Kitty Goes to War Page 48

“That was a metaphor,” I said, frowning.

“I’m just taking responsibility,” he said, his voice flat.

We arrived at the hospital behind our escort. A dozen or so cars were parked in the lot—people who’d arrived before the lockdown and now were stuck. I was thinking worst-case scenario.

“Any ideas?” Ben said as we climbed out of the car. We had to squint into the wind blowing at us. Driving snow stuck my arms like needles. The two soldiers climbed out of their Humvee and took up positions on the sidewalk outside the hospital’s main entrance, looking outward, rifles at the ready. I wondered how much Stafford had really told them about what to expect.

Tyler looked around. “We secure the perimeter—take a walk around the building and figure out if he’s been here yet. If he hasn’t, we go in and wait for him to show up. And if he has—we go in after him. How does that sound?”

My grin felt wry and stiff. “Sounds like a real military operation, sir.”

He glanced at our escorts, who nodded. I wondered if they’d done time overseas, they seemed so wary.

We moved forward at a careful pace—a hunting pace. Our chins up to take in the air, nostrils widening, we breathed. Mostly, the area smelled like exhaust, gun oil, and anxiety. Cold air stung my lungs. A sheen of icy mist covered my face, making my hair stick to my cheeks.

I caught the tang of blood, sharp, incongruous against the clean chill of the winter wind. Rich, heady—a treasure in this landscape, a promise of injured prey in hard times. Or so the Wolf thought. But I smelled a dead body. I bit my tongue to keep my mouth from watering and trotted ahead to the front door of the hospital. Ben and Tyler were right with me.

At some point this morning someone had tried to shovel the walks, leaving snow piled along the path. Since then, the storm had gotten the upper hand, sending drifts of snow sloping along the building. Recently, there had been a fight in front of the front door. Instead of a smooth plane of snow, there were trenches, rifts, snow kicked and swept aside. Not footprints as much as body prints, as though someone had charged through.

We found him a few feet off the sidewalk, facedown in a mound of snow that had been shoveled off the walk. Spatters of blood had sunk into the snow around him. They weren’t visible from the surface, which still looked clean, as if he’d just slipped and fallen. The guy couldn’t have been more than twenty or so. His black beret had been knocked off; his scalp showed through a pale crew cut.

I could smell that he was dead and quickly cooling. Putting a hand on his shoulder, I intended to turn him to see how he’d died, but I didn’t have to. His throat had been torn by something sharp and not very precise. Claws, teeth.

“What the—” one of Stafford’s soldiers exclaimed, peering over our shoulders.

Tyler stared down at him, lips pursed. Ben let out a sigh. I looked around. Wind had altered the tracks, making it harder to decipher what had happened. But I didn’t smell Vanderman. And the snow was only disturbed in one direction. I could almost see it: this poor guy had been walking by on some other duty. He spotted a crazed maniac, probably naked in freezing weather, running across the sidewalk. He’d yelled at the guy to stop. Threatened, his target had run at him. The soldier may not even have had time to fire the handgun now lying in its own bed of snow nearby.

Tyler retrieved the pistol, slid back the chamber, then threw the gun away.

“He got shots off,” Tyler said. “But the bullets aren’t silver.”

I crouched in the snow and rested my hand gently on the soldier’s body, as if it mattered. Taking a careful, searching breath, I learned what I needed to and quickly moved away.

“It was him?” Tyler said. He must have been hoping for a different outcome.

I nodded. Walters’s scent was all over the body.

Chapter 20

WALTERS, TRAILING blood across the snow, had gone inside. No one else had come back out. He and Vanderman were still in the building.

“Where is he? Where is he now?” one of the escorts said swinging his rifle around.

Tyler glared at them. “You two—go back and tell Colonel Stafford that Walters is here, at the hospital.”

The pair hesitated. One was searching wildly for the unseen killer. The other was staring at the bloody body. Tyler touched this one on the arm. “Go on. Tell Stafford.” He spoke it like an order.

The soldier nodded, grabbed the other, and they ran back to the Humvee.

“Thanks,” I said, relieved. I’d started to worry that they would either shoot us—or that we’d have to rescue them.

“They’re safer this way,” Tyler said.

The three of us went inside the hospital and locked the door behind us.

The building was quiet. The cars in the lot meant that people must have been there, and while I could smell them, none were out and about. I hoped that meant they were safely locked away in rooms and offices. A heater vented somewhere, a distant hissing. We found stairs leading to the basement—I didn’t want us getting stuck in an elevator. Ben was at my side, face tight with concentration, looking all around us. He kept flexing his hands, as if feeling claws instead of fingers. Tyler walked behind us, turning to scan all directions, above and below in the stairwell.

Before we reached the downstairs level where Vanderman was being kept, a noise began to echo. The crunch of something metal breaking, the scuffle of a fight. Of a body smacking against tile. Then more quiet.

“Hoo, boy,” I muttered.

Slowly, I opened the metal door and emerged into the corridor.

Tyler stepped in front of me—taking point, the term was. He and Ben kept me between them, a protective shield, which was sweet, but made me growly because I couldn’t see past them very well.

“I don’t need bodyguards,” I said, stepping away from them to get some breathing room.

A tangy-sweet smell cut sharply through the chilled air, stabbing from my nose to my brain, and lingering on the back of my tongue as a familiar taste. More blood, freshly spilled. The second time in ten minutes—we were too late.

Part of me wanted to leave—this was army business. Not our territory, not our fight. But it was—I’d promised to protect Walters, and he’d seriously overstepped his bounds. That meant he was also my responsibility. I should have stopped him, I should have stopped this.

Ben and I stood back to back, a natural defensive posture, as we scanned the area, looking for the body. Or bodies. Tyler ranged a couple of yards ahead, glancing down the hallway and back at us—scanning for danger, and looking to us for cues about what to do next.

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