That winter night when Uncle Harry had brought me back up from the mines in Michigan was etched firmly in my thoughts. The next day lingered even longer, and I remembered how quickly I fell back into a pace that neared normalcy. Once we'd gotten warm, eaten and slept off the visit to the salt mines, it turned out that Uncle Harry had called some of his friends and they would help us leave the werewolves' territory unharmed. Sapphire hadn't stuck around once she found out that even more human types were soon going to be showing up. Instead, right after I woke up in the middle of the afternoon, she pulled me aside and told me that I was always welcome to reach out for her, and if she stayed in the known world she'd find her way to me as quickly as possible. I hadn't had quite enough time yet to fully absorb the whole other worlds notion, but I noticed from how she'd spoken that she was pretty well aware of the otherness of Earth and the possibilities. There was more to the dragon than scales and teeth it appeared, and I wondered if I would ever see her again. She shuffled off into the forest and then I heard the flapping of her wings. I felt slightly awed by the sheer fact of dragons, but that was shoved aside to see what Uncle Harry had planned.
It seemed that during all of his calls, Uncle Harry had scheduled airline tickets for Riley and me to take a non-stop flight out of Detroit once the blizzard died down, first class at that. I didn't bother to ask about my house rental or how much the trip was going to cost, because I knew Uncle Harry could easily afford such things. The vampire had also made some other rather unusual arrangements to go back to California via a different route than ours. I still remember seeing the semi-truck pull into the snow packed drive the next evening just after nightfall. Not there was that much difference between day and night with the snow-filled environment and gray-black clouds that kept adding to the snow already blanketing the area. We stood inside the warm house watching the driver muscle the rig around the icy drive until it faced back down the path.
"Uncle Harry, does that really say coffins available for one's needs on the side?" I know my mouth was unattractively gaped open but I didn't much care. I mean most folks only 'needed' coffins but once in their lives -- or at their deaths as it were -- I didn't see that roadway advertising was particularly necessary. Funeral directors tended to have their overpriced favorites from what I remembered when my folks passed.
"Sure does, Emma. It's the safest route for me to go when I'm not in a hurry." Uncle Harry smiled at my bewildered expression.
Riley was grinning and he seemed to be delightfully aware that vampires travelled in coffins across the states. Color me ignorant. I guess I'd never really paid that close of attention to how vampires got around. For me to travel by way of the usual human methods took far too much effort, and I seldom stood in line in an airport for an hour to be patted down and searched like a convict on her way to prison. Airline travel was nearly the last thing on my lists of 'to-do.' Uncle Harry rarely insisted I fly anywhere because I tended to get more than a little edgy in confined places with fools. That could end poorly, we'd both had concluded long ago. It didn't stop Uncle Harry from making me try to appear more human and not pop around, but he knew my limitations.
Uncle Harry didn't immediately explain; instead, Riley spit out, "Yeah, Emma. Cops are pretty superstitious sorts at the core and they rarely find any need to pull over the drivers of trucks filled with coffin deliveries and try to shake them down for invented infractions like us normal folks. Hearses are also left alone, but they aren't as comfortable for the long hauls, so they are only used for the short trips."
I gave Riley a dark look for his smart ass comments. I really didn't think Riley was exactly 'normal' by any stretch of the imagination, but his grin at being able to tell me something new seemed to make him nearly giddy. Naturally he then ignored my reaction and looked at Uncle Harry asking seriously, "Not the train this time?"
Uncle Riley shook his head and said, "No, I don't sleep as well. Too many stops and starts."
Eyes wide, I had to ask, "Doesn't the truck driver stop often?"
Then the driver's door flew open and out tumbled a rather wiry tall man. The passenger's door opened slower and not one but two folks hopped off the bench seat. Seeing all three men coming towards us I hazarded a quick guess and asked, "They take shifts driving?"
"Certainly, Emma, it takes far less time and they get me home faster without too many stops along the way." Uncle Harry was more than a bit amused at my surprise.
Truly I shouldn't have been shocked since Uncle Harry had been around a long time -- hell of a lot longer than most of the vampires I'd ever known about or heard about during my years playing with werewolves and others. Men always claimed women gossiped too much, but I'd learned from observing my male companions in the past that they weren't exactly closed-mouthed about others.
A large pickup truck was driving into the parking area out in front of the huge rural cabin, made crowded by the semi. Nobody tensed up or flipped to a furry side, so I gathered this was someone who was expected. The king cab truck had large tires equipped to handle the snow, and underneath all of the wet snow I could see the metal name plate that said one of the Detroit plants had spit out the gas-guzzling auto, and that the factory black paint had been heavily pen-striped with curves and swirls in red and yellow. Definitely flames, I deducted, watching a figure slowly move out from behind the wheel. As the driver's side door wasn't towards us, it took a moment for the person to come into view.
Thick boots and jeans gave way to a bulky winter coat and a huge man. I think he was just a human, but he could also have a dual nature that would be something scarier. Looking at the man's tight face, I wasn't so sure that was even possible. He was way up there on my scary meter, pushing all my flight reactions. Uncle Harry put a hand on my shoulder and thought softly, "Emma, you are fine. He's for your protection. He won't allow anyone to harm you."
I sucked a soft bit of the icy wind into my lungs and nodded without answering aloud or in my mind. I was barely keeping it together. Uncle Harry's hand did make me feel safer, as did the sword I still gripped tightly in my palm. I was starting to appreciate that the blade had been made with silver. I was pretty sure that there was steel beneath the silver, because it would be a fairly useless weapon otherwise against most armed folks and supernatural creatures in the long run. The driver's eyes dipped as he approached and I could feel him looking at my sword.
"Harry, she isn't keeping that in the cab." It wasn't a question but a statement. Riley grinned at me and waited to see if I was going to explode. I wasn't stupid, but at the same time I wasn't giving up my only weapon. I'd promised Uncle Harry that I'd keep my nature to myself. Riley and Uncle Harry both knew I could pop out of view and end up anywhere but where I was just with a thought. That there was a rather sizeable hunk of money offered for my body kept my phasing in and out of sight rare. I wasn't going to risk being captured and killed by some bounty hunter who had also seen one of the wanted posters on the internet. That the supernatural creatures didn't have a good picture of me probably saved my ass more than once. But the description of my ability to disappear, then reappear elsewhere was heavily discussed, along with how easy it would be to get the over-two-million dollars for a few minutes' work.
Uncle Harry looked directly at the man without a word. Then the huge menacing figure dropped to one knee in the snow and said, "I beg forgiveness. Of course, Harry, she can bring whatever she needs."
Not a word was spoken by Uncle Harry, but the vampire made his thoughts apparent with a single glance. I risked a quick smirk at Riley and saw that he wasn't watching me anymore, but instead was standing there with his mouth gaping open. Unable to resist the opportunity presented, I reached up and nudged his mouth shut with my free hand. He swatted my small hand away from him distractedly, while still watching the newcomer and Uncle Harry. He wasn't furring out so that was a relief, but he was hyperaware to say the least.
The man stumbled up from his knee and glared at the other three men with the coffin truck. He sighed and said, "You are making other arrangements, I see. I am to take just her to the airport then?"
Riley interjected, "Nah, you get stuck with me also. Harry, you still want us to go down to the airport now, or should we wait for you to load up and leave?"
Uncle Harry said, "You both need to go now. There are some things I need to straighten out before I go. The airport should be clearing runways and preparing for departures in the next few hours. I want you both on the first flight."
He turned to the new man and asked, "You have what I asked you to get with you?"
Stumbling back to his truck, the man called out over his shoulder, "Of course." He opened the passenger's side door and reached back into the backseat of the cab, pulling out a nationally recognizable cell phone name plastered all over the bag. Quickly pacing the snowy steps back to Uncle Harry he handed over the bag saying, "I had them programmed as you requested and the chargers are in there along with the backup batteries. The store fully charged them and they are ready to go."
Nodding, Uncle Harry looked in the bag and handed both Riley and me a box with the accessories mentioned.
"Hell, Harry, I don't need this." Riley seemed upset by getting the expensive phone -- I found it amusing given all three of us could mentally tag each other if the need arose.
Uncle Harry didn't reply, but instead opened up the box and removed his cell phone. He pushed a button and the device began to make cheeping and chirping sounds. I walked back towards the front of the house with the cell phone set up tucked beneath my arm and my sword still in my right palm. Once I made it to the door, I leaned the blade against the frame and opened the door quickly making my way back inside. Snagging up my sword I shut the door and went to the living room. In five minutes I had activated the phone and scrolled to see who or what had been programmed. I used the camera that was loaded into the phone and snapped a picture of my face. I tapped the necessary buttons to send it to both Riley and Uncle Harry's numbers already loaded into the phone.
I heard the jangling of my message hitting their phones through the door and checked the ring tone of my cell. It was too loud, so I quickly adjusted the volume, happy with my new toy. My phone made a beeping noise and I saw I had a reply message from Uncle Harry.
"Thank you." He texted. I beamed and then another beep alerted me to another message.
Riley's message wasn't so nice. "Grab your gear and get the hell out here. We got to roll."
I posted back a frown and asked, "Okay already. Grumpy much?"
I could feel his eyes rolling from inside the house, so tucking the cell into my pocket, I ran for the meager possessions I had with me. The charger and instructions for the phone went into my backpack, as did a few power bars that had been stocked at the cabin. I figured even if I wasn't hungry yet, it was pretty obvious that Riley was a cranky werewolf, and I wouldn't have a chance to shop for a snack later.