Blood Brothers (Chapter Four)
HE'D READ HER WORK; HE'D STUDIED HER AUTHOR photos and used Google to get some background, to read her interviews. Cal wasn't one to agree to talk to any sort of writer, journalist, reporter, Internet blogger about the Hollow, himself, or much of anything else without doing a thorough check.
He'd found her books and articles entertaining. He'd enjoyed her obvious affection for small towns, had been intrigued by her interest and treatment of lore, legend, and things that went bump in the night.
He liked the fact that she still wrote the occasional article for the magazine that had given her a break when she'd still been in college. It spoke of loyalty.
He hadn't been disappointed that her author photo had shown her to be a looker, with a sexy tumble of honey blond hair, bright blue eyes, and the hint of a fairly adorable overbite.
The photo hadn't come close.
She probably wasn't beautiful, he thought as he poured coffee. He'd have to get another look when, hopefully, his brain wouldn't go to fuzz, then decide about that.
What he did know, unquestionably, was she just plain radiated energy and-to his fuzzed brain-sex.
But maybe that was because she was built, another thing the photo hadn't gotten across. The lady had some truly excellent curves.
And it wasn't as if he hadn't seen curves on a woman before or, in fact, seen his share of naked female curves alive and in person. So why was he standing in his own kitchen frazzled because an attractive, fully dressed woman was in his house? For professional purposes.
"Jesus, grow up, Hawkins."
He actually jumped. She was in the kitchen, a few steps behind him, smiling that million-watt smile.
"Were you talking to yourself? I do that, too. Why do people think we're crazy?"
"Because they want to suck us into talking to them."
"You're probably right." Quinn shoved back that long spill of blond.
Cal saw he was right. She wasn't beautiful. The top-heavy mouth, the slightly crooked nose, the oversized eyes weren't elements of traditional beauty. He couldn't label her pretty, either. It was too simple and sweet a word. Cute didn't do it.
All he could think of was hot, but that might have been his brain blurring again.
"I didn't ask how you take your coffee."
"Oh. I don't suppose you have two percent milk."
"I often wonder why anybody does."
With an easy laugh that shot straight to his bloodstream, she wandered over to study the view outside the glass doors that led-as she'd suspected-to the rear portion of the circling deck. "Which also means you probably don't have any fake sugar. Those little pink, blue, or yellow packets?"
"Fresh out. I could offer you actual milk and actual sugar."
"You could." And hadn't she eaten an apple like a good girl? "And I could accept. Let me ask you something else, just to satisfy my curiosity. Is your house always so clean and tidy, or did you do all this just for me?"
He got out the milk. "Tidy's a girlie word. I prefer the term organized. I like organization. Besides." He offered her a spoon for the sugar bowl. "My mother could-and does-drop by unexpectedly. If my house wasn't clean, she'd ground me."
"If I don't call my mother once a week, she assumes I've been hacked to death by an ax murderer." Quinn held herself to one scant spoon of sugar. "It's nice, isn't it? Those long and elastic family ties."
"I like them. Why don't we go sit in the living room by the fire?"
"Perfect. So, how long have you lived here? In this particular house," she added as they carried their mugs out of the kitchen.
"A couple of years."
"Not much for neighbors?"
"Neighbors are fine, and I spend a lot of time in town. I like the quiet now and then."
"People do. I do myself, now and again." She took one of the living room chairs, settled back. "I guess I'm surprised other people haven't had the same idea as you, and plugged in a few more houses around here."
"There was talk of it a couple of times. Never panned out."
He's being cagey, Quinn decided. "Because?"
"Didn't turn out to be financially attractive, I guess."
"Yet here you are."
"My grandfather owned the property, some acres of Hawkins Wood. He left it to me."
"So you had this house built."
"More or less. I'd liked the spot." Private when he needed to be private. Close to the woods where everything had changed. "I know some people in the trade, and we put the house up. How's the coffee?"
"It's terrific. You cook, too?"
"Coffee's my specialty. I read your books."
"How were they?"
"I liked them. You probably know you wouldn't be here if I hadn't."
"Which would've made it a lot tougher to write the book I want to write. You're a Hawkins, a descendent of the founder of the settlement that became the village that became the town. And one of the main players in the more recent unexplained incidents related to the town. I've done a lot of research on the history, the lore, the legends, and the various explanations," she said, and reached in the bag that served as her purse and her briefcase. Taking out a minirecorder, she switched it on, set it on the table between them.
Her smile was full of energy and interest when she set her notebook on her lap, flipped pages to a clear one. "So, tell me, Cal, about what happened the week of July seventh, nineteen eighty-seven, ninety-four, and two thousand one."
The tape recorder made him…itchy. "Dive right in, don't you?"
"I love knowing things. July seventh is your birthday. It's also the birthday of Fox O'Dell and Gage Turner-born the same year as you, who grew up in Hawkins Hollow with you. I read articles that reported you, O'Dell, and Turner were responsible for alerting the fire department on July eleventh, nineteen eighty-seven, when the elementary school was set on fire, and also responsible for saving the life of one Marian Lister who was inside the school at the time."
She continued to look straight into his eyes as she spoke. He found it interesting she didn't need to refer to notes, and that she didn't appear to need the little breaks from direct eye contact.
"Initial reports indicated the three of you were originally suspected of starting the fire, but it was proven Miss Lister herself was responsible. She suffered second-degree burns on nearly thirty percent of her body as well as a concussion. You and your friends, three ten-year-old boys, dragged her out and called the fire department. Miss Lister was, at that time, a twenty-five-year-old fourth-grade teacher with no history of criminal behavior or mental illness. Is that all correct information?"
She got her facts in order, Cal noted. Such as the facts were known. They fell far short of the abject terror of entering that burning school, of finding the pretty Miss Lister cackling madly as she ran through the flames. Of how it felt to chase her through those hallways as her clothes burned.
"She had a breakdown."
"Obviously." Smile in place, Quinn lifted her eyebrows. "There were also over a dozen nine-one-one calls on domestic abuse during that single week, more than previously had been reported in Hawkins Hollow in the six preceding months. There were two suicides and four attempted suicides, numerous accounts of assault, three reported rapes, and a hit-and-run. Several homes and businesses were vandalized. None-virtually none-of the people involved in any of the reported crimes or incidents has a clear memory of the events. Some speculate the town suffered from mass hysteria or hallucinations or an unknown infection taken through food or water. What do you think?"
"I think I was ten years old and pretty much scared shitless."
She offered that brief, sunny smile. "I bet." Then it was gone. "You were seventeen in nineteen ninety-four when during the week of July seventh another-let's say outbreak-occurred. Three people were murdered, one of them apparently hanged in the town park, but no one came forward as a witness or to admit participation. There were more rapes, more beatings, more suicides, two houses burned to the ground. There were reports that you, O'Dell, and Turner were able to get some of the wounded and traumatized onto a school bus and transport them to the hospital. Is that accurate?"
"As far as it goes."
"I'm looking to go further. In two thousand one-"
"I know the pattern," Cal interrupted.
"Every seven years," Quinn said with a nod. "For seven nights. Days-according again to what I can ascertain-little happens. But from sundown to sunset, all hell breaks loose. It's hard to believe that it's a coincidence this anomaly happens every seven years, with its start on your birthday. Seven's considered a magickal number by those who profess to magicks, black and white. You were born on the seventh day of the seventh month of nineteen seventy-seven."
"If I knew the answers, I'd stop it from happening. If I knew the answers, I wouldn't be talking to you. I'm talking to you because maybe, just maybe, you'll find them, or help find them."
"Then tell me what happened, tell me what you do know, even what you think or sense."
Cal set his coffee aside, leaned forward to look deep into her eyes. "Not on a first date."
Smart-ass, she thought with considerable approval. "Fine. Next time I'll buy you dinner first. But now, how about playing guide and taking me to the Pagan Stone."
"It's too late in the day. It's a two-hour hike from here. We wouldn't make it there and back before dark."
"I'm not afraid of the dark."
His eyes went very cool. "You would be. I'll tell you this, there are places in these woods no one goes after dark, not any time of the year."
She felt the prick of ice at the base of her spine. "Have you ever seen a boy, about the age you'd have been in eighty-seven. A boy with dark hair. And red eyes." She saw by the way Cal paled she'd flicked a switch. "You have seen him."
"Why do you ask about that?"
"Because I saw him."
Now Cal pushed to his feet, paced to the window, stared out at the woods. The light was dimmer, duller already than it had been an hour before.
They'd never told anyone about the boy-or the man-whatever form the thing chose to take. Yes, he'd seen him, and not only during that one hellish week every seven years.
He'd seen it in dreams. He'd seen it out of the corner of his eye, or loping through the woods. Or with its face pressed to the dark glass of his bedroom window…and its mouth grinning.
But no one, no one but he, Fox, and Gage had ever seen it in the between times.
Why had she?
"When and where did you see him?"
"Today, just before I turned off onto Pagan Road. He ran in front of my car. Came out of nowhere. That's what people always say, but this time it's true. A boy, then it wasn't a boy but a dog. Then it wasn't anything. There was nothing there."
He heard her rise, and when he turned was simply stunned to see that brilliant smile on her face. "And this kind of thing makes you happy?"
"It makes me thrilled. Excited. I'm saying wow! I had myself what we could call a close encounter with an unspecified phenomenon. Scary, I grant you, but again, wow. This sort of thing completely winds me up."
"I can see that."
"I knew there was something here, and I thought it was big. But to have it confirmed, the first day out, that's hitting the mother lode with the first whack of the pick."
"I haven't confirmed anything."
"Your face did." She picked up her recorder, turned it off. He wasn't going to tell her anything today. Cautious man, Caleb Hawkins. "I need to get into town, check into the hotel, get a lay of the land. Why don't I buy you that dinner tonight?"
She moved fast, and he made a habit of taking his time. "Why don't you take some time to settle in? We can talk about dinner and so on in a couple days."
"I love a man who's hard to get." She slipped her recorder, her notepad back in her bag. "I guess I'll need my coat."
After he'd brought it to her, she studied him as she shrugged it on. "You know, when you first came outside, I had the strangest sensation. I thought I recognized you, that I'd known you before. That you'd waited for me before. It was very strong. Did you feel anything like that?"
"No. But maybe I was too busy thinking, she looks better than her picture."
"Really? Nice, because I looked terrific in that picture. Thanks for the coffee." She glanced back to the dog who'd snored lightly the entire time they'd talked. "See you later, Lump. Don't work so hard."
He walked her out. "Quinn," he said as she started down the stairs. "Don't get any ideas about Lois Laning it and trying to find the Pagan Stone on your own. You don't know the woods. I'll take you there myself, sometime this week."
"I can't, I've got a full plate. Day after if you're in a hurry."
"I almost always am." She walked backward toward her car so she could keep him in view. "What time?"
"Let's say we'll meet here at nine, weather permitting."
"That's a date." She opened her car door. "The house suits you, by the way. Country boy with more style than pretention. I like it."
He watched her drive off-strange and sexy Quinn Black.
And he stood for a long time watching the light go dimmer in the woods where he'd made his home.
CAL HEADED FOX OFF WITH A PHONE CALL AND arranged to meet him at the bowling alley. Since the Pin Boys and the Alley Cats were having a league game on lanes one and two, he and Fox could have dinner and a show at the grill.
Added to it, there was little as noisy as a bowling alley, so their conversation would be covered by the crash of balls against pins, the hoots and hollers.
"First, let's backtrack into the land of logic for a minute." Fox took a swig of his beer. "She could've made it up to get a reaction."
"How did she know what to make up?"
"During the Seven, there are people who see it-who've said they did before it starts to fade on them. She got wind."
"I don't think so, Fox. Some talked about seeing something-boy, man, woman, dog, wolf-"
"The rat the size of a Doberman," Fox remembered.
"Thanks for bringing that one back. But no one ever claimed they'd seen it before or after the Seven. No one but us, and we've never told anyone." Cal arched his brow in question.
"No. You think I'm going to spread it around that I see red-eyed demons? I'd just rake in the clients that way."
"She's smart. I don't see why she'd claim to have seen it, outside the norm-ha-ha-if she hadn't. Plus she was psyched about it. Juiced up. So, let's accept she did and continue to dwell in the land of logic. One logical assumption is that the bastard's stronger, we know he will be. But strong enough to push out of the Seven into the between time."
Fox brooded over his beer. "I don't like that logic."
"Second option could be she's somehow connected. To one of us, the town, the incident at the Pagan Stone."
"I like that better. Everyone's connected. It's not just Kevin Bacon. If you work at it, you can put a handful of degrees between almost any two people." Thoughtful, Fox picked up his second slice of pizza. "Maybe she's a distant cousin. I've got cousins up the wazoo and so do you. Gage, not so much, but there's some out there."
"Possible. But why would a distant cousin see something none of our immediate family has? They'd tell us, Fox. They all know what's coming better and clearer than anyone else."
"Reincarnation. That's not off the Planet Logic, considering. Besides, reincarnation's big in the family O'Dell. Maybe she was there when it all happened. Another life."
"I don't discount anything. But more to the point, why is she here now? And will it help us put a goddamn end to this?"
"It's going to take more than an hour's chat in front of the fire to figure that out. I don't guess you heard from Gage."
"Not yet. He'll be in touch. I'm going to take her out to the stone day after tomorrow."
"Leaping forward fast, Cal."
Cal shook his head. "If I don't take her soon enough, she'll try it on her own. If something happened…We can't be responsible for that."
"We are responsible-isn't that the point? On some level it's on us." Frowning now, he watched Don Myers, of Myers Plumbing, make a seven-ten split to appropriate hoots and shouts. All three hundred twenty pounds of Myers did a flab-wriggling victory dance that was not a pretty sight.
"You go on," Fox said quietly, "day after day, doing what you do, living your life, making your life. Eating pizza, scratching your ass, getting laid if you're lucky. But you know, on some level you try to keep buried just to get through, that it's coming back. That some of the people you see on the street every day, maybe they won't make it through the next round. Maybe we won't. What the hell." He rapped his beer against Cal 's. "We've got the now, plus five months to figure this out."
"I can try to go back again."
"Not unless Gage is here. We can't risk it unless we're together. It's not worth it, Cal. The other times you only got bits and pieces, and took a hell of a beating for it."
"Older and wiser now. And I'm thinking, if it's showing itself now-our dreams, what happened to Quinn-it's expending energy. I might get more than I have before."
"Not without Gage. That's…Hmm," he said as his attention wandered over his friend's shoulder. "Fresh flowers."
Glancing back, Cal saw Quinn standing behind lane one, her coat open and a bemused expression on her face as she watched Myers, graceful as a hippo in toe shoes, make his approach and release his lucky red ball.
"Yeah, I recognized her. I read the books, too. She's hotter than her picture, and that was pretty hot."
"I saw her first."
Fox snorted, shifted his eyes to sneer at Cal. "Dude, it's not about who saw her first, it's who she sees. I pull out the full power of my sexual charm, and you'll be the Invisible Man."
"Shit. The full power of your sexual charm wouldn't light up a forty-watt bulb."
Cal pushed off the stool when Quinn walked toward him.
"So this is why I got the brush-off tonight," she said. "Pizza, beer, and bowling."
"The Hawkins Hollow hat trick. I'm on manager duty tonight. Quinn, this is Fox O'Dell."
"The second part of the triad." She shook Fox's hand. "Now I'm doubly glad I decided to check out what seems to be the town's hot spot. Mind if I join you?"
"Wouldn't have it any other way. Buy you a beer?" Fox asked.
"Boy, could you, but…make it a light one."
Cal stepped back to swing around the counter. "I'll take care of it. Anything to go with it? Pizza?"
"Oh." She looked at the pizza on the counter with eyes that went suddenly dewy. "Um, I don't suppose you have any with whole-wheat crust and low-fat mozzarella?"
"Health nut?" Fox asked.
"Just the opposite." Quinn bit her bottom lip. "I'm in a lifestyle change. Damn it, that really looks good. How about if we cut one of those slices in half." She sawed the side of her hand over the plate.
Cal got a pizza cutter and slid it down a slice.
"I love fat and sugar like a mother loves her child," Quinn told Fox. "I'm trying to eat more sensibly."
"My parents are vegetarians," Fox said as they each picked up a half slice. "I grew up on tofu and alfalfa."
"God. That's so sad."
"Which is why he ate at my house whenever he could manage it, and spent all his money on Little Debbies and Slim Jims."
"Little Debbies are food for the gods." She smiled at Cal when he set her beer on the counter. "I like your town. I took a walk up and down several blocks of Main Street. And since I was freezing my ass off, went back to the really charming Hotel Hollow, sat on my windowsill, and watched the world go by."
"Nice world," Cal said, "that moves a little slow this time of year."
"Umm," was her agreement as she took a minute bite of the point of her narrow triangle of pizza. She closed her eyes on a sigh. "It is good. I was hoping, being bowling-alley pizza, it wouldn't be."
"We do okay. Gino's across the street is better, and has more selections."
She opened her eyes to find him smiling at her. "That's a lousy thing to tell a woman in the middle of a lifestyle change."
Cal leaned on the counter, bringing that smile a little closer, and Quinn found herself losing her train of thought. He had the best quick and crooked grin, the kind a woman wanted to take a testing nibble of.
Before he could speak, someone hailed him, and those eyes of quiet gray glanced away from hers toward the end of the counter. "Be right back."
"Well." Jeez, her pulse had actually tripped. "Alone at last," she said to Fox. "So you and Cal and the as-yet-absent Gage Turner have been friends since you were kids."
"Babies, actually. In utero, technically. Cal's and Gage's mother got together with mine when my mother was teaching a Lamaze class. They had a kind of roundup with the class a couple months after everyone delivered the packages, and the deal about the three of us being born on the same day, same time came out."
"Instant mommy bonding."
"I don't know. They always got along, even though you could say they all came from different planets. They were friendly without being friends. My parents and Cal's still get along fine, and Cal 's dad kept Gage's employed when nobody else in town would've hired him."
"Why wouldn't anyone have hired him?"
Fox debated for a minute, drank some of his beer. "It's no secret," he decided. "He drank. He's been sober for a while now. About five years, I guess. I always figured Mr. Hawkins gave him work because that's just the way he is, and, in a big part, he did it for Gage. Anyway, I don't remember the three of us not being friends."
"No 'you like him better than me,' major falling-outs or your basic and usual drifting apart?"
"We fought-fight still-now and then." Didn't all brothers? Fox thought. "Had your expected pissy periods, but no. We're connected. Nothing can snap that connection. And the 'you like him better than me'? Mostly a girl thing."
"But Gage doesn't live here anymore."
"Gage doesn't live anywhere, really. He's the original footloose guy."
"And you? The hometown boy."
"I thought about the bright lights, big city routine, even gave it a short try." He glanced over in the direction of the moans coming from one of the Alley Cats who had failed to pick up a spare. "I like the Hollow. I even like my family, most of the time. And I like, as it turns out, practicing small-town law."
Truth, Quinn decided, but not the whole truth of it. "Have you seen the kid with the red eyes?"
Off balance, Fox set down the beer he'd lifted to drink. "That's a hell of a segue."
"Maybe. But that wasn't an answer."
"I'm going to postpone my answer until further deliberation. Cal 's taking point on this."
"And you're not sure you like the idea of him, or anyone, talking to me about what may or may not go on here."
"I'm not sure what purpose it serves. So I'm weighing the information as it comes in."
"Fair enough." She glanced over as Cal came back. "Well, boys, thanks for the beer and the slice. I should get back to my adorable room."
"You bowl?" Cal asked her, and she laughed.
"Oh-oh," Fox said under his breath.
Cal walked around the counter, blocking Quinn before she could slide off the stool. He took a long, considering look at her boots. "Seven and a half, right?"
"Ah…" She looked down at her boots herself. "On the money. Good eye."
"Stay." He tapped her on the shoulder. "I'll be right back."
Quinn frowned after him, then looked at Fox. "He is not going to get me a pair of bowling shoes."
"Oh yeah, he is. You mocked the tradition, which-if you give him any tiny opening-he'll tell you started five thousand years ago. Then he'll explain its evolution and so on and so on."
"Well, Christ," was all Quinn could think to say.
Cal brought back a pair of maroon and cream bowling shoes, and another, larger pair of dark brown ones, which were obviously his. "Lane five's open. You want in, Fox?"
"Sadly, I have a brief to finish writing. I'll rain-check it. See you later, Quinn."
Cal tucked the shoes under his arm, then, taking Quinn's hand, pulled her off the stool. "When's the last time you bowled?" he asked as he led her across the alley to an open lane.
"I think I was fourteen. Group date, which didn't go well, as the object of my affection, Nathan Hobbs, only had eyes for the incessantly giggly and already well-developed Missy Dover."
"You can't let previous heartbreak spoil your enjoyment."
"But I didn't like the bowling part either."
"That was then." Cal sat her down on the smooth wooden bench, slid on beside her. "You'll have a better time with it tonight. Ever make a strike?"
"Still talking bowling? No."
"You will, and there's nothing much that beats the feeling of that first strike."
"How about sex with Hugh Jackman?"
He stopped tying his bowling shoe to stare over at her. "You had sex with Hugh Jackman?"
"No, but I'm willing to bet any amount of money that having sex with Hugh Jackman would, for me, beat out the feeling of knocking down ten pins with one ball."
"Okay. But I'm willing to bet-let's make it ten bucks-that when you throw a strike, you'll admit it's up there on the Thrill-O-Meter."
"First, it's highly unlikely I'll throw anything resembling a strike. Second, I could lie."
"You will. And you won't. Change your shoes, Blondie."