When we turned the corner towards my house the first thing I saw was that there was a car in my driveway, blocking our way. I frowned, recognizing it immediately. I cursed underneath my breath. It was David Walker’s BMW.
“Who is it?” Andreas asked, picking up on my annoyance immediately.
I didn’t answer, and just jumped out of the truck instead, as soon as he rolled to a stop against the curb. I strode quickly over to David’s car. It was a beautiful blue BMW, that only a few days ago I was thrilled to take a ride in. Today I was so angry to see him I felt like spitting. He was sitting in the driver’s seat, and climbed out immediately when he saw me approaching, a smile on his face. “Rhiannon, I’m so glad you’re home,” he said, like there was nothing wrong in the world.
I walked straight up to him, and poked him in the chest. “What the hell do you think you’re you doing here, David?” I demanded. I heard the truck door slam behind me, and could sense Andreas, standing back unobtrusively. He was probably doing his standard casual lean up against the truck, hovering protectively, but from a distance.
David furrowed his brow. “I just wanted to talk. Who is that?” He doffed his head in Andreas’ direction.
“None of your business,” I said tightly, folding my arms across my chest. “What do you want?” Of all the nerve! He dumped me, he called me, persistently, and now he was parked in my driveway. It smacked of messed-up desperation, and I wanted nothing to do with him or his obscene newfound obsession with me.
“I’ve been trying to call you for days,” he explained. “I wanted to talk about us, alone, but it looks like you’ve already replaced me,” he said acidly.
I laughed harshly. “Us? There is no us. You made that abundantly clear the other night.” I didn’t deign to acknowledge the rest of his statement. “Are you stalking me or something? Waiting around in my driveway for me to come home? That’s pretty creepy,” I spat, narrowing my eyes.
“Well, you haven’t returned any of my calls, what was I supposed to do?” he said desperately.
“Taken my silence as an answer,” I exclaimed. “Now get off my property!” I pointed to the street. “Hit the road.”
He took a step towards me, his arm raised, a pleading expression on his face. Only one step. That was all it took. Instantly Andreas was at my shoulder. He felt larger than life, and I could feel the crackle of energy emanating out from him towards David, until it wrapped around the man, like an invisible blanket, and pushed backwards, constricting around him. “You heard the lady,” Andreas bristled. “She doesn’t want you here. I think you better leave,” he said softly.
David looked startled, and scared, gasping for breath, but with head bowed, he backed up, climbed back into his car, and swiftly pulled away. If he had had one, I swear his tail would have been tucked in between his legs as he ran. “Wow,” I whispered softly, as the car turned the bend and speeded out of sight. “I don’t know what you just did, but that was kind of cool.”
Andreas shrugged. “What good is being an angel if I can’t be magically intimidating every now and then? Who was that?”
I sighed. “That was my ex. He’s the reason I was driving like a nut the night of the accident.”
“Ah,” he nodded in understanding. He headed for my front door. “Let’s go vampire proof your house.”
He walked straight through the living room into the kitchen and dug around in my fridge, pulling out my jar of minced garlic. “Lock all the windows and doors,” he ordered me. He loaded my food processor full of the minced garlic and turned it into a paste.
“So that stuff really works?” I shouted from the living room, as I battened down all the hatches. Most of the windows were already locked, but it was better to be safe than sorry, I decided, and checked them all anyway.
He came in behind me, and began smearing the garlic paste across all the window sills. “Vampires are allergic to garlic. It won’t stop a highly determined one, but it will definitely slow one down.” We worked from room to room, starting from the living room in the front of the house, through the kitchen, into the laundry room – giving an extra garlic coat to the back door – and my virtually unused family room on the side of the house, and then headed upstairs to give the garlic treatment to the windows in the three bedrooms, and the small bathroom windows, as well. I didn’t realize I had so many windows until we were done.
“This place stinks like a bad Italian restaurant.” I wrinkled up my nose.
“Better garlic than vampires,” he said pointed out. “Are there any entrances we missed?”
I led him back down to the kitchen, and through the side door into the garage. I left him to do his stinky garlic seal on the garage door, while I distracted myself with a box of memorabilia shoved underneath a shelf that had belonged to my folks. I cracked open the lid and pulled out photo albums, and my mom’s old book of family history. I smiled wistfully, flipping through one of the albums. My parents looked so young and happy. I stood and picked up the box, replacing the contents, deciding it might be useful, and dragged it out to the truck.
Andreas wrapped up his garlic project, and met me back at the truck, and we headed back to the greenhouse.
It was after five, and the shop was officially closed for the day. We closed at six on weekdays and five on weekends. There were no other vehicles in the parking lot, which was a good sign. Andreas parked Grant’s truck right in front of the main entrance. I could feel the subtle pull of the wolf as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, and inhaled sharply, clenching my jaw. Andreas looked at me in concern, feeling it, too. “Let’s get this over with,” I said tightly. I grabbed my box of memorabilia, clutching it tightly in between my arms, and we headed inside.
I could sense the wolfishness growing stronger as I headed through the greenery towards the back, like an anchor pulling me inexorably closer to Grant. I followed the sensations, and it led me in a beeline straight to him. He was washing his hands at the back counter against the far wall. He turned and saw me, and smiled. “I just got off the phone with my Alpha a few minutes ago.” He dried off his hands. “He wants to meet you, but understands your situation is a little delicate.”
I dropped my box right on the floor where I stood, and got straight down to business. “And it’s not going to get any better if you don’t teach me how to reign in this thing,” I said hoarsely. I could feel my pulse pounding, and the thermostat already felt like it was spiking. He rushed over, grabbed me by my hands, and sat me down right there on the concrete floor. He sat in front of me, our knees touching, and gripped my hands tightly.
“Now listen to me,” he said calmly, “I need you to close your eyes and focus on your breathing.” He talked soft and low. He had me focus, drawing my attention inward, focus on the wolf, like it was a tangible creature inside me, and I could feel it, welling up from within, threatening to spill over and take control. Instead, he had me leash it, to harness it and channel it. “The human is the alpha,” he said, “not the wolf.” I felt the panic subside, and my focus grew in clarity. My breathing slowed down. I was in charge, not the wolf; it was part of me, flowing through me, but he taught me how to force it to lie dormant within.
Finally, I gasped triumphant. I could feel a new energy coursing through my veins, heightening all my senses, but not taking them over. I opened my eyes and looked at Grant. He eyed me curiously, then looked up at Andreas, who was performing his patented casual lean against the doorway. Andreas nodded his approval. “She’s got it under control,” he diagnosed.
Grant stood up, and pulled me up, as well. “Now just don’t be around me during full moons, and you’ll be fine,” he said with a pat on my shoulder.
We ordered some pizza, sat down in the middle of the open expanse where I usually potted plants, and spent the next few hours pouring over the box of photos and diaries I had brought, and strategizing. I also took a few minutes to gather up some bags of herbs for the fairies, and retrieved the bag of fruit from the truck.
At midnight, like clockwork, Frankincense and Myrrh came excitedly buzzing into the back room. Grant looked a little disgusted at the sight of the fairies. Andreas let out a long suffering sigh. I was the only one pleased to see them. They buzzed around my head, and then zoomed over to the counter, where their fruit and herbs lay waiting. With a whoop and a holler, Frank sped back to me. “Youpaid, youpaid!” he gushed excitedly. “And pomegranates, too!” He flitted in a loop around the room, too excited to sit still. A person could grow dizzy watching him. I laughed.
Myrrh got his attention. “Frank!” she boomed in her shrill voice. “Give her the box!” She shook her fist for emphasis. I could tell who wore the pants in their relationship.
He stopped his flight in mid air. “Sorry,” he squeaked, bobbing. With a wave of his hand, and a flourish of his wings, he pulled something out of the small bag around his waist, and flung out his hand. A shower of glittering sparkles fell onto the floor. Where the sparkles landed, a banker’s box miraculously appeared.
I gasped in wonder, and took the lid off. Files and envelopes, with my parents’ names and police case number emblazoned on them, filled it to near bursting capacity. Frank flew down inside the box. “What’s inside? What’s inside?” he crooned.
I looked down at him, confused. “The files I asked you to bring, of course. Didn’t you look inside before you grabbed the box?”
“Nope,” beamed Myrrh, landing on my knee. “I told Frank it’s private, and to keep his nosey nose out of it.” She shook a finger at him, is if to retrospectively chastise him for misbehavior.
“Forget it, Rhiannon,” Andreas said. “Fairies can’t read your alphabet.” He knelt down and began flipping through the files.
I was mystified. “Wait a minute, how on earth did you know which box to even grab?” I asked.
“Because we’re fairies!” Frankincense beamed proudly, as if that explained it all. I gave Andreas a look, silently seeking explanation.
He just shrugged. “The same way they knew how to find you, the same way they knew where to find the files. They just do. Don’t think about it too hard.” He patted my knee patronizingly. I gave him a venomous look that shot daggers.
Then an idea occurred to me. “Ok, if that’s the case, then shouldn’t I be able to find stuff too, in the presence of fairies?”
He sat down, looking thoughtfully. The two fairies buzzed around excitedly. “Humans can’t do that,” Myrrh protested. “Only fairies, no one else!”
“Yeah, well, I’m not exactly human,” I said wryly.
“Ooh,” gushed Frankincense. “What is she, angel, what is she?”
Andreas looked at him irritatingly. “We don’t know yet, that’s one of the reasons we wanted this box.”
“You might have a point there Rhi,” Grant chimed in. “I’m thinking of an item. Go find it.” He grinned at me, cocking his head to the side and folding his arms across his chest. I gave him a withering look.
Myrrh hopped up. “I know what it is!” She shouted excitedly.
“No cheating,” Grant ordered her crossly.
I stood up and sighed. “What am I, a circus side show?”
Andreas smiled. “Well, it would be a good way to find out the extent of your power. Can you pick up fairy abilities, as well?”
I had to admit, they had a point. “All right, Frank,” I said, “how does it work?”
He flew up into my face. “How does what work?” His tiny face bore an expression of extreme curiosity.
“This finding stuff,” I explained.
He shrugged his miniature shoulders. “He thinks of it, and I find it. I just know.”
I rolled my eyes. Great, that was no help. What could Grant possibly be thinking of? I looked around the room, feeling ridiculously silly, unable to take this idea seriously.
“Why don’t you just relax and focus?” Andreas suggested quietly.
I sighed, and closed my eyes, and focused my attention on the numen, bringing the strange energy into view again. When I opened my eyes, the world was glowing again with that unearthly light. The two fairies were particularly bright, sending off shimmers of sparks with every beat of their wings and rustle of their clothing. I looked at Grant. He put off an unmistakable glow, one I would recognize anywhere as Grant. Andreas glowed with that unearthly white light like when I first saw him, only far more muted. I looked back at Grant again, focusing on him.
And suddenly, an object jumped forth into my head, and I knew without any doubt what he was seeking. I gasped. It was the most bizarre experience. I jumped up, ran into his office on the opposite side of the employee’s only entrance from mine, and grabbed the picture he kept on his desk of his mother. I strode back out and handed it to him with a flourish and a smirk.
The fairies went berserk, buzzing around my head at a frenetic pace. “She did it, she did it she did it!”
I shook my head to clear my vision back to normal. Grant looked stunned. Andreas looked as pleased as punch. I shook my head in amazement. “I just knew.” I shrugged, sitting down again in front of the box. “I knew what it was, I knew where it was.” I looked over at Myrrh, who had settled down onto my shoulder again. “You two are pretty darn cool.” Myrrh preened with pride.
After that we buried our heads in the files. There was nothing I didn’t already know, for the most part. According to the coroner’s report, Jonathan and Caroline Maddox (aka mom and dad) were both strangled to death. The dismembering was postmortem. Their legs, arms, and heads were all separated from the torso, and strewn about the interior of the cabin, with no apparent pattern. Death occurred sometime between eleven p.m. and 3 a.m. The bodies had been too mutilated to pinpoint with any greater accuracy, as rigor mortis couldn’t be determined due to the amount of dissection. My stomach churned reading about it. There were no witnesses. The nearest neighbor was a quarter of a mile away, and no one had been home that night. That was the problem with a secluded mountain vacation spot half populated by weekend commuters: often times, no one was home.
“That leaves a pretty wide window,” Andreas mused. “Listen to this: the cops said it seemed almost inhuman; the limbs appeared to have been forcibly ripped off, which would have taken either incredible strength, or more than one person, to accomplish.” I clenched my jaw while he talked, feeling nauseated.
“Who could have done something like that?” I seethed. He wasn’t telling me anything new. It had been four years, but it might as well have been yesterday, the wound had never healed. Grant patted my shoulder in sympathy. He knew; he had been there, helping Kat piece me back together afterwards. I had been an inconsolable wreck, and he had been my rock. The day I had found out had been the worst day of my life. Grant was the only one who knew how to contact me, so the news had come from him. He left a message at my hotel. Kat and I had spent a lazy day at the beach drinking mimosas and flirting with cute Frenchmen. I had gotten back to the hotel, and to his frantic message. The world collapsed around me that day when I called him back. I had blamed myself for it for months; if only I hadn’t been selfishly gallivanting about Europe with Kat and had been home with them instead, I might have been able to stop it. Grant had finally convinced me as I poured my grief into work that if I had been there, I would only have suffered the same fate as them.
Andreas frowned and shook his head. “No human that I know of.” He turned to Grant. “Is it too late to get anything from the crime scene?”
He shrugged. “After four years? It might be. My nose is good, but not that good. We should check it out, just in case.”
I was surprised. “You mean there could be a scent after all this time? Wow. The cops need a werewolf on their staff.”
Grant smiled. “Actually, a lot of werewolves get into law enforcement. You’d be surprised. Do you think you can handle going to the cabin? Andreas and I can do this without you.”
“No we won’t,” Andreas objected. “Where I go, she goes.”
I clenched my jaw again. “I’m not going to argue this with you, Andreas. I don’t need a babysitter,” I seethed, emphasizing each word.
“He’s got a point, Rhi,” Grant said diplomatically. “With all that’s happened to you lately, you’re better off being safe with us. We’ll leave first thing in the morning, I’ll drive, Ida and Milly can manage the store.”
I realized this wasn’t a point I was going to win, so I conceded. “Fine, but he better get a change of clothes first, that pair of jeans is starting to reek.” I wrinkled my nose. The fairies let out peals of laughter, showering my shirt with glittery sparkles.
“Garlic, garlic, garlic!” Frank exclaimed. “He smells of a vampire’s bad dreams!” He collapsed onto my lap in a fit of giggles and glitter. I couldn’t help but laughing along with them.
Andreas looked positively chagrined.
“I wonder if it’s worth talking to my grandma,” I mused.
Grant shook his head. “She has alzheimers,” he reminded me. “She doesn’t even remember you, it would be a waste of time. Besides, if she was anything but human, I would have smelled it by now. For that matter, I would have smelled it on your parents over the years, and I never did,” he said pointedly.
I dug through the rest of the box, looking for evidence. The files referenced blood samples from both of my parents, and trace evidence from the crime scene, but there was nothing in the box. I pulled out one of the envelopes, opened it, and dumped the contents. Pictures of the crime scene, in full color, spilled out over the floor. The sight of my parents’ torn and mangled flesh, looking as if a butcher had haphazardly carved up a carcass while blindfolded with a rusty pocket knife, captured for all eternity on photo paper sent my stomach churning uncontrollably. I ran into the bathroom and retched in the toilet, heaving up all the pizza I had consumed. It left a rancid taste in my mouth, and my neck was sweating. I rinsed my mouth out with water at the sink with shaking hands, and stared at my reflection in the mirror, feeling miserable. I wondered if my digestive system would ever recover from all the vomiting it had been subjected to lately.
Suddenly Andreas was there behind me, and for once I was glad to see my guardian angel there watching over me. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me tight against him, stroking my hair. I looked up at his reflection in the mirror. “I can’t look at those pictures, Andreas, I can’t.”
“You don’t have to,” he whispered gently. “Grant put them away.”
“Good.” I wiped my hand across my mouth, decided I felt much better, and stepped back out into the main room.
“Frank, where’s the evidence?” I asked. “There should have been some in a freezer or something.”
He flew down to look in the box, as if that would help. “This was all, Rhiannon Maddox. There was no more. If there had been, we would have found it.” He nodded his head emphatically.
“Yes, Rhiannon Maddox,” chimed in Myrrh. “We would have, we would have, there was none!”
Andreas concurred. “Fairies don’t miss anything. This case is an odd one, and I’m inclined to believe that someone more than human might have been involved, which would have given the murderer motive for destroying the evidence.”
Grant agreed, as well. “We don’t leave tracks that lead back to us, and there’s no way a fairy would have missed anything. Misplacing an item is one thing, but it’s all missing, even the trace fibers.”
“Dammit,” I sighed. “The whole point of this exercise was to get blood or something from the evidence so Ariel could analyze it and figure out what the hell I am!” I kicked the box out of frustration.
“Why don’t we copy what we want, so the fairies can return this before anyone misses it?” Grant suggested.
With a sigh, I carried the box over to the Xerox machine. “I’m not copying any of those pictures,” I shouted. “If you want those, you’ll have to do it yourself.” A few minutes later I had managed to copy everything of value.
I carried the box back to where the fairies hovered. “Thank you for your help,” I said to them as politely as possible. “Could you please return this before anyone notices it’s missing?”
Frankincense flew down to touch the box, and it instantly shrunk until it was small enough to put in his bag again. I was absolutely amazed, watching it. “We are honored to have been of service to one such as you,” he intoned formally. “It’s a shame you have no fairies here to guard your flowers.”
“Yes,” agreed Myrrh mournfully. “Such a lovely field, and no one to guard it,” she hinted.
I smiled at them. “You like my greenhouse, do you?” I’m certainly capable of picking up on a hint. Plus, I liked these two fairies. They were a breath of fresh air in an otherwise exhaustive week.
“Yes yes yes,” they both buzzed, fluttering around my head.
I laughed. “Well, you’re more than welcome to come visit on weekends when I’m working, but during the week there are probably too many humans to risk coming around.” I would definitely not mind seeing these fairies again, they were positively delightful and adorable.
The fairies whooped in delight, darting and diving throughout the air.
“Don’t give them an inch,” Andreas warned. “Fairies are great guard dogs, but they’re too untrustworthy and light with their fingers to live around. Don’t forget who’s side they were on in the Great War,” he added, tight lipped.
Frank positively sputtered glitter. “Don’t condemn us for the actsofourancestors!” He shouted, stringing his words together. We fairies amended our ways after the war!” He brandished his porcupine quill sword, waving it in front of Andreas’ nose. Andreas swatted a hand at him, but Frank was too fast, and darted out of the way.
“Enough!” I boomed at him. “This is my greenhouse, Andreas, and I’ll invite whomever I want. These two are more than welcome to visit on weekends if I’m here, it’s not like they’ll be left alone to run the joint, so butt out!”
The two fairies reached a fever pitch of excitement. “Rhiannon Maddox, you are a friend of fairies!” They both exclaimed, like it was some grant important title.
With a pleased smile, I saw the fairies to the front door, and let them out, just like I would any other guest. I don’t know how they arrived, but I knew exactly how they left.
I walked back to Andreas and Grant. Grant looked a little displeased and uncomfortable. “It’s my greenhouse too, Rhi,” he pointed out, obviously displeased with my invitation to the fairies.
“What? They’re only invited if I’m here, I’ll keep an eye on them.” I tossed my hands up in the air in exasperation.
“You better,” he said darkly.
Andreas and I saw ourselves out, and walked back to my house. “I think you might have made two friends for life. No one’s that generous to fairies,” he said thoughtfully to me.
I laughed. “All I did was tell them they could hang out on weekends if I was there.”
“Exactly,” he replied. “Fairies never forget anything, and they’re intensely loyal.”