Cam wasn't at the hotel. Nix and I checked the front desk, and they said she had been there but moved out. There was no forwarding address.
Once again, the scene of our get together was Dayle and Kruise's new place. They had just left the Shadowbox when Nix called, and we all met here to discuss what to do.
Kruise and I were sitting and watching Dayle pace. Nix was staring out the window.
"I can't believe this." Kruise shook her head as she she spoke.
I nodded. "I know. It's hard to think of Cam as being the one to attack people."
Nix's voice was soft. "It actually does make sense."
Dayle stopped and turned toward her. "What?"
"It clears up something that was bothering me." She sighed, but didn't turn around. "I kept wondering why the people struggled. Even if they didn't want the initial bite, they should have stopped struggling after the vampire sunk their fangs in. But they didn't."
Slowly, Dayle nodded. "Because Cam's fangs never fully changed. They grew, like those of a Nosferatu, but they don't release the chemicals ours do."
"Exactly." Finally, Nix turned around and came over to the couch. "So. We know who. The question is -- how do we stop her?"
Blank stares greeted her question. None of us had any ideas.
Dayle sat down next to Kruise. "Do we call Kelsey?"
"Yes." I nodded. "And Jesse. She'll want to know."
Nix looked up at Jesse's name. "Why? Why would Jesse care?"
I remembered Cam sitting and holding Jesse's hand while Kelsey worked on her torn wrist. "Trust me, she'll care."
Kruise nodded. "I agree with Trey."
Dayle glanced back and forth between us. "Um, just a question here." We all looked at her. "What do we do if Kelsey takes this to the council?"
I shrugged. "We deal."
"No." Nix shook her head. "She can't."
"Trey, don't you get it? Cam was beaten and tossed out of every vampire club. Who do you think the council answers to? The very people who are so against Cam." She shook her head. "No, we do not let Kelsey in on this if there's even a chance that she'll go to the council."
"Do we call Tess?"
The question stopped everyone, and we all looked at Kruise.
"That's actually a good question, Nix."
The blonde vampire nodded. "I know, Dayle. But if security at her apartment building doesn't know how to get in touch with her, I'm not sure I could."
I thought about that. "Well, she said she was going to England. Would she get in touch with someone there? Someone that you know and could call?"
Her eyebrows drew together as she thought about that. "Um. Yeah, actually, I could maybe pass on a message, but -- what do I say? 'Cam's gone crazy, come back to New York'?"
"Why not?" Dayle answered. She got an elbow in the ribs from Kruise. "What?"
"No, just leave a message that there's an emergency, and Cam's involved. Tell her to get in touch with you or Dayle immediately."
Nix nodded. "I can do that." She reached for her cell phone.
"You'll get better reception on the patio. I know it's cold, but . . ." Kruise shrugged.
Already dialing, Nix stood and went to the glass doors, letting herself out and closing them behind her.
Dayle sighed and shook her head. "What the hell are we gonna do now?"
I leaned back. "Find Cam. Quickly."
By the end of the night, we hadn't gotten far. Initially our hope was that Tess would call us back, but it didn't happen. The vampire Nix had called in London had promised to pass on the message, but wasn't sure when she'd have the chance to do that.
Jesse had been called, but since she was still staying at the other place, we didn't know when she'd get the message. We agreed that if there was no sign of Cam by Friday, either Kruise or I would go to the courthouse and tell her what was happening.
Kelsey was called Thursday morning, but we didn't tell her what we knew. Instead, we asked her to join us at Dayle's to talk. She said she couldn't until Friday; things were crazy both at her work and with the council. We set a time for meeting on Friday night, and left it at that. No one wanted to tell her this over the phone. Nix became my chauffer for the day, driving me home to change clothes and do some errands. We went to the post office so I could drop off the finished article that had been waiting on my hard drive. While we were there, I picked up my own mail, which included two rejection letters for a manuscript I'd sent out.
I tossed them into the dumpster as we passed it.
"What was that?"
Nix looked sideways at me, but didn't question me.
While Kruise and Dayle were both out, Dayle at another meeting and Kruise to begin set work at the theater, Nix and I went back to their place, which had been dubbed home base in the search for Cam.
We layed out a street map of the area and marked the different places of attacks. We noticed a few things right away, like the fact that that one of the attacks was close to the place the SUV had been found abandoned, and that the Carson wasn't far from a couple of the other sites.
"We haven't heard about any other attacks, so we know she'll probably be out hunting. Do we try another stake out, just the four of us, or choose some other strategy?"
Setting down her coffee cup, Nix leaned back and glared at the map. "I'm not sure. To begin with, maybe we can call a few of the hotels in the area to see if she's checked into any of them. While I do that, why don't you kind of break this thing into sections? Maybe we can do a grid search, you know?"
I nodded. "Maybe we can break up into four and --"
"No." Her voice was firm. "Absolutely not, Trey."
"Because Cam is stronger than you or Kruise. If she jumped you, you wouldn't have a chance against her. She's already put a couple people in the hospital, and she's not thinking right. She won't recognize you."
"Well, not at first, but after she feeds she'll be better, and she'd know to get help for us, don't you think?"
"Yeah, but what good would that do if she accidentally killed you? No. You and I are teaming through this, and Kruise and Dayle will team up. Got it?"
I sighed. "All right. We could cover more territory if we split up though."
"And we could lose one of you, too. I won't put you in that kind of jeopardy." She looked up at me. "I'm not gonna help you kill yourself, Trey."
My eyes went wide. "You think that's what I want to do?"
"Maybe not consciously. But your facade has slipped once or twice, and I know the look I saw when it did."
I crossed my arms. "I'm not suicidal, Nix."
She nodded. "I know. Neither am I." Nix stood and headed for the coffee pot. "I need more caffeine."
For a moment, her words didn't register, and I continued to glare at her. Then I played them over in my head, remembering the conversation of a couple days before. "Nix?"
She moved over to the window, both hands wrapped around her mug. "Nothing. I'm just tired, Trey." With a sigh, Nix added. "I'm so tired."
My friend looked very alone suddenly, and I moved up behind her, slowly wrapping my arms around her.
"I know, but you'll be with Jesse soon, and things will get better."
Nix chuckled slightly. "You think Jesse can make me young again?"
I shrugged. "Don't know. But if anyone can, it's Jesse. Don't you think?"
She nodded, and leaned back against me. "I don't know, Trey. I'm just so sick of everything. I thought I'd gotten rid of Star, but she just keeps coming back."
"What do you mean?" I swear she could hear the panic in my voice. I sure could.
"In my dreams." She patted my arm. "And in other ways, I suppose. This thing with Tess." The blonde head shook again. "She's been my friend for centuries. My best friend. And I let Star take her away from me."
There wasn't anything I could say to that, so I just stayed there, my chin on her shoulder.
"And now, Cam losing it . . ." Another head shake. "It's just too much. I don't want to deal with it anymore."
I felt a cold spot building in me. "Nix -- you can't mean that."
She shrugged. "I don't know what I mean. It just hurts right now." Putting down her cup, she turned in my arms. "I think it's just because I was there, I helped keep Cam alive, and it took a long time. Even after the initial change, she kept getting a little --" She stopped suddenly, her eyes getting wide. "Oh, fuck."
"What? What's wrong, Nix?"
"That's it." Her eyes were still wide and staring but they focused on me. "I know why she's going so crazy."
"I thought we knew that. It's because she needs blood, isn't it?"
"Yes, but not just human blood."
I shook my head. "You lost me."
She ran a hand through her hair. "Dammit, why didn't I think of it?"
"Think of what?"
"Trey, don't you remember when Tess told you about how Cam became a vampire? How she and I gave Cam our blood over and over?"
"Well, sure, but what does that have to do with what's going on now?"
The vampire took a deep breath. "She's becoming a Nosferatu."
Now I was really confused. "She's not a Nosferatu, they're just blood thirsty ki--" My own eyes widened. "Oh, shit."
"Why now? Because she's not feeding enough?"
"No, because she's not getting the right kind of blood. What's kept her sane all these years is the blood from Tess. They made it a regular thing that they shared blood with each other. Cam needs vampire blood as well as human." She shook her head. "I don't understand why; Kelsey could probably make some scientific guess. All I know is what's happening, and that we need to stop it."
The two of us just stood there staring at one another for several minutes, until there was a sound at the door and it opened to let Dayle and Kruise in.
Kruise was the first to notice our shell shocked expressions.
"What's wrong? Trey?"
I opened my mouth but closed it, not able to say it.
Nix took a deep breath and let it out. "Nothing's wrong, Kruise. We just -- we've been talking about how serious this is. That's all." She elbowed me, and I nodded.
"Yeah, that's all. It's just -- we're both a little tense."
I didn't know why she wanted to keep it a secret, but I wasn't about to argue with her.
Not with Cam's life and sanity at stake.
The map was cut into grids, and each team had two grids to search tonight. The temperature was in the twenties and dropping, and none of us were looking forward to having to hike through the snow, but we knew it had to be done.
"Okay, stay in the cars as much as you can, but don't forget to check alleys and side streets." Nix finished tying her boot and stood upright. "Are we ready?"
Nobody got the chance to answer her because the doorbell rang. I answered it, and was nearly bowled over by Kelsey.
"Nix, we've got a problem."
I moved to close the door, only to find Jesse holding it open. She smiled and winked at me as she came in.
Kelsey was agitated. "You're not going to like this."
Nix sighed. "Probably not, but go ahead."
"There was another attack tonight. This time, it was a regular from one of the clubs. She said she recognized the stalker."
We all held our breath.
"Nix, she said it was Cam."
And we all let it out.
Dayle nodded. "Yeah. We know, Kelsey."
The council member stared at her. "You know? How do you know?"
"We figured it out last night. That's what we wanted to talk to you about tomorrow."
Kelsey stood there with her mouth open for several seconds. "Why the hell didn't you tell me last night?"
"Cause we didn't want to tell you over the phone." Nix sat down on the couch. "I'm sorry if you're upset. We were just about to go search for her." She looked up at the other vampire. "Did they catch her? Or is there a mass hunt going on?"
"Neither. The police are on the scene, but she got away. So far there's not a concerted effort to track her; no one wants to be out in this snow and cold."
Dayle put a hand on Kelsey's shoulder. "Well, we're going. You're welcome to come with us. We can always use another pair of eyes."
"Two pairs." Jesse stepped away from the door. "I'm with you, Dayle."
No one but Kelsey and I had noticed she was there, so there were three sets of wide eyes. After a moment, Kruise came over and hugged Jess. Dayle extended a hand.
Nix just stared.
"I thought you had to work late tonight, Jesse."
"I did, Trey, but the furnace went out in the courthouse and the place is like a freezer. They're not anticipating having it fixed until Monday at the earliest, so I have the rest of the weekend." Jesse winked, then turned away. "So, Kelsey, want to join up with me? Three teams can search better than two."
Kelsey raised an eyebrow. "You don't want Nix as your partner?"
In order to save them any embarrassment, I jumped in. "Nope, Nix is my partner for this evening. Her car's got a great heater and I get cold easily."
Dayle clapped a hand on Jesse's shoulder. "All right. You want to drive, or would you like to ride with Kelsey?"
"I'll drive. You okay with that, Kels?"
"Great." Dayle picked up the map. "There are eight grids marked. Kruise and I have one and two; Nix and Trey are taking three and four. Pick two that look good and call them five and six. We'll worry about the others tomorrow night."
"Sounds good, but why don't we find out where the attack was tonight, and work out in three directions from there?"
We all looked at each other. It was a good idea.
"There goes all my map work this afternoon." I shrugged. "Let's look at it again. Where was the attack, Kelsey?"
Dayle handed her the map and Kelsey pointed it out.
"It wasn't far from the places you guys staked out the other night; between Rocco's and one of our clubs."
"And the police searched the immediate area?"
"Yeah, but I wouldn't say they did a great job. They think they're looking for a human, after all."
She got nods from the other vampires. Jesse stepped in and took the map from Kelsey. "All right, let's head over there and meet on the corner of 17th, at that diner. We can split up the sections then and start searching."
Dayle nodded in agreement. "Good plan. All right, let's hit it, and hope we have good luck."
Slowly people started filtering out of the apartment. I went through the front door, but had to wait for Nix, who was still sitting on the couch. Kelsey joined me in the hall.
The sound of Nix's voice stopped Jess just before the threshold.
"Not now, Nix." She turned back slightly. "Tomorrow night. Okay?"
Nix nodded, and Jesse came out the door. She patted my head and winked at me before heading down the hall with Kelsey.
I looked back and saw Nix get up slowly from the couch. I knew Jesse's brush off had hurt her, and I was worried.
"I'm all right, Trey." She slammed the door behind her. "Let's go."
All I could do was follow her.
Congregating on the street corner was easier said than done. The snow was beginning to pile up, and we had to park down the street in a parking lot, since the snow plows had blocked all the meters.
Dayle and Jesse split up the area between the three teams. The humans were admonished to stay with their vampire partner, since Cam was stronger than we were. Nix calmly accepted the streets we'd been assigned, but we waited till Jesse and Kelsey had turned the corner on their own route to start our search.
There was a dead look on Nix's face. Our walk was silent, except for the times we asked each other if we should check this or that.
I watched Nix and thought about what we'd talked about earlier, and what Kruise had gotten me to admit a couple of nights before.
Fifteen hundred years. That was a hell of a long time, and I couldn't imagine what she might be going through. The world had obviously changed, but it hadn't just passed Nix by; she'd allowed herself to change with it, never trying to bring back the past. A vampire, I thought, must live only in the present. If they tried anything else, it would drive them crazy.
How many lovers had Nix had? How many were human, and how many of them did she watch die? There was Chris, I knew, but that's all that Nix had ever told us about. Fifteen hundred years, and only two human lovers per century meant that she'd already watched 30 or more people die.
My mind couldn't grasp that amount of grief.
If I had to be honest about it, I'd have to admit that I was tired too. Jace leaving had done something to me, and it was only because of Kruise and Jesse that I didn't completely collapse. It wasn't that Jace was gone, it was that I was alone, and I hated that feeling.
But the grief stricken figure beside me was much more alone, and she had been for a long, long time. What right did I have to feel so tired after only 28 years?
"So, Trey, how's the writing going?" Her voice was quiet, almost hesitant.
Nix nodded. "So, those rejection slips this afternoon weren't unusual?"
I shrugged. "No."
"Are you actually making a living as a writer, or have you dipped into your savings?"
Taking a deep breath, I gave her another shrug. "It's tight. I make enough for rent with the free lance stuff. Any thing else is --"
"Right." She nodded. "Why do you do it?"
"Why keep trying? I mean, there are thousands of people out there, actors, writers, artists, and they're all striving to be noticed, yet it doesn't happen. And they just -- carry on. Why?"
I had to think about that.
"Well," I said slowly, "I could give you the stock answer that it's what I love to do."
"Right, but everyone has something they love. Kruise loves her motorcycle, but she doesn't ride it for a living."
"Unless you race, you really can't ride a cycle for a living."
"Uh-huh, and at this point, you're not making a living as a writer. So, why not just do it as a hobby and get a job doing something else?"
I stopped and stared at her. "You don't think I can make it as a writer? You've never even read my stuff."
She laughed. "I'm not saying that, and yes, I have read your stuff. I did an internet search and found all the articles, and I think I've read everything you've had published." Nix took my arm and started walking again, pulling me along. "But you're not making money now. So, eventually, won't you have to get another job?"
It was my turn to shrug. "Perhaps. Until then, I'm going to just keep writing and sending things out."
"I don't know, just cause. It's what I want to do, what I've always wanted to be."
Nix nodded again, and kept her eyes in the distance, taking in the surrounding buildings. "You think we should turn the corner up ahead? That'll take us back toward the diner, right?"
"Yeah." I looked at my watch. "Dayle should be checking in soon."
We turned the corner and headed back toward the diner.
I hesitated just a moment. "I don't know how to ask this."
"Just ask, Trey. If I don't want to answer, I won't."
"Okay." Taking a deep breath, I made my decision. "Why are you still here?"
"Why -- oh, damn, this is tough."
"Why am I still in New York?"
"No." I stopped and turned to her. "You're fifteen hundred years old. You've been around almost as long as the Christian religion. You've probably watched hundreds, if not thousands, of friends and lovers die."
She seemed to be holding her breath.
"I just --" I shrugged helplessly. "Why? Why stay?"
A little smile crossed her face, and she put an arm around my shoulders. "I wonder that myself sometimes, Trey."
We walked for a few minutes, listening to the snow crunch beneath our boots.
"When you give me an answer, I'll give you one."
I nodded. "I can handle that."
We were approaching another corner, and I knew that if we kept going forward we'd end up at the diner. A turn right would put us on a side street into the zone that Jesse and Kelsey taken, and a left would be out of the search area.
Nix's cell phone rang. It was Dayle.
"No, we haven't seen anything and we're about to head back. No luck with you either, huh?"
I stood on the corner stamping my feet and hopping up and down and looking around.
"I know, the snow's getting worse, and Trey is freezing. See you at the diner in a while?"
Down the street to our left was a short row of shops and a vacant lot, with an abandoned three story building just beyond that. I cocked my head, thinking.
"Hot chocolate's on you, huh? I'll let Trey know. Bye, Dayle." Nix hung up and turned to me. "Okay, so we're -- what are you looking at?"
"Nix, do vampires freeze to death?"
She stared at me. "What? Where did that come from?"
"Just tell me, do they?"
"No. Our bodies shut down and we go into a coma, but if we're warmed we'll come out of it. Why?"
"How cold does it have to be?"
Exasperated, she shrugged. "Colder than this. Why? What are you thinking?"
I pointed. "Think Cam could be hiding there?"
She turned and looked, biting her lip. "It's possible. Do you want to check it out or call for help?"
"Let's check it out. It's not that far out of the way."
"I thought you were cold, Trey."
I laughed. "I am. What's your point?"
She chuckled and clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Come on, if we hurry we can get back before the hot chocolate goes cold."
We walked a lot faster, trying to keep warm and also hurry. As we got closer we could see that the building was fenced off, with signs pronouncing it condemned by the City of New York. It was old, probably from the forties or so, and made of brick. It looked like it had been burned out, and then stood like that for years.
"Yeah." I looked at the fence, which was new. "Think there's a way in?"
She shrugged. "Don't know. Wanna follow it around?"
"Sure." I shivered. "Why don't you go one way, and I'll go the other? We can get it done twice as fast."
Nix didn't look comfortable at all, but the cold must have been getting to her 'cause after a moment she nodded. "All right. But if you see something, you stop and call me, okay? You have your cell phone."
Patting the case hanging from my belt, I nodded. "Deal. Meet you on the other side if we don't find anything, right? And hey, you call me if you see something."
"Will do. Be careful."
I headed further on, keeping an eye on the fence. Even under the snow I could tell it was fairly recent as the metal hadn't begun to change colors. The building itself was boarded up, and there didn't seem to be any gaps in the boards. I was beginning to think my hunch had been wrong.
Right after the building was an alleyway, and the fence continued down it, just inches away from the building at this point. I sniffled and shivered as I followed it along to the next corner where I was hoping to meet Nix and head back.
My phone rang.
"Yeah. Did you find anything?"
"Nope, but there's a wall here, the fence leads right to it, so I'm gonna have to go back to the front. You ready to head back?"
"Yeah, I thi-- wait, hang on." The part of the barrier I had just come to was much older, and it ran down to the wall Nix had just mentioned. Right at the wall, one fence post seemed to move in the wind.
"Trey? What's wrong?"
"Nothing, but I think I found a way in." I pushed gently at the pole and it sprang free, giving an opening about two feet wide. "Yep. I'm in."
"Don't go any further." Her voice was a little jittery, as if she was running. "Wait for me."
"Right." I pushed the disconnect button and stared at the brick silhouette in front of me. There were no street lights around here, and the only light came from the moon overhead and the reflection off the snow. Nix had the flashlight, and I wished she would hurry.
My eyes searched along the bottom part of the wall until they found what I was looking for. The back door was blocked like the front, with two boards crossing in an X pattern. One of these boards, however, had been pulled out and shifted, allowing someone to crawl under it, if they could get the door itself open. There were also marks in the snow where someone had been coming and going from the building.
Carefully, I walked up to the door and touched the icy handle. It didn't turn, but the door swung inward a couple of inches. I stepped back, wondering where the hell Nix was.
Moments later I heard the sound of the pole being pushed in, and Nix's blond hair came into view. She scrambled through the hole against the wall and trotted up towards me.
"Can you see inside?"
"Not without a flashlight. Didn't even try, just checked the door; it's open."
She slapped herself on the forehead. "Damn, I forgot I had that." Unzipping her jacket, Nix reached in and pulled out a short Mag-Lite. Turning it on, she accidentally blinded me, and I had to put up a hand to block the beam.
"Jeeze, careful, Nix."
"Sorry." Shaking snow from her hair she came up the steps, the light reflecting off the snow with an eerie brightness.
We hunkered down together in front of the door, then slowly pushed it open. Shining the flashlight inside showed little, so Nix crawled through carefully.
"Okay, come on, Trey."
I maneuvered myself past the wooden barrier and stood up next to Nix. "Anything interesting?"
"Not yet." She was looking at the walls. "No wonder this place has been condemned. These bricks are crumbling away, and any wood not burned in the fire is rotting." The light pointed up and we could see the sky through the ceiling. "We're gonna have to be really careful, Trey. These floors probably aren't very solid."
"Guess we better get moving then, eh?"
Nix led the way. We were in a lobby area, with a debris-filled area in front of us and corridors extending off in both sides. There were stairs at the end of each hall, though I coudn't see if the steps went both up and down, or just up. Everything was covered in a layer of grimy soot.
"Left or right?"
I shrugged. "You've got the flashlight; lead on, Macduff."
"To the left, then."
We went carefully down the left hallway, peering through holes in the walls to see the inner rooms. A couple of doors were wide open or off their hinges, and we checked each one for signs of habitation. There was nothing.
Finally we got to the end of the hall and Nix shown the flashlight up the stairs, then down the steps to the basement.
"Do we check the other side of the building, or go up?"
"What about down?" I pointed at the stairs where some water had pooled. "That could have been caused by a leak, but then again . . ."
"It could have been someone tracking in snow." She nodded. "Down it is."
Once again, Nix was in the lead, and I stayed a step or two back. I grimaced as I put my hand on the railing. My purple gloves would never be the same after that greasy dirt.
I don't know which of us felt it first. Nix was on the landing at the turnaround, and I was about three steps behind her when the cracking began. Then the boards under us buckled, and we lost our footing. The staircase was collapsing.
Managing to somehow twist around and grab at the iron railing, I stopped my forward motion and tried to scramble back up. Nix was behind me, the flashlight waving erratically as she tried to get a handhold.
My hands were slipping along the greasy rail, but I got a boot against the brick wall and pushed off, ending up sprawled on the floor above the steps. Taking a quick breath, I turned to reach a hand out to Nix.
She tossed the flashlight up, and then flung her arm up, grasping for my hand or anything. I pulled my glove off and grabbed her fingers.
But her hand was as slick as my glove had been, and it slipped through my grip. I reached out as far as I dared, trying to grab her jacket or something, but the wood piece she had a hold on broke away, and all I could do was scream as she fell into the darkness below.
End Part Ten
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