Home > The Jackal (Black Dagger Brotherhood: Prison Camp #1)(8)

The Jackal (Black Dagger Brotherhood: Prison Camp #1)(8)
Author: J.R. Ward

Hollow-point bullet, she thought as her stomach rolled.

Clicking noises rose up from what remained of the mouth, and glossy red blood oozed out of the ruined anatomy, a puddle gathering width and depth on the dusty stone floor. There was twitching at the extremities, but even without medical training, she knew he wasn’t getting up anytime soon.

Nyx shuddered and leaned back against the sarcophagus, her lungs pumping too fast with draws that were too shallow. As her body went numb, her head grew fuzzy and her vision went bad bulb on her, flickering in between sight and blindness.

Control the breathing, she told herself. Slow and easy. Rebalance the carbon dioxide in the blood.

It was only through what she had practiced with her self-defense teacher that she was able to resist the urge to keep panting, and her eyes were the first function to stabilize. Then the trembling and strange paralysis that came with panic attacks eased up—as long as she didn’t look at the body. Hard to do. The male’s remains were slowly losing their autonomic jerks, death claiming what had been alive like a meal consumed—in bites.

Pushing her hair out of her face, even though there were no strands in her eyes, nose or mouth, she looked around. No backup coming into the space. No explosions. Nothing from outside of the crypt.

When she leaned down to pick up her flashlight, she realized she had a gun in her right hand. Duh.

God, she hated that fresh-copper smell of blood, and a part of her, way down inside her core, wanted to cry even though it had been a his-or-her-life situation. She needed to get over that. Forcing herself to go over, she frisked the body and came up with a bounty worth the trouble of overriding her gag reflex. Keys. A communicator. A pass card with no photo or name, just a magnetic strip. Three ammo clips that went with the gun.

This was the guard of a professionally maintained facility. She had to be close to the prison.

She pocketed or packed all of it, and stood up with her flashlight. Sending her instincts out, she listened for soft sounds and breathed deep, searching for any scents over and above the male she had . . .

Killed.

She debated hiding the body. Humans weren’t going to come this way, but maybe there would be others like him? Had she tripped an alarm of some kind? Or had he been on a regular security check? He’d come out from the side, but that wasn’t much of an indicator because he’d clearly dematerialized—

The trail of those little footsteps led her eyes to a vent down on the floor. The iron grating was about two feet high and three feet long, and given the pattern of scuffs in front of it, that was where the pretrans had gotten out of wherever he’d been. To hide his tracks, he must have put the grate back in place, even though the disruption in the dust layer was a flashing neon sign.

Going over, Nyx squatted down, put the gun and the flashlight off to the side, and squeezed her fingers in through the slats. When she pulled, the frame came out with a high-pitched screech, and she froze. When no one with a weapon appeared around her, she started breathing again, grabbed the flashlight, and trained the beam inside.

There was a shallow area about five feet down, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to dematerialize into it because she had no sense of what could be waiting for her down there. Big blind spot. Huge.

Leaning in even farther, she worried that it was her only choice—

A subtle beeping sound went off and then there was a whirrrrrrrrr.

Wheeling around, she palmed the guard’s gun and pointed it at the panel that was sliding back on the far side of the sarcophagus. In her light, the corridor that was revealed was gray, narrow . . . and empty.

For the moment.

Putting the grating back into place, she stood up and looked across at the guard. A split second later, she went over to the male’s feet and tucked his nine millimeter in her waistband.

“Sorry . . . sir.” Sir? Like she needed to be polite to a guy who’d been ready to kill her? And who, P.S., was frickin’ dead? “Just, ah, relax.”

Okay, she was losing it.

Bending down, she took the body by the ankles and pulled the dead weight—natch—across the floor. The stairs were tough. As she dragged him up the steps, the sound of the back of the skull bumping along had her wincing.

“Ouch, ouch, ouch,” she whispered.

Out in the hot air of the night, she took a deep breath. Then she pulled the male over between a pair of lichen-covered markers and let his feet drop into the tangle of grass and ivy. Checking on the sky, she tried to remember what the weather forecast was. Sunny. Wasn’t it supposed to be sunny tomorrow?

One ray of sunshine and the body would disappear, nothing but a scorch mark in the greenery.

Nyx gunned up again and rushed back to the crypt, thinking of that scene from The Sopranos where Tony killed Ralphie Cifaretto. In the movies, on TV—for the most part—murders were slick. People were killed in a coordinated set of moves. In real life? Someone like Tony gets wasp spray in the face while he’s offing someone for hurting an animal.

Or, in her situation, she leaves a hidden entrance wide-spankingopen while she drags her first murder victim out of a crypt.

Back inside, she made sure there was no one around and then penetrated the opening in the wall. A tiny red light blinked to the side of the doorway, and when she leaned in to look at it, there was a beep and the panel slid back into place.

Frowning, she took the guard’s pass card out of the pocket of her windbreaker. As she moved it over the red light, the panel slid open once more, and then she closed it with the same motion. There must have been another reader down by that vent? Whatever, she had bigger issues. A few self-defense classes and one lucky takedown were nothing compared to a professionally trained and outfitted police force in a facility with some level of sophisticated security.

Picturing Janelle’s face, she turned to the left and started walking. As she went along, motion-activated lights set into the tunnel’s ceiling flared to life, and she could have done without the help. But like her flashlight wouldn’t have given her away?

Walking toe-heel helped her keep the sound of her footsteps down, but it did absolutely nothing for the beating of her heart. The sense that she was in way over her head made her feel like someone was choking her, but at least the stalking thing was an easy monitor.

She looked behind herself every three feet.

And then she came up to a solid metal wall. Taking out the pass card, she swiped it by another blinking red light and shifted to the side, trying to take some cover as the panel slid back.

The scent of the earth made her recoil.

What was on the other side was bare rock.

I should not do this, she thought. I need to turn around, right now.

Over the course of the century he’d been down below, the Jackal had made a study of the guards. Their ranks and shifts. Their pairings and solo trips. Their territories within the prison complex. He knew their eye and hair colors, and which ones were distractible, and who was cruel. He was aware of who had let their physical conditioning go and who was lean and muscled. He tracked them from where they entered the common halls from the Command’s private area to the furthest reaches of their responsibilities.

He witnessed them dealing drugs to prisoners. Having sex with the incarcerated. Throwing punches that were deserved and tormenting people who were following the rules. He knew their secrets and their vices, their blind spots and their fields of vision.

He was careful never to get noticed. It was not hard. There were so many prisoners.

One thing, among many, that was not readily available in the down-below were clocks, but the guards helped with that. With their regular schedules and routes, they were a metronome, a way of marking the passage of time. Provided he kept his stride at the same distance and at the same cadence, he could track and anticipate the shifts and their responsibilities and, thereby, the cycles of night and day. Or something close to night and day.

The Command made sure that people stuck to their duties.

And that was how he knew something was wrong.

Dropping his eyes, he looked down at the handmade leather slips on his feet. His stride was correct, an easy extension of his thigh out of his hip socket, and his speed was on point. He was in the right tunnel, too. Wait . . . was he?

The Jackal stopped and looked over his shoulder. Retracing his left and rights mentally, he thought . . . no, this was the correct location. He’d run his D, E, and F routes in the last three nights/days. This was G. He was supposed to be doing G.

So this was right.

Where was the damn guard?

Narrowing his eyes, he regarded the tunnel ahead of him. And waited.

Warning bells started to sound out in his head. The guard should have been passing by now, transitioning to being off shift. Had they changed their schedule?

That would be a problem. Their predictability was critical.

Pressing on, he made a turn, hit a straightaway, and then came up to a branch that was marked with a white paint spot on the rough-cut archway of the tunnel head. Before he penetrated the area, he made sure he was not followed. Then he strode forth, staying close to the left-hand side of the walling. His black and gray clothes, loose garments that allowed him to move freely and fast, were the color of the walling, but the bald lights strung every twenty feet overhead on wire meant that he was a sitting duck—

The Jackal stopped dead.

Lifting his nose to the air, he breathed in deep.

The scent that came down to him was tantalizing on a level he had never known before—and it was utterly foreign. For all the years, the decades, the century, he had spent here underground, he had never come upon it before, and it was a sad commentary on his life that he had to reach so far back in his memory to put a definition on it.

Fresh flowers.

Closing his eyes, he drew in another breath, greedy for more of the fragrance. Yes, fresh flowers, and not the sickly sweet kind that had proliferated in the grand houses he had once visited and lived in. This was lush and lovely in an honest way, not a cultivated one.

And it was getting stronger.

The Jackal willed off three of the loose light bulbs, creating a sixty-foot-long stretch of darkness.

The sounds of footsteps were faint, and on the approach, there was one and only one explanation for them.

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