Chasing the Shadows
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And the vamps?
Energy surged to her fingertips. She flexed her hands, trying to relax. They're not going to attack?
No. I think they plan to await discovery then attack.
Why? It didn't make any sense to give up the advantage like that, though they were talking vampires. She guessed it didn't really matter if they did give up the benefit of surprise. Fledglings or not, they'd still beat the crap out of most of the officers here.
I suspect Farmer intends to let the police finally know what they are up against. His mind voice was grim.
Thank God there are no reporters down here with us. It'd cause a panic if people knew vamps were real and living in the sewers.
His smile spun around her, a touch of sunshine through the darkness . This is a city renowned for both its tolerance and its diversity. Somehow, I don't think people would be all that surprised. The necklace burned into her hand. She held it by the top of the plastic instead, but it made very little difference to the images assaulting her mind. Anne was alive but in a bad way. She might not have had a heart attack like Dale Wainwright had, but the vamps had assaulted her and fed off her, and she was struggling to survive.
We're approaching the large chamber where the Loop waits, Michael said. You'd better try to warn the police.
She cleared her throat. “We're nearing where Anne is, but there's something waiting just ahead.” As she spoke, fog seemed to stir the darkness. It wasn't the vampires, wasn't anything threatening. Yet it came with an almost overwhelming feeling of fear.
The Fed with the blue eyes hesitated and looked over his shoulder. “What do you mean by some thing?" The ethereal form disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Maybe it had been nothing more than a puff of colder air drifting in from the vent ahead.
She dragged her gaze back to the agent's. She couldn't tell him it was vampires, because he wasn't likely to believe her until he saw them himself. And maybe not even then.
"Just that. There are five ‘somethings', actually."
"Probably homeless folk.” Even so, she heard the sound of a safety clicking off. They proceeded more cautiously. The flashlight beams bit through the darkness, spotlights that somehow left the greater darkness looking more ominous. They came into a chamber—a fact evident only by the bigger feeling of space. The Feds in front of her stopped, making her do a quick sidestep to avoid running into them.
Then she saw why they'd stopped.
The vampires were spotlighted by the flashlights as they stood in the middle of the chamber. All of them had the same disdainful expression, their arms crossed and stances casual. They were all wearing leather jackets, faded denims and black biker boots.
All of them were blood-smeared.
Guns came out of holsters. The vamps’ sneers became more noticeable, revealing bloody canines.
"F.B.I.,” Agent Blue Eyes stated. “Slowly drop any weapons you might be holding and raise your hands."
The vamp in the middle chortled. “Know what F.B.I. stands for?” His voice was guttural, like that of a man who'd spent too many years smoking. “Fuckin’ bloody idiots."
"Raise your hands,” Blue Eyes repeated stonily.
"Yeah right,” the vamp said. “Boys, let's show ‘em." Night stole the vampires from sight, and all hell broke loose.
Nikki ducked to her right and ran forward. The night stirred in front of her, something she felt more than saw. She flung out her hand. Kinetic energy caressed the night, and something heavy hit the distant wall with a grunt.
She ran on. The necklace was a ribbon of fire, burning with fear. Anne was very close. A booming of a gun cut across the tense silence, followed quickly by another. Laughter spun through the night, a harsh, sarcastic sound.
A man screamed—a sound that quickly became a gurgling cry. She closed her ears to the noise, knowing it was more important to get to Anne than to help the cops right now. The harsh laughter stopped, and the scuff of flesh hitting flesh filled the night. Michael had joined the fray. Goose bumps ran across her skin, a chill sensation that warned of danger. She slid to a stop but was flung backwards as the night found form. She hit the ground with a grunt, her flashlight slipping from her hand and scuttling away into the darkness. The vampire was heavy, smelling of blood and sweat and sex. He snarled, canines extended and dripping wet, dark moisture.
Her stomach rolled, and energy surged through her body, the sheer force of it making every muscle shake. “Burn in hell,” she muttered and thrust her hand in his face. But what came out was a mix of kinetic energy and fire. It ripped the vampire from her body and flung him across the room like a flaming comet. He hit the far wall with a splat and slipped to the floor, the high-pitched sound of his screams stinging the night as he rolled in a futile attempt to put out the inferno consuming him.
For several heartbeats she could only stare. Despite her words, she hadn't intended to burn him. While she felt no sympathy for the vampire, fear caught her heart and squeezed it tight. This was only one more piece of evidence that suggested she was changing faster—and in more ways—than she'd feared. But now was not the time to dwell on such fears. She thrust to her feet then reached for the nearby wall, leaning against it heavily as the darkness swam around her. She felt drained, weak, her legs shaking and barely supporting her weight.
The back of her neck prickled in warning. She looked up, saw the slight blur of movement across the darkness. Knew another vampire was coming at her.
She reached again for kinetic energy. Pain slithered through her body and arrowed into her brain, became hot lances of fire that had her blinking back tears. She'd barely used her abilities, and yet she was close to reaching her limits. The flames, whatever they were, obviously took a lot more strength than kinetic energy.
The unseen vampire screamed, and the wind of his approach stroked cold air across her skin. She raised her hand, energy dancing like weakened fireflies across her fingers and pain booming through her brain. But suddenly Michael was in front of her, flowing into being from the inky gloom. He grabbed the vampire with one hand, then twisted him around and snapped his neck in one smooth, vicious movement. He tossed the body to one side and turned, gently touching her cheek. Are you okay?
She nodded, a little chilled by his ruthless efficiency. Go help the cops. He flowed back into the darkness. She took a deep breath, then pushed away from the wall and retrieved her flashlight. Clenching her fingers around the bagged necklace, she continued. The frantic pulsing led her past an entrance that had been smashed into being through bricks and into a smaller room. There, on a soiled, sorry-looking mattress, she found Anne.
She lay on the mattress, curled up in a fetal position, her skin marred by bruises and bloody nips. Her eyes were closed, and even when Nikki knelt beside her, they didn't open. She touched a hand to Anne's shoulder. Her skin felt like ice. “Anne?" The older woman didn't respond. Nikki felt for a pulse, which was rapid, unsteady. It was the rhythm she could feel in the necklace. She gently lifted the older woman's eyelids—her pupils were huge. She'd been drugged, undoubtedly to stop her running.
The sharp voice bit through the darkness, and she jumped. “In here." The FBI agent with the blue eyes appeared in the doorway. The beam of his flashlight hit her square in the eyes, and she threw up her hand to cut the glare.
"Sorry,” he said, moving the light to one side. “You found her?" She nodded. “She's been drugged and assaulted. You'd better get the paramedics down here quickly." He stopped by her side, his expression grim as he stripped off his coat and placed it carefully over Anne. It wouldn't have offered much in the way of warmth, but at least it offered a little more dignity.
"They've already been called. We've got one man dead out there and another with half his neck ripped apart.” He hesitated. “What were those things?"
"What did they look like?” she hedged, wary of telling him the truth.
"Well, they certainly fit the image of every damn vampire I've seen on the silver screen. But vampires just can't exist."
"Why can't they? Vlad the Impaler was certainly real." He stared at her for a second. “Yeah, but he was a sicko human."
"So were those men, once."
He continued to stare at her. It was hard to read his expression, hard to know his thoughts. After what he has seen, he believes, Michael said softly. He just doesn't want to. The heat of his unseen presence pressed warmth into her back. She resisted the urge to lean back against him and offered the agent the bagged necklace. “You want to take care of this from now on? I don't think Harris trusted me with it all that much."
"Yeah, I noticed that myself.” His slight grin suggested he was relieved to be moving on to safer subjects. He looked past her as several more officers walked into the smaller room. “Davidson, those paramedics here yet?"
"On the way down now."
"You want to direct them here the minute they arrive? And keep an eye out in case any more of those ... men ... decide to attack."
The officer moved away, and the big man's gaze came back to her. “That's some talent you have there. We would never have been able to find Mrs. Harris so quickly ourselves." She rubbed her arms. “I just hope we're fast enough to save her."
"So do I.” He hesitated. “Would you like an escort back to the hotel?"
"Just back to the sewer cover will be fine.” The vampires wouldn't attack her once she was out in the sunshine. Which was some place she desperately needed to be, just to warm the ice beginning to form in the pit of her stomach.
The agent nodded and called to another of his men. “You're not intending to leave San Francisco for the next few days, are you? We may need to talk to you a bit more."
"I'm staying at the Diamond Grand."
He smiled. “Yes, I know. We did a thorough check on you when Mr. Harris requested your help." She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Why?"
He shrugged. “Wouldn't be the first time a supposed psychic has worked a kidnapping scam." "Do you really think anyone human could have done what was done to those first two women?" He studied her for a moment, gaze calculating. “And how do you know what was done to them?"
"The same way I knew where to find Anne and Dale. It's not a very pleasant gift to have, you know. I'd much rather do without knowing the gruesome details.” She hesitated. “I have something else for you, too. The name of a possible suspect."
"Who?” He grabbed a notebook and pen out of his pocket.
"Billie Farmer. Apparently he was taunted in high school by a gang of twelve women." He raised his eyebrows. “And I suppose the four victims so far were a part of that gang?"
"You catch on rather fast."
"That's what they pay me for. We'll check it out. In the meantime, don't leave the city. We may need to talk to you again."
"I have no intention of going anywhere.” Not until this fiend was caught. Killed. He nodded. A second agent made an appearance and motioned her to follow him. I dare not risk the sun again, Michael said as they began the walk back to the sewer entrance. I'll have to meet you back at the hotel.
And perhaps do a little exploring along the way?
He hesitated. Yes. But don't ask to come with me. Not when Farmer is aware of your every movement.
Don't worry. I have no intention of invading your work space right now. Nikki—
She flung up a hand. Yeah, I know. It's for my own safety. Which was a load of crap. She was probably safer with him than being alone at the hotel. Especially when Farmer and his gang had no apparent trouble getting into that building.
Which is why I don't want you to go immediately back to the hotel. Walk around and do some sightseeing. I'll contact you when I'm heading back myself. Like hell she'd be doing the touristy thing while there was a madman running around underground. I have to call Jake and let him know what's going on.
Then do so. Just don't go back to our room until it's safe. Fine. I'll play it your way. For now.
Warmth flowed through the link, a tender caress that made her toes tingle. Keep safe. I'll see you soon. She blew him a mental kiss, and the heat of his presence disappeared. The cop stopped and motioned her up the rusting ladder. She climbed, blinking as she reentered the bright sunshine. Two cops helped her out, another helping her escort a second later.
"You want a ride back to the hotel, Miss James?” he said. She shook her head. “It's a nice day. I think I'll walk." They let her go. She dragged her cell phone from her pocket and dialed Jake's number.
"About time,” he grumbled. “What's happening?"
She gave him an update, and he swore softly. “We need to catch this bastard fast."
"The problem being we have no idea where he is, while he has every idea where I am.” And until Seline came through with this charm Michael was talking about, there wasn't much they could do to alter that situation.
"Wish there was some way we could make that work for us,” Jake muttered. She bit her lip for a moment, mind racing. “Maybe there is,” she said slowly.
"How's Dale?” she said, by way of answer.
"Not good. She's still in intensive care, and the doctors are not saying much."
"Is she conscious?"
"Apparently not. Why?"
"Do you think you could convince Mark to get us in there?"