Dan kept his eyes fixed on the patch of cracked asphalt illuminated by the car’s headlights. Shadows hemmed in Old Highway 51, broken only occasionally by a glimpse of the interstate through leafless trees. It would have been faster to take I-55 to Ponchatoula, but Dan and Vernon had been drinking a bit more than they probably should have. Dan figured the cops would stick to the interstate, instead of waiting around on a boring-ass two-lane road through a swamp, just hoping someone went by. This way was safer.
Vernon groaned from the passenger seat. “Shouldn’t have had that last shot,” he mumbled.
“Just don’t puke in my car,” Dan warned. Why had he agreed to give Vernon a ride back to Ponchatoula? It would only encourage the guy, who seemed to think they were friends instead of coworkers. He should have left Vernon to sleep it off in his own car back in LaPlace.
Maybe he’d been moved by the holiday spirit. Christmas music spilled over the airwaves and through the car’s speakers, trying to spread a cheer that had seemed genuine back at the warmth of the bar, but now felt false. Everyone tried too hard around this time of year, in Dan’s opinion, as if they could reclaim a childhood joy they may not ever have experienced in the first place.
Whatever. He’d drop Vernon off, then head home. Kayleigh had been begging for this year’s hot new toy for over a month, some doll stuffed with so many electronics it was practically a real baby. He hated disappointing her, but the doll was way out of his price range. Hopefully she’d blame Santa instead of him, and be content with a dollar-store stuffed animal instead.
A glowing ball of blue light crossed the road ahead.
Dan slowed the car sharply, blinking as the hovering ball of light retreated to just within the trees to the right side of the road. “Did you see that?” he asked Vernon.
Dan pulled off the road and pointed. “That.”
“We shouldn’t stop,” Vernon said nervously.
Dan tried to look away from the dancing, bobbing light but found himself unable to do so. It wanted to show him something, he realized. Something important.
Almost without conscious thought, he threw the car into park. He opened his door, dimly aware that Vernon was doing the same on the passenger side. The winter air bit into his skin, and the smell of the swamp rose all around: slow moving water and rotting vegetation.
The blue glow danced enticingly just within the trees. It wanted to show him something. Show him…treasure.
That was it. Treasure. Didn’t they say the pirate Jean Lafitte had buried treasure all over the area?
Excitement rising, Dan walked toward the dancing light, which slowly retreated deeper into the swamp. Behind him, Vernon stumbled. “Wait up,” Vernon called—then began loudly puking.
Good. Dan didn’t want to share the treasure with Vernon anyway. Visions of what he’d buy filled his head as he stepped past the first line of trees and his boot sank into the unstable mud. A new car for Billy—hell, a new house. Kayleigh would have all the toys she could dream of plus all the fanciest gadgets. He’d get rid of his beater and buy a shiny new truck, gleaming in chrome.
It was going to be the best Christmas ever.
“At least you haven’t screwed up this one,” Tiffany Ward said as she studied Night. “Yet.”
John took a deep gulp of coffee. Caleb had woken him with the news his old schoolmate, former coworker, and head of the Vigilant was in their living room.
“Kaniyar doesn’t know you’re here,” he said, making sure he understood the situation.
“Of course not.” Tiffany stood with her arms folded, her eyes narrowed as she observed Night. Night stared back impassively from his position in the corner of the room. “I agreed to help her track this one to keep it out of other hands, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy it’s in SPECTR hands either.” She glanced at Caleb. “SPECTR doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to drakul.”
“Hey!” Caleb exclaimed.
“Oh please. I know what you did back in Charleston.”
Caleb’s mouth tightened. “Did you know about Yuri and Dru? Before?”
“Unfortunately, no.” Tiffany shook her head. “Two perfectly good drakul, ruined.”
“All right,” John said sharply. “That’s enough, Tiffany. You’ve seen Night. Now you can leave.”
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