We headed back to my parents’ house before we left for the compound so they could grab some clothes and our dogs. The twins adamantly refused to leave them behind. I couldn’t blame them; while I couldn’t stand Lulu, Mom’s Miniature Poodle (and trust me, the feeling was mutual), I adored our two beagles, Dan and Ann, and absolutely loved Hondo, the four-year old Rottweiler I’d adopted as a puppy.
Hondo and I went way back. I’d adopted him right at the end of my junior year in college, a few months after my uncle had… died. The family was still hurting, me especially. I was still really broken up emotionally, even after the sessions with the pshrink and my meetings with Dr. Young. A good friend of mine from school, who also lived locally, and his parents bred Rottweilers, and he knew I was having a rough time, so he and his folks gave me my pick of the litter. Mom and Dad hadn’t been thrilled when I brought Hondo home. Okay, they’d been downright ticked – Mom hated big dogs – but there was nothing they could do about it.
I spent that entire summer training Hondo. It had been tough, but it was more than worth it. He and I really bonded over those four long months. I gave him my complete love and devotion, and he returned the favor one hundred fold. Jake and Terry warmed up to him really fast, and by the end of the summer Dad had softened his opinion of Hondo. Mom, however, took a bit more convincing.
Said convincing happened one Friday morning that fall when the twins were at school, I was walking Dan and Ann (I commuted to college), and Dad had Lulu at the vet. Mom hated to be left alone in the house with Hondo because she was afraid he’d attack her for no good reason (nevermind the fact that he loved her to death), but that day she had no choice. Good thing too, because about twenty minutes after I left, a punk with a ski mask and a crow bar kicked in our front door. Twenty seconds later, he found himself penned into the corner of the living room by seventy snarling pounds of angry six-month old Rottwieler, followed in a few moments by forty-odd pounds of howling beagles and the barrel of my .380 Walther PPK.
To make a long story short, the cops came and arrested the guy (we later learned he was wanted for multiple home invasion robberies, one of which ended in a homicide), and Mom found herself head over heels in love with Hondo. Only downside was my parents made me get rid of the Walther, which they didn’t know I’d bought. I did sell it the week after, but used the money to buy my P6 (they never did find out about that one), so it wasn’t all bad.
Hondo was full-grown now, one hundred and five pounds of purebred loyalty and affection. We’d become all but inseparable, and it had broken my heart when I’d had to leave him. Mom and Dad had moved out to Bluebell to be closer to Dad’s office, while my job had kept me on the Main Line, and I hadn’t been able to find an apartment that would let me have a dog. Not one that I could afford anyway.
When we pulled into the driveway, I got one heck of a homecoming. No sooner did Dad open the door than Hondo came literally flying outside, knocked me down, and started attacking my face with his tongue. It took two minutes and the combined effort of me, the twins, and Dad to haul him off of me. Even then, he wouldn’t calm down; he kept trying to stand up and lick my face.
The welcome abruptly ended when the rest of the team tried to head inside to help my family pack their things. Hondo snapped right back into guard-dog mode, getting between them and the doorway and snapping at anyone who dared come close. It took another few minutes to convince him that Dominique and company were friends and to get him introduced and acclimated to everyone. That was time we didn’t have. We ended up running into the house, throwing random articles into suitcases, and piling them, the dogs, and the dogs’ things into the backs of the SUVs (which were already filled with our guns and gear) and my parents’ Mazda minivan.
The ride back up to Scranton turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Hondo insisted on riding with me, and no one really had the heart to force him out of the Expedition (either that or he still freaked everyone out enough that they left him alone.) It was a two hour ride, and in that time Hondo became fast friends with Odette, Dominique, Scotty, and Owen.
That all changed once we got to the compound. Sure, the dogs went crazy examining their new surroundings, but I didn’t have time to enjoy that.
Mom and Dad didn’t really take to the compound. Okay, scratch that. They hated it. I’m sure by the time I finished high school, they were worried that I was going to end up living in a paramilitary compound in the middle of the woods somewhere. They’re worst nightmare had just about come true. Not the fact that they’d just learned that all of the B-grade horror film monsters are real certainly wasn’t helping matters, but rather the knowledge that I lived in a place where everyone went around packing heat and carried assault rifles for a living. My parents were committed pacifists: they hate guns.
To this day, I can’t figure out just how I turned out the way I did.
Plus, they were very much ticked at the fact that I was being hunted by a Master Vampire and hadn’t bothered to warn them, considering the fact that Robert might decide to use them to get to me. Being informed that in four hundred plus years of recorded Monster history, there have only been three known instances of vampires holding blood feuds didn’t ease their fury at me.
Anyway, Dominique headed to her office to call Earl and inform him about our little wight encounter while the rest of us helped move my family into our remaining guest quarters. The compound was suddenly very crowded; the eight of us, plus Owen and Julie, plus my parents, two brothers, and five dogs made for very little personal space in the main building.
Once everyone was settled in, I took Hondo and the beagles for a long walk around the compound whilst giving Jake and Terry a tour of the place. Mom and Dad declined to accompany us. I kept my FAL slung over my shoulder just in case we got hit, and Chris and Owen came with us, bringing their guns as well. We weren’t really expecting Robert to try and hit us at the compound again, but just in case…
Dominique was waiting for us when we got back to the main building. I could tell she had news, and somehow I knew it wouldn’t be good. I shooed the twins and the dogs inside before asking her what was going on.
“I just got off the phone with Earl. He’d already heard about what had happened and he’s pissed.”
“How’d he manage that?” I asked.
“He has a, uh, contact in the MCB,” Owen explained. From his tone, I gathered that he didn’t care much for Earl’s contact. I got the feeling that Earl probably didn’t like the guy either.
“What’s the situation?” Chris asked her.
“Robert’s now our number-one priority,” Dominique said.
“You mean the team’s?” I asked.
“I mean the company’s.” I blinked in surprise.
“Civilians got caught in the crossfire,” Dominique explained, “He’s upped the ante on us. We figure it’s only a matter of time before he starts deliberately targeting civilians to draw us out. We need to take him down before that happens.”
We all nodded at that. She was right; the stakes had been raised dramatically tonight. If we didn’t take the fight to Robert soon, innocent people were going to get hurt. We couldn’t let that happen. Still, I couldn’t help but think about…
“What about Odette?” I asked.
“She’s going to have to roll with it,” Dominique replied. “She doesn’t have a choice.”
“What if she tries to stop us from taking him out?” Owen asked, “Tries to protect her?”
“We can’t let her do that.”
“I know that, but—”
“No, you don’t.” At our puzzled looks, she continued. “The Feds have Robert at the top of the PUFF list now; he’s their number-one priority too. And if they find out that one of ours is protecting a high-level Master Vamp—”
“They’ll shut us down in half a heartbeat,” Chris finished.
“No, they’ll probably take Odette out to make sure she won’t interfere, then shut us down in half a heartbeat.” I felt my blood chill a few degrees.
“Yeah. The Feds will do anything to stop Master Vamps. That includes taking out anyone they might think is aiding them. Word gets out that Odette still has feelings for Robert…” she trailed off, but I knew. If the Feds found out she still loved him, then she’d find herself on the wrong end of a sniper rifle. I felt like throwing up.
Dominique said something to Chris and Owen. Maybe she was talking to me too, I don’t know; I wasn’t paying attention. The three of them headed inside. I followed, more on instinct than anything else.
Mom, Dad, and the twins were staying on the first floor, in our second guest suite. I walked right passed it. I found myself walking up the steps to the second floor; the team’s quarters. I stopped outside Odette’s room.
The door was open. I looked in to see her sitting on the sofa. The television was on, it was some random Prime Time show, but she was ignoring it, instead trying to bore a hole through the wall above the TV with her thousand-yard stare. I rapped gently on the doorframe. She turned and looked over at me.
“Can I come in?”
I walked in and sat down next to her. She went back to staring at the wall, ignoring me. I started to absently study whatever was on the TV. It was one of those “real-life drama” shows, and I quickly decided that it was crap. Actually, calling it crap would be doing it a favor. After a moment of very uncomfortable silence, I spoke.
“Dominique talked to Earl. He said that Robert…”
“…is our number-one priority, I know,” Odette finished, “She told me too.” Her eyes hadn’t moved from the wall.
“Oh,” was all I could think to say. That awkward silence draped back over us.
“Earl’s right, you know,” I ventured after a moment, “He is a threat. Not just to us, but to everyone. We have to take him out.”
“I know,” Odette snapped, still staring at the wall. “I get it, okay? I know he’s dangerous, I know we’re going to have to kill him, I know he’s evil now!” She sighed. “But that doesn’t make it any easier.” She whispered that last part; I doubt she meant for me to hear it.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I just… I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’m already hurt.” I saw a tear start to flow down her cheek. She blinked it back, sniffled, and went right back to staring a hole in the wall. I just sat there, absently watching the TV. It was at a commercial break now, thank God. I felt like crap. Every time I tried to make her feel better, I completely screwed things up.
A high-pitched whining in the doorway grabbed my attention. I looked over to see Hondo sitting just outside of the room, a mournful expression in his eyes.
“What’s up with him?” Odette asked.
“I think he wants to come in. Is that all right?” Odette considered it for a minute.
“Okay, sure, whatever.”
“C’mere Hondo,” I said, pointing at the floor in front of the sofa. Hondo needed no second bidding and quickly trotted into the room, his claws clacking on the vinyl flooring. To my surprise, he completely brushed passed me, instead walking right up to Odette and setting his big head down in her lap.
“What’s he doing?” Odette asked nervously. She still wasn’t all that comfortable around Hondo, and with the bad rap the Rottweiler’s picked up over the years (unfairly if you ask me), I couldn’t really blame her.
“I think he wants you to give him a scratch behind the ears.”
“Are you sure? He’s not going to bite me or anything, right?”
“Nah, he only does that to burglars.”
“Okay…” she hesitantly reached down and slowly stroked his head. Hondo gave a contented sigh and closed his eyes.
“I think he likes you,” I said after a moment.
“Wow. Uh, what’s he doing?” Odette had stopped petting him, so he turned his head to look at her. The look on his face said ‘what the heck did you stop for? I was enjoying that.’
“He’s annoyed that you stopped.”
“You’re kidding. I just petted him.”
“I know, but he didn’t get enough love.”
“Oh brother.” She started scratching him behind the ear again anyway. After a minute, a soft smile appeared on her face.
“Yeah, dogs are great like that.”
“What do you mean?”
“They know when you’re hurting, and they do everything they can to make you feel better.”
“By guilt-tripping you into petting them?”
“Hey, it worked, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“See? That’s why I love dogs.”
“They’ll do anything for you. They love you absolutely unconditionally. All they want you to do is love them back just as much.”
“Really? I never knew that. We never had pets as a kid; Mom had allergies up the ying-yang.”
“That sucks. Dogs are the best. Well, except for Lulu. She’s an evil little bugger.”
“Your mom’s poodle? But she’s so adorable!”
“Yeah, and she milks it for all its worth. She’s a conniving, manipulative, evil little thing. Loves to torture Hondo, the beagles, and me, then go running to Mom when we snap at her.”
“I don’t believe that!”
“Just wait, she’ll do it to you too, I guarantee it.”
Odette laughed that pretty laugh of hers, and Hondo let his tongue loll out of his mouth and started panting; his version of a laugh. I joined in.
“Feel better now?”
“Yeah, thanks,” she said. “Thanks, Hondo.” I swear that the Rottweiler puffed his chest out and beamed when she said that.
“Not a problem,” I said, “That’s why we’re here. Wanna go grab some dinner?” Hondo abruptly lurched to his feet and darted out into the hallway.
“What is it?” Odette asked, suddenly nervous.
“Oh, brother,” I said as I smacked myself in the face. “Hondo, I swear…”
“What’s going on?”
“I said D-I-N-N-E-R. He knows what that word means, and he knows there’s food involved.
“Wow. He really is a smart dog.”
“Yeah, one that thinks with his stomach. WWe’d better get down to the cafeteria before he charms the rest of the team into giving him all their food.”