The cloying green pepper smell of vegetation hit the moment Philip and I stepped out of the airport terminal in Miami. The air steamed from an earlier shower, causing my clothes to immediately stick to my body.
We picked up our white rental car from a lot with hundreds of the same. I didn’t want to attract undue attention with our mode of transportation. Of course, Philip wore a see through yellow shirt with snug coordinating pants, attracting all kinds of attention as he looked on the standard sub-compact with perfect horror. “I have my reputation to consider. I can hardly drive up in this.”
I grimaced and took the keys from him. “Don’t fret, I’ll drive. Your image as international vampire of mystery is preserved.”
Philip called the number on the card Marcellus had given him and scribbled down a South Beach address.
We found Allejandro lounging on a balcony of a turquoise and pink art deco house overlooking the water. Twenty of his toughest rats were strategically stationed around the building. The pack leader took Philip into an embrace.
The teen-formed pack leader’s features combined in a mélange of ethnicity. A loose white shirt and trousers set off his golden skin. Amber eyes shone like topazes in the moonlight. His English was flavored with a Cubano accent, “And this is Mia? Kurt has always spoken so warmly of you.” He put his arm around my shoulder. “Come, we’ll talk inside.”
He showed us in, gesturing for us to sit in a living room, done all in pristine white from the stucco ceiling to the tile floor. These rats knew how to live and apparently had the means to do so. Philip had told me these rats sold drugs to survive. I figured they must have sold a lot.
Allejandro leaned back into his chair, steepling his fingers, as if he intended to make a thoughtful prayer. “Loki is being held not ten miles from here.”
“Loki?” I interjected.
Allejandro smiled. “The nickname we rats have bestowed on your Kurt since he brought down his master.”
I sat up in my chair to set him straight. “Actually, I--”
Philip put his hand on my arm to stop me. “Go on.”
Allejandro continued, “You know the myth?”
I nodded, recalling my well-worn copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology. This appellation was obviously a nod to our late elder, Brovik’s Norse origins. “He killed Balder the beautiful, Odin’s favorite son, and is supposed to bring on the Ragnorak, the twilight of the gods.”
Allejandro tossed his ponytail over his shoulder. I followed Philip’s eyes following him. “No slave has ever killed his master and brought down his entire house as well. We rats have been awaiting such a leader.” Allejandro rose and walked over to the balcony to gesture to the stars. “When Kali Maa descended from the heavens to bestow her divine kiss on the Immortyls, she didn’t make them slave and master. The old ones refused to give up mortal custom that enslaved others. The great mother became angry with her children and cursed them to live forever in darkness.”
I rolled my eyes and muttered to Philip, “Another curse, gee whiz that’s original.”
Philip elbowed me to be quiet.
“Kali warned if their slaves weren’t freed, she’d raise up a slave with the power to render them mortal. Only Kurt understands how the inner sanctum of power works and has a willing army at his beck and call. All he need do is ask.”
It finally dawned on me what freakish power Kurt’s growing legend engendered, and I was scared shitless. This was insanity. I wanted Kurt home composing at his piano, not leading armies of rats to certain doom. Kurt was no general. He was a brilliant musician and most tender of lovers. Okay, he was a genius. His logic walked an uncompromising mathematical line, making him one hell of a chess player. Sure, he had a head for business and could get things done. But the leader of what would most certainly be a long and bloody revolution? Well, even I had to admit Kurt was capable of great violence. I’d seen him in action.
Allejandro went on, “A few nights ago, my scouts reported a plane landing on the airstrip outside the Wolf’s compound. Dogs hustled Kurt into a car and off to the house. The Wolf is heavily fortified, electric fences, dogs two and four legged, guns. It would be suicide to try under normal circumstances, but tomorrow night Gaius and Diego will go into the city to meet with their smuggler and look over his delivery. They traffic girls from South America and Asia.”
“You know for certain?” Philip asked.
Allejandro nodded. “Believe me. We know every move Gaius makes. He usually ignores us as long as we play nice and stay out of his way. The only problem we’ve had is his habit of snatching up some of our smaller ones to play with. I’ve had to hide them out in the swamps. I asked you to meet here for that reason. This place belongs to a client.”
Well, that explained the opulence. Even if Allejandro’s pack was in the drug trade, I’d never heard of any rats living this high.
Allejandro went on, “Still, we should remain cautious. I have thirty-two rats, but at least half are small ones and girls. Gaius has eight dogs, plus Diego, his second. Typically, he brings six bodyguards along, leaving only two guarding the compound. The electric fences are an obstacle, but if we attack from the water it’s easier. I’ll arrange for the boat. We’re well-armed, so don’t worry about that.”
Philip clasped Allejandro’s hand. “We’re in your debt.”
“No, I’m paying mine to you. Diego is slime. I don’t know how poor Arturo has survived all these years.”
I knew that name. “Arturo?”
Allejandro nodded. “He’s still part of the household. My scouts have seen him abroad with Diego.”
I’d seen Arturo a few times in Italy on those unfortunate occasions Diego paid a call on Ethan. Diego had found the orphaned teenager on the streets of Naples after World War II, scrambling to survive, and liked to bully the doe-eyed beauty for kicks. I’d never heard more than a few tentative whispers out of the boy. “Didn’t think that one would survive.”
Allejandro frowned. “With good reason, Diego specializes in the knife.”
I cringed. “Great, Kurt insulted him the night Gaius called for Brovik to bleed me.”
Allejandro placed his hand on my shoulder. “Kurt is no victim. He’ll survive whatever they dish out. We’ll bring him back to you alive.”
“I’m going with you.”
Allejandro raised his eyebrows. “Far too dangerous. How will I face Kurt if you are injured?”
Philip fixed a chagrined look on me. “Don’t be foolish, Mia.”
I dug my heels in. “I won’t be left behind. I’m a good shot and you know it.”
Philip tugged his beard and took Allejandro aside. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to keep a close eye on her. She has a habit of getting into mischief when left to her own devices.”
I threw Philip a scowl, annoyed that he was playing into Allejandro’s offended machismo.
Allejandro clasped Philip’s hand. “Of course, for her safety. We’re agreed then, brother.”
So he looked upon Philip as a brother now. Well, I wasn’t about to be viewed as a mere concubine to be shunted into the background. If Kurt was some kind of foretold leader, it was time for me to pull rank. I mustered all the vamp glamour and jargon Ethan had taught me and extended my hand to Allejandro, “A million thanks, esteemed brother. I’m eternally in your debt. Your friendship and loyalty won’t be forgotten when Kurt is back among us.”
A smile crept around the corners of Allejandro’s mouth as he bent to kiss my hand. I supposed he got the message. “It’s a privilege to come to your aid, gracious sister. Don’t worry about anything. I’ll take care of all the details. You may trust in me.”
I’d pulled off the grand illusion, but I didn’t quite know what to make of this new position I was in. In my fifty-year tenure as a vampire, I’d gone from concubine to cast-off and now consort of a suddenly mythical figure, and I wasn’t quite sure if I was up to the task. I pushed my doubts aside. I had to get Kurt back before I worried about any of that. Nothing mattered until he was safe. All this delay was killing me. The next twenty-four hours would seem like an eternity.
Philip and I left Allejandro and checked into a hotel to wait out the daylight. Neither of us slept much. Shortly after sundown, we met Allejandro at a marina off the Intra-coastal Waterway. Allejandro’s scouts confirmed Gaius had left his compound and was on the move. We boarded a boat owned by another of Allejandro’s business associates. Apparently, a lot of people owed him favors. Boats sickened me, but not because of the bobbing.
Allejandro piloted us from the smooth waters of the Intra-coastal and out into the choppier Atlantic. Before long, the distant lights of Gaius’ compound twinkled like lightning bugs from the beach. We anchored and waited for the signal from the rats onshore.
Allejandro’s phone jangled. “Que?” He spoke rapid-fire Spanish into the cell, and then turned to us, “Let’s go.”
Allejandro left the boat in the hands of one of his rats as we slipped down the side and into a waiting dinghy. The boys handed down rifles to us. Another boat filled with more of Allejandro’s followers already pulled toward the compound.
A wiry, Haitian boy rowed us toward land. We jumped out into the shallows and waded ashore. Philip, Allejandro and I scanned the area for Gaius’ dogs.
“Clear,” Philip whispered. “Mia and I will take the east side of the house. You and your boys take the west.”
I followed Philip over the dark beach toward a walled terrace. We took great care not to make a sound, but a creature with better than Immortyl hearing barked, running toward us across the sand with her Immortyl counterpart a few feet behind. I raised my weapon and brought them down in two shots.
We crept up on the bodies. The guard wore the usual sleek suit along with the bullet hole through his head. I kneeled next to his canine and laid my hand on the German shepherd’s still-warm fur. “Shit.” I hated to kill an animal. It wasn’t her fault.
A volley of gunshots erupted in front of the house. Men’s voices shouted back and forth. Eerie whistles pierced the darkness.
“What’s that?” I whispered.
Philip cocked his head to the side and looked toward the house. “It’s how the rats communicate.”
Philip grabbed my elbow. “Come on. Allejandro’s boys have them distracted out front.”
“There were only supposed to be two guards left.”
“Gaius no doubt called in reinforcements to protect his prize.”
We ran over the sand dunes to the house. The Spanish style mansion stood above a series of terraced gardens, very grand. Opulence was Gaius’ trademark.
We climbed the first set of steps, taking care not to make a sound, scanning the air and listening for the smallest movement in the night.
On the topmost level of the garden, I spied a hulking figure searching behind potted palms and statuary. I jerked Philip down to the coral rock pavers. Philip picked up one of the stones and tossed it to the figure’s left. The dog whirled and fired toward the sound.
I took aim at the big bastard’s head.
The dog swerved as I fired. My bullet just grazed his ear. The dog let loose a hail of fire in our direction. Philip and I ducked down behind a marble fountain decorated with cherubs and spitting dolphins. Bullets whined and ricocheted off the metal figures. Chips of stone flew in all directions. A burst of marble dust caught me in the eye. I rubbed at it. “Shit!”
Philip rose onto his knees and rested his rifle over the back of a bronze dolphin. He fired, hitting the dog square between the eyes. The dog’s big body tottered and then crashed to the terra cotta tiles.
More shouts went up in front of the house. The whistles grew sharper as the sounds spread out in a circle around us. Philip took my hand and pulled me to my feet. I blinked the remaining dust from my eye and followed him to the house, rifle leading.
A set of ornate leaded glass doors led into a massive conservatory. Branching metal columns held up the glass roof and supported galleries. Inside was a large swimming pool crafted of natural rock, complete with waterfalls, surrounded by lush tropical foliage, where no doubt Gaius directed the unfortunates he picked up in elaborate orgies. The elder was known for his excess, a hangover from his days as a crony of the Roman emperor Tiberius.
The shouting and whistles died down outside, making it oddly quiet, with only the rushing of water and the hum of air conditioning around us.
Moonlight streamed down, casting Philip’s face in a bluish glow. “Something’s happened. Either Allejandro’s boys have killed them all or…”
Double doors at the opposite end of the enclosure burst open. Three of the biggest Immortyls I’d ever seen rushed in. One of them shouted orders to the others.
Philip and I scooted behind nearby columns. Slinging the rifle over my back, I drew my pistol and peeked around. One of the dogs slid along a rocky outcropping of the pool, uncomfortably close. His dark crew cut head swiveled around in my direction. He’d obviously scented me. “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he chanted.
I raised my Glock and plugged him right in his idiotic, grinning face.
The leader called out, “Over there!”
The two remaining ran toward us, shooting. Philip and I let loose a rain of fire. A spray of blood erupted from one of the dog’s heads. He wobbled and fell dead into the pool with a splash. The last one ducked behind a column, firing toward Philip. A cry of pain escaped my kinsman.
I strained to see what had happened. Philip’s arm bled near the shoulder where the bullet had caught him. He cursed and winced as he held his hand over the wound.
I flattened to the ground, crawling under a stand of shrubbery toward the pool. Maybe I could get behind the dog. He looked around, as if he sensed something amiss, but kept his pistol aimed toward the direction where Philip was hidden.
The dog suddenly turned in my direction. Foliage above my head rustled. The dog poked his weapon in my back. “All right bitch, the game’s over. Get up!”
I slowly got up. The dog kept his weapon on me. Philip didn’t miss the opportunity. His pistol discharged and the dog gasped. A big glob of red bubbled over the front of the dog’s shirt. The dog tore frantically at his clothes as he collapsed to his knees. Philip finished him with a shot to the head.
I picked up the enemy’s fallen pistol and stuck it into my holster. Weapons are precious commodities when you have no legal identity with which to purchase them. All of our guns were obtained on the black market and came with a high price tag.
Suddenly high-pitched female screams shook the house.
I started. “What’s that?”
Philip gave me his hand. “Lisette. Come!”
We sprinted toward a room where sounds of a struggle ensued. A woman’s, or rather a girl’s shrill soprano begged in French for her life. We nearly tripped over the body of yet another dead guard.
A strange scene played out before our eyes.