Kitty Goes to War Page 63

Under the table, out of sight, Ben rested his hand on my thigh, a touch of comfort. I straightened and regained my breath.

“Thank you, Ms. Norville,” Stafford said. “Sergeant Tyler? Where do we go from here?”

“I’d like to request a discharge, sir,” he said, meeting the colonel’s gaze. “On medical grounds.”

“You’re not hurt. You look just fine to me.”

Look harder, I almost growled.

Ben rested his arms on the table, leaning forward. “I’m not qualified to comment on military law, but I did some reading. Sergeant Tyler should qualify for a medical discharge under any circumstance. The U.S. government, through the National Institutes of Health, has identified lycanthropy as a chronic disease. The sergeant acquired this disease in the course of duty. I think you could make a good argument. I can give you the NIH references if you want them. Or Dr. Shumacher could.”

I glanced at Tyler, who was holding himself still, quiet and expressionless. But I thought I saw a gleam of hope in his eyes.

“We could really use a soldier like you over there, son,” Stafford said.

“I don’t think I’d be any good to you without the others, sir,” Tyler said, a heartfelt plea.

Stafford bowed his head and nodded. “I’ll submit the case to the Medical Evaluation Board. It’ll be up to them.”

WHERE ELSE could we end up but at New Moon, toward midnight, having drinks—beer this time—and food in a muted celebration? The place was almost empty—everyone was still digging out, or enjoying the night by staying wrapped up nice and cozy at home. But Ben and I were there, along with Cormac, Tyler, and Rick.

The vampire arrived last, coming through the door and stomping snow off his shoes. Cormac watched him, his expression blank. Who knew what he was thinking? Either one of them. I kept seeing the old black-and-white photo of Amelia Parker floating behind his shoulder. By all appearances, he was just Cormac. It was going to take time to wrap my brain around it.

Tyler gripped the table and parted his lips in a snarl. “What’s wrong with that guy?” he said.

Rick smelled dead—not rotten, just cold. Frozen. He had no heartbeat.

“He’s a vampire,” I said. “Don’t worry, he’s nice.”

I made introductions—Rick hadn’t met Tyler or Cormac, at least not in person.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Cormac said when he shook the vampire’s hand. Rather ominous.

“Likewise,” Rick said.

“Is that going to be a problem?”

Rick smiled. “I try not to make more problems for myself than absolutely necessary.”

Cormac still seemed to be sizing Rick up, as if judging how best to take him out. I had an urge to sit between them.

“Sergeant Tyler,” Rick said.

Tyler shook Rick’s hand, but didn’t say anything. The soldier was wary—staring, his shoulders tensed. I might have done the same the first time I’d met Rick. Rick didn’t seem bothered; he just took a chair and joined us.

“I got your messages,” Rick said. “I’m sorry there was nothing I could do to help, but you seem to have done well. The city is safe again.”

“Yeah. Didn’t need you to ride to my rescue this time,” I said, grinning.

Cormac slid the picture of Franklin and his blurred compatriot across the table. “Kitty said you’d want to take a look at this.”

“Is it Roman?” I said.

Rick studied it, shaking his head. “It’s a vampire. I can’t say exactly who it is. But Roman’s the only one who has a reason for dropping this kind of destruction on Denver—it would punish both of us for standing up to him.”

“Is it time to call Anastasia?” I said. I told Anastasia I’d call her if I heard from Roman.

Rick rubbed his chin for a moment, staring thoughtfully at the image. “Call her, tell her what happened. But don’t raise any alarms. If this is Roman, this wasn’t part of his plan. This was just a… a test.”

Ben said, “Well, did we pass?”

The vampire smiled. “I think Roman underestimated your resources yet again.” He glanced at Cormac and Tyler, without whose help Denver would currently be under a dozen feet of snow.

“Go team,” I said, raising my glass for a toast. We clinked glasses, except for Rick, who sat back, his expression amused.

Tyler kept himself apart, leaving space enough for extra chairs on either side of him—the places where Vanderman and Walters should have been sitting. Maybe he saw his whole squad sitting around the table. I worried, but all I could do was look after him.

“You okay?” I asked, failing my attempt at subtle inquiry.

He shrugged. “I’m alive.”

“That’s good, right?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Eventually.”

“Amen,” Cormac muttered. I considered that the two of them might be able to talk to each other about adjusting to life on the outside.

Rick asked, “What’s next for you, Sergeant Tyler?”

He took a long drink. His smile was wry. “We just have to wait and see.”

Epilogue

KNOB’S LAWYER successfully bucked Franklin’s lawsuit. She would have done a fine enough job of it without my help, but I helped anyway. I wrote up a report of everything we’d discovered about Franklin, his thunder-god cult, the spells he used and power he wielded, about the storm that had threatened the Denver area and what we’d done to stop it. Ben still muttered about the possibility of us facing charges for vandalism, but I avoided the word. Ben, Cormac, Shaun, and Tyler all agreed to testify that everything I reported was true, no matter how crazy it sounded. I left out suspicions that Franklin was working with or for someone else. As Ben said, I didn’t want to inadvertently paint targets on my friends. In response, the lawyer wrote me a very nice note, saying something along the lines that while such evidence might not be admissible in court, she certainly appreciated my perspective on the situation, given my profession as an entertainer specializing in supernatural topics. It didn’t quite sound like a brush-off.

It turned out that Franklin had enough wacky stuff going on that my claims about him on the show, while extreme, were not in fact outright lies. There were statements from former employees indicating that Franklin would only conduct meetings under certain circumstances—specific times of day, the chairs arranged around the table in a certain way—that could be perceived as ritualistic. He was an enthusiastic collector of archaeological artifacts and would lose his temper if his collection was shifted out of place in the slightest. He’d once fired a custodian for failing to replace each artifact in the correct spot after dusting. I had to ask—were the artifacts connected to thunder or weather gods from various cultures? Why yes, the lawyer answered.

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