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Magic grave, p.3

Magic Grave, page 3


Magic Grave

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  Chapter Five

  True to Bones's prediction, we found Tammy on the dance floor with Verses. The ghoul could dance like nobody's business, too. Tammy looked happier than I'd seen her all week.

  "It can't be time to go yet," she said once she saw us.

  "Not yet," Bones replied. "Verses, mate, point out one of your most gossipy regulars, but someone who can still be taken seriously."

  With his height, it was easy for Verses to see over the other people. After a few seconds, he gestured at a bar manned by a beautiful vampire covered only in dark blue body glitter.

  "See the gray-haired vampire sitting on the end? Name's Poppy. He tells too many stories to be trusted with a secret, but he doesn't make up what he hasn't heard."

  "Smashing. I'd appreciate it if you kept your staff from mentioning that I was here tonight – or my wife. Trixie recognized us. Maybe a few more of them, too."

  Verses gave Bones a look. "Bite is a haven for our kind. You're not intending to break my rules, are you?"

  Bones clapped him on the back. "I won't do anything on your premises. After all, I intend to come back here with my wife. We still have some areas left to explore."

  If it were possible, I'd have blushed at the blatant innuendo. Verses just laughed. Tammy looked bored.

  "Why don't you do whatever it is you're going to do while I stay with Verses and dance?" Tammy suggested.

  I was glad to change the subject. "Verses might have other things to do, Tammy."

  "Keeping a pretty lady happy always takes priority," Verses said, winking at her.

  Bones tugged my hand. "This shouldn't take too long, Kitten."

  We left Tammy on the dance floor with the ghoul to head toward the glittering blue bartender and the gray-haired undead gossip.

  *** *** ***

  I sat a few seats away from Bones at the bar, dividing my attention between eavesdropping on him and keeping an eye on Tammy. So far, she seemed to be fine, and Verses had been right; the wrinkled vampire next to Bones didn't need much prodding to start chattering. Bones let him pick the topics for the first half hour or so, then he turned the conversation.

  "Bloody economy's got us all buggered," Bones declared, draining his whisky in one gulp. "Take me. Three years ago, I'm living the posh life off my investments. Today, I'm guarding a human to scrape by. Like to stake myself and save the embarrassment, I would."

  Poppy snickered. "What're you guarding a human against? Tax evasion?"

  They both laughed, and then Bones lowered his voice conspiratorially. "No, mate, against her relative. In truth, I wonder if I shouldn't be on the other side of this coin."

  Even across the bar, I could see the gleam of interest in Poppy's eyes. "What other side?"

  Bones leaned in, lowering his voice even further until I could barely hear him. "The side that gets paid more if the whiny brat dies. Faith, if I knew how to contact the chit's smarmy cousin, I'd take that job instead of the one I've got. Then I'd get a meal out of it to boot."

  Poppy chewed on his drink straw. "Can't ya find out from the girl where this relative is?"

  "She doesn't know. Believe me, I asked with the brights on." Bones tapped under his eye for emphasis. "I can't take another month of this. I'll eat her and then get no bloody money from anyone."

  Poppy glanced around. I looked away, pretending to study my drink. When I strained, I caught his reply.

  "Had a fellow here last night. He's in the population reduction business, if you know what I mean, and he was laughin' about this job where hired meat tried to use a bone muncher to tidy things up on a contract that was runnin' long. You'll never guess what happened. Somehow, the bone muncher ends up dead. Dead! Then the mark disappears. The way I heard it, now the meat's worried about his contract gettin' cancelled."

  Forty minutes later, this finally pays off, I thought.

  "You hear the name of this meat?" Bones asked casually. "I might be interested in helping him out once I'm finished with this job."

  "Think I heard the fellow call him Serpentine. Isn't that funny? The meat renamed himself just like he's a vampire."

  Serpentine. I'd have Don burning up the computers on that alias as soon as we got home.

  "Ah, mate, I owe you. Next round's on me."

  Bones stayed another twenty minutes, letting Poppy ramble more until I fantasized about wrapping duct tape around the vampire's mouth. Finally, Bones feigned regret over needing to leave, but told Poppy he'd be back next weekend. And complained about how he'd have the bratty heiress with him.

  My brows rose. What are you up to, Bones?

  Chapter Six

  I pulled the clothes out of the dryer and stifled a curse. Bleach stains everywhere. Tammy was twenty; how could she not know how to do a load of laundry without ruining everything?

  Still, at least Tammy was doing her own laundry now. Or trying to. That was the result of my mother's influence. Twenty years of spoiled rich bitch didn't stand a chance against forty-six years of farm-reared discipline. Even though I was much closer to Tammy's age and my mother made Tammy do things that caused the blonde to wail, to my surprise, my mother was the person Tammy seemed to have bonded with.

  Perhaps that was my fault. Maybe I was so used to being in a search-and-destroy mode that I couldn't tackle being in a nurturing one instead. The thought was oddly depressing. Check my ovaries, doctor, because maybe I'm not really a woman.

  After dinner – which my mother still insisted on cooking, not that I complained – we sat by the fireplace. It was time to fill Tammy in on what we'd found out.

  "Tammy, here's what's going on: Don still hasn't found your cousin, but Bones found out that the original hitman who took your contract is dead."

  Tammy bolted out of her chair. "That's great! Does it mean I can go home now?"

  "Not so fast. The hitter died under unusual circumstances."

  Tammy sat back down, her enthusiasm fading. "How?"

  "His throat was ripped out," Bones said bluntly. "And his computer and other effects were rummaged through, so someone else might have taken an interest in his unfinished jobs."

  Bones's connections from his bounty hunter days turned out to be faster than Don's computers, because he discovered Serpentine was dead before my uncle even found out his real name. Don did send a team over to examine the apartment where Serpentine – or James Daily, as the autopsy certificate read – was found. Even though the person was clever at covering their tracks, Don could tell someone had hacked into Serpentine's computer. Maybe it was a coincidence that some of the files that were accessed were about Tammy, or that Serpentine had been killed by a vampire. We knew Serpentine had undead connections since he sent a ghoul after Tammy. But maybe it was more than coincidence.

  "I told you vampires normally don't bother with contracts on humans, but life never fails to surprise," Bones said in a dry tone. "When we were at Bite, I told the gossipy bloke I spoke with that we'd be back tomorrow night. If we still go, it would allow me to dig for more information, but there's a chance it could prove dangerous to you."

  Tammy scoffed. "How dangerous? I've almost been electrocuted, shot, and eaten by a ghoul, remember?"

  "If another vampire did decide to get involved with the contract on you, he or she could follow us back here and try to take you out," I said quietly.

  Tammy gave us a shrewd look. "And then you could catch them. Find out where my cousin is, I'd bet. I saw you in action against that ghoul, Cat. How about you, Bones? You're a tough guy, right? Because I want this over. I want my life back."

  Fabian floated in the room. "I could be the lookout. No other vampire or ghoul would notice me. I'd help keep Tammy safe."

  Poor Fabian, he was right. Vampires and ghouls were notoriously disrespectful of ghosts. They ignored them more than most humans ignored homeless people.

  "Thanks, Fabian," I said. "We could really use your help."

  "It's so weird when you do that," Tammy muttered.

  I hid a s
mile. Some part of me thought Tammy didn't believe Fabian existed and that we just pretended to speak with him to mess with her.

  "I'll help protect her," my mother said. Her face was closed off, as if she were fighting back memories. Once again, I hated what had been done to her because of me.

  Bones rose from his chair. "All right. If we're going to Bite tomorrow, it's time you learn to defend yourself, Tammy."

  She gave him a startled look. "Isn't that what I'm paying you two for?"

  I didn't correct Tammy by saying my uncle and his department were getting her money, not Bones or me. I hoped Don wasn't taking Tammy to the cleaners, but he was a government official.

  "You should still know basic skills. After all, you're a pretty girl, and predators can have heartbeats, too."

  Tammy brightened at the compliment. I hid a smile. Flattery would make her much more accommodating, as he would know.

  Bones went into the kitchen and came out with a steak knife. He dangled it in front of Tammy, who looked at it doubtfully.

  "What do you expect me to do with this?"

  "Stab me with it," Bones replied. "In the heart."

  Her mouth hung open. It was the first time I'd seen her speechless. "You're kidding?" she finally got out.

  "You need to lean how to protect yourself against a vampire. Granted, your odds would be dismal, but your advantage is that no vampire would see you as a threat."

  "That's how I managed to kill so many of them when I was your age," I chimed in. "The element of surprise can save your life."

  Tammy looked at the knife again. "I don't know…"

  Bones let out an exasperated noise. "Justina, come here and show her how it's done."

  My mother looked more surprised than Tammy had when the whole conversation began. I was taken aback, too.

  "You want me to stab you?" my mother asked in disbelief.

  Bones gave her an impish grin. "Come on, Mum. How many times have you dreamed about that?"

  My mother got up, took the knife, and then stuck it right in the middle of Bones's chest. He never flinched or moved to block her.

  "See, Tammy, this is how most people would think to do it," Bones said calmly. "But Justina knows the blade isn't in deep enough, nor is it in the right place. The heart's a bit to the left, not exactly in the center. And she didn't twist the knife, which is what you must always, always do to kill a vampire, unless you've stabbed the heart with more than one knife."

  Bones took the knife out and handed it back to my mother. "Now, Justina, show her how it's really done."

  My mother looked even more startled, but she took the blade, aimed more carefully this time, and shoved it in with a small shudder.

  "Twist," Bones said, as if this didn't hurt him, which it would, even if steel through the heart wasn't fatal. Only silver was.

  My mother gave the blade a turn to the right. Bones caught her hand and jerked it, hard, in a ragged circle. Tammy gasped at the blood that stained his shirt.

  "That's how you do it," he said, voice as neutral as if pain wasn't searing through him. I felt it, though, and it was all I could do not to yelp and demand he stop. "Rough, quick, and thorough, else you won't get a second chance."

  He let go of my mother's hand and pulled out the knife, wiping it on his ruined shirt. "Let's show Tammy how it's done from the back now."

  Tears pricked my eyes. Not because of the pain from Bones's wound; that was already healed. It was because I finally understood what he was doing. Bones wasn't trying to train Tammy. He was showing my mother how to defend herself, something she never would have allowed him to do under normal circumstances. But thinking it was for Tammy's benefit made her follow his instructions, learning how to jab a knife in the right place front and back, then how to deflect some standard defensive maneuvers.

  Fabian caught my eye and winked. The ghost knew what Bones was doing, too.

  By the time Bones announced it was Tammy's turn, I'd fallen in love with him all over again. Flowers and jewelry worked for most girls as a romantic gesture, but here I was, misty-eyed at watching him show my mother how to stab the shit out of him.

  Tammy was human, so it took her longer to get the gist of things. Still, after an hour, she was sweaty, bloody, and very proud of herself for successfully stabbing Bones several times in the heart.

  "Just call me Buffy," she said with a smirk.

  "I'm tired," I said, faking a yawn. "I'm heading to bed."

  Bones's eyes lit up. Fabian disappeared out the door, saying he wanted to double-check the grounds. My mother gave me a look. Only Tammy didn't seem to realize that no vampire ever yawned for real.

  "See you tomorrow," Tammy said. "I've got to shower anyway."

  I went up the stairs. Bones stayed below, waiting. By the time I heard Tammy's shower turn on, I also heard light, quick footsteps coming up the stairs.

  When Bones entered the bedroom, I'd convinced myself that the noise from Tammy's shower would be sufficient to muffle my mother's hearing. Or that my mom had suddenly gone deaf. And when Bones took me in his arms, I stopped thinking about anything else.

  Chapter Seven

  This could be the beginning of a bad joke, I thought as we bypassed the line and strode into Bite. Three vampires and a human walk into a bar…

  If a rogue undead hitman was after Tammy, we were hoping he took the bait and followed us home, because we had a hell of a surprise waiting for him. And here was also hoping that Poppy, the vampire Bones chatted up last weekend, had repeated Bones's tale about the snotty rich human he was guarding. And how he'd be back tonight with her.

  My mother refused to dance. She sat at the bar, shutting down every man who approached her, human or otherwise. She really cared for Rodney, I thought, my heart squeezing at the memory of the murdered friend my mother had briefly dated. I hope she finds someone special again.

  We went through the motions of having a good time, dancing, drinking – no alcohol for Tammy, even though she begged – and then dancing again while Bones renewed his acquaintance with Poppy. It didn't escape my notice that Verses stared at us. From his expression, he sensed something was up and didn't want it at his club. Well, neither did we. That's why we had booby traps waiting back at our house. Come on over, would-be killer. We have treats ready.

  After two a.m., we headed out to the parking lot. Out of habit, I had my hand near my sleeves, where several throwing knives lined my arms. We were three rows away from our Hummer when the air became electrified. Bones and I whirled at the same time, each of us pulling out a knife. My mother grabbed Tammy. Several vampires dropped from the sky to land in a wide circle around us.

  Oh fuck, was my thought. We'd left Bite only a few seconds ago. Not nearly enough time to coordinate this kind of attack. I counted, noting the vibe wafting off each of them. Twelve vampires, several of them Masters. Too many of them to be just about killing a human heiress. This wasn't about Tammy.

  Bones knew it, too. He gave an almost languid look around, but I could feel his tenseness grating across my subconscious. "X, what an unpleasant surprise. This clearly isn't coincidence, so tell me, who betrayed me?"

  The black haired vampire addressed as X stepped forward. "A human hires a hitman to kill his cousin for money, boring. That same hitman botches the job twice, funny. Then the desperate hitman sends a ghoul after the girl to finish things up, my curiosity's piqued. That same ghoul ends up with his head cut off by a mysterious redhead…ah. Now I'm interested."

  "Who's your friend, honey?" I asked Bones, not taking my eyes off of X.

  "Former coworker, you could say. An overly competitive one who got brassed off when I killed several of his best clients."

  Former coworker. X must not have been a small-time hit man for Bones to refer to him that way, which meant the vampires with him had to be badasses, too. Our chances just got downgraded from slim to screwed.

  "Could my old friend Bones be involved, I wondered?" X went on. "The young heiress has government con
nections, it turns out, and so does the Reaper. And the Reaper's supposed to be such a bleeding heart when it comes to humans. When another rumor spread that the human heiress would be here tonight, I took precautions in case I was right about who was protecting her. And lucky me, I was."

  Precautions? That was one way to describe the dozen vampires surrounding us, all of whom were armed to the teeth. I glanced back at the nightclub. Would anyone come to our aid? Or would they stick to the whole "no violence on the premises thing" and stay the hell away?

  "You're here for me, leave her out of it," Bones said, with a barely perceptible nod at Tammy. "Let her go back inside, and we'll settle this ourselves."

  "She may not be why I'm here, but I'll be sure to kill her, too, so I don't risk war."

  Clever bastard. If X killed us while we were defending Tammy, he could call it business. Tammy had a contact out on her; otherwise, Bones's people could consider it personal and retaliate for our slaughter. X was covering his bases well.

  Tammy began to whimper. X gave her a genial smile. "If it makes you feel better, your cousin's dead. I killed him after I learned what I needed to know about you."

  So that's why Don couldn't find Gables, not that it did us any good now.

  Bones glanced at me. "Kitten, are you getting angry yet?"

  I knew what he meant. Since I found out I'd absorbed fire-starting power from the pyrokinetic vampire I drank from, I'd fought to keep that borrowed ability under control. But now, I let all the repressed anger, determination, fear, and sadness from the past few months roar to the surface. My hands became engulfed in blue flames, sparks shooting onto the ground.

  "Kill her!" X shouted.

  Knives flew at me in a blur. I rolled to avoid them, concentrating on X. Two months ago, I'd burned an entire property and explode a Master vampire's head right off his shoulders. Burn, I thought, glaring at X. Burn.

  Except…he didn't catch fire. Sparks still shot from my flame-covered hands, but nothing more lethal came out of them. I shook my hands in frustration. Work, damn you! Flame on, fingers!

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