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Authors: Marie Treanor

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BOOK: Hunting Karoly
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* * * * *

 

“So this is Glasgow,” sniffed Hilda, looking vaguely surprised as I slid into the seat between her and Frank. She was an older woman, around fifty, probably, very thin with severe, dyed-black hair tied up on her head. She always wore smart, neutral-colored skirt suits that made her look like a stick. Frank was young, good-looking and considered himself charming. To give him his due, many young women found him charming too. I wasn’t one of them. I found him slimy.

I had arranged to meet them in this café located in a pedestrian area off Buchanan Street, largely because it was close to their hotel and open on a Sunday. And since the sun had chosen this morning to shine hazily on my fair city, we sat at one of the outside tables, near the ornate Victorian stone arch that led into the square beyond. A scattering of better-off shoppers milled around us in leather coats and expensive perfume, their bags of designer goodies hanging carelessly from their manicured fingers. And that was only the men. The women were something else. Here and there among them roamed the inevitable bands of kids, looking for amusement arcades or shop windows to gawp in.

After a curt nod of greeting to my colleagues, I watched the most recent shower of rain drying on the pavement.

This was as close as you got to Paris.

“And this is Jenny, in her Sunday best,” said Frank, eyeing my comfortable old cotton skirt with that air of superior amusement that always made me want to smack him one. For the first time I wondered why I never had.

“With observational skills like those,” I remarked dryly, “you’ll have that vampire sniffed out in no time.” They exchanged glances while I ordered coffee from the pretty, young and possibly under-age waitress.

“New skirt?” Frank asked me sarcastically, showing off to her.

“No,” I said. “But if you like it, you can have it when I’m finished with it.”

The waitress, already tuned into his accent, grinned openly at me. It was nice to have the boot on the other foot for a change. In fact, I could finally put the subconscious idea into proper form, that Frank was an arsehole in anybody’s country and anybody’s accent. But at least he had picked up on something, for his face flushed slightly as the girl went off to get my coffee.

Leaning back in his chair, he said, “Glad to be on your own turf, Jennifer?”

“Always.”

He smiled, like a cat ready to pounce. “Excellent. So have you narrowed
our friend
’s location down to one side of the river?”

“South.”

“Really? Well done, Jenny! So, Hilda, we’ll only have half the city to scour.”

“What are you planning on scouring it with?” I asked, interrupting him without compunction. He looked more surprised than annoyed.

“We have instruments,” Hilda replied, “that can, sometimes, pick the unusual out of the everyday, shall we say…”

“Round here it’ll go off like a smoke alarm in a chip shop. I thought you two were meant to be psychic?”

It’s true, I was enjoying this.

“Your point being?” Frank said, for the first time with an edge to his voice. Usually I was too far beneath his contempt to merit any edges.

“Can’t you just track him by
feeling
his presence?” I said innocently.

“Can’t you?” mocked Frank.

I smiled, lifting one hand to take my coffee tray from the waitress. Thank you, God. Thank you, Karoly, you beautiful, beautiful bastard.

“Of course,” I said.

They both stared at me. But it was Hilda who caught my eye with the genuine hope suddenly growing in hers.

“Jenny…?” she breathed.

“She’s kidding you,” Frank explained, while I dealt with the caffetiere and began to pour out my coffee. “Ask her if she’s found
our friend
. Ask her if she knows where he is to within a quarter of this bloody city…!”

“Why don’t
you
ask me, Frank?” I interrupted, laying the jug down on the table. “But then again, no, why don’t I save everyone time and trouble by saying at the outset that I know exactly where he is, down to the very building. Or at least,” I added honestly, “I know where he was yesterday.”

Frank grinned. “Nice cop out, Jenny.”

I picked up my cup and drank. The coffee was still hot, but not scalding, so I drank it in one, like a pint of heavy on a Saturday night, and stood up.

“Bring your instruments and your pointy sticks,” I advised. “We can walk.”

The walk did me good. My anger still boiled below the surface, but at least it began to feel manageable again and I knew I
had
to manage it. Karoly had inspired my rage yesterday afternoon, the vivid dream and my own desires had finished it off and I was aware I took it out now on my colleagues. Of course, as I did so, things became suddenly much clearer.

I had first gone to the Centre with a chip on my shoulder and a song in my heart because I thought I had finally landed the cushiest job on Earth and escaped the awfulness and the boredom of the school library. I had despised many of my new colleagues while acknowledging their right to superiority over me in all matters psychic.

But something had changed with my recognition of Karoly. For one thing, I was less a fake and a fraud than Frank, or even Nigel. For another, they had no business to hold me in contempt for anything and I had no business to let them. So I answered Frank back as I should have done months ago and I tried to do my job with what powers I had.

I reached out with all my senses, searching for the smallest trace of him. And as we crossed the footbridge over the River Clyde, I felt again that familiar tingle. I knew he’d been there last night. His essence seemed to hang in the increasingly heavy air. I wondered what the local lager louts had made of his costume. Nothing, if they’d had any sense.

But of course, he didn’t care for the flavor of drunks. I wondered who he had fed from last night, if they had struggled, if they remembered… If he had killed.

“You’re looking well, Jenny,” Hilda said awkwardly, taking me by surprise.

“I don’t see how,” I muttered. “I’ve been on a bender for two nights and had damn-all sleep for three.”

“Being home, I suspect.” She hesitated, then, “I’ve been talking to Nigel and apparently the Board are quite keen for us to…diversify.”

I looked at her. “In what way?”

“In a decentralizing way. Too much is concentrated in the Centre, with nothing anywhere else in the country. In a crisis, like this, it takes us a day to get here. Which is silly. So, they’re thinking about locating other centers around the country, smaller places, more attuned locally. You should talk to Nigel about the Scottish one.”

Ridiculously, I was touched. I actually smiled at her. “Thanks, Hilda. But I doubt I’ll be around that long.”

Lowering her voice, she said, “You are a strong psychic, you know, strong enough in the tests to make others jealous. You just have to learn to channel it, as you did here. What was the trigger?”

A pair of corrupt, golden-green eyes gleaming at me over the prone body of the man I was desperate to bed.

“Luck,” I said hastily. “He gatecrashed the wedding I was at. I just knew what he was. And the next day, I was able to follow his tracks.”

But Hilda was still on the previous point. “He gatecrashed a wedding? That is very unusual behavior!”

Hysterical laughter bubbled up now. I didn’t think I’d be able to stop it. “He does it all the time. He has a kilt you see, so he imagines he blends in…he just hangs around wedding parties, biting the guests when they’re too drunk to notice or care.”

“And you find that funny?” Hilda exclaimed, inclined to be more outraged than amused. “My dear, it’s not your abilities but your levity that lets you down.”

“Sorry,” I gasped, swallowing down the laughter that was scarily close to tears.

By this time we were on the south side of the river and I led them west, past the hotel and round the corner to the church.

“In the basement,” I said. “You can get in through a trapdoor in the ground, down there.”

Naturally, Frank took charge. “Jenny, you wait here, make sure no one follows us in.”

Hilda, in reality more senior, regarded him with raised eyebrows. She opened her mouth to object to this plan, so I said hastily, “OK. He knows the smell of me anyway, you have more chance of surprising him.”

Frank laughed unkindly. “Jenny, a herd of mad elephants has more chance of surprising him! If he’s there at all, which I don’t for a moment believe.”

Hilda said more gently, “Have you got your mobile phone?” And when I nodded, she went on, “If we flush him out, follow. Just keep us informed and we’ll catch you up. He’ll stick to shadows and undergrowth, but the light’s very poor and if it gets any darker I suspect he’s strong enough to withstand what daylight there is.”

She was right. In typical west Scotland fashion, the sun had quickly faded behind a patchwork blanket of scudding gray and black clouds, which were just about to open on to us. The whole sky was darkening fast. In fact, the air, close and oppressive, seemed to crackle. I had been too absorbed in my conversation and senses to realize before but I thought we were in for a thunderstorm.

Great. I hate thunder.

Hilda said, “If he’s not here, you’ll have to try to pick up his trail again. If there’s nothing, we’ll wait ’til dark. You keep watch, phone me if you see him returning.”

Even better. Standing on a street corner for hours. At least there were no people around. We were between church services. Frank and I hoisted Hilda over the fence without anyone watching, or at least watching obviously.

As Frank skidded down the slope toward the bushes covering the trapdoor, I called, “Hilda? He doesn’t sleep, so be prepared. And Hilda,” I added, when she just nodded and started after Frank, “if he attacks you… he moves so fast you can’t see it. I think he kills easily, but if you back off, he might let you go. He can’t be bothered dealing with dead bodies and the inevitable fuss that follows.”

I don’t know if she heard even half of that. Part of me didn’t want her to. It revealed far too much of my own observations. But I didn’t want the vampire to kill her. Frank, I thought unkindly, he could have, if his fastidious tastes could stomach the jerk. At heart I didn’t really believe they would either capture or kill Karoly, although it was possible I would have to track him through the storm.

I leaned against the railing, my heart hammering with fear for Hilda, with anticipation and just general, unspecific dread. The rain began, at first in just a few spots, quickly turning to a good, solid downpour.

His hands had touched the fence recently. I could feel them, those hands that had touched me so intimately in my dream. Dear God, I hoped it was a dream. If I had really let him do those things to me, if I had actually begged him to fuck me, Jesus, how could I live with myself? I couldn’t ever justify the desire he aroused in me, I could only squash it. And explain it a little, perhaps. Some of it was hypnosis—those green and gold spiraling eyes. Some of it was his sheer beauty. And my own loneliness. My record of relationships with men was abysmal. I’d never kept one for longer than two months. And never met one I’d really wanted to hang around for longer. None of them measured up to my male friends like Nick and Tam. And none of them had been trustworthy enough to hang around me any longer than my father had.

But this was no time for getting into self-analysis. For the first time, I was doing something right at work, I had discovered that Hilda, at least, believed in me and that there was a possibility of the Centre decentralizing and my coming back here. Not to Glasgow, perhaps, which was fine with me. I really
had
wanted a change when I had left the school, a chance to meet new people in new places. But I’d discovered that I missed my friends and if anything happened to my infuriating mother…

Wrenching away from this, I turned my back on the church and through the gloom, gazed between the buildings opposite to the visible band of river. I knew I was doing something not only right, but just. I was doing my job and helping find a killer, a monster no one in their right minds could believe in, let alone deal with.

So why did I feel like a traitor?

“I have no intention of killing you today.”

Well, I had no intention of killing him either. How can you kill someone you’ve got drunk with, laughed with, kissed…? I couldn’t. But I could stand back and let someone else do it.

I wouldn’t even cry. I’d be churned up a bit, I’d have to wrestle occasionally with the guilt, even the sense of loss, God help me, but I’d know I’d done the right thing and I would not cry. It was rain running down my face and into my mouth, just rain.

I don’t know what made me look up. But I did, quite suddenly, and through the misty wires falling from an opaque, nearly black sky, I saw the darker figure of a man on the roof opposite, silhouetted for just a moment.

I knew it was him. It was only a glimpse and then the figure disappeared, but it was
him
. It didn’t just look like him in his plaid, it
felt
like him.

Chapter Five

 

Once again the incoherent anger rose, blotting out my hard-won rationality. He was a threat to my mother, to everybody, he had kissed me like that, made me
dream
like that… And God help me, as I remembered the images and the sensations of the dream, I grew hot. I began to run across the road, feeling my legs sliding on the wetness between.

BOOK: Hunting Karoly
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