Immortal Remains 2 - 30 Days of Night, page 18
“He likes taking care of others,” Dane said. “I think it makes him feel needed.”
“Well, he’s good at it.”
“Listen, the main reason I called is that I’m not coming back as soon as I thought. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get in touch again. I didn’t want to leave without checking in to make sure everything’s going okay there.”
“It’s copacetic,” she said. “Only…” She paused, expecting him to interrupt again.
“Only…when a pregnant girl has to pee, she really fuckin’ has to pee, okay?”
Dane seemed to get the message. “I won’t keep you then, Ana. Take care. If you need me for anything, Merrin can try to get word to me.”
“Bye.” She punched the END button on Merrin’s phone and dropped the unit on the bed. “Sorry,” she said. She slid off the bed, past Merrin, and out the door. The bathroom was two doors down the hall.
She barely made it in time.
AJ drove up from Orange Park during the afternoon, cruising into Savannah just after ten. He had been warned against coming back here, but his place in Florida was just a few blocks from the Jacks River, and he could smell the river every day when he left the apartment and again when he came back. Smelling it without being on it would kill him, he knew that much about himself. Kill him as surely as a bullet to the heart. He needed that rocking rhythm under his feet, needed the thrum of the engine working up through his legs, the brilliant shards of light thrown into his eyes off the water. He wasn’t due back at work until Monday, so he figured he would have time to pick up the Midlife Crisis and pilot her back down to Orange Park.
Dane’s friend Merrin had some kind of connections, to pull things together as fast as he had. Overnight AJ Roddy had a new name—Brent John Masters, too sophisticated for him but maybe that was the point. No one who knew AJ would ever look for him under a name like that. He also had a hack license and a car, a bank account with a few grand in it, an apartment, and identification, including a commercial class driver’s license and a Visa card. His apartment complex was full of singles, including at least three available, youngish widows living on what appeared to be decent insurance settlements. He had left behind debts and some overdue movie rentals, but Merrin had assured him that those things would be taken care of. He wore new clothes, more suited to Brent John Masters than anything AJ had ever owned—a blue blazer with brass buttons, a Hawaiian print shirt from Tommy Bahama, white linen slacks, and Sperry Topsiders with no socks.
The new life hadn’t come with a boat, though. AJ loved the sensation of water under his feet, the tang of salt water or the briny scent of rivers in his nostrils, the wind in what hair he had left for as long as he’d have it. Once he had the Weekender down there he’d repaint her, change the name. Merrin could deal with the registration issues. If that guy was connected to organized crime in some way, AJ didn’t want to know about it. It would explain a lot, but the explanations that he had been given—that he and Dane and the shitheel who messed up Ana were all vampires—was more than he wanted to deal with.
The whole world had turned topsy-turvy these last few years, as if the new millennium had been some kind of insanity trigger, and pulling it had changed all the rules. People flew airplanes into buildings and started wars seemingly at random and mailed anthrax and set off bombs in subways and blew themselves up; and skilled politicians self-destructed in new and spectacular ways and everyone worshipped celebrities like gods only to turn on them like jackals at the slightest hint of weakness, and he just did not fucking understand any of it.
Now adding vampires to the mix, and not just the fact that there were people who were dead but wouldn’t lie down and drank blood, but the additional fact that they didn’t all get along with each other, that there were factions, like the Democrats and Republicans in Congress always at each other’s throats, only made everything worse.
Jesus. It was like being told that Jack and Jill really did fall down the hill and some freaky goose really wrote stories down to scare kids and that monster really did live in his closet after all.
He parked among the other cars in the Tubby’s lot and walked across to the docks. A few lights shone here and there and he heard a radio playing some kind of salsa music from one of the boats, but other than that and cars passing by all he could hear was the slap of water against the hulls and the creak of the wood and the ropes. The scent of the water reminded him of why he had come. The water was real. He could navigate it and he could dunk his head in it and he could drink it. It had always been there and always would be, and at this point he needed something real in his life.
Sneaking up to his own boat made AJ feel like a common criminal. He walked down the docks toward the Midlife Crisis, trying to stand tall but avoid the lights at the same time. By now, he figured, whatever had been going on had blown over, but Dane and Merrin had both told him it wasn’t safe to return to Savannah, so he didn’t want to take unnecessary chances. No one saw him, so he heaved a sigh of relief when he stepped onto the familiar deck.
He would start the engine, then untie the boat and head out. In five minutes he’d be away from the docks and on his way out to sea.
The boat shifted and swayed as he crossed the deck, water slapped its sides, and he didn’t hear the tread of another foot until something hard and metal slammed down across the side of his head, catching his upper ear and blasting points of light through the darkness of the deck.
Stella was in luck—John Ikos was home, and he didn’t shoot at her as she approached his secluded lodge. She had been around here before but still couldn’t quite get used to the bunkerlike structure built into the side of a hill—concrete wall with weapons slits and a steel-clad door disguising what had once been a standard hunting cabin made of logs like her place. Except even inside that the cabin obviously belonged to someone a little obsessed with guns—everywhere she looked in the cabin were guns and gun racks, ammo boxes, cleaning supplies. She had almost never seen John without a gun close at hand, and some of the weapons he had were so high-tech she wondered if the military had even adopted them yet. The spicy aroma of bubbling stew from a pot suspended in the big fireplace filled the cabin.
“Some of us have more varied diets than others,” John remarked. For once he was out of his fur-lined parka, wearing just a sweater, jeans, and boots. He looked oddly naked. “I got some venison in the pot, along with some potatoes and vegetables from in town.”
“Smells good,” Stella said. “In the sense of something I would have liked, once upon a time.” It was heartbreaking to admit.
“No one invited you to stay for supper.”
“John, I need to speak with you.”
“Can I sit?”
“Sure, sorry. Be my guest.”
Stella pulled a chair out from under the dining table, both rough-hewn wood with some bark remaining on. On the wall above the fireplace a sampler added an unexpected touch of domesticity to the place, until Stella read the stitched-in message: TOUCH MY SHIT AND I’LL KILL YOU. That sounded like the John Ikos she remembered, from another life. She lowered herself onto the chair, then waited for him to do the same across from her. “I understand you know Dane.”
“Yeah, I know him. Good enough guy, for one of the—one of you.”
“He and Eben are going away soon. They said they wanted to see you before they go. I just wanted to see you first.”
She thought about the situation. She, the former vampire hunter turned vampire herself, who lost her husband only to be reunited with him again in the worst way possible. And John Ikos, who kept to himself, who lost his brother—as far as she knew, the only family he had—in the first Barrow attack, who had turned his hunting skills toward a different kind of prey. He now stalked the most dangerous predator of all, the kind she had learned more about than almost any other human on Earth.
They had fought side by side for their town—the town neither chose to live in, but both considered themselves protectors of—and would do so again. This time, however, she would be leaving it in his hands. “I need to go away, too” she said. “The nights are getting longer, and Eben won’t be here. It’s possible that there may be another attack. I just wanted to make sure you can handle things.”
“Every time it happens, folks in Barrow get smarter. Maybe the vamps do, too, I don’t know about that. But I know our folks have better fences, UV lights, everybody’s armed and knows what to point at. I think they could hold ’em off even without my help, much less yours.”
“I hope you’re right,” she said. “But now there seem to be many things going on in other places, and it all has to be checked out.”
She hadn’t even told Eben she planned to go to Georgia. He wouldn’t take it well. He would, most likely, pitch a fit. Better to go, then let him figure out that she had done so. Maybe even after he got home and wondered where she was.
If he got home.
According to Dane, the incident down in Savannah was too important to be taken lightly. Dane insisted that the mother was safe, and perhaps she was. But if Stella knew her nightcrawlers—and she thought she did—they would learn the mother’s whereabouts somehow. They would come for her, for the baby, and they would not be easily dissuaded. Whatever protection Dane had put in place could stand reinforcing.
“If you wanted to tell me where you’re off to, I expect you would’ve already, so I won’t ask,” John said.
“You’re right—I don’t intend to tell you,” Stella replied.
“That’s just fine. Don’t tell me where you’re going. The less I know, the better. You takin’ someone with you?”
“I hadn’t planned on it.”
“Might not be a bad idea to have some backup that can be out in daylight.”
“I know that.” She couldn’t quite grasp what he was getting at, and he was ordinarily a very direct guy. “If you’re thinking you should come along, John, I appreciate it but I think you’ll be needed here.”
She had never seen John Ikos blush before, hadn’t known that it was even possible. His gaunt cheeks turned pink and hot. The smell of his blood filling his capillaries piqued her hunger. “No,” he said quickly. “No, that’s not…not what I meant. I’m not talking about me. But there is someone…”
INTO THE UNDERWORLD
IT TURNED OUT THAT Tromsø was the largest city above the Arctic Circle, and had its own airport. Dane and Eben still had to get to Oslo, but there they boarded an overnight Norwegian Air flight directly to Tromsø. By the time they landed, the eastern sky was beginning to pale, so they jumped in a cab and asked to be taken to the Quality Hotel Saga, which seemed to have a central location.
From what Dane could see, the city looked modern and scenic, with ships churning up and down a body of water that might have been a river or a fjord. The cabbie pointed out Skarven, a restaurant and pub he recommended, and Dane thanked him politely without mentioning that they probably wouldn’t be visiting a lot of restaurants. The trees had shed most of their leaves, but scatters of gold and orange blew along the curbs as the taxi rushed past. Dane might have been more interested in the view if he hadn’t been worried about the sun.
Safely ensconced in their room, curtains drawn against the day, Dane and Eben warily regarded each other. Dane still didn’t like Eben and he figured the feeling was mutual, and then some. Eben lounged in a chair, leaving Dane no place to sit but on one of the beds.
“Now what?” Eben remarked.
“Now we get some rest,” Dane recommended. “And then we get busy trying to find the local vampires. City this size has to have a population. I want to make some calls, but we need to be ready to move by sundown. I don’t want to spend any more time here than I have to.”
“Makes two of us,” Eben said brusquely. He yawned, scraped his sleeve across his open mouth.
Dane wished they had decided on two rooms, instead of one. Eben’s trust in him didn’t extend that far, unfortunately. He wondered if Eben would sleep with one eye open, just in case Dane tried anything. Or vice versa.
What Eben might try, he had no idea. And Dane really had no interest in putting something over on Eben. All he wanted was to find out what the connection was between sawdust from this region and the Headsman-style murders Andy Gray had turned up.
Well, if Eben doesn’t want to be friendly, I can’t force him, Dane thought. He stripped and climbed into the bed he had been sitting on. Eben still sat in the chair by the window, a vacant expression on his face, staring toward the ceiling.
What kind of baggage does this man have? What could it have been like to be truly dead for a year and a half?
There are no answers up there on the ceiling, Eben. Pretty sure about that one.
But you just keep right on looking.
After sleeping for six hours, Dane went to work. His mobile phone had service here, which pleasantly surprised him. He had been expecting some Arctic wilderness and instead found the city referred to as the Paris of the North, so civilized that Barrow, by contrast, might have been an Inupiat fishing village. Merrin had promised to do some digging while Dane traveled, while once again imploring him to be careful, so his first call was back to Georgia, which seemed a million miles away. And Merrin had indeed come up with some suggestions.
None of the members of their network dwelled in this area anymore—the more aggressive, warlike vampires had moved into the areas above the Arctic Circle, forcing others into more southerly climes. But Merrin found one who had, for a time, had a safe house in Tavlik, not far away. That vampire recommended a specific part of the city where a number of busy nightclubs—Tromsø, it happened, was famous for its nightlife—provided ample feeding opportunities for vampires, if they didn’t mind a little hard liquor in their meals.
He had also located a busy sawmill in the nearby community of Lyggen.
After hanging up, Dane described both options to Eben, who sat up in his bed, his short dark hair mussed from sleep. “I’m for the nightclubs,” Eben said. “Nothing like fucking up some vamps to start a trip off right.”
“Keeping in mind that you are one,” Dane pointed out.
“Not something that slips my mind,” Eben said. “It was my choice…but I hate like hell that I was forced into that position in the first place.”
“Some people were born for it, and never realize their own potential until it happens. Others—like me—would rather have died when our time came than go on this way.”
“I can kill you now, if that’s what you want.”
A grim smile traced Dane’s lips. “At one time I’d have taken you up on that. Not anymore. Things are different now anyway. I mean, here we are, actually trying to be civil, or as much as possible, while attempting to stave off a full-scale war. This could be really nasty. I’m not as sure as some are that any vampires would survive it.”
“And that’d be bad how?”
“It’s not the destination I’m worried about, so much as the trip. Neither species would come out of it very well, I’m afraid.”
“You’re probably right.” Eben kicked off his blankets. “Kind of unfortunate.”
They dressed in cold-weather gear to blend in and headed out into the night. Dane had ordered a rental car earlier in the day, which had been delivered to the hotel, so after collecting the keys they went outside and found a dark green Saab. Dane had a fake international driver’s license, while Eben’s Alaska one had never been updated for obvious reasons, so Dane got in behind the wheel.
“All these Norwegian words look like somebody typing with their face to me,” Eben commented.
“It’s not an easy language,” Dane said. “But the traffic signs are pretty consistent internationally, so I think we’ll be okay.” He consulted a map from the hotel’s front desk and pulled out into the street.
He also sensed vampires.
Dozens of them, at least, just among the people they passed on the street. The vampires were mixed in with the locals, not attacking them. Like they lived here. Like they had been migrating here in numbers he couldn’t have imagined.
With Eben navigating, they made their way up Storgata and eventually found the district Merrin had described. They drove slowly through the area and kept going, driving through the city, looking at residential areas and the business district, swinging past the harbor (which reminded Dane of the dockside warehouse in Savannah, and his belief that Bork Dela had been shipping his captives offshore). Finally they returned to the nightclub area around midnight, made another sweep through it, and parked the car a few blocks away.
The night had grown markedly colder. A stiff wind bit at Dane’s cheeks. Not uncomfortable, but it would have been when he’d been human. They wandered closer to the nightclubs and then took up positions in darkened doorways, almost a block apart but from which they could see each other, and waited.
People came out of the clubs, walked or staggered to parked cars, sometimes talking and laughing loudly, sometimes huddling together against the cold. Others arrived, parked, went into the clubs.
No one was attacked.
Plenty of nosferatu, but they mingled with the humans, never taking any for food. Very strange.
After two hours had passed and the traffic thinned, Dane hiked back up to Eben’s station. “This was a waste of time,” he said. He spread his arms. “Any ideas?”