Early the next morning, Andy and the kids left for Levette with a reluctant Jon in tow. Andy promised to let him drive his jeep once they were out at the farm. Kate and Eric waved them off from the back steps.
“So far, so good. Nothing in the breeze.” He smelled the air as they stepped back into the kitchen.
“Nothing in the pee-mail you mean.” Kate managed a little smile.
Eric shot her a look. “I didn’t think you’d notice.”
“Oh yeah. You walking around the yard sniffing the air. No one else might notice, but I did. So, what’s on the agenda?”
“Well, You need to go to work.” .
“Wait a minute. The ‘bad guys’ are due to show up and you want me to go to work?”
“Yes. Normal routine. The last thing you want to do is not act normal.”
Kate thought about this for a moment and knew he was right. “Okay. So I go to work. What will you be doing?”
“Me… I’m going to be a good house mate and clean house. Do a little gardening work, fix the fence… watch the dogs, that kind of thing. Oh, and drive you to work, bring you lunch and pick you up.”
Kate gave him a look that the boys called the hairy eyeball. “So, you’ll keep guard on the house and me, eh?”
“And take care of the bad guys, if they show up, all by yourself.”
“Um… well… if necessary,” Eric said, knowing he was caught.
“I don’t like this.”
“Kate, I don’t like putting you or even that damned cat that pees on my shoes in danger. So, yes, I will do my best to guard you and keep you out of the way.” Eric had a bit of a growl in his voice.
“Alright.” She knew that she had lost the battle. “I”m still not used to being taken care of I guess.” Between being a widow and the wife of a traveling man, Kate had gotten use to being in charge. Some of their biggest points of contention had been over Kate not dealing well with Eric’s desires to be in charge, or at least help out. The boys joked that he’d have to take her clothes to keep her in bed when she was sick. They were very close to the truth. Lifting heavy objects, getting the car worked on or even taking out the trash were often bones of contention. Zach and Andy commiserated with Eric on more than one occasion over Kate’s overt sense of independence.
Eric smiled. He hugged her to him. “You’ll get used to me being here and taking care of you some day,” he whispered in her ear.
“Yes. I guess I will. I love you.”
“Good. Now get ready for work.”
Eric dropped Kate off at the shelter. It was a beehive of activity. Suzanne was supervising from the doorway as trash and broken furniture was dumped into a skip in the parking lot.
Kate walked in and had the smell of cleaning fluids smack her in the nose. Being more sensitive to smells wasn’t always a bonus.
“Gads! What are they using Suzanne?”
“Carpet cleaner and some sort of green gunk that is supposedly environmentally safe. Those idiots peed on the walls in your office,” Suzanne said in disgust.
“We noticed that last night. I came down to see what was salvageable today. There was just too much broken glass and stuff in there last night.”
“I had some of the cleaners put unbroken stuff in a box when they started in your office. There isn’t much. Most of the paperwork is a loss as well. Wet, if you know what I mean.”
“Yes. I do.” Walking up close to Suzanne, she whispered in her ear.
“You did what?” Suzanne said softly.
“I have some of my files on a disk at home,” Kate said again in a whisper.
Suzanne hugged her. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are a lifesaver.”
“They’ll stay hidden for a bit I think though.”
“I agree. We’re officially shut down for two weeks, so no use letting them get lost again.”
“Yes. That is how long it will take to clean up, get furniture and a new computer as well as reloading that dratted software.”
Kate nodded in understatement. “I guess I’ll go see what the crew left of my office.”
“Okay. Talk to you in a bit.” Suzanne headed towards her own rather empty office.
The box of possessions that Kate had to go through was depressing. A few knick-knacks off of her desk, pens and desk clutter, the photo of Eric and the kids, and a few odds and ends. She was picking up the photo when she realized it was thicker than it should be. Turning it over, she found an envelope taped to the back. It was labeled Nic Olman.
Kate’s blood felt like ice as she called the house. Eric answered on the fourth ring.
“Eric, you need to come pick up my stuff from the office,” she said, trying not to sound too odd on the phone.
“Stuff? What stuff Sweetie. Can’t it wait till lunch?” He wondering what was going on.
“No, I think you’d best come get it now. They are really cleaning up my office and I don’t want my pictures and stuff getting messy.” She stressed the word pictures.
Eric caught the inference that something was wrong. “Okay Sweetie. I’ll be down in a few to pick up your pictures and other things. Do you want me to bring your lunch?”
“No. It stinks so bad down here that I couldn’t eat here. All the food would taste of cleaning fluids.”
“I’ll be right there,” Eric said and hung up the phone. He grabbed the car keys and made sure all the doors were locked.
Five minutes later, Eric was being hugged by Kate in her office. He pulled back a bit, made sure no one was near, and then waited.
“Look.” She handed him the picture of him and the kids.
Eric flipped the picture over and saw the envelope. “Okay Kate, I think we can get this all in one box. If you’ll grab the picture frame over there, we can make this just one trip. Does Suzanne know you are going to lunch now?”
“No, I’ll tell her as we go out the door. There isn’t much more I can do anyway until the cleaners get done. Plus, I haven’t any real furniture.” She turned, looking at her broken desk and chair. Even the file cabinet was dented beyond use. “I just don’t understand some people. They ruin it for everyone.”
“Yes they do. Now let’s get going.” He headed down the hall.
“Alright, let me tell Suzanne.” Kate headed off to the other office while Eric headed for the car.
Kate joined Eric a few minutes later. “I have the rest of the day off. She has a headache from all the fumes and sees no reason for both of us to be sick.”
“Good. I feel better with you here.”
“I feel better being with you. At least I’m worrying only half as much.”
Eric nodded. “Lets go home and see what that note says. They have obviously figured out where I was, just not where I am. Yet.”
“Yeah. That’s what has me on edge. I want to know why they want you so much that they’d destroy my office twice. Or worse yet, why are they hunting shifters in the first place.”
“That is something we may never know. The guys hunting us might not know. Need-to-know information protocol can be a real handicap at times.” Eric finished just as they pulled up to the house. The local Animal Control truck was sitting next to Zach’s car. Ronny was leaning up against it, obviously waiting for them.
“Hello Ronny,” Kate said, not feeling as cheerful as she tried to sound.
“Hi Kate. I been lookin’ round the yard and such. Luna and Gretchen barked at me, but I didn’t hear Max. He okay?” Ronny said.
“Yes. He probably is asleep in the basement.”
“Oh. I just dinna’ want ta pick him up on accident. Make sure he’s got his collar on. Not like last time. Okay?” Ronny said, shuffling his feet a bit in the dirt.
“No problem Ronny. We’ll make sure he has it on,” said Eric, who was going a bit red around the neck and ears.
A month or so back, Eric had been out hunting and came back down the street just in time to be captured by Ronny doing a net sweep in the alley. Luckily, Kate had been waiting for Eric and saw Ronny catch him. She’d had to go inside, find the collar with tags and bring it out. Kate had had to do the whole ‘bad dog’ routine while putting the collar on ‘Max’. Worse yet, ‘Max’ had eaten something bad that night and chose that moment to hurl it back up. So, on top of the lecture about letting ‘Max’ out without a collar and or supervision, Kate got a lecture on letting dogs eat roadkill. It had been a poor morning all the way around.
“Well, I’ll be stoppin’ by in case those dogs show up. Or, jus call me on da radio,” he said as he finally got back in his truck.
“Will do Ronny. Thanks!” Eric and Kate said together.
Inside, Eric put the box in the dining room while Kate locked the back door and then started the kettle. They both needed a cup of tea.
“That was a close one. I am just glad he didn’t want to see ‘Max’.”
“I know. We’d better find that collar though. Thinking about it, it may be the only way to tell the good dog from the bad dogs if things go wrong.” Eric dug the picture out of the box. Tearing off the envelope, he opened it up as he headed into the kitchen.
Kate looked up to see him intently reading an official looking bit of paper.”What is it Eric?”
“It’s a not too nice letter telling me to get my ass back to Virginia and the agency or else.”
“Apparently, the division I was in was reactivated. So this is sort of a recall letter.” He handed her the letter.
Kate took it, and after getting over the oddness of seeing Nicholas Olman on it perused the rest of the letter. It was a rather formal demand of his presence. Not a total ‘or else’ type of missive. Not a warrant or subpoena. Just a really nasty way of getting someone’s attention. “What are you going to do Eric?”
“I’m going to call Mike and see what he knows about this. I have to admit that I don’t think this is a sanctioned action.” Eric moved to his desk in the den.
“I didn’t think you ever called Mike, only emailed him.”
“Well, I don’t have time to wait. I’ll call his pager and he will call me.” He pulled out his phone and dialed a number.
Kate nodded and left the room to give him some space. Mike knew him from before the name change. Mike knew things about Eric that Kate never would know. Some days she wanted to keep it that way. After reading that letter, she really wanted to keep it that way.
Kate went back to finishing up the tea. She started on the dishes when the phone in the den rang. It seemed like an eternity before Eric came back into the kitchen. Eric picked up his tea and sipped at the lukewarm drink.
“He said he’d get back to me.”
“It took that long to say that?”
“No, I had to explain a few things, and he gave me some information.”
“So, we wait?”
“Yes. I won’t go back Kate. This isn’t legal. Problem is that it is secret, so people can be manipulated. Bad guys don’t play fair. I just have to see what I can do.”
“I understand. Or, at least I think I do. Will you dry the dishes while we wait?”
“Not a problem.” Eric started digging a dish towel out of the drawer.
They were almost done with the dishes when the den phone rang. Eric dropped the cloth on the dish drain and went for the phone. Kate sat down and waited. Eric was back faster than she expected. He sat down next to her and actually had a smile on his face.
“What are you smiling about?”
“Well, Mike found out that these guys are on the agency’s shit list. Some rogue general about ten years ago decided he didn’t want to give up his little toys. His toys being the bad ass shifters that couldn’t pass a psych evaluation with a cheat sheet.”
“I take it you weren’t one of these.”
“No. I was not. In fact, I was already gone from the agency by that point.”
“Okay, go on.”
“Apparently, I am not the only one being hassled, nor hollering for someone to stop this bunch. In fact, there have been over fifty complaints in just the last month. They have subverted government agencies all over the place in their hunt for more shifters. Including your own oversight committee for shelters in this state.”
“Oh, the software! Does that mean it’s going to go away?”
“Could be. It was illegal. What will depend on it leaving is the state deciding if it is useful or not. In the meantime, it isn’t important. What is is the fact that these guys are out there and the good guys are just now catching on to what’s happening.”
“So, the calvary has just left the fort and the wagons are circling against the Indians with no support in sight.”
“That’s about it. We are on our own for probably the next two or three days.”
“Oh wonderful. Can’t they just call the local police and let then in on it?”
“No, because of the same issues we discussed earlier when you suggested telling James.”
“Plus, they don’t know if the local cops are in the pay of the bad guys or not.”
“That makes sense. However, if the news is rather glum, why were you smiling when you came back in?” she asked.
“Um, well… Mike did a check on you. If you think I’m anal about some things, you need to meet Mike. He had to make sure you weren’t a bad guy, and came across a picture of you.”
“He said you were damned cute and that I was one lucky dog.” Eric had a smile breaking out across his face.
Kate just rolled her eyes. “I should have know. Only another computer geek could get sidetracked like that. And, make a bad joke in the process.”
“Well, he’s right. I am one lucky man.” Eric stood to take Kate in his arms. Hugging her to him, he kissed her forehead, nose, then lips.
“Dog,” Kate said in a whisper.
“Okay. One lucky dog,” Eric acquiesced.
The phone rang a few more times over the course of the afternoon. Eric would take the call, and then come back and tell Kate of the developments. Most were minor. Some she swore was just the two of them playing with the novelty of actually talking on the phone to one another. The boys called as well. Everyone was having fun out on the farm. Pat’s new girlfriend Tammy was busy feeding everyone. Pat, Jon and Andy were also taking turns with the rifle. They were taking potshots at any coyotes that showed their noses. So far the count was six rabbits and one coyote. Jamie was delighted that there would be rabbit for breakfast.
Kate laughed when Eric reported this to her over dinner. They were having left over stir fry from the night before. Kate had used ham in it and of course Jamie had glued the words together in her own special way and turned ham stir-fry into hamster fry.
After supper, Eric took the cayenne pepper and liberally sprinkled it on window frames and doorways. The smell of it burned Kate’s nose, and the thought of what it would do to others sniffing it made her smile. They went to bed early and made sure Luna, Gretchen and all the cats were safely inside.
“Eric, is there any chance that they might just go away?”
“No, I don’t think so. I figure that they will come. I just hope that it’s just one or two and not a whole pack.” He snugged close to her in the bed.
“A whole pack? You don’t think…”
“No, I hope not. I’m hoping it is just the three jokers that trashed the shelter and delivered the note. They have to know where we are by now. I’m just not sure when they will come.”
“You’ll remember to grab the collar won’t you?” she asked, looking at Max’s collar on the night stand.
“Eric! You know it is the only way anyone is going to be able to tell you from them.”
“It will give them a handle.”
“Not if you’re careful. Besides… if Ronny catches four stray dogs, I’ll have hell to pay to get you out of the kennel. And by then, it might be too late. If he throws all of you in the same pen, you’re done for,” Kate said rather heatedly.
Eric nodded. She was right. Damn it. “Okay. I’ll put the collar on, but we have to tape down the tags. I can’t have them jingling.”
“Fine.” Kate reached over and grabbed the collar and pulled out the medical tape she had in her nightstand. She taped the tags down quickly and handed the collar back to Eric. “There. Just don’t forget it.”
“I won’t. Now we need to get some sleep.”
“I love you Eric.”
“I love you too Sweetie.”