"Sorry," he said, pushing himself away from me.
"How ya doing up there, vampire hunter?" Coltrain called. He was bringing up the rear. I had to go second to back up St. John, and I wouldn't let Larry take rear. Coltrain had wanted it. Said he and the sheriff would guard our ass. Fine with me.
"Yell a little louder," Wallace said. "I don't think the vampire heard you."
"I don't need no statie telling me how to do my job."
"It knows we're here," I said.
That stopped them. They both looked at me. Granger, who was just ahead of Wallace, looked at me, too. I had everyone's attention.
"Even if the vampire is only a few weeks old, its hearing is incredibly acute. It knows we're here. It knows we're coming. It doesn't matter if we're quiet or have a brass band. It's all the same. We won't surprise it in the dark." It would probably surprise us, but I didn't add that part aloud. We were all thinking it anyway.
"We are wasting time here, Deputy," St. John said.
Coltrain didn't apologize or even look sorry. Wallace did. "I'm sorry, Sheriff. It won't happen again."
St. John nodded and turned without another word and led us farther into the woods.
Coltrain made a small humphing sound but let it go. Whatever he said, I didn't think Wallace would rise to bait again. At least I hoped not. I didn't care if he was scared; we had enough problems without fighting among ourselves.
The trees rustled and swayed around us. Last year's dead leaves crunched underfoot. Someone cursed softly behind me. The wind blew in a wild gust, streaming my hair back from my face. Up ahead the quality of darkness was different. We were approaching the clearing.
St. John stopped just short of the tree line. He glanced back at me. "How do you want to do this?"
I could taste the rain on the wind coming closer. If possible, I wanted us out of here before it came. Visibility sucked as it was.
"We kill it, and we get the hell back to the house. It's not a hard plan."
He nodded, as if I'd said something profound.
Wish I had.
A figure stepped in front of us. One minute nothing, the next there he was. Darkness and shadows, magic. He grabbed St. John as he went for his gun and threw him out into the clearing in a high looping arch.
I shot the vampire in the chest at almost point-blank range. He collapsed to his knees. I caught a glimpse of the whites of his eyes, like he couldn't believe it. I had to pump the shotgun to jack another shell in place.
Granger's rifle exploded behind me like a cannon. Someone screamed. I shot the vampire between the eyes. His head splattered into the leaves. I turned with the shotgun to my shoulder before the body hit the ground.
Larry was on the ground with a vamp on top of him. I had a glimpse of long brown hair before his cross flared to life in a brilliant flash of blue-white fire. She flung herself backwards with a scream, scrambling into the dark. Gone.
A vamp with long blonde hair held Granger in her slender arms, head pressed to his neck. I couldn't use the shotgun. They were pressed too close together. At this range I'd kill them both.
I dropped the shotgun into Larry's surprised lap. He was still lying on the ground, blinking. I drew the Browning and fired into the vampire's broad chest. She jerked but didn't let go of Granger. The vampire looked at me, the man still clasped to her chest. She hissed at me. I fired a round into her gaping mouth. It blew the back of her head out.
The vamp shuddered. I fired a second round into her head. She let go of Granger and fell to the leaves in convulsions. Granger just lay there. In the dark I couldn't see his face or neck. Dead or alive, I'd done all I could.
Larry was on his feet, shotgun awkward in his hands.
There was a scream, low and pain-filled. Wallace was on the ground with a slender-bodied vamp on top of him. Fangs sunk in his arm. The bone broke with a loud, brittle snap. He screamed again.
I had a glimpse of Coltrain standing, frozen, just beyond. There was movement behind him. I stared straight at it, waiting for the vampire to take shape from the shadows, but something gleamed. A dull silver blade flashed into sight. I stared straight at it, but I lost a second somehow. The next thing I knew the blade tip exploded from Coltrain's throat. I lost another second, blinking at shadows, and the vampire tore the blade from his throat and was gone. It scuttled through the trees like nothing human, unbelievably fast, like a nightmare seen from the corner of your eye.
Larry raised the shotgun to his shoulder, aimed in Wallace's direction. I grabbed it from him, and something smashed into my back and rode me into the leaves. A hand pressed my face into the dry, crackling leaves. A second hand ripped the back of my coverall so violently it wrenched one shoulder. There was an explosion just behind my head, and the vampire was gone. I rolled over, ears ringing.
Larry was standing over me with his arm extended, gun out. Whatever he'd shot was gone out in the dark.
My left shoulder was hurt, but not as badly as it might be if I didn't get up. I struggled to my feet. The vampires were gone.
Wallace was sitting up, cradling his arm. Coltrain lay on the ground without moving. A sound behind us. I turned, Browning pointed. Larry was turning too, but too slow. I sighted down the barrel, and it was St. John.
"Don't shoot. It's me."
Larry held his gun two-handed pointed at the ground. "Sweet Jesus," he said.
Amen. "What happened to you?"
"The fall knocked me out. I followed the sound of shots," St. John said.
A gust of wind slapped against us. It smelled so strongly of rain I almost felt it on my skin.
"Check Granger's pulse, Larry," I said.
"What?" Larry looked shell-shocked.
"See if he's alive." It was a messy job, and I'd have done it myself, but I trusted me more than Larry to keep the vampires away. He'd saved me once tonight, but I still trusted me more.
St. John walked past us. He touched Wallace, who nodded. "My arm's broke, but I'll live." St. John went to Coltrain's still form.
Larry knelt by Granger. He switched his gun to his left hand, not the best thing to do, but I understood. Hard to check for a pulse in the dark on a throat warm with blood; better to use your dominant hand.
"I've got a pulse." He looked up, his broad smile a dim whiteness in the dark.
"Coltrain's dead," St. John said. "God help me, he's dead." He raised a hand and the skin glistened with blood, black in the dim light. "He's nearly decapitated. What did this?"
"Sword," I said. I'd seen it. Watched it happen. But all I could remember was a black shape larger than a human being. Or larger than most. A shadow with a sword was all I'd seen, and I'd been looking right at it.
Something flowed across my skin, and it wasn't the wind. Power filled the spring night like water. "There's something old out here," I said.
"What are you talking about?" St. John said.
"An ancient vampire. It's here. I can feel it." I searched the darkness, but nothing moved but the trees, the wind. There was nothing to see. Nothing to fight. But it was here and it was close. Sword in hand, maybe.
Granger sat up so suddenly that Larry fell back into the leaves with a squeak. The big man's eyes turned to me. I saw his hand go for his gun, and I knew what the vampire was doing.
I pointed the Browning at his head and waited. I had to be sure.
Granger didn't hunt for his dropped rifle. He drew his sidearm and pointed it very slowly, as if he didn't want to do it. He pointed it at Larry from less than a foot away.
Wallace yelled, "Granger, what the f**k are you doing?"
Granger jerked; the gun wavered, then his hand came back up. I fired again, and again. His hand fell slowly to the ground, gun still in it. He fell straight back into the leaves.
"Granger!" Wallace was screaming, crawling toward his partner. Shit.
I got there first and kicked the gun out of his hand. If he'd twitched, I'd have shot him again. He didn't twitch. He just lay there, dead.
Wallace tried to cradle him one-handed. "Why'd you shoot him? Why?"
"He was going to kill Larry. You saw it."
"The vamp that bit him. His master is out here. And he's a powerful son of a bitch. He used him."
Wallace had Granger's bloody head in his lap, his own ravaged arm pressed to Granger's chest. He was crying.
A sound rode the rising wind. A sharp, furious barking. A woman's scream, high and clear, cut across the sound.