|UNHACKABLE HEART: Glenn -- Fix it alone|
He still looked mighty riled and muttered an earthy expletive. He grabbed one of her hands balancing like a scale in the air. “I don’t want you to even be here now. No way, you’re helping to fix it. Do you not comprehend, Tessa, what Shadow is?”
She cocked her hands on her hips and lifted her eyebrow. Was he calling her stupid now? “A shadowman.”
Glenn shook his head, blond curls moving with the force. “I’ve seen the way a poltergeist can be attracted to and attached to a female.” His deep drawl had dropped a notch. “I have not, however, seen a shadowman as a jealous ghost.”
“Oh he is not!” she scoffed.
Glenn raked one big hand down his handsome tanned face. “He’ll follow you, Tessa. How did you get away from him last time? How did you quiet that entity into slumber and sneak away in the darkness of night when it should be at full strength power?”
She chose not to answer if Glenn chose to continue to be mad at her for having a ghost she never asked for in the first place. “He protected me from the monkey-like mean one in there!” She’d thought she’d chosen not to answer? She’d never taken out an ad, haunt this house! And who had there been for her to call when the entities foamed at the mouth? The cops? No.
A man strolled over to them and stuck out his hand to her. “I’m Paul. You must be Tessa. I hunt ghosts with Glenn when he’s hunting them out, and not just for fun, not for knowledge, but helping him make them to move on.”
Glenn blew out a deep breath like maybe he was trying to expel all his anger. “Paul’s a demonologist.”
She shivered. “Sorry, sounds especially eerie and implies you interact with demons. If something in the dark starts telling you its name, then I’d run if I were you.”
Paul tilted his head and studied her like she was ancient text he was trying to decipher. “If you’ll show us the hotspots, we’ll set up the equipment.”
Tessa shivered again, but Glenn stepped forward to introduce her to a dozen men. She repeated each one or she’d forget their names. After the round of introductions, Glenn swung his arm toward her like he was introducing someone on stage. “Broad daylight, not too interested in hanging near the shadows, there’s a real big shadowman attached to Tessa like a jealous ghost.”
“Glenn,” she warned him.
He pointed at her. “She so fricking does not get it.”
She pointed at him. “Don’t call me stupid again.”
Paul rocked from heel to toe and back again. Then his brown eyes caught and held hers. “If this shadowman is awake now, interacting with you during the day when his power level should be nill? When in all the years I’ve known him, I’m never seen Reston this rattled? Tell me you understand you can’t leave until this entity goes back to sleep . . . and how long might it take before going dormant again? Years? You can’t leave here until we hunt it out.”
This sounded bad! She turned to Glenn. “I will not be forced to spend another night in one of the most haunted houses on the prairie!”
Glenn held up his hand. “Easy, Tessa. Can’t you feel what this force is doing to us?”
Paul fetched a little brown box, before opening it and signing himself with the cross. “Let me bless everyone’s head before we go in there, before it dives into our minds and we have to get out.”
Glenn grabbed her arm. “Her first.”
“No way! You think it makes a difference to God one way or the other when an invisible finger scratches a warning, a threat like today you die, in your bathroom mirror when you get out of the shower? Do you think He does anything about it?”
Glenn went first like he was showing her it wasn’t scalding a cross on his head. In fact, he rubbed his fingers over his temples like it felt good, not bad. He sighed and slipped his fingers between hers. “Feels better, much better, to have your mind blessed so the demon can’t twist and squirm like a pack of snakes in your head, twisting everything.”
Men with the paranormal team all accepted a blessing, a cross smeared in oil during a Latin chant. After they grabbed their equipment, mingling past men on the landscaping team, Tessa unlocked the padlock on the front door.
“Tessa,” Glenn closed his hand over hers on the doorknob. “You can’t go in there like that.”
“A wise man would not dare to suggest what I can or cannot do. If you don’t want me to show them where to setup, then let me borrow your truck and I’ll be more than happy to go. Or you take me back to the hotel. Or I can make the serious hike out of here again.”
“You can’t go back yet, Tessa. Don’t take it so badly; I’m to blame. I don’t intend to leave you stranded and alone. But you can’t leave here, Tessa, until I’ve hunted him out.” He blew out a deep exhale. “It’s gonna be okay.”
Although neither her nor Glenn had turned the knob and swung open the front door, the slow creaking door opened on its own. A creepy gurgling laugh, in her head, in the wind, increased and grew deeper, darker, until Tessa blew out two quick breaths and stepped past the threshold. She huffed out a third breath inside the house and the exhale looked like she had blown across a stream of frost. She turned to Glenn. “I wanna go. I hate it here.”
Glenn stepped next to her, moving her inside a bit more so the men with equipment could enter. Once the rush of men passed her, Glenn lowered his face to hers and he snared her with light silver eyes. He spoke quietly, so no one else would hear. “Is that what you said to Sam? I wanna go? I hate it here?”
Tessa lifted her lips up to his ear, words quiet, but deadly serious. “Want to know what happened with Sammy? Why don’t you kick back and camp in here; let the strongest force in the house fire away rounds like an automatic headshot about a hundred times in two minutes. Oh hell yes. I so want to stay here, with you, so it can turn you just like him!”
Glenn growled, but shook his head. “How many times did I come out here over a couple years and ask you if you were leaving?”
She pivoted away, pointing out hotspots on this floor and the basement. She hesitated at the foot of the next flight of stairs. She pointed to the second floor. “Hotspots.” She lifted one hand to her forehead, clicked thumb down on index finger like she fired a gun. “I’m not going up there, guys, but setup in that front room with the view, the master bedroom. Oh and the stairs,” she added and pointed toward them directly in front of her. “I need to go outside for some fresh air and sunshine. If you’ll please excuse me, gentlemen.”
Tessa stepped out on the front porch, but the heaviness pressing on her chest barely lessened. Men with hammers, electric saws, nail guns, and beeping backhoes not helping the pain in her head, she stepped around a hole in the veranda being replaced with new wood, walked down the stone steps, and walked into the sunshine. She breathed in deeply, taking in clean country air. Like a grand and priceless view at night, clean air was another thing unattainable in the city.
She reached into her jacket for her earbuds before plugging them in and cranking her kick-ass-and-take-names playlist, trying to up her psyche to play headgames with ghosts again. The ghosts were the best players in a mind screw she’d ever had the misfortune of meeting; and back in the day she had met a lot. She pulled the shades from her pocket and slid them over her eyes.
Tessa strolled into the backyard where no men or equipment had yet ventured. Before they did, she jumped for the branch above her.
She swung her leg over, climbing, until she was hidden away in a cool canopy of shade and clean breeze. After finding a comfortable limb, her back leaning against the branch, she swung one hanging leg back and forth to the beat of her music. She stared at the woods leading back to the cave.
When a large hand caught the ankle of her swinging foot, Tessa screamed and about lost her balance. Glenn! In a tree with her? He reached up and tugged out one earbud.
“Did you find some of Sam’s stash? Are you stoned, woman? Is that why you have on your shades, being cool?”
“The shades aren’t being cool. They are yelling, I Can’t See You-You Can’t See Me! The earbuds plugged into my ears? I can’t hear you either. Hope I can’t smell you.”
“You’re in a tree, Tessa. Do you think you could distract my crew a little more? You are no more invisible to them than you are to me. Come down before they start drooling.”
“I’m flipping miles out in the sticks, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, so if I want to climb a tree it’s not like there should be an audience.”
“I can see you, woman. I can smell you. Mmm. I want to taste you.”
“I can smell you too and I wish you could stop it. Get out of this tree with me and stop giving me crazy ideas and mental flashes of what else we could be doing up here. Isn’t it bad enough to be stuck here with you?”
He climbed up one branch. He slid off her shades. One calloused finger slid under her chin, tipping her face until she stared as hard in his eyes as he was hers. “I’m not him.”
He tipped her face back to his. “No, don’t look away. I won’t turn into Sam, Tessa, not in this house or any other. I will protect you. Let me protect you first by letting a man associated with the Catholic Church bless your head in Latin? Gotta wear a helmet when you’re in battle, like Kevlar protecting your mind. He’s been fasting. We’ll work as a good team. I’ll get rid of Shadow, Tessa, I promise you.”
“Too bad. I did just promise you something. Now come down before you fall and I have to chase your ghost!” After he swung down from the last branch, Glenn held his arms up for her to jump.
She sat on the bottom branch, staring at the good looking determined man beneath her. Yeah, she’d like to jump him for real. Then his crew would truly have something to stare at.
Glenn lifted one dirty blond brow, daring her.
She jumped down and he caught her, sliding her body down his. Mistake!
While he held her against him, he stared intently in her eyes. “So you’ll know, God does care about you, Tessa. He sent you to me; He didn’t kick back and let you return into this piece of your past alone to drown in the darkness and bad memories. He didn’t send you into battle alone this time.”
He’s going to sneak away like you did, Tessa, whispered across her mind. The whisper turned into a wicked laugh as the thought took root in her mind.
Glenn didn’t seem to hear anything because she shivered but he did not.
“Don’t leave me stranded out here.” She heard how desperate it sounded. She had headed up a department for Corporate America, where was that woman now? She swallowed. “Or do. In five days, I’ll be hundreds of miles away from you and testing for the hardest certification I’ve ever gone after. Probably be better if you do go. Gonna be tough telling you bye.”
“That’s it,” Glenn muttered. He laced his fingers through hers and marched them to the pack of departing paranormal investigators. He stopped in front of the demonologist. “Before you guys go catch some sleep for tonight, bless Tessa’s head.” He tipped his face up to the sky, “God, help me with this woman or so help me, I’ll hold her down for this blessing like we are both preschoolers.”
Tessa snorted. She lifted her face to Paul as he chanted, praying in Latin, marking her forehead with a cross smeared from anointed spicy oil. Wow, immediately the turmoil in her mind swirled slower, whispering negative thoughts stopped spinning and her brain was quiet, still, and at peace. “Thank you.”
The ghost hunters took off, saying they would return when the sun set.
Glenn pulled his cell phone from his pocket and pushed in a number. “Cole, I need you bring some things out to Tessa’s house.”
Not wanting to stand right there, listening to his personal call, she pulled out her cell phone and held it up. How did he get a signal out here? She lifted her cell higher and walked into the gravel road, back up and through her yard. She sighed, about ready to accept no bars in the sticks when one bar showed. She walked into the woods. Two bars now.
Funny how going closer to the cave would improve the signal, not weaken it, she thought as a third bar popped up on her cell. She stepped over the threshold of the cave, and her phone had a perfect full signal. Creepy, she decided from the mouth of the cave, but took advantage of it.
She pushed to speed dial his number. Her friend who worked security with her to protect the senator’s heart from being hacked . . . well David was royally ticked at the Russian mob leader, the owner of Medatron, the perpetrator of the assassination attack. David had told her last night he would find Yori Korschovf before Yori found them. As a headhunter, Yori had tried to schmooze them both into working for him.
“Hmm,” he answered.
“David? Were you sleeping?”
“Nope.” He sounded funny to her; she’d not heard that tone before. “What’s up?”
“Not much here in the sticks. You tell me.” She grinned. “Is that guy there, dude, that you’re so hot for?” She heard a different male voice in the background. “Go back to bed. Call me later.”
“Tessa, thanks. I will.”
Everything must be fine for David to unplug. No problems with Yori, no wars. Tessa had thought it a good thing when Yori told her he intended to make it right, Medatron’s medical implant vulnerabilities. She sighed, wishing she had never talked to the man, nevertheless wrote a program to patch his brand new insulin pump. He’d crossed her going after the senator, a powerful believer in the right to privacy. Yori would know she had a code to reverse his patch; he would come for that code at some point. Probably in DC as Yori wouldn’t take kindly for her going to work for his biggest enemy, the U.S. government.
Glenn stepped out of the woods and in front of the cave. “You have a signal, in there?”
She turned the phone toward him. “Yeah, bizarre but I do.”
“May I,” he asked before taking the phone, holding it up and walking deeper into the dank darkness of the cave, a paranormal investigator searching for scientific proof. She sure did like that about him. She may not want to interact with the spooks in her house, but she sure did like his logic.
He switched on a little light that she’d seen him put in his pocket earlier. The light more purple than green, like eerie ultraviolet, but blessedly bright enough to see something as she followed his path into the cave. He grunted. “Yep, feel kinda dizzy and knot in my stomach from the high electromagnetic field. A portal. A natural battery in the land.”
She shivered, not finding the cave soothing at all this time. She reached up to the light in his hand. “Do you have another of these? What kind of light is this?”
“It’s a scope, nightvision, off my rifle.”
She shook her head. “So I can’t bring my gun, but you can?”
“No guns at a ghost hunt, Tessa. Someone could easily get scared and get shot. I’m simply using the scope, the light. Cole will bring out some supplies soon since we’re stuck here for now.”
“Does your phone have a full signal in here too?”
“Yeah,” he answered and slid his arm around her waist. “Let’s spelunk at a later date.”
After they walked into the woods, old leaves crunching beneath their path, Tessa asked, “Do you get scared, Glenn, when you’re hunting ghosts?”
He grinned at her. “I’ve about wet my pants a time or two. It’s an unbelievable rush if the entities are hitting, you know, answering. That’s not why I got into it, though, Tess. You are why and the freaky, terrifying things happening in that house right in front of my skeptical eyes and ears. I had to find out more about it, try to understand what my mind didn’t even want to believe could be real.”
“You like danger, don’t you?”
By now, they were back in the late afternoon sunshine past the woods. His silver eyes seemed to touch her without his hands touching her. “I like you, lady. You can be both dangerous and a package of pure trouble. God help me, but I really do like that about you.”
She frowned. “That sounds like a low blow and positive stroke at the same time. Are you insulting me?”
“A compliment to be sure. I’ll have to try harder so you’ll recognize one when you hear it.” His crooked little smile spread wider, dazzling her. “You’re hot, Tessa.”
“So are you,” she uttered and boldly raked her eyes over his body. She slipped her shades back on.
She pivoted and walked away from proximity with him, heading toward a low purr and rolling dust cloud of a motorcycle coming down the gravel road.
When Cole pulled in and turned off the engine, Tessa asked him immediately. “Will you take me back in town when you go?”
Cole swung one long leg over and stood up. “He said you might ask me that. Will the creepy jealous shadowman that Glenn told me about, will it hop on the back of my bike too? Or does it fly alongside of you?” He shivered.
Glenn stepped closer to him. “Did you stop at Paul’s room and get your head blessed first, brother?”
“Yes, Glenn. I chase after and hunt down cyberghosts. I told you, I don’t want to believe this. The ghosts you hunt scare the living heebie-jeebies out of me.”
“Me too,” Tessa agreed.
Glenn hitched his thumb toward the parked van, their technology hub and command center. “When the time comes, stay with Tessa in the van and hack the house.”
Glenn lifted one finger. “Hunters go in with a buddy always.” He lifted a second finger. “Just like going through a for-fun haunted house on Halloween, do not touch anyone or someone will end up getting punched, pushed.” He lifted a third finger, before pointing toward his forehead. “And when hunting one that dives right into your mind, filling it with fear and doubts . . . Get out.”
Tessa shivered and noticed Cole did too.
“Fear not. It’s gonna be okay,” Glenn told them. “That’s why my demonologist friend is here. So we can go in there and get it out.”
Cole raked one hand down his face. “What about the jealous shadowman? Who tangles with him?”
Glenn accepted the bags of takeout food from Cole, pausing before answering. “The demon and the six-foot shadowman are not the only entities in that house.”
Tessa swung her hand toward the house. “See? Take me to town, Cole. Please. Glenn won’t. He wants me to stay out here until it’s gone. It will be dark in a few hours. By midnight it might be maniacal. By three A.M. the fright could steal the last of your fight or flight.”
She lowered her voice to a whisper. “They’re awake, Cole. You don’t want to be here any more than me.” She walked, pivoted, walked, pacing back and forth in front of the motorcycle and Cole.
Glenn stepped behind her and rested one hand over the tick tap, tick tip, tick tap of the USB necklace tapping her belly ring while she paced. He placed his other hand on the sunburned skin of her shoulder. “Tessa, please stop teasing him.”
She spun around and faced Glenn. “I’m not teasing him! It’s the truth.”
Glenn blew out one long exhale instead of the growl threatening the back of his throat, wishing they weren’t currently stuck at this particular haunted house. “Fine, I see your point. He wants to leave too. But I don’t want you on the back of his bike. Stop tempting my big brother.”
Green eyes spitting ice instead of heat at him now, he shook his head and lifted one finger to her lips before she hit nuclear winter. “Don’t look at me like I’m holding a pitchfork and have horns now because we have the same mom.”
The muscles under her well-defined cheekbones jumped over her jaw. She turned her head away from his finger. “Day and night, but brothers with different last names. How handy for your hack to have Big Brother as your big brother!”
Cole held up both hands at his sides. “We knew that would tick you off, Tessa. What with the bet and all, but—“
“Stop,” she said in a firm but low voice. “I can’t think of a single thing to say to either of you on a mature level right now. Unless you’d like me to cuss you both out? I’d only feel smaller for it.”
She stepped to the side and around Glenn, headed into the house.
Great, he wanted to bark. He didn’t say that, instead he called to her. “Don’t go in there angry.” Did she stop, turn around, or listen at all? Nope; she walked in the front door and slammed it shut. “At least she doesn’t have her gun,” he muttered, looking for silver somewhere in the dark lining.
He wondered if he looked as heartsick as he felt when Cole stepped up the stairs onto the newly renovated porch. Cole nodded at him. “She has great logic; it’ll be okay. I’ve got this.”
His brother foolishly opened the door and walked into the house full of wide awake entities. This house had enough negative energy and ability to stir strife without setting off a powderkeg in there.
Glenn followed them into the house and into the dining room to hear Cole. “Turn on your logic and you might even come to appreciate some of it, Tessa. Do you know how much planning it took, to get sophisticated technology for that time, to function properly when all you had was a phone line that shared a circuit like a partyline from the past and dialup speeds? Cable on my end, not such a problem. Didn’t you like it better here as beta DSL trial area, backdoor of Podunk, stopping at your door first?”
Cole pointed at Glenn. “Or did you like it better when he had to come out here every other day to fix your phone line and get you back online? Out in the middle of nowhere? If the wind so much as blows wrong out here, this house loses electricity. There was always something happening, weird, at this house.”
Her cheeks blew out like she was beyond exasperated and Tessa turned on her toe, retreating to pace the first floor. Even before he could see her again on her next round through the dining room, Glenn could hear her playlist thumping. When she blew past him again, earbuds plugged in her ears, Glenn doubted she’d be willing to tell the shadowman anytime soon that she was with Glenn now.
Full disclosure still to come, Glenn frowned at the window where his crew was packing it in for the night, leaving the three of them alone until the other ghost hunters arrived. Tick tap. Tick tap. Tick tap. She swung past him in another circuit of the first floor. He heard her grumble, “Reston,” and saw her shake her head. She was probably connecting dots, realizing his father, Cole’s step-dad, had a hand in the hack as first administrator at the newly formed ISP. Sub-seven legends had to get a start from somewhere.
At this rate, she would happily waltz away from the area, walk away from him again. If she had forgiven him as she said, then they could still find a way. He stepped in front of her and then sidestepped when she did, blocking her path like he might be waltzing with her without touching her.
He reached for one earbud, pulled it out and stuck it in his ear. “If I had it in my power to turn the years back, Tessa, I would. I can’t do that, babe, but if you’ll let me help you clean out those monsters in the closet where you have wounds that aren’t healed? I can help chase out all the ghosts that haunt you.”
She pointed at the fireplace. Ouch, under there in the basement, once upon a time he had hidden sonar equipment. She didn’t yell at him; she spoke in a frosty tone. “I’m happy I burned up your expensive equipment.”
“Me too, though not so much at the time. Drug dealers, undercover narcs, and then tick off the other cops too? Hired guns and numerous bored admins; you had quite the list of players.”
Glenn reached over to cover one of her small hands between his palms. “It was my hand in the hack, when I’d asked you plenty of times when you were leaving this house, why you told me you were and then poof. You moved out one night, disconnected your cell, disconnected from any email or online alias you used in the past.”
He couldn’t stop the growl in this throat this time, growing aggravated at her, be it the house or the old burn giving him phantom pains in the region of his heart. He counted to five and that was all the farther he got before she yanked her earbud from his ear. She didn’t answer him, no big surprise there. “Nothing. Silence. Poof! You pull a ghost and you’re gone. You finally leave this house, leave Sam, but you cut me out like that because of my hand in the hack?”
Cole leaned in the doorway, watching them, before he stepped away and widened his stance. He’d gone a full shade lighter under his tan. As he tilted his head to nod behind Glenn, Cole stated, “She left that thing, too.”
“Shadow,” she whispered, less frost to her words, more fear.
Glenn pulled her a step closer to him, tucking her away from the tall dark shadowman on her other side. He’d seen her very large, very scary pet a time or two in the past, but Glenn had never been touching or holding Tessa when he saw it. He hadn’t realized until this afternoon what this entity was to her. She was very fortunate to have snuck away before it could follow her, as a jealous ghost was known to do. He’d helped drive away poltergeists before when the female moved, but the spirit moves with her; not attached to the previous house but the previous female occupant. Here he was, no back up, no one but him having any idea how dangerous this entity could be.
Like the shadowman were perhaps a friend, she lifted one hand Glenn’s way. “You remember Glenn.” She swung her hand toward Cole. “Cole Stone, this is Shadow.”
Cole exhaled. “Thanks, make sure he has my name.”
He blew out two more quick breaths when he seemed to snag the shadowman’s attention. It moved in a black blur before appearing in front of Cole and pointing to the ceiling, moving the dark shadowy finger in a direction to encompass the first floor, pointing at the cameras the paranormal team had setup earlier today. A white cloud of frozen breath huffed out in front of Cole.
Glenn stepped closer to Cole, keeping Tessa close to his side, and explained. “He’s communicating with you, Cole. He knows who you are. I think if you don’t tell Tessa, he might get a little aggressive toward you. Like he did toward the dude you sent in through the front window long ago.”
Cole lifted one hand. “Okay, okay. Back in the day, Tessa, when tiny web cams were new, hard to get hold of, and expensive as hell? Those were mine planted all over your house.”
The shadowman shoved Cole back a step.
Cole continued. “I broadcasted you on my site.”
Tessa pulled out of Glenn’s arms, her hands fisting at her sides. “Get out of my house!” She didn’t point at the shadowman, but to Cole and then to Glenn. “Out.”
Shadow shoved Cole once more, pushing him toward the door, before turning toward Glenn.
“Tess, come on, I’m not leaving you alone in here with him.”
She lifted her shirt, exposing belly ring and colored memory sticks hanging from her twined gold and silver necklace. “Look at me!” She growled. “I’m a security freak now!”
“A very lovely one.”
She snorted and smoothed her shirt back over exposed skin. He wanted to have her elsewhere than in a haunted house with a jealous ghost. She shook her head at him, tawny curls brushing her shoulder. “I’m serious, Glenn.”
“And I wasn’t? You’re not invisible, woman, even if you wish it were so. Come over here, closer to me, farther from him.”
“Get out,” she repeated.
He pointed at the cameras. “So you can be on the screen again alone? No.”
The shadowman moved between Tessa and Glenn.
He heard vehicles pulling into the driveway and looked out at a purple-black sky.
Glenn blew out a shaky breath, being in the house long enough to get a feel for it. An evil growl, low like electronic feedback from far far away, seemed to fly by his head, not landing in it; Thank God. But this evil force from the bowels of hell had wrapped Sam up tight until the house had the man and the man wouldn’t leave the house. “Did Shadow attack Sam, Tessa?”
“Don’t mention Sammy in this house, Glenn. I’m doing my best to hang in there as it is.”
Glenn stepped toward her, brushing past Shadow. “Answer me before the cameras come on.”
“A couple times, happy now? Shadow can be very scary, Glenn. If he gets riled, he can be dangerous . . . just like Sam. On one especially ugly as hell hot day, Shadow did attack Sam. But it was kill or be killed time. Shadow and Sammy were about evenly sized, but Shadow has almost superpowers sometimes he’s so strong. By the grace of God, or good karma, Shadow has never turned on me.”
Vehicle doors opened and closed in the circular driveway. He glanced out the window. The van door opened and the house was dark; the team was ready to rock.
Glenn moved fast, wrapping his hands around her waist, ignoring her comment about the rule not to touch anyone in the house during the hunt. He lowered his mouth almost touching hers before she leaned up and kissed him. The walls in the dining room rumbled like thunder in the house before the floor shook under their feet like an earthquake.
Glenn lifted his head from hers. “Tell him. Tell Shadow to move on because you are with me now, and I hunt shadowfolk. Tell him to go before I have to destroy him.”
“Don’t destroy him, Glenn, but help him cross through the portal before you seal it off.”
“Tell him, not me, Tessa, to get out of your house and to stay out of your life.”
“Shadow,” she started like the shadowman was indeed her friend, her tone comfortable talking to it. “I really like Glenn. Don’t hurt him.”
“Thought you wanted to help fix it, Tess?”
Footsteps approached, coming closer on new wood of the veranda floor.
She pointed through the darkness, but toward the closest camera recording with infrared. “You, Shadow, are more of a privacy stealer than the whole lot of them were. You have no right to invade my life. You need to get! Don’t follow me. I got away from you once, how much plainer do I need to make it?”
Books flew off the shelf in the computer room like a hurricane gust grabbed hold of them, spinning and twirling in the air. Chairs around the dining room table shot out like invisible guests all scooted back fast and at once. Pots and pans banged as the shadowman moved like a speed hack into the kitchen.
Two men stepped into the house, his friends, holding equipment, gathering evidence.
“It’s on,” Glenn said simply.
“We’re running hot, cameras rolling for the last ten minutes.”
Tessa stepped to the side, to allow everyone inside before trying to slip out the door.
Glenn settled his hand on her forearm. “You can’t leave, Tessa. Are you taking Shadow into the van while you hack the house? Let’s not give Cole cardiac arrest. Hold onto my hand and don’t let go.”
Her cell phone sang out. A signal in the house? Glenn escorted her toward Paul who was chanting a blessing in Latin, burning incense for an exorcism and sprinkling holy water.
Thud thump. Thud thump. Thud thump. Footsteps sounded above them, coming from upstairs like an invisible man going down the stairs fast.
Two other men, one pointing an EMF and one with a recorder to capture EVPs, rushed past them. Another of his buddies pointed a digital thermometer and warned them. “Baseline temperature was 72 degrees. Temp is falling . . . 66, 58, 49, coming this way fast, 32, 27.” He puffed out a shaky exhale and the warm breath froze into a white cloud of in front of him.
A misty cloud appeared close to the base of the stairs, before solidifying into the shape of a man dressed in Confederate Civil War clothing. The investigator whooped, “The Holy Grail,” and hammered the full body apparition with questions.
Another guy sat down the lighting K2 and laughed before interacting with the entity.
If Glenn had thought she looked scared a minute ago, then now she must have glimpsed past the trapdoor of hell.
Tessa plugged up her other ear. “I can hardly hear you. Burning the crackers with the heat cranked up? Say again please, David?” She closed her eyes from the apparition in front of them and groaned.
Hmm. David wasn’t the name of the cop she’d dated in the city. Glenn had thought her choice a sign she was growing, healing, moving on, for her to date a lawman. Glenn decided not to ask; he was not going to ask her.
She ended the call and turned to Glenn. “I must leave now.”
When he opened his mouth, it was his heart and not his brain that spoke up first. “Who is David? ‘Cause you’ve already dated someone on the rebound, and it took a long time before you did. He was the bounce-back guy, the one a woman feels free enough to have hot sex with, but not quite free enough, before she sends him on his way and fully sates her taste for freedom. Then she is ready to start again.”
She didn’t look afraid now; she looked ticked. “How do you know that? That sure as spit didn’t come from a decade old diary! And we did not go there in chat.”
“Did you think I’d do nothing when you vanished? I left you in peace until you contacted me.” When she growled though, he added, “My brother has connections.”
Still with his hand in hers, she pulled him through the first floor to a room not occupied with investigators. Immediately, she pointed toward yet another camera and wireless microphone in the dining room. “Let’s get you on camera too while you tell me about your sex life before you tell me about your brother’s connections.”
“Tess, this isn’t the time or place—“
“Tough break, dude. Bring it.”
“I got tired of that empty dysfunctional routine, empty except for the heat of the moment. Will you give me a moment, Tessa? I’m gonna come in to live in the moment with you until you walk away from me again and take that career path you are so hot for.”
“Glenn, this isn’t the time or the place—”
“Copy that,” came Cole's low warning from a walkie talkie at Glenn’s hip. “Shadowman looking mighty interested in you two, been pacing up and down the basement stairs.”
Glenn glared at the shadowman who did not seem at all interested in going through the portal, no sign of letting go of Tessa. How mad would she be if he destroyed Shadow? “When we go to the basement, think of it as spelunking. You like that, Tessa.”
Tessa held up her cell phone. “I need a good signal. I’m going to the cave. You coming, my buddy?”
Glenn walked hand in hand with her out the backdoor and into the woods behind the house. Tick tap. Tick tap. Tick tap. He pulled a scope light from his pocket and held it in front of them to light their path across crackling dead leaves under their feet. Come on, Tess, tell me so I don’t have to ask again, he tried to send her the vibe.
She squeezed his hand. “David is gay, not your competition, but my bud and a digital wizard. I couldn’t make out what he was saying; my phone is on but it’s mostly static.”
She squeezed his hand again and blew out a quick exhale like she worked up her nerve to tell him. “I did hear enough, Glenn, that if I can’t get back in touch with David out here, then I gotta get a move on, get out of here. It sounded like David said Yori cranked up the heat under his crackers in the cyberwar.”
Glenn knew about this Russian mobster too. It was handy to have a brother in Intelligence. In chat, Tessa had mentioned to Glenn no names, but that a black hat headhunter was trying hard to recruit her. “Did you know Yori Korskovf has put a price on your head if you show up in anywhere near CT tryouts?”
“I know. I even tried to shut off my cell earlier, but it won’t shut off. Don’t seem to have anything but static, power but no signal, except in the cave.” She smiled though when they reached the mouth of the cave, pointing in the light he held to show full bars on her cell.
Her smile flipped upside down as a floating red orb as big a basketball flew over their heads and into the cave.
“Tessa,” it hissed sounding suspiciously like what Glenn recalled of Sam’s voice.
As it passed them again, flying down at her like a bat attacking, Tessa yelped. The red orb pulsated as if it gained another level of energy.
“Glenn, could that be Sammy?”
“It’s okay. The guys must be chasing some of them out of the house. They’ll head to the weakened vortex of this portal before we seal off the dimension.”
He pressed record on his cell, facing it out from his t-shirt pocket. He swallowed hard though, when the red orb seemed to throb a shade brighter, darker red now, and flew by their heads again, growling, “Tonight you die and join us, Tessa.”
Tessa had tried a couple times now to make a call. Her lovely face pale, she asked, “Let go of my hand so I can text.” Even as she said it, she punched out text with one hand and hit send. Full signal, but seemingly not reception as the text did not send.
Cole’s voice bleeped over the radio again. “It flew from the attic to the basement, behind the furnace into a little room. Be careful.”
As men chattered back and forth on the radio, Glenn told her, “Let’s do this. Let’s finish it. Then you can look forward to your future, the career you set as your goal.”
Tessa wiggled her fingers, trying to unlace them from his, before bringing her hand with the cell and her hand entwined with his to cover her ears as a creepy gurgling laugh seemed to surround them.
Glenn didn’t let go as the demon’s laughter swelled, or as a white misty cloud blew toward them. Not fog, he knew, but he wouldn’t mind getting another look if it formed back into a full-bodied apparition.
Again Cole bleeped over the radio, “Heat signatures in the woods next to the cave. Freaking me out because it looks like six big bodies glowing in red and coming your way, little brother.” A pause and then another bleep. “They all have something cold in their hands, something blue, looks like guns maybe!”
Glenn did not recognize the bearded man, or the other five men walking out of the woods, but he sure did recognize their automatic weapons pointing at them.
Tessa tried to yank her hand from his, yelling at him, “Run! It’s Yori.”
The Russian mafia boss, nodded once toward Tessa as he stepped closer to them. “Nice of you to leave on your cell, so I could track you down. Not so nice of you to counterhack my attack on the senator’s heart, but I knew you would fight me.”
Glenn pulled her back one step, then two beyond the threshold of the cave, moving them deeper into the darkness so the Russian would follow.
A blast from a gun, looking like white spits of fire, sounded outside of the cave. A man screamed and then yelled in Russian. Yori yelled something back, but the other man still fled. His language Glenn might not know, but his scream of fright was universally understood.
The red orb flew at Tessa again. Dark laughter swelled again. Maybe it was Sam. Not protecting her, pushing her toward destruction.
“Easy, Tessa,” he crooned near her ear as he slid her behind him, still holding her hand, but standing in front of her as he stepped back into deeper shadows of the cave.
Another automatic thud-thud-thud-thud of gunfire from outside the cave as the white misty cloud came together to take shape, gray-white and shimmering, but a full-bodied apparition of a Confederate soldier in uniform. Another screech of fright after the gun clicked empty and out of ammunition, but the ghostly soldier still moved toward the remaining men.
The intelligent entities were fleeing to the portal, stopping as if the temptation to get their kicks by scaring people was too great to pass up.
Yori held a gun, red laser shining on Glenn’s heart. “Next time you want a dangerous woman, make sure she’s not poisonous. This honeynet is toxic.” Yori held up his other hand. “Come, Tessa. I do not want only your code. Work with me and I will make you rich.”
“I don’t want your money,” she said as she tried unsuccessfully to work her way in front of Glenn.
“Come now,” Yori said a bit shakily as a bluish-white orb flew past them into the cave. “Who will you work for, Tessa Kendall? As CT for the privacy police? Ah, I knew you must not know the job was with the Department of Homeland Security.”
“DHS!” she shouted, kicking up the activity another degree in the cave.
But the malicious headhunter continued. “We will take my private plane from a private airstrip. Like me, Tessa, you cannot fly in your country. Your name on the list of possible terrorists . . . you, Tessa Kendall. Your country does this to you? When even I know you are neither a threat to the American public nor to their infrastructure.” He ducked again when the bluish orb dived at him. “Come now from this ghoulish place!”
The red orb as big as a beachball now, throbbing with energy as evil as it was a dark bloody red, bounced against Tessa’s back and pushed her forward.
She screamed as a monkey-shaped shadow jumped back and forth, back and forth, as if ready to attack. It leaped into the air, jumping past Yori, coming down as if to land on her. Glenn let go of her hand, and pushed her back a couple steps as the evil shadow landed on him. He gasped as claws sunk into his back, talons of pain and fear colliding. If the shadowland had demons in hell, this would surely be one.
The six-foot shadowman sharpened into focus in the dark cave, his jet black shadow moving toward Glenn and knocking the smaller shadowman off of him. Shadow hit it again, shoving it in the bowels of the cave and far from Tessa. Scratches on his back burning hot as embers from a fire, Glenn pulled at the back of his shirt where he could feel blood sticking to the material.
“Tessa, I’m waiting on you,” hissed by his ear as the red orb dive-bombed her again.
“Sammy,” she squeaked as the dark pulsing orb elongated into the shape of her dead husband with a gun to his head. Tessa screamed again as a gun fired.
Yori’s bullet zinged past Glenn at Shadow as the six-foot shadowman sped forward in a dark blur toward the Russian. The bullet passed through the shadowman, ricocheting off the quartz wall near Tessa’s head.
The front of the Russian’s pants wet now, he screamed and fired again. Glenn charged forward too, knocking the gun to the ground. But before Glenn could even pick it up, the mobster clutched his chest, mouth gaping, as the shadowman wrapped dark shadowy hands around Korskovf’s throat.
A loud boom exploded into the night, ringing like a flashbang, as an inhumane scream split the night air. The blinding white flash had come from the direction of her house.
Red, orange, white, blue, a swirl of round colors flashed from the back of the cave where water trickled down the rocky limestone and iron streaked wall. Orbs zipped around them, causing the lights to seem to strobe as everything appeared to move in slow motion.
A dozen men locked hands in a semi-circle as the demonologist chanted, praying with them but in Latin, shaking holy water with one hand toward the cave and swinging the long chain holding the vessel of smoking incense. The incense seemed to burn hotter with the blessing, puffing more white smoke into the air to fill up the mouth of the cave.
The shadowman picked up Korskovf from his deathgrip around the Russian’s neck until the evil man’s feet kicked in the air and his hands clawed at the dark hands at his throat. Shadow threw Korskovf twenty feet in the air. The Russian crashed into the rocks at the back of the cave where the orbs had been flying into the rock and disappearing. The portal!
Incense filled the cave faster as the men prayed.
Despite the portal closing, Shadow flashed in a dark streak to appear in a blink in front of Glenn.
Tessa shouted, “No,” scrambling to her feet from where she had ducked to avoid the Russian’s bullet.
They circled each other as Glenn blew out a shaky breath, ready to tangle with the jealous ghost. “Go or you will cease to exist in any dimension.”
Glenn shot out one hand as she approached, keeping her from coming between them. The shadowman shoved Glenn back a step, still circling.
Tessa yelled again, desperation ringing in her words. “No, Shadow! I love him!”
Shadow moved in another dark speed hack behind Glenn, so Tessa was between man and shadowman. “No,” she shook her head as tears dripped from her eyes to the cave floor. “Don’t you hurt him, Shadow.”
Glenn stepped sideways and forward to get past the dark entity and to the woman crying on the other side of it. But Tessa ran forward, jumping, and wrapped her legs around Glenn’s waist as he caught her. She wrapped her arms so tightly around his neck that Glenn could feel the stinging prick of wetness threaten behind his eyes. She kissed his closed eyes, his nose, and his mouth before lifting her face to the shadowman.
“Go, Shadow. Before you are destroyed!” she yelled as the incense thickened the air in the cave. Flashing orbs and pulsing energy lessened from a strobe of lights to a laser show coming from the rock wall above a gaping mouth and wide terrified eyes of the Russian’s deathmask.
She buried her face in Glenn’s neck, sniffling, and her watery whisper advised, “Go.”
After another blinding flash of white light and the boom ringing in his ears, Glenn smoothed his hand up and down her back in the now dark cave. “It’s finished. The darkness won’t whisper to you ever again. Don’t look back, look forward.”
With a few hours until dawn, Tessa walked back into her house which now smelled like blooming roses, only sweeter and more peaceful. The team of ghost hunters thrumming with excitement and adrenaline left the house until tomorrow where they would review evidence to add to their audio and visual treasure from tonight.
Tessa slid her arms around Glenn’s neck. This man had intended to fight a shadowman to protect her! He’d said no guns, no way to kill such an entity, but he’d been ready to find out. She loved this silly man. Now she wanted to show him how much.
His silver eyes seemed to catch moonbeams, shining, smiling at her, and enchanting her to live in this moment with him.
Until Cole strolled over on obviously shaky legs and asked Glenn for a ride, saying he’d be back with Glenn tomorrow to retrieve his bike.
She sat in the middle of the truck, head resting back to stare endlessly at the stars through the open moon-roof. Her mind overloaded, mental encryption shot through the backdoor of Hades. He’d chased out the monsters hiding in the closet that wouldn’t ever quite shut before in her mind. She tried to let the vastness of the universe take her until everything in the big picture of life would focus again for her. Her goal, her new job, at DefCon she knew no one mentioned it being for DHS. Wreaking mayhem in a flat out hack off? Of course it was too good to be true. She blew out a shaky breath.
The men, brothers, talked about the events of this night as she stared at stars and tried to focus.
Cole grumbled. “Hard to explain a spook being spooked to death.”
Glenn laughed at Cole. “It’s severe paranormal, brother. It’s all a mystery.”
Just the same, all she could focus on was DHS. Her stomach jolted queasy if she even dared to look deeper at it than the acronym. She didn’t look at Glenn, trying still for the vast awesomeness to give her peace with the idea of working for Homeland Security. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
She glanced at Glenn not Cole. “If you had knowledge this CT medical security job wasn’t with Big Brother, when I told you that was something I hadn’t been able to wrap my head comfortably around yet, why wouldn’t you tell me the job was for the Department of Homeland Security?”
Cole started immediately. “Kinda too fast, too much to tell you in the last twenty-four hours in which you managed to keep plenty busy with what was happening around you.”
Tessa closed her eyes. “Not you, Cole. I’m talking to Glenn if you don’t mind.”
Glenn snorted. “And have you take the job for the Russian cyber-revolutionary . . . to have to work for someone who would let you know the real scope of what he wanted from you later, too, just like DHS? To say nothing to Cole, and let Yori Korskovf turn you into an assassin once he got you to Russia and held you a prisoner there? I know how you feel about DHS, Tess.”
“Well I’m not gonna work for them even if I could.”
“Oh hell no,” Glenn exclaimed. “You will go to that interview, those tryouts, woman, with your government certification for ethical hacking. You will hack a heart and they will offer you a new career.”
“Indeed,” Cole confirmed. “Passionate about the right to privacy, people like you will help Homeland Security from turning this country into a fully policed state.”
Glenn drove past the hotel, past Haven, north of town before pulling into the driveway of a house out of luxury landscaping.
When he escorted her to his bedroom, Tessa turned up the heat in her eyes which turned up the heat in his. The sun came up outside glass windows across one wall. He drove her right to the edge of crazy and then kissed her mouth and stood up. His crooked grin winked at her and so did one silver eye. “See ya later, Tessa.”
The man left for work!
Tessa took a cold shower and changed into one of his shirts. She walked through his house, stopping in his computer room doorway, three laptops, three screens, two docking stations, a notebook, and a tower computer. “God, I love this hacker,” she whispered. “He’s breached my unhackable heart.”
She returned to his bed to sleep this time.
“Time to play now,” she greeted him home from work, from the warm water of his pool, sitting on a ledge that slid around under the waterfall. “No mercy, no sleep first.”
A funny little groan sounded a bit strangled in his throat. “You know I have your diary, right? I won’t be coming in there to swim with you, Tess.”
“I’d be disappointed if you were.”
He shot her a lopsided grin and a shaky laugh. “A couple more things you should know, Tessa. I won’t hold you back from your career. I won’t to try to break you down with a choke collar of oppressiveness around your throat, cutting off your air so the taste of freedom is but a vague recollection.”
Her diary quoted back at her, more straight from her heart once upon a time. This time, she blew out the shaky breath. “God, thank you for putting this man on my path. I don’t want it to be for but a moment.”
Glenn kicked off his shoes. “I’ve been busy today. I have a great crew to finish up your landscaping. Capable people at Haven, too. I can remote in to work, Tessa. And I can hunt ghosts anywhere. I’m coming in now to live in the moment with you for the long haul.”
Tessa glided forward in the water, closer to him. “I talked to Cole today. He really does want a partner in medical ICD security. He said the government would want at least a thumb in the pie, but the market is golden. He’s resigning from his job at DHS to pursue this new career. I can remote into work, too, Glenn.”
He stepped into the water, twinkling stars and moonbeams glinting a path in front of them.
Happily Ever After!