"It's so nice you girls can work together."Sunday morning saw the Halliday household in a mad rush. Aura helped Brenna get the older woman's hair properly styled. As much as she wanted it, Brenna left out her usual ribbon, letting her hair down in a wavy cascade past her shoulders. Gary knocked on the door, giving Brenna the five minute warning. Brenna finished dressing, making sure the dress and her cardigan fit properly. She plucked at her pantyhose and chastised herself for not getting a longer skirt for the day, then ran down to her father's black Challenger.
"Then they should already be cringing in fear."
"'Everything has a price.' I believe you even said those words to me at some point."
The drive to the University of California San Diego campus didn't take as long as Brenna's father expected. The time saved, though, was used up finding a parking space. Father and daughter crossed the paved expanse, passing by Grace's gold Beetle, to get to the Jenny Craig Pavilion. Brenna let her dad find a pair of seats, then settled in. She felt the presence of her mother hovering over her, watching the stage. Brenna looked up and gave Joni a smile.
The graduation ceremony was a solemn affair as the graduates crossed the stage. Grace's valedictory speech looked forward to the future, bringing a roar of applause from her classmates. Brenna dabbed her eyes, feeling tears welling up in them. As the notes of Pomp and Circumstance played, Brenna grabbed her father's arm so he could guide her outside.
Grace broke away from a group of her classmates to join her family. "What did you think?" she asked.
Brenna grabbed her sister, hugging her with all her strength. "Beautiful, Gracie," she sobbed.
"Okay, let's not get too emotional, Bren." Grace patted her sister's back. "If you start, I'll start."
"Okay." Brenna tried to reign in her feelings. "I'm just so happy for you."
"Tell Gracie I'm proud of her," Joni said.
"Mom's proud of you, too," Brenna passed along. "She was watching the whole thing."
"Girls, over here," their father said. As the Halliday sisters glanced over to them, he took their photo. "My baby girls, so grown up now."
Grace ran over to her father. "I couldn't have made it without you, Dad." She kissed him on the cheek.
Gary hugged his youngest daughter. "Your speech was beautiful, sweetheart."
Brenna joined the hug, wrapping her arms around her sister. Grace reached behind her to pat Brenna's hand. "Okay, guys," Grace said, her voice cracking. "I have a few things to do." She blinked back a few tears. "I'll see everyone at home."
Gary let his daughter loose. "Sure. Take your time."
"Bren, you can let go of me now."
Brenna smiled. "I know." She tightened her hold.
"Dad, some help, please?"
"Brenna." Gary took his eldest daughter's hand and unwrapped her from Grace. "Come with me. We have to get the grill going." He placed her arm around Brenna's shoulder and led her back to his car.
The exhaustion that had dogged Matt for the last hour of his shift threatened to return with a vengeance. Just before he was to return to the station to end his day, all personnel were required to stay on duty. That was hours ago, all at the intersection, rerouting traffic. Now, he worked to stifle a yawn as Officer Cruz stretched. "Hey, Damaris," Matt said, "do you have any idea why we're still out here?"
"None, Larson. Just think of the overtime, though." Cruz smiled. "Keeps me awake, at least."
A car approached. Matt waved the driver off, pointing to the detour for the driver. "Just wait until later tonight when the people at the Comic Con want to go home."
Cruz checked her watch. "Just wait until the church rush starts."
Matt shook his head. Before he could say anything, his radio crackled. "All units along Mission Village, report to Genessee and Clairemont Mesa. Report to Detective Kirk. Repeat, all units along Mission Village, report to Genessee and Clairemont Mesa."
"That's us," Cruz said. She got into her cruiser. "Maybe you'll get your answer."
Matt slid in behind his cruiser's steering wheel. He followed Cruz, keeping a steady two seconds behind her for the entire trip. Reaching the interrsection of Genessee and Clairemont Mesa, he parked beside Cruz's car, then got out. He scanned the area, looking for the homicide detective. Spotting him the same time Cruz did, Matt reached Detective Kirk a half-step before his partner of the day. "Officers Larson and Cruz reporting, sir," he said.
Kirk acknowledged their presence with a nod. "I need you two to block traffic here," the detective pointed at an intersection on the map, "then wait. Do nothing until ordered to."
"Sir," Cruz started, "what is going on?"
Without looking up from the map, the detective pointed down the street. "That."
Matt looked in the pointed direction. Several blocks away, he saw a formation marching down the street. "Protesters?" As he kept watching, he corrected himself. "No signs. No weapons, either."
"No clothes at all," Cruz said.
"No clothes?" Matt peered at the marching crowd and noticed the rib cages. "Try no skin. Detective, are those things for real?"
"They are, though I have no idea how to put that into an official report that won't get a visit from the staff psych team."
Matt looked down the road the other way. "Where are they going?"
Detective Kirk shrugged. "This group was going to the UC San Diego campus until about twenty minutes ago, then suddenly wheeled around."
"Wait, there's more than one group of these . . . things?" Officer Cruz asked. "How?"
"That's the big question. Along with 'Why?' and 'Who?"'
Matt turned his attention back to the detective's map. "I think the where is more important right now. Where are the other groups now and what direction are they marching in?"
Kirk added the requested details to his map. "This is their last known positions. Detective McCoy is following this group here," the detective circled an area in the north, "and making sure the way in front of them is clear."
"They're following the roads?" Cruz asked.
"Not always. They've gone through people's yards, especially in the suburbs. They don't go out of their way to attack anyone, but a few people who got in their way have been sent to the hospital."
Matt extended the arrows drawn by Detective Kirk. Several lines crossed the city, but most of the extended lines passed through the Clairemont neighborhood. "Oh, shit," he muttered. "Detective, I know it's a long shot, but I think I know where they're going. May I go there and take Officer Cruz with me?"
Kirk raised an eyebrow. After a moment, he said, "Sure, go. Take Henderson with you as well. Keep in contact."
"Thank you, sir." Matt turned to Cruz. "We'll just take my cruiser. The traffic might be getting bad where we're going."
The officers piled into Matt's car, with Henderson getting into the back. The police Crown Vic roared down the street, past roadblocks. "Okay, Larson," Cruz started, just how do you know where that army of skeletons is going?"
"I saw the map," Matt answered. "They're heading to the Clairemont neighborhood."
"Isn't that where Detective McCoy's witness lives?" Henderson searched his memory for the name. "Holiday?"
"Halliday," Cruz supplied. "Brenda Halliday."
"Brenna," Matt corrected. "Yes, she does."
Officer Cruz glanced over at Matt. "Just how did you know that? Me and Henderson did the babysitting, not you."
Matt's cheeks flushed red. "I went to high school with her."
"And that's why you're blushing."
"Can I change my answer to, 'I have a hunch'?"
"Odd hunch involving your high school friend," Henderson said.
"Are you sure you're just not worried about your girlfriend?" Cruz asked.
"We're not seeing each other, Damaris." Matt eased the cruiser on to the freeway. "We're just friends."
"Struck out, huh?"
"Can we worry about something else, like how do deal with the skeletons?" Matt threaded the police cruiser between two semis. "We could use a priest, preferably fifth level."
"Sixth." Cruz looked over at Matt. "Guarantees total disruption."
"Fifth. That way, even on a bad roll, you still take out the one hit die types."
"Oh, God, you're playing a later edition."
"Would you two geeks focus on the problem," Henderson said. "Besides, fifth level wizard, any edition, with fireball and magic missile. Solves most problems."
Matt glanced into his mirror to look at Henderson. "I'll keep that in mind." He exited the freeway near Brenna's neighborhood. As he reached the bottom of the off ramp, he stood on the brakes. Another column of skeletons marched down the cross street. "Okay, what the hell do we do now?"
"Don't get in front of them," Henderson said. "As long as there's no one in front, they just walk."
"And if we do get in front of them?" Cruz asked.
"We get torn to pieces."
Matt let the engine idle. "Anyone got an idea?"
"Everyone has to evacuate."
"I can't protect you if you stay."
"Summer, did your hot friend mention anything about raising a skeleton army?"
"No one wrecks my party and gets away with it."