I HAD LEFT the big-ass knife at home and the special leather rig that let me carry it along with a handgun. But one of the reasons I had an entire carry-on of weapons was that I had to bring my vampire hunting kit. Why? Because the regulations for the preternatural branch of the federal marshal program had changed. Now, if we traveled, even on personal business, we had to have all our gear with us so that if an emergency call came up near us, and we were the closest body, we could take it. This new regulation had come up when one of my colleagues had been on a family vacation that turned into a vampire hunt for the local cops. The hunt had gone badly, and the report that hed had to submit had listed the major problem as that his kit was at home. He needed his stuff. Didnt we all.

So that meant I had some really dangerous stuff with me. Stuff that if Id had to get on a commercial airline, theyd have never let me get on the plane. Not even with a badge. I had the usual: extra guns, extra ammo, stakes, holy water, holy wafers, extra crosses. Id even thrown in some holy items from other faiths because Id had occasion to work with local law enforcement that were not Christian, and having everybody armed with a holy item was a good thing. If you got a few atheists, pray that they are well armed, but dont tell them youre praying for them. Some of them have about as much a sense of humor as the right-wingers.

What would have gotten me kicked off the plane, or in an interrogation room with Homeland Defense, was the Heckler and Koch MP5 and the phosphorous grenades. Id never actually used the grenades, but my friend Edward, alias Ted Forrester, also a federal marshal for the preternatural branch, had said they worked wonders. Frankly, all grenades scared me, but something that burned even in water would be truly bad news to the undead of any kind. It would even work on zombies and ghouls, which are both so much harder to kill than vamps. The government said I needed all my toys, so I brought themwell, not all of them. I have resisted Edwards desire to teach me how to use a flamethrower. They scare me.

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All this to say that we had to make a stop at the main desk with my little carry-on. Shad and Rowe had not liked that I had to do this, but when they realized I was dead serious, they ordered up enough uniformed guards to form a phalanx around us and escorted us to the lobby. I thought it was excessive until we caught the full barrage of the cameras in the lobby. I actually slipped my sunglasses on to keep the glare down. No wonder movie stars wear them.

The guards formed a wall around us so I could flash my badge to the nice lady behind the desk and explain that I had some sensitive items in this case and didnt want to leave it in the room unattended. Before everything got weird, I might have, but I had this horrible image of reporters breaking into our room when we werent there. If I didnt want the uninitiated playing with my guns, I sure as hell didnt want them playing with phosphorous grenades.

The lady, whose name tag read Bethann, was more than happy to help us. She even let Jason and me walk the case back to this huge-ass safe. The fact that she never blinked or asked a single question showed that I wasnt the only guest with sensitive materials. Though I was willing to bet I was the only one with this much firepower in one little case.

When the case was secure and wed shaken hands with Bethann, we all turned around and went for the elevators. The reporters were screaming at us, What did you put in the safe? We had some of them shouting Keith, but some were actually shouting the right name. Jason, Jason, have you talked to Jean-Claude? Anita, is he better in bed than the vampires? We ignored all questions. The earlier disastrous impromptu news conference had taught us our lesson. The press was a danger neither of us knew how to handle, not at this level. It was like being really good at peewee football and suddenly realizing you were up against pros. We were out of our league, and now we knew it.

Most of the uniformed guards stayed in the lobby, probably to wrangle the press so that other guests had a chance of walking through the lobby without being brained by a boom mic.

Shad and Rowe took up posts near the door, with us behind them. I looked at the line of their suits and knew where everyones gun was, and that Shad was carrying something extra in his pocket, and Rowe had something on his ankle. I was betting the ankle was a small gun, but the pocket could have been a lot of things, just not a gun. Not a gun opened up a wealth of possibilities.

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Jason leaned over and whispered, I would accuse you of checking them out, but youre looking for weapons, arent you?

I just nodded.

He hugged me one-armed and gave an excited sound, almost a laugh, but not. His eyes were bright with anticipation.

I whispered, How many of these girls are old girlfriends?

All of them.

How many are old lovers?

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He grinned. Most of them.

Great.

He hugged me tighter. Ill be good, I promise.

Youre always good, Jason, I said out loud, but will you behave?

He gave me a look, and the look was enough. Hed try, but no, the honest answer, was no. I sighed and settled back against the wall as the elevator came to a stop. We had, of course, gone all the way to the top. The rich and powerful always seem to prefer the tops of buildings. Hasnt anyone ever explained to them that higher just means you have farther to fall?

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