The remainder of the gala was hardly tranquil. Several more times before the event was over, people hurried out. Either Maxine had an accomplice, or she could somehow control her suit while sitting peacefully at the event, assuming Jarod was right about her. Could she have been talking about this villain in the mechanical suit as a fan when she had hired me? I doubted it. I doubted many things though. Jarod and his pile of documentation was probably right, leaving me faced again with the difficult decision of whether or not I should get myself more involved and try to destroy Maxine’s suit. She was as dangerous as she was well-meaning, and she truly did seem to mean well with what she was doing. I needed more time to think. She would hopefully be done with her robberies now that the gala was over. I was going to tell my parents “farewell” when I noticed mother staring at me. I was about to ask her what was wrong when I realized she wasn’t really staring at me so much as at my arm where Alma held it. There would be questions later. That was a certainty to which I didn’t look forward. I imagined myself telling her “No, mother. We’re not dating. She just likes holding onto my arm at times. Honest.” Even in my thoughts, that sounded questionable. How was I supposed to explain Alma to my mother when I didn’t really understand her myself?
“I do hope you all had a wonderful time tonight. Sorry for all of the disturbances. I never would have guessed this would be such a busy night in the city.” stated Maxine, and I was certain she was lying about not expecting the night to be busy. I had missed her approach, but now she stood near my parents, holding her white cane in one hand. Father told her “The evening was delightful. Thank you.” Maxine smiled and said, “We’ll be able to help so many children with the funds we’ve raised. Thank you all for your contributions. James, I’m afraid that I’ll be leaving even sooner than I expected. Please do come visit anytime you wish. I’d love to show you around my city.” I could feel she was being honest with me, but that disturbed me. Why was she leaving earlier than planned? Something happened. Aengus, Maxine’s employee, approached her and whispered something into her ear. Then Maxine told us “Sorry, but I must be off. Thank you all again.” After Maxine was a ways off, mother turned to me and said, “James, how do you know Maxine Montgomery? She’s seems very sweet.” Alma let go of my arm as I explained “We met at the convention I attended for Global Princess Entertainment. She was my client yesterday. Nothing more.” Mother didn’t seem to believe me as she said, “Oh. She certainly must have enjoyed your company to invite you out like she did.” Oh mother.
“Well, time for us to collect your mother’s new sculpture and be off, son.” stated father, saving me. I hugged my parents and wished them well. When Jarod came over to say his farewells, I caught mother whispering to him, saying, “Better pick one quick before they both get away.” He smiled and nodded to her, but I wasn’t certain he could even tell Ai and Mai apart yet. The girls each took one of his arms as we headed to the door. My party’s few purchases were going to be delivered tomorrow, so we didn’t need to bring anything with us. Just out the door, Chad shook my hand and told me “Nice seeing you again, James! I better get this one to bed, though I have a suspicion she’ll be causing a ruckus again in a few hours.” Aaliyah had fallen asleep over an hour ago, leaving drool spots on her father’s arm as she leaned against him. “I don’t know how you keep up with her, Chad. She can be quite a handful.” claimed Alma as she smiled at him. “I still get to have one arm free, so it’s not so bad. I’ll catch everyone later.” he told us as he waved and turned to head toward his car. The moment Aaliyah’s head was facing us over her father’s shoulder, she stuck her tongue at Alma without even opening her eyes. I supposed that explained the lack of drool on Chad’s shoulder. Aaliyah always seemed to drool when she slept.
Duncan followed Jarod and the twins into the limo, and I offered Alma my hand as she stepped in after them. There were days when I still felt that I had to be dreaming with how my life was going. I went from being an average high schooler to the owner of a small company with a large residence. Now I was regularly visiting with a British noblewoman, visited by a rich Japanese man, and was on a first-name basis with a villain. I knew magic, had fey for tenants, and had an extremely sophisticated A.I. for a chauffeur and friend. My secretary was quite famous for her intellect as well as her music, and she owned a game to which I was addicted. With all that was going so well for me, I had to ask Mila to stop when I saw someone that seemed injured shuffling along on the nearly empty sidewalk. With a sigh, Alma said, “I suppose we should take care of that.” I nodded and opened the door. “Are you okay?” I called across the street, but the man didn’t respond. “Oh. I see how that must look to you. Let me show you the truth.” stated Alma as she stepped out beside me. A moment later the man was lifted off the ground and came flying toward us. I couldn’t believe Alma was using magic on some stranger, especially where someone might see, but no one seemed to notice. Everyone was meandering away from us as if nothing was happening. When the man reached us, I realized “the truth” Alma meant. The man’s body was partially decayed, but somehow didn’t smell. His arms were stretched toward me as if he were attempting to grab me.
“A zombie!? Are you serious!?” exclaimed Jarod from the car. He was leaning forward and staring out the door with a half-crazed smile on his face. “You could call it that, yes.” replied Alma. There was a flash of light behind me, and the body was completely gone when I turned around. “Let us be off then.” stated Alma as she stepped back into the limo. “I didn’t realize you were having problems of that nature. My family has a specialist in these matters if you care for assistance, Lady Pendreigh.” offered Duncan. “Thank you, but there’s no need. I’ll manage.” replied Alma. “A zombie specialist? Are there so many in Japan that you need one?” asked Jarod. Duncan shook his head, not seeming amused, as he said, “Of course not. We like to deal with these matters quickly, so we trained someone toward that end.” Jarod seemed a bit disappointed by the reply. “Most families destroy that sort of knowledge for good reason. Many of the practices are unsavory.” stated Alma as she gazed out the window. “We do oversee our specialist, Lady Pendreigh. There’s no need for you to worry about him doing anything unpleasant.” replied Duncan. The whole conversation felt wrong to me, but I couldn’t say why precisely. Alma didn’t seem pleased, but I still had to ask “How long has this been happening?” She looked to me, her violet eyes piercing into mine, and then said, “I encountered the first zombie nearly a week ago. Whoever is creating them seems to abandon them after he’s done with them, so I can’t simply follow one back to him.”
Jarod had plenty more questions on the way back, but Ai and Mai took over answering them. Neither Alma nor Duncan seemed to be in a good mood, and I felt again that I was missing something. The zombie on the street hadn’t seemed exceptionally dangerous. In fact, I didn’t think it would’ve bothered us at all even with me calling out to it. From what the twins were telling Jarod, the behavior of zombies depended largely on their creator. Historically, there were times when an army of undead marched on a town, but their bodies generally weren’t any stronger than a living person. A great number of spells were needed to create an exceptionally dangerous zombie, so creating a large number of powerful creatures was impossible for the average dabbler. The spells would run out of energy too quickly. Even for more powerful necromancers, creating too many powerful undead would be impractical. Jarod seemed disappointed that a zombie apocalypse couldn’t happen and said, “I guess I’ll have to tell Aaliyah we don’t really need all of those provisions for it. She’s going to be so disheartened.” There was a moment Duncan looked at Jarod incredulously, but his face became impassive again almost immediately. I couldn’t blame him. No sane person would really want a zombie apocalypse. Of course, few people would accuse Jarod of being completely sane. He was one of a kind.