Home > The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(13)

The Thief (Black Dagger Brotherhood #16)(13)
Author: J.R. Ward

“So.” Butch jacked up his leathers even though they were already cupping his sac like a jockstrap. “How’s you.”

“Let’s go patrol.”

“Where you been?”

“Out.” Why in the fuck couldn’t he have lived in a cave all these years. By himself. “I’m done with this conversation, true.”

As V started stalking down the center of the street, he looked up at the windows of the grubby walk-ups on both sides. Every single one of them had the drapes drawn, and most were darkened. Those at ground level had iron bars locked on, and none, absolutely none, of them would be opened in the event of a scream, or a gunshot, or a holler.

In this neighborhood, nobody asked questions, made eye contact, or got involved in business that wasn’t their own.

Which made him think about the only thing the Lessening Society had in its favor. Those soulless bastards who were remote-controlled by the Omega didn’t want human involvement in the war any more than the vampires did. So the field of engagement, by mutual, if unacknowledged, agreement, was always here in the land of—

“You usually text if you’re gonna be out,” Butch said from behind him. “And we were supposed to play pool last night.”

When V didn’t respond, the cop whistled under his breath. “So Manny’s right.”

Vishous stopped and swung around. “About what.”

The cop shrugged, those hazel eyes annoyingly steady. “You and Jane okay?”

“Perfect. Why.”

“You know, you have an interesting way of posing a question without actually using a question mark.”

“That’s because I’m trying not to encourage a response.”

“So you guys did have a fight.”

Vishous crossed his arms over his chest. Because it was either he locked that shit down or he was liable to throw a punch—and the cop technically hadn’t done anything wrong.

“What did Manny say?”

“That Doc Jane has been in a release-the-Kraken mood since the night before last. And she’s sleeping in a patient room.”

“She’s fine. I’m fine. We’re fine.”

“Isn’t that a nursery rhyme? Or is it from an ad for an antidepressant? I get the two confused.” When V just stared at the guy, Butch shrugged. “All I’m saying is, if you need—”

The flash of movement was an in-and-out the corner of the eye thing, an almost-missed, was-it-real-or-Memorex stutter in the pattern of shadows at the opening of an alley. But Butch saw it, too, the cop shutting up and turning in that direction.

They both put their hands into their open leather jackets, where their arsenals were, and took cover behind the shell of a car that had no windows, no doors, no trunk and no hood.

It was like holding a coat hanger up to play hide-and-seek. But beggars. Choosers. And all that bullshit.

Except…there was no scent of a lesser in the air. Nothing human, either. Then again, the wind was coming from behind them so no help on that one. And yet…no, there really was a presence in that alley’s black hole of no-see.

Off in the distance, a stream of obscenities was answered by a volley of yelling, but the highly intellectual and rational exchange was a good block away and who gave a crap if humans wanted to fuck each other up. It was one of their few core competencies.

“I saw something,” Butch muttered. “I swear.”

Vishous looked the street up and down, and then refocused on that dark area. “I’m going in there.”

“I’m calling for backup—”

“Don’t bother.”

Walking out from behind the wreck, he did nothing to shield himself. If whoever was in there wanted a piece of something? Then he’d be more than happy to give them a fucking slice.

The cursing that followed him was in a Boston accent—and all those “friggin”s and “idiot”s were spoken too close for V’s comfort. Glancing behind himself, he shook his head at the cop and pointed for the guy to get back—

A knife came slashing at V’s face, and he ducked and spun to avoid the blade. With a quick jerk, he grabbed the weapon and got control of it, pitching the thing out of range. And that was when he saw…a shadow.

But not one thrown by a figure. One that was freestanding, free moving…and aggressive as fuck—

The strike on his upper arm was like a punch from a fist full of bee stingers, at once focused and diffused, ringing throughout his body in the shiver-pain of a thousand poisoned needle sticks.

Instantly compromised, V tripped over his feet as he fell away from an attacker he could not comprehend—but before he hit the ground, Butch caught him and dragged him back.

V’s only thought was to get back on his feet. Fight whatever the fuck it was. Take control of the situation.

No go, maestro.

His body was epileptic-uncoordinated, his joints failing to work right, his limbs floppy except for where they were randomly rigid. And his brain was no better, his thoughts scattered and full of hiccups.

As his hearing came and went, he was aware of a gun sticking out in front of him. It was the cop’s weapon; Butch had somehow managed to get him back to the car-sieve while outing his forty at the darkness—

That gun started going off, the autoloader doing its thing with a flash of light at the tip of the muzzle every time a bullet discharged. Pop! Squeeeeeeeee.

Pop! Pop! Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

V frowned in the midst of his delirium. What was that sound? What the hell—

As the stinging sensations began to fade, Vishous became able to properly focus, and what he saw, he couldn’t explain.

It definitely appeared as if a shadow, as generic as any that fell at his feet, had declared itself free of a source object and was floating forward with another dagger. Extensions of the whole would snap out at Butch, sometimes with the weapon, sometimes without it, the stabs and punches brutal and accurate. But at least the bullets drove the entity back.

And with each slug that hit, the shadow made that high-pitched squeal, as if a child’s balloon were being pinched at its aperture with air coming out of the mostly closed neck.

Vishous ordered his hands to find the pair of guns in his hip holsters, and although it was like trying to command someone in a language they didn’t speak, eventually, his appendages complied. And just in time. As Butch’s clip ran out, the shadowy form rushed at them, and V lifted his weapons into shooting position. Discharging both weapons at nearly point-blank range, he emptied everything he had into the fucking thing.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bangbangbangbangbang—

SqueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEE—

No more kid’s balloon. Now that sound was like tires skidding on asphalt, the treble ringing at such a high pitch that V stopped hearing the noise and was conscious only of a stinging pair of headaches at the sites of his eardrums. And then a sonic boom! was released—

Everything went quiet except for his and Butch’s ragged breaths.

“What the fuck was that?” the cop said.

* * *

Deep in the alleyway from which he’d ordered his shadow soldier to attack, Throe, forsaken son of Throe, fell back against something, he knew not what. The piercing pain at the center of his chest was what he imagined a heart attack felt like, pressure compounding at his sternum such that he had to look down at himself. But no, there was no wounding, no source of blood on his fine camel-hair coat.

He thought perhaps one of the bullets from the Brothers’ guns had impacted him? With trembling hands, he tore wide the lapels and then had to fumble with his suit jacket and tie, getting them out of the way. Naught marred his fine button-down shirt, however, the silk as pristine as it had been when he had dressed at sunset.

Forcing his lungs to expand with cold air, he wondered what had injured him and lamented the poor showing in the fight. He had come to this unexalted part of town with one of his growing army of fighters, his obedient shadow by his side, tethered to him without leash or lead, bobbing along in servitude. He had been in search of what he had eventually found: members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood or the Band of Bastards.

Indeed, as the former’s interests had always conflicted with his own, given his quest for the throne, and the latter were now his enemy even though he had been with them for centuries; there were many enemies to choose from.

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