Star, it turned out, was hiding in a house out on Fire Island. It belonged to Rita under another name, and she normally rented it out through a realtor. The last tenant had moved out several months earlier, and Rita, knowing Star was in need of a place, had taken it off the market.
It was agreed that Tess and Nix and the others would be allowed to deal with Star on their own. If they decided they needed help, Kelsey would relay the request, and the council would do whatever was asked of it. Meanwhile, two members would oversee Rita's packing, and make certain she left New York city. The council also agreed to publish the verdict, and someone was chosen to hit all the vampire clubs in the city, posting an announcement by the council.
"It's historic," someone said, without humor. "This council hasn't actually made an announcement in ten or twenty years."
No one seemed happy about it.
It appeared for a little while as if the vampires had forgotten there were humans present. It wasn't until Nix went over and hugged Jesse that anyone took notice of us.
The vampire who had originally confronted Rita, stepped up to Jesse with her hands on her hips. "I don't suppose I need to impress on you the need to keep this quiet, do I?"
Jesse dropped her cigarette to the floor and stepped on it, blowing the smoke in the vampire's face. "You know, for a species that needs humans to live, you sure don't know much about us."
"Oh, we do," the vampire contradicted. "Which is why I ask. There have been many who thought they could get a good story from it."
Nix smiled and glanced at me. I tried to look innocent.
"I just want to make sure none of you are thinking of going to the press, or the authorities."
Kruise snorted. "Right. Like we want to end up in Bellevue?"
Dayle chuckled and slid an arm around Kruise's waist. She did so a little hesitantly, but smiled when Kruise winked at her. "I really don't think we have to worry about this crew, Allie. They're cool."
Allie nodded. "Just making sure." She turned toward Nix. "I hope you get her."
"So do I." Nix's voice was soft. "So do I, Allie."
The council member nodded, then made eye contact with each of us, and nodded again before turning and leaving.
Tess, who'd been talking with Kelsey, joined us. "All right, we're set. I have the directions to the house, and Kelsey's going to have a team ready, just in case. I'd wait for them, but I have a feeling that if Rita doesn't join her, Star's going to think something's up, and maybe bolt."
"S'what I'd do." Jesse narrowed her eyes at Tess. "You do realize we're coming with you, right?"
"Are you kidding?" Tess laughed. "I never considered that you'd do anything else, Jess." She clapped a hand on Jesse's leather covered shoulder. "I'll be glad to have you by my side, pal."
Jesse nodded. "Damn right."
Tess turned to me and Jace. "You two don't have to go if you don't --"
She didn't get any further than that before I stepped into her face. "Don't even go there, Tess, or I'll punch you in the mouth."
Nix stifled her laughter. Jesse didn't bother. Jace stepped up beside me, and Tess raised her hands in defense.
"It was just a thought -- no problem. Glad to have you with us." She lowered her hands and grinned. "And I thought vampires were stubborn."
* * *
The trip to the house was longer than I'd expected. I think part of it was just nervous tension, but it seemed to take days rather than the two hours we'd expected.
There were three vehicles: Tess and Cam took me and Jace in the SUV with them, and Kruise rode with Dayle in Nix's BMW. Jesse and Nix were in the Mustang, and leading the pack.
The place was set off from the street, and any traffic too close to the house would have been noticed. Instead of going anywhere near the house to start with, Tess parked on the side of the road under some trees. Jesse, who had followed the SUV the last few miles, pulled her car in behind us, and Dayle squeezed the BMW just inside the shadows of the trees.
Sunset had come and gone, and full dark was nearly on us. Only the light of the moon showed us the view over the field to the house.
"You remember this place, Nix?"
"Yeah. Rita had that party here back in the eighties. We should have checked it out, but I thought she'd sold it."
"Me, too." Tess put her hands on her hips and stared towards the building. "There's a back entrance, isn't there?"
"Yep. But, remember, we can't afford any noise. Just about anything and she's liable to bolt."
Jesse slid her jacket off and tossed it to Kruise. "Store that in the car, would you?" Kruise nodded, and Jess stood beside Tess, eyeing the house. "What's the plan?"
"Not sure yet."
"Got even an outline?"
Jesse nodded. "Okay, fine. Did I hear right, you've been in there?"
"Once -- long time ago."
I stepped up beside them. "Yeah?"
"Got your notebook?"
"Good. Give it to Tess. She and Nix are going to draw a basic outline of the house so we know what the hell we're doing."
I headed back to the SUV and grabbed my notebook. Cam grinned at me.
"I was wondering if you ever actually did anything with that or if you just carried it to prove you're a writer."
"You'd be surprised." I winked and went back over to Tess and Jesse, who were now at the BMW with Dayle.
The outline Tess drew was pretty basic, but it showed the front door, the back door, and the staircase heading to the second floor. It also gave the location of the kitchen in respect to each door, and the basics of the rooms on the first floor.
"So, between the front door and the back, there's the kitchen, the living room, and the hall with two bedrooms?"
"Yeah, though they might not be bedrooms now."
"Right, but that's the general layout. A full floor between the doors?"
Tess nodded. "But, the windows in the living room face the back as well as the front. It's a strange layout, but any noise from the back would probably be noticed in the living room."
Jesse shrugged. "So, we'll just make sure she's not anywhere near the living room."
"And how do we do that?"
"We have someone go to the front door and ring the bell. Make it look as if they've had car trouble and need to use the phone."
"I can do that." I really wanted to be involved and help, but I have to admit my voice wasn't as strong as I'd like it to have been. I think only Jace heard me.
"And who's going to do that, huh? She'd recognize most of us."
"Yeah, but not me." Jesse put a thumb in her own chest. "And if she decides to use me as a snack, I can handle myself better than most people."
Tess scratched her chin thoughtfully. "Yeah, that just might work."
"Um, can I ask a question?" I made sure my voice was loud enough that time.
"What, Trey?" Jesse looked at me. "Don't even suggest you going up there, cause it ain't happening."
"Okay, fine. But can I just ask who here can pick a lock?"
Nix frowned. "I see where you're going, Trey, but no. If we need to, we can just break the lock."
"And cause how much noise?"
"The answer's no, Trey." Jesse glared.
Tess looked back and forth between us. "You know, Jess, Trey has a point."
"Yeah, and it's on the top of her head. No way is she going to be our diversion. She'd wind up as an evening snack and Jace would kill us both for letting her go."
I snorted. "Like you can do better?"
"I can protect myself a hell of a lot better than you can."
"Sure, but --"
Nix stepped between us. "No."
Jesse glared at her.
"Neither of you are going in there alone. Dayle? I don't suppose you can pick locks any more? You could a long time ago."
Dayle stepped up. "Um. Well, yeah, I could try. I'm probably not as fast as Jesse, but if I can't get it, Tess and I can find a way to break the lock quietly, or semi-quietly."
Nix nodded. "Fine. You and Tess and I will head for the back door. Cam will wait with Kruise and Jace somewhere near or under the windows of the living room, so they can hear a little of what's happening in that room. Jess and Trey, together," she glared at both of us, "will ring the door and ask to use the phone. Does this work?" Jesse started to say something, but Nix put a hand across her mouth. "Does this work for the rest of you?"
I nodded. Jace didn't look happy, but she nodded as well. Tess shrugged, as did Dayle.
Nix looked at all of us. "Fine. That's the plan. All of us together until the driveway, then the rest of us cross the fields and head for the side of the house. Jesse, you and Trey wait for three minutes, then head for the front door. You might want to be talking out loud or something, make sure you can get her attention as soon as possible. We'll get into position and as soon as we know she's not in the living room, we'll get the door open. Got it?"
No one said anything, and Nix finally pulled her hand off Jesse's mouth. "You and Trey will work together on this, got it?"
Jesse glanced at me and nodded.
We were all quiet as we headed for the drive. Once we got there, Jace hugged me and kissed me hard.
Jesse and Nix were saying good-bye, and we waited until they broke apart.
Nix smiled at her. "No playing the hero, got it?"
"Not a heroic bone in my body."
The blue eyes rolled, and Jesse grinned.
The two of us were quiet as we watched them head across the field.
My stomach was wondering what the hell I was doing as Jesse and I waited at the bottom of the drive for the three minutes to be up.
"You okay, Trey?"
"Great. Just -- great."
"Uh-huh." Jess kept her eyes on her watch, then looked at me. "Time's up. Let's go."
"Right." I didn't move.
She raised an eyebrow, a sneer starting to form. That loosened me up, and I took a step up the drive.
"Well, what are you waiting for?"
Jess chuckled and we started toward the front door.
We both took deep breaths before Jesse reached up and rang the bell.
There was silence, then footsteps, and the door opened.
Star was about Jesse's height, a few inches taller than me, with dark brown hair that fell in a solid wave over her shoulders. She was stout, not overweight, but thick about the middle. Her shoulders, on the other hand, were narrower than normal, giving her a strangely triangular look.
"Hi, what can I do for you?"
Her voice was pleasant enough, and I found myself smiling easily.
"Hi, sorry to bother you. Our car died a ways off from here, and yours is the first house we came to. Our cell phone keeps cutting in and out --we were wondering if we could borrow your phone and call for a tow?"
She smiled. "Sure, no problem. Come on in." Star moved back a little from the door, pushing the screen out to us. Jesse pulled the door the rest of the way open and stepped inside. I stayed close behind her, keeping it in my mind that this woman was a killer.
Keeping herself between me and Star, Jesse followed the vampire down the small hall into the living room.
As we entered the room, I could see the windows facing the back of the house. I was hoping that Cam and the others were in position, and Dayle could get the door open quickly.
"You have a beautiful home here."
"Thank you." Star pointed to the phone and Jesse went over to it.
"Have you lived here long?" I figured I'd make conversation, so if there was any noise from the back, we wouldn't hear it -- and neither would Star.
"Oh, not long. It was a friend's, but she lets me rent it."
"I see." Stepping over to the window, I glanced outside, glad I couldn't see anything at all out there. "Is all the land around it yours?"
There was a thud, and I turned around to see Jesse on the floor. Star was standing next to her, a sly grin on her face.
"What -- what the --"
"Oh, so sorry. Your friend seems to have collided with the butt of my gun." She showed me the weapon in her hand and shrugged. "Oh, well. We'll let her sleep for a few minutes. And in the meantime --" Star smiled. "In the meantime, I'm going to kill you. Okay?"
She took two steps towards me and I brought up the mace canister Jace had given me and sprayed her, then bolted for the back door.
I never made it.
Tess looked up to see Cam frantically waving.
"Dayle, break it. Something's wrong."
Nix tensed and stepped up beside Dayle. "On three we put our shoulders into it. One -- two -- three!"
The door gave way under their combined weight, and Tess moved in quickly behind them. Once inside the room they could hear yelling from the living room. Guns drawn, with Tess in the lead, they headed down the short hall.
I got two steps past Star when she threw out an arm and slammed me to the ground.
"Bitch! Damn you and your --"
There was a crash from the kitchen area and Star tightened her grip, her eyes wide as she realized what was happening.
"You're with those fucking --"
I kicked her as hard as I could and pulled away at the same time. She twisted her hand and I felt a snap in my forearm.
I heard Tess's voice and the click of a gun being cocked.
"Let her go, Star!"
The pain in my arm was making my vision go blurry. Star pulled me in front of her and put a hand to my throat. I could see Tess in front of Nix and Dayle. All three of them were pointing guns at Star -- or, at me, rather, since I was in front of her.
"Uh-uh, Tess. You drop it or I'm gonna twist her like a chicken." She took a step back, dragging me with her. "You too, Nix, Dayle. Drop the guns."
The guns didn't waver. "It's over, Star. Let her go."
Star laughed. Her hand began to close on my throat and I suddenly couldn't breathe.
I could feel my head begin pounding from the lack of oxygen and blood flow. My uninjured right hand went up to the fingers around my throat, but I couldn't budge them.
Tess started to lower the gun, and I saw Dayle lay hers on a side table, her face grim.
Nix didn't move.
"Put it down, Nix, or I'll pour her blood over --"
We had been moving backwards steadily, and suddenly Star tripped. Her grip slipped from my throat and I sank to the ground. Someone slid an arm around my waist and pulled me away. I glanced up through the tears in my eyes to see Jesse's pale face.
The sound of a gunshot turned my attention back to Star, who had crashed into Tess and Nix, taking them both down as Nix fired. I could see blood dripping, but couldn't tell who'd been hit. Nix had dropped her weapon and was trying to get an arm around Star's neck. Tess was still holding her gun, but Star had her hand wrapped around Tess's, and they were struggling for control over it.
Dayle retrieved her gun and aimed. She pulled the trigger just as Star slammed Tess's gun hand into the floor. The weapon went off, and Dayle clutched her thigh.
Jesse had moved out from behind me and was crawling toward the struggling bodies. I ignored the pain in my arm and reached out to grab her leg. She glared at me, then noticed where I was pointing. She nodded, and I dropped back to the ground, still unable to breathe right.
The struggle for the gun was still going on, and Dayle was having a hard time aiming at Star. Jesse managed to get behind Star without her noticing, and brought the wooden magazine rack down on her head. With a groan, the vampire rolled away, her hands going over her head. By the time she looked up, Tess was pointing the gun at her again.
Nix moved to Jesse, trying to help her stand. Jess was pale, and I could see the back of her neck had blood on it. I tried to use my voice to say something, but could only croak.
Cam came into the room alone. After a glance at Tess, she came to my side and slid an arm around my back, lifting me to my feet. I staggered a little and coughed, then tried to ask where Jace was. I barely got her name out.
"I sent her and Kruise to get the cars. Dayle's hurt. You okay?"
I coughed again and shook my head. It still hurt to breathe.
The sound of Tess's voice brought our attention back to the situation.
"It's over, Star."
Star was now on her knees in front of Tess. She was bleeding from one shoulder and was holding the back of her head. Incredibly, she was laughing.
"Tess, Tess. You're not going to shoot me, are you?"
"I sure as hell am." She glanced at me and Cam. "You guys get out of here. Nix, take Jesse outside as well."
"You don't want to do that." Star was smirking. "You really want Nix to stay, Tess. Really."
"Oh, I'll be back, Star. I wouldn't want to miss your final exit."
The kneeling vampire laughed again. "But your friend should stay. I mean, after all, I wouldn't want her to leave without hearing what I'm going to say."
"And what's that?" Tess asked. "Excuses? Reasons? There's nothing you can say that'll let you walk out of here alive, Star."
Star pulled herself to her feet. Tess backed up a step and kept the gun on her.
"That may well be true, Tess. But, before you pull that trigger, there's something you should know -- something you should have been told years ago." She smirked again. "A secret that Nix has been hiding from you."
Nix shook her head. "Just shoot her, Tess. She's lying."
Tess's finger tightened on the trigger.
"So, Nix, you mean you told her? You told her how her mother died?"
I glanced at Nix and saw the blood draining from her face.
"My mother died in Europe, killed by the Nazi's. Nix told me."
Star laughed. "Well, you've got it partly right. She died in Europe." She smirked at Nix. "I told you a long time ago that I knew your secret. And here it is." Looking back at Tess, Star's smile grew sly. "The Nazi's didn't shoot your mother -- Nix did."
Cam inhaled sharply. Tess seemed frozen. Nix swallowed hard.
"That's . . . not . . . possible." Tess glanced at Nix. "That's not what happened. Is it, Nix?"
Nix looked at the floor, moving slightly away from Jesse.
"Nix? Tell me that's not true."
Star laughed. "Of course it's true. If it wasn't, she wouldn't be so scared right now." She pointed at Nix. "Look at her. She's white."
Tess moved her eyes to Nix, and the gun she was holding slowly lowered. Dayle moved in behind her and leveled her gun at Star.
"Tess, ignore it! Just shoot Star and let's get out of here."
"Sure, just shoot me. I'm nothing -- just the person who can tell you about how Nix murdered your mother."
Tess was fully facing Nix by now. Her face was grim. "Tell me, Nix. Tell me it's a lie."
Nix took a deep breath. "In a manner of speaking, it is true."
Star smirked. Everyone else was very still. Slowly, Tess raised her gun till it was pointing at Nix.
"Tess, let me explain, please."
There was a noise behind Tess as Kruise and Jace came into the room. They saw Tess's gun trained on Nix and stopped.
"What the hell?" Kruise moved next to Dayle. "What's going on here?"
"Oh, nothing, Tess is just about to kill Nix, that's all." Star was smirking again.
"Tess, please. Give me a chance to tell you what happened." Nix moved forward but stopped when Tess brought the gun up to her forehead.
Jesse took a step in front of the blond vampire, pulling Nix behind her. "Tess, think about this. Listen to Nix."
"Not until you agree to listen to her."
I could see Tess's jaw tense and the vein on the side of her neck was visibly throbbing.
Nix took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She ran one hand through her hair and shook her head.
"It's hard to know where to start. Things were so confusing back then."
"Why don't you start where you shot Nora?" Star said. She laughed. "Or you could tell them about --"
"Star, shut UP!" Dayle put a second hand on her gun. "You've got a few moments left in this life, and you'll spend them being quiet, or you'll die right now."
"Fuck you, Dayle, I'll --"
Tess whirled around and backhanded Star, who fell heavily against the wall and slid down it.
When she turned back to Nix, I shivered. Tess's eyes were as hard as stone.
Nix cleared her throat. "You know that we were in Vienna, right? We were living at this farm outside the city, working to get Jews out of Austria and across into Switzerland. The rumors of death camps were spreading. Everyone was tense." She wiped her hands on her pants. "I wanted to leave. I told Nora it was getting dangerous for us; we'd both been picked up by the Gestapo and questioned. But she said no, she said we were needed, and she wouldn't abandon the people we'd promised to help protect."
There was silence in the room. Dayle was dividing her attention between Star and Nix's story. Cam was still holding me up, but her gaze was firmly on Tess. Jesse had her hands on Nix's shoulder. Jace and Kruise were looking confused and worried.
"We were supposed to pick up this group of refugees and hide them for two days, till their transportation out of Austria could be arranged. They got to us safely, but when I went into town to meet our contact, I found out he'd been arrested and shot the day before. I went back to the farm, but the SS was already there."
The smirk was back on Star's face, but she didn't say anything. Nix was breathing hard, and she swallowed several times before continuing.
"It had been a late night raid. By the time I got back it was past midnight. Everyone had been rounded up, all four of the farm hands along with the three people we'd been hiding. The guards had them on their knees in the yard, and Nora was with them. They caught me as I was driving towards the house, and I was forced to kneel beside the others.
"Hauptsturmführer Goddard was the officer who'd questioned Nora and I before. He was there, and seemed to be in charge. He gave orders for the farm hands to be taken to Vienna for interrogation and trial. The three refugees, all Jews, were shot. I thought Nora and I would be loaded in the truck with the others, but we were ordered to stay where we were. Goddard stepped away and went to this Jeep. He saluted whoever was there, and I guessed it was another officer, one that didn't want to soil his boots or something. He never stepped out of the car.
"Finally, there were only a few guards with rifles trained on us, Goddard, and whoever was in the Jeep. Goddard came back. He told us that one of us would live and the other would die." Nix wiped her eyes. "I told him to let Nora go, that he should kill me. He laughed and said it wasn't that easy. He pulled his revolver and took out all but one of the bullets. Then he spun the cylinder and tossed the gun to Nora."
Suddenly I knew what was coming, and I closed my eyes. The scene printed itself on the inside of my eyelids and I opened them again, not wanting to see what Nix would tell us.
Her voice was shaking a little, but she resumed her story. "Nora put the gun to her head, but Goddard told her no, that she was to point the gun at me. We knew there was no way out but to do what he said. She pointed it at me and pulled the trigger. There was a click, and then Goddard told her to give the gun to me."
Nix wiped her eyes again, and I saw Jesse put a hand to her back.
"I shot, and then she shot again. My second shot --" she stopped, swallowing hard. "It killed her. I heard it, and I saw it, and heard Goddard laughing. He took the gun back, and told me that if he ever saw me in Vienna again, he'd kill me. They left me there next to Nora's body."
Nobody spoke. Nix still had her eyes trained on the floor in front of her. "I went to France and joined members of the resistance there. After D-Day, I started making my way back to Vienna, and I found Goddard and killed him. I never knew who was the officer in the Jeep that day."
Star chuckled softly. "How did it feel, Nix? How did it feel to know that you had just killed your former lover?" She turned her gaze to Tess. "How does it feel to know she pulled the trigger that killed your mother, huh, Tess? She could have turned the gun on herself. She could have done something else to save Nora, but she didn't. She shot her."
Her words had an impact on Tess, and she raised her gun towards Nix again.
"Tess, no." Jesse stepped in front of Nix again. "It wasn't her fault."
"Get out of the way, Jesse."
I tried to say something but they began shouting at each other and no one heard me.
Jace stepped in and put a hand up. "Can I ask a question?"
Tess didn't lower the gun, but she did glance toward Jace.
"Um, I was just wondering. If the Nazis killed everyone there except for Nix, how did Star learn about this?"
I nodded. It was exactly what I'd been wondering.
Dayle got it. "How did you know, Star?" Her voice was like ice.
Tess turned. "How'd you know?"
Star shrugged. "I heard about it from a Nazi officer. I was one, after all."
And that was when it finally clicked in Nix's brain.
"It was you. You were the officer in the Jeep."
After a glance at Tess's face, Star must have known it was over and she was dead no matter what. She grinned at Nix. "You bet your ass I was. And watching you as you sat crying next to that bitch's corpse gave me a real --"
The sound of Tess's gun going off stopped the rest of her sentence.
Star put a hand over her chest and gasped for breath.
Tess pulled the trigger again, and then again, and again, and again.
Dayle lowered hers, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Nix took a step forward and found herself face to face with Tess's gun again.
No one moved.
"It wasn't her fault, Tess." Dayle's voice was quiet, but strong.
Tess nodded slowly. She lowered the gun and let it drop to the floor. Turning away, she walked slowly towards the door. "Don't come looking for me for a while, Nix." Then she was gone, the front door standing open in her wake.
That was about when I realized
I couldn't breathe. Cam tried to keep hold of me, but I collapsed, passing
out before I even hit the floor.
End Part Fourteen