Mermaid, Chapter 18, Part 1

Hilda traveling after the wedding and a meeting with the king across the lake. Just how much of an idiot is he? Or are Bob and Scott, “good boys?”

Chapter 18.

Hilda.

Monday 12/14 – Tuesday 12/15 – Wednesday 12/16 – Thursday 12/17

After a nice ride with Larry and Theresa on Monday we reached the hotel at White River Junction that turned out to be full of surprises. The staff there knew Athena and were very pleased to see her son at last. Along with the rest of her family. Nobody wanted to dissuade them of that notion very hard and frankly once they made the point, Athena was as much a part of us as Al and Mike were. We were just bringing her home at last. We had a wonderful dinner which ended with us sending the boys out to have the obligatory snowball fight after they started to argue about something with Andy and Gregor on one side and Stephie’s two on the other and the whole bunch of the boys just starting a general ruckus with the girls joining right in. The whole lot of them had a bunch of fun out in the snow for about an hour when they came back in cold wet and tired to listen to Grandpa tell a story and then were sent to bed. I turned to Athena and said, “Well Gregor doesn’t seem to be afraid of monsters outside anymore.”

“No, I don’t think so. Though he and Andy will be competing to see who can scare the most monsters before you know it. Along with Stephie’s two.  What a ruckus.”

“Well they had fun and seem to have overcome the school that the Manager came up with. When we get you set up I will make sure that Andy shares the stuff he pillaged from Tom.”

“Andy pillaged from Tom? I’m a bit surprised that he would do that.”

“Well mother had Tom clear out the barn of the stuff he wanted and take it with him and leave the stuff he didn’t want to be handed down. A good portion of that was books and magazines that he had when he was younger and didn’t want anymore. Because mother went down to the Cape with Tom she couldn’t split the books up like she normally would and Andy took advantage of where he lived to make off with the lot. At that, Stephie’s two were right behind him in poking around the barn and rather disappointed when they found out that Andy had gotten there first.”

“I wonder if Tom can set up a session of basic tools for all the kids. The kids seemed to pick up on stuff very quickly down at Sal’s but I’m a bit nervous that they could seriously hurt themselves.”

“Good point. We can ask Tom when he comes up for Christmas. He’s going to be in the shop anyway showing Bob and Scott how to do the guns for Larry but a lot of that is just sitting through the work as it runs. Let’s talk to Stephie.”

We went over to where Stephie was sitting with Boris, Mary and Diana. “Stephie, Athena wants to make a proposal to Tom and I think that you might like it if we manage it the right way.”

“Tom is going to be rather busy, but a lot of that is going to be putting parts in the machines and he should have Bob and Scott do that. What are you proposing?”

“That Tom have a little class for all the kids on how to use the tools properly,” Athena said. “And have them make things for Christmas. Maybe get him to make something for Chrissie.”

“That’s a wonderful idea. We can run it by Chrissie. We don’t want him stuck with just doing the guns the entire time he’s here and that way he can be with the kids a lot and not seem to be such a stranger.  That way the boys won’t fight over what he can do anymore.”

“Was that what the argument was about?”

“Yes. Gregor was telling the story about Tony and my boys didn’t think that Tom could open the stable without being there. Andy said that he and Gregor had seen Tom do those things and that he didn’t use his abilities to do them. The boys argued that he must have since he did at the wedding. They asked me about the truth when we broke them up. I told them to wait and see for themselves. We will have to have Tom set up the noisemakers for everybody who hasn’t seen them yet.”

“We don’t want to overload Tom,” I said. “On the other hand we don’t want him back in that rut. He liked making those things and shooting them off. Stephie we were talking about trying to get Tom to reach into his abilities but he seems to exceeded even you expectations. That show he put together was amazing.”

“It was, wasn’t it. He even gave me the parts when we left. But I suspect that there was quite a bit more to the story in Washington than he told us. Hilda, you know some people there. Ask around and see if you can find somebody who can tell us the whole story.  I think that mother and father will want to know.  Mike and Al might not tell us because they don’t want to hurt us, but we were not paying attention to what he was doing down there and he was facing real danger that he didn’t want us to know about to protect us. Then there were the things he did for people and with people. His birthday is in June and he hasn’t had a real  celebration in a long time. He managed to surprise me at the wedding and made something that was truly wonderful.”

“Even the whales,” Boris said.

“Oh yes. Especially since, from now on we will have them show up every time we are on the water. Tom and Chrissie went to a great deal of effort to do something amazing even when they were busy with dealing with a true crisis and still managed to make it a complete surprise.”

It was time for bed and we all went to our rooms and bed. The next morning we had a very nice breakfast and started the caravan back to the farm. We arrived just as it was getting dark and the barnyard was covered in snow that was being cleared by some boys and farmhands with shovels and a tractor with a snow plow. Eric immediately put the boys to work helping out, including Gregor who pitched in with a will against Andy and the rest shoveling the snow with determination.  The path had already been cleared to my cottage so I took Athena down so that she could finally see the place. When we went in and I turned on the light she said, “I always wondered what the inside of this place looked like. You lied to me. You have more than one gun here.”

“I was trying not to scare you too much. These are the guns we’re using right now. I have quite a few more over in the armory. Stephie and I went through a lot of different guns over the years and most of them ended up in the armory after they weren’t much fun anymore.”

“Where did the bear rug come from?”

“The woods. Andy got caught by a bear, I was looking for him in my Change and had to kill it. Larry and George went out, skinned it and had the hide turned into a rug.”

She started to look at the walls and spotted the old picture of Brad in his uniform just before he left for the war. “This your bonded, isn’t it? I’ve seen these pictures before, of soldiers just before they left, in a studio, so that the people they left behind had something to remember them.”

“Yes it is. Greta had it and thought I should have it. It’s the only picture I have of him. When we bonded he was already a monster and he would lock me and then Andy up in a room when he got bad. Then there was the aftermath where he had to look at what he had done. Along with the compulsions to go on toward the coast. Fortunately, Mike and Boris found us in France while he was away and spirited us off in a truck to a barge so that he could not follow us. Mary and Helmut were using the barge as a headquarters and they took care of me and Andy while they chased Brad and the rest. I never found out if Brad was mad or glad that I had escaped.”

“Has Tom seen this picture?”

“Probably when it was first done. He hasn’t had a chance to visit here yet.”

She went along the wall. “So this is what Andy meant when he said that J Edgar Hoover was your big boss to Gregor.  I confused the Manager with that. Not that that was hard to do.”

We peeked into Andy’s room. “That’s quite a haul he took. Tom had a lot of books and Andy must have worked hard to get them all here.”

“He did. He hasn’t scrounged up shelves for them yet, but he will. He was taken before he could do that. He’s also going to need to find a gun locker for his shotgun and the other guns he’s getting.”

“That shotgun is going to attract attention. How is Andy going to deal with that?”

“By not waving it around very much. It will be interesting to see when he does use it. Probably at special events and when they go on hunts down on the Sound. Construct shoots almost certainly. It’s a very fine gun even without the engraving. But up here it’s how it shoots that’s important.  He’ll probably get ribbed about the engraving because guns with engraving are typically sold to rich fools with more money and less sense.  But some guns, the work that Larry and Tom do for instance, start out better in the first place. That gun of Andy’s came from somebody who loved their work. So much that they didn’t stop when their government told them they couldn’t. They just improvised.  Andy’s little pistol that we made up came from the same company.”

“Where is that now?”

“You know, I don’t know where that is. Either Andy has it someplace or it’s down at Tono’s waiting for him.  I suspect that it’s down at Tono’s. Tony is probably taking care of it for Andy.”

“That actually makes sense. He knows he’s going back and that little gun is mostly meant to be a surprise. He’s so disciplined.” “Not all the time, trust me. When he gets going, he can give Tom a run for his money.  The Manager never got the full Andy because he was being responsible for the other kids.  But there have been times. The thing to do with him is make him responsible and then he gets the point. Taking him to the woodshed won’t work with him. Making him clean up the mess, does.  In any case the thing to do is keep him occupied.  Having Gregor around will do that. Though once Jimmy gets his hooks in, we will be in for some real trouble.”

“Jimmy?”

“Normal kid. At least not fae. Andy’s best friend and fellow troublemaker. Loves to get into things he probably shouldn’t and drag Andy into his schemes or Andy comes up with stuff on his own and Jimmy goes along. Both of them love the woods and are a terror on the local wildlife. Jimmy even hunted me several times when I went on a long Run.”

“Didn’t Andy tell him who you were?”

“Oh, he knows. He’s seen me in Change frequently.  But that doesn’t mean that he and Andy won’t have their little fun and try to chase me through the woods. He’s even hunted you once.”

“He did? I never noticed.”

I went over and pulled out a picture album. “See, here you are about four months ago. Andy took the photograph. He may have shielded Jimmy, but I sensed them during our meeting. I scolded both of them at the time about it because if you had had the Manager’s associates with you, it could have been bad. On the other hand, if one of those things turned up, a couple of boys with .22 rifles would have been the least of its problems.” “What about Jimmy’s parents? Don’t they worry?”

“Jimmy’s dad is the same way and helps us out when we need somebody to track somebody down through the woods. He’s as good as I or Bill are in the woods. He guides for hunting in the fall and makes a good living that way. As for Jimmy’s mother, when she and Ralph have a fight, she goes deep into the woods and forces Ralph to chase her down while she cooks dinner over a campfire. They have four kids and all of them probably started at those camps.  Jimmy is the youngest and of the rest, the girls found husbands and Jimmy’s brother is one of our deputies. You’ll probably meet Ralph and Ginny at some point. So being in the woods comes naturally to Jimmy.”

“So Jimmy will probably have Gregor in the woods chasing me. Well if he could catch me I obviously need the practice. I didn’t bother being discreet because I wasn’t too concerned about being seen in the woods. Most of the hunters that were out there in deer season were rather noisy and easy to avoid. Even if they had seen me, a large cat isn’t out of the question and I would be gone in a couple of days. I will have to be more careful.”

We left the cottage and went back towards the main house. Athena looked at the old mill building and said, “That’s Tom’s shop, isn’t it? Why did he put it there?”

“I think that he planned to use water power for the lathe at first. The farm got electricity just after he bought the lathe and the mill wheel wasn’t a good fit for running a lathe off a belt.  The farmer who sold him the shop had a small steam engine to run it and Tom used that for a while.  The engine is still around on a skid for other things like running the saw mill. Once the shop was established, well the mill wasn’t being used for anything else except some storage on the upper floor and the shop stayed. Bob and Scott might move it next year.”

We went back into the main house and helped with dinner as the bunch of men and boys came in after finishing as much shoveling as they could before dark. As we went inside Bill saw us and came over. “Hilda, I see that you brought our boy Andy home. Who is this?”

“This is Sphinx, or rather Athena. You’ve seen her in her Change, often enough.”

“Oh, yes I have. I’m sorry, Athena, but I didn’t recognize you when you weren’t all cat. You are pretty either way.”

“Athena, this Bill Rogers, our foreman and monster hunter. He was the man who dealt with the Manager’s things that he sent.”

“Well some of them. You and Stephie dealt with some and we all got together and dealt with more. It’s been quiet since you left, Hilda. Which was more than a bit of a surprise because Eric and I thought that the Manager would want to send up some distractions to keep us occupied while he was dealing with you. So what happened down there?”

“Tom, for the most part,” Athena said. “He kept messing up the Manager’s plans and keeping the Manager distracted. There were some other people but Tom was the one who just kept at the Manager until he shut himself down.” “Al, Mike, Helmut and Mary, I think. Along with others that work for them. You and Stephie probably had some fun and games too, Hilda. Andy has a very nice new gun that he was showing a bit after we were done and he was taking it to his room. Did he need that little pistol you made?”

“Yes he did.” Athena answered. “He saved Gregor with it when Hilda scared Gregor by Changing in front of the Manager after Andy had been telling werewolf stories”

“Let me guess, My dad was a werewolf and my mom might be one too, but I’m not telling.”

“About that, yes. It didn’t help that Gregor had been in a bubble created by the Manager and his dark fae associates in a house full of Twisted. So when we took Hilda to the Manager’s so that she could have a discussion with him, Gregor saw Hilda Change, panicked and ran right past the construct guard the Manager had and into the back yard where there was a Twisted who everybody was trying to kill, but nobody had specials except Andy.”

“I think that I’m going to have to talk to the construct and Andy about how to shoot Twisted without specials. The construct is still around, isn’t he. He’s one of those ones that are solid like Helmut is. Probably smart too. A normal construct would be pretty useless as a guard. Especially for something sensitive like your kids. Not with Twisted around. For that matter, why did the Manager bring in Twisted near the kids in the first place?”

“Andy and Tom’s boats. He took a bunch of loose .22 cartridges and made some of those boats that Tom made to scare Stephie and set them off to let Tom and Chrissie know where he was when they went Swimming by.”

“That sounds like Andy. He was probably scared that they would take the cartridges away, or wanted to hide the fact that he had cartridges and that little gun. So he made the cartridges that he didn’t need go away in as obnoxious and noisy a way as possible.”

“Not that that mattered as the Manager had put the kids in a house with guns in the basement that he never bothered to check. Of course Tom delivered a present to Andy a day or so later.”

“He was still at the Manager’s. You didn’t take him?”

“No I didn’t. You know why, Bill. We’ve certainly had long and detailed conversations about this. If  I had just taken Andy, he would have been a hostage against me until he grew up and bonded.  If the dark knows that he is more or less dangerous to take as a hostage in the first place, then that increases the deterrant value. I wanted to demonstrate that having Andy as a hostage could be painful.  As it was Andy and the rest of the kids had a lot of fun at the Manager’s expense once they found the basement and Tom’s present. That’s where the shotgun came from.  Larry provided the specials for it.”

“Bill, Hilda put compulsions on the Manager so that he couldn’t hurt the kids and Tony and Robert wouldn’t let any of the rest of the Manager’s associates near the kids,” Athena said. “Other than the dark fae that was the “Teacher,” the little school was not a bad environment for the kids and we have set up the school next door again so that we indentured and some other families can make sure that the kids can be watched and protected from the dark while we have to make a living. Because the Manager, or somebody else, killed our bondeds, we can’t be with our kids all the time. Hilda’s approach of making sure that Andy cannot be used as hostage is one that I wish that I had had when Gregor was taken.  Fortunately, while Andy hasn’t grown up yet, I think he has bonded, hasn’t he, Hilda?”

“I’m almost sure of it too. Since we never taught Andy to swim that may make things a bit fun for a while. At least he is going to be very motivated to learn to swim.”

“So he bonded to a mermaid then?” Bill said. “At the wedding or someplace else. Won’t she be a bit old or does she still have legs?”

“She has a tail, but she was born into Change. Her mother went under sea when her bonded went to the war after having a visit before he left. He was killed and she never came up and Changed while she was pregnant. The girl has different ideas and showed up at Sal’s party where she ran into Andy and they’ve been more or less inseperable ever since.”

“She’s not coming up here, is she? With Mike and Al’s bonded, Chrissie and Chrissie’s mother, the pool is going to be tight. I haven’t talked to Eric about this, but I did some scrounging and horse trading and found two more sugaring tanks for beds if we need them. Now that those two troublemakers are back, I can have them run off the fittings for the modifications.”

“Bill, she’s not coming up, this year. I don’t think her mother will let her and she doesn’t have an up top contact that can arrange it. The tank beds are a good idea and talk to the boys about that.  We need to go and get dinner working so that we can all eat. I will talk to you later.”

He kissed my cheek and whispered, “yes we will.”

As we walked away Athena said, “Quite the charmer, isn’t he. Sharper than I would have thought, too. I shouldn’t have been surprised by that. It’s not as if you all go to great lengths to hide certain things except from Tom. Do you and he have a relationship?”

“I’m not going to say. If we do, we want it to be discreet, for reasons.”

“He’s not as normal as he looks, is he?”

“That’s for him to to tell you. Or not. I respect his privacy.”

“Well, he seemed much different than I had imagined. But then a lot of this is different than I imagined.”

Mother dragged Athena away from me to introduce her to my aunts over some vegetables and Stephie and I got together over a large roast that she was checking. “So how is it going with her?”

“Well she sees things.”

“You and Bill, for instance. You going out for a howl tonight?”

“Probably not. We have to go over and talk to that jackass over on the other side of the lake tomorrow. I’ll need to howl after that.”

“Well the sooner we talk to them, the sooner it’s over. The whole lot of them are such a bunch of stuck up snobs, just because they got that land grant back in the day from the king. They just live off the rents from that and selling the occasional chunk while other people build the country up. At least we can say that we built what we have.”

“I know. And then people like that clown show up and act as if they are so much better than we are. That clown doesn’t know it, and I’m not going to tell him, but I had a quiet little talk with Sal and Dom.  He ever goes into the city, the troubleshooter is going to have a little chat with him.”

“Ooh, that will be nasty. Does Al know?”

“Yes. It was his idea. He might not be available for it though. He thinks that Tony will do fine for the “shoot for the trouble” part. If not, Al has some army buddies that would want to play.”

“Of course, going on vacation or a honeymoon is going to be a problem for him. Chrissie made some calls and the Cape is shut down to him.  I don’t know if she talked to the Maine people about it, but he’s not likely to have fun on Long Island either. I think that you need to make it clear to them that from now on, doing something that bothers  one of us, bothers all of us. Especially when it comes to helping the dark.”

Dinner was ready and we all pitched in to put it on the table. Those of us who hadn’t been to the wedding wanted to know all about it and about Andy and the Manager.  Stephie waxed eloquently about Tom and all that he had done, which was met with a certain degree of skepticism until I backed her up. Chrissie and Tom were bringing up the wedding pictures for Christmas.  Lieutenant Billings was sending a print of the movie footage and Eric was going to borrow a movie projector when the reel arrived. We did have an album of the pictures from the party and the battle with the Manager, so we passed that around. Andy had a very rough time of it as he was mussed over by just about everybody who hadn’t been down in the city with us. When dinner was over and we were going to our cottage, Andy said, “Mom, teach me how to be discreet. There are times when I want to disappear.” “That won’t work with family. The fact is that taking you worried a lot of us. Those of us who went after you had it easier because we knew what was going on. The rest didn’t. They want to be sure that you are back and Ok. Things will settle down and after we will go back to the city.”

“Along with Trillia. A bit of me thinks that I don’t fit fully up here anymore. That bit wants to be with Trillia. Was it like that for you, Mommy?”

“No. But those were different circumstances. My family and their keystone were destroyed and I was the only one left. So when your father came through and we bonded it was sort of an escape. I knew he was a monster, but he was also my protection. I tried to Change the monster, but all I could do was bring the man back for short periods of time. Then Mike and Boris took us away from him.  I don’t know if that helped the man or made the monster worse. In any case he must have loosened his compulsions somewhat and come here.  Your uncle Tom is probably a better one to talk to you about this. I wonder what would have happened if he went down to the Cape when he was a bit younger.”

“I wish that Trillia had legs so that I could bring her up here.”

“Well she doesn’t need legs for that. Once we have all the other kids’ parents  found, we can bring her up here in the Spring for a long visit. We are set up for that now and one mermaid in the family more isn’t going to change anything.  Your grandmother likes Trillia very much too. Why don’t you talk to Larry about modifying a gun like he did for Chrissie?” “Already done. I’m taking one out of the stack that Tom is giving away and Larry is going to do the modifications so that I can give it to her when we go back down.”

“So how are you paying for it.”

“Out of the farm work I do. I’ve also made some planned trades for farm work with Ivan and Leonard for getting stuff quietly for them from the toy store since I and Gregor will be down there and they won’t.”

“So you weren’t just fighting with them.” “No, that was a bit later and it wasn’t that big a deal.  They were sure that Uncle Tom had done all that stuff using his abilities and Gregor was sure that he hadn’t used them because he never felt Tom do anything other than Change until the wedding. We had had an argument before Gregor met Tom and Gregor was looking at what Tom was doing to see how did or didn’t use his abilities and hadn’t sensed anything that Tom didn’t explain.  I told Ivan to talk to Bob about how Tom did things and we started to argue.  We all talked to Bob later and Bob told Ivan that Tom didn’t have access to his abilities because he was royal fae and having abilities was too dangerous  before he bonded with Aunt Chrissie. Bob had asked grandfather the same question when Tom came up before he and Aunt Chrissie got together. When they see Tom’s book, they will understand.  That’s what they were really after anyway.”

“Did you tell them that they were getting copies and trouble kits for Christmas?”

“No. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise for Tom. Some of the other kids are going to be annoyed at Tom because he hadn’t given them things like that, but I think it has to with Tom and Aunt Stephie more than it does the kids and he will be making more anyway.”

“He will and you’re right. Tom’s brothers and his other sisters didn’t go after him like Stephie did and didn’t make such a deep impression.  So he didn’t pay attention to the kids.  If the kids want stuff from Tom, tell them to start pestering him about making things and learning to use the shop. Stephie and I are going see if we can get Tom to start to show you kids how to use tools safely. You are going to be part of that. Gregor, Ivan, Leonard and Katherine too if she wants, too.”

“I liked using tools with Uncle Tom. Gregor had a better chance than I did and he liked it too. We have a couple of days and we are getting together with Bob and Scott and making a surprise for Tom for Christmas before he gets here. We’ve already picked it out of the book and it’s going to be hard, but worth it. Ivan and Leonard are involved too.”

“Well it’s time for bed so get in bed and I will come in and tuck you in.”

“Ok, mommy. I want to be up early with grandfather and show Gregor the milking.”

He went into his room and after he closed the door there was a quiet knocking on the front door. I opened it and Bill was there. “I’m so glad to see you and Andy back. Should we go for a run tomorrow? I feel like howling, but I imagine that you have had a long day.”

“Tomorrow will be good. We are going over the lake to talk to the snobs. So we can meet at the lean to. And have a long talk about what happened. It’s my bed time too, so bye.”

I smiled as I closed the door again. I went over to tuck Andy in and he said, “Mommy, you didn’t go for a howl with Bill?”

“We’re going tomorrow, so you are on your own for dinner at the house. I’m going to be talking to those people across the lake and I’m going to need to howl after that.”

“Why don’t you just marry Bill and make it official. Everybody knows at this point. Even grandfather.”

“We like things as they are, Andy. We both like to remember our bonded and this way people don’t ask if we are a couple. Also if we made it official, people would start to ask questions about Bill and his family that they do not want asked. That may change, but for now, we will let things lie. Tell Athena if she looks for me tomorrow for dinner.”

“What should I tell Gregor?”

“Tell him. If he stays around here, he’ll figure it out. The fact that we had a little accident and forced a Change doesn’t make Bill a werewolf or a monster. We needed each other and shared things.  The fact is that your grandfather likes what happened because Bill is safer when he goes off on his hunts because it’s even harder to Turn somebody with Change. The howls are a lot of fun too. Good night.”

I closed the door to his room and went to bed. As I fell asleep I maundered about tomorrow and what was coming in the evening. It had been a bit too long and I needed a good Run and a howl.

We got up early Wednesday and Andy went over to the dairy while I went over the kitchen where Athena and mother were cooking breakfast. Athena said, “I’ve never done pancakes before. I messed up some, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

She was and the stack she was making proved that. Mother said, “Hilda messed up her share when she first came here, but that was with a wood stove.  This gas range works better even though we have to have the tanks filled.”

We had everything almost ready and the crew started to come in and eat. This wasn’t the large crew that would normally come in because of the winter, but there were still about fifteen people to get fed and out. Andy was taking Gregor to school today and the bus was due to pick them up, so Athena and I took them down and waited for it. As we trudged through the snow back to the house, I said to Athena, “We should have just used the bus or let Jimmy and Andy make their way home.  By using our deputies we just made things easier for the doppelgangers once they set up their diversion. Do you think that Gregor will have any problems with school?”

“Maybe, but Stephie has been working with him and the rest and Gregor needs to out in the world. He’ll catch up soon enough. He’s just here visiting for a week anyway. Stephie is going to let Andy’s teacher know the gist of what happened  Andy will push him anyway.”

“Yes he will. We can also expect that we won’t see the boys before dark.”

“Even in the snow and the cold?”

“Eric made sure that Gregor had proper clothing and Andy and Jimmy will grab him right in. Jimmy knows the deer trails and Andy restocked on cartridges. So they will do some shooting and just have some fun. If they aren’t back by dark I will send Jimmy’s brother Ralph to find out what they got themselves into. As for Andy’s teacher, it’s a good thing that Mrs. Van Schalk is already dead, because one look at that lesson sheet and Ginny would be hunting her down. By the way Ginny is Jimmy’s mother.”

“So she would be very good at chasing her down. Even in the city?”

“That would be worse. Ralph pulled her out of there and her rather large family. All of whom still live there and have some interesting connections.  Not on Sal’s level, but they do do business and when Andy was taken, Ginny gave me Dom’s phone number and said to tell Dom that I knew her. I didn’t tell her that I already had it and I’m not about to ask Dom how she knows him. After all I am a Federal officer and there are some things I really shouldn’t know.”

“Tara will know. I can ask her.”

“So will Sal. Or at least Sal can find out. Just don’t tell me.”

“But Sal is a Federal officer too.”

“Yes, but he’s undercover and part of a clandestine agency, so it doesn’t count.”

We went inside and over to the living room where father was sitting. “Did you get the boys off?”

“Yes, we did,” Athena said.

“You didn’t need to send him to school. Why did you?”

“Well we are going to be busy and I wanted to put him in a normal environment with normal in every way, kids.”

“You may not have known this but very few of the kids here are the well adjusted normal kids you imagine. Rather the opposite. The nonfae can be worse than the fae in that regard and the social lines might surprise you. Town VS farm kids. Woods kids VS inside kids. Fae and nonfae just sort of mix together and pretty much that doesn’t matter to the kids. Of course things like compulsions are frowned upon by everybody and even the nonfae parents can see the signs and call Greta.  Most of the kids get to be resistant by about age thirteen anyway because they get used for fun and games and broken later. The doppelgangers were lucky that Andy hadn’t been compelled even just a bit more. If he had, they would have had an awake Andy in the car when they stopped in front of the farm and he would have been out of the car and yelling right there. That is if he didn’t just shoot them.”

“So how do we deal with the king across the lake?”

“I called the house but he hasn’t answered yet. The last time we spoke was rather unpleasant, as it was just after Andy had been taken and I was rather annoyed that his nephew had been even slighty involved.  To say nothing of terrifying my neighbors, but that turned out to be a nonissue for the most part other than the various people involved wanting to know who was responsible. The judge here imposed a rather large fine and ordered restitution for the damage.  Then Boris let the nephew go. After that, of course we were all on our way to the city. I did check with Judge Smith and the fine and damages have been paid.

I will make it clear that the young man is no longer welcome on our side of the lake and that he will get no service and be towed back across the canal if he should try to visit the Cape the first time. I will also let him know that the second time that he tries, he will find himself underwater far off the coast. And that there may be other restrictions coming on the Sound and Long Island.  To say nothing of New York City.”

The phone rang and Eric picked it up and answered. “This is important and I wouldn’t be calling if it wasn’t. We need to talk, as soon as possible. Yes, that will be fine. Greta is coming and I will be bringing Hilda and another lady. We will meet you there.” He hung up.

“Well he’s true to form. We need to get going. We have a three hour drive to the restaurant he wants to meet at. You know the place, Hilda. His drive is ten minutes. If we were going that far, he should have just had us meet at the house. Hilda do you have the material from Tom and the rest?”

“Right here, father.” I held up a bellows folder that was rather full. It had clippings of Tim’s newspaper articles about the kidnappings, a copy of the briefing book with certain things like Mera’s picture, her government employee file and the picture of Josh and Chrissie cut out, the meeting version of Toms material on the attack on the fae, pictures that Tim and others had taken of the Manager’s house with the twisted and after the house had been taken, pictures of the sharks in the clubhouse and the dead sharks, the pictures of Tom and the island, the pictures of the ambush and some of the rest. We had put it together before we left the Cape for just this reason. The folder also had a classified stamp on it. “Is there anything else we should put in it?”

“Not at this time. We won’t be leaving it anyway and I don’t want to reveal too much until we talk to Al, Mike and Tom when they come up. Let’s go get Greta and get going. We will use one of Boris’s cars rather than a truck or one of the family cars as I want to make a point that this is official business. If Jacob wants to play games, so can I.”

Boris had had the car left for this last night, so we all got in and started off. The first leg of our journey was to the ferry at Burlington. Which took about an hour, the ferry itself took another forty five minutes with the waiting and then we drove for another hour to a snooty place outside Lake Placid that Jacob used for meetings.

There were some rather large looking people outside and as we went in, the place was empty except for a couple more of the apparent guards and a man at a table in the center of the room. Jacob was being true to form and had had the place closed for this meeting. Since all he did was collect the rent, he didn’t care. Of course Jacob didn’t know about the quiet negotiations and planning that had occupied my sister in law Mary and her husband Roger for the last six months as well as the building renovations that were just about finished. Jacob was about to lose Antonio and this place and didn’t even realize it. Roger and Mary had had a profitable Monday after the wedding talking to George and the co-op people at the hotel. They had wired Eric with the details before starting home.

As we walked up to the table Eric said, “Hello Jacob, quiet here today.”

“Eric. I made arrangements so that we could speak privately. I know Greta and Hilda, who is this?” “This is Athena. She has been involved in what we need to talk about and has been an insider on the other side of things.”

“Does this involve George? You were rather nasty about his fun and games around Thanksgiving. On the other hand, Hilda’s son had been taken at the same time and I can understand that you were upset even if George was not involved. You must have retrieved Andy or you wouldn’t be here.”

“He was involved,” I said. “I don’t know if it was unwitting or not, but the timing of releasing the constructs was so that they could provide a diversion to enable Andy to be taken. Where is George now?”

“New York City, doing some Christmas shopping and looking for an engagement ring with his bonded. He will be back before Christmas. I know that the judge had banned him from going over across the lake and I will understand that you don’t want to see him anymore.” “He will be back sooner than you think,” Eric said. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up tomorrow. There is somebody that will want to talk with him and then not so gently ask him to leave town and never come back.”

“To New York? How can they do that?”

“George got involved in some very dark things and he managed to annoy some people with a lot of clout when he helped them take Andy. The word has gone out about him. He is to stay off the Cape and you tell him that he will get no service of any kind and be tossed right back off the first time he shows up. The second time he goes to the Cape you can tell his parents that he is gone.”

“He was planning his honeymoon on the Cape next year. He isn’t going to like that. Are you sure that he is banned?” “Jacob, my son, Tom bonded with a young lady down there. We just had their wedding last weekend. You know what he is and what she must be. They discovered Andy when they came up last month and both of them liked him very much. So when Andy was taken, the young lady made some calls and now George is not welcome on the Cape. The young lady’s mother didn’t even bother to make a call, but the word went out about George and certain people will have no problem doing the mother a quiet favor.”

“I will tell him to change his plans to Fire Island.”

“That won’t be a good idea either because the Rockaway bower and its associates are rather annoyed at anybody connected with certain activites and will probably go with the Cape regarding George. Frankly, George has two options at this point. Come completely clean with Hilda and tell her EVERYTHING and beg her foregiveness and mean it, or stay here for his honeymoon. Travel anywhere in the area is not going to be healthy for him.”

“That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it? It was just some constructs. Your boys play with them all the time. That’s where George got the idea. He was hoping that you would blame them for the constructs.”

“Bob and Scott do not launch constructs at people and occupied homes. They launch them under restrictions and in conditions where it is safe, mostly to educate people about them and yes have some fun. Furthermore they hold their events with the full knowledge and support from law enforcement.” “They tell Uncle Boris that they are having fun and games.  Such good boys they are.”

“I could tell them you said that. They don’t make a habit of coming over here, but they might want to change that. If you think that your people are up to them, they are willing to try. They have been playing a lot with Tom thanks to the Andy matter and have learned so much. From Boris’s friends too. Tom is coming up for Christmas and bringing his truck. He might lend it to the boys for a good cause and he was rather upset with what George did too. Frankly he’s rather annoyed at you too. He’s going to be busy with business and bigger issues so he won’t have time to play with you. The bigger issues are actually why we are here.”

“What bigger issue?”

“Hilda, you are the Fed, so you tell him.”

“Jacob, Andy was taken as a part of a much larger plan to Turn or destroy all the fae here in the Americas,” I said. “Andy was taken so that my Change would be used to create werewolves as soldiers. Andy was to be a hostage to my being raped and forcing the Change of some dissipated fae in New York. The dark fae behind it were also responsible for Brad getting drafted and being sent over to be Twisted by werewolves in the war.”

“How do you know all this?” Jacob asked. “You didn’t say anything about this before.”

“Tom apparently talked with Brad before he killed him,” father said. “Brad knew that he was likely be trapped by his Twist, become a monster and that Tom would be in a position where he would be forced to kill him. So he left his gun in the rack loaded with special shells and told Tom to use it if he heard noises in the barn on certain nights. He also told Tom about his being drafted and the special units set up for high fae that were sent to certain spots in the line just before a German offensive.”

“Tom told you this? He could have been justifying his shooting Brad. You all covered up the exact circumstances surrounding that very well and Tom went away shortly thereafter to work for your Congressman.”

“He did not have to justify his shooting Brad to us. We knew what Brad was and that it was likely that one of us would have to destroy him. I was hoping that Bill would be the one, but it was Tom who did, which created a bunch of problems. It was Brad who sent Tom on his path just before Tom killed him. We had no knowledge of  what Tom had set himself on.  As far as we knew he apparently just decided to go down there and work. He never explained until recently why he went.

What Tom did was to track the path of the dark and what they were and are doing. He provided us with the evidence after he bonded with Chrissie and the dark attacked him.”

“I need something beyond your word. Do you have something to show me?”

“We expected that. Hilda, hand me the packet.”

I handed him the folder. He pulled out the meeting minutes and handed them to Jacob. “This is a summary of the material that Tom collected on how fae were drafted and put into special units. He also collected incident reports and other information on people being killed here in this country. He had the assistance of some high level people in the government when he collected this material. The dark also sent monsters and twisted to kill him and failed.”

Jacob looked at the summary and his face started to get a little red when he looked at our county, his county and our neighbors without kingdoms. “My son, Edward was drafted too and never came back. We never considered it to be other than the luck of the draw. Many others here were drafted as well. Nobody has mentioned werewolves but I never wanted to ask too many questions. There were some strange incidents. Does Boris know more? He seemed to be involved with some clandestine group before he bonded with your daughter.” “Boris knows more and Mike is coming up with his bonded for the week before Christmas. Hilda was with the werewolves in Germany and France after she bonded with Brad. That’s why Andy was taken. There were other new Change as well. Tom encountered them when he completed his bond with Chrissie on an island out near the Cape.”

Father handed Jacob the pictures from the island. “The sharks launched constructs at Tom to drive him into the water so that they could eat him and attacked Chrissie and Tom in the water and on the island. The whole thing was part of a larger coordinated plan to attack fae communities. They had previously attacked several other sea folk couples completing their bonds as well as the Rockaway bower royals. Boris’s friends are starting to look at the whole thing since some events revealed some details and the scale of the attacks increased. There was a chemical attack on the Rockaway bower keystone that came very close to succeeding.”

After Jacob handed the pictures back, Father handed him the briefing book. Jacob said, “some pages have been torn out.”

“We did that to protect some people who are involved,” I said. “This book is a work in process and part of looking at how things are evolving. The important material is still there.”

“So, is this the warehouse that had that rather spectacular fire the month before last?”

“Yes,” Father said. “Some of Boris’s friends and some others shut it down. That’s when the other side decided to go after Tom and take Andy. Of course Tom shooting the sharks created other issues.” He pulled the newspaper clippings out. “The sharks needed fae kids to recruit their numbers back.”

“I’ve seen these stories. But they didn’t seem to be related to the fae. Are you sure about that?”

Father pulled the pictures of the sharks’ clubhouse. “We shut them down and they all died.”

“This other lady hasn’t said anything, what was her role in this?”

“Like Hilda, the dark took my son to compel me to work for them,”Athena said. “Fortunately for me, they only wanted me for collecting information and being able to move through fae communities, including yours without having an obvious taint or Twist.  Most of the time I interacted with Hilda and her family when the dark failed to destroy them and Tom became an obsession of the other side.”

“You say that you looked at my kingdom. Yet we haven’t seen any attacks that aren’t fairly random.”

“I going to have to be rude and say that the Manager considered you ripe for the picking and felt that once the stronger kingdoms fell that you would be an easy target. I wasn’t there at the beginning and you would have to talk to others, but the big targets were Eric and the Cape. We mostly considered you as a potential recruiting ground and it would have been likely that Hilda would have been infiltrated to create werewolves among you had she been what the Manager thought she was. Fortunately for us all she wasn’t at all what the Manager thought she was. George was recruited to do what he did and I imagine that had the Manager continued to function he would have been recruited and Twisted eventually.”

“So this Manager? He was running the show?”

Father handed him the pictures of the Manager’s house. He said, “The Manager infiltrated the Sound bower when they killed the heir and subverted the king’s communications with the outside world. Far too many of the Sound bower’s people had become wealthy and cut themselves off from the bower to join society. There was an imbalance in the births among the high fae and there were too many young men that were ripe for the dark.  They hadn’t thought to look for bonds in the other fae kingdoms and were looking in the wrong places. That has corrected itself somewhat. Still that made it easier for the Manager to build his forces and hide what he was doing.”

He handed the pictures back and I put them back in the folder with everything else. Jacob said, “You’ve been very patient with me, considering this. I will need to talk to Helen and some others, but I think that we will pay a visit when Tom and the rest arrive. Greta, how did the wedding go? Helen will want to know and I know that you and Eric have never done them because you always considered the bond good enough. Why don’t we eat and talk about better things now that we’ve talked about this business. I will talk to George when he gets back from the city.  He came under some bad influences and I didn’t pay as much attention to his crowd as I should have. Your little talk with me about George just going around and randomly compelling people should have been a wake up call.”

We placed our orders and then father said, “Jacob, I wish that I could sugar coat this and say that I can forgive everything. This is a war to the death, our deaths. With an enemy that has already more than likely killed most, if not all of our kind in Europe.  Greta and I have talked with many now, that like Hilda and Boris, have lost their families over there. You have never talked with Mike or Al before when I sent invitations. Helmut or Mary as well.  It’s time that you did.”

“As for the wedding, it was amazing, wasn’t it Hilda,” Mother said. ‘Especially Stephie, her dance and the whales.”

“Whales?” Jacob asked.

“Yes. Somehow Chrissie talked with some whales and arranged for them to splash Stephie right when she finished her dance. It was the most amazing thing.”

“Wasn’t Stephie upset by that? I know that she and Tom have been going at it for as long as I can remember, but whales seems over the top.”

“She loved it. Those battles were never meant to hurt each other and Stephie has always wanted Tom to shine. Which he did, in new and unique ways. Now that he has come into his own at last, we are all so proud of what he can do.”

Lunch came and Greta went on about Tom to the point that she was almost as bad as Stephie. Of course she had an excuse as she was Tom’s mother and Tom had been doing a bunch of rather spectacular things recently. She also spent a fair amount of time about the wedding, finishing up with, “Jacob, you must come and see the pictures when they bring them up. Bring Helen too.”

We finished eating and Jacob left with his people as two rather familiar faces cleared the table. Bob said, “Nobody pays attention to the wait staff, at least the busboys.”

Scott added, “Did he really say what good boys we are? We haven’t had time yet, but we are hitting the shop tomorrow. We’ll get Andy and Gregor to help after school. I’d be tempted to take Aunt Stephie’s noisemakers, but we can make our own and we will make them so that they self destruct when it’s over. We’ll also play with water magic in those tubes. We pulled the number map for over here when we went shopping for phone stuff with Uncle Tom. Jake’s people will be looking for constructs, but not what we’re planning.”

“Don’t raise too much havoc boys,” father said. “We don’t want to upset them too much, especially when Jacob is starting to think in the right directions. On the other hand he did insult you and he should have known better than to do that. I can also honestly say that I didn’t tell you what he said.”

Antonio came over and Eric handed him twenty dollars to pay for the meal. “Mr. Benton, you don’t have to do that.”

“Yes I do. He stiffed you again, didn’t he? I know that closing down in the middle of the week this time of the year isn’t that big a deal, but still he does this every time we have a chat. Along with bringing his goons, too.”

“It’s a good thing that he doesn’t pay attention to the wait staff. This is the third time that you’ve sent these two boys ahead and he never noticed. Tell Mary that I look forward to working with her as my new landlord in my new place. The wife does too, especially with the nice house you all found for her.”

“Antonio, we’ve watched you struggle for a long time now,” Greta said. “We need a place for people to stay and eat for the ski resort and we like you. So doing this helps all of us.  Jacob has had some bad habits and why should you, or anybody else pay the price for those bad habits.  I do know one thing, We have some interesting new relatives and you will always have access to fresh seafood now. Roger and Mary have already made some arrangements.”

“If Roger can arrange that it will be a miracle. I don’t have time to go into the city as often as I like and make the selections myself and what I get from suppliers sometimes slips.”

“Well the people you will be dealing with almost live in the water, so they know how to deal with fish.”

“Well I need to get to the clean up and these two boys can get the dishes done and go back where they came from. Though if they want to slip back in Friday for lunch in the back while they are setting up their mayhem, the lunch will be on me. Jacob can be so stupid sometimes and his brother, letting his kids just run around like that, pushing people around. What’s going to happen to George in New York?”

“We don’t know, exactly,” Eric said. “He’s going to run into an upscale character at some point.”

“That guy, “Shoot for the trouble? If he kicks George’s tail I will make him the best meal ever. How do you know him?”

“We can’t say, but he will be showing up next year.”

“Well, I look forward to meeting him and his beautiful bride that was in the papers.”

He left and we all got up and went back to the car. As we drove off father said, “Well that went as well as can be expected.”

“How did Bob and Scott get there so fast?” Athena asked.

“Jacob always uses that place for meetings. So before I called, Bob and Scott went ahead. This is the third time that we’ve done it and Jacob has never noticed. On the other hand, Bob and Scott have been acting as the go betweens for Antonio, Theresa and us for the negotiations. Frankly Jacob never seemed to understand the power of building up Antonio rather than just using him. He should have been the one slipping his family into the meeting as wait staff, not me.  I don’t think that he understands how vulnerable that makes him.  My meetings aren’t the only ones he holds there and if I cared very much about what Jacob was doing, I could peel him like a grape. As it is, I already know quite a bit about him, things that I suspect that he would rather not have me know. I’ve also fed things to Mike and Helmut that I got from Antonio.”

“What are Bob and Scott going to do?”

“Play with Tom’s new toys, probably. I suspect that they will rig everything up before Tom gets here and then quietly go over with Tom to watch the show.  The Lake Placid Christmas parade is coming up on Saturday and I imagine that it’s too good a target to miss. If I had to guess, Jacob’s oldest granddaughter is going to get wet during the parade, in front of everybody. She’s the parade princess this year.”

“Well Jacob did tempt fate,” I said. “Or Bob and Scott as the case may be. Because of Tom being around and the thing with Andy things have been quiet with them for a couple of months now. Boris will just love this.  Especially if they are as careful as Tom was about not leaving traces. Of course they were watching and helping Tom every step of the way except the water magic.  Do you think that they will be able to pull that off?”

“They probably talked to Steve about it. Tom too. In those sessions in the Carpenter’s doghouse. So, yes.  They said that they were planning to use it and they wouldn’t unless they were sure that they could.  Since the wedding, they are probably planning something amazing and impressive.

Elizabeth is the princess this year? She was with George during the incident with the hay wagon earlier this year. Bob and Scott have been spending a lot of time over here since and while Bob seems to have picked up on Linda’s sister, Scott never seemed to attract any attention at all from all those tails waving around at the party and the wedding. You don’t think that there could be something there?”

“She’s eighteen,” Greta said. “They did seem to enjoy the hay ride together while Scott was driving the tractor and he drove her over to the ferry. Well, in spite of the rest of her family, she is a fine girl. If there is anything going on there, they have been discreet about it. But that’s not much of a surprise. They both know about our families and would probably want to keep things quiet. Also, Scott has been busy and away.”

“Well that would be a relief on one front,” father said. “Bonding with Elizabeth would mean that we wouldn’t lose Scott to a tail and the water. On the other hand, we don’t get along with her family and we do with the family with tails. As far as that goes, I won’t have any complaints. Jacob probably will.”

As we reached the ferry, a rather familiar car to those of us in our little Sherriff’s department caught up with us. Bob and Scott joined us in the ferry’s cabin. “Well that’s done,” Bob said. “Now Jacob has known us for our entire lives, and I know that all the cops over there know us by reputation, if not personally. So he basically comes out and challenges us? Grandfather, you know that we are going to have to come up with something truly spectacular in a very short period of time.  Uncle Tom is due Friday night and we will not disappoint him. It’s going to have to be something bigger than a construct launch too. Well, we’ll stop here and have some tubes shipped over to the farm for tomorrow. Some other stuff too. “Such good boys”, indeed.”

When the ferry docked, they were off to do their shopping while we drove back to the farm. When we arrived a bunch of the kids were working on a huge snowman. Andy, Gregor and Jimmy seemed to be leading the pack.  When Athena and I went over, Andy said, “Jimmy’s mom didn’t think that we should go out in the woods with Gregor until we have an older kid to go with us. Since Bob and Scott were away and the rest were busy, we decided to make a snowman for Aunt Chrissie instead. Jimmy really wants to meet a mermaid and can’t wait until she gets here.”

Bob and Scott will have work for you tomorrow. I think you will like it.”

“What did that man across the lake do this time?”

“Called Bob and Scott “Good Boys.”

“That was stupid. Real stupid. Why did he do that?”

“He thought he was in a meeting with father and that nobody would tell the boys.”

“At Antonio’s, right. Grandfather always meets with him there. I’m so glad that we are bringing Antonio over here, so that he isn’t so far away. I guess he doesn’t know that Antonio’s boys are friends with Bob and Scott.”

“That doesn’t matter as Bob and Scott were in the room.”

“That was REAL stupid,” Jimmy said. “My brother knows better than that. All your deputies do, Mrs. Benton. This is going to be great. Andy, we all come here and help with this one.”

“I know. You should have been there with Gregor and me when Tom played with the Manager. That was fun stuff. Except for mom’s shooting. That was as normal.”

“Dead whatever. Single shots and no noise. While she’s invisible.”

“Ok, kids, we need to get to the house now. Don’t get too wet.”

We went back in and I said to Athena, “see what I mean. Jimmy leading them into trouble. I have a date tonight, so I will see you later. Andy can tell you the particulars.”

“I thought you had something going with Bill. Have a good time.”

“You’ll know. If you hear howling, that’s us.”

“I expect I will. Howl away. I’ll talk to Andy or just wait for you tomorrow. Though I think I will have a Run tomorrow while the boys are at school. I expect that they will all be in the shop tomorrow after they get back from school. For that matter, why didn’t Bob and Scott go to school.”

“They’re on work release through the rest of the year. Al put them on the payroll until the end of the year in case they were needed.  When Al gets here on Friday, he will probably have more work for them. Or Mike will. When Tom gets here, he, Larry and Al will take the boys through all the gun stuff and they will be very busy for the rest of the week when that happens.  But that will make Larry and Al happy as they won’t have to risk going short if they need some guns fast. So they aren’t getting off easy. On the other hand none of them like those people across the lake very much either. I need to get going on my Run. Taa taa.”

She called out as I left, “We don’t want to keep Bill waiting!”

I went to the cottage, undressed and Changed for my Run up into the woods across the snow. I ran along familiar paths until I reached the little camp that Bill and I had back in the woods. He was there with some nice rabbits just cooking a bit to keep them warm on the fire. “I thought that they would be a little better warmed up.” We took the rabbits and stated to eat. “So what happened down there. Andy said some things yesterday, but not everything.”

“Well Tom and Josh screwed up the trains like they planned, but that turned out to be pointless as all that did was make the Manager threaten to kill Athena and force me to call her the next day after somebody got her number for me. You can thank young Mr. Thomas for making sure that we had a way to communicate. The idiots on the other side never thought to provide one and our train was really late. The next day I called Athena and we agreed to meet for a lunch with Chrissie’s grandfather, who is quite a character, along with Stephie, Crissie’s sister, Stacey and me where Athena told me just how stupid the Manager was.  After lunch we went over to Mike’s friend Sal’s new place and showed Athena what we could do with constructs provided by Bob and Scott. The Athena and I got in the Manager’s car, which Tim had arranged to be followed and tracked all through town, over to the Manager’s place where he was waiting, babbled about sending me to a place to receive visitors and tried to compel me and when I reflected, went out like a light. Before the Manager tried to compel me, I had Changed and Stephie and I had arranged to have little competition to kill all the Twisted. Before that could happen, Gregor came downstairs, saw me Change and ran out the back past Tony right into the arms of a Twisted. Stephie couldn’t kill it in time, Tony and Robert had .45s but not specials, Tom was right there, but didn’t  have a clear shot and  only had a .45 because he was infiltrating and Al and some other people were in the water and only had water magic, so Andy killed the Twisted.”

“Where was your covering fire?”

“Stephie and I didn’t arrange for any. That was a mistake. Both Al and Tom were more than a little angry with us about that. In retrospect it was stupid. We just went along with the flow of things rather than having a plan. We didn’t really consider what might happen if one of the children got in the middle. I figured that Andy would be there and would be able to respond correctly if needed. I was right about that.  It was the other kids that were the potential problem.  Gregor sensed his mother, who had had a very stressfull day, after Andy had been telling stories about Brad and me, panicked when he saw me Change because the dark fae had limited his exposure to new things and he thought that I was a monster. We could have waited a day and let Tom get the big gun mounted on his boat or made sure that Al and Tom or for that matter the bureau’s assault people were ready to go. Bob and Scott and Boris, along with Mike and two other people were out there with constructs ready as a backup, but we should have had somebody with a rifle watching too.”

“So you pulled Gregor, but not Andy or the rest of the kids. Why not?”

“Well I didn’t pull Andy because he was well protected and could take care of himself. The Manager had put him in a house with guns in it. There were holes in the fence. For the first day the merfolk were all chatting with the kids on the seawall. After that we were concerned with dealing with the Twisted and it was safer to deal with them with the kids in the house than trying to extract them because we weren’t sure that the Twisted wouldn’t be all over us and we didn’t want have the assault teams revealed by the local police that the Manager had compelled. So Tom made some gadgets that got the Twisted into the woods and Stephie and I dealt with them. Meanwhile Andy and the rest of the kids had a great time making things to annoy and distract Twisted from Tom’s book.”

“That book? I think that the government considers it a dangerous device. Some of the stuff that Tom left out in the barn has classified stickers on it. How did Stephie react? She’s wanted Tom to do something fun for a long time.”

“How do you think?”

“That she was flying without her wings. She came back very pleased with herself and I don’t think it was Boris.”

“Well there were some things that were still there from the time just before Tom left, especially after Stephie discovered Tom’s old radio hooked up to the phones, but that was resolved and I think it’s about time. At least now we don’t have to take a hands off with Tom anymore. He can be brought in as much as we like.”

“Chrissie might have something to say about that. On the other hand she’s likely to be right there with the rest of us, tail and all. Diana says that the wedding was amazing. Was it?”

“Well yes. We didn’t get any Twisted party crashers, but the rest of it was fun and wonderful. When Stephie danced, Tom arranged a wonderful projection of the farm from water magic that collapsed around her and the two whales breached and soaked her thoroughly. Tom had to set it up again for Diana and mother, without the whales and getting wet.

There was endless mermaid dancing and all three couples danced together. Chrissie was prowling around making sure that nobody conducted any business at the wedding, especially her father, grandfather and uncles, along with various other unsavory characters. Of course the wedding couples left early and the rest of us were left to do whatever we wanted so Mary and Roger talked to George and Stacey and have a line for fresh fish and seafood for Antonio. George and Stacey are bringing the kids up for Christmas and Mary is arranging a quiet little get together at Antonio’s.

The merfolk ended it in fun and games underwater, but that is an apparent response to the newly joined and there were three couples that were, one that completed the bond in the sharks own pool and the others who completed their bonds at the hotel in spaces seemingly provided for such activities. We marooned them out on an island with yet another mermaid who had been chasing her bonded across every naval station so that she could catch him. While we were out there, Al and Larry had more fun with the big gun and Bob and Scott launched their last constructs and we shredded a boat. So how were things up here?”

“Quiet. Not a whiff of anything out of the ordinary. Without Bob and Scott around the deputies were getting bored until the snow hit and then we were all dealing with that.”

“That was my fault. When the Manager finally woke up, he called in all his Twisted and put them where Tom and the rest of us could get at them. He had so many there at the house that they sensed the party we were having and wanted to crash. Which meant that they got a bad case of the dead and I got within three points of Stephie. I closed it up when I took care of the last of the Twisted and we are eating at Stephie’s this year.”

“Did you have to win? The farmhouse is nicer and we don’t have to listen to Stephie talk about her favorite subject, her younger brother and his achievements from long ago.”

“This year is going to be different because younger brother is going to be there and will downplay everything he did and then turn right around and point Stephie in the direction of things he never talked about before. Like his set ups for student plays and the gags that he did inWashington. Plus we have to find his secret Japanese friend who helped him setup for the wedding while he was keeping us occupied with the Manager. We also will want to talk to his army pal. Poor Stephie is going to have her work cut out for her.”

“That’s a good thing. I’ve missed Tom. He was such a troubled boy even before Brad came back.  I was there too and Eric wouldn’t let me tell him anymore than anybody told me about Change. They didn’t even tell me after I bonded because I never came into Change even after I bonded with Helen because her Change was not enough to force me into mine. Pointy ears and and elfin smile just aren’t that much to convince somebody of anything other than she was truly beautiful. And then that monster showed up and put the bite on her and I had to kill her after she Turned. She wanted me to. Well I won’t rest until every one of those things is dead.

Then you came along and we had our little accident. Not that that was a bad thing. And you give me a reason to live. I was worried about you down there, but we both knew that something like this could happen and it I went down, they would be looking at me as the dangerous one rather than you.”

“Andy wants to make it official, have us tie the knot.”

“I can understand that. He probably wants an official dad rather than a secret dad.”

I nuzzled him. “Not that you haven’t been a great secret dad. I would do it but your parents have always been leery about exposure. They turned out to be right about that. There are a lot of isolated fae who have been murdered.  Helmut and Mary never really realized just how many until Mera started looking for them.  Then Tom showed his stuff.”

“I had a feeling he was hiding something. Something big. Eric didn’t want to press him about it too much because he didn’t want to just chase him away again.  But Tom kept just coming up and running the stuff in his shop and then going South again.  I knew he was into that barn across from his shop, the old stone one, but I figured that he was just thinking about using it for a bigger shop if he needed it. Then he wants to ship the shop down to the Cape, but Eric puts a stop to that and he turns right around and heads back.”

“That was Chrissie.”

“Yes it was. But then after the Manager tries to kill him, he comes right back up here, packs up a bunch of seemingly useless junk and has it shipped down with the tank bed. Then he turns right around and tells you to tell Sphinx that he was here and had left.”

“Mother told him to clean out the barn. Josh sent the people over from the railroad for the tank bed. A lot of that junk wasn’t as useless as you might think once Tom started using it. That radio, for instance. Some of the things didn’t get used because he didn’t need to use them once he could access other resources, but he didn’t know that when he started.”

“The stuff he collected after Chrissie asked for the tank bed. Tom didn’t say no and at the time he didn’t have a place for all that stuff he sent down. It’s not as if he needed that stuff in a hurry when he left. Once he sorted it out, he could have made arrangements. He wanted something secure and at hand. The stuff that he told everybody about later. I wonder if he has any more stashed?”

“Other people will too. We will need to keep an eye out for people looking around. Especially for fae that are not Twisted. Like Sphinx.”

“Didn’t you rescue all the indentured?”

“The ones that the Manager had. Another bunch of kids was dumped on us after the Manager went down to close a hole. I’m in charge of finding the parents. The kids have been placed with the indentured’s kids and Andy’s bonded and some others from the bower will be joining them along with some other kids from the navy, probably. I’m heading back after Christmas.”

“I’m going with you. Eric can do without me this time of year and I want to show the constructs and Helmut’s people how to deal with Twisted without specials. I also want to have a long talk with Helmut and go over some things that I have been discreet about. I also want to talk to Sal and the rest about those sharks. Plus I can keep twisted off your back and provide cover for you when you look for the kids’ parents. Dumping those kids like that is an invitation to set up traps and these things will be looking to hit back.”

We finshed the rabbits and when we were done, I nipped him, ran off and called out, “catch me if you can!” We had a fine chase and after he caught me, a very nice howl across the valley. I was sure that they heard us at the farm.

I crept in early in the morning, but Andy was already up with a bowl of cereal. “Did you have a good time, Mommy?”

“Yes we did. Bill is also planning to go back to the city with us.”

“That’s a good thing. Except for the Twisted. They are going to have it bad. Helmut might have it easy for a while.”

“Did you tell Gregor about Bill?”

“Jimmy did. Gregor mentioned monsters and Jimmy said that with his Change, Bill was worse than any of the monsters that got sent here. He told Gregor about how Bill scared a vampire nest so bad that they ran right to Mike and Al because they thought that Mike and Al would go easier on them. Jimmy said that the Manager wanting to make a werewolf army was stupid because Bill would just take it over and take the whole bunch on Twisted hunts.”

“You know, he probably would. But I would rather not find out.”

Andy washed his dishes and we went up to the house to find Gregor and Athena. It wasn’t Andy’s turn at the milking this morning, but that’s where Gregor and Athena were with Eric so we joined them and Andy was put to work. When it was over we went over to the kitchen where Andy managed to charm some bacon from grandma as Gregor and Athena ate and then we took them to the bus and sent them off to school. On our way back Athena asked, “So what do we do today?”

“Why don’t I drive you around and show you everything. The range is snowed under, so we can’t start you on shooting, but we can make a stop at Larry’s on the way back.”

“Why don’t we start with the shop? I’ve always wondered what was inside. Seeing the mill from the distance made it seem so innocent and mysterious.”

“The mysterious part is right. The innocent, not so much. Bill and I were discussing just what Tom had been up to.”

“In between howls? I heard you last night.”

“Before that, over dinner. We had rabbits. Just a little warmed over. In any case, Bill thinks that Tom was getting ready to drop his bomb even before the Manager sent the sharks after him. He was up here while mother told him about Change planning to ship his shop back down and when father bought the shop, turned right aound and went back to the Cape. We think that he had been planning to ship some things with the shop so that they wouldn’t get noticed in the crates and machines. We also think there’s more stashed someplace.”

“We can watch and see what he does. I wonder if I stay around here frequently if the manager’s boss will try to make a connection.”

“Well we will take steps with Gregor to make sure that they can’t take him again. As for some other connection, Tom likes lines.”

“Yes he does. I wonder if he learned that in Washington. When I was going down there for the Manager, he had some very unusual friends in places that you might not expect. The Japanese embassy for instance. I tried to tell the Manager to be careful and that actually succeeding in killing Tom might be worse than not killing him.”

We went into the shop where the boys had all ready started in on what they were doing. Bob was welding bits of tube together while Scott was doing something on the lathe. We watched for a moment and then quietly left. “They got off to a fast start,” Athena said. “Of course they need everything ready today and tomorrow morning, so they can set up tomorrow afternoon. I wonder what they are planning to do?”

“We will find out. We’ll all go over for the parade and I think that we will want to have places near that skating rink that they built for the Olympics in two months. That’s where the princess will be dancing at the end of the parade.”

“Oh, that’s perfect. Especially if Scott makes off with the princess.”

“I suspect that she probably won’t complain. Up until the Manager, Bob and Scott were actually fairly staid for them lately. The usual construct shoots and car races, but no night runs or other fun and games. On the other hand they are trying to get into good schools for engineering and might be concerned with admissions committees.  This will probably be their last hurrah together.  Having Tom focus his attention on them at last must be overwhelming.” “Didn’t he pay attention to them when he was up here with the shop after Pratt?”

“No. He just sort of went into a shell and did the work asked of him and didn’t talk to anybody. Stephie was rather upset at that, because she tried to get into his shell and he ignored her. No games, no gags, nothing. The work he really wanted didn’t come in, but he didn’t go looking for it either. The gun work was steady enough and the rest so that he was making a living, but he seemed to be focused on something else. I actually walked past him there in the shop just about every day and he never asked who I was.”

“You did? I thought you mother wanted to keep you apart?”

‘She did, but it’s the temptation of forbidden fruit. Frankly I was curious about him, because he had been the last person with my bonded. There was also the obvious pain in his soul, both from what he had to do and what he had been involved in. Let’s go for a ride.”

I went back inside grabbed a set of keys off the rack and went back outside to find the truck that the keys belonged to. I waved Athena over and we drove off toward the road. “How come you don’t have your own car? I would think that you would need one.”

“Well most of the time I have a Sherriff’s department car that I use, but I left it at the office and haven’t been over to bring it back. It’s just as easy to use one of the farm vehicles now that we have them. It wasn’t so long ago that there were more horses than trucks, but that’s changed. Tom was actually the first full time car owner, but that was because Stephie had essentially banned him from the stables and a neighbor had a Model T that was rather worn out. He drove that for a while and then started to improve it and realized that he couldn’t drive it and improve it at the same time so he bought that truck he still has.”

“That’s another one of those little mysteries about Tom.”

“You’ll have to ask Bob and Scott about that. Or Stephie will. I do know that Boris is rather nervous about Tom just handing it down to one of the kids. Especially after our fun and games with the Manager.”

“Chrissie said that the truck is strange too. She’s been in her dad’s truck and Tom’s and Tom doesn’t downshift very much at all. He just feeds the truck more gas. She also said that his boat runs better than it should and Steve can’t keep his hands off of it.”

“I noticed that. Also that the engine books went with Tom. Not that that could be more of the smokescreen but with Tom, how can you tell? Let’s show you where Antonio’s new place is going to be. It’s near the small mountain that Roger and Mary set up for skiing when the skiing started to be a thing, a few years ago. There’s an old more or less abandoned inn that we bought and they’ve expanded it. It’s not quite ready yet, but it should be around the first of the year.”

We drove out along the road and Athena looked out and said, “I visited the central farm from the other side. How much of this is the family’s?”

“A fair amount. About fifteen houses or farms all told. Eric’s brother’s and sisters, their kids, Diana and George. Larry and Theresa live over the gun shop and their kids work the main farm. Stephie and Boris have a house as do Mary and Roger. In fact they built it six months ago and moved out of the cottage and I moved in. Which could have meant that things became awkward when Tom was around.”

“You settled that rather quickly. Even before you gave me those pictures. How did that happen?”

“Andy was running across an old wooden bridge and fell into the water. He can’t swim, which was lapse we will have to fix very quickly once it gets warm again. So I was approaching to bring Andy home and Tom was tuning a shotgun that he modified when the bridge broke, Andy fell in to the water and I Changed to get to him faster. Fortunately, Chrissie sensed that it was not a Twist and Tom did after he reloaded the gun with a special and didn’t fire. Father grabbed the gun and Tom Changed so that he could rescue Andy. Then Tom took father to task for not telling him about me and putting him in the potentially awkward position of shooting me by mistake. I don’t think that he would have in any case, but he was rather put out by being put in the position that he might be because the family was trying to protect him.”

“That was before he knew what you did with guns, wasn’t it?”

“Well I wasn’t carrying one at the time, so that didn’t matter. I would hardly shoot Tom in any case. At this point though, I know absolutely that I can trust him with my life. That is a very precious thing. Here we are.”

There was the rambling spread of the old inn, with the siding and the new additions needing some more paint and work that we couldn’t do until the Spring. The building was closed up, though and pretty much ready to go.”

“That’s big place.”

“We hope it’s big enough. We sort of rushed things a bit to get it ready before the Olympics. You can see the ski lodge and the tow rope up behind it. We’ll come back and take you and Gregor for some skiing next week.”

“It looks like a better set up for Antonio. At least Jacob will have to come all the way over here for his meetings or find another place.” “That is if he can’t find somebody else to go into the place after Antonio leaves. But that’s grief he could have avoided just by being a bit reasonable. As father put it, if he had made the effort to cultivate Antonio and work with him, a lot of grief could have been avoided.  Instead we infiltrate Bob and Scott into the place and poor Jacob just gave them every reason to go all out.”

“Which means that he just inflicted a whole new level of grief on himself right before his area is on the international stage. Even the Manager wasn’t that stupid. But won’t the boys get in trouble? Boris won’t be the sheriff over there.”

Oh, Sherriff Jacobs knows them all too well as well. As do the state troopers.  Again, Jacob treats the cops over there like flunkies. Ours are family and Bob and Scott are not cut any slack. If they get caught they face the same consequences as anybody else and worse because both Boris and Father will make their lives miserable and they pay their own fines. There’s a kitty at the end of the year funded by the the fines that we collect from those two to fund the department Christmas party. The last two years it’s been empty and we all just chipped in. Our deputies are family and losing two to those doppelgangers hurt even if they hadn’t taken Andy. I have two funerals to attend next week because that clown let the dark manipulate him into letting constructs loose and forcing us to deal with things that we shouldn’t have.”

“So what do you think that Sal is going to do with poor George? That is if he does anything at all.”

“Oh, he will. It will be in true troubleshooter style and truly unpleasant and the other guy will do the most damage to himself.”

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