The guy in charge of the most recent band of jerks took a shot at Gabriel. Laura snickered at the expression on the guy’s face when Gabriel just gave him an annoyed look. “Uh…” The jerk shook his head. “Get the professor.” Then he made the mistake of charging at Gabriel.
Two of the other men rushed toward her and professor Kravitz. Adam didn’t take a different form, just twisted and grabbed one by the neck before using him as leverage to kick the other in the face. Both men dropped, and Adam landed on his feet. Only then did he shift, turning from a slender young man into a massive grizzly bear.
Laura blinked when she realized he’d done that to provide her and Kravitz with cover from the still armed men. Fortunately, the guys with the guns had a much more pressing concern. Gabriel tossed the leader into one of the others, sending both of them crashing to the ground. You called Gabriel in? Actually Michaels did. He didn’t fall for the ‘nobody would believe this’ ploy. Wait, how long has Gabriel been in San Francisco? He got here around four AM and has been following you ever since. And you didn’t tell me? He was staying back so as not to spook Adam. Oh. Yeah, that was probably smart.
With Gabriel coming out to play, the fight lasted only a few moments. Gabriel even helpfully stacked the semi-conscious thugs into a neat pile before turning back toward them. Adam resumed human form, and gave Gabriel a wary look. “So, when they said you smacked Matthias with a tree…”
“We were serious.” Laura nodded
“Uh…” Kravitz was staring.
“Oh.” She stepped forward. “Professor Kravitz, this is Gabriel. He beats up bad guys. Gabriel, this is Professor Kravitz. He teaches history.” Then she glanced. “Gabriel, this is Adam. He changes shape. Adam, this is Gabriel. He juggles cars.”
“The park did close to foot traffic twenty minutes ago.” Gabriel jerked his head toward the path.
“Right.” She gestured at Adam and the professor. “Come on.”
Rather than be spotted by any members of the Cabal, they went back to Laura’s hotel. Adam glanced at Gabriel again, and found the man watching him with a calm expression. The cabal had sent two elite teams to the hospital to retrieve the kid. Teams that had included alpha werewolves and possessed witches. Twelve of the best the Cabal had to offer against one man. Gabriel had left no survivors.
They didn’t have to fill him in. Erilon already had. The trouble was… Adam took a deep breath. “Sima passed the order, and since she’s dead it doesn’t apply anymore.” When Gabriel merely raised an eyebrow. “She wanted you brought in alive.”
“That is an option.” Gabriel merely nodded.
“I…” Adam blinked. “What?”
“It would give me an opportunity to have a…” Gabriel twitched a shoulder. “Chat with this Wren.”
He froze, staring. “You mean you…” He gave a small shake of his head. “You’d let me take you in? That, uh…” Adam swallowed. Gabriel didn’t make a lot of sense to him. He had power. He had the kind of power that meant the Cabal had issued order that his city was officially off-limits. He knew what people did with that kind of power and yet Gabriel… “Who or what the fuck even are you, anyway?”
“I’m a cop.” Gabriel met his eyes calmly. “With a duty to protect.
Adam glanced over at the table where Laura was sitting with the professor, working on her ‘letter of recommendation.’ “How long were you following us?”
“I got into town around four AM.”
“If we hadn’t…” He looked back at Gabriel. “So, you’ve just been following us, until, what, I go nuts and attack Laura?”
Gabriel reached into his pocket, then held out his hand. Adam blinked. “What’s…” He opened his hand, and blinked when Gabriel set an item in it. He felt tears pricking behind his eyes. “Patrick’s watch.” He ran his fingers over the face.
“Matthias and the others are clear. Your list didn’t have an order.” Gabriel shrugged. “Any you want us to focus on?”
“Giroux’s the handler for Wren and me, but he doesn’t leave Paris.” He took a deep breath. “The woman, the one that uh…” He rubbed his neck. “The one that kicked Stephan in the head?”
“What about her?”
“She’s my friend. If uh…” He exhaled. “She’s my friend. She and Patrick were willing to…” He took a deep breath. “Look, I know we’re enemies, but —”
“Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not.” Gabriel shook his head. “You are not my enemy, Adam. When the choice was yours, you protected.” Gabriel put a hand on his shoulder. “We know where the blame lies.”
“I’m, uh…” He exhaled. “I can’t cooperate, with the uh…” He waved a hand. “With the thing. But I’m pretty sure Erilon can find it if I happen to let you near its location and uh…” He took a deep breath. “You’ve got a good cover story for being here with the whole Berkeley thing and the Cabal is uh…” He shrugged. “They don’t know what to make of you.”
“So, once the Cabal learns the weird cup thingy and the data are in Gabriel’s hands, you’ll be safe.” Laura patted Professor Kravitz’s shoulder.
“At least until November, when you actually start showing up to class.” He shrugged.
“Hey!” She glared.
“I’m still about fourteen percent convinced this entire weekend was an acid flashback.”
“Woodstock was before your time, Professor.” Adam chuckled.
“Young man…” Kravitz shook his head, then sighed. “I hope, sometime soon, that I receive your request for a letter of recommendation as well. I would love to serve as your academic adviser.”
“Thanks, professor. For everything.” Adam nodded.
“He says, as though he didn’t fight vampires on my behalf.” Kravitz rolled his eyes. “Well, uh…” He nodded to Gabriel. “Whoever you are, it was nice to meet you and…” He rubbed his forehead. “I’m confiscated three joints from a student last week. I’m going to go smoke all of them now.” He got out of the car, and headed toward his apartment.
“He was nice.” Laura nodded. Then she frowned. “His place got swept for bad shit, right?”
“Mind dropping me back from my hotel?” Adam raised an eyebrow. “Or just drive past and roll down the window. Rather not get spotted hanging out with the Crimson Crusader.”
“I’ve absolutely got to make you a mask as well. Or maybe you should have your own superhero name.” Laura waved her hand as Gabriel started the car.
“What is up with the whole ‘Crimson Crusader’ thing anyway?” Adam shook his head. “He doesn’t wear red.”
“Crimson Crusader is an awesome name.” Laura glared.
“Well, yeah, but still…” Adam looked up at Gabriel before looking back at Laura. “He doesn’t wear red.”
“It’s the connotation of the color rather than the denotation.”
“That’s…” Adam blinked. “Not how language works.”
“No, seriously, you need a nickname. The Seraphic Shifter.”
“No.’ Adam winced. He rolled his eyes. “Laura, can you do me a favor?”
“Stop nicknaming you?”
“Okay, two favors?”
“Sure.” She smiled.
He offered her a watch. “Will you hang onto this for me? I can’t…” He exhaled. “I can’t risk losing it and…” He trailed off.
Gently, she took it out of his hand. “And when you’re safe, you’ll come back for it.”
“Yeah, I…” He glanced up at where Gabriel was driving, then back at her, then at Gabriel again, and then just gave a shake of his head. “Fuck it.” He leaned over and pulled her toward him before kissing her. She returned the kiss, touching her hand to his face. “I’ll come back for it.” He pulled back, then opened the window. “I hope.” He vanished.
She looked down at the watch, then carefully tucked it into her purse. Then she looked up at the driver. “Um…”
“I’ll add that to the list of reasons to wipe out the Cabal.” Gabriel shrugged.
“Thanks.” She smiled.
He landed on the balcony, then shifted to an ant to get into the room itself. A look around revealed no one had entered since the last time he left. The strands of hair he’d placed on the doors were still present. Adam returned to human form, then started packing up his stuff. He hesitated a few minutes, then picked up the phone.
The voice that answered was gruff. “We got the payment.”
“Did it meet your needs?”
“It uh…” The alpha werewolf on the other end went silent for a moment. “It was a bit more than we expected.”
“Consider the rest an advance. I’d like to…” He took a deep breath. “Keep your group on retainer.”
“You want us to keep working for you.” The alpha sounded a little confused.
“There are caveats.” He needed them to stay out of trouble. “I will require you to be discrete, and not accept other jobs without clearing them with me. At the very least, I expect you to give me the opportunity to make a counter offer.”
“We can…” The alpha took a deep breath. “It was a lot more than we expected.”
“Do as I tell you, and you’ll find me a generous employer.” He smiled. “Do you know where Pismo Beach is?”
“I’ve got one quick job for you here, then why don’t you and your crew head down there? Take in a couple weeks of fresh air and sunshine. I should have more work for you by then.” If Matthias’s crew had missed any of the Cabal in the area, his wolves should be able to handle the matter. He hadn’t exactly been able to give Ash an exhaustive list.
“You’re the boss, boss.” The alpha sounded happy at the prospect.
“There is a police captain named Harold Greer. Put him down with no collateral damage.”
“This a test?” The alpha asked.
“Pull it off and each of you will get completely clean new IDs. Fresh starts.”
“I, uh…” The alpha hesitated. “I don’t like the idea of killing a cop without —”
“He likes little boys. Under age ten.”
“So, I gotta make it quick or uh…”
“No collateral damage. And do keep in mind some poor schmuck is going to have to clean up the mess later.”
“I’ll put plastic down.” The alpha chuckled. “I’ll call you when it’s done.”
Adam hung up the phone, then went to his laptop. He hesitated a moment, then opened the bag and started looking through the flash drives. A smile came to his face when he found one in particular. He stuck it in the USB port, then opened up one of his spoof email addresses and began typing.
Laura was quiet for most of the drive back. Then she frowned. “Okay, if we are driving Michaels’ car now, how exactly did you get to San Francisco?”
“Rented a vehicle.”
“Oh, that…” Laura sighed. “That is so mundane. We’ve got to get you a helicopter.”
“Adam can fly a helicopter.” Laura nodded. “That’s why we need to bring him in. So, we have air support.”
Gabriel glanced at her. “That’s the only reason?”
“And…” Her phone dinged to indicate she had email. She didn’t recognize the address, but there was an attachment. A photo. She frowned, then opened it. As soon as the image resolved on the screen she let out a shriek of glee that nearly made Gabriel swerve into the other lane.
“Laura…” He glanced at her.