A short, black woman stormed into the motley decorated room. She walked past the semi-circle of chairs, each from a different era and style, and past the fireplace. She stopped next to a bookshelf laden with kitschy knick-knacks, a dozen or so snow globes containing replicas of Santa Maria ranging in quality from exquisite to dollar-store chic.
"Ant!" Gumdrop called. "Ant, seriously you need to get this thing together. The Ghost Lords will be here shortly. I don't want to be the one to greet them." She stood facing him, hands on hips, waiting for a reply.
A young man wearing ripped up jeans and a suit vest popped into existence near her. She turned her head to look at the boy.
"You are not Ant," she said, tilting her head.
"He'll be here shortly," the boy answered.
"He better be, Brady. I won't be forced into playing nice with Ghost Lords."
"Gumdrop, I know things went down that were bad, but, really, what did they do that was so awful?'
"So awful? So awful? I'll tell you what they did that was so God damned awful. They killed a lot of good people. They unleashed the fuckin' proto-vampires on this city and cost Jack Dandelion his life," she shouted, hands gesturing wildly. "People may have short memories, but not me. No, sir. I remember fighting the restless dead in the kingdom of the God damned mole-people; magic whizzing by. And of course us teleporters were in high demand, but were the Gamin ever thanked for what we did? For our sacrifices? No, of course not."
"Mole-people?" Brady asked, his eyes wide.
"Don't talk to me about fuckin' mole-people, Brady. I don't have the time. Where is Ant?"
"Right here, Gummi," Ant said from behind her. Gumdrop turned around and rested her right hand on her hip, her body canted with her left leg forward.
"You ready?" she asked with a sarcastic tone.
"Yep," her unnaturally red-haired leader answered.
"I can go now?"
"Of course. Thanks for setting everything up, Gummi. You're a treasure."
"Yeah, treasure. Thanks. See ya," she said and then abruptly winked out of the room.
Brady turned to Ant and asked "So, why this place?"
"Because we don't want the Ghost Lords knowing of any place we value. And I like the Bannister Hotel. It has a charm of its own. Some day I'll tell you tale of the couple that opened this place. They were pair of debunkers, like Harry Houdini. They caused quite a lot of trouble for denizens of Santa Maria back in the late 1800s."
"I'm not much into history, Ant."
"Well, let's not worry about that now. The Ghost Lords will be here any minute."
As if on cue, a knock came at the door. Ant smiled and Brady rushed over the door and opened it. Standing there was a short, pudgy gentleman in an ill-fitting suit. Next to him was a tall, distinguished man with a salt-and-pepper beard. He had thick, wavy raven hair with a wide streak of white at each temple. Behind the two men was the beautiful blonde Kaliope.
"Please come in," Brady said and then bowed, gesturing them into the room.
The taller gentleman entered first, then the other man and Kaliope.
"Welcome to the Bannister Hotel, Lord Kennedy," Ant said with a wide smile and flourish of his arm.
"Let's dispense with pleasantries, Ant. I know you don't care for us. I am only here because it seems that our apprentices, my Kaliope and your Brady, have discovered that working together might be a good match. The ability to teleport would be useful in combating the restless dead problem that Santa Maria finds itself beset with. I propose we make teams of two; we can provide a list of locations to investigate."
Ant arched an eyebrow. "Right to the point, huh? Sure, we can do that."
"This is Mr. Trimble. He has a list of my people and their skills. I figure we can go over it and match people up."
"Sure," Ant said. "Let's take a seat over here," and he indicated a large round table with overstuffed chairs around it, not a single matching pattern among them. The three older men went to the table, leaving the young acolytes to themselves.
Kaliope smiled at Brady. "So, this is an interesting place."
"Oh, yeah, the Bannister Hotel. It has quite a history. The couple that owned it during its heyday kept the folks around here hopping. They were debunkers. That was back in 1800s, though. I'll have to tell you all about it some time."
"That sounds very interesting. I'd like that."
"Your boss seems pretty harsh," Brady observed.
"Oh, Lord Kennedy isn't so bad. He really dislikes that we're coming into Santa Maria with such a stigma on our heads."
"Well, a lot of people died because of that corrupt Ghost Lord and his minions. People aren't going to forget that easily. Itís true that once people form an opinion, it tends to stick, but I think if you guys help us get ride of those nasty ghosts it will go an awfully long way to fixing things around here for you Ghost Lords."
She nodded. "I think you're right. I have a good feeling about it, but let's not talk about all that right now. The only chance I really have to be a teenager is when Iím with you."
Brady smiled. "Sure. What do you want to talk about?"
"Um, music?" she shrugged.
The two apprentices talked about music and their favorite bands while a far more serious discussion played out across the room. After about and hour, the business was done and the Ghost Lords departed.
"So, you're pretty sweet on her, huh?" Ant asked.
"What? No." Brady's cheeks reddened. "Hey, tell me more about this hotel."
"Sure." Ant grinned and knew when to let go.
The two sat and talked about the history of the Bannister Hotel long into the night.
"Okay guys, the pizza's here, but you have to keep your promise. No telling my Mom. She wants you eating healthy. Sprouts and junk." Mackenzie Nolan smiled at his mother's wards.
Joel, the oldest at fifteen, had a round face, a shaggy mop of chestnut hair, and pale green eyes. She had full lips and a decent build. Mackenzie figured the kid probably worked out or played sports. Kyle, twelve, had very short sandy brown hair and dark brown eyes hidden behind black, rimmed glasses. He was scrawny and small, even for his age.
"For sheezy, nothing to worry about from us," Joel answered as he swaggered over and relieved Mac of a pizza box. Mac then walked over to the table and set the other pizza box down.
"Come on, Kyle. Come get some pizza."
The young boy just stood there; with a far away look in his eyes, as if he was lost in his own thoughts.
"Something wrong, little buddy?" Mac asked. Joel was already munching down a slice of pizza in front of the television, completely oblivious to the interaction.
"Shouldn't she be our Mom?" Kyle asked.
"Oh, sure," Mac said, "of course she's your mom now, too. I just didn't know... I just didn't know if you were ready for that."
"My mom's dead and your mom said she promised our mom she would take care of us. Mom isn't coming back from the dead, so we might as well call Miss Daphne 'Mom' now, right? I mean legally, she is."
"Well, she's your guardian, but if you wanted to think of her like a mom, I know she wouldn't mind. I can tell you she's a pretty good mom, sprouts and all. And Kyle, I'm certainly happy for you to think of me as a brother."
Kyle smiled a little. "Okay, sure," he answered. He seemed to relax, comfortable with the idea.
"You, too, sport," Mac said to Joel.
The eldest kid just nodded, his mouth full of pizza.
They ate the pizza, drank soda, and laughed a lot, mostly at Mac's expense. He was not that well versed on video games, robots, or rockets, which were the topics that dominated the conversation as they enjoyed the forbidden meal. Once the pizzas were devoured, they spent the next couple of hours playing video games and the laughing continued.
When the last virtual bad guy had been thwarted, Mac put down the video game controller, stood up, and stretched.
"Okay guys, it's been fun, but we're already past our bedtimes. If Mom gets home and youíre up, we're all going to get it."
After saving the game, Kyle set his controller down as well. He hopped up and turned off the television and game system.
"Thanks for the pizza, Mac," the younger boy said. "And for the games, and for just being cool." Kyle then hugged Mac, who returned it. "'Night!" With that, Kyle rushed upstairs.
Joel continued to sit.
"Everything alright, Joel?" Mac asked.
"It's just that I think I should be able to stay up later than Kyle. I'm 15."
"You have a point, Joel. I'm sure Mom's just trying to be fair. She's never raised more than one kid before. I'm an only child."
"Sure, it just sucks. And you don't have to do the 'Mom' thing with me. Miss Daphne is fine. She's not going to replace my Mom. Ever."
"Joel, I'm sure the whole thing sucks. I can't imagine being in your shoes. My mom doesn't want to replace Miranda. If it helps Kyle, he can call her Mom, but you certainly don't have to. You don't have to think of me as a brother, either, but I wouldn't mind. In fact, I'd like it. That's one of the few things I didn't have growing up, so getting some brothers now would be awesome. And I can talk to my Mom about the bedtime."
"You'd do that?" Joel asked, surprised.
"For sheezy," Mac answered, and then laughed. Joel laughed, too.
"Thanks, Mac." Joel then extended his arm for a handshake. Mac shook his hand.
When they touched, Mac shuddered and pulled back his hand.
The voice of the avatar spoke in Mac's mind: "Oh, poppet, that's a sure sign, there. You are going to have to get boy to the Chatu-mu."
What was that? He thought.
"Luv, that was powerful stuff, energies of the natives of this soil. I'm not sure what, but you must bring the boy to the Chatu-mu to find out."
"Um, Mac? Everything okay?" Joel asked.
"Yeah, sorry. Static shock, sorry."
"No worries," Joel said. "Well, thanks. 'Night."
Joel went upstairs, brushed his teeth and washed his face. He went into his bedroom and stripped down to his boxers. Kyle looked over from his bed.
"Joel, you sure you don't mind sharing a room?"
"No, Kyle, I don't. I understand why you want to and I'm cool with it. I like being around you, too. We've had to cope with a lot of change. It's nice having you here."
Joel bent down and grabbed leather bound book and a note pad from under his bed.
"You going to read more of Mom's journal?" Kyle asked.
"Isn't that wrong? I mean, it's her private thoughts."
"I guess there's that, but there's a lot of stuff about Daphne from when Mom worked for her, when she was mayor the first time. Weird stuff.
"Like how she believes in ghosts and had secret meetings with weird people. She apparently met with monks and some hippy named Jack Dandelion."
"Oh," was all the response the news elicited from Kyle.
"'Night, Kyle." Joel flipped the book open to where he had last been reading.
November 12, 2003
Another strange visit with Mr. Deemer. I have no idea who he is or why he has such immediate access to the mayor. I honestly was not trying to overhear when I brought in the coffee, but I just did. It is not every day you hear your boss, the mayor of a large metropolitan city, discussing fairies causing problems in city parks. I thought for a second he might just be a bigot and talking about homosexuals, but he was talking about winged fairies escaping from a fairy ring. It is the oddest thing. I am beginning to wonder about Daphne's mental state.
I was looking up online about fairy rings when Candice stopped by. She felt the need to start plying me for office gossip, so I decided to see what she knew about Mr. Deemer, if anything. Well, as it turns out she has no idea who he is either, but she said that he has visited with all the mayors. Or at least the last four. I couldn't believe it. Of course she wasn't that interested. She wanted to go on about Sally and Martin's torrid office affair.
I really couldn't care less, but she did finally get around to talking about what is going on with Hillary. I've been worried about her...
Joel read for hours, occasionally making notes.
Rod had just finished singing baby Helen back to sleep when door knocked.
It's after nine. Who could that be? They're lucky they didn't wake Helen.
Rod hurried through the apartment to answer the door. He opened it and standing there was a handsome black man, dressed in a suit and tie.
"Hello," the stranger said.
"How may I help you?"
"Are you Rodrigo Valencia?"
"Who wants to know?" Rodrigo inquired.
"I do. I'm Jackson Montgomery. I was Bree's cousin."
"Oh? Yes, I'm Rodrigo. Please come in." Rod opened the door wider and gestured for Jackson to enter. "Please, come in. Have a seat. Can I get you anything?"
"No thank you, and I prefer to stand. I just flew in from New York. I've been doing plenty of sitting. I apologize for the late hour, but my flight was delayed."
"Oh, it's no bother. I'm sorry, I didn't know that Bree had any other family."
"Obviously. It would appear the courts didn't seem to care either," Jackson said with a sharp tone in his voice.
"Excuse me?" Rod question, his brow furrowed with building outrage.
"Well, obviously they were unaware of any blood relatives before handing Helen over to strangers."
"Oh, Jackson, I'm sorry. We're not foster parents. We adopted Helen. Both I and my partner were quite close to Bree and I also knew her mother well."
"It's Mr. Montgomery, and I know what you are, Mr. Valencia. Now, if we can dispense with these formalities, I am here for Helen."
"What do you mean, exactly?" Rod asked, bristling.
"I mean, Mr. Valencia, that I am here to take Helen into my custody."
"The hell you are," Rod said, standing up to his full height.
"Look Mr. Valencia. I'm a wealthy man and we all know that the courts will award custody of Helen to my wife and I over a pair of sodomites. Why don't you just do everyone a favor and give me Helen now. It will save us all a lot of grief and time."
"You heard me. Get out of my home. Now!"
"Fine, Mr. Valencia. I should have known. You people always prefer your drama. I'll see you in court."
"Get the fuck out of my house!" Rod shouted. Jackson turned and left. Baby Helen started crying.
"°Jolines!" he said, under his breath. "This is the last thing I need." Then he turned toward the baby and said with conviction, "I'm coming, Helen. And I won't let anyone take you from us."
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2009
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2009