Nightshine, p.4
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       Nightshine, p.4

         Part #4 of Kyndred series by Lynn Viehl
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Page 4

 

  “Whoa. ” Charlie grabbed his sleeve and righted him. “I thought you said you weren’t hurt. ”

  “I’m only a bit awkward. ” He leaned on his left side and rubbed his hand over his thigh. “Normally I use a cane to walk. ”

  She saw the cane in question several feet away by the deck railing. The gold handle had been cast in the shape of a lion’s head. “You’ll have to do without it for now. ” She put the receiver on speaker and dialed the emergency number for dispatch, which the shift supervisor answered immediately. “This is Echo one-M-seven, EMP Marena. We have five GSW casualties on the bridge with an active sniper at the base of the south tower, left side. ” She rapidly related the details of the wounded before she added, “My partner has been shot and I’m taking cover with two of the vics. ”

  “Stand by. ” The supervisor repeated the details she’d given him over the police emergency band before issuing terse orders to reroute other rigs to the scene. Finally he said, “Echo, we can’t get to you until SWAT responds and secures the scene. Keep this line open and use your MCI protocols. ”

  “Acknowledged, dispatch. ” Another window blew out over their heads, pelting them with broken glass. “You want to tell SWAT to move their asses, please?”

  “They’re on the way,” the supervisor promised. “Hang in, Echo. ”

  “What are MCI protocols?” Samuel asked as she started an IV on the driver.

  She tore off a strip of tape and rolled it over the gauze she’d placed over the needle. “It’s how we respond to a mass casualty incident. ”

  “You consider this a mass casualty situation?”

  “Any incident that has more patients than the on-scene responders can treat or transport is an MCI,” she told him. “The protocol we use is called START, for simple triage and rapid treatment, which includes tagging everyone. ” She pulled her tags out of her bag. “James here gets a red tag, which means he’s salvable but he needs immediate treatment. ” She taped the oversize tag onto the driver’s sleeve and then clipped another onto Samuel’s lapel. “You’re walking wounded, so you get one of these. ”

  He glanced down at the green tag. “I’m not wounded. ”

  “We don’t have a tag for ‘nothing happened to this guy,’ so it’s the next-best thing. ” She shoved the rest of the tags in her pocket, where she could easily reach them, and slung her carry-in strap over her neck. “I have to get back and tag the others. You keep your head down, and yell for me if James starts having trouble again. ”

  One of his huge hands clamped around her wrist. “You’re not going anywhere. ”

  Samuel Taske was not accustomed to trying to restrain a woman with physical force. Aside from his size and strength, both of which bordered on superhuman, he had been taught virtually from birth to treat all females with gentleness and respect.

  He didn’t consider it a hardship in the slightest. He adored everything about women: their scents and smiles, their instincts and intelligence. He often watched them with the wistful longing of a man who had already accepted that he would live out his life alone, thanks to the additional psychic gift that allowed him to see individual time lines as they stretched out far into the future. He had used it to examine his own future, which followed a solitary path that would never be crossed or entwined with that of a wife or children.

  That he was prepared to break Charlotte Marena’s wrist to keep her from leaving him had nothing to do with his feelings about women. He had come to this place, to this bridge, solely for the purpose of keeping her alive. If he had to put her in a cast to do so, he would.

  “Sam, I have to do this,” she was saying in a careful, gentle tone she probably used with people suffering some sort of mental crisis. “I need to check on the other patients and make sure they’re doing okay. It’s my job. ”

  “You can’t do anything for them if you’re dead, Charlotte. ” He didn’t release her. “The police will be here soon. I can hear the sirens. ”

  “They might have a hostage negotiator try to talk him down first,” she said. “That kind of thing usually takes time. ”

  “Then I’ll have to entertain you with stories from my last trip overseas. ” He had to stop staring at her big dark eyes; he felt as if he were about to tumble into them. “Have you ever been to Paris? Very old and stately. Amazing cuisine. Dreadful waiters. ”

  “Can’t say I have. ” Instead of lightening, her expression turned grim. “Much as I’d love to hear all about your jaunts around the globe—”

  “Oye, cabrón. ”

  The high-pitched shout came from the tower beyond, and Charlotte’s eyes narrowed.

  “I know you hear me, pendejo. ” A short laugh followed the shout, and then, “Hey, hermana, ese tipo tiene mucha lana, eh? Maybe after, he give you a big reward, eh?”

  Samuel frowned. “I don’t speak much Spanish. ”

  “I do. He says you have a lot of money,” Charlotte said, her mouth tight. “You know this jackass?”

  “Not at all. ” Half the truth was better than none. “Do you think you can persuade him to cease fire?”

  Charlotte rubbed her eyes and sighed before she called out, “Señor, deje lo que estás haciendo y escú-chame. ”

  From that point Charlotte spoke too rapidly for Taske to follow, but he took advantage of her focus on the sniper to remove one glove and ease his hand inside his coat. Dragging James out of the car had torn some of the stitches in his side, but thanks to his body heat the blood-soaked linen of his shirt had partially dried and was beginning to stanch the old wound. He’d thought he might have to use it as an excuse to keep Charlotte with him, but now that she had engaged the sniper, there was no need to mention it.

  Not that he wished to. Charlotte would want to know how he had sustained the injury, and he couldn’t tell her the truth. She would never believe that he had been attacked by werewolves and wild animals, all of whom had been under the mind control of Lilah Devereaux, a powerful Kyndred friend whom Taske believed also held the key to a cure for his own condition. He’d stalked Lilah, hiring detectives to hunt her down for him, but his foolish actions had nearly gotten them both killed. In the end Lilah had forgiven him, but Taske had yet to overcome his own shame.

  The mellow contralto of Charlotte’s voice felt soothing to his ears, and he allowed himself to rest against the side of the car and watch her. For the first time since his ability had manifested it had been maddeningly short on details; unlike the other people he had rescued over the years, this woman’s time line had been shrouded in darkness. He’d been unable to discern who she was, where she lived and worked, her surname, or any clue of what her destiny was, although he sensed it to be of critical importance to humanity. In the end he had been forced to act on the only thing he did know: that unless he saved her, a woman named Charlotte would be murdered on the Golden Gate Bridge by a suicidal man.

  Until she had crawled out of the fog, Taske hadn’t even known exactly what Charlotte would look like, another first for him. For some reason he had expected her to be a dark, petite angel with a beguiling smile, not a fierce-eyed Amazon with as many muscles as she had curves. No doubt her statuesque proportions had drawn some criticism from those who kissed the bony, wasted feet of current fashion, but she made him think of the glory of forgotten eras, when towering warrior queens had been worshiped as goddesses.

  Acolytes of Apollo would have made her their high priestess; sunlight had scattered golden streaks through her dark brown hair and kissed her brown eyes with amber flecks. Her tanned skin had a delicious bloom to it, like the rose flush of a ripe peach. He had never met a woman who looked more vital and alive than Charlotte Marena, which made his mission all the more imperative. Something inside her made her glow like a beacon of hope; her mysterious destiny must be directly linked to hundreds if not thousands of other lives.

  After she repeated the same question three times, Charlotte fell silent
and listened. After a minute and no response from the gunman she shook her head and glanced at Taske. “This guy isn’t a Chicano—a Mexican-American,” she tacked on as an explanation of the term. “I can’t place his accent, either. He’s trying to talk like a street thug but he’s using formal Spanish. He’s also slurring his words. ”

  “How is that significant?”

  “It could be caused by drug use or psychosis. ” She hesitated before she said, “Sometimes these guys go off because they’re sick. Whitman, the guy who shot all those people from that tower in Texas back in the sixties, had an aggressive brain tumor. ”

  Taske heard equal parts of frustration and regret in her voice, and saw the way she kept glancing toward the east. “You can’t negotiate with a diseased mind, Charlotte. ”

  “I know. Neither can the cops. ” She picked up the phone. “Dispatch, Echo one-M-seven, come back. ”

  “Go ahead, Echo. ”

  “Please advise SFPD and CHP—”

  The high-pitched voice from the tower interrupted her as the sniper shouted at them.

  “Stand by, dispatch. ” She listened, frowning.

  “What is he saying?” Taske prompted.

  “I don’t know. Something about white willows. ” She turned her head. “‘The time has come for us to go, by day or by night, down into the mysteries of death. I make my tribute,’ or maybe ‘my offering. . . . ’ ”

  A shout came from the tower. “¡La Raza Cósmica!”

  Her expression grew alarmed. “Oh, God, he’s going to jump. ” She shot to her feet. “Señor, por favor, escú-chame ahora—”

  Charlotte stood too far away for him to pull down, and Taske forgot about the burning, twisting snake wrapped around his own spine as he shot up and staggered forward to shield her with his body. He had his arms around her when she cried out, but not because she had been shot.

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