It was after 2:00 a.m. before we got back to the graveyard. The Feds had kept us forever, like they didn't believe we were telling them the whole truth. Fancy that. I hated being accused of concealing evidence when I wasn't. Made me want to lie to them just so they wouldn't be disappointed. I think Freemont had painted a less than charitable picture of me. That'll teach me to be generous. But it seemed petty to point fingers at each other, and say she did it, when Beth St. John's blood was still wet on the carpet.
The wind that had all but promised rain had drifted away. The thick clouds that had obscured the woods while we were playing tag with vampires were suddenly gone. The moon rode high and two days past full. Since dating Richard, I'd paid more attention to the lunar cycles. Fancy that.
The moon sailed the shining night sky, gleaming like it had been polished. The moonlight was so strong it cast faint shadows. You didn't need a flashlight, but Raymond Stirling had one. A big freaking halogen torch that filled his hand like a captive sun.
I watched him start to point it at Larry and me. I raised an arm and said, "Don't point it at us. You'll ruin our night vision." It wasn't very diplomatic, but I was tired, and it had been a long night.
He hesitated in mid-motion. I didn't have to see his face to know he didn't like it. Men like Raymond give orders better than they take them.
He clicked off the light. Good for him. He waited with Ms. Harrison, Bayard, and Beau gathered around him. He was the only one with a flashlight. I bet that his entourage wasn't worried about night vision, and would have liked to have had a light.
Larry and I were still wearing the coveralls. I was getting tired of mine. What I really wanted to do was go back to the hotel and sleep. But once Jean-Claude arrived I wouldn't be sleeping anyway; might as well work. Besides, Stirling was my only paying client. Well, yeah I do get money for killing vampires if it's a legal kill, but it's not a lot of money. Stirling was financing this trip. He deserved his money's worth, I guess.
"We've been waiting for a very long time, Ms. Blake."
"I'm sorry that the death of a young girl inconvenienced you, Mr. Stirling. Shall we go up?"
"I am not unsympathetic to another's loss, Ms. Blake, and I resent the implication that I am." He stood there in the moonlit dark, very straight, very commanding. Ms. Harrison and Bayard moved a little closer, showing support. Beau just stood there, looking sort of amused behind Stirling's back. He was wearing a black slicker with a hood. He looked like a phantom.
I looked up at the clear, sparkling sky. Looked at Beau. He grinned broadly enough for his teeth to flash in the moonlight. I just shook my head and let it go. Maybe he'd been a Boy Scout, always prepared and all that.
"Fine, whatever you say. Let's get this over with." I didn't wait for them. I just walked past them and started up.
Larry, at my side, said, "You're being rude."
I glanced at him.
"Yeah, I am."
"He is a paying client, Anita."
"Look, I don't need you to chastise me, okay?"
"What's wrong with you?"
I stopped. "What we just left is what's wrong with me. I'd think it'd bother you a little more, too."
"It bothers me, but I don't have to take it out on everyone else."
I took a deep breath and let it out slow. He was right. Damn. "Alright, you've made your point. I'll try to be nicer."
Stirling marched up to us, entourage in tow. "Are you coming, Ms. Blake?" He walked past us, his back ramrod-straight.
Ms. Harrison stumbled, and only Bayard's grab on her elbow kept her from falling flat on her butt. She was still wearing her high heels. Maybe it was against the executive secretary code to wear tennis shoes.
Beau followed with his black slicker flapping around his long legs. It made a distinctive slap-slap sound that was most irritating.
Okay, maybe everything was irritating right now. I was feeling decidedly grumpy. Jeff Quinlan was out there somewhere. He was either already dead or had one bite by now. It wasn't my fault. I'd told his father to put a piece of the host in front of every entrance. I would have thought of the doggie door if I'd seen it, but I'd never gone that far into the house. Even I would have thought it was paranoid to guard the doggie entrance. But I would have done it, and Beth St. John would be alive.
I'd dropped the ball. I couldn't bring Beth St. John back, but I could save Jeff. And I would. I would. I didn't want to avenge him by killing the vampire that killed him. For once I wanted to be in time. For once I wanted to save someone and leave revenge for someone else.
Was Jeff being violated, right this minute? Was that thing I'd seen in the Quinlans' living room doing more than just biting his neck? God, I hoped not. I was pretty sure I could bring Jeff back from a vampire bite, but combine that with rape by a monster, and I wasn't so sure. What if I found him and there wasn't much left to save? The mind is a surprisingly fragile thing sometimes.
I prayed as we walked up the hill. I prayed and felt a measure of calm return. No visions. No angels singing. But a feeling of peace flowed over me. I took a deep breath, and something hard and tight and ugly in my heart let go. I took it as a good sign that I'd get to Jeff in time. But part of me was skeptical. God doesn't always save someone. Often He just helps you live through the loss. I guess I don't entirely trust God. I never doubt Him, but His motives are too beyond me. Through a glass darkly and all that. Just once I'd like to see through the damn glass clearly.
The moon shone down on the top of the hill like silver fire. The air was almost luminescent. The rain was gone, giving its blessing somewhere else. Heaven knows we could have used the rain, but personally I was just as glad I didn't have to walk the raw dirt in a downpour. Mud would have been just too perfect.
"Well, Ms. Blake, shall we begin?" Stirling asked.
I glanced at him. "Yeah." I took a breath and swallowed the blunt things I wanted to say. Larry was right. Stirling was a pain in the ass, but he wasn't who I was mad at. He was just a convenient target.
"Mr. Kirkland and I will walk the graveyard. But you need to stay here. Other people moving around are very distracting." There; that was diplomatic.
"If you were going to make us stand here like an audience, you could have said so at the bottom of this mountain. And saved us the walk."
So much for diplomacy. "Would you have liked me telling you to stay at the bottom of the hill where you couldn't see what we were doing?"
He thought about that for a minute. "No, I suppose I wouldn't have liked it."
"Then what are you complaining about?"
"Anita," Larry said very softly under his breath.
I ignored him. "Look, Mr. Stirling, it has been a really rough night. I am just out of niceness right now. Please, just let me do my job. The faster I get this done, the sooner we go home. Okay?"
Honesty. I was hoping profound honesty would work. It was about all I had left.
He hesitated a minute, then nodded. "All right, Ms. Blake. Do your job, but know this. You have been decidedly unpleasant. It better be pretty spectacular."
I opened my mouth, and Larry touched my arm. He gripped my arm not too hard, but hard enough. I swallowed what I was going to say and walked away from all of them. Larry trailed after me. Brave Larry.
"What's the matter with you tonight?" he asked when we were out of earshot of Stirling and Co.
"I told you."
"No," he said, "it isn't just the murder tonight. Hell, I've seen you kill people and be less upset afterwards. What's wrong?"
I stopped walking and just stood there for a minute. He'd seen me kill people and be less upset. Was that true? I thought about it for a heartbeat. It was true. That was pretty damn sad.