"Any idea where that door goes?" I asked the others.
The guys shrugged, and Denis repeated my question to Tamara. She answered back, and he translated. "There's a small alley out back where they keep trash. It's between this building and a factory. No one's usually there."
"Can we get to it by going around the club?"
Denis waited for Tamara's response. "Yes. It's open on both sides."
We hurried out of the club by the front door, and I divided our group into two. The plan was to come at the Strigoi from both sides and trap him in the middle-provided he and his victim were still out back. It was possible he could have led her elsewhere, but I thought it more likely he'd want to subdue her and get his blood right there, particularly if it was as deserted as Tamara said it usually was.
I was right. Once my group had split off and peered around behind the club, I saw the Strigoi and the girl lurking in the shadow of a trash can. He was leaning over her, mouth near her neck, and I silently swore. They didn't waste any time. Hoping she was still alive, I came charging down the alley, the others on my heels. From the alley's other side, Denis and Lev also came running. As soon as he heard the first footfall, the Strigoi reacted instantly, his staggeringly fast reflexes kicking in. He immediately dropped the girl, and in the space of a heartbeat, he chose Denis and Lev over Artur, Tamara, and me. Not a bad strategy, really. There were only two of them. Because he was so fast, he probably hoped to incapacitate them quickly and then turn on us before we could flank him.
And it almost worked. A powerful hit sent Lev flying. To my relief, a couple of trash cans blocked him from the building's wall. Hitting them wouldn't feel good, but if I had the choice, I'd rather hit metal cans than solid bricks. The Strigoi pounced on Denis next, but Denis proved remarkably fast.
Unfairly, I'd assumed none of these unpromised had any real fighting skills. I should have known better. They'd had the same training as me; they just lacked discipline.
Denis dodged the blow and struck out low, aiming for the Strigoi's legs. The hit landed, though it wasn't strong enough to knock him over. A flash of silver showed in Denis's hands, and he managed to partially swipe the Strigoi's cheek just before a backhanded slap knocked the dhampir into me. A cut like that wouldn't be lethal to the Strigoi, but the silver would hurt, and I heard him snarl. His fangs gleamed with saliva.
I sidestepped Denis quickly enough that he didn't knock me over. Tamara grabbed his arm, holding him so that he wouldn't fall either. She was fast too and had barely steadied him before leaping up at the Strigoi. He swatted her away but didn't manage to hit her hard enough to push her far.
Artur and I were on him by that point, our combined force knocking him against the wall. Still, he was stronger and the pinning was brief before he broke free. A responsible voice in my head-that sounded suspiciously like Dimitri's-warned me that that had been my window to kill him. It would have been the smart and safe thing to do. I'd had the opening, and my stake was in my hand. If my crazy interrogation plan failed, the others' deaths would be on my head.
As one, Artur and I leapt out again. "Help us!" I yelled.
Tamara threw herself against the Strigoi, landing a swift kick to the stomach as well. I could feel him starting to shake us off, but then Denis joined in too. Between the four of us, we wrestled the Strigoi down so that he lay back-first on the pavement. But the worst wasn't over. Keeping him down wasn't easy. He thrashed around with incredible strength, limbs twisting everywhere. I heaved myself up, trying to throw my body's weight across his torso while the others restrained his legs. Another set of hands joined us, and I looked up to see Lev lending his strength too. His lip was bleeding, but his face was determined.
The Strigoi hadn't stopped moving, but I felt satisfied he wouldn't break away anytime soon, not with all five of us holding him. Shifting forward, I placed the point of my stake at his neck. It gave him pause, but he soon resumed his struggle. I leaned over his face.
"Do you know Dimitri Belikov?" I demanded.
He shouted something incomprehensible at me that didn't sound very friendly. I pressed the stake in harder and drew a long gash against his throat. He screamed in pain, pure evil and malice shining out from his eyes as he continued swearing in Russian.
"Translate," I demanded, not caring who did it. "What I said."
A moment later, Denis said something in Russian, presumably my question since I heard Dimitri's name in there. The Strigoi growled back a response, and Denis shook his head. "He says he isn't going to play games with us."
I took the stake and slashed at the Strigoi's face, widening the gash Denis had made earlier. Again, the Strigoi cried out, and I prayed club security wouldn't hear any of this. I gave him a smile filled with enough malice to match his own.
"Tell him we're going to keep playing games with him until he talks. One way or another, he dies tonight. It's up to him whether it happens slowly or quickly."
I honestly couldn't believe those words had come out of my mouth. They were so harsh... so, well, cruel. I'd never in my entire life expected to be torturing anyone, even a Strigoi. The Strigoi gave Denis's translation another defiant response, and so I kept on with the stake, making gashes and cuts that would have killed any human, Moroi, or dhampir.
Finally, he shot off a string of words that didn't sound like his usual insults. Denis immediately translated. "He said he's never heard of anyone named that and that if Dimitri's a friend of yours, he'll be sure to kill him slowly and painfully."
I almost smiled at the Strigoi's last effort at defiance. The problem with my strategy here was that the Strigoi could be lying. I'd have no way of knowing. Something in his response made me think he wasn't. He'd sounded like he thought I was referring to a human or a dhampir, not a Strigoi.
"He's useless then," I said. I leaned back and glanced at Denis. "Go ahead and kill him."
It was what Denis had been dying to do. He didn't hesitate, his stake striking hard and swift through the Strigoi's heart. The frantic struggling stilled a moment later. The evil light faded from the red eyes. We stood up, and I saw my companions' faces watching me with apprehension and fear.
"Rose," asked Denis at last. "What are you hoping to-"
"Never mind that," I interrupted, moving over to the unconscious human girl's side. Kneeling down, I examined her neck. He'd bitten her, but not much blood had been taken. The wound was relatively small and bled only a little. She stirred slightly and moaned when I touched her, which I took as a good sign. Carefully, I dragged her away from the trash can and out into the light where she'd be most noticeable. The Strigoi, however, I dragged into as dark a place as I could, almost completely obscuring him. After that, I asked to borrow Denis's cell phone and dialed the number I'd kept crumpled in my pocket for the last week.
After a couple of rings, Sydney answered in Russian. She sounded sleepy.
"Sydney? This is Rose."
There was a slight pause. "Rose? What's going on?"
"Are you back in Saint Petersburg?"
"Yes... where are you?"
"Novosibirsk. Do you guys have agents here?"
"Of course," she said warily. "Why?"
"Mmm... I've got something for you to clean up."
"Hey, at least I'm calling. And it's not like me ridding the world of another Strigoi is a bad thing. Besides, didn't you want me to let you know?"
"Yes, yes. Where are you?"
I put Denis on the phone briefly so that he could explain our specific location. He handed the phone back to me when he finished, and I told Sydney about the girl.
"Is she seriously injured?"
"Doesn't look like it," I said. "What should we do?"
"Leave her. The guy who's coming will make sure she's okay and doesn't go telling stories. He'll explain it when he gets there."
"Whoa, hey. I'm not going to be here when he arrives."
"I'm out of here," I told her. "And I'd really appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone else that I called-say, like, Abe."
"Please, Sydney. Just don't tell. Or else..." I hesitated. "If you do, I'll stop calling when this happens. We're going to be taking down a few more."
God, what next? First torture, now threats. Worse, I was threatening someone I liked. Of course, I was lying. I understood why Sydney's group did what they did, and I wouldn't risk the exposure. She didn't know that, though, and I prayed she'd think I was just unstable enough to risk revealing us to the world.