EARLY THE FOLLOWING morning, Cole met with Sergeant Terry Newcomb at the railway station. It was a bustling place; Lincoln had learned to use the railroads to his advantage quickly. He was fighting a war on "foreign" soil, and he had used the strategy of railroad troop and supply movement from the beginning, realizing its importance for getting manpower and ammunition where it was needed. It seemed the Confederate commanders had not comprehended just how important the rail lines might be. At the beginning, the Union did their best to tear down what the Confederates couldn't hope to replace. But as time went on, they had begun doing more repairs, as they had to move more in Southern lands.
Although many inventors had worked with model railroads and locomotives, it hadn't been until 1830 that the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had officially opened. This explained the fact that not many of the generals in the field had actually received any kind of tactical training at West Point regarding such things. The locomotives and cars could also be vulnerable to attack. An exploding boiler could scald a crew, and coming fast on a downed bridge could kill as efficiently as a barrage of bullets.
Against such a barrage, Cole had been assured, the train was clad in the latest in metal and wooden armor They'd be riding in a small steam-powered fortress, a fortress with small oval windows to keep the heat at bay.
He'd considered that riding the fine horses the government men had given them might have been easier and shorter than the effort it was going to take to arrive not quite seventy miles away by train. But he wanted to be well armed when he got where he was going.
"Bow and arrows, without metal heads, as you asked. Fashioned of the finest cedar available and razor sharp," the sergeant said, pointing at supply boxes as he read off articles from his list. He had been staring at the paper, but he looked at Cole as he detailed the next item. "One hundred wooden stakes-razor sharp. Fifty-five carved from lignum vitae, and another fifty carved from red oak. And...let's see...one hundred and fifty vials of holy water."
"It's really holy water, and you know it?" Cole asked, staring at the man, unblinking.
"Yes, sir, it is. I went to the church myself to collect it. I spoke with Father Vartran, who didn't seem surprised that it was something you required."
The sergeant stared at him a moment longer, and then looked back at his list. "Ten cavalry sabers, freshly sharpened, ten Colt army model 1860 handguns-rifled, six shot. Then ten Smith &Wesson repeaters, rifled for accuracy, as well. Ten bowie knives, and one...ladies' small arm purse pistol."
"That should do it," Cole replied.
"And the four of us," Newcomb added, at which point Cole frowned noticeably. "Sir, you're taking the railroad, and the railroad might be disrupted. There are troops moving aboard her as well, but it will be good to have us with you. As far as we know, the Rebels are in the Shenandoah Valley now, but there are scouting troops, snipers, guerilla bands... They are not going to stop and ask you if you happen to be on a mission for humanity. They will attack you-you're on a railroad under the jurisdiction of the United States government."
"I know, although I don't believe that our route will bring us into a difficult situation. We're but seventy miles from Harpers Ferry," Cole replied calmly.
Sergeant Newcomb nodded, listening. "No, sir. But we've learned about dispatch from you. We'll be good companions. And we are all good soldiers, sir-even with our afflictions."
Good soldiers, Cole thought. Terry Newcomb limped, and he came with Gerald Banter, still weakened after a bout with malaria. Evan Briar-missing his trigger finger. And Michael Hodges, who was half-deaf.
But Sergeant Terry Newcomb was staring at him with wise, steady eyes, and Cole smiled. He'd worked with these men already, on burial detail. He had been testing the man to determine his team's resolve, to make sure they weren't just following orders. For men can abandon orders far more easily than their own passions when a mission becomes hardened. But they seemed determined to follow his lead with leaden assuredness. They knew they were dealing with what wasn't ordinary-even if they didn't want to put a name on it. They were fiercely loyal to Newcomb, and Newcomb was determined to help him. It wouldn't hurt to have some company on the journey to Harpers Ferry-company that knew what they were up against.
Cole set a hand on the man's arm. "Sergeant, I'm willing to bet that you're one of the best soldiers to be had. I hadn't realized we had an escort," he lied.
Newcomb nodded. "You will need us in Harpers Ferry-even if it's for picking up the dead and seeing that they receive the proper burial...for that kind of dead."
"Yes. And thank you. Now, how long before the train pulls out?"
"An hour and a half, sir. You and Miss Fox will ride your horses back to the station, and the horses will be transported in one of the supply cars, so they'll be fresh upon arrival."
"Very good," Cole said. "We'll be back, ready to go. How long will it take?"
"These days? Most of the afternoon. It will be dark when we arrive," Newcomb said.
"Have your men wear crosses-crucifixes if they're Catholic."
"Yes, sir. And Star of David if they're Jewish. I'm thanking the Good Lord that I don't have any of those atheist folks in my group, so we can do as you say."
Cole started to walk away and came back. "Sergeant Newcomb, just call me Cole. I'm starting to feel like an officer. I don't want to be an officer."
"You are an officer of the law, sir-Cole," Newcomb said.
"In Texas. We're a long way from Texas," Cole said, clapping a hand on the man's back.
"You have someone waiting, Cole," Newcomb pointed out.
Cole turned toward the street where he saw the black carriage he had seen often enough in front of the house.
It wasn't the conveyance Lincoln customarily used for his rides around the Mall. This was the carriage that meant the president was secreted in the back and did not wish to greet his constituents on a casual basis.
Cole nodded to Newcomb and strode over to the carriage. The driver hopped down and opened the door, bringing down the step. A trolley car, heavy laden with both civilians and troops, drove on ahead as he stepped into the carriage, but the door quickly muffled the sound of the draft horses' hooves.
He slid into the seat that faced the rear. The president, his hands on a walking stick, sat back, facing forward. He looked like a tired old bulldog with a worn, gaunt face.
"Sir," Cole said.
"Sheriff Granger," Lincoln returned. "I see that you've received the supplies. It might have been a great deal easier to acquire many of them with a bit more warning."
"I'm sorry. Circumstances arose last night that put the journey into secondary consideration."
"And those were?"
Cole hesitated; he knew that Lincoln had recently lost a beloved child.
But there was nothing to say other than the truth.
"Our landlady's children fell into jeopardy."
He was sorry that he'd been forced to speak. The man with an iron determination to hold a country together, no matter the cost, looked away, deeper grooves setting into his lined face.
"I spend a great deal of my day at the telegraph office," he said.
Lincoln looked at him gravely. "My heart grows heavier with each individual death, and yet as the notices come, that toll mounts hourly. I will not argue politics with you-I will first state my appreciation that you understand we are meeting as equals. Human beings with souls and a firm belief that there is a God and all men stand equal before him."
"This different war that we fight is one that must be won," Cole assured him.
"Such a strange disease," the president murmured, looking away again. "They lost another seven men last night. I had ordered that the guard duty be doubled. I had taken many precautions advised to me by Alex and Cody Fox. And still, the men don't understand what they face. Frankly, neither do I. Seven men, Sheriff Granger. In one night. And they did not fall to enemy troops-they did not fall for God and country in the line of battle. Once they are infected with the disease, they will attack anywhere."
"That, sir, is true."
"I needed you to know about the last seven deaths," Lincoln said. "They were heinous, from what I read between the lines of the telegraphs I receive. General Bickford described that one of the dead had his throat torn out, another looked as if he'd been mauled by a grizzly. I know we have bears in the woods, Sheriff Granger, but in the town...the afflicted seem to have the power to rip up men as if they were nothing but paper."
Lincoln sat forward, leaning on the walking stick. "Right now, there is no military action in the area. The major armies in this northeastern sector are engaged in a terrible battle at Cold Harbor once again. I have found a general who will stand his ground in a man named Ulysses Grant. Heaven help us and God forgive me-our losses are already unimaginable. But Grant will not back down. I think of the thousands of men lost with horror-and yet I know that if the terrible disease raging at Harpers Ferry is not stopped, all of humanity is at risk. There will no longer be a North, and no South. There will be no Union, and certainly no Confederacy. We may not even make it to the elections, just months away."
"I understand," Cole said. "I understand that clearly. It's why I came when notified that containing the situation in that prison was imperative."
"Of course," the president agreed softly. He nodded. "And now...I did not mean to take your time this morning. I wanted you to be forewarned regarding developments in the last twelve hours."
Lincoln hesitated and looked out the window yet again.
"And then...then there is Mary."
Cole held silent, waiting.
A deep, trembling sigh shook the man. His hands, giant, long, as gaunt as his face, shook lightly where they lay atop the walking stick.
"Mary, my wife...she woke me up this morning, determined that I speak with you. Willie comes to her. She sees him in her dreams. He is deeply concerned. A young boy was killed and he has come back. Willie sees him. Willie has told Mary that you must make sure you find the boy, and that you see that he-he is not the walking dead, diseased and killing others. He doesn't want to kill, but...there is no hope for him. He wants to be set free, so that he might make amends, and join his mother in heaven."
Cole felt the man's dark, sad eyes fall on him again. He had heard that Lincoln was often at a loss, trying to care for his wife and trying to understand her deep devotion to the dreams and spiritualism that informed her beliefs. This great man seemed to suffer his own demons, and probably understood his wife's torment. And yet, as the president of a nation at war, he had to keep a strong hand on reality and the bloody, gruesome truth of battle, politics and the decisions that must be made daily.
He leaned forward. "You may assure your wife, sir, that I will find the boy, and that I will set him free, if it is the last thing that I do."
He was rewarded by a slow smile, and another small bout of trembling.
"I pray for nothing but peace," Lincoln said. "You must understand-I believe that this great nation is one under God. I believe that, God willing, I will win the election and that, in time, there will be peace. And I swear to you, while I breathe, it will be an honorable peace. Every man out there is an American. We are brothers, and we will be so again."
"I pray peace will come," Cole replied. And with that, he realized that they were through talking. He also realized that the carriage hadn't really gone anywhere.
He started to rise.
"There is a telegraph office in Harpers Ferry. I want to be apprised of developments, if you will be so good as to see that all news is sent. General Bickford will see to it that you are housed and given whatever assistance you request."
"Thank you," Cole said.
"God go with you."
Cole nodded and stepped down from the carriage. The driver gave a flick of the reins the moment he was out, and the carriage lumbered onto the street.
Cole looked after him and shivered suddenly. He gave himself a mental shake. He was a Texan at heart, and he shouldn't have agreed with the ruler of a "foreign" power. But then again, he shouldn't have been in the capital of the Union.
Fighting vampires could certainly give a man very strange bedfellows.
CHILDREN WERE certainly the most resilient little beings in the world, Megan decided.
Although Artie remained afraid that he had failed his mother and sister, he was awake, aware, alert and energetic in the morning. He sat with Cody, Megan and Alex for a long time, listening intensely as Cody taught him about the things he must watch out for, and what he could do to protect himself and his family. Artie was a very sharp young man. Perhaps, somewhere in the back of his mind, he had vague memories that he could dredge up to the surface regarding the attack the night before. But for now he was focusing on defending his mother and sister.
The household was now adorned in crucifixes, blessed by the Catholic Church. Cody had spent the morning arming each room in the house with carved wooden crosses that could double as stakes if the need arose. Vials of holy water had replaced perfumes and cosmetics on the dressing table tops. Even little Marni understood that if someone should come near her, she was to toss the contents of one of the vials at an intruder, or at anyone who seemed intent on coming too close to her.
The children had to go to school. Alex or Cody could see that they got there and back safely, but they needed to know how to protect themselves, as well.
Megan had awakened to discover that Cole was gone, and for a moment, she was torn. She hoped in a way that he had left without her-no matter what the mission, in her heart, she didn't want to leave.
She didn't want Cole to be gone. She didn't want to believe it, but she didn't want him to be away from her, either. Which was quite ridiculous, because he still barely tolerated her, even if she had discovered that he could be kind, even tender. But she had strange vampire blood running in her veins, and she was quite sure that was something rooted deeply in his mind, whether he was already friends with Cody or not. He could completely infuriate her, and yet...
Maybe Lisette Annalise was now going with him.
She disliked the woman. Great actress, songstress-she was still a one-minded, possessed harpy, as far as Megan could tell.
But it did seem that she'd had some kind of a relationship with Cole.
And that might be why Megan disliked her as much as she did....
Then, again, she could be right. Lisette Annalise was rabid in her determination to win the war-more so than she was to kill vampires, it seemed.
But she hadn't had to wonder about Cole and the journey to Harpers Ferry long-Alex greeted her with the cheerful information that Cole was arranging for their supplies and that he would be back soon.
She was packed and ready to go, and showing Artie how to fashion crosses out of reeds for the room he would share with his mother and sister-the family didn't intend to be parted anymore-when Cole returned.
He was striking in his dark breeches and vest, white shirt and ever-present weapon-laden coat. He strode into the house and found her on the parlor floor with Artie. She looked up at him, and he smiled.
"Master Arthur! You're doing remarkably well. Sir, I look forward to returning to see you and your family again soon," he said. He offered Megan a hand to pull her to her feet, and she accepted, feeling a rush of warmth just to take his hand and feel his strength as he drew her to her feet.
"We're really going?" she asked.
Artie, who had risen as well, asked Cole, "Must you? Really?"
"We really must. But we'll be back soon enough, I warrant. And I know that you'll be here to assist your mother, Alex, Cody and Brendan with all that they might need."
"Yes, sir. I've been learning this morning. I'll be very careful from now on. I'll keep my eyes open at all times. And I can help my mother and the others."
"Good man," Cole said, ruffling his hair. "Now, Megan, where are your things? There's a wagon outside. We're taking the horses, but the wagon will take your bags."
"I travel lightly," she told him. "One bag."
"I'll get it, sir!" Artie told him.
"Thank you," Megan said, and watched the boy head for the stairs.
"Where are the others?" Cole asked.
"In the kitchen."
She followed Cole through the house. In the kitchen, Alex was packing a bag with bottles for Megan. "You'll be supplied for several days," Alex said flatly. "After that...well, it doesn't keep forever."
"I'm good at fending for myself," she said, her cheeks reddening. She was certain that Cole had to be thinking it was quite inconvenient to travel with a woman who needed a supply of drinkable blood.
"If that basket is set, I'll take it to the wagon," Cole said flatly. He pulled out his pocket watch. "We've got to be there in a matter of minutes."
Alex came and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He and Cody started out with a handshake, but embraced briefly. Brendan gave Cole a tremendous pat on the back, and Martha held back a little sniffle.
"Do you have to go, Cole?" Marni asked.
He lifted her into his arms. "Yes, Miss Marni, that we do. But we'll be back in a jiffy. This is the nicest place to be," he assured her.
He set Marni down and she ran to Megan, burying her face in her skirts. "It's all right, little one. You know I'll come back-I always do!"
"You'd really better hurry," Cody said.
Cole nodded. He looked at Megan. "We've got to go."
They walked through the house and out the front where a wagon was waiting to collect the belongings. The horses were waiting as well, for which Megan was glad. She had grown fond of the bay mare, rather ridiculously named Brunhilda. The animal was beautiful, however-well fed, sleek and well trained. She started to mount, but turned when she realized that Cody was standing there, ready to give her a boost up.
He smiled solemnly at her. "Take care, and come home safely. It's good to have a sister."
She felt bizarrely like bursting into tears and nodded instead.
Cody stepped back, perhaps aware that he might be overly sentimental. "And watch out for Cole, huh?"
Cole shook his head and rolled his eyes.
"Cole, you take good care of Megan," Alex said.
"I'll see to it that you receive the news from the telegraphs," Cole told Cody.
Cody nodded. With a last wave, they turned the horses down the street and followed the wagon to the railroad station.
Four men in uniform were waiting for them. Cole introduced them as Sergeant Terry Newcomb, Gerald Banter, Michael Hodges and Evan Briar. The men were unerringly polite. They pointed out that they were in the fourth car. She took note of the armor on the train as she walked along the side of it to the door and as the men helped her up the two steps to the car.
Inside, the train was dark and shadowed; the windows were small ovals that opened up to the world beyond.
Cole took the seat beside her, and the four military men sat in the two closest rows on the opposite side of the train. She noted, as they waited, that a number of men in uniform were boarding the train, and their car filled up quickly. There were a few other civilians, all with their travel papers ready should they be needed.
She heard the sound of the train's whistle, and then felt the massive wheels beneath her as they began to churn. They moved slowly from the railway station.
Cole took her hand, surprising her. He drew a line over the top of it, his fingers moving down hers. It was an affectionate gesture, and she hoped that he couldn't feel the sudden heat that it sent rushing through her.
"You're unusually quiet," he said, a half smile curled into his features.
"So are you," she told him.
"Ah, well, I like to play the silent type."
"Really? I must say, I hadn't noted."
"I'd love to know what you're thinking right now," he told her.
She would not love to tell him.
She was sitting next to him, not exactly tightly, but tightly enough. She was coming to be so aware of him when he was near that it hurt. She loved the sound of his voice, and she particularly loved his face when he had that sardonic smile that seemed to be a wry look aimed at himself, rather than anyone around him. She loved the darkness of him-the deep, penetrating blue of his eyes, and still...the scent of him. And the feel of him. His fingers, a featherlight touch upon her own...
She didn't draw away from him. She tried to answer. "Actually, I'm thinking that just weeks ago, I would have been stunned to think that I could be here-wishing that I was not leaving the Union capital."
He nodded, staring out as the train continued its slow pace out of the station and through the heart of the city. The day was clear and the sky was light-now that they were leaving. There was no hint of rain. People moved to and fro; a horse-drawn trolley was clopping along while riders passed it and pedestrians seemed to crawl behind it. Shop fronts displayed their wares, and men and women went into and out of a large bank.
He looked at her again. His hand squeezed hers. "They'll be fine. Really. Cody is the most adept person I have ever met, and Alex is excellent at his side. And Brendan! Brendan is an extremely wise man. He knew about Cody and hunted him down when the trouble began out West."
She nodded, afraid to speak for a moment.
He leaned closer to her, talking softly. "I do know the feeling, however."
"You don't want to be leaving?" she asked him, surprised.
"It isn't that. We're not going far, and still, we're going to a different world. The war effort is so visible here-and yet, there are so many civilians here, too. Life goes on. From what I've heard...Harpers Ferry, early on, became something of a ghost town. There has been so much battle and trauma that everyday life is nonexistent. And..."
"Believe it or not, I made a promise to the president of the United States today."
She smiled herself. She'd been so distrusted herself, she'd not really realized that Cole was out of his element here, too...
"Oh?" she asked.
He nodded. "Today...ah, well, it's so strange. There are those who would make a true monster out of Lincoln. The papers in the South skewer him, as do his political enemies in the North. There are sketches of him as a buffoon in some of them-I recently saw one in which he was depicted as man dangling a group of Africans from his fingers, as if he weren't really concerned for the welfare of man, but just in having his own way. I never believed that he was a monster. In all honesty, I tried not to think about the East or any place where I knew that people were dying daily, torn apart in so many ways. But today, I saw what makes him a man who people do follow with a passion. He cares deeply. And he is torn and embattled with his own inner demons and those of his wife."
"Go on," Megan said when he paused for a moment, as if lost in thought.
"I promised I would find a drummer boy, and see that his soul was saved," Cole told her softly.
"We'll find him," she said, filling in the words but not quite knowing what he meant.
He nodded. "There were seven more deaths last night."
"Seven-what have they done with the bodies?"
"I'm hoping that we get there in time to see that-that they have been dealt with in the proper manner," he told her.
"I'm hoping we don't get there just to run into a battle," Megan said. "I know what happens when the wounded lay strewn on the fields of war."
He squeezed her hand. "I think it's quiet at the moment. The Union forces have been in control since the end of July, last year. God knows, that can change at a moment's notice. But the area has faced the same problems since the beginning of the war, when the Southern forces knew they needed to keep the town-but then realized that, logistically, it was almost impossible. I think Union forces, in leaving initially, destroyed most of the armory. The Southerners salvaged what they could, but knew they didn't have the manpower to hold tight-the heights there leave an awful lot of opportunity for snipers, for guerilla forces, to pin down the town. It's one of God's most beautiful creations-now devastated so much that it's barely recognizable."
"And now it's been carved off from its homeland. Now it's the state of West Virginia...." Megan commented.
Cole didn't reply to that. He seemed lost in his own thoughts.
Their route was to take them north-northwest to Frederick, then west to Harpers Ferry. They fell silent as the train picked up speed.
Cole continued to look out the window, watching.
"We're traveling through Union territory," she reminded him.
"Yes, I know. And the major armies on this front are engaged elsewhere."
She arched a brow. "How do you know that?"
"Battle is engaged at Cold Harbor," he said.
"But there are smaller pockets of guerilla bands in motion?" she asked. "And, certainly, Lee has been known to split the Army of Northern Virginia. The war isn't over, Cole. You must know that Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee are always thinking of ways that they might invade Washington, D.C."
"Yes. But I believe that we're looking at nothing but bloodshed-until the 'rebellion,' as it's called here, is put down. Lincoln knows how many men he is losing, and the generals know how many men they are losing. While the South eyes D.C., the North is eyeing Richmond. And the North has more men. And arms."
"George Washington and the Rebels should have, logistically, lost the Revolution," Megan pointed out.
"The English were across an ocean. They didn't have a passion like President Lincoln's, and they were distracted by their other holdings."
She smiled slightly. "Have you been swayed to a cause?" she asked him.
"My only cause is a prayer that all this ends," he told her. "My cause is to save people, which I believe is your cause."
She looked away for a moment. "I think we'll be all right on the train."
He looked at her. "I'm not just watching for Southern troops."
"You think that a band of vampires might attack an armored train?"
"I think that anything can happen."
She discovered that she was particularly disturbed, and looked out the window again.
Anything could happen.
But nothing did happen as they moved through the countryside. Though it had picked up speed out of D.C., the train did not seem to be moving fast.
The land gently rolled as they headed west toward the mountains. They passed farms and fields, some heavy with the abundance of the crops planted this past spring.
And they passed barren areas of desolation. Farmers worked out in their fields.
And nothing happened.
She began to doze, leaning her head on Cole's shoulder.
In her dreams, she saw him. He was standing as if in one of the fields they had just passed. And there was something behind him. Something dark, like a malevolent cloud, and yet it had a substance to it, a shape....
She kept shouting to Cole, telling him that it was coming, that he had to turn around, that he had to quit watching her and see the truth. She wasn't the evil-the thing coming for him was the true monster, and he wouldn't see it....
The cloud descended closer and closer....
She awoke with a start, ready to scream, leap from her seat and look for the danger.
She was ready to die for him, she realized.
"Megan! It's all right," he warned her quickly, his hands on her shoulders, guiding her back into her seat. His eyes were troubled; he looked past her, making sure that no one else had noted her panic. "It's all right," he said again. "We've just stopped. We're in Frederick, Maryland. We're stopping, that's all."
"Oh," she murmured, and still she looked around, trying to tell herself that it had only been a dream.
He smiled and stroked her cheek gently, a strange light in the deep blue of his eyes. "But, thank you," he said.
"Being ready to leap in front of fire-for me."
She feared being so vulnerable, and for feeling such a deep fascination and attraction to Cole. There could be nothing good about it, and yet...
"It's-it's just what I do."
And he laughed. "Really?" he queried in a husky whisper. "Well, may I say, I am ready to leap in front of fire for you."
"It's what you do, too," she said gravely. And he smiled, about to say more, but the train suddenly jerked and she fell forward, almost into his arms.
"We'll see, won't we?" he said and sat back. Because the soldiers across the aisle were rising, and Sergeant Newcomb was coming toward them.