Kitty Saves the World Page 61

Cormac stood by, half watching Grant with interest, and half watching everywhere else. He was expecting trouble. Both he and Amelia must have been itching at all this.

The rest of us: our job was to stand watch. Keep a lookout in case Lightman was here, in case Ashtoreth made an appearance. In case Roman showed up. Ben and Hardin both had crossbows and walked a military-like circuit along the surrounding paths, watching the trees marking the edge of the basin. They had weapons and experience. Hardin also brought along some new toys: a set of portable full-spectrum flashlights. One of her colleagues had put them together. I hadn’t even told her about what the Men in Black had done. They didn’t destroy vampires, but they sure slowed them down, was the report. Vampire mace. She, Ben, and Cormac carried them.

No one tried to tell Sun Wukong what to do. He took a position at the edge of the basin, his arms crossed, his expression still. He didn’t appear to have any weapons on him, but that didn’t mean anything. He was on watch, as intent as I’d ever seen him.

I didn’t have much to do here. Everyone else had weapons, magic, experience, or all three. I had a bundle of raw nerves. So I wandered. I told myself I was patrolling. I let my gaze go soft, my senses expand out. Tried to smell anything past the sulfur stink of the hot springs. Checked in with my allies. Regina Luporum, ha—my friends were my superpower.

Hardin was at the far end of the flat stretch at the bottom of the basin. She was all business. I was almost afraid to talk to her.

“Hi,” I said, making noise as I approached, crunching in the gravel so I wouldn’t startle her. “How are you?”

“I’m not at work,” she said wryly. “It’s pretty out here. It’s good.”

It was. The sky was wide, and if you squinted you could imagine that no one had ever set foot here. This was some artist’s idea of an alien world.

“Detective, I just want to say thanks. You didn’t have to come here and get involved in all this. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know it probably won’t be good. And you didn’t have to be here. So, thanks.” It seemed little enough to say, given how long we’d known each other, and how many times she’d gone to bat for me.

With her crossbow in hand, semiautomatic pistol in its holster, and full-spectrum lamp and stakes slung over her shoulder, she looked like some kind of soldier on the frontier. Which was exactly what she was. This was a war, I reminded myself.

“Eh, I had some vacation time coming. And you know, you can call me Jessi.”

“Okay. Still, you know. Thanks.”

She donned a thoughtful smile, an expression I’d never seen on her before. “When I was sixteen, there was a kid in my class in high school—I didn’t know him very well, but he lived a few blocks down from me. One day, his father killed his mother. Beat her to death with a crescent wrench. It was all over the news for weeks. I heard the police sirens from my house. The whole world changed for me that day. That was the day I absolutely knew for certain that the world could be a terrible, awful, evil place, and it was never going to go back to the way it was. It was still a few years before I decided I wanted to be a cop, but I must have started thinking about it then. Being a cop—it just seemed like a way to take a stand. To try to hold the line against all that darkness.

“The story turned out to be a lot more complicated. It’s easy to blame pure evil, but the guy had a history of untreated mental illness. After he did it, he grabbed a knife and tried to kill himself. Only reason he didn’t succeed is the kid, the one from my class, called 911 and the EMTs got to him in time. Hauled the guy out on a stretcher, and my friend and his brother went into foster care. Never went back to school, and I never did find out what happened to them. But after the whole thing—the world changed for me.”

She nodded at Cormac, Grant, and the impending ritual. “This is a little like that. Once I knew all this existed, vampires and werewolves and all that, I couldn’t unsee it. I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. And I can’t sit back and not do anything. I have to take a stand.

“I remember the night we met, and I was so pissed off that you wouldn’t press assault charges against Cormac. He seemed like the kind of guy who would beat a woman with a crescent wrench, you know? Then it got a whole lot more complicated. Now—I want to see this through.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Let me know if you smell anything,” she said, turning back to her watch.

Farther down the trail, at the crest of a hill, Sun nodded at me. He suddenly seemed otherworldy, even in his jeans and T-shirt. He should have been wearing an embroidered silk tunic, like he had in that dream space. He was above all this, and he already knew everything I was going to say to him.

The ritual at the floor of the basin seemed to be progressing. Tina’s head was bowed forward, her hair masking her face. Her hands rested loose on her knees. Grant made another circuit of the circle, scratching more symbols in the dirt, whispering unintelligible phrases.

Ben should have been patrolling on the other side of the basin. But I couldn’t see him. I scanned the trees, the trails that branched off in opposite directions, and didn’t see a sign of him.

“Ben?” I staved off panic by taking a breath—I could smell him, he was here. He’d passed this way just a few minutes ago; he couldn’t have gone far. I ran up the slope, following his trail.

He appeared from the trees holding a bundle of clothing. My clothing, from where I’d abandoned them—was it just today? “Found your things,” he said, almost sheepishly. He must have seen the panic in my face and was now waiting to see if I was going to yell at him.

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