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Despite the hundreds of years that John Nightwalker had been on this earth, he had yet to feel completely comfortable wearing clothes. And from the look the female bank teller was giving him as he stood in line at the First Savannah Savings and Loan to cash a check, she would have been perfectly happy to help him strip.
John felt her gaze but was ignoring all the signals. Not only was he not in the mood for dallying with a stranger, she was wearing a wedding ringa big no-no for him. He shifted from one foot to the other, then looked down at the two little boys clinging to the legs of the woman in front of him and grinned. The oldest one smiled back, while the younger one continued the exploration of his right nostril with his index finger.
"Hi," the older one said. "My name is Brandon Dog-gett." He pointed toward the little guy. "That's Trevor Doggett. He's my little brother." Then he pointed at his mother's backside, which John had already noticed was quite shapely. "That's my mama. Her name is Doggett, too."
When Mama Doggett realized her name was being bandied about, she glanced over her shoulder to see who her son was talking to. Her eyes widened slightly as she saw John Nightwalker's face. The smooth coffee skin, high cheekbones, strong chin and nose were telling of his Native American heritage, but it was the sexy smile and glint in his eyes that stopped her breath. She might be married, but she wasn't dead and the man was stunning.
"I hope the boys aren't bothering you," she said.
John grinned. "No, ma'am."
"Daddy calls her Lisa," Brandon offered.
Lisa Doggett rolled her eyes as John chuckled.
The low, husky rumble of his laugh made the female teller lose count of the cash she'd been dispensing. With pink cheeks and a muttered apology to her customer, she began again.
Lisa Doggett, being next in line, finally reached the teller and proceeded with her business. When they were done, the teller handed each little boy a lollipop, which they promptly peeled and popped into their mouths. Lisa flashed John a shy goodbye smile and started toward the front door with her sons in tow.
Being next in line, John moved up to the window, patiently waiting as the teller keyed in some data from her previous customer. There was a moment of silencea soft, peaceful sound of shuffling feet and the distant murmurs between loan officers and their clientsthen John felt the atmosphere change. To him, the room was suddenly stifling and charged with an anger he didn't understand.
"Sir. How can I help you?" the teller asked, but John didn't respond.
His gaze went from Lisa Doggett and her boys, who were on their way toward the exit, to the surrounding customers waiting in line. Suddenly one of the two boys cried out, then turned around and ran. John noticed a toy car in the middle of the lobby and figured it had fallen out of a pocket. He saw the mother's irked expression turn to one of quiet patience as she waited for her son's return.
His attention moved from them to the rest of the crowd. At first glance, no one stood out, and then his gaze fell on a tall, heavyset man standing in line on the other side of the lobby. He was wearing a pair of faded Levi's and a heavy denim jacket. The jacket seemed out of place, considering the outside temperature was in the high eighties. That alone immediately set him apart. The man's lower jaw jutted from his face like a bulldog'sa strong protruding lower jaw that extended beyond the tip of a nose that had obviously been broken more than once. His skin was ruddy, his hair a brittle yellow color. John could feel the tension emanating from him. He didn't know what was going to happen but sensed it wouldn't be good.
As he continued to watch, the big man headed toward a teller, walked up to the window and slid what appeared to be a white cotton bag across the counter. It looked like an ordinary deposit bag, but when the teller's face turned pale and her eyes widened in shock, John tensed.
He could see the man's lips moving, but he was too far away to hear what was being said. All of a sudden the teller's eyes rolled back in her head as she dropped to the floor in a faint. Everyone heard the thud as her head collided with the hard marble floor. The teller next to her screamed out for help as everything ground to a halt.
Wallace Deeds cursed beneath his breath, unable to believe what had just happened. In all the years he'd been doing this, he'd never had anyone faint on him before. He was a criminal, but he wasn't stupid. At this point, his best bet was to retrieve the note he'd handed to the teller and calmly walk out of the building. To his dismay, the note was no longer on the counter. It was on the floor beside the unconscious woman.
"Crap," Wallace muttered, and slid his hand in his pocket, taking comfort from the gun he could feel inside. He glanced up and around, quickly sizing up the number of people inside the bank against his need for dough. He opted for a hasty exit.
But his plan was screwed by a secretary who'd come to the unconscious teller's aid. She was on her knees beside the woman and feeling for a pulse when she discovered the note.
I have a gun. Put all your money in the bag and keep quiet or you're a dead woman.
Unaware that he'd been made, Deeds was already heading toward the door when the secretary stood up and screamed.
"Stop him! He has a gun!"
Wallace cursed and turned. The bank guard was pulling out his pistol and coming toward him on the run. Without thinking, Wallace grabbed the nearest customer by the arm and put her in a choke hold as he pulled out his own gun and fired a shot into the ceiling.
"Everyone on the floor! Now!" he screamed.
The bank guard stood his ground, still aiming his weapon and shouting, "Drop the gun! Drop it! Drop it and let her go!"
John groaned. The hostage was none other than Lisa Doggett, the young woman with the two little boys who'd been in line in front of him.
Bad move. Bad, bad move.
The young mother's panic was evident as she cast a frantic, wild-eyed gaze at her little boys. Trevor, the youngest, began to cry and started toward her.
"Don't anybody move!" Wallace roared, waving the gun at the guard, then at the kids and back again.
John knew the man was a hair's breadth away from shooting someone, whether he meant to or not, and Trevor Doggett's determination to get to his mother was putting him in harm's way. There was no time for John to think about the wisdom of his actions.
In one swift move, he pulled a knife from his boot and leaped forward, desperate to draw the gunman's attention away from the boys, his hostage and the guard with the gun, knowing full well that he was going to get shot. Knowing full well it was going to hurt like hell but it wasn't going to kill him.
That was the edge he had over everyone else in the room. He'd faced death and cheated it countless times over the last five hundred years and had every confidence in the world that he was going to cheat it again.
When Wallace Deeds saw the movement from the corner of his eye, he swung his pistol. A man was coming at him on the run.
"Son of a bitch!" he screamed, then fired.
The shot went straight into John's chest. He felt the impact and a sharp, searing pain, but he didn't go down.
When Deeds' hostage fainted and went limp, she became a liability instead of a shield. Disgusted, he shoved her aside and squeezed off another shot. But it was the knife suddenly protruding from his chest that sent his second shot into the ceiling next to the first.
A collective gasp rose from inside the bank, followed by a silence so stark that everyone froze.
Lisa Doggett had come to and was on her knees, shielding her children with her body.
The tellers had ducked behind the counter.
The people who'd dropped to their bellies when the shooting started were staring but not moving.
No one ran.
No one spoke.
But the ones who could see were staring in disbelief at the two giants standing in the middle of the lobbyboth bleeding profuselywaiting to see who dropped first.
The pistol slipped out of Deeds' hand as he reached toward the bone handle of the knife stuck in his chest. But the moment he touched it, he shuddered. Had someone poured hot oil into his chest? He looked up. People's faces were blurring.
"How " He sighed, then staggered backward.
John groaned as he put a hand to his own chest. The warm gush of his blood was already slowing as he watched the gunman fall. Wallace's head hit the tile with a sickening crack, but he never felt it. He was already dead.
The bank guard holstered his weapon and started toward John.
Lisa Doggett was shaking, but she was alive and her children were safe.
People were getting up and yanking out their cell phones, anxious to tell their loved ones what had just happened. While on his belly, one customer had videoed the whole thing with his cell phone, and now he was in the act of forwarding it to his brother. The image of what had transpired would be all over the Internet before nightfall.
Horace Miles, the bank president, was moving through the crowd, making sure everyone was okay. When he saw the blood on the front and back of John's shirt, he gasped and yelled for someone to call 911.
John was anxious to be gone before he had to explain why the bullet hole in his chest was already nearly closed. He pulled his knife out of the robber's chest, then wiped the blood off the blade onto the man's jacket before slipping it back into the sheath inside his boot.
The bank guard reached John and took him by the elbow.
"You need to sit down, son," he said. "You've been shot."
"I'm okay," John said.
"The police are coming!" someone said.
Sirens could be heard in the distance. John sighed. He needed to leavenow. He started toward the door, but Horace Miles cut him off. Like the guard, he took John by the elbow and tried to usher him to a chair.
"Please," Miles said. "You're bleeding. Let us help you."
"I'm all right really."
But the bank president would have none of it.
Lisa Doggett came toward him, hugging her little boys to her legs as she stared at him in disbelief.
"You saved my life. You saved all of us," she whispered. "Thank you. Thank you."
"Yeah sure," he said, then gave in to the inevitable. He was caught now, and there was no way out of it.
The two little boys stared at himsilent now in the face of what they'd witnessed.
"Mama's okay, boys," John said softly.
Brandon nodded. "You stopped the bad man," he said.
John just winked and nodded. The pain in his chest was fading swiftly, but the sirens were also getting closer. Moments later, a half-dozen police cars were on the scene, followed by two ambulances. A paramedic team followed the police inside, then, at the guard's direction, headed for John.
He sighed. How the hell was he going to explain his way out of this?
"I'm okay," he said as the paramedics dropped their bags and began to cut off his shirt. "I said I'm okay," he repeated, and to prove he was right, he pulled up his shirt, revealing the wound that was almost closed.
Both paramedics rocked back on their heels, staring at John and then at each other.
"Mister how in"
"Er uh I studied with the Dalai Lama," John said.
"Learned how to control bleeding and heal myself with my mind. Ever hear of it?"
They looked at each other, shrugged, and then began packing up their gear while sneaking curious looks at him.
But they weren't the only ones staring. The bank president was in shock. He'd seen the bullet pierce John's chest, seen the blood spurting, yet now the wound was nearly closed. He'd seen the other scars on John's chest, too, and was staggered by what this man had suffered and lived through.
Just when John was getting ready to leave, a skinny man in a suit followed several uniformed officers into the bank, paused long enough to question the guard, then headed straight for John, who recognized the type, as well as the badge clipped to the man's belt.
Great. A detective. Naturally nosy, disinclined to believe anything he was told. This ought to be good.
John saw him pause to look at the dead man; then he looked straight at John, who stared back without flinching.
Horace Miles stepped into the silent breach by introducing himself as the cop approached.
"I'm Horace Miles, president of the bank. I saw everything."
"Detective Robert Lee," the newcomer said, then put his hands on his hips and gave John the once-over, eyeing the bloody shirt as well as the blood on John's jeans. "So, hero, what's your name?"
Sarcasm was the last thing John expected. It made him angry. He stood abruptly, well aware that he was now towering over the skinny man's head.
"Considering the fact that right now, my chest hurts like hell, I don't appreciate your sarcasm," he drawled. "My name is John Nightwalker, and I'm not a hero. I was just in the wrong place at the right time."
Lee wanted to be pissed, but the man was right. "Sorry," he said. "That came out wrong. Let's back up and do this all over again. So, Mr. Nightwalker, could you tell me what happened?"
John pointed to the walls where a half-dozen cameras were mounted. "I could but it appears that Mr. Miles here will be able to provide several different angles on the incident for your viewing pleasure. Suffice it to say, the man tried to rob the bank, took a woman hostage and was pointing his gun at one of her kids. I distracted him. He shot me instead of the kid. I put a knife in his chest."
Believing John had already been tended by paramedics, Lee's next thought was the weapon in question. "May I see that knife?"
John winced as he leaned over, pulled up the leg of his jeans, then pulled the knife back out of its scabbard.
The detective's eyes widened and his mouth dropped as he eyed the wicked blade. It was almost ten inches in length, with its widest point no less than three inches across. The handle appeared to be some kind of bone maybe ivory. He frowned.
"Hell, mister, that thing's big enough to fight bears with."
Startled by the easy answer, Lee gave John a cool look. "Don't tell me you fight bears, too?"