THIS was an unmitigated disaster.
Doctor Kenneth Miller stood silently at the edge of the road, fuming as he stared at the smoldering ruins of his life’s work. By nature, he was not a violent man – well, not physically, anyway; he was really quite accomplished at using verbal abuse to maximum efficiency – but right now, in this moment, he wanted to lash out at someone, anyone. It was that bitch DeWitt’s fault. She had brought this nightmare down on them, even before she started acting weird and speaking with the Russian accent. If anyone was to blame for this fiasco, it was her. But she was gone – dead or in hiding or maybe even taken by the wizards in the gray cloaks for all he knew – and someone would have to answer for this.
And he was the only one still standing.
The urge to flee came then, but he pushed it down with an effort of will. Running would only cement his guilt in the eyes of the Duke and Kenneth had no desire to draw that sort of attention. There had to be someone he could throw under the bus for this! Inevitably, the Duke would send a troubleshooter to investigate what happened or, God forbid, a cleaner, and then, heads would roll. Perhaps even literally depending upon who was sent.
“Doctor.” The unexpected voice caused him to jump in surprise and he rounded on the interrupting party, fully intent on ripping the idiot apart verbally, but abject terror froze him in place the instant he recognized the figure standing there.
Oh, God. The Duke had sent him. Panic threatened to turn Kenneth’s bowels to water.
“An eventful day,” the Butcher of Brazil said calmly. “His Grace was most displeased to learn that unsanctioned experiments were being conducted here after he expressly forbade research into Daywalkers.” There was no inflection in the Butcher’s voice, no emotion or passion or anything that resembled actual interest.
“Unsanctioned?” Kenneth’s voice shot up an octave or three. “Doctor DeWitt assured me she had …” The Butcher frowned ever so slightly at the woman’s name and Kenneth immediately shut up. He had heard the rumors of what this man had done at Archangel to lessers he considered rude or impertinent. It was said the Duke himself had been impressed and very little caused Ortega to take notice of vampires not even a decade old.
“DeWitt.” The Butcher shook his head in apparent irritation. “Again, trouble follows that one. It is good the Duke has charged me with handling our affairs in this city. Things have clearly gotten out of hand.” Kenneth swallowed at the implications before making a snap decision. He could still turn this to his advantage.
“How may I serve, my lord Baron?” His use of the feudal rank was just a guess but the almost pleased look the Butcher gave him indicated it was a correct one.
“Summon what passes for nobles in this city,” Baron Eduardo Torres ordered. “It is long past time we put our House in order.”
MIRANDA did not even have to hide the fact she was taking photographs.
It was a strange feeling – usually, when she was conducting covert surveillance, she had to exercise at least a tiny bit of caution or stealth, but with so many of the locals out, intent on watching the building burn, she was just one more civilian taking pictures. And if she happened to get images of various persons of interest? Well, that was just a happy accident.
Tall, dark and mysterious had already vanished – he had taken Doctor Miller with him, it looked like, and the doctor had not been particularly enthusiastic about the newcomer’s presence – but that was fine for the moment. Until they had something resembling an ID on him, he was still hands-off. And besides, he set off her spook-dar so it seemed probable he not human. He certainly wasn’t pretty enough to be Fae, so her money was on Red Court. Which tracked with this building and the Initiative’s presumption about its actual purpose.
She loitered around the site for another hour – the bystander crowd thinned as the smarter people realized how stupid it was to be out this late but that was only common sense these days. Anyone who claimed having a fear of the dark to be irrational in this day and age was clearly an idiot – before readjusting her hat and heading for her car. There were a handful of cops in the vicinity as well as a familiar-looking man wearing an OSBI jacket; automatically, Miranda ducked her head but caught herself before she did anything even more furtive. The best she could hope for was that Arthur Curtmantle did not look her way. There was little chance he wouldn’t recognize her if he did, not after that mess in Tucson last year. What she still couldn’t figure out was how the man was even walking after the sheer amount damage he’d taken … on any other man, those injuries would have been fatal. She desperately wanted to dig into that but for reasons she did not entirely understand, he was currently off limits. Evidently, the man had friends in very high places.
“It’s Flores,” she said into her phone once she was several blocks away and was certain she wasn’t being followed. “Uploading photos now.”
“Copy.” Her tech guy swore softly. “You know how to pick them,” he said. “Hold on. Transferring you to Control now.” Miranda tried not to sigh.
“What is your evaluation?” her boss asked a few moments later. There was no greeting, just a demand for information.
“Direct action may be required, sir.” Miranda flipped on her blinkers, then merged onto the interstate. Naturally, the idiot in the right lane refused to get over despite there being no one in the other lane so she had to jam on her brakes. “The Reds are moving again and I don’t have the assets in place for direct action.”
“I am aware of your staffing deficiencies, Agent Flores,” Control replied tightly. “New York and Chicago continue to take precedence. Continue to monitor the situation. Deploy what assets you have to maximize intel, but you are not cleared for direct action at this time.” The line went dead an instant later.
“Goddamned pencil pushers,” Miranda muttered under her breath. She suspected her vehicle was probably bugged, but at the moment, she didn’t care. It did not escape her notice that Control had again avoided discussing whether to begin recruitment steps for Mat. She scowled briefly, then shook it away and focused on what she could deal with. Something big was coming.
And she had work to do.
HE watched the man from the crowd.
Something was terribly, horribly wrong, even if it all looked perfectly normal on the surface. His skin crawled, the hairs on the back of his neck were itching, and, try as he might, he couldn’t get the stench of blood out of his nose. Nothing made any sense anymore and Brandon was tired of not knowing why
It was still unseasonably warm for December, but that turned out to be a good thing since that meant he didn’t have to worry about black ice or the murder wind that sometimes accompanied it. Of course, this being Oklahoma, he half expected a tornado blizzard tomorrow morning and earthquakes for lunch.
Once again, he glanced toward the building his quarry had been studying. It was little more than a smoldering pile of rubble now but had evidently been the Oklahoma Blood Institute before whatever happened brought it down. That name tickled something in his brain but Brandon could not massage it into a full blown memory so he stopped thinking about it for now and returned to covertly watching the man he’d been following for almost three weeks now.
And his quarry was moving again. Brandon waited a couple of seconds, then followed suit. He picked his way through the dwindling crowd of bystanders, always keeping the man in at least his peripheral vision. By the look of things, his quarry was done here which could be a problem since Brandon did not have wheels he trusted, not with the police all but crawling over the vehicle he’d driven up in. He deviated only slightly, ‘accidentally’ bumping into an overweight man who stunk of tobacco in order to avoid jostling a pregnant woman … or at least, he thought she was pregnant. Either way, that Marlboro couldn’t be good for her.
The overweight man’s vehicle turned out to be an older F150 and Brandon grimaced at the thought of being seen in this monster. It was bad enough he was stealing it in the first place – wasn’t there a Commandment about not doing this sort of thing? He’d have to go to Confession later – but on the bright side, there were so many trucks like this on the roads that no one would give it a second thought.
They drove for little over an hour, first on I-35N, then banking right and taking one of those lovely Oklahoma state roads that were always so fun to navigate. Thankfully, traffic remaining heavy enough to remain several car lengths behind, even when they turned onto state road 33E. That growing discomfort intensified once Brandon recognized they were heading toward Cushing again – this was where he’d first picked up the trail and started getting the inkling that very bad things were on the horizon. He’d been drawn here by dreams and the all too frequent hauntings of Justin, and now, they were back. Knowing where his quarry was most likely going allowed Brandon to keep going when the other man turned of OK-33; there was another exit just up ahead and he could loop around, before his quarry reached the old church that had been, according to local legend, build atop an Indian burial ground. Maybe this time, Brandon might find out what Doctor Solomon was up to.
And why he had two shadows.