“Sig knew Holden was innocent.”
“He did not believe a warden in Holden’s position would be capable of the charges in question.”
“So why agree to the warrant?”
Ingrid looked at Desmond, then back at me, debating whether or not to continue while he was still present. She seemed to make up her mind and carried on. “Sig believes there is a betrayer in the council. He is quite certain it is someone in a position of tremendous power. An elder.”
“Someone who would know about those under protection.”
“Yes. Even I know nothing of their names or whereabouts. There are few who are trusted with such knowledge. Only a fool would believe Holden Chancery would be given such a treasured gift. But Sig agreed to the warrant because Holden was an easy target. Others in the council would be quick to mistrust him because—”
“Because he was my warden.”
“His attachment to you…” She treaded lightly, knowing anything she said about Holden could apply to her master as well. “It put him in a regrettable position, especially with such a low rank. You are, at times, viewed as a corrupting influence, Secret.”
If I didn’t know better, I might think she was complimenting me.
“Who knew the names of the vampires who were killed?”
“The Tribunal, of course. And a few select elders. But something else should be mentioned.”
“Several of the kills were, according to Sig, perpetrated a great distance away. In order for vampires to travel any great distance, they must have help.”
“Daytime help,” I concluded.
“Ingrid.” I shuffled forward on my seat. “Did you drive Sig when he came to collect me?”
She smirked. “No. That was a short drive. He could do it without me. I wouldn’t have minded to see your face when he showed up, though.”
I shook the thought off. “So we’re looking for a vampire who knows how unpopular I can be and is old enough and powerful enough for a daytime servant?”
“Narrows it down a little, doesn’t it?”
“Well, it eliminates some possibilities, yes.”
“It narrows them all down, Ingrid. I know who is responsible.” If a little light bulb could have gone off over my head at that moment, it would have.
Who hated me enough to create a perfect situation for killing me? If Holden took the blame and I was assigned his warrant, then I was being set up to fail. They must have known I wouldn’t go through with it, and the expectation would then be that my life would be forfeit for my failure.
And if that person was the one responsible for killing those other vampires, it would be a win-win for him. Pass off responsibility for his own murders and be rid of an annoying half-breed thorn in his side all at the same time.
I was a fool for not seeing it sooner.
“It’s Juan Carlos.”
Never in all my years of knowing her had I ever heard Ingrid laugh like she did then.
Dismissive chuckles, sure. Loaded trills, showing a little too much enjoyment at my suffering? Absolutely. But this was something new. Her face lit up, mouth fell open, and she all-out belly laughed like what I’d said was either the funniest or most ridiculously stupid thing she’d ever heard.
I was placing my meager funds on the latter.
Desmond was enchanted by her mirth. I saw him smile, and the corners of his lips twitched with the urge to laugh along with her. I was less appreciative of the laughter and was sitting on the edge of the couch, trying to kill Ingrid with my stare.
When she stopped laughing, she wiped away a tear from the corner of each eye and took a swallow of air.
“Oh, Secret. I’m sorry.” She was smiling, and the amusement hadn’t left her face. She looked positively youthful with her usual scowl dissipated. “I don’t mean it to seem like I’m insulting your assessment. Quite the contrary. Juan Carlos would seem like the perfect candidate, I don’t disagree. Especially given his dislike of you.”
Ingrid shrugged one shoulder, dismissing my grumblings. “The problem is, he doesn’t fit the profile you already established.” She held one palm out flat, offering me something invisible. “We know the vampire responsible must have a daytime servant, yes?”
She held out her other empty palm. “Juan Carlos does not.”
Well, that put a damper on my accusation. “Are you sure? Could he have one and no one knows?” Ingrid was shaking her head through every word. “Not even a Renfield?”
“No.” The period at the end of the sentence was so matter-of-fact it wouldn’t allow for argument. That was that. She could sense my disappointment. “I’m no friend of Juan Carlos, believe me. I wish he were guilty on many levels. But he chides Sig and Daria for having daytime servants. He calls us their daylight wives.” Her lip curled.
“Man, I’d love to hear what he calls me behind my back.”
Desmond choked on a laugh, and I raised my hand to stop Ingrid before she could finish. “Rhetorical.”
In the silence that fell, a tinny, muffled version of “Free Fallin’” did its best to make things that much more awkward. Tom Petty sang while I scrambled for my purse and tried to find my cell phone.
I quieted the ringer with a sheepish smile and looked at Desmond, who seemed a little surprised by the ring tone choice. Ingrid appeared to have never heard the song before. I didn’t recognize the number on the caller ID screen.
“Sorry,” I said, and stepped out of the living room to answer the call. “Hello?”
“McQueen?” It was a gruff, unfamiliar male voice, strained with worry. In the background I heard someone shout, followed by the sound of something smashing. “It’s Jameson.”
The voice matched up in my head with a visual of the burly vampire hunter from Bramley. Judging by the ruckus in the background, it would seem like he had found himself in a bit of a bind.
“We stumbled on a nest. We thought it was only one vamp, but we got here and it was a fucking ambush.” Another holler and more breaking glass. “Noriko vanished, and someone’s got Nolan.” There was a long pause and I strained to make out any sounds, thinking the line had gone dead.
All I needed to hear was that Nolan was in trouble to decide I would go. I don’t know what it was about the kid, but I wanted to keep him safe from the big bads going bump in the night. He deserved better than my life.
But he’d have to live if that was going to be possible.
“We need help.” There was a crackle of static on the line.
“Where are you?” More silence. “Jameson, where are you?”
I heard a low breath inhale, followed by the kind of laughter that sends chills into every corner of your body. A voice, neither male nor female, barely human, clucked into the phone. “Jameson can’t come out to play,” it said. “But if you’d like to join him…” It let the open invitation linger.
Son of a bitch. My mind was arranging fractured memories of a vampire who had twice very nearly been the death of me. The voice on the other end of the phone did not belong to Alexandre Peyton, but the coldness of the laugh and the demonic pleasure it took in evoking terror was the same.
Vampires like this were the reason I had a job. Demented nutjobs who were so scarily confident in themselves they believed they were really unkillable.
“I’d rather play with you,” I said, my hand reaching instinctively to my back to make sure my gun was still there.
The vampire didn’t know what to do with that. There was a pause filled with nothing but the eerie clucking and the sound of an oft-unused tongue sucking air at the back of a throat, learning how to work again. Finally it spoke. “Play with us.”
“We are where the fun has gone to die.”
I shivered. “Care to vague that up a bit for me?”
It clucked loudly, annoyed. “Where the midway lights no longer shine and the carnival games are no longer played.”
That narrowed things down for me. I had a pretty solid idea of where the voice meant. The abandoned amusement park near Rhinebeck, about two hours north of the city. I’d been reading about the plans to convert it into a garden park or any number of other ridiculous things, but much like all abandoned property, no conclusions were easy to reach.
I, for one, wished every abandoned property would be torn the hell down. They create perfect dwellings for vampires, and I was not too fond of walking into dark, spooky places with lots of good hiding spots.
I sighed. “Leave the good prizes until I get there.”
In the living room, I was a little surprised to find they hadn’t sat in silence waiting for my return. Desmond was leaning forward on the sofa, talking animatedly about Roman architecture, and Ingrid was defending him to the death about the merits of the Gothic style.
Capturing Desmond’s attention, I nodded towards the door. “I’m sorry to leave so soon, Ingrid, but something has come up. Please see that Sig gets Holden’s journal.”
Desmond met me at the entrance and politely shook Ingrid’s hand a second time. “Pleasure to meet you, Ingrid.”
“You as well.” She smiled at him, then turned her focus to me. “Holden won’t be safe until we can prove someone else was responsible. Sig will believe the evidence, but in order to have the council respect his annulment of the warrant, someone else will need to stand accused.”
“So, even though I found you evidence to clear him…”
“You still need to find out who actually did it.”
I had been worried about that since she’d taken the book. “Can’t I blame Juan Carlos and call it a day?”
“Would that you could, Secret.” She held the door open and let us out. Before she closed the door, she offered me a business card made of the same stiff material as the warrants Sig issued me. On it was her first name and a 212 area code number.