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The Short Second Life (Chapters 2)

When the second body was empty, my throat felt better. There was a lot of blood in my system. I probably wouldn't real y burn for a few days.

Diego was stil waiting, whistling quietly through his teeth. When I let the body fal to the ground with a thud, he turned back to me and smiled.

"Um, thanks," I said.

He nodded. "You looked like you needed it more than me. I remember how hard it is in the beginning."

"Does it get easier?"

He shrugged. "In some ways."

We looked at each other for a second.

"Why don't we dump these bodies in the sound?" he suggested.

I bent down, grabbed the dead blonde, and slung her limp body over my shoulder. I was about to get the other one, but Diego was there before me, the pimp already on his back.

"I got it," he said.

I fol owed him up the al ey wal, and then we swung across the girders under the freeway. The lights from the cars below didn't touch us. I thought how stupid people were, how oblivious, and I was glad I wasn't one of the clueless.

Hidden in the darkness, we made our way to an empty dock, closed for the night. Diego didn't hesitate at the end of the concrete, he just jumped right over the edge with his bulky burden and disappeared into the water. I slid in after him. He swam as sleek and quick as a shark, shooting deeper and farther out into the black sound. He stopped suddenly when he found what he was looking for – a huge, slime-covered boulder on the ocean floor, sea stars and garbage clinging to its sides. We had to be more than a hundred feet deep – to a human, it would have seemed pitch-black here. Diego let go of his bodies. They swayed slowly in the current beside him while he shoved his hand into the mucky sand at the base of the rock. After a second he found a hold and ripped the boulder up from its resting spot. The weight of it drove him waist-deep into the dark seafloor.

He looked up and nodded to me.

I swam down to him, hooking his bodies with one hand on my way. I shoved the blonde into the black hole under the rock, then pushed the second girl and the pimp in after her. I kicked them lightly to make sure they were in, and then got out of the way. Diego let the boulder fal . It wobbled a little, adjusting to the newly uneven foundation. He kicked his way out of the muck, swam to the top of the boulder, and then pushed it down, grinding the obstructions flat underneath.

He swam back a few yards to view his work.

Perfect, I mouthed. These three bodies would never resurface. Riley would never hear a story about them on the news.

He grinned and held up his hand.

It took me a minute to understand that he was looking for a high five. Hesitantly, I swam forward, tapped my palm to his, then kicked away, putting some distance between us. Diego got a weird expression on his face, and then he shot to the surface like a bul et.

I darted up after him, confused. When I broke through to the air, he was almost choking on his laughter.

"What?"

He couldn't answer me for a minute. Final y he blurted out,

"Worst high five ever."

I sniffed, irritated. "Couldn't be sure you weren't just going to rip my arm off or something."

Diego snorted. "I wouldn't do that."

"Anyone else would," I countered.

"True, that," he agreed, suddenly not as amused. "You up for a little more hunting?"

"Do you have to ask?"

We came out of the water under a bridge and lucked right into two homeless guys sleeping in ancient, filthy sleeping bags on top of a shared mattress of old newspapers. Neither one of them woke up. Their blood was soured by alcohol, but stil better than nothing. We buried them in the sound, too, under a different rock.

"Wel, I'm good for a few weeks," Diego said when we were out of the water again, dripping on the end of another empty dock.

I sighed. "I guess that's the easier part, right? I'l be burning again in a couple of days. And then Riley wil probably send me out with more of Raoul's mutants again."

"I can come with you, if you want. Riley pretty much lets me do what I want."

I thought about the offer, suspicious for a second. But Diego real y didn't seem like any of the others. I felt different with him. Like I didn't need to watch my back so much.

"I'd like that," I admitted. It felt off to say this. Too vulnerable or something.

But Diego just said "cool" and smiled at me.

"So how come Riley gives you such a long leash?" I asked, wondering about the relationship there. The more time I spent with Diego, the less I could picture him being in tight with Riley. Diego was so… friendly. Nothing like Riley. But maybe it was an opposites-attract thing.

"Riley knows he can trust me to clean up my messes. Speaking of which, do you mind running a quick errand?"

I was starting to be entertained by this strange boy. Curious about him. I wanted to see what he would do.

"Sure," I said.

He bounded across the dock toward the road that ran along the waterfront. I fol owed after. I caught the scent of a few humans, but I knew it was too dark and we were too fast for them to see us.

He chose to travel across rooftops again. After a few jumps, I recognized both our scents. He was retracing our earlier path. And then we were back to that first al ey, where Kevin and the other guy had gotten stupid with the car.

"Unbe liev able," Diego growled.

Kevin and Co. had just left, it appeared. Two other cars were stacked on top of the first, and a handful of bystanders had been added to the body count. The cops weren't here yet – because anyone who might have reported the mayhem was already dead.

"Help me sort this out?" Diego asked.

"Okay."

We dropped down, and Diego quickly threw the cars into a new arrangement, so that it sort of looked like they'd hit each other rather than been piled up by a giant tantrum-throwing baby. I grabbed the two dry, lifeless bodies abandoned on the pavement and stuffed them under the apparent site of impact.

"Bad accident," I commented.

Diego grinned. He took a lighter out of a ziplock from his pocket and started igniting the clothes of the victims. I grabbed my own lighter – Riley reissued these when we went hunting; Kevin should have used his – and got to work on the upholstery. The bodies, dried out and laced with flammable venom, blazed up quickly.

"Get back," Diego warned, and I saw that he had the first car's gas hatch open and the lid screwed off the tank. I jumped up the closest wal, perching a story above to watch. He took a few steps back and lit a match. With perfect aim, he tossed it into the smal hole. In the same second, he leaped up beside me.

The boom of the explosion shook the whole street. Lights started going on around the corner.

"Wel done," I said.

"Thanks for your help. Back to Riley's?"

I frowned. Riley's house was the last place I wanted to spend the rest of my night. I didn't want to see Raoul's stupid face or listen to the constant shrieking and fighting. I didn't want to have to grit my teeth and hide out behind Freaky Fred so that people would leave me alone. And I was out of books.

"We've got some time," Diego said, reading my expression.

"We don't have to go right away."

"I could use some reading material."

"And I could use some new music." He grinned. "Let's go shopping."

We moved quickly through town – over rooftops again and then darting through shadowy streets when the buildings got farther apart – to a friendlier neighborhood. It didn't take long to find a strip mal with one of the big chain bookstores. I snapped the lock on the roof access hatch and let us in. The store was empty, the only alarms on the windows and doors. I went straight to the H's, while Diego headed to the music section in the back. I'd just finished with Hale. I took the next dozen books in line; that would keep me a couple of days.

I looked around for Diego and found him sitting at one of the caf�� tables, studying the backs of his new CDs. I paused, then joined him.

This felt strange because it was familiar in a haunting, uncomfortable way. I had sat like this before – across a table from someone. I'd chatted casual y with that person, thinking about things that were not life and death or thirst and blood. But that had been in a different, blurry lifetime.

The last time I'd sat at a table with someone, that someone had been Riley. It was hard to remember that night for a lot of reasons.

"So how come I never notice you around the house?" Diego asked abruptly. "Where do you hide?"

I laughed and grimaced at the same time. "I usual y kick it behind wherever Freaky Fred is hanging out."

His nose wrinkled. "Seriously? How do you stand that?"

"You get used to it. It's not so bad behind him as it is in front. Anyway, it's the best hiding place I've found. Nobody gets close to Fred."

Diego nodded, stil looking kind of grossed out. "That's true. It's a way to stay alive."

I shrugged.

"Did you know that Fred is one of Riley's favorites?" Diego asked.

"Real y? How? " No one could stand Freaky Fred. I was the only one who tried, and that was solely out of self-preservation. Diego leaned toward me conspiratorial y. I was already so used to his strange way that I didn't even flinch.

"I heard him on the phone with her. "

I shuddered.

"I know," he said, sounding sympathetic again. Of course, it wasn't weird that we could sympathize with each other when it came to her. "This was a few months back. Anyway, Riley was talking about Fred, al excited. From what they were saying, I guess that some vampires can do things. More than what normal vampires can do, I mean. And that's good – something she's looking for. Vampires with skil zzz."

He pul ed the Z sound out, so I could hear how he was spel ing it in his head.

"What kinds of skil s?"

"Al kinds of stuff, it sounds like. Mind reading and tracking and even seeing the future."

"Get out."

"I'm not kidding. I guess Fred can sort of repel people on purpose. It's al in our heads, though. He makes us repulsed at the thought of being near him."

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