“You’re sure he’ll actually give me your car?”

“Don’t let him bullshit you into thinking I owe him money. I don’t. The agreement is I get the car when I want it, and he drives it when I don’t. It’s how I worked off all the extra stuff he put into it. But be careful. It’s a whole lot of car, little lady.”

“Funny,” she said, in a tone that indicated it was not, and kissed him quickly on her way out the door.

She jogged part of the way, just to enjoy the exercise, and the strange fact that people were out on their lawns, waving hello, smiling and cheerful. Morganville had always been exciting, but she couldn’t say it had always been friendly, and this made an unexpectedly nice change. When she stopped, out of breath, she ended up talking to the postal worker delivering mail, and a couple of passing strangers.

Just like a normal town. Which was so not normal.

I’m going to ruin it, she thought, and that horrible feeling swept through her again, that awful knowledge that even if what she was doing felt right, it might be very wrong. But she couldn’t just . . . do nothing.

Maybe there was no right side, but she knew one thing: letting the Daylighters win had to be the worse of two bad choices.

Rad’s motorcycle shop also doubled as a mechanic’s shop. The bikes he sold were generally tricked out and customized, though he had a few consumer base models for variety, and in the back he had a line of cars in various stages of disrepair, and a few that he kept under dust covers.

One of those, Claire knew, was Shane’s. His time- share, as he liked to call it. She recognized the shape under the canvas cover.

Rad was sitting behind his battered desk in the office, feet up, sunglasses on. He was a massive guy, tattooed and bare- armed to show them off, and with the glasses blocking out his eyes he looked the exact opposite of all the friendly faces she’d seen coming here.


Old Morganville in the flesh. He gave her a nod, put his boots on the floor, and said, “Hey, Claire. Long time no see around here.”

“Not that long.”

“Seems that way.” He shrugged. “Lot’s changed since you left town, and that’s a fact.”

“Not around your lot so much.”

“I see what you did there, with the wordplay,” he said and crossed his arms. “I never liked the damn vampires, and I’m glad to see ’em gone. I never made any secret of that. The new adminis- tration seems like it’s got it going on.” He was, she felt, trying to find out where she stood. She didn’t have the inclination to debate it, or the time.

“I just came to pick up Shane’s car,” she said. “He gave me the keys.”

“He still—”

“He also said to tell you he doesn’t owe you anything, so don’t try it.”

She handed over the note, and he read it; his teeth showed briefly, and they were surprisingly straight and clean. “Yeah, okay, can’t blame a guy for trying to make a buck. Got about a half a tank left, so it’s good to go. I’ll take the cover off for you.”

“Shane’ll be by later,” she said. “He, ah, needs to borrow fire retardant from you. Well, not borrow so much as maybe use it all up. But we’ll pay you back.”

“Oh, that sounds just great. Can’t wait to have that conversa- tion. You know, every time I have anything to do with you guys, I end up in a fight somewhere down the line, and I’m really trying to cut down. Anger management and all that crap. Hey, I got a girlfriend now and she doesn’t like it when I get into trouble.”

“Does she like it when you set yourself on fire?”

He considered that. “Fair point. I guess I could give up the foam. What do you want it for?”

“I’d . . . rather not tell you. I promise, we’re not looking for a fight,” Claire said. “But people may be coming for us, and we have to fight back, don’t we?”

“Sure,” Rad agreed. “No crime in that. Some of my best fights were self- defense.” He flexed his muscles a little bit, but it wasn’t as if he was trying to show off, more like he was just remembering the good times. Claire supposed Rad would have a top ten list of his best fights. She’d actually be surprised if Shane didn’t, too, and if some of them didn’t match up with Rad’s list, only on opposite sides. “Okay, I’ll hold my grudges against Shane, not you. You’re too pretty, anyway. Let’s get you the car.”

He led her out to the back, which was a dry, cracked dirt lot with occasional struggling weeds poking up through the hard ground; the weeds looked as dry as the dirt they were breaking through. Most had burs, so Claire was careful to avoid them as she helped Rad untie the canvas and fold it back in sharp, dust- raising snaps until it was a neat square that he tucked under his arm.

He stepped back to admire the car. “Love this damn beast,” he said. “Your boyfriend has damn good taste in wheels.”

It was a muscle car of some kind, all matte black, with murdered- out wheels and some shiny chrome here and there, just for empha- sis. It did look powerful, and intimidating. Claire slid behind the wheel into the shiny leather seat and had to immediately rack it forward four notches so her feet could meet the pedals.

Pedals, not just plural, but triple. Gas, brake, and clutch. She’d had lessons in driving a stick shift, but that had been . . . a while ago. And she’d had her dad coaching her patiently through the process. Plus, that had been a nice, tame small car, not Shane’s Detroit- built monster.

She took a deep breath and went through the steps, just as she remembered them. She fumbled the shift from reverse to first, and winced at the grinding of gears; she saw Rad shake his head sadly from where he stood leaning against the wall. That stiffened her resolve, and she accelerated out fast, hitting second gear before she’d reached the end of the lot. She shifted hard enough to scratch rubber.

It felt good. So did seeing the surprised look on Rad’s face. She gave him a quick, jaunty little wave out the window, which was risky but worth it, and she was in third before she hit the end of the block, roaring through a green light and heading for Macom Hardware.

The parking lot was full, which was a very odd sight; she couldn’t remember ever seeing a business with that many custom- ers in town, and yet there they were, whole families out in the daytime, pushing carts into the store, chatting on their cells, living a . . . normal life. She found a spot and shut off the low, growling engine, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to get out of the car just yet. She felt displaced, and sad. If she, Shane, and Eve suc- ceeded in freeing the vampires, these same smiling, happy people would go back to being exactly what they were before— scared and anxious, afraid to leave their homes for anything but necessity, afraid to let their kids run and play. Afraid for a good reason.

How could she really want to bring that back?

But what other choice did she have?

It took her a good minute to get herself together, grab her wal- let, and walk into the store. She got a shopping cart from the small remaining selection— of course it was the one with the wobbly left wheel— and headed for the back corner of the store, where she re- membered seeing fire extinguishers. It wasn’t easy; Macom’s wasn’t built for heavy customer flow, and it was a little like playing one of those traffic games, where one block had to move for another to pass. Fifteen minutes and several apologies later, Claire finally spotted the red cylinders in the corner, and parked her cart as much out of the way as possible while she loaded them into it.

There were six on display, and she took all of them. Next to them was a box of strange- looking oval things, but it had the words fire suppression grenades on it, and that was something she thought Shane would love.

It wasn’t much of a line of defense, but it was pretty much all she could see, given the limited selection available, though on an impulse she grabbed boxes of preloaded rock salt rounds for their shotgun. Not that she wouldn’t shoot someone trying to burn their house down, but she’d rather not shoot them into the hospital, or the graveyard. These might be people she knew, people she cared about, and she couldn’t be their enemy.

Even if she was, at least for now, their villain.

Twenty minutes more to maneuver to the register and check out, and then another five to load everything in the car. Five more minutes of powering the Beast (that was what she decided to call Shane’s car) down the surprisingly busy streets toward the Glass House.

When she got there, Shane was sitting on the front porch in the sun- faded rocking chair that Eve had put out there, half as a joke because none of them were porch- sitting people— and he had a shotgun.

Two uniformed police officers were standing on the steps. The tall blond woman had her hand on her gun, but she hadn’t drawn it; her male partner, also tall, but skeletally thin, hadn’t bothered with his sidearm. He was leaning on the railing and trying to look casual.

In that, Claire supposed he was trying to match Shane, who had broken open the barrel of the shotgun, taken out the rounds, and was cleaning it. She smelled the gun oil as she parked the Beast in the driveway, and instead of unloading the car, she grabbed the box of rock salt shells and walked up the path. The female officer immediately pivoted to watch her with cool, analytical eyes and a blank expression, but she moved aside to let Claire come up the steps.

“Thanks for letting me borrow the car,” she said, and leaned over to kiss Shane on the cheek as if the cops weren’t there. “I brought you a present.”

“Varmint rounds. Cool. Plenty of varmints around these days.” He opened the box, took some out, and began slotting them into the breech of the shotgun. Then he flipped it shut and racked a round, while staring at the cops. Well. That escalated fast.

“I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t get the memo— are we having prob- lems here?” Claire smiled as winningly as she could at the male po- liceman. His name was Charlie, she remembered— Charlie Kentworth. “Officer Kentworth, how are you? Is there something wrong?”

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