Julia: The World in Play: Chapter Four
George Coubertin, looking a spectacularly healthy 40 and feeling better than he had when he had been 25, shook hands with the senator and watched at she climbed into the helicopter. He walked back towards the house and met his other guest, the section head of GAO/SURPLUS. George nodded to the man's assistant, who fell back to give his host and his principal privacy. On the way to the helicopter, the head said, "I understand you need some documentation for your export license, Mr. Coubertin? Can I expedite it for you?"
"No, thank you, although it was very kind of you to ask. My friend will be taking possession here, so we don't need to worry about anything. Just see that the goods are ready in three weeks at the warehouse."
"But he'll need..."
"That will be his problem," George said. "Not ours."
"Mr. Coubertin, once those items are in private hands, they cannot remain here; without a license, they cannot be exported."
"Don't worry about it; it will be taken care of," George said, meeting the man's eyes for a moment.
"All right," the department head said slowly. "The rifles will be there."
"Good." Smiling, George shook hands, then stood patiently while the craft lifted and flew east, back towards Washington. Mixing with simple humans was a necessary task, and almost always boring. At least he was free of that duty until November.
He turned back to the house. His assistant, two of the gardeners and some of the inside staff waiting by the door shifted back to their various normal, non-human, forms and went about their own duties, avoiding eye contact with him.
He went to his library. There were some minor maintenance tasks to accomplish before he could return to his studies and they could not be delegated. He kept the communication mirror concealed behind one of the paintings on the wall. The frame of the painting was hinged along one side. Swinging it open, he intoned Xios's name.
The nearly humanoid demon appeared: "Greetings, George."
"Xios. The rifles will be ready in three weeks. You will need two trucks."
"Ah, excellent. And the location?"
"The warehouse in New Jersey."
"Thank you, George. I appreciate this."
"Use them in good health," George said. "I'll send word when I receive the notice."
"And when do I return the favor?"
"Early September of next year. I will require some bodyguards for, oh, certainly less than a week, probably not more than 36 hours."
George swung the picture back into place.
Could the next task be postponed? No. There was a date approaching, not soon, not till next year, but time was linear, no matter how powerful he became. A quick census seemed called for.
Opening the door to the private stair, he went up to the tower.
On the penultimate floor, he stripped and washed his mouth, eyes, and hands. Naked, he ascended the last flight of stairs to the open room. Four open arches held up a domed roof, while on the floor was an inset black circle in field of white marble. He entered the circle and closed it behind him. Sitting in the center, he gestured the ring into flame and cleared his mind of everything but the rite. As his physical vision dimmed, his other sight took over until he could see 360 degrees around him. He saw the ring grow very bright, then divide and coalesce into glowing mannequins.
Ah, his descendants. Seeking east, he found one of his rare daughters; north, and slightly east of him a son, a grandson, two extant great-grandsons, and a great-granddaughter in utero; further north, an adult male grandson. North and west, a son. Further west, another daughter and a young granddaughter. Eight. Fewer sons and daughters than six years ago, which was not unexpected, considering their ages. What was mildly worrying, however, was the limited increase in great-grandchildren. He would have to do something about that, when he could spare the time from his studies.
George Coubertin controlled his panic.
Last year he had had his choice of eight. Now there was only a granddaughter left. As delicately as he could, he expanded his perceptions, discovering her name and address.
Always aware of his enemies, he wondered if this was a subtle attack. He took a moment to investigate the deaths of his descendants.
Oh. His closest son, grandson and great-grandchildren had died on 11 September 2001. Their direction agreed generally with the location of the WTC towers. Another son, further north, had died at sea on 9 December 2001. A third son, located west of his home, had had a heart attack on 23 November 2001. Of his daughters, the nearest had died in an apparently normal traffic accident in holiday traffic; the last, far to the west, had died of cancer on 3 March 2002. Everything looked normal, or at least non-magical in origin.
Well, he would have to do something about this now, and not wait. Redundancy was a safety measure in magic as well as in modern technology. What he needed was a popular sperm bank or better yet, several popular sperm banks, with a susceptible technician in each. He returned to his office and took up the phone book. Discovering more about this topic required the Yellow Pages, not the circle. There: Sperm Banks, right between Speedometers and Spices. Four in the District, six in the New York Metropolitan Area, and two in Boston.
He pointed at some of his Huruvian servitors and delivered a series of commands, ending: "At these institutions, you will discover the routine for making a deposit and the selection process by which a deposit is utilized. You will also assess the staff, discovering which one is, or which ones are, open to management; after that, you will return to me. Go."
George indicated four of the remaining Huruvians. "You lot: find my granddaughter. Her name is Emily Hughes. She is in Los Gatos, California. Her address is 1505 Bent Drive. You will know her by this," he said, imprinting the signature of the girl's aura on the minds of his servants. "Locate her, track her, establish her routine."
"Do not interfere. Do not be seen if you can avoid being seen, but do not fail to perform this task properly. Do not alarm the girl, her parents, her friends, her schoolmates, her teachers or her priest if she has one. Now, I shall send you to a park near her home. Conceal yourselves there for the remainder of the night. At dawn begin your surveillance."
"So it is important, not just for me, that my sample is used frequently," George said.
"I'm very sorry. I deeply regret disappointing you, but we only use a sample five times," the technician said earnestly.
"We take that very seriously. There is just no way I can get around that regulation."
"I see. In that case, I'll just give five samples. There would be no problem with that, would there?" he asked, meeting the technician's eyes for a long moment.
"None at all," the technician said slowly.
"Very good. You should ready five sets of paperwork. Use these names." He considered, then wrote quickly. He handed the technician the list and continued: "Give me five sample jars, please, and I will return directly."
George dismissed the succubus. He had never really cared for sex, and the succubus was the only partner with whom he could achieve climax, even with the aphrodisiac spell. At least the demon didn't fuss at him, or worse yet, cling. Taking the sample jars, he returned to the technician.
One last task, or rather two: He cast a fascination spell on the paperwork. That would insure that when there was a choice between one of his samples and some other sample, his sample would be the one selected. After that, he forced forgetfulness on the technician.
In a state of nearly total collapse, he had his servants carry him out the door and into the limousine.
As he was being driven home, George calculated how long it would be before he felt up to that again. On the one hand, sex was uncomfortable and time consuming, not to mention undignified. On the other hand, without sex there would be no offerings to Prokerekestes, and without offerings, there would be no benefits. That was unthinkable.
The aphrodisiac spell had a short effective period, no longer than absolutely necessary, but it had a lengthy, multi-step preparation. The preparation of the spells, taming the technicians, the act itself, casting the fascinations, and on top of all that, the commute; it all added up to three days wasted, plus recovery time. The visits to New York and Boston would involve stays in those areas, in private housing that would need to be acquired, somehow...
He figured it would cost him no less than six weeks to visit every selected establishment. Well, his mind was already focused on extending his life, and not on his studies. He would continue his plan, which should conclude some time in August, leaving just enough time before the well named deadline to complete the current offering, and then — finally — return to his home and his library.
"You were told to assess the staff, not alert them," George said. "You have alarmed two of the technicians. They will have to be eliminated and replaced. That institution will have to be rescheduled. I am extremely annoyed." He pointed a finger at the erring Huruvians and fire engulfed them.
The others watched silently.
When the fires died, George turned to the other Huruvian servants: "Some of you, clean that up, then go kill the two technicians. The rest of you, unpack my gear. My move to Boston will be delayed."
"I loathe him," one Huruvian said.
"Well, of course," another answered.
"Who doesn't?" said a third.
"Keep your mouth shut, however, or you'll end up like Ramius and Qion,"counseled the second.
Helen still had her left foot free and she kicked wildly at her captors. She connected.
One of her attackers doubled over and staggered back.
With one of her hands now free, she flung a curse into the face of the remaining one.
Suddenly palsied, he let go of her right arm and leg.
She landed flat on the street, the wind knocked out of her. As she rolled on her side and gasped for breath, two men ran into the alley, both of them carrying wooden stakes.
The older man ran up to the first attacker and thrust hard with the stake. Without pausing he whirled and pushed the second one towards his much younger companion. Behind him, the first attacker collapsed into dust. The younger man extended his stake and the second attacker fell onto it, then turned to dust as well.
Edward Hopkins took a shaky breath. He never got used to this.
The intended victim, a young girl, got to her knees and looked around. She suddenly wrapped her arms around herself and started to shake.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Ahh," Jan said. "Uh…"
"Get it together, Jan. Are you all right?" he asked the girl again.
"I, I..." the girl said.
"And what are you doing down here at this time of night anyway?" Edward demanded.
"Y-you're here!" she said.
"And lucky for you that we are. Do you know what almost happened to you?"
"I'll explain." Edward did so, in graphic detail. "And if you were really lucky, you would have died."
Jan looked more shocked.
"Jan," Edward said again, "get it together. This is what we do, this is the trade off — she's alive, the vampires are dust."
"Vampires are against god," the girl said, obviously quoting someone. Like Jan, she looked dazed. "No, it's the belief in vampires that's ungodly, that's it."
"Bullsh... Vampires exist, whether or not you believe in them. And while some vampires are like the one I just staked, others are very devout and can make perfectly normal neighbors. On the other hand, we know a very respectable vampire who's an atheist. Um, that's all irrelevant," Edward said. He wasn't as quite calm as he wanted to be. "Go home."
"I ran away."
"Get over that, and go on home. Come on, Jan, let's get back."
"They must have been on something. It was early, with a lot of pedestrian traffic, and they showed no subtlety whatsoever, which was why she had a chance to scream. Luckily we were right around the corner."
"Uh, is there always that little squeak as the stake goes in?"
"Jan, do you do any of your assigned reading?" Martin demanded
"I'm writing it up for the journal," Edward said. "I'll include a special note in case there's some new drug going around the predatory side, and…"
The vampire glanced up. Galley was standing just inside the door with a human girl beside him.
"No kids," he said.
"Oh, hell," Edward Hopkins said, putting down his pen.
"She followed us!" Jan said.
"Obviously," Edward said.
"I was waiting for you to come out," the girl said. "I was afraid I'd missed you."
"She followed us home, can we keep her?" Edward muttered.
Apparently Galley thought his part in the situation was fulfilled, because he turned and left the room. Martin glared after him, then turned to the girl.
The vampire saw a short girl, not quite five feet tall, pasty-skinned, and plump. She wore generic white tennis shoes without socks, a cheap cotton flowered dress, much too long for her, and a scruffy, pilled, red, polyester man's blazer. Her dull mouse-brown hair was worn in a heavy ponytail down to her waist. She had slept in her clothes, and obviously hadn't bathed in a few days. She looked as if she had a year or two to go before she became a teenager, although she had the sullen glare practiced and ready for the moment she turned thirteen.
"Absolutely not," Martin said.
The girl turned to the new speaker. She saw a tall man, with a narrow face under untidy grayish brown hair, worn a little long and with a side parting. Under a high unlined forehead, he had deep-set brown eyes with black radii and a wide black rim, very dark in his nearly white complexion. His thin mouth was wide above a square chin. At the moment, he was unsmiling.
"You put her out, then," Edward said. He looked at the girl: "Hello again. I'm Edward Hopkins, this is Jan and this is Martin Stevenson, the highly respectable vampire I told you about. Martin, this, uh, this is the girl we rescued tonight."
"She's what, eleven, twelve?" Martin demanded.
"That's not really any better," Martin told her.
"I can't take her home with me," Edward said. "My neighbors will talk."
"And mine won't?" Martin asked.
"Let her sleep in the bartender's apartment," Edward said.
"Jesus! Jan is bad enough — "
"Hey!" Jan said.
" — and he's six years older than she is!"
"Three years," Edward said.
"Three and three-quarters," Jan said.
"Only if she's telling the truth," Martin said.
"I d-don't lie!"
"Martin, she doesn't really make it any worse: If they find out about Jan, or us, or you, we're screwed anyway. What's one more," Edward looked at the girl, obviously considering her, "sullen, volatile, temperamental, teenager?" he continued as he turned back to Martin.
"There's a difference between dynamite and nitroglycerin," Martin said.
"Not in the long run," the girl said. "Dynamite is unstable."
"The filler can decompose and release the nitro, so you not only have dynamite, you have nitro coated dynamite." Her voice had the quality of someone reciting a drilled lesson as she continued: "Fertilizer and diesel is a better way to go."
"I said quiet."
"Yeah," Jan said. "Bad analogy."
"You, go home," Martin told Jan.
The boy grinned, waved at Edward, and left, picking up his helmet from the table.
"And in any case," Edward said, "it's past two. If we toss her out now, she gets raped or eaten or both."
"Or she gets arrested and given a bed for the rest of the night before she's sent home."
"From where she has already run away."
"I w-won't go home."
"Why not?" Edward asked.
"They m-make me work."
"Everybody has chores," Martin said impatiently. "Doing the dishes won't hurt you. For years, I carried in the coal, I carried out the ashes, and I shoveled the sidewalks every time it snowed."
"A useful as well as a womanly talent," the vampire said. "Even my mother sewed."
"Ten hours a day. High school sweaters," the girl said. "S-school uniforms. Blazers for employee of the month," she tugged at the soiled hem of the jacket she was wearing, "banners, aprons, c-crap like that."
"Don't swear," the vampire said.
"Contract sewing, sweat-shop stuff?" Edward said.
"Yes," the girl said.
"So who's making you sew?" Edward asked.
"My mother and stepfather; mostly my s-stepfather, but my mother always does what he says."
"How can he make you get a job?" Martin said. "Who would hire an obviously underage girl?"
"He owns the factory."
"David Copperfield," Martin muttered.
"The magician?" the girl asked. "I wish. He could make my stepfather disappear."
"At eleven...At your age…Even if you are fourteen, you can't just drop out," Martin objected. "He'd have truant officers showing up every day asking why you weren't in school."
"San Francisco doesn't deal with truancy that often," Edward said. "Usually they just let it slide."
"And anyway, I have a diploma."
"From grade school?"
Martin glanced at Edward.
"How?" Edward asked.
"I passed the test, and my mom and stepfather sent in the papers. We got back my diploma. My stepfather has it."
Edward explained to Martin: "She was home schooled. She passed the school-leaving tests, so as far as the state is concerned, she graduated. No truant officers will be interested in her."
"And she doesn't know about David Copperfield?"
"It's California," Edward said. "Education has become erratic here in the past twenty years. She can probably weave beautiful baskets." He turned to the girl: "What about your father? Or his parents, your grandparents on his side?"
"They're dead, and my d-dad is gone."
Edward looked at Martin, who threw up his hands. "All right, she can stay."
"What's your name?"
"N-no," the girl said. She flinched. Defying an adult led to punishment. Placating an adult led to punishment. For a moment, she didn't know what to do. If he knew her name, he would send her back. If she defied him, he would be angry. She didn't know what to do. She didn't look at the vampire, even when she heard him stop and turn toward her.
"As a name or an attitude for anyone older than two and a half, that's not acceptable. We need a referent for you, beyond just 'hey you'. It's July; we'll call you Julia, Julia Taylor. OK?
"If you don't like Julia," Martin continued, as the girl didn't speak, "give me a name you do like."
She risked a look up at him. He didn't seem angry, but that didn't mean that he wasn't. He nodded at her. She drew a quiet breath. Maybe Julia wasn't hit. She knew some girls weren't hit. "I was g-going to say that was f-fine with me," Julia Taylor said.
Martin didn't know whether to believe her, but it was the first time she had cooperated at all. He decided to accept small favors gratefully. "Come along," he said, and led the way down a dark hall and up two steps into a studio apartment: a room, with what a designer would call a sleeping area, a sitting area and a kitchen area. There were two other doors, one in the outer wall, to the right, and another in the interior wall. There were no windows. (From the outside door, enclosed stairs ran down the south-east side of the building, in a switch-back landing arrangement, with a locked door opening on 12th street beside the front of the White Elephant.)
The room contained a wardrobe, a large, round, battered table and two side chairs, an arm chair, a small refrigerator supporting a large coffee machine, a two-burner hot plate on the table, a roll-away cot and some plastic milk crates as a night stand that supported a small flexible desk lamp with a hemispheric metal shade. "Sometimes I have a bartender using the place. It's quiet, at least during the day." Martin opened the refrigerator: it contained three kinds of coffee beans and an eight-pack of Cambells. "Have you had dinner?"
"Tiny," Julia said, walking over to the door on the left. She came back and sat on the roll-away. "The bed's hard and there isn't even a mirror in the bathroom." It was a comment, not a complaint.
"So?" the vampire demanded. "Do you need to shave?"
"I'm supposed to comb my hair."
"You could have fooled me. I'll do something about it in the morning. Right now, I'll see if there's any spare clothing around."
"The whole bathroom is the shower? Weird."
"It's utilitarian." Martin opened the armoire and checked the drawers: "OK, sheets, towels, and an old shirt for a nightgown. It's clean."
"Wow," Julia said, looking at the gaudy tie-dyed shirt. "You're a Deadhead?"
"It was a gift."
"You used it to paint in."
"That was an accident. Soap, shampoo, a comb, and a pillow. Have fun, get clean, and lock the door behind me."
"Thank you," Julia said.
Martin, halfway out the door, looked back. "You're welcome."
"So what's this?" Julia asked, looking at the bowl Martin had just handed her.
"Porridge," the vampire said, pouring the heavy cream usually reserved for Irish Coffees over his own oatmeal.
"Classic," Martin corrected. "I had it every day when I was growing up and I sometimes miss it. What do you usually have for breakfast?"
"Two pieces of bread."
"Bread, sometimes tortillas."
"Where'd you get the tortillas?"
"The women at work," Julia said. "Sometimes they would wrap it around some beans and rice."
"I almost hesitate to ask: Dinner?"
"Wait a moment," the vampire said and went over to the bar. In the refrigerator he found a plastic gallon container of pickled onions, another of stuffed olives, some celery sticks and a pitcher of tomato juice, both for human-style Bloody Marys, and a pitcher of orange juice, used for screwdrivers. He shrugged and poured out a glass of each juice.
"Eat your oatmeal and drink your juice," the vampire said, setting the glasses in front of Julia.
She looked up at him in surprise. "T-thank you." She took a sip from each glass.
"Tonight, we'll get some take-out."
"Let's expand your culinary horizons. We'll start with soup and a salad, and go from there."
"Because she needs some clothes," Martin said patiently. "She can't keep on wearing the ones she arrived in and those cast-offs."
"Why me? Why not Karelle, she's a girl."
"Clothing stores aren't open at night, Karelle can't go out during the day, I can't go out during the day, Galley..."
"I get it," Jan said sulkily.
"Edward is busy all day," Martin continued. "You're free on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tomorrow is Tuesday. Tomorrow, you take Julia shopping."
"He doesn't need to," Julia said. "I can go by myself."
"Maybe next time," Martin said.
"I want to get my hair cut," Julia said.
"OK," Martin said.
Jan wasn't happy about being saddled with a gawky girl and her shopping trip, and despite what Martin had said, there was someone besides him who was free during the day. With any luck, he could shift this whole thing off on her. He and Edward might manage a real dinner together before they started patrolling. He turned north on US 101/Van Ness, then turned right instead of left on Lombard Street and zigzagged up the hill up to Compass Place.
The cul-de-sac jutted north off Chestnut Street, on top of an outcropping that formed the northern-most part of Russian Hill. There was an apartment building on the south-west corner of Larkin and Chestnut. A flight of steps ran down to Culebra Terrace to the west, while another flight paralleled Larkin down to Russian Hill Park to the north. There was a row of modern townhouses, all very similar, on the north side of Chestnut east of Compass Place.
The three houses in Compass Place were all different: one red brick, with sandstone accents; one ivory brick with glazed tile decoration; and one stucco, with a red tile roof. Number fifteen, the ivory brick house between the other two, was his destination. Climbing the stairs to the front door, he considered what he would say.
Ann Grove was having breakfast on the first floor deck.
Her door bell rang. Ann frowned. Why was Jan vanderWitt calling at this hour? She thought the boy never rose before noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends. She gestured another place and chair around the table, then answered the door.
"Good morning, Jan. Would you like some coffee?" Ann Grove asked. She did not appear in the least surprised to see him. Even when she was at home, she was neatly dressed: A pantsuit, in black wool flannel, with pleated trousers and a lapel-less jacket, worn open over a red V-necked blouse.
He was in an entryway with a dark flagstone floor. To his left was a bench and two chairs, a door, two full length mirrors, and a coat rack with a drip tray for boots and umbrellas. To his right was a table against the outer wall, with a low flower arrangement below an oval mirror. The interior wall beyond the table had an arch, through which he saw many built-in-cabinets, above and below a granite counter.
"You can put your helmet and jacket on the rack. There's a washroom through the door there. Join me on the deck." She turned into the hall and left him.
Jan placed his riding gloves in his helmet and rested everything on the shelf of the coat rack, then put his jacket on a sturdy hanger. He ducked into the bathroom and washed his hands and gave his longish blond hair a quick comb. He turned left out of the small foyer, then walked down a long hall that widened at the end into a room with a wall of windows and french doors. He passed a stair case and what appeared to be an elevator across from them. He passed through the living room, not really seeing the furnishings.
On the deck, there was a small table, set for two, with coffee, fruit and pastries. Under a closed laptop, copies of The Tri-Valley Gazette, The Stanford Daily, The Daily Californian, The Oaklander, The Sing Tao Daily, The Benicia Capitol Journal, The Marin Times, The San Jose Record, and The Noe Valley Neighborhood Reporter were stacked haphazardly on a third chair. Just east of the table and chairs, at the corner of the deck, was a somewhat larger table, lower and extending through both the north and east railings on the diagonal. This table was occupied by many red and green birds, squabbling over fruit and nuts.
"Hey, look," one bird said.
"It's him again," said another.
"But he doesn't have that ugly machine," objected a third.
"Or that thing on his head," said a fourth.
"I thought that was a mating crest," a fifth bird said.
"No," another bird said. "It's a human thing, it goes on and off. It doesn't mean anything."
"Flock," Ann said, "this is Jan."
"Hi," the birds said in a ragged chorus.
"Hi," Jan answered faintly.
"Jan, this is the Nob Hill Flock. They're red-faced parakeets."
"We're hatched," another parakeet insisted.
"We're all hatched," the second parakeet responded, "but some of us were hatched and then escaped, while others of us had parents who escaped and then hatched us."
"Oh," the third parakeet said.
"Sometimes, we work for her," a fourth parakeet said.
"We tell her what we see."
"Sometimes, we carry messages."
"And I'm very grateful for all your help," Ann said. She sat and poured Jan a cup of coffee. "How do you take it?"
"Uh...Oh, with hot milk and cinnamon," Jan said, sitting down and twisting his head to watch the birds.
Ann passed him a silver tray, containing a small cream pitcher, a sugar bowl, a jug of hot milk and several long thin cinnamon sticks in an antique footed cigarette urn. "I can also offer you a croissant."
"We're going to go eat gravel," one of the parakeets said.
"Then I'll see you tomorrow," Ann Grove said.
All the red-faced parakeets took off and flew west, heading for the Presidio.
Jan turned to watch them go.
"Or a bagel."
Jan's head jerked around as Ann spoke again. He was still holding the tray.
"Or possibly some hemlock?"
"Jan: What's the matter?"
"Have you seen Martin recently?"
"No," Ann frowned. "I haven't seen him since July. I talked to him briefly two days ago and he sounded fine. What about Martin?"
"Well," Jan began, wondering how to explain everything. He had assumed that she knew about Julia, and apparently she didn't. "Well, about ten days ago..."
After Jan's report, Ann considered him for a moment before she said, "You rescued the child; you can take her shopping. It is, after all, a simple, easy task and one you are perfectly capable of executing."
"No, I'm not. She needs guidance. Her taste is terrible, so… so gauche."
"De gustibus non est disputandum; besides, if she ran away from home with just the clothes on her back, they may not be an accurate approximation of her taste."
"Yeah, but..." Jan rapidly shifted his tactics. "I was wondering if you'd come along."
"You're not gauche and I don't know where to take her, she'd look ridiculous in anything from North Beach Leather. You must know where to shop, I mean, you're always so nicely dressed. We have to take her someplace where she can't buy anything that makes her look even more like a épouvantail."
Ann smiled. "All right. When?"
"All right. I'll met the two of you at the Lounge, probably about 1330."
Well, Ann thought. Martin hadn't mentioned picking up a stray teenager, but then their recent conversations had been brief, with Martin and Edward working extra shifts since they lacked both a vigilante and a bartender.
Frustration was an experience. Experiences were to be savored. Privately, Ann thought it was an example of Fate's very low sense of humor to bring her an adult and responsible lover, one who was as well intelligent and good looking, in a mature and ectomorphic way, and then to keep the affair from consummation because of that lover's sense of responsibility. Jan probably felt the same way, although with his eighteenth birthday coming in November, at least the boy had an end to frustration to look forward to. She poured herself a last cup of coffee, gestured away the breakfast dishes, the newspapers and the extra chair, and, taking her laptop, climbed the stairs up to her office. From there she called Edward Hopkins at work.
"Ann Grove, Edward. May I have a word?"
"Sure. What about?"
"Julia, the young runaway. Why didn't you send her off to child welfare?"
"Martin told you about her?"
"Jan. Why leave her with Martin?"
"Um, what do you know about the juvenile care system?"
"The last time this situation arose, the local one had an excellent reputation, it just wasn't appropriate for the particular child. He was a shape shifter, and not even born on Earth."
"Um. Ours, even when well intentioned, is overcrowded, understaffed and operates some unsafe group houses. I admit I did assume that one of two things would happen: Either Julia would calm down, tell us her real name and go home or Martin would — you know how vampires can do the 'I am your master, you must obey me' thing?"
"Seduction, enthrallment or persuasion. It's also been termed mesmerism, animal magnetism, focused charisma and a lot of other names. I'm familiar with the phenomenon, in a theoretical way. Is Martin any good at it? He's only about a century old," Ann said, "and that's a skill that grows with age."
"I've only seen him use it on building inspectors and the like. I don't know if civil servants are a fair test, but I didn't expect him to have any trouble sending the girl home at some point. It seems that didn't work. It's been nearly two weeks; Martin seems content to have her around or at least resigned to her presence."
"And the girl?"
"Seems content to be around, which makes me wonder if her home situation was worse than she described."
"The dramatis personae are a classic set-up for a variety of abuse," Ann said.
"Which I'm not sure is what happened," Edward reminded her.
"So is she safer at the No Mirrors Lounge than at home?" Ann asked.
"It would appear that she thinks so. Her stammer is gone," he said. "When she first arrived, when she wasn't fighting or screaming, she sometimes stammered. Now, she's speaking quite clearly."
Ann rang off, then went down to the living room to inspect her assignment board. An average number of incidents of unfinished magic; she would handle them, then meet Jan and the girl.
"Who are you?" Julia asked.
"Call me Ann. I'm a friend of Jan's, and of Edward's and Martin's."
"Are you supposed to make me wear dresses?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I don't want dresses, I want blue jeans. Martin said I could have blue jeans."
"Fine," Ann said.
"You don't need me, do you?" Jan asked.
Ann and Julia ignored him.
"And I want my hair cut," Julia said flatly. "Martin said I could have it short. Shorter than Jan's."
Ann calmly examined the girl, extending one hand to lift and turn her chin.
Her intentions were complex: Ann was not in the habit of burrowing through the minds of every human she met, certainly not of a child who didn't happen to be a juvenile delinquent pointing a wand at her. Julia, however, was an unknown, apparently Martin's friend if not exactly Jan's, and Ann would be responsible for her safe return to the No Mirrors Lounge. She needed to be able to find the girl if they were separated, she wanted to know if what she suspected was true, and she wanted to see if the girl's somewhat plump face could support the harsh frame short hair could offer to anything less than a classic oval face.
Power tingled beneath her fingers. Right, another witch, Ann thought. I'll have to mention this to Martin, at some point. And do something about her nutrition. What has the girl been eating, or rather not eating? That pallid puffiness does not indicate an acceptable level of health. On the other hand, she does have good bones, even if they aren't as dense as they should be. "Short hair requires a certain amount of up-keep, a weekly or monthly trim, which some people find a bother," she said, lowering her hand, "but you might do well with it. Do you think you'd like a Joanne Woodward? Or maybe a Halle Berry? Just a minute, Jan."
Jan had attempted to slip out the door. He found he could not pass through the doorway. He glanced at Ann, who smiled at him, then turned back to Julia.
"No. Are they in movies? I haven't seen a movie in five years. I haven't seen TV in five years."
"Well, no doubt there will be pictures showing some choices and you can always just tell the cutter to keep cutting until you're happy. I think we should cut your hair first. Do you agree?"
"Then we'll do that. Come along, Jan."
"Look, you really don't need me and we won't all fit on the bike, why don't I just give you the keys?" Jan asked. Nothing was going quite the way he'd planned.
"We're taking a cab," Ann said serenely. "We'll need you to carry packages."
"Come along, Jan."
She panicked. All her new habits couldn't help her in this situation. She had no idea what happened. I didn't do it, she thought.
Helen felt a powerful wrenching sensation. Abruptly, she was not crossing a busy street, but was standing in a large room. She looked around quickly. There were windows on three sides, the middle view showing the Golden Gate Bridge on the left and what she assumed was one of the islands in San Francisco Bay to the right. So, part of her realized, that way was north.
The rug she was standing on was a large, pale-toned Persian garden carpet. The furniture, immediately around her and in the dining area at the east end of the room, was Chinese Chippendale. The tables, in their various heights, appeared sturdy, the chairs graceful and the sofas comfortable. The cushions and curtains were brocades that echoed some of the colors in the carpet. The whole room was unique and beautiful, but very cool and formal.
There was something about the painting above the longer sofa. It showed a southern California landscape with a house off to one side, almost as if it were merely incidental or an afterthought: a graceful, welcoming two story stucco building, with a fountain and a wide front door. The subject matter did not explain why it attracted her attention; neither did the technical execution, which was effortlessly skillful, with warm and glowing life-like tones and faultless perspective. It was as if there was something around the painting, or maybe behind it. Later.
She tore her gaze from the painting and turned to her companions. The boy was startled, but not frightened.
"Warn me when you do that," he told the woman.
It seemed to be unusual but not disastrous. Calm down. Come back, Helen thought, it's all right. No one noticed anything.
"Why did you do that, anyway?" Jan demanded, looking around Ann's living room.
"I had my reasons," Ann Grove said, turning to Julia. "Julia."
The girl was watching her with alarm in her eyes.
"Julia, it's all right. We just had to avoid a policeman."
"Is that all?"
Jan eyed her impatiently. "Well, you are a runaway, you know."
"Yes." She blinked, then asked: "What just happened?"
"Ann can teleport," Jan said. "She does it all the time. So we didn't really need to take a cab," he accused, turning back to Ann.
Ann looked at him: "We'll still need you to carry the packages. I think we'll go to a different salon, one outside San Francisco. Julia, have you ever lived in or around Walnut Creek?"
"No. My stepfather says only messengers of god and agents of the devil can travel like that, and the Star Trek transporter is designed by Satan."
"It's not," Ann said. "I'm not a demon, I am not a witch, and what I do is perfectly natural for me."
"So how do you do it?"
"Like this," Ann said. The room disappeared.
There was a bustle at the back room door. Jan, carrying two shopping bags in each hand and a box under one arm, walked in, followed by Julia, who carried two more shopping bags, and then by Ann Grove, who held the door for the boy and girl with one hand and carried yet another shopping bag in the other.
"Ann?" Martin said.
"Hi. Jan wanted some advice on which shops to patronize."
"He tried to wriggle out?"
"Once or twice. I didn't let him, though."
"Did you leave anything for anyone else?" Edward asked.
"Only our rejects," Ann Grove said, putting the shopping bag on the bookcase and joining the vampire and Edward at the table. Jan piled bags on one chair, put the box on the table and sat. He looked at Edward, conveying extreme patience sorely tried. Edward smiled at the boy.
"We looked at everything," Julia said with great satisfaction. She was wearing dark brown cords, a matching corduroy cropped jacket in a lighter brown over an orange T-shirt. Brown boots, a brown belt and a brown suede shoulder bag kept up the brown theme, which gave some warmth to her pale skin. Her hair was now very short on the back and sides and tousled on the top, adding a little length to her face. She had had royal blue and Chinese red streaks added to her short and carefully mussed top curls. A pair of small silver-colored hoops were in her ears. She looked nothing like the scarecrow Jan had called her.
"You pierced your ears?" Martin asked. He had scented no fresh blood.
"A long time ago. Ann noticed the empty holes, and gave me these. My mother took away all my earrings; not that any of them were as real as these are. Nice, aren't they?"
"Yes, and your hair is extremely short," Martin said. "Sort of shingled, almost. Happy with it?"
"Yeah. I made Cindy cut it twice. The first time she left it about as long as Jan's, but I wanted it shorter." Julia released her two bags, which landed with a solid thud on the floor, and sat.
Martin looked down. "Books?"
"She wanted books," Ann agreed, handing Julia a tall glass of what appeared to be a fruit and yogurt smoothie. It fizzed gently.
"What's this one?" the girl asked.
"A restorative," Ann said. "With peaches. Shopping can tire you; so can carrying." She put another glass in front of Jan. He glowered. Ann smiled at him. Amused, Edward watched them.
"What sort of books?" Martin asked, peering into the first bag.
"Later," Ann said. "What with one thing and another, we ended up shopping in Walnut Creek and Berkeley."
"Oh?" Martin asked, sitting up and looking at Ann.
"We attracted some attention on the way to The Hair Place. I didn't know how much you'd told Julia, so we took a cab, then walked. Crossing Market on the way to Maiden Lane, we had the bad luck to meet probably the most alert policeman in all of San Francisco. He took one look at Julia and started talking about her into the mike on his shoulder. Well, that was not good, so I moved us all to my house, where we spent some time discussing the fact that different people have different abilities. We briefly sidetracked into religion, but we did arrive at a sort of truce, at least for today. We went on to another salon, not as noisy or with as much neon as the one I first planned on visiting, but where we still managed to get her hair cut."
"I was calm," Jan said smugly.
"Well, you did it before," Julia said.
"You handled it quite well," Ann said, "and you didn't bother going off about not believing your eyes, which can be so tedious and time consuming. That's why we had time to visit the Other Change of Hobbit."
"Harry Potter is the devil," Julia said.
"Where do you get these ideas?" Edward asked.
"My stepfather. Actually, what he said was J. K. Rowling is inspired by Satan."
"Most unlikely," Ann said, smiling at the girl. "But you can read the books and decide for yourself. Now, getting back to the policeman."
Edward look alarmed.
"He saw me, I think he didn't see Jan, and of course, he saw the old Julia."
"She stepped in front of me," Jan said.
"Cameras? Do you think they got shots of them?" Edward asked Martin.
"Down there?" Martin said. "Hell, there are tens, maybe hundreds of cameras down there. You walk across the street, and you've had your picture taken the baker's dozen times that's now the American daily average."
"Damn," Edward said.
"Well," Ann said, slowly, "as it happens, that doesn't really matter, not to us, not this time at least."
Edward frowned at her.
"Do you know how, in CG work, you can edit out moving figures, matching the background so it's as if the figures were never there?"
"You can; at least special effects technicians can. If I don't want them to, humans can't take surreptitious pictures of me, or of people with me, since it would be noticeable if they were talking to thin air. Frequently, I don't want to be noticed, alone or with friends."
"Neat trick," Martin said.
"Not mine," Ann admitted, "but very useful."
"And you don't leave a walking void?" Edward asked. "A blur or blank spot?"
"No. The background shows up, just as it would if no one had ever been in front of it, but we don't. I am careful to avoid dense crowds; enough people in a small area, and my position becomes obvious. Elevators could be a problem, if I used them. Edward, I think Jan wasn't noticed at all, and therefore the absence of a record of him shouldn't intensify anyone's interest."
"And she says she's not a witch," Julia said.
"I am not a witch," Ann agreed. "So your parents are searching, but for the old Julia, and the police may be looking for me for questioning, but they won't find me. Keep your hair short, wear pants, avoid any place you ever went to before you arrived here and don't ever J-walk or get an overdue library book. Do that the next three and a half years, until your eighteenth birthday; after which, you're legally an adult — well, you're an adult for many practical purposes — and your mother can't reclaim you."
"That's a third of my life, nearly," Julia said.
"No, it's only forty-two one hundred seventy-fourths," Martin said. "About 24.13%. A little less than a fourth. And remember, when you're eighteen, it'll be only 19.44% or less than a fifth."
Edward glanced at Ann, who smiled and gave a faint shrug. Edward relaxed a little. He really didn't want to turn the girl over to the child protection services. Apparently, Ann agreed with him.
"Oh, Jan," Martin said. "Would you go down to the storage room? I think there are a couple of bookcases down there, from the last time I remodeled. Take Julia with you and see which one she wants, please."
"And I suppose you want me to bring it up?"
"If you please? You're young and sturdy," Martin said. "You can do it easily and I would appreciate it."
"Oh, all right. Come on, you." Jan and Helen left.
"He's really a very nice boy," Ann said.
"But a little lazy," Edward admitted.
"Ann, what do you think of Julia?"
"She's hiding something," Ann said bluntly. "I have no real idea what. I can find out, but if I did that she'd never trust us at all. I don't feel she's a danger to any of us."
"Have you seen her undressed?" Martin asked.
"Her back?" Ann asked.
"What?" Edward asked.
Ann said, "She's been whipped. She carries the scars on her back."
"Oh. I was wondering what changed your mind," Edward said.
Ann nodded. "Sending her back to her parents is no longer an option."
"She's been making ricin," Martin said.
"What?" Edward asked again.
"In some sort of home lab set up, using home-grown beans and coffee filters. She wondered what I was making, that first evening," Martin explained.
"Jesus," Edward wondered. "Nitro, fertilizer bombs and ricin. What else does she know?"
"She doesn't know what ricin is or how it's been used, she just knows how to make it," Martin said. "And she knows because her stepfather told her."
"This is so illegal," Edward muttered.
"It was your idea," Martin reminded him.
"I mean all of it. Not having her here, well, not just having her here. That's illegal on a variety of levels, but I can live with all that, I mean her life before she ran away. I'm really worried about what happens to her, no matter what we do."
"We have two problems," Ann said. "The first is keeping Julia safe from her parents for the next three and a half years."
"The record for foster children who get turned out on their eighteenth birthday with a hundred dollars and a handshake isn't good," Edward said.
Martin nodded. "We have to worry about what happens next."
"Exactly," Ann said. "If we are to do it correctly we're talking about a probable ten year quasi-parental commitment. Think about it. She and I have an appointment Monday for a late lunch and a visit to the library. We can talk again after she and I get back."
"Are we going to walk?" Julia, dressed in blue jeans and long sleeved Chinese red T-shirt, with a royal blue cardigan tied around her waist, eyed Ann's somewhat more formal slacks and shirt with qualified approval.
"I thought so," Ann said. "I know an Indian place not far from here where we could get something to eat, then we could head north to the City Center. How free were you to walk around before you came to stay here?"
"Not!" the girl said. "Not at all. I was always with someone, Mom or my stepfather. I knew where the bus stop was, but only because we drove past it on the way to the factory."
Ann nodded, and headed down the stairs. "You should know your neighborhood, which is why we're walking. The Main Library isn't far, and despite some design faults, it's still an arresting building, with a reasonable collection. We'll start there."
"You walk a lot?"
"All over. I like to walk and I need to know the whole area; but, Julia, while that's safe for me, there are places you shouldn't go alone."
"Like my neighborhood, at night."
"So where's Julia?" Edward asked as Ann walked into the back room.
"Reading," Ann said. "I said I would call her for dinner."
"Where shall we order?"
Ann looked affronted. "I brought dinner," she said, indicating a wicker basket resting on a new long table.
Edward eyed the basket. It looked small to him. "Will there be enough? I know Martin doesn't eat much, but Julia and I are normal humans, and I've had a long day."
"There will be enough."
Martin came in, carrying a tray on which were: a full martini pitcher, three empty martini glasses, several filled shot glasses with little stick-on labels, and a selection of strange items on toothpicks. "Ann? A martini? Or a Tequini, with tequila, vermouth and a jalapeño? If you have it with orange vodka, Cointreau, and pickled watermelon rind, it's a Summertini. God, how do they think of these things?"
"A gibson," Ann said. "I like the classics."
"You've been reading that bartender's trade magazine again," Edward accused, arranging the martini glasses in front of Martin.
"Not me," Martin said, pouring. "Faron. He wants to expand his repertoire."
"Is that a raspberry?" Edward said, finding a simple pickled onion on a pick and slipping it into Ann's drink.
"It goes with the fraise one. I have doubts about that," Martin said.
"Probably justified," Edward retorted, taking an olive for himself.
"I told him I'd have to try everything," Martin explained, twisting lemon peel over his drink and taking a sip. "Including the water chestnut in the Saketini. How was the new library?" he asked Ann.
"The traffic flow remains awkward, and I'm disappointed in the limited shelf space, but on the whole, it's an improvement. We got Julia Taylor a card, with the minimum necessary lies. She's a nice girl, Martin," Ann said. "What are we going to do with her?"
"Julia, you don't have a diploma," Martin said.
"I do too."
"Think a minute: What name is on the diploma you earned? Is it the same as the name on your new library card?"
A brief silence. "Oh, right."
"A way out of this apparent paradox is to go back to school under a different name," the vampire said.
"I've been schooled," Julia said flatly.
"Not well enough," Edward said. "But the fault is with your teachers, not you."
"At some point, Julia," Ann said, "you may be obliged to deal with your mother or some other authority figure, either because you've fallen into the hands of the police and been identified or because of a different, more personal reason. The difficulties would start the moment you told the truth, that you live in a bar where the Committee of Vigilance of the Folsom Street Irregulars meets. If you insist that the bar is run by a century-old vampire who has a teleporting girl friend, you'd be labeled delusional if not criminal."
Well, Martin thought. Girl friend. That was encouraging. Not that they had had any time…He brought his mind back to the problem at hand.
"If you say that you've been going to school — even using an assumed name — and can prove it, your situation is somewhat more manageable," Ann ended.
"And eventually," Martin said, watching the girl carefully, "you'll want to go to college."
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Frankly, you're too young for that now, and you'll need to supply a legitimate CV when you do apply to wherever you want to go," the vampire said.
"CV?" Julia asked.
"Curriculum vitae," Edward said. "A record of your life. Hiding from your mother and stepfather leaves a big gap in yours."
"Plus," Martin continued, "considering how paranoid the national character is becoming, the safest path for you to take after you become eighteen is to reclaim your birth name, if only so you can prove you're a citizen."
"I like being Julia Taylor."
"That can be handled," Edward said. "Once you're eighteen."
"We were thinking about the Hanyu-Yingyu School," Ann said, handing Julia a glossy brochure.
"Why not the one just over in the Mission?" Julia asked.
"You speak a little Spanish," Martin said. "Does your mother know that?"
"No, but my stepfather does. Oh."
"Right," Ann said. "As far as your parents know, you have no friends, no resources and you don't speak Chinese, so a private bilingual English-Chinese all girl school should be far down on any search list your parents and the police may assemble."
"I don't speak Chinese, I don't speak any Chinese," Julia protested.
"I'll teach you some tonight," Ann said. "Enough for you to get by."
Julia looked over at Martin: "Is this a good idea?" she asked the vampire.
"I think so," he said seriously. "You've got a good mind, you shouldn't waste it."
The girl looked up at Ann.
"Your mother and stepfather are more educated than you are right now, not just older and more experienced, more educated. If you need to deal with them sometime in the future, you should be as well armed as they are," Ann said.
Julia glanced at Edward.
"No one likes to date an ignoramus. No one except another ignoramus, that is. You'd find that boring."
"OK." Julia still looked a little worried.
"Hey. It's a good school. I checked their stats," the vampire said, waving a pamphlet. "The teacher bios are pretty good, with lots of advanced degrees and experience. According to this, all their seniors graduate and 78% go on to graduate from college. You'll take some placement tests, then you can pick your courses. They offer basics if you need them, and some advanced placement courses if you can handle them. You'll even like the Red Army approved uniforms, pants and a tunic."
"The uniforms are blue and black," the girl said, showing Martin a picture in the other brochure. "It's just that it's new and a little scary."
"You were brave enough to run away, you're brave enough to live here, I think you're brave enough to go to school," Martin said.
Julia looked at him, then nodded again. "OK."
"Excellent. Shall we have dinner?" Ann asked.
"Yes," Julia said.
Ann began unpacking the basket.
Edward stifled a sigh. He was a discriminating eater, a talented amateur chef, and he liked his cuisine haute.
Ann set out plates, silverware and napkins.
Edward noticed the plates were Limoges, the silverware, antique European-style sterling and the napkins, linen damask. Well, luxury hampers were available, if pricey. Locally, Portable Feast produced a good line of picnic basket. If Ann had purchased her basket there, the food would probably be edible, if a little predictable.
Ann continued to unpack the basket: Avocados stuffed with crab salad, orange cups stuffed with mixed bean, nut and raisin salad, a cold fillet of beef, breast of guinea hen on country ham, hot Franconia potatoes, hot sweet potato puffs, rice jambalaya with smoked tofu and mushrooms, hot grilled tomatoes with shaved parmesan on eggplant, and Seven Grain dinner rolls — apparently still warm.
Edward eyed the basket again. He turned to Ann, who was watching him with a small smile. "No room for dessert?"
"I'll unpack that when it's time to serve it," she said. "I hear Jan arriving. If you would carve, Edward, we can eat."
"Oh, Jan eats fish, or has eaten fish," Edward said.
"I'll bear that in mind," Ann said. "For next time."
"So how are you going to manage this?" Martin asked. The vampire was arranging a thin slice of aged cheddar on a sliver of tart apple.
"A sort of immersion technique," Ann said. "I thought Julia could come home with me, learn Chinese and spend the night. Tomorrow, we'll wander around Chinatown, learn the basic geography and practice the language. If that goes well, the day after that, the three of us will go off to school and enroll her."
"How much Chinese can she learn in one day?" Edward asked. For dessert, he had selected grapes, peeled into a melon half and served with a syrup of reduced sauterne.
Jan and Julia had picked almond Bavarian pudding and cream puffs filled with chocolate mousse respectively.
"She looks too sleepy to learn," the vampire observed.
"The process works best if the student is relaxed," Ann said.
"She's so relaxed, her eyes are nearly shut."
Early the next evening, Martin stopped in Julia's doorway.
Julia and a strange Oriental boy were watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, without subtitles, on a small combination TV/DVD system. Martin knocked.
Julia looked up and smiled, speaking a gliding trill of what Martin assumed was Chinese. It sounded just like what was coming out of the TV.
The boy switched off the set and stood up as Martin came in. He was as good-looking as Jan, but in a totally different style. Lean and graceful, he was nearly two inches taller than the vampire, had black eyes with silver flecks, and very short black hair. He turned to Julia: "And it's important to be able to switch languages, smoothly and quickly. How do you do, sir. I'm Taz Long, Jingwu's foster son."
And you're currently imitating an old-fashioned, well-mannered prep school boy, Martin thought. I didn't trust them when I was one of them. I know what goes on inside their heads.
"Oh, right," Julia said.
"Jingwu?" Martin asked.
"Ann's other name," Julia explained.
One of three names, Martin thought. And that's probably not all, by any means. "I hear you're going to Stanford, Taz," he said. "So how old are you now?"
The boy smiled. "Younger than Jingwu, sir. If I were human, I'd be almost twenty-one."
Martin laughed: "Do the two of you practice that routine?"
"When I was younger, yeah, we did."
"Right. I'm Martin. So where's Ann?"
"Litter patrol," the boy said. "I took over at noon, and escorted Júlì to a dim sum lunch."
"Some things were weird," Julia said. "Some things were really good."
"And then there were the salt roasted shrimp," Taz said.
"Which were weird and good and really, really, messy."
"Jingwu suggested it. She said there was no sense making Julia learn two new names. It means 'Upright Chrysanthemum', or possibly 'Iron Yak'. The sounds are the same, it's just the tones that are different. Júlì." the boy repeated.
"What did I say?" Martin asked.
"It was more like Jùlí. Iron Yak, could be."
"That's fine," Julia said. "It's no sillier than Upright Chrysanthemum." She thought for a moment: "And I like yaks more than I like chrysanthemums, anyway."
"Jùlí, then," Taz agreed. "That's written like this." He drew two characters on a pad while Juli watched over his shoulder.
A stranger, as tall as Martin, male, probably human, with wild black hair and full beard, wearing bib overalls, work boots and a cambric shirt, and carrying a tool kit, walked in the outside door. Casually, he gestured the door shut and all the locks engaged. "New circuit and a wireless router. Dai said he'd have the computer and the notebook ready tomorrow afternoon."
"This is Rens," Taz said. "He's helping with Julia's computer. This is Martin Stevenson."
"Hi," Rens said. "When did you have this place fixed up last?"
"He's not critiquing your decor, he means the wiring," Taz said.
"Twenty years ago," Martin said.
"You're way out of date. Pick a day, or two at the most, and I'll come back and do it right."
"He'll call you," Taz said. "Thanks, Rens."
Ann and Madame Rui exchanged polite bows, Ann caught Martin's eye, and the Headmistress's office faded out and Julia's room in the No Mirrors Lounge grew into focus around them.
"Well, that was interesting," Martin said.
"I thought it went well," Ann said. "Here?" she asked Julia.
The girl nodded.
Ann waved one hand at the round table, where the former tenant had had a hot plate. A computer setup appeared on and beneath the table. Ann bent to insert plugs in appropriate outlets.
"I guess so," the vampire said. "It's just that I've never been on the parent side of a teacher-parent interview before. I always sat quietly and spoke only when spoken to. I have a great deal more sympathy for my own parents right now."
"Oh," Ann laughed, coming upright again. "There's nothing like a child to expand your experiences."
"I'm not too sure about this on-line class idea," he said, waving at the computer.
"There are some colleges that exist only on-line," Ann said. "It's a reasonable budgetary compromise, at least for non-laboratory subjects. It's also handy for shut-ins, of various sorts."
"Not what I'm used to," Martin said. He picked up a wireless mouse and put back it down.
"For language or literature, either composition or reading, it works well."
"But you can't say that the dog ate your homework."
"Did you ever use that excuse, Martin?"
The vampire grinned at her.
"Thank you for my computer," Julia said.
"I think Martin and I want the usual limits and restrictions on e-mail and an absolute veto on meeting anyone you meet on line," Ann said.
"There are some real weirdoes out there," Martin said.
"I know. My stepfather for one," Julia said.
Ann regarded the girl. "Are you tempted to leave a message for your mother?"
"Sometimes, but I know how easy it is to trace the originating address."
Martin glanced at Ann, who nodded.
"If you want to reassure her, we can visit an Internet café and use their equipment."
"Just ask. There are some huge cafés down in San Jose, and we could port down."
"Maybe not San Jose," Julia suggested.
"Um. There will be some safe way, anytime you want. I can easily arrange a New York or a Los Angeles postmark on a paper letter. Just ask. So," Ann said, "no personal data, not your real name, either of your use names, your age, your sex, or your address. Right?"
"Or where I go to school. Right."
"And exactly where do they keep the soccer field?" Martin asked
"On the other side of a dimensional portal. Land in San Francisco is limited."
"And they use it for sports?"
"It's a sports field."
"I meant the dimensional portal."
"Why couldn't you come look at it, Ann?" Julia asked.
"At the moment, I can't go through portals," Ann said. "Anyway, I saw it back in the nineteenth century, when they set it up."
"How do they set up a portal?" the vampire asked.
"There are some human analyses of portals, Martin. Most of them are probably too mystical to interest you, but some of the papers have a mathematical approach. Use Julia's computer to access Ganesha. I didn't limit the number of users."
"Patron of categories and libraries. Also creator and remover of obstacles. It's the name of a heavily firewalled special interest website. I have access and I had Dai put a bookmark for it in Julia's copy of Netscape. The password is automatic and very heavily encrypted. Once the site has accepted you, navigation is easy. I suggest searching on 'portal' plus 'theory'."
"And school starts next week, on the new moon?"
"Just before the first quarter. Their astrologer decided that that was the most auspicious time. For the first four weeks, until mid-September, only Chinese is spoken and only Chinese cultural traditions are taught. Calligraphy, literature, art, poetry, embroidery, domestic rituals and cooking. Also Tai Chi, which was included again this year after the usual debate."
"It sounds a little bit like summer camp. Uniforms and everything."
"Right," Ann said, and waved one hand at the cot. Two brown paper packages, one big, one thin, appeared. "Uniforms, school, fourteen, and uniforms, gym, six; each complete with name tag, in English and two forms of Chinese. You studied domestic rituals at summer camp?" she asked the vampire.
"Sure, and even more of them at dancing class."
"Martin?" Julia asked.
"I can take sports? Right? Not just embroidery?"
"Absolutely. Soccer, basketball, tennis, anything active. The last few years, you were kept too sedentary for someone your age. It's not healthy. My mother always insisted we all get some exercise every day."
"Start with the Tai Chi class for now. During the regular term, you could also elect gymnastics or fencing or self-defense," Ann said. "They're active too. And on Saturdays during term, we can continue exploring San Francisco, if you like."
"And we'll go out in the evenings for the occasional ice cream," Martin said.
"There is a new pattern."
"We will report it."
On Julia's first Thursday of school, she and the vampire were having breakfast and dinner, respectively. Julia, wearing her black trousers and blue and black tunic, had oatmeal, scrambled eggs, juice and milk; Martin had Cambells.
"I sort of have homework," Julia said.
"Well, it is school, so that's not surprising," the vampire said.
"It was to me."
Martin laughed. "What kind of homework?"
"For art appreciation."
"And it involves?"
"Madame Feng said we should go to the Mustard Seed Annex, and look at the portraits."
"Where is this place?" Martin asked.
"It's towards the Mission, but then north. Here."
Martin glanced at the address. "OK, this evening we'll go."
"I was meeting some girls from school," Julia said.
"That's fine, you can introduce them to me," the vampire said.
Julia looked a little worried. Martin grinned. "Hey, you're not going there alone, not for the first time. Anyway, I'm part of your cover story. I'm your eccentric guardian."
"And while I may think they're very silly, I won't yell at them, or whatever your stepfather did."
George Coubertin answered his traveling mirror. Only his servants used this one, so he didn't bother with civility: "What now!"
"Sir, it appears the offering is attending a school."
"She boards a bus and is carried to a building. Other girls, both bigger and smaller, and adults also enter."
"It's August," George muttered. "Summer school? Is she stupid or making up a grade? She can't be stupid, not with her genetics."
"Sir, we do not know."
"Well, keep watching. I will arrive on the third, and I want to procure the offering before the sixth. Keep track of her."
"This is Martin, my guardian. This is Zhai Shaowei and Hu Miyi," Julia said. "Miyi rides the bus with me. Oh, and this is Shaowei's mother."
"Martin Stevenson, Mrs. Zhai," Martin said, making a note to explain proper introductions, which he acknowledged could get complex when adults and young people of both sexes were involved. "How do you do?"
Mrs. Zhai and her daughter were American Chinese, while Miyi, who was a couple of years younger than Shaowei and Julia, appeared to be a blend, with slanted green eyes, wavy dark red hair and a scattering of freckles across a slightly Roman nose. Zhai Shaowei wore hip-hugger jeans with the knees ripped out and a cropped T-shirt. Hu Miyi wore her school uniform.
He smiled briefly at the girls, but made no objection as the three of them moved away and put their heads together. Martin and Mrs. Zhai moved slowly after them. It had been years since his parents had embarrassed him in front of his peers, and while he avoided all their mistakes, he was sure he was making new ones.
"Yes?" the vampire answered.
"Can Miyi come home with me tonight?"
"It's a school night," Martin said.
"It's Thursday," Julia said. "And it's late opening night at the Annex. Miyi and I need to go look at the display of interior scenes and her grandmother doesn't want her walking there alone."
"And afterward? Do we walk her home?"
"Yes, she doesn't live that far from the bus stop and we should try to get her home before 2130."
"OK, fine with me. Remember to order dinner for two humans. This is working out pretty well: a cultural outing, followed by a late night shift as bartender."
"Edward said you were having trouble finding another bartender? Is it because I'm in the apartment? You said it was for your helper."
"No, it is not because you're in the apartment. Dean never used it. We just need to pick a person who can adapt to our somewhat exacting life-style."
"The vigilantes, the vampires and everything?"
"Yes, that's what I mean. We're just being careful. That may take a little time, but it has nothing to do with you or the apartment. Are you and Ann doing something this weekend?"
"Saturday I'm going to the library on my own and Sunday she and I are going on a tree walk in the Presidio forest. She says it's an artificial forest? Really?"
"The US Army planted it. It's artificial that way, with all imported trees, all about the same age."
"Ann says the gardeners are renewing it by cutting down some trees and planting baby ones. Why and what's wrong with eucalyptus anyway?"
"If all the trees of the same kind are the same age, they can all die of old age at the same time. Then the whole place would be one huge sand dune again. Messy."
"Were you here when the trees were planted?"
"No, that was long before I arrived here."
Martin climbed the steep interior stairs from the basement to the hallway between the employees' lounge, the ready room and the back door to his office. Wednesdays weren't very busy and he used the free time to keep up the running inventory of his stock and move supplies for the weekend into the ready room. He unloaded the dumbwaiter and inspected the ice machine. It had whined last night, but seemed to be running smoothly now.
That done, he checked his mail and knocked on Julia's open door.
"Hi," the girl said. She blanked her screen, shoved her chair back from the table and stretched.
"So how was school?" Martin asked.
"We're doing two stroke radicals," Julia said. "Now, besides writing 'seven servants ascended the small hill', I can write 'two men sat by the well'."
"I can see some of that may be useful," Martin said.
"At least I can remember everything I write or look up. I think it must be part of the way Ann taught me Chinese. Some of the other girls seem to be having problems, even the ones who can write nicer than I can."
"Well, there's no real point in being illiterate, is there? Homework finished?"
"Good. What did you order for dinner?"
"From the fish place, with fries."
"Call and add a salad."
"I did, I knew you'd nag. Ice cream tonight, though."
"Bookstore first, then ice cream," the vampire agreed.
"Oh, I'm supposed to visit the Annex again. They've switched the scrolls, and I'm supposed to look at the landscapes before art class Friday."
"Tomorrow all right for that?"
"Yes. Can Miyi come with us again?"
"Certainly. Am I going to meet her parents sometime?"
"I don't think so, not any time soon. Her mom is dead, just this spring, and her father is busy. He travels and now she lives with her grandmother, which is why she's going to Hanyu-Yingyu."
Martin didn't follow all that, but Julia delivered it with an air of complete assurance, as if it explained everything. He wondered if he mirrored his uncle's habitual confused expression after a conversation with his daughter. Martin's young cousin could always bewilder her father, even when she wasn't deliberately trying to do so.
George Coubertin gave the appropriated house a quick inspection. It was small, but it was isolated. It would do. He selected a room and installed his traveling library. He gave orders to his domestic servants for his comfort and security, then summoned the four servants who had been keeping watch on Emily Hughes.
"Sir, there has been a break in the offering's routine. Recently, she did not attend her school for three days in succession."
"Labor Day weekend," George said. "Did she resume attendance yesterday, Tuesday?"
"That's normal. Now. Describe her school day routine."
"A dimensional portal? She regularly goes through a dimensional portal and you don't know where it leads?"
"No, sir. We do not. The portal in question is a private door. The access is through the school the offering attends. She is accompanied by other human children and teachers."
"We cannot know that, sir. Of the first of five sequential days of a human seven day week on which she attends school, she passes and returns through the portal on the first day, the third and the fifth. Her absence is always approximately two hours."
"And the school itself?"
"Our surveillance is perforce limited."
"The school is warded."
"Cast by the teachers?"
"We do not know. The spells were in place when we began watching."
"Are the teachers talented?"
George nodded, then departed.
"You did not mention that some of the teachers are not human."
"I was not asked."
"Some of them are quite powerful."
"I am aware of this."
"In which case we may be free."
"Patience," the senior surviving servant said. "Eventually, we will be free. He may die, and we will be totally free. He may make a mistake in our instructions, and we will be free of his restraints. In which case, we can rip him limb from limb and be totally free. Soon or late, we will be free. Possibly we will have the satisfaction of ripping him asunder."
"That would be most enjoyable."
"That's a little blood-thirsty."
"This world is corrupting me. I just want to go home."
"The school is impenetrable," George announced.
"Report on her living conditions."
"We are hampered in visually inspected the dwelling."
"Why? Are there warding spells there, too?"
"Not wards exactly, sir, but we are detected."
"When is she free of the school's wards and of the domestic wards?"
"Occasionally in the evenings, she walks out near her home."
"Describe the last occasion."
"She, another human girl and a vampire..."
"A vampire? Why a vampire?"
"Sir, we do not know."
"The three walked to a building and remained slightly less than one and one-half hours. They exited, and walked..."
"Have they done this before?"
"Good! Show me the building."
"Thursday. Noon to ten," George read. "Aren't vampires nocturnal?"
"Sir, we do not know."
"Very well," George decided. "Attend me. On Thursday, tomorrow, you will watch the offering, beginning, as usual, soon after dawn. You will follow her to school. You will follow her home. If she comes here, to the Mustard Annex, you will seize her and bring her to me."
"Yes, sir. And the vampire?"
"What about him?"
"If he objects to our seizure of the girl."
"Sir? How do we fight a vampire?"
George started to speak, then frowned. "One moment." He moved himself and his servants to his temporary abode, where he retired to the room where he had installed his traveling library. He checked the catalogue. Nothing specifically about vampires, but maybe there would be something in the Expanded Modern Bestiary. Yes, there was an entry. Excellent. He returned to the servants. "What kills vampires is a wooden stake in the heart, sunlight, holy water, fire and decapitation. Take stout wooden stakes and swords. The stake goes in the heart and the sword takes off the head. Once you have possession of the offering, bring her to the warehouse."
"We're not warriors."
"I mean swords?"
"At least we can get swords."
"From the armory."
"But wooden stakes?"
"A chair leg might be adequate."
"Impossible. That would involve destruction of the master's property."
All the servants shuddered.
"There is that park."
"With all those trees."
"We could cut off branches..."
"There are all those police, who may object."
"Gardeners use them. Stakes are also for grapes, and other plants. Trees, even."
"We're certainly not gardeners."
"How do you know that? About the stakes?"
"Well, I sometimes talked to the gardeners, the ones in the outside staff, back at the big house," the servant who had mentioned grapes said.
The other three servants looked at it.
"Just small talk," it mumbled.
"Where did they get stakes?"
"They called it a 'nursery', but I don't know what they're called in English."
"We will consult first the Huruvian/English dictionary and then the directory and either locate a nursery or discover a gardener we can ask."
"And how big a stake to you need?" the clerk asked.
The nearly identical men looked at each other. "Please excuse us a moment."
After a brief, and, to the clerk, unintelligible, consultation, involving a fair amount of hand waving, they returned.
"Stout," one said.
"Large," another said.
"Wood," the third said.
"Definitely wood," the fourth said.
"Let me show you what we have." the clerk said. "How many do you need?"
"Please excuse us a moment."
The strange conference was repeated, then: "One for each of us," a man said.
The rest nodded.
"How are we going to start this?"
"Possibly we just walk up, take the offering and run away?"
"The run away part is excellent."
"I think we must be prepared to use these stakes."
"And then what? Has anyone ever staked a vampire?"
"No." "No." "No."
"And I certainly haven't."
"But you are right, we must be prepared."
"Have we any sort of plan, beyond walking up, grabbing the girl and running away?"
"I suggest a privacy spell, to keep the vampire from following us, in case we fail to kill him."
"We are going to be running."
"So the spell will not be of long duration."
"We might have to recast it, possibly more than once."
"Does this sound reasonable? We walk up, wearing the strongest spell we can cast, one of us takes the offering and runs away."
"And the other three?"
"That depends on whether the privacy spell will work on vampires."
"Because if it doesn't, we will have to use the stakes."
"And if we don't deliver the offering, we'll all burn."
"Oh, dear, oh, dear. I never should have opened that casket."
"None of us should have. And if we get free, none of us will ever again."
"If it does work, the remaining three will be able to run away immediately."
"Well, that remotely resembles a plan, I guess."
George turned to his remaining slaves: "Arrange for a pyre. It should measure five feet wide by seven feet long by four feet high. Order enough wood, discreetly transport the wood to the warehouse and wait there until I arrive to decide the exact location. Go."
"Madame Feng says Northern Sung landscapes tend to be large," Miyi said.
"Palace sized," Julia said. "I liked the smaller handscrolls and the album leaves, especially the one I showed you. That looked like a real flower, with a real dragonfly on it."
"Emily Hughes, come with us."
Martin saw an extremely anorexic male, with pale tea-colored skin and a nearly spherical head. He had deep-set, slightly narrow, heavy lidded, very dark eyes. His ears, pushed out from his skull by a billed cap, were strange, with very few, very shallow convolutions, as if the cartilage had melted and flattened into a nearly smooth expanse. The lobes came down well below the jawline and were not attached. No hair, not even eyebrows or lashes, showed on any of the visible parts of his head.
The most arresting feature was the nose: It looked as if it had been intended for a much larger head, and had been trimmed to fit by docking its lower third, leaving truncated, wide and very open nostrils and an abrupt smooth tip. Under the nose were a long upper lip, a wide thin mouth and a knobby chin. Behind him were three others, very similar in appearance. They all wore blue jeans, dark T-shirts and billed caps. They all carried stakes. These weren't the discreet stakes the Folsom Street Irregulars carried; these stakes were about five feet long and sufficiently thick that each could either support full growth kudzu or stake a vampire King Kong.
Emily? Miyi? "Leave the girl alone," Martin said, stepping in front of Miyi.
"He can see us!"
"Please do not interfere," the speaker said. "We really do not wish to use violence."
"Get away now," the vampire said. Martin didn't notice, but he had slipped into full vampire display.
It's not me! I am not Emily! she thought.
"Take her and go."
Helen flinched at the name. It had been so long since anyone had used it, she had hoped she had been successful. But if she could find Emily, so could her father; and demons searching for Emily, not just a random child, but Emily, confirmed her worst fears.
The rightmost skinhead grabbed Julia and ran off.
Julia screamed and struggled; Martin, hearing, turned his head.
The speaker stabbed at Martin with his outsize stake.
Martin pushed Miyi back into the doorway as he turned in place, letting the stake scrape across his chest. He grabbed the stake and guided it into the chest of the demon on his left, using his first attacker's force against his second.
Flesh tore, with a sensation that was subtly different from stabbing a human or even another vampire.
Martin yanked the stake out. The reek of blood, hot and alien, filled the air. What are these guys, beyond not human at all? Martin stepped forward, gripped the stake with both hands and shoved the blunt end back into the stomach of the first attacker, who doubled over and met Martin's elbow as it came up to strike his chin. Martin changed his hold on the stake, moving his hands down its length to the pointed end. He swung it like a bat, not quite parallel to the ground but rising a little at the end, stepping into the hit, and caught the third demon across what in a human would have been the lower rib cage. Behind him, the first demon helped the wounded demon escape.
Instead of collapsing with a flail chest or a punctured lung, the demon flew off the bat and landed against a recycling bin, which tumbled over and spilled aluminum cans across the fight ground. These guys may be lightweights, but they have really strong bones, Martin thought.
The third demon rolled over to its knees and gestured at the scattered cans, which all skittered straight towards the vampire.
Martin stepped on one, skidded, flipped over as he regained his footing.
The last demon turned and ran, following fast behind the first two.
He took one step after it, then checked. If the son of a bitch could keep up that pace, he'd easily do a three minute mile, Martin thought. Those fleet-footed demons would easily outdistance him. He needed transport, and he couldn't leave Miyi here on the street, not in this neighborhood. He scooped up the girl and ran back to the No Mirrors Lounge.
"Miyi," he said as gently as he could. "Is your English name Emily?"
"No, I'm Kathleen."
So either Julia's real name was Emily and the demons were after her or they had made a mistake. If they were after her, why? If they had erred, who did they think she was?
None of that mattered, Martin thought, he was going to get her back. The only person Julia had worried about had been her step-father, who had sounded like a Christian fundamentalist terrorist. Now that was not the sort of person Martin would expect to employ demons, but then fanatics, especially religious fanatics, were never logical or consistent and were always unpleasant to know.
He ran up the stairs and into the No Mirrors Lounge.
"Martin?" Karelle asked. Her nostrils flared as she took in the scent of the demon blood.
"I need Jan's bike and your gun."
"Here," Karelle put the spare keys and a nine millimeter automatic on the counter. "And if he asks why? If I ask why, for that matter?"
"I need the holster, too. Skinhead demons took Julia, I'm going after her. Miyi needs to be taken home. Miyi, let go, please, I have to go." He sat the girl on the check room counter beside the gun and the keys. "Let go." He gently pulled at the girl's hands.
Karelle searched under the counter, then offered Martin a clip-on clamshell holster.
"Juli," the girl said.
"I'm going after her, Karelle will walk you home."
"Let go, Miyi," Karelle said, helping the vampire remove the girl's grip on his neck. "Skinheads?"
"Demons, maybe sent by her step-father. Take care of Miyi." Martin put the gun in the holster, put the holster on his belt, took the keys and ran out the door and down the steps.
"Now," George said to his servants, "I want privacy. See to it, quietly. The offering will be here soon, and I need to decide where everyone goes."
Helen kicked and screamed.
"Look, please, I'm sorry," the Huruvian servant said. "He's put obedience on us, I can't not do what he tells us directly. I'm sorry." It freed one hand, and gestured at the girl.
Helen felt the stillness spell begin to settle around her. She silently said the counter charm. That worked. The demon's spell failed to affect her, she realized. She could think and she wriggled one finger. All right. She would pretend to be stilled.
The demon carrying her added a whisper, not in English. Helen didn't understand it and didn't recognize the feel of the spell that fell around both of them. It did not impede the demon, who began racing eastwards.
"We have to renew the privacy spell," the first servant gasped.
"It doesn't work!"
"Not on the vampire, no, but it works on humans."
The three servants looked around: Three human people, two men and a woman, were watching them.
"All right. Whose turn?"
"Mine, I guess."
"Do it then."
"I know," the servant said, looking down at the growing splatter of blood. It pressed its arm against its side.
"Done," the servant casting the spell said. The three demons turned and ran, far behind the first demon as it headed for the warehouse.
One of the watching men glanced at the woman, who shrugged and took his arm. They walked away. The second man sat in his doorway, shaking his head.
Karelle returned to the No Mirrors Lounge and went immediately to the back room. Edward Hopkins and Jan were already there.
"Galley says skinheads kidnapped Julia?" Edward asked.
"Martin said skinhead demons, maybe sent by her step-father," Karelle said, sitting down at the table.
"That makes no sense."
Karelle nodded. "Not to me either, but Martin was in a hell of a hurry. He took Jan's bike and went after her."
"Ann can help with this, if she will. Have you called her?" Edward asked.
"Yes, I got her machine, I left a message."
"My bike?" Jan said again.
"He'll take good care of it," Edward said. He turned back to Karelle: "Did Martin ever leave a glass marble with you?"
"Yes. It's somewhere in the check room."
"Good. Would you get it, please."
Karelle left the room.
"Marbles?" Jan asked.
"I think it will be useful."
After what was to Edward a long wait, Karelle returned. She was mussed, with dust streaks on her slacks and sweater, but she was carrying a small clear sphere.
Edward took it. "Ann!" he yelled at the crystal tag.
"What good does that do?" Jan asked.
Ann Grove and another woman appeared in the back room. Ann was wearing a long sunburst-pleated column dress in dark olive silk crepe-back satin. Her black hair was up in a curly pile and she seemed to be wearing cosmetics.
"Oh," Jan said.
The woman with her was shorter, with a more voluptuous figure. She had short dark brown hair; warm glowing skin, tanned a soft dark gold; and beautiful brown eyes, with ridiculously long dark lashes. She wore a long sleeved lace jacket over a strapless satin jump suit and unlike Ann, carried a small evening bag. Apparently Edward's call had interrupted a formal evening out.
Ann glanced around, and smiled at Edward.
Edward opened his mouth, but couldn't decide where to begin. Ann turned to Karelle: "Karelle, this is Alice Kearny. Alice: Karelle Wolfe, Edward Hopkins and Jan vanderWitt."
"Martin took Jan's motorcycle and went after some demons that have kidnapped Julia," Edward got out.
Alice raised one well-shaped eyebrow, but seemed otherwise unmoved.
Ann's dress shifted to a dark green sweater and loose black pants bloused over flat boots. She turned her cool green gaze to the wall and grew still for a moment, then turned back to Edward, Jan and the female vampire. "What sort of demon?" she asked in her deep voice.
"We don't know," Edward said.
"What he said," Karelle said, "was that skinhead demons had kidnapped Julia."
Ann frowned, but did not interrupt the vampire.
Karelle continued: "He said he was going after them and took Jan's motorcycle and the bar gun."
Ann again looked at the wall. When she turned back, she wore a small smile.
"What are you going to do?" Edward asked.
"Nothing," she said calmly.
"Edward, I can't find a vampire, and he's not carrying the tag," Ann said, nodding at the sphere Edward still held. "There's a veil between me and Julia, a very strong privacy spell."
"Oh?" Alice asked.
"Non-human, low-level demonic origin," Ann said. "Whoever did it seems to have a strong talent for domestic magic. It's quite polished, very neat, and very non-human."
"Local?" Alice asked.
"It doesn't feel that way," Ann said. "Now, there are two things I can do. I can break the privacy spell if necessary; however, if I force it I will certainly alert and possibly alarm her captors, which might endanger her. That's a last resort. I can track the motorcycle. It's moving, with some stops and starts, in a easterly direction. I cannot sense who or what is riding it, but I will assume it is Martin and he is going after Julia."
"Go after him."
"In good time," Ann said. "If somehow Martin is able to track Julia, I do not wish to disturb him and possibly break his concentration."
"What do you mean?" Jan asked.
"Let me plot this for you all," Ann said. A scroll appeared in her hand. When she unrolled it on the table, it stayed flat.
It was a map of San Francisco. Out of the air, Ann took a tiny silver motorcycle with a faceted crystal headlamp. She set it on the grid. "He's here; or at least, the motorcycle is here."
The motorcycle token slid along the map, then halted at an intersection. It turned left, north, then turned around and went south, stopped for a moment, then continued smoothly south.
"Interesting," Karelle said, watching the tiny marker.
"The rider, probably Martin, seems to be deciding which way to go at certain intersections. It's not a chase with the object in sight, I'm not sure what it is."
"Scent, probably," Karelle said.
Ann looked at the vampire and waited.
"There was demon blood on Martin's hands. At least one of them is bleeding. I can't tell if this is air-borne or a blood track, but I think it looks like a scent trail."
The token turned east, and went through the next several intersections.
"What's down there?" Jan asked.
"Urban blight," Alice said. "The neighborhood's been totally ignored for the past fifteen or twenty years. Even the Mayor can't do anything with it."
"It's a mix," Edward said. "Warehouses, some tenements, mostly empty, former stores, empty lots."
The token turned south again, moved three streets down and halted, again at an intersection.
Ann watched calmly.
The token turned and slid east, then stopped, where the map showed a T intersection.
"Ah," she said.
"What?" Edward asked.
"The motorcycle's stopped."
"How can you tell?" Edward asked.
"The rider turned it off," Ann said. "I'm going to follow Martin, if it's Martin, keeping him in view, without upsetting his concentration, until I have a destination or Julia in sight."
"If it's not Martin?"
"In that case, I'll find Julia first and fast; then I'll go after Martin," Ann said. She took the motorcycle token up and tossed it to Alice, who caught it. "Put that in the center of a two meter diameter circle, somewhere outside and private. Close," she told the map. The map scrolled shut. Ann vanished.
"Damn," Alice said.
"Now what?" Edward asked.
"I don't think Ann's lawyer is going to approve," Alice told him.
"She has a lawyer?"
"It's complicated. We'd better move now."
"She's probably going to send the bike back," Alice said. "Jan is the poet's son, right?"
"Yes," Jan said.
"Ann likes your mom's work."
"My mother will be pleased to hear that," Jan said with practiced politeness.
"So she doesn't want to leave your belongings out where the police might find them and make a fuss. Let's find a parking lot or a dark alley.
"Ah," Edward said, wondering how to phrase his warning. "Ah," he began again, then, deciding on clarity rather than discretion, concluded with, "Oh, the hell with it: This is a vampire neighborhood. Stay out of dark alleys."
"Yes, I know." Alice looked amused. "Don't worry, I'll look after him. But we certainly don't want that bike in here, do we?" she asked, looking around the back room.
"Probably not," Karelle agreed. "I don't think it would fit in the dumbwaiter, even if we could get it over there."
"It might get scratched," Jan said.
"Well, we couldn't have that," Alice said.
Martin left the motorcycle in the shadow of an overturned dumpster, and drawing the automatic, followed the blood track. It lead into the abandoned warehouse.
The style suggested that the warehouse, of reinforced concrete, had been built in the forties. There was still a faded sign, partially covered by layers of elaborate and unreadable graffiti, Something Van Lines Moving and Storage. It was multi-storied, with a central tower above two wings. The first story had been more securely blocked than the tower. He moved closer, keeping to the shadows of the alley.
The warehouse currently had a chain link fence surrounding it. Above the fence was razor wire. The fence was not entire; there were slits and even gaps. Martin slipped through a gap and followed the blood around the perimeter of the building.
The ground floor windows and the cargo doors were bricked up. The few human doors were either bricked up entirely or secured with additional security metal doors.
He approached a human door. It had a heavy security door, which was slightly ajar. The blood trail lead through it. Martin listened. He heard a murmur of voices, not near the door, but further in. The place reeked of demons; more than one kind of demon, too. He could not scent or hear Julia. He would use this door if he found no better alternative. Barging directly into an unknown number of enemies, and probably getting staked, would not help Julia.
He turned the corner and checked the south side of the warehouse. It was short, and offered no openings anywhere.
He turned the second corner and moved down the long back of the building. Bricked up windows, bricked up doors, metal security doors. Near the middle of the back, he noticed a change in the pattern of the windows. He looked up, and up.
The tower rose three stories, one story above the warehouse wings. It seemed to have been given over to office space. There were more and smaller windows than in the main warehouse. Probably, they were openable, or had been, back before the warehouse had been abandoned. There was also a fire door, with what had been a fire escape. The fire escape had been pruned. There were stubs where the ladder abruptly ended. The rest of it, the platform, with its safety rail, in front of the fire door, was still there. The door might be forced open, Martin thought. He secured the automatic in the holster and jumped up.
He caught the bottom of the ladder with one hand. Huh. He watched his hand slip on the side rail. Not good.
Not that keeping hold of the fire escape would assure him of safety. The platform only appeared whole. The attachment to the wall was eroded. The cement around the bolts and supports was flaking and grainy. He swung his free arm up and gripped a piece of the old slotted floor. The whole structure sagged. Right. He pulled himself up, hand over hand moving up the truncated ladder. He managed to gain the platform.
Balancing with the aid of one hand on the waist-high balcony, with the other he tried pushing the door. It felt very solid. He probably could break it down, if he was on the ground and didn't care about making a lot of noise. Not that way, then, he thought, not now, and leaned slightly back to eye the adjacent window.
On this level, the barricades were more informal. The pane-less window was blocked with plywood on the outside, bolted in the middle to another piece of plywood across the interior opening. It was old plywood. Martin turned around to face the window, stepping over the rail but maintaining a grip on it for balance as he did so. With his now free left hand, he began pulling away the rain-worn wood.
He dropped a small scrap inside the window, where it lay on the sill. He now had a better grip, and levered the whole board up. It split, and half of it fell, landing in the alley with a clatter. Damn. Inside, the other piece of wood fell to the floor. No time to listen, the vampire decided, and flung himself through the opening. His thighs caught on the sill, and he landed face down on the floor amidst a cloud of dust. He froze and listened.
Nothing. Good. He released the piece of wood he had ripped off, lowering it silently to the floor. Equally silently, he got to his feet and wiped his face. There were sometimes advantages to being a vampire: Strength, for one; and not breathing, which meant there was no chance of inhaling dust and sneezing, for another. Apparently, no one within the warehouse had been alerted to his presence.
All right. He looked around: A litter of paper and broken office furniture was all that was left. There was an open door, leading to a staircase, directly across the room from him, and window. still with glass in them, on the three interior walls.
All the windows on the north side, the right as Martin faced the staircase, showed light.
Ann arrived beside the BMW. It was nicely hidden and Martin was nowhere to be seen. Right, she thought. The plan changes almost immediately. That is the nature of plans. I'll just go on from here.
Ann touched the seat of Jan's motorcycle. The last person to ride it had been a vampire. I'll still assume it's Martin, Ann thought. She focused on the small effigy she had left with Alice.
Back at the Abigail fountain, Alice, Karelle and Jan watched the BMW appear directly over the small model in the center of a six-foot circle.
"Interesting," Karelle said.
"Yeah, she's good," Alice said. She stooped and picked up the model.
Jan ran his hands over the huge bike and sighed in relief.
George eyed his grandchild: Emily stood, silent and still, where his servant had set her on her feet. Another piece was here. Only Prokerekestes had still not arrived.
Now for the staging for the ritual. He always enjoyed this part; not because he got off on the pain and suffering, which he just didn't notice, but because he held center stage, alone.
He surveyed the available lighting. If he stood here, he would catch the light. He nodded, then ordered his gathered Huruvians to assemble the pyre just in front of his chosen spot. He watched them lay out first course of logs, and walked around it, checking sightlines. Here, he decided, is where he would ready the circle for Prokerekestes's manifestation. He looked across the growing pyre, checking what background the demon would see him against. No, here wouldn't do, the background was a little busy, a little distracting. He circled the pyre. Ah, here was better: He would be against a fully dark, plain background. Excellent.
Another circle, this one growing in the air in the dark near the one working door, caught his attention. The nearly humanoid demon Xios appeared within the glowing circle. Behind him, George could glimpse a squad of riflemen.
"Ah, Xios, thank you. Very timely." George stepped out of the way as the riflemen crossed out of the circle.
"No problem. Just tell them to return to me when you're done with them."
"You're welcome to stay and watch. It's an impressive ceremony."
"I regret not. A small but urgent matter awaits my attention." Xios saluted George with a casual wave and vanished.
"Go," George ordered the riflemen. "Secure the perimeter, prevent any human from entering. Oh, also prevent any vampires from entering."
"Who are these?"
"I have no idea."
"Did you mention that our privacy spell doesn't work with vampires?"
"You saw, there was no time."
"Yes, the Master was very busy."
"And He doesn't like interruptions."
Ann emerged from behind the dumpster. Martin was not in sight, but Ann had a good idea of where he was.
Well, where else would he be? Ann thought, looking with double vision at the overly protected warehouse.
Why cast a privacy spell that screams 'KEEP OUT!' at all the passers-by? And those guards are pretty obvious, too. Who are they, and what are they carrying? All this protection argued something valuable or important within the warehouse; which led to the question, important to whom?
I did promise Nancy I would behave, Ann thought. Lawyers take everything so seriously. I will have to enter, but I suppose some discretion, at least in the beginning, will not hurt. If magical observation is impossible without alerting whoever cast that surprisingly good privacy spell, let's try some direct and simple spying. The code for commercial buildings like this includes a minimum window/floor space ratio, which may include skylights. I'll try the roof, and if that doesn't work, I'll try the tower.
Ann glanced up at the tenement across the alley from the warehouse and disappeared.
George inscribed Prokerekestes's circle. He used a special ceremonial knife and made the circle large. Prokerestes always brought along the sandglass that measured out the seven years between offerings. Ha, George thought. He tries to shake my confidence. Just one little mistake, and he can eat me; or so he hopes. After all, I'm a scholar, and he's just a demon. Powerful, certainly, but stupid. Certainly I will complete the offering before the hourglass is empty.
From within, Helen watched George. She recognized the preparations; they were what she had expected. She had not been wrong in her reasoning and her logic had lead her here. She did not feel triumphant, only cold and frightened. It was one thing to intellectually understand what George meant to do, it was another to view the reality.
The demon appeared in his circle. Waiting any longer would not improve her chances. She raised her hands.
George donned the robe, which he privately thought vulgar, then stepped before the demon and displayed the sacrificial knife with the wide triangular blade. Prokerekestes nodded.
George turned to Emily.
As George faced her, Helen cast fire. His robe flared into white flames.
"Stop that, Emily!"
Helen ignored him.
I am not Emily, she thought. I'm not, I'm not! She yelled it: "I am not Emily!"
Martin took a quick look out the door: A flight of stairs, with solid half-wall sides, leading to a landing, from which two sets of stairs branched off, one going north and one going south. He moved over to the interior windows on the north side of the office.
There was some light, from four torches arranged in a square around a rectangular wood pile. There was an obvious demon. This one was tall, purple, with horns and vestigial wings, but had no tail. It was wearing an evening suit, obviously bespoke work, and for some reason, was accompanied by an hourglass as tall as it was. The top of the hourglass was nearly empty.
There was a human, an adult male with a California tan and a full head of sun-streaked russet hair. He was wearing a really tacky robe, with strange glyphs painted around the hem, and carrying a knife with a broad triangular blade. He was facing Julia, who looked small and alone in her school uniform. She gestured with both hands and fire flashed at the man.
All right, apparently he's a bad guy. Martin drew the gun, slipped out the door and as quietly as he could moved down the stairs to the landing. There he went down three steps on the south flight and watched again.
George extinguished the flames. His face and hands were already blistering. He drew a shaky breath and healed himself. "Emily, be a good girl!" His hands moved as he attempted an immobilization spell.
Helen blocked the spell and struck at him with lightning.
In the sudden darkness following the brightness, Martin slipped over the stair rail.
He landed in the shadow of the stairs. No one appeared to have noticed him. He stepped clockwise around the bottom of the flight of stairs and into a loose gaggle of demons.
The Huruvian next to the speaker looked up, recognized Martin, mostly by his clothing. "It's him!" it whispered.
"Don't look at him," whispered another Huruvian.
"What? Why?" the first speaker asked.
Martin watched as all the demons — the same demons who had tried to stake him and who had stolen Julia — looked at him, then turned away. With carefully averted eyes, the demons moved away into a dark corner of the warehouse and stood with their backs to him. He heard very soft voices, apparently questioning and answering. One of them sneaked a glance at him over its shoulder, but the one next to it grabbed it and forced it to face front.
"We have to tell the Master."
"It's not our business," another servant insisted in a harsh whisper.
"It's not any of our business," agreed a third. "The others were supposed to keep any outside vampires out."
"This one is an inside vampire," a fourth Huruvian said.
"And not any of our concern."
"We didn't let him in, and anyway, we weren't supposed to keep him out."
"This is the same vampire? He looks different."
"Yes, he's just excited about something. It's something they do."
"I think he's angry."
"Whatever he is, he's no longer our task."
"We're going to get burned."
"Maybe, maybe not. Keep your mouth shut. This may work out well for us," the senior Huruvian whispered.
Martin wondered briefly what that was all about, then dismissed them from his immediate attention. Gift horses, he thought, then continued northward along the staircase, moving toward the circle of light that held Julia, the human male and the tall demon.
Ann was standing on the roof of the abandoned tenement. From where she stood, she had a clear view of the main roof of the warehouse. There were two large skylights, one on each of the wings. There was a roof access shelter on the south wing, but not on the north.
The warehouse was warded and patrolled on all four sides, but not on the roof. That was odd. The privacy spell was high quality. Overlooking the roof was a tyro's mistake, if it was a mistake. So who was inside? An amateur or a skilled and serious practitioner? The skylights were filthy, but changing light patterns showed faintly through the northern one.
Martin realized the pile of wood was a pyre. Julia and the man stood behind it, almost directly across from Martin, while the demon and its hourglass were off to his left. The demon had a clear view of Julia and the man.
The man wiped his face and the blisters and burns disappeared. His magnificent hair was crisped off short, and clearly, his vanity was wounded. He ran one hand over his hair, which regained its original impeccable style, and with the other gestured at Julia, who staggered back.
Martin fired at the man, hitting him in the torso.
Screaming with pain and anger, the man turned, one hand stroking his wound away and the other flashing flame at the vampire.
Fire surged over the pyre towards him and he fell back beside the stairs. The fire flashed past him and splashed erratically from the wall beside him. A bit of it hit his leg, which felt as if a hot hammer had smashed it. His pant leg began to smolder.
"George!" the demon said, leaning out of the way of a fiery tendril. "Watch it."
"Stop him, then," the man said.
"George, really. This is your sacrifice, you have to kill everything. No one can help, not when the sacrifice is within the circle. I thought you had your outer perimeter secured."
So did I, George thought. Heads will roll.
The gun shot from inside the warehouse sounded clearly. Ann launched herself out, across the street, falling two stories to land on the south end of the warehouse roof.
As she stood up, a demon carrying a sword came around the stair access shelter and saw her. Right, not totally undefended.
The demon barked what was clearly a command. From the shadows at the far end of the skylight five more demons came running, another armed with a sword and four carrying what appeared to be...Huh. Blast rifles, Ann realized. Very similar to the blasters carried by a fanatical anti-demon SWAT team she had met in the final years of the last century. The weapons were too similar to be simple coincidence or even convergent development. Those deeply lobed copper emitter-muzzles growing out of the bronze barrels were unmistakable. These weapons had an added skeleton shoulder stock that was nearly as long as the originals and a thick circular drum beneath the barrel, rather like a Thompson machine gun. The noise the rifles made as they powered up was a tight, high whine.
Ann drew her sword out of the air and ran towards the demons as another gunshot sounded.
Martin sagged against the stairs, beating out the sparks. He did not have a shot at the human from this position, but he had a clear view of the demon and the hour glass. Shooting the demon might not be a good idea, but...Martin fired at the hour glass.
The bullet passed through it. The demon merely grinned but the human shouted and aimed fire at the vampire. Martin ducked down below the solid side of the stairs. The flames only brushed the bottom step.
All right, Martin thought. That seemed to have worried him. He may be able to heal himself, but he's getting tired. That last attack was weaker than his first. Let's keep him busy. The vampire gripped the banister and swung up to his feet. He took a slow aim at the hour glass.
George screamed with rage and fear. He took a step toward Martin.
Unwatched, Julia hit him with lightning.
George screamed again, in a different way.
Martin, on his good leg, turned and fired three times into the human's chest.
George staggered back, one hand coming up to his wounds.
Julia struck again. She was also tiring, but not as fast as George was, and her lightning reached George and washed over him.
Martin shot him again. The vampire's aim was slightly off this time and Martin hit him in the leg.
George, aflame, began to sink where he stood. He aged as he sank, his hair vanishing, his muscles wasting, his golden tan fading into age spots.
Julia, ready to blast George again, halted.
"Did you feel that?"
"What is it?"
"I think we're free," the senior Huruvian said.
"No, I think you're right, I think we're free."
"I think He's dead."
"Look at Prokerekestes."
"Oops. He's free, too."
Prokerekestes left the sandglass and stepped out of his circle.
Julia glanced up. Her gaze was snared by the demon's glowing eyes.
"Julia!" Martin called. He stepped forward beside the staircase, gripping the banister with his right hand.
Prokerekestes laughed again and looked beyond Julia, to George. He approached what was suddenly very obviously a body.
Julia ran around the demon and the pyre to the vampire. She hugged him around the waist. He could feel her shaking. "Julia, get out of here."
"Go!" The girl clung. Martin eased her behind him while he watched the demon.
"I can't eat that," the demon complained. He turned to Martin and the girl.
In a shower of broken glass, three things fell through the skylight: a body, a head, and, somersaulting neatly upright between the first two items, Ann Grove. Her long black hair was tied back out of her way. A sword, straighter than a modern katana and broader than a rapier, was in her right hand.
Martin turned and pulled Julia's face into his chest, bending his head over hers. The glass missed both of them, falling off to his left.
Martin looked up. Ann landed lightly and took two steps forward and to her right, to stand between the girl and the vampire and the demon. She aimed the point of the sword at the demon's eyes and waited.
Prokerekestes started to sneer, then eyed the sword. A faint frown appeared on his handsome human face. His eyes flicked from the sword to Ann and back again. He bowed with an elaborate but speedy flourish. "Very pretty," he said quickly. "Not tonight, however." He grabbed his sandglass and vanished.
"Right," Ann said. She turned to Martin and Julia: "Who was that?"
"He didn't introduce himself," Martin said. He put on the safety. Slowly, he slid down the wall.
Julia dropped to her knees beside him. "Martin?"
"Julia, are you hurt?" Ann asked.
"No," Martin said from the floor. He could smell no human blood and knew Julia was uninjured. "I think she's all right, except for being terrorized."
"What are you?" Julia asked, staring up at Ann.
"Who are you?" Ann responded, kneeling beside the girl.
"I'm not sure any more. My name was Helen, but I'm not sure I'm still her. I don't see how I could be, really."
"Possession?" the vampire whispered.
"Not possession," Ann said. "That's a myth. There's only one soul here."
"Multiple personality?" Martin asked.
"Yes," the girl said.
"Not classic multiple personality, either," Ann said.
"It's an unusual situation," the girl said.
"How many of you are there?" Martin asked.
"Three," the girl said.
"So who is Emily?" Martin asked.
"Julia," the girl said. "But she doesn't want to be Emily any more."
"Who are you?" Ann asked again.
"I don't think I'm real, exactly. My body's dead, I saw it."
"So who were you?" Ann asked.
"I was her Aunt Helen. She and I were only ones of us left, and I knew he had to kill one of us. It was the seventh year. I was already dying."
"He?" Ann asked softly.
"Him," the girl nodded at George's body. "My father, the body's father's father. I traced myself back, then traced my siblings. The civic laws can't stop the search for kin. They were all dead. They all died, some naturally, some murdered. He kept killing us; giving us to the demon so he could stay alive. Emily's father, my brother, was the last, seven years ago."
"Ah," Ann said, very mildly, brushing the girl's red and blue streaked hair back from her forehead. Martin looked up when he heard the anger in her voice. Her voice was as careful as it had been when Jan had disappeared, but this time her anger felt greater, deeper, more deadly. She was keeping her emotions muted, Martin realized, probably so she wouldn't frighten the girl any more.
"I was dying," the girl — Helen? — repeated. "Cancer. I wanted one of us to live, so I gave her my memories, my skills, and told her when she would have to use them. I didn't realize I would still be here, but I am. I stayed quiet until she ran away, and then I had to stun that one vampire. I've been trying not to interfere, but it was hard and I kept slipping. I couldn't just go, she was so frightened all the time; besides, I didn't know how to go."
"You're a witch," Martin said calmly.
"All of them are," Ann said.
The vampire looked at her.
"I meant to mention it," she said. "I haven't really had an opportunity."
"So which one is real?"
"All three of them are real." Ann was silent a moment. "But Julia keeps the memories of both, of everyone." Ann cupped her hands, then slowly pulled them apart, curving her fingers into a circle. Between her hands grew an unframed circular glass mirror. Ann held the mirror in one hand and touched the center with one finger. The mirror developed radial fractures and a depressed center, as if it had been struck by a flying baseball. While it remained together, each segment, even the smallest, showed a slightly different reflection. Ann displayed the broken mirror to the girl.
"This is you, Emily and Helen. Now, watch." She released the mirror, which remained before the girl's eyes. She touched the edge, giving it a gentle spin, then took the girl's hand and was quiet.
The mirror spun, faster and faster, until all the segments blurred together and Julia saw only one reflection. "Julia," Ann's voice said. "Yes," the girl answered. "We're Julia, I'm Julia." She looked up at Ann. "I can remember being Helen and I can remember being Emily; but I'm Julia."
Ann smiled and released the girl's hand. She touched the now whole mirror and it disappeared. "Good. Now, let me look at Martin's leg."
"Oh, Martin!" Julia said.
"Don't worry. It's not dangerous, just painful and ugly, and very smelly," the vampire said. "Outside of a few fatal weaknesses, we're hard to kill and we heal pretty fast."
"I can probably help with that," Ann said. She ripped away the burned pant material and inspected the wound. "Not too bad," she said, smiling at him. "Just a minute." She took a bottle out of the air and emptied the contents on Martin's thigh. The pale pinkish liquid flowed over the burn, and began to dry and stiffen.
The pain went away. He felt his face relax as his display faded. He hadn't realized he had been wearing his vampire face all this time and turned to Julia, who was watching him with wide eyes. "I'm still me," he told the girl.
"I just never saw you do that before," Julia said.
"Well," the vampire said in as normal a tone as he could manage, "I was pretty annoyed with the demons who kidnapped you, you know. I mean, it's a school night."
Julia gave him a watery smile, but didn't cry. "You've got a pink knee."
Martin eyed his leg. The color had deepened as the fluid dried and was now classic bubble gum pink. Martin poked the pinkness. It dented, but smoothed out immediately. He poked it again.
"Don't play with it. It'll come off when you shower. Why don't we take Julia home?" Ann asked.
"Pardon me?" a new voice asked.
Martin looked beyond Ann. "It's a demon," he said. "Carrying a white flag."
"Of course it is," Ann said. She picked up her sword, rose and turned. "Yes?" she asked.
It raised its stake, which now had a handkerchief tied to it. "We wish to surrender and sue for pardon."
"Pardon?" Ann asked coolly.
"They're the ones who kidnapped Julia," Martin said. "I, for one, am more than a little pissed at them."
Ann turned to the girl, who rose to her feet. "If you wanted them dead," she said, "I suppose they would be by now."
"They're sorry," Julia said. "And they didn't want to do it, they said. He put obedience on them."
The demon nodded vigorously. The white flag jumped a little with each nod.
"'I was only following orders' is not an acceptable excuse, even for humans."
"He was very strong, Ann," the girl said. "If Martin hadn't shot him all those times, I don't think I could have lasted any longer. I don't think they could have fought him at all."
"Very well. You are the one they injured, you say what we will do with them."
"I don't want them here," Julia said.
Ann turned to the demon: "You're banished. You have one day to leave Earth. If I see you after that, you die."
"Thank you." The demon shuffled its feet, but did not move off. "We are very grateful for your clemency and while we would gladly return home, we lack the skill. We specialize in urban magic, not the wilder sort."
"Privacy, quietness, fitting in with the group, unobtrusiveness; the civilized arts. We live in large cities."
"Oh. You're stuck here?"
"That is, in fact, our predicament."
"I see. Fetch your friends." Ann put her sword away, offering Martin her hand as he rose to his feet.
He holstered the automatic, then glanced around and awkwardly policed his casings. His leg still felt fine, if not normally flexible. "Hmm."
"What?" Ann asked.
"Only five. I like to pick up after myself."
Ann touched the casings, then extend her hand. The sixth casing appeared on her palm. She handed it to Martin, who grinned at her and said:
Ann frowned, then extended her hand again: Six slugs appeared on her palm. "There's no point in worrying the police, they're overworked anyway."
"Kind of you," the vampire murmured, taking the slugs.
The demons returned. There were seven of them.
"All right," Ann said. "Where shall I send you?"
"That's another part of our predicament. We don't know where our home is."
"Of course you would not," Ann said, after the briefest pause.
"And," another demon said, "there are the rest of us, still in the Master's other home."
Ann shook her head. "Of course there are. I need some help. Taz? Can you come to me?"
"Hey," Taz said, appearing suddenly in the warehouse. "Hi, Julia, Martin. This place is swarming with demons, but I see you know that already."
The Huruvians looked at the boy, then became very quiet and stepped closer together, as if he were somehow threatening them and there was safety in numbers.
"White flag. I'm going to repatriate them. There are some of these — what do you call yourselves?" she asked the anorexic demons.
"We're Huruvians, ma'am," the first demon said, watching Taz.
" — Huruvians in another place. Can you find them and bring them to the Inn?"
"Is it on Earth? I've got a date to go surfing at sunrise," he told Ann.
"Where?" Ann asked the assembled Huruvians.
"Humans call it Virginia, ma'am."
"Call me Ann."
The Huruvians tensed for a moment, then the first demon said: "Yes, Ann."
Ann nodded and the demons relaxed, until they glanced at the boy. They all huddled together again.
Taz grinned, showing his teeth. "Call me Taz. Relax. I won't eat you unless Jingwu says I can."
The demons looked at Martin, who shook his head.
"Me. He calls me Jingwu," Ann said with a nod at her foster son. "You call me Ann. What shall we call you, as individuals? Start with you."
"Can you read a map, Percix?" Taz asked.
"We're going to the No Mirrors Lounge first," Ann said. "From there, I'll take the other Huruvians to the Inn. It's possible someone at the Travel Agency there will know where they come from, and failing any help in that area, there are always the dungeons."
The boy nodded as he took a scrolled map out of the air and opened it in front of the skinny demon.
Ann inspected the body that had fallen through the skylight with her. She picked up a long gun from its place beside beside it. She pushed a switch on the drum beneath the barrel. Martin heard a faint hum die away.
"Here, Taz," Percix said.
"And what sort of defenses are in place here?" Taz asked.
Ann moved Martin and Julia and the rest of the Huruvians to the No Mirrors Lounge.
Alice waited patiently. She had wandered out of the back room and introduced herself to Faron, who had offered her a wide choice of Martinis, which she had declined in favor of a Blackjack, no twist. She was in no hurry to go home, and wanted to see how everything came out.
She had sipped only about a fourth of her drink when Ann, carrying a rifle she had picked up somewhere and accompanied by a good looking male vampire, a young human girl and six demons, appeared in front of the bar.
"Hi. What's that?" Alice asked, nodding at the rifle.
"Blaster rifle, don't play with it," Ann said, handing her the weapon.
"Not here, anyway. Huruvians, we're here only briefly. You each may have one drink. Don't annoy me by behaving in a raucous manner. Faron," she called to the bartender, "start a tab for the Huruvians, please."
"The kidnappers?" Alice asked.
"Yes. Alice, this is Martin Stevenson and Julia Taylor; this is Alice Kearny."
"Martin," Edward said.
"You're pink," Karelle pointed out.
"Really pink," Jan agreed.
"Not your color," Edward said.
"He was burned," Julia said. "It was awful."
"It's a sort of artificial skin — "
"Magical," Ann said.
"Oh, is that Clare's and Binwen's gunk? You didn't mention it was pink," Alice said.
" — Ann uses."
Alice watched as Ann, calmly and efficiently, got Julia, obviously excited and tense, to sit down at one of the tables and drink one of Ann's fruit drinks. Since shortly after that the girl began yawning even as she described Ann's landing in the center of the warehouse, Alice assumed it was a soporific. Ann and the girl left the barroom. Alice stood the rifle against the wall and sat in Julia's empty place.
"I forgot about your bike, Jan; I'll have to go get it."
"It's outside, Ann magicked it back."
"Yeah. It just appeared. How did she do that?" Jan asked Alice.
"She established a connection between the motorcycle and the model, then moved it to where the model was. Simple."
"Model?" Martin asked.
Alice produced the small motorcycle token. "This."
Martin took it. "Heavy. Lead?" He tried to scratch it with his thumb nail. "Too hard. Not silver, either. Platinum?"
"That's what she uses most often. Oh, sometimes silver or gold, but mostly platinum."
Martin flicked a finger at the headlight. "Rhinestone?"
"Diamond, most likely. Glass is just an amorphous solid, not very useful. Diamonds have a crystalline structure which is very receptive to magic. The crystals also have naturally occurring layers and you can write a different spell or a part of a long spell on each side of each stratum," Alice warmed to her topic. "A diamond, even one this small, can carry a surprisingly complex spell. It's one of the best matrices on Earth."
"You're a witch," Martin said.
"I am a professional," Alice said.
"This?" Edward asked, holding out the marble.
"Diamond," Alice said. "It's one of her phones."
Martin handed Jan the token and took the marble from Edward. "Phone? I can call her on this?"
"Maybe I will carry it," the vampire muttered.
Ann came back. "Well, she's getting ready for bed. She ought to sleep soundly. What I gave her will soften her dreams, at least for the first night."
"I think she should go to school tomorrow."
"I see no reason why not," Ann agreed.
"Martin was a little vague about who the kidnapper was," Edward said.
"It was her grandfather, her father's father," Ann said.
"I thought it was her stepfather who was after her," Jan said.
"Apparently he's just a spear carrier. Unpleasant, but no longer really important in Julia's life."
"Apparently," Martin disagreed, "he's a Christian fundamentalist terrorist."
"As long as he doesn't bother Julia, or I happen across him in some other context, I'm going to leave him to Fate," Ann said.
"Sloppy," the vampire disapproved.
"I do not go around tidying up everything for humans," Ann said. "Ideally, mankind should handle human justice on its own."
"I sort of lean towards Martin's viewpoint," Edward said.
Ann shook her head and changed the subject: "You should drop in and say good night soon, Martin. We have to run."
"Hey! What about this stuff on my leg?" Martin demanded.
"I'll call you," Ann said, nodding at the sphere the vampire was still holding. "Once I get the Huruvians settled and pick up my litter agenda. I'm going to be free some time after three, or maybe five, certainly by seven."
"OK," Martin said.
"Ah, gentle Huruvians, we're about to depart. Alice, shall I send you home?"
"That would be fine. 'night, all," and Alice disappeared.
Ann picked up the blast rifle, then she and the Huruvians disappeared.
Ann looked up from the crystal phone she held in the palm of her hand.
Her foster son, accompanied by Percix and several new Huruvians appeared on the roof of the Inn.
"I have to go," she said. "I'll meet you in your office at 0730." She closed her hand over the sphere and it vanished.
"Sit down and have a drink," Taz told the Huruvians. He joined Ann at her table as the waiter came over.
After he had arranged for the Huruvians' drinks and ordered himself, he said, "It took longer than I thought it would. Those other demons, the ones outside the warehouse, with the blasters, burst in while we were still discussing the defenses around the house in Virginia. The new demons tried to shoot me, so I ate them. I didn't want to leave blasters around where just anyone could find them, so I moved them to the condo. Then the other demons' boss came in and started yelling. He was angry, and rude, so I ate him. Well, that upset Percix.
"I calmed Percix down, and we went to Virginia. All the defenses were down. It was a big house, with about four sorts of demon servants. Some of them were looting the place. I chased them off while Percix talked to the rest of the Huruvians. I gathered up the Huruvians, and we came here."
"Who was the outside demons' boss?"
"Some Edosa. I didn't get his name." Taz looked over at her. "Those blasters."
"Did they bother you?"
"No. I bet they would be hard on most demons, though. Vampires, too, maybe."
"And of course other humans," Ann said. "Do we know anything more about the human the Huruvians called the master?"
"Not for nine or ten months, at least."
Ann listened in silence as Taz told her what the Huruvians had been doing for George. "What happens now that he's dead?"
"They say the fascination spells will likely fade," Taz said.
Ann thought, then shrugged. "I see no reason to interfere with the genetic dice." She rose and turned to the Huruvians: "Gentlebeings, if you will accompany me, I will lead you to your companions. By tonight we may have learned directions to your home. Until we do manage to send you home, practice quietness and unobtrusiveness."
"Yes, Ann," Percix said. The rest of the new Huruvians nodded.
Involving real places, inhabitants and events in a work of fantasy can lead to some integration problems. Occasionally, my inspirations and ideas overlap those of others.
Lombard Street/US 101~~Yes, Lombard Street is one way downhill, but only on the east side of Russian Hill. That section is the famous 'crookedest street' in San Francisco. To get to Compass Place from the south/Bay Bridge via US 101, which does run on surface streets through the center of San Francisco, one goes north on Van Ness Avenue/US 101 to Lombard Street, turns east (instead of west, as US 101 itself does), goes two blocks to Larkin Street, turns north and continues one block to Chestnut Street, turns east again, then almost immediately turns north into Compass Place.
Chestnut Street~~Yes, in theory, a more direct route to Compass Place would be to ignore Lombard, and go one block farther north on Van Ness, where one can turn right onto Chestnut and go on from there. In practice, there one stops. While many maps show an unbroken city street, there is an Upper Chestnut Street and a Lower Chestnut Street, although they are not so named. They are separated by a twenty foot cliff and a stout retaining wall. The above mentioned steps, running west from the Larkin-Chestnut intersection, are the only connection between the two parts of Chestnut.
The Nob Hill Flock~~The original versions of The Orca in the Lake: Chapter Two, and Julia: Chapter Four, were written in 2003, two years before Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill was released. Feral birds, including parrots, inhabit several places in the Bay Area. San Francisco has at least two flocks of parakeets, red-headed, also called red faced, around the northern hills and the yellow-chevroned type close to South San Francisco. There is a flock of red-head conures in Berkeley, mainly centered on the park between the east/west streets Cedar and Rose and the greenway along Hearst. Sometimes the birds are sighted on the UC campus or west of San Pablo Avenue or even south of Ashby. Berkeley also has feral peafowl. Sightings in Richmond of budgerigars are erratic. Search 'The California Parrot Project'.
The Mayor~~At the time of these stories(2002), Willie Brown is in his last term as Mayor of San Francisco.