It took me another two rereads before I figured out the pattern. "Fifty-three sixty West Sixth Street, Sioux City," I sounded out. Then louder, excitement running through my veins like a bolt of lightning. "Fifty-three sixty West Sixth Street, Sioux City. Holy shit, she did it! Elisabeth found her!"
But why was her message such a mess? When Elisabeth texted Francine's address weeks ago, it had been neat and distinct. This looked like she'd been trying to text while juggling at the same time. What would cause her to send a message so garbled that she'd risk the chance of my not understanding it?
By the time Bones came into the bedroom, I'd figured it out, and I met his gaze with a mixture of hope and grimness.
"Elisabeth found her," I repeated. "And it looks like she texted the woman's address while trying to fight Kramer off, so Kramer knows she found her, which means he also knows that we'll be on our way."
Even with the direct air route we'd take, it would still be a good twenty minutes until we got to Prospect Hill, the neighborhood in Sioux City where that address derived from. Bones could fly faster, but I couldn't, and if he burned through his power getting both us there quicker, that would mean he'd be running on less reserves when it was time to make our speedy exit. We already had to expend energy making sure we were high enough to avoid being spotted by commuters in the after-work, rush-hour traffic. It wouldn't be fully dark for another hour, but even though the early evening was still light enough to raise our profile, waiting wasn't an option.
It seemed like forever before we spotted the white monument that marked the Prospect Hill area. Seeing the MapQuest overview before gave us an idea of which area to land in, but obviously people didn't have house numbers conveniently displayed on their roofs. Bones took us above where we thought her street was and zoomed downward in a straight line, landing us in the middle of some tall hedges. The ground shuddered, and our feet went ankle deep into the earth from an impact far harder than usual. I immediately crouched into a kneeling position, helping to distribute some of the force. It still hurt like hell, but with the area bordering downtown and lots of people window-shopping, seeking dinner, or otherwise strolling around, we couldn't afford to glide to an easy landing and be spotted. With almost every cell phone having recording capabilities, we'd be on the news and Internet before you could say compromised supernatural security. Then not only would we be in deep shit with the vampire Law Guardians, but Madigan, with his facial recognition software programmed to flag my image, would also know exactly where we were.
"All right, luv?" Bones asked, shaking off any injuries from the equivalent of being dropped like a bowling ball from five thousand feet faster than I could.
"Fine," I gritted out, wincing at the pain that shot through my back when I stood up. I might've saved my legs by kneeling, but my angle must've been wrong, because I heard several things pop in my spine upon standing. A few sharp tingles later, and the pain was gone. Nothing beat being a vampire when it came to healing abilities.
Bones took some sage out of his pockets and lit it. I did the same, careful not to let any of the burnt edges fall to the ground. There were dry, crinkled leaves everywhere, and starting a fire would be a great way to draw a lot of unwanted attention to us.
We came out of the hedges and started walking toward the nearest intersection as though we were a normal couple out for a stroll. From the mutters I picked up on, the people closest to the spot where we'd landed were wondering about the noise and the momentary vibration they'd felt, but thankfully hadn't connected those things with two people dropping out of the sky. With how fast we'd descended, we would have been nothing more than a brief streak even to someone who'd been looking right at that spot.
"That's Cook Street," Bones said low, nodding at the street sign in front of us. "Sixth should be coming up . . ."
His voice trailed off, tension ringing from his aura like invisible fire alarms. I followed the direction of his stare, dread creeping up my spine.
A tunic-clad man floated in the middle of the street, white hair unmoving in the breeze. Cars drove right through him, the drivers unaware that they'd just come in contact with one of history's most prolific serial killers. And even though he was too far away for me to see his eyes, I knew the Inquisitor was staring right at us.
Our arrival in the neighborhood hadn't gone unnoticed by everyone.
"Bones," I said softly, "I'll draw him off. You go get her, then meet up with me."
His lips barely moved, but I could still hear his hushed reply. "I'm not leaving you."
We only had seconds before Kramer attacked. Already the ghost was starting toward us, and I knew it wasn't to shake our hands, and say, "Howdy, neighbors!"
"You're a man; not tempting enough for him," I whispered rapidly. "But you're stronger and faster than I am, so you're that woman's best chance if she's still alive. Now quit arguing and go."
So saying, I handed my sage to Bones and ran right toward Kramer, making sure to wave my arms so he'd see I didn't carry any of that ghostly flamethrower anymore. Behind me, Bones ground out a curse, but I didn't turn around. I was right, and he knew it. He might not like it, but that didn't change the reality.
Now, to get Kramer to come after me instead of protecting his final target. Unless he'd killed her already, what happened with Francine should have shown him that he couldn't stop us from taking her. I hoped he decided to unleash some of his frustration over that on me instead of spending those last few moments with her.
"Hey, Casper the Ugly Ghost!" I called out when Kramer seemed more focused on what Bones was doing than on my closing in on him. "Bet I can whack that stubbly jaw before you can catch me!"
That turned the heads of the other people on the sidewalk, but my attention was all for the hazy figure in the monkish tunic. I was now close enough to see Kramer's nostrils flare at my reminding him of the two punches I'd landed during the brief time when he'd been solid. He glanced behind me again, though, as if still deciding whom to attack. Take the bait! I urged him, then dove to cover the last several feet between us.
"Here comes bitch slap number three!" I announced, swinging my hand through his jaw.
He wasn't solid, so my fist flew through harmlessly, but either the gesture or the words made up his mind. Kramer spat out a curse and rounded on me, his own arm shooting out.
I ducked, but not fast enough. Pain burst through the side of my head, the energy he managed to harness feeling even stronger than a punch from solid flesh would have. I caught myself before barreling into a store's front window, crashing into the wall instead. At least that only chipped off some plaster instead of shattering glass. Then I spun around to face the ghost.