In Which "Eccentric" Is Putting It Mildly....
We sat in silence for several minutes when Vic finally finished talking. She forced a smile. “That’s it, I guess. You’re now the fifth person to know the full story, besides myself, Dad, Riley, and Tom.”
“What about Riley?” I asked. “What happened to him?”
“I...I don’t know,” she said helplessly. “For all I know, he’s dead. In fact, he’s quite likely dead.”
“Why do you say that?”
“What else am I supposed to think? Think about it, Hailee. He’s already in a confinement center, held in solitary confinement for intense rage issues. He attacks a powerful agent’s only daughter, infecting her. Said daughter never sees him again, nor hears from him, despite being his only close friend. What’s the logical conclusion?”
My rather eloquent answer was “Oh.”
She nodded. “Yep.” I could see her tearing up, but she brushed it off. “I’ve made peace with it. I still miss him, every day. He wasn’t just my friend, he turned me, and that’s a special connection all to itself. Secretly, I think he’s alive, somewhere. That connection, it speaks to me. It’s almost like I can sense him. But realistically, I know he might not be, and I think I’ve accepted that now.”
I put my hand on hers. “I’m sure he’s alive, Vic. You’re right, that connection is a very powerful thing.” I choked a little, taking a gulp of water to stifle it. “When Mark died, it was a punch in the heart, more than a punch -- it was like being hit in the heart with a brick. The grief was overwhelming, and we weren’t even friends. Even if you didn’t see it, I think things would be different if he were really dead. You wouldn’t have that hope if he was.”
She swallowed. This time, the smile looked real. “Thank you, Hailee.”
“You’re welcome.” I took her arm as we got up, and we walked back to the Mizunos’ house together, avoiding the road by the Rose altogether. “Do you think your father will come looking for you now?”
“Absolutely,” she answered. “Now that he knows I’m here, nothing in hell will stop him from looking for me.”
“Are you ready to confront him?”
Vic considered this. “Yes. I think I could confront him. He should know nothing’s changed. I was born for this life, I think. It might seem strange, but I feel more comfortable with myself as a lycan than I ever did as a human.”
“Remember, if he comes around, I’ll stand up for you. Always.”
“I know. I’m grateful for that.”
We spent that night at the Mizuno house. Jason slept upstairs, on the couch, and the rest of us made ourselves comfortable on the leather seats downstairs. The next day, we went to meet Fred’s new friend, Logan, carefully choosing a spot on the side of town away from the Rose and the containment center. The spot in question happened to be in the parking lot of a gas station, on a wooden bench. “Afternoon, Logan,” I said, which was all I could get out without staring, mouth-open like a goldfish.
Holly was right, Logan Hewitt was an eccentric man. His hair was tied back in a wavy, messy ponytail by a typical office-variety rubberband. His outfit included a threadbare tweed jacket, a magenta scarf, dirty running shoes, and a single diamond stud in his left ear. “You must be Haileee Jackson,”
“I am,” I replied, shaking myself to stop staring. I introduced him to the rest of my friends. “So, are you one of us?”
“Nope!” he exclaimed cheerfully. “One-hundred percent homo sapiens, darling. Nothing unusual about old Logan!”
I did another take at his outfit. “Fully human, I buy. Nothing unusual about you...well, that’s a little harder to believe.”
“Touche,” he laughed.
“How do you know Fred, then?”
“I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a serial killer,” he said, “but we’ve never actually met. I’m an amateur scholar of the paranormal, which basically means I’ve been involved in a bunch of online forums about lycans and other, pardon the word, monsters, for years. I met Fred Roland on one of these forums, and he just messaged me out of the blue a week or so ago asking if I wanted to join ‘the cause,’ as he called it.” He laughs, the first adult laugh I’ve heard that I can describe as a giggle. “My fiance is moving out until they leave.”
“Oh, well,” I said, “I certainly don’t want that.”
“Nah,” Logan shrugged. “It’s all good. Man, I love Tracy, but everyone needs their space, y’know?”
“You have three strangers living in your house.”
“There is that. But that’s different. When you’re about to get married, sometimes you just get really sick of someone. You’ll understand one day.”
I thanked him, profusely, for helping us. “It’s amazing to me that you’d risk so much for a people that isn’t even yours.”
“Hey, not all humans are out to kill you, Hailee,” he replied, then paused. “That should be on social media. Hashtag Not All Humans.”
“And about Adam Dark?” I interrupted. Holly had warned me that Logan tended to get “on a roll” about random things mid-conversations.
“Right, that.” He pulled a crumpled index card covered in scribbled notes from his jacket pocket. “On the topic of things I happened to come up with on the Internet, I was talking to this other lycan, a girl named Lana I think, and she gave me a bunch of codes. Didn’t bother telling me what they meant, but said the wolfpack would know what they meant.”
I almost (almost) slapped myself in the face, or maybe him. This guy was basically the opposite of helpful, but, like it or not, he was all we had. I took the note from him. “That’s, erum, not much, but we’ll work with it.”
We shook hands firmly, then Logan ran off, and I mean literally ran off. He checked the watch he had hidden under his overlong sleeves, then scurried away with a “Gotta run, sorry. See you tonight, Holly.”
“Man,” I said to Holly, “you sure make friends quickly.”
“He’s a good guy,” she replied. “A guy who uses office supplies as hair products, and knows more people from Reddit forums than real life, but he’s a good guy. Like he said, he’s definitely not a serial killer or anything.”
“I don’t think he’s a serial killer. I just think he’s weird.”
I looked down at the note. The first part of it wasn’t codes, I realized: it was the names of different places around town...and one of them was the next place After the Fall was playing. “Man oh man! Luck is on our side today.”
“Sweet,” said Holly. “I’ll go with you.”
“Let me guess, you’re going to talk to Francis after all.”
“Well, I had a bit of extra convincing.”
“From him, of course. Logan.”
“Yeah, why not? A dude’s gotta have confidence to go out in a coat that old.”
I tried not to laugh at that, but honestly, I’d been thinking the same thing.
That night, we set up at another place, this one bigger and more downscale -- a less nice place than The Rose. Around seven-thirty in the evening, a large group of people walked in, a ragtag band of ethnicities and sizes. Instinctual bells went off in my head. “That’s them.”
“You sure?” Vic whispered back.
For a while, I just watched them, gathering information, and with the information, everything I saw confirming my suspicions. After a while, they started a rowdy arm-wrestling contest, challenging random strangers to join them. There was my chance. I glanced at Levi, and he shook his head like Hailee don’t do it -- which of course only made me want to do it more. I took one last gulp of Pepsi and sauntered over to their table. “I challenge!”
The champion, a salt-and-pepper-haired man in a plaid shirt (he looked like a lumberjack), grinned at me. “You sure?”
“Absolutely.” I slid into the booth across from him, holding out my arm. “Ready?”
He looked to a woman in a short purple dress standing by the table. “Lana, start the clock.”
“You got it, boss!” She hovered her thumb over the switch of a stopwatch for several seconds, letting the anticipation build before she shouted “Go!”
His strength immediately caught me off-guard. My arm tipped a few degrees, but I quickly recovered and pushed back. We stayed like that, at stalemate; beads of sweat rolled down my face, muscles trembled, my heart hammered with the exertion.... Finally, I gained the upper hand, not by much, but just enough to slowly force her arm downwards.....
“Time! It’s a tie!” We stopped, letting both arms fall to the table.
“Well,” the man said, “I am impressed. That’s the first tie we’ve had tonight. What’s your name?”
“Jac,” I said. “Jac Ravenheart.”
“Native name, huh?”
“Yep,” I answered. “Uh, can I talk to you alone? Just for a moment?”
“Sure?” he said uncertainly, following me into the back, behind the stage where ATF had just begun their set.
I turned to face him. “Adam Dark, I presume?”
He nodded. “Thought as much. No human of your size could be that strong. You looking for me?”
“Yes sir I am. I came from out of state with some friends of mine. We’re looking to join your pack.”
“You are, are you?”
“Yes sir. Are you guys accepting recruits, by any chance?”
He shrugged. “Our doors are always open. If you want to come and talk to some of my people tomorrow morning--”
“Yes, I will,” I interrupted. I didn’t need to hear any more. “We’ll come tomorrow, my friends and me.”
He raised his eyebrow, surprised. “That’s settled, then. I may not be there, but I’ll be sure somebody is.” He shook my hand. “Great to meet you, Miss Ravenheart.”
“It’s Jac, Mr Dark. Call me Jac.”
“Call me Adam,” he said, walking back to the booth. The girl called Lana and the rest of the group were still waiting there, watching us quizzically. Lana had her head cocked to the side, still holding the watch.
“Where’d you go, boss?” she said, a mild Spanish accent apparent in her voice. I suspected Dark didn’t have my problem with being called sir or similar titles.
“Lana,” he said, “can you make sure there’s someone in the building tomorrow morning? At about...oh, what do you think, Jac? Nine? Ten?"
“Nine-thirty it is. Can you make sure someone is at our address at nine-thirty?”
“I’ll make sure. I can’t be there personally, but I’ll find someone who can,” she assured. Is she his second? I wondered. I gave her a quick look: short purple dress, tall leather boots, slick midlength hair done up in a ponytail, a long scar across her right eye.
“Thanks, Lana. I dunno what I would do without you.” He turned to me. “My second.”
“I figured that.”
“So,” Lana said to me, “you’re looking to join, huh?”
“Yup.” I shook hands with her, again giving the fake name. “Jac Ravenheart.”
“Nice to meetcha.” The way she said meetcha reminded me of Harley Quinn in the old Batman cartoons.
“You too.” Outwardly, I was calm, but inside, I rejoiced at our good fortune. We were in.