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“Howdy, partner,” Vic said. “Having a little trouble there?”


The bleeding man slowly turned his head. His eyes were half-closed and crusted with blood, but Vic could see one brown eye come slowly into focus as stare at him. The man struggled to speak, and managed it only marginally. “H…help…”


Vic laughed. “Yeah, I’ll get right on that.” He lowered his pistol. “Christ, you are one sorry-looking nigger. That hole in your head’s gotta hurt.”


“Help…me…”


“Nope, can’t do that. Tell you what, why don’t you tell me what the hell you’re doing here. Or should I guess?” He bent close and sniffed. “Doing a little vampire hunting, are we?”


Ferro’s eye gave a slow blink. “You…you’re part…of it.”


“Yeah, you could say that, but don’t worry, I don’t bite. Even if I did I wouldn’t bite dark meat. Eww.” He sat down on a broken porch beam. “No, I’m what those boys call the Foreman. If you know about the Fang Gang, then you probably know about the Man, about Ubel Griswold. Yeah, I can see it on your face that you know. Well, I’m his right hand, you see. He’s always said so.”


“Why?” Ferro croaked. His voice was almost nonexistent.


For a moment Vic’s eyes shone with a different kind of light. “For reasons you would never understand, not if you lived a million freaking years.” He glanced at the house. “Your friends are probably dead, you know. No one’s coming to help you. I planned for everything.”


“Kiss…my ass…” Ferro breathed.


“Suit yourself.” He stood up and walked down off the porch and went over to examine the ATVs. “Wow, you guys brought a lot of nice toys. Too bad you’re all shitheads.”


As soon as Vic’s back was turned Ferro used all of his strength to shift position, tucking one hand under his body and straining with the other to reach his fallen pistol that lay among the rubble.


Vic finished examining the bikes and climbed back up onto the porch, saw Ferro’s reach, and plucked the pistol out of reach. “Nice try, Bojangles,” he said with a grin and kicked Ferro in the ribs.


Ferro’s body constricted into a ball; his cry of pain instantly turned into a string of wet coughs that misted the floorboards with red.


Vic chewed on his match, smiling with real pleasure as he watched Ferro die moment by moment; but that smile was immediately wiped off his face by the distinctive sound of a shotgun blast.


He leapt to his feet, pistol in a two-hand grip, head cocked to listen. The sound had come from inside. He was sure of it, but from where inside? After almost a full minute he heard another shotgun blast, and another. There was a barrage of blasts, and now he knew that they had to be coming from beneath the house. In the cellar. It worried him that there were so many shots. They should have been able to rip the intruders to shreds after the first shot, but the blasts went on. And there were pistol shots, too. Then silence. He waited it out and there were no more sounds from beneath the house.


It worried him that it had taken them so long to bring down two men, but he had no doubt that it was now a feeding frenzy in there. He relaxed slowly, lowering the pistol.


“Serves ’em right, the dumb shits.” He turned back to Ferro, who was trying to use the side of a clenched fist to raise himself off the floor. “You guys should have stayed out of the Man’s business, you know that? You think I put in thirty frigging years of hard work to have that jackass Crow and a dumb-shit nigger like you just muck things up? You can’t be that stupid, even for a jig.” He gave Ferro another vicious kick.


Ferro felt his ribs explode. Breathing became suddenly impossible as the fragments of shattered ribs tore gashes in his lungs. Ferro could feel himself beginning to drown as his lungs filled with blood.


But he felt his mouth twisting upward into a savage smile as he looked down at the object he held, the small bright blue thing he’d managed to claw out of his pants pocket while Vic was rooting through the duffel bags on the ATVs.


Vic kicked him once more, and the lights of the world began going out in Frank Ferro’s mind. He could not feel the blows any more. He was drowning in the blood that clogged his throat. He wanted to say something: a prayer, a curse, anything. He wanted to mock the man who was killing him, to tell him that he was not going to kill anyone ever again; but there was just not enough life left in him to do it. All he had left was the strength to roll back the striker-wheel with the pad of his thumb. The motion pressed the lighter’s tiny valve and the spark ignited into a small blue flame.


Poised in midkick Vic looked down in overwhelming horror as Frank Ferro plunged the lighter down into the pool of garlic oil, blood, urine, and high-octane gasoline.


3


Crow fired the shotgun even as he stumbled backward, shouting a warning to LaMastra, but the sergeant was already in trouble as two slender forms leapt at him and bore him down. There were a dozen of the children. The oldest were twins who looked to be around twelve or thirteen, and the youngest, Crow saw to his absolute horror, was a baby who crawled as quickly as a scuttling beetle, its angelic face split to reveal only two needle-sharp fangs protruding from otherwise smooth gums. The sight of the children almost froze Crow and LaMastra into fatal immobility, but their fingers were already on their triggers and as the creatures swarmed at them they fired out of reflex. After that it was easier to shoot, their hands working in mechanical independence from their stunned minds.


Crow’s first shot caught a little girl in the chest and she just flew apart into red rags. The sight of her just exploding like that nearly drove him mad. It was too horrible, too impossible a thing to be allowed. As the shotgun pellets tore her apart it was as if the blast ripped open the fabric of all reality and everything from here on would be nightmares and insanity.


Then another creature lunged at him—a Chinese boy of about ten, who dodged the falling body parts and leapt at Crow, hissing like a rat. Crow barely had time to work the pump and so fired the blast an inch away from the child’s throat. The decapitated head spun away into shadows, but the body kept falling forward to strike Crow’s chest; as it collapsed down in death the monster’s talons slashed down the front of Crow’s trousers, opening two deep gashes.


The smell of fresh blood drove the others insane and two of the smaller creatures dove in, straining to be first at the open wounds. Crow hammered down on the back of a seven-year-old little girl with the stock of the shotgun and kicked the other, a ten-year-old boy, forcefully in the face. Both fell away, driven back only by Crow’s greater weight, but neither was injured. The girl had been driven to her elbows and knees by Crow’s shotgun stock, and from that position she leapt like a cat at his leg. He screamed as her spiked nails sunk into the back of his thigh and then there was a searing burst of white-hot agony as she drove her tiny fangs into the bleeding wound. Crow hammered at her twice more with the stock as he lumbered back to dodge another attack by a reedy black boy in a Cub Scout uniform.


“GET OFF!” Crow screamed as he jammed the barrel of the shotgun down against the top of the little girl’s head and pulled the trigger. Her head exploded, and the force of the blast drove a handful of the pellets down through her body, where they erupted from just below her shoulder blades. She flopped away and Crow turned to see the Cub Scout leap at him. The boy, though small and slightly built, caught him unawares and collided with Crow’s head and shoulders. They went down in a churning heap.


Closer to the door of the utility room, LaMastra was still struggling with the twin vampires. They were good-looking kids with luminous green eyes and angelic faces, and LaMastra could not make himself accept that these lovely kids were monsters. Then they snarled at him, showing their fangs and their flickering tongues, and as they did this their eyes flared from green to an unholy red. They fanned out on either side of LaMastra; he fired and missed, fired and missed, and each time the twins mocked him with high-pitched laughter. They were incredibly fast, but then LaMastra faked toward one of them and pivoted to fire point-blank at the other. The vampire twisted out of the way so that only a third of the pellets tore through his hip and upper thigh, but it was enough to make the boy pirouette like a dancer in some macabre ballet.


The other twin watched, startled for a moment, and then dodged in at LaMastra and with one extended hand slashed him from shoulder bone to hip, tearing open the Kevlar vest and most of the shirt beneath. The injured twin screamed like a banshee as the garlic worked like poison to burn its way through his veins. His heart exploded in his chest, ripping out through his breastbone in a spray of blood and bone.


The sight of this jolted the other twin, who stopped and stared at his brother and at the bloody ruin of his chest. LaMastra took that moment to step forward and ram him in the stomach with the wide barrel of the Roadblocker and then hoist him up into the air, using the shotgun like a tent-peg to pin the vampire hard against the cellar ceiling. The boy writhed and spat and then LaMastra pulled the trigger. The full blast of the ten-gauge weapon blew a fist-sized hole through the thin body and punched a hole in the ceiling so that blood and bits of vertebrae geysered into the room upstairs.


LaMastra reeled back from the falling corpse and the rain of blood.


“God!” he cried as the thought that he had just killed two children stabbed him through the heart.


A second later something hit him between the shoulder blades and he fell; the shotgun flew from his hands and went spinning off into the shadows. He landed hard on his knees, the concrete shooting pain up through his kneecaps; but even as he landed he reached over and back to grab a handful of hair in his fist, then with a growl of mad fury dashed a red-haired boy of eight or nine onto the floor in front of him. The impact flattened the back of the child’s skull, but did not stop him from immediately whipping around onto all fours and baring his teeth. The boy lunged again, and LaMastra used the side of his left fist to parry the biting mouth away from his inner thigh as he drew his Sig Sauer with his right. He racked the slide and as the child flew at him again he fired twice. Two black holes appeared in the child’s chest as the body flew backward, arms and legs swinging brokenly.

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