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Authors: Tanya Huff

1 Blood Price (2 page)

BOOK: 1 Blood Price
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FOR JOHN, who, from the beginning, has been more than understanding about phone calls, photocopying, trips to the post office, arriving late, leaving early, and occasionally not showing up at all. Thanks.
Ian shoved his hands deep in his pockets and scowled down the length of the empty subway platform. His hands were freezing, he was in a bitch of a bad mood, and he had no idea why he’d agreed to meet Coreen at her apartment. All things considered, neutral ground might have been a better idea. He shifted his scowl to the LED clock hanging from the ceiling. 12:17. Thirteen minutes to get from Eglinton West to Wilson Station, six blocks worth of bus ride, and then a three block run to Coreen’s. It couldn’t be done.
I’m going to be late. She’s going to be pissed. And there goes our chance to make up.
He sighed. It had taken two hours of arguing on the phone to get her to agree to a meeting. Maintaining a relationship with Coreen might be time-consuming, but it sure as hell wasn’t boring. Lord, but the woman had a temper. . . . His lips curled up into a smile almost without him willing the motion; the flip side of that temper made all the effort of staying on the roller coaster worthwhile. The smile broadened. Coreen packed a lot of punch for a woman barely five foot two.
He glanced up at the clock again.
Where the hell was the train?
Be there by 12:30 or forget it
, she’d said, completely ignoring the fact that on Sunday the Toronto Transit Commission, the ubiquitous TTC, drastically cut back on the number of trains and at this hour he’d be lucky to get the last one they ran.
Looking at the bright side, when he finally got there, given the time of night and the fact that they both had an eight o’clock class, he’d have to stay over. He sighed.
If she’ll even let me into her apartment.
He wandered down to the southernmost end of the platform and peered into the tunnel. No sign of lights, but he could feel wind against his face and that usually meant the train wasn’t far. He coughed as he turned away. It smelled like something had died down there; smelled like it did at the cottage when a mouse got between the walls and rotted.
“Big mother of a mouse,” he muttered, rubbing his fist against his nose. The stench caught in his lungs and he coughed again. It was funny the tricks the mind played; now that he was aware of it, the smell seemed to be getting stronger.
And then he heard what could only be footsteps coming up the tunnel, out of the darkness. Heavy footsteps, not at all like a worker hurrying to beat the train after a day’s overtime, nor like a burn staggering for the safety of the platform. Heavy footsteps, purposefully advancing toward his back.
Ian gloried in the sharp terror that started his heart thudding in his chest and trapped his breath in his throat. He knew very well that when he turned, when he looked, the explanation would be prosaic, so he froze and enjoyed the unknown while it remained unknown, delighted in the adrenaline rush of fear that made every sense more alive and made the seconds stretch to hours.
He didn’t turn until the footsteps moved up the half dozen cement stairs and onto the platform.
Then it was too late.
He almost didn’t have time to scream.
Tucking her chin down into her coat—it might be April but it was still damp and cold, with no sign of spring—Vicki Nelson stepped off the Eglinton bus and into the subway station.
“Well, that was a disaster,” she muttered. The elderly gentleman who had exited the bus right behind her made an inquiring noise. She turned a bland stare in his general direction, then picked up her pace.
So I’m not only “lousy company, and so uptight I squeak,” but I also talk to myself.
She sighed. Lawrence was pretty, but he wasn’t her type. She hadn’t met a man who was her type since she’d left the police force eight months before.
I should’ve known this was going to happen when I agreed to go out with a man significantly better looking than I am.
I don’t
know why I accepted the invitation.
That wasn’t exactly true; she’d accepted the invitation because she was lonely. She knew it, she just had no intention of admitting it.
She was halfway down the first set of stairs leading to the southbound platform when she heard the scream. Or rather the half-scream. It choked off in mid-wail. One leap took her to the first landing. From where she stood, she could see only half of each platform through the glass and no indication of which side the trouble was on. The south was closer, faster.
Bounding down two, and then three steps at a time she yelled, “Call the police!” Even if no one heard her, it might scare off the cause of the scream.
Nine years on the force and she’d never used her gun. She wanted it now. In nine years on the force she’d never heard a scream like that.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
the more rational part of her brain shrieked.
“You don’t have a weapon! You don’t have backup! You don’t have any idea of what’s going on down there! Eight months off the force and you’ve forgotten everything they ever taught you! What the hell are you trying to prove?”
Vicki ignored the voice and kept moving. Maybe she was trying to prove something. So what.
When she exploded out onto the platform, she immediately realized she’d chosen the wrong side and for just an instant, she was glad of it.
A great spray of blood arced up the orange tiles of the station wall, feathering out from a thick red stream to a delicate pattern of crimson drops. On the floor below, his eyes and mouth open above the mangled ruin of his throat, lay a young man. No: the body of a young man.
The dinner she’d so recently eaten rose to the back of Vicki’s throat, but walls built during the investigations of other deaths slammed into place and she forced it down.
The wind in the tunnel began to pick up and she could hear the northbound train approaching. It sounded close.
Sweet Jesus, that’s all we need.
At 12:35 on a Sunday night it was entirely possible that the train would be nearly empty, no one would get off, and no one would notice the corpse and the blood-spattered wall down at the southernmost end of the northbound platform. Given the way of the world, however, it was more likely that a group of children and a little old lady with a weak heart would pile out of the last carriage and come face-to-face with the staring eyes and mutely screaming mouth of a fresh corpse.
Only one solution presented itself.
The roar of the train filled the station as, heart pounding and adrenaline singing in her ears, Vicki leapt down onto the southbound tracks. The wooden step over the live rail was too far away, almost centered in the line of concrete pillars, so she jumped, trying not to think of the however many million volts of electricity the thing carried turning her to charcoal. She tottered for a moment on the edge of the divider, cursing her full-length coat and wishing she’d worn a jacket, and then, although she knew it was the stupidist thing she could do, she looked toward the oncoming train.
How did it get so close?
The light was blinding, the roar deafening. She froze, caught in the glare, sure that if she continued she’d fall and the metal wheels of the beast would cut her to shreds.
Then something man-height flickered across the northbound tunnel. She didn’t see much, just a billowing shadow, black against the growing headlight, but it jerked her out of immobility and down onto the track.
Cinders crunched under her boots, metal rang, then she had her hands on the edge of the platform and was flinging herself into the air. The world filled with sound and light and something brushed lightly against her sole.
Her hands were sticky, covered with blood, but it wasn’t hers and at the moment that was all that mattered. Before the train stopped, she’d flung her coat over the body and grabbed her ID.
The center-man stuck his head out.
Vicki flipped the leather folder in his direction and barked, “Close the doors! Now!”
The doors, not quite open, closed.
She remembered to breathe again and when the center-man’s head reappeared, snapped, “Have the driver get the police on the radio. Tell them it’s a 10-33 . . . never mind what that means!” She saw the question coming. “They’ll know! And don’t forget to tell them where it is.” People had done stupider things in emergencies. As he ducked back into the train, she looked down at her card case and sighed, then lifted one gory finger to push her glasses back up her nose. A private investigator’s ID meant absolutely nothing in a case like this, but people responded to the appearance of authority, not the particulars.
She moved a little farther from the body. Up close, the smell of blood and urine—the front of the boy’s jeans was soaked—easily overcame the metallic odors of the subway. A lone face peered out through the window of the closest car. She snarled at it and settled down to wait.
Less than three minutes later, Vicki heard the faint sound of sirens up on the street. She almost cheered. It had been the longest three minutes of her life.
She’d spent them thinking, adding together the spray of blood and the position of the body and not liking the total.
Nothing that she knew of could strike a single blow strong enough to tear through flesh like tissue paper and fast enough that the victim had no time to struggle. Nothing. But something had.
And it was down in the tunnels.
She twisted until she could see into the darkness beyond the end of the train. The hair on the back of her neck rose. What did the shadows hide, she wondered. Her skin crawled, not entirely because of the cold. She’d never considered herself an overly imaginative woman and she knew the killer had to be long gone, but
lingered in that tunnel.
The distinctive slam of police boots against tile brought her around, hands held carefully out from her sides. Police called to a violent murder, finding someone covered in blood standing over the body, could be excused if they jumped to a conclusion or two.
The situation got chaotic for a few minutes, but fortunately four of the six constables had heard of “Victory” Nelson and after apologies had been exchanged all around, they got to work.
“. . . my coat over the body, had the driver call the police, and waited.” Vicki watched Police Constable West scribbling madly in his occurrence book and hid a grin. She could remember being that young and that intense. Barely. When he looked up, she nodded at the body and asked, “Do you want to see?”
“Uh, no!” After a second he added, a little sheepishly, “That is, we shouldn’t disturb anything before homicide gets here.”
Homicide. Vicki’s stomach lurched and her mood nose-dived. She’d forgotten she wasn’t in charge. Forgotten she was nothing more than a witness—first on the scene and that only because she’d done some pretty stupid things to get there. The uniforms had made it seem like old times but homicide . . . her department. No, not hers any longer. She pushed her glasses up her nose with the back of her wrist.
PC West, caught staring, dropped his gaze in confusion. “Uh, I don’t think anyone would mind if you cleaned the blood off your hands.”
“Thanks.” Vicki managed a smile but ignored the unasked question. How well she could see, or how little she could see, was nobody’s business but hers. Let another round of rumors start making its way through the force. “If you wouldn’t mind grabbing a couple of tissues out of my bag. . . .”
The young constable dipped a tentative hand into the huge black leather purse and actually looked relieved when he removed it holding the tissue and still in possession of all his fingers. Vicki’s bag had been legendary throughout Metro and the boroughs.
BOOK: 1 Blood Price
6.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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