Blood Price (Vicki Nelson #1)

Chapter 13

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Henry lurched to his feet and stood swaying. "I must… "

Vicki reached up and guided him down onto the couch as he fell. "Must what? You're in no shape to go anywhere."

"I must get the grimoire back before the Demon Lord is called." He shook off her hands and stood again, shoulders set. "If I begin now, I might be able to track the demon, In order to carry the grimoire it must maintain a physical form."

"Track it how?"

"Scent."

Vicki glanced at the balcony and back to Henry. "Forget it. It has wings. It'll be flying. I don't care what you are, you can't track something if there's nothing for it to leave its scent on."

"But … "

"But nothing. If you weren't what you were, you'd be dead. Trust me. I may not have seen the centuries of death you have, but I've seen enough to tell."

She was right. Henry walked to the window and rested his forehead gently against the glass. Cool and smooth, it helped to ease the ache in his head. Everything worked, but everything hurt. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this weak or in this much pain and his body, now that the initial rush of energy that came with feeding had passed, was insisting he rest and allow it to heal. "You saved my life," he admitted.

"Then don't throw it away." Vicki felt a faint echo of warmth surging up from the cut on her wrist. She ignored it. Maybe they'd get a chance to continue where they'd left off, but this certainly was not the time. And anything more energetic than heavy petting would probably kill both of us. Scooping up her clothes, she moved into the kitchen and pulled one of the louvered doors closed. "You did what you could, now let someone else take over."

"You."

"You see anyone else around?"

Henry managed half a smile. "No." She was right about that as well. He'd had his chance and failed.

"Fine." She zipped up her jeans and shrugged out of the bathrobe. "You can join me after sunset if you're mobile by then."

"Give me a day of rest and I should be back to normal. Okay, not quite normal," he amended at Vicki's snort of disbelief, "but well enough to function."

"That'll do. I'll leave a message on your machine as soon as I know where I'm likely to be."

"You've got less than twenty-four hours to find the person with the grimoire in a pity of three million people. You may have been a good cop, Vicki… "

"I was the best," she informed him, carefully stretching the neck of her sweatshirt around her glasses.

"All right. You were the best. But you weren't that good. No one is."

"Maybe not," her tone argued the point even if her words didn't, "but while you were spending your nights waiting for the demon to strike, I haven't been spending my days just sitting on my butt." Carefully picking her way through the glass, she came back to the couch and sat down to put on her shoes. "One of the items the demon picked up was a state of the art computer system. Apparently, they don't make them smarter or faster than this particular machine. I went out to York University today-enough bits and pieces have pointed in that direction to convince me there's a connection-and spoke to the head of the Computer Science Department. He gave me a list of twenty-three names, students who could really make a system like that sing." She straightened and pushed her glasses up her nose. "So instead of one in three million, I've got one in twenty-three in about twenty thousand."

"Terrific." Henry tore off the ruin of his shirt as he walked back across the room. Dropping carefully onto the couch, he tossed the ball of fabric at the destroyed face of the television. "One in twenty-three in twenty thousand."

"Those aren't impossible odds. What's more I won't have to deal with all twenty thousand. The men and women on the list are part of a pretty narrowly defined group. If I can't find them, I think I can flush them out."

"In a day? Because if that grimoire is used tomorrow night, that's all the time you have before the slaughter begins."

Her chin rose and her brows drew down. "So what do you suggest? I give up because you don't think it can be done? You thought you could defeat the lesser demon, remember?" Her eyes swept over his injuries. "You're not exactly infallible where this stuff is concerned."

Henry closed his eyes. Her words cut deeper than any other blow he'd taken tonight. She was right. It was his fault the grimoire had been taken, his fault the world faced pain and death on a scale few mortal minds could imagine.

"Henry, I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."

"But true." She'd moved closer. He could feel her heartbeat tremble the air between them. Her hand closed lightly around his, and he waited for the platitudes that would do nothing to ease his guilt.

"Yes," she agreed.

His eyes snapped open.

"But you wouldn't have lived as long as you have if you hadn't figured out how to learn from your mistakes. When I find this person, I'm going to need you for backup."

"Well, thank you very much." Just what he needed, being patronized by someone whose ancestors had no doubt been grubbing out a living on a peasant's plot when he'd been riding beside a king. He pulled his hand out from under hers and tried not to wince when the motion twisted the wound in his arm.

"Before you get snooty, Your Royal Highness, perhaps you should consider who the hell else I can use? Trust me on this one, suspicion of demon-calling is not likely to impress the police. I don't even think it's a crime."

"What about young Tony?"

"Tony goes his own way. Besides, this isn't the sort of thing he can help me with."

"So I'm the only game in town?"

"We're the only game in town."

They locked eyes for a moment and Vicki suddenly realized that was a stupid thing to do-all the stories, all the movies about vampires warned against it. For a moment, she felt herself teetering on the edge of an abyss and she fought against the urge to throw herself into the depths. Then the moment passed, the abyss replaced with a pair of tired hazel eyes and she realized, her heart beating a little more quickly, that it had been the man, not the vampire she'd been reacting to. Or perhaps the man as vampire. Or the vampire as man. Or something. Wonderful. The city-the world even-is about to go up in flames and I'm thinking with my crotch.

"I'm going to need an early start. I'd better get going."

"Perhaps you had."

There were several dozen things left unsaid.

He watched her shrug into her jacket, the sound of her heartbeat nearly overpowering. Had he taken even a little more blood from her, he wouldn't have been able to stop himself from taking her life as well. That feeding was the sweetest of all to his kind and acquiring a taste for it had brought down many a vampire. Bringing him the boy had saved them both. She truly was a remarkable woman, few other mortals would have had the strength to resist the pull of his need.

He wanted more. More of her. If they survived the next twenty-four hours…

She paused on her way to the door, one hand clutching a chair back for support. "I just remembered, where were you earlier? I kept calling and getting your machine."

"That was why you came so late?"

"Well, no point in coming over if you weren't here."

"I was here. I turned on the machine to screen calls." His brows went up as hers went down. "You don't do that?"

"If I'm home, I answer the phone."

"If I had, and you'd been here when the demon arrived… "

"We'd both be dead," she finished.

He nodded. "Vicki?"

Her hand on the knob, she turned back to face him.

"You do realize that there's a very good chance we'll fail? That you may come up blank or nothing we can do will stop the Demon Lord?" .

She smiled at him and Henry discovered with a slight shock that he wasn't the only predator in the room.

"No," she said, "I don't realize any such thing. Get some rest." Then she was gone.

The city streets ran with blood and all of the wailing people who dragged themselves through it looked to her for their salvation. She raised her hands to help them and saw that the blood poured out through great ragged gashes in her wrists.

"He's coming, Vicki. " Henry Fitzroy dropped to his knees before her and let the blood pour over him, his mouth open to catch the flow.

She tried to step back and found she couldn't move, that hardened concrete covered her feet to the ankles.

"He's coming, Vicki," Henry said again. He leaned forward and began to lap at the blood dribbling down her arms.

A cold wind blew suddenly on her back and she could hear the sound of claws on stone as something huge dragged itself toward her. She couldn't turn to face it; Henry's hands and the concrete held her in place. She could only fight against her bonds and listen to it coming closer, closer. The smell of rot grew more intense and when she looked down, it wasn't Henry but the old woman's decomposing corpse whose mouth had clamped onto her wrist. Behind her stood what was left of Mike Celluci.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked through the ruin of his mouth,  "Why didn't you tell me ?"

Vicki groped for the light switch and sat panting in the sudden glare, her heart drumming painfully. The dream that wakened her had been only the latest in a series. Fortunately, she remembered none of the others in detail.

Hands trembling, she pushed the arms of her glasses over her ears and peered at the clock. 5:47. Almost three hours sleep.

She turned off the useless alarm-she'd set it for 6:30- and swung her legs out of bed. If the demon-caller followed the established pattern, the Demon Lord would show up at midnight. That gave her eighteen hours to find him or her and stuff the grimoire down his or her throat one page at a time. The dreams had terrified her and nothing made her more angry than fear she could do nothing about.

Slowly, carefully, she stood. The liter of orange juice and the two iron supplements she'd taken after arriving home might have helped to offset the blood loss, but she knew she wasn't going to be in top condition. Not today. Not for some time. The cut on her wrist appeared to have almost healed although the skin around it was slightly bruised and a little tender. The memory of the actual feeding had become tangled up with the memory of the dream, so she set them both aside to be sorted out later. There were more important things to worry about at the moment.

She'd have stayed in the shower longer, trying to wash the dream away, but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was behind her. With sight and sound blocked by the spray, she felt too vulnerable and exposed to linger.

With the coffee maker on, and another liter of orange juice in her hand, she stood for a moment staring out at the street. One or two other windows were lit and as she watched, young Edmond Ng came yawning out onto his porch and started down to the corner to pick up his route's copies of the morning paper, completely unaware this might be his last trip. In eighteen short hours, the hordes of hell could be ripping the city and its people apart.

"And the only thing in the way is one half-blind ex-cop and the bastard son of Henry VIII." She took a long pull at the jug of juice and pushed her glasses back up her nose. "Kind of makes you think, doesn't it?" Except she didn't like what it made her think about.

Find one in twenty-three in twenty thousand. Actually, as far as a lot of police work was concerned, the odds weren't all that bad. Even if she could get the students' addresses out of the administration of the university-and frankly, without a badge she doubted she could-talking with the students themselves would likely get her further. The top of the heap usually knew who shared the view with them and if one of the twenty-three was the person she was looking for, then at least one of the others should be able to point the finger.

Of course, the possibility existed that she'd assembled all the bits and pieces into the wrong picture. That she was not only barking up the wrong tree but searching in the wrong forest entirely.

Sweat prickled along her spine and she resisted the urge to turn. She knew the apartment was empty, that nothing stood behind her, and she wasn't going to give in to phantoms-there were enough real terrors to spend fear on.

There was time for breakfast before she headed up to York; no point in arriving empty at an empty campus. At 6:35, scrambled eggs eaten and a second cup of coffee nearly gone, she phoned Mike Celluci, let it ring three times, and hung up. What was she going to tell him? That she thought she knew who the killer was? She'd known that since the night out at Woodbine when she'd met Henry. That one of twenty-three computer geniuses out at York University was calling up demons in his or her spare time and that if not stopped was going to call up more than he or she could handle and destroy the world? He'd think she'd flipped.

"Everything comes back to the demon. Everything. Shit." The computer that pointed, however tenuously, to one of those twenty-three students had no tie to the murders Celluci worked on except through the demon. "And how do I know about the demon? A vampire told me." She drained the mug and set it down on the table with more force than was absolutely necessary. The handle broke off in her hand. With a quick jerk of her arm, she threw the piece across the room and listened with satisfaction as it smashed into still smaller pieces against the wall.

The satisfaction faded a heartbeat later.

"One half-blind ex-cop and the bastard son of Henry VIII," she repeated, as it sank in, really sank in, that she wasn't a cop anymore. In spite of everything-her eyes, her resignation-for the last eight months she'd still thought of herself as a police officer. She wasn't. There'd be no backup, no support. Until sunset she was completely on her own and if anyone needed to have complete information, it wasn't Mike Celluci, it was Henry Fitzroy.

"Damn." She rubbed her sleeve across her eyes and slammed her glasses back down on her nose. It didn't make her feel any better to know that she couldn't have gotten this far if she'd still been on the force, that rules and regulations-even as flexible as the top brass tried to be-would have tied her hands. Nor could she have gotten this far if she'd never been on the force, the information just wouldn't have been available to her. "I seem to be exactly what the situation calls for-a one-woman chance of stopping Armageddon."

She took a deep breath and her jaw went out. "So, let's get on with it." The eggs sat like a lump of lead in her stomach and her throat had closed up into an aching pillar that bore little relation to flesh. That was okay. She could work around it. With luck, there'd be time to sort her feelings out later.

She should've taken a copy of the list to Henry's the night before. She didn't want to take the time now-not to copy it, not to drop it off.

"Henry, it's Vicki." Fortunately, his machine took an unlimited message because the list of names and her plans for the day used over five minutes of tape. "When I know more, I'll get back to you."

Five to seven. Seventeen hours. Vicki threw the list into her bag, grabbed her jacket, and headed for the door. An hour to get out to York would leave her only sixteen hours to search.

She was already at the door, fumbling with its lock, when the phone rang. Curious about who'd be calling so early, she waited while her message ran through and the tone sounded.

"Hi, Ms. Nelson? It's Coreen. Look, if you've been trying to reach me, I'm sorry I wasn't around, but I've been staying with some friends."

The lock slipped into place. She'd talk with Coreen later. One way or another, by midnight the case would be closed.

"It's just I was pretty upset because the girl who got killed, Janet, was a good friend of mine. I can't help but think that if I hadn't been so stupid about Norman Birdwell she'd have waited for me to give her a ride home."

"Shit!" The lock proved as difficult to reopen as it had been to close. Norman Birdwell was one of the names on the list.

"I guess if you find the vampire that killed Ian you'll find the one that killed Janet, too, won't you? I want it found now more than ever."

She paused and her sigh was almost drowned out in the rattle of the chain falling free.

"Uh, I'll be at home all day if you want to call… "

"Coreen? Don't hang up, it's me, Vicki Nelson."

"Oh. Hi." She sounded a little embarrassed, caught talking to a machine. "Did I wake you up? Look, I'm sorry I'm calling so early, but I've got an exam today and I want to get over to the library to study."

"It's no problem, trust me. I need you to tell me about Norman Birdwell."

"Why? He's a geek."

"It's important."

Vicki could almost hear the shrug. "Okay. What do you want to know?"

"How well do you know him?"

"Puh-leese, I said he was a geek. He's in my Comparative Religions Class. That's all."

"How were you stupid about him?"

"What?"

"You said earlier if you hadn't been so stupid about Norman Birdwell, Janet might have waited for a ride home."

"Yeah, well…. I wouldn't have gone with him if I hadn't had the beers, but he said he could prove that vampires existed and that he knew who killed Ian. Well, I guess he didn't really say that… but something like that. Anyway, I went up to his apartment with him, but all he wanted to do was score. He had nothing to do with vampires."

"Did you happen to notice if he had a computer system? A fairly large and complicated setup."

"He had a system. I don't know how complicated it was. I was busy trying not to get squeezed and being fed some bull about calling up demons."

The world stopped for a moment.

"Ms. Nelson? You still there?"

"Trust me, I'm not going anywhere." Vicki fell into her desk chair and rummaged for a pen. "This is very important, Coreen, where does Norman live."

"Uh, west of the campus somewhere."

"Can you give me his exact address."

"No."

"NO?" Vicki took a deep breath and tried to remember that yelling wouldn't help. Tucking the receiver under her chin, she heaved the white pages up off the floor by the desk. Bird… Birddal… Bird of Paradise…

"But if it's so important I could probably take you there. Like, I drove that night so I could probably find it again. Probably."

"Probably's good enough." There was no Birdwell listed in the phone book. It made sense, he'd probably moved into his apartment in the fall, at the beginning of the school year, and new numbers were listed around the end of May. "I'll be right there. Where can you meet me?"

"Well, I can't meet you until five. Like I said, I've got an exam today."

"Coreen, this is important!"

"So is my exam." Her tone showed no willingness to compromise.

"Before the exam… "

"I really have to study."

Okay, 5:00, was still early enough. A little over two hours until sunset and still seven hours until midnight. They had a positive identification and seven hours would be plenty of time. And besides, yelling wouldn't help. "5:00, then. Where?"

"Do you know where Burton Auditorium is?"

"I can find it."

"Meet me outside the north doors."

"All right. 5:00 pm, at the north doors of Burton Auditorium, I'll see you then."

Vicki hung up the phone and sat for a moment just staring at it. Of all the possible situations that could have developed, up to and including one last desperate confrontation with the Demon Lord itself, this had not occurred to her-that someone would just drop the answer in her lap. She pushed her glasses up her nose and shook her head. It shouldn't, she supposed, come as much of a surprise; once the right questions were dredged up out of the abyss the right answers usually followed.

Doodling on the cover of the phone book, she dialed directory assistance-just in case. "Hi, I'm looking for a new listing for a Norman Birdwell. I don't have an address, but he's somewhere up by York University."

"One moment, please. We have a new listing for an N. Birdwell… "

Vicki scribbled the number across the cover artist's conception of a telephone operator. "Could I possibly trouble you for the address as well?"

"I'm sorry, but we're not permitted to give out that information."

"You'll be sorrier if the world comes to an end," Vicki muttered, cutting the connection with her thumb. That it was the anticipated answer made it no less annoying.

At the Birdwell number, an open modem screamed on the line and Vicki hurriedly cut if off.

"Looks like we're back to Coreen."

8:17. She yawned. She could spend the rest of the day trying to get through to N. Birdwell-who might or might not be Norman-but what she really needed was another four or five hours sleep. The blood loss combined with the late night-she'd always been more of an early to bed early to rise type-had really knocked her on her ass. She should probably still go out to York, still speak to the others on the list, but now that the opportunity to catch up on sleep had been dumped in her lap, her body seemed to be making an independent decision to take advantage of it.

Staggering into the bedroom, she tossed her clothes on the floor and managed to stay awake only long enough to reset her alarm for one o'clock. Her eyes closed almost before her head hit the pillow. Coreen's call had banished the uncertainty, defined the threat, and with it Vicki had a weapon to fight the nightmares if they came again.

"Sometimes we win with greater firepower, through sheer numbers or more powerful weapons, but for the most part it's knowledge that defines our victories. Know something and it has lost its power over you."

Vicki woke with the words of one of her cadet instructors ringing in her head. He'd been much given to purple prose and almost Shakespearean speeches, but what had redeemed him in the eyes of the cadets was not only that he'd believed strongly in everything he said but that most of the time, he was right.

The monster had a name. Norman Birdwell. Now, it could be beaten.

After a bowl of soup, a toasted tomato sandwich, and another iron supplement, she called Henry.

"… so the moment Coreen gets me to some kind of an address, I'll call and let you know. From the sound of it, he's not going to be that difficult to take care of if there's no demon around. I'll have Coreen take me back to York and I'll wait for you there."

With her finger on the disconnect, she sat listening to the dial tone, staring off into the distance, trying to make up her mind. Finally she decided. "Well, it can't hurt." Whether he believed her or not, it was still information he should have.

"Mike Celluci, please. Yes, I'll hold."

He wasn't in the building and the young man on the other end of the phone was significantly unhelpful.

"If you could let him know that Vicki Nelson called."

"Yes ma'am. Is that all?" The young man obviously had never heard of her and he wasn't impressed.

Vicki's tone changed. She hadn't reached her rank at her age without acquiring the ability to handle snot-nosed young men. The words came out parade ground clipped. "Tell him he should check out a student at York University, name of Norman Birdwell. I'll tell him more when I know more."

"Yes, sir! I mean, ma'am."

She grinned a little sadly as she hung up. "Okay, so I'm not a cop anymore," she told an old photo of herself in uniform that hung over the desk. "That's no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. Maybe it's time to forge a whole new relationship with the police department."

As she had the time, and nothing much else to do with it, Vicki took transit up to York. A childhood spent pinching pennies kept her out of taxis as much as possible and although she bitched and complained about the TTC along with most everyone else in Toronto, she had to admit that if you weren't in a screaming rush or too particular about who you spent time crammed up against, it got you where you needed to go more or less when you needed to get there.

During the long ride up to the university, she pulled everything she knew into one long, point-form report. By the time she'd reached her final transfer, she'd also reached a final question. When they had Norman Birdwell, what did they do with him?

So we take the grimoire away and get rid of the immediate threat. She stared out the window at a gray stretch of single-story industrial buildings. What then? The most he can be charged with is possession of stolen property and keeping a prohibited weapon. A slap on the wrist and a few hours of community service work-if they don't throw the whole thing out of court on a technicality-and he'll be back calling up demons again. He had, after all, managed to kill seven people before even getting his hands on the grimoire. There had to be an answer beyond the only permanent-and completely out of the question-solution she could think of. Maybe if he tells the court where he got the computer and the jacket and the various and sundry, he'll be ruled insane.

Find him.

Get the grimoire.

Let the police deal with the rest.

She grinned at her translucent reflection. Let the police deal with it-it had a certain attraction from where she now sat.

Coreen was waiting outside the main doors of Burton Auditorium, red hair a blazing beacon in yet another drizzly, overcast spring afternoon. "I finished the exam faster than I thought I would," she called as Vicki approached. "Good thing you're early; I would have been bored spitless out here much longer. My car's parked in the back." As Vicki fell into step beside her, she pushed a curl back off her face with a clash of day-glo plastic bangles and sighed. "I'm never sure whether finishing in the minimum time is a good thing or not. Like it means you either knew everything cold, or you didn't know squat and you just thought you knew everything cold."

She didn't appear to need a response, so Vicki kept silent, thinking, I was never that young.

"Personally, I think I aced it. Ian always said, there was no point in thinking you'd failed when it was too late to do anything about it." She sobered suddenly, remembering Ian, and said nothing more until they were in the car and out on Shoreham Drive.

"Norman's really doing it, isn't he?"

Vicki glanced over at the younger woman whose knuckles were white on the steering wheel. "Doing what?" she asked, more to stall for time than because she didn't know what Coreen meant.

"Calling up demons, just like he said. I was thinking about it after I talked to you. There's no reason that it couldn't have been a demon instead of a vampire that killed Ian and Janet. That's why you're out here, isn't it?"

Considering her options, Vicki decided that the truth would have to serve. Coreen was obviously not going to think she'd flipped, and all things considered, that was of dubious comfort. "Yes," she said quietly, "he's really doing it."

Coreen turned the car north onto Hullmar Drive, tires squealing faintly against the pavement. "And you're here to stop him."

It wasn't a question, but Vicki answered it anyway. "No, I'm just here to find him."

"But I know where he-four, five, six-is." She pulled into the parking lot of a four building apartment complex. "That's his building right there." She stopped the car about three lengths from the door and Vicki jotted the number down.

"Do you remember his apartment number?" she asked, peering toward the smoked glass of the entrance.

"Nine something." Coreen shrugged. "Nine's a powerful number. It probably helped him in his incantations."

"Right." Vicki got out of the car and Coreen followed.

'I say we should take him out right now."

Stopped in mid-stride, Vicki stared down at her companion. "I beg your pardon?"

Coreen stared defiantly back. "You and me. We should take him out right now."

"Don't be ridiculous, Coreen. This man is very dangerous."

"Norman? Dangerous?" She snorted derisively. "His demon might be dangerous, but Norman is a geek. I can take him out myself if you're not interested." When she started walking again, Vicki stepped in front of her.

"Hold it right there, this is no time for amateur heroics."

"Amateur heroics?" Coreen's voice rose an octave. "You're fired, Ms. Nelson!" Turning on one heel, she circumvented Vicki's block and stomped toward the building.

Sighing, Vicki followed. She'd save actual physical restraint as a last resort. After all, she can't even get into the building.

The inner door to the lobby was ajar and Coreen barged through it like Elliot Ness going after Capone. On her heels, Vicki reached out to stop her.

"Coreen, I… "

"Freeze, both of you."

The young man who emerged from behind the potted palm was unprepossessing in the extreme. Tall and thin, he carried himself as though parts of his body were on loan from someone else. A plastic pocket protector bulged with pens and his polyester pants stopped roughly two inches above his ankles.

Coreen rolled her eyes and headed directly for him. "Norman, don't be such a… "

"Coreen," Vicki's hand on her shoulder rocked her to a halt. "Perhaps we'd better consider doing as Mr. Birdwell suggests."

Grinning broadly, Norman raised the stolen AK-47.

Vicki had no intention of betting anyone's life on the very visible magazine being empty, not when the police report had included missing ammunition.

One of the building's four elevators was in the lobby, doors open. Norman motioned the two women into it.

"I was looking out my window and I saw you in the parking lot," he told them. "I knew you were here to stop me."

"Well, you're right …" Coreen began but fell silent as Vicki's grip on her arm tightened.

Vicki had very little doubt that she could get the gun away from Norman without anyone-except possibly Norman-getting hurt, but she sure as hell wasn't going to do it in an elevator with what appeared to be stainless steel walls. Forget the initial burst-the ricochets would rip all three of them to shreds. She kept her grip on Coreen's arm as they walked down the hallway to Norman's apartment, the barrel of the Russian assault rifle waving between them like some sort of crazed indicator switch.

Don't let anyone open their door, she prayed. I can handle this if everyone just stays calm. As she couldn't count on neighbors not diving suddenly into the line of fire, she'd have to wait until they were actually in the apartment before making her move.

Norman's place was unlocked. Vicki pushed Coreen in ahead of her. The moment he closes the door…. She heard the click, dropped Coreen's arm, spun around, and was pushed to one side as Coreen charged past her and threw herself at their captor.

"Damnit!"

She ducked a wildly swinging elbow and tried to shove Coreen down out of the line of fire. The dark, almost blue metal of the barrel scraped across her glasses. She caught one quick glimpse of Norman's fingers white around the pistol grip. Coreen clutched at her shoulder. She didn't see the steel reinforced butt arc around outside her limited periphery. It missed the thinner bone of her temple by a hair – smashing into her skull, slamming her up against the wall, plummeting her down into darkness.

Brows drawn down into a deep vee, Celluci fanned the phone messages stacked on his desk, checking who they were from. Two reporters, an uncle, Vicki, the dry cleaners, one of the reporters again… and again. Growling wordlessly, he crumpled them up and shoved them into his pocket. He didn't have time for this kind of crap.

He'd spent the day combing the area where the latest victim and her dog had been found. He'd talked to the two kids who'd found the body and most of the people who lived in a four block radius. The site had held a number of half obliterated footprints that suggested the man they were looking for went barefoot, had three toes, and very long toenails. No one had seen anything although a drunk camped out farther down in the ravine had heard a sound like a sail luffing and had smelled rotten eggs. The police lab had just informed him that between the mastiff's teeth were particles identical to the bit of whatever-it-was that DeVerne Jones had been holding in his hand. And he was no closer to finding an answer.

Or at least no closer to finding an answer he could deal with.

More things in heaven and earth…

He slammed out of the squad room and stomped down the hall. The new headquarters building seemed to deaden sound, but he made as much as he could anyway.

This place needs some doors you can slam. And Shakespeare should have minded his own goddamned business!

As he passed the desk, the cadet on duty leaned forward. "Uh, Detective, a Vicki Nelson called for you earlier. She seemed quite insistent that you check out… "

Celluci's raised hand cut him off. "Did you write it down?"

"Yes, sir. I left a message on your desk."

"Then you've done your job."

"Yes, sir, but… "

"Don't tell me how to do mine."

The cadet swallowed nervously, Adam's apple bobbing above his tight uniform collar. "No, sir."

Scowling, Celluci continued stomping out of the building. He needed to be alone to do some thinking. The last thing he needed right now was Vicki.

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