Alex’s cell tinkled as we were pulling up in front of the twins’ house to drop them off after school. He said, “We just got a text from my dad asking us to ask you to come in and meet him.” Since we had the time, and hadn’t met him yet, it seemed like the thing to do.
Their father was big like them, and not that bad looking either. “Thanks for coming,” he said as he met us by the door. “You must be Ken and Janice,” he told us in greeting, while extendiAng his hand. Once shaken, he said in a more serious tone, “I’m Tom, why don’t you come this way?” Their house was very well appointed, and I ended up on a very comfortable sofa in a room that was warm with earth tones and wood. I suppose that was only to be expected in a shifter household. Tom stayed on his feet, and addressed me. “We had some bad news today.” He appeared unsure as to how to go on, but soon got a grip, and said, “My sons have told me that they are sure that you, like us, are part of the supernatural community, and what affects any of us, concerns all of us. Last night, one of my colleagues at work, a shifter, committed suicide.” He took a deep breath, and pinched his brow before going on. “It was totally unexpected, as we shifters virtually never kill ourselves unless our mate has died. For him it was even more inexplicable, as he was a father of two, and had every reason to live.”
That was when a cold shudder ran through me, so I asked, “Ken, do you think?”
He went white, came over to me, and took my hand, while Alex blurted out, “What?”
“Jani,” Ken prompted, “You never know.”
All eyes on me, I steadied myself, saying, “Did he jump off the Vincent Thomas bridge and land on a boat?”
Tom and the twins said nothing, but their lack of any response, other than a sort of caught in a headlight stance, screamed ‘yes’. It was time to face up to what was happening to me. “It wasn’t suicide, he was being controlled.”
The fact that Tom didn’t immediately disagree gave me a bit of a boost. I had expected him to rubbish me. After a bit, he did speak, but it wasn’t what I expected. “Shaun told me that you had some predictive ability, but I had no idea you had seen this event. This isn’t the first shifter who has committed a so called suicide recently.” He was quiet for a moment, deep in thought, and offered this explanation. “What you say makes sense, as he stayed human and broke his neck when he hit the boat. You see,” he added, “when a shifter is faced with injury, especially a really damaging one, he shifts. In fact it’s instinctive, as we are much stronger in our other form, his being a panther. The fact that he didn’t, makes your statement that he was not in control of himself all the more plausible.”
Definitely not what I wanted to hear, although I suspected it gave them some comfort. What did it mean to me? What shitty rabbit hole had I fallen down? I answered that all too easily. One that I would have to dig myself out of. Somehow. Tom jogged me back to the present, asking, “Do you think you would be able to help us?”
“No idea at all.” It was all I could say.
Fortunately, Ken took over for me, and said, “This is all new and disturbing for my sister. I am certain that she would want to help, but, as you can guess, visions do not come to order, and they can be quite frightening”. Wow, it was certainly different for my brother to be nice to me. What had changed him?
“Let me explain.” Tom walked past his sons, rubbing them absently on the shoulder as he made his way to an easy chair, and slumped down in it. “I work for the shifter liaison office here in L.A. We deal with all sorts of problems involving our community. The best way to understand is to see it as the shifter embassy for California. Our job is to smooth things over, generally give advice on shifter issues, assist shifters with any difficulties they may encounter, and help the police with our criminal element.” He noticed my intake of breath, as I had never considered, or for that matter heard of any shifters going bad. “Yes, Janice, we have our own rotten eggs, but we are very good at dealing with them, and keeping a lid on their exploits.”
“That’s because,” Shaun clarified, “our bad element knows to keep well away from humans and others.”
“So,” I asked, sorting it out in my mind, “bad shifters prey on other shifters…”
“Right,” Alex filled in the gaps, “bad vamps steal from or kill other vamps, and humans…well, we know all about them.”
“Would the weird controlling guy I saw in my vision be a shifter then?”
‘No, definitely not, and he couldn’t be a vampire either.” Tom’s tone conveyed certainty. “While vamps can to some extent control humans, they cannot make shifters do anything so much against their nature. That means that the perpetrator has to be a witch.”
My stomach clenched. My nascent abilities were beginning to resemble skydiving without knowing whether the parachute would open. Backing up, I tried to understand, asking, “Why does each group only commit crimes against their own?”
“Think about it,” Shaun tried to explain. “It would only take a couple of incidents of interspecies conflict – whether it was killings, kidnappings, or theft – for a virtual war to erupt, and if one did, it would escalate rather fast. That’s the last thing anyone wants, and it would definitely ensure that the authorities in question would leave no stone unturned to make sure the perpetrators were caught. Even for criminals, the risk/reward balance has to be acceptable.”
This was getting worse by the moment. “So you are saying that someone is trying to start a war?” That was when the import of what I said hit me. “Oh shit!”
Tom stood back up, saying, “It seems that the situation is a lot more serious that we had imagined, do you suppose you could come and talk to my colleagues at work?”
“I’ll come, but please don’t tell my dad, he doesn’t know about me yet, and I’m not sure what his reaction will be.” In fact I had no idea how to break it to him seeing as how he had a hate thing going for the witches, not to mention that I most likely got my witch blood from him.
“Look,” Tom said, “I have a suggestion. My boss will undoubtedly want to talk to the local coven leader about all this, so why don’t you two, and your friend… Alex, what’s his name?”
“Harry Lawler, dad.”
“Yes, Harry. Now, wouldn’t it be a good opportunity for you all to meet your local leader and find out a bit about being a witch?”
Yikes! More time right now with Harry I did not need, as my brain and body were so much out of sync with each other where he was concerned. Unfortunately, while I was trying to process the suggestion, my brother got his mouth working first, “That’s a great idea, sir.” Turning to me, and putting on a rather rakish smile, he answered for both of us. “I’m sure Harry would jump at the chance too.”
I wished I could give him the finger, but, in light of the company I merely suggested, “Why don’t you call him and see if he wants to come, Ken, and then you can go and get him. Tom, if you give him the address, he can take him straight there.” He was about to open his mouth to tell me to join him, but I said, “Tom, you don’t mind if I go with you, and we can talk on the way.” There, that beat a finger any day.
While we were on our way in his very well appointed Escalade, Tom and I chatted so we could get to know each other, and only threw one meaningful question at me. “Janice, I have to ask, because this is the key question that my boss will have for you: how reliable is your predictive ability?”
I laughed. “You just spent ten minutes giving me the soft soap routine so I wouldn’t clam up when you asked that.”
“You’re very perceptive.” Taking advantage of the fact that he had to pull up for a red light, he faced me, saying, “Well?”
“Don’t really know.” What’s more I didn’t know how best to answer. “I mean I have no idea. I’ve only done it twice, and it has to be triggered.”
Since the light was still red, he bored his eyes into mine. “Explain.”
“I’ll do my best. So far my abilities have been triggered by music, more specifically songs that my mother listened to while she was pregnant with me. I guess it will be rather hit and miss, but if you play the appropriate number, I will probably have some sort of vision. The trouble is, especially as I have only had the two experiences so far, is that I have no idea in advance what it will be. The only connection is that I saw bad things.”
There was a loud honk from behind us, as the light had changed, and Tom was focused on me. He pulled off, and said nothing for a while. Eventually he said, “On the other hand, is there a chance you could see this murderer again?”
Now I was not enthusiastic at all. “I suppose so, but, as my brother said, I’m not sure I want to.” He shut up after that.
Tom worked at a very ordinary building; in fact it was cookie cutter anonymous. I didn’t even see a sign saying what it was, but that might have been because we went straight to an underground garage. More likely was that they didn’t exactly want to advertise its presence to non-shifters. The inside was totally different, as it was clearly meant to impress. In fact it was what I guessed a rich lawyer’s office might look like: lots of polished mahogany and wood, and nothing out of place. The one difference was the carpets, instead of being plain deep pile institutional, they had rich swirling green and brown prints that I imagined were designed to be reminiscent of woods or jungles. I guess I had fallen down a rather different hole from Alice.
A rather long necked lady functionary met us and guided us to a very nice conference room, again mahogany table, all wooden chairs, a leafy design carpet and a large map of Africa on the wall. “Mr. Henderson will be with you in a few minutes, Tom,” she said, never having bothered to introduce herself. She did, however, say, “Coffee, as usual?” and left once Tom nodded to her.
“Please forgive Veronica,” Tom said as soon as the door closed behind her, “she doesn’t do well with non-shifters.”
Having become fixated on her long neck, and probably influenced by the map on the wall, I asked, “So what is she, what with her head and nose so high up there, a giraffe?”
That actually got Tom to laugh, before he trashed me. “No, she’s a swan, there are no giraffe shifters ” I felt like a complete idiot until Tom reassured me, “Don’t worry I won’t tell her.”
Mr. Henderson arrived at the same time as the coffee, and had a lady with him. He introduced himself in the informal way that only works when you carry yourself with absolute self-confidence, not surprising as he was about six-three and chiseled. “And I’m Stefania, Janice. I lead the California coven,” Tte lady with him said. “So you’re one of us.” Whoa, if Mr. Henderson oozed power, she positively reeked of it.
There was only one way to answer that. I did a curtsey, or at least what I thought was one, dipped my head into a short bow, and said, as clearly as I could, “Yes, Ma’am, I believe so.” God, that was so subservient.
“I’ve heard a little about you,” she started, as she sat gracefully opposite me, but I’d like to hear it from you.” So I told her.
Once I finished, she nodded a couple of times, and then explained, “It used to be that any witch had to have their powers awakened within a coven when they got to around your age. Last year we undertook a major working, which made you come into your power without that, once you reached a certain age. At the time, I worried that young people like you would appear, ones who didn’t fit the classic mould.
I couldn’t help blurting out, “So I’m a freak?”
Stefania leaned across the table, and patted me on the hand. “No, just different. The reason I worried was that it will be difficult for us to bring you into the coven and teach you properly.” She leaned back, and changed focus. “However the person you saw in your vision is a distinct worry. He can at most be only a few months older than you, and, since he is so young, it’s unlikely that he is doing this on his own.” That brought a pregnant silence from the men in the room, both of whom looked distinctly uncomfortable.
That was when Ken and Harry were ushered into the room. Fortunately, the chairs either side of me were taken, so Harry couldn’t sit beside me. After a quick round of introductions, Stefania continued, “Janice, it seems you have been given some very useful gifts, and I hope you can see your way cleat to assisting us, as this is potentially a very serious situation.”
“Of course I’ll do what I can,” was all I could say in the circumstances.
“Since you still have to discover the other songs that trigger your abilities, I suggest you do so as soon as you can.” A small smirk crept across her face. “As the title seems to be a factor, I hope that ‘Private dancer’ wasn’t one of them.”
I didn’t know the number, but I guessed it was inappropriate, and I definitely hoped Harry didn’t try to play it for me.