Misguided Angel Page 22

"I know, I saw the reports too," Mimi sighed. "They're all so freaking loyal."

"What if we're going about this the wrong way?" Oliver said.

"How so?" Mimi raised an eyebrow.

"Victoria's been taken captive, and her familiar is missing too. The Venators think Evan isn't capable, but what if . . ." Oliver returned to his seat. "He was her first human familiar, and they hadn't been together long.

From what I can gather, the Sacred Kiss on the couch was their first hookup."

"Are you saying Evan Howe should be a suspect?"

"In the absence of one, I'd say he's as good as any," Oliver said.

Mimi's waved her hand dismissively. "You can't seriously believe that. . . ."

"I'm just putting it out there." Oliver shrugged.

"But you of all people know how human familiars are bound to love their vampire masters by the Caerimonia. No familiar would ever . . . could ever . . ." She shook her head vehemently. "It would never happen. Even the Venators ruled it out. The Sacred Kiss precludes any of that; it's impossible."

"Nothing's impossible. Sure, it's never happened before, but it doesn't mean it couldn't happen in the future. Who knows? The power of the Caerimonia may have been corrupted somehow, or lessened, we don't know."

"But it's preposterous! They'll laugh me out of the Conclave for even suggesting it!"

Oliver was stubborn. "Even so, we've got to follow it up."

NINETEEN

Venators' Quarters

It was painful to see the Lennox twins sometimes. It reminded Mimi too much of her assignment with Kingsley. She had traveled the world as part of his team for a year, keeping him at arm's length all that time except for that one hookup in Rio. Their time together in New York was too little, too late. She'd realized her true feelings for him only at the very end, and now he was gone. A bubble of grief welled up inside her, but she pushed it away--she had no time to feel sorry for herself.

She was glad Sam and Ted never brought it up--the brothers were too discreet for that.

They had asked her to meet them at Venator headquarters, a former tenement building in the far West Village. It was Thursday, three days until the crescent moon, and she was getting nervous.

The Venators were doing their best, but so far had turned up nothing of any significance. They should at least have a suspect, by now--a clue, something. They were Blue Bloods--keepers of the secret history, vampires who knew the truth about the world--they were not used to being threatened, to being kept in the dark.

Mimi let herself in the gate and pricked her finger on the blood-lock on the front door.

The shabby interiors were the complete antithesis of the slick, polished perfection of the Force Tower. She pursed her lips at the sight of the dusty banister, the broken stairs, and the peeling wallpaper. The Venators had moved to this location in the nineteenth century, and it still looked exactly as it had back then. She had a memory-flash of visiting during debutante season, when everyone in the Coven had been called in for questioning during Maggie Stanford's disappearance.

"Up here!" A cheerful voice called. Ted stood at the top landing and waved. "Elevator's broken."

"Of course," Mimi muttered.

Dormitories occupied the first and second floors. Since the Venators traveled so much, the Committee provided housing. Many of the rooms were empty. To serve as a Venator, one had to display an extraordinary amount of courage, honor, and loyalty to the Coven in at least fifty lifetimes. But even if the Conclave had lowered the threshold for acceptance so that more vampires could join, its ranks were still stretched too thin.

Only very few Blue Bloods aspired to become Venators these days. It was as Cordelia Van Alen had said--most of the vampires were content to live their lives as little more than extra-privileged Red Bloods: humans with a touch of immortality, a little more money, and not a whole lot of responsibility. Why couldn't she get Cordelia out of her head, Mimi wondered. How could it be possible that Cordelia Van Alen, a fearmonger and conspiracy theorist who had been demoted from the Conclave, could have been so prescient, while her father, Charles Force, who had led the vampires since the beginning, had been so obtuse?

Ted ushered her into the office he shared with his brother, a cramped space stacked with books and antediluvian police technology that the brothers had collected over the years: fingerprint ink pads, analog lie detector machines, yellowing evidence tags, broken binoculars.

Ted in particular had an affinity for the Red Bloods' quaint idea of law enforcement. Venators had no need for such things, as most of their work was done in the shadow world of the glom.

Still, they kept to some of the same protocol as their human counterparts. Taped to the wall were photographs of each person who had been at Jamie Kip's party that night, arranged according blood status and position: BB, RB, FAM, CON. Mimi peered at the pictures. There was her own 8x12 modeling shot right in the middle. Did that mean she herself was a suspect?

she wondered. She'd hardly known Victoria even though they were in the same elite clique of friends.

"So what's up?" she asked, leaning on the messy desk stacked with file folders waist-high. She picked up a pair of steel handcuffs and began to play with them.

Sam wheeled his chair around to face her. There were dark circles under his eyes. Mimi remembered that, of the two brothers, Sam was the one who felt the assignments more keenly, and clearly the frustration was beginning to take a toll.

"Tech has been able to zero in on the computer that uploaded the file," he said. "We traced it through the ghost connection--it zapped it from here to Moscow--and the line led us to an Internet cafe in the East Village. We got a list of everyone who was there the afternoon the video was sent, and each one checks out. Normal Red Blood kids, no association with the Coven." He sighed. "But the good news is we've been able to reach Victoria through the glom, so we have confirmation she's alive. Scared and mute, but alive. Here's the thing, though: her signature is being clouded--we can't get a physical location on it."

"A masking spell, maybe?" Mimi ventured.

"We've tried all the counter spells to an oris, but if it is a masking spell it's one we've never seen before," Ted said, looking wary, slouched against the doorway. "If it is a masking spell, whoever did this isn't going to take chances with moving her around. You've got to take off the mask to move a body. Our guess is she's still in the same room where the video was filmed, so if we can figure where that is, we can find her. We've run the video dozens of times to see if we can find anything in it that'll help us zero in on her location."

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