Bonded by Blood
Author:Laurie London

chapter FIVE

ON A TYPICAL weekday, area business people filled the benches in the small park near Pioneer Square, sipping espresso drinks from one of a dozen nearby coffee shops and eating takeout Thai, Chinese, Indian, Italian or pre-wrapped vegan sandwiches. Even the homeless who frequented the park drank espresso.

But in the early morning hours on Friday and Saturday, when the multitude of area clubs closed down, everything changed as humanity spilled out onto damp streets. Groups of girls who’d been prettier five hours ago stumbled down cobblestone sidewalks, while frat boys and gangbangers exchanged words, fists and the occasional knife. Some hoped they weren’t too drunk to drive and could blow less than a point-oh-eight, while others headed to all-night diners or after parties. And, like most nights, a few others looked for a different kind of trouble.

“Fuckin’ bouncer. Just wanted to finish my drink outside. If that asshole had any idea of who he was messing with, he’d be pissin’ his pants and cryin’ for his mama.” The man tugged his football jersey over his expansive middle and turned down an alley in Pioneer Square with his buddy.

“Shoulda taken him out. I would have. Can’t let ’em treat you like that. It ain’t right.” His friend, wearing a black hoodie, bit at his nails and spat a hangnail on the pavement.

“Easy for you to say, but I swear I saw one of those Agency bastards at the end of the block.”

“Let’s wait for your bouncer friend out back and jump him when he gets off work. You can drink him in the alley and we’ll see what a tough guy he is then.” He pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up against the light drizzle and yanked at the strings. “If he apologizes, you can wipe his mind after it’s over just like a regular law-abiding Council pussy. But if not, you can leave him with a memory that’ll haunt his nightmares forever. And if he really pisses you off, well, you know what you can do. Besides, they taste better when they’re scared and dying.”

Football Jersey laughed. “Tempting, dude, but no. You can, though. I got a whiff of him when he had me pressed against the bricks. I’m so sick of O-positive, I could puke. Now if he were APoz, I’d be all over him.”

Passing a Dumpster, Hoodie pointed to the mouth of the alley. “Hey, aren’t those a couple of DBs over there?”

On the far side of the park, a man and a woman sat stiffly on a wrought-iron bench under a burned-out street-lamp.

“How can you tell?” asked Football Jersey as he stepped over a drunk passed out on a piece of flattened cardboard.

“First of all, they all wear those dorky wraparound sunglasses like those two have on. Now watch. It’s said when they go through DB initiation and are assigned a partner, they sorta start acting like each other. Check it out.”

The woman leaned forward and grabbed a hard-sided suitcase at her feet and a split second later, the man did the same. She adjusted it on her lap then snapped it open. The man’s actions mirrored hers perfectly. She pushed her sunglasses higher on her nose and so did the man.

“That’s freaky, dude,” Football Jersey said.

“Yeah, but come on. Let’s see what they got.”

The woman sniffed the air and a yellowed smile creased her face as they approached. “Hey, boys, what-cha need tonight?”

“Got any Sweet?” Hoodie elbowed his friend in the gut. “We’re lookin’ for a little sugar.”

“You gotta be kidding me. No one’s got that kind of shit right now. But when we do, it goes like that.” She snapped her fingers. The man snapped his as well but remained silent. “At this hour you boys would be way too late for the candy anyway. Gotta get here early for any good stuff.”

“Damn. When are you gettin’ more in?” Hoodie asked.

“Sweet’s been tight.” She craned her head around, as if making sure no one could hear them. Her partner did the same. “That is, since the Overlord’s coming.”

“Lord Pavlos? No shit?” Hoodie elbowed his buddy, who pushed him back and cursed under his breath.

“Yeah. Only drinks the sweet stuff, so our supply is nada.”

“That’s bullshit. Where does that leave us?” asked Hoodie.

“He’s not staying long. Hates it up here.”

“Don’t we all,” Football Jersey said as he looked around the darkened park littered with people in various stages of drunkenness. “Why’s he coming then?”

“I dunno. Doing some kind of experiment shit or something,” the woman said.

“What?” Hoodie and Football Jersey asked in unison. They looked at each other, then back at the DB pair, and laughed.

The woman shrugged and the man copied her a moment later. “They don’t tell us peons nothing, but it has something to do with Sweet. Better be worth it, that’s all I can say. So can we interest you boys in a nice BPoz? Next best thing. Real fresh. Give you a good deal.”

Laughter echoed nearby and they all looked up. Clanking dishes and the sound of stacking chairs reverberated through the back door of a nearby bar as it opened, illuminating two figures in the dark alley for a moment before slamming shut again.

Hoodie held his nose in the air and sniffed. “Dude, it’s your bouncer friend. And the girl with him is APoz. What do you say? I’ll take him and you can take her. Wanna use what your mama gave you?”

“My mama would be pissed if I used it like that.”

Hoodie shrugged. “Let’s go, then.”

“Thanks, lady, but no thanks,” said Football Jersey. “We’re gonna score some off the hoof tonight.”

“Playing with fire, boys. Better watch out. I hear there’s an Agency patrol nearby. Sure you don’t want the easy stuff? Fifty bucks. And I’ll float it with a little APoz for an extra ten.”

“No thanks. We’ll save our money for the Sweet when it comes in. And fuck the Agency. Come on,” Football Jersey said to his buddy. “I’m starving.”

UNDER A DARK freeway overpass in a section of Portland called rough on a good night, Dom spotted a group of vampire youthlings huddled around what could only be trouble. Probably doing Sweet shots.

He glanced at the still darkening sky and cursed. It was too damn early. Usually this sort of shit happened much later in the evening, after the heavy consumption of legal and illegal substances. Someone probably just scored some Sweet and they couldn’t wait to party.

In a show of intimidation, he flipped open his hip-length leather coat to put his weapons on display and hoped he wouldn’t have to use force. They were just kids, barely old enough to have gone through puberty, when the blood cravings and aversion to sunlight began. “Okay, gentlemen, ladies. Break it up. Time to move along.”

He pushed his way into the circle, heard a mumbled “fuck you, asshole” and “goddamn Agency pig,” but at least half of the kids dispersed and left the scene. Only the hardcore losers remained.

At the center of the crowd, on the gritty pavement, a girl sat straight-legged and leaned back on her hands. With wild, unfocused eyes, she stared up at the young man straddling her as he fumbled with something in his hands.

Dom grabbed his arm. “Give it to me.”

“Fuck yourself,” the kid said, sounding way too jaded for his age. He stumbled over the girl’s legs as he tried to shrug away from Dom’s grasp.

“Doesn’t work for me. Hand it over. Trust me, you don’t want this to get any messier than it already is.”

The young man lurched around and thrust a hand into his pocket. Weapon?

In a flash, Dom clamped him into a headlock and twisted the kid’s arm behind him, shoving it upwards, and the kid howled. “I said give me the goddamn Sweet.”

“I swear I don’t have any.” The kid’s voice was raspy and he choked as Dom pressed harder on his larynx.

“Yeah, and I’m Prince Fucking Charming.”

In the struggle, a small glass vial fell to the pavement, shattering and spilling its contents at their feet. With a snarl, the gawking youthlings leaped in.

For a half-second, Dom considered pulling out his blades and scattering the crowd that way, but he decided to let them act like wild animals, scratching and clawing the dirty cement until the blood was gone. Unfortunately, the micro-cuts on their mouths from the shards of glass would heal almost instantly from the effect of the Sweet. With disgust he watched them tongue the pavement, licking up every last drop.

When the frenzy died down a few minutes later, Dom cuffed the dealer with silver-lined handcuffs and yanked him to his feet.

“Everyone else—out. You’ve had your fun, now get the hell out of here.” Turning his attention back to the dealer, he said, “I’ve got plans for you.” He punched a couple of buttons on his cell phone and within minutes an unmarked panel van pulled up to the curb. An agent dressed in black fatigues burst through the rear doors, scruffed the dealer by the neck and waistband and threw his ass inside. Dom two-patted the side of the van and it drove away.

One down, how many more to go? He ran a hand through his hair and walked slowly back to the Porsche parked around the corner.

It was the same thing, night after night, here and in Seattle. God, he was so sick of it. He didn’t know how much more of this bullshit he could take. He picked up an empty blood vial and tossed it into a nearby trash can. These kids weren’t the problem. Pavlos was the problem, and he was somewhere in the South.

When he opened the car door, his cell phone vibrated. He climbed in, glanced at the screen and cursed. Nice text. Where the hell did Santiago think he was?

Portland, he texted back.

The guy was a serious micromanager. Or maybe he just didn’t trust Dom. Especially given what happened with her. He never should’ve told his boss. It should’ve been his own twisted little secret.

He cranked the seat back and closed his eyes. Not that Dom came to the Horseshoe Bay Region with glowing recommendations, but no one—not his old commander, not the other field agents he’d led or trained over the years, or even the few humans he’d worked with who knew about the Agency—questioned his effectiveness or loyalty. But then, not all of them knew about what had happened with Alfonso, either.

Dom leaned his head on the steering wheel and his mind wandered to Mackenzie again. What was she doing right now? He checked his watch. Perhaps she was home watching a movie. Or organizing something. Or cleaning. Or maybe she was in bed early on a Friday night, curled up with a book. He rubbed that ever-present ache centered in his chest and groaned.

This is bullshit. It’s got to stop.

Irritated by his inability to keep her out of his thoughts, he jumped out of the car again, hit the alarm remote and jogged back to the freeway underpass. Usually he went weeks between live feedings, but maybe someone else’s blood would dilute the effects of hers, still present and way too strong in his system. Hopefully, the human loser he’d spotted earlier down by the river was still there. He’d take a quick mouthful, and if the guy was as drunk as he appeared earlier, Dom might not even need to bother with wiping his memory.

The phone vibrated again. Shit. Santiago had decided to call this time.

He flipped the phone open. “This is Dom.”

“Your old phone—you told me it was busted.” No “hello” or “how’s it going” for Santiago.

“Yes, and…”

“Come on, you haven’t forgotten. Let me refresh your fading memory. The goddamn one with all the DB data that landed Stryker in the clinic and you with that sweetblood.”

Dom cringed. “Yes, what about it?”

“Care to explain something to me then?”

“What? The thing was busted. I told you already.” Dom clicked the volume button down a few notches and held the phone away from his ear just as Santiago erupted.

“Tell me why in the hell a broken phone would suddenly go online again. Why a broken phone started pinging from a cell tower near the mall in the Northend today. Why a broken phone has been pinging on St. Francis Hill where it’s been sitting for the last hour.”

Mackenzie’s neighborhood. Palming his keys, he turned around and sprinted back to the Porsche.

“You didn’t get the phone back from that woman, did you?”

“No. But I told you. I thought it was broken.”

“Thought? You thought? Goddamn it. You fucking lied to me. You know how important that data is. I’m sending Foss over to get it back from her one way or another.”

He felt his pupils dilate with rage as he yanked the car door open. “You keep him away from her.” He had hoped his desire for her would wane, but the thought of Jackson getting close to her filleted his guts from pelvis to sternum. His focus narrowed to a dark tunnel and her name drummed over and over in his head. He started the car and headed for the freeway.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph. You screwed up and I’m sending him to clean up your mess. First the illegal blood transfer and now this. What the hell is going on with you?”

“No. I’ll handle it. I’m leaving Portland now. Be there in two hours.”

“Handle it like you did the first time? That damn phone better be back at the field office by midnight tonight or I’m sending Foss. Two hours? You’re crazy. You’ll be lucky to do it in four.”

“I said I’ll be there in two.” With a snap of the phone, Dom ended the call.

Of course Santiago was right. He should’ve gotten the damn phone back from her that night by walking right into her house and taking it directly from her as she screamed. A simple memory wipe, and that would’ve been it. But he hadn’t.

He engaged the radar detection, punched the accelerator and merged onto 205 North. After bypassing the bottlenosed traffic by riding the shoulder a few times, he crossed the bridge back into Washington. By the time he hit the straightaway on I-5, he’d cranked it up to a hundred and twenty.