“You brought her in, Tara! You called to her, just in time.”
“In time for what?”
He dropped his hold on her shoulders and walked by her, heading for the stairs in disgust. Katia was just coming out of Jacques’ room, and she stopped, speaking to him on the stairs, her French so rapid Tara wasn’t sure what she was saying.
But Brent responded to her and Katia smiled pleasantly. They walked down the stairs together.
Everyone trusted him. She had trusted him. So much so that she had fallen into his arms, and more. If she didn’t care so much about him, if she didn’t feel such a need to know him better, deeper, keep him near her ...
If she didn’t care so much, she might not be so distrustful.
Something about him just wasn’t right. He had told her that there were vampires, and that the Alliance was true and real. He had denied that he was a vampire himself when she had accused him of being one.
Her grandfather seemed to know him very well, and hadn’t shown the least surprise or alarm when he had found him not only inside his house at night—or the morning—but in his granddaughter’s bedroom.
She watched the stairs for a moment, thinking, then turned and quietly entered her grandfather’s room.
She walked to the bed. His eyes were closed, but he felt her there, and his eyes opened.
“She’s in danger,” he said softly. “But then, we’re all in danger.” He fumbled his hand free from the covers, seeking hers. He found it and wound their fingers tightly together. “Tara ... it is you, you know. It is you, and you must be strong, because I am not the man I once was, and no matter how we are protected, we are in danger. It is my fault, of course, because of what I am, which once brought me such great pride, and now fear.”
“Jacques, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You have to trust your senses, your gut feelings!”
She nodded, smoothing back his white hair, growing very worried. “Grandpapa, please, if I really understood just a little bit more. When—when exactly did you meet Brent Malone?” Jacques closed his eyes. “A long time ago,” he said.
“Grandpapa! When?” she said.
But his eyes didn’t flicker. He had either fallen asleep again, or he was determined to pretend that he had done so.
Tara left him. She started down the stairs, certain that Brent was still in the house. She meant to accost him herself.
He was there. She found him as soon as she reached the landing. He was standing in the open doorway, staring at the newspaper, which had just arrived along with the first pink streaks of dawn.
“Another body has been found,” he said.
With anger, he threw the paper to the floor, and stepped out the door, slamming it behind him.
Paul stood next to the towering and angry Monsieur Francois and stared at the video screen. They were informed that they were not to see a body;
they were going to be shown the clothing and jewelry that had been found on the woman.
He waited, tense. A cart was rolled before a camera somewhere else in the morgue.
He stared at the screen, blinked and stared again.
His knees wobbled, he felt feint, like jelly.
He slipped to the floor, sobbing.
He was aware that, next to him, Monsieur Francois was swearing.
In the depths of a nether region, images of the past swirled in a field of mist.
That day... so long ago.
He was weak, incredibly weak. There had been so little food for so very long. With no nourishment, they had been put through backbreaking labor.
Now, they were all together in the camp. The religious and ethnic prisoners, the dissenters, the political prisoners, and anyone that the regime had any reason whatsoever to dislike. At the beginning, it hadn’t been that way.
But then he had seen Andreson.
And Andreson had seen him.
It was as if they had known from the very beginning that they recognized one another.
But Andreson had held the power from that very beginning, due to the circumstances. He had been certain that Andreson would see to his immediate execution, but amazingly, it hadn’t been that way.
Instead, Andreson had set out to break him.
Eventually, of course, he would kill him. He would disappear one night, as so many others had done.
Andreson liked a more subtle form of torture, just as much as he enjoyed his own more physical pursuits. He liked the feet that the man he so loathed was left to go to bed each night, wondering, fearing, dreading what might come when the sun went down. There had been times, at the beginning, when the prisoner had found strength, when he had tried to explain to the others that they were harboring a monster more evil than they imagined, but his words fell upon deaf ears, and they were surely brought to Andreson, who enjoyed such complete and total power that they were only a greater form of amusement.
There had been the morning when he managed to escape en route to the brutal road work, the time when he had so nearly come upon Andreson, had nearly done what must be done.
Except that Andreson was in charge of a different kind of monster, a corps of men who had been specifically chosen for their inhumanity. And he had been stopped. Then had come the days in solitude.
The nights when he lay awake ...
But toward the end, Andreson had, perhaps, begun to fear for his own future. Not that he feared death himself, but he was about to lose all that he had gained, lose his force of absolute power. He could feel it inside when Andreson lost his keen amusement in his subtle torture. And he knew, of course, that the end was coming. The only question was whether the Americans or the Russians would come first.
There may have been other places where the promise of damnation made other men relent, and want nothing more than to desert and run, leaving prisoners as they were.
But not here.
Not at this place.
Crowds were drawn to the firing ranges. Men worked night and day to dig ditches.
Crematoriums never ceased to burn ...
His time was coming. He knew that he was in the lot to go the next day.
But then, a whisper arose in the camp. There had been an escape from the medical buildings, where the experiments were done.
The numbers to the the next day were increased. The guards, unnerved for some reason, were more brutal than ever, making sure their prisoners knew what their fates would be. Soon. So soon.
Yet other whispers abounded as well. Rumors.
There was a rumor that guards—well-trained, crack-shot guards—had been killed. And there was a rumor that Andreson had been wounded.
And that night...
They had formed a tight, close-knit group. It included men who had been incarcerated for their birth and their beliefs, Resistance fighters, and even a few so-called “madmen.” They drew close that night, determining any chance of trying to overpower the guards, and, if they sacrificed their own lives, perhaps, allowing others to escape.
They were huddled in the dark, discussing what they knew of positions and weapons, when the first shots rang out.
They all leaped to their feet, listening.
Then they heard it. More rapid fire. The guards shouting, arguing ...
A few screaming, as if the earth itself had come to life to gobble them up, bit by bit, blood, flesh, bone ...
The door burst open.
It was dark within, while there were pools of light outside, blinding light. And all he could see was a silhouette at the door. An unbelievable silhouette. He cried out.
But a moment later, there was a man inside, and shackles and chains were being keyed and released.
Someone shouted that they had weapons, taken from the fallen guards.
He staggered out into the night. The place had gone mad.
Guards... bloodied, broken, littered the yard. Those who appeared now, streaking out into the night, shocked by the commotion, were quickly mowed down by those prisoners who had seized weapons...
and who had the strength remaining to use them.
He found a new burst of power within himself. Quickly, they shouted to one another—some men carried on the task of freeing others, of going for the women and children. Others had taken up the fight to finish off their brutal captors.
He ran from building to building, remembering everything he had learned in the streets in what seemed like another world and another place. He used the buildings for a shield, learned that he could listen, and discern the footfalls of the guards. Learned that he could still use his weapon.
Building by building, inch by inch, a handful of ragtag men who were little more than walking skeletons began to find victory.
It was when he came to the medical buildings that he was taken by surprise. Backed against the doorway, crouched low, he was astounded when a hand—a hand more like an iron fist—descended on his shoulder.
He nearly cried out.
Nearly lost control, and let his automatic weapon pour fire into the night But then ... He knew.
Paul was so relieved that he sat on the floor, sobbing.
The clothing did not belong to Yvette. She was not the corpse that was so hideously disfigured that it could not be shown.
He was so happy that he hugged Monsieur Francois’s leg. Monsieur Francois was overcome with relief, but he was impatient He was angry. He had lost time at the cafe.
The police were kinder. They helped Paul to his feet He was vaguely aware that the police were saying something about fingerprints and perhaps DNA, but since \vette had worked at the cafe, they could, and would, make certain that the body was not hers. Paul already knew.
Those were not her things.
No, they were not.
The police drove them back to the village station. Monsieur Francois huffed and puffed and was nasty to everyone. He hurried back to his work, swearing that he had lost a lot of money. He left the station swearing that Paul himself should be questioned relentlessly— the police could not begin to imagine just how bad the quarrel with Yvette had been. Monsieur Francois made certain that the officers knew that Paul had threatened Yvette.
But perhaps the police felt sorry for such a pathetic fellow, tears streaming down his face. They did not detain Paul.
He came out of the police station and made it down the street. He felt weak. Very weak. He slipped to the curb, unable to stand.