Blood on the Water

Chapter 4

chapter
Chapter

I stared sharply at Angela's profile, comparing it to the flat representation on the wall. The resemblance was sufficiently close to prompt my first question.

"Your father?"

Her eyes flicked quickly over to mine. She pointed to an overstuffed chair and one of her men gave me a nudge forward. The chair was too mushy and low for comfort, apparently designed to make a fast exit from its velvet depths difficult. I accepted it as part of their game and settled in for the time being.

Vic was dropped onto a sofa like a bag of laundry with legs. He moaned, clutching his left shoulder with a red-stained hand.

"Go get Doc," Angela told the driver. He grunted once and left.

Newton. That was his name. Six months ago he'd been guarding a phony laboratory in Paco's basement. He didn't recognize me, but he'd never had the opportunity for a good look. I'd gone in behind him then and knocked him cold.

Not too sporting, but necessary in order to get him out before all hell broke loose.

Reminding myself about good intentions and certain downhill roads, I wondered if tonight I'd end up regretting my past action.

Angela swept over to the desk and whipped off her cloth cap. Her sooty black hair had been scraped away from her face and pinned up. Without the additional head covering she looked somewhat smaller, but not at all vulnerable. She tore out the pins and stabbed at her hair with impatient fingers. Though a long way from beauty-parlor perfect, it more or less fell into place.

She hitched one hip on the desk, then changed her mind and paced the room, her fists shoved deep into the pockets of her man's coat. She stopped once to look out the door for Newton, then resumed, frowning at the thick rug beneath her soft shoes. The pacing did nothing to alleviate her restless energy or increase her patience at the wait. After her second trip to the door, she returned to the desk and shrugged out of the coat, tossing it onto the sea of oak in front of her. Beneath it was her shoulder holster, the black leather blending well over a dark blouse. Her gun had a bright nickel finish. It might have been a piece of fashionable jewelry the way she wore it.

The two men had taken up stations on either side of me. No one seemed inclined to start a conversation. Except for Angela, we all kept still and watched each other breathe for the next few minutes. As was usual in a very quiet room with strangers, I had to consciously imitate them to avoid attracting notice.

The place-or at least this part of it-must have been thoroughly scrubbed out since the fire. The house had not been totally destroyed, after all, and what was left had proved to be salvageable. There was no trace of the smoke damage in here, only the lingering smell of new paint. Furniture polish, overlaid with stale cigarette smoke and some faint perfume, filled up the corners.

Newton finally returned, bringing company. He held the door for an older man wearing slippers and a black-and-blue-striped bathrobe. His bloodshot eyes were puffy from disturbed sleep and he looked more than a little annoyed with Angela.

"Couldn't this have waited until morning?" he complained, making his unsteady way to her. There was a chair on one side of the desk and he sank into it with a long-suffering groan.

"We had to go when Kyler's boys made their move." She gestured at the sofa.

"Fix him up."

He noticed Vic for the first time. That a wounded man lay sprawled and bleeding not ten feet away from him in such a genteel setting didn't seem to alarm or surprise him much. With a pessimistic sigh, he lurched from the chair for a closer look. "What happened?"

"Kyler's going to be three short the next time he takes roll call. Four, unless you take care of this one."

"What did you do?"

She slapped the butt of her gun with her fingers. "What do you think? This wasn't a shopping trip to the five-and-dime ribbon counter. Some of his boys got in my way. They're dead."

He pursed his mouth. "I hope you're not in over your head, girl."

"Just do your job, Doc."

"Sure, sure. Newton, go get my bag."

Newton trundled out. Doc went to a cabinet and made himself a fast drink.

Fast, because he didn't bother to mix it with anything. He perked up a little after his first bracing gulp and looked at me with polite curiosity. My own scrutiny took in his bleary blue eyes and red-veined nose. I knew him, sort of, having met him for a few minutes one busy night last August. He'd been pretty drunk at the time, and now I was hoping like crazy that he wouldn't remember me at all.

I relaxed with inner relief when he turned to Angela and asked, "So who's this guy?"

"The one Kyler's after," she replied, lacing her voice with obvious patience.

His eyes flashed with awakened interest. "Fleming?"

"You tell me. You're the one who was there that night."

He stood and came closer, giving every evidence of a careful examination, but anyone could tell he wasn't certain of himself. "It was a long time ago, this could be him…"

Angela nodded to her men. "Search him."

They loomed close, ready to handle any arguments from me, but I stood up, holding my hands out in a calming gesture. They weren't buying any tonight, though, and each grabbed for an arm. I sidestepped one, getting the chair between us, and shoved a fist into the gut of the other. He folded and fell with a low grunt, totally out of breath. By the time his partner got around the chair I was ready for him.

He dodged my punch, tried a short fast one of his own, but I caught his hand in my palm and twisted hard. He cried out once-it was almost enough to cover the snapping bones-and then crumpled to the floor.

I straightened to check on Doc and Angela. He was frozen, but she had her gun out and ready. Her eyes were wide, but she wasn't the type to go into hysterics over a little scuffle.

"You think I'd be dumb enough to carry anything for the cops to identify?" I asked, directing the question at her. "Besides, Kyler's goons have already picked me over."

"Then why bother?"

It had, indeed, been a risk, but better than having them find that telltale money belt. "I got fed up with being pushed around. So would anybody. If you're that interested all you have to do is ask. My name is Fleming, Miss Paco-if that's who you are."

"It is," she said, her big eyes narrowing.

"Charmed, I'm sure. Now, what do you want with me?"

Doc smiled and put in his two cents' worth. "Watch yourself, my dear. It looks like this one's got balls."

"That would make a change," she murmured. "He'd need 'em to go up against Kyler. Except he wasn't doing so well when we found him."

"He seems to be doing just dandy right now, and that's what really counts.

Sheldon, you okay?" he asked one of the men on the floor.

Sheldon, who now had some bones to match his broken nose, muttered something obscene.

"Now, now, there's a lady present. Lester, help him up."

The guy with the burn scar nodded vaguely, looking more in need of help himself. He wheezed a few times and eventually made it to his knees.

Unassisted, Sheldon staggered to his feet, clutching his arm and biting back the pain each movement cost him. Doc got him into a chair and clucked over the damage.

"You didn't answer my question," I reminded her. "What do you want with me?"

"Sit down over there and you might live long enough to find out," she said.

"And you're irresistible, too." But I was willing to wait. Lester had gotten his breath back by now, though he looked far from well. He was standing, but in no shape to do much more than glare at me. I could survive that.

"Tell me why Kyler wants you dead," she asked.

"I crossed him a couple of times-for that he thinks I'm dangerous."

"Maybe he's got something there," observed Doc. "He's got a hell of a grip.

Shel's going to need X rays for this mess."

She kept the gun level and steady. "What did you do?"

I demonstrated, forming a fist and closing over it with the other hand. "It's all in the leverage."

"I mean against Kyler."

"You don't have to do anything to get on his bad side. I exist and he doesn't like it. That's all that matters to him. Now, what's your angle?"

She didn't bother to reply to that one. Newton came in just then with a black bag and paused, uncertain about the changes made in the last few minutes.

"Trouble?" he asked, nodding at Angela's drawn gun.

"Yes. Watch him and watch yourself. He's faster than you'd think."

He gave his burden to Doc and took up a post behind and to the left of me.

Doc went to work, rooting around in the bag, finally pulling out a syringe.

Alarmed, Sheldon shook off some of his pain. "What're you going to do with that?"

Doc smiled as he squinted at the printing on a small bottle. "You just look the other way and trust ol' Doc. We'll have you playing the piano again in no time."

"But I don't play the piano- ow!"

"I'm only rolling up your sleeve, Sheldon."

"Oh."

Angela ground her teeth, not from Doc's ministrations, but at the time spent over them. He gave the fretting Sheldon an armful of something to kill the pain, fixed up a temporary splint, then told him to go to bed. As he wandered out, Angela all but steered Doc over to his next patient.

"Nasty, but not fatal," he concluded. "Not yet, anyway. Let's haul him to the gymnasium so I can clean him up. The light in here stinks."

"I want him awake and able to talk," said Angela.

"Do my best." Doc got Vic to stand, and with Lester's shaky aid, they wobbled toward the door like a trio of chummy drunks. "One thing about all this, Angela, did you get away from there clean?"

She nodded. "Nobody saw but these two and they're not going anyplace."

"Kyler'll be mad as hell about it, though."

"We'll see."

"You can bet on it, girl." He guided Vic and Lester from the room.

Angela shut the door, turning to stare at me. She had that hungry cat expression on her face again and I didn't think it was because she thought I was attractive.

"Alone at last," I said, then glanced at Newton. "Well, almost. So why are you taking on Vaughn Kyler? Tired of living?"

She laughed, unpleasantly, and put away her gun. Somehow, I still didn't feel very safe. "You were here last summer, weren't you?"

"I don't know, I get around a lot."

"You were here the night of the fire. You set it, didn't you?"

Uh-oh. "You seem to think so."

"A young guy calling himself Fleming broke in the house that night-"

"And my name's Fleming so that closes your case. What are you going to do, send me to prison?"

"How 'bout we break his face for having so much lip?" suggested Newton.

"Maybe later," she said. Newton took that to be a promise and subsided with a satisfied nod. Angela walked behind the desk and dropped into the massive red leather chair below the portrait. Despite her small size, she looked like she belonged there.

But things were still up in the air for her and she had trouble staying in one place for long. She lighted a cigarette, quickly smoking it down to nothing. When she smashed it out in an ashtray, she started tapping her nails against the top of the desk. Possibly out of self-defense, Newton tried to open a conversation with her, but she wasn't in the mood to talk. It distracted her from the nail tapping at least, but she got up and began pacing again, checking her watch at short intervals.

The desk phone rang, startling her.

"Who's calling this late?" asked Newton.

"Probably Mac."

"Mac?"

"I've had him and Gib watching the Travis Hotel…" She fairly pounced on the phone and we were treated to her side of the conversation. It wasn't too informative from my point of view, but the news was good, to judge by her pleased expression when she hung up.

Newton was just as interested. "So what'd he say?"

"Chaven went out in a big hurry a little while ago. Mac followed him to where we picked this bird up. Cops are all over the spot like flies on fresh meat, but they don't seem to be doing much."

"So they're not looking for us, then."

"Mac also said that Chaven hung around long enough to go green at all the sights, then ran straight back to the Travis."

"That means Kyler knows what happened."

"But he won't know who did it."

"Not yet."

"Not yet," she agreed, looking at me. "Bring him along, I want to check on Doc."

Newton was cautious, but I willingly cooperated this time around and followed Angela down the hall to a different door. It opened onto a spacious and well-lighted gym that had everything but a boxing ring. Filling the room were Indian clubs, weights, punching bags, padded mats, and several odd machines that looked more suitable for torturing people than keeping them fit.

The bloodsmell hit me square in the face. Human, of course, not animal.

There's a difference-especially to me. I'd learned to discern that difference early on in my changed life. One was food and the other a complicated mix of emotion and memory guaranteed to inspire some kind of reaction within. Right now it conjured the ghost vision of a dark street, the flash of guns, and men falling around me.

Off to one side was a high table overlooked by sunlamps. Vic lay on it, flat and unmoving. His upper clothes were off and Doc was busy working on his shoulder under the hot lights. Lester was his reluctant nurse.

"I wanted him awake," said Angela, striding over. She was oblivious to the gore.

Doc didn't bother to glance up. "This fella had other ideas. He conked out so fast we almost didn't get him on the table. It's just as well or he'd be making an awful noise at what I'm having to do."

"How much longer?"

"Until I'm finished. Now stand back so I can work."

Fuming, she subsided for a whole minute before drifting over to watch his progress. With a grunt of satisfaction he straightened, holding something in one of his fancy tweezers.

"Got the bullet," he announced. "Pesky things, especially this size. Which one of you carries a forty-five?"

"That's mine," said Angela.

Doc eyed her up and down. "Like to pack a punch, don't you, girl?"

"It does the job."

"You didn't smear it with garlic, did you?"

"Don't be an idiot."

Doc laughed out loud, dropping it into a metal dish. "Just checking," he said, continuing his work. "Bullets are generally pretty clean, but they can force a lot of stuff you don't want into even a minor wound. If the bullet doesn't kill you right away, the infection can sneak up on you later. Hope this guy believed in washing his underwear."

"When can you get him moving again?"

"In a while, give him a chance to get over the shock."

"I don't have the time and you know it. I want him awake and able to talk to Kyler."

"Why?" I asked.

They all looked at me as though I'd committed a major social crime by asking a reasonable question. Angela's eyes flashed fire, throwing a signal to Newton. She pointed to a metal door set in the far wall. Newton urged me toward it. I wasn't too worried and went along with things; I could always find a way to sneak out later and eavesdrop.

I was shoved into a dim chamber with slick white tile covering the floor, walls, ceiling, and built-in benches. Frank Paco wasn't one to do things by halves. Rather than cram himself into a cabinet, he'd installed a full-sized steam room to sweat away his troubles. It was turned off, fortunately, but still smelled like old socks.

Newton slammed the door solidly behind me. The only other exit had to do with the ventilation system, such as it was, and was far too small for a human to squeeze through. I could probably give it a shot but my ingrained claustrophobia inspired me to look for something easier.

The door was locked; I tried the knob anyway, giving it a good rattle for the benefit of my captors. It was the sort of thing they might expect and I didn't want to disappoint them. That obligation out of the way, there wasn't any reason why I should hang around in their improvised cell. Just at eye level, the door had a small window, letting in the only light. My view was limited to a wall full of Indian clubs and Newton's back as he walked away. That was good news; people tend to get upset when I vanish right in front of them, and I had no intention of upsetting this crowd. Not just yet, anyway.

I slipped out and floated free in the open space of the gym, locating the others by memory. It was easy enough to get close and listen, only no one was talking, not even Doc. Somewhat disgusted, I found the hall door and bumbled my way back to the office to make a phone call.

"Charles?"

"Speaking." His voice was tight, guarded. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, but I got sidetracked. Are things quiet at the club?"

"Yes…"

"Hear any sirens in the last hour or so? Close by?"

"Yes, we did, but-"

"I'll tell you all about it later."

"What about Kyler?"

"I never got near him, so don't relax just yet. I need a ride out of here before I ran out of night."

"I'm entirely sympathetic; where are you?"

"Remember that spot off the road to Frank Paco's house where you had me wait last summer?"

"Good lord, man, what are you doing out there?"

"I said I got sidetracked."

"This sounds more like a derailment."

"There's something in that. You remember the spot?"

"Vividly."

"Great, 'cause that's where I'll be waiting for you."

"With a full explanation?"

"Cross my heart and… hope to see you soon."

This resulted in a noise that might have been a snort or a laugh. With Escott it was sometimes hard to tell. I hung up and took a second look around the empty office.

It was unchanged, plush as ever-except for some bloodstains on the sofa where Vic had rested. High above, Frank

Paco's portrait glared at something across the room, probably his oversized fireplace. I thought briefly about Paco, the thought running in a familiar circle about where the bastard was and what he was doing. As always, I ended up with the conclusion long confirmed by Escott that my killer was drooling the rest of his life away in some loony bin. I felt distant pity for him, but no regrets.

Out of habit, I went through the desk drawers in search of anything interesting.

Most were locked, but one of the open ones contained a large checkbook just begging to be flipped through. The last six months had been expensive ones for the household. The medical bills to various head-doctors were high, but nothing compared to home repairs. Couple those with the fact that Vaughn Kyler had moved in and taken over Paco's operation, cutting off a ready source of cash, and Angela Paco would have more than enough good reasons to want to take him on.

Present was the temptation to swipe the checkbook and give it over to Escott, but in the end I decided not to bother. If he really wanted the thing, I could always come back later. Tonight, or rather this morning, I was more concerned with getting to a place of daylight safety.

Staying solid so I could see and hear things, I returned to the hall, tiptoeing silently on the rough carpet. I was ready to vanish in an instant, especially as I approached the closed door of the gym, but no one jumped out to recapture me.

I had plenty of time yet before Escott arrived; a look through the house would be more comfortable than standing out in the cold waiting for him. Once past the gym, I became cautiously nosy, opening doors and generally poking around where I knew I'd be unwelcome. This job wasn't without its favorable points.

Some of the rooms were empty; perhaps the furnishings had been ruined in the fire or they'd been temporarily moved out for the painters. One of them was lined with tarps and stuffy with the stink of fresh paint; another was still tainted by smoke and water damage.

The kitchen at the other end of the house had been pretty much restored.

Curiosity lured me to the basement door and down the steps to seek out the

"laboratory" I'd destroyed last summer. The stairs were new, the wood sharp and clean. They led into the kind of sealed-in darkness that even my eyes couldn't penetrate. I felt around for a light switch before going any farther. Vampires-this one at least-don't like the dark any more than the next person.

I found a button and the place became less oppressive. A string of bare bulbs marched away along the ceiling, bravely fighting the gloom, only there wasn't anything for them to shine on. The basement that had once been divided up by a wine cellar, laundry area, and old furniture was now open and bare. The old walls were gone, replaced by rows and rows of pillars to support the floors above.

There was no sign of the lab, only some vague scarring on the floor to indicate where the walls had stood.

Having gotten my fill of nostalgia, I returned upstairs for more prowling. The second floor boasted more restoration, or had received less damage, and several bedrooms showed signs of occupation.

Many of the doors hung open. I proceeded very carefully here, listening before poking my head inside to check each room. One of the larger ones held a comfortable jumble of feminine gear, apparently Angela's. Discarded stockings and lace-trimmed step-ins littered the floor, dresses were flung across handy chairs, and enough cosmetics crowded the dresser top to indicate that she had a softer side. She kept no important papers or correspondence, probably reserving that business for the downstairs office and the locked drawers of its desk. A brief examination of a side table confirmed the occupant's identity; there I found a gun-cleaning kit, several boxes of .45 ammunition, and a couple of spare cartridge clips. Mixed in with the hardware were several tiny bottles of nail polish and some well-thumbed women's magazines.

Quite a gal, I thought, and repressed a shudder.

I paused in my poking around, picking up a vague sound nearby. It did not repeat, but was enough to distract me into investigating.

Down the hall I found its source: Sheldon. He was rolled up on one of the beds, treating his broken hand with another kind of medicine. In addition to whatever Doc had shot into him, he'd imbibed plenty of liquid painkiller of his own. He was so far gone as to not be alarmed at seeing me.

"How you doing, Shel?" I asked.

He squinted, grunting with annoyance. "Sonnova bitch. You busted me good."

"Sorry about that. Hope it gets better."

His eyes were rolling all over the place. "Pay you back. In spades."

"Did you work for Frank Paco?"

"Still do. Not like some wise guys." His good hand closed around the flat amber bottle on the nightstand. He pulled the cork out with his teeth, spit it to one side, and drank deeply.

"What wise guys?"

"Vic. Sonnova bitch wen' over't' the big K."

"No loyalty, huh?"

"You said it."

"Are you telling me that Paco still runs things?"

"Hah?"

I repeated the question more slowly.

"He's sick fer now, but his kid's doin' okay."

"What's Angela's angle in all this?"

"She's number one, y' jerk."

"What about Kyler?"

"He'll be sunk soon enough. She's got it all figured. Gotta cute little ass, too."

His mouth twisted around in a sappy leer.

"What's she got figured?"

"The whole thing," he murmured. "And her legs…"

"Sheldon…"

He woke up a bit, but his mood had soured. I was too much of an intrusion on his dreams of romance. "What're you doin' here, anyway? Newton should be beating yer head in or somethin'."

"Yeah, we have an appointment first thing tomorrow."

"Hah?"

"Never mind, Sheldon."

"Okay," he said cheerfully, and dropped off into instant sleep.

Damn. I hadn't been influencing him, either. It had to have been the combined effect of the booze and the drugs. He might not even remember our conversation the next time he woke up, which would not be soon. Any chance of getting useful information from his wandering brain was long gone. I rescued the bottle from his lax grip, returning it to the stand, and decided to get going myself.

I found the back door and quietly slipped away, hoping the occupants wouldn't be too mystified by my disappearance. Ah, well, Houdini used to be able to walk through walls; if asked, I could always claim him for a distant cousin.

The cold felt good in my underworked lungs and I was glad to flush the smell of the place out with sweet, clean air. My feet crunched on the white gravel as I walked along the drive toward the front. No outside lights were on, nor were there any guards with dogs patrolling the grounds as on my last visit. Excluding the two watching Kyler's hotel, there seemed to be only four men in Angela's army. Three, now that Sheldon was among the wounded. Maybe she had reserves hidden elsewhere. She'd need them to hold her own against his kind of money and organization.

But that wasn't my problem; if I had enough night left and any kind of chance to get at him, then Kyler would cease to be anyone's problem. The survivors, Angela included, could go to hell in a handbasket for all I cared.

Once up on the road, I increased my pace. I wasn't worried about missing Escott; it just felt good to move, arms and legs swinging freely as though I'd never really walked before. My long strides quickly ate up the distance, getting me to the right spot in a disappointingly short time. I looked back with regret, not at Paco's house, but the road running past it. To turn now and walk away from the mess I was in, to just keep going until I was lost to everyone but myself…

Get behind me, Satan, I thought blasphemously. Stay, and at least one man would die; go, and he would certainly kill my friends and who knows how many others with them. I would stay, of course. I'd made my decision earlier and would stick to it, but damn it all, why me?

The wind was working its way through the pea jacket and really starting to bite when I caught the low murmur of a motor coming my way. I was fairly sure the headlights belonged to the Nash, but kept my head low until it downshifted and coasted to an easy stop. The bullet dents decorating its thick metal hide were clearly visible in the starlight, almost homey in their familiarity, and I emerged from my thin cover in the brush.

Escott seemed relieved to see me and waved me over. Gratefully, I opened the passenger door and climbed in, shutting out the cold. He worked the gears, wresting a U-turn out of the big car until we were on our way back to the city.

Once up to a decent speed, he took the time to give me a good look. In light of some of my past escapades, he was probably checking for damage.

"I'm all right, Charles," I assured him.

"I was rather expecting-"

"Yeah, I just figured that out. Believe me, they're in worse shape than I am.

One of them, anyway."

"Indeed? Now about that explanation…" he prompted.

So I started talking. Somehow, it did not shorten the trip back.

"Well, this does throw a spanner into the works," he said when I'd finished.

"Don't see how. Angela and I seem to have pretty much the same goal of getting rid of Kyler, I just have a better chance of doing it."

"Ah, but now you've two gangs to dodge and previously the one was quite enough."

"Yeah, but Angela doesn't really know what she's up against with me. Kyler's had time to read a whole library on folklore and get prepared." Not that it would do him much good, I silently added.

"You may yet find her to be a formidable force."

Formidable. That was the word for her. I'd never be able to forget how deliberately she'd blown open the back of that man's head. "No arguments there.

She's her father's daughter and then some."

"And you think her plan is to regain control of the organization Kyler took over from him?"

"Yeah. That's how it looked from what little I saw. I think she wanted to use me in the bargaining, but damned if I know how. It's not as if I'd be a valuable hostage. If she threatened to kill me, Kyler'd be in the front bleachers cheering her on."

"Unless you were meant to be some sort of bait to draw Kyler into the open,"

he suggested.

"The problem with that is Kyler wouldn't be dumb enough to do it."

"Only if one chooses to underestimate Miss Paco. She's been able to retain the loyalty of at least some of her father's men, quite a feat for anyone, much less a young unproven woman."

"How do we know she's so unproven?"

"Point taken," he admitted. "In certain underworld circles, this is the smallest town in the world when it comes to gossip. I am making an assumption based on the sole fact that I've simply heard nothing about her until now."

"Maybe she just got back from finishing school."

"I shall endeavor to find that out."

"But carefully, Charles."

He took that point as well with the bounce of an eyebrow and a single nod.

"You've heard my version of the shootings," I said. "What about yours?"

"I've little to add that would be useful. We heard the sirens, of course, causing us to wonder whether they had any connection to you."

"You didn't go out to check things, I hope?"

"That was the subject of quite a lot of debate between us."

"You and Gordy?"

"And a number of his men."

That must have been a show to see. I was sorry to have missed it.

Escott continued, "He was most reluctant for me to investigate personally since he felt he'd accepted the responsibility for my safety. We reached a compromise when Ernie volunteered to go just to satisfy his own curiosity. He returned quickly enough with a report on the casualties. He recognized them as belonging to Kyler's gang and concluded that you had dispatched them."

"But I-"

"We, or at least I, know that now, but you may find your reputation has grown considerably in the last few hours with Ernie and his cronies. Be prepared for a bout of hero worship on arrival."

"Hero worship," I repeated numbly. "What about the cops? Do they have any idea about what really happened?"

"According to my own sources within the department, that matter is 'under investigation.' Gordy made a few calls himself and the unofficial conclusion has to do with gang vendettas."

"Which isn't far off the mark where Angela's concerned." I checked my watch.

Dawn was only an hour away, but we were within a mile of the club and its sanctuary. All too soon I'd be forced to seek the safety of my lightproof trunk.

Another day would flash by with God knows what happening outside and me totally oblivious to it. I had extraordinary advantages over the rest of humanity, but the frustrating price of them was that daily ration of death that could never be ignored.

Escott drove in silence, perhaps sensing my glum mood, or more likely he was tired himself. Between his usual insomnia and the long wait for my call, he wouldn't have gotten any sleep tonight. I was about to make some kind of comment or other to him about it when his head snapped off to the left as though he'd been given a jolt of electricity.

" Damn," he said in a soft, strangled voice and slammed the gas pedal down as far as it could go.


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