Misguided Angel Page 23

"Anything?"

Ted shook his head and tossed a crumpled piece of paper into a nearby trash can. "Not yet. But we did catch something interesting. Remember all that hoopla about subliminal messages back in the fifties? No? You weren't in cycle then? But you've heard about it, right?

What we found is sort of like that, except no one is selling Coke or popcorn in this one. Show her, Sam. It's right in the beginning."

Sam fired it up on his desktop screen, and the three of them crowded around the computer to watch. He played the video on super-slow motion, one three-hundredth of a frame per second. Mimi watched as the black darkness filled the screen, and then, in a blink, there was an image of a lion mounting its mate.

Okaay ...

"There's more," Sam said, hitting fast-forward. The next image appeared in the middle of the party shot. It showed a ram's head on a stake, dead eyes open and unblinking, tongue lolling, flies circling the carcass. The final image appeared a second before the video ended: a king cobra, coiled and ready to strike.

"So?" asked Mimi impatiently, shaking the handcuffs so they made a loud clicking sound as she pulled them apart. They were looking for a missing girl and her strike team was showing her photos from National Geographic.

"We think it's some sort of code, a message of some kind. We're having Renfield take a look. See if the Repository can cough up an explanation," Ted replied.

"All right. Not sure how that helps us find Victoria, but what could it hurt." Mimi pushed off the desk and faced the boys. She would always think of them as boys, since technically, as Azrael, one of the First Born, she was centuries older, even if they were Enmortals and senior Venators to boot. "Anything else?"

"Yep," Sam said, straightening in his chair and springing forward. "We found Evan Howe. Or at least, we know where he is."

Mimi put down the handcuffs. "Does he know where Victoria could be?"

"Doubtful. But since you wanted us to check on him--we did. Figured he'd show up sooner or later, after recovering from the Caerimonia. You know first bite's always the hardest."

Sam winced.

"And?"

Ted removed a business card from his pocket. "Witness saw him take a cab out to Newark."

"Newark? What would he be doing there?" Mimi scoffed. What would a pampered prince from the Upper East Side be doing out in some crime-ridden New Jersey township? "There's nothing for someone like Evan in Newark!"

"Nothing but abandoned buildings and a blood house." Ted handed the card to Mimi.

"No way." Mimi shuddered, reading the card. The Familiars' Club, it read, in fancy red lettering.

"It's the only logical place he could be. I'm sorry," Sam said.

"I didn't know him. I'm not . . . It's just . . ." Mimi sputtered. A blood house? Evan Howe?

That nice-looking boy with the dimples? He was sixteen years old . . . He was so young. . . .

"You wanted to know." Ted shrugged. "So that's where he is. But take it from us, you don't want to go there. Not worth it. This human kid's got nothing to do with whoever took Victoria. Familiars aren't made that way, you know that. And if you go out there you won't find anything but the same old story. Old as Rome."

TWENTY

The Blood House

Newark was across the river just a quick shot through the tunnel and lately enjoying something of a revitalized image, but as a rule, Mimi, like many Manhattanites, avoided going to New Jersey unless it was to the airport (and thus on the way to somewhere else). Even then, she only went to Teterboro. She had left the Venator station a few hours earlier and made no comment as the car drove past the charming waterfront neighborhoods and took them deeper and deeper into a gritty industrial section. She was just glad she wasn't alone that evening.

"Right here," Oliver told his driver. "You can drop us off in front." He had been silent during the forty-minute trip, and had not appeared too surprised when she told him where they were going to look for Evan.

After she'd left the Venators, Mimi had picked him up at the Repository, where he had been since yesterday afternoon, reviewing the video over and over again, searching for clues.

She told him about the three images the brothers had found.

"The scribes will figure it out. Everything's in the Repository," Oliver assured her.

"I wish I had your confidence," she said. She also hoped visiting the blood house wouldn't be a waste of time, even though the Venators certainly thought so.

Mimi followed Oliver out of the car and looked around balefully. It was a neighborhood of abandoned warehouses and empty lots. The street was littered with broken bottles and used needles. There was a junkyard lined with barbed wire, and several aimless junkyard dogs, lean and mangy, prowled the street. She shuddered.

"Come on, I think it's over here," Oliver said, leading the way to the nearest building, where Mimi saw a steel door marked with a slash of red paint.

The door opened a crack. "Members only," a raspy voice growled.

Oliver nodded to Mimi, who said her line. "I'm a friend of the club. We need a room."

The door slammed then opened again. A tough-looking middle-aged woman chewing gum blocked their entrance. Mimi had heard of lowlife vampires--they usually lived off-Coven--but she had never met one before. "You'll have to pay the nightly rate, and if you want anything else off the menu, you'll have to keep an open tab."

Mimi handed over her credit card, and she and Oliver were allowed inside. They found themselves in a small lobby area, two armchairs sitting in a pool of red light. The house mistress looked them over. "Boy or girl?"

Mimi shrugged, unsure of what was being asked of them, so Oliver took the lead. "Er, girl, please."

They watched in morbid fascination as a group of Red Blood girls, their necks sporting fresh bites, blood dripping from their wounds, lined up in front of them. The girls looked dazed and drugged, used and drained. They wore low-cut dresses or flimsy nightgowns. Some of them were barely out of their teens.

Mimi knew all about blood houses, of course--she wasn't born yesterday, duh. They were places that familiars who had been abandoned went to experience the Sacred Kiss with any vampire. It was a disgusting practice, the Caerimonia was intimate and sacred, not to be squandered cheaply. While the Sacred Kiss ensured that no other vampire could take a human that had already been marked, there was an ancient, dark magic that removed the poison. It was a dangerous process that weakened the human, but those who made it to the establishment didn't much care. It was the only place left for former familiars, as well as for Blue Bloods who didn't care about using humans in this way. Needless to say, it was completely against the Code, and highly illegal. The Venators made a practice of raiding them once in a while, but it was a low priority, what with everything else going on.

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