In the seventy five years Ive been here, Ive only cried once. That was the day I stood over the grave of this worlds Willow and realized what Id lost when I left my world behind, how lonely and empty my life had become.
This was the second day. I hadnt appreciated how much that slim thread of hope meant to me, how much the slender prospect of a return to those I loved had sustained me in my seemingly endless years of physical and emotional exile.
And now Elliot Lothair had taken that away from me, and with it he had stolen the one thing that kept me alive from day to day. I dont know if you can understand the kind of love Angel and I had in my world. I hope you can. Everyone deserves that at least once in her life. And Elisa, my daughter, the beautiful and divine proof that my existence had meaning beyond merely killing and death I dont think there are words for what she meant to my heart. All that was gone now, ripped from my life in one brief, callous instant.
Yet I couldnt deny Lothair was right. I couldnt go back without killing the very people I loved. And as I sat in my apartment, my only comfort a bottle of cheap imported Chardonnay and my tears, I knew that the source of my pain was ultimately myself. I was always masochistic like that. Why else fall in love with a vampire? Why else defy the universe and the darkness year after exhausting year? Why else hope? Hope is the cruelest of all feelings, I think. It sets you up for the sucker punch, the one you never see coming, the one that sends you to the mat and puts you down for the ten count.
I was down. And I didnt think I ever wanted to get back up again.
The phone trilled its electronic sing-song, and I rose in the shadows of the apartment and made my way across the living room, the flashing Rooms Cheap sign turning my life a lurid shade of green and blue by turns before plunging me into the darkness once more.
Groggily, I picked up the receiver, and activated the vid screen. Shaugnessys flaccid features filled the display, and if it was any consolation to me, he looked to be matching me in the blood alcohol contest.
Yeah? I asked, and none too politely.
Get over to the Lothair Tower.
Been there already. This afternoon, I said.
Elliot Lothair just got his ticket punched.
There was an awkward pause while my alcohol-addled mind tried to assimilate that. Finally it clicked into place. What did I feel at that moment, when it registered? Relief. Relief because ever since Id left the mile-high conference room, Id bee thinking about doing it myself.
On the security video, big as life. Get down there.
Spike. So in a strange twist of fate, I had one of my oldest enemies to thank for sparing me a difficult moral choice. Life. Who could figure it sometimes?
I cant drive, I said.
Hitting the bottle again, Summers? Just like the old days, huh?
Its always the old days in this town, Shaugnessy.
Ill send Vange around.
Shit, I said under my breath. Shaunessy caught it over the vid link and smiled.
You and he make a nice couple, he said.
Just name the time and place, doll.
I sighed and pushed my hair out of my eyes. Any idea where Spike is?
What do you think youre back on the team for? Decoration? Get to the Tower and start earning your keep before I decide youre not worth the bother, he said, suddenly turning sullen and irritable. I saw him reach forward across his gunmetal gray desk and snap off the vid-link.
The room fell into darkness again, broken only by the infernal cycling of the motel sign across the street, and I put on a small pot of coffee while I waited for Vange.
* * *
By the time Vange and I arrived at the Tower, the alcohols deceptive comfort had faded, leaving me with a nascent headache that I knew from experience would get worse before it got better.
Fortunately for my head, the crime scene didnt subject me to a barrage of flashing police strobes and speech-synthesized admonitions to the citys populace. It was the flip side of the debacle at Drus, and it meant that everyone involved wanted this handled quietly. The Lothair Corporations Board of Directors wouldnt want a media circus negatively impacting the stock price, Shaugnessy wouldnt want to answer any questions until hed had time to come up with career-salvaging answers, and assuming the Mayor had gotten a call on this one (probably a safe bet), he wouldnt want millions of registered voters questioning the competence of an elected official who allowed vampires to kill leading citizens.
Vange had only spoken to me once all trip, as soon as Id gotten into his unmarked cruiser.
When they hand out the award for the biggest fuck-up in the history of the NYPD, you gonna give a speech? hed asked.
I never answered him on that one.
As we rode the buildings glass express elevator a vertical mile straight up, I asked, Howd he get past security?
I made the mistake of looking down at the ground falling away below me. Normally, that wouldnt have been a problem, but with the aftereffects of the wine still very much in evidence, it proved decidedly unpleasant. I looked up again before the vertigo could develop into something more nauseating.
Took the express elevator. This one, said Vange.
That made no sense. Elliot Lothairs private elevator used a retina scan in conjunction with a fingerprint match to grant access. We were only able to use it because Security had temporarily overridden the lockouts to allow the police easier access to the crime scene. I turned the puzzle over in my brain and was surprised at how quickly the answer came to me.
The attack a few days ago on Lothairs BioGen subsidiary by the militant anti-cloners, I said.
Vange nodded. Thats the way we see it. Looks like Spike set that up just so he could cop the parts he needed to pull this off. We figure he used the attack as a cover to get to one of Lothairs clones and make off with an eye and a hand specifically to get into the Tower. With all the damage caused by the fire the militants set, no one ever figured out that a couple of pieces were missing.
A lot of the super-rich had clones of themselves sitting in cold storage at gen-tech facilities like BioGen. Except for the clones brains, which were never allowed to develop anything past the autonomic life-support functions, they were identical to their progenitors, and were used to harvest replacement organs when the nasty inconvenience of advancing age started to void the warranty on the original parts and equipment.
Spike always was a smart boy, I said.
If hes so smart, whyd he get himself on Candid Camera?
Yeah, we got Candid Camera in this world too. What can I say? When youre cursed, the Fates really go all out.
Maybe he just doesnt care anymore, I said. Drus dead, and as bizarre as it sounds, he really was in love with her. If I interpreted Dru right, hes stuck with a soul again, so hes probably going through a whole range of emotions he doesnt really remember how to deal with: fear, guilt, rage, hopelessness, regret, the works. Its like being blind since early childhood and suddenly getting your vision back inside a fun house.
And maybe hes just an asshole, said Vange.
Youre a class act, Vange. Nobody can take that away from you, I said as the elevator doors parted and I stepped into the large marble foyer that led to the conference room, a few plush offices, and to Elliot Lothairs private apartments.
The crime scene cops were already there, performing their technological and occasionally thaumaturgical wizardry in the process of gathering evidence both mundane and magical: spells left traces as distinct as the rifling grooves of a gun on a bullet. But they wouldnt find anything. They were just going through the motions because it was their job and because everyone knew without saying it that on this particular case, everything had to be done to the letter of the rule book. Anything less could earn the city a lawsuit and a lot of bad press.
But there was no mystery to solve here. It was all there on the security video. I watched it on a small monitor that had been set up to one side of the conference room. I watched Spike walk in and converse with Lothair, Spike circling like an uncertain shark the man who had given him back his soul. Then I saw him pull a large caliber handgun from beneath his black leather raincoat and blow half of Elliot Lothairs head off.
What were they talking about? Do we have audio? I asked.
No, the mikes stay off for reasons of corporate security. The security guys tell me Lothair was the only one who could order them turned on. Rank has its privileges, said Vange.
You should have this run through forensics, see if their lip-reading algorithms can pull something off it. It could be important.
Already in the works. Standard procedure, Summers. Imagine that. Even without you, were actually capable of performing police work. Go figure.
Good, then you dont need me. Ill just go home and we can get out of each others lives.
That ranks right up there on my list of top five fantasies too. Except it aint gonna happen. Shaugnessy wants us to take Spike down hard. Were joined at the hip until that happens, said Vange.
Thank you very much for that image, Vange.
I think Vange called me something very nasty under his breath. It wasnt anything I havent been called before, and even I had to admit that given my current state of profound misanthropy it was probably an apt description. Lets just say that Im not going to win Miss Congeniality any time soon.
I used to be a nice person. What the hell happened to me?
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