Della swallowed hard. She expected at any moment to feel his fangs rip into her neck and she braced herself. She'd jumped in way over her head and now she knew it. He was too old, too powerful for her to handle alone. She should have called Theo to come with her, should never have gone anywhere with an old vampire alone. It was pure hubris, thinking she was prepared to handle a vampire who had tricked Hiera Sacra agents more experienced than she was, and destroyed her grandmother’s career.
"Moira was a pretty nice lady. Would have liked to have gotten to know her better," he continued, and his hands left her arms. As he walked around her, Della jumped up and pulled out her cross. Sean Patrick looked at it and laughed. "Now what, the Hiera Sacra's still clinging to that old myth?" he asked, and slipped a finger under his own collar. He drew out a thick gold chain from which dangled a St. Christopher medallion. “I told your grandmother the same thing I’m telling you, honey. I’m Catholic. I even still attend confession.”
Della realized her mouth was hanging open and she snapped it shut. “When my grandmother told the Order you didn’t fear the cross they assumed you had hypnotized her.”
Sean Patrick rolled his eyes. “So the things I told her about me and about vampires were just brushed off as the ranting of a woman under an evil influence?” he asked. He walked behind her again. Della felt the hair on her neck stand up, but he didn’t make a move to approach her again. He simply stood there, until she finally turned to look at him. He was slouched against the door, hands in his pockets. “Well, I tried,” he said with a shrug.
“She came from your encounter saying that you weren’t affected by the cross. You claimed to be Catholic, and devout. She said you quoted Shakespeare and didn’t bite her. She was assumed to have been put under your control and sent to try and undermine the Order,” said Della, gathering up her courage. “She was taken off field duty and put to work in records keeping. She never changed her story, but she came to believe what the Order told her, what all her friends and family told her. You hypnotized her and tricked her.” Della swallowed and clenched her fists on her lap. “Now you’re doing it to me.”
“I’m not lying, Miss Kelley,” he said. “I did quote Shakespeare. I said to her, ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?’”
“Revenge?” she felt the hair on her neck stirring again as he moved closer, his head once again coming close to hers, his breath oddly chill against her neck.
“A few years before the first World War broke out in Europe, Amanda and I lived in France,” he said. “We ran into a vampire who was some years older than I was then, probably had been a vampire some forty or fifty years, maybe a little longer. He was not exactly a recluse, but he kept to himself. He’d accepted his turning because he simply wanted time. The time to study all the topics he wanted to study. When I met him, he’d completed a doctorate of physics at William and Mary, a doctorate of chemistry at Oxford, and a master’s degree in literature at Harvard. He was working on a degree in classical music at Strasbourg. He was telling us how when he finished there, he was going to Russia for a degree in Slavic history, then he wanted to start serious work on language study. Nice guy. Very pleasant. He was murdered by Hiera Sacra operatives just for being a vampire.”
“That’s what we do,” she said, but somehow, suddenly, she felt bad about his friend. She shook herself and ground her teeth in annoyance. He was getting to her, and she had been trained to counter that. “Your sire killed my father’s first wife.”
Sean Patrick’s hands closed over her shoulders. “That’s a lie.”
Della stiffened. “It’s the truth. My father and his first wife were tracking Amanda in Switzerland. My father closed in on her fledgling and had him trapped when he heard his wife scream. The fledgling and Amanda got away, and my father found his first wife with a broken neck.”
“I don’t believe Amanda did it,” he said. His breath was making her shiver, and her hands started to shake.
“Believe it,” she said. “My father told me all about it. It took him years to recover.”
Sean Patrick abruptly released her shoulders and stepped back. “Amanda was the one who taught me how to feed without killing. I never saw her take a human life.”
“Maybe you didn’t know her as well as you thought,” snapped Della.
“I was with her for fifty years.” He sounded honestly disbelieving. He came slowly around her, giving her a wounded look as he leaned on one of the filing cabinets. “You kinda get to know people in that amount of time.”
“Do you have any idea how old she is?” Della asked.
“She never told me.” Sean Patrick walked around her to his desk chair and sat down. He moved stiffly, as though he were in pain, and shoved a pillow behind his back. He grimaced as he leaned back against it. Her curiosity obviously showed on her face, because he said, "Does it surprise you that vampires can feel pain? Or didn't you ever think about that?"
"Vampires are evil creatures," she said. "Bloodsucking monsters which must be eliminated before they harm human beings." Suddenly, that important truth seemed a lot harder to believe than it had just a few hours ago. Better operatives than she had been swayed by persuasive monsters and lost their lives for it.
"Honey, I never in my life killed another human being with my fangs," Sean Patrick said, his tone mild. "I shot a man once, for trying to steal my horse." At her shocked look, he continued, "It was 1883 and in Texas. I wasn't even charged. But bear in mind I was already a vampire, and I chose the straightforward Texas way to deal with a horse thief." He shrugged. "That was a different time and a different place. Last time someone tried to steal Matt's truck I called the cops and followed procedures."
Della considered his stiff posture and thought about the young drunk she'd talked to. "A man shot you tonight," she said.
"Ah, so that's how you found me. My little friend spreading tales," he said, chuckling. "Yes, I was shot. And it hurts like royal hell, pardon me. There's a bullet pressing against my spine that I haven't had a chance to have removed. Fortunately, most of the bullets passed right through."
Della wasn't sure what to say. She had never given any thought to the possibility that vampires could feel pain. They were simply monsters to be destroyed, not really the people they pretended to be. Their sires killed that person and stole their bodies, memories, and feelings for their fledgling vampire get. They were not human and not subject to human laws or human consideration. Their elimination from the world was an ancient and noble creed, the Hiera Sacra had been in existence since the days of Ancient Greece.
Sean Patrick shifted his position, looking uncomfortable. Finally, he stood up. "I'm in a tender position here, Miss Kelley," he said. "I'm not sure what to do with you."
Della's eyes frantically looked around the office for something to use as a weapon, anything. The only sharp pieces of wood in evidence were a number of novelty pencils in a holder on the edge of the desk. She jumped to reach for one, but he was much faster. He was between her and the desk in a heartbeat. He held her wrist firmly, but not in the crushing grip he had obviously used on the young mugger.
"Let's not start fighting, Miss Kelley. If you kill me here you probably won't leave the bar. I have too many friends out there who saw you come back here with me."
Della looked up at him. His young-old face was mostly clean-shaven, long sideburns and a faint shade of stubble proving that vampires did need to shave. His eyes clear and brown, with no hint of malice or menace. She feared him, but she realized it was only the fear of her knowledge of him, as a vampire, rather than his actual presence. "So what are you going to do with me?" she asked. "My partner is across town. If I don't check in, he'll come looking for me."
"Of course, you folks always come in pairs. I should have remembered that. Why didn't you bring him with you?" He hadn't let go of her wrist, holding her so she couldn't move away from him. "Does he know where you are?"
"He knows where I am, of course," she lied.
Sean Patrick smiled down at her. "You're lying to me, Miss Kelley. Come on, tell me the truth. Let's be frank with one another. You heard the story about how I got up after taking five bullets to the chest and came to check it out without telling your partner where you were going because you weren't actually sure if you'd find a vampire when you got there, because the young fellow who shot me was both really high and really drunk when he left here."
Della swallowed. "You're very perceptive."
He let go of her wrist and leaned on the desk, watching as she backed away. "I've spent a lot of time in the company of humans. I've learned to read body language and expressions. Plus, you're not a very good liar, I'm afraid. So. No one knows where you are. Los Angeles is a very big city, Miss Kelley."
Della clenched her fists. "So you have me at a disadvantage. Believe me, I won't die easily."
"I don't want you to die at all, Miss Kelley," he said. "I'd rather you leave here accepting me, even if you never come to like me."
"Accepting what about you?"
"The fact of me. You see, I don't want you to rush in a report that says Sean Patrick O'Connor owns a bar in south Burbank. This place would be swarming with vampire hunters as soon as London could order them to descend on me. I'd be forced to relocate, and I just don't want to do that. I'm happy here. I've run The Nightmare for nearly thirty years, and it's one of the last places in California where folks can come and hear real country music. Hell, pardon me, it's getting to be one of the last places in America. I don't want to deprive my customers of that."
"I've been trained to eliminate vampires, or report on their known haunts," Della said, drawing herself up. It had been a huge mistake coming in here alone with him. He was trying to hypnotize her, make her feel things she didn't want to feel and think things she didn't want to think, just as he had done to her grandmother. "I won't fall for it, you know."
"Fall for what?"
"You're trying to hypnotize me, trick me by clouding my mind and confusing my judgement. It won't work. That's part of our training, too."
To her annoyance, he just laughed. He looked at her again, fixing his clear brown eyes on hers. "Oh, really?" he said.
Della blinked. He was no longer leaning on the desk. She whirled around and found him standing just behind her. "That's hypnosis, Miss Kelley," he continued, his tone mild. "Before, I was just talking to you, trying to get you to see reason. I don't know of a single vampire who can 'cloud minds' with words. I only hypnotize people if I need to feed. When you’re hypnotized, you simply shut off, and I can do what I want."
Della's hands went to her neck as she gasped in horror.
"Don't worry, I didn't," he said. "If I had, you'd be struck with a sudden warm liking for me." He smiled.
"That was something I found out on my own. When I was traveling with Amanda we never got to know anyone we fed on.”
“Because you killed them?” she asked.
He frowned, his mouth twisting in annoyance. “No, we just didn’t get to know them. Feed and move on. Anyway, I learned later that I form something like a psychic link, if you want to call it that, with those I feed on. I can draw more than just life's blood, but also thoughts and memories and feelings. In doing so, I transfer a little of me, I guess, because everyone I've fed from that I still know likes me, even when they found out what I've done."
"I take it you don't ask permission."
"No, I don't," he said. "Certainly not at first. Maybe there you're right about us vampires bein’ evil. But you know, no one asks a cow's permission to have steak, and believe me, humans stand losing a pint or two much better than a cow gives up her steaks."
"So you're comparing human beings to cattle?" she asked. She was deliberately avoiding eye contact now, fearful he'd do it again, somehow black her out like he'd done before.
"And so we are, in many ways," he said. "Think of me as a very selfish bloodmobile.” He grinned, but Della didn’t smile back. Sean Patrick sighed. “Miss Kelley, I'm not gonna debate theology with you. What I want to propose is a deal. I'm going to invite you to stay with us here for a little while and get to know me as a person. Not a vampire, but just me. I want to send you away with a new outlook, and possibly a truce between us."
Della narrowed her eyes as she studied his face, still trying to avoid direct eye contact. Her gaze dropped to the front of his black shirt, which was, she saw close up, patterned heavily with matching thread embroidery which gave it its shimmering appearance. He wore a large silver belt buckle with an old American dollar set in it. Her eyes fell to the floor and she jumped as the door to the office opened.
"There you are! You're missing a hell of a good show!"
Della looked up to see the movie star from the front box office standing in the door. Sean Patrick jumped a little, too, and shook himself. "Matt. This is Della Kelley. Miss Kelley, I'd like you to meet Matt O'Connor."
"Pleased to meet you," said Matt. His accent was similar to Sean Patrick's, as were his eyes, she noted, as she rose to take his extended hand. He was definitely not a vampire; his hand was extremely warm and he practically glowed with life. "Any friend of Sean Patrick's--"
"Matt is my great-grandnephew," said Sean Patrick.
Matt looked shocked. "Sean Patrick..."
"Miss Kelley is a representative of the Hiera Sacra," Sean Patrick continued.
The warmth and friendliness in Matt's eyes disappeared instantly, replaced by a hatred so intense Della took a step backward.
"What the hell does she want?" snapped Matt.
"Now, now, watch the language," said Sean Patrick mildly. "Miss Kelley will be our guest, if she agrees to my proposition."
Matt's jaw tightened and his fists clenched, making the muscles under his tight t-shirt ripple like a big cat's, and suddenly Della felt in much greater danger from Matt than she had yet from Sean Patrick. She took another step back. "Sean Patrick, are you nuts?"
"She knew what I was already, Matt. Not a lot I could do about it then but try, again, to get them to know me." Sean Patrick shrugged. "Point now is I need to convince her before she leaves this bar."
"Oh, I can fix that." Matt whirled on Della, forcing her back yet another step. She bumped into the file cabinets, and he closed the distance quickly. "You mess with Sean Patrick, you mess with me, got that?" Della glared up at him, determined not to show her fear.
"Matt," said Sean Patrick mildly, "don't."
"She's one of them!" Matt almost shouted, turning to look at his uncle. "She'd kill you in a heartbeat if she's given the chance!"
"What do you know about us?" asked Della, gathering her courage. Matt spun back on her. She bumped her head on the file drawer. Sean Patrick winced for her. Della let out an involuntary shriek as something large and furry landed on the file cabinets next to her head. She turned to see a large silvery cat regarding her with gigantic blue eyes.
Matt ignored the cat and snapped at her, "What do I know? You're a lot of self-righteous murdering bastards determined to wipe out a people simply on the basis of what they are," he snapped.
"Matt," said Sean Patrick.
"No, I'm not going to apologize! It's the truth!"
"It is not the truth!" said Della. "How can you defend a vampire?"
"So he's a vampire! He's also a hell of a good man."
"Vampires are monsters!"
"You believe everything Hollywood tells ya? He's my uncle."
"No, he's not! It inhabits your uncle's body but it's not your uncle! The creature that made him killed your uncle and set loose that thing inside of it!"
Matt looked like he was going to hit her.
"Hush," said Sean Patrick. He held up one hand, an intent look on his face. Moving so quickly she hardly saw him, he whipped open the office door. Standing outside, mouth open and eyes wide, was the blonde girl, Cody. "You do hear strange things when you lurk outside doors, don't you, Cody?" Sean Patrick asked, somewhat jovially.
"I was looking for Della," Cody said, after a moment's hesitation. "I'm not sure what I heard when I went to knock. Someone shouting about vampires?" She shook her head. "But that's crazy, I had to be hearing things."
"No, Cody, I'm afraid you've stumbled right in," said Sean Patrick. "I would have clued you in sooner or later, most folks who work here figure it out on their own if I don't get around to telling them. I am a vampire."
"Get out of here," she said.
"No, God's truth," he replied, holding up a solemn hand. "Come on in. Matt and Della haven't come to blows just yet." He gestured to where Della and Matt were still squared off, only momentarily distracted by the newcomer. "You don't mind working for a vampire, do you?"
"I'm not sure. I'm still pretty sure they don't exist. You mean you drink blood, Dracula, blah blah, the whole bit?" She curled her fingers into claws and did a credible Bela Lugosi impersonation.
"I do drink blood, but I don't think Dracula, you know, Vlad Dracul, was really a vampire. I liked the fact there was a Texas cowboy in the book, though," replied Sean Patrick. "And I've never gone 'blah blah.'" He did the same Bela Lugosi movement back at her, and they grinned at each other, kindred spirits fond of old monster movies.
"So what's up with those two?" asked Cody.
"She," Matt stabbed a finger at Della, "is a vampire hunter, here to kill Sean Patrick."
"That's what I do. The Hiera Sacra is an ancient and noble order dedicated to the eradication of vampires!" Della wanted to back further from Matt, but the file cabinets were hard and unyielding against her back. The cat was washing its feet.
"And I protect Sean Patrick, that's what I do," snapped Matt.
Della tightened her jaw and clenched her fists. She didn't want to fight a man almost twice her size, but she'd do it if she had to. Sean Patrick stepped between them. "I want you both to stop this," he said, his voice tired. He reached out and gathered up the cat in his arms. To her surprise, the animal settled into his embrace and began to purr loudly. "I never could figure out what the Hiera Sacra wanted with vampires, but it's apparently as deeply felt as any fanatic's calling."
"I'm not a fanatic," said Della.
"Then prove it to me, Miss Kelley," said Sean Patrick. "Take my invitation. Stay here with us. Get to know me as a person and leave behind your preconceived notions about all vampires. Yeah, I drink blood. I won't deny that. And I can't walk in the sunshine. There’s a lot of difference between me and normal humans. But I'm really not an evil creature of the night. Honest." He smiled.
Della looked up at him, weighing his words. If she agreed to his truce, she'd leave here alive, at least, if she could trust him. She still wasn't sure she could. She glanced at Matt, who was regarding her with a look of pure venom. Cody was simply watching the pageant curiously. "I don't know if I can trust a vampire. Or his minions."
"I give you my solemn oath as a Texan," he said. He set the cat down on the desk and offered her his hand. "And you have my hand on it. I won't feed off you unless you specifically ask me to."
"Which I will never do," she replied, and, hesitating only a moment longer, took his hand in hers. His long, dry fingers curled around her hand again, this time in a firm, businesslike shake.
"It's set. You'll stay here as my guest. We can catch the rest of the show, I have some work to finish up after hours, and then I'll set you up a place in my apartment."
"Sean Patrick!" Matt protested.
"Stay the night?" asked Della, at the same moment, startled.
"That is what I was implying, Miss Kelley. My place is more than large enough, and you have my handshake on your safety from me, and no one else comes into my place without my say-so."
"What about him?" she pointed at Matt.
"Matt won't hurt you unless I tell him to," said Sean Patrick with a smile. Matt hunched his broad shoulders. "I mean it, Matt. She's my guest, and is to be treated that way."
"I'll do it, Sean Patrick, but I won't like it," replied Matt. He glared at Della. "I'm no one's 'minion.'"
"Whatever you say," she answered, sweetly. "I don't suppose you'd know if you were being held in thrall by a vampire." Sean Patrick curtailed the potential fight by taking Della's hand again and slipping it over his arm.
"Come now, Miss Kelley. Let's go enjoy the rest of the show. You might find you like my company and won't mind spending a few nights with me."
Della considered this for a few moments. Under her hand, his arm felt merely firm, the fine wool of his jacket covering muscle and bone. She nodded. “I guess I don’t have much of a choice.”
“More defeatist than I was hoping for, but it’s a start.” With that, he led them out of the office and back to the main room, where the concert was still in high gear, dancers were still on the floor, and the noise level had reached critical mass. He stopped them at a table and bent his head to speak in her ear, “Have a seat. I have some things to do.” He gestured to the bartender and motioned to Matt. She and Cody were seated and served drinks before the man and the vampire walked off to the other side of the room.
Cody regarded Della across the table. "So. Vampire hunter. How'd you get a job like that?" she asked, leaning forward and speaking loud enough to be heard over the music.
Della glanced around. No one was paying them any mind, the concert was wrapping up and most people at the tables were deeply involved in conversations of their own. The raucous crowd was at high pitch. "My parents were both part of the Order," she said, "and their parents before them. It's considered a noble calling to follow one's parents into the Order."
"The Order," repeated Cody. On the stage, the concert ended. The crowd applauded and cheered wildly, and then there was that silence as the lighting changed before the jukebox was plugged back in. "What is it?"
Della swirled ice around in her drink, feeling a blush crawling up her neck. She'd never before felt the need to justify the Hiera Sacra to anyone. It simply was what it was. A most noble and virtuous order which called to the righteous, those who wished to follow in the footsteps of the great vampire hunters who had come before, who had protected mankind from the bloodsucking monsters since history began. But as she said it, it sounded like a stiff, judgmental, and self-serving organization, and for the first time in her life, she felt oddly shamed for belonging to it.
Cody listened without comment. When Della's voice trailed off, she said, "Well, I don't know. It sounds like you're just the product of environment. And who knows, maybe there are bad vampires like you say. But Sean Patrick seems okay in my book."
"You certainly don't seem, well, shocked by it," said Della.
The girl shrugged. "I’ve lived all my life in L.A. Out here the impossible becomes possible every day. I didn't believe in vampires until tonight, not really, but I'm not too surprised to find out they exist." She took a drink of her beer, tilting the longneck bottle back until she'd drained it. "My last boss lost his bar because he turned out to be a sleazy pedophile and was peddling kiddie porn and using his own kids to do it. Sean Patrick drinking blood seems like a saint by comparison, and Bennie, over there at the bar, tells me he's a great boss. Pay's good, tips are averaged by night for the whole staff, there's health and dental, two weeks vacation a year and all the free concerts you could ever want to listen to." She set down the empty bottle. "Have you killed many vampires?"
Della watched Sean Patrick at the bar. He was talking animatedly with someone from the band, his face lit up by the lights overhanging the bar. "Eliminate. We say eliminate," she said, and it sounded lame to her.
Cody licked her teeth. "How many have you eliminated?"
Fifteen, thought Della. Fifteen vampires, and she didn't want to think about the fact they may have been like Sean Patrick, ordinary people trying to get along in a world that didn't accept their existence and feared them when they believed. "Some," she said evasively. "I never met one like Sean Patrick, though. He's... very different."
Cody didn't reply. She rose to her feet. "It's almost last call, you want another drink?"
Della held up her glass. "Sure." She watched as Cody went to the auxiliary bar on this side of the dance floor, then turned her eyes back across the room to where Sean Patrick stood. His rhinestone-studded jacket glittered as it reflected the spinning lights. One song ended and a voice came over the loudspeaker saying "Last call! Last call for alcohol!" Several cowboys and cowgirls rose and rushed the bar. Della turned to see Cody standing a ways off, talking to Matt. Again, she felt a blush rising from her collar up to the hairline. Vampires weren't supposed to come with friends and family. They were supposed to be predatory loners, vicious killers circling their unsuspecting and unwilling victims, ready to sink their fangs in and make short work of another human life. That was what Della expected from vampires.
Cody brought her drink back to the table. Matt stood behind her, looking murderously at anything but Della. "Here ya go. Watch mine for me." She set down Della's cocktail and her own beer, then Matt swung her out onto the dance floor. Della watched them go with a sigh. She could have come here for a good time, but she hadn't. She had come to work, and gotten herself in way too deep.
She jumped when the chair nearest her scraped out. Sean Patrick dropped into it and put his glass on the table. "You can relax here until closing or come on with me back to the office," he said. "I'd suggest sticking with me. Word's crept around what you are, and I'm afraid my staff's a little on the clannish side." He gestured, and Della followed his movement to see a cluster of people at the bar glaring at her with looks not unlike Matt's poisonous stare. "Things are going to pop for a little while out here, though, if you'd like to stick it out."
Della looked around the vast room. Most of the fans of the singer had left. Diehard bar-chargers were still on the dance floor or nursing their last rounds, with pockets of people gathered in clumps all throughout the room, chatting. It was a very personable environment. Except every time she met eyes with a member of the staff, she felt the anger in their gaze. "Does everyone who work here know you're a vampire?" she asked.
"Yep," he answered. "I don't demand much from them, but they keep the secret. Possibly because the phrase 'I work for a vampire' would generally get them stared at or locked up, I guess, or just because they're good folks. There was one fellow who tried to sell me to a tabloid, but it didn't really work. I mean, they used the headline and all, but it was so silly and sensationalist no one believed it and life got pretty miserable for him around here and he finally quit."
"You didn't fire him?" asked Della.
"I never said no one could tell on me, I just like to think they wouldn't," said Sean Patrick. "Call me an optimist."
"You feed on them to make them like you," she said, almost asking it as a question but remembering what he'd said before.
Sean Patrick cocked an eyebrow at her. "Yeah, I guess I do. Sometimes. I like to think most of them like me first, and then I drink from them. If that's holding them in 'thrall,' then I guess you're right about me. But I'd still like to change your mind about me before you leave this place. Maybe change your mind about other vampires, too."
"Maybe you're the oddity," said Della.
"Maybe. But I've met more than a few of my kind, and I haven't met one yet who's just a cold-blooded human killer." His gaze traveled over the bar as he sipped from his beer. "I still don't believe you about Amanda."
"I could call my father and he could tell you the story," she answered. "He was there."
There was sudden quiet the jukebox shut off and the loudspeaker announced, "We're closed now, folks. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Good night and thanks for comin' to the Nightmare. Hope to see you again real soon!" People started to flow towards the doors.
"Hmm." Sean Patrick rolled the glass back and forth between his long hands. "Well, Miss Kelley, come on, then."
"Can I get my bag from the lockers?"
"Of course." They walked back to the locker area, where a few people were cleaning out their lockers, gathering up purses and backpacks. Della opened the locker and took out her laptop bag. "I don't think Matt would like seeing what I have I here," she said as they continued on to Sean Patrick's office.
"Ah?" he made a curious noise. "Tools of your trade, I assume?" He opened the office door and stood back so she could go first. She glanced at him, but the movement appeared to be his old world manners rather than distrust. He followed her in and tossed a bundle of box office receipts on the desk.
"Yes," she admitted. She unzipped the bag and took out several wooden stakes, a cross, and a bottle of holy water. She laid them on his desk, and looked up at him. This was the biggest test of trust she could think of, and she wished she’d held on to one stake, just in case. But Sean Patrick only chuckled as he picked up the cross. "Not that they're all very effective," she commented ruefully.
"The stakes are," he said, setting down the cross and picking up the holy water. "I sometimes wonder if the church was behind this myth," he said, sprinkling some of the water on his right hand and crossing himself with it. "I guess by biblical standards we are ‘monsters.’ I remain fairly devout, but there's a whole heap of things I disagree with the church on. Between his holiness and our dimwitted president, they're doing all they can to keep us all firmly in the dark ages."
Della covered her mouth to keep from laughing. Sean Patrick grinned at her. "I haven't really been in the States long enough to pass judgment on your president," she said.
"Oh, go ahead, everyone else in the world does." He gingerly sat down, re-adjusting his pillow behind his back. He opened a large ledger and started jotting down figures. "But I understand what you mean, I won't stand too harsh on your prime minister."
"I voted for him," admitted Della, taking out her laptop. "You know, I should call my partner. He'll be worried when I don't show up tonight."
Sean Patrick nodded, mumbling to himself as he added up his figures. Della flipped open her cell phone and punched Theo's number.
"Delacroix," he answered on the first ring.
"It's Della," she said, reluctant to say Theo’s name in front of Sean Patrick. She wasn't sure what she could say to give him a hint about her problem without alerting the vampire, and she had made a deal, after all. "I've got a couple of leads, I probably won't be back tonight."
"Well, that's better than what I've done," Theo answered. "I think these rotted Californians watch far too much television. I'm getting far too little in the way of real clues and far too many people who watch too much 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' It's enough to make me want to turn in my stakes."
Della laughed. "Well, I'll check in either tomorrow or in a couple days," she said, wishing she could spill everything. But Theo would follow procedure and call the main office, find out if there were other operatives working in this area, and close in for an effective elimination. Theo would have called her immediately when he talked to the drunk gunman. He wouldn't have come into the office alone with a vampire, and he wouldn't have let Sean Patrick talk him into spending the night. Of course, Theo didn't look like Moira Kelley and wouldn't have clued Sean Patrick in by his very presence. It wasn't all her fault.
"Please do," said Theo. "I need a sane voice in this bloody bonkers place." He clicked off, and Della put her phone away.
"Thank you," said Sean Patrick.
"You could have spilled everything to him and had them down on me in a hot second. Sacrificing yourself for your noble calling, and all that." He glanced over his papers at her.
Della opened her mouth and closed it again. He was right, of course. Her father would have done just that, sacrificed himself to smoke out the vampire, especially an old vampire. An old vampire who should not be allowed to become an ancient, and therefore more dangerous, creature. "I don't know why I didn't," she said.
"Because you're a decent person," he said, and smiled at her. A sincere smile. Della shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Sean Patrick went back to his work.
That's through Page 22, now. :)