Home Chapter 21
“Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown”
-“Riders on the Storm”, The Doors
Rain hitting gravel, metal, and asphalt. Heartbeat—loud, pounding. Breath gasping.
Vincent ran across stones, jumping, launching from fire escape to opposite building cornice. He heaved up and over the wall. The assassin, kneeling in the far corner, almost motionless, focused, aiming his weapon.
Before Vincent could shout, before he could roar, just strides between them, a shot escaped, the rifle’s recoil jolting the figure before him.
He heard her scream at the same moment his heart called to hers.
The killer, like he knew what was coming for him, swung around, and with grace born of nature and study, leapt, dodging Vincent’s rage. The death strike missed but tossed the assassin’s gun high and off the roof.
Ten feet away and out of Vincent’s immediate reach, the man turned.
“Shit,” he swore, craning to look over the edge. “I liked that rifle.” His voice was grit and mold, low, unaffected and unafraid. He spun, snickering, “It’s worth it, though, ‘cause you’re a fucking monster.”
He sounded happy about it.
Vincent held, panting.
Catherine was alive. The bond pulsed steady and strong. She wasn’t hurt. Frightened, worried, but not hurt, not dead.
As if reading his thoughts, the assassin yelled over the shower that was now sheets of water, “I didn’t have to miss! I won’t next time!”
The growl tore from Vincent’s throat before he could stop it.
The assassin backed up but didn’t run. In fact, he smiled at the sound.
“I wanted to see you. I knew if I found her, I’d find you—Maxwell, to her, to you… Vincent,” the killer said, smirking as if he wanted praised for cleverness.
Vincent studied his opponent, who had his hands out and open to bide time—gaunt face, receding white-blonde hair, wide-eyed even when battered by the storm. The man seemed to be assessing him as well.
“You’re a weapon, like me,” he commented.
Then he reached into his vest, producing a pistol. Vincent swerved from the straight path. The bullet went wide, and in the chaos the man bolted.
Vincent swiped at the retreating figure, only glancing the leg, but it threw the pale-haired assassin off, causing the gun to fall from his grasp as he jumped to a ladder. A slower man would have lost a knee.
He was up on a higher roof before Vincent could blink.
They clambered to the next building, Vincent trying to balance speed with the possibility of another hidden weapon.
His inner demon didn’t care.
Vincent and the man both kept chase, down and across four more roof tops, dodging exhaust units, skirting pipes and water towers. The assassin was small, fast, but soon he was at the end with all other buildings too tall and far away to jump to. He wheeled around, and Vincent, still wary, still focused, closed in.
“I was thinking of finishing this with your skank today,” the killer yelled, nearly out of breath. “But the moment wasn’t right.”
Vincent inched closer while the man circled just out of reach.
“We’re alone in this, you know.”
He drew a knife from the sheath on his leg.
“They put us on this path, your rich girl and my brother. They revved us up and let us go.”
Brother? Gabriel’s brother? The man rambled like Catherine’s kidnapper and shared his hungry, hollow look of hatred.
Gabriel’s kith and kin should be wiped from the earth, the monster within demanded.
And Vincent listened.
He lunged, claws swiping. The hitman parried, growling while he slashed. Vincent recoiled, escaping the deadly arc, but the surgically sharp blade still caught his arm, slicing through fabric and skin.
Seeming to not want to chance his enemy’s reach again, the pale-haired man whipped the weapon at Vincent. As he ducked, the gunman spun and leapt over the side.
“I’ll catch you later… Vincent…” the man’s voice echoed.
By the time Vincent reached the edge, he saw Gabriel’s brother vaulting to a fire escape half a building below.
Vincent jumped, hitting the rusted metal with the force of lightning. The old iron couldn’t sustain the blow, snapping and buckling. Both hunters bounded off the crumpling metal, the assassin a story above the street, Vincent more than three.
Jarring impact stole his breath as Vincent rolled on the filthy, wet ground. As soon as he could, he swayed up and forward, stumbling, then running towards the sprinting man. The sidewalks and traffic ahead nearly didn’t deter the pursuit, but at the last moment Vincent lurched into the darkest corner, forestalled by a thousand nights’ experience of a still busy city. He could only hunt while sticking to the wall, trying to keep from being seen.
A motorcycle sped past the alley, gutter water spraying in its wake. Visible for a second, the pale rider glanced over, then took off into the city, into the night.
Into the night, where Catherine was.
Catherine felt the shot—a wind, a shock wave, concussive heat—just as she heard the blast. The bullet hit the taxi, causing a hole that would have killed her if it had impacted two inches to the right.
“Vincent!” she screamed before she could stop herself, before the danger of his name could be calculated.
A rifle hit the ground, bouncing off steps and clattering on the concrete.
Rain turned to deluge, then another shot and movement.
Blinking frantically against the torrent, she fought to see the action high above them—Vincent’s cloaked lunge at a black and silver shadow darting away.
The hitman danced in and out of sight across another flat roof. Vincent followed, his emotions, his imperatives overwhelming her.
Before she had a chance to think what to do next, Nick reached around and pushed her into the taxi. Her balance failed, lost to the conflict and the echoes of the battle blaring through her skull.
The cabbie slammed the door and was in the driver’s seat quicker than she thought possible for the middle-aged man.
“No, we have to—” she protested, as he punched the gear shift into reverse, then drive. She glimpsed Joe at the glass front door before the cab screeched out ahead of another car that hit its brakes and horn.
“We are getting out of here, Missus!” Nick yelled, speeding three blocks, then cutting off a box truck to make a left. “I promised Vincent I would get you home safe, and I make it a policy to never go back on promises to your husband!”
“No, but he’s—”
She stopped. He wasn’t injured, at least not shot. She knew it. The battle was over, the immediate fight rage given over to a different purpose. Where was he now?
After more hurried turns, Nick swerved into a backstreet, barreling down an alley that looked like a dead end.
Vincent jumped in front of the cab.
For a split second, the headlights illuminated his cloaked form.
“Stop!” Catherine screamed.
“Jesus!” Nick yelled as the brakes screeched in protest and she was thrown forward.
The car rocked as Nick flung the gear shift into park.
“You all right, missus?” he asked.
Catherine pulled herself out of the well onto the seat.
Through the mad efforts of the windshield wipers she could see Vincent standing just inches from the front bumper, anger exposed on his floodlit face. Not that she needed to see. His frustration and concern battered through the bond. Vincent surged around the car, ripping open the back door, grabbed her hand and yanked her free.
He was bruised, a slash across his arm, but the injuries weren’t slowing him.
The cabbie leaned out a rolled-down window. “You okay, Vincent?”
Above the storm Catherine heard the sirens converging on the area.
“Vincent—” she began.
“Gabriel’s hitman is still out here—pale, bleached hair, all in black, driving a motorcycle,” he informed them while tugging her towards the dead end.
“Gabriel’s hitman?” she asked, struggling to keep up, nearly slipping on the sludge and slick grit coating the alley floor.
“Nick, leave!” Vincent commanded to the man behind them. Then to her, “We’re going home.” His tone brooked no argument.
They came to the end of the back street without a visible exit. Vincent’s hand curved around a metal slab attached to soot-covered brick with ancient bolts. The false wall before them yielded to his force, screeching out of the way as if it weighed nothing.
They were going home.
She looked back and watched Nick reversing away before Vincent shut the door to the street behind them. No one seemed to be watching, but that meant nothing. She hadn’t noticed the gunman until it was too late. What if he had only missed her to trick them, to hunt them?
“He drove away,” Vincent said in answer to her unvoiced apprehension. “We will stay Below until it’s safe.”
Below, where Jacob was.
Their son’s home.
And the danger would go with them.
Are you willing to take us down deep?
Vincent had been right.
She’d have to find another way.