The Last New Yorker
I'm in a bit of a rush, so I can't respond to the reviews for the last chapter beyond a: "Thanks-so-much-I-love-you-all-to-peices-for-reviewing", but I'll get to them next time 'round!
Sorry for the delay on the chapter! Editing it took a bit longer than usual and I have to rewrite a couple large portions of it.
Thanks a million!
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxChapter 5 – No Parenthesis
Author/Co-Creator: Rose Zemlya
Editor/Co-Creator: Ka Harchak
She was crying again. For the last two nights – ever since that first auditory replaying, just before getting the news about Cattie and Shai from Rickard – Jericho'd been subjected to this; the sound of her crying, coming from the far side of the bed, beside the ancient night table. Sometimes it was quiet, sometimes (like this time) it wasn't. It hadn't really been long enough for him to discern a pattern to the volume level, but it had definitely been long enough for the sound of it to instantly grate on his nerves.
He ground his teeth and rolled over onto his side, trying to ignore the sourceless noise. He suddenly, fervently wished that Tristram would turn the TV up or something so he could listen to that instead.
… My God…my Lord…why? Why?!
"I don't know, lady. Christ," he growled. She didn't answer, not that he had been expecting her to. Instead she started to cry harder. "God dammit," Jericho hissed, rolling onto his stomach and clamping his pillow down over his head, hoping to muffle her.
He could just barely hear the sound of pages flipping, as though she was frantically searching through a book for something. She apparently either found what she was looking for and wanted to keep it, or didn't and decided to take it out on the book, because the next thing he heard was tearing pages and a wordless, emotional outburst.
The old bed creaked and Jericho caught his breath as the mattress seemed to shift under him. He risked pulling his head out from under his pillow to make sure the auditory replaying hadn't become a visual replaying. As near as he could see, there was no one in bed next to him, no matter how much it might feel like there was someone in bed next to him.
This didn't provide nearly as much comfort as he'd been hoping for.
Mary? There was a sharp, shaky gasp from the woman at this new, sleepy voice, and a sudden slam. Jericho jumped and twisted to peer at where his night table still rocked unsteadily from the blow.
Ah Christ, he thought. They're getting worse…
Mary, what is it? Asked the male voice. What's wrong?
Nothing! The woman replied, and Jericho's bed shifted again. Just…a bad dream. The man said something sleepily in return, but his voice faded as he did so and Jericho didn't quite catch it. The woman didn't respond, and his room fell silent again, his bed returning to its normal state. Jericho cast a suspicious glance around, waiting to see if anything else would happen. When nothing did, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed, on the same side he'd heard the woman's voice from and stared darkly for a moment at the night table. His alarm clock was askew and his watch had toppled off it and onto the floor.
Right, so it definitely moved, he thought. Shit. The replays were escalating. The previous ones hadn't involved any physical manipulation. He repressed a shudder. It didn't matter how many times you'd been through it, there was always something creepy about ghosts.
He bent down, picked up his watch and slipped it on his wrist. He reached over and straightened out the alarm clock, then hesitated for the briefest of seconds before pulling open the little drawer in the night table. Except for the things he had previously stored in it – pad, pencil, some loose change and a hip flask – it was empty. He shook his head and slid it shut again, then got to his feet and moved over to his chair, pulling his pants off the back of them and slipping them on.
"God damned ghosts," he muttered to himself, moving out into the hallway and toward the stairs. They creaked under his feet as he started down them.
"Blake, you'd better solve this ghost thing soon," he announced for Tristram's benefit as he descended to the living room. "Because I can't keep getting up at—Blake?" He blinked in surprise. The boy wasn't at his usual customary seat, draped over the couch with a thick black book in his hands and the TV flickering violently at him. He raised an eyebrow and gave a derisive sniff. Probably out having a smoke like the addict he was. He sneered and moved over to the couch. An old cowboy movie was on TV, and the boy's book was lying open on the coffee table. Jericho cast a surreptitious look around to make sure Tristram wasn't in the immediate vicinity, then sat down in his Charge's spot and picked up the heavy book.
"Hey," said a dull voice from behind him, causing him to give a start and drop the book again. He looked up, meeting Tristram's dark glare as he moved into the living room from the kitchen. "If you're done rifling through my personal things, I'd like my seat back."
"I didn't rifle through it," Jericho defended himself, shifting over to the other side of the couch to open up Tristram's customary spot. "You kind of snuck up on me before I could."
"What do you want in my sketchbook for, anyway?" Tristram demanded, frowning suspiciously at the older man as he dropped back onto the couch and picked up the book possessively. "It's private."
"A sketchbook?" Jericho asked with some surprise. "I didn't know you could draw."
"Yeah, well, contrary to what you may think, Pops, you don't, in fact, know everything." Jericho grunted in answer, resisting the urge to rise to the bait. He hadn't had a good night's sleep in three days now, if you included the night they raided the library, and between that and Rickard's bad news he was stressed enough to incite something he didn't want to get into.
"Where'd you go, anyway?" He asked instead. "You don't normally move far from the couch at this time of night. Smoking, I suppose." Tristram made an irritated face.
"For your information," he explained, "my pencil moved."
"Moved?" Jericho asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah," said Tristram. "I was drawing like this," he shifted his position and opened his book to the last page which had a couple of half-drawn people on it. "And the show came back on and my hand was cramping up, so I figured I'd take a break. I put my pencil down here…" He leaned over to the end table and dropped his pencil onto it. "And when the commercials came back on and I went to pick up my pencil, it was gone."
"Gone?" Jericho asked. "Where?"
"The cellar apparently."
"The cellar," Tristram repeated. "I got up to look for it, thinking maybe it had just rolled off or something, right? I checked everywhere, under the table, the couch, even under the carpet and I didn't find it. So then I'm like, well … maybe I left it in the kitchen when I went to get a snack? I mean, I remembered leaving it on the table, but it obviously wasn't there. So I went out to the kitchen, and while I was looking around in there, I hear this little … tik, tik, tik sound, coming from out in the hallway. So I'm like, what the Hell? And I go to look, and there's the cellar door, standing wide open, and I look in and there's my pencil, down at the bottom of the stairs." He frowned. "I gotta admit, it's kind of freaky."
"Shit," said Jericho.
"Yeah, that's what I said."
"No, I mean … it's because just before I came down I heard that woman crying again. Only it was louder this time, and there was a little more to it. The bed moved – it actually moved – as she and her husband got on and off it, and when she slammed the night table shut my night table actually shook. I wasn't looking at it the whole time, but I'm willing to bet it actually opened too." Tristram cast a nervous glance around.
"So … is that like a bad sign?" He asked. Jericho considered it.
"It's … a sign," he decided finally. "But whether it's good or bad remains to be seen. The ghost may just be getting more desperate. Or more brazen. We've been here long enough, it might have just gotten used to us. The honeymoon period's over, type of deal. Or there may be something in particular about one or both of us that's irritating it. I don't know."
"Great," said Tristram, rolling his eyes and turning back to his sketchbook. "Our ghost is going crazy."
"Your ghost," Jericho grunted.
"What are you doing up, anyway?" Tristram asked as he worked at the page. "You're normally passed right the fuck out until at least seven."
"Well it's a bit hard to sleep with a ghost tearing up books on your bed, isn't it?" Jericho responded caustically. "Besides, we've got a lot to do today, before the funeral, and I figured we may as well get an early start."
"Yeah, like what?" Tristram demanded.
"The attic, for starters," Jericho responded dully. "Have you seen it? It's a mess. There's stuff in there belonging to anyone who's ever owned this house, including the last lady. We need to clear it out – I don't care if we trash the stuff or sell it, but it can't stay up there. And besides, we might find a clue to your ghost while we're at it. Some of it looks old enough to have been from that time." Tristram looked unimpressed.
"Shouldn't we be looking for that Garner guy, instead of wasting our time messing around in a dusty old attic?"
"Oh yeah, because we've had such fantastic luck for the last two days," Jericho returned darkly. "He's not in the phone book, there aren't any Garners in town, let alone a William Garner, and no one here drives a big black car. I'm currently out of ideas. As near as I can figure it, he has to have been using a fake name."
"Impossible," said Tristram stubbornly, erasing an unsatisfactory line on his page. "The chick at the library would never have loaned the newspaper to someone she didn't know, and that means he can't have used a fake name. She would've known."
"Well what do you suggest, then?" Jericho demanded. "He doesn't live here in Shady Lanes or someone would have said something."
"Maybe he used to live in Shady Lanes," suggested Tristram.
"Then someone would still have known about him," insisted Jericho. "Some of the guys at the tavern are pushing sixty, and the guy we chased out of the library wasn't that old. If anyone named William Garner had lived here, they'd have known."
"Oh there's a reliable source," Tristram scoffed. "A bunch of drunk old men at a tavern. Alcoholics, the lot of you. Haven't you got anything better to do than go drinking every night?"
"I like how you included me in that."
"I thought you might," Tristram noted darkly. "What with you being an alcoholic and all."
"Shut up," the older man snapped. "Quit shooting your mouth off. And besides, the 'drunk old men' aren't my only reason for thinking Garner never lived here. With this type of presence, people don't usually leave. Not if they're from here. Transients or outsiders will come and go, and usually pretty quickly, but the people who are from here, stay here. The presence holds them here. It can't go about repeating its bloody loop if half the key characters have moved on, so it cheats."
"Well then what?!" Tristram demanded, slamming his book shut in exasperation. "The name William Garner has to mean something to somebody or he never would have been able to get that newspaper."
"What if the Librarian's in on it?" Jericho asked. "Do you think she could have been involved?"
"Then why would she have ever given me the papers in the first place? And why would Mr. Garner have needed to sign them out when he could have just had her cut them up? Besides," he added, making a face, "I don't think she's smart enough for that."
"Don't judge a book by its cover, Blake."
"Pot to Kettle," said Tristram, rolling his eyes, "you are black."
"Look," said Jericho, "I'm just saying you can't rule anyone out yet."
"Guilty until proven innocent, Pops? Is that the way the Order works?"
"Don't call me Pops," Jericho growled. "I told you."
"You keep saying that," Tristram noted with an insolent expression, "and I keep ignoring you."
"Believe me, I've noticed."
"I'm surprised you noticed anything through the drunken haze you live in." Jericho ground his teeth and just barely resisted the urge to strangle the kid.
"I don't live in a drunken haze, my name isn't Pops, and if you don't shut your God damned mouth and start being helpful, it'll be a good God damned thing you bought that blazer, because I can make sure they God damned well bury you in it." The boy raised an eyebrow at the outburst.
"Touchy," noted Tristram.
By the time one o'clock had rolled around, despite the fact they were only a few hours off the funeral now, Jericho had successfully internalized most outward signs of grief, anger, or other associated emotions with his usual, practiced ease; nothing was left to suggest he was unhappy except the occasional, hard quirk of his mouth, or a particularly short response; both of which were easily overlooked by most people except those who knew him best.
The work goes on, he'd told Tristram, and he'd meant it. The work goes on because it has to, and not even the death of two twenty-one year olds is enough to justify a missed deadline. Not when other people's lives depended on you. Not when things worse than what killed them were still running around out there. Not when you were a Hunter.
Especially not when you were a Hunter with a new Charge. There were critical lessons to be taught, or the boy risked meeting the same fate the Twins had.
And so, Jericho continued teaching.
"The Order," he said resisting the urge to make a face as he deftly made a knot in his tie, "is run by the Council, and has three branches: Strategy and Coordination, Operations, and Comptrollership. S&C speaks for itself. They manage the overall 'vision' of the Order, as well as cover ups, communications, and other bullshit. Every day they come up with new and exciting ways of complicating things for those of us just trying to do our job." He studied his reflection in the mirror, making sure his tie was straight and his collar folded the way it should have been. Tristram's reflection pulled uncomfortably at his dark turtleneck. "Comptrollership is where the bureaucrats live. HR, finance and admin, all that stuff. If you did it, they've got a form for it. In triplicate." He frowned. "Leave your neck alone, you're going to stretch it."
"Yes, Mom," returned Tristram caustically, but he pulled his hands away from his neck.
"Operations is the biggest of the branches," Jericho continued. "We're fall under there, obviously."
"Gee," said Tristram, picking up his blazer with an expression of the utmost disdain. "I couldn't have guessed from the shining reviews you gave the other two branches."
"You'll learn to hate them too, kid, just give it time," Jericho answered simply. He reached for his jacket as Tristram pulled his blazer on. "The Operations Branch breaks down into progressively smaller regions – continent, country, state/province/whatever, and even city if the city's big enough."
"Like ours," Jericho confirmed. "Everything is managed regionally. I haven't really got time to go over all the different jobs – suffice it to say there's a lot of them – but the most important classifications for us are the Watchmen, the Contacts, the Dispatch, the Hunters, the Crusaders, and the Dedicated." He pulled a piece of lint off his black jacket before sliding his arm into it. "Our usual communication loop consists of the Watchmen – who patrol the city constantly and report any odd occurrences – the Contacts – who are employed at other organizations like the Police or the Government or the Churches and keep tabs on those organizations and the reports they receive – the Dispatch – who receive the reports and decide from there what kind of response the situation calls for – and the Hunters – who respond to the call once Dispatch tells 'em where they need to go."
"So the others…"
"Are spec ops," Jericho answered. "We or the Dispatch will call them in if the situation is beyond our capacity or jurisdiction. The Crusaders are priests, and rabbis, and other spiritual leaders who work with us full-time. They do everything from religious services for us, to exorcisms, to providing us spiritual firepower when we need it." He leaned down and picked up a shiny black shoe. "The Dedicateds," he said, pulling at the shoe's laces, "are experts in a specific type of creature. They break down by subject matter. There are Demonologists, Necromantics, Stalkers, and the list goes on. Where the Hunters are the first line of defence against anything and everything, the Dedicateds are called in when a situation calls for a level of expertise we just don't have. Usually they're required when you're fighting something that's organized – demons, vampires, you name it."
"So you're saying our job description, basically, is that we just sit on our asses and wait for Dispatch to call us?"
"Sometimes," Jericho said, reaching for his other shoe. "But we also run patrols, take on assignments like this one, provide support for the Dedicateds, and a whole slew of other things. We are the Jacks of All Trades for the Order. If it needs doing, we can do it. We've got the best training, and the most experience. It works on a rotating cycle for the most part. A unit is either on duty – which means you're patrolling or something of the sort – or on assignment. We're currently on assignment. You and I are working on the Shady Lanes serial killer case. Erin is on assignment overseas right now, on Family business, Jake and Layne are running around for the Crusaders, and Alistair is helping out the Necromantics on a mass raising down in Kempville." He straightened and gave himself one last look in the mirror, then turned that gaze onto Tristram. He frowned. "It's not that I'm not shocked by just how presentable you can be if you try," he said, eyeing the straight legged black slacks, grey turtle neck and black, clean-cut blazer, "but is there nothing you can do about your hair?" Tristram flipped him both middle fingers and Jericho rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Let's head out.
"The Council at the head of the Order," he continued as they moved for the stairs, "is comprised of the seven Heads of the Families, and is led by a person called the Commander. The Families," he added, circumventing Tristram's question, "are widely believed to be the founders of the Order. The organization is entirely too old to say for sure, but so are the families, and for as long as even our historians can remember, they've always been at its head. They're pretty widely varied as far as their ancestry – geographically speaking here – so it's surmised that they were all doing their thing in their own corners of the Globe thousands of years ago and one day realized that they were fighting the same battle. And so the Order was born. Bridging nationality, religion, and personal differences in order to focus on the more important things."
"Like saving the world?"
"Like saving the world," Jericho confirmed with a nod, grabbing his coat and his keys on his way out the front door.
"So what's the difference between the Families and the Called?" Tristram asked as they moved towards Jericho's truck. Jericho took a moment to find the best way to describe it.
"You're one of the Called," he said finally. "Which means you weren't born into the Families. You lived a perfectly normal life, free of the threat of supernatural conflict, until such a time as the entirely too thin carpet covering the truth was torn out from under you and you suddenly found yourself very much so caught up in the supernatural. You were 'called' to the Order's cause through a course of events." He pried open the driver's side door and climbed up into the truck, slamming it again after him. He waited until Tristram had climbed in as well before continuing.
"I'm a member of one of the Families," he said.
"Garcia or Cortez?"
"Cortez," answered Jericho, turning the key in the ignition and wrapping his arm around Tristram's headrest to peer behind him. "It's one of the larger ones. What this means is that I never had the 'normal' life you did. Werewolves and ghosts and vampires weren't children's stories for me. They were very real threats and I was trained early to kill them. I was born into the Order's cause, kid. I've been a member since I was born." Tristram frowned as the truck rolled slowly out of the driveway.
"Is one considered more important than the other?" He asked. Jericho shook his head and turned back around, forcing the stick-shift into Drive.
"Not really," he said, pressing on the gas. "There may be a few hardcore people in the Order who prefer to hire Family members based on experience and knowledge base, but their are policies in place against it and most people are aware that a Called can be every bit as skilled as a Family member, or even more so. Coming from the Families doesn't automatically mean you're a good Hunter."
"So these two girls—"
"Cattie and Shai Voidbringer."
"—are from one of the Families?"
"Yes," Jericho answered. "Voidbringer is actually the largest of the Families – or it was. They've been having a particularly rough couple of years lately and have been losing people left right and centre. Cattie and Shai were the youngest sisters of the current Head of the House, Galen Voidbringer."
"Ah," said Tristram. "So they're the Family from Ireland?" Jericho gave a short, amused laugh.
"Hardly," he said. "They're from the Middle East. Galen's branch is from Egypt specifically." Tristram glanced over at him and quirked an eyebrow.
"Galen isn't really an Arabic name," he noted. "Neither is Voidbringer come to think of it."
"Voidbringer is a direct translation," Jericho explained. "Legend has it they got tired of the rest of us mispronouncing their last name and so switched it to something we could all say. As for the name Galen, it's actually his middle name," Jericho said. "His mother was your average, white American woman. They all have Arabic first names, and western middle names. Galen's folks split up when he was younger and he moved over here for a short time with his mother. It was just easier for him to use his middle name. My father took him on as a Charge as a favour to Galen's father, and when I came of age, Galen returned the favour by taking me on as a Charge. He bounced back and forth between Egypt, and his father and brother, and here, with his mother and sisters. But after his parents died, he took custody of the twins and moved over here permanently. As far as I know he'd only moved back to Egypt for a few months after seeing them sworn in as full fledged Hunters." He frowned out the windshield as he flicked on his signal lights and approached the exit ramp. "I doubt he'll leave Egypt again now. There's nothing left for him this side of the Atlantic." He fell silent and for once Tristram didn't bother to break it.
The truck barrelled down the freeway back towards the city proper, leaving both men lost in their own thoughts for the remainder of the trip.
Galen and Anubis Voidbringer were living legends among the members of the Order. All but the newest had heard of at least their more famous exploits, and though age and increased responsibilities had more or less removed them from the field, it appeared their legend had not retired to desk jobs with them. The funeral home was crowded practically from wall to wall with people; men at the front, women at the back. There was a rough line of people snaking its way towards the front and as people came in they joined it. Though he couldn't see him through the throng, Jericho knew Galen – as head of the house – had to be at the front of it. Anubis was easier to spot – a shock of long, thick white hair up towards the front of room.
"Come on," he said to Tristram, "let's get in line. We have to present ourselves to Galen before we do anything else." Tristram, who had never been to a Muslim funeral before, did as he was told and joined the line. He stared around at the faces in the room with something surprisingly close to awe on his face as they inched their way forward.
"These guys are all Hunters?" He asked. Jericho nodded.
"Not by classification necessarily, but they all work for the Order if that's what you mean," he said. He surveyed the crowd. "A lot of big wigs hear today, but that makes sense." A momentary frown played across his features. "I don't see Esteban. Guess I'm the official Cortez representative."
"Who's Esteban?" Tristram asked.
"Esteban Santiago Cortez," Jericho replied. "A one-time Crusader and long-time Head of the Cortez Family. Also, my uncle." He frowned. "Something must have come up last minute. I really expected him to be here."
"Wouldn't he have like … called you or something? You know, like normal people do when they're going to be in town."
"Esteban and I don't talk often," Jericho answered. "Also, if he's on the continent, it's usually for business and Family Head business is usually all encompassing. It's kind of a…Thanksgiving, Christmas thing, you know?"
"Hmm," said Tristram. "So is there anyone cool here? Besides me, I mean."
"This is hardly the place to be regaling you with stories of the Order's finest," Jericho muttered, but scanned the crowd quickly anyway. "Well, over there is Jessica Armstrong." He pointed to an attractive middle-aged woman. "She's got the second highest Vampire kill-count outside the Stalkers – and not just in this region, either."
"Who's got the highest?" Tristram asked. Jericho flashed him a feral grin, despite himself.
"I've got her beat by fifteen if you're just counting kills. She's got me beat for rank, though. She's the one who nailed Louis Deacon and a couple of his lieutenants. Damn I wish I'd been there."
"Don't like the vampires I take it," said Tristram dryly. Jericho shrugged, looking uncomfortable all of a sudden.
"Everyone's got their favoured enemies," he said. "And vampires are kind of the Cortez family's thing. A lot of the Stalkers are Cortezes."
"You are sort of an obsessive lot," said a strained voice from in front of them. Jericho blinked and turned his attention forward. It seemed they'd come to the end of the line.
"This from the man who's spent the last twenty-five years focused exclusively on Demons." He held out his hand and the dark-haired man used it to pull him into a tight embrace, before releasing him just as smoothly.
Galen Voidbringer was a broad-shouldered man, who normally had a presence to match; good looking as only an Egyptian could be, a face that had weathered his half-century or so of life well, with more laugh lines than anything else, no matter what he'd been through, and a thick unruly mass of black curls on his head, interspersed more and more every time Jericho saw him with grey. He felt smaller, today though, than he normally did. And he looked older; much older.
"I'm glad you came, Jericho," he said quietly. Jericho raised an eyebrow.
"How could you doubt it?" He asked. "As soon as I heard, Galen…." Galen waved him off with a tired gesture.
"I know, Jericho. I know." He turned his attention to Tristram, who was looking more awkward and unsure of himself than Jericho had ever seen him. Galen offered him a smile, warm despite the situation. "This is your new Charge, I take it?" He said. "We'd heard rumours, even over in Egypt…."
"Yeah," said Jericho, stepping aside and letting Galen offer his hand to Tristram. "Galen Voidbringer, Head of Voidbringer, meet Tristram Blake, Hunter Level One."
"You're the boy from New York, aren't you?" Galen asked as Tristram took his hand.
"Yeah," Tristram responded gruffly. "You could say that." Jericho tensed unconsciously as the younger Hunter's eyes took on that haunted look they got sometimes, but Galen was no green horn, and he knew that look when he saw it.
"I'm sorry about what happened," he said softly. "But I'm glad to have you on board, regardless. The Order's going to need people like you soon, Mr. Blake. Stick with Jericho – he's a good man, and a great Hunter." Somebody behind them cleared their throat and Galen offered whoever it was a tight smile.
"Hmm," he said under his breath, "we'd better wrap this up." He straightened. "Cathleen and Shaileen's blessings upon you both," he said, shaking their hands again. "You can feel free to take a seat up front, somewhere in the third row. Oh, Jericho!" He said, catching Jericho's arm as they turned with a nod to go take their seats. "Listen," he said, ignoring the annoyed huff of the people waiting in line behind them, "I'd like to catch up with you, if you don't mind, maybe after the funeral?" His blue eyes suddenly had their old sharpness back, along with an underlying urgency that had nothing to do with 'catching up.' "Somewhere a little less … crowded than here." Something in Jericho's stomach clenched, but he resisted any outward reaction and nodded.
"Sure," he said. "You and Ani can follow Tristram and I back to the house. It's just a temp job, while we're on assignment, but there's no one there but us and the ghosts."
"All right," said Galen, releasing Jericho's arm and clapping him on the back. "Sounds good. Thanks, Jericho."
"Any time, buddy," he replied, returning the clap and moving after Tristram, who had already secured two seats in the third row.
"What was that about?" The younger man asked as Jericho draped his coat over his seat. Jericho frowned.
"I don't know," he answered honestly, "but we're going to have house guests after the ceremony. Try and behave, all right? And tell your bloody ghost to behave too."
"Look," said Tristram in a reasonable tone of voice, "this is a funeral, and it really wouldn't be appropriate if anyone caught me flipping you the bird, so I'd appreciate it if you could picture my middle fingers in your head." Jericho shook his head.
"Whatever kid," he said. "Hold my seat; I'm going to go say hello to Anubis." He turned without waiting for an answer and slipped out of the aisle again, scanning the room for some sight of the younger (though not by much) Voidbringer brother. He finally managed to spot him in the front corner of the room, speaking with a grim expression to a man Galen didn't recognize. Frowning, Galen pressed his way through the crowd towards him.
It wasn't that he knew everyone in the Order – obviously he didn't. The organization was huge – but the man didn't really look like a Hunter, either. Maybe he was a Contact, or even a Watchman, but something about him screamed civilian. And with a gathering of Hunter this large, it would have been unwise of Galen and Ani to invite civilians. They would have had a separate ceremony for any civilian friends of Cattie and Shai.
"Jericho," said Anubis, catching Jericho's eye as he approached. "How nice to see you." He turned to the man beside him. "Mr. Moser, this is Jericho Garcia-Cortez, a long time friend of the family. Jericho, this is William Moser. He owns the funeral home. He is the funeral director here."
"Call me Bill, please," said Mr. Moser, offering his hand to Jericho. "Pleasure to meet you." Jericho took his hand and nodded silently. The middle-aged man turned back to Anubis. "At any rate, Mr. Voidbringer, I'm sorry for intruding – I know you asked for privacy – but I wanted to let you and your brother know that the new hearse is ready whenever you are. Just let the driver know. I'm going to head down to the graveyard now to make sure everything's in order."
"Thank you," said Anubis gravely, tucking a stray strand of long white hair behind his ear. "I will see you down there." Mr. Moser nodded at him, tipped his head to Jericho again, and slipped out the door.
"Not pleased with the arrangements?" Jericho asked neutrally, catching the phantom of disapproval under the lines of Anubis' face.
"They are not," he answered carefully, "as Egyptian as they could be. I think, perhaps, I lose a little respect for your country every time I am forced to deal with its funeral directors. They're not…what I would hope for." He sighed. "But Cattie and Shai were raised here and wish to be buried here and it would be bad form for me to disrespect that, so I suppose we will make do. I suppose it's not so bad, but he certainly is disorganized – Mr. Moser that is. Just little things, but unprofessional regardless." He pointed at the lilies arranged around the room. "For instance, I changed my mind about the lilies a couple days ago and he seems to have completely forgotten. And his hearse had a taillight broken and he hadn't bothered to have it fixed before we came. I would have happily rented it anyway with some kind of discount, but he insisted on going out and getting a new one. I think he's actually rented one from another funeral home for us."
"Well," said Jericho, staring at the door the man had slipped out of. "He certainly didn't seem—wait, what?" He turned back to Anubis abruptly. "Did you say a broken taillight?" Anubis blinked.
"Yes," he said. "Apparently a boy threw a rock at it. Why?"
"Nothing, just …," he frowned and cast a surreptitious look around, "Tristram and I are undercover right now and it might relate to the assignment, that's all." Anubis narrowed his eyes.
"Jericho, I respect that there is work to be done, and I've no doubt it's important, but if you do anything to ruin my sisters' funeral…." Jericho looked affronted.
"Jesus, Anubis," he said. Anubis frowned.
"Sorry," he said shortly. "But this is … this isn't easy for either of us, me or Galen – especially Galen – and assignment or no assignment, I don't need anything disrupting the ceremony. There's been enough disruption in our lives lately, and there's likely to be more before we're done." Jericho frowned and narrowed his eyes a bit.
"Does this … does that have anything to do with Galen wanting to come back to my place to catch up after the ceremony?" Anubis met his gaze steadily, grey eyes betraying nothing.
"It might," he said. "But this is hardly the place to discuss it. You'd best take your seat; I think the ceremony will begin shortly." Jericho hesitated, then gave a curt nod.
"All right," he said, but paused before turning to go. "I really am sorry about Cattie and Shai, Anubis," he said. "Everyone is."
"Yes, well," Anubis said distantly. "Sometimes sorry doesn't cut it." He turned without another word and moved to join Galen. Jericho frowned after him for a long moment, before turning around to take his seat beside Tristram.
His charge raised a questioning eyebrow at him. Jericho scratched at his chin.
"Funny story about the funeral director," he said in a low voice as everyone else took their seats and someone started reading from the Koran. "His name is William."
"Garner?" Asked Tristram in surprise.
"Moser," Jericho replied. "But he's got a hearse with a busted taillight." Tristram looked thoughtful.
"Could be coincidence."
"Could be," said Jericho turning his eyes to the front. "But there's only one way to find out…"
"…to tell you the truth, I really didn't know her that well," Tristram said as he stepped aside to allow William Moser to step out into the hallway. "I know her son, though, and he's … well, he's taking it really hard. I told him I'd handle this part for him. It's more important right now for him to be with her, I think."
"Of course, of course," Moser said, turning to close his office door. "Perfectly understandable that. So I assume then it will not be you making the final arrangements?"
"No," said Tristram. "I'm afraid he'll be on his own for that one. I'm just scouting out locations. Just remind me to grab your card before I go so I can give him your contact info…" They moved towards the stairs at the end of the little hall. Jericho waited until he was sure they were on the bottom floor and out of sight before stepping out from behind the corner and moving for the office door. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to find – or what he was planning on doing with it when he found it – but at this point he'd take what he could get.
He slipped into the office and carefully closed the door behind him. The room was simple, with a filing cabinet, wooden desk and a couple of comfortable chairs. A simple painting of a tree hung on the wall.
"All right, Mr. Moser," Jericho said, scanning the room for anything out of the ordinary. "Show me the money. Are you, or are you not William Garner?" He moved over to the desk and started rifling through the little stacks of paper piled on the wooden top: invoices, contracts, thank-you letters – absolutely nothing of note.
God dammit, Jericho thought bitterly to himself as he moved onto the next pile. I'm not built for this covert shit. Sneaking around people's offices, creeping around libraries…what ever happened to tackling the problem head on…with a gun?
The second pile proved as boring as the first. Jericho gave up with the top of the desk and dropped into the leather chair behind it. He reached for the top drawer and pulled it open: office supplies, instant coffee, pack of cigarettes. Bottom drawer: extra paper for the desk printer, box of crackers, file folder with nothing of interest in it. Jericho all but slammed it shut out of impatience.
Well what were you expecting, Cortez? He snarled at himself as he got to his feet and moved over to the filing cabinet. A neon sign saying: hey! I'm the Shady Lanes Serial Killer! He pulled at the drawer of the filing cabinet, but it was locked tight. Fuck… Tristram wouldn't be able to keep Moser busy forever. He'd handed him some cock and bull story about wanting to see more of the premises, but there wasn't much more. The Voidbringer group was large and took up most of it, and though the ceremony was over people were still mingling. He didn't have time to be fucking around with locked cabinets.
He moved to turn around and look for the key, but spotted Moser's IN/OUT Boxes on top of the filing cabinet and paused. He reached up to the inbox and pulled down the envelopes, flipping quickly through them. Like the rest of the office there was nothing there to suggest that Moser was the man they were looking for, or even remotely connected to him. Jericho growled at the letters as he put them back in the basket and reached for the pile of "out" ones, flipping through them quickly. He was just about to give up when he got to the last envelope in the pile. He did a double-take at the address, blinking in surprise: Bartleby Moser, 365 Adams Road, Shady Lanes.
Wasn't that the name of one of the— A loud crash cut across the thought and Jericho froze instinctively.
"God dammit," he heard Tristram wince loudly, the noise muffled by the closed door. Nothing else was loud enough to make out through the door, but the nearness of the voices was what mattered. They were at the bottom of the staircase, and likely on their way back up.
He threw the envelopes back into the outbox and threw himself at the door to the office. He pulled it open as slowly as he dared and slipped out into the hall as Moser walked back up the stair case, Tristram hot on his heels. He hastily adopted a casual pose against the wall.
"…no seriously," the boy was saying. "I'll pay for it. I feel likes such a – hi Jericho – like such a dick. Just give me a round about number." Moser stopped short and blinked at Jericho who raised an eyebrow at him.
"Sorry for invading your office," he said, gesturing to the half-open door. "I thought I heard you in there, but I guess not."
"Ah," said Moser. "Apologies! I was just showing Mr. Blake, here, some of our other rooms. Have you been waiting long?"
"Long enough," Jericho said, catching Tristram's eye briefly. "But my fault, not yours. I should have let you know. I just wanted to thank you, is all. The ceremony was very professionally handled. I'm sure the Voidbringers will express their appreciation themselves, but … well, I may not be family but the twins were good friends. It was just … it was a nice ceremony."
"Of course," said Moser with an expression of understanding and seriousness, perfected by years of practice. He shook Jericho's hand. "I'm happy to have helped." He turned to Tristram. "And don't worry about the vase, Mr. Blake. It wasn't nearly as expensive as it looked."
"Cool," said Tristram with an easy smile. "If I could just get your card then, I'll get out of your hair." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at Jericho. "And I'll take this loser with me." Jericho rolled his eyes, and Moser hid a smile.
"Certainly," he said, moving into his office. "Tell your friend to contact me if he should have any questions at all."
"Will do!" Said Tristram, accepting the business card, then turning and following Jericho down the stairs.
"So?" Tristram asked under his breath as they hit the bottom step, but Jericho shook his head.
"Wait 'till we're outside," he said. Tristram huffed impatiently, but remained quiet until they were out in the parking lot.
"So," he said again, with emphasis this time. They reached Jericho's truck and stopped. "Is he our guy?" Jericho frowned as he fished around in his coat pocket for his keys.
"Still can't say for sure," he said. "Nothing we could report – officially, at any rate…"
"But…," Tristram prompted. "Come on, Pops, you're the one who said instinct is the most important asset a Hunter has. What's your instinct say?" Jericho considered it.
"The guy's the same approximate height and build as Garner, has the same first name as Garner, has a big, black boat of a car with a taillight blown out, and knows somebody in Shady Lanes well enough to write them a letter." He raised an eyebrow. "Call me crazy, but that's one Hell of a coincidence."
"Who does he know in Shady Lanes?" Tristram demanded, leaning up against the side of the truck and pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. Jericho made a face as Tristram lit the end of one and put it in his mouth.
"A relative," he answered. The end of Tristram's cigarette flared brightly for a moment. "Bartleby Moser, 565 Adams Road."
"That's not far from the graveyard where the bodies were found," Tristram noted, raising an eyebrow.
"Nope," Jericho agreed. "And if I remember correctly, the older of the two undertakers in Shady lanes is named Bartleby." Tristram idly flicked the ashes off the end of his cigarette.
"An undertaker would have access to the graveyard 'after hours' if you get my meaning," he pointed out.
"True," Jericho said, "but don't jump to any conclusions just yet. We aren't even sure this has anything to do with anything. Nor do we have the missing articles, or know why Moser – assuming it was Moser – took them."
"So what's our next step then?" Tristram asked, but Jericho had spotted Galen and Anubis coming out the front doors of the funeral home.
"Our next step," he said, taking his hands out of his pocket to wave at the Voidbringer brothers, "is to forget about the case for tonight. First thing tomorrow morning we can decide what we're going to do about our newfound information. In the meantime, we've got company."
"Great," said Tristram as Galen and Anubis approached the beat up old Ford, "someone else who can bitch because my ghost won't let them sleep."
When they'd first moved in, Jericho had been annoyed by the size of the living room. It was far too large for the furniture they had. The only thing that had kept him from making any kind of plans for new furniture was reminding himself that the house wasn't actually his.
Now, however, the living room seemed cramped somehow. Too small for the people in it; or perhaps, more appropriately, too small for whatever it was that had brought Galen and Anubis here in the first place. Something hung over the gathering, something lurked behind the small talk, and Jericho couldn't escape the feeling that whatever it was, it was bad.
"So," said Tristram, eyes darting back and forth between Jericho and Galen. He looked, briefly, the way he'd looked when Jericho had first met him; paranoid, nervous, and cornered. "You're a demonologist, right?" Galen offered him a strained smile.
"I was," he answered. "For a long time, yes. But when you become Head of a Family, your classification and your job changes." Tristram frowned.
"So if Demons are real, does that mean Heaven and Hell are real?" His eyes slid back to Jericho, briefly questioning. Jericho wished fervently he'd cut it out. It was irritating and he didn't know any better than the boy.
"Well," said Galen, "now you're getting into theology and philosophy and any other number of subjects that have entertained inquiring minds for millennia." Tristram looked unsatisfied with that, and Galen seemed, for a moment, like he might actually laugh; the tension Jericho couldn't help but notice around his mouth and eyes seemed to get in the way of it, though. "The easy answer is we don't know, not really." He leaned back in the armchair and thoughtfully swirled his drink around in its bottle. "There is certainly a home-base for most demons – or many home bases, as the case may be. Another plane or dimension of some kind, parallel and/or perpendicular to our own. I suppose you could call it Hell. Most do, if for no other reason than ease of reference. But that's about all we know about it. Nobody who's ever gone there has ever come back, and whether it's Hell in a biblical sense remains up for debate."
"And a lively debate it is," Anubis noted wryly. "Particularly if you throw a Crusader into the mix." Jericho gave a short laugh, gesturing with his bottle.
"Any argument gets 'lively' if you throw a Crusader into the mix," he noted. "I've seen Esteban reduce more than one hardened veteran to tears after a theological 'debate.'" Galen offered him a dry expression.
"Yes, well," he said. "Esteban is the Crusader's Crusader, isn't he?" He noted.
"A Roman Catholic Priest the likes of which have not been seen since the Old Testament," Jericho agreed, rolling his eyes. "He's a character all right." Tristram spared a glance for Anubis.
"Are you a demonologist too?" He asked, more, Jericho suspected, to kill the silence they could all feel coming than any kind of actual interest in Anubis' profession.
"CO, level six, actually," Anubis responded crisply. "Coroner, in layman's terms. I run the morgue in the Cairo region." Galen offered Tristram a loose grin.
"You should count yourself lucky to have Jericho as a mentor," he said. "Ani here takes on charges just to see if he can bore them to death." Anubis raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him.
"There's nothing boring about half of the things we cut up down there," he said darkly. "Just because it's dead doesn't mean it's not dangerous. You of all people should know that, Galen."
"So you don't just autopsy people?" Tristram asked, the subject of autopsies apparently interesting enough to momentarily divert his attention from shooting Jericho and Galen dark, suspicious looks.
"Of course not," said Anubis. "For all the magic and supernatural and paranormal we deal with, science has its place in the Order. Know thy enemy, Mr. Blake. We study the things we kill extensively to understand how they work. Also, certain investigations require knowing how or why a thing died – or how and why it killed someone else."
"Jesus," Tristram said, eyes wide as he considered the implications of that. "I've seen the pictures in the Handbook. You'd need a whole new education if you were going to get into that kind of thing. Half that stuff doesn't even look like it has an anatomy…"
"Tristram used to be a med-student," Jericho informed the younger Voidbringer. "He can be every bit as morbid as you, Anubis. It's really, quite depressing."
"Hmm," said Anubis, peering at Tristram with renewed interest. "Any psychic abilities Mr. Blake?"
"Not that I'm aware of," Tristram said, then looked at Jericho. "We have psychics?"
"Jesus, Jericho, what have you been teaching him?" Galen demanded.
"Everything I'm supposed to," Jericho grunted. "It's HR that hasn't given him an orientation. I haven't had the time to give him anything more than a quick briefing on it. And yes, we have psychics. Technical designation is Medium, classification MM. Their levels work a bit differently than ours, though. They range from one to ten, according to …" He paused, searching for the right word to describe it.
"How open you are," Anubis supplied. "For instance, I am an MM-02."
"Which means what?" Tristram asked. "Like you can read thoughts or tell the future or something?" Jericho snorted.
"We're not talking about Miss Cleo, here, kid," he noted. Anubis rolled his eyes.
"It's nothing so active as that," he said thinly. "A Medium isn't a fortune teller, and they don't necessarily have ESP. It's not telekinesis or psionics or anything of the sort. Those have their own classifications. A Medium is merely a…conduit. A Medium can sense other-worldly presences, they provide these presences a means of speaking and interacting with the world if required; the exceptionally strong ones can sometimes read events, or see connections in a way that a regular person cannot – you can see how it would be handy when investigating a death. But the definition is a wide one, and hard to describe."
"MM-02 means Ani's not very open," Jericho told Tristram. "It would take a particularly strong spirit to communicate with him. But there are others in the Order who are a much higher classification. Jenny, for example. She's actually one of the few MM-10s in existence right now."
"So why isn't she in the field?" Tristram asked.
"Because the connection works both ways," Anubis said, forcing Tristram's attention back to him. "The more open a Medium, the easier it is for them to interact with various presences. But it also makes it easier for a presence to take control of the Medium. As an MM-10, this Jenny would be at high risk of possession were she in the field. For her own safety, as well as that of those who work with her, she can't work in the field except in extreme situations."
"Hey Ani," Galen said casually. "Jericho tells me he and Tristram have been trouble with ghosts. Why don't you get Tristram to take you around to the hot spots and see if you can't help them out a bit? Even an MM-02 might be able to tell them something." Tristram's head whipped around to stare at him, his expression calculating all of a sudden. Galen met Anubis' gaze and cocked his head ever-so-slightly to the side. Anubis responded with the barest tightening of his frown, and in that tiny exchange an entire conversation passed between them. It reminded Jericho so badly of the twins that for a moment his breath left him.
At last Anubis sighed heavily. "I suppose it couldn't hurt," he said, and got to his feet. "Where have most of the odd occurrences been happening? We'll start there." Tristram turned his gaze from Galen, to Jericho, then finally to Anubis and narrowed his eyes.
"I don't want to be any trouble," he said stiffly. "Don't worry about it. I think I'm close to—"
"No trouble," Anubis interrupted coolly, adopting a pose that suggested he would physically remove Tristram if that was what it came down to. "Why don't you tell me about the sightings as we go?" Tristram looked like he was struggling with a scowl. For a moment, he didn't answer, and actually tightened his grip on the arms of his chair, as though to physically resist Anubis' completely reasonable request. At last, however, his shoulders sagged and he got to his feet with something dangerously close to a huff.
"Most of the weirdest stuff seems centered around the kitchen and the cellar," he said unhappily, leading Anubis out of the room and towards the cellar, "but Jericho's been seeing some shit upstairs in his bedroom – assuming those aren't just because he's a lush." Jericho ground his teeth, but forced himself not to comment.
"Perceptive kid," Galen noted as Tristram and Anubis moved out of earshot.
"Too perceptive for his own good sometimes," Jericho grunted. For a moment they fell silent, listening to the muffled sounds of Tristram and Anubis from somewhere down the hall.
"So what have you been up to, lately?" Galen asked finally. "Haven't heard from you in a while." Jericho narrowed his eyes at the older man for a moment and Galen met his gaze easily.
"Are you serious?" He demanded. "You can't possibly care about—"
"I'm an old man, Jericho," Galen interrupted him bluntly. "An old man who just lost two of the most important things in the world to him. Just humour me for a bit? Please?" Jericho frowned, but gave in with a sigh.
"All right," he said. "If small talk's what you need…I haven't really been up to much – you know, beyond the usual. Well, besides Tristram, I guess. That's new." He made a face and Galen managed a smirk.
"I think I nearly choked on my coffee when I heard the news," he said. "The Great Jericho Garcia-Cortez is a mentor. Someone finally managed to stick him with a charge. And Tristram Blake to boot." Jericho snorted.
"Yeah," he said. "Rickard signed all the papers while I was unconscious. Sweet fuck-all I could do about it when I finally woke up." He paused to take a drink from his bottle, then shook his head. "Christ, how far did the news go, anyway? This isn't technically that big a thing."
"You're kidding me right?" Galen demanded. "It's not you they care about, it's him. He's a regular Harry Potter to the Executive level: the Boy Who Lived. New York's what you might call a priority right now, and everyone's kind of hoping he'll be the key that cracks the code. They're practically frothing at the mouth up there to get at him." Jericho straightened abruptly.
"Galen," he said with a dark frown, "he's not—" But Galen was already waving him off.
"Relax, relax," he said. "Esteban and I have been running interference on it. We know what it's like to come out of a situation like that – not surprised at all he's not ready to talk about it – but you know the Council. Everything is urgent." He shook his head. "I've seen more than I care to of New York and it's too late for the people there. We aren't going to help anything if we drive off our only link to what happened."
"Good," Jericho grunted, settling back onto the couch. "'Cause I'm telling you right now, Galen, the kid's a runner. He's not ready to deal with it yet and if you ask me it'd be cruel to put him through that before he's good and ready to go through it." Galen buried a grin in his beer bottle, but not before Jericho saw it. "Oh shut up," he snapped. "He's just a kid and he's been through enough is all I'm saying. It doesn't mean I don't regret Rickard forcing this on me, or that I wouldn't overturn the bloody decision if I could."
"Oh, quit your bitching," Galen said, rolling his eyes. "It's about time someone forced to you to do your part for the Order."
"Bah," said Jericho. "I fail to see how pairing me up with Captain Punk-Rock is any use to anyone."
"Oh please," Galen said, with a frown. "If you ask me, your Manager knew what he was doing. Tristram needed a teacher, and you needed something to drag you out of your self-imposed rut."
"What the Hell are you—"
"Jericho, don't you dare hand me your usual bullshit right now, okay?" Galen interrupted him, all signs of good-naturedness gone from his face all of a sudden. "I may not be your mentor anymore but I still know your pride when I hear it talking and I'm in no mood to deal with it tonight. You can't possibly deny what everyone who cares about you knows."
"Everyone who cares about me," Jericho said darkly, "should mind their own god-damned business. I'm not some moody teenager to be pushed around and grounded whenever you feel like it. Rickard had no business pairing me up with some punk-ass charge I didn't want."
"Well it was a better option than letting you stay alone in that bloody condo of yours," Galen countered darkly. "Not talking to anyone unless you were at work, and only coming to work to get your next assignment and then blowing out of there again."
"Who says I was alone?" Jericho demanded irately, irked by the display of concern. "How the bloody Hell do you know I wasn't—"
"Oh please," Galen said, rolling his eyes. "When was the last time you were with someone, hmm? When was the last time you actually caved in a little and let yourself have a bit of fun? When was the last time you let anybody into your life who wasn't already part of it?"
"Galen…" Jericho said warningly, knowing inherently where this was going to go, but Galen was not to be turned from his topic.
"Ten years, Jericho. It's been ten years." Jericho glared at him, inarticulate with rage for a moment. "Don't look at me like that," Galen said darkly. "It's true, and you know it."
"Where do you get off lecturing me like this?" Jericho finally managed to strangle out, but Galen fixed him with a look that stopped him in his tracks.
"I don't have so much family left that I can afford to let it waste away," he said. "God forbid I'm tired of watching you live in this masochistic funk." He shook his head and sighed. "Look, all I'm saying is that maybe you need someone, whether you want it or not. I don't care if it's romantic or not. I don't care if it's male or female. I don't care what it is, so long as you have it."
"Oh yeah," Jericho snapped, "'cause you people are so tolerant towards same-sex relationships." It was uncalled for and Jericho knew it, but so was this supposed assault on his personal life. It's not his business, he thought defensively to himself. It's not anyone's business but mine. Galen fixed him with an angry glare.
"Fuck. You." He said stiffly. "Ani's gay as a maypole and you know that as well as I do. Obviously that's not an issue for me. Racial stereotyping's a bit low for you, Jericho. I expected better." Jericho didn't respond, but took an irritated pull from his bottle. "Look," Galen said with a sigh. "All I'm saying is that maybe if you're forced to be responsible for someone else for a bit it'll snap you out of it. Given that I consider you a friend, I think I'm well within my rights to make that observation at least."
"You didn't come here to lecture me about my personal life, Galen," Jericho said stiffly at last. "Why don't you just get to the point before Anubis and the kid get back." Galen regarded him silently for a moment, then turned away with a sigh. It was a long time before he responded – long enough that Jericho wondered whether he would or not – and when he did it was in a voice that Jericho recognized from his early days in the Order. It was the one Galen used whenever they were in over their head and he wasn't entirely sure they'd be able to get out of it this time. Jericho didn't feel any happier hearing it now.
"This conversation, from this point on, can't leave this room," Galen said finally. "We weren't even sure if we should bring you in on it, but I couldn't just leave without warning you."
"What do you mean, leave?" Jericho demanded, finally turning to face Galen.
"Never mind that," Galen said, shaking his head. "Suffice it to say that Anubis and I won't be in to work on Monday."
"What?" Jericho said, confused. "Why? What about the Voidbringers—"
"What Voidbringers, Jericho?" Galen demanded suddenly, urgently. "We've lost so many over the last decade there's hardly any left."
"What are you talking about?" Jericho demanded. "You guys have definitely taken a hit, but there's still plenty of—"
"Adoptees," Galen said dismissively. "Or married in. Or otherwise Voidbringer members, but not Voidbringer children, do you understand?" Jericho opened his mouth to deny it, but already his mind was running down the names he could think of, and coming up blank. "The Voidbringer Bloodline is almost extinct. Anubis and I are two of perhaps fifty original members left alive."
"But…," Jericho said. "What does that…what are you getting at?" Galen's face had gone as hard as his voice.
"Let me put it another way," he said. "Cattie and Shai weren't killed on assignment. Their deaths had nothing to do with their assignment." He narrowed his eyes and a hard, cold look stole over his features. "They were assassinated." Jericho stared at his old mentor with a shocked expression.
"What?! God, Galen! You can't…there's no way they'd—"
"I know my sisters, Jericho," Galen interrupted him. "I raised them. I trained them. They may as well have been my daughters. I know their capabilities. There is no way any Beezel cultist ever got a one-up on them. You know that as well as I do. They had to have had help, or inside information, or something." Jericho shook his head slowly.
"Galen, are you sure you're not … are you sure this isn't just… just grief? Are you sure you're not just—"
"Do you honestly think I am so new to grief that I would mistake it for something else?" Galen demanded. "Do you honestly think I would be affected enough by Cattie and Shai's deaths to make something like this up? I should hope you have more respect for me than that." Jericho let it go, but remained unconvinced.
"So what are you saying, then?" He demanded. "That someone's got a grudge against the Voidbringers? I mean, I suppose it's not that farfetched. Beelzebub, or Belial would have plenty of motive for—"
"You always did have a problem with tunnel-vision," Galen said wryly. "I think it's bigger than just Voidbringer." Before Jericho could reply, he heard Tristram's voice echo from down the hall as he and Anubis made their way back. He hissed in annoyance and leaned closer to Galen.
"What do you mean, bigger?" He demanded in a low voice.
"How many Cortez's have you lost in the last few years?" Galen asked. "How many blood Cortez's?"
"…there's been nothing that overt in my room," Tristram was saying as he and Anubis rounded the corner. "Sometimes my stuff is moved around, or something might go missing from somewhere else in the house and I'll find it in my room – just little things. One of my erasers, half-a-dozen of Jericho's bottle caps, stupid stuff like that, you know? But nothing major." Anubis caught Galen's eye as he walked by towards the stairs and Galen shook his head surreptitiously. Tristram tried to catch Jericho's eye as he walked by and failed.
"Well, we'll look at both rooms then, and see if it's made its way upstairs," said Anubis relentlessly. Tristram didn't answer, opting instead to stare suspiciously at Galen and Jericho as he followed the younger Voidbringer up the stairs. Jericho didn't notice and didn't care. He was running down the list of family members that had died in the last few years and feeling the lead in his gut get heavier with every name he crossed off –…Bob and Rae, Juanita, Carlos, Richard and Adelina, Maria…– and the list went on.
"Jesus Christ," he breathed.
"And now," said Galen softly, "you start to see. And it's not just Cortez. All across the board, there's been a spike in the number of members of original bloodlines being killed."
"Impossible," Jericho said. "Someone would have noticed."
"We don't keep those kinds of stats," Galen said, shaking his head. "And overall the numbers haven't risen that much. It's just that there's less called getting killed, and more family."
"But why? And how?" Jericho demanded. "It doesn't make sense."
"I don't know," Galen answered, leaning back in his chair. "I don't know, but I know something is going on. Someone is targeting the old bloodlines. They've started with Voidbringer, but I think they're branching out now. The Voidbringer bloodline is almost gone. I'll tell you right now, Ani and I won't be the only ones MIA come Monday."
"Where are you going?" Jericho asked, but Galen shook his head.
"That, I won't say," he said. "Better for all involved." He turned his attention to the fireplace at the back of the room, an expression of cold determination on his face. "Do you know what my father told me, just before he was murdered, Jericho?" He asked. The question didn't require an answer, and Jericho remained silent. "He said, 'Teremun, sometimes a man will be lucky enough to know he's going to die. Maybe he can't say exactly when – that's God's decision and no one else's – but he knows it will happen. And maybe he can't say exactly where, either. But, Allah willing, he can choose how, and that's what's important. Not the when, not the where, but the how.'" He narrowed his eyes at the fire. "And he did choose how. When they found him, they found him on top of a pile of demon corpses." The ghost of an old pain twisted for a moment across his face. "To this day I still don't know how he knew. I don't know how he could have possibly expected it, but he did. Why else would he have said that to me? It was the last conversation we'd had before he died."
"He died on assignment, didn't he?" Galen asked, knowing full well he had. When the Head of a Family dies, there aren't many who don't know about it. "Maybe he just—" But Galen was shaking his head.
"No," he said. "He wasn't speaking of a possibility. He was speaking of a certainty. And so am I." He shook his head. "Anubis and I are marked for death. We don't know how. We don't know why. But there's no denying it anymore. And I'll be damned if we just sit there and wait for it. My father was right. We can't choose the where or the when, but we can sure as Hell pick the how, and we have." He offered Jericho an almost feral grin. "We do not go quietly into this night." But Jericho was shaking his head.
"Galen…all right. Look, let's assume for the sake of argument that it's true. That someone's after the Families. Why run? I mean, the Council has to—" But Galen cut him off.
"Jericho we can't trust the Council." Jericho blinked and stared at Galen, taken aback for a moment, not fully understanding the words.
"What?" He finally managed.
"Look," Galen said, lowering his voice at the sound of Anubis and Tristram coming back out of the rooms upstairs, "I've said too much as it is. I can't go into more detail. I'm risking a lot by even talking to you about this, and you're one of the few people left in the order I do trust."
"I don't understand," Jericho said. "Galen… I mean, no offence, but you sound crazy. Christ, you sound downright paranoid…"
"But I'm not," he insisted, meeting Jericho's unbelieving gaze. "If I was going to snap, I would have done it a long time ago. Not now." He ran an unhappy hand through his thick black curls. "I can't make you believe me, but it doesn't matter. That's not what I came here for. I just came to warn you."
"…there's a lot of anger, and a fair amount of despair," Anubis told Tristram as they descended the steps. Jericho's head snapped up and he resisted the urge to frown. "But also, particularly in your room, there's a different feeling. It's simpler, for lack of a better word. And confused." Galen reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded up piece of paper.
"This is a requisition form, signed and approved by me as Head of Voidbringer," he whispered hastily, handing it over to Jericho, who took it and slipped it into his own pocket. "Be careful how you use it and who knows you have it."
"A requisition for what?" Jericho asked, but Galen turned back as Anubis and Tristram returned to their seats.
"So," he said, erasing all signs of the previous conversation from his face, "find much out?" Jericho frowned darkly at him (a look mirrored by Tristram), but settled uneasily back onto the couch.
"More than we had, anyway," Tristram answered, "and if nothing else, we know there's definitely a ghost now."
"You know, in case the missing crosses and moving beds weren't enough proof," Galen said with a slight smile.
"There's never enough proof for Captain Bring Down over there," he said, pointing his chin at Jericho. His frown darkened when Jericho didn't rise to the bait, and apparently hadn't even really heard him.
"At any rate," Galen said amicably. "We've taken up enough of your time, and our flight back to Egypt leaves early tomorrow. We'd better get back to the hotel and finish packing and maybe actually get some sleep tonight." He got to his feet and Anubis followed suit. "It was nice meeting you Tristram," he said, holding out his hand as Tristram and Jericho got to their feet. "I look forward to watching your career with the Order." Jericho's gut clenched at the lie.
Holy shit, he realized, kind of dazedly, he's serious about this…
"Yeah, thanks," said Tristram, making no effort to hide his irritation at having missed whatever it was that had passed between Jericho and Galen. "Pleasure's mine. Thanks for the 'help', Anubis."
"Not a problem," Anubis answered simply, shaking Tristram's hand as he moved past to get his coat. "It was nice seeing you again, Jericho."
"Yeah, you too," he said, accepting Anubis' hand. The younger Voidbringer gave him a look as enigmatic and impossible to read as always. There was something hard in it, and something grim, and something else he couldn't translate. Something smug? Something satisfied?
He released Anubis' hand and turned to Galen, who once again pulled him into a quick embrace. "Watch yourself, Jericho," the elder Voidbringer said quickly and quietly. "That's all I'm asking." Jericho didn't respond and Galen pulled away.
"Thanks for the visit," Jericho heard himself say as he led them to the door. "Next time you're on the continent, let me know, we can hook up again."
"Of course," said Galen, pulling on his coat. "Thanks again for everything Jericho." He met Jericho's mismatched eyes with a steady, serious blue gaze. "Goodbye." Jericho didn't respond. He pursed his lips and shook his head unhappily. Galen sighed and clapped him on the shoulder, then turned and left, Anubis right behind him. Jericho let the door swing shut and watched the retreating figures though the little window.
"What the Hell were you two talking about?" Tristram demanded finally as the Voidbringers started up their rental car and began to pull out.
"Just catching up," Jericho said gruffly, turning from the window and moving back into the house. "Nothing special."
"Oh bullshit," Tristram scoffed. "Anubis couldn't have cared less about the ghost! You just wanted me out of the room!"
"Oh, have we decided to add paranoia to your already considerable list of psychological malfunctions?" Jericho demanded. "Why the Hell would I care if you were there while Galen and I made fucking small talk, exactly?" Tristram narrowed his eyes as he followed right on Jericho's heels.
"I saw the look on your face, Pops," he all but snarled. "You weren't 'catching up'. What's going on?"
"Nothing, kid, Christ," Jericho said, rolling his eyes. "Mind your own business."
"Given that I'm stuck living with you for a while, I think your business is my business."
"Not this time," Jericho said flatly. He moved into the living room and picked up his half-empty bottle off the end table. He turned towards the stairs but found Tristram standing right in front of him. "What the Hell is wrong with you?!" He demanded, startled and annoyed. "Move."
"Normally, when some old guy's daughters die, he's not all that interested in small talk with alcoholic cowboys."
"Alcoholic cowboy," Tristram clarified. "And normally small talk like that doesn't make a guy's eyes bug out of his head – yeah, like that." Jericho glared furiously at him, clenching his bottle in a white-knuckled grip.
"Get. Out. Of. My. Way."
Tristram didn't move. He narrowed his champagne eyes and glared at Jericho defiantly, as though if he stared long enough he could discern the nature of the older man's previous conversation through osmosis. Jericho twisted his face into a scowl and he roughly shoved past his Charge, resisting the urge to go after him physically when Tristram shoved him back.
"The fuck are you going?" He demanded angrily as Jericho moved for the stairs.
"To bed," Jericho responded, equally angrily. "Or are you going to accuse me of conspiring up there, too? It's been a long day, all right? I want to sleep."
"Long day my ass!" Tristram responded.
"Christ!" Jericho snarled as he ascended the steps. "For once in your life could you just accept things as they're given to you?! It has been a long day! And I don't feel like extending it any more by suffering through your company!"
"Yeah?! Well the feeling's mutual!" Tristram shouted. Jericho slammed his door in response. Somewhere downstairs he heard Tristram punch a wall. He let himself lean back against the door for a moment and tried to get himself back under control.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the requisition form, throwing it almost carelessly on his night table. He sat down on the bed and stared at it for a moment, attempting and failing to come to terms with everything Galen had just told him. He finally just shook his head and drained what was left in his bottle, then set it down on the table beside the form.
Downstairs Tristram threw something across the living room. A moment later, he jacked the TV volume up to an unreasonable level. Jericho rolled his eyes and gave up. He crawled over onto the bed without getting undressed, lacking the will or energy to bother.
For a long time he just laid on his back and stared up at the ceiling. Finally, however, the course of the day's events caught up to him; he fell asleep and dreamt of a tear-stained face tearing the pages from an old journal.