I was grateful for the distraction of looking for John. It saved me from dwelling on my conversation with Fumiko, or the fact that Dad had overheard it, or that I couldn’t tell what Fumiko felt about it. Weirdly enough, being able to see into Fumiko’s aura but knowing I still couldn’t tell how she felt about things because she was keeping it all buried too deep down for that was more nerve-wracking than hanging out with her before I’d had any psychic insights into her at all.
It was kind of non-intuitve, I guess.
Anyway, trying to find John was a useful distraction. We ended up having to drive for a pretty long loop down one of the main roads — a road used often enough that it still had some traffic, even at this hour — before I’d narrowed his location down to a neighborhood. By the time I’d identified the building he was in, my link with Fumiko had constricted until it was just a regular leyline. That was a huge relief for me as I told Dad to pull into the parking lot.
The place John had chosen to hide out at and wait for us was a Mexican restaurant. Which I took to mean a restaurant that served Americanized Mexican food, because it looked sort of like a fast food joint, even though I didn’t recognize it as a chain. The parking lot was actually pretty full, too: When Dad found a spot to park, it was far enough from the restaurant’s entrance that it was actually in front of some hair salon in the same strip.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m going to go get John. You two stay here, just in case.” I was pretty sure it wasn’t a trap — I’d been watching John’s leyline the entire time I’d been tracking him, and I didn’t see anything that felt out of the ordinary. Well, you know… out of the ordinary for an undead cannibal.
Dad frowned. “I don’t like the idea of splitting up again,” he said. “Or of you meeting this guy alone.”
“I won’t be alone,” I said while unbuckling. “There’s a crowd here. No one is going to start shit around a bunch of mundanes,” I said firmly.
Assuming they are mundanes, of course, my paranoid side muttered.
I tried my best to ignore that thought. If it was a setup, I had a better shot at escaping on my own. “Here,” I said. I passed the medallion I’d taken from Benjamin to Dad. “If something does happen, take that and just get out of here. I can always stop time and escape from whatever, and then if you follow that and I’m following your leyline we can meet up easily enough.”
Dad didn’t look happy, but I didn’t really give him an opportunity to countermand my decision. As soon as the medallion changed hands, I popped the passenger side door and stepped out of the car.
I shivered in the night air. Not because it was cold, since I barely noticed that anymore — but because my paranoia didn’t like being silenced. Why was this place so busy, anyway? It wasn’t exactly dinner time. What if all these cars were people Lewellyn had pulled together to setup as an ambush, using John as bait? Why the hell had I told him to go somewhere crowded? I had no way of knowing if the crowd was natural or a setup!
As I struggled to get my anxiety under control and it popped up another notch, my senses started to go hyper-active again. I squeezed my eyes shut for a second so I didn’t have to deal with heightened vision and heightened hearing at the same time. Dammit, now there’s a reason to feed on fae consistently. When I’d been bloated on Pipsqueak and Melvin, I’d had really good control over my super senses. Now that I was running on Fumiko’s aura, they were firing off and focusing in on whatever the hell they wanted to.
It was like my brain’s fight or flight threat analysis center was being run by a hyper-active child with ADD.
I was briefly overwhelmed by the rumble of the city. In the distance, I heard sirens that abruptly cut off. Also, a cat yowling somewhere, at least three dogs, dozens and dozens of voices and a gun battle that I prayed to god was just on someone’s TV. It was followed by a bunch of explosions, so: probably? Closer by, traffic continued to rumble about — though none of it seemed to be on the main street we’d turned off of for the moment. The restaurant gave off an incomprehensible hubbub of conversation and laughter. Behind me, Dad muttered something worried sounding and Fumiko responded reassuringly, but I couldn’t make out their conversation because my hearing had zoomed in on a metronome ticking — surrounded by metal clatters and a static hiss — that it was convinced was a bomb. Right up until a kitchen timer rang and someone shouted ‘Order 23? Order 23 for Smith?”
I forced myself to breath out. It was just the restaurant kitchen. I heard someone crank the timer up again and twitched inside. I opened my eyes and hurried forward to get John so I could get the hell out of here: my ears had snapped back to the gleeful tick tick tick that let me know the timer was going to ring at me again. At least the rest of the place didn’t sound like an ambush waiting to happen. Unless the ambushers were throwing themselves some sort of pre-ambush party.
John must’ve been watching the parking lot through the restaurant’s plate glass window, because he came out to meet me before I even got to the door. I was glad, even though it took me a second look to recognize him — apparently he’d opted for a bit of a disguise or something, because instead of his usual business suit he was wearing a windbreaker, jeans and sneakers. The outfit made him seem a lot younger, actually. He could have fit in on the college campus, if he’d wanted to. “We need to get going,” I told him as soon as I saw him. “Come on.” I turned and started back to the car; he jogged to catch up with me.
“What’s going on?” John asked.
I started to answer, but then that timer went off again, making me try to jump out of my skin. I whirled around in a half-panic. John actually fell back a step.
“Abigail?” He asked.
“I… sorry,” I said. How was I supposed to explain that alarms wind up my nerves, and there was one freaking me out because of my hyper-active senses? Actually, that was a pretty good explanation right there. But when I opened my mouth again, what came out was: “I’m jumpy. I’ve been attacked repeatedly already, and there are more people out there using medallions Lewellan put together with some of my blood to track me down, so we can’t linger here while I bring you up to speed.”
Touché, autopilot. That was actually a much better reason to be freaking out, wasn’t it?
John swore softly. “My friend — the warlock who fixed your house wards? — might be able to help with that if we can get to him. If nothing else his place is warded against fae, poltergeists, scrying and other magical influences crossing its threshold, so we’d at least be off the radar while we were there.”
I stared at John for half a second before I turned back toward the car. They’d wound up that damn timer again. What the hell were they cooking in there, anyway? “That is actually the best idea anyone has brought up to me tonight, I think,” I said. Having a few minutes to regroup, plan and just think without the constant fear of someone showing up with orders to bring me in, dead or undead, would be bliss right about now. Especially since my senses were getting more and more jumpy as I got more and more jumpy about how close the next posse of Director Lewellan’s thugs might be.
…tick tick Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring!
The damn alarm made me jump again. This time my heart was left pounding arhythmically while I held my breath and did my best not to freeze time or flip over a car trying to hide under it. John saw me twitch and shook his head. “You need to relax, sis,” he said. “Being this wound up is not going to help us get things sorted: it’s more likely to get you to make bad decisions, in fact. We should definitely get to Mitchell’s place and work out what we need to be doing. It’s across the river, which will suck for me — but I’ve fed recently enough to manage. We’ll be looking for Kallaher’s Funerary Services on Maple Street. His apartment is the second story, above the public part of the business.”
I nodded. My stomach turned a little as I considered what all Mr. Kallaher’s business might actually encompass — embalmings, viewings, funerals, exorcisms, wards and a side line in recently dead flesh, perhaps? Not to be judgmental, but: Squiiiiiick. I mean, okay, someone had to look out for the ghouls or they’d be murdering people and digging up graveyards left and right. But I still didn’t like thinking about what went into that. I hoped Mitchell Kallaher only made steaks out of people who’d filled out their organ donor cards, at least. “Is it Mitchell Kallaher, then?” I asked.
John chuckled behind me. “Yeah,” he answered. “Owner and director. Also the head of a small coven of old school warlocks — some of Salvatore’s folks who retired locally when Dad settled down here after that last big battle with Archarel.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I imagined that Salvatore’s warlocks — even if they’d been retired for however long — might not be keen on making friends with the woman who killed their old boss. Then again, if John trusted him… and really, what other choice did we have at the moment? We didn’t even really have a plan anymore, other than maybe getting John to lead us to the old portal and fighting our way through Mr. Fiore and all of his solocks.
Given how much just two of them had messed me up, I didn’t really want to try and take on the whole circle of Fiore’s donors.
We’d gotten back to the car, and I turned to say something to John over my shoulder. I completely forgot what it was, though, because in that moment my erratically focused survival senses keyed in on an SUV that had entered the restaurant parking lot. I hadn’t even noticed it pulling into the lot because I’d been too preoccupied with the ticking timer — when the hell is it going off next, anyway? — to have heard the bump of the car’s wheels when it turned off the road.
And even then, once I actually saw the SUV driving by, it took me a half second to process what was wrong about the vehicle. It had gone past a spot that had opened up, closer to the restaurant, also while I’d been too distracted to notice. And for some reason, the back sliding door was opening even though the car hadn’t stop…
“Look out!” I shouted at John. He was a step behind me still and took the bulk of the shots fired from the back of the SUV. John’s eyes went huge as he stumbled forward from the force of the bullets. I caught him as a man who looked like he was in SWAT gear jumped out of the still-moving vehicle, his rifle continuing to spit bullets in short, vicious bursts that made John’s body jerk and twitch in my arms.
I practically ripped the back passenger door off Fumiko’s car trying to open it. I couldn’t freeze time with John right on top of me, so he continued to get shot the whole time. I couldn’t understand why the bullets weren’t punching through him and hitting me — maybe they were and I was under too much adrenaline to feel it? I dove into the back seat and yanked John in after me.
Fumiko was down on the ground in her seat. Dad was hunched down in his. “Drive!” I screamed but he had already slammed his foot on the gas. Fumiko’s car jumped the grassy divide and onto the main street. Fortunately the lull in the traffic seemed to have held up and Dad didn’t have to avoid any other vehicles.
I twisted around in my seat to look behind us. The gunman fired a burst of rounds at me — some punched into the trunk and one spiderwebbed the back window. I heard Dad curse for maybe the first time in my life, and saw the SUV screech and fishtail to a stop. There was another solock in the open door, but he didn’t have a gun.
I could hear him chanting something but the words didn’t make sense: they seared my brain instead. I screamed and ducked down while the gunman was running for the SUV’s open door; then I heard the door slide shut. It cut off the chanting completely.
I whimpered. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t hear the solocks anymore — had they warded the inside of their vehicle? — but I didn’t care. I turned to John, who was still limp in the seat beside me. “John? John?” I tried to get a response while I checked him. I couldn’t see blood on the front of his jacket, but I could smell it — like copper and rot. I tore his windbreaker open I saw a bulletproof vest underneath it… as well as a pistol holstered under each arm. John didn’t say anything — instead his head lolled to the side as though he were barely conscious.
“No,” I muttered. “No no no no…” I didn’t know how to fix this. I didn’t think I could try using sympathetic healing. John was already undead. The scent of his blood revolted me on a level that had to be because my curse recognized it as something un-nourishing — like it had reacted to the scent of the blood I’d thrown up when I had my panic attack about being alone yesterday.
I got ready to try to bite John anyway.
Then John’s head snapped upright. His eyes opened fully, but there was absolutely no intelligence behind them. His mouth snarled open, revealing rows of jagged teeth. I had a split second to scream. And then he lunged.