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Authors: Jeanne C. Stein

Tags: #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #General, #Horror

Crossroads (7 page)

BOOK: Crossroads
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I could fake it. Probably should. Instead, I tell him the truth. “He killed an innocent man. He would have killed Tracey’s sister. What would you have done in my place?”
Harris allows a rare, real, honest-to-God smile. His only answer. Then, “I’ll see you get your gun back as soon as forensics is finished with it.”
“I appreciate it.” I start for the door. Harris stops me again and jerks a thumb toward the back.
“Better go out that way. There’s a shitload of reporters waiting out front.”
He saved me again. That’s three times now. If this keeps out, I might start to like the man.
Suddenly I’m glad Stephen is out of town. He’s one reporter I would have a hard time shaking.
HIS IS NOT THE WAY I INTENDED TO SPEND THE day. I keep seeing Harris’ expression when he asked me if I was all right. It haunts me all the way back to the cottage. He’s forming an opinion about me I neither welcome nor like. It’s as if he’s trying to get into my head. Trying to work a puzzle with missing pieces.
I recognize the look. I’ll bet right now he’s going over every detail of every time our paths have crossed. Maybe it’s because of Williams. Maybe it’s because, like he said yesterday, I end up involved in cases I have no reason to be.
Maybe it’s because of the body count.
For the first time, I miss Williams. At least when he was chief, I had a buffer shielding me from the prying eyes of a human police force.
I have messages waiting for me on both my landline and cell phone. The local press picked up the story of the “Supermarket Shoot-out” and want interviews. I delete all ten of them. Curse the fact that they were able to get my unlisted numbers, then smile at the irony in that. I wonder how many people I’ve tracked down who’ve cursed me the same way?
An eleventh message is from Stephen. He caught the story as it came over the wire. When I call him back, his phone goes right to voice mail. I assure him that I’m all right, promise that we’ll talk soon.
The last message is from Max. He heard what happened, too. He asks if I’m okay and if I still plan to meet him tonight. I return that call. Get his voice mail, tell him yes, I’m okay and yes, I’ll see him as planned. I also ask him to bring an extra weapon. I’m sure I won’t have my gun back for a few days. If we’re dealing with a vampire, I won’t really need a gun. But though a bullet won’t stop a vampire, it can slow one down.
IT’S A CLEAR, QUIET, MOONLESS NIGHT. MAX AND I have tramped across two miles of barren desert. We’re both dressed in dark camo, ski masks covering our faces. He dons night vision goggles. I don’t need them. The creatures of the desert are as clear to me in the inky blackness as they would be in the brightest sunlight. I see more than Max ever can, down to the tiniest scurrying insects he crushes underfoot as we trudge onward.
I hear more, too. The faraway cry of a bird of prey. The squeal of a rabbit as the jaws of a coyote snap closed around its neck. The pebbles pushed aside in the wake of a slithering snake.
Then something else.
I touch Max’s arm. Signal him to stop. Point off to the north.
Too far away for him to see, there’s a dim shadow against the inky darkness. Moving toward us.
Max doesn’t question me. We seek cover behind the sloping bank of an arroyo, dry as dust in the summer heat. And hunker down to wait.
The shadow draws closer, divides into three. I probe, careful to keep my own presence hidden. The unmistakable psychic pattern of a vampire comes back like the blip on radar. At least one of them is vampire.
Then a feeling I’ve come to recognize swamps my senses. Revulsion. Rage. Bloodlust so powerful the vampire within bursts from its human cocoon with the gnashing of teeth.
Evil approaches.
Max seems to detect the change. He leans away from me, an involuntary, instinctive reaction to danger. “What’s wrong?”
I strip the ski mask from my face, let it fall to the ground. It takes effort to speak, to form words and force them through a throat that wants to howl. “Stay away from me. No matter what happens.”
I don’t wait for his reply. I leap over the embankment and head out to meet the monster.
Max’s coyote.
We’re still a mile away from each other, but she picks up the rage. I close the distance in seconds.
Then we’re face-to-face.
The vampire and the man and woman at her side. They are stunned by my sudden appearance, by my vampire face. They are young, maybe twenty, dressed in dark jeans and hoodies that are tattered and stained. They each carry a small satchel. They cringe away, look to their guide.
I look at her, too. She has the smooth, unlined face of a very young woman. Dark skinned, dark hair and eyes that tilt up at the corners. Exotic. Latino or Middle Eastern?
I point to the humans.
Let them go.
The vampire tilts her head to one side, studying me. Physically, we are evenly matched. She is weighing her options.
You have no options.
She is cloaking her thoughts. Then, abruptly, she says,
Perhaps you are right. These two are of no consequence.
Do they speak English?
A nod.
I drag my eyes away from her, motion to the couple. “The border is three miles straight ahead. There is a tear in the fence. You can make it on your own.”
I am trying very hard to sound human. Even to my own ears, my voice is rough. It comes from my gut, not my vocal cords. A growl.
The humans are mesmerized. They can’t look away from my eyes.
The vampire raises a hand, strokes the hair of the woman.
They want to stay with me.
She has not shown her true nature. The woman steps behind her for protection. The vampire laughs.
The fury in me builds. I realize her intention. Her mouth opens, her teeth gnash. She reaches behind to pull the woman forward.
I have her neck before she can grab the woman. I pull her away and spin her around, showing the cowering couple the true face of their savior.
They jump back, mouths open in astonishment.
The vampire laughs again. I force her to her knees. Reach into the pocket of her jacket. Pull a wad of bills from inside. Toss it to the man.
“Take your money. Go. Now.”
This time, there is no hesitation. They circle around us in a wide arc, uncomprehending, fearful the creatures might change their minds. Then they’re off, running across the desert floor.
I hold the vampire on the ground until the rustle of their clothes, the sound of their footsteps is a distant echo.
You could have let me keep the money.
She is not afraid.
Do you know who I am?
Everyone of our race knows who you are.
Then you know I can’t let you go.
Still no reaction. Her mind is closed. Mine is not.
Do you think because you are not resisting I will spare you?
I think you will spare me because I have something to offer you.
I pull her to her feet. She faces me squarely. We are the same height. Her dark eyes have changed back, she still holds the vampire in check. She wears jeans and a blouse that skims her shoulders, a denim jacket. Her hair is tied back from her face with a scarf. She looks about twenty-five. Her thoughts are much older, much darker.
The creature before me radiates malevolence. She has killed for a hundred years. She has a taste for it. Lust for blood oozes from her pores like the foul smell of rotting meat. My instinct to kill her now and quickly battles with a desire to learn what a being like this thinks she can offer me.
See? You are curious.
I backhand her across the face. She flies fifty feet and lands on a barrel cactus.
She struggles to her feet.
Damn, bitch. That hurt.
I’m at her side with my hands around her throat before she can finish whining.
She still has not released the beast. I can feel her fury building. She wants to. What is holding her back?
I have killed vampires before. Vampires more powerful than this sniveling female. It can be done many ways. This one, however, deserves to die slowly. The same way she has killed the helpless humans she’s lured to this place with a promise of a new life. She will feel her life ebb away drop by drop until there is nothing left but an empty husk.
I am done with you.
For the first time, something besides sarcasm and confidence flickers in the depths of her eyes. Fear is there, too. She pulls away, her hands on my arms as she tries to break my grip. Her struggles are fruitless.
But I have something you want. Information I am willing to offer in return for my life.
You have recklessly taken human life. Left bodies to be discovered—
No one of importance. No one who will be missed. I have incited no threat against us. Why should it matter to you that I thin the ranks of the miserable? I do them a service, ending their pathetic lives.
Her attitude is like a red-hot poker in my gut. It is the attitude of many of our kind. Something I came to realize in my first meeting with the heads of the vampire clans. It is the attitude that holds mortals in the same class as the beasts.
I tighten my grip until I feel my fingers sink into her flesh.
Do you ask these “miserable” if they want to die? Give them a choice? You kill for sport. You take their money. Worse, you offer hope, then snatch it away. You are an animal. You deserve the same fate as those you toy with, the ones you consider unimportant. I am here to exact vengeance.
Then what Chael says about you is true.
The name makes me draw back a tiny step, to look into her eyes.
What does Chael have to do with you?
She takes advantage of the momentary distraction to draw herself up.
Chael says you think more of mortals than you do your own kind. I see he is right.
Her words drip acid.
Well, be warned. You may soon find yourself alone. There are many of us who are tired of hiding. The tide is rising.
So this is why you are here? Chael sent you to deliver a warning? He has made a grievous mistake if he thinks killing innocents is the way to gain my support for his cause.
She shakes her head.
I am not here to gain your support. Chael told me there would be only one thing to tempt you away from the path you have chosen. Kill me now and you will never know how to achieve what it is your heart desires.
And how do you know what my heart desires? How does Chael?
It is obvious. You wish to return the gift of immortality, to become human again.
I make a guttural sound in my throat—half snort, half snarl.
You think you can forestall the inevitable with this foolish talk? The only reason you are not dead already is that I want to make sure the humans are safely away before I end your miserable existence. They have been traumatized enough.
I may not be so easy to kill.
Finally. The beast is unleashed. Her right hand dips into her jacket. Lightning fast. She pulls out a small stake and lunges for my chest.
I am faster. A half turn and the stake strikes a rib. I wrest the weapon from her hand, toss it away.
She locks her arms around me, intent on bending me backward, her snapping jaws seek my throat.
It takes very little effort to break her grip. Our positions reverse. For a fleeting moment, I have a glimpse into her head. Hate boils in her blood, turns her thoughts red with rage.
And Chael is there, too. His whispered entreaties that she should seek me out. Tempt me with the secret.
Chael is there.
Who is this female to Chael?
What is the secret?
No matter.
The bloodlust burns too strong to pull back now. Nothing is more important than the hunger. I tear at her jugular. Her blood, hot and delicious, fills my mouth, my senses. She squirms and pounds at my chest with her fists. The blood from my chest wound seems to mingle with her own blood as the one flows out and the other flows in.
She is strong. Her will to live not easily extinguished. She is kicking at me, her hands frantically seeking anything to use against me.
Too late I feel her fingers close around the gun clipped to my belt. She fires it without drawing it out of the holster. The roar of the gunshot rips the quiet fabric of the night. A bullet pierces my side. Convulsively, I snap her arm at the elbow.
BOOK: Crossroads
8.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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