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Kiss of Crimson (Chapter Nineteen)

Dusk came early that night, ushered in on the steady spit of a cold November rain coming down from a fog of thick black clouds. The Flats section of Boston's Southie neighborhood–probably nothing special to look at during the day, with its thickly settled collection of aluminum-sided duplexes and brick three-decker tenements–was reduced to a wet, colorless slum under the monotonous deluge.

Dante and Chase had arrived on Ben Sullivan's dilapidated block about an hour ago, right after sunset, where they still waited in one of the Order's dark-windowed SUVs. The vehicle was out of place here simply on the basis of its well-tended appearance, but it put off a distinct don't-fuck-with-me vibe, which helped keep most of the gangbangers and other street thugs from coming too close. The few who had wandered near the window to have a peek decided to move on in a hurry after getting a flash of fang through the glass from Dante.

He was twitchy for all the waiting and half-hoped one of the idiot humans would be fool enough to make a move just so he could work out some of his idle energy.

"You're sure this is the dealer's address?" Chase asked from beside him in the dark front seat.

Dante nodded, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. "Yeah. I'm sure."

He had considered paying this visit to Tess's Crimson-dealing ex-boyfriend by himself but thought he' d better bring along some backup just in case. Backup for Ben Sullivan, not himself. Dante wasn't at all sure the human would be breathing when he was finished with him if he'd come alone.

And not just because Sullivan was drug-dealing scum either. The fact that the guy knew Tess, and no doubt knew her intimately, flipped a trigger on Dante's rage. An unbidden sense of possession stole over him, a need to protect her from losers like this Ben Sullivan person.

Right. Like Dante himself was some kind of prize.

"How did you find it?" Chase's question cut into his thoughts, snapping him back to his mission. " Aside from seeing the human jackrabbit out of the club ahead of us the other night, we didn't have much to go on as far as IDing him."

Dante didn't even glance over at Chase, just lifted his shoulder in a shrug as memories of his hours with Tess swamped his senses in vivid recall. "Doesn't matter how I got it," he said after a long minute. " You Darkhaven suits have your methods; we have ours."

Just as another wave of itchy impatience flooded through him, Dante caught a glimpse of his quarry. He sat up in the driver's seat of the vehicle, glaring out into the dark. The human came around a corner, head down, face partially shielded by a gray hooded sweatshirt. His hands were thrust into the pockets of a bulky parkalike vest, and the guy was walking fast, throwing continuous looks over his shoulder as if he expected trouble on his heels. But it was him, Dante was certain.

"Here's our man now," he said as the human jogged up the concrete steps outside his flat. "Let's go, Harvard. Look alive."

They left the vehicle on alarm and followed him right into the building before the door closed behind him, both Breed males moving with the speed and agility that came naturally to those of the vampire race. By the time the human stuck his key in the lock of his third-floor apartment door and pushed it open, Dante was shoving him into the dark, tossing the guy across the spartan living room.

"Motherfu–" Sullivan came up out of his crash on one knee, then froze, his face caught in a wedge of light from the bare bulb glowing in the hall outside.

Something flashed in the human's eyes, something beneath his immediate fear. Recognition, Dante thought, figuring he probably remembered them from the club the other night. But there was anger there too. Pure male animosity. Dante could smell it seeping out of the human's pores.

He slowly got to his feet. "What the fuck's going on?" "How about you tell us," Dante said, willing a lamp to come on as he strode farther into the place. Behind him, Chase closed and locked the door. "I'm pretty sure you can guess this isn't a social call."

"What do you want?"

"We'll start with information. It'll be up to you how we go about getting it."

"What kind of information?" His gaze swung anxiously between Dante and Chase. "I don't know who you guys are, and I don't have any idea what you're talking abou–"

"Now, see," Dante said, cutting him off with a chuckle, "that kind of bullshit answer puts us off to a real bad start." As the human's right hand slid into the deep pocket of his down-filled vest, Dante smirked. "You wanna convince me you're an idiot, go ahead and pull that gun out. Just so we're clear, I really hope you do."

Ben Sullivan's face blanched as white as his apartment's unpainted walls. He pulled his hand back out, nice and slow. "How did you–"

"You expecting somebody besides us tonight?" Dante strode up to him and removed the beat-up .45-caliber pistol from his pocket without any resistance. He turned to Chase and handed him the safety-locked weapon. "Piece-of-shit-looking hardware for a piece-of-shit drug dealer, eh?"

"I just got that for protection, and I'm not a drug deal–"

"Have a seat," Dante said, and dropped the guy onto a fake-suede recliner, the room's sole piece of furniture aside from the computer workstation in the corner and the shelf of stereo equipment against the wall. To Chase, Dante said, "Give the place a good sweep, see what you can find."

"I'm not a drug dealer," Sullivan insisted as Chase moved off to begin searching. "I don't know what you think–"

"I'll tell you what I think." Dante got down in his face, feeling his anger flare in the sharpening of his eyes and the slight prick of his fangs against his tongue. "I know you're not going to sit there and deny that we saw you dealing Crimson in the back of that club three nights ago. How long have you been trafficking in that shit? Where are you getting it?"

The human glanced down, formulating his lie. Dante grabbed his chin in a bruising grip and yanked his gaze back up to him. "You don't really want to die over this, do you, asshole?"

"What can I say? You're mistaken. I don't have any idea what you're talking about."

"Maybe she can tell us something," Chase put in, coming out of the bedroom just as Dante was about to coldcock the human into a little honesty. Chase carried a framed snapshot in his hand, holding it out in front of him. It was a photo of Ben and a shorter-haired, still-stunning Tess, looking very much the happy couple as they posed outside her clinic's Grand Opening sign. "You two look cozy. I'll bet she can shed a little light on your after-hours activities."

The human shot a narrow-eyed stare at Chase. "Stay the hell away from her, or so help me, I'll–"

"Is she involved?" Dante asked, his voice a rough scrape in his throat.

The human scoffed. "You gotta ask me that? You're the one who had his tongue jammed down her throat last night in front of her apartment. Yeah, I was there. I saw you, son of a bitch." The news flash came as a surprise to Dante, but it certainly explained the man's simmering anger. Dante could feel Chase's eyes on him in question, but he kept his attention focused on Tess's jealous ex.

"I'm about out of patience with you," he snarled, then shook his head. "No, screw that. I'm totally out of patience." Drawing one of the twin curved blades out of its sheath in a split-second blur of flashing steel, he pressed the edge to Ben Sullivan's throat. He smiled thinly as the human's eyes went round with terror. "Yeah, that feels much better to me too. Now, I'm going to give your larynx a little room to breathe, and you're going to start talking. No more bullshit or stalling. Blink once if you're with me, Benny boy."

The human lowered his lids, then resumed his fearful study of Dante's blade.

"They told me not to say anything to anyone," he said, words rushing out of him.

"Who's they?"

"I don't know–whoever's been paying me to manufacture the shit."

Dante scowled. "You make Crimson yourself?"

The human attempted a nod, his movement restricted by the cold steel still hovering near his throat. "I' m a scientist–at least, I was. I used to work as a chemist for a cosmetics firm until I got fired a few years ago."

"Skip the unemployment record and tell me about Crimson."

Sullivan swallowed carefully. "I created it for the nightclub scene, just to make some extra cash. Last summer, not too long after I started dealing it, this dude approached me about stepping up production. He said he had contacts who wanted to get in with me, and they were willing to pay big for it."

"But you don't know who your business partners are?"

"No. Don't ask, don't tell. Never mattered to me, really. Whoever it is, they pay in cash, lots of it. They leave my payments in a safe-deposit box at the bank."

Dante and Chase exchanged a look, both of them knowing what the human was probably ignorant of –that he was dealing with Rogues, most likely tied in with the leader of the new faction of suckheads who, as of a few months ago, had been organizing, preparing for a war their leader intended to ignite among the vampire race. Dante and the rest of the Order had put a serious kink in those plans when they blew up the asylum headquarters, but they hadn't eliminated the threat completely. So long as the Rogues could recruit and increase their numbers–particularly with the aid of a drug like Crimson–the possibility of war was more a question of when than if.

"What's the big fucking deal anyway? Crimson's not hardcore. I've even taken it myself in my own trials. It's just a mild stimulant, not much different from X or GHB."

Standing next to Dante, Chase scoffed. "Not much different. The hell it isn't. You saw what happened the other night."

Dante pressed the blade a bit closer. "You got a front-row seat to that little freak show, didn't you?"

Sullivan's jaw clamped tight, his eyes latched on to Dante in uncertainty. "I… I'm not sure what I saw. I swear." Dante pinned him with a narrow, measuring glare. He could tell the human was anxious, but was he lying? Damn, he wished Tegan had come along. No one, human or Breed, could hide the truth from that warrior. Of course, knowing Tegan, he'd be just as liable as Dante to want to take the human out for bringing this misery to the vampire population.

"Listen." Sullivan tried to stand up but got Dante's palm in the center of his chest, planting his ass right back down on the chair. "Hear me out, please. I never wanted to hurt anyone. Things have gotten… Christ, everything's messed up now, dangerous. I'm in over my head, and I'm getting out. Tonight, in fact. I called my contact, and I'm going to meet with them to let them know I'm finished. They're coming to get me in a couple of minutes."

At the window, Chase put a finger between the aluminum miniblinds and peered out to the street below. "Dark sedan idling at the curb," he advised, then glanced at the human. "Looks like your ride's here."

"Shit." Ben Sullivan shrank back in the chair, his hands moving nervously on the ratty arms of the La-Z-Boy. He flicked a wary glance up at Dante. "I have to go. Damn it, I need my gun back."

"You're not going anywhere." Dante sheathed his malebranche blade and went over to the window. He peered out at the waiting vehicle. Although it was impossible to tell much about the driver from overhead, he was willing to bet it was either a Rogue or a Minion at the wheel, and another one sat on the passenger side. He turned back to the human. "If you get in that car, you're as good as dead. How do you get in touch with your contact–you got a number to reach him?"

"No. They gave me a disposable cell phone. It's got a single number programmed into speed dial, but they encrypted it, so I don't know where I'm actually calling."

"Let me see it."

Sullivan reached into his vest pocket and pulled out the device, then handed it to Dante. "What are you going to do?"

"We'll hang on to this for you. Right now you need to come with us so we can continue this little chat someplace else."

"What? No." He got to his feet, looking around anxiously. "Fuck that. I'm not sure I should trust you guys either, so thanks but no thanks. I'll take care of myself–"

Dante crossed the room and had the human's throat in his hand before the guy could blink. "It wasn't a request."

He released the Crimson dealer, shoving him toward Chase. "Get him out of here. Find a back way to the SUV and drive him to the compound. I'm going to go down and deliver his regrets to the assholes waiting at the curb."

As Chase took hold of the human's arms and started moving him out, Dante slipped through the doorway to the hall. He was on the rainy street in no time, coming to a halt in front of the idling sedan and glaring through the windshield at the two humans seated inside.

As Dante had suspected, they were Minions, mind slaves of a Gen One vampire who'd made them by draining them of their humanity while bleeding them to within an inch of their lives. Minions were living, breathing humans, but they were devoid of conscience, existing only to carry out their Master's orders.

And they could be killed. Dante grinned at them, more than ready to finish them off.

The bonehead in the passenger seat blinked a couple of times as if he wasn't sure what he was seeing. The one at the wheel had better reflexes; as his companion mouthed a bunch of useless curses, the driver threw the car into gear and stomped on the gas.

The engine roared to life, lurching the sedan forward, but Dante saw it coming. He planted his hands on the hood of the vehicle and held it back, sneering as the tires spun out on the wet pavement, squealing and smoking but going nowhere. When the Minion at the wheel dropped the car into reverse, Dante leaped onto the hood. He climbed up the length of it as the car made a swerving effort to leave the curb.

Balancing on the jostling ride like he was a surfer holding a wave, Dante brought the heel of his boot down and smashed in the windshield. The shattered sheet of glass caved in, breaking away from its frame. Pebbles spat in every direction as he swung himself into the car between the two Minions.

"Hello, boys. Where the fuck are we heading tonight?"

They went nuts, grabbing for him, punching him–even biting him, for crissake–but it was just a lot of annoyance. Dante threw the sedan into park, the hard change of gears sending them into a tailspin in the street.

He felt something sharp lance across his right thigh, then smelled the metallic flush of his own blood spilling. His fangs sprang out of his gums with his furious roar, his vision going sharp as laser beams as his pupils narrowed in his rage. Reaching over, he took the Minion on the passenger side by the hair at the back of his head. With one violent jerk of his arm, he plowed the human's face into the dashboard, killing him instantly.

On the other side of him, the driver was scrambling to get out of the car. He fumbled for the door handle and wrenched it open, falling out onto the wet asphalt and then bolting for one of the narrow passages between the three-decker houses.

Dante lunged after him, tackling the Minion to the ground. He fought hand to hand, knowing that he couldn't kill this one until he had a few answers about who he served and where that vampire could be found. Dante figured he didn't need the name of the one who made this Minion; after everything that had gone down a few months ago, he and the rest of the Order were well aware that the vampire they needed to eliminate was Lucan's own brother, Marek. What they didn't know was where the bastard had fled to after he escaped the warriors' attack last summer.

"Where is he?" Dante demanded, flipping the Minion over and giving him a punishing blow to the chin. "Where can I find the one who owns your sorry ass?"

"Fuck you," the Minion spat.

Dante threw another punch, then drew his blade and leaned it against the human's cheek.

"Go ahead and kill me, vampire. I'll tell you nothing."

The urge to oblige the mind slave was hugely tempting, but Dante hauled him off the ground instead. He slammed the Minion into the cinder-block wall of the nearest tenement house, taking dark pleasure in the audible crack of his skull as it bounced off the hard bricks.

"How about if I just cut you up piece by piece?" he hissed, his voice a low growl through his fangs. "I don't care if you talk, but I'll sure as hell enjoy hearing you scream." The Minion grunted as Dante's blade pressed into his fleshy neck. Dante felt him squirm, heard the click of a safety coming off a handgun. Before he could wrestle it away from him, the Minion's arm came up to the side of them.

He didn't raise the weapon on Dante but on himself. In a split second, the human had the barrel up to his temple, then he fired.

"Goddamn it!"

The explosion flashed orange in the darkness, the percussion ricocheting off the tall buildings around them. The Minion dropped to the wet ground like an anvil, blood and gore spread around him in a grisly halo.

Dante looked down at his own injuries, the sundry scrapes on his hands, the deep wound cutting across his right thigh. It hadn't been that long since he'd fed, so his body was strong and it wouldn't take much time for him to heal. A couple of hours, maybe less. But he needed someplace safe to do so.

Above him, lights came on in a few of the surrounding apartments. A curtain parted in a window across the way. Somebody let out a horrified scream. It wouldn't be long before a call went out to the police, probably already had.

Shit.

He had to get out of there, pronto. Chase was already long gone in the SUV, which was good, all things considered. As for Dante, he couldn't very well drive off in the busted-out sedan and not be conspicuous. Sucking up the pain in his lacerated thigh, he pivoted around and took off on foot, leaving the dead Minions and the abandoned car behind him in the street.

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