Sean had been sitting in a pew, his head in his hands. He got up. "Look, Jack, you're not at fault. There is a force here that . . . well, it's very powerful."
"But it seems I'll never be able to convince the hospital and the police powers that be that Rick was killed by ... what? An ancient evil?"
No one replied.
Jade stood, too upset to stay among them.
As she started out of the chapel, her sister called after her. "Jade! What are you doing? You can't just go off-"
"Jack, can you follow her, then get back to Maggie's as soon as possible? Sean and I have a few things to take care of here," Lucian asked Jack.
Jade went dead still, swung around, and walked back into the chapel, hands on her hips as she stared at Lucian.
"What do you think you're going to do?" she demanded.
"You know what I've got to do."
She shook her head in denial. "You think you're going to go down to the morgue and slice off his head and cut out his heart. No! You're not going to do it! You're not!"
"Jade!" Lucian exclaimed, seizing her by the shoulders. "We've got to. You still don't want to believe what you've seen, but this has to be done."
"No! No! If he can come back, let him come back!"
"Jade, you don't understand-"
"What don't I understand?" she challenged. "He'll come back the same as you!"
"He could," Lucian said.
"And he might not," Sean told her.
"What do you mean, he might not?"
"Some people shouldn't come back," Lucian said.
"Jade," Sean said, "he could come back with a really vicious homicidal bent." She put her hands on her hips. "Who are you to judge who should and shouldn't be allowed to come back?" she demanded.
"Let me tell you why he shouldn't come back!" Lucian said, his anger suddenly rivaling hers. "He was a hell of a decent guy. Do you really want him damned, thirsting for blood, hurting every day he doesn't take a human life?"
"Is that how you live?"
"It's how I lived for a very long time," he told her, then added, "then again, lucky me. I learned about blood lust in a time when war meant decapitating your enemy and slicing him to ribbons. Jack, take her out of here. Get her out of the hospital."
"Jade," Jack said. "You know, they're going to cut into Rick anyway; there's going to be a full autopsy because it will have to be determined just how he did die. The hospital is convinced that we have a new and deadly virus on our hands."
"Well, we do, don't we?" Jade murmured.
"Who the hell knows what we have! I-"
"Don't! Please, please, please, don't hack into Rick. Give him a chance. If he's tainted-"
"If he's tainted?" Lucian said, crossing his arms over his chest.
"He can be killed later."
"Not by me. Don't you understand?"
"Sean can kill him."
"What if he comes back with a tremendous capacity for evil?"
"He won't! I'm telling you, I know Rick. And damn it, Lucian, look at you."
"Um. Look at me. I've been a long, long time in the making, Jade. You don't know what I came back like, and you sure as hell don't know some of the horrors I created in my day."
"Rick will have you."
"I had a guide as well-" Lucian began, but he suddenly broke off, remembering what he had felt when Rick had talked to him earlier. Damn, but I feel like you're someone I know really well! Rick had told him, and there had been something so familiar about him, too....
"What?" Jade said.
Lucian looked at Sean. "You're a cop, and you know this town, and you knew Rick. It's your call."
"You mean ...," Sean said.
"We can see what happens."
"But what will happen when they take him in for the autopsy?"
"He'll probably wake before then," Lucian said.
"Right. And give the coroner heart failure," Jack suggested.
"And chew out his throat, probably," Sean said dryly. "You awake with a terrible hunger, right?"
"Most of the time," Lucian agreed.
"It's dangerous," Sean said.
"Dangerous!" Jade exclaimed. "Sean Canady, Jack Delaney. The two of you are sitting here talking calmly with a man who claims to be-or admits to being, whichever you want-a vampire. A killer. The king of the wretched beasts, as it were. He hasn't seized either of you for a midnight snack. How can you even think about going down to that morgue to slice up Rick Beaudreaux?"
"Please ... we should give him a chance," Shanna said, piping on in on the conversation. "I mean, maybe Sophia infected him, but it's true that she did infect you as well. You may need more help than you've got fighting her and Darian-human help is frail, as we've all discovered- sorry, Jack-and Rick was a very fine person."
"Jack?" Sean said.
"I wasn't fond of the idea of cutting off Rick's head," Jack said.
Sean looked at Lucian. "Let's give it a try."
"Rick Beaudreaux may not thank any of us," Lucian warned them.
"And then, of course, we've got another problem," Sean said.
They all stared at him.
"Somehow," Sean said, "we're going to have to steal his body and get him out of the morgue. Because he might not wake up in time, and then he'll be a chopped-up, pissed-off, and really hungry vampire." Chapter Seventeen
They waited several hours.
Lucian felt sorry for the hospital administrators. Trouble in the blood bank, a very strange death, and now a missing corpse. It wasn't going to look good for them.
There was no help for it.
Rick's corpse lay on the ground level, awaiting transfer to the parish morgue in the morning for a complete autopsy. Only one attendant was on duty.
Lucian went down first and engaged the night man at the morgue desk in conversation. A few seconds later, when the night attendant was staring into space, he summoned Jack and Sean, now clad in hospital gowns. They wheeled Rick out on a gurney and to an empty room. There, quickly, they dressed him.
Lucian and Sean each put an arm around him. It looked as if they escorted a drunk, as they carried him between them, and with amazing ease they departed the hospital.
"Where are we taking him?" Sean, driving, asked.
"It's almost daylight. The cemetery," Lucian told him.
"If anyone recognizes me stealing a corpse after insisting a woman who disappeared into thin air murdered the guy, my ass is fired," Jack said forlornly.
Lucian looked at him. "No one recognized you," he said.
The girls had been sent to Maggie's. Mike Astin sat guard now for Liz MacGregor.
They reached the cemetery, parked the car on the street, and maneuvered the corpse out. Jack felt queasy as the gates opened at Lucian's approach.
Lucian lifted Rick Beaudreaux into his arms and turned back to Jack and Sean. "You two don't need to go any farther. I can take it from here."
Sean nodded. "He'll sleep through the daylight?"
"If he awakes, which he might, he'll sleep again. He'll have no strength," Lucian said.
"What's next?" Jack asked. "Are the girls safe at Maggie's? Is Liz in greater danger now?"
"Sophia and Darian were both hurt pretty badly in that last scuffle. Holy water burns worse than acid on human flesh," he said quietly. "They could prey only on someone really weak, and they'll be desperate to escape the sun with such severe burns. I can try to find their positions. I found them last night, but... a little late. I think we've bought some time. And we need it."
"What's your plan?" Sean asked.
"I'm going to Scotland."
"Great. Vampires run amok in New Orleans-and you're going to Scotland," Jack said, shaking his head.
"I think I know where to find Sophia's talisman."
"But what will happen here if you leave?" Jack asked.
"I promise you, if I head for Scotland, the two of them will follow. They came here and purposely and methodically started killing the survivors from their murder spree in Scotland. The talisman must be in the bowels of the tomb there. I think that Sophia displayed it somehow that night and that they've come after these people because she doesn't intend to lose it again."
"But what good does it do her in Scotland?" Sean asked.
"It's in her possession, kept in a family vault. A very rich man doesn't hold his money, but it exists in the bank," he explained. "That's what I think."
"I still don't quite understand this, Lucian. You're the leader; the oldest, the best-the most powerful.
Can't you command-"
"In the days when the world remained a test of arms, we went to war constantly, and any man could be drawn into battle. The Norsemen I knew still hoped for an entrance to Valhalla, and those Christians with remnants of souls clung to the hope that there could be forgiveness, like men, my kind have changed with the times. During times of plague we feasted and, God knows, perhaps saved men and women from unimaginable agonies. In the Renaissance, we learned to take care. During the French Revolution it was easy to rid yourself of certain enemies, bloodsucking and human. We've moved into a new age. Most of my kind feed discreetly on the dying, visit prisons, help rid the streets of human vermin, and spend most of their time visiting blood banks. It's survival. It's what I've taught. It's why I'm kind. I haven't gone against nature; I've tried to tame it for the changing times. Sometimes a terror arises, such as Sophia. And then there is action. But I am usually the one to take that action, be that in a physical reprimand that leaves the offender healing for a century or two, or in enlisting the aid of human beings to see to the final deed-always a risky proposition, when you are among the undead yourself. There are those I can call on for help, but they all fear Sophia. No king commands subjects in rebellion, and that is what she remains. I usurped her power; I changed the order of the day. Leave me now. I'll see you again come the darkness." Sean and Jack watched while Lucian carried the body of their friend into the depths of the graveyard.