CHAPTER 1 – BUNNY
Two steps into that hospital lobby, she knew she’d been betrayed. Bunny clenched her jaw and took a deep breath. A young janitor was mopping a section of floor cordoned off by yellow caution signs. The tells were the shiny black oxfords the janitor wore below his coveralls and the token movements of his mop. Bunny stepped away from the revolving door, seeking cover among visitors buttoning their coats and readying umbrellas before venturing out into the cold Boston night. Across the lobby, a burly man sat in tie and jacket, no coat or umbrella nearby. His crew-cut and posture were military. He held a newspaper but was eyeing the crowd.
Bunny strode toward the elevators, offering a closed-mouth smile as she passed a uniformed security guard whose gaze lingered on her face. Maybe the feds weren’t expecting a six-foot blonde in a trench coat and boots, but they were scrutinizing faces for vampire pallor or fangs.
Glancing at the digital display above the elevators, she pressed the “up” button. She was almost certain the feds would let her meet with Dr. Quintz, but they’d never let him give her a copy of his findings about vampire genes. No doubt she and Dr. Quintz had been marked as threats to national security, but without emails or calls to trace, the feds had to entrap her with evidence in her possession.
She tensed as Agent Crewcut moved in close behind her, wrinkling her nose as she smelled his cologne. Anyone who wore Invincible was an egotist. Riding up ten floors in a fog of musk and sperm whale would bother any vampire’s sharpened senses. For her, it would be a torment. She turned from the elevator, heading for the red exit sign that marked a stairwell.
“Stairs,” he whispered, assuming she was well enough away.
She took the steps four at a time and was past the first landing before the fire door clicked shut below. On the third floor, she stopped for a moment to listen. He’d taken off his shoes, but he was too big and in too much of a hurry to move soundlessly. Offering a cough to lead him on, she continued her ascent. The sign on the seventh floor said Cardiology. She stepped into an empty corridor and eased the stairwell door closed.
The agent’s feet brushed against the cement landing. She waited until he’d moved past the door, then flung it open.
“Happy birthday, baby,” she whispered.
The man gaped at her bared fangs. He dropped his shoes and went for his gun. Leaping forward, she launched an elbow to his temple and felt the impact as his head spun away. He crumpled like a dropped marionette. She knelt over him, loosened his tie, ripped open his collar; a small transmitter fell to the floor. Her fangs punctured his skin, tore through warm tissue and entered his jugular vein. One powerful suck and his blood rushed into her like an exploding bullet. It was high-quality A positive, hemoglobin rich, with a touch of salt and a hint of butternut.
When she was done, she flicked her tongue against her fangs to change them from inflow to outgo and injected a few drops of her own blood into his vein. Her DNA would replicate as fast as the virus that harbored it. Within hours, Agent Crewcut would be a vampire. He’d be stronger and faster but no super-hero. His intelligence and personality would determine how he reacted. If he didn’t have the presence of mind to escape, his cronies would imprison or kill him rather than admit vampires existed and create panic in the streets.
She used her victim’s tie to wipe her mouth, then picked up his gun and rose to her feet. A check of the Glock’s magazine and chamber brought a curse to her lips. The bullets were “terminators,” brass-jacketed wooden slugs. They exited the barrel with less velocity than lead, but they were as deadly to vampires as a wooden stake.
She put the gun into a pocket of her trench coat. Taking out a travel pack of Oust-for-Blood, she used one of the stain-removing wipes to clean her lapels. She glanced down to make sure she’d left nothing more than blonde hairs and saliva DNA behind. If Agent Crew-cut escaped, those traces would disappear with him. If not, the feds would know whom they were chasing.
“Happy birthday, baby. Enjoy your new life,” she whispered and started up the stairs.
On the tenth floor, she followed the signs to Genetic Counseling, where Dr. Quintz had his office. The absence of people in the corridors or offices didn’t bother her. By evacuating the floor, the feds had deprived her of creating panic or taking hostages, and they’d rid themselves of unbiased witnesses. Still, she’d convinced herself that the skills learned in Army Ranger school and the speed and strength of a vampire were sufficient to meet any challenge.
The door to the office of Dr. Carson Quintz was open wide, it’s lock replaced by a drilled hole. Bunny breezed through the doorway as if a welcome sign had been posted. In front of overstuffed bookcases, facing a semi-circle of three empty chairs, Quintz was seated at a desk cleared of everything but his tightly clasped hands and a telephone. He’d abandoned his tie and lab coat for a blue shirt and herringbone jacket. The face that she’d first seen on the cover of Popular Genetics beneath the banner “Do you want a Nobel nominee to plan your baby?” had not aged noticeably in the past three years. The doctor’s gray hair, high forehead, green eyes and strong jaw were still a handsome combination. But the man’s ruddy complexion and confidence had been replaced by pallor and fear.
Quintz shook his head vigorously. “Bunny, it wasn’t me. One of my lab assistants took the ‘see something, say something’ campaign to heart and he contacted the authorities.”
“I’d like to have his heart on a plate.” She looked about for the glint of a lens. “I assume we’re on camera and you’ve been told to give me something?”
Quintz opened his hands and held out a flash drive. “This is a draft of my journal article, the backup data about vampire DNA, and the rat experiments I did using viral transfers.”
“So repairing vampire genetic defects is possible?”
“Theoretically. We’d still have to conduct safety trials in vampires.”
“The government won’t let that happen.”
“No, they say they want me to finish the project and prove this leads to a cure.” The doctor’s hand was trembling.
She lowered her voice. “You’ve been working with me on this for three years.” Only a hint of her anger colored her tone. “I’ve kept my word, done all you’ve asked. How could you trust the government more than me?”
“They said you were going to kill me once I finished.” Quintz shrugged. “What choice did I have? In the last week, they’ve taken control of everything in my lab and every byte of data I stored on the Cloud. This is all I have left.” He placed the drive on the desktop. “Take it.”
“They just happened to leave you with that?” scoffed Bunny. “Look, doc, I have no reason to kill you. You and I want the cure to work; these guys watching us don’t. No matter what they told you, they’ll drain you dry of information, then they’ll kill you and blame it on me.” She motioned for him to rise. “Come! We’re getting out of here.”
Quintz didn’t budge. “They have lots of men out there.”
“Trust me. There’s a good chance we can make it, that your work can be published. I assume you’ve kept a backup somewhere.”
“They raided my home and took over my websites,” said Quintz. “They even got a warrant to empty my safe deposit box. I should’ve kept backups elsewhere, but I didn’t. Except for that.” He looked down at the flash drive. “Take it!”
She studied his face. Why is he pushing me? Is he hinting something? Or sold out a hundred percent to the feds? “You’re dealing with nasty people.” She pointed to the flash drive. “I don’t want that. I want to take you out of here.”
The telephone rang. Quintz didn’t move. “It’s for you,” he told her.
She picked up the receiver. “Genetic counseling department,” she said. “Do you want to find out where your mother went wrong?”
“Are you Bunny?”
“Who wants to know?” Pressing the speaker button, she placed the phone on the desk.
“This is General Tyson Corkle, Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Paranormal Alien Project. “
“PAP? Really?” Bunny chuckled. “You’re the sap who runs PAP?”
“Are you the one who identifies herself as Bunny?” Corkle’s tone was icy.
“I’ve been known by many names.”
“We’re asking you to surrender. Come out with your hands high in the air. We don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
“Not even the good doctor?” She moved around the desk to stand behind Quintz. “Then why such a great effort to suppress his findings?”
“We’re not going to discuss matters of national security with a vampire.”
“You guys don’t want vampires discussed at all.” She put one hand on the doctor’s shoulder, pinning him to his seat; she eased her other hand into her pocket to retrieve a tracking device disguised as a St. Christopher medal. “Should I do you asshats a favor and kill him?”
The doctor shuddered.
“I repeat, we don’t want anybody harmed,” said Corkle.
“He’s speaking for the public record,” she told Quintz. “Don’t believe him.” With the religious medal concealed by her fingers, she slid her hands over his shoulders as if to reassure him. “You need to have faith,” she whispered in his ear. “I’m putting St. Christopher in your pocket. Take him with you.” She looked up and raised her voice. “Let me go, and I won’t harm the doctor.”
“No deals,” said Corkle. “You almost killed one of my men.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”
“Just take the drive and go!” Quintz urged.
“You sure you don’t want to come with me?”
“You’re insane to fight them,” said Quintz.
“Stick with your field of expertise, doc.” She looked up. “I’ll bring Dr. Quintz out in front of me. You kill him if you want to.” She reached around Quintz for the flash drive. “Okay, doc, let’s go.”
“Don’t do this.” Quintz grasped the arms of his chair. “You said you love animals. My cat is home alone.”
“If you’re dead, they can present her your Nobel in a bowl of milk.” She pulled him from the chair and prodded him to the door. It was clear he would get her killed or captured. “Don’t work with them,” she whispered. “I’ll come find you.” She stepped in front of him. “You guys ready for us?” she called.
“With lead and wood,” came the reply from the corridor.
Lead could bring her down, but it was the wood that could finish her. Still, what choice did she have? She pulled a smoke grenade and goggles from her pocket. She donned the goggles, pulled the pin, and tossed the grenade into the corridor.
“Grenade!” a man yelled. There was a flash, a pop, and black smoke began filling the corridor. She shoved Quintz out of the way and took out the Glock. The electric thrill of combat rushed through her as she dropped to her knees and crawled out the door.
“Where is she?” an agent called. Men cursed and coughed. An alarm shrieked. Cold water rained down from the sprinklers.
Bunny crawled down the corridor, away from the elevators. She saw a man’s legs just inches away. The agent stepped forward and bumped her head. She shot him in the knee and rolled aside as he fell screaming. His partner made the mistake of saying, “Jack?” She fired two rounds at the voice; the partner grunted. Through the haze, she saw him fall; the sprinklers were drowning the smoke. She got up and ran. Shots rang out and bullets splattered the wall behind her as she turned a corner and raced toward the red exit sign that marked another staircase.
They’ll be at every exit! She whipped off her goggles and hurtled up the steps. Drops of water falling from her coat left a clear trail until she reached the twelfth floor. She kept going.
On fifteen, she found a ladies’ room. Locking the door, she set the gun, goggles and flash drive on the sink, then shed her coat and wig. She used liquid soap, her Oust sheets and paper towels to scrub off her make-up. In the mirror, her skin looked blanched, but it was clean. A military cut of brown hair was a lot different than the blonde wig.
Bunny bent over and unrolled the legs of her green scrub suit. Backing up for a larger view in the mirror, she let her shoulders sag and pushed her tummy out to appear less military, less muscular. She put on the picture ID badge Quintz had provided for her midnight visits to his lab. The severe hairdo, broad forehead and sharp nose made Barbara Rawlinger a tough-cookie nurse. All she had to do was avoid opening her mouth.
She used paper towels to scrub her fingerprints off her equipment, wrapped everything in the trench coat and crammed the lot into a waste can. Only then did she examine the flash drive. On the black plastic, Quintz had scratched nine tiny letters. Bunny’s eyes widened in disbelief.
The message was “ROSEBLOOD.”