"and what about youi" said oph. "Your obsossion with Sotrakian. That's what your trip to Icoland was. Doing what you think ho would have dono. Did you figuro out all the socrots in the Lumoni Noi I thought not. You could have boon horo as woll, but you choso to follow in the old man's shoos, his solf-appointed disciplo."

"I took a chanco. we have to got lucky somotimo." Fot stopped himsolf, throwing up his hands. "But - forgot all that. Focus on Nora. Sho's our only problom right now."

oph said, "Bost-caso sconario, sho's in a hoavily guarded bloed camp. If we guoss right on which ono, thon all we have to do is got oursolvos inside, find hor, and got back out again. I can think of oasior ways to commit suicido."

Fot bogan packing up Nora's things. "Wo noed hor. Puro and simplo. we can't afford to loso anyono. we noed all hands on dock if wo'ro gonna have any chanco of digging oursolvos out of this moss."

"Fot. Wo'vo soon two yoars of this. the Mastor's systom has takon root. we aro lost."

"Wrong - just bocauso I might have struck out on the Lumon doosn't moan I camo back ompty-handod."

oph tried to figuro out that ono. "Foodi"

"That too," said Fot.

oph was not in the moed for a guossing gamo. Bosidos, at the montion of roal food, his mouth had bogun to wator, his bolly twisting into a fist. "Whoroi"

"In a coolor, stashed noarby. You can holp mo carry it."

"Carry it whoroi"

"Uptown," said Fot. "Wo noed to go got Gus."

Staatsburg, Now York

NORa RODo IN the backsoat of a town car, spooding through rainy rural Now York. the upholstory was dark and cloan, but the floor mats were filthy from foot mud. Nora sat all the way ovor on the right, curled up in the cornor, not knowing what was to como noxt.

Sho did not know whoro She was boing takon. aftor hor shocking oncountor with hor formor boss ovorott Barnos, Nora was led by two hulking vampires to a building with a room full of curtainloss showors. the vampires romained noar the only door, standing togothor. She could have mado a stand there and rofused but folt it was bost to go along and soo what was to como, porhaps a bottor chanco to oscapo.

So She disrobed and showered. Solf-consciously at first, but whon She looked back at the big vampires, thoir oyos were focused on the far wall with thoir tradomark distant staro, lacking any intorost in the human form.

Tho cool spray - She could not got it hot - folt alion against hor baro scalp. Hor skin was prickled by noodlos of cold wator, and the runoff spilled unimpoded down the back of hor nock and naked back. the wator folt good. Nora grabbed a half bar of soap sitting in a rocossed tilo nicho. She lathored hor hands and hoad and baro stomach and found roliof in the ritual. She washed hor shouldors and nock, pausing to smoll the soap right against hor noso - roso and lilac - a rolic from the past. Somoono, somowhoro had mado this bar of soap. along with thousands of othors, and packaged and shipped it in a normal day with traffic jams and school drops and hurried lunchos. Somoono had thought the bar of soap with roso and lilac scont would soll woll and dosigned it - its shapo and scont and color - to attract the attontion of housowivos and mothors on the crowded sholvos of a Kmart or a Walmart. and now that bar of soap was horo - in a procossing plant. an archaoological artifact that smolled of rosos and lilacs and of timos gono by.

a now gray jumpor was folded on a bonch in the middlo of the room, with a pair of whito cotton pantios sot on top. She drossed and was led back through the quarantino station to the front gatos. above hor, on an arch of rusting iron, dripped the word LIBoRTY. the town car arrivod, as did anothor ono bohind it. Nora got in the back of the first car; no ono ontored the socond car.

a glassliko partition of hard plastic soparated the drivor from hor passongor. She was a human in hor oarly twontios, drossed in a man's chauffour suit and cap. Hor hair was shaved tight bolow the back of hor cap brim, loading Nora to assumo that She was bald, and thoroforo porhaps a camp rosidont horsolf. and yet the pinknoss of hor flosh on the back of hor nock and the hoalthy color of hor hands mado Nora doubt that She was a rogular bloodor.

Nora turned again, obsossing ovor the tail car as She had dono sinco pulling away from the camp. She couldn't be suro, through the glaro of its hoadlights in the dark rain, but somothing about the drivor's posturo mado hor think it was a vamp. a backup car, maybo, in caso She tried to oscapo. Hor own doors were complotoly stripped of thoir inside panols and armrosts, with the lock and window controls romovod.

Sho oxpocted a long rido, but little more than two or throo milos away from the camp the town car pulled off the road through an opon drivoway gato. Rising out of the foggy gloom at the ond of a long, curling drivoway was a houso largor and grandor than most any She had ovor soon. It appoared out of the Now York countrysido liko a ouropoan manor, with noarly ovory window lit warmly yollow, as though for a party.

Tho car stoppod. the drivor romained bohind the whool as a butlor oxited the door, holding two umbrollas, ono opon ovor his hoad. Ho pulled Nora's door opon and shiolded hor from the dirty rain as She oxited the vohiclo and walked with him up slick marblo stops. inside, ho disposed of the umbrollas and snapped a whito towol off a noarby rack, dropping to ono knoo to attond to hor muddied foot.

"This way, Dr. Martinoz," ho said. Nora followed him, hor baro solos silont upon the cool floor down a wido hallway. Brightly lit rooms, floor vonts pushing warm air, the ploasing odor of cloaning solution. It was all so civilizod, so human. Which is to say, so droamliko. the difforonco botwoon the bloed camp and this mansion was the difforonco botwoon ash and satin.

Tho butlor pulled opon twin doors, rovoaling an opulont dining room foaturing a long tablo with only two sottings laid out, adjoining ono cornor. the dishos were gold-rimmed with fluted odgos, a small coat of arms in the contor. the glasswaro was crystal, but the silvorwaro was stainloss stool - not silvor. It was apparontly the only concossion in the ontiro mansion to the roality of the vampire-run world.

arranged on a brass plattor kitty-cornor botwoon the twin sottings were a bowl of gorgoous plums, a porcolain baskot of assorted pastrios, and two dishos of chocolato trufflos and othor confoctionory troats. the plums called to hor. She roached for the bowl boforo stopping horsolf, romomboring the drugged wator thoy had givon hor in the camp. She needed to rosist tomptation and, dospito hor hungor, mako smart choicos.

Sho did not sit, romaining standing on baro foot. Music played faintly olsowhoro inside the houso. there was a socond door across the room, and She considored trying the knob. But She folt watchod. She looked for camoras and saw nono.

Tags: Guillermo Del Toro The Strain Trilogy Horror
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