Chasing the Shadows
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As the rasp of his breath eased, sounds encroached. The gentle roar of traffic mixed with the pounding of waves. Beyond that, the trumpeting of an elephant. He blinked. Was there a zoo in San Francisco, or was he imagining things?
He hoped it was the former rather than the latter. A zoo would be the perfect place to sate his hunger without endangering anyone—or anything. And while an elephant's hide was far too tough for his teeth to pierce, a zoo would undoubtedly have giraffes or bison or even zebras. The trembling eased. He found the sewer cover and slipped it back into place, then sniffed the night air, searching for the scent of hay, dung and animals. It came from up ahead. He looped the chain into his hand and staggered forward.
Farmer would undoubtedly come looking for him. He had to revive his system, had to be alert and free of these chains. Had to be ready to fight and kill the fiend. Before Nikki came to do it for him. Nikki. He longed to call her, let her know he was okay and free. But he couldn't. Until Seline's charm arrived, Farmer was still connected to her. If he called, she'd undoubtedly come rushing to help him—and lead Farmer straight to them both.
Besides, calling her to his rescue would be far too dangerous. In his current condition he doubted if he'd be able to resist the lure of her blood. She was the first human he'd tasted in well over a hundred years, and while he had the urge to drink from her well under control in normal circumstances, not enough time had slipped by yet to make him forget the taste. If she found him like this, he'd kill her. He had no doubt of that.
Maybe that was what Farmer had been intending. Maybe that was why they'd fed off that woman in his presence—to work his need into a fever pitch so he'd attack when the slightest chance came. He shuffled on, his steps becoming shorter as his weakness grew. A huge fence came into sight. He found a gate but could sense no guards, though he knew, logically, they'd have to be here somewhere. He raised a hand and dredged up kinetic energy from God knew where. The gates flew open, and he entered, finding himself in a courtyard. A type of shop lay just ahead, and other smaller buildings to his left, containing smaller animals if the patter of their hearts was anything to go by. He switched to the infrared of his vampire vision. And saw the alarm on the gate. Security would undoubtedly be on their way.
He swore softly and blurred into night. And not a moment too soon. Twin beams of lights cut across the darkness, and with it came the red blur of human heat.
His canines lengthened in anticipation. His body was so desperate for blood it was getting ready to feed on anything—and if he wasn't very careful, that's exactly what would happen. Swearing softly again, he retreated in search of zebra.
* * * *
Nikki climbed out of the car. For a minute, everything whirled and her knees felt like water. She grabbed the door for support and took several deep breaths. The sensation slithered away, but unease rose in its place. The strange old blind woman had suggested that she and Michael were capable of sharing energy. Was he so badly hurt he was beginning to siphon her reserves?
God, she hoped not. She couldn't survive losing him.
She took another deep breath then turned to study the building in front of her. Though it made no sense, the sensations emanating from the bra were coming from an empty shop in the middle of a busy shopping strip.
Why would Farmer choose a place like this? It wasn't what she'd call safe, particularly if his victim tried to scream....
Mary had tried to scream. No sound had come out—maybe because her voice was lost to the horror of her situation. Nikki's stomach churned, and a chill crept down her spine. She didn't want to think about that chill. Didn't want to think about the instinct that suggested there could be other reasons why Mary hadn't screamed.
Jake told the driver to wait then joined her on the sidewalk. “This the place?" She rubbed her arms. She didn't want to go inside. Didn't want to find what she suspected she might find. Tears stung her eyes, but she tried to ignore them. “Yes."
"Not exactly what I expected."
She looked to her left then right. No one sitting at the nearby café tables was paying any particular attention. And they wouldn't, as long as both of them looked as if they had every right to be here. She strode up to the door and raised her hand, as if inserting a key. Instead, she pushed kinetically at the lock and opened the door.
She stepped through but stopped just inside the doorway, listening to the silence. Searching the darkness with her psychic senses, trying to find the scent of evil. Farmer wasn't here at the moment. Jake closed the door behind them then flicked on the flashlight. The bright light cut across the shadows, highlighting old bits of furniture and lots of dust. “Where do we go?"
"Up. She was chained to a bed, and the darkness had an airy feel. It certainly wasn't a basement or anything like that."
"There's some comfort in that, I guess."
It was no comfort—not to Mary, not to her and certainly not to him, if the crack in his voice was anything to go by. She walked to the other end of the narrow shop and found a set of stairs behind a half wall. Jake handed her a flashlight, and she shone the light upwards. Nothing but shadows and cobwebs. If Mary was up there, she was making no sound.
Because she couldn't...
Bile rose in Nikki's throat. She swallowed heavily and edged up the stairs, pausing between each step, listening to the silence and testing the air for the approach of evil. Three steps from the landing she paused and carefully peered through the railings. The room beyond was dark and quiet. No sound of breathing. No sound of life.
Not that she had truly expected any.
She swallowed a sob. Holding back guilt, holding back pain, she forced her feet up those final three steps. The beam of her flashlight cut across the darkness and centered on the bed. Mary lay on it. Naked, chained and bloody.
Nikki didn't say anything. Couldn't say anything. For several seconds she just stared, taking in the bloody evidence of horror. Taking in the open, screaming mouth and the stump that had once been a tongue. A sob escaped. She raised a hand to her mouth and put out her other hand to stop Jake. He pushed past angrily then froze. For several seconds neither of them moved. Then with a sound that was half groan, half anguished denial, he rushed towards his wife. Dropping to his knees, he touched her neck, feeling for the pulse Nikki knew he would never find.
He made another broken sound and gathered Mary's lifeless body in his arms. Nikki bit her lip, battling for control. She couldn't give in to anguish just yet. She had to stay alert in case Farmer returned. She glanced at her watch and saw they had less than forty minutes to get back to the hotel. Or she did. She doubted if Jake would leave Mary's body so soon.
Tears trickled down her face. She took a deep, shuddering breath, then dragged her phone out of her pocket and called the ambulance and the cops.
He didn't answer. Just continued to sob and cradle Mary.
"Jake, I have to go. I can't be here when the cops get here, or I won't get back in time to catch Farmer's message. He can't know.... “Her voice broke. She swiped at her eyes and continued, “He can't know we know."
"I'm going to kill that bastard,” Jake muttered.
"We'll get him, don't worry."
"Not we. Me.” He looked up. His face was ravaged, eyes bloodshot. “Promise me you won't go after him without me."
"Promise me!” His voice was savage, his eyes intense.
"Jake, I don't want to lose you, too."
"You won't. I'll kill him for this. And nothing, or nobody, is going to stop me from doing it." She hesitated, then said, “Okay. I promise."
He nodded and went back to his grieving. From a distance came the sound of sirens. She had to get out while she could. She swiped at her eyes then walked forward. Jake didn't move, just continued to gently rock Mary back and forth. She brushed a kiss across Mary's head and bid her a silent good-bye. A nebula cloud swirled past Jake, catching her eye. She frowned, wondering how the fog had gotten inside the room when there were no windows open. The mist drifted past again, briefly forming something almost human. Nikki's stomach dropped. It wasn't fog. It was a spirit—a ghost. Mouth dry, she watched the thing, wondering if it was Mary's spirit or someone else's. She could find out ... but was either she or Jake really ready to confront Mary if it was?
He looked up. “What?"
"I think Mary's spirit may be in this room."
He didn't react in any way, simply stared at her. She raised her hands. “Don't ask me to explain how or why, but it appears I'm developing the talent to see ghosts."
"Like the movie?"
"Not as graphic or as clear as the movie, but yeah."
"And she's here?” His voice was an odd mix of hope and apprehension.
"It may be her, or it maybe someone else.” The mist swirled in the one spot, as if listening to what she was saying. “I can't say for sure until I empower it."
"Then do it."
She met his gaze. “You sure?"
He nodded. “At the very least, it gives me the chance to apologize. To say good-bye." It would give them both the chance to do that. She looked back to the misty form and took a deep breath. Its movements had quickened, as if in excitement. Closing her eyes, Nikki reached out. With her hand and with her psychic gifts.
Fog caressed her fingers, but it was warm rather than cold and damp. Something latched on to her psychic probe—she could feel the drain of energy flowing through her fingertips, though it was more a trickle than the rush that happened whenever she used her kinetic skills. Jake made an odd, strangled sort of noise in the back of his throat. She opened her eyes. It was Mary who touched her fingers.
"I'm sorry,” Jake whispered brokenly. “I'm so sorry." Mary brushed a hand across his head. His hair stirred, as if touched by electricity rather than flesh. “You did what you thought was best. It's not your fault this happened."
"But I could've—"
"No.” Her voice was gentle and somehow ethereal. Though her skin seemed to hold color, there was little substance to her flesh. “It was my time. Destiny cannot be changed. Only the location." Michael had changed her destiny. He'd loved her enough to snatch her from death's arms, and yet here she was, ready to walk away because he refused to share one part of his life. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She was a fool. After everything he'd been through, after everything he'd done for her, he deserved far more consideration than that.
Deserved far better than her.
"You asked for revenge.” Mary looked Nikki's way. “That is what I also wish. Let us be a part of this monster's death."
Fragile wisps of vapor stirred the darkness beyond Mary. More ghosts, probably. Nikki had no doubt it was the other four women Farmer had killed here in San Francisco.
"I'm new to all this. I don't know if I can handle more than one. Especially if I have to touch you all.” Not to mention the fact that standing still when someone like Farmer was around could be extremely dangerous.
"You don't have to touch us."
Nikki glanced down at their joined hands. “Then why do you hold my hand?" Mary's smile was wistful. “Because you needed it. Because I can." The tears spilling down her cheeks became a flood. Nikki drew another deep breath and somehow managed to say, “I'm sorry we weren't here sooner."
"So am I.” Mary brushed a gossamer finger across Jake's damp cheek. “Take care, my love. I'll be waiting for you when it's your turn to cross."
Mary faded. Jake made an anguished sound and hugged his wife's body fiercely. The sound of sirens was perilously close.
"Jake, I have to go."
He nodded. Her gaze swept the darkness, seeing mist shimmer in the corner. He wasn't alone, and of that she was glad. She turned and made her way down the stairs. Police cars rounded the corner as she stepped onto the sidewalk. She walked down a couple of shops then stopped, watching the three cars screech to a halt and the officers pile out. The FBI agents were among those who entered the shop. At least Jake would be relatively safe now. She headed to the limo and asked the driver to take her back to the hotel. She'd barely entered her room when electricity shimmered across her skin. Farmer was early. Or maybe he was just checking whether she was still here.
She slipped off the charm and walked into the bedroom. “If you've hurt her, you bastard, I'll kill you." He snorted. “Isn't that what you intended anyway?"
"Yeah, but I'd intended it to be quick. You'll have no such luxury if you've hurt either one of them."
"I haven't hurt them. Just played with them a little." Liar, liar ... God, she hoped Michael was still alive—surely she would have felt it if he'd died? He was a part of her, she a part of him. The two of them were bound together forever, so surely she would feel his passing ... and the very fact she wasn't sure scared the hell out of her. Farmer had already gone back on his word once. There was nothing to say he hadn't done it twice.
"Let them go."
He gave her a Cheshire cat sort of smile. “Have you chosen?" She crossed her arms. There was only one choice now, but he wasn't to know she was aware of that.
“No. And I have no intention of doing so."
"Then they both die."