Tyrell kept surprising me. Hugh had said archaeologist, and to me that means nerd, even though I've seen the Indiana Jones movies. He'd also said the guy's sire was some big-noise elder, so I was half-expecting a spoiled brat. And a Gangrel, so I thought maybe an eco-nut or a grunting barbarian as well.
A nerdy, spoiled-brat, grunting, barbarian eco-nut. I hoped like hell that Tyrell couldn't read minds, although I was starting to think he'd get a big laugh out of it, instead of getting pissed.
He certainly wasn't a grunting barbarian. Hugh, my sire, would have loved this guy, they both spoke exactly the same way. Never say drunk if you can say inebriated instead. Not that he talked very much. Though he seemed to listen a great deal, and think about what he'd heard. Ask him if he wanted sugar in his coffee, and he'd spend half an hour weighing up the pros and cons, and analyzing the question for hidden subtext. Those bright green eyes of his were always moving, questioning, taking everything in.
Oh yeah, that was something else strange. A green-eyed redhead who looked sorta Asian. He'd caught me checking out his face and shrugged. "I'll save you the question. My grandfather was a Navajo and the rest of the family are green-eyed Anglo-Welsh redheads. He married my grandmother when she was in Intelligence in WW II, and he was a code-speaker".
So that was what that odd little lilt in his voice was. Welsh.
Anyhow, he seemed that rarest of things in the fucked-up world of vampires, a genuinely nice guy. He was as upset as I was about Claire dying, and wanted to help on his own account. Didn't even ask me to owe him a favor.
So here we were, outside the morgue. It looked spooky, and I felt real embarrassed about letting it get to me. I'm a vampire, for Christsakes, I'm not supposed to be afraid of the creatures of the night.
Only I was. So sue me.
"You ever watch slasher flicks?", I asked Tyrell. He gave me that weird half-grin of his.
"I tend to lose interest after the monster ambushes the two teens making out, and the blood and gore starts flying. Given the choice, I'd prefer the camera to stay with the two teens making out. But you're thinking we're asking for trouble, breaking into a morgue like this?"
Tyrell pulled his car door open. "Well, let's face it, neither of us has to worry about heart attacks". Smartass. I got out of the passenger side.
The passenger side. That still rankled. The ghoul, Iain, had driven up in a new Ferrari - a Ferrari, no kidding - and said we could borrow it. He'd pulled out a map and marked the location of the morgue for us, then told us the car keys were in the ignition. So we both strolled outside, real casual, both pretending we weren't trying to beat the other one to the driver's seat.
I felt really, really pissed with myself for forgetting that English cars have their steering wheels on the right. My damn' van does, I see it every day, and I still didn't stop to think. Tyrell was laughing as he sank back into the leather upholstery.
"Don't worry, you can drive on the way back. You do have a license, right?"
"Sure". Actually, I had several, all with different names, just in case. But I didn't see any need to mention that to Tyrell.
I didn't want to admit it to myself, but Tyrell was the better choice as driver. I swear the Brits haven't changed the layout of their old country lanes since medieval times, and it shows. I guess I should be grateful they even bothered to tarmac them, 'cause they sure as hell hadn't bothered with streetlights. We were going through pitch blackness with high hedgerows about two feet away on either side of us. A couple of times, we had to back up into the entrance to some field to let another car get past. Goddamn Brits still think they're living in the middle ages.
After a couple of miles, I noticed that Tyrell's eyes were glowing, bright red. I'd heard of that trick, but I never saw it used before. "Gangrel night-vision, right?"
"Right". He kept his eyes on the road. "Don't worry, I'll switch it off if we meet any kine. It's useful for roads like this, though".
So here we were, outside the morgue, in the parking lot of a small hospital. Visiting hours were over and the place had pretty much closed down for the night, but there were still a lot of people about, of course. I looked over at Tyrell.
Those green eyes were moving again, still glowing faint red. "If Iain was right about the building - and he usually is - then it's over there to the right. And I don't see any open windows. Okay, then". He looked at me, and the light in his eyes went out. "That little trick you pulled on the girls last night - does it work for anything except getting dates?"
"I wouldn't know. I've never tried it for anything except that". He rolled his eyes at me, and I grinned. Okay, so maybe I play up the airhead slut routine a bit much sometimes. Most vamps say they don't have a sex drive after they get Embraced, but mine only seems to have gotten stronger, although nowadays it's mixed up with my urge to feed.
But because their balls don't have any influence over their brains any more, a lot of vamps tend to underestimate someone who still seems... susceptible, if you get my meaning. It's like they demote me to honorary kine or something. And not being a total dumbass, I don't mind being underestimated. It's safer.
The way Tyrell was grinning back at me, though, I'm pretty sure I wasn't fooling him. The thought made my Beast stir a little. Not being fooled made him more of a potential threat. I pushed it back under control, and made a "whatever" gesture.
"Seriously, I should be able to schmooze us past the nurses and any security guards who are around, but unless they have keys, I can't get us into the morgue".
Tyrell raised his eyebrows. "You were thinking they lock the morgue at night? Like they sent a memo around? Budget cuts have forced us to cease operation of the mortuary night shift. Outside of normal working hours, medical staff are requested to co-operate in keeping pressure off this department"
"Oh". Why had I thought I needed to act like an airhead slut to make Tyrell think I was stupid? All I'd needed to do was be myself.
I gathered he shreds of my dignity and headed into the hospital, Tyrell at my side.
I looked down at the girl on the morgue tray with total disbelief. Whatever I'd been expecting, whatever I'd been dreading, it hadn't been this.
I shut the drawer and walked back across to the desk to check the documentation. No, I didn't seem to have made a mistake. According to these notes...
Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside. I looked up, thinking for a moment that it was Don, the attendant, back from his cigarette break.
My heart skipped a beat when Nick Baron and that other rot from the festival walked in wearing white coats. I was here because I'd been pretty sure they'd killed Claire, and now, here they were. It couldn't be a coincidence.
From the look of it, they were equally surprised to see me.
"Sandra!". Nick took in my Sister's uniform. "You... uh... work here?"
"No shit, Sherlock". I mimicked his accent as I said it. "But you don't. What are you doing in that coat?"
He was quick-witted, I'll give him that. Without missing a beat, he said, "We're medical students. We just started here and we're here as part of our... uh... anatomy studies".
He got close to me and opened his eyes really wide. His voice took on a sort of croon as he said, "We're okay. You don't have to worry about us. Maybe you should just sit down and think about something else for a while. We'll be done pretty fast".
You didn't have to be Einstein to figure out he was trying to use some sort of rot mind trick on me. I let my face go slack and nodded slowly. "Good idea". I sat down behind the desk and started flipping through the papers there, pretty much at random.
"I assume you told her that we aren't the droids she's looking for?". That was Tyrell. Little bit of a Welsh accent in his voice, I noticed. I saw Nick nod out of the corner of my eye.
"Yeah, she's out of it. She didn't react quite how I'd expected, but it looks like I got through to her in the end. Poor girl". That was odd. The rot sounded genuinely sympathetic. "I hope she wasn't working in here when they brought her friend in". Bastard. Pity he hadn't thought about that when he was killing Claire... if he had.
Luckily, he didn't know enough about hospitals to figure out that this couldn't possibly be my usual duty station.
"Okay, so now what?"
"We find Claire's notes?". I had a hard time staying relaxed when I heard Tyrell say that. It looked like I'd been right. They'd killed Claire and now they were here to destroy the evidence.
"Careful!". Nick looked over at me. "Emotional trauma - like the death of a friend - can snap someone out of a trance". I kept my expression blank.
"Oh. Sorry". Tyrell walked across to the desk and reached around me to flip through the papers there. He scanned them pretty fast, like he was used to speed-reading, and found Claire's documentation a lot more quickly than I would have expected.
"Here. It says "3A". That must be a locker number, or a shelf number, or whatever they call them".
Nick scanned through the labels on the drawers, and pointed. "This one".
I was trying to figure out what to do as they heaved the door open. Taking on two rots by myself would be suicide, but letting them do whatever they wanted wasn't an option, either. And I couldn't call for help without letting Baron know that he hadn't really put me under. What the hell was I supposed to do?"
"Shit! Tyrell, you got the wrong locker number!"
"No I didn't. Look. 3A. It says it here".
"Then they put the wrong number down. This isn't Claire".
The rots had gotten to the same point I had when they'd burst in on me. And they did the same thing that I'd been about to do. They checked the occupants of all the other drawers. Which, I supposed, saved me the trouble. But at the end of it, they still hadn't found Claire.
"Could there be another morgue?", Tyrell asked, sounding baffled. I could have told him No, but I was keeping up my hypnotized act. And also trying to figure out what the hell was going on here. Nick Baron shook his head.
"No, I asked the nurse at the front desk. This is all there is".
Tyrell started flipping through Claire's notes again. "So they have the wrong girl. The question is, could it be a genuine mix-up, or..."
"Wait a second". The pages rustled. "It says here that she was formally identified by a Dr. Howard Kelper. Maternal uncle. Did she have a maternal uncle called Howard Kelper?"
Yes, she did. He'd encouraged her interest in archaeology, and he'd gotten her the job helping to excavate that old cellar they'd uncovered in the town. I'd been asleep for most of the day, and I hadn't heard about Claire until I'd come on-shift at eight in the evening. Howard had already left the hospital by then. I'd been planning to call him later and offer my condolences. How could he have mistaken the girl in the drawer for Claire? They didn't look anything alike.
"I don't know. Maybe your guy Iain can find out. You're thinking the guy could be a ringer?"
"A ringer or...". Tyrell waved vaguely in my direction. Baron nodded. "Mind-controlled? Yeah, maybe. So we're saying, what? That instead of a murder, we have a murder and a kidnapping?".
"With the one being used to cover up the other, yes. Otherwise, Claire would have been missed. Question is, who's that in the locker, and why hasn't anyone missed her?"
This was fucking surreal. From the sound of it, the rots weren't here to cover up Claire's murder, they were here to investigate it? What the hell was she to them, anyhow?
"You don't think she could be..." Baron left it hanging. It was what I'd been wondering myself. Ever since that first night, six or seven months ago, I'd hated morgues for just that reason. I mean, I hadn't exactly loved them before that. I'm a nurse, and the morgue is the place where my professional failures end up. But at least before, once they were there, I knew they'd stay there. These days, nothing was certain.
I didn't dare turn my head, but I heard the sound of the drawer opening again. Tyrell crossed the room and grunted a couple of times as he bent over the corpse.
"Canines look normal. And why isn't she reacting to us?"
I already knew that she wasn't a rot. There's a physical process called "hypostasis", the settling of the blood in the lower regions of the body after death. The walking dead, even the hidden, often display that if they stay still for too long, just as the girl in the drawer was doing. But vampires don't. I thought it was kind of odd that they wouldn't know that. What was odder was that they seemed to discount the idea that she might be undead once they discovered she wasn't a rot. Hadn't they even heard of zombies? It was like I knew more about the monsters than a couple of the monsters did.
"Okay. Well, maybe she's not from around here. The Glastonbury festival pulls in people from all over". Baron gave a shrug. "No way we'll find out who she is without a better place to start. Like maybe this Dr. Howard Kelper?"
"There's an address in the notes". Tyrell flipped open a miniature reporter's notebook, and jotted it down. "It's nearby. If he's been put under some sort of influence, can you make him remember?"
"Maybe. Depends on how deep the commands were implanted. I'm not very good at it yet".
"We can but try. Okay, it looks like we're done here. What about her?" He meant me.
"She'll snap out of it in a couple of hours. I only gave here a gentle push".
"Fine. Let's go". Something metallic sailed through the air. Car keys. Baron caught them automatically.
"Here. Just remember to get in the right door, this time"
Baron flipped Tyrell the finger. It was so normal, so human a gesture, that I was startled. Luckily, neither of them was looking at me. They headed out without a backward glance.
I gave them a couple of minutes to get out of earshot, then picked up the phone. Time to call for reinforcements. Graham and Grim Jim - His name's James Grimson, so the nickname was pretty much inevitable - are both sergeants in the local police. The rots hadn't sounded as though they were planning anything bad, but it wouldn't hurt for them to see a visible police presence when they arrived - just in case.
"Graham? Sandra. You know Howard Kelper, Claire's uncle?"
Graham's reply was unusually terse. "Strange you should ask. Grim Jim and I are at his cottage now. It's on fire. He's just been loaded into an ambulance, unconscious and suffering from smoke inhalation. You should be seeing him at the hospital in just a few minutes".
Shit, shit, shit. It looked like Tyrell and Baron had been right. There was someone - something - stalking Kelper, and that someone, or something, had kidnapped Claire.
Fire. The bane of the undead.
We saw the smoke rising from the roof of Howard Kelper's cottage while we were still half a mile away. An ambulance went past us, siren howling and lights flashing, but it was headed away from the blaze, so either it was another call, or the fire had started a while ago. By the time we got close, the fire brigade had the worst of it under control, and the police were keeping back the usual crowd of curious gapers.
The cottage was thatched... had been thatched... and the roof was mostly gone. I didn't know if they'd be able to salvage anything from it, but I doubted it. Luckily, with the flames dying down, my Beast wasn't giving me too much trouble.
"Looks like the "controlled" theory is more likely", I told Nick grimly. "Controlled, and then killed before he could talk".
Nick's knuckles were white with tension as he looked at the remains of the fire, but his voice was still even. "Maybe. I'll ask the cops. I think I still have enough juice to get them to confide in me"
He was back within a few minutes. "Good news... sort of. He had smoke inhalation, and they weren't sure if he'd make it, but he was still alive when they took him out. He's on his way to the hospital now. I guess that was him in the ambulance we passed".
"But if he was still alive, then that means whoever tried for him will probably try agai..."
We exchanged glances, then lunged for the Ferrari.
I'd been told that Howard was in a stable condition, but I decided to check on him anyway. Luckily, he was in BUPA, so he had a private room.
A private room with a rot in it. A rot who was standing over Howard's prone body, holding a pillow to his face.
"What the fuck are you doing?". I kept my voice down. I didn't want any of my colleagues rushing in here and getting slaughtered.
He locked eyes with me. "Leave. Forget you ever saw this". He was young-looking, with swarthy skin, dark hair and eyes, and a faint Scottish accent. His clothing - blue denim jeans and sweatshirt - were totally unremarkable, perfect camouflage
I met his gaze. "Like hell I will", I told him evenly.
He looked amazed for an instant, but then he tossed the pillow aside and stalked towards me. "Your choice" I had a fraction of a second to register that Howard was still breathing. At least I'd gotten here in time.
I concentrated. "Stay away from me". He got this big, shit-eating grin on his face when I said that, like he'd heard it a thousand times before. Maybe he had.
But he looked a lot less uncertain when he hit my protective ward. He snarled at me, showing fangs, and tried to press forward, but he couldn't do it. He couldn't get close to me.
After a few seconds, he stepped back and drew a small gun from somewhere inside his sweatshirt. "Fine. Let's see if your little trick can stop a bullet".
I never thought I'd be glad to see a rot. But if was like the answer to a prayer when Damian Tyrell and Dominic Baron burst through the door behind me...