“The activity here is off the fucking charts.” Nathan lit a cigarette. He and Michael walked through the cloud of smoke like two devils emerging from hell.
“There's something or someone drawing them. If we can locate the reason for this cross road, that will make our job easier.”
“I don't give a shit why they're here, I'm just happy to take them out.”
“I know you like getting your hands dirty, but don't look so pleased with yourself.”
Nathan grinned. He couldn't help it. When the definition of their mission changed, it was as if a heavy burden lifted off his shoulders. It wasn't really murder if they killed non-humans, was it? So what if the blood wasn't red. The heat when it touched his skin was just as hot. Guilt-free killing. He licked his lips.
“Don't do that again.”
Nathan sucked in smoke and blew it back out in a huff. “Do what?” His eyes creased and a half-smile danced across his lips, though he tried to feign innocence. A feat made more difficult when Michael turned his piercing gaze on him.
They patrolled the low rent side of town where most of the anomalies were localized. Row houses on one side of the street and businesses on the other. A sort of barrier between the derelict buildings and their ran down inhabitants and the more acceptable outer skirts of city limits.
“What is it?”
The older man pointed three houses down from where they stood. “See that?”
Nathan looked to where he was pointing. A girl with wildly frizzy auburn hair sat on the steps in front of a tidy three story. She stroked a calico cat perched on her lap while talking to a man sitting beside her.
Nathan looked harder. “Is that what I think it is?”
“It looks like it.”
“But the girl. Is she speaking to it or the cat?”
“Let's find out.” Michael started forward again. “Keep walking and don't look.”
“And then the leaves danced and laughed as the wind sang a merry tune.” The girl chatted happily to either the cat or the thing at her side.
Michael met Nathan's eyes as they strolled by.
“So you stayed the entire afternoon in the woods without telling me where you were?”
“Tommy, you know I'm perfectly safe. They'll protect me. Isn't that right, Miss Kitty?”
The calico chirred in affirmation and the girl laughed. Nathan stopped at the sound. Her laugh a delightful tinkling of delicate glass wind chimes in the easy breeze of a late summer afternoon. Her brilliant smile sent a jolt into his heart. He stumbled at the unbidden memories.
Michael caught him easily before Nathan fell.
“Are you okay?” the girl asked.
“He'll be fine,” Michael said, supporting his partner.
“He looks tired. Would you like some water?”
“Claire, he said he was fine. Let them go on their way.”
Michael's eyes narrowed. “It's as he says.”
“You can see Tommy? Aren't you from this dimension?”
“What the hell kind of fucking question is that,” Nathan muttered, yanking his arm from Michael's grip.
“Watch your language, kid.” Tommy started to stand, but the girl placed her hand on his arm and he remained seated.
“It's okay, Tommy. It's not like Stian never said such things. Besides, even if they're not spoken aloud, I can still hear them.”
Michael glared at Tommy, while the dark man stared daggers at Nathan, who only had eyes for the soft spoken girl with fiery hair and unaffected smile.
Nathan broke the circular staring contest. “We're travelers. However, it looks like we'll be sticking around for some time on business.”
“I see,” Claire said. “I don't mean to, but I can see that your job is unpleasant. If I may make a request? Please go away.”
“That's impossible. We must carry out our purpose.”
The shadowy man leaned toward the girl and whispered. His pale face darkening with anger as she shook her head. Claire scowled at him in return and jabbed a finger at first Michael then Nathan. “They're here to kill you!” she accused. “Aren't you?”
“That thing you're talking to so has no right to be here. It must be exterminated.” Nathan flicked his cigarette away. “We were led here for that purpose and we will carry it out. Him and all his disgusting ilk.”
“Tommy isn't a thing. He's my friend. Don't you dare lay one finger on him.”
Nathan drew back at her passionate defense of the creature who looked ready to rend him limb from limb. Didn't she know how dangerous these monsters were?
“I'm well aware that some of them are very dangerous. But even nit wits like you should know that most of them aren't. You have no right to murder them.”
She had locked eyes with Nathan as she spoke. His knees gave way and he hit the cement hard enough to clack his teeth.
“Let him go, girl,” Michael demanded. He sat on his heels holding the younger man upright.
Claire turned her intense gaze on the older stranger and recoiled. “Who are you?” She cowered in the arms of the black haired demon beside her.
“The same could be asked of you.”
“I'm just a girl,” Claire said, peeking over Tommy's arm. “I'm nothing... no one important. Just leave us alone.”
Michael gave her a sharp look and helped Nathan stand. “Just stay out of our way,” Michael said as they walked past.
“Can you fucking believe those two? Who do they think they are anyway?” Nathan gulped down his fourth scotch and soda. The lingering feel of that girl stalking around his insides still made him edgy. It hadn't been a completely unpleasant sensation; more like being tickled on the underside of one's skin. It was the complete and utter exposure that made him sick. Bad enough Michael knew all his dark and dirty little secrets, but now so did some strange girl.
“That young woman is one of probably only two hundred people that can truly see. And the first of whom I've met that can traverse not only beyond, but into as well.”
“I still got the chills.” Nathan swirled the ice cubes in his glass. “She knows. She knows about me.”
“If I would've known of her abilities, I could've warned you not to make eye contact with her. I'm sorry.”
Nathan looked up at his partner across the wobbly table. The cheap hotel room smelled like sex, alcohol and stale cigarettes. Scents to which they added yet another layer. The yellow light from the twin wall lamps coated the interior with an almost slimy appearance, which didn't help the fact that Nathan could almost see the greasy dirt coating every surface. He wrinkled his nose in spite of the fact they'd stayed in far worse in the past.
“She gives me the creeps.” Nathan shuddered for the hundredth time. “She's all sweet and cheery, then she went all psycho. What's with her and that thing?”
“If I had to guess, I'd say they were lovers.”
“The creepy level just jumped ten notches.” Nathan crunched an ice cube. “You really think so? I thought all those monsters ate people.”
“Normally, his kind would drain the spiritual energy from his victims then leave. They usually never stay on this plane for very long as the noise is too loud for them.”
“So I wonder why he's any different.”
“That's what I want to know.”
Michael poured Nathan another drink while the younger man lit a cigarette. Slumped in the chair, Nathan watched the smoke hover in the stale, unmoving air. “Are we going out tonight?”
“Are you going to take care of me then?” Nathan squinted through the thick cloud.
Michael lifted an eyebrow, but remained silent.
Nathan took the drink pushed toward him. “You're trying to get me drunk, aren't you?”
“Are you complaining?”
Nathan grinned. “Not at all.”