Tess dropped into a chair near the table and sighed.
"What d'you think? Did we convince them?"
"I don't know, Dayle. And I don't have any idea why they wanted to speak to Jace alone. I'm not sure I like it."
The two of them were sitting in the dining room of Kelsey's house on Long Island. After a long session of explaining, arguing and cajoling, both were ready for a break.
"I'd be more worried if they wanted to talk to one of us alone. Jace kept her cool better than we did."
Tess grunted at that and nodded. "Yeah. She did good."
The discussion had started with a presentation of the evidence. Tess had given copies of the printouts to the three board members Kelsey had gathered. They immediately called for the entire council, minus Rita, to join them meeting. From then on it had been a battle.
As close as Tess could figure, they were winning. Besides Kelsey, they had on their side three other council members, giving them four against the four hold outs. If they could sway just one more vote, they could perhaps get them to help -- or at least remove Rita from the picture. Tess thought that would even the score, and allow them to finally end this hunt for Star.
A few minutes later, the door opened, and both Kelsey and Jace joined Dayle and Tess.
"Have they made a decision?"
"Not yet, Tess. Right now they're arguing whether or not they should let me vote -- they're worried I'm too close to the situation, and besides, without me it's a majority vote again."
"Yeah, but without you, the opposition is up four to three."
Jace shook her head as she leaned against the door. "I don't think so, Dayle. I know one of them is thinking of abstaining. She's shocked that Rita did this, and while she wants the board to remain neutral, finding out that one of them isn't abiding by the agreement doesn't sit well with her."
Dayle raised an eyebrow. "She told you this?"
"No." Jace shrugged. "I can just read people."
The door opened again, and one of the council members leaned through.
"Kelsey? We need you back in here."
"Right." The board leader met Tess's eyes and shrugged slightly. "Cross your fingers."
Jesse kept her Mustang one car back of Star's red Escort. They'd crossed into Manhattan just moments earlier, and traffic was keeping them camouflaged well. Concentrating on driving, Jesse didn't notice Nix's tight face for several long minutes.
"Nothing." Nix dipped a little lower in her seat. "Watch where you're going. Don't get too close."
"I know. We're fine. And even if she did look at us, she doesn't know my car."
Nix sighed. "Jess, vampires have better eyesight than you. If she looks directly at the car, she'll see me."
"Nah. Sun's in the wrong position. There'd be too much glare."
"I don't think so."
"I know so. Look, I've got this under control, okay? You watch her and try to chill. I'm keeping us close but not too close."
She got a shrug in reply.
They were silent for several more minutes.
Then Jesse had to slam on the brakes.
"What are you doing? She'll get away."
"Red light. Fuck."
"Can't you run it?"
"With a cop behind me? I don't think so, Nix."
They watched as the Escort turned right at the next corner.
Jesse revved the motor impatiently, and once the light turned green, she moved through the intersection quickly, gratified to see the police officer pull over and park behind an illegally parked car.
She made the turn quickly, hoping to see the red car they'd been chasing. Instead, all they found was a construction crew and a detour sign.
"She had to have taken the detour, right?"
Jesse nodded even as she followed the orange markers.
It proved to be in vain, however, as their quarry had disappeared.
Nix pounded the dashboard with her fist. "Dammit!"
"Easy." Jesse patted her thigh. "I'm sure we'll find her. Relax, babe."
The blonde vampire looked up at her. "Babe?"
Jesse turned pink and shrugged. "Yeah. So?"
Nix smiled and reached over to take her hand. "Thanks, Jess."
"For -- for caring. For trusting. For -- trying."
Jesse nodded, looking a little awkward. "It's okay, Nix."
They kept cruising the neighborhood for several minutes in the hope of spotting Star or her car.
The three of us were taking turns watching the brownstone that Rita had entered after getting whatever package Star had passed her.
There'd been no activity, and the sun was making all of us sleepy. Finally, the phone rang, and Cam jumped, banging hard against the steering wheel.
"Hello. What? Oh, hi, Tess. Yeah, we're fine. Chilling out and watching Rita's house. Jess and Nix were tailing Star, but we haven't heard from them." She paused, and Kruise and I waited impatiently for news. "They did? Great. Yeah, I know, I wish it was more forceful as well, but it's better than nothing."
I noticed movement from the front of the house and turned my attention towards the building. Rita was just closing the door. She was wearing the same hat and glasses, and swaggering as much as she always did. The package she'd gotten from Star was tucked under one arm. As I tapped Kruise on the shoulder, Rita walked towards her car.
"Okay. Yeah, we'll meet you there. I'll call Jess and Nix." Another pause. "What? Oh, I'll tell her. Bye, babe." Cam hung up, chuckling just a little. "Trey, Jace says she loves you and she's fine."
"Great. Are we staying on Rita?"
"Actually, no. As a matter of fact, we're supposed to avoid her. There's a meeting with the council, and that's where she's going. We'll be going as well, but we're to take a different route so she doesn't see us."
Cam was dialing the phone again. Kruise and I watched Rita's car pull away from the curb and head off down the street.
"Nix? It's Cam." She stopped for a moment, her hand on the key. "You lost her? No, that's okay. The council came back with a decision and we've been called in anyway. They want us at the meeting. Yes, you, too."
The Honda disappeared from sight.
"We're to park out of sight and go to the cafe next to the council chambers. Someone will be there to meet us. No, I don't know who."
I wondered where the chambers were, and if it was good or bad that they wanted us to wait at the cafe.
"Yeah. All right. We'll see you there, then. Bye, Nix."
Hanging up, Cam took a deep breath and started the car. "I think it's good news from the council. Keep your fingers crossed that something will come of it."
I crossed my fingers on both hands.
We got to the cafe in less than half an hour. To my relief, Jace was there, and she hugged me tight, telling me everything was okay.
Cam and Kruise watched with smirks on their faces.
Dayle was waiting with her, and she immediately drew Cam into a conversation off in a corner. Kruise, Jace and I got a table near the front, where we could look through the windows to see the others arrive.
It didn't take long for Nix and Jesse to show up. Once they were there, Dayle came back over with Cam and tried to drag Nix off to the meeting.
Jesse followed them to the door before Dayle got it.
"Jesse, you can't come with us."
"The hell I can't. Where Nix goes, I go." She crushed out a cigarette and stared at Dayle. "Got a problem with that?"
Cam was smirking again, and I think Kruise was as well. I know I was.
After several minutes of staring at each other, Dayle broke first, and shook her head. "Fine. But I doubt anyone's going to let you in the meeting. You'll just have to wait in the hall alone." She turned away and started to lead them across the street again.
Kruise and Jace and I traded glances and quickly, but quietly, followed them.
When Dayle opened the door and turned around, she found all of us right there with her.
"What the he-- no way. Uh-uh. Back to the cafe, guys."
Nix put a hand on her shoulder. "They'll stay in the hall with Jesse. Leave them be, Dayle."
Dayle looked like she wanted to argue, but after another look at our faces, she sighed and shrugged. "Fine. Come one, come all. This way, gang."
Kelsey and Tess were waiting in the hall. When they spotted us, Kelsey got this look of shock on her face, and then glared. Tess grinned.
"What the hell are they doing here? Dayle, the council's going to go crazy."
"Sorry, Kels, we just weren't waiting." Jesse put an arm around Nix. "We're involved. We ain't leaving."
Tess used Cam to hide her smile. Dayle didn't bother hiding hers. Jace and I slid our arms around each other. Kruise hesitated a moment, then slid her arm around Dayle, who looked surprised for a moment, but grinned.
Kelsey threw up her hands. "Fine. But they have to stay in the hall. You all know that, right?"
We all nodded. I saw Kruise cross her fingers, and she looked back at Jace and I and winked.
All the vampires disappeared into the meeting room. The rest of us leaned against walls and looked out windows. Jesse took up a spot right next to the door, and I knew she was using every ounce of her will power to not go busting into the meeting.
It didn't take long. There were shouts and we heard Nix's voice raised. That was that. Jesse opened the door and all four of us went marching in.
I can't say for sure, but I think it was the first time four humans ever barged into a vampire council meeting. It certainly had never happened to this particular council, and the gathered vampires looked shocked to see humans in their midst.
I saw Kelsey throw up her hands. Tess grinned, but stood where she was, in front of Cam, next to Nix. Rita was directly in front of Nix and Tess, as if she'd been confronting them, but she had whirled around when we entered. Her face was furious.
Jace whispered to me, "Is that her?" I nodded.
Someone stood up -- I didn't know the person, and I don't think I ever did learn her name -- and said, "You have no business here. Leave, now."
Jesse shook her head. "Nope. We're involved. Ain't leavin'." She calmly shook out a cigarette and lit it.
Kruise edged closer to Dayle, I noticed, and Dayle reached for her hand.
I gave Jace a wink and squeezed her hand before stepping up next to Jesse who was calmly smoking.
"We just want to know what you're going to do about this council member who's hiding a murderer."
There were a few shocked expressions at my statement. A couple of angry looks. Rita had the gall to laugh.
"Vampires do nothing on the order of humans," she sneered.
Jesse shook her head. "Not an order. Just a suggestion. A very . . . strong . . . suggestion."
Rita turned fully towards Jess and crossed her arms.. "And why should we follow your suggestion? You can't even prove that murders have been committed."
"I saw the bodies."
She looked at me and laughed. "Yeah? Well, where are they now, hm? You can't prove what you're saying."
Jesse took a drag off her cigarette. "You know, you're right."
I don't know about the others, but I looked at her in shock.
"You're right. We can't prove those people were murdered in your warehouse. The bodies are gone and the warehouse burned to the ground. Can't even prove those deaths happened."
There was silence. Rita smirked.
"So, I guess we should just head on out. Stop at the police station and tell them what we know about this person who was staying at your apartment the last couple of days. They're looking for her anyway. What was her name, Nix? Stacy?"
The vampire who told us to leave stepped forward. "And why are the police looking for this -- Stacy?"
"Cause they want to ask her questions about the two dead bodies found at the apartment house. One floor above Rita's apartment." She took a drag from her cigarette. "They found it interesting that they were mutilated -- and drained of blood."
No one spoke for several moments.
I had to marvel, not only at Jesse's outward calm, but the way she had trapped Rita. Certainly, there was no way of proving that what we said about the bodies at the warehouse was true -- but the police looking for a vampire was certainly frightening to the council.
"Can anyone else confirm this?"
Nix nodded at Kelsey. "I was with Jesse. We saw the police cars and the body bags."
There were several concerned glances among the council members. For the first time, Rita's smirk slipped. I could hear a few murmurs around us, and I crossed my fingers that we'd gotten through to them.
Kelsey finally cleared her throat. It cut through the silence and seemed to somehow increase the tension.
"Are the council members convinced of Rita's guilt? Yea or nay?"
For a few more seconds the silence prevailed, and then finally a voice called out 'yea.' Another one followed, then several more.
There were no dissenters.
Rita looked around them in shock. Then she laughed. "Fine. So you've found me guilty. Now what? Are you going to slap my hand? Spank me? Fine me? What?"
A couple of vampires turned away, while another one stepped up to face Rita, arms folded.
"For starters, you're no longer a member of this council."
Rita smirked. "Great. This was getting boring anyway."
"Number two, you're banished from New York."
She stopped and stared at the council member in front of her.
The vampire didn't smile.
"You can't do that."
"We can and we have. You will leave this city within the next forty-eight hours."
"And if I don't?"
Another member stepped up beside the first. "You'll be considered a rogue vampire and be hunted. We haven't yet decided if we'll be putting a price on your head."
Rita looked around the room, her gaze settling on a figure at the back of the room. "Grace, tell me this is some kind of joke."
Grace shook her head. "No joke. You went too far, Rita. The vote is unanimous. You're banished."
"But you can't --"
"We have." A third vampire stepped up. "Oh, and there's just one more thing."
Tess stepped up behind Rita. "Tell us where Star is."
Rita whirled. "Not a fucking chance."
"The death sentence delivered by the surviving three --"
Tess glared at the speaker, who hesitated for a moment.
"-- all right, surviving four members of the San Francisco council, has been upheld by this assembly. Star's life is forfeit. You will reveal her location, or suffer the sentence in her place."
From the back of the room someone came forward carrying a broad sword.
"There has never been a vampire in the United States executed by a council for the crimes of another. You can't do this." Rita's voice was full of panic.
"Actually," Dayle said, "in 1923 two vampires were executed in the city of Boston for assisting in the mass murder of fourteen people. Neither had actually participated in the killing, but they had helped to arrange the massacre and provided the means of escape for the two killers. One murderer was caught, but the other escaped, and since the two accomplices refused to give up her location, they were put to death in her place."
No one said anything.
Tess's voice was soft. "Where is she, Rita?"
Rita's eyes kept darting about the room, as if in search of a friend, or at the very least, a means of escape. "I don't know."
Dayle shook her head. "She's been staying at your place, your apartment, using your property for her fun and games on humans, and suddenly you don't know where she is?"
Jesse, who was calmly smoking her cigarette, nodded. She motioned to Tess, who raised an eyebrow but moved over next to Jesse, who whispered something in her ear. Tess's eyebrow rose again, and she stepped over to another council member, who then disappeared from the room.
Tess turned toward Rita again. "You don't know where she is?"
"I said no."
"So, when you saw her earlier, she didn't tell you where she'd be staying?"
Rita's eyes darted away again. "I didn't see her today."
Kruise chuckled, drawing everyone's attention to her. She tried to step back behind Dayle, but Jesse pinned her with a glance. I noticed her mouth something to Kruise, but didn't know what it was.
"Sorry. I just -- well, we were all in a car outside Rita's brownstone when Star appeared. She gave something to Rita, then drove off. Nix and Jesse tried to follow her, but they lost her."
I looked back at Rita, whose mouth hung open in surprise.
The vampire who'd left the room returned, handing something to Tess. My breath caught as I realized it was the package in question.
Tess opened it, and moved over to a table, upending the brown envelope. Two sets of keys dropped onto the table, along with a bundle of cash, and a note, which Tess picked up and handed to Kelsey.
Kelsey opened the note and read it out loud.
"Rita, thanks for the use of the apartment. I wouldn't go back there for a while -- Rita Vegin might want to disappear permanently if you know what I mean. But, the bitch upstairs is gone, and her boyfriend was a tasty little morsel, if you know what I mean."
No one spoke. Rita was beginning to look desperate.
"Thanks for the car, and I'll be waiting for you at the house. I don't think those idiots with Nix have figured anything out yet, so bring me a snack and I'll share -- I'll teach you some tricks on how to make them scream. See you tonight. Star."
The note was folded and handed back to Tess, who dropped it onto the table.
"Where is she, Rita?"
"Fuck you, Tess."
The vampire with the sword stepped up, and the rest of them started to move into a circle around her. Dayle gave Kruise a gentle push back and moved to join the group.
Kruise joined Jesse and I, while Jace slipped up a little closer, her hand on my shoulder. Jesse's hand was inside her jacket, and I hoped that whatever she was reaching for never got pulled out.
The vampire who originally confronted Rita spoke up. "One more time: where is Star?"
Rita looked frantically around. "Grace? You can't let them do this!"
The circle tightened around her. "Where is she, Rita?"
"You can't do this!"
The sword was raised, and Rita screamed. Jace's hand convulsed on my shoulder, and I turned around and held her, not wanting to see the blade descend.
A voice -- I think it was Grace -- spoke softly. "Tell us where Star is, Rita."
And in a broken voice, Rita did.
End Part Thirteen