Faith, Hope & Charity
A Faith Lehane Mystery
See Chapter One for Disclaimer.
The next morning, much more sober, I mounted my faithful Fat Boy and hit I-80, aimed eastwards, content to collect bugs in my teeth as the miles went by under my boots. The smooth ride, the road noise, the Harley's almost-patented burbling, the vibration between my legs, all was soothing; I was one with the world: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Riding was me.
Six hours later, somewhere in the middle of New Jersey, I started to smell a whiff of fucking vampires. Now that may sound strange, but every Slayer felt 'em a little differently. Some of the girls felt it as a sixth sense, and couldn't really describe it, not even to the rest of us Slayers; others felt it as an extra dose of PMS – no envy there – but to me they just smelled like something dead and rotten. So I caught the next exit, rocked my foot till I hit neutral and coasted down the ramp, looking around carefully. By now I was used to the smell of New Jersey – a sort of chemical smell on top of rotting garbage that uglified the fucking highway for the last hundred miles. So the vampire smell had to be shit-strong to be noticeable – and it was. I wondered if I should call for backup. Nah, fuck it, I'll just jump in the middle and slay 'em all.
I braked to a stop. There wasn't any traffic around, except up the steep embankment on the Interstate. But down here there was just a winding two lane road and a narrow concrete underpass. All I could see was cruddy looking bushes, some stunted trees, a repulsive little creek overflowing with some sort of fucked-up bubbly shit, and a whole bunch of huge oil and chemical storage tanks dotting the landscape. Out towards the horizon south of me I could see a cone-shaped furnace-looking thing that was darkening the sky with a huge plume of dark-brown smoke. I supposed they were burning trash – I thought that was illegal now, but maybe the Jersey mob hadn't heard from the EPA yet. So where were my fucking vampires? I couldn't see anyplace where they might wanna hang out, and it was morning and even with that smoke to the south it was still bright and sunny, so they had to be under something.
I turned left and cruised for a couple of miles, following my nose. Finally, I came across an abandoned factory. Fuckin' 'A'! Now that's a vampire hangout! I drove through the broken gates, revving my bike to announce my arrival to the undead so I wouldn't have to waste time searching for them, and skidded to a flashy stop in front of the most habitable looking building.
I armed myself with as many stakes as I could comfortably fit in my pockets and belt, then removed my sword from Willow's magical hiding spot.
The smell of death was strong now. I suspected that the vamps here probably had some recently dead bodies lying around. I didn't like that – nothing like stepping on a old corpse in the middle of sword fight to throw me off balance. It had only happened to me once, but once was more than enough; I could still remember the stench of rotted flesh, the cloud of bugs, the fuckin' maggots crawling around my foot, and worst of all, slipping in some sort of thick liquid that had seeped out of the body. My Italian motorcycle boots were never the same after that – I tried many different ways to clean them but eventually had to throw them out. Wouldn't you know it, I was wearing the replacement boots that Dawn had sent me just last month.
"Here vampy vamps!" I called out in sing-song voice as I strolled towards the huge metal doors, "Come out come out wherever you are!" I whipped my sword back and forth to work the kinks out of my muscles and get my blood circulating properly.
I stopped just in front of the humongous sliding doors. I could hear whispering and shuffling from the other side – shit, there might be as many as a dozen fuckin' bloodsuckers behind that door. That was a lot of vampires – oh well, one dozen vampires vs. one vampire slayer, that sounded about right to me. I jumped straight up to a crude opening rusted out of the metal wall about twenty feet up. There was a handy steel beam that looked like a super-highway to my slayer-balanced legs, a mouse that had been happily scurrying along the beam stopped, frozen in terror, watching me walk softly towards him. I looked down, studying the layout below, I could see eight vampires near the door, readying themselves for me, looked like; a couple of them were big fuckers, too. Really big. Guess that's why it felt like twelve, but they were looking puzzled, guess they couldn't sense me outside the door anymore.
I could smell the stink of my own sweat. I'd faced these odds before and I'd always won – I would this time too, probably. Stop thinking about it, I told myself. Just fucking do it! So I jumped down behind the vampires, swung my sword in a flat arc and took the heads of three in one cut before my feet hit the concrete.
The rest weren't quite so fuckin' easy. I slashed and hacked my way through them – it started to be a close thing so I ramped up my speed. I whipped my sword this way and that, switched the sword to one-hand and got a stake in the other. The fuckin' vamps kept dodging my blade; so I was only down to four now, but these four were the smartest and toughest of the group. As I swung my head, I could feel tendrils of hair whipping around, flinging off beads of sweat. I flung a stake and poof, another down, three to go, three that now look spooked and sweating – a good trick cuz vamps don't sweat. I collected a fist to the side of my face and a boot to my stomach which made me fall ass over teakettle to the rough floor. Damn, this wouldn't do my leather jacket any good. I flipped angrily to my feet and pressed my attack home: stake, whoosh! Thrust, poof! Swing, dust! Done!
It was enough of a workout that by the time I dusted the last one I was covered in sweat and vampire crud, and possibly some mouse shit. But I survived, again. Funny, I never used to worry about makin' it or not, I figured I would never know if I didn't live and maybe I didn't used ta care much. But wakin' up after most of a year in a coma, followed by some prison time, does change ones outlook on life, even if it took a few years to make any sense of the experience.
I pushed the doors open and stepped out into the sunlight, breathing deep the crappy air and turning my face to the sun. It felt good. After soaking up rays for minute or so I put my sword away and swung my leg over my bike and just rested for a minute. Finally, I started her up, revving the engine and listening to the Harley rumble to make sure everything was working right, and headed down the highway. I cruised to the next big town and checked into a Marriott, which I put on my ISWC American Express card. It was nice to be able to afford better places than the roach-motels I used to inhabit. Still, the deskpersons looked at me funny and one sort sniffed as if he smelled something nasty but was too well-bred to mention it. I sighed, you couldn't describe my aroma as dainty, but a long hot shower cured that problem. Followed by a big steak dinner and a good nights sleep and I was good to go.
As I drove on early the next morning, I contemplated my Aunt Helen. She was always nice to me, but not so nice to my mother. Considering they were sisters, you'd think there'd be some family feeling or something, but Helen figured her sister's drug addiction was a moral failing, and refused to cut her any slack. I could see her point, but Aunt Helen might have tried harder to get mom into a rehab program, again. I let that thought circle around for a minute and sighed to myself, who the fuck was I trying to kid? Once mom went an got the urge, nuthin', and I mean nuthin', would stop her from getting a fuckin' fix, and Aunt Helen had surely figured that out sooner rather than later.
I'd overheard mom one night talking to her 'boyfriend', hah, dealer/pimp more like; it seems mom's philosophy was 'Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed', and though she didn't want me pregnant she intended to make a great deal of money from my virgin body. I could've told her she was already too late, but that conversation wouldn't have gone well, not because of any moral standpoint, just the missed opportunity to score on the young V. Nice woman; I left the next fucking day, I wasn't about to let my own mother monetize my pussy. If she hadn't ODed a few years back maybe I would've gone back and... Okay, I wouldn't have actually killed her, she was my mother after all, but I sure as hell didn't have many happy memories of her. A couple or three, maybe four. But the pimp mother-fucker was a different story, and I'll never apologize for what I did to him, but let's not tell anybody, okay?
Come to think of it, I took to the streets just a few months after I last saw Aunt Helen. Hmmm, lookin' back with 20/5 hindsight, I wondered why I hadn't gone to live with Helen. Now
I know she would have taken me in, welcomed me with open arms even, but at the time, it just didn't occur to me – I guess because Aunt Helen's life seemed too high class for the likes of me or some shit like that. Then my first Watcher found me and things started lookin' up, for a couple of years anyway.
So back in the day Aunt Helen had married well and had a nice house and became part of New York's high society. I still couldn't believe she was giving me any part of it, I mean, I had a couple of cousins who had more right to it than me, not to mention other in-laws on uncle Scott's side of the family. Wondering about it wasn't doing me any good, so I went back to the Zen Zone.
I made it through the tunnel into Manhattan during the morning rush hour and headed towards the Woodman and Weld offices for the reading of the will. If that letter had got to me even a day later, I would've had to fly, but as it was I had just enough time to get there.
After gulping down a couple of New York style breakfast burritos from a low-rent sidewalk steam cart, I walked into Woodman and Weld's fancy office building and studied the directory. They had four floors of the the building – the elevator took me up to their lowest floor and I stood in front of a fancy receptionist. She didn't want to look at me, but I'm kinda hard to ignore. I'm guessing she didn't get too many biker chicks in black leather standing in front of her desk, judging by the men and women I could see power walking through the halls in their three thousand dollar suits trying to look busy at important tasks, or maybe they really were busy at important tasks. She frostily asked me, "May I help you?" She couldn't pull off the look-down-her-nose thing while seated and looking up at me – but she surely did try.
"Yeah, I'm here to see Bill Eggers." I purposely exaggerated my Boston street accent just to aggravate her.
She thawed a couple of degrees at Eggers name. "Whom shall I say is calling?"
"Just a moment please," she warbled.
It was only moments later when an assistant rushed out to escort me back to Egger's office. I was beginning to wonder just how much I was inheriting cuz I gotta say, no fancy-pants lawyer had ever bent over backwards for me before. We went up a floor, down a nicely appointed hallway to a large corner office, and I was shown in.
"Hello Ms. Lehane," a fiftyish man said, getting up from his desk and offering his hand. "Please, have a seat." If he was annoyed by my leathers, my wild hair, the faint whiff of road and exhaust fumes, he didn't show it.
"I'm sorry we didn't get that letter to you sooner, but we had a devil of a time locating you," he said.
"Hey, don't sweat it. I got it in time to get a lot of contemplating done on my Harley on the way here." I didn't mention my vampire slaying side trip.
He made me feel welcome, without being overly effusive (there's another word I picked up listening to Giles – I hope I'm using it the right fucking way), and we exchanged meaningless phrases for a minute. Then he glanced at his watch and got up and said, "It's time to join the others."
I walked with him to a luxurious conference room, I mean, I thought his office was high rent, but I could see they really
spent some money here. The huge wood conference table alone probably cost more than my Harley; more than two Harleys, maybe. Add the wood panels, the fancy wood floor, the handmade rug, the intricate ceiling, and you could feed a whole third-world family for a fuckin' lifetime. One whole wall was mostly glass and looked out over the center of the city, but I wasn't there to admire the view or critique the decor. Bill showed me to the seat to the right of the head of the table. The sour expressions on the faces of the three people already seated was enough to tell me I was about as welcome as a cockroach in a Waldorf salad, whatever the fuck a Waldorf salad was.
An assistant placed a file in front of Eggars. He squared it up just so and carefully opened it. He cleared his throat and lawyerly intoned, "Today we are here to read the last will and testament of Mrs. Clarance Scott Wilkerson née Helen Alice Lehane, known as Helen Wilkerson to most of you. Present is Ms. Faith Lehane, Mr. Roger Wilkerson, Ms. Florence Wilkerson, and Mrs. William L. Smiley, formerly Judy Ann Wilkerson."
Well, I thought, uncle Scott's family was well represented. I had the feeling they wouldn't be happy about me gettin' anything at all. Prolly'd feel I was an interloper. Florence Wilkerson seemed especially unhappy. She was one of those died-in-the-wool New Englanders with a cast-iron rod shoved far up her ass, doomed to a perpetual sore neck from constantly looking down her nose at everyone around her. I knew her type well, Boston was infested with people like her. She had managed not to acknowledge my existence yet, even though she was sitting right across the table from me, although she did manage to sniff disapprovingly like someone just let loose with a particularly rank fart; I actually considered fulfilling her expectation for a moment or two since my breakfast burritos were rumbling around in my stomach, but I held it in. I mused about the seating order. She likely considered it an affront that she wasn't sitting to the right of Eggers. The only other thing I could think was that she thought I must be getting more than her. I wondered what else I could have done to deserve her hatred. Maybe my last name being the same as my aunt's maiden name would signal to anyone on the ball that my mother was never married. A little illegitimacy in the family would probably not sit well with these wealthy Easterners.
"First," Eggers continued, "there were several bequests that Mrs. Wilkerson handled through this firm before her untimely death. She set up a trust fund to endow retirement and separation bonuses to her loyal servants, and to hold certain stocks and other business interests, but I mention them now because they were triggered by her death, even though it's not actually part of the probate process.
"Next," he said, looking down to read from the Will, " 'I, Helen Wilkerson, being of sound mind and body do declare that this is my last will and testament and my wishes regarding the arrangement of my affairs. To my son Roger, I leave my house on Cape Cod and all appurtenances thereof and my First Bank of Boston account.' "
Eggers looked up and added, "The amount in that account comes to one hundred ninety-four thousand dollars and seventy-seven cents as of the close of business yesterday. And of course, both Roger and Judy have trust funds that pay about seventy-five thousand dollars per annum to each." Roger looked angry, beyond angry really, I guess he was expecting a lot more than that. But what the hell, he got a house on Cape Cod, that couldn't be chump change, could it? And he wouldn't miss a meal, would he? I mean I know a lotta people that live on a lot less than seventy-five grand a year and have to pay rent besides. Including me – especially me – at least up until Giles and Buffy rebuilt the Council and started giving me a paycheck.
Eggers continued, " 'To my daughter Judy, I leave the amount of two million dollars, which she can use to leave her worthless husband should she desire.' " Eggers looked up and said to Judy, "The money is structured in such a way that your husband cannot get control of it, as long as you refrain from just giving it to him." Judy looked torn, like she wanted to leave the presumed bastard but loved him just the same. I could sympathize with her.
He continued, " 'To my beloved sister-in-law, Florence Wilkerson, I leave my collection of Hummel figurines because Florence praised them so fulsomely, and a stick which she can place where it will do her the most good.' " Florence's face sort twitched a couple of times, leading me to think that maybe 'fulsome' didn't mean what I was thinking it meant, although the meaning of the stick was unmistakable. The assistant quietly handed Eggers a cardboard tube. He opened it and solemnly pulled out a stick about two feet long and a half-inch round, and carefully placed it on the table in front of Florence. It looked like a small branch torn off an oak tree.
The expressions on everybody's faces were fucking priceless! I wished I had a camera. I had never seen an insult done in such a high-class manner, but there was no mistaking this was a truly deep insult. It was pretty clear there was no love lost between Helen and Florence. There was no actual smoke coming from Florence's ears, but it wasn't for lack of trying on her part. I wondered if I would ever hear the whole story.
Eggers went on, " 'And finally, to my long lost niece, Faith Erin Lehane, who has, against all odds, proven her worth and found her way in the world through perseverance, great personal effort, and tremendous self-sacrifice, I leave my house on Long Island, all appurtenances thereof, and my New York City apartment, and the remainder of my worldly goods, including my bank and stock accounts at Chase Bank and any other accounts or safe deposit boxes that are not otherwise noted in this document. I further charge Faith to continue my search for Charity Kellie Lehane, and, when found, discharge one last obligation and give her control of a trust account set up for Charity and whatever other consideration that Faith feels her situation might require.' "
Whoa! Now there's
a name I hadn't heard in a long while – I must have been about six years old the last time I saw Charity, and after that – nothing. Even though that memory was dim, it still had the power to haunt me twenty years later.
Eggers put the paper down and said to me, "The apartment is being remodeled right now so it is uninhabitable. But you will be able to move into the house immediately, if you want. However, you won't be able to sell it or access more than petty cash until probate is complete. And that depends on whether or not there are any legal challenges to the will."
Well yeah, I could see there'd be 'legal challenges'. My cousin Roger for one was awful put out, and Florence was one pissed-off lady. Only cousin Judy seemed content, if more than a little confused.
Eggers fussily aligned the papers and slipped them into the file, which he handed to his assistant and said, "And that concludes today's business, thank you for coming." He turned to me and said quietly, "Please wait Ms. Lehane, we have much to discuss after the others have left."
The others, of course, didn't look like they intended on leaving anytime soon. They were glaring daggers at Eggers and me both, all of them angrily and loudly talking a mile a minute, but the assistant graciously assisted them out the door and down the hall. It was clear that they weren't at all happy. I picked up the stick which had been left behind and started to call out to Florence, but Eggars shook his head at me, so I regretfully put it down.
He and I made our way back to his fancy corner office, and I started to learn about my Aunt's family.