Chapter 9

The ride back to Scranton was mind-numbingly boring. I was in the lead SUV, a Ford. Dominique and Shannon were in the front seats while Odette and I rode in the captain’s chairs in the second row. The bench in the third row had been removed to make room for equipment, but was now mainly filled with the charred werewolf bones. The Expedition stank of burned wood and charred flesh, so all of the windows were rolled down even though it was March and still pretty cold.

Dominique and Shannon had tried picking my brain some more for the first hour or so, but it hadn’t been much use; I’d already told them everything I knew. They eventually gave up and began chatting back and forth between themselves. I didn’t really pay much attention to their conversation.

Odette, for her part, stayed pretty much silent throughout the whole ride. She mainly just stared out the window, not really looking at the scenery, more like just staring off into space looking… sad. Really, really sad. And I, for the life of me, couldn’t figure out why.

“You feeling okay?” I asked her when the silence became too much.

“Huh?” she asked, looking over towards me, “Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” she said, then went back to staring out the window. I didn’t buy her answer for a second. Her body language, the tone of her voice, heck, her staring off into space for more than two whole hours, all of it told me that something was wrong.

“You sure you’re okay?” I asked.

“I said I’m fine!” she snapped at me.

“Hey, hey, I’m sorry,” I said, raising my hands in surrender, “I just thought that with the way you were acting‑”

“Steve, leave her alone,” Dominique said.

“I was just trying‑”

“I said leave it, Steve.” The tone in her voice left exactly zero room for argument.

“Okay, sorry,” I said, turning back towards my own window. Geez, I thought as I watched the scenery fly by us, I was only trying to…

Something outside suddenly grabbed my attention. It was a farmhouse, set back from the road quite a ways at the top of a small hill. The driveway ran all the way down to the highway (which had turned into a glorified two-lane road some miles back), and sitting at the end of the driveway was…

“Holy smokes!” I shouted, “Stop! Stop the truck!”

“What? What is it?” Dominque said, jamming on the brakes and simultaneously drawing her HK45. Both Shannon and Odette both went for their pistols as the big Ford slid to a halt. The guys in the Suburban behind us jammed on their horn and swerved, just missing us. Before we’d even stopped, I was out of the Expedition and running back towards the driveway.

“Holy cow,” I said as I started giggling like a little kid. “Holy cow.”

It was a 1969 Pontiac GTO, black, with red, yellow, and blue stripes and matching decals that said JUDGE. The paint was faded, chipped in a few spots, and the whole car was covered in dust and dirt and road grime, but to me, it was still drop-dead gorgeous. I started walking slowly around the car, still giggling like an idiot, taking in every angle of the beautiful machine. To my absolute delight, there was a big black-and-orange FOR SALE sign sitting in the driver’s side window. I still had most of my PUFF from the vampire in my account, my checkbook was in my duffel back in the Expedition, so hell yes! I was halfway up the driveway when a woman emerged from the front door of the house. She looked to be in her late sixties, but still in pretty good health.

“Hello there,” she called as she started walking down the driveway towards me, “I guess you’re wanting to ask about the car?”

“Yes, ma’am!” I said, not bothering to hide my grin, “It’s a ’69 GTO, right?”

“That would be correct,” she replied with a smile. “Glenn, that’s my husband, loved that old thing.”

“Could I talk to him about buying it?” I asked.

“Well, you could, but you’re about fifteen years too late,” she said.

“Oh… I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?”

“For your loss,” I said.

“Don’t be,” she replied, “He’s not dead. I caught him cheating on me with his secretary; got the car as part of the divorce settlement. Bastard deserved it. I’m only selling it ‘cause it’s such a gas guzzler that I can’t afford to drive it anymore.”

“Oh, ah, all right, ah, how much are you asking for it?”

“Don’t you want to test-drive it first?” she asked, confused.

“No thanks,” I said, “It looks like it’s in good shape.”

“At least look under the hood first,” she insisted, “I don’t want it breakin’ down on you and then you comin’ back here trying to sue me for sellin’ you a lemon.”

“Ma’am, I would never do that,” I assured her, “But if you insist…”

A quick look under the hood reinforced my suspicions that the car was in good condition, and once she’d retrieved the keys and started the engine, they were all but confirmed.

“You still want it?” she asked, “If you do, I’d hurry before one of your friends beats you to it.” The rest of the team had long since gathered around the GTO, and Scotty, Chris, and Shannon were all eyeing it with varying amounts of jealousy.

“How much?” I asked.

“Well… does five thousand sound fair?”

“It does indeed,” I said, “Will you take a check?”

“I surely will,” she replied. A quick trip back to the SUV later and I handed over a check for five thousand dollars. Money well spent in my opinion. The title for the car was in the glove box, along with every single piece of documentation that had originally come with the car. All it took was one more signature and I was the proud owner of my very own ’69 GTO Judge.

“Well, guys, what do you think?” I asked once the previous owner had gone back inside.

“I think you made a good buy,” Dominique said.

“It is so freakin’ cool!” Scotty exclaimed, “Can I drive it?”

“Yeah, right,” I said.

“I think we should definitely start listening to this Doctor Bryson ghost,” Jon said.

“Huh?” The rest of the team’s faces mirrored my confusion. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Did you see the license plate?” he asked. I shook my head. “Come take a look,” he said with a grin. I walked around to the back of the Judge, looked down at the license plate, and felt my jaw fall to the pavement.

The plate was a custom vanity plate. It read THEBEAST.

******************

The ride back to the compound took quite a lot longer than I thought it would. It turned out that the lady was right; the Judge really was a gas-guzzler; at highway speed, the gas gauge moved at the same rate as the minute hand on my watch. The source of my fuel-economy woes was the fact that I needed to keep the pedal mashed to the firewall even in fourth gear if I wanted to keep up with everyone else on the road. A 4.33:1 rear differential is great for accelerating down a drag strip, but it sucks if you want to take the beast on road trips. The transmission felt real rough and clunky when you shifted it too. Worst of all were the tires; the car was still wearing the original poly-fiberglass redlines, which had absolutely no grip whatsoever. They would hold a straight line just fine, but every time I hit a curve, the big car felt like it was driving on ice. Lucky for me, Dominique, who’d insisted on riding with me, had worked in her father’s garage when she was in high school, and by the time we arrived at the compound (long after everyone else, I’m embarrassed to admit), she and I had come up with a long list of improvements to make The Beast, as I’d taken to calling it, a much more drivable car.

When we did finally pull into the compound, Chris and Scotty were both waiting for us in the garage. They spent the next hour or so watching me do burnouts down the long driveway, but eventually they got tired of it. Chris headed off to the shooting ranges while Scotty headed to parts unknown. I assumed he was off to find some quiet spot so he could blow something up. When I finally got tired of doing burnouts (and had just about run out of gas), I started reading the documentation that had come with The Beast. Sure enough, it was a genuine 1969 Judge, not a clone, with a big Ram Air IV under the hood and two previous owners; the aforementioned Glen and his ex-wife Lydia. Glen, when he’d ordered it, hadn’t optioned it up too much; bucket seats, shoulder-strap seat belts, hidden headlights, Rally-II wheels, AM-radio and a tape deck. The only non-stock piece of equipment was a CD Player that Lydia must’ve mounted under the dash. All that was mine for just five grand. Man, had I made a really good‑

“Why am I not surprised that you’re still in here?” I looked up from the paperwork to see Dominique striding towards me.

“Hey, I’m a gearhead,” I said with a grin, “What can I say?” She laughed, then looked back at The Beast.

“Man, what a sweet find.”

“Yeah, thanks to Doctor Bryson.”

“Got that right,” she said with a smile, “Anyway, I just remembered that I haven’t given these to you or Odette yet.” She pressed something into my hand. It was our team’s patch; a silhouette of a man wearing a Colonial-style three-corner hat holding a Flintlock musket over his head with one hand and a skull with greatly elongated fangs in the other. “What with the wights at the diner and everything last night, it kinda slipped my mind.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” I said as I took my patch and slipped it in my pocket.

“You seen Odette?” Dominique asked.

“Nope,” I replied, “I’ve been in here since we got back. I figured she’s probably grabbing some lunch in the cafeteria.”

“Try dinner.”

“Huh?”

“It’s just about time for dinner.” That explained the sudden hunger pangs that were gripping my stomach.

“Dinner sounds good,” I replied, “She’s not there?”

“No, and she wasn’t at lunch either,” Dominique said.

“That’s weird,” I said, “Maybe try the firing ranges? She’s been wanting to practice more with her pistols.”

“Checked there twice, no sign of her.”

“Did you try her house?” I asked, suddenly feeling more than a little worried.

“Knocked on her door, no answer,” Dominique replied, “and before you ask, I tried calling her cell phone; it went straight to voice mail.”

“So either it’s dead or she turned it off,” I said.

“You have any idea where she might’ve gone?” I shook my head.

“None,” I replied, “I haven’t really had a chance to explore the compound that much. I’ll try her house.”

“She wasn’t there when I checked,” Dominique said.

“She didn’t answer the door,” I pointed out, “Doesn’t mean she’s not inside.”

The houses were on the other side of the compound from the garage, so it was something of a hike over there. Dominique had wanted to come with me, but her cell had gone off when we were about halfway there. It was Harbinger, so she had to get back to her office, leaving me alone as I trudged towards Odette’s small house.

“Odette?” I said as I gently rapped on the door, “Anyone home?” There was no response. I knocked again, a little harder this time. “Odette? Are you in there?” Still nothing. I frowned and pressed my ear against the door. I couldn’t hear any noise coming from inside… no, check that. I did hear something. I couldn’t make out exactly what it was, but there was definitely someone… or something… inside the house. “Odette?” I called in again, “Is that you in there?” Again, no answer. “Are you okay?” Nothing. I tried the doorknob, even though I knew the door was locked.

It wasn’t; the door swung open at my touch. My hand instinctively moved towards my SIG, the full-sized one, holstered behind my right hip as the door slowly swung open.

“Odette? Are you okay?” I called into the open door. There was no answer, but the sound I’d heard before drifted out into the evening chill. It sounded like… choking? No, I realized after a second, not choking. Crying.

“Odette?” I called again as I slipped inside the house, hand wrapped firmly around my SIG’s grip. The crying was coming from the bedroom. The door to the room was open. I slid the SIG from its holster and peered around the doorframe. Odette was sitting on the edge of her bed, her shoulder slumped and shaking with each muffled sob. She was clutching something, a photograph, it looked like, in her hands. The Smith & Wesson 4563 that she carried when Hunting sat on the bed next to her.

“What’s wrong?” I asked gently as I slowly walked into the room. She ignored me. Instead, she began glancing between the photo and the pistol.

“I’m sorry,” she said, so quietly that I barely heard her.

“Sorry?” I asked, “You didn’t do anything…”

“I’m sorry Robert,” she said, taking to the picture, “I couldn’t…  God, I’m so sorry… It should’ve… should’ve been me.” She again looked towards the pistol. Alarm bells started going off in my head.

“Odette, what are you doing?” I asked as I slowly edged my way towards her, praying she wasn’t about to do what I thought she was. She was sitting on the side of the bed closest to the door, and the gun was on her right, so if she went for it there was a chance I could get to it before she did. Now I just needed to remember how to safe the gun. When the lever was down, it was on ‘safe’, right? And Smith & Wesson 3rd Gens had a magazine safety, didn’t they? I couldn’t remember. Odette looked at the gun again, then back at the picture, and then my blood froze in my veins.

“I’ll see you in a second, Robert.” Her hand shot out towards the pistol.

Chapter 10

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