SHARKEY AND THE JABBERWOCK (Story) by Richard F. Yates

[This is a story I started several years ago, with my old writing group at Washington State University Vancouver, back when I was still working at the Writing Center. (I miss that group. We had a LOT of fun together.) I really loved this story, but in the shuffle and jive of daily life, I lost the inspiration and dropped the tale before I’d concluded it. I’ve decided it’s time to bring Sharkey and Alice and Adam back to life, revise them a bit, and FINISH their story. WARNING: This gets violent—and really weird. There are some bad words and freaky situations in the story that follows, and frankly a GREAT DEAL of nonsense, so if you find silliness and blood offensive, you’ll want to look elsewhere for your entertainment… otherwise, ENJOY! —RFY]

Chapter 1 – “Friday Night”

The overhead light had been torn from the ceiling during the incident, so the first team in the room had grabbed a pair of halogen flood lamps, which were too bright for the small space once they were turned on, while simultaneously creating huge swathes of deep shadow. It made the whole scene look as if it were the inside of some strange cave—or a chamber in Hell. Loveless was new to the force, just out of the academy, and he had to rush out of the room and throw up when he saw the mess on the bed. Jensen and Schitt were twenty-year veterans, and truth be told, they both felt their stomachs turn when the lights first fizzed into life.

And that’s sayin’ something because the Broken Ankle Point P.D. had seen more than its fair share of violent crime. Though there were fewer than a million people in the city, the criminal element that did reside there was particularly energetic. In fact, the International Crime Guild had conferred its coveted “Most Creative Murder of the Year” award to individuals working in Broken Ankle Point on no fewer than three occasions, most recently in 2010 to the notorious “Pussy Fiend,” Jack Dillman, who murdered over two dozen people by shoving live kittens down their throats. Jensen and Schitt had worked that case, had even been closing in on Dillman, when he’d panicked and committed suicide with a lawnmower. But even that hideous mess was tame compared to what they found in this bed, smoking just slightly in the heat of the halogens.

Jensen scratched his bald head while Schitt photographed the blood splashes on the walls and ceiling.

“Hey Jensen,” Loveless called from the hall. Poor kid hadn’t been able to even look through the doorway since the lights came on. “Sharkey’s here,” he said.

“Finally,” Jensen grumbled as a tall figure in a light gray trench coat stepped into the room. His muzzle twitched, lightly, as he sniffed the air. His pointy ears poked up through holes cut in the brim of his hat.

“Hey Shark,” Jensen said. “We got a real mess here. Can’t make much out of it.”

“Forensics get anything yet?” Sharkey asked.

“They think we’re looking at three victims in that soup. Maybe more,” Jensen said.

Sharkey took off his hat and scratched at an ear with his paw. His muzzle twitched again as he sniffed a little closer to the bed.

“What you got, Shark? I know that twitch,” Jensen said. Schitt filed in behind Jensen as they both watched Detective Sharkey work his jaw. He snarled and growled low in his throat.

“What did this,” Sharkey grumbled, “wasn’t human.” It wouldn’t be admissible as evidence unless they found something physical, after all Sharkey couldn’t prove what he’d smelled in court, but Jensen and Schitt knew that Sharkey was never wrong.

“What’a we lookin’ for? Werewolf?” Schitt asked.

“No. This is somethin’ that isn’t even remotely human,” Sharkey said. He shivered. He couldn’t I.D. the smell, but it somehow reminded him of his puppy-hood, of campfire stories and nightmares—but he couldn’t quite put his paws on it. “I’m not sure what it is, but it’s old. Really old. It smells like decay and nightmares,” he said and growled again.

“Nightmares got a smell?” Schitt asked.

“Mine do,” Sharkey said.

Chapter 2 – “Sharkey’s Schlocky Origins”

Detective Sharkey was a good dog. Everyone on the force knew it, but especially Jensen and Schitt, who had worked with Sharkey since he joined the Broken Ankle Point Police Department.

Jensen had actually been on the case, seven years before, when Sharkey was found and adopted by the force. The evil scientist, Dr. Anthony Randall, had just been murdered by Fester McBrooha, a local mob boss. The doctor had apparently sold a faulty doomsday device to McBrooha, and the mobster had taken it personally. Really, it was no civic loss when Randall’s car went boom, but before the Feds swooped in to confiscated all of Dr. Randall’s research and devices, Jensen had discovered Sharkey in the basement of the lab, apparently one of the few experiments that Dr. Randall had conducted that went, somewhat inexplicably, right. Once the Feds had examined all of Dr. Randall’s work (utilizing the expertise of reformed mad scientist, Henry Schloss, the famous Bat Wrangler, who had trained bats to kill television personalities in the 1960s) Dr. Randall was officially, though posthumously, reclassified as a Class Three Mad Scientist: more dangerous for the mistakes he might have made than for his deviousness of character or ability to intentionally cause mayhem. It’s the single most common designation for Mad Scientists registered with the Federal Work Board.

Anyway, despite this rather rough introduction to the force, it soon became apparent that Sharkey could not only speak, but also think (neither is necessary for the other to be true), and also that he didn’t share his former master’s desire for world domination. Jensen, along with Captain Howitzer, helped Sharkey sue for emancipation from Dr. Randall’s estate on the grounds of unique intelligence, and shortly thereafter, Sharkey became the first human/canine hybrid to enroll at the Broken Ankle Point Police Academy (and the third such hybrid to join a police force in the state of Oregon.)

Chapter 3 – “Alice”

Alice still had a few boxes that she wanted to unpack before giving up for the night, but she was just too exhausted. She dropped unceremoniously into a blue lawn chair, the only furniture in her new living room, and puffed from tired lungs.

It had been a tricky couple of weeks, but Alice felt pretty sure she’d made a clean break. And she felt pretty good—about herself, about this new town, everything. And that worried her. Alice had learned at a very early age that nothing good could come of “feeling good.” It was almost inevitably a sure sign that disaster was about to strike.

Her arms and fingers ached, and she stretched them, then forced herself out of the lawn chair. She pulled a sky-blue scrunchy out of her blond hair, and her hair fell, straight and shining, to the middle of her back. She ran her fingers through it, feeling for imaginary tangles, then scooped it all up with her fingers and pulled it into a tight ponytail. She hog-tied her locks into an unbalanced mass on the back of her head with the hair tie, then went back to work.

Alice looked like she was in her twenties, but she was much, MUCH older than that. Since the 1950s, in what had been a radical, nearly transvestite act, she had taken to wearing jeans and white t-shirts, and she’d stuck with it—although her footwear had changed through the decades. She was fair skinned, fair haired, with pale blue eyes and a trim figure. Dancing had helped keep her in shape, and she certainly loved to dance. Dancing, of course, was one of the most important elements of most of the rituals that she performed. Magic itself had always attracted her, and it’s certainly what kept her young, but she was convinced that the dancing was what kept her practicing the art. Without dance, it was all dusty books and tedious chanting.

In her current persona, Alice was a 28-year-old cultural anthropologist who specialized in pre-Christian, European mythological artifacts. Though there were very few artifacts of this nature in the Pacific Northwest—outside of “private collections,” of course—Alice was able to translate her curatorial experience at her “old” college museum (where she worked for several years, and felt it was time to leave before anyone noticed she wasn’t aging) into a position, starting Monday, at the Broken Ankle Point Historical Museum. Alice was particularly happy that she hadn’t even needed to use magic to get the job. Her publication history had been impressive enough.

She sorted through a few more boxes as the moon rose. She hid a number of items in an extra-dimensional cubbyhole that she created in the freezer. Thank the Gods the kitchen appliances had come with the apartment! Then she set a sealing spell that locked all the doors and windows in the apartment, and half-stumbled / half-sleepwalked to the bedroom and crawled into her sleeping bag. First stop tomorrow morning: a decent furniture store to rent a couch, table, chairs, and—most importantly—a big, comfortable bed.

Chapter 4 – “Motorbike Bill”

Motorbike Bill flew up Highway 101 on his Honda. His long, black hair trailed out from under his helmet and flailed behind him. Waves from the high tide crashed against the bluffs below the highway, and the scream from his bike filled the night with a banshee wail. He reached the top of a hill, slowed, and stopped. The lights of Broken Ankle Point glowed below, stretching from halfway down the hill to the Columbia River. The lip of the ocean met the river’s mouth several miles east and coughed as salt water mixed with fresh. To the west, the lights of the city were scattered, overcome by the fingers of the Erik Tulgey Nation Forest, one of the densest Old Growth forests remaining in the United States.

“That bitch is here, somewhere,” Motorbike Bill said, then started his bike again and screamed off down the hill towards Alice.

Chapter 5 – “Saturday Morning – The Knights of 58th Street”

Adam Douglas climbed to the top of the ladder, pushed open the trap door, and crawled into the tree house.

“Why is Ashley fucking Holmes sitting in a lawn chair in my backyard?” Adam asked the half dozen boys lounging about on the floor. Philip Basil turned red then said, sheepishly, “She’s got a case for us, but I told her she couldn’t come up. She had to wait.”

Adam’s jaw worked, but after a few seconds he nodded, then proceeded through the sea of legs and sneakers towards a wooden crate at the northern edge of the tree house that served as a podium. He sat on the floor behind the crate, pushed open a hinged panel in the crate, and drew out his most prized possession: a 1960’s outlaw biker helmet that someone had epoxied a pair of bull horns to. He’d spotted this treasure in a pawn shop a few months ago and begged his Mom to buy it for him. It had cost a great deal—three weeks of not getting into any trouble, two dozen dish washing sessions, a B+ on a math test, and even being polite to the stupid neighbors (whenever his Mom was around), but she had eventually agreed that he’d earned it. Within two days of actually getting the helmet, Adam dropped it in an alley and broke about half of one of the horns off, but he painted the broken part dark red and decided he liked the helmet even better after the accident. It looked like he’d seen a lot of action in that helmet—which was only partially true. He’s seen a lot of movies while wearing it, and in his mind that counted.

The helmet, of course, was way too big, but he put it on reverentially anyway, and clicked the strap under his chin that almost held it in place, then he picked up the wooden sword that always sat next to the podium and tapped the floor three times.

“I hereby call this meeting of the Knights of 58th Street to order!” Adam said and smiled.

“Roll call!” he yelled. “Charles?” A short, red haired kid with a crooked smile raised his hand. “Jason? Freddy? Mikey?” Three more hands went up. “Phil—you’re here. Where’s Luke?”

“Grounded again,” Charles said, chuckling and shaking his head.

“Stupid shit-head. What did he… No, never mind. Oliver? Yeah. Klaus?” Adam scanned the tree house. “No Klaus?”

“Haven’t seen him,” Charles shrugged.

“That’s two for Klaus. One more and he’s out,” Adam said, marking a note on his sheet. “And I’m here. Okay. Freddy, can you recap the minutes from last time?”

Freddy pulled a tiny notebook out of his coat pocket and flipped a few pages. “Um, Charlie and Jason were going to check out a haunted garage on 51st.”

“Pair of owls in the rafters,” Charles snorted.

“Bummer,” Adam said.

“Next,” Freddy continued, “Oliver was going to keep an eye on the new goblin market on the corner of Springer and 59th.”

“It seems legit to me,” Oliver said, standing up. He was fairly new to the group, and clearly nervous.

“Did you check the alley behind the store?” Adam asked.

“Well, I looked down it a couple times,” Oliver said, twisting his fingers and rocking on his heels, “but I didn’t…”

“Shit, man, if you’re too scared to scout an alley, you’re in the wrong group,” Charles said.

“No, no! It’s not that. I had my little brother with me both times, and he was scared.” Oliver’s brother, Zach, was only six, four years younger than him.

“Jesus Christ! You took a kid on official Knights business!?” Adam yelled. He squatted down behind the podium and fished around inside the hatch, then stood back up holding a wrinkled, stained, photocopied booklet, stapled along the left edge, that said, “The Knights of 58th Street – Bylaws.”

“That was a rookie mistake, Oliver,” Adam said, holding out the booklet. “Take this. Read it. Memorize it if you have to. It was my mistake for sending a new guy on a case without prepping him first. When you got this read, bring it back to me.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure!” Oliver said, shuffling up to the podium. He was happy to be getting a second chance.

“Meanwhile, Charlie, why don’t you and Jason dig around at the market,” Adam said.

“Got it,” Charles said. Jason nodded.

Freddy wrote a few notes in his book, flipped back a couple of pages, then said, “That’s about it for last week.”

“All right,” Adam said, smacking his wooden sword on the floor. “New business!”

Michael raised his hand. He was tall for a ten year old, and his long arm stuck up way over the other boys’ heads.

“Michael,” Adam called, pointing to his hand, and giving him the floor.

“I vote that we let Jamie Canning into the group,” he said.

“GOD DAMMIT, Mikey! We’ve talked about this! I don’t care how much you’re in love, there are no girls allowed in TKo58! Who ever heard of a female knight?”

“Mulan?” Phil said, sheepishly.

“A Disney film!? Are you shitting me!” Adam’s eyes burned with loathing. Charlie laughed.

“But listen,” Michael said, “she’s super smart, she’s not afraid of anything in the world, and her Dad was an exterminator back in L.A. before she and her Mom moved here. They still have most of his old equipment.”

“I don’t care if she’s got a sword that can make the Devil shoot sparks out of his ass! There are no girls allowed in the Knights!” Adam pointed his sword at Michael. His helmet started to slide sideways off the top of his head. He caught it and set it up right again, then cinched the strap a bit tighter.

“Adam, if she’s got access to REAL monster exterminator equipment, we could really use it,” Charles said. His tone was uncharacteristically reasonable.

“NO GIRLS IN THE GOD DAMNED KNIGHTS!! It’s in the fucking bylaws! End of story! If you want to be distracted by some chick while you work, go start your own monster hunting group, but THIS group is going to stay focused and alive! Got it?” Adam said this through clenched teeth, and he gave the entire group the Evil Eye, just to be certain he’d made his point clearly. He nodded to himself, order restored, and settled back behind the podium. “Next order of business?” Adam said.

“Umm,” Philip said, raising his hand.

“What now, Mulan?” Adam said, gritting his teeth.

“Ashley has a case,” Philip said. “Something’s been eating the stray cats in her neighborhood, and now whatever it is has killed her cat, Mitsy. She found her in the alley behind her garage.”

“Nice!” Adam said, standing up. “Let’s go talk to the bitch!” He banged his sword on the floor and officially ended the meeting.

Chapter 6 – “Sharkey and Howitzer”

“Captain Howitzer, you wanted to see me?” Sharkey said as he entered the darkened office. The captain, a balding man with bushy, gray eyebrows, was sitting behind a large, cluttered desk, his face painted a sickly white by the glow from the computer screen. The man nodded and pointed to a chair but continued reading his screen. Sharkey sat, removing his hat and placing it in his lap.

“I read Schitt’s report this morning from the Eastberry Apartment case,” Howitzer said, turning his attention to Sharkey, “and I just got a partial report from forensics. There were four vics, two male, two female. All late teens to early twenties. All of them swimming in some kind of ecstasy-like drug.” He rubbed a dry hand across his chin, which hadn’t been shaved in a few days.

“They were on ‘E?’ That surprises me,” Sharkey said. “I thought that went out with rave parties in the ‘90s.”

Howitzer shrugged. “It’s a super concentrated form, apparently, either that or they were on a Hunter Thompson binge.” Howitzer glanced back at his screen, “Anyway, the apartment belongs to a Mildred Zdilar. Single, 48, works at the cannery on the north-side. According to her shift leader, she’s on vacation in South America. Some kind of singles’ cruise. We think her niece, Jennifer Hardglove, 19, is probably one of the vics. She was supposed to be ‘apartment sitting.’ As soon as we get dental back, we’ll know for sure.” Sharkey nodded.

Howitzer continued, “The reason I wanted to talk to you, Schitt’s report mentions that you smelled something funny at the scene. Forensics found nothing that can help I.D. the thing that did this. I want to know what you’ve got.”

Sharkey shifted in his seat. “Not much,” he said. “Half formed memories—from when I was a pup. Before the operation. Before I got language.”

Howitzer mumbled a “Hnh.”

“I can barely remember it, but the smell was familiar. Definitely not human. That’s all I know right now—that and, well,” Sharkey picked his hat up and looked at it. “Frankly Captain, that smell scared the shit out of me.”

Howitzer sat back in his chair, his eyes wide. In all the years he’d known Sharkey, he’d never seen him scared. Of anything. Werewolves, ghosts, djinn, demons—nothin’ seemed to faze him, so if some THING out there could cause Sharkey to quake, it was seriously bad news.

“It ain’t much,” Sharkey said, shaking his head, apologetically.

“You be able to recognize that smell if you come across it again?” Howitzer asked.

Sharkey nodded, a slow snarl forming on his lips, and his teeth showing, “Yeah, without a doubt. I’d know it anywhere.”

“Then we got somethin,’” Howitzer said.

Chapter 7 – “Alice Goes Shopping”

The trip to the furniture store only took Alice about half-an-hour. She found a king size, oak framed bed that she loved, and although the manager had originally claimed they were too busy to deliver anything until the middle of the week, Alice was able to “persuade” him to make her furniture (which she got for cost) a priority. (She could have gotten everything for free, but she didn’t see any reason to rob the guy blind.) A truck was scheduled to drop her stuff off at five that evening, and a crew would move it all in and set the bed up for her. Alice would undoubtedly tip the delivery guys big—after all, they were doing the hard work.

Meanwhile, Alice had the day to kill and decided to check out the downtown “Saturday Market.” She’d been to hundreds of these in her life on several continents, and they really didn’t change much over a dozen decades. Food booths, bad art, crafts that no one really needed, and people trying to make a buck.

As Alice walked by booths selling horrid landscape paintings and dreary water colors, she shook her head. These themes were tired when she was a little girl in the 1800s, but everyone gets a turn at reinventing the wheel.

A girl with green, spiky hair and a blue and red flannel shirt strummed an acoustic guitar in front of a movie theater. Her open guitar case had a few dollar bills and some change in it. The girl, eyes closed, sang about being abused by a previous lover, and Alice again shook her head. “When will women learn that you won’t get respect from dressing like a scarecrow,” she thought. Alice knew the way to get respect was to grab your date’s hand as it’s sailing through the air in an attempt to bitch-slap you in a crowded bar, then to slug the fucker in the gut and drop him to the floor. Once he’s down, you fish his wallet out of his pocket, take the money, drop the wallet on his head, then say, “Thanks for the drink, asshole. It’s been fun.”

Of course, the respect you get in a situation like that is usually from the crowd of people standing around, gawking. The guy on the floor tends to fall more into the “embarrassed hatred” camp. And that’s when magic comes in handy. If the guy can’t let it go, some suggestion of unholy fear or a command that he piss himself whenever he thinks about you can be fun. Alice, in particular, didn’t like erasing memories, though this was often the easiest way to get out of a bad relationship. If the spell went wrong, bad things could happen. Very, very bad things.

Alice tossed a buck into the spiky girl’s guitar case, patted her on the head (infusing her with a little artificial “courage”) and decided to go look for a bar or diner to grab a bite to eat.

Chapter 8 – “Adam Goes to Work”

Adam, adjusting his helmet for the tenth time in as many minutes, led the way towards Ashley Holmes’s alley, even though he wasn’t one hundred percent certain of where he was going. Philip, Ashley, and Oliver followed. Adam told Oliver to come along so he could see how a REAL investigation was handled.

“Okay, Ashley, let’s see that stiff cat!” Adam said, as he steered the group into what he hoped was the right alley.

Ashley’s face went red and she glared at Adam, who looked surprised and shrugged.

“What?” he said.

“Ashley’s dad already buried the cat, Adam,” Philip said.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Adam said through clenched teeth. Philip shook his head, then lowered it slightly, reverentially, as he noticed a tear welling up in Ashley’s eye.

“Well, let’s grab a shovel and…” Adam started to say.

“No way! You’re sick!” Ashley yelled.

Adam took a deep breath. “How the fuck can I tell what killed little Mittens if I can’t look at the corpse?” Adam said this as calmly, and as menacingly, as he could. “That’s why girls aren’t allowed in the Knights,” he thought. “No understanding of method.”

“Her name was Mitsy,” Ashley said in a hoarse whisper, and she broke into quiet tears.

A disgusted look slid across Adam’s face. You try to help someone, and this is the kind of shit you have to put up with.

“Hey Adam! Come look at this!” Oliver called from about halfway down the alley. He’d scouted ahead to look for clues, hoping to get back on Adam’s good side.

As Philip hugged Ashley, ugh…, Adam adjusted his helmet again and paced in what he hoped looked like a professional manner toward Oliver, who was leaning over, examining something next to a garbage can. Adam smelled the rotting meat before he could see the carcass.

“What ya’ got?” he said, sliding up to Oliver.

“I think it was a ‘possum. Big one, too,” Oliver said.

“Yowzers,” Adam said. “Look at the bite out of its face! Crunched right through the skull! And the guts are torn completely out!”

Large chunks of the animal were missing. Clearly, something big, maybe the size of a dog, Adam thought, had torn the ‘possum apart.

“Good find,” Adam said, smacking Oliver on the back. Oliver blushed. “Hey Mulan, bring the sprinkler down here. I want to know if this is what her dumb cat looked like when she found it!” he yelled down the alley. “Looks like we got us a case, brother,” Adam said with a grin, and he smacked Oliver on the back again.

Chapter 9 – “Sharkey Meets Alice”

Sharkey parked his sedan and tossed his hat on the seat before closing his car door. It was already 4:30, so he was half an hour late meeting up with Jensen and Schitt, but he’d sent them a text saying he was running behind. He had Schitt order a rare burger for him that would undoubtedly be cold by the time he got to it.

Sharkey pushed open the door to Speak-E.Z.s and stepped into the dimly lit pub. A few regulars gave him half-hearted “hello” waves before curling back around their drinks. A girl with long blond hair, who Sharkey didn’t recognize, wearing jeans and a white t-shirt, got up from her bar-stool. She dropped a fifty on the counter and headed for the door. She glanced at Sharkey as she passed him and smiled. As soon as he caught her scent, his eyes went wide. He smelled magic.

He hadn’t smelled it in years, but it’s not something he was likely to forget. The last time he’d tussled with a witch, he’d lost a partner. A witch in town was bad news, if not for anything she was up to, then because of the things she might attract. The Hungry Things. Sharkey was certain that her scent hadn’t been at the apartment, but whatever had made that mess might have been lured to town by her.

The girl pushed through the door and out into the afternoon sun. He was tempted to follow her—ask her what she was up to, (witches were always up to something,) but he heard Schitt yelling from their regular booth.

“Hey Shark! Your burgers got icicles hangin’ off it. You can chase your tail later!” Sharkey swallowed, hard, then walked over to the booth.

“Poisitive I.D. on the dental for all four vics,” Jensen said.

“Any surprises?” Sharkey asked. He waved his paw at Janice behind the bar and held up two claws (with some difficulty—paws weren’t meant to work that way,) and Janice nodded.

“It was the tenant’s niece and her friends,” Jensen said.

Sharkey nodded, chewing on his frozen burger.

“What’s our theory for this one? Ritual murder?” Schitt asked. Janice set two beers in front of Sharkey and patted him on the shoulder.

“Forensics found missing organs—hearts, brains. We’re thinking demonic slaying,” Jensen said.

Sharkey glanced back at the door. The witch’s scent was still strong in the room. “I’ve got a different theory,” he said, then took another bite of his burger.

Chapter 10 – The Knights of 58th Street Strategize

Adam had Philip walk Ashley home—she wouldn’t stop crying—while he and Oliver searched several other alleys in the neighborhood. They found half a squirrel two blocks over, between 53rd and 54th, and a mutilated raccoon a block further on. Adam called an emergency meeting of the Knights of 58th Street at sunset to strategize on the best method for catching whatever was making a buffet out of the neighborhood animals. A stakeout was unanimously declared the best course of action.

Charles, Mikey, and Oliver all had cell phones, so the group was split into three units. It was decided that text messaging was quieter than walkie-talkies, and therefore more appropriate for surveillance, although Adam was a bit disappointed by this decision. He felt that walkie-talkies were more “professional” than plain, old texting, but he was out voted. Because of several recent decisions like this one, he had starting to think that democracy might not be the best organizational style for the Knights—but he was going to have to explore that thought more thoroughly at a later date. They had work to do.

“Okay,” Adam said to the group, “the sun’s about down. Let’s get this fuckin’ show on the road. Charlie, you and Jason hoof down to 53rd and set up about half way down the alley.”

Charlie and Jason nodded, and Adam once again hungrily eyed the machete that Jason had stolen from his Dad’s garage. Adam had tried to pull a power move and say that the leader should carry the strongest weapon, but Jason had threatened to take it back home if Adam kept badgering him about it. Adam had conceded. One good weapon was better than no good weapons, even if he wasn’t in charge of it.

“Mikey, you and Freddy take 57th,” Adam said, once he’d stopped coveting Jason’s blade. “We didn’t find nothin’ this far from Ashley’s street yet, but the thing’s been chewin’ through the animals down further, so it might need to come this way to find fresh meat.”

“Got it,” Freddy said. Mikey gave a thumbs-up.

“Oliver and Phil, you guys are with me. We’re heading back to Ashley’s alley to try walkin’ north and south a few blocks. See if we can’t spot our perp,” Adam said.

“Okay, but…” Oliver started to say. Everyone turned and looked at him. “But” wasn’t heard very often at Knights’ meetings.

“But what, rookie,” Adam said, coldly.

“But I’m supposed to be home before ten,” Oliver said, his voice trailing off and his cheeks turning into apples.

“You’re shitting me,” Adam said after a pause. His lip twitched, and his eyes narrowed to lasers.

“Why didn’t you tell your parents you were staying the night with somebody?” Charlie asked. “That’s standard stuff, man.”

Jason shook his head sadly.

“I couldn’t! We’re going…” Oliver caught himself before saying where. He swallowed. He loved his grandparents but going to visit them instead of fighting monsters didn’t sound very cool.

“I don’t care if you’re going to a fucking petting zoo. We’ve got a JOB to finish!” Adam shouted. “Seriously, Oliver, if you hadn’t found that possum carcass this morning, I’d toss your ass out that fucking window right now!”

Oliver’s head swung down until his chin was practically touching his chest.

“You’re going to be late. We’ve only got three cell phones between us, and since you fuckers voted against the walkies, that’s how we’re going to stay in touch.”

“But I’ll get grounded!” Oliver pleaded.

Adam glared at him for a second. “You make your decision. The rest of us got a monster to kill. You guys ready?” Everybody confirmed, mostly eager to get away from the shame radiating from the new guy.

“Okay! Check in every 30. Sooner if you spot somethin’. Let’s go!” Adam banged his wooden sword on the floor and everyone got up, except Oliver. The group crawled through the trap door and down, out of the tree house. Philip stopped as he was climbing down the ladder and gave Adam a quizzical look. Adam waved for Phil to keep going, and then he held up two fingers, silently saying, “Give me two minutes.”

Philip slipped out of the tree house. Adam walked over to Oliver, who wasn’t quite crying, and patted him on the shoulder.

“Look man,” Adam said, “I know you’ve got some detection skills. Saw that today. But this club ain’t for everyone. Sometimes we have to break rules. You know, for the good of shit. That’s who we are.”

“I know,” Oliver said. “I’ll be late. Let’s go.” He stood up.

“That’s right, my man. Maybe you’ll be grounded next week, but tonight we’re going to kick some monster ass!” Adam smacked Oliver on the shoulder again, then steered him toward the trap door. As Oliver climbed down, Adam pulled the chin strap on his helmet as tight as he could get it, walked over to the podium and grabbed his sword, then headed for the ladder, smiling like the cat who got the fuckin’ canary.

[LOTS more to come from Sharkey! I made it through seventeen chapters on my last draft—and this time, we’re taking it ALL THE WAY! However many chapters that might be… —RFY]