Walking into Shadow - Chapter Three
When Janus first found the place he would start his store, it was so big, he thought there was no way he could ever fill it. It was in downtown St. Paul, across from what used to be the Civic Center and now was a hockey arena. There were other odd stores on the same block now. A store that sold antiques of things that most people hadn't owned in the first place, like carousel horses, gas pumps or tin advertising signs. Another sold nothing but handmade greeting cards. The one right next to him sold lamps and clocks. Over the years, Janus's store had become the main draw for the people who came to the area for shopping. The block was all one connected building, subdivided into individual stores, and it was an old, easily from the turn of the century. It had dark wood walls, a high ceiling and huge windows that made it seem like the front of each of the stores were made of glass. The sign above the windows of Janus's store read "Journey Magic and Books," and Janus had owned the it for almost seven years.
When he first came to St. Paul, he was a mess. His whole life had exploded around him and he was barely able to tell what thoughts were his and what thoughts were those of people near him. After Belinda's funeral, he had gotten in his car and driven away from everything in his life. He didn't even go back to his dorm room to get his belongings. All he had was a beat up old car, a suitcase full of clothes, a pocketful of money, and the desire to get as far away from everything he had known as he could. He wandered the roads of America for nearly a year before his car broke down in St. Paul, and he didn't have the money to get it repaired.
At the time, his mind was shattered and his abilities made it nearly impossible for him to function. It wasn't long before he was living on the street, since the money eventually ran out, and he couldn't function well enough to keep a job of any kind. It wasn't until he was placed in a homeless shelter that he started to pull himself back together. While he was there, he helped another homeless person named Charles Emmet. Charles had been suffering from a debilitating series of schizophrenic attacks, to the point of believing that he was being abducted by aliens every night as he slept. Janus was finally able to focus on something going on outside himself as he had tried to figure out what was really happening to the man, since He saw that he never left his bed during the so-called abductions.
In helping Charles regain his connection with a sane reality, Janus learned how to build barriers between his thoughts and other people's. As luck would have it, Charles owned the block that now housed Janus's store, and when Janus got back on his feet, Charles gave Janus the store for five years rent free in return for helping him. Now, Charles would drop by every six months or so to see Janus, and see that the business Janus had started had turned the entire block into a success.
Janus started by selling little things that intrigued him, magic decks, linking rings, books that explained how to do bigger illusions, flash paper, and other magic tricks. After about six months of not selling very much and having a customer a day if he was lucky, he became a voracious reader, sometimes reading a book a day. He started selling off the used books in the store, and it wasn't long before he had a brisk trade in buying and selling used books.
The store soon became filled with bookcases, filled with yesterday's bestsellers, odd non-fiction books that were horribly out of date, and in one growing section, weird books about occult subjects. Janus hadn't ever really noticed when they started showing up, in trades, or with people cleaning out attics, but over the years, he'd built up an impressive section. Since he'd become known for having that kind of book (as well as being the Midnight Star as a "Mystic Avenger"), he got more than a normal share of them being sold to him. Some were genuinely creepy books that had a strange history, but most were old tomes written by people who wanted no more power than that to separate the gullible from their money.
There was an unmarked division in the store, with the magic tricks and paraphernalia in the front, a wooden counter that looked like a small bar where people would pay for their purchases, and the bookshelves taking up the rest of the space. He had had a back room until it became so full of books, it was easier to knock out the wall and buy more shelves to put them on. The busiest day in the store was Saturday, with kids wanting to see how to make a rabbit vanish, and people combing the shelves for something to read. It was also one of the three days his only employee, Jill Gary, would work the store.
Jill had started work for him when she was sophomore in high school, and now she was a freshman in college, going to the University of Minnesota. She was a tall, blonde girl who liked to dress in vintage clothes and really enjoyed playing the with books. There had been a few times when she had been involved with the weirdness that invaded Janus's life from time to time, and Janus thought she had the spark of the same abilities he had, but they didn't ever discuss it. She would watch the store whenever Janus had to leave town, and he seemed to spend more time telling her that she shouldn't work than scheduling her for hours. Left to her own devices, she wouldn't have gone to college, preferring instead to stay working for him at $7.50 an hour.
When Janus arrived at the store after dropping Lynn and Rachael off at the airport, he was glad that it was a Wednesday, which was traditionally the slowest day of his week. Lynn wouldn't be in, no new shipments were do to arrive, and since most of the kids were back in school, his store traffic had slowed noticeably. Normally the store would open at 9 am, but he had put up a sign the night before that he wouldn't be opening until 11 a.m. He knew Lynn's plane departed at 9:30, but he also knew that every flight he dropped her off for had been delayed.
Parting with her was hard for him normally, but this time it had been worse. With John Wyddian in the picture, all of the security he could feel was gone. Wyddian was the only man who could make him feel like everything in his life could collapse at any moment. Most because the last time he'd gone toe to toe with him, it had.
As he walked through the back door and turned off the alarm, he thought about how comfortable the store felt to him now. He'd been here longer than he'd been in his house, and spent more time in the store than he spent awake in his house. The store had dark, wooden floors, and it was lined with long, tall wooden bookshelves. He checked the clock and saw that he still had about a half hour before he would be opening the store, so he decided to walk the shelves.
The back shelves were filled with the older, hardcover, occult books that had found their way into the store over the years. They were books that weren't sold in chain bookstores. Most of them weren't even in other independent bookstores. Many of them were published by companies that even Janus hadn't heard of, and the way they got into the store for the most part were from estate sales, or people selling books from deceased relatives. Some, however, just seemed to be there, and he had no idea how they first showed up. He kept the occult books in their own section, and had noticed that most of the people who came into the store didn't even look on those shelves. They were in the back of the store.
Most of them were filled with the same type of folk knowledge that had passed for witchcraft for generations. Herbs that would cause people to fall in love, potions to cure diseases, spells to bring wealth filled book after book, but a few had actual knowledge that was worth something to Janus. Every so often, he found something that could give him insight into a problem he was facing, or a new way to harness the odd skills he had. Much of the information in the books was worthless, but every once in a while, there was a nugget of true knowledge. Janus just wished that the knowledge was easier to find.
All of the books, however, had a presence. One of Janus's skills was to be able to pick up an object and "read" the emotional impression that was left on the object. If an object was owned by a person for a long time, or was held by them when they were going through something particularly powerful, it would have a leftover resonance that never left the object. The first time he was able to read the past of an item in the store, it had freaked him out. All new experiences were hard on Janus, since he hadn't exactly had good luck with change.
It had been a boring afternoon, and an older man brought in a box of books that he had found in an attic when his grandmother died. Janus went through the box, piling them into stuff that he could get a decent price for and those he wouldn't be able to sell at any price. When he got to the bottom of the box, one of the books he grabbed caused a reaction that he'd never experienced before.
All at once, he was able to see when the book was given to the women, and knew everything about the moment she had gotten it. Her name was Marion, and it had been a gift from her mother the night before she got married. The whole room had faded way and Janus was there, in the room, in his mind, living through the memory, but unable to move. It was like being inside a playback of an event, and it made he feel like a ghost. Janus was able to feel Marion's fear and excitement at the prospect of moving from one life to the next. When it faded, it felt like he had been entranced for hours, but in reality, he hadn't even been out of it long enough for the man selling him the books to notice. Janus totaled up what he would pay the man, but he put the book that had caused the reaction back in the man's hands, saying, "Your Grandmother had a lot of memories attached to this one. I think you should keep it."
The man took the money and the book, but had an odd look on his face, as if he couldn't comprehend what Janus had said. Over the years, Janus had gotten to know that look quite well, and he even called it, "This guy is a complete psycho" look. He looked over the shelves, and breathed deep, taking in the smell of the old paper and glue. There was just something about that smell that calmed him. He glanced through the titles, looking for anything on vampires and came up empty as always. He smiled and thought to himself that if it were that easy, anyone would be able to do it.
And he knew that he was the only one who could do anything about it. As he thought of that, the smile faded from his face, and the faces of the victims filled his mind again. He forced them from his mind as best he could, but they never truly left his thoughts.
Janus switched the lights on, got the money from the safe and unlocked the front door, opening the store at 10:50. He smiled at the fact that this was probably the first time in five years he'd opened the store ten minutes before the time on the door rather than ten minutes after the time on the door. Maybe he would have to start opening later, just so he could open on time. Then again, he thought, that would last about a week until he would start showing up ten minutes late at whatever time he chose. He also liked working earlier in the day, since he always felt he could get a lot more done before noon.
Ten minutes after he opened the store, Harry Winters slouched in. Harry dressed like he probably had back when he was a college student, and Janus suspected they were the exact clothes he had worn in college. He wore a pair of faded black jeans, a concert T-shirt of a band Janus didn't recognize, a beat-up windbreaker jacket and was carrying an overstuffed duffel bag. Harry was in his mid 30's, but looked older than he actually was. He had a gaunt face, and his hair was mid length, coarse and wiry. There was more gray than brown in his hair, and the lines around his eyes were getting deep enough to make Harry look ten years than the age he said he was.
He still had the look of someone who smiled easily and would be willing to pick up the tab at the bar. Problem was, if he kept picking up the tab at the bar at the rate Janus had see him do it, he would age faster than he already was. The way the sun hit his face as he came in, Janus saw Harry's mortality for the first time since he'd known him. It wasn't a thought that Janus wished to have, but there it was. He wanted to pull Harry aside and tell him to stop killing himself with drinking and hard living, but he knew that Harry wouldn't listen to him.
Besides, who was Janus to tell him that he needed to take care of himself to stay alive? Janus always threw himself into danger headlong, knowing that one false move would mean death or worse. Until he had met Lynn, he'd known in his mind that he probably wouldn't live to see thirty, but here he was, just a couple of weeks from that age. Then again, he wasn't thirty yet, and John Wyddian was back in his life. He knew that he shouldn't count his days just yet.
"Oh, and thanks for picking me up at the airport," Harry said, walking over to the counter and dropping the duffel bag on the floor with a loud thump.
"I don't seem to remember you telling me what flight you were coming in on," Janus said, moving around the counter, grabbing the bag and putting it behind, next to his stool.
"What do you mean, you don't remember? You remember everything."
"Yeah, and I remember you saying, 'I'm going to try and get a flight to Minneapolis first thing tomorrow. I'll let you know.' Then you told me you had to go so that you didn't wake up the ex."
"God," Harry said, "That's right. Dammit, I've wasted a perfectly good hour being pissed at you when I could have been pissed at someone else."
Janus looked at him and spread his hands slightly, as if to say "there you go." Harry wandered over to one of the big easy chairs Janus had around the store for people to relax and read. He plopped down with enough force to cause the chair to cough out a small burst of dust, then swung his legs over so that they were hanging over one of the chair's arms. Janus sat back down on his stool and said, "Now are you going to tell me what's going on with the ex-wife being in your apartment last night? I don't see any bruises on your face, so it must not have been one of your typical discussions with her."
"I don't know," Harry said, "It all happened so fast. One minute we're in the bar and I'm trying to pay attention as she pours out guts to me, and the next, we're in my apartment attached at the lips. All I can really say is that I'm glad I had to leave this morning. Otherwise we might have to talk about what happened, and don't want to talk to her about it."
Harry shifted in the chair uncomfortably and Janus didn't need empathic skills to know that he was pretty messed up about what had happened. He'd only known Harry to have short-term, shallow relationships, since his marriage had fallen apart. The longest relationship he'd known of Harry having since then lasted two weeks, and ended badly for both of them. Janus then thought that that may be a poor way of thinking of it, since all of Harry's relationships ended badly. That one had been worse, however, since he thought Harry actually cared about that person when she told him that she couldn't put up with him any more.
It took a little bit for Harry to answer Janus's question, and when it did, it was quiet and halting, "because it almost felt like we were connecting again. I actually listened to her and she actually listened to me. It's a lot easier when we just hurl insults. That, I can understand. Last night, I can't understand."
"My God, Harry you're about to have an actual emotional experience. I wish Lynn was here to see it, since doesn't believe that you are capable of it," Janus said with a slight smile on his face.
"How are things going with you two? I have to admit, the idea of someone else living in that house with you still seems wrong."
"It's better than I thought it would be," Janus said, missing her again as he spoke, "We're doing the kind of things normal couple do. We even went to a wedding reception as a couple. It figures that things would start to get weird just as I begin to feel like a normal person."
Janus hadn't meant to change the subject, but Harry jumped on the opportunity to change the subject from his emotional problems and Janus let him. Since they'd talked about the fact that the killing had to be Wyddian, Harry had brought a bunch of stories he'd gotten off the news services about the murder. All of them treated it as a standard robbery/murder, with little attention to any part of it that they would be interested in. It barely made the major Chicago papers and was relegated to smaller, neighborhood papers and website about crime statistics. No mention of anything odd, just a brief write up of a person stabbed in the throat who bled to death. Janus knew better, though, since he'd felt it as it happened in his dream.
He spread the stories out on the counter and read through each of them, carefully. Most were small notices, reminding him of the small notices in the paper when Belinda died (was killed). There were no pictures, but Janus didn't need them. He knew the alley, and in his mind's eye, he could see the body. It would have been lying just a few feet from the door of the back door of the office building, face down. He gathered up the stories and put them back in the folder that Harry had given him.
He sat back down on the stool and felt what little emotional turmoil that was left in him melt away. He closed his eyes and images of the alley flashed through his mind. He could still smell the smell of rotting garbage, he could still see the red police lights flashing across the building, and he could still hear the voice of the policeman who kept asking him to let go of the body so that they could take her away. After all these years, it was still fresh in his mind. He remembered all of it, and didn't come out of the memory until he heard Harry say, "Are you ok, buddy?"
"No," Janus said with a sense of finality.
Harry was silent for a short time and Janus tried to push the memories away. He could still see the rip on her neck, the blood in her red hair and the faces of the people around him. It was a moment that stretched into infinity. Even now he had no idea how it ever ended.
"Janus," Harry said, touching him on the shoulder. Janus hadn't even noticed that Harry had gotten up and was standing next to him, taking the file folder from his hand. Janus saw something he had never seen in Harry's eyes before, fear. The waves of fear were enough to shock Janus out of his memories and back into where he was and what he was doing.
He closed his eyes and his head went down. He banished the last vestiges of the memories from his thoughts and said, "sorry," so softly he wasn't sure that Harry could hear.
"Are we going to move on this one?" Harry asked.
Janus stood up and went to one of his file cabinets. As he looked through it, he said, "Yeah, we're going to move on this one." He pulled out a file of his own. It was filled with papers, newspaper clippings, photographs and notes written by Janus. He flipped it onto the counter and sat back down on his stool.
"This is everything I have on Wyddian. It's not much for someone who's been around as long as he has, but he does a great job of hiding behind the scenes."
"Great," Harry said, "I'll read through it as we head over to Chicago."
Janus shook his head, "I'm not going to Chicago."
Harry looked at him, confused, "Look, I know you don't take cases that take you to Chicago, but this is the big one. This is John Wyddian calling you out."
"Exactly," Janus said. He opened up the folder and flipped through the pages until he came to a stack of notes in his own handwriting. He grabbed them and gave them to Harry, "What he is trying to do is to get me on his turf. There's no way I would be able to figure out what he's up to if I do what he wants or expects. I'm going to have to try to figure out what he's doing before I find him."
Harry looked through the pages quickly, and Janus waited until he was finished looking through them before he continued, "Back when I was facing Evan, I had a series of dreams about Wyddian being a knight of the round table in the time of King Arthur. I've spent a lot of time since then trying to piece together the story, and that's everything I've been able to put together. There was a Wyddian in some of the more obscure Arthurian literature, and there's some reference to a great battle. After the battle, he wasn't ever seen again, although there were rumored sightings of him at night, killing people in the far countryside of England. There are a lot of books that suggest that that is where many of the early Anglo-Saxon vampire myths came from, but once you go back that far, you can't trust any of the info you find. It's all been translated and transcribed so many times, there's no way it can be close to accurate."
Janus was about to go into more detail when the door opened. At first he thought it was a customer, but a quick glance let him know that it was Jill Gary, his part-time employee. She came in, dressed in a black T-shirt and biking pants, pushing her ten speed bike into the store. She was young, starting her first year of college, and had long dishwater blonde hair that had been given a loose perm since she started college. She was still wearing her bike helmet, her sunglasses, which had dark green lenses, and was carrying a huge canvas backpack. She put the bike behind one of the bookcases and dropped the helmet next to it. She reached into the backpack and changed glasses to a pair with lighter green lenses.
"What?" she said, noticing that both Janus and Harry were looking at her.
"Are you supposed to work today?" Janus said, honestly confused.
"No," she said, headed toward the back of the store so that she could change clothes in the restroom, "but I got done with classes about an hour ago, and thought it would be a good idea to head over here and see if you needed me."
When she was in the bathroom changing, Janus said, "Anyway, if I want more information about Wyddian, I'm going to have to go to England. Will the paper pay for that?"
Harry frowned, "They should, but they're going to want to know what a murder in Chicago has to do with England."
Janus knew that what Harry meant was that Harry wanted to know what a murder in Chicago had to do with England, since the paper did much care as long as the story made the circulation go up. Janus made sure that Jill hadn't come out of the bathroom yet, and then said quietly, "I have to find out about Wyddian's past. It's the only way to figure out what he's up to. He always does everything for a reason, and never the reason it appears to be."
"OK," Harry said, and Janus knew he still not really understand. How could he explain to Harry that he didn't understand it either. What he hoped was that the dream he'd had years ago about John Wyddian becoming the first of the vampires had happened in a cave by the ocean. If he could find the cave, maybe the emotional resonance would be powerful enough to have lasted all these years, and he could see what happened as he could when he picked up the old book years ago. It was a slim lead, but the only one he had. The problem was, if it was the birthplace of vampires, it would not be a safe place for anyone, and Janus didn't want anyone else at risk.
If someone was going to die, he didn't want it to be someone he cared about. It was a threat toward him, so the risk had to be all his.
They both heard the bathroom door open, and Janus closed the folder and put it into Harry's duffel bag.
"You two have to quit talking about your secrets now," Jill said. She was in a simple, long black dress. Janus was used to her wearing vintage closes that always looked out of date enough to be odd, but worked for her. It was odd to see her in a simple floor length dress, with a small black leather vest.
When she started hanging out at the shop, she was a gangly fourteen year old, all elbows and knees. Now, she was starting to look like a young woman, and her style of dress would easily cause eyes to snap in her direction. Jill noticed that neither of them had said anything for a while and she said, "What? Haven't either of you seen a vest before?"
"Not on you," Harry said, a bit of grin playing around his face.
"Pervert," she said and she wandered over to one of the chairs and flopped down.
Janus made sure that all the stuff about Wyddian was put away, since Jill had almost been a victim of Evan. Janus knew that he didn't have to protect her, but he always did what he could not to mention vampires around her. She was still messed up over the whole episode as she should be. No one should ever be relaxed around a predator. He thought for a moment, and then said, "It's actually a good thing you showed up. I'm probably going to have to be leaving for a few days."
"I kind of figured that, what with Geraldo here and all," Jill said.
"Hey," Harry said, genuinely stung, "I don't like being compared to that flake. I'd never do a afternoon interview show."
Jill shook her head and said, "Or get a legit news job."
"I don't know if I like your employee, Janus," Harry said, asking for relief.
Jill smiled and said, "Where are you two going this time? Somewhere fun or another crummy little backwater in some town no one ever wants to go to?"
"It looks like I'll be going to England," Janus said.
Before he could say any more, Jill said, "England? That's no fair! I've always wanted to go to England."
"It won't be a trip for fun. We've got to deal with..." Harry started, but then Janus cut him off.
"And it won't be a trip for you," Janus said flatly.
Both Jill and Harry said "What?" at the same time. They frowned at each other and then looked at Janus.
"You're going to have to stay here and watch over things. I'll only be there a couple of days if everything works out, and I'm going to have to go on my own."
Harry said, "I know the paper won't foot that ticket. They want to make sure that I get the story on this."
Janus looked at Harry for a minute, trying to make sure he phrased what he needed to say correctly, and then softly said, "Harry, this trip isn't going to be safe."
Janus could tell that Harry was about to say something, until their eyes met. He watched the understanding fill Harry's face, and heard Jill say, "oh my god" so softly that he wasn't supposed to hear it.
There was a moment of silence between the three of them that lasted a seeming eternity. Jill finally got up and went to the rear of the store, and Janus could actually see tears starting to well up in her eyes. He felt bad about having to scare them, but it was best that they knew what Janus was getting himself into. The last time he'd tried to stop one of Wyddian's plans, people had died. Wyddian killed people. That's what he did, and he didn't think any more of it than Janus thought of opening a can of soda. Janus didn't want that to happen this time, and if he couldn't prevent that, he didn't want it to be anyone he was close to.
* * *
By the time she was able to get Rachael down for sleep, all Lynn wanted to do was to crawl into the bathtub, run the water as hot as she could stand and spend the rest of the night soaking. The trip itself hadn't been bad, but Rachael still thought that being on the plane was party time. The stewardesses were of no help, constantly bringing her noisier and noisier toys until they touched down in LA. It also didn't help that her ex-husband, Tom was waiting there when they got into the terminal.
Rachael had run straight for him, leaped into his arms, and began to chatter on about everything that happened on the trip. Lynn was happy at the fact that this time, Tom left his new wife at home. They'd been divorced for three years, and Tom was already on the second wife since he'd left her. She would have felt a bit smug about it, except for the fact that she was still hoping that he would have to go through the same loneliness that she'd dealt with when he left her. If there was any justice, he would be dumped by this latest conquest and end up alone, without a place of his own to stay, or anyone who gave a damn about him.
She had to grudgingly admit that he hadn't done a horrible job as the primary caretaker of Rachael. Rachael was a peach, and she loved him dearly. Still, it was painful to watch the two of them giggling over something Rachael had said while she was getting the luggage. In her tired and angry moments, Lynn wanted Rachael to feel as resentful and angry toward him that she did. It was petty, and she would never do anything to make it so, but it was always in her mind, waiting to escape if Tom ever did anything to hurt her again.
They all went out to dinner, and Lynn felt like even more of a third wheel as they talked about the upcoming school year and what new clothes Rachael would need to look good for kindergarten.
Neither of them noticed that Lynn didn't eat much of her food, but then again, she could have gone to the bathroom and not come back until it was time for Tom to go home. She felt left out, and started to miss Janus. He may be preoccupied a lot of the time, but he never let her feel left out because he was absorbed with someone else. She chided herself for thinking such petty thoughts again, but couldn't help it. She guessed it was because she was still angry over the marriage ended and wondered if she'd ever be where she wasn't angry about it.
He dropped them off at the hotel, and Rachael waited until after he left before getting sullen and saying that she missed her daddy. Lynn handed it like a pro, telling her that Daddy still had to get the house ready for her to come home. She kept so much of her own feelings about it stuffed down inside that it was a relief when she saw Rachael's eyes close for the last time.
She was going to unpack some of her candles and set the bathroom up nice when she started, but by the time she got her nightclothes out, all she wanted to do was slide in and forget everything about the day.
She was tempted to call Janus before she got in, but she knew that it would not be a call that would relax her, so she decided to wait until after she'd had some time to herself before calling. It wasn't that she didn't want to hear from him, because she did. In fact, she needed to talk to him now. The problem was that he wasn't in any sort of shape to give her support. He'd told her bits and pieces about John Wyddian, and even though she didn't have his empathic abilities, she knew that any time he was involved, Janus was going to be a mess. The few times he'd talked about Chicago, she always knew that he wasn't telling her the whole story, but the part he'd told her was horrific enough.
Since moving in with Janus, she'd gotten to be very good at knowing when she could go to him for support, and when she was on her own. While it wasn't perfect, it was better than her marriage to Tom, when she'd been on her own the whole time. Tom treated her as if she was an object, something he had to have in his life. "I've got a job and a house, I should have a wife," was his attitude. Janus treated her more like a partner, something he wanted in his life.
She sank into the tub and laid a warm, wet washcloth over her eyes, leaning her head back. She started to relax the way Janus had taught her, breathing in through her nose, holding the breath as low as she could and then slowly exhaling through her mouth. It helped after a while, and she felt all of the stress start to leak out of her.
Just as her mind was starting to drift, the phone rang. She was startled upright, and heard the water sloshing around her. She got up quickly and grabbed one of the terry cloths robes hanging by the tub. By the time she got out to the phone, it had rung five times. She picked it up, looking at Rachael to make sure she was still sleeping, and said in a hushed voice, "Hello?"
A throaty female voice said, "Is this Lynn Michaels?"
Lynn had never heard to voice before, but it caused a chill to run through her body and settle at the back of her neck. She almost felt light-headed, wanting to simply hang up the phone and take it off the hook. She didn't though. She stood there, trying to understand the fear that was running through her. There was no reason to be scared, but every fiber of her being was screaming a warning of some kind. Her voice sounded a lot shakier than she wanted it to when she said, "Yes?"
"And your ex-husband is Tom Michaels?"
"Yes, may I ask who's calling?"
"You may ask," the voice said, a slight teasing quality to it, "but it doesn't mean I will answer. I just thought it would be a good idea for me to call you. To hear your voice."
"Why? Who is this?"
There was a soft laugh on the other end, and it was the most evil sound she had ever heard in her life. It was the laugh of someone who was about to do something horrible and enjoy it. "You'll know soon enough. I just wanted to know who you were. You sound a lot like I thought you would."
Before Lynn could ask any more questions the line went dead. She sat down on the chair next to the phone and watched Rachael. She was still sleeping, breathing softly, her face at peace. Lynn sat there until she realized that the wet terry cloth robe was starting to get cold. All that kept going through her head was that she had to protect her daughter. It wasn't until she got to the bathroom, and changed into her nightclothes that she thought to call Janus and ask him if he knew what had gone on. He probably wouldn't, though. As she scrubbed her face, she thought that it had to be one of Tom's past or present girlfriends.
As she brushed her teeth, she thought that it was the only explanation that made any sense at all. Even when she'd gone with Janus on one of his "expeditions" (as she called them), nothing had ever happened to her. Janus always said it was because there were rules of engagement, but she always suspected that he was telling her that so that she wouldn't worry. Why would something that killed people for incomprehensible reasons obey some sort of arcane rules?
The few times she'd brought up John Wyddian to Janus, he always reassured her that he would never be able to go after anyone in Janus's life. When she asked him why, it was one of the few times Janus had scared her, when he said, "Because we have a pact, paid for in blood and fire."
Janus's face was dark as he said it, and he didn't look like the seemingly shy, self-contained, confident man she'd fallen in love with.
When she was done washing up, she decided to go down the hall and fill up her ice bucket, so she would have a glass of water ready for Rachael if she woke up in the middle of the night. She shoved the hotel key card in her pocket and dutifully trudged down the hall. She was happy that there wasn't anyone around in the hall as she filled up the small plastic bucket and came back to her room. She pulled the card out of her pocket and went to put it in the door's slot when she saw something on the floor. A flower, and it looked like a freshly picked bluebell. It looked odd and out of place, and when she bent down to pick it up, she still couldn't figure out why it was there.
She looked around, hoping to see some sort of clue as to why it would be there, but the hallway was empty and silent. She went back into her room and decided to call Janus.
* * *
Janus was packing his suitcase for the trip to England, humming along tunelessly with the CD he had playing in the bedside alarm clock. He wasn't even sure what it was, since Lynn was the one who picked the music for the house since she moved in. Janus's tastes had stagnated when he was in college, and the music from after that time was music that he had been given. Lynn, on the other hand, was one of those people who was always looking for new music to listen too. His music was a mish-mash of bands he'd listened to in college and the few new groups other people had introduced him to. He didn't listen to the radio any more, so he had no idea what sort of music was around.
He packed his clothes quickly and with little thought. He'd done that so many times that he knew what he needed and how much of each item to get. It was almost done on autopilot. He didn't have to pack any of the little things like razor blades or deodorant, since he kept a separate travel kit for those things that he only needed to toss in his carry-on bag. When he got done with the clothes, he reached under the bed and pulled out his crossbow.
He'd never been able to fire a gun, even when he would have had to fire a silver bullet, but he'd had his crossbow for years. It was a simple, elegant weapon, and over the years, Janus had been able to learn how to use it with more skill than he ever thought possible. It had saved his life a number of times, and if he was going to be facing a vampire, it was how he would be able to drive a spike in the vampire's heart without having to be next to it.
Harry was in the living room, asleep on the couch with the TV on. Janus had stayed up to talk with him until he finally fell asleep during some silly sit-com he was watching.
Even with Harry here, the house felt empty. He was used to Lynn being around him all the time when he was home. Even if he were working on something by himself, she would just gravitate to the room he was in, and start doing whatever she was doing near him. If he were reading in the dining room, she would bring out some of her photographic equipment and fiddle with it at the same table. If he was going over the store figures in the basement (where he kept the computer and all of his financial records) she would inevitably come downstairs to do laundry or putter in her darkroom.
As Janus sat on the bed and started to disassemble his weapon, he could imagine her sitting on the floor by the bed, asking him if he had everything, putting together a secret package of things for him to discover when he got where ever he was going. The last time he'd gone on a trip and had to leave her behind, he found a small wrapped package that had a picture of her, a short note and a small package of Janus's favorite cookies, Nilla Wafers. This time, the only thing he would find in his suitcase was when he himself put there.
If he hadn't been so intent on making sure he was prepared, he would have been able to allow himself a moment of melancholy over that.
After he had the crossbow broken down to its component parts, he closed up the suitcase and turned it over. On the other side was a hidden compartment that was made to hide the weapon through airports. It was lined with a lead mesh that made it hard to make out the metal components. He'd had the suitcase searched a couple of times, but the compartment had been put there by someone who's business it was to sneak things through airport. Janus smiled at the hint of that memory, seeing the man's face in his mind as the phone rang and jolted him back to what he was doing.
He picked it up quickly, so as not to wake Harry (even though he knew it would take a major explosion or F5 tornado to wake him up) and said, "Hello?"
"Hey, you," Lynn said. She sounded exhausted, and from her tone, he could tell that she wouldn't want to hear any of the details of what he would have to do.
"You sound beat, is Rachael asleep?"
"Yeah," she said, wearily, "I should be asleep too, but I thought I'd feel better after relaxing in the tub. Would have too if I wouldn't have gotten a weird phone call."
Janus listened as she described it, and he could feel a knot in his stomach. He hoped it didn't have anything to do with Wyddian, since part of the pact he had with him was that none of the people in his life would be harmed by him. Lynn went on think that one of the women in her ex-husband's life either past or present. It felt wrong to him, and he knew that the bluebell must be some sort of message. He'd have to check one of his books on flowers when he got off of the phone.
"Lynn, I want you to do me a favor while you are out there."
"Don't go outside after dark, and don't let anyone in your hotel room you don't know personally when you are in it. No cleaning people, no room service, no one at all. I don't know what's going on, but I'd rather you played it safe."
Janus could sense she was about to say something, and stopped. He could almost see the words in his mind that she wanted to say: I can't lock myself up in a hotel room.
"I know it seems weird, but I have a bad feeling about what's going on and I don't want you in any kind of danger."
"Danger?" Lynn said, a slight tremor in her voice, "You told me that Wyddian wouldn't ever move against anyone you know. You have a pact."
"Yes," Janus said, his mind trying to figure out if there were any loopholes in the promise he was able to extract from Wyddian so long ago. He couldn't think of any, but there was something he was missing, something that just seemed out of synch. He shoved the last few parts of the crossbow in his suitcase before saying, "The last time there was an issue with this, it was when one of the members of The Family decided to break with his rules. I was able to stop him before he did anything permanent, but I wonder if the killing in Chicago was a way to draw me into a dispute."
"What...what can I do here? I think I should come back there, Janus. You're scaring the crap out of me."
"I'm not going to be here for much longer," he said, knowing he had to address her fears. It was hard for him to figure out the proper words, since he'd never been good at making people feel comfortable around danger. Most of the time, he was trying to wake them up to a danger that they didn't want to comprehend, "I have to go to England, where this all started. There have to be some secrets there about Wyddian and how things started. If I can learn all those secrets, I might be able to put together what he's up to now.
"What you need to do is just take care of yourself. Don't take any chances until you hear from me that things are clear. If it is a rogue member of The Family, they can't move during the day. Only Wyddian can do that for some reason, and he prefers not to. The other thing you and Rachel need to do is always wear your crosses."
"You said those didn't work," Lynn said plainly.
"I said they don't work for me. The cross itself isn't what keeps them back, it's the faith behind it. You believe in what it stands for, and that it what would keep them away. I envy that faith."
"Janus," she said, knowing he was changing the subject and letting him, "you believe in things that no one else can see. It's a small step to go from that to a belief in something bigger than yourself."
Janus was silent for a moment, mulling her words. She'd said them before, and he had tried to believe in God in the past. He knew the Bible, and had gone to church most Sundays as a child. But when he watched his father and brother die in a senseless accident his faith took a body blow. The death (murder, she was murdered) of Belinda had convinced him that there was no God. And even if there was one, it was not a God that he could count on or one that he could worship. His travels had driven home that life was harsh, dangerous and the faithful and unfaithful died without intervention. If there was a God, Janus knew that He didn't care for His children, and a God like that deserved nothing but contempt.
"I have my protection, and you have yours. If anything makes you think that one of The Family is endangering you, contact me as soon as possible."
There was a brief silence on the line, "Janus," she said, "You'll be on the other side of the Earth. What would you be able to do?"
"Call in one of my boons. Wyddian owes me two."