The World in Play: Chapter 9: An Unlikely Alliance

This story is dedicated to Andrew Vachss

Earlier in The World in Play: Raoul di Costa, surviving the Vampire Wars (1999-2001), has emerged as the head of the remaining Oakland vampire gang. While scouting the No Mirrors Bar and its owner, Martin Stevenson, he encounters Martin's lover, Ann Grove, at a violent Castro Street Halloween Parade. Raoul attacks Ann. She is not human, and cautions Raoul that her blood may kill him. He ignores her warning, drinks her blood and falls into a coma for three days. They have not met since he awoke and left her home.

oOo

February, 2003

WHEN RAOUL arrived at the 23rd Street Grill, he found a situation.

His gang were crowded into the booths on right. At his table, near the center of the room, his lieutenant sat alone. Bernardo, looking stiff and miserable, was surrounded by empty tables. The bartender was behind the bar, ignoring everything and polishing an already sparkling glass.

Booths also lined the left wall. At the only occupied booth there, Duran stood, awkward and motionless, in front of two humans, or rather, one human and one something else. Raoul recognized the man as someone he had seen at the No Mirrors Lounge. The other was a woman who sat with her back to the door. Despite that, Raoul knew her, even with her hair cut short: the set of her shoulders in her green jacket and the tilt of her head on her slim neck were unmistakable.

He went directly to his table, tossed his raincoat onto an empty chair and sat across from Bernardo, keeping his back to the tableau on the left. "When did she get here?" he asked quietly.

Bernardo glanced at his watch. "It's only been an hour or so. That can't be right. It seems like much longer. About ten-fifteen," he said. "She asked if you would be in. I said yes, she said she would wait, and she and the man sat down."

Raoul glanced at the gang. They were all watching him. "What did she do to Duran?" He kept his voice very quiet.

"She — I — I didn't see what she did. Duran went over — and spoke to her. He said she was hot... ."

I can't argue with that.

"...and the man wasn't in her class at all. I didn't hear her say anything, but nobody talked for little bit. Then Duran laughed and said something about dumping the man and leaving with him, and then it was all quiet and he wasn't moving. Gil went over and grabbed his shoulder. She just looked up and shook her head at him and Gil scuttled back. After that, they were left alone."

Raoul nodded, thinking: Verdammt! I don't want to blow this; I can't blow this, not in front of everyone. What does she want? It's my move now. "Has she ordered anything?"

"No. And Munro wouldn't go over."

Raoul glanced at the bartender. "Have him take her a whiskey sour. No sugar on the rim."

Bernardo got up and went to the bar.

Raoul heard Munro deliver her drink and speak with her, asking if there was anything else he could do for her. He couldn't hear her reply, but Munro agreed and sped back to the bar where he rapidly mixed another drink and just as rapidly arrived at Raoul's table to place the glass in front of him.

Raoul nodded. Munro retreated behind the bar. Raoul picked up the glass and crossed the room. He could almost feel the gang's eyes on him.

"Thank you," Ann Grove said politely.

"Hexe." Under the green jacket she wore a paler green turtleneck sweater. He nodded to her, then glanced at the motionless vampire. "Can we get rid of him?"

She didn't move or even glance at him, but Duran jerked upright and did a half-stumble-and-recovery, catching his balance.

"Idiot," Raoul said. Duran's eyes came to him. He flicked one hand toward the door. Duran slipped out into the night, followed by most of the gang. Calmly, Raoul watched them leave, but when Bernardo rose to follow, he shook his head. Bernardo sat back down.

Raoul pulled a chair over and sat at the end of the table. He sipped his Aberfoyle. Six parts vodka to one part Drambuie with a twist of lemon: exactly right. Why does she know what I drink? "Why the visit in form?" he asked.

"We have a problem," Ann Grove said.

Raoul glanced at the man. "I'm not interested in human problems."

"It's not solely a human problem. Raoul diCosta, this is Edward Hopkins."

"One of the vigilantes," Raoul said.

"The problem isn't with the Folsom Street Irregulars," Hopkins said. "Last Friday, I was at a party. It was very private, with a lot of other guests, and quickly grew fairly rowdy. Somebody tried to bring in a boy. There was a fuss when he was turned away."

"And?" Raoul asked.

"He was a vampire."

"He has a boytoy. So? It's not unheard of, even among humans," Raoul pointed out.

"No, the adult was human. The boy was a vampire," Hopkins said.

Raoul shook his head. "Then he's got his own human to feed on. Again, that's not unheard of."

"He's six human years, at most; he's not even four feet tall and weighs maybe 45 pounds. And his fangs had been pulled," Hopkins said. "He shifted, during the fuss. He had no teeth at all."

"What you saw must have been a human; maybe just an ugly human. We don't do that."

"No, he was a very attractive boy, even in extremis. I'm familiar with the vampire display, and I know what I saw."

"Admittedly, some vampires don't consider what's best for the race, but children aren't turned. Not any more and not here."

"Would you know?" Ann asked.

He looked at her. In a way, he was pleased that she'd asked a question he couldn't really answer: "Not necessarily. No one changes anyone without my permission, and they wouldn't get it for a child, but we're not the only gang. I haven't seen a changed child in my time here, but I can't say there aren't any around."

"We think some vampire is creating eternal sex toys for pedophiles," Ann said.

"Human pedophiles? None of us would hand over another vampire to be a human's catamite," Raoul said. "We don't treat family like that. I've seen humans pull their children's teeth and send them out to meet the tourists in Buenos Aires; but those were humans. You're talking about vampires."

Ann Grove continued: "It's logical from the pedophiles' angle. Vampires never age, they can take severe mistreatment, and there's no real place for them to run. After all, they're fangless, they can't harm their owners, they cannot even feed themselves. They are very dependent victims; for the pedophile, they're safer victims than humans who would grow up or escape or need to be killed, with all the attendant fuss of disposing of a body."

"And depending on when the children were changed, no one may be looking for them anymore, at least not at their apparent age," Hopkins said.

Raoul was silent for a moment, then: "What does Stevenson say about this? Why are you talking to me and not him?"

"We spoke with him already," Edward said. "He says he can't help."

"Vampires are being abused and he won't help?"

"Discuss Martin's actions with Martin," Ann said.

"So why are you interested?"

"I don't want a scandal involving immortals," Ann said. "There are more of us than vampires, but a pogrom with vampires as victims could easily expand to include any immortals. We all know how humans are.
"The pedophile Edward saw was taking his toy out in public. He may be posting pictures on a website or streaming live scenarios or loaning the boy out. If he gets blown, very possibly so do vampires, Raoul. And the vampires won't be the romantic, dangerous goth, accepting the attentions of those Martin terms the victim wannabes; they'll be kidnappers and baby killers facing angry and grieving human parents."

"That's the only reason?" Raoul asked.

"No. If it's true, it's horrible, and it should be stopped."

"And what do you want me to do?"

"You know more vampires than we do; here, certainly, and I'm assuming that's also true in your past. Think beyond the gang, not limited to local vampires, but starting there. Who might do this?" Ann said. "Who has more human contacts than a normal vampire? Who has more money than can be explained?"

"You think the vampire is doing this for money?"

"If you have another explanation I'd like to hear it."

Raoul flicked one hand in annoyance. He had no other idea to offer.

Ann continued: "Who is known to drink from children? If you can suggest anything else to factor in, tell me."

"One comes immediately to mind: Stevenson. Many human contacts, a lot of money, and he's got that live-in girl."

"Yes, I considered him," Ann said. "But Julia is family, not food, and Martin's money is accounted for. Most of his human contacts are within Bar and Lounge business, the neighborhood watch and sex with adult women."

I didn't think she knew about them, Raoul thought.

Edward Hopkins looked startled. "I'm surprised you even thought of him."

Ann shook her head. "Any investigation comes down to facts," she told Edward. "Not hopes or opinions or fears of disappointment." She turned to Raoul, and continued: "Or racial chauvinism."

After a moment, the vampire said, "I'll think about it."

"You'll need this," Ann said, and placed a cell phone in front of him.

Where had that been? One hand had been empty on the table and the other still held her drink. He kept his face impassive, and opened the cell. The display read message from: HEXE. He keyed it up. I'll be right back. He wasn't really surprised when he raised his eyes and saw she and Edward Hopkins had vanished from the booth, leaving her empty glass behind. He couldn't scent either of them. She didn't just go invisible, Raoul thought. She's gone. She can teleport. That's how she got me from the Castro to Russian Hill. And that explains why I kept losing her. At least I wasn't losing my touch.

Behind him, the remaining gang rapidly dispersed. He moved over to his special table where Bernardo still sat, still looking scared. "You may as well go," he told his lieutenant. "Nothing is going according to plan tonight." Nothing ever goes according to plan around that verdamnt hexe. I didn't believe her last time and I could have. Maybe I should take this seriously, but I can't believe a vampire would sell one of us to a human.

It's still a pleasure to watch her move, he thought. Even in that damn pantsuit; and that high collar does not make me forget what her neck looks like.

She walked in the door and approached him. "What have you decided?" she asked.

"Not so fast." He watched her sit in Bernardo's empty chair. She's graceful even when she just sits and waits. "You can do this yourself, right?" he asked

"Certainly."

"So why am I invited along? You know I think your theory is false. This is going to be a human thing, no matter what the boy Hopkins saw looked like."

"You're my witness."

"For what?" Raoul demanded.

"In case I'm right.
"I told you," Ann continued, "I don't kill vampires just because they're vampires or humans just because they're humans. But if this is organized prostitution and murder of children, lives are forfeit. Any adult in this mess, a killer of children or an abuser of children, dies. However, I don't want to alarm the general vampire community or terrify the humans into a pogrom against them. I want this discretely and permanently over. The only people I want to know about it are vampires in general and pedophiles in particular. I'm willing to spare one or two of each, just so word gets into in the right ears. Other than that, every adult dies."

Well, she's said she isn't human, and that's certainly a cold blooded, non-human plan. Probably effective, though. All right. "Why me?"

"You're not fond of humans, you're skeptical, and you're known. If you say I did what I said I would do, and only what I said I would do, you'll be believed."

"How do you figure that?"

"I talk to people, and you have a reputation."

She doesn't say for what. Why does all that make her ask me for help? Ach! Witch is right! "You want more than a witness, you want me to sanction the deaths."

"Yes."

He shook his head: "No. I have no quarrel with everyone involved dying, but if —and I don't believe any of them will be— but if any of them are vampires, they're mine. I won't let family be killed by an outsider. Even you, Hexe."

She regarded him thoughtfully, then nodded. "Certainly. That is appropriate."

"So what do we do first?"

"We find the man with the vampire boy and have a talk with him."

Raoul smiled.

"And if the vampires are yours," she continued, "the humans are mine."

"If you insist. Who is he? Where is he?"

"I have no idea, but we can ask the host of Edward's party."

"It sounded almost like an orgy," Raoul said.

"It probably was an orgy, but we don't really care about that, except for the brief appearance of the man and the boy vampire. My car is outside."

"Where are we going?" Raoul asked.

She was driving the green convertible she had provided when he had recovered consciousness in November. He had been tempted to keep it or crash it, but in the end, he'd abandoned it at the Dublin BART station. Apparently she had retrieved it with no problems. Since she didn't comment on their past, neither did he.

They had driven south to the Dumbarton Bridge, then crossed the bay. To the north, lights from both spans of the Bay Bridge were discernible behind those of the San Mateo Bridge.

"The home of Curtis Ching: Fair Oaks, La Collina Road. Imitation English country estates on a two and a half acre lots in terrain that should not be developed in the first place," Ann said. "Ridiculous in this climate. Here, the only time a lawn is green is now, during the rainy season. We're going to the most expensive of the new developments."

"It's late. Are we waking him?"

"According to Edward, he's usually awake now."

"Did he and Edward have a fling?"

"I don't know," she said.

"So why was he down here? I thought he has something going with the blond boy."

"Ask him."

He shrugged. "Are we going to break in? What security does he have?"

"Not any we'll need to worry about. Stay close to me, though, no more than an arm's distance once we leave the car."

"Why?"

"My defenses against snooping are inconveniently short ranged. Too far from me, and a video-camera may snap your real image." She zig-zagged north and west on increasingly narrower, but well maintained, roads.

Raoul watched the night. Driveways, marked by stone pillars and ornamental lamps, disappeared into landscapes. Two deer looked up as the car approached them, their eyes gleaming in the headlights. Eventually Ann turned onto a wide driveway of paving stones and stopped before a gate. There was an intercom on the driver's side pillar, but she ignored it and sat still and quiet. He did not interrupt her intent silence. The gates slowly opened.

"Jedi mind tricks work on machines?" he asked.

"Gates like opening and closing," she said absently, and drove forward. "A gate's purpose includes letting people through, not just keeping them either in or out. The cameras were harder, but even they respond to careful 'jiggery-pokery'."

The driveway rose gradually between storied retaining walls. The up-hill walls were covered with bare ivy stems. Huge deeply hued vases filled with leafless bushes stood tall on the several tiers; between them were mounded plantings of variously textured greenery. At the end of the drive was a many windowed three-storied house, with parking space for extra cars in front of double and single basement garages.

Mindful of her order to remain within arm's distance and rude as it was, he waited until she came around the car to exit. Together they climbed the bluestone slab steps between more plantings in front of a tall wall. At the top of the steps, they came to a wide entry terrace under a lath-trellis that ran all along its length supporting bare vines. There were more colored vases, stone benches and an elaborate balustrade, before the long terrace ended and a lawn curtained by the tall wall on west side and tall hedges on the north and east began. He let her ring the bell, in case more jiggery-pokery was needed.

The young man who answered the door while the elaborate chimes were still ringing was wearing a white muscle t-shirt, carrying the imprint of a black four-in-hand tie down the front, and thin silk camo sleep pants. He glanced at Ann, then smiled at Raoul.

This will be easy, Raoul thought, and touched Ann's shoulder. He stepped in front of her as he smiled back at the young man and said, "We need to see Curtis Ching."

"Ah," the man said.

"He's expecting us. Take us to him," Raoul ordered gently.

"Yes. This way."

Raoul stepped up beside him, leaving Ann to proceed at her own pace. He heard a very quiet murmur of "Jedi mind tricks?" as he moved, and ignored it. "I'm afraid I don't know your name," he said to his guide.

"Radd, with two ds."

"Radd," Raoul echoed, smiling again.

Ann had the time to look around the wide foyer: the decor was expensive, but cold. The floor was black, gray and white marble, with a simple chessboard center surrounded by an elaborate border. The walls had been ragged in three shades of white. Lighted niches held three dimensional art in colorless glass, stainless steel and white marble. Between the niches were paintings, ranging over many years and schools, all European, that offered the only color. Closed tall double sliding doors were to the left and straight ahead. An open hallway led to the right, and this was the way Raoul and Radd went.

"Do you want to see him?" Radd asked.

"No," Raoul said, "but I have to."

Radd opened the door, and Raoul, followed by Ann, entered a library. Raoul stopped to close the door with a last smile at Radd. Turning to face the man in the library he saw that Curtis Ching was about four inches taller than he himself was, with oriental features in stark contrast to his long blond hair and blue eyes. Mid-thirties, Raoul thought, maybe early forties. Goes to a gym. Some recent cosmetic work, those tiny scars are still noticeable. He's more confident, surer of himself; compared to Radd, he's Hockwild. This will be a little more difficult, but not that much. He's still just a human and eighty years younger than I am.

Ching was frozen in place with his arms on the arms of his chair as if he had started to get up and been stopped.

Ann said, "The alarm buzzer under the table-top failed to function. There's another at the desk."

Good. She's still letting me handle this. Raoul nodded. "Curtis Ching?" he asked.

"What are you people doing here?"

"We need to ask you some questions about a party you held here recently." Raoul glanced at Ann: "Let him sit down. Now!"

Ann apparently started to object, then glared at Ching, who relaxed back in his seat.

"Don't be alarmed," Raoul said. He sat in the chair opposite Ching's, on the other side of the occasional table, leaving Ann standing alone. Ching turned to face Raoul. "The questions are simple and short. Is that brandy?" He nodded to a crystal decanter on a table under the window on the far wall.

"Yes."

"Please," Raoul said coolly, "some brandy for Mr Ching."

Ann brought the decanter and another glass. She refilled Ching's glass, then filled the second and handed it to Raoul.

Raoul nodded silently, then ignored Ann as she stood quietly behind him. Ching quickly ignored her. He even relaxed a little.

"You threw an orgy last Friday, with many guests."

"It was private, and we were all adults."

"And I'm sure everyone here was known to you and had a personal invitation."

"Well..."

"Or did the invitations include 'plus one'?" Raoul asked

"The gate," Ann murmured, very softly.

"Or was the gate set to admit anyone who said he was here for the party?" Raoul picked up on Ann's comment. "In any case, my questions are about the man and the boy who were rebuffed at your front door."

"I didn't know him," Curtis Ching insisted.

"Did you invite him?" Raoul asked.

"No."

"You were hosting a very private party, and a complete stranger walked in? How did he manage that?"

"I guess he managed to drive in, but he didn't walk in. When I saw the kid, I told him to leave. It wasn't that sort of party."

"I'm sorry I missed it. Did anyone recognize him?"

"I don't — "

Raoul saw an uncertain flicker in Ching's eyes. "Curtis, don't lie to me," Raoul said, sounding sad and disappointed. "Who seemed to recognize the man?"

Ching hesitated, blinking, then: "Dmitri Romanov."

Who? Raoul thought, keeping his face calm.

Ann asked: "You invite Dmitri Romanov into your home? To meet your friends?"

"Explain," Raoul ordered.

"He's shady," Ann reported. "He's not on the approved list."

"I don't know anything about that," Ching said. "He wasn't invited, he was delivering the caviar. Somehow or other, he was still here when the man and the boy showed up. I'm not really sure he recognized the man, he just nodded."

"At whom? The man or the boy?" Raoul asked.

"I don't know. Both, maybe," Ching said.

"Did the man nod back?"

"Maybe."

"Did the boy?"

"Maybe. There was some confusion about then. A couple of people came in, saw what was going on and left again."

"Where was Dmitri Romanov?"

"In the foyer. When Radd called me to come to the door, he was there looking at my new triptych."

As they let themselves out via the foyer, Raoul followed Ann's gaze to the gilt framed triptych. It depicted a subject from classic mythology: Theseus with his sword and Ariadne holding the clew were on the side panels, each facing the muscular Minotaur in a chiaroscuro Labyrinth.

Back in the car: "We have an approved list?" he asked.

"If someone like you had a secretary or bodyguard like me, there would be an approved list. We fit fairly neatly into some of their stereotyped preconceptions. By now, they've worked us into some unalarming rationalization, and can forget about us," Ann said.

He nodded. "That's how glamour works."

"That went much more smoothly than I had anticipated. You're skilled at beguilement," she added.

"Very," he said. "You were my first failure in more that forty years. Had you been human in October, by now you'd be a magnificent vampire." And I would own you. After a moment's silence, he asked, "Now where?"

"South San Francisco. Oh, and you might want a nom de guerre ready."

"Why?"

"Because Dmitri Romanov isn't his real name and I meant it when I said he was shady. You may not want him to know your current use name."

"So who is he?"

"He's a thief, a forger, a smuggler, and, most relevant at the moment, a some-time slaver."

The sign read:

COFFEE, PASTRIES, ANTIQUES & RARE BOOKS

"It looks closed."

"No matter," Ann said. "He lives above the shop, or maybe below it. I think this time I will use the front door." She crossed the sidewalk and opened the door into the darkened storefront.

Raoul heard metal snapping and wood splintering as she swung the door wide. Keeping silent, he followed her.

"Dmitri Romanov!" she called.

"Vasha! If you had rung the bell..." a voice said from the darkness beyond the store front proper.

"You would have left through the back," she finished.

"My door!" the voice mourned.

"We need to talk to you, Dmitri."

"Well, come in, come in. There is no use crying over broken doors, after all. And who is with you?"

"A friend."

Behind Ann, Raoul came into a dimly lit hall. A large man in a furred robe was silhouetted in the light from a bright doorway. He waved an arm, urging them forward.

Ann followed Dmitri Romanov,and Raoul followed her, into a well lit and very cluttered room. As Dmitri settled into a huge wooden armchair, Ann glanced around, and smiled. Again, Raoul followed her gaze to a triptych. Again, it was Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur. This time it was unframed, on a table easel, and surrounded by brushes and pots and dishes of paints. Ah, Raoul thought, forger. Possibly he's even a good one.

"Will you have tea?" Dmitri asked, gesturing at a polished samovar surrounded by glass cups in silver filigree holders.

"Not tonight," Ann said.

"Your hair is different," the large man said.

"A disagreement. I didn't dodge all the fireballs," she said.

What does that mean? Raoul thought.

"It is pointless, I know, to urge you to caution, Vasha, but it is not discreet to engage in such flamboyant duels, even here."

What?

"It was not of my seeking. Where are your sputthes?" Ann asked.

Sputthes?

"They are retired."

"Permanently? Or just for the night?"

"For the night. They will not interrupt us."

Ann nodded.

Ignore the fireballs, ignore the sputthe question. Right.

"This is not Molchan Grigor," the large man continued. "This is yet another vampire."

Raoul inspected him. Not quite human. Definitely not vampire, though. Not whatever Hexe is.

"Yes," Ann said.

And who is Molchan Grigor?

"So what is the name of this one?"

She glanced sideways at Raoul, who said, "Dante Lofabri." It was the first name of one friend and the last name of another. Neither was alive.

"And I am Dmitri Romanov. What do you seek?"

"Information," Ann said.

"And what do I receive in return?" Dmitri asked.

"That depends on the information."

"And how does this involve Dante Lofabri?" Dmitri asked.

Ann sat down on a backless bench, leaving Raoul standing. He took a short step forward. "You saw a child at Curtis Ching's house."

"And if I did?"

"You can tell us about him, and the adult human with him," Raoul said.

"I do not discuss customers," Dmitri said.

"Don't be an ass," she said. "You do it all the time. This instance is rather more serious than just pissing me off. If breaking your door didn't make that point adequately, tell me what will convince you. Do you know the boy or the man? And if so, how?"

"Not the vampire boy groomed to give pleasure, but I have seen the man before."

"What makes you think he was a vampire?"

"I know vampires when I see one," Dmitri said.

Maybe he does. He knew me; but that's not proof yet. Raoul continued: "The man with him. Where have you seen him before?"

"He purchased some artistic studies —lithographs, charcoal portraits, statues— and some old and rare literature on several occasions in the past when he was visiting here."

I'll just bet he did, Raoul thought. While he thought, Ann spoke:

"Visiting?"

I missed that! Raoul thought. Gott, she's quick.

"I think so."

"Why?"

"His comments on the weather. His earlier weather was not local."

"Where does he live?" Raoul asked.

"The details are not enough for me to guess."

"How does he travel?" Ann asked.

"He has a plane," Dmitri said. "He flies it here, shops and departs."

"How do you know?" Raoul asked.

"I delivered an item to him at the airport."

And of course, no one would want to let Dmitri know where he lived, Raoul thought. So it couldn't be mailed, and no checks or credit cards either. I'd take the bands off the money if I were dealing with him just to keep him from guessing my bank.

"Which airport?"

"A private one, near Healdsburg. Mackappleby, perhaps."

"Describe the plane."

"It was metal, shiny. It had wings."

"Propellers?" Ann continued patiently. She seemed willing to do this all night.

"The other things."

"How many?"

"It was dark. One on the side I saw," Dmitri said.

She's done this before. Raoul found her compelling in her interrogator guise, until he realized she might have asked him a similar series of questions during the time his memory failed after he had drunk her blood. He watched with a certain morbid fascination as she drew data from the unwilling Dmitri.

Something began to niggle at him.

As Ann shifted in her seat, relaxing a little, Raoul spoke up: "How did you know the boy was a pleasure toy?"

"He was typical, with no fangs," Dmitri said. "And from his demeanor, his posture and where he kept his eyes and attention, obedient, well trained and eager to please. He would be an expensive item at auction."

"Typical? Who else have you seen? And I don't mean throw-away beach rats you can find any night on Costa Esmeralda or Mar del Plata. I mean young vampires."

"It is not truly a similar case at all," Dmitri said. "Only that they were both vampires."

"A girl?" Ann demanded. When Dmitri was silent a moment too long, she said, "Dmitri, have you seen a vampire girl child with a pedophile?"

"Not recently, no, and she wasn't a child."

"Where and when?"

"Europe, when I was leaving this last time, seventy, eighty years ago."

"More," Ann said.

"Like the boy, she was charming and anxious to please. Like the boy, her fangs had been pulled. However, she appeared much older than the boy, twelve perhaps, certainly at least eleven."

"Who had her?" Raoul asked.

"A human, who was also leaving Europe. I never saw them again."

"Have you any idea where he got her?" Ann said.

"No. We passed in a waiting room; only glances were exchanged, not even greetings."

"Or where the vampire boy came from?"

"No. It is not something I am informed about."

At the end, as Ann stood up, Dmitri said, "i am considerably ruffled at this treatment, Varvara Denisovna."

Varvara Denisovna, which explains Vasha. Since she knows about Jordan Weiss I guess I'm entitled to know about Varvara Denisovna, Jordan Weiss thought. And all that was Deutsch. Get back to thinking in Englisch, Raoul di Costa told himself.

"Console yourself with this thought," Ann Grove said, "as far as I know there is no reason for me to kill you tonight."

"And why should there have been?"

"If the situation ever changes, I shall explain in detail," Ann said. "I'm looking for a natural pearl set: color matched perfect studs and a graduated necklace of one or two strands, no pearl larger than ten millimeters; including a matching broach, which can include some color matched baroques or blister pearls, if the design supports them."

"Ah, there is something here, someplace," Dmitri said, glancing around the untidy room, "that might do. I shall look. White? Smokey gray? Purple black? How recent?"

"Art nouveau, possibly, but not deco or anything aggressively modern. A warm cream, in yellow gold, 18 Karat, but absolutely no enchantments or curses or diamonds, and keep the cost under $40,000. Dosvidanya," she said.

"You deal with him?" They were back in the car.

"He's useful," Ann said, "but you need to watch him."

"Is he going to rip you off over that insipid pearl set?"

"Probably, but he responds best to a combination of stick and carrot. It's only human money, after all. One more stop."

"Where now?" It was getting late. Dawn was about three hours away.

"A detective agency. They have better access to some things than I do; but, then, they practice more."

This time they dropped off the car at an all night garage, run by a young vampire. Ann introduced him as Tom Rivera. Tom ran a possessive rag over the convertible's front fender, and nodded absently. Apparently cars interested him more than people.

Ann put her hand on Raoul's shoulder. "Does teleporting make you ill? You were unconscious last time I moved you."

"I don't know."

"We'll see."

"When?"

"Now."

From Rivera's Garage, she ported them to a doorway in downtown San Francisco. "How are you?"

"Fine," he asserted, although he was slightly dizzy.

"We're walking the rest of the way."

"Fine," Raoul repeated.

They walked through the mostly empty business district and entered an early 20th Century office building. He let her deal with the nightwatchman and sign the entry book. The elevator opened to let them out on the 8th floor where Ann pushed a button beside a door labeled Kearny Agency.

"Kearny Agency," came a feminine voice from the intercom.

"It's Ann Grove."

"Oh, come in," the voice said as the door buzzed.

"You run a tab here, too?" Raoul asked.

"As I said, for some things, they're more practiced than I am. Jai, good morning," she said, walking into a reception area.

A human receptionist was behind a barely perceptible barrier. She was a mature blonde in jeans; it was an angled and shaped film of faint opalescence that surrounded her and filled the back part of the foyer from side to side and floor to ceiling. "Good morning," she said.

"Who's up?"

"Alice."

"If she's free, we'd like to see her."

Raoul controlled an urge to walk over and poke the bubble, and waited patiently as Jai's fingers flew over her keyboard.

Jai nodded at her screen, then said, "Go on back." The barrier contracted, yielding access to the hallway beyond.

Ann walked down the hall to door labeled Alice Kearny, which opened as they approached it.

Alice Kearny was shorter than Ann, about Raoul's own height. She was more curvaceous than Ann and wore well fitting jeans and a snug T-shirt. Her hair was a dark blonde, verging on a light brown, clipped back. Despite her casual dress she wore two diamond studs in each ear and rings on both hands.

"Alice," Ann said, "Raoul di Costa. Alice Kearny."

She recognized my name, Raoul thought. He watched her touch one of her diamond studs in a nervous gesture. He smiled and said, "How do you do."

Alice echoed the phrase, then turned back to Ann: "So what are you up to now?" She retreated behind her desk and waved one tanned hand at the other chairs.

"We're looking for a man," Ann said, settling comfortably before the desk and beginning to speak. She ended: "Edmund Patterson is what he told Dmitri at the store, but at the airport Dmitri was to ask for Eric Pittman."

"So you're not the only people who change names like I change shoes," Alice Kearny said.

"Spies, runaways, immortals and authors, not to mention criminals and actors, are not normal humans and can have noms de guerre, pseudonyms, noms de plume, street names, stage names, cover names, use names, work names, and aliases," Ann said. "I'm not sure what Patterson/Pittman is, but Dmitri called him man, which he tends to use solely for humans, which still leaves spy, runaway, author, actor and criminal."

Raoul had listened to Ann report what she knew about the man with the child vampire. He was impressed: her memory seemed as good as his. She had no notes, but she mentioned everything that Curtis Ching and Dmitri Romanov had told them, down to the numbers on the private plane and the dates Dmitri had found in his sales book.

"That's not a standard N number," the detective said.

Raoul asked: "N number?"

"All US registered planes start with N, so it's called the N number."

Raoul nodded.

"This one is strange."

"I don't use planes," Ann said, "so I didn't know that. I would think Dmitri wouldn't know that either. What does that mean?"

"It probably means your source didn't see all of it or didn't remember it correctly. '067SW' is not a valid private or restricted number. Is he sure about the dates?"

"They came out of his inventory book. He may be wrong, but he's sure."

Alice Kearny glanced at her computer. "There's a McLaughlin airport, near Healdsburg. There is no Mackappleby airport listed for North America."

Ann shrugged. "I'm not surprised."

"McLaughlin is private." Alice hit a key on her board and turned back to Ann. "But they have neighbors. And a number of staff. There's a finite set of possible N numbers, and getting data from the various cameras around McLaughlin for the given dates is certainly possible. Cultivating a source is possible. Finding the plane, while possibly tedious, is highly probable."

"Discretion matters," Ann said. "Much more than speed. Don't get caught looking at this one. We are interested in the man only because he's reported to be traveling with a young vampire or may know where the boy may be. I hope to speak with him... ."

"We hope to speak with him," Raoul said.

"Who is he?"

"We don't know."

"What name is he using?"

"We don't know," Ann repeated.

"We assume the man knows," Raoul said. "If not where the boy is, then at least his name."

"And we're starting by finding him," Ann said, "but you should be aware there may be other vampires involved."

"Ones who may not be as nice as I am," Raoul said.

"So I urge caution," Ann said.

Alice touched the lower diamond stud in her left ear again before asking Ann, "When I have something, do I report to you?"

"Call us and we'll come in."

"How long before you know something?" Raoul asked.

She shook her head: "No idea yet. Don't expect anything soon, but don't be surprised if I call you tomorrow."

"About the bubble," he said. They were walking away from the office building, randomly as far as he could tell.

"Magical defense," Ann said.

"Something of yours, Hexe?"

"I am not a witch," she said mildly, "but Alice and some of the staff are."

"That pretty girl? Ach. That's hard to believe."

"She's a very competent witch. She has her own protections as well." Ann glanced around, then touched Raoul's arm. Suddenly, they were in Oakland, on the sidewalk near Raoul's apartment.

He made no comment, but he wasn't really surprised she knew where he lived.

"And she's a very competent detective," Ann finished.

Three days later, Ann called to tell Raoul Alice had news.

"It's two in the afternoon," he protested. "I'm not up yet."

"In twenty minutes, I'll knock on your door," Ann said.

"The plane is probably this one."

Everyone wore suits: Alice, leaning back against her desk, wore a pantsuit of dark cherry over a cerise blouse.

Ann, in a skirt and open jacket of red trimmed with silver over a matching cowled blouse, sat in the client's chair just off the right hand corner of the desk. She should wear skirts more often, Raoul thought. He wore a navy three piece with a double vent jacket and high cut vest as he sat in the client's chair on the other side of Alice. It gave him a good view of Ann's legs.

Alice handed Ann a photo and continued — "a single crew Learjet with a range of 1200 nautical miles, owned by this man" —she handed the vampire another— "who is Elliot Partoyan from Seattle." She returned behind her desk and sat.

Seattle? Why Seattle? Raoul thought, looking at an average human, suited and shaven into respectable, unalarming conformity. Forty-five or a little older. Guessing from the background, he's 180 centimetres, maybe a little taller, but not much. If he's that tall, with that build, he's about ninety-four kilograms; drained completely, he'd probably yield five plus litres of blood. Doesn't go to a gym. Looks harmless. I'll know him again. Great suit. Tie's too wide for the shirt collar, though. He handed Ann the photograph, and received the shot of the plane. He appreciated the silver and blue paint job, and the numbers on the fuselage. I'll know it again, too.

Ann, still holding Elliot Partoyan's picture, said, "I'll be right back," and flicked out.

Raoul put the picture of the plane down on Alice's desk and settled back.

After a moment, Alice said, "Would you like some coffee? Or something stronger?"

"Black, no sugar, but with a shot of brandy, please."

After taking a sip, Raoul asked: "Can you really be traced via a cell phone when it's not in use?" It was something Bernardo had tried to explain, not very coherently.

He was listening to a fascinating explanation of modern tracing methods when Ann returned.

"Yes, he's the one we're looking for. What do you know about him?" She dropped the photograph of the man on Alice's desk and sat down.

"Well, you may not find this helpful," Alice said. "He blew up."

"Spontaneously?" Raoul asked.

"Bomb," Alice said. "Planted in his car."

"When?" Ann asked. "Three days ago?"

"Last week. Sunday," Alice said.

"So we didn't trigger someone?"

"No. It was over before I began looking for him. Nothing you or I did set this off." Alice clicked her remote, and the big TV screen lit, showing a the same plane. "Here, I got these from a source in Seattle. This is Sunday, and here is Partoyan's plane, taxiing in on the private strip at Ridgeley-Washington. This is in front of the office. He's got his luggage, handling all of it himself until he gets to the car. The chauffeur is waiting, the chauffeur puts the spinner in the trunk, Partoyan puts the shoulder clothes folder in the trunk. They get in the car and set off, and halfway home, the bomb goes off. That's what SPD said at the one press conference they held. As yet, my sources note no contradictory stories."

"Motive?" Raoul asked.

"Open, which means they have no idea. There was a rumor about middle European politics, but the man's parents are a fourth generation citizen one one side, and a member of the DAR on the other. He's never been to Europe, speaks only English, as far as I can tell, so that seems unlikely. His lawyer, speaking for the family, says they are in shock, but they have no idea who might have hated Elliot. Unofficially, the SPD are trying for access to some personal records," Alice said. "Money, credit cards, travel, computer use. The family lawyer is apparently perfectly willing to open up everything, with a warrant."

"No mention of an interesting library or an eclectic art collection?" Raoul asked.

"No," Alice said. She looked at him with some curiosity in her beautiful brown eyes, but did not ask for additional comment.

"Where has he been?" Ann asked.

"Within the continental States, various places, often. Outside: Thailand, twice; Singapore, once; Buenos Aires six times," Alice said.

Places with reputations for an active tourist pedophile sex industry, Raoul thought. Aloud, he asked, "When?"

"Not recently. What is more interesting is rumor, which says that one of Elliot's computers has vanished. He seems to have one for the office, one for personal finance/home office, and the vanished one."

"So Elliot was here, somewhere, for those nights, Thursday, Friday and Saturday?" Ann asked.

"He was somewhere around, but I don't know where," Alice said.

"Who was driving him here?" Raoul asked. "He got places: the orgy at Ching's, the somewhere for the night, and then back to the airport. Where'd he get the car?"

"We now have a source in the McLaughlin staff. This is a copy of the feed from one of the parking lot cameras from the Thursday Partoyan arrived. Here, at the entrance of the building, there's a side view of a car driving up and waiting. We see him walk out the door, with the shoulder bag and a brief case. We see his head disappear as he gets into the passenger compartment, and then the car goes. And," she said, with satisfaction obvious in her voice, "a little further down the road, from an up-to-date gas station with reasonably adequate security, we do see enough of the license number: V&J SIX, which is a private franchise that takes referrals and assignments from this company: V&J Livery." A logo appeared on the screen: A stretch limousine framed by the letters V and J. There was a phone number, email address and a website.

Ann frowned at the screen. "What about Partoyan's departure? From Ridgeley-Washington to here?" she asked.

"We have copies. Here." Alice keyed orders to her big screen. "Thursday morning, Partoyan got out of his car, alone, with his hand luggage; the car drove off. In this long view, we see him inspecting his plane, entering the plane and the plane taxiing off."

Ann was silent. After a moment, she said, "Alice, thank you. Stop the search, completely. Don't look any further and bill me for everything so far."

"That suitcase," Raoul said. He kept his voice as quiet as he would talking to another vampire and picked his words carefully. "The new one, the one he got here. From the way the chauffeur strained lifting it into the trunk, I'd say it weighed about forty pounds."

"It was big enough. The briefcase that left Seattle, the one that didn't make the return flight, was a lot lighter," Ann said. They were waiting for the elevator; she kept her voice equally quiet.

"An even trade, possibly?"

Ann nodded. "Possibly. But we can't tell from evidence, since there is no third body."

"Right." The elevator door opened. They entered. They were the only riders, but he still kept his voice soft and chose his words carefully. "There wouldn't be." If the child was a vampire, and I'm afraid he was, there would be only ashes. "Are you going to quit?" If she does, what will I do next? I can't stop now.

Ann shook her head. "No, but we need to keep Alice away from whatever happens next. At the moment, she knows we're innocent of everything, and that's what she can tell the police if necessary. By keeping her distanced, she won't be an accessory after the fact. The rest of this is up to us."

"And we'll start where?"

"The car: V & J SIX. We find the car, we find the driver."

"Who will have some answers."