Principal Quincy Morris 01 Black Magic Woman
Quincy Morris 01 Black Magic WomanJustin Gustainis
Supernatural investigator Quincey Morris and his partner, white witch Libby Chastain, are called in to help free a desperate family from a deadly curse that appears to date back to the Salem Witch Trials. To release the family from danger they must find the root of the curse, a black witch with a terrible grudge that holds the family in her power.The pursuit takes them to the mysterious underworlds of Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans and New York, stalking a prey that is determined to stay hidden. After surviving a series of terrifying attempts on their lives, the two find themselves drawn inexorably towards Salem itself and the very heart of darkness.
Black Magic Woman Quincy Morris, Supernatural Investigation Book 1 Justin Gustainis [v0.9 Scanned & Spellchecked by the_usual from dt] [v1.0 Proofed by the_usual] CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS PROLOGUE PRIMUS VISITATION CHAPTER 1 CHAPTER 2 CHAPTER 3 CHAPTER 4 CHAPTER 5 CHAPTER 6 SECUNDUS INVESTIGATION CHAPTER 7 CHAPTER 8 CHAPTER 9 CHAPTER 10 CHAPTER 11 CHAPTER 12 CHAPTER 13 CHAPTER 14 CHAPTER 15 CHAPTER 16 CHAPTER 17 CHAPTER 18 CHAPTER 19 CHAPTER 20 CHAPTER 21 CHAPTER 22 CHAPTER 23 CHAPTER 24 CHAPTER 25 CHAPTER 26 TERMINUS CONFRONTATION CHAPTER 27 CHAPTER 28 CHAPTER 29 CHAPTER 30 CHAPTER 31 CHAPTER 32 CHAPTER 33 CHAPTER 34 EPILOGUE ABOUT THE AUTHOR ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS MANY PEOPLE HELPED me take this novel on its long journey from my study to your hands. John Carroll, my oldest friend in the world, gave me the idea for Walter Grobius — about whom more will be said presently. Sorry about that time in First Grade, man. Jim Butcher was kind enough to take time from getting Harry Dresden in trouble and read an early draft of the book. His encouragement and support kept me trying to find a publisher when I wanted to just give up. Jim's talent as a writer is matched only by his generosity of spirit. I want to be just like him when I grow up. Christian Dunn at Solaris bought the manuscript of Black Magic Woman and then worked with me, very patiently, to make it better. He is a prince among men. At least in my house. Lawrence Osborn, copy editor without peer, amazed me with both the breadth and depth of his knowledge. Anybody who can find and correct my mistakes in history and Latin and computer technology is a polymath of the first order. An unknown judge at the Colorado Gold Writers Contest several years ago gave me some excellent advice on rewriting the Prologue, and a great deal of encouragement, as well. Michael Kanaly and C.J. Henderson deserve thanks for many favors granted and kindnesses bestowed. Terry Bear offered nutritional advice and did copious menu planning, most of which was ignored. Pizza delivery drivers fear him. My wife, Patricia Grogan, is the best thing that ever happened to me. Without her to do the "happy dance" with, none of this would be worth doing. I love you forever, bear. To Libby Yokum, who had magic when I needed it. "This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply." Sherlock Holmes "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Edmund Burke "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Exodus 22:18 PROLOGUE Salem Village Colony of Massachusetts June 1692 ALTHOUGH SHE WAS sitting in a room full of people, Bridget Warren had never felt more alone in her life. She was surrounded by friends, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, with her husband Nathaniel seated right beside her, and she might just as well be standing naked before the throne of God, so frightened was she. In an effort to take her mind off what she would have to do in the next few minutes, she let her gaze wander around the interior of the village meeting hall, which doubled as a church on Sundays and had now been taken over for use as a courtroom. The whitewashed walls, all Puritan starkness and simplicity, were broken up only by a few narrow windows and the oil lamps that were placed every ten feet. The ceiling was high, its unpainted beams clearly visible to any who might glance that way while seeking Heaven's guidance. The rows of hard wooden benches by design offered minimal comfort, lest anyone invite disgrace by dozing off in the middle of a sermon—in any case, dozing was unlikely to tempt many attending these proceedings. Seated in the last row, Bridget could see that all of the benches were filled. No family in Salem was failing to pay heed to the trials by sending a representative. None would have dared. Finally, Bridget made herself look to the front of the meeting hall, where the seven magistrates sat behind a series of tables placed end-to-end. Their expressions were both grim and righteous, as befitted the responsibility entrusted to them by the colonial governor—and, indirectly, by the Lord God Himself. Chief Magistrate William Stoughton, the colony's lieutenant governor, sat stoically at the center of this row of rectitude. Twenty feet of open space separated the magistrates' tables from the first row of benches. The accused were always directed to stand there, midway between the people and their appointed guardians. Chief Magistrate Stoughton stared at the woman who now stood before the court. His forbidding gaze seemed calculated to freeze the blood of any accused sinner subjected to it. Bridget had seen more than one poor wretch wilt under this merciless scrutiny, confessing to the charges without the ordeal of a trial—thereby saving the Colony no small amount of time, trouble, and expense. Bridget Warren prayed that such would be the case this time—even while knowing in her heart that such an outcome was less likely than snow in July. "Goodwife Carter," Stoughton declared solemnly, "ye stand accused of consorting with the Devil and of practicing witchcraft, despicable acts condemned by Sacred Scripture as well as the laws of this Colony. How answer ye these charges?" The woman who stood before the court neither cowered nor looked away from Stoughton's piercing gaze. She sounded both confident and calm as she replied, "I am innocent of those crimes and of any other, Your Lordship." "The truth of that will yet be determined," the Chief Magistrate said sternly. Raising his voice, he addressed the congregation. "Who gives evidence against this woman?" The question was followed by uncharacteristic silence that seemed to grow heavier with each passing second. Stoughton stared across the length of the meeting hall, and Bridget Warren fancied that she could feel the cold bite of his gaze. She tried to rise, but her trembling legs refused to obey. Nathaniel placed a reassuring hand under her elbow, but did not try to lift her up. To stand or remain seated was her decision, and hers alone. Grasping with both hands the back of the pew in front of her, Bridget pushed herself to her feet. In a voice louder and more resolute than she'd ever thought she could muster, she declared, "I do." NATHANIEL WARREN GINGERLY rolled off of his wife's naked body and arranged himself in the bed next to her, holding her close. He was waiting for his heart to slow to a normal rhythm and his hand, which gently cupped Bridget's left breast, told him that her pulse was racing, too. After a few minutes had passed he said, "Your ardor tonight brings to mind our first months of marriage. You couple like one possessed, my love." "Hush, you," she said softly. "Speak not such words—they're a danger, these days." "What, 'couple?' Where's the danger in that?" She slapped his leg, but not very hard. "No, idiot, I meant 'possessed,' as you knew full well." "Aye, well, I suppose I did," he said with a smile. "Still and all, I know whereof you speak. My passion did burn brighter this time. Mayhap I wanted to lose myself in pleasure, to forget that business of the trial today." "Like enough you're right," he said, "but I'll not complain of the result." He gave a contented sigh. A few peaceful minutes went by before he suddenly asked, "Will she hang, then?" "Sarah? Aye, she will—as well she ought." Bridget's voice had lost all levity. "Tis a sad thing, Nate, for all that she brought her doom upon herself. I had no joy over condemning her in the court. It were the hardest thing ever I have done." "Still, the judges believed you. But then, they have done the same for every accuser who has come forward." "I spoke the truth. You know I did." "If only truth were enough to win the day," he said dryly. "Yes," she said, her expression bleak. "So many good, blameless people condemned, by the words of crazy children, or jealous neighbors, or superstitious fools. But Sarah Carter…" "'In league with the Devil.' I'd not credit it, had I not heard the words from your lips." "I'd not credit it, myself, but that I saw her with mine own two eyes. She were sacrificing a goat, that day I came upon her in the wood, and she had the Devil's signs drawn in the dirt all 'round her—the pentacle, the inverted cross, and suchlike. I recognize the black magic when I see it, Nate, even if I practice only the white myself." "Aye, I know." A frown appeared on Nate's face. "Does not Sarah have a daughter?" "She does. Rebecca, her name is," Bridget said. "Aged… eight years, or thereabout." "What's to become of her? The father died some time back, I think." "Aye, a horse threw him and cracked his skull. Or so Goody Close told me." "So, the girl's an orphan, once Sarah goes to the gallows." Nate shook his head sadly. "What's to become of her?" he asked again. "They've relatives in Boston, or so the talk goes. Mayhap they will take the child in." "I'll pray that they do. T'would be an injustice, were she turned out into the streets to starve. The daughter should not wear the blame for the mother's wickedness." "Aye," she said. "There's been too many innocents ground up in the mill of justice already." THIRTEEN DAYS LATER, Sarah Carter was hanged for witchcraft. She died bravely, if her refusal to engage in the pleading, screaming, and crying that usually characterized such occasions may be said to constitute courage. When asked for last words, Sarah Carter replied in a cold, clear voice that, some said, could be heard throughout Salem village: "May you all be damned to Hell, and that right soon." Then they kicked the ladder out from under her. Bridget Warren stood at a distance and made herself watch. The expression on her face resembled that of someone about to vomit—which is exactly how she felt. Nate stood with her, his arm around her shoulders. "We've no need of this," he said softly. "Why invite such sorrow into your heart?" "I brought it about," she said firmly. "I'll not hide from the consequences, ugly though they be." Nate squeezed her tighter. A few moments later, they were about to turn away and start for home when Nate suddenly growled, "Gah! I cannot believe they brought the child here!" Bridget stared at her husband. "What child?" He pointed with his chin. "Look yonder." She followed his gesture to one of the little knots of people ringing Gallows Hill. It took her a moment to recognize the adults as Sarah Carter's Boston relatives, who had been pointed out to her a few days earlier. They clung together, the women weeping quietly. But one who stood with them, a girl of about eight, was not crying. She was looking at Bridget Warren. It seemed to Bridget that she and the girl stared at each other for a long time, a contest that was halted only when the child raised her left hand, the first two fingers extended, and sketched a brief but complex pattern in the air. Bridget gasped, then immediately brought up her right hand to make a gesture of her own—the sign that was the standard defense against the curses used in black magic. Rebecca Carter continued to stare, expressionless, at Bridget until her aunt grasped the child's hand and pulled her away. Nate Warren had observed the brief, silent exchange between the two females. Even if he had not, the expression on his wife's face would have told him that something was very wrong. "Bridget, what means this?" he breathed. It took his wife a moment more to tear her gaze away from the little girl—the youngest black witch she had ever seen, or even heard of. "Mean?" she said finally. "Methinks it means but one thing, Nathaniel." Bridget paused to look again at the lifeless form on the gallows, then sent one final glance after the retreating back of Rebecca Carter. After a few seconds she continued, in a voice that chilled Nate Warren's blood. "It means this wicked business is not yet done with." PRIMUS VISITATION CHAPTER 1 Lindell, Texas Population 3,409 "THEY SAID THEY was gonna be here today," Hank Dexter growled. "Fuckers done promised us." He leaned his chair forward and spat a glob of tobacco juice onto the dust-covered asphalt of Main Street, where it immediately began to sizzle. Then he pushed his weight back against the chair, tilting it to rest once more against the front of Emma's Cafe. The chair, a cheap armless thing made of aluminum and plastic, normally graced one of the tables inside Lindell's best (and only) eatery. But Jerry Jack Taylor, who'd taken over the business after Emma passed away four years earlier, had raised no objection when Hank and his buddy Mitch McConnell brought a couple of the chairs outside. Emma's wasn't doing much business these days, anyway—and none at all, after dark. Mitch made a show of looking at his watch. "Day ain't done yet," he said. "Shit, it's just past three o'clock." "Yeah, and another hour it'll be just past four, then five, then six, and pretty soon after that the fuckin' sun'll be going down and it's gon' start all over again." Mitch didn't say anything to that. But after a while, he asked, "Why'nt you just leave, man? Clear the fuck out like half the folks in town already have, seems like." "Cause Jolene's in there, that's why. She's in there somewhere—with them'" He was staring across the street at the Goliad Hotel, all two stories of it, and the hatred in his eyes was like a living thing. After a few moments he asked, "How 'bout you? Why you still hangin' around this shithole?" "You seen what they did to my daddy. You was there when we found him." "Yeah," Hank said softly. "Yeah, I was there." "Folks say now he was one of the lucky ones, 'cause they killed him right out. Didn't… change him." Mitch gave a laugh that held no humor whatever. "Lucky, my ass. Ain't nobody deserve that kind of luck, no sir, and I ain't leavin' till I get back at them fuckers, somehow." "Yeah, quite a few folks got scores to settle with the leeches. Good thing, in a way, 'cause without them, I couldn't have raised the money for them fuckin' experts, who was supposed to fuckin' be here—" "Hey, what's that?" Mitch said suddenly. He was staring off to the left, where Main Street merged with Route 12. Hank looked that way, his eyes narrowed against the glare. After a moment, he spat another wad of 'baccy juice. "Nah, that ain't nothin'. I hear tell them old boys travel around with a couple of semis, along with some four-wheel-drive jeeps and I don't know what all. Make a regular convoy out of it." He gestured up the street with his head. "That dust cloud ain't big enough for more than one vee-hicle, and it's just a car, most likely. Some damn tourist missed the highway turnoff, or somethin'." Hank was right about it being a single car, as was proved a few minutes later when the dark blue Mustang pulled up in front of Emma's Cafe. But he was wrong about everything else. The man who got out was tall and lean, with black hair and a heavy beard growth that looked like it needed to be shaved twice a day. He wore lightweight gray slacks and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled back a couple of turns to reveal strong-looking forearms. His sunglasses were the style made popular by those Men in Black movies, but he had the good manners to take them off before addressing Hank and Mitch. "Howdy," he said with a nod. He didn't smile, the way strangers usually do when they're about to ask for directions. Hank and Mitch returned his greeting but said nothing more. The stranger did not seem bothered by their silence. He didn't come across as hostile or challenging, but there was a quality of stillness about him, as if he could have stood there all day and half the night, waiting for something to happen. It was the kind of patience you see in some hunters, the ones who always bag their limit no matter what's in season at any given time of year. Finally, Mitch said, "Lost, are ya?" The stranger seemed to consider the question seriously before shaking his head. "Not if this is Lindell, I'm not." He looked more closely at them. "And not if you boys are Hank Dexter and Mitch McConnell." His accent showed he wasn't local, but it didn't mark him as a Yankee or anything like that. Instead, he sounded like a Texas boy who had gone and got himself some education somewhere. Hank sat forward suddenly, bringing the front legs of his chair down with a bang. "You ain't Jack—" "No, I'm not," the stranger said. "Jack has a whole crew he works with, as you fellas probably know. And all of 'em are bogged down right now in one hell of a mess over in Waco. Way I hear it, what was supposed to be a simple job has turned out to be a major infestation, and Jack and his crew are about up to their ass in bloodsuckers." The stranger twisted his head to the left and gave the Goliad Hotel a good, long look. Then he turned back around. "But Jack made a commitment to you folks, and he's a man keeps his word. So he gave me a call. Asked me to come on over and see if I could help out with your situation here." "All by your lonesome?" Hank didn't bother to keep the scorn out of his voice. "And just who the fuck are you?" "My name's Quincey Morris," the stranger said, not saying it as if he thought it would mean anything to them. And it didn't. "You work for Jack, do you?" Mitch asked. "No, I'm sort of an independent contractor," Morris said, smiling a little. "And it so happens that I owe Jack a couple of favors. Big ones." He glanced at his watch, then up at the sky. "But time's gettin' on while we're jawin' here, and there's a lot to do before sundown." He raised his thick black eyebrows. "I assume you fellas are still interested in doing something?" "Bet your ass, we are," Hank said, and came to his feet at once. "Let's get to 'er." "WHAT THE HELL is that?" Mitch asked, staring. "Flowers? We gonna fight the goddamn leeches with flowers? Mister, you are plumb loco." Morris had popped the trunk of the Mustang, to reveal several bundles of thorny sticks, some with blossoms still attached. The odor released by opening the trunk was pleasantly reminiscent of a greenhouse, although it dissipated quickly in the hot, dry air. "These are branches of wild rose," Morris said. "They've been demonstrated to have a binding effect on vampires—or leeches, if you like." Mitch peered suspiciously at the bundles. "What's that mean—'binding effect?'" "Well, for example, if you put one on a vampire's coffin, he can't leave it, even after dark. Has to stay inside." "So, what, you 'spectin' us to go in there—" Hank made a head gesture toward the Goliad, "and put these things on a bunch of coffins? Are you fuckin' crazy?" Before Morris could reply, Mitch said, "Mister, what he means is, we know a couple fellas went in the Goliad after this all started, lookin' to settle things with the leeches. Broad daylight an' all—they wasn't stupid. But they didn't come out again, neither." Morris shook his head. "No, I wouldn't go in that place, day or night, and I wouldn't ask you fellas to do it, either. They've probably got booby traps, deadfalls, who knows what other devilment set up inside there. But, see, the binding effect of wild rose works in a number of ways." He broke a bundle and picked up one of the branches. "Put this across a door and fasten it there, a vampire can't go out that way." He pointed across the street, at the front entrance of the Goliad. "Like that door over there, say." Hank and Mitch were looking at Morris now with more interest than they had shown since his arrival. "You take another branch," he went on, "put it across a window, and no vampire is gonna leave through that particular window, long as the branch stays in place." Morris gestured at the contents of the Mustang's trunk. "Like you can see, I brought lots of wild rose branches with me— enough to seal up that hotel tighter than Huntsville Prison, at least as far as vampires are concerned. But I'll need you fellas to help me. I picked up some carpenter's staple guns, and I expect you know where to scare up a ladder or two." After staring inside the trunk for a couple of seconds, Mitch scratched his head in puzzlement. "So what are you fixin' to do—keep the fuckin' leeches bottled up inside the Goliad forever? That dog just won't hunt, Mister. Sooner or later, these rose bushes of yours is gonna start to rot, and then—" Morris held up a hand, palm out like a traffic cop. "That's not what I had in mind, not at all. I don't figure to keep the vampires penned up indefinitely. I just want them confined for three days—well, three nights, to be precise." "Yeah, okay, say we can hold 'em for three days and nights," Hank said. "What happens after that?" Morris told them. Three days later 4:48am MORRIS OPENED THE rear gate of the rust-spotted old cattle truck, and Hank Dexter helped him set the ramp in place. The four heifers were reluctant to move, but Mitch McConnell climbed into the truck bed with them and shooed them down the ramp, one at a time. Each cow already had a length of stout rope tied loosely around its neck, and Hank and Morris used these as leashes to lead the animals to predetermined positions and then tie them in place. They tethered one of the cows to a lamp-post, another to a nearby parking meter. The other two were secured to the truck itself—one rope was tied to a door handle, and the other was made fast to the cattle truck's front bumper. The whole tableau was situated in front of Emma's Cafe, which placed it directly across the street from the Goliad Hotel. Even though well used to people, the animals were skittish. This may have had something to do with the new sights and smells confronting them, but it probably owed a lot more to the enraged howls and screeches that were coming non-stop from inside the Goliad. The men were bothered less by it than the cows were—after all, they had been listening to that insane cacophony for the past two nights. Mitch checked all the knots, then joined the other two men in the middle of the street. They were both looking toward the Goliad. "Sounds kinda like a loony bin during a earthquake, don't it?" Mitch said. "It's worse now'n last night," Hank observed. "Sure it is," Morris said. "They're hungrier tonight. That was the whole point, remember?" He peered at his watch in the uncertain light of the street lamps. "I make it 5:06. How about you fellas?" Hank checked the luminous face of his Timex. "Prid near, I'd say." Mitch just nodded. "Better get in position, then," Morris said. He looked at Hank, who was drawing a big hunting knife from a sheath at his belt. "You sure you're okay with this part of it, podner?" "Reckon so," Hank told him. "I worked in a slaughterhouse for a while, when I was younger. Ain't fixin' to enjoy myself, but I'll get it done." "All right then. You fall back to Emma's when you're finished, and Mitch, you'll let him in. Then the two of you are gonna uncork the bottle, right?" "That's a big ten-four," Mitch said. He looked at Morris closely for a long moment. "You take care now, y'hear?" "I was plannin' to," Morris said with a tight grin, and turned away. As he jogged off into the night, he called over his shoulder, "Remember the Alamo!" MITCH MCCONNELL STOOD inside Emma's Cafe and tried not to watch as Hank Dexter slashed each cow's throat. Hank moved so quickly that the last beast to receive his attention was only starting to low its distress when the sharp blade of the hunting knife flashed beneath its chin. "I don't much like this part of it either," Morris had told them. "But we need blood out there, a lot of it, and it's got to be fresh. If it's any consolation, the poor damn cows won't have to suffer very long." His butcher's work done, Hank ran for the front door of Emma's. Mitch let him in, then closed and locked the door again. Each of the double doors had a big glass panel in it, and those panels now bore a large cross, done in black paint. The same holy symbol had been painstakingly applied to all the windows in Emma's—and to every door and window along Main Street, as well as every structure in a two-block area. "That business about vampires having to ask permission to enter a dwelling the first time is bullshit," Morris had said. "But what you hear about the effect of crosses, now that's the truth. The gospel truth, you might say." "You done good, podner," Mitch said, as Hank wiped his knife blade off on a napkin. "Bet them cows don't think so," Hank said, his breath coming fast. "He said two minutes, right?" "Yeah, more or less. Better check your watch—you got the one glows in the dark." They had left the lights off inside Emma's. Crosses or no, they had no desire to call attention to themselves during the next few minutes. It seemed to Mitch they waited half an eternity, while the pandemonium coming from the Goliad seemed to double its crazed intensity, and then double again. Finally, he heard Hank say, "All right, I reckon it's time." They felt around on the floor for the objects they had left there earlier: two metal tubes, which until recently had been legs of one of the cheap cafe chairs. Around each tube was now tied the end of a length of 150-pound test fishing line. Each thick black filament ran under the door, over the sidewalk, across the street, and right up to the front door of the Goliad Hotel. Both of the lines were knotted securely around the branch of wild rose that was stapled across the hotel's double front doors. One fishing line would probably do the job, but two was safer. "We can't afford any mistakes," Morris had told them. "We take up the slack first," Hank said tensely. Each man began to roll a tube in his hands, which pulled the loose line in under the door and wound it around the tube. In a few seconds, both lines were tight, exerting tension on the branch of wild rose across the street, along with the big staples that held it in place. "Okay, then," Hank said. "Slow and steady." They braced their feet and began to pull, then harder, then harder still. Suddenly, the lines went slack again, which told Hank and Mitch that they had succeeded. The branch of wild rose was now gone from the Goliad's front doors. Nothing happened for a long time—two, maybe three seconds. Then the doors of the Goliad burst open like the floodgates of Hell. THERE WERE SEVENTEEN of them, and they battened on those bleeding, frightened cows like sharks on a herd of fat seals. Some of the vampires went directly to the gushing fountains under the cows' throats, while others used their fangs to open fresh wounds of their own. A few went down on hands and knees in the street and began to lick from the spreading red puddles that had formed there. None spared a glance toward Emma's Cafe. They saw and smelled and thought of nothing but the blood. It was not the human variety that they preferred, but it was warm, and it was fresh—and it was blood. Hank and Mitch were standing well back from the windows to avoid detection, but they could still see the spectacle outside. After a few moments, Mitch heard Hank mutter, "Ah Jesus goddamn piss-ass fuck. Goddamn it, shit!" "What is it, podner? What's the matter?" Hank shook his head a couple of times. "Jolene's out there with the leeches. She's one of 'em." Mitch didn't know what to say, so he kept quiet. "I kept tellin' myself, maybe they didn't do her yet, ya know? I was hopin' maybe they'd like, I dunno, save her, to fetch and carry for them in daylight, or somethin'." Hank shook his big head again, like a boxer trying to get past the effects of a haymaker before the next round starts. "Fuck, who'd I think I was kidding? Just myself, I guess. Like fuckin' usual." He pulled out one of the chairs from a nearby table and sat down heavily. Still unsure what to say, and afraid of making it worse by coming up with the wrong thing, Mitch decided to leave Hank alone with his pain for a while. He turned his attention back to the carnage in the street. Now that he started looking at the vampires as individuals, he could recognize Hank's wife Jolene easily enough. Along with Walt the barber, Tom Jesperson the sheriff, and three teenagers who used to hang around the pool room all day long when they should've been in school. In fact, every one of the creatures out there gorging on the cows' blood was someone Mitch had once known. It took him a few seconds to realize what that meant. "Where's the fuckin' Master?" he said out loud. Hank took his head out of his hands and looked up. "Huh? What're you sayin'?" "The Master. The dude that come into town and started all this vampire shit. That's what Jack told us they's called, remember? Masters. Well, I know every damn person out there, known 'em all for years, same as you. So, who's the fuckin' bloodsucker that begun it? And where is he?" Hank peered across the street, at the open doorway of the Goliad. Inside the hotel, back a little way from the door, he thought he could just make out something red… no, two somethings. He squinted hard, and suddenly knew what he was looking at—eyes. A pair of eyes, glowing red. "Oh, fuck," Hank said quietly. "The bastard's still inside." "Fuck is right," Mitch said, pointing to the left. "Lookee there." Walking rapidly along the sidewalk across the way, staying in shadow whenever possible, was Quincey Morris. Carrying a fresh branch of wild rose in one hand and a big staple gun in the other, he was headed directly for the Goliad Hotel. MORRIS WAS FEELING cautiously optimistic. Everything actually seemed to be going according to plan, and he knew how rare that was. Robert Burns has famously written, "The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley," and Morris's English Lit professor at Princeton had once interpreted that last part to mean "Things usually get fucked up beyond belief." Still—so far, so good. If his luck held, this whole mess should be over in another fifteen minutes or so. Then he could help with the clean-up, maybe grab a few hours of sleep, and be back in Austin by evening. The creatures across the street were still gorging themselves on cows' blood and paying no attention to what might be going on behind them. As he crept along, Morris mentally rehearsed his moves for the next few seconds: close the hotel doors, quickly staple on a fresh branch of wild rose, jump in his Mustang parked a few yards away, and take off before the vampires knew what was going on. Then let things take their course. He had reached the Goliad and was just taking hold of one of the front doors when he realized that Bobby fucking Burns was proved right again, as the Master vampire leaped out from the hotel entrance and took him by the throat. The impact of the Master's charge put them both on the sidewalk, the vampire on top. Morris had the breath knocked out of him, and the impact of the back of his head on the concrete hadn't helped, either. But he knew that unless he did something right now he was on his way to joining the ranks of the undead, and he was not going to let that happen. He'd lost his stapler in the fall but still held the other object he'd been carrying, and as the Master vampire brought those predator's teeth down to tear out his throat, Morris jammed the branch of wild rose between the creature's jaws and pushed back, hard. None of the experts who have written about the vampire's nature, not Van Helsing, or Blake, or Tregarde or any of the others, has been able to explain convincingly why the undead are repelled by certain natural substances, such as garlic, wolfsbane, or wild rose. Perhaps it is a sort of allergy, or there may be a deeper, spiritual meaning. But for pragmatists like Morris, wondering why these things work against the undead is far less important than knowing that they do. The Master reared back, gagging. He yanked the branch of wild rose from his mouth and flung it aside, furiously spitting out small fragments onto the sidewalk. That only took a few seconds, and then the Master turned back to his victim—only to be struck hard by Morris's open palms, just above the eyebrows. The impact against the vampire's forehead was enough to break the small plastic bubbles, each about the size of a pregnant quarter, that were glued to Morris's hands. Earlier, he had cut the bubbles from a sheet of packing material, and then used a small-bore hypodermic needle to carefully fill each one with about 50 cc of holy water—most of which was now running into the Master vampire's eyes. The effect, similar to what you'd get from sulfuric acid splashed on a human, was immediate and devastating. The Master clutched his ruined eye sockets and fell sideways onto the sidewalk, howling in agony. Morris did not waste time staring at the creature. He picked up the branch again, and, after a few moments' fumbling, found the stapler where he had dropped it. Scrambling to his feet, he hastily closed the Goliad's front doors and then affixed the branch of wild rose across them, putting on three staples, just for luck. Then he turned around and saw that luck was something he was shit out of. Seventeen vampires were standing in front of the hotel now, and they were all looking right at him, their faces full of rage— and hunger. WATCHING FROM INSIDE Emma's, Hank and Mitch had been in turn worried and elated as Morris was attacked by the Master vampire and then bested him. But as the Master screamed out his anguish, they saw the feeding vampires finally began to take notice. One after another, they had abandoned the blood of the now-dead cows and turned toward the Goliad Hotel. "Oh, shit," Mitch said. "He's fucked now. Some of them bloodsuckers is between him and his car." "Yeah," Hank replied. His eyes were slits of intense concentration. "Maybe he's got some more of that holy water he used on their Master. That might—" "Shut up and listen," Hank said through clenched teeth. "Got me a idea." It took him only a few seconds to lay it out for Mitch, whose eyes went wide as he listened. "You can't be serious about goin' out there, man," Mitch said. "Christ, there's a whole shitload o' them fuckin' leeches, and we're—" "I'm goin'," Hank rasped. "Either alone, or with you to back me up, but I'm goin'. Which way's it gonna be?" Mitch took in a big breath then let it out. "Okay, okay, all right." His voice sounded shaky. "Let's do it before I get me some sense and change my mind." Hank nodded, and drew the knife from its sheath. "Just let me cut the line off of these here chair legs." As THE VAMPIRES advanced on him, Morris tried to formulate a plan of action. Trouble was, he seemed as fresh out of options as he was of holy water. He decided to try a desperate dash through the crowd of undead, in the hope that surprise and momentum might allow him to smash through them before they could react. Then he could try for Emma's, or perhaps the cab of the cattle truck. Either way, he wouldn't have to hold out very long. He knew that his chances weren't good. There were probably too many of the vampires for his half-ass plan to succeed. But he was damned if he was just going to cower there, like some heroine in a bad horror movie, and wait for them to take him. If they wanted his blood, they could damn well fight him for it. He was gathering himself for the rush when he suddenly heard Hank Dexter shouting: "Hey, you fuckin' leeches! Over here!" Several of the vampires turned at the sound of Hank's voice. Morris could see Hank standing on the sidewalk in front of Emma's Cafe, and it looked like Mitch was positioned a few feet behind him. "Still hungry, are ya?" Hank yelled. "Then how 'bout some of the real stuff?" Hank held his hands out before him, revealing long, hairy arms in a shirt-sleeved shirt. The right hand held the hunting knife, and in a quick, economical motion Hank slashed the blade across his own left wrist. Arterial blood began to spurt immediately. Hank waved the wounded arm wildly back and forth, spattering his blood on the street in an arc that looked black in the streetlights. There was near hysteria in his voice now as he screamed, "Come get your dinners, you low-rent motherfuckers!" All of the vampires were focused on Hank now, and as they began to surge toward him, Morris made his move. One vampire was still between him and the Mustang, and Morris hit him with a stiff-arm that Jim Brown might have approved of. He thought there might be a few drops of holy water left in the deflated bubble glued to his palm, and the scream from the vampire told him he'd been right. Unhindered now, he yanked open the Mustang's door, jumped behind the wheel, and quickly got the door closed and locked. He thought starting the engine might attract some of the undead's attention, but they were too interested in the sight and smell of Hank Dexter's fresh, pulsing blood to pay any notice. Seeing that he'd accomplished what he wanted, Hank gripped his bleeding wrist tightly and began to back toward the open door of Emma's. The vampires started to follow, and that was when Mitch McConnell stepped forward. He held one of the chair legs in each hand, and as the vampires approached he brought them together before him in the form of a cross. He had seen a guy do something similar in one of those old Dracula movies on TV, and it had done the job then, driving the evil count back like an irresistible force. Mitch silently prayed to God and Sonny Jesus that it would have a similar effect this time, too. It worked just fine. The vampires frantically reversed course, cowering back before the power of the holy symbol Mitch held in his trembling hands. Their dismay and confusion gave Hank Dexter the chance to get back inside Emma's, where he immediately began to apply to his arm the fishing line tourniquet he and Mitch had prepared a few minutes earlier. Across the street, Morris gunned the Mustang and sent it hurtling up Main Street in a spray of dust. The front bumper caught one of the vampires, a woman, and knocked her sprawling. But Morris only went fifty or sixty yards before jamming on his brakes, turning the wheel hard left as he did so. These actions, combined with the film of dust on the street, allowed the Mustang's rear end to swing around 180 degrees in a perfect bootlegger's turn that had the car facing back the way it had just come. Morris hit the gas again, then flicked the headlights on high beam. Earlier in the day, he had used the last of the black paint to paint a cross carefully on each of the car's headlamps. This meant that turning on the lights sent two cross-shaped shadows wherever the car was pointed. Right now, it was pointed at the group of vampires in the middle of Main Street. Smoke and screams arose whenever the cruciform shadows touched one of the undead. Morris aimed the Mustang right for the center of the mob, and the vampires scattered like tenpins. He drove through them, past them, and on for a couple of blocks before repeating the rum-runner's maneuver to turn the car around again. He let the car's powerful motor idle while he surveyed the scene he had just left. The sidewalk in front of Emma's was empty, which meant that Hank and Mitch were both safely inside, protected by the crosses painted on the cafe's doors and windows. The vampires were milling around the street in apparent confusion. Since the Mustang's headlights were still on, Morris didn't think any of the vampires would be heading his way. Then he raised his gaze a little and beheld a sight he had viewed many times in his life, but never with such profound relief. Sunrise. The vampires became aware of the coming of dawn at about the same time and they immediately began to scramble around in a desperate search for shelter. But there was none to be had. Every door and window they approached bore a painted cross that barred their entry as effectively as steel bars. It was less than a minute before the vampires began to burn. The first to go up was a man in a mail carrier's uniform, and even from two blocks away Morris could hear his screeches as the sun's purifying rays turned him incandescent. The others followed soon afterward—first one, then another, then two more, and finally all of them were ablaze, rending the air with screams of pain and rage. The Master, far older and stronger, went last, staring up at the sky with his ruined eye sockets, unable to see the great glowing orb that was turning him into a torch. Then it was over. Morris drove slowly back the way he had come and parked in front of Emma's. Up and down Main Street, people were starting to venture from their homes. They came out cautiously, a few at a time, the way folks will do after a tornado has passed through. As Morris got out of the Mustang, the door of Emma's opened. Mitch came out first, followed by Hank, who now had strips of tablecloth tied tightly around his left wrist. The three of them stood on the sidewalk staring out at the debris left in the street—the four dead cows, the pools of blood that were already starting to attract flies, and eighteen piles of ash that had once made up a colony of the undead. After a while Mitch said, "Anything special we oughta do with them ashes?" Morris thought for a moment. "You got a stream around here, or a creek—any kind of naturally running water?" Mitch nodded. "There's a good-sized crick runs past the north edge of town." "Put the ashes in there, then. Probably an unnecessary precaution, but it never hurts to be careful. You might say a prayer while you do it, too." "I'd do that anyway, most likely," Hank told him. "That was a brave thing you boys did, coming out there like that," Morris said. "Saved my sorry ass, for sure." Hank twitched one side of his mouth. "I don't reckon a fella like you needs to talk much about brave. You got more guts than a pissed-off grizzly, Mister Morris." Mitch was looking at Morris closely. "This ain't your first rodeo, is it? You done this kind of thing before." "Yeah," Morris said, his voice sounding tired. "Yeah, I have. It's part of my profession, you might say." "How's a fella end up doing this kind of thing for a living?" Mitch asked. "It's kind of a family tradition," Quincey Morris told him. He reached inside his jacket pocket, found his Ray-Bans, and put them on. "Now, we've got some cleaning up to do here— but first, Hank, we better get the local doc to look at that arm of yours. I expect you're going to need some stitches, podner." CHAPTER 2 MAY IS A hot month in Texas, and Walter LaRue seemed grateful for the air conditioning in Quincey Morris's office. "I was wondering about something," he said, settling his bulk into the armchair across from Morris's antique oak desk. "When you file your income tax, what do you put in the box marked 'Occupation?'" "Actually, I have a fella who takes care of all that for me," Morris said. The Southwest twang in his speech was slight but noticeable—at least it was to LaRue, who had lived all of his forty-two years well north of the Mason-Dixon line. "I tend to have a lot of deductions—travel, mostly—and trying to keep track of it makes my head hurt. Hell, it's all I can do sometimes just rememberin' to get receipts. But, to answer your question: on my tax guy's advice, I use 'Consultant.'" "Not 'private investigator?'" Morris shook his head. "That's a legal term, Mr. LaRue, and it's got a specific meaning under the law. The state of Texas, like most places, has pretty stiff requirements for a private investigator's license—you've got to show so many hours of law enforcement experience, and so on. I don't qualify for the license—but then, I can't say that I ever felt the need to." "You don't advertise in the Yellow Pages, either." It was almost an accusation. Morris smiled without showing any teeth. "No, I sure don't," he said evenly. "I doubt the phone book people have a category that would fit me very well. But there's quite a few folks out there in the world who know what I do. My clients mostly hear about me by word of mouth—as you did your own self. Or so I'm assuming." Walter LaRue grunted softly in response. He was one of those big men who always seem untidy. His expensive gray suit had not known the touch of an iron for quite some time, the custom-made white button-down shirt had a button missing from one of the collar points, and LaRue's Hermes tie bore a small stain of what was almost certainly mustard. His hair, which was brown flecked with gray, was carelessly combed and unevenly parted. In contrast, the slender, thirtyish man seated behind the big desk was carefully groomed and neatly dressed. Quincey Morris's black hair was combed back from his high forehead. His tropical-weight navy blue suit combined quality fabric with good tailoring. Although Morris didn't really care much about clothing, four years at Princeton had given him conservative good taste in attire. So, every January 2nd, he spent an hour online with the current catalogs from Brooks Brothers and Joseph A. Banks, ordering whatever he thought he might need for the coming year. Quincey Morris may have been the only adult male Texan who had never owned a string tie. After several moments of fidgety silence, LaRue said, "This is kind of… weird for me. I mean, six months ago, if you'd asked me to predict what I'd be doing today, most likely I'd say that I'd be at my desk in Madison, Wisconsin, running my software design firm. Sitting in Austin consulting a parapsychologist would have been pretty damn low on my list of possibilities." "I'm not one of them, either, Mr. LaRue," Morris said patiently. "A parapsychologist—a real one, I mean, not one of the cranks or con artists—is a scientist, someone who studies the paranormal in an organized, controlled way. Now, I do try to keep up with the serious stuff as it's published. That's not hard to do, since there's so little of it. But I don't consider myself any kind of scientist." "Then what are you?" LaRue asked with a frown. "I suppose you could call me an interventionist, if you need to put a name on it. Let's say I've got a client who's experiencing some difficulty that he thinks is due to some supernatural entity." Morris shrugged. "That turns out to be the case, then sometimes I'm able to provide assistance." "Only 'sometimes?'" "Yep, afraid so. It all depends on the nature of the problem, and what the client expects in the way of a solution. For example, I've been asked more than once to raise the dead." "Are you serious?" Another shrug. "The people who asked me were sure enough serious. But necromancy is not something that I practice—and I mean never. That kind of thing comes strictly under the heading of black magic. I don't perform black magic, and I don't mess around with those who do." "So, what does that leave?" LaRue asked. "White magic? Do you perform that, whatever it is?" "I've got some very limited skills in that area, Mr. LaRue. But I have several associates whose expertise in that area is far greater than mine. I call upon them, from time to time." "Maybe you should put 'warlock' on your tax forms," LaRue suggested with a tiny smile. "That'd be wrong, too," Morris said. "But maybe we'd be better off identifying your problem, Mr. LaRue. I assume you're looking for some sort of… intervention?" "Yeah," LaRue said, nodding slowly. "I guess that's what I need, all right. If 'intervention' is a fancy way of saying, 'help, and a lot of it, and right away,' then it could be that's just what I need." Morris made a slight gesture. "Go on." "There are these—these occurrences, these events that have been happening to my family the last three months. My wife and kids are terrified, and if I wasn't such a big, tough he-man, I suppose I would be, too." The second cousin of a smile appeared on LaRue's haggard face, but only for a second. "And the thing is, it's getting worse. It was puzzling at first, then annoying, but now I think it means us harm." Morris kept silent but nodded his understanding. "There were little things, in the beginning," LaRue said. "Objects falling over when nobody's near them, a door closing by itself, stuff like that. You tell yourself that it's just the vibrations from truck traffic, or a breeze getting in through cracks in the foundation. It's easy to explain it away at first." "But you're not trying to explain it away any more," Morris said quietly. "No, not for the last couple of weeks. Because now I'm pretty sure it, whatever it is, wants to kill us." "Explain what you mean, please. Be as specific as you can." "Well, one evening last week my wife and I were in the kitchen putting dinner together when our big carving knife jumped out of the rack and buried its point in the cutting board I'd just been using. If I hadn't jerked away, it might've pinned my wrist right there, just like a pin through a bug in some kid's science project." "Dangerous, for sure," Morris said, nodding. "And frightening. But not really life-threatening." "No? Not life-threatening?" There was anger in LaRue's voice now. "Then how about last Saturday night? My daughter Sarah, eight years old, was having her bath while my wife stood a few feet away in front of the mirror, using her hair dryer. She swears the dryer just flew out of her hand, sailed through the air, and splashed down into the bathtub, which, I might remind you, contained one little girl, surrounded by a whole bunch of water." The voice was almost a snarl. "Is that life-threatening enough for you? Is it?" Morris held up a hand, palm forward. "Please, Mr. LaRue, I wasn't trivializing your concern for your family's safety." His voice was calm, soothing. "I tend to categorize paranormal events, and sometimes I think out loud. I meant no offense." LaRue took a couple of audible deep breaths. "No, listen, it's not you, I'm sorry. I'm just on edge a lot these days. Not your fault." "Your daughter, was she—" "No, she wasn't electrocuted. The hair dryer's got a short cord—maybe they make 'em deliberately short, I don't know— so just before reaching the tub it yanked its own plug out of the wall. Hell, Sarah was hardly upset by it at all, just surprised. That is, until her mother became hysterical, and I really can't say that I blame her." Morris scratched his chin. "Any other incidents since the one involving the hair dryer?" "No. At least, not since the last time I called home, which was…" LaRue checked his watch, "about forty-five minutes ago." He spent several seconds examining the nail on his right index finger, as if he found it the most fascinating object in the world. Then he sighed, a sound that seemed to come from the cellar of his soul. "But I figure it's only a matter of time until it happens again, and that could be the one that kills my daughter. Or my son, who's five. Or my wife. Or me." LaRue's face twisted, and Morris was sure he was going to cry—an understandable reaction, all things considered. But the big man reestablished control quickly. He spent some time staring at the pattern in the carpet before he said, without looking up, "Please help us." The voice was scarcely more than a whisper. "Please." "Of course," Morris said. "Of course I will. Are you flying home today?" "Yeah, I want to get back as soon as I can. My flight leaves at 6:40 this evening." "All right, then." Morris stood and came around the desk. "I've got preparations to make here, but I'll fly out tomorrow morning. Depending on the connections, I expect to be in Madison sometime in the afternoon. I want to spend some time in your home, with your family. I'll probably pester you with a lot of questions, and I'll need to see the rooms where these incidents have occurred. Then we'll figure out what needs to be done." He placed his hand on Walter LaRue's big shoulder and squeezed, just for a moment. "And then we'll go and do it." As Morris walked him to the door, Walter LaRue said, "There's one more thing I've been meaning to ask you. No big deal, just something I've been kicking around in my head while I try not to think about what could be happening at home." "What's that, podner?" Morris said absently, as if part of his mind were elsewhere. "I was a Computer Sci major in college—I know, big surprise—but they make you do a certain number of credits in Humanities as part of that stupid General Education stuff. So I took this course in Gothic Literature. Seemed more interesting than most of the other choices they had." "Uh-huh." Morris knew what was coming now; it had happened before. "Well, one of the books we had to read was Dracula, which I ended up liking more than I thought I would. Thing is, there was a character in there, one of the guys who helped hunt Dracula down and kill him. I guess this fella was supposed to be from Texas." LaRue was looking at him intently now. "And, you know, I'm pretty sure his name was Quincey Morris." Morris's mouth formed a small, wry smile. "Yep, that's true. That was his name." "So, what gives? I'm no English professor, but I understand the difference between fiction and what's real. This guy in the book was a made-up character, just like Dracula, or Van Helsing, or any of the rest of them, right?" "Many folks would call him that, no doubt about it," Morris said. Neither his face nor his voice held much expression. "But what about you? What would you call him?" "Me? I'd call him my great-grandpa," Morris said. "Now, y'all have a safe trip home, and I'll see you in Madison tomorrow." Then politely, but firmly, he ushered LaRue out of his office and closed the door. BY 8:30 THE next morning, Quincey Morris had almost finished the preparations for his trip north. He had made airline reservations, arranged to have the mail and lawn taken care of, and brought the cage containing his only pet, a hamster named Carnacki, over to a neighborhood kid who would take good care of him. He had then packed a suitcase with clothing, several books, and a thick file marked "Poltergeists." Now there was only one more thing left to do. He took from the top drawer of his bureau a fireproof metal container a little bigger than a cigar box. Unlocking it, he carefully took out two envelopes, brown with age. From each one he gingerly drew out a multi-page letter, unfolded the brittle paper carefully, and placed the documents side by side on the bed in front of him. He had thought more than once about photocopying these pages and placing the originals in a safe deposit box, but always rejected the idea. It was important that he handle this paper, that he re-read these words before going out on an investigation, especially if it promised to be difficult or dangerous. It helped remind him of what he was, and where he had come from. He read each letter slowly. One was signed "John W. Seward, M.D." The other, written in a shaky, old man's hand, bore the signature "Abraham Van Helsing, M.D., D.Ph., D.Lit., etc." It was these documents, along with the account given by Stoker, that had allowed the family to piece together the fate of the first Quincey Morris, who had fought and died in a place far from home. The Carpathian Mountains Transylvania Novembers, 1887 THE SUN WAS low on the horizon now, which lent greater urgency both to the pursuers and their quarry. The two parties were pushing their horses to the limit—they all knew that once that blood-red orb disappeared below the mountain peaks, continuing the chase would be futile. The American was at the head of the pursuit. He rode hard and well, bent low over his mount's neck to decrease wind resistance and reduce the blurring of vision caused by the cold air whipping at unprotected eyeballs. Unlike his companions, the American had some experience taking a horse into battle, although the brightly dressed gypsies up ahead bore little resemblance to the Apaches he had fought in south Texas as a young man, almost twenty years earlier. The gypsies' cart was slowing to a halt now, under the rifles of Mina and the Professor, who had been hiding in ambush behind some rocks near the entrance to the castle. But the gypsies, although stymied, showed no inclination to surrender. Dismounting, they produced knives from within their clothing and formed a protective cordon around the cart and the large, rectangular crate that it carried. The sun had crept lower still. The American rode up on the scene and was out of the saddle before his mount had stopped completely. He sprinted toward the gypsies' cart, drawing the huge Bowie from its sheath on his belt. He could see Harker rushing forward from the opposite side, waving that great kukri knife of his like a scythe. The two of them attacked without hesitation. There was no time to parley with the gypsies, even if a common language could somehow be found. There were at most a few minutes of daylight left, and then his time would be on the world again. The American fought savagely and by instinct, which is the only way to go up against odds with any chance of survival. Slash, parry, thrust, parry, slash, feint, slash, thrust, parry, the big steel blade of the Bowie knife never still, thrust, parry, feint, slash, the left hand working as well, punching, clawing, blocking, pushing, gouging as he surged forward, forward, always forward. He knew nothing of fear, or pain, or mercy, and three gypsies lay twitching on the ground before the rest of them finally gave way before this madman, a moment after their kinsmen on the other side broke under Harker's equally desperate onslaught. The two men clawed their way onto the cart's flat bed and immediately assaulted the nailed-down lid of the crate, the refuge and resting-place of the creature they had come so many miles to destroy. Using their knives as levers, they tore the nails loose, wrenched off the lid and flung it aside—just as the last rays of the sun disappeared from the western sky. He was inside, as they had known he would be, to all appearances a corpse but then, as the daylight fled over the horizon, the ancient eyes flew open, the sharp canine teeth suddenly visible as the face twisted in a triumphant smile—a smile that vanished an instant later as the blade of the Bowie slammed into the monster's heart while Harker's kukri bit deep of his throat. The sudden blast of energy from the crate knocked the two men onto their backs, their knives clattering loose against the crude wood of the cart. A terrible sound filled the air around them, an immense bellow that somehow combined a screech of pain, a scream of fear and, strongest of all, an animal howl of rage. It lasted only a few seconds, but when the two men regained their feet and peered inside the makeshift coffin, there was nothing left but dust, a few scraps of cloth and a half-dozen gold buttons, each inscribed with a stylized letter "D." The surviving gypsies had also observed their master's dissolution. Responding to a shouted order from their clan leader, they took to horse and fled, leaving their dead behind. As the sound of hoof beats faded into the distance, an unearthly quiet settled over this impromptu battlefield, a silence broken only by the wind and the far-off howling of wolves. It was only then that someone noticed that the American was bleeding. Both Seward and Van Helsing were physicians, but there was little they could do. One of the gypsy blades had found a major artery, and the hastily applied pressure bandages could not stem the flow of bright-red blood. Mina Harker knelt beside the American, taking one of his hands in her own. She wept softly, and he turned his head toward her, probably with the intent of saying something manly and consoling. Suddenly his eyes widened. With an effort, he raised one unsteady hand, pointing at Mina's forehead. "Look!" he croaked. "It's gone! The scar…" They looked, all of them: Harker, his hands still red from the Count's blood; Jack Seward, moustache quivering with emotion; Lord Godalming, the noble profile barely visible in the gloom; and Van Helsing, their leader, whose wise old face went from exhaustion to elation in the space of an indrawn breath. Mina Harker's forehead, which had been scarred weeks earlier by the touch of a wafer of Holy Eucharist, was now utterly smooth. "God be praised!" Van Helsing said reverently. "Her brow is rendered clean as the virgin snow—the curse is lifted, by the death of the Devil that inflicted it!" One by one, the men knelt on the ground, in respect for the miracle they had just witnessed. It was sometime during that interval that Quincey Morris, of Laredo, Texas and many points east, lay back, closed his eyes, and quietly died. Some time later, they loaded Morris's body onto the back of the cart that the gypsies had abandoned. "Should we put him in the coffin, Professor?" Godalming asked. Van Helsing shook his head adamantly. "We should not the remains of our friend defile with the unholy resting-place of such foulness. He deserve better of us, I think." In the end, they took coats and jackets from several dead gypsies and fashioned them into a semblance of a shroud. The gypsies themselves they buried in a common grave. While the Harkers and Lord Godalming labored at this, Seward and Van Helsing stood off a little way, talking quietly. "We shall have to make arrangements to have Quincey's body shipped back to Texas for burial," Seward said. "He would want that, you know." The old man nodded. "He said so to me once, years ago." "We should telegraph his family, as well. It wouldn't do to have the coffin simply arrive there unannounced." Van Helsing sighed. "You are quite right. I will the telegram send from Bistritz. His family must learn the news, tragic though it be. We should also write at length, each of us, so they may know the true heroic end of him who they consign to the earth." "Both his parents are still alive, I believe." "Yes, and one child, also." "Child! You mean Quince was married?” Seward's voice betrayed his shock. "But… but he sought Lucy's hand, just as Godalming and I did!" The old Dutchman laid a gentle hand on Seward's arm. "Do not have distress, friend John. Quincey was married once, true. But his wife died, in childbirth. It has been, now…" Van Helsing calculated briefly, "about four years since. So, fear not. Our American friend was a gentleman. He was free to marry Miss Lucy, if she would have him. But, as matters developed…" "Yes, quite." Seward closed his eyes tightly for a moment. The fate of Lucy Westenra was a wound on his soul that would need a long time to heal, perhaps a lifetime. "But the baby lived, you say?" "Yes—lived, and is now in the care of Quincey's parents on their ranch, or so he did tell to me some months past." Van Helsing saw that the others were done with Morris's body and preparing to leave. As the two men walked toward their horses, Seward asked, "Is Quincey's child a boy or girl? You didn't say." "A boy. Strong and healthy, by all accounts." Van Helsing swung into the saddle. "We should pray that the son grow to be as brave and steadfast as was the father." "Yes, we should," Seward said. "The world needs such men." They turned their horses and joined the others on the road that would take them to Bistritz, and, in time, back to England. Behind them they left nothing but a ruined castle, a few gold buttons, and a handful of rags that were already scattering in the cold, Carpathian wind. MORRIS FINISHED READING the letters, refolded them carefully, and placed them back in their original envelopes. He put the two envelopes in the fireproof box, and locked it. Then he returned the box to the bureau drawer. The tall Texan who had died in the shadow of Castle Dracula was the first of the Morris family to stand against the forces of darkness that forever trouble the world. He was not the last. Quincey Morris closed his suitcase, picked it up from the bed, and went off to catch his plane. CHAPTER 3 THE LARUE HOUSE certainly didn't look frightening. But then, they never do, Morris thought. The pleasant white Colonial with green and gray trim wouldn't even merit a second glance from some Hollywood production assistant out scouting locations for a new Wes Craven movie. Morris had been in a few certifiably haunted dwellings over the years, and none of them had borne the slightest resemblance to Castle Dracula—a place that Morris also knew a great deal about. There was the house in West Pittston, Pennsylvania—the little one with the white siding. Nothing special to look at, but pure evil inside—as bad in its way as an equally nondescript place in Amityville, Long Island. And Morris had once spent an hour in a certain town house in Washington's Georgetown section. Walking through the elegant home, you'd never know that two Jesuit priests had once died there while performing an exorcism to save a little girl. Morris had learned that evil doesn't advertise. It doesn't have to. The fortyish blonde who answered his knock had probably been fairly attractive a few months ago, before fear and worry and sleepless nights had their way with her. "Mrs. LaRue?" "Yes, what is it?" she said impatiently. Clearly, she was ready to repel boarders, whether salesmen, Jehovah's Witnesses, or candidates for City Council. "My name's Quincey Morris, ma'am. You're expecting me, I hope." For an instant she gazed at him blankly, then comprehension dawned. "Oh, you're the—I mean, yes, of course, my husband told me. Please come in." She led Morris down a short hallway and into the living room, where her husband sat on a couch next to a dark-haired boy of about five. They were watching a video that Morris recognized. It cleverly used stop-motion animation to portray the adventures of a wacky British inventor and his long-suffering dog. LaRue stood up at Morris's entrance and walked over to shake hands. "Glad you made it. Good to see you, I see you've met my wife Marcia." Morris nodded. Looking at the boy he said, "And who's this handsome young fella?" "This is my son, Tim. Say hello to Mr. Morris, Timmy." The boy turned his pallid face toward Morris long enough to say "Hi," before returning to the TV screen. "We're watching Wallace and Gromit. Wanna watch with us?" "Maybe later, Timmy, thanks," Morris said. "I have to talk to your folks for a while first, okay?" "Okay." The boy's gaze did not leave the screen. Morris turned away and was about to ask LaRue something when the boy's voice from behind him said, "Are you gonna catch the ghost?" Morris looked back at Timmy, who continued to stare at the TV. "Do you think there is a ghost, Timmy?" A twitch of the small shoulders. "I guess. Mom and Dad say there's one." The boy's voice was utterly lacking in effect. Morris stepped closer to the couch. "Have you seen a ghost?" he asked gently. "Uh-uh. It's indivisible." "Invisible, you mean?" Another shrug. "Yeah, I guess." "Then how do you know there is one?" "It does things. Bad things. It makes Mora and Dad all scared. And Sarah. She's my sister. She's always cryin' and stuff." Timmy LaRue's voice remained as empty as if he were discussing a dimly remembered comic book he'd read a year ago. Morris took a casual-looking step to one side, so that he could see the boy's eyes straight on. "How about you, Timmy? Does it make you scared?" "Uh-huh." Two syllables, delivered in a monotone. Morris was certain now. Shellshock. The kid's shellshocked, or whatever they call it now—post-traumatic stress disorder. He's been so terrified that he's passed fear and come out on the other side. This goes on much longer, he'll be a basket case, probably for life. Morris looked at the boy's too-placid face again. If he isn't already. "If there's a ghost, I'll catch him, Timmy. I promise." "Okay," the emotionless little voice said. Morris walked back to the parents, who had watched this exchange with a mixture of sorrow and resignation. "I'd like you to give me a walking tour of the house, if you would," he said briskly. "Not just the rooms where the attacks have occurred, but the whole place. All right?" "Fine, I'll do the honors," LaRue said. Looking at his wife, he said, "Do you want to…?" He made a small head movement in the direction of his son. "Sure, I'll stay with Timmy," she said with a ghost of a smile. "We'll watch some more Wallace and Gromit together." As the two men left the living room, Morris asked quietly, "Where's the little girl—at school?" "That's right," LaRue told him. "She'll be home in a couple of hours." "How is she dealing with this? Same as Timmy?" "No, she's… jumpy. Nervous all the time. Has screaming nightmares three, four times a week." LaRue shook his head. "I don't know which is worse—watching her fall apart, a little at a time, or seeing Tim turn into a fucking zombie." LaRue's voice broke on those last two words, but he regained control quickly. Morris wondered what it was costing the big man to keep his emotions dammed up like that—and how much longer it would be before the dam burst. They began their tour of the house. "WHAT'S THIS HERE?" Morris asked. They had stopped on the second floor hallway, in front of a large oak bookcase. The top of the bookcase was at eye level for Morris, and it was there, among the usual family bric-a-brac, that something had caught his attention. LaRue looked at the small object in Morris's hand. "Oh, my mother-in-law used to make those. Said they were good luck charms, or something. We're always finding them around the house." Morris twirled the charm in his fingers. Its base was a three-inch length of wire twisted into a figure eight—which, laid on its side, is the mystical symbol for infinity. A bit of green thread was tied around it at the center, and through this had been inserted a couple of sprigs of some kind of flora, now long dead. Morris rubbed a tiny piece of the vegetable matter onto his index finger, then brought the finger to his mouth and licked it. Aconite, aka. wolfsbane. Well, now. "I'd very much like to talk to your mother-in-law," he told LaRue. "Does she live in the area?" LaRue shook his head. "She used to live with us," he said. "She died four months ago." "I'm sorry for your loss." Morris thought for a moment. "And the attacks started occurring when?" "About three months ago," LaRue said with a sigh. He ran a hand through his untidy hair. "I know where you're going with that," he said. "It's occurred to me, too, you know. I just haven't had the guts to say it out loud." "Say what, exactly?" LaRue made an impatient gesture. "That Greta's… ghost, spirit, whatever you want to call it, is responsible for all the shit that's been going on." "Is that what you think?" "Well, Christ, it's what you're thinking, isn't it?" Morris shrugged, and said nothing. "I mean," LaRue said, "if we're going on the assumption that all of this is being caused by some kind of spirit… and if you look at the timing, and all…" Morris kept twirling the little charm in his fingers, watching it go round and round. Without looking up, he asked, "Was your mother-in-law on good terms with the family?" "Yes. Yes, she was. I mean, I've heard all those jokes about mothers-in-law that people make on TV. But Greta was okay, you know? We all got along pretty well." "Including the children?" "Oh, yeah. She loved the kids. They loved her back, too. Her dying hit them both pretty hard—and then this other shit starts…" "I assume she had her own room?" "Sure, it's down the hall. Don't you want to do the rest of the tour first?" Morris slipped the little charm into his pocket. "No, I've seen all I need to here." "IT'S ALL PRETTY much the way she left it," LaRue said. "None of us has had the heart to start packing Greta's stuff up, and we don't really need the room for anything, anyway. Besides, after the… incidents started, we all got kind of preoccupied." "That's good to know," Morris said, looking around the spacious bedroom. There were knick-knacks and mementos all over the bureau, nightstand, and bookshelves, but nothing that drew his interest for more than a second or two. "Listen, I'm going to have to search the room. I'll handle her belongings carefully, and with respect, and I'll put everything back exactly as I found it. But it's something I've got to do. Will that upset you?" LaRue shrugged. "I suppose not. But what are you looking for?" "I'll let you know, if I find it." Eight minutes later, he did. Morris stood looking into the bottom drawer of the dresser, contemplating what he had uncovered after moving some blankets and an old flannel bathrobe: the old book with its white leather cover, the small silver bell, and the hand-made candles in several colors and shapes. There were several other items that he also recognized. Morris took from his jacket pocket the little charm that he had found earlier. As it twirled slowly in his fingers, he said to LaRue. "Well, it looks like I've got some good news and some bad news for you." LaRue nodded cautiously, waiting. "For one thing, I'm almost positive that your troubles here are not being caused by a poltergeist, or any other kind of resident spirit." LaRue nodded again. "And what's the bad news?" Morris looked at him for several seconds before saying quietly, "I'm sorry, Walter—that was the bad news." CHAPTER 4 CECELIA MBWATO SAT sprawled in a chair in the cheap motel room, watching the sky through a dirty window and waiting impatiently for the coming of night. She was not one of those creatures the stupid Americans called "vampires." She was human, more or less, and could function in the daylight as well as anyone. But she had long felt a certain affinity with the dark, especially since becoming umthakhati at age fourteen, an occasion she always thought of as embracing the Great Darkness. Besides, certain deeds essential to her craft were best carried out under cover of night. The sun had reached the horizon now, and begun to disappear below it. There were enough clouds in the vicinity to reflect the dying light, filling the sky with a roseate glow that some might have called beautiful. But Cecelia Mbwato knew nothing of beauty, and cared only for the falling of the black cloak of night. Once it was fully dark outside, she picked up the telephone and tapped in two numbers. A voice in her earpiece said, "Yeah." "It's time," she said, keeping most of the eagerness out of her voice. "Get the car." She hung up without waiting for a reply. SNAKE PERKINS GUIDED the big, beat-up Lincoln Continental expertly through the quiet suburban streets, tapping the fingers of one hand on the steering wheel to the beat of music only he could hear. His passenger didn't like the radio, but that was all right. Snake had a repertory of songs in his head that he could play whenever he wanted. It wasn't quite as good as listening to them from an outside source, like a stereo or something, but it wasn't half bad, either. Snake Perkins carried more tunes in his head than you'd find in the average teenager's iPod. He was currently listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," a song Snake had always liked even though he was a Mississippi boy, himself. He'd just gotten to the part where Skynyrd was pissing on Neil Young when Cecelia Mbwato said, "Up here, next to the park. Pull up beneath that big tree." Snake did as she said. Part of him, the product of nine generations of dirt-poor, butt-ignorant, Klan-joining rednecks, bridled at taking orders from a woman who was just about the blackest nigger Snake had ever seen, and a damn foreigner besides. That part of him would have loved to punch the bossy nigger bitch in the face five or six times, get out, go around, and yank her out of the car. Then tie some rope around her ankles, the other end to his rear bumper, and take himself for a nice long ride, at eighty miles an hour. But the Mistress he served had been very clear: he was to do whatever the nigger woman wanted, take her anyplace she wanted to go, and help her out however he could. And Snake Perkins dreaded his Mistress's wrath even more than he used to fear his mother. He parked where he'd been told, killed the lights, and turned the engine off. When he saw that the woman wasn't getting out he asked, "Now what?" "We wait. Someone suitable will come along soon, I think." "How do you know that?" Snake was careful to sound only curious, not like he was giving her a hard time, or something. She gestured with her chin toward the park. "Over there is a place for children." "Yeah, a playground. So? It's dark, kids are all gone home." "For now, yes. But the children, they feel safe here. A child who is not safe at home, the parents fighting, a big brother who is mean—may come here to feel safe again, for a little while. So we wait." "Yeah, okay." Snake went back to the jukebox inside his head. He had just finished grooving to the Oak Ridge Boys doing "Elvira" when Cecelia Mbwato said, "Why is it you are called 'Snake?' Because you are so tall and skinny? Or because you are deadly, like the mamba?" Snake thought a mamba was some kind of dance that greasers did, but he said, "It ain't a nickname. It's my real name. They give it to me the day I was born." "A curious thing to name a child." "My folks seen this movie, Escape from New York. There's a character in it, guy called Snake Plisskin. They thought it was some kinda cool name, I guess." "It must have brought you much mockery when you were small, from other children." There was no trace of sympathy in Cecelia Mbwato's voice. "Yeah, I guess you could say that." "If my parents had done such to me, I think I would be tempted to kill them, when I was grown." There was something in Snake Perkins's voice that was almost enough to frighten even Cecelia Mbwato when he said softly, "How do you know I didn't?" DEXTER GALVIN LOVED the playground, even at night, when there were no other kids to hang out with. In fact, night was better, because it was quiet. Dex liked sitting on one of the swings at night—not riding it, just swaying back and forth and thinking about stuff. The stuff he thought about these days usually involved his Mom and Terry, her latest boyfriend. A couple of months ago, Terry had gotten Mom to try this stuff, crystal myth or something. The two of them would smoke it and pretty soon they'd get all weird, talking a mile a minute, laughing, crying, not sleeping for days. Then the myth would wear off, and they'd get all sad and mean until they had some more. Then it would start up all over again. Tonight, Terry had tried to get Dex to have a puff from the pipe that he and Mom used. Mom heard him and started yelling, stuff like "Jesus, Terry, he's only nine fucking years old!" Then Terry had got mad and slapped Mom. A little while after that, Dex had sneaked out and headed for the playground. There was a big, kind of beat-up car parked near the entrance to the park. Dex saw the silhouettes of two people in the front seat, one looking like it might be a woman. Dex wondered if they had been fooling around with each other, stopping when they saw him approach. Well, they could fool around all they wanted, as if Dex gave a shit. It was none of his business. He had just passed the car when he heard one of the doors opening. He looked back and saw a tall, really thin guy get out. The man looked toward Dex and called, "Hey, kid, wait up a second. I wanna ask you somethin'." Yeah, right. Dex had watched enough TV to know danger when he saw it. He turned and ran, flat out, toward the park. He almost made it as far as the front gate. SNAKE PERKINS SLAMMED the trunk lid and got back behind the wheel. "He is no good to me if he is dead," Cecelia Mbwato said. "I didn't kill him," Snake Perkins told her. "Just put him out with a sleeper hold until I could get the duct tape on him." "What do you mean, 'sleeper hold?'" Snake held out one hand, fingers shaped as if he were gripping a large glass. "Grabbed him around the neck and put pressure on the carotid arteries. Cuts the flow of blood to the brain, puts 'em right out. No permanent damage." At that moment they heard the first of the muffled cries coming from the trunk. "See?" Snake said. "Told ya." Snake wasn't worried about the noise. You'd have to be either inside the car or standing right next to it to hear anything, and in a little while it wouldn't matter, anyway. Cecelia Mbwato nodded. "Good. Now take us to the place I have selected. When we get there, and I have completed the preparations, you will assist me with the procedure." She paused. "I was told you are a man who is not bothered by the blood and pain of others." "Long as it ain't my own, don't bother me a bit." Another nod. "Very good. Now drive." Snake started the car and headed off to the isolated spot near the lake that he and the woman had found the day before. He wondered just how much blood and pain he was going to have to deal with when he got there. CHAPTER 5 WHEN THE BUZZER sounded, the tall, brown-haired woman put down the ladle she was holding and went to answer the door. Standing in the hall was a woman of medium height and rather chunky build. Her face, behind aviator glasses, was framed by thick black hair. The earnest expression that she wore went well with the tailored gray suit and slim briefcase. "I'm a little early," the visitor said. "I hope that's okay." "No problem at all," Libby Chastain told her, opening the door wider. "Come on in. Let me just turn off the stove." They walked into the condominium's large kitchen, where Libby extinguished the blue gas flame that was burning under a large, black pot. "Ah, a cauldron!" the visitor, whose name was Susan Mackey, exclaimed. "And what goes in there—tail of salamander, eye of newt, that sort of thing?" Libby smiled slightly. "More like paste of tomato and leaf of basil," she said. "I'm making spaghetti sauce for later. But it can sit a while with no problem. Why don't we do the same?" A deep furrow appeared between Susan Mackey's bushy eyebrows. "Sorry?" "Sit a while, I mean. Come on in the living room." The condo's living room was done in earth tones, the furniture mostly the comfortable variety of Scandinavian modern. Once they were both seated, Susan leaned forward and said, "As I told you on the phone, I've got another job that would seem to need your, uh, talents. Are you interested?" "That depends on the job, as always. The Devil—or, I should say, the Goddess—lives in the details. Is this gig like the last one?" "In some ways, but on a bigger scale." Libby thought for a moment. "What was the name of that old fraud in Cleveland? Sister Meredeth, or something?" There was amusement in her voice. "Mother Josephine," Susan said. "You may not recall her too well, but I bet she still remembers you—not to mention that séance of hers we sat in on." "You'd think someone who claims to call up the spirits of the dead would be prepared for a real ghost to show up." "Apparently not, judging from the way she ran screaming from the room." Libby studied the other woman for a moment. "You know, Susan, I sometimes wonder what the other folks at the Society for the Advancement of Rational Thought would say if they knew you sometimes debunk spiritualist scams by hiring a real witch." "You're down on the books as a 'consultant,'" Susan said with a shrug. "As long as I get results, nobody's going to ask many questions about the exact nature of the consulting." She fiddled with the latches on her briefcase for a moment. "Besides, we're not opposed to spirituality, on principle, or even to belief in the supernatural. We're just against those who use beliefs in such things to exploit gullible people." "And that's what you've got this time? Another con artist?" "This guy is to con artists what Houdini was to magicians— the creme de la creme. Or maybe creme de la creep is more like it." "So what's his particular angle?" "That," Susan said, "is something I think you should see for yourself." MANY SMALL, INDEPENDENT movie theaters have been driven out of business by shopping mall megaplexes, pay-per-view cable, and DVD players. Some of these former dream palaces have been torn down, while others have been converted to other uses—like the one in New York's East Fifties where the marquee now proclaimed "Tommy Timberlake Ministry," and, in smaller letters, "Healing, Testimony, Prophecy." On the way in, Libby and Susan passed a table holding a tall box that read "Donations," guarded by a large man who looked more like a bouncer than a deacon. Since everyone filing in ahead of them seemed to be dropping in a "voluntary" offering, the two women each put in a few dollars. They did not want to draw attention to themselves. The inside of the theater had probably not looked this good since the place opened in the 1940s. It had been extensively refurbished, with an eye towards opulence rather than good taste. However, the large placards bearing biblical quotations were not part of the original decor, nor was the giant cross that dominated the stage. The starkness of the plain, black cross was offset by the many large potted plants that were arranged around it. The place was rapidly filling up, but the two women were able to find seats together about halfway down the middle section. The chairs were luxuriously padded and extremely comfortable. "Nearer my God, to Thee" was playing softly over the theater's sound system. A woman with severely permed blonde hair, wearing a blue dress of elegant simplicity, was working the room. As she made her way around the seated crowd, she waved to many and smiled at all. Periodically she would pause to speak to someone in one of the seats for a minute or two before moving on. "Who's that?" Libby asked. "Winona Timberlake, the Reverend Tommy's wife," Susan said quietly. "Sort of a combination warm-up act and mistress of ceremonies. She does this meet-and-greet thing before every service." "Looks like she's headed our way." Winona Timberlake made her slow way up the aisle toward them, and paused two rows in front of where they sat. "Hello, dear, and welcome to our church," she said to the middle-aged woman sitting in the aisle seat. "I'm Winona Timberlake." "Oh, I know who you are!" the woman exclaimed joyfully. "I've seen you on the TV, I don't know how many times! I'm Madge Collier, and this is my sister, Rosie." "Is this your first time attending our service here?" "Yes, yes it is. I'm from Patterson, New Jersey. I watch your program every week, you know, but I thought coming in person might help me find the grace I need to, well, to get through some things." "Is there something particular that is afflicting you, dear?" Winona Timberlake's voice radiated sympathy and concern. "Well it's just that the doctor says I have a cancer of the—you know, the womanly parts. And he wants me to have an operation. But it's so expensive, and I don't have hardly any insurance, and I just…" The woman identified as Rosie reached over and grasped her sister's hand where it lay on the armrest. "Anyway," Madge Collier continued, "I was so hoping that being here with the Reverend, maybe the Holy Spirit might inspire me, you know, to help me figure out what I should do." "I'm sure he will, dear," Winona Timberlake said with a brilliant smile. "There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that everything will work out for the best. The important thing is that you trust in the Lord Jesus." "Oh, I do, I always have—" Madge said, but the other woman had already moved on to greet some new arrivals. After another few minutes of mingling with the assembled worshipers, Winona Timberlake mounted the steps that led to the stage. She was handed a microphone by a minion, and by the time she reached center stage, a spotlight was waiting there to welcome her. The recorded music had stopped playing, and the crowd murmur quickly died down to nothing. In the sudden silence, Winona Timberlake looked out at the audience. She held them with her eyes for a long moment before saying, "Friends, I'd like to welcome you to our service tonight. It feels so good, doesn't it, to come together with other Bible-believing Christians in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit? And fellowship is so important now, isn't it? Because we live in tough times, you and I do." She paused for a beat. "Tough times where our spirits are assailed, our families are threatened, our schools are corrupted, and the streets of our cities are not safe for decent people." There were murmurs of assent from the crowd. "But for those of us who believe in the Lord Jesus, there is always hope in our hearts. And here tonight with a message of hope, with a message and a vision and the blessed powers of healing and prophecy, is the man I am proud to call my husband and inspiration—the Reverend Tommy Timberlake!" The applause that broke out would not have shamed a rock star. Winona Timberlake's spotlight winked out and was instantly replaced by another that shone on a man standing stage left. He was medium-sized, although the subtly padded shoulders of his handmade suit made him seem bigger. His curly black hair seemed to shine in the light from overhead and he was a case study in barely controlled energy as he strode to the center of the stage, which his wife had quietly vacated. Even as he moved, the Reverend Tommy Timberlake was already talking. "I can feel the spirit of the Lord in this building tonight, friends." The applause faded at his first words. His voice seemed hushed, intimate, but the microphone he held carried each word clearly to every corner of the large theater. "And why shouldn't He be among us, who have come here to praise Him?" There were a few shouts of "Amen" and "Praise his name" from the audience. "Didn't he tell us, 'Come unto me, ye who are afflicted and sore afraid?' Isn't that what the Lord, the God of Hosts, told us?" "He did," "Yes, praise Him," and "It's the truth" came from various amen corners. "Then we must believe," the Reverend Tommy Timberlake said. "We must trust in the Lord. We must have faith that the Lord sees our pain, knows our fear, understands our tribulation, and that He will deliver us from all of it if we will just ask Him to do so." Reverend Tommy squeezed his eyes shut, like a man afflicted by a sudden migraine. He took in a sharp breath that was clearly audible over the microphone. "Is there a woman named Beatrice among us tonight? Beatrice, whose mother is so seriously ill?” A woman off to the left suddenly screeched, "Yes, it's me! It's me!" Reverend Tommy took a few steps in her direction. His eyes were open now, his gaze piercing. "Beatrice, your mother is ill with—is it colitis?" "Yes, yes it is, Reverend! Oh, my Lord, yes!" "I am in the way of knowing, Beatrice, that your mother will be healed, if only you have enough faith. Do you have faith, Beatrice? Do you love the Lord Jesus?" "Oh, yes, Reverend Tommy! Praise His name!" "Then if your faith is strong, if you truly believe, your dear mother will be delivered from her plight." Reverend Tommy drew another noisy breath. "Is there a man here named Jimmy, no Jerry, from the Midwest, from, Iowa?" It went on that way for another ten or so minutes, and then Reverend Tommy said, "Is there a woman named Madge, from New Jersey, I think it might be Patterson?" The woman who had been speaking to Winona Timberlake jumped to her feet and began waving her hand frantically. "It's me, Reverend, over here!" "Madge, the Lord is revealing to me that you have an illness, a cancer. That's right, isn't it?" "Yes, Reverend, yes! Praise His name!" "Do you believe the Lord has the power to cure your cancer, Madge?" "Yes, I do, Reverend Tommy!" "Can you feel his healing touch upon you even now?" "Oh, my Lord, yes I do, I feel it now!" "Can you sense those cancer cells shrinking, dying, disappearing from your body through the holy power of the Lord Jesus? I say, can you FEEL it?" "Oh yes, yes, I do Reverend, YES!" Her voice was a scream now. The Reverend Tommy looked up to heaven with puppy dog eyes of pious gratitude. "Thank you, Jesus, for healing this poor woman, thank you, Lord, thank you." Another loud intake of breath. "Is there someone with us whose son is in jail, a woman named… Nancy?" "AND DID YOU notice," Susan said, "the collection plate, or whatever they call it, was passed at the end, even though we had already been hit up for a donation coming in?" Libby Chastain nodded absently. They were sitting in a coffee shop a couple of blocks away from Reverend Tommy's tabernacle. "And you can bet your bottom drachma that the take wouldn't be nearly so much if it weren't for that spiritual dog and pony show that Reverend Tommy puts on every time," Susan went on. "I don't know why he doesn't just call himself 'The Amazing Crisco' and start working Las Vegas, except there's probably a lot more money to be made by claiming that your feats of clairvoyance are courtesy of the Lord Almighty—and, by the way, have you heard a single word I said since we got here?" Libby looked up from her coffee cup and with a tight little smile said, "I know how he's doing it." A WEEK LATER, the two women were back inside the converted theater, watching Winona Timberlake make her rounds among the crowd before the start of the worship service. "Winona's the key, of course," Libby said softly. "She's the source of the information that Reverend Tommy uses for his little 'divine inspiration' act." "But the two of them have no contact in between her chatting up the audience and the start of the service," Susan whispered. "I mean, she doesn't even leave the stage until Tommy comes out to do his thing." "Yes, and I'm sure that's deliberate. Otherwise, even these people, who want so desperately to believe, would start to smell a rat. But there are lots of ways to communicate these days, kiddo, and not all of them involve messages from the Almighty." She reached into her purse and pulled out a small bundle wrapped in cloth and bound with two slim ribbons— one green, the other blue. "What on earth is that?" Susan asked. "Something I prepared earlier this evening. It's been imbued with a spell for causing the hidden to be revealed. The spell is usually employed for treasure finding, that sort of thing, but I think it'll work very well for what I have in mind." "I was kind of hoping you'd just wave your wand and change the Reverend Tommy into a toad, or something." "If I did that, always assuming I could, all it would do is create sympathy for him. Winona would probably have these poor people bringing in flies every week to feed him." She gently patted the bundle in her lap. "This is better, trust me." "If you say so. You're the expert." "Were you able to get some media people to show up?" Susan nodded. "The religion editor for the New York Times is here somewhere, and I also managed to interest a guy from the Post. He's sitting about six rows behind us. A woman I know at WPIX-TV wasn't sure she could make it, but promised to try." "All right, good. Combined with the people who are actually in the audience, that should be—oh, look, Winona's getting ready to start." The pattern of the service was the same. Winona Timberlake made a few pious-sounding remarks, introduced the Reverend Tommy, and then unobtrusively disappeared from the stage. The Reverend dispensed platitudes for a while, then once again begin noisily receiving divine inspiration concerning members of the audience and their various problems. He had been going on for about five minutes when Libby leaned over toward Susan and said softly, "I guess this is as good a time as any." She carefully undid the two ribbons around the object in her lap, muttering in a language that Susan didn't recognize. The cloth wrapping parted to reveal a small collection of twigs. They were about six inches long and appeared to be coated with some kind of light blue powder. Libby grasped the bunch of twigs in both hands, said something else in that foreign tongue, and repeated it twice more. Then, with a sharp motion of her wrists, she suddenly broke the twigs in two. The microphone around Reverend Tommy's neck instantly lost power, but the theater speakers did not fall silent. Instead, they began to broadcast a different voice, one that sounded very much like Winona Timberlake's. "Move stage right a little bit," the woman's voice said. "There's an old geezer from New Hampshire whose daughter's been diagnosed with AIDS, the little tramp. His first name's Martin, by the way…" For a couple of seconds, the Reverend Tommy seemed unaware that the audience had stopped hearing his voice and begun to listen to another's. But then his eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. Instead of looking like a man in the middle of a migraine, he quickly came to resemble someone having a massive coronary. He frantically began to tap his microphone, then looked off-stage and snarled to someone, "Turn this goddamn thing back on!" But the mike remained silent, and the Reverend Tommy's unamplified voice was soon drowned out by the angry murmuring from the audience that soon grew into shouts, catcalls, and boos. Meanwhile, Winona Timberlake went on and on: "Now you want a woman named Catherine, some fat cow from Wisconsin, who's been having a lot of trouble with high blood pressure, surprise, surprise. See if you can pray about fifty pounds off her…" IN THE BACK seat of the taxi, Susan Mackey was still grinning. "You know, you were right," she said to Libby. "That actually was better than turning him into a toad. I don't think the Reverend Tommy is going to be ministering to many of the faithful next week, or in the weeks following." "No, I expect he'll be lucky to draw enough of a crowd to fill a broom closet. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, either." "But how did you figure out how he and Winona were using a radio transmitter? Some sort of mystical divination?" Libby snorted. "More like common sense, honey," she said. "He had to be getting the information from Winona—who must have a remarkable memory, to go along with that nasty mouth of hers. And since she clearly didn't talk to him before he came on stage, she had to be feeding him the stuff while he was actually up there. They make radio receivers the size of a shirt button these days, and he certainly had one in his ear. I couldn't see it, but then I didn't need to—uh, driver, this is my building coming up, on the corner." Five minutes later, Libby Chastain, was unlocking the door to her condominium. As she went around turning on the lights, she was humming softly—a tune that the Reverend Tommy Timberlake would have recognized as "Rock of Ages". Then the phone started ringing. QUINCEY MORRIS SAT on the edge of his bed at the Holiday Inn and squinted at the plastic display card that bore the directions for making outside calls. After a moment, he reached inside his jacket and withdrew a slim address book. He looked up a number and began to punch buttons. The phone at the other end was answered on the fourth ring. "I knew you were going to call." It was a woman's voice, alto and a little husky. "I bet you say that to all the boys, Libby." The woman chuckled. "Yes, I do, Quincey, and to the girls, too. Helps create that aura of mystery, you know." "I've always found you eminently mysterious," Morris said. "So, how's business?" "Well, I just got home from an interesting gig that a certain preacher and his wife aren't likely to forget soon. But, other than that, things have been pretty slow." "Maybe you need to get your own 900 number." "Sure, that's it. 1-900-ME-WITCH, maybe? I could have my own infomercial." "It's got potential," he said. Then his voice became serious. "Listen, I'm on a case in Madison, Wisconsin, and I need you." "All right. When?" Her voice had also lost its levity. "Quick as you can get here." She thought for a moment. "If there's a flight out tonight, I'll be on it. If not, I'll get the first one tomorrow." "Okay, that'll be fine." "So, what's the job? I need to know what kind of gear to pack." "I want you to do a couple of things. First is to revive, and maybe strengthen, a network of warding charms in a house." "How powerful do you need them to be?" "The strongest you've got. The family's been under escalating magical attack over the last three months. With lethal intent, looks like." "All right, that seems fairly straightforward. What's the rest of it?" "Find whoever's responsible for this assault and stop it." "Stop the assault—or stop the person?" Morris thought about the LaRues, saw again the fear and exhaustion and despair etched into their faces, like copper engravings inscribed by acid. "Whatever it takes, Libby," he said quietly. "Whatever it takes." MORRIS DIALED ANOTHER number, this one a room-to-room call. When Walter LaRue answered, Morris asked, "Are you folks all settled in?" "Pretty much. We decided to keep the connecting door open. Marcie's next door with Sarah, and Timmy, and I'll bunk in here. But I still don't get why you think we'll be any safer here than at home. I mean, if we're talking about something, uh, you know…" "Supernatural?" "Yes, right. I mean, what prevents it from following us here, whatever it is?" "Because the attacks are all aimed at your living space," Morris explained. "Has your daughter reported any incidents occurring while she was at school?" "No, she hasn't, you're right. Wait—what about the time in my car, when I damn near had a head-on with that truck?" "Your car's part of your living space. You're in it every day, I'd guess, and at predictable times. Commuting, and so on." "And you think that makes a difference?" "I'm sure it does. We'll talk about that some more tomorrow. You and your family get yourselves a decent night's s