Blood Lines Chapter Eight


'Did you ever find those papers you misplaced?’’

'Papers?’’ Celluci asked, holding open the restaurant door.

'The papers your cousin came over to the museum for.’’ Dr. Shane shook her head at his blank expression. ’’You called her yesterday, asked her to check for them at the museum after work??’’

All at once, Celluci understood. ’’Oh, that cousin. Those papers.’’ He wondered if Vicki had left him in the dark on purpose or if it just hadn't occurred to her to fill him in on their new relationship. ’’They turned up this afternoon at the office. I guess I should've called to let you know.’’ He tried a charming smile and made a mental note to take care of Vicki later. ’’I did call to ask you to dinner.’’

'So you did.’’

She didn't appear particularly charmed, but neither did she appear completely immune.

Celluci was having a little trouble deciding how to approach the evening. Rachel Shane could have information that would help them find and capture the mummy, which meant he'd have to question her and, to complicate matters, he couldn't question her directly or she'd want to know why. He couldn't tell her why.

’’Look, this is where things stand: the mummy that killed Dr. Rax is now rampaging through the city and we need your knowledge to catch it. ’’

’’And where did this mummy come from?’’

’’The sarcophagus in your workroom. ’’

’’But I told you that was empty. ’’

’’The mummy messed with your mind. ’’

’’Excuse me, waiter, could you call 911? I'm having dinner with a crazy man. ’’

No. Telling her would merely cut off the only source of information they had. A scientist trained to pull knowledge out of bits of old bone and pottery simply wouldn't believe that a few of those old bones got up and committed murder on the say-so of a homicide detective, a smart-mouthed PI, and a? a romance writer. She'd need proof and he simply didn't have any.

Telling her would also ensure that he'd never see her again, but with four people dead what she thought of him personally became significantly less important.

When it came right down to it, he needed the information and he'd have to use her interest in him-or, more exactly, her perception of his interest in her-to get it. He'd once watched Vicki pump a man dry by spending two hours batting her eyelashes and interjecting a breathless ’’Oh really?’’ into every pause in the conversation. He wouldn't have to sink that low, but even so, Rachel Shane deserved better. God willing, he'd get a chance to make it up to her another time.

As dinner progressed, he had no trouble getting her to talk about herself and her work. The police had long since learned to exploit the human fondness for self-exposure and an amazing number of crimes were solved every year when the perpetrator just couldn't keep quiet any longer and told all. Nor was it difficult to steer the conversation sideways into ancient Egypt.

'I have the feeling,’’ she said as the waiter set desert and coffee on the table, ’’that I should only have given you my name, rank, and serial number. I haven't been so thoroughly interrogated since I defended my thesis.’’

Celluci pushed the curl of hair back off his forehead and searched for something to say. He had, perhaps, been probing a little deeply. And he had, perhaps, not been as subtle as he could have been. The desire to be honest kept fighting with the need to be devious. ’’It's just that it's a relief not to be talking about police work,’’ he told her at last.

A chestnut brow rose. ’’Now, why don't I believe that,’’ she mused, stirring cream into her coffee. ’’You're trying to find something out, something important to you.’’ Lifting her chin, she looked him squarely in the eye. ’’You'd find out a lot faster, if you'd come right out and asked me. And then you wouldn't have wasted an evening.’’

'I don't consider the evening to be a waste,’’ he protested.

'Ah. Then you found out what you needed to know.’’

'Damnit, Vicki, don't twist my words!’’

Both brows rose, their movement cutting the silence to shreds. ’’Vicki?’’

He did say Vicki. Oh, shit. ’’She's an old colleague. We argue a lot. It just seems natural that a protest like that would have her name attached.’’

The brows remained up.

Celluci sighed and spread his hands in surrender. ’’Rachel, I'm sorry. You were right, I did need information, but I can't tell you why.’’

'Why not?’’ The brows were down, but the tone was decidedly cool.

'It would put you in too much danger.’’ He waited for her protest, and when it didn't come he realized he was waiting for Vicki's protest.

'Does this have anything to do with Dr. Rax's death?’’

'Only indirectly.’’

'I thought you were taken off the case.’’

He shrugged. Anything he said at this point could give her ideas and telling her about hiring Vicki-not to mention Vicki's supernatural sidekick-would only complicate things further.

'You know I'll help in any way I can.’’

Most of the people Celluci met divided the man and the cop into two very neat and separate packages. Certain subtle differences in tone and bearing indicated Rachel Shane had just closed the first package and opened the second.

She kept him in police officer mode for the rest of the evening, and when he dropped her off at her condo he had to admit that, although he felt like he'd just finished Archaeology 101, as far as dates went, it hadn't been exactly a success. She obviously had no intention of inviting him in.

'Thank you for dinner, Mike.’’

'You're welcome. Can I call you again?’’

'Well, I tell you what.’’ She looked up at him, her expression speculative. ’’You decide you want to see me and not the Assistant Curator of the Royal Ontario Museum's Department of Egyptology and you dump the hidden agendas and I'll think about it.’’ Tossing a half smile back over her shoulder, she went into the building.

Celluci shook his head and slid back into his car. In a number of ways Rachel reminded him of Vicki. Only not quite so? so?

'So Vicki,’’ he decided at last, pulling out of the driveway and turning east toward Huron Street without really thinking. It wasn't until he was searching for a parking space, which was, as usual, in short supply around Vicki's apartment, that he wondered what the hell he was doing.

He drove twice more around the block before a space opened up and he decided he didn't need an excuse for being here;he didn't even particularly need a reason.

When Vicki heard the key in the lock, she knew it had to be Celluci and, for one brief moment, she entertained two completely opposing reactions. By the time he got the door open, she'd managed to force order on the mental chaos and was ready for him.

If he thinks he's going to get sympathy after Dr. Shane dumped him early, he can think again. ’’What the hell are you doing here?’’

'Why?’’ He threw his jacket over the brass hook in the hall. ’’Are you expecting Fitzroy?’’

'What's it to you?’’ She pushed up her glasses and rubbed at her eyes. ’’As a matter of fact, I'm not. He's writing tonight.’’

'Good for him. How long has this coffee been sitting here?’’

'About an hour.’’ Settling her glasses back on her nose, she watched him fill a mug and rummage in the fridge for cream. He seemed, well, if she had to put a name to it, she'd say melancholy came closest. Christ, maybe Dr. Shane broke his heart. Her own heart gave a curious twist. She ignored it. ’’So. How went the date?’’

He took a swallow of coffee. Two strides brought him across the tiny kitchen and up against the back of Vicki's chair. ’’It went. What's with all the books?’’

'Research. Believe it or not, a history degree is appallingly short on coverage of ancient Egypt.’’

Behind her, Celluci snorted. ’’You're not going to find much help from historians.’’

Vicki tilted her head back and smiled smugly up at him. ’’That's why I'm researching myths and legends. So, uh, Dr. Shane didn't respond to the celebrated Celluci charm? Guaranteed to get a confession at fifty paces?’’

He pushed her head forward, put down the coffee cup, and dug his fingers into her shoulders. ’’I didn't turn it on.’’

She sucked in a sudden breath;part pain, part pleasure. ’’Why not?’’ This is kind of like picking a scab, she decided. Once you get started, it's hard to stop.

'Because she deserved better. Bad enough I spent the evening under false pretenses. I had no intention of compounding it. Christ, you're tense.’’

'It's not tension, it's muscle tone. What do you mean, she deserved better? You've got a lot of faults, Celluci, but I never thought false modesty was-ouch-one of them.’’

'She deserved honesty. She deserved to have me thinking of her, not of how much she could tell me.’’

Well, as my mother always says, if you don't want to know, don't ask. ’’You liked her.’’

'Don't be an ass, Vicki. I wouldn't have asked her out to dinner if I didn't like her-I could have picked her brains in her office a hell of a lot more cheaply. I find her attractive, intelligent, self-confident?’’

Of course, the trouble with picking scabs is when you get deep enough they start to bleed.

'? and, as a result, I found I spent most of the evening thinking about you.’’ He gave her shoulders a final dig, picked up his coffee, and went into the living room.

Vicki opened her mouth, closed it, and tried to sort out some kind of response. From the beginning, they'd never talked about their relationship;they'd accepted it;they'd left it alone. When they got back together last spring, it had been under those same parameters. That son of a bitch is changing the rules? But beneath the protest she recognized a surge of relief. He spent most of the evening thinking about me. And beneath the relief, a hint of panic. Now what?

He was waiting for her to say something but she didn't know what to say. Oh, God, please, send a distraction!

The knock on the door jerked her around so fast her glasses slid down her nose. ’’Come in.’’

'I asked for a distraction, not a disaster,’’ she muttered a moment later.

Celluci snapped the recliner forward. ’’I thought you were supposed to be writing tonight,’’ he growled, standing and scowling down the hall.

Henry smiled, deliberately provoking. He had known Celluci was in the apartment before he knocked;he could hear his voice, his movements, his heartbeat. But the mortal had the days;he would not have the darkness as well. ’’I was writing. I finished.’’

'Another book?’’ The word book came out as if it were something that turned up on the soles of shoes after a brisk walk through a barnyard.

'No.’’ He hung his trench coat up beside Celluci's jacket. ’’But I finished the work I intended to do tonight.’’

'Must be nice as it isn't quite midnight. Still, it's not like it's real work.’’

'Well, I'm sure it's not as strenuous as taking someone out to dinner, then maintaining the illusion that you're interested in her when you're really only interested in what she knows.’’

Celluci shot a furious look at Vicki, who winced and said hurriedly, ’’Low blow, Henry. Mike had to do that, he didn't want to.’’

Henry moved into the kitchen, which put the two men, although in separate rooms, less than ten feet apart with Vicki, still sitting at the table, squarely between them. He inclined his head graciously. ’’You're quite right. It was a low blow. And I apologize.’’

'The f*k you do.’’

'Are you calling me a liar?’’ Henry's voice had gone deceptively soft;the voice of a man who had been raised to command, the voice of a man with centuries of experience behind him.

Celluci couldn't help but respond. His anger didn't have a snowflake's chance in hell of making an impression against the other man and he knew it. ’’No,’’ he forced the words out through clenched teeth, ’’I'm not calling you a liar.’’

Vicki looked from one to the other and had a strong desire to go out for pizza. The currents running between the two were so strong that when the phone rang she felt she had to fight against their pull to answer it.

'Hi, honey. It's after eleven and the rates are down so I thought I'd give you a call before I turned in.’’

Just what the evening needed. ’’Bad timing, Mom.’’

'Why? What's wrong?’’

'I've, uh, got company.’’

'Oh.’’ While not exactly disapproving, the two letters carried a disproportionate amount of conversational weight. ’’Michael or Henry, dear?’’

'Uh?’’ Vicki knew the moment she paused that it was a mistake. Her mother excelled at reading silence.

'Both of them?’’

'Trust me, Mom, it wasn't my idea.’’ She frowned. ’’Are you laughing?’’

'I wouldn't think of it.’’

'You are laughing.’’

'I'll call you tomorrow, dear. I can't wait to hear how this comes out.’’

'Mother, don't hang?’’ Vicki glared at the receiver, then slammed it back down onto the phone. ’’Well, I hope you're happy.’’ She shot up out of the chair and kicked it back out of her way. ’’I'm going to be hearing about this for the rest of my life.’’ Glaring from Celluci to Henry and back, she raised her voice an octave. ’’'Don't say I didn't warn you, dear. Well, what do you expect when you're seeing two young men? I'll tell you what I expect, I expect you both to act like intelligent humans beings and not like two dogs squabbling over a bone. I can't see any reason why all three of us can't get along!’’

'You can't?’’ Henry asked, mildly incredulous.

Vicki, recognizing sarcasm, turned on him and snapped, ’’Shut up, Henry!’’

'She always was a lousy liar,’’ Celluci muttered.

'And you can shut up, too!’’ She took a deep breath and shoved her glasses up her nose. ’’Now then, seeing as we're all here together, I think we should be discussing the case. Do either of you have any problems with that?’’

Celluci snorted. ’’I wouldn't dare.’’

Henry spread his hands, his meaning plain.

They moved into the living room, all three of them aware this was only a postponement. That was fine with Vicki;if they had things to work out between them, they could do it without her in the line of fire.

* * *

'? so there's no obvious reason why it murdered Trembley and her partner but only mind-wiped the people at the museum.’’ Celluci took another swallow of coffee, grimaced at the taste, and continued. ’’The only difference between the two cases is that the people at the museum spent three days close to it while Trembley saw it for maybe three minutes.’’

'So maybe it takes time and proximity to mess with someone's head.’’ Vicki chewed thoughtfully on the end of her pencil for a moment then spit it out and added, ’’I wonder why it killed that custodian?’’

Celluci shrugged. ’’Because it could? Maybe it was just flexing its muscles after being cooped up for so long.’’

'Maybe it was hungry.’’ Henry leaned forward to make his point. ’’The custodian just happened to be closest when it came fully awake.’’

'Then what did it eat?’’ Celluci sneered. ’’There wasn't a mark on that body and there sure as shit wasn't anything missing.’’

Henry sat back and let the shadows in the corner of the living room cover him again. ’’That's not quite accurate. When the custodian was found, he was missing his life.’’

'And you think this mummy ate it?’’

'Mortals have always had legends of those who extend their own lives by devouring the lives of others.’’

'Yeah, and those are legends.’’

The shadows couldn't hide Henry's pointed smile. ’’So am I. So, for that matter, are mummies who walk. And demons. And werewolves?’’

'All right, all right! I get the idea.’’ Celluci shoved one hand up through his hair. He really hated all this supernatural bullshit. Why him? Why not Detective Henderson? Henderson wore a crystal on a leather thong, for Christ's sake. And how come before Vicki got mixed up with Fitzroy the closest thing to a supernatural occurrence in the city was when the Leafs managed to win two in a row? Just because you don't see something doesn't mean it's not there. Okay, so he knew the answer to that one. He sighed and wondered how many previously unsolved crimes could be attributed to ghoulies and ghosties and things that went bump in the night. As much as he might want to, he couldn't blame this whole mess on Fitzroy. ’’So, why did it kill Dr. Rax?’’

'It was still hungry and Dr. Rax came into the workroom alone.’’

'But it must've known that two bodies dying in the same place the same way would start an investigation. Why go to all the trouble to hide its tracks and then do something so stupid?'’’

'Dr. Rax discovered it as it was leaving and it overreacted.’’

'Oh, great,’’ Vicki rolled her eyes, ’’an impulsive mummy.’’ She yawned and resettled her glasses with the end of her pencil. ’’At least we know it can make mistakes. Unfortunately, it looks like its god survived as well.’’

Celluci's brows climbed for his hairline. ’’And how do we know that?’’

'Last night at the museum?’’

'Wait a minute,’’ Celluci held up his hand. ’’You went to the museum last night? After closing? You broke into the Royal Ontario Museum? He might not be aware of this,’’ Celluci jabbed a finger at Henry then swung around to glare at Vicki, ’’but you know damn well that's against the law.’’

Vicki sighed. ’’Look, we didn't break in anywhere;we didn't disturb anything;we had a quick look around. It's late. I'm tired. If you're not going to arrest me, just drop it.’’ She paused, knowing there wasn't a thing Celluci could do but accept it, smiled, and continued. ’’We found a sketch on Dr. Rax's desk, then found a corresponding illustration in a book of ancient gods and goddesses, also on Dr. Rax's desk.

'So?’’

'The illustration looked at me.’’ She swallowed and tucked the pencil behind an ear so she could wipe palms gone suddenly damp on her jeans. ’’Its eyes glowed red and it looked at me.’’

Celluci snorted. ’’How much light was in the room?’’

'I know what I saw, Mike.’’ Her eyes narrowed. ’’And RP does not cause hallucinations.’’

He studied her face for a moment, then he nodded. ’’Does this god have a name?’’

'Yeah. Akh?’’

Henry's hand was tightly clamped over her mouth before either of them saw him move. ’’When you call the gods by name,’’ he said softly, ’’you attract their attention. Not a good idea.’’

He dropped his hand and Celluci waited for the explosion;Vicki, more than most, didn't take well to being summarily silenced. When no explosion occurred, he could only assume that she felt Fitzroy's action justified and a shiver of disquiet ran down his spine. If this ancient god had Victory Nelson spooked, he didn't want to run into it.

Vicki, her fingers still wrapped around Henry's wrist, wet her lips and tried not to think of those burning eyes taking a longer look. After a moment, she let go. ’’I think we can safely assume, that? this god and the mummy are connected.’’

'The mummy is probably the god's high priest,’’ Celluci suggested. When Vicki and Henry both turned to stare, he shrugged. ’’Hey, I watch horror movies.’’

'Not exactly a credible source for research,’’ Henry pointed out as he returned to his chair in the shadows.

'Yeah, well, we don't all have Count Dracula as a close personal friend.’’

'Gentlemen, it's going on two in the morning;can we get on with this before I fall over?’’ Vicki yawned and leaned back in the recliner. ’’As it happens, I think Celluci's right.’’

'Oh, joyous day,’’ he muttered.

She ignored him. ’’The wheels on Trembley's car were turned, but the car continued to move in a straight line. That only happens if some outside force is applied. There was no visible outside force. According to the books I've been reading, priests of ancient Egypt were also wizards.’’

'You're saying the mummy killed Trembley with magic?’’ Celluci asked incredulously.

'All the pieces fit.’’

In the silence that followed, the sound of the kitchen tap dripping away the seconds could be clearly heard.

'Oh, what the hell,’’ Celluci sighed. ’’I've already believed seven impossible things before breakfast, what's one more.’’

'So,’’ Vicki ticked the points off on her fingers as she listed them, ’’what we're trying to find is the reanimated wizard-priest of a god who may or may not live on the life force of others, who can twist the minds of those near to it, and who can magically kill at a distance.’’

'Great.’’ Celluci yawned into his fist. ’’And in this corner, the Three Stooges.’’

'Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk,’’ Henry agreed.

Vicki jerked forward and stared at Henry in horror while Celluci gave him something close to a nod of approval. ’’I don't believe this,’’ she muttered. Vicki had a theory that the Three Stooges did se*-linked comedy as she'd never known a woman who thought they were funny. This just proved her theory as Y chromosomes were about the only thing Henry and Celluci had in common. Vampires are supposed to have more taste! ’’If we could get back on topic, maybe you two would like to hear the rest of it.’’

Celluci, who dearly wanted to do one routine just to provoke a reaction from Vicki, decided against it when he realized who he'd have to do the routine with. The Stooges were something you did with your buddies, not with? romance writers. ’’Go on,’’ he growled.

Henry merely nodded. He no more wanted something in common with Celluci than Celluci wanted with him. Except, of course, the one thing that neither of us is willing to give up?

'Okay?’’A yawn cut her off and, although she'd slept for a while in the early evening, Vicki knew that if she didn't fall over soon there'd be no way she'd be conscious for dawn. Let's wrap this up fast and get to bed. ’’Okay, ignoring the wizard aspect for the moment, what is it that priests want? Congregations. Because their gods want followers. And I think I know the congregation this god's trying for.’’ While Celluci's face grew dark, she outlined her meeting with Inspector Cantree. ’’It's after the police force, not just in Toronto but across the province. Its own private little army and the perfect start to a secular power base.’’

'Why would a god have any interest in acquiring a secular power base?’’ Henry asked.

Vicki snorted. ’’Don't ask me, ask the Catholic Church. Look, the god wants the congregation, the priest wants the power base-somehow, all things considered, I can't see this guy as altruistic-and the police provide both.’’

'Then why across the province? Why not begin with just the city?’’

'Cities aren't autonomous enough, they're too tightly controlled by higher levels of government. But if you control a province, you control a country within a country. Look at Quebec?’’

'Weak, Vicki, very weak,’’ Celluci snarled, finally giving his anger voice, unsure which infuriated him more, that the mummy would dare to subvert the police or that Vicki thought it could be done. ’’You have no proof that this new adviser is the mummy.’’

'I have a hunch,’’ Vicki told him, her voice edged. ’’That's what you started with and look where it's gotten us. Cantree's repeating messages from the Chief like they were holy writ. You know that's not like him.’’ They locked gazes. When Celluci looked away, Vicki continued. ’’One of us has to go to the Solicitor General's party on Saturday.’’

'One of us?’’ Henry asked quietly.

'All right, you.’’ Snapping the recliner upright, Vicki laid her forearms across her knees. ’’Over half the people there would know Mike or me, so neither of us can do it. Besides, it's invitation only and you're good at getting past?’’

'Social obstacles,’’ he supplied when she paused. ’’You're right. I'll have to do it.’’

'What if Vicki's wrong and the mummy isn't there?’’

Henry shrugged. ’’Then I'll leave early, no harm done.’’

'And if she's right?’’

Henry smiled. ’’Then I'll take care of it.’’

Celluci remembered a dark barn and pale fingers closing around the throat of a man with only seconds to live. He averted his eyes from the smile. ’’You think you're up to this wizard-priest?’’

Actually, he had no idea, but he wasn't about to let Celluci know that. ’’I am not without resources.’’

'Then it's settled.’’ Vicki stood and stretched, snapping the kinks out of her spine. ’’This little session has been very useful. We'll all get together after the party and talk again. Thank you both for coming. Go home.’’ She made it pretty obvious who she meant.

'I'll be there just before dawn,’’ she told Henry at the door, dropping her voice too low for Celluci to hear. ’’Don't start without me.’’

He lifted her hand and lightly kissed the inside of her wrist. ’’I wouldn't dream of it,’’ he told her softly and was gone.

Celluci came out of the bathroom and reached for his jacket. ’’I'm on stakeout for the next few nights, so I won't be around, but when this is over you and I have to talk.’’

'What about?’’

He reached over and with one finger, gently slid her glasses up her nose. ’’What do you think?’’ The same finger dropped down to trace the line of her jaw.

'Mike, you know?’’

'I know.’’ He moved out into the hall. ’’But we're still going to talk.’’

The door closed behind him and Vicki collapsed against it, fumbling for the lock. For the next few hours, all she wanted was a chance to sleep. For the next few days, she'd concentrate on stopping the mummy. And after that?

'Oh, hell,’’ she stumbled into the bedroom, yanking her sweatshirt off over her head. ’’After that, maybe something'll come up?’’

He wanted the dawns he remembered where a great golden disk rose into an azure sky, burning the shadows away from the desert until each individual grain of sand blazed with light. He wanted to feel the heat lapping against his shoulders and the stone still cool from the darkness against the soles of his feet. This northern dawn was a pallid imitation, a pale circle of a sun barely showing through a leaden sky. He shivered and walked in off the balcony.

Soon he would have to deal with the woman his god had chosen. Over the next few days he would use the key to her ka that he had been given and lift the manner of her despair off the surface of her mind.

His lord never demanded death, feeding instead on the lesser, self-perpetuating energies generated by the darker aspects of life. In time, of course, the chosen ones usually prayed for an ending. Occasionally, they achieved it.

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