November 22, 2010

Inherit My Heart Chapter Eighteen

Panic filled Katrina as she huddled beneath the edges of the bushes. Glad they weren't thorny, she hoped they wouldn’t make her itch, either, like poison ivy. She lay shivering in her hiding place, the fear causing temporary paralysis. She knew she must remain absolutely still; her life depended upon not being discovered.

Katrina heard someone’s footsteps pounding across the bridge, with more hurried footsteps coming from inside the zoo itself. She heard shouting, but didn't dare move. She wasn't sure who was running around and was terrified of being shot at again.

"Katrina!" She heard Gavin call to her. "Katrina, where are you?"

Still Katrina didn't move. She didn't dare. What if he were behind it? What if he’d done it? Where had he been when the shots had been fired?

"Katrina! Katrina, Honey!" It was Gavin’s voice.

Footsteps came running to the bench where Katrina had been sitting. They paused, while their owner looked for her. She held her breath, desperate not to be found.

"Kitten, where are you?”

Katrina remained silent.

Gavin swore. Katrina lay still in the bushes, too terrified to move.

“If he's killed her…" There was raw pain in Gavin's voice as he cried out for her. Something in the sound moved her, and she rejected the idea he was the person shooting at her.

Katrina slowly, quietly rolled out from under the bushes and sat up. Gavin was nearby, his back to her as he searched the bushes around the statue’s base. Several of the zoo security people were by the gate; one of them was on the bridge going toward the parking lot. She looked toward the trees, but could see nothing. She looked back at Gavin just as he turned in her direction. Instantly, he was at her side, relief showing plainly on his face. He enfolded her into his arms, his back between her and the trees in the parking lot, sheltering her.

Katrina reached up and touched his face. He was real; he would protect her. How she knew this, she wasn't sure, she just did. The relief she felt from the thought drained her remaining strength and she felt herself grow very lightheaded.

"Sorry," she mumbled. The world swirled around her and she felt Gavin tighten his hold on her as the blackness closed over her.

*     *     *     *     *     

Gavin looked down at her, noting her pale, tear-streaked cheeks, her now-dirty bandages and torn jeans.

"My poor little Love," he murmured softly. "My little innocent kitten. How could anyone mistreat you? That bastard has mush for brains!"

Tenderly, Gavin lifted Katrina into his arms and headed for the car, which he’d moved to the end of the bridge. The security chief joined him and they walked across the bridge together.

“We didn’t find anyone in the parking lot with a weapon, but we did find two spent shell casings just on the other side of the row of trees,” the chief said. “They were still warm when I picked them up.”

"Of course you didn't find anyone," Gavin said irritably. "He probably drove off as soon as he’d fired the second round and realized he hadn’t killed her.” The rest of what the chief had said registered then. “You picked up the casings? You just picked them up? You destroyed the evidence, you brainless idiot!”

The security chief chuckled. “Brainless? Maybe; I’ve been called that, and worse, on many occasions, but please, not an idiot.” He showed Gavin a rather lumpy paper napkin he was holding by its corners, and pulled a digital camera from his pocket.

“I did pick up a thing or three in my thirty years on the force, before I retired and came to work here. I took pictures of them where they lay, as well as the area around them. I also,” he continued a little smugly, “took the liberty of coaxing the shells into the napkin with the tip of my pen, where they’ll be safe and totally free of my fingerprints. I didn’t want them run over, and they were in the middle of the only exit from the zoo’s parking lot. I can’t just block it off at closing time.”

Gavin gave an approving grunt. “Thanks; then I’ll leave it to you to notify the police, too. Don’t forget the slugs—they should be in the wall or the dirt behind that bench she was sitting on. Be sure to tell them about the earlier incident as well. I'm going to take Katrina to the hospital. I imagine we'll be there awhile getting her checked over. Ask them to please send someone to talk to us there. Make sure they know I’ll need to fill them in before they speak to Katrina. I'll be in touch with you tomorrow."

The captain opened the car door for Gavin. "No problem. I just wish we could have been of more help to you. Be careful. The guy after you two must be desperate to take such chances in a public place. Either that, or he's a real nut."

Gavin put Katrina in the seat and buckled the safety belt and shoulder harness carefully around her. He closed the door as softly as possible and still be sure it was latched tight.

"He’s only after Katrina, but I rather think you're right on both counts. I’ll be careful. Thanks again, and I'll see you tomorrow, or at least be in touch by phone. See if you can turn up any leads. Someone must have seen something."

The two men shook hands and Gavin walked around to his door. He surveyed the parking lot. They were nearly the last car there. He got in and started the engine.

*     *     *     *     *     

Katrina stirred and then opened her eyes. Her head ached worse than ever. She reached up to touch her temple where the bump was and saw the fresh dirt on her bandaged arm. Memory returned and her eyes flew open wide.

"G…Gavin?" Shakily, she reached out and touched his sleeve.

"Hush, now, Little One! Time enough for questions later. Right now, I'm taking you to the hospital. Lean your head back on the head rest and close your pretty eyes. That's my girl."

In too much pain to argue, Katrina did as Gavin bade her.