call it that.” Pulling at the collar of the turtleneck, Emrey revealed the scabbed over marks on his throat.

“What the he-....Did he bite you?!”

“He didn't mean to....”

“How do you not mean that?!” Ace held the bridge of his nose, trying to contemplate the stupidity of what Emrey had just said. “I got a cousin, he owns a pigfarm. They'll never find that bastard when I'm done with him.” Knowing Ace indeed had a cousin with a hog farm (he was made aware during a drunken night out), Emrey knew the threat to be grounded in fact. He also knew Mac could snap a 2X4 in half like a twig. There was no telling what he'd do to Ace.

“It's complicated.”

“How?” The corner Ace had his 'date' backed into a cornder with very little wiggle room. Caving, Emrey pulled the collar of his shirt once more. His throat and shoulder were a road-map of bruises, even with some fading of their initial blue and purple to brown.

“Damn dude!” Ace nearly tipped his chair.

“Shhhhhh!” Looks were cast from the other patrons in an adjacent booth.

Whether Mac meant it or not was the biggest debate. Emery's memory had been trickling back in waves with tiny fragments popping up at random points throughout the week.

If Mac was willing to talk, he'd have the answers. But since that was impossible and he promised not to tell Morrigan, he was at an impasse.

“Do you remember-” Ace motioned towards his own throat. “you know.”

“Some, but not all. Up until he bit me.” Clenching the cellphone that had fallen silent with neglect, he frowned. “Next thing I know, Morrigan's reassigned to handle my gigs and Mac's changed his number.”

“Sounds like he got what he was after.”

“He wouldn't use me like that,” Had the thought crossed his mind? Sure. But why would Mac lecture him about safety if he himself couldn't be trusted? “He said he didn't want anything to happen to me.”

“Yeah, so he can have you to himself,” Ace waved a fry for emphasis. “You hang out a while, he butters you up, makes you feel all special....”

“But....I've known him since highschool.”

“And I knew Windy since pre-k. Didn't stop her from killing The Byrds. You know how hard it is for a drummer to go solo? She's at Starlight cutting demo's and I'm laying tar.” Putting a five down for the tip, both men left for their perspective vehicles.

“The Grind opens in a couple of hours. I know he's there tonight,” Getting up on his bike, the seat taped on and the kickstand busted, Emrey balanced with his foot. “If he doesn't want to be friends, fine. I just wanna make sure he's okay.”

“Sure,” Ace slammed the door of his pick up and turned the engine. “Try not to get hurt, alright?”

Emrey rolled his eyes.

“Thanks for having faith in me.”

“No prob. Come over after and we'll burn off your sadness with sherbet and Game of Thorns.”

“Dragons, rape and cold treats. Always an aphrodisiac.” He waved as Ace drove away, dodging a car in the wrong lane.

Intent on getting his last check from Harlash, Emrey had some grocery getting of his own before heading to the Grind.

He didn't want to think of Mac using him, even if everything Ace said made since. With every visit Mac made to Mori's, with every performance he came to see, it never felt superficial.

He knew him better than that.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Shortly there after, Morrigan received a disheartening phone call, interrupting one of the few days she had off. In the kitchen, hair piled atop her head with a carving knife in hand, she had to answer without dropping her cell into the sink-water.

“Wanna explain why they're teaching Algebra to first grade students,” Logan gave up on helping his daughter with her homework. “If that teacher of hers bugs us with another of her special meetings, I'll throat punch her. Of course our kid's struggling, all of them probably are,” His wandering eyes led him to the stove where Morrigan smacked his arm for riffling in the stewpot. “Back in my day you didn't need fancy X's and O's in your digits.”

“Honey, back in your day, they counted sheep with an abacus,” Her pocket chimed then, giving her half a second to drop the dishes onto the drying rack. “So much for time off....” Her tone changed as soon as the receiver touched her ear. “Hello...oh hi sweetie...No I'm not, what's wrong?” Logan paused mid sip after stealing his wife's drink from the counter, “Where are you?...Downstairs? No. I'll be right down. Okay, bye.” Morrigan pealed her apron from around her waist and tossed it on the back of the couch.

“So, you gonna tell me what that was?”

“Emrey.”

“The piano man at Mori's?” Logan received a nod.

“Yeah, something's up with Mac. I didn't get all the details,” She pecked his cheek. “Stay with Bel, I'll be back.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

'On the second floor. Non-fiction'

The first indication should've been the choice of venue. Even if Morrigan wanted to speak of something trivial, she did so in private.

Though, once Mac ascended to the second floor, the other reason for their public meet up came bounding towards him with a crooked set of pigtails.

“Mac!!” Belisama clothes-lined him when wrapping her arms around his waist.

“Hey there Jellybean,” He rubbed the top of her scalp. “Your old lady forcing you to socialize?” The girl nodded, not taken with the idea,

“I was fine with my doll house. I tried to explain that Angelique was casting a spell on Barnaby but mom wouldn't let me finish the pentagram,” She leaned in, whispering. “She says if I don't go outside, I'll be a hermit like you.” Crouching to her level, Mac added.

“Next time she brings it up, tell her introducing stupidity at a young age is detrimental.”

Morrigan came up behind him, flicking his ear. She foisted a book pulled from the dust riddled top shelf to her daughter. “Here Bel, I tagged the pages.”

“But mama, I wanna finish Angelique's séance!”

“And I want you to stop cutting your hair with the kitchen shears. My wants take precedence squirt, get moving,” She used her finger to motion Mac behind her. “Sorry, but with my schedule being so hectic, this was the only time I could fit you in. Bel's schooling takes all of my day,” Taking them to a unisex bathroom with an OUT OF ORDER sign hanging on the knob, she invited herself in after checking to see if it was locked. “The pediatrician says it's normal for her fangs to grow in, but she keeps chewing on her desk and harming her classmates. I've had to dig out her teething toys to stop her from gnawing on her father's shirts.” Pulling the chain light dangling at the center, Mac still had difficulty seeing when the bulb flickered.

“So....any reason we're playing hide-and-go-seek in the handicap bathroom?”

“Let me see your wrists.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Your wrists Mac, let me see them.” She took it upon herself to check.

“If you're wondering, I haven't touched a razor in years.”

“Look, I'm sorry I have to ask this, but did you try to turn Emrey?”

“Turn Em-What?!” The realization of the trap fell upon him. Morrigan knew he wouldn't say no to going out if Belisama was involved. “Of course he told you.”

“Who else was he supposed to? You ignore him, change your number. You climbed out the window at the Grind to avoid talking to him,” Collapsing on a broken toilet propped against the wall, Mac's disposition fluctuated, settling on fatigued. “He's concerned, and if I'm being honest, so am I,” It wasn't JUST Morrigan and her hubby that had taken notice. From where he sat now, Mac appeared decades older, his bones prominent in his wrists, his face wrought with unshaven stubble and the bags under his eyes almost bruised in hue. “You aren't feeding, you aren't sleeping, and it's all because of that boy.”

“This has nothing to do with him,” Lacing his fingers, he bit back another spell of hunger. “Vlad showed at the pizza joint, so I took Emrey home. With all the stress, I hadn't eaten in a while and snapped. A simple mistake.”

“If it's so simple, why aren't you talking? He's convinced you used him,” Morrigan said this, knowing full well what the issue was. She'd be a liar if she said she didn't like to see her friend squirm. Batting a strand of Mac's hair from his vision, she smirked. “Am I gonna get an answer or nah?”

“You act like you know already,” Mac had to come to terms with the truth. He wouldn't have jumped Emrey had he been forthright about his cravings. Ever since he lost it, his shame outweighed his logic. He could have called, he could have explained. “I lost control, you of all people should understand,” He clenched onto his upper arm, glancing away. “If he had just left like I asked...” Speaking against the emotions ricocheting in his conscious, Mac slumped further. “He should have stayed in college.” Arms folded, Morrigan didn't know whether to slap the man or feel sorry for him.

“You're such an idiot....you're also cute when confused, but that's beside the point,” There wasn't much else that could be said. What was left was meant for Emrey and Mac alone. “I told Emrey you'd call. Promise me you'll set some time aside to see him.”

“I doubt he'll want to listen after all this.”

“You'll never know until you try,” She paused when Belisama knocked on the door. “He doesn't have the ability to hold a grudge. Here, I'll give you his number-”

“I still have it.”

“Then you can call him, I have to make sure Jellybean isn't shoving her books in the air vent.” She left the bathroom when he waved her away, adjusting his phone to his ear. Whatever happened from now on was out of Morrigan's control. She hoped Mac would make the right decision.

Though, she was right about one thing.

He really was an idiot sometimes.

 

 

 

 

Having pressed the proper button with nervous, numb fingers, he stood still as the elevator rose.

His heart flew into his throat when he received that call. Hearing Mac's voice on the other end of the line caused an eruption of so many emotions that he was still trying to pinpoint them.

Relief? Joy? There was even some justifiable anger. A part of him wanted to yell and ask why he was left to worry. Not a night went by that he didn't think of where his friend had gotten off to. Even after Morrigan promised to speak with Mac, his paranoia flared without any end in sight.

'We need to talk,' The exchange between them had been quick, Emrey was still playing it over.

'Are you alright? Sorry I told Morrigan, I was worried-'

' I'm....fine. Just meet me at my place, if you can trust me after all this.” With the accustomed call of the elevator doors as they swung open, Emrey stained the freshly mopped linoleum with the mud on his duct-taped converse.

Knocking at the first apartment, he jumped at an onslaught of loud howls and barks.

“Move you stupid mutt,” The hinges creaked as far as the chain lock would allow. Half of Mac's face became visible as he struggled to contain the monster at his feet. “Hang on, I have to get this terror under control,” What little Emrey could see was cut off before the lock slid from it's place. No sooner had his feet touched the carpet, he was tackled by a black mass of fur with a windmill tail and eyes crazy with excitement. “Mina, down!”

“You're friendly aren't you?” Emrey ruffled the fur on the pup's ears. “And here you were trying to be all intimidating,” Standing at a massive height, the black lab had both paws on her guest's shoulders, lapping at his face with her massive tongue. “Where'd you get this vicious guard dog? The police have too many k-9?”

“Ha ha. Guard dog my ass. If a burglar ever comes with hamburger, I'm screwed,” Rescuing his friend from another slobbery onslaught, he pulled Mina back to the floor. “Go to your bed, go on,” Despite the extreme spurt of hyperactivity, the dog listened and retreated to her bed in the bathroom. “If you come in here smelling like pizza, I can't be held responsible.”

“She's probably smelling this,” Emrey retrieved a smashed doggie bag from the duffle bag hanging at his side. “I told Mori I was heading over after close and he insisted.”

“Another stromboli?”

“His specialty,” Emrey refrained from lecturing Mac on his obvious refusal to eat. He was looking worse now than he ever had before. “You never did mention the demon hiding in your bathtub.”

“She belonged to the old man two floors down. His daughter let me keep her after he kicked it,” There was more to it than that, though the story eluded him. “Did you want a drink? I have a two liter in the fridge.”

“No thanks. I try to-”

“Lay off the caffeine, I forgot.” The hardest part was seeing the aftermath of his attack mapped out on Emrey's throat.

“Look,” Emrey let his bag slide to the carpet next to his shoes, seeing no point in beating around the bush. “If you don't want to see me anymore, I'll deal. I'm just worried.”

“It isn't your job to worry after me.”

“When you attack me, change your number, and kamikaze dive out a window, I may take up the notion to,” He sighed, knowing now was the time to get as many answers as he could. “All this time, was it just so you could jump me?” Mac was within a few feet of him when this was said. Upon hearing it, he almost snapped the back of the chair he was clenching to. “All of the years I spent following you around and you were sizing me up, is that it?” The worry and fear he once held flashed over into rage: pure, bubbling rage. He was pissed and he didn't care if Mac hated him for what he had to say. “ I don't care if this sounds selfish or inconsiderate, but you were the only friend I had. I didn't meet Ace until I came back from school. All I've been able to think about this week is that I'm nothing more than a walking banquet.” Letting his grip go, Mac turned one of his mix-matched dining chairs around and sat backwards, resting his folded fingers and chin on the top.

“I can see why you'd think that,” His eyelids met and he caught himself saying a small, pathetic prayer. “When I first met you, that's all I thought about. I remember walking into the club and you were standing there in your dorky highschool uniform. Your scent hit me and I knew I was in trouble...”

“Then why did you keep coming around?”

“Because, your talent, everything... I just knew, watching you play that stupid little keyboard that you were more than a meal. I couldn't bring myself to hurt you,” Turning his head sideways, his cheek sagged when pressed against his knuckles. “Music runs in my family. It has for centuries. My grandmother was an operata, my father a composer. My mother, she was a pianist, and she had one song that she'd play. Of all the ones she knew, that one was always perfect. And when I went to see you, I heard you playing it. I know you don't have a lot of faith in yourself, but of all the clients and 'musicians' I've had to deal with, I've never seen anyone like you,” Emrey swallowed, sideswiped by a compliment he hadn't seen coming. “Don't get me wrong, I want you. Though with your mother demanding my head on a plate, I know gnawing on her baby won't settle well.”

“You mentioned my scent.”

“Sometimes a person's scent can be overpowering. We can't eat because nothing settles and comes back up.” Touching gingerly at the swollen knob on his neck, Emrey's guilt tripled at the realization.

“It's my fault,” He muttered, in contempt of himself. “You not eating, your weight...Are you still hungry?”

“I was fine after. Things stayed down, I could sleep...But it's been creeping back on me-”

“Here,” Emrey thrust his wrist to him. “If it'll help.”

“Emrey I can't.”

“It's the least I can do. It didn't even hurt last time from what I remember,” He paused. “Which isn't much, but still.”

“Had I been gentle, your memory would still be in tact,” Mac chuckled, oddly enough. “Must've looked like an idiot carrying you into your apartment. I got a few weird stares from your neighbors,” He pushed his guests arm away, trying to clear his sinuses of a common smell. “This could've been avoided had I just told you. You aren't obligated to placate me.”

“I'm supposed to stand by and watch you waste away?” He was rather militant about his stance, going as far as to box Mac in as he stepped closer. “If you're hungry you need to eat. And don't bother trying to jump out a window, you'll splatter from this high up.”

“You don't understand,” While the offer was more and more tempting, Mac felt confidant in his ability to bury it. “I've wanted people before, but never this bad. Your scent, your blood....it's an attraction.” One eye brow risen, Emrey glanced off to the bathroom upon hearing Mina lapping from the toilet. She stopped, glancing at him with water dripping from her jowls.

“So, you wanna fuck me?”

Mac eye's expanded upon hearing this.

“What makes you think that?!”

“You said an attraction.”

“I fed from you and now you're all I want. Like wanting a partner. Is that blatant enough?” Scraping through his hair to correct it, Emrey tried to stop himself from laughing at the desperate look on his friend's face.

“Wow...all of that bull for this,” He snickered. “You're an idiot.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?”

“Because it's true,” At the kitchen counter with his back pressed where the island and stove met, Mac almost latched on when Emrey drew near. His warmth attracted him like a moth to an open flame. “Is that how you think of me Mac? As a partner?” It was true that Emrey had a crush on him as a teen, though he never thought it was reciprocated.

“If Elvira finds out...”

“Fuck her,” The distance between them shrunk more. “She already thinks we are, right? I don't have a dog for her to scalp or a goldfish to burn, I don't care what she tries,” His fingers grazed the exposed flesh of Mac's arm, causing him to shy away. “Mac, it's okay.”

“I don't want to hurt you.”

“If you hadn't noticed already,” In a swing of his wrist, Emrey grabbed his work shirt and pulled it over his head. “I like a little pain,” His lips found his partner's, inviting the hand's exploring him to dig into his back. It felt natural, their kiss deepening and his tongue pushing in as Mac did the same. This would the be extent of Emrey's control however. As soon as their contact went deeper, he was taken by the arms around him, crushed in their grip.

“Mac...” He gasped this as a kiss traveled to his collar bone. Discomfort noticed, the blue left his cheeks when he was given a little more room to breath.

“Do you have a change of clothes in your bag?”

“Yeah, but they're dirty, I was going to head to the laundry mat after this-”

“Good enough,” Startled when his feet came up off the ground, Emrey went from the kitchen to to the four-post bed in the living area, “Once I start, don't expect me to stop.”

“We're both men,” He rubbed his palm over the front of Mac's jeans. “By the looks of it, you've needed this for a while.”

“How am I supposed to feel, you coming around with that pout on your face.”

“That's just my face.”

“Shut up,” Kicking his shoes, Emrey hadn't time to unbutton his pants before Mac obliterated the zipper, rendering the only decent pair of jeans he had useless.

Flinching when another series of kisses pressed themselves to his neck, he half expected to be fed upon by how unyielding they were. Everything Mac did bordered on painful, from the nail marks in his back to the nibbling of his teeth. It never hurt enough for him to complain, if anything, a part of him was aroused by it.

“Wait.” A vain attempt was made to halt progress when Mac made it to his navel and reached under the waistband of his boxer shorts.

“I'm not going to rip your dick off Emrey, lay back.”

“No, the dog.” Sure enough, as the two wrestled about on the bed, Mina ventured from the bathroom and sat at their bedside, watching in ignorance with her head cocked.

“Mina, get out of here!” Mac waved at her, receiving an affectionate lick to the knuckles. “Furry cock block. Go on, get!” Another blank stare was given and he gave up without a fight. “Screw it, just look at the ceiling if she bothers you.”

“You could take her to the bathroom at least-” Mac situated himself before the sentence was finished, yanking his shorts down and taking the full length into his mouth. Startled, Emrey gave a small, swallowed yelp.

It didn't take long for him to build. This wasn't his first time, but he hadn't had a partner so proficient. “If you don't slow down I'm gonna blow.”

“That's the basic idea,” Withdrawing, Mac decided to take the bait and slow his pace. Letting the tip of his tongue continue, he traced the base and continued with each noise there after. “Keep that up and I'll get a complaint.”

“Sorry.”

“Don't worry about it, the bitch down the hall complains whenever I flush,” He smiled, the danger laced within causing Emrey's heart to race faster. “I try to give her a reason whenever I can.” He continued then, using his fingers to toy as he worked. He'd keep at this for a few more minutes before noticing the signs of completion, most notably the body beneath him arching and the passive moans growing louder and more desperate.

“Faster....please,” Emrey never noticed how hard he was digging into Mac's scalp. “....shit, I'm gonna come. Shit! I'm gonna come!” It had no sooner left his lips that he seized, going rigid as the climax bowled into him. He exclaimed his finish, grip tightening enough to make his lover's eyes water. Panting, he collapsed, convinced he had never been so sated, “You're good at that.”

“When you've been around as long as I have, you learn some pointers,” Pulling his own t-shirt free, Mac took a second to lock the front door before prying himself free of his pants. “Feel better?” He couldn't help but chuckle at the figure on his bed, lying naked and content. Scampering back on, he reached across to the end table, struggling to pull the drawer free. Emrey took the opportunity to get in a some playing of his own, feeling the full length of his erection.

“Might be a struggle getting this one in.”

“I'll take that as a compliment,” Tugging the drawer free, Mac cursed when it fell to the floor, a pile of condoms scattering in plain sight.

“Prepared much?”

“Don't start. I'm pretty sure half of those are expired.”

“Then what's with the receipt?”

“Just lay back,” Scavenging for the first rubber he could grab and the bottle of lube that rolled under the bed, he ripped the wrapper back with his teeth and crushed the tube when fighting with the lid. “Stupid child proof containers...”

“Do you want me to roll over?” Once again, without warning, Emrey was pushed back, this time against the headboard. Mac crawled up to him after making sure all was where it should be, pulling him close.

“I want to you stop asking stupid questions and take me.” Stealing another kiss with his arms around his neck, Emrey pulled at his bottom lip with his teeth.

“You're the one stalling.” Allowing himself to come down, he gasped at the initial penetration. Opening his body, he slid further until there was nothing left.

“Damn, I didn't expect you to take the whole thing,” Mac, though panting at the muscles clenched around him, invited himself to kiss the neck presented. “I'm in pretty deep.” He thrust up, hearing a small moan as an indicator of what was to come. With a laugh, he repeated the process. “You gonna make it?”

Not appreciative of the taunt, Emrey tugged on Mac's abused hair, staring at him eye to eye.

“You tell me to stop asking questions,” His chest was heaving. “Stop talking and fuck me!”

“Vicious little thing aren't you?” Mac supported him long enough to lay him back, “Don't expect me to be gentle.”

“If this bed lasts, you aren't doing it right,” Sick of waiting, Emrey clenched into his ass. “Get moving before I start to beg.” Mac matched his grin, his fangs showing as his tongue traced them,

“You'll be begging regardless.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHAPTER 8

He knew what the word was.

Terrorism.

Elvira's goons were more than willing to cause chaos in the name of freedom. There were few following in her cause, but that number was growing.

Sitting on the side of the bed with Elvira behind him, Vlad touched at the swollen lump on his bottom lip. Though still tender, it had stopped oozing. The teeth knocked loose in the skirmish had tightened back as well.

What was I supposed to do?

Poor little thing, she never did anyone wrong. She was sweet, kind, and had a smile that could light up a room.

Elvira could berate him all she wanted, there was no justice in ganging up on Hannah the way they had.

Then there was Beau, the flaky bastard. Vlad might not have agreed with Jessica's policies in the past, but if Beau was so quick to abandon someone he had known for years, what was to stop him from switching sides once more?

Then Katrina.... turning the other cheek as the child she raised was bludgeoned.

Was this the 'freedom' Elvira spoke of?

Attacking their own kin?

It wasn't right.

'I love you,' She said this when he limped to the bedroom, mouth hemorrhaging and rib-cage on fire.'This wouldn't of happened had you stayed out of the way.'

If that was an example of anything, it was a reminder of why he should break things off.

After all the years you've invested, you're going to walk away?

He looked back at her when she stirred.

When she wakes up and finds you gone....

He had time to waste. An abundance. The hands on a clock mean nothing to the ageless. But the moments he spent in emotional limbo were ones he would never get back.

The attempts on that girl had netted all of them a warrant. He and the other two were fingered as accomplices despite him trying to protect her.

All of this debauchery and anarchy, and for what? Freedom? What freedom? The freedom to turn a man without five others speaking against it? Perhaps Elvira's logic was sound at first, but putting her faith in the unfaithful was one of many confusing decisions she had plagued her cause with.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

It wasn't the soreness in his back that woke Emrey...initially. On his side, arm dangling with his waist covered, he was roused by the dog's tail clearing the end table next to his head,

“Hey girl,” His voice cracked, laughing at the alarm clock on the floor. “Wiping out the competition?” He was given a passive, slobbery lick of the tongue as a retort.

Limbs over-encumbered, any attempts Emrey made to sit up were met with difficulty. The pain wasn't excruciating. If anything, he compared it to the stress of a nice workout.

Nudged from the side, he grabbed the coffee mug offered without questioning. Standing in a pair of drawstring sweatpants, with a toothbrush hanging from his lips, Mac had a matching cup in hand, his hair damp from what Emrey perceived to be a shower.

“You might wanna pop a couple of these.” He tossed a pill bottle to the body sitting bedside.

“Feels like a bad hangover...” Emrey struggled momentarily with the child proof lid, tossing back three white capsules with a gulp of scolding coffee.

“Yeah that happens,” Mac gave the bedframe a sound shake, taking a second to realign one of the cheap metal bars. “I'll call Janice to fill the divots in the wall. She needs something to do when the newlyweds downstairs aren't shoving forks in the light-sockets.”

Followed by the drooling Labrador, Emrey sauntered to the bathroom. He wanted to complain that a sex hangover wasn't meant to be so cumbersome, but the masochist in him was satisfied.

Pushing the medicine cabinet closed after splashing a bit of water on his face, Emrey had to do a double take upon seeing his reflection. He had taken a bigger pounding than first surmised. It was his own fault, he kept begging Mac to go harder despite the bedframe beating holes into the plaster.

Of all the individuals he had the fortune of being intimate with, none were as intoxicating. No matter how rough it got, there was an odd safety to it. (Even if his back looked like a Rorschach blueprint. )

“Nice to see she hit the papers this time,” Stepping around the puppy pad, Mac came into the bathroom, with a note he ripped from his front door. “Found a letter from my biggest fan.”

“Bitch down the hall?”

“Just the usual,” Using the paper to pick up the cold turd at his feet, Mac flushed it. “Empty threats about telling management. She lied about a brain tumor with the last one,” Touching the bruises between Emrey's shoulder blades, he could make out the metal bars imprinted on his skin. “Sorry about the battle scars. It doesn't take much for me to get carried away,” The hand was replaced with a kiss, causing goosebumps to erupt from the contact. “I hope this isn't a deal breaker.”

“Has it been before?” Standing nude at the sink, Emrey stared into the mirror at the empty bathroom behind him.

“Yeah...well, remember when I said my past relationships were a bit rough?” There was a nod. “The others claimed to understand.” Picking up a damp shower towel, he tossed it at the hamper in the corner and missed. “Granted, things weren't perfect. I worked too much, finances were tight. I had two leave, another cheated on me with a goddamn fairy.” Catching his briefs when Mac sent them flying, Emrey held them for a moment before slipping them on.

“It's not like you can help it. If they had an issue, they could've walked out from the start,” He raked through his disheveled hair. “Tell me, what was your longest?”

“Four years...ish. She's a masseuse at the day spay now, we were still dating when I met you.”

“And her excuse for leaving you was....”

“Considering who she left me for, I guess she was mad REAL vampires don't sparkle.”

“And that's your fault how?” Once in the main room, he scrounged for his clothes, grumbling at the jeans laying in tatters on the floor. “Yeah, and by the way-”

“Go easy on the zippers?”

“When it comes to a pair of eighty dollar jeans, preferably.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The Bridgeport precinct was tucked away with everything important at City Hall.

The 200+ force, a decent number for such a buzzing metropolis, had plenty to keep busy among the constant traffic infractions and domestic disputes.

William, on the contrary,was on a mission of his own. Waving to another deputy at the coffee pot (once again on the fritz), he bobbed into the chief's office to get a signature on a few papers. He had a manaella folder under his arm upon leaving, his important signed documents tucked away inside. Saying his peace to the jailer, he walked by an empty holding cell with keys in hand.

“Sorry, the chief had the Mayor on line two,” Logan's answer was to stare through the two-way glass, eyeing the subject in the interrogation room. “Anything yet?”

“No.”

“Jessica send you?”

“Yeah.”

“Great,” William opened the folder, setting it out on the window ledge. “Next objective, getting more than one word.” There was a sigh.

“Just thinking.”

“Now we'll work for three.”

“Pardon me, but I don't relish being away from my girls,” Having kept his paranoia in check for the sake of his wife and daughter, Logan had no problem letting loose to William. “These people you're after, I let them into my home once. They know where I live. That bitch-” He pointed to Katrina, sitting neat and stonefaced. “-Babysat my kid. What reason do I have to stay in this city if I can trust a person with my life one day and have them take it the next?"

“I'm doing everything in my power,” William assured. “With the chief allowing me to take the reigns, Elvira's warrant should cause her followers to step back.”

“You really think a rap sheet matters to them?”

“Katrina has one a mile long,” Reading directly from his notes, he continued. “Aiding and A bedding, harboring a fugitive, accessory after the fact. She's facing a year in the clink, perhaps four if the judge isn't feeling lenient.”

“Anything on Beau?”

“He was seen at the warehouse with Vlad. I'm staging a raid with Collin and Mordicai. I'd take more, but this case is on my personal time and I don't need some idiot mortal becoming a three course meal,” He cleared his throat. “Of course, if Ms. Pala knows of Elvira or Beau's location, she isn't telling.”

“You expect her to?” Reading the notes jotted at the top of the inside folder, Logan rifled through the paper work, bypassing Hanna's written confession and her set of fingerprints. “Your map of the warehouse is dated,” He ripped the pen from William, smashing the page against the glass to write, “There are two new internal wings here and here. The entrance was relocated to the right side, gives better visuals of who's coming and going. If you don't mind, I'd like to tag along on this little 'Robin Hood' Mission.”

“I'd rather not get civilians involved-”

“Unless you want to waste time and resources, It'd be smart to have the lay of the building,” Logan added. “I spent fifty years trying to make ends meet in that shit hole, I know it better than anyone here.”

“Sir,” Collin poked his head out from the interrogation room. “I'm not getting a thing from her, you want me to put her back in holding?”

“Might as well,” Drained from an all nighter, William rubbed his eyes again. “I don't think we'll have an issue with Elvira posting bail. We'll keep track of Kat until her preliminary court date,” Letting Logan keep the old map, he waited until Katrina passed in cuffs before speaking once more. “I wanted the raid for next Friday, but I need to plan more. Until then, it's best you refrain from telling anyone. We don't need word getting out.”

“I'll be sure to fill Jessica in before heading home,” He paused before sneaking out the fire exit. “Be sure to tell Hannah Morrigan and I say hi. She's welcome to come by if she has nothing better to do.”

“It'd take her mind off of things, that's for sure.”

Even with one in custody and the others feeling the squeeze of the law (no doubt), William wasn't sure if this was one step ahead, or them turning in circles where they stood.

 

CHAPTER 9

 

Pushing the bar of the baby gate into place, Emrey had successfully (by his standards) baby proofed his apartment, going as far as to put duck-tape on plugins and styrofoam the corners of his furniture.

“There,” Wiping his forehead, he scattered his brother's toys on the rug in front of the T.V. “Doorway's blocked.....coffee table in the hall...” He turned to where he thought he left the eleven month old, sitting on a makeshift chair with his ratty stuffed panda in his teeth. That, however, was NOT where he was, and Emrey cursed when he rushed into the bathroom, finding him in the toilet with his pants missing. “Seriously dude? I turn my back for two seconds.”

“Buh....” Hannigan didn't put up a fight when he was plucked from his porcelain play area and stripped of his soggy diaper.

Put him in that baby aquatics class, dad said...It'll set him up for the future.”

“Wawa.”

“Yeah, not all water's worth playing in. Where's your bag?” Drying Hannigan with a bath towel, Emrey placed him on the bed and unzipped the duffle on his pillow. “Count on mom to plan ahead. Where did she put your socks?” He discovered a hastily scribbled note tucked into a pair of tiny cargo shorts,

 

“'Emrey,

Put the gate up in the bathroom, Hanny likes to flush his pants,

Love Mom.'”

 

“He what?” The stream of water leaking into the living area was already swelling his rug, “Are you kidding me?!” Yanking the towel free and leaving the child on the bed nude, he added. “Stay there!”

When Mac popped in unannounced, he stumbled upon the sight of his boyfriend elbow deep in the toilet, a scattering of dirty shirts soaking up the mess and a naked toddler in the mini fridge.

“So....is this your idea of family bonding?” Blowing a disheveled strand of hair from his sight, Emrey was in no mood for jest.

“Might as well be. Isn't the first time we've had to save the pipes,” He cut the right leg free with the kitchen shears. “Don't you have an appointment?”

“Nah, he canceled. Something about his hamster's blood-sugar. Figured I'd stop by and get laid.”

“At least your honest.”

“I might have succeeded too, if it wasn't for the half-pint rummaging in your fridge.”

“My fridg- I told him to stay put!” He gave a quick jerk, toppling back when the other leg tore. “Fuck. Would you please get him before he eats something?”

“I doubt he could open the baloney, let alone something dangerous.”

“He killed the family dog with dad's heart pills. I'd prefer he not drink the merlot in the icebox.” Hannigan was sitting on the middle shelf next to the orange juice when Mac reached in and pealed him free.

“Buh....” The baby showed little interest in the stranger holding him, squirming in an effort to get down.

“He's cleaning the mess you made half-pint. Stop wiggling around,” Securing him under his arm as one might a sack of potatoes, Mac went back to Emrey's bed to ruffle through the clothes Maria packed. In the process, he stumbled upon the note she wrote and laughed when reading it. “Wow...your family, I swear.” When Emrey exited the bathroom, bag of wet clothes and mop in hand, Mac had his brother next to him on the blow-up couch, holding a small baggie of cereal for Hannigan to munch on.

“You're a lot better with kids than I gave you credit for,” He rung the mop over the sink and left it in the basin. “He always fights when I change him.” Granted, Mac's color coordination was off, with Hannigan ignorant to the clash of his yellow smiley-sun shirt and orange polka-dot pants. But, Emrey didn't expect much when Mac's own wardrobe failed to sail beyond black.

“I spent a lot of time looking after my goddaughter when she was his age. She use to fling her shit at the dog.” He ignored an attempt by Hannigan to offer him a spit covered cherrio. “Any news on your old lady?”

“She went in at noon,” He hung the mop on it's respective wall hinge, “It shouldn't be too much longer, I would think. She's been on a diet of tomato juice and baby-food since the chemo started. It's the only thing she can keep down.” He wasn't sure how to feel about the whole ordeal. Everyone was positive about Maria's prognisis, even Mac. (And Maria wanted his head as a hood ornament).

But, were they all acting this way because they were sure of a good outcome, or out of necessity to hide the inevitable?

“What are you watching?” The organ music and shouts emulating from the old junkyard T.V broke him from his depressions,

“The Boil,” Emrey cringed when the man on the screen screamed, his fist sized boil rupturing into a fountain of puss and curdled blood. “I saw it back when we still had a drive-in.”

“Could you change the channel? If I send the Toilet Fish home with a conniption, I won't hear the end of it.” Mac tossed the remote playfully.

“Sure, as soon as you change your tampon.”

Emrey caught it on the second toss, settling on public access.

“There, Gnomes and Garden.”

“Tree humpers rejoice. I thought they canceled this.”

“It's in reruns. They canned it to make room for the Llama bowl.” Perhaps it was the tired in his voice, but Mac must've noticed a stiffening in Emrey's disposition. He took hold of his shirt sleeve, dodging another slobbery cherrio from Hannigan before pulling Emrey down to steal a kiss.

“She'll be alright. If she can stand up to my sorry ass, she can get through this.”

Mac reached for the remote on the arm but stopped.

“Speaking of which...why am I seeing your mother?”

“Mah...” Hannigan noticed and reacted accordingly.

“She was one of the show's producers for the first three seasons,” Emrey pointed to the screen. “She smacks a bitch here.”

“How many times have you seen this?”

“The show or episode? Because it's about thirty two on the later,” Unlike Mac, Emrey took the cereal when offered, tossing it in the wastebasket when his brother wasn't looking. “She's got a couple books in circulation, she was even on The NewJersy Garden Wives,” Trying to organize the baby clothes while putting the soaked ones in a shopping bag, Emrey collapsed on the bed, his eyes heavy from stress. “She was doing pretty good until dad's second heartattack.”

“Morrigan use to be Ebenezer Clavier's manager until Belisama was born. You have to adjust to what life throws at you.”

“Well, it'd be nice to have one lobbed over home plate. Dad had his heartattack my senior year, mom was diagnosed after, she went into remission and had Hannigan when I was in college. Now they're out of a house, in debt, and we aren't even sure if they got to the mastectomy in time,” He turned on his side. “I'm just waiting for something else to fall through.”

“Yeah? And I'm waiting for your dad to pick up the munchkin so I can pound your ass,” Mac continued to stare at the screen, watching Maria lay the smack down on a woman for insulting her cow plant. “If you spend too much time focusing on the bad, you won't notice when it gets good.”

“You have room to talk?”

“Shut up butt monkey.” Oddly enough, their small exchange lifted what little spirits Emrey had, helping him to think positively in spite of the cloud overhead. He tossed the bag down and let his knees curl on the mattress.

What accounted for a two second blink ended when he looked at his phone and noticed time had jumped ahead two hours.

“No he's fine. Made a mess of the bathroom, I don't think the toilet will recover.” Mac's voice came to him as a whisper from the doorway,

“I had to take apart the tank when he flushed Maria's wedding set.” The second voice caused him to sit up in alarm. Coming from his haze, he saw Don in his apartment with Hannigan dozing on his shoulder.

“Good thing your friend was here or your brother would have been looking after himself.” Unsure if his father was upset, Emrey waited until he and Don were in front of the hallway elevator before apologizing.

“Look dad-”

“It's fine Emrey,” Juggling a sleeping infant, Donnahvan pressed the button and waited. “Maria told me you were pulling double shifts between gigs, I'll be sure to bring the playpin next time.”

“How is she?”

“Sore, but awake. The surgeon gave her control of the morphine pump. She was talking to imaginary butterflies when I left.” Hannigan stirred momentarily, then fell stil. “Haley's on medical leave, so she's with her at the hospital. Sprained her neck on the high dive,” He chuckle. “They put too much starch in the jello,” He put his foot between the elevator doors when they swung open. “I'm guessing there's more between you and the gentleman sitting on your couch?”

“I wouldn't have let him around Hanny if I thought he was dangerous.”

“Son, I don't have a problem. You're both adults. It's just your mother I'm concerned about,” He sighed. “Until we're given the clear, I think its best you keep this under wraps.”

“She knows he isn't going to hurt me.”

“It isn't a matter of protection Emrey. It's his kind.”

“What do you mean?” It made sense, considering Maria's attitude towards Mac, but Emrey never would've expected something so low of his mother. “You mean, like, who he is? Why would she care? She babysat for the Wolfinstiens when I was in middle school. She fed Mr. Flicker's dogs when he sprained his wing,” He folded his arms. “After all she put us through, threatening to turn Mac into the police, and I'm just now being told of this?”

“Because you wouldn't have listened back then Em. I know he's safe now, but I was just as worried too. We kept this quiet because I didn't want you having an excuse to ignore your mother,” He sighed. “And right now, I want to make things as easy as I can on her. If it's any consultation, I'm happy for you.” Trudging to his apartment, Emrey was back to being confused. Maria was one of the nicest people he knew. She was always willing to help others, even if it was inconvenient for her. He knew she hated Mac, but he had her overprotective instincts pegged as the reason.

“Great,” He noticed Hannigan's car seat on the couch. “He isn't going anywhere without that.”

“I'll get it.” Mac beat him to the the punch.

“I don't mind-”

“Forget it,” Clearly peeved, he stopped short of leaving. “Next time your old man wants to talk about his wife's bigotry, he shouldn't do it within earshot.” Donnahvan was on his way back when Mac came onto the walkway.

“Thank goodness. I don't think I could make it up those steps a second time.”

Squinting against the parching afternoon sun, Mac realized he forgot his umbrella when the heat bit into him.

“I'll keep this brief,” He said, “Maria mentioned when she saw Emrey last that he never speaks to her about important issues. It could be that he fears for her health, but considering what I just heard, how do you expect him to confide in you when you won't tell him the truth?” He smote a streamline of smoke cutting through the fabric of his corduroy jacket. “I refuse to be your son's dirty little secret, so if the topic of us ever comes up around your wife, don't expect me to deny it,” Perhaps this was a little hypocritical, considering the Elvira bullshit, but hearing the conversation between his boyfriend and Don numbed him. Smoldering like a dampened torch, Mac turned to make a quick escape indoors. “By the way, tell Maria the “evil man” wishes her well.”

 

 

Tossing the hatch down to load the boxes at his feet, Ace moved aside when Emrey came through, lugging a suitcase with minimal effort.

“Yo, man, careful with the valuables,” He popped the latches to do a quick safety check, “I have a lot of important stuff in here. My dad's old sheet music, my dad's music stand,” He held up a tiny urn, “My dad,” Upfront, Deidre flipped the ignition, cranking the dial once the engine turned over, “Would you turn that crap off!”

“Don't wanna hear Sunshine Man?” She hopped out and picked up a trash bag to throw in, “I didn't think Windy could top the charts with a demo.”

“MY DEMO,” Ace said, “I wrote that for the Byrds. I still have the recording.”

“The Byrds were barely holding it together,” Diedre said, sharing a chuckle with Emrey at Ace's frustration, “I heard you guys going at it before your performance at the Grind.”

“Still, you don't stab a brother like that,” Packing up silently from then on, the three didn't say much else until Ace was loaded up and his door key was dropped off in the landlord's mail slot, “D and I were gonna stop off at Aquarius before I leave town. I'm friends with the bouncer there. You know, one last hoopla and all that.” Emrey scratched the back of his neck,

“I would, but I have a date.”

“A date,” Ace shook his head, “That guy's all you've been talking about. His dick that good or something?”

“Does 81/2 inches count as good?”

“Ew, dude, I was kidding.” Diedra sat next to him, poking him in the shoulder,

“Your skin's turning green jealous heart.”

“I don't compare, alright? I just don't think that guy's safe.”

“You hardly know him.” Emrey defended,

“Yeah, well I know his type. Creepy little stalkers, jumping out of allies and what not.”

“We've been pushing this off for about a month. The Blue Grass Festival's in town and Mac's been managing the talent. That, and I've been running Mori's since he smashed his head inside the oven. If his coma ever breaks, I may get a vacation.” The evening was starting to wind down, making Emrey antsy for his boyfriend's impending phone call,

“A month, coulda swore it was longer.”

“Two. We've been keeping it on the down low. Mom isn't too fond of him and I don't wanna cause her any problems.”

“I don't blame her,” Done with the small talk, Ace jumped from the truck bed and closed the hatch, “You have fun with your friendly neighborhood bloodsucker.”

“You sound like a jilted lover.” Emrey moved into the grass when a familiar car pulled along side the complex, revving the engine before cutting it and rolling up the window,

“Great, the prodigal boyfriend comes forth.”

Emrey paid his friend's disdain no mind, setting his full attention on Mac when he stepped out,

“I thought you were getting me at my place?”

“Morrigan wanted me to pick up some change of address forms. I saw you here and thought I'd save on gas.”

“I still need to pick up my overnight bag-”

“I'll swing you by, don't get your panties in a twist,” Catching a glimpse of the couple by the truck, Mac would've been dense to not feel the scorn Ace was laying upon him. “Nice to see the happy wagon's hitched for me.”

“Don't mind him, he's cranky.”

“That's not the word I'd use for it, but okay.” He folded his arms, “That's Windy's drummer friend?”

“Friend is a strong word.”

“Try harpy,” Ace snapped, “I hope she enjoys that number one I wrote for her. A mansion's well and good when your using someone else to get it,” If his friends weren't so use to him ranting, they may have had more to say. Instead, Diedre rolled her eyes and walked to the front of the truck, “My scummy lawyer doesn't stand a chance against her label, I know that much.”

“So you're going to let someone run off with your work?”

“What part of 'Rich Celebrity Record Label' do you not understand? Don't you have a balcony to recite from MACbeth?”

“I have more respect for a moron who hammers out soliloquies than a man with no balls,” Mac pulled a business card from his pocket, turning it over and scribbling on the back. “Call this number, tell him Mac sent you.”

“Wait....”Ace took the card begrudgingly at first, but was surprised when reading the name, “Ebenezer Clavier? Are you high? He isn't going to talk to me.”

“Windy's signed Marksman records. They're infamous for screwing over their producers. Clavier didn't realize that when he did background work for her recent demo. He's signed to Catalia, their lawyer wont stop until she has Windy and Marksman begging in a puddle of their own piss. Unless you want to spend your life shoveling tar, I suggest you call. With luck, Marksman will bypass a court appearance and cut you a check. They've done it before.” Emrey hid a grin at Ace's confusion.

“Thanks.”

Mac waited until Emrey went around to the passengers seat before opening his door.

“Who knows, if all goes well, maybe all that money can buy you a pair,” Ace's scowl deepened when Diedre giggled behind him. “Have a nice trip Sunshine Man.”

Emrey waved out the window to his friends, receiving the same in return as they faded in the distance.

“You sent his ego packing with him.” Slowing at the stoplight at the streets corner, Mac's car didn't stay stationary long before the red changed to green.

“He should be happy he has you as a friend.” There was a stiffness to his posture. In a manner of speaking, everything about him felt rigid and uncomfortable. Normally, Emrey was relaxed in his presence, but today was different.

“You alright?”

With one hand on the wheel and the other propping his head on the windowsill, Mac hesitated before finding a worthy answer,

“Just tired,” He turned once more, dodging a car that blew through the stop sign, “I've heard more banjo music this month than is morally acceptable. If I have to deal with one more 'tear in my beer' song about some idiot and his rusty pickup truck, I'll gouge out my ear drums in protest.”

“If the trenchbillies are killing you, why not sucker Morrigan into dealing with them?”

“She's busy enough. The Landlord at their complex won't let them break their lease until they catch up on their rent. Logan's trying to find a home so far out of the way that the common cold can't find them,” It wasn't until then that Emrey noticed he had been staring at the change of address forms thrown up on the dash, “Jessica keeps saying it wont do them any good to run away. They don't know anyone outside of the city. But, whatever, if they want to teach their daughter to run from her problems, it's up to them.” There was a haggardness to the way he spoke, making Emrey believe he was as exhausted as he claimed. “Has Mori come back yet? As much as I relish us seeing each other once in a blue moon, I'm guessing you need a break.”

“Once the stitches heal, I'll have some time off.”

“Good,” Mac smirked, “Your stromboli's suck anyway.”

“Doesn't stop you from eating them,” Emrey unbuckled when they pulled out front of his complex, “Crap-”

“What now?”

“I forgot, I need to swing by mom's before open tomorrow,” He put one leg out, “I'll get my bike, it'll be easier on you.”

“I can drop you off.”

“I don't want you to have to wait, I'm just walking with her to the grocery store.” Mac wrung the wheel, causing his knuckles to go white,

“What time do you get off tomorrow night?”

“Nine. Haley's in town, so I was gonna stay over after close.”

“Tomorrow's my day off this week, but sure.” Mac held his tongue beyond that, his last sentence falling on deaf ears when Emrey shut the passengers side door.

He found it funny how everyone teased him about being dense when everything he said to Emrey seemed to bounce off.

Pulling his head from the steering wheel, he reached for his pack of menthols, holding one between his fingers before lighting it.

They'd probably swing by the diner on the way to his place (their dates were predictable), then they'd get to his apartment, fuck, and fall asleep.

Inhaling when he flicked his lighter, Mac let a stream of smoke fly free as Emrey struggled from his apartment with his bag and bicycle.

This issue would be resolved if Emrey wasn't against moving in. But the moment Maria catches wind of her son dating the, 'Big Bad Vampire', Emrey would run way with his tail between his legs. Tedium was all well and good after a few years. But just shy of eight weeks seemed cruel.

(Not that Mac was too surprised, considering his track record.)

“Sorry it took me so long, I dropped my keys in the mail slot and had to use the coat hanger under the rug.” Emrey tossed his bag in the back seat after stuffing his bike in the trunk.

“So, to the diner?”

Mac was diverted by a point of the finger. The rotating neon beams cut through the clouds from the club's never ending fog lights. “Aquarius? I didn't think you were into that kind of thing.”

“It's either that or small talk over a plate of hashbrowns.”

“I don't know where this is coming from, but okay. I usually don't set the talent for big clubs, I don't know if I can get us in.”

“Don't worry about it, the bouncer and I were a thing in highschool.”

“Okay.....”

“I'm in pretty good with the V.I.P bartender too.”

“You've been nailed more than a dart board, I get it.”

“Jealous?” When he received a shifty glance, he snagged Mac's ear, “I'll have you know I didn't sleep with Bud,” He re-ajusted his seat belt, “I blew him behind the Grind.”

“How is it you've gotten laid more in five years than I have in fifty?” Emrey shrugged,

“I dunno, I only did it to get back at mom. She grounded me for sneaking out...sooooo, I snuck out again and ended up on my knees. Turns out Bud was the mixologist.”

“That's great Emrey.”

“He was on a smoke break.”

“We doing this or not?” The car had been running for the entirety of their exchange.

“You're the one driving,” Emrey threw his feet up on the dash and laced his fingers behind his head, “Step on the gas Munkastrap.”

“I hate when you call me that.”

“You say something, Tibalt?”

“You're lucky you're cute.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

It took a bit of doing, but he managed to climb the metal steps leading to the first level parapet. He was in the office, tending to the warehouse, when he heard the phone ring.

Nerves wired, hearing a feminine voice on the other end of the line did little to help. If anything, it frightened him more. He had been twiddling his thumbs all night, and was wound as tight an outstretched rubberband.

Placing the receiver to his ear, he stumbled through his first words.

“H-hello?”

“Did Vlad arrive?”

“Um, no. He never showed. Why?” There was a small crack of silence.

“I need you to stay put. I've received word that William and a few of his cop buddies are planning a raid on the compound.”

“A raid?! You left me here alone!” The chord began to wind itself around the shaking man's fingers.

“I've called for back up. Turns out the police have been planing to storm the place for weeks. There's a key in the office safe under the desk, the code is 12-72-18. It goes to the utility closet.”

“Elvira, I don't think I can-”

“If all goes well, I'll swing by and see you after, okay?”

“O-Okay....” Reluctant, even after the other line clicked off in his ear, it was another minute before Beau replaced the receiver. “Okay.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Stumbling from the bathroom, Emrey swore when tripping over Mina as she sped past.

Reaching over to drain the sink, Mac had to deflect the dog as he filled her bowl.

“Good morning my little party animal, how's the stomach?”

“It's my head mostly,” Grumbling, Emrey collapsed at the foot of the bed, his temples throbbing. “At the risk of embarrassing myself, what happened last night?”

“Mina go lay down. I already took you out,” Mac wrestled the lab's leash from it's teeth. “Well, we got into the VIP, after a couple of hours the bartender dared you to down a few shots. You made it to three, fell down the stairs, took a dive in the fountain out front and yakked on the sidewalk,” He motioned towards the end table. “I washed your clothes in the laundry room.” Collecting his head in his hands, Emrey waited until the dull thump in his brain subsided,

“Great. The one day we have together and I ruin it.”

“I didn't mind,” As odd as it sounded, Mac didn't care if spending time with Emrey meant taking care of him. It was better than talking through text and waving to each other in passing.

“What time is it?”

“A little after ten.”

“Damn it! I was supposed to walk mom to the grocery.”

“I called for you, don't worry about it,”

“You CALLED?”

“Your old man,” Digging through his near empty fridge, Mac swung the door open and leaned on the top with his elbow. “I got his number during the Bluegrass Fest. He came by with the Toilet Fish during one of your mother's chemo treatments. I will say, he didn't sound too pleased.”

“I don't blame him....”

“Yeah, he said any son of his would last at least five shots. He also said that Maria is perfectly capable of couponing on her own. She enjoys giving Harlash a hard time when she goes to the store.”

“Store-” Emrey nearly choked on the next sentence. “The store! I was supposed to open at nine, Mori's gonna kick my-”

“He called. Said he was well enough to take over for the rest of the week.”

“Did he really or are you trying to keep me here?”

“I ordered a pizza about twenty minutes ago. Don't believe me, check your phone.” His day now cleared of all to-do's, Emrey sat quietly in his boxers, his hair a mess and his mind oddly blank. It wasn't often he had a day devoid of activity.

“So....you have work?”

“No, thank mercy. Morrigan was unavailable so I called Lenny in. The idiot retired to being a paparazzo, but I wasn't prepared to hear another cover of Greensleeves,” Digging through his back jean pockets, he counted a series of bills before putting them back. “Also, tell Mori that even with the discount, 42.50 is a lot for 2 larges.”

“You're buying the glory of his presence.”

“Unless he has a nice ass or rack, he isn't worth the extra ten.” Digging around in the broom closet, Mac rolled out an old T.V set and VCR.

“A bit aged on the technology?”

“At least I get more than 2 channels,” Pulling the tapes from a box below, he mumbled to himself when adjusting the menu with the TV knobs. “All I have is the HunchBack.”

“Lon Chaney?”

“Saw it when it came out in theatre's. My mother spent the entire film transposing the score,” He strummed the top of the television, his fingers slow and methodical as his memory of his past life tickled by. “Scribbled it down on the back of cocktail napkin once we got to the car. She made my brother play it for a school talent show.”

“Music runs in your blood.” Emrey received a disheartening shrug.

“Yeah, maybe for them. It never was my forte,” Thinking back to the talent that seemed to coarse through his family's veins, Mac felt a sudden swell of shame and dissatisfaction at being the outcast among otherwise gifted musicians. “My parents tried. Piano lessons, chorus ensemble. You name it, I was in it. There were two different boarding schools, both of which kicked my ass out. My sister was studying over seas and I was a buss boy at the tavern. You get sick of expectations after a while.”

“Or paranoia,” Emrey scratched the back of his neck. “This shit with mom....” He stopped. “Sorry, this conversation isn't about me.”

“No, it's fine. It's the most I've heard out of you all week.”

“Grandma always said she was too paranoid. Miles said it too whenever he cared to stick around.”

“He's the guy I met at your place, the day you moved in.”

“Yeah. I haven't spoken to him since, but that's how it's always been. I don't have room to talk, I snuck out too, but I always came back. Dad was so sick of Miles leaving that he changed the locks on the doors. Mom cried herself to sleep, said she was a bad parent for giving up on her son,” Emrey knew his mother was no saint. Her paranoid thinking and overly strict rules led he and his brother to do some stupid things. But Emrey was willing to take the fall for what he did. Miles wouldn't. “He didn't bother coming back after dad's heart-attack. He eloped with Lacey and only came back when he caught her with the mail man.” He exhaled, glancing up from the floor to his partner standing next to the TV. “Here you were talking about yourself and I went off on a tangent,” He scooted closer to Mac when he sat next to  him. “Jacked your moment.”

“Don't worry about it. I don't have anything interesting to say,” He started the tape, turning the volume up considerably before pushing Emrey onto his back. “Now that that's taken care of.”

“I thought you had a pizza coming?” Allowing his lips to dance along Emrey's collar bone, Mac nibbled when he felt the body beneath him tremble. “You know, Mori didn't appreciate you answering naked last time.”

“I'll grab a towel if it'll make him feel better, now stop squirming,” Emrey allowed himself a quick look of the clock, noting the 10:30 flashing in red analog letters. It wouldn't be until 5:25 before he managed to pry himself away. (Not that he wanted to in the first place).

.Neither had anything to do, and he had no issue being a warm body for his lover to come back to again and again. They finally ate the pizza after it had gone cold, and Emrey grabbed a power nap between noon and one. When the aforementioned 5:25 came around, Emrey was clinging to the headboard, biting into his pillow with a curtain of static playing from the T.V screen behind them.

Slowing pace when the intercom beeped above the end table, Mac attempted to steady his breath when fumbling for the button,

“Yeah?”

“Hey, It's Jessica, you have a minute?”

“...uh, gimme five. I just got out of the shower.” Emrey was rather comfortable, his head to the side and staring down at the handful of used rubbers that had been tossed to the floor. (One of which busted after Mac misjudged how many rounds it was used for).

On borrowed time, Mac kicked it into high gear, taking the man underneath him off guard. Even with his teeth clenched into his pillows fabric, Emrey had a better chance of detaching a limb then he had staying quiet. Not that Mac was any better, growing more and more vicious until he reached his peak.

“Damn,” He breathed, swallowing to put his throat at ease. “I can't get enough of you today....” Arms wobbling and wrists cramped, he collapsed upon Emrey, soaking up his addictive body heat. “Roll over for me.”

It was when Jessica knocked after waiting that 'five minutes', that his original intent was smoldered.

“Mac, just bite me.”

“What?”

Emrey propped himself up off his pillow.

“It's been a while for you right?”

“How is that going to help-”

“Just do it,” Keeping himself up on his arms, Emrey didn't complain when Mac lifted his upper half to touch his, penetrating below his jaw bone and digging deep. As expected, Emrey allowed a final exclamation to escape his lips, his body shuddering before he expelled himself. From there he let his body fall limp, enjoying the suction as Mac fed. 

“You were storing up a lot,” Mac wiped his stomach with a discarded t-shirt after pulling himself free. Feeling re-energized, he threw on a pair of pants from his dirty clothes hamper. “You alright?”

“Yeah...” Emrey struggled to sit against the headboard, his limbs heavy, “Gimme a second, my body's revolting.” Jessica was still waiting, debating a second knock when Mac finally came out into the hall.

“Sorry for the wait, water went cold on me again,” Pocketing a comb he had been using to correct his appearance, he wondered if his attempt to hide the sex contentment worked. “The committee having another bake sale?”

“No no, I wish everything was that simple,” Jessica sighed. “William and Logan have a date with the warehouse, but aside from that, things have been rather quiet,” Mac noticed the typical mischievous simmer when she smiled. “Morrigan wanted me to drop off an invitation to her little get together tonight. She said she's been trying to contact you, but you never answered. She's worried you're cross with her about the move.”

“My cell died, I haven't had the chance to charge it.”

“Yes, well, it's at seven, so I thought I'd let you know a bit in advance,” She fumbled with her tiny hand purse, fishing out an invite. “Also, when I was last over, you mentioned the button on your intercom kept jamming, did you ever get that fixed?”

“Maintenance took a look at it. Otherwise, no. Why?” Jessica schemey smile hadn't faltered, and with that, what little color Mac had fell from his face. “How much did you hear?”

“Just that five minutes worth. Though the janitor got an earful when she was moping the lobby.”

“Perverted old bitch....”

“You're quite the little screamer under the sheets,” She snickered, knowing full well if Mac could blush, he would be. “And all that swearing, the saltiest old sailor would be speechless...”

“That was Emrey.”

“No it wasn't.” His ears picking up Emrey's attempts to scavenge for his clothes, Mac knew Jessica's grin would be forever branded in his mind.

“So, aside from invading what little personal space I have, is there any other reason you're here?”

“None in-particular. Thought I'd ruin the fun. I'd love to stay longer but I have to get back and check on Rafael. He's been sick the last couple of days.”

“Finally take the plunge?”

“His blood's fighting it something fierce,” She readjusted her purse strap over her shoulder. “Perhaps now I won't fear as much, but you know what it's like, worrying about our fleshy ones,” She moved her head left to right, checking for any unwelcomed ears. “And about that incident with Vlad. I wasn't able to do a follow up.”

“He showed at the pizzaria a while back looking for Emrey. Nothing else has come of it. I don't think even he knows of Elvira's motives.”

“None of us do. William's hoping to find a clue when he goes through the warehouse, but even I'm skeptical. I fear, at this point, Elvira's insanity has taken precedence.” She shook her head. “It's sad really, she use to be so intelligent.”

“She still is.” Mac poked his head back in. “Hey, Emrey, the invite has both our names on it, you up for a trip?”

“I can't feel my legs....”

“He's good to go,” He turned back to Jessica. “We'll meet you there.”

 

 

 

Morrigan wasn't expecting any early arrivals, so when that first taunting bell-ring came, she was far from prepared.

“There's someone here already,” She had her phone between her ear and shoulder, pulling a casserole pan from the oven, “YOUR daughter has been nothing but a handful. I dropped fifty on that dress and she won't wear it....well she's yours when she isn't behaving,” She pulled her phone back, yelling down the hall. “Bel your father says to get dressed!”

“BUT IT ITCHES!”

“You can deal with her when you get back....” She laughed. “Sure, I'll get out the shock collar....alright, hurry home...Love you too,” Flipping the stereo to an irrelevant station and pulling the blinds closed, she got to the door before the fourth toll. “Should've figured it'd be you.”

“Don't sound so excited.” Mac took off his coat.

“It's been...difficult,” She invited both men in. “The house in Twinbrook fell through. Turns out the landlord was using it for illegal gnome fights.” Ignoring what had been screamed at her for the past hour, Belisama ran out from her room in her pantyhose, shirtless.

“Hey,” She spotted Emrey, dodging her mother and jumping onto the loveseat. “You're that piano guy.”

“My fan-base multiplies exponentially....”

Morrigan snagged her daughter by the arm.

“And YOU'RE begging for a foot to the backside. You're half naked in front of our guests.”

“It's just Mac.” When a snicker came from behind her, Morrigan sent a coaster in Mac's direction.

“Get Dressed. Now.”

“But MOOOOOM!”

“I'm counting to three and then I'm taking your tarot deck.” Belisama opened her mouth to argue, but closed it, her eyes widening.

“Auntie Jessica gave me that.”

“And I'll give it right back. Now go, the crystal ball's next.” There was a belligerent foot stomp, accompanied by a rabid huff. From there, Belisama conformed and stormed away.

“Don't you want a thousand of them?” Emrey hung Mac's coat on the candelabra coat rack before tending to his own.

“I try not to get onto her too much. Any child would react with what's going on.”

“Plucking her from her friends and family will do that,” Morrigan responded with silence, surprised that Emrey said it instead of Mac. “I mean, is there a good community for her where you're going? I've been to Twinbrook, it's full of inbreds.”

“Mac.”

“He took the words out of my mouth.” Alone in her stance, Morrigan pulled a large group of styrophome plates from under the sink.

“We have our family to worry about.”

“Yeah, and you're taking her away from it. The committee needs the two of you and so does everyone else,” Aside from the noise of things being tossed about in Belisama's room, the living area had grown quiet. “You really think teaching her to run from her problems is best?”

“You think keeping her in a dangerous situation is?” Morrigan held the bridge of her nose, exhaling to release the pressure in her nostrils. “If Logan and I had a way to know for sure that Bel isn't in Elvira's path, we'd have no issue staying. If you want, you can talk with him when he gets home, but we have our children to worry about.”

“Children?”

“Yeah, about that thousand of 'em...” She spotted her daughter as she came from her room, dressed but agitated. “You of all people know I don't throw parties for shits and giggles,” Despite the minor dispute, she accepted Mac's hug, passing a wink at Emrey from over his shoulder. “Couldn't help but notice the battle scars,” Emrey's cheeks warmed to an embarrassed simmer, upset that he hadn't a clean shirt to cover the bite marks. “Nice job soldier.” With the party still a bit in wait, those attending broke apart. Mac confined himself to the kitchen, tending to the dishes. Morrigan poked a toothpick into the second casserole dish.

“The aluminum pan's for Emrey. I had to pull an alfredo recipe offline. I didn't want the plasma fruits making him sick.”

“I'm sure he'll appreciate it.” Mac shook his hands before wiping them on the front of his shirt. “Where'd he get off to anyway?”

“Belisama took him into the study, wanted to show him her seance circle.” Checking her phone, her brow furrowed. “Logan should've been back by now,” She replaced the foil atop both dishes to keep them warm, “While we're here, hows the “Emrey moving in” quest?

“I have to get past the hidden boss.”

“Maria?”

“What do you think? He won't step outside of the box if mommy doesn't want him to,” Mac caught himself, squeezing the dish sponge until a frothy line of bubbles trickled down his arm. “I shouldn't say that, he has every right to see her.”

“I doubt Maria's so frail that she can't walk herself to the grocery.”

“I'm not going to force him into something he isn't ready for. He nearly lost his dad twice, and this is round two for his mom.”

“You're fine with him throwing away something important?” Mac took the dish rag from the fridge handle, laying it out for the glasses.

“Who said I was important?” With his back turned, he didn't see his friend frown. He also didn't see her less than subtle escape after a minute of contemplation.

Emrey was where Belisama left him, standing near one of their many bookshelves with his nose in a book. Upon shooing Bel to help Mac set the table, Morrigan caught the title of the novel in spite of Emrey's back being to her.

“The Genetics of Turning,” she said, grinning a little when her guest jumped. A part of her knew better than to put her nose where it didn't belong. Though, knowing Mac, he'd keep his mouth shut for an eternity. “Something you've been thinking about?”

“Sorry I should have asked before helping myself,” Emrey shut the book abruptly, cramming it back on the shelf. “Just curious.”

“Not something to take lightly,” Morrigan shifted, so to have the perfect view of the hall. “There's more to the undead than breaking down doors and looking snazzy in black.”

“Yeah...” Emrey let his eyes wander to the spines set neatly on the shelves, jamming his hands into his pockets. He never realized how little he and Morrigan had to talk about when Mac wasn't involved. “Have you heard back from Eugi?”

“Not yet, he's still booked clear through 'til the end of the month. The 501 has an opening, the owner liked having you last time.”

“I'm sure he did...” His host laughed.

“It's a she sweetheart. Jessica wouldn't make a move if it meant disrespecting Mac. You're blood's practically on a blacklist.” It was then that her guest noticed a peculiar book, tucked away under a dust laden stack on the end table. It wasn't so much the title, but the author.

“Elvira?” Leather bound, the novel was thick and had a decent weight to it. It had to have been half a century and the title was nearly worn away. “Isn't it, like, illegal to have stuff of hers?”

“If harboring knowledge was illegal, we would've left a long while ago,” Morrigan took the book, blowing some cobwebs from between the pages. “Before she went crazy, Elvira was a respected member of the scientific community. Ironically enough, there was a time that she sought means to help. But, when younger vampires began to flood into the city, the committee cracked down and she felt her power was threatened.”

“Like you and Mac?” Morrigan wiped the cover clean with her sleeve before returning it to the top of the stack,

“To a small extent. Mac and I were still... fleshy when we came over,” The smile she often kept fixed like a habit faltered. “We grew up together in a tiny village north of here. His mother was so militant with her music that he broke his neck to get away. My parents were politicians, and after the nanny raising me died, I convinced Mac to come to Bridgeport with me.”

“So you were...”

“An item, yes. For a while. We were just kids, had dreams of buying a big house and starting a family. Neither of us really knew how the big city worked and we ended up living out of my oldsmobile for the first few weeks. Mac got a job crushing up the cars in the junkyard, and I met Logan when looking for work at the library. Of course, I found myself attracted to him and instead of telling my partner, I got scared and ran off with the other man. I left a note, but Mac didn't find out until after I turned. I broke his heart, and we didn't speak again until I was pregnant with Bel. By then we'd both grown up and were able to bury the hatchet. He hardly speaks of his ex's, I'm lucky he chose to forgive me.” Confused, Emrey spoke as soon as she quit talking.

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Did Mac ever tell you why Elvira's messed with him all these years?” She received a shake of the head. “Some of us, if we chose, exude a great amount of power over those we turn. Elvira gets a kick out of enthralling those beneath her. Vlad and many others found her intoxicating, even after the deed of changing them was done.”

“What does this have to do with Mac?”

“Who's blood do you think runs in his veins?” Morrigan heard her daughter mumble as she sped off to the bathroom beside the study. She refrained from speaking until she was out of sight, “I believe that, despite Mac hating every minute of that music crap his parents put him through, it helped to strengthen his mind. Elvira made a mistake turning him because he's immune to her control.” She crossed her arms. “This issue with your mother. I've been made aware of her prejudice towards us. It isn't anything new. And while I can respect you being there for your family, do you expect Mac to stay in limbo?”

“I've talked with him about it-”

“Over the phone. You push off seeing him to volunteer yourself for someone else,” Morrigan didn't want Emrey to think she was chastising him, but, she also didn't want to sugar coat things and risk not getting her point across. “I understand that you're worried, and you have every right to be. If you want to be there for Maria when she needs you, that's fine. But if your mother can't grasp that you have a life of your own, then she's the one at fault.” As a final note, before she was lured away by her cellphone, she added. “Just because Mac can live forever doesn't mean he should wait that long.” It was on the third ring that she excused herself.

“Alright JellyBean,” In the living room, Mac caught Belisama mid jump, taking her from the couch, “Your mother'll skin me if she see's you messing up her cushions. Go watch for your dad.” The little vampire scurried to the window, her eyes and pigtails visible over the sill.

“Hey Mac, do you think the baby would fit on my alter?”

“That depends, will you take what I say literally? My butt's still sore from your mom's last beating.” Belisama stuck out her tongue.

“Baby's spit up a bunch. At school, a toddler escaped from the nursery and smeared poo all over the girl's bathroom.,” She added. “With my luck, the baby'll mess up my seance circle.....unless I put it at the center......” From the hall, Emrey was almost to the kitchen when Morrigan swung the bedroom door back, almost knocking him out.

Far more distraught than when she went in, she didn't bother to send her daughter away before speaking.

“That was Logan,” Her eyes were red, the skin around them swollen. “He's in the ER.”

“Is he alright?” Mac was answered with a blank stare that stood unyielding for longer than he considered comfortable.

“William's dead.”

 

CHAPTER 10

 

The last to arrive, Jessica wasn't made aware of the situation until she received the call from Mac. By then, she was across the city and it took her half an hour to cut through traffic.

Upon pulling into the ER parking lot and entering the lobby, she wasted little time and hurried past a group of humans huddled in the waiting room. Turning left next to the bathrooms, she continued down the dimly lit corridor until she was met by a set of double doors. From there, she was greeted by a more subdued atmosphere, tarnished only by a man at the secretary desk with a set of lacerations on his cheek and a bent wing. In the corner stood a lycan mother, cuddling an infant with a nasty case of whooping cough. Then there was a genie hanging halfway out of his lamp, being carried by an RA holding forceps.

“Looks like you have your hands full.” Jessica muttered to the nurse waiting for her in front of radiotherapy.

“Wait until the holiday season,” They went away from the controlled chaos, going into a wing ripe with the smell of sterilized alcohol and fairy dust. “Dr. Mortis wanted me to keep an eye out for you. He figured you'd come rushing,” The young nurse, a vampire about two or three years shy of her fiftieth birthday, pulled a pencil from behind her ear, ruffling few some papers on her clipboard. “Room D34, Mrs. Hemlock is already there, and Police Chief Decker came in to check on the situation earlier,” Jessica moved aside when an empty, blood splattered gerny was pushed in from lobby. “Our Elevator is currently out of service, so you'll have to take the stairs.” It wasn't until she was on her own in the stair well that the severity of the situation came crashing in around her. Jess hardly understood Mac when he called, Morrigan was in hysterics in the background and, from the sounds of it, they were already traveling to the ER when her cell rang. If the Police Chief had been here, that was proof enough that this wasn't a simple botched job.

Logan was on the fourth floor and William was in the morgue.

She stopped, her steps having been mechanical up to that point. She breathed in a shallow, shaky breath. She'd have to go against her baser extincts of breaking down. Someone had to hold it together. Hysterics could wait.

“Dr. Mortis.” The first face she met on the D-Floor was the doctor of the wing, looking exhausted with a cup of coffee in hand. When she came into view, he put his cup down on the nearest table, hugging her.

“I'm so sorry.” He said, weary in posture and speech.

“What of Logan?”

“He's doing as well as he can be. He has a few deep lacerations to the scalp and another on the back of the left shoulder. A fractured humerus and shattered ulna. We'll have to put a metal bar in to reform it. They found him unconscious at the bottom the parapet. It was a thirty foot plummet.” There was a pause, then a swallowing of saliva before Jessica spoke again.

“William?”

“According to what little we got from Logan, he took a blast to the back of the head. Ballistics has yet to get back, but, by the injuries, I'm moving more towards a shotgun. It wasn't point blank range, but it was pretty close. I doubt he even felt it.”

“William had three other men with him. He wouldn't have let someone get that close.”

“I'm no bullets expert, I'm hypothesizing based on what I've heard.” D34 was quiet, as one would expect it to be. Morrigan was sitting by her husband on the bed, Logan's arm was already wrapped, a heavy strength opiate hanging on a tree above his head. Mac stayed in the corner until Jessica walked in, from there he got up and offered his seat to her. His offer was declined.

“How you feeling trooper?” She received a motion of the head as Logan struggled to look over,

“Surgery soon. Can't feel anything otherwise.”

“The meds tend to do that,” From there the curtain was drawn and the bedside lamp was turned up. “I spoke with Mortis. He mentioned the Chief.”

“He said he'll wait until Logan's home before he questions further. Doesn't want his testimony compromised by the drugs,” Morrigan said. “Pretty sure his arm is nothing but powder.” There was another swell of silence after this. Jessica had questions (obviously), but found herself in fear of asking them. She wasn't sure how Logan would take it.

After clearing her throat, however, she was able to move forward.

“About the raid,” She began. “I know you might not want to talk of it, but I have to know who-”

“Beau, who else?” Was the answer, “....If I had known he had a gun, I would have shoved William off.” He inhaled, covering his eyes with his free arm. “That stupid son of a bitch, after all we did for him and this is how he repays us.” His sorrow flashing over into rage, he attempted to sit up.

“Logan please, Mortis doesn't want you jostling your arm.” Not putting up a fight, Logan succumbed to his wife's request and stayed on his pillow. From there, uncaring of the people around him, he broke down, crying large baby tears as Morrigan cradled his head in her lap.

“Mac,” Jessica left her friend to his mourning, stepping outside with Mac in tow. “I'll leave him for now. Mortis should be by soon and I don't what him in hysterics when that happens. I'd hate to put you on the spot, but did Logan mention anything to you before I arrived?”

“Just what the doctor asked,” Mac answered, arms folded. “Said he fell off the platform when William blew everywhere.” Distraught, but maintaining his civility, he added. “You think Elvira's behind this? Logan didn't mentioned seeing her.”

“If she is involved, she wouldn't have soiled her fingers with the dirty work. William had the warehouse pegged as her central operation for a while. If she felt threatened, I can see why she'd retaliate but-” Encasing her face in her fingers, she stayed like this in an attempt to quell her emotions. “After what happened to Hannah, I should've stepped in and stopped William from going. If more of us were there...Did Logan mention Vlad?”

“No, just Beau. He shouldn't be too hard to find, Collin snipped him when he attempted to flee. That was the last thing Logan saw before he blacked out.” The two separated when Mortis and the prepped OR nurses came to wheel Logan away. Morrigan stayed by his side until they reached the resident station where she was banned from going further. She gave her husband a kiss for luck before he vanished with the hospital staff.

“He'll be out in a couple of hours, you've got nothing to worry about.” Jessica assured.

“I don't know what I'll tell Belisama if something happens,” She searched her person for her cell, digging into her coat with no luck. “I hope Bridgit's able to watch her.”

“You left her with Emrey,” Mac said, “He's well enough with kids.” Remembering the incident with Hannigan, he reiterated. “So long as they're potty trained.”

“I meant until all of this blows over. We can't leave now, not with everything that's happened. But I know that Elvira will find away to get to Bel if she thinks she can use it against us,” She bit the inside of her cheek in thought. “Logan and his sister aren't on the best terms, but she doesn't live in town and she wouldn't want anything to happen to our kid.”

“Make that two,” Jessica commented. “You've got a bun in the oven, and whether you like it or not, that makes you as much of a target as your daughter.”

“I'm not leaving Logan like this, he needs me.”

“You saw how he was back there, imagine if that been you.”

“But I...Mac.” Turning to her left for help, she realized she was on her own.

“Sorry princess. If you care about your daughter, you'll bite your tongue for her sake,” He knew Morrigan would be furious with him, she'd likely not talk to him until she and Bel left, but he'd endure. “You can ask your old man too, I'm sure he'd agree.” Morrigan kept things civil the rest of the time they were there, though she didn't speak a word to either.

It was closer to midnight when they made it back to the Hemlock's. Jessica agreed to keep watch over Belisama so Emrey could leave. It was obvious that he needed a break when they arrived and found the little pianoman tucked in on the couch with Bel watching cartoons.

“He gonna be okay?” Emrey asked after receiving a short rundown of the evening's events.

“He came out of surgery before we left. Has a metal plate in his arm and will probably have a nice sized indent in his skull, but we heal fast, he'll be back on his feet soon,” He added, “Well, heal fast so long as we don't take a shot gun blast to the temple.” Emrey placed his fingers over Mac's as they rested on the stick shift.

“I'm sorry...about William. I didn't know him, but you and the others did.”

“Logan's taking it the hardest.” Turning so that the Hemlock's apartment building was lost in the sea of structures, he thought of reaching for a cigarette, but decided against it. Doing so would mean removing his hand from Emrey's. “The police have already told William's family, I may just swing by tomorrow to pay my condolences.”

“If it's any consolation, I may do the same,” There were plenty of ideas of “who dun it” floating about. Beau may have been the one who pulled the trigger, but Mac knew he was far too cowardly to do so on his own. If Vlad wasn't there, then Elvira had to be. He'd bet a years stipend on it.

“Do you mind staying over at my place tonight?” Emrey asked it before Mac could.

“Your place? Why?”

“I need help packing and I don't want to be alone.” It would seem he was just as unnerved as everyone else.

“Your old lady convince you to move back in?” Any other time, he'd have said it with a great deal of vindictiveness, but it came out weary.

“No.” Emrey corrected. “I'm moving in with you.” In response, Mac slammed on the breaks, receiving an angered fervor of horn blasts from the truck behind him. He pulled off onto the road leading to the diner.

“What's with the sudden change, If this is about Elvira-”

“It isn't about anyone,” Was the response. “I can't let people rule my life, even mom. If she's really going to be pissed that I'm dating you, then it's her own fault for not seeing the big picture.” At a loss for words, Mac let it sink in as he drove into a parking space, killing the engine. After everything that had happened, he wasn't expecting good news.

Granted, Emrey wasn't going to mention that it took a stern talking to by Morrigan. He wanted to move in with Mac, but he was afraid of upsetting the delicate ecosystem of his family dynamic. Though, in the hours he spent watching cartoons with Bel, he came to the realization that, no matter how things ended up for Maria and Don, nothing would fill the void if he let Mac walk out of his life. “Come on,” Emrey was unbuckled and outside before the headlights were turned off. “I can't lift a two ton piano on an empty stomach.”

 

CHAPTER 11

 

57 Dockside road had multiple cars come and go as the morning sun peaked over the sea surrounding Bridgeport. When Hannah reached the top floor, casserole dish in hand, she was greeted by two off duty police officers.

“Ma'am,” Collin, whom she often saw when staying with William, greeted her with a solemn tip of the hat. “Miss. Wise and Miss. Strummer are in the kitchen if you're here to offer your condolences.” The apartment itself had once been home to the most watched reality tv show on the Network block, but upon William moving in, both ladies began to favor privacy.

As Collin said, Kirby and Susan were at the island in front of the stove. Susan, the older and taller of the two, was washing what few dirty dishes there were while Kirby, seven months pregnant, had her head lying next to a tissue box.

“Sorry I'm late,” Hannah sat her dish down with the others on the table. “It took me a bit to sweep the popcorn from the 2 o'clock matinee. I hope you don't mind the cobbler, it's apple.” Susan embraced her, leaving wet hand prints on the girl's back in the process, “I wish there was more I could help with.”

“William's concern was with you being safe,” Susan pushed the pie closer to her girlfriend and dug around for a fork. “He'd be proud to see you on your own.”

“I can't help but feel like-”

“It's your fault?” Kirby spoke, scraping away at the pie's crust with the side of her coffee spoon. “Like you should've thought twice before getting into a fight over something stupid. I don't care anymore if he had to push off our anniversary for a night shift,” She stabbed the spoon into the pie without any care of how long it had taken Hannah to make it. “I keep watching for him to come home and he won't.”

“He let the bullshit roll off, he always did,” Susan wiped her own eyes, strong in her resolve to stay sane. “The baby has us Kirb, she'll remember who daddy is.”

“Mrs. Striker what you're asking me to do is look the other way.” Jessica and Decker came from the living room, unaware of Hannah's arrival.

“I have no intention of breaking the law,” She said. “You want to do a full rundown of the warehouse, William had recorded conversations between Elvira and one of her men.”

“Absconded by amoral means,” The Chief, a stout man with a mustache as thick as his brown caterpillar eyebrows, spoke in a dulled whisper, “William had the warrant sent in to the judge but was unable to get permission.”

“The warehouse is swarming with societal garbage, since when was it difficult to get a taping warrant?”

“We have a ton of tin foil wearing nut jobs in this town. They scream conspiracy whenever phone tapping comes up.” Decker heard Kirby sniffle as she leaned into Susan's shoulder. “He had that arrest warrant out on Miss. Slayer for assault, we thought it would have been enough. Even if there's proof of our shooter being affiliated with Miss. Slayer, I can't use any evidence from those tapes. The local defense attorney would have a field day.”

“Then what do you propose we do?” Jessica demanded, not caring if her voice hinted towards anger. “Your best deputy is dead. Elvira's been giving her own kind a hard enough time without bringing the rest of the city into it.” The two of them would have to come to some sort of agreement, this much she knew. Elvira was no longer a nuisance with ideas of grandeur, she was a murderer, capable of killing those she once called friends.

“If you stay within the lines of the law, I'm willing to work with you. I don't know how Elvira learned of the raid, but William was a good man, I'll never have another like him.”

“Nice to see we're both in agreement. First things first, we need to find Beau.”

“Mr. Hemlock came into the station after he was released and gave us a full report. With Collin and Mordecai's, we have enough to place a warrant.”

“Logan mentioned to a mutual friend that one of your men got a shot or two in.”

“CSI found fresh blood present that didn't belong to either victim. Ballistics came back on the bullets, and we found the gun tossed in the dumpster behind Weylon's. Mossberg 12 gauge.”

“Knowing Beau, it won't take much for him to crack. He's a coward, and if you dangle murder charges in front of his nose, he'll piss through his jeans.”

“Whatever we plan on doing, we have to work fast before either he or Miss. Slayer attempt to flee the city. With charges like this, any self respecting person would turn them in.” Hannah made it a point to head over as this was said, causing Jessica to wrap the conversation quickly.

“Elvira has plenty to hide her. William hoped the assault warrant would strain her ties, but he wasn't around long enough to see it.”

“Captain,” Interrupting, Hannah smiled when Decker turned to meet her. “I know this is bad timing, but I wanted to know if you have any openings.”

“Openings?”

“Yes sir,” She nodded, standing in her work uniform with the top two buttons undone. “I want to join the academy.” The only response she received was a two second eyebrow raise from Jessica and a chortle from the Chief.

“Well, child, I appreciate your tenacity, but you have to at least be twenty one.”

“Then take me on as an apprentice.”

“This isn't a culinary school, and we can't have a civilian running around with our officers,” He paused. “One was injured yesterday for that very reason.”

“William always said that he felt best when he was on patrol. He helped me and I want to help others too.” Decker, touched by the girl's perseverance, ruffled her hair.

“If it'll help, we have a vocational program that starts in the fall. It's for a couple of months, but it'll give you a taste of what you're looking for. Stop by the station later this afternoon, I'll have my secretary sign you up.”

“Thank you sir.”

Glancing back to Jessica before replacing his hat, he added.

“And, if you could stop by as well Ma'am, we can discuss this matter further,” He motioned for his men to follow, “Call it survivors guilt, but I can't help but feel responsible. William was so stead fast in searching that warehouse. I should have sent more men with him.”

Jessica and Hannah stayed with the widows for a little while longer before leaving them to mourn. Standing out front of the elevator, both waited as it climbed to their location.

“The sooner we get Beau in, the sooner we can drill him for information,” She took notice when the body beside her shifted. “Of course there's Vlad. I can only imagine what his excuse will be.”

“He didn't-” Hannah caught herself, but not in time.

“He works at the warehouse yes?” Jessica used her hand to keep the sliding doors from closing once they opened. “It'd make sense that he be involved in someway.”

“He wasn't....at the warehouse yesterday.” The confession came after a small second of contemplation.

“Really now?” The tone used further proved Jessica's own presumption. “I figured as much when I saw his car outside of the theater.”

Ashamed, Hannah slithered into the open cart, standing in the corner with her eyes cast to the ground. Jessica pressed for the first floor.

“How long has this been going on?” There was silence. “Hannah?” Silence once more. “If you want to help catch the people responsible for William's death, you need to cooperate.”

“He didn't do it.” Conflicted by the demise of her friend and her feelings for another, her bottom lip trembled. “I know he didn't, and I won't let you terrorize him like SHE does,” A part of her feared Jessica realizing. She didn't want to be outed as a traitor. She also didn't want Elvira catching wind. “He stopped by after the show. He was always so nice when Aunt Kat and Elvira worked together. Yesterday, I got a little too friendly in the projection room and he never tried to stop me.”

“If the time comes that his innocence is called into question, you may have to speak.” Jessica stopped another tangent before it started. “I know he wasn't there. I believe you. But if you want him out of the fire, you have to cooperate.” Having never been given a reason not distrust the woman, Hannah nodded. “Good.” Once they hit the bottom floor, both walked out into the lobby. “Follow me to my car, I'll fill you in as we go.”

 

 

 

 

Less than forty eight hours after William was put to rest, Vlad stepped outside of the 501, following a text message sent by Hannah feigning car trouble. The lounge was dead, and Jessica was waiting with her parasol when he pulled up.

“Quite the testament, since you're willing to come around.” Alone, Jessica knew it would take a great deal of smooth talk to keep her guest from getting back into his car and driving away.

“I should have figured,” Was his response when he realized the trap he walked into, “You couldn't leave well enough alone without dragging her into your schemes.”

“If that's the way you wish to see it,” Asking Hannah to lie in order to lure Vlad in left a foul taste in Jessica's mouth. She didn't like underhanded practices, even with the urgency of catching those responsible. “We need to talk.”

“If you think I'm going to be a part of your little resistance project, it isn't happening,” Vlad readjusted his own umbrella when it slid off his shoulder. “I'm  sick of this. All of it.” Jessica saw his grip tighten.

“You weren't at the warehouse during the raid. Logan doesn't recall seeing you and Hannah's willing to testify. I'm not here as an enemy, I'm here to find answers. And, whether you want to admit it or not, you're as much a victim as everyone else,” She motioned for him to follow, “If you wish to come inside, we can speak further.”

“Whose waiting to jump me?”

“No one. This is neutral territory. I'll be waiting in the catacombs.” Hannah was in the stairwell when two sets of feet echoed towards her. Scurrying into the utility closet, she clutched her purse and swallowed. She couldn't bring herself to face Vlad after deceiving him.

“First things first,” Jessica said when taking a seat at a stone table with matching cushioned chairs. “The police know of your affiliation with Beau, and they know of your operations within the warehouse. They also have a warrant for that little beating on Hannah.”

“I didn't lay a finger on her.” Angry the moment his trigger was switched, Vlad was already pondering whether he should cut his losses and go. “If you're working with the police, what's to stop me from telling them about this? You pressuring me to testify behind their backs won't sit well.”

“You're right,” Jessica laced her fingers on the table top. “Then, when you show up to rat me out, you'll be arrested on felony charges, aiding and a bedding and suspicion of conspiracy. They'll FORCE you to testify and you'll be lucky if they offer a reduced sentence. I've already spoken with Chief Decker in your defense. Hannah has written two statements. If you're willing to testify, they'll drop all charges in exchange,” This was the best for Vlad, whether he wanted to admit it or not. “Where's Beau?”

“Like I care... She never told me of her intentions. Had I decided to go in...” He gritted his teeth. “I keep thinking she wouldn't do that to me, not after all we've been through.”

“How special do you really think you are?” Jess laced her fingers. “Elvira's bedded how many? Wayne, Beau, Kathrine. I'm sure she told you it was for the cause. She probably said you were the one and only for her. Then again, she told them the same.” Nibbling the tip of a painted nail, she pursed her lips. If her guest wanted to say anything, he hadn't. Silence wasn't the same as complacency, this she knew. “Let me tell you a story. To better help you in your decision. Long ago, there was peasant woman who lived in a village far from here. She worked as a seamstress, and one day, she came to the home of a powerful Baron at the bidding of the man's wife. The Barron saw the seamstress and was taken by her beauty. From then on, he continued to call the woman back, and the two began an affair. Now, the Baron was an old man, having lived hundreds of years. He promised his mistress that they would be together, and, in proper fashion, turned her so that she would live forever with him. For thirty years the mistress stayed true, living in the lavish home, and being waited on hand and foot by her servants. All of this crumbled, however, when she found herself to be with child. The Baron's wife had turned her head to his affairs, but refused to acknowledge the bastard upon it's birth. She forced her husband to chose between his family or the other woman. Obviously, the Baron chose his wife and stripped his mistress and her infant of all luxury.

Later on, when the infant was an adult, the two decided to move to a city. There, the naive girl stumbled upon a friend. There was something about her. She was everything, seductive, kind, dangerous. All was well, and for the longest time, the girl thought herself to be lucky. Then the younger vampires came into the city, and the committee decided to put a stay on the population. Thinking back now, the logic was solid. Out numbering the humans is like a farmer setting fire to his own field. But the young girl's partner was outraged. She felt her rights were being infringed upon. And despite all the hard work she'd done for her kind, she was more than willing to go against them. She was shunned from the committee and the girl went with, convinced in her partner's reasoning. Despite all the beatings and insults, it wouldn't be until she found her lover with a little farm boy from out of town that it all sank in. And then, as if to dig the blade in further, the woman ripped the girl's mother from her. The seamstress who had been through so much, who had given up everything to raise her daughter, turned against her. She kicked her out onto the streets, leaving her to whither and die,” Jessica blinked when her eyes began to sting, “I lost everything. My home, my love, and when I had nothing else to give, my own mother shunned me,” Hannah wrestled with her emotions long enough to come from the closet, standing at the back of the room as Jessica relayed her story, “I was nothing more than a pawn, and when my usefulness was up, I was cast aside. I want you to walk away with some dignity before she rips everything from you.” She glanced up and caught Hannah's eye, causing Vlad to turn and see, “Including the ones you care about.”

“I-” She gulped, opening her purse and thrusting her hand inside. “I made you lunch,” She whipped out a sealed off zip lock bag with a sloppy peanut butter sandwich inside, “You haven't been eating...I wasn't able to spread the plasma fruit on right so I cut it like tomatoes.” It was when Vlad stood up that she went further onto the defense, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lie, but you wouldn't have come if I hadn't,” Picking his parasol from the ground, Vlad made it over to her before leaving. Taking the baggy from her, he gave her a quick, two second cheek stroke before walking out, “He's angry,” Her voice was thick and unsteady, “I knew he would be.”

“It isn't anger child,” Jessica said, “Just contemplation.”

 

 

It wasa busy day at the pizzeria. Between customer complaints, busing tables and taking orders, Emrey worked himself ragged cleaning up the aftermath.

“There we go,” Mori gave his new ice maker a pat. “Finally installed. No more breakdowns.” Emrey had every plate in the store laid out on a swath of towels. Moving about, his duct taped sneakers slipped when going to the dishwasher. “It's self maintaining, voice activated, and, get this, it repairs itself.”

“So, it slings the wrenches for you?” Emrey pulled the stopper from the sink and retrieved his coat from the utility room. “Any plans for the weekend? Other than celebrating the joys of domesticated permafrost?”

“Stopping by the courthouse, got some papers to pick up. Other than that, It's gonna be me, a twelve pack and an eighteen hour steal-cage marathon.”

“What, you moving too?”

“Retiring.” Cutting the dining area lights, Emery went to the heat lamp next.

“I finally come to terms with your crazy ways and you abandon me,” He pulled the plug behind the stove, “Reminds me of prom.”

“C'mon boy, I can't be in the game forever. Being strung up at the house got me thinking. I'm not use to seeing the grandkids everyday. I miss it.”

“You have a buyer in mind?”

“You don't sell unless you have a plan. I figured I'd ask him after close.”

Emrey was looking through the safe after counting the deposit, absentminded in his work.

“What, he waiting out front?” He caught his boss's eye when flipping the temperature dials, “Wait....”

“You ran the place when I was out.”

“What was I supposed to do, let the dust settle? I went to school for music therapy.”

“And I went for animal anatomy, but when I lost my love for bovine genitalia, I ended up here. You have nothing to sweat about, the accounts were never in the black before.”

“It's called paying your bills.”

“See, you're a prodigy. You'll be a tycoon in no time,” They headed for the back after doing one last sweep of the front, “And considering the state of the building, I'm not asking much. 6,258, and free roof repair.”

“That's not too bad I guess....”

“How's 1000 a month 'til it's paid?”

“Is that enough for you to live on?”

“I've been living off my father's fortune for 30 years. This was a side project.” Mori stopped on the last step, locking up while taking note of the blown bulb above his head. “I gotta replace that light, can't see a damn thing out here.”

Mounting his bike, Emrey had a leg out to stable himself,

“How long until you put it on the market?”

“I was wanting an answer from before I did.”

“Just...give me some time to think it through. Okay?” This was more than contemplating a promotion. Emrey never thought he'd own a decent house, let alone a restaurant. Don had the store for a long while, but he was showing gray hairs before that happened.

“Mina! Get back in the tub!” When he came home, balancing his bike against the wall next to the bed, Emrey was greeted by a sobbing wet Labrador and an owner that matched,

“Does this count as family bonding?” He snickered at Mac's disdain for the dog trouncing about at his feet, “She climb in the trash chute again?”

“She chewed through her leash and scaled the junkyard fence. It took me an hour to cut off all the burrs.” Mina saw it all as a game, lapping at Emery's face,

“The rebellious teen years are setting in.”

“I'm blaming you.” Both men finished the process of wrestling the dog back into the tub. It would take another fifteen minutes and a great deal of tussle before Mina smelled passable. Letting the crazy animal loose, Mac retrieved the grocery bag from the bike's basket. Setting in on the counter, he came up behind Emrey as he threw together a sloppy cold meat sandwich.

Perhaps it was the rare silence or his own intuition that told him something was amiss. Either way, he wrapped his arms around his waist. From there, he nibbled on his earlobe, “What's wrong?”

“Hmmmm? Oh, nothing. Just thinking.” Emrey let a rogue tomato hang from his lip, a small drip of mustard leaking over his chin. “Mori's retiring.” Mac opened the fridge, unknown as to why. What few things there were did him little good. Aside from a half empty package of baloney, there was an unopened jar of pickles and that same bottle of Merlot from Emrey's last place. (Still full).

“He closing the place down or does he have a buyer in mind?”

“You're looking at him.”

“.....but you went to school for music.”

“That's what I said,” Emrey sighed, “He's waiting until I make my mind up.”

“With the state it's in, asking for more than ten grand is highway robbery. He'd be better to light the thing on fire.”

“He wants 6k. As long as he has it all by next year, he's willing to do payments,” Taring the crust away, he tossed them to the black furry mass begging at his feet, “I took the job because it promised solid hours, free food and a weekly gig. If I take over, I won't have the time for anything else. I'd have to take out a loan just to repair the pipes, the A/C froze over in the winter and dishwasher's on the fritz.”

“Ask Mori if he can hold off until you get with the bank.”

“He shouldn't have to put his life on hold for me. It'd probably be best if I told him no. I mean, I could always ask Dad for input but I don't see the point.” Then, as if it were intuition, Emrey's cellphone began to ring. It wasn't his father, however, “Shit.”

“What?”
“Mom. I haven't told her about the move yet.”

“You haven't told- Your brother helped us with the piano, I figured she would have known by now.” Waving it away, Emrey answered after staring at the screen for a hesitant second,

“.....Hello?”

“Hi honey, it's mom. Are you off work by any chance?”

“....Why?”

“Because I'm an old woman and I haven't seen my baby in days. I'll swing by on my way to the pantry. I have some canned goods I need to drop off.”

“About that, I don't...live at the apartment anymore.”

“Did you miss rent?” She added, “Why didn't you tell us?”

“No, nothing like that. I moved in with my boyfriend.”

“Oh! You never tell me when momentous things happen, who is he?”

“....You've met him.”

“It's not Harlash's son is it?”

“Ew, mom, no. He's....in the music business. And older.”

“Like mother like son I suppose.” Emrey sent an unsure glance to Mac, “Though, I thought Ace was with the Littler girl.” Maybe clueless was less of the word. DENIAL worked better.

“For the love of- It's Mac mom.” When he received nothing more than static, he swallowed. “I just settled in, I haven't had the chance to tell you.”

“I see.” More static followed, causing Emrey to wonder if the connection was severed. “I think it's best if I hang up, Emrey Joseph.”

“Yes'm.” He was greeted by a signal tone before the words escaped his lips. In the process of digging through a box of VHS tapes, Mac shut the closet door by leaning into it.

“How'd it go?”

Emrey tossed the last third of his crust-less sandwich to Mina, who ate it with an excited chomp. Slipping a light jacket on, he didn't say a word until he retrieved his bike.

“I'll be back later. Do me a favor, switch the load over in the laundry room.”

“Need fresh air?”

“I've given more to her this year than anyone else. I gave up on our time, on gigs and on work. After all that, she's going to sit there and act like a spoiled bitch,” Mac nearly snapped a cigarette in half as he brought it to his mouth. “I don't care what she has to say, and I'm saying that to her face.” Mac said nothing else until he was left alone, hinting at the fire in Emrey's eyes as a sign to keep clear,

“I'm staying out of this one.”

 

Donnahvan still wasn't use to the view outside of his bedroom window. Living on the outskirts meant waking to the forest pines and twittering of the whippoorwill. Now, he woke to business infrastructures and the constant hiss of car tires on the street below.

Today, however, he dozed off in his rocker, Hannigan snoozing in his lap. And instead of the melodious roar of jackhammers, he was roused by Maria when she came from the bathroom,

“That was your son on the phone.” Glancing down to Hannigan, Don yawned,

“Be a bit more specific dear.”

“Emrey. He moved in with that man, after all the problems he's caused.” It was obvious that she saw this as more of a travesty than her husband did,

“If we're speaking about the same person, I don't recall him doing much wrong.” Lifting his infant child into the playpen, he limped back to the kitchen to retrieve his cane.

“That man kept enticing him out as a boy and now he's keeping secrets from his parents.” Ignorant to the drama at hand, Hannigan gurgled while gnawing on his dirty stuffed bear.

Preparing to leave, Maria dug around the coat rack for her shawl,

“Does he expect me to stand aside and let him ruin the only life he has? Going to clubs, running off with dangerous people...”

“Maria-” Don rubbed his eyes. “Before you go out on a rampage, I already knew about the move. I was told after the fact,” It mustn't have sunk in as Don first hoped, as Maria continued to stare. “It was wrong of me not to tell, but I wanted BOTH of them to get comfortable before you lit the city a blaze.”

“He's my son.”

“And he's avoiding you, just like Miles did,” Having to sit when his legs began to wobble, Don picked a chair and collapsed. “And really dear, in the grand scheme of things, you have no room to talk about secrets.”

“Donnahvan don't you dare.”

“It's because of what happened that this is even a problem. If the doctor were to call tomorrow, and say they got to you too late, are you okay with the way things are? All that shit Miles did, marrying Lacey, dropping out. He CHOSE to do it, but you weren't helping,” He continued. “Eight years Maria. Eight years I spent wondering if I'd ever see my son again. Eight years you spent wondering if he was even alive. We weren't at our granddaughters birth, we never saw her grow. If you want to go and make an ass of yourself, be my guest, but if Emrey comes around asking questions, don't expect me to stay quiet,” If Maria wanted to be angry with him, he'd deal. Once she realized why he said the things he did, she'd understand. “I've met the man, and if I thought he was dangerous, I would've said so,” The apartment sank into a deathly silence, interrupted by passive gurgles from the playpen. “Go ahead. I'll be waiting.” Maria said nothing. Taking her car keys from the holder, she unlocked the three chain locks and left.

“Mah...” Hannigan pulled himself up.

“She'll be back,” Was Don's final statement before sinking into the couch cushions, remote in hand. “I wouldn't be able to chase her if I tried.”

 

 

Had Mac any foresight, he'd have answered the intercom when it went off. Alone with a bag of chips and racket ball game on the TV, he was content in his solitude. He thought nothing of the rage that approached.

The knock came halfway through the second quarter, and while surprised, he didn't sense danger until he saw a pair of rabid eyes on the other side of the peep hole.

“Son of a-” He debated walking away but knew Maria would stand there until her hair grew back. “If you want his soul, come back when he's here.” That should've been enough for her to leave, but Maria stayed, her purse clenched to her chest.

“Most civilized people let their guests in.”

“You know how us blood-thirsty savages are,” He quipped, pulling back as far as the chain would allow. “Can't trust us as far as we can throw you.” Mina, who was usually ecstatic over company, stayed in her bed, tail between her legs. “Yes?”

“Since he isn't here, I might as well speak with you then.”

“Okay. If you must know, no one knows where I keep my lucky charms.” He heard a sharp inhale.

“What are your plans for my son?” Letting the chain go, Mac finally swung the door ajar.

“I figured, if I put him in for thirty minutes on three fifty, he should be golden brown.” She refused to reward his childish banter with an answer, the lines on her forehead deepening. “That's what you want me to say isn't it? I'm the evil bastard that plans on ruining your baby's innocence.”

“You're quite the riot,” Maria commented. “It's no surprise I don't like Emrey throwing his life away. Especially when he has no care towards his own personal well being.”

“Last I checked, the only person causing him harm is you,” Mac said this without an air of jest. “He isn't the most understanding when it comes to danger. I'll give you that. I saw him running around the scene as a kid and I knew he'd get chewed up and spit out if I didn't watch him. In those regards, I can see why you worry. But that isn't how things are now. If you're really pissed about this situation, feel free to borrow my mirror and get a look at the real culprit.”

“I'm not going to stand here and be labeled as a villain. I don't expect you to understand a mother's fear for her children. I know your kind. You attack the innocent without any care for the ones you're hurting.” A neighbor, hearing the commotion, peaked out of their own apartment. He slipped back in when Maria's glare slapped him.

“Look, I don't care if you hate me. A lot of people do, and for the same reason. If you continue on this little rampage of yours, you'll lose what you're trying to keep, ” Mac waited for a response, speaking when he received none. “I left home when I was a kid. Wasn't even old enough to drive. I got so sick of my parents beating me down that I cut my losses and ran. By the time I got it through my thick skull to try and reconnect, they were gone. I understand you want what's best for your kids, my mother did too. She died not knowing if I was dead or alive and I'll never be able to apologize,” Thinking back to the family he let slip through his fingers left a foul taste on his tongue. “Maria, I love your son. If that isn't enough to convince you he's safe, then there's nothing else I can say. If you keep going at the rate you are, Emrey will grow tired and do whatever he can to break free. I suggest focusing on your loved ones before you lose them.” Holding the doorknob in a grip that caused the soft metal to cave, Mac shut the world out, leaving Maria to swim in her own imaginings. Sitting at the foot of the bed, he was greeted by the dog when she realized the coast was clear. Bumping her head into his knee, she whined when ignored. Jumping on the mattress, an action that often got her scolded, Mina leaned into her owner, her tail lifeless and her ears plastered back.

“You know better than to jump.” Mac's half-hazard attempt to chastise caused her to perk up. Putting his arms around her, he planted a kiss to her forehead before placing his face in her fur.

 

 

Don wasn't wandering through the apartment long, fiddling in the freezer for the last of the ice cream.

“The cardiologist will kick my backside for this,” He fed a spoonful to Hanniagn, who stood with his mouth open like a hungering baby bird. “But if daddy lives to see you through highschool, I'll be fine to kick it then.” He heard Emrey enter, waiting until he wrestled the spoon back before turning to greet him. Excited as always, Hannigan squealed upon seeing his brother, bouncing on his unstable baby legs.

“Baba!”

“Well,” Don set the carton down next to the playpen. “This might throw a wrench in things.”

“Mom?” The furious ride over did little to curb the rage bubbling beneath his skin.

“She went out to find you.”

“Shit.” His father stopped him when he turned to storm away.

“Em don't,” Hearing the nickname Don had coined helped to calm him. “Let her go.”

“I'm not-”

“If she won't listen to me, she won't listen to you. Let them talk.”

Emrey signed.

“I knew better than to hide this.” Still perturbed, he was dismayed to find his anger waning.

“It definitely didn't help,” Don lifted his youngest to the floor. The moment his feet touched the carpet, Hannigan crawled to his brother, sitting on the carpet with his stuffed panda in tow. “ But I can't blame you. She puts it on herself.” On the couch, Emrey leaned his head back, exhaling.

“I don't know how to feel,” He ignored Hannigan's attempts to crawl onto his lap. “I've told her...if he wanted to hurt me, he would have already. She's my mother, I shouldn't be this angry,” He fell forward slightly. “I've gotta be the worst kid. Put my parents in debt, and now this.”

“You're more like Maria than you know.” Don grinned. “Worrying over things you can't change.”

“If it wasn't for the loans, you would've kept the house,” He watched the baby crawl around on the rug. “You three would have a decent place to live.”

“Emrey, we were in debt long before you dropped out.”

“The loans didn't help.”

“No. But the bank was already planning to foreclose. Were your mother and I happy you left school? No, but two semesters is a lot cheaper than four years. There's no point in wasting money on something you don't like.”

“I love music, I just didn't want to pick it apart.”

“You shouldn't stand for things that don't make you happy. And loans or not, we were doomed from my first heartattack.” Don placed his cane against the arm of the loveseat. “Your mother's so paranoid, trying to keep you safe. I tried to explain it to Miles but he was too stubborn. Even now he's bitter about us throwing him out.”

“I'm sure you got close with me too.”

“You were both handfuls. Though with you, you always wanted to get out there, see what the world had to offer. With Miles, it was spite. In his eyes we did wrong, so he stopped coming around.” He shrugged, “Think what you want of me as a father, but he wouldn't be where he's at today if it wasn't for a little tough love. He wanted to be an adult, now he has to deal with the consequences.” Instead of continuing, the old man grimaced, lacing his fingers and squeezing. “I still love him, don't get me wrong. I always will.” Thinking back to he and Maria's less than savory spat, his eyelids came together, “This drama. Here we are scolding you for keeping secrets....” He stared ahead, counting the curtain of stars trickling past the window, “I've kept it quiet for her sake, but if it's going to push another child from me, I wont have it.” The corners of his mouth turned up, oddly enough, “Back when we met, I was a lowly old cashier, your mother was a regular. In my defense, she looked older than what she was. Then Haley came home with her, introduced her as a friend, and I felt like a pedophile.

She lied when I asked, said her parents lived in town, that she and your sister were in the same English class. I didn't question.... not until I got that call.” Hesitant to continue, Don knew it was too late to go back. He said too much, “Your mother's parents didn't want her and as a child, the state sent her to live with her uncle. He was about as useless a drunk as they came. He didn't have much to do with her, so she ran off to here. When you're in her situation, you go where the work is and she did what she had to to survive.” He cleared his throat, “I was pulling a double shift when the call came from Haley. She said Maria was having a baby and they didn't know what to do. She had been living in an old barn loft, on the road that goes through the junkyard. One evening she went out to work and was enticed by a man who promised a great deal of money for her services. She doesn't remember much, just that he attacked her and nearly drained her dry. I guess, after she passed out, he decided to get in a free ride. I got that call and drove ninety all the way there. By then her water broke and she pushed Miles out in the backs seat.” Emrey listened, feeling guilt for his previous rage. He knew his mother's parents were deadbeats, but that was the extent of his knowledge, “She had so little growing up that she smothers anyone who sticks around. She ends up scaring her own children away when all she wants to do is hold them. I'm not excusing her prejudice, but I can't help but feel sorry. I failed as a husband. All these years and she still hasn't healed.” When he stormed from he and Mac's place, enraged at his mothers ignorance, Emrey didn't expect to hate himself so soon after.

“Wait, does Miles know?”

“I told him after he moved back,” Don snapped his fingers, changing to a subject that wasn't at all related. “Speaking of which, Diedre stopped by, dropped off a CD she borrowed. She would've given it to you, but you moved.” He pulled out the coffee table drawer, ruffling through the expired magazines and candy wrappers before finding a paper folded underneath. “I don't trust my memory so I put it in here,” He smoothed it over his knee before handing it over. “Consider it an early holiday.”

Emrey held the parchment to the light next to him. It was then that he noticed the name in the corner, “Since when did Harlash hand out personal checks?”

“Why don't you ask your coworker Arianna?”

“Arianna...” It took a bit of thinking. “I don't remember an Arianna.”

“Because she doesn't exist. Harlash had a ghost employee on the payroll,” He gave a stifled laugh at the thought. “He's an idiot, so he wasn't at it long, but he had Miss. Arianna Jobicov listed as a 1044 worker to avoid taxes. On payroll, he'd divide up for one more and pocket the money. Diedre's father noticed a discrepancy on her last pay-stub, and when he couldn't get Harlash to answer, he contacted me. I swung by but the moron refused to come out of his office.”

“Coward.”

“True. But, I don't play nice when I hear someone's been mistreating my kid,” He used the CD case as a makeshift fan to cool his face, “If you mentioned he was making you clean toilets, I'd have beaten him with my cane. Lucky for me, I had Mac on speed dial. I told him what Harlash did and he tore the office door off it's hinges. That fat husk screamed like he sat on a nut.” The image of his ex-employer screeching like a lame puppy and hiding under his desk made Emrey laugh harder than was called for.

“Wait, when did this happen?”

“Couple days ago.”

“Mac never mentioned it...”

Hannigan continued to vie for his brother's attention, eventually earning the middle seat cushion when Emrey picked him up from the carpet. Turning on the TV, both men seemed oblivious to the bouncy colors as Hannigan sat, transfixed by the man in the purple dinosaur costume.

“This show use to give you nightmares,” Donnahvan smirked thinking back. “You crawled into bed with us after wetting through your blankets.”

“And then Haley got me the VHS,” Emrey sighed. “Since I'm here, I might as well ask, how did you go about buying the store?” He received the answer he expected, his father looking at him with one eyebrow cocked.

“Well...I worked there since Haley was in middle school. The old store owner retired and asked me if I was interested. Mind if I ask why?”

“Mori's selling the pizzarea and he wants me to take over.”

“You've been thinking from the looks of it.”

“The customers don't have anywhere else to go. Papa Peters refuses to accommodate certain groups due to his 'principles',” Staring down at his check, Emrey bit the inside of his cheek. “This should be enough to sign things over. The utilities are caught up for the month and Mori already called and paid to replace the carpet.”

“Now's as good a time as any,” Don said. “When your mother and I took over the store, we had you and your brother to worry after. If we failed, we risked failing the two of you. There's always a chance things can fall apart, but you've only got yourself right now.”

“Yeah,” Folding the paper and slipping in into his wallet, Emrey nodded. “I'll speak with Mori about it on my next shift.” Sitting where he was, he didn't know whether to leave or wait until his mother returned. He hadn't expected to have so much dumped on him. His intentions had been to give Maria a piece of his mind, but now his sentiments had changed.

“If you're staying a while,” Don commented after another trip to the fridge. “Help me polish off the last of this six pack. At my age I can't get through half a bottle without vomiting.”

“Beer tastes like horse piss.” Emrey still took the drink when offered.

“Yeah, and wine tastes like rancid orange juice. I drank it at your graduation, indulge me.”

Maria arrived home half an hour later to find her youngest asleep on the rug, her husband on the bed and Emrey cleaning in the kitchen.

“Sorry for the mess.” He whispered.

“Let me guess, he pushed it?”

“Finished the entire bottle. Then dumped another before passing out.”

“And Hannigan?”

“I rubbed a little on his gums to help with the teething,” Maria took the joke as to be expected, answering with a benign scoff. “He fell asleep watching that demented dinosaur show,” Squeezing the sponge as dry as he could, Emrey balanced the mop next to the stove. Noticing a bag his mother sat on the table, he started rummaging through it. “Ohhh, juice box!” He paused. “Sugar free, never mind,” Maria handed him another bag. “What's this?”

“I noticed you were out of trash bags.” The comment was mumbled as each light was turned off, “I'll swing by later in the week. I still have a box of your things from storage. Unless Mac wants to save me the hassle. It's heavy.”

“Yeah, Mom, about that....”

“Don't worry yourself sweetie,” He received a peck to the forehead, as if all the previous anger never existed. “I have to get the munchkin to bed and switch the laundry over. Text me when you get back so I know you made it safe.”

“Yes'm.” He wasn't expecting the apocalypse from Mac and Maria talking, but he definitely expected something other than smiles and kisses. Did Maria know what Don told him? What had Mac said to her?

Standing in the hall, he ruffled through the grocery bag on his arm, pushing aside the trash-bags.

"Awesome," He pulled the straw from the juice box and stabbed it in. “Strawberry Banana.”

 

 

Emrey wouldn't see his parents again until the following week.

Alone at Mori's, he was more than irked when he heard the front door ten minutes before close.

“Seriously?” He hadn't a chance to come up from the back before Vlad greeted him in the hall, his blazer damp from the drizzle outside. Unaware of his recent conversation with Jessica, Emrey backed up slowly, his hand sliding towards his cell phone. “Can I help you?”

“Are you accepting applications?”

“.....What?”

“Sorry I took so long,” Mac appeared and broke the awkward silence. “The key jammed in the ignition.” Instead of retaliating due to Vlad being within a city block of his boyfriend, he stopped alongside him. “You asking for an app? The hiring sign's hanging out front.” He received a shrug in response before Vlad took the application given to him.

“You got a bathroom?” Emrey pointed him in the right direction, waiting until he was out of ear shot. “Okay, explain.” The obvious fire in his eyes wasn't intimidating. To Mac, it was adorable.

“My, my, is that jealousy I see?” Emrey clenched his jaw.

“Nooooo, it's Elvira's main squeeze being in my restaurant.”

“They aren't an item much anymore,” Mac waved his hand in an attempt to probe his brain for an explanation. “Lets just say he wrote in to clear his name.”

“Why the sudden change?”

“Jessica has the details. I haven't had a chance to talk to her at length. All I know is he quit at the warehouse and he's moving closer into the city. With Hannah.” Emrey thought it was a joke before a childish smirk lit his lips.

“Oh I see, he's a sucker for a pair of big, blue eyes.” Mac smiled back.

“I'd agree, but I have no room to talk.” The door bell chimed again and Emrey sighed.

“Who now?

“Just Logan,” The rattling of the sewage pipes in the men's room caused the two to jump. “Told him to meet me here. He's been staying in that empty apartment, he needs to get out.”

“He cool with the whole Vlad thing?'

“He respects Jessica enough to bite his tongue. That, and she threatened to re-brake his arm if he tried anything,” He gave Emrey's hand a short squeeze. “I'm gonna talk to him, lemme know when you're ready.”

“I counted the drawer, I'll take the trash out and we can take off.”

In the dining hall, Logan stood, soaking in the quiet. Between his wife and daughter being out of town and Vlad poking around, he wasn't in the best humor. Despite this, he appeared at ease.

“Haven't seen you this calm in a while.” Mac said.

“Morrigan called me on my way here. The ultrasounds came back.”

“And?”

“It's a boy.”

“Congrats.”

“And a girl,” Logan scratched the back of his neck in attempt to keep his nervous hands busy. “Multiples run in the family, but I wasn't expecting it from us. Not sure how we'll find room, but we'll manage.”

“Morrigan's a scrawny thing, you sure she'll be able to carry them full term?”

“She's high risk, the doctor has an eye on her. I drove off the road when she told me. Best news I've gotten since she and Bel left,” He sighed. “You picking up Emrey?

“More or less.” Mac could hear his partner cussing at the trash compactor from the kitchen.

“Tell me,” If he could cross his arms, Logan would have. “Do you make it a habit of lying to friends? I pulled up and saw you talking with him.

“Look, Jessica trusts-”

“She trusted Beau too,” Raking through his disheveled black tresses, he reminded himself of the good news to control his temper. “You of all people should understand how hard it is to trust.”

“If he's willing to cooperate, then I'm willing to be civil. If he steps wrong, his ass'll be in chains. A man with his face would be quite a treat on the cell block,” Mac reached into his coat pocket, stopping shy of pulling something out. “I told Jess I'd put word in with Emrey to try and get him a job. That's as far as my kindness goes. In all honesty, I have more important things to worry about.”

“It come in?”

“I had to go to the post office to pick it up. They left a note and I lied to Emrey to stop him from prying.”

“When are you asking?”

“After he closes. We're going to the diner. It's the first date spot, sentiment and all that bullshit.” Vlad exited the bathroom when Emrey struggled passed him, trash bag full of unused place mats and broken beer bottles. He didn't say a word beyond a suspicious glance and kicked the door open.

The back of Mori's was closed off, save for a narrow alleyway leading through to the interstate.

With the overhead light burned out, Emrey didn't think when he heard footsteps. Mori often yelled at the neighbor's children for playing in the parking lot, so hearing noise ping off the walls wasn't unusual.

From inside, the sound came like a wine cork shot from a shattered bottle. Vlad saw a flash of milk tinted light and a shadow crossing in front of the window.

Calling to the men in the lobby, he rushed out, met by a soft slanting hiss of rain. He had no time to react when Mac pushed forward, shoving him aside.

“What's going-” Trash was scattered about due to the tattered bag nearby. Emrey appeared dazed, but fine. That was until he pulled his fingers from his stomach. A mess of blood soaked into the fabric of his shirt, dripping down onto the pavement. From there his knees buckled and he fell backwards.

Close by, the assailant ran, frantic to get away. If he thought he was in the clear, he was sorely mistaken. Any attempts at escape were futile. When Mac caught up with him, mind and vision hazy from an unyielding rage, the shooter had a better chance of turning back the hands of time.

Leaving Vlad and Logan to phone paramedics, Mac seized the man, violent as he tore into his throat. In a blinding second, he ripped his victim's neck open with his teeth, exposing the larynx and vocal muscles before letting the body crumble.

Swallowing a shallow breath and struggling to hear beyond the throbbing in his ears, he saw the deadened face of Wayne, his eyes rolled back and his lifeless corpse twitching.

“Mac!” Vlad called from his spot next to Emrey. Logan stood near by on his cellphone.

“Mori's Pizzeria,” He spoke to the operator, frantic but steady. “331 North Avenue.”

By the time Mac made it, Emrey appeared as dead as Wayne. “I bit him, but he isn't clotting. He doesn't have enough in him.” Mac picked his lover up in his lap, breath hitching when his head rolled to the side.

“Emrey,” He pulled his face straight, Emrey's lips turning blue and his muscles trembling. Checking, he felt the fluttering throb of a dying pulse. From there, he tore into his wrist, opening a vein and bringing it to Emrey's mouth. He was able to drip a few drops in as the ambulance lights, flagged down by Logan, illuminated the dark splattered streets around them. “Hang in there,” He begged, rocking back and forth as he cradled the body close. “Please.”

 

 

CHAPTER 12

 

It was 10:27 when Maria received the news. Having just laid her son down, she heard Donnahvan's phone chime from the dining room table.

They broke the limit all the way to the hospital, both still in their pajama's and Donnahvan without his dentures. Hannigan slept on, balanced on his mother's shoulder as they rushed into the ICU.

Jessica, in her nightshirt with sweatpants underneath, was in the process of talking to Logan. Covered in a combination of he, Emrey and Wayne's blood, Mac absently ran his fingers along the stitches on his wrist. Pulling an IV from his arm, the night nurse collected two bags before rushing back.

“Where is he?”

“They just took him,” Mac mumbled, too ashamed to look his boyfriend's mother in the eye. “Mortis won't be up until he's stable,” Emrey was still alive when the ambulance dropped them off, though Mac couldn't shake his far away glance. He was clinging by a single, frayed thread. “It sounded like firecrackers, he was on the ground when my memory came back to me.”

“The two of you traveled with the EMT here,” Jessica confirmed. “When did Vlad break away?”

“In the parking lot, said he got a message from Hannah, he seemed frantic to get back to her,” Logan sighed, his posture slouching. “If Elvira had a hand in this...”

“What reason does she have?” Maria interjected, her nerves numbed but her temper fiery. As to be expected, she lashed out at the most obvious person,.“You told me he was safe,” Mac flinched when she stepped closer, her voice waking Hannigan and causing him to whimper. “I knew this would happen. My son has no place in your politics and now I don't know if I'll see him again!”

“Maria.” Don tried to pry their child from her but was greeted with defiance.

“Don't you 'Maria' me. No matter what I say, it's always the same. I'm being paranoid, I'm not letting the boy breath. Now look where he is! I've asked for so little, and when I try to keep it safe, I'm the bad guy!!” Squirming and uncomfortable, Hannigan started to cry in unison with Maria.

The next hours were filled with unanswered questions and silence. Jessica came and went, answering calls as she often did. Mac, likely due to the three extra bags taken, dozed off where he sat.

When Hannigan found his freedom, fussing until he climbed to the floor, Maria didn't realize when he crawled away, going to Jessica.

“Hello there little one,” She smiled when two tiny baby hands reached up to her. “Does your mother know your talking to strangers?” Doing what he did best, the infant succeeded in fitting the entirety of his fist in his mouth, suckling happily. Maria reacted little when the woman took her child, save for watching with tired, heavy features. In a way, seeing her youngest ignorant to the drama helped to ease her nerves.

“That was Haley,” Don also went into the hall, coming back after a few minutes on the phone. “She's getting on the seven A.M flight here. She should be in around noon if all goes well.”

“Miles?” Maria asked, her lips still.

“He's heading over. I asked him to stop by our place and pick up my teeth.”

He was doing what he could to keep his wife grounded. However, no amount of words would quell Maria when the doors swung back and her son was wheeled in with 2 IV trees following. Any parent would panic, and it took the combined effort of Dr. Mortis and Don to stop her from rushing over.

“Emrey...” Mac heard the name escape and perked up, sensing the encroaching breakdown like a second skin. He didn't need to see the mess his partner was in, the fear on Maria's face was enough. “My baby-” No tears came, though Maria did turn an inhuman shade of white, placing her hand to her mouth, “I'm gonna be sick....” A trigger switched, the night nurse popped out of nowhere, clean bedpan in hand.

As expected, Miles showed to a scene of chaos with his mother hugging a barf bowl and his brother clinging to life. Vlad came there after, speaking to Jessica when the doctor finally felt it safe to fill everyone in,

“We have him stable. The bullet entered through the stomach and lodged into the pelvic bone. The abdominal aorta was perforated. We had to suction the bile from the punctured colon, we were also forced to remove the appendix,” Maria appeared to have evened out from her episode, sitting up with her fingers clenching the legs of her pants. “At this point, we can only hope to keep him alive over the weekend. If he makes it to Monday, he should be in the clear. My biggest concern is the amount of blood required.”

“He and his brother have the same type.” Maria commented,

“This is a...special case. At the rate your son was hemorrhaging, he would have passed before arriving. Mr. Rake did what he had to to keep him alive. A single drop of infected blood is enough to start the process, but Emrey doesn't have enough in him to continue. We'll have to force it by pumping him with as much infected blood as possible. At the moment, he's absorbed all we've given, and I can't take any more without putting the donor in danger.”

“We were sired by the same person,” Vlad said. “Mac and I. There's no difference.” The Doctor contemplated this as a final IV bag was taken from a visibly frail Mac.

“You're sure? The slightest discrepancy will cause the disease to eat away at the organs. Then again, if we wait until Mac is ready, we'll be facing the same results. Emrey will continue to flatline. He already has twice.” Maria averted her gaze from the tiles at her feet, swallowing.

“If there's a chance then take it,” She stated. “I don't care what he becomes. I just want him alive.” Taking the order as a final decision, the doctor asked Vlad to follow. As he went past, Maria grabbed his forearm. “Thank you.”

 

 

Beau's eyes darted left to right, shredding a napkin from the tissue box nearest to him. He should have skipped town the moment he had the chance. Instead he took refuge with a friend and was turned over to the police when his face appeared on the news.

The interrogation had been underway for hours. Both he and the detectives were drained, and his need for sleep overcame his ability to fabricate.

“A pathetic liar.” The Chief huffed, standing with Jessica behind the two way glass. Aside from tossing on a t-shirt from her back seat, Jess was still in her sweatpants. She'd admit to being a vain person, but she was too preoccupied with the current situation to care. “The coroner said William took the shot at the base of his skull, from the back.”

“He try to give a self defense story?”

“You know him better than I do.” The questioning continued with a pliant, exhausted suspect. Jessica watched on in pity.

“This might be odd to admit, dagger between my shoulder blades and all, but I feel sorry for him.” She sighed, “If he takes the deal, how long will he be in?”

“Manslaughter can net between 6 to 30 years. Considering who the victim was an officer, he'll be facing the upper end of that,” Decker continued. “The shooting, near Mori's. I'm going to wing a guess and say this all ties in.”

“Wouldn't doubt it. Elvira dried all her contacts after William was killed. No one wants anything to do with her. Save for Wayne.”

“And the boy in the ER?”

“ Vlad thinks it was a case of mistaken identity. Hannah went to retrieve the last of his things and found his apartment ransacked. We'll never know for sure, but I'd wager Elvira was attempting to silence Vlad and Wayne mistook Emrey for him in that dark alley.”

“Well, we still need a full report. See if we can recover any gun powder, allocate the weapon, all that jazz.”

“What of Mac?”

“If relatives of the shooter wish to press charges, we'll go from there. Though we've been unable to contact any next of kin.”

“From what little I've learned, Wayne came here on his own. They may not care enough to bother.”

The detective attempted to pry further with Beau, asking about the shooting that left Emrey struggling for life. Nothing came of it, all were sure he had no connection.

“The boy still alive?” Decker asked as he and Jessica went towards his office,

“He can't survive off life support, and the chances of the transfusion working are slim. There's been enough death, I hope he pulls through.” Not just for the sake of Emrey's family, but for Mac as well. “Beau has no idea where Elvira is, and even if Wayne did, we'll never know.”

“Her face is plastered on every poster within a 50 mile radius. If we don't have her within the week, I'll judge my aptitude.”

“Once you bring her back, she'll have us to answer to.”

“Now listen here.” Decker did as Jessica expected once they ventured to his quarters, darting to his coffee pot. In his fist he held a stained mug embossed with 'World's most adequate boss' in comic sans. “We've agreed so far. That doesn't mean I'll permit assault, even on a piece of scum like her.”

“But you'll permit parents to pray away their child's cancer?”

“ I never said I liked it. There's laws in place.”

“The same can be said for us,” Jessica skimmed a finger along the cluttered top of the chief's desk, wiping away the dust collected, “I've been around longer than you'd care to count Commissioner. Prison time means nothing, whether it's thirty years or three hundred. Never have we had to resort to such measures, but an example must be set. I have yet to step on your toes in regards to your investigation, I ask politely that you stay off ours. As you said, there are laws, and they protect our traditions like everyone else,” She frowned. “It's bad enough that you've been yanked into this mess...had I been more effective, it'd have stayed in house.” Her guilt would eat at her, as it often did. Though she'd rise above it enough to keep a level head. Once it was all said and done, she'd have a good, old fashion, breakdown. Until then, she kept her words to herself and prayed those struggling would pull through.

 

 

 

 

 

“He's back online.” Mortis put the paddles down, checking for a pulse before turning to instruct his nurses. Mac couldn't help but feel the end daunting. Emrey hadn't been able to maintain a pulse, even on support, his heart was too weak to pump.

Haley, fresh off the plane and suitcase still in hand, pulled the doctor aside with Mac in ear shot.

“Who's taking responsibility for the bill?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Huntley asked it be sent to them.”

“Yeah, I figured they would.” She took a napkin from the end table near by and wrote her information, using her palm as a base, “This is my number. Regardless of what happens, shoot me a call. We'll talk finances then.” Mortis folded the slip and stuck it in the pocket of his lab coat, assuring Haley he'd give her a ring when he had the chance.

“The bill won't be something to sneeze at.” Mac commented as the Doctor continued to check over Emrey.

“I'm moving back into town once the lawsuit goes through,” Haley stretched her neck from side to side, “This won't put a dent in what's coming my way. I don't care what they have to do for Em, I have it covered.” The day progressed at a snail's pace from then on. The Huntley's stayed put at their son's side with friends and family popping up sporadically.

Diedre and Mori came in the early afternoon, though neither could stay long. Morrigan offered her hopes and condolences through the phone, and Hannah came back with Vlad, offering an apple pie to Maria and Don (As per her norm).

When midnight rolled into the third day, Mortis felt safe to remove the IV, commenting that the transfusion had done all it could.

“If he doesn't turn within the next twenty four hours, there isn't much we can do.” He whispered this, as Miles and Don had both fallen asleep in the chairs nearby. “Next time his heart stops, it may be him crossing the threshold. If that's the case, I'd advice against resuscitation.”

“So you aren't going to bother trying?” For once, it was Mac whose temper slipped, exhaustion and stress heavy on his shoulders.

“They've had to bring him back too many times,” Maria said, “I'll speak with my husband, but this isn't what we want for our son,” Mac's response was to stare at the still body of his lover, clearing his throat when his vision stung. “I won't have Emrey living in a hospital bed for the rest of his life. If you love him, you'll understand.” Staring at the woman with an unblinking glance, it took longer for the words to dig in then they should have. Perhaps Mac was hoping Maria would stay as desperate and broken as she was when Emrey first arrived. She wasn't. He was alone in his desperation.

Fumbling about in his pocket, he closed his fist around the ring box. Pulling it free in sight of Maria, he wiped a smudge away before polishing it with his shirt sleeve.

“If I don't have the chance to ask him....” Taking Emrey's hand, he slipped it into place, “....do me that much....”

“Mac!” Logan came barging in, hitting his ankle against the wall stopper and startling Don awake, “They found her.”

“Where?” Mac didn't need to be told 'who',

“Few towns over, tried to bunk with relatives, one of them saw her face on the news and called the police.” Going back into the lobby, Jessica was in wait with Vlad, stopping Mac when he tried to stroll passed her.

“Reign it in,” She ordered, “Vlad, Logan and I are meeting Collin and Mordecai at the docks. YOU'RE staying here.”

“I'm not standing by after everything she's done.”

“And I'm not letting you get into anymore trouble. You're already skating on thin ice.” Jessica knew what Mac was capable of, especially with the anger, sorrow and agitation he was swimming in. “Stay here with Emrey, he needs you more than we do.” When Maria prized herself from her child's bedside, she found his partner standing in the ICU lobby, clenching his fists until the knuckles had gone white.

“Why are you still here?” She asked, cutting him off when he turned to her, “They have the woman, go after her.”

“It's best I stay,” Mac felt as if he were chewing razor-blades as he said it, “Before I screw things up more than I already have.” Maria wasn't taken by the excuse and pressed a severe finger into his shoulder,

“My son is on a ventilator. Don't give me reasons.” Her eyes flashed a rage Mac didn't want to go against, “Break her fucking legs.”

 

 

 

The Bridgeport docks hadn't seen decent use since the ban on whaling. Serving as a hub to the uncouth and mischievous, the police set up a blockage to keep out any prying eyes.

Arriving in Decker's car, both Jessica and Vlad sat in the back. Along the beach, a rusted out white van was parked. From the back the hatch opened and a group of men retrieved an exhausted Elvira. In a knee length, egg white sun dress, her hair lay in knotted, fire red braids that swayed on the breeze.

“It's like removing a butterfly's wings....” Jessica mumbled, looking away as the prisoner was tied to the center platform. She rolled up the tinted window and sighed, “I'm sorry. I understand you have fond memories.” Vlad scoffed at this,

“Just lies,” He commented, “A waste of a century I can't get back. She was right when she said it, that I'd be dead if it wasn't for her. She never let me live it down.” Perhaps, he'd eventually be able to look back on he and Elvira's affair and be happy for what it did. He was better off now than he ever had been. Though, she was also the one that left him confused and humiliated, unable to trust. He was her pawn and she was the queen, putting on airs and sugary smiles as she slept around and stabbed him in the back. Maybe someday he'd be able to smile about the good things, but for now, he was content to be free.

“I hope this is the last time,” Jessica grabbed her seat-belt once Decker started up the hill towards them, “She'll be an immortal human...disfigured by the sun, unable to turn those she pleases. Her potency moot..... If she had just cooperated. I wouldn't wish this upon my worst enemy, especially her.”

 

 

Logan expected resistance when Elvira was tied down, facing to the west where the sun would rise. With a gag in her mouth and a blindfold to protect her eyes, she remained calm. She hadn't even bothered to speak out when being restrained.

The main sidewalk leading to the road was a half mile trek, meaning Logan didn't see Mac's car when he parked along the curb. Armed with an aluminum bat, he sighed upon trudging through kneehigh weeds to the sandy threshold where his friend stood,

“Jess figured you'd come around.” Alerted to the rustling in the bushes, Logan situated himself between Mac and their captive, his good hand in his front pocket, “Turn around and go back to the hospital. Before you dig yourself a deeper hole.”

“I'm not leaving until she-” Mac pointed his bat to the woman behind them, “Gets whats coming to her.”

“She is. Be the better person and walk away.”

“Like I have with everything else?” Inhaling sharply, Mac ground his weapon into the sand. “How many years has it been Logan? Seventy? Eighty? It's always been the same, 'Be a better person' or 'This won't fix the real problem' I know it won't, but there's a point when being the better person is just an excuse for staying silent. You enjoy seeing your wife and kid through texts? How many ultrasounds have you missed? How many more times are you gonna call just to hear William's answering machine?”

“I'm not saying I disagree. But if I were to stand here and let you do this, we'd both be up shit creek.”

“Who said we?” Moving quickly, Mac whipped around behind Logan, hitting him with the butt end of the bat. Out cold before he hit the ground, Mac pulled him aside before the tide swelled, “You're welcome. Also, sorry for the migraine.”

Approaching the still figure of Elvira as she hung in silence, he pulled the blindfold free, causing her to mumble incoherently when her pupils focused on him.

“Amazing view isn't it?” Mac gave the bat a few test swings, “A painters dream, the way the sun sets on the waves. You'll see that soon enough.” He hadn't been back to the beach since a wayward date with Emrey weeks back. What started as a walk resulted in them screwing behind a port-o-john. “I think you know why I'm here. But I thought I'd turn this into a little game. How many times can I hit your femur before it shatters? I'll let you keep count.” The first swing lodged itself right above Elvira's knee, the loud 'pop' that ensued was masked by a muffled scream. It wasn't until he pulled back that he noticed the bat was dented where it dug in. Taking a second to compose himself, Mac swung once more, shattering the bone that ran along her shin, then repeating again on the opposite leg. “Three,” He grabbed her chin in a shaking hand and forced her to look at him, “Three days I've watched him struggle. I hope you're ideas were worth it.” He could have stopped there, but remembering just how much agony Emrey's family had been through reminded him of Maria's request.

The final two blows pushed Elvira over the threshold, causing her to pass out from the pain.

Stepping back, Mac looked at the aftermath of his rage and felt nothing. With a knee cap on the side of her leg, Elvira's shin was bent out at an angle. The skin was swollen around her ankles, and her hair was plastered to her face from her tears.

With Logan still in the sand and the last of the stars covered by an overt of clouds, Mac tossed his victim's blindfold into the sea, going back to the hospital in silence.

Throwing the bat in his backseat, he hurried inside the ER as another sheet of warm spring rain trickled from the swollen sky above. Going into the ICU lobby, he expected to see Maria and the rest of the family, perhaps Hannigan crawling about and his father chasing him down. Instead he stopped cold when he was met with silence. The chairs were vacant, the voices silent.

Hurrying to Emrey's room and pulling back the sheet, he saw an empty space devoid of people and machinery. Even the bed.

Everything was gone.

“Mr. Rake.” A nurse spoke when he turned to her in the doorway, “I'm sorry, Mrs. Huntley tried to call you, but you left your phone...They're on second floor-” Too impatient to wait for the elevator, Mac just about bowled the poor nurse over when running to the stair well. Tripping over the occasional step, he traversed down to the second floor, every limb numb and every thought raging.

“Wait.” He heard Maria first, then the doctor,

“Easy, you're going back in the chair once we make it down the hall.” Supported between them, Emrey wobbled, holding the IV stand at his side. “We'll go five minutes every two hours. By Wednesday, you should be able to walk on your own, so long as the stitches don't pop.”

“I have superglue,” Emrey said, falling onto his mother when one of his legs buckled, “We'll manage,” Glancing up, he spotted Mac and grinned, “Took you long enough, I thought you gave up on me.” Fatigued from the stress his body had endured, he didn't expect Mac to approach and embrace him, picking him up from where he sat. When Emrey returned the affection, he misjudged his strength and squeezed a little too hard.

“Emrey....”

“Oh, sorry.”

“It'll take some work to get use to the changes.” The doctor let Emrey take control of his wheel chair, “At the rate you're progressing, we may be able to send you home as early as tomorrow evening. We still have tests coming back, but you're well on your way to a full recovery,” He turned to Mac, “I'd ask that he stay in bed. Have him walk about every few hours. I also think it best if he refrains from any....rigorous activity.”

Alone in the hall with Maria, both kept close watch on Emrey as he wheeled himself about.

“Don and I were sure we lost him when he flatlined,” She pulled at the wig upon her scalp, realigning it when it started to slide. “Imagine our joy when he opened his eyes. Maybe now we can focus on good news.”

“Depends if what I'm about to ask is good,” Maria seemed to know the moment Mac said it, remembering the silver band he slipped on her son's finger, “I already spoke with Don, but I'd be a deader man if I didn't ask you.”

“I knew this would happen eventually,” Maria managed a grin, in too good a mood for the news to impede her joy, “Nothing personal, but you'll never be good enough for him. As a mother I see my children as perfection. As for THAT one-” She motioned towards Emrey, “I have the cesarean scar to prove it.”

“My nuts are still on the chopping block?”

“Always.” She chuckled, “Still, you're adults. And there's....worse people he could have picked.” Emrey was ignorant to the conversation, occupying Hannigan as the babe bounced around on his lap. He was more than a little surprised when Mac came up, hijacking his chair and handing his baby brother back to his old man,

“Where are we going?”

“Out.” It was still sprinkling, leaving Mac to stop shy of the overhang on the bottom floor. The garden area was fenced in, complete with stone benches and rose bushes in new bloom. The woodchips beneath them had scattered about on the sidewalk, jamming up the chair's wheel.

“Mori came by when you were out.” Having gone without a decent cigarette for longer than he cared to count, Mac dug for a stale, half-smoked filter at the bottom of his pack. He fumbled through this, elation and relief overcome by a sudden attack of emotion and nerves, “He put you on vacation with the first two days, he'd have paid you for longer, but it wasn't in the budget.”

“Nice to see him following the guidelines I set,” The beauty of the walkway topiaries were lost on Emrey as he picked the DNR band from his wrist. “I'm guessing mom lied about you walking the dog?”

“Depends,” Mac had the cigarette lit, taking a couple of drags before it ran its course, “Jess's convinced you weren't the one Elvira wanted. I guess that's what happens when you send Wayne to do your dirty work.” In truth, he felt horrible for what had transpired. Wayne was as much a victim as anyone else Elvira screwed over. He was always friendly, and never did wrong before blasting a hole in his boyfriend's stomach. “Maria's biggest fear was you getting hurt. Deep down I knew the more you stayed around me, the more danger you were in. I was just too selfish to let you go.” Emrey rolled his eyes, not caring if his partner saw,

“Should've known you'd blame yourself. You had as much control in this as I did.”

“Can I vent without you interjecting logic?”

“You're an idiot.” He tugged on Mac's sleeve, “Get down on my level, I can't chastise from where I'm sitting.” Mac did as he was told, taking advantage of the contact to hug Emrey and bury his face into his shoulder. Stroking his lover's scalp, Emrey felt the body tremble as he did so. “I'm fine Mac.” He soothed, holding even tighter when his boyfriend broke down and started to weep. He wasn't the best at helping those in need of comfort, though he knew being alive for Mac was enough. “I'm still here.” He said this when the nails in his hospital gown rung tighter, “I promise.”

Levering himself up, Mac tried to recover in fear others would see,

“I really am an idiot,” He muttered, sniffling, “Blubbering like an infant.” Emrey pressed a peck to his hairline,

“Everyone needs a good blubber. You'll be due for another in a couple decades.”

While on his knees, Mac remembered his main reason for dragging the two of them outside and released a long held breath, “Look, I'm not good with this. I planned on asking after your last shift, but considering how life as been since, I'm not waiting any longer.” He cleared his throat, motioning towards the ring he placed on Emrey's hand, “An eternity of pissing each other sounds like a stable life plan.”

“So long as you stop throwing your socks in with the towels.”

“It doesn't matter if there's lent on my socks, no one will see them-” He caught himself, “You're making this harder than it needs to be.”

“You really think I'm gonna say no?” Emrey asked, “Don't shit a brick, I'd have said yes sooner if you weren't cute nervous. I'm cruel like that.”

“ I think the term is sadistic. Is that a yes or no?”

“Depends....you gonna ask properly?” He heard Mac grumble and snickered,

“For the love of- you want to marry me or what?”

“....Well, since you asked so eloquently.... I suppose...” He twisted the ring, appreciating the way it shined. “Is this real silver? It looks expensive.”

“You aren't supposed to ask the price. And it's white gold, cost me an entire paycheck,” Mac grabbed the arms of the wheel chair, trying to stand. He struggled for a second, then flopped back down. “I can't feel my legs....”

“Same here,” Emrey continued to twist the band, determined to never part with it. “That's just the spinal tap though.”

 

CHAPTER 13

 

Emrey was released the next day, sent out of the hospital in a wheelchair and helped into Mac's car by his mother and partner. The week that ensued differed depending on who you asked. According to Mac, it was a constant run. The moment his feet hit the floor, he kept his eyes on Emrey, making sure he ate, took his scheduled walks and was kept comfortable as the incision started to scab.

If you asked Emrey, it was a long slog of visitations and naps. He watched what few fuzzy channels the TV could pick up and read the handful of books thrown about the place.

On top of the tedium, he found himself to be incredibly horny, far more than he ever recalled being in the past. And while he was sure Mac felt the same way (considering the lengthy showers he had been taking), no amount of patience helped. He begged enough at one point for Mac to go down on him. It sated the urge, but he had gone too long without something solid in his ass.

Regardless, by the time Maria made her way over for a visit, he was able to hold his own weight without help.

“I can get it myself.” Emrey grumbled when Maria pushed a straw through the top of his juice box.

“Emrey Joseph, stop being a baby. I managed to come see you between appointments, the least you can do is cooperate.” Mac poked his head in from the kitchen.

“Listen to mommy.”

“Bite me ass cricket,” Emrey let his mom hold the juice box as he took a sip. “What did the oncologist say about your tests?”

“They'll want me back every so often, but I should be around to annoy you for many years to come,” She bent over the side of her chair, holding onto her new crimped wig when it slid sideways. “I brought that box of things you left behind,” She dropped it on the mattress after a second of struggling. “Just some state ribbons and old pictures,” She pulled one picture free from the clutter of Emrey's graduation robes, showing it to Mac when he came in to adjust the TV, “Emrey must've pulled this from my portfolio. I took this one after Miles was born. A modeling agent came through and begged me to put a folder together. He wanted me to go with him back to Starlight, but I had too much here,” She put the frame atop everything else puled in the box. “That was before my body turned against me,” She patted the flat plain of her chest. “Sometimes I like to put socks in my bra and pretend I'm desirable.”

“I dunno,” Mac tossed a hand towel over his shoulder. “You make decent milf material.”

“Mac.” Emrey warned, receiving a tongue in his direction.

“I'm flattered,” Maria grinned. “But I'm a grandmother now. It takes away from the sex appeal.”

“Could we not talk about this, please?” Emrey drained the last of his drink.

“You don't think your mom gets around?” Mac said, aware of how uncomfortable his partner was. “A clean bill of health is worth celebrating.”

“That's what Don said the first time I went into remission. Two bottles of merlot and nine months later, Hannigan popped out,” Maria sighed, caught in fond memories. “He might not look it, but when he gets it in just right, its like I'm eighteen again.”

“Ew mom! Seriously!”

“Don't act like such a prude. You should ask your father how you came to be. Carnival photo booth. Told me he wanted it around back and stuck it in the wrong hole,” She took both of his cheeks in hand. “Then you refused to tuen and they had to slice me open.” Emrey sunk down further where he sat.

“The sooner I get back to work, the better.” His mother, of course, had objections.

“Until Mortis says otherwise, your staying right here. I don't want you alone in that restaurant to get shot up again.”

“If I have my way, I should be back come Monday,” He added. “Vlad's past his training period, I won't be alone.” Occupying his mother for a little while longer, an hour of fizzled TV commercials brought another visitor in the form of Ace.

Construction helped to trim the baby fat around his face. The months spent on truck for his sister's shop thinned his arms and added an extra layer of muscle. Emrey didn't recognize him.

“Sorry I was late getting here,” He said. “Diedre told me what happened and the car decided to take a crap on the same day.”

“Lucky you,” Emrey said. “You missed all the fun blood and gore.”

“Yeah, well, I would've hated myself if I wasn't able to get back.” Maria had made it a habit of entering and leaving throughout her stay. Smiling at Ace when she left the bathroom, she shut the door to muffle the rabid call of the toilet flushing.

“Nice to see you Ahab. I never got a goodbye before you took off for greener pastures.”

“You're name's Ahab?” Ace's cheeks turned every shade of red upon hearing Mac's retort. “D'ya catch ol' Moby before docking on shore?” Emrey wanted to scold his fiance for being so childish, but couldn't bring himself to do so. Ace had it coming. “Pardon,” Mac cleared his throat. “Let me do this right. 'Did ye catch the great beast, or were you too alike in dignity?'” He finished with a bow. “I'm done with the balcony if you wish to occupy.” Ace responded with little more than a scowl, turning his back to the man as if he were a gust of wind.

“You plan on sticking around?” Emrey made a successful subject change,

“Once the payment goes through. I bought a nice condo across the bridge,” He sat on the edge of his friend's mattress. “Windy cut each of the Byrds a cool 50k. Ebenezer told me to shoot him a call once I got back in,” He dialed through his contacts before putting his phone to his ear. “Hey, you busy....yeah, he's here....I'll ask-” He looked to Mac, “Did you ask yet?”

“I planned on surprising him with it after you all left.”

“With what?” Emrey received an answer when Ace handed over his cell. “Uh....h-hello?”

“Emrey, it's Ebenezer. Mac told me what happened, sorry to call at such a bad time.”

“Oh, i-it's fine,” He cleared his throat, at a loss for words. “Really it's cool.”

“Awesome. Listen, I'm going to be in the studio on the 22nd, Ace showed me a few of your videos on Youspace. I'm on good authority that you're a maestro on the ivory keys. Lola Belle is cutting an album for this winter and needs a pianist for the last few tracks. You available?” His head swimming, Emrey needed a second to think,

“Wait, like, Pop star Lola Belle?”

“She need's some advice on a few of the songs, so it's more production work, so you'll get an executive producer credit on top of your composition work. You in?”

“Uh, I....” When he sent an emergency help to Mac, he received a shrug. “S-sure. Which studio?”

“Here in town, 72 Yardale, I'll text you the directions. See you on the 22nd.” The line went dead and it took Ace a couple of tugs to pull his phone free.

“You alright there champ?”

“Lola Belle.....” The man next to him went pale. “I can't do work for Lola Belle, I haven't had work in ages!” He blew a heated stream of air towards the babygrand standing along the wall. “I still have to tune THAT because SOMEONE wasn't careful moving it.”

“You poor dear,” Mac commented. “Allow me to play you a song on the world's tiniest violin.”

“The E-flat's sound like F's! I'm not ure how that's possible!”

“Not even in the studio and he's already cracked under the pressure,” Ace gave him a bemusing pat on the head. “You've got a good grip on that music stuff. If your chops are rusty, Diedre's singing at Weylon's and needs accompaniment. She's great A Capella, but one can't sing Mel Torme without a pianist, it's an unspoken rule.”

“I guess I could go. Limber up my fingers a bit.”

“Tomorrow night. And don't worry, there's a wheelchair ramp.”

It wouldn't be until the sky had fallen to indigo and the starts began to drip upwards from the horizon that the two men were alleviated from their hosting duties. Tired and hungry, Emrey contemplated limping towards his beloved piano before deciding on dinner.

“We got anything in the fridge, I'm famished.” Mina, who was lying in the kitchen, perked up when her owner opened the refrigerator.

“Some stuff in the crisper, that's about it. Hannah planned on going out later tonight, if you're up for the walk. She'll show you the ropes.”

“I don't....” Emrey swallowed, both nauseous and disgusted. “I don't think I can do that. It makes me sick thinking about it.”

“I figured as much,” Mac grabbed a plasma fruit from the bottom drawer, tossing it across the room for him to catch. “Morrigan would be proud.”

“How's she doing?”

“Logan's sister dropped she and Bel off this morning. She sent pictures of the ultra sound. The doctors were concerned with how big she was. Turns out baby number three was hiding behind his brother and sister.”

It was peaceable from then on, with Emrey nodding in and out of naps and popping pills when the pain in his gut became too much. Mac bounced between movies, prepared to tuck in himself when the quiet was disturbed by the intercom.

“It's Jess,” The voice behind it was not pleased. “I'm coming up.”

“Hmmmm.....” Emrey's eyes flickered,

“I've got it, go back to sleep.” Mac met his friend outside in the hall, grinning like a drunk leprechaun. Jess responded by crossing her arms.

“So,” She started. “I was called down to the docks.”

“I swing by myself on occasion. Good view, nice fishing spot.”

“......You gave Logan a concussion. You're lucky I've calmed myself,  I wanted to snap you in half.” Mac was indifferent.

“I came back to walk the dog, I have no idea what you're on about.”

“She's in a wheel chair.”

“Tragic. Now she's as useless as she is aggravating....then again that's an insult to the handicapped. Maybe it's just her.”

“You're in hot enough water with Wayne, don't press your luck-”

“I still have no idea what your talking about. If you had any witnesses, maybe you'd have a better notion.”

“Logan claims to have no memory of the incident.”

“That does throw a stick in the spokes. Though I'm sure, when you discovered her, you cut her down and rushed her to the hospital like any responsible person would do,” His smile never faltered despite Jess refusing to answer. “Now, if you'll excuse me,” The trickling of the babygrand could be heard from within the apartment. “I'm taking Em out, he needs to strengthen his legs. It'll help the massive gash heal faster. Hopefully the doctor will call tomorrow. It isn't every day a man's cut down the middle like a pot roast.” Jess would be peeved at him for a bit, but she'd get over it once she took a moment to think. After all, they had something in common, and upon seeing his fiancee at the piano, he knew Jessica would've done the same if her loved ones were at risk.

“Sorry, I couldn't get back to sleep.” Emrey played Pachabelle's Canon without looking at the key's. “Jessica?”

“Just popping in to see how you're doing,” Mac sat beside him on the bench. “You up for the diner? Mortis wants you on your feet.”

“Let me get a shirt.” The music stopped, only for Mac to nudge him, cigarette between his lips.

“Keep going Piano Man. We have all day,” Emrey resumed from the beginning as Mac nuzzled onto his shoulder. “You know any Haydn?”

“Eflat Major, why?”

“Play that.” Emrey obeyed, taking a moment to stretch his fingers before starting.

“Sick of old memories?”

Mac let a line of ash fall to the carpet, clenching Emrey's leg in an affectionate grip.

“Nah,” He didn't mind when a sour note was struck. "Just making new ones.”

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Richard Mapes. All rights reserved.

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