Doug Welch books modern Romance
By Doug Welch
Copyright © 2013 Douglas R, Welch.
Chapter 1 – Shadow Reflections
Like a freakish time-lapse movie of a blooming carnation, the red stain spread across Doctor Cramer’s white shirt. In what seemed but a few seconds, the white disappeared, leaving the shirt soaked in blood.
Cramer’s eyes flew open in astonishment. As the pain took him, his legs buckled and he collapsed on the steps, watching his life pour out onto the concrete. Trying to speak, his voice emerged in a faint whisper.
Oblivious to the crimson coating his hands and arms, Paris knelt to hold the doctor up. Placing his ear close to Cramer’s mouth, he tried to make sense of the words.
“The clones,” Cramer hissed. “—hundreds of them.” He gasped for air. “They’re hidden...” The end vanished with his last breath.
His final words chilled Paris to his bone marrow.
Convinced Cramer had been shot; a part of him screamed (Run!), but shock had disconnected him from his limbs.
The whole scene, from the first sight of blood to the doctor’s last utterance had been but a few seconds, but that was more than enough time for a good shooter. Still stunned from the suddenness of the attack, all he could do was cringe, expecting the impact of a bullet at any time. His back muscles tensed. A creeping sensation crawled across his shoulder blades. Finally, the insistent memo from his brain (Run stupid!) woke his sense of self-preservation.
Breaking his paralysis, he screamed, “Shooter! Stay away from the windows!”
Frantic, he combed the tree line looking for the source.
The front door burst open and Kitty emerged. She crouched in a firing stance with her automatic pointed left and then right.
Her amber eyes darted around the area. “Grab some cover, Paris,” she shouted.
She raised her weapon and cautiously advanced down the steps avoiding the blood around Cramer’s body. “You’ve got to move. You’re a sitting duck. Get inside.”
He lurched up the steps as though his limbs were controlled by a spastic puppet master. Kitty covered his back as he collided with the door frame on his way into the house.
Once inside, Kitty slammed the front door. Taking a position near one of the large picture windows, she scanned the front yard.
Crouching low, Paris risked a glance out the window. Cramer lay supine and unmoving on the front steps, eyes staring sightlessly at the sky. The space of time between the muffled sound that came from the doctor’s chest and Paris’ flight into the house couldn’t have lasted more than a minute.
“What happened, Paris?” Kitty asked.
“I don’t know. One moment we were talking and the next he bled out.”
Elizabeth joined him and crouched below the sill. Her raven-black hair brushed his shoulder. “Should I check him?” she asked.
“No one can lose blood that quickly and live. I think he’s dead. He must have been shot in the heart.” He yelled in the direction of the common room. “Kitty—Audrey. Scan the area and see if you can locate the shooter.”
He searched for a mind-glow, casting his senses as far as he could.
“I sense nothing,” Kitty said. “Whoever it was is long gone.”
“Same here,” Audrey said. “Are you sure he was shot?”
At the moment Paris wasn’t sure of anything. As he relived the experience, Cramer’s injury hadn’t resembled a gunshot at all. There’d been no evidence of impact, just a muffled thud.
“Scan again,” Paris ordered and joined them. Although there were ample mind-glows in the vicinity, none seemed intent on doing him or his family harm.
Rising from the floor, he stood and looked out the window.
In contrast to the violence of the previous few minutes, nature seemed disinterested.
Sea birds glided long the shore, fishing for dinner and scolding each other. Waves crashed against the rocks eating away at the Corsican shoreline. It was almost as if the death of Doctor Cramer had never happened.
One glance at the blood pooling under Cramer’s body and flowing down the steps disabused him of the notion.
“I need to get to him, Paris,” Elizabeth said. “There might be something I can do.”
“I doubt it,” Paris said, “but wait until I find a weapon. Kitty and I can provide cover.”
He hurried to his bedroom and retrieved the Glock.
Kitty stood by the threshold waiting and at a nod, they both spilled out of the door and down the steps, splitting and covering either side.
Waiting until he was convinced it was safe, Paris shouted, “You can come out now.”
He heard Elizabeth descend, but he couldn’t see what she did. His attention was directed at the tree line.
Her voice came from behind. “Forget about a shooter. Look for someone with a cell phone or a remote detonator.”
Paris turned to see what she’d found. Cramer’s shirt was torn open and his chest was covered with blood. “How did he die?”
Elizabeth stood, her violet eyes focused on Cramer’s body. She hadn’t bothered with surgical gloves and her hands were bright red. “He wasn’t shot. His chest exploded from within. There’s a wound right where his ribs end. I attempted heart massage, and all I could feel was shredded meat where his arteries should have been. I imagine his internal organs are just as bad.”
He found a clear space on the steps and sat, looking down at the body of the man who still harbored secrets, secrets about Paris’ family. He could only speculate as to what they were, but they’d been silenced along with Cramer’s life.
“Looks like the Borgias got in one last punch,” he said. “I think Cramer expected it. Before he died, he asked me to take care of his kids if something happen to him.”
Kitty joined him, staring down at Cramer’s corpse. “This complicates things, Paris,” she said. “If the Corsican authorities find out, everything will come unglued. We’ll be here for months answering questions. Questions we don’t dare answer.”
Paris knew what she referred to, skeletons so secret they could never be revealed and lives which needed protection regardless of whatever laws were broken in the process.
It was up to him as The Family’s Adept to make the hard decisions, but he’d never anticipated anything like this.
“What about the children?” Elizabeth asked. “We can’t let them see this. They won’t understand. They’ll have nightmares for the rest of their lives. They’ll think we did it.”
Paris’ brain felt like mush. He still hadn’t recovered from the shock and he couldn’t concentrate. He knew he had to shake it off and make some order out of chaos but it was hard. Forcing himself to think, he said, “Kitty, go in the house and ask Caesar to come outside. We need to move the body and hose off the blood before it dries. Tell Alex to watch after the children and make sure they stay in their room.”
After Kitty departed, Elizabeth washed her hands with a garden hose. “It’ll be hard to make this look any different than it is, Paris.”
The thought of approaching something as horrific and tragic as Cramer’s murder with dispassion drowned him with guilt, but the Borgia attack left him little choice. “I know,” he said. “The Borgias must have implanted an explosive device. Maybe he suspected it. I don’t know. Can you phony up a death certificate? I know it’s a lot to ask but we’ve run out of options. We can’t leave him here. The children have a right to know their father’s dead. They’ll need closure. We should get him out of Corsica and bury him in Kentucky.” He shook his head. “What a mess.”
“You’re right, it is a lot to ask,” Elizabeth said. “It goes against everything I’ve been taught or believe in.” She waved a hand a Cramer’s body. “Rodger’s injuries were one thing, but this..?”
“Once we clean him up can you do something about the wound?” Paris asked. “We need to make it look like a heart attack or something. We don’t want an autopsy.”
Elizabeth’s gaze returned to Cramer’s corpse. “I really don’t need to. His body’s drained of most of its blood and the wound looks like an incision a doctor might make to attempt heart massage. It’ll add credence to your heart attack scenario. I won’t have to lie...much. He did suffer massive heart failure and I did attempt heart massage.”
At that moment Caesar joined them, carrying some large heavy-duty trash bags and long sleeved rubber gloves. “Sorry it took so long. I had to hunt these up.” His dark brown eyes opened wide as he saw Doctor Cramer. “My God, what happened to him?”
“I’ll explain later,” Paris said. “Help me roll him onto the bags and we’ll carry him over to those trees.” He pointed to some trees along the shoreline.
Paris returned after moving the doctor. Alongside Caesar, he stood watching the women work.
With the body removed, Elizabeth had begun hosing down the steps, being careful to soak the blood into the grass. Kitty found a scrub brush and helped by brushing the blood out of the pores in the concrete.
Elizabeth continued to spray the steps and the surrounding area, washing off as much of the evidence as she could. “I haven’t any idea how the Corsican authorities report a death,” she said. “We’ll need some time to do this right.”
Taking the hose from her, Paris scrubbed the residual blood from the rubber gloves and directed the stream at Caesar, allowing him to do the same.
“How do you intend to handle this, Paris,” Caesar asked. “We’ve a body on our hands and no way to explain it.”
“I want you and Alex to leave as soon as you can pack,” Paris replied. “Take the next available flight to France and take Doctor Cramer’s’ daughters with you. Tell them he has some business to take care of and he asked you and Alex to entertain them until he arrives.” Seeing the incredulous look on Caesar’s face he added, “Or would you rather shepherd two hysterical girls through customs?”
Caesar closed his eyes and shook his head.
“I thought so. As soon as you can, fly to the States and take them to Kentucky. Find the best grief counselor available and ask him or her to break the news of their father’s death as gently as he can. Tell anyone who asks, he died of a heart attack.”
Caesar’s eyebrows rose. “What will you be doing in the meantime?”
Paris waved a hand, encompassing the front yard of the villa. “Taking care of this. I’ll need Audrey’s help to change a few minds. I’ve a feeling it won’t be easy. We’ll bury him somewhere in the States.”
Caesar glanced at Kitty. “What about Kitty? Can’t she help?”
“She plans to leave when Rodger’s well enough to fly,” Paris replied. “I’ll have someone help me with Doctor Cramer. But we’ll all need to be out of here before the Italian authorities expand the investigation of our raid on the Borgias.”
“Did Cramer say anything before he died?” Kitty asked.
Paris pondered his reply. Cramer’s last words had raised more questions than they’d answered. If his words were to be believed, somewhere in the world, hundreds of near carbon copies of Paris and his siblings lay dormant, most likely frozen, just waiting for a surrogate mother to give them life.
But unlike him and his half sisters, Kitty and Audrey, these modified clones possessed Shadow talents taken from Shadow Adepts all around the world. They included the most dangerous ability of all, the unknown talent that lay dormant in his fraternal sister, Alex.
And if her talent were ever unleashed on the world, no one could predict the consequences.