I woke up and everything was silent, oh not sound but the things I get from other minds that always tend to leak a little, simply wasn't there. I tried to reach out and found… nothing. My mind was blind. It was interesting. For the last two years there was always things in the background, now nothing.
And I knew without trying that my ability to change was gone as well. All of my magic was gone, well not gone, but blocked so I couldn't use it. Perhaps I should have been disturbed, but I wasn't. I knew who had done it and why. Raven had decided to punish me, for killing his minion Molan.
Unlike Coyote, the Trickster who simply liked to play jokes, though sometimes they were malicious, Raven's interference in our world was always malicious. He wanted me to know, to feel helpless. He underestimated me. My magic had been a part of me, but only a part. If I lost those abilities permanently I would not be diminished.
Blue looked at me and his ears were back and he knew that there was something wrong when he couldn't reach my mind. We were to find out that aspect of my magic hadn't been taken from me. Though we couldn't talk to each other, Blue could still use my mind to talk to weres when they were in human form.
I looked at the clock and it said 5:30 AM. I got up and slipped a pair of shorts on over my underpants and picking up Blue, I went downstairs and onto the front porch. I sat on the rail, with my bare back against an upright, legs straight with Blue on my lap.
I didn't bother to set an alarm, I was usually awake by six anyway and when I wasn't, Robby woke me. But when I opened my eyes and looked at the clock and saw that it was seven o'clock, I wondered. I got up and slipped into my clothes. Checking the boys room I saw that Robby's bed was unoccupied, though the other three boys were fast asleep. Aaron as usual had kicked the sheet off and I pulled it up over his bare body. His eyes opened sleepily and he smiled, before they closed again. I don't know if he was actually awake or not.
Sandy raised her head and looked at me with her blue eyes, telling me, *There is a problem Tal, there is a difference to Robby, but there is no difference in him. Blue is worried and unhappy. Tell him that I am expecting. That will cheer him up.*
“Who Robby?” I asked astonished.
She said patiently, *No, Blue. I already told you there is no difference in Robby. He needs no cheering up. There will be one kitten.*
“How do you know?” I asked.
Sandy explained, *We are not cats, we are familiars. We decide how many kittens we have, up to a total of six. There is one unbonded Healer, so there will be one kitten.* she laid her head down on the bed, *I heard Robby go out the front door.* she said before she closed her eyes.
I slipped down the stairs to the ground floor. I could see Robby sitting on the porch rail, with Blue on his lap, through the glass of the front door. Opening it he turned his eyes on me and his large green eyes were serene, yet at the time I realized that he was troubled.
Robby shook his head, saying in his soft voice, “Not troubled Tal, thinking. I've mentioned the Immortals. Few of them are active anymore. With their believers gone their power is impaired and they must conserve their power or they will return to the elemental beings which they once were. The Trickster and Dingo are the only two Immortals that still have a lot of believers and still have their full powers. The Raven is another Immortal and he lives on strife, therefore he will always be with us. He doesn't need belief to provide him with power. Hawk is his brother and he is always watching Raven, but Raven will always be one step ahead of Hawk.”
He explained, “Hawk is even more unusual than Raven, his power is contingent on how powerful Raven is, so he too in a sense is powered by strife. It must drive Raven crazy at times, knowing that no matter how powerful he is, his brother will be just as powerful. And he can do nothing about it, because Raven craves power.”
Robby told me, “Molan was his creature, which is logical, Raven is basically evil and many of his minions will also be evil but not all. He is quite willing to trick someone into serving him. However, Raven decided to punish me. He's blocked my magic. Almost all of it anyway.” Robby grinned and his small face showed his obvious pleasure, as he said, “He must really be pissed right at the moment, knowing that it makes absolutely no difference to me.”
Fascinated, I realized that it didn't. I had never had the power to change, but to have it and the many other things that he had and to suddenly lose it, should have been devastating, yet it wasn't, not to him.
Robby explained, “My magic was part of me Tal, but only a part. I would much rather lose it than the ability to love my family, or to think clearly, or simply the ability to enjoy life.”
Robby's face went gloomy, as he said, “Of course he does win in a way, at least for a while. My friends and family will feel the devastation that I don't feel. It will take them some time to realize that I'm not bothered by it. Elders will believe it more easily, because my mind is still that of a werewolf and they can still read my mind, even though I can no longer feel them. My mind still retains the blocks that I put up so my mind cannot be attacked. Those are something that have gone beyond magic and have become a part of me. I'm still stronger and faster than other children my size, also I still have the ability to invoke the speed and power I have from being an Elder and a Healer.”
His face brightened, as he said, “I think I'll call Granddad. He can take the thought right out of my mind and give it to them and show them that I'm not hurt by it, at least for those who are weres.”
I passed on the information that Sandy had given me, telling him, “Sandy said Blue needed cheering up. She said to tell him that she is expecting.”
up purring and Robby smiled, the lights glinting in his eyes, as he
said, “That will make Uni happy. He still misses his cat, even though
he knows she's thirty-four hundred years in the past.”
By the beginning of March, his friends and family had begun to accept his loss. Mainly because the Elders could show from his mind that, as Robby said, he didn't care. It was simply a part of him and he was not diminished by its loss.
The Council had affirmed that Robby would keep his position as an Elder. Again they didn't consider his magic the most important part of him. They considered it less important than his compassion and his wisdom and his brilliance and his ruthlessness when it was needed.
My assumption that his reading minds was responsible for the insight he had into people's thinking was gone, because he was just as perceptive now as he had been. I realized that much of the astonishing way he could read people was through his capacity to read body language and his ability to put himself into someone else's place.
My respect had always been high for Robby, but it went even higher as I realized that he was much more than I had thought he was.
I looked at Tal. Obviously he had something he wanted to say but he was wary. I told him with annoyance, “Stop already, my family and friends are finally getting over walking on tip toe around me and I don't want you to start.”
Tal grinned, saying, “You're right. I got a letter from my cousin, Mark. He's a brother to Vivian Peters who you used as Uni's mother. He's worried about his son, in a couple ways, the first one is this.” and he handed me a picture, of a brown-haired brown-eyed boy. He looked a bit like I did, but he had a horrendous scar on his cheek and that would tend to capture the attention.
I asked, “Why hasn't the scar been fixed? It's bad but it certainly could be fixed by cosmetic surgery, unless he has a problem healing.”
Tal gave a sour look, saying, “The boy is only about an eighth werewolf. He isn't even aware of his heritage and with that small amount of our blood, it's just as well. But my cousin has no medical insurance and when he asked for help from an Elder, the man said the boy didn't have enough of our blood to qualify for werewolf help.”
I nodded, telling him, “According to Werewolf Law, we generally limit our help to those who are at least half werewolf blood. It may sound cruel but at the same time we have to put a cutoff limit somewhere. However,” I said softly looking at the sorrow in the eyes of the boy in the picture, “we do make exceptions. The Elder should have passed it on to the Council for a final decision. Even if we can't use werewolf money as such, we can usually find the money somewhere.”
“But you said there was a second problem and you actually sounded like it was much worse than the scar?” I asked.
Tal explained, “The boy got the scar by falling off of his bike, almost a year ago. My cousin, Mark Peters, is having a problem just paying the hospital bill and he can't get any help with that either. They ended up moving into a rough neighborhood. Jerry is bitter and he joined a gang called the Dukes about three months ago and that could end up getting him into a world of hurt. A rival gang member was killed about a month ago and while nothing drastic has happened since, there's been several minor skirmishes between the two gangs. He's sure his son was in at least one of them.”
“How old is Jerry?” I asked.
“Twelve.” Tal said.
I told him, “Young, but if he's as bitter as you say and if he has any werewolf qualities and with the amount of blood he has it's erratic, sometimes they have it in full measure and sometimes not. But if he has, he could be an impressive fighter, which would make up a lot for his youth, since gangs tend to be impressed by a good fighter.”
“What do you intend to do?” he asked.
I scratched my head, thinking, then said, “You said the death only happened a month ago. It's possible that Jerry was responsible. With only an eighth of our blood, an Elder probably can't read him. That means I've got to make sure he wasn't responsible. There are other ways of finding out, but I also want to find out who did it, so I'll replace him. While he doesn't look as much like me as the Jarvis twins do, there is a resemblance. With my hair dyed brown and brown contact lenses and a reproduction of that scar, it'll probably be close enough that I can get by.”
I took out my cell phone and hit speed dial. “Edward Franco.” Edward said.
“Edward, this is Robby. When you arranged the passport for Uni, you would have put a file together on Vivian Peters, right?” I asked.
“Certainly,” he said scathingly, “You know I don't leave jobs half done.” I giggled. Edward was one of the ones who had accepted the loss of my magic very easily.
I said soothingly, “I apologize, Edward. Vivian has a brother named Mark. Put together a dossier on Mark and his son Jerry. I'm more interested in the son actually. He was injured in a bicycle accident and he has a horrible scar. The father owes the hospital for his hospital stay. I assume it's Prescott General. Pay the bill from my private account and arrange for the son to go into The Clinic for cosmetic surgery to repair the scar. I'll see if the Council will pay for it, but if not, I'll cover it.”
“Understood. Anything else, Robby?” Edward asked.
I told him, “Yes. Jerry is a member of a gang. Since he's only one-eighth werewolf, he probably can't be read by an Elder, so we can't rule out the possibility that he was involved. Perhaps as an initiation rite. Put together a profile on the gang as well, I want to know if they initiate younger members in that manner or not. They're called the Dukes.”
I told him, “We'll be taking Jerry and his father to the hospital and replacing Jerry with me. Tal as his cousin will move in to take care of Jerry while his father is out of town and we need a make-up artist. Preferably a woman, who can act as Tal's wife, to replace the scar each morning.”
Edward said, “Ah...” and I giggled again.
“You don't have a woman but you have someone who's a makeup artist and who can look like a woman. Is he gay?” I asked and I saw Tal grin. From some of the things he had told me, this wouldn't be the first time he'd worked with a gay man, if Edward's contact was gay.
Edward told me, “No, he's not gay, but he belongs to an all male acting group. The majority of them are gay. He usually plays women and he does most of the makeup for the group. He was in Hollywood for several years, as a makeup artist, but he got bit by the acting bug. He's seen too many aspiring actors who didn't have any experience try to make it and flop. He decided to come home and get some experience before trying Hollywood as an actor. His name is Pedro Galindez and he's Puerto Rican. The group is on hiatus for the next month so he's available.”
I said, “I'll pay him for both, since he'll be doing both, have Arthur drive him out and we'll have a look at the scar though we'll need more detail. We can get that first hand once we get Jerry. Warn him there is the possibility of danger. Bye, Edward.”
“Bye Robby.” and he hung up the phone.
I told Tal. “He's not gay but he works in an all male group and many of them are gay, but he has several years of experience in Hollywood as a makeup-artist.”
Tal grinned, telling me, “Wouldn't have bothered me if he was gay. They're people and they're good and bad just like other people.”
While I didn't particularly like the thought of danger, the fact that I'd be paid almost double certainly compensated somewhat. Edward was a good friend of my father's and I had known him most of my life. He had told me, 'You'll find Robby a very unusual person, he's thirteen, though he looks younger, but he has a wisdom that's ageless. Believe me when he's involved in something he's very much the boss, so don't let his youth deceive you.”
As we were getting out of the car a small blond headed boy in a red Speedo, was coming out of the front door, wearing sandals, with a towel over his shoulder. He came our way and Arthur took him under the arms and lifted him high into the air and since he started at seven feet that was quite a distance but the boy just grinned, and said, “Hi, Arthur.”
Arthur let him down and held him in his arm, he took a quick peek at me, then asked the boy, “Is Robby, really taking things as well as Edward told me, Teddy?”
The boy also glanced at me, then said soberly, “Yes, it's amazing I guess. At least that's what everybody is saying. To lose so much and not care, because he considers that it was only a little part of him and never the most important part. I know I couldn't take it that well.”
From the way they talked I realized they were very carefully skirting around an issue, because I was there. Masters looked at his watch and said, “It's almost two o'clock and you're just getting to the pool. What kept you?”
Teddy giggled, saying, “I had a science project to finish. The last time I waited till the last moment and ended up getting a B and Robby was really annoyed with me. It was on a good subject and we both knew I could have gotten an A if I hadn't delayed and had more time. I still have a couple of weeks but Robby said today and you don't say no when he looks at you that way. He won't help on things like this unless the teacher says we can get help. But this way it gives him a chance to look it over. He's tougher than Mrs. Forest my teacher, in the way he grades it, so I'll have time to fix up things that aren't done as well as they could be.”
Arthur Masters said, “Okay, tell me where Robby is and then you can scoot.” as he set the boy on the ground and gave him a light swat on the bottom.
“They're in the dining room. They're expecting you.” he said, over his shoulder and then he took off.
We just walked through the front door. There was a woman wearing shorts and a T shirt sitting in a chair in the living room and she got up and embraced Arthur. “It's good to see you Arthur, Robby said that he'll be away for awhile. He's in the dining room with Tal.”
“I saw Teddy outside, he said that Robby's taking it well.” Arthur said.
She smiled easily, telling him, “Yes, in the last couple of weeks people have come to respect him for being Robby, not for what he once could do. As he said the loss didn't diminish him and it really didn't. It made us realize that he's even more special than we thought he was. He lost so much and those of us who only have a little of what he had, would have felt crippled by losing it. Yet there's a serenity about him and there's no false ring about it. Watch him for yourself and you'll see.”
Her dark eyes looked at me, saying, “We're sorry about being so cryptic Mr. Galindez. But it's a private thing.”
I nodded, but it was still confusing. I went into the dining room with Arthur.
I must admit that Robby Hansen was impressive. He was still a little boy. That was obvious because he was a couple of inches under five feet tall. He had what those in Hollywood would call star quality or charisma and those in the armed forces would call command presence. He dominated the other two in the room, though Arthur Masters and Tal Peters were both impressive in their way.
Robby looked at me with enormous green eyes and they were the type of eyes that could read you right down to your soul. He smiled and said in a soft voice, “Welcome Pedro. I have use for those makeup-artist's eyes.” and he handed me some photographs. “These are from the Prescott Police. They don't have a Gangs Task Force, but every police force watches gangs nowadays. Edward sent all the stuff they had on the Dukes and the Bloods. Jerry's picture isn't included.”
I looked at the photographs and the stuff on the dining room table, asking, “They just gave Edward this stuff?”
Robby giggled, saying, “What makes you think that we asked?”
I decided not to pursue that line of questioning any further, I didn't want to know. I went through the pictures one by one, slowly and then a second time and I put two pictures aside.
I looked at him and I couldn't read him anymore, that was impressive. His face was completely blank. That was an ability any actor would admire, that's what many actors wanted to start with and build on to create a character, but only the great ones could do it.
Robby asked, “Why did you choose those two pictures?”
I explained, “One looks white and the other Hispanic, but the bone structure and features definitely, at least to me, indicate a relationship.”
Suddenly Robby was smiling and his eyes were warm and I felt a shiver go up my back. As Edward said, he was definitely the boss but he was more, he was a leader.
He nodded his head, saying, “I agree. The Hispanic is the leader of the Bloods, though unlike gangs in other, larger cities, neither gang is exclusively made up of one race. His name is Juan Sanchez.” he grinned, “Can you get more generic than that? The other one is Paul Myles with a y and he's an important member of the Dukes. They both came from New Orleans about two years ago. They both live in the same area of the city obviously, with bachelor uncles. Sanchez with a Roberto Colon and Myles with a Roger Myles.”
He said, “Interestingly enough both Colon and Myles are members of the Mob and even more interesting, they both got out of the state pen three years ago, where they were cellmates and Colon and Myles aren't their real names. Colon is actually Columbo and like the good lieutenant, he's Italian. Myles only swapped one letter of his name, the y should be an i. So his name is Miles, but his mother was Italian and surprise, surprise, Columbo and Miles are cousins. Somebody important pulled some strings to make sure they were cellmates.”
He said emphatically, “And going beyond the bounds of possibility we can find no real record of a Paul Myles or a Juan Sanchez in New Orleans!! They provided addresses in their high school records in Prescott! However, the places they said they lived no longer exist. They were torn down in renovation projects about eighteen months ago and the people living in them were scattered who knows where.”
Robby spread his hands, saying, “As I said we couldn't find any real record of Myles or Sanchez. They have records in the high schools they supposedly attended in New Orleans. The records are very impersonal. No comments by teachers or vice-principals, or guidance counselors. Looking at the records of Myles and Sanchez in their present high schools; well the grades are similar, but there are many personal comments. Disobedient, disruptive, disorderly. They've both been suspended a couple of times for various infractions.”
I commented, “The Mob is always looking to expand. Perhaps this is an experiment to see if they can take over gangs. If they can do it here, maybe they can do it in other small cities, where ethnic origin is not as great a factor as it is in the larger cities.”
“That's what Tal and I think.” Robby said to me. “I ambushed you before I made introductions because I wanted to get your impressions, right off the bat.”
He nodded at the man sitting with a laptop computer in front of him. He was blond with gray eyes and as he stood up to shake hands even that small movement showed how graceful the man was. My Sensei, who was a Sixth Degree Black Belt, moved like that.
Robby smiled, saying, “This is Tal Peters and he's my assistant.” his green eyes dancing, “Tal was a spook, an intelligence agent for thirty years. He was very good at what he did, but those in charge decided he was too old to work in the field, so Tal retired. Tal is a distant cousin, as is Jerry.” and he handed me a photograph.
Looking at the scar on the boy's face and the sadness in his eyes, my hands clenched. With cosmetic surgery nobody needed to look like that today.
Robby nodded soberly, telling me, “No. Something should have been done sooner, but they'll be getting to it now. He goes into The Clinic later today and they'll take care of it. He's a Peters' and we're all descended from the same man. There's enough of a resemblance that with you adding the scar to my face, most of them will be focusing on that. Unless we're unlucky, it's unlikely that anyone ever has gotten beyond the scar and taken such a good enough look at him that they'll notice any difference.”
“And if they have?” I asked.
Robby grinned again, explaining, “Then I run as fast as I can. However. Tal let him have a look through the camera.” The man turned the laptop to show my very surprised face. All Robby was wearing was a green tank top and a pair of blue shorts and sandals. I wouldn't have thought there was any possibility of him having a camera on him.
He circled his heart. Just to the right of the single pocket, saying, “It's woven right into the fabric, somewhere in this area. Closer than that I have no idea. It has a ten mile range and the transmission is scrambled. You wouldn't even be able to tell it's a video signal, without the encryption key. And even if you had that key, you wouldn't be able to unscramble the video signal. I don't know if we'll need this camera, but I have two tank tops with a camera woven in, just in case.”
Robby explained, “In fact I don't usually wear tank tops but Jerry does all the time and he usually wears jeans, while I usually wear shorts. Jerry's a little bigger than I am, though we're the same height, but I'm more slender than he is. Not by much, but just enough that we have to put together a whole wardrobe, suitably aged of course and as much like his as possible. Also the sneakers he wears are one size bigger than mine.”
“Edward told you about the murder, I assume?” Robby asked me.
I nodded, my heart in my throat. Robby cocked his head and said soothingly, “Don't worry, I don't really see any danger for you. If there's any danger it'll probably be to me. But I told Edward that there was the possibility of Jerry being involved, maybe as a gang initiation. The Dukes don't require initiation though the Bloods do, but that's usually stealing a car or something similar, it doesn't involve violence. That doesn't rule out Jerry being involved, but we'll see if we can't eliminate him this afternoon. Tal and I are pretty sure that it was Sanchez who did it, or arranged it. The one who was killed was becoming a threat to his leadership. Well he's no longer a threat.” Robby said, his soft voice cold as he shook his head.
His voice remained cold, “I want to be able to meet all of the Dukes. I read people very well and if any of them have anything to do with the murder, I should be able to find out about it. Myles, even if he and Sanchez are working together, may or may not be involved. Personally, I think the plan goes this way: They wanted to stir the gangs up and get them involved in violence and then Peter Jenkens, the leader of the Dukes, gets killed and Myles is poised to take over. One important member from each gang would have been killed and if Myles and Sanchez work out a truce, it'll probably last.”
Tal and Robby began to gather the papers together, Robby saying, “Tal is going into Prescott to pick up Mark Peters and his son Jerry at the train station. They're apparently visiting relatives and will be taking tomorrow off before Tal will be returning with Jerry and his wife, to take care of him until his father gets back. Actually, they'll be going to The Clinic. We see no reason that they would be followed, but we'll have them watched, just in case. I have something to do before Arthur drives us to The Clinic.”
“Correcting some homework?” I asked with a grin and Robby grinned back. “I gathered you were annoyed with your brother's last project.”
He nodded, “Yes. I told Teddy I'd do it before I left.” he said. Tal was ready to go and he had the information and the laptop computer in what looked like a ratty old briefcase, but I suspected that was a disguise as well. Robby said, “We'll see you at The Clinic, Tal.” and the man nodded, ruffling Robby's hair as he passed.
Robby said, “Arthur, Mom baked a couple of cakes this morning and they're pretty well intact, only Teddy and I have had any. Why don't you join Mom and have a piece.” He giggled again, “I've read your dossier, Pedro and I know you don't indulge or I'd include you in that invite.”
telling him, “I play women half the time and I'm very good at it.
I'm naturally slim, so I don't have to diet, but I still have to watch
my weight. If I indulge then it shows very quickly and then I do have
to diet. It's easier to eat right and stay slim, than to overindulge
and then have to diet.”
Arthur went into the kitchen with Mrs. Hansen to get his cake and eat it too. I went up to the computer room with Robby. There were two copies of Teddy's project and Robby gave me one to read. He began going through the other, marking it liberally. Putting comments, circling words and phrases.
I settled down to read it. It said 'Thermal Energy by Edward Hansen.' I figured it would be as dry as dust and not very complicated, since I figured the boy was only about eight or nine, but I was wrong. There were problems with grammar and spelling but it was interesting and very well written. Teddy had a sense of humor which was evident in his writing. I learned a lot about thermal energy and it was done painlessly and with a sense of fun.
I looked up at Robby when I was finished and he smiled at me, saying, “Now you know why I was annoyed with Teddy on his last project. Despite the fact that he'll only be nine in June, he's a very good writer. There are so many spelling and grammar mistakes because, even though he uses Microsoft Word to do his writing, the Grammar and Spelling checkers are disabled. If he isn't sure of the spelling of a word, he's supposed to look it up, if he needs help with grammar he's supposed to ask and he did both. But he's only eight and he can be sure he's right about something and be completely wrong. Since he doesn't know there's a problem, of course he won't ask about it.”
Robby handed me the copy that he was correcting and I looked through it quickly and all of the spelling and grammar mistakes were marked. At the end he commented. 'Very good Teddy. I give you a B. Fix your mistakes and you should get an A or even an A+. Remember to learn the spellings of the words that I marked. I'll test you when I get back.'“
I commented, “Do you recheck it after he does it again. And what if he doesn't learn to spell the words, what do you do?”
Robby grinned, telling me, “No. I only check it once, now that he knows where the errors are, it's his responsibility, though he's allowed to ask as many questions as he wants. Unless he specifically asks me to check it again, I won't do so. I'll read it again before he turns it in, but unless I led him astray, I won't make any comments. And with the spelling mistakes I make him write out each word that he still misspells one hundred times. Teddy's got a good memory and he's a good speller, so he doesn't get many words wrong. He knows he shouldn't get any wrong, so he takes his punishment with good grace.”
Roy Conway the Chairman of the Werewolf Council said to the Head of Medicine at The Clinic. “We want you to give Robby Hansen your full cooperation. We know that when he was in here after he was shot, he wasn't a very good patient and made himself highly disliked.” He continued dryly, “Don't think you're the only one to have that type of confrontation with him. He's slammed the Council on two or three occasions and we sat there and took it because we knew he was in the right.”
Conway could see the Doctor trying to restrain his laughter. Conway had known him a long time and he was an expert at stroking peoples egos. He had no reluctance at using the incidents that had occurred between the Council and Robby Hansen to put a favorable spotlight on him in the Doctor's eyes.
Conway continued, “We know you have the monograph written on the Immortals, since your name was down on the list, of those who asked to get a copy. Have you read it?”
Doctor Xander Menzies shook his head no, ruefully, telling me, “I've been trying to get to it, but as you can imagine most of my reading is medical. I was interested because my Great-grandfather was a Healer and he mentions them in a couple of his diaries.”
Roy Conway told him, “Not many werewolves even believe in Immortals, but Werewolf Historians have memories of Healers and in an earlier time of Shamen who have talked to them. The Council has no choice but to believe that they exist. I'll give you a brief summary of what it says. Immortals are elemental beings that were born when our world was born and will die when our world dies. When a people begins to believe in a particular god, then an elemental being takes the shape of that god. I'm talking of gods with a small g. Compared to their worshipers that belief gives them enormous power. For a time. When their believers disappear then the Immortals power begins to fade and they use what remains just to stay in existence. If they run out of power they die, though only in a sense. What their death really is, is a return to the elemental beings that they began as.”
Conway frowned, as he said, “Raven is an Immortal who was brought to life that way, but somehow he changed, now he is powered by conflict. He never has to look very far to find it. You're an Elder, what would you feel if you lost that ability and the ability to change to a wolf?”
Menzies shuddered at the very thought, sweat on his forehead. He said in a strained voice, “It would be a crippling blow!”
Conway nodded, saying somberly, “I agree. Robby Hansen was the most powerful Elder alive. With his ability as a Healer, there has perhaps never been a more powerful werewolf in our history. Raven blocked Robby's magic. Almost all of it, even the ability to change. Yet, it hasn't changed Robby one iota. I've read his mind and I know it hasn't. He has to find out some information from a boy who will be entering the hospital this afternoon. The boy is only one-eighth werewolf, so it's very unlikely that an Elder like you or I will be able to read his mind, Of course you'll be here and the doctor administering the drug is also an Elder. Before his powers were blocked Robby could have done it, since he could read human minds as well as were minds.”
Conway said seriously, “Now Robby has to rely on drugs. The boy belongs to a gang and a rival gang member was killed. He doesn't think the boy had anything to do with it, but he has to make sure. Also he intends to take his place for a while to find out who did do the killing, so he needs information.”
He said with obvious humor in his voice, “We have a truth serum, in fact it's existed since World War II. It's completely safe, completely reliable and its been used a dozen times in actual practice. I don't know who authorized it, but it must be the dumbest thing the Council ever did. It's keyed to the DNA of werewolves, though they weren't aware of what DNA was back then, but they managed to key it anyway. That means that we can get any werewolf to talk.” Conway stopped there as Menzies began to laugh and he grinned as well.
It was much easier for an Elder simply to read the mind than to use drugs. It was only useful in cases like this where the person had enough werewolf blood that the drug would work, but his mind couldn't be read. However, the normal truth serums would work just as effectively in that case, so it had been a waste of time and money.
Conway said, “Dr. Matt Conners will be administering the drug and monitoring its effects. And to prove it's safe Robby will let it be used on him first.” He stood up to leave, then paused, “By the way Xander, Robby wrote the monograph. It'll tell you much more about the real Robby than his stay in the hospital did.”
I must admit I hadn't liked him six months ago, when he had stayed at the hospital. I'd known who he was and at the time, I wasn't even thinking about the fact that he just been badly hurt and wasn't reacting normally. I was feeling jealous, though I hadn't realized it until my wife had pointed it out to me after he had left the hospital. With her usual blunt right in your face honesty.
Now I was looking at him through the eyes of an Elder who'd just been told that he had lost everything that most werewolves lived for. The incredible feeling of joy that the change gave to us. The ability to talk mind to mind. And much, much more, since he was both an Elder and a Healer. As an Elder I had participated in an Outcasting twice, though the last time had been almost fifteen years ago. I had seen those two when we took their ability to change from them and the look on their face was that of devastation.
It was for a period of two years in each case, yet when we gathered to return their ability they still showed emotional signs of what had been done to them. To this day they still do. I had known Estelle White and even after twenty-five years the signs of her loss were still evident, for those who knew what to look for.
Surely the signs should have been there in Robby Hansen. After all he was a child, surely he must have been severely affected. I knew from Roy Conway that much of his mind was hidden by blocks that couldn't even be seen by any other werewolf, let alone penetrated. But there were no signs in his manner and I could see the part of his mind that was open, which was the public part that all werewolves have. It's the place from which our mind-speech comes and where we show our emotions, both good and bad and there was no sign there either.
Robby introduced his companions. He told me, “This is Tal Peters and he's my assistant and Pedro Galindez, the make-up artist who will duplicate Jerry's scar so that hopefully I can take his place for a few days. He's going to go in with Jerry, getting photographs and measurements. He's a member of Center Stage and while he usually plays a woman, he's one of the few non-gay members.”
I had seen several of the groups performances and they were good. It appeared that he wasn't going to stay for Robby's questioning. He left to go next door to Jerry Peter's room with a camera and a notebook.
Robby shook hands warmly with Matt Conners and it was obvious he knew him quite well. But then he moved in the same circles as the Council did. Connors worked for the Council, heading up their scientific division. Mark Peters was there as well and he looked like he felt out of place. Tal Peters put his hand on the man's shoulder and he relaxed a bit and smiled.
Robby turned to Mark Peters telling him, “The drug Tal told you about is completely harmless, you could suffer more damage from the sugar in a Popsicle. But just to reassure you Dr. Connors will give me the drug first. I'll be aware of what has been asked afterward while Jerry won't, since he already has been given a light sedative.”
Robby sat on the side of the bed and Connors gave him the injection. He laid back on the bed. Matt said to me, “The drug works very quickly, within a couple of minutes we'll be able to start questioning him. Mostly the questions will simply be generic questions, about his schoolwork and things of a similar nature. Maisie wants me to make sure that he's really as comfortable about what he lost as he seems.”
Matt turned to Robby, asking, “Robby, give me your full name?”
He told us, “Robert Richard Hansen. But most people call me Robby and it's the form of my name I'm most comfortable with.”
Connors asked, “Now you told me before we came in here that we shouldn't be too specific about our people when talking around Jerry. Do you understand this instruction?”
Robby showed amusement, as he answered, “I do and I remember why I gave that instruction. Since we are in a sense dealing with a full human, we could let information slip. While Jerry will be under a light sedative and shouldn't remember what is said, there is always a possibility. Of course I would never give a Doctor with your impeccable credentials any orders. Now would I?”
Connors said wryly, “The drug in one respect is different from most drugs of its type in that it doesn't affect the personality of the recipient. It allows them to give personal comments and Robby has a wicked sense of humor.”
Turning back to Robby, he asked, “Tell me about the Benson school system.”
Robby said ironically, “Well if you can call a single public school and a small high school a system, it's rated in the top five in the country. The public school was rated number one in the last school year. It's been either number one or two for the last ten years and the high school was rated number three.”
Conners said, “All right, Robby that's enough about that aspect. What's your IQ? I know the Benson school system doesn't do IQ tests, but I know that you've been tested twice.”
Robby explained, “Well my father, when he got sick with cancer, wanted to know, since he hated not knowing things like that. The official wording was, 'We are sorry we can not provide you with an Intelligence Quotient for your son. After extensive testing we have determined that Robert Hansen is beyond the present scale by which we measure intelligence.' My Mom didn't really care and she laughed at him, but it was a gentle laugh and she sympathized with him. Being a cop she tends to want to know the final answer as well, but in the case of her children the test to her was simply irrelevant.”
Then he said with amusement in his voice, “Then some smartass doctor by the name of Connors got curious and gave me a battery of tests and came up with the same result. Unless they come up with a better method of testing it looks like we'll never know.” I could see Connors shaking with silent laughter. Obviously, he expected the type of answer he had gotten.
Once he stopped laughing, he continued his questioning, though the next was asking Robby to speculate. “Have you ever given thought to why our people have never produced a genius of the stature of a Da Vinci or a Newton?”
Robby considered for a couple of minutes, before saying, “This is only conjecture of course, but what they are talking about now in the scientific community is being able to select which genes might be used and what might be excluded in human beings. Well our viewpoint wasn't quite so broad, but we've had the ability to manipulate our genes for thousands of years and we did so. For one purpose only. We removed the unstable genes from our gene pool. Today there's much less of an incidence of insanity in our people, much less mental retardation. At the same time there's much less incidence of very high genius level people. Insanity was said to be the opposite of genius. If true by eliminating instability we have limited our ability to produce a super genius, especially since our population base is only about sixty million world wide. The probability of producing such a super genius is very low among our people. Not impossible, just improbable.”
Robby said, “If however instability and genius have nothing to do with each other, then we're as likely to produce a super genius as normal humans. However as far as we know, it has never happened.”
He pursed his lips and then said, “However in recent years the various Councils have looked back upon what we did and tried to decide if what we did was right. The general consensus is that it was, that someday humans might need our stability far more than they would have a need for us to produce super geniuses. As one who is rated in what is considered to be in the upper level for our race, I wondered how I differed from humans of comparable abilities.”
He shook his head saying, “Again I can only speculate, not having a large sample to compare myself with. I'm more stable than my human friend Wil for instance, who is very comparable to me in intelligence. However, his curiosity is much greater. At times he has a burning need to know about things. While my curiosity is as great, somehow it doesn't appear as often. The only other thing I can say about our people is that we are very aggressive and very competitive. That's a natural outcome of what we are and we tend to have a very high visibility rating in many fields. Especially in the field of finance, which is made to order for us, but it includes scientific fields. Our aggression and competitiveness compensates for lack of deep curiosity.”
“Do you consider yourself unique?” he asked.
Robby said with a smile on his face, “Of course I'm unique, but then again so is every living intelligent being. There are no carbon copies. No one is exactly like someone else, not even identical twins. Even if they clone human beings, they're not going to produce identical beings because while they may be identical physically, their minds will be different. Even if raised in exactly the same environment there are going to be differences that make them unique. Even if it's only the memory that they weren't in exactly the same place when they learned a certain piece of information.”
“What do you think about your stay in the hospital last summer?” Conners asked.
There was humor in Robby's voice. “As an intelligent computer might say in excusing his inexplicable behavior, I was not acting under my assigned parameters. As Len once told Jeannie and she told me about it, I'm not competitive in sports, I only compete when I'm acting as an Elder. If you get in my way at that time, I'll roll right over you. The doctor and the stay in the hospital were in my way and I was thinking mainly with my emotions. At the beginning it was very hard to control them and I was acting liked a spoiled brat.”
He shook his head again, saying, “However, I do not regret what happened, I have friends and family, I care about their opinions. I don't care what someone else's opinion of me might be, so the fact that I ended up being disliked by the staff didn't bother me. I know what they saw was an anomaly in my personality, if I ever had to work with them for any length of time they would come to realize that fact. I am normally quite likable.”
Connors looked at me with amusement, telling me, “As you can see the drug allows for a very wide range of answers. They can be very extensive when the subject is awake like Robby is. And it will be the truth. It is true that Robby is normally very likable, that is not an opinion that he has of his own worth, it's what he has read in other people's minds. You do have to be wary of him if he becomes your friend. He has a penchant for playing practical jokes, they're never malicious and he only plays practical jokes on people he likes.”
“It sounds like it could be dangerous to be his friend.” I said dryly.
Tal Peters spoke then, saying seriously, “It can be a little dangerous in that respect, but I assure you that at the same time it is a joyful experience. He is a mixture of little boy and a person with ageless wisdom. One minute you have to worry about a water balloon and the next he's talking about why werewolves have never produced a figure such as Da Vinci, as Matt asked.”
Conners turned back to the couch, saying, “Just one last question Robby. You have accepted your loss with good grace and those of us who are Elders can see in your mind that you do. But at the same time we're aware of how much of your mind is really hidden and how little of it is accessible even by Elders.”
Robby said with amusement, “You can assure Maisie, that what you see is what you get. Everything about this affair is in the public part of my mind.”
Then Robby became more serious, explaining, “I only regret that it's gone because it limits my ability to help people and it puts me in danger. Not that it bothers me that much, the danger I mean. But these are gangs and they are always unpredictable and if I do get hurt or killed it will cause others a great deal of grief. However as a werewolf Elder, it's my duty to my people and, unlike some other Elders whose minds I've read, I consider the whole human race as my people. We live on the same planet and we did have the opportunity to leave and a few of us did so, but the majority of us decided to stay. Since we stayed therefore we must regard the whole human race as our brothers and that occasionally means putting our lives in danger for them.”
Robby said solemnly, “We are only a tiny fraction of the human race, but at the same time we have an effect far out of proportion to our numbers. We are very powerful financially and politically. As I said before we are very aggressive and very competitive. Therefore, we are always at or near the top in whatever field we choose. Whether that field is bee keeping, or medicine.”
Matt said that it would take about an hour for the drug to wear off. I nodded absentmindedly. That would give me time to consider what I had learned from and about this very unusual little boy. While I wasn't as insular as some of the Elders he had mentioned, I did realize that I always thought about our people first and I had always considered us separate from full humans. Now I wasn't sure and it would probably take years to think through what seemed like such a simple statement.
I looked down at the sleeping boy in the hospital bed and I was glad that the horrible scar would soon be gone. Whether it would leave a horrible scar on his mind as well I didn't know and I could no longer do anything about it.
I looked around the room and said to those gathered, “This will take much longer than the questioning session with me. I have to know a great deal about Jerry's life and most of it will be very boring. I have to get to know the people he knows and sees on a regular basis, especially the gang members. So I will be asking what may seem like very strange questions.”
I explained, “For instance one of the questions I will be asking him: Does he spit a lot, occasionally or almost never. Another question I'll ask him is what type of underwear he wears and then I'll ask him what type he prefers, why and does he ever complain about it to other kids. Trivial things? Yes. Very trivial, but that's exactly the type of thing that I have to know, to act like Jerry for a week or so.
Robby commented, “I've asked you to be here to see the start of the session, because I will be asking him about the death of the other gang member. This would not be admissible in court, but we must know if he is involved. If he is then the we will bring in a lawyer and go from there.” I looked at his father and he wasn't happy but he nodded. I said soothingly, “However aside from that little cautionary note I won't say anything else about what we will do if he did have something to do with it, I will simply question him.”
I sat on the chair beside the bed. Matt had given him an injection a little earlier and he nodded to say he should be ready. I said to the boy, “Hello, Jerry. My name is Robby and I'm thirteen so I'm a little older than you are. I'm telling you not to remember this session, however it will be recorded. You will be given the recording after this is all over, so you will know what happened this evening. Is that all right with you?”
“Yes. That's fine, I think.” he said a little uncertainly. If necessary I would have faked a sore throat, but it didn't appear to be necessary since his voice was very much like mine.
“All right, you belong to a gang called the Dukes, why did you join?” I asked.
Jerry explained, “There's a girl at school called Melissa Jenkens. She's not my girl friend but she is a friend. She's the only one who never paid any attention to my scar. She was in an automobile accident when she was five. While she's completely fine now she knows what being different is like. I met her cousin Peter Jenkens at her house a few months ago and he didn't seem to notice the scar, or if he did he didn't care. That's why I joined.”
Tal said, “That makes it a little more dangerous, Robby.”
I gave a nod of agreement, saying, “Yes, it does, but perhaps not much more. According to his dossier, he's kept the Dukes out of trouble since he took over last year. It's still a gang and they still can be dangerous. In effect since he took over it's become more like a club than the normal perception of what a gang would be like. Those who didn't like the way things were going left and some of them joined the Bloods.”
“Jerry did you have anything to do with the death of Ramon Perez?” I continued.
He shook his head, saying, “No and though the Bloods have been blaming us, everybody is puzzled. While we all knew he could be dangerous, he's never been particularly interested in starting a gang war, so none of our gang disliked him enough to kill him.” I had heard Mark Peters sigh in relief and I was glad that he hadn't been involved. All in all it seemed he had a case of hero worship more than an interest in joining a gang.
“What do they think about your scar?” I asked.
“They're just as bad as everybody else, I only stay because of Peter.” Jerry said with a frown on his face.
“Have you been involved in any trouble with them?” I asked.
“The Bloods jumped us when half a dozen of us were together, but aside from a lot of glares nothing happened.” Jerry said.
I addressed everyone in the room, “All right, everybody. I have a list of questions that I'm going to ask him and they're going to be very boring. I mentioned a couple, another one, since they have gym three times a week at his middle school, is how does he get undressed and dressed. Is he shy, is he an exhibitionist, or does he care one way or the other. They'll be very personal so I'm kicking most of you out and that includes his father. Some things a boy doesn't want his father to know. They're the parts of his life that are completely separate from his life with his father. Only Matt, Tal, Pedro and I will be staying.”
They took it with good grace and filed out of the room, even his father, He grinned and said, “There were certainly things that I didn't want my father to know at his age. Some don't seem very important anymore, but they were when I was twelve.” before he left.
The building was a dump, but Mark and Jerry's apartment was as good as it could be in such lousy surroundings. It was sparkling clean and was cheerfully and well decorated. Mark had said the apartment originally had come furnished. When he asked the manager had made no objections to him replacing the furniture with stuff he could get second hand and at flea markets. The only proviso is that once it was in the apartment it became part of the apartment and couldn't be removed when Mark and Jerry left.
Pedro, now Maria Peters for the next week or so, put his purse down on the sofa and looked around and gave a whistle of admiration, saying, “This Mark dude is good, I wish our set decorator was as good.”
Tal told us, “He's always been very artistic. He was only about eleven when Vivian moved into her new apartment and he acted as her decorator. We always assumed that he'd end up doing it for a living. He was devastated when she died. He just started showing up in school and his mind was never there. When he was sixteen he quit.”
“He works in a factory now, but he went back to night school and got his high school diploma. I know he doesn't like what he's doing now, but he's got a kid to support and he feels he can't just quit and start over.” Tal said.
I told them, “Well when I got his dossier. I did a little squeezing here and there. Pedro's group was quite happy to give him a chance and the Council has enough clout to persuade the factory owner to give him some time off when he needs it to work on sets. I don't know if the four Council members who own companies were happy or not, when I donated twenty-five thousand dollars to the group and challenged them to match it. In fact we ended up donating a total of two hundred thousand dollars of our own money.” Tal nodded his approval as did Pedro.
I smiled as I said, “I guess the Council agreed with me when I told them that if we take responsibility now we can't just drop them like a rock when Jerry's had his cosmetic surgery. We have to give them the opportunity to improve their lives as well.”
One thing about replacing Jerry. Aside from Melissa he didn't have any friends. He had lost all self-confidence when he got the scar and he became very shy. He wouldn't answer questions in class unless the teacher picked him out specifically and he only grunted when occasionally a kid would say hi. I'm afraid that Jerry had caused a lot of his own problems. His self-consciousness about the scar had alienated him from his peers and there was no need, for most of them didn't even see it anymore. But then again he was a kid and you couldn't expect him to act like an adult. Only ancient thirteen year old Elders like me could do that.
I wish I could have discussed it with Melissa. She was a sensible tomboyish twelve year old and Jerry ate lunch with her at the cafeteria. It was interesting to get used to going from class to class. Though if I didn't have to concentrate on not getting lost it would have gotten boring very fast. There was such a strange mixture of teachers to get used to. The good, the bad and the ugly and the latter weren't necessarily bad teachers. They had just lost their belief in the educational system.
Jerry Peters was the first to arrive as usual. I really shouldn't have accepted him into the Dukes, even if I had managed to turn it into more of a club than a gang. It wasn't until almost nine o'clock and time to break up, that I connected the strange feeling I'd felt all evening to Jerry. He'd stayed in the background as usual but he was watching much more intently then normal. It was then that I realized that the boy wasn't Jerry.
That baffled me, why would someone replace a boy as young as Jerry. I didn't think he could be a spy for the police, he was too young. For the Bloods? Hardly. But that didn't tell me who he was. I'd have to wait.
Normally of course, it'd be well after midnight before we scattered to our individual homes. With the death of Perez and the fact that the Bloods blamed us, it was better to stay off the streets late at night. Unless we wanted to start a real gang war. They say it takes two to fight, well the way things were going we would need to fight, whether we wanted to or not and some of them wanted to and more were getting ready every day. Soon if I didn't let them go, they'd no longer listen to me.
When it was just Jerry or whoever he was and me, I started to ask him who the hell he was and he put his fingers to his lips to tell me to be quiet. He took out the harmonica that he always carried and put it on the table. At least I thought it was a harmonica until six red lights flashed on and then began to turn green about one every five seconds. I realized it was a bug detector and I was even more curious.
When the last light turned green he looked at me with amusement and said, “They say curiosity killed the cat. Do you really want to know who I am?”
He spoke differently. His voice was soft and when I looked into his eyes my heart skipped a beat. He wasn't much older than Jerry but those eyes were old. They looked like my great-grandfather's eyes and like his, they were filled with wisdom.
“Some people would say that only Jerry was any of our business, but then again I've seldom agreed with some people, so why should I start now.” he said cryptically. “Get comfortable and I'll tell you a story.”
I sat and watched him, wondering as he began to speak. “Once upon a time, two young relatives moved from New Orleans to Prescott. Both became members of gangs. Two different gangs. One ended up as a leader and the other became an important member of the other gang. Now that's just speculation based on bone structure and facial features. But what isn't speculation is that they both live with bachelor uncles, who happen to be cousins, despite their apparent names, Colon and Myles and their names are phony. Colon's name is really Columbo and he's fully Italian, yet the nephew, Juan Sanchez is supposed to be Hispanic.”
“Miles didn't change his name much, he just changed the i to a y and his mother is Italian and as I said Columbo and Miles are cousins and they're members of the Mob. The Mob is always interested in expanding their power base and I think they're conducting an experiment. I think they want to start early and control gangs from the inside. It wouldn't work in large cities because most gangs in those cities belong to single ethnic groups, but Prescott is a small city and there are a lot of small cities in the US.”
He explained, “Then along comes Ramon Perez, to threaten the leadership of one of the two, but then again that makes an ideal situation for the Mob. Kill Perez and the opposition is going to be blamed, in this case the Dukes. Now who pulled the trigger, was it Sanchez, Myles or was it a Mob hit? I watched Myles tonight, not much on the surface, not until you look at his eyes. I get the sense that he likes hurting people and it's possible that he killed Perez. He has a hunger for power, he wants you out of the way and then he wants to take over. One more death. Yours in this case and then Sanchez and Myles call a truce.”
He raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders, saying, “Tit for tat. One death each. They agree that Prescott is large enough for both of them and they choose areas and the Mob suddenly has a toe hold. It's a pity in a way that you saw the person behind the scar with Jerry, though it's an admirable trait, I wanted a little more time. However everything is set up and I sent the signal.”
I asked cautiously. “What exactly is going to happen?”
“Tal,” he said and I heard the door open and I swiveled around and someone in a ski mask shot me in the chest. There was only a pinprick of pain and looking down I saw a small dart in my chest and I realized that I hadn't been shot by a bullet and then everything faded out of sight.
I was out walking our cat. Silly I know, but she thought she was a dog. Though she didn't do anything she insisted on being walked twice a day or else she'd yowl all night.
There was a mini-van parked in my cousin Peter's driveway and this man came out of the garage which the Dukes used as a clubhouse, carrying somebody over his shoulder. What looked like Jerry closed the door after them. I said with a gasp, “Jerry what are you doing?”
“Kidnapping Peter and I'm not Jerry, I'm Robby. Do you want to come along?” he said cheerfully. The boy was obviously not Jerry, he was too self-confident. Robby said helpfully, “We're kidnapping all of the Dukes and Bloods that we can find. We want to get them together and find out who really killed Ramon Perez. We could hardly invite them now, could we?”
Somehow I ended up getting into the mini-van with Ruffles and calling my mother on a cell phone saying that I'd be with Peter. I'd only known him ten seconds and already I trusted him with my life. Ruffles abandoned me for Robby's lap, where she curled up contentedly.
We drove to the Memorial Arena and the man called Tal parked among a dozen other vehicles, either vans or mini-vans. Robby led me and Ruffles into the Arena and through a maze until we ended up in a small box that was covered with glass. The Arena was flooded with an eerie red light.
Robby told me, “They spent yesterday installing the glass and infra-red lights. The glass and the goggles that the people are wearing will allow us to see the dark portions even when we switch the light on in the center of the floor. Unfortunately the glass doesn't really do that good a job, it tends to make people and things look like blobs.”
“Mark,” Robby said, to one of the men who was looking out intently. He turned our way and I could see the resemblance to Jerry right away. Robby told him, “This is Melissa, Jerry's friend. This is Mark Peters. He's Jerry's father.”
I asked the question I should have asked at the beginning, “Where's Jerry?”
Mark answered instead of Robby, “He's in the hospital and they did reconstructive surgery on his scar yesterday. Our family tends to heal better than other people, so we should know if it turns out as well as the doctor thinks in a couple of weeks.”
Robby put his hand to his ear and I realized that he had a ear piece in it, He said, “Show time.” and he left the box.
At the same time a small spot was lit on the floor and after about two minutes Robby showed up in the lit spot. He must have been wearing a microphone as well, because when he said, “Lights.” we could hear him clearly, the lights began to go on, sequentially until the arena was fully lit.
When the lights were on, I recognized members of the Dukes on one side and members of the Bloods on the other. They were all awake and Peter was about the only one who wasn't glaring, either at each other or Robby. However they weren't about to do anything. There was about ten people on each side. That might not have intimidated either gang but there were ten BIG dogs on either side as well and when they weren't glaring at each other the gang members were looking apprehensively at the dogs.
Robby said cheerfully, “Jerry Peters is a very distant relative and that's all the information you get about me. However distance doesn't matter, like the Mob we're very family orientated. With the murder of Ramon Perez, Jerry was in danger, so we were asked to step in by his father, who was worried about him.”
Robby waved his hand at the two gangs on oppostite sides of the arena and told them, “Now we intend to put on a show and we don't want you to do any yelling or to get up during it. If you do the dogs will ask you politely to be quiet. And as Little Red Riding Hood said to the wolf disguised as her Grandma, 'What big teeth you have.' We have worked on the air conditioning so it's much noisier than it would be normally. That should hide any inadvertent noises like coughs and sneezes. You will all find headphones at your seats and there's a mic on the floor here, so you'll easily hear what we say.”
One of the men said, “Camera is working fine, Robby and you look like a blob, as you're supposed to. You've never looked better.” Robby gave a one finger salute, though it wasn't obvious if you weren't expecting it. I moved over and I could see where Robby was standing on the monitor and he was unrecognizable.
The man said to me, “We're recording directly to DVD's. The camera is digital and Robby's wearing a device that prevents the camera from reading him. The DVD is a special type developed by the FBI and NIA. It's designed so that it can't be altered and can't be copied. Normally when they use it, they make multiple copies. We're doing the same, though we figured two copies would be enough.”
Robby said, “Our guests are just outside. Air conditioning. Lights! Camera! Action!”
The air conditioning went on with a thud and as Robby said it was very noisy. The lights went out, except for the spot where he was standing. Though from our booth we could see all around him, with the infrared lights.
I heard one of them say, “There he is. Did you bring your gun?”
“No, but he's only a little kid, a knife will do the job just fine.” said the other. I was just as glad we didn't have to deal with guns, with a knife, well they'd have to catch Robby first and that was easier said than done.
They moved out into the middle of the floor and they were entirely unaware of Len and Jeannie flanking them, in wolf form and me following them. They moved into the light and now I could identify them. They glared at Robby and he stared back. I laughed silently as their eyes dropped, unable to meet Robby's stare and they began to fidget.
Robby's question started off softly, “I was just curious,” and then the second part was suddenly very hard and forceful, “Are you cousins or brothers?!!!”
Myles said enough to tell us their relation to each other, “Broth...”
Sanchez said, “You stupid idiot?”
Myles said sullenly, “What does it matter, we don't intend to let him leave here anyway.”
“Ah,” said Robby, “you intend to add a second murder to your resume? Which one of you killed Perez?”
Sanchez answered morosely. “I did. He was threatening my leadership, the others were swinging over to his side. I had to take him out. Also it was the ideal situation that the Mob wanted.”
“And Columbo and Myles?” Robby asked.
“Hired help.” said Paul contemptuously. “They're Mob but they're small time. They were conveniently placed to act as relatives.”
I marveled at these two. Robby had got them started with one startling question. Now they were simply answering questions, not even thinking how much they were revealing. They might be planning to make sure the boy they thought of as Jerry, couldn't talk, but they hadn't even bothered to check to see if he was alone. We'd got enough information.
We didn't care about the Mob involvement, we would give them a warning, a warning from a known group that they were very reluctant to tangle with. We had just wanted to know who had killed Perez and now we knew.
Robby said, “Lights.” and the lights in the arena began to come on. When Sanchez and Perez saw who were watching them they just shriveled up, trying to make themselves as small as possible.
Robby put his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He said, “By the way I'm not Jerry Peters, he's a very distant relative and like the Mob, family ties are important to us. You two by your actions put him in danger, so I've been acting to get him out of it.”
He explained, “Now we're going to keep the gang members here for ten minutes and then we're going to release them, so if I were you two, I'd go directly to jail, do not pass go and there's no get out of jail free card. We will however be escorting you. You won't see us but we'll be there. Now get lost!”
I wasn't one of their escort, but I caught up to them just as they were going into the Police Station. I felt admiration for our little Elder. Even crippled as he had been, though he didn't consider it as such, he had managed to manipulate the situation to bring about the outcome he wanted. Robby had to use brute force and a lot of manpower, where usually he could have used finesse, but the planning he put into it was even more astonishing then his former methods.
There were several police officers staring as Sanchez and Myles climbed up the front steps. There were only four steps yet the impression was that they were climbing a mountain. I picked out one of the police officers. Moving in front of him I got up on my hind paws with my front paws on his chest and offered him the envelope I had in my mouth.
He took it from me and then said, hesitantly, “Thanks, ah. Hell I can only think of one dog's name right now. Thanks Lassie.”
I got down and barking a couple of you’re welcome barks, headed back towards the arena. I was joined by Robby's mother and his step-father. The planned rendevous point wasn't right at the arena, which by now was abandoned.
there was humor in those black eyes when I called her Lassie. I looked
at the envelope and it was addressed to Lieutenant Rafael Carella. I
shook my head. He was going to find it hard to believe this, but after
seeing the two gang members walk into the station, he might believe
anything right now.
Carella asked, “Where did you get this?”
I said to him, “I refuse to tell you that a big midnight black dog gave it to me. However…” I shrugged. Carella and I were old friends and he knew I wouldn't kid about a thing like this.
He shook his hea, saying, “Well I won't mention that to forensics. Let them find out for themselves. They'll probably blast me for this, but I have the feeling that it's important.”
He slipped on a pair of latex gloves and undid the twine that was fastening the top of the envelope. He pulled out a couple of DVD's sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard on either side.
He looked at the DVD's and said, “Whatever is on these, if there is anything incriminating, it's legal. According to a court case that ended up in the Supreme Court last month, these DVD's, which were developed by the intelligence community, are completely legal. The technology in their manufacture at the moment is considered foolproof. Give it six months and it may be different.”
He took one of the DVD's and left the other for forensics. Placing it in the DVD player, he pushed play and we watched the two gang members confess to murder. Well one of them confessed to murder, but the other was obviously in on it, so we could probably get him for the murder as well.
Obviously they were being questioned by someone, but the camera that these guys had used couldn't pick him up and his voice was replaced by a computer representation. That might have caused problems legal wise, but I gathered that Sanchez and Myles were singing like birds. They didn't want to be back out on the streets, at least not our streets, not with the Dukes and the Bloods out there just waiting for them.
Robby said solemnly, “I don't like operations of this scale. Too much can go wrong. Fortunately Murphy's Law 'what can go wrong will go wrong', didn't show up this time. I hope I didn't hurt Peter's leadership. What we did can spook some people.”
Len said, listening to the bug that Robby had placed, “It doesn't appear to have affected his leadership. He walked Melissa home and since he returned, they've been meeting in the garage and discussing what happened. So far the results seem favorable. He kept them out of a battle which they found out tonight wasn't necessary The situation had actually been choreographed by the Mob. Even those we knew were hard liners seem to be appreciative.”
I looked at the check in my hand. I had worked for a couple of days and I was being paid for two weeks. Tal said quietly, “Robby's paying you, not for what you did, but for what you expected to do. I don't know whether he's paying personally or if others are doing it. Don't worry, even if he's paying you, he can afford it.”
Robby said softly from behind me, “I always appreciate craftsmanship and while we may never need your skills again, we may and we want you to remember us favorably. Also it's a little compensation. We've been so cryptic around you. You know we have secrets yet you haven't tried to pry and we appreciate that as well.”
Jerry had been shy when the bandages came off, but now after a week, his self-confidence was growing and the bitterness was gone and he had started to say Hi to people.
The scar hadn't disappeared completely, but you could only see where it had been if you looked closely and it seemed to be enough for Jerry. It would take a while but I was sure he would be fine.
Pedro Galindez was an actor with Center Stage the actor's group that his father was now doing set decorations for. He had also been a former make-up artist in Hollywood and he had taught Jerry how to use make-up to hide what remained of the scar. He had used it all the time at first but after a few days he only used it occasionally.
Interestingly enough we had all been invited to the Memorial Arena for a party after his bandages came off, even the Bloods had been invited and they had come. They were a gang and always would be, but the Duke's transition from a gang to a club was much more evident now.
The owners of the arena plan to renovate it and put in a good floor for roller-blading and are going to hold dances at night. But the most important thing at least to Jerry and me, is that the sparks seemed to fly when my mother and Jerry's father met. They've been on a couple of dates. It might not go any further but so far it looks promising.
The midnight black shape of Wolf showed up and I was surprised even in my sleep. I said to him, looking into the night blue eyes filled with stars. *I thought you said, 'I'd never see you again?'*
Wolf nodded his head and said to me in rueful voice, *I didn't expect to see you again either, little one. I am simply a representative of the Immortals Hawk, Coyote and Dingo. They were all impressed with your reaction to your loss and it shamed Raven grievously. He had bragged how he was going to humble you for destroying his minion. Then instead of being crippled, you accepted it as if nothing happened and your stature increased in the eyes of those who knew you. Raven was so humiliated that he has gone into hiding. It will not last long, but Hawk has removed the block that prevented you from using your magic.*
He continued thoughtfully, *As you once said, Hawk is always one step behind Raven, but you know that the one who initiates an action will always have that advantage and you have used that fact many times. Now he has caught up and Raven will never dare go against you again. He has been defeated once by you and never since he came into existence has he ever dared to go after the one who defeated him or that person's family and friends. He's a coward, not physically but mentally and he will not risk a second defeat by the same person and if he does, Hawk will be waiting.*
*This time I will not say a permanent goodbye, Robby Hansen. You have a way of setting our world on its ear, so I'm sure I will see you again.*
I woke up then and I blew in Blue's ear to wake him. He stretched and looked at me. I said gently, *I'm back, Blue.*
*Welcome home, Robby!!!* he told me.
I turned on my back and folded my hands behind my head and Blue snuggled against me purring like a buzz saw and I stared contentedly at the ceiling. The morning would be time enough to tell everybody, for now Blue and I would enjoy it together.