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Weinstock shot him a look. “Really? Nitpicking? Now?”


Val interrupted, “Are we sure Boyd’s actually dead?”


“Baby,” Crow said with a smile, “you blew most of his head off.”


Her eye was icy and she spaced each word out. “Are. We. Sure. Boyd’s. Actually. Dead?”


Crow and Weinstock looked at each other. The doctor cleared his throat. “I guess we could go and check?”


“Yeah,” Val said coldly. “Maybe you ought to.”


Neither of the men made a move to get up.


“What about Mark?” Val asked and her voice cracked on his name. They looked at her. “If Boyd is what we think he is—or was—then what about Mark? And Connie, too, for that matter.”


“Oh shit,” Weinstock said. Crow just closed his eyes and sighed.


“Crow…Saul…listen to me,” Val said, her tone cool but reasonable, “I know you’re both as freaked out about this as I am. It’s unreal…surreal—but my family was murdered last night by a monster. An actual monster.” She took a breath. “If there is even the slightest chance that my brother is somehow infected…” The word hung in the air like a bright flare and no one could bear to look at it. “If there is even the slightest chance that he and Connie could become like Boyd…then I want to know about it, and I want to know right now.”


Crow struggled to his feet and looked down at her. He was filthy and exhausted, his eyes were glassy with fear and shock, and his face was the color of old milk. He licked his lips. “Okay,” he said. “Okay…I think we’d better go check. Saul?”


The doctor nodded tiredly and stood, but suddenly swayed and sat down hard again on the bed. The jolt made Val hiss with pain. Weinstock grabbed the metal rail of the bed to steady himself, too frightened to be ashamed. Tears broke from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks and when he raised his hands to touch the wetness his fingers quivered with palsy.


“God…” he breathed and his voice broke into a sob. “I don’t know if I can do this…”


Crow stood by wretchedly and watched, but Val reached up with one hand and touched Weinstock’s chest, her palm flat. The doctor looked down at her slender tan hand, his lips trembling into a small smile at the tenderness of the gesture. “Val…I—”


Then Val’s hand closed into fist around a knotted wad of his lab coat and with a grunt she jerked him down to her level so that his face was inches from hers. Aghast, Crow saw her mouth twist into a harsh mask. Her voice was a whisper filled with razor wire. “Don’t you fucking dare! My brother is dead! My sister-in-law is dead! Friends of mine are dead. Don’t you dare wig out on me now, you son of a bitch.”


Weinstock stared at her in total shocked horror. That one blue eye seemed to radiate heat and he was burned by it. His own eyes bugged and his mouth hung open in a soundless O.


“Now you get your ass down to the morgue and you do whatever you have to do to make sure that bastard Boyd is dead…and you see to my brother, or so help me God, Saul, I’ll—”


“Val…” Crow said it softly, but it was enough. Val cut a hard look at him, and then her glare softened, just a bit. She pulled Weinstock two inches closer.


“Please,” she said, and this time it was a whisper of urgent need. “Please.”


Weinstock could feel his face change in that moment. Shock drained away and the buttery lines of his chin and mouth firmed up; shame and anger warred in his chest. Val pulled him one last inch closer, then leaned her head up and kissed his cheek. Weinstock closed his eyes for one long moment then nodded. “Yes,” he said, and kissed her; then he straightened and went into the bathroom to throw water on his face. When he was done, he stood in the doorway, patting his face dry with a wad of paper towels. “Crow…I’ll wait for you in the hall.” He shambled out.


When the door closed, Val looked at Crow and even managed a small smile. “See what you got yourself into when you proposed to me?”


He sucked his teeth. “Yep. It’s all clear to me now—you’re a complete psychopath. I’m on the first bus outta here.” He grinned. “Crazy or not I really do love you, Valerie Guthrie.”


“You’d better,” Val said and somewhere behind the stern lines of her face there was a tremble, a flutter in her voice that he could only just hear. “I don’t have anyone else left.”


Crow kissed her and went out to where Weinstock stood, hands deep in his lab-coat pockets, giving the hallway the thousand-yard stare. Without another word the two of them headed down to the morgue.


4


Polk’s voice was a shrill whisper. “You want me to do what?”


“You heard me. Search his office, his files, and his computer. Whatever he has that relates to what’s going on has to be completely destroyed. You hearing me? Everything.”


“I’ll get caught, Vic. There’s no way I can break into his office without someone noticing. He’s here all day and at night. Someone’d see the lights through his window.”


He heard Vic sigh and there was a pause as if Vic was slowly working through a slow ten-count. “Jim,” Vic said tiredly, “believe it or not I actually get tired of having to threaten you every time I want something done, so, let’s just take it as read that you’re going to do this because you don’t want to face the consequences of really, truly pissing me off.”


Polk sat down on the third step and rubbed his face with one hand. “Yeah,” he said tiredly, “okay. Only…I really don’t know how much more of this stuff I can take, Vic. My nerves are shot. My hands are shaking all the time, I got diarrhea now everyday, my gut feels like it’s full of broken glass.”


“Tell you what, you hold the phone while I go open me up a fresh can of I-don’t-give-a-shit.”


“Thanks, Vic…you’re a real pal.”


Vic was laughing when he hung up. Polk stared at the mottled gray-white of the concrete of the stairwell landing, conscious of the weight of his sidearm in its holster, heavy with promise.


Chapter 6


1


Mike stood frozen to the spot as Tow-Truck Eddie entered the shop. A panicky voice screamed in his head, Run…run…RUN! but his legs were concrete, his body stunned into an immobile mass.


He’d only seen Eddie up close twice before and that memory didn’t match this one at all. The first was maybe two years ago when his mom had made Mike drop off a lunch for Vic. Eddie had seemed big enough, but he’d worn a gentle smile and had given Mike an amiable wink. The second time was a couple of weeks ago, as they passed one another in the lobby of the hospital after Crow had been shot. He’d almost seemed ordinary then. Now the man seemed ten feet tall and five feet wide. Eddie’s police uniform was well tailored but it did nothing to hide the weightlifter’s chest and arms. He had huge sloping shoulders that tapered right up to his head, making it look like he had no neck at all. And though he had to be in his early fifties he showed no signs of age except for some crow’s feet at the corners of his piercing blue eyes. An Arnold Schwarzenegger cop, Mike thought, a Pine Deep Terminator. The name OSWALD was engraved in white on a black plastic name tag pinned to his chest, and Mike realized that he had never known the man’s last name before.


Eddie Oswald closed the door slowly, his gaze intent on Mike, and then walked slowly across the floor of the shop, big hands swinging easily, almost no expression on his face except for tiny bits of muscle at his jaw that bunched and flexed.


For just a second, though, something odd happened and Mike was aware of it on a detached, almost remote level. The air between Officer Oswald and himself seemed to shimmer as if heat vapor were rising from the floor. It gave the big man a distorted appearance, like a mirage of some giant seen across desert sands.


Mike knew he couldn’t run. The big man could catch him easily before he could fish out the key and duck through into Crow’s apartment. Mike wondered if the cop recognized him. Maybe out there on the road the big man hadn’t had a good look at him, so he played on that and turned on a bright, helpful smile that was so fake it made his cheeks hurt. “Uh…can I help you, Officer?”


The cop stood there, frowning now as he looked at Mike, all of his force and swagger diminishing second by second. He peered at Mike, eyes narrowed to slits, but there was no recognition on his face. When he spoke, though, his voice carried a different and far more accusatory weight.


“You work here, boy?” Tow-Truck Eddie’s voice was as raw as scraped knuckles.


“Yes, sir,” Mike whispered through a dry throat. “Is there anything I can do for you…Officer? Um…d’you want me to get the owner?” Crow hadn’t come in yet, but Mike hoped the promise of it might protect him from whatever this madman had planned.


“No,” said the cop quietly. “No, don’t bother him. I want to ask you a couple of questions.” He leaned on the word you.


“Me?” asked Mike, and his adolescent voice broke from tenor to soprano on that one word. “Me? Uh…About what?”


The cop removed a notebook from his pocket and consulted it. Mike watched him, and he had the strangest impression that the cop wasn’t really reading notes on the book, but was just staring at it. The officer’s lips moved slightly, not as if reading aloud with the words, but as if speaking to himself. Finally, the big man raised his eyes and stared long and hard at Mike. “There have been some reports of kids harassing drivers on A-32, playing chicken with cars and trucks put on the highway. Would you know anything about that?”


“Kids playing chicken? No.”


“You’re sure?”


“Yeah. I don’t know anything about anything like that.”


The cop stared hard in his direction, but kept squinting as if he was having a hard time focusing on him.. “Do you have a bicycle, son?”


“Sure.” The word came out before he could stop it.

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