“So, yeah, I’m afraid of this thing. But that just means I’m going to try harder to beat it. Because fear should never be a reason for not doing the right thing.”
“I’m an enigma wrapped inside a riddle, all bundled in something quite wonderful.”
“Sir, I’m sorry about what happened back there.” He spoke with the displeasure of a man who’d thought of himself as the top rung on a very short ladder and then discovered that the ladder was only half made.”
“I straddled the black 2009 Suzuki Hayabusa and placed the key in the ignition. “You drive, I’ll follow,” I said and pulled a black full-face motorcycle helmet on. The skull motif on the front ensured most drivers gave me a wide berth on the roads. No one wanted a skeletal face riding behind them.”
“Olivia forced a smile. “You really are not what I’d expected.” “I’m an enigma wrapped inside a riddle, all bundled in something quite wonderful.”
“Distrust is hard to overcome when it’s ingrained.”
“You have twenty seconds to enter the code before all the doors and windows lock and gas is pumped into the building. It’ll knock out a rhino in about half a minute.” “Bloody hell, Nate.” When you’ve made as many enemies as I’ve managed to over the centuries, it pays to have a little security in place. “I got it from a friend—cost me a small fortune, but it’s probably worth it. I’d rather not come home to any unpleasant surprises.”
“We have one more problem,” Gordon said. I sighed; werewolf politics was making my head hurt. “Yes?” “Elijah will be most displeased to see Tommy; it will not end well I’m sure.” “Why?” I asked Tommy. He didn’t appear to be happy to have to answer the question. “I’ve not been entirely honest,” he eventually told me. “I’m not a pack member, because if I was, I would have to challenge for alpha. I’m too powerful for Matthew and I to coexist in the same pack. Pack members already come to me for help, and Matthew allows it because I have no desire to replace him.” “But…” I said. “But, there are people here, mostly the same ones who want Matthew gone, who believe that my involvement undermines the alpha. They want me to either go and never return, or fight for the leadership.” He turned to Gordon. “Neither of which is going to happen.” Gordon bowed his head slightly. “So let me get this straight,” I started. “Elijah is probably hiding the man we’re looking for, and Ellie can demand that he hand Neil over, but in exchange for this, he and his supporters will try to force Tommy to challenge for the leadership.” “In a nutshell, yes,” Matthew said. “He considers Tommy less of a threat. No offence.” “None taken,” Tommy said. He downed the rest of his beer and stood. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
“Hello, Nathan,” Peter’s voice, his actual voice, was deep and wispy, the sort of voice you’d imagine a snake would have. “I figured you might call at some point,” I said. “You want to brag about something really impressive? Killed a few more defenseless werewolves or something?”
“He laughed again, a humorless, evil noise that would have made fingernails on a chalkboard sound like a symphony of elegant beauty.”
“Is there anything we need to know about Elijah?” I asked. “Don’t threaten him,” Tommy said. “He’ll see it as a sign of weakness and refuse to help. He responds to sickly sweet compliments, money, and power. The man would spend all day in wolf form licking his own cock if he could do it unnoticed.” “Maybe he just needs some time alone,” I joked.”
“The room we entered housed a large TV, a pool table, and a few other games for the inmates to enjoy, including a collapsible table tennis set that had been folded in half with someone still inside it, crushing the man to death. Three massive couches had been upturned and thrown to the sides, exposing a large, empty section of floor. A lone arm, torn off from the shoulder, sat in the very center in a pool of blood. At the far end of the room, the TV had been torn from the wall and tossed aside. In its place was a body. Or at least the remains of one. Two pool cue ends protruded out of his chest, and blood had sprayed from his torso where his arms should have been, drenching the wall in red on either side of him. Identification would be difficult since the victim’s head was missing. “What the fuck happened here?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to know. Olivia turned away from talking to one of her agents. “The best Doctor Grayson can determine is that Neil was nailed to the wall by those pool cues after having his arms and his head ripped off and thrown into the nearest bin.” “That’s Neil Hatchell?” Olivia nodded.”
“I’m surrounded by uncouth ruffians.” “And apparently you live in the nineteenth century,” I said. “I’m going to break into his house before you call me a ragamuffin or something equally hurtful.”
“I wondered how he and his ego could occupy the same point in space and time without creating a black hole of arrogance.”
“Tommy,” Elijah said. “You can call me Thomas, or Mister Carpenter,” Tommy said. “My apologies, I assumed you had people call you Tommy.” “My friends do, yes,” he said. If Elijah had been a bird, he would have ruffled his feathers in annoyance,”
“And you?” he asked me. About a million fake names flashed through my mind, as did a few dozen ways in which I could tell him to fuck off.”
“That includes Randal’s wolf or beast forms. But it doesn’t really matter, as he can still use his natural strength and speed. And I’m not in the same league as a werewolf on those terms.” “Randal is especially brutal, too,” Gordon said, offering me no help whatsoever.”
“Losing shouldn’t be too hard,” I said. “He only has to hit me once with his full strength and I’m not going to want to get back up.” Matthew shook his head. “You will have to make it look good or there will be cries of a fix.” “You are trying to fix it,” I pointed out, but no one wanted to listen to logic.”
“I want someone in there to make sure Randal doesn’t accidentally kill me.”
“There will be no deaths in this fight,” he stared at Randal as he spoke. “Anyone breaking that rule will find his own life forfeit. However, if either combatant cheats, his opponent may deal whatever retribution he sees fit.” I saw Randal’s face pale; he wasn’t happy about that.”
“Sorcerers have a tendency to think only in terms of magic and how it can be applied in life; it makes some of us appear cold towards others.” “Especially werewolves.” “Oh, not just werewolves, all weres, vampires, trolls—basically anything that isn’t a sorcerer. We’re not picky; we’re just better than everyone else.” I grinned, ensuring that Ellie knew I was only teasing. Ellie laughed. “Humble, too.” “Yeah, sorcerers are basically perfect.”
“I used the bike’s lights on the journey to Vicki’s, not wanting to try and outrun any police or explain why I was riding in complete darkness. I doubt they’d accept the “I can use magic to see in the dark” excuse all that easily.”
“What do you want?” I asked. “Are you looking for absolution? Forgiveness? Because I’m not a priest. And if I was, I’m pretty certain I’d still tell you to go fuck yourself.”
“You’re right, I’m a killer. I’ve killed thousands, and very few of them have ever stained my conscience. I can go to a dark place and do whatever I need to. But for those I care about, those I love, I will move fucking mountains to keep them safe. And I care about Tommy and Kasey, whether you grant permission or not.”
“You’ve been scared before,” Tommy said. “That’s true. But mostly, I’m scared for others. Scared I won’t get somewhere in time, or not be able to get everyone out of a situation in one piece. I’m frightened of failing other people. But with a lich, I’m scared for myself, too. I already know that if I go up against it, I’m going to fail.” “But you’re still going to try and stop it, right?” I turned to find Kasey standing in the doorway. “I mean, you’re going to fight,” she said. “Yeah,” I said with a gentle nod. “I’m going to fight. I have to. I can’t let fear stop me from doing what I know is right. And I won’t let anything keep me from stopping more people getting hurt.” “But if you’re afraid, why don’t we all just run and hide?” “Because if we do that, we’re leaving something evil to have its way with whatever it wants. And I won’t let that happen. And I know your mum and dad won’t either. I fight because if I don’t, I’m not the man I thought I was. So, yeah, I’m afraid of this thing. But that just means I’m going to try harder to beat it. Because fear should never be a reason for not doing the right thing.”
“We don’t seem to have any pins for the bandage. It’s not much use without one.” I turned back to the glass. “Can we get a pin in here?” “Turns out Hellequin’s a pussy,” Elijah sneered. “No pins?” I said to the mirror. “That’s okay, I’ve got one.” I grabbed a six-inch but incredibly thin blade from the tray and plunged it through the bandaged knee. “There we go. We can use that.” Elijah commenced screaming once more. I grabbed the hilt of the blade and pushed it further until the blade came out of the opposite side of the leg, cracking the bone as it moved. “Still think I’m a pussy?” I whispered.”
“Her name was Jane,” I said, and Olivia stopped walking. “We were together for two years, married after a few months. I was happy, genuinely happy. Even though she was human, and I knew I’d outlive her, I just wanted to enjoy the time that we had together. “It all ended on a damp November morning in seventeen eighty-two. I’d been away working for Avalon for a few months and had been eager to get home. I found her inside the house we’d shared. She’d been butchered. Her blood decorated our bedroom. She was naked and appeared to have been dead for several days. My rage was…terrifying. I buried Jane with my own hands, placing her near a field that we used to love going to. And then I burnt the house to the ground.” Olivia’s shoulders sagged, but she didn’t turn and face me. “I hunted her killer for a year. I didn’t care who I hurt to get the information I needed. I was so single-minded, so determined to have vengeance. Eventually, I discovered that her murderer had been part of the king’s army, which had been going through the area. “The killer was an officer by the name of Henry. No idea what his last name was. It didn’t matter. He liked hurting women, and once he’d finished with them, he kept their hair as a souvenir. The rest of his squad had waited outside while he brutalized and murdered the woman I loved. No one had helped Jane, and no one had tried to stop him. “I discovered that they’d been on training maneuvers the day of the murder, just their squad of thirty. And after all my searching, I found them and I killed them. They died in one night of blood and rage. All but one. I left Henry until last. I took him away to a secluded place and had my fill of vengeance. It took a week for him to die, and when he finally succumbed, I buried Hellequin with him.” The memory of Henry’s blind and bloody form flashed in my mind—his pleas had long since silenced because I’d removed his tongue. I hadn’t wanted information from him; I’d just wanted to make him suffer. Before he’d lost his ability to talk, he’d told me that someone had paid him to do it, but he never said who. No matter what I did to him, he took that secret to his grave. And after a few years of searching, I decided he’d been lying. Trying to prolong his life for a short time more, hoping for mercy where there was none to give. “I no longer had the desire to go by that name,” I continued, still talking to Olivia’s back, “I no longer wanted to instill fear with a word. I hoped that the legend would die, but it didn’t, it grew, became more…fanciful. “You’re right, I’m a killer. I’ve killed thousands, and very few of them have ever stained my conscience. I can go to a dark place and do whatever I need to. But for those I care about, those I love, I will move fucking mountains to keep them safe. And I care about Tommy and Kasey, whether you grant permission or not.”
“You’re upset.” Olivia shoved me. “Upset? You’re the fucking Bogeyman. My mum used to tell me that if I misbehaved the Hellequin would come for me.” I wasn’t really sure how to respond to that.”
“I will never, ever regret stopping you from walking out of my life a second time, Kyle," she said in an emotional voice. "And I can prove it."
She reached for the buttons on her trench coat and undid them, one at a time. Then she opened the coat and let it drop to the floor.
And even if she didn't say a single word more, Kyle knew he would never again doubt the way Rylann felt about him.
She was wearing his flannel shirt.
"You kept it," he said softly. "All this time."
She nodded. "For nine years, I've held on to this darn shirt, literally dragging it across the country and back."
Kyle touched her cheek, gently brushing away a tear with his thumb. "Why?"
She paused hesitantly, and then with a tender smile, finally put it all on the line, too. "I guess I always hoped you'd come back for it someday.”
“kind, sad eyes that seemed to carry with them the secret wisdom of the earth.”
“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was.”
“This”—she patted the arm of the supermodel behind her—“is my fiancé, Cole.” “Nice to meet you.” He held out his hand and I noted the leather bracelets and aviator watch he was wearing, along with the chunky silver ring on his middle finger. He was that guy. Cool, tattooed, can-pull-off-man-jewelry guy. I tried not to blush and failed as I shook his hand.”
“Maria, lonely prostitute on a street of pain,
You, at least, hail me and speak to me
While a thousand others ignore my face.
You offer me an hour of love,
And your fees are not as costly as most.
You are the madonna of the lonely,
The first-born daughter in a world of pain.
You do not turn fat men aside,
Or trample on the stuttering, shy ones,
You are the meadow where desperate men
Can find a moment's comfort.
Men have paid more to their wives
To know a bit of peace
And could not walk away without the guilt
That masquerades as love.
You do not bind them, lovely Maria, you comfort them
And bid them return.
Your body is more Christian than the Bishop's
Whose gloved hand cannot feel the dropping of my blood.
Your passion is as genuine as most,
Your caring as real!
But you, Maria, sacred whore on the endless pavement of pain,
You, whose virginity each man may make his own
Without paying ought but your fee,
You who know nothing of virgin births and immaculate conceptions,
You who touch man's flesh and caress a stranger,
Who warm his bed to bring his aching skin alive,
You make more sense than stock markets and football games
Where sad men beg for virility.
You offer yourself for a fee--and who offers himself for less?
At times you are cruel and demanding--harsh and insensitive,
At times you are shrewd and deceptive--grasping and hollow.
The wonder is that at times you are gentle and concerned,
Warm and loving.
You deserve more respect than nuns who hide their sex for eternal love;
Your fees are not so high, nor your prejudice so virtuous.
You deserve more laurels than the self-pitying mother of many children,
And your fee is not as costly as most.
Man comes to you when his bed is filled with brass and emptiness,
When liquor has dulled his sense enough
To know his need of you.
He will come in fantasy and despair, Maria,
And leave without apologies.
He will come in loneliness--and perhaps
Leave in loneliness as well.
But you give him more than soldiers who win medals and pensions,
More than priests who offer absolution
And sweet-smelling ritual,
More than friends who anticipate his death
Or challenge his life,
And your fee is not as costly as most.
You admit that your love is for a fee,
Few women can be as honest.
There are monuments to statesmen who gave nothing to anyone
Except their hungry ego,
Monuments to mothers who turned their children
Into starving, anxious bodies,
Monuments to Lady Liberty who makes poor men prisoners.
I would erect a monument for you--
who give more than most--
And for a meager fee.
Among the lonely, you are perhaps the loneliest of all,
You come so close to love
But it eludes you
While proper women march to church and fantasize
In the silence of their rooms,
While lonely women take their husbands' arms
To hold them on life's surface,
While chattering women fill their closets with clothes and
Their lips with lies,
You offer love for a fee--which is not as costly as most--
And remain a lonely prostitute on a street of pain.
You are not immoral, little Maria, only tired and afraid,
But you are not as hollow as the police who pursue you,
The politicians who jail you, the pharisees who scorn you.
You give what you promise--take your paltry fee--and
Wander on the endless, aching pavements of pain.
You know more of universal love than the nations who thrive on war,
More than the churches whose dogmas are private vendettas made sacred,
More than the tall buildings and sprawling factories
Where men wear chains.
You are a lonely prostitute who speaks to me as I pass,
And I smile at you because I am a lonely man.”
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