Eliot would not have written April was the cruelest month if he'd lived in San Francisco, Martin thought. Spring was not as abrupt in California as it was in New England. Here, it lacked the black of damp soil against the white snow. Here, spring started some time between Forefathers' Day and Evacuation Day and blended seamlessly into summer, which moved gradually into a harsh, colorless fall dormancy, which lasted until the rains returned and the hills greened even as the leaves fell. It was a typical Mediterranean climate, not a temperate one. Even after more than seventy years, the difference mattered.
In very recent years, South of Market was shifting from trendy night scene to cutting edge habitation. Loft conversions and new, semi-shoddy buildings tucked in anywhere there was room, along with rows of BMWs and Mercedes cluttering the alleys, were changing the face of SOMA. Every month, a new batch of uninformed humans tried living here. Every month, some of the newcomers either got walked into trouble or caused trouble. If they didn't want to live with what's already here, why did they come? The newbies often discovered living next to the currently popular bar or theatre or restaurant wasn't like living in Woodside or Atherton or Danville. One loud late Saturday night or noisy early Sunday morning, and they were on the phone to their Councilman, complaining about the rowdy element. Often the rowdy element was a little rowdier than they suspected.
"And me short a bartender," he thought. Compatible bartenders were in short supply. Until he hired one, he was stuck behind the bar more often than he liked. He rarely managed to get out on watch and his social life was restricted. Hell, it was nearly non-existent.
He passed an alleyway and automatically checked it out: dumpsters, stacks of pallets, crates – the usual static landscape. There was no streetlight nearby but with his vampire sight he could see it clearly. Well, this looked promising; a nice way to end an otherwise dull evening. A woman was being attacked by two vampires who were either from out-of-town or really ignorant. Walking forward, he eyed their clothes: "The Richmond gang, across the Bay," he decided. "Out of town and ignorant. They should have known better."
They were too intent on the woman to notice him. Without yelling "Stop!" or getting the attacker's attention, he staked the nearest. "Don't be afraid," he said as the first gang member went to dust and cascaded silently down to the pavement.
The other vampire looked up and released her. He was already in full display and at once swung at Martin. Not only was he slow, he was starting from an unbalanced stance. Martin leaned away from the wild blow, then closed with the gang member.
"I'll work on it," said the woman he was saving. She stepped away from the remaining vampire, but didn't flee.
Martin used the same stake, in an up thrust into the heart, on her last attacker and thought about what she had said. Shaking the dust off his stake he turned back to her. Yes, lovely, definitely worth bedding — tall, slender, dark hair in braids wound around her head; calf length white silk trench coat, longer green scarf, dark pants and boots — but strange — she was standing calmly, her hands in her coat pockets, watching the fight as if she were uninvolved, as if it were just a spectacle and not a matter of life or death. Most women who had just been rescued from a pair of vampires would have said and done something very different.
"Do you need to sit down?" He attempted to take her arm, ready to support her to a nearby crate, but she failed to cooperate, keeping her hands in her pockets and shifting her posture away from him slightly. He began to feel the event would not live up to its promise.
"No, thank you." Her voice was deep for a woman, rich and full, very beautiful and totally unmoved.
"Did you notice what happened just now? Or are you in deep shock? Are you sure you wouldn't like to sit down?"
"No, I am not in deep shock and I'm perfectly capable of standing, thank you. If you mean, did I notice my attackers were vampires, yes, I did. I rather wish you had waited a while longer."
"You get off on being attacked?" He took a step back. Right. The evening was going to be a disappointment. The last thing he wanted was a rich and playful tourist. Slumming victim wannabes almost always led to trouble and could stick like foxtails. "That's not only really perverse, that's potentially fatal." He was debating telling her to visit Oakland, where the action seemed to be this year, when she spoke again:
"It seemed like an excellent opportunity to be bitten. I did warn them, biting me is dangerous. You should heed that, too."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I've been warned that my blood may be poison to vampires. Tonight was in the nature of an experiment."
Interesting. The light here wasn't good enough for a human to be able to notice his pallor, and he hadn't been excited enough to display in front of a stranger. Her vision must be as acute as his own, although she was definitely not a vampire. "It shows?"
"Yes. Why did you save me? Do you have a calling, a mission? Are you hoping for redemption? Are you under a curse? Have you been subjected to behavior modification? Do you hate all other vampires because of what was done to you or someone you love? What motivates you?"
He was sufficiently surprised by her sudden eloquence to be explicit: "I was hoping to get laid."
Apparently he had succeeded in startling her in return, because there was a meditative sort of pause before she said: "I don't immediately perceive the connection between your hopes and your actions."
"I was after a little horizontal gratitude, and maybe a quick drink before I left."
"This works?" the woman demanded.
"More often than not. I think it's the adrenaline surge."
She laughed. "It's not working this time, and while I won't fall into bed with a sexual opportunist, I will buy you a drink." She turned north, towards the No Mirrors Bar.
He didn't know what to make of her. She didn't seem like a random whacko, and he found that he wanted to know more about her. He shook himself out of his bemusement and walked with her.
"Call me Ann."
"Ah," he said. He couldn't remember for a moment what he was calling himself. "Ah, Martin Stevenson."
"Very euphonious," she approved.
As they approached the large concrete and sheet metal building, he fell back a half a pace, watching which way she would go. She passed the entrance on 12th Street — which was to the White Elephant, the gay bar that shared the first floor of the building — and turned onto Sorkin Alley, where she also passed the entrance to the No Mirrors Bar proper and went around the back of the building and mounted the outside stairs leading to the No Mirrors Lounge. "She knows her way around the area," he thought.
Inside, she stopped by the blanket check and waited as Martin took her coat. Behind the counter, Karelle glanced quickly up at Martin, who managed to shake his head calmly, as if all he meant was that he would keep his jacket.
Under her coat, Ann was wearing a dark green pant suit, with a collarless open jacket over a silvery gray top, both of thin silk. Her skin was pale, although not as pale as his, and in her flat-heeled boots she was only a little shorter than he was. Her hands were well proportioned and graceful, the nails square cut and short, without polish, and she wore no rings.
He guided her to a side table and held her chair.
"You seem to have made what a friend of mine would call a healthy adjustment to vampirism," she said, as they waited.
"Your friend sounds like a shrink."
"She's a healer; some jargon is inevitable. How is it you handle becoming a 'curséd fiend' so well? You don't even seem to be in agony over the loss of your soul."
"Please," Martin said. "I know sensationalist writers and the people who contribute to the store of urban legends use those words, but I come from a long line of atheists."
She chuckled. "My apologies. I meant no insult. I try to use a common vocabulary with whomever I am speaking and recently most of those with whom this topic has arisen have been traditionalists. How did you and your disbelieving kin deal with your return to life?"
"That was complicated. My mother and her sister were both physicians and my aunt had trained with Adler. They ignored a lot of awkward facts and treated the symptoms."
"What will you have?" she asked Martin, as the waiter arrived.
"Cambells and vodka, double Tabasco," Martin said, before Galley could say anything about not sitting at his usual table. Galley's eyes flicked at him, then he nodded.
"And a whiskey sour for me," Ann said to the waiter. "Why let theory interfere with reality?" she said as Galley departed.
"Exactly. For a human, you're very calm about all this."
"I'm not human," Ann said. "But don't worry about it."
Silently, Martin took that under advisement. He said: "And not a fearless vampire killer on crusade, for all that you seem to know more about us than most outsiders. May I know the rest of your name?"
About ten days after his meeting with Ann Grove, Martin was again out on watch in the neighborhood around the No Mirrors Bar, this time with a young trainee.
"I think I'm old enough to patrol alone," Jan said.
Jan was very handsome and dressed in expensive avant-garde Folsom Street fashion, which still included a lot of black leather and many chains. He was seventeen. He was also intelligent, opinionated, self-centered, tactless, and knew all there was to know about everything.
Martin eyed the younger man sternly. "You're not old enough to vote, even in Holland, let alone drink in California, which makes your inclusion in a group of debatable legality that has its headquarters in a San Francisco bar questionable, to say the least. All things considered, caution seems to be indicated."
"And that's just a stupid, arbitrary rule."
"Arbitrary, yes; stupid, not necessarily. The adolescent brain is still developing the ability to think logically and…"
"What do you do, read all day?"
"Since I can't go out easily, pretty much," Martin said.
"Anyway, I'm not an adolescent. I'm 18; or nearly."
"Everyone has a probation period."
"Hey, where'd all the water come from?" Jan asked.
Martin wondered what the boy was talking about. It was late April, and the rainy season seemed to have ended. He followed Jan's gaze. The boy was right: water, a lot of water, was flowing down the street. It was pushing and soaking the street litter, some of which sank and some of which floated along with the flood. Under the streetlights it was almost beautiful. However, it had no business existing at 0130 on a spring night. "The fountain's that way," he said. He and Jan walked up 13th Street.
"Oh, there's Edward," Jan said.
Edward Hopkins looked like an archetypal Irish-American politician, with thinning short sandy hair and straight heavy brows over bright blue eyes. He was standing, watching, on the outskirts of a growing crowd.
The Abigail Fountain usually had an air of tired dignity. Of an uninspired and ruthlessly symmetrical design involving tiers of basins and lions' heads in granite, it had somehow managed to remain in operation despite being covered by an elevated freeway. Isolated in an expanse of pavement, between columns of cement, the fountain was beautiful only at noon during the summer, when light found its way between the east- and west-bound roadways. At the moment, the water was arcing forcefully out of the lions' mouths and overflowing all the tiers in a steady flood instead of the gentle irregular veil the fountain usually displayed.
"Earthquake damage?" Martin asked.
"No idea, but there hasn't been anything at all strong recently. Broken water main possibly," Edward said, looking at the overflowing water.
"Cool," Jan said. "Let's go play in the fountain."
"It's cold," objected Edward.
The six jets in the lowest basin of the Abigail Fountain suddenly emulated geysers — increasing in volume and power and shooting up three stories. Two of the jets hit the underside of the freeway, the water falling down on the surrounding crowd, while the other four arced through the median gap and fell on the late night traffic on the Central Freeway. The top basin cracked as the already stronger than normal jets from the lions' heads suddenly grew to fire-hose intensity. Two of the lions' heads broke loose and shot out, one landing against the base of one of the freeway pillars while the other crunched into a parked car. The movement of the crowd increased, as they backed up from the horizontal blasts of water and milled around for a better look.
"That's not a wading pool," Martin said.
"No," Edward said, stepping back on the sidewalk to avoid the growing flood, which now swept up much of the trash from the surrounding area. He was dressed in a conservative London cut suit in navy leather and wore custom boots. He eyed the dirty water at his feet with obvious distaste.
"Martin Stevenson," a woman said from behind the vampire.
Ann Grove stood there, and he hadn't heard her approach. Tonight she was wearing another pantsuit, this one in fine wool, black, over a green silk top with a deep V-neckline. Her hair was down, just fastened at the nape of her very lovely neck. Her gaze was intent on the fountain as she stepped up beside him.
"Miss Grove. Good ev…"
"There's a frightened water elemental trying to hide in the fountain. The people are scaring it."
"Scaring it?" Jan muttered.
"You three" — a quick emerald glance took in the two Folsom Street Irregulars and the vampire — "quiet the crowd and suggest that they leave before the poor thing panics."
Not heeding Edward's skeptical "Water elemental?" or Jan's indignant "Hey!" Ann Grove started across the street.
Martin touched her arm. "What happens if it panics?"
"Floods, destruction, and a lot of unexplained drownings, starting with every human here. Keep the noise down." Ann walked over to the fountain.
"She the one you mentioned?" Edward asked.
"She know what she's talking about?" Edward continued.
"I would guess so," Martin said, watching the fountain.
"Hey, look at that," Jan said.
"I think she's making our job harder," Edward said, also looking over at the fountain.
Martin could hear the murmurs from the crowd:
"I've never seen water do that before."
"Just like The Abyss."
"Like Terminator II, you mean."
"No, I mean The Abyss! When the water's doing that mimic thing."
"He's right. It's in The Abyss, too."
"How do we get people out of here?" Jan asked.
"Sewage," Martin said.
"Back flow," Edward agreed.
"OK," Jan said.
"Sewage," Martin said, walking over to the nearest members of the crowd. "It's so thick and contaminated, it can't flow like water."
"No shit, man?"
"Just the opposite, actually. The biohazard level is extreme."
"Don't you notice the smell?" the vampire suggested.
"Yeah, now I do. Wow, that's foul."
Behind the vampire, Jan and Edward turned the other way. Jan was saying: "Heavy metal contamination. It's reacting to the magnetic flux of the earth and all the steel in the overpass. Really unhealthy, worse than X-rays or the old fashioned cell phones." Beyond the boy, Edward's suit was getting wet as he spoke to the crowd under the freeway. Martin wondered what he was telling them, but even Martin's vampire-acute hearing couldn't function at that distance with all the crowd and traffic noises.
No one in the crowd seemed to be noticing Ann Grove anymore, even though she was now standing in the lowest basin. That was fine with Martin, since he hadn't figured out how to spin that aspect of the situation.
The crowd was strangely agreeable to dispersing, and in less than fifteen minutes only Martin and the other neighborhood watch were still in the area.
"You guys get out of here, too," Martin said.
"What about you?" Jan demanded, always ready to argue.
"Vampires don't drown. I'm going to see if she needs more help."
"Check in," Edward said.
Martin walked around the fountain until Ann could see him. The nearest column of water, now coiling around her, turned to follow him. Somehow, it conveyed an impression of alarm and suspicion. Martin stopped, and remained still.
"That's Martin," Ann Grove said, very matter-of-factly. "He's not a magician; or even an air-breather, for that matter."
The water expressed doubt.
"He's a vampire, which means he's a little resistant to my magic, so he wasn't very affected by my riot act, unlike all the humans. He has no designs on you."
"Come over here, Martin." Ann sat down on the wide rim of the fountain, ignoring the water still overflowing the basin. The jet of water shifted to an upright posture in front of her.
"Hi," Martin managed to say, stepping into the basin and sitting beside Ann.
This close, he could see that the jet of water was flowing through and around a figure, which remained before them. It really was like The Abyss, Martin thought. The figure within the jet kept shifting: a transparent nymph changed into a triton, who shifted to a slender dragon, which became a long crystal eel. Whatever its form, Martin perceived it as young, and frightened.
"Martin and I were wondering what scared you," Ann said.
Martin caught something involving a swimming pool.
"Ah," Ann said. "I see. Well, some water, not elemental water necessarily, doesn't mind being contained."
A girl, screaming.
A male human.
"I see," she said again. "And when you refused to help kill this girl, you tried to leave?"
"What stopped you?"
"Hey! That's my elemental!"
"It belongs to itself," Ann said, rising to her feet and turning to face the new speaker. Her dignity was not impaired in the least by standing in water up to her knees.
Less gracefully, Martin stood and turned.
A human boy, younger and much less attractive than Jan and carrying a stage magician's black and white wand, was walking toward them from a cream colored Porsche Boxster pulled up any-old-way on 13th Street and left with its lights on and its driver's door open.
The jetting water sank to gentle bubbling as the elemental cringed. Ann reached out and stroked its crystal form. "Stay here with Martin," she told it and stepped out of the fountain.
The water disappeared up Martin's sleeve and coiled around him under his shirt. Martin noted that it didn't seem to be getting him any wetter than he already was. He stepped out of the basin and watched the woman approach the boy, who pointed the wand at Ann and opened his mouth.
Ann waved one hand at the boy, who froze, mouth open and wand extended. She glared at him, and said firmly: "That is really stupid. You don't even know who or what I am, what I'm capable of, or what my temper is like. People have been killed outright for acts of less egregious stupidity!" She held out her hand and the wand left the boy and sped over to her. She resumed walking toward him. "And despite J. K. Rowling, wands are neither appropriate nor necessary for every spell!" The wand turned to dust in her hand.
Martin felt the elemental bubbling along his ribs. Laughter surrounded him and he whispered, "Hush. You're hiding."
She put her palm on the boy's forehead. The boy's eyes darted around and he seemed to be struggling to avoid her touch, although he remained motionless. Ann removed her hand, then inspected him, from expensive cross-trainers to salon haircut. "I see. This stops, all of this stops." She appeared to think for a moment, then touched the boy again, one fingertip between his eyes. "Logan Powell Turner, you will do no more magic. You are on probation for the next five years, during which time you will stay away from Gillian Ferguson and from that little magic shop on Grand. In five years, if you haven't managed to get yourself killed, report to me." She waved at the boy, who vanished.
"Well, hell," Martin thought. "Neat, in both old and new senses of the word — tidy and well performed — not a pile of dust nor an over-the-top thunderclap."
Turning back to Martin and the elemental, Ann smiled. "He's gone," she said, holding out her hand.
The water elemental slipped down Martin's arm, then flowed into her hand, where it rested in the form of a mirrored ball for a moment, then it shot up in the air in a wide spray that seemed to catch more light than the street lamps gave off.
"You're welcome," Ann said, as the ball reformed on her palm. "I'll keep an eye on him, but he shouldn't bother you anymore. I charge you, if he calls you again, come to me at once. Are you ready to go home?"
"Child of water, depart, and return safely to your home."
The water went, leaving Martin and Ann as dry as they had been before the fountain exploded. "Thanks," Martin called, looking around, then shrugging. He looked over at Ann and said, "Elementals?"
"Sentient, sometimes intelligent, embodiments of earth, air, fire and water. Occasionally mentioned in modern fantasy fiction and prominent in many religions. Yes, they really exist. They're elusive, but you can find them, if you have the power or the right tools." She turned to the fountain. "Let me fix this." She put her hands on the rim of the lowest basin, then raised them.
The Abigail Fountain, lacking the patina of age that it had had earlier that evening, was whole. Martin surveyed it critically. "I think the flow was a little slower."
"Oh? Like this?"
Ann looked around, then waved her hand at the mess of standing water and wet litter, which disappeared. The little triangular plot under the freeway looked almost pleasant.
Martin nodded. "Good job. It deserves a drink. I know I want one."
"Your adrenaline surging?" she laughed.
He ignored that and asked: "Miss Grove…"
"I said to call me Ann."
"Ann, are you a witch?"
"No. The No Mirrors Lounge all right?"
"Fine, and besides, it's handy," Martin said.
She nodded and lightly covered his hand with hers, which was noticeably warmer than he expected. Abruptly, they were standing on the second story landing in front of the door. The transition was smooth and silent, and they arrived on the same level in relation to the landing as to the street they had left. "A very professional job from this perspective, too," Martin thought.
"I didn't realize it was this handy," Martin said, and held the door for her. "Do you do this sort of thing often?"
"It's my job," Ann said. "I tidy up after magic-users; rather like litter patrol."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Magicians can be incompetent or ignorant or just plain sloppy, sometimes with dangerous, sometimes with simply annoying consequences. I clean up the ambiance — straighten things up, smooth things over."
"'Magicians' wives clean up the mess that demons leave behind'," Martin quoted(1).
"One of his most felicitous phrases," Ann agreed.
"Does this pay well?"
"So why do you do it?"
"There are some compelling reasons," Ann said. "You have an interesting habit of arriving just where things are happening. What brought you to the fountain this evening?"
"So what did you say?" Edward asked.
"That I was out for a walk and saw the crowd, which is true." Martin took a sip of coffee, then continued: "It just wasn't the whole truth."
"Did you ask her if she dealt with elementals often?" Jan asked, putting one of the ejected lions' heads on the table. It was a little smaller than a basketball, with a patinaed copper tube sticking out of its mouth. One ear was broken.
"No, but she knows about a lot about them. I'll tell you something else: I think she was telling the truth when she said her blood might be poison to us."
"I thought you said that was an attention getting mechanism?" Jan asked.
"I changed my mind. I don't think she lies, even though what she says may not be the whole truth either."
"Why'd you go back?" Edward asked Jan
"I wanted to make sure it really happened," the boy said. "I guess it did." He rapped the granite head on the table. It made a solid sound, and Jan smiled.
Edward nodded, then turned back to Martin, "Are you seeing her again?"
"I said I'd buy the drinks next time, and she said sure, no hurry, she was probably going to be here until at least 2015. Then she disappeared, which I guess is teleportation."
"Was there noise?" Jan said. "There should have been a sonic boom."
"None, neither as luggage nor as witness."
"Well, there wouldn't be if you were moving, but I'm surprised there wasn't any when you watched."
"She probably considers thunderclaps poor technique," Martin said.
Edward gave a short laugh. "Still, we seem to have a new player in town. If the occasion arises, find out more about her."
"She's listed in the phone book," Jan said. The two older men turned to him. Martin spoke first:
"How do you know?"
"Last time, when you told us her name, I checked new listings, on my laptop."
"Got an address?"
"Fifteen Compass Place, off Chestnut, on Russian Hill."
Martin considered. The address could indicate anything from a shack sliding into the bay or a many-roomed multi-storied townhouse with a bridge to bridge view. "What are you going to do with that?" he asked, nodding at the lion's head.
"I'll think of something, maybe my mother would like it. Tonight's going to look weird in the books."
"The rule is everything gets written down," Edward said. "We never know what will matter."
"Cahiers are so old fashioned."
"Perhaps, but these notebooks don't depend on batteries," Martin said, taking out his pen and starting his report on the night's happenings.
The Greater Bay Area
27 April 2002
Some days after the frightened elemental had returned to its home, Ann was at the Inn at San Francisco, enjoying a jazz night with a friend. At 2345 PDT, she excused herself to Alice Kearney, and ported home. As midnight approached, she walked into her living room and waited for the postings on her assignment board, which to normal human eyes appeared to be a large map of the Bay Area. Even in that guise, Ann kept the board tucked away, and only summoned it when she was alone.
At 0000 AM PDT, according to the alpha-numeric display along its bottom, the board lit up. Wow. It was glowing, with so many hits they had merged into a bright blur of light in several areas. What was going on? What had happened in the past twelve hours? The noon sweep had revealed only an average number of unresolved magical actions for a normal weekday morning, whatever day it was.
What day was it? Ann never paid much attention to human measurements of time. Let's see: Miss Manners had been in the Chronicle, which she had read at a late breakfast, so yesterday had been Friday. Today, therefore, was Saturday, and the rest of the date was 27 April, 2002, which told her nothing. Since she was living in the United States, the fifteenth of April had occasioned a number of curses and prayers, so possibly the cause of all these alarms was of a secular nature and the current display was the result of a new national holiday. On the other hand, municipal and civic spells and prayers were usually done singly and in one specific location, not in multiples and scattered all over the map.
She climbed the stairs to her library and consulted her almanacs. She was aware that the astronomical full moon had already occurred, 0300 GMT, Saturday, 27 April, and that it was celebrated at either 2000, Friday PDT, four hours ago, or local moonrise Saturday night, nineteen odd hours ahead, depending on when you counted your full moon. For Muslims and Jews, there had been Friday rituals and prayers, during the day and after sundown, but nothing special. There was nothing special marked in the Buddhist, Shinto, or California Native American Church almanacs either. Friday, 26 April had been the feast day of Saint Cletus, pope and martyr, and Saturday, today, was the feast day of Saint Anastasius, pope and martyr, but neither day called for elaborate celebrations. Neither the count of days in the year, 116, nor the number of days remaining in the year, 249, looked especially interesting. Nothing, in short, seemed to call for such a burst of magical activity.
She accessed the web and on the Combined Alternative Religious Calendar, she hit gold. This weekend, the Pagans, the Satanists, the Wiccans, the Neo-Satanists, the Reform Wiccans, the International Federation of Occult Therapists and others, including the Berkeley Morris Dancers, were all celebrating Mayday, International Labor Day, Walpurgisnacht, or some combination thereof. Which, Ann saw, didn't occur until Tuesday night or Wednesday sunrise of the next week.
Humans did such weird things, Ann mused. They were celebrating an anniversary, but since the real anniversary occurred in the middle of the normal work week, they were celebrating it on the weekend, when it was more convenient for them. Well, not the Berkeley Morris Dancers, she read. They were performing this weekend, yes, but they were also getting up before sunrise on Wednesday to dance in the park, and then presumably going off to work or class. Good for them.
She returned to the Inn and spoke with Alice, who was amenable to leaving. She had the night shift at the Kearney Detective Agency, and Ann dropped the detective off at her office.
Ann decided to start her litter patrol in the west, and proceed deasil around the Bay. She ported out to the Great Highway and walked north up the beach, approaching a group sitting and standing around a driftwood fire, playing and singing. The group had, possibly inadvertently, included an activated spirit drum in their instruments. That alone would not have excited her interest, but the sing-along had repeatedly sung a stylized African hunting chant and the Zoo was just to the east. Unobtrusively, she took advantage of a brief break in the singing to exchange the drum for an identical, but inactive, one; the drummer didn't notice any difference at all as the singers began the nineteenth repetition of Wimoweh(2). Then Ann slipped into the Zoo and calmed the animals, spending most of her time there with the lions, who, contrary to what some versions of the song said, were wide awake and grouchy.
Two Days And Six Hours Later
"Yes, the practice might be termed Eurocentric and inappropriate for a California live oak," Ann soothed, with what patience she still possessed. It had been a long weekend, full of ruffled elementals, migrating spells, affronted genii loci, and now — and lastly, she hoped — a native dryad who apparently went to empowerment sessions. "But the good will is real, and I will point out that many of these children's ancestors settled locally before you were an acorn."
"May baskets," the dryad rustled angrily.
"Offerings of good wishes, and acknowledgments that you are both alive and have certain interests in common," Ann said. "Tokens of friendship, you could call them. After all, at least one of those children was conceived under your leaves and has known you all her life. Now, if you are able to accept the good will, I will remove the offending objects."
The dryad was silent, then a shrugging rustle moved over her whole tree.
Ann carefully gathered up all the construction paper and crinkle ribbon May baskets, and raised them into the first light of the sun. She flash burned them and scattered the ashes around the drip line of the dryad's tree. She added a mixture of trace elements that her healer friend, Claire Galen, had said was prophylactic for SOD — sudden oak death — and also her personal blessing.
"Thank you," the dryad rustled.
"You're welcome," Ann said, and ported home.
Or tried to. She managed to get nearly 200 feet down the trail.
All right, Ann thought, picking herself up. Either the importation of the fertilizer or the blessing had wiped her out. For all major purposes, she was empty. Teleportation was not an option, at least until after a nap; and with her magic so depleted, she probably couldn't conceal herself here while she recovered her strength. So. Where exactly was she in relation to human transport, which she would have to use if she wanted to return to her home, and what were her options?
She was on top of Mount Madonna, in Mount Madonna County Park, south of San Francisco, north-east of Watsonville and west of Gilroy, almost at the limit of her 50 mile tether. There were cars and trucks not that far away. There were hikers moving around the park, and a few bicyclists on the mountain bike trails. Farther away, about ten miles she estimated, there was a passenger train, heading north out of Gilroy. Ah, CalTrain. Fine. A train ride needn't involve theft or hijacking, either of which almost always complicated one's life. Physically, she was not impaired, and a ten mile hike would be a pleasant change from using magic, as she had been doing almost continuously for the past 54 hours. She followed trails down and eastward, and enjoyed the walk. Eventually, she arrived on Hecker Pass Road.
She managed a very small magic —one involving only minor treasure and a very limited area— as she started walking east towards Gilroy. She hadn't bothered taking mundane supplies when she left her home, and she had no money or her credit cards. As she walked along, pennies, quarters and other coins showed themselves within a two-meter circle around her feet. By the time she arrived on Depot Street, she had a strange mix of coins, which added up to more than the price of the necessary tickets. She found a spot in the sun and dozed until her train arrived, then napped all the way to San Francisco. She exited the station and walked northward on 5th Street. Crossing Market, she caught the Hyde Street cable car, arriving at her home in time for an early lunch.
She heated some soup and brought the bowl and a glass of wine along as she went to the living room and summoned the map. The noon display showed only six hits, widely scattered, no more than on an average weekday morning. She would take care of them, but she would have another nap first. She put the glass and bowl in the sink and climbed the stairs to the top floor, where her bedroom was.
"Get down here," Edward's voice said.
"I'm not on tonight."
"Get down here."
"Twenty minutes, maybe half an hour." Wondering what had Edward so worried, Martin closed his cell phone and got out of bed. He had planned on a light and leisurely breakfast and then back to bed. "Sorry," he said to the girl he was with. "I seem to be on call anyway, and they want me."
"Come back when you're done. We barely got started."
"No, let's reschedule this. I have no idea what's up or how long this will take. Is the night after tomorrow night OK?"
"So what's up?" Martin curbed his first impulse to complain: Edward was alone in the back room. Wherever Karelle and Galley were, it wasn't here. Clearly, Edward was in a temper.
"Jan is missing."
"We saw him yesterday. How missing is he?"
"He was due here at 7:00, and before you ask, he turned off his cell phone."
"It's 8:30, all right, almost 9:00, but still, that's late, not missing. Uh, have you talked to his parents?"
"I had Karelle call. His mother said he left Berkeley about 4:30."
"Why? Is traffic heavy?"
"Not coming in. He usually leaves about 5:45, to get here at 7:00."
"Let me talk to Karelle," Martin said. And, he thought, get some coffee and Cambells.
"So what else did Doktor Frau Doktor vanderWitt say?" Martin asked. He had found Karelle and Galley in the small kitchen, tucked away between the even smaller employees' lounge and the large dumbwaiter. He was getting a coffee tray ready as he spoke.
"Oh, a lot of stuff. Jan has been away from home a lot recently —the past three, three and a half, weeks— leaving early and coming home late. He's been riding his motorcycle, which worries her. He got admitted to some place back in the Hague, but he really wants to stay at Cal and he and his father are not speaking about it. Boy stuff, you know."
"It's been a while." Martin picked up the tray and returned to Edward.
"So what he's been doing is being away from home on his motorcycle, apparently before and after his stints here, and also at other times. That may be what he's doing now."
"But she doesn't know where? Or with whom?"
"No. Want some coffee?"
"Let me see his book."
"You've been patrolling with him," Edward said.
"I want to see what he thinks of what we saw." Martin went over to the book case, picked up Jan's incident book and, sitting at the table where his Cambells waited, began to read.
"He staked out Ann's house?"
"I told him to stop, that you were handling her."
"He's jealous of me, you know."
"He sees that you trust me enough to have me handle things on my own."
"That isn't how we work."
"Yeah, you and I know that. He may think you trust me more than you trust him. I think he's also jealous that you're even this interested in a woman." Martin poured himself a cup of coffee.
"She's a player! I'd be this interested in anyone as strong as she is."
"Which I think is a sensible and adult opinion, but one which a 17 year old can't yet appreciate. Come on, Edward, Jan still reacts on a personal and physical level. From his viewpoint, he thought he knew you, and suddenly you're paying attention to a woman; and not just an average woman, but a very beautiful one. He doesn't see her power, or the dangers she may represent, he sees her face."
"Right. The question is, did he stop when you told him to or did he just stop writing about it?" Martin opened his phone and hit the newest speed dial listing:
"Ann, I think I have a problem."
"Where are you?"
"The Lounge." His phone went dead. "I think she's coming," he told Edward.
"Dammit, Martin, I'm not sure this is a good idea."
"From what I saw last time, she's very patient with youngsters, even murderous ones. You and I might get yelled at, we're adults and we should know better, but I think she'll help us find Jan. I'm going to check the door — she may be here already."
She was. Karelle was back at her post and Ann Grove was talking to her. Martin saw Karelle notice him and a moment later, Ann turned around. She was wearing black jeans and a pale green turtleneck sweater, with her hair once more in braids around her head.
"What's the problem?" she asked directly.
"It's not immediate and it does require some explanation," he said. "I hope I didn't alarm you."
"You were equivocal. I tend to assume the worst. It makes playing catch-up so much easier."
"This is Edward Hopkins, who…"
"Who also was of great assistance at the fountain," Ann said helpfully as Martin hesitated. "How do you do?"
"The problem worrying us concerns the third person with us that night," Edward said.
"Ah," Ann said. "The very beautiful boy."
"Who is absent," Martin said.
"We were wondering if you knew where he was," Edward said, rushing it.
"No, he's stopped lurking around Russian Hill. I haven't seen him in almost a week."
"You noticed him," Martin said.
"Martin," Ann said. "Not only is he very beautiful, he has a BMW K1200LT, which is a very nice, not to mention uncommon, motorcycle."
"I hope you're not angry," Edward said.
"Only if you told him to watch me."
"It appears that was his own idea," Martin said.
"Ann, it's obvious that you are powerful. You claim to be not human, and I hope that's true."
"Why?" Ann interrupted to ask again.
"If you're lying about that, you may be lying about other things, including your intentions. If you're deluded, if you're human but crazy, your behavior may be irrational; and either way, you're still powerful."
"Very good," Ann said, smiling. "However, that statement is true, I am not human; further, my intentions toward you and your friends are not maleficent."
"We're glad to know that. Still, Edward and I have discussed you. We're curious about you, and how you may impact our two communities. That seems to have aroused Jan's interest."
"What is his name, anyway?"
"All right. How did he get my address?"
"Phone book, on his lap top."
Ann nodded approval. "Sensible and direct. Does he know anything else about me? Beyond what he saw, that is."
"Oh," Martin said. "Shit." He pulled out his own incident book and found the entry about the fountain. "Logan Powell Turner, Gillian Ferguson and that little magic shop on Grand."
"The Porsche," Edward said. "Turner's. Jan made a note of the plate. Apparently he saw the car when he went back for the lion's head."
"Clever boy," Ann said. "Clever boys are always trouble. Is he any good with his computer? Does he know how to search commercial and civic data bases?"
"He taught us."
"Figures," Ann said.
"From what he knows," Martin said, "he could discover the same data about Turner that he found out about you."
"Probably more. Logan is human, with a family and a history. Jan won't have much luck backtracking me. The only real data he has is what Martin reported. Now, Gillian doesn't know anything, Logan isn't really a danger at the moment, at least not magically, but the little shop on Grand is unsavory, to say the least."
"Which Grand?" Martin asked.
"Yes. There are several Grands — streets, avenues, courts, all over the area," Edward said.
"Is Jan logical?"
"Yes and no," Martin said.
"Not always," Edward said.
"Right," Ann said. A piece of paper and a pen appeared on the table in front of her. As she wrote, she spoke: "The magic shop is in South San Francisco, 1550 Grand Street; Logan and Gillian both live in Woodside. Leave Gillian alone, she hasn't talked to Logan since they broke up in March and I don't want to alarm her parents again. If Jan's logical, he might try local shops first, and compared to Oakland or Fremont, South San Francisco is right next to Woodside, at least geographically."
She regarded the two men as she put down her pen. "Which of you is the more skilled at magic?"
Martin and Edward glanced at each other. "Well,…" Martin began.
"I thought so," Ann said. "There aren't even burn-before-capture spells on all these no doubt incredibly incriminating journals."
"Uh, no, there aren't," Edward said. "That sounds like a really good idea, though."
"He's never mentioned…" Martin's voice trailed off.
Ann regarded the two men again.
Martin and Edward had no trouble noticing that she displayed an increased level of annoyance.
"I will point out that your young student has gone off, alone and without leaving the customary trail of breadcrumbs, in a pursuit which might involve him with a murderous spoiled brat and an unknown but obviously very unsavory hustler, each of whom may be willing to employ magical tools against anyone who annoys them."
"Well, yes," Edward said. "That would seem to be the case."
"I find your instruction less than adequate," Ann Grove said, very mildly.
"Right," Martin thought.
"The only thing in your favor is that it is very difficult to keep ahead of someone as clever as Jan appears to be."
"He only fools us once," Martin said.
Ann considered him coolly for a moment, then nodded and changed the subject: "Martin, are you willing to accompany me?"
"Why?" Edward said.
"As a witness to my good, or at least neutral, intentions; and to reassure Jan, who may object to being rescued by me."
"Rescued?" Edward demanded quickly.
"Discovered," Ann said, "where he shouldn't be and told to go home. Teenagers are touchy."
"Where?" Martin asked.
"The shop first."
"It's open at this time of night?" Edward said.
"I have no idea," Ann said. "And it really doesn't matter."
"Surely," Martin said.
"Wait," Edward said, but his voice faded out along with the rest of the back room as Ann took Martin's hand.
"Did you miss?"
"We're going to look around first," Ann said.
They were on a commercial street, with many shops, both large and small. All the shops ahead of Martin were closed. He checked across the street, then turned and looked back. One shop was lit, with the steel shutters still up.
The sign said:
COFFEE, PASTRIES, ANTIQUES & RARE BOOKS
The shop was in the middle of the block, with closed businesses on both sides. The windows to the left of the door were hung with beveled and stained glass windows and panels, around and through which tables, chairs and a serving counter were visible, while the windows on the right showed only the backs of what Martin assumed were bookcases.
"A filthy, dimly lit, place for books?" Martin said.
Ann Grove laughed softly. "Exactly. The coffee and the pastries will be excellent, the antiques fake or stolen and the books…"
"Are not for children."
"They offer power without mentioning consequences. Reprehensible idea. Let's slip around the back. There seems to be an alley."
Around the end of the block, toward the entrance to the alley, they found Jan's motorcycle. Ann held out one finger. A small clear sphere appeared on the tip. Ann considered the bike then touched the tank. The ball disappeared into the metal.
"Right," Martin thought again. "I'll bet money she's just put a tracer on Jan's bike. Clearly this is a violation of the boy's civil rights. I don't think I'll mention it. Not to Jan or even to Edward, for that matter. Maybe when the kid turns twenty-one I'll rethink it."
"I wish now I'd waylaid the boy on Russian Hill," Ann said. "I probably could find him if I'd ever touched him, even through these privacy spells."
"Commercial grade." She glanced around again. "I would have been interested in this place even if your friend wasn't here. I wonder…"
"Let's go in. I'm getting blurred impressions of five or six people."
"Is one of them Jan?"
"I can't tell. Of course, there could be forty vampires waiting in ambush in there, and I couldn't tell that, either."
"The magic that keeps you alive and the magic I use aren't very compatible," Ann said. "My five physical senses can detect you, but I have problems sensing you otherwise."
"Otherwise how exactly?" Martin thought. "She's just full of surprises." He let that go for the immediate moment. "I haven't heard anything about this place, so I'd guess it isn't a vampire gathering spot."
"Just the same," Ann said, "put this in your pocket." She handed him another transparent sphere, like a clear marble.
"This what you put in Jan's bike?"
"Yes. It's a tag, I can find it anywhere on Earth. At this distance, I can keep track of you in a pitched battle in the dark. Come on." She headed down the alley.
"We're just going to burst in the back door?" Martin asked softly.
"Won't that annoy them?"
"Probably," Ann agreed. "And then they may try to kill us." She looked over at the vampire. "It's the company you keep."
"I just wanted to know," Martin said.
Ann grinned at him, and knocked on the back door.
The being who opened the door appeared to be composed of layers of crumbling adobe brick. Its face, from where the hair line would be on a human down to prominent ridges above the narrow slits that Martin assumed were eyes, was deeply furrowed. Its mouth was wide and straight, over a square chin. "A demon," Martin thought. There were horizontal creases in its neck, visible until it disappeared into the crew neck of a startlingly normal white cotton, short sleeved, T-shirt, a size too small. Its massive chest pulled horizontal wrinkles in the fabric.
The sides and top of the demon's head were smooth and hairless, while from the crown to the nape grew long shaggy, thick coarse hair, of an oily burnt sienna color. Martin didn't know if the rest of the head was naturally bald or if the door-opener kept it shaved, but the effect was of a mullet taken to really ugly extremes.
Ann stopped abruptly, Martin barged into her. Moving to avoid the vampire crowding her, Ann's hip hit the door, slamming it completely open against the rear wall.
Ann glanced back at the door and stepped ahead and to Martin's right as she did so. They had the door-opener between them.
A single low-watt bulb on a cord directly above the door-opener cast the only light. From the door, there was an open space off to the right and ahead. To the left, Martin saw two five-drawer dressers stacked one on top of the other. About 18 inches in front of the two dressers were two pedestal tables, also stacked. Between the splayed feet of the upper table were Victorian glass domes, nearly a foot and a half high, covering a variety of displays and arrangements. Beside the tables, to Martin's left, there was a breakfront facing the back door and over it Martin saw the back of what was either a dresser in the very tall shaker style or the top dresser of yet another stack.
The open space around the door was actually quite small, about six foot square, but it was uncluttered and appeared spacious by comparison.
"We've come about the motorcycle," Ann said.
"Then we'll see the proprietor," Ann said.
"You go. Now."
A silent movement in the dark behind Ann caught Martin's eye. "Behind you," he said.
Ann was already turning, a sword appearing in her hand as a twin of the door-opener stepped out of the darkness with a sword of its own.
Martin lost track of what Ann was doing because he focused on the door-opener as it drew a 9 millimeter automatic.
Right, Martin thought. He grabbed the weapon and the hand and twisted hard. The twist was easier than he expected. He dodged the door-opener's other fist which was coming at his face and hit its chin with his elbow.
The door-opener tried to knee him and Martin turned, blocking the knee and again twisting its hand. He kneed it in its stomach and hit its chin with his elbow again, finally taking the automatic and hitting it on the naked top of its head with the weapon. It began to sink to the floor. As Martin watched the first demon, the second demon fell past him to land on top of it. He scarcely noticed because he was watching the door-opener's right hand untwist a full turn and a half. "Huh," he thought. He looked over at Ann, who was watching him with a small smile of approval. Beside her feet was the second demon's arm, still holding its sword. From the second demon came a cry:
"Oh, be quiet," Ann said. "You're a sputthe, you regenerate. Now, I want the proprietor, and I want her now."
"Is not a her, is a him."
"Fine. Who is he?"
"Really? Dmitri Romanov! I want to talk to you!"
From the darkness behind her came the sound of a door opening. Keeping one eye on the pile of demons, Martin looked beyond Ann.
A large man, both tall and fat, and totally hairless, came forward. He was wearing a 16th century boyar's costume in figured purple velvet with cloth of gold and fur trim, which, Martin realized, looked very strange without the customary long beard and furry hat.
"One surprise after another. Apparently she knows him." Since Ann seemed to be dealing with events in a satisfactory manner, Martin kept quiet and in the background.
Ofon'ka started off in Russian and Ann again insisted on English, saying: "In English, please, Ofonasii Liubinovich."
"She's making sure I understand everything that's said," Martin thought. "At some point I really ought to tell her I speak Russian. Not right now, though."
"As you say, Varvara Denisovna. This is quite like old times."
"Varvara Denisovna?" Martin thought.
"Why Dmitri Romanov?"
"Why not? The customers like it, and I use it with the help because otherwise they get confused. Why didn't you use the front door? It's more polite and it saves wear and tear on my stock and there is this tiny spell which announces who you are."
"Next time I will. At the moment, I've come looking for a young man."
"We haven't opened the bidding on that item yet," Dmitri said.
"Dmitri," Ann said, slowly and consideringly.
"But there is no reason why we cannot arrange a private sale."
"You misunderstand. The boy is a friend of a friend, and I mean to return him."
"And you can't keep the motorcycle, either."
"A man must live, Varvara Denisovna!"
"I shall point out the obvious and remind you that you are not a man."
"Still," Dmitri said with a wave his large hands.
"Where is the boy?"
"In my office," Dmitri sighed.
Martin cleared his throat. Ann glanced back at him and the two sputthes on the floor beyond him. "Dmitri, do something about your help."
"Short of killing them, what do you suggest?"
"Whatever will keep them out of our way," Ann said.
"Begone. Go to your basement. Don't come back until you are presentable."
Ann nodded and waited while the two sputthes disappeared down one of the narrow aisles. Martin watched them go, then turned to Ann, who followed Dmitri as he returned to his office. Martin followed her; after a moment's consideration, he still carried the automatic. "Ann's keeping her sword, after all."
Half of Dmitri's office was as old boyar as his clothes: rugs on the tables and the chairs, candles everywhere one could be put and a large fireplace, with Jan standing frozen to one side. Unlike Logan Powell Turner, Jan did not move even his eyes. He seemed not to be breathing. Ann Grove glanced at the boy, then ignored him.
Other than that strange immobility, the boy appeared unharmed. His color was normal, and the candlelight glinted off his black leather jacket and all the chains. Martin hoped Ann was right not to be worried. He felt out of his depth.
Dmitri watched Ann looking at the rug on what was either a wide backless bench or a low table. "Do you still have the Ardabil?"
"Of course," Ann said, sitting down on the bench and resting her sword across her knees. Martin stood behind the bench.
Martin looked around. The other half of Dmitri's office was full of display cases, glass cabinets, and a large glass counter with stacks of velvet trays on the top and on all the inside shelves. On the wall behind the counter was a large semi-circular fan rack of display panels, with jewelry pinned on every available space. Behind the open panels on one side, Martin saw a door in the interior wall.
"Your friend is very silent."
"Perhaps he has nothing to say," Ann said. She turned to meet Martin's eyes and he saw one corner of her mouth softly pleat, as if she were controlling a smile.
"He is a vampire."
"I am aware of this." Ann turned back to Dmitri.
"And has he a name, this silent watcher?"
Ann considered for a moment: "Molchan Grigor, then."
"The Silent Watcher ," Martin translated to himself. He said nothing, living up to his new name.
Dmitri shrugged and changed the subject: "I am already out of pocket over this affair, you know, Vasha, what with the advertisements, the pastries, the additional security... The least you could do…"
"Is buy something at an outrageous price?" Ann asked. "Very well."
"Ah," Dmitri said again, but in a totally different tone. "I have a very nice icon…"
"No, I don't think so, Dmitri. Not today," Ann looked around, then rose and went to the counter. Martin stayed where he was. Dmitri followed her.
"What are you looking for?"
"Something for a friend, in rubies."
"For Molchan Grigor? For your son?" Dmitri asked, taking a stack of velvet trays and lifting off the top two.
"Her son? Yes, she's just full of surprises," Martin thought.
"How is the boy?" Dmitri continued.
"He's away. For a woman. I missed her birthday."
"Ah, a somewhat wider selection. Men have become so drab of recent years. For a lady I have rings, pendants…"
"This tray," Ann said, tapping the second from the bottom.
"What? Are you sure?" Dmitri lifted the other trays off the one Ann wanted to see.
Ann glanced down and laughed. "Yes. I want this." She held up a heavy gold chain supporting a ruby cross. The cross was made of four five-sided stones. Each stone was basically a narrow table cut rectangle with one double mitered end that fit with the other three stones in the center. "Now, this is genuine."
"Which made it stolen?" Martin wondered.
"Of course. Eighteenth century court work, in the simple style, from Burmese rubies and Siberian alluvial gold. Commissioned by a dowager for her granddaughter on her wedding."
"How long have you had it, Dmitri?"
"Since the early twenties, last century. I bought it from the granddaughter's great-granddaughter. You weren't in Paris after the Revolution, were you? There were many such sales."
"Not that one, no. How much?" Ann smiled.
"One hundred thirty-six thousand dollars, giving you the professional discount, of course."
"I'll take it." Ann put down her sword, and handed him a plastic card. "Unless you prefer gold?"
"VISA is acceptable."
Ann slipped the cross and the credit card into her pocket. Dmitri seemed much happier and offered them wine in painted glass goblets. Ann accepted with a smile. She took up her sword, and it vanished from her hand. She returned to her bench and sat.
Martin guessed peace, or at least a truce, had been declared, but he did not put down the pistol, merely putting the safety on, and letting his hand drop to his leg.
The wine was heavy and sweet. It wasn't to Martin's taste but he sipped again anyway, not wanting to offend Dmitri in any way since it seemed as if they were going to leave without any more fighting. Ann, however, settled more comfortably on her bench as if she had all the time in the world. Apparently they weren't done yet.
"Dmitri," Ann began, "how does it happen that you acquired the boy?"
"A fit of pique, I admit. He lied to me, which annoyed me."
"Lied to you about what?"
"He said he was a friend of a very good customer of mine. He lied. I called my customer, who said he has never heard of him."
"Logan Powell Turner."
"Yes, how did you know?"
"Did the boy also mention a woman called Ann Grove?"
"Oh, Vasha, no."
"My current use name." Ann sipped her wine. "One other thing I must mention: My current position involves official oversight."
"Oh. I didn't realize…"
"And Logan came to my attention via the misuse of certain magical tools, which might have resulted in death for many mortals and a certain amount of destruction. In public."
"Oh." Dmitri didn't quite glance at the door behind the counter.
"So you can see that I meant it when I forbade him this shop."
"I do see."
"My advice to you, Dmitri Romanov, is to avoid Logan for the next five years. That means no more phone calls, no mail orders and no Internet sales; in fact, no contact in any form or by any medium."
"He is a very good customer, Varvara Denisovna."
"He lacks control," Ann said, "and, if adequately supplied, he could become a nuisance, which would annoy me considerably. If he is kept harmless, if I am not obliged to chase after him to halt massacres or to prevent noticeable disasters, I will have plenty of free time; time which could be used to shop, for example."
"Ah. Of course you would. Quarterly shopping?"
"Biannual. Don't press your luck."
"She's quite free with both the stick and the carrot," Martin thought. Her technique seemed to be working well enough. Dmitri Romanov was smiling and looked much happier.
"I always enjoy your company, Vasha, and I look forward to seeing you in the fall."
"November, I think. Now, just remove the stasis spell from the boy, if you would, and give me the keys to the bike, and we all will be gone."
"Certainly, certainly. After rough beginnings, it is always a pleasure to do business with you, Varvara Denisovna." Dmitri handed her a set of keys, with a little bow.
"And with you, Dmitri Romanov." Ann inclined her head to him and turned to the boy.
Jan came to himself with a start, looking wildly from Martin to Ann and back. Before he could speak, Ann flicked one pale hand at him and, catching Martin's eye, walked out the door. Jan followed her, somewhat stiffly and jerkily, and Martin followed him.
Outside, Ann said, "Quickly." She took Jan's hand and ran lightly down the alley, Jan running along after her.
"I thought we had a sort of truce," Martin said very softly, easily keeping up with her.
"We do. However, the boy and his ride are still merchandise, and the problem is hijackers and disappointed shoppers, not Dmitri or his help. They won't interfere one way or the other." They had arrived back at the motorcycle. Ann offered Martin the keys, asking: "Can you ride this?"
"We'll meet you back where we started." She watched the streets as Martin slipped the gun into his waistband, put on the helmet, started the bike and headed away. Martin glanced back once; Ann and the boy were there, but as he watched, they vanished.
Half an hour later, Martin pulled up in front of the stairs to the No Mirrors Lounge. Jan was sitting on the lowest step.
"Hi," Martin said. "Why the hell did you get such a damn big motorcycle?"
"This is America. You have wide open spaces and purple mountains. The terrain is more diverse than that of home. I wanted something that could handle everything."
"It will that, and it certainly does go like a dream."
"I'm suspended," Jan blurted.
"I'm not surprised. Is Ann still here?"
"No. She said she had to be somewhere at midnight and teleported away. I think she's a witch or a pumpkin."
"Or she could just need to get a video back to the store." Martin spoke lightly, but he was disappointed. There were a number of things he wanted to ask Ann.
"Listen, she uh, she…"
"She yelled at me."
"No, it wasn't. Listen…"
"Have you ever heard the expression '16 will get you 20'?"
"Oh. OK, what do you say it means?"
"The numbers refer to years: Sex with a 16-year old will get you 20 years in prison. Haven't you seen the signs: Sex with a minor is a felony?"
"I thought that was about girls and getting them pregnant so they go on public assistance. I mean, I don't have to worry about that."
"No, it's everybody under eighteen."
"So why isn't it '17 will get you 20'?"
"I don't know, it's always been sixteen. It's a cautionary saying, a slogan; like 'Use a gun, go to jail'."
"This country is so crazy. I didn't believe her. I thought she was making all this up."
"No, and it's worse if the adult is more than five years older than the minor," Martin said, realizing what, or rather who, this was about. "She told you all this?"
"And some other stuff. I'm going home. I'm not to come back for two weeks."
"Fine. Did she touch on the stupidity of going off without leaving any indication where we might start looking for you when you ran into trouble?"
"Yes. At length. So did Edward. So did Karelle. I didn't see Galley, or he might have done, too." Jan scowled at Martin, took the helmet the vampire held out to him and rode off.
"And as we left, I'm pretty sure I saw a fantod, but I couldn't stop to get a good look," Martin said. "I came straight back and met Jan on the steps." He opened the low cupboard under the wall map of San Francisco and took out the private brandy and two glasses.
"What she said was that the two of you walked in, there was some fighting, some talk, and the three of you left." Edward accepted a glass of brandy, but did not drink.
"She knew the proprietor?" Edward asked.
"Apparently, possibly not recently. She never commented on that, and I didn't have a chance to ask."
"You believe her."
"Every word. I don't know what she is, I don't know what she intends, but so far, she has been absolutely straight with us."
Edward nodded, and took a sip of brandy. "Oh, she said you could leave the tag with Karelle, if you didn't want to carry it around or have it at your place. What tag?"
"This," the vampire said, taking the clear marble out of his pocket. "She says she can find it, apparently in some sort of extrasensory way."
"And therefore you? I wish she'd give one to Jan."
"It would have been useful," Martin agreed and said nothing more.
1) Magicians' Wives by Peter S. Beagle
2) Wimoweh is the title Pete Seeger gave his version of a song composed by Solomon Linda ca. 1939 and originally called Mbube.
The song was also recorded by the Tokens under the title The Lion Sleeps Tonight.