Misguided Angel Page 32

This was her third embed mission since becoming a Venator a year ago (she and Dehua had taken advantage of the new rules regarding recruitment, and like the Force twins, had joined up early), and she prepared herself mentally for the day to come. Until Liling Tang's abduction, the Asian Coven's biggest headache had been human rights abuses--too many vampires draining their familiars to full consumption and leaving a trail of Red Blood corpses in their wake, or else using memory wipes a little too liberally, so that humans became mentally impaired. Right now her sister was in the rural countryside, tracking down a probrae spiritus, a vampire who was using the glom to give the local human population nightmares.

The Duchesne assignment was more akin to what they had pulled at the International School, when they had been brought in on the kidnapping case. Liling Tang had run around with a sophisticated expatriate crowd, shunning the usual clique of rich kids from the Communist aristocracy. Her friends had been Blue Bloods from around the world, and her kidnapper a European transfer. The crime had caused the Chinese Conclave to consider seceding from the global vampire community, but so far they had elected to remain loyal to New York.

Deming was well aware that Duchesne was unlike your typical American high school--there were no cheerleaders prancing about in tiny skirts that barely covered their behinds, no hulking football players stalking the hallways, no show choir geeks, no threat of slushie facials (perhaps she had just watched too much American television), but the moment she stepped through its ornate double doors, she found it was just like everywhere else.

There was a rigid separation of the wheat from the chaff, the cool from the dorky, the beautiful from the not. The popular kids, Victoria's friends among them, congregated in the outdoor courtyard before the first bell: the girls with enviable figures, sleek hair and blinding teeth, holding giant Parisian tote bags as backpacks, surrounded by handsome boys, tousled and dreamy-looking, their jackets and ties askew, as if they had rolled up to school straight from bed.

This was the in-crowd, the charmed circle, the Blue Bloods--this was the group Deming was meant to join.

It shouldn't be too hard, Deming thought. She did not have any false modesty about her looks: she knew she was pretty, with her straight black hair that fell all the way down her back, coffee-colored skin, her wide eyes and button nose, her slim boyish build. Plus, she had a lot of experience being "the New Girl." Her cycle father was an industrialist with many holdings all over the world, and the twins had been educated in London, Tehran, Johannesburg, and Hong Kong. She knew how to get along with people, how to make them like her.

All Committee meetings, Junior and Senior, were postponed for the time being, as the Wardens were too busy strengthening the wards around the Coven after the Regent's impulsive action. No one even knew how badly the Regent had exposed them to their enemies and what the repercussions would be. No wonder the Conclave had lost its faith in its leader. No wonder the future of the Coven was on the brink.

It was too bad the meetings had been canceled indefinitely. It would have been an easy way to mingle with the group without being noticed. Deming looked at her schedule. Her first class was The Spirit of the Self, a humanities elective for upperclassmen. Whoever had planned the school's curriculum was certainly given to alliteration: she could have taken Debating Decisions (ethics), Movement and Motion (a dance class), or From Barriers to Bridges (an English class, to Deming's surprise). Whatever happened to plain old History or Algebra or Art?

She had chosen the class because three of her top suspects were enrolled as well, and took a seat next to Francis Kernochan, whom everyone called Froggy, one of the two boys last seen with Victoria Taylor at Jamie Kip's party. Froggy certainly didn't look like someone keeping a terrible secret. The boy had an open, amiable face, hair an unfortunate shade of orange, and from the slouch of his rounded shoulders alone, an easygoing demeanor. Not that it meant anything. The Blue Blood boy from Guizhou who had drained twenty-four familiars to death had the face of an angel.

"Excuse me," she said, as her messenger bag brushed the elbow of the girl seated on her other side.

"Are those chopsticks?" the girl asked. Deming looked up to see a pretty strawberry blonde sizing her up. Piper Crandall. Suspect Number Two. As Victoria's best friend, she was the one who would have the most reason to harm the girl. In Deming's experience, it was always those closest to us who also wished us dead.

"That's so cool," Piper told her.

"Thanks." Deming's hand reflexively went to pat the long black hair she wore in a messy bun on the top of her head, secured with elegant sterling-silver chopsticks, the current trend in Shanghai. They weren't any old chopsticks either: they had been forged by the master, Alalbiel, and when joined together they formed her sword, Ren Ci Sha Shou, Mercy-Killer.

"I love your watch," she said, pointing to Piper's wrist. "Is it vintage?"

"An original Cartier, from when Louis still made them." Piper smiled. "Funny how Red Bloods think you can't take it with you. I've had this watch for almost two hundred years."

"It's gorgeous," said Deming, who didn't need to use the glom to know the road to female friendship was paved with flattery. Why use the glom when common sense and insight into human (and vampire) behavior was available? Too many Truth Seekers had become lazy and dependent on telepathic tricks. They had lost the ability to think without them.

"Maybe I'll let you borrow it sometime if you teach me how to wear my hair that way,"

Piper said.

"Anytime," Deming said. "I'm Deming Chen." As part of her cover she had rolled into Duchesne wearing the latest fashions, and noticed Piper looking approvingly at her expensive handbag.

"Piper Crandall. I know who you are. We got the Conclave memo that you had transferred here. Where are you staying?"

"My uncle's a Venator and he has some rooms on Bleecker."

"Tragic." Piper shook her head. "They haven't fixed up that place since like . . ."

"The nineteenth century," they chorused together.

Piper laughed. "That place is probably as old as my watch. If you get tired of staying there, come hang out at my house. We have TiVo. I bet those old-timers don't even have a TV."

A promising start, Deming thought. After a few days of tedious, diligent friendship with Piper Crandall--the usual borrowing of each other's clothes and gossiping about boys--she planned to get to the bottom of what exactly happened to Victoria Taylor on the night of Jamie Kip's birthday party.

Prev Next