As far as Naomi was concerned Paul was out of his depths. He simply didn’t know what to do. The Assistant Commissioner had insisted on her giving a statement after all. The detectives he’d sent had come away empty-handed though, and Naomi’s doctor had called Paul with talk of police harassment and threatened action. “Don’t you think she’s been through enough?” He had also had a letter by her solicitor wondering about his treatment of Naomi, worded so sternly that Paul was afraid it might burst into flames in his hands.
A rather frightening Marcus had given him another earful about his colleagues that evening, and now Paul was basically scared to even contact Naomi himself. He was convincing himself that she blamed him too and wouldn’t want anything to do with him any longer. He hid behind work for two weeks, then Marcus suddenly turned up in his office looking murderous.
“May I ask what you were planning to do about Naomi?” he asked his voice deadly quiet.
“I’m not sending anyone to get her to talk, if that’s what you mean. It wasn’t my idea in the first place, I told you that a fortnight ago.”
“So you’re dumping her?” Marcus’s blazing eyes were boring into him.
Somehow his office felt too small for both him and Marcus.
“I’m not dumping anybody.”
Now Marcus looked puzzled. “Then why don’t you call on her? I can’t tell her you’re busy forever. You look like hell, by the way.” Paul had taken to working almost round the clock to distract himself, and it was starting to show.
“Thank you, just what I needed. Have you opened a vampire dating agency or why are you here?” He only whispered the last words.
“Paul, she’s asking about you ever so discreetly, and I thought you were alright after the concert, what is the problem?” Marcus didn’t sound threatening any longer, just curious and concerned.
Paul gave in. “The problem is that when she looks at me, she sees Buyden walking around her.”
Marcus contradicted him at once. “You don’t know that. She’s miserable. See her!”
“So you’ve been to the hospital regularly?” He checked which of the coffee cups on his desk was the current one and took a sip. He made a face: wrong choice.
“Yes.” Smugly. At first Marcus had been telling himself he would only stay until she was awake again, just one more look at her eyes, to make sure she was really alright. When she had woken up, he had been the only one there, and had found himself promising not to leave her alone.
Since then he had been at her bedside as much as the doctors allowed, talking and reading to her from books she told him to get from her home. When other people were visiting her, he paced the hospital entrance impatiently, waiting for them to leave.
Paul’s talking again interrupted his thoughts. “Why apart from your …problem, which you seem to be overcoming rather ingeniously, are you at my throat then? Sorry, no pun intended.”
“What do you suggest I do?” Warily. Every time he mentioned leaving Naomi turned pale and panicky, claiming his idea of himself not being a good friend was nonsense. The last time she had asked him mischievously, if he had anything better to do and told him that after saving her three times in one week, the idea of being dangerous was just an excuse. She had almost convinced him then; after all, that was what he had been doing the past fifteen years. Then he had remembered her scent and how her lips had felt on his, and he had to leave fast. The next day his feet had found their way back to the hospital of their own accord, and a happy smile had greeted him. He had no idea how to find the strength to leave her again.
Paul’s voice broke his reverie. “I mean… you obviously love her, and I assume you still can…”, he was flustered, wondering if it was good form to talk to vampires about being technically dead.
Marcus understood him without a problem. “Oh yes, we still can. I’m still a man.” His voice was bitter.
“Well, doesn’t she like you at all?”
Marcus banged the door shut with a kick: “Are you out of your mind? You saw what happened when I kissed her. Do you want her dead? She offered friendship, I’m getting a little easier around her, but what you’re suggesting is…murder. Don’t you think I have enough on my conscience already?” His voice had become deadly quiet again.
Paul looked at him sympathetically. “A rough deal, isn’t it?”
“You don’t want to know. I still have no idea how I got out of the building that night.” He went quiet for a while. Maybe she was right, and he was more man than monster, after all he had managed to overcome his instincts that night. Then he took a deep breath. “Paul, your case here is finished, and if you don’t go this week she’ll be in Dorset. With her luck she might just meet another dangerous idiot there, think about that!”
Paul laughed and put up his hands at that. “I gather that you’d rather she stayed with the idiot you’ve already vetted? Alright, I’ll go and see her after work tonight.”
When Paul saw Naomi that evening, he was shocked at how drawn she still looked. He almost went back on his word and turned around, but she’d already seen him and called out his name.
“Paul, I was afraid you wouldn’t come.”
When he sat down, she took his hand at once, and Paul started wondering why he’d stayed away so long. It felt natural to be here when she wanted him. From then on he spent every free minute at the hospital, usually handing over the door to Marcus until either got kicked out by the nurses.
When Naomi left for Dorset on the weekend, they both felt slightly disoriented and took to spending time together, which they both enjoyed, like driving the ancient car along country roads or simply talking. Paul usually came away from these outings feeling slightly surreal, but found that with time passing he didn’t mind. He suspected Marcus felt the same.
They once spent a very amusing and agreeable evening when Marcus got it into his head to take him out to a Steakhouse (“Naomi won’t take you there, you know”) and talked him through a good meal while refusing to order anything himself in the politest possible way to the growing distress of the flirting waitress.
One evening Paul worked up enough courage to finally ask the question that had been bugging him for weeks now. “Would you do what Buyden did to the watchman to another human being?”
Marcus’s look told him that he had been dreading that conversation for about the same time. When he answered his tone was resigned. “How much of a choice do you think I have in that? When we scent blood… instinct takes over, and we become the monsters we are. There is no turning away.”
“Well, you did not drink my blood when it was dripping on your carpet …or Naomi’s...”
“That’s different, love and friendship are not… rational…and you saw how hard it was.”
“Buyden turned away.”
Marcus gave a bitter laugh. “No, that was Philippe dragging him, and believe me, it was hard for them to leave too.”
“No, what I meant was, he walked away from Lynd bleeding.”
Paul decided to go at the thing from another angle. “Can’t you eat food at all?”
Marcus sighed. “Don’t you think I’ve tried that? Food makes me sick, and the thirst just stays and I become more dangerous. I’m not human anymore, Paul, I’m… changed. I try to… stay in control, and I think I’m good at that, but I can’t change what I am. I told you I won’t harm Naomi. Or you. Do you want me to leave you alone?” He seemed to be dreading the answer – the idea of going back to the lonely existence he’d led before closed up his throat.
Paul shook his head.
Marcus breathed out. His friend however was already talking on. “Do you have to kill people when you… drink?”
Marcus closed his eyes. “It’s… we can’t really stop. Can we leave it at that? This can’t get out, you have no idea what could come down on you if it did.” Pleading.
Paul remembered the reason for Marcus’s reluctance to talk, but there was a question he needed answered. “Would I feel if you changed your mind about me being food?”
Marcus smiled crookedly at that. “No, probably not, I’d knock you out before, you wouldn’t feel a thing. I’m not interested in games.”
“Some… like Buyden enjoy feeling their power over their prey, like a cat with a mouse. Others simply enjoy the hunt and organise their whole existence around it and make it a sport. But for me it’s a necessity, not the reason to live. Besides, screaming puts me off.” He answered Paul’s question before he asked it. “Yes, the bite hurts, even us.”
Then his expression changed, and his eyes became hard. “If you ever harm or hurt Naomi, I’ll definitely feel different about you.”
Paul answered dryly. “So much I gathered from our conversations right in the beginning.”
He didn’t sleep too well that night, but managed to convince himself that so far he’d only encountered Marcus’ charming version, so he probably was right in trusting his friend.
The next morning something Marcus had said had finally sunk in, and he called his friend: “Last night, you told me Buyden could not have left after he had thrown Lynd down the stairs into the glass table.”
“Yes?” Marcus was not sure where this conversation was going.
“Well, the thing is, his accomplice admits to everything but the murder.”
“That would appear a clever strategy, if you ask me”, Marcus said cautiously.
“Not if you don’t want to be extradited to France,“ Paul informed Marcus on the state of the case. “So you see, admitting to killing Lynd would keep him here, and he has already described that they, or rather Buyden, tortured Lynd to get the papers. Yet he still insists that they left Lynd in his bedroom upstairs.”
“I thought your case was closed.”
“Yes, but something still does not add up…”
“You can’t let anything rest, can you?”
“I told you, I don’t like riddles. Come on, humour me!”
“Fair enough. So, they say Lynd was in one place but you found him somewhere else?”
“Yes, he was lying in the living room in what was left of a glass-topped table. Our doctor concluded that cause of death was the fall and the shard in his jugular.”
“Then your suspects are innocent.”
“How do you make that out? The other guy could easily have pushed him, and Buyden certainly could have lopped him over the bannister without a problem.”
“Absolutely”, Marcus agreed, “but nothing could have induced a vampire to walk away from an open jugular, and Buyden was thirsty. Could Lynd have gotten up and then simply lost his balance? I assume you don’t have anyone who was in the flat after Buyden and company left?”
Paul dropped his coffee mug and cursed when the hot liquid spilled onto his toes. “Damn!”
“Can I be of assistance?” Marcus wondered at the other end when Paul’s side of the conversation discontinued.
“Yes… no… I don’t know”, Paul’s voice sounded distant.
“Paul, are you sure you are all right?” Marcus was worried now.
“Yes, sorry”, Paul was still shaking his head trying to think what to do with his newly acquired knowledge. “I have just realised what happened that night. But I’ll never be able to prove it in court.” He added after a second. “And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.”
“If I take what Buyden’s partner say for the truth, then they failed at finding out where Lynd had hidden the papers. They only supposed they were with Naomi after some days. And he insists they left Lynd upstairs, severely roughed up, but still alive. When I talked to the one person who entered the flat again that night – Clive Lynd – he told me he found his father upstairs, hurt, and he also said that Lynd wanted him to go to Naomi to warn her, presumably because of the papers. Clive knew nothing about these, of course, he was just furious that after all that time and after refusing to give his own son money earlier that night, his father was reminding him about having stolen his girlfriend.”
“And he said his father owed him. He must have been mad and desperate, he needed money for his next fix…”
“You think he pushed him?” Marcus asked quietly.
“Sounds a lot more probable than Buyden giving up a bleeding man, according to what you told me. But – I could never convince a judge or a jury of that. After all, like you said, he could have fallen…”
“So, you will not try to prosecute Clive Lynd?” Marcus said.
Paul shrugged. “I don’t see how. Besides, I’m not sure what our justice system could really do for that man.” He remembered the haunted creature from the closed ward and the funeral. “He has already found his very own hell, I’m sure.”
They were silent for a while, then Paul added. “I’m also sure that while our accused might not have killed Lynd, he did kill other people, so it’s not as if we’re trying an innocent man.”
“Paul, you really must learn when to let go.”
“I’m trying, believe me. Besides, you’re not the first person to tell me that.” Paul hung up, still thinking over what he had just found out. Frustrating as it was, he was relieved that he had solved the last riddle connected with the case and could finally close the file.