7: Progress


Brenda woke from a sound sleep, and stretched grandly – or as grandly as her creeping arthritis would allow. Several joints and the length of her back all reset in the final moments of that action.

"Ow," she said out of habit, pressing her knuckles into the small of her back, even when it didn't actually hurt. Quite the opposite. It felt really good.

More slowly, she climbed out of her thickly layered bed, trying to tell herself it wasn't really as cold as the shock of it led on. Sliding her feet into some rabbit-fur slippers, she stood up and shuffled over to the bathroom.

Necessities taken care of, she rummaged through her drawers for the day's attire and got dressed in a matter of minutes. She realized, as she was clattering around the bathroom several moments later, that she might be disturbing Jacob's rest. After all, she'd yet to see him wait for the sun to be up before he was in bed, and she was creating quite a racket.

Feeling guilty, she leaned out the door and cast a glance down the hall towards his bedroom. Listening intently, she only caught the soft sound of snoring coming from beyond his door. No other sounds of movement made it to her ears: no creak of bedsprings as he rolled over, no change in the rhythm of his breathing.

"Huh," she muttered. "Sound sleeper for someone with such acute senses."

She ducked back in the bathroom and set about mashing her curls into something resembling order. Once she felt presentable, she moved to the front of the house to start her coffee and breakfast.

That's when she found the note pinned between the carafe and the burner. Her lips pinched. Good thing she didn't have an automatic brew cycle set, or else he'd be helping her put out the subsequent fire.

She snatched it from its perch and opened it.

"Overheard a guy named Swede talking about an odd kill on the northeast end of his property. Do you know him? Any idea where his property might be? If you can get me close, I can do the rest."

She glanced up and narrowed her eyes. Swede? She'd heard that name before. Yet it wasn't coming directly to mind who it was. When her gaze dropped, she realized he'd written more than that.

"Also: fair warning, ran into Tasha at the bar – recognized me immediately. Sorry, wasn't that great at keeping my mouth shut. She knows I'm staying here."

Despite everything, Brenda groaned loudly. Knowing Tasha like she did, there was going to be no living this omission down.

Setting Jacob's note on the counter, she mulled the name he'd provided her. She continued to think things through, as she set up the coffee to brew. When that was percolating, she moved to the refrigerator and pulled bacon and eggs out of it. Peeling several slices of the fatty meat off the block, she dropped them into a heating pan, and then moved to whipping eggs, milk, and spices together for her scrambled eggs. Brenda set that bowl aside and adjusted the heat on her bacon, before she lifted the note from the counter. Without looking, she dropped the note next to her place setting and then continued to her small desk. Sorting through the papers there, she finally came up with a map of the area. A little outdated perhaps, but it should have the topography Jacob needed to ramp up his search for Enrique.

Her brain had finally put a face and a given name with the alias Jacob had overheard. In turn, that advised her on where the man had his property in relation to the town. She nodded as she swept the map off the desk, grabbed a pencil, and deposited them both on the table next to the note. She returned to the stove, attending her meal before something burned. She flipped the bacon over, moved them to the edge of the pan, and then poured the egg mixture into the open spot.

While she was stirring the mixture into soft lumpy bites, she contemplated what she knew.

Swede – Karl Kristofferson – and his family harkened from Sweden originally, and even though they'd lived in Qaanaaq three generations now, all the men had been nicknamed Swede by the other locals. Of course, that got dicey when more than one of them was in the room, and it ruined the town's fun when they had to actually call them by their given names.

Picking up the crisped bacon, Brenda swiftly crumbled it atop the nearly cooked eggs before they burned her fingers and stirred it in. When the edges of her breakfast were browned, she scraped the entire thing back into the bowl she'd used to mix it in the first place.

She ate her breakfast as she pored over the map, visually orienting herself so that when she was finished feeding her face, she could point Jacob in the proper direction.

Finishing her last bite, she set the bowl and fork aside and pulled the map and the pencil closer to her. Once more she assured herself about the location of Swede's property lines and began sketching them out on the topographical map. She also took a few moments to highlight the probable area where Swede was talking about. The process didn't take long, and Brenda added her own note in reply to Jacob, who was sure to be up before she got home again.

"Great. My last day of work for the week, and you've earned me a fifth degree. Thanks… I think.

"Anyway, here's the general layout of Swede's property. I even marked where I think he's talking about for the kills. Be wary, he's pretty trigger-happy and a good shot. Wouldn't want to be mistaken for a wolf or anything.

"Let me know if you're going after the lead tonight, so I know not to expect you before I get up again.

"Brenda"

While she already knew the answer to that last part, she still wanted some notification of his intent.

That matter settled, she poured another cup of coffee and downed it, before heading for her gear. Snatching up her vehicle's fob, she hit the necessary buttons to get it started and warming the interior before her arrival. Like everything else she did, she got into her winter gear with no-nonsense efficiency – already stuffed with her necessary identification, keys to the house, etc.

She closed the front door quietly, even when her hands were already muffled in thick, insulated gloves. From there, she tromped to her car and headed for town.

Once in town, she parked behind the store and entered through the back. Tasha was already in residence, and Brenda's gut squirreled at the thought of the conversation she knew was coming.

She wondered how long it would take Tasha to pounce on her. Snorting softly, she moved to the front of the store finding everything already done. Tasha must have been in a tizzy, because the coffee was made, all the stock had been rotated, the till was counted and the deposit bag was sitting idly on the counter waiting for Brenda to do her double check. Guess with all that excited energy, she had to burn some off before the day started.

"Morning, Tasha," Brenda started pouring her third cup of coffee.

"Mornin,'" Tasha muttered, seeming distracted.

Brenda leaned back and tilted her head some, shocked that the girl hadn't started right in. Not yet willing to deal with that particular band-aid's removal, she checked the till and the deposit bag before heading for the back to lock things up.

When she returned, she moved to the table where Tasha had parked herself and lowered herself into the opposite chair. "Thanks for getting everything going," she said as she wrapped her gnarled hands around her coffee mug.

"Sure," she said without her usual enthusiasm.

"You okay, Tash?" Brenda threw the question out there, not used to Tasha being this withdrawn and distracted.

"Hm?" she almost snorted, as if waking up. She blinked several times and then focused on her. "Yeah, I'm fine."

She leaned forward watching her hands as she pinched one thumb and then switched. Brenda grew warier by the moment.

"Jacob's back," she started absently. Then she focused on Brenda again. "But you knew that." Her mouth drew into a moue, but what drove the expression Brenda didn't want to guess at.

"Yeah, I knew that. I put him up when he arrived." Brenda admitted and then fell silent. She knew Tasha wasn't going to be long getting to the point.

"How many days?" Tasha added.

"Just a few days now. He was in a hurry to make sure I was still kicking around."

"He said that." Tasha smiled, but it was anything but sincere. "Odd that last night was the first time that I saw him, though."

"He's been laying low," Brenda admitted, schooling herself not to go into details on that matter.

Brenda started to say something, but Tasha got there first. "He mentioned an emergency back home." Brenda stifled her shocked reaction. "Why'd he let us all believe he'd washed out?"

"Well," Brenda jumped in, "I don't think anyone ever asked him, I think we all just assumed that was the case."

It was truth, and a brilliant bit of cover up, if she did say so herself. She'd have to pin Jacob down on some of the details he'd shared with Tasha, so she didn't put her foot in it in the next few days.

"I suppose," Tasha muttered. "Still. Why didn't he just tell us that there was trouble back home he had to take care of?"

Brenda shrugged, unable to answer her question. All the more reason for her to confirm with Jacob what information he'd fed Tasha.

Before she'd finished that thought, the younger woman drew a breath and rounded on Brenda. "You know him better than I do. Do you think he's acting different?"

Brenda tilted her head. "Well, I mean if it was bad business back home… he may still be dwelling on it."

Her gut clenched again at the lie she so easily threw out there.

Considering that, Tasha started nodding. "That makes sense. He seemed so embarrassed to have been seen. Just seemed weird."

"I don't know what else to tell you, Tash. He hasn't shared a lot about what happened."

"Well…" she shrugged and then sighed. "Would you tell him again that I had fun last night?"

"I'll be sure to pass it along." She lifted her cup in a sort of salute before polishing off the dregs.

Yet when she got home that night, Jacob, as predicted, was nowhere to be found. The table was bare of the map and her note replaced by a reply from Jacob.

"Brenda,

"Thanks for the tip. I'm going to get on this right away. Chances are pretty good I won't be back tonight. If things go the way I hope, it may be longer than that.

"Thanks for putting me up. I was sure to tidy my quarters. I hope that the conclusion of this ends with our mutual thorn removed once and for all.

"Jacob"

Brenda's brows lifted. Part of her was worried for him. If his stalk went over-day, he would risk not being able to find shelter from the sun's rays. Even as weak as it was up here and how little time it lasted this time of year, Jacob could be in serious danger.

She reminded herself that Jacob was smart, resourceful, and probably had planned for such a contingency. In fact, he'd probably find a place to shelter first, before even beginning his investigation.

Another part of her hoped it did take him multiple days to find the dhampir, Enrique. She felt a growing elation, selfishly wanting her day off unmarred by company.

The day came and went, Brenda blissfully going through a day where there were no demands on her time but those she wanted. Evening followed on its heels with no interruptions. As bed time rolled around, she felt more relaxed than she had in a long time. When a small question rose to the surface about why Jacob hadn't returned yet, she quickly squashed it. He was a big boy and she needn't be worrying about him like he was her son. He'd show up when his errand was finished, she convinced herself.

With that she went to sleep.

The next morning when she woke up, readying herself for another day of work, she slowly came to realize that there was no sign of her boarder.

Blinking, she knocked on the man's door. No answer came, so she opened the door and stepped in. The place was immaculate. The bed had been made neatly and when she checked the drawers she'd cleaned for his use, she noted that he didn't leave anything behind.

A small twang went off in her middle. Perhaps he didn't intend to come back at all. "Hmph," she grunted. But a part of her was upset at the thought she might never get to say a proper goodbye to the man.

Despite it all, her day was filled with thoughts of how Jacob might be faring out there in the tundra. Was he able to find shelter? Would he be able to track and kill Enrique? Would he bother to let her know?

Of course he would.

Still she didn't convince herself. And by the time she'd gotten home – after dark – and there was no sign of her boarder, she actually became nervous and worried for him.

When a third night came and went, Brenda was beside herself with worry for Jacob. Worse because she had no idea where he might be after forty-eight hours, and what she could do to help even if she knew where he was. More fitfully, Brenda tried to go to sleep that night.

She must have managed it, because she was startled out of her sleep by sounds coming from within her house. Sitting straight up in bed, she reached for the pistol tucked under the edge of her pillow.

Her first thought was that Jacob had found his way back finally. But the continued loud noises weren't like Jacob, so it squelched any thought of her calling out. Instead she shoved her feet into her slippers and went to investigate.

As she drew nearer the source of the disturbance, she found that the sounds were coming out of the cold storage. Even as she turned the corner into the kitchen area, she jumped when something heavy and metal fell or was thrown to the ground. She found that the entrance of the house was ajar several inches. Snowy footprints left slowly melting ice across her rugs and the hardwood – bee lining for the door of the cold storage. That door was also ajar, and the continued noises slipped through the gap between frame and door.

Definitely an odd burglary, if that's what this was. Who would go straight for the food?

Cautiously she approached the door, curling the fingers of her left hand around it's edge and slowly pulling it further open. At the same time, she kept her gun trained on the widening gap in the hopes of not being rushed by whomever was here.

Beyond the prep table that took up the little bit of open space between door and shelves, she could see movement. She aimed for just above the edge of the table.

A groan reached her followed by the form hunching further over. It was then she saw that whomever it was, they were stripped of jacket and shirt bare skin slightly blue under the poor lighting above. Her incredulous gaze shot back to the front door, noting no sign of the missing clothing between there and here.

Glimpses of red flashed here and there as the person shifted bringing an arm into view before it fell to some work she couldn't see. The body shifted and she caught a glimpse of a larger, viscous stain of red on the floor. Hands swiped through it and she could hear the sound of eager – or desperate – sucking as the person moved the substance to their mouths.

Brenda dared not try for a better view, instead her anger rose up to bulldoze her fear aside. "Who are you?" she demanded, steadying her gun with both hands while using her hip to keep the reefer door open.

Silence fell for just a moment before the person shifted to face the door. Still mostly unseen for the table between them.

"No," someone groaned, muffled and distorted from behind the table. "Don't… I can't… I won't…"

"Come out of there!" Brenda added next.

"Leave… please…" the person pleaded with her.

"This is my house, damn it. You don't get to make demands in my house!" Brenda bit out. "Move where I can see you!"

At first, she thought the person was going to call her bluff, falling still and silent behind the obstacles between them. Just as she was stiffening and screwing up her courage, shaking hands slowly peeked further and further above the edge of the table top. The hands were completely covered in several shades of crimson. Some still dripped and drooled down the long slim fingers. The limbs crossed over at the wrists as the person remained ducked behind the small bit of protection.

"Please…" the voice said, sounding suddenly familiar. Hair plastered by melted snow and sweat straggled across a pale forehead and a disturbingly blood-filled eye peeked between the warding hands. "Something… wrong… help… Brenda…"

The man tried to pull up further, but slipped off his purchase on the table and fell with a thud back to the floor.

"Wait," she breathed. Lowering her weapon, she dashed around the edge of the table, finding Jacob curled up amongst the remnants of a nightmare. The stores that he had been saving were pulled down, ripped open. Much of the blood contents lost to the floor. His face, hair, and torso were spattered and streaked with blood. His torso and face also shimmered with sweat or perhaps melted snow. He was wearing only his heavy snow pants and his boots and she wondered how he hadn't froze before he arrived here.

"Jacob?" she gasped, dropping to her knees next to him. "Fuck! What happened!"

"No…" he protested weakly, pushing at her knee with lackluster strength. "Get… away…."


A/N: So.. PLOT TWIST I've been batting this one around for a while now, and decided to simply go with it to see how it works out. It may be a terrible flop, but I'm hoping not. Now the ball is in Brenda's court... but first she's got to figure out what's going on with Jacob to begin with...