The pale skin of the man almost matched the sheets on his hospital bed as he struggled against the straps holding him in place. Red streaked the whites of his eyes. With mouth agape, drool flowed down his corded neck. Whatever demons plagued the poor soul sent constant shudders through his long, lean frame.
The beige walls, concrete floors and icy cold temperature of the observation room provided an appropriate sterile background as Angus watched Vernon Dreft. The bastard had left him lying on a cold table in the Colorado Mountains after stealing a large quantity of his blood. Dreft looked exhausted but his body wouldn’t stop twitching or moving. Visions of raking long claws down the side of this bastard’s face, who took his blood last week, teetered on the edge of dismissal. Rage battled disgust as he witnessed Vernon pull on the restraints and shake on the bed like a leaf on the cusp of a ledge, just before flying away. Angus had sworn vengeance on the fool but karma cashed in first. He unclenched his jaw as inhuman sounds escaped Vern’s mouth and bounced around the room.
“How long has he been like this?” Angus asked young Dr. Whitney, who worked at the human hospital just outside Denver, Colorado.
“His brother, Henry, called an ambulance for him yesterday. No insurance, so he wound up here. I worked the emergency room, late shift. Anyway, I took a look at him and knew something strange had happened. His skin had lost color. His eyes flashed and his teeth, one minute they looked normal, the next they crowded his mouth.”
Angus’ brow rose. “His body changed? Is that what you’re saying?”
Whitney nodded. “Fortunately not into a wolf, per se but something altogether different. Here’s what we have so far. His brother said he mixed some things together and then injected the solution but swears it’s not street drugs. The tests concur he’s not on any type drug we’ve got on record.”
“I see. Go on.”
“According to his brother, for three days he was on top of the world, something about making a lot of money after finding the fountain of youth, that kind of thing.” The young doctor shrugged and shared a “we-heard-this-shit-before” look with him.
Dread rolled down Angus’ back at the idea of someone using his blood as a trace or major component for any type of high. No wolf would be safe.
“There’s probably more to what’s happening but the brother is falling apart at the idea of losing his brother to whatever is going on. You can try and talk to him, he’s in the critical care waiting room. Last I saw of him, he was rocking back and forth in silence. Doesn’t say much of anything. I had a hard time getting through to him for that small bit I just told you.”
He thought about the inherent ability of the chameleon bracelet to sift through memories without exchanging bodies or completely steal the identity of another, including their physical appearance, which led to death. Angus decided to give his condolences to Henry in person.
Whitney stood in front of the glass staring into the room at Vernon. “After what happened to you, Alpha Chase requested everyone report anything out of the ordinary. So when he came in, I called it in.” He paused. “Main reason I called it in is because I heard him murmuring in the corner about wolf’s blood. He hasn’t admitted to anyone here what his brother injected into his system but,” he tapped his ear, “I’ve got great hearing. I think this is the man who stole your blood.” The doctor’s beeper went off. “Sorry I have to go but I’ve cleared it for you to stay as long as you need.” He handed him a folder.
Angus nodded as he flipped through the file and Whitney left the room.
Inhaling deeply, Angus filtered scents, seeking his own. He moved closer to the window and watched large red splotches appear everywhere on Vernon’s skin. Dreft arched his back as if fire were beneath him. The agonized scream told of unimaginable pain. Vernon begged repeatedly for death.
An hour later, death heard him. Vernon Dreft, blood robber, died.
Disappointed he hadn’t been the instrument of Dreft’s demise, Angus used the chameleon bracelet to alter his image slightly and went in search for Henry, brother of the now deceased. Retaliation would fall on the brother for what they did to him. Angus pushed open the critical care waiting room door holding two cans of soda.
The pungent scent of fear hit Angus in the chest. Alone in the room, Henry sat in a plastic chair in the corner with his head resting on top of his knees as if he had been praying and grew tired. Sorrow mixed with pain flashed in his eyes when he looked at Angus before turning away.
“Have you seen a tall guy, mustache,” Angus asked looking around the empty room. Something about the sad posture of the young man stopped him from destroying him immediately. Plus Silas frowned on public executions. His strategy was to befriend the young man and then invite him someplace where they’d be alone and then kill him.
Henry shook his head but didn’t look at him.
“I’m supposed to meet my brother, my mom’s in one of the rooms back there, they’re working on her. She’s in a bad way, even still I hope she makes it,” Angus lied.
“Want one?” he offered Henry a cold drink. Dr. Whitney gave him 30 minutes alone with Henry, after that he would inform him of Vern’s death. Either Angus would kill the man now or follow him home and kill him there. Everything depended on their impending conversation.
Henry peeked up, reminding Angus of one of Silas’ pups, the way he looked at the can as if it held answers to his dilemma. Angus had assumed the young man would be hungry and thirsty since he hadn’t left the room. A sealed drink seemed the safer option.
“Yes, thanks.” Henry stood slowly and took the can. “My brother’s back there.” He tipped his head toward the door.
Angus shook his head. “Sorry about that, hope everything works out for you.”
Henry returned to his seat.
“Mind if I sit here ‘til my brother shows up?” Angus pointed to a chair a couple down from Henry.
“Sure. It’s been quiet in here for so long, feels strange hearing another voice.”
Angus took a pull from his drink and inhaled. Henry and Vern’s scents overlapped. Had Henry carried his brother? Or was it the other way around. Vern had been strong for a few days before his body crashed. There was something different in Henry’s scent, Angus couldn’t place it but didn’t dwell on it either since he planned to kill the guy.
“My brother loved these.” Henry held up his can, his eyes filled.
“Hey don’t talk like that, he’ll drink another one, the two of you’ll be sitting around drinking, laughing about this day,” Angus said offering a small smile.
Henry released a long sigh and looked toward the exit door. “No, I don’t think so. My brother’s gone, he’s been gone for the past week and things will never be the same.” He took another drink and sat back in his chair staring at the floor.
Angus calculated the time from when he and his team were in wolf form, fighting rebels in the Rockies. Angus had been left behind as a decoy to infiltrate the rebels, except Vern and Henry shot him with some kind of super tranquilizer and stole his blood. They must have waited a day or two before creating the mixture and then injecting it into Vern.
“Let’s hope you’re wrong,” Angus said, adding a note of sympathy when he wanted to beat the crap out of this man for what they did. It had taken days for the tranquilizer to clear his system.
Henry finished his drink with one long gulp and crushed the can. “No. I’m not. He’s stubborn, hard-headed, thinks he knows everything and now…now he’s going to leave me here alone.” He ended his rant with a whimper.
Angus picked up a lot about Vern’s personality through Henry’s reaction. Anger, ripe and hard, had been Angus’ constant companion since he learned what these assholes did to him, fizzled at the sight and beneath the pain of this defeated man. “He’s your only family?”
Henry nodded without looking at him. “Always been just the two of us. Nobody else wanted anything to do with us since we was small. Vern…” He inhaled and wiped the tears from his face with the back of his arm. “He took care of me, always did.”
“Sounds like a good guy.” Angus hesitated on the word good.
Henry looked at him. Red-rimmed eyes pleaded his brother’s case. “He did some things that wasn’t always right but mostly, when it came to making sure I had food to eat, a place to stay and clothes.” He shrugged. “He’s my brother, I love him.”
Angus thought of his litter-mate Silas, the human equivalent of a brother and agreed. Good, bad or indifferent, he loved his brother too. Standing, he walked to the door.
“What about your mom? Your brother?” Henry called looking around the room.
“I’m going to check on her now. My brother’ll get here when he does,” he said over his shoulder.
“Thanks for the drink, hope I didn’t run you off,” Henry said in a sad tone.
Angus turned and looked at the young man. “No, you didn’t, just reminded me of how important family is and the things we do for those we love.” He nodded and walked out.