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Authors: Raine Weaver

Lucidity (16 page)

BOOK: Lucidity
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Parker paused in his feverish pacing before the small bed-and-breakfast, refusing to look toward the heavens, afraid of what he might see. “Shep? Need you to repeat. The reception here is for shit. Did you—did you say you were in Ohio?”

“Yeah. And somebody needs to tell these folks it’s supposed to be springtime. I’ve got snow up the ass here, and—”

“You said ‘she’. Your victim’s a woman?” Carly had been right. It was twisted habit that made his hand move to the pearl-handled pistol. “Where are you? Who is she?”

“Place called Belvyn, I think. The lady’s name was Violet Cushing. Born and bred in these parts, I hear. The locals were botching the crime scene until I learned she was part of the group and took over.”

The chill in his bones sharpened to something near pain. Violet. Carlotta’s friend, the girl with the glad face and warm heart. He’d barely known her, but it was hard to imagine the twinkle in those blue eyes being dimmed. Jesus. She couldn’t have been more than twenty years old. She was supposed to have seven children and lots of chimes. It just wasn’t freaking right. She was a good person, with everything in the world to live for. And she’d been gracious to him, despite his show of sheer stupidity.

He hated to admit to himself that his spiritual doubts had been proven true. Maybe he’d really wanted to believe as Carly did. But no just power in the universe would allow such a fate to befall such a rare flower.

Carly would be crushed. And
Sam
. Poor Sam would be devastated. Goddammit. There was no such thing as fairness in the world. Parker kicked furrows in the icy slush, trying not to suspect how convenient it was for Shep to be called in for the case. Swallowing the anger that rose in his throat, he kept his voice level. “Good thing you happened to be so close.”

“Nothing just ‘happened’ here, bro. I was notified. And I feel partly to blame. Violet had refused protection since her engagement. Said it interfered with her privacy, her living. Maybe I should’ve pushed the point, but I let her choose. She said she wasn’t worried. This was her hometown, and everybody knew her.” His tone became eerily detached. “She worked in the local movie theater. Her body was found there, after hours. Fortunately, her married boss had arranged a late-night rendezvous at the concession stand to bang the buttered-popcorn gal.”

There was a brief interlude of static, chased by the muted sound of Shep roundly cursing some unknown subordinate before continuing. “Munroe, I don’t like intruding on whatever’s going on for you. As far as I’m concerned, as long as your charge is safe, I don’t care what the two of you do. But this is nasty business. And if I’m reading your signal right, you’re here. In Ohio. And this murder took place about fifteen miles from your current location.”

Shit. There was no justification for keeping his whereabouts a secret in these circumstances. Suspicion was one thing. The job was something else—and he had no evidence that his handler was involved.

This was the problem with trusting no one. It could’ve been the Temple zealots. It might’ve been a local. Small towns weren’t immune to such crime. Hell, it might’ve been their own people. Maybe Sam wasn’t so paranoid after all. Yes, they’d broken the rules and their contracts—but had Carly and Violet risked their lives by coming together as they did? “Yeah. Location confirmed.”

“Then I’m not gonna ask why you felt the need to keep that from me. I’m not even gonna ask if it’s been worth it. But my guess is there’s a particularly deadly strain of the Temple virus here. Orders be damned, and asteroid or not, you need to get that girl away from there and—”

He never heard the rest of Shepherd’s advice. His legs were in motion, pounding a path through the snow before the thought even occurred to him. Tearing through the entrance, he barely felt the rush of cold air that swirled into the lobby behind him, hardly heard his footsteps sounding on the stairs.

“Carlotta! Heads up. We’re on the move, babe.”

The door to their small suite was slightly ajar, and he bit back angry words. No, he hadn’t told her to secure it, but what in the world was she thinking? He’d give her a good talking to once they blew this joint. This was too crucial a time for her to be so careless.

“Carly. We’ve gotta go.” His stern voice sounded like looming thunder in the silence. The frail fire was fading. No sign of her in the common room. Swinging around the corner, he lunged into the bathroom. All clear once again. Shit, she couldn’t have come outside without him seeing her.

“Hey, babe. You working on being my backup bitch again?” No way. She couldn’t have gotten stuck out on the balcony again—could she? “I appreciate the heroics, but…Carlotta?”

The door slid open like a blade over ice in his hand. The iron-trellised balcony was shadowed and hauntingly empty.

An uneasy sense of foreboding snaked into his gut and twisted, forming a knot. This was all wrong. Carlotta could be flighty, occasionally absentminded, but she’d never leave him hanging like this. Maybe she’d gotten her big call and been too frantic to let him know. Maybe she’d just zoned right out.

Heart in throat, he hurried into the bedroom and found the covers of the bed they’d thoroughly used still tossed, the remains of the black silk nightgown a liquid hole in the floor.

But no Carly.

Impossible
. It was not possible that someone could’ve gotten by him. No one had used the front door, and there was no rear exit.

Parker proceeded to systematically demolish the suite, looking for some sign of what had happened, calling her name every few seconds.

Asshole
. This was why getting involved with a client was a bad idea. Caring interfered with clear thinking. If Carly was a short, balding senator rather than a hot-blooded babe, he’d still be rational now—and not feel like his hammering heart was about to explode through his chest.

Futility fed the anger that was rapidly becoming fear, and with a frustrated bellow, he punched half his fist through the wall.

The effort wasn’t purely wasted energy. He managed to self-inflict enough pain to force himself out of panic mode. To make him slow down. And think.

Details
. He needed to focus on what was in front of him, rather than what was missing.

Vic’s dinner was there, still steaming on the table. The television was dark, the remote control on the sofa. And next to that—

Beside that was Carly’s special cell phone with the
Close Encounters
ringtone. Shit. She’d never leave that behind. Not now.

He’d messed up. Somewhere along the way, he’d really messed up, and if anything happened to that girl because of him…

He did a quick search of the smaller, neighboring suites, found both of them empty, then flew down the stairs to look for Vic. He’d nearly run the man over—what? Three, four minutes ago? He couldn’t have gone far. And he had brought the tray up to the suite. Maybe he’d seen something.

No sign of him anywhere. The kitchenette behind his living area was empty, butter and gritty potato peelings left behind on the laminated counter.

There was nothing unusual around the lobby’s desk. Small portable television. Slim laptop, its screen saver constructing colorful, connecting pipes. A recliner littered with bits of popcorn. A leather-bound black book resting on the arm of the chair. Parker snatched it up, did a double take and frowned.

A Bible? Vic, ex-soldier of fortune was reading a
Bible?

He flipped the pages to a white satin ribbon, noting a short passage highlighted in yellow. The antiquated words faded before his straining eyes, and he slowly allowed the book to slip from his hand to the floor, fingers trembling with that familiar adrenaline.

Stupid, stupid, stupid
!

Hadn’t he just bulldozed his way through the B&B? Vic hadn’t been at his station then. He also hadn’t come outside. And he couldn’t have ‘disappeared’ from the house any more than Carly could—if, in fact, there were no other exits. If the bastard hadn’t lied to him all along.

He grabbed the book again and reread the single passage in the well-thumbed pages that explained everything, everything he’d been too thick to see.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Parker’s heart heaved into his throat, and he slammed the Bible against the laptop’s keyboard. The photo of a familiar visage, somewhat pale and grainy, materialized, smiling back as the pipes faded from the screen.

The lovely, serene face of Carlotta Phelps.

In a moment, it morphed into the pixyish visage of Violet Cushing, and then another, and another. It was a virtual slideshow of each and every member of the One Hundred.

He was outside again an instant later. With his eyes trained on the ground, he looked for tracks as he jabbed at his cell phone, ignoring his bloodied knuckles. Breaking into a sweaty trot, he ran around the house in widening circles.

There was no choice now. He had to trust
someone
.

“Shep. I’m at Vic’s place. Yeah, I’ve mentioned him to you once or twice. You still at the site of the Belvyn murder? Forget that. Bed-and-breakfast, sixteen miles north of you on Route 82. Get your ass up here, and get here
now
.” He was having trouble breathing and flexed his fingers, desperately needing to put his fist through something again. “God help me. I’ve lost her.”

 

 

Vic sat cross-legged on a mound of earth across from her, the beam of his penlight stabbing into her eyes. She couldn’t see his face in the shadows. And maybe that was just as well. His words were terrifying enough.

“Sorry you didn’t get to eat before we left, Ms. Phelps. Everybody should enjoy a last meal.”

Carly could only shake her head. The plastic cables he’d secured around her wrists and ankles were already cutting off her circulation, and the foul taste of duct tape coated her tongue.

This just couldn’t be happening. Despite the security and all the weeks of running, she wasn’t sure she’d honestly believed she was in danger.

With a firm grip on her throat to choke back her screams, Vic had literally dragged her into a hole in the floor and through an underground munitions room that would’ve gotten Parker’s rocks off. Once there, he’d paused just long enough to bind and gag her and tuck a .22 into his boot before proceeding along an incalculable length of tunnel into the small, dank cavity they waited in now.

The chamber was a sheer, short drop below a dark opening that had been boarded over and branched off into three channels with glistening concave walls. The slippery surfaces had made it easy for him to haul her through, in spite of her squirming resistance.

He seemed quite at home there.

She didn’t need a map to tell her where she was. The remains of feces and urine might have been absorbed into the soil decades ago, but the suffocating scent remained. They were directly under the old outhouse.

“I want you to know I’m a reasonable man, Ms. Phelps. A man of God. It would sit well with my sinner’s soul if I could get you to believe that.” Vic heaved a heavy sigh that fell flat in the silence, muffled by the moist walls. “If I’d only met you before, I might’ve been able to make you see the truth. Many of us joined Temple Malleus for that reason. Those people saved me. They just seemed to lack the hard-core conviction to root out evil. But some of us got it. A firm hand was necessary. Even when most of the others turned a blind eye to our extreme methods, we knew what we had to do. We thought we could find out who you people were and try to reason with you. But you wouldn’t agree to stop. None of you. This is the result. And all of us are out of chances now.”

Moving with the ease of a confident man, he withdrew his .22 revolver from inside his boot and placed it on the ground before him. “These are sad times, calling for drastic measures. I’m not enjoying this. But I’m willing to give you a chance to renounce your heathen beliefs. The same chance I gave the other girl.”

Other girl?
Oh no, oh no. Had he done this to another of the One Hundred? More than one? Or, worse, an innocent?

“I can even forgive that bit of fornication I witnessed on the balcony earlier today. You are a pretty little thing. I remember what it is to be young. Munroe is a man’s man, easily tempted by the flesh. I’d be surprised if he didn’t take you. But you? Your sins run much deeper.” His tone was sad, almost sympathetic. “Will you be saved? Stop pursuing this madness and allow me to spare you? Will you confess to being a false prophet, young lady? Will you admit that the power of creation is a divine ability, and that our destinies lie strictly in God’s hands?”

Would she deny what she was, what she believed in, the cause she’d supported to the exclusion of nearly everything else in her life?

Oh
hell
yeah.

Carly eagerly nodded, making a muffled sound behind her gag. Screw truth at a moment like this. She was no saint and had never pretended to be heroic. She’d say anything if it meant life and freedom.

Uncle Vic smiled. “Then you won’t mind if I pass you along to a few friends of mine who’ll work to keep you awake and dreamless, for as long as it takes the asteroid to remain on course—or not—according to God’s will?”

He knew the answer immediately. She heard it in his short chuckle, saw it in the curve of his shadowy smile. She couldn’t hide it. The agency had a handful of less talented backups standing by in case any of the One Hundred were out of commission. But she’d just been snatched. No one even knew about it. And she had no idea how many others he’d kidnapped, possibly killed. Suppose the critical time was now? What if her absence in the concerted effort meant its failure?

BOOK: Lucidity
4.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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