After less than an hour sleep, we sped down to the location of the The Lucky Toad. We were willing to do anything to find Chasity.
Alex was beginning to believe that Chasity’s disappearance was linked to the disappearance of her parents nine years ago. The Lucky Toad Casino was where Chalice and Chase had supposedly racked up a huge debt before they fled town. It seemed like a good place to start sniffing out old enemies Chasity’s parents might have. Old enemies who might still have it in for them and their daughter.
Unfortunately for those old grudge-holders, I was Chasity’s mate and I would grind their bones to dust if I found out they had anything to do with Chasity or her parents going missing.
“For all we know, re-opening that investigation could be what put Chasity in danger, said Alex with a heavy sigh as we pulled up to a large dilapidated-looking building.
“There’s a plank of wood nailed across the doors,” noted Alex, alarmed.
“Is it closed down?” Wondered Calix aloud.
I had more experience with dodgy places and shifty people than my brothers did combined. The bar I played pool at always looked closed too.
“Those f*ckers are in there, trust me!” l growled.
“Maybe, there’s a more accessible entrance,” suggested Alex.
I marched up to the double doors and ripped the plank of wood off of them.
Too late,”I said, tossing the wooden plank aside.
I pushed the double doors open and walked right through them, flanked by my brothers. Yep, they were in there all right. AIl the gamblers stiffened in their chairs. There were about two dozen people in the dimly lit casino, all with tired eyes. They looked like they’d been up all night. None of them dared to look our way but I could feel the tension in the room. They were hyperaware of us.
A waitress in a skimpy uniform and clunky high heels wobbled over to us. she was a bleached blonde she-wolf who looked to be in her mid-forties meaning she was likely much older as werewolves aged so slowly.
“What can I get you fellas? she croaked.
This waitress was a chain smoker. No doubt about that.I smirked. I was here to deal with the management not sample the menu.
“The boss! Get me the boss”I said, leaning in.
She almost fell over as she leant away from me. She hurried towards a staircase at the back of the room. I moved to follow her but Alex put a hand on my shoulder.
Lets give them a chance to cooperate, he said in my mind.
We sat at the bar. There was a gaunt bartender staring at us with his orb-like eyes while he wiped the same glass over and over with a dingy-looking dish towel.
I think it’s clean, buddy” commented Calix, smiling slightly.
I stifled a snort of laughter. The bartender dropped the dingy towel and then to our surprise, he let the whole damn glass slip from his hands and shatter on the floor He jumped, startled, by his own mistake and then bent over to hastily pick up thie pieces, This place was a clown show.
I looked up just in time to spot the waitress returning, I was shocked at her appearance. Her hair was all over the place, her uniform rumpled and her cheeks streaked with runny black mascara as though she had been crying Had someone roughed her up? Had it been the boss? What a f**king j*rk! I could not stand “men” who put their hands on women like that.
The boss will see you now, Alphas, she said as soon as she reached us.
We simply nodded and then headed up the stairs.
Did you see the state of her? Was she like that before? Asked Calix.
Definitely not! I said immediately. Someone manhandled her.
Guess the boss is as great of a guy as we thought, grumbled Felix.
The stairs led us to a long hallway with just one door at the very end. There was a gold plated plaque on the door that read:
We walked into a straight-up pigsty.
f**k, was all i could think.
The room was cluttered with crap. There was a large wooden desk dominated by ornaments, old empty water bottles and yellowing. coffee-stained papers. There were so many random items all over the office, it reminded me of those Eye Spy games where one had to find a few small objects in dense mountains of stuff. Many of the items were lucky charms.I spotted several horseshoes nailed to the walls.I raised my foot from the floor, realising the ground was sticky for some reason. Disgusting. I could hear the squeaking of mice somewhere among the mounds of stuff.
The case of hoarding had almost made me overlook the large man behind the desk, He was a mature werewolf with salt and pepper hair and a thick moustache. Despite being in a dark office, he was wearing darkly tinted sunglasses along with an ill-fitting blazer over a white shirt and black tie. All of his clothes seemed a bit tight on him and he had a protruding stomach that was putting pressure on the buttons of his shirt. He was not the picture of elegance but something about his mature lined face was goodnatured. I did not think he had been the one to mistreat the waitress.
Chance? Asked Felix incredulously.
He greeted us with a warm smile
“Alpha Felix! Said Chance brightly.
He had recognised us immediately.
“Sit!” Encouraged Chance.
We’d rather stand,”I said quickly.
I could only imagine the state of the chairs in front of his desk.
Chance put a chubby hand with thick fingers on a stack of papers and my eyes instantly went to the back of his hand. It was not the hairiness or the gold rings that drew my attention, it was the tattoo. A full moon with a snake curled around it.
The tattoo, said Felix, noticing it too.
“What does that tattoo mean?” I asked.
Snakes shed their skin. The moon wanes and wanes Renewal.
Death and life. Life through death. You have to fall apart, die almost, to be renewed, reinvigorated, reborn, said Charice ominously.
Okay then, said Calix.
I can’t decide if that was sheer brilliance or bullshit, said Felix.
I had not been expecting a response like that, I muttered.
I hoped Chance would not speak in riddles throughout this interview.
Look, you already know why we’re here,”I said, getting to the point.
The whole pack knew by now. We had announced it and the story was playing nonstop on the pack news channel.
Chasity is missing. She’s our Luna,” I said, pausing to compose myself a little. This is the second kidnapping. The first was unsuccessful. Someone has been after her ever since we started asking questions about her parents who fled town running from someone. All of her parents’ old friends and people at their old haunts have that same tattoo. So save me a lot of trouble and just tell me everything you know,” I said sternly.
Chance nodded. He seemed cooperative enough.
The tattoo is from a..-group of like minded individuals. A coven If you will, Werewolves who practice witchcraft. The group is called the Furina Ornata after the moon snake. All members have the tattoo. There’s about two hundred members last time I checked. There could be a million reasons why someone would kidnap a Luna. The most farfetched being related to my tattoo. And most importantly, I would never harm Chasity” said Chance, seemingly in earnest.
He took off his shades and fixed is with a stern look, “I m her grandfather.”
I was speechless.as were ,my elder brothers.
Are you guys buying this? Asked Felix privately.
Alex was silent, thinking it over. Somehow, my wolf and t just knew it was true. I gave Felix the mind link equivalent of a simple nod.
“Chasity’s grandfather? Asked Felix, narrowing his eyes in suspicion.
So where have you been all this years Demanded Alex.
He was glaring at chance. He took the words right out of my mouth. Chasity had not had it easy growing up under my Mom’s rules. She would have probably been better off with her grandfather assuming his house was not a bacterial breeding ground like his office.
I ve been here, said Chance, waving his hands to indicate he’d been in this messy room. “Running the Lucky Toad Casino!” He said with another grand hand gesture.
My eyes swept over the room, My eyes were likely the only things to Sweep the room in years. This place was uninhabitable.
He’s insane, concluded Alex. That s why he didn’t come to look for Chasity even though he was nearby.
Felix and I looked at Alex and nodded.
I’m not insane, Alex, said chance slowly as though responding to our private mind-link.
We recoiled a little, wondering if that was just a coincidence. Chance’s smile remained plastered on his face.
Its probably just a coincidence! l assured my brothers.
They both nodded marginally so as not to draw too much attention to our private exchanges.
No, it’s not, I can hear you loud and clear” admitted Chance, leaving us quite bemused.
Was he a wizard?
“How is that possible?” Demanded Felix.
“The witchcraft?” Inferred Alex. “From the group, you belong too?
“The Furina Ornata allows each of its members to tap into.. special skills…my special skill is being able to listen to any mind-link within a certain radius.I can’t explicitly read minds but l can sense the truth and a lie with perfect accuracy and I can listen in on private mind links,” said Chance, smiling.
That was astounding! l wondered if we could learn to listen to private mind-links. That would be a useful ability for Alphas to have.
I wondered if Chasity had any special gifts. My wolf immediately reminded me of just how special and sweet chasity was regardless.
We didn’t care if she was “gifted” per say. I pictured her smiling face pushed the image from my mind because the pain was too much. I had to basically pretend she wasn’t missing to get through the day or even just the hour for that matter.
Ok, congrats, back to Chasity, grumbled Felix dismissively.” You’re her grandfather how? Who’s Dad are you? Her Mom’s or her Dad’s?
I’m chalices father. chalice was Chasity’s Mom explained Chance, a sadness taking over his expression.
Was? Why was he talking about his own daughter as if she was already gone? Had he given up hope of her being found? I was never giving up hope where my Goddess Chasity was concerned.
“Was?” Asked Alex, picking up on the same thing, “So you know for sure Chasity’s parents are….no longer with us?”
“My daughter Chalice had her demons. she wasn’t perfect. The ,order of the Furina Ornata was trying to help her. The order helps people with a variety of things including addictions. she was never able to successfully detox. She kept falling back by the wayside. Her mate, chasity’s Dad had better luck detoxing with our order but Chalice’s relapses were his relapses since they usually did everything together Mates can be our saving grace or our Kryptonite, you know, “said Chance sadly.
He seemed to be holding back a deluge of emotions. He had not really answered the question regarding Chalice and Chance being alive or dead but it felt a bit harsh to push him. Luckily, harshness was Felix’s specialty.
“Ok, we already know her parents were drug addicts, pointed out Felix impatiently.
“Felix” hissed Alex, nudging him and giving him an indignant look.
Chance let out a humourless laugh.
You ‘re passionate about my granddaughter! I’m glad,” said Chance.
He still hadn’t accounted for anything. My wolf and I were anxious.
This doesn’t add up, I blurted out. Where have you been, Chance?chasity’s childhood s*cked and I ‘m sure you knew that if you knew her parents were drug addicts., Didn’t you wonder where Chasity was when her parents skipped town ? I asked incredulously.
“When my daughter ran off, leaving Chasity, I followed her, I was trying to track her down and bring her back. I tailed them for a while, ” revealed Chance.
This was it. A true lead regarding Chasity’s parents. He might know where they ended up after they fled town.
“And? Asked Felix eagerly.
Chance looked away from us, sorrow clouding his eyes.
“And..unfortunately when I finally caught up to them..they were… chance trailed off.
He seemed close to tears. He steadied himself with a deep shaky breath.
Please,I know it’s hard but please tell us Chance. it’s not too late for Chasity even if it was too late for her mother” sald Alex, gently, his eyes pleading with Chance.
Chance nodded. He seemed genuine in his desire to help Chasity. His eyes were still brimming with tears and his breathing was shaky. I patted him on the shoulder.
I found them finally.. I caught up to them in a motel miles and miles fronm here. I remember it so vividly because it was Christmas morning, “ confessed chance.
You know that song said chance suddenly, his eyes glazing over as if he was envisioning the scene all those years ago.
“Walking in a Winter Wonderland by Dean Martin. it’s an old Christmas song he continued.
I knew that song, I loved that song.
“Beautiful.chalice’s favourite, It’s so funny.. the synchronicity… “he said, trailing off again, chuckling sadly.
He spoke with his hands a lot and currently, his hands were trembling.
“I ….I was listening to that song on the radio…Walking in a Winter Wonderland…as I switched off the car and took the key out of the ignition but the song never stopped!” Revealed Chance.
Huh? My brothers and I looked at each other, bemused. Chance let out a nervous little laugh.
“The song was still playing on the same radio station but somewhere upstairs in the motel” Explained Chance. “Chalice!
Listening to the same Christmas song as her Dad on the same day at the same time on the same radio station!” Exclaimed Chance excitedly as tears streamed down his cheeks.
“That’s wonderful I said sincerely
Somehow l knew the story did not have a wonderful ending to match this heartwarming coincidence.
“So you followed the music?”I prompted.
“Right you are Calix, right you arel” Exclaimed Chance.
My brothers and I looked at each other in surprise. He could tell us apar! That wasn’t easy to do. Only our parents, exes, other pack leaders and of course our one and only Chasity could do that. We were mildly impressed.
“I followed the faint music. It grew steadily louder. There was an echo to it. The Marigold Motel not the hotel, the seedy motel. I went up the rickety side steps, Found one of the doors to the rooms left open. The music was coming from there. I walked in. The place was small and reasonably clean, nothing spectacular. Minimal Christmas decorations. I followed the Christmas Carol to the radio. I turned it off. I shouldn’t have turned it off: The music has been off ever since when I turned a corner, Chalice and her mate were sitting, staring at the table in the kitchenette. Eyes wide. Just staring, There were fang marks on their necks,” Chance said, lost in a trance and trembling slightly.
“Vampires?” Asked Felix, worry evident in his eyes.
“Snake bites. Furina Ornata. The venomous Moon Snake. The order has special snakes that are a thousand times more venomous than usual, revealed Chance.
So it was the order! it is something to do with the tattoo!” Insisted Alex.
Had we just solved the cold case?
No…not quite, said Chance.
We give snake bites on purpose. The venom makes us stronger when administered correctly and under supervision. Thats how I got my powers. They were seeking help to get stronger. To fight whoever was chasing them!” Explained Chance.
“But?” Prompted Felix, eager for the conclusion of the strange tale.
Chance gulped. He took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“But the Furina Qrnata mermber who had cone to administer the snake venom was dead on the ground too with a bite bark on the neck confessed chance.
1 held in a gasp.
“Someone had come upon them and interfered with the ritual. The person or people they were running from interrupted the venom ritual so they couldn’t take the antidote and finish it. They died with venom flooding their systems unchecked. The antidote is usually kept in a metal briefcase with our symbol on it. I found the briefcase on the floor open and the antidote missing. Someone took the antidote and ran of. We usually bring many vials of antidote. The person took all, about half a dozen and left. or people. The administrator of the venom, our member, she was dead on the ground near the empty briefcase with the snake still crawiing about”, explained chance very softly as though we might be overheard.
The tension in the room was palpable. I was devastated for my Chasity. Her own maternal grandfather had just confirmed the deaths of her parents and she wasn’t even here to process it for herself. Her parents had been doing whatever they could to get strong enough to fight their enemies and return to her but it had all gone wrong. Their enemies had come upon them mid ritual and made off with the antidote, leaving Chalice and chase to die by the very thing that was supposed to be their saving grace.
“So.. what did you do after that, Chance?”I asked gently.
I was gratelul that the was being so trarsparent vwith us. He had lost his daughter No wonder his office wan such a mess. He was probably depressed.
I called the police. They came with an ambulance. I sat there and looked at chalice staring at me sightlessly, She looked peaceful, hopeful, perhaps about the ritual. She herself had undertaken it successfully once before. We all did numerous times. The ambulance people couldn’t revive them. They were pronounced dead and so was the administrator. The people who were chasing them. I had no idea stlil who they were or where they went.I buried my daughter and her mate with my own money. I even included the administrator in the funeral, It was a quiet little funeral in Marigold, said Chance in hushed tones.
Marigold? Maze’s territory. When I got my Luna back, I would take her to her parents graves. It was not what we had been hoping for but the truth was always worth telling.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone? Snapped Felix, his blue eyes turning black.
I could understand his anger. Chasity had been in the dark all this time.
Chance looked affronted at Felix’s tone.
Who was the administrator? I asked instead, diverting Chance’s attention.
The administrator was Deidre Binx, Chalice’s friend, and a fellow order member who used the venom treatments for her skin and whatnot like a beauty regime. She wanted to be a model,” said Chance flippantly.
I felt a chill creep through me, My brothers were incomfortable too. Deidre Binx wasn’t dead so how could she be buried? Was this man a pathological liar? or was Deidre Binx some kind of wraith?
Was she a total imposter?
“Deidre Binx isn’t dead blurted out Felix. “she is a model, was.
She’s a retired supermodel. she’s in LA, still schmoozing and again why didn’t you tell anyone? Chasity? Our parents? You left her in the dark,” complained Felix, his voice cracking slightly.
We were all grieving but I knew Felix was taking this the hardest.
He blamed himself for letting Chasity out of his sight even if only for one minute when he let her use her downstairs bathroom. Chance looked flabbergasted. He truly hadn’t known that Deidre Binx had been walking runways for the past nine years. I looked around the room. Chance was probably a recluse.
The real Deidre Spinx is dead’ said Chance firmly. “I know that with a certainty. I don’t know who that woman that models and has her name and looks just like her is. She’s not Deidre Spinx. I was never able to catch her and talk to her. She eluded me for years and I grew tired. I don’t think she actually killed anyone. Just benefit from the death of Deidre. Took her spot in the modeling agency.
Doppelgangers? I really don’t know. It’s creepy but my focus was Chalice, I buried her, and I did tell your parents. Alpha Romeo and Luna Ronnie.”
I was going to be sick. A wave of nausea hit me. What? My parents knew Chasity’s parents were dead.
I begged them to bring her to the funeral,” continued Chance. I spoke with them on the phone. They hung up. They ignored my letters. I used to show up at the pack house after I got back from Marigold.
They got a restraining order against me. Look it’s there shouted Chance pointing to the wall.
My brothers and I looked up. if was there, Chance had frame the restraining order against him. Chance laughed humourlessly.
Your a*sho*e parents, he said with a shrug.
I caught calix’s face contorting in anger out of the corner of my eye. I was too in shock to be offended.
I sent toys and letters and things. Tried to get to see Chasity.
They kept returning them. They threatened me. Told me to stay away from Chasity. The Luna blamed me and my daughter for her step-brother’s death, revealed Chance.
He was dropping truth-bomb after truth-bomb on us. We scarcely had time to recover from any of them. Mom knew of Chase’s death and blamed it on Chance.
I ran my casino and figured when Chasity turned eighteen she’d do her own digging and come back to me, concluded Chance.
I became…depressed honestly.”
He wasn’t lying about that. It was plain as day. I began to feel sorry for him. Loneliness was a silent killer as far as I was concerned.
“This room it’s filled with stuff they returned. Stuff for Chasity,” said Chance, tears threatening to spill over from his eyes.
My younger brothers and I took another look around the room. My heart constricted painfully. I had thought the room was filled with random junk. Now,I could see many of the items were toys: dolls
teddy bears, and tiny figurines. There were also clothes that would suit a Little girl: frilly dresses and filly socks, hair bows, jewellery, and even small pairs of pastel–coloured shoes. I spotted a few bottles of perfume and antiques like a rocking horse and a little carousal–shaped music box. I realized what I had mistaken for old stacks of paperwork were letters and cards. I deciphered a few of chance’s scribbles: Grandpa misses you, I love you, Dear Chasity, To my one and only grand-baby, I m sorry, Hope to see you soon, I wish I could see you grow up, We’ll be together one day I promise, Merry Christmas, Happy birthday, Grandpa Loves you, Love always from Grandpa.
Calix was crying. Tears were sliding silently down his cheeks.
Felix actually sat dawn in one of the sticky chairs in front of Chance’s desk. I could see him doing his breathing exercises. He was angry. Furious.I was too. I had to confront Mom and Dad about this. If they had really done this, if they had kept Chasity and Chance apart for no good reason, then they were….they were monsters. They were villains. Another wave of nausea hit me. I felt disgusted and not because the room needed a serious decluttering followed by a generous spray of Lysol.
“Chance,I am so sorry for everything. I had no idea,” I said honestly.
I wanted Chance as an ally. if he truly loved Chasity, then we had a lot in common, Chance just nodded in response to my apology.
The gambling debt story was likely bullshit. Chalice’s father owned the casino. The enemies involved couldn’t be debt collectors or loan sharks, they were more nefarious than that, more sinister, and their motives, more mysterious. Chasity’s grandpa could not just wallow in this room. He needed to be instrumental in helping us find Chasity. I was almost completely convinced that the people who ruined the venom ritual nine years ago had something to do with Chasity’s disappearance.
“But I need you, Chance. We need you, Chasity needs you !” l said.
Chance straightened himself in his chair. He adjusted his blazer. This was a broken but talented werewolf. A gifted werewolf.
“Your ability to tell when people are lying! Your mind-linking reading! Those are amazing!” I said, building him up.
“Danny needs you! That’s our private investigator Team up with him, with us, please, for Chasity! I propositioned.
We could crack this case together. I just knew it. My brothers and I stared at Chance. Despite the anger coming off from Felix in waves and the sorrow emanating from Calix, I could also feel that they agreed with me. They wanted Chance on our side. Chance’s silence was making us all a bit anxious. He looked as though he hadn’t left this room except maybe to buy the gifts that cluttered it. Would he be bold enough to join our investigation?