Caleb slept in late the next morning. When he woke, his thoughts were immediately of the previous afternoon's exploits in the Tube substation, rather than the pleasant daylong sightseeing excursion with the Fullers. Entire spans of enjoyable, peaceful activities could be negated so easily by a single, brief, negative experience involving a vampire. Let's face it, potentially lethal events tend to focus one's thoughts.
Katrina appeared by his bedside moments after he woke, and she bent down to kiss him. While her expression was tender, it seemed to him that there was tension simmering just beneath the surface of her outward demeanor. She regarded him with a curious expression as he stretched his body, as if pondering how to say something. He suspected that it had to do with yesterday's Tube episode.
"Good morning," she offered pleasantly, though it seemed a little forced.
"Just waking up to you is a good morning," he offered with a grin.
She shook her head at him while running her fingertips across his forehead, tickling his skin. "I've been thinking about today's agenda," she began with a tentative, tight-lipped expression.
I bet she would prefer that I stay close today, he anticipated. He understood that concern and didn't want to cause her further undue stress by challenging her on the matter. Instead, he offered her an easy out over the topic. "Yeah, about that," he interjected quickly. "Would you mind if we stuck around the hotel for the most part? With all the power-touring the past day or so, I'd kind of like to just relax a little bit, if that's okay."
"Are you sure?" she asked in surprise.
"Sure," he reassured her, feigning a hesitant look. "I mean, unless you have other plans or something. I wouldn't want to disappoint you or anything."
She smirked, and he suspected that he'd just hit the nail on the head.
"No, that's fine, actually," she responded readily. "We'll just rest and maybe go out together later tonight. Sound okay?"
He nodded agreeably. "Yeah, great. I was thinking about getting brunch in the hotel restaurant. Care to join me?"
"Definitely," she concurred. "I wouldn't mind a hot cup of tea, actually."
As he shaved and dressed, he was inwardly satisfied with himself for deftly negotiating what could easily have become an argument. I'm getting better at sensing her mood, I think, he congratulated himself with a grin.
In the hotel dining room, she watched him eat as they passed the time discussing London sites they still wanted to visit. As he finished eating, she sat back in the chair with her arms crossed before her and gazed at him with an appraising expression.
"What?" he asked somewhat self-consciously.
"So, now that you're giving me a pass on the whole 'stay around the hotel today' suggestion, what can we do to occupy your time?" she asked plainly.
His eyebrows rose slightly at her unexpected candor. It was apparent that he hadn't been fooling her at all. How does she do that?
"I do appreciate it, of course. And don't feel bad, my love," she offered with a smug expression. "I've come to know you rather well. That, and I have over five hundred years of human observation under my belt."
"Oh," he managed with a dazed expression.
Her cell phone rang, and she smoothly extracted the device before he could blink an eye. He glanced around them to see if anyone else noticed her speedy reaction, but there were few patrons lingering about the dining room.
"Sure, Alton," she replied while watching him with amusement. "No, as luck may have it, we don't have any specific plans for today."
Caleb rolled his eyes and glanced at their server, who had walked up to the table to check on them. Katrina smiled politely and subtly tapped the edge of her tea cup with her fingertip, to which the lady inclined her head in acknowledgement of the silent request. Caleb merely smiled, shook his head, and offered, "Nothing more for me, thanks."
Their server departed to retrieve more tea for Katrina.
"That's fine. Until later this afternoon," Katrina replied and smoothly closed her cell phone as Caleb's eyebrows rose in silent query. "Well, part of our schedule is set," she said. "Alton would like to meet with us this afternoon regarding your encounter yesterday."
Just great, he thought with a sigh, more intrigue. Such a pleasant diversion while on vacation. She observed him curiously, but he merely glowered where he sat.
In the end, they lounged around the hotel suite for nearly half the day. She read a mystery novel, while he unsuccessfully tried to contact Paige via email, cell phone, and text messaging.
"Hey, what's with Paige lately?" he called from the dining room where he was using his laptop while looking out upon the city.
Katrina paused from her reading to consider his question. She has been uncustomarily out of touch lately. Her only communique had been a phone call to Katrina saying that she hadn't been implicated in Gil's fatal "accident."
"She's not in trouble, after all, I hope," he said with a hint of worry in his voice.
"Gil's death was ruled an accident, Caleb. I'm sure she's fine," she tried to reassure him. Paige is a resourceful alpha vampire, after all. Likely she's just preoccupied.
"Too bad she lives in California," he muttered, clicking at pages on the Internet. "It'd be better if she lived closer."
Katrina stopped reading. "How much closer?"
He stopped clicking, but didn't look over at her. "Like, Atlanta, maybe?"
"Yeah, good luck with that," she quipped and returned to reading. Not enough clubs and social diversions in the whole of Georgia for Paige Turner.
"So, you wouldn't mind her moving to the Atlanta then?" he asked with upraised eyebrows. He knew that Kat and Paige were close friends, but wasn't sure how his mate liked the idea of her close proximity on a permanent basis.
She stopped reading again and stared at him, noting his tense body language. He's not sure what I'd think about the idea, I bet. She immediately came to a decision, shrugged, and returned to her novel. "I'm okay with that," she conceded. "It would be more convenient."
He grinned, and then his phone beeped. He read the text message and noted irritably, "Finally, a reply from Paige. She says she's wrapped up in a project and can't 'chit-chat' right now. She hopes we're having a good time. Geez, glad I didn't really need anything."
Katrina frowned, but didn't press the matter with him. Paige's strange behavior is something else I need to get to the bottom of, it seems. She glanced at her watch.
"Time to meet with Alton, my love," she offered with an almost relieved tone. She didn't want him spending time dwelling on the situation with Paige. It wasn't as if anyone could do anything about it for the time being.
Half an hour later, they sat in Alton's office before his expansive oak desk. As he recapped information acquired by his staff's investigations, Caleb absently reflected on just how big the vampire's desk was.
"You know, I've seen smaller aircraft carriers," Caleb teased. "I mean, just how much paperwork do you actually spread out on a daily basis?"
Alton cast a bland look at him as Katrina stifled a chuckle.
"So, did the Tube's security cameras catch a glimpse of the blond vampire I saw coming down the escalator?" Caleb quickly asked to change the subject.
Alton paused as he considered his question. "Actually, no. Unfortunately, the cameras in that particular substation mysteriously went offline just a few minutes before your encounter. They began operating again soon after the injured vampire departed."
Katrina stared at her former mentor in a penetrating manner.
"Sound familiar?" she asked pointedly. She and Aton had used an electronic jamming gadget that he had acquired from British Intelligence when they were hunting the vampire, Chimalma, last December. Perhaps a similar device had been used to suspend the security system's operation.
He anticipated where her thoughts were leading and replied, "Yes, I already considered it. There must be a number of those jamming devices running around the country by now. Technology rarely stays a secret for long these days."
A silent moment passed before anyone said anything.
"You know, I've been thinking. It seems unlikely that we were intended as a target yesterday," Caleb ventured. "It didn't feel like an overt attack. It was more like we interrupted something."
The two vampires exchanged curious glances, and then studied him closely.
"Interesting theory," Alton finally replied. "A meeting of some kind?"
"Maybe," Caleb agreed. "Anyway, the idea occurred to me after you ordered your vampire agents to go looking around the terminal and nearby tunnels. What if the location is somehow meaningful?"
Katrina listened to her mate's statement with interest and interjected, "Your theory has merit, actually."
He smiled up at her with an appreciative expression. She returned the smile and reached over to trail her fingernails down the back of his neck. It caused the desired effect of sending a tickling sensation down his neck and into his shoulders, and he shivered slightly.
"Well, my staff haven't turned up anything yet," Alton said. "And frankly, I'm not sure what I expect them to find." His eyes darted to Katrina's. "Perhaps if we go over some of the information I collected over recent months regarding vampire operations in the area, it might reveal something that we've overlooked."
She nodded with an introspective expression. "Perhaps."
While the development was somewhat intriguing given their experience the previous day, Caleb didn't want his and Katrina's vacation to get detracted by something that might very well have just been a coincidence. He felt fidgety and wanted to stretch his legs a little. Maybe this is a good time to take a break, he pondered.
"Um, I'm thinking about going down to the little coffee shop in the lobby for a snack," he explained as he rose from his seat. "Anybody want anything?"
Alton looked up and shook his head negatively, while Katrina winked at him and smiled. "Thanks. Nothing for me, my love."
He nodded and hastily exited the office. He walked down the hallway, made his way to the elevator, and pressed the call button. A glance up at the LCD display indicated that a car was on its way up. He glanced around the small alcove in the corner, and his eyes caught on a nondescript leather couch sitting there, which looked familiar for some reason.
The elevator doors opened, revealing a pale figure in a dark business suit. Caleb recognized him as the blond vampire he had seen on the escalator in the Tube station the day before. The vampire immediately recognized him with a wide-eyed expression, and his hand darted out to grasp Caleb's upper bicep in a vice-like grip. Caleb started to shout, but the vampire's other hand shot to his mouth, and he quickly found himself twisted into an arm bar. Caleb's eyes glanced into the hallway to try to get someone's attention. However, the corridor was empty, and he was forcefully propelled towards the nearby stairwell.
He struggled and knew that in order for the door to open the vampire had to release either the arm bar or the coverage of his mouth. The vampire chose the latter, but banged Caleb's head into the metal door jamb, briefly stunning him. Then the vampire forced him into the stairwell. A moment later, Caleb felt himself being half-carried, half-propelled down the stairs. At the foot of the first tier, he managed to kick his leg in front of the vampire, causing him to trip slightly.
"Help!" Caleb barked, but was slammed into the nearby wall, where the breath was knocked out of him.
The stairwell door opened at the top of the stairs, and Marla Kendrick's face peered through the opening. "Did someone cry out?" she asked tentatively. But her eyes immediately focused on Caleb, and she entered the stairwell.
"Davison! What the hell –" she demanded, only to have her words cut short by the impact of the vampire's zooming upstairs into her. He yanked her down the stairwell, throwing her head-first downstairs.
Her head impacted the floor tier with a dull pounding sound, and her body slammed against the stairs. She lay still, her eyes closed. Davison sped to her side and bent down to squeeze the woman's throat. Caleb managed to gather his faculties enough to grab a fire axe from the wall next to a fire hose box. He hefted the axe in his hands and swung with all the strength he could muster. As Davison turned from Kendrick, the blade caught him in the upper left chest with a meaty thud. Initially, the impact propelled the vampire backwards, but he fell forwards onto the floor as his mouth opened to emit a raspy hiss. Davison's body fell next to where Caleb stood and slumped motionlessly with his right hand grasping the axe hilt just below the blade.
Caleb immediately rushed to Marla's side and felt her neck for a pulse. A swift intake of breath surprised him, and her eyes suddenly shot open. They glowed with a washed-out green color, and her hand darted up to grab his wrist so quickly that he didn't have time to react.
"Friend!" he yelped before she tried to attack him.
She released his hand, muttering, "It's okay. I know."
He started to say something more, but her eyes suddenly went wide. Her arm managed to throw him aside before the whooshing sound of an axe blade went past him to clank against the stairs where his body had been a mere second prior. A small shower of cement erupted from the stairs, and Caleb glanced back over his shoulder to see a profusely bleeding Davison with a contorted expression of rage on his face. His violet eyes blazed as he quickly swung the axe over his head for another strike.
Caleb barely registered multiple simultaneous events. As he viewed the axe blade's being raised with a horrified expression, he heard the stairwell access door erupt open, smashing into the wall with a metallic crash. A feral-sounding scream assailed his ears, forcing his hands to the side of his head, while Davison's face shone in momentary surprise as his eyes flickered up.
A blast of air whipped past Caleb, and suddenly Davison and the axe both disappeared. A blur of movement seemed all around Caleb, pausing briefly as Davison's body was smashed against the nearest concrete wall, then the ceiling, then the floor, and then disappeared as it was thrown further downstairs towards the next flight. He thought he saw a flash of red trailing from the blur movement, and his eyes searched to follow it downstairs. At nearly the same moment, Alton placed a firm hand on Caleb's shoulder while kneeling next to Marla.
"Don't!" Davison yelled from downstairs, but his voice was cut short by the sound of a meaty thunk. Something heavy fell to the floor, followed by an eerie silence.
Caleb jerked free of Alton's grip and quickly crawled around the corner of the stairwell until he could peer downstairs. Katrina appeared menacing as she stood over Davison's prone body, the axe handle sticking up at an odd angle from the blade buried in his head.
"Stay dead," the red-haired vampire seethed in a cold, lethal-sounding voice.
She glanced upstairs towards Caleb, and her eyes were pulsating like miniature green suns. A shiver went down his spine as he stared at her in partial shock, partial horror. She turned and began a slow, progressive rise up the stairs towards him while his eyes were locked onto hers, unable to tear his gaze from her. She looked like a demon incarnate, beautiful and terrifying all at once.
Holy crap! was all he managed to silently process in his overwhelmed brain.
Katrina stared at him, trying to banish the rage and frustration of the previous moments. She almost wished that the vampire had struggled more, because she wanted so very much to pound on him further. If I'd been a few seconds later, Caleb would be dead. The realization was nearly unbearable as she towered above Caleb, suddenly cognizant that his face was still awash with fear. A pang of guilt washed over her as she suspected that part of it may have been due to her, rather than solely Davison's actions.
"Be calm, Caleb. She's just angry," Alton encouraged from behind him as she squatted down beside her mate.
"He's knows he's safe with me," she admonished Alton with aggravation between clenched teeth.
Her soft hand went to the side of Caleb's face, and he finally managed to blink his eyes, breaking the spell he had been under. His hand shook as he reached out to touch the side of her face in response. Her skin felt so soft, but her jaw was firmly set. They just stared at each other for a few seconds in silence. The corners of Katrina's mouth upturned ever so slightly, and her eyes were no longer pulsating, merely glowing brightly green.
"Are you okay?" she asked quietly.
He nodded and mumbled, "Angel Amber."
She pulled him into an embrace as she wrapped her free hand around the base of his head, gently cupping it. No words were needed between them as, in that moment, each sensed what the other was feeling. It was the universal communication of love, affection, and relief.
"So, Davison must have been the second vampire from the Tube station," Alton surmised while observing them from behind. "It would have been nice to know what he knew. Couldn't you have merely wounded him?" Alton asked Katrina carefully.
She sat back from Caleb, looked over at Alton with a determined expression and stated flatly, "No, not after what I saw from the top of the stairs."
Alton sighed heavily and turned his attentions back to Ms. Kendrick. "Marla, are you okay?"
"My body's healing, thanks," she said confidently. "Thanks to Caleb, that is. Davison would've finished me off if Caleb hadn't axed him in the chest."
Katrina's eyes glanced to him with stark surprise, and even Alton seemed taken aback as all eyes fell upon the young human. Caleb swallowed and felt himself blush.
"Well, I mean, Marla distracted him, so I got in a lucky hit," he stammered.
Katrina arched an eyebrow. "I noticed the wound and thought Marla had caused it."
Alton nodded approvingly, supplementing, "As did I."
Katrina's eyes still showed surprise as she contemplated the revelation. Caleb's come so far in his skills that I underestimated him. Perhaps he's no longer quite so helpless. She was utterly proud of her mate.
"Well, we're still somewhat in the dark," Alton lamented as Caleb, Katrina, and Marla followed him back upstairs to the fifteenth floor.
As they walked through the door, numerous vampire and human faces stared at them with curiosity. Caleb ignored everyone, instead glancing towards the elevator area where he had spied the leather-covered bench sitting next to a fake plastic tree. Something about the bench struck an odd chord in his memory.
Alton glanced at a nearby gray-suited vampire and ordered, "Davison's body is lying in the stairwell. Coordinate the sterilization of the scene, and see that our people dispose of the body."
The vampire nodded and proceeded into the stairwell.
"I'm inclined to believe that Caleb may be correct regarding there not being a prearranged attack against him and the Fullers. We had a spy in our ranks, after all," Alton surmised. "Perhaps a rendezvous of sorts got interrupted by their sudden arrival. But, if so, why there?"
"But what are the odds of Caleb's being present on scene at just the right time?" Katrina queried, her mind only partly focused on the topic after all that just transpired.
They fell silent for a moment and proceeded down the hall towards Alton's office. However, Caleb stopped abruptly in the hallway, staring back at the bench near the elevator. Katrina sensed her mate's lack of proximity and darted back to where he stood. She followed his gaze towards the elevators.
"What is it, my love?" she asked guardedly.
"Maybe we're not back at square one, after all," he mumbled, to which she arched an eyebrow in silent query.
"That bench," he said, pointing towards it with an outstretched arm. "I've seen another one just like it recently."
Alton stopped to see what was holding up the pair. He easily heard Caleb's statement, walked back to him, and explained, "Indeed, my boy. We have them throughout the building. They're so popular, in fact, that one was stolen from our lobby earlier this year."
"I know where you can find it. It's in the Tube tunnels," he stated resolutely as he stared at the dark-haired vampire with a vacant expression. "Next to the old door," he mumbled.
Katrina's eyes shot up with surprise, and she reached out to touch him lightly on the arm. "You mean, when you were lost in the tunnels? What old door?" she asked carefully.
His eyes found hers and he smiled from his odd impression when he had first encountered the door. "The one leading to Oz, or Alice's rabbit hole."
Alton and Katrina exchanged odd glances and looked back at him as if he had lost his mind. He frowned when he noted their expressions and reassured them, "It's real, and I'm pretty sure I can take you there."
Twenty minutes later, Alton's office buzzed with activity. Alton and Katrina strategized at the large oak desk regarding a plan and arrangements for raiding the Tube tunnels later that night.
Caleb rinsed a washcloth in Alton's wet bar sink and proceeded to daub the back of Marla's head with it. While the blonde vampire's wound healed quickly, there was still blood smeared through her hair. She smiled appreciatively at him for his ministrations as she sat on the office's leather couch. Caleb merely thought it was the most useful thing he could offer to do.
"You should be resting," she said appreciatively. "You were assaulted as much as me, you know. And you're not a vampire. I'm as good as new already, and you're likely very sore."
Katrina glanced up from her conversation with Alton upon hearing Marla's statements and observed Caleb's reaction closely.
"Well, I'm kind of –" he started to concede until he noticed Katrina's attention. Instead, he replied, "Fine, actually. I feel just fine."
Katrina frowned and shook her head at his cavalier response, but let the topic drop as she returned her attention to Alton. The English vampire grinned momentarily, but reverted to a more serious expression when he noticed Katrina's focus upon him. Caleb thought that he might actually have a subtle advocate in Alton.
The truth was that he felt both achy and sore after the altercation, and his neck was a little stiff. But he wasn't about to give Katrina any ammunition to use in her attempts to dissuade him from accompanying the vampires on the upcoming investigations. Unlike his experience last fall with the vampire Chimalma, he refused to be left behind while Katrina ventured into dangerous waters on his behalf. Then again, it isn't as if anybody is specifically targeting me this time, right?
"Well, I appreciate your assistance with my hair," Marla offered with a smirk. "Perhaps I can get you something to eat or drink?"
He grinned. "Sure, a Coke would be nice. Thanks."
"Coming right up," she said and quickly moved across the office to the wet bar.
After sipping his drink and leaning back into the couch's cushions, he found even the ingestion of caffeine wasn't enough to keep his eyes from drooping. He was dozing before long, and his head bobbed a number of times before he finally leaned against one side of the couch to get more comfortable. He dozed off in virtually no time at all.
"Caleb, my love?" Katrina's soft voice cooed as his mind regained consciousness.
He stretched and immediately moaned from his sore muscles before he had a chance to recall that he had been trying to hide his discomfort from his mate. His eyes snapped open to see Katrina's face watching him with a raised eyebrow and a knowing expression.
"Thought so," she said.
"I'm fine," he countered.
She merely shook her head at him. "It's time for you to show us where you saw the door. Alton has a map of the underground Tube tunnel system on his desk."
"No need," he insisted. "I'll show you myself."
"No, you won't," she countered with a note of finality.
He glanced around the room for the first time since waking and realized that they weren't alone. Alton stood just behind Katrina, while Marla Kendrick and three other men dressed in black combat fatigues sat around the conference table across the room. Another moment of inspection suggested to him that two of the men were vampires based upon their pale skin and piercing eyes. A wave of embarrassment grew in him from the rather public exchange that he and Katrina were having.
However, Katrina paid no attention to the others in the room and remained solely focused on him. "Your recollections, if you please."
He bit the inside of his lip, looked away from her and quietly asserted, "I'm afraid it's not that easy. I'll need to show you in person."
Her gaze turned steely, and she grasped his chin in her hand to turn his face back towards hers. "No games, Caleb," she whispered, although he was well aware that every vampire in the room had clearly heard her.
"I'll have to retrace my steps," he stated flatly. "Besides, given the attack by Davison, wouldn't I be safer with you and Alton?"
She gave no visible reaction as she stared back at her mate, but her mind considered all the angles. He's got a point. But I also know he's lying about not being able to recall his route. She briefly glanced back at Alton, and the stately vampire merely shrugged.
"Reasonable arguments either way, really," he replied in a non-committal tone, although he smirked slightly at Caleb once she looked away from him.
Caleb tried to hold back a smile, but her completely deadpan expression spoke volumes regarding her displeasure, and he quickly lost his inclination for humor. Instead, he swallowed and awaited her response with a straight face.
"Fine," she said and turned to look across the room at the men seated at the conference table. "Suit him up properly, gentlemen," she ordered.
"Thanks for –" Caleb began appreciatively, but she cut him off abruptly.
"Don't," she warned with a stern look. "I'm not happy with you right at the moment."
She stood, motioned to Alton, and stalked out of the office. Caleb watched her go and looked over at the others seated at the conference table. Each of them watched with mild amusement on their faces.
"Well," Marla began with a penetrating smirk. "You heard Ms. Rawlings. Let's prepare him."
Caleb wasn't sure he liked the way she said that.
Within an hour, Caleb's clothes had been replaced with black combat fatigues, black combat boots, and heavy-duty rubber pads secured to his elbows and knees. Only when a vampire approached him with a black flak vest of some kind did he realize there was yet more to come. He felt like he was being outfitted for a cricket match.
Katrina, Alton, and others busily prepared gear for the evening's activities. They were all dressed in similar black combat fatigues and equipment, though Caleb was the only one not sporting web gear of some kind. The large room they were in was like a miniature armory located on the floor below Alton's main offices. There was an array of combat weapons, including large standing vaults containing ammunition, explosives, and other equipment that he couldn't even begin to identify.
"Caleb, a word of advice. This time, please remember not to turn your back on a wounded vampire, young man," Alton advised with a mock-stern expression.
"Well, yeah, but…Hello?" Caleb retorted. "Axe to the chest!"
The corners of Alton's eyes wrinkled from a broad smile as he shook his head in satisfaction. Katrina smirked for the first time since their earlier exchange, watching her flustered mate squeeze into a black bullet-proof assault vest with the aid of one of the fatigue-garbed vampire agents.
Once the vest was over his head, Caleb caught the amused expression on Alton's face.
"Well, that's good advice, I suppose," he admitted.
Katrina walked over to the vampire helping Caleb, waved him off, and proceeded to adjust the straps on his vest herself. "Take a deep breath and hold it," she prompted before cinching the straps down with a tug. "Okay, you can let it out now."
He shifted in the vest and pulled at it as if trying to get more comfortable. "Man, this thing sure weighs a ton," he complained. "Crap! No wonder, there's a huge metal plate sewn in the front of it."
She smacked him on the chest with a firm whack from the flat of her hand, causing him to stumble backwards a couple of feet.
"Feel that?" she asked.
He nodded while walking back towards her awkwardly.
She arched an eyebrow. "Did it hurt?"
He shook his head. "Not at all."
"Exactly. That's why it needs to 'weigh a ton,'" she observed dryly as she turned to slip large combat knives into sheaths arrayed across her combat belt.
"Hey, don't I get one of those?" he asked. "Or maybe a gun?"
She regarded him slyly. "No, in fact, you don't."
"You have me," she interrupted. "And Alton, and a team of other vampires. But most importantly me."
He shook his head and rolled his eyes at her. She quickly reached out and mussed his hair.
"Hey!" he retorted, reaching up to smooth his hair back into place, although he was happy to see that her mood had lightened somewhat.
She handed him a Kevlar-lined steel helmet. "No harm anyway. You're about to have helmet hair."
"Aw, come on," he complained.
Her expression turned edgy as she narrowed her eyes at him, pointing to the helmet with her index finger. "Wear it, or else," she commanded.
He sighed, popped it on his head, and groaned. "Geez, this is lame. I feel like one of those rebel soldiers in Star Wars or something."
"And it might just save your life, so keep it on," she insisted.
"Fine," he said while trying to tighten the chin strap.
She smirked at him while he wasn't looking.
Alton announced, "The Tube tunnels will be shut down by the time we arrive at the substation. Let's move."
Vampires in black fatigues and body armor moved around grabbing equipment and firearms, but Caleb cast a wide-eyed expression at Alton. "You managed to shut down the entire London Tube system?"
He returned a slightly amused look and replied soberly, "Of course. Train operations will be temporarily suspended under the guise of structural inspections. I happen to have key vampire-supportive contacts in the Tube transit system, you realize."
"Yeah," Caleb said dryly. "Obviously." This guy's unbelievable, he thought as Katrina ushered him towards the nearby elevators.
The Tube substation where Caleb had fled into the tunnels was completely deserted by the time they arrived. Six vampires and two humans wearing gear accompanied them into the substation. Caleb appreciated that at least he wasn't the only one in an armored vest, but noted that Katrina and Alton had forgone them. They proceeded into the lobby and down the first tier of escalators, and he immediately recognized the location.
"This was where I saw Davison," he stated quietly, although his voice seemed to echo somewhat in the large, open area.
Everyone looked at him, and Katrina prompted, "Okay. Where did you go from here?"
He led them to the same side corridor that he had run through, albeit at a normal walking pace this time. When he arrived at the metal door at the end of the hallway, Katrina abruptly stepped in front of him and pushed through the door first. Caleb followed her and glanced over his shoulder briefly to see Alton at his heels.
At the foot of the stairs, Katrina proceeded through another metal door and into the dimly lit corridor leading into the tunnel system. As Caleb and Alton stopped next to Katrina, Caleb recalled out loud, "The door locks as soon as you shut it."
One of the two humans, Mullins, grasped the door with one hand while extracting some black tape from a small pocket on his fatigues. Caleb watched the man tape up the striker plate so that the lock mechanism wouldn't engage.
"Clever," he commented absently.
"Ballistics tape," Alton explained. "Comes in handy for lots of things, actually."
Caleb nodded, but then noticed everyone staring at him expectantly. "Oh, yeah, waiting on me," he said and walked towards the end of the corridor.
Katrina and Alton moved ahead of him while the other eight individuals followed in two single-file lines of four. Caleb tried to focus his memory on his trek through the tunnels, which was hampered by having to look past Alton and Katrina in order to get his bearings. He hesitated twice and had them backtrack on one occasion. Finally, after contemplating an upcoming intersection, he stopped abruptly in the middle of the darkened tunnel, causing the two lines of agents behind him to halt.
"Just stop," he announced irritably.
Alton and Katrina paused to glance back at him with frowns.
"What is it?" Alton asked.
He sighed. "I need to be in front of everybody. It's too hard doing this while trying to look past you all the time."
Katrina's eyes momentarily flashed, but then she gestured with her arm and invited in a calm voice, "After you."
His efforts at leading them were much easier, although he was constantly aware of Katrina's presence at his back. Still, it was fortunate. On one occasion, he tripped on a rail and fell forward barely two inches before she had grabbed the back of his vest to hold him in place while he reacquired his footing. Alton and a couple of the team members chuckled at that, causing him to blush furiously.
After what seemed like a nerve-wracking eternity, Caleb happened upon the section of tunnel wall where the older, dimly lit corridor led away into the darkness. He started to walk into it, but Katrina's hand firmly grasped the back of his combat vest and jerked him backwards.
"What the?" he complained.
"Sh!" she admonished in a whisper and inclined her head towards Alton.
Alton nodded in silent reply and used a series of hand gestures to the team members behind him. Mullins stepped aside and adopted a combat stance with his automatic rifle in the middle of the larger tunnel, and four vampires proceeded into the small darkened corridor, followed closely by Alton. Katrina reached behind her to grasp Caleb's hand and place it against her back. The two of them went into the corridor after a few seconds' delay. The remaining two vampires and one human followed behind Caleb.
Walking in near-total darkness was unnerving for Caleb, but he found the contact with Katrina's back both helpful and reassuring. His touch enabled him to stop as soon as Katrina did, though he was nervous standing in the dark. A light suddenly erupted in the room as the human agent produced a handheld lamp very bright for its size. The man nodded at Caleb, who gratefully smiled in return.
Caleb noted the couch sitting along the wall and the small alcove where the old metal door was located. He pointed to it from behind Katrina, although two vampires were already moving towards it. Suddenly, firearms were pointed towards the door by the remaining team members. Katrina stepped backwards while reaching behind her to press Caleb further away from the door, still keeping her body situated in front of him. Alton stood to one side with his arms folded before him.
One of the vampires closest to the door began pressing putty-like plastic explosives around the door frame, over the door lock, and around the hinges. Another vampire placed wires into the material, pulling additional wire a short distance from the door. Everyone moved away, and Katrina turned around to embrace Caleb in her arms. A second later, a muffled boom emitted in the room while a mild concussion wave passed through Caleb's body.
"Stay put!" she ordered as the metal door was pried out of place.
The room erupted with activity all at once, and Alton ordered, "Brown and Jenkins, stay with Caleb!"
Alton, Katrina, and the remaining team members all moved in a blur through the doorway. Caleb barely had time to react before Brown and Jenkins adopted a guard-like stance in the room. He was grateful that Brown, the human, had placed the box-lamp on the floor in the center of the room to provide light.
A series of shouts and gunfire erupted downstairs past the open portal. Caleb's heartbeat pounded as he helplessly listened to the commotion, and he glanced up at the two team members standing near him with a wide-eyed expression. However, they seemed unaffected, although both had grim expressions on their faces.
After a few tense minutes of continued sporadic gunfire and other noises of combat, Brown turned his back to the open doorway to address Caleb. "Everything will be just fine."
A blur of motion exited the doorway behind Brown, and a tall figure with blazing hazel eyes reached up to snap Brown's neck with a sudden twist. The body fell to the floor, and Caleb barely had time to open his mouth before Jenkins slammed into the assailant's body. The two smashed into the nearby concrete wall amidst a flurry of loud impacts being exchanged between the two combatants.
"Katrina!" Alton's voice emanated through the dark doorway, followed by a woman's angst-ridden cry.
Caleb's mind raced. Kat's in trouble!
He ran towards the open portal, but stopped short to reach down and retrieve an automatic pistol from the dead agent's hip holster. He preferred the rifle, but it wasn't anywhere in the immediate vicinity. The two vampires behind him continued to slam each other against walls and pound on each other as he ran through the nearby entryway.
The portal opened into a poorly lit hallway ending with stairs leading into darkness. Heedless of his footing, Caleb sped down a flight of damp concrete steps until reaching the lower level. He stepped into a dimly illuminated concrete corridor extending left and right from where he stood. He cocked his head to one side and paused only a moment to listen. Hearing a skirmish coming from his right, he immediately headed that way.
A tall figure with glowing yellow eyes appeared from a side doorway that Caleb hadn't noticed. The figure wore a leather trench coat and paused only long enough to identify Caleb. In a split-second the figure raced towards him. He raised his right arm and fired his pistol, but only managed a few shots before feeling a vice-like grip at his throat. His body was thrown against the wall, and his helmet-covered head slammed backwards with a loud clanking thud as it impacted the concrete.
Caleb instinctively raised the tip of his pistol and pulled the trigger rapidly. His ears hurt from the piercing sounds of gunfire as he began to choke under the vampire's grasp. A sharp, painful shock ran through his neck, and then abruptly ceased. The figure stepped back slightly, revealing blood running from his jaw as his eyes flared bright yellow.
Before he could react further, Caleb's body uncontrollably slid down against the wall, stopping only when his body hit the floor. The yellow-eyed figure started towards him again, but then disappeared from his view in the blink of an eye. He turned his head sideways to see Alton jam a combat knife underneath the vampire's chin and into his head. Alton slammed the vampire to the ground as if casting a sack of flour to his feet.
Caleb heard a gasp to his right and immediately raised his arm to point his pistol down the hallway as he rotated his head that direction. His hand shook uncontrollably as he struggled to draw air into his lungs while trying to sight a target before him. A second later, he recognized the oncoming figure as Katrina. Her eyes blazed brightly, and she stopped a few feet from him as her attention focused on the pistol in his hand.
He lowered his arm, and she was swiftly at his side. She reached out to take the weapon from his still-shaking hand, while using her free hand to swivel his head to the side so that she could see his neck. Dammit, Caleb! Why didn't you stay put?!
"Are you okay?" she managed to ask in a strained voice, struggling to keep her emotions in check.
He nodded affirmatively while reaching up to his still-aching neck with one hand.
"What the hell were you thinking?!" she rasped.
"Get him topside," Alton commanded as he glanced down at Caleb. "It's not secure down here yet."
Caleb tried to rise, but his legs were only partially under his control, and he still had trouble catching his breath. Katrina frowned and reached down with one hand to grasp him by the combat vest just beneath his chin. With one lurch, she stood upright, and Caleb felt himself floating above the floor. He glanced down, realizing that he was suspended before her.
She turned and began walking with him. As Caleb was facing her, he noticed Alton smirk at her and issue, "Have Brown come down here."
"Brown's dead," Caleb managed to utter in a broken, choked voice. His throat still ached badly.
Katrina's expression hardened, though she kept walking as Alton called, "Fine, then whoever's still alive up there!"
It was surreal to look upon Katrina's stony expression while also feeling himself floating before her as they ascended the stairs leading back to the open portal. He felt like a rag doll being carried in a child's hand.
"Show off," he mumbled in the same raspy voice. "This is embarrassing."
Her glowing eyes bore into his, but he thought that he saw the corners of her mouth upturn slightly. "You should've thought of that before you disobeyed me," she countered.
Moments later, she carried him into the main room where Brown's body lay on the floor. Jenkins looked up with a startled expression as she gently deposited Caleb on the leather couch against the nearby wall as easily as setting down a sack of groceries. The dead vampire combatant from earlier lay motionless on the floor not far from where Jenkins stood.
"Alton said to get downstairs on the double," she ordered flatly.
The vampire disappeared from view, and her attention returned to Caleb. Thank God he's okay, she rejoiced. Now I should strangle him myself! The terror she had felt from seeing him crumpled on the floor downstairs had nearly been unbearable.
"Mad at me?" he asked in a less raspy-sounding voice.
She reached down to place the palm of her hand against the side of his face and used her free hand to unstrap his helmet and lift it from his head. She rotated the back of the helmet where he could see it, and he saw a large dented area where it had impacted the downstairs wall. His eyes widened in shock from the damage done.
"That could have been your head," she declared sternly. "You could be dead right now from that, if not strangled, or your neck snapped by that vampire downstairs. Although I noticed that you managed to get off a lucky shot to his jaw before anything fatal happened. So yeah, you could say I'm not happy right now."
He swallowed hard and managed to whisper, "But I heard a woman scream and thought you were in trouble. I had to help you somehow."
"So, you think I'm the only female vampire around here," she countered, but realized he had no way of knowing that. Her features softened somewhat, and she sat down next to him while maintaining eye contact.
He noticed that her eyes began to return to their normal hue.
"My love," she said gently, again touching his cheek with her palm. "My foolhardy, but brave, love."
Alton appeared at the top of the stairs and walked over to where they were seated. He glanced down at Caleb with a slightly raised eyebrow and touched Katrina on the shoulder lightly. "They managed to take one of two notebook computers that must have been their data collection systems. And at least one of them escaped through a metal grate leading into the city sewer system," he reported. "The area seems clear for now. Counting the one up here and the escaped one, there must have been six of them. It was pretty clear that none of them intended to be taken alive."
"Not surprising, given the way they fought," Katrina replied. "So, is this just the tip of the iceberg?"
"It would seem," Alton replied absently, as if already deep in thought.
"Hey Alton," Caleb offered. "I found your couch."
Alton looked up with a smirk while shaking his head. "Trouble-making scamp."
It was after midnight by the time Katrina and Caleb returned to the hotel. They stopped by Alton's office building to change back into their normal clothes before making their way back to their suite. Despite his pain-wracked body and exhaustion, Caleb insisted on a shower before collapsing into bed.
Katrina lay beside him, observing him sleeping soundly, and appreciated how peaceful and innocent he looked. He shouldn't have accompanied us tonight. She felt more comfortable having him close by, but detested his being in harm's way, even though he had been so insistent about it and complained so little once it was over. Caleb's a real trooper that way.
She glanced at her wristwatch, noting it was after two o'clock, and stared out the window to the city beyond. While still overcast with thick dark clouds, the cold misting rain from earlier had stopped, leaving the city with a gloomy appearance. Perfect vampire weather. Perhaps a walk?
After tying her hair into a neat pony-tail, she slipped into jeans, a sweater, and some leather boots and grabbed her leather jacket. It wasn't as if she needed it, but it was all about a proper public appearance and not attracting too much attention. It was at such times that she appreciated many of the qualities of her body's stamina, including the lack of impact from cold weather.
Following a final glance at Caleb, she slipped quietly from the hotel room and proceeded downstairs. She went to the underground corridor connecting to Alton's office building and into the underground Tube station. From there, she walked to a nearby Tube system exit and onto the streets of London.
She wandered for an hour or so, appreciating the change of scenery from Atlanta. It had been many years since she last roamed the streets of London alone at night. Memories of another time flooded her thoughts, a time when such wandering was a requirement for stalking prey, a meal. Sort of glad those days are long gone. She loved to hunt as much as the next vampire, but it was tedious to have to hunt so frequently and an inefficient use of her spare time. But with the evolution of blood banks, refrigeration, and easy blood access came the boredom and the need for diversions that kept life interesting.
Now Caleb kept her life interesting. He fulfills me in ways that I haven't enjoyed since being human. Memories of her late human husband, Samuel, came to mind. He had been a wonderful husband and a caring father to their children. Samuel was taken from her all too soon, and the children followed. After her turning, centuries of failed partners left her bitter and jaded. Finally, Caleb entered her life, first as a child helping her out of a dire circumstance, and later as a romantic partner, a true mate. Not since Samuel had she found such an excellent pairing for her: a lover, a soul mate. Life felt complete again.
As the late-night walk continued, she tried to imagine life without Caleb. Just the thought of his absence sent a wave of sadness through her. He's going to grow older and eventually die. It was at that moment that she made the critical decision: If it's his preference, I'll turn him. He'd like that, I bet. He'd be an amazing vampire. But she also realized that he wasn't quite ready yet. Or rather, I'm not ready yet. I like him as a human for now, and he still has some maturing to do. Given a few more years, he'll be ready. Like fruit on the tree, it needs time to ripen before it's plucked.
She reflected on how much he already seemed to have matured in the short time she had known him. Gone was the timid young man she had first met. He had gained self-confidence and a boldness of character. Yet he also needed to temper his enthusiasm with a better appreciation for the dangers facing him. That's the maturity he needs to gain most of all. It will come in time with a little mentoring from me. Paige will be helpful, as well.
The thought of her friend and former pupil caused a pause in her musings regarding Caleb. The perky vampire had acted strangely as of late. Certainly, a reasonable period of time had been expected to pass for an investigation into the deaths of Gil Yeager and his friend to leave Paige in the clear. However, it had already been ruled an accident by the authorities. Just another senseless drug-related death, the L.A. Times had proclaimed. Marijuana had been found in both victims' systems, and the late-night conditions, coupled with the sharply curving seaside road, had provided an easy explanation for the men's deaths. So, what's kept Paige from restoring contact with us the past four weeks? It's certainly bothered Caleb recently. Naturally, I'm going to have to deal with that soon, I think. She's important to us: a close friend and his surrogate vampire.
She sighed, glanced at her watch, and was surprised that she had been wandering the city streets for nearly three hours. She had enjoyed her walk through town, but daylight would be coming before long. Besides, she didn't want Caleb to wake and find her gone. It's not like he couldn't call my cell phone. Her eyes widened as she felt inside her coat pockets and failed to feel a phone. I must have left it lying on the nightstand.
She walked quickly in the direction of the hotel, making sure not to move inhumanly fast for fear of being noticed or caught on one of the numerous public cameras casing the city. Vampires had to be more cognizant of such technological developments if they wanted to maintain their anonymity. She finally decided to use the Tube for her journey back to the hotel and arrived within thirty minutes.
When she entered the suite, her keen hearing detected a rapid heartbeat, and her eyes immediately targeted Caleb as he stood in the dark living room before the large window looking out upon the city. She easily saw his concerned expression as he stood with his arms folded before him. She tossed her jacket onto the couch and moved in a blur to stand behind him, wrapping him in her arms.
He winced slightly as pain ran through his chest and shoulders as she hugged him. However, he clenched his jaw against the discomfort, not wanting to admit it to her. He didn't want her to exclude him from adventurous events in the future if they should arise.
However, she easily detected his body's reaction and noted his lack of verbal acknowledgement to it. He's trying to hide it from me again. "What are you doing up?" she asked.
"I woke up about ten minutes ago and found you gone," he said in a tired voice. "And I worried you were out on an additional adventure with Alton or something."
She smiled, appreciating the warmth of his body, as well as his concern for her wellbeing. "I didn't mean to worry you, my love," she replied. "Just enjoying a walk."
He realized her opportunity to be outdoors began at sunset, and he tried to be supportive of that. Still, she seemed somewhat somber, and he frowned.
"Everything okay?" he asked tentatively as his arms reached behind him to embrace her awkwardly.
"More than okay," she assured him. "Everything's perfect."
He smiled at her tone and sighed happily. I couldn't agree more.
"Now, back to bed," she ordered mildly, though she anticipated no argument.
She removed her arms from around him, and he slowly walked back into the bedroom. He turned off the lamp on the nightstand and sat gingerly on the edge of the bed while swallowing some ibuprofen and sipping from a nearby glass of water.
Meanwhile, she slipped out of her clothes, quickly slid beneath the covers, and held the sheet and blankets up for him to nestle underneath. Given that the room's temperature felt a little chill to him, he kept his sweatpants and t-shirt on and lay carefully back in bed. She covered him up, gently nestled next to him, and kissed him affectionately on the back of the neck. She lay next to him in the dark, listening to his strong heartbeat and regular breathing as he drifted back off to sleep. And despite not really needing the sleep, she dozed for a couple of hours herself.
By Thursday, Caleb was still quite sore, but made an effort to mask it from Katrina, deliberately telling her he felt just fine. However, she knew better and purposefully selected low-impact activities for them. When he had toured the city with the Fullers, he located a few museums and tourist sites that could be accessed indoors via the Tube. She selected a couple of locations not far from the hotel, and they used the Tube to cover the distance to them. Once there, she found frequent excuses to sit and "observe" paintings, sculptures, or other interests to allow him to rest. He was silently appreciative.
Halfway through the day at one such "observational stop," he put his arm around her and commented quietly, "You know it. And I know you know it. But thanks for not saying anything, just the same."
She smirked, having deciphered the nature of his comment, and kissed him lightly on the lips. Anytime, my love.
They returned to the hotel early, and Caleb took a long nap before dinner. By evening, he was still quite sore, but felt much more rested. They went out to dinner at a locally owned restaurant specializing in Italian and had a wonderful, romantic time together. They laughed, held hands across the table, and shared a bottle of dessert wine until late in the evening.
Another perfect day together, Katrina thought happily as she lay beside him in bed that night.
The brief remainder of the week went smoothly with no interruptions from wayward vampires, or assailants, or even any adventurous errands with Alton. Katrina and Caleb spent time together relaxing and enjoying each other's company. It felt like a real getaway, a true vacation. Thanks to the more sedate pace of activities, Caleb's body also recuperated, and by late Friday he felt more his usual self.
During the early part of the day, the Fullers returned to take him out on the town. However, they made sure to use a car and stay in the daylight, completely avoiding the Tube. It was very enjoyable, and Caleb was able to see sights located on the outer parts of the city, including a brief drive out to the country to see a more pastoral side of England.
Alton shared part of the early evening with them and took them out to dinner again at Shakespeare's. This time, Caleb tried the Shepherd's Pie and discovered that, much to his surprise, he found mutton somewhat tasty.
"I've really enjoyed seeing you again, Alton," he offered at dinner. "And thanks for saving my life the other night."
Alton observed him with an appraising expression. "No thanks are necessary, dear boy. And it's been wonderful seeing you again, to be brutally honest. Perhaps we'll see each other again this summer. There's a European conference on the horizon I've asked Katrina to attend, you see."
Caleb's eyes rose with speculative interest, while Katrina looked at Alton sharply, muttering, "Perhaps. We'll have to see."
Alton assumed a diplomatic expression and quietly sipped from a glass of rare vintage wine. "Our information systems staff have discovered that Davison was accessing reports of our surveillance activities in London," he informed them. "He was copying those reports and providing them to his contacts stationed in the Tube tunnels. It's likely that Caleb and the Fullers interrupted a 'data drop' that day at the station. And I suspect they took the leather couch as a bit of an inside joke, operating right under our noses, so to speak."
He paused for a moment to let that sink in before changing the subject. "I hope, despite a couple of speed bumps, you've enjoyed your holiday to England," he ventured.
Katrina glared at the dark-haired vampire from across the table and chastised, "Speed bumps? You have a gift for understatement, Alton."
"It's been very educational, actually," Caleb replied easily and added with a smirk: "I learned never to turn my back on a wounded vampire."
Katrina arched an eyebrow as she glanced at her mate, while Alton nodded.
"Well said, my boy. Now finish your wine. It's very old and expensive."
Katrina merely rolled her eyes while Caleb grinned. He once again marveled at the fact that he was sitting down to dinner with beings who had lived on Earth for five hundred years and more. Vampires are absolutely amazing. Well, when they're not busy trying to terrify or kill you, that is.
Katrina caught his attention with a sparkle in her eyes, and he smiled warmly. But most of all, when they love you, it's like being the center of their universe.
Early Friday evening, Katrina and Caleb paid a final, brief visit to Dr. Guilhelm. The three of them had a productive discussion regarding Caleb's progress in dealing with his new memories. Later that evening, it was time for them to bid goodbye to Alton and the city of London. The stately vampire seemed quite sincere when voicing his regrets over the unplanned events that had overshadowed their stay. He promised a completely different experience if they were able to visit again. He even accompanied them in the limousine ride to the airport.
Katrina hugged her tall friend and former mentor, kissed him on the cheek affectionately, and whispered in a sincere tone, "Alton, you've been a consummate host for both Caleb and me. Thank you for everything. And come visit when you can. We'd both like that."
Alton nodded and kissed her on the cheek in return. "Count on it," he muttered with a disarming smile. Then he turned to Caleb and reached out to shake his hand.
But this time, it was Caleb who pulled Alton towards him and clasped him on the back briefly in a partial hug. The vampire chuckled and grinned with approval as they parted.
"Try to stay out of trouble, scamp," he teased.
"Keep an eye on your couches," Caleb replied.
Minutes later, Katrina and Caleb boarded the Sunset Air flight. Once they settled into their cabin, which was as elaborate and comfortable as the one in which they had traveled to England, Caleb felt his eyelids growing heavy. He had been on the go since early that morning. But the day's events had finally caught up with him, and he yawned dramatically.
Katrina smirked, settling down beside him. She rotated in her seat and kissed him warmly. "I love you," she offered after their lips parted.
He smiled. "Love you too."
Soon after takeoff, Caleb fell asleep, remaining that way for most of the return flight. Katrina frequently glanced at him fondly and read the mystery novel she had started back at the hotel.READ MORE >>