Flight from mayhem, p.27
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.27

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  “Well, we have some for you.” At that moment, I noticed Tonya was yawning. I realized she hadn’t had any sleep in well over twenty-four hours. “Tonya, why don’t you go in the back for a while and rest. There’s a couple rooms that have daybeds in them. You need sleep. The rest of us can manage for a while longer without it, but you’re human. You need to get some rest, especially if we’re going hunting for Bette tonight.” I motioned to Ralph and he nodded, leading her off to the back. I turned back to Chase and filled him in on everything we had discovered.

  “So it looks like we’re dealing with a creature that’s not quite a doppelgänger. It’s actually worse. I was about to put in a call to the Supe Community Center to find out if they’ve had any new members in the past two months. We think that the diatrofymata set up a cover persona there to gather information on potential victims. Then it could masquerade as a love interest, once it knew all about them.”

  “Why don’t you go ahead and do that while I check in at the station.” He pulled out his phone and moved off to the side.

  I flipped through Bette’s contacts and found the number. I called the contact listed, hoping that I wouldn’t get hold of the diatrofymata.

  “Supe Community Action Council, Donna speaking.” A brisk voice answered me—female.

  I realized I wasn’t exactly sure what to say. “My name is Shimmer, and I’m from the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency. We are working on a case involving several of your members who have been murdered.” I knew that Chase had given us this case on the QT, but now was not the time to pussyfoot around. “Can you tell me how long you’ve been with the Council?”

  “Five years, why?”

  I supposed the diatrofymata could be lying, but I decided to chance it.

  “We need to know if you have had any new members in the past two months. This particular member would be someone who would probably show up at every meeting, and who might have taken an overt interest in several of the elderly members.”

  There was a pause, and then Donna cleared her throat. “Actually, yes we do have a couple members who fit that description.” There was something about her voice that made me take notice.

  “One of them strikes you as odd, don’t they? We need as much detail as you can remember. If you would like to verify that I am who I say I am, I can have Chase Johnson, director of the FH-CSI, call you.”

  A pause, and then she said, “No, I trust you are who you say you are. I have the ability to sense these things. And you’re right. One of them has never sat well with me. She makes me uneasy. She kept asking about their mental state—whether they were lonely and lived alone.”

  “Did she get the information she was looking for?”

  “I imagine she did, but not from me. She signed up as a volunteer during an art class led by one of our other members. She also signed up to volunteer during our community dances. I asked her if she would like to work with some of our more indigent members, those who need help but can’t afford it. Basically, our homeless Fae and Supes. But she said she wasn’t geared for that kind of work. I turned her over to another board member who is more diplomatic than I am.”

  I could read between the lines. “In other words, she didn’t want to work with the poor and hungry. Can you give me her name? Do you have a home address for her?”

  “She goes by the name Estelle, and she said she was rooming with a friend until she could afford an apartment. She did give me a cell phone number. Let me get it for you.” After a moment Donna rattled off a number and I wrote it down on a pad of paper next to the phone. I had the feeling the number would be a no-go, but there was always a chance.

  “When was the last time you saw her?”

  “Let me think . . . I’d have to say that it was last week. She showed up for a short time, and then took off again before I could say anything to her. I haven’t seen her since then.” A pause, and then Donna asked, “Do you think she’s the one who murdered our members?”

  “I can’t answer that, but I will say this: If she shows up again today, will you please call me or Chase Johnson? And whatever you do, don’t let on we were asking about her. This is extremely important.” After giving Chase’s number to Donna, I hung up.

  As Ralph came back, Chase finished his conversation and I told them both what I had found out.

  “We have the cover persona, that much is for sure. Chase, can you marshal together a group of officers to go with us? They need to be Supes—strong ones. The diatrofymata tend to be exceptionally strong, and they’re resistant to all attacks from metal because it’s part of their element. Which means I doubt if bullets will do any damage. We’re going to need a different way to attack it. I wish I could just turn into my dragon self while we’re out there, but I can’t unless I’m underwater. So we need brawn and plenty of it. And I don’t think Ralph and Alex will provide enough muscle to take the thing down.”

  “Don’t forget I’ll be there,” Chai laughed, but there was a seriousness behind his levity. “She’s right. Creatures that are from an Elemental plane tend to be overtly strong on a physical level. And because this creature’s from the Elemental plane of Earth, it’s going to be exceptionally muscular in its natural form.”

  “I know just the men you need.” Chase headed for the door. “I’ll be back with the cavalry shortly before sunset. We’ll be ready to roll. We cannot allow this creature to get away or it’s just going to move on to new fields. Damn it, we just don’t have enough of a national communications network when it comes to things like this. When we’re dealing with human victims, the FBI can reach out on a nationwide level to spread information throughout law enforcement agencies. And this is why I’m headed to Washington, D.C. Everything has to change, given there are so many Supes and Fae in the world today.”

  As he closed the door behind him, I turned back to the others. “Get everything ready, Ralph. Chai, I really should go home and make certain Glenda hasn’t struck again. It just sucks that I have to walk there because it will take me too long to find a ride.” I gave him a soft smile.

  “I can take you—” Ralph started to say, but Chai interrupted.

  “I get your meaning,” he said. “I’ll go home and make sure everything’s all right. I’ll be back before you can blink.” And with that, he was gone.

  I looked up at the clock. One more hour until Alex woke up. Realizing that I was hungry—my stomach was rumbling—I put in a call to the closest pizza place and ordered four pizzas. Between Ralph, Chai, Tonya, and me, we would finish them off in no time flat.

  * * *

  As hard as it was to sit and do nothing, we forced ourselves to rest and eat. I waited until the last minute to wake up Tonya. Ralph handed her a Flying Horse, and she was groggily starting in on the pizza when Alex walked through the door. He took one look at us and dropped his backpack into a chair.

  “What’s going on?” He looked wary.

  I glanced at Ralph. This was going to be one of the toughest things I’d ever had to tell Alex—probably one of the toughest things he had ever had to hear.

  “We have a situation. Sit down and we’ll tell you everything.”

  Without a word, he slid into a chair. “Talk.”

  “First, we have figured out we’re not dealing with a doppelgänger. Not exactly. As far as we can tell, we are dealing with a creature called a diatrofymata. It’s similar, but it’s a creature from the Elemental plane of Earth. It not only mimics its victims, but it can mimic others it has simply met. And it can manifest some of their abilities, although not perfectly. Gerta, the Golden Frog? That was the creature. We think that it has actually captured the real Gerta and is hiding her in its lair to force gold coins from her eyes. And now, it’s also captured Bette.”

  Alex let out a string of curses and jumped to his feet. “Do you know where the hell this creature is?”

  “We have a good idea
. We were just waiting for you to get here. We’ve narrowed it down to an area on Stone Weaver’s property. Chase will be here shortly with reinforcements. This creature is strong, Alex. Strong in a sense that I don’t think we have the upper hand. It’s from the plane of Earth, and it’s going to have the strength of the earth behind it.”

  Ralph cleared his throat. “I stopped at Bette’s houseboat to drop off something and found it had been trashed. We found enough circumstantial evidence to tell us that the creature has captured her.”

  As we filled him in on the day, and Tonya showed him the passage in her bestiary, the look on Alex’s face grew more and more troubled. I had expected him to be angry, and I knew he was, but instead of lashing out and running amok, he seemed to withdraw. And when Ralph told him about what he had seen with Bette and the figure bathed in light, he seemed even more thoughtful.

  “If there’s any reason you can think of why it would be holding Bette hostage other than money, it would be good if you would tell us now. We know she has cash, but there’s something else about her. Am I right?”

  Alex stared at the table for a moment. “There’s a great deal I know about Bette that she doesn’t even know.” He glanced at me. “I seem to be the caretaker type. Not only am I your parole officer, but I was assigned to watch over Bette. You ask if there’s any reason why this creature might want her besides money? I can’t tell you why, because if I do it will cause a great deal of trouble. But yes, I do know of a reason. Bette is worth a great deal to the right person. She doesn’t know who they are, she doesn’t know anything about this . . . but we have to get her back alive and intact.”

  I had always known there was a special connection between Alex and Bette and it didn’t bother me in the slightest, but now I had the feeling that it went far deeper than anything any of us could imagine. “Did you know all of this about her when you first met her?”

  He shook his head. “No,” he said. “I only found out after she and I had been together for a while. As I said, I cannot tell you anything about this right now. And Bette must never know we’ve had this discussion. But we have to get her back safely.”

  At that point the soft chime of the bell announced a visitor to the office. Alex jumped up and headed out of the conference room, leaving the door open. I could hear Chase’s voice from the waiting room. Our reinforcements were here. Ralph and I locked gazes, but we said nothing. Whatever was going on, it was obvious we weren’t going to find out about it tonight.

  I stood up and stretched. “Tonya, I want you to stay here. You’re still tired, and it would help if we had someone here to watch over the phones just in case Bette manages to call.”

  “You’re just worried about me because I’m human. Trust me, I can take care of myself. I’m tired but another good jolt of caffeine will help. I want to go. I want to see this creature for myself, and I’d like to help if I can.” She folded her arms across her chest and I had the feeling she wasn’t going to budge.

  “If Alex says you can go, fine. I just want you to be careful.”

  “Trust me, I’m not going to risk my neck.” She yawned and Ralph silently handed her another can of Flying Horse. She chugged it down, blinking at the taste. “Oh man, give me a latte any day, but this will do for now.”

  We tripped out into the main waiting room. Chase was there and he had with him four brawny-looking men.

  Ralph let out a little growl. “Werewolves.”

  “That’s right,” one of them said. “I think we’ve met at Supe Community meetings before. I’m Frank Willows. I’m the leader of the Supe militia. These are a few of my buddies—José, George, and Thomas. We’re at your disposal this evening. Tell us what you need done, and we’ll do it.”

  “Unfortunately, I can’t come with you.” Chase looked rather uncomfortable. “I have yet another fire that needs putting out. I hesitate to send any of my men with you, at least on an official basis. There are certain aspects to this case that I’m not sure I want written into the books. Although, once we get the federal agency going, it would make a good case study for it.” He suddenly stopped, glancing at Frank, and I realized he had said more than he wanted to in front of the werewolf. But Frank just looked the other way, as if he sensed Chase had made a slip of the tongue. I had a feeling that Willows was good at keeping his mouth shut. None of the other werewolves seemed to have noticed.

  “I suppose we better get moving. We need to brief the four of you on what we’re dealing with, and make certain you understand the risks. Ralph, if you could go with the werewolves, I’ll take Shimmer, Tonya, and Chai.” Alex turned to the werewolves. “Do you have a large enough vehicle to handle the back roads? We’re not off-road per se, but I’d rather not have you take a sedan or town car out there.”

  Frank laughed. “I got the perfect vehicle. If Ralph can navigate, I’ll drive. I’m used to off-roading.”

  “Then let’s head out. Chase.” Alex turned to the detective. “We’ll let you know what happens. And . . . Thanks. I mean it.”

  As we all headed out the door, I prayed that we could find Bette while she was still alive. And I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell secrets Alex had on her.

  * * *

  I hadn’t yet told Alex that I had been through his drawers, and I decided the car, with three other sets of ears, wasn’t exactly the place to do it. At least I had enough sense to recognize potentially volatile situations, and I didn’t want to make our friends uncomfortable if he decided to pick a fight over it. I did, however, fill him in on what Glenda had been up to.

  “One thing I forgot to tell you is that your ex-girlfriend trashed my house. And that includes killing a bunch of my fish.” I told him exactly what had happened. “I have no idea how much damage has been done. We had to drop everything because of the situation with Bette. I dread going home and dealing with a waterlogged living room.”

  Alex was silent for a moment. He switched on the turn signal, and, as we edged out onto the freeway, he gruffly said, “I’ll take care of it. I’ll take care of any damage done, and I’ll replace your fish and aquarium. Don’t even bother going through your house insurance. You don’t need them to raise your rates because of what Glenda did. And trust me,” he said in an icy voice, “I’ll take care of Glenda as well.”

  I was about to tell him not to worry but decided that, no, everything wasn’t all right. It was time he faced exactly what kind of person she was.

  “Thank you,” was all I said.

  “Not all succubi are like her. I hope you realize that. I’ve met some over the years who were absolute gems. Unfortunately, it looks like I ended up with the bad apple in the barrel.” He looked so unhappy that I realized he truly hadn’t believed she was dangerous. I had just shattered his illusions.

  After a moment, Tonya broke the awkward silence. “I’m glad that my bestiary could come in handy.” When we were in Port Townsend, she had told us the story about how she found it. It seemed more than fortuitous and made me wonder if destiny had forced her hand.

  “As soon as we take care of the matter with Bette and have her home safe, we’ll see what we can do about Jack Skelton. I don’t like the idea of you returning to Port Townsend while Jack is still up there. He’s far too dangerous. Shimmer, Ralph, and I will be worried sick about you if you go home while he’s still prowling around the town.” A pale smile flashed across Alex’s face, and I realized just how much he cared about all of us. Even vampires had to deal with stress.

  “I’d really appreciate that. To be honest, I’m scared to go home now. When I came down here, it was mostly to get away from Degoba’s wedding. But I think I was secretly hoping you guys would tell me I had nothing to worry about and that I was just imagining things. Instead, I’m going to be jumping at shadows until Jack stops bothering me.” Tonya leaned forward to stare over the front seat. “I sent Degoba a note this morning. I congratulated him, and told him I w
ished him and his wife all the happiness in the world.” Her voice was strained, but I could tell she meant every word of it. “I realized, I don’t want him to ever think that I’m doing anything like Jack is doing to me. I like Degoba, and I would miss his friendship so much if he felt he had to distance himself from me. I don’t want that to happen.”

  “Nobody could ever mistake you for a stalker,” I said. “And you just wait, you’ll find someone better suited to you. I know it.” I was starting to understand what it meant to reassure a friend, even if you weren’t sure of what you were saying. I didn’t know if she would find love, but she needed to hear that now.

  Chai shifted in the seat next to her. “Sometimes, the person you’re waiting for might be right next door.”

  I restrained a snicker. Oh yes, Chai had a crush on her. But Tonya was too absorbed in her worries to notice. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

  As the miles passed, the road grew darker and the traffic was almost nonexistent. Early April in the Seattle area was still chilly and overcast, with a lot of rainstorms and wind coming through. Spring in western Washington wasn’t like spring in the Dragon Reaches, where the sun shone cool but bright most of the days. Of course, the sun often was shining down on a pile of melting snow, but the days were brighter than here.

  As if reading my thoughts, Tonya asked, “Tell me what it’s like in the Dragon Reaches. I’d like to get my mind off Skelton and stalkers and monsters lurking in the dark.”

  I let out a short sigh. “Well, this time of year, snows are still melting over a vast area of the Dragon Reaches. You have to understand that we live at the top of the world, above the Northlands. Oh, the red and gold dragons tend to gather more in the southern areas where the temperatures are warmer and the winter is milder. And my kind—the blue dragons—almost always live next to the ocean. But for the most part, the Dragon Reaches are mountainous and craggy, and the snows flow thick and heavy throughout most of the winter. There aren’t vast forests there. There are in the Northlands, but the tree line grows thin up in the Dragon Reaches and most of the timber is scrub, short and stubby from the constant winds. It’s beautiful, but it’s difficult for humans to live up there, and even the Northmen have difficulty when they work their way up into the mountains of the Dragon Reaches. In fact, most of them are afraid to stray too far into our territory. They are afraid they’ll get eaten.”

 
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