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Cold Feet

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Coreen felt awkward just standing in the hallway. It felt to her like she was lurking, which, technically, she was. But in her defense, Coreen had a reason to be in the tastefully decorated common space outside Henry’s apartment- A very good reason.  An exhausted and annoyed sounding Vicki had called the office about 25 minutes ago and asked the perky assistant to meet her and Henry there with Vicki’s ‘emergency’ bag. So, ever faithful, she pulled on her coat and boots to trudge through the snow to Henry’s condo with the all important duffel bag. Seen in that light, Coreen wasn’t lurking at all. She was “loitering with intent”.

                The elevator’s arrival was announced by a cheerful “Ping”, sending Coreen’s hands flying to her pigtails, ensuring they were sufficiently fluffy. Any moment now, her boss and her delicious night-walking friend would appear around the corner.

                “Mike?”

                Surprised, officer Celluci looked up from dusting the last of the snow from his coat. “Coreen! What are you doing here? Is everything okay? Is Vicki alright?”

                The young gothette sighed her disappointment. “Vicki’s fine. I just spoke to her. She and Henry will be here any minute.” Resigning herself to disappointing volume, she gave her hair a final pat before realizing, “Hey, why are you here?”

                “I have an address for a reluctant eye-witness to her runaway bride case. She didn’t pick up at home and her cell-“ Mike was interrupted by the “Ping” of the second elevator car opening onto the floor.

                “-not what I said.” “It was fine! I told you to let me handle it!” “Well, as you can see, Hroghknak demons aren’t fond of being ‘handled.’”

                It was then that the two bickering, cold-looking warriors came into view. Henry carried a broadsword that was stained with a dripping, viscous, faintly yellow, translucent goo. Both he and Vicki were spattered with the substance, though it appeared that the headstrong PI had received a much more generous serving. Sparing a strained smile for Coreen, Henry moved between her and the silently agape detective in order to open his front door.

                Regaining her bearings, Coreen’s questions broke through her lips at their usual breakneck pace, “Oh my GOD you guys. What the hell happened? Did you find Beth? Is she okay?  Was the Hroghknak holding her prisoner for the mating ritual?” Too tired to acknowledge her assistant’s wordy avalanche, Vicki kept stomping snow from her boots and looking longingly at the small duffel bag at Coreen’s feet.

                “Wait. A What? What do demons have to do with…? Wait- Beth Gibson? The runaway bride case you asked me to look into? Nooooo…” pinching the bridge of his nose and letting his head fall back in frustration, Mike tried very hard not to whine in front of the now smirking Tudor prince. “When did this case turn into one of ‘those cases?’?”

                Door open, Henry graciously motioned for the three humans to enter. He earned a glare when he responded, “It was already one of ‘those cases’, as you put it, before Beth’s fiancé even entered Vicki’s office, Detective. You weren’t informed, most likely, because she required someone who knew what they were doing” Henry strode towards the kitchen, stopping when Vicki held out her goop encased cell phone,  to deposit  it and his blade in the sink for later cleaning.

                “Henry…” Vicki said warningly.

                Re-entering the living room with a roll of paper towels for his demon slime sprayed partner he announced, “Now, if you’ll excuse me I will take a quick shower. Please make yourselves comfortable.” He added, to Vicki, “Feel free to use the shower as soon as I’m done. I won’t be a moment.” Vicki gratefully took the paper towels and began wiping the excess demon spatter from her hands and face.

                “Doesn’t anyone just get cold feet anymore?” the still bristled Mike called after their vampiric host. 

                Once her glasses were mostly free of the stubborn demon gunk, she could not ignore the inquisitive stares any longer. Since Coreen’s puppy dog eyes were painfully pleading for details, Vicki gave in with a wry smile, “The good news is we found Beth. And she was not being held prisoner for the mating ritual.”

                “That’s great! Matthew will be so relieved to have her back!” Coreen beamed.

                Mike was more skeptical though, knowing by his old partner’s expression that there was more to the story, “Vic, what happened tonight?”

                Crouching down to open the ‘emergency’ duffel bag Coreen brought, Vicki considered her answer, rifling through the bag’s contents with her now, relatively, clean hands. Picking out a pair of comfy jeans, she started to chuckle to herself. This had been one of their weirder mysteries. “That dried, crusty yellow stuff we found traces of caked in Beth’s car? Mohadevan said it was some sort of mucous, though-“

                “Not like any she’d seen.” Mike chimed in, smiling.

                “Definitely not like any she’d seen.” Vicki smiled back. “It contained a mild paralytic substance, almost like a poison, but there wasn’t enough of it in the mixture to have an effect on much of anything. Not anything bigger than a small dog, at least, which is why Henry and I were able to make it back without any help” She let loose a little triumphant cry, finding a clean long sleeved tee buried at the bottom of the bag.

                “That’s so weird,” Coreen mused. “Are we sure it was a Hroghknak? None of the books mentioned mucous at all.” Turning to Mike, who looked utterly lost, Coreen continued, “They have a human form that they use to lure mates because they need human eggs to reproduce. The texts say they paralyze their human victims with ‘shared breath’-which sounds pretty vague. I mostly figure they, like, breathe into their mouths or something. The human mates aren’t even harmed or anything. They all survive the mating and birth, though most have little or no actual memory of it.” Coreen explained.

                “Beth Gibson weighs 135 pounds. If there wasn’t enough poison to paralyze an adult woman,’ Mike reasoned “Then how did the Heh...roo- whatever- get Beth to come with it?”

                “Huh-ROEK-nak” Coreen helpfully supplied.

                “She was the Hroghknak” said Henry, newly clean and buttoning a fresh shirt in his bedroom doorway.

                “No WAY!” Coreen squealed in excitement.

                Henry smilingly perched himself on the arm of the couch and conspiratorially whispered “Way” to his young friend. “I’d never seen or heard of a female Hroghknak. They originated in the South of Spain and usually prefer warm climates. I’ve never heard of one this far North. They were largely assumed to all be male.” He continued “And, Detective Celluci, she didn’t get cold feet as her fiancé assumed. Beth fully intends to marry young Matthew. She seems to really love him. She just needed time to prepare the ritual space for her honeymoon.”

                Having located the rest of her clothes and toiletries in her duffel, Vicki stood and took a step towards Henry’s bedroom, looking forward to being gunk free again.

                “Ok, so Beth turns out to be the demon you thought abducted her” Mike stated, trying to make it sound less bizarre and failing. “But what I don’t understand-“

                “…could keep us here until the Second Coming?” Henry interrupted, grinning innocently. Vicki rolled her eyes.

                “What doesn’t make sense” Mike begrudgingly corrected himself, “is the mucous. Why cover an attacker in demon snot if it doesn’t actually do anything besides mess up His Grace’s precious hairdo?”

                Turning back to the two men who had now been reduced to open taunting, Vicki sighed, “She wasn’t trying to paralyze us. She sneezed.”

                Finally grasping what must have happened; Coreen felt sympathy for the lovesick demon, “Poor thing! Beth has a cold.”