“You need to eat,” Bones told him. “There’s plenty here, so have at it, and remember—raw will mend you faster.”
He wasn’t referring to a ghoul’s usual meal of uncooked butcher cuts. I chided myself for my instant flash of nausea as Dave left to follow those instructions. He couldn’t help what he needed to survive, and as Bones had pointed out, there were lots of dead soldiers to choose from. Besides, Dave’s part in this might be finished, but ours wasn’t.
“Bring me two,” Bones said. He knelt next to Madigan’s body, arranging the parts inside with skill born of practice.
I left the elevation shaft and went to the other room, where the compound’s employees waited with obedient silence. Then I selected two of the healthiest-looking and led them from the group. Before they saw the interior of the elevation shaft, I stared into their eyes with my gaze lit up.
“Don’t be afraid,” I told them in a resonant voice. “You won’t be harmed.”
If I hadn’t done that before I led them inside the circular room, they would have been pants-pissing terrified at seeing a body with its chest carved open and a vampire leaning over it while cutting his own throat. Hell, it made me antsy, and I’d seen the same years ago when Bones raised Dave as a ghoul. Changing someone into a vampire was downright prissy-looking by comparison.
Once Bones had drained a couple pints of his blood into Madigan’s chest cavity, he sat back. Quickly, I led the man and woman over. He drank from each of them and returned to his grisly task of forcing more blood out of him and into Madigan’s gaping chest. Since he didn’t need my help for this, I led the two donors back to their group. They’d be a little woozy, but otherwise fine.
Before I could return to the elevation platform, I ran into Tate.
“We have a problem,” he stated.
I glanced around warily. “More guards?”
“No, we took care of the stragglers,” he said in a dismissive way. Then his tone hardened. “I’m talking about software. Turns out the Dante machine wasn’t the only self-destruct mechanism.”
I groaned. “You don’t mean . . .”
“That Madigan had an emergency kill switch that flash-fried every memory stick and hard drive in here?” Tate supplied darkly. “Yeah, I do. Not even cell phones and tablets escaped. Everything’s toast.”
I fought the urge to bang my head against the nearest wall. No wonder the smug bastard had said that if he killed himself, we’d never discover his secrets! Incineration machines. Laser nets. Software self-destruct devices. Madigan had been paranoid to a fantastic degree to install all of these safety measures in this facility. Who, or what, had he been trying to protect?
At least we might still be able to find out.
“All isn’t necessarily lost,” I said, nodding at the open elevation platform behind Tate.
He turned, watching as Bones flooded Madigan’s replacement heart with vampire blood in an attempt to bring him back as a ghoul. If he’d drunk more of it before he died, his transformation would be inevitable after switching his heart with a ghoul’s and reactivating it with vampire blood. But Madigan had swallowed only a few drops of Bones’s blood at most. Would it be enough?
I hoped so.
Finally, after Bones refitted Madigan’s ribs over his heart and covered that area with more blood, he stood up, running a weary hand through his snow-white hair.
“How long before we know if it works?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “He’ll rise within a few hours or stay dead forever. Either way, we need to leave. A distress signal could have been sent when our attack began, so we’ve stayed too long as it is.”
True, and we didn’t need the added complication of dealing with reinforcements while waiting to see if Madigan came back from the grave. But before we went anywhere . . .
“Has Denise found the child yet?” I asked Tate.
Before he could respond, a feminine voice beat him to it.
“She found me,” Denise said, sounding shell-shocked.
I turned, my eyes widening when I saw her. She’d shifted back to her own appearance, and her neck and mahogany-colored hair were drenched with fresh blood. The medical scrubs she wore were bloodier, too, and she had a large new hole in them right around her heart.
“I tried to warn you,” Dave called out from farther behind her.
“You should’ve been more specific!” she shot back, annoyance replacing her shock.
Tate shook his head. “This is my fault. A couple weeks ago, I told Katie that if she ever got the chance, she needed to escape and kill anyone who tried to stop her.”
“Kill?” I repeated in disbelief. “She’s a child, Tate.”
The look he gave me was pitying. “In age only. I told you that you didn’t know the half of what Madigan had done. Well, she’s the half.”
“She’s more than half,” Denise replied dourly. “That little girl snapped my neck as soon as she saw me, then cut my throat when I got up after that, and then impaled me with a pipe she ripped off the wall when I got up after that! Needless to say, after that last one, I stayed down until Homicidal Goldilocks left.”
I stared, my mind refusing to accept what Denise said even though I knew she wouldn’t lie. The auburn-haired child I’d glimpsed couldn’t have been more than ten years old. She also looked to be less than half of Denise’s weight. How could she have the strength to do all that, let alone the resolve to be that merciless?
“Bloody hell.” Bones sighed. “She’s it, isn’t she?”
“She’s what?” I asked, still trying to wrap my head around the idea that a fifth grader had whipped my supernaturally unkillable friend’s ass in three different, lethal ways.
“The culmination of all of Madigan’s work,” Tate said in a steady voice. “Katie’s human, but she’s also part vampire and part ghoul, and Madigan raised her to be a killing machine.”
Katie wasn’t in the underground facility anymore. Tate followed her scent and discovered a secret shaft between the walls that led straight up to the surface. The thick metal plug over it had been kicked off. It was too narrow for an adult to fit through, so it might have been a ventilation shaft, once upon a time when this facility was a bomb shelter. But to a slender child with a double dose of inhuman genetics, it would have been a relatively easy climb to freedom.
Once topside, the ponds, lakes, and surrounding wetlands dissipated her scent enough to make it untraceable. Then the only footprints Katie left ended in a shallow canal, so we couldn’t find her that way. It was still daylight, too, which meant we couldn’t risk doing an aerial sweep. Something man-sized flying above the McClintic Wildlife area would fuel Mothman rumors for decades, and we couldn’t risk hanging around until after dark to do it then.
We’d have to come back another time to search for her. Superhuman or not, Katie was still only a child. She shouldn’t be too hard to find.
Once back in the compound, we determined that the surviving employees weren’t directly involved in Madigan’s cross-species experiments and replaced their memories of the day’s events with a new version. Then we left them topside in a concrete igloo with instructions not to leave it until dawn. If a distress signal hadn’t been sent, we wanted the extra time to get away.
Then we went back underground and torched the rest of the facility. My DNA was on file with these people, and I didn’t want to leave more of it as proof that I’d been involved in the destruction even though I’d be the first, second, and third guess for Madigan’s shadowy backers. That’s why I was calling my mother as soon as I had a working cell phone. Madigan might have been bluffing about her being at our old house in Ohio, but if he wasn’t, I wasn’t about to test his drone strike threat. If we were ridiculously lucky, Madigan’s backers would believe the cover story we implanted in the survivors’ minds: an internal malfunction triggered the Dante machine’s explosion, which ignited other flammable gases in the compound and resulted in a fiery chain reaction.
It was a plausible theory unless someone bothered to autopsy all the bodies.
Madigan still hadn’t woken up yet. The delay wasn’t unheard of, Bones told me, but it didn’t bode well for his chances of rising as a ghoul. Most did within minutes, as Dave had. Maybe Madigan had managed to escape us after all. If so, I could only console myself that he wouldn’t escape God.
So, blood-spattered and weary, the seven of us emerged from the igloo that contained the secret elevation shaft. Spade was waiting nearby since Fabian gave him the all clear to enter the wildlife area. The ghost had been overjoyed to see we were all alive and well since, like me, he hadn’t known that my arrival with my husband’s corpse had been a setup.
That was something I intended to address as soon as I was alone with Bones. Right now, we had to walk out of here without getting stopped by reinforcements, then we had to search for a pint-sized, multi-species pre-tween who might be the deadliest thing on two legs.
What we didn’t need was to encounter a group of young, wannabe cryptozoologists who were wandering around the preserve swapping Mothman stories.
“I’m tellin’ ya, right there I saw something,” a freckled boy wearing an “I want to believe” tee shirt was saying as he pointed at a sealed igloo.
He stopped talking when he saw us. The three girls and two boys he was with at first stared, then giggled nervously.
What happened to them? Is that blood? raced through their thoughts.
I was about to start mesmerizing the group when Denise spoke.
“You’ve got to try zombie larping,” she said to them. “It’s the only way to live-action role-play.”
The freckled boy nodded approvingly as he took in my blood-soaked lab coat, Bones’s ripped, bullet-riddled clothes, Denise’s bloody medical scrubs, and the guys’ equally red-smeared outfits. The fact that Tate had Madigan’s body flung over his shoulder probably added to his air of authenticity. Then the boy frowned when he saw Spade’s immaculate white shirt and pressed, tailored pants.
“His costume sucks.”
“He’s new,” I said, covering the sound of Spade’s warning growl.
“Well . . . have fun,” the blonde with the ponytail replied. Nerds, she thought. Then, Oh, he’s hot followed as she stared at the gaps in Bones’s pants when we walked past them.
If I hadn’t had the day from hell, I would’ve told her to stop checking out my husband’s ass. Instead, I took Bones’s arm and kept walking. If it wasn’t trying to kill us, it wasn’t worthy of my attention at the moment.
We made it out of the wildlife area without further incident, then we piled into a black Suburban that had Ian waiting at the wheel.
“Who’s the stiff?” was his only comment as he drove away.
“The sod that’s been after Cat,” Bones replied shortly.
“I’m looking for a little girl with auburn hair who might have passed by here an hour ago. Did you see her?” Tate asked Ian.
He shrugged. “Little as in short or young?”
“Very young. Around ten years old.”
At that, Ian’s brows went up. “Captivity’s made you right twisted, hasn’t it?”
Tate punched the back of Ian’s seat so hard, the headrest snapped off and beamed him in the head.
“She was a prisoner, you prick!”
Ian slammed on the brakes and put the car in park. Bones leaned over me and gripped Ian’s arm when he was about to yank open his door.
“I’ll handle it,” he said in a low, hard voice.
Ian’s eyes blazed green as he glared at Tate in the rearview mirror. “Don’t bother. I’ll forgive his assault on the basis of his being distraught after his recent experience.”
“Thanks ever so,” Bones said, still with that tempered steel in his voice. Then he swiveled around to face Tate.
“Years ago, when you wanted me to change you into a vampire, I told you that one day, you’d be finished with your job but still bound by the rules of my world. Today is that day, mate.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tate asked in a sour voice.
“It means that as my creation, your striking another vampire is the same as my doing it,” Bones responded sharply. “That’s why you won’t do it again without my permission. Quite clear now?”
Tate stared at him, the rugged lines of his face hardening.
“I’d forgotten how much I don’t like you,” he said softly.
I told myself that I wouldn’t interfere, but this was too much.
“Oh, stuff it, Tate. The upside of being Bones’s creation is his risking his life to break you out of prison, so deal with the less-fun fealty part. Like he said, it’s what you signed on for when you became a vampire.”
Then I turned to Ian. “A sleazy comment about a child? Really?”
“I thought he was being sleazy,” Ian responded at once. “And called him twisted for it, as is anyone who’s interested that way in a child.”
He actually managed to sound affronted. Good to know Ian had some sort of a moral center, even if it was covered by piles of pornography and violence.
“Then this was a misunderstanding that went too far,” I summarized while wondering how many wars had been started by the same thing. “Are we good now?”
That last part was directed at Bones. I didn’t know everything about vampire hierarchy, so I wasn’t sure if Tate still had to pay for assaulting his friend even if Ian was willing to overlook it.