Autumn Whispers (Page 7)

Camille immediately took control of the cat, sweeping it into her arms and snuggling it. I grinned at her. She was an ailurophile, and while she loved her spirit kitty Misty that I’d gotten for her the preceding Yule, I knew she longed to have a real flesh-and-blood cat for a pet . . . and that did not include me when I shifted form.

Carter watched, an indulgent look on his face. After a few minutes, Roxy had had enough kisses on the head and snuggles, and leaped out of Camille’s arms, wandering off.

I cleared my throat. “So, what’s the news you have for us, and why do you think we might have some issues with it?”

Carter paused for a moment, then shrugged. “It’s just . . . in doing some research locally, I ran across . . .” He seemed at a loss for words, and that wasn’t like Carter at all. He was always eloquent, never tongue-tied.

I decided to make things easier. “Just spit it out.”

“Well, I’ve run across someone—two people—I think you need to meet. Their names are Hester Lou Fredericks, and Daniel George Fredericks. They’re brother and sister.”

“Why do you think we need to meet them?” Camille looked as confused as I felt.

“The fact is . . . they are your blood cousins . . . on your mother’s side.”

As his words hit home, Camille and I looked at one another, incredulous. What we’d always hoped for had finally happened—our mother’s blood family had come to light. Only now, I wasn’t sure it was such a good thing.

Chapter 4

As Carter’s words fully registered, so did the shock of what he was actually saying. Camille stammered, but all she managed to spit out were a few little half-formed words. Surprised that for once I was the vocal one, I shook my head to clear my thoughts.

“Are you sure? Mother said she was an orphan.”

“Just because you’re an orphan, doesn’t mean there isn’t a record of your parentage. And just because someone tells you that you’re an orphan, doesn’t mean you really are.” Carter gave us a long look, and the realization of what he was saying began to hit home.

Camille found her voice. “You mean . . . Mother wasn’t an orphan?”

“No, she wasn’t. You do have her last name—D’Artigo. Her adoptive parents decided to leave her that much of her heritage, which is surprising given the time period when they took her in. But Maria’s parents didn’t die like her foster parents told her. And they weren’t best friends with Maria’s parents.”

Carter was holding a blue file, a thick one, and he set it down on the table, touching it lightly with the tips of his fingers. “How much do you want to know?”

I glanced at Camille. She gave me a short nod. “Everything, please.”

The only thing we knew about our mother’s lineage is that she was supposedly orphaned as a child and her parents’ best friends had taken her in and raised her as their own. Our grandmother was supposed to have been a beauty, and our grandfather, a man of modest means but good character. Now, all that hung in the air, ready to fly out the window as the truth shed light on shadow.

With a deep breath, Carter motioned for us to drink our tea. He leaned back, the brace on his leg causing him to wince. Menolly had alluded to knowing how he got the injury, but she hadn’t told us his secret and neither Camille nor I felt it our place to ask.

After a moment, he said, “Your grandmother’s name was Theresa D’Artigo. She was fifteen when she gave birth to your mother. She wasn’t married, and she wasn’t engaged. In 1921, that was a big deal. Maria’s father—your maternal grandfather—was named William Jones. He was a high school senior. His parents made sure their son never knew about Maria.”

William Jones. The name hung on the tip of my tongue. After all these years, we were finding out about our mother’s side of the family, but this all-too-human name sounded odd. I began to feel my emotions distancing themselves from the situation.

“Theresa was pressured into giving up the baby. In exchange for everybody keeping their mouths shut, William Jones’s parents quietly paid off her family. There wasn’t much she could do, I suppose. In human society, having an illegitimate child at that time was a tough row to hoe. Theresa’s family kept her home, never telling anybody she was pregnant so she wouldn’t be disgraced. Instead, they spread the story that she’d gone to visit relatives for a few months. Theresa had no choice in the matter—she was housebound and forced to obey. When she gave birth to Maria, her parents had lined up a couple wanting to adopt, and she gave in quietly. Theresa wanted her daughter to have a better life than she did. Back then, without the Net or even any prevalence of telephones, it was easy to keep secrets, and dirty laundry stayed buried.”

“And that couple . . . they were the Wilsons? Maria’s foster parents?” Camille looked shaken. I wanted to know what was running through her head but right now, my own thoughts were racing too quickly to sort out anybody else’s.

Carter nodded. “Yes. Theresa did manage a few moments alone with them. She asked the Wilsons to please tell Maria that they had been friends with Maria’s parents, and that the couple had died in an accident. Theresa didn’t want her daughter ever thinking that she had voluntarily given her away, and she didn’t want Maria to look for her.”

“And they did what Theresa asked them to.” That had been the story we’d always heard. Our mother talked about how she’d been orphaned by a car accident, and her parents’ best friends took her in. She truly had believed every word.

I tried to imagine life back then and what it must have been like. Although a lot of people thought of Otherworld as technologically inferior and backward, it was—and had been for years—more advanced than Earthside on some social levels. And magic made up for some of the technology we lacked.

“They did. They were good-hearted people. They gave your mother Theresa’s last name, but they also impressed on her that the only D’Artigos still alive who were blood-related to her lived in Spain. I suppose they felt the orphan story would both give Maria some comfort, and prevent her from looking for the truth. That’s one reason why your mother went to study in Spain when she was in college. She assumed some of her mother’s kin were still alive over there.”

The realization of how hard life must have been for Theresa hit me in the gut. It was still difficult, Earthside, for single mothers. Though times were changing, a stigma remained to having a child out of wedlock. That stigma didn’t exist in Otherworld because sex outside marriage wasn’t an issue. Hell, for the most part, sex itself wasn’t an issue.

“What happened to Theresa after she gave up our mother?”

“She finished high school. Four years after she gave birth to Maria, Theresa met a man named George Franco and they married. Eventually, they had five children. She never told George or her other children about Maria. Theresa and George died in 1965, when their plane crashed on a trip to New Jersey.”

So our grandmother was truly dead. She would have been, anyway, given the time frame and human life span, but it brought home to me the difference our half-Fae heritage made.

“Can you tell us about Theresa’s other children?” Camille bit her lip, looking ready to cry.

Carter reached over and tapped her hand gently. “Don’t be sorrowful. The Wilsons adored your mother, they doted on her. As for Theresa and George, they had two sons and three daughters. Trey was born in 1928 and died young without leaving a family. Wilton was born in 1929 and he died during the Korean War. He never married either, though there is speculation he fathered a child on a South Korean woman . . . but that’s never been tracked down.”

I jotted down notes, even though I knew Carter would give us all the information. It gave me something to do with my hands and prevented me from feeling awkward.

“As for the three daughters . . . Sharon is still alive—she lives in Canada and has never married. She became a schoolteacher and is eighty-two now. Eve is in Ecuador and she had two children, and five grandchildren. She never returned to the United States after her parents died. She’s seventy-eight. And Tansy was born in 1938. She had two children, and lived in Shoreline. She died in 2005 of cancer. Her husband died in 2008 of a heart attack.”

“So our aunt Tansy . . . she lived here. We could have met her . . .” I frowned, staring at the words on the page.

“You said we have cousins in the area. Are they Tansy’s children?” Camille straightened her shoulders and took another cookie.

He nodded. “Hester Lou and Daniel George Fredericks . . . Hester Lou was born in 1961. Daniel George was born in 1965. They are older than you, relatively speaking, though you outnumber them in actual years lived. But they’re both still quite healthy and happy. And they both live in this area.”

Camille stared at me, a question in her eyes. I could only answer it one way. I turned back to Carter.

“Do they know about us?”

He shook his head, then handed me a sheet of paper. “Walk softly, girls. This is bound to be a shock for them. They know about their aunts and uncles, but they don’t know about Maria. And they do not know about you. I cannot tell you what to expect in the way of a greeting from them. There are too many variables.”

Nodding, I took the piece of paper. “For good or ill, I think . . . it’s time for a family reunion.” I glanced at the sheet. Hester lived in Kirkland, and Daniel lived in Bellevue. We were sitting within half an hour’s drive of two cousins we hadn’t even known existed twenty minutes ago.

Camille shook her head. “This is one hell of a turn of events. I think I’m mildly in shock. But before we run off, hunting down family, we need to ask you a few questions about another matter.”

I tried to focus on what she was saying, but it was hard to turn off my thoughts. Would they resemble our mother in any way? Had Mother taken after her father in looks, or Theresa? Would they welcome us in, or freak out and push us away? I tried to clear my thoughts and turned my attention back to the matter at hand.

“We need to know whatever you have on the Farantino building. There’s daemonic activity going on there. Also . . . what was his name, again, Kitten? The man you were sent to . . . oblite? Is that the word?” Camille gave me one of her buck-up-and-get-with-it smiles.

I coughed, clearing my throat. “What we do to the souls we are ordered to cleanse is referred to as oblition. How we do it . . . is to obliterate them. Doesn’t sound very nice but that’s pretty much the long and short of it.”

She shrugged. “We’ve all done a lot of not-so-nice things. It is what it is.”

“True, that. And his name was Gerald Hanson. He was a lawyer at the Farantino Building, Carter.” Quickly, we outlined what had happened during the evening, starting with my orders to take out Hanson, and ending up with Grandmother Coyote’s visit.

Carter crossed to his desk, where he typed something into his computer. After a moment, he motioned us over. “I have a long history on the Farantino Building. I didn’t realize that actual gargoyles were in stasis there, but I will annotate that little fact. Let me see what we have here . . . yes, the building was built over a hundred years ago by Michael Farantino.”

“Hmm . . . hence the name of the building.” Camille leaned over his shoulder and he glanced at her with a look that I hoped she hadn’t noticed. Carter was part daemon, his mother a succubus, and there was a refined sensuality to him that bordered on scary.

“Yes, hence the name of the building,” was all he said. “I’ll note that Gerald Hanson was his great-grandson, and that Gerald died today.” As he quickly typed in the information, I slid the dossier on our relatives into my messenger bag, and refocused my attention.

“Let me see . . . we have a lot of ghostly activity taking place in that area of the city—”

“Please don’t tell us that the building is in the Greenbelt Park District!” A good share of our time during the last six months or more had been spent fighting ghosts and demons in that nasty little division of Seattle. The last thing I wanted was to troupe back there and deal with another haunting.

But Carter shook his head. “No, not at all. It’s up in the U-District, actually. Near Forty-fifth Street, off of Eleventh Avenue Northeast. Old brick building.”

The U-District? We had a center of daemonic activity hanging out in the University District? Oh wonderful, and how many college students had decided to go check out the weird-assed energy around the building? Just what we needed: amateur ghost hunters getting themselves in trouble. We’d already had that happen before and we didn’t need it happening again. My thoughts must have shown on my face, because Camille snorted.

She stood, arching her back in a stretch. “Delightful. And how many humans have gone missing over the years around the area? Especially the college kids out to prove the spooks exist?”

Carter’s answer surprised us. “Only a handful, and most of them were accounted for by all-too-human miscreants. Whatever the daemons are up to, I don’t think it’s the college kids who are in danger. There is a record of daemonic activity here, but so far, nothing is showing up on the radar as to what they’re after.”

“Well, that seems odd. No missing virgins? No gutted sacrifices lying around?” Daemons were cannier than demons, over all, but still . . . they were pretty ruthless and bloodthirsty.

“Nope.” Carter grinned at me. “You want I should give you a long gory list of victims?”

Snorting, I shook my head. “You know I don’t want that. You just surprised me. So if they aren’t out to subvert or sacrifice the FBHs, then what do you think they doing?”