The creature that lay curled up on the floor was becoming even tenser. The pain was getting worse by the minute, every bone and muscle was aching, his teeth were set so hard they might shatter into pieces. His brain was clinging to the last vestiges of humanity, barely hanging on.
He remembered violet eyes, huge with worry and relief, her warm soft body when she had lain in his arms, how her lips had felt when he’d kissed her and the scent of her hair. Then he had tried to kill her. Disgust.
Frantically he searched around for a better last memory. He saw her sleeping, her lips slightly parted, unruly dark hair spread out over the pillow, her face relaxed, all the bad dreams and anxiety gone because she knew he was there, watching… then her head lying on his best friend’s breast, her pleading note to him not to hurt him.
He yowled in pain.
How much longer?
Detective Inspector Paul Usher was doing something highly illegal in the West End this Saturday afternoon: He was breaking into a flat. He had not even applied for a warrant, nor could he, if asked supply any kind even of remote evidence to justify this break in.
It was hot, the beginning of August, and Paul was hoping and praying no one would catch him entering a very posh flat looking out on Regent Street.
He’d called out his friend’s name softly before he’d come in knowing his senses were very acute and that he would hear him through walls and heavy doors. He listened – no answer. Carefully he stepped through the hall, always ready for a quick retreat for – much as he liked his friend – he still remained what he was – a vampire.
Paul half expected to find Marcus in his library – the sun was much too bright for him to be outside – or in one of the other rooms. He’d even wondered what he would do if he found him lying in his rooms sick, then remembered that Marcus had once told him there was no way of him being sick, he was dead already, had been so for more than 80 years and – as he’d said with a crooked smile – “not a common cold even once.”
He looked around once more: everything was spotlessly clean, dusted and polished, but also empty. It didn’t look as though Marcus had left on purpose: there was still food and coffee in the kitchen (the last time Marcus had decided to leave he had brought all the food to Paul’s place), books and papers were in a jumble on the desk, other books open around it. He had been working on something obscurely medieval, Naomi would know what. There was some sheet music open on top of the piano.
Paul was about to leave when he saw something that almost made his heart stop. Marcus’s car keys and mobile phone were jumbled inside the pages of the latest issue of the English Historical Review. Why would he leave these behind if he was going on an extended vacation of now four weeks? Paul shook the paper and three pencils fell out: ah, definitely working.
Now Paul was getting worried: he started going through Marcus’s jackets in the hall closet and found what he had dreaded finding. In his favourite leather jacket he had left his wallet. Oh no. How would he tell Naomi about this?
He had met this strange acquaintance through Naomi in a way five months ago, when his now girlfriend had become entangled in a complicated case of murder. Even though Marcus had been tied to Naomi by some rather frightening kind of vampire love for fifteen years (on his side, she had not known till five months ago), they had all become close, and Paul considered Marcus the best friend he had; by now both he and Naomi were getting sick with worry.
In his book this kind of evidence could only mean two things: either Marcus had not left voluntarily (unlikely, considering the vampire’s strength) or suicide – but there had been no note and – Paul had discretely checked all channels available to him at the Yard – no suspicious victims of accidents.
Apart from that, suicide seemed a rather unlikely option too for someone immortal.
Paul decided to check the mobile’s voicemail. Most of the messages were by him or Naomi. He winced at her worried voice.
Finally he made a decision. He went through the mobile’s phone book and dialled ‘Philippe’, who was the only private number listed apart from his and Naomi’s.
He had met Philippe in connection with the case too, and Marcus had always been wary of the voluble African vampire with his human friends.
“Oui”, he heard a voice in a very noisy place.
“Philippe, this is Paul, Marcus’s friend from Scotland Yard, remember me?”
“Ah, oui, beautiful Naomi’s boyfriend. How are you? Does Marcus know you’re calling me?” He sounded quite amused about that. Then he started to think and asked in a rather alarmed voice. “Did anything happen to Naomi? Is Marcus there?”
“No, that is my problem. Marcus has been missing now for more than four weeks and we’re worried out of our minds. He’s not closed down the flat and left car keys wallet and mobile behind.”
Philippe’s tone became serious. “That does not sound good, you’re right. Have there been any accidents or unexplained fires in that time?”
“No, I already checked that. Philippe”, another line of thought had suddenly come to him, “could he have gone off with a girl and forgot the time?”
“Non, sadly not. We don’t change much once we’ve made up our minds.” He started talking rapidly in French to someone at his end. “Listen Paul, I’m coming to London, where can I reach you once I’ve arrived?”
Paul gave him his own mobile number. He didn’t really want him to come to Naomi’s house, which was where he was most of the time now, justifying his mistrust with Marcus’s uneasiness.
“Bon, see you tomorrow then.” Philippe rang off.
Paul took a sheet of Marcus’s expensive writing paper and left a note:
Marcus, we’re sick with worry about you. Could you please let us know you are alright? You don’t need to come and see us if you don’t want to, just get in touch.
P.S.: Philippe’s arriving here tomorrow.
He left the flat, carefully closing the heavy door behind him with a sad heart.
He did not tell Naomi about this afternoon’s exploits but pleaded work for tomorrow. Naomi noticed there was something he was not telling her but hoped he would get around to it soon. She could not start worrying about Paul too. For the past four weeks now she had been beating herself up about Marcus. She had quite a good idea of why he might be gone: he had not been seen since the night she asked Paul to stay. Had he been hurt by her note? Was he jealous? He had been quite clear about not wanting to come close to her again after he had almost killed her in spring. She had offered friendship, and he had taken her up on that offer – she thought.