Blood Trail Chapter Sixteen


Vicki launched herself toward the blur of light, the dim figures moving through it taking on solid form as she came closer. If Storm died, she didn't think she'd be able to forgive herself. If only she hadn't been so stupidly wrong about Carl Biehn, so sure he couldn't be the killer. She felt Celluci take her arm and allowed herself to be guided the last few feet, flashlight hanging forgotten in her hand.

Cloud had her front paws up on the table and was desperately licking her brother's face, her tongue alternately smoothing and spiking the fur on his muzzle. Stuart's arms were around Storm's shoulders, supporting his weight. Colin stroked trembling fingers down the russet back, whimpering low in his throat.

Henry... Vicki squinted at Henry, bent over one of Storm's back legs. As she watched, he straightened and spat.

’’The poison's spread through his system. I'd kill him if I tried to take it all.’’

Colin began to make a noise, low in his throat, not quite a howl, not quite a moan.

’’Get him to Dr. Dixon.’’ Cloud ignored her. The rest turned to stare.

’’We can't move him, Vicki,’’ Henry told her softly. ’’He's trembling on the edge right now. It would be so easy to tip him over.’’

’’If only we could get him to change,’’ Stuart rested his cheek on the top of Storm's head, the anger in his voice only emphasizing the pain in his expression.

Vicki remembered what the doctor had said about the change somehow neutralizing infection. She supposed poison could be considered a type of infection. ’’He can't change because he isn't conscious?’’

Stuart nodded, tears marking the russet fur with a darker pattern.

’’Then what about forcing an unconscious change?’’

’’You don't know anything about us, human.’’

’’I know as much as I need to.’’ Vicki's heart began to pound as she gathered up everything Dr. Dixon had told her, added it to her own observations, and knew she had something that might work. ’’If he won't change on his own, maybe he'll change for Rose. Twins are linked. Dr. Dixon said it, Nadine said it, hell, you can see it. And Rose and Peter are... ’’ She couldn't think of a way to phrase it, not with Rose - Cloud - right there. Oh, hell, no way around it. ’’As Rose goes into heat, she's pulling Peter with her. Their reactions are linked more now than they ever have been. If Rose, not Cloud, would, uh, well, maybe it would pull Storm over into Peter.’’

Stuart raised his head. ’’Do you realize what might happen? How strong a bond this is with our kind?’’

Vicki sighed. ’’Look, even if it works, he's too sick to do anything and besides... ’’ She reached out and stroked one finger down the limp length of Storm's front leg. Incest or death, what a choice. ’’... isn't it better than the alternative?’’

’’Yes. Oh, yes.’’ Rose didn't wait for Stuart to reply. She threw herself down beside her twin, gathering him as close as she could, rubbing her face over his.

Stuart released Storm and straightened, one hand resting lightly on his nephew's shoulder. ’’Call him,’’ he said, his voice resigned, his expression watchful. He would not allow this to go any further than it had to. ’’Bring him back to us, Rose.’’ But try not to lose yourself. The last thing they needed now was Rose going into heat without Nadine around to protect her. Breeding reaction had destroyed packs in the past.

’’Peter?’’

The fine hair along her spine rising, Vicki could feel the power in a name. This is who you are, it said. Come back to us.

’’Peter, oh, please. Please, Peter don't leave me!’’

For agonizing moments it looked as though nothing was happening. Rose continued to call, the grief, the pain, the longing, the love enough to raise the dead. Surely it must have some effect on one not yet gone.

’’He moved,’’ Henry said suddenly. ’’I saw his nostrils twitch.’’

’’He's got the scent,’’ Stuart said, and he and Colin both shifted uncomfortably.

Then it happened. Slowly enough this time that Vicki always after swore she'd seen the exact moment of change.

Peter tossed his head and moaned, his skin gray and clammy, left foot horribly cut by the steel jaws of the trap.

Rose pressed kisses on his lips, his throat, his eyes, until her uncle moved her bodily off the table and shook her, hard. She burst into tears and buried her face on Peter's chest, both hands tightly wrapped around one of his.

’’His heartbeat is stronger.’’ Henry listened to it struggling, forcing the sluggish blood to flow. ’’His life has a better hold. I think it's safe to move him now.’’

’’In a minute.’’ Vicki took a deep breath. It felt like the first in some time and even the dusty, kerosene scented air of the barn smelled sweet. Jesus Christ, how the hell are we going to explain this to the police ? ’’Here's what we're going to do... ’’

’’Excuse me.’’

She started and for a moment didn't recognize the old man who crept forward into the lamplight, Barry Wu trailing behind like an anxious shadow.

Carl Biehn reached out a trembling hand and lightly brushed the silver spray of Rose's hair. She rubbed her nose on the back of her wrist and looked up, eyes narrowing when she saw who it was.

’’I know it won't be enough,’’ he said, speaking only to her, the words rough-edged with pain, ’’but I realize now I was wrong. In spite of all I'd done to you and yours, even in the midst of your grief, you saved my life at the risk of your own. That is the way of the Lord.’’ He had to pause to clear his throat. ’’I wanted to thank you, and say I'm sorry even though I know I have no right to your forgiveness.’’

He turned away then, and Vicki met his eyes.

They were red rimmed with weeping but surprisingly clear. Although pain had become a part of them, no doubt lingered. This was a man who had made his peace with himself. Vicki heard the voice of memory say, ’’He's a decent human being and they're rare.’’ She nodded, once. He echoed it and moved past, bowed but somehow still possessing a quiet dignity.

’’Okay people, we're going to keep this as uncomplicated as possible.’’ She blinked rapidly to clear her eyes and shoved at her glasses. ’’This is what happened. The police already know someone has been taking potshots at the Heerkens dogs - and the Heerkens - and that I'm looking into it. Obviously Peter found something out... ’’

’’He spoke with Mark Williams this afternoon,’’ Celluci told her, wondering how far he was going to let this vaguely surreal explanation go on.

’’Great. Suspicious, he headed over here. Meanwhile, I found out the same information, called, discovered that Peter was missing, pulled Colin off shift, and started out here. Meanwhile, you,’’ she pointed at Celluci, ’’and you,’’ the finger moved to Stuart, ’’raced to the rescue. We stick to the truth as far as we can. Now then, Henry, you weren't here.’’

Henry nodded. Staying clear of police investigations had always been one of his tenets of survival.

’’Colin, you and Barry, get Peter into the back of your car. Rose, stay with him. Don't let him change again. And Rose, you weren't here either. The boys picked you up on their way back into town as you were running along the road, trying to get here, furious that Stuart and Celluci wouldn't take you with them. Got that?’’

Rose sniffed again and nodded, letting go of her twin only long enough to pull on the T-shirt Stuart stripped off and gave her. It fell to mid-thigh and would do as clothing until they reached the doctor's where the entire family kept something to wear.

Gently Colin lifted his brother and, with Peter's head lolling in the hollow of his throat, made for the door, Rose close at his side, her hands chasing each other up and down her twin's body.

’’Wait by the car,’’ Vicki called, sending Barry after them. ’’There're a few more things you'll have to know.’’

’’Like what you're planning to do about the corpse,’’ Celluci snapped, running both hands up through his hair, his patience nearly at an end. ’’I don't know if you've taken a good look at it, but someone obviously helped it achieve its current condition, which is going to be just a little hard to explain. Or were you just going to bury it in the woods and conveniently forget about it? And what about Mr. Biehn? Where does he fit into this fairy tale you're wea... ?’’

The gunshot, even strangely muffled as it was, jerked Celluci around. Stuart growled and fought to get himself free of the confining sweatpants. Even Henry whirled to face the sound, and from outside the barn came questioning exclamations and running footsteps.

Vicki only closed her eyes and tried not to listen, tried to think of flowers spread across an August morning like a fallen rainbow.

’’He went into the corner, put the rifle muzzle in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toe.’’

She felt Celluci's hands on her shoulders and opened her eyes.

’’You knew he was going to do that, didn't you?’’

She shrugged as well as she was able considering his grip. ’’I suspected.’’

’’No, you knew!’’ He started to shake her. ’’Why the hell didn't you stop him?’’

She brought her arms up between his and broke his hold. They stood glaring at each other for a moment and when she thought he'd actually hear her, she said, ’’He couldn't live with what he'd done, Mike. Who was I to say he had to?’’ Sliding her glasses up her nose, she looked past him and drew a long shuddering breath. ’’We're not done yet. Is there a can of kerosene around for that lamp?’’

’’Here, by the table.’’ Stuart bent to lift the five gallon can.

’’No, don't touch it.’’

Celluci knew at that moment what she was going to do and knew this was his last chance to stop her, to bring this entire night back under the cover of the law. He strongly suspected that if he tried, both Henry and Stuart would align themselves firmly on her side. Trouble was, if it came to choosing sides...

Vicki dug a pair of leather driving gloves out of the bottom of her purse and as though she was reading his mind asked him, as she pulled them on. ’’Did you want to add something, Celluci?’’

Slowly, realizing he had no choice at all, he shook his head, forgetting that she couldn't see him. He'd decided where he stood back at the farmhouse when he'd passed on the information she'd given him. She knew that as well as he did. Maybe better.

Gloves in place, Vicki bent and carefully picked up the can. It felt nearly full. She unscrewed the cap, and paused. She needed both hands on the can but would be unable to see without her flashlight the moment she left the immediate area of the lamp. ’’God damn it all to... ’’

Celluci found himself looking at Henry, whose expression so clearly said, It's up to you, that it took a moment before he realized it hadn't been said out loud.

Up to me. Right. As if I had a choice. But he walked forward and picked up the flashlight anyway.

Vicki squinted up into his face, but the light was too bad to make out nuances. Not that Celluci tends to do nuances. It was enough he was there;it helped. Let's get on with it.

She walked along the beam of light toward Mark Williams body, pouring the kerosene carefully on the packed earth floor as she went, thankful that her grip on the can hid the trembling of her fingers. The law had meant everything to her once. ’’As far as anyone will be able to piece together, there was a fight, probably because Carl Biehn walked in on whatever it was his nephew was doing to Peter. During the fight, Mark Williams stepped in one of his own grisly little bits of ironmongery. Out of grief, or guilt, or God knows what, Carl Biehn shot himself. Unfortunately, at some point during the fight, the can of kerosene got knocked over.’’

The light slid across the body. It was evident that Mark Williams had died in great pain, the mark of Henry's fingers still apparent on his neck. Vicki couldn't find it in her to be sorry. The only thing she'd felt for Mark Williams in life had been contempt and his death hadn't changed that. As soon feel sorry for squashing a cockroach, she thought, setting the can down beside the corpse and tipping it over.

’’What about Carl Biehn?’’

’’Leave him alone. Let him lie where he chose.’’ She walked back along the light to the table and picked up the lantern. The dancing flame made patterns against the darkness that continued to dance in her vision after she looked away. ’’Also unfortunately, at some time during the fight, the lantern shattered.’’

The force with which the lantern hit the floor eloquently expressed the emotions that lurked behind her matter-of-fact tones.

The kerosene in the shattered reservoir caught first, and then the path Vicki had poured.

’’Take a good look, Mike, Stuart. This what you saw when you arrived.’’ She took a deep breath and peeled off the gloves, shoving them down into the depths of her bag. ’’Plus Peter's body, lying naked on the table. The two of you rushed in, grabbed Peter, and got out. The flames were then too high for you to go back. Now, I suggest we get out of here, as this barn is ancient, tinder dry, and likely to go up in very little time.’’

With a hungry woosh, Mark Williams'clothes caught, the burning kerosene outlining his body in flame.

She paused at the door, her hand dropping from Celluci's guiding arm, and looked back. A splash of orange had to be fire climbing the surface of the north wall. They couldn't stop it now, even if they wanted to. She wondered for an instant just who they were, then squared her shoulders and went out to talk to Colin and Barry by their car.

’’When we arrived,’’ she told them, ’’Celluci and Stuart had Peter lying out on the grass. The barn was burning. Forget everything else. You put Peter in the car, called in the fire, and headed back to town, picking Rose up on the way.’’

’’But what about... ’’ Barry didn't sound happy.

Vicki stood quietly, waiting. She couldn't see his face but she had a good idea of what must be going through his mind.

She heard him sigh. ’’There isn't any other way, is there? Not without exposing the wer and... ’’ She heard Henry in his pause, heard him decide not to voice his suspicions. ’’... other things.’’

’’No, there isn't any other way. And don't let anyone get a good look at your boot.’’

She watched their taillights pull away, saw them speed down the highway, then turned and walked back to the three men - the vampire, the werewolf, and the cop - outlined in the flickering flames from the burning building. There would be ash and not much more remaining when the fire burned out.

As though his turn had now come to read her mind, Celluci said dryly, ’’If they sift the ashes, any competent forensic team could poke a thousand holes in your story.’’

’’Why should they investigate? With you and me and two of the local city police on the scene, I think they'll be happy to take our word for it.’’

He had to admit she was likely right. Three cops and an ex-cop with nothing to gain from lying - and covering for a family of werewolves would not likely occur to anyone - they'd wrap it up and write it off and get on to something they could solve.

’’Still, there are a lot of loose ends,’’ Stuart said thoughtfully.

Vicki snorted. ’’Police prefer loose ends. Wrap it up too neatly and they'll think you're handing them a package.’’ The night was sultry, without a breath of wind, and the barn was now burning brightly, but Vicki hugged her arms close. They'd won, she should feel happy, relieved, something. All she felt was empty.

’’Hey.’’ Henry wished he could see her eyes. All he could see were the flames reflected on her glasses. ’’You all right?’’

’’Yeah. I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?’’

He reached out and slid her glasses up her nose. ’’No reason.’’

She grinned, a little shakily. ’’You'd better get going. I don't know how long it'll take the fire trucks and the OPP to get out here.’’

’’Will you be back to the farmhouse?’’

’’As soon as the police are finished with me.’’

He shot a look at Celluci but managed to hold back the comment.

Vicki sighed. ’’Go,’’ she told him.

He went.

Celluci took his place.

Vicki sighed again. ’’Look, if you're about to treat me to another lecture on ethics or morals, I'm not in the mood.’’

’’Actually, I was wondering if a grass fire was part of your plan? Maybe as a diversion? We're starting to get some sparks and the field behind the barn is awfully dry.’’

Flames were racing across the roof now, the entire structure wrapped in red and gold.

The last thing she wanted to do was more damage. ’’There's a water hookup in the garden with plenty of hose. Just wet the field down.’’

’’Well, how the hell was I supposed to know?’’

’’You could have looked! Jesus H. Christ, do I have to do everything?’’

’’No, thanks. You've done quite enough!’’ He wanted to recall the words the moment he said them but to his surprise, Vicki started to laugh. It didn't sound like hysteria, it just sounded like laughter. ’’What?’’

It was a moment before she could speak and even then, the threat of another outbreak seemed imminent. ’’I was just thinking that it's all over but the shouting.’’

’’Yeah? So?’’

’’So?’’ She waved one hand helplessly in the air as she went off again. ’’So, now it's over.’’

’’You will come back and see us again? When you need to get out of the city?’’

’’I will.’’ Vicki grinned. ’’But right at the moment, the peace and quiet of the city seems pretty inviting.’’

Nadine snorted. ’’I don't know how you stand it. Bad smells and too many strangers on your territory... ’’ Although she still bore the mark of her twin's loss, in the last twenty-four hours the wound had visibly healed. Whether it was due to the deaths of Mark Williams and Carl Biehn or the saving of Peter's life, Vicki wasn't sure. Neither did she want to know.

Rose had also changed, with less of the child she'd been and more of the woman she was becoming showing in her face. Nadine kept her close, snarling when any of the males approached.

Vicki moved toward the door where Henry stood waiting for her, tension stretching between him and Stuart in almost a visible line.

’’In the barn, before you arrived,’’ Henry'd explained earlier, ’’I gave him an order he had no choice but to obey. ’’

’’You vampired him?’’

’’If you like. We 're both pretending it didn't happen, but it'll take him some time to forget that it did.’’

Shadow, his black fur marked with dust, crawled out from under the wood stove, his jaws straining around a huge soup bone. He trotted to the door and dropped it at Vicki's feet.

’’It's my best bone,’’ Daniel told her solemnly. ’’I want you to have it so you don't forget me.’’

’’Thank you, Daniel.’’ The bone disappeared into the depths of Vicki's bag. She reached out and picked a bit of fluff from the top of his head. ’’I think that I can pretty much guarantee that I'll never, ever forget you.’’

Daniel squirmed, then Shadow threw himself at her knees, barking excitedly.

Oh, what the hell, Vicki thought, crouched down and did what she'd done to Storm way back in the beginning, digging her fingers deep into the thick, soft fur of his ruff and giving him a good scratch.

It was hard to say which of them enjoyed it more.

Celluci leaned against the car and tossed the keys from hand to hand. It was an hour and a half after sunset and he wanted to get going;after the last two days, plain, old, big city crime would be a welcome relief.

He still wasn't certain why he'd offered Vicki and Henry a ride back to Toronto. No, that wasn't entirely true. He knew why he'd offered Vicki a lift, he just wasn't sure why he'd included Henry in the package. Granted, the man's BMW would be another week in the shop, at least, but that wasn't really much of a reason.

’’What the hell is taking them so long?’’ he muttered.

As if in answer, the back door opened and Shadow bounded out, tail beating the air. Vicki and Henry followed, accompanied by all the rest of the family except Peter, who had remained at Dr. Dixon's.

Vicki had been right about the police investigation. The whole thing was just so weird and the witnesses so credible that the OPP had jumped to pretty much exactly the conclusions Vicki had outlined and were willing to write off the rest. Mark Williams'police record hadn't hurt either, especially when a report of his latest business venture had come in from Vancouver.

Celluci braced himself as Shadow leapt up on his chest, licked his face twice, then raced off to run noisy circles around the group approaching across the lawn. Werewolves. He'd never be able to look at anyone quite the same way again. If werewolves existed, who knew what other mythical creatures might turn up.

Vicki seemed to have taken the whole thing in stride, but then, he'd always known she was a remarkable woman. An obnoxious, arrogant, opinionated woman much of the time, but still, remarkable. On the other hand, he thought as he closed his fist around the keys, Vicki had known Henry since Easter so maybe none of this was new to her. Who knew what the two of them had been involved with?

During the gratitude and the good-byes, Stuart approached, hand held out. ’’Thank you for your help.’’

The tone wasn't exactly gracious, but Celluci understood about pride. He smiled, careful to keep his teeth covered, and took the offered hand. ’’You're welcome.’’

The grip started firmly enough but soon progressed so that the veins in both forearms were standing out against the muscle and Celluci, in spite of being nearly ten inches taller and proportionally heavier, began to worry about his knuckles popping.

Nadine, having caught scent of the competition, nudged Vicki and they both turned to watch.

’’Do they keep this up until one of them breaks a hand?’’ Vicki wondered dryly, squinting at the joined silhouette straining in the fan of light from the car.

’’Hard to tell with males,’’ Nadine told her in much the same tone. ’’Their bodies seem to be able to go on for hours once their brains have shut off.’’

Vicki nodded. ’’I've noticed that.’’

If the sudden release came with any visible signals passing between the two men, Vicki didn't see them. One moment they were locked in stylized hand-to-hand combat, the next they were clapping each other on the shoulders like the best of friends. She figured that the correct internal pressure had finally been reached, tripping a switch and allowing life to go on - but she wasn't going to ask because she really didn't want to know.

While Stuart demanded to know what his mate was laughing at, Celluci found himself unexpectedly preoccupied by a logistics problem;who was going to sit beside him in the front seat on the way home. It seemed a childish thing to worry about but although the seat should by rights go to Vicki - she was the taller and entitled to the greater leg room - he didn't want Henry Fitzroy sitting behind him in the dark for the three hour drive.

Vicki took the decision away from him. Running her fingers along the car until she found the rear door handle, she opened it, tossed her bag in and climbed in after it, carefully removing Shadow - who'd been trying to get a few more licks in - before she closed the door. She'd known Mike Celluci for eight years and she had a pretty good idea of what was going through his head concerning this. If he thought she was going to run interference between him and Henry, he could think again.

Henry kept his face expressionless as he slid into the front seat and buckled his seat belt.

Shadow chased the car to the end of the lane then sat by the mailbox barking until they were out of sight.

By the time they reached the 401, Celluci couldn't stand the silence a moment longer. ’’Well,’’ he cleared his throat, ’’are all your cases that interesting?’’

Vicki grinned. She knew he'd break first. ’’Not all of them,’’ she said, ’’but then I have a pretty exclusive clientele.’’

’’That's one word for it,’’ Celluci grunted. ’’What's going to happen with Rose and Peter, did they say?’’

’’As soon as Peter's better, Stuart's sending him to stay with his family in Vermont. Rose is pretty broken up about it.’’

’’At least he's alive to send away.’’

’’True enough.’’

’’Rose is probably going to spend the next week howling in her room while the three adult males make themselves scarce.’’

’’Three males? You mean her father... ’’

’’Apparently it's a pretty strong biological imperative.’’

’’Yeah, but... ’’

’’Don't get your shorts in a knot, Celluci, Nadine'll make sure nothing happens.’’

’’Only the alpha female gets to breed,’’ Henry said matter-of-factly.

’’Yeah? Great.’’ Celluci drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and shot a sideways glance at the other man. ’’I'm still not sure where you fit in.’’

Henry raised a red-gold brow. ’’Well, in this particular instance, I acted as intermediary. Usually though, I'm just a friend.’’ And then, because he couldn't resist, he added, ’’Sometimes I help Vicki out with the night work.’’

’’Yeah. I bet you do.’’ The engine roared as Celluci gunned the car past a transport. ’’And you probably had more to do with that... that... thing, we ran into last spring than either of you are telling me.’’

’’Perhaps.’’

’’Perhaps nothing.’’ Celluci ran one hand up through his hair. ’’Look, Vicki, you can get involved with as many ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night,’’ he shot another look at Henry, ’’as you want. But from now on keep me out of it.’’

’’No one invited you into it,’’ Henry pointed out quietly before Vicki could respond.

’’You should be damned glad I showed up!’’

’’Should we?’’

’’Yeah, you should.’’

’’Perhaps you'd care to elaborate on that, Detective-Sergeant.’’

’’Perhaps I would.’’

Vicki sighed, settled back, and closed her eyes. It was going to be a long ride home.

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