I don’t know what the official name for this event is. Most of those who attended the huge block party called it Old Timer’s Day. It was a time when those of us who had left the neighborhood returned to renew acquaintances and see how much things have changed. The proceeds from the event were poured back into the neighborhood and next year’s party. It was always a good time. We ate, drank and made merry. I played stickball with friends I hadn’t seen in years except for at wakes and funerals. The last time was for my grandmother’s funeral.
She was well-liked and missed by all. Granny was one of those people who did more for others than for herself. That didn’t mean she was a saint – far from it. She had an inner core of steel that made her the foundation of my family, a pillar of strength ready to support the rest of us. When a neighborhood bully chose me as his target, my grandmother didn’t have any kind words to say. Instead, she told me that if I didn’t want to be bullied then I would have to take a stand. There are worse things to tell your grandson. The simple truth in those words left their mark on me.
Sometimes, you have to stand up for yourself and what you believe in. If you don’t, why should anyone else? You might have friends and family to rely on but they can’t be there all the time. You have to be able to do for yourself. The next day, I met the bully and stood up to him. It would be nice to say that I won the battle. I didn’t, but he no longer troubled me. Maybe it was because I was willing and able to fight, or maybe it was because my grandmother had a long talk with his parents.
Across the link, Kara’s thoughts touched mine. My guardian angel murmured, “I would have liked her.”
“Yes, you would have. It’s too bad Jennifer can’t be here.”
The last couple of months had been rough for her. I learned a lot about my new partner and she learned a lot more about the supernatural world. After our visit to the Fae court, we both needed to recharge our batteries. She was staying with friends and far away from me.
“She needs some time, Count.”
I nodded, focusing once more on the conversation around me. The stories are a big part of the event. A lot of funny and odd incidents happened in the good ole days. There were events and little pieces of history that would never make the inside of a text book but the stories would be passed down from generation to generation. I decided to share one story that has always made me a little curious. It brought a smile to everyone’s face who remembered the incident.
It was the start of summer. School had just let out. There was no dress code to worry about. We could wear what we wanted. There were no classes to attend or studying to do except for the summer reading list. Usually, my grandmother let us go outside to play so we didn’t wreck the house. This time was different.
“You can’t go out,” she said in a tone that left little room for argument.
As the oldest and the ringleader, I had to be the first to open his mouth. “Why not?” I asked.
None of us were going to disobey Granny. My cousins and I knew full well the price for disobedience. Questions were okay if phrased politely but I was treading on dangerous ground. There was no tolerance for backtalk.
“Play in the bedroom,” she said, ignoring the question.
Kara laughed at my attempt to capture Granny’s spirit and stern look. “Now, I know where you get that from.”
“But why?” one of my cousins asked. It was dangerously close to a whine, another no-no. We all sensed Granny was hiding something. There would be no peace till she satisfied our curiosity.
“Look, you can’t go out because there’s two dead bodies stuffed into a suitcase on the stoop.”
I opened my mouth and closed it. It took a minute for her words to penetrate our thick skulls then we were off. We raced to the bedroom window to try and catch a glimpse of the suitcase.
It was no bigger than a piece of carry-on luggage. From our vantage point it didn’t look out of the ordinary except for the trail of blood leading from the curb to the stoop. The police had just arrived. We watched the “bulls” – as we called them – work the street. They combed the scene, asking questions. No one had seen who delivered the suitcase. No one knew who the two men were. If someone did, they weren’t talking to the police. More importantly, no one wanted to get involved. The police wrote it up as a suicide and called it a day.
It was an odd story to tell. As I grew older, I begin to realize just how many strange things happened during my childhood. As usual, everyone asked the same questions and speculated on the answers. This time someone answered one of the questions with something more than a guess.
Ms. Spence flashed me a toothless grin. “That was my husband and his bodyguard,” she said.
And like I did decades ago, I stood there shocked with my mouth open until her words finally penetrated my skull.
“Your husband?” I asked.
My voice rose an octave with the question as my listeners fell silent. Ms. Spence was one of the nicest people I knew. Well into her seventies, she was a part of this neighborhood for longer than I’ve been alive. I always wondered who was in that suitcase. This revelation was news to everyone else. It also made me wonder what the hell her husband was into that he needed a bodyguard.
“Obviously, it was nothing good since someone felt the need to stuff their remains into a suitcase,” Kara said via our link.
The conversation moved to other safer topics while Ms. Spence drew me off to the side to talk.
“You mother tells me that you’re a P.I.,” she said.
I laughed. I told mom I was a paranormal investigator, not a private investigator. I guess she feared no one would understand. She was probably right. Most people don’t believe in magic and the supernatural. Even though the creatures of myth and legend still walk among us, they hide from sight. I straddle the line between the supernatural and natural worlds, handling problems the authorities can’t or won’t deal with. The police won’t look into a haunting or check for monsters under your bed. That’s where I come in. My clients range from everyday people to vampires, sorcerers and the Fae. Just because you know magic doesn’t mean you don’t need help from time to time.
“No, not really but I do know a few. What can I do for you?”
“I want you to find out what killed my husband.”
I’m not a detective. I don’t know the first thing about investigating a murder, especially one that’s over thirty years old. I was about to tell her no, then I made the mistake of looking into her eyes. Despite her smile, I saw the pain my story had brought back. I was hooked. She was a friend of the family and she had asked me for help. I couldn’t turn her down.
“I’ll do what I can. I know some people who might be able to help,” I said, “No promises though.”
“Thank you, Count. I know you’ll do your best. You were always such a good boy.”
This is an excerpt from chapter one if the Hunger. The story Count tells is actually based on a real life event. What can I say? Sometimes, life really is stranger than fiction. Everything after that is pure fiction. Yes, I might be curious as to why someone ended up in a suitcase with his bodyguard. I’m just not curious enough to risk ending up the same way. I have a feeling this is a better story than whatever happened in reality.