Phil Hamm kept the taillights of the SUV in sight the entire time. It made him nervous. Couldn’t get too close or they might notice. Get too far behind and risk losing them. Hamm had no intention of having to play catch-up or of scouring the small town for them afterward. No, the SUV carried his salvation, and he intended to keep it close. Close enough to grab. Just follow the lights. Like a pair of big red eyes, staring back at you.
The fact that his traveling companion had spoken less than a dozen words since they’d left the city didn’t help his nerves any. The Warumbi had dressed in all black: black leather shoes, black jeans, black sweater. All you can see in the dark is eyes and teeth, Hamm mused. Teeth, if the man smiled, that is. Which he never did.
“Why you reckon the Natarajan woman wanted us to hold off on grabbin’ the creature?” Hamm said. He’d asked the question before. He didn’t expect a different answer this time, but at least he could make the man in the seat beside him say something.
“I do not know,” the Warumbi replied, just like before. This time he added: “Nor do I care.”
“Just followin’ orders, huh?” Hamm said.
The black man, Kimboro, said nothing in return.
Hamm stared ahead, through the flyspecked windshield and past the glare of the van’s low beams, watching the red eyes of the SUV. “You never have explained why it is you work for her,” Hamm said. “You’ve made it clear you don’t like her.” No response. “Is it a secret or somethin’?” Hamm prodded.
Kimboro exhaled. “You would not understand,” he said.
“A man like you,” he said, “would not understand.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hamm said. “A man like me?”
“You are of the world,” Kimboro said. “Of the flesh. You would not understand.”
Hamm looked at him. “Come again? You’re talkin’ Greek, Cochise.”
“I’m speaking of matters of the spirit,” Kimboro said.
“The spirit,” Hamm echoed. “Sure, I get it.” He turned back to the road, to make certain the eyes had not vanished. He accelerated a little to keep up. “You think the lion-man’s a demon or somethin’, so you wanna take ‘im out.” No reply. “Sounds like a case a’ castin’ out demons in Beelzebub’s name, though,” Hamm said. “You know, like it says in the good book, a man can’t do no good if he’s usin’ evil to get it done. Castin’ out devils in the Devil’s name, right?”
The black man’s eyes turned towards him. “No. It is not like that.”
“I’m just sayin’,” Hamm continued, “that’s how it looks.”
“I do not care how it looks to you.”
“Seems to me, if you think this Natarajan woman is in the wrong, an’ yet you’re helpin’ her…”
“She is a sinful woman, yes,” the Warumbi said. “But she is no more than a woman.”
“An’ the lion-man’s a spawn of ol’ Lucifer,” Hamm said.
“Do not make fun of my faith!” Kimboro snapped.
Hamm chuckled. “Easy, chief. Just makin’ conversation. Don’t mean to push any buttons.” He slowed down, getting too close to the red taillights. Watch the speed, Cheesesteak. “Least I got you talkin’, right?”
Kimboro said nothing.
“I just can’t figure why you ain’t blown the freak away already,” Hamm said. “I mean, okay, you needed the Natarajan woman an’ me to find him, I get that. But now, if all you want is the critter dead…”
“It is not my place to slay the beast-man,” Kimboro said. “That task is reserved for another.”