Fine, the coffin in the basement was a little unusual. Certainly no more so than the mansion itself, though, or, for that matter, the humpbacked man-servant that came with it, or the mysterious death of its former owner.
In fact, so starts a long list of all things unusual for our unlikely hero, Jack, and his newfound and strange family, his werewolf boyfriend, the pack eager to help him, and the ancient clan that wants him dead at all costs. Know this, however, in the end, this misfit group of characters will leave you howling in the crypt aisles!
It seemed that my cousin Boris -- seriously, someone actually named him that -- had suddenly met his untimely demise.
“Boris?” I asked the guy on the other end of the phone, utterly confused.
“Your cousin, sir,” replied the man, the slightest accent detectable, something Eastern-European-sounding. “Boris Jackowski.”
I scratched my head and stared out the window of my tenth-story office building, the Transamerica Pyramid looming in the not-too-distant distance. Then I squinted my eyes and racked my brain. I mean, stands to reason I’d know of a cousin, especially one named Boris. “Nope, doesn’t ring any bells,” I freely admitted. “You sure you have the right Jack Jackowski?” Okay, talk about not casting the first stone, right? I mean, Jack Jackowski wasn’t going to win any naming contests either.
In any case, the guy on the phone did have the correct Jack Jackowski, right on down to my social security number, birthday, and home address, which was just the start of all things creepy. (I mean CREEPY. Sorry.)
“You’re his only living relative, Mr. Jackowski,” explained the lawyer, “and heir to his fortune.”
Ding! went the bell in my head, or make that gong! or, more appropriately, considering the city I called home, clang, clang, clang! went my cable car. “Cousin Boris was a, um, wealthy man?” I managed, my voice barely registering above a hoarse whisper.
The man chuckled, which sent a chill down my spine for some odd reason, mainly because it sounded like one of those laughs you hear in the movies, just before the bad guy ties the damsel to the train tracks. “Obese understatement, Mr. Jackowski.”
“You mean gross,” I said, “gross understatement.”
The chuckle repeated, the chill along my spine growing arctic cold. “No, sir, gross doesn’t even begin to cover it.” Then he sighed. “In any case, as the sole living heir to his fortune, all of it goes to you: his bank account, his belongings, and his mansion.”
I blinked and fought to catch my breath. “His ... mansion?”
“His mansion,” he echoed. “Yours, all of it.”
I blinked again as I wiped the newly-formed bead of perspiration from my face. “Wait,” I thought to say, shaking my head from side to side, trying and failing to push away the cobwebs. “How exactly is Cousin Boris my cousin? I have no cousins, as far as I know. No parents, no grandparents, no aunts or uncles, not a step-anything or an in-anything, nothing once, twice, or even thrice removed. Nada. Zip. Zilch on the whole cousin front.” This wasn’t as odd as it sounded, seeing as everyone in my family, going way, way back, was gone and forgotten, my parents killed in a car crash a few years earlier, leaving little old me to fend for his little old self, or young self, as it were.
“Boris Jackowski was your great-grandfather’s brother’s great-grandson,” the lawyer told me as a second and third bead of sweat quickly followed the first one, tickling my face as they meandered ever downward, “leaving the two of you the last surviving Jackowskis.” His sigh repeated. “Make that just you, I suppose, now, sir.”
And still I kept shaking my head, because I’d never met my great-grandfather, but I knew he was an only child, or at least that’s what I’d been told, and so I said, “My great-grandfather didn’t have a brother.”
I heard papers being rustled on the other end of the line just before the lawyer told me, again in that barely-there accent that made me suddenly think of borscht and broiled prunes, “Your great-grandfather was born in Poland in 1892, Mr. Jackowski. He migrated to the United States in 1910, leaving his brother behind to watch over the family estate. Your cousin, Boris, sold said estate in 2008 and moved to San Francisco the very same year.” The papers stopped rustling as my head stopped shaking, and my heart, it seemed, for just the briefest of moments, stopped madly pounding in my chest. “He knew of you, Mr. Jackowski, even though you didn’t know of him. He knew of you and your family, though none of them knew of him or his family. From what I know, sir, from what your cousin told me before his death, the two sides were estranged.”
“Until now,” I couldn’t help but add.
“In a way, yes,” he said. “Bitter irony, I suppose.”
My hand was shaking as I held the receiver, the beads turning to a torrent, because none of what he was saying made any sense. How could I not know about an entire limb of my spindly family tree, and how could I not know I had a cousin living in the same city as me, and why, I wondered, did said cousin not contact me until after his death? “Wait,” I managed, my heart suddenly kick-starting as a new thought wormed its way through, “Boris moved here in 2008?”
“Yes, Mr Jackowski,” he replied, “2008. Why do you ask?”
I gulped as I stared at the phone, eyes wide, Adam’s apple riding up and down my throat like a runaway elevator car. “That was the year my parents died.”
There was the briefest of pauses before he said, “An odd coincidence, Mr. Jackowski. One family lost, one gained.”
The phone slipped out of my sweaty grip. I picked it back up and replied, “Not exactly gained, Mr., uh, Mister ...”
The chuckle made its menacing return. “Bolinski,” he informed me, “Igor Bolinski.”
“Polish, too?” I asked.
“Polish, too,” he answered.
“They name them weird in Poland, if you don’t mind my saying so, sir.”
“Says the man named Jack Jackowski.”