We reached the empty center of the room and turned down another row of cells. In front of us, a glass-covered balcony protruded from the wall. The tinted glass panels looked opaque from this angle, but I'd been in Ghastek's office before. From the inside, the glass was crystal clear.
We walked through another door, up an access tunnel, and to a wooden door marked with Ghastek's symbol: an arrow tipped with a circle. My guide stepped aside. I knocked.
"Enter," Ghastek's voice called out.
Oh goody. I pushed the door and it swung open soundlessly under the pressure of my fingertips.
A large room greeted me, looking more like a living room than the lair of a Master of the Dead. Shelves lined the back wall, filled to the bursting point with books of all colors and sizes. At the far wall a pair of medieval shackles hung on hooks, displayed like a priceless work of art. A crescent red sofa sat in the middle of the dark floor, facing the glass balcony that offered a floor-to-ceiling view of the stables. At the far end of the sofa sat Ghastek, dressed in tailored black trousers and a turtleneck. He was already thin, and the severe clothes made him seem almost gaunt. He was drinking a frothy espresso from a small brown cup. Two vampires sat on the floor by him, one on each side. The vampires clutched knitting needles, moving them with dizzying speed. A long swatch of knitted cloth, one blue, the other green, stretched from each of them.
Alrighty then. If this wasn't a heartwarming Norman Rockwell painting, I didn't know what was.
The needles clicked, chewing up the yarn. I could control several vampires at a time, but I couldn't make even one knit, even if the needles were as thick as its fingers and I were moving them in slow motion. Ghastek had two running at once. I fought a shiver. He could send one of those bloodsuckers forward and stab me in the eye, and I wasn't sure I'd be fast enough to stop it.
"Is this a bad time?" I asked. "I can come back if you and the twins are having a private moment."
Ghastek's gaze fastened on me. "Don't be crude, Kate. Would you like a drink?"
To drink was stupid; not to drink would be an insult. But then I doubted Ghastek would go through the trouble of poisoning me. It wasn't his style. "Water would be nice."
The left vampire dropped its needles and scuttled into another room.
I shrugged off my cloak, folded it over the sofa's armrest, and took a seat. "You can't blame me for thinking you might get kinky. You have shackles on the wall."
Ghastek's eyes lit up. "Ah. Those are interesting, aren't they? They're from Nordlingen in Germany, late sixteenth century."
"The Witch Trials?"
"Do you think you would have been burned at the stake in the sixteenth century?"
"Because you're not a woman?"
"Being a woman made little difference. Most witches burned in Iceland and Finland were men, for example. No, I wouldn't have been burned, because I'm not poor."
The undead returned and crouched by me, holding a glass of water with ice in its long claws. A narrow slice of lemon floated on the water. The vampire's mouth hung open, the narrow sickles of its fangs stark white against the darkness of its maw. Service with a smile.
I took the water and sipped. "Thank you. So why the cuffs then?"
The undead returned to its knitting.
"People view us and our vampires as abominations," Ghastek said. "They call the undead inhuman, not realizing the irony: only humans are capable of inhumanity. Four thousand years of technology, with magic shrinking to a mere trickle before the Shift, yet the world was just as evil then as it is now. It's not vampires or werewolves who committed the worst atrocities, but average people. They are the serial killers, the child rapists, the inquisitors, the witch hunters, the perpetrators of monstrous deeds. The shackles on my wall are the symbol of humanity's capacity for cruelty. I keep them to remind myself that I must fear those who fear me. Given your present affiliation, I would suggest you do the same." That hit close to home. If my bloodline became known, people would be lining up around the block to either kill me or banish me as far as they could to keep themselves safe from Roland's wrath when he and I had our happy family reunion.
Ghastek took a sip of his espresso. "Strictly out of curiosity, what was the deciding factor in selecting the Beast Lord? You had options, and life with him must be regimented. He seems like the type to assert his dominance, and you always seemed like a person who dislikes being dominated."
"I love him."
Ghastek mulled it over for a second and nodded. "Ah. That explains it."
The vampires continued their crafting marathon. "Why knitting?"
"It's intricate. I could've had them thread beads or set up dominoes. It's an exercise."
Fainting had rattled him. He was trying to reassure himself that he still had it all under control. Maybe I could put in a request for a pair of handmade socks.
"How is Emily?"
Ghastek's stare gained an icy edge. "Her leg had to be amputated. She will have the best prosthetics we can provide. The city owes her a debt. I intend to pursue this matter with all the resources at my disposal."
Technically the law was on the PAD's side. When faced with a loose bloodsucker, they were obligated to do everything within their power to wipe it off the face of the planet, no matter the casualties. But the People wouldn't forget it. They held grudges forever, and then some.
I reached into my pocket. "I've brought you an invoice for the capture of the vampire."
Ghastek sighed. "Of course."
The vampire on the right scuttled over, took the paper from my hand, and delivered it to Ghastek. He scanned it. His eyes widened. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a leather wallet, extracted a dollar, and passed it to the vamp. The undead brought it to me and I placed it into the folder. "Paid in full. Would you like a receipt?"
A receipt for a dollar. Why didn't that surprise me? I wrote out the receipt, leaned over, and handed it to him. "When you called me Wednesday morning, how did you do it?"
"I wasted a few valuable seconds at a pay phone."
That was what I thought. "I did some thinking."
"That is a very dangerous pastime," Ghastek said. He'd made a joke. Surely the apocalypse wasn't far behind. "The vampire was loose. You had no way of knowing it would run toward my office. Loose vampires are attracted to blood. In the absence of blood they tend to blunder about aimlessly. However, vampires have scent glands near the base of their digits. They mark the ground as they run. The scent is very weak, but when a vampire follows the same route over and over, they create a tangible scent trail."