Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 37

    The business Jack started with his friend and partner, Stanley Whitkins, was called Paranormal Cleaners. That name represented everything Jack felt he stood for, the fight of cleanliness against evil. Even though his business had the word “cleaner” in the name, his clients often foisted jobs off on him which had nothing to do with cleaning. Pest control, electrician, inmate control, gremlin control and now, once again, carpentry. Even Jack had never worked a job which required him to work with his now long dead grandfather. That work happened to sucker him into this longstanding Goodbody family tradition of coming to this cabin to gain some insight from the dead. It appeared to be a dead tradition, or at least he had never been told about it. Somehow, both Julian and Sam had found their way out here, something he would have to question Julian about when he arrived.

     Jack hardly meant that as a complaint. Having grown up around his father, Jack often pictured his grandfather as the same type of dour, merciless and effortlessly efficient man his father tried to make him into. Gideon Goodbody spoke loud, laughed louder and walked with softer footsteps than any man Jack had ever met. When he spoke, it was often a torrent of information, with no real rhyme or reason to it. While they replaced the rotten floorboards, Jack found himself conversing with his grandfather as though he had known him his whole life.

    “So the mail man was refusing to come up to our house and deliver our packages to us. I went down to see the post master and I asked him what the holdup was. It’s in their motto, Jack, neither rain, or sleet, nor wild animal attack.”

    Jack held a board down while Gideon nailed it into place, “So what did he say?”

    “He told me that the last two postmen they sent up had been stopped by a plant, so they were going to ask us to come down the mountain and get our own mail.”

    “Just a plant? That sounds rude.”

    Gideon laughed, “Well, I may have understated the plant. It was six feet tall and had a taste for human flesh, so I could hardly blame him for having reservations.”

    Jack stood up and looked over the living room. It had been a week since they had begun work on the cabin, and already the interior looked a million times better. Gideon complained a lot at first, but it turned out he did the hardest labor Jack had ever seen, outside of Stanley. What Jack learned to love about him the most was that he was a fount of knowledge that he sorely lacked. His father had been of the opinion that learning was best done on your own, the opinion of true genius to be sure. It’s hard to gauge your own abilities when your father presented such an unsurpassable wall. Growing up with his sister, studying to hunt and kill without being given a reason why, that was the life Jack knew growing up. As they studied, Jack often had questions about the various creatures or targets he would be expected to take down when he got older, but it never felt like a good time to ask his father.

     “So what did you do, grandfather?”

     “Gideon, Jack. It’s alright to call me Gideon, you’re a man now. I went out with some workers and transplanted it to the backyard. Your father used to like to play with it, but I think he might have been too rough with it. Either that, or it wasn’t all that suited to cold weather, because when the first snows came, it died not long after.”

    Taking a quick break to examine the floor and the boards they had installed, Jack noticed a pattern. The rot in the floor was worst around the portion of the cabin above the basement Jack had tried to sneak a peek into when they first arrived. Standing up, he scanned the walls for obvious signs of water damage or other inclement weather creating problems for the wood. The boards on the walls had aged poorly in some places, but they were still keeping the weather out. Something smelled funny about this cabin, and it wasn’t the terrible furniture, though the living room couch did need to be purified with fire for its unholy faded upholstery.

     Work continued well into the night. Jack decided to call it when they were having a hard time seeing where they were going beyond the light they were working with. Jack called Stan to the front door and waited until he was done moving the last supplies into order to speak, “I’ll start taking some food out to make dinner. I have one chore for you before you come in. We want this yard to be square and this is roughly shaped like an amoeba. Given the state of the building, we can use some more wood to shore up the foundations and replace some of the rotted out wood anyways, and it wouldn’t hurt to add another story but that can wait until we’re done sorting the first floor.”

     “Can do, boss.” Stan lumbered off to tear down more of the forest and Jack started putting dinner together. The one piece of furniture that functioned as it should was the refrigerator, and Jack had put it to good use since they had arrived.

       The sun slowly sank behind the trees as Stan came in, having torn down enough trees to make the yard roughly square shaped. Jack put the finishing touches on a large pot of stew and Stan made a large fire out in the yard for them to sit around while they ate. Pouring out two bowls, he handed one to Stan and one to Gideon with a spoon each before pouring himself a bowl. They ate in silence for a long time before Stan finally spoke up.

     “How’s the inside comin’, boss?”

     “All in all, the place was well made, which makes sense given that it belonged to our family. We’ve replaced most of the floorboards, though I suspect the walls will need some attention before we do anything else. We’re going to have to look at the basement, because the wood seems to be rotting around certain portions of it. I’m putting that off until the last day, because I think that’s what Gideon would want.”

     Gideon froze with his spoon halfway to his mouth, sparing an awkward glance at Jack before laughing nervously, “Was it that obvious?”

    Jack sipped his stew idly, “Pretty much. I’ve been cleaning long enough to know when rot sets into wood because of natural causes and when it’s unnatural. If I go into that basement, it’s going to be for the purpose of cleaning it, not to go on some bizarre spirit journey. I’m not a member of the Goodbody family anymore, this isn’t my line of work Gideon.”

     Gideon sat and listened to Jack while he eat quietly, but when he finished, Gideon put his bowl down and grew serious, “You can’t just break a tradition that’s been going on for decades, Jack. Even my son must have raised you better than that.”

    Jack watched the fire dance for a long time before he responded, “I took a job to clean this place out and fix it up for Julian. That’s what I plan to do.”

    “At least take something with you, from me, before you go. And take all the stones with you, they’re full of memories and hard earned lessons. They belong in a Goodbody home rather than out here in the middle of nowhere.”

     When Jack didn’t respond, Gideon went silent again, his expression growing dark and sad as he watched the fire spark in front of them. The night passed without incident, though Jack refused to let either himself or Stan sleep inside the cabin that night.

     The rest of the cabin flowed smoothly, and with Gideon’s help they managed to make wonderful time. The walls grew stronger, the floors were fully repaired and the new front steps were solid enough to not be plotting bloody murder every time someone stepped on them. The original steps were no longer capable of that, after Stan had stepped straight through the top step one day, and destroyed the others in a fit of rage. Eventually, even the second floor took on shape and Jack used it to add a proper master bedroom and bath. Since he was hardly a plumber, he figured the pipes might need some work but that could be worked out later as well. The bedrooms on the first floor became three guest rooms and the hallway had some light added to it by adding a lamp.

     Jack knew the source of the rot lay in the basement, which Jack had still refused to enter because he hated it when his job lined up with someone else’s goals. Eventually, they reached the limit of what they could do outside of the basement, and Jack had to descend into the darkness. Every step he took echoed around him, as though the basement extended for miles. The power must have been shorted to the basement, but no amount of fiddling with the power could get it to return. In lieu of that, Jack was forced to bring a candle, which he held away from his face. The light barely penetrated the darkness which surrounded him, pressing against him like a living thing. When Jack asked Gideon what he would find, he truly didn’t seem to know. As Jack sniffed the air, he could tell that whatever it was, it had teeth and fur. He could still smell it in the dark. Jack’s long awaited trial had begun. Whether he wanted to be a part of the family or not, the choice was now out of his hands.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 6

     A long time ago, Liam had considered giving up thieving and becoming an honest man. He had been younger, and stupid, and in love. He failed to consider that several lifetimes of thievery doesn’t translate very well to other jobs. Before long he was back on the streets engaging in his profession until his wife found out where he went off to every day because she eventually had to bail him out of the pokey. The long and short of that trip down memory lane was that you could take the thief out of thievery, but thievery remains a part of the thief. He found these thoughts running through his mind unbidden as he stood in front of the door that led into John Neelan’s dreaded Cheeto infested “inner sanctum”. Much like thieves, you could take the spy out of his industry and he would still be a spy.

     Liam distrusted the Neelan family as a whole, because they worked in cloak and dagger secrecy. Spies stole lives wholesale with mere words, whereas Liam just lifted wallets to keep his stomach full and his booze flowing. John Neelan especially gave him the willies, because he looked at him as though Liam were just a prized turkey full of money. Still, if he was going to rob Matthew Bergson, he needed someone who could do it quickly and quietly. This technological theft was outside of Liam’s experience by a wide margin. No doubt this would turn into an ordeal, but the scent of money made his ears twitch and before he knew it, his feet had walked him all the way to this door until his common sense had kicked in to give one last protest.

     Standing at the door, with his hand on the knob, the debate was already over. He knew what he wanted more than the money, and that was freedom. Working for Simon hadn’t been a bad experience overall. Sure, he had died a few times more than normal, but that was the price of admission to a fantastic world Liam hardly belonged in. Turning the knob, Liam opened the door and stepped willingly into the worst decision he had made in ages.

     Meeting John Neelan taught Liam many things about spies. They worked impossibly full schedules that didn’t allow for things like sleep, basic hygiene, or fresh air. Even amongst a family of spies, John was considered a work-a-holic. Liam was under the impression that John might have been a prisoner of his own success. It’s hard to turn down work when you’re someone’s ace in the hole, not that Liam would have known anything about that from personal experience.

     Light from computer monitors spilled out into the hallway as soon as Liam cracked the door open to step inside. John had hardly moved from where he had been sitting the last time Liam had visited him with Samantha Goodbody in tow. John’s room barely had enough space left for him to stand in, and Liam nearly pushed a stack of files over as soon as he entered. Instead of the usual pizza boxes and endless cans of soda, littered liberally around the room, there were stacks of paper and files. They stood as tall as he did, and many of them showed clear signs of having been hastily rifled through. Liam realized with a start that John was working on the assignment the head of his family had given him. Recently, his black-mailing employer, Simon Nair, had asked Liam to spy on the heads of the Five Families while they met at his own house. While working this job, he overheard John and Isaac, the head of the Neelan family, reveal they knew they had a mole, but still had to locate who it was. That job had been left to John; to sift through a torrential storm of information in order to find out who was giving their bad name an even worse streak.

    “John, I’m sorry to bother you again so soon…”

     Charm is a tool that never works on thieves or spies, because they use it when they want something you’ve got that they want. John cut him off quickly, “You’re too polite, Liam. You literally never come to see me because we’re such good friends. It’s about money, isn’t it?”

     “I can be polite when money is involved. I was given a job spying on the guy in charge of funding for the Society for the Protection of Humankind.”

    John’s chair wheeled around slowly, and Liam noticed a series of small things that tipped him off to the seriousness of the situation. Normally, when working, John wore a dark bathrobe with a deep hood which he seemed to think made him look intimidating. Today, he wore a suit that fitted loosely around his thin frame. Even back-lit by the multiple computer moniters, Liam could see the bags under his eyes. He had a massive coffee cup in his hands and the vile smell wafting from it could only come from a concoction made from espresso, Red Bull and Five Hour energy drinks, “What’s in it for me? I’m up to my eyeballs in work already. Slow me up and you’re liable to get killed.”

     “Oh yes, that would be horrible if I got killed. I’m sure it would be horrible if I got killed, because that’s never happened before, has it?”

    “Ok, you made your point, but I still need to know what’s in it for me.”

     “Simon asked me to gather information to make a pitch to his dad. He thinks defunding them is a good step towards slowing them down.”

     John spun his chair around in slow circles, “He’s not wrong. Their operations are money intensive, and require huge amounts of upkeep. It’s not like we can just take the money unless we have bank account numbers, routing numbers, code confirmations, dummy account names and a host of other information I’ll never get my hands on.”

     “What if I told you I stole all that information and came right here with it?”

     John slowly spun to a stop, “Are you for real?”

     Reaching into his pocket, Liam pulled out his phone which John instantly snatched away, “It’s in the pictures. I took screen shots of it all.”

    There was a long pause as John flipped through the images, “Liam, this is brilliant. I had thought about trying to get this information, but I sorely lacked the time I needed to track down who had the accounts. I mean, look at this place,” John gestured to his room full of stack upon stacks of files, “this is going to save me a lot of time.”

     “So you can get me the money?”

     John sent the photos to his own phone before handing the phone back to Liam, “This is blood money, Liam. You don’t want it as much as you think you do.”

     Cramming the phone back into his pocket, Liam growled, “Oh, and I suppose you do?”

     “Of course I do, but I’m willing to cut you in on your own take, if you do me a little favor first. I have some information I need to collect from the De Luca family on the outskirts of the city. They have restaurants all over the city, and some big stakes in the Mythic people. They promised me something I needed to do my work and now they’re ignoring me. It’s not like I’m the most intimidating person in the world, and for personal reasons I can’t ask for help from the rest of the family at this time.”

     Sagging a little, Liam did the mental calculation, “So you’re asking me to go talk to the mafia about that thing they were supposed to send you, get killed a few times, get the thing and bring it back to you.”

     “Pretty much.”

    “I hate you so much.”

     “Yeah, but you’ll have enough money to buy yourself sympathy cards with. I hope you do, because I’ll be using my share to buy the world’s smallest violin. Now get to work, lackey.” Suddenly, for no reason that Liam was willing to put his finger on, Liam felt like working for Simon might not be that bad after all.

     The De Luca family was one which Liam knew more by reputation than having actually dealt with them. Even when you couldn’t die, there are excessively violent ways to die that Liam didn’t want to think about. Just because he wouldn’t stay dead, didn’t mean he was clamoring to try new ways to go about doing it. The De Luca family, in particular, could write a book on that particular chilling subject, with a companion guide that would make the Encyclopedia Britannica feel insecure in the locker room. Having to go and ask them for a favor they could totally refuse is something Liam would only do for money. As it turned out, Liam was doing it for a lot of money. While Liam knew the De Luca family mostly from their more nefarious endeavors, he had a sinking feeling that he had run into them more recently in a more pedestrian environment.

     Sure enough, when Liam checked the address John unceremoniously shoved into his hand,  he recognized one of the restaurants run by the family. It was even called, “The Olde “Family” Restaraunte” as though the owners were trying to quash all doubt as to who really owned the business. Liam had met the current owner when he was first getting into his respective business, and Liam had offered to help his grandmother get home, for a small fee of course. Then he robbed her, because it’s not like her mafia boss grandson couldn’t afford to get her nicer things. In Liam’s mind, he had done her a favor by taking all crappy older stuff, because that clearly meant a shopping spree was in order. He doubted her grandson would see it that way. Along with all the other people in that neighborhood who wanted to kill him, this guy was the biggest reason Liam had moved away to his current apartment building.

     That’s why, when he was greeted at the kitchen door by two burly men who introduced themselves as bus boys, he wasn’t surprised that his personal introduction led to being put in a choke hold and marched through the door to the head of the De Luca family. Ronaldo, the head of the De Luca family, was everything Liam was not. He had swarthy Sicilian charm and fine black hair swept back from a face which could have come from the portrait of a Renaissance nobleman. He stood out, surrounded by his heavier thugs, by his calm demeanor and his lean build. It was clear he was in charge and in command, but what was worse, it was clear that he recognized Liam.

    “Liam, my friend,” he spoke with a thick accent, in sure tones. The hustle and bustle surrounding him instantly vanished as though it were sleeping with the fishes, “I never thought you would have the balls to come back here.”

    “Trust me, if I had any other choice, I would have never come back. I had no idea you went legit in any way.”

    Ronaldo scowled, “With this current climate, the Feds have been cracking down on legitimate businessmen in a big way. To survive, I needed to go mostly legit, or I would have drowned with the rest of them. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

     “John Neelan said you owed him information. He sent me to pick it up, because he hates you.” Liam lied about that last part, hoping the enemy of his enemy wouldn’t kill him, at least.

     “I also hate you.”

     “And I hate both of you, and that’s why he sent me, because he hates me as well. So do you have it or not?”

     “I do have what he desires. He’s interested in information on the other families, wondering if they’re part of this great purge he’s so worried about.”

    Liam plugged his fingers in his ears, “La la la, I don’t want to know anything that someone could torture me for later on.”

    Ronaldo smiled a cruel smile, “That’s why I told you enough to be ignorant. Before I give you what you want, you must do something for me.”

    “Oh God, you want me to go grab something for you from someone else who hates me, don’t you? This is punishment for that time when I did the thing.”

    Ronaldo gestured over his shoulder to a large industrial sink overflowing with pots and pans and dishes of all shapes and sizes, “Finish those dishes, and then we’ll talk.”

    Liam paled. He would never say he was against hard work, but this wasn’t hard work, it was slave labor, “This is because I stole from your grandmother isn’t it?”

     “Yes, it is. Now hurry up, the late lunch rush will arrive soon and you’re going to be even busier when that happens.”

     Liam’s arms were unaccustomed to hard work. He spent the rest of the day wishing they would just fall off so he would have an excuse to go home. Long after the restaurant was closed, the dishes were finally done and Liam was let off the hook with a warning and a jump drive containing all the information John wanted. If he had been less tired, he would have been more wary.

At the end of all things, I’ll still be here~

     Hello, dear friends. I hope you’ve been having a good week. Mine has been so-so. I hate to tell you that Second-Hand Rumors continues to be a thorn in my side, but it really has been thus far. The chapter for tomorrow is mostly written, though it needs to be edited first by me and then by my wife. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post it tomorrow, but I will do my best to get it up. I always feel bad when Second-Hand Rumors chapters go up super late, and then a few people like it and I’m like…shit, someone might have been waiting on that. So I am sorry, the wife is working today and tomorrow so it may have to come out on the weekend.

     Jack and Stan is now heading into the end game for the second part. Without giving too much away, we’re going to be getting some more information on the Cult of the Outer Plant gods, which a dark parody of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m very excited for some new ideas, though that does mean massive rewrites for the coming chapters. It will be worth it, because we get to see Samantha Goodbody kicking ass and taking names again. Ah! I’ve said too much, moving on. I’m just going to bite the bullet and buy something to get the info from my hard drive in the next few weeks. It’s rapidly reaching the point where I need to just get that done with.

     On the Total War front, I’ve now got 50 turns under my belt, so I know what to expect for the forseeable future in terms of storytelling. I hope that I can get started on that soon, but given my difficulties writing Second-Hand Rumors, that might be a bit of a stretch. Liam’s life is going to get so much more difficult soon. Oh, and of course, it didn’t help that my keyboard died this last week. I bought a new one and then had to immediately return that one,  because when I’m writing, I don’t normally smash my keys like I’m Beethoven in a creative frenzy. I wish I did. I don’t. As always, thank you for stopping by, dear friends. I will hold a special seat for you by my hearth until you return.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 35

     Mysteries are one way streets which never allow you to return the way you came. You can’t unlearn a secret, as Jack found out when he explored the basement of his house in his youth. A mysterious cabin deep in the mountains that once belonged to the Goodbody family, however, had become a mystery Jack could hardly turn down. That the Goodbody family, renowned in some circles for their stinginess, would actually let go of property was mystery enough to intrigue Jack.

     The route to the cabin led through some pretty rough roads. Their journey led them out of town on the main road. They passed left onto the road that took them to Jack’s house which made his skin crawl until they drove past it. The Catskills weren’t the largest mountain chain but they were good for solitude, if that’s what you were looking for. The road led on past enormous, gnarled trees that had seen times before man had ever put a single cabin on the mountains and into the darker places that had scarcely been seen in years.

     It took them a few hours to get to the cabin and from the instant Jack saw the clearing surrounding the cabin, he knew his work was cut out for him. The trees around the cabin were all turned in towards the cabin, their spare branches turned down as though they were reaching for the building. The cabin itself would be proud if someone called it dilapidated. The roof had caved in on the left side of the cabin and the front of the building was a complete shambles. The windows would be very pretty if they were more than holes in the wall that someone had wedged thick pieces of glass into. The door held shut, surprising Jack, but the screen door slammed wildly against the wall, moving in even the slightest wind.

      Jack hopped out of the van and took a look around what passed for the front yard. The grass in front of the cabin was either dead or dying. In the front of the cabin, there was something resembling a front porch, which was barely larger than the front door. It had three steps that led up to a short landing. The cabin itself only had one story, though on closer inspection Jack could tell that it had a basement. While examining the cabin’s walls, he found a small ground window that looked down into the basement and tried to wipe it clean. The dirt had merged with the window, creating a piece of stained glass. Jack rubbed the bridge of his nose and kicked a pane in. he shuddered when it didn’t make a breaking nose. The smell of death and decay poured out from the opening immediately.

     Before entering the dilapidated building, Jack scanned the yard, searching for anything of note which could tell him more about why they had ever let go of this property. In the far corner of the yard, stood a stone shrine. It consisted of a pillar topped by a large stone orb with two wings sprouting from it. In front of the pillar lay a pile of small stones. Crossing the yard, Jack picked one up. One word had been written on the front, “Family” and on the back was his father’s name, “Varnes Goodbody. Sifting through the stones, it quickly dawned on Jack that each member of his family had a stone with their name and one word. Sam’s stone read, “Purpose” and Julian’s read, “beauty”.

     “Where do you want them supplies, boss?” Stan had started taking the wood from the back of the van and putting it on his shoulder.

     “In stacks and piles in front of the cabin and cover them with a tarp. I just have a bad feeling about this place.” Turning back to the work at hand, Jack rose to his feet with a grunt. He hated secrets and secrets having to do with his family most of all.

     Jack walked up the stairs, barely surprised when the front porch opened up a hole when he stepped on it in a weakened place. They would need to get more supplies from the woods before this trip was over. The door was engraved with the family motto above two crossed spears, still visible despite the overall decay of the building.

     The door into the cabin proper was surprisingly sturdy, given the state of the rest of the cabin, and to Jack’s trained eye it presented an obvious warning sign. Nothing said “stay out of this obviously cursed building” like a door that refused to open into an otherwise dilapidated structure. Doors in these circumstances hold up well because of good building materials or the forces of darkness. This case was clearly the latter.

  The inside of the cabin was a marvel and curiosity. The rug in the main room was an oriental rug that was entirely out of place on the floor of a glorified shack that looked ready to fall down at any moment. On the wall, an enormous elk bust surveyed the room, surrounded by a small fleet of smaller animals that all stared blankly out at the room. The furniture, which mainly consisted of a faded plaid couch and chair set with a coffee table in the middle, was covered with a fine coat of dust. Jack walked over to the coffee table and leaned down to blow on it, watching the dust flow away from the table like a river of dirt floating through the air. There was a fireplace on the left side of the room with a brick mantle which appeared so brittle Jack knew it would crack into tiny pieces if he lit a match anywhere near it.

     As Jack examined the cabin’s interior, a voice called out from what should have been an empty room, “I’ve been here for so long, waiting for you Jack. Now that you’ve finally come, you ignore me? Is this how my son raised his children?”

     Jack knew the cabin was empty. It had been empty for years.  Certainly, there was nobody here who knew who he was. When he turned back to the couch, it was occupied by the largest man he had ever set eyes on, barring perhaps Stan. His long sandy blonde hair was tucked back into a ponytail, and his beard covered his massive chest in unruly tangles. Even in the low light, his blue eyes twinkled with merriment and laugh lines crawled away from the corners of his eyes. He wore a dark three piece suit which reminded Jack instantly of his father.

    “Who are you and how did you get in here?”

    The figure almost choked with anger, “It’s me, Gideon! I’m your grandfather, you ingrate! I gave you your favorite present on your third birthday!”

    Jack paused, “Didn’t you also die on my third birthday? How could I possibly remember you?”

     “That…that’s no excuse! Why has it taken so long for your father to send you here? Sit down and have a chat with your grandfather.”


     Jack’s grandfather sat in shock for a long time before he responded, “Because every member of the family has come here for hundreds of years, surely your father told you about this place!”

     Jack inspected the floor space in front of his supposed grandfather, realizing there was no chair to be found. Shrugging, he sat down on the floor. When your long dead grandfather appears in a strange cabin in the woods and asks you sit down, you don’t argue.

     “Given the expression on your face, it sounds like Varnes never even told you about this place.”

    “I have no idea if he would have or not. I ran away from the house when I was seventeen years old, and I’ve never looked back.”

    Leaning back in his chair, his grandfather let out the deep sigh of a troubled parent, “Why did you do something so stupid, Jack?”

    “I ran away after a hunting trip with father and my younger brother, Joseph. Only father and myself came back. I don’t know what happened, but I know it was father’s fault.

     Jack grew up in a family which never focused heavily on physical affection, so Gideon’s actions took him entirely off guard. Rising to his feet, Gideon wrapped Jack up in his arms, “It’s never easy to lose a family member. We grow up surrounded by death. We cause death in our work, but somehow we’re never ready for death when it follows us home.” Gideon felt warm, bring Jack memories that he couldn’t place because he was too young to really remember them.

     Now it’s my turn to ask a question. What is this place and how are you here? You died before I could even have any memories of you.  Father never talks about you, never even mentions your name. He would get so angry when Samantha and I would ask about you that we stopped pretty quickly.”

     “Generations of Goodbody’s have come here to meet with and learn from past generations. They come here to learn, to become a better version of themselves from past generations. I don’t know if the family had something like this before we came over from England. I wish I could explain more about this place.”

     Jack mulled the idea over in his head, “So why were you the one who showed up? Could it have been someone else’s ghost?”

     Gideon nodded, “When I came here as a child, I got my favorite aunt. Varnes wouldn’t tell me who he got, but every Goodbody family member is supposed to come here to get some advice and guidance on who they’re supposed to be.”

     Rising to his feet, Jack slapped the dust from his pants and looked around, “Well, won’t that be a shock to Julian when he shows up. He certainly didn’t mention this place or its purpose, that’s for sure.”

     Now it was Gideon’s turn to be curious, “And who is that?”

     Jack realized that Julian had been born after Gideon had passed away, “That’s Uncle Reginald’s son. He lives in California now.”

     Gideon’s face fell again, “Good lord, did nobody stay at the house? What happened to the family?”

     Walking over to one of the windows, Jack watched as Stan stacked wood outside, “We’re still around, just not all at the same place. There aren’t as many hunts to go on as there used to be, so we’re not really needed anymore.”

     “Jack,” Gideon’s voice was sharp when he spoke this time, “is that all our family is to you?”

     Looking over his shoulder, Jack shrugged as though the question didn’t even interest him, “It’s all I was taught. No hunts means no hunters and no hunters means why does our family even exist?”

     “When I was head of this family, hunts were a very small part of what we did. It’s the part we were known for, but that’s really a shame. It’s not the part I liked.”

    Tapping his foot on the floor, Jack tested it to see how it supported his weight, “What did you like?”

     “We just often happened to be the first family on the scene. When there was a problem, we came and we talked it out. Violence should be the last resort. When you go in looking for a fight, you always put your life and the lives of your opponents at risk and for what? Reputation? Honor? Someone always goes home in a box, when you start spouting words like that. Glory is a bitter dish.”

     “Huh,” Jack peered curiously at his grandfather, “I always wondered where that phrase came from.”

     Gideon laughed loudly, sounding more at ease, “It was something my father said and his father before him. I wonder if anyone even remembers where it came from now? It means something different for each person who uses it.”

     “Anyway, my cousin Julian asked me to fix the place up. He bought it as a summer home so he could stay near the house without actually staying in it.”

     “But why would you not want to stay in the Goodbody house? It’s all laughter and children running and telling stories about old times.”

    Jack laughed a particularly bitter laugh, “When I think really hard about the Goodbody house, I can still remember those days. These days, it smells like a cheap antiques store and it’s about as empty as one.”

    “But…this cabin doesn’t have enough room for Julian and his family to stay, even with extensive additions!”

    “Oh, I think there’s enough room for Julian and his partner. Ding a ling a ling.”

    Gideon paused at that news, “Well, I guess that explains it. I’m glad you’re helping out your cousin, Jack.”

    Turning to the unreal sight that was his enormous bear of a grandfather standing in front of him, Jack waved his hands as his patience gave out, “I don’t have enough time to stand and talk. If you want to give me the rundown on our family history or something, you’re going to need to work.”

    Gideon’s eyes went wide in shock at the entirely unexpected comment, then he confused Jack in turn. He laughed. He laughed so hard he doubled over and struggled to breath. He laughed far longer than Jack would have thought possible before he finally managed to speak, “That’s my grandson! Just tell me what you need me to do, and I’ll get to work.”

     Taking a quick mental inventory of the work the cabin needed, Jack gave a quick order, “Go outside and tell Stanley we need more building materials. This whole place is rotted from the inside out, it’s going to need a lot of wood replaced.”

    Gideon saluted and Jack couldn’t entirely tell if he was being mocked or not. He walked out the door at a brisk pace before he stopped and looked back in through the door, “How will I know which one is Stanley?”

    “He’s the only one here, other than you and me.”

    Gideon laughed again, “Is he now? I’m sure I can find him though. He’ll be the only one I don’t recognize.”

    “Yeah, myself, Stanley, you and the animals on the mountain

    Jack crossed the room and sat down on the couch his grandfather had so recently vacated, “Why do these jobs always get so damned complicated?” As he sat on the couch, he could hear the trees sway outside and despite the complications, he felt at peace. This was still work he understood. Rebuild the cabin and spend some time with Julian. He might even spend the rest of the summer out east, which would nice. Rising to his feet once more, Jack cracked his knuckles. Time to get to work. This cabin wouldn’t renovate itself, which was good, because that would have put Jack out of a job.


Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 5

     Liam considered himself to be a professional, in spite of the consistent evidence to the contrary. When Simon Nair gave him the task of spying on banker and financier, Matthew Bergson, he knew the task required a more personable touch than he could give. Charm only works on people when they’re not fish lipped, money minded bankers willing to finance an extremist group advocating genocide. No, this required a more feminine touch, and so Liam got into touch with one of the only females who had ever touched him without cringing. Jenny was perfect for the role, able to present herself as a classy member of high society and also able to kill ten men with her nail file. That meant she would be convincing. Liam also didn’t have to worry about her and if the situation went south and Liam had to book it for some unforeseen reason. Realistically, between the two of them, Liam was more likely to get killed than Jenny.

     That didn’t mean that Liam exactly trusted Jenny to get the job done. Liam had a hard time trusting people whose attention spans were shorter than a Dirt Gremlin’s, and so they had spent the previous night preparing endlessly until the point where Liam felt sure Jenny was about to kill him, and then they stopped. He made sure she knew everything, what questions to ask, where to sit, when to leave him hanging, and for the love of God don’t be too obvious with your questions.

    The morning arrived too soon, but they were both ready by the time lunch rolled around. Liam hated being unprepared. Whenever possible, he liked to do practice runs first, or at least work with the knowledge that he could come back to the job at a later date. With a payday like this, he was willing to bend the rules. In order to keep Jenny on track, Liam chose a seat towards the back of the restaurant. It was near the kitchen door in case he needed to bolt quickly. It also sat near a row of more intimate seats that overlooked a view of a busy street which Matthew avoided when he sat for lunch. That was where Jenny would lead him. That meant Liam could keep an eye on the two without being noticed.

     They arrived early, and Matthew arrived late, which was a better sign than Liam would have hoped for. Punctual Matthew turning up late meant that he was flustered, and flustered meant that he would be more willing to spill the beans about Operation Nightingale. When he did arrive, he arrived being tugged along by a smirking Jenny, clearly in control of the situation. They sat, and Matthew struggled to get comfortable. Liam sympathized for the man. Jenny was beautiful, funny and highly capable. Watching Matthew attempt to flirt, however, was akin to watching the Incredible Mr. Limpett sink Nazi Submarines. He was watching it, and event though he knew their lunch date wasn’t real, he still couldn’t believe it.

     “You’ve been following me for days, but I still don’t know your name. Who are you?” Even smitten Matthew had his limits to where mystery would take him.

    ‘I’ll tell you someday. Don’t ruin the mystery,” Jenny responded with a wink. Between the two of them, they had agreed that names were all around dangerous. Even if they made a name up, it might ruin someone else’s day.

     “So, my husband told me that I wasn’t capable of handling my own finances, after I spent so much money on diamond chokers for my dogs,” Jenny’s voice sparkled when she talked to Matthew, like most people who didn’t have a real care in the world.

     “That’s a shame, because as I’m sure you know, diamonds never really depreciate in value. It’s not as though you need to keep them in the chokers, either, you can set them into other jewelry as well.” Somehow, Matthew even managed to flirt like a banker.

    Leaning across the table, Jenny rested her hand over his. Liam was sure he would blush, if Matthew had any blood in his body to rush to his face, “That’s what I told my husband, but he wouldn’t hear anything of it. Naturally, he locked all of our joint accounts and that can really limit a girl’s fun.”

     Liam robbed people for a living. He reflected on this while he listened to Jenny flirt shamelessly and Matthew shamefully attempt to respond in kind. The perks of thieving over spying were becoming abundantly clear. No matter how often Liam complained about his Dirt Gremlins, they kept the place quiet. Other people in the apartment complex tended to hurry past his door, which suited Liam just fine. Unless it was someone unique, Liam wanted to spend most of his time alone. Spies had their perks as well. They got to listen to everyone’s juicy secrets. It was like stealing a part of someone’s life and walking away with it in their pocket. They also had to listen to every little bit of inane gossip that could come out of a person’s mouth, made worse when you knew that half the inane gossip was fake.

     They took an interminably long time to start talking about anything interesting. By that point even Matthew was starting to get twitchy and look at his wrist to check the time. That was the sign they were both waiting on. It was time to reel the sucker in.

    “You see, unbeknownst to my husband, I managed to squirrel away some money. I wanted to spend that money on some cause he would never approve of, just to spite him.”

    That statement ground poor Matthew to a halt. Here he sat, having lunch with a beautiful woman who was practically throwing money at him in order to devote it to some cause. He even had a cause he was scrounging up money for. There wasn’t so much a conflict of interest so much as a sympathy of one.

    “I know of a cause that could yield high dividends down the road, if you’re interested.”

     Shifting closer, Jenny lowered her voice, “And what would that be?”

    “There’s a group I work with, the Society for the Protection of Humankind. I know this is going to sound shocking, and I could hardly blame you for not believing me when I say this, but there are real life monsters of myth and legend that walk among us. Not only that, but they’re rich beyond the dreams of avarice. This organization wants to wipe them out, to protect humans like you and me. Once they’re gone, I’ve been assured that myself, and those who work with me, will gain control of those substantial assets.”

    “So in other words,” Jenny paused, considering his plan carefully, “this group you work with is going to kill a lot of people and then let you take all their stuff. Is that right?”

    “And the best part is that this is a government agency, so there won’t be any legal consequences. I’m told there’s a lot of property and liquid currency involved. We’ve got a lot of investors chomping at the bit to be a part of this. Are you…interested?”

    Jenny smiled gently, “That sounds like a solid plan.”

    Liam sagged in his seat. This had been going so well. They had a definitive plan, they knew the name of the plan and how these bankers fit into the plan. All she needed to do was not be Jenny until the end of the meal and they would have everything they needed. If she could simply manage that, Liam could leave with his head held high.

    Her willingness to engage in murder for profit was what began the descent to madness. Through his cloud of infatuation and business minded desire, something about her gleeful assent to killing off entire species worth of creatures and taking their stuff struck Matthew as a bit odd.

    “I must insist, madam. I must know your name, before we go any further. For the purposes of making this business of ours legal.”

    “Of course, Matthew. My name is Jenny Rever.”

    And that did it. Any businessman worth his salt would check into the people who were going to be killed for his gain. Matthew had certainly checked in on the Rever family, given the shocked and vacant expression on his face, “Are you here to…k…kill me?”

    “No, silly. I’m here to have lunch with you,” Oh, Jenny. It was like it hadn’t even occurred to her that she wasn’t supposed to tell Matthew her real name. A long silence passed before Liam could almost see the lightbulb pop up above her head, “Oh, poop! Liam is going to be so mad at me for telling you my name!”

    That tore it. Not only had she used her own name and revealed that she knew who Matthew was, she had also named Liam, out loud and in front of their target no less. Getting up and walking out now was no longer an option. If he rose and made a break for it, then Matthew and his bodyguards would all draw the obvious conclusion.

    “So you want to invest in the death of your own kind? I never thought a member of the Rever family would give up their ideology for money.” couldn’t tell if Matthew was trying to sound hopeful, or just not terrified. He was failing at both, either way.

    “They’re all jerks.”

    “I’m told that they’re all rich jerks, which must be what attracted you to me,” Matthew continued on from there, without considering that he could have been referring to himself.

     At this point, the conversation was going as poorly as most conversations with Jenny seemed to go. She was so direct that for people who thought they were subtle, talking to her could be a bit daunting. Matthew found an excuse to pay the bill and leave, not that the restaurant would have chased him down had he not paid it.

     Once they were done eating, Jenny had enough common sense to leave the restaurant on her own, heading back the way she had come. Liam waited for a good fifteen minutes before he left as well, headed for the park by a different route than the one she usually took.

    When he arrived, he found Jenny moping on the bench, with her head hung low. She roused herself when Liam arrived and opened her mouth to apologize, but Liam cut her off with a wave of his hand, there were few things worse than a depressed assassin, and “The only bad thing about what happened is that now the Society knows we’re onto them. They couldn’t have not known that before, but maybe they didn’t know how close Simon was before this. As soon as Matthew reports in, they’re going to remove all the money from his accounts and shuffle them off to another company.”

     “So do we go spy on them?”

    Liam shook his head, “There’s no point. The money was my goal, the information was Simon’s main interest. Whoever was giving them money before won’t back out just because you showed up for lunch with a glorified bean counter. That means the next step for me is to hit them where it really hurts.”

     “The pancreas?”

     “God, no. Their wallets. All their funds are located in this one sucker’s portfolio. If we can empty their accounts out, we’ll stall Operation Nightingale for the foreseeable future.”

    “Oh!” Jenny hopped up to her feet, ready to go with Liam.”

    “Jenny. I would rather do this one alone. I have to go meet with a Neelan friend of mine.”

    Scowling, a rare expression for Jenny, she turned back towards her house, “I don’t like the Neelan family. They’re rude to my dad.” With that, she vanished, headed towards home at speeds which Liam’s eyes couldn’t follow.

     Bracing himself, Liam touched his phone to make sure it was still in his pocket and headed towards the one Neelan house he knew. It’s not that he wanted to ask for John Neelan’s help, it’s just that Liam wasn’t computer savvy enough to rip off a business of that size with electronics. In the good old days, there would have been valuables involved, which Liam was more familiar with. Digital theft was more the realm if spies and hackers, neither one of which Liam qualified as. John was the one genuine spy he knew that actually tolerated his presence. Taking the first step, towards his new worst friend, Liam didn’t even realize that he had already made two mistakes. The first was even trusting John Neelan a little. The second was in underestimating how angry some of those investigators would get about losing sizable portions of money.

We write, or else we asplode~

     Hello, dear friends. Please forgive my absence this previous week, as well as the short size of the Paranormal Cleaners post on Monday. I’ve had a few crisis level problems to take care of, not the least of which is my current student loan situation. I  wanted to write today to talk about a few things related to my own writing.

     Firstly, editing continues on the first book front. It’s about two thirds done at this point, and I have rough drafted one of the bonus features. I guess now that the editing is moving forward again, I have to get moving on the other parts. In terms of concept, at least, I am very excited to share them with you when I can finally get around to publishing my book. Here, I was hoping to have a birthday present for myself. It looks like that won’t be the case, however. Second-Hand Rumors continues to be the biggest pain in the ass I have ever written. I have no idea why, but Liam is sometimes very hard to write. Here’s hoping today’s session goes better then yesterday. His story gets increasingly more important as time goes on, so I really have to stick the landing on this one. Once Second-Hand Rumors is done, in an idea world, we will leave Liam alone for a bit. His third story, tentatively titled “Second-Hand Lives” takes place after a certain amount of time has passed. I can push it up, if there are requests, but there are other things.

     You might have noticed that there is a tab up on the top of the website that remains unused, that Total War Rebel Tales thing. I’m fascinated by Total War as a game series, which for those of you who don’t know, is a grand strategy game where you take control of a faction during the Medieval Period and attempt to take over the world. In these stories, I chose five cities under the normally unplayable rebel faction and decided to write stories about them. In characteristic fashion, I overstepped my abilities, so I had to limit myself to one city for a point of view character. Those other five cities will get highlighted more than other cities or factions, but there were other technical difficulties. I am treating each city as its own faction, but in reality the rebels are all one faction. That being the case, I am cheating mercilessly for more money and calculating how much money each city/castle makes each turn.

    Having worked the kings out, I am attempting to get to turn 50, and then I will begin writing. There are a myriad of other restrictions and rules, which I will post in great detail once I begin writing the series. Thank you, dear friends, for stopping by and listening to my stories. I will always keep a chair open by my hearth for you. Please come again. I eagerly await your return.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 34

     Whatever the weather was back home, Maryland had been struck with an intense heatwave that left the two of them stranded in their room. The few days that Jack promised the Millers he would stick around, in case more goblins arrived, passed slowly and Jack felt like he could feel every second scraping across his skin. Eventually, the time came to leave Maryland behind and they started on their path up. By this point in time, the information had reached and blown past Jack’s father. Jack grudgingly had to admit that the things that upset his father never upset him for very long. It took a day or so to work through his system but then he moved on and adjusted his plans. Jack’s mind had never been so elastic. As he watched the trees fly by their van on the way back up north, Jack realized with a sigh of relief that he missed his office. He missed the smell of Stan’s cigars that had long ago seeped into the room. He missed his closet filled with cleaning supplies and he even missed their demon phone that seemed to know exactly when to ring, though more often it knew exactly when not to.

     As Jack had suspected, when he got home there was no sign of his being required to visit his father. He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, letting the relief of having had an interesting job that went well wash over him. Rest was exactly what they both needed after the last couple of weeks. Rest was not destined to last long. The phone, which Jack had expected to remain dormant for quite some time, rang shrilly.

     Jack rubbed the bridge of his nose before reluctantly getting up and crossing the room to the phone, “Jack and Stan’s cleaning services, the skeletons in your closet are…”

     “Save the canned speech for real customers, buddy.” Jack smiled in spite of himself. It was a rare thing to get a call from another Goodbody, unless they lived out of state. Julian was an even rarer case since he was constantly consumed with his art and his night life, “How are you, cousin?”

    “Things have been better, but things have been a lot worse too, so I can’t really complain.” Jack leaned against the desk and held the phone to his ear with his shoulder, “How’s your art?”

     “Oh God, it’s been a nightmare. Francesco thinks we need to get away from the city because it’s just draining us both so much.”

     “I thought it was Raul or Gourmand or something.” Jack resisted the urge to chuckle.

     “You know very well that isn’t a name! Anyways, I called because I heard you messed up on some job for uncle Varnes.”

     Jack winced and suddenly started to wonder exactly how far that failure of his had spread in so short an amount of time, “Yeah, I think we got poached.”

     Julian laughed, “That’s what I heard from your sister. Nobody likes a sore loser Jack.”

     Jack opened the front drawer of his desk, hunting for a pad of paper, “So did you just call to taunt me or was there another reason?”

     “Cheer up, Mr. Grumpypants, it sounds like we’re all pooling jobs to cheer you up. Nobody likes an angry Jack. So here’s the deal, I just got a cabin out in the Catskill Mountains. It’s about five hours from the house, it’s supposed to be gorgeous, right near a lake and Francesco thinks it’s just what my art needs.”

     “I wouldn’t know, but I take it you need it cleaned? That cabin used to belong to the family back when we first moved out here. Father expressly forbade me from going out there with Sam.”

     “Yes, it’s been untouched for years, it must be a right mess now. That, and I’ve been out of your line of work for years but even I know that when it’s a price this good, there has to be something awful involved. It’s rule number fifteen or something. So I pictured it as being a dump, but then I thought of you and since you still live so close to home you could fix it up for me.”

     Jack scribbled frantically on the pad of paper, writing down a list of supplies they would need, “This will be very expensive, Julian. You know that right?”

     Julian sighed heavily on the other end of the line, “I figured, Jack, but it could be fun and the whole thing sounds very hush hush anyways. The man who sold it to me practically bent heaven and earth to make sure I couldn’t sell it back. There’s got to be something about that place he isn’t telling me and the family records I have access too don’t mention it either. Since Francesco doesn’t know what I used to do, I don’t want there to be any surprises waiting for us when we arrive, comprende?”

     “We’ll get it done before you arrive. When do you plan on coming out?”

     “I did that years ago.” It suddenly dawned on Julian what Jack was actually getting at, “Oh! Next month some time, feel free to enjoy the place before we arrive. Just clean up before we get there, oh who am I even speaking to? Don’t worry about the expenses, just tell me what I owe you when we get there.”

     Cordial farewells were always rare in the Goodbody family and Jack took them whenever he could get them, even if this one came from his annoying Frisco cousin. Jack handed off the supplies list to Stan who took it without question, marching the list downstairs to the van. Most of the things they would need for this job were at the lumber yard and the hardware store. Jack knew of a few family vacation cabins in the outlying mountains from where they lived. Most of the families who owned them tended to vanish very suddenly and if someone out west was selling one of them, it was likely not the owner, but a relative of the former owners.

     Jack sat back down in his chair and enjoyed a moment of quiet before the storm. This one was going to be big, Jack could feel it in his bones. It took a few hours for Stan to get back with the supplies they needed to fix up the place, All the rest they needed could be found in the woods with a little hard work. Their cleaning bags were both still in the van, so Jack simply locked up and walked down the stairs to hop into the passenger seat.

     “Where to, boss?”

     “I’ll direct you, it’s a little off the beaten path so we’re going to have to be careful about how we get there. We’ll be gone for some time, so if you need anything before we go we should pick it up now. That includes food since we’ll be out in the mountains.”

     With that, they stopped at a grocery store on the way out of town and picked up groceries enough for several weeks. They also stopped at a cigar store where Stan spent what Jack estimated to be several weeks of his pay on expensive cigars. Stan had often told him that the saddest thing in the world was a cleaner with money burning a hole in his pockets when he died. Jack had wanted to point out that most cleaners didn’t die on the job, but then most cleaners didn’t work their kind of jobs.