Kitty's Big Trouble Page 15

Ben retrieved his gun, which was lying hidden in the gutter, and we moved out.

We were in no shape for the nice sit-down seafood dinner I’d envisioned for us. My shirt would clean up with a little scrubbing in a restroom sink, but Ben’s jacket and shirt were ruined, torn and streaked with blood. We didn’t look anything like yuppie tourists now.

While we waited, Cormac ducked into a souvenir shop to find a cheap replacement. He returned with a black shirt with words in a white typewriter font printed on it: I ESCAPED ALCATRAZ.

“I suppose you think this is funny?” Ben said.

“I could have got the one with the big heart on it,” he replied.

“As in, ‘I left my heart in San Francisco’?” I asked.

“It was pink,” Cormac said.

Shaking his head, Ben tore off what was left of his old shirt and slipped on the new one. It looked obnoxious on him. I kind of liked it. He tucked the gun into his waistband, under the shirt, and left the holster in the car.

Back at the waterfront, we picked up clam chowder, sourdough, and sodas to go and ate them at a shabby bench off the sidewalk. Restless, wary, we kept looking over our shoulders. None of us were very hungry and ended up picking at our food, but Ben and I drained the sodas and went back for more. The fight had sucked us dry.

Cormac kept glancing at us, surreptitiously studying us. Making sure we really were calm and collected.

Ben stared at his uneaten food and smiled wryly. “I guess you’re used to shooting werewolves like me who can’t keep it together.”

“I’m not going to shoot you, Ben,” Cormac said, sounding tired.

“You kept it together.” I brushed my leg against his, hoping to transmit calm and reassurance. In turn, he shifted his leg to rest a little more firmly against mine. He’d be okay. “Now, what are we going to do about those freaks? Wait until they hit again or go after them?”

“They won’t hit again, not like that,” Cormac said. “Their cover is blown. If they just wanted to send a message, they already did that.”

“I have to say,” Ben said, pulling apart a chunk of bread, “this meeting with Anastasia is looking a whole lot more sinister than it did an hour ago.”

I pulled out my phone and dialed her number. Roman knew that we were in town, and I had to warn her. The phone rang, and rang, and rang, and the voice mail came on. I hung up.

“She’s not answering,” I said.

“So something’s happened to her?” Ben said.

The sun was only just setting. She may not have been awake yet. Maybe she turned her phone off. I put my phone back into my pocket. “I guess we’ll find out when she shows up for the meeting.”

Or, when she didn’t show up.

Chapter 6

WE DROVE SOUTH a couple of miles, parked the car, and wandered into Chinatown. The neighborhood was identifiable, self-contained—the high-rises stopped at its borders. The streets narrowed. The buildings were mostly brick, three or four stories, crammed together, some of them topped with painted pagoda rooftops that would have been cheesy anywhere else. Signage in both Chinese characters and English announced restaurants, tea shops, souvenir shops, herb shops, import shops, and so on. Narrow alleys showed a forest of steel balconies and fire escapes. A couple of blocks had round, red paper lanterns strung over the street; I couldn’t tell if they were there for the tourists or if they meant something. After dark now, the crowds were thinning, and many shops were closing up, steel grates pulled over their storefronts. We kept a lookout for Roman’s werewolves, but no one was tracking us. I could humor myself that we’d scared them off, but I thought it more likely that they’d be back once they gathered reinforcements.

In true classic vampire fashion, Anastasia had given a complex set of instructions to find her in an obscure meeting place. The address was on Grant, in the heart of the touristy section of Chinatown, and led us to a storefront. The shop—a discount import place that was part souvenir shop, part dollar store—was an island of bright light on the street.

Inside, shelves were crammed with Chinese-style embroidered silk shirts, baskets of slippers, fancy lacquered chopsticks and tea sets, bags of candy labeled in Chinese, open jars of fresh ginseng, bamboo trays, porcelain rice bowls, paper lanterns, and so on. The smells here were rich and varied, both familiar and odd: cardboard, dust, old linoleum tile, too many people; and also strange teas, incense, scented tissue paper, and silk. I had an urge to touch everything, to stop and explore.

The Chinese woman—thin, short, her hair graying—behind the counter and cash register only glanced at us. All tourists coming into the shop must have looked this awestruck. Well, I was awestruck. Ben and Cormac stayed alert, gazing around, searching for trouble.

Stairs led down to even more shelves, boxes, and baskets filled with stuff. I wanted to look for tea sets to buy and bring back as presents. My mother and sister could use a Chinese tea set, right? Cute little pot and tiny matching cups, painted with stylized bamboo. Or maybe some silk jackets. Ooh, sake sets. Wait a minute, weren’t those Japanese? I pulled my attention back. We were on a quest. Shopping later.

Anastasia told us to come to the far end of the basement, that she would be waiting for us there. The place was cluttered, floor-to-ceiling shelves preventing a clear view, making it impossible to judge the room’s size or layout. The only exit seemed to be the stairs. Which meant it would be far too easy to stage an ambush here.

“Wait here,” I said to Ben and Cormac. “I’ll check it out.”

Instead, Ben followed me. “Cormac can watch the stairs,” he said. “I’m keeping an eye on you.”

He brushed against my shoulder. Together, we moved forward into the maze of shelves and boxes.

Even with fluorescent lights on the ceilings, the stacks of goods cast shadows, making the room seem dim. My nose worked hard, taking in the air, searching for a chill, the scent of living cold, incongruous against the common background.

We turned the last corner, reaching the back wall, which had a plain door, maybe to a storage closet or another room. When we appeared, so did Anastasia, opening the door and emerging from behind it.

Her black hair was twisted into a bun at the back of her head. She had Chinese features, skin as smooth as ivory. Her clothing was expensive without being ostentatious—a perfectly draped burgundy silk blouse over tailored black slacks, high heels, diamond stud earrings, and a simple beaded choker. She wasn’t tall. Slender, elegant, and wary, she gazed at us with dark eyes and a thin frown.

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