With darkness, Winston returned to pick up Angel and the other four. Chalky was already waiting in the garage, setting up the equipment for the dig. He anticipated no more than twenty yards of dirt, but even that might be too much to store on site. A truck might be needed to transport and hide it anywhere a little landfill would not be noticed. With this in mind, he had toured various construction sites during the late afternoon. He came away with several options should and when it became necessary and thought a van might be less conspicuous than a dump truck that late at night.
At the garage, they found the tunnel adit open and an extension cord running down inside. Chalky was crawling along its length, making a lamp up, checking bulbs and wiring that had been strung nearly a decade ago. He admired his workmanship. All the support beams his team had placed there were in fairly decent shape, showing very little signs of dry rot. Here and there, small piles of dirt had accumulated against the walls, but nowhere were there any signs of a major collapse. A damn fine job!
The small tram he had rigged to haul the dirt along the length of the tunnel was still at the end of the dig. A little grease on the axles and it would be good as new. Satisfied, he pulled it back along the length of the tunnel.
On the surface, his new crew was waiting for him. The lads, as lads would, were poking around amongst the gear. They showed a healthy curiosity. Chalky always liked to see that. It meant they were here ready to work, unlike so many their age who preferred to drink beer, play footie, and twiddle their thumbs in front of the Xbox.
“She looks good mates,” Chalky greeted. “Tunnel’s still as clean as a virgin’s…. Um, well. As soon as I grease these axles, we’ll get you kitted up and get at her.”
“Do you mind if I take a look?” Brendan asked, and he was gone in a flash.
“Hey, lad!” Chalky called out. “Bloody hell, he forgot his hard hat. Bloody eager.”
“Aye,” Winston sighed. “Do you think we were ever that young?”
“Not bloody likely,” Chalky shot back.
Under his direction, Drake and Jaime tipped the tram over and greased its wheels. When it met his exacting standards, they set it on its track, tied the lead ropes in place, and gave a tug to alert Brendan. Below ground, about three-quarters of the way along the tunnel, Chalky had marked out the dig with orange flags. Using his hands, Brendan scooted dirt into the tram and signalled for it to be pulled up.
“Hey, now! What are you two playing at?” Chalky complained.
“It’s full,” Drake called back.
“What is that boy?” Chalky questioned. “Part badger?”
“More like a part mole,” Alvaro sympathized.
Drake and Jaime emptied the tram as quickly as they could, working their shovels in an uneven rhythm. Chalky, shaking his head, set them straight, then worked with Winston to shift the dirt out of the repair pit. With a wheelbarrow, they carted it to the trash dumpster out back, where they figured to hide a yard or two. After the third tram, Angel and Alvaro spelled the two boys and were soon dripping with sweat themselves.
“It’s a good thing he has that bullet hole in his shoulder to slow him down,” Alvaro commented dryly.
“Aye,” Chalky muttered, “I best go take a peek. It may be time for a little shoring.”
“I‘d hate to see that boy’s sandbox, eh guv?” Winston commented, dryly.
“Nosferatu digs to both hunt and hide,” Angel explained once Chalky had moved out of hearing.
“They’re the workhorses of most vampyre societies,” Alvaro nodded in agreement.
Underground, Brendan worked full out despite the pain in his shoulder. In Upyr, one of his caste worked, or they starved, and working through pain was a frequent thing. There were dangers in the Underdark – cave-ins, schizophrenic taskmasters, or run-ins with the Eaters of the Dead. Vampyres not only had strength but stamina. Shifting dirt and repairing tunnels had been one of Brendan’s main tasks as the populations of Upyr grew, and the city expanded into older tunnels long since abandoned.
The Wandering Jew returned from reconnoitring their back trail and contacting the local Brotherhood. The British Brotherhood had extensive contacts throughout the world, the legacy of an empire that had once spanned the globe. He carried a tray of coffee and tea and some very disturbing news.
Angel and Alvaro met him in the far corner, where they could talk in private.
“The network is rather active,” The Wandering Jew commented dryly. “Rumour and innuendo from all points of the globe. Rumours of a demon in North Korea, several in Africa and in the former Asian holdings of the USSR. And, of course, the Middle East is as active as always.”
“And what are you not telling us,” Angel speculated.
“There’s been almost no word from their contacts in South America for three months,” the Wandering Jew returned ominously. “A few terse reports and nothing more.”
“Somehow, silence is more worrisome,” Alvaro muttered. “I prefer the constant babble of rumour to the quiet, especially after what happened the last time.”
“We promised never to speak of that,” Angel objected. “Besides, that can’t happen.”
“Until it happens again,” Alvaro interjected.
“Could you lads help us shift this lot into the van?” Chalky interrupted. “We don’t get rid of some of this soon the boy will have us up to our arses in dirt.”
With two keeping up with Brendan, Chalky and the other four worked with a wheelbarrow and shovels to load the van. A half-hour later, Chalky left with Alvaro and the Wandering Jew, instructing the others to shore up the excavation before digging any further. Wedged into the driver’s seat, he carefully manoeuvred the van into the quiet street. Even with its reinforced rear suspension, the dirt weighed down the back end, making the vehicle sluggish and slow to respond. Driving was not as much of a problem as was how conspicuous the van looked, and although he chose every backstreet where and when he could, that was a little difficult in this neighbourhood.
“It’s a good thing I looked into disposing of the dirt, mates,” Chalky commented as he pulled into a main thoroughfare. “I hadn’t thought to need to so soon. Some things off about that lad.”
Alvaro exchanged a look with the Wandering Jew, lifting an eyebrow in challenge.
“There are a lot of mudslides in the part of the country Brendan comes from,” the Wandering Jew replied, smirking at Alvaro as he spun his lie. “Brendan has been part of the Search and Rescue team for years. He’s used to digging quickly through clay.”
One day their little game would get them in trouble, spinning more and more elaborate lies to cover some slip or illicit activity.
“Spot of training there, mate,” Chalky mused. “Still.”
At this rate, they would be through in two, three days at the latest. Disposing of the dirt would be a problem. Driving through the city with a heavily loaded van, especially at night, was bound to attract the attention of a bobby or two. And if they found Chalky behind the wheel of a van full of dirt at any time of day or night, they were bound to be suspicious. No amount of fast-talking by any number of Yanks was going to keep their noses out of it, given his record.
The first site Chalky had chosen was near Canary Wharf, where some roadwork had left a sizeable hole. Here, a dark niche offered them a place to empty the van while remaining out of sight of the street. Not an ideal site, but the closest. Parking the van, Chalky explained the situation.
“Two will dump the load into the hole. One will watch. Keep your peepers peeled for bobbies. This ain’t as private as I would like, and they ain’t likely to have much of a sense of ha-ha if you know what I mean.”
No sooner did he finish than a patrol car came prowling along the street. The three men ducked behind the van, wedged between the building and their vehicle as they waited for the police to move on. A spotlight lit the buildings on either side as it crept along. Some other blighter must be up to no good, Chalky thought as he held his gut sucked in. Some young hooligan selling his gear in the shadows, no doubt. Should be home in bed, or tucked in at some pub, not causing problems for their elders. It was going to be a long night.
Without Aiko, who would be sidelined for another day because of her shoulder, the Ghosts were a less motivated group on the court. They slept through their first game, and it was a miracle that they took that first set with their sloppy play. Miss Sweider was tempted to pull them out of the tournament. Most coaches only had to worry about boys and MTV; she had to contend with all these, plus vampyre and demons. And now a poltergeist.
The loss in the second set to one of the bottom rank teams served them right. She thought the Salem Invitational Tournament might have given them a taste for winning, and now it looked as if Miss Sweider would have to settle for that one and only trophy. And who could blame them with their world growing darker, more real every day? Why April had ever thought getting them out of New York would make any difference was beyond her? If anything, this sleepy little city was worse.
Back at the house, they found Helmand sitting on the couch with Aiko snuggling at his side. He held the leather-bound book open and was stroking the back of her head while he read. He was speaking flawless Japanese.
“Oh good,” Crystal announced. “I was hoping you would be here, Helmand. I wanted to ask you some questions about the journal.”
She wedged herself in between Aiko and Helmand, forcing the vampyre to sit up. Annoyed, Aiko hissed at her.
“Chill out, little sister,” Crystal teased. “It’s about time you shifted that lazy bum. All that demon blood is going straight to your hips.”
Aiko jabbed Crystal in the ribs, jiggling her stomach. “Look who’s talking flab-abs.”
“You had some questions about the book?” Helmand asked to keep the peace.
“Yes,” Crystal gave Aiko a shot in the arm and turn back to Helmand. “I was wondering if it mentions anything about the Black Donnellys.”
“I can certainly look,” Helmand offered, “if you two can stop beating on each other long enough to pay attention. Please, Aiko, no biting.”
The two girls giggled. “Okay, I’m all ears.”
“This first part,” Helmand explained, lifting a disapproving eyebrow, “is mostly a genealogy of one particular family. No connection to the Donnellys, I’m afraid.”
“The middle section discusses various demons the apotropaic is efficacious against. Both the crow and the Spirit Crow are tricksters in Native lore, and the author has taken great pains to gather legends from various traditions – Loki, Shiva….”
“Shax!” Crystal spat, making a face as if something nasty had crawled into her mouth and died.
“Yes, Shax would be a good example from Judeo-Christian traditions,” Helmand hesitated. “Let me scan the text for the word Black. Although, I don’t think names would translate, so looking for Donnelly might be easier.”
He had a half endearing, half annoying habit of talking to himself, much like Jean-Claude had. Maybe Aiko saw in Helmand a lot of the same things she had seen in Jean-Claude. ῾Daddy Issues,᾿ Crystal breathed.
“Okay, here,” Helmand announced. “Black, after all. Give me a minute to read through it before I translate it.”
“Fair enough,” Morgana replied, flopping down on Crystal’s lap, who pushed her to the floor with a thump. She then joined Morgana as Aiko reclaimed her spot.
“It is easier to concentrate,” Helmand reproved mildly, “in a less boisterous environment.”
“Sorry, sir,” the girls chorused.
“And don’t roll your eyes at me, Crystal Raven,” he warned. “You’re not too old for a spanking.”
“No, thank you,” Crystal laughed.
Many lay blame for the origins of the feud on the land dispute between Patrick Farrel and the Donnellys. Others on the stagecoach rivalry between the Hawkshaw and Donnelly stage lines and still others blame the religious intolerance brought here from their homeland. Herein lies the true roots that led to the murders on February 3rd, 1880.
This region is far from the St. Lawrence and the pestilence that followed the immigrants from the ships, and it had been several decades since the last serious outbreak. So when several cases of cholera broke out where none should be, the sisters of my coven grew suspicious.
And who would not be? The pestilence was only found in the homes of the covens and attacked those involved in the new alliance with the Brotherhood. Certainly, this is no coincidence. Sickness does not behave in such a wilful manner. It takes the old and the young before those in their prime.
I shudder when I think of those that we have lost, and dare not pen their names even here. The sisterhood cannot agree on a course of action and now only three of us who have been entrusted with the secret remain.
I believe either Constable Carroll or Father John Connolly is possessed by a demon. With Little Jane so young, we are powerless to prevent it. I have no doubt I shall be next, and so I write through the night to finish this account.
The trouble began some years ago with the formation of the Biddulph Peace Society. Whiteboys the lot of them, but we in the Sisterhood do not involve ourselves in the religious strife of a distant land. Perhaps we should have, for surely if we did, the dark murders that followed would have been prevented.
As I say, the Sisterhood was at a deadlock. With the secret we were entrusted to keep at grave risk, eleven of my sisters and I decided to take action. We broke our sacred oath and committed the secret to writing. I am afraid our actions are not acceptable to many in the Sisterhood, but it was the only action we could take.
The coven may not survive the rift.
Not three days before his death, I entrusted this volume to James Donnelly. Do not ask me how I managed to retrieve it – I shan’t tell you. When I am finished with this account, I will entrust it to a friend who will hide it on sacred ground.
After the witching hour on February third, a mob came to the Donnelly farmhouse. Some say Constable Carroll was there to arrest James and his sons, others whisper the name, Father Connolly. Even our scrying crystals cannot bring us nearer the truth in the matter.
James and Tom were beaten to death by an angry mob. Many there had blackened their faces – their souls as well. This blood will not wash off their hands so easily. And then they turned on Bridget – the niece - and our sister Johannah. No amount of fire will hide this foul deed.
John Donnelly was shot at the house of his brother, William, over in Whalen’s Corner. Why they thought we would hide this volume there is beyond me? As I write this, they obviously did not find it.
Whether Constable Carroll or Father Connolly, I do not know? I and the eleven who started this all go to meet the demon-blighted in the woods near the Donnelly farmstead. I will see this delivered safely before I leave. I fear this will be the last thing I pen.
“Hey!” Ember complained. “I thought you said they were destroyed in a Wiccan Banishing Ceremony.”
“Well now, sweetheart,” Helmand challenged playfully, “I believe I said that was a rumour, did I not?”
“I guess so,” Ember muttered. “Just when you think Wiccans are cool, they turn back to being lame asses again.”
“Hey!” Jade shot back. “Look who’s talking, you Goth Geek.”
Surreptitiously rubbing her crystal on the rug to generate a static electricity charge, Jade zapped Ember. “Let’s see you do that.”
Emptying her drink in one swallow, Ember dropped the ice cubes down the back of Jade’s shirt. She galloped off with Jade hot on her heels, laughter and squeals rising in their wake.
“I don’t see how any of this gets us any closer to finding it?” Gwen stated. “Who are these Black Donnellys, and where are they from?”
“They were an Irish Catholic family from Biddulph County in the 1800s,” Helmand explained. “Their story is famous in the Lucan area.”
“It’s the Wiccan family we’re really interested in,” Crystal explained. “The one with the crystal.”
“They were from the Lucan area too,” Helmand countered. “There’s a genealogy up to the eighteen-eighties in the front of the book. Perhaps one of their ancestors still lives in the area?”
“We can look it up on the internet,” Morgan suggested. “Ember! Quit picking on Jade!”
When the other girls stopped laughing, she continued, “there are all kinds of those family tree sites. Maybe one will include those names. If you are interested in preserving a bloodline, it stands to reason you would put it on the internet.”
“Not everyone is a technophile like you,” Crystal teased.
“Want to bet?” Morgana challenged.
“What did you have in mind?” Crystal countered.
“If I win, you lick my toes,” Morgana replied playfully.
“No, thank you,” Crystal replied, “you’re not my type. Besides, I smelt your gym shoes. They could kill a demon at thirty paces.”
Ten minutes later, Morgana was glad Crystal had not taken that bet. The problem with tracing the distaff line of a family tree was that women tended to change their names at marriage. With Helmand’s help and encouragement, she was making progress – first finding the name she wanted, and then tracking their offspring along the husband’s family tree. It was painstaking work, too much like a research paper. They ate their dinner around the computer – Helmand had made tacos that left piles of tomato, cheese and shredded lettuce scattered throughout the living room.
At ten o’clock, Morgana lifted bleary eyes from the screen. “There’s at least one surviving member, a Mrs. Johns, but she’s like seventy. What if she’s dead already?”
“Okay,” Crystal returned, not willing to admit defeat. “Now, all we have to do is hire a private eye to track her down.”
“You could try the phone book,” Helmand suggested. “Lucan numbers would be listed in the London phone book. And it’s only one volume, unlike the New York City directory.”
“Cool,” and Gwen was off like a runaway train, thundering off the tracks in search of a phone book she vaguely remembered seeing in the kitchen. She came back at breakneck speed, tripping over the rug and several of the girls on her way towards the couch.
There were several Johns in Lucan, but fortunately, only one Tatyana Johns. The Ghost Sisterhood was off on a road trip to Lucan – but what and where was an R.R. 2?