~ ~ ~
The man lounging behind the counter looks like he might be a little too interested in what I’m buying, but then Jacob comes in from fueling up, and Mr. Local Yokel settles back in his seat. Squinting, he frowns down at the paper spread in front of him, ignoring us. I grab a bottle of Coke from the fridge and pick up a couple bags of pork rinds.
“Anything else?” Yokel doesn’t bother looking up.
“Eight twenty-five.” He turns the page. “Plus tax.”
I hand him a ten spot, dumping the few coins he gives back into one of the half dozen charity contribution jars lining the peeling counter surface.
Outside, the sun is heading closer to the horizon, but the heat hasn’t waned. If anything, it’s gotten warmer. The first gulp of soda feels cold and delicious. Then the bottle gets warmer and sticky-sweet.
“Ready?” Jacob is a man of few words.
“Let’s go.” The beat up Ford doesn’t look like much from the outside, but she starts up just fine. It’s my turn to drive. I hand Jacob the map. “Let me know when we get closer.”
I once had a GPS. Turns out, geo-positioning satellites and Moray Magic don’t mix, and now we rely on paper and prior planning.
The sun is just low enough to peek out from below the visor. I squint against the glare as I pull out of the parking lot and accelerate down the deserted road. “So what was all that back there?”
Jacob leans back and closes his eyes.
“Seriously, man.” The road leads to the highway, and I take the exit a little too fast.
Jacob opens his eyes again to give me a look, the one that says I better not mess up his ride.
“Calm down, killer.” I turn to give him a big smile, keeping the road in my peripheral vision. I keep smiling for a few more long seconds … and then a few more. Finally, he shrugs.
“Few less Blackhearts.” He lowers his own visor against the glare. “What’s the problem?”
“The problem?” I can’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice. Jacob hates sarcasm. “Not only a few less Blackhearts, but we left them in a few more pieces than usual.”
“Nest that big, gotta make sure you get ’em all.”
“I’m not arguing that point.” What we found in that basement — let’s just say I’ll be seeing it when I close my eyes for a long time. One Blackheart on its own is nasty business, and there had been about six or seven living there. “But you killed them and kept going.”
“It’s a bloody business.” There’s a note in his voice that sets my nerves on edge — at once cold and empty, and at the same time vicious and eager.
The sun flares briefly, and I turn, just as the last rays illuminate Jacob’s eyes. Beneath the steely gray, the light catches other, deeper cones. Just for a moment, the red glows through, punctuating the slight smile that doesn’t conceal the sharp tips of his teeth.
“Are you willing to spill what you need?”