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The Last Watch (Watch 4) - Page 3

IT'S HARD TO get any pleasure out of flying these days. Boeing 737s and Tupolev 154s crashing, Swiss air-traffic controllers getting lost in thought and all sorts of Arab terrorists on the loose don't exactly put you in the right mood to sit back in your comfort able seat and enjoy yourself. And although the duty-free cognac is cheap, the female flight attendant is attentive, and the food and wine are perfectly good, it's not easy for a man to relax.

Fortunately, I am not a man. The probability lines had been checked by Svetlana and Geser. I can feel out the future for a few hours ahead myself if need be. We would get there with no prob lems, make a nice soft landing at Heathrow, and I would have time to make the connection for the plane to Edinburgh...

So I could sit there calmly in my business-class seat (I didn't believe that this was a sudden fit of generosity from my boss, there simply hadn't been any other seats available), sip the decent Chilean wine and glance compassionately at the woman trying to look younger than her real age who was sitting across the aisle from me. She was very frightened. Every now and then she crossed herself and whispered a silent prayer.

Eventually I couldn't stand it any longer. I reached out to her through the Twilight ?and stroked her head gently. Not with my hands, with my mind. With the kind of affection that only human mothers can provide, the affection that instantly removes all anxieties. I touched the hair that had been dyed so often.

The woman relaxed and a minute later she fell sound asleep The middle-aged man beside me was a lot calmer, and he was also pretty drunk. He briskly opened up the two little bottles of gin that the flight attendant had brought, mixed their contents with tonic in the harsh proportion of one to one, drank the result and then started dozing. He looked like a typical Bohemian ?jeans, cotton sweater and a short beard. A writer? A musician? A theatre director? London is a magnet for everyone ?from busi nessmen and politicians to Bohemians and rich playboys...

I could relax too, look out of the window at the dark expanses of Poland and do a bit of thinking.

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Before Zabulon had shown up everything had seemed fairly simple. The boy Victor had run into a vampire who was either hungry or stupid (or both at the same time). He had been killed. Once the vampire had sated his hunger, he had realised exactly what he had done, and he had gone into hiding. Sooner or later, using the old tried and tested police methods, the Night Watch of Edinburgh would check all the local and visiting bloodsuckers, find out if they had alibis or not, put someone under surveillance and catch the killer. Geser, suffering from some kind of guilt complex over Victor's father, who had refused to become a Light Other, had decided to speed up the good work. And at the same time give me a chance to pick up some experience.

Logical?

Absolutely. Nothing odd about it.

Then Zabulon turns up.

And we are shown our noble Leonid Prokhorov, the might-have-been Light Magician, in a different light! It turns out that he is also a might-have-been Dark Magician! He has helped the Day Watch, and so Zabulon is burning with desire to punish his sons killer!

Did such things happen?

Apparently they did. Apparently the man had decided to play for both teams at once. We Others cannot serve the Light and the Dark at the same time. But for people it's simpler. That's the way most of them live anyway.

Then... then Victor's killing might not be a coincidence. Zabulon could have found out that Prokhorov was helping us and taken his revenge by killing Prokhorov's son. But not with his own hands, of course.

Or the other way round. It was a sad thought, but Geser could have given the order to eliminate Victor. Not for revenge, of course not! But the Great Magician would always find a morally accept able form for justifying what he wanted to do.

But stop! Then why would Geser send me to Edinburgh? If he was guilty, then he had to understand that I wouldn't try to conceal his guilt!

And if Zabulon was guilty, then he had even less reason to help me. For all his dainty manners, I would be only too glad to get rid of him!

So it wasn't the Great Ones...

I took a little sip of wine and set down the glass.

The Great Ones weren't responsible, but they suspected each other. And they were both relying on me. Geser knew I wouldn't pass up any opportunity to do Zabulon a bad turn. And Zabulon understood that I could even go against Geser.

Excellent ?I couldn't have asked to be dealt a better hand. A Great Light One and a Great Dark One, both significant figures in the worldwide struggle between the Light and the Dark, and both on my side. I could get help from them. And Foma Lermont,

The Scot with a surname that echoed so sweetly in the Russian heart ?he would help me too. And that meant the vampire had nowhere left to hide.

And that made me feel good. Evil goes unpunished far too often.

I got up and squeezed cautiously past the man next to me into the aisle. I looked up at the sign. The toilet at the front of the plane was occupied. Of course, the easiest thing would have been to wait, but I felt like stretching my legs. I moved aside the curtain separating business class from economy and walked towards the tail of the plane.

As that well-known ironic phrase puts it, 'economy-class passen gers get there at the same time as first-class passengers, only for a lot less money'. Well, there wasn't actually any first class on our plane, but the business class wasn't bad at all ?fine wide seats, lots of space between the rows. And then again, the flight attend ants were more helpful, the food was better, the drink was more abundant.

Not that the economy-class passengers were having it tough, either. Some were sleeping or dozing lightly, many of them were reading newspapers, novels or guidebooks. A few people were working on their laptop computers and others were playing games. One highly original individual was piloting a plane. As far as I could see it was a fairly realistic flight-simulator, and the player was actually flying a Boeing 767 from Moscow to London. Maybe that was his own cranky way of fighting his fear of flying?

And, of course, lots of passengers were drinking. No matter how often we're told that alcohol is particularly harmful when flying at altitude, some people are always keen to give their flight above the clouds a little extra lift.

I walked all the way back to the tail. The toilets there were occupied too, and while I stood and waited for a few minutes I examined the backs of the passengers' heads. Bouffant hairstyles, girlish braids, short crew cuts, gleaming bald patches, amusing kids' punk cuts. Hundreds of heads thinking about their business in London...

The door of the toilet opened and a young guy slipped out and squeezed past me. I stepped towards the toilet.

Then I stopped.

And turned round.

The guy was about twenty years old. Broad in the shoulders, a little bit taller than me. Some young men start to grow rapidly and broaden out after the age of eighteen. This used to be attrib uted to the beneficial influence of the army, which 'made men out of boys'. But in reality, it's simply a matter of the way the hormones work in any particular organism.

Common or garden physiology.

'Egor?' I said uncertainly.

Then I took a hasty glimpse through the Twilight.

Yes, of course. Even if he'd been wearing an iron mask I would still have recognised him. Egor, Zabulon's decoy, who was intercepted and cunningly exploited by Geser. Once he had been a unique boy with an indeterminate aura.*

Now he had grown into a young man. With that same indeterminate aura. A luminous glow that was usually colourless but was sometimes tinted red, or blue, or green, or yellow. Like the sand on the fourth level of the Twilight... look closer and you'll see all the colours in the world. A potential Other, still capable, even as an adult, of becoming either kind. Light or Dark.

I hadn't seen him for six years!

What a coincidence!

'Anton?' He was as bewildered as I was.

'What are you doing here?' I asked.

' Flying,' he replied stupidly.

But I was up to the challenge, and I asked an even more idiotic question.

'Where to?'

'London,' said Egor.

Then suddenly, as if he had just realised how funny our conver sation was, he laughed. As nonchalantly and light-heartedly as if he held no grudges against the Night Watch, Geser, me and all the Others in the world...

A second later we were slapping each other on the shoulder and muttering nonsense like 'Well, would you believe it... ','I was thinking just recently...', 'What a surprise!' Pretty much the standard response for two guys who have been through something pretty important and rather unpleasant together, quarrelled with each other and then, after years have passed and life has changed, discovered that their memories of those times are basically pretty interesting.

But, at the same time, two guys who don't feel warmly enough about each other to embrace and shed an emotional tear at their meeting.

The passengers nearby looked round at us, but with obvious goodwill. A chance meeting of old friends in such an unexpected place as a plane always arouses sympathy in everyone who witnesses it.

'Is there some special reason why you're here?' Egor asked anyway, with a note of his old suspicion.

'Did you fall out of your tree?' I said indignantly. 'I'm on an assignment!'

'Really?' He narrowed his eyes. 'Are you still working in the same place?'

'Of course.'

'This story is told in the first part of the book The Night Watch.

Nobody was taking any notice of us any more. And we were left hovering uncertainly, not knowing what to talk about next.

'I see you still haven't been initiated,' I said awkwardly

Egor went tense for a moment, but he answered with a smile:

'Ah, damn the lot of you! Why would I bother with that... you know yourself that I'm barely even seventh level. That's pointless, whichever way I go, Light or Dark. So I just sent both sides to hell.'

I felt a sudden tightness in my chest.

Coincidences like this definitely didn't happen!

'Where are you flying to?' I repeated, making Egor burst into laughter again. He was probably regarded as the life and soul of any party - he laughed so easily and infectiously. 'No, I know you're going to London, but what for? To study? A holiday?'

'A summer holiday in London?' Egor snorted. 'Why not in Moscow? One stone jungle is the same as any other... I'm going to the festival.'

'In Edinburgh?' I asked, knowing what the answer would be.

'Yes, I graduated from the circus college.'

'What?' Now it was my turn to gape in surprise.

'I'm a conjuror.' Egor chuckled.

Well, would you believe it!

But then, it was an excellent disguise for an Other. Even for an uninitiated one ?they still have minor powers that exceed normal human abilities. They're natural stage magicians and conjurors.

'That's just great!' I said sincerely.

'It's a shame you're going to London.' Egor sighed. 'I would have got you into the show.'

And then I did something stupid. I said:

'I'm not going to London, Egor. I'm going to Edinburgh too.'

It's not often that I've seen joy disappear from a face so fast, to be replaced by unfriendliness and even contempt.

'I see. So what do you want from me this time?'

Egor, you...' I hesitated.

Could I honestly say that he had nothing to do with it?

No.

Because I didn't believe it myself.

'I see,' Egor repeated. He turned round and walked to the middle of the cabin. There was nothing left for me to do but step into the toilet and close the door behind me.

There was a smell of tobacco. Even though it was strictly forbidden, passengers who smoked still fogged up the toilets. I looked in the mirror and saw the crumpled face of a man who was short of sleep. Even though I am a lot more and a lot less than just a man ... I felt like banging my forehead against the mirror, and I did, whispering silently to myself: 'Idiot, idiot, idiot...'

I had relaxed. I had believed that I was starting a straight forward work assignment.

But how could that possibly be, when Geser himself had sent me on my way?

I splashed cold water on my face and stood there for a while, staring angrily at my own reflection. Then I took a leak, pressed the pedal to release the blue liquid disinfectant into the steel toilet bowl, washed my hands and splashed water on my face again.

Whose operation was this? Geser's or Zabulon's?

Who had sent the boy Egor, who never became an Other, on the same route as me? What for?

Whose game was it, whose rules and ?most important of all ?how many figures would there be on the board?

I took Zabulon's present out of my pocket. The bone was a dull yellow, but somehow I knew that the carver had depicted a black wolf. A large, mature black wolf with its head thrown back in a long, dreary howl.

Contact, help, advice...

The figure looked perfectly ordinary - you could find hundreds and thousands like it in souvenir kiosks. But I could feel the magic that permeated it. I only had to take it in my hand... arid wish. That was all.

Did I want help from the Dark Ones?

I resisted the desire to flush the little figure down the toilet and I put it back in my pocket.

There were no observers to appreciate the pathetic gesture.

I rummaged in my pocket and found a pack of cigarettes. I don't smoke so much that I suffer from withdrawal symptoms during a four-hour flight, but right then I felt like indulging some simple human weaknesses. All Others are like that - the older we get, the more petty bad habits we acquire. As if we are clinging on to the slightest manifestation of our natural being ?and there is no anchor more reliable than vice.

But then, having realised that my lighter was in my jacket pocket, without the slightest hesitation I ignited a high-temperature discharge arc between my finger and thumb - and lit up from the magic fire.

Rookie Others try to do everything with magic.

They shave with a Crystal Blade, until they lop off half a cheek or the lobe of their ear. They heat their lunch with fireballs, splashing soup all over the walls and scraping their meatballs off the ceiling. They check the probability lines before they get into a slow-moving trolley.

They enjoy the very process of using magic. They'd use it to wipe their backsides if they could.

Then Others get older and wiser and start getting more econom ical too. They realise that energy is always energy and it's better to get up out of your chair and walk across to a switch than reach out to the buttons with a stream of pure Power, that electricity will cook your steak a lot better than magic fire, and you should cover a scratch with a plaster and only use the Avicenna spell for serious injuries.

And then later, of course, unless an Other is doomed to stay at the very lowest levels of Power, genuine mastery arrives. And you no longer pay any attention to how you light your cigarette ?with gas or with magic.

I breathed out a stream of smoke.

Geser?

Zabulon?

All right, it was useless to guess. I just had to remember once and for all that everything was going to be a lot more compli cated than I'd thought at the beginning. And I should go back to my seat ?we would soon be landing.

Over the English Channel we were thrown about a bit, as usual. But we landed softly and went through the normal passport control in the blink of an eye. The other passengers moved to collect their luggage (apart from the uninitiated Egor, I was the only Other on the plane) but I dropped back a bit and found my shadow on the floor. I gazed into the grey silhouette, forcing it to assume volume and rise up towards me. I stepped into my own shadow ?and entered the Twilight.

Everything here was almost exactly the same. Walls, windows, doors. Only everything was grey, colourless. Ordinary people in the real world drifted by like slow-moving shadows. Without even knowing why, they carefully skirted round an entirely unremark able section of the corridor, and even started walking faster.

It was best to approach the customs post for Others in the Twilight, in order not to make people nervous. It was shielded by a simple spell, the Circle of Inattention, and people tried very hard not to see it. But they might spot me talking to empty space.

So I approached the desk in the Twilight, and only emerged into the real world when I was protected by the spell.

There were two customs officers ?a Light One and a Dark One. Just the way there ought to be.

Monitoring Others when they cross borders doesn't seem very logical to me. Vampires and werewolves are obliged to register with the local branch of the Watch if they stay in a town overnight. The justification for this is that lower Dark Ones too often give way to the animal side of their nature. That's true enough, but any magician, whether he's Dark or Light, is capable of things (hat would send a vampire running for his coffin in horror. Well, anyway, the tradition exists, and no one anywhere wants to change it ... despite all the protests from vampires and werewolves. But what's the point in monitoring the movements of Others from one country to another? That's important for people ?illegal migration, smuggling, narcotics... even spies, if it comes to that. But it's fifty years now since spies used to walk through border control zones with elk hooves tied to their feet, and they don't parachute into enemy territory at night now, either. A self-respecting spy flies in on a plane and moves into a good hotel. And as for Others ?we have no immigration restrictions, and even a weak magician can obtain the citizenship of any country without the slightest problem. So what was this absurd counter doing here?

It was probably for the Inquisition. Formally speaking, the customs posts belonged to the local Night and Day Watches. But another copy of the report was sent off every day to the Inquisition. And they probably studied it more carefully there.

And drew conclusions.

'Hello. My name is Anton Gorodetsky,' I said, stopping in front of the counter. We don't use identity documents, and that's a good thing. There are always rumours going round that they're going to start putting a magical tag on everyone, the way they do with vampires now, or else make an invisible entry in the ordinary human passports.

But so far we still manage without bureaucracy.

'A Light One,' declared the Dark Magician. He was a weak magician, sixth level at the very most. And physically very feeble: short, skinny and pale, with narrow shoulders and sparse blond hair.

'A Light One,' I agreed.

My colleague from the London Night Watch was a fat, cheerful black guy. The only things he had in common with his duty partner were that he too was young, and also weak, only sixth or seventh level.

'Hi there, bro!' he said happily. 'Anton Gorodetsky. Serve in a Watch?'

'Night Watch, Russia, city of Moscow.'

'Level?'

I suddenly realised that they couldn't read my aura. They could have read it up to the fourth or fifth level. But after that every thing was just a blurred glow to them.

'Higher.'

The Dark One straightened up a bit. Of course, they're all egotists and individualists. But they do admire their superiors.

The Light One opened his eyes wide and said:

'Oh! Higher! Coming for long?'

'Passing through. On my way to Edinburgh. I fly out in three hours.'

'Holiday or business?'

'An assignment,' I said without any further explanation.

Light Ones, of course, are liberal and democratic. But they respect Higher Others.

'Did you enter the Twilight there?' the Dark One asked, with a nod towards the human customs officers.

'Yes. Will it be caught on the cameras?'

The Dark One shook his head.

'No, we monitor everything here. But in town I recommend you should be more careful. There are plenty of cameras. Lots of them. Every now and then people notice us disappearing and re appearing ?we have to cover our tracks.'


'I'm not even leaving the airport.'

'There are cameras in Edinburgh too,' the Light One put in. 'Not so many, but even so ... Do you have the contact details for the Edinburgh Watch?'

He didn't bother to mention that he meant the Night Watch. That was quite obvious.

'Yes,' I said.

'I have a good friend who runs a little family hotel in Edinburgh,' said the Dark One, joining in the conversation again. 'For more than two hundred years already. Beside the castle, on the Royal Mile. If it doesn't bother you that he's a vampire...'

What was all this, nothing but vampires on every side?

'... then here's his card. It's a very good hotel. Friendly to Others.'

'I have no prejudices against vampires,' I assured him, taking the rectangle of cardboard. 'Some my friends have been vampires.'

And I sent one of my vampire friends to his death...

'There's a good restaurant in Sector B,' the Light One put in.

They were so genuinely eager to help me that I wasn't sure how to get past this solid wall of friendship and goodwill. Fortunately, another plane landed, and several more Others showed up behind me. Keeping a smile on my face all the time ?some thing to which the Russian facial musculature is rather poorly adapted ?I went to collect my suitcase.

I didn't go to the restaurant since I wasn't feeling at all hungry. I wandered round the airport a bit, drank a double espresso, dozed for while in a chair in the lounge and walked through into my plane, yawning a bit as I went. As was only to be expected, Egor was on the same flight. But now we ostentatiously ignored each other. Or rather, he ostentatiously ignored me, and I didn't try to impose my company on him.

An hour later we landed at Edinburgh airport.

It was already almost noon when I got into a taxi ?one of those remarkably comfortable English taxis that you start to miss just as soon as you leave Great Britain. I greeted the driver and, on a sudden impulse, handed him the card from the 'friendly hotel'. I had a booking in an ordinary human hotel, but the chance of talking to one of Scotland's oldest vampires (two hundred years is no joke, even for them) in informal surroundings was simply too tempting.

The hotel really was in the historical town centre, on a hill close to the royal castle. I lowered the window and gazed around with the curiosity of someone who has just arrived for the first time in an interesting new country.

Edinburgh was impressive. Of course, you could say that any truly old city is impressive if it wasn't flattened sixty years ago by the fiery steamroller of a world war, which reduced ancient cathedrals, castles and houses - large and small - to rubble. But there was something special here. Perhaps it was the royal castle itself, so well sited on a hill and surmounting the city like a crown of stone. Perhaps it was the large number of people on the streets ?tourists idly loitering or wandering about with cameras hanging round their necks, looking at the shop windows or the monuments. After all, the king's reputation is always defined by his retinue. Or perhaps it was the lacework pattern of the streets scattered round the castle, with their old houses and cobbled roadways.

Even if he's wearing the most beautiful crown, a king also needs worthy robes. The naked king in Andersen's fairy tale was not saved by the glittering diamonds on his head.

The taxi stopped at a four-storey stone house with a narrow frontage that was squeezed between two shops crowded with customers. The shop windows were hung with colourful kilts and scarves, and there were the inevitable bottles of whisky What else would you take away from here? From Russia it's vodka and matryoshka dolls, from Greece it's ouzo and embroidered table cloths, from Scotland it's whisky and scarves.

I climbed out of the taxi, took my suitcase from the driver and paid him. Then I looked at the building. The sign above the entrance to the hotel said 'Highlander blood'.

Right. An impertinent vampire.

I walked up to the door, blinking against the bright sunshine. It was getting hot. The legend that vampires can't tolerate sunlight is just that, a legend. They can tolerate it, they just don't find it pleasant. And on a hot summer day like this I could almost under stand them.

The door didn't swing open in front of me ?obviously they weren't fond of automatic devices in this hotel. So I pushed it with my hand and walked in.

Well, at least there was an air-conditioner here. The coolness that I felt could hardly have been left over from the night, despite these thick stone walls.

The small entrance hall was rather dark, and perhaps that was why it felt a bit cosy. I saw an elderly, highly respectable-looking gentleman standing behind a counter. A good suit, a tie with a pin, a shirt with silver cufflinks in the form of thistle heads. A plump face with a moustache and red cheeks, a strawberries-and-cream complexion... But his aura left no doubt at all ?he was human.

'Good afternoon,' I said, approaching the counter. 'Your hotel was recommended to me ... I would like to take a single room.'

'A single?' the gentleman asked, with an extremely pleasant smile.

'A single,' I repeated.

' We're very short of rooms, it's the festival... ' the gentleman said, with a sigh. 'You didn't book, then?'

' No.'

He sighed again and started leafing through some papers ?as if this little family hotel had so many rooms that he couldn't remember if any were free. Without looking up, he asked:

'Who was it that recommended us?'

'The Dark One at Heathrow customs.'

'I think we should be able to help you,' the man replied, without any sign of surprise. 'Which room would you prefer, light or dark? If you have ?er ?a dog with you, there is a very comfortable room that even the very largest dog can leave ?and come back to ?on its own... without disturbing anyone.'

'I want a light room,' I said.

'Give him the suite on the fourth floor, Andrew,' said a voice behind me. 'He is a distinguished guest. Very distinguished.'

I took the key that had appeared as if by magic in the recep tionist's hand (no, no magic involved, it was simply his dexterity) and turned round.

'I will show you the way,' said the light-haired youth standing in front of the cigarette machine beside the door that led into the small hotel restaurant. Hotels like this one very often do not have a restaurant and they serve breakfast in the rooms, but the guests here had rather exotic tastes.

'Anton,' I said, introducing myself as I examined the owner of the hotel. 'Anton Gorodetsky, Moscow Night Watch.'

'Bruce,' said the youth. 'Bruce Ramsey, Edinburgh. Owner of this establishment.'

He looked just perfect to play Dorian Grey in a film version of Oscar Wilde's novel. Young, graceful and indecently fresh and handsome, he could easily have worn a badge that said 'Ready for debauchery!'

Except only that his eyes were old. Grey and faded, with the uniformly pink whites of eyes that belong to a two-hundred-year-old vampire.

The youth picked up my suitcase - I didn't object - and started walking up the narrow wooden stairs, talking as he went:

'Unfortunately we don't have a lift. It's an old building and too narrow to lit a shaft in. And besides, 1 am not used to lifts. It seems to me that a mechanical monster would disfigure this wonderful house. I hate those reconstructed houses, old facades hiding boring standard-plan apartments. And we don't often have guests who find it hard to climb the stairs... except that werewolves don't like steep steps, but we try to accommodate them on the first floor ?there's a special room there ?or on the second... what wind has blown you into our quiet town, Higher Light One?'

He was not so ordinary himself. A vampire at the first level of Power ?not exactly magical Power, not the same as my own, it was vampire Power. But he could definitely be called a first-level Other.

'The incident in the Dungeons,' I said.

'Just as I thought. 'The youth walked on in front of me, striding easily up two steps at a time. 'A most unpleasant incident. I appreci ate the humour of the situation, of course... But it is not good. These are not times when you can simply walk up to someone you like the look of and drink him dry. Not at all!'

'Do you miss the good old days?' I couldn't resist asking.

'Sometimes,' said the youth. He laughed. 'But each age and each time has its own advantages, doesn't it? People become civilised, they stop hunting witches and believing in vampires. And we become civilised. We can't regard human beings as cattle who have no rights. People deserve the right to be respected, if only as our own ancestors. You should respect your ancestors, surely?'

Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything to argue with in all this.

'It's a good room - you'll like it,' the vampire continued as he reached the fourth-floor landing. There were only two doors there and the staircase went on up into the attic. 'On the right is the suite for Dark Ones, also very pleasant. I furnished it to my own taste and am quite proud of the design. And this is your suite.'

He did not need a key - he patted the lock gently with his hand and the door opened. A bit of petty showing-off that seemed rather strange for such an old vampire.

'We have a very good self-taught designer, a Light Other. He is only sixth level, but no magic is needed for this work,' Bruce went on. 'I asked him to decorate three rooms to the taste of Light Ones. Most of the rest of the interior is rather more original, you understand...'

I walked into the suite and froze on the spot in astonishment.

I'd never realised that my taste was like this.

Everything around me was white, beige and pink. The parquet flooring was light, bleached wood, the walls were covered with beige wallpaper with pale pink flowers, the furniture was old-fashioned, but also made of light-coloured wood and snow-white satin. The large sofa by the wall was leather. And what colour? White, of course. There was a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The windows were draped with transparent tulle and the curtains were bright pink.

The sun must really have made this place sizzle in the mornings

One door led into a small bedroom. Cosy, with a double bed. The bed sheets were pink silk. There was a little vase on the dressing table with a fresh scarlet rose in it ?the only spot of bright colour in the entire suite. The washroom and toilet were behind another door. The space was tiny, but it was equipped with some kind of hybrid cross between a hydro-massage unit and a shower cabinet.

'Rather vulgar and it doesn't suit the style.' Bruce sighed behind me. 'But many guests like it.'

His face, reflected in the mirror, looked rather pained. Evidently he had not really liked the idea of installing this miracle of modern plumbing in the hotel.

I nodded to the vampire, without turning round. The idea that vampires are not reflected in mirrors is just as false as the tales that they absolutely cannot tolerate sunlight and are afraid of garlic, silver and aspen stakes. They arc reflected in mirrors, even when they deflect a person's attention.

But if you don't look at them when you're talking to them or, even worse, if you turn your back on them, it really unnerves them. Vampires have a very large number of techniques for which they need to look their opponent straight in the eye.

'I shall be glad to take a wash,' I said. 'But a little later. Do you have ten minutes you could spare me, Bruce?'

'Are you on an official visit to Edinburgh, Light One?'

'No.'

'Then of course I do. 'The vampires face lit up in a broad smile. He sat down in one of the armchairs.

I took a seat facing the youth and forced out a smile in response to his, all the time looking at his chin.

'So what do you think of the suite?' Bruce enquired.

'I think an innocent girl of seventeen would like it,' I replied honestly. 'Only it needs a white kitten.'

'If you wish, we can arrange for both of those,' the vampire suggested politely.

Well, now I could consider the social part of the conversation over.

'I have come to Edinburgh unofficially,' I repeated. 'But at the same time, at the request of the head of the Night Watch ?and the head of the Day Watch ?of Moscow.'

'How unusual... ' the youth said quietly. 'The esteemed Geser and the most worthy Zabulon sending the same messenger... and a Higher Magician as well ?and for such a minor incident. Well, I shall be glad to be of assistance.'

'Does what happened upset you personally?' I asked bluntly.

'Of course. I have already told you my opinion,' Bruce said. He frowned. 'We're not living in the Middle Ages ?this is the twenty-lirst century. We have to break the old patterns of behaviour...' He sighed and squinted at the door of the bathroom. 'You can't wash in a basin and go to a wooden privy when water mains and sewers have been invented. Even if you are used to a basin and find it rather more agreeable... You know, in recent times there has been a movement growing among us to take a humane atti tude towards human beings. No one drinks blood without a licence. And. even with a licence they try not to kill... Hardly anyone drinks children under the age of twelve, even if they are chosen by the lottery'

'And why twelve?'

Bruce shrugged.

'It's just a matter of history. Do you know, for instance, what the most terrible crime is in Germany? The murder of a child under the age of twelve. If the child is already twelve, it is a completely different crime with different penalties... Well, already we don't touch the young growth. And now we are trying to push through a law to exclude children from the lottery altogether.'

'Very touching,' I muttered. 'But why did someone dine on the young man without a licence?'

Bruce thought about it.

'You know, I can only offer hypotheses...'

A dark, pulsating tunnel, drawing me into emptiness. An eddying vortex of red sparks from the stolen lives of others. An enticing whisper in my ears. The inspired, exalted, unearthly beauty of the youthful vampire's face.

Fall at his feet...

Weep in ecstasy at this beauty, wisdom, will...

Beg for forgiveness...

He was very powerful. After all, he had two hundred years of experience, multiplied by the first level of vampire Power.

And I felt the full brunt of his Power. I stood up on trembling legs that would not obey me. I took an uncertain step forward.

Bruce smiled.

Another vampire once smiled in exactly the same way in a Moscow alleyway when I ran into it, following the boy Egor, who was helplessly following the call...

I put so much Power into my mental attack that if I had used it for a fireball, it would have shot straight through about thirty houses and struck the fortress wall of the old Scottish castle.

Bruce's pupils turned white and blank. The alluring dark tunnel was scorched by a white radiance. Sitting there in front of me, swaying backwards and forwards, was a dried-up old man with a young face. But the skin on his face was starting to peel off, flaking away in little scales, like dandruff.

'Who killed Victor?' I asked. The Power continued to flow through me in a fine stream, twisting into a running knot threaded through the vampire's eyes.

He didn't say anything, just carried on swaying in his chair. Maybe I'd burnt out his brain ... or whatever it was they had instead of a brain. A fine start to the unofficial investigation!

'Do you know who killed Victor?' I asked, reformulating the question.

'No,' Bruce replied quietly.

'Do you have any theories about the matter?'

'Yes... two. A young vampire lost control... Someone from the outside ... a visitor...'

'What else do you know about this killing?'

Silence. As if he was gathering his thoughts before starting a long speech.

'What else do you know that is not known to the staff of the city Watches?'

'Nothing...'

I halted the flow of Power and sank into an armchair.

What should I do now? And what if he submitted a complaint to the Day Watch? An unprovoked attack, interrogation...

For about a minute Bruce carried on swaying in his chair. Then he started, and his eyes acquired a meaningful expression again.

Meaningful and pitiful.

'I beg your pardon, Light One,' he said quietly. 'Please accept my apologies.'

It took me a few seconds to understand.

A vampire Master is not simply the most powerful, cunning, clever bloodsucker. He is also the one who has never known defeat.

A complaint from Bruce would mean serious trouble for me. But for him it would mean loss of status.

And this polite old youth was very vain.

'I accept your apologies, Master,' I replied. 'Let what has happened remain between us.'

Bruce licked his lips. His faced turned pink, recovering its former attractive appearance. His voice became slightly stronger ?he too had realised that it was not in my interest to publicise what had happened.

'But I would ask' he said, putting emphatic, poisonous hatred into that last word, 'that you do not make any more attacks of that kind, Light One. The aggression was unprovoked.'

'You challenged me to a duel.'

'De jure, I did not,' Bruce replied quickly. 'The ritual of chal lenge was not observed.'

'De facto, you did. Are we going to bother the Inquisition with this?'

He blinked. And once again became the hospitable host.

'All right, Light One. Let bygones be bygones...'

Bruce got to his feet and swayed slightly. He walked across to the door. Once outside the room, he turned and declared with evident displeasure:

'My home is your home. This room is your dwelling and I shall not enter it without permission.'

This ancient legend, strangely enough, is quite true. Vampires cannot enter anyone else's home without being invited in. No one knows why that is.

The door closed behind Bruce. I let go of the armrests of my chair ?there were wet marks left on the white satin. Dark marks.

It's bad not to sleep at night. Your nerves start playing tricks.

But now I knew for certain that the Master of Edinburgh's vampires had no information about the murder.

I unpacked my suitcase and hung a white linen suit and two white shirts on hangers. I looked out of the window and shook my head. I took out a pair of shorts and a T-shirt with the inscrip tion 'Night Watch'. A hooligan's joke, of course, but you can see anything at all written on T-shirts nowadays.

Then my eye was caught by a fancy calligraphic text in a frame on the wall. I had already noticed a frame like it downstairs, and another on the staircase. Were they hanging all over the hotel, then? I walked over and was surprised by what I read:

By oppression's woes and pains,

By your sons in servile chains,

We will drain our dearest veins

But they shall be free!

Robert Burns

'Why, the son of a bitch!' I said, almost admiringly. Even the people who stayed in the hotel would never suspect anything!

Unquestionably, Bruce had the same sense of humour as the vampire who had drained his victim at the Castle of the Vampires. He was an excellent candidate for the role of murderer.

The only trouble was that after the kind of shock he had suffered, Bruce couldn't possibly have lied.

Source: www.NovelCorner.com
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