Swimming The Dusty River Ch. 03bymadam_noe©
Sara Alvarez lived in a suburb called Aloha. Here the houses were small, one story, the driveways long, cracked, and crowded with older American cars. Every yard was shadowed by condo and apartment developments, and the lawns were adorned by flamingos and gnomes.
Sara's driveway held two cars; the Buick and a hearse.
"Shit," I said as we alighted.
"Quite," Santiago agreed.
Donna opened the door for us, and inside the living room, all beige without personality, Mark looked over Alvarez, who was tied to a chair. When she saw Santiago, her hazel eyes widened, and then she smirked. "So you found me."
Santiago hissed, and all four of us humans jumped.
Then Alvarez's eyes found me, widening to saucers. "What the hell are you doing with a vampire?"
I saw her soul with my power. Humans shone green, Binders blue, vampires white. Her soul was green, but muddied. Neo-pagans might call it an aura, but I saw evil in her, and something bit extra than human, a kind of purplish flow in the green of her soul.
"What the hell are you?"
She smiled like a cat. "I see your bandage. Once, like you, I was a lover of this monster."
Donna gasped, her body swinging to face me, but I ignored her. I studied her aura hard and my power felt a tingle from her, a taste as I searched her soul. When I found her secret my eyebrows shot up. "You're a psychic."
Her smile widened. "And if I had known what you are, I would never have used your story on our website."
I folded my arms and tried to look down at her imperiously. "And just what am I?"
Her teeth were small and plentiful in her smile. "Binder scum, whore of the vampires, and eternal enemy of the psychics."
My secret was in danger of getting out.
"No," Donna said, shaking. Mark was holding her, remaining silent as Santiago and Alex discussed torturing Sara, killing her, and disposing of her body.
Her time in the Israeli army had been hard. Escalation on the West Bank had brought violence. Her skill and mind was recognized, and she had been taught how to torture. Unlike the humans in the room, she knew its effectiveness, and she also knew the mark it left on the soul.
"Alex, you can't kill her, you're not like that."
Her friend looked remote, her green eyes cold. How the hell could Alex be thinking this? She still bore the mental scars of her own torture, knew how it stayed with a person. But Alex didn't see Sara as a person; she saw her as a threat to her secrets, and she wanted to kill her.
"I can't do this. We can get her to reveal how and why Santiago's memory was taken, who else was involved, all without torture. But we can't kill her."
Alex opened her mouth but the vampire beside her stepped forward to speak. "This woman can expose our world. Vampires and Binders will be hunted to the ends of the earth by humans, for the fear what is different. If you wish me dead, I understand that, little one. But your best friend? This woman who loves you so much? With the power of her mind she can kill, will they tolerate that? Will they let her live?"
Donna was shaking, and Mark's arms wrapped around her tighter. His warmth seeped into her, a special essence she craved. The closeness reminded her of the unfinished act in Santiago's office, but she compartmentalized. With pure logic, the decision clicked into place.
"Let me question her, just me and Santiago. Alex, Mark, keep lookout. When we find the information, then we will all decide what to do. Is that fair?"
Mark and Santiago nodded, Alex just stared at her. It was an empty, hollow stare that made Donna shiver. "All right then, Santiago, let's look for what we need."
Donna was covered in blood. Santiago had selected the knives, cork popper, the tools they needed, and Donna had found a tarp and two rain slickers in the garage. She and Santiago wore socks from Alvarez's dresser and their underwear beneath the clear slickers.
Alvarez was naked and bound on the tarp below, bleeding and crying.
"We need to take a rest now. If she talks, we can't trust it."
"I can heal her," Santiago said quietly.
"If I force some of my blood into her, she will heal. You'd best leave the room. Tell Alex what we need done in the house."
Donna nodded and peeled off the dish gloves and slicker. She wiped her feet down with a dish towel and exchanged the bloody socks for her own. She padded to the kitchen in her SpongeBob boxers and old bra.
Mark leered for a moment, sobering. "Is she okay?"
"Santiago is going to heal her so we can continue. All we know so far is that she works for this Mission. They wanted to discredit a vampire, draw him out into the open. She was scouting Santiago, but she didn't take his memory. She says only Richard would know. Mark do you know this Richard?"
Both women's eyes widened. "The TV psychic?" Alex asked.
He nodded. "Must be the real thing, no wonder he's so good. He can't talk to the dead like you Alex, but he can read people's minds."
Alex folded her arms and leaned against the kitchen counter. "I can see souls, living or dead, and control them. Suppose a psychic has the same control?"
Donna nodded. "Search the house, we need to find any and all info on the Mission. Destroy any evidence of Santiago or Alex you find. And Alex, wipe for prints. We were never here."
Alex smiled, but Mark looked concerned. "You're going to do it, aren't you?"
Donna sighed. "Mark, I barely know you. You barely know me. I've been thinking, and Alex and Santiago are right. We can't let her go. And I've done this before."
His gaze shuttered and so did Donna's heart. She turned back to the living room prepared to do what was necessary.
It was midnight, and we'd been there almost six hours. Sara Alvarez had every news clip that had been printed on me, notes on my family and their very public grief. We found plane tickets for Chicago; she was going along on Richard Linklater's book tour to find me.
Her computer had volumes of notes on vampires, and a new file on Binders listing me. My file was linked to a vampire named Lulu who had apparently spilled secrets of Binders in the vampire world before she'd been staked at a Mission ceremony.
Mark copied the files onto CDs before destroying them, and we burned box after box of papers in the fireplace. Sara Alvarez had a dark side she kept hidden and meticulously organized, everything about her screaming sociopath. Like many, she had gravitated towards an organization of hate. In many ways she was the human version of Nikola, my vampire enslaver whose own Society had tortured and killed for power.
"I'll move onto the bedroom if you can wipe the office down," Mark said.
"Sadly, I've done this. PIs don't get warrants."
He nodded. "Look, what does Donna mean, before?"
I stopped loading the last of the papers into the file box. "It's her tale to tell. Look you've known each other only, what? Nine, ten hours? If she scares you, leave her alone."
He leaned against the doorway and crossed his legs at the ankle. He was definitely short, but so broad he filled the opening with his body and presence. "I feel a connection with her. I can't explain it. Haven't you ever felt that way? What about the vampire."
"Yeah. Wait, I mean no." I was blushing, as it wasn't Santiago on my mind, but my original protector, the vampire Michael Durand. "We live a thousand miles east of here. We go back in a few days. What could possibly happen?"
"I don't know, and I don't want to be rushed. I just want her, I want to understand her."
I stood then, folding my own arms and trying out my gimlet stare. "You owe Santiago. We have work to do. Focus on the job at hand, let her do the same. Whatever else happens, do it on your own free time, but a word of warning. She and I came here on other business, and her mind needs to be clear for that task."
My left eye began to tick. "What?"
"She told me you killed a vampire, a high level one in Chicago. You need Santiago's protection now. How does that concern her?"
The bastard managed to tug on my guilt, and I turned around. "Just go search the bedroom, and be careful." I turned back, but he was gone.
My best friend and recent semi-lover were in another room killing a woman. An outsider was helping us along. Just how much blood would be spilled?
I touched my neck and frowned. Just how much more was a better question.
We dumped her body in the Willamette river. She was drained of blood, healed of marks except the last puncture, and chopped to pieces. The current would carry her out to the Pacific, and the fish would eat her soon enough.
I should have felt something, anything, other than relief. Gone was the threat, or nearly. We had one more stop to make, and then all the proof that would exist was in the heads of a handful of nutjobs.
Donna was asleep, looking as innocent as a baby on Mark's shoulder in his car. She might be having nightmares for some time, but there was no sign. Mark was looking at her softly with wariness, concern, and an odd respect.
Santiago and I had disposed of the body, and met Mark in the parking lot of the Safeway down the street from the Mission's headquarters.
"It's done," I told him. "You watch the driveway while Santiago and I head in."
He nodded and started the car up to reposition it for viewing. Santiago and I checked the quiet street and made our way into the Mission's lot. The name was emblazoned, some Christian BS slogan below, a Bible verse writing on a sign with a painting of the Bible.
"Holy objects don't hurt you?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Vampires have existed for longer than the thoughts of Gods. Religion is a foolish belief of humans, used for conformity and power."
I agreed and smiled at him.
I used my kit to open the back door after checking for alarms. They had none; no security cameras either. No wonder, if they brought vampires here for torture and death. Evil worked both ways, it seemed.
"What are we looking for?"
"Names and addresses. Franklin, Meyers, La Fair, three men who brought you here to Richard Linklater. After that, any notes on how they took your memory. Lastly, we need to destroy every record they have on vampires. The world must not know you exist."
Santiago nodded. "What first?"
"You take computers, I take paperwork. Wait until I find an admin's info written down."
He smiled at me, eyes sparkling in the glow of the red EXIT sign. "You are a surprising woman."
I smiled back, still wary. Santiago was sexy, non threatening in an odd way. Durand was remote, quiet, scary because I had no idea what he wanted. I should give myself over to Santiago where I knew I'd find healing, a road back to the peace I'd known before my ordeal. But with every cell I ached for Durand, and I knew Santiago knew it.
"Keep an eye on the door while I dig."
Techs had the same failing most smart people did. Like the scientists at Chernobyl, the failure of genius. Genius knew calculated risk, and knowing the probability of something was so remote, they often never guarded against it.
In the desk of J. Ramirez I found a business card for an office supply store, and scribbled on the back was the administrator password. I loved geniuses.
"Here's how you log into every computer. Search files, folders, emails, disks, flash drives, whatever you see."
I picked one off a desk, remembering just how total his amnesia was. "It plugs into here," I showed him, and the computer whirred to life. We logged in and I showed him how to browse. When I left him to it his fingers were flying faster than my very human eye could track.
I turned to the file cabinets.
The main files were typical. Mail, donations, legal papers, nothing incriminating. Still I piled them into the corners of the room and center as I went. Kindling. When we left, the mission would have nothing.
"Rip out the hard drives when you're done," I called. Once again I had to show him what I meant.
I made my way slowly to the back of the room and by the time I reached a bank of locked drawers, Santiago was done, the hard drives in the paper piles. And we were faced with a board that made me whistle.
Like I'd seen on Law & Order SVU it was a board with pictures taped, lines connecting them. At the top was Santiago, a picture of him naked and smiling seductively, obviously taken by Sara. The rest were candid shots of vampires on the streets, coming and going from clubs, in cars, through windows.
"They know everything about us. The files were digital copies of what Sara had," Santiago said. "They know almost every detail of my vampires. Some of this histories are quite old, and those who were Binders are noted."
"These pictures at the bottom are X'ed out. They must be the ones taken, tortured, questioned, and..."
"Killed," Santiago whispered, stroking a few with his fingertips. "These madmen have to be stopped. We are not many in number, this I know, our members are carefully selected. We cannot lose them to fanatics who don't understand."
I thought, wondering if any of these dead ones had been like Nikola, but even I knew that was unfair. Nikola was a sexual sadist, which was a rare quality in any human. These people had probably been Turned against their will, forced into this life. If they followed Santiago, there was goodness and light to them.
"We'll catch them, Santiago."
He pursed his lips. "And the files?"
"Financial records for Linklater. I've pocketed a few. Looks like the good Psychic has been skimming donations from this non-profit. At the very least, it's enough to put him in jail. He might be gone."
He turned to me then, we stood eye to eye. "Alex, I've looked through these computers. No one who works here is anything than a pathetic poser. If anyone else was psychic, there's no note. Sara's computer and desk had the only clues, and Linklater's is spotless. Alex, if psychics can do...this," he motioned at his head, "then Linklater is the only one who could do it."
"We'll figure it out. Let's delve into these files."
It was three a.m. and we were only halfway done. The plans inside were easy to follow. Linklater and Alvarez were the top two, and had hatched it on their own. With Santiago's memory gone, they hoped he'd wander into the sun, or go to the press and out vampires. They wanted to draw thousands in the northwest out of hiding.
"There are not thousands. I've seen my own records. In Oregon we have two hundred and nine members of the Nation, and five outcasts who have permission to live here without voting on policy. They have all the names in the files but the outcasts."
"Who else besides you knows of them?"
"No one. If a vampire under me finds one, they bring them in to me. I deal with their release alone. I read it in the handbook."
My eyes widened. "They have a fucking handbook?"
He nodded, blushing thanks to my blood. My phone began to buzz and I reached for it on my belt when the back door burst open.
"Alex!" Donna screamed as the phone fell.
"Freeze!" Two voices said.
"Alex, they're not real cops and they're going to kill you!" Donna screamed.
Santiago grabbed me and we disappeared.
I blinked and then we were in an office. Santiago held his finger to his lips and I nodded. I stepped back and drew my gun. It was a Kimber 1911 Compact that shot .45s . Smaller than the two guns I'd seen on the fake uniforms, but it would drop them if my aim held steady.
Alex, a voice said in my mind and I stiffened. Santiago looked meaningfully at me. Alex, he continued, kill the one walking past us in three seconds. The other will come, and I will grab him. Do as I say.
I heard his words but couldn't understand the plan but I nodded. I'd killed before, one vampire, one human in self defense. Still, that had taken me off the police force and led me into my career.
This was self defense, I told myself, pre-emptive, but I was nervous. I leveled the gun at neck height, a shadow drew closer, and then he was there.
I shot through the glass and he dropped like a stone, shards splattering everywhere.
Santiago tackled me around the waist and threw me down, covering my body with his. He grunted as the glass hit him while I tried to find my breath. Before either of us steadied, the other man was there and Santiago leapt.
They rolled out of sight, fighting and snarling, the man's gun skittering. I grabbed it and the other from the dead man, bleeding out, just as the back door slammed open once again.
"Alex? What happened? Who's shot?" Donna yelled.
"We got one of them," I called back and waved my arms in the air so they'd see me.
"And I have the other one," Santiago rose by my elbow eerily like a movie vampire, holding the trembling but alive man tightly, hand over mouth.
The others came running and stopped short. "So what now?" Donna asked.
"We call Linklater," Santiago said, and the man smiling through his eyes was a stranger.
The dead man was in the center pile, Mark and Donna had left to get gasoline, and our hostage was taped tightly to a chair, naked, free of weapons. We shoved him in the store room and locked it.
"Alex, I saw something on Sara's computer."
Weary, dead-dog tired, I turned to him and smoothed my hair back. "What?"
He sat on a couch in the waiting room and I sat next to him, waiting. "Linklater did wipe my memory. And there were notes, notes about side effects."
He turned to face me. "I am not this nice. I was not a brutal ruler, but I am not this nice. This personality is a side effect. Alex, I thought I might be able to heal you, show you how delicate my kind can be. But when my memory is restored, I can't help you. I can put you under my protection, but beyond that I will be no help."
"Write it down," I said quickly.
"Write down your promise of protection. It's all that stands between me and death. Please. The rest we'll deal with as it comes."
He looked around and found a pad of paper, standing to find a pen. "The devil is in the details, Alex. My life these past few days has been like swimming a dusty river. It is bound only to get worse."
I watched him write and checked my watch. After they got gas Mark and Donna were going to secure the perimeter, search the car the men had come in. We had forty minutes.
I waited until he'd finished the long note to himself before I took a deep breath. "Make love to me, Santiago. Not sex, no need to pretend you love me. I don't love you. I need to feel something besides fear when I'm touched. You're the closest I've come."
He stuffed the paper in his jacket and then peeled it off. "All right."
I started to pull my shirt over my head but he held up a hand. "Let me."
He'd gotten naked first. Santiago had a small frame, narrow and long, but his muscles were sleekly defined. His skin was pale caramel, his eyes dark chocolate, and he let his hair loose when he heard the wish in my mind. It was auburn, like burnished copper, and in the glow of the EXIT sign, shone brightly.
It was long, much longer than mine, and again I thought his prettiness warred with handsomeness.
He undressed me on his knees, kissing every part bared. I knew this was a fantasy, it wasn't real, but I felt cherished. Exactly what I needed to feel. Not objectified, not just a bag of blood, but I felt like a person he truly desired.
I was naked now, and kneeling his eyes were below mine. He cradled my cheeks and lowered my gaze to his. "I want you, Alex. I truly want you. No blood exchange, I promise."
Then he kissed me.
His lips were plush, soft, and firm on mine. His hands trailed down to cup my breasts and I sighed into him. He teased my nipples with his thumbs, swirling around them slowly until I whimpered, and then he drew the rough pads of his thumbs across the tips.