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Authors: Michael Thomas Ford

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BOOK: Jane Goes Batty
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“Well, I did want to ask a favor of you,” Sherman said. “I was
wondering if you might help me get an interview with Julia Baxter.”

“The director?” said Jane. “Well, I don’t know. I haven’t met her myself. But I can certainly try.”

“I would very much appreciate that,” Sherman said. “I’m a big fan. Unfortunately, it won’t be any mean feat. She abhors the press.”

“All we can do is try,” said Jane. “I have no idea when any of them are arriving.”

“Oh, a number of them are already here,” Sherman informed her. “They arrived last night.”

“And Julia Baxter?” asked Jane.

“Tomorrow,” Sherman said. He took a wallet from his pocket and removed several bills, laying them on the table beside his plate. “Now, alas, I have to go and pen a stimulating article about the garden club’s zinnia festival. If the excitement doesn’t kill me, I’ll see you anon.”

“I look forward to it,” said Jane. “And I’ll let you know if I can get a word with Julia Baxter.”

“Thank you, my dear. I appreciate anything you can do on my behalf.” Sherman walked a few steps, then turned back and approached the table. “By the way,” he said in a low voice. “I meant to tell you. Do you remember our friend Miranda Fleck?”

“Of course,” Jane said, grimacing. How could anyone forget the overbearing assistant professor of English at Meade College? Not only was Miranda rude, she was a Brontëite. She and Jane had butted heads at Walter’s most recent New Year’s Eve party, a confrontation that had ended with Jane giving Miranda the tiniest of bites and secreting her beneath a pile of coats. She hadn’t seen her since.

“Well,” said Sherman, his voice taking on an excited tone, “you may be interested to know that she won’t be returning to the college in the fall. It seems she was giving certain students superior
grades in exchange for, shall we say, extra-credit assignments.
And
she preserved it all on film. Well, digital video. Apparently the footage was discovered when she took her laptop to the college’s IT department to have it upgraded.”

“Really?” Jane said. “I would never have believed her capable.”

“Yes,” Sherman said. “I understand she’s a very emotive actress. At any rate, she’s been let go.”

“I’m terribly sad to hear that,” Jane said. “Miranda added so much to the department.”

“Didn’t she though,” said Sherman. “I’m sure she’ll be missed by … someone.”

He turned and once more headed for the door, leaving Jane to finish her donut and coffee and marvel at the never-ending surprises of which human beings were capable. Imagine, Miranda Fleck a seductress.

“She certainly didn’t learn
that
from any Brontë novel,” Jane assured the donut as she popped the last bite in her mouth.

A sharp pain in her side caused her to flinch. For a moment she wondered if some foreign object in the donut had pricked her insides. Then the pain—now more of a cramp—came again, and she recognized it as a sign of hunger. Not for more food, but for blood.

Jane groaned.
Wonderful
, she thought with no small amount of irritation.
Now I’m going to have to bite somebody
.

She added some bills to the ones Sherman had left, made sure Rhonda saw them so that she could collect them, then hurriedly left the Rise-N-Shine. Her stomach had begun to make very unladylike sounds, and the cramps were growing stronger.

She got into her car and sat for a moment, thinking. She hated having to feed during the day. Not only did it involve greater risk, it interrupted her schedule.
Not that you have anywhere to be
, she reminded herself.
You’re trying to avoid people, remember?

A tap on the glass startled her, and she gave a little shriek.
Looking to her left, she saw Walter’s smiling face peering in at her. Behind him stood his mother, holding Lilith. Jane rolled the window down.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Walter said, giving her a peck on the cheek.

“What are you doing here?” asked Jane.

“Mother wanted pancakes,” Walter explained. “This is the best place for them.”

Jane glanced at Miriam, who met her gaze and smiled grimly. “I adore pancakes,” said Miriam.

“How nice,” Jane replied. Then she realized she would shortly be expected to explain
her
presence at the Rise-N-Shine. “I came for donuts,” she blurted, hoping he wouldn’t notice that there were none in the car. “For the film crew. I thought it would be a nice gesture.” She was speaking too quickly, but found she couldn’t stop. “Well, I should be going.”

“Hold on,” said Walter. “We were hoping you would spend the day with us.”

Jane hesitated. “The day?” she said. “As in all of it?”

Walter laughed. “That’s the idea.”

“Of course, if you have something
better
to do,” Miriam said, “we don’t want to
inconvenience
you.”

Hearing the tone in the woman’s voice, Jane knew she was being tested. She also sensed that Miriam wanted her to fail.

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “I’d love to spend the day with you.”

Her stomach knotted and she gasped slightly.

“Are you all right?” Walter asked her.

“Fine,” Jane said as the hunger pains returned. “Just a little cramp.”

“I always found that hot compresses helped with my monthly troubles,” Miriam announced.

Jane began to inform Miriam that she had quite the wrong idea, but then thought better of it. “What a charming suggestion,” she said instead. Then, to Walter, she said, “I’ll just take the
donuts over to the shop and meet up with you after you’ve had breakfast. Where shall we meet?”

“I want to show you both the Carlyle House,” said Walter.

“A wonderful idea,” Jane replied.

The Carlyle House was one of Walter’s restoration projects. He’d purchased the property when the last of the seven Carlyle sisters—none of whom had married—died the previous year, just three days shy of the century mark. Had it not been for an ill-timed tumble down one of the house’s several staircases (thought to have occurred when one of the eighteen cats that lived in the house tangled itself in its mistress’s feet), Mehitabel Carlyle would have been the guest of honor at a surprise one hundredth birthday party thrown for her by her friends at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Instead, on the day of her birth she was lowered into the ground of Resurrection Cemetery.

Mehitabel’s misfortune was Walter’s gain. The house, long in disrepair, was sold for a pittance. He had spent the past year working on it, and now it was almost completed. Although anyone passing by could see the dramatic change in the house’s exterior, Jane had been banned from setting foot inside until the project was done. She thought this very silly, but it had seemed an inconsequential matter over which to quarrel and so she had not objected. She was, however, enormously curious to see what the house looked like.

“All right, then,” said Walter. “You know where it is. Meet us there at ten?”

“Perfect,” Jane said. She looked past Walter to Miriam. “See you then!” she chirped.

Miriam smiled weakly and turned away, walking toward the restaurant. “She’s really looking forward to getting to know you,” Walter told Jane.

“I can tell,” Jane said.

Walter followed his mother, and Jane pulled out of the parking lot. Her stomach was growling audibly, and the cramps were closer
together. There was no way she could spend the morning—let alone the entire day—with Walter and his mother unless she fed first.

“If only there were a drive-through for this sort of thing,” she mused, looking longingly at the line of cars queued alongside a fast-food restaurant’s take-out window.

But there wasn’t, so she was going to have to come up with another solution to her hunger. And she was going to have to do it soon.

J
ANE WAITED IMPATIENTLY FOR THE GROUP OF TEENAGERS TO
cross the street. Although it was true that pedestrians had the right of way despite the absence of a stop sign or light, this particular group seemed to be taking advantage of their position. They moved more slowly than Jane had thought possible, oblivious to everything but their own conversations and the screens of their cellphones. Worst of all, just as one group made it across the street and Jane started to inch forward, another gaggle would step directly in front of her without so much as looking—like wildebeest crossing a river.

Her stomach knotted up and she gripped the steering wheel tightly. As she did so she inadvertently took her foot off the brake and the car jumped forward. Startled, the group of teenagers jumped back, some of them shouting obscenities. One of them—a girl wearing a T-shirt that read
NO HATE!
—banged her fist on the hood of Jane’s car and gave Jane the finger.

Jane hit the gas, roaring through the now enraged group and sending them scattering. Watching their indignant faces in the rearview mirror, she felt a not-insignificant measure of satisfaction. Her joy was short-lived, however, as a moment later she saw, too late, that she was traveling past a stop sign at which she ought
to have paused and was about to be hit on the passenger side by a silver Ford Eclipse.

The impact was not as bad as she would have thought, most likely because neither she nor the other driver was going terribly fast. Still, the sound was unsettling and the resulting crash pushed Jane’s car sideways and sent bits of window glass raining around her.

The driver of the Eclipse emerged from his car, paused for a moment to survey the damage, and then walked around to Jane’s window. In his forties, he was short, stout, and balding. His face, which Jane imagined was usually a pinkish color, was now red. One eye twitched as he stood staring down at Jane.

“Nice stop,” he said.

“I’m very sorry,” Jane said. “I’m afraid I—”

“Save it,” the man snapped. “I don’t have time to hear about how you’re late picking your kid up or how you have to get your husband’s suit to the dry cleaners, or whatever bullshit excuse you’re going to use.” He turned to look at his car. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “I hope you’ve got good insurance.”

Jane, who was looking in the glove box for her insurance card, said, “If you’ll just calm down, we—”

“Calm down?” the man said, his voice rising. “
You’re
telling
me
to calm down? Lady, if anyone needs telling what to do around here, it’s you.”

“I really don’t think—” Jane replied.

“No, you don’t think,” said the man, interrupting. “That’s the problem. If you
thought
, you wouldn’t do something as stupid as running a stop sign.” He shook his head. “Forget your insurance,” he said, taking a cellphone out of his pocket. “I’ll just call the cops and let them figure it out.”

“I understand that you’re upset,” Jane said. “But there’s really no need—”

“Just shut up,” the man snapped. “I’ll deal with this.”

Anger rose in Jane’s chest, and she made a decision. “You will not call the police,” she heard herself say in a commanding tone.

The man glared at her, started to speak, and then stopped. Something in his expression changed, becoming almost childlike. He closed his cellphone. “I guess we don’t have to,” he said.

“Now get back in your car,” Jane said, focusing her glamoring abilities.

The man turned and walked back to his car, opening the door and sliding into the driver’s seat. A moment later Jane opened the passenger-side door of the Eclipse and got in beside him. So far no other vehicles had come through the intersection, but she knew it was just a matter of time. She had to act quickly.

As she leaned toward the man her fangs clicked into place, piercing his skin and causing the blood to flow. Jane didn’t take much, just enough to stave off the hunger pangs. It took only a minute. When she was done she turned the man’s head so that she was looking directly into his eyes. “You’re going to forget,” she told him. “In thirty seconds you will wake up and not remember what happened.”

The man’s eyes clouded over and he seemed to fall asleep. Quickly Jane got out of the car and went back to hers, looking around first to make certain that there were no witnesses. She turned the key in the ignition and was relieved when the engine came to life. There was a scraping sound as she pulled away, and the Eclipse’s bumper fell to the pavement with a clatter.

She wasn’t out of the woods. She would still have to explain the state of her car. But she would worry about that later. The important thing was that the immediate problem was taken care of and she had been able to feed. All things considered, she was actually rather proud of herself for handling it with such aplomb.

Besides, he was quite rude, she thought. Speaking to a lady that way was most uncalled for.

She did need to get another car, though. She didn’t want to
show up for the tour of the Carlyle House in her damaged vehicle. Not only would it cause Walter to worry, it would probably give Miriam the impression that Jane was unreliable.

She elected to go to the bookstore. When she arrived she parked in the back, out of sight, and entered through the rear door that led into the storage room. Peering out, she made sure there was no one in the store she wished to avoid.

BOOK: Jane Goes Batty
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