I SAID HELLO to Garik, who was discussing something with a colonel of the militia. The colonel was an ordinary man, but he was involved in our work ?he knew something about the Watches and helped us to cover up incidents like this one. The bodies had already been taken away, our specialists had finished fiddling about with auras and traces of magic, and now the forensic experts from the militia had started their work.
'In the Gazelle,' Garik told me, with a nod. I walked across to our operational vehicle and got in.
A young lad wrapped in a blanket and drinking hot tea from a mug gave me a frightened look.
'My name's Anton Gorodetsky,' I said. 'You're Andrei, right?'
The boy nodded.
'I...' the boy began in a remorseful voice. 'I didn't know...'
'Calm down. You're not to blame for anything. Nobody could have foreseen the appearance of a wild vampire in the centre of Moscow in broad daylight,' I said. But I thought to myself that if the lad had such a natural ability for reading auras, then this sort of thing ought to have been foreseen. But I didn't want to criti cise the dead tutor. Some day this incident would go into the teacher-training manuals, on the pages printed in red to indicate that the knowledge in them had been paid for in blood.
'But I shouldn't have shouted like that,' the boy said. He put down the mug of tea. The blanket slid off his shoulder and I saw a massive bruise on his chest. The vampire had hit him really hard. 'If he hadn't heard me...'
'He would still have sensed your fright and confusion. Calm down. The most important thing now is to catch this undead monster.'
'And lay him to rest,' the boy said in a firm voice.
'Right. And lay him to rest. Have you been studying with us for long?'
I shook my head. He was a talented young boy, no doubt about it. I just hoped that what had happened wouldn't put him off working in the Watch ...
'Have you been taught how to record auras?'
'No,' the boy admitted. And he shuddered, as if at some unpleasant memory.
'Then describe the vampire as precisely as you can.'
The boy hesitated and then said:
'We haven't been taught. But I've tried studying it. It's the fourth paragraph in the textbook... recording, copying and transmitting an aura.'
'And you studied the subject?'
'Can you transmit the vampire's aura to me?'
The boy thought for a moment and nodded.
'I can try'
'Go on. I'm opening myself up.' I closed my eyes and relaxed. Okay, come on, young talent...
At first there was a faint sensation of warmth ?like a hairdryer into my face from a distance. And then I sensed a clumsy, rather confused transmission. I locked onto it and took a close look. The boy was trying with all his might, transmitting the aura again and again. Gradually I began building up a complete picture out of the isolated fragments.
Just a little bit more,' I said. 'Repeat that...'
The coloured threads flared up more brightly and arranged them selves into an intricate pattern. The basic colours, of course, were black and red, non-life and death, the standard vampire aura. In addition to the colour scheme, which was constantly changing and could be very different at different times, there were fundamental features: the subtle pattern of Power, as individual as fingerprints or the pattern of blood vessels in the iris of the eye.
'Well done,' I said, pleased. 'Thank you. It's a very good impression.'
'Will you be able to find him?' the teenager asked.
'Definitely,' I assured him. 'You've been a great help. And don't be upset. Don't punish yourself... your tutor died a hero.'
That was a lie, of course. In the first place, heroes don't die. Heroes don't protect themselves with the Magician's Shield when they see a vampire attacking, they strike to stun him. An ordinary Grey Prayer would have slowed the vampire down and stopped him, at least for a while. Long enough for the trainees to scatter and run, and the tutor could have gathered his thoughts and erected a decent defence.
But there was nothing to be done about it now. There was no point in explaining to the boy that his first tutor had been a kind, sweet guy, but completely unprepared for real work. That was the whole problem ?genuine battle magicians with the smell of blood and fire in their nostrils didn't often go in for tutoring. The tutors were more often noble-minded theoreticians...
'Garik, do you need me here?' I asked. There was already a Dark One I didn't know loitering about beside Garik and the colonel. Which was only to be expected. The Day Watch had dropped by to get their guy off the hook, if they could, and if they couldn't, to find out how serious our losses were. Garik shook his head. I ignored the Dark One and walked off casually towards my car, which was parked right under a 'No Parking' sign. Anti-theft spells are used by all Others, but applying a spell that lets you be seen by everyone on the road and park wherever you like is a bit more complicated.
Getting an impression of the vampire's aura was a great stroke of luck. In a situation like that even experienced adult magicians lose their heads. But this kid had managed to do well. I was itching to get back to the office as quickly as possible and pass on the impression for the duty watchmen's information ?then everyone who went out on patrol could look for the bloodsucker. A Higher Vampire, unregistered... No, I couldn't count on a coincidence like that.
But it was a Higher Vampire!
Trying to set aside my excessive hopes, I got into the driving seat and set off for the office.
The city duty officer was Pavel. I flashed him the impression of the aura, and he was delighted to get it. It's always a pleasure to hand the patrolmen something serious instead of highly relevant information such as: 'At Chistye Prudy a wild vampire took out two of our side... His appearance? Male, kind of middle-aged...'
I sat down in front of the computer in my office, looked at the screen and said:
'This is plain crazy'
But I launched 'Comparison' anyway. The big problem with comparing auras is that you can't let the system compare them automatically, like you can with fingerprints. The impression of the aura can be passed 'from head to head' but not 'from head to computer' ?no computers like that exist. To get an aura into the database, we have an elderly artist who works with us, Leopold Surikov. Despite was some kind of impassable barrier. And I hadn't bothered to take even a single step sideways.
I was just about to print out the page when I realised that I couldn't even wait thirty seconds for the printer to purge its printing heads and make itself ready.
I leapt out of my office and dashed up the stairs.
But then I ran into a dead end ?Geser wasn't in. Of course, I realised that he needed to rest sometimes too, but why did it have to be right now? This was really bad luck...
'Hi, Anton,' said Olga, coming out of the door of the office. 'Why are you looking so ... hyped-up?'
'Where's Geser?' I howled.
Olga looked at me thoughtfully for a second. Then she walked up to me, pressed her hand carefully against my lips and said:
'Boris is sleeping. He hasn't gone home even once since the day you got back from Uzbekistan. An hour ago I used all the female wiles in the book to get him to go to bed.'
Olga was looking great. Her hair had obviously been worked on by a good stylist, her skin was covered with a wonderful gold tan, she was wearing a hint of make-up ?just enough to empha sise the beautiful outline of her eyes and the sexy plumpness of her lips. And she smelled of something very expensive: spicy and floral, hot and seductive.
She really had used all her female wiles.
But then, I'd seen her when she looked quite different. And not only seen her ?I'd actually been inside that magnificent body myself. The sensation had been instructive, but I couldn't say that I really missed it all that much.
'And if you, Anton, start yelling and phoning Boris and insisting that he has to come to work immediately, I'll turn you into a bunny rabbit,' Olga said. 'I just haven't decided yet if it should be a real one or a stuffed toy' 'An inflatable one from a sex shop,' I said. 'Don't try to frighten me, it's impossible anyway'
'You think so?' she asked, narrowing her eyes.
'I do. But if you really want to practise your battle magic that badly ?I have someone you can use as a target.'
'A Higher Vampire. The one who's been working with Edgar. The one who took out two Light Ones today at Chistye Prudy'
'Who?' Olga repeated insistently.
A faint shadow ran across Olga's face. She took me very gently by the elbow and said:
'Anton, we all have tragedies in our lives. Sometimes we lose friends, and sometimes we lose enemies, but we still blame ourselves...'
'Save the psychotherapy for Geser!' I barked. 'It's Gennady Saushkin! Saushkin senior! Kostya's father!'
'We checked him, he's fourth level... ' Olga said, and then stopped.
'Do I have to explain to you how easy it is for a vampire to raise his level?' I asked.
'From fourth level to higher...' she said. 'But dozens of people would have disappeared; we ought to have noticed...'
'Then we just didn't!' I exclaimed, grabbing her by the hand. 'Olga, it's one chance in a thousand, but what if he's still at home? What if we could take him by surprise?'
'Let's go,' Olga said, with a nod. 'I hope you can still remember your old address?'
'Just two of us?'
'I think two Higher Light Ones can handle one vampire. Everyone in the office right now is too young. We don't want to take cannon fodder with us, do we?'
I looked into her eyes for a few seconds, watching the mischiev ous sparks dancing in them... was Olga bored of sitting in the office and managing things, then?
'Lets go,' I said. 'Just the two of us. Although its a bit too much like the beginning of a Hollywood action movie.'
'How do you mean?'
'I mean there'll be an ambush waiting for us. Or you'll turn out to be the Light Other who's helping Edgar and Gennady'
'Fool,' said Olga, not even offended. But while we were walking downstairs, she said spitefully, 'By the way, just to be sure we checked out your Sveta.'
'And what did you find?' I asked.
'It's not her.'
'I'm glad to hear it,' I said. 'And have you been checked out?'
'All Higher Light Ones have been checked. In Russia and Europe and the States. I don't know who it was that Foma caught a glimpse of in the Twilight, but all the Higher Ones have hundred-per-cent alibis.'
You should never go back to houses where you once used to live. Never, not for anything ?not until you're old and senile, and the sight of the sandpit in the courtyard of the building where you were born brings a sweet smile to your lips.
As I looked at my old front entrance, I thought that not so many years had gone by ... even by ordinary human standards. Eight years ago I had walked out of these doors to set out on just another vampire hunt. I hadn't known then that I would meet Svetlana, that she would become my wife, that I would become a Higher One...
But I was already an Other. And I knew that there were Others living above me ?a family of vampires. Good, law-abiding vampires, with whom I managed to remain friends for quite a long time.
Until I killed my first vampire.
Well, there's always a first time for everything.
'Shall we go?' Olga asked.
I was suddenly struck by another painful memory. The boy Egor, who was younger than the trainee Andrei at the time, had copied an aura just as successfully and had also almost become a vampire's victim. And Olga and I, working together for the first time, had set out on his trail... And Geser had managed to have Olga released from her terrible punishment of being confined inside a stuffed owl... *
( * This story is told in the first part of the book The Night Watch.)
'Deja vu,' I said.
'What's brought that on?' Olga asked absent-mindedly. She had lived in the world for so long that she could easily have forgotten that adventure of ours... 'Ah, you remembered us tracking Egor? By the way, I recently found out that he works in a circus, can you imagine? As an illusionist!'
'Let's go,' I urged her.
Olga was right not to be afraid of the shadow's of her past. If she did feel a little bit guilty about Egor, at least she was still keeping an eye on him.
We got into the lift, I pressed the button for the tenth floor and we rode up in complete silence. Olga was clearly psyching herself up, gathering Power. I examined my fingers. In the years since I'd left the lift had been changed, replaced by a 'vandal-proof model with metal walls and buttons. Young punks could no longer burn the plastic buttons with cigarette lighters the way they used to, so the buttons were glued up with chewing gum instead.
I rubbed my fingers together to clean off the sticky muck of polyvinyl acetate, artificial flavours and someone else's spittle.
I didn't always manage to love people all the time.
The lift stopped and I said apologetically:
'Tenth floor. The Saushkins... Saushkin lives on the eleventh.'
I glanced sideways at the door of my old apartment. They hadn't changed the door... even the locks looked the same to me, except that the faceplates were a bit brighter and fresher. When we had walked up half a flight of steps I looked back at my door again, and it opened, as if someone had been waiting for us to move away. A dishevelled woman of an uncertain age stuck her head out. Her face was swollen and she was wearing a dirty housecoat. She looked us up and down with a spiteful expression on her face and started shrieking:
'Have you pissed in the lift again?'
The accusation was so unexpected that I broke into laughter. But Olga pressed her lips together and took a step back down. The woman quickly half closed the door, ready to slam it shut. Olga looked hard at the woman for a while and then said very quietly:
'No. You imagined it.'
'I imagined it,' the woman said in a thick, slow voice.
'And your upstairs neighbour is flooding your apartment,' Olga went on. 'Go upstairs and tell him what you think of him.'
The woman beamed and leapt out onto the landing just as she was ?in her filthy, soiled housecoat and tattered slippers with no socks. She ran past us eagerly.
'Why did you do that?' I asked Olga.
'She asked for it,' Olga replied fastidiously. 'Let her serve the cause of the Light. At least once in her life.'
I thought that if there was really a Higher Vampire hiding in Saushkin's apartment, this could actually be the last thing the woman ever did in her life. Vampires really dislike personal insults.
But then, I didn't find the woman at all likeable either.
'Who did you sell the apartment to?' Olga asked. 'Who is this mental patient?'
'I sold it through an agency'
'And they're not poor people, not if they could buy an apartment,' Olga said, with a shrug. 'How can she neglect herself like that?'
Apparently she was more offended by the woman's dilapidated appearance than by her rudeness. Olga was almost obsessively strict about such matters, no doubt as a result of the hardships of the war years and her subsequent imprisonment.
The woman whom Olga had recruited so swiftly was already pounding on Saushkin's door with her hands and feet and screeching:
'Open up! Open up, you bloodsucker! You've flooded me out! You've filled my whole apartment with hot water, you bastard!'
'I'm always touched by these accidental insights that human beings have,' Olga remarked. 'Tell me, why does a neighbour who has flooded her apartment, even if it is with hot water, suddenly become a bloodsucker?'
Meanwhile the woman upstairs had launched into a list of her property that had be soaked and ruined. The list was so colourful that I couldn't help glancing round to make sure there was no steam escaping from the open door of the apartment.
'A Czech piano, a Japanese television, an Italian three-piece suite, a brown mink coat!'
'A chestnut Arab stallion,' Olga said derisively.
'A chestnut Arab stallion,' the woman shrieked obediently.
A little girl slightly older than Nadya came out of my old apartment. Seven or eight years old, a pretty face, with a sad, frightened expression. Unlike her mother, she was dressed like a doll ?in a smart dress, white socks and shiny lacquered shoes. She gave us a frightened glance, and looked at her mother with an expression of weary, exhausted sympathy.
'Sweety pie!' the woman exclaimed, jumping away from Saushkin's door. With a panic-stricken glance at Olga, she went dashing down to her daughter, or perhaps back to her apartment,'Go home,' Olga said in a quiet voice. 'There's no more water flooding your apart ment. We'll deal with your neighbour. And tomorrow morning go to the hairdresser's, have a manicure and get your hair done.'
The woman seized the girl by the hand and skipped in through the doorway, with a frightened backward glance at us.
'What is it that makes people the way they are?' Olga asked thoughtfully as she looked at the mother and daughter.
As she closed the door, the woman yapped:
'And don't you... pee in the lift any more! I'll call the militia!'
The word 'pee', softened for the daughter, somehow seemed especially horrible. As if there were switches inside the woman's head, clicking away as they tried to return her thoughts to normal.
'Is she sick?' I asked Olga.
'That's just it, she isn't,' Olga said in annoyance. 'She's psycho logically healthy! Let's go on through the Twilight... '
I glanced down, found my shadow and stepped into it.
Olga appeared beside me.
We looked round and I couldn't help whistling.
The entire stairway was overgrown with lumpy blue garbage. The moss was dangling from the ceiling and the banisters like an ultramarine beard, it was spread out across the floor in a cerulean carpet, and around the light bulbs it was woven into honeycombed sky-blue balls that could have inspired any designer to invent a new style of lampshade.
'The staircase has been neglected,' Olga said, vaguely surprised. 'But then, a rabid vampire and a hysterical woman...'
We walked up to the door. I pushed on it ?it was locked, of course. Even weak Others know how to lock their doors on the first level of the Twilight. I asked:
'Shall we go deeper?'
Instead of answering, Olga took a step back, twisted round and kicked the door hard just beside the lock. It swung open.
'Why do things the hard way?' Olga laughed. 'I've been wanting to try out that kick for a long time.'
I didn't ask who had taught her to break down doors like that. Despite Olga's confidence, I was by no means certain that the apartment was empty. We went into the entrance hall (the blue moss was still there all around us) and both of us spontaneously left the Twilight.
It was such a long time since I had been here...
And it was a long time since anyone else had been here. The apartment was full of that heavy, musty smell that you only find in rooms that have been closed up and abandoned. You'd think that even though no one had been breathing there, fresh air would at least have entered through the ventilation system and the small cracks, but no. The air had died anyway, turning sour, like yesterday's tea.
'There's no smell,' Olga said with relief.
I understood what she meant. There were smells, of course -smells of musty damp and accumulated dust. But there wasn't that particular smell we had been expecting, the one we had been afraid to find - the sickly-sweet smell of bodies that had been drained of blood by a vampire. Like that time in Mytishchi, where the serial killer Alexei Sapozhnikov had been arrested in his apartment. He was a petty vampire, and weak-minded too, which was precisely why he had evaded the attention of the Watches for so long...
'Nobody's lived here for at least a month,' I agreed. I looked at the coat rack ?a winter jacket, a fur cap ... a pair of dirty heavy fur-lined boots on the floor. It wasn't just a month, it was a lot longer than that. The owner of the flat had been missing since winter at least. I didn't remove the defensive spells that I had applied to myself in the car, but I relaxed. 'Right then, let's see how he lived ... so to speak.'
We started our inspection in the kitchen. Like the rest of the apartment, the windows in here were covered with heavy curtains. The tulle that was now grey with dust was no doubt supposed to have given the apartment a cosy atmosphere. It hadn't been washed for perhaps two years, not since Polina had died.
Behind my back Olga clicked a light switch, making me start. She said:
'Why are we walking around in the dark, like Scully and Mulder? Check the refrigerator.'
I was already opening the door of the Korean refrigerator that was churring away smugly to itself. Kitchen technology is the kind that gets along best without any human supervision. But a computer left unattended for six months will very often start to malfunc tion. I don't know what the reason for that is, but it isn't magic, that's for sure. There isn't any magic in hardware.
There was nothing horrible in the refrigerator, either. That was something I had hardly dared to hope for. A suspicious-looking three-litre glass jar covered with white mould contained sour tomato juice ?you could have made home brew out of it. Of course, it wasn't good that the tomatoes had been allowed to go to waste, but the Tomato Watch from Greenpeace could deal with that particular crime. There were two-hundred- and five-hundred-gram thick glass bottles standing in the door of the refrigerator. Each bottle had a Night Watch mark that glowed feebly through the Twilight ?it was licensed donor blood.
'He didn't even drink his allowance,' I said.
There were also sausages, eggs and salami in the fridge, and in the freezer compartment there was a piece of meat (beef) and pelmeni (mostly soya). Basically the usual range of foods for a man living on his own. Only the vodka was missing, but that was inevitable. All vampires are non-drinkers by necessity: alcohol immediately disrupts their strange metabolism ?it's a powerful poison for them.
After the kitchen I glanced into the toilet. The water in the toilet bowl had almost competely evaporated and there was quite a smell from the drains. I flushed the toilet and walked out.
'A good time to choose,' said Olga. I stared at her in confu sion, until I realised that she was joking. The Great Enchantress was smiling. She had been expecting to see something terrible too, but now she had relaxed.
'Any time's good for that,' I replied. 'It stank in there, so I flushed the toilet.'
'Yes, I realised.'
When I opened the bathroom door I discovered that the light bulb had burned out. Maybe he had left it switched on when he'd left. I couldn't be bothered to search my pockets for a flashlight, so I called on the Primordial Power and lit up a magical light above my head. What I saw made me shudder.
No, it wasn't any kind of horror. A bath, a sink, a tap slowly dripping, towels, soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste...
'Look,' I said, making the light brighter.
Olga walked up and glanced over my shoulder. She said thought fully:
'That is curious.'
There was writing on the mirror. Not in blood, but in three-coloured toothpaste, so that the words naturally reminded me of the Russian flag. Someone's finger ?and somehow I was sure that it was Gennady Saushkin's ?had traced out three words in large capital letters on the glass surface of the mirror:
THE LAST WATCH
'No mystery story ever manages without words on the walls or the mirror,' said Olga. 'Although the writing ought to be in blood, of course...'
'This toothpaste suits the purpose too,' I replied. 'Red, blue and white. The traditional colours of the Inquisition are grey and blue.'
'I know,' Olga said thoughtfully. 'Do you think it was delib erate? Vampire, Inquisitor, Healer?'
'I can't see the line between deliberate intention and coinci dence,' I admitted.
I walked along the short corridor and glanced into the sitting room. The light worked there.
'It's very nice,' said Olga. 'The house is so run-down, but they did a nice repair job in here.'
'Gennady's a builder by profession,' I explained. 'He did every thing at home himself, and he helped me out once... well, I didn't know who he was then. He was very well thought of at work.'
'Of course he was, as a non-drinker,' Olga agreed and walked into the bedroom.
'He's a perfectionist too,' I said, continuing to praise Gennady as if we hadn't come here to lay the vampire to rest, and as though I was recommending him to Olga to refurbish her apartment.
I heard a muffled sound behind my back and turned round.
Olga was being sick. She was slumped against the doorpost, with her face turned away from the bedroom, and was puking straight onto the wall. Then she looked up at me, wiped her mouth with her hand and said:
'A perfectionist... Yes, so I just saw.'
I definitely didn't want to see what Olga had taken such a violent dislike to. But I walked to the door of the bedroom anyway, on legs that had turned to rubber in advance.
'Wait, I'll get out of the way' Olga muttered, moving aside for me.
I glanced into the bedroom. It took me several seconds to make sense of what I saw.
Olga needn't have bothered to move. I didn't even have time to turn round, I just puked up my lunch straight into the bedroom, through the doorway. If shaking hands through a doorway is bad luck, then what about puking through one?