Chapter 5

We are the only ones sitting at the end of Water Cove Pier, where Slim and his people came for me with their many guns and unbreakable handcuffs. It is too cold for most people to eat outside, but we are bundled up. We eat fish and chips and feed the birds. The sun is bright and reflects off the calm water, and the chilly air is heavy with the smell of salt. I wear dark sunglasses and a hat. I like hats, red and black ones.

The first time I ever saw the sea I was already a vampire. So I don't know what it looks like to a mortal. The many fish, the seaweed, and the shells-I see them even in murky water. For me the ocean is a huge aquarium, teeming with visible life, food. In moments of extreme thirst I have drunk the blood of fish, of sharks even. Once, in the seventeenth century, off the coast of what is now Big Sur, I even killed a great white shark, but not for food. The thing tried to bite off my legs.

I think of Yaksha without his legs.

And I ask myself the impossible question.

Could he still be alive?

Joel holds in his hand the papers he obtained from the coroner, the details on Edward Fender-Eddie. I will relieve him of the papers in a few minutes. But first I want to talk to him because I want to keep him from talking. Honestly, I do not want to kill him. He is a good man-I see that. More interested in helping humanity than in being applauded. But to convince him to keep his mouth shut, I have to tell him even more about the enemy, and myself. And then I will have even more reason to kill him. It is a paradox. Life is that way. God designed it that way. I believe I met him once. He was full of mischief.

I will say things I never should say to any mortal. Because I am hurt, I feel my own mortality. The feeling gives me reason to be reckless.

"Do you often come here?" Joel asks, referring to Water Cove, which is twenty miles south of Mayfair. "Or go down to Seaside?"

"No." My weakness haunts me like a second shad?ow. If I do not drink soon, and a lot, I will be in no shape to return to Los Angeles tonight. "Why do you ask?"

"I was just thinking how you told me your house exploded six weeks ago. By strange coincidence there was a group of violent murders in Seaside at that same time. I believe they occurred a day before you said you lost your house, if my memory serves me correctly."

"You have a good memory."

He waits for me to elaborate, but I don't. "Were you and your friend connected with those murders as well?" he asks.

I peer at him through my dark lenses. "Why do you ask?"

"One of the people killed at a gas station in Seaside was a woman. Her skull was cracked open by an exceptionally strong person. The coroner told me about it. He said it would take a monster to do what had been done to her." He pauses, adds, "The manner of her death reminds me of what's happening in Los Angeles."

I offer a bird one of my french fries. Animals generally like me, if I'm not chasing them. "Do you think I'm a monster, Joel?"

"You cannot keep answering my questions with questions."

"But one answer always leads to another question." I shrug. "I'm not interested in discussing my life story with you."

"Were you there that night those people died in Seaside?"

I pause. "Yes."

He sucks in a breath. "Did your friend kill that woman?"

A white dove takes my fry. I wipe off my hands on my skirt "No. My friend sent that woman to kill me."

"Some friend."

"He had his reasons."

Joel sighs. "I'm getting nowhere with you. Just tell me what you're trying to tell me and be done with it."

"Eddie Fender is our man."

"You don't know that."

"I do. To me, it's a fact. And the other thing is - I like you and I don't want you to get hurt. You have to leave Eddie to me."

He snorts. "Right. Thank you, Alisa, but I can take care of myself."

I touch his arm, hold his eyes, even through my dark glasses. "You don't understand what you're up against. You don't understand me." I let the tips of my fingers slide over the sleeve of his jacket. I hold his hand. Despite my weakness, his proximity is stimulat?ing. Even without trying, my gaze weakens him. Better to kiss him, I think, than to kill him. But then I think of Ray, whom I love. He will be waking soon. The sun nears the horizon. The orange glow lights Joel's face as if he were sitting in a desolate purgatory, where the judgment of the damned and the saved had already been completed, five thousand years ago. He sits so close to me, but I cannot welcome him too far into my world without devouring his, as I did Ray's. But I do have to scare him, yes, and deeply. I add, "I was the one who killed that woman."

He smiles nervously. "Sure. How did you do it? With your bare hands?"

I take his hand. "Yes."

"You must be very strong?"

"Yes."

"Alisa."

"Sita. My name is Sita."

"Why do you go by Alisa?"

I shrug. "It's a name. Only those I care about call me Sita."

"What do you want me to call you?"

I smile sadly. "What would you prefer to call a murderer?"

He takes his hand from mine and stares at the ocean a moment. "Sometimes when I talk to you I feel like I'm talking to a mental case. Only you're too together to be labeled unstable."

"Thank you."

"You weren't serious about having killed that wom?an, were you?"

I speak in a flat voice. "It happened at the comer of Fryer and Tads. The woman was found on the floor of the women's room. Her brains were on the floor as well. Like you said, her head had been cracked open, the front of it. That was because I grabbed her from behind when I rammed her face into the wall." I sip my Coke. "Did the coroner give you these details?"

I see from Joel's stunned face that the coroner must have enlightened him on some of the facts. He can't quit staring at me. For him, I know, it is as if my eyes are as big as the sea, as black as the deepest subterra?nean crevasse. Beneath the ocean is molten bedrock.

Beneath my eyes I believe he senses an ageless fire. Yet he shivers and I understand why. My words are so cold.

"It's true," he whispers.

"Yes. I am not normal." Standing, I pluck the papers from his hand before he can blink. My eyes bore down on him. "Go home, Joel, to wherever home is. Don't try to follow me. Don't talk about me. If you do, I will know about it and I will have to come after you. You don't want that, any more than you want to take on this murderer. He is like me, and at the same time he is not like me. We are both cruel, but his cruelty is without reason, without kindness. Yes, I did kill that woman, but I didn't do so out of malice. I can be very kind, when it suits me. But when I am cornered, I am as dangerous as this Eddie. I have to comer him, you see, in a special place, under special circumstances. It's the only way to stop him. But you can't be there. If you are, you will die. You will die anyway, if you don't leave me alone. Do you under?stand?"

He stares at me as if I am a distorted apparition trying to materialize from a realm he never knew existed. "No," he mumbles.

I take a step back. "Try to arrest me."

"Huh?"

"Arrest me. I have admitted to killing a woman with my bare hands. I know details of the crime only the killer could know. It's your responsibility as an FBI agent to bring me in. Take out your gun and read me my rights. Now!"

My pounding gaze has short-circuited his brain synapses. But he does stand, and he does pull out his gun and point it at me. "You're under arrest," he says.

I slap the gun away. It lands a hundred yards off in the water. But for him it is just gone. His stunned expression, even in the ruby light, goes pale.

"You see," I say softly. "You can't play this game with me. You don't have the proper equipment. Your gun is on the bottom of the sea. Believe me, Joel, trust me-or you will end up in the bottom of a grave." I pat his shoulder as I step past him. "There will be a bus along soon. There is a stop at the entrance to the pier. Goodbye."

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