Authors: J. R. Rain
Of course. Stronger, faster, able to protect myself.”
So how big were you before?”
Big enough, but not this big.”
Do all werewolves get as big as you?”
I said, “I haven’t gotten bigger. If anything, I’ve gotten smaller.”
And you won’t get bigger because each night you’re at full strength. And even during the day you’re not completely incapacitated.”
No,” I said. “Even though I feel weaker during the day, I’m still far stronger than I used to be.”
I recalled my boxing match with the Marine last year, the match that had occurred just before sundown. Sure, I had felt like crap, but I was still strong enough to take down America’s finest.
Also,” added Kingsley, reaching over and cutting off a chunk of my nearly raw steak, “it’s just the nature of my kind.”
For the host to grow big,” I said.
Right. We all have our quirks.”
I think your quirks are better than my quirks,” I said.
And who among us can fly?” he asked.
I thought about that. “Good point.”
As the water refilled our glasses of wine, Kingsley asked what I was working on these days. I told him about my latest case, and as I did so, Kingsley began nodding. Turns out he’d seen the fight live on HBO.
Wasn’t much of a punch,” he said. “Not enough to kill a man.”
Or so we think,” I said. After all, I had done some research on the subject. “We still don’t know his condition prior to the fight, or the amount of punches he’d taken in practice and other fights.”
Kingsley shrugged. “True. Either way, it wasn’t much of a punch; in fact, I thought the fight was pretty even up to that point. What’s your gut tell you?”
I shrugged too, but, unlike Kingsley, my shrug didn’t look like two land masses heaving. I said, “Nothing yet, although I think Russell’s grasping at straws.”
Kingsley nodded. “Looking for a way to live with his guilt, perhaps.”
Perhaps,” I said. “One thing is clear: It’s eating him alive. Literally.” I told Kingsley about the black halo I’d seen around the young boxer.
The same halo you saw around your son?”
What’s it mean?” asked Kingsley.
It means he needs help. Lots of help.”
It was after hours and I was sitting in Jacky’s office.
Jacky, if possible, looked even smaller than usual as he sat behind a dented metal desk. He was drinking an orange Gatorade which, I think, was the classic Gatorade. Of course, if I drank Gatorade now, I would heave it up in a glorious orange fountain.
Jacky, of course, didn’t need to know that, and since I only spent a few hours a week with the guy—and most of that was spent with him yelling at me to keep my hands up—I hadn’t yet developed a telepathic rapport with him.
Which was just as well. I seriously suspected that the old man had suffered some brain damage himself. He’d been a champion back in the day. And in Jacky’s case, “back in the day” meant the early fifties in Ireland.
Jacky had spent the past few decades here in Fullerton. At one point his gym had been a happening place for up-and-coming boxers, with Jacky himself training a handful of champions. That is, until downtown Fullerton had become so trendy that Jacky—perhaps a better businessman than I’d given him credit for—had decided to turn his gym into a women’s self-defense studio.
Then again, if I was a spunky old man, I’d rather train cute women, too.
Anyway, when Jacky finished off the Gatorade, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, dropped the empty bottle into a nearby wastebasket and sat back.
What did you think of the kid?” he asked, speaking in an Irish accent so thick that you would think he was only now making his way through Ellis Island.
I think the kid is deeply troubled,” I said. “And I don’t blame him.”
Jacky nodded. He seemed uncomfortable in his office. He seemed less himself, somehow. Out there, in the gym, he was larger than life, even though he was only a few inches taller than me. In here, at day’s end, he looked like a shell of himself. He looked tired. Old. But not weak. Never weak. Even in quiet repose, the man looked like he wanted to punch something.
Russ isn’t the first lad to kill somebody in the ring, and he won’t be the last. And usually it plays with a fighter’s head, so much so that they ain’t ever much the same again.”
He feels guilt,” I said.
They all do. Except it’s part of the risk we take. Each kid knows that his next fight might be his last.”
Then why did you send him to me?”
Jacky didn’t answer immediately. Through his closed door, I could hear someone sweeping and whistling. A door slammed somewhere, and I heard two women giggling down a hallway that I knew led to the female locker rooms.
It’s part of the risk, yes, but something about this one doesn’t smell right.”
I waited. I wanted to hear it from Jacky, someone who had seen tens of thousands of punches thrown in his lifetime. Jacky rubbed his knuckles as he formulated his thoughts. I wondered how difficult it was for Jacky to formulate his thoughts. How much brain damage had the old Irishman suffered?
There had to be some. His aura, which was mostly light blue and ironically serene, appeared bright red around his head. The bright red, I knew, was the body fighting something, perhaps a disease. Or dealing with an injury.
The Irishman rubbed his face and seemed to have lost his train of thought. The reddish aura around his head flared briefly.
I said gently, “You were saying something about this fight not smelling right.”
Was I now?”
Baker vs. Marquez.”
He nodded and rubbed the back of his neck and gritted his teeth. “It’s hell getting old, Sam.”
So I’m told.”
And this noggin of mine just ain’t right sometimes.”
He nodded, but I wasn’t sure he’d heard me. He said, “Routine fight. No one beating up no one. Judges had Baker up a few rounds, but the truth is, they were only just beginning to feel each other out. No one had taken control yet. It was even as hell.”
Were you there?” I asked.
At the fight? Hell, no. The wife doesn’t let me anywhere near Vegas these days. She’s afraid I’ll spend our retirement—and then I’ll never get to leave this damn gym.”
You love this damn gym,” I said.
He winked at me, and I saw that there were tears in his eyes. Where the tears came from and why, I didn’t exactly know. “More than anything,” he said.
You watched the fight on TV?”
Baker vs. Marquez.”
Yes, of course. Russ is a local boy. He trains here sometimes. I showed him my best moves, and he never forgot his roots. Got to love a kid like that.”
Damn shame what happened. He ain’t no killer. They were just boxing. Trading jabs, the occasional straight shot or hook. Nothing landed yet. Nothing really. No reason a kid should be dead.”
Jacky fell silent and absently wiped the tears from his eyes. His knuckles were crisscrossed with scar tissue. I imagined Jacky raising hell in the streets of Dublin.
So, what are you saying, Jacky?”
I’m saying, in one fell swoop, two top contenders have disappeared. One’s dead, and the other might as well be dead. There’s something to that, Sam, something worth looking into.”
I nodded, thinking about that, as Jacky sat back and closed his eyes and rubbed the scar tissue along his knuckles.
You there, Moon Dance?
The IM box appeared on my laptop screen as I was packing my bags in my room. I quickly tossed my unfolded sweater in my suitcase. It was only February. Even Vegas was cold in February.
To what do I owe the pleasure, Fang?
I need to talk to you.
Maybe. No. I don’t know.
What’s going on, Fang?
There was a pause, and I was suddenly alarmed to discover my normally dormant heart had picked up its pace. It thudded steadily against my ribs, rocking me slightly. Normally, my own beating heart went unnoticed, which wasn’t too surprising since these days it generally only beat about five times a minute.
Something was wrong. Or something could
be wrong. Or something was just...
. For starters, Fang seemed unusually closed to me. Not to mention, he didn’t seem to be picking up on my own increasingly worried thoughts. What the hell was going on?
The little pencil icon appeared in the IM box, which meant Fang was typing something. A moment later, his words appeared:
I recently...met someone.
Would this someone happen to be a female?
This wasn’t horrible news. At least, not for me. I liked Fang. I appreciated his friendship and help. But I had always felt he had an ulterior motive: he wanted something from me. And what he wanted, he had made clear a year ago.
He wanted me to
Although I didn’t doubt that he loved me, I always wondered where the love originated. Was it for me, or for what I am? A thought suddenly occurred to me, and I voiced it. Or, rather, wrote it:
Is this woman a...vampire?
A real vampire?
A real vampire, Moon Dance.
May I ask her name?
You know her.
Something inside me turned to ice, which, for me, is saying something. I exhaled a steady stream of cold air, and wrote:
Detective Rachel Hanner.
How did you two meet?
She came in the other night, sat at the bar. Ordered a glass of white wine, same as you.
I read his words and would have held my breath, except I was never sure when I held my breath these days. He went on:
There was something about her. Something...otherworldly. The way she stared at me. Her small, precise movements. Her faint accent. It wasn’t long before I suspected what she was.
I waited, re-reading his words, thinking hard, puzzling through this. What did this mean? I didn’t know yet.
It wasn’t until later, after her second glass of wine, that I realized she had been reading my mind. Her intrusion wasn’t obvious. Not like the way I know when you’re in there. I mean, I can always feel when you’re in my mind, Moon Dance. Touching down here and there.
He paused and I was truly feeling sick. Down the hallway, I heard Anthony snoring lightly. Music came from Tammy’s room. The house was locked. I always kept it locked. What was Hanner up to? I didn’t know, but I had that creepy-ass feeling of being watched. Of course, with me, it might be more than a feeling.
I stood and walked over to my main window and looked out into the cul-de-sac. No one was out there. At least, not that I could see. All the cars on the street I recognized. But with Hanner—the only other vampire that I knew personally—she could be anywhere. She could be sitting on my roof, for all I knew. I shivered.
I sat back down and Fang’s next message appeared almost instantaneously:
I think within a few minutes, she knew all my secrets. All of them.
I knew what Fang meant. The man had some killer secrets. Literally. The kind that would send him back to jail—or a mental institution—for the rest of his life.
I wrote, mostly to let Fang know I was still here.
She showed me her badge and told me she knew who I was. She called me by my name...my real name. She next gave me her home address and told me to meet her there after work.
When was this?
Shit,” I whispered.
What happened next, Fang?