McDermott, Pennsylvania – Stop & Go Inn – Mid-Morning
Dawn and Skye both rolled over and cast harsh glares at Shannon. The young slayer was busily typing on her keyboard.
“Will you knock it off?” Skye said, throwing a lumpy pillow at her.
Shannon moved too late, and it struck her in the head. Skye laughed as Shannon angrily threw the pillow back. It hit Skye sharply in the chest.
“Pillow fight!” Skye cried.
Shannon turned quickly where she sat on her own bed in the cramped hotel room and took a pillow from behind her. She threw it across the room with slayer strength. Skye let out a vampiric shriek and pulled Dawn in front of her. The pillow thwacked Dawn hard.
“Hey!” Dawn cried, as Shannon and Skye both laughed. She wriggled out of Skye’s grasp. “Hey and hey!” she said, looking at the slayer and the vampire in turn. “We need to get some sleep! We have to be out of here at sunset. Shannon, turn that computer off. If you want to be a writer, then stop being a slayer, ’cause there’s no time for both!” Shannon was looking beyond Dawn and trying not to laugh. Dawn turned her head quickly to see Skye mimicking her. Skye stopped and smiled at her innocently. “I swear,” Dawn said, “I don’t know who’s a bigger child, you or her.”
“Hey!” Shannon said. “I’m almost fourteen.”
“You tell her, Shannie.”
“Skye, be quiet! Shannon, computer off. Sleep. Now.” And with that, Dawn turned over and pulled the sheets up over her head. Shannon and Skye both giggled and twittered like ten-year-olds.
“Maybe I want to re-think that ‘eternity-with-you’ thing,” Dawn’s muffled voice came from under the covers.
There was a long moment of silence in the room, and then Dawn heard Skye’s voice. “Hey, little sis, what’s wrong?” The bed dipped as Skye got out and padded over to Shannon’s side of the room. Dawn pulled the covers down to see what was going on.
Shannon sat quietly, downhearted. Skye plopped on the bed next to her and stretched out. “What’s got you so mopey now?”
Shannon looked at her. “You guys are gonna be together forever,” Shannon said quietly. “You’re never gonna get old. You’re gonna always stay the same. But I…will. I’m gonna grow up. I’ll be, like, an old lady someday. Y’know, with gray hair and, like, a change purse…I won’t be able to hang out with you. I mean…I’ll be too old.”
“Jeez,” Skye said, considering it. “You’ll be old enough to be our mother. Our grandmother!”
“Yeah,” Shannon said. “I wish…I wish I could be immortal, too.”
“Oh…” Dawn groaned to herself. “I am soooo glad Anya’s not around to hear that.”
“Hey, y’know what?” Skye asked the girl.
“You just said you were gonna grow up and have gray hair. You said you’re gonna grow up! That’s the first time I’ve heard you say that.” Skye smiled earnestly at Shannon.
“Humph,” Shannon half-smiled at the vampire. “Guess I did.” She shrugged, and Skye turned the laptop toward herself to see what Shannon had been typing. “An insurance adjuster?” She looked at Shannon with a bemused grin. “Why the hell are you writing about being an insurance adjuster?”
“My dad said he once wanted to go work for an insurance company instead of working the farm. Said he coulda made a lot more money as an insurance adjuster. So I thought I’d write about being an insurance adjuster and see how it felt.”
“You are one weird kid.”
“Who’s weirder, the person who’s weird or the person who hangs around with the person who’s –?”
“Hey…” Dawn called. “We really have to sleep, you guys. We got a lotta traveling to do tonight. C’mon.”
The slayer and vampire both obliged the watcher. Shannon closed her laptop and Skye walked casually back to bed and got under the covers with Dawn. Certain that Shannon had rolled over and was no longer facing them, Skye pulled Dawn into a tight embrace and promptly fell asleep, snoring gently.
Dawn’s face crinkled in puzzlement. “If they don’t breathe,” she mused aloud, “why in the hell would they snore?”
Shannon giggled at the remark. A pillow flew across the room and landed on her heavily. “Sleeping!” she said, and within minutes, she too was snoring peacefully.
Pittsburgh – Roadside Diner – Same Time
“Look, Joelle, don’t worry,” Faith said into her cell phone. “We’ll find Norm, too, and we’ll take good care of him. Yeah, yeah, no problem. I’m on it. Okay, later.”
Faith turned her phone off and returned to the van. She got in and shut the door. “All right, listen up!” she told the chattering squad of slayers. “My kid’s on the loose. He’s probably trying to get to Shannon.”
She remained silent for a moment, allowing the thought to sink in. The girls looked at one another, then back at Faith. “So we got three people we want to be careful about: Dawn, Shannon, and Norman. Skye’s on her own. But the orders are no staking unless absolutely necessary. No damage to the watcher or Shannon. Or. My. Son.”
“So Shannie’s boyfriend’s running away with her…” Lorinda smirked. “They gonna elo –”
Faith caught Lorinda by the throat. She didn’t bother to turn to look at the girl. “Listen, ’cause I’m only saying this once,” she said, her voice cold and quiet. “I didn’t ask for you on this gig. They sent you along on purpose. I get that. But you pull a stupid move on Shannon or my son…and I’ll see you buried in vampire dust. That’s no threat, Lorinda. It’s a fact. And I don’t care what happens to me for doing it, either.” She released Lorinda. “You watch your step when we reach McDermott.”
“Where the hell’s McDermott?” one of the slayers asked.
“Not far,” Faith answered. “Will did another locator spell. Dawn’s using a counterspell to block it, but Will got a good enough indication to show them heading that way. They may even be there now, if they’re not traveling during daylight. We might find ’em in a few hours.” Faith started the van.
“I hope we do…” Lorinda muttered. “I really hope we do.”
Bureau Nine Headquarters – Felix’s Office – Noon
The door opened, and Lori strode inside. She stopped and looked around. Nearly every single light in the room was turned off, wrapping everything in shadow. A single desk lamp remained glowing, shedding just enough light to make out Felix at his desk. One arm and shoulder were visible, along with nearly half his face.
“What news?” His voice was low.
“The contingency plan is in place. We can act whenever you say.”
“Ah.” He sighed. One hand touched a control on his desk. The lights in his office began to glow, inching up to their normal level. He himself looked exhausted. Dark circles under the eyes. An unshaven chin. Even his breathing seemed tired.
“Sir? When was the last time you got some sleep?”
“Yesterday. Or maybe the day before. The Council has had days to go over those files. Days. I didn’t expect them to take so long.”
“There is…” She stopped.
“I may have ruined things.” She almost looked down, but didn’t.
“Rowena acted – well, she said something that upset me. I allowed some emotions to surface, about everything that happened before I left. I was rude.”
“Probably honest, too.”
“Yeah. That too.”
“And given their current state of dismay, even paranoia…”
Felix thought for a moment, then shook his head as if to clear it. “If that was enough to make them refuse to share information, especially under the circumstances, then none of them are as wise as they seem. Or as they need to be.”
“To be honest, they’re also seriously distracted right now.”
“Skye Talisker, you mean?”
“Frankly, the fact they let a vampire wander around HQ – I’m still trying to figure that one out.”
“It’s about hope. That things can be better. Certainly, if vampires can learn to be relatively normal members of society, that is in all our best interests? Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Well, it would also be pretty cool if I could fly. Still, I wouldn’t walk off a cliff.”
“Neither would I.” He smiled. It was a weary smile. “But maybe that’s why I’ve never discovered whether I can fly or not.” Now he stood. “Activate the contingency plan.”
“Are you sure? It’s only been a couple of days.”
Felix shook his head. “There is a time factor. And honestly, we’re not even sure they’d hand over what we need. If we ask directly, we risk them increasing security or moving the data. Nor can we explain why we want it, sadly. And there is far, far too much at stake.”
“Not enough she tortured people, murdered people, got away with it so far…now she’s done a number on everyone’s heads! And I once saved that psycho!”
“Lori.” She stopped, listened. “By all accounts, Violet Joston also saved her. Between the two of them, which would you choose as a role model?” Silence. “It is what we do, Lori. Save people. Go tell them to activate the contingency plan.”
“No second thoughts?”
“A thousand of them. But do it anyway.”
She nodded and left the room.
Watchers Council – Buffy’s Office – Day
Buffy signed a document and closed the folder it was in. She put the folder into her “Out” basket, then looked at her “In” basket. It was nearly a foot tall. She kept on looking at it for nearly ten seconds. What she did not do was pick up the next folder. At least, not yet. Finally, with a sigh, she reached over…
A knock on the door. Buffy smiled. “Come in!”
Moments later, the door opened, and Hope peeked inside. “I don’t want to bother you…”
“You’re not! Come on in! Grab a seat.”
Hope inched into the room, shutting the door behind her. Then she crossed to the front of Buffy’s desk and sat down.
“Jeff isn’t giving you a hard time, is he? Wanna file some kind of harassment claim?”
“No! Whatever gave you that idea?”
With a shrug, Buffy said, “Everybody who walks in here seems to want to hand over more paperwork for me to do.”
“That…that isn’t it.”
“Great! What can I do for you?”
At first, Hope said nothing. The pause wasn’t really long, but seemed so because of the way Buffy waited to hear what she had to say. “Any news,” said Hope, “about your sister?”
“Some. We’ve got a team working on it right now, including, as it happens, your sister.”
Hope nodded. “Good.”
“We both know how siblings can be a…problem, sometimes.”
“Yeah. We can.”
“Dawn thinks I’m being over-protective, but you know what? I’m not sure that’s possible. Of course, it is, but it doesn’t feel that way. Some part of me is always going, ‘There Is No Way I Can Protect Her Too Much,’ you know? On the other hand, then I remember our Mom, and things seem different.”
“We were raised by our dad.”
“I think Faith mentioned that.”
“He didn’t protect us.”
After a beat, Buffy replied with, “He should have.”
Which started another pause. “Me and Faith,” offered Buffy, “we’ve ended up with a lot more in common than either one of us thought. Yeah, slayers and all that, but now we’ve both been dead. That has turned out to be a lot less unique than you’da thunk. And we’ve both got sisters living with or near us. Both with significant others here at the Council.” She grinned. “And we both have problems with our sisters’ honeys.”
“Jeff? Faith has something against Jeff?”
“Let’s just say she’s still pissed at being wrapped in a magic cocoon.”
“That wasn’t his fault!”
“Faith knows that. Most of the time she feels it, too. Most of the time.”
“Her lover is a murderer.”
Buffy nodded. And sighed. “Therein lies the problem. Although to be totally honest, Skye’s body count isn’t anywhere near –” The buzzer on her desk made a sound. Buffy pressed a button. “So help me, if you have more forms for me to fill ou–!”
“We’ve been hacked,” said Willow’s voice over the intercom.
Hope and Buffy shared a look, wide-eyed and afraid. Buffy asked a question with one word. “Heli?”
“Not likely. If she needed something, she would have grabbed it weeks or months ago. No, this is someone with a lot of sophisticated systems behind them – I mean, a lot – and who knows exactly where to look. It’s as if they had our index.”
Hope paled. Buffy pressed the “mute” button on her desk. “Hope? I think I need to get the rest of this alone. Okay?”
Silent, Hope got up and left the room. She left much faster than she entered, her breathing faster than it had been.
McDermott – Stop & Go Inn – Afternoon
A middle-aged blonde woman with a few lines on her face opened the door quickly and turned to wheel her squeaky little cleaning cart into the darkened motel room. Without looking around, she walked straight to the windows and pulled the blinds open sharply. Mid-afternoon sunlight streamed into the small motel room, filling it with bright rays.
A sudden cry from one of the beds made the housekeeper shriek in turn. She looked over to see smoke rising from one of the mattresses. Suddenly, a woman sat up in the bed, causing the housekeeper to shriek again. The woman, sizzling and smoking, ran to the window and pulled the shades down so fast that the housekeeper didn’t get a good look at her.
“Can’t you read?!” the smoking woman said to the frightened cleaning lady. The sign says Do Not Distur –” Skye stopped yelling when she saw the door tag was not on the door knob.
“I– I’m sorry, ma’am,” the housekeeper said to the smoky figure. “I –”
“Get out!” Skye roared.
The housekeeper turned and nearly toppled over her own cleaning cart. She regained her balance and quickly pushed the squeaky cart out of the room.
“And close that door!” Skye yelled.
Sally obeyed and the motel room door slammed shut.
“Where the hell is that sign?” Skye said, still angry. She cast her eyes around the room and saw it, stuck onto the cover of Shannon’s laptop by a piece of well-chewed gum.
“Oh great,” Skye muttered disgustedly. “It’s not a slayer or a vamp hunter or a bunch of farmers with pitchforks for me…Oh no. It’s ‘Vampire Dusted by Cleaning Lady!’ Yeah. That’ll be it…”
Skye sighed and looked at the time. Then she quickly dressed and gathered up the blanket from the bed, shrouding herself in it. Opening the door carefully, she allowed her covered body to be struck by the slanting rays of the afternoon sun. Suffering no harmful effects from under the blanket, she stole outside and quickly disappeared across the interstate and into the woods.
McDermott – Sheriff’s Office – Moments Later
“Now, now, Sally…calm down. Tell me again what you saw. Slowly.”
The veteran sheriff, his career etched into the lines on his face, gave a long-suffering look to his assistant. She looked at him over the tops of her reading glasses and listened with amusement as he talked nervous little Sally down from another hysterical fit.
“Are you sure she wasn’t smoking in bed? I am talking about cigarettes, Sally. I don’t think people can literally ‘smoke,’ unless they’re doing that spontaneous conduction thing. What’s that? How many?”
The sheriff rifled through the mess of papers on his desk, looking for one in particular. He was only half-listening to Sally’s rant, taken by her account of having seen two other females, one a young teen, leave the room where the ‘smoking woman’ had been.
His assistant was also pawing through a file, having heard the sheriff’s end of the phone conversation. She found the sheet she knew he was looking for and walked it over to him. He grabbed the paper from her and read it, not noticing that Sally had stopped talking. Sally yelled at him, her voice bleeding out of the receiver.
“Huh? Oh, Sally! Now listen, Sally, I want you to tell me exactly what you remember about the two that left – what they wore and what they look like!”
McDermott – Merry Mart Discount Store – Afternoon
Dawn waited nervously inside an idling car while Shannon was inside the small department store buying new cross-trainers. She glanced around anxiously. “Hurry up, Shannon,” she muttered. “Can’t leave Skye alone for too long…”
As though on cue, a beat-up black and white police cruiser that looked like it couldn’t do more than fifty miles an hour turned the corner and parked right in front of the Merry Mart.
“Oh no,” Dawn said aloud. She dialed Shannon’s cell phone, but got the recorded message. Quickly, the watcher got out of the car as the police cruiser pulled over and the officer inside radioed the station.
McDermott – Merry Mart Discount Store – Moments Later
“Hey, Dawn, look at these!” Shannon modeled the tri-colored red-orange-and-gold Sketchers for Dawn as her watcher quickly approached her in the little shoe section of the store. “Who’da thought a little hick town like this would carry –”
“Shannon…” The soft tone of Dawn’s voice put all of Shannon’s slayer senses on full alert. “Let’s go.”
Shannon looked past the watcher and saw a heavy-set man in a trooper’s uniform and dark sunglasses talking to the cashier and looking in their direction.
“Listen,” Dawn whispered to Shannon, “go down another aisle and try to sneak out. Get back to the motel. Get Skye and get out of here.”
Dawn grabbed Shannon’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry about me. I’m indestructible, remember? It’s Skye we have to protect. She’s more vulnerable than either of us. You have to take care of her, Shannon. Just until this is over. Understand?”
“But Dawn, I…”
“You can do this. And there’s something else you have to do. You have to be in charge. Skye’s a vampire, Shannon. She can’t run the show, or she’ll get you both killed. Understand? You have to be the boss. She’ll listen to you. But you’re gonna have to be a slayer – with a capital S – to get her to, okay? She’ll be angry, but she’ll thank you for it later. We both will. ‘kay?”
Shannon looked off to her right. The officer was no longer visible. She looked up quickly at Dawn. “You can count on me.”
Dawn smiled at her. “I know I can. Now –”
“Good day, ladies,” the sheriff said from behind them. Dawn spun around quickly, taken by surprise by the portly policeman. “I’m Sheriff Jerry McDermott,” Jerry said, not smiling. “And before you ask, my great-grandfather founded the town. And you are…?”
“I’m…Samantha…Stephens…” Dawn said hesitantly. This is my daughter…uh…Tabitha.”
Jerry McDermott looked blandly at the pair from behind his sunglasses. “Uh-huh…” he said. “And you had your daughter when you were, what, ten? Mrs., uh…Stephens?”
“Oh, you know, Mom’s always getting mistaken for my older sister!” Shannon said, smiling and fluttering her eyelashes at the sheriff. “She looks young, doesn’t she? People always say how she never seems to age – ow!”
Dawn had stepped on Shannon’s toe, trying to shut her up.
“Mrs. Stephens…” Jerry said, with a very specific stern politeness, “would you and Tabitha mind accompanying me to the station for a little…talk? Or do you need to check in with your husband Darrin first?”
“Now,” Dawn said.
“Yes, now,” Jerry replied.
“I mean, now,” Dawn said.
“Huh…?” Shannon looked at her. “Oh…got it.”
Suddenly, Sheriff Jerry McDermott found himself landing hard on his butt from a simple push by the young girl. Shannon grabbed Dawn’s hand.
“C’mon,” she cried, dragging Dawn behind her through the store. The cashier and the floor clerk quickly ducked for cover behind the counter. Dawn and Shannon were out the door before Jerry could regain his feet.
“Shannon, go now! I can’t keep up with you! Don’t let anyone get Skye! I’ll stall him. Shannon…” She took Shannon by the arms. “Remember what I told you.”
“Be the slayer,” Shannon answered. “Capital S.”
“Right,” Dawn smiled. “Now go. Go!”
Shannon nodded, turned and ran with slayer speed back down the interstate, all in her newly acquired gold and red Sketchers. Dawn watched her race quickly out of sight, then turned to re-enter the store. She immediately bumped into the pot-bellied sheriff.
“Oh!” she squeaked, looking up at the angry officer. “I was just coming in to pay for the shoes.”
McDermott – Downtown Intersection – Early Evening
The little town of McDermott had already begun to roll up its sidewalks as dusk settled over it when Lupo Orongo arrived in a black sedan at the corner of Hamilton and Burke Streets. He cut the engine and sat in the shadows, humming a remorseful tune to himself. Under an unlit street lamp, not a minute later, the air began to waver. A small human form appeared, softly at first, then solid and clear.
Lupo looked around. Ethan Rayne’s sense of place and timing had been perfect; there was no one to see the child’s arrival. Norman Hansen stood looking all around, scared and small beneath the flickering light.
“Are you the child of Faith?” a sonorous voice called from above.
The boy jumped and spun around to see a very tall and solidly built man staring down at him. He swallowed. Lupo Orongo’s intimidating presence scared him worse than the chaos demon’s appearance had.
“You expecting some other kid to beam up?” he asked with false bravado.
Lupo’s eyes narrowed and began to glow an unearthly color. Norman took a step back. Without warning, Lupo bent over, his face very near the boy’s and his eyes staring back coldly at Norman. Norman let out a little cry.
Lupo stuck out his hand sharply and said, “Lupo Orongo at your service, Slayer Son.”
Norman’s wide eyes were the only part of his body that moved. They looked down at the proffered hand and then back into the glowing eyes. “Uh…hi,” he said and raised his own hand to shake the massive one.
His hand went through it.
“I can stay with you long enough to get you within distance of your friends.” The voice came from behind Norman. He spun around. There was another Lupo Orongo! Norman looked the other way again and realized that the imposing figure he had been talking to was an apparition. The real Lupo snapped his fingers, and the apparition faded into nothing.
Norman turned his head around again and faced the flesh-and-blood mage. Lupo Orongo was not as tall or as massive as his apparitional self. But his chest was as wide and his shoulders as strong, with arms that looked almost like a circus strong-man’s. His gray hair fell slightly over his forehead, and Norman noticed that his eyes were the strangest color he’d ever seen – a silver-gray that nearly matched the longish gray hair. Lupo’s smile was kinder than his apparition’s, but something about it made it seem dangerous, too. Norman continued to stare at the steely-gray eyes.
Lupo laughed softly and deeply. “They don’t glow,” he said, and Norman looked away quickly. “At least, not in my human form. Come with me. We’ll get something to eat, then get you to your friends. They’re close by. Ah…but first, I have something for you. Come over here…”
Norman hesitated, watching Lupo walk a few steps away from him. That’s when he noticed that Lupo wore a simple dark cape over a simple business suit. The cape was draped over his left arm. Norman stood, transfixed. as the mage stopped and waited for him.
“You’ve come this far, boy. Take the next step.” Lupo Orongo moved into the shadows of a darkened alley and disappeared from sight. Norman swallowed, then followed him into the alleyway. As soon as he crossed into shadow, he could see nothing, not even the street beyond the alley. He was in total darkness. Norman felt his throat constrict, and he rammed his hand into his coat pocket, grabbing his inhaler.
“Son of Slayer, Child of Faith…” Lupo Orongo’s voice was deep and loud and seemed to come from everywhere at once. “…receive this gift!” “Now!” Orongo’s voice boomed from behind, startling Norman.
Norman gasped as the inhaler fell and clattered at his feet.
McDermott – Abandoned Millinery Building – Same Time
“I’m tellin’ you, they’re right outside the Auto Parts! I just saw them. One appeared outta thin air, then another – and then one disappeared!”
“All right, all right…” said the man they were talking to, shaking his head at the news. His leather jacket identified him as a member of the “Black Knights.” “I’ll check it out, Tommy. Nick, come with us.” Nick put his poker hand down and got up from the game. “Guess I’m out,” he told his gang-mates, and followed the two men who had been speaking out the door of the old McDermott Millinery.
Nick and his boss followed softly behind Tommy down one half block. They jumped into the shadows when they saw a large man with a flowing cape emerge from the alley beside McDermott Auto Parts, accompanied by a pale, blond boy.
“He sure looks like one, Jonny,” Nick said to his boss, as he watched Lupo’s smooth, almost gliding, walk.
“How the hell would you know what a warlock looks like?” Jonny said.
“Well,” Tommy cut in, “I ain’t never seen a vampire, but I can tell ya that’s a baby one right there.”
“Yeah,” Jonny agreed. “Look at him – all pale and skinny.”
“That don’t mean he’s a vamp,” Nick said.
“Shut up,” Jonny said absently.
“That vampire-kid materialized right there under the lamp.” Tommy said. “The warlock musta called him.”
Jonny slapped Tommy across the top of the head. “Where the hell’d you learn a word like materialize?”
“What are we gonna do, Jonny?”
“We’re gonna see where they go…You know…I’ll bet…” Jonny stopped and thought for a long moment as they watched the blond boy and the caped man walk to Wally’s Diner. “Y’know, my mother said Jerry got a call from Sally Tundress down at the Stop and Go Inn. Sally said there’s a crazy woman who started to smoke when Sally walked in on her today.”
“Like spontaneous combustion,” Tommy offered. “You ever see Spinal Tap?” he grinned broadly. “They have to keep replacing the drummer because –”
“So, what’s that got to do with those two?” Nick asked, while I’m the distance Lupo Orongo held the door to Wally’s Diner open for the slack-faced Norman.
“Tommy, go to Wally’s and order yourself a sandwich,” Jonny said, passing him a ten dollar bill. “Keep an eye on ’em. Nick and me’ll get the rest of the guys. C’mon, Nick. Let’s go.”
Nick and Jonny stole back to the garage while Tommy walked down the street, slowly, toward Wally’s Diner.
McDermott – Wally’s Diner – Moments Later
“Uh, Mr. Orongo, are you sure about this?” Norman asked.
“Of course I am. It’ll put hair on your…” Lupo looked down at the uneven patches of hair on top of Norman’s head. “Wherever you need it, boy,” he said, and laughed deeply.
Norman sighed and took a bite of the very rare steak that Lupo had ordered for him. It squished blood into his mouth, and he made a face as he began to chew. Quickly, however, his sour expression turned into a satisfied one and he began to chow down on it.
Lupo laughed again and clapped him on the back, nearly knocking the boy into the edge of the counter. “What’s wrong with you?” Lupo asked suddenly. “You don’t look well.”
“The doctors say I’m gettin’ better all the time,” Norman said between hungry chews. “But it takes a while to recover. Bone marrow transplant.”
Lupo tilted his head to the side and regarded the boy curiously. “You’re very daring, then, to do all this.”
Norman shrugged. “Well, you gotta stick by your friends. No matter what. Right?”
Lupo said nothing, but smiled minutely.
“Is Mr. Rayne a friend of yours,” Norman asked, “or just…just a business acquaintance?”
Lupo’s smile broadened a bit, and his eyes narrowed slightly. “Is he a friend of yours?”
Norman stuffed mashed potatoes into his mouth and shook his head. “Never met the guy,” he said with a mouthful of potatoes. “Shannon knows him. He stole a baseball card from her.”
“Yeah. He was holding it as payment for a job she asked him to do,” Norman took a great gulp from his chocolate shake. “Ow! Brain freeze!” He rubbed his head. “But he didn’t do the job. And he kept the card. The card was worth over a hundred thou – uh…a lot of money.”
“No. It was worth that much. It was an original ’51 Mantle –”
“How do you know? Did he tell you about it?”
“No. But I know Ethan. He doesn’t do a job without exacting payment. I know what he’s done to those who didn’t pay him. They are few in number. However, he never takes payment for a job unfinished, undone or unprofessionally executed. It’s his only remotely redeeming characteristic – that and his sense of humor – and his biggest flaw, sometimes…” Lupo said, looking away in thought.
“Hey, Mack, hey Cheryl,” Tommy called out, as he entered the diner uncertainly.
Mack didn’t turn from the grill where he was scraping the grease off the fryer, merely waving his greasy spatula. Some of the grease flew off and spackled the backsplash.
Cheryl, the young waitress, walked over to Tommy, who had taken a seat farther down the counter. “What can I get ya?” she said.
“Oh, Coke, thanks. And a chicken sandwich. And a double slice of cheese. And get a pickle from the bottom of the jar, okay?”
Tommy looked around the place. The man and the boy were the only other patrons in the diner. “Hey, uh, Cheryl…either of you know who owns that nice black car parked down by the Auto Parts?”
Cheryl glanced quickly over at Lupo Orongo and then back at Tommy, who was carefully watching the sorcerer out of the corners of his eyes.
“No,” Cheryl said. “Why?”
“Well, it musta been a nice car once. Too bad. Someone went and smashed it all up. It’s a real mess. Gonna need to be towed.”
Norman swallowed a whole piece of meat and sat stock still.
“Can you run fast?” Lupo asked him very quietly.
“Then you’ll have to use your brains. Did you bring them with you?”
Norman looked up at the mage.
“Go south down the interstate. Stay in the underbrush. Move only in shadow. When you find a quiet spot, stay very still and wait to hear from me. Or Ethan. One of us will speak to you.”
“Okay, here’s my cell phone num –”
“You will not need a phone. You only need what I gave you and to remember your strength is here…” He tapped the boy on the head. “…Slayer Son.”
“Excuse me, Miss,” Lupo immediately turned to the waitress. Both Cheryl and Tommy jumped. “My son needs to use the restroom. Where is it?”
“Round the corner there…” She motioned with her head.
Lupo turned and looked at Norman. “Find a way out,” he whispered. “You have fifteen seconds from the time you leave my sight.”
Norman looked into Lupo Orongo’s strange, gray pupils. He squinted when he saw them sparkle bright white, and his mouth dropped open.
Then, in a normal voice, Lupo said, “Hurry up, son. We don’t want to be late.”
Norman slid off the stool and shouldered his bookbag, then walked, hesitantly, to the restroom. He began to count to fifteen as soon as he was out of sight. The restrooms were in a dead-end. He could hear the young man who had come into the diner strike up an unpleasant conversation with Lupo Orongo as he entered the men’s room. There was a window high up in the far wall. Norman knew he couldn’t reach it.
He quickly exited the men’s room and went into the ladies’ room. There was another window, much lower, much wider and open. He quickly pushed it open all the way and looked around the back of the diner. Satisfied no one was around, he tossed his bookbag out the window and scrambled up and out behind it. He landed on his hands and knees, scraping them on the cold, hard ground.
The voices inside the diner grew angry and loud, and Norman heard Lupo Orongo’s voice raised in what sounded like a chant. An orange glow lit up the diner, the light emanating from all the cracks and windows in the place. The waitress screamed and dishes crashed to the floor.
Norman sat on his butt on the cold ground and stared at the orange glow as another scream from a teenage boy reached his ears. Then he scrambled backward a little bit, regained his feet and scooped up his book pack. “Good luck, Mr. Orongo,” he breathed. He turned and ran to the end of the diner and peered around the corner.
He saw a group of teenage boys running toward the glowing diner. They all wore black leather jackets, and Norman could make out the word “Knights” on one of them as they raced by, not seeing him. He waited until they had all passed and then ran as fast as he could south, toward the interstate.
McDermott – Stop & Go Inn – Same Time
Shannon kicked the door in. “Skye! Skye!” She looked around the room and then in the bathroom. Skye was gone.
“Dammit!” Shannon said. She caught her breath and forced herself to calm down. She closed the motel room door on the scenic, tree-lined road. Then she froze as something occurred to her.
Shannon yanked the door open again and ran out across the interstate and into the woods.
McDermott – Woods Near Motel – Moments Later
As Shannon got further into the trees, the sunlight all but disappeared. The dimness faded to black deeper within. Shannon picked her way carefully over tree roots rising unevenly up from the frosted ground. Convinced she was out of earshot of anyone near the roadway, she called out, “Skye? Skye? Sky-yyyyyye!”
Shannon jumped and turned around. Skye was right behind her in the gloom, fully dressed and with one of the motel blankets wrapped around her like a shroud. A plump, red fox hung limply in her hands, and she smiled at Shannon with a blood-smeared mouth. She held the dead fox out to the slayer. “Want a bite?”
“Skye! You are soooooo – never mind. They have Dawn!”
Skye’s face went serious. “The Council got –”
“No, the cops!”
“We have to –”
“We’ll wait for nightfall before we spring her.”
“We’re not springing her! We’re moving south. And we’re gonna keep moving.”
Skye gave a quick laugh. “And who are you, little sister? I don’t take orders from slayers.”
“You do now,” Shannon said calmly.
“Oooooooooooh, you’re reeeeeally serious, aren’t you?”
“You’re right about one thing – we’re not moving out onto the road until sunset. Or maybe not at all. Maybe…we need to stick to the woods. Stay inside the forest all the way down.”
“You’re nuts, little girl,” Skye said. “I’m not going anywhere without Dawn. You live in the woods if you want. Come sundown, I’m going to town!”
“Skye, Dawn wants us outta here! You think I wanna leave her?”
“I think you’re scared.”
“Yeah, well I think you’re scareder.”
“Yeah, well I think you’re so scared you can’t think straight.”
“And I think you’re so scared about losing Dawn that you’ll walk right into a trap! And if you do that and get staked, Dawn’ll always be miserable and lonely! And I’ll never forgive you.”
“Oh. Ouch. That hurt,” Skye tossed off.
Shannon sighed and sat down on a large, cold tree root. “Fine,” she said. “Do what you want. Just tell Dawn I tried to stop you and get you to safety.”
“See, little sis, that’s where you and Dawn are being dumb. There is no safety. There is no place that I can go that’s ever gonna be safe. My day’s are like yours, Shannie – a crapshoot. Get it? It’s not what you protect me from that’s gonna get me. It’s the thing none of us are looking for. Like the cleaning lady. Y’understand, little girl?”
Shannon stood quickly and lunged at Skye, pushing her with two hands. The vampire staggered back a step and smirked at the slayer. “You’re all alike, you slayers…when you can’t win, you shove, stake, spear, smear, splatter, smash or stomp. And then you pat yourself on the back for being so persuasive. Well guess what, Shannie?” Skye turned and walked deeper into the woods. “This is one argument you can have with yourself, ’cause I’m going to get Dawn and then we’re going on our way for whatever time we have left together, whether it’s five thousand years or five minutes.”
Shannon stood glaring at Skye, hands balled into tight fists, as the vampire suddenly turned and said, “And one more thing. Don’t ever pull that slayer crap on me again. I love you, you little brat, but I’ll suck you as dry as that fox if you push me hard enough.”
“You can’t. You’ll dust.”
Skye huffed out a laugh. “Yeah, but it might be worth it just to see the look on your face.”
McDermott – Streetside – Same Time
Norman stopped running as soon as he heard the gunshot. He quickly grabbed himself by his chest, but soon realized that he was not shot, and that the report had come from the diner. He turned and looked back. The orange glow was fading quickly down to nothing.
Breathing hard, he made his way back to the diner. “Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay,” he repeated to himself as he neared the building to see whether Lupo Orongo was still alive. He quietly made his way to the front door of the diner and heard voices talking in serious tones within. He peered around the edge of it.
“I swear he was just here! You saw him go down!”
“Yeah, Joey got him right in the chest! Woulda took a moose down with that shot!”
“Dammit! Dammit-dammit-dammit!” Jim’s fist came down on the counter, startling Cheryl the waitress.
Norman backed away, his worst fear realized. Lupo Orongo had been shot and then disappeared. With nothing left that he could do for the mage, Norman quietly backed away from the edge of the door.
“Gotcha!” Arms enveloped him in a vice-like grip from behind and lifted him bodily off the ground. Norman struggled as one of the members of the Black Knights gang carried him kicking and wriggling into the diner.
“What the –” Nick said.
“Mikey!” Jonny grinned. “Whatcha got there?”
“Caught me a vampire,” Mikey grinned.
“Let me go!”
“Shut up, Vamp!” Jonny said and punched Norman across the side of the head. Stunned from the blow, Norman’s head bobbed for a moment, and he blinked dazedly.
“For Chrissakes, Jonny!” Nick said.
“What? You got a problem with teachin’ the vamp some manners?”
“I got a problem with you hittin’ a little kid.”
“This ain’t no little kid, Nick. This here’s a genuine blood-sucking little vampire-boy. Look at him, all pasty and sickly-lookin’.” Jonny brought his face close to Norman’s and yanked Norman’s hair. “Whatsa matter, baby bloodsucker, haven’t had any blood today? Wanna suck me?” Jonny and all the rest of the gang laughed.
Only Nick, Cheryl the waitress and Mack the cook were looking soberly at the half-conscious boy.
“Jonny,” Cheryl called. “I –I don’t think that’s a vampire. I think that’s just a little kid.”
“Who asked you?! Get outta my face,” he said as he pushed her into Mack.
“Now look, Satton, I’m calling your mother,” Mack threatened.
Jonny Satton walked up to Mack, slowly, and peered at him dangerously. “Boo!” he said suddenly, and the man jumped. The gang laughed again.
“C’mon, let’s go,” Jonny said to the Black Knights. “Nick! Are you comin’?”
Nick looked at Cheryl and Mack and then back at the blond boy in Mikey’s arms. A decisive look came into his eyes. “I’m with you,” he said.
Jonny next turned to Cheryl and Mack. “If you say one word about this to anyone before we stake this little cockroach, I’ll make you wish you’d been staked, too.”
He turned and walked out the door, his gang following right behind him.
End of Act Three