December in Caldwell, New York, is a hunker down kind of time. The days get dark at four in the afternoon, the snow begins to pile up as if its in training for January’s onslaughts, and the cold seeps into the very foundations and load bearing walls of the houses.
It is in days after Thanksgiving that I come into town for more interviews with the Brothers. As usual, Fritz picks me up in Albany and drives me around in circles for two hours before taking me to the Brotherhood’s mansion. Tonight’s trip is even longer, but not because he’s obscuring the path more: to my discredit, I pick the first storm of the season to travel through. As the butler and I go along, the snow lashes against the Mercedes' front windshield, but the doggen isn’t worried and neither am I. For one thing, the car is built like a tank. For another, as stated by Fritz, Vishous has put chains on all four tires. We chow through the thickening blanket on the roads, the sole sedan out amidst municipal plows, trucks and SUVs.
Eventually we pull into the Brotherhood’s compound and come to a stop in front of the massive stone castle they live in. As I get out of the car, snow flakes tickle my nose and land on my eyelashes and I love it. Fritz and I go in through the vestibule together and the outrageously beautiful foyer warms me just by its very sight. Doggen rush over to me as if I’m in danger of hypothermia, bringing slippers to replace my boots, tea for my belly and a cashmere wrap. I’m stripped of my outdoor clothes like a child, wrapped up and Earl Gray’d and marched for the stairs.
Wrath is waiting for me in his study...
...At this point, I leave Wrath’s study and down to the foyer where Fritz is waiting for me with my parka and my snow boots. Tohr is my next interview and the butler is going to take me to his house as evidently he’s off rotation tonight.
I’m rebundled in my Nor’easter clothes and get back in the Mercedes. The partition goes up and Fritz and I chat using the intercom that links the front and the rear of the car. The trip is about twenty minutes and man, the Merc holds steady in all the snow.
When we stop and stay that way, I figure we’re at Tohr’s and I unlatch my seatbelt. Fritz opens the door and I see that the low slung modern house the Brother and Wellsie and John Matthew live in looks incredibly welcoming in the snow. On its roof, two chimneys are gently smoking and in front of each of the windows, pools of yellow light condense on top of the thick white ground cover. On their travels from cloud to earth, flakes hit these patches of illumination thrown by the living room and are spot lit for a brief time before joining legions of their accumulated brethren.
Wellsie opens the back door and motions me in. Fritz escorts me over, bows to Wellsie and then heads back to the Mercedes. As the car turns around in the driveway, Wellsie shuts the door against the wind.
J.R.: What a storm, huh?
Wellsie: God, yes. Here, off with the coat. Come on.
I’m unwrapped again, but this time I’m so distracted by the smell coming from the kitchen, that I barely notice my parka disappearing.
J.R.: What is that? (inhaling) Mmm...
Wellsie: (hanging up coat and dropping a pair of L.L. Bean moccasins at my feet) Boots, off.
J.R.: (kicking the boots free and put my feet into... ahh, bliss... soft lambs wool) It smells like ginger?
Wellsie: You warm enough in just that sweater? You need another? No? Okay. Just holler if you change your mind, though. (heading into the kitchen and over to the stove) This is for John.
J.R.: (following) He’s home? Were classes canceled for tonight for the storm?
Wellsie: (lifting lid off a pot) Yes, but he wouldn’t have been able to go anyway. Let me finish this real quick and then we’ll go get Tohr.
J.R.: Is John okay?
Wellsie: He will be. Have a seat. You want tea?
J.R.: I’m fine, thank you.
The kitchen is all cherry and granite with two gleaming ovens, a six burner cook top and a SubZero refrigerator done up to match the cabinets. Over in the windowed alcove, there’s a glass and iron table set and I sit down in the chair closest to the stove.
Wellsie has her hair up tonight, and as she stirs the rice in the pot, she looks like a super model in a magazine ad for luxury kitchens. Beneath the loose black turtleneck she wears, her belly is a little bigger than when I saw her last and her hand keeps going to it, rubbing slowly. She’s glowing with health. Absolutely radiant.
Wellsie: See, here’s the thing with vampires. We don’t get human viruses, but we have our own. The trainees all go home to siblings and parents and this time of year, as with human schools, the kids trade bugs off. John came down with the aches and the sore throats last night and woke up with a fever this afternoon. (shakes her head) John is... a special kid. Truly special. And I love having him home with me- just wish, tonight, it was for a different reason. (looks up at me) You know, it’s so weird. I’ve been doing my own thing for a long time... you can’t be mated to a Brother and not be really independent. But since John’s started living here, the house is empty when he’s not around. I can’t wait to see him by the time he gets home from the training center.
J.R.: I can understand that.
Wellsie: (rubbing belly again) John says he’s all excited for when the little one gets here- he wants to help out. I guess at the orphanage he was in he liked to look after the young.
J.R.: You know, I have to say you look great.
Wellsie: (rolls eyes) You’re kind, but I’m like big as a house already. I have no idea what size I’m going to be right before the young comes. Still... it’s all good. The young is moving all the time and I feel strong. My mother... she did well with her children. She had three, can you believe it? Three. And that was before modern medicine for my sister and my brother. So I think I’m going to be like her. My sister did just fine. (looks back down at the pot) This is what I remind Tohr of when he wakes up in the middle of the day. (turns off stove and gets serving spoon out of drawer) Let’s hope John will eat this time. He’s been off his food.
J.R.: Hey, what do you think of Rhage’s getting mated?
Wellsie: (spooning rice into bowl) Oh my God, I love Mary. I think it’s great. The whole thing. Although Tohr was getting ready to kill Hollywood. Rhage... doesn’t take direction well. Although, hell, none of them do. The Brothers... they’re like six lions. You can’t really herd them all that well. Tohr’s job is to try to keep them together, but it’s tough... especially with Zsadist being the way he is.
J.R.: Wrath said he’s on a rampage.
Wellsie: (shaking head and going to refrigerator) Bella... I pray for her. I pray everyday. You realize it’s been six weeks now? Six weeks. (comes back with a plastic container that she puts into the microwave) I can’t imagine what those lessers... (clears throat then hits buttons, little beeping sounds rising up followed by a whirring) Well, anyway. Tohr’s not even trying to talk sense into Z. No one is. It’s like... something snapped in him with that abduction. In a way, and I know this is going to come out wrong, but I wish Z’d find her body- otherwise, there’s no closure and he’ll be completely insane by New Year’s. And more dangerous than he already is. (microwave stops and beeps)
J.R.: Do you think it’s... I’m not sure what the word is... maybe astonishing, that he cares as much as he does?
Wellsie: (pours ginger sauce on the rice, puts the container in dishwasher then takes out napkin and spoon) Totally astonishing. At first it gave me hope... you know, that he cared about someone, something. Now? I’m even more worried. I can’t see this sitch ending well. At all. Come on, let’s go to John’s room.
I follow Wellsie out of the kitchen and through a long living room that is done in a great mix of modern architectural details and antique furniture and art. At the far end, we head into the wing of bedrooms. John’s is the last one before the master suite that anchors the left side of the house. As we get closer, I hear...
J.R.: Is that-
Wellsie: Yup. Godzilla marathon. (pushes open door and says quietly) Hey. How are we doing?
John’s bedroom is done in navy blue and the bureau, headboard and desk have a Frank Lloyd Wright feel to them, all sleek wood. In the electric glow of the television, I see John in the bed on his side, his skin is as pale as the white sheets, his cheeks flaming red from fever. His eyes are squeezed shut and he’s breathing through his open mouth with a slight wheeze. Tohr is right beside him, propped up against the headboard, the Brother’s huge body making John look like a two year old. Tohr’s arm is outstretched and John is wrapped around it.
Tohr: (nodding at me and blowing a kiss to his shellan) Not good. I think the fever is higher. (As he says this, across the way on the TV, Godzilla lets out a roar and starts trampling buildings... kind of like what the virus is doing inside of John.)
Wellsie: (putting bowl down and leaning over Tohr) John?
John’s eyes flutter open and he tries to sit up, but Wellsie puts her hands on his cheeks and murmurs to him to stay down. As she talks to John softly, Tohr leans forward and puts his head on her shoulder. He’s exhausted, I realize, no doubt from staying up and worrying about John.
Looking at the three of them together, I am so happy for John, but also a little shaken. It’s hard not to picture him in his decrepit studio apartment in that rat infested building, sick and alone. The what-if's are just too disturbing. To keep my head from rattling, I focus on Tohr and Wellsie and the fact that he’s now part of a family.
After a moment, Wellsie sits down next to Tohr, who makes room for her by drawing up his legs. His free hand, the one John is not holding, goes to her belly.
Wellsie: (shaking her head) I’m calling Havers’s.
Tohr: Should we take him in?
Wellsie: That’ll be up to the clinic.
Tohr: Range Rover’s got the chains on. You pull the trigger, I’m behind the wheel.
Wellsie: (patting his leg then standing up) Which is exactly why I mated you.
Wellsie leaves and I hang in the doorway, feeling like an intruder. God, there were all kinds of questions I had to ask Tohr, but now, none of them matter.
J.R.: I should go.
Tohr: (rubbing his eyes) Yeah, probably. Sorry about all this.
J.R.: Please... not at all. You have to take care of him.
Tohr: (looking down at John) Yes, we do.
Wellsie returns and the verdict from the doctor is that John has to go in. Fritz is called to come pick me up, but it’s going to take him time to get back so I’m told how to lock up the house after I leave. I follow as Tohr carries John in his arms down the hall, through the living room and out to the kitchen. Instead of making the boy put on a jacket, John is wrapped in a duvet and he has slippers on his feet that are like the L.L. Bean moccasins I’ve been lent- only smaller.
Wellsie is already in the back of the Range Rover, seat belted in, and when Tohr settles John in her lap, she cradles the boy to her. As the door is shut, she looks up at me through the window’s glass, her face and red hair obscured by the reflection of the wall of the garage behind me. Our eyes meet and she lifts up her hand. I lift up mine.
Tohr: (to me) You all right here? You know how to reach me.
J.R.: Oh, I’m fine.
Tohr: Help yourself to anything in fridge. Remotes for the TV in the den are right by my chair.
J.R.: Okay. Drive safely and let me know how he is?
Tohr: We will.
Tohr puts his huge palm on my shoulder for a brief moment, then he gets behind the wheel, puts the SUV in reverse and backs out into the storm. The chains rattle on the concrete floor of the garage until they reach the lip of the snow then all I hear is the crunch of millions of tiny flakes compacting under the tires and the deep growl of the engine.
Tohr k-turns and heads out, triggering the garage door. As the panels trundle shut, I have a last image of the Range Rover, its tail lights flaring red through the billowing snow.
I go back into the house. Shut the door behind me. Listen.
The silence is scary. Not because I think there’s someone else in the house. But because the people who should be here are gone.
I go into the living room, sit down on one of the silk couches and wait by the windows, as if maybe being able to see where Fritz is going to pull up will mean he comes a little faster. My parka’s in my lap and my boots are back on.
It seems like years until the Mercedes turns into the drive. I get up, go to the front door as instructed, and step out. As I pivot around to lock up, I see the stove where Wellsie had been cooking about a half hour ago. The pot that had John’s rice in it is where she left the thing and so is the spoon she used.
I’m willing to bet on a normal night, they would never be left out like that. Wellsie keeps a tight ship.
I signal to Fritz that I need a sec then race back to the kitchen, clean the pot and the spoon and put them to dry next to the sink because I don’t know where they belong. This time when I go out the front door, I lock it behind me. After a quick test to make sure I did it right, I piff through the snow toward the sedan. Fritz comes around and holds my door open for me and just before I slide into all that leather, I look at the house. The glow from the windows doesn’t seem welcoming anymore... it strikes me now as if the light is plaintive. The house is waiting for them all to come back, so that its roof shelters more than just inanimate objects. Without its people? It’s merely a museum full of artifacts.
I get into the back of the sedan and the butler takes us out into the storm. He drives carefully, just as I know Tohr did.
Excerpts from THE BLACK DAGGER BROTHERHOOD: AN INSIDER'S GUIDE
by J.R. Ward
© Copyright J.R. Ward 2008 All rights reserved
May not be reproduced in part or in whole without the express, written permission of the author.