Last Breath

Chapter Fourteen


The thing most people forget, when they start talking about being a vampire, is that it's lonely. It's supposed to be lonely. Vampires are predators. They're more like tigers roaming territories than they are wolves, who hunt together in a cooperative group. Tigers don't form packs. They're alone, and they're supposed to be.

Morganville had always felt forced and artificial to me when I was a breathing human, but now . . . now I realized how forced and artificial it was on the night side of the equation, too. Having so many vampires pressed this close together, and close to their natural prey, and then hemming it all in with rules and social behaviors . . . I don't think any of the humans, not even the ones who were closest to us, suspected how hard that really was.

I'd adjusted better than most because I'd started out my supernatural life as a ghost, trapped in my own house. I'd become a vampire only out of necessity, because it was the only way to regain my freedom - even a part of it. And by that time, I'd gotten used to having the heartbeats and lives of my friends around me.

I'd adjusted to Eve being so close, so alive, so willing. Mostly, at least.

But it wasn't easy. It was never, ever that. Still, I'd thought I'd known what I was getting into. I'd thought that all this was a stable, manageable existence. Morganville, where the vamps had forced themselves to be civilized.

But when I got to Founder's Square, I began to realize that it was all bullshit.

All of it.

There were vampires present - always were - and they were shutting down their stores. Many of these had been open all night, catering to hard-core adventurous people with pulses, and those without, but every building I saw was shuttered. The vampires were locking doors, clearing out valuables and cash, and getting ready for the orderly shutdown of our entire town.

I stopped a vampire I knew slightly - Breana - and said, "No humans around?"

She gave me a look, as if I were mentally handicapped. "No," she said. "Of course not. They're confined to their homes until we're gone." She reached up and grabbed a metal accordion gate and pulled it down in a shriek of cranky metal. It banged in place on the pavement, shedding flakes of orange rust, and she secured it in place with a thick padlock. "Do you have your seat assignment? No? Go to Amelie's office. Her assistant is giving out passes. You'll need one for the evacuation." Breana pocketed the keys and walked away carrying a metal case, probably containing all of the most valuable items from her jewelry store. Vampires tended to travel light, and invest in tangible wealth, something easily traded.

The lights in her store went out, but I could still read the sign she'd put up in the window.


I headed for Amelie's office. I'd told Shane I'd bring Myrnin back, but I knew this was going to be a test . . . a big one. A test of exactly where I stood in Morganville, and with Amelie, and it was going to take every ounce of inherited respect that I got from being the grandson of Samuel Glass, and the last child of one of the first human families in town, to even get her to open the door.

My chances of being able to actually bring Myrnin home with me? Small. So were my chances of being able to leave myself. But I had to try, for Shane, and for all of us. We needed Claire. I hadn't realized how much she held us all together until I'd seen her lying there, still and pale . . . until she was gone, and I felt everything we had collapsing. Shane couldn't make it, not without hope.

Claire was his hope. I guess in a way she was mine, too, and Eve's; she was the one who was always quietly going about the business of getting things done, even when the rest of us thought the things were impossible.

And that got her killed, some part of my brain insisted on telling me. I didn't even know why someone had wanted her dead; Shane and Eve had pieces of the puzzle, but not enough.

I needed to know that even more than I needed to get Myrnin.

Getting in to see the Founder normally was no big deal for me; I had that Glass family season pass, after all. But today, I could see it wasn't going to be easy, or fast. There were a lot of vampires in the hallway, all with fierce, tense body language that spoke more than snarls and bared teeth of the need to enforce their territorial boundaries. Jamming this many this close together was a bad idea.

There was no way I could force my way through. There were maybe thirty vampires filling the space, and every single one of them was at least a hundred years older than I was. They also weren't nearly as inclined to patience, since they'd probably survived centuries by virtue of being rich and powerful and ruthless.

It took an hour for the line to move forward until I could actually see the open door of the Founder's office. The hallway was a long one, with deep carpets and glossy portraits on the walls, but just now I swore I could smell desperation in the air.

Two vampires ahead of me in the line got into a shouting match over which of them had been closer to some forgotten throne or other. I didn't care. I was imagining Eve and Shane back at the house, and what might happen if Claire's killer came back for more.

I grabbed one of the two - the taller one, dressed in an antique business suit - and propelled him inside. "Sorry," I said to the surprised shorter one. "This goes faster if you don't measure your family trees. Just shut up."

He gave me a classic Don't you know who I am? stare, and was on the verge of opening his mouth to tell me - not that I cared at all - when all of a sudden the Founder herself was standing in the doorway facing the two of us.

Amelie didn't look like the Founder I'd grown up with. She'd always seemed icy and perfect and royal, and although I'd seen her show emotion from time to time, I'd never thought of her as weak.

Now she looked . . . fragile. And tense enough to shatter. And she'd lost the careful edge of distance.

She gave the other vampire a look that utterly silenced him, and pointed at me. "Come with me," she said, and vanished. I squeezed by Prince Whatever of Who Cares before he could protest how he'd been slighted, and saw the other, taller Prince Whatever taking a sheet of paper from the hands of Amelie's assistant, Bizzie. It had a number bold-printed at the top.

"Now," Bizzie was telling him, "this is your seat assignment and car number. You'll carry only what you see on the sheet. Nothing else. You may not take pets, either animal or human. No personal snacks will be allowed. . . ."

I didn't hear the rest, because Amelie had walked into her private office, and I had to follow quickly.

"Shut the door," she said as I hesitated. I did, and heard a lock automatically engage. "Sit."

"I came to get Myrnin," I said. "I need him."

She didn't even glance my way as she walked to the windows and looked out on the evening. There were fewer lights than usual. Even the moon was dark, hidden behind the clouds. A few fitful drops of rain rattled the glass like machine gun bullets, driven by a gust of wind.

"You can't have him," she said. "I've put him to work on important things. Critical things."

"Amelie - "

"Don't," she said, very quietly. "Don't presume on my friendship toward your family, or my personal fondness for your grandfather, or even for you. Sentimentality has weighed us down here, made us complacent and stupid. No more."

"Amelie, what happened? Just tell me. Explain."

"I'm no longer explaining myself, Michael." She turned, and there was something about her face, her eyes, her body language, that made me take a long step back. "I allowed you to see me so I could make this abundantly clear. You cannot choose to remain with the girl you love. You cannot choose to stay with your friends. That time is past, for all of us. You will take your evacuation instructions and wait downstairs, or I will order my guards to take you to a room and lock you up."

I'd expected - well, a lot of things, but I'd never actually imagined she'd go this far.

"What killed Claire?" I asked. Not who killed her - I was already realizing that was irrelevant.

"The inevitable," she said. "She knew too much, it appears, more than he could afford. And if he dared act so openly, then even the preparations I've made will not save all of us. Some will be lost. Some will be foolish, and make themselves ready victims. But not you, Michael. You've been foolish enough already, coming here alone."

"I'm not going to leave Eve behind," I said. "I love her. I'm not just going to - "

She turned away from me toward the outer door. I hadn't heard anything, but she must have; she pressed a button on her desk, and the lock clicked over.

Myrnin walked in.

He looked . . . well, different. Sane, for one thing. The pupils of his eyes were wide and dilated, and I wondered if she'd drugged him, or he'd done it himself. Either could have been true. He closed the door without being asked and stood there, hands clasped behind his back, like a schoolboy reporting to the teacher. "It's done," he said. "Frank has been programmed with all the necessary sequences. He'll initiate it and shut himself down once it's confirmed. Then the countdown will start. It's all set to begin at dusk tomorrow."

Dusk tomorrow. I'd been told that all Morganville human residents had to be present in Founder's Square. "Countdown for what?" I asked. If Myrnin had set Frank to some kind of suicide mode, it was dire. Really dire.

Amelie and Myrnin both ignored me. "I will need you to help me trace Oliver's last movements," she said. "I realize there is no way to track Magnus directly, but we know that Oliver vanished within a short window of time. Perhaps there are clues to be seen, even now."

Myrnin frowned at her and rocked uncomfortably back and forth. "You mean to go after him? It's - not wise."

"I don't intend to stage a rescue," she said. "I can't. Oliver's lost, as are the rest. But if we know where the draug are gathering those they've taken, we can isolate it. Perhaps we can contain them and buy ourselves some time."

"Unlikely. You know how easily they could - "

"I know," she interrupted, and waved him off. "No more talk. Go."

Myrnin put a hand to his chest and bowed, just a little. As he did, he shot a look at me. This one was knife sharp. Amelie turned her back toward the window, and as Myrnin straightened, he mouthed one word to me.


I let him leave, and heard the click of the lock engage behind him. Amelie waited, as silent as the grave, until I said, "You say I don't have a choice, but I do. I can either cooperate or get dragged along. Right?"

"Yes," she said. "I regret that they are the only options I can offer. Leave the humans behind now, Michael; tomorrow it will only be harder. Do you understand?"

"You can really do it that easily. Just . . . end things."

"Yes," she said. She sounded tired now, and sad. "Unfortunately, I can. And I will. And so will you. So which is it? Go downstairs voluntarily, or under a guard, to a locked room? You can't leave. That much is absolutely guaranteed."

"Then I'll go on my own," I said. "But this isn't over. Trust me."

She didn't bother to point out to me how useless that was to say. She just pressed the button on her desk, and waved me off. I had no doubt that she had people watching me, ready to pounce, but Myrnin had been definite.

And that meant Myrnin had a plan. A crazy plan, sure, but right now, I'd take anything at all.

I walked out of the outer office and into the hallway, then looked right. Nothing showing that direction. It was entirely blank and bland.

To the left was a solid block of vampires, all impatiently waiting their turns at Bizzie's desk.

And beyond them, I saw Myrnin standing at the end of the hall. He waited until I'd caught sight of him, then took off in the opposite direction from the elevators.

I shoved past the waiting vamps, most of whom shot me poisonous looks or flashed fangs. I managed not to get bitten somehow. When I achieved relatively free space, I moved faster. Myrnin hadn't been dawdling, and while I didn't dare run, I couldn't exactly stroll.

I looked back. Two of Amelie's best and brightest goons had come out of a doorway only about fifteen feet behind me, and they were falling in on my trail. I turned the corner, heading the exact wrong way, and knew they'd be on me in seconds.

I ran, hard, and the walls blurred around me. I couldn't see Myrnin ahead, just more endless hallway....

. . . And then something tripped me, and I was falling.

Only a hand grabbed me out of the air by the arm and yanked, and in the next microsecond a door slammed, and I was on the floor being held down with a cold hand pressed over my mouth.

Myrnin. I rolled my eyes to look around, and from what I could dimly see, I thought we were in some kind of janitorial closet. It was tiny, cramped, and stank of cleaning products.

He looked down at me after about five seconds, and said, "We have less than a minute until they find us. Is Claire alive?"

"I thought you said - "

"I was hopeful, but you wouldn't be here if you hadn't seen proof," he said. "And now we have forty-five seconds."

"I need you," I said. "She needs you. Come with me."

"I can't," Myrnin said. "It's impossible. She'll never allow me to leave." He dug in the pocket of his vest, dropped a handful of old movie tickets, a foil-wrapped stick of gum, and something that looked like an ancient piece of candy to the carpet. "Where is it - Oh, bother - Wait - " He slapped pockets. I thought about reminding him of his own countdown, but honestly, it wouldn't do much good. Myrnin, Claire had always insisted, ran on Standard Crazy Time, not the regular clock.

He found a folded sheet of paper in his breast pocket, glanced at it, and handed it over to me. "Here," he said. "I'll need these things. Get them for me, before morning comes. Oh, and I'll need her body."

I was trying to read the list, but that stopped me cold. I looked up. "Her what?"

"Body," he repeated. "Corpse. Remains. Mortal shell. Her body, lackwit, get it to the house, and now we're out of time, for heaven's sake - go!"

"Go where?" I wondered how Claire dealt with this, the crazy talk, the sudden insanity, the demands - and then Myrnin spun me around, put a hand in the center of my back, and shoved. Hard.

I stumbled forward and brought up my arms, because I was going to hit the blank wall . . .

. . . And then the wall vanished into a well of black, a confusion of color, and the rest of my fall went through a freezing void and then out again into a cold, whipping wind, pellets of rain on my face, and the hard, scraping impact of my hands on pavement.

I was outside a brick wall, in a part of town I didn't recognize at first glance, until I found the distant lights of Founder's Square and spotted the darkened sign for Marjo's Diner, no longer open twenty-four/seven.

I was halfway to the edge of town, in the entirely wrong direction from home . . . but the right side of town for Morganville's one and only mortuary, run by a strange, stiff vampire called Mr. Ransom.

I was close to a single, flickering streetlight, and I took the piece of paper and angled it to catch the glow. It was a list. A crazy list.

And the first thing on it was CLAIRE - BODY.

He's nuts, I told myself. We all knew it, even Claire; Myrnin was a few pints short of a gallon at his best, and I wasn't exactly sure this was his best. He was medicated, for sure. That might be a good thing, of course. Amelie wouldn't want him to be scattered, so she might have made sure he was ruthlessly focused. In which case, the nutty list I was holding might actually make sense, in whatever universe Myrnin and Claire inhabited that the rest of us didn't.

I didn't really have a choice. He'd given me orders, and a list, and if I wanted to save Claire, or have any chance of it, I needed to get moving.

At the very least, Amelie was going to have a hell of a time finding me.

And that made me grin, before I took off running toward the mortuary.

The mortuary was deserted when I broke the door open and went inside. Ransom had already abandoned the place. I checked the viewing rooms, but they were all empty of coffins and bodies; I supposed he'd actually had the decency to make sure all the other deceased had burials.

At least, I hoped that was what he'd done with them.

I found Claire zipped in a body bag in a large walk-in refrigerator downstairs. Frost had formed on the ridges of the bag, and the fastener was stiff, but I unzipped it far enough to see her pale, still face. It wasn't just pale anymore. It was an eerie blue-white, and the marks on her neck had turned black.

I closed it up and wondered what I was going to do. She'd been gone for hours, and I knew enough about the dead to understand that she was probably going to be stiff.

I honestly wasn't sure I could stand to pick her up. There was something horribly wrong about even trying, but Myrnin had been insistent.

Man up, Mikey, I told myself. Shane would have done it.

I had to do it for him.

I slid my arms under her shoulders and thighs, and lifted her. She wasn't heavy, and she also wasn't stiff. Not at all. I almost dropped her as she sagged in my arms, and had to hug her close to my chest to balance her out.

I couldn't leave her in the body bag. It just felt so wrong.

I unzipped the plastic all the way. She was still wearing the clothes she'd died in, which was a relief. I picked her up again, carefully, like a sleeping girl instead of a dead body, and braced her against me.

"Claire?" I said, ridiculously somehow expecting her to open her eyes and talk to me, because she felt . . . almost living. Her color was wrong, and she was cold, but still . . . and it was probably better that she didn't answer me, because that would have been too weird even for a vampire to contend with.

I carried her out of the refrigerator, through the lab room, up the stairs, and out through the broken front door. Outside it was still raining, in chilly little fits, as if the sky were shivering in the cold. I bowed my head over her, somehow not wanting her to get wet, and ran for home.

I made it only as far as the end of the block before a police cruiser turned the corner, and its blue and red lights suddenly popped on and flashed. It nosed in to the curb, and a bright light focused on me.

"Hold up," called a familiar voice. I squinted against the light, and it was redirected to glow on my feet instead of my eyes.

Hannah Moses closed her car door and walked toward me, settling her nightstick in its loop on her belt. "Michael Glass," she said. "You planning on explaining to me why you're stealing a dead girl out of the mortuary?"

"To tell you the truth," I said, "I'm not exactly sure I know why I'm doing it."

She was staring at me - no, she was looking at Claire, with grim sadness grooving lines on her face around the prominent scar. "Never thought I'd see her go down," she said. "I honestly didn't."

"The thing is, she may not be gone."

Her eyebrows rose, then fell. "The house."

"You know?"

"I've got relatives in the Day House, Michael. And I spent time there. There's something not quite right about those things. Ghosts. I heard them growing up."

"I think Claire's still in there," I said. "And we're going to get her back."

"Just you."

"Myrnin," I said. "And me, yeah. And Eve, and Shane. So you have to let me go. You have to let me try."

She looked tired, and the sadness wasn't all for Claire. She seemed . . . beaten down. "This whole town's dying," she said. "Did you know that? It's our home, and it's being taken apart around us. What difference does one girl make, against all that?"

"I don't know. Maybe none at all. But she matters, Chief. She matters to us."

Hannah was silent again, for a long moment, and then she sighed and said, "Put her in the back and get in there with her. I'll drive you home."

"Uh, I'm not exactly supposed to be doing this - "

"Amelie gave orders to grab you on sight, stun you, and drag you back to Founder's Square by any means necessary," she told me. "I'm not supposed to be doing this, either. But I'm damned tired of doing what people tell me."

"Me, too," I said. "Thanks."

She drove fast, but carefully. We passed a few cruising police cars, and she told me to get down, but nobody tried to stop us. Why would they? She was chief of police, and as far as anyone could tell, the back of the car was empty. A fugitive vampire wasn't likely to be escaping in a police car.

Claire's body felt loose and relaxed where it rested on my knees. I was holding her neck and head still. In the passing flashes of streetlights - where they were still working - she looked not so much peaceful as just . . . vacant. She still had that fragile look to her, that pretty shape to her face, but everything that had been Claire was missing now. She could have been anybody.

"They'll be watching your house," Hannah said. "I'll park, pop your door, and go to the front to talk to Shane. They'll watch me do it. You take her and go around back." She put on her cap with its plastic covering and looked at me in the rearview mirror. "Stay out of sight of the windows once you're in there. Amelie will be checking the house as soon as she realizes you aren't in any of the other spots. I'll try to warn you if I can."

"Thank you," I said.

She shrugged. "Tomorrow I'm out of a job," she said. "Might as well go out flipping the bird to the powers that be killing us."

It occurred to me to wonder what she meant by that, but then she was out of the car, and my back door was open just a crack, and I had to get moving, fast, with Claire balanced in my arms. Good thing I was a vampire. Running with a second person's weight while in a crouch, keeping to the shadows, wasn't a job for a human.

I made the back door and got inside. I could hear Hannah saying something, and then the front door closed while I locked the back behind me.

I paused for a moment. Eve and Shane were talking out in the hallway, and I realized that there was no way around it: this was going to come as a shock.

Better, I thought, to get it over with fast.

I expected Eve to scream when I stepped out with Claire's body in my arms, but she just stared at me, eyes gone wide and strange, and then she turned and looked at Shane, lips parting.

He froze, and I saw all the color drain out of his face. He braced himself by slapping a hand against the wall, and blurted, "What in the hell are you doing?"

I couldn't tell him, because I didn't know. "Draw the shades," I told Eve. "Go. All of them. We can't let anyone see me."

"Where's Myrnin?"

"He's coming," I said, and hoped like hell I was right. "Help me put her on the couch in the living room."

Shane ran on ahead, tossing pillows and game controllers to the floor, and then he took a deep breath and helped guide her legs as I eased her down. "Why did you do this?" He sounded shaken. I'd have been surprised if he wasn't, honestly. "They took her away."

"Myrnin gave me a list. She was on it." I took one of the afghans Eve kept draped on the back of the couch and put it over Claire, then folded it carefully up to conceal her face. "Just leave her where she is. I have to go get the rest of what he wrote down. I'll be back."

"Wait!" Shane grabbed my arm as I started to head for the back door again. "Amelie's guys were just here. They tossed the place looking for you."

"Good. Then they won't be looking here again for a while."

Eve was standing off to the side. She hadn't said a word until now. "Michael - they told us we had to call when you came back. If we don't, they said - " She darted a look at Shane. "They said they'd come back and kill us all. I think they meant it."

"They did seem pretty serious about their mayhem," Shane said. "Screw it. Go, Mike. If they want to give it a try, they'll get a fight. I'm not ready to give it up, not as long as there's a chance we get her back."

I nodded. "Have you seen her again?"

"Yeah," he said, and cleared his throat. "She's okay." Shane wasn't, I realized. He looked . . . really tired. Dark circles under his eyes, an unhealthy color to his skin.

"I hope so," I said. Hope. I'd thought of Claire before as Shane's hope, and here I was, carrying corpses in the hope that Myrnin - professional lunatic - would show up and work some kind of weird magic and bring my friend back to life. That was, all things considered, a pretty good definition of hope, too. "Take care of them. I'll be back."

"Wait. Give me half the list. I can help." Shane had real passion in him now - a purpose. I knew it was dangerous. Then again, from the few hints Amelie had dropped back in her office, being a vampire was no longer any protection against the perils of the night, either.

I folded the paper in half, tore it, and handed him his portion. "Three items on there," I said. "One hour. Understood?"

"Got it," he said. "Watch your back, bro."

"You, too," I said.

"Wait," Eve said, and stepped forward. "Seriously, you two are not going out in the middle of the night and leaving me here with - " She didn't look directly at Claire's body, lying covered on the couch. Instead, she took a deep breath and plunged gamely on. "With the possibility of those vamp assholes coming back to kill us - "

She was right about that. "No," I said. "You go with Shane. Nobody should be here alone."

"Claire's alone," Shane said. He'd pulled an olive green canvas bag out from under a cabinet on the other side of the room and unzipped it, and was checking the contents. "I hope she understands why we have to do this." He looked up. "Stay strong, Claire. We'll be back for you. I promise."

"I'd like to go with you," Eve said to me, in a close whisper.

"I know." I took her hands and kissed them, then her lips. She could always bewitch me that way, just with a kiss, all over again, and it was hard to break away from the taste of raspberries and chocolate and the sweet, delicious, spicy flavor that was all Eve. "I'm going to be moving fast, and on foot. You and Shane get the hearse. Meet you back here in one hour. If you're late, I'll find you."

She smiled, and a dimple formed in her cheek. I wanted to kiss it, but there wasn't time. Especially not time for all the parts of her I wanted to kiss.

"You be careful," she told me. "I am marrying you, you know."

"I know." I gave in to temptation and kissed her nose. "Same here."

I waited to be sure that the house was tightly locked and Shane and Eve were safely in the big, black tank of a hearse before I took off running. My portion of Myrnin's list required things from his lab, and I was far better qualified to be in that part of town after dark - and Myrnin was prone to setting little traps for visitors, too. Better me than my friends.

The Day House next to the alley had all its lights ablaze, and I paused before I entered to look up at the second-floor corner window. The lace curtains parted, and the ancient, seamed face of Gramma Day looked out at me. She saluted me and raised a shotgun. I waved back.

We had an understanding, me and Gramma. I wondered if her granddaughter Lisa was back; if she was, she'd be heavily armed, too. The Days could tell things were changing, and not for the better.

Good. That meant they stood a good chance of not being victims.

I raced the rest of the way, dodging standing puddles of water - the rain had ceased, at least for a while - and trash cans as I went. The alley narrowed at the end, funneling directly to the shack that concealed Myrnin's lab entrance.

Someone had helpfully busted open the door, and I didn't even slow down as I jumped the stairs, landed flat-footed on the stone floor, and took a moment to look at the jumble that was in front of me.

Holy crap. Someone had definitely had a tantrum, or a fight. Knowing Myrnin, I'd put my money on the first thing.

I shoved books out of the way - there were a lot of books - and heard the crash of glass somewhere underneath the pile. I knew what I was looking for, but it was anybody's guess as to whether he'd have kept it where he'd had it the last time I'd visited. Myrnin liked to redecorate. Forcefully.

Bob the Spider was still doing fine, sitting in his web in the fish tank near Myrnin's battered leather armchair; he'd grown to almost the size of a tarantula by now. I wondered what Myrnin fed him, but that wasn't my concern, not today. I edged by the tank, while eight beady eyes watched me, and opened the chemical cabinet that Claire had insisted be installed for things that might actually sear flesh or cause horrible death.

Inside, the bottles were all intact, and neatly labeled in Claire's careful printing. I paused for a second to stare at that, because it felt as if she were right here, standing with me; but that was illusion, not fact. The real Claire was trapped in the house, just as I'd been once.

This was just . . . an afterimage. Wishful thinking.

I looked at the list and grabbed two bottles. Claire had left a shopping bag in the corner, and I started filling it up. The chemicals were only part of what Myrnin wanted; he also needed a piece of equipment that looked like some kind of defibrillator. He'd drawn a sketch in his sloppy, yet oddly accurate, hand, and I held it up as I stared at each steampunked-out machine in view.

There, on the fifth table, sat a match to what he'd drawn. I grabbed it up.

The last thing, though, wasn't in view, and I spent long, frustrating minutes opening cabinets and pulling out crap to try to find it. A black leather bag, like an old-fashioned doctor's kit.

It was nowhere.

"I'd ask if you were looking for something, but that seems pretty obvious," said a gravelly voice from behind me. I hadn't felt anybody approach, but I knew the voice, all right, and there was nobody to sense behind it.

Just a picture, flat and grayscale, of Shane's dad.

I tried not to show it too much around Shane, but I hated his father. Hated him, more than any human being or creature or whatever on the face of the planet. It wasn't from any one thing, although he'd done horrible stuff to me; I could get over that, bad as it was. No, it was what he'd put Shane through, day after day, all his life. It was bad enough when he was just a mean drunk, pushing his son to be a bully like him; it had gotten ten thousand times worse after Shane's sister and mother had died, and Frank's obsession with destroying the Morganville vampires had taken over whatever good he had left inside.

Shane had a big dark streak inside him, but honestly, I'd always been surprised that he had anything but the dark, after what he'd been through.

Because of his dad.

So, without turning around, I said, "Fuck off, Frank, before I find your jar and smash your brain like a boiled tomato."

"Aw, that's cute. Who grew up and got all butch? Doesn't suit you, Glass. You're the sensitive musician type, remember?" The bitter mockery in his voice was about as subtle as a rock to the head.

One thing about me - I am a musician, but I grew up in Morganville, and here, sensitive types don't last long unless they have steel underneath. So I was never the weak pushover Shane's dad had always assumed I was. Shane had known that, but his dad had always wanted him to make friends with real guys.

Honestly, smashing his brain would solve so many problems right now, for all of us, because the idea of Frank Collins continuing to throw his weight around when Claire was lying dead in our house . . . it really reeked of irony.

I turned around and said, "Black leather bag. Where is it?"

Collins had upgraded his image a little; he seemed younger, and he'd made himself look more badass at the same time. Sad. "Feel free to look around," he said.

"Myrnin needs it."

"You think that cuts any ice with me, Goldilocks? He didn't exactly ask me before he wired me into his Frankenmachine. I don't run his errands."

I kept opening cabinets and pulling drawers. The clock was ticking away on me, and I was well aware that I still had to get back to the house before the deadline with Shane and Eve. If Amelie's search team showed up here, I'd be screwed.

"Warmer," Frank said. "Oooh, nope, wrong, cooler."

"Shut up."

"Tell me one thing and I will."

"Or I could go pull your tubes - that'd work, too."

"What do you think would happen if I told Shane about you and Claire?"

I froze. It was like a two-by-four hitting me in the head, and for a few seconds I couldn't even organize a response . . . and then I had to fight back the red splash of rage that flooded over me.

I turned to look at him. Pretty sure my eyes were glowing a bright, angry crimson. "You fucking liar."

He laughed. "Oh, come on, Michael. She's a pretty girl; she's living in your house.... Are you telling me you never even thought about it? You think Shane would believe that, either? If I told him?"

It was a lie, a complete and total bullshit lie, but he was right about one thing: I had thought about it. Not after Shane had started falling for her, but before, a little. Just a little.

One thing about Frank, he'd always known how to see the cracks in your armor, and just where to hit. My friendship with Shane would always be strong, and it would always be fragile, too; he didn't trust vampires, but he trusted me, and all that noise in his head over that made it harder than it should have been.

Any hint about Claire and me . . . that would shatter it all over again.

"What do you want, Frank?" I slammed one drawer and opened another one. Damn, I was getting hungry, spurred on by all the anger he was pulling out of me. I had a sports bottle at home filled with type O that I'd chug down, but it was distracting, feeling that jittery need at a time like this. I wondered where Myrnin kept his snacks. Then again, knowing Myrnin's general whackitude, I wouldn't have tried anything out of his refrigerator anyway.

"I want you to stop Amelie," Frank said.

That made me turn around. All the bullying was gone now, all the crap, and this was the real Frank Collins. The one who still had a streak of - well, I wouldn't call it humanity, exactly - honor left in him.

"Stop her from doing what, exactly?"

"Destroying this town and everybody in it."

"Not the vampires," I said. "And she said she's handing over power to the humans."

Frank laughed, a tangle of electronic noise from the speakers across the room. "You really believe she'd ever do that? Even at the end? She's one of those who'd kill you to save you. Vampires get to leave. Humans get to die, all together, right in Founder's Square - just like scientists humanely get rid of lab animals when they're done with the experiment. And I'm the one who has to pull the pin."

Part of me insisted that he was lying, again, because that was Frank's deal. He lied. He bullied. He manipulated people to do what he wanted.

But the other part warned me that he just might be telling the truth. I'd heard Amelie and Myrnin talking. What he'd just said fit with what I knew from the two of them - although they'd left out the part about humans dying.

Of course.

"Tell me where the bag is," I said.

"Only if you tell me you're going to stop this thing."

I opened another drawer and slammed it so hard the wood splintered. "Don't be an ass - of course I'm going to stop it. Do you really think I'd let Amelie do a thing like that?"

"Maybe. Vampires are all about self-preservation."

"All right, then suck on this: I'm staying here. I'm not going with the others. So she'd have to kill me, too." I threw a stack of books out of the way and uncovered another set of drawers built into the bottom of the lab table I was searching.

And inside was a dusty black leather bag. Exactly like what I was searching for.

I pulled it out and opened it. Medical equipment. Things I didn't recognize, but it looked like what Myrnin would want.

"Told you that you were getting warm," Frank said.

"Game's over, Frank." I snapped the catches shut again and picked up the bag, along with the shopping bag of chemicals. "You lose."

His voice came out of my cell phone speaker as I climbed the steps, heading out. "Do we have a deal?"

"No," I said. "I don't make deals with you."

But that didn't mean I wouldn't be stopping the massacre. If he hadn't been lying about that, too.

Frank said, "What if I told you Claire was still alive in your house?"

And how Frank Collins it was, to save that as his last bargaining chip.

I held up the phone and said, very clearly, "I already know, dip-shit. And we're going to get her back without any help from you."

There was silence for a second, and then Frank said, "You know what, kid? I really hope you can. But the thing is, even if you do . . . you're all going to die. Because I'm going to kill you. I've got no choice."

We'd have to see about that.

But after Claire.

I made it home in an hour and three minutes, unlocked the back door, and raced inside to put my stuff on the table.

The house was silent, except for the dry ticking of the clock in the parlor. Claire's body still lay motionless on the couch, covered with Eve's knit afghan.

I went to the front and carefully checked the window. No sign of the hearse out front.

They were late. Later than me, and that was late.

I waited as the clock ticked, every second winding my nerves tighter. Dammit, Shane, if you got yourself into it . . . If Eve . . . I couldn't finish the thoughts; my brain kept yanking away from it like a hand from a hot stove.

What if Frank wasn't lying about the meeting at Founder's Square? What if Amelie meant to end the Morganville experiment in a blaze of glory? I couldn't understand that, but it all fit. She was scared of something, very scared. And scared people do insane things.

Ten minutes passed, then fifteen, and I couldn't wait anymore. The hearse wouldn't be tough to spot. If they needed help, every minute would count.

I left the way I'd come in, through the back, and took shortcuts through neighbors' yards until I was sure it was safe to be on the street.

I was two blocks from Lot Street, passing the shuttered and locked gates of Variety Liquor, when the rain began to fall again. I didn't have a coat, but it didn't matter. I kept moving.

Ahead, someone stepped out of the hissing darkness, and I saw a blur of water, teeth, something wrong, so very wrong, and then there was something in my head, drowning me alive. I felt cold.

The thing facing me looked like a man, but he was all wrong, too. So was his awful slicing smile as he whispered, "Come with me," and I had no choice but to follow him into the dark.

Into the cold.



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