After arriving at the Santa Fe airport, I give MJ a jingle and discover he has already arrived and procured the rental car. I heave my luggage into the vehicle before plopping in after it, grateful to be on our way to the hotel.
"How was home?" I ask MJ, he works on assignment only taking one or two jobs with ITG a year and typically only big jobs at that, and this is his first job in about six months.
"Fine." He answers then frowns, "I've been working on a memoir you know? Trying to make it not sound crazy, but it does of course. I want to commemorate them you know, but no one will believe what I say."
I nod. "Them" is his wife, and young son and daughter. MJ is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran. He served three contracts in the army, twelve years of active service. He meant his wife in the army, but after her first contract completed she discovered she was pregnant and came home to begin their new family. Their son was born first followed three years later by their daughter, a year after that, while MJ was deployed in Afghanistan for the second time, his wife and two young children were mysteriously and brutally murdered. It was a big deal at the time, even made it onto one of those unsolved murders TV shows. The regular police are never going to solve it either, they were attacked by a Wendigo and if you do not know what that is, just know it means the situation did not go well.
ITG, in the form of myself intervened and tracked down the Wendigo. Early in the process, I involved MJ, a very good decision as it turned out and together we hunted down the Wendigo and killed it. There's no point in trying to redeem one of those souls. MJ came to work for ITG after that, Jim would never have to ask his motive for this job, it is revenge, plain and simple. Mostly, he comes with me on jobs like this one, really he is one bad day from becoming a hunter himself. Only the fact that he realizes how much information ITG has stored away and how beneficial that is to his goals keeps him beholden to us.
"Why don't you write it as fiction?" I suggest, not for the first time. MJ deeply desires to write a true account of his families death, but that brings about problems. No one would believe a paranormal cannibal killed my family, and claiming to have personally killed this paranormal cannibal might just bring about a police investigation (not that it would turn up anything.)
"But it's not. People should know," he insist. His long held wish to inform the masses of our purpose is somewhat problematic.
"Maybe some of them will believe you. You can claim it's a cathartic, a personal way to deal with the unsolved murder of your family." I try again.
"It's not unsolved." He growls.
"I know," I sigh this conversation is never going to go anywhere, "but I don't want to see you tried for a crime you did not commit, and if you claim to have killed someone to avenge your wife and children. Well there's enough unsolved murders out there that one of them might get pinned on you."
MJ is silent for a moment, "I'll consider it." He says, but I know he will not.
We continue through the high desert before coming to our hotel. Santa Fe is a small city, but it boasts a unique art seen and outdoor activities that attract a certain kind of tourist year round. Neither of us is that kind of tourist, but hopefully we can fake it well enough, and besides I doubt the vampire enclave we are hunting will be keeping a watch this far away, or at all.
After checking in to our hotel we go up to our room together. It is a standard chain hotel room with two queen beds and I claim the one near the windows by unceremoniously dumping all my shit on it. I fish out the relevant files and pass them over to MJ before heading off to take a shower. He was emailed most of the contents prior to coming here, but given that was about twelve hours ago, and the level of paranoia exhibited by our tech department in not electronically copying certain things and I knew he would not have the complete picture yet.
The shower is nice and refreshing; I get out and pull on a clean pair of cloths before returning to discuss the issues at hand with MJ. He is still studying the folder, biased on how many pages are flipped out I guess he's studying maps of the area. His laptop materialized next to him on the wooden table/desk/coffee-making-station, an email account open on the screen.
He glances up at me and motions to the screen, "I've contacted Le. Whatever Mr Montegue says on the matter, I think we'll end up needing them." MJ was the first member of our group to interact with Le when they both showed up to investigate the same haunting and is still our contact man.
"What did you tell them?" I wonder if contacting the group is the right move.
MJ shrugs, "Nothing much. Our current location and an approximate size and description of the group. I asked for weapons too since I doubt we'll be buying anything here."
I puzzle at this comment for a second before remembering that MJ favors a gun in such situations. Personally, I never learned to shoot and typically use bludgeoning instruments in self-defense. My limited previous contact with vampires also suggests that guns are not the way to go anyway. From a practical stand point, a vampire is a corpse attached to a consciousness that has not decided it is dead yet. The best way, from my experience, to remind a vampire that it is dead is to inflict as much physical pain as possible in a short amount of time. The feet is not too difficult, as the vampire retains many of the features of a corpse and an older vampire, or one that has not feed on blood to replenish itself will have brittle bones and a condition associated with rot. Too old of a vampire is basically impervious; however, as the nerve endings deaden at some point resulting in a lack of pain response. Before I wonder too far, the original point I was getting at is inflicting pain, and how many guns are just not the way to go in this, a through and through shot will do you very little good against a vampire. If it makes MJ happy though, I decide to let the situation go, besides we will need the man power of the Le group if not the fire power, two of us will not be able to win this fight on our own.
"Do you think they'll come?" I ask.
"Yeah, they have no reason not to anyway."
"Why are they hunting? What's the story behind this group?" I want as much information before I meet them as possible.
MJ flips the papers down on his lap and shifts his attention to me, I sit on the bed across from him, "I don't know. As near as I can tell they used to be, or are," he adds after a second of thought, "associated with some criminal organization. I don't ask about it, anyway they seem to pick targets based on their relevance to that group."
"Great," I respond, "working with criminals to stop criminals."
MJ rolls his eyes, "Whatever, Laura, this isn't the Wild West or an epic novel, there are no good guys and no bad guys here, we're all just guys. You know that, better than anyone probably."
I must have jumped a bit at what MJ said, sure I know that, but I never though he did and it is strange to hear the words coming out of his mouth. "I was more thinking of how to write the report about it. Maybe I know, but I'm not sure Mr Montegue does."
"Sure he does, better than anyone I expect." MJ anoints. A beep from his computer and he clicks a new email, reading a few brief lines. "They'll be here in four days, so you can ask whatever you want then."
I nod and frown, "Four days?"
"Yeah," MJ frowns too, "I don't know what they're up to now, but they must be doing something. That gives us time to do our own recon though, might be a plus."
"Okay, so let's get a plan for recon down then." I say.
"Sure thing," MJ responds and points to a map he brings up on the computer, "It seems like there's a lot of hiking trails up near the area we want to go. I was thinking it would be best to get passes for overnight back packing and start here." He taps a spot on the computer screen inside the Carson National Forest. The area we want to get into is a relatively uninhabited area to the northeast of Santa Fe which nearly abuts the National Forest.
I look at where he has indicated and calculate about how much hiking I think will be involved, the answer is a lot, a lot more than I would really like to do anyway. "Maybe, but how about if tomorrow we just drive up there and act lost. I doubt the vampires will want to jump us outright, and if we go during the daylight we can see how many people are left above ground should give us some indication."
MJ bits the inside of his cheek and I can tell he does not approve of the idea, "It will give us away though and what they're hostile right out."
I shrug, "That's why we go in daylight. Look maximum we're dealing with about 300 people here, vampires and live ones, assuming all 250 plus of the vampires are unavailable that leaves us with at most fifty and more likely only ten or twenty people to deal with. Unless they're really cut throat individuals I doubt they'll harass tourists, they probably don't want to draw much attention, and a lot of missing people and unsolved murder's will draw someone's attention eventually."
His head bobs back and forth as he scowls, but I bet he will concede the point, "It will still give us away."
"Sure, the two of us or maybe just one if you're that troubled by it, but if we can expect help from Le it won't matter too much, and we can always get a different rental car. Besides, if we do go back later it will likely be to burn the place to the ground at which point we would want to destroy any records of our presence." I retort.
"What if they email out pictures of us to the cartel I wouldn't want to have them on us or be framed by them for, well something we did do I guess. My point is I'd like to come away from this clean." His aggravated face bores into my eyes.
"Butch is watching their computers and should intercept anything about us." I intend to continue the thought, but MJ cuts me off.
"Butch," he snorts, "do we really want to trust that crazy mother fucker. This deal you made with him does not seem weighted in our favor, either. I mean a vampire corpse, I'd rather not."
Now I scowl with him, "I know what you mean, but Jim was fine with the arrangement. I think he trusts Butch more than is wise, but then he's never double crossed us yet either."
"Look the point remains," I press on, "if we need to do the distance recon we can do it with an overnight back packing trip into the desert, but if we can just drive up and get all the information we need why not just do that? I don't think it's an unnecessary risk, no more than covertly sneaking into their territory would be."
MJ gnaws his cheek and thinks a bit more. "Alright fine." He spits eventually. I am surprised it took this much convincing MJ still habitually follows orders and has always accepted my lead in the past.
"I'll still look into the back packing solution tonight. It won't hurt to know what trail we're supposed to be looking for." I add, in part to appease MJ, but also because the idea should not be discarded out of hand. Even though sojourning into the wild is not my ideal solution, it is still a solution.
MJ grunts as he heads off to take his own shower. I return to the hotel lobby to pick up some tourism pamphlets I remembered seeing. Before going back to the room I pause by the front desk.
"What should I do in Santa Fe while I'm here?" I ask.
The concierge is younger than me and a bit uncaring, "Whatever you want I suppose."
"I mean," I try again, "What are the can't miss things?"
He reacts infinitesimally, "Go see the Alamo like everybody else."
"Thanks," I impart sarcasm into my voice, not much I imagine as there is not much sarcasm in me, before turning on my heal and marching back to the room.
When I return, MJ is flicking through television channels from the end of his bed muttering, "Where’s the damn weather." Or something similar.
I push my stuff off of my bed before flopping down on it and then mess around in the pile to retrieve my own laptop. My upper half is hanging in midair a I flip over my bags before finding the correct one, my lower half still rests on the bed. As soon as my hands hit the computer, the tip of MJ's towel smacks me soundly in the ass. I drop the computer and whirl around on him; he is standing there clutching the towel between his hands, doubled over laughing. My eyes go to the towel, but of course I cannot miss his junk as it jiggles up and down with his laughter half erect. Sighing, I shift to the end of the bed with my legs on the floor in front of him, I have known MJ long enough and well enough to identify this as his juvenile way of saying 'hey let's have sex!'
We do, but it's a purely physical affair as it has been in the past. I like MJ, but have no strong feelings for him, and the only person he is in love with is his dead wife. After, we stay in his bed for a while, mostly out of habit I think.
"How's your counseling going?" I ask, maybe out of the blue, but probably not.
MJ grunts, "I stopped going again."
I raise an eyebrow at him, we both know Mr Montegue requires MJ to see a psychologist weekly or lose his right to assignments, "Surprised you're here then."
"Yeah, well if the need is bad enough I suppose." His eyes scuttle along the wall seeing nothing in particular.
"Why did you stop?" I ask.
"I'd rather write the book. I can't really tell that woman anything anyway, she wouldn't believe me. It's like you said in the car before, I'd rather not go getting myself in trouble." His answer is logical and evasive.
"Sure you can, she used to work for ITG in paranormal, I don't know that she ever saw much, but she knows."
MJ glances sidelong at me, "She thought I might be in love with you."
This gets me to raise my eyebrow, push up onto my elbow, and stare at him wide eyed.
"I told here, I wasn't of course," he answers her non-verbal response, "that I didn't want to be in love with anyone but Kari. She said that was the problem, through all the years I won't let myself move on, even after I've had my revenge and everything else."
He swallows and I watch him. After a silence he continues, "I was never nearly as good of a husband when she was alive. We broke up the day before she found out she was pregnant because I'd been cheating on her, and got married the day after. I decided to change my ways after that, I never did cheat on her again, but I still wasn't as good to her as I could have been."
As he speaks different shades of guilt chase each other across his face. There's nothing I can say for him so I don't, and his speech created a physical golf between us, even though our bodies are only inches apart.
"The truth of the matter is I don't know what to do with myself. Ten years ago I had a livelihood and a family, now I have nothing." MJ peeks over at me, "The work for ITG is okay and Mr Montegue has really helped me out and given me a leg up on a lot of other returning vets. I don't really want to work for him though, not forever anyway."
"Go get another job" I say, "When you get back."
"What job? You think the military skills will be great for when you get back, but they're not that helpful. I couldn't be a trauma nurse again; I don't like the site of, well trauma much anymore." The ripples of movement as his body shudders at some old memory travel through the bed. "And my bedside manner was not the best ever. Probably much worse now, I've talked with less than ten people in the last six months, and I don't even know half their names. The grocery store clerk and stuff, they mean something to me, but I mean nothing to them."
"You could do it if you tried, maybe get a part time position. I'm sure there are more then a couple of local doctors who would be willing to give you a shot at getting back on your feet, and Mr Montegue would likely cover any extra costs. He cares about you probably more than he cares about anyone else." I sooth.
"He does care, but he still gives more of a damn about knowing random facts then the people around him." MJ breaths, "But whatever, we should get some work done." He flips the covers off him and pulls on some shorts before sitting at his computer. The whole transition takes less than thirty seconds, but effectively slams the door on any more delving into MJ's personal problems. We speak little for the rest of the night and continue our research into the area surrounding our target. I go to bed early, and MJ is not far behind.