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The young uniformed officer did a double take when he saw the brightly painted van pull up in the parking lot, almost choking on the bite of hamburger he’d just taken. He’d gone to the diner for lunch along with the rest of the station, and it had just been another boring day until he’d looked out the window. He frantically motioned the others to come see. “We maybe should take a look at this,” he called out. “They could be drug dealers, or even if they aren’t they’re probably some kind of hippies and they’ve most likely got drugs inside. Nobody but a druggie’d drive a thing like that.”

The sheriff ambled over so he could look out at the alleged druggie-mobile, and then he swore softly. “I don’t believe it.” He shook himself. “No, those aren’t drug dealers – and I’d better never find out you all have been harassing people passing through just because you thought they looked like ‘hippies’.” He straightened. “You boys stay away from those people,” he instructed his open-mouthed (and one or two guilty-looking) men. “I know what they are. I wish to hell they weren’t here…but if they are, it must be bad.” Nobody understood, and he sighed explosively. “Just leave them the hell alone unless they ask you for police assistance, got it? Think of them like feds.”

“Feds?” They all looked back out. The occupants of the van had gotten out: a tiny, pretty blonde woman; a slightly taller, younger brunette; and then around the side of the van came the driver, a dark-haired man of average height with a black eyepatch covering one eye and what looked like a very large dog ambling along behind him. One officer let loose an expletive. “That ain’t no dog, that there’s a wolf. It’s not legal to…”

“Considering I’ve heard that animal goes everywhere with them, it must be legal some way or another,” the sheriff corrected a touch more sharply. “If you boys are all so bored, I can definitely find some things around the office for you to do. I don’t see why we need to pay Mrs. Milligan to clean the place up if you’ve all got so little to do that you’re jumping on every little thing you can come up with for the excuse to harass a bunch of strangers who just rolled into town.” He stared them all down, and then, satisfied for the moment, made a peremptory gesture. “Finish your meals, have some dessert. I’m going to go have a word with our visitors. Mary!” he called back toward the counter. “I’ll be needing mine to go! I’ll be back in for it in a minute.”

“Sure thing, Dave,” she agreed. She gave her own version of the gimlet eye to the other police officers, and they all slunk back to their previous positions.

Dave walked out to the van, approaching its occupants who were still standing there discussing something. “I had heard about you all,” he called over. “But hearing about it sure don’t beat seeing the real thing. I’m Sheriff Franklin, anything I can help you all with?”

“You know who we are?” the man with the eyepatch asked.

“Only by reputation.”

The man smiled. He was somewhere in his early thirties. He stuck out his hand, which the sheriff took. “Xander Harris. This is Buffy Summers and her sister Dawn. And if you’ve heard of us…well, you probably have a good idea of why we might be out here, Sheriff.” He made a face. “I don’t think you want the details. But we’ll let you know if anything comes up that might be of interest to you, although we’ll do our best to keep you and your men out of it otherwise.”

“Appreciate that,” Dave said, meaning it. He grinned, although it was half a grimace. “Never thought I’d see the Scoobies out here. Your business wouldn’t happen to be with Old Man Richards up on the hill, would it?”

“You know something?” the little blonde Summers, Buffy, wanted to know.

He shrugged. “He was always a little funny, kept to himself – not that that’s a crime. But lately, the past month or so, he hasn’t left that house at all near as anyone can tell. I even went up there once, someone called about it so I was making sure he hadn’t done himself in or something, but he opened the front door a crack and told me to go away. House was all dark, windows were all covered with thick white curtains.” He shrugged. “I didn’t like it, I could tell something wasn’t right, but it was him talking even if he sounded sort of hoarse so I didn’t have any reason to go in there to check it out.”

Harris was nodding. “That lack of probable cause probably saved your life, Sheriff,” he said solemnly. “That is what we’re up here to check out, yes. And if it’s what we think…you’re damned lucky he didn’t come out when you went up there, really damned lucky.” He pointed. “Straight up this road, five miles, then a right?”

“Yep.” They all made to get back into the van, and he called after them, “I’d really like to know what’s going on up there.” They all turned to look at him. “Really. I would. ”

Harris nodded again. “Okay,” he said simply. “Once we’ve got everything taken care of, I’ll bring you in – not before then, though, it wouldn’t be safe for us or you. But you have my word that I’ll bring you in once it’s safe to do so.”

“Be seeing you later, then. Good hunting.”

“Thanks, appreciate it.” The flash of a smile, and then the painted van was heading off up the road toward Old Man Richards’ house. Dave watched it go and then walked back inside, shaking his head. “It could be bad,” he told the staring young officers. “You boys stick close to town until I say otherwise, I don’t want you anywhere around what those people are out here to handle.”


The next morning, a helicopter set down in the space marked out for one beside the police station, the one that was supposed to be used for emergency medical flights. Dave walked out to meet it, hanging back until the ‘copter’s blades had stopped spinning and the occupants had gotten out. He nodded to the pilot. “Got hot coffee in the station, make yourself at home,” he told him. “One of the boys can take you down to the local greasy spoon if you’re hungry.” The pilot thanked him and went inside, and Dave held out his hand to the slightly heavyset older man who the pilot had brought to them. “Mr. Grissom, I’m Sheriff Franklin. I understand time is of the essence?”

“It is,” Grissom agreed, returning the handshake. “I need to get up to the site as quickly as possible, if that’s possible.”

Dave nodded. “I’m takin’ you up there myself. If you don’t need a pit stop, we can leave this minute.”

Grissom smiled at him, shaking his head. “I’m good, thanks for asking.” He raised a silvering eyebrow. “You know about what’s going on, Sheriff?”

“No, but I’m sure I’ll find out when we get there,” Dave told him. “I told them I wanted to know, Harris said okay.”

The other man nodded his acceptance of that. “If you’re sure, then I’ve got no problem with it. But I should probably tell you, they didn’t call me in just for my forensic expertise. My specialty is insects.”

Dave shrugged and waved him along towards the official car he had waiting. “We have them, just like everybody does.”

“I certainly hope you only had the one of this particular arachnid,” Grissom returned. He got into the car and pulled some blown-up photographs out of the case he was carrying. “They told me you reported that the house’s windows were all covered with thick white curtains?”

“I did and they were.” Dave took the pictures, thumbing through them, and then shuddered when he reached the last one. “Well damn. No wonder they said I was lucky he didn’t come out that day I went up there.” He started the car and headed up to Old Man Richards’ place. “No, so far as I know we don’t have any more like that running around. Biggest spider I’ve ever seen – and I’ve lived here all my life – was the size of a silver dollar.”

“Black widow?”

“Grass spider. Big striped bastard.”

Grissom chuckled. “If it was that big, it was probably a big striped bitch instead,” he observed. “The males are usually smaller.”

Dave laughed. He could like this guy. “Good one.”

Five miles up the highway, he turned off onto a badly-graded dirt and gravel road and wound up the hill with it, avoiding ruts that could hurt his tires. He pulled up beside the brightly painted van and they both got out, and almost immediately the Scoobies’ wolf came bouncing over to jump up on Grissom, who rubbed its ears fondly and fended off the tongue that was trying to lick his face. “Good to see you too, Oz, but I don’t want a kiss,” he laughed, and the wolf dropped back to all fours and pouted at him. “I know. If there’s time, we’ll play later. Take us to Xander?” The wolf looked from him to the sheriff and back, and Grissom nodded. “Yes, he’s coming too, it’s all right.” The wolf huffed and then bounded off towards the west side of the house, stopping every once and a while to make sure the two men were following him. “I’ve met Oz before,” the forensic specialist said. “He’s a half-breed, by the way, not a pure wolf, even though he does look the part. He’s highly intelligent and very well-trained, but he’ll still probably mark your tires before we leave.”

“I need to get the car washed anyway,” Dave told him, shrugging. “Not like every dog everywhere I go doesn’t get that same idea.” He paused by a window, frowning at the thick white covering. “Well damn, I can see it now.”

“It’s probably a good thing you didn’t see it then, something bad might have happened,” Harris said, stepping out of the door up ahead of them, the wolf at his heels. “Grissom,” he greeted, holding out a hand…which he then used to pull the other man into a brief, back-slapping hug. “Good to see you, man. How’s Sarah?”

“She’s good,” Grissom told him. “She’s still in Vegas. I asked, but she didn’t want in on this one.”

Harris shrugged. “Can’t say I blame her, after the last time.” He nodded to Dave. “Sheriff, if you’re sure, just follow us inside – but don’t touch the white stuff if you can help it. It’s really hard to get out of your clothes and hair, and it might irritate your skin. You have gloves?”

“I’ve got spares,” Grissom said, pulling a pair out of his bag and handing them over. He put another pair on himself, and then a second pair over that. “Did you find anything else after we talked?”

“We’re going to have to burn the house,” Harris said. “If it wasn’t absolutely necessary for you to document this and take samples, I’d have torched the place already.” Grissom raised an eyebrow, and he shook his head. “They’re in the crawlspaces, up under the eaves. One big one in the attic. You might want to take a look at that first, I’ll show the sheriff the basement and then we can all meet back up at the body.” Grissom nodded his agreement to that and they stepped into the house, Harris picking up a battery-powered lantern to lead the way with.

They’d come in through the kitchen, and except for the webbing covering the windows it didn’t look much different than Dave might have expected a reclusive old man’s kitchen to look. He pulled his own flashlight off his belt and turned it on. The dishes piled in the sink and on the counter were overlaid with a coating of dust, the cabinets sagging on the wall…and then Harris pulled open one of the cabinet doors and displayed the white-wrapped bundles on the shelves, a paw or a tail sticking out here and there. “I’m guessing this was right after it happened,” he said. “The web job was sloppy because he was still getting the hang of it, and the part of his mind that was still human knew that food goes in the cupboard so he moved the dishes and everything else out so he could put them there.” Grissom snapped some pictures with the digital camera he had with him, and Harris closed the cabinet door again. “There are a few rabbits and mice, but it’s mostly squirrels.”

“I remember he didn’t much care for them,” Dave said. “Said they ate all his pecans.”

“Well, he got his revenge, I guess.” Harris gestured to the refrigerator. “He didn’t use that, I guess he didn’t like them cold. But once he got more used to what he was, he stopped using the kitchen. Watch the doorway, I cut down the webbing that he’d blocked it off with but it’s still sticky.”

Grissom paused in the doorway to take a sample, and then they were ducking past hacked-through tatters of webbing into the house’s living room. This room was mostly webbed over, even the furniture was wrapped. Everything except the television, that was. Grissom gave Harris a surprised look. “He was watching television?”

“It was on when we came in,” the younger man told him with a shrug. “And we could tell he’d been using the remote to change channels, too – it’s over there by what I’m guessing was his favorite chair. It’s sticky but not wrapped.”

“Which is notable since I can see that he even wrapped the coasters and the knickknacks,” Grissom said, taking more pictures. “Are the other rooms the same?”

“He even wrapped the lightbulbs and the clothes in the closets,” was the reply. “Dawnie!” he called. “Grissom is here!”

The younger, dark-haired Summers girl came hurrying down the stairs a moment later – and ran right to Grissom, giving him a hug. “No Sarah?”

“She didn’t want to see this one.”

The girl pulled back. “I can’t blame her, it’s gross,” she said. “Artsy in a creepy way, but still gross. I’ve been keeping watch on the egg sacks, come on, I’ll show you.”

“We’ll be up as soon as I’ve shown Sheriff Franklin the basement,” Harris called after them. He turned back to Dave with a frown. “I’ll warn you ahead of time, the basement is…really bad,” he said quietly. “Some of them are pretty fresh, some are even still twitching. Just don’t touch any of them and try to remember that they’re all long past the point where they can be saved, okay?”

Dave nodded, and Harris led him to a door under the stairs. The walls on either side of the steep stairs were narrow and sticky, he could feel them tugging at the sleeves of his uniform jacket. The lantern Harris carried lit up web-strewn concrete block walls at the bottom of the stairs once Dave was down far enough to see it. But then he got to the bottom and looked into the basement proper…

…and felt his blood turn to ice, even though he’d mostly had an idea of what he was going to see. The entire basement was covered with webbing, a white cave with bulky stalactites hanging from its ceiling and stuck to its walls. Some were obviously dogs, maybe coyotes, the horns on one identified it as a goat…but the ones hanging from the ceiling couldn’t be anything but human. And Harris had been right, a few of the wrapped bundles were twitching.

Harris stopped his move to go farther in. “You can’t help them,” he reminded quietly. “We did try, see?” He gestured with the lantern to a place where tatters drifting on the air marked that something had been torn from the ceiling. “Let’s just say we found out the hard way why that scene from The Hobbit where Bilbo rescued the dwarves from the spiders couldn’t ever happen. When you try to cut a victim out of a web cocoon the results…aren’t pretty.”

Dave considered that, and the sickened tone in the younger man’s voice, without taking his eyes off the twitching victims dangling like so much meaty fruit from the ceiling of their web prison. He knew what the Scoobies were, he knew in a general sense what they did for a living. He’d heard about the kind of carnage some vampires and demons could cause. If Harris sounded sickened by the results of trying to free one of the victims, then it must have been really bad. He stopped pulling against the other man’s hold, and felt that hold relax. “Okay,” he said, and looked Harris in the eye. He patted his gun. “I’m a damn good shot. Should I…?”

Harris nodded. “Yeah. They’re not suffering, but I wasn’t going to burn them without…making sure myself, anyway. It’ll be more official if you do it. Head shots only, it’s the only way to be sure.”

“Sure is definitely something I want to be,” Dave told him, and unholstered his gun, walking out into the white cave. Five bullets later, he walked back out and the two of them went back up the stairs into the living room, then went up the stairs to the second floor. Harris showed him the bedrooms, which really were ‘artsy in a creepy way’ just like the youngest Summers girl had said. Everything was wrapped, down to the pillows on the beds and yes, the lightbulbs in the fixtures. One room had a quilt that had been wrapped in a quilt pattern, even to having polka dots and stylized flowers in some areas. “That’s unbelievable.”

“I’d never seen anything quite like it either,” Harris admitted. “Dawn was right, it is beautiful in a creepy, deadly way. We’re not sure if the guy did this because he was bored, or if in some way he was trying to make all of the things that were important to him fit into his new life better.”

Dave stepped backwards out of the room. “Where is he?”

“The attic. He retreated up there to guard his eggs, so that’s where we ended him.” Harris steered him to a pull-down ladder staircase that had been denuded of webbing but still glistened stickily in places. This time Harris gestured him to go up first and Dave did, hearing the voices of Grissom and Dawn coming from the room above.

The attic, like the basement, had been transformed into a sticky snow-white cave. In the center of that cave lay the body of a spider almost twice as large as a man, one hacked-off leg lying nearby silently illustrating how much larger than that the thing would have been when standing. Right now it was lying on its side, remaining legs curled up tight to its body, its head some little distance away. He saw something pinkish on the head and walked over to investigate, shining his flashlight on the still vaguely recognizable remains of the old man’s face that were grotesquely embedded in the coarse black ‘hair’ of the spider. The pink thing he’d seen had been an ear, sticking out low down near one compound semi-human eye. The eye was staring at him and after a moment he turned away. “How long did it take for this to happen, and how the hell did it happen?” he wanted to know. “And can it happen again?”

“Less than a week, we’re not sure but we think someone made a wish, and yes but it’s not likely to,” the Summers girl said. “Vengeance demons don’t like to repeat themselves.”


“Someone got mad at him and made a very bad wish,” Harris clarified. “They call themselves justice demons, but what they deal in is vengeance, not justice.” He waved a hand at the corpse. “There’s nothing just about this, no matter how much of a jerk the guy may have been before.”

“I’d look for a family member who’d been in contact with him at some point during the past year, maybe someone who’d made contact with him more than once during a short period of time,” came from Grissom. “Check his phone records, maybe see if the local post office has a record of any certified or insured mail coming to this address. Money is probably involved – either someone wanted some and the victim wouldn’t give in, or there’s a matter of inheritance involved.” He frowned. “Come to think of it, you might check to see if any family members were supposed to come visit the victim any time soon. This,” he waved a hand at the spider,” would have been an ideal way to get rid of any other possible claimants to the victim’s estate.”

“I don’t doubt this land could be worth quite a bit, yeah,” Dave said, thinking that over. “We had developers sniffing around last year. Most people wouldn’t talk to them, though. And I know for a fact that this guy,” he gestured at the spider, “sent them away with a flea in their ear, said his property was all going to his daughter and her family when he passed on. You think maybe…”

“It wouldn’t have been the developers,” came from Harris. “It has to be personal to call up a vengeance demon.” He waved at the bulging egg sac that was taking up half of the back of the attic. “What’s the verdict on that?”

“The sooner we burn the house the better,” Grissom told him grimly. “I took a few samples – they definitely aren’t normal spiders, and not just because of the size. I’d estimate there are several thousand of them, and judging by their development they look ready to hatch any day now. They need to be completely destroyed before that starts to happen.”

“We don’t dare risk missing any,” Harris agreed. “If you’re finished getting what you need, I’ll get things ready to burn – starting up here, I want to make damned sure that these eggs burn first.”

“I’m done,” Grissom said. “I’d love to have the body for further study, but the samples I took will have to do.”

“Dawn, go wake Buffy and move the van back to a safe distance,” Harris told the girl. “And I’ll need some good accelerant.”

She appeared to think about it, and then two containers that looked like gas cans appeared in front of him. “Jet fuel.”

“Works, but safe distance just got a lot further back,” he warned. “Okay, everyone out. I’ll do a little watering up here, then down in the basement, and then I’ll come out and light her up. Grissom, will we have to worry about fumes?”

The older man frowned. “Normally no, but with this much webbing it’s possible. As long as we’re upwind we should be fine.”

“Wind is from the south today,” Dave confirmed. “We should be fine on the road. And we’ve had a few good rains lately, so we don’t have to worry about it kicking off a wildfire or anything.” He dutifully followed Grissom and the Summers girl down the folding attic stairs and then down the house stairs and this time out the front door. He moved his car back down the road with the van and then got back out when the Summers girls got back out of their van. Their wolf was whining up at the house. “He’ll be fine, Oz” Buffy reassured the animal. “He’ll be out in a second, I’m sure he’ll light it from the front porch.”

“A good idea, since dry web can be highly flammable,” came from Grissom.

It seemed like a long time before Harris finally came out, and when he did he was carrying what looked like a plastic sack in one hand and one of the gas cans in the other. He poured some fuel across the doorway, then onto the porch. Moving off the porch, he pulled something out of his pocket – it looked too big to be a lighter – and then tossed the something onto the porch where it immediately started to burn. He started backing away from the house then, backing toward the road and the vehicles. The blonde hurried up the road to meet him, the wolf going with her, and she had a quick conversation with Harris that ended with her taking his arm and walking back to the van with him. “The demon that did it showed up,” he explained. “I got him to give me the personal effects of the victims.” He handed the sack to Dave. “Bad news is, most of them were family who’d already come to visit, they were called and asked to come check on the old guy. And the other one was a police officer who was investigating their disappearance.”

There was a whooshing sort of noise from the house and it started burning in earnest, flames licking against the glass of the windows before breaking them and licking up the dry, peeling wooden siding. And that moment of distraction was when Harris tackled Dave and pinned him to the ground. “You did come up here to check on him, but I’m betting you came up with a shotgun and didn’t go anywhere near the front door,” the younger man said conversationally. “Once we saw him, we knew there was no way he spoke to you.”

“The mandibles in his mouth and the complete restructuring of his throat would have prevented that, yes,” Grissom put in. “There’s no way he talked to you. And some of the webs were old and dry, at least two to three months old from what I could tell.”

“So you lied, Sheriff.” Harris rolled off of him and Buffy yanked him up off the ground with one hand, pulling his hands behind his back and letting Grissom cuff him. Dawn was picking up the sack of personal effects and tucking it into the van. “I’m guessing you’re some kind of relative. A cousin, maybe? Once or twice removed? And thinking about your retirement, and how nice would it be if you could just get the hell out of Dodge and go someplace nice, do all those things rich people do on TV. And he was just a tightfisted old coot who would not die, wasn’t he? Like a shriveled-up old spider, and this place was his web.”

Dave rolled his eyes. “Not like I knew who that woman was, or what she was up to. She just plopped down next to me at the bar one night when I said I said he was like a dried-up old spider up in that house, asked me if I wished that were really the case.” He sneered. “Of course I did! The old bastard stole that land from my dad back when the mill closed and we couldn’t make the mortgage. Said Dad could buy it back from him when things got better, same price he paid for it because they were family and all. Said the same to some of the others, too, and just bought it all up…and then he was gonna leave it all to his slut of a daughter and that shiftless no-good she got hitched to. It was mine! Dad left it to me on his deathbed!”

“Yeah, the deathbed he was in because he drank himself to death,” Harris said. He even sounded sorry about it, too. “Your dad couldn’t ever buy it back because he started drinking up all the money, right? You were the son of the town drunk.”

“I was.” Dave drew himself up to his full height. “Now I’m the sheriff.”

Harris shook his head. “No, not anymore, you aren’t. Murderers don’t get to be sheriff. Because you not only supplied the wish that turned him into a monster…you called his daughter last month and told her they needed to come check on him, that you thought he was going funny in the head.” He smiled thinly at the older man’s shock. “You think her husband didn’t tell anyone they were coming up here before they left home? His brother works with Alzheimer’s patients, he wanted advice just in case the old man really was losing it. So when they didn’t come back, and when the one time the brother got a call through it was full of weird hissing and the sound of a TV in the background, he called the police. Who called you and got nothing even after one of the two State Patrol guys they sent by to check it out didn’t come back either, but the other guy got away and made a report and then someone there who knew what was what got hold of a friend who got hold of the Council.”

“And they sent us,” Buffy said. “Oh, and we told the guy’s brother, apparently he got pissed and called for vengeance on whoever started the whole thing. Same demon took the call, even. So expect to be implicated in all of these murders and probably in a string of other crimes too.”

Dave just looked at her. “It doesn’t work that way, missy, and your friend Grissom here knows it even if you don’t. They’d need evidence to convict me of anything, and there isn’t any – no one even heard what I said to that bitch at the bar, and you just burned the house.”

“Oh, there will be plenty of evidence, don’t you worry,” Harris told him. “I got you to leave one of your bullets in each of their skulls, didn’t I? Those won’t burn. And a federal agent is dropping paperwork off at your station right about now – this particular demon gets a kick out of dressing up, and he said that’s where he was heading after he got done talking to me. You’ll never be able to prove you didn’t do all of it, vengeance demons are really thorough.”

“If this is going to look federal, we’ll need an agent to hand him into custody,” Grissom observed. “Oz, is it you and me again?”

The wolf-dog huffed, then shook itself and stood up on its hind legs, losing most of its fur in the process although not getting all that much taller. The resulting man had a lot of tattoos patterned across his pale skin, all of which was visible since he was also completely naked. This did not seem to bother anyone but Dave. “Fed suit’s in the van, give me five to get dressed,” the man said, running a hand through his reddish-brown hair. “Sunglasses still in the glove compartment, Xan?”

“Clipped to the driver’s side visor,” Xander told him. “Take the sheriff’s car down with Grissom, we’ll follow and pick you up once I’m sure none of those eggs are going to pop like popcorn from the heat and spit out a baby mutant spider into the woods up here.”

“Yeah, last thing we need,” Oz agreed, clapping him on the arm as he went past on his way to the van.

Dave let Xander and Buffy put him into the back of his car and secure him there, not even thinking about trying to escape – he knew he’d be free the minute they all left the station, his boys wouldn’t leave him locked up. Grissom had a few more words with Xander and then climbed back into the passenger seat, and a few minutes later the wolf-man got out of the van looking exactly like a Fed and took the driver’s seat, backing the police car out and getting it onto the highway again. Dave didn’t waste any words on them, instead planning out what he was going to say, and to who, planning out how he would let people know that he’d been set up…but the closer they got to town, the less sure he became about some of the details of his own story. An old man turned into giant mutated spider, small animals wrapped in the house’s cupboards, bodies hanging in the basement like flies dangling in a spider’s web, cross-dressing demons in bars, a wolf-dog turning into a man and then dressing up like a Fed…none of it sounded real, not even to him. Not to mention, he was starting to think he remembered going up to Old Man Richards’ house with his gun one day while the man’s daughter and her family had been visiting, and then dragging all of the bodies down into the basement…yeah, that was what had actually happened, right? Dave was pretty sure it was, and that he’d just been waiting to burn the house until they’d got enough rain so a fast-spreading wildfire wouldn’t threaten his town. Now, though, he was caught and he knew who was to blame. “I’d have gotten away with it,” he muttered to himself, scowling at the idea that he’d let that van full of hippies go when his men had wanted to detain them – that van full of hippies who had stopped at the old man’s house to ask if they could camp on his property, had noticed the smell and found the bodies and called the authorities. “I’d have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.”

If Dave had been looking at the two men in the front seat just then, he might have seen them share a grim, satisfied smile.