Kitty's Big Trouble Page 34

I had to tell her about the figure in the alley, the imperious spy.

We were at some kind of stalemate. We’d answered questions, but the vampire—I had to assume the one in suspenders was the boss—wasn’t happy with the answers. They didn’t seem likely to let us go, but they were also treating Anastasia with kid gloves. Was this the Master who had taken power in the 1920s? It seemed likely. At any rate, this was Anastasia’s bailiwick, and I didn’t know the rules here. I ought to let her do all the talking. What were the odds?

When he didn’t get an answer, he shrugged. “Well then. Welcome to San Francisco. It would have been nice if you’d called first. You’re from Denver, right? Who’s running things there now? Rick, isn’t it? You could have asked him, gotten an introduction, made it all official—”

“He said you wouldn’t mind it if I just passed through.”

“Did he? He’s either getting senile in his old age or he has a lot of confidence in you. Which is it?”

I tilted my head. “How old is old? All of you,” I said, glancing at each of them, even Joe and Henry behind me. “Rick says you’ve been running San Francisco since the twenties, so that’s at least a hundred.”

The members of the vampire entourage wore crooked, amused smiles. The woman had blood-red lips.

“It’s rude, asking vampires about their age,” said Boss.

I shrugged. “Yeah. I keep doing it anyway.” I was getting my groove back. I came as close as I could to staring at him without looking him in his hypnotic eyes. He had a slight hook in his nose. “I have some questions. You’ve been running San Francisco for almost a century, so you were here during the sixties. Summer of Love and all that, right? You ever meet Janis Joplin? Jerry Garcia? Country Joe? Any of those psychedelic guys?”

“What if I said yes? What do you expect me to say about any of them that hasn’t already been said?”

“Maybe I just wanted to see if you had any concert bootlegs.”

Ben bumped my hip with his nose and whined a little. Yeah, maybe I was talking too much. But what if he’d said yes? And what if he’d actually given them to me? It never hurt to ask.

Boss raised an eyebrow. “You are definitely Kitty Norville.”

“So that’s a no?”

“You’ll have to ask Henry, that was more his scene.” Behind me, Henry gave a little wave.

The thing was, as long as we were all talking, nobody was fighting. If I got Boss to like me, or at least to not think I was a threat, he’d be more likely to let us all go. He might even help us. If he’d known we were all in town, maybe he knew that Roman was in town. Maybe when Henry said he’d been looking for rogue wolves, he’d been looking for Roman’s gang. Maybe they could tell us something.

He turned away from me. I’d been surveyed, and I wasn’t a threat, apparently. I was sorry I’d missed what he’d said to Cormac before we got here.

“Where were we? Right. Anastasia, you’re back after what, eighty, ninety years? I’d wondered what happened to you. You left so quickly after the coup.”

Anastasia said, “I didn’t see a need to stay. You didn’t need my help—at least not anymore.”

He opened his hands in agreement. “Begs the question, though—why are you back?”

“I’m here on an entirely unrelated matter.”

“Still, the last time you were in San Francisco, you helped stage a coup against the former Master.”

“That’s not what happened and you know it.”

“All I know is you do things to suit yourself and no one else. You could have put yourself in charge here. You could have made yourself Mistress of a dozen cities the world over, collected all that power, but what do you do instead? You meddle and move on. What’s the story now?”

What do you know—we had the same opinion about Anastasia.

“I wanted to see the old stomping grounds,” she said.

“You could have called me for a tour.”

“I didn’t want to trouble you.”

“You were in Chinatown with a mercenary.” He gestured at Cormac. “What were you looking for? Or what did you already find and are trying to hide from me?”

She strolled a quiet step forward on her heeled shoes. Her eyes narrowed, and she caught Boss’s gaze. “Nothing you need to bother with,” she said softly.

He straightened, leaning back to regard her, his brow furrowed. The other vampires were frowning now, looking back and forth between their Master and the stranger.

Maybe Ben and Cormac and I could get the hell out of here while they had their standoff.

“Anastasia,” Boss said, his voice low, threatening.

We were wasting time, so I dropped into the conversation to tip the balance. “Roman is here,” I said.

The mood snapped back. Boss blinked and looked away from Anastasia, at me. “Roman?” he said, much the way Henry had, as if I was muddying the waters on purpose.

“Dux Bellorum,” Anastasia murmured.

Well, that made the air go out of the room. Boss’s mouth opened—he even showed fangs. The male vampire companion gripped the arms of his chair and leaned forward. Joe stepped closer. All five of them looked shocked. Anastasia frowned at me.

“Really?” Boss said. He shifted his gaze from me to Anastasia. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“This isn’t your battle,” she said.

He raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “It isn’t? Because it’s your battle? Because you think you can handle him all by yourself?”

“I know him,” she said with conviction.

For once I wanted to keep quiet, because I wanted them to keep talking. I wanted to learn more. But nobody said anything.

“How?” I said. “How do you know him?”

She didn’t answer. What else wasn’t she telling me?

Boss settled back into his seat and donned an air of calm, but he also looked sad. As if he was facing the inevitable; as if he’d faced it many times before. His expression was at odds with the offhand manner he’d shown so far. I bumped up my estimation of his age another hundred years. This guy had been around.

When he spoke, he spoke to me. “My predecessor belonged to Dux Bellorum—Roman, I guess is as good a name as any. Some of us”—he gestured to his four colleagues—“didn’t like that she bound us to someone who wasn’t one of us. That she swore fealty to a Master outside the Family. We wanted our Family to be a family. Not some … platoon in someone else’s army.”

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