Glastonbury Tourniquet - Chapter Four

Sandra

Burglar waited a few moments for the rot to leave. Then, casually, he slipped out of his seat and followed. I took a sip of coffee, frowning when I saw the vibration on the surface of the liquid; my hands weren't as steady as I would have liked. I'd more or less pulled myself together by the time Burglar had made his way back to the table.

"I think he's really gone"

I'd been checking out the rest of the coffee shop with the Sight. I nodded. "I don't see anything unusual around, either.. What do you think?"

"You mean, do I think he's on the level? No way to be sure, but I'd have to say yes. The way he reacted to that Edge I used on him makes me think he's still pretty close to human"

My gut was telling me the same thing. My brain was having trouble with the idea, though. "I'll have to talk it over with my group, but I think we're going to have to take him up on his offer. We know there's a rot behind this, and having inside info from another rot is just too good an opportunity to pass up. Let's just hope the opportunity isn't bait"

"That's all we can do right now. Hope". Burglar stirred his own coffee. Abruptly, he said, "Look, he's already seen my face. Rather than expose any other members of your group, perhaps I should head back to Glastonbury with you? Help you in dealing with him?"

I'd been toying with the same idea. I didn't want to poach him from his own group, but what he was saying made sense, and I told him so. He just grinned. "They're used to me running off on my own. They'll be cool with it. After we finish here tonight I'll make a few phone calls and we can head back together. Luckily, I can square it with the Professor tonight, since we're meeting her".

Shit. The rot showing up like that had driven all thoughts of Professor Rutherford out of my head. Burglar read my expression and made a face at me, shaking his head. "Ohhhh, no you don't. After all the trouble I took to persuade her to meet you, you'd better damned well go through with it, or I'll never hear the end of it from her".

I supposed it couldn't do any harm. After all, you could have argued that I needed to know about Tyrell more than ever. Another hour or two couldn't hurt - hopefully.

Besides, the coffee was paid for. It seemed a shame to waste it.

***

"That's her", Burglar told me a little while later. A small figure marched into the coffee shop like a very wrinkled, white-haired, female Napoleon. Her movements boiled over with vigour despite her advanced years. Her gaze swept around like an eagle searching for prey, and she strode towards us with scant regard for whoever might be in the way. A couple of large, muscular men with tattoos scrambled to get out of her way. They looked scared. I could empathise.

"Sandra Dee, I assume? I'm Amelia Rutherford"

I had to resist an urge to leap to attention. The Professor's handshake was firm, and assured, full of strength. Casually, she seated herself opposite me, giving me a shrewd, intense once-over and not bothering to hide it.

Burglar started to rise. "Coffee, Professor?"

"One of those thing with cream and chocolate on the top, please, Gregory", she said briskly. A mischievous little smile played around the corners of her mouth. "This is a night for being adventurous".

Burglar - Gregory - looked nonplussed, but headed off for the counter. The Professor watched him go.

"Now, then". She waited until he was out of earshot before she turned to me. "What do you want to know about Damian?"

Straight down to business. "Any background information you can give me". I left it as open as possible.

The Professor snorted. "Young lady, the background information I could give you include his tastes in pizza, the names of his steady girlfriends and a couple of drunken one-night stands, and a highly improbable tale involving a nun's outfit, a bottle of vodka, an extremely unorthodox use of shaving foam and the obligatory traffic cone, which he was na´ve enough to imagine he'd managed to keep me ignorant of. But I doubt that that particular fascinating - if bloodcurdling - incident would be of much assistance to you"

No, although I would have liked to see the damn' rot's face when I mentioned it. I owed the bloodsucker some payback for the shock he'd given me showing up out of the blue earlier.

My cover story was feeble - a private investigator working for some unspecified person to find Tyrell. I had the uncomfortable feeling that the Professor hadn't really been taken in by it, and a strong suspicion that she wouldn't tell me anything worth knowing without a better idea of why I was asking. She was also too smart to be taken in by an outright lie, but maybe the truth lacking a few pieces would be enough.

"Well, a few days ago, a girl went missing at the Glastonbury festival. Shortly before she disappeared, she was seen in the company of a man calling himself "Damian Tyrell" - who answers to the description of your missing student. And his appearance is pretty distinctive. And like him, she was - she is", I corrected myself hastily, my stomach lurching slightly as I realised how easily I'd assumed that she might be dead, "a postgraduate archaeology student"

"Indeed?" Burglar chose that moment to return. The Professor took a sip of her cream-and-chocolate coffee concoction, unselfconsciously stretching her tongue out to lap up the cream which had adhered to her upper lip like some bizarre moustache. "I can't understand why he'd suddenly reappear at an English pop festival five years after he vanished in Norway, but if he and the girl have gone off together, I can suggest a very simple explanation, involving the study of human biology rather than archaeology. He's not the most lascivious student I ever taught..."

From anyone else I would have snickered at a word like "lascivious", but from Amelia Rutherford it seemed somehow natural.

"... but he's far from immune to feminine charm, either. And the Glastonbury festival is that sort of event"

"True, but it's out of character for the missing girl to be out of contact for so long without telling anybody beforehand. And I admit it's a bit of a stretch, but for her to disappear mysteriously directly after meeting someone else who disappeared mysteriously..."

"You're quite right", the Professor said briskly. "It is a bit of a stretch. And since I don't know why Damian vanished, I can't begin to speculate on whether his disappearance might have any bearing on your present case. It seems, quite frankly, rather an unlikely chain of tenuous speculation, even assuming it was actually my ex-student who was seen with her. On the other hand, people dismissed Heinrich Schliemann as a crackpot too, until he succeeded"

"Guy who dug up Troy", Burglar confided to me in a stage whisper.

"Good heavens, you were actually awake during that lecture? How gratifying". The Professor didn't bother with whispers. "Tell me, what field of archaeology was your missing friend in?"

I blinked. "I never said she was a friend of mine"

A snort. "You didn't need to. As you may have noticed, I'm getting along in years. Age may not necessarily bring wisdom, but it does teach one a thing or two. And as an archaeologist, noticing revealing details is part of my profession"

A paranoid part of my mind wondered what other details she'd noticed. "I don't know exactly what her field is. All I can tell you is what she was working on when she disappeared - what seemed like an unconsecrated tomb in a recently unearthed medieval cellar in the town"

The Professor absolutely froze. "Have you seen it?"

"No". Her startled reaction puzzled me. "Why do you ask?"

"Why indeed?". She turned a gimlet eye on Burglar. "Well, Gregory? Why do I ask?"

Burglar started to look a little panicked. "Uh... there's a reference to something like that in..."

In the manner of a judge pronouncing sentence, the Professor asked, "In?"

"Uh...." Sheer terror spurred Burglar to the answers he needed. "In Sir Matthew Grey's Observations on Historic Avalon"

"Awake at two lectures. Splendid". Poor Burglar practically collapsed from the relief of his reprieve. The Professor slipped into lecture mode.

"Sir Matthew Grey, Miss Dee, was a Victorian antiquarian who made a study of Glastonbury Abbey between 1862 and 1865. It would have been a rather sound bit of scholarship if he'd been able to overcome his obsession with trying to turn Sir Thomas Mallory's little romances into real history. As it was, sadly, he abandoned a promising academic career and became an early example of the kinds of cranks, half-wits and charlatans who flock - an appropriate collective noun for a group of clucking bird-brains - to Glastonbury Tor, waving crystals around and trying to summon up the ghost of King Arthur"

"Grey came up with quite an interesting theory, at least compared to the tripe customarily served up others of his ilk. As you no doubt know, Glastonbury is commonly associated with the "Isle of Avalon" of Arthurian myth. Another staple of tourist general knowledge is that during the middle ages, the monks of Glastonbury found two bodies buried in the Abbey grounds, along with a leaden cross whose Latin inscription identified the remains as those of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. The bodies were reburied in the Abbey and vanished in 1539 when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. Grey believed that the monks had secretly moved the remains to a hiding-place in the cellar of a merchant of the town, before Cromwell's vandals could destroy them. But the allegedly sixteenth-century manuscript he based his theory on was soon outed as an eighteenth-century forgery, and he was laughed out of the halls of academia. A pity, in a way. He had a good mind when he managed to keep it on his work"

It was quite interesting, but I couldn't see why the hell a rot would care about a dodgy Arthurian legend It was a weird co-incidence, but it didn't get me any closer to figuring Tyrell out.

"Do you think Tyrell would find it interesting?"

"Fascinating, I imagine. But not to the point where he'd kidnap someone to find out more, if that's the notion you're entertaining"

"Assuming it is Damian Tyrell, Professor, how do you suggest I go about finding him?"

She gave me a very odd look. "My dear young woman, if it is Damian, I have no doubt that he'll find you"

Which, of course, he already had, although the Professor couldn't know that.

Could she?

Damian

Usually I like locked-room mysteries. Of course, Agatha Christie never had to worry about Kindred Disciplines when she put together her clever little plots. I had the feeling that neither Poirot nor Miss Marple would be able to crack this one.

I also had the feeling that I was expected to. Lucky me.

The dungeon - let's dispense with polite little euphemisms like "detention area" and call a spade a bloody shovel, shall we? - was obviously meant to hold Kindred. Mortal cells don't need steel doors several inches thick, and they don't need to be sealed airtight - presumably to cage a vampire in mist form. I wondered who'd done the customisation of what was officially a service area in an underground parking garage. Whoever it was, the results were impressive.

The harsh florescent lighting didn't do any favours to Nick's pale complexion, and I suspected I looked no better. Even Iain's swarthy face had a bleached-out look, and Baroness Greville's sharp cheekbones seemed almost emaciated in the glare.

Talking of glare, the Baroness' face was frozen in a mask of rigidly controlled rage which had Nick and I choking down our Beasts' desire to flee. Even Iain seemed tense and on edge. None of us were anxious to break the silence, but after we'd been standing there for a couple of minutes I was asking myself how long the whole standing-and-waiting routine would last. Unfortunately there wasn't much distraction to be had from our surroundings. There was a small antechamber, where we were standing, the bank-vault-type cell door, and the cubicle-sized cell itself, along with a set of steps leading upwards. The architecture showed a definite square-boxes-made-of-plain-concrete theme, aside from the oddly tiled metal floor, of a style I'd never seen before..

I was beginning to worry how long the silence could stretch before it became a provocation in itself. Fortunately, Greville spoke before the temptation to say something overwhelmed my common sense.

"The prisoner", she told us, absolutely tonelessly, "was staked, and under constant video surveillance. The tiles, which I saw Mr. Tyrell taking note of a moment ago, are in fact pressure sensors; they confirmed that nobody except the prisoner was present in this area. At 20:14 hours last night, the camera in the cell was shrouded in total blackness, and the prisoner's body weight ceased to register. Twenty-seven seconds later, light returned to the cell, but the prisoner was gone. Both the sensors and video recordings have been thoroughly checked for signs of tampering, as indeed", a grim smile touched her mouth momentarily and was gone, "have the ghoul and Kindred guards responsible for monitoring them. No tampering was detected. The prisoner somehow vanished into thin air during the twenty-seven seconds where video surveillance was blanked out"

Great, I thought. So our friend had supernatural allies powerful enough to manage something like teleportation. I didn't know how powerful that was, exactly, but I was pretty sure it was out of my league, or Nick's. What the hell was the Baroness expecting us to do? She didn't seem in a hurry to say anything else, so after the silence had started to stretch again, I cleared my throat slightly. Try to keep it as polite and non-confrontational as possible, I told myself.

"What are your instructions, Baroness?"

She gave me a sour look. "Whatever reason he might have had for killing this man Kelper may be important enough for him to make another attempt. If so, he may return to the hospital. Since yourself and Mr. Baron are amongst the few who have seen him, I want you to go there, and keep watch for him. If you should spot him, contact Iain immediately but take no further action".

I braced myself. "Does that order apply if it should appear that he might succeed in killing Kelper before reinforcements arrive?" Even tentative questioning of her orders might seem provocative in Greville's current mood, but I couldn't let it go past. I also wasn't stupid enough to yell, "I can't just stand aside and let an innocent man get killed!". To the Baroness, one dead mortal, more or less, wouldn't be likely to matter all that much, so I needed a rationalisation. "We would then lose our only sure bait"

I didn't fool her, of course, but I'd raised a reasonable question in a suitably respectful manner. Ventrue noblesse oblige pushed her to give a reasonable answer. "Avoiding a potential Masquerade breach is far more important than preserving a mortal's life, Mr. Tyrell. I trust you understand that. Recapturing the prisoner is your next priority. But if you do choose to act against your target before help arrives - then any failures will be upon your own head"

That was actually a bit more leeway than I'd been expecting, and I nodded. "Yes, my Lady"

"If there is nothing else, you may go", she told us. "You may both take the time to feed, should you require it. After that, proceed to the hospital immediately"

I bowed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nick doing the same. We both felt the Baroness' glare on our backs as we left.

***

Neither of us spoke as we wound our way through the upper levels of the garage to the Ferrari. I let Nick take the driver's seat and sank back into the plush leather upholstery of the passenger side, feeling inexplicably guilty.

"If you remember, I contacted you about this", Nick said wryly. I started, and he gave a snort. "Let me give you a bit of free advice, try to develop a better poker face. You're so transparent sometimes I'm embarrassed for you"

Because I knew how right he was, I was perversely annoyed. "Are you passing on advice you got given by your girlfriends?"

"Nope, they never feel embarrassed for me. Once I take my clothes off, they're mostly awed.. But it's not my poker face they're staring at"

I raised the pitch of my voice to a not very feminine falsetto. "Oh my Gawwwwwd! I've never seen such a massive... ego"

He grinned amiably. "I always say; if you've got it, flaunt it"

"And if you haven't, over-compensate?"

"I wouldn't know". He turned serious. "What do you think about all this?"

"I'm still thinking". Worrying might have been more accurate. "The way I see it, two things could happen. Either our guy won't show up, or he'll show up with whoever rescued him. And I'm betting whoever that is will be powerful enough to make mincemeat of both of us together. I'm just hoping that our little ace-in-the-hole..."

"... will be whoever the Baroness has watching us, yeah". Nick interrupted just a bit too hastily. "I figure that too. That she's using us as bait to draw him out, too. So our backup has to be hiding in the hospital watching us. The big question is whether they'll bother protect us when it hits the fan. In other words, do you have any idea how expendable we are?"

Something like ice water trickled down my spine as I realised why he'd cut me off.

"Probably doesn't matter how expendable we are. The guys who'll be threatening us are the guys they want to capture. Protecting us will pretty much come by default". My mouth was on automatic while my mind grappled with the idea that that scheming bitch Greville might have bugged the car.

But of course, why not? To use us as bait, she had to be keeping tabs on us. This was the twentieth - almost the twenty-first - century. Why wouldn't she be using the latest technology?

And I'd just nearly given away the fact that we'd been dealing with mages. I was grateful I didn't blush any more. I was increasingly starting to think I wasn't cut out for this.

***

Nick

I had to fight the urge to laugh out loud. The expression on his face was a real picture. The idea of bugs obviously never crossed his mind. I have to admit I kinda enjoyed watching him squirm. After the way he'd figured out Sandra while I was still clueless, being a step ahead of him helped me claw back a bit of self-respect.

He mostly clammed up for the rest of the drive. He waited until we were crossing the deserted car park, half way between the car and the hospital, before he spoke again.

"If someone's watching us, it'll make it hard to talk to Sandra without being heard". He kept his voice low.

"If someone's watching us it won't seem odd if I Dominate her into letting us have access to Kelper", I pointed out. "Just talking to her isn't a problem; it's making sure nobody's listening. Maybe she can do some mojo to take care of that. C'mon". I led the way through the doors, ready to use that ol' Nick Baron sex appeal on the nurses, but there wasn't any need. The girl at Reception recognised us both from the last time we'd been here and handed over an envelope.

"Sister Dee asked us to give you this if you cam in tonight", she told us. "She should be up in her office - second floor, fourth on the left after you turn right out of the stairwell"

Damian didn't crowd me as I read it; the Beast doesn't take well to crowding, and even newbies like the two of us instinctively keep an edgy distance from each other. But he was doing a lot of squinting from a safe distance.

It didn't take long to read the message: OK, I AGREE

Short and sweet. I handed it over to Daim, who glanced, shrugged and stuffed it in his pocket. We had ourselves an ally that neither Greville nor the Mysterious Vanishing Prisoner knew about, hopefully.

I turned up the heat a couple of notches when I thanked the Reception girl. She smiled back at me like she wanted to take me up on my unspoken invite. I wasn't sure that was real smart - Sandra might be tempted to whup my ass if I started using her co-workers as fast food - but hell, a guy's gotta eat. I made a mental note to check out the possibility later.

Daim didn't seem bothered about checking out the eye candy. He was already heading towards the double doors marked "Stairs" leaving me to play catch-up. He was looking around him like a hound-dog trying to get a scent, looking the Greville's spies, I guess. I gave the reception area a quick one-over myself, but I didn't spot anything. Didn't mean much - whoever she'd put on it would have enough smarts not to get made by a pair of amateurs like us.

We kept it quiet as we made our way to Sandra's office. We found her door fast enough - it even had a little sign, Sr. Sandra Dee, Nurse Specialist - and Daim looked back at me, gave a little shrug, and knocked.

"Come in", I heard her voice call out. Daim pushed open the door to reveal a little cubbyhole of an office packed with box-files on shelves. Sandra was sitting at a tiny desk, squinting at a laptop as she tapped something in. Her face went wary as she saw us.

"Hi Sandra!". Daim stepped aside, giving me space to enter, and stood there lurking half in the doorway. The office was small enough that was couldn't all three of us have fitted in without getting uncomfortably cosy - dangerously cosy, as far as Daim as I were concerned.

"I realise this is kind of an unusual request, it being out of visiting hours and all", I said, keeping it casual as I parked my butt on the corner of her desk, "but we'd like to see Howard Kelper, maybe stay with him a while. You'd like to do that for us, right?". I started to croon a bit, like I was trying to Dominate her, but actually I was scribbling on her post-it pad. May be being watched, bugged.

"I'm sure that will be fine, sir", she said, in a dull voice. Smart cookie, Sandra. I wouldn't have believed it from her drunken bimbo act when we first met at the festival. I guess alcohol affects some women that way. She grabbed the post-it not from me and scrawled, WE ARE, YOU STUPID BASTARD, and underlined it several times. Then she ripped the note off the pad, stuffed it in her pocket, and headed for the door. Two strides got her there, and I smothered a grin when I saw Daim scrabbling to get out of her way. She headed off down the hallway, her sensible heels going click-click-click on the floor, leaving us to follow on behind.

Turned out we were headed for a bathroom a corridor and a half away. She beckoned us inside, repeating the gesture impatiently as she saw us hesitate. Luckily the corridor was deserted at this time of night so there was no one to see as we edged in with her. She snapped the door shut and clicked the lock before she started both the taps running.

"I saw this on a programme about MI5 in the Cold War, once", she said, her eyes doing distant. "Bugs can't read through the noise of the taps running, even if they've bugged this room, and I can imagine they would. And I can't sense any supernatural nasties nearby - other than the two of you". I couldn't quite tell if the last part was a joke or not. "Now, do you mind telling me what the hell is going on? There are two more fucking vampires lurking in Reception!"

Daim eased back against the wall, as far from me as he could manage, but he was coping. I could sense that Sandra was nervous, being in a confined space with the two of us, and her fear was bringing out some instinctive predator reactions in me - and from the way his eyes kept drifting to her throat, Daim too. I hoped she wasn't noticing that. She probably had some kind of fireball-making death chant she could throw at us if we got fresh with her.. I wasn't surprised that there were a couple more Kindred downstairs, but in spite of myself I was kind of pissed I hadn't been able to spot them.

Daim looked at me. I looked at Daim. Neither of us was sure how to answer her so I decided to bite the bullet. "The Kin... the vampire who attacked you escaped somehow. We're hoping he'll come after Kelper again. The guys downstairs are here to stop him if that happens. We're here to point him out if they miss him coming in - and to give Kelper an extra bit of protection". Well, that was stretching the truth a bit, but I'd try to save Kelper if I could and I figured that Daim felt the same way. "We haven't told anyone else you're a mage, so they should just ignore you unless you attract their attention".

Sandra sat down hard on the rim of the bath. "You let him escape?"

"Hey, not our fault".

"All right". She drew a deep breath and gave me a sort of weird, weighing-stuff-up look. "There's a problem with letting you into Howard's room. There's a police guard in there"

"Huh?" Damn it, this was a complication we didn't need, attention from the Kine authorities. I wondered why the Baroness hadn't seen fit to mention it, or if she just didn't - nah, that didn't make sense, she had to know. "What for?"

"They found out that the fire at Howard's place wasn't an accident. Well, we knew that, didn't we?" I guess I couldn't blame her for sounding pissed. "But your bloodsucking pal didn't do a very good job covering his traces. The police know they're dealing with arson at least, maybe attempted murder, so they've got someone in there to keep an eye on him and take a statement if he wakes up"

Tyrell muttered some kind of curse in a language I didn't recognise, but it wasn't tough to figure out what he was saying. I could see a pretty obvious way out, though. "I can influence him to take a nap if you don't go all fireballs and hexes on me. It won't hurt him"

Sandra hesitated, and I raised my hands. "Look, you can watch me with a loaded - wand, I guess, or whatever it is you wizard types use - just to make sure I'm not trying to pull anything - but it's the easiest way of dealing with the problem without any bad stuff happening, unless you can cast a spell to make us invisible or something"

She gave an odd little grimace. "No, I can't. All right then. But make bloody sure you don't do anything except make him sleep, or I'll shove my wand right up your..."

"I get the picture"

Sandra stood up and made like she was going to leave, then tuned back towards Daim. "By the way, have you ever heard of a Victorian guy who thought the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were hidden in the town when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries?"

Daim frowned, froze, and swore. "Grey? I never even thought of him. You're thinking of the tomb Claire was working on? Yeah, Grey's theory would fit. How did you know about him... what the hell!" He suddenly looked worried, and a bit pissed. "You talked to Professor Rutherford?"

Sandra started to look pissed right back at him, but then her face cleared and she grinned. "How do a nun's outfit, a traffic cone and a can of shaving foam end up in the same story?"

Daim shot a panicked look at me. I raised my hands. "Hey, don't make me the bad guy here. I'm not going to make any cracks"

He kept staring at me, like he was waiting for the punchline. I looked right back at him, oh so innocent. A nun's outfit? I was going to yank his chain about that, all right, but not right away. Better to let the anticipation build a bit.

Sandra was still waiting for an answer, but she wasn't getting one from Daim any time soon, and all of us knew it. She was still grinning as she headed for Kelper's room. Daim followed, still giving me little nervous glances like he was waiting for a bomb to go off.

We were still hip-deep in the nasty stuff, but at least I was gonna have a little fun.

Sandra

I was pale and jumpy when I got into work. Since I'd supposedly been on sick leave, that helped with my cover, ironically enough.

First thing I'd done after getting back from Cambridge was head home for a shower. Graham and Grim Jim had sat in my living room and listened to my adventures in Cambridge with their "cop faces" in place, until I yelled at them to say something. Graham had spoken first.

"A grass can sometimes be useful"

I shook my head. "This is a fucking rot, not a teenager trying to dodge a B&E rap"

"Alright, a supergrass then", Grim Jim shrugged. "He'd still be a valuable source of info. He knows you and Burglar here are working together, right?"

I'd almost forgotten that Burglar was in the room, he was keeping so quiet. Nervous about being in the same room with two policemen, maybe. Now, he nodded. "Yeah, he saw us together and I used the Edge that makes the monsters feel mortal on him. Funny thing was, he seemed to like it. He thinks I'm a witch now".

Grim Jim looked thoughtful. "That was a bonus. What's really interesting is that from the way your rot was talking, the different types of monster don't seem to know much about each other, or get along all that well"

"So, as long as I don't volunteer any information, I don't have to, they probably won't realise they're wrong about what I am". I took a sip of coffee and nodded. "I thought of that, too. So what's the plan?"

"Graham or I will guard Howard Kelper in shifts tonight. You can work your normal night shift and call the rots a few hours after sunset when they're likely to be awake. Burglar can wait for us outside in case we need reinforcements".

"You mean meet them at the hospital?"

"Why not? They've been there before. We know they don't like trying anything in public places where there are likely to be witnesses around. And it means Graham and I'll be able to guard Kelper and still be close if you need help"

It had seemed like solid logic at the time. I'd started to wonder when I walked into reception and sensed two more rots lurking there - big, burly guys in dark suits, like Men in Black or something. The odd thing was, nobody else in the foyer - which wasn't too many people, admittedly - seemed to notice that they were there, like they were invisible or something. I headed straight upstairs to Howard's room before they had a chance to spot me. Grim Jim was there, standing guard. He was worried, but he figured we didn't have much choice but to stick to our original plan. If the rots downstairs were getting ready to kill Howard, all we could do was guard him and wait for them to make a move. Trying to hit them down in reception would pose too much risk to innocent bystanders - plus, while we were downstairs dealing with them, they could have friends who'd sneak up here and finish Howard while he lay there helpless.

I was almost relieved when the Baron and Tyrell walked in and told me that the rots downstairs were sort of on our side. Needling Tyrell about his traffic-cone moment was a welcome relief of tension, but it felt like gallows humour.

Grim Jim looked up as we all walked in. Baron walked straight up to him and did the crooning-voice thing. "Good evening, officer. No need to worry about us being here. Why don't you have a nice sleep and let us take care of things. Sleep..."

Jim's eyelids closed and he slumped back in his chair. He must have put his defences up as soon as we walked in, so it had to be an act.

"Now then, Sister". Baron did the croon thing on me next. "You just sit down on the other chair and have a nice little snooze too".

So he thought the room was bugged. That seemed sensible. How else would the rots downstairs know when it was about to hit the fan? I went over to the other chair and mostly closed my eyes.

There didn't seem to be anything more to say after that. I just sat there and tried to slow my breathing, to relax. The rots, of course, had no problem going totally still. With no breathing and almost no blinking, they looked like pale waxworks. Unnatural and creepy. I hate waxworks.

I couldn't believe it, but I actually managed to doze off for a while. I must have been more tired than I thought. When I opened my eyes again, more than two hours had gone past. I cursed myself for letting my guard down. I just hoped Grim Jim had done better.

I practically jumped out of my chair when Tyrell's voice suddenly spoke up.

"What if they don't show up tonight?"

"I guess we come back tomorrow"

"If he's still here tomorrow night", Tyrell said, looking at Howard. "He looks frail".

Baron raised his eyebrows.

"We could do something about that"

"What, ghoul him?"

Baron made it look like he was talking to Tyrell, but his eyes were on me. "It won't hurt him. It'll just be a one-time thing, to fix the damage he suffered and wake him up. He'll be a bit less vulnerable than he would be lying in a hospital bed, and we might get some answers out of him"

Shit, shit, shit. They were talking about making Howard into a blood slave. I glared at them both, but I wasn't quite willing to risk saying anything that the bugs - if there were any - might pick up.

"I'm not sure. I mean, okay, it's not like it'll have any lasting effect other than healing him" - Tyrell was looking straight into my eyes when he said that,, evidently intending it for my benefit - "but the Baroness wants to use him as bait. It'll be a lot more convenient for us if he's lying there helpless".

The little bastard! It was Catch-22. Was it worse to let them make Howard a blood slave than to leave him helpless? I only had their word for it that the effects would be temporary, after all.

But suppose we had to get Howard out of there in a hurry. It would be a lot easier if he were mobile. If being a blood slave really had some sort of healing effect... I let my expression tell them both how pissed I was, but I mouthed "Do it".

"I still think we should", said Baron to the bugs. "If we heal him, he may give us the answers we need, and we won't need him as bait. And if we still need him, we'd be able to move him out of the hospital to someplace more defensible"

Damn. I hadn't seen that one coming, but the rots seemed to have made their minds up.

"Okay". Tyrell fished out a pocket knife. "I'll do it. Cup?"

Baron pointed. "Plastic one on the bedside table"

"It'll do". With quick, economic movements, Tyrell cut his wrist and held it over the cup. The blood didn't pump out the way it would if it were driven by a heartbeat - it flowed in a continuous stream. When the cup was full, the wound just closed up, as if it had never been there.

Gently, Tyrell lifted Howard's head and held the cup to his lips. "Okay, here goes. I've never actually done this before"

Great. That was all I needed to hear. I was tempted to get up and take over, but the rot - mostly by luck, presumably - was actually doing it right. Howard started to groan faintly when the cup was about three-quarters drained, and violently coughed up the last few drops.

Despite myself, I was interested. Was creating a blood slave really that simple? Just get some poor sap to drink your blood? And the stuff really did seem to be acting like medicine. The colour was returning to Howard's cheeks and his breathing sounded easier.

"Easy, Mr. Kelper, easy". God, I was getting really sick of that sing-song croon in Baron's voice. "Just relax, you're safe. All you need to do is lie back and answer some of my questions, okay?"

On the other side of the bed, I could see Grim Jim tensing up slightly, ready to intervene if things went too far. I don't think either of the rots noticed. They were concentrating on Kelper.

"Okay". Howard mumbled. Then, totally unexpectedly, he started crying. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry"

"Whoa, big guy", Baron said gently. "What are you sorry about?"

"The fellow said - he'd kill Claire - if I didn't lie about the body". Howard's voice wasn't normal. Like he was drunk, or drugged, or under the influence of rot mind control. Tyrell and Baron exchanged glances.

"Claire'll be fine, Howard". Tyrell actually sounded sympathetic. Maybe - I couldn't believe I was thinking this - but maybe he really was. "Can you tell us who this fellow was?"

"Young... dark... sounded Scottish. Don't think... don't think he said his name"

The rot who'd tried to smother Howard. I could see that Tyrell and Baron recognized the description, too. "And he said he'd kill Claire? Did he say why?"

"No". Howard blinked at them owlishly. "He said the other one would kill Claire, if I didn't help him"

I blinked. This whole crazy situation just got weirder.

"What other one, Howard?", Baron asked.

"The other vampire"

What?

Tyrell and Baron looked at each other with something close to pure panic. I thought I actually saw Tyrell's fangs start to come out before he caught himself. Not being able to take part in the interrogation was really starting to piss me off.

"Easy, easy". Baron was looking deep into Howard's eyes, now. "Okay, Howard, here's the deal. Claire's safe. Nothing's happened to her. There was an accident at your cottage, and a fire. You've suffered smoke inhalation and it's made you have some really weird dreams. Just calm down, and tell us about your dreams, and then you can sleep. Everything'll be better once you wake up. You got that?"

"You're American, aren't you?"

"Canadian". Baron kind of rolled his eyes before he went back to hypnotizing Howard. "Now, concentrate, Howard. Remember what I said. You've had some crazy dreams because of smoke inhalation. None of it was real, but you need to tell me about it before you sleep"

"All right", Howard said dully. I was feeling uncomfortable sitting there, listening to these vamps screw with his mind, but the coldly practical part of me - the part I call on when I'm working A&E - said it might be for the best if he didn't remember.

"The fellow knocked on my door last night. He said he was a vampire and Claire was in danger. Of course I didn't believe him". Howard tailed off and looked vaguely at the ceiling for a few moments. His mind seemed to be wandering. "Didn't believe. He showed me things - powers, that he didn't have a pulse, didn't breathe - that convinced me. He said that there was another of his kind, another vampire, who wanted to kill Claire. That he needed my help to fake her death, so she'd be safe"

What?????????