Vaughn leaned back from the table and thought about it. “I can’t think of a single way I’ve been influenced.”
“Not noticing is the whole point of influencing somebody,” Rachel began.
I interrupted her.
“My theory goes like this. Evil Beatnik can influence people that might be vulnerable to possession. We’re all under thirty, but those of us who are anti-authority, and who are, or at least try to be cool, are most vulnerable.
“Rachel knows he’s influenced her to do at least one thing, and if you think about it, she fits the profile. My guess is that of everyone else, Vaughn’s the most vulnerable.”
“What happened to Rachel?” Vaughn spoke more loudly than normal. From the expression on his face, I doubted he believed me.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Rachel said. “Let’s just say I could tell it wasn’t me behind what I wanted to do.”
Vaughn frowned for a second, and then his eyes widened.
“You fucked Lucas? That ought to clear up a few worries. He’s dated a little, but people’ve always wondered if he was gay.”
“I did not fuck Lucas. I almost fucked Lucas, and if he’s not interested in women, he does a great imitation.”
“Wait, you blueballed him? That’s hilarious.”
“Can we move this conversation away from my sex life, and back to Evil Beatnik?”
“Seconded,” Jaclyn said, “If there’s a line between what we need to know, and too much information, we just went over it.”
“Right,” I said. “What we know about him from the reports is he’s not a killer or anything. All he wants is confusion. So he gathers people up and uses them to create confusion by breaking rules, screwing up how society works, and sometimes by taking over policital protests.”
Marcus picked up the reports again. “Don’t forget the sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Well, except in the ‘50’s. Then it was sex, drugs, and jazz. Did you notice that he took over bands and musicians a lot?”
“That did happen a few times,” I said.
Marcus held up his hand with fingers outstretched. “Five times in what I’ve read so far.”
Vaughn shook his head. “I’m not saying we should leave him alone, but if he’s the spirit of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, that’s not so bad. Well, except for the drugs, I guess, but political protests? They’re good, right? Sometimes that’s the only way things change.”
Jaclyn spoke practically the second he stopped talking. “My grandpa said you could always tell the protests Evil Beatnik was at from the ones he wasn’t at by the fires and the rioting.”
“Oh,” Vaughn said. “Now that you mention it, I kind of remember that from the reports.”
“Exactly,” Rachel said, “and the original League only ever got rid of him by taking out his followers, and revealing who he was possessing. After that, he’d disappear. Well, except when they managed to find the person he was possessing, and take the ring.”
“And that only worked once they were all over thirty,” Marcus said. “If they grabbed it before that, they got possessed. How are we going to avoid that? When they fought him in their twenties, he messed with their heads constantly, and it’ll be the same with us now. Plus, if Nick’s right, you and Vaughn could turn at any time.”
“This drives me crazy,” Vaughn said. “I’ve been around for almost a year, and you still don’t trust me?”
He pushed his chair away from the table and stood up. “I get sick of people assuming I’m my grandfather come back. I get sick of my parents bringing up my drug problems all the time, but you guys? You ought to know better. That’s why you think Beatnik’s got his hooks in me, right?”
None of us said anything.
“Well, fuck that, I’m going home.”
He walked toward the elevator.
I said, “Vaughn, wait a second.” Everyone else started talking too.
Jaclyn blurred, and the next time I saw her, her chair was empty and she stood directly in front of Vaughn.
“No one thinks you’re your grandfather,” she said. “We think you’re a little more at risk of being affected than the rest of us, but we’re all at risk. That’s the problem.”
Bluish-white sparks ran the length of Vaughn’s hands.
“Get real,” Jaclyn said. “You know that’s not going to work.”
The sparks stopped.
Vaughn turned his head back toward the rest of us. He looked a little dazed.
“Shit. You’re right.”