22. Meeting at the Palace
They traded in the Ford at the city motor pool for one that had a Plexiglas divider between the front and rear seats. Cavuto's knees were pressed against the glove compartment, since the seat didn't adjust, but it was worth the trade-off. It turned out the organic dog biscuits that Rivera had bought gave Marvin gas. He now had his own little glass partition in which to exhaust, and the inspectors drank their coffee relatively free of doggy stench.
"I don't sleep well during the day," Cavuto said.
"Roger that," said Rivera. "I feel like I've been up for a week." He dialed his messages, then looked at his partner. "Fifteen unplayed messages? Are we out of the service area or something?"
"You turned it off when we were zeroing in on that litter of dangerous kittens."
Rivera tried to drink his coffee while handling the phone and ended up pulling the car over to the curb. "They're all from the Emperor. Something about a ship down at Pier Nine being full of old vampires."
"No," said Cavuto. "There are no more vampires until I've had two full cups of coffee and a healthy piss. That's my personal rule."
Cavuto keyed the radio and checked into dispatch. They did most of their communications by cell phone these days, but there were still rules. If you were a rolling unit, dispatch needed to know where you were.
"Rivera and Cavuto," said the dispatcher. "I have you guys tagged to call if there are any cases of cats attacking humans, is that right?"
"Well, live the dream, Inspector, we have report of a giant cat attacking a man at Baker and Beach. We have a unit on the scene reporting nothing."
Cavuto looked at Rivera. "That's the Palace of Fine Arts. The Marina is new territory."
"There might not be anything now. The uniforms don't know to look for clothes with dust and I don't want them to. Tell them we're on the way."
"Dispatch, we are responding. Tell unit on scene that we'll take care of it. Part of an ongoing investigation of a 5150 making false reports." Cavuto grinned and looked at his partner.
"Yeah, but I think this cat might be out of the bag, Rivera."
"I hope not."
They rolled up to the great faux stone classical dome, the only building left from the World Exposition of 1911, when San Francisco was trying to show the world that it had recovered from the earthquake of '06. The uniform unit was on the far side of the reflection pool, standing by their squad car. Cavuto waved them on. "We got this, guys. Thanks."
What there wasn't, was a huge shaved vampire cat attacking a guy.
"You think it's a hoax?" asked Cavuto.
"Pretty outrageous coincidence if it is."
Cavuto got out of the car and let Marvin out, who waited for his leash to be attached, then dragged Cavuto over to a tree by the pond to have a wee. Swans who had settled under the trees for the night stirred and gave Marvin dirty looks.
"Nothing here," said Cavuto. "Marvin's not doing his signal thing."
Rivera's phone chirped and he looked at the screen. "It's Allison Green, the creepy little Goth girl."
"If she called this in I will put her in Juvi overnight."
"Rivera," Rivera said into the phone.
"Turn your sun jackets on right now," she said. "Right fucking now, both of you."
Rivera looked at Cavuto. "Turn on the LEDs on your coat, Nick."
"Do it. She's not fucking with us." Rivera hit the switch on the cuff of his sun jacket and the LEDs came on blindingly bright. A few blocks away they heard a man scream. Marvin barked.
"Oh, trs bon, cop. Byez," Abby said. The line went dead.
"The fuck was that about?" said Cavuto.
Rolf was actually looking forward to shooting someone. After hundreds of years, you get bored with killing, with hunting. The three of them had gone through cycles of stealthy killing of the unwanted, to outright slaughter of whole villages, to long periods where there was no killing at all. But it had been fifty years since he'd actually had to shoot someone. The change of pace was nice.
Of course, it was messy, bodies, waste of good blood, but better that than having policemen running around telling people about them. No matter what kind of debaucheries they had indulged in over the years, and there had been many kinds-these too went in cycles-the one rule they held fast to was "stay hidden." And to stay hidden, you couldn't permit yourself to get so bored that you didn't care about living. Well, surviving.
Maybe it was just the two cops from last night. Elijah, in a rare moment of lucidity finally admitted that there were only two policemen that he knew of, and because they had taken money from the sale of the old vampire's art collection, they did not want the secret known. Clearly though, they were beyond their depth with the cats.
He and Bella had made short work of the smaller cats. They used rapid-fire pellet guns, nearly silent, that fired pellets containing a liquid that destroyed vampire flesh on contact-a heinous, herbal mixture that someone in China had discovered hundreds of years ago. A weak UV light on the front of the weapons held the animals in solid form long enough for the pellets to impact. The pellets would injure a human vampire, but they were devastating to a feline. The Chinese had somehow tuned it to the cats. They had used the mixture to contain every outbreak since its discovery. Rolf remembered firing it from crossbows.
Rolf keyed his cell phone, then called the emergency number and reported a man being attacked by a giant cat. Then he set up the bipod on his rifle, zeroed the twenty-power scope in on one of the swans under a eucalyptus tree, and lay down to wait.
Seven minutes later the police cruiser arrived. They were both fresh-faced young men with bright pink life auras. From his rooftop, four blocks away, Rolf could just make out the squawking of their radios. They knew nothing. They panned their flashlights under the bushes surrounding the pond, and he watched them shake their heads to one another.
Seventeen minutes after the call, the brown unmarked car pulled up and Rolf relaxed into his shooting posture. These were the two from the night before. The big red dog. The dog looked his way, briefly, then dragged the big cop down to a tree by the pond.
He put the crosshairs on the thinner cop's face. But no, a headshot was arrogant. He had to make two shots, very quickly, so he would go for the center of their bodies. Shoot the thin cop first, then pan to the big one. A bigger target. Even if his first shot didn't kill him, it would drop him.
He waited, waited for them to get clear of the car and the cover. The thin cop was walking toward the other one, then stopped to take a phone call. Rolf put the crosshairs over his heart and began to squeeze the trigger.
Then the entire side of his head seemed to explode with pain and he screamed and grabbed at the flames that were shooting out of his empty eye socket.
"Are we doing this right?" Tommy asked. They were several blocks behind Rolf, who was moving so smoothly and easily through the Marina district that Tommy would have thought he lived there and was out for his evening jog. Except that no one in the Marina would be wearing a black duster. It would either be cashmere or Gore-Tex, business or fitness. The Marina was a rich, fit neighborhood.
"We're following him," said Abby. "How many ways can you do that?"
Jody was leading them. She held up a hand for them to stop. The blond vampire had stopped at the corner of a four-story apartment building and was scaling it using just the space between the bricks as handholds.
Tommy looked around and spotted a flat-roofed building down the alley. "That one has a fire escape. We'll be above him, we can watch him."
"I don't think watching is going to be enough," Jody said.
"He looks badass," said Abby.
"He's watching those cops over at the Palace."
"He won't just shoot a cop," said Tommy. "Why would he shoot a cop?"
"Plain clothes unit pulling in," Jody said. "It's Rivera and Cavuto."
"And Marvin," Abby said.
"He knows they know," said Tommy.
"We need to go," Jody said. "Abby, you have Rivera's number?"
"Call him. Give me that laser thing."
"The light from their jackets magnified through the scope will work," Tommy said.
"Let's go." Jody ran to the edge of the roof and stopped.
Abby hopped on her toes. "Spider-Man it, Countess."
"No fucking way," Jody said, looking down just as Tommy ran by her and jumped across the alley to the next building.
They were coming across the roof of a building a block away when they saw the side of the vampire's head ignite and heard him scream. He rolled away from the gun, clawing at his face.
"Too far," Jody said. The final gap between roofs was over a full street, not an alley, and they were a floor lower than the blond vampire. "Down."
Without thinking, Tommy jumped, then said, "What the fuck did I just do?" He landed on the balls of his feet and went down to crouch, catching himself just as he was about to drive his knee into the concrete. He looked up. Jody was still on the roof.
"C'mon, Red, I'm not going up there alone."
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck," she said, and then landed beside him and rolled.
When he saw she wasn't hurt, he said, "Graceful."
"He's getting up," she said, and she pointed at the next building.
Tommy knew if he thought about it, he'd never do it, so he just started climbing up the corner of the building as fast as he could. He'd done this before. He didn't remember it, but his body did. Climbing the wall like a cat. Jody was right behind him. As he reached the top of the wall he stopped and looked back. "Sunglasses," he whispered so faintly that only someone with vampire hearing would hear.
He wedged his right hand between the bricks, then reached into his shirt pocket, flung open the sunglasses, and put them on. He couldn't climb with the laser in his hand. He'd have to clear the top, then grab the weapon out of his pants pocket.
Jody had her glasses on, too. She nodded for him to go.
He coiled, and sprang to catapult himself over the edge of the wall, but in midair a bright light went off in his head and he felt himself spinning, then a bone-crushing impact on the ground. Something had hit him, probably the rifle butt. He rolled over and looked up the wall.
Jody was still clinging there, six feet below the edge, too far to be hit with the rifle. The blond vampire, his face charred, was turning the rifle, working the bolt. He was going to shoot her in the face.
He saw her let go with one hand, reach for the small of her back, then there was another blinding light. He'd lost his sunglasses during the fall. Something splatted beside him on the pavement. He could smell burned flesh, and blood.
"You okay?" she said.
He felt a hand on his face. "I'm kinda blind. And I think I have a couple of broken ribs." He blinked the blood tears out of his eyes, then saw something dark, circular on the pavement.
"That's the top of his skull," Jody said.
Footsteps, then Abby was there. "That was awesome. Gruesome, but awesome. You were amazing, Countess."
"Not feeling all that amazing."
"You probably should drink some blood, Tommy. You're kind of fucked up."
He took the plastic blood pack from her and bit into it, draining almost the whole pint in seconds, feeling his bones and skin knitting together. Then Abby snatched it away from him and started drinking herself.
"I feel like death on toast. I probably shouldn't have eaten that pigeon."
Marvin ruffed three times fast, "Biscuit, biscuit, biscuit." Then, as he pulled Cavuto around the corner and smelled the fourth dead one he ruffed again. "Another biscuit." Then, mission accomplished. He sat.
"Marvin!" Abby said. She dropped the empty blood bag and scratched between his ears, then fed him a Gummi bear.
Rivera came around the corner with his Glock drawn. Jody stood, reached past the gun, and snagged the battery out of the cop's inside pocket. Abby did the same to Cavuto, who leveled a long orange Super Soaker at her.
"Really, Ass Bear?" she said. "Really?" She snatched the squirt gun out of his hand and backhanded it a full block down the street where it shattered.
"I have a gun on you, Missy," said Rivera.
"Biscuit," Marvin ruffed. Clearly there are three dead people here and part of a fourth, and biscuits are in order.
Jody snatched Rivera's Glock out of his hand so quickly he was still in aiming position when she popped the clip out of it. Cavuto started to draw the big Desert Eagle and Abby caught his arm and leaned in close. "Ninja, please, unless you're going to use that to take your own life out of humiliation for the squirt gun, just let it go." She turned and looked at Tommy, who was sitting splayed-legged on the sidewalk, holding his ribs. "This fucking vampy power rocks my deepest dark." Then back to Cavuto. "I'd slap you around a little, but I'm feeling kinda nauseous."
"Yeah," said Cavuto. "I get that. That's how I know you're around."
"So you three are, all, uh, them," said Rivera.
"Not exactly them," Tommy said. "Jody just took the top off the head of one of them." He pointed at the charred brainpan.
"He was about to take you out with a sniper rifle," Abby said. "That's why I called. Thanks for just doing what I said and not being an assbag, by the way."
"You'll find the rest of him along with the rifle on the roof," Jody said.
"That's who called in the vampire cat attack?" Cavuto said.
Tommy nodded. "There are at least three of them. Maybe two, now. Very old. They came in that black yacht that's down at Pier Nine. They are cleaning up the mess Elijah left. They must know you guys are hunting Chet and the vampire cats."
"He must have seen us last night, with the Animals. We thought the cats got Barry."
Tommy climbed to his feet. "Barry's dead?"
"Sorry," Rivera said. "So they know about the Animals, too?"
Tommy said, "The Animals were the ones who took Elijah's art collection and blew up his yacht. Of course, they know about the Animals."
"We've got to get over there," Rivera said. "They'll be hunting the Emperor, too. He's been calling all day about a black ship. I thought it was just more craziness. I don't even know where to start looking for him."
Jody handed Rivera back his gun and the battery to his jacket. "Wire those back up as soon as you get back in your car. They work."
Marvin let go with a barrage of barking, which translated, "I have found some dead people and I am going to make a fuss if I don't get a biscuit and the ear-scratch girl is dead and sick."
"Easy, Marvin," Abby said. She steadied herself against the big dog and Cavuto caught her by the arm to keep her from falling. "I really don't feel good." She crumpled to the sidewalk. Tommy caught her in time to keep her head from hitting the concrete. "My tail kind of hurts."
Jody snatched Rivera's gun out of his hand again. "Give Tommy your car keys."
Jody smacked Rivera's jacket, heard a jingle, then reached in his pocket and took the keys. Rivera stood there like he was five, being dressed by his mother. Jody threw the keys to Tommy.
"Take her to the loft. Foo will still be there. Maybe he can change her back in time."
"Where are you going?" Tommy said.
"I'm going to the ship. Maybe I can stop one of them there. They're going to come to the loft, so be ready."
"Not so fast, Red," said Cavuto.
"You will shut the fuck up!" Jody said. "You guys are six blocks from the Marina Safeway. The Animals should be at work, or will be there in a few minutes. That's where I went when I wanted to find them, that's where these vampires will go. So shag ass over there and warn them. Wire the batteries back into your jackets on the way there or they'll have you for lunch. Call for another car if you need to, but we just saved your lives and your car is ours."
Rivera smiled. "I'm okay with that."
Cavuto said, "You are?"
Tommy picked Abby up and held her with one arm while he reached into her messenger bag, took out her phone, and handed it to Jody. "Call Foo, tell him we're coming."
"I will. Be careful." She kissed him. "Save our minion."
"Got it," Tommy said.
Marvin whimpered at them as they went away, which translated to, "I'm worried about the ear-scratching dead girl with the Gummi bears."