Most of what I knew about Berenice Maidstone and her wayward kid sister had been covered in the backseat of Mean Mr. B’s silver Buick. I’d be going into this affair just shy of blind. He hadn’t slipped me a hush-hush dossier filled with the deepest, darkest secrets of the two or a Mission: Impossible–style “this tape will self destruct in ten seconds” cassette. Yeah, I could undoubtedly have fished out a few more details if I’d had the presence of mind to speak up. But I didn’t, and I wasn’t about to call him back. “Oh, hey. I’m a dipshit and totally forgot to ask, but . . .”
No. I’d had enough of his gloating for that particular day. So, could’a, should’a, would’a. Now move on.
She’s a student at Brown. Her and about ten thousand other people. Thanks, dude. That’s a lot to go on. Still, over the months since my death, I had cultivated a couple of contacts who, in turn, had a couple of snitches. It was a hit-and- miss, ragtag string of confidential informants who had to be compensated for tips that rarely panned out, but it was slightly better than nothing at all. Back home I made a couple of calls, the second to a back-alley dealer in pilfered karma and memories who went by Cutter. He occasionally fed me the lowdown on someone, and, in return, I mostly left him and his operation the fuck alone. Anyway, he promised to call me back as soon as he had time to see what he could dig up, as regards the specifics of Berenice’s comings and goings at BU.
“It’s important, Cutter.”
“Gotta be delicate on this one,” he sort of whined. If ferrets could talk, they’d sound like Cutter. “Prying into the Maidstones, that’s some dangerous undertaking.”
“No shit, but that’s the score.”
“You don’t ask much, do you?”
I kicked an empty Narragansett beer bottle at the door. It didn’t break. “Dude, you want me to go tellin’ B you’re being anything less than cooperative?”
“Quinn, you know it ain’t like that. You know—”
“Shoulder to the wheel,” I said. “That’s all I’m asking. Come up with something good, it’ll buy you a couple of months hassle free.”
“Well, I know this hacker—”
“I don’t care how you do it, just do it.”
Jesus, I love talking shit to douche bags.
I tossed the ridiculous Hello Kitty iPhone onto my puke-colored sofa, undressed, and spent the next half hour or so standing under the showerhead, letting the hot, hot water hammer my back and shoulders, my face and chest. The morning’s encounter with Rizzo kept playing over and over in my head, and despite B’s insistence that all was cool and no damage had been done by leaving the son of a bitch alive, I was fairly certain it was only a matter of time before that act of “mercy” came back to take a chunk out of my ass. By the way, when the loup Jack Grumet bit me that July night out at the Scituate Reservoir, he’d bitten me in the ass, so there was a precedent. B had bigger fish to fry at present, and that’s the only reason he hadn’t reamed me for not putting Bert Rizzo down.
By the time I finally got out of the shower and dressed in the cleanest clothes I could scrounge from the dirty assortment of T-shirts and jeans scattered about my bedroom, it was early afternoon. There was a Radiohead shirt that didn’t smell too bad. I sat down on the edge of my sagging mattress and stared longingly at the pillows. What possible difference did it make if I tracked down Ms. Maidstone today or tomorrow? As for Shaker, either he was dead or he wasn’t, and a few hours’ shut-eye wasn’t gonna change that, either.
I lay down, blinking at the sunlight through the windowpane. The clouds had begun to break up. I’d just shut my eyes when the phone started ringing.
No peace to the wicked, right?
I rolled out of bed and made it back to the sofa by the fourth ring. It was Cutter, and the extra-ferrety tremble in his voice was enough to tell me he was none too happy to be making this call.
“Senior year. Linguistics. I got her schedule and emailed it to you. Black hair, amber eyes—”
“That’s what I said, ain’t it? Tall, too. Almost six feet, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble spotting her. Her address and phone number, they’re in the email. But you might want to try watching the Front Green, along Prospect Street. Seems she and some pals have a habit of congregating near Carrie Tower, round about sunset.”
“Sunset. In February?”
“Quinn, that’s what I heard. And that’s all I got for you. That and what’s in the email. And you didn’t hear none of this from me. I could go my whole life without so much as seeing one of the Maidstones, much less—”
“Cutter, how about you take a Valium and try to calm the fuck down? ”
“Two months,” he said. “Two months, free and clear.”
“That’s the deal, if this shit pans out.”
He hung up first. So much for sleep and letting it all slide until the next day. If B found out I had a lead and didn’t act on it right off, he’d go on the warpath, which I definitely didn’t need. I went back to the bedroom and slid a heavy wool sweater on over the T-shirt. No, it’s not as if vamps get cold—as I have said—but I knew I should make an effort at blending in. Lurking about at night, that’s one thing; broad daylight at a crowded campus, that’s another. So, mortal drag—the hazel-green contacts, the dental prosthetics, the heavy makeup to hide my waxy pale skin—my camouflage against detection from all those people who have no idea the nasties walk among them. And who are best off never learning otherwise. I used the phone to check my Gmail account, and Cutter’s email was there, just like he’d said it would be. Pretty thorough, too. Probably a lot more than I needed.
On my way out the front door, I jammed a knit cap with a Slytherin House patch on my head. Maybe that was overplaying my hand, yeah, but fuck it. B wants me to pass for a fucking muggle, might as well hit it full tilt boogie.
You want history? Well, Providence is just stinko with it. Carrie Tower, for instance, at the corner of Prospect and Waterman, a looming marble and redbrick monolith, complete with a bronze clock face and topped off with a bronze dome, both stained verdigris by more than a hundred years of New England winters. The thing was erected back in 1904, a gift from some Italian dude in memory of his dead wife, granddaughter of this other dude who the university had been named after. All the names escape me. Well, except for Brown, which is obvious. Look the other two up. The internet is the goddamn friend of the curious and lazy. But on the foundation, chiseled into the stone, an inscription reads love is stronger than death.
Well, maybe so. I’m gonna say I wouldn’t know.
Way up tippy top of the tower, there’s a bell, though it doesn’t chime anymore, just like the clock no longer tells the time. Shit gets old. Shit breaks. No one bothers to fix it. Indifference. Budget concerns. Government cutbacks. Whatever. Regardless, must have been a big deal when that tower went up, but, really—who can be bothered to give a rat’s ass these days? The last person who’d have gotten all sentimental over that dead granddaughter of the school’s founder has probably been a corpse for half a century, stuck in some local boneyard, partying with the ghouls.
Still, there’s an amusing anecdote about Carrie Tower, a bit of secret history only us nasties and our fellow travelers are privy to, that sort of anecdote. In 1950, see, the clock began to lose time, then speed up, then lose time again. At one point, it actually ran backwards. Whoever investigates such things—let’s say a few maintenance guys—they investigated, and the official story was that some doodad or another inside the clock’s innards had been tampered with by frat boys, but the truth of the matter, that secret truth, involved a Masonic Lodge over on Federal Hill and a demoness went by the name of Sulfurous Sal . . .
You know what? It’s not nearly as amusing an anecdote as I remember, so forget it. Fuck it.
That afternoon, when I got to the tower, there was no sign of Berenice Maidstone. Just college students coming and going between those stately Ivy League buildings, along with the usual retinue of pigeons and sparrows hanging out in the snow. Of course, it was still a few hours until sunset, and Cutter had told me Maidstone tended to show up there around dusk. I sat down on a bench, chain-smoked (not like dead girls have to worry about the Big C), and stared out at the traffic beyond the tall black wrought-iron fence facing Prospect Street. I just sort of spaced out for a while, which I actually do quite a bit.
Don’t think being me is all playing demon slayer when some uppity mope gets out of line, or doing Mean Mr. B’s bidding, or finding myself in the crosshairs of nut jobs like ex-Father Rizzo. Mostly, it’s boredom. Monotony. The same tedium set on endless repeat. Beer and TV Land, masturbation and video games. Waiting on my rumbling belly to remind me it’s time for the next murder, the next fix—blood ain’t nothing but heroin misspelled, after all—and waiting, too, for my “time of the month” to roll around, when I’d black out and wake up wondering what sort of trouble the Beast had landed me in. Why do you think so few vamps stick around for more than a couple of centuries? Why immortals aren’t? Because immortality is damn dull, that’s why, and you can damn well ignore all the pop-culture mumbo jumbo that would have you think anything to the contrary. Hell, the way our naughty parts atrophy after only a few decades and eventually wither away (I’m pretty sure I mentioned that in the last book), even masturbation ceases to be an option before too long, which will probably be the final nail in my coffin.
What joy remains in all this godsforsaken world when a lady can’t even get off to Miss August or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue or that glorious, all-you-can-eat buffet of freakish Japanese porn on the internet?
So, that afternoon in February, I was sitting there, these pointless, depressing-ass thoughts going round and round in my head, when someone came up behind me and said, “I’d have taken you for a Hufflepuff myself.”
I was up off the bench in an instant, startled from my reverie, a hand reaching inside my parka for the Glock because better safe than sorry. Shoot first, interrogate later, yada yada yada. I didn’t actually draw the gun, but I had a firm grip on the pistol in its shoulder holster before I realized there was no one behind the bench but some goth chick, all done up in leather, pointy boots, big hair, obligatory facial piercings, and the excessive cosmetics of a counterfeit stiff.
“Jesus,” I said. “Jesus, fuck me sideways.”
“What’s your problem?” the goth girl wanted to know. She glowered at me, and, in return, I wanted to smack her.
“Don’t fucking sneak up on people, that’s what my problem is.”
She just stood there, staring at me.
“What?” I asked her (my turn), taking my hand off the butt of the gun and out of my coat.
“You’re really her, aren’t you?”
“Her . . . Quinn. Siobhan Quinn. The vampire who put down Mercy Brown and—”
I wasn’t exactly stunned she’d recognized me. Word gets out. There are those among our ranks who don’t know when to shut up, whose tongues do waggle. They’re often the sort it falls to me to deal with. Still, I’d been clocked by the mortal girl. Not good.
“Who the fuck told you that?” Then I added, “And no one calls me Siobhan. Do that again, and I’ll—”
“But you are her. You’re missing a pinkie.”
I glanced around to be sure nobody was in earshot. “Kid, you tell me who the Sam Hell you are, or—”
“Thought you’d be taller,” she interrupted, continuing to glower with those red, red lips. “Taller and paler.”
“Has all that eyeliner affected your hearing?”
“And way less uptight. The way Berenice goes on, I was expecting something a little more, I don’t know . . . Anita Blake. Or Sonya Blue. Or, hey, Kate Beckinsale in Underworld.”
“Who?” Right about here, I was considering shooting her after all.
She rolled those black-lidded eyes. “Don’t you read? Or see movies?”
“Are you physically incapable of shutting the fuck up for two seconds?”
“You keep asking me questions. I can’t very well shut up if you keeping asking me questions. Not if you want answers.”
I sat back down on the bench, turning my back to her, wondering when the hell I’d grown a fan club. Siobhan Quinn has a motherfucking posse.
“Chill, okay?” she said. “Berenice sent me, all right? After her baby sister went missing, she’s sort of keeping a low profile.”
I rubbed my eyes; the contacts always bug me. “And you’re the best she can do in the way of lackeys.”
“I’m a messenger,” the girl said, sounding supremely offended. Which, of course, had been my intent. “Part of her coterie. Berenice doesn’t have lackeys.”
“Right,” I sighed. “And the pope doesn’t wear a dress and a funny hat.”
She sat down next to me, uninvited.
“You want to talk to her, you’re gonna have to talk to me first.” She took out a BlackBerry and started texting.
“You gotta name?” I asked.
“Lenore,” she replied, without looking away from the BlackBerry.
“Bullshit. I meant an actual name-type name. Whatever’s on your driver’s license, your birth certificate.”
“So, I tell you that, I can call you ‘Siobhan,’” she said, still pecking at her BlackBerry’s tiny keys.
I changed the subject. “Who are you texting?”
“I’m letting Berenice know you showed up.”
“How did she know I was coming? I didn’t even know I was coming until a few hours ago.”
Lenore looked at me then like I was the biggest idiot on earth.
“Right,” I said. “She’s a Maidstone. Never mind.”
“Yeah, she’s a Maidstone. She’s special. She can do magic, and I mean real magic. Not that phony goddess worshipping, white-light Wicca crap.”
“Well, lad-di-fucking-da. And while you’re talking to her, how about you ask where Shaker Lashly has gone?”
“Never heard of anyone called Shaker Lashly. You’ll have to ask her that yourself. If she decides to see you.”
“If? Hey, she’s the one came to my employer for help finding this misplaced sister of hers. If she doesn’t want to talk to me, I’ll go back and tell B the client has had a change of heart. But she should know, whatever he asked for up front, he doesn’t do refunds.”
Lenore stared at the BlackBerry’s screen a moment, typed in something else, then dropped that mobile handheld device back into the huge, shapeless chartreuse velvet bag she was carrying for a purse.
“You have to understand,” she told me, “Berenice has good reason to be cautious. Besides, I expected a vampire to be more, I don’t know. Like, patient? You are so not living up to your reputation.”
I leaned close to her, wishing I wasn’t wearing the hazel-green contacts. I did, however, reach into my mouth and pop out the molded porcelain grill hiding my real teeth. She drew back an inch or so and her eyes went wide.
At least she looked scared. Hence, I assumed she was.
“Girly,” I said, “if I wipe that funeral paint off your face, swat some of that attitude out of you, I’m pretty sure I’d find nothing much hiding under there but another pampered white girl recovering from her high-school Justin Bieber fixation.”
She pointed at my mouth. “Those are real,” she said. It wasn’t a question. “They’re so sharp—”
“All the better to persuade you to stop jerking me around.”
“—and they’re wicked cool.”
Which is when I socked her in the face. Not hard enough to do any real and lasting damage, mind you—just a firm poke—but plenty hard enough that her lower lip split open and her nose gushed. I won’t lie. It felt good.
Lenore’s head whipped back, and she sort of yelped.
I said, “Wanna play nice and try this one more time, Elvira? You won’t get a third chance.”
“Fuck you,” she mumbled through the blood and the fingers hiding the bottom half of her face.
Just for effect, I licked her blood off my knuckles. You know, that kind of over the top, tough guy, unnerve your opponent shit. Most nasties would have laughed at me, but this malarkey does tend to make an impression on mundanes. I realized that my fake choppers were still lying on the bench between us, and with my free hand I slipped them back into my mouth.
I told her, “Seeing how we’ve moved past the ‘We can do this the easy way, or . . .’ part of our conversation, I want to make it absolutely fucking crystal clear that I do not need you to find Berenice Maidstone.”
“She’s gonna kill you,” Lenore replied, that warm red gravy dripping between her fingers onto her black jeans.
“Fine. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. Fact is, she’ll probably be doing me a favor. Now, listen—”
“You think I’m joking?”
Every time she said something, her breath caused a fresh gout of that crimson junk surrogate to spurt towards me. The notion very briefly crossed my mind that I could probably do her, then and there, and most anybody passing by would just think we were a couple of lesbos making out. Wishful goddamn thinking.
“—we’re going to stand up and walk to my car, which is parked about a block away. You’ll lead, and if you go rabbit on me, I don’t think your boss lady will approve.”
“You’re good as dead!” she said with enough force that blood actually spattered my T-shirt. Whee.
“No, honey, I’m way worse than dead.” (Gotta admit, that cornball line was pure Hollywood gold. Or at least TV fool’s gold. True Blood, eat your dippy, white-trash heart out.)
Lenore glared at me, but it was plain—whatever assurances Berenice Maidstone had offered—I’d sewn some serious doubt as to Lenore’s safety.
“Now, pretty please, get your poseur ass up and head for the gates. And, like I already said, do not run, little girl. I don’t feel like chasing you.” I motioned towards the tall iron gates, and she got up and did exactly as I’d instructed.