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Into the Darkness
By Delilah Devlin
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Delilah Devlin
All right reserved.
"Rene, you dirty bastard, put your tongue back in your mouth."
Rene Broussard lowered his binoculars to watch the enticing twitch of their subject's ass beneath a pink sundress as she walked, carrying coffee and a sugarcoated beignet, toward a bench in front of Saint Louis Cathedral. That dress should have been outlawed—in the muggy New Orleans heat it stuck to her skin in all the right places. His body tightened with the purely involuntary reaction of a healthy male. He pressed the talk switch on the radio clipped to his jacket lapel. "You're just jealous, chère, 'cause you have no ass."
The radio squawked. "Do, too," his partner, Chessa Tomas, replied. "You just haven't taken a good look 'cause you know you can't have it."
"There is that." He shifted his gaze upward to the woman's face.
Even watching through the iron spokes of the fence surrounding Jackson Square, Rene knew this was their girl—only the Tennessee DMV photo hadn't done her justice. The other stats he'd pulled—Caucasian female, 25 yrs. old, 5'6", blonde hair, green eyes, 135 lbs.—also hadn't hinted at the cuteness of her saucy behind, the length of her softly rounded legs, or the shape of her breasts, high and uptilted. Just like he liked them. "Mmmm-mmm."
"Yoo hoo!" Chessa's voice broke in. "Are you gonna ogle her allafternoon, or are we pulling her in for questioning?"
Rene looked up to the balcony over Muriel's restaurant.
Chessa gave him a little wave and tilted her head toward her radio. "It's gonna rain, and I'd just as soon not get soaked."
Rene slid his small binoculars into a jacket pocket, and then glanced up at the sky. Gray clouds, heavy with rain, hovered just above the street lamps. The wind began to whip the colorful beach umbrellas above the street vendors' carts. Mother Nature was giving a preview of the tropical storm the weathermen predicted might hit during the weekend. Time to bring in Natalie Lambert.
Just as he rounded the corner of the fence, a devil wind picked up dirt from the street and swirled toward the row of benches, carrying with it an odd sulfurous odor. "Merde, I wonder if I remembered to latch my balcony doors?"
"That must be one helluva doughnut," Chessa murmured. "The lady seems pretty popular with the pigeons."
Weaving in and out of the psychics' fabric-draped tables and the street artists' booths, Rene kept an eye on his target as she tossed crumbs at the birds gathering around her feet. The little black whirlwind whipped through the crowding pigeons, ruffling their feathers and lifting a few off the ground. "Don't she know we have ordinances against feedin' those birds?"
"Breaking that particular law's the least of her worries."
He paused in front of an artist's stand, pretending to admire the watercolors. "My gut says she's the target, not the perp."
"Sure you're thinking with your brain?" Chessa asked, in her usual smart-ass tone. "Just 'cause she looks pretty in pink doesn't mean she's not a murderer. Why else would she run?"
The lady in question glanced toward the darkening sky and pitched the rest of her meal to the birds.
"Wouldn't you, if everyone around you was droppin' like flies?" Rene nodded to the seller and continued on his way toward the woman who looked like a tasty sherbet.
"I don't know—and right now, I don't care. Let's just pull her in before all hell breaks loose."
"All right," Rene said, injecting false irritation into his voice. "You're just bein' a bitch 'cause I woke you early."
"I don't want the sun peeking out from behind any clouds before we're done."
"Oh, I wouldn't want you to melt, sugar. Get your ass down here now. Let's do it."
"What the hell?"
Rene saw what caught his partner's attention at the same time. More birds arrived with an audible flutter of wings, settling onto the pavement and closing in on the woman who now yelled and kicked at the pigeons crowding around her ankles.
Frowning, he realized what had started as a small flock of birds, now numbered hundreds. Some hopped onto the bench beside the woman, while others surrounded her feet. They all appeared to be pecking at bare skin.
People nearby scattered, vendors abandoned their carts and tables and ran while the pavement quickly filled like an undulating gray sea.
Rene cursed and ran toward her, kicking away pigeons as more arrived in a dark, fluttering cloud to surround the woman who shielded her face and head with her arms, whimpering, while rivulets of blood streaked her ankles and hands.
He plucked her from the bench into his arms.
She swatted blindly, landing glancing blows on his nose and chin, her body arching in his arms, but he clamped her body tight to his and sped toward the unmarked sedan parked along Chartres Street. The beating of hundreds of flapping wings and the birds' harsh, screaming caws pursued them to the vehicle.
Chessa rushed from the entrance of the restaurant and matched his stride.
"The doors, Cheech!" he shouted.
She sprinted past him and flung open the back door.
Rene dove into the backseat, the woman clutched close to his chest, and yanked the door closed. Wings flapped in his face.
The woman on his lap whimpered and pressed her face into his chest.
Rene swung his fist at the kamikaze bird until he smashed it against the rear windshield. Panting, he didn't relax until Chessa slid into the driver's seat and started the engine.
"Du Monde's beignets aren't that good," Chessa said, tearing off her sunglasses. Her green gaze met his in the rearview mirror as she put the car into gear and careened away from the curb. Tires crunched the bones of birds. Two, three, four more slammed into the windshield. Others thudded dully against the metal exterior of the car, until at last they left the menacing flock behind.
Excerpted from Into the Darkness by Delilah Devlin Copyright © 2007 by Delilah Devlin. Excerpted by permission.
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