*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*
The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.
Relief swept over me when Karen finally barged through the heavy oak doors. It had only been a few minutes since I’d seen her, but too much could’ve happened in that time. It was like she’d covered herself in chicken blood then swam through a lake of crocodiles. I guess, deep down, I didn’t expect her to make it out.
She hurried passed me without a glance, rushing down the steep flight of stairs to the sidewalk.
“Hey,” I called after her. “Karen, wait up.”
Karen lifted her hand to hail a cab as though I hadn’t spoken.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, really?” I jogged to her side. “Are we really going to do this?”
Karen fished her cell phone out of her purse. “Toby, no offense, but I don’t have the time to deal with you right now.” She dialed Trevor’s number then brought the device to her ear, mouthing, “Pick up, pick up, pick up.”
I watched, my hands in the pockets of my hoodie, as the phone rang five times. There was a click, then the generic-voicemail woman began to speak. Karen hung up, muttering curses under her breath.
“Damn it.” She waved her hand as yet another yellow cab approached. “Taxi!” The car didn’t slow. “Seriously? You’re an asshole!”
“Karen, you’re panicking.”
“Oh, you think?” she said, her tone as sharp as a samurai sword. “Why isn’t Trevor answering his phone?”
“He’s not answering because it’s one o’clock on a Wednesday. He’s at school.”
Karen made a face. “Yeah, condescend to me, Toby, because that’s super helpful.”
I hadn’t been talking down to her, but whatever. “Okay, let’s say you do get ahold of him. What are you going to say? That you’re the real Karen? How do you think that conversation is going to play out, because it’s a safe bet that he’s with her right now. Actually, you know what? I’m kind of curious to see how this goes. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Karen shoved the phone back into her purse, the line of her body tense. “Will you please just go away? No one is going to stop for me with you standing there. You’ve got the guy equivalent of resting bitch face.”
I knew this. I looked mad even when I wasn’t. “It’s my face, Karen. What do you want me to do about it? You know, I could carry you there in less than ten minutes.”
Karen gave me a cynical look, as though to say, Nice try. It was a genuine offer, but, again, whatever.
“Fine. Why are you calling Trevor, anyway? Bad Karen works for you. I assume that means you have a method of getting a hold her. Call her, since your problem is with her, for whatever reason.”
Karen reeled. “For ‘whatever’ reason?”
I shrugged then said, “Okay, she violated her contract. I get that. Fire her. Do you really need to trap her in a statue?
“Yes,” Karen said without a beat of hesitation.
“To be fair, what did you expect?” Karen’s jaw tightened, her cheeks flushed in anger, and her hands balled into fists. I reminded myself that this girl had the power to face-plant me into the concrete. Still, I never know when to shut up. “And it’s not like you have the right to be jealous anymore.”
Karen took a step back. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re all pissed off like Trevor’s been cheating on you, when twenty minutes ago you were making out with a pimp.”
Karen rolled her eyes. “Knock it off, Toby,” she said as though I exhausted her.
“Knock what off? I literally just saw you kissing him. Do you have any idea where his mouth has been?” I did, and I couldn’t help but gag at the thought.
“I did not ‘just make out with him.’ Lord Ahriman kissed me, and it’s not like that’s a normal thing. That was actually…really, really weird.”
I could tell by the troubled shadow in her eyes that Karen was telling the truth. “Okay then,” I said as I pulled back my hood. I let my face relax, uncrossed my arms, then let out a piercing whistle. The approaching taxi pulled up to the curb. When Karen just stood there, staring at me in disbelief, I opened the door for her.
She got into the cab with obvious displeasure. To the driver, she said, “St. Josephine’s Catholic School on the corner of Old Magnolia and Third Street, please.” She scooted over as I got in, but said, “You really don’t need to come with me.”
“Too late,” I said as I put on my seat belt. “Already in the car. Let’s roll. We’ll go take care of your thing, then we’ll handle mine.”
Karen tried to glare me down, but it did no good. She was adorable when she was angry. “I didn’t agree to that.”
“You’re killing me.”
“But I’m fun.”
The driver pulled into traffic, then we rode in silence for a bit. My mind raced as I tried to narrow down where to begin our hunt for Justine. There was her feeding den, not to mention the rest of the tunnels that ran under the vampire cemetery. I didn’t feel safe taking Karen down there, though; too many places for Justine to lay in wait.
I could wait for Justine to come to us, but there was no way of knowing when or where that would happen. She was probably holed up somewhere nursing her chest wound. Justine wasn’t some mindless ghoul that would keep coming on two broken legs. She’d take the time to get her strength back before she came at me again.
Which meant, she would have to feed, and soon. She’d choose a victim that wouldn’t draw too much attention, like a homeless person or cheap hooker. Someone that wouldn’t be missed.
Too bad that didn’t narrow down a potential feeding ground in this city.
Karen sniffled, and my mind went blank. She did it again a few seconds later, and it was like someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over my head. “Are you crying?” I said. It came out a little harsher that I’d meant it to.
Karen wouldn’t look at me. “No,” she said, her voice small and watery.
“Stop crying!” When it comes from me, being horrified sounds a lot like being pissed off.
“Oh, okay, because that’s how it works,” Karen said as she pulled a wad of tissues from her purse.
I dug deep, to the part of me that can be a halfway-decent person now and then. “Fine. I’m sorry I yelled at you.” I couldn’t sound more insincere if I tried.
Karen laughed through her tears. “I’m not crying because you yelled at me, you jerk. You yell all the time. It’s the only way you know how to talk. I’m crying because you’re right. I did this to Trevor. I brought that thing into his life.”
Good god, I’m a dick. “Karen, I never said that.”
“You didn’t have to. It’s true.” Karen’s mouth quivered. “Trevor is such a great guy. He’s sweet, and loyal, and kind, and patient, and funny.” Basically, everything I wasn’t. “He’s always treated me with nothing but love and respect, and I’ve only ever lied to him.”
She’d lost me. “What do you mean?”
“About who I really am, and how I was born. I’m a danger to everyone I care about, just for being close to them. I never wanted to keep this secret from him. He could handle it. Trevor would stay with me forever, but I wanted something better for him.”
Better than Karen? Yeah, good luck with that, Trevor.
“I want him to go to school. I want him to meet the love of his life. I want him to have a career, and a house in the suburbs, and that big family he’s always wanted. I knew that I wouldn’t be strong enough to break his heart, so she was supposed to break up with him for me. He’d have been miserable for a while, but he’d be ready to move on by the time he left for college.” Karen bared her teeth as her eyes overflowed again. “And that bitch ruined everything. She fucking raped my boyfriend and I am going to murder her ass.”
I caught the driver’s eye when he glanced into the rearview mirror. “Okay, settle down, Killer.”
Karen shook her head. “Over the last few months, I’ve missed him so much. I’ve been so lonely, and I’ve needed to be close to him so bad. I’ve almost called him a thousand times. I didn’t, because I told myself it didn’t matter how much I suffered, as long as he was free. But he wasn’t freed, so now I have to be the one to hurt him. He should’ve had three months of healing behind him, but after I break his heart, we’ll be starting at square one. How am I going to do this?”
“Easy.” My voice was like ice. “Just pretend he’s me.”
Karen blinked, her train of thought derailed. “Excuse me?”
My tone didn’t change. “You don’t give yourself enough credit, Karen. You’re good at dumping people. You’ve been trying to get rid of me ever since I got out of prison.”
Karen’s confusion drained away, revealing something much, much darker.
“I do know the real you. I know what you’re capable of. I know what you are. But that didn’t stop you from telling me to get lost. So, when you come face to face with Trevor, just act like he’s me. That’ll make dumping him easy.”
Karen leaned close, and the look on her face made my balls crawl up inside my body. “Are you kidding? You dumped me months ago.”
I shook my head. “That ridicu—”
“It’s not ridiculous!” Karen’s sudden volume made the driver swerve a little. “Did you forget what happened in the hospital? Do you remember the way Justine used me?” The blood drained from Karen’s face at the memory. “I saw everything she saw. I felt everything she felt, like it was happening to me. It was a violation, but the worst part was having her speak through me when she said the only way she could find peace would be if you died too. And you fucking agreed!” She punched me in the arm. It hurt more than I would’ve given her little hand credit for. “You were going to let her kill you, right there in front of me. I saved your life, but then you turned yourself in. You want them to put you away until I’m old enough to collect social security, but I dumped you? Fuck you, Toby.” Hitting me must’ve felt pretty good, because she did it again. Then again, and again.
I gave her words the thought they deserved, then said, “Are you stupid?” Karen made a disgusted sound as she turned away. “Do you think I want to die?”
She met my gaze in challenge. “Don’t you?”
“No, I don’t. Well, not anymore, and I definitely don’t want to go back to prison. But it’s not about what I want. It’s about justice. It’s about paying for what I did to her. Justine needs for me to be punished.”
“Justine wants revenge, and for something that’s not your fault. Who gives a shit what Justine wants?”
“I do, because there’s no other way to make things right.”
“You won’t be making things right, Toby, because you aren’t the one that needs to be punished. If someone shoots a person, you don’t arrest the gun. If anyone needs to die or go to jail, it’s Nicholai Santos. And if you really want to make things right, go do something good. Use the powers you were born with to help people. That’s how you honor Justine.”
There was no denying the wisdom of Karen’s words, but I already had a solid course of action. I didn’t need options clouding the issue. “So you’re saying the fact that I actually killed Justine doesn’t count, because Santos used me like a tool?”
“Yes, Toby. I’m saying you’re a giant, hairy tool.”
Well, damn. I’d walked right into that one. I fought a smile as I looked her over, then said, “On a scale of one to ten, how mad are you?”
Karen raised an eyebrow. “On a scale of one to ten? Fifty.” Her voice told the truth; she was sitting at about a four.
“Okay. I can work with that. So, we track down your soon to be ex-boyfriend, you do your thing, then we’ll be on our way. How long do you think you’ll need? Fifteen? Twenty minutes?”
Karen wasn’t amused. “Don’t be cute, Toby.”
“I can’t help it.”
“I already told you, I can’t do anything about Justine. I’d like to, but Lord Ahriman is convinced my powers won’t even work against her.”
I groaned. “Sweet, juicy Jesus, will you stop quoting that fucking demon?” My pinky finger dropped between us. It rolled toward Karen, who made a high-pitched sound as she arched her back off the seat.
“Oh, my god, Toby! What the hell?”
“Oh. That. The short answer is, I’ve been cursed.” I could tell by the look on Karen’s face that she needed the long answer. “Fine. Every time I say…that word, I lose a body part. It hasn’t been an easy habit to break.”
“What word?” The answer clicked then she whispered, “The D Word? Then don’t say that word, Toby. You shouldn’t say that word, anyway.” Karen made a face as I picked up the finger. “That is so gross.”
“I’ll be fine. My hair and claws are already growing back.”
“So, that’s why you shaved your head? I thought it was a prison thing. Toby, how many body parts do you need to lose before you get it? Does your cock really need to rot off?”
“Holy shit, are you kidding me?”
“No, I’m not kidding. And you would deserve it, too, for being a bigot.”
“That’s not it. Since when do you talk like that?”
Karen could only stare at me. “Do you really have the brazen audacity to lecture me about my language?”
“That’s different. We all know I have no class. You were raised better than me.”
She sat up straighter. “Maybe I wasn’t.”
“Again, you’re talking, but all I hear is that fuck Khalid. You’re changing, and not for the better. I saw it all the time when I was in prison. No matter how good or clean a person was when they went in, that place kind of seeped into them. When you’re bombarded by that kind of evil every day, you find yourself being okay with really fucked up shit.”
Karen shook her head. “We can’t compare our situations, Toby. There is no comparison.”
“Oh, really? A couple of weeks after they transferred me to the Winter unit, the dude in the cell next to mine was raped by his cell mate.”
Karen blinked. “Well, that’s a lovely story.”
“Oh, it gets better. I think he ate some of the other dude’s cereal, or something. Anyway, his cellie told him, ‘if you gonna act like a bitch, I’m gonna treat you like a bitch.’ The guy, the victim, screamed for like twenty minutes before the guards came to check on him. The whole time, everyone else on the block was cheering. When the guards finally got there and saw what was happening, they started to laugh. They asked him how he liked it, if it made him a faggot now.”
My words were having the desired effect. Karen shook her head as she said, “Well, that’s terrible, but those guards—”
“They weren’t bad people, Karen. They weren’t sadists or bullies. They were just normal guys. They had wives, children, and they went home at the end of the day. The problem was that the guards and inmates didn’t see each other as people; just enemies. Rumor on the block was that the victim hung himself in PHD.”
Karen closed her eyes. “Okay, I get it. Prison sucks, and what happened to that guy is awful. But it’s not like there’s anything you could’ve done about it, Toby.”
I didn’t want to correct her. “That’s just it. There was a lot I could’ve done. I could’ve made all the difference in the world. Those cell doors weren’t designed to hold people like me. I didn’t help because I didn’t care.”
Karen’s eyes swept over me, troubled. “Shepherd?”
I laughed once in the back of my throat. “I wish. That was all on me. Prison will turn a Sunday school teacher into a contract killer, and I wasn’t exactly a nice guy to begin with.”
Karen leaned back in her seat, putting as much distance between us as she could. “There’s a huge difference here, Toby. I’m not in prison.”
“You’re just as imprisoned as I was. You’ve got nice clothes, but someone tells you what to wear. You have a beautiful room, but you need permission to leave it. You have a good job, but it was assigned to you. You have no freedom, and when it comes to evil energy, that ‘cathedral’ is a hundred times worse than the Winter Unit.”
Before Karen could respond, there was a sharp knock on the door. I realized at last that the cab hadn’t moved in a minute, because we’d somehow teleported inside of a cloud. I’d been so focused on our conversation that I hadn’t noticed the pea-soup fog rolling in off the ocean. Mixed with the evaporating rain, visibility had dropped to zero. Traffic was in complete gridlock.
Then, I noticed that the dark figure standing outside held an automatic rifle. The man bent over to look into the cab, his face pinched with stress. Middle-aged and stocky, he wore thick, black body armor and a helmet. SWAT was emblazoned across his chest in bright letters. “Where are you headed?” he said.
“St. Josephine’s?” I could hear the frown in Karen’s voice. “We’re just now coming back from lunch.” I was impressed. Karen had become a smooth liar in the months I’d been gone.
“Then you lucked out. School is cancelled for the rest of the day. You and your boyfriend need to turn around and go back the way you came.” His tone of voice made it clear that this wasn’t optional.
“What’s happening?” I said.
“This entire block is locked down. Vampires attacked the school.”
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