by Winnie

Chapter 14
Tricks and Treats

Vin knew the kids were having a great time as he adjusted the fake mare’s leg in the holster. He’d dug through the boxes at home until he’d found the old Buckskin jacket and hat that belong to his great-great uncle on his mother’s side. He wore jeans and dark cowboy boots to finish his costume and had allowed several children to check out his hat and ‘gun’. Nathan and Rain were dressed as clowns and were going around to each child with goody bags donated by several stores in the city, including Delvecchio’s. There were even treat bags made up for special needs children with Diabetes and several other serious illnesses.

“Hey, Cowboy, care to rescue a damsel in distress?”

“Hell, yeah, Miss, Inez,” Tanner said, watching as Buck, dressed in army fatigues glanced in his direction. Wilmington’s face held a hint of annoyance as Inez latched onto Vin’s arm. “What would ya like me ta do?”

“There are several trays of sandwiches and candy apples for the kids and staff, but I could not carry them all.”

“Where are they?” the Texan asked.

“In my car,” Recillos said and smiled at Wilmington when two small children began tugging on his belt.

“See ya later…Bucklin,” Tanner teased and left the room.

“Vin, where are you…” Wilmington didn’t have a chance to finish as the kids tackled him and he wound up sitting on the floor.

“Do you have a gun?” a boy of seven asked.

“Not now…I’d be arrested for bring a gun in here,” Wilmington said and tousled the boys red hair.

“He had one…”

“Who?” the rogue asked.

“That cowboy that took off with your girlfriend,” the boy answered.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Wilmington said.

“Sure could have fooled me,” the little girl said with an innocent smile. “You wanted to kiss her didn’t you?”

“I’m not…”

“Okay, Children, why don’t we go get some hot chocolate and wait for the clowns?” Rain said, feeling sorry for the ladies’ man.

“Thanks, Rain,” Wilmington said as the children joined the others and sat on the floor.

“You’re welcome, but you do realize the kids are right?”

“About what?”

“You wanting to kiss Inez,” Rain teased.

“That would be a treat,” Wilmington said wistfully.

“All you need to do is trick her…”

“I know…wait a minute, I don’t need to trick her into kissing me…”

“Buck, you’ll never learn,” Jackson said upon joining the duo.

“What do you mean, Nate?”

“Well, maybe you should play hard to get and ignore Inez,” the medic suggested. “Trick her into thinking she’s the one missing out on a treat. After all women do it all the...”

“Now, Nathan, that’s not fair,” Rain lightly scolded as she elbowed Jackson in the ribs. “We don’t need to trick you to get treats…”

“No, you just have to bat your eyes and pout...see, that’s exactly what I’m talking about!” Wilmington said as Rain did a perfect imitation of a pouting woman near tears.

Rain tried to hold the look, but finally broke into heartfelt laughter as Nathan grinned and kissed her cheek. “You’re impossible!”

“Do you really think it would work, Nate?” the rogue asked.

“How do you think Rain caught me? I mean all it took was the batting…oomph,” Jackson cried as she elbowed him with a little more gusto.

“Better watch it, Nate, or you’ll wind up visiting the ER and who knows how many tricksters are pretending to be doctors there tonight,” Wilmington observed as Dunne and Standish joined them.

“Nathan, you look like you bit into an apple and found half a worm,” Dunne said with a grin.

“Thanks, Kid,” Jackson said, relieved when Rain moved to help a nurse with several children. “So, Ezra, would you mind telling me who you’re supposed to be?”

“I thought that was quite obvious, Mr. Jackson,” the gambler said of his Armani suit.

“He says he’s a high priced gambler,” Dunne said.

“What kind of costume is that?” Wilmington asked.

“An expensive one,” Standish answered before moving to a group of children and showing them several card tricks.

“All right, JD, who are you supposed to be?” Jackson asked.

“I’m a Transformer,” Dunne answered, shaking his head that his friend did not recognize his costume.

“He’s supposed to be Bumblebee,” Wilmington answered as Josiah sauntered toward them. The big man was dressed as the Tin Man from The Wizard of OZ and had several children following him around. “Too bad Chris couldn’t make it…he loves being around kids.”

“Why don’t you call him and see if he’s changed his mind?” Sanchez suggested as Tanner and Recillos returned.

“I might just do that, Josiah, but first I have to…”

“Trick Inez for a treat,” Jackson interrupted.

“One word, Buck,” Dunne said with a grin. “Nunca!”

“Real funny, Kid, go bob for an apple or something,” Wilmington ordered as Tanner joined them.

“Something wrong?” the Texan asked.

“No, Buck’s just trying to trick Inez,” Jackson answered.

“Buck, you might as well quit now…Miss Inez is already spoken for tonight,” the Texan said.

“She is? Who…no way, Vin, she’s not with you…”

“We’re gonna mosey on over ta her place…”

“Not a chance…”

“Well, Buck, you might as well call Chris and see if he wants some company since it looks like another cold night for you,” Sanchez said.

Wilmington watched as Tanner helped Inez Recillos with the food she’d brought and wondered how he could ever keep up with the Texan’s ‘Yes Ma’ams’ or the smile that seemed to send the ladies into a frenzy.

“Don’t feel too bad, Buck, he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it,” Sanchez offered sympathetically. “He comes by it honestly.”

“Makes me want to puke,” Wilmington snapped.

“Not here or they’ll take you to the ER,” Dunne told him.

“I’m going to call Chris,” Wilmington said and moved out of the room to find a place where he could hear the conversation.

“Buck, are you leaving already?”

Wilmington turned to find Inez Recillos standing behind him. She looked great in a witch’s costume, the black dress showing off her near perfect figure as she held a broom in her hand. “I was just going to call Chris…”

“I could use your help,” the pretty woman told him.

“Sure…what do you need me to do?”

“Thank you, Buck,” Inez said, smiling as she handed him the broom. “Vin dropped a tray of chips and…”

“Hell, make him clean it up,” Wilmington said.

“He offered, but I thought you were leaving and…well, I didn’t want you to just yet,” Recillos told him. She really liked this man, but also enjoyed their flirting and playing around each other. Vin knew she had eyes for the rogue and it had been part of their game to make him a little jealous.

“You didn’t?”

“No, Buck, I did not. Perhaps you could help me clean up after the party,” Recillos asked.

“Sure…I could do that,” Wilmington said and took the broom from her hand.

“Thank you, Buck,” Recillos said and the duo walked back into the room, all thoughts of calling Chris Larabee forgotten.

Chapter 15

He looked down at his captive, blood showing on his teeth and chin as he settled back against his coffin. Hours had passed since he’d woken to the darkness and hunger that raged within him. He’d fed upon his victim, drinking the warm blood as if it was his last meal. The sad part was, it probably would be just that, because once they discovered what he’d done he would be locked away for the rest of his life.

He’d fooled the doctors into believing that he no longer craved the blood, and that he wasn’t a real vampire, but he’d given in and the feeding of the last few hours had reawakened his animal instincts. The blood lust was too strong and regular food did nothing to sate his hunger. His body convulsed when he drank the blood, yet it didn’t stop him from wanting more.

He looked at his victim, trussed up in the ‘Devil’s Wire’ and his tongue slipped past his lips as he fought the urge to feed once more. How long would this man last? How much blood could he drain before he died? How long before someone reported him missing and a search started? Could he hide the victim’s body? Could he clean up the blood that had dropped onto the floor? Did he leave a trail that would lead the searchers to his door?

He thought about it over and over, watching as his victim shifted on the floor and catching the scent of fresh blood that drove his yearnings into a tangled frenzy that made his heart beat too fast. He reached behind him and found the knife he’d brought with him from the kitchen and used it to make an incision in his victim’s abdomen. Blood flowed freely, glistening darkly in the candle light and he pressed his mouth against the wound.

God, this was maddening, the taste everything his body and mind craved. He drank until the wound seemed to dry up and reluctantly sat back. He looked at his coffin and felt the weariness seeping through his bones. It was growing dark outside as a mixture of snow and rain began to fall.

The blood lust was even stronger now, but feeding was out of the question as his stomach churned and his guts knotted up. He turned away as bloodied vomit erupted from his throat, and lay back with his eyes closed. The victim remained unconscious and he climbed to his feet. He needed sleep and tonight he would finish what he started and drain the last of the blood from this man before escaping into the night and finding another haven from the world that did not understand who or what he was.

Chapter 16

Vin Tanner drove along the dark road that led to his ranch and rotated his shoulders tiredly. The children’s Halloween party had been a big hit and they’d headed to Buck’s Bar and Grill for a celebration afterward. He’d had one beer and called it a night because he wanted to stop by Chris’ ranch and see how things were going and offer his help if it was needed. Buck and Inez had come to a mutual understanding and after the party ended had even set a date for the following night.

Vin could not believe how cold it was and watched as snow began to fall. He was glad the weather had held off and given the trick or treaters a chance to make their rounds. By now most of them would be home and tucked into warm beds while their parents relaxed in front of the TV. He’d passed several homes and could see the lights burning inside as families tried to warm themselves after a cold night of knocking on doors.

Vin slowed the jeep down as he drew closer to Larabee’s driveway and made the turn, his headlights revealing Larabee’s truck parked near the front door. The house itself was bathed in darkness except where his headlights managed to push back the black veil. He frowned as he exited the truck and made his way to the front door. He glanced at his watch and noted the time as a little after 10 and knew it was too early for the blond to be in bed.

The Texan rapped on the door several times, blowing on his hands in an effort to warm them. His breath was visible in the headlights and he knocked loudly while shouting. “Come on, Cowboy, it’s colder than a witch’s tit out here!”

Tanner’s worry grew as there was no sound from inside and the house itself remained in darkness. He glanced toward the full bodied moon, frowning when a cloud seemed to blot out the bright orb and snow continued to fall. He slowly made his way around the back of the house and frowned when he heard a sound from the area of the corral. He slowly made his way toward it, his eyes adjusting to the darkness until he focused on Pony standing at the fence.

“Hey, Boy, how’d ya get out here?” Tanner asked softly as the skittish animal pawed at the ground. “Easy, Boy, I’m just gonna take a look atcha.”

Pony’s head came up at the sound of his voice and Vin continued to speak softly as he made his way toward the horse. “Where’s Chris, Boy? Is he out here with you?”

The Texan knew some people would think him crazy because of the way he talked to the animal, but he knew the sound of his voice often soothed the animal’s skittish nature. “Easy, Boy, I’m not gonna hurt ya,” Tanner said and reached for the reins. His fears for Larabee intensified as he realized the horse was still saddled and seemed to have been out here for some time.

Vin led the animal inside the barn and quickly removed the saddle. He wanted to rub the animal down, but first he needed to find out where Larabee was. He made sure Pony had plenty of feed and water before heading outside and making his way to the house in case the blond had made it there after dismounting Pony. That something had happened was a given, but Vin hoped and prayed it was nothing serious, yet deep down his gut told him otherwise.

The back of the house was silent and dark, the windows and doors locked up tight. Vin could see no sign of the blond and reached for his cell phone. He hit speed dial and could hear Larabee’s phone ringing inside the house, but it went unanswered. His next move was to call Chris’ cell phone and again he hit speed dial.

Chapter 17

Chris became aware of the sound of a phone ringing and tried to focus his mind on the problem at hand. His captor had fed on him several times and Larabee began to wonder how much blood he’d lost. There were several shallow knife wounds in his abdomen, each one surrounded by teeth marks where the man had latched onto his skin. The ‘Devil’s Wire’ cut deep into his arms and legs, but he continued to try to free himself.

He glanced toward the coffin, relieved to hear the harsh breathing from inside that told him his tormentor was still sleeping. The phone continued to ring, and Chris glanced toward the pile of clothing near the door. The smell of burning candles was strong and made him nauseous, but he crawled, slowly, painfully inching toward what he hoped would be salvation. He had no idea how long it took, but he finally reached his destination and used his teeth to pull his cell phone free.

Chris didn’t bother looking at the number, because right now it didn’t matter who his benefactor was as long as the person listened to his plea for help. Chris used his nose to press the button that would open the line, relieved that this phone did not need to be opened in order to use it.

“Chris, you there?”

“Vin,” Larabee rasped, wondering if Tanner could even hear him.

“Chris…Chris, where are ya?”

“Ranch…Devil’s Wire…need help,” Larabee managed. “New owner’s crazy…thinks he’s a vam…vampire…”

“Jesus, Chris, I can hardly hear ya…”

“Ranch next…” Chris cried out as the phone was kicked away and a foot connected with his right side. He cursed the bastard standing above him and blinked several times in denial as his vision blurred and he could have sworn his tormentor was hovering above the floor. The candles did little to illuminate the man’s face, but he could see the anger as his attacker bared his fangs and his fetid breath struck him with a sickening stench.

Chris barely had time to think as his tormentor landed at his feet and spread his arms wide. The man was bigger than Chris thought possible and an unholy screech escaped his throat as he produced a knife and made several incisions to Larabee’s arms and shoulders before lowering his head and biting at the damaged flesh. Chris cried out and struggled to escape his captor, silently praying that Vin had understood his plea for help.

Chapter 18
Frightening Discoveries

Vin looked at his phone and tried to make sense of the information he’d just received. There was no doubt that it had been Chris Larabee, but the man’s voice had sounded like he was speaking through crushed glass. Tanner tried to redial, but with no luck. He thought about what Larabee has said and grasped a couple of words…’Devil’s Wire’.

“Devil’s Wire,” Tanner whispered and glanced toward the ranch that adjoined Chris’. They had no idea who the newcomer was, but a shiver ran down his spine at the thought of Larabee’s desperate plea for help. He raced toward his jeep while clicking on the number that would connect his phone with Wilmington’s.

“Vin, do you know what time it is?”

“Shut the hell up and listen, Buck! Have you heard from Chris?”

“Not since this morning. What’s going on, Vin?”

“I’m at Chris’ place…he’s not here…”

“You sure? He said he was going to be working on those damn reports all weekend.”

“I called his cell…spoke ta ‘im, but we got cut off. Somethin’s wrong and I think it’s got somethin’ ta do with his new neighbor,” Tanner explained worriedly. “I’m goin’ over there now!”

“Maybe you should wait until we get there?”

“Ain’t ‘nough time,” the Texan snapped and drove out onto the main road. “Look, Buck, Chris said somethin’ ‘bout….”

“About what, Vin?”

“I think he said somethin’ about a vampire…”

“Oh, come on, Vin…a vampire…well, hell, it is Halloween…”

“Buck, ain’t nothin’ funny ‘bout this,” Tanner interrupted. “Look, I gotta go. I’ll call ya as soon’s I know anythin’…”

“I’m on my way, Vin…just watch your back!”

“I will,” the Texan said and put his phone back in his pocket.  He pulled the jeep to the side of the road and turned off the lights once he reached the ranch that bordered on Chris’. He exited the car and stayed to the shadows cast by the bright moon as it peeked out from behind the clouds. There was no movement from the house and no light shone from inside as he reached the window next to the front door.

Vin peered inside, but could only make out shadows until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. There seemed to be little or no furniture present and he frowned before moving to the main door. His hand touched the handle and he turned it, surprised to find it unlocked. The Texan eased the door open, listening for any sound from inside the house.

Tanner silently entered the home and closed the door behind him.  He wished he had his gun with him, but he’d left it locked in the gun case at the office before going to help Rain and Nathan with the children’s Halloween party. He leaned against the wall and listened for any sounds from the darkness, wrinkling his nose when he caught the familiar scent of burning wax and a sickeningly sweet incense.

Vin made his way along the hallway and stopped at a partially open door. He listened closely, and thought he heard muffled sounds from below. He eased the door open and moved onto the top step before a familiar voice reached his ears.

“Fucking bas…bas…”

Larabee’s words were barely audible, but they sent Vin scrambling desperately down the stairs. There were lit candles everywhere, sending shadows spiraling across the walls and floor. Tanner’s eyes were drawn to the coffin and the scene taking place beside it sent a chill racing down his spine.

Chris Larabee was lying on his side and a man, at least that’s what Vin thought he was, seemed to be sucking at an open wound on the blond’s shoulder. It took a few seconds for his mind to grasp what his eyes were seeing and he reacted instinctively. Vin rushed forward, driving his body into Larabee’s tormentor and he heard a scream of rage as the man struck the open coffin and whirled to face him.

Vin’s face grimaced in horror at the blood that covered the man’s lips and dripped down his chin. He didn’t have time to think about where the blood came from as the ‘would be vampire’ slammed into him, throwing his body against the far wall with such incredible force it drove the air from his lungs. He barely had time to think as a hand gripped his throat and squeezed tightly. He fought the way he had in the streets, desperately trying to loosen his attacker’s hold before bringing his knee up into the man’s groin. Still the hand stayed where it was, bruising his throat, and Vin’s movements became desperate.

Tanner could hear movement behind his attacker, but he could not take time to acknowledge it. He reached down, grabbing a fistful of the man’s inner thigh and heard him cry out. The hand loosened slightly, and Vin took advantage of it. He used his free hand to grasp the man’s thumb and bend it back until the fingers released and he brought the man to his knees. With a ferocity born of desperation, Vin drove his fist into the man’s face and released him when his eyes closed. He placed his hands on his knees, desperately trying to catch his breath before making his way toward Larabee.

“Jesus, Cowboy,” Tanner rasped, his voice weak to his own ears.

“Vin…get…get this shit off,” Larabee ordered weakly.

“It’d be easier if’n I had wire cutters,” the Texan said. He turned his friend slightly on his side and knew there was no way he could remove the wire without the cutters. He glanced around, but the flickering candles sent grotesque shadows across the walls and floor. He moved around the basement, searching for anything he could use, but aside from the coffin and a few piece of broken wood there was nothing he could use to remove the wires from his friend’s arms and legs.

Chris lay on his side, desperately trying to ignore the sharp barbs that cut into his skin as he watched the Texan search the area. He heard movement and turned to see his tormentor make it to his feet and grab the knife from inside his clothes.

“Vin! Look out!” Larabee yelled and tried to trip the man up, but failed as his nemesis simply stepped over his outstretched legs.

Vin turned just as the man lashed out with his blade, jumping back, but not quite far enough to escape the slashing blade. He felt it cut into his left forearm and grabbed for anything he could use to defend himself. His fingers grasped a piece of wood and he brought it around in front of his body as the man attacked again.

Chris could only watch helplessly as Vin fought for his life. He saw the flash of the blade, heard the Texan’s sharp cry of pain just before the ‘vampire’ staggered back, his hand going to the piece of wood buried deep in his chest even as he slid to the floor. Larabee searched the darkness for his friend, relieved when Tanner staggered toward the dead man and checked for a pulse.

“Is he…”

“He’s dead,” Tanner answered, his head snapping up as he heard movement from the floor above. “Buck!”

“Vin, where the hell are you?” Wilmington called, his voice desperate.

“In the basement…bring some wire cutters and call an ambulance and the police!”

“Wire cutters?”

“Just do it, Buck, and grab the first aid kit!” Tanner ordered.

“On it!” Wilmington called and Vin heard his footsteps heading toward the door.

Tanner turned his attention to the injured blond, worried about how pale he was in the flickering light cast by the candles. He reached out and touched Larabee’s shoulder and smiled thinly when the sea green eyes focused on him.

“You sure…sure he’s dead?”

“Deader’n a beaver hat,” Tanner told him, hating how cold Larabee’s skin felt beneath his fingers.

“Good…sick bas…bastard,” Larabee moaned as he shifted and soon found himself lying on his stomach with his head resting on the Texan’s legs.

“Buck’s gettin’ the wire cutters, Chris,” Tanner assured his friend.

“You’re bleeding,” Larabee said and nodded to the gash on the Texan’s arm.

“Just a scratch…”

“Just don’t let that sonofabitch see it,” the blond snarled weakly.

“He ain’t seein’ nothin’,” Tanner assured his friend.

“Vin, I’m coming down,” Wilmington called from the first floor. He stopped when he spotted the two men and his eyes caught site of the macabre sight near the bottom of the stairs. “Who the hell is he?”

“Chris’ new neighbor…invited Chris over as dinner,” Tanner answered.

“The police and ambulance are on the way,” Wilmington said and began cutting the wire wrapped around Larabee’s arms and glanced at the Texan. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Tanner said and pulled a large gauze pad from the first aid kit. He quickly placed it over the wound on his forearm and watched as Wilmington removed the barbed wire form Larabee’s legs. He winced at the sight of the raw wounds that continued to seep blood. His eyes met Wilmington’s and he saw his own fears mirrored there.

“All right, Pard, let’s get this shit off your arms,” Wilmington said and used the wire cutters on the strands twisted around Larabee’s arms. It took nearly ten minutes to cut away the remaining wire and he angrily threw it into the corner before helping the blond turn on his side.

“Thanks,” the blond whispered as he settled back against the Texan.

“We should get him off the dirty floor,” the rogue said.

“Whole place is a mess,” Tanner observed.

“We could bring him out to the car,” Wilmington said and taped gauze over the knife wounds to Larabee’s abdomen and arms. “Chris, think you can stand?”

“Don’t know…feel so damn tired,” Larabee muttered, groaning as he tried to straighten his legs.

“Think it’s best if’n we stay put and wait fer the ambulance,” the Texan observed, frowning when he felt Larabee tremble. “Chris, you okay?”

“Cold,” Larabee told him, watching through slitted eyes as Wilmington removed his coat and covered him with it. “Thanks, Buck…”

“Anytime,” the rogue said and frowned when he looked at the coffin. He thought back to the day JD had told them about seeing the item being brought into the house and wished they’d paid more attention to it. Unfortunately they’d all dismissed it because Halloween was so close. “I wonder if this guy is behind the cattle mutilations.”

“I was think…thinking the same thing,” Larabee told him.

“We’ll soon find out…police are here,” Tanner said and smiled when Buck turned to look at him as the sound of sirens finally reached them.

“How the hell do you do that?”

“Ain’t tellin’ my secrets, Bucklin,” the Texan said with a grin.

“I’ll be right back,” Wilmington told them and hurried up the stairs, returning with two police officers and the paramedics.

The two paramedics hurried to the injured man, one stopping to check the body nearby before shaking his head and joining his partner, while the officers talked to Wilmington.

“What’s your name?” a female paramedic asked the Texan.

“Vin Tanner,” the sharpshooter answered and eased out from beneath the injured blond as the medics began attaching equipment.

“How bad is the arm?” John Reynolds asked.

“It’ll keep,” Tanner said, frowning when Wilmington lifted the gauze and placed a new piece over the wound.

“What’s your name?” the woman asked of the trembling blond.

“Chris Larabee,” the Firm’s leader answered tiredly.

“Well, Chris, my name is Sam and the man taking your blood pressure is John. We’re going to see about making you comfortable and get you to the hospital,” Samantha Johansson assured him as she inserted a needle to start an IV. “How is it?”

“BP is 85/60. Temp is 95,” Reynolds answered.

Chris listened to the paramedics, but drifted toward the darkness encroaching on his world. He felt a blanket covering his body and gasped when they lifted him onto a stretcher and placed the straps across his body. He shivered as he turned his head and caught sight of the body, now covered with a blanket as the two officers spoke with Wilmington.

“Buck, I’m goin’ with Chris,” Tanner said.

“I’ll be along as soon as I’m done here,” Wilmington said. “Get your arm checked out while you’re there.”

“He will,” Johansson vowed.

Chapter 19
Hospital Care

Roy Simmons looked up from the chart he’d been making notes on and shook his head when he spotted the man on the gurney being wheeled toward him. “Why the hell doesn’t it surprise me to see you here?” he asked gruffly.

“Halloween’s o…over, Simmons, get the mask off!” Larabee snapped.

“Ha ha…that one’s real old,” Simmons said and checked Larabee’s eyes as the paramedic reeled off the numbers and treatment the injured man had received.  “Tanner go see the nurse and she’ll get you set up in a treatment room,” the physician ordered and helped wheel Larabee into Trauma One.

Johansson helped remove the mobile monitoring equipment as they moved Larabee from the gurney onto the exam table and hurried out of the room.

“So, Larabee, who’d you tangle with on such a scary night?”

“Sonofabitch thought he was a vampire,” Larabee answered as a nurse took blood samples and started a second IV.

“He bit you?” Simmons asked as he peeled off the gauze on Larabee’s abdomen.

“Yes,” the blond answered.

“We’ll get you started on antibiotics,” Simmons assured his patient. He looked at the readouts and ordered the nurse to set up for a blood transfusion and warmed fluids. He watched the sea green eyes close and turned his attention to the wounds as a nurse cleaned them with an antibiotic wash.

“Doc, need to be careful…could have had AIDS,” Larabee muttered.

“We’ll be careful, Son. The nurse is going to give you a shot of morphine,” Simmons explained and continued his examination of the injured man.

“Sounds good, Doc,” Larabee said and opened his eyes as the nurse injected the medication into his IV. He knew he’d soon feel a lessening of the pain and closed his eyes as Simmons continued to speak to the nurses. He heard the physician order the suture tray and soon felt the freezing agent that would allow Simmons to stitch the wounds without him feeling anything. Sleep beckoned to him and he allowed the cloak of darkness to fall.

“Sandy, make sure his shots are up to date,” Simmons ordered once he finished cleaning Larabee’s wounds. He knew it was time to face the members of Larabee’s team and made several notations on the blond’s chart before leaving the room. He made his way toward the waiting area and found five worried men seated there.

“Doc, how is he?” Wilmington asked.

“Where’s Tanner?” Simmons asked.

“He’s still in with the doc,” Jackson answered.

“All right…let’s see where do we start? Chris has numerous wounds and lost a lot of blood. He’s got a head wound, and we’ve stitched that as well as the ones in his abdomen and shoulder. I don’t know if you realize whoever did this to him was…” Simmons stopped and looked from one man to the other as he realized anything he had to say would pale in comparison to some of the atrocities they’d seen. “Chris said his attacker thought he was a vampire and there’s evidence of teeth marks around several wounds. We’ll need to find out whether his attacker was HIV positive.”

“He’s in the morgue, Doc, but the police will let us know the results of the autopsy and whether he was an AIDS carrier,” Jackson assured the physician.

“In the meantime we’re giving Chris a blood transfusion and he’s been admitted,” Simmons explained.

“Can we see him?” Wilmington asked.

“He’s sleeping right now and that’s the best thing for him,” Simmons told them. “He’ll be moved upstairs as soon as a room becomes available and if Tanner’s admitted then I pity the nursing staff because they haven’t recovered from the last fiasco.”

“Ain’t been admitted, Doc,” Tanner said from behind the physician. His arm was in a sling and it had taken a dozen stitches to close the wound to his forearm.

“That’s good news,” Simmons said, rolling his eyes as the Texan sat beside him. “Look, as I said, Larabee’s been admitted and will be moved upstairs ASAP. You boys should go home and get some rest…especially you, Tanner!”

“It’s just a scratch, Doc,” the Texan said, having the good grace to look away when Simmons guffawed.

“Then why do you need a sling, Son? Sanchez asked.

“It’s simple, Josiah, easier to make the ladies take notice,” Wilmington teased.

“Look, I need to go check on several patients, and I want you guys out of here when I get back,” the physician warned and hurried away.

“I’m stayin’,” Tanner told the others.

“I’ll stay with him,” Wilmington offered.

“All right, the rest of us will try to find out who this guy was…”

“Don’t you mean what this guy was, Josiah?” Dunne asked.

“Maybe a little of both, Son,” Sanchez offered.

“Call us here if you find out anything,” Wilmington ordered. He watched the others leave and turned his attention back to the Texan. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine…just a little sore,” the Texan said.

“Did they check out the bruises on your throat?”

“Yeah, said to come back if’n I have any trouble breathin’ or swallowin’,” Tanner answered.

“Do you want something to drink?” Wilmington asked.

“Somethin’ cold might help,” the Texan said.

“All right…you stay put…”

“I’m jest gonna go sit with Chris,” Tanner said and walked alongside the ladies’ man. He knew Larabee was in Trauma One and gently pushed open the door to find a nurse checking the tube delivering blood to his friend’s arm.

“Hello, Vin, come on in,” Sandy said with an easy smile.

“Thanks, Sandy, how is he?”

“He’s sleeping right now, Vin, and I’m sure Dr. Simmons spoke with all of you,” Sandy answered.

“Yeah, he did…how long before there’s a room fer ‘im?”

“Shouldn’t be too long,” Sandy offered. “Did the others go home?”

“Most of ‘em did…me and Buck are stayin’,” Tanner answered.

“You look like you belong in bed.”

“Is that a proposition, Ma’am?” the Texan asked, smiling when his words brought a hint of a blush to the woman’s cheeks.

“As tempting as that might be I’m still on duty,” Sandy answered and turned her attention to the monitors. Larabee’s temperature was a little higher than when they’d brought him in, and hopefully it would return to normal with the warmed blankets that now covered him.

“Sandy, they have a room for him,” Jenny Norris called from the open door.

“Thank you, Jenna,” Sandy said and smiled at the Texan. “Vin, could you please wait outside while we get him ready?”

“Sure, Sandy,” Tanner said and stepped out of the room just as Wilmington returned. “His room’s ready.”

“Was he awake?”

“No,” the Texan answered, and moved back when an orderly entered the room and took control of the bed. He moved to one side, while Wilmington moved to the other. It wasn’t long before they were on the third floor and the orderly handed the paperwork to the nurse seated at the desk.

“Got Chris Larabee here for you, Marti.”

“Thank you, Harold,” Marti Robinson said and stood up to check the chart against the patient’s wristband. She helped the orderly maneuver the bed toward the room at the end of the hallway and told Buck and Vin to wait until she had the injured blond settled in his bed.

Chris fought to open his eyes when he heard voices and worked to focus on the woman speaking to him. He couldn’t quite understand what she was telling him, but figured it had something to do with shifting from the stretcher to the bed. He ached all over, but he did as she asked and was soon settled on the new bed.

“Chris, my name is Marti and I’ll be one of the nurses taking care of you today. I’m going to get a set of vitals on you and then I’ll let Vin and Buck visit for a few minutes.”

“O…kay, what time is it?”

“It’s a little after six am,” Marti answered, attaching the monitoring equipment so that the readings would be taken automatically every half hour. “Would you like another blanket?”

“I am kind of cold,” Larabee answered and soon felt a warmed blanket spread over his body.

“All right, Chris, if you need anything your call button is right here on the rail.”

“Thanks, Marti,” Larabee said and raised the head of his bed as she left. He watched the two men enter his room and frowned when he looked at the Texan’s arm. “How bad?”

“A scratch…”

“Some scratch…took a dozen stitches,” Wilmington interrupted.

“Ouch,” Larabee said sympathetically. “You should go home and rest.”

“Tryin’ ta get rid of me, Cowboy?”

“No, just don’t want you getting cranky when the freezing wears off,” the blond answered honestly. “Get him out of here, Buck, I’m just going to sleep anyway.”

“All right, Stud, but watch out for that nurse…”

“What nurse?” Larabee asked confusedly.

“I think he means Marti,” Tanner answered.

“Hell yes, did you see the way she was ogling his ass-ets,” Wilmington said with a teasing grin.

“Get out of here, Buck!” the blond ordered.

“Come on, Buck, talk about me getting’ cranky…ain’t got nothin’ on the old timer…”

“I’ll give you old, Tanner…”

“Say goodnight, Vin, before he tries to get out of bed and we get in trouble with Marti,” Wilmington said. “Take it easy, Chris, and we’ll come back later today.”

“Thanks, Buck,” Larabee said and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 20

Chris had never been so glad to be home, but he knew he still had some recovery time ahead of him. He was curled up in the large armchair in front of the fireplace and planned to stay right where he was until Spring. Nathan had picked him up at Saint Vincents that morning and was spending the day with him. He’d slept for nearly four hours before waking and making his way to the chair. Once there Jackson had checked him over and then went into the kitchen and brought him a cup of tomato soup. He sipped it while staring into the flames and letting his thoughts run back over the last week.

Roy Simmons had reluctantly agreed to discharge him, and done so only if Larabee agreed that someone would stay with him for the next week. Simmons had explained that he’d lost a dangerous amount of blood and had needed several transfusions during his four day hospital stay. The wounds caused by the ‘Devil’s Wire’ still needed to be treated with antibiotic cream and one of the knife wounds had become infected.

“Chris, do you need anything?”

“No, thanks, Nathan, I’m okay,” Larabee assured him.

“I just made a fresh pot of coffee,” Jackson explained, accepting the empty cup from his friend.

“Now that I can use,” the blond said and heard the main door open and several voices speaking at once. He smiled at Jackson who shook his head that what started out as a quiet day was about to get a whole lot noisier.

“Hey, Cowboy, you’re lookin’ better’n the last time I saw ya,” Tanner said.

“Vin, where’s your damn sling?” Jackson snapped.

“Ah hell, Nate…”

“Hell’s right if Simmons gets wind of you using that arm,” the medic scolded.

“Better put it on, Vin,” Larabee suggested, and watched as Tanner reluctantly produced the sling and eased it on. “So what brings you boys out here so early?”

“We thought you would be interested in the identity of your attacker. JD was searching through old files and came across something that piqued our interest,” Standish explained.

“Does he look familiar, Chris?” Dunne asked and handed Larabee the picture of a man who appeared to be in his 70s or 80s. The skin was dry, cracking in places around the man’s mouth and eyes.

“That’s him, but according to this picture he should be in his mid to late fifties,” Larabee observed.

“That’s what threw us too,” Sanchez offered. “JD and Ezra checked and double checked, but that’s the same man who attacked you.”

“Chris, there’s more,” Dunne told him. “His name is Claud Arconut…”

“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” Larabee said.

“What if we told you the name is an anagram for Count Dracula?” Standish said.

“You’re kidding?” Larabee asked incredulously.

“I wish they were, Pard, but there’s more,” Wilmington advised. “Miller called to say they had the autopsy results on Count Dracula…”

“Buck, that’s not funny,” the blond said.

“Sorry, Chris, but the name seems to fit. According to Miller, aside from the bellyful of your blood there wasn’t a drop of blood in Arconut’s body,” Wilmington said.

“This just keeps getting weirder,” Jackson said.

“It’s even weirder than you think, Brother,” Sanchez said. “It seems Arconut was behind the cattle mutilations as well. There were jars of blood in a small fridge at the rear of the basement. He was probably trying to fight the lust for human blood…”

“I don’t think it worked,” Larabee said, his fingers touching against the wound on his shoulder as the conversation continued.

“There’s no real background on Arconut before that picture was taken. He spent the last 20 years in a sanitarium and was recently released because the doctors said he was no longer a threat to society,” Standish explained.

“Maybe they should rethink that opinion,” Tanner said angrily.

“Maybe we should count our blessings that you used a wooden stake, Vin,” Sanchez said.

“Maybe…least he won’t be hurtin’ anyone else,” the Texan told them.

“Thank God for that,” Larabee said softly. A shiver ran down his spine at the thought of the man who’d tried to drain him of blood and he knew he’d never be able to watch a vampire movie without thinking of Claud Arconut.

“Well, I don’t know ‘bout the rest of ya, but I’m starved,” Tanner said. “What’s cookin’, Nate?”

“Nothing yet, but if Josiah’s game we have all the fixings for a mean pot of chili,” the medic explained.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Sanchez said and hurried in to the kitchen.

Chris stood up and walked toward the window. The snow covered the ground in a pristine blanket of white, and he sighed heavily as he stared at the moon just peeking through the trees at the edge of his property. A finger of dread tickled down his spine as a shadow dipped toward the ground, giving him the distinct impression of a bat ready to strike. Chris shook his head and turned back toward the warmth of his home, his family, missing the dark shape that appeared for less than a second near the edge of the deck.

 The End

PARTS 1-13


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