DEATH’S RIVAL Excerpt, Part Two
“The attacker is cheating, not challenging, according to the Vampira Carta,” Reach said.
I grunted again. The Vampira Carta and its codicils was the rule of law for the vamps—or Mithrans, as they liked to be called—and it contained laws and rules for proper behavior between vampires, their scions, blood-servants, blood-slaves, and cattle—meaning the humans they hunted. It provided proper protocols for everything, including challenging and killing each other in a duel called the Blood Challenge. The new vamp had challenged his conquests, but there had been no fights. None at all. And Boston, attacked a week ago, had gone off the grid. There had been no communication from that MOC in days. He was presumed to be true-dead.
Reach said, “If an unknown vamp is making a major power play, one that involves vamps getting sick, and Leonard Pellissier, Master of the City of New Orleans, is attacked, and then Leo’s scions get sick, it’s the same dude.”
“That isn’t quite ipso facto. It’s still more than half speculation.”
“Ipso facto? Janie knows her Latin. I’m sending you a folder on the vamp you’re visiting—the ex-master of Sedona. It’s put together from the files you loaned me to collate and organize.”
Back when I had a working relationship with the head of NOPD’s weird cases (not that the New Orleans Police Department used those words to describe the official department. Local cops called it lots of things, none of them very flattering), I’d had access to NOPD’s supernatural crime’s hard-copy flies. It was kept in the woo-woo room, and I copied copious amounts of info directly into my own electronic files. I was paying Reach an arm and leg to organize the info.
Reach said, “The ex-MOC’s name is Rosanne Romanello. Check your e-mail.”
Peeling my fingers off the armrest again, I pulled the Lear’s laptop across the table to me and logged on, checking e-mail. The Lear had all the office and party bells and whistles and its electronic gear was easier to use at jet speeds than my own. “Yeah. Got it. Thanks.”
“Your business is my pleasure and profit.”
“You oughta get that trademarked.” I hung up the jet’s phone and sat back with the laptop, reading the collated records—which was way easier than finding and reading scraps in individual files. Not that I’d tell Reach that. No way. He’d find a way to make a bigger profit off my now effortless search.
Rosanne Romanello had an exceptionally well documented history. She had been born in 1787 in a small town in Calabria, the eldest child of grape and olive growers and olive oil exporters. A beautiful woman, she had been turned in a violent confrontation with a young rogue. Rescued by her fiancée, Luca, she appeared to die and was placed in the church for the death watch, which ended when she rose on the third night, killed the acolyte who had fallen asleep in the nave, and vanished into the hills. She survived there for four years, a rogue in hiding, until Leo Pellissier, traveling through the countryside one night, saw and chained her so she could grow out of the posttransformation insanity vamps called the devoveo. He had taken her west with him when he returned to the United States, and set her free seven years later, sane and strong.
According to Reach’s notations, there were indications that the relationship between Rosanne and Leo had been more than just passing friendly. Well, duh. Leo believed in something he called the Dark Right, an authority that gave him the right to rule, and that permitted him to sleep with and drink from anyone under his power or his scions’ power. Leo was charming and charismatic, but he was an old-time sleazeball too. I had a lot of sleazeballs in my life right now, and some important people who were seemingly out of my life for good. Old grief welled up in me, but I shoved it back down, hard. There was nothing I could do about the past. Not a thing. And I could grieve the lost relationship with Rick LaFleur later. Much later. I went back to the dossier.
Rosanne had emancipated herself from Leo and risen slowly in the ranks of the U.S. vamps, moving west until she claimed and settled in Sedona. She had been the blood-master of that city for nearly two hundred years, comfortable in her stronghold—literally. Romanello had started an olive oil business much like her family’s, and built an Italian-style fortress-home where she still lived. Over the centuries, she had made friends with several blood-covens of witches and, with their power base, had protected her land and her scions. Until now.
Now things had changed. She had lost in direct Blood Challenge to an unknown master—and she was sick. The digital photos accompanying the file were hard to look at. In one, taken only last month at the full moon ceremonies with her witch allies, she had been stunning, pale-skinned, dark-eyed, almost ethereal in her delicate beauty. The poor-quality photo that arrived in Leo’s headquarters e-mail yesterday showed a very different woman. Wasted, wan, with dark circles under her eyes and a dark crust at her nostrils that was presumed to be blood, she looked like death warmed over. Or worse—death still chilled. On the back of her hand was a lump, which looked like a pustule. I didn’t know who had sent the file photo, as it came through a circuitous route and an e-mail account that went nowhere, but it was clearly a cry for help. I was betting on the MOC herself sending it to her former lover and friend, and Reach agreed it was likely.
Leo wanted her healed and restored, his Asheville scions healed and restored, the new master vamp identified so he could kill the bastard, and the vamp disease wiped off the face of the earth. To achieve that end, Derek Lee, my second-in-command, was going to Asheville to get blood samples from Shaddock, and I was supposed to obtain a few vials of Rosanne’s blood. Just walk in and say, “Hey, Ro. Feel like making a donation?” Right. Like that was gonna happen.
Even less likely was my obtaining blood and a cogent report from the vamp-stronghold in Seattle, another conquered master of the city who was reputed to be sick. The should-be-impossible vamp-disease seemed like it was everywhere.
The door to the cockpit opened and the first mate, Tory, stuck his head out. “We’re approaching Sedona’s Mountaintop Airport and will be landing in fifteen minutes. Can I get you anything before we land?”
I thought about my stomach and shook my head. The smoked salmon he’d served, cold, with toast points, a salad, and a light beer, just after takeoff in New Orleans, was still sitting uneasily in my stomach. “No offense, but I’ll just be happy to get my feet on the ground. Locked in this tin can with the mild turbulence you talked about back in New Orleans has not been fun.”
He grinned. “This tin can is a Bombardier Learjet 85, valued at over fifteen million dollars.”
I gulped and tried not to let my shock show. By the way the Tory laughed, I knew I hadn’t been successful. Tory was mid-thirties, not bad looking, standing about five-ten, with a lithe and wiry build, big thighs, like a cyclist, and it was clear that he found me amusing. It had to be the flight nerves.
More next week,