Chapter 35: Martha (V)
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
I was worried I wouldn’t feel vicious enough to tackle Cross. I needn’t have worried. It’s Ned who should be worried. I feel like tearing his head off.
First, I had to free his parents from the spells Cross’s sorcerers had put on them. OK, I understand that. Then he wanted help trying to straighten out the place while Sally Truax called the police to report . . . eh, a home invasion. I gritted my teeth and pitched in.
But now he’s trying to tell me I can’t kill Cross, and he certainly can’t be part of it. And Truax is looking on and keeping her mouth shut. I could really use some support, Sally. They damn near killed you and you’re saying nothing, because you don’t want to be a cop condoning murder in front of Ned. Argh!
Never tell a cop you plan to kill someone. There is no good way out of the situation.
“Fine,” I finally shout at Ned. “I’ll talk sweet reason to him while he turns your sister over to his minions as a plaything, Ned. But the moment he makes a hostile move, he’s dead. Better hope he makes it while your sister’s still alive.”
That gets Ned hot under the collar. “Mother, if you think for one moment I would jeopardize my sister’s wellbeing, then . . .”
“Then shut up, Ned, and help me kill the bastard!”
Ned starts to say something, and I just turn away. I’ve had it. I just start walking away.
Footsteps run to catch up to me. A hand on my shoulder. I turn to cuss Ned out, and find myself facing Sally Truax. I’m disappointed. And I can see where Kammen bit her.
“What do you want?” I say to her.
“Is there anything we can actually do, Martha?” She stands there, looking at me, appealing to me. I want to sink my fangs into her. I remember Kammen, and try to get back under control and think.
“Get a warrant to search Cross’s place for Nora O’Donnell, for Make Love Not War, too, if you can. It won’t stop him, but it might slow him down and inconvenience him.”
Truax nods. “I’ve got a cousin who’s a judge who will do that for me. And I’ll keep Ned involved. What will you be doing?”
“There’s a party tonight of Chicago’s political and business leaders. I wangled an invitation through Kammen’s sister Kate.” Truax blushes at mention of Kate. I don’t have time to ask why. “I was going to use the opportunity to embarrass him in front of all those people. Now I just might kill him in front of them, instead.”
Truax thinks for a moment. “The Lake City Club annual reception, right. I’ve got an uncle attending. I’ll see what I can do to provide official cover if you need it.”
“No. Just be handy outside if I need you. And I’ve got to run, Sally.”
She gives me a hug, something nobody’s done since Vic. “Don’t be angry at Ned. He’s got enough on his mind, I’m sure.”
I didn’t reply. I’m not angry at Ned. I’m angry at everyone.
I’m especially angry at dressmakers. The fancy dress I brought down from Madison barely fits, and makes me feel like a penguin in a silk sack. And there’s not a lot to be said for an outfit that requires I stash my weapons inside my skirt. Fortunately I’ve used this outfit in dangerous situations before, so there are hooks and pockets to serve my purposes.
I get to the Lake City Club and go in, and almost regret ever coming up with this idea. This looks like a particularly stuffy reception. And my job is to make the acquaintance of enough people that when I make Cross look like a fool, it will seem more credible.
But anger and blood lust are running in my veins tonight. Everyone looks like prey. Several hundred people in formal attire, ready to be slaughtered by me. I start to chat up this one industrialist, and before I know it I’ve enthralled him and his wife, and have to resist asking them to bend down so I can bite their necks. At least enthralling them is making it easy to prime them for when I embarrass Cross.
I don’t see Cross. I keep circulating. I’ve already drained someone today, but I feel so much in need of prey I enthrall some Congressman’s nephew, walk him out onto the grounds, and take blood from him in the shadow of a bush.
I’m walking back onto the patio when Kate, Kammen’s sister, comes out of the main hall through the double doors. She sees me, gives me a wave. I start walking over to her. And then she reaches into her purse and pulls out a pistol.
I don’t think, but immediately shift into a run to grab that pistol before she uses it. I come to about a foot away from her, and then slam into a magical barrier.
Stunned, I fall back onto the patio’s stone floor. I look up, and there’s Kate, walking toward me with the pistol pointing right at me.
I lock eyes with her, try to enthrall her. Whatever magical barrier is around her, it’s not quite up to stopping me. Kate pauses, a look of puzzled frustration on her face. Dimly, I’m aware that other people are beginning to react to the sight of a pistol-packing woman in their midst. To hell with them, they’re just prey.
I need to concentrate, keep trying to enthrall Kate, and at the same time figure out what’s going on. What is that around her? It’s a protective spell, but it doesn’t keep out people, only vampires. And it’s not protecting her from my enthrallment, not completely.
Kate’s look switches from puzzlement to anguish. Something’s going on with that spell. I can feel it change, and whatever it is, it’s not good for Kate. Which means I need to defeat it in a hurry. Or does it? I’ve blundered. Cross must have figured out what I am, else Kate would not be spelled the way she is. He must have found out I was coming, too, and how I got an invitation. And he’s a paranoid bastard, so he must have expected Kate might not be able to kill me easily. So what do you do with a tool when it’s useless? You destroy it, so it can’t be used by anyone else or traced to you. There must be a death spell on Kate if she fails. And it is probably already kicking in.
People are backing away and crowds are forming. Whatever cover I had here is blown. Time to make the most of it. I grab my sorcerer’s wand from under my dress, scandalizing the crowd, stand up, and take the three steps to be directly in front of Kate. I don’t know for sure what this spell is, but I know one way to short-circuit it at a blow. So, with a simple spell, I ram my wand through the barrier. It tears through the fabric of her dress and plunges deep into her abdomen. She screams, dropping the gun. She’d drop herself, but so long as I hold the wand in her, she can’t. Cross’s death spell is trying to kill her, my wand has impaled her, and my own spell means she can’t stop me. So she screams in pain and terror, not understanding what’s going on. I pull her head down, press my mouth against her neck, and sink my fangs in.
We vampires have magic of our own. Oh, I have sorcerer’s magic, but I still have the vampiric type. And now I’m using both on Kate, and Cross’s spell stands no chance against them. Kate sags and falls against me.
Then Cross shows me he’s still a step ahead of me. Before she passes out, she whispers, “You should have stayed home and herded reindeer.”
My blood turns cold. All of the fever, all of the blood lust drains out of me. I drop Kate and pull out my wand, which leaves no mark behind. Kate’s free of Cross’s spell, whatever it was. And Cross knows far, far too much about me. How he could know about that, I can’t figure. All the people who did are long dead. Cripes, bad enough that Cross understands I’m a vampire and sorceress, to judge from what he did to Kate. But if he’s as old as I am, I’m in serious trouble.
And then I realize the trick he’s played. He doesn’t know about my youth at all. It had to be part of the spell he put on Kate to project my own fears back on me, to make me think she said that. Just as it was no doubt part of that spell that I can trace it back to Cross. He wants a confrontation. And so far, he’s shown he can outplay me. This is not good.
People are coming up to see what’s happened. I can’t stay to explain. I’ll get mad, and then the Lake City Club will have many fewer members. Like I care. I could use the fury I’d work up, but destroying Cross comes first, and I’m on a running clock. I need to get moving. I leave Kate lying on the patio floor. Sorry, Kate. You probably had no idea of what you were getting into. But at least you’ll be OK now. I have to put an end to this.
It’s three of us who stand at the entrance to Cross’s establishment on the Gold Coast. Ned and Sally Truax had secured a warrant to search this place for Nora, but had decided to stop at the Lake City Club to tell me, before they served it. They managed to intercept me as I was getting away from the club.
As we head over to Cross’s place, I explain to them what happened at the club. Ned begins to get it. But he still wants to keep this an official visit. He wants Truax to take the lead, with him backing her up, and I’m supposed to stay an observer. I tell him he doesn’t stand a chance of getting into the place without me, and that we can play all the official games we want, but I am killing Cross, period. Ned tries to continue the argument, but Sally starts talking to him in an undertone. What she says, I neither know nor care. But it shuts up Ned. I’m grateful. Because otherwise I might kill him for good.
Once we arrive, as the only official policeman present, Sally Truax reaches up to knock on the door. But before she can, it opens of its own accord, swinging inward, beckoning us in. The hallway is lit up.
We step in. I can feel that I’m in Cross’s lair. His magic permeates this place. This is the last place I wanted to fight him, but here I am. The door closes behind us. Sally and Ned both turn around to look at it, mystified. I’m sure Cross meant it to be creepy. I say to them, “Sorcery. Everything you see and hear will be under Cross’s influence.”
We walk forward. The lights go on ahead of us, directing us, while the lights behind us go off. More creepiness. I ignore it. We’d come in through the residential side of his establishment, but we’re quickly moving into another section of the building. It looks more like an office building, except there are no windows and no names on the doors. This, I gather from the strengthening of the magic in the environment, is where Cross practices his magic. This is his safe place. But there’s almost nobody here, as near as I can tell. Strange, I would have thought he’d have his remaining minions around. I haven’t killed that many of them.
We come to the door at the end of a corridor. No name, but it’s a fancy dark wood, probably cherry, with delicate carvings of occult symbols on it. A protective door, no doubt. It, too, swings open. I draw my blasting rod, and the three of us step inside.
The room feels large, but it is all in darkness. There’s a thick rug underneath our feet.
And then a single ceiling light snaps on, tightly focused on one person. Sitting at a table about thirty feet away is Edward Cross. He looks to be about sixty, though he is several decades older. Balding, what hair remains is grey and black. His forehead is heavily wrinkled, his cheeks and nose show the small broken blood vessels of someone who drinks a lot. His eyes could be a dark brown or black for all I can tell. He is so thin as to look cadaverous, and when a vampire says that, you know it’s so.
Edward Cross is dying. I can see it in his body, I can see it in his face, I can see it in his magical power, even from thirty feet away. But that doesn’t mean he’s weak, not yet. There’s no weakness in the magic of his that permeates this place. Dying he may be. Dead he is not.
He grins at me. “Welcome, Madame Fokker, or whatever your name is. Tell me, did Mrs. Hecate Henderson survive?”
It takes me a moment to recall that was Kate’s name. “She did, no thanks to you.”
His grin didn’t leave his face. “Ah, but she’ll have such memories of me. And who are these two fine people standing beside you?”
Sally Truax steps forward. “I have here a warrant allowing us to search this establishment for the person of Nora O’Donnell, thought to be forcefully and unlawfully detained by you against her will.”
Cross looks even more amused. “I know nothing of any Nora whatever. But I do have a friend of yours here with me. Permit me to introduce her.”
Another ceiling light comes on. Sitting to Cross’s right is Make Love Not War. She’s smiling. It’s that wanton smile of hers, the one that conveys her lust for the bodies of others. And it’s for Cross.
End of chapter thirty-five