There was a soft knock on the door. “Who’s that?” Paul asked. It was almost becoming light outside by now.
“A friend”, Marcus said, and the door opened to the tall African, who started talking rapidly even before he was inside the room.
“You know Marcus, old friend, you really should make up your mind. First you call me and yell at me to stay the hell away from your place, then you interrupt me in the middle of something really nice and tell me to get myself to your flat ASAP. What is it now?” he stopped to take a breath. “Wow, dinner for two?”
Great, Paul thought, now he knew what the similarities between Marcus and his African friend were. He was with two vampires now, and while he still had trouble imagining Marcus drinking someone’s blood, it didn’t take much to believe that of the other man: danger was oozing from him. Were they all that tall and imposing?
“Philippe, calm down”, Marcus pleaded. He introduced Paul.
“Bonsoir,“ Philippe said, “are you going to arrest Marcus or hire him? He’s got a disgustingly well-developed sense of justice though, I have to warn you.” He took a look at the broken cabinet and the window frame. “Oh, got a bit tipsy, did we?”
Finally Paul managed to get in a word. “I thought you didn’t drink.”
“He tell you he didn’t drink?” Philippe laughed. “I clearly remember when he’d had a football hooligan too many and was ‘absolutely sloshed’ as he called it. He played Gilbert and Sullivan on the piano all night and even sang along to it – not an experience one easily forgets.”
“Can you shut up for a second?” Marcus roared.
“Ok”, Philippe was all quiet now and looked at Marcus with nothing but polite interest.
Marcus shook his head at him and turned to Paul. “Meet Philippe, my very vocal friend from the Ivory Coast. Philippe, Paul is a good friend.”
“Pleased to meet you then”, Philippe said, shaking Paul’s hand with his icy one. There seemed to be a lot of irony in his tone, and Paul was not sure he was comfortable with that. “What about…?” Philippe nodded in the direction of the bedroom Naomi was sleeping in.
“Paul is Naomi’s boyfriend,“ Marcus said determinedly. Paul was not sure he liked this new development; he tried to get closer to the door.
“Man, you are some kind of masochist,“ Philippe flopped on the sofa. “So, where is the fire?”
“We’ve got a problem”, Marcus started but was interrupted by Philippe at once. “One? I don’t even know where to start on your problems, I’ve lost count. You should just ease up a little!”
“And become a short-cropped card-carrying Rastafarian like you?” Marcus added. “You know what happened after you made me try one of your cigarettes.”
“You blacked out for two days, so what? I can assure you, you had a good time.” His grin had become wide.
Marcus drew a breath in exasperation. “Can’t you be serious for one minute?”
“I’m on holiday”, the African protested. Then he took a deep breath. “Ok, you have my complete attention.”
Marcus showed Philippe the photo he’d taken through Naomi’s window. “Do you know him?” he asked.
Philippe looked at the photo for a moment. Then he nodded, and his tone changed. “You have a problem.”
Now Paul was getting really nervous. “Why, who is he?”
“Nils Buyden. He was a killer even before he was changed. South African. He even went looking for one of us, can you believe that? He did some time in the French Foreign Legion, too, found that suited his way of life. And you already fought him?”
“Yes, I told you, he ran before I could finish him off.”
“He’s fast, I heard that. Does he know who you are?” A calculating look was exchanged between the two friends.
Marcus shook his head to the question and asked one of his own. “Where did you meet him?”
“In Zaire in the 1980s. He was working Security for some European firm there, but there have always been rumours around about him, stories, you know.” His voice was full of disgust.
“What stories? Is there evidence that could help us?” Paul pressed on. Africa again. The uranium the conglomerate sold had come from Congo, neighbouring state of Rwanda. Had they simply got the date wrong?
“I don’t think so, and you wouldn’t want to know.”
Paul had the distinct impression of being kept out of the loop here. There seemed to be a whole world he knew nothing about. As long as that world stayed away from him, Paul was fine with that, but he didn’t like not knowing what he was up against here and made a face at Philippe’s remark.
The African shrugged his shoulders. “I tried tracking him down then, but he got wind of that and ran. He’s quite strong and cruel. And he’s a coward – that makes him dangerous.” Philippe turned to Marcus. “You need to find him?”
Marcus nodded. “He wants to hurt Naomi. He’s got her… He can find her, Philippe,” almost pleading. He exchanged another glance with his friend. There seemed to be some understanding here that Paul did not get.
“Don’t panic, I’ll help you,“ Philippe said, “Let’s start!”
Marcus pointed out the window at the early morning sun.
“Ah, the advantages of a dark skin”, Philippe smiled complacently. He turned to his friend and looked at him meaningfully, nodding ever so slightly in Paul’s direction. “Marcus?”
Marcus shook his head. “He’s my friend.”
Philippe held his gaze, looking serious.
“No!” Marcus said defiantly.
Philippe blew out some air and sighed. “Ok. Shall I call you when I know where?”
When Marcus nodded, Philippe was at the door. He turned and called back in his former light tone: “Au revoir! Give her a kiss from me.” He was out the door before Marcus could reply.
“You want to kill Buyden?” Paul searched Marcus’s face.
“I have to, he’s… dangerous for Naomi, I can’t take that risk.” Marcus’s tone was set. “You met him. He won’t just leave her alone because I say so.”
“And you can trust Philippe to help you?” The African had seemed extremely reckless to Paul.
“Absolutely. He’s a very good friend.”
Paul looked at Marcus thoughtfully. “Why can he go out and you can’t? If you all burned in the sun, that should go for him too.”
Marcus sat back down. “He told you. With his skin colour he’s less noticeable than I would be, and it doesn’t affect him as much as me, he’s older. We don’t burn in the sun, it’s not particularly good for us, as I found out in the past few days, but we don’t burst into flame or anything like that.”
“Aha,“ Paul was thinking how to keep Marcus telling him some more. “I noticed you’re strong and fast, but what else can you do? Can you fly?”
Marcus snickered at that. “That would be useful, wouldn’t it? No, Philippe arrived here by plane.” He chuckled again at the idea. “He would certainly love an alternative to that. He gets travel-sick in everything that moves, and planes are especially stressful.”
Marcus closed his eyes. “Too many people, too much noise.”
“Your ears are very good, I noticed”, Paul said.
“All senses are… sharpened at the change, which is not a good thing necessarily.”
“Why?” Paul started asking, then shook his head, “Sorry, silly question.” He didn’t want to imagine a better sense of taste with that kind of diet. “Is he going to… sniff Buyden out?”
“Yes, he can do that. Philippe is quite powerful.”
He started closing down, Paul noticed and wondered how he would get another question in that had been bugging him. “When we first met, you seemed to be quite confident about dealing with me, that wasn’t only because you could probably kill me without effort, was it?”
Marcus wasn’t looking at him.
“You can be quite persuasive. Can you… hypnotise people into doing what you want?”
“Paul, you already know far too much about all of this…”
“You can do it then.” Paul nodded. “That’s why I was so trusting even though that’s not really in my nature.”
Marcus clearly looked uncomfortable about the turn of the conversation now. “I’m not good at that. Paul, let it go. Philippe’s not happy already. This is dangerous.”
Suddenly Paul understood the exchange that had taken place between the two vampires just before Philippe left and swallowed, realising he was alive because Marcus had refused to kill him. This would take some time getting used to.
After a while he stretched. “I’ll better wake Naomi now. She has to go back to her house before going to King’s College and the funeral this afternoon, and I’ve got lots of things to do at the Yard.”
“I’m coming along to Kensington”, Marcus said, “He could be waiting for her at her house.”
“I thought you couldn’t go out.” Paul was surprised but thankful, as that possibility had occurred to him as well.
“I’m fairly sure she’s safe at the college and at the funeral, but I’d rather not take the risk of an ambush in Kensington. You won’t see me; I don’t want to scare her.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Paul, please let it rest. I’d much prefer a living friend to the memory of one.”
“If you’re sure…”