Misguided Angel Page 40

The plan was for the three of them to enter the glom together, with Sam keeping an eye out for danger and staying at the top level, while Ted would follow her as far as he could into the spirit trail, stopping just below the subconscious layer. Once Deming flatlined she would be able to go underneath the masking spell, locate Stuart, and pull his body out of the real world and into the glom, where the boys would be waiting to help, and then the four of them would jump out together.

"Still sounds risky," Sam said, shaking his head. "Once you're in the protoconscious, you're on your own, and you might not be able to get back into your body in time."

"Yes, technically I'll be dead for five minutes and my heart will stop beating. But five minutes out here is like five hours in the glom. I'll have plenty of time."

"It's your call."

Deming nodded. "We'll do it tomorrow night. I need a day to get ready."

To prepare for a DeathWalk she had to familiarize herself with every aspect of her victims' current and past incarnations. Given the immortal history of the Blue Bloods, one could never predict what one might find in a DeathWalk, and it was best to be prepared. She had a hunch Stuart Rhodes was not a random victim even though he had no apparent link to Victoria Taylor. From her innumerable cycles as a Truth Seeker, Deming knew that things were rarely as they seemed, and while it might appear on the surface that Victoria Taylor and Stuart Rhodes had no connection to each other, the reality was usually a lot more complicated.

Stuart Rhodes's cycle mother was out of the county, and Deming left a message with her assistant to call her back as soon as Mrs. Rhodes was able. In the meantime, Victoria Taylor's cycle mother agreed to meet Deming for a cup of coffee that afternoon. Even if there was nothing more she could do for Victoria, Deming thought maybe the cycle parents would know something that might help her current case, to see if there was any connection between the two victims.

She met Gertrude Taylor at the MOMA cafe that afternoon. Gertrude was one of the museum's premier trustees, a hard-working Committee member. The Taylors had been told of Victoria's demise but had been denied the ability to grieve, as the Regent had insisted on keeping everything classified until the case was solved. According to the Venator reports, the Taylors were hands-off parents who barely knew their daughter, so Deming did not know what to expect.

"How lovely to meet you." Gertrude smiled and took a seat at the bustling cafe.

"Thanks for meeting me, Mrs. Taylor."

"Oh, it's Gertrude, and I know you're not a student at Duchesne, really. You're the Venator they brought in to find out who did this to Victoria, yes?"

"I aim to." Deming nodded.

"Good." Gertrude stirred her green tea. Up close, Deming could see the deep lines around her eyes. While the woman gave every outward indication of serenity and contentment, her face bore a shadow of sorrows that no amount of plastic surgery or vampire genes could mask. The reports were wrong. This woman was clearly suffering. "Victoria was our first. We've never been asked to carry a spirit before. Our names came up in the House of Records and we were thrilled.

Victoria was the most sweet-tempered child. She always had so many friends. I can't imagine how anyone would want to harm her, especially someone who knew her."

"What about an earlier cycle? Was there anything in her past that might indicate . . . a grudge? A weakness? Anything?"

"I don't recall."

Deming took out her notepad. "When was her last incarnation? Did she tell you?"

"Let me see. I think when the Transformation began and Victoria started having the blood memories, she said she believed she was last in cycle in Florence, around the fifteenth century or so--she remembered being in Michelangelo's studio. The House of Records would have her file, I should think. Sometimes the blood memory isn't so reliable at her age."

"Thanks very much, you've been really helpful."

"No, thank you. The Conclave has kept us in the dark about all this, but we're very glad to hear they've put someone of your caliber in charge." Gertrude Taylor rose from the table and shook Deming's hand, her eyes bright with tears. For a moment she did not look like an intimidating society matron or a fallen angel, merely a mother mourning her daughter.

* * *

A few hours later, Stuart Rhodes's mother finally returned Deming's call. The Rhodeses were anthropologists, and currently in Egypt for a dig. From reading Stuart's file, Deming observed that he had practically raised himself. Once the Transformation set in, he was barely supervised.

Amelia Rhodes did not seem particularly distraught over her son's disappearance.

"Sounds as if it's just some kind of prank, doesn't it?" she asked over the roar of helicopters. "I spoke to Stuart just a few days ago. He was going to some party and was pretty excited about it.

He doesn't get invited out much, you know."

"I'm afraid it's not a prank, ma'am. The Regent has given me permission to inform you that what has happened to Stuart happened to another student at Duchesne, another vampire in our community." Deming filled her in on the gory details. "Stuart is in grave danger."

"Well, what do you want us to do? We didn't ask for this."

"You didn't petition the House of Records for a cycle birthing?" Deming asked.

"A long time ago. In my past life I thought I should try to experience being a mother. By the time they got around to my number, I was bored of the idea."

"If there's anything you can tell us about him, it would be helpful in saving his life. Do you remember if he was beginning to have any indication of his past incarnations? Of when he was in cycle last?"

"He did mention it, but I can't remember. Somewhere in Europe, maybe? I'm sorry. You will find him, won't you? Before they burn him like they did this poor girl? I have become quite fond of the boy. With our work, his father and I don't get to see him that often, but we do miss him."

THIRTY-SEVEN

The House of Records

That night Deming studied her case files again, paying close attention to the notes on the obscure message the Venators had found in the original video. She had dismissed it as a mere distraction at first but now she took a second look. The head of the Repository believed they had cracked the code and that the three images--Lucifer's sigil, the sheep, which stood for humanity, and the symbol for union--indicated that the Morningstar was in league with Red Bloods. If so, it meant that whoever had made the video and had taken the hostages was part of this movement. A human in service to Croatan? It was simply unheard of, which was why she had ignored it as a diversion. To think that it might be real unsettled the usually stoic Venator.

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