He stood in his family plot, rubbing his hands together, looking at his brother’s gravestone. He’d spent the last two days organising a quiet, respectful service for Vincent. The quiet part had been easy. There were not many people still around to pay their respects. Most of their old friends who were still alive would not have risked their necks by coming out in the open for something as public as a funeral. It had been cold but the rain had stayed away. So he could be thankful for that.
But now his brother Vincent was beneath the ground in a coffin that had cost most of what Mathieu had earned for accidentally bringing death to the coven and sealing his own fate in the bargain. He had no choices left now. He would do what Émilie Étienne commanded. He was scared. The man he had just buried was the man on whom he had relied to think faster than he could, to be stronger than he could. In return Mathieu would talk. He would negotiate the price, and occasionally negotiate a way to escape a situation with all their limbs still attached to the same places as they had been when they arrived. He talked.
He did not think that he would live very long. There were too many people who had no love for him and his brother. And now his brother was gone. A few days ago, Émilie Étienne’s protection would have guaranteed his safety but now? Now he didn’t know.
He turned away and reached into his coat pocket for the photographs Étienne had given him. Three girls. That’s what they were. None were over thirty. These were the witches he was supposed to shepherd. He doubted any protection he could provide would match the protection they could provide for themselves. The names were written in fountain pen on the back. He had only heard of one of them. Wendy Harris.
It was a few days after the incident and the burns on Madeline’s hands had almost completely healed over. Wendy knew that she had been calling her friends, trying to get some kind of idea of what exactly had happened. She’d asked her if she’d heard anything but Madeline had told her that when she knew something, Wendy would know it too. Wendy didn’t have anyone to call.
So they went on as if nothing had happened. At the clinic, Madeline blamed her injuries on a cooking accident, which it had been, in a way. They waited for another set of parents to bring in their child and in the meantime they simply treated patients. Wendy wondered how she and Madeline would be told about what had happened. Surely they would have to be told. Would there be a letter, a phone call? Would someone come and visit them personally? What would happen with the coven? Would there be elections? Or was that stupid?
Then one morning, a letter arrived. It was sitting on the kitchen table when Wendy came down for breakfast. Madeline sat at the other end of the table, staring at it.
“Open it,” she said.
“Who’s it from?” asked Wendy. She knew it would be official. No one else had this address for her. Madeline gestured to it and Wendy carefully slid her finger under the seal. When she had finished she handed it to Madeline, who read it quickly and put it back in the envelope.
“You’ll have to get packed now,” she said.
“Have you met her before?”
“She’s scary. Intimidating, I mean. If she asks you a question, answer it directly. Chances are she already knows the answer but don’t assume anything. Just do as she tells you. You’ll be fine.”
Wendy wasn’t sure. But she didn’t exactly have a choice. She’d never been to Paris before. And she’d never met Émilie Étienne.
She arrived home at the cottage around two hours after leaving the car and the liquid remains of the vampire burning at the petrol station. She had changed outside the house before running inside to check on the children. Otto was sitting at their bedside and held a finger to his lips as she came in. Alexandra and Florian were fast asleep. She gestured for him to come out into the kitchen, and she closed the bedroom door behind him before embracing him.
“You didn’t answer my call, I was so worried,” she said.
“I didn’t think,” he said. “I just ran. I was scared.”
She nodded, then turned and padded through to the living room. She found a pile of clean laundry on the sofa and pulled on a pair of jeans and an old Zeppelin t-shirt before sitting down.
“Has there been any word from head office yet?” she asked. Otto nodded and sat down next to her, putting an arm around her shoulder.
“They want us to come in one hour. They want to talk to everyone, make sure everyone got rid of their partners OK. Do you think they did?”
Solveig shook her head.
“No. I don’t think so.” She leaned forward and touched her toes with her fingers, stretching out the tired muscles. “We will all have to move. They will have to relocate everything.”
“What do you think the plan will be?”
“I think that they’ll want some of us to run, to keep the children safe,” she said.
“And then there’s the rest,” said Otto. Solveig nodded.
“They’ll want you for that, you know. For the rest,” he told her. She ran her fingers through his hair.
Garrett drove east. He had thought about taking Joanne’s convertible but he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. He liked to drive. He wondered what it would be like in the daytime. He couldn’t imagine it.
He had spent too long in the motel room and had left in a hurry. He hadn’t even attempted to clean up. He needed to put as much distance between him and the mess he had left behind him. He thought about Joanne, and about what was left of her. It relaxed him, until he remembered the reaction that he wanted to achieve but couldn’t. Then he was angry again. He resisted the urge to put his foot down. No need to attract attention. There would be plenty of time for that.
The witch who had given him that stuff in the first place, that...bizarre concoction that had brought back the man he had been, the power he once had, he knew where she had been heading. From Maryland to Connecticut, she’d said. Outside of Boston, somewhere nice, a little gated community. He guessed she’d done well for herself. They all did. Witches. She’d certainly taken enough of his money. He touched the tip of his fang with his tongue and thought about what he was going to do to her. Maybe she didn’t have any more. But she would know someone who did. And she would tell him. Maybe she wasn’t there anymore. If she wasn’t, he would find her.
He put his foot down.
Patrick had gone to make the three women sitting in his living room a cup of tea. He had got as far as boiling the kettle when he had felt his knees suddenly grow weak. He came staggering back into the living room and collapsed in his armchair. Suzy reached over and touched his knee.
“There’s something we need to tell you, Patrick. We want to tell you what happened to your daughter, but we can’t tell you everything. Not because we don’t want to, but because we honestly don’t know.”
He looked up at them. The woman Suzy’s eyes were shining. Polly had her hands on Suzy’s shoulders still, but they were no longer there to restrain her. They were there for support. Even Mary was making eye contact now.
“The drawing in the notebook, that’s your Elsie, isn’t it?”
He nodded. He wanted to say something in reply but couldn’t.
“We found that in a house near where she went missing. A couple of hours’ drive, if that. We found it because we went looking for our friends.”
She turned around to look back up at Polly. Patrick could see a tear running down her cheek. Suzy cleared her throat and spoke for the first time. Her voice had none of Suzy’s earnestness. It was clear, measured, and strong. She looked him in the eye.
“The thing that took Elsie, it’s taken people from each of us. If you can listen, we want to tell you what it what it was.”
She wakes up and looks around. Someone else is in the house. She fell asleep upstairs rather than go back into the basement and now she wonders if that was wise. A clattering comes from the kitchen. She did not clean the dishes. The child’s bones are still in the pot. Maybe she’s in trouble. She pulls the rug off her and gets to her feet.
She treads softly. Whoever is in the kitchen might not know that she is here. She has the element of surprise. She peers through the gap in the door and sees a woman standing by the sink. She wears a long black coat and heavy brown boots. Brown wavy hair flows, tangled and matted, down to just past her shoulders where it looks like it has been hacked off. She is running her finger round the edge of the pot. Whoever she is, she sticks her finger in her mouth and licks it clean. Then she turns.
A long, mostly faded scar runs from above her left eye, across her nose, over her lips, and down to the right side of her chin. Her eyes are wonderfully blue. She thinks the stranger is very pretty.
“Come in,” she says.
“My name is Elsie,” she says. “What’s your name?”
“I don’t know,” she says, “I can’t remember.”
“It’ll come back to you. You’ll remember everything. But I promise it won’t matter. It won’t matter at all.”
She finds these words comforting and smiles back at Elsie. Elsie picks up the pot and dangles a bone between her thumb and forefinger. It is clean.
“We need to bury these,” says Elsie, “Then we’re going out. Mr. Chalk wants me to show you what you can do.”
“What can I do?” she asks. She worries that she is being too eager but she cannot contain herself. She’s grinning. Elsie does not seem to mind.
“They’re going to be so scared of you,” she says.