Their client sat ram-rod straight on the sofa with her feet tucked in and crossed at the ankles. During the meeting prior to her arrival, Jack gave them the only details of her case that he had – her son acted suspiciously and she wanted them to find out why.
The lady lifted her head and the light gleamed on her gray curls. The gray did not signify old age, or if it did, their client had aged very well. Not a wrinkle showed in her smooth alabaster skin. Gravity had worked no damage on her body. She wore a smart, cropped, gray jacket over a white blouse and a fitted gray pencil skirt with commanding ease. Her black crocodile handbag matched her high heels. A pill-box hat with black netting sat elegantly on her head, and immaculate gray gloves covered her hands. Sharp dark eyes, red-rimmed, examined each of them as they sat down. The image of a vulture – cold, calculating, and patient – came to Sophie. She shuddered.
Folding chairs formed a semi-circle around their guest. Relief flooded Stan’s face as he took his seat within the circle instead of a hot seat of possible death by vampire on the outside. Sophie joined the woman on the sofa with a smile attempting to make her comfortable. But one glance from her dark eyes and Sophie almost found a seat somewhere else. She clenched her jaw and stayed in her spot refusing to be chased off. West handed their guest a cup of tea from a TV tray next to her.
“Thank you.” The woman took it and held it primly in her lap.
Benj joined them, shirt and shoes on, hair combed back, concentrating on moving slowly. One of the lady’s well-shaped eyebrows rose as he entered the living room. Sophie hid a smile with a turn of her head. Benj caught the attention of all women. They either threw themselves at him or got violently ill. All women had an affinity or counter-affinity for vampires. Love or hate, women always react to them. It was the vampires greatest weapon in their hunt for humans. Sophie knew where Benj’s heart lived and did not worry about someone removing it from its place inside her. Nor did she worry about him using the affinity to eat their client. Benj largely ignored his effect on women. Jack, Guinness, JC, and Stan had not had centuries to practice ignoring women. They all sat a little straighter as they gathered around their new client each with a note pad and pen in hand. Sophie did not have to have a magical connection to read the others’ feelings. Any woman could pick up on their sudden strutting. West shot an angry look at Guinness, and he put his arm around her pulling her close.
Dropping into the folding chair beside Sophie, Benj gave her a wink before he turned to their client and went still. Heart not beating, lungs not breathing, still. Still as only something dead could remain. Sophie reexamined the woman beside her expecting horns or fangs to sprout from her head based on Benj’s reaction. He leaned over his lap with his arms resting on his knees, unlike the guys who straightened ties and tidied suits. Nothing came from him. Nothing except a prickling, a distrust of this elegant woman. When an old vampire prickled with distrust, Sophie listened.
West glanced inquiringly at everyone else to see if they wanted tea. Sophie accepted one and Jack made quick introductions without qualification of Stan, Benj or Sophie.
“My name is Heather Gray.”
“As in the actress??” West said suddenly more interested in their guest.
“Yes. I purchased a … quaint… home here last year to get away and let my son experience small town life. It’s my son that I’m here about. He is not himself these days. He seems distracted, even from his hobbies. He isn’t going to work or anything. And he has no friends. I’m afraid he may be into something dangerous, like a cult, or the strange music kids are starting to get into.”
“Could you explain in more detail, Mrs. Gray?” Jack asked.
“Ms. Gray,” she corrected.
Sophie glanced at Benj. She picked up feelings of contemplation and curiosity focused on their client. He pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind without saying anything, keeping his face smooth and remaining attentive to what she said, but something troubling him.
Ms. Gray looked around as if the sofa or her cup of tea would give her the answers. A swell of distrust washed over Sophie. Whatever came out of her mouth would be a lie, some fake concern for her son. And oddly, she shimmered around the edges. Sophie had no idea what it meant, but Ms. Gray shimmered, waved, grew insubstantial or covered just at the edges. Sophie tucked it away to ask Benj about later. Benj, who prickled and sat very still.
“My son, Manson, enjoys taking things apart and putting them back together in new and interesting ways. Lately, he is just sitting in his room staring at the ceiling. Or he goes out and I don’t know where he goes. I used to be able to read him so well, but now….” She sighed theatrically.
Sophie found the use of her word ‘read’ disconcerting. Did Ms. Gray meant the usual type of human reading or something more powerful, like SoulReading? The fact that she would even wonder if Ms. Gray made a reference to something magical disturbed Sophie. Plus, the way she spoke about her son, Manson, seemed twisted. What she said might be true but not in the innocent way it sounded. Something evil and dank flowed through her words. A chill crawled up Sophie’s skin leaving her cold inside. Who was this woman?
Well practiced tears came to Ms. Gray’s eyes. “We used to be so close, but now, now he seems so very, very far away. Can you help me? Help me find out what’s going on?”
She stopped and stared into her cup of tea. West hurried off and returned with a box of tissues. Ms. Gray wiped her eyes.
“Anything else you can tell us?” Sophie asked.
From behind the tissue, Ms. Gray looked at her with death-like eyes, the cold eyes of a killer. Sophie almost jumped off the couch just wanting away from those eyes. She had seen them before and seen what they were capable of doing. Benj went electric. Without moving or changing his posture he went from handsome man to dangerous monster. Sophie calmed her heart. She smiled back encouragingly at their client like nothing happened. Benj did not calm down.
“There is nothing else to share, thank you.”
Unaware of the live wire snapping between the three, Jack looked around at the group. “Thoughts or questions?”
“Do you have a picture of your son?” JC asked.
“Not a recent one. He does not like to have his picture taken. But he is the only male coming in or out of my home.” She pronounced the word ‘male’ as if it were a disease.
“Okay, Ms. Gray, this is how we’ll work this.” Jack pulled his chair in a closer. She leaned away from him. “We’ll begin surveillance of your home tonight. JC, Benj, and Guinness will watch your house and track your son’s movements. If we come across anything which might explain your son’s strange behavior, we’ll let you know. But we’re not psychiatrists and if there is just something going on with him or between you two, then we won’t be of much help.”
Sophie tilted her head. Ms. Gray’s eyes changed when Benj was mentioned. Of course, he did have that effect on women. Sophie tried not to over reacted, but the woman shimmered around the edges…and her eyes.
“Sophie and West,” Jack continued, “will attempt to make contact with anyone who knows or works with your son and see if anything unusual has happened.”
“I’m sure, Mr. O’Neil, that something has happened, that a woman has perhaps hurt him, or is misleading him. In fact, I am dead sure it’s a woman.”
Her level of conviction surprised Sophie. She saw the same sense written on Jack’s lined face. Ms. Gray had mentioned nothing about a woman before. Why now? Ms. Gray disturbed her. Sophie watched her without processing any of the information Ms. Gray gave on her job situation and that of her son’s. She did not hear where they lived or the answers Jack gave to a few of her questions. Her entire focus centered on Ms. Gray’s eyes and her body language along with the strange mirage which surrounded her. Was she a witch? Was the shimmering a spell?
“As soon as we have any information, we’ll call you,” Jack said. “Please give all your private contact information to West.”
Ms. Gray turned her piercing eyes on West, who squirmed in her chair. Bemused, she looked down at her watch and leapt up. Everyone but Benj quickly stood.
“I have to go! He’ll be mad if I’m not home when he gets there.”
In a flash, she handed West her card, and disappeared out the front door.
They all looked at one another, mouths open.
“Alrighty,” Guinness said.
JC and Stan chuckled as they started to put the chairs up.
“Wait.” Jack held up his hand. “Did that seem really strange to anyone else?”
“Yes,” Benj, Sophie and West all said at once.
“What are you talking about?” Stan asked, sitting back down.
“She looked at Benj really funny both times you mentioned him – in the introduction and when you said he would be following her son,” Sophie said. “She also glimmered around the edges.”
“Yeah, I noticed that too,” Stan said.
They all looked at him, surprised.
“The funny looks, not the gleaming,” he clarified.
“She shifted from demure to demanding as well.” Benj pointed out. “She sat with her head down, crying, one moment and the next she insisted a woman had hurt her son without any evidence to give us. She stared at Sophie in a strange way as well.”
“A real momma’s boy, you know the kind, whose son can do no wrong,” Guinness said.
“That term is used in reference to the son, not the mother, Guinness,” Benj corrected.
“I know, but I am saying she’s the kind of woman who has momma’s boys.”
“Yes she is, but she also seemed to fear him,” Benj said.
“I noticed that, too,” JC agreed.
“Last, but not least, did you see her bag?” West asked with a triumphant smile.
“Her bag?” Stan repeated.
“Yes, she carried a custom designed Louis Vuitton. I saw the label when she opened it to hand me her card. I’ve heard of them of course, but I have never known anyone who could afford one. It is a very, very high-end bag. And if I am not mistaken, those where real diamonds in her ears, big ones. Amazing! But she is an actress…so maybe that explains the money.”
“Exactly, I wouldn’t expect her to shop at Sears.” JC shrugged.
“I’m not following this.” Jack pulled out his pipe and started to pack it.
“It was a show,” Benj said. He stood up and paced in the space between the sofa area and the office area. “Come in here asking, demanding, we help her figure out what is wrong with her son, but her bag speaks of lots of money, as do her bearing, clothing, and status of an actress. She should be going to see her therapist, not a private eye, unless she believes a crime has been committed. But she gave us no evidence to suggest anything like that has happened.”
“You’re saying her son’s in a funk and her panties are in a twist, but why us?” West asked.
“I am not saying those words, but you have given an accurate summation of my point.”
“Wait, what?” Stan asked.
“If you had a beloved child and all the money in the world, would you hire us?” Sophie asked.
“You’re the only private eyes in town,” Stan said.
“Someone that rich and famous can hire from anywhere in the world,” West said.
“Yes. It seems she must have an interest in us specifically,” Benj mused.
Sophie squeezed her hands together. “Why doesn’t that make me feel honored?”
They all chewed in silence on the implications of what Benj, Sophie, and West had said. Sophie glanced at Benj but he shook his head, not ready to share what gnawed at the back of his mind.
“Let’s get to work!” Jack announced, calling them all back from their imaginations. “Two cases, everyone! There’s no better way to figure out what’s going on than to treat it like any other case. Guinness, I want tax records and information on both Ms. Gray and her son. Plus where does he work? And I want to know their income level. West, you’re going to wherever his work place is tomorrow or the day after, so I suggest you head to the department store in the morning and buy a suit. Sexy is probably better.”
West giggled and Guinness winked at her.
“JC, I would like you to take Stan on the stakeout tonight, and Benj and Sophie, start going through the missing children photos.” Jack raised his hand to forestall a protest from the double duo of Benj and JC, who normally did the stakeouts together. “I want Benj near Sophie at all times in case that unknown bastard attacks again. Guinness, our new wonder boy is not used to working round the clock like we do. I want you to plan on joining JC in a few hours so Stan can get a little sleep.”
“I thought you told her Benj would be there?” Stan said.
“What I tell her and what I decide to do with the team is my concern, not hers. If half of the unspoken assumptions about her are true, plus the idea of another witch like Sophie on the loose, I don’t think Benj being there instead of here is a good idea.”
The group split up.
“I am going to stand in the moonlight for a few moments. I will be right back.” Benj kissed Sophie on the top of her head and followed JC and Stan outside. He guarded his emotions. She could sense a general happiness, tainted with his habitual sadness, but still, Benj seemed guardedly happy. She watched him, curious, but decided to leave him to his little games. For the third time today, Benj tried to hide something from her. She tried to push her concerns away. The part with Ms. Gray did not really worry Sophie, but the hidden feelings during their introduction to Stan had felt dangerous. With a sigh, she chose to trust Benj. He had always been there or had come at need. She would not distrust him now.
Sophie went to his fridge for a couple of blood bags. After she filled a pan with water and turned the flame on under it, she slipped the bags in to warm them up. She made herself a cup of hot chocolate. It would be a long and rough night. Looking at photos of missing children was not an ideal way to pass the time.
Outside, Benj pulled JC aside. Stan stood a few feet away, leaning on the company Buick.
“What’s going on, Benj?”
“Sophie and I had another discussion about getting married,” Benj confessed.
“West told me.”
“She seems unable to keep any information in her head.”
“She’s a girl, that’s what they do. Sophie’s quiet nature is rare.”
“Sophie is haunted. She has more on her mind than what everyone else is thinking and doing.”
“She doesn’t worry about what anyone else is thinking or doing other than you. So why don’t you marry her?” JC asked, pushing his fedora back to scratch his forehead. He gave Benj a sideways glance.
“Must I go over this with you as well as her?” Benj paced in the driveway running his hands through his hair.
“You came out here to talk with me, remember?”
Benj stopped. “You are right. I apologize.”
JC waved the apology away. “Look, she’s a witch, right? She’ll live for a very long time, aging very slowly, right?”
“That is correct. Witches are the only magical humans who live anywhere close to the lifetime of a vampire.”
“Then do the right thing. Marry her.”
“Now is not a good time with the two cases.”
“Work has nothing to do with this. There will always be ‘cases’. What’s making you hesitate, Benj? You love her, don’t you?”
“With all my heart.”
“Are you afraid of the commitment?”
Benj barked a laugh. “I sense every emotion she feels. I can follow her to the ends of the earth. No, it is not commitment I fear, but the power of a stronger bond. We are tied so closely now, I fear the magic of being tied closer.”
“If you love her, you have nothing to fear.”
Benj rubbed his chin and smoothed his long sideburns, considering JC’s statement.
“Are you running away again? Like you did when her parents were murdered?” JC said. Benj hesitated. “So that’s a yes. Do you remember the conversation we had just before you left? You told me you believed she was falling in love with you.”
“And you mockingly told me that was no surprise. You said ‘A woman falling in love with a vampire, I’m amazed cause that never happens. I mean I can’t even go out for drinks without several women throwing themselves at you…or throwing up on those nice shoes of yours. Either way, it’s hard on a guy’s ego when he’s drinking with you.’”
JC laughed. “I do believe that’s exactly what I said. And you glared at me like you are now. You’ve never really understood the human need to be sarcastic.”
“I am sure I was never this disagreeable when I was a human.”
“Look, Captain, I can’t sense your emotions or hers, but I have eyes. She’s beyond the normal female attraction or affinity for vampires. That poor girl waited loyally for Rob since him and I left with some other boys for the war. Rob’s body was never found and she lived under the stigma of that until you came along. Now she’s waiting on you. Is she supposed to wait forever? She’s lonely and sad. The rest of her family is dead. Murdered. She sees visions of people being tortured and killed. You’re all she has.”
JC use of his old military rank surprised Benj. He never used it unless he really believed in something and wanted to emphasize it to Benj. The memories of that war, their time together, was not a debt used regularly, but horded for intense situations.
“It has only been ten years since I stole her first kiss.” Benj bulked.
“Ten years may mean nothing to a vampire who can live forever, but it’s forever for a woman who’s waiting for you.”
“I swore to myself long ago, when I joined the Requiem, I would not fall in love with a human. You have to Turn them or you have to watch them die. Either way you are filled with the constant temptation to give into the very desires you swore to fight against.”
“Well, I’ve seen you welcome her into your heart, which you don’t have, and into our home. She’s our friend and I love her like a sister. You love her like your wife. You may have to break that promise to yourself.”
“It might damn me a second time.”
“It might be your salvation,” JC said. He patted Benj’s shoulder and turned to the car. “We have to go.”
Benj weighing all he said as JC dropped his bulk into the front seat of the Buick.
“I will call you to come back in a few hours.” Benj shifted up to the window. “I will need your help for just a few minutes. We will see what damns me more, loving or leaving.”
“You got it. Let’s go, kid.” JC turned the key, flipped on the lights, and pulled out of the drive. He drove off with a wave, fedora still pushed to the back of his head.
…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…