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by Wes Leigh

Chapter 21

If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.

-- From 1984, by George Orwell

Regina couldn't quite believe it. There, in front of all the other kids, Donny McCoy was kneeling in the grass, asking her to be his date for the upcoming school dance. He was clowning around, as usual, but he was serious about his proposal. The other kids were watching, most of them snickering. Donny wriggled his eyebrows and asked, "Well? Will you be my date?"

Regina rolled her eyes. The big, goofy lug was putting her in quite a spot, asking her in public like this, but… what the hell? He was damned sexy. She nodded.

Donny whooped and jumped to his feet, grabbing her in a hug, lifting her off her feet, and spinning around in a circle. When he finally put her back on the ground, she noticed Xavier walking quickly toward them.

"What's going on here, Regina?" Xavier demanded.

Regina blushed and replied, "Donny asked me to the Fall dance."

"You said, 'No,' of course?" Xavier's eyes flashed angrily.

Regina frowned. "No… I accepted. Why wouldn't I?"

Xavier grabbed Regina's elbow and pulled her away from Donny, leading her off to one side. He whispered rapidly in her ear. "We have High Council representatives coming in a week to check up on us. They're expecting to see things returning back to the way they were under Minerva. And you're accepting a lycan's invitation to a school dance?" The last question, Xavier hissed out. His anger had been building and he was furious now. "How can you undermine me like this, Regina? You're my second-in-command!"

Regina pulled away from Xavier and straightened her shoulders. "I don't know what the problem is, Xavier. It's only a dance. And you certainly won't take me!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Xavier demanded.

"You know what it means!" Regina snapped. "Connor and Daniel will probably go with you. That's perfectly acceptable, I guess. But I can't go with Donny? No, that would make you look bad!"

Connor and Daniel walked over and stood a few feet away.

Connor looked from Donny to Regina and asked, "What's going on, Donny, m'boy?"

Donny narrowed his eyes and snarled, "Xavier doesn't want Regina to be m'date for the dance. Don't know what the fuck has gotten into him."

Xavier turned and glared at them. "Maybe all that's gotten into me is a bit of common sense. I'm doing what's best for Regina and the rest of my charges. Perhaps you should do the same, Connor."

Connor growled, "Don't tell me how to run m'pack, Xavier. I don't need your advice."

"You need someone's advice," Xavier snapped.

"And what exactly are you sayin'?" Connor asked, his voice low and menacing.

"You're the alpha. Figure it out!"

"Hey… guys… hold on a minute," Daniel said, stepping in between the two. "This is getting out of hand. Come on. Seriously."

Xavier shook his head. "Look, Daniel. As much as I appreciate your attempts at diplomacy, this really isn't your affair. I have my own problems to deal with as Executor over my Covenant, and I don't need you butting in."

Connor grunted. "As much as I hate to say it, I agree with Xavier on this one. You really have no idea what it's like to be a pack leader, Daniel, so this one time… keep your nose out of it."

"And do what?" Daniel asked. "Let you two tear up the town again. What's next? A return to the good old days when you guys were trying to rip out each other's throats?"

Xavier sneered. "Enough of the sarcasm, Daniel. Now you're the one blowing it out of proportion."

Connor laughed. "I don't know, Xavier. There's something exciting about the thought of ripping out your throat." Connor's eyes gleamed as he said that. He grinned evilly and added, "M'dad will certainly be glad to hear I'm comin' around to his way of thinkin'."

Xavier tilted his head slightly, then gave Connor a smile in return. "Say the word, lycan, and it can be arranged."

"STOP IT!" Daniel screamed. "BOTH OF YOU!"

Connor and Xavier turned to stare at Daniel. The rest of the kids stood there, shocked at what they were hearing.

Connor growled low in his throat and asked, "And if we don't?"

Daniel lost it. "FINE! Kill each other. I don't give a fuck! Why the hell don't we just tell the whole fucking world what's going on here. Hey, everybody. Look at us. Agony is a severely fucked up town. The vampires and werewolves are doing their best to kill each other, and NO ONE GIVES A FUCK!"

Xavier took a single step toward Daniel. "That's enough, Daniel. You need to shut up now."

Daniel stepped back. "No, Xavier. I don't think so. I think what I need to do is tell everyone about your dark, little secret. In fact, either you guys cut this shit out right now, or that's exactly what I'll do."

Connor squinted at Daniel. "You wouldn't."

"Oh, I would," Daniel replied. "Try me."

Xavier took Regina by the elbow and pulled her toward the parking lot. As they walked rapidly away, Xavier looked back over his shoulder. "Keep your mouth shut, Anderson. Or you'll regret it."

Connor and Donny shook their heads sadly at Daniel as they walked away, headed in the other direction.

Diego watched from underneath the front door awning, tears pouring down his cheeks.

High above, with its undercarriage painted pale blue to blend in with the sky, a drone hovered. It recorded everything it saw and heard, and dutifully transmitted it to a nearby monitoring station.

"Okay, Daniel. You're doing great!" the podcaster said, adjusting a couple of sliders on his control panel. "That first segment was off the charts! We'll air it tonight, then we'll post the next segment next Saturday. Let the buzz build up over the first segment, you know."

Daniel nodded. Robert Delaney was one strange guy. Long, unwashed, straggly hair and eyes that were constantly twitching from side to side. He was always looking over one shoulder, like he expected to be grabbed by guys in masks and whisked into the back of a van. In one way, he reminded Daniel very much of the Rabbits in Agony, his not-so-flattering nickname for the humans who lived there.

But Robert Delaney had something Daniel needed: a voice on the internet. Robert was one of the most popular—and off-the-wall—podcasters currently available. He was considered a kook, which meant he had millions of listeners, especially when he broadcast his theories about aliens living in an underground bunker in Roswell, New Mexico. He'd actually been arrested twice for trying to break into military installations there. Naturally, Robert had jumped at the chance to have Daniel join the podcast with revelations about the presence of werewolves and vampires in small towns across the United States.

"Take a deep breath, Daniel. Ready to go?" Robert winked at Daniel. "Recording in three… two…"

Robert leaned into his microphone and began speaking. "Welcome back to the Rob Ransom Report. Today's topic… Vampires and Werewolves: Are They Living Among Us? My guest today claims to have personal knowledge of the existence of these creatures of the night. He says he moved to a small town and found it inhabited by werewolves AND vampires BOTH, and that he even attends high school with them."

Robert couldn't hold back his skeptical laughter. He grimaced when he saw Daniel glaring at him, then shrugged apologetically and continued speaking. "Now at his request, we've disguised his voice to protect his identity, because—let me just say—this guy has some explosive revelations to share. Okay, so in our last segment, we were talking about vampires and werewolves living in small communities all across the nation."

Robert motioned for Daniel to say something.

Daniel leaned in and spoke into his microphone, but the voice he heard in his headphones was digitally altered. "That's right, Rob."

Robert asked, "Any particular town you want to name?"

Daniel laughed. "No, that wouldn't be a good idea."

And for several minutes the two went back and forth, chatting about what most people would consider nonsense. Just another Rob Ransom fantasy that made for an entertaining podcast but nothing more. Of course, some of those listening would know it wasn't nonsense at all, and they would be furious with Daniel for divulging what he knew.

As the podcast segment drew to a close, Robert asked, "Are you saying you've seen werewolves cooperating with vampires?"

Daniel paused, smiled sadly, and then nodded. "Rob… I've seen people turn hatred that was tearing their world apart into deep friendship and eventually love. I've seen love so strong it overcame death itself. Why is it so hard to imagine werewolves cooperating with vampires?"

Robert chuckled and replied, "Okay, well maybe we should put you in charge of the planet. You seem to have a knack for extreme diplomacy."

Daniel stared off into space, thinking, considering his answer before replying. "Maybe we should, Rob."

Robert gave Daniel a thumb's up, then spoke into the microphone again. "Coming up on my next podcast, our mysterious visitor from the land of vampires and werewolves will do more than reveal the secrets these supernatural beings have been keeping. He will name names! Stay tuned if you want to know who these creatures are and where they've been living… next time, on the Rob Ransom Report!"

Robert paused a few seconds, then punched a button on his console. He leapt out of his chair and held up his hand for Daniel to slap. "THAT WAS TERRIFIC, DANIEL! I can't wait to see how many hits we get!"

Daniel nodded. He was actually looking forward to it himself.

Robert checked a notebook he had open on the table in front of him. "Segment one will air tonight. It should gen up a ton of interest. Then we'll tease 'em over the weekend with excerpts from segment two, which we'll post next Saturday—NO, we'll drop it Wednesday! We'll make it like a… ummm… BREAKING NEWS podcast! Yeah, that will be crazy!"

Daniel nodded again. Whatever the guy wanted. He didn't care.

"That means…" Robert checked his notebook again. "… ummm… we should get back together next weekend to record segment three." He looked up at Daniel, his eyes eager with anticipation. "You're really gonna name off some of the vampires and werewolves in your hometown?"

Daniel sighed. "Yep." Although he hoped with all his heart that it wouldn't be necessary, he knew it had to happen.

Connor slid onto the cafeteria bench opposite Daniel, leaned in, and hissed, "Why'd you do it, Daniel?"

Daniel looked up, his heart aching. "What? I'm not Big D to you anymore, Connor?"

Connor rolled his eyes. "That's your answer? Wow. Okay, bro. If that's how you want to do this… BIG D, why the hell did you do it?"

"To make you listen."

"Really? And how's that idiot's podcast gonna make me listen?"

"I had to do something. You didn't leave me any choice."

Connor shook his head, snarling. "Rob Ransom is a moron, and you made yourself sound stupid."

Daniel laughed bitterly. "My voice was disguised, Connor. No one knows it was me, so I can sound as stupid as I want, right?"

"Damn it, D! Everyone in town knows it was you, and sooner or later the word will get out to the rest of the world. Is that what you want?"

From across the room, Xavier stood up and began walking their way. Daniel and Connor both looked up at him as he drew near. Xavier wasn't happy. He leaned over the table. "You've made it all very difficult for us now, Daniel. I hope you're satisfied." He pointed to the humans sitting around the cafeteria. "You know what we're going to have to do now, right? To cover this back up? You know what has to happen to all of them?"

"Leave them alone," Daniel said, staring hard at Xavier.

"Or what?" Xavier snapped.

"The next podcast I do, your names will be the first ones I mention."

Connor stood up. He stared at Xavier. They both nodded and turned their backs on Daniel, walking away.

That night, in the Room, Special Agent Dautry sat at the table, playing the podcast over and over and over, rubbing his forehead as though the very action of squeezing his temple could erase the words he was hearing. He paused the podcast, rewound it slightly, and started it again.

Coming up on my next podcast, our mysterious visitor from the land of vampires and werewolves will do more than reveal the secrets these supernatural beings have been keeping. He will name names! Stay tuned if you want to know who these creatures are and where they've been living… next time, on the Rob Ransom Report!

Dautry rewound and started it again.

He will name names! Stay tuned if you want to know who these creatures are and where they've been living… next time, on the Rob Ransom Report!

He rewound it one more time.

He will name names! Stay tuned if—

Dautry pounded his fist into the playback controls, breaking off a knob and bloodying his knuckle. He cursed and punched another button.

A voice asked, "Sir?"

"Get the Operations Center immediately."

"Yes, sir."

A few seconds passed. Dautry waited patiently.

A speaker crackled. "Ops here."

Dautry lit a new cigarette and drew in a cloud of smoke. "Open your playbook."

The voice was crisp and no-nonsense. "Yes, sir. What do you need?"

Dautry began mumbling to himself. "I gave them a chance to handle this on their own, in their own way. They failed. Now I'm taking matters into my own hands." He sucked on the cigarette and leaned forward. His words were a cloud of smoke as he said, "Prep for Operation Bonfire. Be ready to go on a moment's notice. I'll let you know when."

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