Into the stunned silence after Dom’s pronouncement, Katy’s voice sounded small and uncertain when she spoke. “What’s really going on here?” she asked, her eyes shooting around the table until they met Lily’s. “Lily? Demons and murder and lost brothers—”
Dom interrupted before she could finish her sentence, his voice low and rough. “One night, when I was about four, my mother came into my bedroom and woke me. I remember thinking how dark and quiet the house was. She didn’t turn on the lights, though there was a fixture out in the hall that gave me a shadowy sense of her sitting on the edge of my bed.” Dominic slowly ran a hand up and down Katy’s braid, his eyes following the movements as if mesmerized. It was clear to everyone at the table that he was no longer in the here and now.
“I didn’t know my mother very well. My father kept her close and I was usually with a succession of child minders. On the rare occasions when I did see her, and sometimes those were just from a distance, she would be crying.” He stopped, cocked his head slightly and murmured, “She was always crying.”
“Oh Dom,” Katy whispered. She took the hand that was resting on her hip and gripped it tightly.
“I was so surprised and happy to see her that night, I threw myself into her arms. She held me for a moment, then settled me back against the pillows. When I looked up at her, she seemed different somehow. I got scared and started to cry. She put her fingers on my lips and told me to be a brave boy. Then she said she had to go far away, away from my father, because she had to protect someone. I begged her to take me with her, but she said my father would never, ever stop hunting for her if she took me. Her only hope for escape was to leave me behind. Then I heard a sound and looked toward my bedroom door.
“With his body lit from behind by the light in the hall, her guard filled the doorway like a giant. “It’s now or never, Beth,” he said quietly. She reached for me and hugged me so hard it hurt and I started crying again. In my ear she whispered, “Fight him, Dominic. When you grow to be big and strong, promise me you will fight him. Don’t let him win.” Tears in her eyes, she kissed me, then tucked the covers around me. Her last words were, “I’m so sorry. One day I hope you’ll understand and maybe forgive me.” Then she walked out, but the bodyguard came to stand over me. “To keep your mother safe, you can’t tell anyone she was here tonight. Can you do that Dom? It would be the most important secret in the world for a boy to keep. Do you think you can?” I nodded, though I was terrified and confused and fuck, I was only four.”
Brushing his knuckles down Katy’s face, Dom felt the wet streaks. Startled, he tipped her face up and looked at the silent tears coursing down her cheeks. Something hurt in his chest at the sight. Not since that long ago night had anyone cared enough to cry for him. “Red,” he whispered, “you’re going to own me if one more tear falls, and believe me, that will so ruin my street cred.” The pain eased a bit when she laughed softly and gave him a wobbly grin.
Lily got up and grabbed some napkins off the kitchen counter, handing them to Katy as she said quietly to Dom, “Did you keep the secret? Was she able to get away?”
Mickey held up his hand in a stop gesture as he climbed to his feet, left the room and within seconds returned with the whisky bottle. “This is a bleak tale that definitely calls for Irish” he said, splashing a good measure first into Dom’s coffee, then doing the same around the table.
Taking a deep swallow, Dom shifted Katy more comfortably on his lap and sighed. “The next day, after she disappeared and the whole house was in an uproar, my father came to my playroom and grilled me. I did all right until he got angry. I was so close to breaking when I remembered how much he hated when I cried. He couldn’t stand any weakness from me. So I burst into tears, wailed and cried hysterically for my mommy. He slapped me hard enough to knock me down, then stormed out of the room in disgust and never asked me about her again.” Dom smiled in grim satisfaction. “So, yeah, I kept the secret.”
Softly, Daniel asked, “And your…mother?” Dom met his eyes across the table. He knew what Daniel was really asking.
“When I was eight, we moved from San Francisco to England so my father could oversee his interests in Europe and I could go to boarding school in the UK. He bought an estate from a destitute aristocrat, which for a kid was like living at Disneyland. A moat, forests, stables, two lakes, gardens and rooms upon rooms to explore. I was only allowed home for holidays, and usually left by myself, but I was used to being alone so I really didn’t mind.” He paused and took a sip from his coffee. “That first Christmas home from school, my father was off somewhere in Europe and I was on my own. One day when I was exploring, I discovered a passageway off the kitchen below the servants’ staircase. It was dark and creepy and exciting. I followed the passage until it got too dark to see what was ahead so I turned around and was making plans to find a flashlight and come back the next day, when I heard these eerie, horrible groaning sounds. They seemed to be coming right out of the stone walls. It scared the piss out of me and I ran like a frightened rabbit.
“A day or two later I asked the housekeeper and some of the other servants what was down there, but no one would tell me anything and I was forbidden to go into that part of the house again. I waited until the next time I came home, then braver and with flashlight in hand, I snuck down the passage only to find my way barred by a locked, very sturdy, wooden door.”
“But, what about—” Daniel started to say before being interrupted by an almost savage growl.
“Christ, just let me tell it my way, goddamn it.”
Daniel scowled, but threw up his hands in reluctant surrender.
“I’m sixteen. Summer, filled with hormones and angst and too much time on my idle teenage hands. I’d come home late from a party and was hungry so instead of going to my room, I went to the kitchen to grab some food, intending to take a shortcut upstairs by using the servants’ stairs after I’d raided the fridge. I’m loading up, sandwiches, crisps, cakes and cider, when I hear a noise coming from the old passageway. I hadn’t given the place a single thought in years. Curious, I set down the food and walked toward the opening under the stairs. I was nearly grown, tough and fit. And no longer believed in ghosts.
“When I got to the wooden door, I was amazed to find it open, and there was a light ahead, low, dim, flickering, like a candle. I heard this…indescribable sound coming from up ahead and wished I’d brought a kitchen knife or cleaver. Coming to an intersection, my right led to total darkness, but the left was light enough for me to see that beyond where I was standing, the passage had been hacked out of solid rock. With my back to the rough cold stone, I risked a quick look around the corner. Stunned, I saw an ancient, medieval dungeon of some kind. Four primitive cells had been hewn out of the rock, four small, dank and dismal caves, with thick bars of what looked like iron, two cells to a side with a crude aisle down the middle.”
Dom carefully lifted Katy off his lap and stood. He abruptly paced to the end of the kitchen and back, twice, before drawing a deep shuddering breath and running his hands through his hair. Standing at the head of the table, his gaze focused on the surface as if his thoughts played out on the wood. “There was a creature in the open door of the last cell, some kind of dog, or ape, or... Well, it was the first time I’d seen my father’s hell spawn though it would be years before I learned what it was. At that moment I was less concerned about the animal than I was about what the bloody thing was doing.” He raised haunted eyes to Daniel. “Paul, my mother’s guard, had always been nice to me. Aloof, scary, a giant in my childish eyes, but nice. He gave me Tootsie Pops. And he wore this ring, a wolf’s head carved in black stone, set into a silver band. The creature was squatting, gnawing on a femur, the ring glittering in the heap of bones at its feet.”
Katy started to rise, but Dom placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Let me finish,” he murmured. “In the cell closest to me, there was another pile of bones, shards mostly. I guess the creature had started with her first.” At Daniel’s groan, Dom met his eyes. “You look like him. Paul, I mean. He had those same green eyes and the cleft in his chin.” Sighing, he sat down and put his head in his hands. “Finally, I understand. Now I know why she left.” He raised his head. “How old are you?” he asked Daniel.
“Probably real close to four years younger than you,” Daniel managed to reply before grief and pain and a lifetime of questions with no answers surged up his throat and choked him into a bitter silence.
Taurin spoke for the first time. Quietly he asked, “How did you find out what your father was?”
“I was standing in that passage, listening to the animal chewing on the bones of someone I once knew, my mother, literally, in pieces not five feet from me. I remembered the groans, and knew I'd heard them that day when I ran like a scared rabbit, not a ghost. In shock, fighting the urge to kill the creature or vomit everything I had ever eaten, I heard someone coming. Crossing to the other turn in the passage, I hid in the dark and waited. When I heard my father’s voice, I was relieved and had started out of my hiding place so we could deal with this horror together.” His smile was brief and mocking. “Obviously at that point I wasn’t thinking clearly. Thankfully, I hesitated for a moment longer and heard my father berating the creature for opening the door, for hoarding the bones, for leaving evidence. I suddenly understood it was my father behind everything, he was the monster who had murdered my mother.”
Lifting his mug, Dominic tossed back the rest of his drink. “It wasn’t until I was an adult, and after many years of research, investigating and spying, that I found out who and what he really is.” He paused for a moment, his eyes meeting the others around the table. “When I was a child I promised my mother I would fight him. When I was a teenager, standing in that cold, dark nightmare, I vowed to take him down. I don’t have everything in place yet, but I’m close, and if I have to drag the bastard back to Hell myself, so be it.”
He tugged on Katy’s braid as she stood, her gaze narrowing on the living room. “I’ll be right back,” she murmured, walking around the table and out of the kitchen. He watched her go, then turned back to listen to something Mickey was telling Daniel when her mumbled words about smelling smoke finally registered.
Suddenly lunging to his feet, Dom startled everyone at the table. Spinning for the living room, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest, breath hissing through his teeth, he already knew he was too late when he heard Katy's terrified cry.