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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Error... Error...

My appointment for Friday morning came in on time at 8:00. It was to be an oil change and standard inspection. I slipped my seat cover on and welcome mat down to prevent any kind of marks or dirt from my getting in and out of the vehicle. All went well with the neat little 1999 Toyota Corolla until I had finished the work and backed it out to the door. I reached for the door handle to exit the car and snap, crackle, pop – the interior plastic piece of crap door handle breaks. I have replaced many of these for customers over the years because they don’t take much in the way of wear to break so I know better than to be rough with them. Unfortunately, I was in a hurry to get the lady out because my next appointment would be in soon, and I tugged a bit too hard on the handle in my haste. After a moment of silence where an inner stream of words never to be uttered in public streamed through my head, I trudged into the office to share my happy news.

The lady takes one look at my face and says, “is something wrong with my car?”

“Temporarily… until I can order you a new inside door handle which I just broke.”


In her place I’d be a little surprised too. She had been driving the Toyota for ten years without breaking any door handles. I’d only become acquainted with her car for twenty minutes and had already broken one. I explained it would still open the door if she was very careful with it and I’d get a replacement right away from Toyota.

“How long will it take you to get it?”

“They’ll have three or four in stock so it won’t be long. I’ll call you the moment they deliver it to me.”

She nodded her understanding. “I guess you were in a little too much of a hurry.”

Ya’ think? “Yes, Ma’am, I was. I’m sorry for the inconvenience but I’ll get it straightened out.”

She left after paying her bill. I called Toyota and they had a new inner door handle to me by noontime. I hadn’t been specific about when I’d get her back in to repair the damage I’d done so the Toyota owner was pleasantly surprised when I called. She drove back in and I had her on the road with a new inner door handle in minutes, at no cost of course. Note to self – don’t yank on the door handles… damn it! :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Susan Boyle from Britain's Got Talent

I don't watch reality TV or Idol shows, but I do check out extraordinary performances on YouTube when I've heard they're surprisingly good. This performance by Susan Boyle is stunning.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

2000 Nissan Quest

A 2000 Nissan Quest owner towed his vehicle into my shop ten days ago. When he went out to his vehicle the ignition key would not turn in the switch. I needed to move the vehicle out of my doorway. Since it was locked into park I had a couple of choices other than rolling it out of the way on a carrier. I could unhook the shifter cable or take the ignition switch assembly off the column. I chose getting part of the job done because I’d have to replace the switch assembly anyway. Once the switch assembly is uncovered the retaining bolts have to be carefully removed using a spring-loaded center punch. They remove the heads on these retaining bolts to prevent the vehicle being stolen easily. It went smoothly and I rolled the Quest back into a shop stall.

Things became interesting after that. It is a dealer item only and they told me two working days to get the part. It took a week and a half for the dealer to receive the part after my estimate was okayed by the customer. This is unusual for a part like this. One of two facts are usually true when this happens – either the part never goes bad or so many of them have gone bad they are on nationwide backorder. Because the diagnosis is not brain surgery in this case, trouble notes on professional forums are not in abundance so I can’t gauge the failure rate in a statistical fashion.

Ignition switches fail mechanically for only a few reasons – the owner drapes ten pounds of peripheral garbage on the key-ring, the keys wear out, or the inside lock mechanism fails. I mention this particular vehicle because I suspect they’re failing and there are a lot of them out there. If I get a number of these over the next year it will confirm my suspicion. Since this problem disables the vehicle completely, it’s one to keep in mind because of the time required to get another ignition/switch assembly. I waited to post this until I had the Quest running and out of the shop.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Close Call

Storm Chapter 11 - It's raining here in Northern California, thank God and my Nissan Quest part has not come in for my automotive blog topic. Today, Word-Press wouldn't let me comment on two of my favorite blogs for some reason. For those of you following Storm's adventures this is one of my favorite chapters. :)

Fifteen minutes later Carmela Eager entered Spelling’s office behind his secretary. Eager, dressed head to toe in black, with black painted fingernails, lips, and eye shadow, looked from Spelling to Janet belligerently. Janet noticed even the girl’s hair had been dyed black, hanging limp and straight down her back.

“Sit down, Carmela,” Spelling requested, indicating the seat next to Janet. “Call in Ms. Blake ten minutes from now, Jen.”

The secretary nodded her head and closed the door. Eager sat down, popping her gum nervously. Janet had noted the look of recognition and uneasiness after hearing Blake’s name.

“What’s this all about?” Eager asked, her tone louder than necessary.

“I’ll list a few things we know first,” Janet said, showing the girl her FBI identification. “You joined a cult called the Temple of Set along with a number of your fellow students and faculty. You were seduced first by Kevin McGraff and then June Grable. Five young girls died hideously right in front of your eyes and…”

Eager launched out of her seat to make a break for the door. Janet had anticipated her actions. Grabbing Eager’s wrist before Eager could clear the chair, Janet twisted it roughly up behind the girl’s back expertly, pressing her hand and forefinger into an unbreakable finger lock.

“Where do you think you’re going, Goldilocks?”

“Let…let me go!” Eager pleaded, looking back over her shoulder at Janet, terror plain on her face. “Grable will kill us all if she finds out you have me up here.”

“Well then, let’s not tell her,” Janet advised, sitting the girl down roughly. “Don’t try that again. I’ll put you in cuffs next time and the take down will be rough. We’re going to put you and your other cohort Blake on ice in police custody, where we can have you watched for the time being.”

Ted walked into the room as Janet finished calming the girl down.

“This is my partner, Ted Holloway,” Janet told Spelling. “He’ll be escorting the Meyers twins, Blake, and Eager off campus.”

“None of this will be enough,” Eager mumbled, head down. “That thing she sends out will rip us to pieces.”

“What thing?” Spelling asked.

“It’s hard to explain, Sir,” Ted answered. “The explanation would be far too strange for you at this time. Once this ends, we’ll be able to tell you more, although you probably won’t believe it then either. As to your fear, Carmela, Grable’s planning to kill all of you anyway. We’re your only hope. Now you have a way out. Kevin’s already taken the out.”

“Kev…Kevin is helping you?” Eager asked.

“Yes,” Ted replied, handing her the cell-phone he had carried in, already connected.

“Hello?” Eager listened. Tears began to stream down her cheeks as she sobbed in relief, handing the phone back to Ted.

“Sit quietly while we gather Blake and the Meyers twins,” Janet told her, handing Eager some Kleenex out of her handbag.

Cynthia Blake walked into Spelling’s office, smiling questioningly at Spelling. Her smile disappeared when she saw Carmela. Her shoulders sagged in resignation. Janet showed Blake her identification quickly and explained the situation. Resignation turned to fear when Janet explained what they had in mind. Even adding McGraff to the conversation via cell-phone did nothing to allay Blake’s obvious horror at the prospect of Grable becoming aware her acolytes had helped the FBI.

“Shoot me!” Blake pleaded, falling to her knees and causing Carmela to begin sobbing once more. “I’m afraid to commit suicide. I’ll end up doomed to the same hell that bitch Grable conjured her demon from!”

“Demon?” Spelling mouthed in shock as he endured the unfolding horror story and innuendo, without benefit of physical reference illuminating his thoughts. “What…what is…”

“Please, Sir,” Ted urged, “keep an open mind. We’ll need your cooperation to continue this small deception through the day.”

“Get up, Blake,” Janet nudged the terrified teacher with her foot. “It’s a little past time for divine intervention or a bullet in the head. We’re your only hope. I won’t tell you anymore about what we have planned. Be assured we know we’re up against a hell of a lot more than some human whacko killing off kids.”

When Blake stayed where she was, Janet grabbed her by the hair roughly, evoking a startled gasp from the kneeling teacher.

“Five kids are dead - in part because of what you’ve done,” Janet hissed out angrily. “I’m responsible for another bunch of kids in danger trying to help me stop what did it. Get your ass in that chair before I kick the livin’ shit out of you!”

Blake scrambled meekly to her feet, sitting as directed. She clasped her hands in front of her in a death grip, nodding in compliance. “I…I’ll do whatever you say if…if you can keep that thing from getting me.”

“We’ll do what we can,” Ted promised. “But we’re flying in the dark here too. One thing’s for sure - like my partner said, we’re your only hope. No one else will believe your story. Grable plans to put you exactly where you fear you’ll end up.”

The phone rang and Spelling answered it. He looked expectantly at the FBI agents.

“The Meyers twins are here.”

“Have them come in,” Ted directed. “You two stay silent unless we cue you in.”

Chuck and Marty walked into the office hesitantly as Ted moved over next to the door and closed it once the twins were in. They almost seemed relieved seeing Blake and Eager in the room. The FBI agents identified themselves. Ted called McGraff once again to enlist his aid in explaining the situation to the two boys.

“What kind of protection do you have?” Chuck asked. “If you know what’s really doing this, you know shooting it ain’t going to stop it.”

“Ted will take you bunch over to our safe house,” Janet replied. “We should cuff you all and let the police deal with the details, but we don’t want them in on this for obvious reasons. Your buddy McGraff can explain a little more in detail why you’ll be safe where we take you.”

“What about the Amadors?” Marty asked.

“We have to leave them alone for now,” Ted answered. “We can’t take a chance Commissioner Amador won’t start screaming the moment we pick him up, even though it’s for his protection as well as his son’s. Grable knows Dave Amador was suspended. Besides, we plan on giving her a lot more to think about than the Amadors.”

“Let’s get this bunch out of here before the period ends and we’re in the midst of a stampede,” Janet counseled, gesturing for the others to get up.

* * * *

Grable blinked tensely as Carol, Nancy, and Chris walked into her first period English class. They immediately sat down in the last row of desks near the door and studiously ignored Grable. The three took out their books and papers as other students filed into the classroom. It was possible they were not told about Storm Crandall’s death, Grable thought. She grinned slightly, planning to reacquaint herself with the three girls after class. Grable taught the rest of the period with an upbeat anticipation. When the class ended, Grable called out to the three, but they immediately left the room without stopping. The rest of the class looked on in some confusion as a smiling Grable practically jogged toward the classroom door. The three girls were standing only ten feet from the classroom door, huddled closely together.

“What’s the hurry, girls?” Grable asked laughingly. She paused only a few feet from them. “None of you were in a hurry last night at my house when you paid me a surprise visit.”

Carol, Nancy, and Chris stayed silent, watching the rest of their classmates maneuver out of the doorway around Grable.

“Answer me, you little shits!” Grable hissed out in a hushed voice as she moved closer to the girls. She had expected them to run down the hallway, but instead they stood their ground. “My little friend would like to play with you girls. Maybe tonight?”

“They were waiting for me,” Storm said from Grable’s left.

Grable spun back toward her class with an involuntary harsh intake of air. Storm walked over to stand between the girls and Grable with Logan and Tracy next to her.

“Did you really think your ass kisser McGraff could finish me?” Storm asked grimly. “He didn’t do so well. Why don’t you try it yourself tonight, Zelda?”

“This isn’t over… not by a long shot,” Grable warned, backing away from the group and toward her classroom.

“It will be soon,” Storm promised ominously.

“Not the way you think,” Grable replied, regaining some of her composure. “Maybe you’re right. If you want something done right, it’s best to do it yourself.”

Grable turned abruptly and strode into her classroom without a backward glance.

“Oh…my…God, that woman’s a freak,” Chris whispered, breathing in short rapid gulps of air. “If the Goth has any blood pumping it was flowing toward her feet.”

“You got her good, Storm,” Carol added. “Do you think it was enough to throw her off until you get done with what you have in mind?”

“I’d at least like to hang on to that happy thought for the time being,” Storm answered truthfully. It’s a long way until midnight.”

“Now that she knows you’re still alive won’t Grable try to kill you while you’re away from the protection spell on the house?” Tracy asked.

“Probably, but I took precautions against it,” Storm said, taking an ugly white-tan, squat root from a small leather bag. “This is called an Angelica root. I anointed it with holy water. It protects with the proper spell. I brought each of you one.”

Storm gave a root bag to each of the girls.

“Where did you get this stuff, you freak?” Chris made a face at her root bag.

“From under your bed,” Storm quipped, evoking a sudden burst of laughter from the group. “I brought a few things with me from Columbus. Let’s get to Chem class. See you in History, Logan.”

“Watch your backs,” Logan said by way of goodbye.

Storm squeezed Logan’s hand before releasing him to walk toward his next class.

“At least we’re ready for Chem,” Tracy said. “Where are you this period, Chris?”

“I have History,” Chris answered, walking away. “I never thought I’d be wishing to be in Chemistry. See you all at lunch.”

The others said goodbye and hurried toward Deemer’s Chemistry class, each clutching their root bag tightly to them.

* * * *

“I’m going to stop by the bathroom and then dump some books at my locker,” Storm told Logan as they walked out of History class later. “You save us a table in the cafeteria for our meeting.”

“I don’t like leaving you alone,” Logan replied, taking Storm’s arm. “Let the rest of them find each other and a table.”

“When you put it like that I’m tempted to take you with me,” Storm said huskily, leaning into Logan provocatively. “But the other girls in the bathroom might object.”

“I’m serious, Willow,” Logan retorted. “Don’t make light of this.”

“Hey, ease up,” Storm reached up and stroked Logan’s scarred side. “Go on now and get the table. I’ll be right there.”

Storm walked away quickly, feeling Logan’s gaze burning a hole in her back. She turned and gave him a little wave. Logan shook his head in defeat. He turned toward the cafeteria. After making a brief stop in the bathroom nearest her locker, Storm hurried to put her excess books away, noticing the uncharacteristic emptiness of the hall. The closer she came to her locker, the fewer students she saw. Storm looked around her carefully, the hair on the back of her head standing up at the nape of her neck. When the air around her began to fog slightly, Storm knew she was in trouble. Clutching her Angelica Root pouch, Storm felt something shift. The heaviness of the air eased somewhat as she approached her locker.

Methodically glancing in all directions, Storm took a deep breath and undid the combination lock. She quickly jerked open the locker door, and took off her backpack. After stuffing her prior period’s books in the locker, Storm closed the locker door and put the combination lock back in place. When she turned after putting on her backpack she was facing Grable.

“Hello, girlie,” Grable said in a voice like small ball bearings grating together. “I’m glad I caught you before lunch. You advised me to take matters into my own hands. Well, here I am.”

Storm had swallowed a scream erupting from the base of her being. She clenched her teeth together in an attempt to forestall the icy fear racing up her spine. She noticed Grable had her right hand held behind her back. Grable began edging nearer when Storm turned fully from the locker. Grable laughed suddenly, a sound so devoid of humor, Storm edged sideways. Grable slowly drew the knife out from behind her back. It was the same one Storm had drawn blood with and given to Kevin.

“I hope you don’t think you’re going anywhere, you know-it-all bitch!” Grable hissed out at Storm from her drawn in mouth. “You can scream all you want. I’ve cast a cloaking spell so you and I can have our talk. How the hell did a useless little shit like you pull off a healing spell of the magnitude required to bring your sorry ass back from the dead?”

“I could tell you, Zelda, but then I’d have to kill you,” Storm answered with a confidence she neither had nor felt. “You’re taking an awful chance slicing me up here in the school.”

“Slicing your throat open will…”

Grable felt a hand lock over her knife wielding wrist as something hard, cold, and metallic pressed against her right temple.

“If you do anything other than drop the knife on the floor,” Janet’s hard edged voice stated close to Grable’s ear, “I will empty my fourteen round clip in your head, bitch!”

Grable chuckled, tensing. “Who are you kidding? You won’t shoot me.”

“Oh yeah, please move,” Janet said happily. “You’re a fraction of a pull from being over the rainbow. Drop the knife now or die!”

Grable dropped her knife. Janet kicked the back of Grable’s right leg with her shoe directly at the knee joint. Grable cried out in pain. Her leg buckled and Janet drove Grable forward onto her face. Storm watched Janet wrench Grable’s hand behind her back as she stepped forward and kicked the knife away. The FBI agent handcuffed the writhing Grable skillfully in the next few seconds. Straightening, Janet hulled the sobbing Grable to her feet.

“You broke my knee!” Grable twisted toward Janet accusingly.

“Shut your pie hole!” Janet ordered roughly, looking Storm over. “You okay?”

“Yeah, thanks to you,” Storm replied gratefully. “How’d you get past her cloaking spell?”

“I watched her work it. I kept hold of the bag you gave me and stayed within her aura. It worked because she was so focused on slicing and dicing you, she couldn’t be bothered with pesky FBI agents.” Janet shrugged and took a bag kit out of her coat pocket. “Take this kit. Use the glove inside to pick the knife up carefully and bag it. Then put it back into my pocket. I’m not looking away from Zelda for even a second.”

Storm did as Janet asked. Grable continued to moan in pain, hobbling to keep her balance without putting weight on the leg Janet had kicked. Storm turned, glancing at the surrounding lockers and hallway. She noticed the area around them had lost the graininess it had a moment ago.

“It’s wearing off,” Storm told Janet.

“Well, Zelda here is going to jail. I’ll have her held there for the immediate future,” Janet replied. She grinned at Storm. “How much you want to bet I can get her into a straight-jacket for the duration?”

Storm nodded her head in consideration. “That would be very nice.”

“Her prints are all over the knife and you’re wounded. The knife has your blood on it still,” Janet added. “I won’t have any trouble getting Zee here locked down until further notice.”

Janet looked around suddenly, her face alight with a new prospect. Grabbing Grable more solidly with her right hand, Janet began raising her weapon up again.

“Take off Storm. I need a moment.”

“Don’t do it, Janet!” Storm pleaded, moving closer. “I need her alive. We don’t know if Grable’s death will actually free the thing to go wherever it wants. It’s limited as long as she’s alive. C’mon, Sculley, don’t do this.”

Janet met Storm’s gaze harshly, her jaw taut with having already made the decision to kill Grable. To Storm’s relief, Janet lowered her weapon.

“I hope you don’t regret this, Wendy,” Janet said, pulling Grable toward the office. “C’mon Zee, let’s see about getting you a nice room for the night at taxpayer’s expense. Hey, Wendy, where’s Logan? I thought he was sticking with you all day today.”

“I…I sent him ahead to the cafeteria,” Storm admitted, trudging along next to Janet, as traffic in the hallway began to pick up again.

“Shrewd,” Janet chuckled. “I didn’t even know where Zee was headed. If you’d had Logan with you, Grable would probably be on the hallway floor waiting to have the knife extracted from her ass. My advise: keep him with you at all times.”

“I think I’ll take a nap when I get home, so…”

“Don’t make me have to hurt you, Wendy,” Janet cut her off. “One more word twist, and… and… shit, I can’t even threaten you with the way things are now. Get out of my face, Wendy, before I do something I’ll regret.”

“Okay, Scully,” Storm replied with a small salute. “Hey Jan, thanks.”

Janet shrugged. “It’s what I do. We have Blake, Eager, and the Meyers twins. I haven’t heard about the Amadors yet. I’ll let you know when Ted hears they’ve been rounded up.”

“You’ll both be dead, and your souls ripped…” Grable began.

Janet launched a short right hand fist into Grable’s kidney area, cutting off the threat, and evoking a short scream of misery from the lurching Grable. Janet pulled her along, supporting Grable as they were getting curious stares from the passing students. Janet leaned into Grable with Storm trying to stifle laughter.

“You talk again without my permission, Zee,” Janet whispered next to Grable’s ear, “and I’ll show you worse things than a bullet in your head. Do you understand me?”

Grable nodded her head fearfully, still cringing and favoring her injured side.

“You’re sort of the Xena Warrior Princess of FBI agents, Jan,” Storm giggled.

“Yeah, and don’t forget it either, Wendy.”

“Okay, see you at home,” Storm said, veering off toward the cafeteria. “Keep your root bag close. She’s still dangerous.”

“I will,” Janet agreed, steering Grable roughly into the office.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Going On The Offensive

Storm Chapter 10

“What’s your idea, Storm?” Ted asked, looking with exasperation at his partner, who gave him the wave off with attitude.

“I’ll show you,” Storm said quickly, grabbing up the knife Kevin had tried to use earlier, still wrapped in the handkerchief Janet had picked it up in. She took it over to the sink and sliced her thumb with the blade.

“What the hell…” Ted began, launching out of his seat, only to halt, nod his head, and sit back down. “I get it. Real slick, Storm, real slick.”

Logan watched Storm curiously. She allowed her blood to drip over the length of Grable’s blade, coating it on both sides and part of the handle. She then set it aside on the countertop while she covered her thumb with a paper towel.

“Do you have any holy water left?” Storm asked Logan.

“It’s on the porch with the salt where I was sleeping,” Logan replied with a nod of understanding. “I’ll get it.”

Logan jogged out to the porch and retrieved the partial bottle of holy water still left over from their earlier confrontation with the demon. Storm held out her thumb. Logan poured the holy water over the self-inflicted cut. Storm smiled up at him.

“Just covering all the bases,” Storm said. She covered her thumb up again.

“Want to tell us what you have in mind, just to make sure we’re all on the same page?” Janet commented. “I’m sure Kevin here will want to know what’s in it for him.”

Storm sat down next to Janet, still holding the paper towel over her cut. Kevin looked at Logan fearfully as he took a seat next to him again. He glanced at Storm hopefully.

“We give Kevin the knife with my blood. He goes back to Grable. He tells her he killed me and that he should disappear before the police get him. She’ll try and get him to stay. If Kevin is insistent enough, she’ll let him go. He comes back here and stays in our house until this ends. The spell I did last night will prevent her from sending the demon after him. Grable won’t want to let him live. When she sees me in school, she’ll freak, thinking I somehow came back from the dead. Kevin will be here safe and out of sight. Would she try to coerce any of the others into doing something freaky?”

“She…she’d do anything,” McGraff answered. “She doesn’t trust any of the others; but she knows they’d do nearly anything not to die like those five girls. June has Amador and Blake completely in her power. Both believe even if they lived, Grable would have them put in prison. She chose her membership carefully. From what she told me, those five girls the demon killed were there to feed the thing and keep the rest of us in line. The twins would have been next.”

“I have news for you, genius,” Janet put in angrily. “Grable wouldn’t have stopped with the twins either. I’ll definitely have to be in the school. Can you work out of the Honda outside the school, Ted, or do we need to acquire a van?”

“I have enough range to work out of the Honda down the street a ways,” Ted answered. “We don’t have time to round up a surveillance van. I’ll be close enough to back you up.”

“You better be a great actor, McGraff,” Ted added after a moment, looking over at the white faced young man. “I doubt you’ll get a second chance. Can you do this?”

“I…I don’t have a choice.”

“Sure you do, Kev,” Logan assured him grimly, putting his arm around the cringing McGraff. “You can die right here.”

“I can do it,” McGraff stated, glancing over at Ted. “I’ll need to come right over here if she lets me go. Otherwise, she’ll send that thing after me.”

Ted stood up. He jacked a shell into the chamber of his weapon and handed McGraff the Amulet. “Pick up the knife and walk out of here. Keep it at your side and let the blood dry. Don’t make any goofy moves or I swear to God, I’ll empty this clip into your head. Get going… slowly.”

Logan moved out of Kevin’s way. McGraff stuffed the Amulet into his pocket. He picked up the knife by the handle off the sink. Keeping it next to his side, McGraff walked to the front door with Logan shadowing him and left the house. Logan stood by the door watching Kevin walk down the street toward his car. When McGraff was out of sight, Logan returned to the kitchen where Ted was putting antibiotic cream and a Band-aid on Storm’s thumb. Janet refilled their coffee cups and sat down again when Logan did.

“You could just stay here and let Grable think you really are dead,” Logan offered.

“We need to get her crazy,” Storm replied, taking Logan’s hand. “Seeing me ought to send her into crazy land. She might be pissed enough to screw around looking for Kevin. I know she’ll be obsessing about me. It may buy us enough time to make it all the way until midnight. If Grable’s distracted we may be able to get rid of her demon without having to confront her while we’re doing it.”

“Where the hell does Zelda hide the damn thing since she doesn’t have the tree in the park to store it in?” Janet asked.

“Kevin says it’s her familiar now,” Storm replied. “She may have trapped the demon inside the body of something like a cat, fox, rat, or even a horse. Since we can rule out the larger animals, my guess is it’s inhabiting something small we didn’t see.”

“Jesus…” Janet groaned, putting her head in her hands. “Beam me up, Scotty. For God’s sake, please beam me up.”

Ted laughed, getting up and coming around the table behind Janet’s chair. He began massaging the base of her neck with his thumbs. “Migraine, huh?”

“Big time,” Janet moaned. “That…that’s it, Archibald! Keep pressure on right there.”

“Get a room.” Storm chuckled.

“Shut your pie-hole, Wendy! Go get ready for school!”

“Can Logan come up and shower with me?” Storm asked, catching Logan’s eye.

“Oh… you… little…” Janet griped between grunts of pleasure as Ted dug in and alternated the pressure rub of his thumbs with a shoulder massage. “You… you better…”

“I’m leaving Ma’am,” Logan interrupted gently, leaning toward Storm and kissing her quickly. “I’ll pick you up in an hour.”

As Logan began standing up, Storm pulled him back down, taking his hand in both hers. “I forgot to tell you what we need next from Father Daniels. Can you get him to bless a silver blade, some incense, and enough candle wax to make an effigy?”

“When I tell him what happened last night he’ll probably want to come along,” Logan answered. “Where do I get a silver blade?”

“There’s a silver letter opener down on my computer desk in the cellar,” Ted volunteered without looking up as he concentrated on the still moaning Janet. “Will that do?”

“Yeah, that’ll work,” Storm answered. “C’mon I’ll show you.”

“It doesn’t take two of you to…” Janet began to object as the two young people left the table and headed for the cellar entrance.

“Let them go,” Ted whispered.

“Okay… but I’m counting,” Janet assured him. “A little further up with the thumbs… oh man… I…I think it’s lifting…”

“You really would’ve let Logan kill McGraff?” Ted asked.

“In… a… heartbeat.”

“Wow, this is some setup,” Logan looked around admiringly at the bank of computer monitors and audio gear as he slipped his jacket off. “It’s hot down here. This stuff generates some heat, huh?”

Storm handed him the silver letter opener from Ted’s work station. She moved into him until her head rested against his chest. Logan’s arms wound around her as he flipped the letter opener onto his jacket where he had laid it on a chair. His hands moved over Storm’s back, feeling her body warmth through the thin material of the robe. She looked up at him after a moment and Logan kissed her gently at first, moving his lips around her partially open mouth. Feeling Logan’s attraction for her through the robe she had allowed to fall open, Storm pulled him closer. Logan’s kisses changed quickly from gentle exploration to passionate insistence. Logan broke away reluctantly, forcing Storm to arms length.

“What…what’s wrong?” Storm asked, looking up at him with a soft, half lidded gaze Logan had to avert his eyes from for a moment to regain control.

“We need to beat this thing before anything else, baby,” Logan whispered.

“If this plan of mine doesn’t work… this might be the only time we’ll ever have,” Storm reasoned, stroking Logan’s arms as they held her away from him.

“Don’t say that, Storm. The stuff you’ve pulled off already is amazing. Your idea to freak out Grable with the bloody knife was sheer genius. You’re on a roll. We need to stick with it until after midnight. I care for you and…”

“You…you think you’ll weaken me by…” Storm giggled. “Okay, I get it. I’m a fatalist. I’ll either get it done or not. What happens tonight won’t depend on what we do or don’t do here.”

“I can’t help wondering why you’d look twice at a scarred up…”

“I can see more than you think.” Storm stroked his face with her fingertips.

Logan looked long and hard into Storm’s face before pulling her to him in a fevered rush. Storm moaned loudly as she opened her mouth to his. Logan pushed aside her robe as Storm undid the front of his pants, fumbling with eagerness.

“Oh Wendy… you whoooooo…” Janet called down from the top of the stairs. “I’m counting down from five and if you two aren’t up here by then, I’m coming down with a stun-gun.”

“Oh crap!” Storm muttered as Logan pulled away reluctantly. “I’m coming, you…”

“Temper, temper,” Janet cut her off with a laugh.

“I am so going to make your clothes disappear at the worst possible time. You’ll be…”

“Blah, blah… blah, blah, blah, turn that record over, Wendy,” Janet intoned. “Get up here before I come down and give you a good spanking.”

“Can I do it?” Logan called out, fending off a gasping attack from Storm and causing raucous laughter from the top of the staircase.

“You’re too willing, Jarhead,” Janet replied finally. “Now, march your underage butts up these stairs. You may be old enough to fight life and death battles with witches and demons but sex is off the table.”

Logan picked up his jacket and the letter opener, kissing Storm once more while urging her toward the stairs.

“I’ll get you for that remark,” Storm promised.

“Until then, Wendy… until then,” Logan said huskily as he followed her up the stairs.

* * * *

“You did it!” Grable met McGraff at the door, throwing it open as he approached.

McGraff nodded tiredly, a feeling he did not have to pretend. As Grable pulled him in, McGraff handed her the bloody knife and amulet. “They worked just as you said they would.”

“How did she die?” Grable asked, running her hand over the blooded knife ecstatically.

“You never thought I’d live, did you?”

“Odds were against it,” Grable admitted. “Oh, Kev, I can feel her on this blade, baby! C’mon, tell me how she died!”

“Screaming silently,” McGraff answered, keeping his eyes on Grable. “I have to leave, June. They’ll be coming after us now, big time.”

Grable wrapped her arms around him sensuously. “You don’t have to go. We’ve got them now. Stick around and I’ll take care of those two morons tonight. We’ll go to school today and intimidate to the max.”

“Look, I did what you asked, June. I’m getting the hell out of here for now. She wasn’t alone. There’s something more to those supposed parents of hers. I can reappear in a couple of weeks. I’ll get my folks to cover for me somehow.”

“Okay… go,” Grable agreed, taking up the knife again possessively. “I’ll call you when I’ve dealt with her parents. I need you back with me when I take care of this.”

“I’ll be back,” Kevin promised without looking away from her piercing gaze. He knew she was testing him. “You don’t need a murderer around you right now. You’ll be able to keep Blake and Eager in line without me. I doubt you’ll need me to send your demon out. I have to stop by my house and get cleaned up before I go. You have my cell number. Call me when this blows over.”

“Where can you go? You…”

“I have an Aunt in Cleveland. I’ll stay there. In fact I’ll phone you with her number.”

“Okay,” Grable replied, still stroking the knife. She looked up at McGraff finally. “Don’t forget about me, Kevin. I have a long reach.”

“Believe me, June, I know what’ll happen if I don’t stay in touch.”

Having said that, McGraff turned and walked from the doorway, needing all the willpower he could summon to keep from breaking into a run. He breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the door close behind him. Only after closing the driver’s side door of his car with him safely inside did McGraff glance at Grable’s house. Not seeing her on the porch, McGraff sped off, his hands gripping the steering wheel in a death grip.

* * * *

Logan saw McGraff’s car pull up in front of Storm’s house as he parked his Ponitac across the street. Kevin saw him and waited next to his car for Logan to cross the street. McGraff could see the barely concealed anger struggling across Logan’s scarred face. They had been friends for years, since they were kids. Now, McGraff knew he had been only moments from death earlier by his friend’s hand.

“Did you get it done?” Logan asked him coldly, stopping a few feet away.

“She believed Storm’s ruse. June could sense it was her blood on the knife. She filled in the blanks without my help. I…I’m sorry about all this, Logan.”

“It’s a little late for that now, Kev. Tracy really liked you. You’ve known her almost as long as we’ve known each other.”

“I’m not doing this because I’m afraid, Logan. This is the first time since I got into this mess I had a way out. You killing me would have been a blessing. If that thing takes me, it won’t stop with ripping me apart. It’ll suck my soul out.”

“I saw what it did in the park,” Logan admitted more quietly. “We consecrated the ground under the tree where you and Grable carved the marks. Those… those girls were released. I saw it happen. Their souls were freed.”

“Thank God!” For the first time, Kevin felt hope. “I talked them into it. Watching them die like they did… it killed something in me, Logan. It made me…”

“Leave it be for now,” Logan said, walking toward the house. “Let’s go inside. I have to get Storm into school so we can get this show on the road. Don’t even step outside, Kev. Once Grable sees Storm and the shock wears off, only her protection spell will keep you from ending up like those others.”

“Do you really think she can get rid of that devil?”

“From what I’ve seen, she’s the only one who can,” Logan replied, as they continued on into the house. “For your sake, you better pray she can.”

* * * *

“Hey, how do you feel?” Logan asked as he and Storm walked out to his Pontiac.

“I’m alive,” Storm replied wearily. “I thought I slept enough last night. Wrong. How come you can sleep on my porch and look like you slept in paradise?”

“I was thinking of you,” Logan glanced over with a smile.

“It’s that soldier thing, huh?”

“If you mean have I slept in worse places, the answer would have to be yes. I woke Father Daniels up. I told him the truth about last night. He found all the stuff you wanted and went through the whole ceremony without even questioning me. He heard about the bodies they found in Perkins Park. If you want his help in person, I’d bet he’d come.”

“We have a long way to go before midnight,” Storm replied, taking Logan’s hand and bringing it up to her lips. “I thought about you. Did you think about me while you were gone?”

“I haven’t thought of much else,” Logan admitted, opening the passenger side door for her. “What’s your plan once we get into school?”

“Go on like it’s just another day at high school,” Storm said. “She’ll be consolidating what she thinks was a win. Grable will be waiting for the police to run around asking useless questions about my death. Kevin said she’s planning on putting a scare into Ms. Blake and the Eager girl. Do you know Carmela?”

“Not really, but she’s in Grable’s English class with Chris and Nancy,” Logan answered after sliding into the driver’s seat and starting the car. “I’ve never taken an art class at Harding, so I don’t know much about Ms. Blake either.”

“Maybe we’ll have a chance to sidetrack them away from this before Grable gets to them this morning.” Storm’s cell-phone vibrated suddenly in her hand.

“I thought of you too, Wendy,” Janet snickered over the phone after Storm answered it. “Forgot you were wired again, did you?”

“You…are…so…annoying!” Storm spit out each word with emphasis as Logan laughed. He figured the reason for the call and Storm’s reaction.

“Archibald says good thinking on our loose ends. I’m on my way to the Honda as we speak to round them up after I have a chat with the Principal. Unless she does a round robin to their houses before school, I’ll get to the two of them before she does.”

“Good, if nothing else, you can take them out of the game,” Storm replied seriously. “If they don’t react to their chance to get out of this as Kevin did, at least I won’t have to be watching for them over my shoulder. The Goth’s got skills. She’ll send her trolls after me once she sees I’m still alive.”

“Not today, Wendy,” Janet retorted. “You and the Jarhead stay out of the broom closets too. Picture me pointing my fingers at my eyes and then at you. I’ll be…”

“Bite me, Scully!” Storm cut her off, and hung up.

Tracy, Chris, Nancy, and Carol were waiting for Logan and Storm near the high school entrance. The group’s solemn faces made it clear after the past night’s encounter with Grable they knew being Storm’s allies could mean their lives, or worse, their souls. Without any preamble, Storm related the events concerning Kevin. She explained her plan was to throw Grable off balance.

“We have her for first period,” Chris said. “Should we skip class today? You, Tracy, and Logan don’t have to attend her class. The rest of us will be in an on going horror show.”

“I can’t tell you what to do, Chris,” Storm replied sympathetically. “The woman FBI agent you met will be here to talk with Principal Spelling and keep an eye on the Goth. If you’re too freaked out, don’t go. After last night, I’m not going to tell you there’s no danger. You all know better than that.”

“It would help screw with her mind though,” Carol put in. “I’m going.”

“I’m in,” Nancy added. “We’ll catch up to you in Chemistry, and let you know if she has happy feet in anticipation of taking us out since she thinks you’re dead.”

“Yeah, when do you plan on raining on her parade, Willow?” Chris asked, grinning at Storm’s immediate frown at her Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference.

“It will only take me a minute to get out of Physics class,” Storm answered. “Instead of hooking up in Chemistry, I’ll head right over for a meet outside Grable’s classroom. Then I’ll pop in on her and say hi.”

“No way I miss that,” Tracy spoke for the first time. “I’m coming along. If the three of us sit in the back of Powanda’s class today, we can get out fast.”

“Okay then, I’m in,” Chris agreed. “The Goth will come unglued.”

“That’s the plan,” Storm said. “After school, we all need to lay low until I nail her familiar. Without that thing backing her play, we’ll have the upper hand.”

“Don’t spoil our surprise,” Logan added, speaking to the three girls in Grable’s class. “Grable will be stunned the three of you came to class. Pretend like it’s just another day.”

“I doubt we’ll pull that off,” Chris muttered. “So what happens to Kevin now?”

“That’s up to the FBI,” Storm answered. “I’m not sure there’s a lot of physical evidence linking him with the killings but he’s definitely an accomplice. I doubt whether the two agents working with us know for sure what will happen to Kevin.”

“We better go inside,” Logan advised, looking at his watch.

* * * *

Janet entered Harding High School via one of the side entrances. She made her way quickly to Principal Spelling’s office. After exchanging pleasantries with the office secretary, Janet asked to see Spelling. The secretary picked up her phone and rang in Spelling’s office. After a moment Spelling answered. Hearing who waited for him in the office, Spelling came to his door and gestured smilingly for Janet to come in. She stopped Spelling from propping the door open.

“We need to talk in private,” Janet advised.

Spelling nodded and closed his door.

“Come in, and sit down, Ms. Crandall,” Spelling said, pulling out a chair in front of his desk for Janet to sit down on. “How can I help you?”

“My real name is Janet Dixon,” Janet explained, showing Spelling her identification. “I’m with the FBI’s special crimes unit. My partner and I are here investigating the killings in Perkins Park.”

“So, your daughter… I mean the girl posing as your daughter is an agent too?” Spelling asked in confusion.

“No, she’s a student from Columbus, who agreed to help us with her parents’ consent,” Janet replied, telling half the truth. “She’s been instrumental in getting us this far. We have a solid lead to one of your teachers as the ring leader of a cult, involving students and faculty.”

“Oh my God…” Spelling muttered, stumbling around his desk and sitting down, while Janet took a seat in front of him. “Wha…what do you want me to do?”

“Nothing,” Janet stated. “I need to shadow June Grable and make sure she doesn’t cause anymore trouble in school while we complete our investigation. Also, I need you to call in Cynthia Blake, the Meyers twins, and Carmela Eager without any announcements. If you could send one of your assistants out to bring them to the office I’d appreciate it. Above all, I don’t want Grable tipped off. My partner will be here shortly to pick them all up. They will be held incommunicado until further notice.”

“I…I can’t believe this. Is it safe to even allow Ms. Grable to be in the same classroom with the other kids? Why take a chance on her doing harm?”

“It’s not as easy as it seems,” Janet replied. “We are in the evidence gathering stage at this time. I’ll be watching her. I need a letter of permission signed by you. If I do have a run in with someone around here, I’ll be able to show them your letter, allowing me to be in the school. Blake and Eager will be taken to a place of safety.”

“They have rights,” Spelling reminded her. “If they don’t want to go with you, what then?”

“Oh, they’ll be most cooperative,” Janet told him without hesitation. “You’ll see. Gather them one at a time so they don’t get a look at each other before getting in here. The twins can be brought in together.”

“I’ll send my assistant after Carmela right now, then Ms. Blake later, and finally the Meyers twins.” Spelling picked up the phone and outlined to his secretary what he wanted done.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Prisoner

I'm working on a new odd failure on a 2000 Nissan Quest but I'm awaiting parts. I don't want to post the pictures and my suspicions until things work out as I suspect they will. Here is Storm Chapter 9.

“If you bunch are more relaxed now, let’s talk,” Janet said. “There’s not much to add to what each of you saw with your own eyes. We know what killed those kids and who summoned it. We don’t know yet how many students and faculty are involved in this Temple of Set spin-off. Ted and I aren’t going to insult your intelligence with platitudes about how much we can do. I’ll be around the school. All of you will have my cell-phone number if you need to contact me. Storm will have a list of people we decipher from the Temple of Set membership ranks who are also attending or teaching at Harding. She’ll get it to you before school tomorrow.”

“You almost killed Grable,” Carol pointed out. “Would all this end if you did?”

“We’re not sure,” Janet answered truthfully. “Grable’s untimely death is still on the table. It’s…it’s just we… I mean…”

“What my partner’s trying to say is it’s not as easy as you think to just blow someone away in cold blood. Tonight, we were in a battle for our lives,” Ted explained. “We also know the Amadors have a part in this and we don’t know what. This thing is beyond our expertise; which is why if any of you want to stop helping us, all we ask is you don’t tell anyone else.”

“One thing’s for sure,” Janet added. “There will be no more field trips like tonight. If…”

“I found it!” Storm exclaimed excitedly as she ran into the room, holding up an odd looking bell that actually clanged eerily as she jogged in. “It’s the key to my protection spell against Grable. I bought it in an antique store in Salem when my folks took me there on vacation. The spell is…”

“You mean Salem, Massachusetts?” Tracy asked, glancing around at her silent companions, who were all watching Storm attentively. “The place where they burned the witches?”

“They never burned anyone,” Storm replied, taking a seat next to Logan. She placed the bell on the table in front of her. “Nineteen died by hanging and one was pressed to death for not submitting himself to the trial. An unknown number died in prison. Anyway, yes, that’s the place. I read about a protection spell involving a four sided bronze bell. When I was in the antique shop I asked about it. The guy who owned the place grinned at me and went immediately into the back room. When he came out he had this in his hand. It has a very odd tone to it.”

“Let me get this straight, Wendy,” Janet said, laying her hands on the table palms down. “You’re going to beat the demon to death with a bell?”

“No, Scully,” Storm laughed with the rest of her friends at Janet’s attempt at levity. “This bell is part of a spell to keep Grable from torturing me to death.”

The immediate silence following Storm’s pronouncement made her laugh.

“Relax, I’m stating the facts,” Storm gestured in a nonchalant fashion. “I have to get to work on it right now while Grable may still be recovering from our visit.”

“What do you need?” Ted asked quickly.

“Just that cupboard over there.” Storm pointed at one of the small storage cupboards lined up behind Janet. “We don’t have a fireplace so naturally there’s no recess nook or cupboard next to a fireplace to put the bell in. One of those small cupboards will do. I have the spell right here.”

Storm held up a small card she had carried in with the bell.

“All I have to do is put the bell in the recess of the cupboard and read the spell.”

“You have to believe too, remember?” Logan put in, covering her hand with his.

“Oh, I believe big time.” Storm grinned. “I never felt anything like what happened tonight. I zapped that thing! I mean I really zapped it. When the salt and holy water you guys threw blew it apart, I just… what… what’s wrong?”

“We’re scared, you freak!” Chris blurted out. “This may seem like some goofy witch video game to you, but if we don’t stop this thing, it knows where we live. Even your damn FBI buddies don’t have a clue as to how we can stop this thing.”

“It was awesome, Storm… I mean… what you did,” Nancy added hesitantly. “But this stuff is too deep to get all happy feet on us.

Storm stood up slowly. “You don’t get it. I feel it. Grable’s not coming after you bunch. She’s coming after me. The alternative to my getting happy feet, as you say, is to just give up. You’re right, this isn’t a game. We did great tonight in a life or death situation. We kicked ass tonight - together. Janet, Logan, and I saw five tortured souls scream out of the ground in Perkins Park this morning. We freed five souls! They weren’t going to Disneyland. They were going to hell!”

“I…I felt something when I held the cross you gave me,” Carol said, holding it up. “When that thing charged, I knew in my heart it couldn’t get us. I’m in until it’s over. I wouldn’t be here if not for Logan and Storm.”

“My older brother would kick my ass to kingdom come if I let the Hulk down,” Tracy put in. “I know he’s goin’ Storm’s way no matter what the rest of you do. Besides, it did feel good to kick demon ass. I’m sick of evil sequels. Let’s end this piece of shit once and for all.”

“Sorry Storm,” Nancy said, “I’m in too.”

“I’m with you Willow.” Chris sighed, leaning back in her chair. “But I ain’t ever going back over to the Goth’s house.”

Chris leaned forward suddenly, holding back laughter. “Did…did you guys hear Nancy ask that fruit-loop Kevin ‘hey, what is this, Kevin, a sleep over’. Oh man, I almost lost it right then.”

“Thank you for your help,” Ted stated sincerely as the others enjoyed a laugh over Chris’s remark. “We’re hanging so far out on the proverbial limb, I’m not sure we can find our way back. Any intel you kids can give us while we try to put an end to this nightmare will be greatly appreciated.”

“Ditto,” Janet added simply.

“And…and you will be there if Grable comes to class?” Nancy asked, looking questioningly at Janet.

“If I do this right, Nancy,” Janet replied, with almost a grimace, “you won’t see me unless you need me. Grable might see me when she least expects to. I’m not infallible, but I will blow that bitch to hell without blinking an eye.”

“I better get started,” Storm remarked, picking up the bell. She headed over to the small cupboard she had sensed would be the right one to place it in.

Storm opened the cupboard, which was bare of any normal accouterments. She slid the bell into the furthest recess of the cupboard before shutting the cupboard door. Placing her two hands on the face of the cupboard door, Storm lowered her head and recited the spell.

“'Metto nel buco del cammino, Questo campanello per tenere lontano, Pluto e le sue compagne, Che in questa casa non si possino presentare;…”

Storm shuddered, clutching at her stomach. She groaned loudly, trying to mouth the words. She collapsed. Logan leaped from his seat, hurrying over to where she had fallen before anyone else reacted. He plucked the card from her hand and took up the chant.

“Ne in forma di cane e ne di gatto, Ne di topo, ne di civetta, Ne di serpe, e ne di cornacchia, Quando alla mia casa si vengano, A presenta questa campano, suonare E tutti maligni si possino allontanare.”

The moment Logan finished the chant, everyone jumped when the bell started ringing away by itself and then was silent. Storm was able to sit up with Janet’s help.

“I…I fooled around too long,” Storm gasped, looking up at Logan. “Thanks.”

“Glad it worked, or we would have had to make a fast trip over to the Goth’s house again,” Logan stated seriously as he and Janet helped Storm up into her chair.

“Will it work through the night?” Ted asked.

“It should work until I remove it. Keep those crosses with you when you go home. I have more.”

“What are you, The Exorcist?” Chris asked only half in jest.

“I kind of… freaked out after pulling a stunt at my last school,” Storm admitted. “I felt something was after me. I…I thought I saw things that weren’t there. Until I bought the crosses I couldn’t sleep.”

“What did the words mean you said earlier?” Carol asked. “You know, when you zapped the demon.”

“O fire of burning purification, Lord of destruction and the sign of rebirth! Residing in my hand throttle my foe!” Storm translated her earlier long range attack from the Latin with passion, and then shrugged when her friends seemed to be stifling laughter. “Hey, it worked.”

“What about the Bell Spell?” Janet asked.

“That one will really make you laugh. The Latin means ‘in this comer of the cupboard I put this bell to drive afar Pluto and his company. That in this house they may not come, neither in form of dog or cat, nor of mole, nor of an owl, nor of serpent, nor of crow. Should they come into my home, may the bell ringing drive the wretches away.”

“Comer? Pluto?” Nancy repeated questioningly. “What…”

“Curved corner, like the inside of the cupboard I picked,” Storm interrupted. “Pluto was the Roman God of the dead.”

“Okay, I’m over my strangeness limit,” Tracy declared, standing up. “Take us home, Hulk. If you have to assault fortress Goth tonight folks, I wish you luck. I’m going to be home with all the windows and doors locked, bonding with my cross.”

The goodbyes were subdued, as the girls filed out to Logan’s Pontiac. Logan hung back to talk with Ted.

“Should I come back after I drop my friends off?” Logan asked seriously.

“Thanks for the offer,” Ted replied quietly. “I don’t want the neighbors more interested in us than they already are. Keep your cell-phone on. I’ll call you if we can use you.”

“I will,” Logan agreed. He went over and gripped Storm’s hand gently. “I’ll see you in school. Can I come by and pick you up?”

“Sure,” Storm answered immediately. She leaned into him, raising her head. Logan kissed her lingeringly until catcalls from outside ended the moment.

“What did Logan talk to you about?” Storm asked Ted, watching Logan jog out to his Pontiac. “It looked serious.”

“The kid volunteered to come back over in case there’s trouble tonight,” Ted answered and then did a double take at the exasperated gasp Storm gave him. “What?”

“I think Wendy here wants to play house,” Janet ventured, putting Storm in a gentle neck lock. “Why don’t you call your folks? They’ll get you back…”

“They already called when I was digging around for the bell.” Storm ducked out of Janet’s hold. “They were wondering how we were doing, so I told them we were making some progress. I wasn’t planning on playing house, by the way. Did you see what he did when that witch nailed me before I finished the spell? If not for Logan, I’d still be writhing around on the floor. It felt like someone rammed a red hot poker right in my gut.”

“Could she have killed you like that?” Ted asked, leading the way back into the kitchen.

“I don’t think so,” Storm answered truthfully. “She could make me wish I was dead. Logan believes and the spell worked. The key is faith. Even with all you two have seen, I’m pretty sure neither of you has the faith to ring the bell. Let’s call him. He can stay in my room.”

Ted and Janet both laughed as they sat down at the kitchen table once again.

“I better go get an idea of who else is on the membership from Harding,” Storm said, staying by the door. “I have a theory there are only two more other than the ones we already know about.”

“Where’d you come up with only two more?” Janet asked.

“Grable, Kevin, the Amadors, the twins, and the five dead kids,” Storm explained in a hushed voice. “I believe whatever they called up from hell is feeding on them.”

“Shit!? What the hell does that mean?” Janet exclaimed, looking at Ted and then Storm.

“It means if Storm’s right, we’ll at least know who this thing will be coming after next,” Ted answered. “If you find only two more Harding High School people on the membership list, it will lend credence to your theory. Assuming you’re right, what reason would this demon have for executing its hosts?”

“I’m betting Grable will survive. She’ll move on with the added power to form a new coven somewhere,” Storm replied. “This whole sick scenario will repeat itself and a second demon will be added.”

“Can you kill this monster?” Ted asked.

“I need to ask Logan to presume on Father Daniels again. We need old candle wax from the church, blessed incense, and a silver blade blessed in ceremony at the church. I’ll need to make an effigy of the creature and attach the piece we collected to it. I plunge the blessed blade into the effigy exactly at midnight under the tree where it was conjured. We then need to melt it in a fire with the incense mixed in.”

“Oh boy, there’s some good news.” Janet dropped her head down comically on the kitchen table. “Perkins Park at midnight under Satan’s tree.”

“Maybe we should suck it up and go over there tonight,” Ted suggested, evoking a quick irritated look from Janet, whose head popped up fast with his suggestion.

“We don’t have the stuff we need. Besides, I’m too weak to pull it off,” Storm admitted. “Just as with your case, I have to pull this stunt off perfectly or our DNA from the creature will be gone and it’ll still be alive.”

“Good enough,” Ted agreed. “Go confirm your suspicions about two more coven members. We’ll go down with you. Then, let’s get some sleep. It sounds like one hell of a long day coming up tomorrow.”

Kevin McGraff parked his car around the block from Storm Crandall’s address. He turned off his lights, sitting quietly in the pre-dawn darkness, trying to figure out where the night had gone wrong. After hearing some of Crandall’s suspicions, he had immediately called June Grable, explaining in detail what had happened at the table with Logan and the other girls. June had invited him over after school, telling him they would handle this together, promising him a reward for his diligence.

Grable turned him inside out, ever since he had been invited over her house in his sophomore year and she had seduced him. June, as Kevin called her when they were alone, had been the single most exotic experience he had ever had. Enticing others into their group as Grable’s recruiter, Kevin became more and more enamored with earning sexual favors from Grable. The double life of weird séances in the park at midnight, while acting out a normal high school routine, had been intensely erotic to McGraff. Now all their work was at risk, thanks to this Crandall girl.

Earlier, Grable had patiently explained to the police how when the porch gave way. There had been loud cracking and popping noises the neighbors may have confused with gunfire. Her calm explanation and the physical evidence of the collapse had waylaid police suspicion. Grable had grabbed Kevin’s arm the moment she was rid of the police. She then hustled him downstairs into her basement once again.

Starting from scratch charged Kevin up even more because of Grable’s blending of sexual and Satanic rites. Grable then lanced the Storm Crandall effigy with a long thin ornate pin after completion of their ceremony. Watching his paramour laugh and clutch the effigy to her almost sensuously, McGraff had figured their problem was about to be solved. Without warning, the thunderous clamor of a bell rang out, causing Grable to scream out in pain, as she threw the doll out of the six pointed star. Grable lay on the cement floor writhing in pain and fury for ten minutes, her hands clamped over her ears.

Later, Grable had plotted with McGraff to kill Crandall in her sleep.

“You can do this, Kevin,” Grable had urged him huskily. “They won’t expect anything tonight after all that’s happened. Once she’s dead, we’ll be safe.”

“Those parents of hers can’t be just a mom and pop interested in their daughter’s welfare, June. They had guns and they knew how to use them,” Kevin had argued. “Crandall’s Mom nearly killed you. I saw the way she fired the gun. She knew what she was doing. Maybe we should leave now while we have the opportunity.”

“We can’t,” Grable stated ominously. “There’s no going back now. Our plan was proceeding perfectly until those three bitches mucked around in the park. Now, we’ll have to stick it out.”

“Crandall found the tree,” Kevin reminded her. “You said no one could find the tree.”

“She has some… skill,” Grable allowed reluctantly.

“Small doubt about that - she fired bolts of energy at your familiar.”

“You have to kill her, Kevin! I’ll guide you to her bedroom. I’ll give you a talisman. It will allow you to enter the house without detection. Slit her throat with this knife.” Grable had handed him a foot long, wood handled knife with odd markings burned into the handle. “Believe me, there’s no other way.”

“What about sending your familiar?”

“It has to recover. It’s sealed from the house by the same spell keeping me from handling the bitch.”

“I don’t think I can do it, June.”

“You remember those five kids I had to sacrifice?” Grable asked, her voice a quiet icy rasp of menace. “They wanted out too.”

So, here I am, Kevin thought, looking down at the teardrop shaped, yellowish brown teak amulet. A thin leather thong passed through a hole drilled in the amulet at the thinnest part. He shuddered, remembering the five times Grable’s demon familiar took a life near the tree in Perkins Park. Images of silently shrieking faces flashed through McGraff’s mind, and he hurriedly left the car with amulet and knife.

Moving along the nearly silent streets, with gently shifting leaves the only sound, McGraff slipped the thin black ski mask over his face. Dressed completely in black, McGraff stayed close to the house fronts, his passing noted by only the occasional dog bark. Fifteen minutes later, McGraff crouched across the street from the Crandall house, taking deep breaths. When he had his nerves as well as his breath under control, Kevin sprinted across the street and up onto the porch entrance to Storm’s house. Holding the amulet tightly in his left hand, Kevin gently turned the doorknob.

“Hi, Kev,” Logan’s voice growled from beside him.

Kevin had only time to turn slightly before a huge fist slammed into his stomach, causing the air to launch out of him as if propelled by a shotgun blast. McGraff gasped painfully for air, collapsing to the porch floor on his side. He tried weakly to bring the knife up, but Logan kicked him in the side, evoking a scream of pain. The knife fell out of his fingers and onto the porch. Ted came running from the back of the house in his pajamas as Janet whipped the front door open, gun drawn.

Logan?” Janet peered out, hitting the light switch.

“What’d you catch, kid?” Ted asked, walking up on the porch as he lowered his weapon. “I thought I told you to go home and get some sleep.”

“I dozed,” Logan said simply, patting down the groaning Kevin for any additional weapons. “I had a bad feeling so I came back after I dropped the girls off. I was in the dark corner of the porch when Kev here decided to pay a visit.”

Janet, dressed in a robe, eased out around Kevin, and pulled off his ski mask.

“How’d you know it was Kevin.”

“The way he moved. I heard him approach from down the street and watched him make his move on the porch. He was clutching this in his hand. The door opened like it wasn’t locked.”

Logan handed Ted the amulet while Janet picked up the knife with a handkerchief she pulled out from her robe. Logan helped Kevin to his feet and into the house, where a yawning Storm was just walking down the stairs. She looked at the procession coming through the front door in open mouthed confusion.

“For God’s sake, Wendy,” Janet said in exasperation, “put a robe on.”

Storm realized she only wore a short night gown. She began to turn back up the stairs. She pointed a finger at Logan, who grinned and looked away as she ran up the stairs to get her robe. Storm joined them in the kitchen. Janet leaned against the stove tiredly, fiddling with the coffee maker. Logan and Ted sat on either side of McGraff. Kevin looked up at Storm sullenly. Ted quickly explained the situation, and showed Storm the amulet.

“You should have let Logan stay in my room,” Storm joked, smiling at Logan and taking the amulet from Ted hesitantly, feeling the dark aura of the amulet. “Wow, Grable cast a spell to hide your presence and open a dead bolted door, huh? I’m glad I have friends.”

“It’s nice you’re in such a good mood, Wendy,” Janet said sarcastically. “Grable’s desperate. She played her sidekick card. On the other hand, if Logan hadn’t been stowing away on our porch, it might have worked. Now what?”

“I’m sure Mr. McGraff would be glad to take us through all this in detail,” Ted remarked.

McGraff kept quiet.

“You do understand all we have to do is let you go and the Goth will take care of you for us,” Janet added. “She won’t like the way you botched your assassination mission. Maybe she’ll sic the hoodoo on you like she did the other five kids in your coven.”

McGraff’s head shot up as he twisted toward Janet. “How…”

“We do this for a living, Einstein,” Janet cut him off. “From the moment we saw you in the basement, alone with Zelda, we figured you as the recruiter. We’re FBI agents, not psychics.”

“Jesus…” McGraff whispered, running his hands through his hair. “I…I never meant for anyone to get hurt, let alone killed. By the time it started happening, it was too late. You’ve seen that…that demon.”

McGraff shut up abruptly, putting his head in his hands as he leaned with his elbows on the table. Ted and Janet exchanged knowing looks. They had him. After a moment, McGraff lifted his head and went on.

“There’s no excuse for what I’ve done. If you knew all this and could have stopped it, you would have. You couldn’t and neither could I,” McGraff admitted ruefully, as Ted stood up and took cups of coffee from Janet and passed them out. “I started hanging with June for sex and excitement. We lit candles, carved in trees, and paraded around naked. Then June conjured her hellish familiar and everything changed. The younger girls freaked. They wanted out. When it took one of them right in front of our eyes, we all started running. It swept around us, herding everyone back to Grable. She told us we were in it now and there was no way out.”

“Okay.” Janet nodded, sitting across from him with her coffee. Storm sat next to her. “We know how she got you. How’d she get the others - the older Amador and the other teacher… uh… Blake, was it, Ted?”

“Cynthia Blake, the art teacher, and Carmela Eager, a junior,” Ted answered, remembering the names Storm had found, which coincided with their Temple of Set membership list.

“June… June doesn’t care who she’s with. I recruited the kids. She seduced them. I filmed it. We blackmailed them. She recruited Dave’s Father and the art teacher. I filmed it and they were screwed. Then, like I said, when they saw the deaths, and how futile running would be, they protected June as best they could.”

“But…but how did she keep you others conforming while she had that devil pick off those five girls one after another?” Storm asked, stunned at how Grable had coerced her coven into being.

“June told us after each death the dead girl had been threatening to out the rest of us,” McGraff replied. “We were terrified.”

“Not terrified enough to keep you from setting your sights on Tracy, you…” Logan grabbed McGraff’s hair, wrenching his head back, before anyone could react.

A split second later, Logan had his arms folded in a press around McGraff’s neck. Pulling McGraff out of the chair like a small child as Kevin gasped for air, Logan held him in a death grip Ted recognized. Ted gestured the others to stay back. Storm saw death written across the young Marine’s face.

“Don’t do it, kid!” Ted warned. “We’d have to arrest you for murder.”

“Stay out of this!” Logan retorted, making the move to snap McGraff’s neck.

“Wait!!” Storm screamed, hurrying around the table, her hands held in pleading fashion. “I have a plan for him! Logan, listen to me. I need him!”

Logan paused, glaring pointedly at Storm, trying to decipher whether she was making up her need for McGraff. He pulled Kevin further away from Ted. McGraff’s hands waved and grasped at Logan’s arm at his windpipe helplessly, his feet barely scraping the floor.

“It will involve the knife and my blood!” Storm yelled, putting a hand on Logan’s shoulder. “Please, let him go and I’ll explain.”

“Listen to her, Logan,” Janet urged coldly, not caring one way or another if Logan broke McGraff’s neck or not. “You can always snap the little prick’s neck later.”

“Oh… thanks Jan,” Ted muttered, sitting back down.

Logan shifted his grip. He slammed McGraff down in his chair. Kevin heaved himself back and forth, trying to suck air into his lungs for the second time that night. “If your idea will help stop this thing… he lives. If you’re bullshitting me, Storm, he dies. Your friends here will have to shoot me to prevent it. I promised Tracy’s brother I wouldn’t let anything happen to his sister. Shit… I acted like a damn pimp for this asshole.”

“I’m not shooting him,” Janet said calmly, sipping her coffee.