Blood Victory

Page 16

“California’s a competitive place,” Shannon says. “He started out as the East Area Rapist.”

“Who’s the East Area Rapist now?” Paul asks.

“That’s enough. I understand the need to let off a little steam while we kill time,” Cole says, “but I don’t want us to get tunnel vision here. We can’t be one hundred percent sure he’s going to go for a break-in, so let’s keep our eyes open so we can advise Luke accordingly.”

They answer with silence, which he figures is about as much obedience as he’s going to get. And he understands. The worst part is the waiting, and Mattingly is making them wait a long time. But is it really Mattingly making them wait?

He looks to the monitor showing Charley’s TruGlass feed. The pages of a novel are gently drifting past the frame. She’s actually reading the damn thing, as she might do on any normal night before bed.

“What is she doing?” Shannon asks.

“Getting in character, trying to forget we’re there,” Noah says.

Cole doesn’t disagree, so he doesn’t say a word.

“Maybe we could tell her it’s time to turn out the light,” Paul mumbles.

“That would be about our comfort,” Cole answers, “not hers. We only speak to her if it’s critical. That’s the deal.”

“That’s not why,” Noah says.

“Not why what?” Cole asks him.

Noah’s next to him so abruptly, Cole actually jumps. Then Noah points to one of the views of the neighborhood on-screen overhead. The light in one of the back rooms of the house next door to Charley’s is still on, just a few yards away from where her bedroom drapes haven’t been drawn all the way closed.

“She’s waiting for them to go to bed,” Noah says. “She doesn’t want the neighbors to scare him off.”

Nobody says anything for a while. Then the neighbor’s back room light clicks off.

A few minutes go by, then a few more, and then, as if sleep has overtaken her, Charley closes the book she’s been reading, reaches over, and turns off the lamp next to her bed.


Dallas, Texas

Charlotte pretends to sleep.

First on her back, then on one side, facing the bedroom window so she can see any shadows that might dart past the crack in the curtains. At what feels like regular intervals, she opens her eyes slightly to check the time on the nightstand’s digital clock. After a short while, she’s able to predict the passage of fifteen minutes with a fairly impressive success rate.

Then, sometime around 1:00 a.m., she hears a sound that probably wouldn’t have awakened her if she’d actually been asleep—the sound of the lock on the back door being picked. It helps that she’d left all the doors between her and the kitchen partly open. But still, if it’s really Mattingly and he’s doing what she thinks he’s doing, he’s incredibly skilled.

Then silence returns.

A cool breath of air moves across her throat, then her face. She knows it has to be coming from outside because it smells faintly of the confederate jasmine growing on a trellis in the neighbor’s yard. Mattingly opened the door so quietly she didn’t hear the lock click.

She can hear her pulse in her ears.

Not good. It’s too much, too soon. She doesn’t want to trigger yet, so she tries to imagine the room her earpiece connects her to, even though the connection’s been silent for hours. She’s never seen a command center, but no doubt the space is dominated by Cole Graydon in his usual dark slacks and one of his perfectly pressed dress shirts pacing in front of a bank of computer monitors that reveal multiple views inside the house she’s in now. Visualizing this remote space is helpful, but the surrounding shadows and her pose, prone in bed in pajamas, are triggering fear receptors no sense of connection to something larger and more powerful can keep dormant.

And Luke is outside, ready to kiss your neck in all the right places when all of this is done.

“Thread the needle” is a mantra she typically uses once she’s triggered, a way of focusing her actions and reducing her strength so that she can do everyday movements without pulling off doorknobs or breaking keys in half. Right now, it applies to the delicate dance she’s doing between fear and confidence, isolation and connection. She can’t let go of her fear entirely. She needs it close, but still coiled.

Cobra in a jar, she thinks. That one’ll work because I’m not all that afraid of snakes.

Her breaths are short and shallow, nothing like sleep. She forces herself to breathe deeply. Loudly, creating something close to a snore. It helps. Slowing her heartbeat, dropping the temperature of her body some. She’s so focused on her breaths she misses the first few footsteps he’s taken into her bedroom. He’s not a spry or slender man, but he’s moving like someone at home in shadows. How many bedrooms, how many women? If I’m bound for the truck on his property, who knows how many unexplained missing persons cases he’s behind? If it’s as many as it is purchases that landed him on the Hunt List, there’s no way she’s letting this go wrong.

Her eyes slits, she continues breathing deeply even as he stands over her nightstand.

There’s a soft squirt. She groans slightly, turns onto her side, facing the nightstand, figuring it would be more suspicious not to react to the sound at all, given how close it is. She feels movement in the air above her, but she’s more taken by the sight on the nightstand, which she sees while trying not to visibly squint. A tiny tendril of pale, viscous fluid is drifting through the water in the glass she brought to bed with her. The squirt must have come from the syringe he loaded onto his tool belt earlier that night. Instead of piercing her flesh with it, he’s used it to spike her water glass.

The tendril falls, dances slightly, like a tiny spirit trying to gain corporeal form. Then it’s gone.

Poison? she wonders. All this trouble just to poison a woman in bed?

She doubts it, but maybe she’s being too optimistic. A rash of poisonings throughout the Dallas area would have come up during Cole’s investigation into Mattingly. The bastard’s been Dallas-based for twenty years. No, that can’t be it.

When she’s dosed with Zypraxon, a potentially fatal injury can trigger the drug, releasing the paradrenaline needed to heal the injury. But there’s always the possibility that some instantly fatal injury might be able to sneak through the tiny gap between injury and release—severing a nerve related to heartbeat or respiration so quickly the trigger event will come too late to heal. The chances of this aren’t substantial, but they exist, and it’s been a constant source of anxiety during their lab tests this past year. Cole calls it the trigger gap. Poison raises a host of other issues, ones they haven’t tested. Not all poisons are sudden, jarring injuries that immediately traumatize the body and the brain; some of them are creeping monsters in the blood, damaging the inside with slow, silent persistence. How much cumulative damage could a poison do before she feels the kind of sharp pain or traumatic injury that triggers Zypraxon? The drug doesn’t respond to actual physical damage; it responds to the conscious awareness of it and the terror that results.

Once triggered, sedatives of any kind, ranging from alcohol to medical-grade anesthesia, don’t work on her. But they’ve got no research to prove that Zypraxon can stave off a deadly poison prior to a trigger event.

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