The morning greeted them with brisk splendor. Leaves hinted at rich autumn hues while the sky adopted its wintry blue two months early. Though the air was chilly now, the sun promised to warm the day for the clouds were sparse and the breeze was light.
Malaise gnawed at Thomas despite the beauty of the day. None of it felt quite real to him as he sat there at the breakfast table. He picked at his food while Galen and Rhae occasionally exchanged troubled glances. Celeste had gone home in the night. Knowing he wasn’t to blame for her sorrow didn’t make him feel better. His mother had been robbed the fundamental right of motherhood. Years had been stolen. It must have been one thing for her to find him relatively alright, but to know a child is in harm’s way and to be powerless to do a damn thing about it? As much as it bothered him, he knew it couldn’t compare to how his mother felt. What could he do when he couldn’t even get to her without using the trans-dimensional crystal? Without Nessa’s help he didn’t have the means to construct another device. Thomas felt defeated before he began.
“Oh great,” Rhae said, looking out the kitchen window as Ryker walked up to the door, “what’s he doing here?”
Ryker stormed in with an avid gleam in his eyes. The door swung shut behind him absently as he paced for a moment as if lost. Sweat beaded his unusually pale forehead. Deep anguish twisted his face and then he noticed Thomas standing up from the table. Pausing, his distraught hands attempted to compose his disheveled hair and suit.
“I know it was you,” Ryker said.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” Thomas said.
“Don’t lie to me,” Ryker said, slamming his hand on the table.
Galen hit the floor in surprise and Rhae jumped to her feet. Pools of coffee spread across the table and onto the wood below.
Thomas held up his hands, palms forward. “Apparently you know something that we don’t,” he said. “So why don’t you have a cup of coffee and talk with us.”
“Right. Fine.” Ryker sat down. His face now was dark as he hunched over the table.
Rhae and Galen hurried to clean up the mess while Thomas poured everyone fresh cups of coffee.
Once everyone was seated Thomas said, “Okay. Start from the beginning.”
“That’s my line kid,” Ryker said and then sighed. “It’s Lisha. She’s… She snuck out of the hospital last night. And I found her. She was all chopped up. Blood everywhere. The thing is… she’s… she’s not…”
“Not human?” Thomas said.
“You knew?” Ryker said. He scrubbed his face with one hand. “It’s more than that. I don’t know what the hell she is.”
“Half human,” Galen said, “half succubus. From the sounds of it, she was the offspring of the higher order.”
Trembling, Ryker gripped his mug to steady his hands. “So you knew?” he said. “And you just let me…let me…”
“We only found out last night,” Rhae said. “She tried to kill us.”
“Why the hell would she do that?” Ryker said, slamming his fist down on the table.
“I don’t know,” Rhae said, leaning way up on the table. “Why did she try to poison Thomas with an Aphrodisiac a few days ago?”
“She didn’t use poison,” Ryker said, standing up to tower over her. “She said she was just going to ask Thomas about the Spirit Beads.”
“She mixed Ruta Cremesin with Inlecebra Debilitas,” Rhae said. “So what the fuck do you call that?”
Stunned, Ryker collapsed back into his chair. Confusion clouded his eyes. “She used crimson regret with paralyzing seduction? That makes no sense. Where did she even get it?”
“What?” Thomas said. “What makes no sense and what is it?”
“Ruta Cremesin is so rare few know where it comes from,” Galen said. “Fewer still can use it without paying its terrible price.”
“So I’ve noticed,” Thomas said. “What’s it for?”
Galen shrugged while Ryker shook his head. “Food of the gods. That sort of thing.”
“What does it really do?” Thomas said, tapping his thumb on the table.
Ryker stared at his coffee. “It seems to make people high,” he said, “but if Lisha really did use it then you’re the only person I know of that’s lived.”
“How many people?”
“Two since I’ve started working.”
“And how long has that been?”
“Thirty years ago kid and both of them were together so it was ruled as a cult suicide,” Ryker said, sipping the coffee. “So that shit doesn’t come around here very often.”
“You knew them, didn’t you?”
Ryker gave Thomas a sharp look. “Yes I did. He was my brother and a pal of his,” he said. “That’s why I know what it was and why it wasn’t a suicide.”
“And why you know he got high?”
He looked down at his coffee and nodded. “I know I should have stopped him, but he was my brother. And we don’t have laws for that supernatural shit.”
“Well,” Thomas said, tracing his thumb along the rim off his mug, “Earth wasn’t ready then and it isn’t ready now. It needs to pretend it doesn’t exist.”
“Well I’m getting too damn old for it,” Ryker said. He finished his coffee with a swift swig and slammed the mug down. “To hell with this world and all its pretending.”
Ryker stood up from his chair with wobbly feet. Fatigue and sorrow aged his face. Absently, he stroked his mustache as though he were trying to grasp at wayward thoughts. None of the others dared to speak or move. Finally with a deep breath Ryker smoothed his jacket, nodded to them, and shuffled to the door.
Pausing with his hand on the doorknob he said to Thomas, “I really did love her you know. I hope you realize that.”
Before Thomas could say a word, Ryker rushed out to his car. Thomas stood up and watched him drive away. He wished he could tell Ryker that he did understand. The world comes to an end when something comes between you and your everything.
“So Rue killed her?” Rhae said, wrapping her arms around him from behind. “One less bad guy to worry about.”
“When have you known Rue or Peccant to chop anyone up?”
“Are you saying he’s lying?”
“Not lying,” said Thomas, leaning his arm on the window frame. “I cut her tail off. Rue cut her hand off. So define chopping up. At what point did he say she was dead?”
“So why the fuck come here?”
“Because he was looking for something,” Thomas said. He ruffled his hair with a sigh. “I don’t know, Rhae. She could be dead. She could be alive. Would you tell anyone if you don’t know who to trust even when you need help?”
“That’s why he came,” she said, “to get help?”
“No one comes to this house for nothing,” Galen said, clearing the table.
This was true. Thomas couldn’t recall a time of anyone coming to pay just a simple visit to his home, even as a child. Everyone who came had a purpose and a reason for being there. No one ever came just to chat, hang out, check in, or play. The household of Lynnette Whitaker was always one of business. Would this shroud of decorum and formality be his legacy and follow him too, or could he change that? Thomas wanted to be more than just business to the people around him. Yes, he wanted to help them but he wanted to be a part of them. He wanted to connect with and belong to the world he had been born in. He promised himself that from now on he would reach out and welcome warmth, friends, and family into his home. He just needed to figure out how to do that.
“Well,” Galen said, touching up his hair lightly with his fingers, “I think I will pay a visit over to the jeweler’s and see how things are going.”
“Right,” Rhae said, sliding her hands away from Thomas to cross her arms. “What’s her name?”
“What?” Galen said, his cheeks flushing, “I am going to see the jeweler.”
Thomas chuckled. “So who’s the girl next door or across the street or whatever?”
Galen groaned. “Oh leave me alone,” he said. “I’m just a dirty old man with no chance in hell, but I can dream can’t I?”
They both watched with amusement as Galen flounced out of the door and into his truck. He spun the tires a bit as he backed out of the driveway before peeling off down the road.
“Think we pissed him off?” Rhae said.
“I think we might have embarrassed him a little.”
“There’s nothing wrong with girl watching.”
“I think he has a thing for the jeweler actually,” Thomas said, turning away from the window.
“Okay, you have never seen them together so how do you know?” Rhae said. “More of this new psychic bullshit of yours?”
“Nope,” he said as he got himself another cup of coffee. “It’s just he’s made a point of not letting us meet the guy or know his name. But he was willing to pay the price for the work himself. He goes to see him in person to strike the deal. When he can’t make the payment anymore, it’s a personal crisis.”
“So? He cares about people,” she said, sitting down at the table.
Thomas sat down next to her with a wry smile. “Sometimes it’s more important to pay attention to what isn’t being said than what is.”
“What the fuck’s that suppose to mean?”
“Often times people will go to a lot of effort to avoid things as a way of hiding it,” Thomas said. “Kind of like a mother bird avoiding her nest while pretending to have a broken wing. Like Ryker focusing on Lisha being chopped up but not saying whether she’s alive or dead. And Galen pretending not to pine for someone unattainable. That’s what you need to pay attention to. It’s not just what they’re talking about or what they’re doing, but what they’re avoiding.”
“So you’re a bullshit whisperer now? You just get your nerd mojo on and call people out on that shit from a mile away?” She got up, grinned, and put her hand on her chest. “I am the bullshit whisperer. I can smell your lies from here,” she said. “So don’t you be bullshitting me now.”
“No that’s not how it works,” he said, propping his chin up with one hand while leaning the other on the table. “That’s not even remotely close to how it works.”
Rhae raised an eyebrow at him and chuckled. “Then why don’t you show me how it works, Mr. Smarty Pants.”
“Well,” he said, pausing to take a slow sip from his coffee to hide his smile. “You need to stick an etheric cable up your ass.”
“Bullshit,” she said, slapping his arm.
“And see? You did it,” he said. “I just showed you how it’s done.”
“Fine,” she said, sitting back down next to him. “You win. Bullshit whisperer.”
“I don’t whisper to bullshit,” Thomas said. “That’s kind of gross.”
“Only kind of gross?” Rhae said, squinting at him. “I hope you know I’m just messing with you.”
He kissed her forehead. “Always,” he said. “The day you stop messing with me is the day you die.”
“Damn right and don’t you forget it,” she said. “So what are we going to do with ourselves while we wait for our gear to get back?”
Thomas raised both eyebrows as he examined the bottom of his empty cup. “A pretty girl like you all alone with a guy like me,” he said, “and you’re going to ask a question like that?”
“Why yes, yes I am,” she said, leaning in closer to him.
“I know what we could do,” he said. “We could build a trebuchet out here and launch milk jugs across the field. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Rhae sat back with a scowl. “Only if I get to launch you with it too.”
“What, you don’t like that idea?”
“Why the fuck would I want to do that?”
“Actually it makes for really good target practice,” Thomas said, while rubbing his face, “but we need our guns for that.”
“Doesn’t look like any of that matters right now,” said Rhae.
They both watched a sleek black van pull into the driveway. Four men wearing matching overalls got out. Two of them assisted a man wearing dark shades, a sleek black suit, and a delicate red tie out of the van. This man relied heavily on his cane as he approached the kitchen door.
“Who the hell is that?
“My guess it’s the appraisers and maybe the debt collector for probate,” Thomas said.