We cannot get a flight to Lake Tahoe or even into Reno. San Francisco is our next best choice. The four of us, Seymour, James, Dr. Seter, and I, fly to San Francisco and rent a car in the Bay Area. Airport security has not allowed us to take weapons with us, so along the way, close to ten o'clock, I have the others wait while I break into a gun shop and steal two shotguns and several rounds of ammunition. James seems impressed when I get back to the car. He sits up front with me while Seymour talks to Dr. Seter in the backseat. The doctor is not looking good, and I wonder if he suffered a mild heart attack the previous night. "How did you get into the store?" James asks as we race back onto the freeway and head east at high speed.
"I picked the lock," I say, doing the driving.
"Did an alarm go off?" James asks.
"Not one that I could hear." I glance over my shoulder. "Do you need to use the restroom, Dr. Seter? There's a gas station a couple of miles ahead."
His face is ghastly white but he shakes his head. "We don't have time. We have to get there before she does." He pauses. "I'm still furious at myself that I didn't allow you to see all of the scripture the first night. How were you able to decipher the clues as to the child's location so quickly?"
"I had a little help," I say.
"From whom?" James asks.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"I think everyone in this car is ready to believe anything," Seymour mutters.
"Ain't that the truth," Dr. Seter says.
Yet I hesitate to talk about Mike. "A little bird helped me."
James gently persists. "Does this bird have a name?"
I give him a look. "Not that I can remember."
We reach the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe and I plow up the winding road that leads to the lake. The others sit, clutching the ceiling grips; I have rented a Lexus sports coupe and I push the car to its limit. Dr. Seter looks as if he will vomit over the backseat but he doesn't complain. There's too much at stake.
As we come over the rim of the mountain and see the lake, I smell Kalika. I am surprised at my own surprise because I should have expected her to be here, but in reality I didn't. Yet I still don't think she has deciphered Suzama's code before me. On the contrary, I think she is following us, using some invisible psychic tracking. I believe she still waits to see what moves we'll make next. And this is a paradox for me because I realize I might endanger the child most by trying to find it to protect it. Certainly there must have been a reason why my daughter has left so many of us alive. She didn't know where I was when I was at the hospital with the child. Yet she knew where I was when I was living in Pacific Palisades with Seymour. I have to wonder if the child has a mystical shield around him that Kalika can't pierce but maybe I can.
It may not matter.
If I can smell her, she can see us.
But I cannot have come this far just to turn away from the child. I cannot trust in my theories. I only know that if I can find Paula and her baby I can take them to some safe place. That is logical; it is something I can envision without employing the wisdom or intuition of Suzama. Starting downhill, I floor the accelerator and turn toward Emerald Bay.
We reach it twenty minutes later.
The spot is one of the most enchanting in all of nature. The bay is maybe two hundred yards across, sheltered on three sides by majestic cliffs with tall pines hugging them. The isthmus is nar?row, giving the bay excellent shelter from the lake itself, which can get rough in stormy weather. There is a tiny island in the center of the water, a place for children to play and adults to relax. Even at midnight, beneath the brilliant moon, the circu?lar bay is magical. But tonight it is silver, not emerald. Silver like the dagger Ory stabbed in me.
For some reason, I have to remind myself that that was long ago.
My abdomen cramps and I brush away a fly that has entered the car.
The odor of Kalika overpowers my other senses. Truly, since being touched by Yaksha's blood, my sense of smell has become my most potent weapon. Rolling down my window all the way, I use my nose like a needle on a compass, and it doesn't fail me. It points in only one direction, toward a small wooden house set on redwood stilts above an abandoned stone church at the floor of the cliff, not far above the water. The place is almost hidden in the trees, but I see it.
I drive faster.
I stop some distance from the house. The road we're on circles all of Lake Tahoe but at this place it is three hundred yards up the side of the mountain. Grabbing a shotgun and ignoring the others, I slip six shells into it. The remainder of the ammunition is in the box that I stuff into my pocket. Popping open the driver's door, I am almost outside when James grabs my arm.
"Where are you going?" he demands.
"Some things you can't help me with," I say.
"Alisa," Seymour says. The others only know me by that name.
"It has to be this way." I shake off James. "Stay and take care of one another. She may come this way yet."
I don't give them a chance to respond. Jumping out of the car, I run around the bend, and the moment I am out of sight I switch into hyper-mode. The tangled trees and uneven boulders don't even slow me. I reach the house in thirty seconds.
The front door has already been kicked in.
Kalika was watching which way my nose turned.
Inside I find Paula staring out a window that overlooks Emerald Bay. There is a small boat on the cold water, with an outboard motor softly churning through the night, heading away from us. Grabbing Paula from behind, I turn her around.
"Did she take the child?" I demand.
Pretty dark-haired Paula is the color of dirty snow.
"Yes," she says with a dry voice.
"Stay here." I pump my shotgun. "I will get him back."
The next moment finds me outside, running along the edge of the bay. In places this is difficult because the sides are sheer stone. When I come to such a spot I jump higher for any inch of ledge that will support my feet and keep running. Kalika's outboard motor is not very strong. I reach the isthmus seconds before her boat does. Dressed in a long white coat, the baby wrapped in a white blanket on her knees, she looks up at me as I raise my shotgun and take aim at her bow. She is only fifty yards away. Her eyes shimmer with the glow of the moon and she doesn't seem to be surprised.
The baby talks softly to her, infant nonsense. He is not afraid, but fear is almost all I know as I sight along the barrel and squeeze the trigger.
The blast of the shotgun echoes across the bay.
I have blown a hole in the front of the boat
Water gushes in. Kalika grabs the handle of the outboard and turns the boat around. For a moment her back is to me, an easy shot. Yet I don't take it. I tell myself there is a chance I might hit the child. At first Kalika seems to be headed back toward the beach below Paula's house, but then it is clear the miniature island in the center of the bay is her goal. Perhaps the water is gushing in too fast. Kalika picks up the child and hugs him to her chest even before the boat reaches the island. Then she is tip and out of the sinking craft, scampering up the dirt path that leads to a small abandoned house at the top of the island. Sliding the shotgun under my black leather coat, I dive off the low cliff and into the water.
The lake temperature is bracing, even for me. But vampires never like the cold, although we can tolerate it far better than human beings can. My stroke is hampered by my clothes and gun, but I reach the island in less than a minute. Shivering on the beach in the rays of the moon, I remove the shotgun and pump another round into the cham?ber. There is a good chance it will still fire. If it doesn't then this will be the last moonlit night of my life.
I find Kalika sitting on a bench in the stone house at the top of the island. It is not properly a house, more an open collection of old walls. Last time I was here a guide told me people came here for tea during the Second World War. Kalika sits with the baby on her lap, playing with him, oblivi?ous of me and my shotgun. I feel I have to say something. Of course I am not fooled. I keep my weapon held ready.
Yet maybe I am the biggest fool of all.
"It is over," I say. "Set the child down."
Kalika doesn't even look up. "The floor is cold. He might catch cold."
I shake my gun. "I am serious."
"That is your problem."
"Do you know what name Paula gave the child?" she interrupts.
"No. I didn't stop to ask her."
"I think she named him John. That's what I've been calling him." Finally she looks at me. "But you know Mike, don't you?"
I am bewildered. "Yes. Have you spoken to him?"
"No. But I know him. He's a bum." She lifts the child to her breast. Kalika has a voluptuous figure; she could probably bear many healthy children. God knows what they would be like. She strokes the baby's soft skull. "I think we have company."
"What are you talking about?"
"Your friend is coming."
"Good," I say, although I don't hear anyone approaching. "More reason for you to surrender the child." I grow impatient "Put him down!"
"I will shoot."
"No, you won't."
"You murdered two dozen innocent people. You ripped their hearts and heads off right in front of my eyes and you think I can still care for you? Well, you're wrong." I step closer and aim the shotgun at her face. "You are not immortal. If I fire and your brains splatter the wall behind you, then you will die."
She stares at me. We are out of the moonlight. There should be no light in her dark eyes at all. Nevertheless they shine with a peculiar white glow. I had thought it was red the last time I saw them during our confrontation on the pier. But maybe the color is not hers but mine. Maybe she is just a mirror for me, Kali Ma, the eternal abyss, who destroys time itself. My mother myself. I cannot look at her with the child and not think of when she was a baby.
"The body takes birth and dies," she says. "The eternal self is unmoved."
I shake my shotgun angrily. "You will move for me, goddamn you!"
Kalika smiles. She wants to say something.
But suddenly there is a blade at my throat.
"I will take that shotgun," James says softly in my ear.
I am surprised but not terribly alarmed.
"James," I say patiently, "I am not going to shoot the child."
He presses the blade tighter and forces my head back.
"I know that, Sita," he says calmly. "I still want the gun."
I swallow. Now I am concerned.
"How do you know my name?" I ask.
He grips the shotgun and carefully lifts it from my hands.
"We have met before," he says. "You just don't remember me."
"She remembers," Kalika says, standing now, her expression unfathomable.
James points the shotgun at her while he keeps the blade at my throat. Out of the corner of my eye I get a glimpse of it. A dagger of some kind, ancient design, cold metal. James is calm and cool. He gestures with the tip of the shotgun.
"You will set the child down on the bench beside you," he says to my daughter. "If you don't I will shoot, and you know I won't miss. Either of you."
Kalika does not react.
James scrapes me lightly with the knife and my throat bleeds.
"I will kill your mother," he says. "You will have to watch her die."
A shadow crosses Kalika's face. "No," she says.
James smiles. "You know me. You know I do not bluff."
Kalika nods slightly. Really, it is as if she knows him well.
"All right," she says in a soft, perhaps beaten, voice.
"Do it!" James orders.
Kalika turns to set the child down. The baby is almost out of her hands when I see her change her mind. Maybe James sees the same thing, I don't know. But he is ready for her when she suddenly grabs the baby and bolts. Kalika moves extraordi?narily fast but James is no slouch when it comes to reflexes.
He shoots her in the lower back.
Kalika staggers but manages to hold on to the child. Keeping his blade tight to my throat, he pumps the shotgun again and takes aim. It is then I ram an elbow into his side. He seems ready for that as well, because even though I have hurt him, he manages to draw the blade all the way across my throat. And he doesn't just nick me. Suddenly my life's blood is pouring over my chest and James has got Kalika in his sights again and there is abso?lutely nothing I can do to stop him.
James shoots Kalika in the back, behind the heart.
Kalika is covered in blood. She tries to turn, perhaps to attack, but seeing James pumping again, she puts her back to him once more. He fires a third time, hitting her right shoulder. Kalika slumps to the floor, her right arm useless now. Still she manages to hold on to the child, to shelter him from the blasts that ravage her body. As I collapse to the floor, James pumps again and points the shotgun at Kalika's head, actually touching her left temple with the black barrel He still has the dagger in his right hand and I finally recognize it.
Ory's knife. I feel his poison once more in my system.
I even recognize Ory's voice when James speaks next.
Funny how I didn't before. Too bad, huh.
"I just want the child," James says to my daughter.
She stares up at him. "Your kind never wants just one thing."
He pulls the trigger back dangerously far.
"You missed me at the condo," he says. "That was your chance. But you will have no more chances if you do not do what I say. Nor will the child."
Kalika stares up at him a moment.
Then she hands him the baby with her left arm.
He takes the infant in his knife arm.
He turns to walk away.
Kalika tries to get up.
"No!" I gasp, choking on my own blood.
James pivots and shoots her directly in the heart. Stunned, she staggers back. He pumps again and shoots her in the exact same spot. Her chest cavity literally explodes. Her white coat and white dress are a mess of red tissue and torn threads. Reaching out a feeble left arm, trying to give it one last desperate try, she suddenly closes her eyes and falls face first on the floor. James stares down at her for a moment and then drops the shotgun and kneels beside me. The infant's face is only inches from my own but I am unable to reach out and touch him. The baby seems worried, but James looks as if he is having a good time.
"What did you tell me?" he asks." 'I will see you again someday. It is not over.'" He pauses. "Yeah, I think that was it. Well, at least you were half right."
I drown in red blood. My voice bubbles out.
"How am I here again in a different body? That is a Setian secret, isn't it? But to tell you the truth I never left. Oh, I have transferred many times, into many forms, but that is a small trick for beings such as ourselves." He glances at motionless Kalika. "It is a pity your daughter had to destroy my entire crop of new apprentices. But there will be more from where they came."
"What?" I whisper.
He chuckles. "What am I going to do with the child now that you have led me to him? Honestly, you don't want to know. Better you go to your grave with no horrific image in your pretty head." He raises the dagger. "Where do you want me to put in the poison? It is a new and improved brand. It is guaranteed to kill even the strongest of vam?pires. And slowly."
"Go to hell," I gasp.
"Sita, I just came from there."
He stabs me in midback and leaves the blade in.
I am too weak to pull it out. To find it, even.
James stands and walks away with the child.
Finally, I hear the infant begin to cry.
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