Chapter NINE


I lingered on the step for a long time, feeling stupid. I started back for the hotel but was reluctant to return - I didn't want to admit to Evra how dumb I'd been. So I walked around the square a couple of times, letting the cold night air fill my lungs and clear my head.

I was supposed to meet Debbie the next day, but suddenly I felt like I couldn't wait that long. My mind made up, I stopped in front of her house and looked around to make sure I wasn't being watched. I couldn't see anybody, and with my superior eyesight I was sure no one could see me.

I slipped off my shoes and climbed the drainpipe that ran down the front of the house. The window to Debbie's room was three or four feet from the pipe, so when I came level with it, I dug my tough nails into the brick of the building and clawed my way across.

I hung just beneath the window and waited for Debbie to appear.

About twenty minutes later, the light in Debbie's room clicked on. I knocked softly on the glass with my bare knuckles, then knocked again a little harder. Footsteps approached.

Debbie opened the curtains a little and stared out, confused. It took her a few seconds to look down and notice me. When she did, she almost collapsed with surprise.

"Open the window," I said, mouthing the words clearly in case she couldn't hear me. Nodding, she dropped to her knees and shoved up the lower pane of glass.

"What are you doing?" she hissed. "What are you holding on to?"

"I'm floating on air," I joked.

"You're crazy," Debbie said. "You'll slip and fall."

"I'm totally safe," I assured her. "I'm a good climber."

"You must be freezing," she said, spotting my feet. "Where are your shoes? Come in, quick, before you -?

"I don't want to come in," I interrupted. "I climbed up because... well... I..." I took a deep breath. "Is the offer still on?"

"What offer?" Debbie asked.

"The offer of a kiss," I said.

Debbie blinked, then smiled. "You are crazy." She laughed.

"One hundred percent crazy," I agreed.

"You went to all this trouble just for that?" she asked.

I nodded.

"You could have knocked on the door," she said.

"I didn't think of that." I smiled. "So - how about it?"

"I suppose you deserve one," she said, "but quickly, okay?"

"All right," I agreed.

Debbie stuck her head out. I leaned forward, heart beating, and pecked her lips.

She smiled. "Worth coming up for?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. I was shaking, and it wasn't from the cold.

"Here," she said. "Here's another one."

She kissed me sweetly, and I almost lost my grip on the wall.

When she moved away, she was smiling mysteriously. In the reflection of the dark glass, I saw myself grinning like an idiot.

"See you tomorrow, Romeo," she said.

"Tomorrow," I sighed happily.

As the window shut and the curtains closed, I climbed down, delighted with myself. I practically bounced back to the hotel. I was almost at the door before I remembered my shoes. Hurrying back, I retrieved them, shook the snow off, and shoved them on.

By the time I got to the hotel, I had regained my composure. I opened the door of my room and entered. Evra was watching TV. He was focused on the screen and barely noticed me coming in.

"I'm back," I said, taking off my coat. He didn't reply. "I'm back!" I repeated, louder.

"Um," he grunted, waving distractedly at me.

"That's a great attitude," I said. "I thought you'd be interested in how the night went. I'll know better next time. In the future, I'll just -?

"Have you seen the news?" Evra asked quietly.

"It may surprise you to learn, young Evra Von," I said sarcastically, "that they don't show newsreels at the movies anymore. Now do you want to hear about my date or not?"

"You should watch this," Evra said.

"Watch what?" I asked, irritated. I walked around behind him and saw it was a news program. "The news?" I laughed. "Turn it off, Evra, and I'll tell you about -?

"Darren!" Evra snapped in a very unusual tone. He looked up at me, and his face was a mask of worry. "You should watch this," he said again, slowly this time, and I realized he wasn't kidding.

Sitting down, I studied the TV screen. There was a picture of the outside of a building on it, then the camera dissolved to an interior shot and scanned around the walls. A caption told viewers that the photographs Were from stock footage, which meant they'd been filmed sometime in the past. A reporter was babbling on about the building.

"What's the big deal?" I asked.

"This is where they found the bodies," Evra said softly.

"What bodies?"

"Watch," he said.

The camera came to rest in a dark room that looked the same as all the others, held on the scene for a few seconds, then dissolved back to a view of the building's exterior. The caption told us that these new picture had been shot earlier that day. As I watched, several policemen and doctors came out of the building, pushing stretchers, each of which held a motionless object covered by a body bag.

"Are those what I think they are?" I asked quietly.

"Corpses," Evra confirmed. "Six so far. The police are still searching the building."

"What does it have to do with us?" I asked uneasily.

"Listen." He turned up the sound.

A reporter was talking into the camera now, live, explaining how the police found the bodies - a couple of teenagers had stumbled over them while they were exploring the deserted building as a dare - and when, and how the search was progressing. The reporter looked pretty stunned.

An anchorman in the studio asked the reporter a question about the bodies, to which she shook her head.

"No," she said, "the police aren't giving out names, and won't until the relatives of the deceased have been notified."

"Have you learned any more about the nature of their deaths?" the anchorman asked.

"No," the reporter replied. "The police have blocked the flow of information. We only have the early reports to go on. The six people - we don't know if they're men or women - appear to be victims of a serial killer or some sort of sacrificial cult. We don't know about the last two bodies brought up, but the first four all shared the same bizarre wounds and conditions."

"Could you explain once again what those conditions were?" the anchorman asked.

The reported nodded. "The victims - at least the first four - have slit throats, which seem to be the means by which they were killed. In addition, the bodies appear - and I must stress that this is an early, unverified report - to have been drained of all their blood."

"Possibly sucked out or pumped dry?" the anchorman suggested.

The reporter shrugged. "As of the moment, nobody can answer that, except the police." She paused. "And, of course, the murderer."

Evra switched the sound off but left the picture on.

"See?" he said softly.

"Oh, no," I gasped. I thought of Mr. Crepsley, who'd been out alone every night since we arrived, prowling the city for reasons he wouldn't reveal. I thought of the six bodies and the reporter's and anchorman's comments: "... drained of all their blood."

"Possibly sucked out or pumped dry."

"Mr. Crepsley," I said. And for a long time I gazed in silence at the screen, not able to say anything more.


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