Back home, Kat, Xander, and I were regrouping, organizing our efforts, when Harrison Roberts called. Xander was reviewing a map of St. Andrew’s Village when his cell phone rang, caller ID unknown. He let it go to voicemail, continuing to search for the estate of Cressida Hawkins, but stepped away to check it later. Coming back to us, his face was unreadable.
“I have to step out for a few.”
“What? Where to?”
“Sorry. I’m not allowed to discuss it.”
“Is it government business?” My curiosity was spiking.
Xander reached over and pulled Kat close, kissing her on the top of her head. “I’ll be back soon.” Then he grabbed his car keys and headed out the door.
As it shut behind him, Kat turned back to look at me. “What do you suppose that’s all about?”
“It’s your boyfriend. You should know that crazy look by now.”
“He never talks about his government work. Even though it’s in the past, he won’t mention it or discuss it, even when I ask point blank.”
“Don’t worry. He said he’d be back soon, so he’ll be back soon.”
* * *
Xander drove down the highway, heading towards Bantum’s downtown. Cars passed him, honked at him, but he didn’t hear any of it.
He couldn’t believe the man had called him, just outright called him, right out of the blue. It had been years of nothing – no communication at all. Shaking it off, he focused on the drive, on the dashed white lines, and on the brake lights surrounding him in a sea of bright red.
Pulling up to the diner in his black Lexus sedan, he put the vehicle in park and turned off the engine. He removed his keys, got out and pocketed them for safekeeping. He looked around, but Xander didn’t recognize any of the other vehicles. Then he strode up to the entrance, opened the door, and went inside.
The inside of the diner was definitely ‘diner’ style. There was a ton of red vinyl and chrome, with neon lightning and numerous waitresses over the age of 60. The main counter was lined with dedicated circular bar stools that swiveled, and the area to the left was lined with booth seating along the window and across the aisle.
He scanned over the faces and found the one he was looking for. Heading down the booth seating aisle, Xander went to the third-to-last seat by the window. Sitting down, he nodded and looked him dead in the eyes.
Mean-mugging, stocky, and big-boned, Harrison’s idea of greeting Xander warmly was by merely nodding in response. Appearance was important to him as a black man from Atlanta. His large frame was neatly dressed in a tailored black suit, his black hair kept short, and he sported a short cut beard. As he gave Xander a once-over, his large brown eyes seemed to protrude slightly.
A former friend of Xander’s from his Federal Bureau of Investigation days, his phone call meant something important was afoot. They had worked together on numerous investigations, including ones having to do with cults. Xander hoped this call didn’t pertain to any of those; he’d left that life behind after the Sons and Daughters were taken down. Still, he hadn’t seen the man since Harrison had split off from the team, pursuing more aggressive work three years ago. Since then, Xander rounded them up and turned them in, while Harrison shook them up and took them down.
Harrison said nothing, simply watching Xander while he ate his bacon and eggs. Unnerved, Xander broke the silence first – a power move well-played by Harrison.
“I’m here. What’s this all about?”
“Nice to see you, too, Soldier Boy.”
“I told you never to call me that.”
Chuckling, Harrison, picked up a napkin and dabbed at the corners of his mouth. “It’s just too easy with you, isn’t it…?” He picked up his coffee mug and took a sip, then put the cup back down. Leaning back in the booth, he sized up Xander once more. “You don’t look any worse for wear. How’ve you been?”
“Busy. Listen, I hate to cut this reunion short but I have some friends waiting on me–”
“Your friends can wait.”
Xander paused. “What’s this about, Harrison? Why am I here?”
Harrison picked up a folder on his booth seat and slid it across the table to Xander. “This is why you’re here.”
Xander opened the folder and began to read while Harrison continued. “After that take down of the Sons and Daughters, we had several former members in interrogation for days, weeks even. We heard all sorts of crazy shit, about demons and monsters, vampires, et cetera. What peaked our interest, though, was that two of them corroborated a story about a man – a very special man – who had certain…abilities.”
Xander glanced up. “You mean Devlin Raines?”
“No, we know all about him.”
Xander’s eyes narrowed. “So who…?”
Xander did his absolute best not to show any emotion or reaction, but Harrison knew him too well. “So you do know him. I figured as much.”
Xander shook his head. “We fell out of touch. I haven’t seen him in at least a year.”
“That’s not what my sources tell me.”
Harrison slapped down some photographs from New Orleans of the four of them walking together down Bourbon Street. Xander kept his reactions in check, not wanting to give Harrison any satisfaction. Instead he just looked up at him and said, “So?”
Harrison laughed. “Man… You must think I’m a real asshole.”
“Of course I don’t.”
“So tell me about this Michael fella. What’s his gimmick? What do you know about these so-called ‘abilities’ they say he has?”
“Oh man, you can’t believe what those cult members told you. You know that. They’re fucked up in the head. They’ll tell you whatever you want to hear, just so they can go home.”
“Is that so…” Harrison leaned forward, placing both elbows on the table and clasping his hands together. “Because I’ve got two that are both telling me the exact same story, and that story is that Michael can’t die.”
Xander laughed. “C’mon, Harrison. Stop yankin’ my chain man. My buddy can’t die? Right. That’s a good one.”
Harrison slammed his hand down on the table. “Don’t you mock me, boy!”
Several diners in the restaurant turned around to see what the commotion was about. He slid his hand off the table and leaned back in the booth again. Xander stared at him warily.
“I know you’re friends with the man, and the brass wants me to find him.”
Incredulous, Xander stumbled over his words. “You expect – want… You’re asking me to… Say again?”
“Put me in touch with Michael.”
“Even if I could, I won’t.”
Harrison leaned forward and grinned most sinisterly. “You’ll do it, or I’ll do it myself.”
Looking around, Xander kept his voice down. “I… I can’t. He’s been taken.”
“Taken. A relative of his kidnapped him.”
“Why the hell haven’t you reported this to the authorities?”
“Because it’s more complicated than any authorities could handle right now.”
Now Harrison was whispering. “Stop fucking around and call the goddamn authorities, Xander.”
“I swear to you – if I could, I would, but I can’t.”
“Then I’ll help you find him.”
“No, I can’t have you involved in this.”
“You’ll have me goddamn involved, or I’ll bring the authorities down on your ass.”
Xander leaned back heavily in his booth seat. Running his hand over his face, he sighed. “Fine. Fine. Follow me back to the apartment. My girlfriend and his are there. We’ll tell you what we know.”
Harrison slid out of the booth and stood up, throwing a ten dollar bill down on the table to pay for his meal and a cheap ass tip. He reached out and took one last drink from his coffee mug. Placing it back on the table, he glanced over at Xander.
“What are you waiting for, Soldier Boy? Let’s go.”
Xander grimaced and got out from the booth seat. He made his way to his car, with Harrison on his heels. Once he got into his Lexus, he looked and found Harrison already waiting for him in a navy blue Chevrolet sedan. Taking his cue, Xander began the drive back to the apartment, but he wasn’t going unannounced. Quickly, he used his voice command function to call Kat from the car.
“Hey! Are you on your way back?”
“Listen, I don’t have much time. I’m on my way, but we have company.”
“A former FBI agent friend of mine. He’s still with the Bureau, but he’s looking for Michael.”
“Well don’t bring him here!”
“I have no choice. Let me talk to Celie, okay?”
“Sure!” There was some fumbling with the phone. “Go ahead, I’ve got you on speakerphone.”
“There is a guy coming with me, a former FBI agent. He has suspicions about Michael but doesn’t know the whole truth. Can you keep what you are a secret?”
“Uh, yeah, of course. Who is this guy?”
“I think he’s the visitor that Priestess Belliveau warned us – er, me about. He’s conniving and won’t take no for an answer.”
“The one who can’t be trusted… Gotcha.”
“He wanted me to tell him where Michael is. I figured I could do one better and at least get him to help us retrieve Michael. After that, Michael and you can port out of here away to somewhere safe again.”
“Not bad, Xander. And here I had you pegged as simply a future trophy husband for Kat.”
Xander could hear Kat snort with laughter, and it made him smile for a moment. “I wish that’s all I had to be. Listen, we’ll be there in 15. Get rid of any blood or anything that could identify you or the real situation, okay?”
“We’re on it.”
“Thanks. Xander out.”
Fifteen minutes later, Xander pulled into the apartment parking space and Harrison followed close behind. Climbing out of the driver’s seat, Xander closed the car door and stood there, waiting for Harrison. He came around from behind two SUVs parked nearby, and the two men walked up to the apartment together.
Entering the residence, Kat and Celie looked alert and ready for action. They were still standing over the map, and Celie had her cell phone in hand, using a map application to compare street images to map locations. When Xander walked in with Harrison, Kat looked up and smiled.
“Welcome back!” She ran over and gave Xander a big hug, then stepped back to survey the new addition to the team. “And you are?”
“A friend. This is Harrison Roberts. Harrison, meet my girlfriend Kat.”
Kat stuck out her hand, and Harrison gave her a good shake with his bear paw of a hand.
“And Harrison, this is Celie. She’s Michael’s girlfriend.” From across the room, Celie didn’t bother to introduce herself, focusing instead on the map locations. Xander waved her off and walked Harrison over to the map.
* * *
I looked up at the intruder into our little team and frowned. He was tall, built like a defensive lineman, and had a distinct “I smell shit in the air” expression lingering on his face. I immediately distrusted him, and after what Gloria had told us, I had every reason to.
Xander brought him over to where I was working on the map.
“We know Michael is located in a Great House, French in style, somewhere in St. Andrew’s Village. We just don’t know where. There are several that could be the right one, but we need to scope them out first.”
“No problem. We can split up, cover more ground that way.”
“Fair enough. But it’s what we’re up against when we find him. This relative of his has armed guards on their property, around the clock security. It’s going to be hell to get him out.”
“We’ll manage. We always do.”
“And how do you know that?” I was irritated by his presence. “You have no idea what we’re up against.”
“It’s just a bunch of dudes with semi-automatic weapons and handguns. We face this kind of stuff all the time in our line of work. What’s there to be worried about?”
I had to bite my tongue. “Fine, then. So we’ll split up and each take a different street in St. Andrew’s Village.”
He nodded. I looked over at Xander, who almost imperceptibly shook his head. He wanted me to stop being combative, but I couldn’t help it. This guy was putting a serious damper on our efforts, restricting my use of my abilities. How was I going to be able to morph or query ghosts about Michael with Harrison Roberts around?
The four of us split up. Kat and Xander went in one vehicle, Harrison in his own car, and me in mine. We scoured the streets looking for evidence of a large French-style estate. I think I alone drove up and down twenty different streets. Mind you, St. Andrew’s Village wasn’t a large town, ‘Village’ being the apropos word. But we still had a lot of ground to cover.
Then I found it: a large iron gate with a long drive, leading through a row of trees up to a Great House. The house was made from limestone and had a light gray roof with matching soffits. The second floor windows glowed with candlelight, and black lantern fixtures dotting the first floor exterior. At least three chimneys dotted the rooftop. Had I not already been in love with Michael’s house, this would have been at the top of my list.
I tried to call out to Michael with my mind, but there was no response. I wish I knew what was going on that he couldn’t port out of there or speak to me. The idea that they could have somehow disarmed his abilities – or worse – had me truly concerned. I held up my cell phone and took several pictures of both the house and the exterior gate, then I made a u-turn and headed back to the apartment.
Driving back, I thought about how we would get inside. There would have to be a distraction, something to get the guards attention away from the house, or at least at one end of the building while they snuck in the other end. But what kind of distraction would work on vampires? This line of thinking occupied my thoughts the entire way back.
As I pulled into the apartment parking lot, I saw smoke rising from someone’s chimney. Then it hit me: we could set a fire. Fires were detrimental to humans and vampires alike. A large fire would be the perfect distraction to lure everyone away from the house.
I got out of the car and went inside. I was the first one to arrive back. I went over to the refrigerator and found the blood pouch I had hidden away, then I took it with me into the bathroom, shutting the door behind me. I put the lid down on the toilet and sat down. Ripping open the pouch, I drank from it, imbuing myself with the vitality and strength I knew it would give me. When I was done, I wrapped it in toilet paper. I carefully lifted the trash bag out of the trash and dropped this underneath it, then I put the bag back.
Good timing, too. I heard the apartment door open and voices came through. Kat and Xander were back.
Washing my hands, I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked tired. Hopefully the blood would take care of that. I probably needed some sleep, too. It had been a couple nights, and the stress of the situation was probably taking its toll. I splashed some water on my face and turned off the water. Drying my face off, I pulled my red hair back into a ponytail and stole a hair tie from Kat to secure it. That was better. Now I could face myself.
I left the bathroom and came face-to-face with Kat. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself. You alright?”
“I will be.” I looked her in the eyes. “I found it. I found him.”
“State Street. It’s near the end. A big, beautiful mansion with a gate and a long driveway.”
“That’s amazing! I’m so glad we know where he is!”
“There’s one more thing. Where’s Xander?”
I followed her back into the living room. Xander was grabbing a beer from the fridge. “Sorry, Celie. We didn’t find it.”
“But she did!” Kat clapped her hands in excitement.
Xander spun around. “You found the house?”
“Ah… Near the old Fitzgerald residence. That makes sense.” Xander twisted off the beer cap and took a swig. “Now we have to figure out a way to get inside.”
“I have a plan for that.”
Xander’s eyebrow went up. “By all means…” He gestured for me to continue.
“Fire. We’re going to set a fire at the compound. It’ll draw the guards away from the house while we get him out. We can set it just next to the garage. The close proximity to gasoline will cause them to focus on it above all else.”
I cringed. Harrison Roberts had walked in and was right behind me. I turned around and met his eyes. They were dark and unforgiving. I felt myself scowling at him and tried to reign it in.
“Yes, fire.” Xander took another drink of his beer. “Celie’s idea is sound.”
He nodded in my direction.
“I’ll be the judge of what’s sound.” Roberts was suddenly acting like he was in charge. He looked from Xander back to me and stared me down. “We’ll set the fire in the garage itself. Best not to take any chances that they could put it out before it catches a car on fire.”
“But Michael could be nearb–”
“He might be, but if he is, they’ll move him. That increases our advantage.”
“If they’re moving him, they’ll only have maybe two guards doing it. The less that we have to fight, the better.”
I had to admit, it wasn’t a bad plan. Any chance to rescue Michael that involved less gunfire, not more, was a better idea. I just hoped we didn’t get Michael killed during the process. Now all we had to do was decide when to mov–
“Tomorrow.” Roberts smiled, and at his expression, I went cold inside.