Cristiãn

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Chapter 21: Taking the Bait

Cristiãn heard the click of Razvan’s disconnection from the call. An instant after that he set down his cellphone, accelerated his car another 5 mph and began to steer it to the location that Razvan gave. Halfway into the trip, he began receiving phone calls from Nadja and Lucian. Cristiãn ignored these as he hurried toward his destination. It took him twenty minutes to get to the garage. He promptly parked his car inside. He then stowed Cassidy’s gun and cellphone in the glove compartment and set off on foot for the intersection where Razvan ordered him to be.

Cristiãn took a stance on the southeast corner of 3rd Street and River Avenue, just as he was instructed. He was there little more than a minute when another call came in from Lucian. He connected the call and then paused to listen.

“Things are going to change,” Cristiãn advised somberly. “You need to prepare yourselves for this.”

Cristiãn gave a brief listen to what Lucian was saying and then responded with the intonation that it was his last word on the subject.

“I’m doing what I must. You need to start hiding, all of you.”

Before Lucian could respond to this last remark, Cristiãn disconnected the call. Two more calls vibrated in his hand over the next three minutes. Shortly after the second one Cristiãn noticed a car turn onto River Street. The car was a black four door Buick La Crosse. It rolled forward at an unhurried pace. The side and rear windows looked to be heavily tinted. Cristiãn was quick to notice two men sitting in the front seat of the car. He watched as the car rolled up to him and stop. The passenger window immediately rolled down, and a man that Cristiãn had never seen before looked out at him.

“Get in,” the man spoke gruffly.

Cristiãn examined the man for a moment, and then he spoke back to him from behind a suspicious stare.

“Who are you?”

“Pritchard sent me,” reported the man in the front passenger seat who answered with a scowl. “Get in.”

Cristiãn needed to hear no more than the fake name that Razvan was living under in the mortal world. He immediately opened the back door to the sedan and climbed in. As he did this the phone in his hand began to vibrate. The man in the front passenger seat noted the sound and turned his attention toward it.

“What’s that in your hand?” The man in the front passenger seat questioned after turning about in his seat.

“It’s my cellphone,” Cristiãn answered as he held up the cellphone. “I was expecting a call from Razvan.”

“Who?” The man in the front passenger seat questioned as he took the cellphone from Cristiãn.

“Pritchard.”

The man in the front passenger examined the cellphone for a few seconds. After noting that it was not actively doing anything he pressed and held the power button until the phone turned off. After that he put the cellphone in his coat pocket and began to scrutinize Cristiãn as he barked orders.

“Open your coat.”

“Pull up your pant legs.”

“Turn around.”

Cristiãn complied with these orders one after the other so that his torso and legs could be patted for weapons beneath the clothing. The man in the passenger seat was thin with a scarred and pot marked face. Cristiãn perceived him as a man of minimal education and a possible violent felon. The driver looked less distinctive in both categories, but he was physically more impressive.

“…you carrying?”

“No, I don’t have a weapon,” Cristiãn answered with an intonation of exasperation. “Let’s go.”

The man in the front passenger seat turned his expression into an angry frown, and then he tossed a black cloth bag back to Cristiãn.

“Put this over your head.”

Cristiãn hesitated long enough to return the look of enmity, and then he pulled the bag over his head. Seconds after doing this the car began to move. The ride went on for just under five minutes. When it came to its final stop, Cristiãn could hear an overhead door rolling down behind him. A few seconds after the door slammed shut, the front seat car doors opened. Cristiãn could feel the rocking of the car as the two men climbed out. The driver’s door immediately slammed shut after the rocking.

“Keep that over your head and don’t move,” the man who was sitting in the passenger seat called back to Cristiãn.

The front passenger door slammed shut after this remark. Cristiãn could hear the movement of the two men outside of the car and at least two more in the vicinity. The sound of their movements reverberated off the brick walls of the space they were in. Cristiãn could tell by the sound that this was not a large space. A few seconds later Cristiãn heard a door open and the sound of another person walking across the room. That person came to a stop near the car and began talking to the two men from the car. Cristiãn could tell from the sound of the voice that this person was a man. Nearly a minute later the rear door of the car opened.

“Get out,” the man from the front passenger seat ordered.

Cristiãn climbed out of the car while still wearing the black hood. Despite this covering the smell of gasoline and oil filled his nostrils. The movement of people and the intermittent whir of an air gun wrench reverberated off the walls. His guess was that he was in an automotive repair shop. Cristiãn could hear the two men from the car standing several feet to either side of him. He could also hear the shuffling of the third man standing a few feet in front of him. He knew by the sound of his voice that this man was not Razvan.

“Bring him,” the third man instructed.

Almost immediately Cristiãn felt the two men from the car grab him by his arms and nudge him forward. He could hear that they were following the third man. A few seconds later he heard the opening of a door and the smell of fresh air. He allowed his two ushers to lead him through the door behind the lead of the third man. Just outside the door he could sense that he was in a cramped area. His two ushers were less by his side and more to his rear. His walk through this area seemed to be no more than ten yards. At the end of it was another door. He was ushered through behind the lead of the third man. Cristiãn could feel that he was inside another structure. This one was small and the walls were more inclined to absorb sound. It was not made of brick and concrete.

“We’re going down some stairs,” the third man advised.

Cristiãn took some comfort from this instruction. It gave him hope that there was no immediate plan to do him harm. But he had no doubt that Razvan was entertaining that option.

The staircase was narrow and musty. The stairs came to a landing halfway down, and from there it continued in the opposite direction. Just as he reached the bottom, Cristiãn heard the third man opening another door. It creaked as it opened. The door sounded heavy, and the walls on this level were clearly made of concrete. This information solidified his belief that he was in a basement. After stepping through the doorway, Cristiãn heard the door slam shut behind him. An instant after that, he heard the click of a deadbolt lock.

The sound of one or more individuals in the room was the first thing that caught Cristiãn’s attention after the door closed. He clearly heard someone moving a dozen or more feet off to his left. He could not tell if it was one person or more. In the same vicinity, he could hear the whir of a small machine, and the smell of chemicals was thick in the air. The sound of movement to his front right was closer but less distinct. He would not have heard anything at all if he, she or they did not shuffle their feet on two occasions.

“Here he is,” the third man announced from several feet in front of Cristiãn.

Cristiãn heard the two ushers step out wide of him and two steps forward. Immediately after this he heard the footsteps of another person coming toward him from his right front. This person stopped directly in front of him and then pulled the hood from off his head.

“I apologize for the precautions,” Razvan spoke as soon as the hood was clear of Cristiãn’s head.

Cristiãn noted that Razvan was directing his hands at his ushers. Both men were armed with weapons. The driver had a twin barreled sawed off shotgun resting against his shoulder. The man from the front passenger seat was armed with a semi-automatic pistol that was directed down toward the floor. To his left front, five yards distant, Cristiãn saw two tables, situated end to end. Together the tables were long enough to accommodate ten chairs, but there were none here. Two men wearing chemical aprons, rubber gloves and eye protection were seated on stools along the broad side of the table farthest from the door. On top of that table was a large assortment of laboratory equipment complete with a burner that was supporting an open flame. The table nearest to the door supported similar equipment but not to the same extent. It looked as if they were in the middle of a chemistry experiment from Cristiãn’s perspective. Boxes and barrels of were situated along the perimeter of the basement. There were no windows. Illumination was made possible by a string of four overhead lamps.

“Where is she, Razvan?” Cristiãn demanded without regard to Razvan’s apology.

The third man was surprised to hear Cristiãn use this name. He turned toward Razvan with a surprised expression an instant after hearing this.

“He’s one of you?” the third man questioned.

Razvan gave the third man a look with a smile and then he responded.

“Yes Tony, he is.”

Razvan held his gaze on Tony as he directed his attention toward Cristiãn with a gesture of his hand.

“Tony McGuire, I would like you to meet Cristiãn Domitius Norbanus.”

Tony McGuire was a middle-aged man in a gray suit. He was slightly above average in height, and he looked to be a powerful man even though his athletic physique was long gone. He gave Cristiãn a look up and down with a wide-eyed stare.

“I didn’t come here to socialize, Razvan. Where is Cassidy?” Cristiãn bellowed while ignoring Tony McGuire’s examination.

“Don’t worry, Cristiãn,” Razvan responded nonchalantly. “She’s fine.”

Razvan turned all his attention to the usher from the front passenger seat and the cellphone he was extending out toward him.

“Here’s his cellphone,” Tony reported. “He didn’t have any weapons.”

“He is the weapon,” Razvan warned as he took the cellphone. “Don’t let his pretty boy looks throw you off your guard.”

In response to that warning, the usher from the driver’s seat brought his shotgun off his shoulder, cradled the twin barrels in the opposite hand and directed it at Cristiãn. The other usher brought his handgun up to an aim, as well. Razvan held the cellphone up in his left hand, gave it a quick look and gave it back to Cristiãn.

“Come on,” Razvan continued with a look to Cristiãn and a gesture toward the door at the right end of the basement.

Cristiãn followed Razvan’s lead. He took him through the doorway and into a narrow room that extended across the width of the basement. The room was set up like a small office. It was illuminated by a single light bulb in a fixture attached to the ceiling at the center of the room. Seated in the chair along the wall furthest from the door was Cassidy. Standing guard next to her was Dumitra. Cristiãn’s full attention snapped toward Cassidy the instant he saw her. She returned his gaze while quickly rising from her chair. A few seconds later they were standing face to face half a dozen feet apart.

“Are you okay?” Cristiãn questioned from behind a worried stare.

Cassidy was hesitant to respond. She did not know how she should feel about his being there or how to act. She stared at him for several seconds with a frightened expression. Across this time, the two gunmen took up positions on opposite sides of the room and close to the door. They maintained their weapons at the ready.

“Yeah,” Cassidy whispered out with a slight nod of her head.

“See, I told you,” Razvan spoke up with a smile. “Not a hair out of place.”

Cristiãn turned his attention to Razvan with a jerk of his head and a glower.

“What do you want, Razvan?”

“We want you,” Dumitra responded in Razvan’s behalf.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Cristiãn questioned with a frown.

“The majority rule bit is over,” Razvan began to explain from behind a pleasant expression. “We’re on our own now.”

“What are you saying, Razvan” Cristiãn challenged impatiently. “Spit it out.”

Razvan gave Cristiãn a mischievous smile just before speaking his response with an earnest inflection.

“I want you to join us.”

“Join you?” Cristiãn returned with a look of incredulity.

“The others will follow if you side with us,” Razvan answered with insistence. “How could this be wrong if Cristiãn is in on it?”

“This won’t end well,” Cristiãn disputed with a shake of his head. “You know this. These mortals will come after us with more than just dogs and wooden stakes.”

“You don’t get it,” Razvan argued with a look of defiance. “This is a different world, Cristiãn. Twelve-hundred years ago, we were living off the droppings from peasants. In this time, we can be the kings.”

“Join us, Cristiãn,” Dumitra pleaded a second behind.

“You’re going to make more of us?” Cristiãn questioned with a look of astonishment.

“And, why shouldn’t we?” Razvan questioned with a palm up gesture of his hands. “We have what all mortals want, and they will give us all that they have to get it.”

“You’re both mad,” Cristiãn declared from behind a stern face. “You’ll create chaos on an unimaginable scale.”

“We’re vampires, Cristiãn,” Razvan disputed an instant behind. “We thrive on chaos.”

Cristiãn was surprised to hear Razvan identify himself as a vampire in front of the mortals. He quickly considered the faces of the two gunmen to see if they were shocked by this admission. Both took the statement without any expression of surprise. He could tell from their smell that they were mortal, but their awareness of what Razvan and Dumitra were made him consider the possibility that other associates of theirs may have been turned.

“Have you turned any mortals?” Cristiãn questioned Razvan with wide eyed astonishment.

“Not yet,” Razvan answered. “But now that we don’t have the alliance to worry about, we have nothing to stop us.”

Cristiãn took a moment to ponder this, and then he responded with a bewildered shake of his head.

“I won’t be a part of this.”

“Not even for her,” Dumitra spoke with a questioning inflection and a nod toward Cassidy.

Cristiãn quickly turned to give Dumitra a fierce look an instant before challenging that statement.

“What does that mean?”

“Lucian was going to kill her,” Razvan began to explain. “You know this.”

“I would have convinced him to leave her to me,” Cristiãn sharply countered.

“That might have worked yesterday,” Razvan disputed. “But that option disappeared when she showed up at the inquisition.”

“Cristiãn, you know what will happen if we release her to you,” Dumitra insisted.

“And how will joining you change that?” Cristiãn challenged.

“Turn her,” Dumitra explained in two words.

Cristiãn gave Cassidy a startled look. She returned his attention with a wide-eyed gape.

“The others would never have given you the okay to do that,” Dumitra explained hopefully. “But we’re giving it to you now.”

Cristiãn was dumbfounded by what he was hearing and could think of no response for several seconds. At the end of this he managed to vocalize what he was feeling.

“You know I can’t do that.”

“And I can’t let her go,” Razvan insisted.

“We lose all control if I turn her,” Cristiãn argued as though he was speaking the obvious. “How can that work to your advantage?”

“Cristiãn, one way or another, she’s staying here,” Razvan declared with a point toward the large chest freezer situated along the wall opposite from the door.

The meaning behind this statement quickly clarified in Cristiãn’s mind. From the beginning, he assumed that the freezer was there for the benefit of this basement chemistry lab. He now understood that their plan was to lock Cassidy inside it. As a newborn vampire, this would be an ideal tomb for her. The process of dying and resurrecting would leave her too weak to escape it. This condition would stay in effect until she fed for the first time. With no way of acquiring this first meal her body would have no recourse but to go dormant and sleep away the time.

“That’s not happening,” Cristiãn declared from behind a look of astonishment.

“Be reasonable, Cristiãn,” Dumitra implored. “We can’t let her go. In fifty years, it won’t matter what she knows.”

“Fifty years?” Cassidy blurted out with a look of astonishment.

“What’s going to change in fifty years?” Cristiãn challenged.

“We’re going to own this world,” Razvan answered with a trace of elation.

“Join us, Cristiãn,” Dumitra beseeched with an intonation of excitement.

“Own this world?” Cristiãn questioned with an inflection of incredulity. “With these guys? They’re just local hoods.”

“This is the perfect business for a vampire,” Razvan declared with smile. “Name me another business that can quadruple your investment overnight. And it’s all under the table—no government forms, identification checks. Anonymity is built in—no documentation. It’s perfect. It’s an underworld. The realm of a vampire.”

Razvan turned toward the door just as he spoke the next sentence.

“Come, let me show you.”

Tony opened the door as Razvan walked toward it. Razvan stopped just inside the doorway and then turned to look back. He noted Cristiãn’s reluctance to leave Cassidy behind and responded to it.

“Detective Tremaine, will you join us?”

Cassidy hesitated and then set off for the door with Dumitra a step behind. They both passed by Cristiãn and went through the doorway behind Razvan and Tony. Cristiãn followed behind them with his two armed ushers at his rear.

“I don’t like this,” Tony advised Razvan as he walked beside him. “It’s bad enough that we have a cop in here. Now we have this guy. Are we running a tourist attraction?”

“Cristiãn is an old, old friend, and he could help us.”

“We don’t need your friends,” Tony disputed. “Just do what you promised and I’ll get you all the friends you need.”

“Relax, Tony,” Razvan encouraged. “Everything is going to be fine.”

Razvan and Tony led this small line of individuals over to the table with the chemistry project. The two men wearing chemical aprons stopped what they were doing to observe them.

“You’re synthesizing MDMA,” Cassidy spoke out to no one in particular.

“Yes, Detective,” Razvan responded pleasantly. “We were forced to move the lab here after your misadventure inside Lantz’s warehouse.”

“MDMA?” Cristiãn questioned with a confused expression.

“Ecstasy or E,” Cassidy explained as she scanned the contents of the enclosure. “It’s a popular street drug.”

“What are you doing, Razvan?” Cristiãn questioned with a perplexed visage.

A smile spread out across Razvan’s face as he turned to give his response to Cristiãn.

“We’re participating in a criminal enterprise. Right now, our participation is limited to assisting in mergers, acquisitions, and with the collection of intel on competitors and the local constabulary. The money that we’re acquiring through real estate investments and stock dividends is a pittance compared to what we can be making in illegal commerce. But the real money, the real power is in only what we can sell. We have the ultimate commodity, Cristiãn, and the mortals will pay any price to get it. We’re going to be the largest organized criminal enterprise on the planet. And that’s just the beginning. We’re going to extend our tentacles into all levels of law enforcement, local and national politics, and Wall Street. There’s no limit to how high we can go. We’ll own it all.”

“You’re both insane,” Cristiãn proclaimed into the silence that followed Razvan’s presentation. “You will lose control.”

“No, we won’t,” Razvan argued forcefully. “That is what makes this time so great. Wealth is power. It doesn’t matter who your father was, or where you were born. The only thing that matters is how much money you have.”

Cristiãn gave Razvan a perplexed look. He briefly shook his head and pondered the enormity of Razvan’s plan. A few seconds into this he softly spoke the thought that floated up in his mind.

“You’re feeding a baby dragon. And when it gets big enough to understand that it doesn’t need you anymore, it will devour you.”

“Not if you help us,” Razvan slyly countered.

Razvan paused to examine the effect of his words on Cristiãn. At the end of this he spoke with a pleading inflection.

“Join us, Cristiãn.”

Cristiãn gave Razvan a stern study for several seconds. He then turned his attention to the workings on the table and the activity of the two men tending to it. He examined the process that was occurring there. After a moment of staring, he started toward the table. Razvan stepped in front him before he could complete a second step.

“I don’t think so,” Razvan insisted with a slight shake of his head. “You can look at it from here.”

Cristiãn was a couple of feet away from the back end of the nearest table. He understood that Razvan wanted to keep him away from the workings on top of the far table. The flammable liquids there and the burner, complete with flame, were things he suspected Razvan wanted to keep him away from. Cristiãn settled back into a stance.

“And what will you do if I don’t join you?” Cristiãn both questioned and challenged.

Razvan gave Cristiãn a prolonged stare, and then he began to speak his reply in a solemn voice.

“I will do what I must.”

Cristiãn knew that Razvan was offering him an either/or proposition, turn her or watch her die. Razvan was gambling that he would turn her to save her life. And with Cassidy hidden away from him, he would have no choice but to guard their existence. He also knew that Razvan and Dumitra were counting on their presence to stop him from trying to take Cassidy by force. The two armed ushers were a problem, but they were not insurmountable ones. When it came to taking Cassidy by force Razvan and Dumitra were his biggest obstacles. Cristiãn was several seconds into this thinking when Dumitra spoke up in a pleading tone.

“Turn her, Cristiãn.”

Cristiãn turned to look at Dumitra for a second, and then he panned his gaze toward Cassidy. She returned his look. Her facial expression morphed into an aspect of terror. After a long moment Cristiãn began to move toward her. When he came to within two feet she tried to inch back, but Dumitra held her in place with a hand in the back. Cristiãn took her by the risk at nearly the same moment. The two gunmen were to the left of Cristiãn by half a dozen feet. Their guns were at the ready. Their attentions were fixed tight on what they were expecting to see. Razvan was to the right front of Cristiãn by four feet. Dumitra was standing a few inches behind and slightly to the left of Cassidy. Tony was standing half a dozen feet back from them both. The end of the table was two feet behind and one foot to the right of Cristiãn.

“No,” Cassidy pleaded while pulling back from Cristiãn’s grasp of her hand.

Cristiãn ignored the plea as he pulled her forward. He slowly took her around the end of the table and over to the opposite side from where the armed ushers were standing. From there Razvan was a little more than arm’s length away from them both. Dumitra moved over to his side. All eyes were on Cassidy and Cristiãn. Even the two lab workers stopped what they were doing to watch.

“Don’t do this,” Cassidy pleaded as she continued to pull against Cristiãn’s grasp.

“They will kill you if I don’t,” Cristiãn answered as he pulled her in close to him.

Cassidy continued to try and pull away from his grip, but could not. Cristiãn pulled her to within a foot from him, as he stared into her eyes. Cassidy audibly gasped and tried to pull away with all her strength. Cristiãn restrained this effort by pulling her body up against his and folding her arms behind her. He used his left hand to hold her arms in place. He then slipped his right hand into the cellphone pocket of his suit and surreptitiously retrieved the small plastic bag of food seasoning. He kept it down and between them so no one could see that he had it.

“I will never forgive you for this,” Cassidy huffed out with a mixture of defiance and terror in her voice.

Cristiãn and Cassidy gazed into each other’s eyes for several seconds. At the end of this time, Cristiãn made a half turn to his right, looked into the faces of Razvan and Dumitra, held their bewildered stares for little more than a second and then he flung out his right arm with all the speed he could affect. In that instant, the food seasoning flew into the faces and eyes of Razvan and Dumitra. It happened too quickly for them to know what Cristiãn had done until after the mustard powder began to burn their eyes. They howled in pain as they spun away from the cloud of powder. Their hands immediately went up to their faces and tried to wipe away the irritant that had effectively blinded them.

Almost in that same instant, Cristiãn pushed Cassidy to the floor. The speed of the fall took her breath away.

“Stay down,” Cristiãn called out as he turned to shield his head and face from the gunfire that he saw was imminent.

No sooner had Cristiãn spoke these words did the usher with the shotgun discharge both barrels at him. Immediately after that the second usher discharged two rounds from his pistol. A dozen or more shotgun pellets punched into Cristiãn’s side and back along with both bullets from the pistol. Cristiãn rolled with the hits and stooped down. The usher with the pistol attempted to reacquire a bead, but Cristiãn’s position below the plane of the table took him out of his line of sight. While showing no ill effect from his gunshot wounds Cristiãn scooted beneath the table, lifted it and its contents off the floor and charged toward the two gunmen.

“Run!” Cristiãn called out to Cassidy as he charged toward the gunmen with the table.

The man with the pistol fired three shots toward Cristiãn. Two impacted with the table. The third hit Cristiãn in the left thigh, but it had no effect on his assault. The strength of Cristiãn’s charge and weight of the table forced the two gunmen, down onto the floor. As this was happening Cassidy ran to the door and began to fumble with the door locks. Cristiãn turned to the second table just as Cassidy reached the door. He grabbed a beaker that was two-thirds filled with a liquid and tossed the contents onto Razvan, Dumitra and Tony. An instant behind this Cristiãn snatched up the lit burner on the second table and threw it at Razvan. He instantly ignited into flames. Razvan was still writhing in pain from the mustard powder when this happened. His spinning and flailing caused him to bump into Dumitra and set her aflame. Their torsos were quickly engulfed in fire. Tony was the least affected by this. He was the furthest away, and he was not targeted by Cristiãn. A bump from Dumitra ignited the left arm of Tony’s suit. He immediately set himself to the task of extinguishing the fire.

By this time, Cassidy had opened the basement door. Cristiãn turned toward it and followed her into the stairwell. One behind the other they ran up the staircase and then out the door at the back of the building. Four cars were situated in a parking area behind the building, and the refuge of unwanted furniture and household equipment filled much of the remaining space. Cassidy ran down along the back wall of the building and came to a stop at a door several yards down. She was just about to grab the knob when Cristiãn stopped her. The sound of an air wrench whirring on the other side made him think it was not a door they should open.

“Come on,” Cristiãn instructed as he took Cassidy by the hand and began to lead her toward the ten-foot-high fence at the back of the yard.

Cristiãn came to a stop at a sliding gate that was latched with a chain and padlock. Cassidy immediately turned her eyes to the task of finding the best location for climbing the mesh fence. She discontinued this when she became aware that Cristiãn was trying to break the chain. After several seconds of work, he pulled apart a link. The effort clearly fatigued him. He leaned against the fence and began to pant away his exhaustion. In response to this, Cassidy reached in, unraveled the chain and pulled the gate open. She then took Cristiãn by the arm and rushed him down the side street at the back of the auto repair shop.

Cristiãn followed Cassidy’s lead. After a few seconds their scurry turned into a fast walk. A little more than thirty seconds later, they reached a large street crossing. Cassidy turned left onto it with Cristiãn in hand. When they were no longer on the side street, they transitioned their escape into a slow walk. This change of pace was Cristiãn’s doing. He suddenly took on the look of a man exhausted from dehydration.

“You okay?” Cassidy questioned with a heavy inflection of concern.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Cristiãn reported with a huff.

Cassidy noted the tears in his suitcoat from the shotgun pellets and bullet wounds. She could see his blood soaking into the material around the holes. She marveled that he was moving at all with so many wounds.

“I need to get you to a hospital,” Cassidy spoke as she looked about to get her bearings.

“No!” Cristiãn insisted as he quickly reached out and grabbed Cassidy’s arm. “I’ll be okay. I just need to rest.”

“You don’t look well,” Cassidy reported with a look of worry.

Cassidy was seeing more than an injured man. Cristiãn was looking far-older than he did several minutes earlier. Streaks of gray lightened the color of his hair. Age lines and wrinkles were visibly etched into his face.

“My body will heal on its own,” Cristiãn explained breathlessly. “I just need to get out of the sun and rest for a while.”

Cassidy took a moment to consider this before responding.

“Okay, but I have to call this in.”

“No—don’t do that” Cristiãn countered with a pleading expression. “I need to tell you something first.”

Cassidy paused to consider Cristiãn’s request.

“It’s important,” Cristiãn asserted into the silence.

Everything in Cassidy said that she should call Lieutenant Graham and report all that had happened. But a concern for Cristiãn was fighting her sense of obligation as a police officer.

“Okay, I’ll get you home,” Cassidy agreed with an inflection of reluctance.

“No,” Cristiãn sharply countermanded. “They’ll be looking for me there.”

Cassidy gave this response several seconds of thought, and then she moved over to Cristiãn’s side.

“Okay, let’s go,” Cassidy instructed as she took Cristiãn by the arm.

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