Kitty's Big Trouble Page 11

Rick leaned back, lacing his fingers. “Here’s what I know about Anastasia. She’s older than I am. She came to this country sometime in the nineteenth century with the first wave of Chinese immigration, I imagine dodging some trouble in China but I don’t know exactly what. She rose through the ranks and became a trusted advisor of the then-Mistress of San Francisco. She controlled Chinatown for her, as I understand it. Then the situation completely unraveled.” He shrugged. “Vampire Families can remain stable for centuries. London’s had the same Master since the seventeenth century. But when they go, they can go quickly, spectacularly, and without any warning. San Francisco was like that.”

“You were there for it?” I asked.

“I saw bits and pieces. I tried not to get involved.” He winced a little—he’d spent centuries trying not to get involved, until a few years ago when he personally destroyed Denver’s previous Master and took over. Everyone had been surprised. It was one of those spectacular changeovers he was talking about.

“Anastasia got out, of course. There was a lot of speculation—did she get out because she was afraid of the new management, or because she’d betrayed the old? Some people said she orchestrated the whole thing.”

“But why? Wouldn’t she have stuck around, then?”

“Her whole reason for going to San Francisco in the first place might have been to topple that Mistress and her Family. When her work was done, she packed up and moved on to her next project. The fact that she’s back now and in need of help suggests to me that she isn’t any more friendly with the current Family—she could just go to them for help.”

“What can you tell me about them?”

Rick said, “They’re a laid-back bunch, but don’t underestimate them. Behave yourself and they won’t give you any trouble. To tell you the truth, most of us were happy with the change in management.”

I thought a moment, lips pursed, leaning my chin on my hand. “Roman must have brought werewolves with him. That’s why she needs me.” If he’d brought vampire minions, Anastasia could have depended on the local Family to oppose them.

“Is there a local pack in San Francisco? What are they like?” he said.

“Word has it the pack there is centered in Oakland and tends to stay out of San Francisco proper. Roman probably knows that.”

Rick glanced away, chuckling.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s the same old story. Both Roman and Anastasia bringing werewolves as hired muscle. Vampires as nobility and werewolves as peasant foot soldiers. The patterns are ingrained among the oldest of us and we keep falling into them.”

That kind of thing made me angry. Made me mouth off when I ought to stay quiet. It almost made me look forward to the upcoming conflict.

“That just means I have to stand up for myself, don’t I?”

“I don’t see you having any trouble with that.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Any other advice?”

“If you see Roman, get out,” he said.

“That’s already on the agenda.” I figured if I actually saw Roman, it would already be too late.

“Keep in mind that Anastasia is not the most powerful thing you might meet out there. If she and Roman are both after this artifact, that means it’s more powerful than both of them. Be careful.”

“I’m not really all that interested in power,” I said.

“That’s why those in power find you so interesting. They really don’t like rogue elements getting in the way of their plans.”

“You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”

“Do you know I was probably the only vampire in North America for about a century?”

“Alette might have mentioned something along those lines. How the hell did that happen?”

“It…” He paused, looking off to some distant time—some very distant time. “It’s a long story. But when the second wave of vampire immigrants arrived, they were a little surprised to find me.”

To be a fly on that wall. I could see it now, some kind of crazy Monty Python–like sketch with vampires going back and forth: “What are you doing here?” “I live here.” “But how can you? We’re the first vampires here.” “If you’re the first vampires here, then what am I?” And so on, until the skit ended with some kind of pratfall involving stakes.

“Maybe I’ll tell you the whole story sometime.”

“Rick, you have never told me the whole story. You just drop maddening hints.”

“How about this: We’ll trade stories when you get back from San Francisco. Deal?”


I just had to be sure I came back with a lot of stories.

Chapter 4

TWO DAYS OF driving later, we checked into a lower-rent, unassuming motel in the middle of the city, off the tourist tracks. That was Cormac’s idea. He said we could come and go without drawing as much attention. I thought maybe he was just self-conscious about staying someplace with room service.

I stood at the window of our room. It didn’t have much of a view, which was frustrating, because less than a mile away was water, San Francisco Bay, its famous bridges, and so on. All I saw were buildings and a busy street. The sky was bright but hazy. The temperature was surprisingly cool. So much for a California summer.

We’d been sure to arrive during daylight hours so we could get our bearings before we had to face Anastasia after nightfall.

“You ever been to San Francisco?” Ben asked. He drew close behind me, resting a hand on my hip, his cheek against my hair.

“Nope,” I said. “I’m fighting an urge to run off and take the boat tour to Alcatraz.”

“Let’s do that after we’ve figured out that Roman isn’t really here and we’re not in trouble.”

“Roman can’t come out in daylight,” I argued, but the sense of foreboding lingered.

“Yeah, but Roman has minions. I thought that’s why we’re here.”

I drew his arms around me and hugged him close. “We’ll be careful.”

A knock came at the door. We were expecting it, but Ben checked the peephole anyway before undoing the dead bolt, then the chain, and opening the door for Cormac, who was staying in the room next door.

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