Chapter 3.20 – Deadbeat Dad

Wyatt had arrived back home after his fruitless training session with Broof, to have April latch to him like a limpet. She was bubbling with excitement to work on the potion again, to learn about all the different ingredients, to theorise about what might work in the cure potion and to ask him a hundred questions about a hundred topics. It might have been annoying to some people, but it was just the distraction Wyatt needed. If he dwelled any more on the impenetrable vault that was his bearded buddy, he might actually go crazy.

The potion was still in a resting phase and would be for most of the day. There was nothing to do there, much to April’s disappointment. Caleb was manning the store, Melinda was in the studio, Broof had gone to lick his wounds and Sage was busying about preparing the rituals for the following night’s coven meet. She had politely requested that Wyatt take April from under her feet, so they’d been hanging out in his room.

April had been a little upset at first; apparently Caleb had been moping since The Talk the previous night, and Melinda had been ignoring her. Wyatt would try and act as peacekeeper later but woah – these guys were exhausting, although that might just be the blood loss.

April lightly skimmed the file over her nails as Wyatt watched; both silent during a natural lull in their flowing conversation. Everything about her was so delicate, so gentle, he thought, wondering again if Broof was wrong about the whole thing. He must be. This sweet, refined girl could not be Wyatt’s daughter. No way. She was softly blowing the dusty residue from her fingertips and elegantly fanning her hand to scrutinise her efforts; he was trying not to fart.

“How did you meet Mother, Wyatt?” April asked. “Were you together very long?”

Wyatt shifted on the bed, uncomfortable for a few reasons. “You ask a lot of questions, don’t you Apes?”

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, dropping her chin.

“Nah, it’s OK,” he said quickly. Man, he hated these little dips she kept having. She reminded him of a timid puppy in a shelter, cowering in her corner every time the door opened and it was killing him. “I always ask a lot of questions, too. How did I meet your mum? How did I meet your mum? Well…”

He wanted to say ‘I’m not sure I ever did’, but that sounded awful. “I genuinely don’t remember,” he admitted. “I wasn’t in such a great place, around that time.”

“Oh?” April asked looking at him with those, big curious eyes. “Why not?”

“My dad, your um… your…” Why was this so hard?

“Grandfather Warren?” April asked, coming alive.

“Yeah,” Wyatt conceded. He groaned quietly as his tormented gut rolled around, threatening to blow. “Ugh. We were really close, my dad and I. When he died, even though we knew it was coming and, like, provisions had been made and everything, my mum was devastated and sort of closed off and Hoggy – well, he was wrapped up in his own grief and we got in with the wrong crowd, I suppose.”

Broof was in the wrong crowd?”

“Not, like, a terrible crowd,” he mumbled. “Just wasters. High all the time,” he clarified at her blank look.

“Was Mother in that crowd?” April asked, astounded. Wyatt pouted a little; she clearly had no problem believing he was in that crowd and that made him feel all manner of rubbish.

“Nah, but the place we hung out in was in the basement of a pizza shop, near a studio lot where they shot low-budget movies. The crew and actors would find their way to our basement a lot. And at the time well, your mum was in that scene, so I guess that’s how our paths crossed.”

“So… you and Mother had a one-night stand, but you don’t really remember it – or her – because you had taken lots of drugs,” April deduced, nodding her cute head.

It sounded so gross when she said it. Wyatt felt his face burn. “Yeah. I know. Not cool. I’m sorry if you were expecting some epic love story—”

“I wasn’t,” she sighed. “I think Mother might have done that kind of thing a lot. Oh!” she gasped. “Forget I said that!”

“Said what?” Wyatt winked.

April stared at him for a second before she understood. She relaxed somewhat, dropping her hands back to her lap and folding them neatly, before tilting her head back up. “Did Mother really make crappy movies?” she asked, surprised.

“Oh yeah. Loads of them! Didn’t you know?”

“No! Oh my gosh! I thought A Kind Heart was her first movie.”

“That blockbuster about the dying kid? Nah, that was just the first ‘good’ one she made. The first movie she ever made was called The Mutant Gorilla from Hull. An absolute classic. The critics raved about it. Not.”

April laughed. “Mutant gorilla? What part did she play?”

“I think she was ‘woman in bikini #2’. She had one line which was ‘Take me, gorilla man!’

“Oh my god!” April squealed. “Really?!”

“Yep. In fact I think I have that movie on my laptop if you wanna see— ah, wait, I set fire to that, didn’t I?”

“What?” April asked, still laughing. “You set fire to your laptop? Why?”

“Left Caleb alone with it for like, fifteen minutes and he somehow managed to download a dozen viruses.”

“A dozen viruses? How on earth—?”

“Dodgy porn,” Wyatt replied without thinking.

“Oh,” April whispered, sinking again.

Wyatt bit his lip. Oops. “Lots of people watch that stuff, Apes,” he explained, trying to guess what she was thinking. “It’s not ‘cause he doesn’t like you or anything—”

“It’s not that,” April said quietly. She rubbed her eye even though Wyatt could see no tears. “In fact, I’d rather he did that than… you know.” She fidgeted on her seat, twisting her skirt around her finger. “He’s slept with ten thousand women,” she said quietly.

“He has?” Wyatt tried to sound surprised. “I am surprised!”

“Yes,” April whispered. “That’s a lot, isn’t it? It’s not normal, is it?”

“Uh, well he is what, three hundred? So that’s what… one a week? That’s not a lot. I mean, it is a lot, but it’s not a lot.”

“One a week sounds like a lot to me. It feels so disrespectful,” April said softly, playing with a button on her skirt. “How many women have you slept with, then?”

Damn, he was digging a huge hole here. He swallowed hard, torn between not wanting to lie to her and not wanting her to think even more badly of him. “A few.”

“A few? Or quite a few?”

“Quite a few if you add in the men, yeah.”

April lifted her head at this, gazing at him with a mixture of wonder and disgust. “You sometimes sleep with men?”

In that moment, there was something about her. Something he really didn’t like. “Yeah,” he said, slightly more angrily than he’d meant to. “I guess I just don’t really have a preference.”

“How can you not have a preference?”

He tried not to get riled up; tried to convince himself that this was just an innocent question. But it sure felt like an accusation and Mother Earth knew this wasn’t the first time he’d heard it.

“I mean… I dunno. I get attracted to all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, y’know? I don’t rule someone out based on what might be in their pants – that’d be such a waste.”

April frowned at him and shook her head. “That doesn’t make any sense. Boys and girls aren’t just different because of their, ahem, parts. It’s the whole package. Boys are masculine and girls are feminine. Everyone has a preference.”

This was starting to get to him. They’d been getting on so well that it felt like a sucker punch to the gut— uh oh.

“If you say so,” Wyatt shrugged.

April blinked. “You don’t think that’s true?”

“No. Do you? Or are you just repeating something someone told you?”

April cocked her head, staring at him. “There are certain ways that ladies and gentlemen should behave and dress and anything else is unacceptable,” she said, sounding very much not like her usual self all of a sudden and not actually answering his question. “And one of those fundamental rules is that men should like women, and women should like men.”

“OooooK. What about… um… Mel?”

“What about Mel?”

“She doesn’t like men.”

“Of course she likes men. All women like men. She just hasn’t found one that she really likes yet,” April insisted. “And she’s very feminine.” April wrinkled her nose. “Wyatt! That’s disgusting!”

Busted. “All women like men?” he repeated, his laughter causing the rhythm against the mattress to become staccato.

“You’re gross, Wy.” April grimaced, making him once again feel like a low life. “And yes, we do. Girls can’t love girls.”

His chin snapped up so fast it actually alarmed her. “Woah! What the heck?! Girls can definitely love girls, Apes. Who told you they can’t? Your mother?”

April didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to.

“Yeah. I’ll bet she told you all this crap, didn’t she? Your mother was wrong. Why the heck would she tell you that?”

April stared at him a moment and then turned away.

Damn. Losing her. “She can’t hurt you anymore, Apes.”

Wyatt could sense that he’d pushed too far. He decided to change track before he lost her completely.

“What do you want to do next?” he asked. “Still got an hour or two until we need to do anything else with the elixir.”

“You could show me some magic?” she requested, brightening like the sun.

 “I’d love to, but I’m not really supposed to do that.”

“No problemo,” April sang. She looked around the room, her gaze landing on the tiny television. “We could watch a movie?”

“Excellent plan, my fanged friend,” Wyatt grinned. “We can’t watch them on that old thing, though,” he thumbed towards the rusted set. “We shouldn’t be too much under Mum’s feet if we’re in the snug, though,” he said, tapping his chin. “Big TV in there, too.”

“Oh, yes! That sounds amazing!”

“Awesome. What movie do you want to watch?”

“One of Mother’s early ones?”

Not even a hesitation. He tried to smile. Everything that Sandy had done to her and April still missed her and longed to see her, if only on a screen. Meanwhile, he was just proving himself, over and over, to be a deadbeat dad. An overgrown kid. Pond scum.

“Probably won’t be able to find The Mutant Gorilla from Hull, but we’ll definitely find something classically awful; Help! My Grandma is a Werefish! perhaps, or Gilda Bubblebutt and the Zombie Cheerleaders.”

“Those sound shockingly awful!” April beamed. “Did Mother play Gilda?”

Wyatt sighed. “No, Apes. She didn’t have a leading role in any of those movies. In Gilda, she didn’t even get a line and she dies in the first ten minutes.”

Gilda Bubblebutt it is then,” April said, grinning from ear to ear. “I can’t wait for Mother to just be silent for once! I hope she gets eaten by a cheerleader!”

The sound of Jessica’s booted footfalls echoed around the corridor, painfully loud in comparison to Beth’s soft trainer ones. Jessica had never been in this part of the station before – part of her wondered what on earth Beth had been doing in here in the first place.

“Ta-da!” Beth announced when they approached what Jessica believed was a pair of disused holding cells, although in the pitch darkness, she couldn’t really tell what she was looking at. “What do you think? Wouldn’t this make the cutest space for a nursery?”

Yes, Jessica thought, if your offspring is hell spawn, which yours possibly is.

“Um…” Jessica hesitated, looking between the iron bars and her enthusiastic superior, as her vision slowly adjusted. “It’s a bit dark and gloomy, don’t you think?”

“Well, it is now,” Beth huffed. “Visualise the space, Jessica! Open up that window there, remove a few irons bars here and then all it needs is—”

“A DIVORCE!” came a cry from above them. “HE WANTS A DIVORCE!”

Jessica and Beth exchanged a concerned look before both ran back towards the stairs that took them up the main station, where the very last person Jessica had expected to see in this place was screaming at the top of her lungs.

“A divorce?! After everything I have given that man! The best years of my life! My youth! My second virginity!” Gloria cried, pausing for a soul-shattering scream. “He wants a DIVORCE?!”

“Don’t we all?” Beth snorted.

“On what grounds?” Jessica asked, alarmed.

Irreconcilable differences! I ask you! But I know him, the shark, I KNOW HIM! His wandering eye is elsewhere! The scallywag! The CAD!” She screamed again and stamped her expensive-looking shoe into the linoleum. “If he thinks Gloria Ersatz will roll over quietly and be replaced by some… some… overinflated floozy, he has another thing coming!”

“Back up, back up,” Beth said. “He genuinely wants a divorce? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure!” Gloria whined. “He announced it at breakfast – in front of the staff! How humiliating!” she groaned, sliding a loose hair back into her coiffure with her fingernail. “You need to help me, Beth! He’ll have me out on my rear with nothing like… like… a servant!” she gasped. “You can’t let him do that to me! Imagine the prize slag he’ll replace me with! Imagine her looking after Willy! We can’t allow it! I need your help and I need it now!”

Beth chewed the inside of her cheek, looking annoyed. Jessica wasn’t really sure what was going on, but this hysterical woman was giving her the mother of all headaches.

“You believe he might be committing adultery?” she asked.

“Hark at her, acting all professional,” Gloria snorted. “Of course he is! He’s a wildly attractive and very rich man! He’s a magnet for gold-diggers! And he has been simply distraught since William vanished – he’ll be soaking up pity wherever it comes from, the old fool! He said he was going sailing tomorrow night. Sailing! With his thalassophobia! Never been on a boat in his life – wouldn’t know his sail from his… whatever other components boats have! He’ll be meeting her then; I just know it! Tail him for me, Beth. Tomorrow night. Get me the evidence I need to take his sorry tush to the cleaners!”

“I can’t do tomorrow night,” Beth stated. “Jessica will have to go.”

Jessica faltered. “Does this fall under my job description?”

“It does now.”

Jessica pondered for a while. The last thing she wanted was to get caught even deeper in this mess. A divorce was probably the best thing for Gloria and Wilbur. Not that she’d say that, in her present company. She was kooky, not insane.

Of course!

“I can’t do tomorrow night, either. I have a GliTS meeting. It’s very important.”

“So you are one of them,” Beth said. “I knew it!”

“Yep. In pursuit of crooks by day and truth by night. Tomorrow we are looking for evidence of, um, mushroompeople. They only come out on one night a year, and that night is tomorrow.”

“How fun for you.” Beth narrowed her eyes at Jessica before looking back at Gloria, who was wearing her ‘I can smell poo’ face again.

“Fine,” Beth conceded. “I suppose I can be a little late for my appointment. I’ll stalk Saggy Balls. Gloria, I trust you can watch Willy for the night?”

“My pleasure,” Gloria said, actually sounding quite happy about that, to Jessica’s surprise. “But are you sure they won’t mind you being a little late? With everything that’s going on—“

“I’m sure,” Beth cut in curtly. “And what choice do I have? Can’t very well interrupt Jessica and co. in their pursuit of truth now, can we?”

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Chapter 3.07 – Something Stinks

Warning: Melinda’s retinas might not be the only ones burning! So bright!

Oooookay. Well, that was the weirdest thing Melinda had ever had happen to her and there had sure been a lot of weird things happening to her lately.

She had fought hard to get a barely-conscious April down the stairs and to the front door, feeling her friend tense up as they approached it. Then, as she wondered what the heck to do next, the room had been filled with a lurid green light that had gradually gotten brighter and brighter until all she could see were the wiggly veins in the back of her eyes.

Something warm and soothing bathed her lower limbs, rising up her torso, like wading into a warm sea. Melinda felt it seeping through her skin then flowing back out, almost sentient, almost hesitant as if whatever it was couldn’t decide whether to stay inside her, or not.

She’d clutched April, using April’s confusion and fear to cover her own – she couldn’t be scared, she wouldn’t be scared. She had to be brave, for both of them.

The invisible waves had no problem flowing into April and filling her. April became warm to the touch, lit from within. Melinda’s fingers traced her friend’s soft skin, this light pulsing through her like an imitation of a heartbeat. April felt alive.

She’d barely had chance to embrace this thought when it was gone. It was all gone. Melinda reached out her fingers to clutch at the fading comfort of this sensory bath, but it slipped through her like she was nothing.

Maybe she was nothing. Maybe this is what happened when a vampire died. Without a soul there was nowhere for them to go, they simply ceased to exist.

Was it her imagination or was this old house getting draughtier?

As the blue sky broke through this hazy blanket, a threatening heat blistered her skin and burned her retinas like no brightness could.

She called out into the void and felt a warm arm loop around her waist in response. She could detect a delicate, herbal perfume that had been dabbed on to a pulse point, inches from her nose. Melinda’s whole body, starving and lost in this crazy dream, pulled her towards this solid beat, her confusion and bewilderment blurring the edges of everything she thought she knew, of all the control she thought she had. Her lips were so close to this tantalising source; she could already tell this mystery drink would be divine.

Was she dreaming? She hoped she was dreaming. She was loathe to fight it. She deserved it. Watcher, just allow her this.

The very tip of Melinda’s cold nose brushed the searing heat of flesh. Her fangs extended, that icy coldness across her skin, her eyes stinging as she changed form. But this wasn’t like her usual change of form. This was lighter, purer.

Like her whole body had been disintegrated into powder and blown apart from the core. She was aware of each fragment of her being as it floated detached from the others. She reached out to grasp the warm body before her or to find April alongside her in the aether, but her touch would not connect. She was dust, she was nothing.

She hadn’t got a cohesive thought in her head. In that moment, she simply had to let go and just…

Be.

Melinda had never really thought about what the afterlife might be like, but she hadn’t anticipated there being ceramic pigs there.

She scanned her surroundings as they pieced slowly back together, until she noticed the silhouettes of three men. Their voices exploded into her consciousness, like someone had just turned the volume up. The first one most definitely a stranger, but the other two…

“Seriously; everyone knows you don’t click the ads,” rang the youthful drawl she didn’t recognise. “The ads are bad. Aw shoot; not this virus again. It took me days to get rid of it last time…”

“You’re a man of broad tastes, Vatore,” chimed in a softly-spoken older tone that almost sounded like… Broof? There was laughter in his words. “Very broad…”

“I’m not,” protested a deep, sizzling crackle that was definitely Caleb. Ugh. Melinda rolled her freshly-reformed eyes; all hope that she’d made it to the Good Place evaporating at his voice. “There was a woman, she made me do it. Not this woman, a different one. A younger one. Blonde…”

“I suppose ‘grey’ is almost blonde,” maybe-Broof chuckled. “And when you’re three hundred then yes, I suppose a human pensioner is going to seem young.”

“No. She was blonde,” Caleb explained. “And she was young. Twenties, maybe? I don’t know, I’m not great at that. And there were no men shown in any of the pictures; I don’t know what all those men are doing there. Well, I know what they’re doing, but I didn’t ask them to do that.”

“Ugh, Cal,” came a weary groan accompanied by lots of tapping. “How many things did you click on before I walked in?!”

“A couple,” Caleb said quietly. “…of hundred.”

“I… dude, how did you get onto this site? Wait. Did you enter my bank details?”

“No. They were already saved.”

“Damn,” new voice muttered under his breath. “That’s my §247 savings gone. Probably my identity too. No wonder Lils never let you near these things.”

Lils? Melinda thought. Lils as in ‘Lilith’? Was she here too?

“I’ll buy you a new one, Wyatt.”

“A new laptop or a new identity?” Broof joked, clearly finding the whole thing very amusing.

“I think I’m gonna have to take this out to the yard and shoot it,” Wyatt groaned. “It’s riddled.”

Melinda’s limbs were leaden, condensed. She felt sick to her stomach, listening to the distant voices of these three men intermingled with multiple robotic moans, exaggerated grunts and the kind of language that Faith so often favoured. As confusion turned to complete discomfort, another voice drifted from above her, thankfully drowning everything else out.

“Oh, for goodness sake, boys. If you must view those disgusting sites, must you do so in my kitchen?”

Three frantic faces turned towards her.

“Mum! I thought you were going to call?”

“Change of plan,” came the soft reply. Melinda rolled her head up to see that it was once again resting on a shoulder. It took her a moment to recognise it as belonging to Lilith’s friend. She dragged her gazed along the slender, powdered neck but oddly it no longer appealed. As she lost interest, she noticed April out cold on the shoulder opposite.

Lifeless, once again.

“April?” she whispered, but her voice sounded like Caleb’s and within seconds he’d pulled the limp girl into his arms and was holding her firm against him, snarling at Sage.

“What the hell have you done?!”

Melinda flinched as Caleb’s eyes glowed, but Sage was unaffected.

“I haven’t done a thing, sweetheart,” she sang. “But you can easily fix it. Take her. Hold her close, there’s a good boy. Broof dear, if you could take this shell-shocked little one through to the sitting room, look after her and Wyatt, for the love of the moon, turn that filth off!”

I’m trying!”

Melinda had never been this close to Broof; he looked so much younger than she remembered.

“Can you walk?” he asked softly.

Oh, that voice. Melinda could’ve cried. That gentle, familiar, kind voice that had opened doors and covered tracks for the last ten years of her life. Melinda couldn’t bring herself, in that moment, to wonder why he was here – wherever here was – instead of in jail, or to acknowledge that his stable pulse was sending her bananas. Relief washed over her at the appearance of someone solid and dependable, and she nodded. “I think so.”

As Broof guided her towards a door and she following trustingly, she glanced back over her shoulder to see Caleb still clinging to April, focused entirely on her. Even just this tiny action seemed to be stirring April from her daze.

The rotting fopdoodle.

Had he been here all this time? Watching gross movies and hanging out with the boys when April was snared in his trap, wilting and suffering, waiting for him? It irritated Melinda to no end that Caleb was the one who could just swan back in and be the hero. Whatever April said, however much she protested, this scene didn’t lie; Caleb was the one who April needed.

Whatever hope she had that she could save April, take her away and start again, died the moment April came back to life in Caleb’s arms.

“I missed you,” she whispered.

Melinda turned away, torn somewhere between the ultimate joy at hearing April’s voice and heart-wrenching grief at what she’d used it for. Broof gave her a look that conveyed his understanding or, at least, his sympathies. But a lifetime of being paid to know everything and say nothing was deeply ingrained into the bearded man so naturally, he didn’t speak.

Melinda was tired of it; tired of feeling like her insides were being wrung, tired of being used like a comfort blanket. And for what? For fricking what?!

I missed you.


_


Jessica had deliberated over her outfit for a good half an hour, fussing with her skirts and trying to find a blouse that didn’t look mismatched, which was hard when all she had was the clothing Pixie had dropped by for her.

Pixie was great – she’d been a lifeline connecting Jessica to the outside world – but her fashion sense left something to be desired.

Jessica selected an embroidered blouse and plain, pink tennis skirt and took one more, long glance in the mirror. She couldn’t help but let her gaze wander to her belly, still flat, wondering how long it would be before it ballooned out and forced her out of the gym and into sweatpants and baggy jumpers.

The orderly had been waiting for Jessica outside. Their patience was most unusual and it made Jessica nervous; why was it so important to look presentable for these visitors? What on earth could Gloria and Beth Wangshaft want with her?

Her visitors appeared to be having a tense exchange when Jessica entered the visitation room, Jessica could have sworn she heard the words ‘be nice or die’ but the pair fell silent as Jessica approached, further arousing her suspicion. Gloria’s face still bore that ‘something stinks’ expression, but Beth offered a cool smile, gesturing Jessica to a seat opposite that she took, tentatively.

Neither woman offered a greeting. Jessica wasn’t sure if she should speak or not but didn’t have to deliberate for long.

“I suppose you’re wondering why we’re here, Jess?” Beth said. Jessica winced at the shortening of her name. She didn’t mind being called Jess, really, more that she it felt so forced and overly-familiar in this bizarre situation. Jessica nodded and Beth smirked. “Go ahead, Glore.”

Gloria rolled her eyes. It was clear to Jessica that she was here under duress. She coughed politely and folded her hands in her lap. “Beth feels—” she began, eliciting a swift elbow in the ribs from her mumsy daughter-in-law, “Ow! Fine! We feel that Wilbur may have been rather impulsive in his judgement in sending you here.”

Jessica blinked in surprise. “You do?”

“I suppose. That is not to say that you couldn’t benefit from a little structured therapy, some guidance – ow!” she hissed as she got another elbow in the ribs. “But Beth – we – believe that can be done in a less institutionalised manner, certainly. Although we can’t be seen to be getting soft on your kind, there’s certainly capacity to reduce the situation to something less… media intensive shall we say.”

“Right, of course,” Jessica lubricated the conversation, politely.

“Goodness knows we have enough attention as it is,” Gloria continued. “With William absconding and this nonsense with the Moss girl, and now the press are sniffing around because of that police chief – Wilbur just had to visit him that morning, the blithering idiot—”

“Oh for arse’s sake,” Beth groaned. “If you beat around this bush any more, Gloria, it’ll be bald as a baby’s backside. Jess,” she said pointedly, looking directly at her. “Pack your bags and sod off.”

It took Jessica a second to recover from this onslaught of crude language before she really understood what she was being told. “I’m free to go?”

“Yep,” Beth confirmed. “And I’m hoping you’ll be happy to return to work because with Ralf being gone and all this crap happening, I don’t have time to be filing reports about shoplifting and all that other bollocks.”

“But I’ve been suspended. Mr. Wangshaft—”

“Has been overruled,” Beth snorted, gesturing between Gloria and herself. “If he thinks I’m running the WBPD single-handedly he can bugger right off.”

Jessica faltered. “You’re running the police department?”

“I am,” she muttered, “Like I’m not in charge of enough.” Beth huffed, blowing her hair from her eyes. “You’ll be working for me. Reporting to me. We’ll hire someone for patrol. You’ll be on desk duties, mostly; can’t risk any harm coming to that nooboo now, can we?” She stared Jessica down, the corner of her mouth lifted into a smile that Jessica couldn’t read. “I can probably sort out a little pay rise, too. Help you to get a nicer place. What do you say, Jess?”

Jessica clenched her jaw, her warning alarms sounding in her crowded head. Nothing about this felt right, or sat right, but Jessica was far from afraid. If she had to sum up how she felt in one word it would be: curious. Clearly, neither woman before her gave a hoot about her, or how she might be feeling about the loss of Chase, of Ralf, of being locked up and made to look in the wrong, to look crazy. This U-turn was not a move in her best interests or an act of kindness. She doubted anything the Wangshafts did was ever in kindness.

No. This was strategic and highly suspicious.

Jessica would go home, cry her heart out, plan and theorise in that order, but right now there was only one way to behave. She smiled brightly, tilting her head to convey her friendliness and reaffirm to Beth that she was the someone pliable and naïve that they clearly believed her to be.

“That sounds wonderful!” she gushed. “Thank you so much for this opportunity! I won’t let you down, Beth! Can I call you ‘Beth’? Should I call you ‘Boss’? Chief? Mrs. Wangshaft?”

“Definitely not the last one. Beth’s fine,” Beth replied tersely, Jessica’s cheer clearly grating on her. “Good stuff, Jess. I’ll see you at the station, first thing tomorrow.”

“First thing tomorrow,” Jessica repeated. “I can hardly wait!”

“Me either.”

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Chapter 2.19 – Dirt

As they walked past manicured lawns and sparkling fountains, Ralf tried not to grin. Jessica gazed at the building and asked him again, “Are you winding me up, Boss?”

When Ralf had mentioned that he was paying a visit to the Wangshafts for his monthly catch-up, Jessica had begged to be allowed to come with. Ralf was reluctant for a few reasons, not least because Chase hadn’t shown up for work again and Jessica wouldn’t stop theorising about what might have happened to the wayward deputy.

But, arguing was so not Ralf’s style and he’d decided that putting up with some nattering could work in his favour; Jessica could drive them back, permitting Ralf to indulge in a fine whiskey, if he was offered one. Plus, now she was showing an interest in those mispers, getting her away from her desk would delay the hundred and one questions she’d inevitably have.

“No, I’m not winding you up, Jess. Welcome to Wangshaft Manor.”

The girl shook her head. “This is where the Wangshafts live?” she asked, still scanning around. “The Wangshafts? This is the home of the most notorious family the area has ever seen? The guys who run that questionable psychiatric unit over in Windenburg and who own about half of all the real estate there?”

“About three-quarters of it and yes. Not what you were expecting?” Ralf asked, amused.

“No. It’s…”

“…Pink.”

“It was beige, up until about twenty years ago, when Wilbur married Gloria, his third wife. The woman certainly has a colour preference,” Ralf said, walking up the path with Jessica close behind. The girl had been gawping since they’d entered the secure gates at the perimeter of the estate; he hoped she wouldn’t show him up too much. Although if he knew the Wangshafts, she probably wouldn’t even be allowed in the house.

Ralf had barely lifted his hand to knock when the door was flung open by a heavily-perfumed woman with perfectly coiffed silver hair.

“Officer Widdlefinkle,” she purred. “Has it been a month already—” she cut herself off, barely even acknowledging Jessica, but wearing a silent question on her face.

“Gloria, my newest recruit. Jessica Spoon,” Ralf offered uneasily to the stony-faced woman, who still hadn’t looked directly at Jessica. Ralf lowered his voice and said through gritted teeth. “She can wait in the car, if you prefer, ma’am.”

Jessica frowned at this. She didn’t come all this way to wait in the car, like a child. She stepped forward and extended her hand to the frosty woman. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Wangshaft.”

Gloria backed away. She glanced at Jessica’s hand, then back at her face like both were smeared with faeces.

But to Ralf’s surprise, she led them both into the house.


“So, anyway, after the whole mink farm misunderstanding, I had to leave the animal rights campaign group. I was sort of at a loose end and decided to move back home to Willow Creek and pursue a career in policing and now, here I am,” Jessica explained, ending her very long-winded answer to Gloria’s question about who she was.

Gloria hadn’t even pretended to be interested, twiddling with her wedding ring and uttering the words ‘please watcher; strike her down’ a few times under her breath, but Jessica couldn’t bear uncomfortable silence, so continued her story, unperturbed.

Gloria didn’t ask Jessica any further questions. Not that Jessica expected her to. Gloria reminded her of all the mean girls at school; polite with purpose. They would compliment her hand-knitted dresses and ask where she got them, then after she’d let them copy her homework, they wouldn’t talk to her again.

Jessica coughed slightly. Her throat was quite dry after all that talking, but she hadn’t been offered a drink. She wondered which scenario was more impolite; ask for a glass of water or faint from dehydration?

“I wonder what’s keeping Wilbur,” Gloria said, glancing impatiently towards the door. “I thought he would be very keen to speak with you today, with William missing again and all this nonsense about the Moss kidnapping, as if he’d be so foolish—“

“Ah,” Ralf quickly interjected before Jessica could open her mouth. “I’m afraid due to the nature of that case, it has been taken out of our hands.”

“I see,” Gloria replied, coolly. “Well, that’s interesting.”

Jessica was interrupted from asking why exactly that was interesting by the arrival of a smartly dressed man who was, without doubt, Wilbur Wangshaft.

Not only did he have those shark-like eyes, synonymous with the Wangshaft men, he had the unmistakeable attitude of someone who had generations of privilege and identity behind him. He didn’t bother with introductions or pleasantries, he simply motioned Ralf towards the door.

Ralf left his seat and followed Wilbur from the room, Jessica following close behind. They crossed the landing to another large door, where Wilbur paused, finally acknowledging Jessica for the first time. He gave her a once-over that felt intrusive; like he was seeing through her face, her attire, her badge and staring straight into her soul.

“You will wait in the downstairs hallway, Officer Spoon,” he instructed, emphasising her name with distaste.

Jessica had often found herself tarnished by her family’s less-than-perfect reputation, but felt that her mother’s drunken antics with the vicar wasn’t what aggrieved Mr. Wangshaft most about the name Spoon.

“With respect, sir. I’m—“

“Not required,” Wilbur finished, bluntly.

Jessica looked to Ralf for support, but he only nodded his head towards the stairs. “Wait downstairs, Jess. We won’t be long,” he assured her.

Jessica dutifully made her way downstairs. She wasn’t very happy about it, but she wasn’t about to ignore a direct order from her superior.

She didn’t completely comply though, stepping from the hallway into the adjacent dining room after a few minutes of staring at the front door. She idly opened a drawer on a cabinet, empty except for a few pens, inspected a bust on the mantlepiece and let her eyes wander up to a portrait above the fireplace.

They had captured him well; he looked arrogant. Jessica wouldn’t usually speak ill of anyone but she had taken an instant dislike to—

“The bloody craphole!”

Jessica paused for a second, trying to decipher if this new voice was an internal or external one, before realising that this outburst had come from a woman who had blustered into the hallway behind her and slammed the door so hard that it shook the pictures on the wall.

“I’m going to kill the craphole myself!” this woman screamed. “Gloria!”

At the threat of murder, Jessica stepped into the hallway to intervene.

“Who the heck are you?” The mystery woman asked. She looked to be in her late-twenties and her casual hair, bad language and clothing didn’t seem to fit in with the prim, pink interiors and icy cold personalities of the Wangshafts, yet she seemed oddly at home here.

“Officer Spoon,” Jessica replied. “WBPD.” She tapped her badge.

The woman’s eyes went wide. “Holy crap; you’ve found him?! He’s dead isn’t he?” At Jessica’s stunned silence, the woman continued, filling in her own blanks. “Crapbucket, was it a horrible scene? You can tell me; did you find him with his pants down? Was he with some floozy?”

“Um…” Jessica started. For once in her life she was lost for words.

“He was, wasn’t he?! The crapping arsehole! Screw you, Will!” the woman hissed. “Screw you right in the arse.

“No… I’m sorry, you’ve totally lost me,” Jessica admitted, wincing every time the woman swore. “Sorry, who are you?”

The mystery woman narrowed her eyes at Jessica. “Wait. You… you’re not here to tell me you found Will?” Jessica shook her head. The woman looked relieved for a beat, then infuriated again. “So he is still shacking up with that blonde skank somewhere leaving me juggling a new baby and putting up with the press hounding me day and night? The craphole! Gloria! Where is that bloody woman?”

As Jessica was wondering if anyone in this family was co-operative, the woman spoke again.

“Sorry, I’m not usually so…” She gestured loops around her head. “I haven’t slept for about a week, courtesy of a draining, crying, crapping little nightmare, Watcher love him. I’m Beth Wangshaft, soon to be ex-wife of William ‘heir-to-this-pink-craphole’ Wangshaft. And I take it you’re the new recruit at the steaming pile that is the WBPD? What are you, twelve?”

“I am. The new recruit, that is,” Jessica replied, cautiously.

Beth laughed. “Thought so. I take it that as you’re down here hanging out with the doormat, that Old Saggy Balls is busy talking to the chief, huh? Yeah, he used to make Deputy Crooks hang out down here too, although Chase knew better than to snoop—“

“I wasn’t snooping,” Jessica protested, feeling her cheeks burn.

“Sure you weren’t.” Beth winked at Jessica and ascended the stairs, trailing her fingertip along the bannister as she went. She paused, inspected her finger. “You know, the Wangshafts have one heck of a maid, Officer Spoon,” she mused, her tone suggestive. “There’s never a speck of dirt to be found. Anywhere…”



After a luxurious few hours in the hot tub, the girls had dried off and draped themselves on the plush bed. They relaxed in companionable silence in the afterglow of soothing jets and frothy bubbles, which had only added to the general daytime drowsiness they experienced as creatures of the night.

Only Caleb was fully awake. The sound of a siren had cut through his haze and drawn him to the window. He glanced down, idly watching as an ambulance pulled up outside the hotel.

“What’s happening?” April asked, not moving from her position.

“Ambulance,” Caleb replied.

“Oh good, I thought it was the police,” Melinda said, twiddling her hair. “Not good that someone needs an ambulance but… you know what I mean.”

Caleb watched as another vehicle pulled up, blue lights flashing. “There are police as well—” he said, realisation waking him like a bucket of icy water. “Damn!”

His agitation stirred the girls who left the bed slowly, watching Caleb as he paced the floor.

“Do you think they’re here for us?” April asked. “How could they know we’re here?”

“Relax,” Melinda said, in her most soothing tone. “They can’t know we’re here. Unless… unless someone saw us sneak in. But then why would there be an ambulance?” Caleb could almost see the cogs turning in Melinda’s head and was not surprised in the slightest when she turned to him and asked, “Caleb, is this something to do with you?”

“No…”

“How did you get this room, Caleb?” she asked. When he didn’t respond, Melinda took a step closer. “What did you do?”

The tone of her voice reminded him so much of Lilith, that he froze.

“Nobody died,” he replied. “I think.”

For a moment no one said anything; the silence filled by the echo of more sirens in the distance.

“We need to get the fuck out of here,” Faith stated.

“But we can’t! It’s day time!” April cried. “We’ll turn to ash!”

“We can’t just stay in here!” Melinda exclaimed. “We’ll find shelter somewhere. There must be a shopping mall or.. or… something!”

“Shit, this is really bad,” Faith mouthed, but her face did not appear to agree.

“Caleb, you know this area and you got us into this mess, what do we do?” Melinda squeaked.

Caleb thought for a minute. Slipping past the police at superspeed would be no problem and if he and Melinda ran superspeed all the way, they could make it to the cottage in under an hour. Melinda would likely need a few plasma bags to counteract the effort of getting herself there, but he knew that she could do it.

She had to; he couldn’t carry all three of them.

“I think we can escape, undetected, and make it to the cottage, if we run,” he decided, gesturing between himself and Melinda. “Head east along the river until you see a hill with a solitary dogwood tree on it. The cottage is about a mile south of that.” If it’s still there.

“What? I’m not leaving you guys!” Melinda protested. “I can carry April, she’s light—“

“Are you calling me fat?” Faith asked.

“You’ll wear yourself out before you even get there. You won’t be leaving us,” Caleb said, ignoring Faith. “We’ll be right behind you. Go. Now!”

“But—” Melinda looked to April, who silently repeated Caleb’s instruction; go. Melinda straightened up, gave a short, disgruntled nod. “Hill with a dogwood tree, got it. You’d better frigging make it,” she hissed. In a blink she’d vanished.

“You’re going to carry us both?” April asked, flapping her hands. “How strong are you?”

“Strong enough,” he said, sounding way more sure than he felt.

“Carry us how—?” April began. She let out a squeal as Caleb lifted her with one arm, hoisting her over his left shoulder. “Caleb! No!” she beat her fists on his back, “Unhand me! This isn’t dignified!”

Faith laughed so hard at the sight of April screaming her head off as she dangled, bum-up, in the air that she almost forgot the same fate was about to befall her.

“No fucking way!” she screeched, pushing Caleb away as he caught her by the waist. “What if you drop me?”

“I won’t drop you,” Caleb assured her. He grinned at her, playfully, as she shoved him and fruitlessly resisted his efforts to lift her, before practically throwing her over his other shoulder with a growl. He settled the girls in place and turned towards the door.

Neither girl was heavy so although his gait was unusual, he was fairly confident they’d still be able to move much faster this way than if they were all on foot; the bigger problem, he realised as he shifted them into a comfortable position, was distancing himself from the fact that he was holding two gorgeous women. A fact not lost on one of them.

“Keep your hand on top of the skirt, Fringey…”

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