Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang (Page 13)

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“Home at last,” Raymond said, stopping next to a small white rental car and taking a deep breath of dirt, diesel, and smog-scented Los Angeles air. “The sights, the sounds, the scents of the city-ah, how I've missed it.”

“I haven't,” Magda said with a sigh, dropping her suitcase next to the trunk of the car. “I could have happily spent the rest of my life in the Blue Lagoon.”

“Oh, don't get me wrong. I liked Iceland a lot, especially the second time around,” Raymond said hurriedly. “Without the… you know… murder and business with the police and everything. But I have to say that it's good to be home. Or near home, in my case.”

“I really feel bad about using up all your vacation time running around chasing vamps and whatnot,” I said as I leaned against the car, quickly leaping away when the hot metal scorched through the thin material of my blouse. “The offer still stands, you know. You guys can stay in my house while Kristoff and I deal with all this. It's not fair to ask you to help with a problem that isn't of your making, and that way you'd have at least a little fun time before you had to go back to work.”

“And miss all the good stuff?” Magda snorted. “Not on your life. We're in it for the long haul, aren't we, pookie?”

“Absolutely,” Raymond said, nodding eagerly. “We're one hundred percent behind you, Pia. This is the most exciting time I've ever had, even including the tour to Europe. I never thought I'd become a vampire hunter! I can't wait to blog about this!”

“Er… yeah,” I said noncommittally.

“Welcome to the City of Angels,” Magda said, blowing out a long breath. “And to think I could be soaking in a hot spring at this moment.”

“There's Kristoff,” I said, sighing with relief as a familiar figure emerged from the elevator. He wore his jacket and hat against the sun, but didn't stick to the shadows, as he had in the past. “Everything OK?” I asked as he hit a button to unlock the car doors.

“I'm not sure,” he said, looking thoughtful.

I watched him closely as Raymond loaded the suitcases in the car's trunk. Magda took the keys from Kristoff, murmuring something about knowing her way around LA better than he did.

What's wrong? I asked. Was it the phone call you had at the rental car place?

“The phone call was from one of my associates in Paris.”

“Uh-oh. That look doesn't bode well. Did your buddy find out something?” I asked, a bad feeling beginning to form in my stomach.

“No. That's the problem. When we left Iceland two months ago, Alec told me he was going to follow up on the rumor of a new group of reapers around Marseilles, and then he'd return to his home. And yet my friend confirmed that Alec never arrived in Paris.”

“So where did he go?” Magda asked as Raymond slammed shut the trunk and took the front passenger seat.

Kristoff opened the back door for me. “That's a good question. I'm working on the assumption that he would have gone home if he decided suddenly not to track down the French reapers, but thus far, my contacts haven't found proof he's been here, either.”

“Hotel first, then reaper headquarters?” Magda asked.

Kristoff got in after me, immediately pulling me up next to him. I gave myself a moment to enjoy the subconscious move on his part, my heart simultaneously mourning what it couldn't have and enjoying what he could give me. “Neither. We will need to be prepared when we visit the reapers. Alec's house is within an hour from here. We will go there first, and then gather our forces and prepare for the onslaught.”

Oh, Boo , I said, filled with gratitude. You're doing that for me, aren't you?

“Aye-aye, Captain,” Magda said, saluting.

I know how worried you are about your spirit.

You are the sweetest man I know, I said, leaning over to kiss him. Thank you.

“Onslaught,” Ray whispered to her, patting his jacket for the bulge that was his camera. “Exciting stuff! I've never been part of an onslaught before. I wonder if I have enough film for it.”

I agree that Alec is being made to look like he is the Ilargi. I believe we can kill two birds with one stone by searching his house for information on both fronts.

Magda punched the address Kristoff gave her into the car's GPS, making a little face at the results. “With the traffic, it's going to take us a while to get there. Maybe we should go to the hotel first, then visit the house, then prepare for the onslaught?”

“Alec's house first,” Kristoff said stubbornly.

“House it is.”

It took exactly two hours and twenty minutes to get there, but as I gazed in awe at the building, I decided it was worth it.

” Et voil¨¤. Casa Alec. Ooh. And it is a very nice casa.” Magda pulled up outside of an arched gate that spanned a drive that curled around to the back of a pale yellow chiffon-colored house.

“That's one heck of a house,” Raymond said as we all got out of the car. He took a few quick photos. “Not at all what I expected a vampire to live in.”

“Gothic castle with bats circling a bell tower?” I asked, smiling.

He flashed a grin. “Well, maybe. But this one… hoo. Must have set him back at least a mill. Maybe two. Do you think it has a view of the valley below?”

“Shall I ring?” Magda asked, poised to ring the visitor's bell.

“Won't do any good. There's clearly no one home,” Raymond answered from where he was peering through the brown metal fence to the house. “Looks deserted. Maybe we should come back.”

“Not after all we've been through,” Magda answered, pressing the bell. “Let's see if anyone answers.”

We waited a few minutes, but when it became clear that no one was either home to answer the ring or willing to do so, we decided we would have to rely on our own resources.

“Boost me over the fence, and I'll see if there's a way to open it from the other side,” I told Kristoff.

“No,” he answered, just as I figured he would.

“You know, I'm not sure that that's not technically breaking and entering,” Raymond answered, his voice filled with reluctance. “It might be better if we waited until we can get hold of someone who can legally give us permission to go in the house.”

“Don't be so straitlaced,” Magda told him with a grin. “A little light breaking and entering is good for you. Besides, I want to see inside. I'm dying to see how a vampire really lives.”

“I assure you, we live just as a mortal does,” Kristoff said dryly.

“No coffins?” Raymond asked, his curiosity clearly getting the better of him. “No odd servants undertaking mysterious tasks late at night? No mirrors draped in black to hide the fact that you don't have a reflection?”

“He has a reflection,” I said, coming to Kristoff's defense. “How do you think he shaves without being able to see himself?”

Raymond's mouth opened and closed a couple of times, like a confused fish. “Well, I… I… I guess I never thought about it. I just assumed that vampires didn't need to shave. No one on Angel ever shaved.”

“You mortals watch entirely too much television,” Kristoff said as he approached the gate.

Raymond murmured a vague excuse while Magda giggled.

“I just hope the fence isn't electrified or anything like that,” I said, standing next to him, eyeing the large brown metal gate. “I assume you want to go first. Just be careful in case Alec has booby-trapped it somehow.”

“I don't need to climb the fence; I know the code,” Kristoff answered with a long-suffering look at me.

Don't even think of lightening your eyes, Boo.

I don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about, he answered.

Oh, don't you try to tell me you aren't aware vampires can change their eye color.

Some can, perhaps. I wasn't aware I shared that trait.

You do. It's like a barometer for your temper. Light is pissy, and dark is…

I stopped and waited.

Dark is what? Happy? he asked.

Aroused. Allow me to demonstrate. I sent him a few memories of our time spent in the Blue Lagoon. His eyes darkened from their normally flawless teal to a deep navy. See? Your eyes are dark now. You're aroused.

A fact that will become evident to others if you continue along that particular memory. And that one.

I smiled.

That one, my little temptress, is likely to get you bent over my lap.

Promises, promises, I purred, suddenly standing up straight when Kristoff spent a few moments indulging in just how I was going to be punished.

Luckily, Magda's impatience distracted us before Kristoff's pants grew too tight and I started squirming in earnest.

“Let's go. What are we waiting for? It will be getting dark in another hour.” She poked Kristoff in the arm.

Kristoff punched in some numbers on the recessed panel, and the gate slid open with a nearly silent hiss.

“Take the car or leave it?” Magda asked, poised to do either.

“Leave it,” Kristoff said.

“It would be safer inside the gate,” Raymond said, looking pointedly up and down the street. “This might be an affluent neighborhood, but you never know. Someone might try to steal it, and I'd hate to have to explain that to the rental company. You'd lose your insurance deposit.”

“Stop being such an accountant,” Magda said with a fond squeeze of his arm.

“Not that I suspect it's likely to be stolen here, but if we leave it where it is, anyone who comes by will see that someone is here,” I pointed out.

“It's easier to get away with the car on the road,” Kristoff said with a grim note to his voice.

“Fast getaway,” Magda said, nodding her head sagely. “Makes sense. I could always move it down the road a smidgen. There was a spot I could pull off the street, where it wouldn't be quite so obvious it was this house we were at.”

Kristoff agreed that would be smart, and accordingly, Magda and Ray moved the car down the road half a block or so.

“I can't believe we're doing this. I can't believe I'm here with a vampire and a sparkling-light lady, and we're breaking and entering a house so expensive, we could go to jail for at least fourteen years,” Raymond said as we all trooped up the drive to the house. “This is something straight out of The A-Team .”

“Sweetie, your middle age is showing,” Magda said.

Alec's house, I had to admit, was impressive. It was of modern design, shaped like several square blocks had been stacked one upon another, with bits of it jutting out in an odd but pleasing formation.

“What are we going to do about the lo-“

Before I could finish asking, Kristoff opened the door and gestured for us to go in.

I frowned at him. “How did you know it would be unlocked?”

“I made sure it was.”

“Huh?” For one moment I had a vision of some strange, magical long-distance locksmith abilities known only to vampires.

Now that is so far-fetched, it isn't even in the realm of television.

Then how… ?

“The associate who was in California checking on Alec's movements opened the house up for me. And no, I don't know how-I didn't ask him. Does it matter?” he asked.

“Why are we here if you've already had someone search the house?” Magda asked as she and Raymond walked slowly down a couple of slate steps into a vast living room.

Kristoff evidently knew Alec's house security code as well, since the alarm never sounded after he tapped in a few numbers. “He didn't search the house for anything but Alec. It's our job to see if there is anything here that can tell us whether or not Alec is involved with the reapers.”

“Well. All I can say is, viva las vampires,” Magda said as she turned slowly in a circle to take in the sights.

I had to agree with her assessment. The house had an open, breezy layout, and I found myself just as curious as Magda and Raymond as to how a vampire lived.

OK, I admit it. I'm surprised, I told Kristoff as I wandered around the large open room, stopping to admire a huge stone fireplace. Beige suede furnishings and cream-colored accents just weren't what I pictured his house looking like.

“Green marble in the kitchen,” Magda said, emerging from that room. “Ooh, Jacuzzi on the deck.”

“OK, MacGyver, now what?” I asked Kristoff.

He frowned. “My surname is von Hannelore, not MacGyver.”

“It was a TV reference, and yes, I'm aware we watch too much of it. Moving on, what now?”

“Now we search.”

“Search for what?” Magda asked, coming in from the deck with Raymond. “I'm ready and willing to be put to work.”

“Look for anything that has to do with reapers,” Kristoff told her as he picked up the phone, punching in two numbers. “Or any travel documents. Anything that could give a hint as to where Alec was last. You two do the ground floor. Pia and I will do upstairs. We'll meet back here to search this floor together.”

Magda saluted. She and Raymond headed to the lower floor while I watched Kristoff.


He listened for a moment, then hung up the phone, shaking his head. “Nothing useful. The last call he made from here was to the Moravian Council, assumedly before we went to Iceland.”

“He still has his cell phone, yes?”

“Yes.” He held out his hand for me.

I took it, allowing the little skitter of happiness that never failed to follow such a gesture to fill me with warmth. “Now that Raymond and Magda are out of the way, what is it you really hope to find here?”

He shot me a faux-irritated glance. “I should have known better than to try to deceive you.”

“Amen. What do you think we'll find?”

“I am hoping that he left behind his reaper journal. Normally, he did not take it with him when he traveled.”

“What's in it?” We paused outside of a room. Night was starting to settle in, so Kristoff switched on a penlight and flicked it around the room. It was an unused bedroom. He moved on to the next.

“His notes on reapers. If he has betrayed us to them, there might be some evidence in the journal. Likewise, if not, there may be evidence to that effect, as well. This is his study.”

The light was so dim that I couldn't see much of the room.

“And if he's acting as a double agent, pretending to work with Frederic in order to ingratiate himself?”

Kristoff crossed the room to close the blinds on three windows, followed by some heavy gold-and-cream drapes. “There may be some indication of that, too, although he has never mentioned anything like that to me. We should be safe to turn on the light now.”

I flipped on the light and breathed in the air rich with masculinity, an intriguing blend of leather, furniture polish, and a faint, lingering citrusy note that I remembered as something inherently Alec.

“You take the desk,” Kristoff said, gesturing toward it. “I'll see if there is anything helpful on his computer.”

He moved over to sit at a small computer table that butted up against one window.

I touched the corner of the large mahogany desk that dominated the room, running my fingers along its satiny top. It was an antique desk, not terribly old, probably made around the turn of the twentieth century, but meant to impress with its size and ornate decorations. I could easily see some railroad magnate or lumber baron seated behind it, barking out orders with a cigar clenched between his teeth.

“My grandfather used to have a desk like this. I loved curling up underneath it, pretending it was a castle. When he was in a good mood, he'd let me sit at it and cut up papers. I'd arrange books along one side, and have my brother check out books. I loved that desk,” I said meditatively, memories swamping me.

“I will buy you one like it later, but you must search now,” Kristoff answered, his attention wholly on the computer screen in front of him as his hands flew over the keyboard.

I sat slowly in the chair behind the desk, my fingers caressing the rolled wood that edged the desk, wondering why I felt so oddly reluctant to open the drawers.

“I do not like prying any more than you do,” Kristoff said, addressing my unspoken thoughts. “But if he is in danger, there might be something here that will permit us to rescue him. And if not…”

He stopped speaking, but his thoughts were readily apparent.

“If not, we'll find that, too. I know.” I tried my best to release my feeling of guilt at invading Alec's privacy as I opened the first drawer.

Kristoff swore. “He's password-protected most of the documents. I can't get into them.”

“Rats. You don't know his password?”

He shook his head, turning off the computer. “No, and it's useless to try to break the encryption. It would take far too long.” He thought for a moment or two. “You keep searching the desk. I will go through his bedroom and the other rooms.”

“There're only the three floors?” I asked, a handful of bank and credit card statements in my hands. I glanced through them quickly, but didn't see anything that was out of the ordinary.

“There's an attic, but it's not used. There is a small guesthouse, however. I'll check that when I'm through with his bedroom. It, too, should be empty, but it is better to check. Go through his papers carefully, Pia. There could be something in there that will give us a hint as to his state of mind or plans.”

The ticking of the thin marble clock hanging on the wall opposite kept me company for the next forty minutes. Kristoff popped in briefly to say he'd searched all the rooms on this floor, and was going to check the guesthouse before starting on the main floor.

Magda arrived not long after that.

“I'll say this for Alec,” she said from where she stood in the doorway, watching me sort through several file folders. “The man has a damned fine wine cellar. I'm afraid we gave in to temptation and opened a bottle of Gaja Costa Russi that's absolute heaven. We saved you guys some.”

I looked up from a stock portfolio statement, somewhat surprised by the figures it detailed. Kristoff might disclaim having any wealth, but Alec certainly couldn't deny that he had holdings worth a significant amount of money, even by today's standards. “Thanks, but I don't think Kristoff drinks, and I'm not a big fan of red wines. Did you find anything else?”

She hiccuped and came into the room to plop down in the chair next to the computer. “Nothing that said what happened to him. Everything is shipshape, as far as we could tell. Nothing out of place, no giant map of the world with a big arrow pointing to his destination, nothing but a home theater, pool table, video arcade machines, and the wine cellar. Whatcha got there?”

I tidied the papers and put them back in their file folder, tucking it back in the appropriate drawer. “Just financial stuff. Nothing interesting, unless you want to be amazed at Alec's financial genius, which I have to admit is pretty darned awesome.”

“Loaded, is he?” she asked, looking around the room.

“Very. That's the last drawer.” I closed it and sat looking at the desk, my hands stroking the polished, cool surface.

“So the trip here has been for nothing.” Her voice reflected her unhappy expression.

“Probably.” I was oddly reluctant to leave the dusty hallways of my memory. “I was telling Kristoff earlier about how I used to play at a similar desk my grandfather had.”

“Oh, really?” She sat up. “Ooh! Don't tell me your grandpa's desk had a hidden drawer!”

“No,” I said, frowning down at my hands on the desk. “I used to beg him to show me the hidden drawer, but he said it didn't have one.”

“Damn.” She thought for a moment, brightening up to add, “That doesn't mean this one can't have one.”

“You're welcome to look. I already did, but two pairs of eyes are better than one, and all that.”

Magda hurried over to the desk and, one by one, pulled out the drawers. We checked them for false bottoms and false backs, looked underneath for anything taped to the underside, and more or less gutted the desk. By the time the marble clock chimed the hour, I realized we'd been searching for more than twenty minutes.

“I think we're going to have to face the fact that there's no hidden anything in the desk,” I said, rubbing my fingers absently along its rolled edge.

“I'm afraid you're right,” Magda said, crawling out from where she'd been on her back underneath the desk, examining the underside. She sat on her heels, her eyes narrowed on my hand. “Why do you keep doing that?”

“Keep doing what?” I looked down at the desk. “Rubbing the edge? I don't know. The carving on it is pretty, don't you think?”

She leaned to the side, peering over the desk. “Yeah, but the desk has that edge all the way around it, and you keep touching just that one spot.”

I shrugged. “Coincidence. I suppose we should go report in to Kristoff that we haven't found anything.”

I started to get up, but Magda held up a hand. “Hang on a sec. I think there's more to it than coincidence. You had to scoot your chair over a foot so you could touch that spot. It's not something you can reach when you sit square at the desk.”

“So? It's just a weird quirk. I like wood. I like to touch it.”

“Only that one spot?” she asked.

I frowned at the desk. “Now, that is odd. I guess I have been drawn to this one edge…. Oh, Magda, you don't mean to say-“

“Stranger things, my dear, stranger things.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Look at it this way.” She crawled over to where my hand had been resting, examining that edge of the desk closely. “You're a Zorya. You're not normal anymore.”


She brushed away my grimace. “You know what I mean. You're Pia-plus, and no, I'm not talking about your size. Maybe there's something here that you're subconsciously picking up on. Hand me that letter opener, will you?”

I shook my head but did as she asked, giving her the thin knife that Alec obviously used as a letter opener. She poked at the edge for a few minutes, making me flinch a couple of times as the blade marred the wood.

“Oh, let me do it,” I said, nudging her aside. “You're just going to scratch up the lovely finish. Not that I think there's anything to what you're… Well, I'll be damned.”

I don't know if it was Magda's prodding with the knife that did it, or if I triggered some sensitive spot, but a piece of the molding about seven inches long came off in my hand. I thought for a moment that I'd broken it, but a glance at the minute dovetail work of the desk and molding told me it was intended to come off.

“Look. Is that an opening?” Magda asked, peering closely at the desk. “It is. I think there's something in there. You got a pair of tweezers on you?”

“Do my eyebrows look like I'm the sort of person who has tweezers?” I asked, getting on my knees so I, too, could peer into a thin, narrow slit that had evidently been carved into the thick top of the desk. Like Magda, I could see the faint outline of an object deep in the recess. I used the paper knife, gently guiding the object out. “I think… Ah, there it is. Yes, I have it.”

“What is it?” she asked, peering over my shoulders at the slim book I held. “Something important?”

“I can't imagine stuffing something trivial in there,” I answered, carefully unwrapping a saffron yellow animal skin that had been carefully folded into a bundle. Inside it was what appeared to be a hand-stitched goatskin journal. It was small, about the size of a PDA, the outer cover brown and stained with age. The pages inside, about ten total, appeared to be made of vellum, also mottled and stained with the effects of time. I rubbed my fingers along the pages, not seeing, for a moment, the thick black handwriting, but admiring the profound sense of age that wrapped around the book.

“Can you read it?” Magda asked, her lips moving as she tried to decipher the handwriting.

“Let's take it to the light.” We scooted two chairs over to the table lamp, angling it so the light shone down on the mottled pages.

“It's definitely old,” Magda said, hunching over it next to me.

“I think it's a diary of some sort. That's a date, isn't it?” I asked, pointing to the upper corner.

“Looks like it. April? August? Something with an A. From 1642. Wow. Seriously old. I can't make out what the writing says, though. Can you?”

I concentrated on the thick black writing. It appeared to be in a language that I didn't recognize. I ran my finger along the lines of handwriting, trying to pick out words that made some sense.

My finger stopped; my heart contracted. “That… that's Kristoff's name.”

“What? Where?” She craned to see.

I tapped the word. “Right there. That says, 'Hannelor Kristof,' which has to be a reference to my Kristoff.”

“Hmm. Maybe it's when he first met Kristoff.”

“Could be. I wonder if this is the reaper journal Kristoff mentioned.” I continued searching the diary. There were several more instances of his name, but nothing struck me as recognizable.

“Maybe Kristoff can read it,” Magda suggested as I finished running my finger along the lines of text on the last page. Something niggled at the back of my mind, something that I had just seen that was important.

Magda sat back, a look of disappointment on her face.

“Maybe.” I looked at the book again, going back to the beginning, where Kristoff's name was first mentioned. My finger traced the centuries-old text, following along until I came to a spot near the bottom of the first page. “Magda.”


“This, right here. Does that look like ' in tua luce videmus lucem '?”

“What is that, Latin?”


Her dark head leaned over the book. “Yeah, it does. Why, what does it mean?”

“'In thy light we see light.'”

“Sounds like a university motto.”

I stared down at the page. “It well could be. It also happens to be something that the Brotherhood people say as part of their rituals.”

Her eyes widened. “What do you think it means?”

“I'm not sure. Look, does this say 'Lodi'?”I tapped a word on the following page.

“Um… maybe. It could be. Then again, it might be 'loom.' Or even 'look.' The writing is too hard to decipher for sure.”

“I think it's Lodi,” I said slowly, trying to remember what Rick Mycowski had told us about the origins of the war against the vampires. My fingers slid across the thin vellum until they rested beneath the date noted alongside the entry in question. “It says 1643. That sounds about right for the Lodi Congress.”

“The what?”

I explained what I knew of the history of the Brotherhood.

“Gotcha. So this is, like, a mention of the war starting. If so, it's seriously old, and has to be valuable. I wonder why Alec doesn't have this in some sort of archival protective storage rather than shoved into the hidey-hole of a desk?”

I flipped back a page, looking at the dated entry containing Kristoff's name. Why, if the Lodi Congress started the year following that, was the Brotherhood mentioned in the earlier entry? Had Kristoff been one of the first vamps to go after the reapers? I made a mental note to ask him when things were less hectic and he'd be more inclined to chat.

“Regardless, it's valuable enough to warrant having Kristoff translate it,” I said, gently rubbing my thumb across the goatskin covering. “If it turns out to be nothing, we'll return it to Alec. Assuming he comes home, that is.”

“I guess we're finished here, then,” Magda said, glancing around the room.

“We've looked everywhere. We can move on to the floor below us.” A thought occurred to me: Kristoff hadn't been in contact with me for over half an hour. While that wasn't in any way remarkable, I would have thought he'd be interested to know of our progress, or lack thereof. Boo, I'm ready to go on to the main floor. You about finished in the guesthouse?

Silence was my only answer.

Kristoff? Everything OK?

I stood up as the profound silence filled my head. “Something's wrong,” I said, trying to open up my senses to locate Kristoff.

She paused at the door. “What?”

“Kristoff isn't answering me.”

She glanced at the phone for a moment before her eyebrows arched. “Oh, the mind thing? Maybe he's busy. Or out of range.”

I shook my head, suddenly filled with the strongest portent of danger. “I don't think so. Something has happened to cause him to close his mind to mine, and that can only be one thing.”

“Reapers?” she asked, her face losing some of its animation.

I nodded. “Or worse.”

She froze for a moment. “Come to think of it, Ray should have been upstairs by now. Even if he had been drinking that lovely Costa Russi, he should have…. I'm going to go check on him.”

She dashed out of the room without waiting for a response.

Possessed by a sudden sense of urgency, I hurriedly wrapped up the journal, shoved the bit of trim back onto the desk, and without an alternate choice, stuffed the journal under my dress, into the band of my underwear.

I snatched up the penlight that Kristoff had left me, flipping off the room's light before carefully closing the door. The house was dark now that the sun was setting, but the penlight allowed me to pick out the way to the stairs that led down to the main floor. It, too, was in the dark, and for a moment I hesitated, the primitive part of my mind refusing to march blindly into what felt like certain danger.

My foot had just hit the first stair when a noise behind me startled me, causing me to simultaneously gasp and spin around, one hand clutching the penlight, the other groping the journal as it pressed against my skin.

A face loomed suddenly out of the darkness. My skin crawled in horror for a moment, my body giving in to the flight instinct. I stepped backward and plummeted down the staircase into the inky blackness below.