Blood Price (Vicki Nelson #1)

Chapter 10

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"All stand for the word of the Lord. We read today from The Gospel According to St. Mathew, Chapter twenty-eight, Verses one to seven."

"Praised be the word of the Lord."

"In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. Thus endeth the lesson."

The Gloria almost raised the roof off the church and just for that moment the faith in life everlasting as promised by the Christian God was enough to raise a shining wall between the world and the forces of darkness.

Too bad it wouldn't last.

"Back up, please. Move aside."

Hands cuffed behind them, the brothers were brought out through the police barricade and into the alley. Curious neighbors surged forward, then back, like a living sea breaking against a wall of blue uniforms. Neither man noticed the onlookers. Roger, smelling of vomit, dry retched constantly and William cried silent tears, his eyes almost closed. They were shoved, none too gently, into one of the patrol cars, shutters clicking closed in a half dozen media cameras.

Ignoring the reporters' shouted questions, two of the constables climbed into the car and, siren hiccuping, maneuvered the crowded length of the back lane. The other two added their bulk to the living wall that blocked the view of the yard. "No one speaks to the media," the investigator in charge of the case had told them, his tone leaving no room for dissension.

The body came out next, the bouncing of the gurney moving it in a macabre parody of life within the body bag. A dozen pairs of lungs exhaled, the shutters closed again, and over it all a television reporter droned in on-the-spot coverage. The faint antiseptic smell of the coroner's equipment left an almost visible track through the damp morning air.

"I seen her before the cops stuffed her in the bag," confided a neighbor to an avidly listening audience. She paused, enjoying the feeling of power, and cinched her spring coat more tightly over her plaid flannel nightgown. "Her face was all bashed in and her legs were apart." Nodding sagely, she added, "You know what that means."

Listeners echoed her nod.

As the coroner's wagon drove away, the police barricade broke up into individual men and women who hurriedly stepped out of the way as Mike Celluci and his partner came out of the yard.

"Get statements from anyone who saw something or who thinks they saw something," Celluci ordered. At any other time he would have been amused at the reaction that invoked in the crowd as half of them preened and the other half quietly slipped away, but this morning he was far beyond amusement. The very senselessness of this killing wrapped him in a rage so cold he doubted he'd ever be warm again.

The reporters, for whom the story had more reality than what had actually happened, surged forward, demanding some sort of statement from the police. The two homicide investigators pushed through them silently until they got to their car, a rudimentary instinct of self-preservation keeping the reporters from actually blocking their way.

As Celluci opened his door, Dave leaned forward and murmured, "We've got to say something, Mike, or God knows what they'll come up with." Celluci glowered at his partner, but Dave refused to back down. "I'll do it if you'd rather not."

"No." Scowling, he looked out at the pack of jackals. "Anicka Hendle is dead because of the asinine stories you lot have been spreading about vampires. You're as much responsible as those two cretins we took away. Quite the story. I hope you're proud of it."

Sliding in behind the wheel, he slammed his car door closed with enough force to create echos between the neighboring houses.

A single reporter moved out of the stunned mass, microphone raised, but Dave Graham shook his head.

"I wouldn't," he suggested quietly.

Microphone still in the air, the reporter stopped and the whole pack of them watched as the two investigators drove away. The unnatural stillness lasted until the car cleared the end of the alley then a voice behind them prodded the pack back into action.

"I seen her before the cops stuffed her in the bag."

"You still have that friend at the tab?"

"Celluci?" Vicki settled back into her recliner, lifting the phone onto her lap. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"That Fellows woman, the one who writes for the tabloid, are you still seeing her?"

Vicki frowned. "Well I'm not exactly seeing her… "

"For Chrissakes, Vicki, this is no time to be coy! I'm not asking if you sleep with her; do you talk to her or not?"

"Yeah." In fact, she'd been going to call her that very afternoon to see what could be done to ease Henry's fears about peasant hordes with stakes and garlic. What weird serendipity had Celluci thinking about Anne Fellows on the same day? They'd only met once and hadn't hit it off, had spent the entire party circling each other like wary dogs looking for an exposed throat. "Why?"

"Get a pen and paper, I've got some things I want you to tell her."

His tone sent Vicki scrabbling in the recliner's side pocket and by the time he started to talk she'd unearthed a ballpoint and a coffee-stained phone pad. When he finished, she swore softly. "Jesus-God, Mike, can I assume the higher-ups don't know you're passing this along?" She heard him sigh wearily and before he could speak, said, "Nevermind. Stupid question."

"I don't want this to happen again, Vicki. The papers started it, they can finish it."

Vicki looked down at the details of Anicka Hendle's life and death, scrawled across three sheets of paper in her precisely readable handwriting, and understood Celluci's anger and frustration. An echo of it brushed her spine like a cold finger. "I'll do what I can."

"Let's hope it's enough."

She recognized the finality in that statement, knew he was hanging up, and yelled his name. The seconds she had to wait before she knew he'd heard her were the longest she'd faced in a while.

"What?" he growled.

"I'll be home tonight."

She could hear him breathing so she knew he was still on the line.

"Thanks," he said at last and the click as he put down the receiver was almost gentle.

From where she sat by Druxy's back wall, Vicki could see the door as well as most of Bloor and Yonge through the huge windows. She'd decided this story was too important to chance a possible misunderstanding over the phone and had convinced Anne to meet her here for lunch. Face-to-face, she knew she'd have a better chance of convincing the columnist that the press had a responsibility to ensure that there wouldn't be another Anicka Hendle.

She picked at the rolled cardboard edge of her coffee cup. Henry wanted the press coverage of the "vampire situation" stopped to protect himself, and Vicki had been willing to do what she could. She should have realized that Henry wasn't the only one in danger. The cardboard ripped and she swore as the hot coffee spilled over her hand.

"Some detective. I could've smacked you on the head with a two by four and you'd never even have noticed I was there."

"How… ?"

"I came in the little door in the east corner, O investigative one." Anne Fellows slid into the seat across from Vicki and dumped the first of four packages of sugar into her coffee. "Now, what's so important you had to drag me out in the rain?"

Prodding at her pickle with a stir stick, Vicki wondered where to begin. "A woman got killed this morning… "

"I hate to burst your bubble, sweetie, but women get killed every morning. What's so special about this one that you've decided to share it with me?"

"This one's different. Have you talked to your paper today? Or heard the news?"

Anne rolled her eyes over the edge of her corned beef on a kaiser. "Give me a break, Vicki. It's Easter Sunday and I'm off. It's bad enough I have to wallow in this shit all week."

"Well, then, let me tell you about Anicka Hendle." Vicki glanced down at her notes, more to settle her thoughts than for information. "It started with the newspapers and their vampire stories… "

"Not you, too! You wouldn't believe the nut cases that've been calling the paper the last couple of weeks." Anne took a swallow of coffee, frowned and put in another sugar packet. "Don't tell me-the kids are scared and you want me to write that there's no such thing as vampires."

Vicki thought of Henry, hidden away from daylight barely two blocks from the deli, and then of the young woman who'd been impaled with a sharpened hockey stick, the force of the blow not only killing her but nailing her to the ground like a butterfly on a pin. "That's exactly what I want you to write," she said through clenched teeth. She laid out each gruesome detail of Anicka's story as if she were on the witness stand, all emotion leeched from her voice. It was the only way she could get through it without screaming or throwing something.

Anne put down her sandwich early on and never picked it back up again.

"The press started this," Vicki finished. "It's up to the press to end it."

"Why call me? There were reporters at the scene."

"Because you told me once that the difference between a columnist and a reporter is that the columnist has the luxury to not only ask why but to try to answer it."

Anne's eyebrows went up. "You remember that?"

"I don't forget much."

The two women looked down at the notes and Anne snorted softly. "Lucky you." She scooped them up and at Vicki's nod stuffed them in her backpack. "I'll do what I can, but I'm not making any promises. There's screwballs all over this city and not all of them read my stuff. I suppose I can't ask where you got this information?" Much of it had been minutia not normally released to the press. "Never mind." She stood. "I can work around it without mentioning Celluci's name. I hope you realize that you've ruined my Sunday?"

Vicki nodded and crushed her empty cup. "Happy Easter."

"Henry Fitzroy is not able to come to the phone at the moment, but if you leave your name and number and a reason for your call after the tone, he'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you. If that's you, Brenda, I'll have it done by deadline. Stop worrying."

As the tone sounded, Vicki wondered who Brenda was and what it referred to. Then she remembered Captain Macho and the young lady with the heaving bosoms. The concept of a vampire with an answering machine continued to amuse her even as she recognized its practicality- creatures of the night, welcome to the twentieth century. "Henry, it's Vicki. Look, there's no point in me coming over tonight. We don't know anything new and I certainly can't help with your stakeout. If something happens, call me. If not, I'll call you tomorrow." She frowned as she hung up. Something about talking to machines made her voice sound like Jack Webb doing narration for old Dragnet episodes. "I had a cheese danish," she muttered, pushing her glasses up her nose. "Friday had a cruller."

Grabbing up her jacket and her bag, she headed for the door. When Celluci left the station, he'd be expected at his grandmother's to spend Easter Sunday with assorted aunts, uncles, cousins, and offspring. It happened every holiday and there wasn't an excuse good enough to get him out of it if he wasn't actually working. If he couldn't get what he needed from them, and, given what had happened to Anicka Hendle, she doubted he could-however supportive and loving his family was, they didn't, couldn't understand the anger and the frustration-he'd be over no earlier than eight. She had time to go through at least a division's worth of occurrence reports this afternoon.

As she locked the door, the phone began to ring. She paused, staring into the apartment through the six inch gap. It couldn't be Henry. It wouldn't be Celluci. Coreen was still out of town. It was probably her mother. She closed the door. She wasn't up to the guilt.

"… as well as all cables, a power bar, and a surge suppressor. In short, a complete system." Vicki tapped the occurrence report with the end of her pencil. What she knew about computers could be easily copied onto the head of a pin and still leave room for a couple of angels to tango but, if she read these numbers correctly, the system that had been lifted out of the locked and guarded computer store made her little clone back at the apartment look like an abacus.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't the Winged Victory."

Vicki's lips drew back in a snarl. She shifted the snarl a millimeter at both ends, almost creating a smile. "Staff-Sergeant Gowan, what an unexpected pleasure."

Not bothering to hide his own snarl, Gowan snatched the reports up off the desk and swung his bulk around to face the duty sergeant. "What the fuck is this civilian doing here?" He shook the fistful of papers.^" And where did she get the authorization to read these?"

"Well, I … "the duty sergeant began.

Gowan cut him off. "Who the fuck are you? This is my station and I say who comes in and who doesn't." He shoved his gut in Vicki's direction and she hurriedly stood, before he moved the desk so far she was trapped behind it. "This civilian has no fucking business being anywhere near this building, no matter what kind of a hot-shit investigator she used to be."

"Don't give yourself a coronary, Staff-Sergeant." Vicki shrugged into her jacket and slung her bag over her shoulder. "I'm just leaving."

"Fucking right, you're leaving, and you won't be back either, Nelson, remember that." The veins in his throat bulged and his pale eyes blazed with hatred. "I don't care who you had to blow to get your rank, but you don't have it now. Remember that, too!"

Vicki felt a muscle jump in her jaw with the effort of maintaining control. In her right hand, the pencil snapped, the crack of the splintering wood ringing through the quiet station like a gunshot. The radio operator jumped, but neither she nor the duty sergeant made a sound. They didn't even seem to be breathing. Moving with brittle precision, Vicki dropped both pieces of pencil in the waste basket and took a step forward. Her world centered on the two watery blue circles under silver-gray brows that glared down at her. She took another step, teeth clenched so tightly the force hummed in her ears.

"Go ahead," he sneered. "Take a shot at me. I'll have you cuffed so fast your ass'll be in holding before your head knows what happened."

With tooth and claw, Vicki managed to hold onto her temper. Losing it would accomplish nothing and, as much as she hated to admit it, Gowan was right. Her rank no longer protected her from him nor from the system. Maneuvering somehow through the red haze of her fury, she managed to get out of the station.

On the steps, she began to tremble and had to lean against the brick until it stopped. Behind her, she could hear Gowan's voice raised again. The duty sergeant would be catching the force of his anger and it infuriated her that there was nothing she could do to stop it. Had she known the staff-sergeant would be dropping in at the station on his day off, not even the hordes of hell could've gotten her out there.

Desperate to be a detective, Gowan had never made it out of uniform. Ignoring the fact that in many respects the staff-sergeants ran the force, he wanted to be an inspector so bad he could taste it, but he'd been passed over twice for promotion and knew he'd never make it now. He hated Vicki on both counts and hated her more because she was a woman who'd beaten the boys at their own game and he hated her finally and absolutely for having him reprimanded after having come upon him roughing up a kid in the holding cells.

Vicki returned the sentiment. Power always attracts those who will abuse it. She'd never forgotten that line from the orientation lecture at the police academy. Some days, it was easier to remember than others.

Too strung out to take transit, she flagged down a taxi, thinking, and damn the twenty bucks it would probably cost to get her home.

The afternoon hadn't been a total loss. She'd call a friend who knew computers with the information on the stolen system and see if he could pinpoint what a setup like that would be used for. Just about anything, she suspected, -but it never hurt to ask and maybe they'd pick up another handle on the demon-caller.

She hunched down into the stale smelling upholstery as the rain splattered against the taxi's grimy windows. After all, how many hackers with black leather jackets, assault rifles, and their own personal demons can there be in Toronto?

Celluci showed up just after nine.

Vicki took one look at his expression and said, "They treated you with kid gloves."

"Like they were walking on eggshells," he agreed, scowling.

"They mean well."

"Don't tell me what they mean." He threw his coat over a chair. "I know what they mean!"

The fight that developed left them both limp and wrung out. When it was over, when its inevitable aftermath was over, Vicki pushed damp hair off Celluci's forehead and kissed him gently. He sighed without opening his eyes, but his arms tightened around her. Snagging the duvet with the tip of one finger, she tugged it over them both, then stretched again and flicked off the light.

There was a very good reason a lot of cops turned to substance abuse of one kind or another. Throughout the four years of their relationship, until Vicki had left the force, she'd acted as Mike Celluci's safety valve and he'd done the same for her. Just because the situation had changed, that didn't need to. She didn't know what he'd done during the eight months they hadn't been speaking. She didn't want to know either.

Shifting his weight a little, she closed her eyes. Besides, all things considered, she'd just as soon not sleep alone. It would be nice to have someone warm to hold on to when the nightmares came.

The trees surrounding the graveyard bent almost double in the wind, their silhouettes wild and ragged. Henry shivered. Three nights of waiting had left him edgy and longing for a confrontation of any kind. Even losing would be better than much more of this. Demonic lore left large pieces to the imagination and his imagination obligingly kept filling them in.

The path of power, still waiting for an anchor, pulsed sullenly, damped down by Easter Sunday and the symbolic rising of Christ.

Then it changed.

The pulse quickened, the darkness deepening into something other than night.

Somewhere, Henry knew, the pentagram had been drawn, the fire had been lit, and the call had begun. He tensed, senses straining, ready to close his own pentagram at the first sign. This was it. The lesser demon then, if he couldn't stop it, the greater and with it the end of the world. His right hand rose in the sign of the cross. "Lord, lend your strength," he prayed.

The next thing he knew, he was kneeling on the damp ground, tears streaming from light sensitive eyes as afterimages danced in glory on the inside of his lids.

The third drop of blood hit the coals, and the air over the pentagram shivered and changed. Norman sat back on his heels and waited. This afternoon, he'd found where Coreen lived-the student records at York had been almost insultingly easy to hack into. Tonight, there would be no more mistakes and she'd pay for what she'd done to him.

The throbbing in his head grew until it seemed the entire world thrummed with it.

He frowned as the shimmering grew more pronounced and a hazy outline of the demon appeared. It almost seemed to be fighting against something, lashing out against an invisible opponent. Its mouth opened in a soundless shriek and abruptly the pentagram was clear.

At that same instant, the coals in the hibachi blazed up with such power that Norman had to throw himself backward or be consumed. The throbbing became a high-pitched whine. He clawed at his ears, but it went on and one and on.

After three or four seconds of six-foot flames, the tempered steel of the hibachi melted to slag, the flames disappeared, and a gust of wind from the center of the pentagram not only blew the candles out but threw them against the far wall where they shattered.

"That isn't p-possible," he stammered into the sudden silence. His ears still rang with echoes, but even the throbbing had died, leaving an aching emptiness where it had been. While a part of his mind cowered in fear, another disbelieved the evidence of his eyes. Heat enough to melt the cast iron hibachi should have taken the entire apartment building with it.

He reached out a trembling hand and touched the pool of metal, all that remained of the tiny barbecue. His fingertips sizzled and a heartbeat later he felt the pain.

It hurt too much to scream.

When his sight finally returned, Henry dragged himself to his feet. He hadn't been hit that hard in centuries. Why he hadn't assumed it was the Demon Lord breaking through he had no idea, but he hadn't, not even during that first panicked instant of blindness.

"So what was it?" he asked, sagging against a concrete angel and brushing mud off his knees. He could just barely feel the power signature of the naming. It had retreated as far as it could without returning to hell altogether. "Any ideas, mister, miss … " he asked, turning to read the name off the headstone. Carved into the stone at the angel's feet was the answer.

CHRISTUS RESURREXIT! Christ is risen.

Henry Fitzroy, vampire, raised a good Catholic, dropped back to his knees and said a Hail Mary-just in case.

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