Henry waited, motionless, while the other man drew closer. He felt like a rabbit caught in headlights, fully aware that death and destruction bore down on him but unable to move. The sun grew brighter and brighter behind his eyes until he struggled to see around it.
I have no way to fight this?
And then, suddenly, he recognized what he faced. His kind could sense the lives around them, not only through scent and sound but also with an awareness peculiar to those who hunted the night. What he felt approaching was a life, ancient, unlike any life he had ever felt before, and the sun only a symbol created to deal with it.
I have been aware of his life from the moment he awoke, most aware in the times I am most vulnerable. Blessed Christ, he has driven me almost to death just by existing.
Brows down and teeth clenched, he fought to drive this life from the foreground of his mind, finally managing to push it back and dim the light although he could not banish it entirely. It existed now as a background to all he did, but at least it no longer blinded him.
The night returned, Henry blinked, and found himself sinking into irises so deep a brown they looked black. Just before this darkness closed over bun, he snarled and pulled free.
'I will not go unresisting like a lamb to the slaughter!"
Force of will slammed at the spell of absorption and shattered it. In all the centuries since his god had changed him, he had never felt such raw power.
He should have known it would not be so easy and he would not have even made the attempt had he not been blinded by the glory of the other's ka. This one had protections; not only personal strength but also strong ties to the one God who had swept the old ways down. Each alone might be enough to stop him from taking what he so deeply desired, together they were very nearly an impenetrable barrier.
But I will have this ka. I must.
He touched only the very outermost edges of the other's thoughts. In them, he could feel himself and he could feel fear. Both would give him, if not a way through, a way around. He probed for other weaknesses but saw only the blaze of unlimited potential.
'What are you?"
Henry, muscles twisted into knots across his shoulders, hands clenched so tightly into fists that his nails cut crescents into his palms, saw no reason not to answer. He pitched his voice so that it traveled across the distance between them but no further and threw it like a challenge.
'I am Vampire."
The ka he had absorbed since awakening gave him a confusing pastiche of images not many of which seemed to have much to do with the young man standing before him. He sifted through the information until he recognized what he faced. His people had called them by another name.
No wonder the young man's ka burned so brightly; as long as the Night walkers fed on the blood of the living, they were immortal. As immortal as he was himself. Did his own ka burn like a beacon? A pity he would never know, for it was the one ka he could not see.
What power would be his if he fed on the ka of an immortal being! It would no longer be necessary to work through pitiful human tools. He would rule from the beginning in his own name.
Perhaps? perhaps a seat in the council of the gods would not be beyond him. He saw himself surrounded by glory, no longer the servant of a petty minor deity but a master in his own name. Quickly, as much as he thrilled to it, he buried the thought deep. It would not do for Akhekh to find it.
But to devour an immortal ka-he had been so blinded by the life remaining, he had never even looked at the life lived, never even noticed it was far longer than the normal human span. He was, he discovered, the elder by a good many centuries, even discounting the millennia he had spent imprisoned. Still, he would have to move carefully, for if he was to finally feast, the Nightwalker's protections must be lowered. He did not have the power to break them down, even considering the fear woven through them.
Why do you fear me, Nightwalker?
Although it was an emotion he would use, it was a question he could not ask. So he asked another.
'Why do you search me out, Nightwalker?"
'You hunt in my territory."
Ambiguous enough to hide a multitude of motives and also, Henry discovered as he spoke, the truth.
Again he attempted to read the other's ka, to enter past the surface, but he got no further this time than he had before.
'I would talk with you, Nightwalker. Shall we walk together for a time?"
Henry wanted to say no, torn between a desire to run and a desire to rip out the creature's throat and drink deeply of the blood he could hear surging beneath the smooth column of throat. The first would bring him no closer to a solution. The second? well, even if he could get past the defenses all wizards wore, which he doubted, it was Sunday evening at a major intersection in downtown Toronto and committing a violent murder in front of hundreds of witnesses, while it would be a solution of sorts, would not be one he himself would likely survive.
So, because it seemed the best, if not the only choice, he turned and fell into step at the other's side, trying to ignore the sun that continued to blaze in one corner of his mind.
They walked south down Queen's Park Road and the power that walked with them turned more than a few heads as they went.
'What shall I call you?" Henry asked at last.
'I use the name Anwar Tawfik. You may call me that."
'That's not the name you were born with."
'Of course not." He laughed gently, an elder chiding an errant pupil. "I took the name upon awakening. I am not likely to give you the power of my birth name." He had not heard his birth name spoken since before the joining of Egypt into a single country. "And I am to call you??"
'Richmond." Although he had answered to it in the past it had been a title, not a name, and so should be safe from whatever magics could be wrapped around it.
They walked a short distance further, until the sounds of Bloor Street faded and then, in mutual agreement, crossed over to the park. After dark on a November evening, they walked alone on paths damp with fallen leaves, under trees nearly bare. No one would overhear the words to be spoken; no one would have to die because they had heard.
The scattering of lights pushed back the darkness only in isolated areas; in the rest of the park the night stretched unbroken from infinity to the ground. Little light of any kind reached the bench they chose and as Henry watched Tawfik lower himself carefully down, he realized that the other had no better than mortal vision.
So I hold the advantage of sight. For all the good it will do.
Tawfik smelled of excitement, not fear, and his heart beat only a fraction faster than human norm. The movement of his blood called to the Hunger even as the weight of his life overwhelmed any desire Henry had to feed. Henry could smell the fear on himself and his own heart, while still ponderously slow by mortal measuring, beat faster and harder than it had in years.
Tawfik spoke first, his voice sounding mildly amused. "You have a hundred questions, why not begin?"
Why not? But where? Perhaps with the question he himself had answered. "What are you?"
'I am the last remaining priest of the god Akhekh."
'What are you doing here?"
'Do you mean how do I come to be here, in this century, in this place? Or do you mean what am I doing now I am here?"
Tawfik shifted on the bench. "Well, that is, as they say, a long story and as you have only until dawn?"He saw no reason to lie to the Nightwalker about how and what he was and, although he would chose his words carefully, he was also willing to speak of his plans. After all, he wanted to win young Richmond's trust.
Fortunately, Dr. Rax provided him with a twentieth century framework to hang his story on.
'I was born about 3250 BC, in Upper Egypt just before Merinar, who had been King of Lower Egypt, created one empire that stretched the length of the Nile. I was, at the time of the conquest, a high-ranking priest of Set-not the Set that common history remembers, he was then a benevolent god, unfortunately on the losing side. After the conquest, Horus the elder, the highest of the gods of Lower Egypt, cast Set down and declared him unclean. Set, still very powerful, merely worked his way into the new pantheon." Tawfik's tone grew slightly dry. "Egyptian gods were, if nothing else, flexible.
'I, as a ranking priest, had been cast down with my god, stripped and scourged and thrown out of my temple. Only mortal and already middle-aged, I hadn't the luxury of concerning myself with Set's long-term plans. I wanted immediate revenge and I was willing to do?" He paused and Henry saw him frown as he remembered. "I was willing to do anything to regain the power and prestige I had lost.
'To me came Akhekh, a minor and dark deity, who in the confusion of the heavens had managed to get hold of more power than usual. 'Swear to me,' said Akhekh,'dedicate your life to my service, and I will give you the time you need for your revenge. I will make you more powerful than you have ever been. Become my priest and I will give you the power to destroy the ka of your enemies. You will feed on their souls and with such nourishment live forever. ' "
Tawfik turned to face Henry and smiled tightly. "Now do not for a moment think that Akhekh made this offer out of regard for me. The gods exist only as long as belief exists. A change in those who believe, means a change in the gods. When no one believes any longer, the gods lose definition, their sense of self if you will, and are absorbed back into the whole." He caught a powerful negative flare from the Nightwalker's ka and inclined his head politely toward the other man. "You wanted to say??"
Henry hadn't intended to say anything, but he found that when challenged he couldn't hold back. I will not be like Peter and deny my lord. "There is only one God."
'Richmond, please." Tawfik didn't bother to keep the amusement out of his voice. "You, at least, should know better. Perhaps there may someday be only one god, when all people dream and desire alike, and there are certainly less gods now than there were before I was entombed. But one god? No. I can? introduce you to my god, if you wish."
The night seemed to grow a little darker.
'No." Henry ground the word through clenched teeth.
Tawfik shrugged. "As you wish. Now then, where was I? Oh, yes. Of course, I accepted Akhekh's offer; that it came from a dark god meant little to me under the circumstances. I discovered that not only could I extend my life and power my magics with the life remaining in the ka I absorbed, but I also gained the life knowledge that ka held. An invaluable resource for those necessary moves between cultures that occur over a long, a very long life."
'So when you killed Dr. Rax?"
'I absorbed the power of his remaining life and came to know everything he knew. The younger the life the less knowledge but the greater potential for power."
'Then the infant you killed earlier today?"
That jerked Tawfik out of his relaxed posture. "How did you know?" he demanded and knew the answer before the question had quite left his mouth. The young man who had been watching, fully aware of what had occurred-the young man who had fled in terror-must have fled to the protection of the Nightwalker. He had heard they sometimes gathered mortals about them, a ready food source when hunting became unsure. So, another pawn has entered the game. Tawfik let nothing but the question show on his face or in his voice. If the Nigbtwalker thought he had forgotten the young man, his protection would be less extreme and easier to circumvent.
Henry heard Tawfik's heart speed up, but the wizard-priest made no mention of Tony. Perhaps Tony had been wrong and he hadn't been spotted. Given Tony's terror, that seemed unlikely. Perhaps Tawfik played a deeper game and had no wish to tip his hand. Tawfik no doubt had his own reasons for denying a witness; Henry's were simple, he would not betray a friend. He let the beast show in his voice as he repeated, "You've been hunting in my territory."
Tawfik recognized the threat, and countered with one of his own, playing on the Nightwalker's barely controlled fear of him. "As you were about to observe, the infant I killed earlier today made me very powerful." Stalemate again. "Now then, if I may continue with my history??"
'Thank you." Akhekh's offer had come with a condition; he could not devour the ka of one already sworn. For the first hundred years after the conquest, while the pantheon settled, the unsworn were easy to find and he had risen in power-which he discovered he desired much more than revenge-and the cult of Akhekh had grown strong. But the more stable and prosperous Egypt was, the more the people were content with their gods and the fewer unattached ka were available, so his power and Akhekh's-waxed and waned in counterpoint to Egypt's. This age had a decadence he recognized and had every intention of exploiting-they were ripe for rituals Akhekh had to offer. Tawfik saw no reason to mention any of that to the Nightwalker.
'Because of me, my lord, in spite of his relatively subordinate position in the pantheon, was never absorbed into the greater gods like so many of the lesser deities had been and so in every age, in a thousand places along the Nile, I raised a temple to Akhekh." Occasionally, he was the only worshiper, but no need to mention that either. "Now and then, other priests objected to my having stepped out of the cycle of life, but the centuries had made me a skilled wizard-And had taught me when to cut my losses and leave town.-so they could not take me down. As I only destroyed those who had no allegiance to a god, the other gods refused to get involved."
'But you were taken down, in the end."
'Yes. Well, I made a slight error in judgment. It could have happened to anyone." In the darkness, Tawfik smiled. "Shall I tell you what it was? It is completely irrelevant to this time and place so even if you wished to, you couldn't use it against me. During what you now call the Eighteenth Dynasty, although things were extremely prosperous for Egypt, most nobles had very large families which meant that a number of the younger nobility had nothing to do. In such a social climate, the temple of Akhekh grew and flourished. My lord had more sworn acolytes than at any time since the conquest. Unfortunately, although I didn't see it as unfortunate at the time, two of the Pharaoh's younger sons joined our number. This finally attracted the attention of the greater gods."
He paused, sighed, and shook his head. When he began to speak again, his voice had lost its lecturing tone and had become only the voice of a man sharing painful memories.
'The sons of the Pharaoh were the sons of Osiris reborn and Osiris would not have them corrupted by what he termed an abomination. So Thoth, god of wisdom, came to one of his priests in a dream and told them how I might be overcome. My protections were shattered and once again I was dragged from my temple. The first time, I was left alive because my life had no meaning. This time, they were afraid to kill me because my life had gone on for so long. Even the gods were wary of what might happen should my ka be released into Akhekh's keeping with so many acolytes still performing the rituals. I was not to be slain, I was to be entombed alive. All this I was told as the priests of Thoth prepared me for burial.
'Three thousand years later, my prison was brought here to this city and I was freed."
'And you destroyed the man who gave you your freedom."
'Destroying him gave me my freedom. I needed his knowledge."
'And the other. The custodian."
'I needed his life. I had been entombed for three thousand years, Nightwalker. I had to feed. Would you have done any differently?"
Henry remembered the three days he had spent beneath the earth, hunger clawing at him until hunger became all he was. "No," he admitted, as much to himself as to Tawfik, "I would have fed. But," he shook free of the memory, "I would not have killed those others, not the children."
Tawfik shrugged. "I needed their power."
'So you took their lives."
'Yes." He shifted on the bench, linking his fingers together and leaning his forearms across his thighs. "I told you all this, Nightwalker, so you would learn you cannot stop me. You are no wizard. Thoth and Osiris are long dead and cannot help you. Your god does not interfere."
First the stick. "If you oppose me, I will be forced to destroy you."
And then the carrot. "As I see it, you have two choices; live and let live, as I am willing to do with you, or join me."
'Join you." Henry was not quite in control of the repetition.
'Yes. We have much in common, you and I."
'We have nothing in common."
Tawfik lifted his brows. "Of course we don't." The sarcasm had a razor edge. "This city has many more immortal beings."
'You murder the innocent."
'And you have never killed to survive?"
'Killed for power?"
'Not the innocent."
'And who declared them guilty?"
'They did, by their own actions."
'And who appointed you as judge and jury and executioner? Have I not as much right to appoint myself to the position as you did?"
'I have never destroyed the innocent!" Henry held tightly to that while the sun grew brighter behind his eyes.
'There are no innocents. Or do you deny your church's position on original sin?"
'You argue like a Jesuit!"
'Thank you. I am as immortal as you are, Richmond. I will never grow old, I will never die, I will never leave you. Not even another Nightwalker can promise you that."
Vampires were solitary hunters. Humans were pack animals. In order to survive in a human world, the vampire could not surrender all humanity-those who did were quickly destroyed by the terror they evoked-and this double nature found itself constantly at war with itself. But to find a companion, one who would neither cause instinctive bloody battles over territory nor die just when he had become an intrinsic part of life?
'No!" Henry leapt to his feet and flung himself forward into the darkness, trying to outdistance the sun. Halfway across the park, he managed to stop himself and, fingers dug deep into the living bark of a tree, old and gnarled and half his age, he fought back.
'I have lived, knowing I was immortal, for thousands of years." Tawfik continued to speak, sure that the Night-walker could hear him. He watched the reaction of the other's ka and chose his words accordingly. "I am perhaps the only man you will ever meet who can understand you, who can know what you go through. Who can accept you entirely for what you are. I, too, have seen the ones I love grow old and die."
Listening, in spite of himself, Henry saw the years take Vicki from him as the years had taken the others.
'I am asking you to stand by my side, Nightwalker. A man should not go alone through the centuries; neither of us need ever stand alone again. You need not go blindly forward. I have lived the years you will live, I can be there to guide you." Tawfik couldn't quite hide the gasp as the Nightwalker was suddenly, silently, beside him again.
'You never told me what you plan to do now." The answer wasn't as important as shutting off the words, banishing the specter of isolation they invoked. He couldn't just walk away, so he had to change the subject.
'I plan to build a temple, as I have always done when I start a new life, and I will gather acolytes to serve my god. This is my only concern at this time, Nightwalker, for the acolytes should be sworn as soon as possible-a god deserves worshipers, rituals, all the little things that make being a deity worthwhile."
'Then why try to control the police and the justice system?"
'New religions are often prosecuted. I have a way to prevent that and so I do. With no need to hide, I will shout AKHEKH from the top of the highest mountain. And once the temple is large enough to provide me with the power I need, your innocents will be safe." Tawfik stood and held out his hand. "You live like a mortal, searching for immediate solutions, immediate answers. Why not plan for eternity? Why not plan with me?" He now had enough of a key to the Nightwalker's ka that if Richmond would just voluntarily reach out and take his hand, that act of trust would plant hooks that the younger man would never shake loose.
In time those hooks would pull him closer and, in time, he would feed.
Scent and sound told Henry that Tawfik had not lied once since he began to speak.
Henry felt young, confused, afraid. For the seventeen years he had lived as a mortal he had fought to gain his father's love and approval. Tawfik-older, wiser, incontestably in control-made him feel the way his father had. Four hundred and fifty years hunting the night alone should have erased the bastard who only wanted to belong. It hadn't. He didn't know what to think. He stared down at the offered hand and wondered how it would feel to be able to plan for more than just a part of one mortal lifetime. To be part of a greater whole. But if Tawfik hadn't lied?
'Your god is a dark god. I want no part of him."
'You need have nothing to do with my god. Akhekh asks nothing of you. I ask for your companionship. Your friendship."
'You are more dangerous than your god!" On the last word, Henry launched himself forward. Red lines flared and he found himself flat on his back two meters away.
Tawfik let his hand drop slowly to his side. "Foolish child," he said softly. "I will not destroy you now as I could, nor will I take back the offer. If you grow tired of an eternity alone, come to the corner where we met tonight and I will find you." He felt the Nightwalker's gaze on him as he turned and walked away, not entirely displeased with the evening's work. The surface of the other's ka boiled with emotions too tangled for even millennia of experience to sort out but all of them, eventually, came back to him.
The evening mass was nearly over when Henry slipped into the church and settled into one of the empty pews at the back. Confused and frightened, he had come to the one place that had, through all the years and all the changes, stayed the same. Well, almost the same. He still missed the cadences, the grandeur of the Latin and occasionally murmured his responses in the language of the past.
The Inquisition had driven him from the church for a time but needing, at the very least, the continuity of worship, he had returned. Sometimes he saw the church as an immortal being in its own right, living much as he did during carefully prescribed hours, surviving on the blood of the mortals who surrounded it. And often the blood was less than metaphorical, for more had been shed in the name of a god of love?
He stood with the rest, hands lightly holding the warm wood of the pew in front of him.
Over the centuries there had been compromises, of course. The church declared he had no soul. He disagreed. He had seen men and women without souls-for a soul can be given up to despair or hatred or rage-but did not count himself among them. Confession had been a trial in the beginning, until he realized that the sins the priests would understand, gluttony, anger, lust, sloth applied as much to him as to mortals and that the specific actions were unimportant. He did the penance prescribed. He came away feeling part of a greater whole.
Except that he could not, since his change, take communion.
So once again I am set to one side, different from the closest thing to community I have known.
He found it interesting that Tawfik-the only other immortal being he had met since Christina and he had parted- came complete with a god of his own. Perhaps immortals needed that kind of continuity outside themselves. He found himself thinking of discussing the theory with Tawfik and thrust the thought away.
The pew back groaned under his grip and he hurriedly forced his hands to relax.
If not for the promises he had made to Tony, he would have run before he had the chance to be tempted. And if not for Vicki, the temptation would not have been so great. Vicki offered him friendship, perhaps even love, although she seemed to be frightened of what that implied, but her mortality sounded in the song of her blood and every beat of her heart took her one heartbeat closer to death. In time, in a very short time relative to the time he had already lived, she would be gone and soon after her, Tony, and then the loneliness would return.
Tawfik promised an end to the loneliness, a place to belong for longer than the length of a mortal life.
Why not plan for eternity?
The sun blazed up behind his eyes. It seemed he could no longer be completely unaware of Tawfik's existence.
If I die, I would have the eternity the church promises. It would be so easy to take that way out, come the dawn. Except that suicide is a sin.
The greater sin would be the pain he would leave behind. If he wanted to take that way out, he would have to wait. With a sudden lightening of his heart, he realized that for the first time in weeks, for the first time since the dreams had started, he could face the dawn without fear. The sun that Tawfik pushed at him could no longer push him in that direction. Whatever else happened-desire and fear and identity were still a tangled mess he could not sort-that would not.
The priest lifted one hand, his eyes nearly shut above the curves of his cheeks. "Go in peace," he said softly, and it sounded as though he meant it.
The mass over, the congregation of mostly elderly immigrants began to file out. Henry hung behind, waiting, while the priest greeted each of them at the door. When the last black-clad body was on its way down the path, he stepped forward and captured the priest's gaze.
'Father, I need to talk to you."
More than vocation made it impossible for the priest to refuse that request.
-It was seven ten when he got back to the condo, barely eighteen minutes before sunrise. Vicki met him at the door, grabbed his hands, and practically dragged him inside.
'Where the hell have you been," she snarled, worry twisting into anger now he was safe.
'I had an encounter with our mummy."
The flatness of his tone penetrated. You can deal with this only if you deny the effect it had. Over the years Vicki had seen enough of the effects of major trauma to recognize this particular defense mechanism in her sleep. With an effort, she damped her own emotions to suit. "So you found it. Tony called me about midnight, he was afraid the creature had sucked up your life the way it had the baby's. Mike drove me over. I'll have to call him after sunrise and let him know what happened." Provided you let me know what happened.
Henry could hear a slow and quiet heartbeat coming from the living room.
'Tony finally fell asleep on the couch about four," she continued. "I'll get him out of here after I've got you safe."
The grip that pulled him purposefully through the apartment would have been painfully tight around a mortal's hand; even Henry found it a bit uncomfortable. He made no effort to break it though; it was a welcome anchor.
Not until they reached the bedroom and the door had been closed behind him and the blackout curtain drawn, did Vicki release him. Leaving him standing in the middle of the room, she sat down on the end of the bed and slid her glasses back up the bridge of her nose.
'If you had died out there," she said slowly, because if she didn't speak she was going to explode, "you would have left a hole in my life impossible to fill. I've always hated the thought of putting conditions on?" She wet her lips. "?on love but if you ever go off to face an enemy whose strengths we don't know, who we know can kill with a look, who just the night before sent you running from him in panic, and don't come back looking at least a little the worse for wear?" Her head jerked up and she met his eyes. "? I'm going to wring your fucking vampiric neck. Do I make myself clear?"
'I think so. You went through hell, so I better have?" He sat down beside her on the bed. "If it makes you feel any better, I did."
'Fuck off, Henry, that's not what I meant." She wiped viciously at the tear that traced a line down her cheek. "I was scared spitless you'd taken on more than you could handle?"
'I had." He raised a hand to cut her off. "But not because I had to prove something after last night. I grew out of stupid displays of machismo three centuries ago. I went because Tony needed me to."
Vicki took a deep breath, and her shoulders straightened as though a weight had lifted. God knows, she'd taken impossible risks in her time, and, thank God, he'd had a reason she could live with. "You are such an idiot."
Henry leaned forward and drew the flavor of her mouth deep into his. "And you have such interesting ways of saying I love you," he murmured against her lips. He realized just how frightened for him she'd been when she made no protest, merely returned his embrace with an intensity that held a hint of desperation. When she finally drew back, he got to his feet and began to strip off his shirt. If he didn't hurry, he'd be spending the day in his clothes.
She watched him, the soft, anxious expression she'd worn for a moment hardening into something a little closer to, All right, let's get on with this. "Are you okay?"
'Well, to begin, I didn't find him, he found me." He tossed the shirt to the floor. "And I discovered that the sun that I've been dreaming about has been nothing more than a manifestation of his life-energy."
'Apparently there were times I was more susceptible than others. And now I've met him, I can't completely tune him out."
'You can always see the sun?"
'It hovers on the edge of my consciousness."
'Jesus Christ, Henry!"
'He frightens me, Vicki. I can't see any way we can beat him."
Her brows drew down. "What did he do to you?"
'He talked." Henry flipped the covers back and got into the bed. The sun, the other sun, trembled on the horizon. "He twisted me into knots and left me to sort myself out."
She shifted around until she faced him again. "Did you?"
'I think so. I don't know." I won't know until I face him again. "I spent the night trying to redefine myself. The church. The hunt." He reached out and laid two fingers against her wrist. "You."
I'm worried sick and he's out having a prayer, a snack, and a fuck? The smell of sex that clung to him was faint but unmistakable now she'd been made aware of it. Calm down. Everyone deals with trauma his own way. At least he made it home. "And what about you do I define?"
She laid her palm gently on his bare chest, stroking the soft red-gold curls with her thumb. "I really hate this mushy stuff."
'I know." He almost smiled, then quickly sobered again. "I tried to attack him. I couldn't even get close. He's dangerous, Vicki."
He obviously wasn't referring to the deaths that had occurred since the mummy disentombed itself and the faint shadow of pain that slipped into his voice was far more disturbing than out and out panic would have been. "Why?"
'Because I can't reject his offer out of hand."
'His offer?" Vicki's brows snapped down so hard that her glasses trembled on the very tip of her nose. "What offer? Tell me!"
He began to shake his head?
? then the motion slowed?
? then the day took him.
'When he wakes up, I'm going to grab him and shake him and he's going to tell me everything he knows and we're going to go over what happened second by second." Vicki stuffed another handful of cheese balls into her mouth. "This is what comes of letting your hormones interfere with your caseload," she muttered savagely, but indistinctly to an uninterested pigeon. Because she'd been so worried about Henry, first she'd babbled then she'd let him babble and nothing, absolutely nothing of any use had been passed on before he'd passed out.
'If I'd ever done anything half so stupid with a witness while I was on the force I'd have been up on charges of gross incompetence." Sucking the virulent orange stain from her fingers, she shook her head, growling around them, "And they wonder why I won't get mushy romantic." All right, that was unfair. Neither of them wondered. Celluci understood and Henry accepted. This screwup she could lay at no one's door but her own.
'Good lord. Celluci." She shoved the half-eaten package of cheese balls into her shoulder bag and checked her watch. He'd be going into headquarters for eleven and he'd told her to call him before he left. Vicki figured she owed him that much; not, given her lack of relevant information, that she was looking forward to it. To her surprise it was only eight fifty-three. Why did she feel like it should be later? Time flies when you're having fits?
With Henry safely and infuriatingly tucked away, she'd roused Tony, reassured him, and popped him onto a subway heading toward his current job site, shoving five bucks into his hand so he could buy breakfast when he got there. Then she'd taken transit in the other direction, paused only long enough to pick up a snack and a short lecture on nutrition from Mrs. Kopolous at the store, and had just rounded the corner onto Huron Street and home. They left Henry's condo at ten to eight, it was now ten to nine. An hour seemed about right?
'Daylight savings time. My body thinks it's ten to ten." She sighed. "My body is an idiot. My emotional state is completely unreliable. Damn, but it's a good thing I'm so smart."
The legal side of Huron Street was, as usual, parked solid, so Vicki paid less than no attention to the brown sedan that had pulled over illegally in front of her building. She moved onto the walk, heard a car door open behind her, and froze when a familiar voice called out, "Good morning, Nelson."
'Good morning, Staff-Sergeant Gowan." She pivoted around to face him, the smile she wore completely unconvincing. Staff-Sergeant Gowan had resented everything about her while she'd been on the force, his resentment growing with every promotion, every citation, every bit-of praise she got until it had festered into hate. To be fair, she despised him in turn. "Oh, and I see you brought Constable Mallard." She'd once turned Mallard into the Police Review Board for conduct unbecoming a human being. As far as she was concerned, the uniform meant responsibility; it didn't excuse the lack of it.
Her palms began to sweat. They were both out of uniform. Whatever was going to happen, it didn't look good.
'So, what unexpected pleasure brings you two out so early in the morning?"
Gowan's smile spread all over his face. It was the happiest she'd ever seen him. "Oh, a pleasure indeed? We have a warrant for your arrest, Nelson."
'I knew if I waited long enough, you'd go one step too far and piss off the wrong person."
She backed away as Mallard approached.
'Looks like resisting arrest to me," he murmured and swung out with the nightstick he'd been holding, hidden, behind his leg.
The blow came too fast to avoid. It hit her hard across the solar plexus and she folded, gasping for breath. He always was a fucking hotshot with that thing. Each man grabbed an arm and the next thing she knew, she'd been tossed across the back seat of the car. Mallard climbed in with her. Gowan scurried around to the front.
The whole operation, from the time Gowan had first spoke, had taken less than a minute.
Vicki, her face pressed hard against musty upholstery, struggled to breathe. As the car began to move, Mallard yanked her arms back and forced the cuffs around her wrists, closing them so tightly the metal edges dug into the bone. The pain jerked her head up and his fist slammed it down.
'Go ahead, fight." He snickered and she felt him drive his forearm across the small of her back, immobilizing her with his weight.
Her glasses were hanging off one ear and losing them frightened her more than anything Mallard or Gowan could do. Although it wasn't going to be fun? she'd seen prisoners both men had released into holding cells. Apparently, they'd fallen down a lot.
When he started fumbling with the waistband of her jeans, she got one leg free and attempted to drive the heel of her sneaker through his ear. He grabbed her foot and twisted.
Goddamned, fucking, son of a bitch!
The pain gave her something new to think about for a few seconds and the lesser pain of the needle almost got lost in it.
The drug worked quickly.
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