An average town hall meeting in Coal Ridge was typically held in the high school library and included around twenty residents in addition to the Mayor and members of the City Council. Debates usually revolved around budgetary items and concerns were limited to shed robberies, the occasional wild animal, and parking issues. By these standards, tonight's meeting was nothing short of an event, even for those few who were old enough to have attended the standing room only meetings that filled the gymnasium in the late seventies, where the panicked claims that had been voiced still seemed absurd and unbelievable.
While snow fell outside, more than a thousand citizens of Coal Ridge packed into and around the basketball stands in the gym.
"Alright everyone," Mayor Tanya Fisher said into the microphone, while standing on the Red Rider symbol at the center of the basketball court, "I'm not going to waste everyone's time by starting with the minutes of the last meeting or discussing the current agenda. We're all here to talk about the disappearances and strange sightings, so let's get to it."
A loud murmur filled the cavernous space.
"Before," she said, trying to regain the attention of the room, "before I turn the microphone over to Chief Carabelli, I want to let everyone know that your concerns have been heard. The town’s water supply and air quality are being tested for contaminants that might have caused hallucinations. The initial results are negative. We also have brought in people from Troxxel to look for other possible contaminants, as we hear anything we will let you know."
"Let me put a couple of rumors to rest right now. There is zero chance that kids put drugs in the water tower as a joke." Noise that ranged from exasperation to outrage to laughter erupted, but she continued over it. "The filtration system would have caught anything like that and let's be real, it would take a small cartels worth of drugs to contaminate an entire water supply. Also, the government is not running psychedelic tests on us; that is not a thing. Now, the local EPA has been notified. We are doing everything possible to make sure our citizens are safe."
Another loud murmur erupted, interspersed with derogatory shouts.
"Ahem. Remember people," she continued, motioning to the council, "we all live in this town as well. Our children go to this school too. We are taking these disappearances seriously, as Chief Carabelli will get to in a moment, but as for the things people claim to have seen, that is a lot more difficult to address. We are doing what we can to make sure there are no outside influences causing this and the city is in the process of interviewing trauma councilors, so please be patient."
That prompted another outburst. With a shrug, Mayor Fisher handed the microphone over to her police chief. "That's enough!" his voice boomed over the PA system. "This will not turn into some riotous free-for-all. You all are here because you have concerns; we will address those concerns, but you have to shut up long enough to allow us to do our jobs."
A smattering of applause sounded across the gym.
"Now, since mid-October we have had four unexplained disappearances, including Emily Farrara, John Bradley, Ed McKinley, and Sara Palmer."
"What about Mark Ross?" Someone shouted.
"I said four unexplained disappearances. We are also investigating a homicide." A roar of surprise rolled through the crowd. Chief Carabelli stood his ground and let it continue for a short while; he then signaled the table where the council sat. The basketball buzzer went off, startling the crowd to silence. "At this point, the family has been notified and we are getting some assistance from the state police. We don't know if the disappearances are linked to the homicide, but it's unlikely. Let me be clear about this, there is absolutely no evidence linking these recent disappearances to those from the sixties and late seventies; get that out of your heads now. These are new cases and we will solve them as such." He paused a moment, when no one protested, he continued, "This is very concerning for us all, but there are some common sense things you can do to protect your families."
While the Chief began to list off his safety recommendations, Mila Franco stepped out of the gym and met Bill Jacobs where she left him next to the closed refreshment stand. "You were right," she muttered, dropping her eyes to the floor, "they didn't even mention the letter I wrote."
"Of course they didn't," the private investigator replied, stepping back and motioning her towards the door, "I saw your face when I read that letter aloud. You know full well that no one is going to believe it until they experience it, and even then...you read my notes. Cindy Ramsey spent hours over there and has now convinced herself that she was hallucinating on spoiled cough medicine."
"I know it's true," a soft voice said from behind as they started for the exit.
Mila threw her hands in the air. "It's just so frustrating. We have all this information, but I can't share any of it without revealing that we have Hank's pack. And without that, no one will believe us.
"I believe you," that soft voice said again.
Bill blinked and turned to see an eleven or twelve year old girl following them. "I'm sorry," he said looking down, "were you speaking to us?"
"No, I was talking to her," she said, pointing, "you're Mila, the one who thinks her friend is trapped in the other place."
"What of it?" Mila asked, her tone and stance defiant. Since making the mistake of sharing her thoughts about Emily being trapped, people she thought were friends had abandoned her and a lot of them had begun talking behind her back. At this point, her social circle primarily consisted of her twin brother and Bill.
"I-I," the girl took a deep breath and started again. "My name is Janey Lincoln, I was in there, in that other place."
"Sure kid," Mila said, rolling her eyes. "It's a school night, shouldn't you be home in bed."
"Shouldn't you?" Janey replied. "You're still in school too, in case you forgot."
A laugh slipped out of Bill's mouth; he glanced at the teenager with a big grin writ across his face. "I like her."
Crossing her arms over her chest, Mila looked down at the girl. "Are we a little grumpy, do we need a nap?"
"Are we a little bitchy, do we need an attitude adjustment?"
As Mila stepped forward, taking a deep breath that would proceed a torrent of teenage nastiness, Bill stepped between them. "That's enough of that." He turned to Janey letting his smile drop away. "We don't have time for games young lady, if you have something to say, please say it."
"My grandpa doesn't like foolishness either," the little girl replied. It was Mila's turn to laugh. "Fine. The shadow demon got me and my friends down in the park, but Elizabeth saved us and took us to the field on Bur Oaks." She looked at Mila, "I think we were in that place where your friend is stuck."
"Elizabeth? Is that name in Hank's…" Bill started.
"Yes it is," Mila interrupted, focusing on the girl. "Alright kid, what do you know?"
"First, my name is Janey, not kid. I know that her name is Elizabeth Angeline Felger and that even though she died on December 16, 1968 in her sleep, she protects the people in this creepy little town from that demon."
"That's not much," Mila stated, putting her hands on her hips.
The younger girl smiled, “Let me tell you her story.” While Chief Carabelli continued talking about ways to protect against predators, Janey told Mila and Bill about Elizabeth.
* * *
"You can't deny something is going on and our children are the most vulnerable," Catherine Sheffield stated categorically, holding her cards close to her chest. The other three women at the table, all sporting similar styles with their gray hair up in a perm, had heard some version of these same words for about two years, following the four years of categorical denials that anything out of the ordinary was going on in Coal Ridge.
Drawing from the stock, Margaret Jones sighed, "Sorry Cathy, I'm just not getting the cards today." She discarded and shifted the cards in her hand to deal with her worsening arthritis.
Elizabeth Felger drew, and with a small smile laid down a new meld, leaving her with only one card in her hand. "I can tell you that the parents are concerned; some that I rarely saw for parent-teacher conferences are now waiting outside the doors every day. Whatever horrible thing is happening at least it has the parents getting more involved in their children's lives."
"You always look for the silver lining," Cathy replied. Drawing a card, she used it to make a clean Canasta and then discarded. "Personally I think that some devil worshippers are using our town as a source of sacrifices. It's unnatural and the police should do something about it."
Vickie drew and glanced up at her partner across the table; they exchanged nods.
Cathy looked up from her card. "Any opinion Victoria?"
"Yes," Vickie James said, filling out the meld that Elizabeth had started and added the rest of her hand to existing Canastas, with the last card going into the discard pile. "You talk too much. I'm out."
While the other three ladies started adding up points, Vickie stood up and stretched her back.
"Come on," Cathy chided, "as the wife of our esteemed police chief, you must know something."
"I know plenty," she replied, "just not about police work or ongoing investigations." Her mouth widened into a grin. "By the look on Margie's face, I do know that this hand gave us the game." She picked up her plate and glass, taking them over to the sink.
While the other two began cleaning up, Cathy remained in her seat. "You know, Victoria, if there is something untoward going on, it would be proper to share it with your friends."
Taking a deep breath, Vickie let it out slowly and responded with a pleasant smile. "My husband doesn't talk about his work and if he did, I would be breaking the law, and possibly put innocent people at risk by sharing that information. I'm sorry, Catherine, but I have no opinions about this topic." She turned to her companion. "Would you like to walk home together Lizzy."
"Yes, but you know I don't care for that nickname."
"Sorry, I just felt like we were all being a little too formal tonight." She glanced at Cathy, who was still sitting at the table, slowly collecting cards to avoid having to carry anything to the kitchen.
After donning their coats and a round of almost too pleasant goodbyes, the two ladies departed, leaving Margie to help with the cleanup, since it was her turn. The past week had been unseasonably warm, but with the sun going down, a chill had settled over Coal Ridge. As they walked down Fifth Street, Elizabeth glanced over at her longtime friend. "I'm sorry for Cathy’s behavior, it was not nice of her to push like that."
"She's not your responsibility, besides John thinks that something strange has been going on since the Birding Fire." They both glanced over at the recently rebuilt houses at Fifth and Poplar. "I don't like the ranch styles they built," Vickie observed, "it disrupts the lines on the block."
A pair of children rounded the corner up ahead, running along the sidewalk before disappearing between some houses.
A happy smile turned up the edges of Elizabeth's mouth. "When the trees grow back, it won't be as noticeable, not that you or I will be around that long."
"Speaking of which," Vickie put her hand on her friend's shoulder, "you’re past sixty, when are you going to retire?"
"When I can't do it anymore." Her smile dropped a little. "The kids keep me going, they give me a reason to wake up since George died." Elizabeth winced mentally as the mood between them turned somber; she knew that John James was not in the best of health and the disappearances over the past eight years had taken a toll on him. Vickie had confided her worries more often as of late. "Is that a new broach," she continued, trying to change the subject.
The streetlight ahead of them flickered off for a moment, then came back on.
"John gave it to me," she replied, "it's an heirloom or something; he it got from Hank McDonald, I guess as a thank you for something, and asked me to wear it anytime I go out."
"The design is like nothing I've ever seen," Elizabeth said, leaning in to see it. Is it Celtic?"
Vickie unclasped it from her coat. "I don't know what that is," she shrugged, handing the broach over so her friend could inspect it while they walked. "Personally I think it’s ugly, and it doesn't match anything in my wardrobe, but John is pretty insistent that I wear it."
"It's definitely old. The workmanship is…"
"Do you hear that?" Vickie interrupted.
"I don't hear anything."
"That's what I mean, it's so quiet—my God."
"What?" Elizabeth looked up. "Oh my, what's that?" Ahead of them a cloud of black smoke appeared to be sitting in the street, its edges well defined in the twilight evening. The smoke seemed to ripple as it moved across the ground, but there was no wind, and for a moment there was a shape to it, almost lobster-like, but surrounded by tentacles.
Vickie took a step back. "What could be burning like that in the street?"
"I don't smell anything burning."
As they stared, one of the smoke tentacles rolled between two of the house as if in a strong gust of wind; a child's scream filled the evening and was quickly cut off. A moment later, she could see a small form being drawn towards the smoky mass.
"What in the name of God…?" Vickie muttered, thinking about the crazy things her husband had told her that she had openly dismissed as unbelievable.
Pocketing the broach, Elizabeth rushed forward, shouting "Let go of him!"
"It has a child," the elderly teacher called behind her as she shuffled forward as fast as she could manage.
Touching the place on her coat where the broach had been, Vickie thought about the insistence in her husband’s tone and the worry in his eyes when he'd given it to her. "My broach." She started after her friend. "Lizzy you have my broach!"
Moving as fast as her legs would carry her, Elizabeth shuffled down the road, watching as the shadowy form drew the child towards it. She'd been wrong; it wasn't smoke, it was alive! The lobster-like form became much more pronounced as she approached, but its head looked like it belonged on a nightmarish bear, and the tentacles coming off it were almost serpentine. Everything inside her told her to stop, but it had a child, more than that, it had a child she recognized--Timmy Garth had been in her second grade class three years ago. "I said to let him go!"
The creature seemed to pause at her approach, the bear head swinging towards her, bellowing a silent roar. A powerful hunger rolled over her, the feeling was so powerful that it almost knocked her over and Timmy was engulfed in it, only the outline of him was visible within its grasp. Elizabeth strode up to the tentacle that held the boy, trying to keep her distance from the mouth. "Timmy? Can you hear me, it's…"
Another tentacle crashed to the ground around her, she felt the pressure of it, but nothing else; to her it was nothing but a dense smoke.
Again the creature opened its mouth in a silent roar, surrounding her in an aura of frustration that was quickly flaring into anger. Elizabeth stepped forward and reached into the dark; feeling Timmy’s arm she tugged him towards her. He immediately fell, free of its grasp; catching him sent them both tumbling to the ground. Its head shifted to something vaguely insect-like and the shadowy body rippled, as the feelings of anger intensified.
The boy lay unconscious in her arms as the shadowy form rippled around them—it was like being at the center of a ball of worms being pummeled by rage—and suddenly they were free. It moved away up Sixth Street, in the direction of a terrified scream. "Oh-no. Vickie!" She moved to kneel over the boy, he looked exhausted and seemed barely able to open his eyes; his face and arms were soot stained. Glancing up the road, she gently shook him. "Come on Timothy," she said trying to keep her voice calm, "I’m not strong enough to carry you, I need you to wake up."
The boy's eyes snapped open as Vickie's scream cut off.
Elizabeth looked up with fear in her eyes. The shadowy creature had her best friend in its grasp. Vickie struggled for a moment, unleashing pain-filled muffled screams that quieted amid the distinct sound of breaking bones. Tears spilled down her face as she pulled the boy close, and then something touched her shoulder.
Feeling her heart racing in her chest, she turned to see Hank McDonald standing behind her.
"Elizabeth? Are you okay?"
"My God, Hank, it has Vickie, you have to help her."
From behind, a voice shouted "What!" Looking past Hank, she could see Police Chief Jonathon James standing in in the middle of a ragged tear that flapped silently in the air around him. "Did you say it has Vickie?" The tone of his voice was harsh, and a snarl touched the corner of his mouth as he strode out of the tear and towards them. Without pausing he continued, pointing at Hank. "You said that talis-whatever would protect her Hank. You said that it would ignore her as long as she carried it."
Elizabeth touched the broach in her pocket.
As he rushed past them, Hank reached out and grabbed the man's arm, pulling him to a stop. "Look at it John! It's not feeding, it's raging. If you go over there it's going to kill you. We have to get them out of here before it comes back."
"Fuck you Hank!" he shouted, sweat pouring down his face as he ripped his arm away.
"God-dammit John, there's a kid here."
Struggling to catch his breath, the police chief shouted back, "It's...got my wife!" He took two steps and collapsed.
Elizabeth screamed his name as Hank hurried to his side. While checking on John, he turned to the teacher cradling the child and said "Get the kid out of here," motioning towards the ragged tear.
"What about you?" She replied, seeing the shadowy creature turn and begin to stalk towards them.
"Don't worry about me, save the kid. I'll be fine."
Seeing him turn back to John, she did her best to help the dazed boy to his feet and together they shuffle-ran to the tear. The sound and smells she'd become accustomed to in Coal Ridge rushed back as they stepped through. On the ground around the tear was an intricate pattern of salt, and just outside of it a green soldiers pack sat on its side. Picking Timmy up to carefully step out of the circle, she helped him to the ground and went back, peeking her head inside the tear.
Hank was struggling to drag the listless body towards her, and the shadow creature was almost on top of them. Its head resembled a wolf, with spider-like eyes that ran down its neck. She stepped back inside, “Hank, its right there!" He felt the creature pummel him with its rage and hunger as it lunged, causing him to drop the police chief’s hands and fall forward. Long taloned claws grabbed John and began to tear him apart, the wet pops of limbs being pulled from the body caused bile to rise in her throat.
She rushed forward and pulled Hank to his feet as a long tentacle crashed down where he sat a moment before; just enough of it struck to knock him off balance and back to the ground. Elizabeth's heart hammered in her chest as she backed away towards the tear.
"What the hell!" he shouted towards the creature. "How are you changing the god-damned rules?"
"Hank! Get over here, now!" Elizabeth put just enough teacher in her tone to get him moving, and while the creature continued to shred John, they escaped out through the tear.
Once on the other side, Hank broke the salt circle with his foot and the tear dissipated. He took a deep breath. "Fuck."
"Hank McDonald, there's a child present."
"Oh hell, he's so far out of it he has no idea what's going on. His parents are in for a few sleepless nights while he has some nightmares and then he'll go on like nothing happened. Kids are resilient." He knelt down to the pack. "The bigger problem is that the talismans suddenly stopped working and Vickie's body is going to show up in a couple of days along with parts of John."
Elizabeth reached her hand into her pocket and pulled out the broach. "By talisman, do you mean this?"
"You have it?" His eyes went wide. "And I touched your shoulder. That explains it!"
"Explains what?" she asked, stooping down to check on Timmy, while taking a deep breath to try to slow her racing heart.
"Why the rules seemed to suddenly change." Seeing the confused look on her face, Hank continued. "Like everywhere else, that place has rules, things that work and don't work. These talismans," he lifted a nearly identical one on a leather strap out of his shirt, "were meant to intertwine the souls of two people promised to one another; it was for lovers at a time when marriage was about joining two families and had nothing to do with love. When I touched you it activated, so our souls have been...linked."
"You mean symbolically?"
Hank shook his head. "No, I mean that right now our souls are linked to one another . . . until death do we part." He laughed; the tone was slightly manic.
"Are you saying that because you touched my shoulder, we're now married?"
"No, not married. Linked. Marriage is a formality, this is mysticism."
"Magic? Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds?"
He shrugged. "You just rescued a kid from a shadow monster and escaped through a tear in reality." The look of disbelief fell off her face and she started to hand him the talisman. He put up a hand. "No, you might as well hold onto it, the talisman is useless now."
"Your soul is bound to it while you carry it, that's what protects you from the creature, but once we touched, it activated and our souls became bound." He held up his talisman, "Now it's just a piece of decorative jewelry." He sighed. "Which is a problem, because it took me a long time to find these."
Elizabeth turned on him. "That's the problem you're focused on? My best friend and her husband were just murdered, I don't even know where, and there's a monster running around our town."
"There's been a monster running around our town since the Birding Fire eight years ago, and over the past five years, John's been helping me hide that fact from the people of this town, while saving as many as we could."
"Why? People need to know about…" she stopped and thought about it for a moment. Hank waited. "Alright, I get it. Nobody is going to believe it until they see it and then they’ll panic."
"Exactly," he replied with a nod, "and who knows what the government will do, but we get them involved and we can kiss our little town goodbye. We tried to trap it last year, but there were certain requirements that John was not okay with, and we ended up just pissing it off."
"What is that thing and, that…that place?"
Hank shook his head. "To be honest, I don't really know what that thing is; it could be the devil or a demon or just something that feeds on emotion and, well, souls." He'd seen the look of horror that came over her face many times, usually followed by one of complete disbelief. When the latter didn't come, he continued. "The best description I have for that place is Celestial Hades, or in Christian terms…"
"Purgatory," she finished.
"Yeah. When you're in there and someone dies on this side, you can see the transition, they move through that place onto wherever they go next."
"If you believe that, sure. Having to deal with that creature for the last eight years and all the research I've done has made me question a lot, among them the existence of God. For what it's worth, I don't think that creature belongs there."
Elizabeth looked around a moment before turning back to him. "I don't know how to deal with this Hank." She paused. "I'm going to take Timmy home."
Hank stared at her a moment, and then seeming to come a decision he rummaged into his pack and pulled out a purple drawstring bag. The bright yellow strings he tied in a simple bow. "Keep this with you, if you do see it again, empty the bag at it."
She took the bag from him. "What's in it?"
* * *
Later that evening, Elizabeth walked around the side of her house on Bluebonnet Road, stopping to clip some stalks of lavender. She'd seen Timmy home, making up a story about him having fallen and hit the back of his head on the sidewalk. Mary Garth had been grateful and promised to have the doctor look him over. The elderly school teacher felt terrible lying about what happened to the boy, but she didn't even know how to go about telling the truth.
It all felt like a bad dream. She'd called Vickie on the phone twice, hoping that her best friend would answer, but all it did was ring.
Holding the lavender stalks in her hand, she looked up into the night sky. "Lord, I'm a little lost here. What I saw today can't be real, but it is; how does this serve your plan, and what role am I to play in it?"
She didn't expect an answer; that would have to be something she worked out for herself. Much like when she discovered that lavender helped George to sleep when his health was failing. No one had suggested it to her, she noticed that when the window was open in the spring he slept better and had realized that it wasn't the fresh air or the cool breeze, it was the lavender.
Having a hard time calming down from the events of the day, she felt like she might need something to help her to sleep. Her heart was still racing, and her chest felt heavy. Bringing the lavender up to her nose, she inhaled deeply. The odor made her think about George and how much she missed him.
Questions about the creature and that other place—she couldn't quite wrap her mind around it being Purgatory—still swirled in her mind when she put her head on her pillow a short time later. On the nightstand next to her were the stalks of lavender and the bag of salt that Hank had given her. She held the broach in her hand and cried as she thought about Vickie and John, and what that creature might have done to their souls. Finding it difficult to breathe through the tears, she tried to sit up in her bed, but the pressure on her chest held her down.
"Oh no," she mumbled, recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack and knowing that it was already too late. Fear welled in her mind, joining the grief, anger, and loneliness.
Under her bed, a shadow moved.
Elizabeth tried to push herself up, but her arms only shook under the pressure and her stomach felt distended. Her breaths came in gasps.
Shadow tentacles slithered up the edges of the bed.
Turning onto her side, she reached for the phone that she'd had installed when George had become bedridden; that was when she saw it. The form was sliding up the wall as the tentacles slid over the edges of the bed. It was indistinct, lacking the substance it had earlier.
Pain tore through her chest, causing her to cry out in pain.
The lamp in the room blinked off; when it came back on, the form began to move off the wall, but Elizabeth's vision had darkened. It lurched forward to engulf her, stopping as it realized that she'd already taken her final breath.
For a time it hovered there—its form becoming indistinct as it waited—unwilling to leave its prey in the eternal hunt to appease its insatiable hunger.
The shadowy form was still there when awareness caught up with Elizabeth. She felt different, lighter—not alive, but not dead either, somewhere in-between. Purgatory. Breathing no longer seemed a concern, nor did pain. The creature regarded her, its form altering to become spider-like, with a long, hooked break in place of fangs. Its hunger rolled over her, feeling dingy, unclean; that hunger reminded her of the way the illness had corrupted her husband's body, seeming to eat at him from the inside. When the creature lunged, she reacted without thinking, channeling the love and grief she felt each time she thought about George to push it away.
A silent flash sent it sprawling across the room. Rage and hunger rolled over her as it suddenly filled the room. Long talons dug into her form.
For the majority of her life, when something needed to be done, Elizabeth had worked it out on her own. She did not speak and she did not wait. Summoning the love, the loss, the happiness, the loneliness; Elizabeth gathered all the emotional experience of a life well-lived into a single burst.
A light devoid of color filled the room and for a time the shadows dissipated, but she knew that they would be back.
* * *
Hank McDonald sat in his old truck on Bluebonnet Road, his fist closed around the small object hanging around his neck and waited, trying to push away the guilt he was feeling. He hadn't really lied to her. So maybe he'd skipped over a few things when he explained about the talismans, but it was true that until the link was broken, they were little more than decorative jewelry. That had not been the real reason he told her to keep it, though.
The talismans were called Celtic Knots—there'd been a reference to them in a text called the Book of Kells, and the ones he needed were made by a sect of ancient monks in the fifth century. How could he be expected to explain all the rules to her, he didn't even know them all himself; with the talismans it was not only how they were made, but how the people who used them died. It had taken years of searching, and this was the only active pair he'd found.
Shifting in the driver's seat, he stared at her house; the bedroom light blinked off and back on. Dropped his eyes to stare at the darkened floor of the truck, he felt his face flush with shame. The object that he'd hid inside that bag of salt had lured the creature to her, as he knew it would, but she’d already lived a long life. There were a lot of people in Coal Ridge who had barely begun to live. Losing John was bad enough, he couldn't lose the talismans as well.
The symbol went cold against the palm of his hand and he mumbled, "I'm sorry Elizabeth, I hope you rest in peace." Settling down into the driver’s seat and slouching a little, he waited, knowing that he would have to break into her house to collect the bag and talisman, after he was sure the creature had gone.
* * *
"Well it's obvious you did your research, young lady," Bill said, stretching his back, "I mean, you have a full biography of Elizabeth Felger there, but I don't get why you went to the trouble of finding all this information."
"She wants to help," Mila answered, "and you should probably read what Hank wrote about her and what she does."
The older man shrugged. "I read most of it. She's some kind of guardian angel, which is all well and good if she happens to be there to rescue you" he said, looking between them, "but she doesn't save everyone, otherwise this wouldn't be a problem. I still don't see how this helps with Emily."
"Think about it gramps, she brings people out," Janey replied, rolling her eyes.
Mila grinned and looked up at Bill. "I like her too. She could be useful."
The investigator looked down at the wide grin the young girl wore and then back to Mila. "What. No." He shook his head. "Absolutely not. I'm already putting one minor in who knows what kind of danger, there's no way I'm bringing in another, even younger one. No!”
It was yet another battle that Bill would lose.