Blood Price (Vicki Nelson #1)

Chapter 11

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Coreen slipped through the double doors moments before the class was about to begin and made her way across the lecture hall to a cluster of her friends. Her eyes had the fragile, translucent look of little sleep and much crying. Even the bright red tangle of her hair seemed dimmed.

The cluster opened and let her in, seating her in the safety of their circle, offering expressions of shock and sympathy. Although Janet had been a friend to all of them, Coreen had seen her last and that gave her grief an immediacy theirs couldn't have.

None of them, Coreen least of all, was aware of the expression of hatred that crossed Norman Birdwell's face every time he glanced in their direction.

How dare she still live when I said she was to die.

The throbbing had returned sometime during the night, each pulse reassuring Norman that the power was still his, each pulse demanding that Coreen pay.

Coreen had become the symbol for everyone who had ever laughed at him. For every slut who'd spread her legs for the football team but not for him. For every jock who pushed him aside as if he wasn't there. Well, he was there, and he'd prove it. He'd turn his demon loose on the lot of them-but first Coreen had to die.

Very carefully, he moved his bandaged hand from his lap to the arm of the chair. After spending a virtually sleepless night, he'd stopped by the student medical center before class. If that's what his student funds paid for, he wasn't impressed. First, they'd made him wait until two people who'd arrived before him went in-even though he was obviously in more pain-and then the stupid cow had hurt him when she'd taped down the gauze. They hadn't even wanted to hear the story he'd made up about how he did it.

Briefcase awkwardly balanced on his knees, he pulled out the little black book he'd bought in high school to keep girls' phone numbers in. The first four or five pages had been raggedly torn out and on the first remaining page, under the word Coreen, he wrote, the Student Medical Center.

From here on, Norman Birdwell was going to get even.

He didn't understand what had gone wrong the night before. He'd performed the ritual flawlessly. Something had interfered, had stopped the demon, had stopped his demon. Norman frowned. Obviously, there were things around stronger than the creature he called to do his bidding. He didn't like that. He didn't like that at all. How dare something be able to interfere with him.

He could see only one solution. He'd have to get a stronger demon.

After the lecture, he made his way to the front of the class and planted himself between the professor and the door. Over the years he'd learned that the best way to get answers was to block the possibility of escape.

"Professor Leigh? I need to talk to you."

Resignedly, the professor set his heavy briefcase back by the lectern. He tried to be available when his students needed him, recognizing that a few moments of answering questions could occasionally clarify an entire semester's work, but Norman Birdwell would corner him for no better reason than to prove how clever he was. "What is it, Norman?"

What was it? The throbbing had grown so loud again it had become difficult to think. With an effort, he managed to blurt out, "It's about my seminar topic. You said earlier that as well as a host of lesser demons there were also Demon Lords. Can I assume that the Demon Lords are the more powerful?"

"Yes, Norman, you can." He wondered briefly what the younger man had done to his fingers. Probably got them caught in a metaphorical cookie jar…

"Well, how can you tell what you're going to get? I mean if you call up a demon, how can you ensure that you're going to get a Demon Lord?"

Professor Leigh's brows rose. This sounded like it was going to be one hell of a seminar. So to speak. "The rituals for calling up one of the demon kind are very complicated, Norman… "

Norman hid a sneer. The rituals were nonspecific but hardly complicated. Of course, he'd never be able to convince the professor that. Professor Leigh thought he knew everything. "How do they differ for a Demon Lord?"

"Well, just for starters, you need a name."

"Where do I find one?"

"I am not going to do your research for you, Norman." The professor picked up his briefcase and headed for the door, expecting Norman to move out of his way. Norman stayed right where he was. Faced with a shoving match or surrender, Professor Leigh sighed and surrendered. "I suggest you have a word with Dr. Sagara at the University of Toronto's Rare Book Room. She might have something that can help."

Norman weighed the worth of that information for a moment then nodded, stepping back against the blackboard. It was less than he wanted, but it was a beginning and he still had ten hours until midnight.

"Fine. I'll call Dr. Sagara and tell her you'll be coming down." Once safely out in the corridor, the professor grinned. He almost wished he could be there to see the irresistible force come up against the immovable object. Almost.

A few flakes of snow slapped wetly against his face as Norman stood waiting for the bus. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, glad he'd worn his sneakers-cowboy boots, he'd discovered, had next to no insulation against the cold. The black leather jacket kept him reasonably warm, although the fringe kept flapping up and whipping him in the back of the neck.

When he saw the bus approaching, he moved to the curb, only to be engulfed by the waiting pack of students and pushed back almost to the end of the line. All his efforts to regain his place met with failure and finally he gave in, shuffling forward with the line and fuming.

Just wait…. Norman shifted his grip on his briefcase, ignoring the way it cracked against the shins of the person next to him. When I have my Demon Lord, there'll be no more lines, no more buses, no more sharp elbows. He glared at the back of the tall skinny young man attached to the elbow in question. As soon as he got a chance, that guy was going on the list.

Vicki allowed herself to be caught up in the rush of students and carried with them out through the back doors of the bus. Intensive eavesdropping during the long trip had taught her two things; that nothing had changed much since she'd gone to university and that the verb "says" seemed to have disappeared from common usage.

"… so then my dad goes, if you're going to take the car out I gotta know where you're going like and …"

And what's really depressing is that she's probably an English major. Out on the sidewalk at last, Vicki fastened her jacket and took a quick look back at the bus. The doors were just closing behind the last of the students fleeing the campus and, as she watched, the heavily loaded vehicle lumbered away. Well, that was that, then; no changing her mind for another forty minutes.

She felt a little foolish, but this was the best idea she could come up with. With any luck, the head of the computer science department would be able-and willing-to tell her who'd be likely to own and use the stolen computer system. Coreen might have had information that could help sort the living needle out of the haystack, after all, she was a student out here, but when Vicki'd called her apartment at about 8:30 there'd been no answer.

Pushing her glasses up her nose, she started across the parking lot, watching for black leather jackets. As Celluci had pointed out, there were a number of them on males and females both. Vicki knew Ml well that physical characteristics had nothing to do with the ability to commit crime, but she looked anyway. Surely a demon-caller must show some outward manifestation of that kind of evil.

Norman pushed into the first available seat. His injured hand should've entitled him to one the moment he got on the bus but not one of his selfish, self-centered fellow students would get up although he'd glared at all and sundry. Still sulking, he fished his calculator out of his shirt pocket, and began to work out the time he'd need to spend downtown. He was, at that very moment, missing an analytical geometry class. It was the first class he'd ever skipped. His parents would have fits. He didn't care. As much as he'd hoarded every A and A plus-he had a complete record of every mark he'd ever received-he'd realized in the last couple of days that some things were more important.

Things like getting even.

When the bus finally wheezed into the subway station, Norman was deep in a pleasant fantasy of rearranging the world so that jocks and their sort were put where they belonged and he got the recognition and the women he deserved. Chin up, he strutted down to the trains, oblivious to the raised brows and the snickers that followed him. A Norman Birdwell run world would be set up to acknowledge the value of Norman Birdwell.

"Dr. Sagara?"

"What?"

Norman was a little surprised at the vehemence in the old lady's voice; he hadn't even asked her for anything yet. "Professor Leigh said I should talk to you."

"What about?" She glared up at him over the edge of her glasses.

"I'm doing a project on demons… "

"The ones on the Board of Directors?" She sniggered, then shook her head at his complete lack of reaction. "That was a joke."

"Oh." Norman peered down at her, annoyed at the lack of light. Bad enough that the Rare Book Room itself was so dark-a few banks of fluorescents would be a decent start until the whole smelly mess could be transcribed onto a mainframe-but it really was unnecessary to carry the conceit over into the offices. The brass lamp threw a pool of gold onto the desk, but Dr. Sagara's face itself was in shadow. He looked around for a wall switch but couldn't see one.

"Well?" Dr. Sagara tapped the fingers of one hand against her desk blotter. "What does Professor Leigh think your project has to do with me? He was singularly nonspecific on the phone."

"I need to find out about Demon Lords." His voice picked up the rhythm of the throbbing.

"Then you need a grimoire."

"A what?"

"I said," she spoke very slowly and distinctly as though to an idiot, "you need a grimoire; an ancient, practically mythological book of demon lore."

Norman bent forward, squinting a little as he came within the sphere of the desk lamp. "Do you have one?"

"Well, your Professor Leigh seems to think I do."

Grinding his teeth, Norman wished U of T paid more attention to its retirement regulations. The old lady was obviously senile. "Do you?"

"No." She laced her fingers together and leaned back in her chair. "But if you really want one, I suggest you contact a young man by the name of Henry Fitzroy. He came to visit me when he first moved to Toronto. Spitting image of his father as a young man. His father had a great love of antiquities, books in particular. Donated a number of the books we have in our collection here. God knows what young Henry inherited."

"This Henry Fitzroy has a grimoire?"

"Do I look like God? I don't know what he has, but he's your best bet in the city."

Norman pulled his electronic address book out of his briefcase. "Do you have his number?"

"Yes. But I'm not going to give it to you. You have his name, look it up. If he's not in the phone book, he obviously doesn't want to be bothered."

Norman stared at her in astonishment. She couldn't just not tell him, could she? The throbbing became a kettledrum between his ears.

Yes, she could.

"Good afternoon, young man."

Norman continued to stare.

Dr. Sagara sighed. "Good afternoon," she repeated more firmly.

"You have to tell me… "

"I don't have to tell you anything." Whining topped her rather considerable list of character traits she couldn't abide. "Get out."

"You can't talk to me like that! "Norman protested.

"I can talk to you anyway I like, I have tenure. Now are you going to leave or am I going to call library security?"

Breathing heavily through his nose, he whirled and stamped toward the door.

Dr. Sagara watched him go, brows drawn down and two vertical lines cutting into her forehead. Professor Leigh would be hearing from her about this. Obviously, he still bore a grudge for that C minus.

She'll be sorry. Norman charged through the dim quiet of the Rare Book Room and careened off the entrance turnstile. They'll all be sorry! The exit was on the other side of the guard's desk. If anyone laughs at me, they're dead.

He slammed into the exit bar and got his briefcase caught between it and the desk. The grinding noise brought a startled exclamation from the guard.

"No, I don't need your help!" Norman snarled. Bandaged hand waving, he yanked at the case and jammed it more tightly. "This is all your fault," he growled as the guard came around to see what could be done. "If you built these things properly, there'd be room!"

"If you were more careful going through them… " the guard muttered, jiggling the mechanism and hoping he wasn't going to have to call building maintenance.

"You can't talk to me like that. It wasn't my fault." In spite of his awkward position, Norman drew himself up and looked the guard right in the eye. "Who's your supervisor?"

"Wha… " The guard, who had never considered himself an imaginative man, had the strangest feeling that something not the least human studied him from behind the furious gaze of the young man. The muscles in his legs felt suddenly weak and he wanted desperately to look away.

"Your supervisor, who is he? I'm going to register a complaint and you'll lose your job."

"And I'll what?"

"You heard me." With a final heave, the briefcase came free, deeply scored down one side. "You just wait!" Norman backed out the door, almost running down two students trying to enter. He scowled at the confused guard. "You'll see!"

He felt better by the time he'd walked to Bloor Street. With every step, he imagined pulling one of those stupid so-called rare books off the shelves, throwing it on the sidewalk in front of him, and kicking it out into traffic. Still breathing a little heavily, he went into the phone booth at the gas station and looked up the name the crazy old woman had given him.

Henry Fitzroy had no listed number.

Letting the phone book fall, Norman almost laughed. If they thought a minor detail like that could stop him…

On the way back to his apartment, he added Dr. Sagara, the library guard, and a surly TTC official to his black book. He didn't worry much about the lack of names; surely a Demon Lord would be powerful enough to work without them.

Once home, he added his upstairs neighbor. On principle more than anything else, for the heavy metal beat pounding through his ceiling only seemed to enhance the beat pulsing in his head.

Breaking into the phone system took him less time than he'd anticipated, even considering that he had to type one-handed.

The only Henry Fitzroy listed lived at 278 Bloor Street East, unit 1407. Given the proximity to Yonge and Bloor, Norman suspected the building consisted of expensive condominiums. He glanced around at his own tiny apartment. As soon as he called the Demon Lord, he'd have that kind of address and be living in the style he deserved.

But first, he'd have to get the grimoire he was certain Henry Fitzroy had-that wacko old lady was obviously just being coy.

Of course, Henry Fitzroy wouldn't lend it to him, no point in even asking. People who lived in those kinds of buildings were too smug about what they owned. Just because they had lots of money, the world was below their notice and a perfectly reasonable request to borrow a book would be denied.

"He probably doesn't even know what he has, thinks it's just some old book worth money. I know how to use it. That makes it mine by right." It wouldn't be stealing to take a book that by rights should be his.

Norman turned and looked down at the pool of metal that had been the hibachi. There was only one way to get his property out of a high security building.

"Anything much happen today?" Greg asked sliding into the recently vacated chair. He should've waited a little longer. It was still warm. He hated sitting in a chair warmed by someone else's butt.

"Mr. Post from 1620 stalled his car goin' up the ramp again." Tim chuckled and scratched at his beard. "Every time he tried to put it in gear he'd roll backward, panic, and stall again. Finally let it roll all the way down till it rested on the door and started from there. I almost split a gut laughing."

"Some men," Greg observed, "are not meant to drive standards." He bent over and picked up a package from the floor by the desk. "What's this?"

The day guard paused, half into his hockey jacket, his uniform blazer left hanging on the hook in its place. "Oh that-it came this afternoon, UPS from New York. For that writer up on fourteen. I rang his apartment and left a message on his machine."

Greg put the package back on the floor. "Guess Mr. Fitzroy'll be down for it later."

"Guess so." Tim paused on the other side of the desk. "Greg, I've been thinking."

The older guard snorted. "Dangerous that."

"No, this is serious. I've been thinking about Mr. Fitzroy. I've been here four months now and I've never seen him. Never seen him come down for his mail. Never seen him take his car out." He waved a hand in the general direction of the package. "I've never even been able to get him on the phone, I always talk to his machine."

"I see him most nights," Greg pointed out, leaning back in his chair.

"Yeah, that's my point. You see him nights. I bet you never see him before the sun sets."

Greg frowned. "What are you getting at?"

"Those killings where the blood was sucked out; I think Mr. Fitzroy did it. I think he's a vampire."

"I think you're out of your mind," Greg told him dryly, allowing the front legs of his chair to come to ground with a thud. "Henry Fitzroy is a writer. You can't expect him to act like a normal person. And about those vampires… " He reached down and pulled a copy of the day's tabloid out of his old leather briefcase. "I think you better read this."

With the Leafs actually winning the division playoffs after the full seven games, the front page was dedicated to hockey. Anicka Hendle had to settle for page two.

Tim read the article, brows drawn down over some of the larger words. When he finished, Greg raised a hand to cut off his reaction and turned the page. Anne Fellows' column didn't attempt to appeal to the reason of her readers, she played Anicka Hendle's death for every ounce of emotion it held. She placed the blame squarely in the arms of the media, admitting her own involvement, and demanding that the scare tactics stop. Are there not enough real terrors on our streets without creating new ones ?

"They made up all that stuff about vampires?"

"Looks that way, doesn't it?"

"Just to sell papers." Tim shook his head in disgust. He pushed the tabloid back across the desk, tapping the picture on the front page. "You think the Leafs are going to go all the way this year?"

Greg snorted. "I think there's a better chance that Henry Fitzroy's a vampire." He waved the younger guard out of the building then came around the desk to hold the door open for Mrs. Hughes and her mastiff.

"Get down, Owen! He doesn't want your kisses!"

Wiping his face, Greg watched as the huge dog bounded into the elevator, dragging Mrs. Hughes behind him. The lobby always seemed a little smaller after Owen had passed through. He checked that the lock on the inner door had caught-it was a little stiff, he'd have to have a word with maintenance-before returning to the desk and picking up his paper.

Then he paused, memory jogged by the smell of the ink or the feel of the newsprint, suddenly recalling the first night the vampire story had made the paper. He remembered Henry Fitzroy's reaction to the headline and he realized that Tim was right. He'd never seen the man before sunset.

"Still," he shook himself, "man's got a right to work what hours he chooses and sleep what hours he chooses." But he couldn't shake the memory of the bestial fury that had shone for a heartbeat in the young man's eyes. Nor could he shake a feeling of disquiet that caressed the back of his neck with icy fingers.

As the light released its hold on the city, Henry stirred. He became aware of the sheet lying across his naked body, each thread drawing a separate line against his skin. He became aware of the slight air current that brushed  his cheek like a baby's breath. He became aware of three million people living their lives around him and the cacophony nearly deafened him until he managed to push through it and into the silence once again. Lastly, he became aware of self. His eyes snapped open and he stared up into the darkness.

He hated the way he woke, hated the extended vulnerability. When they finally came for him, this was when it would happen; not during the hours of oblivion, but during the shadow time between the light and dark when he would feel the stake and know his death and be able to do nothing about it.

As he grew older, it happened earlier-creeping closer to the day a few seconds at a time-but it never happened faster. He woke the way he had when he was mortal- slowly.

Centuries ago, he'd asked Christina how it was for her.

"Like waking out of a deep sleep-one moment I'm not there, the next I am."

"Do you dream ?"

She rolled over on her side. "No. We don't. None of us do. "

' I think I miss that most of all."

Smiling, she scraped a fingernail along his inner thigh. "We learn to dream while we wake. Shall I show you how ?"

Occasionally, in the seconds just after he woke, he thought he heard voices from his past, friends, lovers, enemies, his father once, bellowing for him to get a move on or they'd be late. In over four hundred years, that was as close as he'd come to what the mortal world called dreaming.

He sat up and paused in mid-stretch, suddenly uneasy. In absolute silence he moved off the bed and across the carpet to the bedroom door. If there was a life in the apartment, he'd sense it.

The apartment was empty,- but the disquiet remained.

He showered and dressed, becoming more and more certain that something was wrong-worrying at the feeling, poking and prodding at it, trying to force an understanding. When he went down to the desk to pick up his package, the feeling grew. The civilized mask managed to exchange pleasantries with Greg and flirt a little with old Mrs. McKensie while the rest of him sorted through a myriad of sensations, searching for the danger.

Heading back to the elevator, he felt the security guard's eyes on him so he turned and half smiled as the doors opened and he stepped inside. The closing slabs of stainless steel cut off Greg's answering expression. Whatever was bothering the old man, he'd have to deal with later.

"Private Investigations. Nelson." As she had no way of knowing what callers were potential clients, she'd decided to assume they all were. Her mother objected, but then her mother objected to a number of things she had no intention of changing.

"Vicki, it's Henry. Look, I think you should come over here tonight."

"Why? Have you turned up something new we should talk about before you head out?"

"I'm not heading out."

"What?" She swung her feet down off her desk and glared at the phone. "You better have a good reason for staying home."

She heard him sigh. "No, not exactly. I've just got this feeling."

Vicki snorted. "Vampire intuition?"

"If you like."

"So you're just going to stay home tonight because you're got a feeling?"

"Essentially, yes."

"Just letting demons run loose all over the city while you ride a hunch?"

"I don't think there'll be any demons tonight."

"What? Why not?"

"Because of what happened last night. When the power of God reached out and said, 'No.' "

"Say what?"

"I don't really understand myself… "

"What happened last night, Fitzroy?" She growled out the question through clenched teeth. She'd interviewed hostile witnesses who'd been more generous with details.

"Look, I'll tell you when you get here." He did not want to explain a religious experience to a woman raised in the twentieth century over the phone. He'd have enough trouble convincing her of what had happened face-to-face.

"Does this feeling have anything to do with what happened last night?"

"No."

"Then why… "

"Listen, Vicki, over time I've learned to trust my feelings. And surely you've ridden a few hunches in the past?"

Vicki pushed her glasses up her nose. She didn't have much choice when it came right down to it-she had to believe he knew what he was doing. Believing in vampires had been easier. "Okay, I've got a few things to take care of here, but I'll be over as soon as I can."

"All right."

He sounded so different than he had on other occasions that she frowned. "Henry, is something wrong?"

"Yes…. No… " He sighed again. "Just come over when you can."

"Listen, I have a… damn him!" Vicki stared at the receiver, the loud buzz of the dial tone informing her that Henry Fitzroy didn't care what she had. And yet she was supposed to drop everything and hurry over there because he had a feeling. "That's just what I need," she muttered, digging around in her bag, "a depressed vampire."

The list the computer science professor had finally given her held twenty-three names, students he figured would actually be able to make use of the potential of the stolen computer system. Although, as he'd pointed out, the most sophisticated of home systems were often used for no better purpose than games. "And even you could run one under those parameters," he'd added. He had no idea which ones of the twenty-three wore black leather jackets. It just wasn't the sort of thing he paid attention to.

"Have any of them been acting strangely lately?"

He'd smiled wearily. "Ms. Nelson, this lot doesn't act any way but strangely."

Vicki checked her watch. 9:27. How had it gotten so damned late? On the off chance that Celluci might finally be at his desk-he hadn't been in since she'd started trying to reach him around four in the afternoon-she called headquarters. He still wasn't there. Nor was he at home.

Leaving yet another message, she hung up. "Well, he can't say I didn't try to pass on all relevant information." She tacked the list to the small bulletin board over the desk. Actually, she had no idea how relevant the names were. It was the slimmest of chances they'd mean anything at all, but so far it was the only chance they had and these twenty-three names at least gave her a place to start.

9:46. She'd better get over to Henry's and find out just what exactly had happened the night before.

"The hand of God. Right."

Demons and Armageddon aside, she couldn't even begin to guess at what would make such an impression on a four hundred and fifty year old vampire.

"Demons and Armageddon aside… " She reached for the phone to call a cab. "You're getting awfully blas¨¦ about the end of the world."

Her hand was actually on the plastic when the phone rang and her heart leapt up into her throat at the sudden shrill sound.

"Okay." She took a deep breath. "Maybe not so blas¨¦ after all." By the third ring she figured she'd regained enough control to answer it.

"Hi, honey, have I called at a bad time?"

"I was just on my way out, Mom." Another five minutes and she'd have been gone. Her mother had a sixth sense about these things.

"At this hour?"

"It isn't even ten yet."

"I know that, dear, but it's dark and with your eyes… "

"Mom, my eyes are fine. I'll be staying on well lighted streets and I promise I'll be careful. Now, I really have to go."

"Are you going alone?"

"I'm meeting someone."

"Not Michael Celluci?"

"No, Mom."

"Oh." Vicki could practically hear her mother's ears perk up. "What's his name?"

"Henry Fitzroy." Why not? Short of hanging up, there was no way she was going to get her mother off the phone, curiosity unsatisfied.

"What does he do?"

"He's a writer." As long as she stuck to answering her mother's questions, the truth would serve. Her mother was not likely to ask, "Is he a member of the bloodsucking undead?"

"How does Michael feel about this?"

"How should he feel? You know very well that Mike and I don't have that kind of relationship."

"If you say so, dear. Is this Henry Fitzroy good looking?"

She thought about that for a moment. "Yes, he is. And he has a certain presence… " Her voice trailed off into speculation and her mother laughed.

"It sounds serious."

That brought her back to the matter at hand. "It is, Mom, very serious, and that's why I have to go now."

"Very well. I was just hoping that, as you couldn't make it home for Easter, you might have a little time to spend with me now. I had such a quiet holiday, watched a bit of television, had supper alone, went to bed early."

It didn't help that Vicki was fully aware she was being manipulated. It never had. "Okay, Mom. I can spare a few moments."

"I don't want to put you out, dear."

"Mother… "

Almost an hour later, Vicki replaced the receiver, looked at her watch, and groaned. She'd never met anyone as capable as her mother at filling time with nothing at all. "At least the world didn't end during the interim," she muttered, squinting at Henry's number up on the corkboard and dialing.

"Henry Fitzroy is not able to come to the phone at the moment… "

"Of all the nerve!" She hung up in the middle of the message. "First he asks me to come over and then he buggers off." It wasn't too likely he'd met an untimely end while her mother had held her captive on the phone. She doubted that even vampires had the presence of mind to switch on their answering machines while being dismembered.

She shrugged into her jacket, grabbed up her bag, and headed out of the apartment, switching her own machine on before she left. Moving cautiously, she made it down the dark path to the sidewalk, then pointed herself at the brighter lights that marked College Street half a block away. She'd been going to call for a taxi, but if Henry wasn't even at home, she'd walk.

Her mother attempting to call attention to her disability had nothing to do with the decision. Nothing.

Henry grabbed for the phone, then ground his teeth when the caller hung up before the message had even finished. There were few things he hated more and that was the third time it had happened this evening. He'd turned the machine on when he sat down to write, more out of habit then anything, with every intention of picking up the receiver if Vicki chanced to call. Of course, he couldn't tell who was calling if they didn't speak. He looked at his watch. Ten past eleven. Had something gone wrong? He dialed her number and listened to her complete message before hanging up. It told him nothing at all.

Where was she?

He considered going to her apartment and trying to pick up some kind of a trail but discarded the idea almost immediately. The feeling that he should stay in the condo was stronger than ever, keeping him in a perpetual sort of twitchy unease.

As long as he had to hang around anyway, he'd been attempting to use that feeling in his writing.

Smith stepped backward, sapphire eyes wide, and snatched the captain's straight razor off his small shaving stand. "Come one step closer, " she warned, an intriguing little catch in her voice, "and I'll cut you!"

It wasn't going well. He sighed, saved, and turned off the computer. What was taking Vicki so long?

Unable to remain still, he walked into the living room and peered down at the city. For the first time since he'd bought the condo, the lights failed to enthrall him. He could only think of them going dark and the darkness spreading until the world became lost in it.

He moved to the stereo, turned it on, pulled out a CD, put it back, and turned the stereo off. Then he began to pace the length of the living room. Back and forth, back and forth, back…

Even through the glass doors of the bookcase he could feel the presence of the grimoire but, unlike Vicki, he named it evil without hesitation. A little over a hundred years ago it had been one of the last three true grimoires remaining in the world, or so he'd been told, and he had no reason to doubt the man who'd told him-not then, not now.

"So you're Henry Fitzroy." Dr. O'Mara gripped Henry's hand, his large pale eyes gleaming. "I've heard so much about you from Alfred here, I feel that I already know you."

"And I you," Henry replied, stripping off his evening gloves and carefully returning exactly the amount of pressure applied. The hair on the back of his neck had risen and he had a feeling that appearing stronger than this man would be just as dangerous as appearing weaker. "Alfred admires you a great deal."

Releasing Henry, Dr. O'Mara clapped Alfred on the shoulder. "Does he now?"

The words held an edge and the Honorable Alfred Waverly hastened to fill the silence that followed, his shoulder dipping slightly under the white knuckled grip. "It's not that I've told him anything, Doctor, it's just that… "

"That he quotes you constantly," Henry finished with his most disarming grin.

"Quotes me?" The grim expression eased. "Well, I suppose one can't object to that."

Alfred beamed, eyes bright above slightly flushed cheeks, the expression of terror that had caused Henry to intervene gone as though it had never existed.

"If you will excuse me, Mr. Fitzroy, I have a number of things I must attend to." The doctor waved an expansive hand. "Alfred will introduce you to the other guests."

Henry inclined his head and watched his host leave the room through narrowed eyes.

The ten other guests were all young men, much like the Honorable Alfred, wealthy, idle, and bored. Three of them, Henry already knew. The others were strangers.

"Well, what do you think?" Alfred asked, accepting a whiskey from a blank-faced footman after introductions had been made, the proper things said, and they were standing alone again.

"I think you've grossly misled me," Henry told him, refusing a drink. "This is hardly a den of iniquity."

Alfred's smile jerked up nervously at the corners, his face paler than usual under the flickering gaslight. "Dash it, Henry, I never said it was." He ran his finger around the edge of his whiskey glass. "You're lucky to be here, you know. There's only ever twelve invited and Dr. O'Mara wanted you specifically after Charles… uh, had his accident."

Accident; Charles was dead, but Alfred's Victorian sensibilities wouldn't let him say the word. "I've been meaning to ask you, why did Dr. O'Mara want me?"

Alfred flushed. "Because I told him all about you."

"All about me?" Given the laws against homosexuality and Alfred's preferences, Henry doubted it, but to his surprise the young man nodded.

"I couldn't help myself. Dr. O'Mara, well, he's the kind of person you tell things to."

"I'm sure he is," Henry muttered, thanking God and all the Saints that Alfred had no idea of what he actually was. "Do you sleep with him, too?"

"I say, Henry!"

The bastard son of Henry VIII, having little patience with social conventions, merely asked the question again. "Are you sleeping with him?"

"No."

"But you would… "

Managing to look both miserable and elated, Alfred nodded. "He's magnificent."

Overpowering was closer to the word Henry would have used. The doctor's personality was like a tidal wave, sweeping all lesser personalities before it. Henry had no intention of being swept, but he could see how he might be if he were the idle young man he appeared to be; could see how the others in the room had been, and he didn't like it.

Just after eleven, the doctor disappeared and a gong sounded somewhere in the depths of the house.

"It's time," Alfred whispered, clutching at Henry's arm. "Come on."

To Henry's surprise, the group of them, a dozen young men in impeccable evening dress, trooped down into the basement. The huge central room had been outfitted with torches and at one end stood what appeared to be a stone block about waist high, needing only a knight lying in effigy on its top to complete the resemblance to a crypt. Around him, his companions began stripping off their clothes.

"Get undressed," Alfred urged, thrusting a loose black robe in Henry's direction. "And put this on."

Suddenly understanding, Henry had to bite back the urge to laugh. He'd been brought in as the twelfth member of a coven; a group of juvenile aristocrats dressing up in black bedsheets and capering around in a smoky basement. He allowed Alfred to help him change and he remained amused until Dr. O'Mara appeared behind the altar.

The Doctor's robe was red, the color of fresh blood. In his right hand he carried a human skull, in his left an ancient book. He should have looked as foolish as his sycophants. He didn't. His pale eyes burned and his personality, carefully leashed in the drawing room, blazed forth, igniting the chamber. He used his voice to whip the young men to a frenzy, one moment filling the room with thunder, the next dropping it low, wrapping it about them, and drawing them close.

Henry's disgust rose with the hysteria. He stood in the deepest shadows, well away from the torches, and watched. A sense of danger kept him there, a pricking up and down his spine that told him no matter how ludicrous this looked, the doctor, at least, played no game and the evil that spread from the altar was very real.

At midnight, two of the anonymous, black clad bodies held a struggling cat upon the stone while a third wielded the knife.

"Blood. Blood! BLOOD! BLOOD!"

Henry felt his own need rise as the blood scent mixed with the smell of smoke and sweat. The chant grew in volume and intensity, pulsing like a heartbeat and pounding against him. Robes began to fall, exposing flesh and, surging just below the surface, blood… and blood… and blood. His lips drew back off his teeth and he stepped forward.

Then, over the mass of writhing bodies between them, he met the doctor's eyes.

He knows.

Terror broke through the blood lust and drove him from the house. Clad only in the robe, and more frightened than he'd been in three hundred and fifty years, he made his way back to his sanctuary, gaining it just before dawn, falling into the day with the memory of the doctor's face before him.

The next night, as little as he wanted to, he went back. The danger had to be faced. And eliminated.

"I knew you'd return." Without rising from behind his desk, Dr. O'Mara waved Henry to a chair. "Please, sit down."

Senses straining, Henry moved slowly into the room. Except for the sleeping servants on the third floor the doctor was the only life in the house. He could kill him and be gone with no one the wiser. He sat instead, curiosity staying his hand. How did this mortal know him and what did he want?

"You blend quite well, vampire." The doctor beamed genially at him. "Had I not been aware already of the existence of your kind, I would have disregarded young Alfred's babblings. You made quite an impression on him. And on me. The moment I realized what you were, I had to have you with me."

"You killed Charles to make room for me."

"Of course, I did. There can never be more than twelve." At Henry's utterance of disgust, he only laughed. "I saw your face, vampire. You wanted it. All those lives, all that blood. Fresh young throats to rip. And they'd have given themselves joyously to your teeth if I commanded it." He leaned forward, pale eyes like cold flames. "I can give you this, each and every night."

"And what do I give you?"

"Eternal life." Hands became fists and the words rang like a bell. "You will make me as you are."

That was enough. More than enough. Henry threw himself out of the chair and at the doctor's throat.

Only to slam up against an invisible barrier that held him like a fly in a web. He could thrash about where he stood, but he could move neither forward nor back. For a moment he fought against it with all his strength and then he hung, panting, lips drawn back, a soundless growl twisting his face.

"I rather suspected you would refuse to cooperate." The doctor came around the desk, standing so close Henry could feel his breath as he spoke. "You thought I was a posturing fool, didn't you, vampire? You never thought I would hold real power; power brought out of dark places by unspeakable means, gained by deeds even you would quail to hear. That power holds you now and will continue to hold you until you are mine."

"You cannot force me to change you." Raw fury kept the fear from his voice.

"Perhaps not. You are physically very strong and mentally almost my match. Nor can I bleed you and drink, for a touch would release the bonds." Turning, the doctor scooped a book up off the desk and held it up to Henry's face. "But if I cannot force you, I have access to those who can."

The book covered in greasy red leather, was the same one he'd held the night before during the ceremony. At such close quarters, the evil that radiated from it struck Henry with almost a physical blow and he rocked back against the unseen chains that held him.

"This," said Dr. O'Mara, caressing it lovingly, "is one of the last true grimoires left. I have heard there are only two others in the world. All the rest are but pale copies of these three. The man who wrote it sold his soul for the information it contains, but the Prince of Lies collected before he could use the knowledge so dearly bought. If we had the time, dear vampire, I would tell you what I had to do to make it mine, but we do not- you must be mine as well before dawn."

The naked desire in his eyes was so consuming that Henry felt sick. He began to struggle, fighting harder when he heard the doctor laugh again and move away.

"From months of ceremonies, I have drawn what I need to control the demon," the doctor remarked conversationally, rolling up the carpet before the fire. "The demon can give me anything save life eternal. You can give me that so the demon will give me you." He looked up from the pentagram cut into the floor. "Can you stand against a Lord of Hell, vampire? I think not."

His mouth dry and his breath coming in labored gasps, Henry threw all his strength against the binding. Muscles straining and joints popping, he fought for his life. Just as it seemed he could no longer contain a wail of despair, his right arm moved.

The candles lit and a foul powder burning on the fire, Dr. O'Mara opened the book and began to read.

His right arm moved again. And then his left.

A shimmering began in the center of the pentagram.

Power fed into the calling bled power away from the bindings, Henry realized. They were weakening. Weakening…

The shimmer began to coalesce, falling into itself and forming…

With a howl of rage, Henry tore free and flung himself across the room. Before the doctor could react, Henry grabbed him, lifted him, and threw him with all his remaining strength against the far wall.

The doctor's head struck the wooden wainscoting and the wood proved stronger. The thing in the pentagram faded until only a foul smell and a memory of terror remained.

Weak and trembling, Henry stood over the body. The light in the pale eyes had gone out, leaving them only a muddy gray. Blood pooled at the base of the wall, hot and red and Henry, who desperately needed to feed, thanked God that dead blood held no call. He'd have starved before he'd have fed from that man.

His skin crawling at the touch, he picked the grimoire up from the floor and staggered into the night.

"I should have destroyed it." Palms flat against the glass doors of the bookcase, Henry stared at the grimoire. He never asked himself why he hadn't. He doubted he wanted to hear the answer.

"Yo, Victory!"

Vicki turned slowly in the open phone booth, her heart doing a pretty fair impersonation of a jackhammer.

Tony grinned. "My, but we're jumpy. I thought I heard you didn't work nights no more."

"Any more," Vicki corrected absently, while her heart slowed to a more normal rhythm. "And do I look like I'm working?"

"You always look like you're working."

Vicki sighed and checked him out. Physically, he'd didn't look good. The patina of dirt he wore told her he'd been sleeping rough, and his face had the pinched look that said meals had been infrequent of late. "You don't look so great."

"Things have been better," he admitted. "Could use a burger and some fries."

"Why not." Henry's answering machine insisted he still wasn't available. "You can tell me what you've been doing lately."

He rolled his eyes. "Do I look like I'm crazy?"

The three coals burned in the bottom of a cast iron frying pan his mother had bought him. It was the first time he'd ever used it. The gold, the frankincense, the myrrh, had all been added. The three drops of blood sizzled in the heat and Norman backed quickly away, just in case.

Something had stopped the demon from materializing last night but, as that was the first and only time it had occurred, statistically, tonight, the demon should be able to get through. Norman believed strongly in statistics.

The air in the center of the pentagram shivered. Norman's bandaged fingers began to burn and he wondered if it was going to happen again. It shouldn't. Statistically, it shouldn't.

It didn't.

"I have called you," he declared, bouncing forward when the demon had fully formed. "I am your master."

"You are master," the demon agreed. It seemed somewhat subdued and kept turning to look behind it.

Norman sneered at this pitiful tool. After tonight he would command a real demon and nothing could stop him then.

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