Kitty Raises Hell Page 30


It was a pretty obvious setup when you knew what to look for. And the club made a hefty profit by overcharging for alcohol.

“Typical,” Roman said, contemptuously. “Conventional. I’m sure you’re aware, being conventional makes you predictable.”

“That’s not what we came here to discuss,” Rick said.

“She called me a demon hunter. I suppose that’s close enough. I’ve tracked one here.”

“Demon,” I said. Matter-of-fact, skeptical. “Horns, hooves, pitchfork. That kind of demon?”

“No,” Roman said. “When it appears, you may not even see it, but it smells of fire, brimstone. You feel a sense of overwhelming dread. Of evil. The Band of Tiamat sent it to destroy you.”

So, it was a demon. The thing had a label now. I almost felt better, like I was finally getting a grip on this. I could start searching the Internet.

It couldn’t possibly be that easy.

“You know a lot about it,” I said. “About the Band of Tiamat. About me.”

He gave a wry smile. “You aren’t exactly secretive about who you are and what you do. Five members of the Band were killed during your stay in Las Vegas, and soon after you are afflicted by... something. Obviously, they blame you for whatever happened.”

“And you’ve arrived to do something about it,” I said.

“For a price,” Rick added. Roman inclined his head, a barest nod.

Of course for a price. Of course for an ulterior motive. He was a vampire. They didn’t have any other kind of motive.

The way Rick was watching the guy—frowning, body straight and tense—I could tell he didn’t trust Roman. He didn’t like having this mysterious vampire of unknown power camping in his territory and dropping implications. Really, we had no reason to even believe him.

Once you started seeing the world in terms of conspiracy theories, such theories became darned easy to formulate. They were everywhere.

I said, “Here’s the thing. There’s a certain kind of con, where the con artist shows up someplace and conveniently he knows exactly what the problem is and how to solve it. This is because he created the problem for the express purpose of arriving in the nick of time to solve it. For a price.”

“There’s another alternative,” Rick said. He glanced at me; I raised a questioning brow. Our silent conversation didn’t exactly impart any information. “The priestess of the Tiamat cult—did you know she’s a vampire?” Roman made a noncommittal gesture indicating that he should continue. No hint of yes or no. Rick continued. “Are you working with her?”

Ah, the great vampire conspiracy. I should have known Rick would take that route. I wanted to argue, because there was yet another alternative: Maybe Roman was telling the truth, and maybe he really could help.

“You’re both right not to trust me, of course,” Roman said. My alarm bells were still ringing because even that line was part of the con. Now he’d pull out a résumé and references from the mayor showing what a great demon hunter he was. He didn’t, though. “You think I’m working for the priestess of Tiamat? Then why would I offer to end these attacks, when all she wants to do is destroy the werewolf and wreak havoc in your territory? Or you think that this doesn’t involve the Band of Tiamat at all, and that I’m merely using them as an excuse to play my little trick on you? Did my research, found a likely rube with a likely story I could use to divert blame from myself... you’re right. It’s a very good con. I wish I’d thought of it. But you need my help. I’m here to remove that creature from the face of the earth, and I guarantee you don’t have the skills or knowledge to do it yourself.”

“You’re not telling us everything,” I said, and thought, well, duh, he’s a vampire, they never tell everything.

“I tell you everything, you no longer need my help,” he said. So much for altruism.

“And the price?” asked Rick.

“For banishing the demon, for preserving the sanctity of your territory, I want permanent free passage in Denver,” he said. “Not so large a price, really.”

This made his offer feel like even more of a setup. He’d been planning this. Now the question was: Would Rick allow a powerful demon-hunting vampire to set up shop in his territory?

Rick looked him over. They might as well have been a couple of guys playing poker, and for a moment I flashed on an imagined scene from Rick’s Old West past: sitting across the table from Doc Holliday, sizing him up, wondering who was the fastest draw. Rick smiling just a little because he didn’t need to be the fastest draw—a bullet wouldn’t knock him down. Now that was the way I liked to gamble.

Rick traced an invisible line on the table. “No power? No territory? Just free passage. Live and let live. So to speak.”

“That’s right,” Roman said. “I’m careful. I don’t hunt to excess. I’m a good neighbor, as they say.”

“You know, I made the same deal with the Master who preceded me.”

“And he trusted you.”

“Not quite. He just didn’t think I was a threat.”

“You think I’m a threat?”

Gah, another game of vampire chicken. I fidgeted.

“You’re older than I am,” Rick said. Casually. Like he didn’t just make the bottom drop out of my stomach. I studied Roman, and of course he didn’t look all that old, maybe a well-worn midthirties. But vampires could apparently smell the age rolling off each other—and they could mask their own power, hide their age, keep others from finding out. Not flaunt it, encourage others to underestimate them. Arturo had believed Rick was only two hundred years old.

So. Rick had just told Roman that he wasn’t fooling him.

“Age is not the only criterion for power,” Roman said.

“No. But it’s a start.”

“I could let you think about it. If you think you have that much time.”

“There’s always time,” said Rick, the way only a vampire could.

“Of course. For some.” Roman gave me a pitying glance. He stood. Meeting over. “I’ll confess, Ricardo. You aren’t what I expected.”

“I’m not sure I want to know, but what did you expect?”

“I’d have expected someone who snatched his territory from its former Master by wit and guile to show a little more fear.”

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