Authors: Jeanne C. Stein
Tags: #Vampires, #Strong; Anna (Fictitious Character), #Contemporary, #General, #Urban Life, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Occult & Supernatural
Luis is caught in his own web. He backtracks. “Well, maybe I didn’t
. But I knew you were too smart to let them get away. Tomás, the man who killed Rójan to get back at you? I knew you’d be keeping watch.”
“So then you are aware I know the last shipment of
“I don’t know what happened. I think Ramon—”
“Not Ramon.” Pablo’s tone is ice. “It was your perversion.
Su gusto para las chicas jóvenes.
” He takes a deep breath. “You sent six of your men away to find four little girls who escaped. You left the shipment unguarded.”
“But the men ran away. It is them you should blame.”
“They came to me. They told me what you had been doing. How business was taking a backseat to pleasure. I didn’t want to believe them. Then I got the news about the shipment. I was on my way to see for myself when Maria contacted me. When she told me who Ramon had brought here and why.”
Luis turns flashing eyes on Maria. “You told Pablo? Why?”
“Why do you think?” she snaps back. “You and Ramon are weak. You should have taken care of Ramon yourself when you knew he had murdered Rójan. Instead you let him talk you into this ridiculous plan. You left Gabriella and me rotting in that cave.” She turns burning eyes to me. “And Ramon left us with that
. I don’t know how she did it, but she tied me up and destroyed the door. If Gabriella hadn’t smuggled a cell phone in with us, we’d still be trapped in there.”
I feel a smile tickle my mouth. I was right. Good for Gabriella! Bad for us.
Not so good for Luis, either.
Pablo says, “You are my brother. We have taken care of each other all our lives. It saddens me to see what you have become.”
But there is no sadness in his face. Pablo’s expression is harsh, cruel. His eyes have lost all traces of humanity. They are dead.
Luis sees the change. “I will go away, Pablo,” he says, breathless with fear. “I will disappear. You will never hear from me again. I can’t hurt you. You know that. Let me go.”
Pablo half turns to one of his soldiers and holds out a hand. The man places a revolver in his palm.
“I give you a choice,” he tells Luis. “Do the right thing. End it yourself. Or I will do it.”
Luis looks at the gun in his brother’s outstretched hand. He looks up at Pablo. There is no reprieve there.
I know what is going to happen before it does. Luis is not smart enough to realize that the choice his brother is offering him is no choice at all. He snatches the gun and turns it around on Pablo. The soldier who has come up quietly behind him fires before Luis can pull the trigger.
The bullet enters the back of Luis’ shoulder, exits in front, sending bits of collarbone and a spray of blood onto the floor. It’s a wound to injure, not kill. Luis topples forward, the gun falling from his hand. Pablo reaches down and picks up the revolver. Luis meets his eyes and he opens his mouth.
Pablo shakes his head.
“Vaya a dios, hermano.”
This time, it’s a kill shot.
ABLO STEPS BACK FROM THE BODY OF HIS BROTHER and snaps an order. Two guards come forward, haul Luis away by his arms and legs.
There is not a glimmer of sadness in Maria’s eyes as she watches them. She doesn’t even bother to turn to see how they dump him unceremoniously behind the plane.
I glance up at Max. He said as long as the plane remains in the hangar, his troops will not approach. If they are watching, they saw what happened when we arrived. How long will they wait before the sounds of gunfire bring them in to save Max? I look around. Besides the twenty men they saw, there are at least twenty more inside.
Maria and Pablo are talking quietly. I feel Culebra’s gentle intrusion into my head.
What do you think they’re talking about?
Who to kill first, I imagine. Time for another snake act? How quickly do you think the guards would retreat if a giant rattlesnake suddenly appeared in their midst?
Pretty quickly. Let’s see, forty guards, a pilot, Pablo and Maria. I think we can take them. We need a distraction. Will Adelita help?
Are you kidding? It’s too dangerous. I don’t want her hurt.
Dangerous? As opposed to how secure her future is now? Shouldn’t it be her choice?
And he’s whispering in her ear before I can stop him.
She meets my eyes. “I know what to do.”
“No.” The guards closest to us turn our way. I lower my voice and they resume their stance, waiting for Pablo to give orders. “Adelita, it’s too dangerous.”
But she’s already making her move. She runs toward Luis’ body, screaming in Spanish—that he was a pig, that he deserved to die, that she hoped he was burning in hell. When she reaches him, she drops to her knees, pounding his corpse with her fists, dragging her fingernails across his flesh.
The startled guards near us move toward her. The others watch in idle interest, probably wondering who Pablo will order to kill her.
He doesn’t. He goes to Adelita himself, picks her up and hands her off to the closest guard.
I feel relief wash over me. He’s ordering the guard to tie her up—not kill her. I indulge the feeling the second it takes to realize Culebra is no longer standing beside me, but has slithered in snake form under the plane, shedding a pile of clothes like a second skin.
My cue. I nod to Max and let vampire free.
I’m on the back of the nearest guard, tearing at his throat, growling in his ear. He drops his rifle and I see Max move to snatch it up.
Vampire blazes into full control. There are so many necks to choose from. She takes a mouthful from the screaming guard in her grip, then snaps his neck, moves to the next. This one goes down without a fight, too shocked to do anything but stare as vampire feeds. Six go down in the time it takes vampire to jump from one to the next.
Commotion on the other side of the plane. Culebra has made his presence known. Shrieks of panic, screams of pain, sweet perfume of blood. It makes vampire’s lust flare.
Sporadic gunfire erupts.
Then the hangar doors bang open and I hear footsteps racing for the outside.
Vampire is not yet satisfied. She follows the scent of frightened men. Her human consciousness tells her she should be looking for Pablo, but the chase is a challenge. She grabs two retreating soldiers, snaps their heads together gleefully, the spray of blood and brains a treat that she licks from her lips. She does it again and again until her hands are slick with gore and her own smell becomes an aphrodisiac ratcheting bloodlust to new levels.
More gunfire from the hangar. Human thought surfaces once again, questioning. Should she go back to protect her friends, or follow the blood bags running away like rats from a flood?
The decision is made for her. Vehicles with sides made of gray metal, a silver star emblazoned on the sides and front, thunder onto the airstrip after Pablo’s fleeing troops. They shoot at the backs of the soldiers who fall one by one.
No need for vampire here.
She whirls around. She can see what is going on inside the hangar. A giant snake has cornered a man and a woman. The snake hisses with a tongue like a split rope, turning every few seconds to strike at a soldier venturing too close. One is too slow. Snake catches his arm in his jaws, shakes him until the arm comes free, spraying blood. He deposits the arm in front of the cowering man like a cat offering a mouse to his owner. Bullets whiz through the air around it, but snake is impervious. The woman shrieks and covers her eyes.
Vampire knows there is someone else in danger. She looks around, senses alert for a familiar scent. She catches it above the intermingled smells of blood and body waste. There. Under the plane.
Instinctively vampire knows that he is who she must protect. He has his arm around a girl, pushing her behind him, shielding her body with his. He is firing his rifle, aiming at soldiers who pass too close or stoop to shoot at him. His face is serious, intent. The girl, whose hands are tied at her back, cowers close.
Vampire fights her way to him. She feels the sting of bullets in her arms, in one shoulder, but the soldiers feel more than pain when she’s on them and their blood flows in a molten stream into her eager mouth. One, two, three, four go down before her and then she’s under the plane.
The man smiles at her. “Anna. Take care of Adelita.”
The human inside responds to the name Anna.
The girl is smiling, too. Not afraid or preparing to flee. She holds out her hands. Vampire allows the human Anna to surface enough to tell her what to do. It is easy. It takes only a tug at the ropes at the girl’s wrists and they come free.
The girl touches vampire’s wounds. Her fingers are like a kiss.
The man is speaking. “Get Adelita out.”
Vampire gathers the girl, as light as her touch, into her arms. She listens to the rhythm of the gunfire, determines where it has slowed or stopped and leaps forward.
There is one corner where all the soldiers lie dead or still. It’s behind the giant snake and his captives. She makes for that corner.
Snake watches her come, but there is no challenge. Instead, he seems to bow his head at her in recognition. Vampire deposits the girl and leaves her in his care to go back to the man.
The sound of gunfire grows more sporadic. Most of it from the battle going on outside. But a group of soldiers are still firing at the figure under the plane. They are all around, knowing he is trapped, knowing he can only fire in one direction at a time. The plane reeks of spilled fuel as bullets pierce its metal skin. The stink curls vampire’s nose. The man under the plane motions for her.
“Get away,” he yells. “The plane may explode.”
But vampire makes for the two soldiers closest to her, tackles them to the ground, snaps their arms and throws their rifles out of reach.
The remaining three see what has happened. Turn their rifles on her. But bullets are no match for vampire speed. She attacks them before they can take aim. The first two, she kills efficiently—snapping necks that pop like dried wood. The third she takes her time, pinning him to the ground, letting him see her eyes before she nuzzles his neck for the first nip. He is too scared to move, to fight her off. His heart thunders in his chest, which makes the taking of his blood all the easier. She doesn’t have to pull with force or clamp tight lips against a squirming neck. His blood flows into her mouth with each beat.
His blood tastes the best of all.
In a minute his heart has stopped, his life force drained. Vampire rests her head against his chest.
Then her eyes drift to the man under the plane.
Blood. In a wide swath under him.
She doesn’t have time to resist the human’s pull. Anna is back.
I scoot myself under the plane, ignoring the flashes of white-hot pain that shoot from my arms, my shoulder. I leave a crimson path as I crawl forward. I don’t worry about the blood. The blood could be mine, it could be my victims’.
But I do worry about the blood around Max.
I look for the source. I have to raise him up to find it—center back. My breath catches at the severity of the wound. He coughs and I lower him again, gently.
But at least he’s alive.
I cradle his head in my arms. His mouth is ringed with blood, dark, viscous. For once, the sight and smell of blood does not tempt vampire to reappear. I think she’s sleeping it off.
I listen to what’s going on around me. It’s quiet inside the hangar and only an occasional stray bullet whizzes outside. I won’t try to move Max until I know it’s safe. I’m debating whether to leave Max and look around when a familiar voice calls out, “Anna. Where are you?”
“Here. Max is hurt.”
In a moment, Culebra, back in human form and dressed, is kneeling to look under the belly of the plane. “Can we move him?”
“I don’t know. He’s been shot in the back. It looks pretty bad.”
He scoots down to join me. After he’s examined the wound, he sits back on his haunches.
I respond to his grim expression, heart racing. “Don’t say it. Max is strong. His buddies are outside. They can call that helicopter, can’t they?”
“Let’s get him out from under here,” is Culebra’s curt reply.
We do our best to move Max as gently as we can. I keep expecting him to rouse and ask us what the fuck we’re doing.
But he doesn’t.
When he’s out in the open, I look around.
Bodies. Everywhere. Some I know I’m responsible for, others dead from gunfire or the fangs of a huge rattlesnake.
Adelita is still in the corner where I left her. Only now she holds a revolver on a trussed-up Pablo and a weeping Maria. They are tied back to back. And Adelita is smiling.
Until she looks our way and sees Max.
“Dios mio. ¿Es él vivo?”
From beyond the hangar door, a voice interrupts. “Agent Avillas! Max? Buddy? Where are you?”
“In here,” I shout back. “He’s been hurt.”
Max still hasn’t made a sound except that cough and even now, his eyes remain closed, his face relaxed. Like he’s sleeping. It’s not a good sign.
I watch for the man who called out. He’s approaching with two armed men behind him, speaking into a radio on his collar. He looks Hispanic, dark skinned, dark eyed, built like a man who likes his beer. All three are dressed the same—khaki shirts and cargo pants, black DEA jackets. The one in front has a baseball cap and he’s the one Culebra moves toward. He explains the situation. Baseball cap looks in our direction, but directs the two agents beside him to take Pablo and Maria outside. Then he hurries over to us.
He kneels down beside Max. “Did he stop breathing?” is the first question he asks me.
It only takes a heartbeat to know the reason. The blood around Max’s mouth.
And around mine.
“No. But he’s lost a lot of blood. He needs to get to a hospital.”