Blood Debt Chapter Fourteen


TONY snatched up the phone on the first ring. ’’Henry?’’

’’You were waiting?’’

’’Yeah, well, I set my alarm for half an hour before sunrise, so if you called, I could answer right away.’’ He yawned and sat up against the pillow. ’’Did you find Celluci?’’

’’Detective Celluci is back, safe and sound under Vicki's protection, and she's insisted he spend the day in bed recovering.’’

’’Recovering from what?’’

’’Loss of blood for the most part.’’

’’Say what?’’

’’Apparently he made a few involuntary donations.’’

Tony winced. ’’Man, I bet Victory's pissed.’’

’’No bet. What's more, we have Swanson.’’

’’All right! So, no more ghosts?’’

’’God willing. Uh, Tony... ’’

The embarrassment in Henry's voice gave Tony a pretty good idea of what was coming. For all that the bastard son of Henry VIII had embraced the twentieth century, there were some things he just couldn't get the hang of.

’’... I was wondering if you might drop by and set the VCR to record the day's news broadcasts.’’

’’I've shown you how to do it a hundred times.’’

’’I know.’’

Biting back another yawn, Tony wished he'd thought to provide himself with a thermos of coffee. ’’Jeez, Henry, what're you going to do when I'm gone?’’ Gone. That last word seemed to echo in the silence that followed. Gone. This wasn't how he'd meant to say it. Oh, man, it's just too damned early in the morning for my brain to be working. He closed his eyes. ’’Henry?’’

’’Shall I fight to keep you?’’ The words held the seductive danger of dark water although it almost seemed like he asked the question of himself.

’’Henry, don't... ’’ Don't what? Tony didn't know so he let the protest trail off.

’’When you are gone,’’ Henry said after a moment, the voice neither Prince of Men nor Prince of Dark?ness, but just Henry, alone. ’’I will miss you. And I will insist, as Vicki does, that distance is no reason for friendship to end. If she and I can find a way to be together, you and I can find a way to be apart.’’

Groping beside the sofa bed for something to wipe his nose on, Tony managed a shaky laugh. ’’Hey, didn't I always say our Victory was one smart vampire.’’

’’You said she was one scary vampire.’’

’’Same thing. I'll, uh, see you again before I go.’’

’’Yes.’’

He shivered at the promise in the word.

Stopped at the edge of her building's drive, waiting for traffic to clear, Dr. Mui was astounded by a rap?ping on her window.

Patricia Chou pressed the contact microphone against the glass. ’’Dr. Mui, Ronald Swanson was found this morning with the corpse of Richard Sulli?van, an orderly who worked with you at Project Hope.’’ Not even German engineering could keep her voice from penetrating. ’’Would you like to make a statement?’’

Shaking her head in disbelief, Dr. Mui lowered the window a scant inch and, avoiding eye contact with the lens pushed over the reporter's shoulder, snapped, ’’You are a sick young woman!’’ She rather hoped she ran over a few toes as she drove away.

There were more reporters waiting at the end of the clinic drive, but she turned in without slowing and passed without incident. Few reporters had Patricia Chou's disregard for personal safety.

Inside the clinic, a pair of plainclothes police officers waited by the nurse's station.

’’What is this about?’’ she demanded, striding across the lounge. Later, she'd feel the effects of a sustained adrenaline buzz, but right now, she felt remarkably calm. It was all a matter of maintaining control.

The detectives introduced themselves and suggested they move into her office.

She stared at them for a moment, frowning, then said, ’’Don't tell me that parasite actually knew what she was talking about?’’

The younger man looked at his partner, then at the doctor. ’’Parasite?’’

’’Patricia Chou tried to shove her way into my car this morning with the preposterous story of Ronald Swanson being found with the body of Richard Sulli?van, an orderly at this clinic.’’

’’Patricia Chou,’’ sighed the first detective.

’’Why am I not surprised,’’ sighed the second.

Having seen their colleagues on the receiving end of a Patricia Chou interview, they thawed considerably and were almost solicitous when Dr. Mui suggested, in a distracted sort of way, that perhaps they'd all better go to her office so that the rest of the staff could get some work done.

’’Doctor, when was the last time you spoke to Ron?ald Swanson?’’

’’Just after three this morning,’’ she replied promptly, aware that the call could easily be traced.

’’Do you remember what he said?’’

’’I have no idea of what he said. He woke me out of a deep sleep, babbled hysterically at length, and hung up before I could figure out what he was talk?ing about.’’

’’You're sure of the time?’’

’’Detective, when someone wakes me in the middle of the night, I look at my clock. Don't you?’’

They both admitted that they did.

She had no idea why Richard Sullivan would be staying in Ronald Swanson's guest cottage although when the restraints were mentioned, she raised a spec?ulative brow.

’’Didn't you work with Richard Sullivan in Stony Mountain Federal Penitentiary?’’ the older detective asked, his tone making it clear that he already knew the answer.

’’That's correct;he was an inmate orderly in the prison hospital. I got him this job when he was re?leased, and I see to it that he makes his parole ap?pointments. Other than that,’’ she added with distaste, ’’I am not responsible for his life.’’

’’May we ask why you requested that the board hire him, Doctor?’’

’’Orderlies are required to perform a number of un?pleasant tasks. Mr. Sullivan did them without com?plaining and that, gentlemen, was worth giving him a second chance.’’ She frowned, catching the younger officer's gaze and holding it. ’’It occurs to me that you haven't told me what he died of.’’

’’Uh, no ma'am.’’ The phrase basilisk stare came suddenly to mind. ’’We're, uh, not at liberty to divulge that information, ma'am.’’ He shot a hopeful glance at his partner. ’’I think we have everything we need?’’ Before the detectives left, they suggested she talk to the gathered reporters if she ever wanted them out of the driveway. Although she didn't believe it would do any good, the doctor prepared a brief statement and read it. To her surprise, they asked a few ques?tions then packed up cameras and microphones and returned to the city. Apparently, she wasn't big enough news.

Yet.

Having never left the clinic early during her time in charge, she remained in the building until 4:15, moving out and about, concentrating on the patients in case she was under surveillance. Finally, after buttressing her position as much as possible, she packed a few files into her briefcase and went out to her car.

Eventually, even if Ronald Swanson never regained consciousness, the police would pay her a return visit. She'd left as little evidence in her wake as she could but wasn't arrogant enough to assume that they'd never find it. A less-confident woman might have headed straight for the airport. Dr. Mui, who had no intention of leaving any of her investments behind, drove straight home and spent the evening making plans.

Henry had no need to open his eyes to know that this sunset was no different than the half dozen before it. The dead still stood at the end of his bed, waiting for justice.

’’Do you know that Ronald Swanson has been stopped?’’

Apparently, they did.

Apparently, it didn't matter.

Which brought them back to that evisceral ven?geance.

’’Multimillionaire real estate tycoon, Ronald Swanson, remains in a coma in Lion's Gate Hospital. The police are withholding the identity-and cause of death-of the body found with him pending notifica?tion of next of kin. So far, police appear baffled by the circumstances surrounding the case although Detective Post assures us the investigation is pro?ceeding.’’

The detective, an attractive man in his mid-thirties, played to the camera like a professional. ’’Unfortu?nately, we have very few hard facts at this moment. Ronald Swanson was found early this morning just past the boundary of Mt. Seymour Park in the com?pany of a corpse and a shovel. Upon being discovered, Mr. Swanson had what doctors are describing as a massive coronary. Everything else, I'm afraid, is specu?lation.’’ He smiled reassuringly at the news audience. ’’We will, of course, learn more when Mr. Swanson regains consciousness and we can ask him a few questions.’’

Henry fast forwarded through the rest of the CBC News at Noon;when the News at Six came on, he slowed the tape to normal speed.

’’In our top story today, multimillionaire philanthro?pist, Ronald Swanson, remains in a coma in Lion's Gate Hospital. Early this morning... ’’

If the police had discovered anything new between noon and six, they weren't telling the media.

’’Why the hell don't they just dig up the rest of the goddamned clearing?’’ Celluci growled, shifting un?comfortably on the sofa. Furniture designed for little old ladies always felt too small for his butt. He sup?posed he should be thankful that Fitzroy'd brought the tape over, but he couldn't muster the energy.

Vicki reached over and tucked his left arm back into the sling. ’’No reason why they should dig it up. As far as the police know, they have an isolated inci?dent. A moment of violence. A lover's quarrel that got out of hand. They haven't even pressed charges yet.’’ She frowned, and looked absently toward the images flickering by on the television. ’’If Swanson in a coma in police custody isn't enough for Henry's ghosts, I wonder how much more they want.’’

’’Not how much.,’’ Celluci declared suddenly, jerking toward the TV. ’’Who, Fitzroy! Wind it back and play that bit with the woman talking.’’

’’... am, of course, dismayed by what has happened. Richard Sullivan was a hardworking member of our staff who'd managed to rebuild his life after an unfor?tunate past.’’

’’Prison,’’ Celluci explained shortly. ’’And that's her. That's the doctor who... ’’

’’Took your blood.’’ The statement had edges that flayed. ’’Dr. Mui. Now we know for sure.’’ Vicki stood. And stopped. Slowly, very slowly, she turned her head and looked down at Michael Celluci.

He reached out and took her hand. ’’I want her, too,’’ he said grimly. ’’But not like that. You can't kill her.’’

Vicki shuddered, once, the movement traveling through her body like a wave. ’’You're getting awfully goddamned pushy lately,’’ she muttered when it was over. Then, still holding his hand like an anchor, she sat back down.

’’I'm impressed by your control.’’

’’Don't f*king patronize me, Henry.’’ Her chin rose, but she managed to hold onto her anger even though every instinct told her to throw something at him and then throw him out the window. ’’Now, what do we do?’’

’’I'm an idiot!’’

Eyes silvering just enough to keep Henry from com?menting, Vicki patted Celluci's denim-clad knee with her free hand. ’’Don't be so hard on yourself,’’ she suggested, ’’and tell me what you're talking about.’’

’’Ronald Swanson was not the man responsible for those deaths. That's why Henry's ghosts are still around.’’

’’Maybe he didn't do the actual killing, but he pro?vided the resources.’’

Celluci shook his head. ’’He provided the resources to buy kidneys from the poor and sell them to the rich-but the poor can function fine with only one kidney. This sort of thing goes on in a number of third world countries.’’

’’Your point?’’

’’Dr. Mui, already making good money doing the illegal transplants, saw a way to make a little more. The donor doesn't survive, and she pockets the pur?chase price. Simple.’’

’’Yeah, but... ’’

’’If she didn't have to hide the deaths from Swanson, why wait until they healed? And we know she waited because of the body they found in the harbor.’’ He glanced from Vicki to Henry and answered his own question. ’’She had to keep the donors around until close to the time they'd normally be discharged or Swanson would be suspicious.’’

’’So he didn't know she was killing them?’’

’’She told me herself that she believed in only let?ting people know what they needed to to do their jobs. Uh, Vicki? I can't feel my fingers anymore.’’ When she released his hand, he started to work the blood back into the whitened fingertips. ’’Swanson's job was to provide the money and the buyers.’’

’’All right... ’’ It wasn't agreement. It wasn't even conceding he had a point. ’’... what about the missing hands on the first ghost?’’

’’Sullivan disposed of the bodies-he found out this guy had no record, and he thought of a way to make an extra buck. He probably made plenty of gang con?tacts in prison.’’

Vicki shook her head. ’’Completely circumstantial.’’

’’And completely unimportant. The loss of the hands distracted us at the beginning, sending us out after the gangs, and I don't want that to happen again.’’ Henry moved to stand by the windows. He always thought better looking out at the city. His city-in spite of the unfamiliar pattern of lights below. His condo overlooked False Creek, Lisa Evans'overlooked the parking lot between the buildings. ’’I be?lieve Mike's right about Dr. Mui being in charge. Last night, Swanson went to pieces when he found that body.’’

’’Well, sure,’’ Vicki snorted, even less willing to cut Henry any slack, ’’he was afraid that the operation, so to speak, had been discovered.’’

’’I don't think so.’’ He could feel Vicki bristling be?hind him, so he continued studying the traffic on Pa?cific Boulevard. ’’The first thing Dr. Mui asked Swanson was, did he call the police. If Swanson knew about the other deaths, that's not something he'd even consider, and the doctor would know it. When she found out he hadn't called anyone but her, she began planning the cover-up.’’

’’Dr. Mui had both opportunity and motive,’’ Celluci pointed out. ’’Ronald Swanson dropped the op?portunity in her lap, and she got greedy.’’

’’Thin,’’ Vicki muttered, ’’very thin. You were being kept in one of Swanson's guest houses, remember?’’

’’That doesn't mean he knew why I was there. She could have told him anything.’’

’’Most importantly,’’ Henry finished, ’’nothing that happened last night has had any effect on the ghosts. Not Sullivan's death, not Swanson's heart attack.’’

Dr. Mui had taken Celluci's blood. Vicki was willing to condemn her on that alone. Nodding, as though she'd just been convinced, she sat back and said dryly, ’’So all evidence suggests the doctor's not just the hired gun, she's an opportunistic, murdering, hypocrit?ical, amoral bitch. And if I can't kill her, what are we supposed to do about her? Call the police from a pay phone with an anonymous tip.’’ She lowered her voice dramatically, ’’You don't know me, but you should check into Dr. Mui's finances. Make her explain where the money comes from.’’

’’She'll probably have an explanation. That woman's got ba ...’’ Celluci paused as Vicki pinned him with a silver gaze. ’’... ovaries of steel. She's got an answer for everything.’’

’’Well, she's also got a small fortune tucked away in secure countries, and my guess is she's going to run. If she hasn't already.’’

’’I don't think so.’’ Head cocked, Henry stared across a patch of thin grass delineating the boundaries between his building and Dr. Mui's. ’’A cable van just pulled up next door, and I believe that's Patricia Chou getting out.’’

’’How the hell can you see who it is from up here?’’ Celluci scoffed. Then he remembered. Henry, like Vicki, had very good night sight. ’’Never mind. Stupid question. If it's Patricia Chou, then the police proba?bly chased her away from Swanson's sickbed. She's probably been hovering over him like a vulture all day.’’

Vicki stared at Celluci in exaggerated surprise. ’’I thought she was a friend of yours.’’

’’Ignoring for the moment that I've only met the woman once, since when have I ignored the faults of my friends?’’

Vicki made a mental note of the pointed emphasis. He'd pay for it after he healed. ’’So if Ms. Chou is there, then Dr. Mui is there-so, as I said, what now?’’

Henry turned from the windows, his eyes dark. ’’We use Ms. Chou to make certain the doctor is in her apartment tomorrow at sunset and we let the only witnesses we have confront the accused. Isn't that what the law would require, Detective?’’

Celluci felt himself caught by darkness and jerked free;it had been too easy over the last few days to forget the law. ’’No, actually, it's the other way around. The accused have the right to confront their accuser.’’

’’All right.’’ Henry nodded. ’’That, too.’’

’’Look, Fitzroy, you can't just... ’’

’’Why not? Is there a law against allowing the dead a voice?’’

’’You know damned well there isn't. It's just... ’’

’’You can't confront her with the ghosts, Henry.’’ Vicki cut him off, her tone suggesting this would be the final word. ’’If the radius of their... uh, effect was big enough, they'd have confronted her already. You'd have to get closer, and you can't.’’

’’Yes, I can.’’

’’They appear at sunset. That means you'd have to get closer at sunrise.’’

’’I know.’’

This would be my territory, then. She did more than suppress the thought, she obliterated it. ’’Forget it. It'd be too dangerous.’’

’’And what of the danger of never getting rid of these ghosts, of having to ask the right question eve?ning after evening, knowing that if I make a mistake, innocents will die?’’

’’Then we bring her to the ghosts.’’

’’And how do we... ’’ He'd been about to say ’’get rid of her body afterward’’ when a glance at Celluci's face changed his mind. ’’... bring in the police?’’ When Vicki couldn't answer, he said, ’’My plan will put Patricia Chou on the spot and so far she's certainly been ...’’ A number of descriptions were considered and discarded. ’’... effective.’’

Celluci grunted in agreement. Using the ghosts to spook the doctor into the arms of the media, using the media once again to inform the police-that he could deal with.

’’It also puts you on the spot, Henry. How do you plan on surviving this plan of yours?’’

Her concern was genuine;she might have been speaking of any friend, any mortal friend. As a mea?sure of how far they'd come in so short a time, it was nothing short of miraculous.

’’Don't get all choked up on me, Henry. Answer the f*king question.’’

He shook his head, a little bemused by the speed of the evolution. ’’I'll, uh, be spending the day with the doctor's neighbors, Carole and Ron Pettit.

’’Friends of yours?’’

’’Not yet.’’ Ignoring Celluci's interrogative glower, he picked up the phone and tapped in the number he'd noted during his earlier visit.

As Henry seemed unwilling to explain, Celluci leaned over and muttered, ’’What's he doing?’’ into Vicki's ear.

’’Do you remember the way Dracula got Lucy to leave the house?’’

’’He stood outside in the garden and called?’’

’’Well, that's what Henry's doing.’’

’’Dracula didn't use a phone.’’

’’Times change.’’

’’Hello, Carole. Carole, I need you to do something for me. I need you to unlock your door, Carole. That's right, Carole, you know who I am.’’

The room seemed suddenly very warm. Celluci tugged at his jeans. When Vicki leaned over and flicked an earlobe with her tongue, he jerked away from the invitation. ’’Don't,’’ he said hoarsely. ’’Not here, not now.’’

’’Unlock your door, Carole, and be ready for com?pany. It doesn't matter that you're not alone. That's right, Carole, unlock your door. I'll be there in a mo?ment, Carole. Wait for me.’’

’’That's it?’’ Celluci demanded as Henry returned the receiver to the cradle.

Henry shrugged, remembering the gargoyle. ’’Some people need less calling than others.’’

Wishing he'd worn looser pants, Celluci snarled something noncommittal and set about convincing himself there'd been no response.

They walked Henry down to the lobby and watched him cross to the other building.

’’I take it he's going to suggest Carole and company leave the condo?’’

’’If it were me, I'd suggest they leave by sunrise and not come back for about twenty-four hours.’’

’’It's a long time until sunrise, Vicki. What's he going to do in the meantime?’’

She turned and stared at him.

His ears reddened. ’’Never mind. You'd better speak with Ms. Chou by yourself.’’

’’Why?’’

’’Because you can make her forget the conversation, forget about you. I can't.’’

’’Well, thank you so much for letting me have my case back.’’ Patting him lightly on the cheek, she started toward the cable van. She had every intention of doing exactly what Celluci had suggested. She'll for?get about the conversation. And she'll forget about you.

’’Just make sure that she's in her condo at sunset.’’

Even lost in the silvered depths of Vicki's eyes, Pa?tricia Chou had the will to protest. ’’And how am I supposed to do that?’’

’’From what I've heard, most of the city would stay home rather than face you.’’

’’Well, she never goes in to the clinic on Fridays... ’’

’’How do you know that?’’

’’I know almost everything and intend to find out the rest. It's why most of the city hates me.’’ She smiled.

Vicki'd seen that smile before-had seen it three nights ago, reflected in the eyes of Bynowski and Haiden just before they died. Patricia Chou enjoyed her work. And Henry was worried about sharing a territory with me.

Henry sped down the hall and past the woman standing in her doorway, obviously waiting for him.

Once safe inside, he caught his breath and softly called her name.

She turned. Past forty and not fighting it, she'd tried to match herself to her pseudo-Gothic decor but was far too sun-kissed and healthy-looking to succeed.

’’Come inside, Carole, and close the door.’’

The Hunger rose in response to the hunger on her face.

Eventually, she'll get bored and go away. Or some new scandal will arise in some other part of the city and she'll go away. Dr. Mui stood in her solarium and scowled down at the top of the cable van just visible in the parking lot below, the yellow rectangle standing out with irritating clarity against the gray pavement. Or someone will drop a heavy object on her head and she'll GO AWAY.

Patricia Chou had drastically altered her plans for the day.

By late morning she'd done everything she could from her computer in the condo. Although her phone lines were as secure as her hacker-for-hire could make them, she'd known there was no such thing as a com?pletely secure line-the computers at the Eastside Clinic and the drop-in center were theoretically se?cure, but that same hacker had accessed them both with apparent ease. In order for her to leave the coun?try, wealth intact, and leave no trail, there were a number of matters that required a personal touch.

She should have been able to accomplish everything necessary in a couple of hours, but from the moment she'd left the parking lot, the reflection of the cable van had filled her rearview mirror. The reporter her?self had followed, as it were, off road-never breaking any laws, never making too big a nuisance of herself, never going away.

Only two of the three errands had been done. The third, she had no intention of fulfilling in front of a witness and had returned home, Patricia Chou still on her heels.

Her station won't let her sit there forever. When she's called in, I'll make my move. Almost everything has been prepared, and there's no reason to panic. You are in no danger of discovery if you remain calm. Her nails scraped against the glass as her fingers curled into fists. She could just barely make out one slender, denim-clad leg thrust out of the van's interior. Oh, for a truck to go by and take that off at the knee....

All afternoon she'd watched as Patricia Chou had traded on local recognition and interviewed almost ev?eryone coming or going from the building.

It had been a very long afternoon.

’’Patricia, please,’’ Brent pleaded, digging his knuck?les into bloodshot eyes. ’’Let's go. We're not going to get anything else today, and I'm wiped.’’

’’Just a little while longer.’’

The cameraman sighed, collapsed back against a bag of equipment. ’’You've been saying that for the last hour.’’

’’This time I mean it.’’ She twisted out the door until she could see the red and gold streaking the bot?tom of the clouds. ’’Just wait until sunset.’’

’’Why? What's going to happen at sunset?’’

Between one heartbeat and the next, a silver shadow flickered in her eyes. ’’I have no idea... ’’

’’Then why... ?’’

’’... but I've been promised a story.’’

7:43. Celluci looked up from his watch and squinted out the window. The setting sun had turned the other building a brilliant white-gold. Whatever was going to happen, wasn't going to happen for another five min?utes. He still had time to stop it.

His right thumb rubbed the scabbed puncture in the hollow of his left elbow.

Four minutes.

Still time.

Three minutes.

It wasn't because she was responsible for, at the very least, the deaths of the two young men whose spirits haunted Henry. It wasn't because of what she'd done to him personally.

She'd used their hope when hope was all those peo?ple had.

Two minutes.

The law could deal with murder, but if Henry's ghosts didn't have the right to deal with the death of hope, who did?

He saw the flaw in the plan at 7:47. By then, it was too late.

Henry'd spent the day wrapped in a theatrical blackout curtain, lying on the floor of the walk-in closet. Although wide open to suggestion, the Pettits had not been easy to get rid of. Having found him, they wanted to stay with him. He'd barely had time to gain his sanctuary and twist the door handle into an unusable chunk of metal when sunrise claimed him.

7:48. Sunset.

They were there. He could feel their presence more strongly than he'd ever felt it before. The air around him was uniformly cold, and when he drew in his first breath, it seemed to move reluctantly into his lungs, coating the inside of his mouth and throat with a frigid film.

Wormwood and gall. He swallowed reluctantly.

His hand rested on the switch of small desk lamp he'd brought into the closet with him. Too bright an illumination would be of no more use than the dark?ness;the overhead light would blind him and wash the spirits out to near invisibility.

When he turned the switch, he could see the two ghosts who'd haunted him from the beginning pressed up tight against his feet. All around them-all around him-were others. He couldn't count their numbers, they kept shifting in and out of focus-here a young woman with the corner of her upper lip pierced, there tormented eyes peering out from under a fringe of hair. Faces. Bodies. The invisible chorus made manifest.

Fear.

It rose off them like smoke, filling the space too thickly for even Henry to endure.

Dr. Mui turned from the window and peered into the shadows of her apartment. One hand rose, an in?voluntary warding against the sudden feeling she wasn't alone.

’’I should turn on a light.’’

Her voice traveled no farther than the edge of her mouth, unable to make an impression on the silence.

One step back. Two.

Her shoulders pressed against the glass.

Henry found himself pressed back into the corner without remembering how he'd gotten there. The closet had filled with the amorphous shapes of the dead, only the original two maintaining form. And they seemed to be waiting.

Waiting.

For what?

He just wanted them to go away. He had his mouth open to demand that they leave him alone when he remembered. It wasn't him they wanted.

’’Who's there?’’

They were coming closer, whoever they were.

’’There's a safe in the bottom left-hand drawer of my desk. Just take the money and leave me alone.’’ The last word slipped from her control and rose al?most to a wail before it faded.

The doctor's feet continued to push against the Mexican tile on the floor. The window creaked be?hind her.

He could feel her life. She wasn't in the next room, but it didn't matter. Her heart beat so loudly he could have heard it from the other building had his own heart not been pounding nearly loud enough to drown it out.

I am Henry Fitzroy, once Duke of Richmond and of Somerset, Earl of Nottingham and Knight of the Garter. My father was a king and I am become Death. I do not cower before the dead.

The Hunger rose to meet the fear and gained him ground enough to rise to his feet. Dark eyes narrowed. ’’Well,’’ he demanded, ’’are you going to let her get away with it?’’

There could, of course, be only one answer.

Dr. Mui had dealt out life and death with brutal efficiency, protected from pangs of conscience and wandering regrets by armor built of diamond-hard self-interest. The accusation in the donors'eyes when they realized their escape from poverty and the streets was not the escape they'd dreamed of making had never touched her.

It had nothing to do with her.

Until now. When it had everything to do with her.

The dead howled denial;a howl torn from those who'd first seen a fragile hope betrayed and then had lost the only thing they had remaining to them, their lives, taken without even the excuse of passion.

The doctor flung her head back against the glass, over and over. The glass held, but crimson rosettes appeared with each impact.

Despair closed her eyes, closed her mouth, her nose, choked off air from her lungs, closed over her like a layer of wet earth. Suffocating. Burying.

She fell forward on her hands and knees, gasping and retching, the damp ends of her hair drawing bloody lines against her face.

’’I. Will not. End. Like. This.’’ Armor so arrogantly forged could not be breached so easily. ’’I am,’’ she breathed. ’’I live. And you are dead.’’

Triumphant, she lifted her head and saw the shad?ows move. Saw the last two boys, the one they hadn't used, the one before dumped unceremoniously in the harbor, the others, all the others...

They looked down at her.

And they were dead.

Their mouths were open. They screamed denial. Despair. Vengeance.

Forcing her to recognize the death she'd given them.

The body hit the roof of the cable van with a wet crunch. One leg flopped limply over the side, swung back and forth, and was still.

Ten feet away in the parking lot, miraculously un?harmed by falling glass, Patricia Chou clutched at her cameraman's arm with a white-knuckled grip. ’’Did you get it?’’ she panted, ignoring a throat ripped raw by the force of her initial reaction. Professional or not, she was, she felt, entitled to that one scream of shock and horror. Later, she'd wonder if she'd been trying to drown out the cry of the falling woman, preferring to remember the sound of her own voice rather than the frenzied denial that had grown louder as gravity won, but for now she had more pressing concerns. ’’Did you get it?’’

Brent nodded, still peering through the eyepiece with the detachment of cameramen from Northern Ireland to Lebanon. ’’I thought the windows on those new buildings were shatterproof.’’

’’Shatterproof can be broken.’’

’’Yeah? Then what did she break it with?’’ There had been glass and, with the glass, the body- alive as it fell, but inevitably a body for all of that.

Reporter and cameraman stood in silence for a mo?ment, then, handing Brent her cell phone and sug?gesting he call the police, Patricia Chou hurried toward the van, making mental lists of what to do and who to call and how to best use the rapidly disap-pearing light. ’’Now this,’’ she said, as she reached inside for her microphone, ducking under the dangling foot that would provide a suitably ghoulish backdrop, ’’is a story.’’

’’We all knew that was going to happen,’’ Celluci said, hands pressed flat against the glass. ’’We all knew.’’

Vicki pulled him away from the window and turned him around. ’’No, we didn't,’’ she said softly.

’’Yes, we did. We knew’’ the ghosts killed. They've killed before.’’

’’She jumped through an unbreakable window, Mike. They didn't push her.’’

’’We knew,’’ he repeated, shaking his head. ’’We knew.’’

Vicki caught his face between her hands and tipped his gaze down to meet hers. It flared silver. ’’No, we didn't,’’ she said.

When the police came to take their statements- along with the statements of everyone in a unit over?looking the accident-they got a pleasant surprise.

’’Michael Celluci? That name sounds really famil?iar.’’ The young constable frowned. ’’Did you report your van stolen, Detective?’’

’’Not his van, mine.’’ Vicki leaned forward, silently willing Celluci to be quiet. It was too easy for him to forget that the police weren't necessarily on their side. ’’He said he misplaced it. That he knew where he'd left it, he'd just ended up on the other side of town and hadn't gotten around to going back for it yet.’’

’’There's no point in him going back for it now, because it isn't there. Couple of uniforms found it just as it was about to be stripped. Nuts were loose, but nothing was missing. But the only ID they could find was Michael Celluci scribbled on a crumpled piece of paper in the glove compartment. They've probably run the plates by now, but they wouldn't be able to find you, Ms. uh,’’ he checked his notes, ’’Nelson.’’

’’Probably run the plates by now?’’ Vicki repeated, brows raised in a sardonic arch.

He blushed and was unable to stop himself from responding like some kind of rookie idiot instead of a three-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Depart?ment. ’’Well, there's been a whole lot of gang violence lately, and things have been pretty busy, and the sys?tem crashed two days ago, and we just got it up and running this morning.’’

’’But my van's okay?’’

’’Yes, uh, as far as I know, yes.’’

’’Good.’’

When she smiled at him, he was suddenly glad he had his notebook in his lap. There was something about her that made him feel like rolling over and wagging his tail when she scratched his stomach. ’’Now, uh, about the fall... ’’

’’Actually, we didn't see anything.’’

’’Nothing?’’

’’We were busy.’’

’’Busy?’’ He felt himself redden again. ’’Oh.’’

He left soon after;envying the detective his rela?tionship and hoping the old boy's heart was up to it.

’’The whole world is getting younger,’’ Celluci growled when the door closed behind the irritating young punk in the blue uniform. ’’I can't say that I like it much.’’

Vicki put her arms around his waist and leaned into his chest. ’’For what it's worth, you're not getting older, you're getting better.’’

’’Spare me,’’ he snorted tilting her chin up so he could look into her face.

’’What?’’

You've always been a lousy liar, but that constable believed everything you told him.

’’Mike?’’

’’Nothing.’’ Sighing, he rested his cheek on the top of her head. ’’Just feeling old.’’

She pressed herself closer until she resonated with his heartbeat.

’’So, you and Henry are, uh... ’’ Celluci looked down at his spinach salad and found no answers, so he looked back up at Tony to find the younger man smiling. ’’What?’’

’’You're living with a vampire, Celluci. Why do two men cause you so much trouble?’’

’’We're not exactly living together, but I take your point. I guess it is a little ridiculous.’’ He speared something green he couldn't identify. Why the hell couldn't he have fries with his burger? Everything in Vancouver was too goddamned healthy;he'd be glad to leave. ’’But you didn't answer my question.’’

’’I'm moving out. But we'll still be friends.’’

’’So you're staying here in Vancouver?’’

Tony shrugged. ’’My life is here. I have a job, I have friends, I'm going to school;why would I leave?’’

’’He's here.’’ Resting his forearms on the table, Cel?luci leaned forward. ’’You'll never be free of him, you know. You'll expect to see him in every shadow. Sepa?rating your life from his won't be that easy.’’

’’He doesn't own me, Detective, no matter what it might have seemed like. It was time for me to leave, and we both knew it.’’ Tony toyed with his salad a moment, started to speak, stopped, then finally said, the words spilling over each other in the rush, ’’And it's not that hard. You could leave, too.’’

After a moment, Celluci smiled and shook his head, remembering all the days and all the nights that had followed. ’’No. I couldn't.’’

’’They didn't even come back to say thank you?’’

’’If it's all the same to you, I'm just as glad that they're gone.’’ The dead had stopped shrieking when the doctor's heart had stopped beating. And only the doctor's heart. This time, in spite of the heightened intensity, no one else had died. In the end, vengeance, or justice, had been surgically precise. Henry, whether from proximity or awareness, had been the only other casualty. Retching and trembling, he'd had to force himself to walk out of the closet-he'd wanted to crawl. He completely understood why the doctor had gone eleven stories straight down to get away from the sound.

Vicki read some of that time on his face and reached out. Just for an instant, her hand covered his.

Henry stared down at his hand, then up at her. Less than a week ago, he'd have wanted to kill her for that. Now he regretted the touch could last so short a time. Six days out of four hundred and fifty years and they'd changed the way he deemed what he was. ’’Do you always rewrite the rules?’’

’’If they're bad rules.’’

He shook his head. ’’I wonder how we managed for all those years before you came along?’’

Vicki snorted. ’’You and me both. Most of our kind changes for passion's sake, Henry-you told me that yourself-and no one does passion like a teenager. You were seventeen. How old were the rest? I could be the first adult to come along in centuries.’’

’’You're still a child to this life.’’

She grinned. ’’Don't sulk, Henry. It's unattractive in a mortal man and really unattractive in one of the immortal undead.’’

’’Centuries of tradition,’’ he began, but she cut him off.

’’Haven't changed that much. We're still solitary predators, but now we know why. The scent of anoth?er's blood drives us dangerously out of control. We'd kill so indiscriminately we'd be impossible to ignore. In time, we'd be hunted down and destroyed, our strength no defense against their numbers. For the safety of all of us, we have to Hunt apart. But we don't have to be apart. Given enough time, territorial imperatives can be overcome.’’

Henry raised his hand, palm up toward her. When she mirrored the motion, he moved his hand toward hers. They never touched. ’’Mostly overcome,’’ he said with a sad smile, letting his arm drop down to his side.

Vicki nodded, her smile perhaps more rueful than sad. ’’Mostly,’’ she agreed. ’’Before Mike gets back, I want to thank you for what you did in that clearing.’’ Her expression changed as she looked back at that night, back at what she'd almost destroyed. ’’I couldn't stop myself. I was going to kill Sullivan no matter how much Mike would have hated me for it.’’

’’I know. You may have been an adult when you came to this life, but you're still a child in it. Greater control will come in time. It's the hardest thing our kind has to learn.’’ Looking down at the lights of the city, his city, he listened for a moment to its heartbeat. ’’That, and how to hide what we are without becoming less than we are.’’ He paused again then continued gravely. ’’You can't let the detective know what you're capable of, Vicki. He won't be able to stand it.’’

’’What are you talking about? He knows... ’’

’’No. He thinks he knows. It's not the same thing. Tell me, how did you feel that night in the warehouse?’’

’’You ought to know, your hands were doing the feeling.’’

’’Vicki!’’

Arms folded across her chest, she shook her head. ’’I don't like to think about it.’’

He turned to face her, and his eyes were dark. ’’How did you feel?’’

’’I don't know.’’

’’Yes, you do.’’

After a moment of facing herself in his gaze, she said quietly, ’’Free. I felt free.’’

The darkness lifted. ’’Can he ever know that?’’ Henry didn't wait for her to answer. ’’There are very few we can trust with what we are and fewer still of them with all we are.’’

’’You were Mystery to me... ’’ The memory came out of her mortal life.

’’Then be Mystery to him.’’

’’You're not going to walk us to the van?’’ Vicki asked as Celluci lifted his hockey bag onto his shoulder.

Henry shook his head, glancing around the bor?rowed condo. ’’No, I don't think so. I'll say good-bye here and start cleaning up.’’

’’Hey! I cleaned up!’’

’’Who cleaned up?’’ Celluci grunted.

Vicki elbowed him in the ribs, careful of her strength but hard enough that he felt it. ’’I helped.’’

’’I'm sure you did,’’ Henry broke in before they started fighting. ’’I merely want to be sure that there are no questions left behind.’’

’’You can't trust me to have taken care of that?’’

’’It's not a matter of trust, Vicki. It's a matter of responsibility. My territory, my responsibility. If I visit you in Toronto, it will be your responsibility.’’

Celluci started. ’’You're not serious, Fitzroy? I mean, good God, she was territorial before she changed!’’

’’Calm down, Mike, you'll burst something. He was making a joke.’’ Her expression dared Henry to chal?lenge that assessment. ’’Good-bye, old man, I'll call when I get home.’’

Henry nodded and matched her tone-better to keep it light. There was, after all, no need for maudlin farewells. ’’Take care, kid, and try to remember you don't know everything.’’

Vicki grinned. ’’Yet. Come on, Mike.’’

’’In a minute. I want to talk to Fitzroy.’’ When she paused, he gave her a shove toward the door. ’’Alone.’’

’’Guy talk?’’ She glanced between them. Henry looked enigmatic, but that was hardly surprising. Cel?luci looked belligerent, and that was no more surpris?ing. If she couldn't trust them alone together, then she and Henry hadn't actually accomplished anything. Just because Mike couldn't trust her and Henry alone... ’’Okay.’’ It didn't sound okay, but she got the word out and that was what mattered. ’’I'll meet you at the van.’’

When the door closed behind her, neither man spoke. After a few moments Henry said, ’’She's on the elevator.’’

’’Let's make sure she stays on.’’ After a moment, when Henry nodded, he said, ’’There was just one thing I wanted to ask you. That night in the clearing, why did you kill Sullivan?’’

’’If Sullivan had lived, what would we have done with him?’’

’’You didn't have to do anything with him. The worst he could've done was tell the doctor I'd es?caped-something she found out anyway when Swanson found the body.’’

’’And without that body, Ms. Chou would never have gotten the footage for her expose.’’

’’After the fact,’’ Celluci pointed out grimly. ’’Why did you kill him?’’

’’That's not the question you want to ask me, Detec?tive.’’ Abruptly, he dropped the Prince-of-Man man?ner. Michael Celluci deserved more honesty than that. ’’I won't give you the answer you're looking for, Mike. You'll have to ask her.’’

’’Will she tell me?’’

’’She is Vampire. Nightwalker.’’

’’Like you.’’

Henry almost smiled, would have had Celluci not sounded so painfully serious. ’’No,’’ he said gently. ’’Not like me. In fact, I'd be willing to believe she is not like any of us. But she is still the woman you fell in love with.’’

’’And the woman you fell in love with?’’

’’The emotional bond, the love, if you will, that causes us to offer our blood to a mortal never survives the change.’’ They were his words to Vicki during their first conversation. He opened his mouth to repeat them and found himself saying, ’’Yes,’’ instead.

To Henry's surprise, Celluci held out his hand. ’’Good-bye, Fitzroy. Thank you.’’

Henry took it, released it, and stood alone a mo?ment later in the empty condo, Vicki's scent sur?rounding him. He missed her already, but the future that he'd thought would be as unchanging as four hun?dred and fifty years of the past stretched out before him suddenly filled with infinite possibilities.

It had taken her seven nights-Only seven? He counted back and shook his head. Just one short week-to completely overturn something that had been considered from the beginning of their kind an immutable part of their nature.

Seven nights.

He couldn't wait to see what she'd do with eternity.

They talked about nothing much until they were outside the city heading up into the mountains lis?tening to a local easy listening station. The news was over, the police had discovered four bodies buried in the clearing where Ronald Swanson had been found, and teams were continuing to search. Dr. Mui's fi?nances had come to light and Patricia Chou was piec?ing the story together for network television. The weather was expected to be clear and hot for the next few days without the ubiquitous showers.

Celluci leaned back in the passenger seat and stared out the open window at the shadows of trees flicking by in the night. As usual, she was driving too fast. ’’Vicki?’’ I won't give you the answer you're looking for, Mike. You'll have to ask her. ’’If Henry hadn't killed Sullivan, were you going to?’’

The road seemed impossibly narrow. Vicki's eyes locked on the yellow line as the night outside the frag?ile barrier of the headlights closed in. The memory of rage tightened her fingers around the steering wheel.

’’Vicki?’’

He didn't want the truth. Not really. She hadn't actually needed Henry to tell her that. She could feel him waiting for her answer. She could smell his fear. ’’No. Of course not. You asked me not to.’’

Vampire. Nightwalker.

’’She is still the woman you fell in love with.... ’’

’’Mike?’’ Her turn to throw a question down be?tween them. ’’You believe me, don't you?’’

’’Yeah, of course I believe you.’’ He turned to touch her shoulder, uncertain if he was comforting or reas?suring or if it mattered. ’’You've always been a lousy liar.’’

On the radio, the sports report ended, Seattle hav?ing beaten the Jays nine to three at the Skydome.

’’You're listening to CHQM.’’ The DJ could've been any one of a hundred DJs they'd heard across the country. ’’And here's a song for all you star-crossed lovers... ’’

Be Mystery to him. No, that wasn't how it worked with Mike. Glancing away from the road, Vicki grinned at him. ’’You think this one's for us?’’

’’... their love may not be paying the rent, but they've still got each other. Yes, it's Sonny and Cher and 'I Got You, Babe.'’’

Mike grabbed Vicki's wrist as she reached forward to turn off the radio. ’’No. Leave it. I think I'm start?ing to like it.’’ He wrapped his warm fingers around her cool ones and brought them to his lips. ’’Which just goes to prove that you can get used to anything in time.’’

A moment later, he tightened his grip and growled, ’’Almost anything. Don't. Sing. Along.’’

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