One Grave at a Time

Page 56

I crept toward the door, keeping as quiet as I could. No need for everyone to wake up and investigate the odd whisper. Bones stirred, but his eyes remained closed. My mother was dead to the world, Tyler's snores continued uninterrupted, and Ian didn't even twitch. I couldn't help shaking my head as I looked at him. Ian slept like a baby every morning-well, a baby who continually kept one hand down his pants. Guess his misdeeds didn't bother his conscience enough to cost him a moment of shut-eye.

Carefully, still trying not to wake the others, I opened the front door. To my surprise, it was Kramer floating over the far side of the ruined porch instead of Fabian or Elisabeth. He let go of one of the loose boards when he saw me, beckoning me forward with almost a friendly gesture.

Oh, sure, I'll come right over without getting any sage first, I thought. Did he think slamming that car on me had knocked my brains loose?

I gave him the finger, then picked up two of the nearest jars of sage, deciding to go a few feet away from the door only because I wanted to give everyone else a few more moments of sleep. If Kramer kept to his usual form, he'd be cursing and hurling boards at the house soon enough.

The Inquisitor didn't respond to my fingered opinion. He simply waited without moving or speaking while I walked over without making a sound on the rickety remains of the porch. I kept the door open, and, though I ventured away from it, I made sure to stay within two good lunges.

"Fancy seeing you again," I said, keeping my voice low.

That moss green gaze raked me from head to toe, but not in the sleazy way he'd done on other occasions. This time, it was the gaze of an enemy sizing up his opponent and finding her lacking.

"Do you truly believe that you, a mere woman, can defeat me?"

Aside from the gender insult, this was the most rational I'd ever seen Kramer. He sounded genuinely thoughtful and his voice was as quiet as mine-a huge departure from his normal, trumpeted witches-will-burn rants. I could respond to his question by listing all the other arrogant bastards I'd taken down over the years. Or by pointing out that I'd already defeated his plans for Francine, Sarah, and Lisa by putting them out of his reach for now, but I preferred to remain underestimated. Don't worry about widdle gurly me, big bad monster. I'm harmless.

"Talk is meaningless. We'll know who's defeated whom when it's all over, and there's only one of us left standing," I replied.

From the faint scraping sound, someone in the house had woken up and was headed toward the door. Before he got there, I knew it was Bones from the brushes of his aura. Even whispers had disturbed his light sleep. Kramer didn't seem to notice. His attention didn't waver from me.

"Though you are a woman, you are strong," the ghost said, still in that same musing way. "You pushed the car aside as if it had no effect."

Actually, it had hurt like hell. Under other circumstances, I might have stayed under it saying things like "Ow, ow, oww!" while I waited to heal, but I didn't have the luxury at the time.

"You're not the first person who's tried to kill me with a car," was what I said, shrugging as if either time hadn't been a big deal. I could feel that Bones was in the doorway, but he didn't come out, keeping concealed from the ghost in the shadows of the doorframe.

Kramer smiled, cold and calculating. "I knew it would not kill you."

Interesting. Now that he mentioned it, he hadn't been running around trying to ignite the fuel tank while I was briefly trapped under it. Didn't it occur to him to try to blow the car up? Or was he lying about knowing the car wouldn't kill me?

Far be it for me to understand the mental workings of a maniac.

"What's with quiet chatting instead of your usual blustering?" I asked, changing the subject. "You lonely because Francine, Lisa, and Sarah are out of your reach, so you have no one to talk to?"

Please get pissed and tell me who your accomplice is, I silently urged him. Go on, impress me with how much time you spend with whoever that prick is!

But he didn't. He gave me another of those contemplative looks instead. "Why do you risk so much for them? They are nothing to you."

"No, they're nothing to you," I corrected at once, "but they mean something to me because they're in trouble and I can help. If I only put my ass on the line for people I loved, I'd be no better than half the monsters I've hunted. Even evil people risk themselves for loved ones. Just because you picked women I don't know doesn't mean I'm going to sit on the sidelines and let them die."

His smile grew, showing those brownish molars in between gaps of gums. I couldn't help but think it was poetic justice that he would keep that nasty mouth all through eternity, hopefully while locked in a homemade jail.

"You still believe you can stop me, Hexe, but you can't. You don't fear me, but soon, you will."

"No, I won't," I replied sharply. "You won't draw any strength from me because I've got your number, Inquisitor. You might be harder to kill with your whole lack of a physical body, but you're no scarier than all the other ass**les that are now dead while I'm still standing."

"Until Samhain," was all he said, then vanished from sight.

I stared at the spot where he'd been, a smile of my own twisting my mouth.

That's what I'm counting on, f**ker.

Chapter Thirty-Two

On October 30, as soon as night's concealing veil fell, Ian, Bones, and I flew away from the tattered farmhouse. Each of us was carrying a large, tarp-draped object. My mother and Tyler were staying behind, leaving for Spade's tomorrow afternoon via a more conventional mode of transportation: a taxicab. That way, in case my borrowed abilities had faded to where Kramer couldn't locate me by concentrating alone, he could follow them to Spade's house. They'd take plenty of sage with them in case the ghost did more than trail them, but my money was on Kramer's trying to be sly and staying unseen. After all, they weren't the targets he'd so carefully picked out. Francine, Lisa, and Sarah were the ones Kramer really wanted, and we wanted to be sure he found his way to them.

Once we had everything in place, anyway.

That was why we didn't fly our large bundles right to Spade's. We went to a defunct building that had formerly been a combined sewer overflow facility in Ottumwa instead. Underneath the building, a series of storm drains, tunnels, and sewers led to the Des Moines River. It wasn't as perfect a setting as our cave with its underground river-and it smelled a damn sight worse even though it hadn't been operational in years-but it would suffice. Bones had had his co-ruler, Mencheres, purchase the building and its surrounding riverside property over the past couple weeks using a dummy corporation. Couldn't risk someone else tearing this down to put a new business up and disturbing what we hoped would be Heinrich Kramer's final resting place. Now, we just had to carve a hole in the underground trunk sewer deep enough to reach the river's water table so that we could ensure the flow of fresh water around where we intended to place the trap.

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