We’d taken the Pontiac, though Jack Hill was driving to let me catch a few winks. His Subaru Outback would hold more cargo, but we could cram everything on our shopping list into the back seat plus the slip-mounted design-by-B.J. cargo carrier on the Grand Prix’s roof. I dozed, in and out, dimly registering the fact that it was still dark out, still an hour or so before dawn. This wasn’t the best kind of rest, but it was better than nothing.
Jack suddenly pulled over. My eyes snapped open; he wouldn’t be stopping without a reason. For a moment I hesitated, watching the dark highway ahead, but I wasn’t getting it. Brain’s not back in the world yet. “What’s up?” Having made this run from Ovando to Missoula hundreds if not thousands of times, I could tell we were just a bit south of Greenough, but no more than that.
“Something feels wrong.”
Hill spoke softly, but his voice sent chills running down my spine. I was wide awake now. Alarmed, but wide awake…and now that he mentioned it, my spidey sense was tingling, too. “The canyon?”
Well then. I rolled out, popped the trunk, and transferred a bit of ordnance forward. If a cop happened to see it all, the authorities would be calling out the National Guard to apprehend us on pure suspicion, but the night provided cover and the odds on a Highway Patrolman cruising Highway 200 at 3:30 a.m. were about a million to one against. If we were wrong and nothing ugly jumped out at us, we’d stuff the heavy weapons back into the trunk at Bonner.
In the meantime, both of us were on edge. The Keystone Kops attack on Doc Menning near Deer Lodge could well be a sign of worse things to come, an increased willingness by Heartbite to attack anywhere, at any time. They’d taken heavy losses every time they tried tackling us on our home turf; why wouldn’t they start trying to pick us off when we were away from home, traveling in smaller groups of two or three? It wasn’t like it would be that hard for billionaire Kraznick to have surveillance equipment secretly set up that could spot us passing selected points. After all, there were only so many ways out of the high country. Spotter cameras could well be installed almost anywhere away from our own property. We had enough equipment of our own, including drones in the air, to spot anybody trying to bug us, but along the highways? That was another matter altogether.
Part of my attention was consumed by the memory of the first highway ambush Jack and I had ever survived, the telephone pole across the road and the Sikorsky helicopter in the air. That had been a close one. I glanced over at the speedometer; Jack had our speed down to fifty miles per hour as he hunched over the wheel, starting intensely forward, willing himself to sense the setup in time to make a difference. I left him to it and started thinking. Where would I set the ambush, were it me doing the planning?
After I put my eidetic memory to work, it didn’t take long to answer that question. The bad guys would not want witnesses. Urban sprawl had left few spots on the highway below Greenough that were one hundred percent out of sight of any local residence. A few, yes, but we were already passing the last of those…except for one.
“Were it me,” I muttered just loud enough for Hill to hear, “it would be below Potomac, just past the right hand curve at Diamond Mountain, but before the left. On that little stretch of straightaway.”
He replied without hesitation. “We’re on the same page.”
As it turned out, we were also dead right. As we rounded the corner in question, there was a sudden flare of light, soon revealed as a pickup parked sideways across the road and shooting flames from pretty much everywhere. Unlike the telephone pole up near the Canadian border, this obstacle was not designed to wreck us but to stop us. That, and blind us a bit, distract us from the shooters flanking the burning vehicle. Two on the right, near the tree line. More spread out in the parking area on the left, the river side.
We were no more than two hundred yards from ground zero, no time to talk it over. Jack floored the Pontiac–which had been a Pontiac in name only for a long time now–and the Beast leaped forward with a snarl, four hundred turbocharged cubic inches of V-8 sleeper hurling three tons of sleek white armor toward the blacktop’s right shoulder.
What? The Beast? Hey, if the President’s limo can be called that, my anything-but-what-it-looks like 1989 Grand Prix can, too. Right? It’s not like the name is copyrighted or anything.
Charging instead of screeching to a halt threw the opposition forces off their game. Just for a second, but that’s all I needed. You think that’s a light show? My thumb found the button, activated the Dazzler, and the bushwhackers were blinded in truth. That’s a light show! Judging by the muzzle flashes, several of them opened up…but not on us. Might have shot each other a bit for all I could tell; it’s not easy aiming any weapon when you’ve been Dazzled. And then we slammed through, leaving the burning Ford F-150 spinning in the road behind us…well, spinning over to the parking area side and off the road, actually.
“Stop!” I didn’t mean to yell, but yeah, maybe I did raise my voice a little. Adrenaline can do that to a fellow. Jack slammed on the brakes, we screeched to a halt, and I rolled out, snagging the RPG launcher from the back seat as I did so. Eighty yards, perfect range. My first grenade hit the blazing Ford dead center, sending red hot pieces of sheet metal shrapnel flying in all directions. There were screams, I think, but I wasn’t listening. Jack was there, passing me the loaded spare. Mercy was not in me; we were at war with these people. My second grenade, deliberately aimed at what was left of the engine block, took them all out on the parking area side. Jack had already reloaded the first weapon. We traded, and my third grenade zeroed in on a granite boulder sitting conveniently beside the road on the uphill side. I was pretty sure the granite pieces multiplied the grenade’s effect even better than the engine block’s aluminum had done.
After that, there was no movement, the only sounds the crackling of flames, the burbling of water running downhill, the throaty purr of the idling Pontiac…and my own breathing. Jack got out his night vision binoculars and began studying the dead zone while I returned the weapons to the trunk and retrieved a can of white gloss enamel. The spray paint wouldn’t match the Pontiac’s gleaming exterior perfectly–it never did–but it would cover the scratches in the hand crafted titanium body well enough that no casual observer would notice.
Once we were rolling again, I asked Jack, “Seven?”
“Eight,” he replied. “Two on the high side, six on the river side.”
“As doornails, or will be. One of those on the river side was still twitching a little, but his right leg was blown clean off. He should be bled out by about now.”
There wasn’t anything more to say, so I shut up and started thinking. This ambush hadn’t been as poorly done as the Deer Lodge thing at Larry’s old clinic, but it didn’t smell right, either. What was really happening here? Was Kraznick losing it? Or…now there was an idea to give a fellow chills. Had he gotten smart and simply posted a bounty? It might be a tad risky, doing something like that, but definitely not out of the question.
We didn’t stop at Bonner after all, needing to get on I-90 before the first responders started showing up. It was a close thing; Jack barely had the Grand Prix’s speed up to sixty-five on the Interstate before we heard the first sirens and saw the first flashing lights. They wouldn’t even notice us, just another old white car with a luggage rack on top in the middle of tourist season, heading into Missoula. Helicopters worried us more, so I was plenty relieved when the first such passed overhead; some minutes had passed since we’d hit the Interstate, and we were already parked in the most inconspicuous spot the truck stop at East Missoula had to offer. Area truck stops seldom attracted much attention, one exception being the 35,000 pounds of rotting chickens abandoned in a semi trailer in September of 2014.
Not caring to raise any chicken stink, we waited until the chopper sounds had faded into the distance before getting out to refill the trunk with the empty RPG launchers, half a dozen unused grenades, and a matched pair of .30 caliber M1A1 carbines.
Then I took the wheel and we rolled out again. False dawn was coming by the time we made it to the truck stop nine miles west of Missoula, which fed well and would position us nicely to be coming in from the west, not the east, by the time the authorities figured out they needed to call in the FBI and BATFE on this one.
“At least,” I spoke cheerfully, “we didn’t leave any DNA handy for them to find.”
“No,” Jack agreed, “and what paint scraped off the car should be fried up pretty crispy.” Neither of us mentioned drones; the luggage rack would take care of fooling anyone who might have spotted our car in the canyon. Plus…I started chuckling.
“Something hit your funny bone?”
“Kinda sorta. Just got to thinking, any drone in the area would have to be operating with a scrambled computer right now. Their cameras aren’t likely to do well against the Dazzler.”
“Ah.” Jack didn’t seem that amused. He did climb out while I was gassing up the Grand Prix, though. A few quick lever turns later–after looking around to make sure no one was watching at this early hour–he stood back, admiring the luggage rack as it shifted, came apart in some ways, combined in others…and became a platform supporting four long water skis, two of them wide two-footed slalom types. I’d already hit the switch under the dash, rolling the license plates around.
I wouldn’t have wanted to try those skis on a real lake, but that wasn’t their purpose. With the gas tank full, I whipped a uey right there in the gas islands and pulled out from a different lane, pointing north instead of south. Nobody in the truck stop noticed; the few tired employees couldn’t care less and only one truck driver was up, nursing coffee in a corner booth, his back to us when we walked in. Unless a government drone was literally hovering over the fuel islands, there wouldn’t be any camera coverage to connect the dots.
By the time we’d eaten and climbed back into the car, the Potomac Explosion was all over the news. They were already pulling in law enforcement from a wide radius, too; even out here, nine miles west of Missoula, there were lights flashing as cop cars flew eastward, headed for the Wreck on the River. There wasn’t much real information in the broadcasts, though…and that’s when it hit me. Jack was driving again. I reached over and turned off the radio, the rage suddenly boiling in me, hot magma with no outlet.
“I wish there had been more of them,” I said quietly.
We were heading up Highway 93 toward Arlee, a simple enough run but curvy and starting to get busy in the oncoming lane with commuters heading down off the rez to jobs in Missoula. Jack kept his eyes on the road, but I could feel his attention on me. “The ambush.”
“Yeah. Jack, I’m losing it. I want to kill them all, right here, right now. Hundreds of them, thousands if they want to play. It’s getting worse. I don’t know how long I can contain it.”
The old Protector nodded. “And it’s no mystery when this started, is it?”
“No. None at all.” I was staring straight ahead at the two lane blacktop, too, but I wasn’t seeing it. “When they gutshot Judi.”
“Yeah.” I took a deep breath, my fists clenched, fighting for control. “Any man worth the title is going to go ballistic when he sees his woman hit like that. I get it. But getting it is not helping. And I can only think of one thing that will help. We’ve been playing defense for eight freaking years. Nobody wins that way; ask the American Indian. Excuse me, Native American. He defended against the incoming tide of white folks, and he lost. If he’d had the ability to attack and kill a President in the White House–or heck, the Kings in England, France, and Spain a bit earlier, it would have been a different story. But he couldn’t even comprehend such a thing.”
We were whipping up through the canyon at a pretty fair clip; Jack paid attention to his driving and didn’t answer for a while. I didn’t have much more to add, though, so I shut up and waited.
“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” he said finally. “We need to go after Kraznick himself. In Michigan.”
“But?” I was certain I knew what his answer would be. I was wrong.
“But nothing. We’ve waited too long as it is. Except for that one ricochet that grazed my arm three years ago, I’ve been way too lucky, but as a group we’ve taken some ugly casualties. Losing Jennifer and Horace being the worst of it, of course, but if Doc Menning wasn’t a pure dee miracle worker with a scalpel, you and Judi and Sissy and half a dozen others would be dead and gone by now, or permanently incapacitated at best. There is only one good thing I can think of when it comes to waiting this long.”
“There is one?” My tone was more than skeptical.
“At least one. Lord Heartbite has had it all his own way when it comes to being the aggressor. If we can keep him blinded just a little bit, he’ll never see us coming.”
We fell silent then, both of us thinking and figuring. Just like that, my rage was gone, or rather distilled into something I could handle, focus, direct toward the job at hand. Now there was adrenaline, a flight of butterflies in the belly, excitement at the prospect of carrying the fight to our enemy. We would have to plan carefully, of course, both to provide the appearance of normalcy during our absence and to make sure the people who stayed behind would be safe….
“Just the three of us. You, me, Sissy, the same three who took out Morse Code. Everybody else stays home, provides a smoke screen to make it look like we’re still there. If there is an attack while we’re gone–which I doubt, but it never pays to get too cocky–put Wayne in charge of getting everybody into Wolf Cave through the tunnels. Diamond Paws has a new batch of eggs hatching, so he won’t be around for a while, but the escape tunnels are finished; he saw to that before he left.” The alien digger remained a closely held secret, of course, known only to our Inner Circle…which did not quite yet include Doctor Menning. It wasn’t that we felt the sawbones couldn’t be trusted, but hey, he’d already had to deal with the knowledge that shape shifters were real. A guy could only absorb so much in one shot; we figured he needed a little time before being introduced to the basketball headed alien.
Jack brought up a point. “Kirk and Robertson won’t like being left out of the attacking force. After all, they’re the guys who poured a bunch of lead into Kraznick in the first place.”
“Tough noogies,” I replied. “They’re also the guys who pulled Heartbite’s attention our way in the first place. Unless that was Jennifer herself; it still puzzles me, what that lawyer had to say about Kraznick and Trace being adversaries of old. I’m more concerned about them having to find out about the tunnels and Wolf Cave; it’s not that I have any reason to doubt their loyalty at this point, or their ability to keep their mouths shut. Heck, they couldn’t be working assassins like they were and still be loose lipped. But….”
“Yeah.” Hill tapped the steering wheel thoughtfully. “I agree completely. But that would be a worst case scenario. How be we put B.J. in charge of defense? He’ll gladly die in open combat before going underground, so we know he’s not about to chicken out and lead everybody to the cave prematurely. On the other hand, he adores your girls, so he’s not going to take any chances with their safety. And I can’t think of anybody in our bunch who would have any problems with him being appointed temporary leader, so to speak. Or maybe the good sergeant; we’ll have to brainstorm that a bit.”
I was feeling much better by the time we pulled into Arlee. Jack piloted the Pontiac through town and off on a side road for a couple of miles, finally pulling up in front of a dilapidated mobile home that had definitely seen better days. A rusty old Buick stood out front, enjoying the dust. Satellite on the roof, looking a lot stronger than the roof itself.
We were definitely on the rez.
The door was open, letting air and bugs in with equal ease. It was only a few minutes past nine a.m., so the day wasn’t really all that hot yet, but this residence was all aluminum and no air conditioning. We were expected; Jack simply hollered, “Hello the house! Coming in!” Without waiting for a reply, he climbed the steps and disappeared through the open doorway. I followed, mostly because hesitating would have made me look like a wuss. The interior was nicer than expected, neat and clean…but the sole occupant was something else.
“Dreamer,” Jack said, making the introductions, “meet the Weaver.” I shook the man’s hand, but it was all I could do to avoid blinking in surprise. The Dreamer stood close to seven feet tall, his head threatening to collide with the overhead light fixture in the kitchen. Beyond that, he was…well, he was thin for his height, for one thing, with wide shoulders and strong lats that gave him a classic Transformer wedge shaped torso, but when he turned sideways to pour coffee for all of us, it became obvious there was no depth to his chest. Not quite cardboard cutout shallow, but not more than six inches deep, either. He had a bit of a belly, though nothing remarkable for a man of his age, which I judged to be somewhere between forty and forty-five. Waist? Thirty-four inches, maybe. Long arms, big hands and feet, the latter encased in ugly leather sandals, no socks.
His face was the worst. The left side was horribly scarred, white ridges and valleys and gouges covering everything from hairline to shirt line. That eye was gone, too, at least as far as being functional. Milky white…and yes, scarred along with the rest of that side. He could only see out of one eye, then, the right–but that one was a piercing blue that seemed to take in everything. He struck me as some sort of hybrid cross between a pro basketball player, a telephone pole, and the great god Odin.
Turned out he was psychic, too. “Battery acid,” he explained. “I was a kid in middle school in Tennessee. Hate that state. Mom was a crack whore. Never knew my Dad; I doubt Mom did, either. Thirteen years old, way taller than my classmates, gangly, the works. The class bully decided to prove himself by throwing acid on me. I turned my head, so it only got the one side. It hurt a lot. I guess I was screaming from the pain, but at the same time I hit the bully boy a bunch. Put him in the hospital, too, though they made sure we were in different rooms and all that. The worst of it was, the kid who threw the acid? His mother was the school Principal, one of his uncles was the local Chief of Police, and before I knew what was happening, they were accusing me of being the bad guy. Jack here,” he indicated Hill with a coffee mug salute, “saved my scrawny butt.”
I looked at Jack for an explanation. He shrugged. “Hey, I just happened to be dating that Principal at the time. Single mom, quite a looker, at least half nymphomaniac. Not one of my better judgment calls when it comes to females, I will admit. Dreamer’s mother was no help; she was too deep in the drugs to pay much attention to her son’s troubles. So I slipped into the hospital one evening after visiting hours, the night before the kid was supposed to be discharged. Explained the trap he was in, asked if he wanted out. He said yes, and the rest is history.”
“Hey,” I protested, “you can’t leave me hanging there.”
“What, the details? Technically, I kidnapped the kid. Never mind that he wanted to go; with him being underage, it would be considered a kidnapping in any court in the land. Smuggled him back here to Montana, made a few calls, placed him with a family I knew on the rez.”
“Good people, too,” Dreamer added. “Home schooled me till I was legal to go on my own, kept me away from the public school hassle. They’re dead now, but they got me started before they left.”
We kept on like that, making small talk, me and Dreamer getting to know each other a little bit, for another forty-five minutes. Then he told us why he’d contacted Jack, we thanked him, and ten minutes later we were rolling back down the highway. A few miles down the road, I finally let it out. “Jack, unless you’re going to veto the idea, I still want it to be just the three of us when we head out. I know he said his dream guaranteed disaster if there weren’t five of us in the group, but I feel strongly about this.”
Hill was riding shotgun, watching the countryside roll by. “You’ve been doing all right these past years, Tree. I’m not about to start second guessing your instincts when it comes to strategy.”
“Despite the Dreamer’s dream?”
“Hey.” Jack shrugged. “We all dream. His track record is impressive, trust me on that, but we’re dealing in the real world here. Not, you know, in some fantasy concoction where it’s magically required that a set number of hee-roes are required to meet this or that ancient prophecy.”
I was relieved to hear that; leading a strike into the heart of Heartbite territory would be tough enough with our most potent weapons. Yet even without the Wizard at my side, I’d have gone. If necessary, I’d have gone alone. I’d had enough of playing defense, period.
We stopped at the truck stop one more time, switching the ski rack back to luggage rack form, though a wider, blockier looking rack than we’d used earlier. The license plate holder rolled over one more time, locking into its #1 position, presenting the number that was actually tied to the Pontiac in the state database. There were people around at this hour, of course, but nobody was paying us the slightest bit of attention. Some enterprising news crew had gotten a chopper in ahead of the first responders, capturing a bit of video footage before the authorities ran them out of that immediate airspace. Fire, destruction, sprawled bodies…and obvious firearms. The TV anchors were going nuts; the clip had already gone national. We walked into the restaurant just long enough to get a couple of coffees to go, eyeball the news feed for a couple of minutes, and let the waitress–who knew us–realize we were coming from the west, heading east.
“You won’t be able to use that highway to get home, Mr. Jackson.” She dimpled at me, chubby cheeks, dishwater blonde hair, forty pounds overweight and three teenaged sons at home. Gamers who wore their pants low and wore out the couch instead of looking for summer work, they were ten percent trailer trash and ninety percent worthless.
“Doesn’t look like it, does it? Reckon we’ll have to loop around through Drummond.”
We weren’t heading home just yet, though. The coffee, albeit tasty enough, was mostly an excuse to be in there where the news was breaking for a minute or two. We still needed to stop at the Half Castle east of town. Arriving just as the doors opened for the day at 11:00 a.m., we sat down and had lunch before meandering back through the restroom to the hidden back office. There were too many strangers around, not to mention drones; acting normal was a really good idea.
Jack closed the inner door behind us. Mr. Gray was waiting, of course; he’d seen us enter the Chinese restaurant thirty minutes earlier.
“Not believing in coincidence,” the dapper man began without preamble, “I presume the big mystery news today had something to do with you two?”
I didn’t answer him directly. “They’re calling it mystery news?”
“Bret Baier did, on Fox. He’s saying their analysts are looking at that clip and pointing out that all these dead men appear to be white men working for the same side, whatever that side may be and whatever sort of war we’re actually seeing here.”
Jack’s left eyebrow crawled up a notch. “They’re calling it a war? Right out?”
“Fox News only. Nobody else seems to have the nerve to point out the obvious yet.”
“Well,” I said, scratching my left cheekbone where a sudden itch made itself felt, “you do have a bit of a need to know. Officially, we just came in from the west, from visiting my Mom in Idaho. Off the record, that bunch appears to be the latest group of bounty hunters, looking to cash in on Kraznick’s ree-ward offer. They got what was coming to them.”
Gray was starting to gray at the temples. He was also staring at me, disbelieving. “You two? Just you two? You came through all that without a scratch and wiped them all out, just like that?”
“I wouldn’t say without a scratch. The Pontiac lost a little paint.”
“Come on, really?”
“That,” I said with a straight face, “you definitely do not have a need to know.” He also had no need to know about aliens, witches, wizards, weavers, or dreamers. Knowing a billionaire with a bad attitude had been trying to take us out for years was more than enough to keep him on his toes, security minded and wary as they come. “But I have a need to know. What are your hackers turning up lately?”
“Not much,” he admitted, “except there’s been a bit of a fuss in some encrypted emails, something about a kid who ran away. He’s apparently a fat boy, somewhere on the short side of his teen years, and Kraznick wants him bad but hasn’t been able to catch him. Why he’s so important, nobody seems to be saying. At least not where we can intercept the message.”
I got to my feet, the ancient Protector following suit. “In that case, we’re going to get moving. You’re likely to see feds by the hundreds showing up around here for a while; for the time being, meetings with you probably should be kept to ten minutes or so, time enough for a guy to hit a restroom stall and nobody wondering why he took so long in there.” We took our leave, settled back into the Grand Prix, and headed home via the loop, east to Drummond, up the Helmville Canyon, then hooking back to Ovando.
It had taken us just three days to make our preparations and head out. The former sergeant would head up security during our absence, with one exception: If there was a Heartbite attack and things were not going well for our side, either Judi or Wayne was authorized to trip the trigger, leading our Second Level people through the escape tunnels to Wolf Cave, popping the deadfall slides behind them as they went so that no aggressors could follow. Seed and Beets weren’t that happy about missing the opportunity to hit Lord Heartbite where he lived and to help him cease living if at all possible, but they understood. Doc Menning had been brought into the loop regarding one of the tunnels, the one that ran between his current residence–the former Trace ranch house–and the safe room in the welding shop. From there, if need be, he could be shown how to get the rest of the way to the cave.
We were giving ourselves nine days to complete the mission. Three days of travel each way, three days in the Upper Peninsula in the heart of enemy territory. There was a margin of error built into every piece of that, but when you were trying a strike like this one, there’d better be. The cattle had all been sold off already, except for the cream of the crop, one hundred of the best bucking bulls on the planet. Chuck Trucking was already moving those to a ranch outside of Billings where they would be filmed in action, one by one, at a jackpot rodeo. Every buyer we really wanted to see at the sale would receive a set of videos providing honest evaluations of the bulls. The logistics were a bit tricky here and there, but the auction company we’d retained was a good one; they sold hard but they also sold honest.
It would be absolutely essential for Jack and me to get back as far as Billings before Sale Day, exactly two weeks away. My uncle B.J. was with the animals, but the buyers were going to want to see the head of Rodeo Iron, the owner of Thunder Hoof and Flicker Butt and Buckzilla, there in person.
No, we didn’t take the Pontiac. The ’89 Grand Prix was a monster of a fighting beast, what with all the modifications we’d made to it over the years, but it was a known car. If we’d taken that, Kraznick would have had a bead on us long before we left Montana. Instead, abandoning all the high tech upgrades and military level firepower, we’d opted for one of the pickup trucks B.J. had been tinkering with, spending many of his weekends puttering around with machinery rather than fooling around with women. Women had burned him time and again; a good set of wheels never did that. Our choice was a 2002 Chevy Silverado, four doors, three quarter ton truck with a paint job that looked silvery gray or slightly brownish, depending on the light. For either rural Montana or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it was ideal, equipped with Quadrasteer and sliding by the eye unnoticed.
Undercover truck, right there.
The windows were well tinted except right in front, on the windshield, where you wanted to be able to see as clearly as possible, and Big Jude had made a few modifications that nobody short of CSI was going to find. A thirty gallon gas tank, for one; the truck had some serious range. The rear seat could be flipped up with one hand, even when reaching back from the front seat. In the custom box under the seat (Design by B.J.), we carried a lot less firepower than we did around home, but what we did have was accessible in a hurry: Jack’s favorite Marlin 60 .22 rifle with an aftermarket Williams peep sight, my venerable Winchester .25-06 with day/night scope, our matched pair of .30 caliber M1A1 carbines, the long barreled AK-47 Sissy favored, and one brand new addition, a .410 Mossberg Muddy Girl pump shotgun with a capacity of six shells plus one up the spout.
Jack Hill had produced the #6 shells, pushing a 50-50 combo of silver and steel shot. The weapon was mine, though, and I couldn’t wait to try it out on a vamcritter. We’d learned a lot about the vamvirus in recent years. Were critters didn’t seem to be overly poisoned by silver–so much for the legends–but the virus that made a vampire a vampire, and that included a dual purpose were who was also a vam, simply could not tolerate the presence of the precious metal. In fact, direct contact with silver in any form was sure death to the virus…and it knew it. There appeared to be some sort of hive mentality with that monster, that virus; if silver entered the body of a vamcritter, the virus that survived began pulling away from the invasion site with incredible speed.
In theory, this left the host vulnerable to injury and/or death by more normal means such as a regular old lead bullet or a cold steel knife blade. Our skull sessions at Rodeo Iron had considered this and come up with a new plan of attack: Use a shotgun, shoot the buggers in the eyes with a mixed load of silver and steel shot. Yes, the vamvirus did grant its host impressive regenerative powers…but with a vam’s brain case poisoned with silver and scrambled with raw steel at the same time, the bugger was going to be dead, period.
Or at least brain dead, and that would be good enough.
We rotated drivers every three hundred miles, first me, then Jack, then Sissy, rinse and repeat. Meal stops were made at truck stops, right along the Interstate, but three-shifting the driving duties kept us rocketing right across the country. We could have taken a number of different routes, but fate is a funny thing, and fate decreed that our noon meal stop during our second day out happened to be at the truck stop in North Sioux City, Iowa, where I’d once put a wannabe bully to sleep with an unexpected uppercut, leaving his posse with the belief that he’d foolishly tangled with a member of the New Black Panthers.
Jack was paying the bill, Sissy was still in the women’s restroom, and I’d just come out of the men’s restroom when I saw it. There was a big fat trucker, four hundred pounds at least, unshaven and as greasy as a pit stop at a NASCAR race. He had a pretty little girl backed up against his semi trailer. I couldn’t make out the words, not quite, but his body language said it all. I don’t remember sighing, exactly, but I knew I had it to do.
So much for a nice anonymous under the radar run to Michigan, I thought. There were people around, not many and none of them with the courage to interfere, but witnesses enough that whatever I did now would definitely be noticed. I wouldn’t be immediately recognized here like I would in western Montana, but all of those people likely had cell phones.
For all I knew, I was about to end up on YouTube.