June and I stood over the newly closed grave. Susan Hammond-Malone had been laid to rest in the city’s large cemetery, in a plot next to my mother and father’s graves. The plot had been purchased by my father for my entire family after my mom had died. He’d said that it only made sense for us all to be buried together. Susan had been buried in my plot. It seemed to me that she would get better use out of it that I would, and she was, after all, family.
The service had been short and simple. It was difficult to find people to come to a funeral for someone they thought had been dead for fifteen years. So it ended up being attended by the family members that Susan had never gotten to know. Professor Rafkin and Aiela, Jimmy and myself, and my ex-sister in law, Claire Kennelly, who had not left June’s side since her miraculous recovery from the unknown disease. Officially the hospital had lent her out to us in order to monitor June’s recovery as a personal nurse. Unofficially, we all knew that she had been sent to spy on us to try to find out what miracle cure we’d used. But that was okay.
It had been a bit of a shock to everyone just how quickly she’d recovered anyway. A week ago I had hobbled my way out of Mad Moby’s, managing to find Dr. Johann’s car, with the keys thankfully still in it. I’d driven straight to Professor Rafkin’s.
While Professor Rafkin had listened in fascination, I told him everything. In the meantime, I had Aiela find a necklace to put the Moonstone onto. She ended up fashioning a net made of gold chain to rest the stone in, with two long ends looping out to form the necklace itself.
The Professor had been especially interested in the dinosaur egg I’d brought him, as well as the pit underneath Mad Moby’s mansion. Last I heard, he was in the process of purchasing the mansion. In pure interests of science, I’m sure.
Jimmy had been called at some point, and after finding me a change of clothes, the four of us drove out to the hospital. I, of course, had to repeat the story for Jimmy on the way there. I’d left nothing out. I knew that he could edit whatever parts he wanted. At the hospital Professor Rafkin had shown so many documents, and talked for so long, that the poor secretary behind the glass window had finally given me the paperwork to prove that Jimmy and I were June’s uncles, simply to get the Professor to go away.
Claire had joined us as a guide to June’s room. She also insisted on pushing my wheelchair the moment she realized that I couldn’t walk on my own. Since technically everyone there was either family, hospital staff, or… well, Aiela, we were allowed to all cram ourselves into the relatively small room.
June had not moved an inch since I’d last seen her. She simply lay there in the hospital bed, her golden brown skin almost shining in the light. I had stood up out of my chair, despite Claire’s protests, and placed the Moonstone necklace around the little girl’s neck.
The response had been sudden and immediate. June had opened her eyes, and tried to sit up the moment the necklace was in place. The doctors had been called in to examine her. While they did that, I received a cast of my own for my ankle, tape for my cracked ribs, and enough bandages and antiseptic cream that I probably could have found myself a tomb in a pyramid and been right at home.
By the time I was cleared to be released, Professor Rafkin had managed to have June released from the hospital. Everyone was waiting for me in the lobby. As a large group, we’d all gone back to the Professor’s house to explain everything to June.
She had taken everything surprisingly well. Especially the death of her mother, and banishment of her father. For the last part she had given me a huge hug, and told me thank you, over and over.
The best we could figure was that death was so common on the world she came from, that even the death of her own mother was something to be taken in stride.
She had told us a little about her world, but not enough. None of us pressed her. She’d been through enough. Ultimately it was decided that June would come live with me. Professor Rafkin had declared that he’d raised more than enough children who were not his own. He did, however, agree to take care of her until all my injuries had healed. It would give me a chance to clean my place up a bit.
Jimmy got the case file. While he agreed to keep many of the personal, and unexplainable, things out, he still managed to get quite a story. The paper especially enjoyed Chief John Rider’s willingness to mark off a case as solved, even when it obviously wasn’t. Jimmy never publicly gave me the credit for the scoop, for which I was thankful, but word still got around, somehow.
Rider had reacted quickly to the article. I’ll give him this much, the man knows how to manipulate a crowd. The same day the story hit the paper, the curfew on the city was suddenly lifted. Even if people were outraged at his sloppy work, they were so grateful to have the streets back at night that they were willing to forgive and forget. Alcohol, however, is still strictly banned. Guess you can’t win them all.
The museum received a visit from Professor Rafkin, who had turned in a replica of the Moonstone. Martha Crow, the old curator, had taken him at his word that the stone was real, and it is now prominently displayed in their main gallery. I hope that she never finds out the deception, but that worry is a long way down on my list.
Aiela got the short end of the stick, I’m afraid. The only thing she gained out of the entire experience were two new females, Claire and June, to talk to. Though I understand that women tend to need that kind of socialization, so maybe she made out better than any of us.
As for myself, I’m not sure what I got from all of this. I got some money. What was left of Susan’s assets were split between Jimmy and I, but we put most of it into a trust fund for when June turns eighteen. I learned that my father was still alive out there, somewhere, but without Dr. Johann’s notes we had no idea where to start on the Moonstone.
I gained a niece, of course, and all the necessary household items and furniture required. But really, all I felt like I had gained were a bunch of questions, and a great many new injuries. I guess in the end, time will tell.
June looked up at me and asked, “Is there something else we do here?” Her voice was high and clear.
“No.” I told her with a smile. “Everything in the ritual of burying our dead is over. This time is just meant for people who knew the deceased to talk about them.” The whole idea of a funeral had been foreign to June. Apparently on her world, bodies didn’t tend to last long after death.
“Like bonfire stories?” She asked, tilting her head.
“Sure.” I responded, not really certain what she was talking about. A lot of our conversations went that way.
“My mom was a wonderful woman.” June said over the grave. “She loved me dearly, and always protected me from my father and his men. I will miss her just as I miss Grandpa Jack. But I know that I will see them both again someday. Grandpa in this life, and Mother in the next.” She stopped talking and looked at me expectantly. “Is that right?” She asked.
I had to loosen my grip on my cane. The idea of Darden hurting this little girl, combined with the casual mention of my father, had been an emotional blow. “That was exactly right.” I told my niece with a smile.
“Good.” She smiled. She set a small bouquet of flowers on her mother’s grave, then smoothed out her formal black dress. “What happens now?” She asked.
“Now,” I answered, “You get to go with Claire to get any kind of food you want. It’s supposed to help with the grief.”
“Can Aiela come to?” She begged, her childlike enthusiasm momentarily beating down her emotional wall.
“It’s fine with me.” I smiled. “But you’ll have to ask Nurse Claire.”
“Okay!” She squealed. She ran around the grave and gave me a surprisingly strong hug. I winced as she squeezed my ribs, but didn’t mention it to her. She then ran across the graveyard, darting nimbly through the gravestones. When she got to Claire, who had been waiting by her car after the service, June took the woman by the hand, and practically dragged her to the car. Before long they were driving away to whatever restaurant June had chosen.
I turned from my adopted sister’s grave and walked back towards the street, figuring a taxi would be by eventually. I never felt them arrive, but when I was halfway across the graveyard I suddenly found myself surrounded by people in red dotted clothing. I stopped in my tracks and eyed them warily. “If you’re here to kill me, you missed your window by about a week.” I told them bluntly.
Rather than be offended, the group laughed. It wasn’t the hysterical, psychotic laugh I’d come to associate with the Crimson Makos. It was just genuine laughter. One of the members, who I recognized as the leader from Mad Moby’s, stepped forward and asked, “Do you know what we look for in potential members of the Crimson Makos?”
“Brain damage?” I countered dryly. “A tendency for murder perhaps? Or maybe just insanity?”
It bothered me a little that all they did was laugh at my response. You’d think I’d have offended at least one of them. “None of the above, actually.” The man told me with an easy smile. “We have many members who never kill anyone. Who never wear the colors, or come onto our territory. Yet whether they join us on a Hunt, or try to pretend we don’t exist, all of our members share the same quality.”
I tilted my head, genuinely slightly interested. “And that would be?” I asked.
The man smiled and pulled something out of his pocket. I tensed slightly, until he tossed that something through the air to me. I caught it and looked. It was a small red cloth, wrapped in a bundle. I unfolded the cloth and found a small necklace sitting inside. The necklace was made of silver, and had a circular silver pendant hanging on it. Inside of the circle were three raised bumps. The three dot sign of the Crimson Makos. The same mark that had mysteriously disappeared off of my neck a week ago on that day in Mad Moby’s mansion.
When I looked up, every member of the gang had an identical necklace on, the pendants hanging outside of their shirts so that they glittered in the sun. “They have all survived the Hunt.” The leader told me with an easy smile.
I stared at him in shock. “Wait,” I protested. “What?”
The group of people turned and began to walk away, until only the leader was left standing in front of me. He smiled easily and replied, “Welcome, Jake Malone, to the Crimson Makos.”
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