“Are you sure he doesn’t want to come inside for some pie?” Anne’s mom said, looking out the window at the man standing under the ancient oak in the front yard. Anne followed her mom’s look. Erik could be so damned stubborn. He couldn’t come in and converse with her parents like any of the other Avalonians. No, he had to do his guard duty outside. At least he looked like he was just lounging under the tree and not standing at attention or something. The neighbors would really talk if he did that.

“He’s fine out there,” Anne said, “He’s just glad it’s warmed up to what he considers a bearable temperature.” Her mom shrugged. She was used to Erik’s odd ways, even though she had no idea why her daughter hung out with a man like that.

“The winter did break early this year,” Mrs. Hearst said. “It looks to be one of the warmest St. Patrick’s days in the last fifty years. The weatherman on Channel 10 said it was because of global warming.” Anne’s mom sniffed her disapproval of that opinion. Barbara Hearst couldn’t understand how humans could do anything to God’s Earth, so all of this global warming talk was just nonsense. Plus, the radio talk shows said it was all a plot by the communists anyway. Anne just took another bite of the cherry pie to hide her own look at her mom’s opinion.

“Are you taking Kurt to the St. Patrick’s Day parade?” Mrs. Hearst asked, trying unsuccessfully to hide the tone of hopefulness in her voice. Anne smiled as she sipped her coffee.

“If we both have the day off, then yes, I will bring him with me to the park for the cook-out, and you can finally show us off to your side of the family,” Anne said, with feigned exasperation.

“I just thought it would be nice for him to see the city’s parade,” Mrs. Hearst said, dismissing her daughter’s accusation. “Why couldn’t you just request the day off, like any other job?” Anne blew out her breath.

“I did, but I’m still on call. That’s what happens when you’re the force’s premier detective,” Anne said, avoiding the real reason why she would still be on call.

“So we can hope no one gets killed in some particularly gruesome way that only you can figure out,” her mom said with a familiar biting tone. Anne restrained the temptation to bang her head on the tabletop. At least her mom only thought Anne had to deal with normal, human murderers. If she knew about some of the things Anne actually chased through the city streets, the woman would probably have a nervous breakdown.

“So, what else has been happening since Kurt and I came for dinner last week?” Anne asked, changing the subject.

“Your uncle Howard got a promotion to vice-president,” her mom said, proud of her baby brother.

“Send him my congratulations,” Anne said.

“I will,” Mrs. Hearst said, “You know what this means, don’t you?” Anne looked up suspiciously at her mother.

“What?” Anne asked.

“He’s going to be able to afford to send Mindy to Delain,” Mrs. Hearst said, dropping the bomb. “We offered to let her take your old room, but Howard says she wants to experience real college life.” Anne groaned. She had no idea how her airhead of a cousin managed to get accepted into an elite school like Delain. The idea of Mindy in her city as a college freshman filled Anne with dread. It was bad enough that Anne wasn’t sure if she could finish her last bite of pie. Determined not to let one girl spoil her mom’s pie, Anne shoved the last bit into her mouth.


“Then she suggested that Kurt and me show her around the city when she gets here in August!” Anne said as Erik navigated the car through the city streets. Anne had been ranting non-stop since they’d left her parents house. Erik couldn’t understand her frustration, but he knew it was better just to let the storm blow itself out before saying anything.

“You disagree?” Anne said, and Erik felt her emotions shift. Damn, that wasn’t going to work this time.

“She’s your cousin,” Erik said, “Why wouldn’t you help her?”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t, but it’s like Mom’s already planned out half-a-dozen family things when Mindy gets here and figured out what I would be doing,” Anne answered, “Without even asking!”

“So?” Erik asked, before he could stop himself. Anne’s anger spiked.

So?” she nearly screamed. “Don’t you think she should at least have the decency of asking me before she volunteers me to show Mindy around the city? Especially with Kurt?” Erik gave Anne a sidelong glance before pulling into a parking lot. Americans had some very odd concepts when it came to family dynamics.

“Come on,” he said, trying to avert the upcoming argument by changing the subject. He stepped out of the car. Anne’s anger jumped up even further before it was drowned out by her curiosity. She stepped out of the car and stared up at the three-story building.

“What is this place?” Anne asked.

“Our new clubhouse,” Erik answered, and smiled at Anne’s exasperation. She hated when someone gave her cryptic answers. They hung up their coats in the small foyer before they entered what looked like one of those war rooms shown in movies or television. Plasma screens hung from the walls showing news feeds and cameras from around the city. The rest of the team, including Lady Maritza, was lounging on some of the plush chairs scattered about. The only person missing was Jason. Erik felt her astonishment as she looked around.

“When did you guys do all this?” Anne asked.

“Mostly while you and Jason were at work,” Lady Maritza answered. “The point was made that some of your extra-circular activities could point the wrong kind of attention back to the apartments. Plus, it seemed like a good idea to give you some training and logistical space that didn’t interfere with my own people’s.”

“You actually got a company to do construction in the middle of winter?” Anne asked.

“It was more of a renovation, actually, dear,” Lady Maritza answered, “It also helps when the owner’s wife is the one contracting for service.” The two women beamed at each other. Erik hid his own smile. As bad as his relationship was with his nominal superior, at least those two got on like a house on fire. Before Lady Maritza continued, Anne’s phone rang with that annoying song she used for Jason.

“What’s up Jason?” Anne asked. Her emotions became subdued as she spoke with her partner. From the look on Samantha’s face, this was going to be one of those special cases. Erik signaled for Kurt to load up one of the vans and get ready to leave. The Avalonians were moving to the garage.

“I’m sorry Lady Maritza,” Anne said as she hung up her phone, “It looks we caught a really bizarre case.” The older lady embraced Anne.

“And I didn’t even get to show you the secret passages,” Lady Maritza replied with mock severity. “Take care of yourself.” Erik’s superior gave him a curt nod as he followed the rest of the team out to the waiting van. As they pulled out and started following Anne, Erik wondered what kind of insanity this world was going to throw at them this time.