Mary Lou arrived an hour or so later with Tammy.
They had stopped at McDonald's and had sneaked in a Big Mac for Anthony. I told them Anthony was probably too weak to eat, but boy was I wrong. He devoured the sandwich in a few quick bites and was looking for more. He next pounded his sister's fries, and I waited for what I was sure was coming next:
Food, for me, lasts only a few minutes before it comes up violently. But Anthony never did vomit. Instead, he complained slightly of an upset stomach and I realized what was happening. Although only a half inch or so above his skin, his aura was still there. His humanity was still there. For now. Until the change overcame him completely. By contrast, his sister, who was sitting on the edge of his bed and playing "Angry Birds" on my sister's cell phone, shone like a beacon in the night. Pale yellows and reds, streaked with silvers and golds, surrounded her body many feet or more, sometimes flaring like mini-nuclear explosions on the surface of the sun.
But not Anthony. His aura was only a fine dusting of light. Almost an afterthought.
His last meal, I thought. Or close to it.
I was, admittedly, torn. I knew I had to find Archibald Maximus asap, especially since his book had given me an intriguing clue. From what I gathered, he lived in the mountains above San Bernardino, Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear, one of those, both popular ski resorts. With Anthony getting better, and simultaneously losing his mortality, now was as good a time as any to set out for the mountains and Mr. Maximus.
But the missing boy was tearing me to pieces. An innocent family had gotten caught up in my insanity, and now their boy was missing, having been abducted by a true monster.
Who was Bow Tie? A vampire? I had no doubt, unless the medallion could reverse other supernatural curses, which it very well might. That he jumped from a third-floor hospital room, leaving behind no evidence – it turns out he had thrown a chair through the window – could mean anything. I suspected someone like Kingsley could withstand such a fall. After all, I had seen him in his wolf's form leap nine stories without missing a beat. Whether or not Kingsley could perform such an act in his human form, I didn't know. There was so much I didn't know.
There was a family not very far from this room who had been torn to pieces. All because of my actions. I had to do something.
I looked again at the faint aura around my son's body. I still had time. Not much, granted, but at least a day and a half, maybe two.
I stood and paced and my daughter ignored me. That her little brother was suddenly doing much better didn't seem to matter much to her. The faith of children. No doubt she always assumed he would get better.
My sister was watching me with huge eyes. She alternately looked at Anthony and I saw her confusion. She suspected something, too. But not enough to confront me about it, and I couldn't talk to her about it, not now, and not in present company. She was just going to have to keep wondering.
Where would the bastard have gone? Would he be contacting me soon? Had he realized his mistake and simply killed the boy? Would he next be coming after Anthony?
I didn't know, but I didn't have long to wait.
After pacing a few more minutes and wondering also what Danny was up to, my cell phone rang. Another restricted number.
I answered with a simple hello.
"Miss Moon," said a man with a heavy French accent. "I believe you have something I want."
I stepped out of the room and into the hallway.
"Who is this?"
"Never mind that, Samantha Moon of the Moon Agency. I realize I have made a critical error, but perhaps not all is lost."
He paused and I could have jumped in with another wasted question. Instead, I waited, breathless, realizing without a doubt that a vampire was on the other end of the line.
He spoke again in his heavy French accent. "The real question here, Samantha Moon, is how much compassion you have for your fellow man. Or, in this case, boy."
"Go on," I said.
"Give me the medallion and I give you the boy, alive."
"You're a piece of shit."
"A desperate piece of shit, Samantha Moon. I know what you are, and I know that you know what I am. At least now you do. Who else would want the medallion?" He paused as my mind reeled. He went on: "And perhaps you don't realize that the longer you live, the harder you are to kill. Has this occurred to you?"
"I see it hasn't. Well, let me assure you, I am old. Very, very old. And I am desperate to end this existence, Miss Moon. Desperate. I am tired of living, and I cannot die. Not by silver. Not by anything. Do you understand me?"
I said nothing. Thinking was hard. The man's voice was so damn…hypnotic. Even for me. I could see why anyone and everyone would have given him what he wanted. It took all my effort to keep my thoughts clear. I felt him pushing in, even from a distance, trying to claim my thoughts.
"Ah, I see you are not new at this, Miss Moon. Not everyone, undead included, can resist me. Very well. Let me assure you that I am tired of living, and I will bring this entire fucking planet to hell with me, if I have to. The boy means nothing to me. Your son means nothing to me. You mean nothing to me. Nothing has any meaning except my own death, my removal from this earth. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," I said, aware that I was indeed speaking on my own free will.
"Nothing can end my life except for one thing, and one thing alone. The medallion. The wonderfully enchanted medallion that I have searched so long for. So very, very long."
"Where are you?"
"I am not far, my dear."
"How do I find you?"
For an answer, I suddenly had an image of a rooftop. But this wasn't just any rooftop. There were stairs leading everywhere. The roof itself had many levels and platforms and turrets. It was the roof to the Mission Inn in Riverside. I would know it anywhere.
"Good, good. You recognize this. Do not speak of it, my dear, or I will kill this little one and fetch another and another and another until you bring to me what I want. Do you understand?"
I thought of my son. I thought of many, many things, all of which I shielded from the bastard who kept probing my thoughts. "I do."
"Then I will see you in two hours."
And the line went dead.
I found Sherbet inside the office of the hospital's public relations administrator. Through the open door, I saw a young couple sitting together. The couple had their backs to me and appeared to be listening to someone in command. No doubt the captain of Orange Police Department's Investigative Division. The woman mostly had her face buried in her hands, while her husband had his arms around her, comforting her. I couldn't see their faces.
Sherbet saw me and stepped outside. He read my expression instantly. The man was damn good.
"Our guy called," he said.
"Where is he?"
I shook my head. "I have to do this alone or he kills the boy."
"No way, Sam. I'm going with you, along with some of my boys."
I shook my head. "He will know, Detective. He'll know and he'll kill the boy."
"How will he know?"
"In ways you won't understand."
He didn't like it. "Maybe he's bluffing."
"How do you know?"
"Call it a hunch."
"Not good enough, Sam."
"Fine," I said. "Because he's a very, very old vampire who cares little for anything, if at all. He will kill the boy and find another."
"We'll catch him."
"And risk the boy's life?"
Sherbet looked away, so frustrated that he growled. He rubbed his bristled face repeatedly. "I don't like it, Sam."
"So what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to get the boy."
"Any way I can."
"Are you going to hand over the medallion?"
"I don't know."
"If you give up the medallion, what happens to your son?"
"I don't want to think about it," I said.
He continued rubbing his face. Nervous energy crackled through him. "I don't like it, Sam," he said again.
"Neither do I," I said and turned to leave. "I gotta go."
"Sam," he called after me.
I stopped and looked back. The big detective looked sick with worry. "Please be careful, kid."
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
And I turned and left.READ MORE >>