Halfway to the Grave

Page 64

"Oh." Timmie got up, shuffled his feet for a second, and then blurted, "If it doesn't work out with him, would you consider going out with me?"

I froze in the middle of putting on my shoes. Wow. Didn't see that one coming.

"I know I'm not suave or have that bad-boy thing going on like he does, but we get along really well and your mom already thinks I'm your boyfriend, so...I've kind of been preapproved," he finished gamely. "What do you say?"

That if Bones could hear you, these would be your last words.

"Timmie, any girl would be lucky to go out with you. Any girl, including me, but I'm hoping to work things out with my boyfriend, so you understand I can't answer a hypothetical like that right now."

I didn't want to hurt him, and I was frankly out of my league. Turning someone down gently wasn't my forte. Usually my form of turning someone down was shoving a stake through his heart while smirking, Gotcha!

The sound of motorcycle squealing thankfully cut off any further conversation. Timmie's eyes widened in alarm. He bolted from my apartment with a hasty, "Good night!" while I went into my bedroom and pulled my weapons box out from under my bed. That action right there highlighted why I could never date him. It wasn't his lack of suaveness, or the fact that I only wanted to be with the man currently striding up my steps. It was that some things could never be explained. Let alone preapproved.

I didn't have a chance to tell Bones about my epiphany. His first words on entering my apartment took precedence.

"I think Francesca's been caught."

Oh, shit. Instantly I was contrite over every mean thought I'd ever had about her. "What happened?"

He paced in frustration. "She rang me two days ago, said she was getting closer to finding out who was pulling the legal strings for Hennessey. It wasn't a judge or a police chief, but someone higher up than that. She couldn't tell me more, she was still digging. Then 'round an hour ago she called me, and she was very agitated. Said she wanted me to pull her out, because what Hennessey was involved in went too deep. I told her I'd meet her tonight, and we were arranging a place when she said, 'Someone's coming,' and the bloody phone cut off. I haven't heard from her since."

"Do you know where she was?"

His eyes were shooting green sparks. "Of course not! If I did, I'd be on my way there!"

I backed up at the anger in his voice. He made a constricted noise and caught me in one stride, pulling me next to him.

"I'm sorry, Kitten. This has twisted me into nastiness. I can't imagine what would have scared her so much that she'd try to bolt, but if Hennessey caught her spying on him, it's nothing compared to what he'll do to her as punishment."

Bones wasn't exaggerating. I might not have liked Francesca, but the thought of what she could be going through right now made me sick.

"It's all right. Don't apologize. Look, let's assume for a minute that it's not as bad as it could be and start from there. If she had to get out of somewhere in a hurry and she couldn't contact you yet, where might she go? Is there any place she'd feel safe? You know her. Try to think like she would."

His fingers flexed on my shoulders. Not painfully, but not a massage, either. From his expression, I doubted he was even aware of it.

"She might go to Bite," he mused. "It's the only place in this area where there's no violence allowed on the premises. It's worth a shot. Will you come with me?"

I gave him a look. "You think you can stop me?"

He almost smiled, but there was too much worry on his face for it to take. "Right now, luv, I'm glad I can't."

The club where we'd had our first date and I was subsequently drugged bore no sign of Francesca. That same brawny female bouncer was at the door, and Bones pulled her aside and gave her his cell number in case she saw Francesca later. Next we tried the hotel where we'd met Francesca a few weeks ago. Nothing. Bones called Spade, who was still in New York, but he hadn't heard from her, either. As the hours dragged on with no word, Bones began to look more and more grim. It was clear this wasn't going to have a fairy-tale ending. I felt helpless.

By dawn, we'd checked the hotel and Bite again, just in case, but with no more luck. Bones's cell hadn't rung once. He started heading back in the direction of my apartment when he suddenly slowed his bike, pulling over to the shoulder of the road.

Up ahead a couple miles on the highway were the flashing red and blue lights of multiple police cars. What little traffic there was on the road this early was being routed into the single far lane. The other three were blocked off with flares that went all the way into the nearby trees.

"There must be an accident, we should take another way," I began before gazing around with a feeling of deja vu. "This place looks familiar..."

His jaw was granite as he turned around. "It should. This is where Hennessey dragged you away to bleed you. Well, not right here. Up where the coppers are."

I stared at him and those flashing lights beyond, which now seemed more ominous. "Bones..."

"I can hear them," he said in a flat, emotionless tone. "They've found a body."

His hands were knotted into fists on the handlebars, and very softly, I nudged him.

"It might not be her. Keep going."

He revved up the bike and pulled back onto the highway, tersely saying only not to take my helmet off no matter what. I knew he wanted to keep my features hidden. Just in case there was anyone watching.

With the reduced speed and merging, it took us over thirty minutes to reach that two-mile marker where police activity was the thickest. I heard them, too, talking among themselves, calling in the medical examiner over the squawk of the police radios, taking detailed notes on how the body was found...

Every head passing that area turned to gawk, so the officer directing traffic probably didn't think much of the stare Bones leveled at the form on the ground that was the center of attention. I only caught a glimpse-and then my arms tightened around him.

Long black hair spiraled out from behind the policeman bent over the body. His bulk concealed most of it as he meticulously took photographs, but that hair was distinctive. And the arm partially visible was skeletalized.

I was so numbed at seeing Francesca's remains, decomposed to her true age as they had been, that I barely noticed the weaving, erratic way Bones drove. He took back roads, gravel roads, and no roads before reaching the woods bordering the cave. If anyone had tried to follow us, they would have gotten lost ten times over. Then he effortlessly carried the bike one-handed the last two miles to cut the noise while I walked beside him. It wasn't until we were well inside the cave that I spoke.

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