Vicki gasped as Henry stroked his hand up her calf like a sculptor, sending waves of heat through her body and thrill across her skin. She watched him with wide, dark eyes as his fingers made their way to her knee. She squirmed, and he licked his lower lip in delight. A ticklish spot. Both hands grazed both knees and she squealed, laughing and breathless. He laughed with her, reveling in each discovery and smiling his broad, dimpled smile.
She reached for his face, rising to meet him, touching his eyes, caressing his cheek. Her breath was hot on his skin just before they kissed, energetic and joyous. Vicki felt him smile as their tongues darted and bubbles of giggles rose inside. God, she felt young.
And he felt young - smooth and perfect skin wherever she touched, strong bundles of muscle that rolled under her palms. She drew her nails across his back as she leaned away and watched as his eyes closed with a shudder. A thousand times wouldn't be enough. Then, there were new hands. Familiar. Mike's. They were calloused and heavy and tracing a line up her spine that ended in a shiver.
Mike started at her shoulder, pressing, kissing, tasting his way to the sensitive curve of her neck. She fell against him with an unbidden moan and felt Henry draw close, pressing their bodies together. Mike switched sides, nibbling at her neck, burying a hand in her tawny hair, and Henry slid a silky hand down her inner thigh, eliciting another gasp of pleasure.
They were cheek to cheek as he whispered in her ear, "I think we can do better," and flashed a smile.
As though of one mind, both men stroked their hands down her arms in a symmetry that made her whimper. Twin dragons, they raced over every curve, filling any emptiness the other had left. Vicki felt dizzy and closed her eyes, abandoning any semblance of control. There was only skin, cries, and panting, broken by laughter from Henry's tender mercies. They were maddening. And at last Vicki sought Mike's hands, entwining her fingers with his. He held her arms wide, held her open, as she drew deep ragged breaths. Henry traced a hand lightly across the bronze skin of her throat and then replaced it with the soft touch of his lips. His hair brushed gossamer against her breasts as he moved. Lower. God.
The car door slamming as Henry returned bearing coffee shocked Vicki awake. Her skin was slick, and she was panting, still feeling hands and heat and ache, passion leaving a trace. She stared at him across the short distance. She watched him half-smile in confusion and set the coffee aside. He must have said something, but all she could see were his lips, perfect and waiting. And all she could feel was trembling fire. Vicki dove, snatched Henry's shirt in her fists, and captured him in a kiss. She was fierce and insistent, sucking on his lower lip, exploring like her imagination had dreamed. He kept up, yielding to each demand.
Vicki sank back in her seat, dragging him over the center console. She broke the connection between them just long enough to recline the seat and slide it back as far as it would go. She felt crazy, but she needed to touch, to be touched.
Henry took a brief pause to collect himself. "Vicki . . ."
"Shut up." She looked at him with wide, hungry eyes and gripped his shirt again.
As his lady demanded . . . Henry slid over as best he could, bracing himself above Vicki with one hand against the wall of the car, the other on her seat. He looked down, and her face was screwed in concentration. She was undoing the buttons of his shirt as quickly as her rushed, wild body would allow. The awkward and cramped space suddenly didn't seem so important.
Fitzroy hummed in pleasure as Vicki began running her hands over his chest and stomach. She pulled him a little lower, and her mouth found purchase on his neck. Hot and wet. She kissed and sucked until he moaned, and then she shifted. Henry shuddered and growled lowly as her blunt teeth raked over one nipple. He arched and pressed, his eyes sweeping drunkenly around the car, down at Vicki, and errantly out into the night. Where their quarry was passing under a streetlight and quickly disappearing.
"Shit," Henry gasped. He sneered and with effort threw himself into the driver's seat.
Vicki grabbed for his arm. "What is it?"
He looked at her pointedly and then to the rear view mirror. The haze of lust began burning away as Vicki rolled and peered out the back window.
"Shit," she said, with an entirely different inflection.
Henry started the car and swung it around, still shaking some. The man they were after, Ciaran Burness, was an assistant curator at the Royal Ontario Museum-one suspected of having lifted a number of small artifacts. Company policy prohibited firing employees without proof, so Vicki had been hired to investigate.
So far, Ciaran had hit two bars after work, while his tails sat outside, restless and bored. Mostly. He hadn't brought anything in or accompanied anyone out either time.
Henry pulled the car to the next corner beyond where he'd seen the man vanish. There was a pregnant silence as Vicki's pulse slowed and Fitzroy pulled into a gas station lot filled with cars waiting to be repaired. She threw open the door before the engine stopped and was half-way across the street in the temperate darkness when Henry caught up.
He leaned in a little, rebuttoning his shirt as they went. "You kissed me," he said with a smile.
She struggled for a response but emerged with only a "Yeah."
"I don't do rainchecks," she replied, her tone a bit colder than she'd intended. She winced.
Henry hesitated, pinned to the ground by the barb, a hurt look clouding his eyes. It was a few steps before Vicki felt the emptiness beside her and stopped. She cast a look over her shoulder.
It was a small gesture, but it was heartfelt. And it was enough. Henry caught up to her, though he moved with less energy than before. The street they turned on to housed a number of restaurants and small businesses. Many of them were closed at such a late hour.
"Did you see where he went?" Vicki whispered.
Henry just shook his head.
Vicki chose to walk like she was strolling, giving each storefront an interested but innocuous once over. She scanned the street for signs of life, but nothing jumped out. The cleaner's seemed empty, as did the bagel shop. Then there was Finn's and a record store.
Vicki peered up at the sign above her head.
"Seems a bit early for a bar to be closed, don't you think?"
Henry wasn't paying attention. He had his ear to the window of the cleaner's. He pressed a finger to his lips for silence and closed his eyes to listen. Vicki drew close, sneakers soundless on the sidewalk, and watched him.
"People are talking," he said lowly.
"You can't make it out?"
He shook his head, stepping away. "They must be at the back."
She smirked and hurried down the street to the closest alley. No light reached the sheltered corridor, and she stopped, unable to see the way.
"Henry!" she whispered.
He touched her arm at the elbow. "It's going to rain soon," he added sullenly, drawing a deep lungful of air.
She eyed him, amused as his apparent displeasure. "I thought I was the Wicked Witch."
"More like the Tin Woodsman."
"Does that make you, the Cowardly Lion?" She shot back with a smile.
He drew close and brushed up against her ear, letting one warm breath pass. "The Hungry Tiger." And then he slipped around her into the darkness.
With one hand resting on her partner's back, Vicki followed, wondering at the reference, but unwilling to give Henry the satisfaction of asking. They emerged from the alley into the lighted square behind the shops, full of dumpsters and bags of trash. Vicki took the lead again, staying pressed against the building as she stepped toward the only open door on the lot. When even she could hear men's voices, she stopped.
Henry laid a hand on her shoulder, and she turned. He tapped his heart rhythmically and held up four fingers.
"Can you hear them?" She spoke almost inaudibly.
The vampire nodded once and set to listening, his brow furrowing in concentration. Vicki stood poised and tense, like a drawn bow.
"Ciaran's there," Fitzroy offered.
Vicki waited impatiently for the play by play.
"They're talking about a . . . robbery." Henry frowned and caught her eyes. "Celtic Mysteries exhibit."
Vicki's face lit up. Getting caught pulling a heist was as red-handed as you could ever hope for.
"They're discussing opening night, the number of tickets sold, the staff who will be on hand." The vampire's face turned grim. "He says it's worth many lives."
Vicki nodded to herself and started creeping back to the alley, away from possible earshot. Henry frowned, confused, but hurried to lead her back in safety and silence.
"Aren't we going to stop them?" he said as they stepped back into the glow of the streetlights.
Vicki flashed a smile. "I thought you didn't like unnecessary risk."
"You do," he said seriously, keeping at her side as she moved briskly to the car.
"What was a sticky-fingered employee is now grand larceny. But! We can't catch them for it before they do it." She got back in the Jag with a growing sense of excitement. She tried hiding her smile under her hand but failed. This would be real action-cops and robbers honest-type normal action.
Henry got in and started the car, reflecting her enthusiasm in his electric smile. "I assume we're going to the opening, then?"
She gave him a sidelong, mischievous glance and a sultry smile. "Wear something nice."
Mike stood in the oppressive, empty light of Mohadevan's morgue peering down at the body of one Geoff Carson. Nine in the morning was far too early to be a homicide cop.
"Detective Celluci," the M.E. said, snapping off her gloves. "Why am I not surprised."
Mike regarded her with curiosity. "And why's that?"
She handed him her preliminary report. "Geoff Carson, 32, black male, came in this morning."
"Yeah," Mike said, looking at his own notes. "They found him at Exhibition Place."
"More precisely, in the fountain at Exhibition Place."
"Cause of death?"
"Drowning," she said with a hint of amusement.
"That fountain's only like six inches deep."
"You're familiar with it?"
He shrugged. "Vic and I used to jog around there sometimes."
She gave a knowing nod. "Well, while it's not impossible for someone to drown in that amount of water, what is unusual is my inability to tell you why."
The detective frowned.
"Blood alcohol levels were normal. No drugs that I can find. No cuts. No abrasions. Not a mark on him. He was, as far as he's been able to tell me, perfectly healthy. And then he drowned."
Mike sighed. "He had help."
She shot him a smirk. "That's for you to determine."
Celluci left, nodding, and returned to his desk to find Crowley waiting for him. Her scowl spoke volumes. He slid Carson's file onto his desk and tried to look pleased to see her.
"You're going to have a bad day Celluci," she said without preamble, handing him a slip of paper with neatly written addresses.
He glanced at the paper and back up at her. Her expression softened some.
"You're not going to like the last one."
"Why not?" He found her almost human-like concern unnerving.
"Because there are kids."
Mike's eyes narrowed as his heart became painfully cinched. He nodded and read over the last address on the list. Kids were always the worst. Before he could say or ask anything more, Crowley turned and marched off.
"What do we got?" Dave, Mike's partner, asked, slinking over from his desk where he'd been watching.
Mike shook his head and handed him the sheet. "Let's go find out." His voice lacked enthusiasm, which seemed only proper. Sometimes he felt like a gravedigger, and he'd never met one of those who wasn't almost as sullen as the people he buried.
The first body was on Adelaide Street West, just off the center of the lane. Mike and Dave ducked under the police tape and strode over to the deceased, where a coroner was already making her assessment. She looked up, and Mike nodded a greeting.
"What've you got?"
She scanned the body up and down. "Sharif al-Safyr, 55. Been dead about nine hours. Neighbors didn't notice him until they started to leave for work this morning."
Celluci nodded and crouched down to look over the victim's face and clothing. They were wet. It had rained some the previous night, as evidenced by a pool of rainwater caught in an asphalt swale not too far from Mr. al-Safyr. The whole road was a craggy mess.
"No signs of trauma. He was found face down in that puddle," she indicated the pool Mike found himself staring at.
He felt a strange flutter inside when he asked, but he had to. "Could he have drowned?"
Gracie stared hard at him and brushed a lock of blond hair behind her ear. She glanced at the film of water barely deep enough for a bird's feet and then back to Sharif's body.
"Not by accident. And you'd have to break his nose to get the nostrils and mouth even close to being underwater."
Mike scribbled some notes down on his pad as the M.E. continued.
"I don't see any bruising, so it seems unlikely to me that that happened."
The detective nodded and looked at her squarely. "As of right now, best guess as to cause of death?"
Gracie pressed her lips into a thin line. "Right now? Heart attack. But an autopsy could easily prove me wrong."
"Thanks, Grace." Mike said, pushing himself to standing. "Call me if you find anything?"
Mike waved Dave toward the car.
"Hey, Mike!" Gracie called after him.
"Tell Dawson I call dibs! He'll know."
Celluci smiled and gave her a wave as he slipped under the yellow tape. Mike let Dave drive to the second scene. He didn't like where this seemed to be going. It could just be circumstance, of course. His mind seeing patterns in the randomness of clouds. He doubted it though. Crowley gave him all three cases for a reason.
"Hey, Mike," Dave said, breaking the heavy silence.
"Shouldn't we hit this playground first? Shaw isn't that far from here."
Mike turned his head slowly and gave his partner a sorrowful look, a deep weariness reflected in his blue eyes.
"Save it for last," he said quietly.
"Dave! Just drive . . . please."
The other man frowned at the wasted time and his partner's uncharacteristic edginess. "Whatever you say."
They sped down Adelaide to the Don Valley Parkway. It was just late enough in the morning for traffic to have eased off to a pleasant level of annoying. Crime scene number two was a bit off the beaten track in the large and heavily wooded Sunnybrook Park. They pulled into a parking lot and followed a uniformed officer down a bike trail, shrouded by a canopy of trees. A green trestle bridge spanned the brook to their right. There was a sharp embankment leading down to the water's rock-strewn edge. From the trail, anyone walking or biking could see a fair way down the brook.
Mike's heart sank a little farther when he spotted Dawson leaning over a body laid out on a dry pebbly bit of riverbed. Part of him had hoped for a nice clean shooting. He shoved his hands in his pockets and ducked under the police barrier.
"Morning Dawson," he called down.
A man Mike's age looked up.
Mike continued, "Gracie says she's got dibs." He half-smiled.
The coroner pursed his lips and then looked down at the soggy corpse of the victim. "I suppose you'd like my assessment."
Dawson stood. "Marco Viela, 22, Latin-American male. Found pretty much where you see him. No-"
"Immediate signs of trauma." Mike's jaw flexed, and Dawson gave him a scrutinizing gaze.
"I would place the time of death at 5 hours ago."
Detective Celluci sighed heavily and kicked a few stones off the embankment. "You suspect drowning."
"I suspect it, but we'll have to-"
"Wait for the autopsy," they said together.
Mike scratched his head in irritation. "Call me when you know."
He waited for Dave to finish gathering details from the assembled witnesses. The woman who called it in didn't have much to offer, really. She rode her bike on that trail every morning. The guy didn't look familiar, not a regular during her usual hours, but she couldn't really be sure. Lots of people pass through the park. She didn't see or hear anything. He was already dead when she found him. Together, the two detectives headed back to the car, Mike quiet and brooding, Dave practically bursting.
"Let it out," Mike said, his voice tight.
"Do we have a serial killer?" Dave demanded, a little excited and a little frightened. "I mean, this shit is weird right? People don't just drown all over the city."
Mike looked at him, a bit relieved. At least he wasn't the only one that was getting spooked. "Maybe. Drowning is an odd method of attack though. I just don't know yet. We need the official reports and whatever forensics can find."
Serial killers were uncommon at best, despite what television would have people believe. Mike didn't want to start a panic any more than he wanted to see another crime scene. Especially this next one.
He hadn't realized he'd come to a stop until Dave bumped him on the arm.
"Why are we avoiding this playground? You know we could have been wrapped up already if you didn't make me drive all the way out-"
"Because it's a playground," Mike said slowly, cutting him off.
Dave returned a blank stare and shrugged. "Whatever man."
Celluci watched him go with a sigh. He'd been sighing a lot this morning, wearing his job like waterlogged cloak. And Dave was certainly no Vicki. The mere thought of her, though, gave him courage, and he resolved to call as soon as he was back at his desk, as soon as this rotten morning had unveiled its full splendor of horror.
The final scene was the Fred Hamilton Playground off Shaw. Unlike the others, this one had drawn a crowd. Why anyone would want to stand around to be witness to this was anyone's guess. Mike suppressed the urge to scream at the throng as he pushed past. They should be at their jobs or with their families. They should leave these people in peace.
The park was on two levels. The upper portion was a natural area of grass and trees. Then came the bocci court and restrooms, both perched at the top of a steep slope that leveled out to a children's playground, complete with sandbox and colorful swing set.
A uniform sat on the only bench next to a bawling woman. 'Must be the mother,' Mike thought. His face took on a stony grimace as he eased himself down the hill toward the center of commotion.
"A wading pool," he said under his breath, oddly not even shocked.
The pool was a concrete cymbal pressed into the ground. A squat cement cylinder in the middle housed the pump and spouts. It only needed to be turned on long enough to fill the shallow depression, so it now sat strangely angular and ugly amidst the natural surroundings.
The bodies of two small children lay on the grass just beside the pool. They were just about to lift them into body bags and cart them away. The detective stared at their small faces. A boy and a girl. They looked about the same age, pale Asian skin not yet turned ashen. They might have been sleeping. His thoughts skipped to his nephew, and Mike's heart ached.
"Detective?" A voice at his side shocked him back.
"Yes, sorry." Mike turned. It was the new M.E. He couldn't remember her name. Barbara? Barbi? Something like that.
"I was beginning to think you wouldn't show."
He gave her a tight smile. "Long morning."
"Tell me about it," she said, turning to watch the gurneys pass. "As you saw, two kids, age eight. Mikomi and Kaisei Arai. It looks like they drowned in the pool, but I won't be able to confirm it until I get them back to the morgue."
"If it was an accident, how come this case went to homicide?"
Barbi shook her head and shrugged. "You're asking the wrong person."
Mike simply nodded and rubbed the bridge of his nose between the eyes. "Thanks. I gotta go . . ." he gestured to the mother.
The M.E. nodded and looked apologetic.
Celluci approached with caution and slow, delicate movements. He sat gingerly next to Mrs. Arai, uncomfortable in the presence of her grief. Even the crowd was oddly quiet. No one laughed or sniggered when she doubled over in a wail that carried until her breath gave out. Mike swallowed and reached out, setting a hand lightly on her shoulder. The woman gasped and bolted upright, taking the briefest moment to regain her strength before collapsing into sobs. She fell against Mike's chest and shook. And he offered her all he had, which was just the willingness to hold on.
There is not a word for a parent who outlives a child. That much grief does not know the bounds of language and will not suffer the indignity of being restrained. Without thinking, Mike had started to rock back and forth. Drawn into the stranger's sadness, he found a few tears rolling down his own cheeks. It could have been him. It could have been his sister. Her moans of agony and loss touched the secret fears he never shared that sometimes haunted dreams. God, he wished she'd stop.
Mike sniffed and cleared his throat as he felt the woman's sobs slow and breathing become more even. She drew back, wiping her red and swollen eyes.
"Mrs. Arai," he said softly. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"We . . . I . . . was just up the hill. The kids were on the swingset . . ." Her eyes rolled and her voice trembeled, but she fought for control.
"Was there anyone else here?"
She bit her lip and shook her head. "I didn't see. We come early, before work." She lifted a shaky hand and pointed across the street. "They play . . . and . . . go to school." Her voice came out in a pinched squeak.
"What did you see?"
"Nothing," she mouthed and took a deep breath. "I only went to use the washroom. A few minutes?" Her voice quavered, but she pressed on. "It's our family time. I work so much . . ."
She peered up at Mike with pleading in her eyes.
"It's not your fault," he said, and her face crinkled in a silent sob. Mike studied the ground for a second. Maybe it was her fault for taking her eyes off them. But he needed to get everything out of her and felt like scum for doing it.
"So, you were only out of sight for a few minutes. Came back out and . . ."
"I didn't see them right away." She pointed up to the washrooms and then out to the pool. "You can't . . . they were on the other side. I came running . . ."
The pump had briefly hidden their bodies from view. Celluci nodded. "And that's when you saw them."
Her thin shoulders began to shake with renewed torment. Mike lay a hand on her arm, and the change was almost immediate. Something in that sympathetic touch gave her strength.
He continued, "But you didn't see anyone coming or leaving the playground?"
"No." She looked at the wading pool, and her face grew very still. The tears dried from her eyes.
"Mrs. Arai?" He watched her carefully.
"They didn't splash," she said in a small, distant voice.
Mike frowned and focused on the pool himself.
"Shouldn't they have fought? Splashed?"
'Yes,' Mike thought. 'They should have.'
Mrs. Arai turned slowly and stared Mike in the eye. "My babies," she said in an exhale.
"I'll do what I can." His voice was strong and low.
She nodded vaguely, her soul in tatters, feeling like a ghost house, where once there had been joy and now there was only façade, barely supporting its own weight under the pressure of existing. She watched in silence as Mike stood up and left.
Mike sighed, running his fingers through his hair again, wearing furrows down to his scalp. He leaned back against his desk and looked at the big board again, as though it might help. Dave looked at him glumly, while Kate flipped through the file on Sharif for the third time.
She dropped the folder to Mike's desk in defeat. "There's nothing we've missed," she said, not sounding confident.
"Four locations within 15 km of each other. That's, hell, half the city." Mike sneered. His eyes burned, but he wasn't going to call it a night. "All the locations had water, but not necessarily water sources." He pointed to the picture of Sharif taped on the board.
Kate took up victimology. "The victims were all different ages. 8 to 55. Different socio-economic backgrounds. Different races. Killed at different times yesterday and today. We've run their personal data for possible connections, but so far none of them worked together, called one another, went to the same school, or lived near one another."
Dave piped up. "They could have taken the same transit. Maybe the same bus line or subway."
Mike perked and nodded imperceptibly. "That's good! That's something." He turned to his partner. "Try to reconstruct a day in life of Viela and Carson."
"I'll take al-Safyr and the kids," Kate offered, reaching for the files.
"Kate, no, that's not-"
She gave him a questioning look. Mike grinned, affection in his eyes.
"Thanks. But you don't have to do this."
Her lips slid into a coy smile. "I know," she said, taking the Arai file anyway.
Mike watched her go with a mix of gratitude and amusement. She was a good cop. A good woman. He sighed again and slid into his chair, flipping open Sharif's file. A few hours of solid policework later, the detectives were all fairly sure that if any of their victims crossed paths, it was completely coincidental.
"God dammit!" Celluci sank in his seat.
Dave hunched a little. "I'm sorry man. I thought-"
"No, no. It was a good thought." Mike rubbed a hand over his face, hoping to clear out some of the exhaustion. "Look, why don't you two head home. This isn't going anywhere else tonight."
Dave trundled away, grabbing his coat wearily. "Maybe tomorrow."
Mike gave him a wordless nod as he left and then gazed up at Kate. She looked him over with a commiserating smile.
"Get some sleep, Mike."
"Yeah," his head bobbed lazily. "You too."
She gave him a lingering look and slipped off to her desk.
Mike sat in silence. He knew what he wanted to do. Knew what his best chance was for solving this thing. His eyes flicked to the phone. He'd never live it down.
In resignation, Mike snatched the receiver and dialed Vicki's office.
"Vicki Nelson Investigations," Coreen's bright voice said.
"Hey, Coreen. Vicki there?"
"Hey, Mike," she sounded genuinely happy. "Sure, hold on."
There was a brief silence and then Vicki's voice. "Hey, Mike."
"I have a proposition for you," he said warmly.
"I'm listening." He could hear her smile.
"I've got a tough one here-"
"And you need my superior skills."
"And I'd like to pay you for them. An official consultant."
Mike leaned his elbow on his desk. "What do you mean 'why?'"
"You help me . . . I help you . . ." There was a definite twinge of suspicion in her tone.
"Be . . . cause money's been tight lately. You help me, I help you, right?"
"Vicki . . ."
"Hey, if you're going to pay me for what I'd give away, who am I to argue?"
Mike relaxed into a smile. "Great. So I'll bring you copies of the files?"
He hadn't checked the time in many hours. It was nearly 11.
The weariness and frustration settled in his bones as he saw the time. "It's bad, Vic. And weird. And the hippogriff will be all over me."
"Hippogriff. Part bird of prey, part ass?" he said with a wry smile.
"Where did y-"
"Harry Potter, Vic. Get out some."
"I live in a movie. Why pay extra?"
He made a face into the phone. "So is that a yes?"
His eagerness must have made an impression because she was silent again for awhile.
"How bad is bad?" She said at last, suddenly somber.
"Five dead already."
More silence, and Mike found he was holding his breath.
"Bring 'em over."
Vicki squeezed her bleary eyes shut and tossed the Arai children's file on her desk. The office was dark and empty beyond the pool of light at her desk. A spring breeze blew in through a window left ajar, rustling some papers. She'd sent Mike home an hour ago. He looked like an old shoe when he walked in, chewed around the edges, beaten, and creased with worry lines that saw too much use. They'd spent a fair amount of time talking, mostly about his nephew Dylan. She knew why. She'd seen the scrawled doodles in the margins of that file. It wasn't helping the case any, but sometimes life had to be about the living. Coreen had gone home not long after Mike arrived-scampered off was more accurate. There wasn't anything for her to research, and Vicki and Mike could use some time alone, couldn't they?
Vicki leaned forward and picked up the files, just looking at the names. Viela. Young. Dead. Died in a river near where he went jogging. For a moment she wondered at people who could get up so early to jog. Who'd do that when they could be sleeping?
'People who need to clear their heads,' she thought to herself. Now that she could relate to. She glanced at the window into the world beyond. Maybe . . .
Vicki changed, grabbed a flashlight, and headed out toward the park. Not many people traveled those paths so late at night, so she didn't figure on there being trouble. Just her, the forest, and the night air. Gusts of cool air brushed her hair and face as she moved, heaving breaths in deep even gulps. At first, her legs burned, then seemed to melt, becoming just parts of the machine. Forward. Forward. Viela. Sharif. Carson. Mikomi. Kaisei. The details ran quickly through her mind, falling into and out of categories, shifting into patterns that could not hold. They whirled like autumn leaves. The evidence said accident each time. Experience said confluences like this weren't accidents.
She'd spent so much time thinking, she'd forgotten just where she was going, following instinct to guide her. Vicki slowed to walk, panting, sweat running down her back and legs. She swept the flashlight around for a second and suddenly knew precisely where she was: Brendan's grove. The boy she couldn't save.
Winded and hot, Vicki sat on the log by the grove, staring at the brown dirt that hadn't started to grow over. Her pounding heart slowed, and the sounds of the night began overtaking the rush of her own labored breathing. She thought of Brendan, wrapped up in lust. In love. If he could have known the difference. And look where it got him, falling for the wrong person, with not even an inkling that danger-death-was waiting for him. She wondered if he'd have said it was worth it. If he'd known enough to be afraid, would he have loved her anyway?
Love. Too often used. And no one ever knew what it meant. She smiled to herself. Henry liked the word passion. People don't use that one much anymore. Not the way he did. It offered everything and guaranteed nothing. Passion could be hot. It could be bright. It could be fickle. And that would be one hell of a darkness to be left in. Her thoughts ran in circles.
When you don't know what to do next, think about what you know. Start with truth.
Vicki let her vision blur. What did she know? Images of Henry, sensations of him, passed through her mind. What did she know. His laugh, his smile, his scowl, his voice. They were familiar. But what did she really know. The taste of his kiss, familiar. The feel of his curls. Familiar. That she had reveled in the sound of his pleasure. Now that she knew. And it made her quiver. It was a truth, a small gem. And through its facets, perhaps more things would seem clear.
Vicki drew a deep breath and listened. The breeze rustled leaves, like the sound of the ocean. And when it calmed, there were only crickets. She for awhile in solitude, letting all thought drift away. She let go of Brendan, of Mikomi, of Kaisei. She let go of it all, not thinking of anything but the air upon her skin.
A twig snapped.
Vicki turned sharply, swinging the light around, her heart suddenly racing. She saw nothing, but that meant little.
"Hello?" Her voice sounded strange and small, easily swallowed by the darkness all around.
Vicki exhaled and listened, moving the flashlight in a slow arc as she stood and turned. Just trees. Just grass. The breeze kicked up again, entirely different. A chill carried through Brendan's grove, dire, out of season, and the air took on the charge of a storm. Vicki shivered despite herself and hugged her arms over her chest, burying her only source of light against her arm. The breeze died, but the cold remained. In the brief moment when she had plunged herself into darkness, Vicki heard sounds she would not quickly forget. A few more branches broke as their leaves brushed something large and moving. Unfamiliar steps thudded on the packed dirt. Vicki whirled, expecting to see something bearing down, some prankster or lost circus freak. Just the trees. And the lingering shiver of branches coming back into their proper place. The world, for a moment, seemed to die.
She wanted to run. Needed to run. From behind, out of the stillness, forge bellow breath burned her neck in a snort, and she ran.
Branches and leaves whipped at her face as she ran a familiar path, flashlight useless as her arms pumped. Vicki felt the ground rising beneath her churning legs, a swale that would take her up to street level. Lungs burned and breath raced. And she cursed the darkness and her poor eyes, hoping memory would lead where vision could not. She passed with fierce effort up the hill and flew across the open road at a dead run, heedless of traffic, which was not heedless of her. Screeching tires followed in her wake, but she had only a single purpose: run and live. She didn't pause long enough to consider how much her legs hurt until she was up the stairs to her apartment, door slammed quickly behind her.
Vicki doubled over, panting, sweating, and shaking. She pressed herself up, hands on her thighs, and tried to think something rational. The first thing that came to mind was how stupid she was being, and she immediately felt foolish. Her face would have colored if it hadn't already been red from exertion. Afraid of the dark. She was a grown woman! Vicki willed her breathing back to normal and made herself walk calmly to her room. She stripped and showered with efficiency, taking solace in routine.
'I didn't see anything,' she told herself, sure that it was true.
The adrenaline drained from her body, leaving her tired, and she decided that sleep would make everything better and even calm that voice that kept telling her that cops aren't afraid of things that go bump.
She was on a hill, looking out over a green, rocky landscape. The air seemed peaceful and familiar, like coming home. Wind rushed up, tossing her fair with its warm hands. She heard the impatient stamping of feet and turned to see a glistening black stallion eyeing her. It was huge, with a long black mane and the feathered hocks of a draft horse. It tossed its giant head, and the muscles of its shoulders shuddered. The stallion stepped, dancing with energy. A slight shift in the breeze washed her senses in the creature's heavy musk. It watched with one dark eye and sidled closer, bringing its strong, corded neck and flank within her reach. It wanted contact.
Vicki stretched out a hand to touch. The stallion was so warm it almost burned. And she felt within it a sense of eager excitement. He strained to stand still for her. Somehow, within a blink, she was astride him, and they were running, galloping down green hills and across yellow fields. She gripped his mane and buried her face in his neck, taking in a breath of horse and sweat. His back slid powerfully between her thighs as they went, never slowing, never breaking stride. Warm wind and bright sun and freedom. She exhalted in the power, in the pleasure of movement. She gripped tighter as they crested a hill and relaxed as she felt the great beast slow, coming to a stop on the precipice. He took in huge draughts of air, panting with a dull roar, and his muscles beneath her quivered.
Vicki raised her head to see what the stallion had brought her to see: a lake. The edges were dotted with trees and large rocks. The water was mostly calm, reflecting sunlight when called to dance by the wind. It stretched on further than she could see.
Vicki slid from the stallion's back, determined to explore on her own. The beast angled his great head to watch her, still panting from his run. As she passed by, starting down the slope, a blast of his hot breath washed over her back and neck.
Vicki awoke with a start, feeling flushed and warm. She sat up and felt the nape of her neck with one hand. It was one hell of a vivid dream. She let out a calming sigh and checked the clock. 10AM. She hadn't meant to sleep that late, though found herself wishing it had been longer. She was still exhausted, with a battery of new aches thanks to the night before. She dressed quickly, not even bothering with a ponytail, and headed out for the office. Coreen was already there, hair gathered and parted into a lace design that was then dipped in pink. She waved, nodding in agreement to the person on the other end of the phone.
"I'll let her know. Thanks. Bye." The girl hung up and eyed Vicki as she offered her a cup of barely warm coffee. "Sleep wrong?" she asked.
"Hmm?" Vicki frowned a little as she took the sacred brew.
"Nothing. Just, you keep rubbing your neck." Her eyes suddenly flashed. "Or did Henry finally-"
"No, Henry did not finally."
Coreen looked deflated.
"I had a weird dream . . . maybe I did sleep wrong."
The girl leaned over her desk and smiled. "What kind of weird dream?"
For a moment Vicki thought about satisfying the girl's curiosity, but the memory of riding and moving and galloping was too potent to simply share. Coreen would get ideas.
"Nothing. I don't remember it anymore," she lied with a flippant tone that her assistant recognized immediately.
"Mmhmm." The girl replied with clipped professionalism, drawing herself up.
With a roll of her eyes, Vicki turned away and went to her desk. She pushed around the unsolved case folders with one finger.
"Hey, if Mike calls-"
"He has called."
Vicki made a face. "Well, if he does again, just tell him I'm working on it."
Coreen appeared in the doorway. "Anything else I should tell him?" she said suggestively.
Vicki shot her a testy glance and pointed to her desk. The girl turned, hiding her smirk. It was definitely that kind of dream.
"Oh, and that curator guy, Thomas. He wants an update on his case," Coreen called over her shoulder.
Vicki drew a deep breath and stepped slowly back out of her office with an exaggerated clacking of her heels. Coreen looked up.
"That's going to be a problem."
"I thought you followed Burness."
"We did. And he's going to rob the museum."
"But until he actually does, or tries, there's nothing to arrest him for."
Coreen nodded slowly, trying to piece together her boss's dilemma. "So . . . you think if you let on, then Thomas will fire him before it can happen. But, isn't that good?"
"Henry said the same thing." Vicki took a sip of coffee. "But if he fires Burness, that only stops Burness. It doesn't nab us his co-conspirators."
"You're not being paid to nab the co-conspirators," the girl pointed out.
Vicki watched her for a moment, silently wondering at the people she had gathered as friends. When had it become so wrong to do the right thing? At some point, her face had taken on scowl, and her voice sounded harsh, even to herself. "I didn't join the force for money. I joined it for justice, and that means stopping the bad people. Maybe that doesn't mean much to you, but it does to me."
Coreen looked away, chastised. She said quietly, "I was only thinking that maybe you should try asking for more."
Vicki felt her face flush. "Sorry. I just . . . Look, why don't you head home. I'm going to be at Mike's case all afternoon, and then on to this museum thing."
"Sure." Coreen turned off her computer and grabbed her bag silently, slipping around her desk without a whisper.
"Coreen . . ."
"It's fine." A weak smile. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Vicki clenched her jaw as the girl left. Not the best start to a day. She locked herself in her office with Mike's peculiar cases and tried to focus on the work. Sunset wasn't until 8:40, so she had plenty of time before the big heist. As she spread a map of the city over her light table, she absently hoped that her little black dress still fit.
Dusk was annoyingly late in spring. Henry had risen and gotten himself arranged by 9. He chose a simple suit in black with french cuffs and a crisp white shirt. It reminded one of a tuxedo, with just a tad less pomp. He was undecided on the cufflinks, but again elected to dress down. No good could come of bringing gems to a robbery. He listened intently as he closed the clasps, expecting a heartbeat at his door.
It turned out he heard her heels first.
Henry opened the door as Vicki lifted her hand to knock.
"Cute," she said, with a wry grin.
He drew a breath and stepped back, eyes sliding up and down the length of her. Hair done up with an artful spray escaping from a bun. Tight, silky asymmetrical dress that left one caramel arm and shoulder bare, the other draped in a full, flared sleeve. It was edgy, even daring. He got lost somewhere around her hip, where the dress stretched and caught every curve. Henry blinked and drew his gaze up to her face, which flicked between amused and unsure, and locked eyes long enough to feel a jolt.
Vicki flushed and turned aside. He listened to her quickening heart with a slight smile.
"Let's go," she said. "We're already late."
"All good things in time," he replied smoothly, offering his arm.
She cast him a sidelong glance and then smiled.
The Royal Ontario Museum was helpfully just across the street from Henry's apartment. They didn't even need a cab. The old section of the museum was classically Romanesque. The walls were thick, substantial, with arched windows and a few decorative columns. It stood for history, tradition, and culture. Someone, somewhere, however, decided that all that stateliness must have been unbecoming, because looming above, around, and beyond the old structure was a new construction. It looked like the Fortress of Solitude-a glass and metal crystal iceberg dropped in the middle of downtown. Many locals had given it the dubious honor of trying to reserve judgment until construction had been completed. Henry hated it. And he tested out his diatribe on "respect for history" on Vicki as they stepped into the old building. He fell silent as they passed through the rotunda and then muttered a phrase as if in prayer and inclined his head briefly skyward. Vicki looked up and saw a phrase in black tile set against the golden domed ceiling: That all men may know His work.
He took up his litany again, and Vicki watched her partner with an easy, disarming grin.
His complaints died on his lips when he saw it.
Her reply was warm and curious. "It really means a lot to you, doesn't it?"
Fitzroy paused and looked around Samuel Hall, his expression thoughtful. "History is the world before we were born into it. I've been part of it a long time, as, I guess, it's been part of me."
She couldn't imagine. But something in his tone made her heart ache in sadness. She turned in just enough to reach his far cheek and draw the backs of her fingernails down in a single caress. He smiled, and that was all she wanted.
"You should work the crowd," she said, pulling back and letting his arm drop. "See if our guys are already here."
Henry's eyes alighted on the groups of attendees-beautiful women, striking men. "And you?"
"I'm going to find Ciaran Burness."
And so they parted. The vampire spun between groups of visitors, gliding like a water snake into their midsts, sharing stories, histories, and memories connected to the various artifacts on display. He wove entrancing tales, absorbed appreciative laughter, and left his new acquaintances with the sense that they had brushed greatness. Eyes followed him as he went, grateful for the attention and left wanting more.
While Henry charmed his way about the assembled guests, Vicki scouted unmarked doors. Off to the left of the reception hall was a small exhibit hallway featuring ancient Chinese architecture. The library was at the far end of the hall. But tucked in a corner, behind an old burial mound, was a plain door. She tried the handle, but it was locked. With a surreptitious glance around to see if anyone was watching, she slipped two metal rods from the bun in her hair and slid them into the lock. It was thankfully a simple mechanism, and the door gave way without too much effort. The flooring inside the hall was the same as it was outside, so she lost her heels behind the burial mound just to be safe.
The hallway seemed silent, so she crept to the first door and checked the nameplate. Accounting. Then, Public Relations. Ever so gently, Vicki tried one of the knobs to see if the offices were locked beyond business hours. They were, unsurprisingly, which meant that any knob that turned was to an office likely occupied. Near the end of the hall, she found a door with Ciaran's name on it. She pressed her ear to the door, wishing, not for the first time, that she had Henry's senses. It didn't seem like anyone was there. No talking, at any rate. Her hand slid to the doorknob and started to turn when she heard the garbled tinny wail of a cell phone with a pop music ringer.
Someone was home.
She eased off the knob and concentrated. Ciaran's voice was muffled. He kept repeating "I . . ." as though he couldn't get a word in edgewise. And then he started pacing his office; the floor carried the bounce of his steps as much as it did the sound.
Vicki heard the timber of his voice change as he let out a string of what might have been curses. Loud and angry, that's all she could get. A frown crossed her features as she weighed her options. It wasn't likely she'd get any good intel standing out in the hallway. She could fetch Henry, but the conversation would likely be over by then. She could wait by the burial mound for Ciaran to emerge and follow him from there. Or maybe she could interrupt him with a reasonable excuse and seductive smile. Vicki cursed and slipped back down the hallway, still no wiser as to the plan for the heist. She rounded the corner to the main exhibition hall, scanning the room for her partner.
He stood by a display of swords, swinging his hands in demonstration of a perfect killing blow. The women eyed him, unconsciously licking their lips after each sip of champagne. The men look animated, asking questions and laughing with just the right amount of reserve. She watched him bend in a slight bow as the story ended and then strode over to catch his arm before he moved on. Vicki steered them toward a less populated area, sauntering so as not to raise suspicion.
"So? What'd you get?"
Henry glanced at her with an enigmatic expression and pulled a wad of paper from his pocket. He passed it over, a Cheshire cat grin growing on his face. Vicki loosed his arm and slowed to almost a halt. She shuffled through the stack of napkins bearing a variety of names and numbers.
"Aww . . . Darla and Robby," she said with a saccharin drawl, holding one up. "How sweet!" She handed them back with pursed lips and a look of annoyance.
"How about something relevant?"
Fitzroy glanced at the napkins, still proffered in his hand and then focused on her face. "I'd burn them all if you asked me to." His voice was soft and serious. The simple truth it carried made Vicki blush, but only for a moment.
"To the case." She said in a hard voice, taking Henry's arm but turning to continue walking.
The vampire smirked, pocketing the napkins. "The thieves are not among the guests," he pronounced.
"And you know this because?"
"They all had heavy accents and-ow!" Henry flinched from a quick blow to his shoulder. He shot Vicki the indignant look of a wounded child.
"You never said anything about accents!" she hissed, so as not to be heard.
"You never asked," he responded in a slow staccato.
A shift in her body bringing them closer was all the apology offered.
"Ciaran got a call from someone a few minutes ago, but I couldn't hear what he said. He sounded agitated."
Vicki steered them to the right, where a narrow hallway would lead them back around toward the Chinese burial mound and architecture exhibit and the door to the curator's offices.
Henry frowned. They had precious little information for foiling an elaborate scheme. He took a breath, about to speak, when the door just around the corner slammed open and Burness came rushing out. He bore down on the first security guard he saw and muttered a few scant words. The other man looked stunned. Henry glided them both closer so he could hear.
"Look, we just have to get them all out. Start closing all the upper floors, get everyone outside," Burness said.
The guard looked unsure. "We should pull the alarms."
"And cause panic?"
"We have to call the police in anyway. There'll be panic no matter what."
Ciaran burned the man with a testy look. "I'll call, you start getting these people out of here!" He took out his cell phone, and Henry took a few hurried steps forward. His eyes closed as he listened. Whatever number the man was dialing, it wasn't 911.
Vicki tugged on his arm. "What did you hear?"
He gave her a dark look, calculating eyes darting to the guards now moving among the crowd. "They're evacuating," he said as a murmur grew among the assembled guests.
The murmur became a roar as the floodgates opened. Men and women began shouting and shoving at one another as they hurried through Samuel Hall. The word "bomb" bubbled up from their throats as the tide of them washed through the rotunda and out the main doors. Vicki and Henry exchanged glances as they retreated from the wave of frightened humanity.
"Burness said he'd call the police, but that's not the number he dialed!" Fitzroy said loudly into her ear to be heard over the shrill cry of terrified women.
Vicki's face tightened, her expression both grim and angry. He wasn't calling the police, he was calling his team. The pair had hidden themselves in an alcove by the bathrooms. Most of the guests were filling the rotunda, which was barely visible from the hiding spot. The security team, however, was starting their sweep, and they were drawing closer.
Vicki snatched Henry's hand and dragged him through the men's room door at their backs.
"I think they'll look here," he said seriously.
"So make them-"
On cue, a thin, pale security guard tossed open the door, a look of barely contained panic on his face.
"Hey! You guys can't be-"
Fitzroy was in front of him immediately, faster than the eye could follow. He gripped the young man's face in his hands and focused. His eyes dilated, and he spoke with unearthly persuasion.
"You saw nothing here. Leave. Quickly. And tell your boss that it's all clear."
The man gawked for a moment and then looked around as though scanning the bathroom. Henry released him, and the guard disappeared, calling an all clear over his radio as he walked away. The vampire stood, brimming with tension, as he listened for any further heartbeats. All those he could hear were moving away, save the dearest one.
Vicki slid a hand onto his shoulder.
"That is so handy."
He grimaced more than grinned in reply and moved so they could slip back into the hall. The ROM was eerily empty, and the pair stepped quietly from their alcove. There was no sign of Ciaran. But Vicki was sure he wouldn't have left. Not now. Not on the big night. He was either in the exhibit or in his office. She was betting on the exhibit.
Vicki moved to slink down to the main exhibit hall when Henry's hand closed around her upper arm.
"Sirens," he said at a whisper.
Confusion flashed across her features. "I thought you said he didn't call-"
For a breath, they stared at one another.
"If that's not the bomb squad . . ."
Fitzroy nodded, a smile playing at his lips in a feral way.
Vicki dug her phone from her clutch and called headquarters direct as the vampire headed off in a smooth stalk. "I want to report a robbery in progress at the ROM," she said with an air of authority that would brook no unbelievers.
Her air, however, was not enough to convince the city's finest. Not when the security system was still intact.
"If you don't . . . you're gonna be . . . Fine. Don't say I didn't warn you." Vicki slammed the phone shut. "Bitch."
The siren was getting close; even her human hearing could make out the wail undoubtedly being held up in traffic. Nothing was ever easy. If the P.D. wanted an alarm, she shrugged to herself, then the P.D. could have their alarm. She noted the fire alarm in the corner of the hall and then hurried to find Henry. Setting it off now would only let the criminals turn tail and run.
Whatever Vicki may have expected upon shuffling into the Celtic exhibit at a pace designed to keep her from snapping an ankle, it was not Henry Fitzroy kneeling next to Ciaran Burness in a corner talking to him like a small child. As she drew close, she could hear the thrum of coercion in his voice.
". . .yourself over." She heard him say, watching Ciaran nod dumbly.
Henry looked up, pupils still dark and alien. He smiled a wry smile as his features returned and shook his head. "Humans."
"Yeah, we're a pathetic lot."
Henry straightened and smoothed out his suit, leaving Burness sitting sullenly on the floor with a glazed look in his eyes. The vampire was about to reply when a loud clang rang through the ROM, the sound of doors slamming off something large and metal.
"Hurry up, lads!" A deep Scottish voice boomed from across the room, followed by the thunder of boots.
Vicki's eyes widened as she darted behind one of the large Celtic crosses. She caught Henry's eyes, and he nodded slowly. She peered around the edge of the cross and saw the reflections of men in bomb squad gear hauling a cart bearing a large box-the kind used for transporting explosives. Vicki pulled back and took a breath. Now was the time. They were here. They were phony. They just needed to be stopped.
Vicki gasped softly at a sudden rush of wind and Henry's body against her back.
"Your plan?" he said quietly, with urgency.
She half-turned and shrugged. "Stop them."
Henry let a growl rumble deep in his chest as he smiled and vanished into the maze of treasures. With no such advantages, Vicki slipped off her heels and crouched down, checking again for the thieves' position. They had all stopped half way to the middle of the room. The box from the cart appeared to be a prop, as it now lay on its side, exposing its particle board interior. Vicki's legs tensed, coiled like springs. Time seemed to stretch on as she waited for Henry to make some move, provide just enough distraction.
"Hey!" One of the men suddenly shouted and pointed, and Vicki flew as fast as her legs would carry. She was silent on the hard floor, pumping with all her effort until she reached the alarm. With a glance around, she pulled the switch, and the ROM erupted in bells.
The head man whirled around, looking at his mates, looking at the treasure they'd so carefully planned to take. The alarms in his ears spoke defeat, and he felt himself grow cold. The others were looking at him. Should they try it anyway?
"Out! Out, everyone out!" he bellowed and wheeled back toward the white double doors they'd come through. A man stood in his path, and the Scotsman brought his rifle up to bear.
"I don't think that's wise," Henry smiled at him.
"Out of the way, lad!" The man shouted over the ringing din. "I'll shoot if I have to!" His finger twitched for the trigger. His less confident, or less dedicated, compatriots kept their guns to their sides.
Henry's smile, once friendly, grew wicked. Eyes blinked black, and white fangs flashed. He scattered them like straw. In a blur, he charged the leader, taking the rifle in one hand and the man's throat in the other. With a quick shove, he sent the man flying into one of his squad, and both fell with a loud thud. Stirred to action, one on Henry's right tried to rush him, receiving a swift hard blow to the stomach with the butt of a rifle for his effort. Even through his armor, it was a crippling strike, and he fell to the floor with a cry.
That left two.
Henry dropped the gun and snarled, vicious and nightmarish, at the men still standing. Even over the alarms and approaching sirens, he could hear their hearts racing, promising blood and satisfaction. The vampire stepped forward, and one of the men broke and ran. He let him go and instead inclined his head toward the one that remained. The man paled and seemed to forget about the weapon in his hands. Fear poured off him in a cloud and filled his blood with a tempting luscious tang. Henry tensed and crouched slowly, watching panic spread through the eyes of his prey.
"Liam!" A shout came from behind, and the stunned bandit was shocked into motion. He made to fire.
Fitzroy's hand closed over the gun barrel before Liam even had the weapon shouldered. With a quick jerk, he cracked the gun against the man's skull and sent him to the floor in a lump. Henry turned on the man who had called out and restrained the nagging animal inside that wanted vengeance. It wanted the blood that such fights promised. He wanted that sweetness, that warmth, and that triumph. Hungered for it in his core. But he kept it down, and walked, rather than stalked, over to look down at the man struggling beneath the dead weight of his unconscious comrade.
The man gaped, jaw shuddering. "Don't . . ." he said, voice quailing.
The vampire narrowed his alien eyes and tugged at his shirt sleeves, speaking a single word vibrating with persuasion. "Sleep."
The fleeing bandit ran like the devil bit his heels. He passed upturned tables and chairs, jumped spilled food, and dodged pools of wine on his way to the main doors. To life. Away. The alarms were distant compared to the sound of his heart and breath in his ears. There existed only one thing: the way out. And that was how he missed a woman in a black dress popping out from behind a table. And that was why he failed to even slow down as she swung both fists, cupped together, like baseball bat at his head. With a single sharp cry, Vicki laid him out on a table, gun clattering to the floor. He groaned but didn't move.
"Vicki!" Henry's voice rang out clarion amidst the clamor with a tone of warning. She spotted him and ran. They needed to get out. Fast. The fire department and police should be throwing open the doors at any moment. As she neared, Vicki saw her abandoned heels dangling from one of her partner's hands. She smiled, despite her heavy breathing, and slid to a stop just before bowling him over.
Fitzroy shot the main doors a frown. "They're here. Come on!"
At the end of the Chinese architecture hall was a door to the outside. Henry shoved it open to the scream of snapping metal.
"Are you crazy?" Vicki hurried after him. "We're a floor-" She made a shocked squeak as she was lifted from the ground in a single sweep.
"Sorry." He smirked, not entirely sorry, and bounded up to the ledge in a leap.
Vicki's eyes went wide and she clutched his shoulders instinctively as they dropped a full story to the ground below. She stared at his face as he set her down and they unwound. His lips twitched and he held up her shoes in offering.
She blinked, slipped on the heels, and started to laugh a nervous, energetic laugh, following Henry as he led them back to the street and eventually back to his apartment.
The two burst through into the vampire's sanctuary giddy as children. Vicki flew to the window to watch as bodies were hauled from the ROM and whisked off in ambulances. She felt like fire. Powerful, liquid, and raging. They'd gotten them good. Off the cuff, improvised excitement and justice. She wished she was down there, slapping the cuffs on, reading them their rights.
Henry came up besides her, keen eyes watching the arrests. Keen ears attuned to the pulse of the woman beside him. He smiled a genuine and brilliant smile at her excitement.
"Do you want me to take you home?"
"You wanna go for a walk?"
They spoke over one another, and each laughed.
"Do I want you to take me home? Are you kidding! How could I sleep?"
Henry glanced to the floor for a moment and then met her eyes, a sly smile crossing his beautiful face.
She smirked. "Nice try."
"A walk then?" he said, still smiling.
Vicki was practically to the door when she turned and made a gesture that clearly said "Well?"
The car ride was quiet save the rustle of Vicki's leg against her dress as she bounced nervously, still high on adrenaline. Henry tried not to laugh and drove a little faster than necessary. He parked in the same spot as always and followed as Vicki headed across the street to the park. It was a heavily forested area, with cleared walking and biking paths worn or paved into the ground. She walked with determination at first, as though there was somewhere to go. But this wasn't about the destination.
Vicki slowed and curled her hand around Fitzroy's arm when he drew close. Their pace became leisurely as the excitement of the night vanished like vapors into the night air. The evening was quiet and bright. It was a full moon, which Vicki supposed should have meant something horrible, but for now, she paid it no mind. They passed from the open into the woods, following a jogging trail of compacted earth. Vicki felt Henry's arm tense under hand, and his manner shifted, not predatory, but alert. He turned and gave a mild, contented grin. Perhaps it was the warm, clean air or the rush of their adventure, but everything seemed more in focus than usual. As a breeze blew, she could hear the papery rustle of leaves, and it felt like brushes on her skin. She watched the way Henry's hair danced with the rising wind. And the way errant moonlight kissed the sensuous curve of his mouth.
Henry stepped closer, trying to share what little warmth he had. Precious little. He'd have offered his jacket, but she wouldn't have taken it. Instead, he let his arm fall and reached for her hand, a deep-bellied thrill flowing everywhere when she let him.
The trail grew darker from the canopy of trees, and Henry let his senses roam far. Something seemed off. Something made the air apple crisp. He let it go, giving full attention instead to the pressure Vicki was exerting on his side, leading what had seemed like a silent wandering with new purpose.
"Are we going somewhere?" he said softly, barely louder than the trees.
Vicki breathed deeply and squeezed his hand. "Do you remember Brendan?"
"The boy. The statue."
She nodded, but didn't seem inclined to say more, simply pressing on through the terrain off the trail. She was watching the ground. Though, he suspected, for more than just to keep from tripping.
Henry nodded his understanding. "You buried him out here."
"In a grove. It's . . . a good place to think sometimes."
"A hallowed place?"
She stopped and turned, a slight frown evident.
"It's what we bring that makes a place sacred," Henry offered.
Vicki considered it for a moment and then continued on. "I was here the other night," she confessed. "I'm not sure it was hallowed then. Haunted, maybe."
Fitzroy froze in place, his arm stretching up as she moved away, until she too had to stop. Or let go. She stopped and saw worry written on every feature.
He regarded her seriously. "Haunted how?"
She rolled her eyes. "Henry, it was nothing."
"How?" he pressed.
"Like, cold. It was warm, then it was cold. And I felt like something was watching me. But there was nothing! I looked!" Her mouth twitched like she had more to say.
Henry closed the space between them and released her hand, instead raising a fingertip to her chin. He wanted her to see the fear that crawled like a living thing in his heart. Ghosts.
"There's more?" he asked at a gentle whisper.
Vicki drew back, feeling a flutter in her stomach at the memory. "There wasn't anything I could see . . . hot air on my neck. Like a breath." The darkness hid the subtle coloring of her face as she turned away. "I ran all the way home."
The thought of Vicki running terrified was almost laughable if she hadn't sounded so somber. Henry's face tightened. Ghosts.
"Where's this grove?"
Vicki lifted her bare arm and pointed to a small gathering of trees maybe 30 yards ahead down the sloping hill they were on. He started at a brisk, determined march.
"Henry . . ." Vicki hurried after. "Henry, it's not him! Why would the ghost of Brendan haunt me? I tried to save him!"
The vampire didn't answer. And as he moved further away, he began to melt into the night, Vicki's eyes no longer able to pick him out from the wall of black that marked the end of her vision. At least this was a path she knew. Only when she was on her own was it apparent how much her partner had been guiding their steps. Vicki stepped on a branch that scraped her leg and nearly tripped as her heels struck uneven ground. But the time she found him, lonely and beautiful in the grove, she couldn't decide if she was more grateful for the help when she had it or more annoyed at having lost it.
"Well?" she said with a huff, coming up behind him.
"I haven't sensed anything new."
"I told you."
"I said new."
She frowned at that.
"The air is wrong in these woods. I noticed-"
"As soon as we got here."
He quirked an eyebrow at her, and she shrugged. "I noticed you noticing."
Like a hunter, Fitzroy turned in a slow circle. He scented the air, listened for motion. Vicki remained calm and steady beside him.
"We should leave," he ground out.
And the night answered.
It came like a storm, an arctic blast from the north wind that plowed under any hint of spring. Vicki gasped audibly in shock, and Henry flashed his fangs. Riding closely on the heels of the wind came the scent of decay on water, stagnant with algae and blackened reeds. And then came the indescribable sensation of power. Henry felt it press against his skin like pins of ice, cold and burning at once. He turned in a wary circle and began moving around Vicki like a guard dog. His eyes saw only forest, dirt, and grass.
"Henry . . ." Her voice was tense.
He raised his hand for silence. And there came the heavy sound of hooves.
"Stay here!" The vampire growled and hurled himself toward the sound. He could hear the heavy steps and even smell the distinct musk of the creature, but it vanished as he arrived, leading him away.
For once, Vicki did as she was told. She turned sharply to every sound, every shiver, heart racing. There was a loud crack behind her, and she whirled with a gasp so see something out of a dream. Her dream.
A great black stallion stood on Brendan's grave, and for a moment, simply watched, its head held high. Vicki's breath caught. She knew this creature, knew what he felt like, knew how he smelled. The great beast lowered its powerful head and stepped forward, baring its flank. It swung its head close and looked her right in the eyes. An intelligence registered there, and the stallion let out a whinny, dancing on the dirt. He was marvelous and awe inspiring. He was the most perfect horse anyone could ever imagine. Who wouldn't want to ride him, to touch him, to own him.
Vicki found the good sense to breathe and reached out her hand to a cord of muscle on the beast's neck.
"Vicki, no!" Henry cried from up the hill. But even at his fastest, he was too slow.
Shocked from her enchantment by the sound of his voice, she tried to draw her hand back, but it was stuck fast, like it had grown there. Before she could protest, the giant horse bolted. It crashed through trees and bushes, dragging Vicki helplessly along even if she stumbled. She cried out from either pain or terror, in a sound that was neither tough nor controlled. The stallion aimed itself at a small creek, hauling its screaming cargo at a full gallop, dirt flying from the impact of his hooves.
Henry followed as quickly as he could, but it was like chasing a mirage. No matter how fast he moved, he was never closer. All he could do was keep it within his sight as they barreled toward the stream.
The black beast jumped. And its great body sank into the water and was gone. Henry splashed into the stream, breathless and filling with dread. He spun in place, looking at the water as it ran over his feet and legs as though nothing miraculous had just happened. She was gone. Screaming his name as she went, she was gone. Henry's eyes regained their pale blue as the man in him shuddered with fearful despair.
Henry flung himself into his car and snatched his phone from the cupholder to call Coreen. She answered on the first ring.
"Coreen! Meet me at the office."
"Just be there," he tried not to yell, and then added more pitifully, "Please."
There was a long pause before she agreed. Henry clutched the phone tightly as his hand rose to his mouth, a gesture to bottle in every raging emotion that wanted out. He'd failed. Failed Vicki, failed himself. And now . . . . Henry sniffed traitorous tears from his eyes and cast his phone aside with a whip of anger.
He pictured the beast, forever out of his reach, feeling like a pauper watching a king. He heard and felt Vicki screaming. She never screamed. She hollered, she shouted. But screams come from a different place. They are the soft vulnerable center destroyed. They are control, sliced into bleeding ribbons. They were alien to everything he had come to know about her, and the memory chilled his soul.
The jag roared to life and took off down the street. Henry found himself wishing he'd bought a manual just for the satisfaction of having something to slam, of making the machine's gears scream. She could be dead. She could be dead, and the thought could leave him paralyzed or furious. No one, no one could hurt Vicki and live. Not in his world, not in his city. He would not allow it. Henry gripped the steering wheel hard as his scowl deepened and the pain in his chest became a fire that burned his face and stoked a desire for blood.
He arrived at the office with a squeal of tires and fairly flew up the building's exterior to a window Vicki had left open. He entered with scattered thoughts of revenge on his mind, vibrating with urgency and power. But then something came over him like a wave. The room was her office. It contained her, smelled like her. Everything in it was either a sense impression or memory. And to the clawing rage in his mind that muttered and gnashed, it was a balm, even a drug. Fitzroy closed his eyes and inhaled. Here she lived. Here she laughed. He paced around her desk and sat in her chair. Here she lived. And somehow that reassurance gave him focus. He needed to do research, not break bones in his bare hands.
Images of the dead were scattered on Vicki's desk, and Henry reached out a tentative hand. He picked up one file, then the next. Drowned. All drowned. His lips pressed into a fine line. They were all cases Mike had given her, too. For the briefest moment, he thought he should call the man. Tell him . . . something. But it would be as much a waste as the case files on the desk.
The vampire looked up sharply as the front door slammed and a rapid heart approached.
Coreen appeared in the doorway, eyes wide with concern. "I got here as-"
"Gone?" The girl blinked.
His expression closed. "Taken. And I believe I know by what." He came out from around the desk. "I need you to help me dig up everything you can on an each uisge."
Still stunned, she only managed to mouth the words back to him.
"Right! Sorry." She turned to her desk and sat quickly, eyeing Henry. "Is . . . she-"
"Missing," he said pointedly. "We have to find her."
He went to the bookshelves and pulled down some heavy tomes. "We're going to." He said it as much to reassure himself as her.
Coreen nodded in a vague way and started pulling up database entries for the each uisge, the water horse. The pair spent hours pouring over demonology summaries and personal accounts. Coreen even found the translated journal of a French monk traveling in Scotland in 1562.
"He says a lot about demons and superstitious folklore," she said with a yawn. "But the locals were most adamant about not touching any horse that wasn't in a stable. Just touching an each could spell death." She scanned further down and started shaking her head. "It's the same as all the others. Livers on the lakeshore, fangs like a wolf, devours their victims." Her voice grew quiet toward the end, and she glanced from her computer screen to see Henry slumped in a chair.
He was staring blankly at the book in his hands, a distant expression on his face. The words on the page blurred into meaninglessness, and Henry felt a pull deep in his gut, a slow sinking. He'd been fighting it for the last two hours, the sensation of the sun moving, turning him like a night blooming flower. It was a call he pushed away, a pest buzzing in his ear trying to keep him from more important things, the most important thing. Will alone, however, could not stop time. His breathing slowed, as it must, and he looked up at Coreen with effort. Her edges were fuzzy.
"Henry?" she asked.
"What . . . time?" His voice came out weak.
The vampire jumped with shock, a motion that became a sluggish lurch that barely got him standing.
"I have to . . ." He stared at her confused expression. "It's dawn."
"Oh . . . Oh!" Coreen jumped up. "You'll never get home. Can you-Henry!"
She sprinted and caught him as he started to fall. He was . . . exactly as heavy as he looked, and she struggled to gather most of his weight on her back. She shot a look to the windows as dawn crawled across the sky.
"Coreen . . ." Fitzroy breathed a pitiful plea.
"I . . ."
Well, there was only one place to take him. Coreen strained, stumbled, and dragged the vampire into the bathroom off Vicki's office. It was the only spot without a window. She pulled him as far as she could toward the wall, unable to manhandle his awkward weight into a sitting position. With a cry of frustration, she rolled his dead weight to the side and left him curled in a fetal position on the tile floor, the sunlight barely missing his hand as she shut the door.
Coreen spent the morning sucking down coffee, fielding phone calls, and studying city maps. In her humble opinion, the only way to find this thing was to find water. The histories were all pretty similar. Each uisges were uncomplicated sídhe when it came right down to it. They lived in lakes, hunted animals and humans for food, and otherwise kept to themselves. Either they were never after anything other than a good meal or no one ever lived to report about it.
The phone rang. Again. And Coreen looked over from the light table to give it a withering glare.
'No, Mike,' she thought. 'She's not here.' And then she scanned the map with a growing sense of despair. 'I don't know where she is.'
The voicemail picked up the call, and for a few blessed moments the office was silent. It only lasted as long as it took for someone to hang up and dial again. Coreen rolled her eyes and picked up, putting on her best painfully cheerful tone.
"Vicki Nelson Investigations."
"Coreen, where is she," Mike demanded.
"I don't know."
He sighed harshly. "I need answers! Or even . . . ideas. People keep turning up dead." He sounded weary. Coreen could sympathize.
"I swear, Mike. I don't know where she is. When I do, so will you."
He didn't say anything.
"Good luck with your cases," she said somewhat lamely.
Mike snorted. "Thanks." And hung up.
She dropped the phone into its base with a huff and went back to her map. She had until 8:40 to come up with a list of places to check. 8:40 until Henry would stir. If it even mattered. The girl felt her confidence falter. Her innards quaked for a moment at the thought that it was far too late already, far too late to do anything but hold a ceremony and set a stone.
Coreen scowled and straightened.
"No wallowing," she told herself sternly. "No wallowing."
The hours slipped by as she traced rivers and researched pipelines. After seven hours and as many cups of joe, she threw up her hands and sank onto her desk. Her nerves were fried, patience frayed from the phone ringing with people who had no business wasting her time. She'd unplugged it an hour ago and turned off her cell. Now she sat, listless. It'd be an hour yet before Henry came to. The girl turned her head with a lingering curiosity, peering into Vicki's office. It was only a door away. She could sneak a peak if she pulled the blinds. And she'd been good, right? Diligent?
With a groan of effort, she pushed herself up, bringing her list of suggested lair locations. She dropped the list on the map table and went about closing the blinds. She glanced over her shoulder at the closed bathroom door. Vicki would never allow it, Coreen thought. She'd never . . .
Something about the finality of those words dropped like a stone in Coreen's mind, like a stone in the mountains, where it strikes, and the shockwaves burst out, calling down snow and dirt and boulders and everything huge and dangerous, barely keeping its balance. It all fell, and she cried. Suddenly, every loss was this loss, Ian's death becoming just as fresh as the night it happened. She missed the way his beard tickled when they kissed. And now Vicki! Just more proof that she lived a cursed life with no future but pain and loneliness. And death. Her tears found no romance in death. Not anymore. Not when it was so damn close and so damn real. Coreen sank to the floor and shivered, wracked with soft sobs that seemed to have no point and no end.
At length, she became quiet, just part of the empty silence. And eventually she'd cried every drop she had. Twilight settled beyond the closed blinds, and Coreen jumped at a sudden thud and cry from the bathroom.
Henry opened the door, a hand pressed to his forehead. He scowled in pain and scanned the room uneasily. He looked rumpled, unkempt. Granted he'd been in the same clothes for two days, but he never looked disheveled. Coreen found the effect deeply unsettling. She wiped a hand across her tear-stained cheeks, smearing the runs of black mascara, and sniffed as she got up.
"Hit your head?" she said, her voice shaky.
"On the commode."
His head wasn't the worst of it, though. Henry's stomach ached and burned. And Coreen's heartbeat thundered in his ears. It was hard to hear her words as she wiped at her face again and handed him a list of some kind. She smelled delicious, her heat calling to the hunger that tore around inside. She said something about the paper again, her sad eyes wide and anxious. Need beat against the inside of his skin. He closed his eyes, and his jaw tightened. Her heart beat. Beat. Beat.
Her hand touched his arm, and he jerked back violently.
"I need to feed," he gasped.
The girl stared at him. "You need to hurry." Her tone was hard.
"Coreen, I haven't-"
She thrust her wrist out to him, and his eyes went black, fangs flashing.
"I . . ." He backed away.
"We don't have time!" She'd begged him before, but this was different. This was business-like, mechanical. Not about lust or curiosity, but practicality. She saw the uncertainty in him. "Make me forget. Just do it! She needs you."
Henry swallowed and drew power into his voice. "You will feel nothing," he said, taking her wrist in his trembling hand.
And she didn't. No pain. No pleasure. Just the pressure from his mouth as he sucked and a slight woozy feeling when he stopped. Henry snatched a bandage from the bathroom and wrapped it on her arm. The girl stared at him.
"Sleep, Coreen," he intoned, leading her to a chair. "Sleep and forget."
She dropped heavily with a yawn and passed out on her desk. Henry wiped a bit of blood from his mouth and looked at the list she'd given him. They were places of water. They were also scattered about the city: the G. Lord Ross reservoir, Forestry Island Park, Humber Marshes, R.C. Harris Water Filtration Plant, and the Keating Channel. With his hunger sated, a renewed sense of urgency took over, and Henry was behind the wheel in a flash.
If he were a demon, where would he hide? The marshes and the reservoir resembled lakes. The island was isolated. The plant . . . the plant processed half the water in the city. His blue eyes narrowed and then closed in a prayer.
The R.C. Harris Water Filtration Plant stood like an art deco castle on a small spit of land near the lake shore. Fitzroy made short work of security and moved cautiously into the filtration room, the site of the largest amount of water.
He'd chosen well. The air inside the room hummed with a power that cowed him. It crackled, put him on edge, urged him to flight. The each was here. Its scent of heavy musk was everywhere, defying any attempt to hunt it down.
Henry stepped slowly along the walkway between the deep pools. The walks were narrow and lined with high railings, obscuring everything beyond a few feet away. He listened and heard two things: the whir of machines and the frantic beat of a heart.
His steps quickened. But even caution would have failed him. The each emerged from a pool like a breaching whale, its hooves clattering on concrete like a death rattle. It was as fast as lightening, moving with the grace and speed only the sídhe could manage. Fitzroy turned to see huge white fangs from the beast's maw slashing in his direction and then sinking into the meat of his left arm. With a great heave, the creature tossed him like a doll as it ran and then dove into the pool beyond.
Henry slammed into a railing with a snap and fell. Pain ate through his shoulder, now shattered, and his arm burned as he bled. He gasped in terror as much as agony and got up, heaving. Again, it was quiet.
Heartbeat. Hum. Heartbeat. Slosh.
The vampire spun to see the each in a new form. Human. Male. He was magnificent and huge, and bearing down. Henry snarled his fury with black eyes and brilliant fangs, propelling himself forward with unnatural speed. He brought his fist around, aiming for its head, and was abruptly stopped. The each caught his fist in his much larger hand and held it for a moment. Then he squeezed. The bones bent and snapped like dry twigs, and Henry's throat burned with an involuntary scream.
"Henry!" Vicki's voice rang out in kind from the darkness, full of anguish.
The each turned to the sound of her voice, her fear, and he dropped the intruder without a thought. Henry watched the beast retreat as he cradled his mangled hand. It throbbed, ached, burned, produced every kind of pain. The sídhe was far too strong for any vampire. But he couldn't just leave. Not while Vicki lived. With a shake, he staggered back to his feet and let the bones of his shoulder align for healing. His crushed hand dangled uselessly to one side so that those bones, too, could knit. With no plan at all, Henry Fitzroy slipped forward into the darkness.
Vicki stared up at the creature that was her captor. He had bound her hands and feet after she tried to run and had further tied her to one of the railings. Despite that, he'd left her shockingly unharmed. The each's face was etched with concern as he drew close and knelt by her side. He was stunningly handsome, the very embodiment of virility and power. His horse's mane became thick long, black hair that suited him equally well as a human. He was as broad shouldered and muscular as the horse had been, brushed with dark hair on his chest, arms, legs, and nethers. In other circumstances, his bare body might have drawn her attention. Now it seemed just another mark of his alien nature and threatening in a primal way that women throughout time have known.
The each gently placed a large hand on Vicki's cheek and spoke in a guttural language she did not understand. Her instinct was to cower away from his touch, but she resisted. The look in his eyes was kind, his tone soothing. She watched him warily and tried not to shudder when he brushed a broad hand over her hair. Her eyes told him everything, though. The creature let his hand fall, resting his elbows on his knees. He studied her face and locked eyes. His gaze brought a rushed awe that sent goosebumps over her skin. She looked away, and only then saw Henry standing at a distance. She gasped and lunged ever so slightly toward him.
The each followed her gaze and settled his eyes on Fitzroy. It moved with a powerful grace, unwinding and taking a protective stance on the walkway. He held his head high, with a confidence and pride that kings could only imitate. He looked to Vicki with a soft, kind expression and then back to Henry, his face losing all trace of emotion. He shook out his mane, an equine gesture, and spoke his language with a bass growl.
Henry raised his hands in mock surrender and took a step back.
"What's he saying?" Vicki hissed.
"I don't know. It's Gaelic," he answered curtly, not looking away from the beast, as though watching him might somehow stave off his fury.
"You don't speak Gaelic?"
"We tried to make sure no one did."
The each fell silent, looking displeased and interested that the other two were talking. He frowned, and the muscles in his neck twitched. Menace poured off him, as much an energy in the air as the set of his stance. Broad hands curled into fists.
Henry licked his lower lip.
"Do you speak English?"
Nothing, though that was expected.
"Dicisne linguam Latinam? Unskyld, men snakker De norsk? Parlez-vous français?"
"Seadh," the creature answered with the rumble of a storm, inclining his head.
Henry breathed a shudder of relief, but kept his hands up, looking like an apostle beseeching the divine.
"Je m'appelle Henry et elle Victoria. Quel est votre nom?"
The each glanced in Vicki's direction then back. He quirked his head in thought and answered in measured tones, a warm velvety sound that was as dangerous as it was sensual. "Je suis sans nom." They continued in an archaic form of French, mutual curiosity deepening. Though the each was still, it was a tense stillness, full of potential energy that promised a quick death.
Henry thought for a moment. "What is the name of your lake?"
"Rannoch. Good. Rannoch, why are you here?"
"I am always here," the creature replied. And though the sídhe are crafty when at their best, his response lacked guile.
"But this is not your lake."
Rannoch's nostrils flared. "I cannot leave my lake," he insisted, though he scanned the confines of the room as though looking for deception.
"But you have. Haven't you noticed?"
The each said nothing, just studied him with his dark penetrating eyes. He snorted again at the impudent challenge and took a step forward.
Fitzroy tried a different tack. "Does this place smell familiar?" he said as he backed away.
"Does anything here look familiar?"
Rannoch's expression darkened. "No," he growled softly.
"You are in the New World. And this is not your lake," the vampire said gently.
Rannoch shifted suddenly as though stung. "I don't understand," he said evenly, his handsome features twisting with confusion. The menace melted out of him as he looked over the room and Henry. Things were not as he had thought.
He went to Vicki and lowered himself in a graceful sweep to her side. The words he muttered were low, soft, and inscrutable. But as before, she made no reply and did not touch his face as he had hoped.
Henry watched, tense but helpless. And eventually Rannoch moved away, coming again to face him. His brow was wrinkled in confusion.
"I don't understand what you mean by 'New World'," the each said, crossing his arms over his chest.
"I know. . ." An idea sparked in Henry's mind. "Will you stay here a moment? If I return quickly?"
Rannoch's lips twitched, which Fitzroy took to be assent.
As he turned to leave, Vicki's voice rang out again, calling his name in alarm. She hadn't followed a word of the conversation.
"It's going to be okay," he said. And he willed all of his affection into the look that passed between them before he vanished.
He returned less than a minute later with a grease pen from his car and beckoned Rannoch to one of the bare tile walls. The creature approached and stood uncomfortably close as he watched Henry sketch a map of Europe and North America. The vampire made a dot on Scotland and another on Toronto.
"Chez vous," he began, "is here. Loch Rannoch, Alba." He moved to the second dot. "This is where we are. The New World. Toronto. Across the ocean."
Rannoch placed a heavy hand on the cold tile where the ocean stretched.
"The Atlantic," Henry offered, studying the man closely. He was every inch a model the great masters might have killed to immortalize. And though his anger had vanished, power still radiated from him like a palpable breeze and a taste of mineral in the air. Notes of heather and grass filled the air.
"The large lake," Rannoch mused, smiling sadly to himself. "I had thought it was a flood. The land simply vanished, and there was nothing but water everywhere. Salty and repugnant. . . painful." He turned to look Fitzroy in the eyes, speaking quietly, with an intelligence and intimacy the vampire found disarming. His fingers curled against the slick tile. "I was afraid the waters might never recede."
"And then you were here." Henry felt himself tipping, though he fought the urge to see the creature as a friend, a comrade. Though it spoke with honesty and camaraderie, those were also the hallmarks of a masterful deception. He was less than an arm's length away. Rannoch could snap his neck before he could escape, if he wanted. Perhaps that was why it risked speaking, much as he had once done.
The each focused on the map again. "And then I was here. But I don't understand how that can possibly be. I cannot leave." He looked over his shoulder at Vicki for a moment with an enigmatic expression. "My heart is in the lake."
Henry watched him, and felt the irrational pull of desire. It might have been sídhe power, threading its vines through his heart and soul. But he'd long been a connoisseur of beauty in all its rarest forms. Those available only to the open palm were always the sweetest of them all. He lived, in this moment, at its mercy and wondered how far that mercy would go.
The each studied the map as though it might have more to tell him. "Why are you staring at me?" He said at last, serious, though not troubled.
Henry's hungry eyes ran over Rannoch's long black hair, knotted and fraught with reeds. Would its mercy extend so far? The room grew small, and there existed only the space between them, the drum of the creature's heart, and the warmth that radiated from him. Henry reached out and plucked one from the soft mane near its face, flicking it aside. Much to his surprise, the man remained still. When it became clear that no more answer was forthcoming, Rannoch made an amused sound and let his hand fall from the wall. He turned to face the stranger and stood close, through no calculation or strategy of his own. Perhaps it was the way of horses. Fitzroy felt scrutinized and small when the each crossed his arms.
"What are you?" Rannoch said, tilting his head to a new angle.
Rannoch's eyes grew wide, and his arms fell to his sides. "I've never met one of you before. Only heard legends."
Henry smiled. "I could say the same."
The each looked him up and down, nodding, as though his eyes saw more than clothing and flesh. "Your eyes were black."
"Show me," the each demanded.
Henry recoiled at being ordered about like a slave. He was no one's pet and would have said so had Rannoch not glared and leaned in some. Henry swallowed and shifted, opening his black eyes to the sídhe. Rannoch gripped his face with a quick motion he hadn't seen and turned him this way and that, getting a good look at his eyes, new and captivating. He suffered the indignity, truly, because he could not have stopped him. The humiliation was complete when the creature checked his teeth, nicking a finger on a fang. On impulse, Henry tasted the drop and made a sound of surprise at the rush of dizziness.
Rannoch released him with a smirk. "You are not prey. You look like them, though."
"I'm not. And so do you."
"You taste different."
Henry shifted uncomfortably and looked briefly at his arm.
Rannoch snorted his amusement. "Le vampire." He stared for a few moments, with a slight frown. "You . . . cannot see the sun."
The creature nodded, as though this told him something profound. And Henry wondered if perhaps it had. They both knew one another's boundaries now.
That dawning realization became fear in the pit of his stomach, for he had given something away that he hadn't intended. The sídhe were clever and never to be trusted and he had just told it the limits of his own power. Henry stepped back, not even knowing he'd done it. But his thoughts were plain enough on his face.
Rannoch smirked again. "You are not prey," he said kindly. It was perhaps the greatest compliment he knew how to give, and after swallowing his sudden fear, the vampire chose to take it as such.
The each uisge looked at the map again, trying to piece the sensations he had felt into the story he was being told. He was quick-witted and intelligent, but this, this was simply beyond his ken. This was madness.
Henry grew impatient as the beast stared and fought with the urge he kept feeling to reach out and touch its pale skin. He'd come with a purpose. Vicki was here. She was alive. They needed to leave before any of that changed, before Rannoch's mercurial good will altered again.
"What has happened to my mate?" the each said suddenly. He paced away from the wall to lean against the railing, where he could see Vicki clearly watching them both. Henry followed and listened to the drum of its heart quicken.
"I don't know what you mean."
Rannoch shifted his eyes away. "She will not speak to me," he muttered in a low bass voice, full of deep sadness. When the each looked at him, its eyes were endless and dark, laying bare its despair. And Henry suddenly understood.
"She doesn't know your language."
The each reared back and watched him warily. Another impossibility.
Henry pressed. "Rannoch, she is not your mate. I showed you the map. Your mate is back home. Where you should be."
The beast glanced once at the map on the wall and once out over the pools toward Vicki. He thought for awhile. And then let out a great snort and strode away, stalking across the concrete in silence. Fitzroy followed at a distance, finding small comfort in the bit of clarity he regained when the creature was not so close.
Rannoch settled himself by Vicki as before and again muttered sweet things that may have been music for all their meaning. He sighed when she made no answer and then inhaled deeply, scenting the air. His expression fell. Her breath caught as he took the ropes of her bonds and snapped them with ease. He grinned weakly and stroked a bit of her hair before taking her wrist lightly and helping her up. She kept her eyes on his face and suppressed a shiver. He betrayed nothing, just led her to Henry's side and placed their hands together, holding them for a moment with a slight squeeze.
"She is not of my kind," he said to Henry. "She looks so very similar. And smells of power. I was lost, confused . . ." He shrugged his great shoulders with despondency. "But you are right. I am not her mate."
Vicki looked between the two in confusion, but she clung to Henry's arm and curled her fingers around his tightly. The creature stepped back, looking sad. His mane swept forward, obscuring a part of his face.
"How did you get here?" Henry asked again.
Rannoch shrugged and tossed his head. "I've told you. I don't know." He studied the two of them, an emotion he could not name rising in his chest. "Leave," he said, with the commanding presence of a proud and angry monarch.
Suddenly, he jerked and seemed to follow something written on the air. He took off at a run, and with a violent shake and a spray of water, became a stallion that jumped a railing and was gone.
"What. The. Hell!" Vicki stared at the place the water horse had been and threw Henry's hand back at him.
"I'll tell you everything. Can we jus-" He looked down at her dress, tattered to her thighs. "Let's get you home. Please."
She gave him a long look. An end of the rope, can't take any more, just shut the fuck up before I punch you look.
The woman stamped her foot as her eyes began to water. She turned away clumsily, feeling weak in the knees, and began to shake, finally feeling the terror, the individual fears and revulsions, and the sudden relief. She couldn't have explained why she cried, except to just get it all out. Clean the slate. Henry's hand settled on her shoulder, and she turned to throw her arms around his neck. He'd come. In a way, she knew he would, but she couldn't imagine how. It had all seemed so hopeless, and the beast so beyond her control.
Henry felt tears of his own forming, and his voice was thick when he spoke. "I thought you were d-"
She squeezed tighter to make him stop. And he sniffed once, proudly, resolving instead to just hold on and rub a hand up her back until she was calm.
Vicki withdrew some and bit her lower lip in embarrassment. "You said home, right?"
Showered and changed, Vicki finally began to feel human again. She gave her partner an apologetic smile as they piled back into his car for a drive to the office. He hadn't been home in some time. His black jacket was torn, though it masked the blood on his white shirt. If he cared, though, it didn't show.
Vicki returned Mike's many calls and told him to meet them. He seemed more miffed than relieved, and she was left wondering just what he'd been told in her absence. Henry kept a hand on or near her the whole trip. It made her feel a bit claustrophobic, but he seemed to need the contact. He looked furtive and anxious without it. And, if she was going to be honest, she seemed to need it too.
Mike and Coreen were waiting for them when they arrived. The girl yawned often and kept glancing at her arm. Questions were slippery on her tongue, though. The detective was silent as the other three explained Vicki's kidnapping and the existence of the water horse now making Toronto its home.
"So . . . you just spent the day with this water horse demon. Who you say is my serial killer." Mike nodded slowly, sounding even a bit credulous.
"He's not a demon," Henry corrected.
"Fine," Mike bit back, glaring. "What do we know about this . . ." He waved his hand vaguely in the air.
"Ekk - ooiskey," Coreen supplied with pristine pronunciation.
"We know it changes its shape. We know it lives in water." Vicki began.
"We know it eats people," Henry said helpfully.
"Kissing cousin?" Celluci asked with a smirk.
The vampire scowled. "It eats people," he snapped his jaws and mimicked with his hands.
Mike simply stared while the women suppressed laughter. "Then why are none of the bodies mangled?" He looked at Henry but asked the room.
It was true. They were all untouched. No one had an immediate answer.
Fitzroy considered the creature he'd met. And it was a creature in his estimation. He paced a little. "Animals kill for three reasons: to eat, to protect their young, to protect their territory." He was thinking out loud.
Vicki stared down at the photos on her desk and started to nudge them around with one finger. They were missing something. To eat, to protect, to defend.
Henry continued, "If he's not killing them to eat-"
"He's defending his territory," Vicki broke in, resolute. All eyes turned her way. "Our assumptions were off." She gathered the photos together and looked at Henry. "What's the average Scotsman look like?"
He shrugged. "Brown to blond hair. Medium to slight build-"
"And white skin." She finished for him, dropping the photos one by one for them all to see. "It's not when they have in common. It's what they didn't have. He's killing off-"
"Invaders." Fitzroy nodded. Predators defend what's theirs.
Mike blinked, first at the photos and then at Vicki. "The demon is racially profiling his victims?"
"Well . . . yeah." She half-smiled.
"Well, that's . . . that's just great!" The detective turned away, shaking his head. "How. How am I supposed to tell hippogriff this one, huh? The biggest case we've had in . . . a decade!" He spun himself in a circle and started to laugh from the sheer absurdity of it. This was what his career had come to. He laughed bitterly and propped himself against the wall to keep from sinking to the floor in pitiful defeat. "Water horse. Why not, right? I mean, why the fuck not?"
Coreen and Vicki exchanged worried looks, and the girl put her hand on Mike's bobbing shoulder. "I promise to help you think of something?" She grinned sweetly, and his self-deprecating giggles grew quiet.
Mike turned his head to peer down at her under his arms, still holding up the wall. He just nodded, a resigned motion, and gave up trying to resist.
"Fine. It's a water horse. So," he said, turning back. "How do we kill an . . . ekk-ooiskey?"
"That would be your solution," Henry sniped in his irritatingly arrogant way.
"Best way to deal with non-humans, right? Destroy what you don't understand."
He snapped. Mike whirled, face red and furious, and flung himself at Fitzroy, snatching him by the front of his shirt. "THAT THING KILLED KIDS!" He spit and bared his teeth in uncommon fury.
The vampire swallowed and drew back, unnerved at the feral look in the man's eyes. He wasn't afraid so much as startled. And any retort he might have prepared died in his throat. Mike spoke the truth.
Vicki slid closer. "Mike, we don't know if we can kill it," she said in a low, calming way.
The man's fingers slowly loosened, and he gathered himself, bottling away his disgust. He backed away and regarded Vicki seriously. "So then what?"
"We send it home?" She shrugged.
"Are you kidding? Send it home? Where it can go kill more people? That's your plan? Vic, be serious!"
"I am being serious!"
"We don't send murderers back to the streets! Not even someone else's!"
She wanted to say that he wasn't a murderer. She wanted to defend a creature she barely knew because he had big brown eyes and a gentle voice. Vicki sighed and splayed her hands on her desk.
"It's . . . different."
Mike shot Henry a narrow-eyed glare. "Yeah. Tell that to the families."
The vampire was oblivious. Arms crossed, he held his face in thought, eyes roaming.
Coreen shifted uneasily in the stretching silence. "I thought we didn't know how it got here."
Vicki's lips pressed thin. "We don't."
"My heart is in the lake," Henry said suddenly. They all looked at him, and he gazed at his partner. "It's something he said. At the time I thought-but as intelligent as he is, that's too poetic. What if he was being literal?"
Vicki straightened, her eyes dancing with possibilities.
Fitzroy went on. "What if there really was something in the lake. Ma-"
"The exhibit," Vicki breathed, with a sick sense of defeat.
Henry pressed his eyes closed with a sigh.
Vicki caught Mike's eyes. "The robbery we stopped . . ."
"They were trying to get the each's heart," Henry finished, shaking his head at the irony.
Mike looked between them, critical, but feeling much like a leaf in a stiff wind. "You think they wanted to bring that thing back home?"
P.I. and vampire nodded.
"What?" his voice was emphatic. "Why would anyone do that?"
"I don't know. But it all fits, doesn't it?"
Celluci reluctantly had to agree.
"We have to finish it," Vicki declared, looking at each of them.
Only Henry smiled.
Mike groused, "This just keeps getting better."
"We want him gone, right? And if those men were here to steal the heart, then that's how we get rid of him. The same way they were."
The detective-sergeant turned away with a scowl.
He exchanged a look with Coreen that only she could see. She smiled back innocently, and his shoulders slumped. "What do you need."
Vicki's heart surged, and for a moment she remembered why she loved the stubborn jerk. "Find out from the guys in lock-up what their plan was. And get Ciaran's keys and passcard from Evidence."
"Just like that," he whispered. The man turned back with heavy resignation in every motion. "And the each? It keeps killing, Vic. There were more bodies just today. I already can't explain these cases away!"
"I'll talk to him," she said quickly. Mike and Henry both stared.
Fitzroy stepped to her side and spoke in a tight whisper. "You want to go back?"
"I don't think he'll hurt me. He might listen."
"We have to try."
He wandered away, quiet for a moment, and then turned back with a nod. "Then we'll try. Now we just need a plan." Henry's lips curled into a devilish grin as he looked at his partner. "We're really going to rob the ROM?"
"We really are."
Henry smiled brilliantly. "Have you ever seen Topkapi?"
It was only a few hours before dawn, but if they didn't act, more innocent people would die. It wasn't a choice, really. Henry just hoped the encounter was a quick one. He and Vicki slipped back into the water station, struck immediately by the buzz in the air as they stepped into the filtration room, its pools of water ominously deep and dark. Henry kept himself a step behind and to the left. He moved with tense caution, though last time had proved there was little he could do if the great sídhe wasn't entertaining visitors.
Vicki stopped near the last set of pools, the site of her captivity only a couple of hours before. Usually brazen in the face of danger, even she had been able to feel that Rannoch was nearly a force of nature. Humans cowered in caves from such forces. It shook her just to be here. But there were lives counting on her, now. She drew a calming breath and called out.
"Rannoch! Rannoch, are you here?"
"Rannoch, êtes-vous là?" Henry echoed, matching her inflection.
Their voices vanished into the vast space and mechanical background noise. Vicki perched on the balls of her feet, waiting in tense anxious silence.
And then he came, a great gush of water and horseflesh bounding from a pool to the right in an elegant arc. Heavy hooves tread dully on the concrete, and he came forward. With a shake of his massive head, he sent up a spray of water and mist from which emerged the form of a man with pale skin and a mane of perfect midnight. Vicki watched him move with new eyes, no longer terrified. His muscles were both well-defined and sleek, and they moved with the fluidity of a dancer, unconscious coordination, artful lines, and deeply grounded determination.
Her heart fluttered at the physicality of him. He was well built in all respects. She hadn't noticed much before.
Henry leaned for her ear. "I think I'm taking offense," he purred.
Her face colored, but she said nothing. The each stopped a few paces away, his deep eyes flickering between the pair. He waited with still, infinite patience.
Vicki steeled herself. "I want to make a deal with you."
"Je veux conclure un marché avec vous"
The each arched an eyebrow. "À quel sujet?"
"About what?" Henry said quietly.
"I want you to stop killing people. If you do, I'll get you home."
Rannoch focused on Henry, waiting with interest.
"Je vous prie de cesser de tuer. Si vous acceptez, je vous ramenerai chez vous."
The beast's eyes narrowed in confusion, his brow creasing. "Mais pourquoi? Les envahisseurs prendront vos terres et tueront votre peuple. Pourquoi voudriez-vous les épargner"
"Why? Invaders will take your land, kill your people. Why would you want to spare them? " Henry said.
Vicki shook her head slowly and sought the water horse's eyes. "It's different here. This is their home as much as it is mine."
"C'est different ici. C'est autant leur pays que le mien."
He mulled this over and thought of her offer to return him home. His gaze met the floor and then swept around the room in despair. Eyes like the night sky searched Vicki's face, though she could not guess what he hoped or feared to find. Whatever it was, his look of sorrow deepened, great shoulders slumping. Despite his size, his aura of power, he looked diminished and tired. The menace that emanated so easily from him seemed like a strange memory.
He spoke to Henry quietly, like the distant thunder of a summer storm. "Je veux retourner à mon lac. Je veux baiser ma femelle."
The vampire smirked. "I want to return to my lake. I . . . miss my mate."
The beast watched Vicki's reaction. She did look so like the one he missed. He ached just to look at her and wondered if a human could keep such a promise. To his surprise, she came forward and put a hand on his arm. Warmth and comfort spread from that brief contact, and the muscles in his arm and shoulder twitched. He looked down at her, moved with affection.
"Do you agree?" She asked.
"Alors marché conclu?"
"Je ne comprends pas votre raisonement, mais j'accepte votre offre, Victoria."
Henry's tone echoed Rannoch's, soft and smiling. "I don't understand your reasoning, but I will agree, Victoria."
"Thank you." She offered him an earnest, tight grin and backed away.
Rannoch sighed and took a step back, feeling the absence of her hand as sharply as a pang of hunger. He lifted his head and shook his mane with equine grace, tossing up water and mist in a cloud that parted over the broad powerful form of a stallion. He watched them with his ageless eyes as he stood, hipslack, on the walkway and waited, true to his word for a time.
"This . . . is never going to work."
"It'll work just fine."
Vicki peered down into the satchel she'd traded to Henry for copies of Ciaran's keys from Evidence. The bag bulged and squirmed a little on its own. "Never gonna work."
Fitzroy sighed, looking between his partner and the entrance to the museum. "Can't you just trust me once? I follow your plans."
"You call them stupid."
"Reckless. Not stupid. It's an ugly word."
"It still won't work."
"What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy," Henry quoted.
He grinned back. "Sun Tzu."
"The point is that motion detection and alarm systems are their strategy. We attack the strategy."
Vicki rolled her eyes and looked again into the bag. "How many are in here?"
A smile slipped across the vampire's face. "Six."
She resisted the urge to reach in and try petting one. "What did you give them? Should I ask?"
He smirked. "Nyquil."
She barked a laugh. "And you knew how much to use because . . ."
Henry turned towards the stairs, looking sheepish. "Boredom." He heard snickering and sniffed pridefully. "Shall we do this or not?"
Vicki came over and set a hand on his arm, holding in laughter as best she could. Despite himself, Fitzroy grinned with her.
"Just . . . drop the bag in the coat check. I'll do the rest."
"I know," her voice was high with restraint, and she bit her lip, eyes dancing.
"I am!" She coughed and shook out the giggles, donning a mask of solemnity. "I'm fine."
It was Henry's turn to smile. How long had it been since he'd pulled a heist? Clearly, too long by the thrill in his stomach and the warm liquid energy flowing through his limbs. He hadn't hit this museum since the exhibition housing one of his childhood treasures. He felt clever and deliciously evil.
To everyone's good fortune, it was Friday, when the Singles' Event kept the ROM doors open late.
"You'd better go," Henry advised. "And try not to get a date."
She made a face back at him as she mounted the stone staircase.
It was almost simple as far as grand larcenies go. Vicki checked her jacket and bag at the coat check on the bottom floor and returned to main hall to appear to mingle. She deflected suitors with awkward silences and heightened enthusiasm, wiling away the hours without looking suspicious. She was actually a bit sad to cast off Elliot. He seemed normal, congenial. They toured through the exhibit, giving Vicki the chance to spot the stone dredged from Loch Rannoch. He even asked intelligent questions about her line of work. In another time, another place, she thought. And then she let a silence drag between them until he excused himself with a disappointed smile.
Henry, meanwhile, set the plan in motion. He entered the building shortly after Vicki, passing through security without effort, and waited for her to join the party before heading down. The clerk at the coat check yawned and stretched, running on too little sleep and too little caffeine. Henry watched, motionless, waiting for an opening. He'd expected the young man to take a break. Instead, he nodded off.
With a smile, the vampire moved in a blur. He snatched Vicki's satchel and made quick work of the stairs, gliding beneath security cameras that, if they caught anything, would register a large discolored blob where he'd been. The upper exhibits were locked, but Ciaran's keys could open any door in the building.
Henry muttered a quick thanks to the dear detective as he slipped inside the China exhibit's new home and darted with supernatural haste to the door to Ancient Egypt. With a flick of the wrist, that door too was opened, and Fitzroy set the satchel down in an uninteresting corner where he hoped no cameras would look too closely. His excitement percolated as he slipped back out, locking doors with the faintest of clicks.
Vicki was waiting three floors down. When he found her, she was fending off a tall norse-looking man in a fashionable suit. Henry saw the man give her an uncomfortable smile before excusing himself to go study the interior paint. She scratched a spot on her temple, looking guilty, until she spotted her partner and paced over, assuming an air of nonchalance.
"Any dates?" He asked with a smile.
Vicki pouted playfully. "I don't think they understand the real me."
He returned a wicked smile. "Or maybe they do."
He offered his arm in a princely fashion and they strolled from the reception hall toward the stairs. Henry listened carefully to the hearts around him, just to be sure it was safe.
"Well?" Vicki pressed as they slowed to a stop.
"All set," his blue eyes gleamed.
"You're really sure about this."
"When have movies ever lied?" he replied with an innocent grin.
"The function should end in a half hour. And the little buggers should wake up an hour later. All we have to do is wait."
"And hide." Henry bounced with boyish glee.
Their chosen hiding spot was in the same hall as the coat closet. In order to accommodate school field trips, the museum had installed a row of wheeled coat racks along one wall. The racks each ended with a panel, like the spine of a book, obscuring most of the space where the potential coats could hang. As long as no one looked too hard, and why would they, a pair of stowaways could easily slip in and rest comfortably.
Vicki and Henry walked with one another until the event wound down, sometimes chatting about the attendees, sometimes enjoying a companionable silence. It wasn't the words that mattered anyway. They followed the last few visitors down to the coat check and waited for the solitary clerk to be occupied. The guests were too involved with one another to take much note of their surroundings. With calm surety, Henry slid one of the school racks out far enough for the two of them to slip through and then used the wall to draw the unit back in to place. They looked at one another, huddled into a corner, and breathed a quiet sighs of relief.
After everyone was gone, the clerk wasted no time in closing up and heading out. Who could blame him? It was Friday night, and the clubs would just be getting to the good part. The young man hummed to himself as he left, trading goodbyes with a security guard just coming on shift. Henry's eyes ranged wildly as he tracked their movements. He turned to Vicki and signaled a single heartbeat with a silent tapping on his chest. She tensed, but otherwise didn't move.
The guard made his way lazily to the side entrance doors and gave them each a sharp tug to make sure they were locked. They heard him pace back the length of the room, and then all became darkness.
Vicki's hand shot out on impulse, groping for her partner's arm or back. But there was nothing. Her heart rate jumped, and she strained to see something beyond the solid wall of black before her. She had the sudden sensation of being trapped and was about to clamor out of the racks when she heard Henry's voice somewhere distant in the dark, full of persuasion.
"You lost your radio."
"I can't . . . damn. I must have left it . . ." The guard's voice was sluggish and tentative.
"Return to the office, Jason, and find another."
"Set it to channel two."
"Channel two," the man intoned blandly.
Vicki heard Jason wander away, hazy, but taking his directions well. Her breath was shallow as she strained to make the most of her human senses in the inky hall. Someone drew near, and then the rack slid forward.
"You took his radio?" Vicki whispered harshly.
"We needed an inside man," Fitzroy answered with a smile in his voice.
"So now what?"
"Now we wait."
They didn't have to wait long. A few minutes after Jason vanished, a series of calls came over the radio. The doors were all locked. Exhibits secure. It was time to hit the lights and set the alarms. A loud buzz echoed through the museum, ominous and damning.
Henry looked up and around at the empty hall, closed gift shop, and the night beyond the glass doors. He smiled to himself and watched Vicki as she leaned against the wall, staring vacantly but not complaining.
"Shouldn't be long now," he whispered.
And she nodded in his direction.
He was confident, but to be sure, Henry touched the cross on his chest and sent up a prayer. One can never have too much help when waging war.
Up in the Ancient Egypt exhibit, the satchel Henry had prepared began to stir. It bubbled silently at first, then chittered. And at last exploded in a tear of screaming black squirrel.
Alarm bells roared to life, and Henry tensed, staring at the radio in anticipation.
"I guess they woke up," Vicki said wryly.
"This will be beautiful."
"Jared! Jared, what the hell is going on up there?" The senior guard on duty brought up all the Egypt cameras on the big screens. Something black flashed across the monitor. All the monitors. Andy frowned and tried zooming in.
"Jared!" he shouted over the radio again.
"I'm here, just let me . . . what . . . the . . . fuck."
"What?" Andy swung the cameras around, following the dark flitting shapes, the alarms still loud in his ears.
"Cut the alarm!" Jared called. "You're not going to believe this."
Andy snatched the phone to dial the police as he turned his key in the manual override switch to shut off the bells.
". . . yes, Sergeant. We've got it under control."
The man juggled phone and radio. "If we need anything, we'll let you know. Ok. Bye." He switched over. "What!"
"I think you better send everyone up here."
"What is it? What are they?"
Jared hit the talk button once but said nothing, sending only white silence. He gasped a breath quickly and said, "They're squirrels."
Andy stared at the monitors. "They're what?"
Never, in all his years. The senior guard cursed. He called over the radio addressing the entire force this time. "All right, everyone up to the Egypt room. We can't set the alarms until those things are caught or dead. Marco, go to maintenance and get some bags. Ron, go meet him and grab anything that looks useful, brooms or something. Elise, check the rotunda cafe's kitchen for food. Maybe we can lure them out."
"On my way."
"You got it."
"Everyone else, meet me up there. It's going to be a long night."
Henry listened to the chatter with utter satisfaction. He gave Vicki a smug look that she couldn't see and then flipped the radio to channel two. With luck, Jason had missed all of his boss's instructions.
"Jason," Fitzroy said lowly, his words deep with power. "Tell me where you are."
"Just finished my sweep of the Celtic room."
Henry thought for a moment. "That's good. But you saw something odd in the east corner. You need to redirect the cameras there in case it happens again."
There was a long silence as the worm words drilled their way in. "I'll tell Andy to-"
"No." The vampire's voice was resolute. "You must go do it. Andy is busy."
"Right." The man's voice sounded unsure. "Heading to the control room."
Henry's smile grew to dazzling, and he let out a cackle of sheer delight. Vicki laughed softly at him.
"So it's us now?" she said, pushing off from the wall.
"You and me, sweetheart," he replied in his gangster voice.
"You are having way too much fun."
He made a pleased sound.
Vicki reached out and felt Henry's arm slide beneath her palm. She hoped the other floors would have security lights so she didn't have to stumble around in the damn dark. Together, they crept up the stairs to the main floor. At least three guards had been sent to various locations nearby, so Henry slowed to take account. In the new light of the main level, Vicki let his arm go.
The rotunda was to their right. The reception hall, exhibit room, and offices to their left. Henry strained to stretch his senses, beyond his own breathing, beyond the sound of his partner's heart. It was quiet.
"Marco, get your ass up here!"
Henry jumped at the eruption of sound from his hand, and Vicki swiped a slap at his chest.
"'s the matter with you!" She hissed and grumbled through clenched teeth.
He gaped an apology and shrugged helplessly, turning the volume down to almost off. The scare had sent Vicki's pulse racing, and she was now the only thing he could hear. Henry grimaced and then took off into the reception hall, skirting the wall and aiming for the alcove of bathrooms they were so familiar with from the first time around. Vicki stayed close on his heels. They paused just in case and then scurried into the main exhibit hall.
Vicki approached the large lake stone almost reverently. It must have weighed several tons, Rannoch's heart. She felt her own heart clench just looking it, nearly six feet long and four across, dark, cold, and rounded, put on display like a head on a pike. The heart of the beast exposed. Perhaps that was the worst of it, the way it sat on a stark white pedestal. It could have been a laboratory for the simple, antiseptic look. Rannoch himself inspired fear and lust, primal urges from simple elements. Life and earth and water and hunger and blood. Vicki stared at the grey lake stone, torn from its place in the earth for mere, witless pleasure and shuddered.
"Vic," Henry's voice was soft.
She turned, and he held out the keys and pass card.
"Hurry," he said, surveying the small black bubbles of all-seeing eyes that dotted the ceiling.
She darted for the double white doors. Beyond them lay the offices where most of the ROM staff spent their time. It was also the only access to the service elevators-the same one's Ciaran's crew had used. She propped the doors wide as she went through and took the first left, passing nameless offices and dark cubes. All offices look haunted when the lights are out, and though it was childish, she breathed a slight sigh when the corporate farm was behind her.
Her shoes were silent on the cheap carpet in the wide hall, which was the only reason she didn't slam nose-first into one of Andy's guards. Vicki heard their loud protestations as they ambled closer. 'Carrying bags and brooms,' Vicki thought with a smirk. But just as quickly as that thought, she realized her own precarious position. The elevator was straight ahead, and the voices coming her way drifted from a hallway to the right. She was stuck in the open, and all the offices were locked.
She cursed to herself and started back at a light run. She flew into the cube farm and ducked around a corner, willing her heart to slow so she could hear. Marco and Ron were a distant murmur, and she chanced peeking over the cube wall. Their backs were receding, moving through the dim light to the elevator. Vicki sighed and waited, ducking back under cover for what seemed like an eternity. She counted to make sure she gave them enough time. If the elevator took off as soon as they left, they'd know something was going on beyond crazed squirrels.
Crazed squirrels. Vicki shook her head and chuckled. At the count of 500, she emerged and jogged the length of the hall to the oversized elevator.
"Please be enough. Please be enough." She jabbed the down arrow and waited. If anyone had noticed, she wasn't sure how she'd be able to tell.
The service elevator emptied onto the loading dock, with no further ID required once you got the bay doors open. Vicki eyed a small red light at the far end of the room. It was, in fact, the only light in the room.
"If I were a light switch . . ." she muttered, turning slowly. "I'd be . . ."
She reached for the wall to the left of the door and smiled in satisfaction as large industrial lights blazed on. She winced and had the sudden impression of having turned on the sun.
The bay door opened to Ciaran's ID card and flew up with a bone-shaking rattle. Vicki checked the room with a guilty look. It was as empty and silent as it had been, though she expected armed guards and officers to descend from the ceiling at any moment.
Time was ticking.
Vicki hopped down onto the small lift and lowered herself to the back of the box truck she'd parked there earlier that day. The truck had been the easiest part.
One of the great achievements of bureaucracy is that the right hand never knows what the left is doing, creating a sort of buffer. If you knew, you were responsible. And if you were responsible, you could get blamed. Institutionalized ignorance, however, means that no one knows what should be happening except the person doing it. And he won't fire himself. So workers, from the loading bays to upper management, keep their heads down, don't ask questions, and assume that what goes on is precisely what should.
When a woman in a jumpsuit uniform shows up in your parking lot and parks her truck, it must be because someone told her to. When she asks you to sign a slip and reports she's going on break, it's just how things work around here. No one even noticed that she hadn't come back.
Vicki threw open the back door of the truck and wheeled out a large dolly with a mattress strapped haphazardly to the bars. It was hers. She hadn't the money to do anything else. The dolly rolled with a mind of its own, but she'd come too far to be daunted. Vicki gave the thing a swift kick of frustration as she wheeled out of the bay and rode the elevator up.
"It's a good plan," she muttered. "It's a good plan!" She tried sounding confident but sighed as she stared up at the bright numbers. "This is nuts."
The elevator door opened, and Vicki ushered the irascible cart as quickly as it would go without biting out bits of wall. She finally rounded the last corner, lit with anticipation, and entered the Celtic hall.
Henry looked up at her, baring fangs in his smile, a horrific rictus, or a laughable one. He planted his knee against the pedestal again and pulled at the stone, fingers clutching over the far side of its low flat shape. He strained and snarled quietly as it moved, centimeters at a time, toward the edge. With a huff, his whole body slackened, and he bent to gasp for air in great heaves.
Vicki wheeled the cart beside him. "Are you okay?"
She let him stumble out of the way and fought the dolly into place. The edge of the mattress came to a little over half the height of Rannoch's heart. With luck, the stone wouldn't crack when it landed.
Henry circled and shook the fatigue free like a prizefighter. He'd gotten the massive thing near the edge. Now he just needed to roll it. He stretched and flexed his hands, his face drawn in fury. One final step.
Vicki braced the cart with all her weight and watched in fascination. Fitzroy launched himself like a bull. He came low, gripped the rounded edge of the stone, and tried to rise. His arms pulled straight as the heart resisted all movement. Then it began to lift. He edged a foot forward, then the other, gaining leverage. At first, he merely snarled and inched closer. Then panted and lifted higher as his muscles began to burn. More than burn. He'd misjudged.
Vicki could see him shaking, and then along with every breath she heard the high pitched whistle of cries.
"Oh, no, no. Not this close."
He shook his head in frantic little motions and squeezed tears from his eyes. His arms weren't just burning. They were tearing, muscle and tendon ripping from bone. Either the rock rolled soon, now, or he'd have to let it go when the tendons snapped.
In a panic, Vicki dashed to his side and slid to the floor. There was no way they were going to screw this up now. None. Henry wheezed his little screams beside her, and Vicki planted both feet on the underside of the stone. She kicked like a mule and ran fast enough, so it could work. She braced her arms on the edge of the pedestal, wriggled in close, and pushed.
It didn't seem to move. Her face burned from the effort, and it didn't seem to be moving.
'Come on, come on, come on.'
She thought of everything she hated.
She thought of demons impregnating innocent desperate women.
She thought of men who read her menus.
She thought of drunks that beat their wives.
She thought of going blind.
She thought of Javier Mendoza. Of Henry chained, bloody, dying.
And she heard his tortured cries in the here and now.
Vicki let out an unconscious howl, and Rannoch's heart moved, tipped, and, in its slow timeless way, rolled. It landed with a thunder, and Henry fainted onto its hard surface in an artless sprawl.
Vicki was about to moan in pain when she heard something low in the distance. Low and echoing. Low like voices. They must have heard.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck." She limped over to the dolly and glanced down at her spent vampire. Her eyes darted down Samuel Hall. So long as she couldn't see them, they couldn't see her. She had some time, at least. Vicki grabbed the dolly and pushed. Her legs quivered in protest, but that she could ignore. Running had the same effect. She pressed all her weight against the irascible cart and begged it just to roll.
"They're coming," Henry breathed thinly. He hadn't moved.
"I know," she ground.
"We need to get out." He sounded a bit more focused.
"Get off the damn cart!" she hissed, though the wheels had begun to move.
Fitzroy lifted his head and looked around at the grey lake stone beneath him. "Right . . ." He got up with something less than a fluid motion and jerked an arm with a stifled cry. Without his weight, the cart rolled a little better, and Vicki picked up the pace as the voices from the other hall started to resolve. She could pick out two now.
Henry put his strength to the dolly and they moved as fast as they dared. The thing would be as tough to corner as an innertube on ice.
"They're going to catch us," Vicki said. She started to pull back as they neared the doors.
"No, they're not."
"Yes, they are."
"No, they're not."
They paused and pressed to turn for the door.
She could hear them.
". . . says we should call pest control in the morning. Maybe we missed one."
"I don't think this is a squirrel."
The pair took a breath and shoved the cart hard, resulting in a lethargic stroll. Vicki kicked the door stops up as they passed through and walked the doors shut with deliberate gentleness. They clicked shut.
"First left," she rasped. He nodded.
'Quick recovery time,' Vicki found herself thinking as she watched him, 'could be a blessing and a curse.'
She hurried to catch up. Apparently the cart wasn't so heavy if you were supernatural. They'd made it as far as the elevator when the radio on Henry's hip squealed.
He gave it a sour look as they rode the elevator down. "Let's be quick."
When the doors opened, Vicki ran ahead, pulling a set of keys from her pocket. No point in helping push, but she could get the truck started.
"Vicki!" Fitzroy shouted as he hauled their cargo to a stop. The truck had been her portion of the plan, so he handed control over.
They moved like a watch. He bolted into the driver's seat while she lowered the lift and attached a series of cables to the dolly: one to haul it, two to keep it in place. She slammed the power button, threw down the door, and jumped into the passenger's seat as Henry put the truck in gear.
"Go, go, go!"
He switched gears, and they pulled out of the side street into traffic.
Vicki lowered the window and leaned out.
"I don't see any lights."
"Are you sure?" Henry ducked and dodged as he peered into the mirrors.
"I don't see any lights!" She said loudly, flopping back into the seat. She stared as they turned onto St. Clair, heading for the airport. "I think we did it," she said quietly at first. Then, she jumped and turned. "I really think we did it!"
Henry beamed. "I told you." He straightened in his seat.
"You did." She smiled, watching him, feeling her heart pound in excitement and triumph.
God, he looked so beautiful with the lights on his face, smiling in sheer joy. She could still see the way he'd fought, desperate and agonized, but uncompromising. True.
Henry shifted the truck again, grinding the gears some, and the bump brushed Vicki's outstretched fingers against his cheek. He gave her a startled look.
She was staring.
"What?" He kept an eye on the road.
"You were brilliant," she replied in a husky voice, playing with curls of hair. She felt strong, powerful, protective, and impish.
Henry felt her breath on his cheek. "What would I do without you?" she purred.
He shivered and gripped the steering wheel with both hands. An accident now would be a tragedy for them all.
"What is it with you and cars?" he said lightly, keeping his eyes on the road.
She paused, put off by his tone. But he had a point. She drew back to her side of the cab, smoldering and aching in more ways than one.
"'s not the cars," she said, forcing playfulness into her voice. "I just like big engines."
Chapter 3: Epilogue
Henry and Vicki had made a clean getaway. The plane would land sometime before dusk, the next day, its cargo disappearing into rocky, silent hills and then dark shimmering water. It was done.
Mike sat in his chair, shrouded in the silence and darkness of a place that hardly seemed his own anymore. It housed his things but offered no warm hearth or comfort, like any space called a home rightly should. He stared blankly at the Old Fashioned in his hand and swirled the drink. He wasn't usually a whiskey man. It was a drink his father would have made, which now seemed appropriate. He took a sip and jerked back a wretch at the strength and bitterness. And that too seemed appropriate, intensifying his anguished mood with a shock of physical revulsion, a mortification of the flesh.
Another sip. And for a moment, there were no water horses. And there were no cold, glassy eyes of the dead asking questions.
The moment of forgetting passed, and a sound broke the pained silence of the apartment. Coreen shifted on the couch, mumbling what may have been words in her dream. Mike watched her settle, a kind affection warming in his chest. He set his glass of bitterness aside and fetched a light blanket from the closet, moving quietly to keep from disturbing her. He draped the cover over her gently and half-smiled at the peaceful expression on her face. He wondered if he could still look that serene. Impulse moved him to run a hand over her hair, but he held back and turned away instead.
The detective slipped back into his chair like putting on a heavy coat. His shoulders sagged from the weight. His hand found his drink automatically, almost like he wanted it. He took a swig.
They'd really done it. They'd really robbed a museum. Really mailed a demon home like a gift shop postcard. And Mike had done his part like a champ, like a good soldier. Even good soldiers have stories they won't tell.
The leader of the bomb robbers was a man named Andrew. As soon as he'd seen the detective-sergeant slinking down the hall, Andrew had known. His first words had been, "Ya found the each, then." It wasn't even a question.
It had been simple from there. He'd given Mike the name of the company contracted to take the freight and the name of their contact in Glasgow. For a fee, they'd still make the delivery as promised, even if it was a few days late.
Andrew hadn't seemed like a lunatic. Mike considered himself a decent judge of character, and looking back at him through the iron bars, he saw a man who could have been his friend. They could have shared pints and compared scars. As he'd shifted to leave, the Scot had reached out and gripped his forearm, offering his sincere thanks, making no requests on behalf of himself or his men. Mike had been baffled, was still baffled, and could only bob his head in reply.
He'd done as he was asked and given Vicki all the information. He'd made the calls. Made the arrangements. Been praised for letting a murderous man-hunter free to kill at his leisure.
Mike snorted derisively and took another crumbling sip, feeling it burn his mouth and throat, making him twist with distaste and the desire to spit. If he were lucky, he thought, he'd choke on it and put an end to this torture before all his dignity was wrung out. Doubt hounded him, and he wasn't clever enough to provide it with answers.
He stared up at the ceiling, wondering if this was how he was going to do his job from now on. How could this be justice for wives and children? Was this comfort for a mother who let her children drown and would never, for the rest of her life, feel absolved? That was his duty, his purpose. Abandoned.
He shook his head lightly in shame and glanced at Coreen, looking beautiful and innocent. They'd been devious, the two of them, scheming a way for him to keep his job. He would lift fibers from the last two victims and start tampering with evidence, manufacturing links. The last victim would become the killer by a tenuous but undeniable trail.
He would dishonor that man's name. Devastate his family. And be able to offer everyone else in the world a small consolation that someone had paid. If Mohadevan would conspire as well, the man will have drugged himself before drowning like all the others. It could be done.
He should hand in his badge. Because even as he doubted that they'd thought it all through, he knew he was going to go ahead with it. He'd be a liar, a cheat. Something worse. A rapist, forcing guilt onto the innocent. And a coward for doing it to save his career.
'Save it for what,' he wondered. There was hardly an oath left to break. It was all so wrong. And yet his moral outrage was mere flashpaper, burned out as soon as it met Vicki's temper. There is nothing, truly, like an old flame.
Mike drew a ragged breath and sighed out a piece of his soul. Tears stung his eyes, as bitter as the drink in his hand, and he didn't fight. They built slowly, until he couldn't see, and rolled down in heavy heavy drops. He finished off the alcohol in a single dreadful swallow, chased by a sobbed choke, and pushed himself up. He shuffled over to the bundle that was Coreen and collapsed only a few feet from where he'd started, propping himself against the armrest by her head. Exhausted and frustrated in equal measure, he wept silently, thankful for the dark and solitude.
Coreen opened her eyes, roused by some slight sound lost to unconsciousness. It took a moment for her to realize she was seeing Mike's back and shoulder. Another moment to realize he was crying. The strong, dour detective. Her heart clenched, and she shifted, the sound of her rustling like thunder in the stillness. He jumped, startled, and then relaxed as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"Hey," she said softly.
He shuddered a calming breath. "Hey." It was foolish to pretend he hadn't been caught, so he didn't try. She gave him time. And eventually he said in a thick voice, "Is this the right thing?"
She watched him out of the corner of her eye, watched him think about what they were planning, what Vicki and Henry had already done in spiriting the each uisge away. She sighed and answered like a sage, "Does it matter?"
"To me," he said quickly. "I . . . have to know who I am." And he looked away, shaking his head, like he had no idea anymore.
She nodded, rubbing her face lightly against him. "Do you wanna know what I think?"
"Please," he said at a whisper.
"I think you're the one who asks that sort of question," she said with a sad smile. And he turned slowly to gaze at her bright eyes, which seemed to catch and reflect whatever light there was to be found in the unforgiving dark.