“I meant to bring you the jewel,” I stammered. “But...”
“You thought that Fríg could absorb your debt? You think such obligations can be bought and sold like carrots at the marketplace?”
“What do you want from me?” I asked, although I regretted it as soon as the words had crossed my lips. Oleandra smiled wickedly.
“Oh, I want so many things, Jack. But knowing you are my puppet is pleasing enough for now. I shall twitch your strings and make you dance for me. In some ways, I’m glad you are still beholden to me. Having a Jack in my thrall is a treat. Such games I shall play. Now be gone from my sight, until I have need of you again.”
My limbs moved of their own accord. One leg jerked upward awkwardly and then the other. My arms flopped like someone in the throes of a seizure. I lurched back through the dream door into the closet across from the nook under the stairs. And there among all my winter coats I vomited the pint of Guinness that Pitt had bought for me, right there on the floor of the closet. I barely made it back to my bedroom before I collapsed into a dreamless sleep, boots and all.
- II -
“Good morning, Jack!”
My eyes fluttered opened to Gretchen pulling open the drapes and admitting a dangerous amount of sunlight.
“I’m a night-owl too, but sometimes you have to come out in the day.”
Sez you, I thought with luciferian defiance. She whipped off my covers to reveal a pale, bony, and altogether naked body. She didn’t look away. Why should she? She’d seen it several times before.
“Get decent. You have a visitor.”
My sleepy haze immediately dissipated, and I pulled on my habitual black T-shirt and black jeans. When was the last time I’d washed those jeans?
“What visitor?” I asked, gazing into the mirror on my wall and trying with my fingers—unsuccessfully—to make my hair appear less insane. Gretchen took pity on me and handed me a comb.
“You remember me telling you about my cousin the police inspector?” I nearly jumped out the window. What if he found my box with the glass syringe and the vial of strange black ink?
“Don’t worry, Jack, he’s not going to arrest you. He wants to consult with you.”
“Consult with me? About what?” Now my curiosity was piqued, although I still had a mad urge to jump out the window and run as far and as fast as I could. I wasn’t fond of authority figures.
“Well, I’ll let him tell you about it. Apparently there’s been some strange heebie-jeebie stuff happening around town. Right out of the X-Files. The cops can’t investigate formally, but I told my cousin that you might be able to help him. Unofficially, of course.
I smiled. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
“Don’t make me punch you, giant-killer. You look marvellous. Let’s go meet Mark.”
I followed Gretchen from my bedroom down the hall to the living room. Or should I say, the parlor? Will you step into my parlor, Mr. Police Detective? More like I was stepping into his parlor. Since when did I become a supernatural consultant for the police? Since I became Jack the fucking Giant-Killer, that’s when!
Gretchen's cousin was very good-looking, in a scruffy, emo sort of way. If he wasn’t her cousin, I’d be jealous. Well, maybe I should be jealous anyway. He had sideburns and hair that was gelled to stick straight up from his head. He was wearing a vintage blue, pinstriped suit, with a red tie and the shirt collar fashionably open. He was hot. If I were gay, I would have done him. The fashion-plate police detective held out his hand and I shook it. It was firm and reassuring.
“Detective Mark Striker,” he said. “You must be Jack.”
“That I am,” I said. “What can I do for you, Detective Mark Striker?”
Striker looked at Gretchen imploringly.
“Go ahead,” she said. “You can tell him. Trust me, he’ll believe you.”
“Someone is digging up people from graveyards and...bringing them back to life.”
“Ah,” I said. Sadly, I did believe him. But I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do about it. And I said as much.
“Sounds like a pretty...grave problem.” Groan. “So...uh...what do you want me to do about it?”
“Well, er, Gretchen told me that...oh shit. I can’t believe I’m really saying this.”
“It’s true, Mark,” Gretchen said. “I sweah.” I noticed that around her cousin, Gretchen’s Boston accent came to the fore.
“Gretchen said that you’re like...the reincarnation of Jack the Giant-Killer. And you can help. I hope to God it’s true, because I tell you...the force is going nuts with this. We know it’s happening, but we can’t tell anybody or we’d all get carted off to the loony bin. And we don’t know what to do.”
Gretchen looked at me expectantly. She fluttered her eyes with suggestions of things to come. Oh fuck, Gretchen. You know I can’t refuse you anything when you look at me that way.
“I reckon it’s true. I’m Jack all right.” Just as Gretchen’s accent had become more Boston, mine had become more Appalachian. The last Jack had hailed from Fiddle Creak, North Carolina, and sometimes I drew on his persona for strength. In some ways, we were the same person, although we weren’t. Don’t ask me to explain it. You have to be a Jack to understand.
“Maybe it would be easier if I showed you,” Mark said.
“Tantivy!” I said, donning my leather jacket and porkpie hat. There was a goose feather stuck in the hat’s ribbon.
“He means, let’s go,” Gretchen translated. “Arriba! Presto!”
The game was afoot.