THEY GOT US out of the door and into the elevator. Sanchez waved us onto the elevator. Shadwell, Rowe, and Chuck got in the box with us.
What was all that about, Marshal? Chuck asked.
I shook my head and leaned into Jason. I drew in the scent of his skin, trying to use the scent of wolf to loosen the sensation in my gut that something solid was down there. I breathed through it, slow and even. I could do this. This sort of situation was what Id been practicing for, so I could travel without an entourage of lycanthropes.
Jason answered for me. Im a lycanthrope, and Anitas psychic abilities make her hit the radar as one of us sometimes.
What does that mean, her psychic abilities? Chuck asked.
She raises the dead for a living, and is a vampire executioner. You cant do the first without the talent of necromancy, and there are no vampire executioners without psychic abilities that survive long.
What kind of abilities? Chuck persisted.
The tightness in my abdomen was finally loosening. I could breathe without feeling like a weight was pulling at me. I spoke carefully, my face still close to Jasons neck. Im good with the dead, Chuck. Its what I do.
The tiger said you felt more alive than the rest of them.
The doors opened. Rowe stepped into the hallway first, and only when he nodded did Shadwell let us know we could move forward. Chuck didnt check the hallway as well as they did. He was a fixer of problems, not really a bodyguard.
He was flirting, I said.
Ive seen weirder.
Chuck gave me a look like he didnt believe me. I didnt care if he believed me; all I needed was our room and privacy. I needed Jason to help me push the tiger back and feed the ardeur. When that was done wed worry about what Chuck knew, or thoughTHE knew about us.
You dont look so good, Rowe said.
Thanks, I said.
You know what I mean. Did the were-whatever or vampire do something to you that we mundanes couldnt see?
That was a good question; a smart question. Too smart a question. Again, Jason saved me from trying to answer.
For those of us who can sense the energy of the unseen, you have no idea how it can affect you. It can be the biggest rush, or the biggest downer.
What makes the difference? Rowe asked.
Shadwell said, Once were inside the room you can ask twenty questions, Rowe. We need our eyes and ears for work.
We let Shadwell save us from answering the second question, but his being so serious about the hallway walk to the room made me remember that I had questions. Ones that needed answers. But the metaphysical problem was going to outrank the mystery. I had to get better at this stuff. It was affecting my jobs, and my life, in ways that were not good.
When we reached the door to our room, Shadwell held out his hand. What? Jason asked.
Key card, so Im first through the door.
Jesus, I said, Shadwell, you didnt do that earlier. Did you guys get another message that the threat is even worse?
Shadwell tried for blank cop eyes, but ended up just looking angry. Please give me the key card.
Jason looked at me. He did say please.
I started to argue, but something in my stomach contracted so hard that it doubled me over. I thought What? and saw the pale gold and white of the weretiger that had nearly killed me. The tiger looked at me for a second; the old and orange eyes were overlaid with an echo of Crispins from the room above. The thought doubled me over, took my knees out from under me. Jason had to catch me or I would have fallen.
The door got opened by Shadwell while I was still fighting to breathe and remain calm. My fear was part of what allowed the beasts to get the upper hand. But it was so hard not to be afraid. So hard not to anticipate the feel of claws and teeth trying to eat their way out of me. I was tired of the pain; tired of the problem; just plain tired. I had been arrogant. I took a metaphysical ability to feed on lust to a bachelorette party with strippers. Fuck, what had I been thinking?
Shadwell held the door and Jason helped me inside. He picked me up, carried me to the bed. I was staring into the tigers face, but it wasnt just the pale-gold-and-cream tiger, but like a second tiger was superimposed on top of the first as if my eyes were blurring. What was happening? The phantom cat, or cats, stood eye to eye with me in some sort of waking dream. Except this dream never changed; eyes closed, eyes opened, I saw the tigers staring at me. Id never had that happen before.
Everyone out, Jason said.
Our orders are that no one gets left alone, Shadwell said.
Then stay outside the door, Jason said.
Our orders are very clear, Shadwell said.
The tiger moved closer to me, as if it were some huge dog phantom, and wanted to touch my nose with its own. But this was no dog.
I found my voice and spoke carefully, as if afraid that I would spook it. Jason, somethings wrong, different.
Can you see it? I whispered.
See what? Chuck asked.
No, Jason said, but I can smell it.
Smell what? Chuck asked.
Jason said, You have to leave now, all of you. If you dont go Ill call down to hotel security.
They wont help you, Chuck said.
Ill call the reporters and tell them you tried to molest Anita. How would that play on the network news, Chuck?
You wouldnt do that.
There wasnt just one tiger superimposed over the pale gold one now. It was like looking at a triple negative. Colors of stripes, and one that looked like a shadow of the others, so dark, all smeared over the face of the one strain that the doctors had found in my blood. The rainbow of tigers eased closer to my face. I knew one thing for certain: I did not want them to finish the movement. How do you stop something that isnt solid, that isnt even really there? I lay on the bed, but the tiger walked through it, or occupied the same space as it. It moved toward me as if the ghost of its body werent standing in the middle of a bed. It wasnt real, but Id learned years ago that just because something isnt real doesnt mean it cant hurt you.
I began to ease back on the bed, pushing with my hands, slowly, as if the tiger were real, and I were trying not to attract its attention. Claws ripped through my body from the inside. I screamed, Jason!
He was on the bed beside me, putting his body between me and the phantom tiger. Though the tiger seemed to be able to get through the bed just fine, Jasons body was solid to it. He wrapped his arms around me. I buried my face in his chest and neck, breathing deep of the scent of him.
The sweet musk of wolf was there underneath the cologne, his skin. It was like the truth under all that civilization. He was Jason, but I needed what lay within. I needed the wild truth of him.
A shape moved within that dark part of me that held the animals. My wolf shone in the darkness, the white part of her fur ghostlike in the gloom. She had dark markings on her, but they blended into the darkness, breaking up her outline the way they were supposed to.
Shadwells voice startled her, made her look up, and begin to retreat into the dark, as if shed been a real wolf. Ill call a doctor.
A doctor wont help, Jason said.
The wolf vanished into the gloom, and suddenly the darkness was alive with tigers. Tigers the color of rainbows, impossible colors, wending their way up through the darkness. It was as if instead of being a dark tunnel, it were some phantom forest of huge black, leafless trees. The tigers were coming, and it was more than just my own beast.
Jason, there are lots of tigers, different colors that dont occur in nature. What is happening?
Are they in the room or inside your head?
Inside, I whispered, for now.
Jason rose up, pressing my face against his chest. Unless you know a practitioner of the arts, you cant help Anita, but you can hurt her.
Practitioner of the arts? Rowe said.
Witch, he means a witch, Chuck said.
Yes, Jason said, the metaphysical shit is about to hit the fan. Guns wont protect us against anything that is about to happen, but you delaying me from doing what I have to do to stop this is hurting her.
Id thought this was just my tiger trying to get the upper hand because of the weretiger upstairs, but the shapes gliding through the dark and light were not my beast. Oh, maybe she was in there, but this wasnt my body trying to finally pick an animal to turn into. Something else was happening. Something I had no words for, and no metaphysical experience with. That was bad.
I dont know whats happening, Jason. This is wrong, different.
He held me close. Get out, he told them.
We have to tell him, Rowe said.
We cant Shadwell began.
Chuck cut him off. The threat says that vampires will try to hit the governor and his family. That means the window is an entry point, and not just the door.
The least of our problems right now is a vampire coming through the window, Jason said.
I smelled rain and jasmine. Oh shit. The charm that rode under my shirt grew warm against my skin. It was supposed to keep Marmee Noir at bay, but it had never glowed before. That couldnt be good.
I rose up away from Jason and jerked the chain out of my shirt. The lines of the carving on the charm glowed red like someone had taken a red pen and traced every character, every faded image in the center. It was usually like an old tombstone. You knew there was a picture carved in the center but it had worn away, soft with age and wear. Now it glowed, and looked fresh-made at the end of the chain.
Jason said, Its like a cat, a many-headed cat.
What the hell is that, and why is it glowing? Chuck asked.
I answered, Its a charm against the oldest vampire on the planet.
The vampires here, Shadwell said, and guns came out.
I didnt bother with a gun. I told them the truth. Shes in Europe somewhere, but her magic isnt. I looked up at them. You dont get it. A vampire doesnt have to come through the damn window to fuck you over. If theyre powerful enough they can do you from a thousand miles away.
We have to do magic, Jason said, and you arent allowed to see it. He told half the truth. We didnt want them to see it, but I let the half-truth stand, because I couldnt think of a better way to get rid of them.
Why, you have to kill us if we see it? Chuck said, voice derisive.
Jason and I looked at him. I was the one who said it. We wouldnt have to kill you, Chuck. Wed consider it a bonus. Now get out. Now! I screamed the last at them, flinging myself off the bed. I drew the Browning and pointed it at them, screaming for them to leave. Me calm might not have moved them, but me hysterical and armed helped Jason get them out of the room.
I fell to my knees, the gun still naked in my hand. The tigers swirled inside me. I waited for one of them to run up toward me, inside me, and try to tear its way out, but they didnt. They just paced in the not-trees, the almost-shadows. They seemed to be waiting for something.
The smell of jasmine filled the air. My cross flared to life alongside the glowing lines of the charm. Then the smell of rain and flowers faded. It faded, and the cross quieted. The room was suddenly very quiet, quiet enough that I could hear the blood in my own ears pounding.
Jason knelt beside me. I saw his lips move, but could hear no sound. My gun fell from my hand, and I grabbed his arms, tried to say something, anything. Then I felt it. A sound, a call, a smell, a feeling, and yet that wasnt it either. It was all of those things, none of those things. The tigers that I could see in my minds eye like some sort of waking nightmare stood still. They raised their faces to the air, and roared. The sound of it bowed my spine, sent me to the floor, screaming. It was as if my body were some great bell, and their sound had struck a chord in me. I heard that sound not with my ears, but with my skin, like a silent tuning fork pressed against the spine to vibrate its message along every nerve ending.
Jasons hands were on me. He tried to hold me. I heard his shouts, broken in pieces, as if the ringing call let me hear only snatches of any other sound.
The charms lines glowed again like metal taken fresh from the fire, cherry red, hot enough to sear flesh. I could feel the warmth of it through my shirt. I waited for it to begin to melt through my shirt the way a cross could do, but if it would keep the vampires tigers from tearing me apart, I was willing to get one more burn scar.
Jason tried to get up. I held on to his arm. He mouthed something; I heard, door. He went to the door and opened it. Someone must have knocked, but I hadnt heard it.
It was Crispin, the white-haired stripper. He must have done his dance already because he was wearing nothing but an iridescent G-string. He knelt beside me, and the moment I looked into those strange blue eyes there was silence inside me. The tigers all looked up that long metaphysical tunnel.
Jason came to kneel on the other side of me. Is it better? he asked.
Yes, I said, my voice a hoarse whisper.
I heard your call, Crispin said. I had to answer it.
I wanted to ask, What call? or whaTHE had heard, buTHE touched my arm. It was such an innocent gesture. The white tiger leapt forward from the rest. It charged up that impossible path inside me like a white blur of grace and muscle and death.
Jason tried to give me his arm to smell, but it was too late for distractions. The tiger was coming, and I wasnt sure how to stop it.