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30 November 2017 @ 11:42 am
_Stone_ part 22  

I sent Rachel a "Woof! The new job going well. I've got a small apartment in a moderately pricy part of town. Nice neighbors—one actor, one NSA agent, one retired lady. Only problem is they all prefer baseball to football. Miss you."

Her answer came back a few minutes later.

"LEO! I am so glad to hear you're all right! I'm not back at work yet, I've got a cut on my face that keeps bleeding, and I've been having nightmares."

I wiggled my shoulder a bit. It still hurt. I probably ought to get a doctor to look at it. Or Wally to re-bandage it.

The sacrificial knife? Or just that it's only been . . . nine days? Is that all? Was Rachel also cut by that knife? And what if she was? Stupid idea. I don't believe in magic, and . . . I don't want to. And I'll bet the NSA would look into it, or just judge the two of us as dangerous and add Rachel to the clean-up list.

I think we'd better not bring that up!

"And I'm not around to help with the nightmares, but I am helping Mr. Wright with the same problem here in Southern California. Save a few other people from nightmares."

Or getting sacrificed to the All Mother Demon. Sniff-a-doodle or whatever their imaginary demon is named. I probably sound like I'm bragging, when I'm actually terrified.

"Good. But be careful! And Kris says to look both ways when crossing the street."

Excellent! Rachel's brother-in-law was an FBI senior special agent, and sure seemed to have his act together. And is hopefully warning her to speak in euphemisms.

"Yeah, the traffic here is unbelievable, and I'm the naive newcomer. I need to go sightseeing. Get out in the desert. I'll have to ask my neighbors where the pretty parts of the desert are. Has Kris ever been out here? Ask him for suggestions, eh?"

"You need a guidebook. I'm surprised Mr. Wright hasn't shown you around."

Ha! Bet that was straight from Kris! "He's kind of standoffish. I'm working with a younger colleague and just feeling my way into the job."

I got, in return, a list of GPS co-ordinates and dates.

Oh. My. Ten locations.

"Thanks. I'll have to find the time to check them out."

Map them out. Although if there was a pattern I suspect the FBI would have noticed. How did they get the dates, though? Oh, they must have identified the victims, found the date they went missing. I wonder how long . . . Kris said twenty years, but how long has the FBI known they had a huge cult of mass murderers?

Rachel was typing . . . "I wish I could help."

Oh God! No, you cannot be in danger again because of me.

"I'm glad you're so far away! That was one scary gang! Please stay home and safe. Please?"

"Spoilsport. You be careful!"

"I will. I'll scout them out and them let the authorities deal with them." I knew I was lying as I typed it. Well, wishful thinking at least. I certainly wouldn't mind them doing all the fighting.

I gazed wistfully at the printed words on the screen. Such a tiny thread of connection to someone who might have once had the potential . . . Oh, who was I kidding. I wanted to throw my head back and howl. I wanted to wail like a baby at the thought of never seeing her again.

I wanted to tell her I loved her . . . and I didn't even know if that was a lie too, a desperate clutching at some shred of my humanity, not real love.

I fumbled through "Gotta go, TTYL" and shut down my computer. And didn't howl.

Chapter Found

Comparing the locations Kris had sent me with all the picturesque landmarks, showed, not surprisingly, a complete lack of correspondence.

Mike got all excited and blocked out areas with high tourist interest, the old Dance sites and winced at all the still-available desert areas.

"And it's no good driving around to them." I pointed out. "I can see the Hunters, not their Dancing Grounds. If they aren't around, I won't have a clue whether they've ever been there."

He slumped.

"What we need to do is find another Hunter and this time follow him all the way to his home. Or a Dancing Ground they're working on. Preferably both. I'd really rather catch them at home, before they've kidnapped their next victims."

Mike nodded. "Right. No hostages for them to hide behind."

"Or kill at the last moment." The demon was scary enough without a sacrifice! Not that it was an actual demon. Just smoke, colored by the setting sun, and curling around in the light breeze. Really. "What do you think? Shall we head out I 5 at the crack of dawn and see if we can spot a Hunter?"

"And follow to see where he works?" Mike looked dubious.

"I was thinking we could park near one of the freeway interchanges and see which way he came from. And confirm that at least one lives out that direction."

Back to the map.

"We need to sit here, between 210 and Highway 14. I ought to be able to feel him before the Highway 14 interchange, then we'll know if he's coming from further north, of from east, out into the desert."

"Or if he lives closer in, and hit I 5 fro the 210." Mike nodded. "See you at three in the morning."

I moaned. "What have I done?"

"Not a morning person, eh?"

I shrugged. "It depends on how late I stay up watching football Sunday night. There will be coffee, right?"

"I'm sure of it." He shook his head. "I take it you don't have a programmable coffee machine?"

"I travel light. And cheap. So I'll shower tonight, get dress and sleepwalk out to your car, and then sleep until we get to our ambush point, at which time coffee will happen. Right?"

"Wrong. You'll be awake and looking for them all the way out, in case they are serious early birds."

"You government agents can be really nasty, can't you?"

"Yep."

***

Fortunately meditating and sleep are hard to tell apart.

I jumped when Mike poked me.

"At least stop snoring."

"I was meditating." I looked around. It was dark and we were pulled off the road and, well in the dark, I had no idea what was around us.

"We're closer to 14 than we'd wanted, but the just flat wasn't anyplace to stop before this."

I nodded and closed my eyes, and could spot the moving glows—not many of them at this hour—marking the roads. The main highway—Interstate Five—was right beside us, and less than a mile ahead, the glows split, a few coming and going from straight ahead then curving right, and the larger number of glow veering off to the left.

Behind us, I could feel the movement of people on the roads, and at the limit of my ability, the background glow of a whole lot of people.

"From here we can easily get onto either I5 north or highway 14 east. It'll be a bit harder, to head south."

"No problem. We need to find the whole . . . family. And I suspect they'll be north of us."

"Oh? More ESP?"

"Nope. Brilliant deduction. Friday we either caught him commuting home or traveling further north."

Mike snorted and produced a thermos. Poured me a cup of coffee.

I inhaled aroma of the elixir of life. "All right. The NSA is, perhaps, not all that bad."

I sipped and closed my eyes. And watched the gradual buildup of traffic. "This is why I liked Phoenix. A two mile hike to work. Well, that and . . . "

"And what?"

I sighed. "A girl, of course."

"Uh . . . didn't you worry . . . "

"Yes. Especially after I met some of my relatives. So I left. Mr. Wright diverted me from my planned destination of Denver and aimed me this direction. And while I'd love to never see any of those people ever again . . . they're going to be out there, murdering people, until they're stopped. And apparently I'm needed to do the stopping."

"Yeah, umm, until we got the DNA results back on the dogs from Albuquerque . . . well, actually the Forty-eights weren't our case until then. Man you should have seen the response to that in DC! Freaked everyone out and suddenly the special investigations had a real, honest to god, supernatural case."

That opened my eyes. I turned and studied him. "The Hunters are the first . . . what did you do before that?"

"Umm, I interviewed people who thought they'd been abducted by UFOs."

I sat back and stared at tail lights in the deep blue pre-dawn. And finally asked. "So, who did you piss off to get that assignment?"