A/N: Happy Yuletide, everyone! I'm back & still hanging in there. My thanks to all those who read, reviewed, and emailed me in the long interim; you've helped keep my spirits up enormously! Anyway — the characters of Frank & Joe Hardy, their dad Fenton and Aunt Gertrude, and Chet Morton belong to Simon & Schuster. Those characters as portrayed here are from the 1970s TV show, "The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries". This tale takes on the infamous blue-spine book "The Witchmaster's Key"; Chauncey Rowbotham, Vincent Burelli, Nip Hadley, Lance McKnight, & John Pickenbaugh are from the book, though their re-interpretation is my own.

Quick tour for those not familiar with the show: Bayport's in Massachusetts, the Hardys' mother is dead, the only named friends are Chet and Callie, and Joe has never dated Iola. The show also accepts paranormal phenomena as real, and I take that ball & run pretty far with it.

My tales are set in the 1970s, before cell phones existed, computers were just starting to gain a foothold in our lives, and the Internet was mostly unknown. If you think "Why didn't they just…?", the answer's probably "Because it didn't exist back then." This tale is part of my ongoing Blood Circles series and picks up a few weeks after my version of "Soul Survivor"; the story order is on my profile. Enjoy!

# # #

# # #

Late August 1978, SFSU

"I could've sworn you didn't have this much stuff at the Center," Joe said.

Balancing carefully on his crutches, Frank Hardy only hauled his suitcase into the elevator. Classes started this week, so today he was moving into his on-campus space. With the brothers being transfers from Bayport Community, Frank sort-of a sophomore due to their on-again-off-again part-time status there and Joe technically a freshman, and with both having legitimate residency in San Francisco, SFSU's bureaucracy had finally surrendered. As a result, Joe had been allowed to choose the first-time freshman halls "if he wanted", and Frank the luxuries of the upper-classmen's University Park buildings.

After the CIA fiasco in NYC, Joe did not want to leave the relative security of the Center. Frank, though, had taken an apartment in University Park North, planning to split his time between that and the Center as needed. He'd reasoned it'd be a handy crash-space, in case his and Joe's schedules got too hectic, and the thought of having to maneuver San Francisco's Muni system on crutches was not pleasant. The cast on Frank's broken shin - a souvenir of NYC - wouldn't be removed for a couple more weeks, and it'd be bad enough just trying to get around campus.

"Junk tends to breed," Kris Mountainhawk said, her arms full of thick blankets and comforters. Their boss Joshua, Dad, and Kris's adoptive mother Mar were helping, too, but they were still down in the parking lot. "Even Frank's junk."

The elevator dinged and opened on a hallway filled with other students and the smells of popcorn, heavy incense, and bleach. Kris carried her armload out, leaving Frank and Joe standing there.

Joe started to grin. "Did she really just say what —"

"Don't say it."

"I won't," Joe said, as Frank hauled the suitcase out of the elevator, "but I'm thinking it. Loudly."

Kris was Frank and Joe's unofficially-adopted kid-sister and tagalong, a small, mousy blonde who'd been their next door neighbor back in Bayport and who'd become a combination of teacher and spooky-stuff troublemaker since the brothers had come out to San Francisco. Frank and his brother were opposites in everything, save a love of mysteries and a knack for getting into trouble, and their clothing reflected that today. Frank was the clean-cut, prep-school jock in pressed khaki slacks and a button-down-collar blue shirt, but Joe was casual through and through, with longer hair, a leaner frame, faded jeans, and a red sweatshirt, though the "casual" was offset by Joe's crutch and the dark scars ringing his neck.

Surreptitiously, Frank glanced at Joe to see how he managed, since Joe had been using a crutch for months. Joe only had a single half-full duffle bag slung over one shoulder.

"Something wrong?" Joe said.

"I'm on two of these things," Frank said, scowling. "How'd I get stuck with the heavier load?"

"It's a dirty job," Joe said, getting out of range of crutch, throw, and mock-swipe, "but somebody has to do it."

Rolling his eyes, Frank picked his suitcase back up and got re-balanced; by that point, Joe was halfway down the corridor. As Frank maneuvered through the milling people, he nodded at his soon-to-be neighbors while trying not to stare at the ones sporting spiked mohawks in every shade of the rainbow and safety pins in noses and ears. Without comment, Frank caught up with Kris and Joe, and, setting the suitcase down, unlocked the door of his new apartment.

Frank had expected institutional concrete, rundown from heavy student use. Instead, it looked like a typical flat in any urban apartment building: wood-paneled walls, orange-brown shag carpet, a small kitchen to his immediate right, and a spacious living/dining area with sliding glass doors open onto a small patio and letting in the fresh breeze — Frank blinked at that. His new roommate was here already?

"About time you got here, roomie," said a familiar voice from the apartment hallway, and all three of them turned.

"Chet?!" Joe said.

"The one and only." A roly-poly guy with curly brown hair and glasses, Chet Morton grinned at them. "Moved in Saturday. Ma and Pa decided to do a vacation out here and combined it with settling me in. We wanted to visit, but Ma lost the phone number and we couldn't find that place you're in. So I decided to surprise you."

"But…" Censoring his immediate thoughts, Frank settled on, "You're going to SFSU? I thought you were sticking with Bayport Community."

"Culinary school, my dear fellow," Chet said loftily. "Food service management. Me and food — it's a natural."

"You can say that again," Joe said.

Chet had been one of the few people who hadn't pressed for details of New Orleans, who hadn't gawked at Joe's scars, and whom Frank and Joe had trusted with most of the real story — as close to the truth as they could manage without sounding like Ripley's Believe It Or Not, anyway. But after NYC, neither Frank nor Joe wanted to expose any of their friends to possible CIA targeting; the only person in Bayport who knew that full story was Dad.

"You guys are going here," Chet was saying, "and I knew Kris was out here, so I told Ma that meant Mar could keep an eye on me, too. Plus the scholarship, so Pa decided it was a no-brainer."

"Scholarship?" Frank was still trying to wrap his mind around Chet, SFSU, and roommate. Scholarship didn't come anywhere near the same sentence.

"Boston Culinary Association." Chet sounded smug. "Earned it fair and square. Pays half the expenses, as long as I major in something to do with food or business. Lots cheaper than BCC. And since I'm a transfer, they let me have upper class housing. Er…something wrong?"

Slowly Frank shook his head. This had too much potential to blow up in their faces. "Just surprised, that's all."

"Good," Chet said. "You guys need me to keep you out of trouble."

That was the last thing they needed. Unsure how to answer that without lying through his teeth, Frank settled for hauling his suitcase back to the bedrooms.

"I took the front bedroom," Chet called after him. "I figured you'd want the back. More quiet there."

Frank didn't answer. The bedroom in question looked clean, though the bed's mattress was softer than what he was used to, but he'd adapt. The rest of the room wasn't anything special: beige stucco walls, orange shag carpet, standard sliding-door closet with a full-length mirror on one door, a institutional metal desk. He'd left the big oak desk back at the Center, until he could get a look at what the standard student furnishings were, but if Chet was going to be his roommate, better to leave the desk right where it was. Frank would need his room at the Center more than he'd thought he would.

Kris slipped into the room and set her armload of blankets on the bed. "No, big brother. The Association didn't do it. Shimá says so. And he isn't." Kris ducked her head at Frank's look. "Um…you got kinda loud. Almost as loud as Joe."

"Shimá" was the Navajo word for "mother". Kris was a jack, with a touch of several Gifts, including telepathy; Mar was a pure 'path. Being able to talk mind-to-mind had its advantages, not that Frank ever wanted any of the Gifts, period.

Frank sighed. "I'm worried this is another one of his hobbies and he'll be stuck here for the year before he can get back home."

"We could meet him up with Godzilla."

Godzilla was Joshua's mate and a chef at Burn The Tail, one of the city's best Japanese restaurants. Godz wasn't Gifted, not in the way the Association defined the term, but he definitely worked magic in the kitchen. If anyone could poke holes in Chet's culinary fantasy, Godzilla could. "Good plan," Frank said. "If Chet doesn't freak about the whole Castro thing, anyway."

Chet's parents were typical small-town-New-England farm-folk in lifestyle and attitudes. Frank didn't know if Chet shared his parents' views, but Frank didn't want to subject Joshua or Godzilla to it if Chet did. The commander for the Association's Blades in the western US, Joshua Thomas was Frank and Joe's boss, but still a good friend.

"If he can't handle San Francisco," Kris said, "he shouldn't have come out here."

At that point, Chet poked his head in the doorway. "Talking behind my back already?"

"We were talking about which restaurant to introduce you to first," Frank said. Technically true, for a stretched-out value of truth. "You're going to gain twenty pounds in your first week here."

"You'll walk it all off," Kris said.

"That was the other reason I wanted to come out here. Hearing you guys talk about the food, I mean. And you told me you're friends with a chef." Chet grinned. "It's all about connections."

That was Chet all over, with his ever-changing hobbies and fancies. He always wanted the easy way, and the moment reality kicked in and actual work reared its head, the hobby would get dropped for something else shiny and new. Frank kept his sigh strictly internal: he really didn't want to be on the receiving end of Chet's gripes if — when — Chet realized the cooking thing involved actual work.

"Don't count on that." Joe squeezed past Chet to deposit the duffle bag on the floor. "Godzilla's real tough-minded about food. If you don't measure up, nothing we say'll make a difference."


"He's a monster-movie fanatic," Kris said. "Rubber-suit Japanese things."

"So where are you at?" Chet said to Joe. "Freshman dorms?"

Joe hesitated. "Off-campus," he said finally. "Mar jump-claimed us for residency and they weren't about to argue with her."

"We're working with a local detective agency," Frank said, with a warning glance at Joe. "Getting ahead on the work requirement thing. We figured having two places to crash would help if the schedules got too crazy."

"Like I said, it's all about connections," Chet said.

"They earned it fair and square, Chet," Kris said firmly, as Frank opened his mouth. "The hard way. Shimá had nothing to do with it. Josh doesn't hire connections."

Chet didn't look convinced. "Uh…yeah. Right. You mentioned dinner?"

"My vote's for sashimi," Joe said to Frank, with just the bare hint of a grin. "And akachan no tako with tempura ika."

Frank managed to keep his face straight. Raw slices of fish, grilled baby octopus, and squid: a guaranteed horror show for any newbie to Japanese cuisine. He and Joe had developed bad addictions for the stuff, but it wasn't for beginners. "My treat, then," Frank said. "Since you and Tag are helping with the move."

Now Chet was looking from Frank to Joe with open confusion.

"I'll go let Shimá know," Kris said. "She and your dad might head somewhere else. Josh, too?"

"Definitely," Frank said. "Kill all the birds with one stone."

"Your dad's here?" Chet said.

Frank hesitated. "He wanted to make sure we didn't have trouble." The least painful explanation.

Thankfully, Chet didn't push it. "For that, I'll help the load-in, too. I'm hungry enough to eat a cow raw."

Frank and Joe looked at each other.

"Don't worry," Joe said, his grin breaking loose. "Raw cow is the last thing we're thinking of."