Misguided Angel Page 27

"We're here because of wallpaper?" Mimi asked. "You guys cleared an entire hotel--used a massive compulsion on all those Red Bloods--because of some wallpaper?" She tried not to sound too incredulous.

"It's all we've got," Oliver said apologetically. "You said no one dies on your watch. We have to try everything, don't we?"

The elevator door opened, and Mimi saw Sam and Ted take position in front of a door to the suite. The rest of the team were arranged in the hallway.

"We have a green?" Ted asked.

Mimi didn't know what to say. At this point they had acted without consulting her, so why adhere to protocol now? It was too late to back out. Maybe it was just courtesy since she had arrived on the scene. It was better than Helen Archibald's rudeness. She would humor her Venators. "Affirmative." She nodded. "Go."

The strike force burst into the room, swarming into the space, setting off glom bombs, their swords held aloft and gleaming.

There was a girl tied up in a chair.

Alas, it was not Victoria.

They had surprised the actor, a movie star, who'd returned the night before with his new girlfriend. At the sight of the black-clad, armored Venators, he dropped a magnum of champagne and fainted.

TWENTY-THREE

The Pub

After the failure and embarrassment of the Carlyle raid--which Mimi placed directly on Oliver's shoulders to stave off criticism of her Venators--she met the Lennox brothers at their usual pub the next evening. The night was black, and in less than twenty-four hours the crescent moon would appear in the sky. They were almost out of time. She knew the boys wouldn't appreciate what she was about to tell them, but she had no choice. She was Regent now; it was her call. She was not about to lose one of their own. She hoped they had good news for her.

The pub had been a speakeasy during the Prohibition, when the Blue Bloods were the only purveyors of alcohol in the city. The place still had its original double doors, the keyhole to peek out, sawdust on the floor, knotted pine benches scarred with the names of friends and enemies.

Venators of all stripes--jolly veterans with worn faces and cigarettes hanging from their bottom lips, and slim new recruits straight out of Langley (the CIA had been founded by a Venator; the original Blue Bloods training center was located in the same area) jostled at tables next to the odd NYU students who'd wandered in and had no idea they were surrounded by the vampire secret police. There was a pool table and dartboard, and a chalkboard behind the bar for recording rounds.

Mimi found Sam sitting in the back booth surrounded by empties, and took a seat across from him. "It's my shout," Ted announced, bringing back three pints of dark bitter ale topped with a gold lager. Black and Tans they called them. Mimi didn't usually like the taste of beer--she preferred martinis or wine--but she also did not feel like making a fuss. She took a sip.

Not too bad, really. Not as tangy as blood--she remembered the taste of Kingsley's blood: sweet and sharp. Her throat constricted and her eyes watered, and for a moment she felt as if she would lose it. But she held herself together.

"First off, take it easy on that Conduit. Hazard-Perry means well," Sam said. "It was as good a guess as any. The kid hasn't slept in days. He works harder than anybody."

"Maybe, but that pompous windbag Wendell Randolph wants my seat for 'abuse of the police force.' He said he's going to call a White Vote at the next meeting."

"He won't. He's all bluster," Ted said with a dismissive wave. "You're all they've got and they know it."

"Maybe. Look guys, this is hard for me to say." Mimi took a deep breath. "I know we've all worked really hard this last week, and I appreciate all your efforts, but I have no choice: if we don't find her by tomorrow night, I'm taking the wards off the Coven. I don't want to, but it's my only option. I can't have her burn, not online, not anywhere. At least with the wards down we'll know exactly where she is and we'll be able to get her out."

The Venators took the news with sober faces. "That's a huge risk. You know we'd be sitting ducks if the Silver Bloods pulled a stunt at the same time," Ted warned.

"I know the risks." Mimi put her hands in the air. "But do I have a choice?"

"Charles would never allow it," Sam pointed out. "Not even during the slayings," he said, meaning the two years prior when several teenage Blue Bloods were drained.

"Charles let six immortals die," Mimi replied. "And Lawrence lost almost the entire Conclave in Rio. No. I've made up my mind. If we don't find her before midnight, I'm doing it."

Sam pushed back on his chair and put his hands behind his head. Every year of his Enmortal life showed in the creases on his face. "But don't you have got get the full Conclave approval for that sort of thing?"

"Not in a time of war. Not with the Regis Doctrine," said Mimi, a bit smugly. How's that for looking up the Code, she thought. "And gentlemen, if it wasn't clear before, let me make it so.

This is a war we're fighting. I'm not going to let security get mired up in useless bureaucratic motions."

Ted exchanged a look with his brother, and Sam shrugged. "All right then, like you said, it's your call, ma'am. But give us until the last minute before you pull the trigger. We've got someone working on a counter to that masking spell. We'll find her. The last time the Regis took the wards off, you remember what happened."

Mimi actually didn't, but she wasn't about to admit that to them, especially after she had already announced her decision. Plus, where did he get off calling her ma'am? "All right. But not one minute more."

"We wanted to show you something too," Sam said. "We got Renfield's notes back. What is wrong with that guy, by the way?"

"He's watched too many movies made by the Conspiracy." Mimi smirked. "Next thing you know he's going to start smelling like roses."

Sam snorted. "He came up with a doozy. Remember those three things we saw on the video?" He began to draw on a cocktail napkin. "Copulating animals. Ram's head. Snake." He tapped the drawing with his pen.

"Uh-huh."

"The scribes found something in the archives--take a look." Sam slid a book across the table. It was an old Repository tome, probably from the 1500s, Mimi guessed, due to the Vitruvian silhouette on the spine. She could smell the dust on it.

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