Mermaid, Chapter 9, Part 2.

I didn’t post Friday, so here’s the next part. Stephie dances, sphinx brings another message from the Manager and makes a request and Noro deals with a business he would rather not deal with.

Stephie.

I danced across the field, stepping across the posts and just enjoying the misty morning air. Boris was at the edge of the field enjoying the dance and in the past that would have ended up with another kind of dance like that in which we bonded. I alighted beside him, grabbed his muzzle and kissed it. As we separated, he said;

“So what was the occasion?”

“Mother sent a telegram about Tom’s adventures and Tom admitted that he rigged the telephone.”

“So. You’ve been trying to figure that out for years after the phone man found that extra line to the stable. And it’s not like Tony didn’t have the habit of getting out of the stable even after Tom was gone.”

“I miss him.”

“Tony? He wasn’t young for a horse even when you bought him.”

“Tom. Though the skillet was more of a mistake than I realized because of Tom and Chrissie’s Change. Mother made sure that I knew that. I wonder what he’s going to do about it.”

“Why did you play those games with him anyway? It’s not as if you had to.”

“Because he couldn’t seem to sense the Change and the real me. I was hoping that he would start to sense Change. That he would sense the Change in himself.  He went for tools and puzzles instead.  Then we were banned from telling him or showing anything to him after Brad and I was trying to be subtle about it. In the end all I did was make things worse.”

“You aren’t a subtle woman. Or very good at puzzles.”

“Unlike Tom, who is very subtle and very good at puzzles. Not so good with people.”

“I think that Chrissie will help with that. She was marvelous when she was here.”

“Wasn’t she though. She broke through all those things that had separated us all for so long and made them no longer matter. I wish that I had had time to dance for her as she danced for us.”

“I suspect that there will be a chance at the wedding.”

“The wedding was a marvelous idea. It gets us all together so that we can see each other. “

“I miss my family, but we were cut off after the Revolution.”

“Mother’s was cut off too. They essentially pushed her onto the boat and over here.”

“Sphinx’s friends are trying to do more of that. The wedding gives us all an excuse to get together and talk about what’s going on. That book is chilling in its implications. I just wish that we knew more about Sphinx’s friends and what’s behind them.  We spent so much time chasing monsters that we never got a chance to ask why the monsters happened in the first place.”

“Well, Tom and Chrissie, and Chrissie’s parents seem to be on the right track. If those people think that they are being subtle they have never run into my brother yet.” “Aren’t you at least the bit nervous about what he’s going to do.  Father mentioned Christmas presents and noisemakers.”

“I can’t wait. And sending noisemakers to the kids is WAY too obvious for Tom.  The mere fact that he mentioned that to father says that he’s probably not thinking about doing something like that other than as a diversion. It’s a good thing that Tony was gelded or Tom would probably be looking for gift horses for the kids right now.  I would keep an eye on Bob and Scott though.”

“Andy too.”

“Andy definitely. Tom and Chrissie have him wrapped around their little fingers and after next Summer, he’s likely to be all SORTS of trouble. I can’t wait. Well we need to get the day started.”

“By the way speaking about Sphinx, she’s coming up again tomorrow. She sent Hilda the message last night.”

“Already?”

“Yes. And Diana can’t do overwatch, so could you do it after school? I’ll have Hilda delay her Run until you can be there.”

“Why so quickly? We weren’t expecting contact for another month.”

“I suspect it’s about Tom and the fun and games on the beach. Along with the photographs that Mike sent up. Mike and Sal want us to pass them on.”

“That will be interesting. How are we going to make that believable? The stuff in the trash might be getting a little old.”

“We took care of that. Mike had Western Union send it twice and mess up the first transmission. All the pictures are there but they look terrible. So I threw them out when I received the correct transmission.” “What do we do if they start to suspect or press Hilda?”

“Hilda cuts them off. The boss, Mike and I agreed to that when they started contacting her.  She’s family and I won’t risk family even over something like this. It’s time for breakfast and we need to get the kids to church, so let’s get inside.”

We walked back across the field and into the day.

Tom.

Sunday was the opposite of Saturday. Chrissie and I met up with Josh and Mera and Swam back to the the boathouse. After all the chaos of Saturday the quiet was amazing. Josh and Mera put their clothes back on and Josh said; “We’re going to go over to my place and get dressed for church, you know where to go, right?”

I did, as the church was near the center of town and was one of those old New England churches that could be seen for miles looming over their small towns. Chrissie and I got dressed afterwords Chrissie said; “You look smart in a suit, you should wear them more often.”

“Chrissie, I grew up on a farm. I don’t’t really feel comfortable in a suit.”

“Neither does dad, but he wears them more than you might think.”

“what are you getting at?”

“Well the tank bed seems to be doing really well, but I think that you are going to be needing to talk to money people soon and I am glad that you wear a suit well.”

“Won’t your grandfather deal with money types?”

“I don’t want this to be grandfather’s to take over. And I don’t think he will. This is our life we are building and our opportunity. So I want you to be prepared to be up front as well as back in the shop.”

“How do you know so much about business? You were under sea.”

“Daddy. For a long time mother was under sea with Stacey and I was a young girl alone with him until I went under sea.  So daddy had to take care of me and business at the same time and I was dragged around sometimes. Which meant that I met all sorts of interesting people and made a bunch of friends.  I also learned a lot about business and how it works.”

“What kind of business?”

“All of them.”

I thought about some of the people I had seen hanging around Josh lately and asked; “The mob?”

“Oh yes. I spent quite a bit of time in the office when Ray and daddy were having a talk. I made some friends there. Anyway, soon, I’m going to ask daddy about his tailor and we will get you some suits.”

As we drove into the small parking lot across from the church I wondered what I had bonded with. This was a long way from pots, a boat and a small shop. On the other hand Chrissie was right and this was our opportunity and we would face it, together.

Father and Mother were there waiting for us and Chrissie’s parents. I put Chrissie in her chair and rolled her over toward them.  Mother said;  “You look good, Tom.”

“Chrissie thinks that I will be wearing suits more often.”

Father said; “I think that she is right. This new thing could be a big opportunity for you and you will be dealing with people who judge by appearances.”

Josh parked his truck, put Mera in our other wheelchair and rolled her over. As he pushed Mera past us he said; “Let’s get inside.”

We rolled past the front of the church and up a ramp and into the foyer where there was a tall bearded man in ecleastical robes. Mera said;  “Reverend Stiers, this is Tom and his parents, Eric and Greta, you already know Chrissie.”

Reverend Stiers said; “We missed you Chrissie, when you went under sea. I am so glad to see you again.  Tom, I am glad to meet you, at last.  I’ve heard so much about you. We will talk later.” Perhaps it was because I didn’t have to conceal our Change, but I felt far more comfortable with Reverend Stiers than I had with Pastor Brown.  The service was wonderful too and tied to the strife of the sea and joy of life. Afterwords, at the reception, Stacey came up to her mother and said;  “Mother, I am glad to see you again. Are you going to be spending more time now, up top?”

“I think I have to. Josh and I are making arrangements so that I can live at the house.”

“Good, so we can come down and visit. I’ve missed you.  And you can call. Speaking of which, I talked to Aunt Meria and grandfather is doing fine in New York.  They met with Sal and Sillia’s parents yesterday.”

“You are talking to my aunt? How?”

“Mother, you taught me about phones. Actually Bennie called me to begin with a long time ago.” Josh said; “Bennie? Why?”

“Because he’s aunt Meria’s son, was stuck up top thanks to the shark attack and called around to the family looking for recipes and business advice.”

“Why didn’t he get a hold of me?”

“He tried, but all he could get was the business office because you were out on the boat or doing other things. Finally Daisy at the office put him in touch with me and we started to talk.  Then I asked if I could talk to aunt and he had her come up top.  We usually call about once a week.”

“Mera, you spent more time down there than I did, did you even get a hint that Bennie was family?”

“No, and I should have. On the other hand I was thinking about up here, Chrissie, Tom and you, along with dealing with Mike and the rest. I didn’t pick up on Al either until things were essentially over and we were on our way back up here. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I probably should have been.”

“And I didn’t even think to talk to you, Stacey, before we left. I should have. For a lot of reasons.”

Eric said; “Speaking of Sal, Stacey do you have any contacts with the Sound fae? Sal really needs some contacts down there. Sal has started back to New York already, but perhaps you can help.”

Stacey said; “Some. I got Mary’s number from aunt Meria yesterday and I’m calling her first thing tomorrow to talk to her about a bunch of things we need to talk about.”

Chrissie said; “See, I told you that she would have that picture before the end of the week. Stacey, when you get a chance, I want that number too.”

Mera said; “I have it, why do you think that you will need it?”

“Because I didn’t have a number like that to call when we did need one. When we got back from the island, Tom and I weren’t in a position to call Mike’s people directly. Tom sent a telegram, but that’s only one way and then we were on the move. That worked that time, but we may need to work faster if things go bad again. Stacey, give me the number for Bennies too.”

Stacey said; “Steve was there at Bennies too. I think that he’s coming out for Thanksgiving along with grandfather.”

Josh said; “I’ll get confirmation when I call father tomorrow. Joe wants us all to get together at Alex’s and that makes sense now that we’re all together. We’ve grown further apart than I realized.”

Some of Chrissie’s friends from school came over and she showed me off and then as the reception wound down, Reverend Stiers took us into his office so that Mera and the rest of us could finalize the arrangements. As we finished and got ready to leave he said; “I’m so glad to meet you, Tom at last. I know that you have had some trials recently and that you appear to have overcome them. I’ve had to face evil in the past over there and it can be a hard thing. What happened out there must have been horrifying.”

“Reverend, I had to make choices and do things that I wish that I hadn’t had to make and do. It was horrifying. Mera, how much does he know?”

Reverend Stiers said; “I’ve seen the pictures from the island. Jake showed them to me. I’ve been in combat during the war and you had to make hard choices with the person you love the most’s life hanging in the balance. From what I saw you did not take life unless you were under direct threat and had the people you killed not been there, you would not have hunted for them. The sin was theirs, not yours. They chose their path, the path to become monsters. I am not fae, but I have met many and Change is about the joy of life, not twisting it as they have done.”

That made me feel so much better and I realized why Mera had chosen him. After we left the church Josh and Mera took us to the chapel which happened to be a small wooden building on base of the quay that Chrissie had rescued the children from. The front of the chapel was all doors and opened up to face the sea where were stone circles around each side of the quay with bollards for boats.  Chrissie said; “This is wonderful.  And the perfect place, since this is where Tom and I started our lives together.”

The Reverend closed the chapel up and went home. The rest of us went over to the diner for lunch. Stacey, George and their kids caught up with us there.  Helen’s kids were all over Chrissie again and made lunch a truly fun thing.  Helen handed us a print of the picture that she had taken the other day, but we hadn’t received the prints that George was mailing down yet, so we didn’t have anything to show her.  As lunch was winding down I asked Josh; “What’s the business office? I didn’t know about that.”

“It’s the office we use coordinate all the businesses we are involved in. I don’t spend much time there.”

Stacey said; “Not nearly enough. I spend more time there than you do, dad and the place is swamped.  I know you like to run your boat, but they need you there too.”

Mera said; “We’re making arrangements with your uncles to bring some of their grandchildren up top and Eric and Greta might loan us some kids next year for long working vacations.”

Mother said; “After meeting Chrissie, Bob and Scott want to come down. Of course we may only want one of them to come down as there were some interested tails on the beach the other day. Neither one has come into Change yet and I’m not sure that we want to lose both our mechanics.”

Stacey said; “Interested tails? Who?”

Chrissie said; “Selia and Vilia.”

“What? Their mothers were leaders in the mother married beneath herself club and sticking up their noses at us.”

Mera said; “Things change. The fact that you locked on to George and Chrissie onto Tom and both of them were obvious first rate catches sort of changed their minds about that. They couldn’t hand their daughters over to me to run them over to those navy boys that Steve brought out fast enough. Hali came too and I think that she caught one of Steve’s.”

“That explains why she was at Joe’s yesterday.”

“Among other reasons.”

“What happened with aunt Nera? If there was anybody in the Mera bonded dirty lander club it was her and yet there she was with Mike.”

Mera said; “Shared misery. I think that Nera realized her mistake with Josh and the rest of us, couldn’t admit it even to herself and  then when Mike, who was a truly tortured soul showed up the magnetism was so strong that they just stuck together.  From first sight of each other to closing the deal right there on the dock next to the Rockaway bower was less than six minutes and they didn’t even talk to each other. From what I’ve seen since, Mike might have Changed but Nera changed even more.”

Josh said; “I truly like the new Nera. Mike looks better than he did a few weeks ago, but Nera is almost an entirely different person.  I think that you had a touch of that yesterday.”

Stacey said; “That scared me more than a little bit. There she was, being friendly when, when I was under sea, she couldn’t look down her nose at me hard enough. That’s one reason that I left so quickly yesterday.”

George said; “Josh, I have the feeling that something went really wrong in the last few weeks and it wasn’t just Tom’s battle with constructs and Changed sharks.”

Josh said; “I’ll be right back. Mera you start to tell them.”

Mera said; “George, you know about Josh.  Well Josh was not a singular happening.  When Josh, Nera and I went down to the Rockaway bower to make contact and find out what was going on we encountered some truly horrifying things.”

Stacey said; You and dad should have contacted me before going down there.  I knew some of what was going on.”

“That’s been the problem with we fae right through this. We were not talking to each other. When we did start talking to each other we found some very scary things that had been going on for a very long time. Mary can tell you about her people when you call her tomorrow, but Mike was not an isolated case.  There have been many fae families destroyed by parties unknown since about the time that Josh was born. Using my contacts I’ve tracked at least 100 cases of fae having accidents or being outright murdered, along with coordinated attacks on families by constructs, zombies, vampires and other things. The sharks are part of that and the people behind all of this tried to kill Chrissie and Tom again last week.

In any case Josh and I took Nera down because we thought that Mike had bonded with her when he came up to talk to Tom and Josh called Mike and had him come down to the dock down there where Mike and Nera closing the deal made some things very obvious and Sal started chasing the sharks.”

Josh came back in with the briefing book, handed it to Stacey and said; “This has most of  it.”

She opened it and said; “Chrissie, you are right about this picture, but that’s what you get for stuffing yourself in pots.”

Chrissie said; “You didn’t have to because you and George already knew each other before you Changed. Tom didn’t even know about mermaids and daddy wouldn’t let me dance.” “That’s because you wouldn’t sit still long enough that aunt Nera or anybody else could teach you to use your shields to be discrete. Aunt Nera may have stuck her nose down at me, but she did make sure that I knew how to do things like that.”

George said; “Tom, it looked to me as if you took those constructs out with single shots from your shot gun. I had to unload a shotgun into one once and while it was falling apart it was still trying to get to me.”

“My brother in law, Boris worked for and still associates with Mike’s bureau and gave me some special shells that they use. I don’t use that gun for everyday use and loaded it with those special rounds and then took it to the beach with me because I had attached my flashlight to it and I was in bond fuzz.  That saved our lives or at least gave me the chance to do something.  Mike sent a full report down.”

“Who do I talk to about getting some special shells if we need them.”

Eric said; “Tom’s brother Larry handles them for some select clients.” Josh said; “George, I’ll put together something and handle it through the business.  I think that I  want some on hand for various people if things keep going the way they are. Tom has a few, but if they start coming at us or we need more I don’t want to be short.  This isn’t some random monster attack like they were in the past.”

Mera said; “If they were ever random. Just because we don’t see the pattern, doesn’t mean that the other side isn’t working to something.”

Stacey flipped through the book and said; “I think that I really need to talk to Mary. I imagine that that’s changed, but the stuff you had on Rockaway was really sketchy when you started. I can give her some contact people for a few of the fae communities in the area for when they need them. Mike should have known to talk to Bennie right off the bat. So should you for that matter.  I also know some people up at MIT and DuPont that can help with the chemical stuff.  Aunt Meria said that it was doing real harm to the bower’s keystone.”

Josh said; “The keystone? That explains so much.”

I asked; “What’s a keystone?”

Father answered; “It’s what binds a fae community together. When a keystone is destroyed it becomes very difficult to tie the community together anymore.  Fortunately keystones are almost indestructible. This is very serious.”

Mera said; “That explains Sal, Sillia and the necklace. The keystone was taking steps to protect itself and selected the strongest related protector that it could find. Once Vinnie was killed that was Sal.”

Josh said; “Mike has started to build some of those contacts. He knew about Eric and Greta and he made contact with me through Tom, but Helmut and Mary were a bit leary about dealing with fae and usually dealt with things on a case by case basis.  Stacey, please talk to them and give them everything you can. When we can, we’ll grab Mike and Nera and go over everything we have with them.”

Mother said; “We were leary about dealing with Helmut until Boris bonded. Since then we have had a good working relationship with them. Still I think that we will need to strengthen the alliances all around.”

Josh said; “Al and Eltra will help with that. We’re going to start running sweeps through Helmut’s office to give him some Swimmers and train our people on what they know.  We have Mike and Nera here for a couple months so that we can share what we know before they go down to New York.”

Stacey said; “Nera and New York? That’s going to be interesting.”

Mera said; “I think that she was enjoying herself while she was there.  It may be part of her changed outlook, but she was so happy there with Mike, wasn’t she, Josh?”

“Yes she was. Of course Mike was starting to worry about her plans for him. The exercise program especially.”

Stacey said; “Exercise program?”

“Long distance Swimming and dance training”

Mera added; “I think that she had a point there. And Mike certainly looks better because of what she’s done so far. Josh, don’t think that you are safe. Nera may have finally convinced me about that and you. She may have looked down on us but she was always trying to get me to get you under more and now that she has Mike and they are together I see that she may have had a point.”

Chrissie said; “I think that she did and I want to dance with Tom, so Tom you and I will keep working up.”

“I feel the pain in my tail and I don’t even have one right now.”

Helmut.

I hate Mondays. It seems like that is the day where all the mess seems to get started. The vampire still wasn’t staked and there had been another disappeared kid.   The area around the bridges in Brooklyn and on the water was getting rather tense.  Mary had been on the phone with somebody and was taking a long series of notes on a pad,but at least it didn’t seem to be more bad news.  Things seemed to be quiet on the bower case and Sal was due to be back today with Sillia, so the news wasn’t entirely bad.  I had just finished getting the update from Alex and gone into my office to look things over when Mary followed me in. As I sat down she said; “Helmut, I just had a very interesting conversation with Mera’s daughter Stacey.  Apparently Meria from the Rockaways gave her our number and she wanted to open contact with us.” “So what does she have?”

“Well first off she arranged a subscription to that newsletter of Noro’s. She’s an editor there and wanted to make sure that we had it. Then she’s sending everything she has on Noro White, so we will have everything on that. That was just some horsetrading for that picture of her father and Chrissie.  I’m also throwing in the pictures of her mother and Nera dancing and the pictures of Mike and Nera that Sal took. Then we started into the serious stuff. She has a lot of stuff on monsters that Josh has dealt with and she’s sending that, along with all of the contacts for police and other people that have worked with Josh on various things that he’s dealt with up there. Noro was right about Josh liking to kill monsters and that may be why we never get any cases from up there. They just call Josh and he quietly deals with it. She also said that we should have contacted Bennie about Rockaway stuff, but we already know that because he and Meria have called. Stacey mentioned that Noro and Sal’s and Sillia’s parents ate lunch at Bennies, so we can expect that they are coming up with something. She didn’t have much from the sound bower, but she was going to do some networking about that and get back to us. She did say that she would send the contact information for the various fae communities that she is in contact with. ”

“Why didn’t Josh know about some of this stuff? He didn’t seem to know who Bennie was.” “Josh didn’t talk to Stacey apparently until this weekend because of all the distraction with Tom and Chrissie. From what Meria said, she wanted Mera to open contact and had Bennie there in the background.  The rest of it is probably stuff that he’s showing Mike or just knows, but hasn’t thought to share yet. From what Stacey said, Josh is going to have a sitdown with Mike and Nera and go over everything he has about the various things he’s dealt with. Stacey is sending a packet of that stuff anyway to make sure that we have it.”

“Wow, I wonder what Joe does in his spare time? That family is scary. Josh didn’t mention a lot of this while he was here.”

“I think he was more concerned with dealing with Tom and getting him and Chrissie home. This is Josh and Mera looking at the big picture or talking to the rest of the family about the big picture.  Stacey was going to call anyway after running into Mike to horsetrade for the pictures, but she said that Josh said to make sure that we had everything she did. I think that she will make a wonderful new contact and that she can keep an eye on Mike and Al while they are up there.”

“I think that aside from the Mr. White stuff, Noro will be happy that Stacey gave us the stuff so that we can start to take some of the load off Josh. I think that Josh was doing a lot of our work up there and here in the city too and that distorted the big picture somewhat.  If this pans out, and everything we seen from that family has, we could have an intelligence bonaza coming.”

“When I called Bennies on Friday to warn Meria that Noro was coming, Bennie said to watch out for Noro getting carried away on things. I called Mike at the navy yard and he set up the lunch with Meria and Dom and took Steve, the Admiral and Captain Farr to keep Noro occupied. The Admiral apparently knew Noro. From what Mike said Noro introduced the Admiral to Mabel by dumping him in the water right in front of her.”

“That worked, apparently. I’m surprised that Josh didn’t try that with Tom and Chrissie.”

“We’ll have to ask.”

“Another thing that Meria mentioned is that Josh is likely to hit Noro with a potentially large family business possibility. Steve brought the preliminaries in to the admiral, the navy is very interested and the sales potential to mer communities is large. Josh will probably call Noro’s company to look into it.  Since the possibility is Tom and Chrissie’s, Noro’s going to be between the rock of disappointing his granddaughter and the hard place of making money in spite of himself .”

“Well Josh did want Noro occupied. This should probably help. You said that Noro was going to be fun.  Since we’ve met a fair portion of the family now, I can say that they are ALL likely to be fun.  At least they’ve managed to get us out of our rut in just a few short weeks. I can’t wait until they start to invade the office full time.”

“Do you think they will?”

“I don’t think that they will be able to help themselves. It’s in their nature and part of who they are and once one or two start to work here the rest will help because that’s who they are. Look at Noro already.  Look at what Mera and Josh did and are doing.  I don’t think that the other side realizes what they did when they went after these people.  I suspect that they went after them thinking that they were typical fae with typical fae strengths and weakneses. That they would think and act like a fae typically does, just relying on their own strengths and just try to handle things all by themselves.

Mera once said that Josh is the most unfae like fae that you will ever meet. Well I think that Josh infected the rest of them, because we’ve seen about half the family now and I haven’t seen a single one that could be regarded as a typical fae. This family works together even when they don’t like each other and they grow beyond their petty dislikes anyway.  And all of them use tools and skill rather than their abilities and power as formidable as those are.  Seriously, look at Noro, who probably isn’t back fully from his funk, yet we haven’t begun to see what he can really do and I bet that almost none of what he does will rely on his fae abilities.”

“I read that packet Doris sent and if half of what it said was true, he was one of the sneakiest smartest people that Wall St has ever seen. When your drinking buddies are Jay Gould and Jim Fisk and you can go toe to toe with them and come out ahead then just about anybody else is just going to seem inadequate.”

This looked like a very good start to a good week. Sometimes Mondays are all right.

Noro.

It was time for Mr. White to conduct his business. One order of business that I needed to deal with was the eviction of some undesirable tenants from the house that they were apparently renting as their headquarters.  It was sad that I had been paying so little attention to my affairs that I never even knew that the monsters going after my granddaughter had been using my own house as their headquarters.  I discovered that yesterday when I checked out the house and found that it had been rented to the Alopias.  Supposedly it was a charitable organization but I suspect that the organization had the same sort of charity that the farmer does to a hog.  In any case I wanted the house for other purposes not least of which was the housing of Mr. White’s new highly paid troubleshooter with the shady reputation and mob connections and his mob princess bride.

I also hoped to minimize the potential for damage that Tom and Chrissie’s new business proposition could do. That one was likely to be dangerous if the response by my lunch partners was any indication.  Both Mabel and Tara were already looking to helpand they had just heard about Eric and Tom’s innovation in mer life.  If what I saw on Tom’s boat was any indication the project had the potential to snowball out of control and make very big money. That was the rock.  The hard place was that all the women in my family were already deeply involved in it and disappointing the lot of them was not advisable. It was going to take tremendous skill to Swim between this Scylla and Charybdis. The truly dangerous part was that the people on the other side were all my children, their husbands, wives and children none of whom by any definition were incompetent. There was no doubt that this was going to require truly sneaky accounting before this was over. Along with writing the now unavoidable large check to the government.

Mr. White walked over from his hotel to his building, past the welcoming doorman and the front desk and up the elevator to his headquarters. I walked into the head office and said; “Lou there may be a problem coming in.”

“Noro, what?”

“Has Josh called yet?”

“Not that I know of. Some new kind of monster?”

“No, worse, a potential profitmaker that could get out of control.”

“How?”

“How many merfolk are out there?”

“Nobody knows. They don’t count merfolk in the census.”

“How much money do they have?”

“Who knows, but I suppose they do pretty well, the ones that work up top.”

“What’s the biggest issue that merfolk have? I’ll give you that one. The separation of bonded because one works up top and the other has to live under sea.”

“So?”

“Well my grandson in law may have just gone a long way toward solving that problem.”

“George? I think that Stacey would have run something like that past us. That is if she didn’t run it by somebody else.”

“Tom. When he took his little jaunt up to Vermont the week before last he hit in something that has made a big impression on every merwife or potential merwife that even hears about it. A bunch of them have already. Tom and his father rigged up an old sugaring tank into a bed for mermaids.  The idea was a huge hit among Chrissie’s friends and they told their mothers, who happen to be my daughters in law, among others and they were very interested since my sons are spending ever larger portions of their time up top.  They told their friends and according to my grandson Steve by Friday, half the ladies in my bower were at Tom’s place checking the thing out and wanting to know when Tom can make beds for them. I was at lunch with my sister on Saturday and Stacey called and said, among other things, that the crowds were still gathering.”

“So, we don’t do consumer stuff. Josh knows that. So does Stacey for that matter.”

“Josh also knows that we have a pump and filter company. Along with some other things that would help with their little project.  The only good thing is that Tom isn’t that experienced with production and Josh isn’t either.”

“Stacey can find people for that. She writes for the newsletter and probably knows every business in New England.”

“How did that happen?”

“Well she was asking for the newsletter and the editor in New England said that the only other way than being on the list was to write for the newsletter because being one of our writers puts you on the list automatically. So she sent in a piece on the internal economics of the fishing industry, probably based on stuff from contacts at fisheries and through Josh. Charlie liked it so he ran it.  And asked her to check out the watch companies.  Which she did. And things went on from there until Charlie decided to retire and went under sea to be with his wife and Stacey took over as editor for New England three years ago.”

“Is she good at it?”

“She’s your granddaughter, what do you think?”

“That her business network is probably as good as the one she has for the area fae. Even before I started to just live under sea that was extraordinary and I hate to think what it looks like now.”

“I wasn’t exaggerating by very much when I said that she knows every business in New England. Thomas Register offered her a large sum of money for her contact files but she asked Bill, the senior editor for approval and he said that that wasn’t that good an idea so she didn’t go for it.”

“How much money?”

“Enough that it got Bill’s attention, big time and that it would have jumped Stacey into the highest tax bracket for several years as they used time payments.”

“So how much do we pay her?”

“Enough. Bill’s biggest worry and it’s not going to happen for some time anyway is what happens when she enters Change and goes under sea.”

“Which is the other half of the tank bed question one way or another. The navy is very interested in the things too. The shipyards and shipping companies haven’t heard about it yet, but they will.”

“Bzzzzt. Mr. Gollanze, Josh is on the phone. He’s looking for Mr. White.  Should I tell him to call back later?”

“Millie, put him through. Josh, Noro is here, do you want to talk to him?”

I said; “You couldn’t lie?”

“To Josh? No.”

He handed me the phone. I said; “Josh what is this about?”

“Noro, don’t try it. You know what this is about. I talked to Stacey yesterday and Bennie before I called you so I know that you know what I’m calling about and are there in the office trying with Lou to come up with a legitmate way to dodge this without upsetting all your female relatives starting with Chrissie. Well we figured that you wouldn’t want to be into this, so don’t worry about it.  If you have some contacts with some good money people I’ll start this from the family account.  I’ll pull enough to get things started and write stock against it. Put Lou back on. I want to know who to contact about pumps. Never mind, I’ll call him back later.”

He had me. This thing looked like it was going to be too much fun and if this thing made big money into the family account I was going to take the hit anyway.

“Anyway, I was just calling to tell you that we are all getting together at Alex’s for Thanksgiving and we want you there. I’m going to call Steve now. Tell Lou I’ll call back later, bye.”

He hung up.

Lou said; “He got you didn’t he. I told you not to try to lie to him. In the 39 years that I’ve known him, I’ve never been able to put one over on him.  Nor have you. Except for when you marooned him and I’m not even sure that wasn’t more Mera than you. What did he do, tell you that they didn’t need you?”

“Essentially, yes. Also that they would start financing from the family account and pay the account back in stock.”

“That would work. But that means that you would all have equal shares in the stock and if the stock goes big-“

“I make a pile of money, the clever bastard. Without having the fun of doing it.”

“And since he has power of attorney and control of the accounts there’s no way you can stop him. You know if you had been less cagy about this and just said yes and did what you wanted to do anyway, since we were early in the fiscal year anyway we could have found a way to absorb a pretty big gain by buying some loser company and taking the loss. Now he has full control and since you know that you want to be involved from the beginning you just boxed yourself.”

“Did Josh call before I got here?”

“No, he sent a packet through Western Union with their preliminary business plan to me yesterday. It actually looked pretty sound but the numbers are shaky because of the uncertainties. On the other hand you were wrong about Tom and production. He worked for Pratt in a “to order” environment and went from  machinist to production supervisor before he was laid off and when I called about him they wanted to know where he was because business was picking up and they wanted him back. I haven’t heard back from our production people but Tom’s numbers looked pretty solid and he did all the cost projections.”

“Lou, I’m losing my touch. I’ve just been outfoxed by own relatives.  And they made it look easy.  I’ll bet that I was set up for that lunch on Saturday too.”

“Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Yes, but that’s not the point. I didn’t see it coming. I knew that my sister was as devious and underhanded as I was and she and my friends still outfoxed me.”

“How, by being entertaining and stimulating? By drawing you out into the world? Noro, trust me, none of them are trying to hurt you and most of them truly love you, as little as you deserve it sometimes. We’ve all missed you when you went into that hole you went into and we want you back in spite of yourself.”

“Well now that we have that little issue dealt with, why don’t we get together with the rest of the business leaders and then I need to talk to buildings about an eviction.”

“What? Why?”

“I’ll tell you everything with George once we get the business side taken care of, but I am annoyed that the people who have been going after my granddaughter and her bonded have been using my own house as their clubhouse. Not only that, but I’m going to rent that house to a new associate. I’ll explain after the meeting.”

The meeting was typical and there weren’t really very many surprises in spite of the depression. Because we managed to avoid being in debt and we had fairly steady businesses and looked for opportunities we were weathering the depression fairly well.  The general outlook was still pretty grim and there were a lot of uncertainties out there, but that was to be expected. It wasn’t a fun two hours, but at least I had a handle on what I had and how it was doing.  There were some new faces that Lou introduced me to and some of them looked like they would be fun. The biggest surprise after the meeting was the guy the IRS had essentially placed in residence who took one look at me, shook my hand and said; “Hello worthy adversary. This is going to be fun.”

As we left his office I asked Lou; “Does he know about the tank bed thing?”

“It’s been passed around the office and he has spies, so I think that we can take it for granted that he does. Vic is a master of all the chicanery and accounting tricks out there and he loves a good fight over expenses, gains and losses. He’s heard about you and has wanted you to show up for years. I’ve made a deal that keeps the Cape side out of it for the most part. The fact is that Josh typically doesn’t take income from the family accounts and keeps good accounting, which keeps things calmed down up there. Of course the IRS people know that pissing Josh off means dealing with Mera and they don’t like playing government with her.   Anyway, let’s see George and go to lunch so that you can tell us what’s really bothering you.”

We collected George and went down to the first floor and found a corner table in the restaurant on the ground floor. Lou said; “How was the food at Bennies? I’ve been hearing about it from people who’ve been there and I know that that’s where you had lunch.”

“The food was excellent. The fact that the place was loaded with family spies was rather a bit of a surprise. Bennie turned out to be my nephew. Mera spent an entire week down there and never even noticed.”

“Stacie’s known for some time. She takes the editorial staff down there to eat after the editorial board meeting. But from what she’s said, Josh and Mera didn’t talk to her very much.”

“That’s changed. She was talking to my sister as I walked in for lunch and was on her way down to Joe’s to meet Tom and Chrissie. After lunch she called back and reported on their little project.”

“Which is how you found out about it.”

“Well that and Steve being there at lunch coincidently. Now I had never met Mike, Bob Farr or Dom, but both the Admiral and Steve knew me, and the rest knew Josh and Mera. Somehow they all got together and set me up. Mary probably called Bennie, along with Mike and Dom since she knew that I wanted to talk to them. So they got together and set things up.”

“Is that a problem? People do stuff like that. You did want to talk to them and Mary knew that.”

George said; “We have been talking to Mary and Helmut since the zombies and she’s very good about things like that. Especially with people she knows. She probably called Bennie to let your sister know that you were in town and Mike to let him know that you wanted to talk to him and Dom. I haven’t met Mike yet, but Dom talks to Jim frequently and since he’s fae we keep an eye on him when he’s here. He even checked in to the security office after the zombie incident.  You were more upset about that than I would have thought and you said that Josh had already gotten the necromancer, so there must be more than you’ve said so far?”

I reached into my briefcase and pulled out the briefing book that I had picked up from Helmut’s on Friday; “I assume you’ve both seen this?”

George said; “Helmut passed me a copy after the zombie incident. I passed it on to Lou once I went over it. If Josh comes down before the wedding I want to go over it with him. I did talk to Stacey and the next time she’s down here she’s bringing her files to fill in what I don’t have.”

“Well the necromancer and his toothy friends went after Chrissie and Tom again last week. We mousetrapped the sharks and Josh had Sal, his coworkers Al and Mike, who are now my other two sons in law, Steve with one of his platoons and Tom brought his parents. Tom and Chrissie left down the canal with some friends of Chrissies and some of Steve’s people and Joe, John and I picked them up on the other end in a boat. From what Josh said, the zombies and constructs the other side had essentially ended up as a joke.

This is bigger than just attacks by constructs, zombies and twisted sharks. The warehouse that Sal raided was making stuff that affected the Rockaway keystone.  My sister told me that after the lunch on Saturday. She also gave  Sillia and some other ladies very nice presents.  She did that for my daughters a long time ago and she doesn’t do things like that unless the danger is truly severe.

Also, Mera has been doing some digging and has found out that many fae families have been the victims of concerted attacks that essentially destroyed those families including Josh’s, Mike’s and Al’s.”

Lou said; “Does Mera have any documentation to back this up?”

“She says that she consulted people at the national archives and the library. I don’t think that she has the paper yet as she’s been dealing with Tom issues and traveling. Since Josh says that he’s talking to Stacey we can take it for granted that follow up will be forthcoming shortly. Meria told me about the keystone as Mera didn’t know about that at the time. Sal shut things down too fast and Mera had her head up at the Cape. This is bigger than just some monsters and a threat to us all.”

Sphinx.

It was time to make the long journey to the Benton farm again. This trip filled me a degree of trepidation because while Wolf had always said that she was not a true member of the family, I wasn’t sure that I believed it. While I could never pick up anything specific, every time that I was in the hills near the farm I felt eyes on me. Watchful and certainly not hostile, rather more caring, but watchful nonetheless.  Certainly any efforts to have twisted spend any time in the area ended with the twisted  disappearing and never being heard from again.  The fae kingdom in Maine was not as strong and the one to the West in New York suffered from the same kinds of dissipation that the Sound bower  did which made it vulnerable to penetration.

This trip was different than the others. For the first time we would be asking Wolf to do something that she would probably not want to do. This wasn’t reading the pulse of the farm and the North or keeping an eye on what the other side might be up to. She wasn’t just passing information this time.  She would be asked to put herself with the Manager directly and I was almost certain that the answer would be a refusal to do so. Mary had been so adamantly against this that I wondered that something more hadn’t happened at that beach that she hadn’t told us about.   Certainly she was far more frightened of the opposition and the Cape fae than she had been.

I awoke early to take the subway to Grand Central, dressing quietly and passing the rooms of my fellow indentured. At least I would have a day of freedom to Run and hunt outside the city.  As I passed through the station and to my train on track 24, I wondered how Wolf enjoyed being able to Run whenever she wanted just by crossing the street. I bought a paper, showed my ticket at the gate and boarded my coach. The train pulled out through the tunnel and out into the city, making that strange stop at 125th st, before crossing the bridge and speeding across the city.  Thomas, the conductor passed with his chant; “Tickets, tickets, please.” When he saw me he stopped and said; “Athena, this is a surprise.  I didn’t expect to see you for another few weeks.”

“Well I have work and they wanted me up there early before the holidays.”

“I’ll finish up and be back.”

He made the trip easier because he liked to share stories that his family heard in Brooklyn. Not usually related to what I did, but they had been in the past. Considering the events of the past few weeks I wondered if we were deficient in collecting information about our adversaries. I had been going up to the farm for years and it had never occurred to me to ask about guns. Yet there Tom was on that beach, shooting everything in sight, with specials. Along with making sure that his bonded took pictures of the whole thing. I decided that I would ask Wolf  about Tom and guns before I delivered the invitation.  Thomas came back and told me a funny story about a cop and a mobster and how the cop used a car to fool the mobster into thinking that he was big time mob troubleshooter and how they raided a warehouse and saved a bunch of people. By that time we were approaching Stamford and Thomas had to go. I thought about the story and realized just who the cop had to be and what warehouse was raided. I wish that I could tell Thomas the rest of the story, how the cop with his car saved the underwater faery kingdom and bonded with the mermaid mob faery princess. My associates,though, were on the other side of that story and were working very hard to make sure that “happily ever after” didn’t happen.

I took out the book I had brought to read and started to read as the train reached New Haven and started North to Vermont. Hours later, the train pulled into Burlington and I got off into the cold darkness and walked over to the hotel and checked in.

The next morning I walked out to the edge of town, Changed and had a Run. I lunched on some rabbits that made a mistake and essentially enjoyed my rare freedom. The day ended and the next morning I started out on the long Run to the farm. I didn’t feel the eyes on me or Wolf for that matter until mid afternoon.  Wolf approached and I said; “What happened?”

“I had work. I don’t just drop my life because you come.  Usually I have notice and can adjust. This time I had to stay at work.  I think that you will like the result.”

She handed me some rather awful pictures and said; “Western Union sent these twice for obvious reasons and Boris threw these out.”

The pictures were awful for more than one reason. One thing that was clear was that Mary hadn’t exaggerated the beach by very much. I said; “You didn’t tell me that Tom’s parents went with him.”

“I didn’t know until after you left. Was it important?”

“Do the families get along?”

“From what I’ve seen, yes. When Greta comes back for Thanksgiving I will ask how things went of course but nobody has heard anything but Greta and Eric having a good time.”

“Gull said that Tom was passing guns around on the beach. How many guns does he have?”

“I don’t know, he left some here, about ten, I think, when he left. I talked to Larry. He was cutting down and giving most of them away. Bob and Scott are getting nice Christmas presents this year.  So just what he took with him and whatever he has down on the Cape.”

“How many guns do you all have here?”

“I’ve never been in the armory. I have one, Andy has one, there are eight or nine next to the door at the house, a bunch up at the range, Larry has his store and makes guns for people.  The other families probably have a bunch but we don’t wave guns around very much.  There are probably more scattered in various barns because the kids like to just shoot sometimes.  I don’t think even Larry has a total count of every gun. Most of the family has given guns for Christmas presents and nobody thinks very much about it.”

“Tom had special shells both on the island and the beach, where did he get them?”

“Boris gave them to him. He gets some from time to time from his friends in New York. Larry reloads cartridges for them too.”

This was worse than a nightmare. We were dealing with a family that probably had access to significant firepower with as many special shells and cartridges as they thought they needed. Along with tight connections to the opposition and they were all high fae with full knowledge of what they could do. Then there was the possibility that now that both families were talking to each other, that the other family would get involved too. Gull had done some poking around up there and while that family didn’t exude raw power like the kingdom here in Vermont did,  they had connections and Connections.  The mob people showing up on the beach were not an isolated thing.  That family wasn’t connected with the mob, they essentially owned it. Along with big chunks of the Cape and Boston too from what Gull could tell.  For that matter the Rockaway people were also related. Considering the events of the last few weeks and the fact that blurry as they were, the pictures in my hand showed the young man’s car and both families all together, along with obvious mob people, Feds and navy types the idea that at this point, taking one of them on was taking ALL of them on, would have to be a consideration. If it weren’t for Gregor, I would have just left and kept the ticket and it’s consequences in my satchel. I gathered up all my courage and made sure to keep my voice full of the confidence that I didn’t have as I said; “The Manager wants to have a meeting with you next week.”

“I don’t think I can. I can’t just drop everything and run down to the city. I have Andy, work and family responsibilities. Certainly I could not come until after the new year. Probably not until the Summer.”

“Here’s an envelope with the ticket and a car will be waiting for you in New York. I need to go.”

I left and Ran as fast as I could back to the station, never losing the feeling that I was being watched until I barely caught the train and started back South. I just hoped that I could convince the Manager to just let this go and not make a terrible mistake.

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