A Cultist, A Genie, and a Tooth Fairy Walk Into a Bar

Craig Sanderson hoped someone had kidnapped his daughter for ransom. Thinking about the alternatives were much worse. Still, it was impossible to shut out the images of countless human trafficking warnings he’d seen posted around the Atlanta International Airport where he’d landed four days ago.

His knees popped in protest as he used the railing to pull himself to the third-floor landing. The convex mirror in the corner revealed an image unbefitting of the Chief Security Officer for a Fortune 500 defense contractor. Patchy salt and pepper stubble adorned his neck and cheeks haphazardly, but at least somewhat drew attention away from his bloodshot eyes and a giant purple shiner. His wrinkled charcoal suit and matted black hair resembled an elderly Shar Pei waiting for euthanization.

Fingers with cuticles chewed raw tugged open the door in front of him. Craig stumbled past the closed glass doors of an orthodontist’s office and a pain management clinic until realizing the suite numbers were increasing. He turned and headed back the way he’d come. Suite 352A was at the end of the hall.

Craig reached for the handle of the gray door then hesitated when he saw the sign. A crease ran diagonally through a piece of white printer paper taped poorly to the door with masking tape. It looked like the work of a toddler experimenting with Microsoft Paint for the first time. “Greenstone” on one line and “Investigations” below it, but slightly off center. The pièce de résistance? All-Caps, Comic Sans.

A tear ran down Craig’s cheek as he slumped against the wall and slid onto the floor. Greenstone Investigations had raised numerous red flags. The company had no website or phone number associated with it. It’s proprietor, a T. Greenstone, had no past outside of a few years ago. While he had a valid P.I. license, he didn’t have a firearm license. What kind of detective went without a firearm for protection? Still, he’d remained hopeful, because that’s all he had.

And yet, this was where twenty years of contacts within the defense industry had pointed him. He vowed to find out exactly where the lead had come from and ensure their career was over.

Craig’s knuckles turned white as he balled his fingers into a tight fist and slammed it against the wall again and again. The authorities had told him to stay put while they investigated. His company had echoed the same sentiment – the very procedures he himself had put into place. But his only daughter was missing, and he couldn’t sit still.

The suite’s door opened and Craig tumbled backward into the room. His head slammed against the back of a worn, red-plastic chair expelled from elementary school.

“Sorry,” Craig mumbled. He ducked out of the room as soon as he got to his feet.

“Aren’t you going to take a seat, Craig?” questioned a soft voice.

“How did you know my name?” Craig said, turning around.

“You made an appointment.”

Craig couldn’t take his eyes off the woman holding the door open. Her face brought forth images of the chubby little angels popularized during the Italian Renaissance. Blonde pigtails arcing up from her head didn’t even stretch her lanky frame past five feet. If she traded in the cheap, blue pants suit for a tracksuit she would have been a shoo-in for an Olympic gymnast. Granted, it looked like she needed to wait a few more birthdays.

“I think there’s been some kind of mistake…”

The woman thrust her hand forward. Reluctantly, he took it. He gave a strong squeeze, out of a habit of dealing with men in positions of power. In response she exerted a similar force, causing the knuckles of his ring finger and pinky to grind together. Craig jerked his hand back and gave her another head-to-toe once over.

“Let me guess. You were expecting less Hannah Montana and more Liam Neeson. I get it all the time.” A smile graced her lips seemingly setting her face aglow. “Where are my manners? I’m Tiffemory Greenstone. But everyone calls me Tiff. Please take a seat,” she said, gesturing to the uncomfortable hunk of plastic beside her.

Craig took in the room before taking a seat. It was more of a prison cell than an office. The windowless space couldn’t have measured more than seven by ten feet. A chipped, particle board desk dominated the limited real estate. Exposed plumbing interrupted a row of filing cabinets against the right wall, likely remnants from when the room served as a janitor’s closet. He shrugged and took a seat.

Tiff maneuvered behind him and struck the back leg of the chair while attempting to close the door.

“Sorry, could you scooch over a tad?”

He complied with a frown and watched Tiff close the door and then struggle to squeeze through the tiny gap between the desk and the wall. She narrowly avoided knocking over a glowing space heater humming in the corner. A soft sigh escaped his lips.

“Can I get you some coffee or water before we get started?” Tiff offered.

While coffee sounded divine, Craig doubted anything out of the cockeyed first generation Keurig shoved in the corner would do him any good.

“No thanks. I’d just like to discuss my daughter Mallory.”

“Of course. You said you’d bring a picture?”

“Yes,” he said, pulling a white envelope from his breast pocket. “It’s recent too. She had school pictures a couple of weeks ago.”

Tiff reached out and opened the envelope. The smiling teenage girl with braces wore a standard Catholic schoolgirl sweater over a collared shirt. Mallory’s long brown hair extended past her elbows and out of the picture.

“Can I keep this?”

Craig nodded.

“I know we talked briefly yesterday, but can you walk through everything that occurred before Mallory disappeared?”

Craig swallowed and blinked hard enough for his bruised left eye to ache.

“Take a moment if you need it.”

Craig licked his lips and prepared to recite only the pertinent facts as he’d practiced mentally since making the appointment. Now that he was sitting across from the petite investigator, he found himself stricken with verbal diarrhea.

“I’m the Chief Security Officer of a defense contractor named Benchlyn and Wylings. I flew in from Minneapolis a few days ago. I’m giving a presentation tonight at Hacker Halted, an information security conference. Or at least I was supposed to before…”

Tiff nodded and gingerly set the photograph down on the desk. She leaned closer to Craig and nodded her head, urging him to continue.

“I needed a break from the convention and gave Mallory a call since I haven’t seen her in a year or so. She didn’t even know I was in town. She lives on the outskirts of Atlanta with my ex. Her mom and I aren’t exactly on the best of terms so I called her school and had her taken out, then sent an Uber to pick her up. We met at C. Ellet’s Steakhouse for lunch.”

“So you took your thirteen-year-old daughter out of school and had a stranger drive her to a steakhouse. Did she ever arrive?”

Her tone didn’t waver. There was no judgment in her voice, but the words still hurt.

“She did,” Craig said with a quick nod. “We chatted for a while and ordered food. Once the soup arrived I had to step out to take a call. I was away from the table for ten minutes, tops. When I returned, she was gone.” He paused for a moment to wipe a tear running down his cheek. After wrinkling his nose and sniffing several times, he fell silent and hung his head.

Tiff fired off a rapid volley of questions, not allowing her client to linger in self-pity. “When you stepped outside did you notice anyone odd hanging around the restaurant? Did you find her cell phone? Have you received any ransom calls or hang-ups? Did you vet the Uber driver? No personal enemies?”

“I did track down the driver and do a background check,” Craig said shaking his head. “He was clean. I talked to our waiter, who saw her go toward the bathroom. But otherwise, nobody saw anything. And no one has contacted me.”

A frown crept across Tiff’s face, somehow casting a visible shadow over her features in a similar way her smile had lit them. She’d had other clients in similar positions of power. Ones ripe for blackmail, extortion, or kidnapping. However, the lack of a ransom demand was a poor sign.

She licked her lips and cleared her throat. “To be honest, I’d wager the case is already in good hands. Between the police and whatever connections you have in the security community running down leads. I’m not sure where I could help… Unless you happened to bring what we discussed.”

Craig fumbled to retrieve a small mint tin from his slacks.

“It cost me a black eye, but I got this her mother.” He hesitated before handing it over. “Why did you want one of her baby teeth?”

Tiff pried open the container and glanced at the off-white lump. She nodded and snapped the container shut. When she looked back up her client was still staring, waiting for an explanation.

“Baby teeth contain stem cells. Although not viable unless preserved properly, they’re still a reliable DNA source.”

Craig relaxed in his seat a little after seeing the way she straightened up upon seeing the tooth. He fiddled with his fingers and then continued.

“To be honest, I’m skeptical. We haven’t even discussed your rates and you don’t seem to have a background. But you came highly recommended and I’ll do anything to get my daughter back.”

“I don’t do this for the money,” Tiff said holding up her hands. “Though I have to make a living. I charge a hundred an hour, with two up front. I assure you I’m worth it.”

Tiff drew back slightly as Craig pulled two crisp bills from a silver money clip.

“Do whatever it takes,” he said, sliding the cash across the desk along with a business card.

Tiff scrambled from behind the desk to escort Mr. Sanderson out. “Could you forward me a copy of the driver’s background check? The quicker I have it, the sooner I can start my own investigation.”

“Yeah… Of course,” he said glancing back into the room. It confirmed his presumption that there was no computer of any sort in the tiny office. He grabbed his cell phone and forwarded the report to the email address she recited. A mobile phone chimed in response somewhere within the desk.

“I’ll let you know as soon as I come across something.”

Craig nodded and shuffled out.

The instant the door closed, Tiff snatched the tin off the desk. She held up the small, browning tooth, rolling it between her thumb and pointer fingers. With a flick of her wrist, the tooth flew into the air. Tiff bobbed her head to the left, opened her mouth, and let it slide down her throat.

The tooth would do all the work. If she could get close enough – within a mile or two – she’d have no trouble securing its former owner. At least provided Mallory wasn’t held by a vamp or something. Not that Tiff couldn’t handle a vampire or another creature that didn’t belong here. She didn’t belong herself so she understood the ins and outs of dealing with Outsiders.

Tiff grabbed a black purse about the size of a football from the desk’s bottom drawer. It contained a few things that would weaken the anchor of an Outsider. Supernatural creatures like vampires, spirits, and fairies – like her – required an anchor to remain on the physical plane. Vampires were easy. They required blood. Fairies were a little trickier. They relied upon something a little more nebulous – gratitude.

We’re not talking about the garden variety ‘Thanks for letting me in front of you in traffic’ kind of gratitude. It takes something closer to the heroic level. More along the lines of: “You pulled me out of that burning building. I owe you my life.” As odd as it sounded, the myths were on the right track: the Elves and the Shoemaker and Santa’s elves to name a few.

She took a seat and fumbled to access the email off her cell phone. When she finally opened the file Craig had forwarded, she found more than expected. In addition to the typical education, employment, criminal and credit histories, there was also high-level details about his tax filings, a log of his last hundred or so passengers, and information about his family. Alex Wright was a junior at Georgia State. He was born and raised in Atlanta and neither he nor his family showed any obvious red flags.

Still, having taken Mallory to her last known location was suspicious enough. Battery Avenue, where Mallory was last seen, resided a good dozen miles from downtown Atlanta but was just as popular. The locale surrounded SunTrust Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves. As such, it was a haven of nightlife and boasted a dozen restaurants and bars.

From another desk drawer, she pulled out a short, black dress of wrinkled velvet. It wasn’t a schoolgirl outfit but would draw more attention than the cheap suit. Unwanted attention, if she was lucky.

After shimmying into the dress, Tiff grabbed her purse, locked her office, and ducked into the small accounting office next door. A woman behind the desk with curly black hair and a prominent mole in the crease of her double chin sat with a corded phone wedged against her ear. She held up one finger without looking up. Tiff waited in the doorway for her to finish her conversation.

“Hey Hazel,” she said when the woman hung up the phone a few minutes later.

“Good afternoon, Tiff. What can I do for you this afternoon?”

Tiff frowned and lifted up the phone in her hand.

Hazel reached her flabby arm over a number of overflowing folders and took the phone. “I still don’t understand how I have a better grasp of technology than someone your age… Just tell me it’s not a dating app.”

“I want to take an Uber toward the Battery in about an hour, but I’m having a problem. I can’t figure out how to request a specific driver.”

“Hmm… I don’t think you can, honey. It looks like the app automatically pairs you with the closest available drivers.” Hazel handed the phone back. “But, if you want to wait around, I can take you when I wrap up here.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Tiff said shaking her head. “I don’t want to be an inconvenience.”

“Nonsense. My route home takes me right past there. Besides, you can’t trust those rideshare services. You never know who you’re getting in a car with.”

“That’s kind of the point,” Tiff said under her breath. “It’s okay. I’m going with a group of friends. We’ll be safe. Thanks, Hazel, have a good night.”

“Good night.” Hazel picked up the phone and started dialing another number as Tiff backed out of the office.

Tiffemory arranged for a car and after waiting at the curb for a few minutes, got ushered off to the point of Mallory’s disappearance. The trip itself was uneventful. The graying man behind the wheel wasn’t likely to be moonlighting as a human trafficker. An abundance of cracker dust and deep indentations from car seats betrayed the plight of a family man trying to make ends meet.

Just to be sure, she watched the car as it drove out of sight and kept an eye out for any anything suspicious. Countless cars came and went. A number of them dropping off passengers before continuing on. Many of these bore stickers or illuminated lights marking them as belonging to one rideshare company or another.

Tiff stopped on the sidewalk and watched through the windows of the steakhouse. Waitstaff carried large trays of meat from table to table, showing the clientele the various cuts they had to offer. Someone inside had to be in on it. One of the waiters or someone in the kitchen. All it would take was some ipecac in her soup. It would be messy, but easy to drag her out through the back door by the restrooms.

She took one last look around her and then wandered up the avenue. It was a full house. Even if someone inside would talk to hear about the incident, there was no point. She already had the tooth. She’d return later and follow up on the lead.

The SunTrust Park scoreboard glowed an eerie orange as the sun slipped behind the stadium. A throng of people maneuvered around her on the sidewalk, moving toward the stadium where a ball game was already underway. It was hard to imagine how much worse it would get when the game let out.

Tiff walked slowly with her left arm outstretched, sweeping side to side. A piece of Mallory was now a piece of her, for the next six hours or so anyway. The fingers of her hand rose and fell one after another in a tiny wave. They worked in tandem, searching for a particular signal reverberating through the universe.

Finally, her ring finger twitched, connecting with something taut like a guitar string. As opposed to gaining slack, each step tightened the cord linking her to the young girl. Tiff lowered her arm but kept her finger along the wire. She was close. Her eyes scanned the horizon, as she followed the trail hoping to pick out a suitable holding area.

Once zigzagging several blocks past the stadium her destination was clear. A new development on the other side of the I-75 overpass. The concrete skeleton rose a dozen or so stories into the sky. She frowned. The building stood on the corpses of former woodlands.

Tiff picked up her pace and hiked approximately a mile and a half to the site where a crane sat silently amidst drifting construction garbage and a handful of port-o-potties. Had work been halted, it would be a perfect place to temporarily stash victims. The closest building, an apartment complex, was far enough to where not a single soul would hear a cry for help.

At this distance, Tiff didn’t even need to concentrate. The connection to the girl thrummed and dulled her senses. Mallory was alive, and almost assuredly on the third or fourth floor above. Tiff craned her neck upward at the hundreds of holes in the side of the building waiting for glass. The voids reminded her of dead, empty eyes staring at her. A shiver crawled down her spine.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t differentiate Mallory from anything else. Which meant there was no way to tell how many captors she’d be facing. Or how many other innocents were inside. Such was the downside of consuming teeth or bones. It didn’t matter. Mallory was inside and needed her help. That’s all that mattered.

The dirt-flecked, heavy plastic covering the entrance swished as she crept inside. Construction hadn’t progressed very far. The inside of the building was nothing more than rough concrete, sewer, and gas lines. Via the waning daylight, she could make out the red and blue chalk lines of future interior walls. Tiff tiptoed up the stairwell and counted until she reached the third landing.

A red metal toolbox sat on the floor. She took a knee, carefully released the latch, and peeked inside. Inside was a number of tools: a large pipe wrench, a number of screwdrivers, and other specialized tools she didn’t recognize. She flinched and ducked down at the sound of a gruff voice coming from above.

“Did you see the news?” a voice echoed down the stairwell. “That girls face was plastered all over. Her dad’s some corporate bigwig. Think we’d get more money by asking for a ransom?”

There was no response to the question. The kidnapper must be on the phone, Tiff thought.  Sticking to the wall, she tiptoed up to get a look. A faint glow came from fourth-floor landing. She dropped to all fours and crept the last few steps. Her nose wrinkled from wafting cigarette smoke.

“No. You’re right. Too many risks.”

Using another pause as a cue, Tiff peeked her head past the top step. A green plastic lantern cast light from the middle of the floor. A heavyset man in a faded brown leather jacket, cargo shorts, and a gray flat cap paced with a cigarette in his hand. Behind him was a large concrete column supporting the floor above. Strapped to either side were two metal chairs, each bearing a blindfolded and gagged young girl. The girl on the left matched the picture Craig had shown her – long brown hair falling down on the same schoolgirl uniform.

The girl opposite her looked to be a similar age. A young blonde whose hair was longer on the top than on the sides, a style commonly referred to as a pixie cut. She was dressed far less conservatively – a pair of raggedy jeans that barely passed for shorts and a gray tee-shirt cut to expose her midriff. Even from across the room, Tiff noticed bright red rope burns highlighting the girl’s pasty legs.

“An hour? Yeah, we’ll be ready to move them.”

Sensing the conversation was over, Tiff moved forward, with her hand splayed out emulating the infamous Darth Vader force choke pose. With a line of sight, she was able to concentrate on the portly man. Immediately she got a good sense of what he was made of. While she was no doctor, it was obvious something was wrong with him. The natural honeycomb patterns in his bone were spread far too thin. Osteoporosis. A condition likely agitated by his filthy smoking habit.

She focused on the roll of fat at the back of his neck. In particular, the C7 vertebrae. It became malleable at her command. The bone tightened like a noose, compressing his spinal cord. Instantly, the man collapsed, completely paralyzed.

Both girls struggled against their restraints at the sound of the body hitting the floor.

Tiff rushed to Mallory’s side and set her purse down beside the chair.

“Shh… It’s okay,” Tiff said, placing one hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Your dad sent me, I’ll get you out of here in a moment.” She carefully removed her blindfold and then moved to the other girl, doing the same.

Tiff grabbed the Leatherman multi-tool from her purse and folded the handles back. Past the jaws of the pliers was a sharp bladed wire cutter that would make quick work of the rope. As she raised the tool to free Mallory, the girl started screaming through her gag.

Tiff’s vision burst into a field of stars as a fist connected with the back of her head. She slumped forward and fell over Mallory’s legs. The Leatherman tool skidded somewhere across the room. Another bright white burst of pain shot through her body as her head took a second blow from the concrete floor.

“Looks like we’ll need room for one more,” her assailant said.

A grinning, hairy chested thug stood over her. He was the epitome of the Italian mobster archetype; complete with a sleeveless white tee adorned by gold chains. A drop of blood glistened on the brass knuckles wrapped around his right hand. He raised his fist and advanced again.

“Relax, I’m not gonna hurt ya.”

Tiff tried to ignore the throbbing pain in her skull and rocked onto her back before thrusting both legs into the thug’s chest. Anticipating the strike, he threw an early hook. The Italian stumbled backward half a dozen paces, but not before landing a blow to her kneecap.

After gaining his breath, the man approached for the third time.

She had no time for finesse, and the intense pain from her head and knee would have likely prevented it anyway. She lashed out with her power, connecting to the first two things she could find and then yanked in opposite directions. Ligaments ripped and tore.

An ear-splitting scream echoed off the bare concrete. The wannabe mobster went down, his right leg bending in too many directions like a limp noodle. Tiff rolled out of the way as the man struck the ground where she’d been laying.

She took a deep breath and touched her hand to her bloodied head. Sluggishly she pulled herself to her feet and limped over to the lantern. In the weak light, she found her tool several feet further into the room and scooped it up.

With one hand still on her head, Tiffemory returned to the column where the teens were tied up. She removed Mallory’s gag and snipped the ropes holding her in place.

“My dad sent you?” Mallory said, standing up and stretching her legs.

“Uh huh,” Tiff said with a nod as she freed the other girl. “You can call me Tiff. You two friends?”

Mallory shook her head.

“So-sorry,” stammered the other girl, her whole body shaking. “I’m Kate. That guy took me earlier today.”

Tiff’s struggled to stay on her feet as the two girls sandwiched her in a hug. The three of their hearts thumping loudly together.

“Alright girls, let’s get the hell out of here before we meet any more unexpected guests.”

Simultaneously, Mallory and Kate let go of Tiff’s shoulders and looked up at one another. Both of their eyes went wide.

“Th-there were three of them,” Kate said, her lip quivering.

“Let’s hurry, then.”

Tiff unfolded a six-inch blade from the tool and squeezed the handles together. She limped forward a step. The two girls slowed their pace to match hers.

“Don’t wait for me. Go. I’ll be right behind you.”

Mallory and Kate ran for the stairwell ahead of them. Before reaching the opening, their final captor bounded up the steps. Kate gasped and slowed down. Mallory ducked her head under his arm and charged forward.

A man with short black hair parted to one side and a scar on his cheek grabbed Kate around the waist, pulling her tightly against his body. She didn’t struggle despite the fact her captor was about the same size she was. He dragged her back into the room without effort. While he advanced he whistled out a shrill tune of the same few notes that rhythmically rose and fell in pitch.

Tiff froze. She recognized the melody. It was a fairy song. Something her mother, probably all mothers, sang to their children in Fae.

“I wondered if it was one of my own throwing wrenches in my operations,” said the other fairy. “The name’s Jeck… though I go by Jack here. Who might you be?”

Lines of strain streaked her face as she reached out with her power – something she’d never attempted against her own kind. Unfortunately, his bones failed to respond to her call. She gave up and adjusted the grip on her knife.

“Well, that was rude.”

Jack stepped over his paralyzed companion and looked to the other one still rolling on the ground and wailing in pain. He shifted his attention back to Tiff, following down her arm to the blade. He smiled, then pulled a pistol from his waistband and tapped the edge of its barrel against Kate’s temple.

“Lose the knife, or I’ll kill her.”

“Why are you doing this?” Tiff said, letting the knife clatter against the floor.

The rogue fairy sneered. “Why do you think I’m doing this?”

Tiff furrowed her brow and shook her head.

“You think these people aren’t gracious for my assistance? Of course they are. Maybe not as genuine as your clientele, but it gets the job done. And if I ever fall short, I have options. Imagine how I’d profit by framing you… The mayor would hand me the key to the city.

“However, seeing that you’re practically family, allow me to make you an offer.” Jack squatted down coming within inches of Tiff’s face. “We could work together. I’ll coordinate the taking and you the rescuing.” A broad smile crept across his lips. “A few fall between the cracks and we both win. By putting an end to me, you’re tearing up your own meal ticket.”

Tiff bit her lip and refused to look him in the eyes. His words had a certain truth to them. If work ever dried up she’d have no way of supporting herself. Without anything to fall back on, she’d have to return home. Which wouldn’t necessarily be bad, but she made a difference here. Back in Fae, she was nothing.

“It’ll never work.”

“Oh? And why not?”

“For starters, I’m not alone.”

Mallory’s bare feet were silent on the rough concrete. Jack’s monologue had given her ample time to retrieve the heavy pipe wrench from the toolbox on the stairs. She raised the tool above her head and with a sickening crack brought it down atop Jack’s head before he could turn around.

Kate stumbled away and Tiff lunged at him, prying the gun out of his hand. She stepped back and raised the weapon.

“Sit down,” she said, waving the gun toward the chairs. “Kate. Grab the rope.”

Kate’s face strained as she fought to move through an invisible wall of molasses. Jack chuckled.

Tiff pulled the slide back on the gun and a round ejected from the weapon. It confirmed her suspicion that it was indeed loaded.

“Alright, alright,” he said.

Mallory stepped up and helped Kate tie up Jack and then both girls returned to Tiff’s side.

Tiff set the pistol on the floor and checked their prisoner’s bindings. They were tight. She reached into her purse and withdrew a clear plastic tube shaped like a candy cane. After twisting off the red plastic top, she up-ended the entire thing. A three-inch syringe, plunger already drawn back, slid out along with the cotton ball cushioning.

“What’s that?” Kate asked, leaning forward.

“Silver nitrate solution,” Tiff said, keeping her eyes locked with Jack’s.

The two girls gave each other a puzzled look but said nothing more.

The fairy wrenched his body back and forth trying to escape from the tight hemp rope. Tiff took slow, deliberate steps toward him; making damn sure none of the liquid dripped from the syringe onto her own skin.

Tiff put her hand on Jack’s shoulder, holding him still and paused a moment. The chemical itself didn’t kill Outsiders, but it would eat away and effectively render him powerless. As much as she loathed using the stuff, it was necessary to ensure he didn’t hurt anyone else.

“Sit still,” she said, her voice calm.

“You can’t do this. Please don’t do this!” Jack said. He whipped his head back and forth, snapping his jaws at her arm.

“The hard way then.” Tiffemory let go of his shoulder. The silver solution was all but guaranteed to work even if she missed a vein.

Jack yelped as the needle slammed into the meaty part of his thigh. Tiff depressed the plunger and yanked down, breaking the needle off in his leg.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said, letting the empty syringe clatter to the concrete.

“You bitch!” Jack spat at her. “Whether here or there, I’ll find you. You can count on that.”

Tiff limped to the edge of the stairs using Kate and Mallory for support. She hopped on one foot and faced back into the room.

“This is a merciful warning to all of you. I don’t want to run into any of you again.”

Tiff released the constriction around the large man’s cervical spine and started down the stairs. Once outside, she dialed 911 and wrapped her arms around the girls. Together, they waited on the curb for the police to arrive.

As the adrenaline waned, Tiffemory felt the rewards of her efforts. Waves of almost uncomfortable warmth cascaded through her. Her heart slowed and with it, the pounding in her head. She focused and felt her patella slide back into its appropriate place.

“Thank you,” Kate said, gripping her savior tighter. Tears of joy streamed down her face. “I don’t know how you did it, but thank you.”

Mallory squeezed harder as well. “It’s over, right?”

Tiff smiled and kissed the teenager’s forehead. “Yeah, it’s over,” she lied. “Let’s call your dad.”

Jeck would be incarcerated. While locked up, the silver would quickly wear down his anchor. In a day or two, he’d be violently expunged leaving only traces of dust behind. Unfortunately, he’d recover quickly in the faerie realm. And she doubted her threat would keep him from returning…