“I don’t think I would have lasted much longer,” he said. “I was really losing it. Then your brother did it. Injured me enough to pass out in the pond. That was a miracle,” He affirmed. “I’m amazed that he was still clear-headed enough to protect himself and his family.”
“So, he drowned you?” Joe was still trying to put together the puzzle.
“No, he shot me.” Mike took another look at the side of his shirt, to where his stitches had opened during his struggle with Joe. It was soaked with blood. He winced and ignored it for now. “I ended up face down in the koi pond. That’s how I drowned. It was an accidental cure.”
“Wow.” Joe was absorbing that he himself was no longer a monster. And taking in everything else he’d just heard.
“Now we have to get your doctor friend and the Big Boss,” Mike was saying.
Joe shook his head. “No way. Why didn’t you do the same to Jack? He needs help. Where is he, anyway?”
“He’s at home. He’s in that no-brain stage. We figured we’d try it on you since you were further along, and if it worked, he would be next. But I figured while we were down here, we could take care of the doctor and the Man in Black. If you’re up to it.”
Joe tried to stand. “Take these off, for God’s sake.” As Mike complied, Joe stood and stretched. “So, I was a guinea pig? Thanks a lot.”
Mike was serious now. “You were farther along than your brother is now. This is all still new, and we didn’t know how much time we’d have. And, we had to make the decision for Anna’s sake.”
Joe felt foolish, selfish. It all made sense. Especially about Anna. Anna, poor angel, Joe’s heart welled up with the love he felt for his only niece. She’d be absolutely devastated if anything happened to her dad.
“No,” Joe said, shaking his head. “We go to my brother first. Then we’ll deal with those other crazy bastards.”
“But we’re already down here,” Mike protested again. Joe was in a hurry but he took the time to use the sink. He washed the vomit out of his mouth and took a good, long drink. God, even this bathroom tap water tasted like heaven. As he used some more paper towels to dry his hair—and still seriously considered taking a dunk in the nearby ocean—another knock came at the door.
“Everyone okay in there?” It was the same guy. Since Joe didn’t remember, Mike explained: “You were sick. That’s the story. Now you’re better.”
Mike opened the door. A couple of guys stood outside, cautiously peering in. They were dressed in shorts and flip-flops, the expensive kind, and each had a forty of beer in hand. Locals just kickin’ it, obviously. Nice guys who didn’t want any trouble on their secluded beach front.
Joe stepped forward, showing himself. He was still a little shaky; he was just recovering, but from what, they didn’t have to know. They wouldn’t have guessed in their wildest dreams. Or maybe one day, they would. But it didn’t matter right now.
“I’m okay,” Joe reassured them with a little smile. “I was just really sick. I’m sorry.”
“Dude, it’s totally cool,” one of them said. “Everyone’s had a little too much to drink once in a while, right?”
You have no idea, Joe thought, but all he said was, “Right. I’m feeling a little better.”
“It’s all good,” the other man reiterated. “You know, we’re cool with this, but some people might not like you being down here. Everyone knows each other. You don’t want the cops, man, if you know what I mean.”
“You’re right,” Mike said. Another gross understatement. “We’re just leaving.”
Satisfied that all was right in their little world, the men turned to go. “Take it easy,” one of them said.
“You, too,” Joe answered. He thought of Stetson and added, “And be careful.”
David Stetson, the scientist, stood in the dark.
He’d carefully pulled aside the cutesy curtains his former girlfriend had made to see if Joe was anywhere in sight. Mostly, though, he smelled the scent of human flesh. Everywhere. Holy sweet hell it smelled wonderful.
He knew it was a mistake for Joe to drive to his friend. He had known it in his gut. It had been an hour and a half; they should have been back within thirty minutes.
He and Joe had planned to go hunting tonight, finally. Stetson was strong and very intelligent, but the craving for human flesh was overtaking his thoughts now. As if to confirm this, his stomach growled.
Where were they? Anger was overtaking Stetson’s emotions as well. If they’ve gone without me, he threatened to no one in particular, but his thought process stopped there. What would he do? I’ll go by myself.
Stetson’s mind was talking to itself now. There were two trains of thought. What if they’re in trouble? He didn’t know what to do with that one. They’ve deserted you, he now realized. You’re on your own, and oh yes, you have to eat.
He glanced back at Cole, who was sitting still in the dark, although his eyes were glowing softly red. All was quiet, except for the voices in Stetson’s head.
Go, he told himself. You have to.
He sniffed the air and picked up on a small child playing outside a couple of doors down. Too small.
Stay, he argued now. Carter will be back, and there is strength in numbers.
Stetson turned to the last filet mignon on the table, grabbed it and bit into it. However, the meat had turned brown and didn’t taste fresh. Stetson grunted and threw it across the room. Cole stirred from the sound, and wrestled for freedom.
“To hell with them,” Stetson said out loud now, although he didn’t realize it. “To hell with them all. I’m going to get my dues.”
No, not yet. Soon, soon.
Yes, he’d wait, just a little while more. Joe promised he’d return. Except David Stetson didn’t know how long he could last. He looked down at Cole. Cole couldn’t be left alone. Could he?
Did Stetson even care?
Still, he commanded himself to think clearly. He would wait twenty more minutes. Could he last that long? Maybe, maybe not.
We’ll see, he thought...and thought again of the small child playing three houses down.
Mike Mendoza drove exactly sixty-five miles per hour up the 605 freeway, and even though Joe was anxious as hell to get to his brother, and equally importantly to Anna, he understood the need for caution. All they needed now was to get pulled over for speeding. According to the police, the two former lieutenant commanders were still AWOL, and there was an APB out on them. They were designated as Armed and Dangerous.