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Ed was furious. This is such a fucking clusterfuck! I should have known Salt wouldn’t wait for us. I can’t believe he walked into a vampire’s lair alone, the idiot. He’s probably dead by now. If we’re very lucky Valjevo won’t take too many casualties while he makes his escape with his victim.
The local police had evacuated the church; there had only been a few priests and the janitorial staff there that late in the evening. The SWAT team had the building surrounded, and Ed’s elite team, which tonight was just her, Dean, and Andy, had gone in. She normally didn’t do field work anymore—it was too dangerous and she was irreplaceable—but they had lost several field agents over the last few months. They were short-staffed, she had the skills, and heaven help her, she’d developed a fondness for Salt over the years. She’d rescue him if she could.
She was wearing a tight-fitting all black cat suit, black gloves, and black boots. Her pale face and blonde hair were covered with a black ski-type mask in a thin, breathable fabric. Although she was practiced at moving silently, she knew that, with the vampire’s heightened senses, it would be almost impossible to sneak up on him. Even if he didn’t hear or see them, he would detect their scent.
She couldn’t smell the vampire at all when she got to the church, which was odd, but she’d lost contact with Salt shortly after he had entered the building. Surely he’d found something; Valjevo had to be there somewhere.
The church was huge. It was going to take the three of them forever to search it, but she couldn’t risk calling in the SWAT team to help. They were too likely to see things they shouldn’t, and without proper weaponry they wouldn’t be effective in any case.
The vampire would most likely be below ground. She had issued a query about whether there was a burial chamber in the church; if so, that’s where they’d find Valjevo.
Her earbud dinged and a voice she recognized as belonging to Phil, the commander of the SWAT team, came on the line. He was agitated, almost hysterical.
“Agent Cordova! You won’t believe what just happened. You won’t believe what I’m looking at right now.”
Ed rolled her eyes as she snapped, “Tell me!” He was wasting her precious time.
“We all saw it. One minute the side of the church was all brick, looking just like it always does, and the next minute the brick faded away and now there’s a set of stairs leading down to some double-doors. We’re investigating now.”
Oh, Lord! This is just what we need—some paranormal phenomenon that half the SWAT team witnessed. How hard is that going to be to cover up? Just then the stench of vampire hit Ed’s nostrils. It wasn’t close, but close enough.
“Do not go in!” she screamed into her mic. “I repeat, do not go in!”
The earbud crackled in her ear and she didn’t get a response. Oh hell! Another idiot! She started to sprint outside while she contacted Dean and Andy and asked them to join her. Phil hadn’t said where they were, but the SWAT team commander had been stationed on the north side of the building, so she started there.
She found them right away. They were just swinging open the double doors at the base of a long set of broad stone steps.
“Stop!” she cried as she dashed down the stairs, her dart gun in hand. “I go in first. You stay here until I give the word.” There was no need to be quiet. The vampire would surely have heard or smelled them already. Dean jogged up to her side, his gun out, eyes on the hallway beyond the door.
Phil glared at her. “I’m not letting you have all the glory. This fucker’s mine.” He strode through the door and into the cool hallway. He had his Glock out. As if that will do anything other than piss him off! I’m surprised the man has lasted this long if he’s this stupid, thought Ed.
Andy showed up just as she and Dean started to follow the SWAT team commander. They stayed right on his heels, ready to bail him out when he ran face-to-face with the vampire and shit his pants. The rest of the SWAT team started to move in behind them, and she barked out, “We’ll cover him. You stay here. I don’t want a single one of you entering the building.”
They hesitated. She had no authority over them so she wasn’t sure if they would actually obey her or not. Sometimes she thought that if she were a man, she’d have a better chance. Macho men, which SWAT team members almost invariably were, didn’t follow women easily, no matter how commanding they were.
The hallway was short and led to a set of stairs—leading down, of course.
“Let us go first,” she told Phil. “My team is trained to deal with this type of thing.”
Not acknowledging that she had even spoken to him, he started down the stairs. She stuck right behind him, her senses alert. The stench of vampire was strong along with the smell of güvenilir bahis decaying flesh; this was definitely a vampire lair. The man had no idea what he was about to encounter. She just hoped she, Dean, and Andy made it out alive. She didn’t even want to think about Salt or Mel’s chances.
At the bottom of the stairs there was a long hallway, which opened into a lighted room at the far end. There were a few doors along the hallway, all of which were closed. She heard a voice coming from the lighted room. It was young, male, and sounded excited.
“Come on, Tigger, let’s go! As soon as we’re out, you can call an ambulance. You’re not doing him any good right now. Let’s go!”
While she was processing this confusing information they had quickly traversed the hallway. When she was able to see what was in the room, she was shocked to her core. A dark-haired, naked youth was kneeling next to a small blond who she was pretty sure was Melvin. She had looked at plenty of pictures of the towhead. Melvin was draped over Salt who was lying unmoving in a very large pool of blood. There was another person lying face down on the floor, also in a pool of blood, and there was a pile of clothes that had obviously been the vampire. It was still smoking slightly.
Salt must have killed the vampire before he succumbed to his injuries. She realized that the dark-haired youth—most likely Mel’s best friend, Jon, her infallible memory supplied—was in the process of unlocking the shackle that was around Mel’s ankle. She was most impressed with his composure in the face of what had surely been a horrifying experience.
Just then she realized that some of the SWAT team had followed them in, and one had just run back out to call an ambulance. “Dean, go out and let Central know we’ve got some cleanup to do here. We’ll need one of our ambulances.”
“Melvin,” she barked. He lifted a tearful face to her and her heart sank. “Is he dead?” she asked gently.
“N … not yet. He’s still breathing.”
She was surprised at the intensity of her relief. I’m getting soft. She knew if she let her emotions color her decisions, she would start making mistakes. It was best not to get attached to any team member, however, Salt was her longest-running active field agent, and the most effective. If he can keep his head out of his ass and follow simple instructions, she reminded herself. Hopefully he would stay alive long enough for her to chew him out. A quick perusal of his body told her it would be touch and go. He didn’t seem to be bleeding much anymore, but the quantity of blood on the ground was appalling. If her team got to him fast enough, they might be able to save him. They were exceptional.
She spared a glance to the other body. She could tell by the extreme thinness that the man had been enthralled to the vampire. She suppressed a shudder. She could not imagine a worse fate. Judging from the tattered robes, he must have been one of the priests.
The SWAT team commander was checking the body for signs of life, but she knew there was no point. If he wasn’t dead already, he would be shortly. Being a thrall sucked the life out of a person. They weren’t technically dead, but their bodies couldn’t metabolize food. They were filled with a gnawing hunger, but no matter how much they ate, it didn’t nourish them. Within weeks there would be no hope of saving a thrall even if the spell was undone. This thrall’s sanity was probably destroyed in the first few hours. His body had been sustained by Valjevo long after the point where he normally would have starved to death. Now that the spell was broken, he would die, if not by his own hand, then technically of starvation, and within the hour.
“What happened here?” the SWAT team commander demanded of Jon.
“Don’t answer that,” Ed snapped, fixing Jon with her most commanding glare. His eyes widened and he looked back and forth between the two of them.
The youths were in remarkably good shape for having been under a vampire’s care even for just a short time. Melvin appeared disheveled and heartbroken. Jon was cradling his left hand close to his chest, but otherwise he seemed unscathed.
Just then three EMTs arrived with a stretcher. They went directly to Salt and began the process of assessing and stabilizing him, hooking him up to an IV, and loading him onto the stretcher. They worked quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, they weren’t EERIE EMTs. We’ll have to conduct a snatch, damn it, Ed thought.
“Where the hell’s our guys?” she growled at Dean.
“I’ll go find out,” he responded, looking grateful to have an excuse to get away from her.
“Get someone to do an interception for Salt—and tell them if they botch it, I’ll have their heads!” Her team would waylay the ambulance that was transporting Salt, putting everyone under with a harmless but effective knockout gas. They would then transfer him to their own vehicle and take him to their facilities at Central.
Turning türkçe bahis around again, she discovered that the SWAT team commander was once again attempting to interrogate Jon, who was shaking his head and saying, “I’m not really sure. It all happened so fast.” Someone had found him a blanket, which he had draped over his shoulders, but he didn’t appear to be concerned about hiding his nakedness, because he was still fully on display.
Melvin had been provided with a blanket too, and he had it wrapped tightly around himself although whether that was to hide his nudity or because he was cold, she didn’t know. The commander was focusing his attention on Jon, because clearly Mel was too distraught to answer questions.
Mel started to trail after the EMTs as they carried Salt’s body away. “Hold!” Ed barked, reaching out to grab his arm and prevent his leaving. “Jon, don’t say a word,” she called over her shoulder at the other man.
The dark-haired man’s eyes widened. “How do you know my name?”
“We’ve been following this case for a while.” She cast a gimlet eye at the SWAT team commander. “Don’t think your boys are going to get this one. This crime scene is mine. In fact, tell all your men to clear out. They’re not needed here, and they’re trampling our evidence.”
The man scowled at her. “Well it’s clear what happened. That guy,” he said, pointing at the erstwhile thrall, “was our serial killer and your boy took him out. Although how such a skinny fucker managed to cause so much damage is a good question. There’s no chainsaw or anything around here that could have caused such a massive wound. I don’t even see how he managed to walk around at all, he’s so emaciated.”
Jon opened his mouth and Ed quickly interjected, “Not a word!” Jon snapped his mouth shut again.
“Where the hell are my people?” Ed yelled.
“We’re here!” her forensics team lead, Stanley, said, appearing in the doorway carrying a large bag of equipment.
“Well thank God! Secure the area. You know what to do. Where the hell’s that ambulance?”
“Uh, I think it got diverted.”
“Oh hell! Don’t we have more than one?” She knew they had two, but not both staffed at the same time. “Never mind.” Turning her attention to Jon and Mel, she said. “You boys can both walk, right? We’ll just take my car.”
“Who are you?” Jon demanded.
“I need to be with Guy,” Melvin said. He looked longingly at the doorway through which the EMTs had disappeared. Ed still had a firm grip on his arm.
“I’m Guy’s boss, Ed. Pleased to meet you finally, Melvin and Jon.” She didn’t bother to smile at them because she was still wearing the black mask. She wouldn’t take it off until she could don her usual mask.
“Now let’s go. I’ll take you to Guy and get you some medical attention as well.”
Ignoring the sputtering protest of the SWAT team commander, she took a young man by each hand and escorted them out.
Mel sat staring at the woman incredulously. “Fa … fa … Five million dollars?” he stammered.
“Five million, seven hundred and forty-three dollars and fifty-eight cents, after taxes, to be exact,” Ed answered. “Apiece.”
“OhMyGod, OhMyGod, OhMyGod! We’re rich!” Jon cried, jumping to his feet and waving his hands in the air. “Tiggggeeeerrrr!!” His voice was a high-pitched shriek. He hauled Mel out of the damask chair he was sitting in and pulled him into an impromptu dance around the small sitting room. “We’re rich, rich, rich!”
The woman’s expression didn’t change, but Mel wasn’t sure he’d be able to tell if it did. A good part of her face was covered with a silver mask.
She was the embodiment of elegance. She was of medium height, with a slender, athletic build. Her maroon suit had a modern cut and looked extremely expensive. Her matching Italian pumps appeared to be made from alligator skin. She had a French manicure, tear-drop diamond earrings, and perfectly applied makeup. Her platinum hair was pulled back into a soft bun.
Mel guessed her age to be about forty. She was a striking woman in spite of the oddity of the mask. It was matt silver, finely made and delicate, and covered most of the left half of her face, curving around her lips to hide her chin. Instead of making her seem mysterious, it gave her a forbidding air that was not detracted from one wit by her sharp gray eyes.
“The catch is, of course, that you will have to work for me. It may not be worth it,” she said dryly.
Mel tried to calm his pounding heart. Jon had finally quit hauling him around the room and simply stood hugging him, bouncing a little on his feet. Normally Mel would have been bouncing as well. Five million dollars—who gives college kids five million dollars as a signing bonus for their first job?
He should have been ecstatic, as Jon was, but everything that happened to him was tempered with the knowledge that Guy was probably dying—possibly already dead—no one would tell him anything. There was a güvenilir bahis siteleri huge whole in Mel’s chest where his heart used to be. No amount of money in the world could fix that.
The five million was not a signing bonus per se. Ed was offering it to them as incentive to sign on with EERIE, but if they’d already been working for the company, that’s what they would have made on this job. Apparently if you kill a vampire while working for EERIE, they distributed ten percent of the vampire’s net worth to you as a bonus. And vampires were almost always extremely wealthy. In this case, the bonus was being split evenly between Jon and Mel.
“Guy doesn’t get any of the money?” Mel asked.
For the first time he saw emotion show in the woman’s eyes. It was only a flash before her implacable expression returned, but it had been deep sorrow. “You made the kill, he didn’t.”
Mel sucked in a big breath of air and sank into the nearest chair.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” he asked, his voice breaking.
He and Jon had been at EERIE headquarters for a day and a half now. First there had been a physical exam that was the most thorough he’d ever undergone. They didn’t leave any nook or cranny uninspected, and they cataloged every tiny blemish they found. He had been treated for acid burns on his hands, which he’d gotten from the vampire blood. Apparently all of a vampire’s body fluids were extremely acidic.
After the physical exam, there had been an endless interrogation. They had hooked him up to all kinds of equipment and asked him questions for hours. That part had been the most painful, especially the questions about his feelings for Guy. He didn’t want anyone to know that he’d fallen in love with the man. He felt like such an idiot; how could he have fallen for someone who so clearly didn’t do relationships? How could he have thought even for a moment that he’d be able to change Guy’s mind?
After they were finally satisfied that they’d squeezed him dry, and he was dead on his feet, he’d been led to a suite of rooms that would have rivaled those at the finest hotel. There he’d been reunited with Jon, who had separately undergone the same examination and interrogation as he had. They’d been encouraged to order off the room service menu and then left alone to rest and recover.
In spite of his repeated questions, no one would tell him what had happened to Guy. Now, finally, they were in front of someone who had the answers, and Mel was determined to get them from her. He’d told himself that anything was better than not knowing, but now, faced with finding out for sure that Guy was gone, he decided maybe he’d rather not know.
“Not yet,” she said.
Mel’s heart started beating again. He looked at her, trying to guess what she wasn’t telling him. “But he’s dying?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. She didn’t look like the type of woman who pulled punches, ever.
A sharp pain flared across Mel’s chest and he didn’t think it was from his bruised ribs.
“I’m sorry,” she continued. “The doctors have tried. They’ve reattached his arm and closed up his wound, but he simply lost too much blood. They’re quite surprised he was still even alive when we got to him. He’s in a coma and is weakening. They expect to lose him within the hour.”
“No!” Mel cried, jumping to his feet. “He … he can’t die!”
“I’m sorry,” the woman said again. Her face took on a sympathetic expression, which seemed totally incongruent with the rest of her stiff demeanor.
“You have to let me see him!” Mel demanded.
“It won’t make any difference,” she said. “He’s in a very deep coma. He won’t even know you’re there.”
“I’ll know I’m there,” Mel snapped. “He shouldn’t die alone. He should have someone there who cares about him when…” Mel was overcome with emotion at this point and couldn’t finish the sentence. Jon hugged him tightly and he clung to him like a drowning man.
“All right,” she said, and Mel looked up at her in surprise. She hadn’t seemed inclined to let him see Guy, but apparently she had changed her mind.
“It can’t do any harm to have you there,” she continued. “The doctors have told me there’s nothing more they can do for him, therefore, you won’t be in the way.”
Mel wiped the tears off his face with the back of his hand. He hadn’t even realized he was crying. “Can we go now?” he asked.
“Yes.” she said, climbing to her feet. “We can continue the discussion of your employment with EERIE later.”
She sent Jon back to their room with an escort, then she led Mel down an endless maze of corridors. Finally they turned a corner and he recognized the hospital wing by its antiseptic smell.
The on-duty nurse nodded at Ed politely as she swept past. Outside a closed door, she was greeted by a gray-haired gentlemen in doctor’s whites. “His condition is still deteriorating. I don’t expect…” he cut off what he was saying abruptly when he caught sight of Mel who was trailing along behind. “Who is this?” he asked instead.
“He’s going to sit with Guy,” she said.
“Edna, you know he can’t have visitors,” the doctor protested. “He is strictly…”
The doctor trailed off as Ed raised one elegant eyebrow.
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