WE ARRIVED AT the hospital in a style that even Jean-Claude couldnt have managed. The city wouldnt have given him a police escort unless he was being arrested. But we got one to St. Josephs Hospital, with its nearly brand-new trauma unit. The trauma unit was in the Summerland wing of the hospital. I smelled an amazingly large donation.
It took us awhile to get past the upper brass of the hospital, who had spilled out to the sound of sirens and the limo. Hell, we had some of the suits with us. Peterson was in charge instead of Chuck, which was a step up, but it was still an understandable mistake on the hospital administrations part. If someone had given me enough money to put a wing on my hospital Id be nice to them, too.
In the lobby, while we were trying to explain that Jason was neither of the Summerland twins, I saw a portrait. It was an old-fashioned painting of a man in a black cloth suit, white shirt, stiff collar, and dark yellow mustache. But underneath the strange clothes and facial hair, it was Jasons face.
I actually walked toward the portrait without meaning to. Jasons blue eyes stared down at me from this stern-faced stranger.
Jason came to stand beside me. I looked from him to the painting. Creepy, isnt it? he said.
It could be you in a few years, if you did the mustache.
Meet Jedediah Summerland. He was the head of the religious community that came here to get away from the worldly temptations. He was a very self-righteous guy, but strangely a lot of families that trace their ancestors back to when he was alive have a lot of kids that look eerily like him.
A lot of cult leaders seem to have a weakness for women, I said.
He nodded, then smiled, though it left his eyes empty. Jedediah was actually killed by vampires. Apparently he tried to convert them to the Lord, and they didnt like it. Frankly, I think he tried to seduce the wrong undead lady and paid the price.
He turned to me, not with a smile, but with something in his eyes that I couldnt quite read.
What? I asked.
I guess getting hooked up with vampires runs in the family. He turned away, keeping his face to himself so that whatever he was thinking, I couldnt see it.
I looked at the face on the wall. It was Jasons face, but if the artist had captured Jedediah correctly, then there was no humor in the eyes, no smile always tugging at the corner of that mouth. Same face, but a very different person.
Peterson came up beside us. He gazed up at the portrait, too. The family resemblance is almost disturbing, if you dont mind my saying so.
I dont mind, Jason said.
Ive cleared the way for you to see your father, Mr. Schuyler. Ill accompany you up with a second man. The hospital staff have already caught two reporters trying to sneak upstairs. Ive asked them to treat your fathers privacy as they would the governors. I think that should keep the press away.
Thank you, Jason said. He was still looking at the painting when he said it. He turned and gave Peterson a grin. It filled his eyes with laughter, and changed the face toJasons face.
Peterson looked almost startled, then smiled back. Jason had that effect on people.
Jason reached for my hand, and I helped him find it. The smile faded around the edges, and his eyes looked almost as stern as the ones in the portrait. Lets get this over with.
We went for the elevator, but there was already a suit holding the door, and the admin for the hospital. Apparently, she was going to ride up with us. The rich and powerful really are different, or at least theyre treated better.
Jasons hand was a little warm to the touch, not sweat, just nerves. He was a lycanthrope, which meant that nerves could bring on the change. He had control, really good control, but his body temperature was rising with his anxiety. That wasnt good.
For the first time I wondered what would happen if Jason shifted in front of his family. Surely they knew he was a werewolf. Didnt they?
The media would know once they checked the website for Guilty Pleasures. It listed not just the usual stats for strippers but if they were vampires, or wereanimals, and what animal you could watch them shift into. If the media stayed interested enough in the story, theyd out him.
The nice admin was talking to Jason, who was making small noises at her and not hearing a thing. I actually looked across him to her and said, Its very nice of you to help his father like this.
Any friend of the governors is a very special guest of ours, she said, smiling.
Jason said in a voice bitter enough to hurt, My father isnt a friend of the governors.
The woman looked at me, then at Peterson. I thought
The governor felt that since Mr. Schuylers resemblance to his own sons was the problem with the media, the least we could do was make certain his fathers last days werent hounded by the press.
The resemblance is uncanny, she said. Even standing this close to you Id swear you were one of the governors sons.
Jedediah was a busy boy, Jason said, softly.
Excuse me? she said.
Jason shook his head. Nothing.
I tried small talk, never my best thing. How long could the elevator ride be? Jason didnt know the twins would be in town, so the press caught us off guard. With the wedding and everything, it got wild. I dont envy the real Summerlands if this is typical for the way theyre treated by the press.
Its gotten worse since the presidential bid, the other, younger suit said.
Peterson gave him a look. The look said clearly, Dont talk. The younger suit stopped talking and did his best to both stand very straight and ready and vanish into the corner. Not easy to do at the same time, buTHE tried.
Of course, of course, the admin said.
The doors opened, and we got to step out into a hospital corridor. No matter how nice the hospital, it is still a hospital. Theyd chosen nice paint, a color that was actually cheerful, but the smells hit youthat antiseptic smell they use to try to hide the smell of sickness, the smell of death. The only corridors that dont smell like this are maternity wards. Its almost as if death truly has a smell, and so does life. You cant fool the difference with cleaning solution. The nose knows, and so does the part of the brain that doesnt understand elevators and presidential bids. That part of the brain thats been hopping around with us humans since we werent sure walking upright wasnt just another fad.
Jason stopped dead in the hallway. His hand clenched around mine. I realized if I could smell that, it would be a hundred times stronger to his nose. Even in human form the wereanimals could smell things humans couldnt.
The admin stopped and turned. Your fathers room is just down this way. She actually motioned as if she were directing us to anywhere. I guess she worked here every day. Maybe you dont smell it after awhile, or feel it.
Jason squeezed my hand again, gave me a watered-down version of his smile, and nodded. We moved, we followed, we went where she pointed. Jasons hand was hot against my skin.