Halfway to the Grave

Page 85

Even seated, Don commanded the activities. "Is that him?" he demanded as he drew near.

"It's him."

Don stared down at the unrecognizable corpse and frowned. "There's nothing left but bones!"

"Funny you should say that," I responded in a flat tone. "That was his name. Bones."

The cold wind caused me to shiver and I glanced around at the dreary landscape of naked trees and frigid earth.

"He's dead, so why the rush? When your call came in, you said if we didn't arrive within the hour, you were leaving because it was too dangerous to wait. Well, it's been forty-five minutes and he doesn't look like he's going anywhere."

I stood and towered over him in his wheelchair. "Because yesterday he told me there would be vampires coming for retribution over what happened the night before last. Oliver had toothy friends. The team isn't in place and I can't fight them on my own. Since I value my own neck, I don't want it to become food. Get me and my mother out of here. Now."

"We're taking him as well," he insisted. "We'll want to study the body."

I shrugged.

"Study away, but I suggest you speed up. Vampires can smell flesh from miles away. Any of your boys left here poking at pinecones will become one big snack in a hell of a hurry."

Don stared at me. "Why should I believe you?"

As if annoyed, I ran my hand through my hair. "Because you're not as dumb as you look. Any of your men who were injured yesterday need to be moved immediately as well. The vamps will try to extort information from them and I'm sure those agents know things you'd rather not be shared with the undead."

He stared into my eyes for several more long moments and I stared back without blinking. Finally he called out to his men, decision made.

"Let's move it out, people. Wrap it up, we leave in five! Someone get the hospital on the phone and transport all injured personnel in the Medevac chopper on the double. No arrival destination listed. Stanley, pack that body and make it snappy, we're airborne in five."

There was a flurry of activity as the agents rushed to carry out his instructions. While they made final preparations, I sat down next to my mother. She put her hand in mine without a word.

"Ms. Crawfield." Don approached with the sound of crunching wheels. "Is there anything you'd like to add to your daughter's description of what happened? Anything at all?"

My mother looked up at him and dourly shook her head. "How could I? I was unconscious. That animal hit me, again. When I came to, Catherine had killed him. There he is, see for yourself."

Don looked back and forth between the two of us. Neither of us wavered. He sighed. "Then, ladies, come with me. The helicopter will take us to the airport. Let's try this again."

Eight hours later, I walked the long corridor of the military hospital in Houston, Texas, with Don rolling at my side.

"It's done?"

He grunted in the affirmative. "Catherine Crawfield has been officially killed by the FBI after trying to escape during a transfer. That's how we explained the highway pile-up yesterday. The body of a Jane Doe has been substituted as yours."

I nodded, only sorry that Timmie would believe that. Or maybe he wouldn't. He had been a conspiracy buff. "And my reason for killing Ethan Oliver?"

Don smiled coldly. "A random act of senseless violence. Considering Oliver's propaganda campaign, I thought it was fitting."

I didn't smile back, but I thought it was fitting, too.

"Tate asked to see me?"

"As soon as he woke up. The doctors are holding off on the painkillers, otherwise it would be pretty one-sided."

"How badly is he hurt?" Cynically, I was more curious than concerned.

"Two broken legs, two broken arms, six broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, broken nose, some internal bleeding, abrasions, and a low iron count. He'll be out for weeks recovering."

"We'll see," I murmured.

Tate Bradley was covered in casts and gauze. His eyes fluttered when we came in the door.

I pulled up a chair and sat down. "Hello."

A pain-filled gaze met mine. "Did I make the team, Cat?"

His voice was a raspy whisper, but the words made me almost smile. Almost.

"You want to sign on for this kind of pain on a regular basis?"

"Hell, yeah." Breathy but firm.

I shook my head sardonically. "Then congratulations, Tate. You're the first team member." I stood and turned to Don.

"Get a nurse and have them take some blood from me. At least a pint. Have them transfuse it to Tate."

Don gave me a wondering squint. "You don't even know if you're his type. You have to be cross-matched."

That made me laugh. "I'm everyone's type. Half vampire and topped off with extra-aged nosferatu. The additional strength will be out of my system in the next couple days, so I suggest you use it while it's still effective. Here's Lesson One in the class of I Know More Than You Know-vampire blood heals. He'll be on his feet by the end of tomorrow. We need to start training right away. We have a lot of work to do."

I rolled up my sleeve as Don pressed for the medical attendant.

"What else are you going to tell me that I don't know?" he asked.

My eyes flashed their emerald glow at him and he gasped as their light settled on his face.

"You can't even imagine..."

Later, when my mother and I were stationed at a military facility, I allowed myself to think about Bones. He would have gotten back to Rodney's hours ago and seen the note I'd left him. In brief terms, I'd tried to explain how I couldn't let more blood of those I loved stain my hands. No matter how cleverly he managed things, sooner or later the government would catch up with us. Or one of the vampires who'd gotten away would find us. Or my mother would ruin things between us with her hatred and inevitable attempts to run off. Or time would be our enemy as I aged and he didn't. We had to play the hand we were dealt, all of us. Fighting the battles we could win.

And yet when I finally drifted off, in that barely conscious state where logic was absent and dreams encroached, I could almost hear Bones's voice. He was whispering that same promise he'd made to me months ago when our relationship started, and I wondered if it was a sign-and if he'd really meant it.

If you run from me, I'll chase you. And I'll find you...

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