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San Antonio, Texas
Logan Raintree had just left his house and was walking toward his car when the massive black thing swept before him with a fury and might that seemed to fill the air. He stopped short, not knowing what the hell he was seeing at first.
Then he saw it. The thing was a bird, and he quickly noted that it was a massive bird, a peregrine falcon. Its wingspan must have been a good three feet.
It had taken down a pigeon.
The pigeon was far beyond help. The falcon had already ripped the left wing from the creature and, mercifully, had broken the smaller bird's neck, as well.
As Logan stood there, the falcon stared at him. He stared back at the falcon.
He'd seen attacks by such birds before; they had the tenacity of jays and the power of a bobcat.
They also had the beaks and talons of their distant ancestorsthe raptors, who'd once ravaged land and sea. This kind of bird could blind a man or, at the least, rip his face to shreds.
Logan stood dead still, maintaining his position as he continued to return the bird's cold, speculative stare. There seemed to be something in its eyes. Something that might exist in the eyes of the most brutal general, the most ruthless ruler. Touch my kill, and you die! the bird seemed to warn.
Logan didn't back away; he didn't move at all.
He knew birds, as he knew the temperament of most animals. If he ran away, the bird would think he should be attacked, just to make sure he did get away from the kill. Come forward and, of course, the bird would fight to protect it. He had to stay still, calm, assured, and not give ground. The falcon would respect that stance, take its prey and leave.
But the bird didn't leave. It watched Logan for another minute, then cast its head back and let out a shrieking cry. It took a step toward him.
Even feeling intimidated, Logan decided his best move was not to move
"I have no fight with you, brother," he said quietly.
The bird let out another cry. It hopped back to the pigeon, looked at Logan and willfully ripped the second wing off, then spat it out and stared at Logan again.
This was ridiculous, he thought. He'd never seen a peregrine falcon so much as land in his driveway, much less pick a fight with him.
He reached with slow, nonthreatening movements for his gun belt and the Colt .45 holstered there; he had no desire to harm any creature, but neither would he be blinded by a bird that seemed to be harboring an overabundance of testosterone.
As if the bird had known what the gun was, it leaped back.
Logan had the gun aimed. "I don't want to hurt you, brother bird," he said. "But if you force my hand, I will."
The bird seemed to understand himand to know he meant his words. It gave yet another raucous cry, jumped on the pigeon and soared into flight, taking its prey. Logan watched as the bird disappeared into the western sky.
Curious about the encounter and very surprised by it, he shook his head and turned toward his car again.
He took one step and paused, frowning.
It suddenly looked as if he'd stepped into an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
They were everywhere. They covered the eaves of his house, the trees and the ground, everything around him. They sat on the hood and the roof of his car. Every bird native to the state of Texas seemed to be there, all of them just staring at him. Jays, doves, grackles, blackbirds, crows and even seabirdsa pelican stood in the center of his lawn.
It was bizarre. He was being watched
None made a move toward him.
As he started to walk, a sparrow flapped its wings, moving aside. He continued to his car, wings fluttering around him as the smaller birds made way. When he reached his car door, he opened it slowly, carefully, and then sat behind the wheel, closing the door. He revved the engine and heard scratching noises as the birds atop his car took flight.
Logan eased out of the driveway. As he did so, a whir of black rose with a furious flapping of wings. He blinked, and when he opened his eyes again, they were gone.
Every last bird was gone.
He looked back at his old mission-style house, wondering if he'd somehow blacked out, had a vision, and yet managed to get into his car. But that was not the case. He didn't black out. For him, visions were dreams. They occurred only when he slept, and he usually laughed them away. His father's people believed that all dreams were omens, while his mother's fatherpsychiatrist and philosopher William Douglasbelieved that dreams or "visions" were arguments within the human psyche. In William's view, fears and anxiety created alternate worlds seen only in the mind; their role was to help resolve emotional conflicts.
Whichever approach was correct didn't matter much. He'd seen what he had seen. This hadn't been a vision or a dream.
But it was odd that it had happened when he was on his way to meet with Jackson Crow, FBI agent and head of the mysterious Krewe of Huntersa unit both infamous and renowned.
San Antonio. It was different, that was all. Different. Kelsey O'Brien looked out the Longhorn Inn's kitchen window. From here, she could see the walls of the old chapel at the Alamo. The city was bustling, pleasantly warm now that it was spring, and the people she'd met so far were friendly and welcoming.
She still felt like a fish out of water.
That's what she was missingthe water.
She'd been in San Antonio almost three days and they'd been nice days. San Antonio was a beautiful city. Kelsey actually had a cousin living here, Sean Cameron, but he worked for a special-effects company, and they were currently out in the desert somewhere, trying to reproduce the Alamo as it had once been for a documentary. She was grateful that her old camp friend, Sandy Holly, had bought the historic inn and one-time saloon where she was staying. Sandy made her feel a bit less like a fish out of water, but it was strange not to be within steps of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Her lifeexcept for summer camp and college upstatehad been spent in the Florida Keys. Where there was water. Lots and lots of water. Of course, they had the river here, and she loved the Riverwalk area, with its interesting places to go and dine and shop. The history of the city appealed to her, too.
It was just.. different. And it was going to take some getting used to. Of course, she still had no idea what she was doing here, or if she was going to stay. She might not be in San Antonio long; on the other hand, she could be transferring here. And she might be taking on a different job.
She was a United States Marshal, which meant she worked for a service that might require her to go anywhere. She'd certainly traveled in her life, but the concept that she could be moving here, making a life here, seemed unlikelynot something she would have chosen. Now that it might be happening, she had to remind herself that she'd always known she could be transferred. But her training had been in Miami, and because of her familiarity with Key West, where she had grown up, she'd been assigned, as one of only two Marshals, to the office there. She'd been doing the job for two years now, enjoying an easy camaraderie with Trent Fisher, her coworker. They reported in to the Miami office when required, and occasionally their Miami supervisor came down. Key West was small, and despite the friction that could exist between law enforcement agencies, she'd quickly established excellent working relations with the police and the Coast Guard and the other state and federal agencies with which the two Marshals worked. And then
Then she'd suddenly ended up here. She was still wondering why, because Archie Lawrence, her supervisor, had been so vague.
"You're going to love the situation," Archie had assured her. "You go to this meeting, and then you'll have a two-week hiatus to decide what you feel about an offer you're going to receive. So, nothing is definite yet."
"I'm being given a vacation so I can get an offer and think about it?" That hardly seemed typical of the government. "What's the offer?" she'd demanded.
"That's what your meeting is about," he'd said.
And no amount of indignant questioning or wheedling would convince him to share the details. If he even knew them
"Look, your meeting is with an FBI agent and you may be transferring services," Archie had told her. "That's all I'm at liberty to say."
"Why?" she'd asked him. "I don't want to change agencies!"
"Hey, it's come down from the brass, kiddo, and it sounds unusualtwo federal agencies getting together on a friendly basis. Hallelujah!" Archie rolled his eyes. "No one's going to force you to change. You're being presented with an opportunity. You can say no. I mean it. If you don't like this offer, you have the option to pack up and come home, with no harm done to your status here. So quit asking me questions. Go away. Don't darken my doorfor the time being, anyway. You have things to do, arrangements to make." He'd sent her one of his lopsided grins. She liked Archie and considered him a great boss. He was always easygoing until he went into "situation" mode and then he could spew out orders faster and with more precision than the toughest drill sergeant.
Sometimes, of course, she wondered what Archie really thought of her. She was good at her job, although some of her methods were a bit unexpected. Luckily, a lot of criminals were still sexist. They didn't realize that a woman could and would hold them to task, shoot with uncanny aim and manage handcuffs with ease. But she'd felt Archie's eyes on her a few times when she hadn't really been able to explain the intuition that had led to her discovery of a cache of drugs, a hiding placeor a dead body. She even wondered if he was hoping she'd take another position.
Today, soon, she'd attend a meeting with a man from the FBI. He had an offer for her that presumably had to do with the unique abilities she'd shown during her two years with the government, and due to the status of this particular branch of service, various government offices were cooperating. On the one hand, she felt like telling someone that if she'd wanted to work for the FBI, she would have applied to the FBI. But she was curious, and she wasn't prone to be difficult; it was just the mystery of the situation.
Law enforcement agencies were not known for their cooperationrather sad, really, since they were all working toward the same goal. That was one of the reasons she'd loved working in Key West; they had plenty to deal with, but they were smaller, and thus got along fairly well. Drugs were constantly out on the waterways. The Coast Guard was overworked, ditto the state police and the county police. The cops in Key West loved the Marshals. It had all been pretty good. State police, Monroe County police, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Marshal's Office, all getting along, most of them meeting for a beer here and there on Duval Street or some off-the-tourist track location. In her case, it had probably helped that she'd gone to the University of Miami and done an internship with the U.S. Marshal's Office. She'd zeroed in on her chosen profession early. And she'd expected to stay in south Florida.
To contemplate a life here, in Texas, was just
Nothing wrong with Texas, of course.
But she had it all figured out. It was the water. In San Antonio, there was no coast. There was the river, though.
She glanced at her watch. Two hours until her meeting.
When she looked out the window again, she nearly jumped. In those few seconds, a massive crow had landed on the outer sill. The damned thing seemed to be staring at her. She waved a hand at it.
The bird didn't fly away. It continued to stare.
Then it pecked the window.
She almost stepped back, then didn't. She scowled at the bird. "I'm a United States Marshal, and I will not be intimated by a bird!" she said aloud.
Kelsey swung around. Sandy Holly had come breezing into the kitchen.
"You have really big, aggressive birds around here," Kelsey said.
When she turned to the window again, the crow was gone. It bothered Kelsey to realize that the bird disturbed her. Ah, well, she had discovered earlier that one of the men she'd be meeting was Agent Crow. Maybe that knowledge had made the bird's appearance seem like something morelike some kind of omen, for good or.
Sandy smiled, raising her eyebrows. "Anyone would think you were trying not to like Texas," she said.
"No, no, I love Texas. Texas is great," Kelsey told her.
"Maybe you're just a little nervous. This is the big day, right?"
"This is it," Kelsey agreed. Sandy Holly was proving to be a true friend. Kelsey had gotten to know her almost twenty years ago, when they'd been a pair of awkward eight-year-olds at the West Texas dude ranch Kelsey's parents had been sure she'd want to attend. But she'd been terrified of horses, while Sandy was terrified of being alone. Sandy had ridden before, even at five, because
because she was a Texan from San Antonio. Texans rode horses and wore big hats. So, at eight, Kelsey had toughened up enough to tell Sandy she didn't need to be homesick, and Sandy had promised Kelsey she'd learn to love horses. She did, Kelsey mused. Thanks to Sandy, she'd become an excellent rider. And, thanks to Sandy, she'd known where she wanted to stay when she came to San Antonio. The Longhorn Inn and Saloon.
It wasn't as if they'd seen each other frequently. After a few years, they had skipped camps of any kind. But they'd met with other friends in Vegas to celebrate their respective twenty-first birthdays and kept up with each other through Facebook and email. When she'd first talked about applying to be a U.S. Marshal, Sandy had encouraged her.
Kelsey was particularly glad to be here because Sandy wasn't in great shape at the momenttaking over the old inn had proven to be a monumental task, and there were problems Sandy had hinted about that Kelsey didn't entirely understand. They hadn't really had a chance to sit down and talk, since Sandy was running a business, which meant her time was limited. It was even more limited because she'd lost a manager the week beforethe young man simply hadn't shown up for workand while Sandy had a great housekeeping staff of three, the organizational and hostessing duties had all fallen to her. Of course, as Kelsey well knew, Sandy could be high-strung, and she wondered if working for her friend wasn't a little stressful. On the plus side, Sandy did like to hire college guys who needed a break on a resume. None of them seemed to last too long, however.