I nudged David in the thigh. “See? They weren’t after me.”
This was something we’d discussed on the drive over to the Starbucks, with the CDC agents behind us. Even though they’d told us at the apartments that they were after Hamilton, David had still worried that maybe I was a target too, especially with Stahlberg knowing immediately what I was.
“I don’t like this,” he said, steering our cruiser around a slow-moving van. “This secrecy stuff. Lying to the department. This is bullshit.”
We–rather, I–had just called Sergeant McNulty and told him that we had turned up zilch at Hamilton’s apartment. He hadn’t been happy to hear that we had traded with Kemp and Dodd for the assignment, but he’d told us to keep searching. The sheriff was due to hold a press conference concerning the shooting later this evening. For now, Hamilton was listed as “unidentified gunshot victim”.
I, however, had no problem with the secrecy and lies. I was used to them, after all.
David said, “Something else is bothering me, too. Moss and Stahlberg. How the hell did they get here so quick? I mean, it was like two hours after the shooting when you and I went to Hamilton’s place. And then there they were, and they’d already spoken to the paramedic and watched the security footage? Where did they come from?”
I hadn’t considered that. Blame it on my predatory instincts. I’d been given a mission: find Joshua Hamilton, and I’d gone about it in a single-minded, relentless way. Moss and Stahlberg weren’t on my radar, not unless they got in my way.
This is why I am not a detective.
I shook my head. “Maybe . . . hell. I don’t know.”
“It doesn’t make sense.”
“Not unless they knew it was going to happen, somehow.”
“What, they monitor spree killings on the off-chance that one of the victims will rise up as one of the undead?”
“No, but maybe . . . maybe they knew something about Hamilton ahead of time.”
“Moss said it was rare.”
“Yeah, he did.” David slowed for a yellow light. “He also said that Hamilton’s dangerous. So why not just kill him on sight? Why does he want to capture him, since Hamilton’s going to die again in a few days? Why go to all that trouble and endanger people?”
“Mercy, you’re starting to sound like one of those Grassy Knoll conspiracy nuts. What do you think they want with Hamilton, then?”
“Come on. Having the ability to re-animate? That definitely has some military applications.”
“Aaaannnd here we go. Go ahead, convince me that LBJ had JFK killed so that he could get us in Vietnam to further the agenda of the military industrial complex.”
David laughed. The light went green. He hit the gas. “Okay, okay. Maybe they’re on the level. Maybe they were just passing through, and they heard about it on the scanner I saw in their car. The car does have Texas plates. Hell, maybe they’re based in Houston. They could’ve been passing through.”
“I do wonder what they plan to do with him once they get him. If they get him.”
He nodded. “I wondered that too.”
I rubbed my mouth. “Can he still feel pain? In the movies, they can’t.”
“They also can’t drive.”
Then the radio crackled. Assault at the Best Buy. A woman had been bitten by her boyfriend.
We looked at each other. David hit the lights and siren. I grabbed the mike and reported that we were taking the call. I racked it and pulled out my cell phone. David asked what I was doing.
“What we said we’d do. Calling them.”
“Elizabeth, we don’t know it’s him.”
“Sure, because we get boy-bites-girl calls every day.”
“Just wait, all right?”
I shrugged. “All right.”
* * *
We parked in front of the Best Buy. David spotted the agents’ car, a dark blue Chrysler 300, parked a few spaces away.
“What timing,” I said.
The bite victim was being kept in the employee break room. An ambulance was on the way. She had a towel wrapped around her forearm, and I found myself flashing back to my own monster bite. Was she as shocked as I had been by the sight of a human with his teeth embedded in your flesh like a bad-tempered dog?
The victim, Stacie Clark, didn’t look so good. She was pale, sweaty, and had the shakes. When I stepped into the break room, she ducked her head and threw up into a plastic wastebasket that she’d been keeping in her lap. From the smell of things, it wasn’t the wastebasket’s first rodeo.
“I sometimes have that effect on people,” I cracked, then backed out of the room to keep from puking myself.
I stayed in the hallway and let David handle things. There were witnesses. They all said that a man matching Joshua Hamilton’s description bit Clark on the arm. Clark herself said nothing; every time she tried, David later told me, she vomited.
I went to get a drink of water after hearing–and smelling–her seventh regurgitation. When I straightened up from the water fountain, Moss was standing on my left.
I jerked. “Jesus!’
Stahlberg materialized on my right. “Sniffer not working so well now? The vomitus. Just fries your olfactory system.”
“Is that what your perfume is called? Vomitus?”
She cocked her head to the side. “For a police officer, your sense of humor is peculiar.”
“Maybe it was fried by the vomitus too.”
Moss said, “How’s the victim doing?”
From down the hall, more retching sounds.
I grimaced. “Like that.”
Moss half-smiled. “Week in the hospital, some fluids, antibiotics, she’ll be fine.”
“Outstanding,” I said. “Hamilton fled in his car after biting her. He’s not here.”
“We need to get going. He can’t have gotten far.”
The paramedics finally showed up. A few minutes later, Stacie Clark was on her way to Baptist Hospital. Our CDC friends hustled us out of the store, despite David’s griping that we had more work to do at the scene.
“There’s no time for that, Deputy,” Moss said. “Finding Hamilton, that’s the priority.”
David turned to face him. “About that. How exactly did you zero in on him so quick?”
Stahlberg bent to tie a loose shoelace. “Strange that he drove away. Usually, by this point, their motor control skills aren’t functioning well enough to permit the operation of a motor vehicle.”
David rolled his eyes. “They’re not. Look.” He pointed.
We followed his finger. Hamilton’s Charger was across the street, in the parking lot of the Davy Crockett Mall. He’d abandoned it in the middle of the lot, in the area between Suncoast and Books-A-Million. The driver’s door was open, and the windshield wipers were flapping back and forth.
“Ah shit,” I said. “We’re going to the mall.”