Chapter 7: The Search

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. . . . .


With a heavy heart, Jasper led Alice to the family cemetery behind the house. There were additional headstones at the site. He fell to his knees as he read the names of his father, mother, sister and her husband. There was a marker to commemorate his brother also. He’d already mourned for him, and even though the time had long since passed, the grief in his bosom was fresh for these other loved ones.


Alice silently crept up in front of him. Snaking her arms about his neck, she leaned her cheek against his in a gesture of comfort. He knelt there for some time, until he could regain control of himself. There was no one here now to hold him, except for maybe Abigail’s children and grandchildren.


Standing, she lifted his chin up, and gazed into his eyes.  “I know, sweetheart ... I know.”

He and Alice went to the library in a nearby town, and checked the obituaries in the newspaper archives for the dates on the tombstones so he could track down his nieces and nephews. It was easily done, and his kin probably lived in the vicinity. They wrote down the names, and exited the building.


Next came a search for a phone booth. Finding one, Jasper scanned the pages of the telephone directory, and found the names of all but one. Abby had given birth to five children. And so they started out to find the ones that were available.


“Jasper,” she said softly. “Do you think this is a good idea? I can’t stand by and watch you suffer like this. Seeing them will only make your sorrow that much worse.”


“I just want to see them with my own eyes. I owe her that. I’m not fixin’ ta mingle with them. That wouldn’t do me no good no how. They wouldn’t recognize me, and I sure nuff’d be plumb loco to introduce myself, seein’ as I haven’t aged a day since Ria changed me.”


“What are you planning to do then?”


“I reckon you could knock on the door and tell them you’re lookin’ for your lost dog. I’ll stay back aways so’s I can get a right good look.”


And that’s exactly what they did for the rest of the evening. Jasper’s nephews stayed on the porch steps of their homes a little while longer to talk with Alice. Nothing like a pretty face to get a stranger to shoot the breeze with you. He still got a glimpse of Abigail’s daughter, though. He guessed in her younger years she might have favored her mother. She had his sister’s blue eyes, and the same rosebud lips on her weathered face. When all the visiting got done, Alice drove them to a motel.


As expected, he was even more quiet than usual on the way. She sat beside him on the bed when they arrived, then slowly pulling on his shoulders, positioned his head in her lap. She gently combed her fingers through his hair, humming softly.


Alice whispered, “I know it’s little consolation, but with time, the hurt will lessen, until it becomes dreamlike, almost nostalgic.” She leaned down and kissed his ear. “There’s no shame in grieving for the dead, sweetheart. Go ahead and cry; it’ll make you feel better. I’m going to stay right here with you.”


Jasper lay with his head in her lap for a very long time and even though he tried so hard not to, the damn inside of him burst, and he sobbed without tears as if his heart would break in two.


. . . . .



The next day they traveled to a familiar spot—at least to Jasper. “This here was the barn where I trained our soldiers. ’Course, now it looks like it’s been pole axed.” He shaded his eyes and pointed to a small cottage to the north of it. “That’s the house over yonder, where Ria brought me to complete my change, you might could say.”


Taking his hand, Alice coaxed, “You want to take a look?”


He stepped back drawing her gently toward him. “No, I don’t care to remember those days.” Then he steered her to the waiting car. Before keying the ignition, he rolled up one sleeve, and muttered, “I have enough memories of the Southern Wars engraved on my skin to last me for the rest of my existence.”


Alice gasped in horror as she took in the sight of the myriad of scars left on his arm by the enemy. Her fingers traced along the ridges, and her lips followed in their path. “Oh, Jazz,” she groaned. “I’m so sorry, that must’ve been horrible.”


Nodding, he said, “It’s all right, darlin’; that was a long time ago. The past can’t be undone, and now I can look forward to a great future just a-waitin’ for me, and I’m obliged to you for that.”


. . . . .


“Hey, Jazz, if you’ll pack up the last bag, I’ll go to the drug store and buy us some more shampoo and toothpaste.”


Jasper smiled at her, and joked, “Don’t you be forgettin'—I need my toothpicks.”

She squeezed him affectionately, placed a kiss upon his lips and breezed out the door to the car. He waved as it drove out of sight.


Alice was gone for an hour—two hours—three hours. Where was she? He was pacing the floor. Did she have a car accident? Or did it break down somewhere? But she would’ve rushed back to him on her own two feet, if that was the case. After waiting all these years for him, she wouldn’t just up and leave him either. It didn’t make a lick of sense. He had to do something! He had to find her.


He sped on foot through the tree-lined road out of sight of observers. He got to the drugstore quickly, and found the car in the parking lot, with the keys still in the ignition. There were signs of a struggle—and then ... he caught the distinct scent of three vampires. Two were new to him, but the third was strangely familiar. Maria? But she was dead, wasn’t she? He’d never felt such fear in all his life. His sweetheart, his Alice, was in the unscrupulous clutches of a demon from his past.

. . . . .


He drove the car back to the motel, loaded the last piece of luggage inside, and turned in the keys to the office.


His mind raced with possibilities. Where could she be hidden? He thought about what they had done the past two days—where they had been, attempting to retrace his own previous footsteps. How could Maria still be alive, and what did she want with Alice?


His words were screaming in his head ... I’ll find you, Alice. I don’t care how long it takes me, or how far I need to travel. I’m no good without you now. I don’t want to be alone anymore.


If she only knew the sweetness she brought into his life. He fingered the little box he kept in his pocket. What had he been waiting for? Why didn’t he give the ring to her sooner? They could’ve left already and none of this would’ve happened. He wouldn’t be tearing his hair out at this moment.


She was gone, and he didn’t get to tell her what she meant to him. He was always the strong, silent type. Would it have killed him to bear his soul to her? He made up his mind that he wouldn’t hold back anything from her ever again when he found her. Alice would know that he loved her with his whole being. He needed her like plants need sunlight. And he wanted her like no other.


. . . . .


Jasper went over every stop they had made—his old home, the cemetery, the library, the barn, and the houses of his kin. As he roamed among his old haunts, he yelled at the top of his lungs, “Alice, if you can hear me, answer me, please! Alice ... Alice!”


He could find no trace of her. There was only one place left to seek out—Maria’s cottage. As he crept closer to the small edifice, the slight fragrance of her perfume wafted toward him, along with the scent of the three abductors. The scent that lingered however was not recent. His Alice was not there at present. Leaning back against the wall of the decayed residence, he slid down defeated, crumpling in a miserable heap onto the ground. He got up nonetheless, trying to follow the scent, but it had rained earlier in the day, and it had faded away. He got back in the car, and driving to the nearest phone booth, called his only hope. Peter would help him. He was always better at tracking than Jasper ever was. If anyone could find her, Peter could. He had to nail his hope on that.


. . . . .


“Maria? How is that possible? That there nomad was a-tellin’ me that she died a long time ago.”


“Well, I tell you what; it was Ria. I reckon I’d know that scent anywhere. I don’t know how, but she’s alive, and she has some downright nasty plans for my Alice. Do y’all think you could make it out here to Houston? I’d be much obliged.”


“We’ll see ya in the mornin’, Major. Now don’t ya worry ’bout nothin’, ya hear? That filly will be in your arms quicker than a tick on a hound dog.”


Peter and Charlotte immediately took the red-eye into Houston, and Jasper picked them up that early morning. Charlotte handed him a small sketch she had drawn of a shack which housed his lady love. Alice sent the image to her telepathically the previous day. The supernatural connection between the two women was still intact.

. . . . .


“Lordy, don’t this bring back bad memories?” Peter exclaimed, as he set foot near the barn.


Charlotte looked to Jasper and commented,, “Ain’t that sayin’ somethin’ ... Maybe this mightn’t be the best time, but I take it you’ve had some good memories with this Alice. I ain’t no crystal ball gazer or nothin’ but one thin’s as plain as the nose on your face. Ya love her, don’t ya, Jasper?”


As she said the words, it seemed somehow strange to hear his name uttered in such a fashion. It hit him in the gut like a ball-peen hammer. He’d gotten so used to Alice calling him, Jazz. He’d give anything to hear her say his name that way at this very minute.


“Yes, I truly do, right down to the very heart of me. I’ll never love another woman the way I do Alice.”


Peter walked up beside Charlotte and enveloped her shoulders with his long arms, hugging her fondly. “We’re both happy for ya, Major. Now we just gotta free her from that vengeful woman. Let’s mosey on over to the cottage and have a look see, shall we?”


. . . . .


“I see whatcha mean. The scent is all but gone. We can still find signs of a trail, tho’. Let’s git a-goin’.”


Peter led the little band; with Jasper and Charlotte following him as extra sets of eyes. Every little snapped twig and bent blade of grass pointed the way. Peter didn’t let anything slip by him. When the trail started to get cold, he noticed a small piece of metal tucked in among some fallen leaves. He leaned down and scooped it up, inhaling the lingering fragrance.


“Do you recognize this lil’ doodad?”


Jasper grabbed it from Peter’s hand. “That’s her earring. I bought that for her last week.”


“Well, hot damn, we’re still on the right path.”


After another few yards, Peter turned in a circle, and glancing at Jasper, suddenly stopped.

 “If I’m not mistaken, that’s the cabin up ahead.”


“Sure ’nuff?”


“I’d bet my life on it.”


Charlotte spoke up, “He’s right. I see it now. It’s exactly like the image Alice sent me.”


“Well, let’s go, then.”


An arm was thrown across Jasper’s torso to restrain him. “Why Jasper Whitlock, whatever has gotten into you? First rule of war—never show the enemy all your cards. You taught me that. Wait here; I’ll scout around first. We don’t want Ria to catch your scent too soon or she’ll sure as shootin’ bolt on us.”






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