Sunday Serial: Giving up the Ghost Chapter Twenty-Two

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Chapter Twenty-Two: the chapter wherein Hero takes HP into the human world.

I sent a quick text to Kyle telling him about my plans to hit the pet supply store before coming back to the house. 

He was quick enough to reply but didn’t complain or express too much concern.  That surprised me a little, but I figured maybe he was getting over his “over-protectiveness?”  And really, like someone was going to try and kidnap me from the pet store? That sounded way too much like a bad movie plot.        

I still wasn’t sure about taking HP into the store without a leash. I mean, I know he’d behave, but I’m pretty sure there were laws against leash-less dogs. I got out of the car and dug around in my trunk, leaving HP in the car. I found an old raincoat that had a belt. I figure if no one looked too closely, a belt could pass for a leash.

“OK, HP I said opening his door, I don’t know if you going to like this,” I showed him the belt, “But I’ve got to do something before we go in.”

He glanced at the belt and whined a little but didn’t protest when I slipped it around his neck. 

I found Kate waiting in front of the store, looking sheepish. 

“Hey, Hero.”  She waved and fell into step beside me.  “Kyle said I had to meet you here.”

I rolled my eyes, “I guess if he sent you, it means he’s working on his ‘being protective’ bullshit.” I moaned. “Really, I’m a grown woman.”

Kate shrugged, “That’s why I don’t date men. They’re way too much trouble.” She grinned, “So what’re we doing here?”

We entered the store, “HP needs a collar and a leash.”

HP pricked his ears up but continued to look a little forlorn. 

“I don’t think he really wants them,” I nodded down at him, “But people expect a dog to be on a leash.”

Kate smiled and knelt in front of HP, while I scanned the signs in the store. She whispered something to him, and he seemed a little happier. I finally found the “Dog” section and we headed over.

We stood in front of what I thought was a gigantic row of dog accessories, “Wow,” I gazed at the row, “I didn’t expect so many choices.”

HP sat beside me and stared at the collars and harnesses. I don’t think he was impressed.

“Come on, HP, you’ve got to pick one” I whispered to him.

He paced in front of the row a few times.  He finally stopped in front of a black harness, that was covered in red rhinestones.  I pulled it off the rack and held it in front of him, “This is the one you want?” I asked incredulously. “I hadn’t pegged you for wanting a bunch of glitter.”

He yipped and wagged his tail.

I glanced at Kate, “Well that’s done. Sparkly harness it is.”

Kate glanced at the harness, “Can I see it?”

I handed her the nylon harness, and she read the tag. “Um, Hero this isn’t always going to fit him,” She showed me the tag, which listed the approximate weights of the dog it was intended for.

“It’ll work when he’s like this,” Kate continued gesturing at HP, “but not when he changes.”

“Oh, damn,” I looked at the harness; “HP, how is this going to work?”

He balanced on his hind legs and pulled at the harness.  

I glanced at Kate, who shrugged.

“I don’t know any more about this than you do,” She said. “But he seems to think it’s ok.”

I sighed, “Or he thinks it means he won’t have to wear it for long.” I took the harness back and grabbed a leash to go with it.  We made our way back to the checkout line. HP ignored the few other dogs we passed in the store. I tried not to feel too smug, as the other dogs cringed away from him.  Sparkly collar or not, the other dogs could tell HP was special.

I paid for the collar as the checkout clerk cooed over HP. 

“Ohh, what breed is he?”

I shrugged, “Um he was a shelter dog, so I don’t know.”

“How wonderful that you would rescue a dog! So many people go to puppy mills or only want purebred dogs.” She shook her head and started bagging the harness and leash.

“Oh, I don’t need a bag.” I interrupted her rant on puppy mills and the flaws in purebred dogs, “I thought he’d like to wear it now.”

She smiled and cut the tags off the harness and leash. I led HP to the front of the store and slipped the harness on him and clipped on the leash. He seemed to strut a little in his new clothes.

“Hey, can I get a ride back with you?” Kate asked?

I nodded my head, “Did Kyle make you walk over here?” It wasn’t particularly far from Dee’s house to the shopping center, but I was annoyed to think he might have made her walk, just so I wouldn’t be driving alone.

Kate shook her head, “No, I just thought it would be nice to walk.”

Her gaze kept flicking behind me, and I started to get the feeling that she was trying to tell me something, “Should we go then?” I knew my tone was exaggerated, but Kate’s sudden shift to cloak and dagger attitude had me spooked.

Kate shoved her hands in the pockets of her hooded sweatshirt.  Even under the fabric, I could see her fingers twitching.  HP was still sitting passively at my side, but his ears were up, and his tail had stopped wagging.

“Um, I thought we could get some coffee?” She pointed toward a Starbucks further down in the shopping center, “I, um, thought we could talk.” 

I wasn’t sure if her stammering was a result of nerves or if she just wasn’t sure I was catching on to her clues yet. “Sure,” I said, trying to sound chipper.

HP set off at a fast walk, and Kate and I had to hustle to keep up. Kate’s hands were still moving in her sweater, and I realized that HP wasn’t walking faster rather he was changing. This wasn’t the quick change from puppy to the dog I’d witnessed before.  This was stealthy. Like with every step he took, he was getting a little bigger. I felt my stomach start churning. “What’s up?” I hissed at Kate, without turning my head.

“Preters,” Kate whispered back. “I don’t know if they’re friend or foe.”

I wanted Jenny’s preter-radar about now. I wondered how Kate knew what they were, did everyone else get preter-rader? “Are you sure?” I hissed back. We were getting closer to the coffee shop, and HP was slowing down a little.

“Yes, I cast a spell before I left the house,” Kate whispered back; “I can identify any preter within 100 yards.  At least for the next half hour or so.”

HP was fully grown now, and we stopped at the coffee house.  I walked onto their patio, realizing that I couldn’t take HP inside the business. Kate and I both stood on the patio unsure of our next move. I think I understood her plan, that with an audience of humans whoever was following up was unlikely to pull anything hinky. Humans weren’t supposed to know about us, so as long as we stayed in a crowd, we should be ok. Of course, the crowd at Starbucks consisted of a couple of bicyclists and a few college kids reading. 

I finally decided to risk a look behind us. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to see, maybe someone who oozed danger like Vic did, or at least someone physically imposing. What I saw was a guy, maybe mid-thirties, blond, not bad looking, and in a suit.  Overdressed for Fullerton, but not at all threatening. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to catch up to us, but he was eyeing HP.

“Kate, why don’t you get us some coffees?” I asked moving toward the table next to the bicyclists. 

She stared at me wide-eyed, rolling her eyes behind us. 

“Kate, it’s cool.” I tilted my head toward the bike guys. I sat down, facing the Preter. One of the bicyclists noticed and nodded at me.

“Nice dog!” He exclaimed. 

“Thanks,” I forced myself to smile and rubbed HP’s head.  “So you’re a dog person?”

I glanced at the bike guy, but still tried to keep an eye on the preter. He was almost at the coffee shop. If he walked past, I could assume coincidence, just a guy out running errands. If he came onto the patio, I wasn’t sure what I could do.

I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the bike guy raving about how he had an awesome Jack Russell. I had no idea what a Jack Russell was, but I was guessing it was some breed of dog.  I forced my attention back to him.

“…but your dog is a much bigger breed, what is he?”

The man in the suit paused in front of the Starbucks. He looked at me and then at HP. 

I kept watching the man in the suit, “He’s a rescue dog, but I like to think he’s a Cerberus.”  I raised my voice, just enough so that the guy in the suit could hear me.

The bike guy looked at me confused, “That sounds familiar, but I don’t know the breed.”

I gave a hollow laugh, “It’s just a dumb joke.”  I rubbed HP’s head and could feel the tension in him, “He’s a mutt, as far as I know.”

The man in the suit finally met my eye, and I felt cold. I wondered if there was something in his eyes, or if it was just that I knew what he was. 

He offered me a thin smile, “Hero Adams.”  He said.

I narrowed my eyes at him.  “Do I know you?”

I noticed the bike guy sat up a little straighter. Great, this guy was gonna try and get in the middle of this. Chivalry rears its useless head.

HP stood up as the man stepped onto the patio, “We haven’t met yet, but we spoke.”

I heard the accent in his voice, I couldn’t place it, but it was annoyingly familiar. 

“Constantine Bayless,” He said with a nod toward me and HP. 

I noticed that he stayed out of leash reach. I finally placed his accent, “Nekyia Press.”

He nodded, “I arrived last night for the services.” He let his eyes fall on HP, “May I join you? I would like a moment to speak with you before the services, and this is a fortuitous meeting.”

I nodded and gestured at the empty chair farthest from me. Kate chose that moment to come rushing out of the Starbucks, coffees in hand.

“Kate,” I said calmly, “This is Mr. Bayless, Dee’s coworker.”

Kate paused, “Constantine!?” Her face broke into a smile, and she managed to put down the coffee cups before enveloping him in a hug, “Why didn’t you tell me you were here?”

Constantine looked uncomfortable with the hug but seemed ok with seeing Kate. I wondered how it was that she could know who he was, but not what he looked like.

Kate pulled back from the hug.

Constantine smiled at her, “Katie, you’ve grown. I didn’t recognize you at first.”

She gave him an embarrassed smile and gestured for him to sit down, “I didn’t recognize you either.”

Bike guy had settled down once he realized that at least Kate knew Constantine. HP, however, was still on guard. “HP,” I said petting the dog, “This is one of Dee’s friends.” He sat down but remained tense.

Constantine straightened his coat and sat down.

Kate smiled at me, “I haven’t seen Constantine in years, I can’t believe I didn’t recognize him.” She looked over at him, “He hasn’t changed at all.”

I gave her a hesitant smile. She seemed willing to accept the unlikely coincidence that this guy just happened to run into us.  Dee’s co-worker or not, I’d gotten a bad feeling from him when I’d spoken to him on the phone, and I wasn’t ready to change my opinion yet.

He nodded, “It’s a hazard of our nature, my dear.” He smiled at me, “We so rarely look our age.”

I remembered what Kyle had said about Dee’s age, or at least what he was guessing was her real age. Did that make Constantine a hecate too, and did I want to ask?

Kate grinned, “It’s a perk. Let me get you a drink.” She said jumping up, “You still prefer tea, right?” She asked already halfway to the door.

He nodded, “Thank you, Katie.”

Once she was inside, he turned his attention to me.  “Hero, I am so very sorry about your loss.”

For a moment, I would swear his blue eyes, stopped looking icy, almost like he was sorry. “Thanks,” I managed. “How’d you know who I was?”

He glanced at HP, “He announces what you are quite well. Hasn’t anyone made the connection before?”

I shrugged, not wanting to admit how short a time I’d had him.  “You mentioned wanting to talk about something?”

“Yes, I had intended to telephone and see if you were free before the service. But if you have a little free time now?”

I nodded.

“I expect you have already been contacted by the Smyths?”

Yet again, I buried my anger at having been kept in the dark for so long about the preterworld. How much easier would this have all been if Dee had told me everything.

“Yes, Kyle, ah, Detective Smyth, is already investigating,” I toyed with my coffee cup. “I’m sure he’ll take care of everything.”

Constantine nodded, “Good. I know that Katie has been helping maintain the network for a few years now, so I assume all is quiet in that quarter?”

I nodded and tried not to roll my eyes.  This guy sounded like a bad Bond villain, “Yeah, the network is cool.  And I checked in with my mother, so I guess it’s up to Ky… Detective Smyth.”

Mentioning my mom made him pause, “Oh, I wasn’t aware that you two were in contact. It is unusual.”

I shrugged again. Let him think I was way more in control than I was. I knew the manual warned about contacting blood relatives, and I felt cold remembering the drain I’d felt trying to pull my mother over. He didn’t need to know that I was a little afraid to call her again.

“Hero, I know that we have no history, that regardless of my long-time friendship with Dorothea, I am a stranger to you. But I am here to help.” He paused, “She would want you to be safe.”

I thought about Vic and wondered when exactly he’d been hired.  Constantine said that he’d arrived last night, but what if he had arrived sooner? Had he hired Vic? “I’m safe, thanks,” I said. “Jenny Rondalay’s got that covered,” I hid my smile seeing him pale a little at her name. One of these days, I was going to get someone to explain what it was about her family that scared everyone so much.

“Yes,” he nodded, “Dorothea mentioned your acquaintance with her. She’s the half-daughter?”

I bristled a little. What was it with preters and bloodlines?  “I doubt anyone who knew her would call her that,” I sipped at my coffee, trying to present an image of calm.

He raised an eyebrow, “I meant no disrespect, Hero. But I am very concerned that Dorothea’s death was connected to what she found.”

I frowned at him, finally getting annoyed at talking in hints; “If you mean the Gate, then yes, that’s what Kyle thinks too.”  I felt a small tingle saying the words again but shook it off.  Was I going to spend the rest of my life acting like Pavlov’s dogs every time I heard a word?

Constantine sat back with a real smile, and a small chuckle, “Your directness is refreshing, Hero.  Far too often, our kind prefers to speak in riddles and incomplete sentences.”

Kate chose this moment to return with Constantine’s tea.  

And I found that I might be warming to him, a little. Even HP had finally calmed down. He remained sitting, but the tension had drained from him. The bike guy even gave him a quick pat on the head as they left.

Kate sat down, “So has Hero filled you in?”  She asked him.

Constantine smiled, “I think we were finally getting to that.”

I shot Kate a cautioning look. She might know him, but I wasn’t about to tell him everything.

“Hero,” She sighed, “He’s one of the good guys.” She sipped at her coffee, “He was totally tight with my foster parents as a kid. He was even my first teacher before my folks decided that we should move out here.”

Constantine rested his hand on Kate’s for a moment, “Katie, she’s correct to be cautious. She doesn’t know me, and she only just met you.” He squeezed her hand, “Let her decide what she wishes me to know.”

Kate just shrugged. 

“Thank you for understanding,” I said.  My phone buzzed at me, “Oh, I probably should have let Kyle know about the delay,” I grabbed my phone and stepped away from the table.

“Kyle, sorry for the delay.”

“So, everything is ok?”

“Yeah, Kate and I ran into Constantine Bayless.”  I tried to convey my feeling that it wasn’t a random meeting on his part.

Kyle’s relaxed laugh put me at ease with the whole meeting.  “Knowing him it wasn’t, but he’s ok.”

“Are you sure?” I was feeling reassured by Kyle’s laugh, and maybe something more than reassured. It was truly unfair that anyone could make a laugh sound that sexy.

“Hero, I’m sure he used some hecate trick to find you, but that’s ‘cause he seems to like playing the ‘look at me, I’m all mysterious’ card, but he’s ok. I know Dee trusted him and so did my Uncle.” I heard him hesitate, “Did you want me to come over and join you guys? Or you could bring him back to the house.”

I could hear how hard it was for him to not demand to come and join us, “We’re at the Starbucks, over on Harbor, but if he’s ok, then you don’t need to come over here.” I was still working on whether or not I was ok with his overprotective side, but at least he was trying.

“I guess you’re right.”

There was an awkward silence. I wasn’t sure what else to say. 

“Um, so I’ll call you when I’m on my way back to the house.”

“Ok, and Hero, be careful.”

I smiled, “I will. See you soon.”

I went back to the table with Constantine and Kate. They seemed to have been catching up while I was making my call.

I looked at Constantine, “So, here’s the deal. As far as we know, Dee’s murder was all about the Gate. Kate checked the network and it doesn’t seem to be Sosostris, but from everything we’ve found it is circe. Oh, and someone sent a bounty hunter to kidnap me and Kate.”

Constantine narrowed his eyes in thought, “I guess Detective Smyth told you I was trustworthy?” He didn’t bother to wait for a response, “Did you take care of the bounty hunter?”

“Jenny did. Right now, she’s deciding whether or not to take him to the funeral with her.”

Constantine raised an eyebrow, “She ensorcelled him?”

I glanced at Kate, hoping for some sort of definition.  I wasn’t dumb, but I also wasn’t entirely sure that ensorcelled was a real word.

“I think sirens call it loyaling.”  Kate offered helpfully.

“But why would anyone hire a human bounty hunter?” Constantine asked.

I blinked, “He’s not. Jen said he was a chimera.”

Constantine paused and suddenly grinned, “She made a chimera loyal?” He shook his head, “I see I have little reason to be concerned for your safety. But I would like to help find Dorothea’s killer if you would allow it.”

I find myself liking him a little more. After all the struggling with Kyle being overprotective, Constantine seemed far easier to deal with. I found myself nodding, “As long as Kyle doesn’t mind another person working the investigation, I don’t mind.  Did you have any thoughts?”

He seemed to be considering the question. It gave me a moment to look at him. I don’t know how long he’d been working at Nekyia for Dee, but he didn’t look that much older than me.  Maybe mid-thirties. His dark blond hair looked freshly cut and since the coldness had left his eyes, I realized he reminded me of an actor. I couldn’t remember the actor’s name, but he’d died not too far back. I shook off the thoughts, I didn’t need to be checking him out. Besides, if he was around when Kate was a kid, this guy could be old enough to be my father.  Hell, for all I knew, he could be my father.

“Circe involvement is troubling. They may not directly be Sosostris, but it’s not unthinkable that they are descendants of the original Sosostris circe.” He steepled his fingers under his chin, “If they are, it does seem most likely that they are seeking the Gate research.” His eyes grew distant in thought, “Did your mother give you any indication of who she thought it was? Or perhaps she has already spoken to Dorothea?”

I blinked and felt my jaw drop. It hadn’t occurred to me that my mother could speak to Dee. Even Kate looked chagrined at having not considered that. What if Dee knew who killed her?  Maybe my mother could find out? “I’m an idiot. I should have thought of that already,” I started to get up, “Do you think she can talk to Dee?”

Constantine shrugged, “The afterlife isn’t my forte. Some souls take longer than others to find their way to the underworld.  But, knowing Dorothea, she will be working very hard to get to Thana.”

Half out of my chair, I glanced at my watch, “I should have time to try calling her before the funeral.” I paused, “Um you guys want to go back to the house?”

“If you are comfortable with me joining you, I wouldn’t mind speaking to Thana again. It has been a long time since I spoke to her,” he looked a little wistful talking about her. I was suddenly concerned again that he could be my father. I pushed the thought away.  The eww factor of having been checking out my dad was a little more than I wanted to deal with.

“Um sure,” I managed to answer.  “Did you need directions or a ride?”

Constantine smiled, “I have a car and I know where the house is.  You two go, and I will see you there.”

I practically dragged Kate away from her goodbye with Constantine. Once inside the car, I asked her about his age.

She shrugged, “With hecate, it’s hard to tell. We age slowly. I haven’t seen him since I was like six or seven, and he looks the same to me now that he did then. Why does it matter?”

I shook my head, focusing on driving, “It doesn’t really, I was just curious.”

Kate suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, but I thought you and Kyle…” she let her words trail off.

I was already turning on to Dee’s street, “Oh god, no… eww. I wasn’t asking because I’m interested in him or anything.” I shuddered a little, “I just wondered how he knew my mother.”

“Oh, ok.  That’s good. I don’t think Kyle would be ok with you and Constantine. Lilus are crazy possessive and stuff.”

I parked the car and wasn’t at all surprised to see Kyle already opening the front door. “Tell me about it,”  I muttered.

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