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A REASON TO KILL

by

Bluewolf


Blair Sandburg took one look at the corpse and turned away, his expression one of nauseated disgust. Although he was now officially a cop - though still a rookie - he was, and always would be, far from happy when faced with murder victims - specifically, he was far from happy with the visible signs of the violence that one person could inflict on another. His motto had always been 'If you don't get on with someone, leave. Walk away. Preferably to the next town. Even better, the next country.' He had never stayed anywhere, never been able to stay anywhere, never wanted to stay anywhere, for very long - until now, and he was aware that staying for much longer would be a major mistake; he had been hearing one or two whispers as people wondered...

Jim Ellison glanced once at his friend, then returned his attention to the body. A young man, probably in his early to mid twenties, lay face down on the filthy, oil-stained concrete in front of the repair shop, his head turned to one side, and with one arm thrown out almost as if beseeching Death to spare him. He was well-dressed; this was not a homeless wanderer whose death would pass pretty well unnoticed by all but the police.

The cause of death was too, too obvious; the victim's throat had been slashed, leaving a deep, ragged wound; but although the man had clearly bled dry, there was less blood pooled around and under his body than Jim would have expected. He crouched to examine the ground around the body more closely, carefully blocking the smell of blood, but he could detect nothing but oil and gas fumes from the garage.

To the side, one of the uniforms who had initially answered the 911 call was still speaking to the shaken employee who had discovered the body half an hour or so earlier when he arrived to unlock the garage and begin his working day; the other uniform waited beside the body. He, too, Jim noticed, was carefully not looking at it.

After some moments, Jim stood, shaking his head. He walked over to join Blair, who stood two or three yards away with his back to the victim, shoulders slumped, but clearly studying the ground around.

"Okay, Chief?"

Blair drew a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. "How anyone can do that to someone... "

* * * * * * * *

When Forensics arrived a few minutes later, Jim crossed to the shaken man who had found the body, Blair at his heels. Jim nodded to the uniform; it was Blair who said, "Hello, Martin."

The cop's smile was more of a grimace. "Blair. Detective Ellison." He indicated the shaken man with him. "This is Carl Hastings."

"Mr. Hastings," Jim said. "I understand you found the body?"

"Y... yes."

"Can you tell me about it? How you found the body?"

"I work in the garage here. There are nine of us as well as the boss; we usually all start at eight but there was a job we didn't get finished last night, a van brought in late yesterday that's needed first thing this morning, so I said I'd come in at seven to get it done. Got here around five to seven, parked over there - " he waved his hand towards an elderly Ford parked at the side of the concrete area " - began to walk over to the door, and - " He swallowed, looking sick.

"Did you see anyone in the neighborhood when you arrived?"

"No - it's pretty quiet before eight - that's when most of the businesses open up. And it's an industrial area, nobody lives here. It's completely dead at night - " He broke off as he realized what he'd just said.

Jim ignored the comment. "Did you touch him?"

Hastings shook his head. "All that blood... It was obvious he had to be dead. I unlocked the garage door, went straight in and called the police, then called my boss and told him. He's usually here by eight anyway, but he said he'd come in right away but he lives outside Cascade and it takes him about thirty-five minutes to - " He broke off as a car pulled in beside the one already parked, and the driver stepped out. If this was the boss, to judge from his clothes, he clearly was one who believed in working alongside his men of course, this was a relatively small business. He glanced around and, ignoring the body and the men working around it, crossed straight over to join them.

"Are you all right, Carl?"

Jim could detect nothing but sincere concern in the man's voice.

"A bit shaken, Mr. Oakenshaw."

"I'm not surprised." He turned his attention to the police. "Malcolm Oakenshaw," he introduced himself.

"Detective Jim Ellison. My partner, Blair Sandburg."

Oakenshaw nodded. "Carl isn't likely to be in any sort of trouble over this, I trust?"

Jim shook his head. "Not at all, sir."

"I've heard that too often the person who finds a body is an automatic suspect," Oakenshaw went on.

"That can certainly happen, sir, depending on the circumstances, but it's quite clear to me that Mr. Hastings was just the man unfortunate enough to arrive here first. He's told us the little he knows, and I shouldn't think we'll need to bother him again."

Oakenshaw turned his attention back to Hastings. "Go back home, Carl. Take the rest of the week off."

"Mr. Wallace's van isn't roadworthy yet, Mr. Oakenshaw, and he's coming in for it soon after eight," Hastings pointed out. "I think I'll feel better if I'm working. If I go home, I'll just keep on remembering him." Without even glancing in the direction of the body, he gestured towards it with his thumb.

Oakenshaw looked searchingly at him for a moment. "All right, but if you change your mind, let someone know and just go home."

"Thanks, sir." He looked at Jim. "If you need me again, I'll be here."

Blair stopped Hastings before he'd taken more than a couple of steps. "Finding a body like that can be a bit of a shock. Don't try to tough it out if you find you're having nightmares about it. See a therapist, okay?"

"That's a good idea," Oakenshaw commented. "I'll set up an appointment with one for you, any time you want."

"Thanks," Hastings muttered before he hurried past the Forensics team, face averted, and disappeared into the garage.

Jim glanced at Blair. "The weird thing is that I can't see any sign of bloodstains leading away from him. The amount of blood spilled there - I'd certainly have expected the killer to get some on his feet, or enough splashed onto his clothes that it would drip, but there isn't any sign of blood except around the body."

"Might he have been killed somewhere else and just dumped here?" Martin Deacon asked.

"That's a good suggestion, but I don't think so," Jim said, aware of Blair's eyes on him and hearing Blair's voice in the back of his mind. Jim, don't just blow off other people's comments as if they're meaningless, even if they're unlikely - not when they're made in good faith. If you slap someone down he's likely to be less than helpful in future. At least make it sound as if you've considered it. With that in mind, he went on, "If he had been killed elsewhere, the way he was bleeding he'd have bled out before the killer got him here, though there might have been a trail of spots of blood leading a couple of feet from whatever he was carried in to the body." He returned his attention to where Serena crouched beside the dead man.

Deacon nodded. "Yes, of course. I wasn't thinking."

"No, it was worth suggesting," Blair said, recognizing Jim's 'I'm concentrating so don't bug me right now' posture before there was time for an awkward pause to be noticeable. "Even detectives can sometimes overlook the obvious."

Serena stood up. "All I can say at this stage is he bled to death," she commented. "Though there isn't as much blood as there should have been. He could have been killed somewhere else."

"Deacon suggested that," Jim said. "But there isn't the trail of blood that would prove it."

* * * * * * * *

It was mid-morning before Serena called Jim back to Forensics. He glanced at Blair. "You don't need to come - " he began.

"Wrong, man, I do need to come. 'I'm not a cop' was a great excuse to avoid unpleasantness once upon a time, but while I may still be a bit squeamish I'm not a grad student ride-along any more; I need to face up to things like this body now, and you know it as well as I do."

Jim grinned wryly. "I know," he said, "and I'm not trying to baby you. It's just... It's not easy to break the habit of four years in four months."

"I know."

"Come on, then - partner."

As they rode down to Forensics, Jim said, "Serena's voice was off - she sounded as if she'd found something, and wasn't happy about it."

Blair grunted an acknowledgment of the comment; there didn't seem to be any reply he could make.

* * * * * * * *

Serena and Dan Wolfe were both present when Jim and Blair walked in. There was a grim expression on both faces, and the two detectives knew instantly that what Forensics had discovered wasn't pleasant.

Despite that, Blair made an attempt to speak normally. "Serena. Dan."

"Hello, Blair. Jim," Dan answered. "What have you found?" Jim asked.

"Look at the right hand side of his neck," Dan said. Then as Jim leaned over the body, he went on, "See anything unusual?"

Jim frowned slightly as he concentrated on the corpse. "There seems to be a puncture wound as well as the knife slash - "

"Which bears all the signs of having been done with a half blunt knife," Dan went on. "We think the slashing was done to hide the puncture wound."

Blair moved closer and, overcoming his revulsion, peered down. "This guy was killed by a vampire," he said.

"Come on, Chief, vampires only exist in horror stories," Jim objected.

"No, I'm serious," Blair said. "Look, if you found a corpse and the only injury was a puncture wound to the neck - either one or two holes, deep enough to access a vein or an artery - what would you think?"

"That someone had been reading too much Anne Rice," Jim replied, "and was trying to pull a fast one on the PD - just as he seems to have done with you. There are no such things as vampires."

"Not in the fictional sense - I'd agree with that," Blair said. "Immortal, sleeping the day away in a coffin, only coming out at night, with obviously longer than usual canine teeth, regularly biting people's throats and drinking their blood - like the victims wouldn't notice and at least some of them would say they'd been attacked and bitten by someone? Or the cops wouldn't notice if there was a spate of bloodless bodies turning up, especially if they all had puncture wounds on the neck?

"But someone who'd - as you say - read too much Anne Rice and fixated on Louis or Lestat might easily have decided to act out his fantasies, knocked out his victim so he wouldn't - couldn't - struggle, used an awl or something like that to puncture the throat, drunk the blood till he was sated - and then realized that the puncture wound was too obvious, so tried to hide it by slashing across it, probably where Hastings found the body - which would explain the lack of a trail of blood."

Jim's expression was one of fascinated disgust. Dan and Serena bore almost identical expressions of awed respect.

It was Serena who said, "You know, you could be right. As a theory that seems to cover everything. And you do get some pretty sick people around, who are perfectly capable of doing something like that."

"Do we have an identity for him?" Jim asked.

"No. His pockets are empty, and there are no obvious identifying marks or scars."

"The way he's dressed, though, someone's bound to report him missing in a day or two," Dan added.

They exchanged a few more words, then Jim and Blair headed back to Major Crime.

* * * * * * * *

It was one of Cascade's more prestigious restaurants, but despite that it was fairly empty at 8 pm on a Wednesday evening - although by ten it would be getting busy as people who had been out for the evening ate before going home.

The group of four - three men and a woman, who all looked to be in their mid to late twenties - sitting at one table were clearly old friends having an evening out, rather than a group of work-mates celebrating something. Their order given, they chatted inconsequentially, laughing, obviously enjoying themselves. They stopped speaking as their food arrived, giving it the compliment of silence as they savored the very rare steak, blood oozing from it, they had all ordered.

Finally, as he put his fork down, one of the men murmured, "Ah." It was a long sigh of sheer content. "I needed that."

There was a soft murmur of agreement from the other two men as the woman agreed. "Yes - it really hit the spot."

The man who had already spoken chuckled. "You've really gone native, haven't you, Mara?"

"Haven't we all?" she asked.

"Yes, I suppose so. We adapt as time passes. It's necessary, after all. Though how often have there been times when colloquialisms have come and gone before we could adapt to using them?"

Their server joined them. "Dessert?"

They looked at each other, then seemed to reach a mutual agreement. "No, just coffee, thanks," the man who had already spoken said quietly.

The server deftly cleared their plates away and brought the coffee. With its arrival they turned to the serious business of the evening.

"All right, Fearn," Mara said. "We last met together ten days ago; our next night out was planned for early next month. Why did you Call us?"

Fearn - the man who had ordered the coffee - said quietly, "I think you already know. There has been a pseudo-vampire killing in Cascade."

"The man found yesterday morning with his throat slashed," one of the other men said without hesitation. The killing had made headlines in both the evening papers and that morning's papers.

"Yes, Eon. Although the reporters did not have the full story. The slashes to the throat covered puncture marks, and about half of the victim's blood was missing."

Mara made a face.

"Exactly," Fearn said. "And Monday night was the Night of No Moon."

"This has happened before," Eon said, unnecessarily. They all knew it - or something like it - had happened before. "But not for a long time," the third man commented. "I think we've all known it would not be long before someone else went bad, though not necessarily anywhere near us. Perhaps that is the fate that awaits all of us."

"It's not inevitable," Fearn said. "And, Artos, I don't say that just because I want to believe it. Why do some people become criminals while others from a similar background are almost painfully honest and law-abiding? Why can some people remain perfectly steady in the face of adversity, bounce back from anything life throws at them, while a few suffer nervous breakdowns or become clinically depressed over what the rest of the population might call almost nothing? I can't answer that, although I've studied human behavior patterns for nearly four centuries. And remember, sub-species though we are, we too are genus homo.

"No, I don't think any of us needs fear to go that way. We're all too... law-abiding, by our ethos, as are most of our kind. I've felt the need for blood this past twenty-four hours, but I haven't been in the least tempted to take human blood; our meal tonight has given me all I need. Can any of you say differently, any time you've been in a position of stress or shock or horror?"

They indicated denial; Mara said quietly, "No. Animal blood gives me all I need."

"Exactly. Now - there are only the four of us live in Cascade since Laran and Tris left. Have any of you been aware of the recent arrival here of another of our kind? Even one here on vacation? I know I have not."

Mara and Artos shook their heads; Eon said slowly, "I'm not sure. For two or three weeks now - nearly a month - it has seemed to me that there was someone, not close by, more at the limit of recognition - but not strongly enough for me to have been sure enough to mention it. And normally if someone is new to an area and feels that touch, he'll turn towards it and follow the awareness - "

The others were nodding in agreement. Their lives meant continual moving on before the people they knew and worked with began to realize how unchanged their appearance was, and in a new area it made sense to contact any of their own kind who already lived there, for only with their own kind could they relax completely - although these four, after each suffering many solitary years with only casual friendships among their own kind, had always moved on together since they first met - Fearn and Mara in Tudor London, Artos having joined them on the boat taking them to America at the time of the Irish potato famine and Eon completing the quartet some fifty-odd years after that. He had never told the others where he had come from or when he arrived in America, and they, sensing an old and deep and never-healing hurt, had not pried.

After all, they each had secrets too, old wounds that could still sting if approached unwarily; and Fearn knew that when he left Cascade he would carry with him a new and very deep wound, deeper than any he had ever known in all his long life. "This one - if I felt true - did not," Eon continued. "The awareness faded almost at once. Now it's possible that it was someone quite young, whose sense of another vampire's presence is less acute than ours - we're all fully mature, after all, with well-developed awareness - so he didn't realize I was there; but if it was a vampire turned bad..."

"He would seek to avoid any other vampires in the area," Fearn finished. "Yet it would seem to me that a vampire turned killer wouldn't kill in an area where he knew there were others of his kind. He'd be bound to know they, at least, would be able to track him down, that it would be in their own interests to dispose of him."

"Perhaps not," Artos said. "A killer vampire is insane, we all know that. In his insanity, he might believe himself to be so clever that he could easily hide the traces of his act even from other vampires."

Fearn snorted. "In this instance, he wasn't clever enough to hide the traces from ordinary human eyes. It didn't even need the sentinel to see the signs; the people in the Forensics department detected them." He fell silent as their server approached.

"More coffee?"

Fearn glanced around at the others, then shook his head. "No, thanks. If you could just give us the bill...?"

"Yes, sir."

In the minute before the server arrived back with the bill, Fearn said, "We need to watch, to be aware. Let me know if any of you detect anything. If we can deal with him ourselves, without endangering ourselves, we should; but if necessary, I can give the information to the police... anonymously."

The others nodded agreement, and when the bill arrived were deep in discussion of their next 'night out', knowing as they did that the one already arranged would certainly not be soon enough.

* * * * * * * *

"Ellison! Sandburg!"

The two men glanced at each other, then moved to Simon's office, neither one sorry to abandon, albeit temporarily, the repeated and still fruitless study of the details of the killing two days previously.

They were barely into the room when Simon said, "We have a report on a missing person. The description fits Tuesday's victim. A brother is coming in to identify the body. Do you want to see him before or after he does it?"

"Before," Jim said. "Then we'll go down to the morgue with him."

"Right."

When the man arrived, he was shown into an interview room, where Jim and Blair joined him.

"We're sorry about this," Blair said - they had decided that he should be the one to ask the questions. "I realize you're probably anxious to see whether or not the body we have is your brother, but if we could get a few details before we go down? I'm Detective Sandburg, my colleague is Detective Ellison; we're the ones assigned to investigate this killing."

The man swallowed, nodding.

"Could we have your name, please?"

"Jeff - Geoffrey Jewson."

"Middle name?"

Jewson shook his head. "My mother didn't see any point in them."

"Age?"

"Twenty-seven."

"And your address?"

"5132 North Street. Apartment 67."

Blair nodded. A reasonably middle-class area, he recalled, its occupants financially comfortable rather than rich.

"And your brother?"

"Tim - Timothy Jewson. We lived together."

"And his age?"

"Twenty three."

"Your parents?"

"They're both dead. Dad had cancer, and after he died... well, Mom just gave up. She was dead too inside a month."

"I'm sorry," Blair said.

Jewson's mouth twitched in what was obviously meant to be a smile but was more of a mirthless grimace. "It was nearly six years ago, Detective. Tim and I... We'd always been close, and it sort of drew us even closer. Oh, we knew that one day we'd split, that one of us, probably me, would want to marry, but we weren't in any hurry to change things."

"And now Tim's missing?"

"Yes. He went out on Monday night, saying he was meeting someone, and he might be home late. I went to bed just before midnight. There's a phone in my room, it would have woken me if he'd called - we usually did let each other know if we got lucky and were going home with a date. Only he didn't phone, but he wasn't there in the morning.

"It was... unusual, but I still wasn't really worried until I saw yesterday's papers. So when Tim didn't arrive home last night, and still didn't call during the evening, I contacted the police. By then he'd been missing for forty-eight hours."

Blair glanced at Jim, who nodded slightly.

"Did Tim say who he was seeing on Monday? Give you a name?"

Jewson shook his head. "No. But he'd dressed for a date, not for meeting up with Don - a guy he works with, goes out with sometimes."

"Did he often meet up with Don?"

"Two or three times a month. He likes basketball, but I don't, so sometimes when the Jags are playing he'll go to the game with Don, or visit with him so they can watch a game on TV."

"And you didn't mind that - you said you were close."

"Yeah, but we each had our own lives - like I said, we always knew we'd split one day. Why should I mind if he had a pal he could watch basketball with, when I think it's a total waste of time?"

Blair grinned. "Good point. All right, Jeff, we'll go down to the morgue now."

As they rose, Jim said softly, "Monday seems an odd night to have a date."

Jewson glanced at him. "It's a good night if you want to take someone to a classy restaurant that usually needs reservations made a month in advance."

Blair nodded agreement. "The first half of the week is often quiet. 'Course, Jim, you wouldn't know that - you never have to make reservations at Wonderburger, after all."

Behind Jewson's back, Jim flipped him the bird.

* * * * * * * *

In the morgue, Jewson looked at the body rolled out from the drawer. Dan or Serena had been careful to cover the slashed throat and all the man could see was the face.

He took a deep, shuddering breath. "Yes - that's Tim."

"Thank you."

Blair urged the man out and back upstairs, while Jim stayed behind to let Serena know the details of their now-identified corpse.

Back in the small interview room, Blair said, "Where did Tim work?"

"He's - he was a technician with Arnold Electronics."

"And can you tell me anything about his friend there? Do you know Don's last name?"

Jewson shook his head. "I never met him, and Tim only ever referred to him as 'Don'."

"And he didn't give you any clue about who he was going to see on Monday night?"

"No. But that wasn't unusual. I wasn't really interested in his sex life. He... Well, he went in for one night stands a lot. He didn't want to get serious about anyone. Not after... He fell in love not long after our mom died, and although he was barely eighteen, he was really serious about her, wanted to marry her. But she was just amusing herself with a guy four years younger, and she didn't even bother to be kind when she turned him down. He's never trusted another girl again. I kept hoping he'd - well, get over it, and in time he might have if he'd met the right one. As it was - he went out with them, slept with them if they'd say yes, but never trusted his heart to any of them."

* * * * * * * *

Jewson had already left before Jim rejoined his partner.

"Get anything more?" he asked.

"Well, I got where Tim worked. Also that he was something of a dog - he'd been let down badly and wasn't prepared to get serious again. So... Jim, I'm beginning to wonder if we might not be looking for a woman, here. If maybe the girl he was seeing was serious and got angry when she discovered he wasn't?"

Jim thought about that for a moment. "Not many women would have the strength to overcome a young, apparently fit, man."

"Anger could have given her the adrenaline surge that would give her a temporary boost of strength."

Jim grunted acknowledgment of the comment, then said, "I could see a woman reacting badly in that sort of situation, but a good hard slap is probably as far as she'd go before storming off."

"Yeah, I know," Blair said wryly. "It was just a suggestion, man."

* * * * * * * *

Their next stop was Arnold Electronics. The secretary identified 'Don' immediately, and put out a call for 'Don Gibson' over the PA; he arrived at her office within a couple of minutes.

He turned out to be a gaunt man in his late forties. There was a haunted look in his eyes, but his heartbeat was steady; Jim could sense that it was the shadow of a tragedy long past.

"Mr. Gibson?" Blair asked. "I'm Detective Sandburg; this is my partner, Detective Ellison."

Don Gibson looked from one to the other. "How can I help you?"

"We understand you were quite friendly with Tim Jewson?"

Gibson's eyes brightened fractionally. "Tim. Yes. He's like a son to me... and I think I satisfy his need for a father figure in his life." The momentary lightness faded again as he looked from one to the other. "Tim hasn't been at work since Monday - is he in trouble?"

"I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you this," Blair said quietly. "Tim was killed some time during Monday night."

"Wait a minute," Gibson said. "Yesterday's paper - a man found with his throat cut - was that... was that... "

"I'm afraid so," Blair answered gently. "His brother identified his body this morning. I'm sorry."

"No," Gibson whispered. "No! No!" He closed his eyes, clearly fighting for control of his emotions. Jim and Blair remained silent, giving the man the time he clearly needed. And it seemed to Blair that despite Jeff Jewson's claim that he and his brother had been close, Don Gibson was more upset than Jewson had been.

After some minutes, Gibson looked up. "What happened?"

"That's what we're trying to find out," Jim said. "According to his brother, Tim had a date on Monday night, but that was as much as he knew - he couldn't give us a name, for example. But he also said that you and Tim were friends, and we wondered if he'd told his friend something he hadn't told his brother."

"The only girl he's mentioned recently is one he met about three weeks ago - Elise Corbett. Monday was the fifth time he'd taken her out, and... well, I suppose his brother told you he isn't - wasn't - terribly trusting of women. This is the first one he's seen more than twice since I've known him, and I have to admit I was hoping she'd get him past the bitterness he felt towards women."

Jim nodded encouragement. "His brother said he'd been let down badly."

"Tim is... was... a man who took loyalty very seriously. At the same time, if he had a fault, it was the inability to forgive anything he saw as disloyalty or treachery. I could understand his bitterness towards Colleen Reilly - he loved her, really loved her - but when she walked out on him, he extended his bitterness and distrust to every woman he met. It didn't stop him going out with them, but... well, like I said, never more than twice. I don't know that he even slept with most of them - if he did, he never said. It was the one thing we couldn't agree on; his conviction that he couldn't trust a woman. I could never persuade him that he'd just been terribly, terribly unlucky." His voice broke.

After a moment he went on quietly, "I don't know how often I wished my wife was still alive so that he could see how happy she made me."

Blair said sympathetically, "It works both ways, you know. My mother couldn't sustain a relationship longer than two or three months, and I sometimes wondered if it might have been because she was badly let down by someone. Romantic attachments have the potential to be a real minefield. You were lucky. Tim was unlucky."

"Yeah," Gibson said.

"How long have you known Tim?" Blair asked.

"He started working here just after his father died. Like I said, I think he was looking for a father figure, and I saw in him all the qualities I would have wanted in my son... if he'd lived. He was just nine when his mother's car was run off the road by a careless driver. Alan was killed instantly; Marie died a week later. Witnesses said they thought the guy was probably drunk. He was never found, though. Nobody got even a partial number; the license plate was completely obscured by mud. When I met him, Tim was just about the age Alan would have been."

After a moment, Jim asked, "Do you have any idea where this Elise Corbett lives?"

Gibson shook his head. "No. I'm not sure that Tim knew; he met her wherever they were going, and from what he said, she always refused to let him take her home. Maybe that's why he kept on seeing her - because she was playing hard to get."

Blair glanced at Jim, who said mildly, "That's a nuisance; she's probably the last person to have seen him alive apart from his killer, and if we can't find her it's going to make it harder to find whoever killed him."

"Do you have any idea where they went on Monday night?" Blair asked.

"They were going for a meal, but that's all I know. And on a Monday he wouldn't have had to get a reservation."

* * * * * * * *

"We could try a newspaper or even local TV appeal for her," Blair said as they headed back to the truck.

"Come on, Chief." Jim laughed mirthlessly. "If you're right, and she was the killer, do you really think she'd respond?"

"No, but it would look as if we were 'pursuing all reasonable inquiries'," Blair replied quietly. "Though... In her place, if I was the killer, I would come forward - because I'd realize everyone would suspect me if I didn't, no matter what other reasons there might be for preferring not to. I can think of one or two reasons why an innocent person might choose not to, even though she might guess it would make her a suspect."

Jim glanced at him. "You know, Chief, sometimes you surprise me," he said. "You haven't asked me if I could smell anyone on him, any perfume or anything like that that would help identify her. You're acting as if... as if my senses were completely normal, as if I didn't have any way of discovering something most people couldn't. And before you do ask, no, I didn't."

Blair climbed into the truck and waited till Jim started the engine before replying. "The smell of blood was all over him, Jim. Everyone could smell it. You're good, but I don't think even you could have filtered it out."

"You're right," he admitted. "I tried, but I couldn't smell anything but blood and the stink of gas from the garage. And there were too many people around for me to get you to talk me through trying to block it to see if I could catch anything underlying the blood."

Half a mile down the road, Jim said, "Reasons why an innocent person might not come forward, Chief?" He had his own ideas, and wondered if Blair had the same ones.

"She could be married and not want her husband to know she was seeing someone else - even if they weren't having sex yet. Strict parents who disapproved of Tim and had forbidden her to see him. She could be in a job where she has to be seen to be squeaky clean, where the slightest hint of anything untoward could lose her her job - though it's hard to think of one where knowing a murder victim would lose you your reputation. Not nowadays - though at one time and in some places if a woman teacher was known to be courting, she automatically lost her job; it's not that long since certain other professions as well as teaching insisted that female employees had to be single. If they married, that was it. Out on their ear. Hell, she could simply just be really, really shy and terrified of the publicity."

"I think the job suggestion is a bit of a reach, but I'd agree that your other points are good ones. If she's innocent." Jim sighed. "Another reason why she might not come forward is that although she didn't kill Tim, she knows the killer - her husband or another boyfriend has found out and killed his rival." He glanced sideways. "You think she killed Tim, though, don't you?"

"Yes," Blair said quietly. "Whatever her reason, I think she did."

* * * * * * * *

Fearn and his friends met up on Friday night in a recently-opened French restaurant that was rapidly gaining a reputation for good, reasonably-priced meals. Once again they all chose steak, very rare, although normally all four would have considered having such a meal twice in one week a positive indulgence.

With the steak a tasty memory and coffee in front of them, three of them looked expectantly at the fourth. Fearn pushed an errant strand of hair off his forehead. "We could be looking for a woman."

"Sssssst!" The sound came from Mara, and Fearn nodded sympathetically. One of the reasons there were very few vampires was that although female vampires automatically gave birth to vampires even when the sire was an ordinary human, only ten or eleven percent were female. Both male and female vampires could 'Turn' an ordinary human, but rarely chose to do so; human misconception of their kind was rife, and had been for centuries. It took a rare kind of trust for a vampire to tell a human what he - or she - was, an even rarer trust for a human to agree to be Turned. To force a Turning was against all vampire ethics; even the occasional rogue who preyed on human blood and - certainly in the past - had been automatically killed by an outraged populace had never been so corrupt as to force a Turning on anyone.

It was Eon who said, "Can we know if the ones who have gone bad were vampire born or Turned?"

Artos said slowly, "I'm not sure there's any way to know. It's impossible to tell, after a few years, when someone has been Turned."

"Does it actually matter?" Mara asked.

"It might. If they were all Turned... It would mean no responsible vampire would ever Turn anyone again."

"Responsible vampires rarely Turn anyone, anyway," Fearn pointed out. "I never have."

"Nor I," Artos agreed.

"I've had two children," Mara said, "so I've done my duty to the race, though I might choose to have another one some day. But I've never Turned anyone."

Fearn nodded; he knew about Mara's children, indeed had helped rear the younger one. The older one was born in 1536, and the last Mara had heard of him was when he went to Australia in the closing year of the nineteenth century; the other was born in 1572 and died fifty-three years later, victim of a witch hunt. He had waited too long to move on, and people became suspicious of his continued youthful appearance. His death had hit Mara hard, and was the main reason she had never had any more children, even though she occasionally spoke of the possibility of having another child one day.

Eon remained silent for a moment, then said quietly, "You're all vampire born?" For as long as they had been friends, their origins was a subject that had never been discussed. At their nods, he continued, "I was Turned. We were together for nearly a century. But we grew apart. I still loved her, but she... " His voice broke. After a moment, he continued. "I've known the three of you for longer than I was with the woman I loved. Your friendship has been more enduring than her love. But with her, I fathered four children. I don't know where any of them are - it was easier to cut all my ties to her; if I'd kept in touch with them it would have been impossible to avoid hearing about their mother. So I too have done my duty to the race... without Turning anyone. I couldn't have borne it - Turning someone I loved so much that I wanted - thought I wanted - forever with her, only to find I'd made a mistake, that inside a bare century I'd fallen out of love, or she had... "

Mara put a sympathetic hand on his arm. "Eon, that happens even with short-lived humans. How many marriages end in divorce inside two or three years?"

"It still hurts, even if both have fallen out of love... and so often one still loves." He shrugged, then said more matter-of-factly, "But you understand why I worry about Turned vampires being the ones who go bad?"

Fearn nodded. "Yes, we understand. But as I said to Artos the last time we met; think of the men and women we see daily. Some are good people, helpful, considerate, generous; some are good enough but more selfish; some are greedy, acquisitive; some, even from apparently good backgrounds, are corrupt. Even siblings; one brother becomes a priest, the other a serial killer. Why? Something in their nature; one gene gone wrong, perhaps.

"No, Eon; I don't think being Turned does any damage. I don't think you're at any risk."

"I hope you're right." Eon looked at each in turn. "But do me a favor; if at any time you have reason to think I could be going bad - kill me before I have a chance to harm anyone."

Artos smiled wryly. "Eon, you've just given us the reason why we know you'll never go bad."

* * * * * * * *

The newspaper and television appeal proved relatively futile, as both Jim and Blair had suspected. An employee of a high-class restaurant came in to the PD to say that the dead man had eaten at his place of work on the Monday night; his female companion had been young, possibly in her late teens, but because they hadn't ordered drinks she hadn't been asked for proof of age. She had dark, shoulder-length wavy hair; not a beauty, exactly, but she moved with a grace that made her appear generally beautiful.

"I might know her again," Jon Forbes said, "but we don't pay that much attention to customers unless they're regulars."

"But you recognized Mr. Jewson - so he was a regular customer?" Jim asked.

"Well, more semi-regular; he always came in on a Monday, when we're quieter. We saw him at least once a month, always with someone different. Almost as if he was entertaining business contacts."

Jim and Blair glanced at each other. Given what they knew of the dead man, it seemed unlikely; but the comment indicated that whatever else he had been, he had not been openly, publicly demonstrative with the objects of his short-term attentions.

"Thank you, Mr. Forbes," Jim said quietly. "Do you know what time Mr. Jewson and his companion left the restaurant?"

"They were fairly early," Forbes said. "Just before eight. I heard Mr. Jewson saying something about hurrying to catch the start of the show, but not which show. It isn't much help to you, is it?"

"Any information regarding what Mr. Jewson was doing that night helps us build up a picture of his movements," Blair told him. "Do you have any idea if they took a cab after they left?"

Forbes shook his head. "I was occupied clearing the table. Sorry."

* * * * * * * *

It seemed they had struck a dead end. They checked all the cab companies in Cascade; none of the drivers had picked up anyone at the place and time in question. Even the name 'Elise Corbett' didn't help; they found six Elise Corbetts resident in Cascade, but one of them was an African American, three others were too old to fit the description, and the other two were children. None of the adults concerned knew anyone fitting the description who might, for whatever reason, have used their name; nobody with that name had registered at any of the hotels in the city. After some days the case was semi-abandoned, overtaken by newer ones.

* * * * * * * *

Jim sighed as he sat down to a solitary dinner. Blair had gone out again, for the third time this week; just when he had found the time to meet up with a new girl friend, Jim had no idea, but he was definitely chasing her hard and had been for nearly a month.

It was strange, though - this was the first apparently serious relationship Blair had had for a long time; almost it had seemed to the older man that his friend's experience with Iris had made him wary. Well, if it had, Blair was clearly over it now.

For too many evenings during this month, Jim had been sitting alone, able to watch whatever he wanted to watch rather than settling for something he and Blair were both happy with, and if he was honest with himself, he was bored.

He abandoned his meal half-finished - he was neither particularly hungry nor enjoying it - and dumped the uneaten food in the garbage, washed the dishes and moved towards the couch. Halfway there he stopped; the idea of sitting on his own watching whatever crap the television was offering for his 'entertainment' did not beckon. Changing his mind, he turned towards the door, shrugged into his jacket, picked up his keys and walked out.

There was nowhere he actually wanted to go - but anywhere was better than sitting alone in the loft wishing he was not alone. Ignoring the truck, he began to walk, not quite aimlessly - he was heading in the approximate direction of the beach.

It was actually a very pleasant, mild evening, if he had been in a mood to appreciate it. The sun, shining from an almost cloudless sky, was still at least two hours from setting, and there was only the slightest breeze. There was only the slightest ripple on the sea, when he reached it, tiny waves lapping the shore as the tide retreated.

At this time of day, the beach was almost deserted; the lure of food, bars and evening television having drawn away most of the people who might have been there earlier. An elderly man passed him, heading home, his dog sniffing its way along the newly-uncovered land at the water's edge. The men exchanged a grunted "Evening" and immediately forgot each other, the one intent on getting home as soon as possible now that his dog had had its evening walk, the other wanting to waste time before - he hoped - returning to find his home no longer empty. Blair had been out twice already that week, but his return hadn't been very late either night; it seemed that with this conquest, Blair was being the perfect gentleman, for Jim had not smelled sex on him; but that worried Jim, for it implied that Blair was looking for something more lasting than merely satisfying his lust.

He walked on.

Over an hour later, he registered the lengthening shadows and realized that the sun would soon set. He turned and began to make his way back along the shore, not in the least worried that it might be dark before he could leave the beach, but aware that on his previous evenings out Blair had returned home by around ten. As he went, he noted absently that the tide had turned and the little waves - not much more than ripples - were running back up the shore again.

He was about halfway back when he heard someone crying. Glancing around, he saw, a little ahead of him, a woman sitting at the foot of a tree on the inland side of the beach. She hadn't been there when he went along the beach; how long had she been there? Whatever, he couldn't just leave her - not when it was getting late and would soon be dark.

As he approached her, he realized she was younger than he had first thought - possibly around twenty. "Are you all right, Miss?" he asked, suspecting that, at her age, her problem was nothing more serious than a broken romance. Nothing more serious? He had a sudden feeling of fellowship with her. Not that his relationship with Blair was a romance, but if Blair was indeed serious about his girl and hoped to marry her, it would mean the end of their almost five-year life as room mates.

"Oh!" She made a visible effort to control herself. "Yes - yes, thanks."

"People don't cry for nothing," he suggested, his voice sympathetic.

She pulled a large handkerchief from her sleeve, mopped her wet eyes with a corner of it then blew her nose. "It's just... my mom died last week, and it's just... " Her voice trailed off. After a minute, she went on. "It was just Mom and me, you know? My dad walked out when I was eight, and... and... " She blew her nose again. "Mom never said if we had any other relatives, and it just hit me - I'm alone."

"Don't you have any friends, Miss...?"

"Oh - Alice Munro. No - not really. Not in Cascade, anyway - we've only been here about three months."

"Well, you can't stay here," Jim said gently. "It'll be dark soon; you really need to get home. Come on - it's not all that far back to the parking lot - "

He took her hand to pull her to her feet, and found himself yanked down to her level. "What - ?"

"You're perfect!" she hissed, her tears suddenly gone. "Big, strong... Perfect!"

Jim tried to pull away, and found he couldn't. He had time to register that he'd never met anyone with such a strong grip when her other hand found his throat. He caught her wrist with his free hand and realized that it would be all he could do to keep her from strangling him into unconsciousness at least, even with one hand.

Summoning up everything he'd learned about fighting dirty, he struggled to free himself, and found he couldn't; nothing he did could overcome the relentless grip she had on him, and he felt himself begin to weaken.

And then, when he was just about to lose his grip on the hand that was strangling him, he felt other hands on him, felt her being pulled away.

As he gasped for breath, he heard the one voice he trusted above all others. "Jim! Are you all right?"

He finally drew a long, deep breath, and looked up into concerned blue eyes. "Chief! How... " And then he realized that Blair was not alone; there were three others with him, two men who were holding Alice Munro and a woman who had to be Blair's current interest.

"All right, Jim?" Blair asked again.

Jim nodded. "Yes. But how did you... ?"

Blair smiled a little sadly. "I was looking for her." He nodded towards the captive. "She's our killer, Jim; another few minutes, and you would have been her next victim."

"But... why? And how do you know she's the killer?"

"Believe me, Jim, I know she is. As for why? I don't know yet; but I will know." There was a note in his voice that Jim had never heard the apparently easy-going Blair use, and that made him shiver. Still crouched beside Jim, Blair turned to look at Alice. "What is your name, girl?"

When she didn't answer, Jim said, "She told me Alice Munro."

"And she told Tim Jewson it was Elise Corbett," Blair murmured. He stared at the girl. "Your real name, please."

Alice glared at him for a moment longer, then seemed to collapse. "Eloise." She gave no surname, Jim realized, but what was even stranger, Blair didn't seem to expect one.

"How old are you?"

"Twenty two."

"We know you have killed once here, in Cascade, and if we had not been watching you, you would have killed again tonight. Have you killed before, elsewhere?"

"Yes. But I had to! It was the only way... "

"The only way for what? Killing is never the 'only' way to accomplish something."

"I'm twenty two. I've never had a period! I... the only way I'll mature is if I get a proper diet of human blood!"

Blair looked at the woman beside him. "Mara?"

"Where is your mother?" she asked gently, as if she was playing good cop to Blair's bad one.

"Dead."

Jim opened his mouth to speak, and Blair murmured, very softly, "No, Jim. You are the victim here, not the defense lawyer, though this is, in its own way, a court. We will give her a fair hearing."

Jim glanced at him, and settled back to listen.

"When did she die? How did she die?" Mara asked.

"Ten years ago. There was an accident... someone got me out of the car in time, but Mom was trapped, and when the gas tank exploded... "

"And had she told you anything about... about maturing?"

Eloise shook her head. "Just that my children would be vampires."

"What of your father?"

"He walked out when I was eight. We never saw him again."

"Was he a vampire, too?"

"He was. Mom wasn't until he Turned her. She always told me never to Turn anyone. 'He promised me forever,' she said, 'and he gave me less than fifteen years'. But I couldn't Turn anyone, anyway," Eloise added. "Mom never told me how."

"So what you know of maturing, of sex... ?" Mara asked.

"What my foster mother told me. She said I'd start having periods by the time I was fourteen, maybe younger, and then I'd be able to have babies, though the law said I wouldn't be old enough till I was eighteen. And she taught me about safe sex. I never let her know I hadn't started my periods."

"And hadn't you ever met any other vampires?"

Eloise shook her head. "Mom said once or twice that she could sense one, and that we should avoid them; that they would reject her because she wasn't vampire born, and me because I was the daughter of someone who'd been Turned."

"Why would she think that?"

"I think Dad told her. They were arguing about something, and he said she'd never be properly accepted without him, because he was the one who'd Turned her. And then just a few days later, he left."

"Eon," Blair said.

"I was Turned," one of the men holding her said quietly. "And until I told them a month ago, my friends did not know." "It takes a few years for a human body to adjust fully, but once it has, it's impossible to tell if someone has been Turned, rather than being vampire born," the other man added. Mara spoke again. "In one thing, though, your mother was right, child. Turning someone is not something any vampire should do lightly."

"I'm not a child!" Eloise exclaimed.

"You are. Probably not even your mother could have told you, because she wouldn't have known. Although you have the appearance of an adult, although you have vampire strength, from the point of view of vampire maturity you're the equivalent of six or seven. A vampire doesn't mature until she's at least fifty, and then she has one period every ten to twelve years. You killed for nothing, child. Human blood gives us nothing we cannot get from the blood of animals."

"I don't believe you! Mom was thirty when I was born, and she had periods every month until she was about forty. Then she started having fewer periods, but she said that was a sign of early menopause."

"Your mother was Turned, child. She was already a mature human. And fewer periods? That wasn't menopause, it was her body finally adjusting, settling into the cycle that vampire women have. If she did not know that, the blame must lie with your father, who should have told her everything that was involved before he Turned her."

"Or perhaps he did, but she chose to forget, when her cycle did not alter immediately," Blair put in. He was silent for a moment, then continued. "The blame, if blame there is, must fall on your father's shoulders, for he is the one who Turned your mother then left her, and you, criminally uninformed about what being a vampire means. Can you tell me his name?"

She shook her head. "He used the name Terry Corbett. That's all I know."

"So we can't find him. But what he clearly did not tell your mother; vampires are a sub-species of homo sapiens. There are not many of us, for we are long-lived and breed slowly; and for some centuries now it has been increasingly difficult for us to escape notice. Apart from our longevity and physical strength, the main difference between us and 'ordinary' humans is that in time of stress we need blood, but animal blood gives us all we need to calm us and restore our equilibrium.

"It is not good for us to avoid the company of others of our kind. You were aware there were other vampires in Cascade?"

"Yes."

"And chose to avoid us. But did it not occur to you that you were foolish to kill in a city where there were other vampires? Did you really think we would not realize and search for you?

"If you were a mature vampire who had gone bad, it would have been our duty to execute you. As it is, you are a child who acted from ignorance and we are willing to give you a chance to learn." Blair looked at Mara, and began to speak in a language Jim Ellison had never heard. One of the other men joined in, and for a minute or two the three spoke rapidly. The other man listened, nodding occasionally, but contributed nothing to the verbal exchange. Finally, Blair nodded once and turned back to Eloise.

"Mara is willing to take immediate responsibility for you, for teaching you what your mother could not; and she will find a responsible vampire foster mother for you as soon as possible, one who already has one or more daughters who are close to you in age. However, this is the only chance you will be given; fail to take it and you will be executed as a danger to all of us as well as being the killer of Tim Jewson - the only one of your victims in an area for which I am responsible."

Mara turned to the young woman. "Come."

The other men released her arms but followed close as Mara led the way back along the beach in the rapidly darkening half light.

Blair turned to Jim. "So now you know what I am," he said quietly. "I will understand if you don't want me to come back to the loft."

"I have to admit I'm still trying to understand it all," Jim replied, "but the loft is your home, and I want you to come home with me."

"Thank you," Blair said quietly.

* * * * * * * *

As they made their way back along the beach, there was still enough light for Jim to see where he was going, and Blair simply followed where the sentinel led, trusting the other man's enhanced sight. As they went, Jim asked, "How well can you see at night?"

"No better than anyone who isn't a sentinel," Blair replied.

They fell silent again, Blair aware that Jim would have questions and Jim trying to process what he had heard.

Once back at the loft, Jim collected two bottles of beer from the fridge and gave one to Blair. "So - tell me about vampires."

It was clear to Blair that Jim, who had been so skeptical when he first mentioned the word 'vampire' was now prepared to take a great deal on trust, because it was Blair who was involved, Blair who had now admitted to being a vampire. Incredibly touched by that trust, he blinked back unaccustomed tears. He must remain objective, he told himself; it would be so easy to surrender to the demands of his heart, but he must not allow himself to be affected by emotion.

It would not be fair to Jim.

"Not much to tell, actually," Blair said. "You heard a lot of it tonight. Most of the vampire tales are myths based on lurid horror novels, their origins existing only in the minds of men who had too much imagination, though there are certain times of the month, certain times of the year, that have a special meaning for us. We don't have a religion as such, but if we want to perform a ritual for some reason, we choose the night of no moon - that is, the night when the moon is between Earth and the sun. That was the night Tim Jewson was killed. Tonight is again a night of no moon; the next killing was inevitably going to be tonight.

"We - my friends and I - knew the killer was still in Cascade - we could feel her presence, the way you could feel Alex Barnes; it made us uneasy. Not because of the presence of another vampire, but because there was a strange vampire here who was avoiding us. That's where I've been all those evenings I was out this month - we were trying to track her down, establish a pattern to her movements, so that we'd know where she was likely to go tonight to find her next victim. But we had to catch her with that victim, catch her in the moment between initial attack and actually injuring him.

"We're perfectly happy in daylight, lead perfectly ordinary lives. 'Defenses' like garlic bother us not at all; think of the recipes I make that include garlic. These 'defenses' exist only in the minds of the superstitious, who would fear vampires even if we didn't exist - think how long people feared witches, for example; it's an old religion, but its followers don't have supernatural powers; it's as if Christians were all believed to walk on water simply because according to the Bible Christ did.

"We only need blood if we're badly stressed; it's one of the reasons I don't lose my temper very often. It takes too much out of me. When we need blood, animal blood is fine; a very rare steak serves nicely. We are long-lived, however, though we're not immortal, and that's where most of our problems arise; we can't really stay anywhere longer than ten to fifteen years - after that people begin commenting on how young we still look. I've - we've - been here in Cascade almost too long; I've known for a while it was time to move on, but - well, I didn't want to leave you, and the others stayed because I did. But they're moving on now, taking Eloise somewhere where she can be kept safe until she learns vampire ethics, and I'll join them when I leave - the four of us have been together for a long time."

"Lovers? Well, you and Mara, anyway."

"No, just good friends."

"What about Naomi?"

"She's vampire born, though my father was an ordinary human. Yes, I know who he was. Although he decided against being Turned, he lived his life out with us, traveling with us, all his life, although towards the end they had to pretend he was her father. It was a long time ago, but it's why she still can't - or, rather, won't - settle with anyone for long; she doesn't want to go through that again, seeing the man she loves grow old...

"A vampire woman's children are always vampires, no matter who the father is. On the other hand, a vampire man's children aren't vampires if their mother is an ordinary human. And any vampire can Turn an ordinary human into a vampire, but it's not something we're willing to do very often."

"Have you... ?"

"No, though I've been tempted. But think about it, Jim. I was born vampire. I had no choice in the matter. But although we can live an apparently 'normal' life for several years at a time, we know it's only temporary, that one day we'll move on - we'll have to move on, leaving behind the friends we've made. I've seen people Turned by vampires they love, who loved them enough to think they wanted forever with them. But you heard what Eloise said. Her parents were together for fifteen years, and her mother was left with no real idea of what it meant to be a vampire. Eon - one of my friends - was Turned by the vampire he married. His 'forever' was approximately a century. Oh, a vampire relationship can last; Mara and I have been friends for over four hundred years; we haven't known Artos and Eon for as long, but that looks like being a lasting friendship too. And I've seen some who had a century together, split for a while then met up again; but there's nothing sadder than a Turned vampire who still loves the person who Turned him but who has fallen out of love and moved on.

"But there's more. You're afraid - and with good reason - of the publicity that would come if the truth about your senses came out. Of the possibility that you might end up in a laboratory somewhere. We live with that fear too, but more than that - nowadays we live with the fear that if scientists were to discover why we're different, what it is in our DNA that gives us long lives, they'd tinker with genetic modification in an attempt to give everyone - or at least the rich who could pay for such treatment for themselves and their families - longer life, on a world that's already over-populated. Or they'd try to coerce us into Turning as many people as humanly - vampirely - possible, again probably with the ability to pay as the deciding factor, unless we managed to keep it a secret that we could Turn humans. Though that's better than it was four or five centuries ago when some of us died, burned alive as witches. We try not to think too hard about what the future might bring - because of what we are, we can't stay in one place long enough to try to make a difference.

"I decided long ago that I'd never Turn anyone, no matter how much I loved them, no matter how much they thought they wanted to be Turned. And Jim - I've loved people, sometimes a lot, but this is the first time I've been seriously tempted to buck the odds, to see if I was the one vampire who would stay with the person he Turned. But it would break my heart to discover that I wasn't; that you still considered me your closest friend, while I never wanted to see you again." He was silent for a moment, then continued, "I want to stay, Jim, but I can't. I've heard the odd mutter - 'Wish I still looked as young as he does'. When you hear that, you know you've stayed too long. I really should have left when Naomi sent the diss to Sid; it was the perfect excuse, and I know that's the real reason she did it. To give me a reason to leave. She didn't realize why I didn't want to move on. You needed me. You still do, really, but I don't think I have any choice now."

"Would you let me come with you?" Jim asked.

Blair shook his head. "I watched my father growing old. I couldn't bear to watch someone else I loved growing old while I remained much the same. Megan knows about your senses; she can help you if you let her.

"I'll make Naomi my reason for leaving - say she's ill, needs me to care for her for an indefinite time, and because I don't know how long, I'm having to quit. Think Simon'll buy that?"

"Probably," Jim said. He sighed. "I understand why you have to go, Chief; I won't try to stop you. But... I'll miss you."

"I'll never forget you, Jim. And... be careful."

They looked at each other for a long moment; then Blair turned away and walked into his room, closing the door quietly behind him.

Jim stared at the door for several minutes, then went up the stairs to his bedroom. Without bothering to undress, he lay on the bed and deliberately turned down his hearing. He knew that Blair would be gone before morning, and that if he heard him leaving, he would be unable to keep from following.

Blair was the best friend he had even had, but he knew he had to abide by Blair's decision, hard though it would be. And he knew that for Blair, it would be even harder.

His guide he admitted to himself had always been the stronger one in their partnership.

* * * * * * * *

The hardest thing, in some ways, was the way the other detectives kept asking Jim if he'd heard from Blair. He forced cheerfulness and said in response to all the queries, "He's fine, but he's kept busy. The doctors don't know when Naomi will be on her feet again." In actual fact, he hadn't heard from Blair; they had agreed it would be a mistake, that the parting should be clean, but even the experience of the month when Blair had been looking for the killer vampire hadn't prepared Jim for the desolation he felt, evening after lonely evening.

One night, about six weeks after Blair left, when he was sitting dispiritedly watching television without absorbing anything he was seeing, he was surprised by a knock at the door. He moved wearily over to answer it; there was nobody he wanted to see except the one person he knew it wouldn't be. He certainly didn't expect the person who did stand at the door.

"Naomi! Didn't Blair contact you? He's left Cascade. He said it was time to move on."

"Yes; I know. He's currently in Los Angeles; leaves for the Yucatan at the end of the month. He's joining Eli Stoddard on an expedition."

Jim frowned. "But Stoddard's known him for years; has to realize - " He broke off as Naomi nodded.

"Yes. Elias is a vampire too. He started this life as a forty-something-year-old scholar and by growing a beard, then carefully dying both it and his hair to look as if he was going grey, has been able to maintain it for over twenty years, but this will be his last expedition as Eli Stoddard. Officially, he'll retire after it; he may write one more book, then he'll quietly disappear. In another ten years or so a report of his death will find its way into the papers here.

"Blair will be going on the expedition as a twenty-year-old wanting experience before he goes to university. It doesn't mean he will go to university again - he's using it to give himself thinking time and a change of identity."

"So why are you here?" Jim asked. "If you've spoken to Blair, you must know - "

"Yes; and I agree with him. I haven't seen one case where a vampire Turned his - or her - human lover, or even just friend, where the relationship has lasted more than about a century. Usually it's less. The original vampire always leaves. It's as if some sort of... I don't know - guilt? sets in, though you'd expect it to be the other way, wouldn't you? The Turned one beginning to feel resentment because he - she - has discovered longevity, in a short-lived mortal world, isn't quite the stroll in the park he expected. And while occasionally an unTurned human stays with his vampire friend or lover, it's not something that any of us cares to experience more than once. I know Blair told you that his father refused to be Turned; we had to live with him growing older, seeing him growing steadily frailer until he finally died. "At the moment Blair's miserable, but comforting himself with the knowledge that he'll always remember you as you are now.

"What I need to know - were you serious about wanting to go with him?"

Jim's answer was instant. "Yes. He's my friend, Naomi. My guide."

"There is one possible answer. He won't Turn you, because he wouldn't want to leave you and he knows the odds are that he would, eventually, because it always happens. However, if you were to go to him, already Turned by someone else - he knows that when vampire meets vampire and there is love between them, sexual or platonic, it almost always lasts."

"You would do that?"

"Not lightly, but yes, I would do that for Blair." She looked directly at him, and he suddenly wondered where all her flighty mannerisms had gone. This was not the Naomi he knew from his past meetings with her, but a serious, sensible, mature woman. "But be very sure, Jim. 'The world well lost for love' is a romantic myth, and affection is likely to be the first casualty when the problems of reality strike. Love alone is not enough; there has to be understanding and tolerance as well, and the willingness to compromise and adjust. A thoughtless habit - even something as simple as a relatively meaningless phrase you use a lot - that is merely a mild annoyance over a period of five years becomes a positive irritant over fifty and can drive someone to the point of murder over five hundred. And frankly, someone who is Turned has a lot of adjusting to do - you would have a lot of adjusting to do, not so much to Blair as to the way of life involved.

"Can you accept that Blair is much, much older than you, has seen at first hand many things that you only know as history? No, I'm not going to tell you exactly how old he is - it's not particularly important; a vampire must always remember never to say things like 'I remember - ' of anything older than his apparent age, less a few years. One of the reasons Blair has been an academic for quite some time is that if he slips up he can pass it off as learning rather than experience - when he gets enthusiastic about something he sometimes forgets to guard his tongue quite as carefully as he should. Though he's not the only one; Elias is the same. But in the past vampires have died because of just such a slip.

"Can you accept being, in vampire culture, little more than a child? At least for some years. The youngest of Blair's vampire friends is over two hundred years old - though he too was Turned, so if you had problems of adjustment you could discuss them with him. Come to that, can you accept Blair's friends as yours, without being jealous? Over the last five years he's accepted your friends, but you've never met any of his - you could be excused for thinking he didn't have any close friends other than yourself, but he does.

"Can you accept losing your family? I know you rejected your father and brother for years, and you've not long begun to reconnect with them; can you accept losing them again, possibly gradually over the next five to ten years, but after that, never seeing them again?

"Can you accept a life of always moving on, hiding what you are, with each move losing friends you've made? Ten to fifteen years at most - after that people begin to notice how young you still look. It's easier for women to stay put for longer, say up to twenty years - women are expected to use make-up and do everything they can to stay looking young; it's easier for older men like Elias who can dye their hair grey, grow a beard to hide their lack of wrinkles; but young men must move more often.

"Can you accept the need to learn new skills as society changes? Your vocation has been 'protect and serve' - what if, two hundred years from now, society changes so that a body of men dedicated to 'protect and serve' is no longer needed?"

"You're trying to discourage me, aren't you?" Jim said ruefully.

"No, just pointing out some of the downside to being a vampire. It's a big step to take, agreeing to being Turned. Blair's father decided he couldn't face centuries of moving on and learning new skills, though he was happy to do it for fifty years. But most of all - although I offered to get someone else to Turn him, he didn't want to risk my leaving him, although the odds on that were minimal with someone else doing the Turning. That, at least, won't be a problem for you. I stay in touch with Blair, but seeing you once every few years isn't the same as living with, or near, you and I've no doubt we could remain on amicable terms indefinitely." She smiled a little sadly. "Blair isn't really my only child, you know; I had two other sons and three daughters. Both Blair's brothers were killed in wars, and I've no idea where my daughters are. Moving on, the way we do, makes it easy to lose touch even today, and in the past it was even easier. But Blair... I couldn't lose touch with Blair. His father was the only man I ever really loved."

"You keep talking about the problems. Aren't there any advantages?"

"With each move you have a chance to begin afresh, cancel out any mistakes you've made. How often do people say 'If I had my life to live again, knowing what I know now, I'd...'? In a sense that's what we do. You'll have greater physical strength, but on the other hand you can't afford to show it all that much. You'll have greater immunity to disease; degenerative conditions like arthritis won't ever be a problem. Minor injuries heal more quickly. You'll know when there are other vampires near, and vampires usually automatically help each other in a way ordinary humans don't. If Eloise had gone to Blair and his friends when she detected them, they could have - would have - helped her, advised her - in short, done what they did once they found her, and the man she killed would still be alive."

"It would seem that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages."

"That's why I said 'be very sure'. Only you can decide if wanting and needing Blair's friendship is worth the problems you might encounter. And if you decide against my offer, Blair will never know it was made."

Jim smiled. "Naomi, since he left, I've had long enough to know I'd do anything to be with him again. If you're sure that's what he really wants - do it."

* * * * * * * *

For the first time in four hundred years, Fearn felt himself to be completely alone. Elias was a good friend, certainly, one he had known most of his life; he had Elias to thank for introducing him to the academic life - when he told Jim that Eli Stoddard was his mentor, he was telling the truth. However, Elias knew virtually nothing about Jim Ellison; Mara and Artos and Eon, although they had never actually met Jim despite having helped to save his life, had heard plenty about him, and knew how hard it had been for Fearn to reject Jim's offer to accompany him. He needed their sympathetic support, but at the same time fled from it, for he felt it would weaken his resolve. But Mara had decided to take immediate responsibility for Eloise, seeing something - a helplessness, perhaps? Fearn wasn't sure - in her that she sincerely pitied; the poor child had never had a fair chance - most of the little she 'knew' came from vampire novels, which was akin to training an astronaut by showing him episodes of Star Trek. Artos and Eon weren't in the least interested in anthropology and had decided to help Mara educate the totally ignorant young vampire. The three of them had taken Eloise to Chicago, while he contacted Elias who, he knew, was planning a trip to 'discover' a temple deep in the rain forest that he had first seen in the days when the Mayan culture still flourished, and which modern exploration still hadn't found.

Although the four had stayed together for a long time, moving on together, it wasn't the first time they had split temporarily, with one or more going off alone for a while; Fearn knew where the others had gone and that when he returned from the Yucatan in a year or so he would contact them, move to Chicago, and it would be as if he had never left them.

This year out would give him the time to process his grief, push the thoughts of his time with Jim deep, deep among the memories he cherished but rarely examined.

* * * * * * * *

All the preparations for the trip were finished; tomorrow was their last full day in Los Angeles - the next day they would leave, fly to Merida then transfer to jeeps for a while before their final change to horses as they pushed into the trackless rain forest. The day after tomorrow, Ben Sutton's life would begin properly. Meanwhile, Fearn had nothing to do but sit and... remember. And grieve for the friend he would never see again.

He sank deep into a meditative state as he worked through his memories, saying a final goodbye to Blair Sandburg before he went to bed; he would let the enthusiastic and reasonably-knowledgeable-from-what-he-had-read but inexperienced Ben take over tomorrow, he decided, rather than the day after.

* * * * * * * *

Eli Stoddard led the newest member of his expedition along the corridor - someone he had hoped would join them but had been afraid, until less than an hour previously, would not. He stopped at one of the doors. "I don't expect I'll see you at breakfast," he said cheerfully, "but we usually all have dinner together at seven. Sleep well." He carried on to the room two doors further on as with unaccustomed nervousness his new team member opened the door of his room and went in.

The man already in the room was sitting on the floor, cross-legged, and while his mind was clearly far away, it slowly registered the presence of someone else in the room.

"Hello, Chief," the newcomer said quietly.

Fearn froze, then turned his head slowly. "Jim."

Jim Ellison waited for his friend to realize...

"Who Turned you?" Fearn asked.

"Naomi. She said to tell you it was the last time she would interfere in your life; that it was the last time she would need to. Elias had contacted her about things - you could say it was a conspiracy between them. And although Naomi made it clear exactly what was involved and made me think very hard about it, rather than accepting my first instinctive and - well, impetuous - agreement, she phoned Elias and got him to give me a long and detailed lecture about the difficulties concerned, before she accepted that I knew pretty fully what I was letting myself in for."

"Impetuous?" Fearn asked. "You?"

Jim chuckled. "Oh, I can do impetuous occasionally. But seriously, Chief, we belong together, sentinel and guide, Jim and Blair, Jim and Ben, Jaime and Fearn. Can you deny that?"

"No," Fearn said.

Jim knelt beside his friend. "I know it won't always be easy - I know I'll have to work at adjusting and all that - but you never did let me get away with anything, and I know you never will."

Fearn chuckled. "You'd better believe it," he said. "You'd better believe it."


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