Emily came in late and snuck passed the two professors that were talking quietly in the front. She slipped into her seat and nudged Maria who had to remove her ear buds to listen.
“What is Maynard doing here?” Emily whispered.
Maria shrugged, but before she could verbalize her thought, Professor Maynard left and she had to put her ear buds away.
“Class.” Professor Orlov said that word every time he wanted their full attention. “If you have wondered about my day job, Evelyn Maynard and I were enticed by money from the Center for Disease Control. We have been working on the immune system in relation to the brain, something that will come up in this course in a future chapter. In the meanwhile, we have agreed that our work is ready for some serious testing. If you wish to help in this work, I assure you it will not be dangerous, but we would appreciate any volunteers. There will be a small payment for your time. No reason we should keep all the CDC money for ourselves.”
Emily’s instincts made her squirm in her seat. There was something about brain research and Maynard, knowing how she professed to hate all people, that made her uncomfortable. She looked at Maria, but Maria was looking forward and did not notice. She looked over at Joel, the boy who sometimes joined them in the library for study-time. He looked back and looked uncertain, like it was something he might consider.
“You can stay and see me after class if you are interested,” Orlov concluded. “Now you see, with a real day job I can’t be a vampire. Besides, I would think life as a vampire would really suck.” He thought he was funny. A couple of students groaned, quietly, as Orlov continued. “Turn in your books…”
Maria wanted some evening library time before it got too late, but Emily begged off. Heinrich gave her a real workout that afternoon. Even with Heinrich un-empowered, Emily could barely keep up. The man’s skill with a sword was amazing. Four hundred and seventy years of practice, she reminded herself.
Emily walked back to the dorm and slowly climbed up the stairs, thinking, Professor Orlov would not know a vampire if it bit him.
“Emily?” It was Sara Michaels standing outside her door.
“Priestess?” Emily responded with the same question in her voice.
“Sara, please,” the woman said. “I am sure you don’t want me referring to you as your majesty out in public. Besides, that is something I am still getting used to.”
“It suits you,” Emily decided as she unlocked her suite door and dropped her back pack in her room. “But what brings you here?”
“We have an invitation,” Sara said. “And we will be late if we don’t hurry.”
Emily went into the bathroom to the mirror. It was automatic if she was going out. “No time for a shower?” She knew there was not time if they were nearly late. “Where are we going?”
“President’s house. I was invited with the instruction that I bring you along.”
Emily nodded. Henri Batiste probably had no idea who she was last year, but no doubt he spent his summer reading. She could only imagine what the man intended to say to her. “Mostly faculty?” Emily asked.
Sara shook her head. “This is the beginning of the year staff gathering. You know, the pep talk and all.”
Emily nodded. She was only a side note and probably would not be expected to stay for the party. They left the suite to walk across the campus to the President’s house. Emily felt it was just as well they take their time. She needed to spend the time with Sara and get to know her a bit. All she really knew about the woman was Sara was Zoe’s selection.
Sara sensed Emily’s curiosity. “I’m twenty-seven. I came here out of seminary, but after last year I realized I was not the best student counselor. My father used to accuse me of being too mature, even in junior high. I put in for a nice associate position in a big church, but apparently I am stuck here for the next three years.”
“Not stuck. You have a definite job here, and the maturity is probably what we need.”
“Not stuck,” Sara agreed. “But I don’t know what help I can be. It may take me three years just to adjust the way I view the world.” She looked at Emily. “I’ve been meeting with Mindy. She is keeping a journal, and some of the things she has told me. I mean, bogymen?”
“I know,” Emily felt like she hardly believed it herself.
“Truth is, I have met with all the girls, except you. I was beginning to think you were avoiding me.”
“No,” Emily said. “I didn’t realize. I’ve just been concentrating hard on my classes, trying to get ahead of the game, because…you never know.”
“I understand.” Sara fell silent for a minute. In that moment, Emily lifted her head and stopped moving. She scanned the area that was shrouded in the dark. Something was there and it didn’t feel human. Sara saw it first and pointed
“What is that?”
Emily shrugged. It was generally human in shape, except it was too big and it had upper and lower tusks in a mouth that was much too large. Emily pulled the knife she kept strapped and hidden beneath her pant leg, down by her ankle. The thing had to see the glint of light on the metal and stepped for a second onto the campus path beneath the streetlight. It was an enormous beast. It was far bigger and looked far stronger than any NFL linebacker might ever hope to be. It just stood there and stared back at them before it faded and vanished, like it went invisible. They both heard it push through the bushes and head toward the science building and the library.
“What the hell was that?” Sara said, and added, “Sorry.”
Emily could only shrug. Last year, she would have chased the thing, but now she knew running off would have left Sara alone and exposed. She was learning. She had resources and generally it was better to know what she was facing before she jumped in. “Jessica is a bit of an artist. We make sketches and let Mindy do the research.”
Sara nodded. “You are all so talented.”
Emily shook her head. “Not me. I’m going to be a nurse.”
They stopped in the dark before they stepped up to the front door of the President’s house. Emily put her knife away as Sara spoke. “I’ve been thinking and praying about all of you and all of this. I have come to understand that you six are the most remarkably gifted women I have ever known.”
“Even the ones less obvious now, like Maria, Mindy and Jessica.” Sara interrupted to get out the thought she felt was vital. “But I think the admonition you gave to Melissa needs to apply to you all. You must all be careful never to use your gifts for selfish or self-serving reasons. That way leads to darkness.”
Emily nodded. She had realized the same thing. They stepped up to the door and found Bernie the campus cop hanging out on the porch. He stood up in front of the door, like he was blocking their way.
“Bernie, do you know Reverend Michaels from the Chaplain’s office?”
“We’ve met,” Bernie gave a sloppy little salute.
“How are your new bosses?” Sara asked, and Bernie explained for Emily.
“After what happened last year, President Batiste fired and replaced the whole senior security staff.”
“That’s not fair,” Emily objected. “It wasn’t their fault. There wasn’t anything they could have done about it.”
Bernie bit his lip. “I don’t know the new people well, yet. They are different, but they all want to meet you. I’m supposed to tell them when you arrive.” Sara and Emily said nothing. They looked at each other and followed Bernie inside where he passed them off to Sergeant Valenko, a security guard with stripes.
“Emily.” It was a voice Emily did not want to hear. She did the introductions.
“Courtney Chase, Channel 5, Eyewitness News, meet Sara Michaels, Campus Chaplain.”
Courtney barely let the fake smile touch her lips before she turned to Emily. “Have you thought any more about the interview? I would be willing to let you look at the questions first.”
Emily shook her head. “Nothing to interview. I am hoping to do well in my classes this year. That’s it.”
“Sorry mam, no cameras, please.” The sergeant stepped between them. “This is a private meeting.” He put his hand up to the cameraman who dutifully trailed behind the reporter and filmed everything. When another security officer came up and began to move the cameraman back to the main room, Courtney naturally followed the camera.
“Call me,” she said to Emily, and shoved her way back enough to hand Emily a card before she scooted off in search of some other hapless interview.
Sergeant Valenko said, “Ladies,” and he pointed down a hall away from the sounds of the gathering.
“That was Courtney Chase,” Sara said, like a fan of the evening news.
“We don’t need the publicity,” Emily shook her head, but placed the card in her pocket.
“No, I suppose not.”
Sergeant Valenko escorted them to a back room and asked them to wait. He was a short, barrel-chested man, like one who was determined to make up for his height by lifting weights day and night. He had fuzzy blond hair and marched rather than walked.
“A bit too military,” Emily commented quietly. “But then lots of security people are former military, I suppose.”
They did not have to wait long. The three top security men on campus, two Lieutenants and their Captain, came in. They said nothing. They did not even introduce themselves. Sara decided to sit. Emily found her feet pacing, just like Detective Lisa.
Henri Batiste came in with a smile, and the two lieutenants left. He shook Emily’s and Sara’s hands and introduced Captain Gouldos. The Captain neither smiled nor offered his hand. “Now, the reason I wanted to see you is simple. You have probably guessed. I would like a quiet school year this year. I am sure you understand.” The man never lost his smile.
“I would like a quiet year, too,” Emily agreed. It was pointless to explain to the man that she was not the cause of any of the trouble last year. All she did was save the lives of everyone on campus several times.
“Splendid. But now, the reason I invited you here tonight is so you could meet my security staff. You can see they are a very competent crew. I want you to trust them and let them do their job. I am asking, if you should become aware of something unusual this year, please call them and let them take care of it. That is what we are paying them for after all, you see?”
Emily nodded. “Campus security was called all the time last year.” Bernie the campus cop was the only one who ever showed up, she thought.
“Splendid. Now the other reason I wanted you to come was to meet Ms. Michaels from the Chaplain’s office. She is here to help and counsel whatever the need. And if it is something she cannot handle, she has the resources to recommend, competent professionals to help whatever might be troubling you. I am not saying anything is troubling you, but I urge you to get to know her well. She can help you enjoy the full college experience.”
“I can assure you, Sara and I will spend plenty of time together over the next three years.”
President Batiste looked at them both with eyes that wondered why all this went so easily.
“Henri?” A woman called down the hall.
“Un moment, mon petite.” Batiste called back before he turned again to the women. “My wife. My guests. Please excuse me. You are welcome to stay.” He left. Captain Gouldos glared at them before he followed the president. Sara looked at Emily. Emily frowned and took the priestess out to the porch. She grabbed Bernie by his loose tie and dragged him with them off into the dark beyond the house and beyond any snoopy reporters.
“The new security staff is into something up to their necks and Batiste is their leader.” Emily spoke without any preliminaries. “I need to know what your new bosses are up to. I don’t trust them.”
Bernie let out his breath like he was holding it in for a long time. “I don’t trust them either,” he said softly, and they looked at the Chaplain.
Sara hedged. “I caught the body language and tone of voice, but I’m in the love and forgiveness business. I think hanging out with you might make me paranoid.”
“I was thinking that just the other day,” Emily admitted with a grin.
“I live in paranoid,” Bernie said with a glance at Emily.
Emily shook her head. “I don’t live there, I just commute.” When the others stared at her with big questions in their faces, she explained. “Well, Jessica wasn’t here so I said it for her.” Both Sara and Bernie nodded that they understood.