(in order of appearance)
Detective Diana Bennett, NYPD
Ichabod Crane, AKA Zabdiel Galt
Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach
Dorian Red, Earl of Gloria, AKA Eroica
Methos, AKA Adam Pierson
This story contains the following:
Diana Bennett, the third-season Beauty
[don't worry, her relationship with Vincent is purely platonic!]
an explanation of what Vincent is
an utter lack of explicit sex
The Ancient Ones Endure
Ichabod Crane confirms for me the theory that history is driven by heroes, not by cultural cycles or material necessity or any of the other dreary forces credited by modern scholars who cannot conceive of any man of greater dimensions than their own. No, only the shining vision and determined quest of a hero shapes history or changes its course.
When a contemporary American is arrested, he rests secure in the knowledge that he has inalienable rights which will almost invariably be respected. He will not be tortured. He can choose not to reveal anything. He will have a trial. He will have a lawyer. He will have witnesses testifying on his behalf. Policemen will search for physical and documentary evidence about the truth of the crime of which he is suspected. We take all of this for granted, but the fact is that it is all a gift, from a great man who devoted his life to fighting to give it to us. That man is Ichabod Crane.
~The Better Part of Valor: The Life of Ichabod Crane by Ivana Tagariello
He knew the night. He knew its moods and its secrets. And in the last few days, he had sensed restlessness about it.
Something was coming.
He had no idea what.
And so he walked the streets after midnight, his senses, more acute than those of an ordinary man, preternaturally alert and ready to find... something.
Chance or instinct or fate led him to the right street, that night.
He heard running footsteps, and gasps for breath. Someone was being pursued, and was in mortal terror. He knew the alleys, the fences, the buildings which could be climbed upon. In a moment he was pressed into a narrow sidewalk that separated two buildings, waiting. The first man ran past, limping. He was tiring.
Just keep on a moment longer, friend, he thought as he waited.
The pursuer's steps were more measured, less hasty. He knew that his prey would not elude him for long. He moved inexorably toward that prey.
But as he passed the alleyway, powerful, hairy hands grasped his shoulders and lifted him off his feet.
The man turned in Vincent's grasp with a snarl of rage which was stilled when he saw the lionlike face and fangs that faced him. Vincent used the expected moment of surprise, though he too was taken aback, because the man's weapon was not a gun or a knife, but a sword. A four-foot-long broadsword, like something from centuries ago.
Vincent preferred to merely wound those he pursued, but as soon as the other man recovered from his own shock, which took only a second a seasoned warrior, this he gave a battle cry and raised his sword. He wielded it with ease; Vincent could see that he knew how to handle this weapon. The man swung, powerfully. Had Vincent's reflexes been slower, the swing would have parted his head from his shoulders. As it was, it grazed his neck, drawing blood.
And the wound, the smell of blood even his own awoke the side of Vincent that he always wished to forget, the part that was as savage as his face made him appear. The pain made him roar, his lips curling back from his long teeth in a fearsome snarl. His opponent was affected by the sight, but after only a second he was grinning with the same battle-lust which Vincent felt. He thrust with his sword again.
Vincent dodged the archaic weapon neatly and retaliated with his own, even more ancient weapons. With the strong claws nature had so inexplicably given him, he tore the man open from throat to stomach with one furious lunge.
The man went down, of course. He collapsed at once, twitching for a moment Vincent always hated to see that, but it only lasted a few seconds. And then Vincent's breath was slowing and the beast in him ebbing.
When he thought he could control himself, he turned to the man he had just rescued.
The other man was standing several feet away, leaning against the building, still panting, still shaking. He looked at Vincent fearfully. Vincent was resigned; he knew that it would always be thus. He spoke softly; his resonant voice often calmed those who were seeing him for the first time. It was the reason he had cultivated his usual soft, slow tones.
"I mean you no harm," Vincent said gently. "Tell me who you are."
The man started at the words. Then he advanced slowly to both of them, eyeing the fallen man's sword.
"Why was this man chasing you?" Vincent asked.
The other man licked his lips. "Maybe I can explain," he said shakily. Abruptly he lunged for the sword where it lay. Vincent had been expecting this and quickly moved back. But to his surprise, the man did not attack Vincent with it, but ran to the prone dead body with the blade raised.
Appalled, Vincent seized the man's arms. His powerful grip left the other man helpless. The trapped man began to weep.
"We've got to cut his head off," he gasped. "Or he'll kill us both!"
"He is dead," Vincent said gently, hoping to soothe the man's hysteria. "He cannot harm you now."
"You don't understand! You've got to kill him!"
"I already did," Vincent replied sadly.
"No! If you're smart, you'll chop off his head. It's the only way!"
With a swift motion, Vincent wrested the sword from the other man, releasing him. The man glanced frantically between him and the dead man.
"Listen to me," Vincent said. "He is dead now. There is nothing"
With one last frightened look, the man broke into a run. As he fled, he shouted over his shoulder, "Cut off his head! Or run!"
"Wait!" Vincent called.
Before he could decide whether or not to pursue the terrified man, a movement on the ground distracted him. He turned. As he watched incredulously, the dead man's gaping, bloody wounds closed themselves. A moment later the man stood up, alive. And grinning wickedly.
He nodded to the sword, his eyes glinting, keeping a safe distance. "I believe that belongs to me." His voice was deep, the accent distinctly French. When Vincent made no move, he added, "Never mind, I will get another." And he began to run.
This time Vincent did give chase. He had to find out who what this man was. Through the twists and turns of various streets and alleyways he chased the man, until he lost him at last. He continued searching for another hour, but the man had eluded him, he had no idea how. He returned to the tunnels sorely troubled.
Diana stood at the entrance to the tunnels, turning when a soft step behind her told her that Vincent was near. She smiled, but her smile faded quickly. He was grave.
"What is it, Vincent?"
"Diana... I must tell you a story that is very strange. Very fantastic." He spoke slowly, as always, carefully weighing each word. "It will be difficult for you to believe, but I know what I saw."
"Tell me," she said, with a gentleness in her voice to match his own.
"Last night, as I walked the city streets, I saw a man pursued, in mortal fear of his life. I stopped his pursuer. The man chasing him was armed with a sword."
"A sword? He was actually trying to kill someone with a sword?"
"He seemed to be quite skillful in its use," Vincent said. "I killed him, Diana."
Diana silently put a hand on his arm. No matter how justified the violence, Vincent never ceased to berate himself for any of it.
"I tore him open," Vincent added, a world of self-reproach in his voice. "In my rage, I inflicted wounds which no one could have survived."
"Vincent, he was trying to murder someone. You did what you had to."
"And a moment later, his wounds closed and he stood up, alive. Diana, I killed him, and he resurrected."
Diana frowned, searching Vincent's leonine face. After a long minute, she asked, "Vincent, are you certain that... that your own guilt didn't lead you to overestimate the wounds you inflicted?"
He turned abruptly, shaking his head. "I have killed enough people to know what death looks like, Diana! I tell you, the man was dead!"
Diana nodded, accepting. If Vincent was certain, then however fantastic the story, it must be true. "Then tell me. Every single detail."
Vincent told her all, including every word that had passed between him and the two men, and the fullest descriptions of each that he could.
"I'll tell you what I'm able to learn," Diana promised when he was finished. "And now how's Jacob?"
Now that he had shared his worries, Vincent was relieved enough to smile at the mention of his son. "Come and see," he invited warmly.
Jacob had had an active day, Mary informed Diana when they reached the boy's room. He was now a capable crawler and was expected to take his first steps any day. Even on all fours, he kept the adults in his life busy chasing after him. He was quiet now, toying with a stuffed animal with a look of intent concentration on his wide-eyed face. That expression always made Diana smile; the child looked as if he were grappling with weighty matters indeed.
Vincent slowly came to sit on the floor beside his son as Mary left them. The boy dropped to stretch his little arms to his father, and Diana thought that something in the boy looked... more serene, somehow, now that his father was nearby.
Vincent lifted the boy with infinite care. Little Jacob made cheerful noises of greeting, grasping one of Vincent's large furry fingers with his tiny soft hands. His father stared at him in wonder.
"Every time I look at him, the miracle fills me anew," he breathed.
"He is beautiful," Diana said, and meant it. She had never wanted a child of her own, but Jacob had claimed a place in her heart.
"I've looked in his eyes a thousand times. Why does his power never diminish?"
"You can never run out of hope for a newborn child."
"Sometimes in my nightmares I relive what happened: the loss, the violence, all that I put us both through. But then in an instant it vanishes, carried off by his waking cries."
What could she say to that? What would be enough to reassure Vincent? "He can make it all right," she offered.
He shook his head once. "Nothing can make all of it right. Diana, you've done so much for both of us. Why?"
She blinked at him, surprised. "It's funny, I - when it was happening I never even questioned it. I don't know, Vincent, you make everything so possible I... I couldn't help but want to help you."
His cat-eyes crinkled in his version of a smile. "Jacob is not my only blessing."
She smiled gently, feeling, not a twinge, but the ghost of one. "You're thinking of Catherine."
"Always... and I'm thinking of you."
She did not read more into that than he had said. She knew better. "Sometimes I wonder - how all this can be happening, and whether I even belong here or not. Your... your world is... I don't know where I'm going anymore, I don't know where I'm going to be tomorrow."
"Tomorrow will come, Diana. We can only live each day as it comes to us, with its pains and joys, and all of its gifts."
She stretched out her arms. "Could I hold him?"
He passed the baby carefully. Jacob promptly caught a tendril of her copper hair and tried to put it in his mouth. Patiently she prevented this, then glanced at Vincent.
Vincent was still smiling. "He looks exactly like his mother," he told Diana softly. "And I see her soul in him as well."
Diana studied Vincent's expression. It was true, the boy had inherited his mother's wide mouth and full lips, her grey-green eyes, her cheekbones. But Vincent remarked on the resemblance so often that Diana wondered if it were not only a wish to see the face of his love in their child, but also a wish not to see his own. Perhaps he said it as a charm, as if repeating it often enough would make it true, so that the boy would grow up to be his mother's son rather than his father's.
"I never knew Catherine," she said gently, "but I am certain he has some of your soul as well. The most beautiful soul I know."
A shadow crossed Vincent's leonine face. "I can only pray that he has inherited only that part of my nature that is human."
Diana chose her words carefully. "I don't believe there is any part of you that is anything else, Vincent."
Her heart sank as Diana saw a familiar, haunted look in his blue eyes. "Diana, if you knew if you could feel the... the beast that wells up in me at times...."
Diana cut in before he could find the words he searched for. "Vincent, you've seen what beastliness humanity is capable of doing. My work is devoted to it. Believe me, you're no worse than any other man and far, far better than most."
Vincent said nothing, but Diana was certain she had not convinced him.
"How is Stephen?" he asked.
Diana looked away and shrugged.
"Same old story," Diana said at last. "I spend too much time working, won't put him high enough on the old priority list. Just like all my boyfriends say."
"I am sorry, Diana," Vincent said softly. "I worry for you. Being so alone."
You're the real expert on that, Diana thought sadly, but only shrugged again. "If I had needed any of them, they would probably still be around." Hoping to change the subject, she asked, "What are you reading now?"
He reached to a nearby table and held up the book for her to see. The Wizard of Oz, the complete original novel. Perhaps with an eye to Jacob's bedtime stories a few years down the road, Vincent had been reading children's classics over the last few months.
"Listen," Vincent said, and she smiled, happy to enjoy the velvet gravel of his voice as he opened the book to a marked page and began to read aloud.
"I have come for my courage," announced the Lion, entering the room.
"Very well," answered the little man; "I will get it for you."
He went to a cupboard and reaching up to a high shelf took down a square green bottle, the contents of which he poured into a green-gold dish, beautifully carved. Placing this before the Cowardly Lion, who sniffed at it as if he did not like it, the Wizard said:
"What is it?" asked the Lion.
"Well," answered Oz, "if it were inside of you, it would be courage. You know, of course, that courage is always inside one; so that this really cannot be called courage until you have swallowed it. Therefore I advise you to drink it as soon as possible."
The Lion hesitated no longer, but drank till the dish was empty.
"How do you feel now?" asked Oz.
"Full of courage," replied the Lion, who went joyfully back to his friends to tell them of his good fortune.
Oz, left to himself, smiled to think of his success in giving the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Lion exactly what they thought they wanted. "How can I help being a humbug," he said, "when all these people make me do things that everybody knows can't be done? It was easy to make the Scarecrow and the Lion and the Woodman happy, because they imagined I could do anything. But it will take more than imagination to carry Dorothy back to Kansas, and I'm sure I don't know how it can be done."
Diana made what inquiries she could, though there was little enough to go on. For two days she learned nothing. No reports of decapitations, no thefts of swords, no suspicious visitors from France.
On the third day, her colleague Michael stopped her as she was coming in. "Hey, Bennett, weren't you asking if anyone had had their head chopped off lately?"
She turned to him, promptly intent. "Yes. Has there been an incident?"
"I'll say. Nice grisly decapitation last night. Looks pretty freaky. You'll enjoy this one."
Her coat was on already. "Where was it?"
He handed over a report. "Here's the address."
Diana was at the tunnels as soon as it grew dark. Vincent was waiting for her, somehow knowing that she would be there. And by his expectant look, he knew that she had news for him as well.
"A man was found decapitated this morning," she said at once. She let Vincent take this in before adding, "His description matched the one you gave of the man being chased." She had to resist the habit of rattling off information swiftly and flatly, as police custom required. She could have gone on and told him that the wound was consistent with a sword as weapon, or that the victim, one Samuel Harrison, had reserved a flight to London for this very afternoon, or that there were no obvious suspects. No suspects, no witnesses, no obvious motive.
Odder was that the victim's identification was quite obviously fake. Diana had become suspicious of it when she looked at his driver's license and discovered that he was forty-four years old. The dead man did not look much more than thirty-five. He could have simply looked young, but a few inquiries revealed that Samuel Harrison had died at the age of three months in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Clues as to the victim's true identity were not forthcoming. Diana was wondering if there was some connection with government intelligence or organized crime.
"I can only continue to wander the night, and hope that our paths will cross again," Vincent said after a time, his soft-gravel voice full of regret. Diana knew without asking that he regretted both that he had to try to kill the assassin, and that he regretted that he had not already done so and saved Samuel Harrison's life. He was the most compassionate man she had ever met. On a sudden impulse, she took his arm.
"I'll find him," she said with an assurance she was far from feeling. There was so little to go on. Harrison had no personal connections to speak of, and the crime scene had yielded up little physical evidence. Besides that, she had only an unbelievable report from a witness who could not come forward. Furthermore, what was she supposed to do when she caught the killer? If he had come back to life after Vincent killed him . She wondered if she could get authorization to drive a stake through the culprit's heart.
"Vincent," she asked hesitantly, "can you think of anything else at all? Does your intuition tell you anything?" Though it went against the grain of a trained detective, she had learned to respect Vincent's sixth sense.
He turned and walked a few paces away, and stood gazing into the darkness for a few moments before answering, in his usual measured tones. "For some time I have been feeling... an alertness. As if the city knows, without knowing, that something has come. Something dangerous, and different. Diana, this is no ordinary murderer. There is something... very powerfully evil here."
Diana nodded. She wished she could dismiss Vincent's fears, but she knew better. Slowly she moved to him and clasped one of his hands. The strong claws and coarse hair no longer felt strange to her.
"And we will face it together," she answered.
He looked at her, searching her face. "The power of your mind is like none I have seen before."
"As is the power of your spirit," she replied. She thought of telling him that she would alert him as soon as she knew anything, but that really went without saying. Vincent never wasted words, and he made her reluctant to say the unnecessary as well. She pressed his hand and turned to go.
The Captain interrupted her in the middle of tracking down Samuel Harrison's previous addresses. "Bennett-"
Diana looked up. "Yes, Captain?"
"Cool it on the Harrison case."
"What? What do you mean, cool it?"
"I mean you're off it." Before Diana could protest, he explained, "The FBI just staked their claim on it. Sorry, Bennett."
She stared at him for a long minute. "Did they indeed," she said coolly and picked up her phone.
With resignation, the Captain strolled off. "If they say you can stay, I say you can stay," was all he said.
She found the FBI's number and punched it in, her eyes snapping with annoyance. When someone picked up, she quickly explained that she was a police officer with information on the investigation of the Harrison murders. They tried to brush her off. When she persisted, they connected her to various different offices and departments. At last she got someone to tell her the name of the federal agent heading the investigation: Zabdiel Galt. She hung up, called again, and this time simply asked to speak to him. A few minutes later, a male voice said impatiently, "Yes?"
"Agent Zabdiel Galt?"
"Agent Galt, this is Detective Diana Bennett from the NYPD. I've been investigating the Harrison case."
"This is a Bureau matter now, Detective." The voice was clipped, almost British.
"What's important is finding this very dangerous killer," she said, her tone firm and calm though her hand was clenched on the receiver. She would not give up this investigation, and if some arrogant federal agent thought he could get rid of her, he had another think coming. "An interbranch investigation is the most efficient way to do this. I'd be happy to have you work with me on this." There, just a dash of arrogance of her own, almost a bluff.
A few seconds passed before he spoke again. "I appreciate your offer, Detective, but it's quite unnecessary. Good day."
"Agent Galt!" she said before he could hang up. "If you're going to continue this investigation without me, I suppose it's standard procedure for me to brief you on everything that I've found already?"
"Of course." She thought she heard a slight sigh. "Can you meet with me tomorrow afternoon?"
"Shall I come to your office?"
"I doubt you could get clearance that soon," he replied, and Diana gritted her teeth on her own annoyance. Was he intentionally putting her in her place with that remark? "I'll come to yours."
She gave him directions and they agreed on a time before hanging up. She then spent the rest of the day and well into the night reviewing the case file. She had to know everything possible if she was going to impress a federal agent. She had never had to work with a Bureau agent before, but she had heard that they were impossibly arrogant, and highly reluctant to cooperate in any way with local police. If true, Diana considered the attitude an idiotic one. The good guys weren't supposed to fight with each other. But then, men didn't seem to know any other way to deal with anything.
At dawn she was awakened by the phone. Automatically she reached for the receiver and held it to her ear. "Mmgmph," she said.
"Bennett! Are you awake?"
Diana groaned as she made herself sit up. As her head cleared a bit, she mumbled, "Scott?" Scott was her best friend on the force.
"Yeah. C'mon, are you conscious enough to listen?"
She rubbed her eyes vigorously. If Scott was calling at this hour, it had to be important. "Yes. What is it?"
"There's been another decapitation. You should get out here."
"Scott, did you know the Bureau took over that case?"
"So you'd better get out here before they do and close the scene."
Diana grinned. "Thanks, Scott. I owe you."
"Actually, I owe you. That's why I called."
"Ah, well, who's counting." Squinting, she switched on the lamp and fumbled for a pen. "Give me the address."
Twenty minutes later, she was at the scene, wearing the jeans and shirt she had pulled on because they were closest to the bed, her hair pulled back in a hasty ponytail instead of her usual neat braid. As she had hoped, the Bureau hadn't arrived yet. Scott let her in, and the other uniforms who were keeping the neighbors back didn't argue; she had a degree of prestige in the Department.
"No one's touched anything yet," Scott told her as she entered. "Victim's in the living room. The forensics people are dusting the other rooms for prints and stuff."
"Great." In spite of the lack of sleep, her brain had responded to her command to come alive, and she was fully alert for work.
The room's furniture was disordered, a few items knocked over as could be expected on a murder scene. The victim was a woman who looked to be in her early thirties. Her head was a few feet away from her body, and beside one of her lifeless hands lay a sword.
Somebody's radio crackled. The cop promptly answered, and in reply to a garbled question, explained, "We secured the area. Detective Bennett is here."
The voice on the radio rose, irate. Even through the static of the mediocre reception, Diana recognized the clipped tones of Agent Galt. "Who gave authorization for a police detective to be let in?"
Diana smiled wryly to herself, but did not pause in her scrutiny of the scene.
"Authorization? Bennett's a police detective!"
"This is a Bureau investigation! Get him out of there!"
Diana shook her head slightly as she continued to look around. He had spoken to her only yesterday and didn't remember her name.
The young man looked at her apologetically. "You heard?"
"I heard," she answered calmly, not pausing in her work. The man hesitated. After a moment, she looked up and smiled slightly at him. "Agent Galt and I are going to have a discussion when he gets here. Your rear is secure."
He nodded reluctantly, obviously thinking that this was a heck of a way to start the day. Diana continued, her energy rising to deal with the arrogant agent. What made him think he could order New York's Finest around that way? Besides her other reasons for pursuing this case, it had become a matter of pride for her to put this man in his place. She wished she had had time to prepare properly. But rumpled clothes, puffy eyes, and an attitude would have to do.
A couple of minutes later, a wave of dizziness swept over her. Oh, no, she thought despairingly. She hadn't had time to eat more than one of the nutrient-crammed energy bars she always kept in her car, and whatever the package said, those things were just not enough. Now it was catching up with her, more strongly than fasting ever had before. Now she wouldn't be in top form to meet the FBI agent. Dammit, dammit .
Before she could ask one of the uniforms if anyone had brought the customary doughnuts, she heard Agent Galt's voice, less peremptory than before, asking who was on the scene. The young cop reluctantly named her. "I thought I gave instructions that he was to leave," the agent said, annoyed but not as irate as she'd expected.
"I'm afraid you'll have to throw Detective Bennett out yourself, sir," the young man said. "She outranks me." He emphasized the feminine pronoun a bit. Diana swallowed a smile, even around her lightheadedness. Once she really proved herself, she found that her male colleagues were downright proud of her, even when she showed them up. But now to take the offensive.
She turned to face him.
Diana hoped that she hid her surprise quickly enough. The first surprise was that the man in the doorway was young, surely too young to be heading Bureau investigations. But then, some people looked young well into adulthood; the force employed such people to go undercover in high schools sometimes, looking for drug dealers or gang crime. They'd had one man, a Tom Hansom, who'd passed for sixteen until he was twenty-five.
The second surprise was that he was handsome. Very. High cheekbones slashed through his pallid face beneath obsidian eyes and ruthless black brows, and the sternly set mouth was perfectly shaped. He was examining her intently. Men. Always surprised that an attractive woman could be doing this job.
"Agent Zabdiel Galt?" she said, advancing to him briskly with a hand outstretched. She shook his hand firmly, something else that sometimes surprised men.
"None other," he said as he had the day before, in the same precise diction she had heard on the phone.
"Detective Diana Bennett."
He regarded her, his black eyes taking in her face carefully. She felt a stab of triumph, but was at the same time disappointed in him. He had been captivated by her appearance just like everyone else. Somehow she had expected more from this man.
Yes, he certainly raised your expectations of him in the two seconds you spent checking him out, Bennett, she thought irritably. After all, was she any better, her head so quickly turned by a handsome face?
"Glad to have you here with me," she said. As if she owned the place, she started showing him around the crime scene. Fortunately, her lightheadedness faded as she did so. As she had hoped, he was a bit taken aback by the way she had taken charge, and made no objection. He listened intently, his eyes moving between the evidence she indicated, and her face, and with a surge of triumph she realized that his expression was one of growing respect. Occasionally he interrupted with a question, and she always had the answer ready. She may not have started perfectly, but she was in top form now. And as she displayed her exhaustive knowledge, he won respect from her by swiftly forgetting the turf battle in favor of asking questions about the crime. And she knew the answer, every time. It might be five in the morning, but she was on it. There was no way he could avoid being impressed.
At length, Galt said, "After you called yesterday, Detective Bennett, I made a few inquiries about you. It seems you are quite respected in the NYPD." Diana made no response. He continued, "Your reputation has led me to reconsider. If you would like to work with me on this case, I think your work till now and your purported abilities would make you quite an asset."
My reputation. Right. My red hair, more like. But she nodded casually. "All right. I suggest we proceed by checking this woman's ID, since the previous victim had a fake one, and see if there are any correlations."
He looked at her, a bit taken aback. It was a look she had seen on the faces of more than one male colleague, and she hid her satisfied amusement.
"A good idea," he said at length, "but first I think we should"
His suggestion was cut off by one of the suits just outside the door raising his voice above the muted commotion that had been going on all along. "Sir, if you'll just wait one moment, I'll speak to the investigating officer"
"I am the investigating officer now." The deep voice was heavy with authority and, to Diana's surprise, accented. German, she decided at once.
"What is this, a freeway?" Diana muttered.
She and Galt turned to the door just as the German entered the hallway, which was getting crowded with curious neighbors, policemen, Fibbies, and now a few cowed-looking operatives who stood aside to make way for their superior. He was over six feet tall with shoulder-length dark brown hair, a jaw that was clamped tightly enough to snap a steel rod, and the most boring suit Diana had ever seen in her entire life. He marched into the room with the air of one who has just broken down a door. Diana felt her hackles rise.
The tall man gave both of them a dismissive glance from jade green eyes. "You may go," he barked. "This is a NATO investigation now."
"This is an FBI investigation," Zabdiel retorted. His posture was tense; Diana could tell that he was dreading the argument to come.
"Stop right there!" the German snapped. "It is imperative that NATO take this murderer into custody. He is wanted in eight nations."
Diana folded her arms, forcing her expression to remain calm, annoyed though she was at having to fight a second turf battle so soon. "He happens to be on American soil at the moment," she said civilly. Zabdiel stood slightly behind her, his eyes flickering between her and the German. "Though, since you seem to know so much about him, we'd be happy to hear your input."
Those jade eyes skewered her. He was intimidating, she had to give him that. But goodlooking young women didn't get to be respected police officers by knuckling under to dirty looks. She met his glare squarely.
"And you are?" the German demanded rudely.
Diana had been raised to be a lady. One of the cardinal rules was to meet rudeness with courtesy. It was a good way to put boors in their place, and had unexpected applications in her chosen field. She smiled pleasantly. "I don't believe I caught your name," she said. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Zabdiel looking at her with surprised respect.
The German glared at her for a minute before retorting gruffly, "Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach of NATO."
Von dem? That probably meant he was an aristocrat of some sort along with being an army officer. No wonder the man was insufferable. Diana would have bet her pension he was the oldest son to boot. "Detective Diana Bennett, NYPD." She glanced at Zabdiel, waiting for him to introduce himself.
Instead, Zabdiel stared at Eberbach, his expression slightly stunned. The next moment he was lying unconscious on the floor. Diana blinked down at him, startled.
Eberbach looked mildly surprised too, though more than that, he looked scornful. "My name has never gotten quite that strong a reaction before," he remarked, pleased, as he surveyed the unconscious agent.
Diana shot him a glare as she bent down to try to revive Zabdiel. She had been prepared to dislike the FBI agent, but after all, he was the home team.
One of the Fibbies elbowed his way in, looking embarrassed. "He'll be all right," the man muttered. "He has this condition... happens all the time...." The man squatted beside Zabdiel and held an open bottle under his nose. Zabdiel jerked away and looked around frantically, his gaze fixing on the German.
"Are those smelling salts?" Diana incredulously asked the Fibbie, who nodded. Zabdiel reddened.
"Perhaps you two could help him find someplace quiet to lie down while I get on with the investigation," Eberbach snapped.
Zabdiel gathered himself, standing and brushing off his clothes with a studied casual air, trying to regain his dignity and actually not doing a bad job of it. "Sorry, Major. This is a Bureau matter."
"Who are you?" the Major demanded again.
"Agent Zabdiel Galt, FBI. Your reputation precedes you, Major."
The Major's lips thinned. "As does yours." From the way Zabdiel's spine stiffened, Diana gathered that reputation was not altogether a favorable one.
Zabdiel looked at the German evenly for a moment. Then turned to one of the uniforms. "Has the bedroom been dusted for prints yet?"
Zabdiel nodded curtly and strode into the other room, leaving Diana to argue with the Major. Great backup in a turf war, she thought sourly. Some Fibbie, leaving her to deal with NATO alone.
"The FBI is not willing to give this up. The NYPD is not willing to give this up," she said after much useless growling on both sides, trying to reason with the German. "Evidently, NATO is not willing to give this up. We're going to end up having to appeal to higher authorities, and various judges and senators and ambassadors and whatnot will be called in to settle the dispute, by which time our wandering executioner will be beheading people in Zimbabwe. Or we can play together like nice kids. And this is our turf, Major."
"The entire planet is NATO's 'turf', Fraulein," the Major informed her.
"That's Detective, Mister. Now, I'm hardly an expert on NATO, but I'm pretty sure there's something about cooperating with allied nations. Last time I checked, our countries were pals."
He winced. "Just because you Yanks"
Zabdiel appeared in the doorway. "Major." Everyone turned to him, surprised at the firmness of his voice. "There is someone on the phone who wishes to speak to you. A Chief Twitterswell."
Diana noticed that the Germans peering through the door turned pale. The Major's eyes narrowed. "Went over my head, did you?"
Zabdiel seemed to be smothering a smile. "The phone's in there," he said, indicating the bedroom with an inclination of his head.
The Major stalked into the bedroom. Diana stared at Zabdiel. "You called his superior?"
Zabdiel said, "I had to get him to cooperate somehow."
"He isn't going to like you after that."
Zabdiel shrugged. "He doesn't like anybody."
For the next two minutes, rapid German of increasing volume and ire emerged into the outer room. At last they heard, "Jawohl." The sound was one of grudging agreement. A brief pause, and then another sentence of shouted German and the phone being slammed back into its cradle.
"What on earth...?" Zabdiel muttered.
"What?" Diana asked him.
"He just said, 'G fell in love with an American and quit.' What does that have to do with"
Before he could continue, the Major stormed into the room and skewered Zabdiel with another glare. "NATO's interests have no conflict with those of the FBI and the NYPD in this matter. You have our full cooperation," he snarled.
"Glad to have you aboard, Major," Diana replied before she could stop herself. His lips thinned before he spoke again.
"I shall have one of my operatives give you the file on our man, assuming you will do the same for us. How much do you have on him?"
The corners of Zabdiel's mouth twitched just slightly. "More than I'm supposed to."
To Diana's surprise, the German's glare relaxed fractionally. "I look forward to seeing it. When did this happen?"
"We'll have to wait for the lab for confirmation, but it looks like around midnight last night," Diana spoke up. She wasn't going to let the Major disregard her.
"Suspects? Have you people found anything?"
"There was a similar murder in the city a few days ago, and there is no readily apparent connection between the victims. Does NATO have a suspect?"
"We have two aliases, neither of which has been used in years. Nothing more."
"What countries has he killed in?" Zabdiel asked.
"Germany, France, and Belgium, to begin with. He seems to be fond of France."
Zabdiel nodded. "That matches my own data."
The Major looked over at the body. His eyes narrowed, and he strode toward it.
"Major! Don't touch anything!" Zabdiel's voice rang with authority. The Major's stride actually faltered a bit; probably the commanding tone had triggered associations burned into that military brain. The NATO operatives and the police all looked surprised, but the FBI agents smiled knowingly. Diana noted the smiles and filed them away for future consideration. It seemed Agent Galt had hidden strengths.
"I know better than to disturb evidence, Agent Galt," the Major conceded, sounding a bit less brusque than before. He knelt to regard the severed head. For one second, to Diana's surprise, something that resembled compassion moved across his face.
As if aware that he had appeared to be a human being for a moment, he straightened and scowled at everyone. "If you people are going to gather the physical evidence, then I suppose my work here is finished, once we've interrogated the neighbors. Provided that you will both meet with me this afternoon to exchange information."
That was far easier than Diana had expected. Either the German was a more reasonable man than he liked to appear, or else the stars were in some favorable alignment. She decided not to point out that the neighbors were already being interrogated by police and the FBI. "One o'clock?" she suggested.
The Major nodded. "Very well." He gave the address of NATO's local headquarters and instructions to give his name at the reception desk. Then he departed, his subordinates hurrying after him like frightened puppies.
When the German stomped out, the sudden relaxation in the room was palpable. Diana felt the tension ebb swiftly from her shoulders. She shook her head and exhaled noisily. "Good God."
"Yes," Zabdiel agreed.
"You say his reputation precedes him?"
Zabdiel nodded. "The KGB is terrified of him. In the intelligence community, he's known as Iron Klaus."
Diana gave a short laugh. "I can see why. What a piece of work. You know anything else about him?"
"German aristocracy, the only son of a World War II tank commander who held the rank of Colonel when he left the army. They say he can shoot a Magnum one-handed." Diana, who had used a Magnum on occasion herself, raised a respectful eyebrow. "He has the social skills of a porcupine, but he is the best at what he does. Smart, tough, and fearless."
"Yes." Zabdiel seemed to consider before adding, "He is... unmarried."
Diana thought that was an odd thing to mention. "Well, I'm not applying for the job. What do you know about these murders? How many cities has this maniac terrorized?"
Zabdiel glanced around nervously, lowering his voice. "A great deal of my information about them was acquired by highly unorthodox means, if you understand me."
Diana grinned at him, and was pleased to receive a hesitant smile in return. "Right. Well, we've got some orthodox work to do now." She knelt beside the body, her pocket tape recorder poised in her hands, and emptied her mind as she regarded the scene.
"A few bits of fluff from the carpet in the neck wound," she recited into the recorder. "Wound clean and singular a powerful singular thrust. Two small chest wounds, neither apparently fatal." She tilted her head, considering, and switched off the recorder. "Look at the sword she's holding. The other victim had a sword as well. This could be our lead we'll investigate swordplay instructors, find out where people buy swords in this day and age"
She glanced up at Zabdiel, energized, and stopped abruptly. His eyes were fixed intently on the bloody mess of the dead woman's neck, his lips slightly parted, and he was even paler than he had been before. He looked as if he were about to faint again.
He jumped slightly, his eyes focusing on her.
"Would you mind standing back so the photographer can do his work?" she asked evenly.
He swallowed, nodded, and sidled away. Diana motioned to the police photographer, hoping her expression hid her contempt. An FBI agent, and he was turning green over a corpse like a rookie. It had been years since such sights had affected her that way. Long ago she had learned to relegate compassion to her time off. On the job, she regarded blood and gory wounds and dead bodies as evidence, just like fingerprints and tire tracks. It was the only way to do the job. But apparently Agent Galt hadn't learned it yet.
And yet he had apparently acquired fairly high status in the Bureau. Resentment flared briefly in Diana's mind. If she had allowed herself to remain so squeamish, she would never have advanced as she had. A woman in law enforcement couldn't afford any weaknesses.
But she had gone over all of this many times before, and the uneven playing ground had become familiar to her. Life was unfair, and she had accepted it as such. That was all there was to it.
Once she was finished at the crime scene, Diana went back to her apartment for a real breakfast and a shower, and to water Catherine's rosebush. She also took a very short nap before Zabdiel picked her up to take her to NATO. This time she was better prepared; she decked herself out in a formal black suit not unlike Zabdiel's, with a burgundy shirt. And slacks, not a skirt. No makeup, either she rarely bothered with it. Really, all in all it was surprising that so many men found her attractive.
But it never lasted long. Not once they found out how driven she was. Not when they learned that they would always be second to her job.
When Zabdiel buzzed, she took the elevator down. He was waiting in front of the building. Diana felt vaguely surprised that he was just as goodlooking in full daylight as he had been in the bleak predawn hours. She had half expected that a second look would be disappointing. It wasn't.
He looked tense, but then, he was an FBI agent. He probably always looked tense. Even when he wasn't about to go head-to-head with a German control freak.
She didn't feel too great about it herself as she approached him. She felt just a swift flash of queasiness. Well, she hadn't gotten enough sleep. That always threw the metabolism out of whack for the day.
"I called your Captain and had you assigned to assist me for the duration of the investigation," Zabdiel said by way of greeting.
Diana masked her annoyance behind a frosty lift of her eyebrows. She could hardly complain about being assigned to a case she had fought to keep, after all. "I would have preferred to be consulted first," she said, but without any particular rancor. Zabdiel nodded his acknowledgement.
His car was an unremarkable black sedan. He drove the way he apparently did everything: nervously. Watching his knuckles whiten around the wheel every time a horn sounded, Diana resolved that in the future, she would drive. She tried to talk about the case, but Zabdiel couldn't seem to talk and drive at the same time, so she shut up until they reached a parking lot about a block from the NATO building. He parked with a sigh of relief from both of them and they got out to walk the short distance to their meeting.
As they walked, Zabdiel suddenly turned his head sharply. Diana looked, but saw nothing and no one deserving of such attention. He was always so jumpy.
"If we are going to be working together, I should warn you," Zabdiel said in a low tone. "I recently incurred the wrath of a criminal organization. I sent several of their most powerful members to prison, and ended several of their operations. They have sent people after me."
"Are you saying there's a price on your head?"
"Oh, yes. So my vicinity is probably not the safest place to be. You may wish to"
She cut him off. "I'm a cop, Zabdiel."
He nodded silently.
There was a little trouble at the reception desk; Zabdiel set off the metal detectors and refused to surrender his weapons, so his identification had to be double-checked and his superiors phoned. Even then, he might not have been admitted had the receptionist's in-house phone not rung. It was the Major, demanding to know where the "Yank investigators" were. A security guard took the phone and explained, then listened. Judging from his expression, the Major's reply was forcefully expressed. With a just-doing-my-job shrug, he waved them through.
"Why didn't you just check your weapons? This place is as safe as any," Diana asked in the elevator.
"Exactly," was all Zabdiel would say in reply.
They reached the proper floor and walked down the hall to the room number they had been given without further discussion. If Zabdiel wanted to be mysterious, she wasn't going to chatter at him. They reached the appropriate door and knocked. A blond German a few inches shorter than them opened the door, verified their IDs, and let them in.
The moment she and Zabdiel entered, it was obvious something had happened. The operatives all looked up sharply at the Americans' entrance, and visibly relaxed when they recognized them. Which led Diana to wonder who they had been expecting.
She looked around warily. The blond man who'd let them in introduced himself as Agent A; it seemed the Major's subordinates used letters to designate themselves. The Major wasn't anywhere in sight, but all the alphabetical operatives were glancing around furtively as if they expected an explosion at any instant. This new tension was far thicker than that she had witnessed that morning.
Zabdiel paused inside the doorway as well, surveying the roomful of agents silently for a moment. He glanced around furtively, ascertained that the Major was not in earshot, and asked in a low voice, "Eroica?"
The agents cringed at the word. A, looking queasy, nodded.
"What?" asked Diana, but the alphabets shook their heads violently and Zabdiel muttered, "I'll explain later."
"Please sit down," one of the Germans invited, the only woman in the room. "Agent G," she introduced herself.
Diana smiled approvingly to learn that the woman, a petite blonde, was an operative and not a secretary or something. "I thought you fell in love with an American and quit."
G looked startled, then rolled her eyes heavenward. "I suppose the Major said that? On the phone to the Chief, am I right?" At Diana's nod, G replied, "The Chief always asks about me to tease the Major. Once the Major got so mad over it he told him I was dead."
"Why does being asked about you bother him?"
"He doesn't approve of the Chief's interest in me. Conflict of interests and so on." G shrugged dismissively. "As if I would bother with that old...."
"Old superior officer," Agent A put in. G smiled demurely and said nothing more.
Diana and Zabdiel claimed seats and started pulling files out of their respective briefcases. The silence in the room was almost unbearable. How could the alphabets stand it every day?
"Miss er Detective Bennett," one of the alphabets asked timidly. Diana raised her head to look at him. He was curly-haired and pudgy and his accent very thick. "I am Agent B. I just wondered... since you are American... haff you effer been to Alaska?" he asked in a hushed voice.
"Once," she said, bewildered. "On a ski trip, when I was in college."
"What was it like?" He looked at her as if a great deal hung on her answer. His w's just barely escaped being v's.
"It's a beautiful state," Diana answered truthfully, still confused. "Cold, but beautiful. And the people are pretty nice."
"Truly?" he asked, as if begging for reassurance.
"Truly," she repeated. Glancing around, she saw that all of the alphabets were hanging on to her words. "Are you all going to Alaska soon?"
"Not if we are lucky," Agent A muttered, not looking optimistic. Before Diana could ask for elucidation, heavy footsteps sounded in the hallway, and the alphabets all snapped to attention. Feeling foolish, Diana rose, and Zabdiel followed suit.
The Major threw the door open and glared around the room as if looking for something. Not finding it, he barked at the Americans, "Right. Let's get on with it."
Agent A had the files ready to put into the Major's hand the moment he demanded them. The Major spent the next hour reviewing them with Diana and Zabdiel, until each of them had shared the bulk of their knowledge.
Which, when you boiled it down, was that the killer committed his crimes all over the world and had been for several years. There were a few vague descriptions, but nothing likely to be of real help. There was no discernible pattern between the victims, though Diana noticed that quite a few of them had been using assumed identities. When she suggested organized crime or espionage, the two men seemed unimpressed. "We have gone that route," the Major growled. Zabdiel nodded in agreement.
Unsatisfied, Diana was only able to repeat her idea of investigating swords and swordplay. The pursuit was unusual enough in this day and age that it should bear fruit.
The others were conceding that it was a good idea when the door swung open. Diana saw the collective cringe of the alphabets before she turned to see who had entered.
Posing in the doorway as if it were a frame designed especially for him was a man every bit as absurdly goodlooking as Zabdiel. He was quite tall, and his curling golden hair fell well past his shoulders. His skin was as clear as Zabdiel's, but had a healthy flush from the cold outside rather than Zabdiel's almost ghostly pallor. His cheekbones were high, his chin almost sharp, not cleft as Zabdiel's was, and the planes of his face sculpted.
Zabdiel seemed almost unaware of his own beauty and dressed as simply as a monk, the shield ring on his right forefinger his sole ornament, but this man played up his natural looks with an outfit that had Diana momentarily wondering if he was a singing telegram. The ankle-length white mink was amazing enough. The hat that went with it, too. But the mink fell open to reveal what looked like a really first-rate pasha costume. The high-buttoned shirt of narrow apple-green and yellow stripes was tucked into a wide sash of purple silk embroidered with gold thread. Diana suspected that people had gone blind doing the stitching on the man's pale green vest. Gold hoops swung from his ears, gold bangles adorned his wrists, rings with large stones weighted down his slender fingers, and a rope of emeralds circled his neck. The pasha effect was somehow not diminished by the mink, but it was by the pants; Diana was sure that pashas did not paint their trousers on. But then, if pashas had legs like those, they probably would.
The atmosphere in the room had changed palpably. Everyone seemed to be waiting for an explosion. The newcomer looked around, almost preening, clearly enjoying being the center of attention. He ignored the three sitting at the table so completely that it had to be deliberate. Instead he turned a dazzling smile on the cowering alphabets.
"Z!" he said to an earnest-looking young man with a mane of shaggy yellow hair. "I can recommend an excellent hairdresser here in New York. He's handsome, too. You really do need a trim." The accent was English and aristocratic and drawling. Removing his fur with careless elegance, he draped it over the pudgy operative. "B. You look as if you've lost a few pounds."
"D-danke, Lord Gloria," B stammered.
All the agents cringed as Lord Gloria's blue-eyed gaze danced over them. Diana glanced at the Major, wondering why he hadn't put a stop to the display.
The Major's jade eyes were blazing, fixed on the Englishman with frightening intensity. His cigarette was clutched forgotten in one white-knuckled hand. His jaw was clamped like a steel trap.
Zabdiel was not looking at the Major. Like the alphabets, he looked as if he wished he were on some other, more peaceful continent.
Diana turned her attention back to the Englishman who had only to stroll into a room and utter pleasantries to petrify a room full of strong men who lived for danger. He was leaning over the elfin G now. "G. Darling. You were born to wear Louis Feraud suits." G giggled flirtatiously. Abruptly, the Englishman turned to Diana and let her have it with the 100-watt smile. "And who might you be, my good woman?"
It took Diana a moment to reply. "Detective Diana Bennett. NYPD."
He tossed his hair like he was in a shampoo commercial. "A lady gumshoe. How thrilling. And that color is fabulous more redheads should wear burgundy."
Diana grinned. Sometimes she thought that gay men were the only ones women could really get along with their intentions were guaranteed to be honorable, and they always complimented your clothes. "And you are?"
"Dorian Red, Earl of Gloria."
"Mr. Red," she acknowledged, shaking his hand. He looked as if it were the funniest thing he had heard in years. Well, maybe you weren't supposed to call Earls "Mister", but she was an American, after all.
The Major spoke up at last. "Women adore you, Eroica. Why don't you marry one of them?" As he spoke, his eyes roved up and down the Englishman's form.
The Earl looked at the Major for the first time. He actually fluttered his lashes. "Why don't you, darling?"
It seemed that the Major did not have an answer for this. He settled for fuming in silence.
Lord Gloria next turned his attention to Zabdiel. His appreciative and unmistakable survey of the FBI agent had Diana revising her theory about getting along with gay men. And the Major's eyes went from blazing to volcanic.
After looking Zabdiel up and down with undisguised approval, Lord Gloria murmured, "And who might you be?"
Zabdiel looked as if he were about to faint again. He gulped some of the now-tepid instant coffee one of the alphabets had set in front of him half an hour ago. "Er. Um. Agent Zabdiel Galt. FBI."
"Good heavens." Lord Gloria started twining one of his long curls around a finger and smiled coyly at a mortified Zabdiel. "I just might have to take my skills away from NATO and start contracting for the FBI instead."
The Major's face was very red now. "At least leave the bloody colonials out of your perversions!" he yelled, his accent getting stronger with every word. "We have not contracted your services, Eroica! If we have any use for you, A will contact you." A looked distinctly unhappy to hear it.
"Of course," the Earl agreed, composed. "Why don't you let me take you to dinner tonight, Major? I know a lovely"
"IDIOT!" Even Diana couldn't help jumping at the Major's yell. Only the Earl remained apparently calm. "I have important work to do, Eroica! Now get out of here and let me do it!"
"Of course, darling. You know where to find me if you... need me." He winked as he sauntered back to B. Diana didn't think she would have had the nerve to do it. The Earl waited for B to help him on with his coat, and B, red-faced, did so. The Major's eyes remained fastened on the Englishman until the door was closed behind him.
The Earl departed, and so did the oppressive tension in the room. Diana and Zabdiel spent another hour going over the scant information about their quarry with a sulking Major. Diana was relieved to escape into the biting wind of the New York streets.
"So," she said as she slid behind the wheel of Zabdiel's car, having easily coaxed him to surrender the keys, "who does The Man In The Iron Closet think he's kidding?"
"You want to say that to his face?"
"No," she admitted. "Too bad. He's depriving himself and it isn't even doing any good everyone can tell anyway. But I guess if he's in NATO, he'd get kicked out if he"
"Never. With his ability and reputation, no number of indiscretions could oust him. But perhaps he doesn't realize that. And everyone's afraid to tell him that, too."
"So who is this Earl guy?"
"Mr. Red," Zabdiel repeated, his lips quirking. "I cannot believe you called him that."
"I don't think I could call anybody Lord Anything with a straight face. What was all that about contracting?"
"He is a professional thief. NATO contracts him to steal microfilm and whatnot for them."
Diana glanced away from the traffic for a second to stare at Zabdiel. "Wait a minute. 'Eroica' he's the Eroica? The art thief? Wanted in twenty countries?"
"And we didn't arrest him because?" Diana demanded.
Zabdiel snorted. "You arrest Iron Klaus's one true love. I like my teeth where they are."
She slowly shook her head in wonder. "Is that why he's still at large? Because everyone's too afraid of Major Eberbach?"
"It's one of the reasons. His work for NATO also grants him a certain immunity, and so does his title." Zabdiel hesitated. "Why don't we spend the evening forming a strategy? Have dinner and then get to work?"
Well, she had received more transparent invitations over the years. "Sure. What kind of food do you like?"
"The kind that I do not have to cook."
"There's a Chinese takeout joint on the way. We'll stop there."
A couple of co-eds got behind them in line at the Chinese restaurant, both giggling over anything and everything. When Diana opened her wallet to pay, the girls caught a glimpse of her badge.
"I smell bacon!" the prettier one, a strawberry blonde, announced in a stage whisper.
"Audrey Anne!" the other chided, embarrassed.
Diana ignored them save for a disdainful twitch of the mouth. Zabdiel smiled, amused. "Cute girl," he remarked as they walked back to the car.
They took the food to his place, a furnished corporate apartment, the kind of place that late twentieth century nomads tended to live in. The only personal touch was the books, which were piled everywhere.
Diana and Zabdiel had scarcely opened their little cartons before they were absorbed in discussing the minutiae of the case. The kind of tiny details that most people, even many detectives, found boring. Other detectives might attend them, but only as a matter of duty; Diana found them fascinating in themselves. She had found very few others who did, who could talk about them for hours on end. Zabdiel could.
A short time after they had finished their meal, they were still deep in conversation. Zabdiel absently produced a cardboard disk from one of his pockets and began to spin it. On one side was painted a bird, on the other a cage, and when it was spun it gave the illusion that the bird was inside the cage.
"I had one of those when I was a kid," Diana remarked.
He looked at her blankly for a minute, then looked at the spinning disk toy as if he were surprised to find it in his hands. "A thaumatrope? My mother stepmother, actually, but the only mother I ever knew gave me one when I was small. After she died, I held on to it until it fell apart."
"And bought a new one."
Zabdiel shrugged. "It has long been a habit of mine. Spinning these helps me to think." He handed it to her in a show of mild playfulness that she found a bit surprising. "Try it."
She smiled, took the strings and gave it a spin.
It was midnight the next time she looked at the clock.
Zabdiel broke off midsentence. "Pardon. I had no idea it was so late. It was too much of a pleasure to speak to... a like mind."
Diana found herself smiling. "It was. But we'd better get some sleep."
He hesitated. "It's late. Would you prefer to stay here? That is, I will sleep on the couch, and you"
She shook her head. "Thanks, but I'd better go home. What time shall we meet tomorrow?"
"We both need to catch up on some sleep. Ten?" She nodded agreement. "Please, be very careful on your way home, Detective."
She laughed a bit. "Agent Galt, I've lived in New York City all of my life. And remember, I'm a cop."
He was frowning at her, not irritated, but troubled. "I have not forgotten. It is only... this man we are seeking is tremendously dangerous. In time, he will come after you."
You know more than you're telling me, Diana thought, but now did not seem to be the best time to press him.
Besides, she had someone to meet.
Vincent's greeting embrace was, as always, comforting... and entirely brotherly. She let her head rest on his shoulder for a long minute before they went in to see Jacob. The child was sleeping soundly, trusting and safe in a universe populated solely with people who loved him. Realizing abruptly how close he had come to an entirely different sort of life, Diana shivered and moved unconsciously closer to Vincent.
Vincent put a powerful, comforting arm around her shoulders, turning his attention to her. He did not ask any questions, just waited with what seemed to be infinite patience until she was ready to speak, or not to speak.
She studied him, contemplating his reassuring presence, his serenity. He offered this to everyone, not only to her and Jacob. She admired his endless patience with the child, and the deep, unconditional love for him. She could not imagine giving her life so completely to a child... which was why she had never had one.
Nor had she ever been able to give enough of herself to anyone to marry. A few years ago, she had begun to wonder if she was simply cold, if she was incapable of feeling deeply for any man.
That was, until Vincent. There had been no denying how deeply he had affected her. Had it been the sheer uniqueness of the man? Or a result of her wistful envy of Catherine, Catherine who had everything? Beauty, wealth, a successful career, the perfect man . But Fate, always so jealous of its gifts, had not let her enjoy it for long.
Whatever the case, Vincent had gotten to Diana. And for a time, she had hoped but she had to realize, in time, that after Catherine there simply was no room for another woman in his heart. He had loved Catherine too completely, too deeply. As she had come to see the stunning purity and even sanctity of his love for Catherine, she had actually felt guilty for having wanted to steal it for herself.
And in time her infatuation, of necessity, had faded, leaving only two things: a deep and abiding friendship for this extraordinary man which she knew would last for always, and a slender thread of sadness for her own aloneness.
She inclined her head to the doorway, and they walked out quietly, careful not to disturb the sleeping child. They went together to Vincent's chamber, a humble place that yet managed to seem like a retreat for a fairy-tale prince, or perhaps an alchemist.
They sat, and Diana told him all about the new murder, Agent Galt, Major Eberbach, and Eroica. He listened in his usual utterly attentive way, as if the entire universe temporarily consisted entirely of what was being said.
"Do you think these men can find the killer?" he asked at last.
Diana considered. "They are all very good at what they do. And I'm sure that Agent Galt knows more than he lets on he may have an ace up his sleeve."
"How can you be certain?"
"I can't. But well, sometimes he suddenly gets evasive. When he's quiet, he looks like he wants to say more. It's a dead giveaway. But what he knows might not be enough to catch the murderer."
"If I could come forward" Vincent broke off, spreading his hands helplessly, glancing down at himself. Diana understood. If the authorities knew that Vincent existed, there was no telling what they might decide needed to be done about him.
"That's why I'm here. I have an idea. Do you still have the sword?" When Vincent nodded, she said, "Leave it in a place where it won't be easily found. Then, we'll have someone call in an anonymous tip. He can tell the police what you witnessed and where to find the sword. That way I can share your knowledge with my colleagues."
"Why don't I make the call myself?" Vincent suggested.
"No. Your voice is too distinctive. Let's get another of the tunnel dwellers to do it."
Eventually they chose Paul, a seventeen-year-old boy, Tunnel-raised, who thought the idea of giving information to the police an exciting one. The three of them set out for a pay phone not too close to any Tunnel entrances, making a detour to stash the sword in a vacant building, and Vincent kept watch while Diana dialed the number and handed Paul the phone.
Paul did a stellar job of it. He sounded convincingly terrified as he refused to give his name or location, stammered out the version Vincent had given him of the description of the attempted murder, and finished with the new location of the sword. He grinned at them as he hung up. "How was that?" he demanded.
"Excellent," Diana said, quite honestly. "Thank you." She turned to Vincent with a smile. "I'd better get home. I want to be there when they call me about the anonymous tip."
"Will they just believe me?" Paul asked doubtfully.
"No. But they're required to check it out, and when the sword really is where you said it would be, they'll take your information a bit more seriously. It won't be admissible in court, but it could help us find a suspect." She clapped him on the shoulder. "Good job."
"Come back with me through the Tunnels to the entrance closest to your home," Vincent urged.
"It isn't necessary" Diana began.
"Please," Vincent added gently, and Diana capitulated. Maybe if she had ever been so obliging to any of her boyfriends, they might have lasted longer. Perhaps the only reason she could be so with Vincent was that she knew he would never be more than a brother to her.
They returned to the Tunnels, and Paul left them in order to brag to his friends about his recent adventure. Diana and Vincent began the leisurely walk to her home.
"Tell me about this Agent Galt," Vincent prompted.
Diana considered. "He's something of a puzzle."
"Why is that?"
"He's well, frankly, he's a wimp. Afraid of his own shadow. He actually fainted at a crime scene! And he's squeamish. And not even good at hiding either."
"He's brilliant. You just know that in school he was one of those geeks who made straight A's and got their lunch money stolen. He seems to be as much of a workaholic as I am." She lapsed into silence.
"And what else?"
She shrugged. "He's goodlooking," she admitted, and playfully punched Vincent's arm when she saw his eyes crinkle.
"I discovered something in my books last night," Vincent confided.
"Tell me." Diana had not especially cared for poetry in the past, with a few exceptions, but the warm gravel of Vincent's voice was a joy in itself. And he had acquired an almost unerring instinct for poems that spoke to her.
"The title is 'Hero-Worship'. The author is Amy Lowell," Vincent explained before beginning to recite from memory.
A face seen passing in a crowded street,
A face seen passing in a crowded street,
She drew a deep breath. She did not have to say anything; he knew what the words had meant to her. They walked in silence for a time.
After a bit, she said, "You were very insistent about seeing me home."
Vincent nodded. A subtle change in his leonine face displayed concern. "Zabdiel Galt is right, Diana; you are in danger."
"You sense that?"
Vincent nodded slowly. "I have been staying close to you, Diana. I cannot explain it, but something very powerful is at work here. The time ahead will be a quest and a journey for you."
Diana nodded silently. When they neared the exit, she stopped and clasped his coarse-haired hand. "Thank you, Vincent."
The "anonymous tip" paid off. The sword was found, and not only were there fingerprints matching those found at various crime scenes in both America and Europe, but the sword itself was quite interesting. It turned out to be an antique, a relic of eighteenth-century France, apparently the property of an aristocrat. There was no record of such a sword having been bought or stolen from any museum or private collection, but Diana supposed that Europe was full of uncatalogued antiques of the sort America was too young to have accumulated.
To her disappointment, the anonymous description of the murderer meant nothing to either the FBI or NATO. Though she did note that Zabdiel did not seem impressed with it, even as he meticulously noted it down.
As if he had already known what the man looked and sounded like.
"Would you care to continue working this evening?" Zabdiel asked as the afternoon waned. They were driving back from the look Zabdiel had insisted on taking at the site where the "anonymous" sword had been left. Diana had smoothly suggested taking her car, and Zabdiel had not protested. Scott and another uniformed officer had accompanied them in a black-and-white.
Diana did not take her eyes from the road. "I don't know." She wanted to, but there was never any telling what a man would take as encouragement.
"Perhaps you should get some rest," he conceded.
"We still haven't found any connection between the victims," she said abruptly. "Except that a few of them had fake ID."
Zabdiel nodded. "I called Eroica, behind the Major's back, and asked if any of the victims had connections to criminal organizations."
"Eroica would know?"
"He has links to every criminal organization on the planet. There's a story that a Roman mafia don is in love with him and got him out of prison once, but I don't know if that's true. So yes, he probably would know; his information in that sphere is more complete than ours. But he said he had never heard of any of them."
Diana glanced in the rearview mirror. Scott's patrol car was now a block behind them; New York drivers were no respecters of persons. "Do you believe him?"
"Yes." His voice was flat and undoubting.
Diana gave him an arch look. "Are you always so sure of everything?"
The words seemed to strike a chord. He stared at her, speechless.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insult you, you just ."
"It wasn't that. It was only someone else said that to me once."
"So you think Eroica's word on this can be trusted."
Zabdiel considered. "The Earl is completely self-serving well, he is a thief, after all but I doubt he would help to conceal a murderer. From everything I have heard about him, he has no malice in him. He frequently knocks out the guards in the museums he robs with a soporific gas we've been trying to duplicate for years, so that he won't have to risk hurting them in self-defense."
Diana snorted. "Nice guy."
"As criminals go, yes."
"Well, maybe the Major will reform him one of these days. So, what connects the victims? Something has to."
Zabdiel's inky brows drew together as he opened his battered notebook and scanned the latest pages, even though he had to know their contents by heart. Diana had noticed that he had beautiful handwriting, old-fashioned and elegant. "In my office there are reams of charts diagramming every available fact about the victims. No patterns have emerged."
Diana shook her head. "There has to be something."
"Why are you so certain? There are madmen who choose their victims at random."
"If all you're willing to see is what you've seen before, you're gonna miss half of what's going on," Diana argued. "If we haven't found a pattern, we just haven't looked at it right yet."
Zabdiel nodded slowly, reflectively.
The heat was on, and the car was growing warm. At a stoplight, Diana unbuttoned her coat and pulled it open a bit. Beneath it was a St. Louis Cardinals sweatshirt she hadn't dressed up today. Zabdiel glanced at her, then looked at the red bird on the shirt for a minute.
"Are you a baseball fan, or did you just like the shirt?" he asked.
Diana grinned as she turned onto a sleepy one-way street. "Oh, I'm all about the Cards. The Cardinals are my favorite team. You?"
He smiled slightly. "I have never followed sports. But I have always liked cardinals the birds, I mean."
Diana was about to say something else when a huge black Cadillac with tinted windows entered the street, heading the wrong way, and lumbered straight at them. Diana slammed on the brakes. The Cadillac rolled slowly closer, ominous and silent as a shark.
Diana swiftly drew her Beretta and checked it. "Friends of yours?"
Zabdiel had also produced a gun. "Indeed. Get down where they cannot see you. If you do not witness my execution, you will not qualify as a witness and they may allow you to live." With that, he opened the door and stepped right out of the car.
"Zabdiel!" she yelled in disbelief. She quickly rolled the car a few feet forward, angling it to shield him. Then she put it in park and crouched down in the shelter of the car's door, peering warily at the other car. Then she glanced over at Zabdiel.
His eyes were wide with fear and his jaw was set in determination. She could see the movement of his throat as he swallowed, bracing himself. His gun seemed to offer him no reassurance, but he held it ready as he waited.
"Stay down!" he ordered. "They are here for me."
You could have hidden behind the car, she thought. You could have made a run for it.
The door of the Cadillac opened. Diana held her breath.
The sound of a car behind her forced her to dart a glance over her shoulder.
God, blue lights were a beautiful sight.
It was Scott in his patrol car, following her back to the station, walking in on what could have been a very ugly situation.
The door to the Cadillac closed. The car swiftly backed out of the side street and roared off.
"Follow them!" Zabdiel cried, throwing himself back into the passenger seat. Diana complied. As soon as they were on the road she let Scott pass her, blue lights flashing and siren howling in hot pursuit.
Which swiftly, as she learned from the police band radio she switched on, turned to lukewarm pursuit. Their quarry had eluded them.
"We lost 'em," she told Zabdiel with resignation. He nodded.
"You okay? You need a drink?"
"I do not drink." He looked down at his hands. Which were trembling.
"Relax. We'll be back at the station in a few minutes. You'll be safe there, unless Eroica decides he likes black eyes better than green."
Zabdiel managed a short, shaky laugh. "I am not worried. I am sure he was only trying to get a rise out of Major Eberbach."
She nodded. "It worked."
"Getting a rise out of Major Eberbach is not difficult," Zabdiel pointed out, his voice still strained.
"No." She drove in silence for a few minutes before saying, "Look, the people who are after you know where you are now. Maybe you should leave New York."
"I will go when I have done what I came to do," Zabdiel retorted. "Would you run away from your work because of danger?"
"Of course not. I'm a cop."
"So am I. Well, in a manner of speaking."
But you're a coward, she thought but did not say aloud.
A coward who was staying right there and doing his job. And putting himself in the bad books of murderers left and right.
"Do you wish to continue working this evening?" he asked abruptly.
"Don't you need some rest after that?"
"After the attempt on your life."
He shrugged, though he seemed no less nervous. "There are always attempts on my life."
She considered for a minute. "I have to stop by home for a bit, but after that, certainly."
Now what have you gotten yourself into, Bennett?
Zabdiel was bent over his desk in his apartment, going over sheaves of flight lists, when he felt it. Swiftly he rose, seized his weapon, and advanced toward the door cautiously. He peered through the window before opening the door with relief.
"Methos. What are you doing here?"
Entering, Methos sauntered to the icebox and opened it as if he owned it. "Don't you have any beer?"
"Methos," Zabdiel said with elaborate patience, "How many years have you known me? And in that time, how often have I had beer?"
"I keep hoping you'll learn, Ichabod," he replied as he closed the door.
"Zabdiel," the younger man corrected. "It's Zabdiel Galt right now. Remember that. Shouldn't you be heading for the hills about now? You must know there's a headhunter in the city."
"I'm leaving tomorrow, Zabdiel. And remember that right now I'm Adam, not Methos. I just thought I'd drop by and see if I could prevail on you to leave with me."
"You know I won't. Besides, I have another reason for staying."
Methos' attention was promptly riveted. "Yes?"
Zabdiel hesitated. "One of the detectives investigating the murders ."
"Oh, Gods. Did you really have to bring a cop into this?"
Zabdiel's reply was carefully patient. "Need I remind you that I am a cop?"
"It's different and you know it. Why are you letting him in?"
"You'll understand when you meet her."
"Her? Don't tell me you suddenly remembered why there are two sexes."
Before Zabdiel could reply, both men froze and looked alertly to the door. A moment later, a knock sounded.
Zabdiel peered through the peephole first before opening it to admit Diana. When she entered, shaking the snow off her copper hair, he said, "Diana, meet Adam Pierson. Adam, Detective Diana Bennett."
Adam's eyes were wide as he looked her over. "I see," he said. Giving Zabdiel a small, sly smile, he said, "A cop, and a redhead, and-"
"Adam," Zabdiel said warningly. His face was now as red as Diana's hair.
The other man's eyebrows lifted a notch, but he continued playfully. "Looks like you've hit the jackpot. Do you enjoy a challenge, Detective Bennett? See if you can make Zabdiel forget his vow of chastity."
During this recital, Diana concentrated on hanging up her coat and wiping her boots on the mat with an air of disregard. Why, she wondered, was she meeting so many odd people these days?
Zabdiel looked as if he wished the floor would swallow him up. "Don't you have a plane to catch, Adam? I hear Paris is lovely this time of year."
"Paris is always lovely. But MacLeod's there right now, and he's an even worse trouble magnet than you are. Nah, I'm going someplace tropical."
"Do you know something about these murders?" Diana asked.
"No more than Zab does."
"Can you help us?"
"Nah. Bad guys are Zab's department. He's the hero. I'm just a guy."
Zabdiel spoke up in a strained voice. "Adam I heard a rumor that beer is now sold in stores. Go investigate."
With a lazily lopsided grin, the other man sauntered to the door. Zabdiel said to his departing back, "You driving?"
"Mm." The man gave a single nod.
"Then don't forget to put on a hat, and turn on your blinkers."
"No age jokes," he replied laconically as he went through the door.
Diana watched him go, then looked to Zabdiel quizzically. "Friend of yours?"
"We've been through a lot together," Zabdiel said irritably. "His hobby is driving his friends up the wall."
"He seems good at it."
"He has had a great deal of practice."
"So what did he mean by a vow of chastity?"
Zabdiel kept his eyes on his notebook. "Just that there have not been many women in my life," he said. "Which he finds strange, because he has been married dozens of times. But then, he does not have anything better to do."
Diana sat down. "Do you mind if I ask why?" When Zabdiel did not reply right away, she added, "If I'm prying, say so and I'll drop it."
He glanced at her quickly, then away. "I suppose it is because I have always been a workaholic."
Diana lifted an eyebrow. "Almost every boyfriend I've ever had has dumped me for being a workaholic." She tried to stop the smile that twitched the corners of her mouth, but couldn't. "So have your exceptions really been redheads?"
Zabdiel was turning new shades of pink now. "He was only teasing you. Though one of the three was."
"Three! Is that all?"
He looked exasperated. "Is it really so difficult to understand that I have not spent my life chasing everything in a skirt that walked by?"
"Sorry." Trying to lighten the mood, she changed the subject. "So who's MacLeod?"
"Mutual friend. You will meet him sometime. You will like him better than Adam. Well, I do, at least."
"What did Adam mean about him being a trouble magnet?"
"Well, there is some truth to it. MacLeod has a certain notoriety in certain quarters, and this does attract all sorts of characters."
After a long minute, Diana asked, "Do you always speak in riddles?"
He met her eyes unwillingly. She held his gaze steadily. There was far too much disquiet in that look.
Maybe if she told him about what Vincent had seen . Some chances were worth taking.
She drew a deep breath.
"Agent Galt. Has anything ever happened to you that was so different, so unusual, that it just changed everything? I mean everything! The way people's faces look when you pass by on the street, the way you feel when you wake up in the morning, the things you dream at night."
He looked stricken, as if her words held special significance for him. "Yes," he said after a moment. "More than you can realize." His brows knit at last, and he drew a deep breath. "Diana, there is a great deal I have to tell you"
He broke off abruptly, his eyes widening with horror. Following his gaze, Diana saw a spider. A fairly big one, but just a writing spider, not poisonous at all.
Agent Galt seemed rooted to the spot. Trying to conceal her impatience, Diana slowly got up, walked over to the critter, and coaxed it onto one of the manila folders lying on the desk. She took the folder outside and shook the spider off, letting it scurry off in search of a new home.
Well, that German Major probably would have shot the poor thing.
But the arachnid incident broke the tenuous rapport they had built that evening. Neither of them was able to proceed with outrageous confidences. Diana left a short time later, no more knowledgeable than she had been when she arrived.
Diana groaned when the phone rang. She forced her eyes open and squinted at the clock. 6:03 am. Was she ever going to get a decent night's sleep again?
Sure. When you retire, she reminded herself as she reached for the phone. "Bennett here." Her voice was scratchy, but clear enough, she was pleased to find.
"Detective Bennett, this is Agent G. Of NATO. I apologize for disturbing you so early, but could you possibly come to the police station?" G's accent was stronger than it had been before, and her sentences more halting. Well, Diana couldn't blame her; it was way too early in the morning to be speaking a foreign language.
"What's going on?" she asked, sitting up.
"The sword has been stolen."
"Stolen? From the police station? How could anyone" She stopped, trying to imagine who on the force could have done such a thing, and why.
"Eroica can steal anything," G replied, with an unmistakable note of admiration in her voice.
"What makes you think it was Eroica?" Diana asked dubiously. She suspected that certain NATO Majors blamed Eroica for virtually everything.
"He left his calling card."
"And my boyfriends say I have a dull life. I'll be right over."
She hung up and took the time to dress properly before leaving her apartment. She usually showered last thing at night, in anticipation of just such mornings as these. Outside, she discovered that this day was shaping up true to form it had started to snow. Soon the streets would be covered with slippery, filthy, slushy New York snow. Goody.
A harried Agent A greeted her at the entrance for a short conference in the outer room. "Thank you for coming, Detective. Let me warn you the Major is livid, even for him."
Diana laughed. "If need be, we'll get out the fire hoses and turn them on him." A looked so appalled at this that she quickly changed the subject. "G said that Eroica left his calling card?"
"Yes. The cards are lavender; they have a rose on one side and the words 'From Eroica With Love' on the other. It is his vanity to leave them at the scenes of his crimes, sometimes. It is a game to him at times he notifies museums that he is going to rob them on a certain night, just to see them try to prepare, and then he finds some way around all their precautions."
"And he succeeds?"
"In his entire career, he has only been arrested once. In Rome. And that was, quite frankly, our fault." He paled suddenly. "But do not tell the Major I said that."
"Of course not. Now, G called me, but she didn't say if you've"
"Agent G. I didn't ask her"
A looked embarrassed. "Agent G is a man."
Diana stared. "You yankin' my crank?"
"I beg your pardon?" He looked shocked. Diana decided not to speculate on what he thought the expression meant.
"Are you joking?"
"Germans do not joke," he said wryly. "Just ask the Major. And yes, Agent G really is a man."
"NATO allows...." Diana tried to find something tactful to say.
"Agent G is a capable operative," A informed her defensively. "And there are times when his ability to pass for a woman is quite useful. But what were you going to ask?"
Diana blinked, trying to recover the thread of the conversation. "Um. If you had checked the Earl's hotel for him well, I'm sure you did, so was there any clue to his whereabouts?"
"Of course we checked, and no, there was no indication. But he will show up before long."
"How do you know?"
A winced. "He will offer to return the sword to the Major, but he will be difficult about it. As I said, it is a game."
Diana sighed. "We don't really need the sword anymore. We've learned what we could from it."
"Tell the Major that," A suggested. "Shall we go in now?"
When they were a few feet from the evidence vault, a now-familiar baritone roared, "ANYONE WHO OBJECTS WILL BE SENT TO ALASKA!"
So that's why the alphabets had asked.
It was just as bad as A had warned. The Major was having an utter tantrum. He was berating the security guards and the Captain for letting a thief get into police evidence, a puffy-eyed Zabdiel for being a citizen of a sloppy and arrogant nation, and his alphabets for no reason that she was able to discern. The normal flow of work had been demolished, and the usual security procedures for entry derailed, as those responsible for implementing them were busy being castigated. A KGB agent could have strolled in and helped himself to coffee.
The Major had an impressive command of English profanity, Diana noted, but frequently found no English vilification sufficient for his purposes and fell back on German. German was a good language to swear in, she decided, with all those satisfyingly hard consonants and bitten-off syllables. She covertly examined G and could find no visible signs of her his maleness. It was really quite remarkable.
"Detective Bennett!" the Major exclaimed, catching sight of her. "How can you work with these people? These incompetent idiots? These" He continued in that vein, having evidently designated her as the sole individual capable of comprehending the extent of his difficulties. Diana was unclear as to why she had been cast in that role, but she listened obligingly, not bothering to try to argue with him.
The Captain wasn't quite so prudent, nor was Zabdiel. Every few sentences they would break in and try to reason with the Major. Attempts at reason soon gave way to threats to report him to NATO or to the German Embassy.
And my sister wonders why I don't want children, Diana thought as she listened to the escalating bickering in silence.
Scott averted an international incident by walking in silently and handing a folded newspaper to Diana. She looked at the article he pointed at, patted his shoulder in wordless thanks, and walked up to the Major. She held the newspaper six inches in front of his face.
"What the hell are you" He shut up, stared for a second, snatched the paper away and read it. Then he looked up at the captain, furious again. "You bloody idiot Yanks! You let the papers hear about this?"
Zabdiel and the Captain each made a grab for the paper. The Captain got it, and Zabdiel craned his neck to read it. The Major paced back and forth in seething silence; apparently this new wrinkle was so dire that words were insufficient to condemn it.
The article was about the antique French sword which had been stolen right out of police headquarters by the notorious art thief Eroica.
"None of our people would have leaked this," the Captain said with emphasis. "For one thing, I didn't give authorization. For another, the papers go out at five in the morning, and the theft was discovered at five thirty. There was no way this... could have gotten into the paper." The Captain's voice dropped its defensiveness for puzzlement.
"Damned idiot Yanks!" the Major repeated. He was going to say more, but another voice interrupted him.
"Actually, the information was relayed by a damned idiot Limey."
All heads turned. Perched cheerfully atop one of the tall metal cabinets was Eroica. Wearing a skintight black catsuit that made Diana look twice and a third time even if the man was gay he was all long legs and firm, toned muscles. His wild golden curls tumbled loose.
Eroica gave Diana a cheerful smile, swinging his legs. "Good morning, Detective. Hunter's green suits you. But you ought to do something about the north door to this dreary room; it really wasn't very difficult to break into." He patted the side of the cabinet. "I took the liberty of making myself comfortable in here for the last hour or so. Don't worry, it was empty to begin with. I didn't tamper with anything but the sword. Didn't want to put the brave lads in blue to too much trouble."
Everyone stared at him in stunned silence. Diana had to hand it to him; for a known felon to present himself in the middle of a police station took moxie.
No wonder he got under the Major's skin.
"Get down here," the Major ordered, his voice low and dangerous. Eroica hopped down at once, light as a ballet dancer. He looked the Major over and gave a theatrical little wince.
"Officer," he appealed to her, "isn't there some sort of ordinance against ties like that?" He indicated the Major's tie, pea-green with infrequent yellow-edged red stripes. "Can't you arrest him, or at least confiscate it and fine him?"
"Not in this district," Diana said gravely. "But there are those of us who are working towards it." The Captain's reproving glance forced her to swallow her smile.
Zabdiel stepped forward, with an air of steeling himself. "Lord Gloria. Where is the sword?"
Eroica fluttered his lashes at Zabdiel. The sight irritated Diana, though not as much as it did the Major. "In a safe place."
The Major seized Eroica's arm. "Verdammt! How many times do I have to tell you not to interfere with my missions, you perverted thief?"
No doubt envisioning a hellishly convoluted suit over police brutality, the Captain looked at Scott and jerked his head at the Earl. "Book him."
"Yes, sir." But when Scott moved towards Eroica, the Major put himself between them and glared at Scott fiercely.
"Eroica is a NATO contractor. He enjoys our protection when he is working for us."
"You just said he wasn't working for you, Major," the Captain retorted. Scott wisely kept still.
"The Earl also has a seat in the House of Lords. He is a Peer of the Realm. Harassing him could result in an international incident," the Major warned ominously. Eroica was watching him with unconcealed delight.
"Harassing him? I don't care if he's the Lord of the effing Rings, he"
"Captain," Diana interrupted desperately, "perhaps we could discuss this in one of the interrogation rooms. You, me, the Earl, the Major, and Agent Galt."
The Captain could see that Diana had something important to convey. He cooperated with her suggestion, only griping a little for form's sake. Uniforms were assigned to secure the evidence room, especially the north door, alphabets and FBI underlings were told to run along and get underfoot someplace else, and the five remaining players shut themselves up in a barren room containing only a long, narrow table and a lot of uncomfortable chairs. The Major gripped the Earl's arm while they were in the hall on the way to the room and kept himself in between the Earl and the rest of them, though he compensated by looking daggers at said Earl.
Before anyone else could speak, the Earl threw himself into one of the chairs with a martyred sigh. "The thanks I get for trying to help NATO."
"Help?!? By stealing evidence and making the police force a laughingstock by reporting it in the stinking newspaper? How in God's name is that" The Major broke off. The Earl was examining the ceiling, looking elaborately bored, lightly drumming the fingers of one elegant hand. The Major seized his arm again, ignoring the wince which was probably at least half staged, and raised a menacing fist. "Answer me, you damned"
The commanding tone came, once more, from Zabdiel. And once more, all were too taken aback to do more than gape. Even the Captain, who had been opening his mouth to lodge his own protest.
White-faced but determined, Zabdiel announced, "The accused have rights in America, Major. We solve crimes with our brains here."
Jade eyes blazed at him. Diana winced mentally. A dig at Eberbach's nation was unwise. Why did men think that the way to put out a fire was to pour gasoline on it? Still, she had ammunition of her own.
"Any unnecessary violence, Major, and I will have to file charges on you," she said quietly. "Do you want to have to explain that to your superiors?"
This time she got the benefit of that green glare before the Major furiously relented. "Decadent Yanks," he muttered, dropping into one of the chairs with the air of one who has done all he can.
"My hero," Eroica said, giving Zabdiel a glowing smile. Zabdiel turned pink. Eberbach turned red. Diana wondered if she had ibuprofen in her locker.
"Mr. Red," she said in a strained voice. Eroica chuckled throatily. "What did you mean about helping NATO?"
"Don't you think that man will want his sword back?" Eroica inquired innocently. "Do you have any idea what eighteenth century pre-Revolutionary French swords are worth? And it's in perfect condition. Working condition well, obviously, he's been using it to kill people. It probably has sentimental value for him."
"And?" Diana prompted.
"Everyone knows that I ransom most of what I steal," the Earl explained patiently. "That is, everyone with any... connections. And a successful international murderer must have such connections. If he wants his sword back, surely he'll contact me and make me an offer."
"And probably cut off your curly head with it, you idiot," the Major growled.
The Earl let him have it with another 100-watt smile. "I trust you to protect me, darling."
The Major's eyes widened, then he turned his back on the thief, frowning in thought. "He's right," he told the rest of them. "It's a perfect trap. Between us," he addressed Zabdiel, "we have more than enough operatives to lay an ambush."
As the Major spoke, Eroica watched him, and for one moment his expression was unguarded. Gone was the arch flirtation and the cool self-possession. In their place was genuine love. Genuine yearning. And genuine hurt.
Poor devil, Diana thought sympathetically.
Then Eroica visibly pulled himself together and schooled his features again. Not a moment too soon, because the Major whirled on him abruptly. "How the hell did you know about the sword in the first place? Or any of this?"
"I broke into your hotel room and read all of your files," the Earl replied casually.
The Major promptly started working up to breaking a blood vessel again. "Don't you ever break into my room while I am not there!" he shouted.
"Would you prefer that I break into it while you are there, darling?"
Diana put her head in her hands.
The Captain cut into the Major's sputters. "Major Eberbach, this trap is all very clever and everything, but this Earl guy broke into police headquarters. We can't just"
The arguments that followed took several hours, but in the end Eroica was not arrested, and NATO and the FBI agreed to conduct the stakeout with only Detective Diana Bennett to represent the NYPD. Though what could be done with this killer once he was caught, Diana still had to figure out.
"If I were one of the alphabets, I'd be happy to move to Alaska," she told Zabdiel when the Major finally tromped out of the station. Eroica had left an hour earlier, he said to ask his accomplices if anyone had contacted him about the sword.
"Alaska?" the Chief asked.
"It seems to be the Major's equivalent of Siberia," Zabdiel explained. "He stations his subordinates there as punishment. Still, in spite of his difficult disposition, he does command tremendous loyalty. Once they promoted him and put him in command of a tank division, and everyone hated his successor. I heard that the alphabets wept for joy when he got demoted again and showed up at NATO yelling at them all."
"Then he's right, they are idiots," Diana said, folding her arms on the table and resting her head on them.
"Europeans," the Chief said, as if that explained something, and walked out muttering to himself, leaving Diana and Zabdiel alone.
Diana opened one eye and found Zabdiel studying her. They regarded each other for a moment, then both started laughing. "A policeman's lot is not a happy one," she giggled.
He laughed again. "I remember the first time I heard that. I agreed quite uncomfortably."
She straightened, rolling her shoulders to ease their tension. "You were a cop?"
He hesitated, then nodded.
He looked away. "The usual places."
"Try 'I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you,'" she suggested. When he did not smile, she shrugged. "I can take a hint." She added, "That took guts, putting a stop to Herr NATO's bullying."
Zabdiel's face abruptly became that of an avenging angel, stern, merciless and beautiful. Diana blinked. "That is the purpose of my life," he said, with unusual assurance.
She gazed at him. Zabdiel was an utter coward, and the bravest man she had ever met. Beautiful as a fallen angel, yet cloistering himself in a hermitage of dark deeds and ways to bring those deeds to light. A dazzling mind, and at the same time full of riddles and demons.
He was the most challenging mystery she had ever encountered.
Indulging herself, Diana allowed herself to analyze what compelled her about this man. She loved to look at his handsome face, and at the same time she understood exactly how much of a handicap that kind of appearance could be in a serious profession. He must understand what she had had to contend with because of her own looks. His mind God, how long had she wished to find just one man whose mind could equal her own? The few men whose intellects she had respected had generally used them in endeavors far different from her own. Vincent, for instance, who bent his fine mind to literature. Zabdiel's occasional but blatant disregard for proper procedure now that was a puzzle. He was so uptight, so maniacal about the rights of those suspected or accused, and yet he was willing to let it pass when she could not explain why she wanted to know something, or how she had obtained some piece of information. And there were odd gaps in his own investigations, times when he nonchalantly dismissed some anomaly as unimportant or blandly declined to explain how he had learned some detail.
Even his cowardice had begun to charm her. For so long, Diana had been forced to keep up a front of stoicism, even when she was terrified, even when she was disgusted and appalled. For a policewoman to show the slightest tremor that would disqualify her forever in the eyes of her male colleagues, no matter what she did before or after. Doing her job, even when it was horrifying or dangerous, that wasn't a problem, but seeming calm about it sometimes was. And here was Zabdiel, a respected and accomplished federal agent, no less, who couldn't even deal with a spider like a grown man. Diana wondered if she was simply relieved that at least one hero out there couldn't even appear to fit the unflappable ideal. Or did she enjoy having a chance to be the tough one? So often she'd been expected to sit back and cheer while the boys did the dirty work; it was refreshing to see Zabdiel allow her to take charge with an air of relief. She even found herself feeling an odd sort of chivalry: someone as delicate and brilliant as Zabdiel shouldn't have to put himself in harm's way. She would protect him, she would take care of everything .
She shook her head, pushing a few copper strands back from her face. You've got it bad, Bennett.
"What is it?"
Jolted from her reverie by Zabdiel's query, she shook her head again. "I'm worn out, that's all."
"Do you play chess?"
"Of course," she answered, taken aback.
"We both need to relax. May I interest you in an evening of sandwiches and chess?"
Diana grinned, thinking of what Mark or Stephen or any of their predecessors would have said if she had told them that chess was a way to relax. "That sounds wonderful," she agreed cheerfully, ignoring the sensible cautions in her head. "You have your car here, right? Let's meet at your place."
Instincts were not admissible testimony, Diana reminded herself during the drive. They were not grounds for a warrant. They were not even anything you could mention to most people. But when you kept doing this for a while, you developed them, and all of her instincts were telling her, shouting at her, that Zabdiel Galt was hiding something from her.
If she wanted to, she could point things out. Little discrepancies in the things he said. The way he always knew everything she was talking about no one else had ever heard of any of her heroes. The way he so often seemed to stop himself before saying more. Sure, Fibbies were apt to be cagey, but not that cagey.
It could even have been unease at her own feelings towards him, which kept gaining strength no matter how she tried to stifle them.
But then, that led to something else again. Because she knew she knew that her feelings were returned. Too many times now she'd caught that look on his face. On the few occasions that they had come into close proximity, he was far too uneasy, as if she had a contagious disease. Oh, there was no mistaking what he was thinking. But in that case, why on earth hadn't he done anything about it? God knew he'd had enough opportunities. Any other man she'd worked with would have made his move long ago. But he could not have been more decorous if they had had a Victorian chaperone watching their every move.
Inside his apartment, while she was taking off her coat he listened to the messages on his answering machine. "It's me," said a female voice with a faint French accent. "If you can meet me, the same place we met last time, I have something to tell you."
Zabdiel looked at Diana, and blushed at her raised eyebrows. "Amanda is an informant," he said, and it was not lost on Diana that he considered an explanation her due. "Would you mind waiting? It shouldn't take more than an hour the place is close by."
Diana shrugged. "On a night like this, there is no way I'm going to miss a good therapeutic chess game."
He nodded curtly, beginning to rebutton his coat, but stopped. "Before I forget." He went to his desk and fetched a large padded envelope, which he proffered to her rather shyly. "I am not certain if this was the thing to get, but I happened to come across it, and"
She cut him off by hugging him. "Thank you," she said.
"You don't even know what it is," he protested, pleased and embarrassed.
"Doesn't matter." She released him and took the envelope. She opened it carefully, and then grinned.
It was a 1978 World Series St. Louis Cardinals pennant, autographed by none other than Jim Hart. Shaking her head, she embraced him again. "It's wonderful!"
"Thank goodness." Looking more embarrassed than ever, he fastened his coat. "Please make yourself at home. Go ahead and help yourself to sandwiches or whatever else is in the icebox, and anything else you need." With that, he was gone, and Diana was left alone in his apartment.
If Zabdiel Galt's books were personal, she reasoned, he wouldn't have left them out on the shelf in the living room. And in this furnished corporate apartment, there was so little about the place that was personal. Though she suspected the landscape on the far wall was his. It was not one of the tediously cheerful sunsets or hunting prints that would likely have been provided by a decorator striving for innocuousness. It was a bleak seascape with a cloudy sky and a sheer rocky cliff, all greys and silvers and blacks. It had a cold beauty which suited Zabdiel. She wondered what Eroica would have thought of it.
As she would have expected, there were several books about the latest crime-solving techniques, and about the criminal mind. It was the recreational reading that caught her attention.
Norse mythology. Somehow, that didn't surprise her. The bleak heroism in the face of hopeless odds would appeal to him. He even had a well-thumbed copy of The Elder Edda. She took it down and let it fall open. The spine had broken on a page with a passage underlined: "Brave men can live well anywhere; a coward dreads all things."
There were several volumes of 19th-century poetry. It seemed like him, to have those side by side with Forensic Uses of DNA. She had already noticed considerable evidence of his hidden streak of romanticism. It was further confirmed by a couple of dogeared Ayn Rand novels of course Zabdiel would admire a thinker who combined the strictest logic with the most flagrant romanticism.
There were the three latest biographies of Ichabod Crane. She smiled. They shared some of the same heroes.
What really caught her attention was The Wizard of Oz. Remembering that Vincent had recently read to her from it, she took it down and again let it fall open to where the spine had broken. It was an old volume; in fact, it looked like a first edition. A couple of very faint pencil lines marked a passage near the end:
"Welcome, O King of Beasts! You have come in good time to fight our enemy and bring peace to all the animals of the forest once more."
"What is your trouble?" asked the Lion quietly.
"We are all threatened," answered the tiger, "by a fierce enemy which has lately come into this forest. It is a most tremendous monster, like a great spider, with a body as big as an elephant and legs as long as a tree trunk. It has eight of these long legs, and as the monster crawls through the forest he seizes an animal with a leg and drags it to his mouth, where he eats it as a spider does a fly. Not one of us is safe while this fierce creature is alive, and we had called a meeting to decide how to take care of ourselves when you came among us."
The Lion thought for a moment.
"Are there any other lions in this forest?" he asked.
"No; there were some, but the monster has eaten them all. And, besides, they were none of them nearly so large and brave as you."
"If I put an end to your enemy, will you bow down to me and obey me as King of the Forest?" inquired the Lion.
"We will do that gladly," returned the tiger; and all the other beasts roared with a mighty roar: "We will!"
"Where is this great spider of yours now?" asked the Lion.
"Yonder, among the oak trees," said the tiger, pointing with his forefoot.
"Take good care of these friends of mine," said the Lion, "and I will go at once to fight the monster."
He bade his comrades good-bye and marched proudly away to do battle with the enemy.
The great spider was lying asleep when the Lion found him, and it looked so ugly that its foe turned up his nose in disgust. Its legs were quite as long as the tiger had said, and its body covered with coarse black hair. It had a great mouth, with a row of sharp teeth a foot long; but its head was joined to the pudgy body by a neck as slender as a wasp's waist. This gave the Lion a hint of the best way to attack the creature, and as he knew it was easier to fight it asleep than awake, he gave a great spring and landed directly upon the monster's back. Then, with one blow of his heavy paw, all armed with sharp claws, he knocked the spider's head from its body. Jumping down, he watched it until the long legs stopped wiggling, when he knew it was quite dead.
The Lion went back to the opening where the beasts of the forest were waiting for him and said proudly:
"You need fear your enemy no longer."
Then the beasts bowed down to the Lion as their King, and he promised to come back and rule over them as soon as Dorothy was safely on her way to Kansas.
Diana suddenly felt a wave of dizziness. I must be hungry, she thought. Putting the book back in its place, she moved to the kitchen to put a sandwich together. Before she had the refrigerator open, she heard a knock. Answering it, she found Adam Pierson on the doorstep.
"Candygram," he said.
"I thought you were catching a plane," she said.
"Snowed in," he explained with disgust. "They don't expect any flights to go out at least till tomorrow."
"Zabdiel's out, but he should be back soon. Come on in," she said.
He did so with an ironic look, like a vampire who'd just been invited over the threshold. "Thanks." He set the paper grocery bag he was carrying on the counter. "Want a beer?"
"Sure. I was about to fix a sandwich; how does cold roast beef grab you?"
While Diana made the sandwiches, Adam leaned against the counter, sipping his beer and watching her speculatively. The look irritated her a bit, but also intrigued her; it was not the way most men looked at her. It was not a look of desire.
She held out a plate with a sandwich out to him and looked him directly in the eye. "There's something the two of you aren't telling me."
He took the plate and set it on the counter beside him. "Try that on Zab. He's the one who can't say no to a pushy broad."
Conceding defeat for the moment, Diana switched to another line of inquiry. "Then why am I having so much trouble with him?"
"Trouble?" he asked around a mouthful of roast beef.
"Adam, how long have you known Zabdiel?"
"Years," Adam replied in an offhand tone.
"Then maybe you can tell me what I'm doing wrong. I know he's interested, but he won't do anything about it. What gives?"
He shook his head. "I keep telling MacLeod to give him some lessons." Adam studied her reflectively for a minute. "Along with everything else, Zab is petrified of women. The only ones who've managed to get anywhere with him are the ones who've thrown themselves at him so hard they knocked him over. You've heard the joke about the woman who could trip a man and be under him before he hits the ground? If you want him, you're going to have to take matters into your own hands and sweep him off his feet." When Diana frowned, he said, "What, aren't you up to it?"
"Oh, I can do it. But I've found that men generally don't like for women to take the initiative, whatever they might say."
"Zab'll pass out from sheer relief. Er, not literally. Well, maybe."
Diana was about to ask another question when another wave of dizziness swept over her. She quickly sat down and took a bite of her sandwich. "My blood sugar's been going crazy lately," she said fretfully. Adam, who'd been looking at the door, raised an eyebrow at her silently. A moment later, the key turned in the lock, and Zabdiel walked in, looking more apprehensive than usual. He stopped when he saw Adam.
"Delayed on account of weather," Adam said before Zabdiel could ask.
Zabdiel nodded. "You're welcome to stay with me if you don't mind being around a what did you call me last time?"
"A human lightning rod."
"That and the lack of beer."
"I brought my own," he replied, holding his bottle aloft. "But no, I'm already checked in at the Nordland."
"Not willing to stoop to one of my cold-water flats, eh?"
"I'm just hoping civilization doesn't collapse, because I have no desire to go without running water or central heating ever again." He offered a beer to Zabdiel, who refused with a slight smile.
"What are you doing here, then?"
"Giving free advice before going back to hide in my hotel." He smiled at Diana. "Mind if I take your colleague into the other room for a minute?"
"Just don't get him dirty," Diana said.
"Pardon us," Zabdiel said, looking embarrassed as usual.
The men went into the inner room and closed the door. Diana gazed pensively out the window. Almost as soon as the door closed, the men began talking, and Diana found that she could hear their words clearly. The struggle with her conscience over eavesdropping ended when she realized that they were talking about her.
"I know she probably won't do it," Zabdiel said before Adam could speak. "I'll do my best to talk her out of it, in fact."
"Talk her out of it? Don't you want her to"
"Of course I do, but it might not be the best thing for her."
"Chivalry. You're worse than MacLeod."
There was a pause. "So you haven't told her." It was not a question.
"Not yet. I don't think she knows me well enough not to think I'm insane."
"Zab you have to tell her. She let me right in just now."
"She could just walk away from it, you know."
"Don't get your hopes up." Zabdiel did not answer, and a minute later Adam added, "Too late, I see."
"Live, Zabdiel. Grow stronger. Fight another day."
"You make cowardice sound like common sense."
"It is. And you're a very sensible man."
"Ah, how I have missed your left-handed compliments."
She heard footsteps, and busied herself with her sandwich. The men exchanged a few more words before Adam took his leave.
Diana's mind raced as she absently responded to Adam's farewell. Zabdiel had something to tell her, something that he worried that she wouldn't be able to believe. She doubted it was even half so unbelievable as what she had to tell him. If she introduced him to Vincent, and told him what Vincent had seen, he would be ready to tell her anything.
If he didn't think she was insane.
Zabdiel's voice interrupted her thoughts. "Something on your mind?" he asked gently.
She turned and looked at him. He was standing beside the kitchen table, hands at his side, frowning at her in slight concern. He was absolutely beautiful.
And he had his hopes up about her.
There were times when Diana lost all patience with worries and qualms and threw caution to the wind. She stood up and walked right toward Zabdiel. Tomorrow they could play "my secret is more unbelievable than your secret". Right now she wasn't going to miss one more minute.
His eyes widened and his lips parted slightly as she drew near him. Moving straight at someone like that could only mean that she had one of two intentions. One was violent. The other .
She stopped with about two inches of space between them. He hadn't moved, but he had stopped breathing, and his eyes searched her face. Holding his gaze, she smiled slightly before slipping her arms around his waist. He swallowed. Poor boy. Adam had been right. She would have to take all of this into her own hands. Slowly she ran one hand up along his back to the side of his neck, then twined her fingers in his hair. Hesitantly, his own hands moved to her elbows, resting there lightly. Still he made no other move. Diana studied his exquisite face for one more minute before leaning in to kiss him.
Their lips were perhaps an inch apart when his eyes rolled up and he crumpled, unconscious, into her arms.
"Zabdiel, it could happen to anyone." Diana extended a glass of water to him. He took it without looking at her.
"I have never heard of it happening to anyone but me," he said bitterly, staring into the glass.
"It's okay." She settled on the couch beside him. "Really, I'm flattered. I've never had a man react that way to me before. Maybe you just need to get used to me."
He took a quick swallow of water and resumed his intent examination of the floor. "That is true," he said sourly. "You would think it would fade, but then, I always have this problem at first."
"But it always goes away, doesn't it?"
Diana hesitated. Was it tactful to ask? But at last she just jumped in. "Did you your first time?"
He put his head in his hands. "What do you think?" he asked despairingly.
Immediately contrite, she put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she said.
"It was only the most humiliating moment of my entire life," he retorted scathingly.
She searched for words to mend what she had brought up. "Wasn't she supportive?"
He shrugged helplessly. "I do not know what the poor girl thought when her husband passed out at her feet on her wedding night. I was too embarrassed to ask."
"Your first time was your wedding night?" Diana asked, too stunned to be tactful.
"There was a time when that was normal, you know," he snapped, and she decided to drop it.
"What did she say?" she asked hesitantly.
He winced. "She just asked if I was all right I think she was actually worried, though Lord knows she already knew I had a tendency to faint. The first time she saw me do it, I thought I'd ruined my chances with her, but apparently it appealed to her maternal instinct, because later that very day well, I shall tell you that story some other time. Anyway, once I came to I was all right, and at least she seemed less nervous."
"Did it happen again?" Diana asked gently.
"Well, yes, but not with her." He swallowed. "Some time after my first wife and I parted ways, I met a young lady who took it into her head to fancy me. I'll never know why, but she just In any case, I think that once she had made up her mind that she wanted me, nothing I could have done could possibly have deterred her. She was that sort of woman." He gave a small, embarrassed smile. "When I passed out, she simply splashed me with some water and then picked up where she had ." His voice trailed off while his face reddened.
"You know," she said after an uncomfortable pause, "there's no hurry."
He looked immeasurably relieved, and took her hand. "That's true."
"So how about that chess game?"
"I'll get out the set."
They spent a pleasant evening with the chessboard. When he was pondering his next move, Zabdiel would get out his thaumatrope and twirl it as he frowned in deep concentration. He was an excellent player; he won one game, and the other two ended in draws. Worthy chess opponents were difficult for Diana to find; she thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. Perhaps sometime she could set him against Vincent. That would be a match worth watching.
If it could be arranged.
"I'd better go," she said reluctantly as her energy ebbed.
He frowned. "Be very careful. Please."
"Of course. Tomorrow."
The next morning found Diana and Zabdiel in an office full of alphabets, minus one short-tempered Major. "Where is he?" Zabdiel asked bluntly.
The alphabets exchanged nervous glances. "It isn't like him to be late," G admitted. "I called his hotel room a few minutes ago, though, and there was no answer."
"Maybe he was delayed by traffic," A suggested, and just then they heard now-familiar loud steps coming down the hall.
Diana was annoyed with herself for tensing up when she heard it. He wasn't her superior, after all. But the alphabets were all cringing in preparation, and their unease was contagious.
"Guten Morgen," the Major said as he strolled in. Agent A had Nescafé ready and waiting; the Major took it with an absent, "Danke."
Diana frowned. The alphabets stared.
"I spoke to an informant last night," Zabdiel said into the silence. The Major looked at him. The calm, attentive gaze seemed to unnerve Zabdiel; he forgot his train of thought for a moment. The Major waited patiently as he retrieved it.
Diana and Agent G exchanged bemused glances.
"Er, I fear I cannot identify her." Zabdiel paused, waiting for an explosion from the German over this. None came. "But she gave me a description of our suspect, which matches the other anonymous description we have."
Eberbach nodded. "Did she have any other information?"
"I'm afraid not."
Diana didn't believe him. Whoever his informant was, she was someone Zabdiel knew. Diana also suspected that he knew already what the murderer looked like and had merely used this Amanda person as an excuse to tell the rest of them. Kind of like she had done with Vincent and Paul.
She looked to Eberbach to see if he would accept Zabdiel's word.
He did. He started sifting through the manila folders on the desk. The alphabets were now quietly going about their duties, making calls, compiling notes, charting data, their voices muted. Now and then they cast quick, inquiring glances at their superior.
"I haven't had any luck with the swordplay instructors yet," Diana said to Zabdiel, finding that she was lowering her voice too, "but I suspect that our man was trained in Europe."
"No doubt," Zabdiel agreed. "The descriptions endow him with a French accent."
"B," the Major said, raising his head. B jerked to attention, wide-eyed and nervous. "Call Zenigata at Interpol and ask if he can help us with that."
"Inspector Zenigata?" B repeated stupidly. "I thought he was an idiot. Sir."
Eberbach shrugged. "I believe he is equal to looking up fencing teachers in his native land. He is the only French investigator with whom our division has a working relationship." With that, the Major bent his head back over the files. After a moment, as B wandered dazed to a telephone, Eberbach took out a cigarette and lit it in a leisurely fashion. He smoked absently, rather than puffing away as if he were on a deadline as he usually did.
That was when Diana realized what looked different about the Major. He was relaxed. Today he was not a tightly coiled spring on the verge of snapping loose.
The door swung open. "I'm here with news almost as delightful as my ensemble," Eroica announced.
Delightful wasn't the word Diana would have chosen. Fantastic, perhaps. Outrageous. It was some sort of Chinese jacket that reached to mid-hip, made of bright blue silk generously embroidered with pink and yellow thread, with a high Mandarin collar. He had as usual eschewed sartorial consistency in favor of vanity; he had forgone the loose-fitting pants of authentic Oriental garb for skintight white satin, and his earrings, necklace and bracelets were Arizona liquid silver. His apparel mixed cultures shamelessly, and the Asian costume contrasted oddly with his sunny hair and robin's-egg eyes, yet he carried it off. Diana wondered if it was his striking good looks that made it possible or just pure hubris.
The alphabets all turned to him, alert for their superior's reaction.
"The owner of that divine French sword called me. I told you he'd want it back," the Earl went on cheerfully.
The Major glanced up at the thief briefly, and then looked back to his files. "When are we going to meet him?"
"Tonight at midnight." Eroica smiled around at the room. Today's smile was not arch and challenging, but affectionate. "The exchange will be held at an abandoned warehouse our boy lacks originality the address is 1081 Hamilton Boulevard. I tried to talk him into the location you suggested, but he wouldn't hear of it. Mass murderers are such suspicious types."
"Hm," Eberbach said, still not bothering to look at the Earl. "A, C, D we'll go to check out the location now." He began to rise.
"Major," Zabdiel objected, "the killer may be watching the building to see if any police check it out. Four men in suits surveying the place will only arouse suspicion."
The Major stopped, considering. "True. What do you suggest?"
Several alphabetical jaws dropped at those last four words.
Diana recovered her wits first. "Since I'm local, he may already know my face. Besides, the red hair makes me kind of hard to miss. I'll have a couple of plainclothes cops from another precinct check it out. In the meantime, why not send B and G? They'll pass for civilians more easily than most of your agents."
"Good idea," the Major said amiably. "I'll call Bonn and give the chief an update." He stubbed out his cigarette, gave the Earl another quick glance, and retreated into the other room.
Eroica smiled contentedly around the room. "See you all tonight, darlings," he said, and sauntered out.
The door closed. The alphabets moved at once into a sort of huddle. Many Deutschmarks and no words were exchanged. By the time the Major finished his phone call, which did not involve any shouting, they had all returned to their duties, and B and G were ready to depart.
"He's going that way! The docks! Schnell!"
Diana ran in the direction indicated, wishing she had enough breath left to swear with. Zabdiel was right ahead of her. NATO agents and Fibbies were appearing from various doors and alleys and joining the pursuit, though in the darkness she could scarcely see them.
These things never did run smoothly, Diana reminded herself.
She didn't know how it had fallen apart. Zabdiel and the Major had both been close at hand, ready to come to the Earl's defense if need be, a fact the Earl hadn't joked about as much as he might have. Diana, a few other cops, a couple of Fibbies and numerous NATO agents were stationed in various hiding places surrounding the warehouse. Once their man came in for his sword, he would be trapped. He would require a miracle to escape.
Evidently, a miracle had happened.
The strong smell of the New York Harbor filled her heaving lungs. If the killer got on a boat, he was home free. Free to choose some other hunting ground where he could kill and resurrect himself.
Diana gritted her teeth and kept running.
"On the pier!" It was Zabdiel's voice.
Diana squinted into the darkness and could make out a trenchcoated figure running along one of the innumerable piers along the docks. To her surprise, as the suspect reached the end of the pier, instead of jumping onto a boat and making his escape, he stopped and turned around, waiting.
The Major was closest; his long legs had swallowed up the distance in no time. When the suspect stopped, the Major slowed, aiming his Magnum. " Put your hands on top of your head."
Slowly, deliberately, the suspect reached into his coat. Diana saw the glint of metal.
Eberbach did not hesitate. One shot from his Magnum put a bullet squarely into the man's heart. The suspect's form jerked, he cried out more of a snarl than a cry and then he tumbled into the water.
"Try to recover the body!" Zabdiel shouted anxiously as he reached the pier. Those nearest hurried to obey. He watched them urgently while Diana tried to catch her breath. The Major, naturally, was breathing easily and looked completely collected, even cheerful.
An hour later, they had to concede defeat. The body was beyond recovery. Everyone gathered back at the warehouse. There were no casualties, except for the suspect.
Diana, discouraged, perched on an ancient crate in a corner and wondered if a man who could survive being torn open by Vincent could also survive being shot through the heart and drowned. She didn't recall anything in the Department's procedural manual about it.
"He looked and sounded exactly like the descriptions you chaps gave me," Eroica was assuring them.
Zabdiel stood a bit apart from the others, listening gravely, not speaking.
He doesn't seem much more reassured than I am, Diana thought.
"Case closed, then," Eberbach stated smugly.
"Does that mean we can go back to Germany, sir?" Agent A asked hopefully.
"You can," the Major replied, not looking at him. "The Chief keeps telling me I have too much vacation time accumulated. I have to take some of it."
Eroica looked out the window at the lights of the city, idly twining a curl around a finger, not saying a word.
All of the alphabets made their expressions respectfully blank. "Enjoy yourself, sir," G said, daring a small smile.
"Idiot," the Major replied automatically. "Let's move out."
Everyone started gathering things up and sorting out transportation. Except for Zabdiel, who said a few words to one of the Fibbies and then slipped out, unobserved by anyone except Diana.
I think it's time you told me what you know, Agent Galt, she thought. She waited a moment, then followed him into the nearly deserted streets.
"Zabdiel," she called out, not too loudly.
He stopped, not turning, and waited for her to catch up. She reached him and they walked together in quiet for a bit.
"I'm not ready to close the case," she said after a while.
His gaze flickered, but he did not look at her.
"Neither are you."
He did not disagree.
She stopped and caught his arm. "You know more than you're telling me, Zabdiel." She paused. "I know more than I've told you. It's time for us to put our cards on the table."
He looked at her for a minute before nodding slightly. "Yes. It is."
They were interrupted by the screech of tires.
They turned and saw two huge black Cadillacs hurtling towards them. In wordless agreement, they ran in the other direction, ducking into an alley. Which turned out to be a dead end. The only doors were a couple of deadbolted steel ones. There was no way out.
Zabdiel seized her arm and pulled her down to crouch behind a dumpster. They heard the Cadillacs stopping, doors opening, and footsteps moving forebodingly in their direction.
Zabdiel began to straighten. "Stay here," he ordered in a whisper.
"What! No way I'd"
"Diana. Listen to those footsteps. There are at least four of them. We are outnumbered. There is nothing you can do now but look after yourself. Please promise me that you shall."
She swallowed. But she had always known it could come down to something like this, someday.
She nodded reluctantly. He kissed her quickly, then stepped out and walked softly out of the alley. Once he emerged, he broke into a run, out of her line of vision.
It was only a few seconds before she heard the quiet cough of a silenced revolver. He cried out. Diana bit her lip painfully and squeezed her eyes shut. A second shot followed. These men were professionals; they made sure the job was done. She could hear them walking around him, checking his pulse, looking for signs of life. There were none, of course.
"Leave him here," one of them said in a low voice that she almost missed.
"Where's the broad?"
"I think I saw her go that way."
She held her breath, but evidently "that way" was the wrong way, because their footsteps retreated.
She waited for as long as she could stand before standing and walking out of the alley.
Zabdiel was lying face down on the pavement in a pool of blood. Diana sobbed abruptly, pressing the back of her hand to her mouth. It was so... ignominious; he had deserved better. He had deserved her.
She went to kneel beside him and automatically felt for his pulse. There was none, as she had known there would not be. She rolled him over, completely heedless of proper procedure. You must never move the body. He'd have been furious, she thought numbly as she cradled his head in her arms. He had been shot through the chest twice. Death had doubtless been instantaneous. This did not console her. She did not sob, but simply allowed the tears to roll silently down her face, holding him.
His body shifted slightly in her embrace. She must have moved without realizing it.
Diana's eyes flew open and every muscle in her body froze.
She had felt his pulse. It had been stopped. There were two bullets in his heart.
His eyes opened and he grimaced.
"Z-Zabdiel?" she whispered.
He sat up with a resigned expression. "I can explain, Diana."
A shout came from a block away. "Hey! There she is!"
"But not now!" Zabdiel gasped. "Let's go!"
Her mind refusing to deal with anything other than the most urgent facts at hand, she stood and ran with him.
"What the hell? He was dead!"
"You screwed it up, you moron!"
They kept running, turning corners, until they reached another dead end. Diana looked about frantically for some form of escape. A window, a fire escape, something. There was nothing. She and Zabdiel turned to tensely face the three large men who were looming nearer.
With a deafening crash, the brick wall beside Diana burst open. Through the hole came Vincent, his face pure predator now, his fangs bared in a snarl as he hurled himself onto the would-be assassins. Roaring terribly, he tore the first one open, knocked the second one against the far wall like a puppet, and felled the third and fourth with mighty blows from his taloned hands. Then he stood, panting, trying to calm himself. As the beast in him receded, he turned to look warily to Diana and her companion.
Zabdiel had watched the entire thing as if paralyzed, not moving or making a sound. Now that Vincent's fury had abated and he was still and quiet, the paralysis seemed to abate.
Zabdiel stared at Vincent in silence for a few seconds. Then his eyes lost their focus and he dropped to the ground in a dead faint.
Zabdiel woke only a short time later. Vincent had carried him back to Diana's apartment. Diana had unbuttoned the agent's shirt and found only smooth ivory skin where the bloodstains indicated that there should be bullet wounds. She and Vincent had exchanged a look.
"I think this man can give us our answers," Vincent had said softly.
Diana smiled. "Nice to have someone imperturbable around." At that point, Zabdiel had begun to stir. Diana had turned her attention to him. A moment later, he had awakened with a jerk, his eyes flying open. They came to settle on Vincent at once.
Zabdiel struggled to sit up, drawing a deep breath and lifting his chin, striving to look brave. He studied Vincent apprehensively. But the calm, unthreatening stance of both Vincent and Diana told him that he was not facing an enemy. Slowly, he sat up, studying Vincent, darting a glance at Diana.
"Forgive me," he said, "but what exactly are you, sir?"
The lion-man's eyes flickered. "I don't know," he answered. His voice was beautiful, warm and resonant with soft gravel. "I was abandoned as an infant."
Zabdiel's eyes widened, and comprehension as well as compassion settled on his face. "Good Lord," he said softly, and Vincent realized that here was a man who understood. At once. Some people did, by instinct, having walked similar paths. "Being different is enough, but not even to know ."
"Vincent is a witness, Zabdiel," Diana said softly. "But even if he could come forward with his information, which obviously he can't, it's rather odd. But if you can accept that he exists, you can believe what he saw."
Zabdiel's piercing gaze moved from Vincent to Diana and back again. "I am well aware of how many strange things there are in this world, Diana," he assured her. "What did you see, Mr ?"
"Vincent." Vincent related the story of the pursuit he had interrupted, of a man found dead only hours later, and the bizarre resurrection of the pursuer. "I cannot explain what I saw, but I know that it happened just as I said. I killed that man, and he stood up, living, a moment later."
Zabdiel listened seriously. "I believe you," he said when Vincent's recital was finished.
Vincent's feline eyes searched Zabdiel's ruthlessly calm face. "Do you know how such a thing is possible?"
Zabdiel nodded slowly. "The man you killed, as well as the man he decapitated later that night, was an Immortal. No one knows why they are born occasionally, but the only way to kill one is to behead him."
"Do you know why the one Vincent fought with is murdering others?"
Zabdiel's lips thinned. "Oh, yes. When one Immortal kills another, he claims that Immortal's power. Some of them make a life of it, beheading others and adding to their own power. They are called 'headhunters'."
Vincent paused before asking, very gently, already half certain of the answer, "Zabdiel how do you know all of this?"
The men's eyes locked for a moment. Very slowly and deliberately, holding Vincent's gaze, Zabdiel opened his trench coat. Diana caught her breath as she saw that beneath it, Zabdiel had concealed a sword, an actual huge gleaming sword with a wicked edge. She winced as Zabdiel quite deliberately impaled his own hand on its tip. Averting his eyes from the blood, he held his mangled hand aloft so that they could watch the flesh almost magically reseal itself.
"I know this because I am an Immortal," Zabdiel said quietly. "I am 229 years old."
"What is your real name?" Diana asked later, after Vincent had left and she and Zabdiel had spent what seemed like ages sitting together in awkward silence.
"You mean my original name." She nodded. "Ichabod Crane."
She gave him an incredulous look. He simply nodded. She looked away.
"I believe you," she said after a moment. "I've read all about him. Everything fits."
"Fainting spells and all," he agreed wryly.
She sat quietly for a minute, trying to take everything in. "You succeeded," she said after a pause. "Your methods are now used all over the world."
He smiled slightly before the concern returned to his face. "I told you that I would explain everything in time, Diana," he said softly.
"But I was hoping it would be oh, something else. Something that didn't ."
"That didn't what?" When Diana could not answer, he sat beside her and took her hand hesitantly. "Diana ."
She forced herself to look him in the eye, though tears were welling up in her own. "That didn't mean that we couldn't be together!"
His lips parted and his eyes widened with what looked like pleading.
She looked away, dashing the tears away impatiently with the back of her hand. "Oh, I know it's only been a few days but dammit, Zabdiel, I think you feel the same way, at least a little I honestly think that we could have have had a chance together, if it weren't for this . Do you realize I've never felt this way about any other man? Not even Vincent, back when I thought that I was falling in love with him." She tried to smile wryly. "Just my luck. I finally find the perfect man and he's too old for me. Two hundred years too old for me."
"Diana do you mean this?" When she raised outraged, swimming eyes to his, he quickly amended, "No, that isn't what I meant. I'm trying to say well, to begin with, you weren't wrong, I do feel that is"
"Have there really been only three women in your life?" she demanded irrelevantly.
"Yes," he replied promptly.
"Three girlfriends in two centuries? You are a monk."
"I can hardly make a woman an honest offer when in twenty years people will assume that she is my mother," he answered wryly. "And I was married to each of them. But Diana, perhaps it isn't fair of me to say this to you, but I do care, I would like to ." He stammered.
She shook her head hopelessly. "God, I wish I could live forever and spend eternity with you. But to have just a few years with you before ."
"Diana ." His face was pained. "You could." When she met his gaze, he said in a tight voice, "You are one of us. If you die violently, you will resurrect."
She stared at him. "You're saying that I'm ."
"A pre-Immortal. But Diana, as much as I want you to stay with me, I could never live with myself if you did this only to be with me. Immortality is a difficult path, Diana. A dangerous one, and tragic you have to watch everyone you care about die, you can never stay in the same place for too long, and then there are headhunters and Immortals cannot have children, Diana. If you wish to be a mother, you will have to remain mortal."
"That's never been one of my goals," she said in a low voice, her mind racing. "Zabdiel are you sure?"
He smiled sadly. "Didn't you notice how you sense me every time I come near? And Adam as well? Yes, he's one of us, and our friend MacLeod too. You will be able to sense any Immortal that way. There is no mistaking that buzz."
He quickly put his fingertips to her lips. "Diana, don't say it. Not yet. Please, promise me that you'll consider very carefully before taking this step. Because once you have, there is no retreat, except that of a grisly death."
"I promise," she said steadily. But she already knew what her decision was to be. With relief, she leaned close to him.
He moved back slightly. "Diana perhaps we shouldn't"
"Hush," she whispered before pressing her mouth triumphantly to his, and he gave in without another protest. And this time, he did not faint.
Diana had never been kissed quite like this before. The pressure of Zabdiel's mouth on hers was sure; sometime in the course of his monkish life, he had learned something about women. But the kiss asked for no more than the touch of her lips to his. He did not coax her lips apart, or press her body to his, and his palms remained softly contouring her face, trembling ever so slightly. It was so rare a thing for a kiss to be complete in itself and not a mere overture that Diana simply yielded to it, not pressing her own desires any more than Zabdiel was pressing his.
Not just yet.
Diana awoke with a smile. As usual, Zabdiel had surprised her.
"We should probably call in," she said reluctantly.
"I think we both caught colds last night," he informed her. "We couldn't possibly go to our offices."
She smiled and kissed his collarbone, that being the bit of him that was nearest her mouth. "You make your call first. I'll start breakfast."
Once they had called in to make their excuses they had both been ordered to come in to report on the previous night's events at some point during the afternoon, but for now they were free they spread eggs, bacon, toast, and notepaper covered with what they knew about their suspect over her kitchen table.
"So our killer is an Immortal, right?" Diana began as she sprinkled pungent plant food onto the soil of Catherine's rosebush. She had had it for a year now, and it was still flourishing under her careful tending. "And his victims are Immortal, and he's killing them to ."
"To take their Quickenings," Zabdiel confirmed. "He has been at it for two hundred years now."
"You know him? Who he really is?"
"His name is Claude Bonnard. He was born in France in 1760. He was on Robespierre's committee, the one behind the Reign of Terror."
Connections began to form in Diana's head. "So he caused thousands of people to be beheaded ."
Zabdiel nodded. "I had better explain. Some Immortals, when they learn what they are and how to take Quickenings, they well, they go mad, really. They begin decapitating everyone, not just other Immortals. Bonnard was one of these. The Hessian soldier was another."
"So the legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman is ."
"Quite true. My first real investigation, and I uncovered a ghost. He had been an Immortal in life, and it was by his sword that I had my first death." He shook his head. "Katrina my first wife she thought I survived her stepmother's bullet because the book she gave me stopped it."
"Tell me about her. Tell me about everything. Everything you've been doing for the last two centuries."
He took a swallow of coffee, pulled out his spinning disk toy, and began.
I first discovered what I was about two years after my adventure in Sleepy Hollow. That was where I experienced my first death, when the Headless Horseman, the galloping ghost of a dead Immortal, ran me through before slaughtering Brom Van Brunt. At the time of my first death, I was so outraged by the superstitious notion that my scientific apparatus were the tools of Satan, and that my supposed association with hellish forces such as justice and reason had ensured my survival, that it did not occur to me that the villagers were, in part, right. I should not have survived that wound.
But survive I had, and married the fair damsel in distress. Who was now distressed over our lack of children. Because Immortals are barren. In addition, we kill our mothers. A woman who gives birth to an Immortal invariably dies in the process. In the Old Testament, a pregnant woman learned that her husband and father-in-law had both died in battle. She named her son Ichabod, which means "glory has departed", and died of grief shortly afterwards. In Puritan New England, boy babies whose mothers died bearing them were often named Ichabod, after him. When I was still an infant, my father remarried, to the kind and beautiful white witch he murdered in God's name when I was seven.
When I learned what I now was, I knew that I had to stage Ichabod Crane's death without delay. It tore my heart to leave Katrina's side, but she wanted children. She deserved them, and they her. I could not deprive her of her proper destiny.
"I have shed my tears for Brom, and yet my heart is not broken," she had said to me. She would shed her tears for me as well, but I did not think her heart would be broken nor would I think her wicked. It was no call of soul to soul that made her love me, but the part I played in her life. I was first the exotic stranger from the glamourous city, then the unlikely knight-errant who rescued her from a demon, and at last the doting husband who needed her almost maternal care. Oh, her love for me was genuine enough she had a kind and loving heart but she had loved Brom Van Brunt just as genuinely, and she would love another man as genuinely when her tears for me were shed. And this man would give her the children she longed for, and would grow old with her and watch her hair turn from gold to silver.
Twenty years later, I stood inside a dark room and watched through the window as Constable Masbath walked by on his patrol. It was the closest I would ever come to being a father.
To begin with, I went to England, using the name Ian Quirrell. I wished to find as remote a new home as possible, out of an excessive fear of discovery. In England I continued to pursue the same scientific studies and to devise ways to apply science to detection. I also began to study languages at that time, which made it possible for me to create new identities more easily and travel through Europe. I went to the great city of Amsterdam for a time, now as Abraham Martling, and there joined the Watchers, an ancient society that studies Immortals. I did not tell the mortals who belonged to it that I was one, though eventually they found out; I wanted to learn as much about my kind as possible. Not long ago, Adam copied this idea, though his own objective was to make sure that he himself would never be found.
When I had to shed the identity of Abraham Martling, I moved on to France, changed my name to C. Auguste Dupin, and gained an entirely unlooked-for notoriety for my detecting abilities. Fame is dangerous for an Immortal, so I moved on to Germany before long.
When I returned to London, it was as the world's first consulting detective. I have never made friends easily, but I inadvertently made one at this time in the person of Dr. John Watson. When he asked for permission to write up some of my investigations for a magazine, I granted it, a move which I was to deeply regret. In time, my fame as Sherlock Holmes aided the cause of scientific detection, but in the meantime, it was a dangerous position for an Immortal. I had to ask Watson to alter numerous details about me I have never played the violin or worn a deerstalker in my life, for one thing, and his chronicles contain no references to my habit of fainting, my ledgers, or my fondness for thaumatropes. And when a play was made about me during that lifetime, I made certain that I was played by William Gillette, and actor who did not even slightly resemble me. His appearance has become the traditional representation of Sherlock Holmes.
But being Holmes remained troublesome, so it was actually something of a relief to put an end to that brilliant fiend Moriarty by jumping over the edge of Reichenbach Falls and taking him with me. When I resurrected and he did not, I left for Liverpool and joined the police force, giving my name as Frederick Abberline. After a short time there, I made a foolish move. I got married. Even a Rational Man does foolish things when he is infatuated. We were quite happy together for a time, until the day she told me that she was pregnant. It was a slap in the face. To this day I have no idea who the father was. I could not bear to bring my detective abilities to bear on this particular mystery. In any case, wounded as I was, I was still bereaved when she died in childbirth. I returned to London, confident that a humble policeman with an Irish accent would not be connected with the great and well-born Sherlock Holmes. Nor was I. When Abberline became unpopular in certain quarters, I killed him with an overdose of opium. It proved a surprisingly unpleasant way to die, and ended the brief flirtation with mind-altering substances which I had begun with cocaine while I was Sherlock Holmes.
Once Abberline was dead, I went to the country to be with his new love, a redhaired woman who, though no better than she should be, had a warm heart. She did not question me when I assumed the name Ignatius Quayle.
I did not intend to allow Sherlock Holmes to live again, but I had little choice; I could not abandon London to the people who drove Abberline to his death. Poor old Watson took a page from my own book and fainted when I revealed myself.
In time I resolved to leave England for a time. I boarded a ship called the Lady Vain, giving my name as Edward Prendick, scientist. The ship wrecked, a disaster which was quite famous for a few years, and I the only survivor only an Immortal could have survived it. I was plucked from the sea and taken to an unnamed island, where I had many opportunities to practice my lifelong effort to conceal my own fearful nature. My rescuer was to devise perhaps the most apt description of me I was ever to hear: "You logic-chopping, chalky-faced saint of an atheist." But more of that event later.
When I at last returned to the United States, it was to work with a brilliant man named William Marston. Like many geniuses, Marston had a pronounced streak of hucksterism in his makeup. He invented the lie detector test, with my help, which was at my own request uncredited. I did not, however, contribute to his other famous creation, Wonder Woman.
I kept a low profile for a few years, going by the name Aristotle Rand, studying quietly. Until I decided it was time to become active again and this time joined the FBI, with the intention of using my position to end the careers of a few Immortal headhunters. Thus far, I have beheaded four of them. But Zabdiel Galt has attracted too much attention. I fear that I shall have to dispose of him soon but first I must find Bonnard.
Diana sat digesting the story in silence for a few minutes. It was a bit much to hear before lunch.
Zabdiel made fresh coffee for them both before speaking again. "Diana, there is something else. I know what Vincent is. In fact, I suspected from the moment I saw him that is, after I regained consciousness and now I am certain."
"Tell me," she said tensely.
"Vincent is the product of a mad genius's experiments intended to create the perfect human by combining human DNA with that of animals. I did not know that any of Dr. Moreau's experiments were still living. I do not know how he ended up in New York City, but I have no doubt as to what he is."
"Dr. Moreau? Zabdiel, I read The Island of Dr. Moreau. That was a novel. A work of fiction."
Zabdiel shook his head slowly. "It was a true account by an eyewitness, Diana." He paused. "I know, because I wrote it."
Diana searched his face. As always, she found that she believed him. There could be no doubting him. He would always tell the truth, or at least what he believed. And the explanation fit the facts perfectly. Slowly, she nodded.
"After I escaped from that island, somehow, I don't know how, some of Moreau's creations did as well. Most of them were promptly killed by frightened humans, but a few were more cunning. I know that a couple of wolf-men managed to survive and reproduce for a few generations before being stamped out as werewolves. Every now and then, I've come across a descendant of Moreau's vile experiments. Not many; most of them were wrecks and could not survive. And all of them had to hide, coming out only at night, avoiding large gatherings of people. I don't know how Vincent's ancestors managed to survive so long, but obviously they did."
"But how he had a child with a human-"
"I did not explain the truth of how Dr. Moreau achieved his horrible experiments when I wrote about them. I did not want to give anyone ideas. Moreau developed a sort of virus which took over the host body and changed it, partly, to human. I dread the day those blasted sheep-cloners think of that approach. Vincent is as much a human as he is a lion. The two types of DNA live side by side in him."
"That isn't possible." Diana shook her head.
"Why not? Because your school textbooks said that it isn't? What do they say about headless ghosts, or Immortals? The world is not so orderly as we would like to believe, Diana. The so-called laws of science we cling to are simply rules of thumb which generally hold up. No more."
Diana nodded slowly.
"Diana, you are Vincent's friend. I am leaving it up to you whether or not we should tell him this."
She only considered for a minute. "Of course we'll tell him. He has a right to know. Even if I weren't certain that he would want to know, there's his son to consider." She gave Zabdiel a questioning look.
"I cannot pretend to know the fate of Jacob," Zabdiel said reluctantly. "But while most of Moreau's creations regressed, Vincent certainly hasn't. I suspect that a humane environment such as Jacob is growing in will make a great deal of difference."
Diana frowned to herself. "Zabdiel, Vincent has always been afraid of just that. Regressing. He's always known there was a beast in him. I tried to convince him that it was only the anger and unbridled id that all of us have to deal with, but now I'm not so sure."
"You may be right yet," he answered.
"How old is the oldest Immortal you've met?" she asked suddenly.
"About five thousand years old."
"Five thousand ." She shook her head slowly. "My God, the knowledge, the wisdom he must have acquired in five thousand years ."
Zabdiel, for the first time she could recall, laughed aloud. "I regret shattering your illusions, but you've met him. Adam. His real name is Methos."
That took the wind out of her sails.
"Is anyone famous an Immortal?" she asked.
He thought. "There are a couple . Methos claims that Elvis is, but he has an odd sense of humor."
"Now are you going to help me catch Bonnard?" he asked.
"Of course. It'll be problematic, though. The case is officially closed. We'll never be able to convince our superiors the killer is still alive. We're on our own."
"We always are. Remember that when you contemplate Immortality, Diana." He paused, looking at her, worried. "And you will be in considerable danger from him, Diana. He will give you your first death just so that he can take your Quickening."
"Then we have one of the essential ingredients of a trap," she said coolly. At Zabdiel's raised eyebrow, she elucidated: "Bait."
"It's too dangerous"
"Zabdiel. I'm a cop." She grinned. "An Immortal one."
"I don't want you to"
"We have to do this. You know that. Let's work out our strategy. I'm sure Vincent will be happy to help us. Is there anyone you can call on? What about Methos?"
Zabdiel snorted. "Methos is on the other side of the world by now. You don't get to be five thousand years old by looking for trouble."
"Blast!" Diana said suddenly.
"What?" He looked startled.
"You got shot last night!"
He shrugged, still perplexed.
"Don't you think we ought to let the FBI know that a near-lethal attempt was made on an agent's life last night? And on a cop's as well? Oh my God. The Mafia guys they're going to be wondering why their bullets didn't kill you."
"The one who shot me will probably get in trouble for failing. They'll assume I was wearing a vest."
"You don't seem too terribly concerned about this."
He smiled slightly. "People have been killing me for two centuries, Diana. It loses its novelty. Still, you are right; the Mafia will not leave me alone until they think that I am dead. I will have to allow Zabdiel Galt to die soon, and assume a new identity."
"So how do we find Bonnard?"
Zabdiel answered promptly. "Tomorrow there is going to be a memorial service for the second victim. I will attend it, and linger in the church afterwards. He will be there."
"How can you be so sure?"
"He will want to talk to me. He will expect me to wait there after the service."
"And you're just going to be there? Are you crazy?"
"It is hallowed ground. Remember the rules of Immortality. We never fight on hallowed ground."
"And you really think that he'll respect that? The man's a mass murderer, Zabdiel."
"Diana, this Game is many centuries old. Millennia, in fact. You cannot know just how much the world has changed in recent years. Even those only a few centuries my senior can attest to that. Hallowed ground is a primordial taboo. A product of this cynical age like you cannot possibly grasp just how powerful it is. Yes, he will respect it."
Diana was not comforted, but Zabdiel would not be dissuaded.
In the afternoon, they reluctantly left her apartment to report at their respective offices. They had agreed to meet back at his place that evening after reporting, but before heading for Zabdiel's dull corporate apartment, she made her way towards one of the entrances to the Tunnels. She had to see Vincent. Too many things had happened, and there was only one person she could talk to about them all. And after the previous night, she knew he would be expecting her.
She strode down a few side streets, turned a corner and stopped in her tracks as she noticed that she was feeling dizzy. She had dismissed these feelings before, but now .
She was not misled. A sandy-haired, olive-skinned man stepped out of a doorway. The same man who had tumbled into the harbor with Major Eberbach's bullet lodged in his heart.
Swiftly she drew her Beretta, but he was ready; before she could aim it, his sword swooped in to slash her right hand, and she dropped her gun. In spite of the blood and pain, she grabbed for it, but with the tip of the sword he batted it far out of reach, then put the blade against her throat.
Half-crouching, she looked up at him warily.
"I don't suppose you know how to use one of these," he said, extending a second sword to her by the hilt.
"No," she gasped, more at the insanity of the moment than at his question. This could not be happening, she could not be standing in front of a two-hundred-year-old man who was challenging her to a swordfight.
"A pity. Modern education is so incomplete," he said with a smile. His accent was lilting French as expected. "Then I fear you will just have to do your best."
"Suppose I refuse the challenge?" she asked in a low voice. If she could get an opening, she could dive for her gun and incapacitate him even if bullets couldn't kill him.
"Then I strike you down like an animal in a slaughterhouse, and wait for you to resurrect, and then strike you down again and take your Quickening." His smile widened. "The only question, child, is whether you will die with a sword in your hand. I imagine you would rather die as a warrior than as an animal. Am I wrong?"
She wiped her hand on her coat, leaving a smear of blood, and took the sword. "No." She would have to stall him until she could position herself near her gun, just near enough .
But the Frenchman was not awaiting her preparations. With a fierce yell and a grin that would have been the stuff of nightmares if anyone who had ever seen it had lived to dream again, he rushed at her, wielding the sword in a lethal arc.
Diana's training propelled her out of his path, with scarcely a breath to spare. She had no more time for playing. She dropped the heavy sword with a loud clank and threw herself at her Beretta. She rolled on the ground, twisting around to aim at him. It wasn't a Magnum and she wasn't showing off by shooting it one-handed, but it would definitely do.
She put three bullets in quick succession into his chest.
He jerked with the shots, and kept on coming.
Scrambling to her feet, she backed away swiftly. Now she understood. With so many Quickenings behind him, he wasn't so easy to kill, even temporarily. That much strength, that much power it took more to simply knock him over, or slow him down. No wonder there were Immortals willing to devote their lives to gathering this power.
He came closer, relentless, eyes ablaze with the joy of a challenging kill. He's having fun, she thought incredulously. He was charging her at top speed, forcing her to scamper, unable to glance behind her to see if there was anything in her path for her to trip on.
Somehow, she had to get enough of an opening to put a bullet in his head.
As she hurried, he swung the sword again. She was forced to duck beneath the swing, her gun slipping from her blood-slick hand. That one was too close. She rolled, regained her feet and retreated rapidly in one swift motion. She was now unarmed, and nowhere near a weapon.
He smiled, allowing himself half a second's pause to relish his victory. No more; you didn't live to be centuries old by indulging in long periods of gloating at the moment of triumph. He might be deranged, but he was not stupid.
Damn it, Diana thought, and waited to die.
A sudden deafening roar tore the twilight open. The Frenchman started and looked around. The instant he saw the brick wall crumbling before him, he knew his time was short. He turned back to Diana to finish her off at once, but the three seconds the roar had gained her had been enough. She dove for cover. He snarled and came after her.
But before he could reach her, Vincent burst through the wall, bricks tumbling to the ground around him, teeth bared and claws ready. The Immortal managed to make one cut along Vincent's arm before being disemboweled. Again.
Vincent stood over the killer, panting, growling softly. Diana let him calm and catch his breath before she stood up.
He looked at her, then slowly retrieved the Frenchman's sword. "I must do this," he said, looking at the weapon unhappily.
Diana bent and took up the sword the killer had offered her. "No, you don't." Before he could argue, she lifted it and brought the heavy blade down on the man's neck with all her strength.
It was not one of the prouder moments of her life.
They waited a few minutes, but the convulsive Quickening Zabdiel had warned of did not occur. "Maybe you have to have your first death before it works," Diana said.
"Let's go get you bandaged up."
"And the body?"
She sighed. She was too tired to worry about it just now. "We'll call Zabdiel. I bet he has a lot of ways of dealing with this kind of thing."
She called Zabdiel as soon as she and Vincent reached her loft. As she had expected, he was not fazed by the need to dispose of a headless body, though he did get rather upset that the headhunter had challenged her. "He could have killed you!"
"Well, he didn't. Calm down; I'll learn to use a sword and then you won't have to worry anymore."
This did not especially reassure Zabdiel, but after fretting some more and eliciting her promise to stay at home for the rest of the night, he hung up to deal with the body. She turned to Vincent, who was already cleaning his gashed arm with alcohol. "Let me do that," she insisted.
"Your hand needs tending as well," he pointed out.
They treated each other's wounds, exchanging few words. "Be sure you have Father look at it as soon as you get back," she ordered.
"He could hardly have done a better job," he complimented.
She sat down and leaned back in the chair, suddenly exhausted. "It's over," she breathed.
"It is," he agreed.
She looked at him. How was he going to feel when she told him what he really was?
"Now tell me about Zabdiel," he prompted gently, a teasing glint appearing briefly in his cat-eyes.
She smiled. Widely.
He chuckled softly. "I am happy for you, Diana."
She stood back up to embrace him. Her friend, her confidante, her brother, her comrade in arms.
"Me too," she whispered.
"Don't you miss nice peaceful murder cases?" Scott gasped as he ducked back down behind the car. Both he and Diana unconsciously flinched at the bullets that flew over their heads.
"You think I'm going to let you boys have all the fun?" she asked, steadying her breath with a conscious effort, her Beretta poised and ready.
Two weeks back on regular duty. Two weeks of investigating drug czars by day and seeing Zabdiel every night.
Zabdiel had continued to urge her to think carefully before claiming her Immortality, to the point where it was even a little exasperating. Vincent had followed suit, though in his usual gentle, unobtrusive way. But Vincent had been distracted by his new knowledge of his own true nature. He had been spending much time alone, contemplating it, troubled but with a certain peace born of finally knowing the truth. He had promptly read The Island of Dr. Moreau and had read a passage aloud to her: "Some want to follow things that move, to watch and slink and wait and spring, to kill and bite, bite deep and rich, sucking the blood . It is bad. 'Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not men?'"
Tell that to the drug czars, she thought grimly. She and Scott had gone to make routine inquiries at a warehouse, which was only one of a dozen suspected fronts for smuggling, and in the blink of an eye it had gone from a boring series of questions to a shoot-out, with six backup officers with uniforms and marked cars already on the site to help them. No casualties on the good guys' side yet, though.
All the drug dealers had to do was make noncommittal answers and then clear their stuff out once we were gone and they'd have gotten off the hook. Instead they pulled out their guns and started shooting. This wasn't only evil, it was just plain stupid. Some criminals apparently lacked both self-preservation instincts and common sense, along with ethics.
Diana crouched, rose long enough to send a few bullets in their direction, and ducked back down.
"My folks wanted me to be a doctor," she remarked.
"Don't you wish you'd listened?" Scott muttered.
His question had been gallows humor, but she answered, seriously and in a low voice. "No."
He glanced at her, surprised. Studied her.
"Me neither," he said.
A loud yell on their side of the street caught their attention. They quickly looked and saw one of the uniforms, lying halfway in the open where he'd fallen when a bullet got his shoulder. Diana knew him slightly; his name was Robert, Robert Shaw, she thought. Blood was spreading around him quickly; he seemed stunned, too stunned to push himself back to cover. And he had been alone behind his squad car; his partner had taken a post behind a dumpster some yards away.
"Shaw!" his partner yelled. Shaw twitched, but did not get up.
The only way to help him was to go out in the open, in the line of fire.
Scott was already moving, as was Shaw's partner. Diana grabbed Scott by the collar and shoved him roughly onto the ground. He was too surprised to resist before she had risen, gun ready, and darted toward Shaw.
"Di! No!" Scott shouted, reaching for her, but it was too late. He sensibly took cover again. So did Shaw's partner. She was already at the fallen officer's side.
She grasped his shoulders and started dragging him back behind his squad car. As she had expected, she was shot. Right in the stomach. It was harder than she had expected to keep dragging Shaw with the bullet in her gut. She had never been shot before; she was a detective, did the brainy part of the job. She hadn't realized it would hurt so much.
She kept heaving Shaw out of danger even when a second bullet caught her in the leg.
She fell to the pavement behind the car as she dropped Shaw there, out of easy range of the drug dealers' fire, and their blood mingled profusely on the concrete. He was emerging from his shock a little.
"Stop the blood," she ordered. Her lips felt very cold and stiff.
Blinking, he fumbled, trying to compress the bullethole in her stomach. Silly; it was hopeless.
"No. In your shoulder," she mumbled.
He ignored her, clutching for his radio and shouting, "We have an officer down! We need backup and an ambulance, now!"
"'S okay," she managed. She was too tired to say more, and she closed her eyes.
"Stay with me, Bennett!" Shaw yelled. She gave his hand a tiny squeeze as she grew colder with surprising swiftness. So this was what it was like. Would it be like this, every time?
Be with you soon, Zabdiel, was her last conscious thought for a while. The other cops did not understand why she died her first death with a smile of triumph on her face.