The back room was dimly lit with feylanterns. Bono preferred a corner booth, the farthest from the door. I stood for a moment, surveying the scene, and caught sight of his spiky black hair. I marched toward the booth with flags out and guns ready.

Bono had company. Judging by the mystical "hey-baby-I'm-a-student-of-magic" smile that stretched his lips, he had female company. No matter.

He paused his wooing to glance around the room and noticed me. He must have seen something he did not like, because the smile slid off his face. He sat straighter.

I reached back. My fingers grasped Slayer's hilt and withdrew it in a smooth fluid motion. Bono's hand dropped under the table, groping for a gun. He carried a 9mm Colt in his jacket pocket.

I crashed to a halt before the booth. A thin redhead in a strapless short dress sat opposite Bono. I put my saber on the table. Bono "stank" of vampires and the saber fluoresced weakly, a sliver of moonlight against the dark wood. The redhead's eyes went wide. Bono's face relaxed a bit but his gaze never left mine.

"Hey, Bono," I said. "Nice to see you. Fuck any corpses lately?"

The last hope for a relaxing evening bled from his face. "Not any you'd care about."

The redhead scrambled out of the booth and fled, trying to salvage some shred of dignity. Bono threw a wistful look after her retreating backside and turned to me.

"You scared her. Not nice, Kate."

I raised an eyebrow at him and slid in the seat vacated by the redhead.

"Did you read the article I gave you?" he asked.

"No."

"You should read it, Kate. You should read about the upiri."

I traced Slayer's blade with my finger. It stung a little as the magic discharge touched my skin.

"I want to know about the piner's death. I want to know why one of Ghastek's bloodsuckers was at the scene. I want to know who was piloting it and what they saw. I want to know what tore his head off. And whatever else you'll find necessary to add."

Bono showed me his teeth. "Feeling a bit on edge today, are you?"

My hand closed about the hilt. "You have no idea."

He leaned back. "Go ahead," he said. "Make a play. I'll ass-fuck you with that saber."

I grinned at him. "You can't take me, Bono. Go ahead and try. You telegraph your punches, you drop your left shoulder, and your gun isn't worth piss with magic up. So come on. Show me what you've got."

I saw his eyes and knew my grin had turned into a hungry grimace. "I really need to hurt something. It'll make me feel good." I was almost laughing, having a hard time containing myself. "Give me a reason. Come on, Bono. Just give me a fucking reason."

Magic built around me, drawn from the environment by the emanations from my blood. If magic had color, I would be sitting in a whirlpool of red. Slayer flared bright silver, feeding off my anger. It wanted to slice into warm flesh and I was about to let it.

Bono blinked. He sensed the magic influx and sucked the air into his lungs in a sharp breath. "You're crazy."

"Very."

His face went slack, and I knew we had stepped away from a cliff. The fight would not happen today.

Bono leaned forward. "What if I told you that we have no involvement with the piner's death? And even if we did, we don't have to speak to you."

That proverbial "we." I chewed on it for a little while and said, "In that case, I'll get up and walk over to the bar, where I'll make two phone calls. First, I'll call the knight-protector, for whom I now work, and tell him that a vampire belonging to Ghastek was involved in his piner's murder. I'll tell him that an effort was made to conceal its brand - which is illegal - and that Ghastek's journeyman declined to discuss the matter with me and threatened my life. Then I'll call Ghastek and inform him that I know the reason why the world just started crashing down around his ears. And I'll explain to him that the reason is you."

He stared at me. "I thought we were on good terms. We nod to each other across the room. We don't bother each other. I shared my research with you."

I shrugged.

"You won't do this to me," he said with great surety. "You know what Ghastek would do to me. You're a nice person."

"Just what exactly in my track record gives you the idea that I'm a nice person?"

He had no answer and shook his head. "Why me?"

"Why not? Give me what I want and I'll go away. Or I'll hurt you one way or another."

Bono was in the corner. No way to go but outside the ring. "They're called shadows," he said, his handsome face marked with resignation. "Vampires with concealed brands. Ghastek isn't the only one using them but he uses his a lot, if you catch my drift."

"What was that particular one doing?"

"Tailing the piner. I don't know why."

"Who was piloting it?"

Bono hesitated. "Merkowitz."

"What did he see?"

Bono spread his hands. "Your guess's as good as mine. Do you know what happens to a navigator when the vamp he's piloting dies?"

I had a general idea but more info never hurt. "Enlighten me."

"Unless you guard yourself, you'll suffer death-shock. Meaning you think it's your head being torn off, which leaves your brain very confused. Add to it the explosion of shit the piner threw around and whatever magic the attacker emitted, and you'll get Merkowitz. I never liked the asshole. I have to admit, he makes a fine vegetable."

My heart sank. "Nonresponsive?"

"About as responsive as a brick wall."

"How long will he be like this?"

"They're working on him now, but when he'll come out, nobody knows. It's hard work convincing someone that he isn't dead when his own mind has decided otherwise."

"Do the People have any idea who might have enough juice to beat a piner and a vampire to a pulp?"

Bono looked past me at the wall.

"I need a name," I said.

"Corwin. You didn't hear it from me." He rose in a fluid motion and left.

I waited a few minutes, went to the bar, and drank a cold Corona with a wedge of lime in it. I had frightened Bono.

A small part of me felt bad about it. The larger part reminded me that he piloted vampires for a living and kicked his opponents when they decided to stay down.

Greg's face came to my mind. I took a big swig of Corona. I felt defeated and tired. What a long day... I had hoped for more than Bono had given me. Still, I had a name. And I had Greg's database, against which I could reference it. The day was not a total waste.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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