"Keep the children away for now. I'll see them soon." Tomás hobbled into his large bedroom, the clean white bandage on his leg matching his pale face. He gritted his teeth against the pain of his leg and the anger in his heart.
The thin teacher nervously clasped his hands and stopped in the doorway of the room. "They are worried, Patrón. They heard the shot and would have rushed from the room if I had not stopped them. They looked through the window and saw your leg bleeding and their grandfather going with the women."
"Distract them then, Phil. That's your job, after all," Tomás snarled. He saw the hurt look on the teacher's face. "I'm sorry. I'm in pain, and I'm worried about Papá, so I'm not being kind right now." Tomás sat on the bedspread of his large poster bed, gazing at his aide.
Phil's face clouded with concern. "I thought the doctor gave you pain medication."
"She did and it gives me a headache." Tomás rubbed his fingers over his forehead, his eyes closed. "Just go. Leave me in peace. Tell the children I'm fine and will see them tomorrow. Tell them a story that's believable. You're good at that." He glanced at the injured look on Phil's face and sighed inwardly. "I meant that as a compliment, old friend. Aside from Papá, you are the person I trust the most."
A pleased smile crossed the aide's face as he bowed. "Thank you, Patrón."
Tomás reclined on the bedspread, three large pillows stacked behind him. "And send my father to me when he gets back, no matter what time it is." Tomás sighed. The door clicked shut, leaving the massive bedroom in near darkness, though the early afternoon sun cast a bright line of yellow between the tall curtains of the bedroom window.
Tomás closed his eyes, exhaustion claiming him. He thought he dozed off. Late afternoon light streamed in the large window when his eyes snapped open.
"Well, you've had an interesting day, haven't you? The whole town is yammering about how some woman shot you in the leg and kidnapped your Dad." The unwelcome visitor sat in a plush chair near the bed, mockery in his voice.
Tomás sat up and looked at the man in the chair. "Yes, it's been a bad day. Seeing you makes it worse."
"After what we've been through? I thought we got along famously, though you have never invited me to dinner." The man smiled widely. "Which is too bad, considering I'm charming company." He chuckled. "I could find my own date if that's the problem."
Tomás looked at the open window. "How did you get in here?"
"In the town or in your room?" The stranger moved to the window and looked out. "Sloppy sentries at your city walls. Easy climb to the second floor. It wasn't difficult, Tomás. I'm quite skilled, you know." The voice hardened. "I'm here because Dr. Doctor will want to know the results of the last batch of serum."
Tomás closed his eyes again. "And you plan to see him soon, do you? I thought you had a task to do first."
"Yes, that was the original plan, wasn't it? Fortunately, I'm quite adaptable." The man moved back to the plush chair. "So I'm heading to Dr. Doctor in a few days. One little thing to do and I'll be on my way." He leaned his head on his open palm, looking at Tomás. "So how was the last batch of serum?"
Tomás shifted his weight, sitting straighter on the bed. He grunted in pain. "The serum failed. All twenty people turned to Z's. I could only isolate the twenty without raising suspicion." He shrugged. "I might be able to test more. There is a group that is thinking of leaving New Pueblo. I could use them if I needed to."
The man sighed. "Well, a failure is information. Dr. Doctor knows that. I'll check with him, but he said if there wasn't at least a ten percent success rate then this wasn't an improvement." He sat straighter in the chair. "He'll send another test batch of virus with the next shipment of blood wine."
"We did have one minor problem." Tomás waited but silence greeted him. "We stored the zombie bodies for disposal on one of the northern farms, by the river. When the floods came last week, the bodies were swept away with some farm animals and a few residents."
The figure shook his head. "Wow. I would have burned them right away. Those were some nasty rains. Hopefully the bodies will rot somewhere down river."
Tomás frowned. "I was planning to burn them, but the flood…"
The stranger raised his hand, palm toward Tomás. "Hey, you're the boss of your city. I wasn't criticizing." The light brown eyes twinkled. "Well, not much."
Tomás sat up on the edge of the bed. "Good. Then we're done here? I'll expect my next quarterly shipment on time."
The stranger stood up and moved in front of Tomás. "Well," he said, his voice deceptively quiet, "we're almost done."
Tomás's eyes tightened. "What else do you want?"
The man's voice deepened. "What's with trying to take Maddie hostage? Care to explain that one to me, because it sure didn't seem like a bright plan."
Tomás stood up and looked down on the shorter man. "I don't have to explain myself to you." He reached his hand forward to push the visitor away from him, but the man intercepted his hand and slapped it away.
"Sometimes you do," he growled, "and this is one of those times."
"Maddie has nothing to do with..." Tomás began.
"You don't make that judgment call, do you, Tomás?" The voice was hard, a low snarl sounding from the man's throat. "She's become vital to my plan, and that means vital to Dr. Doctor, too."
"Yes?" Tomás's voice had a hard edge to it. "I thought she was mine."
"What you think is up to you, but what happens is not. Until I found the man I was looking for you had some leeway. Now you don't. I need her, and you might get her later."
The visitor clenched his fists at his side. "And what's so damned funny, Tomás?"
"I gave her blood wine."
The silence stretched for a long time, the stranger barely breathing. "Well, that's a problem, but I have some blood wine. I'll find a way to use this to my advantage." He moved toward the open window, his back to Tomás.
Tomás moved forward. "She's not your target. Why do you care?"
The stranger didn't move, but stood looking out the window, his hands hanging loosely at his sides. "Because I met the target and he's a bit more than I can handle."
Tomás said nothing for a few seconds. "I see. She's bait."
"Precisely," the stranger whispered.
Tomás gritted his teeth against the pain in his leg. His head was pounding again. "What about the rest of the people at Selah Ranch? Do you care about them?"
"Not really, though I don't particularly wish them harm. Why?" The man turned to face Tomás again, his eyes bright.
"That Cajun woman, Nancy, shot me," Tomás said, rage in his face. "I have to respond to that."
A smile crossed the visitor's face for the first time, and he chuckled. "You can do whatever you want, but wait...well, let's say about five days before you do it."
"I don't take orders from you," Tomás snapped.
Faster than Tomás could move, the smaller man's right hand was around his throat. Tomás grasped the man's right arm with both hands, but could not move the steel cords of muscle. The man's fingers tightened perceptibly. Sweat broke out on Tomás's face.
The man released his grip and stepped back. "In this case you do." He slipped to the sill of the tall window and the sun shone on his short black hair. He glanced back at Tomás. "You need some sleep. You look like crap."
Tomás rubbed his throat, murder in his eyes. "Let Dr. Doctor know I expect my shipment on time."
He grinned at Tomás. "Sure. I'll do that. Any messages you want me to give to your lovely wives?" He chuckled.
"No," said Tomás, glaring at him. "So I can send my message to Selah Ranch in five days?"
"Five days. Then do what you want, but be careful. That group isn't a bunch of pushovers." His face got grim. "Whatever you're planning might not be taken too well."
"That's the idea of revenge, Sam. You should know that."
Sam reached out the window and grabbed the edge of the low-hanging roof. "I'd stick around for dinner, but I have someplace I need to be. I think I'm already late." He flipped himself onto the roof.
"Hey, make sure Papá gets released." Tomás shouted.
The voice drifted back. "They probably already let him go, Tomás. They aren't evil..." Light laughter drifted through the air, and Tomás stared at the setting sun through the now open window, his lips tight.
Tomás grit his teeth against the pain in his leg. "Phil!" he shouted. As Phil entered the room, Tomás moved to the small desk against the wall and sat down. "I'm making a list. I want these people rounded up, quietly. Put them in Building 12." He looked at Phil. "I have a special mission for them. You understand?" He paused. "In fact, I want an entire truck full of soldiers." He looked at Phil. "The group of people planning to leave are going to disappear a little sooner than they think. Make that happen. I'll add that new guy, Jason Breely to my list, too, since he said something about going back to Selah Ranch, didn't he?"
"Yes, Patrón," said Phil, his hands behind his back.
Tomás paused, his pen poised above the paper. "We'll need some blood to set a trail they will follow. I need them to go in a specific direction."
"No problem, Patrón. We have lots of blood at the slaughterhouse. I'll use some gallons to pour on the ground in the direction you want them to go." Phil paused, a thoughtful look on his face. "The dormitory in the J Section is a firetrap, Patrón. That would give you about fifty Z's."
Tomás grinned. "That will work. Use the sleeping gas, inject them and get them loaded on trucks. We'll have a public funeral for the poor people who died in the dormitory fire in a few days."
"I've done it for you many times already, Patrón. You can trust me," said Phil.
"I know I can, Phil." He started writing names on a piece of paper.
"What if some of them become vampires?" Phil moved to stand by the desk.
Tomás lifted his pen and looked at Phil. "Shoot them. I don't want any more vampires in this city, Phil." He continued to write names on the paper, a look of satisfaction on his face. "I want them ready in two days."