The cutting room floor

Sometimes despite a lot of writing, some parts of a story have to be cut out.  Either they mess with the flow, or are too jarring, or too repetitive, or just somehow off compared to the rest of the story.  With ‘Brandished Destiny’ I had to through out my first beginning as it was rushed, extremely dark, and not what felt right for the novel.  I’m including it here.  A side note – I keep everything as I’ve found that what doesn’t work in one story can be a godsend to another one.  So I keep the pieces and every so often a piece augments another story.  Enough introduction, here’s the original beginning of Glass Bottles IV – Brandished Destiny.

(( It’s a bit long for a post, but I wanted to put it all together ))

“Fernie, hurry up, we’ve got to go shopping”, the cheery voice over the phone clashed with my sleep-muddled brain. I’d finished a good bottle of Wild Turkey last night, to curl up around and drown my sorrows. Trouble is, alcohol just makes you feel them more until you pass out. Which might be why people drink so hard. I guess they are trying to get through the magnified pain to the drunken stupor. “Mralg frummit”, I said into the receiver, which got a little giggle from another voice. This one did make me light up. Britt, my niece. She was three now, and looked exactly like her mother when I gazed at her. The same jet black hair and deep blue eyes. The same tan to her skin. It was like seeing Fawn all over again as a kid.

“I need to find some things for Britty, how’d you like to come along?”

The chance to spend time with my niece was a definite temptation. “Count me in, Fawn, just let me get dressed.”

“We’ll swing by the office in twenty. See you then.” She hung up the line. I looked around for a pair of pants, finding the blue jeans I’d left hung over the desk chair. I had a black tee shirt on the top of the laundry and grabbed that with the jeans, bra, panties, neon orange socks and flats, I was ready for the day. I’d managed to semi-untangle my hair by the time Fawn’s car pulled into the parking lot below my main window. Once I’d joined them and gotten a big hug from Britt, I slid into the passenger seat, and spent time making faces at her while Fawn drove.

Chain stores had died when magick came back, and now most places were small and family-run. That isn’t to say there weren’t chain stores. However it was more the franchise name being sold to independents rather than a place like the old Wal store which built its own place and operated it. You need technology for that ‘just-in-time’ to the store merchandise, and the technology of the day, even with magick, isn’t up to the pace needed.

We spent the next hour getting new clothes and food, then taking it easy with a stop at Maxy’s Cafe’. After the late lunch we packed up the car and started back to Fawn and Larry’s. On the way back, I got a call on my magi-cell. “Fatelli Investigations, this is Fern”, I said into the ‘phone. “I’d like to hire you to check out my machine shop”, a man, who identified himself as Harry Belt. Harry ran a garage on the corner of Whitcomb and F. “I think someone’s been using my place at night. My tools aren’t where I left them and things are moved around in the morning when I open up.”

I looked over to Fawn, who was splitting her time between me, Britt, and the road. “A new client?”, she asked me. I made a shushing motion with my hand. “You’re wanting me to stake out your garage to see if kids are breaking in?”, I said, making sure I was repeating what he had told me. “That’s right. I just wanna be sure I’m not just seeing things. I’d ask the cops, but I think paying you to watch the place is better than them driving by once in a while at night.” I wondered if I should start tonight or give myself a day before I started. “When would you like me to start?”, I asked. “Well, if you got the time, I’d like you to try tonight? I swear stuff’s being moved, but I ain’t sure. It might be jus’ me gettin’ absent-minded”, he said.

It made sense to start as soon as possible. Who knows, I could get lucky right off the start, and catch people if there were any. Otherwise it might take a week or so of stakeouts to prove to myself no on was. “All right I’ll start tonight.” I quoted him my fee, and he said he could pay for nights of surveillance, if it took that long to prove things one way or another. As I hung up the call, Fawn looked over and smiled. “Sounds like a late night date.” “Yeah, he thinks someone’s using his place at night”, I answered her.

“That’s quieter than you usually handle.”

“Business has been slow. It’s nice to get a paying job. I’ve got all these pesky little things called bills to pay.”

“No doubt, sis. But who’ve you got for backup on this one?”

“Well”, I said slowly. “I was going to talk to was going to go talk to a friend about helping me out.”

“I’ll volunteer”, said Fawn. She looked at me. “I’ve been looking for a reason to get out of the house for a night.”

“Don’t you get that every time you go to work, Fawn? You are a cop after all. Long nights is in the job application.”

Fawn threw back her head and laughed. “It is! But now that I’m a captain, I’m behind a desk all day long. I want something to do besides sitting on my tushy all day long.”

“So you would rather sit in a car all night watching a building? How is that so different from your desk jockeying?”

Fawn stopped and looked over to me, then back to the road. “Fern, since that business back with that thing on PEI, I had to look at the chance of losing my sister, losing you. Since you moved out, we’ve fought, and argued, and never really tried to patch things up. We get along, but when’s the next time we’re going to tear each other’s hair out?” She sighed and looked fondly back at her daughter, sleeping in the car seat. She turned back to me, her face focused on mine with an intensity that I hadn’t seen before.

“When Britt was born, I was so happy. I had a family, like when mom and dad were alive. You and Britt hit it off when you came over, and it was like the most amazing feeling seeing you there with her. When that thing nearly killed you, it hit me that Britt would never see you again, and never know you. That led me to realize I don’t know much about you any more. We’ve grown apart. With Britt, I want to see us grow together a little.”

The light turned red and Fawn slowed the car to a stop. The truth in Fawn’s words were easy to see. We got along, sure, but nowhere near like we did as kids. Maybe it was time to listen to what Fawn said, and see about spending more time.

“Well, I know I’ve got this boring job of watching a garage tonight for a client. It’s likely to be boring”, I said as the light turned green.

“And tedious”, Fawn said with a dramatic sigh, then grinned. “How will you ever cope?”

“I have this older sister. She’s a cop. Maybe she’d like to moonlight a little.”

‘She can’t moonlight. It’s against regulations. But”, she paused and smiled. “There nothing that says she can’t go along for a ride and family catch-up time.”

“That sounds like a plan to me”, I said with a grin. I’d never been with Fawn on a stake out, and despite the excitement, I was worried. What if we couldn’t get along? I told my worries to go hang, and we drove the rest of the way back to my office. After being dropped off, I called over to a rental place to arrange for a van to use. Yes, it may be cliche’, but if you’re going to be watching a place, which is better, a van you can stretch in, or a car where you can’t?

I picked up the van that afternoon. It was a faded brown chevrolet. Perfect for what I had in mind. The next few hours were spent putting in a couple of cots, a big cooler, binoculars, a change of clothes, foame rubber for the floor, and some gun microphones. The plan was to park the van in the ‘to be repaired’ section of the garage lot, and then wait and see. The foam rubber was to deaden our steps when we moved around. To fight the static electricity, we’d go barefoot.

The van was finished that evening. I called Harry Belt, and told him what we were going to do. While Harry came to get our van I called Fawn to have her come over. Fawn arrived with a spare change of clothes, and a large cooler. We got it stowed and ready just as Harry pulled up with the tow. He hooked us up and towed the van to his garage lot, parking it in the lot with a good view of the garage and the adjoining office. Behind the storage lot was a can recycling business, and across the lot to the south, was a small elementary school. There were about twelve cars and trucks, including the stakeout van, waiting for repairs.

Now that we were in place, it was time to relax until dark. Harry went through his routine of closing shop an hour later, waving the other workers good night. He locked the garage and office, then went home, leaving us to watch the place. Fawn and I took one hour shifts to start with. I had a feeling that this would be a short job. Something just told me there was something going on. I wish I could have contracted a couple Imrits with us to help watch, but they would never answer my request anymore after Hervald Thensome. I’d done what I had to to survive, and the Imrits didn’t like it one bit. Plus, if these intruders were fae, or magickal beings, any magick wards would be seen.

So for now, we were reduced to technology and our own eyes. Fawn had the third shift for about ten minutes when she whispered to me. “Looks like we’ve got company.” I moved quietly up to the window and looked out. Six gentlemen in dark clothing had driven up in an old Chevrolet Suburban, and had gotten out. They appeared confident, going straight to the office. The door opened after a few moments, which made me think that they had a key, or a really, really good professional lock pick. Fawn didn’t see anything set up or left behind as a warning system.

“Wait”, I told her. “We’re going to need something to find any little wards or ‘somebody’s here’ warnings. Let me whip something up fast.” A quick circle with an ink pen on paper, a match for light, paper for knowledge, black sock for stealth, a battery for duration, and two pair of glasses for the object. Five slow minutes of quiet chanting and a large dose of personal power, and we had two night glasses, good for about an hour.

We moved quietly and rolled the driver side window down. Fawn rolled out head first into a silent forward roll as she exited. Being a half-meter shorter, I had an easier time getting out, joining Fawn on the side of the van. We both lowered slowly to the ground and looked under the van towards the office. There were no signs of movement so Fawn did a quick silent run to the garage side of the building. Both Fawn and I have a unique trouble that I’ve talked about before. Both of us, due to our parents experiments in magic, ended up with monstrous reservoirs of magick that we can’t touch.

Look at us with mage sight, and we’re like looking directly into a searchlight. Which on a sneak and peek like this, would be a very easy way to find us, if they knew to look. Most careful people have a lookout that does just that. Fawn spotted him first, and pushed me back. I hugged the wall as she lowered herself to the ground and peeked around the edge of the building. A lump in the middle of a straight line gets attention, a lump at the bottom blends into the contour. As she watched, she held up a hand and whispered, “More, another four. That makes twelve. This sounds like some kind of meeting with that many.”

“What about the door?”, I whispered to her, kneeling down next to her to look myself. Fawn pushed me back. “Wait, he’s looking this way.” She froze, as did I. Fawn held her breath, rigidly alert. She held herself still for almost a minute, barely breathing. She relaxed visibly, then said, “He went inside.” That was our cue to move, and move we did, to the edge of the office door, crouched down below the edge of the glass window.

There was a faint light from inside the building. I looked up at the magnetic strip alarm with my mage sight. The lock had been hexed, canceling the signal. We took our time getting through the door, opening it slowly and holding it just enough to close it equally slowly. I got out my cell phone and set it to take pictures with the silent option on. If there was enough light there’d be faces to record.

Fawn waited for me to get ahead of her, then we moved slowly, making certain that we weren’t throwing shadows ahead of us that could be seen. We eased to down the hall to the opening into the four stall garage. Inside there were eleven of our twelve burglars. As we watched, there was a grinding sound and lights flashed twice. The personal lights all went out and the third door from us opened, admitting a rather fancy looking Jeep. The door closed and the crew jumped to, rapidly taking all the bolts out and stripping the car down for parts.

Then there was a sound that pushed my heart to my throat. A flushing sound, mixed with the metallic sound of a lock being turned, came from a door behind us. Fawn and I both spun trying to get back past the door and into the office to hide before we were seen. Fawn saw we were already cut off and charged the emerging lookout. He looked up and saw Fawn charge towards him. His eyes grew wide and he loosed a yell, clawing at the back of his pants when Fawn hit him like a American Football Linebacker. Her shoulder plowed into his gut just below the ribs as her momentum crushed him against the door lintel, driving the air from his lungs and snapping a bone.

He tried to scream, and Fawn chopped the side of his neck to stun him. He slid to the floor as answering yells came from in the garage. The tiles vibrated with pounding feet as we started for the office, only to have Fawn go down as the stunned lookout flopped about, trying to regain his feet. His legs tangled with Fawn’s and they both went down in a heap. She was up and running as the first man cleared the door behind her, a big revolver in his hand. The gun thundered, raising dust in the corridor, Fawn staggered and kept running, I pulled her down as she reached the corner, spinning her behind me. I snapped a shot back down the corridor, and looked at Fawn, who said, “Never a dull moment”. She winced and pressed her hand to her side, and I saw thick, dark liquid ooze from between her fingers.

“We got to get out of here, you’re hit”, i said, panic trying to rise in the back of my mind. “I know that guy”, Fawn panted shallowly. He’s True Belief, they’ve done terror hits in Dayning. Hate killers. I gotta call backup.” She moved her hand and the blood flooded the floor at her side. “I gotta…call..”. I didn’t get to answer as a death bolt tore past me, and exploded the window behind us.

“Come on, Fern”, she said faintly. “Come on where?”, I snapped. These guys were True Belief, it meant that this chop shop was part of their money operation. Like a lot of fanatics, they’re big on cause, short on cash. I wished they would have been short on artillery. We couldn’t go forward, as they had a clear view of us if we tried for the broken window or door. There was a door behind them, but it was behind the now three men who started blasting down the corridor. I ducked back around the corner, wishing I’d have thought to check the one door. Screw-ups like this are how you read about people like me in obituaries. It was a freaking rookie mistake.

I stopped to drop my empty clip, and push home a new one. “L..”, came from behind me. “Fawn, what is it. Hang on. We’ll get out.” I pushed the pistol around the corner and emptied it blindly down the hall. I pulled back and dumped the second clip and shoved home my last one.

Things had really gone downhill in a hurry. I leaned around the corner, looking down the corridor. Three faces near the ground saw me the same time I saw them. They fired, and I ducked back as the spells and bullets plastered the corner, blowing chalk dust into the air. The spell made the dust glow, then wink out. I felt the disorientation spell faintly as it dissipated. That was a powerful spell. To feel it a foot away, the guy must have major ju-ju. I looked over to my right, into the eyes of my sister. They had a glassy, faraway look.

Fern’s hand had slipped from the wound in her side, which sluggishly pulsed thick, dark blood. There was a pool about the size of her head by her hip. She was bleeding out and the exit was covered by the bastards from True Belief. I bit my lip, trying to think of something, some way out. I kept coming up blank. I was going to lose my sister if something didn’t change fast. I reached for the magic, and felt it flood into me like a runaway freight. We were over a ley line! Small, and hidden by spells, but definitely there. That’s how the magicker had cast such a big effect. How could I have missed it?

Easy really, I never bothered to look for it, and spells are too easy to trace when you use it to break into a place. Your signature is on every spell you cast. And right now, I was planning on writing one big autograph all over those fanatics. My sister drew a shuddering breath, her throat catching like a person drowning in water. Her lungs were filling up. We were out of time.

I threw a hurried spell together, grabbing my lighter, and kerchief. I bundled the kerchief in the scarf, then flipped the static trigger for the lighter, throwing it once I saw the flame catch. I willed the fire to burn hot, and as the lighter flipped towards the shooters, the lighter seemed to bulge, then explode, making the floor jump. A second hurried spell lifted my sister and followed me as I rose up and sprinted for the office door away from the stunned cultists. I hit the door with my shoulder and we were out in the parking lot.

The van was in the lot closest to us. I ran to the door and wrenched it open. I directed her into the passenger seat and then flipped down the passenger visor and caught her keys. The engine roared to life as the three killers lurched out of the door and tried to shoot us, but they hadn’t completely recovered, and the shots and spells went wide of us as we tore out and back towards Halifax. It was shaky going as the spell had wrenched a lot of my personal energy.

We managed to get to the emergency lot before I passed out. Witnesses said the van careened into on of the cement columns and smacked it hard enough to throw us into the glass. We were both rushed to emergency treatment. I woke up with a bandage on the side of my face, and a headache that was way past migraine. When I was told I was alright and didn’t have a concussion, I refused service immediately, and paid for what they’d done. Fawn was still in surgery, so I called Larry, and explained what happened.

Larry came to ICU and he and their daughter Britt, sat through the long hours of surgery. Britt was asleep in Larry’s lap when the doctor came. He slowly got up, cradling my three year old niece. The doctor looked at Larry, his eyes bleak. “I’m sorry, there’s just too much internal damage, and the bullets were death-spelled. She’s alive, but I think you should go see her now”, he said.

Larry bit back a anguished whine, which woke up Britt. She looked at her dad, and tried to hug him, like a child will do to comfort someone. Larry held her tight as we followed the doctor into the room. The smell was the first thing that hit me. Behind all the sterile chemicals was the faint odor of death. The faint greenish paint seemed to pulse with rot as we entered. The doctors and nurses seemed out of place with the bright, multicolored scrubs they wore. The single bed was adjustable, with the head cracked up to about a forty-five degree angle. My Amazon of a sister lay there, pale as the white sheets that covered her from her armpits on down.

Her hands were along her sides as tubes in her arms led back up to a half-dozen bags of blood and Ringer’s lactate. She didn’t respond until she heard Larry murmur in her ear and Britt say “Mommy!” She fought her dad and squirmed to reach her mother. “Britty, hush, Mommy’s tired”, Larry told her, and she pushed harder. Her mom said, “Please, Larry, let her down”, in a soft whisper. Britt was lowered gently to the bed and immediately curled under her mother’s arm and draped an arm across her chest. Fawn smiled,then looked up at Larry. She mouthed “I love you”, then leaned over to kiss Britt. Her lips touched her hair, and stayed.

The monitor screeched as her heart flat-lined. A doctor rushed to flip it off. Britt never stirred under her mother’s kiss and arm, snuggling closer for a moment before her dad lifted her back into her arms with a sleepy protest. The nurses straightened her head, unhooked the IV’s, and covered her body. The morticians would be by to pick it up in three days, the requisite time to be certain of death. Larry made no protest as I guided him down the bustling halls of the hospital, and back outside.

The sky was grey with the promise of rain. You could smell the water in the air. We got to Larry’s car, opening the back door and setting Britt in the baby carrier. She whined sleepily, and nodded off once she was strapped in. Larry looked in shock. Hell, he was in shock. His eyes had that empty stare that people get when their life is over. His skin had gone paler than usual, looking nearly as grey as the overcast sky. He closed the door, and looked at me.

I must have looked like he did. I know I felt that way. It was unreal. I couldn’t feel her loss yet, the shock had me absolutely calm, and rational. I could feel the edges starting to fray. I clamped down as hard as I could, willing myself not to unravel in front of my niece. My heart ached for Larry. How do you tell a three-year old that mommy’s gone and won’t be coming back? Short answer, you don’t. You just try to cope, and help her deal with things as she grows. Easy to say, but hard, so very hard to do.

He shuffled to the driver’s side door, opened it and sat down, bumping his feet twice to knock loose dirt off his shoes before closing the door. He started the car and slowly drove off to an empty house. I watched them go, then, walked to my own car. Deep down under my grief, a cold lump of anger and hate formed. I wanted these people. I wanted to hurt them. I wanted them dead. I drove home thinking of various ways to make it happen. What spells I’d need, what symbols for the spell. When I got to the house, I unlocked the front door, and moved directly to the back lab.

Everything was there for what I wanted to do. I’d just started to gather the pieces when the door opened, then closed. I froze at the sounds, then carefully put the candles and sulfur on the counter by the sink. I was still wearing my holster, and I pulled the Ruger .357 and brought it up, aiming at the door. It started to push open, and I dropped to one knee. I was at the edge of the island counter, and I wanted all the cover I could get. The door opened away from my position, so I had to wait for the person to clear the door before I could shoot accurately. What I saw was a ink-black boot clear the edge, followed by an ink-black body.

Megan. The Darkness. I swallowed a lump of fear as she-slash-it entered the room and turned to face me. “You know what I want, sister of the dead sister. To sense with your senses. Your sister’s death has you screaming hate and loss into the aether.” It/she paused, black abyssal eyes gleaming out from a black shadow of a girl. It had been five years since that night when she’d made the open pact with the Darkness. Those twelve years I’d followed in the papers and through reports Fawn shared with me of its/her travels throughout eastern Canada. Wherever it/she went, people died, or worse.

“You know who you want to visit fear and vengeance upon, you know I can give you all the power you need to make those desires reality. You could save this dying, foolish ephemeral thing you call ‘Megan’ from my continued touch. All you need do is let me come to you. I can see the patterns of your life, witchling. I can feel the choices being limited by the future. You know how you can change them”, it said in that same soft voice overlain with the sound of faint screaming.

I didn’t realize that I’d stood up until I’d backed into the counter under the window. The entity spooked me bad. I knew if I gave in, I’d never be free. I’d scream my life away in that thing’s embrace as it used me for it’s personal sock puppet. Part of me was tempted. I knew that the Darkness would give me everything I wanted and more. The power to kill every one of those hate fanatics in the True Revelation. I could face down that murderous elf-prince and feed him terror until it burst that withered pustule in his chest he called a heart.

I knew all this, and was terrified of it. And here it was, when I was raw with pain from my sister dying, offering me a chance to destroy everyone that had hurt me. Dear gods above and beyond, I wanted it. I started to waver as my pain started to claw it’s way out. I clamped down on it, and walled it away once more. The ache in my heart remained a distant sensation for now. But sometime soon, I was going to have to deal with what happened or it would tear me apart.

I wanted to see Doug again, but that idea died as soon as I’d thought it. Doug was dead too, because the elf-lord wanted me for what he could take. Anger surged again and I looked at the Darkness. It quivered with eagerness sensing I might actually give in. A faint, mewling scream played across my hearing as Megan twisted in the Darkness’ grip. He was twisting his vessel to up the tension, trying to make me jump his way. At least, that’s what he hoped. What it did was throw mental ice-water on the anger, and snuffed it out like pinching a candle wick. I squeezed back against the counter, trying to put distance between me and it-slash-her.

A sense of irritation and disappointment emanated from the Darkness. “Very well, child of ephemera”, it said in a soft hollow voice. “I can wait. The choices you have are narrowing ever further as the future moves to the present. Remember your losses, and what you could have chosen that would have stopped them from happening.” It turned to the door, and flowed through it. I heard the door open again, and close. Only then did I let the breath go I’d been holding. I don’t remember sliding to my knees, I just remember crying for what felt like hours as the fear, hate, and loss finally broke free inside me.

It was dark in the house when I finally became aware of my surroundings again. I put the revolver back in its holster, stood up, and began to replace the spell items I’d gathered. Once that was done, I went to the bedroom and fell across the bed. I don’t remember hearing the alarm at all. I slept through it and woke around eleven. The message light was beeping when I checked my cell-phone. The first call was from Larry. He was looking for me to come by and go with him to the funeral directors to help choose a coffin and service.

The second was from Fawn’s department head, expressing his condolences, and an offer of police honors at the service. It was something that had to be done, the call wasn’t my decision. It was Larry’s if he was up to it. He answered on the second ring. “Fern? Can we put off going to the Funeral home? Britty’s really upset mommy didn’t come home.” He took a deep, shaky breath. “I don’t know where to start. I’m supposed to be strong, but how can I when I feel so empty.” There was no answer I could give him. Saying something as trite as “we all have to deal”, wouldn’t help, even if it was true. This is one thing there’s no good answer to. A lot of hard, truthful answers. But no good ones.

“We get it done now, Larry, it isn’t hanging over us. I’ll find a babysitter, and we’ll…” he interrupted me. “I’ll get one of my sisters. They’ll understand.” “Good idea Larry. That’ll make the trip easier”, I said quietly. The funeral home was the last place any of us wanted to go. The finality of the visit just reinforced Fawn was gone. And on top of that, we were ignoring the situation that got Fawn killed. Those bastards were still out there, and doing this kept us from being in on the hunt.

The police were probably buzzing around Halifax like hornets who’s nest had gotten kicked. One of their own had been killed, and no cop wants to let a cop-killer get away. One of the few times being a gang in uniform is useful. Regardless, thinking about that gave me a focus around the grief I was feeling. Taking it out on the bad guys would be cathartic.

Larry interrupted my thoughts. “Fernie? You there?” I shook my head and focused back on the here and now. “I’m here, just, thinking, you know, eh?” “I know, I’m doing a lot of it lately. We had a talk last week about her job. I wanted her to give up the special weapons command. I think she was going to. I know she wanted more time with Britty. I’ve been taking her with me to the magic shop. She’s all over the store. Helping me pick stuff up and reminding me about what I’m doing. The customers love her.” I could hear some papers rustling. “She had the paperwork here, she just hadn’t dated the signature.” There was a long silence, then Larry’s phone clunked.

I could hear some strangled sounds coming from the other end of the line. “Larry?” the phone clattered then he answered, “Sorry, just … hard right now.” “Yeah, me too. I’ll see you in a half-hour, Larry.” He mumbled an affirmative and hung up the phone. I felt like wood. All my emotions were raw, and yet distant like it was all unreal. The drive over to pick up Larry was quiet. It was like the whole city was mourning. When I stopped in front of Larry’s house on the edge of Dayning, I had to look at it twice to make sure I was at the right home.

All over the lawn were small packets of flowers, candles, and small statuettes. Nothing was on the sidewalk, but all around the house were the small pieces of thoughtfulness. Larry always had been big in the non-human community because he was willing to trade and deal with them fairly. Fawn had been a cop, but like Larry, she’d been a big influence on the police with non-humans, to the point of getting them into her squad. The dividends had been a big reason that trust between the community and the police had grown.

Those that liked the old system, and the advantages of exploitation didn’t. It wasn’t perfect. Nothing is. It’s a lot more tolerable than it was. Larry never wanted the adulation, he just looked at it as good business. Treat people with respect and they’ll do the same a lot more often than not. It was a shock to see how much it meant to others. As I got out of the car, a news van pulled up to the curb and slid their side door open. The reporter stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the house and began speaking back to the cameraman still in the truck.

The young man had the camera focused on the house, and respectfully stayed at a distance as I got Larry, and left for the funeral home. Once there, we haggled for a few hours. The funeral home representatives could give sales lessons to door-to-door men. They knew how to milk grief and guilt. Larry surprised me by getting in their faces about it too. Upshot is we got a simple wood coffin and cremation for a price far below what they’d hoped to sell us. Larry’s and my one splurge was the Granite headstone, with room enough for two names side-by-side.

Once done with that morbid necessity, we started our trip home. Larry was still fuming about it all when we got back onto the road home. “I can’t believe those vultures, trying to push that godawful monster on us. What good is all that fancy crap when you’re dead?”, he said bitterly.

“I agree with you. I think it’s when you feel guilty you want to make up for it, you know?”

He frowned and kept his arms crossed. Then straightened up as a different thought came to mind. “I..”, he managed to get out, before moving hand over his face. His shoulders slumped and shook as he cried silently. I managed to hold it together until I got him home, then retreated to the bathroom, and sat there for a half-hour while I tried to get a grip on my own emotions. Finally, I had no more tears to shed, and pulled myself together again.

Out there, somewhere, were the killers. Until they were caught, this would be a raw wound for all of us. So I had two days before the funeral to use on tracking them down. I planned to use every moment doing it. First was to arrange some help. The best place would be in Dayning, where most of the non-human community lived. Larry was feeding Britty some mashed potatoes as I gathered my things. He coaxed her with a laugh and a smile, which Britty bought nothing of. Kids are smart, they know when things are tough. Her face was scrunched up, absolutely serious. She’d open her mouth to take the food, but she didn’t laugh, just ate. I bit my lip as I left to keep from breaking down again. Larry waved absently, entirely focused on Britty.

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