A Chill In The Blood (Vampire Files #7)

Chapter 10

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"You found her discarded bandaging," said Escott. "That's not proof of her death.

It's not proof of anything except that they've likely been changed for a proper dressing."

But he hadn't seen them, seen how much blood was on them. I stared out the front window of the Nash as the streets slipped past in one streaming gray blur.

Coldfield snorted. "Charles, if he wants to feel guilty about her being dead, go ahead and let him."

"We don't know that she's dead."

"Yeah, but he did spend half the night hauling those bags of money to his car instead of looking for her."

"He was filling in the time until the house was quiet so he could get Doc out."

"And if the money hadn't been there, maybe he could have done something else during that time that might have helped her."

"Now, that's quite unfair to-"

"Charles." I held up a hand. "Stop defending me. Shoe's right. Let's just leave it at that."

He opened his mouth like he wanted to say more, but the look I shot him shut him up tight. It didn't work on Coldfield, who was watching the road.

"Yeah, she's probably stone cold by now. Of course, if you'd really worked at it last night and found her, everything would be different. She'd still be dead, but maybe you wouldn't be feeling so sorry for yourself for getting distracted."

The flash of rage that shot through me was a physical thing. It seemed to roar up and envelop me like red flames. Escott reacted as if he saw and felt it, too, and flinched, his face going white.

"Jack…" he whispered. "No."

Coldfield ignored us. "On the other hand, if she's alive, then you're feeling sorry for yourself for no reason at all, unless it's something you enjoy doing. I know people like that, and I never do have much use for 'em."

I was trembling from it, from the sudden rush of adrenaline, trembling from the effort to keep myself from moving. I didn't dare, for then I might kill him.

"On the other hand, what happened is what happened and can't be changed or made better. I'd say you did the best you could at the time and you should let it go at that until we find out one way or another about the girl."

Escott held his breath for the longest time, and even over the sound of the car I could hear his heart thumping fit to burst. A few moments went by, and when it looked like I wasn't going to go berserk after all, the harsh pounding eased, and he let his pent-up air sigh out very slow and easy.

I imitated him, the slow breathing, had to shut my eyes and consciously work at it, but the action helped get me calmed down and nearly reasonable again. I wasn't ready to talk and be polite yet, but was past the point of being dangerous to anyone within shouting distance of me, myself included.

About five minutes later I looked at Coldfield. "You really are a son of a bitch."

He glanced over, chuckled once, and kept driving.

We were going straight to the roadhouse and only barely staying inside the speed limit. He skimmed under stop signals just as they changed and ran some when he saw the cross streets were clear. If there were any cops around, they weren't interested in us.

When I'd come stalking out of the clinic without Opal, he'd started the car and pulled forward, ready to brake when I stopped, only I'd not stopped, but kept coming, to vanish and reappear in the seat next to Escott so as not to waste time.

Coldfield had nearly swerved off the road at this. I barely noticed, being too busy telling them where we needed to go next. Then I told them what I'd found-or rather not found- in the house on the corner and the dark conclusion I'd drawn from it.

As the miles passed under us my anger settled back into its box. There was no point being mad at Coldfield since he was only giving me the truth; I just wasn't so good at wanting to hear it. Guilt and self-pity were old, unwelcome acquaintances of mine, slithering in to smother me whenever I was dumb enough to let them get away with it. You'd think I'd know better by now. Coldfield certainly did and could recognize when a man needed a kick in the butt. So did Escott, though his way was usually a lot more diplomatic.

The trip to the roadhouse was a long shot. Sullivan probably wouldn't be there, but I was gambling someone would be left behind who could tell me where he'd gone or how to contact him. If gone, then he'd be in some place Maxwell didn't know about, but that the local muscle would. That's where I would put the pressure until something broke.

I looked up from studying the floor in time to call out the turn we needed and asked Coldfield to cut the lights and stop just before we came in sight of the house.

We were all straining for a look ahead and made it out at the same time, a dense cloud of dark smoke rising high into the black sky.

"Holy hell," said Coldfield, and hit the gas.

The sight didn't get any better the closer we got; the whole joint was on fire and so far gone it'd be useless to call for help. The building was already collapsing in on itself. No more dance music, no more summer nights on the big veranda.

Coldfield made a wide, cautious circle of the place, giving us an eyeful of the destruction, and pulled up behind it. The parking lot was clear of cars, but we did see evidence that someone had been there and gone… leaving two of them behind. I boosted out of the Nash before it stopped and hurried toward the slack forms lying on the gravel. The fire created its own hot wind, and it plucked at my clothes.

Even at a distance you can tell the difference between alive and dead. The dead seem smaller, even when they aren't. The first man I came to had been shot in the back of the head and must have dropped right where he stood without trying to run or resist. Maybe he hadn't known what hit him. Some of his skull was gone, and I went sick at the smell of his blood mixed with the wood smoke from the building. A few feet from his body were three spent brass casings catching the intermittent light from the fire at my back-.45s. The killer must have stood about there with a semiauto in hand and…

I walked around to see the dead man's face, though I'd recognized his coat. He was in profile, his eyes were still open, and hadn't clouded over yet.

Baker.

The second man had tried running; he was sprawled flat, arms and legs thrown wide. There was a hole in his back, which may have stopped him, and another in his head, which had certainly killed him.

Calloway. Eyes also open. Mouth sagging, a thick line of spittle and blood flowing from one corner.

Still flowing. He was alive.

I bawled at Escott and Coldfield to hurry over.

Coldfield turned the car heater up as high as it would go; I took the coat from Baker's body and wrapped it close over Calloway, a futile attempt to keep him warm, then we put him in the backseat and drove like mad to find a hospital. None of us thought he had a snowball's chance of surviving, but it was what you're supposed to do, so we were doing it.

"It had to be Angela," I said. In my own ears my voice was a tired monotone.

"When Doc got back he could give her whatever information she'd need on the layout of the place. She'd want to hit it to get back at Sullivan. She'd kill these guys on principle simply because they jumped on the wrong wagon when Kyler and then Sullivan came to town."

"That sounds right," said Escott.

"It is right. Blowing off the back of a guy's skull is her specialty. I've seen her do it and not even blink."

"Sullivan could also do it just as easily."

"Why should he shoot his own men, burn down his own place?"

He shrugged. "It seemed worth mentioning as an alternative. You did express suspicion that he was himself behind the hit at the hotel, for reasons yet unknown. I also have doubts on why she would attempt an attack on Sullivan knowing he has Opal as a hostage."

"She knows he doesn't dare hurt Opal since he needs her, too."

"I'm just surprised she'd chance coming here."

"She's crazy like her old man."

"But not foolish, it's more likely to assume he wouldn't be here. Knowing that you'd freed Doc, he might expect trouble to seek him out and not wish to linger. As with the clinic, he'd make certain to be very much elsewhere."

"Okay, if that's true, then why should his pet cops loiter here being targets?"

Another shrug. "As decoys? Distractions? But we've not enough information to do more than speculate. We might be completely wrong. Sullivan and his companions could all be back there in that." He jerked a thumb in the direction of the roadhouse, now well behind us.

I hated the idea, for it meant that Opal could be there as well.

"But we need solid information. I would suggest making further inquiries with our reluctant guest in the trunk is in order."

"Yeah, but not just yet."

Coldfield grunted. "Gunshot wounds, Charles. The doctors are gonna bring in the police. Then when they see this is another cop…"

"Yes, you don't want to be hanging about when they start asking awkward questions."

"It's my life's ambition."

"Right, well, you'll just have to leave me at the hospital to deal with this bother and you two carry on. Jack also cannot afford to have too much official attention focused on him."

"How you gonna explain how you got him there? Or even why you happened to be at the roadhouse in the first place? You can lose your license over this. I say you just dump him and we drive like hell away from there."

"I'll stay and help," I said, before Escott could answer. "I can keep the cops from getting too curious."

Escott shook his head. "Thank you. While both your suggestions are worthy of consideration, I've already decided on my own solution to the dilemma."

"Which is?"

"I call Adkins. His name, authority, and hero status should be able to smooth over any rough spots with the police. Besides, we can use the opportunity to present our other passenger to him."

"He didn't strike me as the type to do anyone favors," I said.

"Then you should be available to persuade him to make an effort."

The idea of wiping Adkins's face clean of all expression appealed to me enormously. "Sure, count me in."

I checked on Calloway. He was still breathing, barely, which was a miracle. How he could even be alive with a bullet in the head was past my knowing, though I'd heard of such flukes happening.

If Angela had done it-and I was sure she had-it was going to raise one hell of a stink with the New York bosses. They'd be out two valuable assets with Baker and Calloway gone, along with all the future revenue from the roadhouse, which looked to mostly be a legitimate business. They liked having those kinds of places, it was a great way to clean up their money from other, more dubious, sources.

But Angela wouldn't care about such details. She'd want to get back at Sullivan, and this was fast, direct, and brutal- her way of making a strong point. Just too bad for the dead men. I said as much aloud.

It wasn't the kind of thing to concern Escott. "Doubtless it will work against her in the sense that two undesirable elements in the police force have been removed.

One may hope it will improve the overall standard."

"Two more heads lopped off the Hydra?"

"Exactly."

His cold attitude was understandable. He'd not spent any time with the men; they weren't much more than abstractions to him. Not that I'd liked them either, they'd both been bastards, but maybe they hadn't always been so. I'd seen enough of life to be cured of most forms of idealism, but not to the point of losing all hope for a person, any person-at least when I was in control enough to think about it-even Calloway, who had wanted to kill me. With that in mind I'd tried to open a door for them, to give them a way clear of the darkness. It looked like they hadn't ducked through in time. Someone had taken even that slim chance for redemption away from them.

As for Escott, I could see that Bobbi was right. One of these nights I just might try taking Coldfield's suggestion about him: get him stinking drunk and maybe then find out what dark thing had eaten away at his soul. Of course, I could just hypnotize it out of him… but that wouldn't be right. Better to do it the old-fashioned way.

Sudden bright lights in a bleak neighborhood. Coldfield pulled up to the hospital's emergency entry, and I hauled myself clear to go for help.

Coldfield opened the trunk and kept a lookout while I pulled Maxwell free and carried him fireman-style around to the front seat. The back might have been safer, but I didn't want to sit there. With the little overhead light on so I could work, I said Maxwell's name three times and clapped. He came out of it fast enough, and I put him under just as fast before he could do much more than widen his eyes in shock.

"Okay, Max, we've been looking for Sullivan, and he's not at the clinic or the roadhouse. Where else would he go?"

He struggled with that one for a while, then finally gave up. I knew better, or thought I did, and kept at him while Coldfield silently looked on.

Nothing. I started asking about the muscle from the roadhouse, trying to get at least one useful nanieirone place to search. I got a few of each, writing them down, but had a lot of doubts on whether any would prove useful. His best tip pointed back toward New York, with the name of one of the bosses there who Sullivan might call to ask for help if he needed it. Just the name, though, Maxwell didn't have the number in his head; Sullivan was always the one to deal with the big boys. Maybe Escott could find a way to turn one up, but not anytime soon, and I wasn't too excited at the prospect of getting myself noticed by that crew, either. It seemed best to keep things local.

"Doesn't sound like much," said Coldfield, looking at my list.

"I'll have to make the rounds of the town, try to hook up with anyone who could pass the message to Sullivan that I want to talk to him."

"That'll take time."

"It's the only game left." Well, not quite, but I didn't want him aware of the real ace I was holding back.

"You be careful. You thumbed your nose in a big way at Sullivan, he's gonna figure you helped Angela with the fire and killings and be on the defensive. That generally makes a man a lot meaner."

"I'm not expecting him to be any too reasonable, so don't worry, I'll watch my back."

"Good, 'cause scraping you off the sidewalk is a lousy way to spend an evening."

He sounded like he wasn't intending to come along on the hunt, which suited me.

I'd already decided he and Escott were going to stay out of the line of fire if I had to hog-tie them. One down, one to go.

Not that I was actually going to make the rounds looking up the names I'd gotten.

They were useful, but mostly as decoys to keep Coldfield and Escott busy should they decide to trail after me. I didn't want them to know where I was really going.

A few more questions for Maxwell, just so it looked like I was working hard.

When my head started hurting, I backed off, telling him to take another nap.

"Now, that is a handy talent to have," said Coldfield, all admiration.

"Handy like a dull knife," I muttered, rubbing my temples.

"How is it you can do that?"

Gave a shrug. "I just can, is all. It's sort of built in with the condition, like the teeth being able to slide back when they're not needed. I figure it's for keeping things quiet when I'm feeding." This was assuming Escott had mentioned to him how I usually take straight from the vein.

"Things-as in people? But Charles said-"

"Things as in animals. Charles told you right."

"What? Like rats, or maybe cats and dogs?"

I shot him an appalled look. "Not on your life. I like dogs!"

"Hey, no offense."

Waved a dismissal. "Forget it. The condition's gotten some bad press because of that movie."

"So it's cattle for you?"

"Cattle, sometimes horses. It needs to be something large to stand the blood loss without being harmed. I talk to 'em and get 'em calmed down using whatever this is.

It acts on people like hypnosis."

He shook his head. "Damnedest thing I ever seen."

I stretched a bit in place, getting the kinks out of my neck and shoulders. "I guess I'd better find out how Calloway's doing and take this one in for Charles to toss to his federal friend."

"Keep him out of trouble, okay?"

"Charles? No problem."

It wasn't as bad as we'd anticipated, the part about having to deal with the police, anyway. No one had fallen over themselves to question me or Escott once we'd gotten Calloway checked in, so Escott took the opportunity to call Merrill Adkins and explain the situation. Adkins promised to come right over. Coldfield chose to wait in his car through it all, parking well away from the hubbub near the hospital. I kept him company for part of the time, me and Maxwell, though he'd not been aware of any of it.

A little break to give my head a rest, then I had one last session with him, this time issuing simple orders instead of making questions. When Adkins took him into custody, he would find him to be a remarkably helpful and talkative prisoner. Sure, my suggestions would eventually wear off, but by then it would be too late. Maxwell would have turned stoolie and have to keep at it to stay alive.

Leaving Coldfield behind-he was content to slouch low in the front seat and listen to the radio-Maxwell and I marched up to the front entrance of the hospital, and if his face was a bit blank and he seemed disinterested in his surroundings, no one bothered to comment.

I led the way to the emergency area, where I'd last seen Escott in a waiting room.

He was still there and so was Adkins, who stood up as soon as he caught sight of me in the doorway.

"Fleming-I want to talk to you."

That made a change from the last time. "Sure, just a minute."

That got me a stern look, but I was way past the point of being intimidated by assholes. "How's Calloway?" I asked Escott.

"No news yet. They're still working on him."

"What about the cops, they come yet?"

"An officer did wish to talk to me, but Mr. Adkins here was most discouraging to him."

I'll bet he was. "Charles, Max here was wondering if there was any coffee in this joint."

"I'm sure I can find some. How is he feeling?"

"Oh, very quiet, a little sleepy, but otherwise just fine."

Escott offered a ghost of a smile, his eyes glinting with suppressed humor. He knew what I'd done to achieve that. "I'm glad to hear it."

Maxwell now received a close once-over from Adkins. His thin face was made for poker, but I got the impression he was curious. He'd find out soon enough.

The waiting room was small and four other people were there, a young couple huddled against each other in their chairs in one corner and two men in work clothes, one seated, the other pacing and looking out into the hall every few minutes, perhaps hoping to catch sight of a doctor with news. I noted them all and didn't try to meet their eyes. They all looked miserable, all very worried over their own troubles. I would have liked another place for Adkins to interview me, but this was as good as any.

Adkins wore the same clothes as the other night, short jacket, striped scarf hanging from his neck. The work gloves were off, but he kept the newsboy cap on indoors. Either his head was cold or he was starting to go bald and was shy about letting people know about it. His jacket was open, and when he sat down I caught a glimpse of a leather shoulder harness and the butt of the pistol he packed under his left arm.

"So how is it you and Escott came to find that cop?" he asked without preamble.

But Escott and I had already worked that story out. "It's connected to our earlier business with you."

One of the men paused in his latest trip to the door, obviously listening in on us.

That's when I recognized him; he belonged with Adkins, as did the other. Great, I was surrounded.

"With those three you turned over? How?"

"I don't know how. Charles and I are trying to figure it.

He wanted to find out why they were trying to ace him, so we did a little digging.

We got a tip in a bar about the roadhouse, that the guys were connected with the management there, so we drove out for a look-see tonight. The place was cooking when we arrived and we found the cop we brought in and his friend, who was dead.

They were both in the parking area behind the building with no other cars around. I saw some shell casings but left 'em behind. You probably won't get any footprints or tire marks, it's all gravel."

"Very neat," he said, watching me. He had pale eyes under those heavy lids, like ice under snow clouds. "Tell me about the cop. You know him."

"I got his name from his wallet for the nurse. Found his badge at the same time.

Hard luck for him."

"They said he should be dead."

"Maybe he'll fool all of them. I've seen stranger things."

"Tell me about the hotel shooting last night."

"What about it?"

"You were there."

"I was?"

"Witnesses said there was a tall man at the scene with a short woman who'd been hit."

"This burg's full of tall men."

"They went off in a Cadillac with four men-three cops in uniform and a man in regular clothes. Why were you with them?"

"I wasn't."

"You're lying to me, Fleming. I don't like liars."

Big deal, I thought. "Escort and I were out checking a lot of places last night and didn't get back until-jeez, it was close to dawn. Don't know about him, but I slept the day through. I wouldn't even know about the shooting if he hadn't mentioned it.

He's a nut when it comes to keeping tabs on city crimes."

He looked at me a very long time with those icy eyes, probably trying to unnerve me, but I'd faced worse and survived and looked right back. "You're lying," he finally said. It was a careful statement, spoken in such a way as to make an honest man want to take a pop at him. "You hear me, Fleming? You are a stinking liar."

He kept his voice low, but the feeling he packed into it was enough to carry to the others in the room. They were all noticing us, now, even the sad couple. It's what he wanted, I supposed. Maybe he was hoping I'd sock him in front of witnesses.

I matched him stare for stare again. Not long back someone like him might have intimidated me, now it was like throwing a bucket of water onto a rock. All it did was stream off, not really affecting the rock at all. "Everyone's entitled to an opinion,"

I said evenly. "I don't think I can help you anymore on this."

"We'll talk later." He made it sound like a threat.

"Great, if we're done for now-" I made to rise. He didn't object, so I stood up. His men still eyed me, all tense; from their combined looks they wanted to pulp me.

They'd have to get in line behind their boss. "Gonna keep watch here on Calloway?"

"Maybe."

"What about the other men you took away? They helping you any in the gangbusting business?"

His full down-your-nose aloofness reasserted itself just then. "They're nothing you need to worry about."

I debated kicking his butt then making him forget, but decided it wasn't worth the trouble. "Let's go find Escott. We've got another one for you."

"What do you mean?"

"The guy with the specks I came in with is the secretary to the man who replaced Vaughn Kyler. He's in a confessing mood. You interested?"

"How'd you get him?"

Better not to answer that one directly. "He's a volunteer. He's had it with the mob and wants to help you nail them, so be polite."

That got me a sharp glare, but I was already turning away into the hall, forcing him to follow.

"Think you're smart?" he asked, coming up behind me.

"I know I am. I just hope you're smart enough to take advantage of a prime gift .horse when it comes your way. Maxwell knows all the dirt. Treat him right and you'll be the big name in all the headlines for the next year."

"Headlines?"

I thought he'd like that idea. "You'll be getting marriage proposals, honorary degrees, invitations to all the best parties."

"I don't care about that crap."

"Suit yourself, but it'd be a shame to pass up now that it's legal to drink the booze again."

"I don't drink."

Again with the contemptuous challenge in the tone. I forgot about trying small talk with this one. On the same side or not, he didn't like me, and I had better things to do than try to change his mood. Like getting away from him as fast as possible.

Escott and Maxwell were in a badly lighted eating area that stank of old coffee and carbolic. It was even money which liquid was in their coffee mugs. Escott bounced a questioning eyebrow at me and I winked so he'd know everything was fine.

"Mr. Adkins," I said, pausing before their table. "This is Maxwell. I think you two will have a lot to talk about over the next few days."

Maxwell stood up and politely put out his hand. Adkins didn't respond in kind.

No big surprise there.

Escott also stood, excused himself, and without further word we hiked out of there, heading back to the waiting room. A young doctor with an old face trudged past us toward the dining area. I caught a whiff of bloodsmell coming from the surgical gown he still wore, though there were no stains to see. The whole place reeked of bloodsmell, carbolic, and things less tangible, but more potent: fear, sorrow, and death. I thought of Opal again. Worried.

"I take it things went well?" Escott asked.

"He'll always hate my guts, but we're square. How do you stand him?"

"It's not hard. Once you accept the fact he thinks we're little more than meddling amateurs, he's easy enough to work with-not that I welcome it. It's part of the price."

"For fighting your Hydra?"

"It's everyone's enemy, old man. We may not enjoy the company of our allies, but it's nice to know they're in the battle. Where's Shoe?"

"Out waiting in the Nash. I want to stop home to pick up my car, then I'm going to go hunting again. I got some names from Maxwell to look up and need to get started before the barflies are too drunk to help."

A cop, the first one I'd seen since coming in, followed in the doctor's wake and passed us, looking grim.

"We'll be glad to join you in the hunt," Escott said after the cop was out of earshot.

"Uh-uh. This is something I can do more quickly on my own, and you know it."

"What about checking the Paco house again?"

"That's next on my list if I don't turn up anything on Sullivan. First I'll start hitting the places where I know she's got business interests, like that brothel, the Satchel."

"You might need some help there," he said.

"I'll be talking to the madam and bouncers, not the girls."

"Just thought I'd make the offer," he said, all innocence.

Adkins's two men now passed by, all of us exchanging looks but not saying anything.

"This don't look so good," I said.

"Indeed." Escott kept walking. "Have you considered more area might be covered if Shoe and I go off in one direction and you take another? We do know the city rather well."

He was going to try talking me into it, and I was tempted to listen. He had ways of getting people to cooperate that were nearly as effective as my hypnosis, and here he was just getting started on me. "Thanks, but this is something I gotta take care of myself. I've had some experience at this kind of work."

"Escott! Fleming!" Adkins hurried up behind us, the doctor, cop, men, and Maxwell in tow. We waited for them. They delivered the news that Calloway had just died. I didn't have anything to say about it and just frowned like the others. For me, Calloway had been dead since I found him, the declaration only a formality, so I'd already had all the thoughts I wanted to about the waste of human life, no matter whose life it was.

"My condolences," Escott said to the cop, who made no reply, just stared at us.

Adkins's face was all frozen over, his voice just as cold. "It's a double-murder investigation now, maybe triple if it's connected to the other killing at the hotel. I want you two to come with us."

"To assist in your inquiries? Sadly we've already given you all the information we have."

"We need full, written statements."

I looked him square in the eye, knowing redemption when I saw it. "Not from me, you don't. I gotta be someplace else."

Not a blink. Hard to tell if I got to him. Then: "All right. You can go."

"Myself as well," Escott put in.

But Adkins rounded on him. "No, you're staying here."

"Jack…" Escott's sharp gaze was on me. My conscience also gave me a good solid jab, but I endured the pain.

"Not this time, buddy."

I turned and kept walking and, with the idea of taking the sting out of it, didn't look back so he'd miss my grin.

No cops stopped me on my way to the front, though I saw several in the halls.

Maybe Calloway and Baker would also be treated as heroes by their colleagues. It'd be good for the department to take that path with the public. No need to wonder what the papers would make of four cops shot in two days, three of them dead.

There'd be plenty of editorials, every one with their own solution to the task of how to make our streets safe. Good luck to them; people had been trying to figure that one since streets were first invented. Once upon a time there'd been roving gangs of hoodlums running crazy in old Byzantium, terrorizing folks and generally having a good time committing murder and mayhem. When the emperor couldn't stop them, he started laying bets on which group would win their next fight with rivals elsewhere in the city. Nothing changes much.

The urge to write the whole present-day business up as a story and send it to the Tribune was very strong. I wanted someone to know the truth of what was really going on, of the gangs, the brewing war, of the corruption high and low. The urge would pass soon enough, though. It always did. I couldn't let myself get officially noticed in any way, shape, or form if I could help it. There was too much dirt on me to take that risk, and I had to protect those around me, Bobbi, Coldfield, Escott.

Another twinge about leaving him behind. I'd apologize to him later, take him to Hallman's an extra time or two. Bobbi could put on one of her drop-dead dresses and flirt with him over supper. He never did anything about it, pretending to be immune to her because she was my girlfriend, but you could tell he loved the attention.

I hoped she was doing all right. I wanted to toss all this in the nearest trash can and go see her, to get back to a normal life again.

Only one way to do that.

Of all the people in this town who would know how to find anyone, both Sullivan and Angela, Gordy was my best bet. He had more connections than the phone company and was the one name Maxwell had not mentioned. I'd been careful in my questions, phrasing them in such a way so that the subject of Gordy just didn't come up. It was part of the reason I got that touch of headache; I'd had to walk a tightrope on tiptoes. I didn't want Coldfield knowing and then passing the information on to Escott. He was busy now, but if he found a way clear of Adkins, I didn't need him to be involved.

It was complicated enough.

The suspicion I had that Gordy was the one behind the hotel hit and all the rest of it was pretty solid. Now Angela had plenty of motive for that kind of work and was still my first suspect, but Gordy could have done it just as easily. This was exactly the kind of thing to stir up the pond, to get Angela and Sullivan to kill each other off, then he could move into whatever openings presented themselves, and all with the beaming approval of the New York bosses no less.

I hated it; he was a friend to me, to Bobbi, had done us some outstanding favors, but above everything else Gordy was a businessman and more than capable of giving the orders. I'd have to see him alone and find out one way or another where he really stood in this mess, then somehow figure what to do about it if he was behind it all.

But that could wait just a little while longer. For now, the cold outside air was a relief after the hospital stink. I gulped it down gratefully, walking fast toward the Nash at the far end of some parking spaces. The idea was for privacy while I questioned Maxwell. It was between street lamps and plenty dark in that patch, but I clearly saw something was happening by the car and broke into a dead run.

No time to count them, and the numbers didn't matter, I'd have charged in, anyway, against two or two hundred. I couldn't see Coldfield, but knew he was there, somewhere in the middle of a knot of men. From the sounds, a couple of them were laying into him like pile drivers with their fists.

Three guys on lookout spotted my approach and stepped forward. I saw blackjacks and brass knuckles. I noted and forgot them, going semi-transparent just before the nearest man got close enough to do damage. His blackjack arced right through my near-invisible body, the force of his follow-through throwing him off balance. Ghostlike, I passed him and his two astonished friends, leaving behind a chill trail where I brushed by them.

Half a dozen of them, all circled around Coldfield. Another two held him in place while two more took turns hitting him. Bloodsmell everywhere, mixed with raw hate and the sound of dark laughter.

I burst into the middle of the circle, going solid and taking out a man before he could get his next hit in. His partner was next. I had time to drop a third holding Coldfield, then the rest moved in to stop me. Took some punches, hard ones, but didn't really feel them, too full of rage for it. I dug an elbow into someone's gut, something banged against the side of my head, but not enough to make an impression. I was pressed all around by their bodies, by the men trying to hurt me and failing. At one point I was completely lifted from the ground by the crush, and hands grabbed me from behind. Kicked out with both legs, sending a man sprawling.

Lots of noise now, lots of cursing for me over spoiling their fun.

Hadn't even got warmed up yet.

Vanished just as we started to topple. Left them behind to be crushed under their collective weight and reappeared a few feet away. Glance toward Coldfield. Only one man held him now, and that one was watching the dog pile. Coldfield was bent double and not doing much of anything but retching, trying to cough air back into his body.

A man saw me and came fast. He lasted for as long as it took me to get my fist up.

Two more, then three, as they got reorganized. Even three at a time, I could take them easy.

Gun.

Didn't see it, only heard.

Sure as hell felt it. Instantly knew that particular fiery burn as a bullet tore through my guts. When I dropped, my knees hit the pavement so hard my teeth rattled.

Pause in the madness. They must have thought it was all over. They stood still a moment, watching, waiting for me to crash at their feet.

Transparent again. Couldn't help it. When it came to recovering from this kind of shock, my body rarely gave me a choice. I was there one second and not there the next and the hell with anyone who saw.

It didn't take long to return. I was still choked with rage; it gave me the will to come back a lot sooner than otherwise. Five, ten seconds later, perhaps, not enough time for them to even begin to figure out what was going on. The man with the gun was still gaping when I yanked it away from him and slammed the butt on his skull.

He dropped as I'd dropped, only without the disappearing act.

Vanished again. Went solid a few feet to the left. Cracked another skull. And again, this time reappearing on the right.

Then it was over. I didn't catch on, was all set to bust more jaws, only the thugs that could still stand were now running off. Started after them, yelling.

Heard a hoarse shout behind me. Coldfield.

Last yell, triumph, defiance, rage, take your pick, then went back to him. He was on his side, trying to push the pavement away. He'd just managed to sit up as I came close. I put a hand out to help, but he snarled and batted it off. He started coughing, got some air, then spit blood. He puffed and wheezed and abruptly lurched to his feet, reeling over to lean on the car. The door was open, inside light on, throwing a pale glow across his bloodied face. Two shiners for sure, split lip, he'd need stitches for the cut over his eye, and that was only the damage I could see.

"Come on, let's get you out of here," I said, reaching again.

He reacted the same, this time with a curse. I knew it wasn't for me, his glare was strictly for the bodies left behind.

He doubled over, coughing, holding on to the car to keep from falling altogether.

Every time he got enough breath, he swore. Take a breath, swear, take another, swear. Couldn't blame him.

A few of the men got up and shambled off. The bulk of their friends were heading for two cars parked farther down the road, looking nervously back to see if I was following. I stayed put in case another bright boy decided to try shooting again.

Someone got a motor started.

Four men remained, casualties of battle, four of the ones who had been holding Coldfield, hitting him.

Before he'd quite caught his breath, he staggered to the first and kicked him once, hard enough to break ribs. I heard the crunch.

Got his balance, went to the next, and did it again, all the time calling him every name in the book.

Made a similar visit to all of them, cursing and cracking ribs.

I stayed where I was.

The first car moved past us, slowly picking up speed. One of the men leaned from the window, shouting. Couldn't make out the words, but they were full of hate. It set me off once more. He wasn't the only one who could hate. I ran toward them, all my attention centered on that one distorted face.

The car went full throttle and left me in its roaring wake. The second one was coming up. I waited as the driver hit the gas and steered right toward me, but he didn't have nearly enough speed yet. The vehicle was overloaded, sluggish. It came up; I dodged right and made a jump for the driver's-side running board. Yanked the door open. Grabbed the wheel and hauled it over. Nearly fell off when the damned thing swerved and jumped the curb, but I hung on.

The driver yelled, they all yelled. Fist on my face. Ignored it. The car rolled forward, then jerked to a stop when someone found the hand brake.

Gun. The driver.

My hand froze over his, squeezing. He couldn't pull the trigger. I dragged him from his seat. Momentum, balance lost, falling, hard impact. Rolling on frozen grass, his weight on top. More shouts from the others, but no one came to the rescue. The guy on the passenger side slid over the seat, slipped the brake, worked the gears, eyes wide, mouth open, making animal noises of fear. Ignored him. Rolled to get on top to see better. The car juttered away, sluing on the road, then straightening.

The man struggled to get his gun hand free. For the grip I had, it might as well have been buried in cement. His teeth were set, breath hissing. Made hits at me with his free hand, but no force in them; he was losing to his growing fear. I took the gun away from him. Got to my feet, pulling him up. Pinned his hands behind him.

Marched him across the street to the Nash.

Coldfield, standing in the middle of the fallen, amazed look on his battered face.

He'd seen what I'd done and didn't know why.

Brought my captive close, pushed him against the car into the faint light so he could see my face, my eyes. Wasn't going to hypnotize him, knew I was too angry for it.

"Where's Sullivan?" I hissed at him. I'd recognized some of the others. They'd been loitering in the carpeted hall of the roadhouse.

Shook his head. Wrong answer. Shoved the gun muzzle under his nose. " Where?"

A long time, him looking at me. Long time. Then a head shake. He could see I wasn't going to shoot. He knew enough to be able to read my face, to know that even after all this, his death wasn't going to come from me.

I backed off.

Looked at Coldfield. Didn't have to ask.

He understood why now, and moved in, pure unholy joy lighting up his eyes.

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