Test Chp 1

 

 

 

 

Los Angeles – Present Day

 

 

 

O

 

ne thing about mornings; they always came too early.

For a vampire and habitual night-jetter like Mick St. John, it seemed no sooner had he got himself comfortably tucked in and slammed the freezer door for the, well morning, some new crisis would crop up. It was a wonder he ever got sleep at all.

One of the perks of being a private investigator was the ability to set your own hours. Clients didn’t care when an investigation was finished so long as it got results, They wrote the checks and, despite the brilliant game plan, Mick got to sleep in—almost never.

“Don’t say goodbye—cause I don’t want to hear those words tonight—cause maybe it’s not the end for you and I—and although we knew this time would come for—”

Ignoring the loud, intrusive ring tone interrupting his sleep didn’t work, so Mick finally sat up and fumbled for the iPhone located in his jacket pocket, hanging on a hook on the wall but still within reaching distance. Blinking himself awake in the half-lit room, he whipped it out and impatiently tapped it on.

“St. John Investigations. Who is this?”

“I.D.K. Your B.F.F. Jo?”

“Not funny, Josef,” Mick growled. “What do you want?”

“Aw, must I always have an ulterior motive for calling? Couldn’t I just be playing the good friend bit?”

You—not likely. Daylight is burning over here, Josef. Get to the point!”

Josef sighed. “Fine, I need you to come down to my office, pronto! Something urgent has come up and we need to talk.”

“We have to talk right now? In person?” Mick replied incredulously and pulled the iPhone away from his ear as he stole a glance at the display to see what time it was.

It was only 9 a.m. Josef knew his preference of ‘sleeping in’, especially since Mick seldom got to due to caseload and his many clients who liked to book appointments during the day. It was a pain but what could a vampire do but agree? Anything else was too suspicious, even for a private investigator who kept to odd night hours.

Alright. So vampires didn’t really burst into flames in exposed sunlight—just one of the prevalent urban myths about them. Shame because that would make a handy excuse to stay home and sleep.

“Why can’t you just tell me whatever it is over the phone?” he protested.

“St. John, just get your ass down here! Fast!” With that, Josef disconnected the call leaving Mick listening to empty air.

He clicked his phone off and began to climb out of his bedtime coff—er, freezer. Due to their constantly-regenerating biology, vampires needed a cool (preferably ice cold) and dark place to sleep while their healing genetics rebuilt their immortal bodies. Before the days of modern refrigeration, a coffin dug in the cool earth of one’s basement sufficed—now a deep freeze served the purpose as a vampire bed, and drew less attention from the neighbors. Lack of a convenient basement in his metropolis L.A. apartment, Mick stored his freezer-bed in his private bathroom (or, as he thought of it, his “second bedroom”).

A moment’s reflection bought him time to fumble into his actual bedroom and dress as he tried to puzzle his way through Josef’s call. His friend sounded serious and unsettled. Granted, his vampire friend and business kingpin Josef Konstantin was older, four centuries to be precise, and proof that paranoia was a ‘vampire way of life’ that never truly went out of style.

Protected by his own personal Mossad team and nigh untouchable in an ivory tower in Bunker Hill, the heart of the bustling L.A. business center, Josef still freaked out at least once a week. As Josef himself said only recently, “You haven’t lived until you’ve been chased by a mob with flaming torches, boyo. You’re only ninety, a child still—what do you know of true persecution?”

He didn’t know much, except that he hated what he was. He hated living his life in darkness like some kind of night-crawler and the monster behind his face. He hated drinking blood as a method of pure survival and that he hadn’t touched real food in eighty-five years. Fact was, Mick St. John never wanted to be turned into a vampire.

It was a curse –a gift, she called it— given to him most unwillingly on his wedding night by his vampire ex-wife, Coraline. She had some twisted notion that not telling him she was making him into a monster and letting him literally awaken to the fact, undead, gory and ravenous for his first taste of human blood was how happily ever after kicked off. Emphasis on the ‘ever after’ part.

To say this came as surprise was profound understatement. Young Mick was much enchanted and in love with his new wife, right up to the point of not realizing she was a total psychopath. She toyed with and manipulated him from the start of their relationship but he truly loved her enough not to care and was completely innocent that she was a vampire. Because—oh—vampires didn't exist or something like that! It was a fine philosophy to live by until he became one.

Now after living eighty-five years of eternity at his disposal, he'd seen more than enough of what immortality could do to twist one's soul. His eternal quest became one of reversing the curse of vampirism, turning back time for himself, so he could live and die as a mortal human being.

Fifteen more minutes saw Mick through a quick ‘breakfast’ injection of bottled blood bought with cash on the black market –thank you, Red Cross! It saved more lives than human— and he was out the door, still tugging his heavy trenchcoat on.

His vision was only obscured by fabric for a few seconds but as it turned out, that was all it took. The impact of something light and solid stopped him in mid-step and a started grunt followed. A girl stood there, looking just as stunned as he felt. Try as he might and despite his amplified eyesight –yet another vampire bonus— he couldn’t recall seeing her until that moment. In fact, he probably would not have noticed her if he hadn’t literally run into her. She wasn’t an individual conducive to drawing attention. Actually she was as close to invisible as Mick could think of.

She was tall for a woman falling maybe four or five inches shorter than he but she was quite thin, near emaciated. Her eyes were large and prettily-colored—that is as well as Mick could see them, for they were obscured, even distorted out of shape, by round, coke-bottle glasses that gave them an unfortunate owl-ish appearance.

Her skin was unnaturally pale and devoid of color, her narrow lips firmly compressed and though her hair was dark, the exact color was impossible to discern as it was pulled rigidly back and knotted at the nape of her neck. She wore no jewelry or makeup and her shapeless cardigan gave indication that her figure was equally shapeless beneath, while her straight pleated skirt brought to mind visions of a catholic school uniform. Upon seeing Mick, her lips parted a bit as she breathed in sharply, her mouth forming a wordless ‘o’.

“I’m sorry,” Mick proffered. “I didn’t see you there. Was in too much of a hurry I guess.”

The girl blinked dazedly at him, then emitted a breathless giggle.

“It’s my fault,” she shoved her glasses further up the bridge of her nose, “I wasn’t watching where I was going. I’m new to the building and I got lost I think. I’m looking for the laundromat, you see.” Giggle.

Mick belatedly realized that the bundle she was coddling in her thin arms was a wash-bag of clothes. The sound he’d heard was her roll of quarters hitting floorboards when their unexpected collision jarred them loose from her hand.

“Sorry again,” he said apologetically and knelt to retrieve the money. Placing it back in her hands, he tried not to notice the way her eyes widened at the physical contact. Likewise he tried not to notice how her heartbeat sped up in response to him or the way more nervous girly-giggles were escaping her.

“Oh no,” giggle, giggle, snort, giggle. “It’s my pleasure really. Maybe you could uh, show me the way to um, the laundry.” Giggle, giggle, snort.

Mick plastered a polite and generous smile across his face. He wanted to be nice but this was getting awkward fast. He’d heard through the grapevine that a new woman was supposed to be moving into the apartment complex. Librarian, wasn’t it? It seemed apt. Briefly he wondered if that was what she actually did for a living or if the connotation had spun from her physical appearance.

“Sure. Take the elevators down to the second floor, straight down the hall and to the left. You can’t miss it.”

Giggle. “Thanks.”

 “Right,” he ignored her soft intake of breath, “glad I could help.”

He turned away then, heading for the stairs. A couple of giggles followed him but she didn’t, ducking into the elevator instead which was why he had chosen the stair route. Privately he was relieved, though he admitted he was being unfair. It wasn’t nice to judge a woman by her looks however unfortunate they might be.

He stepped out the door of the apartment complex and instantly regretted it. Daylight stung his unprotected eyes, burning hotly into his retinas. One hand flew protectively to his temple as he plucked dark sunglasses from his pocket and popped them in place. Next his keys emerged as he headed for the parking garage, weaving his way through the throngs of people on the sidewalk; future-celebrities-today-wait-staff practicing their lines –badly— business professionals prattling into sleek cell phones, weekend shoppers carrying armfuls of brand-name bags, tourists snapping pics and texting everywhere, even the occasional panhandling wino—but what else would you find on the street in L.A.?

Mick managed to secure his vintage Mercedes from the garage and made it to Bunker Hill and Josef’s shining office complex without incident. It was a chic, glass-sided, tier ceiling skyscraper almost as impressive as the funds it took to build that upscale extravaganza.  One ride up a crystal-sided elevator and greeting about fourteen young, different, supermodel-worthy secretaries who waved him past politely brought Mick to the top floor and to the ash wood door of his so-called ‘BFF-Jo’. A sleek gold plaque on the door simply read: Josef Konstantin, Acquisitions.

“Josef?” Mick walked in without knocking. Normally he wouldn’t skip protocol, Mick was nothing if not circumspect but after eighty years of friendship he and Josef were long past the formalities.

Josef waved him in but barked forcefully into a phone receiver in the other hand, “No, you obviously don’t understand me! This is not a debate! I want the item found, identified and secured. I don’t care what the hell it costs, just get it done.” He slammed down the phone and nodded curtly to Mick, “St. John, finally. About time you got here.”

“Sorry. I had an altercation with my new neighbor.”

 “Oh, did someone forget to return your lawnmower or something?”

 Mick waved it off. “It’s not important. Apparently you have something on your mind—” he trailed off, giving Josef the floor.

The taller vampire stood, showing off his broad form and tailored suit. Ah yes—that was Josef Konstantin all over, king of the sharp double-breasted suit, the fashion icon that all business men aspired to. Mick thought back over the years he’d known him.

An enigma even among a notably-secretive species, Josef was all about living the good life—for as long as possible! Wine, women and—immortality! He had a brilliant head for business and years of experience to back it up from before the modern-day corporate culture existed. A couple centuries back, he’d been fanning himself on a plantation while his cotton crop made him the richest blockade runner this side of Kentucky. A hundred years ago, it was an investment in the ‘horseless carriage’ that paid off so handsomely. Fifty years ago, stock purchased in a then unknown company called IBM solidified Josef’s position in the business world.

Now, Konstantin Industries was a multi-billion dollar corporation—much of which probably went under the table to fund significant vampire enterprises—Josef was a heavy hitter in the hedge fund trading business, and Mick reflected that he knew less personal details about his incomparable BFF than most people could find on a social media profile.

Though his point of view on vampirism was about as polar opposite from Mick’s as it got –and as a consequence, Josef never quit trying to sway Mick on the side of living it up— they were friends literally forever. They needed each other, Josef was the wealth of information and Mick, point blank, got things done. Each knew a little too much about the other to ever be enemies; the blackmail alone—but Mick appreciated the companionship. He knew, no matter what drama he might get into next, that Josef always had his back. He may be forced to knock some sense into Josef from time to time –or visa versa— but they were brothers to the end. Blood brothers as it were. ‘Vampire solidarity, rah-rah!’ Josef once flippantly put it but it was true. This was why Mick got up at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning when Josef phoned even if he’d have to kill Jo afterward if it turned out to be not worth the trip. 

“So what’s the scoop,” Mick continued as Josef didn’t speak. “The poop, the scoop, the skinny, the paps, the dealio?” He grinned at the look Josef shot him. “PI lingo.”

“Is it?” Josef slanted an autocratic brow. “I’ve never heard you use it before.”

Mick rolled his eyes. “I’m quoting Pushing Daisies,” he said for clarification, then grinned again at the snort he got in return. “What? Vampires aren’t allowed to watch prime time TV?”

 “We’re straying from the point,” Josef said with a sigh, “I know how you don’t like to get involved in vampire politics—you are obviously still denying your inner predator. One day you’ll have to face up to the fact that you can never change what you are.”

Mick sobered. “Is this about the cure for vampirism, Josef? I told you, if you even hear the faintest rumor—I want to know about it! I’ve always said if there’s a road forward, there must be a road back.”

Josef snorted. “Is that what passes for logic with you? This road is one way only! When will you learn, Mick? Vampirism is not a disease and therefore it has no ‘cure’. It just is what it is and you’re a part of this world, whether you like it or not. The sooner you accept this as reality, the better off you’ll be.”

“Same song, usual refrain,” Mick muttered, “You didn’t call me in here to rehash old arguments, Jo—or to give me hope for the future apparently.”

“Hope is futile when its false hope, boyo. I’m just trying to spare you some grief, that’s all. If you don’t want to listen, that’s on you.”

 Mick ignored this. Despite what Josef said, he would never give up trying to reverse his cursed condition. So far his search for the ‘vampire cure’ hadn't turned up much but unlike most people Mick had an infinite number of hours to pursue it. If it existed out in the great, wide universe, he was going to find it. If he redeemed his soul by helping the innocent with his unwelcome vampire superpowers along the way, all the better for his conscience. That’s what led him to being a successful private investigator—he intentionally took cases that allowed him to undo the damage other vampires did to human lives.

He shook his curly head to clear it, and cocked it to the side. “Fine, whatever. So why did you call me down here?”

 Josef waved an expansive hand at one of his Italian leather couches. “Take a seat and kick back while I give you the skinny, paps or dealio. Your choice of lingo.”

He leaned back in his own Italian chair and braced both hands behind his head. “We’ve got a crisis on our hands, Mick. Not a ‘my date’s a lesbian’ crisis, but a genuine crisis.”

“Yeah. You sure look all ‘crisis’-ed out,” Mick added dryly, noting how relaxed Josef was. He sank down on the couch at Josef’s invitation, “Josef, would it break the muscles in your face to pretend to take something seriously for once?”

Magically Josef’s condescending expression wiped like math equations off a chalkboard. “You want serious; I’ll be serious.”

He leaned across the walnut desk, face grim.  “Vampire hunters, Mick. We’re dealing with vampire hunters, and I’m not talking about perky blonds with pom-poms in one hand and wooden stakes in the other, the kind that couldn’t swat a mosquito let alone a vampire.

I’m talking about real hunters walking around L.A. as if they owned the place. They are pouring in, ranging from the good to the downright sloppy, and Mick, the fact that I’m explaining this to you worries me. Frankly you should’ve been able to smell them yourself from the moment you stepped into daylight. People you passed on the street, some were probably hunters—and if you were blind enough not to recognize them, you can sure as hell bet they didn’t make the same mistake about you!”

Josef’s warning, harsh and sharp, stunned Mick enough to leave him speechless. He blinked, trying to recover from the blow. Was he that blind? Surely he couldn’t have overlooked vampire hunters? This morning wasn’t unusual—just like every other crowd he was accustomed to—wait!

As he thought about it, not everyone had looked normal. Certain shapes, smells, corrected by his brain and subsequently dismissed in his hurry to get here, but were now resurrected for closer examination. Shapes that could’ve been hidden weapons, smells that didn’t quite line up but upon reexamination sent red flags up. Things he should’ve noticed—and he would but lately he’d been distracted.

Only recently Mick collided face-to-face with a pretty, local reporter named Beth Turner, even though he’d been watching over her at a distance for many years. This was where vampirism got complicated because the thing was Mick had rescued her when she was just a little girl. He looked exactly the same—and she recognized him from memory alone even though with her childhood recollections gone fuzzy she wasn’t sure why. She had blocked so much of the kidnapping out of her mind in adulthood.

After Mick walked out on crazy-Coraline, his ex-wife who turned him into an unwilling vampire and their ‘pseudo’-marriage, vowing never to return—Coraline grew desperate and more "hands-on" with trying to save their dying relationship.

In the mid-eighties, she kidnapped a human child –Beth Turner— to complete the family circle: ‘Mom & Dad + Baby = Makes 3’ with every intention of turning the innocent little girl into an immortal just to play act a normal human family. It was sick and twisted; it also broke one of the cardinal laws of vampirism. No vampire was ever excused for turning a child –completely suspending their human development— no matter what the reason. Children weren't mature enough to handle the predatory lifestyle, the responsibilities and the choices involved. Once suspended in time, they could never grow further; never develop into a functional adult. To take their childhood innocence away at such a young age was more than immoral—it was amoral. Turn age was unequivocally 18+ years only, no exceptions! That was vampire law.

Vampires had no jail cells—their justice system was punitive and finite. Agelessness and the ripples in history that came with meant stakes were as high as they could possibly be, so rebellion against vampire law put the entire community at risk. Vampires who broke the community laws were ‘dead vampires walking’. Conviction meant a literal death sentence.

To avoid accomplice charges, Mick was compelled to turn Coraline over the Vampire Council for her crimes—but it never came to that. A scuffle to free young Beth from his vampire-ex started a fire, and Coraline was locked inside the blazing inferno while Mick and Beth escaped. His crazy ex-wife burnt to ashes while Mick watched it happen.

Naturally he had to report it all to the Vampire Council, the ruling body of vampires in their society, after it all went down—but that was that. He was cleared of any charges with evidence of Coraline’s criminal activity and he’d never been troubled by it since.

Now the situation with Beth Turner grew—complicated. She knew his true identity as a vampire; she finally recognized him as her childhood savior and things were now tense between them. Really, what could you say when someone out-and-out accused you of both saving them and stalking them in the same breath? Both accusations were uncomfortably accurate.

 This was the difficult part of vampirism: balancing the past and the future when one didn’t age or change as mortals did. Little Beth Turner had grown up now into this beautiful reporter and Mick had always felt a sense of responsibility towards her ever since. He truly meant it with the best intentions, looking out for her safety. But who wouldn’t find some unchanged-undead savior stalking them since they were a kid just a little creepy?

Even Mick found it creepy and awkward, and he was the undead hero in question. There were some topics that shouldn’t be explored too deeply, if only to escape those awkward pauses where both parties were wondering just how close was too close? No wonder Beth didn’t want to talk to him lately. He was an eighty-five-year-old man—well, vampire hovering over the little girl whose life he saved, watching her from the shadows. Now she was NOT his age, not even close but he looked her age and physically they were equals. There was no getting over the general creep factor of it all.

“I’ve been distracted lately,” Mick admitted and continued, ignoring the way Josef slanted a knowing brow, “but hunters—that’s unexpected. I agree with you this isn’t a conversation to have over the phone.”

Josef leaned back, again casual. Almost too casual, Mick thought in annoyance, for the bombshell he’d just dropped. He smiled a curious half-smile, “Now you know what I know.”

“Josef, if I live to be a million I’ll never know all you know,” Mick quipped, “So why all the sudden interest in L.A. by vampire hunters? You know, working nights like I do, I just miss all the good gossip.” He drew his knees up and gave Josef his best ‘chummy eyes’.

“Laugh all you want, smart-ass,” Josef didn’t seem amused, “but this is a very serious threat. Besides the obvious implications towards our preservation, it’s also a threat to our continued survival as a species. There are plenty of us out there, keeping their heads down, blending in with the yokels lest the sheep panic and run for the hills.

Vampires start turning up dead across the city, someone somewhere going to start asking questions—all the wrong ones and there’s only so much fallout we can contain within our network. We can’t afford to let that happen, Mick. We fight hard to fly under the mortal radar and we cannot let all we’ve accomplished in protecting our vampire autonomy go to waste because a few hunters want fresh blood. Figuratively speaking, of course.”

 Mick knew it was true. Vampires thrived because mortals believed they didn’t exist—and when that failed and worlds crossed, because of misinformation –one could say mythology— spread far and wide to the general public about vampires.

Interview with a vampire, heh. Cute title, for Anne Rice's well publicized "vampire tell all" despite how she, not even coincidentally, got all of the details wrong. Mortals always did get it wrong—and that was fully intentional. Rule #1 in regards to talking about vampires: don't ever talk about vampires!

If even the faintest hint of ‘fact’ was disguised as ‘fiction’, vampires knew right where to find you and they didn't take kindly to exposure. That sort of thing led to torch-bearing mobs freaking out, pitchforks and other pointy weapons. The vampire species had long ago decided they could live without the aggravation. 

Vampires had long memories –they were their own historians really— and world champions at keeping secrets. Knowledge is power and all vampires craved power—those who didn't grasp that didn't survive very long.

“From the sound of things, it’s more than a few hunters, Josef. Not if there are enough to worry you that they pose a significant threat. Let’s talk numbers.”

Josef hesitated before answering. “Thirsty?” he inquired, innocent as a babe.

“No. Don’t change the subject.”

Josef rose, crossed to a mini-bar cleverly concealed behind an ornate chest-of-drawers upon which an ivory simulacrum sat and retrieved a cut-crystal decanter. He poured himself a glass of thick, reddish liquid, which the average connoisseur might mistake for cognac. Propping his glass between strong, square-tipped fingers, he regarded Mick with a hooded gaze.

“Right now,” he said without preamble, “I’d estimate around fifty vampire hunters, city-wide.” Then he sipped from his glass, as if the shattering news he’d just dropped was nothing more urgent than an invitation to dine with him that evening. Not that either of them attended dinner parties anymore as a rule.

Good God Josef,” Mick said finally, slowly, when he could breathe again. “You’re not serious?”

Josef sighed and crossed to his desk again, laying the glass down there as if he forgot it. Then he balanced easily on the far edge, crossing his legs and leaning forward to meet Mick’s gaze squarely. 

“Of course I’m serious. Haven’t I been saying this was serious? How are children educated these days? It’s such a pity,” he murmured, then sank back in his desk chair and leaned forward, steepling his fingers together and bracing his chin on them as he stared intensely at Mick.

“We’re not facing blonde happy-harpies with a few tent pegs and a handful of clever one-liners. Stakes through the heart don’t kill us—they only paralyze us in case you forgot and no experienced vampire hunter is going to make such a rookie mistake! If you think you can outwit them by brooding them into letting you live, you’re gonna be laughing all the way to Hell with your severed head in the proverbial hand-basket. Don’t think I’m gonna be playing your second either, dueling to the death over your honor or some archaic crap like that.

What I can tell you is that this is more hunters than we’ve ever seen gathered in one place before. They were following the vampires, which also have converged on L.A. these past weeks like bees to a hive. It took a serious prize to bring them all out in the open like this.”

“What are you talking about?”

Josef hesitated again, rotating the rim of his glass around and around in his fingers.

“It’s a weapon, ancient and powerful. It’s said this weapon can kill any vampire, even an Upyr: a vampire that’s over a millennia old and that’s no cheap trick right there. Vampires that old and powerful to have lived past the thousand-year mark are few and far between. They’ve survived all other threats and aren’t easily dispatched. But this weapon, I hear, kills instantly and never misses.”

Mick felt a shiver run down his spine with that. Trust Josef to uncover something so ancient and dangerous that it brought every vampire and hunter from here to Timbuktu out of the woodwork to find it. But what could end a vampire like that?

There were two sure ways to end vampires, a flame thrower –not if you wanted to keep it discreet, mind you— and the more popular beheading. Yes, vampires could be fatally injured; they could even bleed out but it took a hell of a lot of damage to beat the clock against the vampire's constant-regenerating and accelerated self-healing. So good luck with that—you needed to start off by crushing said vampire with an 18-wheeler and work your way up the injury scale from there.

Vampires weren't immortal so much as genetically mutated and accelerated to the point their physical bodies could literally heal themselves enough to reverse all cell damage and signs of aging, making them also impervious to disease, immune-deficiency and molecular breakdown. They simply didn’t ‘wear their bodies out’ as mortals did. That’s what gave them the ageless appearance and illusion to immortality—but they were so close to immortal it was nearly a distinction without a difference. Because their bodies never changed or deteriorated, they could last practically forever. They weren’t beyond the reach of Death, but he certainly had to reach a lot further to get to them.

No, a wooden stake through the heart didn't kill a vampire—but it did incapacitate, thus its popularity. It gave the victim time to escape while the striking predator was paralyzed, unable to pursue. That said, all bets were off when the stake was removed and the vampire in question revived—though most vampires after a staking were willing to play possum, which led to the longstanding belief they were dead. Yeah, ya think that was a smart move? Today it’s just a splinter of wood in your chest—but tomorrow, if you try again, your victim might bring all his friends—or a bigger knife!

For a predatory species, vampires weren't slow to learn. Their continued survival depended upon it!

“So what kind of weapon is it?”

“I’m not sure. Sources haven’t identified it yet, only the frenzied interest. I can think of a few that fit the bill based on that description.”

“But surely there are rumors,” Mick protested. Josef gave a short barking laugh.

“Yes, there are always rumors,” he said, voice dripping derision, “for all the help they are. What worries me is all this damn attention, it threatens us with exposure. Hunters and vampires duking it out in the public streets for a supernatural prize—we don’t do that sort of thing anymore. Massive cover-ups are harder to arrange in this modern world of iPhones, internet and instant video on-the-spot uploads.”

“I know. Our greatest weapon is that the world doesn’t know we exist, right?”

“Damn right, boyo. Pitchforks and screaming mobs are a relic of the past and we want to keep it that way! The general public finds out we’re real and it won’t take them long to figure out how to kill us too.”

 “What’s the plan?”

“I’m making inquiries within the vampire community and I need you to research on the mortal end of things, see if you can identify what it is we’re facing. Then we’ll have to secure this weapon ourselves—somehow! Details to be worked out as the situation calls.”

“In the meantime—” Mick left off, tilting his head to one side.

Josef grinned at him affectionately. “—in the meantime, try please oh please try not to get yourself killed, boyo!”