the bunny warren v. Faith

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Have You Been to the Zoo?

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Riley gets a three day r-and-r break and runs into more than he bargained for. Takes place after "Into the Woods" episode of BtVS and "Epiphany" episode of AtS.
Rating: PG-13
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

Prologue


"Want another one, lady?"

"No, thanks," the woman told the bartender. She gulped down the rest of her drink and began reaching for her purse.

"Um, excuse me," a voice called out from behind her. She turned around on her barstool.

He was young, maybe twenty-five. Athletic. His face was sunburnt, and his boyish face was grinning at her.

"I couldn't help noticing that you had finished your drink," he continued. "Can I buy you another one?"

"Thanks, but no," she replied. "I was just leaving."

"Oh," he sighed. "That's a relief."

She scowled.

"I mean, not that I wouldn't want to buy you a drink," he continued. "I mean, I don't want to. Not that any guy would mind buying you a drink. I'm sure lots of guys would like to walk up to you and buy you a drink. I mean, not that you're the kind of woman who lets strange men buy you drinks. Not that there would be anything wrong with you if you let a guy buy you a drink. And not that I'm strange. It's just...."

"Whoa, tiger," the woman interrupted. "I'm not going to mace you. Relax. It's no big deal."

"I'm sorry," he continued. "It's just, it's been awhile since I've done this. And, quite frankly, I was never very good at it to begin with. I haven't dated since I broke up with my girlfriend. I wouldn't have come over here, except my friend put me up to it."

The woman looked over to a table across the room. Another man, about the same age, only with dark hair, looked back and smiled.

"Your friend seems to be a good audience," she said.

"Yeah," he replied. "He's got the idea that I have to get my last girlfriend out of my system. We're both in San Diego for a few days. We're...um...dentists...in town for a convention...and he said this was a good opportunity to...um...you know...."

"Score?"

"Yeah," he said. "Sorry about that."

"Don't sweat it," she replied. "I'm here on vacation myself. Well, not exactly vacation. Technically you have to have a job to be on vacation. I'm just here to clear my head, try to figure out my next career move and...well, lots of things."

"Oh, so you're not from here? San Diego's nice. Have you been to the zoo?"

"Not yet," she said. "I've been meaning to do some of the touristy stuff, but most nights I just come down from my room to the hotel bar."

"Well, we're staying here, too," he said. "Maybe I'll see you around."

She raised her eyebrows.

"I mean, as fellow travelers," he quickly added. "No more awkward passes. I promise."

"That's too bad," she said, rising from her barstool, and pushing her blond hair back behind her ear. "It was entertaining, and just a little flattering. Yeah, maybe we'll run into each other."

"Swell," he said, extending his hand. "It was nice meeting you. By the way, my name's Riley. Riley Finn."

Swell? Oh, God, she thought, this guy really does need to get laid. She grabbed her purse with one hand, shook Riley's hand with the other, and said:

"I'm Kate. Kate Lockley. See you around."


Part I.


"So, did you get her number?"

"Don't need it," Riley told Graham as he returned to the table. "She's staying at the hotel."

"What room?"

"I don't know," Riley said. "I didn't ask."

Graham stirred his drink with his straw. "Then how can you call her?"

"I'm not going to call her," Riley said. "She's in the hotel. I may run into her. If I don't, I don't. If I do, great. She's O.K. to talk to. She's a nice person."

"Nice," Graham repeated sarcastically. "Just what every soldier on a three-day pass wants to do. Meet a 'nice' girl."

Riley asked:

"Since when are you so interested in my sex life?"

"Since you got Buffy on the brain," Graham replied. "I know you're not happy."

"Graham, I spent the last three weeks running around the jungle, shooting swamp demons with taser guns, eating meals out of plastic bags, wiping my butt with palm fronds and getting eaten alive by mosquitos. And you're surprised that I'm not high on life?"

"It's not the mosquitos that are eating you now," Graham said. "And that blond you just blew off...."

"Kate. Her name's Kate."

"Whatever her name is, she was just what the doctor ordered."

"I'm going through the normal mental process that comes with the end of an extended relationship," Riley said. "Emotionally, the adjustment period requires...."

"Don't hand me that psych major crap," Graham interjected. "You need a piece."

Ah, Graham, Riley thought, always one to get to the point.

"Graham, I don't see you out there trying to pick up women."

"I would be," Graham retorted, "if my roommate had found another place to sleep tonight."

"Always looking out for me."

"Look, Riley," Graham said, pushing away his empty glass, "you made a choice. If you could go back, would you?"

"I guess not," Riley admitted.

"Then move on."

"Alright, already," Riley said. "Look, let's get out of here. I need to crash."

"I knew it was a mistake to send you over to a blonde," Graham said.

The two rose from their seats and headed out of the bar toward the lobby elevators. On the way, Riley asked:

"Wait a minute, did you hear that?"

"What?"

"It sounded like glass breaking," Riley replied. "It came from the kitchen behind the bar."

"I'd assume they have glass things in a kitchen," Graham said.

"I'm going to go check it out."

"Riley, take it easy. Glasses break."

"I didn't say you had to come," Riley said, headed back toward the bar. Graham rolled his eyes and followed Riley. The two circled behind the bar and went through the swinging door back to the kitchen. They walked past the steel center table toward the sink. Graham stopped, grabbed Riley by the shoulder with one hand, and gestured toward the floor with the other, saying:

"Look. A broken glass. Someone knocked it over."

Riley looked at the glass shards on the floor and then asked:

"Oh, yeah? Who? Why isn't there anyone here that would have knocked it over? Why isn't there anyone here period?"

Graham's muscles tensed and his eyes began scanning the kitchen. He didn't have an answer. He hated not having answers.

"Look," Graham said, pointing toward the exit door. It was open.

Riley started walking toward the exit. He heard Graham snap his fingers behind him. Riley turned and looked. Graham had a butcher knife in one hand, and was picking up a meat cleaver with the other. He handed the cleaver to Riley, and the two proceeded through the exit.

They exited through the door. Amber streetlights illuminated the back alley. Two men were shuffling toward a van parked at the end of the alley. One held the legs of a body, the other held the arms.

"Hey," Riley called. "I think this is a no-loading zone."

The two men turned, and as they faced Riley and Graham it became apparent that they were not men. Their yellow eyes glowed in the streetlights, and their faces were twisted and fierce.

Vampires.

"Take off," one of the vamps ordered. "This is none of your business."

Graham responded by throwing the butcher knife into the vamp's chest. The vampire dropped the body and fell backward, shrieking in pain. The other vamp dropped his end of the body and lunged toward Graham. Riley swung the cleaver and caught the vamp in the neck. Graham gave the vamp a kick to the chest, sending him flying backwards.

A screech of tires filled the night air as the driver of the van sped off, apparently more cautious than loyal. The first vamp got to his feet and started toward Riley and Graham.

"I got him," Graham said. "Finish off the other one."

As the vampire approached, Graham stepped forward to face him. The vamp swung both arms down at Graham, who blocked them with his wrists as he heard the sound of the other vamp imploding into dust as Riley used the cleaver to finish the decapitation. Graham crouched, and kicked the remaining vampire's legs out from under him, causing him to topple to the ground.

"Graham," Riley shouted. "Head's up!"

Graham turned to look at Riley, and saw that Riley had torn a plank of wood from a crate. Riley tossed the plank to Graham, who caught it in one hand, gave the vamp a backhanded blow to the face with the other, and then buried the plank in the vampire's chest. The vamp howled, and then disintegrated.

"Graham," Riley said, "look here."

Riley had gone to the body and was kneeling beside it. Graham joined him. Riley turned the corpse's head with two fingers, revealing a long gash along the body's neck.

"Nasty," Graham observed.

"Look along the line of the wound," Riley instructed. "See how, in the middle, you can make out bite marks. Those vamps tried to make this look like murder."

"It was, technically," Graham observed. "But that's not a vamp's usual M.O."

"And check out the guy's mouth," Riley continued. Small drops of blood stained the corners of the body's mouth.

"They turned this guy," Graham concluded. "Something's up."

"We'd better call the police," Riley said. "You wait here and I'll go...."

"We can't do that," Graham said. "H.Q. would go nuts if we got in the papers."

"So what do we do?"

Graham glanced around the alley to be sure that they were unobserved. He then walked over to the pile of dust left by the vampire he'd slayed, picked up the knife, and began wiping the handles of the knife and the cleaver with a handkerchief.

"I'll dump these in the sewer," Graham said.

"Hang on," Riley protested. "We've got to get this guy to a morgue."

"Why?"

"So we can stake him when he rises," Riley said.

"Not our problem."

"Of course it's our problem," Riley argued. "This is what we do!"

"This is what we do south of the border," Graham replied. "Here, no orders, no action. You're not with your Scabby Gang anymore."

"That's Scooby Gang," Riley corrected, "and were supposed to kill demons."

"Clandestinely," Graham said. "Stateside, it's low profile."

"Graham, putting aside the issue of whether it's moral to let this thing get loose on the public, what about just natural curiosity? You said yourself this looks strange. Let's find out what it's about."

"Riley, you start breaking and entering in civilian territory, and the brass is going to freak."

"I didn't say you had to come."

Graham sighed, then said:

"Alright, call it into the cops. Anonymously. I'll call H.Q."


Part II.


"I ask you to take a body from the fourth floor to the back alley," Zherlon said, "and you can't even do that?"

"It wasn't my fault," Hank protested. "I waited with the van. Larry and Mel ran into some guys outside."

"And the body?"

"The cops picked it up about ten minutes ago," Hank replied. "It's been taken to the morgue. Which is what we wanted, right?"

"Not after finding it here, you imbecile," Zherlon screamed. "This very profitable, very comfortable operation we have at this hotel requires, first and foremost, that the hotel cannot be connected to it."

"I think this place is played out," Mickey said, sitting behind a desk at a computer screen. "Let's move on."

"Oh, yes, let's just move on," Zherlon repeated. "And exactly where do you suggest we go?"

"This is pointless," Hank said. "Let's just find out who was in the alley, and take care of them."

"That would be much easier if you could identify whoever that was," Zherlon said. "Unfortunately, you ran like a scared little rabbit without seeing anyone."

"Something was going down," Hank protested. "If I'd gotten caught with the hotel van in that alley, we'd definitely be screwed."

"I think I've got a lead," Mickey said, gesturing toward his computer screen. "I did an internet search on all the guests we currently have registered. Look at this."

Zherlon walked behind Mickey's shoulder, looked at the computer screen, and read aloud:

"According to Detective Kate Lockley, last night's homicide was the apparent result of a robbery gone wrong."

"Homicide," Hank observed. "She's a cop."

"Not only that," Mickey said. "She's mentioned in the papers a lot. The last article I found on her was two weeks ago. Small article in the local news section of the L.A. Times. Apparently she was thrown off the force. The official reason was exhaustion, and stress due to her father's death. However, an unnamed source in the department was quoted as saying she had developed an unhealthy interest in macabre cases."

"Sounds like she knew too much," Zherlon observed. "Is there anyone else staying here who looks suspicious?"

"Nope," Mickey replied. "We have about three hundred people currently staying here. I ran everyone on the guest registry. There's a traffic cop and his wife on vacation from Houston, but the only thing that pops up on him is his wedding announcement three years ago. Everyone else comes back clean. Businessmen, tourists, and so on. No one other than this cop looks like the good samaritan type, let alone the type that could take out Larry and Mel."

"Unless it's someone undercover," Hank protested. "The local cops, or maybe one of those insurance guys. They'd have identities set up we couldn't trace."

"They'd also have been banging down our doors by now," Zherlon said. "This ex-cop looks like the one. Take care of her."

"I hope you're right," Hank replied.

"If I'm right, our problem is solved," Zherlon said. "If I'm wrong, our problem is no more difficult than it is now, and you get a snack. Mickey and I will finish our arrangements with Mr. Withers. You take care of the cop. Tonight."


Part III.


"A table, ma'am?"

"Yes, please," Kate replied to the host.

"How many this evening?"

"Just one," Kate said. "I'm dining alone."

"Or two," Riley said, walking up behind Kate. "That is, if you don't mind some company."

"Oh, hi," Kate said. "Um, sure. Two."

"Follow me," the host said. He led Kate and Riley to a table. They sat down.

"I hope that wasn't too presumptuous," Riley said.

"No," Kate said. "I could use the company. So, how's the vacation going? Have you made it to the zoo yet?"

"Not yet," Riley said. "I worked in a zoo, of sorts, one summer during college. It wasn't the best job I've ever had. I'm in no hurry to see any more caged beasts."

"I know what you mean," Kate said. "Most of the beasts I've seen in cages aren't anything to look at."

"What are you, a vet?"

"No, a cop. At least, I was."

"Ah, the career move you mentioned," Riley said. "Yeah, I can see why iron bars wouldn't exactly give you the warm and fuzzies. So, why did you quit?"

"I didn't," Kate corrected. "I was fired."

"Sorry," Riley apologized. "I didn't mean to bring up a sore subject."

"It's O.K.," Kate said. "I'm fine with it. I wasn't, but I am now."

"So, didn't you catch enough bad guys?"

"Actually, just the opposite," Kate said. "Things just got kind of weird."

A waiter came up, took their order, then left. Riley used the break in the conversation to change the subject.

"Anyway, I'm glad I ran into you. My friend wasn't available for dinner."

"Emergency bicuspid?"

"What?"

"Dental emergency. You're dentists, right?"

"No," Riley said. "I mean, yes, we are. Dentists. But that wasn't it. He just needed to get some...information...from our office."

"So what are your plans tonight?"

"Graham and I are going to hit the town," Riley said. "Hit a couple of clubs."

"Sounds nice," Kate said.

Damn, Riley thought, that was a stupid cover story. The next logical move would be to invite her along. Of course, he couldn't tell her that they actually were going to break into the local morgue to stake a rising vampire.

"Um, I'd ask you along," Riley said. "But...um...actually, we're going to...um, hit some...gentlemen's clubs."

"Ah, strippers," Kate said. "You two really are in town for a convention."

Great, Riley thought. From one bad cover story to the next.

"It was Graham's idea," Riley said. "He goes for that sort of thing. I don't...I mean, not that I don't like...I mean...."

"Relax," Kate said. "I believe you. You don't come across as the type who goes around sticking dollar bills in girls' g-strings."

"I don't?"

"You had a hard enough time trying to buy me a drink," Kate explained. "I'd hate to see how you would have handled yourself if I'd been naked."

Riley blinked.

"Alright," Kate said. "That came out completely wrong. I meant to say that you seemed like a nice guy."

"I am a nice guy."

"Yeah," Kate said, looking into his eyes. "I believe you are."

The waiter brought their dinners. They began eating. Alright, Riley thought to himself, I've got two strikes against me when it comes to picking topics of conversations. This was it. He asked:

"So, do you have any family in San Diego?"

That seemed harmless enough.

"Both of my parents are dead," Kate said. "My father was killed last year."

And, Riley thought, that's strike three.

"Sorry," Riley said. "I didn't mean to...."

"You've got to learn to stop apologizing," Kate said. "It's O.K."

"Anyway," Riley said. "Um, Graham and I ship out the day after tomorrow."

"Ship out," Kate repeated. "What are you, navy dentists?"

"Um, no," Riley said. "I...uh...I was in ROTC in college. I guess some of the lingo stuck. What I meant to say is, um, maybe tomorrow you and I could take in some of the sights."

Kate took her first real look at Riley. He DID seem nice. A little young, but nice. And she hadn't seen him brood once.

"I'd like that," Kate said. "I really would."

"Great," Riley said. "I tell you what. I'm in Room Five Twenty Six. Why don't you call me, and we can...."

"Riley," Graham said, walking up to the table. "I just got hold of...oh, hi."

"Hello," Kate said.

"Um, Riley," Graham continued, "we have that...thing...to do tonight. We should get going."

"You don't need to mince words," Kate said. "Riley told me all about your nefarious plans for the evening."

"He did?"

"Don't worry," Kate said. "I haven't lost any respect for you. Boys will be boys."

"Um...well...."

"Actually," Kate said, "My roommate in college paid her way through school that way."

Graham shot a puzzled look toward Riley.

"Don't look so surprised," Kate said. "They're people too you know."

"They are?"

"Oh, sure," Kate said. "I even had a couple of them on the payroll as informants when I was a cop. Once you get to know them, most of them turn out to be pretty nice people. That is, if you can get past how they support themselves."

"Uh, Riley," Graham said, "I don't think...."

"Oh, Graham," Riley said, throwing a ten dollar bill on the table, and doing his best to keep from laughing. "Don't worry about Kate. She's cool. I really do have to get going, Kate. The ten should cover the bill and the tip."

"If it's not, I'll let you know," Kate said. "Tomorrow. When I call you."

"Great," Riley said. "I'll look forward to it. Bye."

Riley and Graham walked out of the restaurant to the lobby. Once they had gotten out of earshot of the restaurant, Riley burst out laughing.

Graham asked:

"What's so funny? And how could you tell her....?"

"I didn't," Riley said. "I told her we were going out to strip clubs."

Graham replayed the conversation in his mind, then asked:

"So why didn't you say anything?"

"And miss that? Are you kidding? I can't wait to tell the guys in the unit."

"I should have left you in Sunnydale," Graham said. "Anyway, I got our orders."

"And?"

"Intelligence got me the access codes for the County Morgue. We break in, wait for the John Doe to open his eyes, then stake him."

"And then?"

"And then we drop it."

"I still say there's something up here," Riley said. "We should check it out."

"I had to twist some arms for clearance to take it this far. H.Q. figures this is a low level domestic vampire problem. And they're right."

"You really believe that?"

"Yep. Nothing worth blowing our cover."

"So why did you go to bat to get us clearance?"

"Because if I didn't," Graham said, "you'd go and stake this vamp anyway."

"So?"

"You'd probably get caught. You'd get in trouble, and since I got you back on the team, it would make me look bad."

"There you go again," Riley said. "Always looking out for me."

"Sundown's in a couple hours," Graham said. "We recon the morgue in daylight, then go back."

"So let's suit up," Riley said. The pair headed toward the elevators.

Back at the restaurant, Kate had just paid the bill for dinner when Zherlon came up to the table. He wore a regimental striped tie and a blazer with the hotel's name on the pocket. He asked:

"Are you Kate Lockley?"

"Yes."

"Ms. Lockley, I'm sorry," Zherlon said. "I'm the night security manager. Apparently your car had a bit of an accident in the parking garage. One of the other guests was pulling out and put a small dent in your back bumper."

"Wonderful," Kate said.

"I'd like you to take a look at the damage so we can fill out a report. I assure you the hotel will pay for the cost of any repairs."

"Let me just get back my change," Kate said. "I'll leave the tip for the waiter, then meet you down there."

"Very good, ma'am," he said. "I'll meet you in the garage in fifteen minutes. I have to check on the locks on the pool entrance door, so if I'm a few minutes late, just wait for me."

"That's fine."

"Thank you, ma'am," Zherlon said, and walked out of the restaurant.


Part IV.


"So how far's the morgue?"

"About fifteen minutes," Graham replied. He and Riley walked down an aisle of cars, each carrying a gym bag of equipment in their hands. "You sure we parked on this level?"

"I don't believe this," Riley said. "We can track demons through an endless rainforest, but we can't find our car in a three level garage."

A scream echoed through the garage.

"Now THAT I heard," Graham said.

Graham and Riley ran toward the sound. As they turned a corner, they saw Kate kick a man in the knee, sending him to the ground. Riley screamed:

"Kate!"

Kate heard her name, and looked toward Riley. During this split second of distraction, Hank leapt to his feet and tackled Kate to the ground.

Riley ran up to Hank, who had pinned Kate, and swung his bag down onto Hank's head. Hank rolled off of Kate as the bag burst open, it's contents scattering across the ground. Graham ran up and kicked Hank in the ribs. To the surprise of both Graham and Riley, Hank rose unharmed, and for the first time Riley and Graham realized that he had fangs. In their moment of surprise, Hank grabbed each by the neck and lifted them off the ground.

"This'll teach you to mind your own business," Hank growled.

"This'll teach you to keep your teeth to yourself," Kate said. Hank looked over his shoulder just in time to see Kate bury a wooden stake between his shoulder blades. Riley and Graham fell to the ground as Hank turned to dust.

"Jesus Christ," Kate exclaimed. "I can't even go on vacation without running into these things?"

"Kate," Riley said, rubbing his sore neck, "thanks. How did you know...?"

"I'm a cop," Kate said. "I ran into vampires all the time. Going after these things was what got me fired. The real question is, how did you know?"

"Um," Riley said, "we...didn't. We were just...."

"Don't hand me that," Kate said. "The stake I used on that vamp fell out of your bag. Since when is a sharp wooden stick used as a dental appliance? Who are you?"

Riley and Graham exchanged glances.

"Fine," Kate said. "I'll just call the police, and you can explain to them why you were carrying concealed weapons."

"Wait a minute," Riley said. "We can explain."

"Well?"

"The explanation is," Riley said, "that we can't explain."

"What kind of an explanation is that?"

"We can't explain, because it's classified."

"Perfect," Graham said.

"Perfect," Kate echoed. "I leave Los Angeles just to get away from demons, and I end up hooking up with undercover ghostbusters."

"Hey," Graham protested, "we saved your butt!"

"My butt was just fine until you showed up," Kate retorted. "If you two hadn't distracted me, I would have...."

"What's important is that you're O.K.," Riley said, rising to his feet. He extended his hand to Graham, who clasped it, and Riley pulled him up. "No harm, no foul."

Kate asked:

"So what are you two up to?"

"Nothing," Riley said. "We just happened to be in the garage....."

"....with bags full of weapons," Kate continued, "on your way to the local hot spots? Do I look stupid?. You two were armed to the teeth. I repeat, what's up?"

"Riley," Graham warned.

"I think we can trust her," Riley said.

"Of course you can trust me," Kate said. "I already know who you are and what your generally after. What I am I going to do, tell the world that you're really government demon hunters? If anyone would believe that, I would have had something to tell the review board, instead of sitting there like an idiot while they fired me!"

"Well," Riley said, "she has a point."

"Great," Graham said, sarcastically. "Tell her. After all, the last time you told a cute blonde about your work it didn't cause problems."

Riley decided to ignore Graham's barb, and said:

"Look, Kate, we're on the trail of a group of vampires. We killed two last night. They were moving a body in the alley behind the hotel. The throat had been cut to make it look like murder, but it was obvious they'd fed off him. And they'd turned him. We're going to the morgue tonight to stake the new vamp as it rises."

"That's weird," Kate said. "Why would they make it look like murder? That's not a normal pattern for vampires."

"That's what I said," Riley exclaimed. "There's obviously something...."

"The point is," Graham interjected, "we stake the vamp. Period. We can't get involved more than that."

"Oh, that's just great," Kate said. "The government knows what's happening out there, but it won't do anything. Street cops who catch on get thrown off the force. And any innocent people who happen to be walking the street can just die. Perfect. You two make me sick."

The silence in the garage was palpable. Finally, Riley said:

"Look, Kate, we have our orders."

"Well, I don't," Kate said. "I don't take orders anymore. I'm going to find out what's going on. It's an hour and a half until sundown. That's gives me an hour to research. Do you two want to help or not?"

Kate turned on her heel and walked toward the garage elevator.

Riley shrugged, Graham sighed, and the two followed Kate.


Part V.


"Kate! Good to talk to you!"

"Good to talk to you, too, Vince," Kate said into the receiver of the telephone. Graham and Riley sat on her bed as she talked on the phone in her hotel room. Each held an earpiece from their surveillance kit to their ears so they could hear the conversation. "It's been a long time."

"Too long," Vince said. "I haven't seen you since I transferred to the San Diego P.D."

"How are the kids?"

"Great," Vince said. "Their mother's dropping them off next weekend. We're going to see some of the sights. How about you? Have you been to our zoo yet?"

"Not yet," Kate replied. "Listen, Vince, I need a favor. I need you to check on a homicide for me."

"Um, Kate," Vince said. "I talked to Kendrick. He told me about...well, he told me your not on the force anymore. Look, I understand. Hell, after my divorce, I needed to get out of L.A., too.

I wish you'd called me after your dad died. I could have made some phone calls down here and...." "Look, Vince," Kate interrupted. "What Kendrick told you...well, it's probably mostly true. You've probably heard the same stuff from other people."

"Jack mentioned...."

"I know," Kate said. "I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to claim to be misunderstood or the victim of some big conspiracy. I'm just going to ask you a favor. If you say no, I'll understand. But I'm asking this favor as an old friend. I'm not going to tell you why I need it, or what I'm going to do with it, and I'm not even going to tell you that it isn't part of some hairbrained idea I got in my head. I'm just asking. And I'm telling you I'm not going to use it to hurt anybody. That's all I've got. Please."

There was a long pause over the phone. Then Vince said:

"Shoot."

"You guys got a John Doe murder victim in last night," Kate said. "His throat was cut."

"He's not a John Doe," Vince said. "His name's Edward Withers. He's...I mean, he was an accountant on vacation from Denver. I've been assigned to it."

"If you have the coroner check it out," Kate continued, "you'll find that the wound doesn't match the cut pattern exactly."

"I know," Vince said. "There were punctures that went down deeper than the knife blade. We checked."

"How did you know to check?"

"Because this is the fifth murder like this in town since last July. An out-of-towner comes in, gets his throat cut by a mugger or something, but there's always something that doesn't seem quite right forensically. And those five are just the ones we know about."

"Is there anything else that the five victims had in common?"

"Yeah, all of them were strapped for cash," Vince replied. "It's weird. Take the last guy. An investment banker named Bellows. He got caught embezzling about a million bucks from his clients. He's got legal fees out the wazoo, a lien on his house, and he's probably facing jail time. Weird time to take a vacation. Normally I'd suspect the wife."

"Why?"

"He had a ton of life insurance," Vince explained. "Getting her husband whacked not only leaves his ex-clients high and dry, it also gives her a huge check to live off of."

"So you think she's a suspect?"

"Nope."

"Why not?"

"She's got an airtight alibi, and hit men cost money. In every other case we investigated, the wife was accounted for, and there wasn't so much as a dime missing from their finances that could have paid to have the guy rubbed out. Hit men don't extend lines of credit. Besides, they're all from different cities. Withers is from San Francisco, Bellows is from Trenton. If they were going to get whacked, why here? Naw, with no money changing hands, and every murder occurring in San Diego, we think we're looking at a serial killer."

"Who goes after white collar crooks?"

"Yeah, that is weird," Vince agreed. "But, who knows? Maybe this guy got ripped off on some investment scheme, and it drove him over the edge."

"So he loses money in investments, and this drives him to stalk out-of-town flimflam men, poke them in the neck with barbeque tongs, and slit their throats after their dead?"

"If I had all the answers," Vince said, "I'd have caught the guy by now."

"Thanks, Vince," Kate said. "Give my love to your kids."

"Kate, wait a minute," Vince said. "If you're onto something, I need...."

"I'll let you know if I find anything," Kate said. "Bye, Vince."

Vince sighed into the receiver, and said:

"Goodbye, Kate."

Kate hung up the phone, turned to Riley and Graham, and asked:

"So, what do you think?"

"Stake the vamp," Graham said. "Same thing I thought before."

Kate rolled her eyes, then said:

"I mean about what Vince said."

"So these guys were bad people," Riley said. "Maybe we've got a vamp who thinks of himself as some kind of a vigilante."

"I doubt it," Kate said. "Although I know one...well, anyway. Ask yourself this: If you wanted to fake your own death, skip town and make everyone stop looking for you, what's the one thing that would make it difficult?"

"Well, I guess the problem is making it convincing," Riley said. "If someone stole money from me, I wouldn't give up so easy."

"So what would you want to see?"

"Well, a body," Riley said. "A guy who bilks me suddenly dies, I'd want to see the body."

"So how do you fake your own death AND show them a body with no pulse?"

"Well, you could...oh, I get it."

"Sundown's in a half hour," Kate said. "Let's move out."


Part VI.


"So," Kate whispered, "how long have you been doing this?"

"Coming up on two years," Riley replied. Riley, Kate and Graham crouched in hiding behind one of the curtains in the morgue's autopsy room. Each held wooden stakes in their hands. Several bodies lay on tables throughout the room. Withers' body was near the front, close to the entrance.

"About the same for me," Kate replied.

"Quiet, you two," Graham admonished. "This is an ambush."

After a pause, Riley said:

"Stick close to me and Graham once the action starts."

"Oh, please," Kate said. "Trust me, I've gone against my share of vampires before, and they're all dead. Well, except one."

"Don't feel bad," Riley said. "I threw down with one who got away. Of course, he was...different."

"Not as different as mine," Kate said.

"Oh, yeah? Get this: mine was my girlfriend's ex." "That's nothing," Kate said. "Mine has a soul."

Riley's jaw dropped. He asked:

"Brooding guy? Long black jacket? About a gallon of dippity-do in his hair?"

Kate scowled. She asked:

"You know Angel?"

"Hey," Graham said. "Will you two keep it down?"

"I don't believe this," Riley said. "Is every woman I meet for the rest of my life going to turn out to be one of Angel's old girlfriends?"

"We worked together," Kate replied. "I wasn't his girlfriend!"

"Yeah, right," Riley said. "Mr. Tall, Dark and Oh-So-Distant-Yet-Vulnerable-In-A-Strong-Silent-Way didn't do anything for you."

"No, he didn't," Kate insisted. "I was a cop. He was a P.I. That's it."

"Oh, come on," Riley said. "I saw that look in your eyes when you mentioned him. Trust me. I've seen that look before. A lot."

"There's no look," Kate said. "Besides, it's too dark in here for you to see my eyes."

"Cut it out," Graham said. "A vamp could hear both of you a mile away."

"So you just worked together," Riley said skeptically. "So you're telling me you two never dated?"

"Of course not," Kate said. "It was always business. Well, one time I asked him to go to a bar."

"That's a date!"

"It wasn't like that," Kate responded defensively. "It was my father's retirement party!"

"He met your parents?!?"

"Oh, for Christ's sake," Graham exclaimed. "Will the two of you shut up? Jesus, we're supposed to be lying in wait, and you two are making more noise than a couple of howler monkeys! I don't believe this! I spent the last month in the jungle sweating my ass off, hunting the minions of Evil, and listening to some heartsick farm boy moan and groan about his stupid blonde girlfriend and her James-Dean-vampire-boy-toy. Now I get a three day pass, and what happens? Do I get to drink and whore around like any other soldier on leave? No, I get to sit in a morgue setting a trap for a hoard of the undead, and listen to you two yammer on and on about your pathetic sex lives! Well, save it! Save it for after we slay the vampires! Save it for group therapy! Save it for the goddamed Ricki Lake show for all I care, but save it! I can't stand it anymore! Shut up!"

Riley blinked, and then said:

"Graham, I think that's the most I've ever heard you say at one time."

"SHUT UP!"

Riley bit his bottom lip, took a deep breath through his nose, and exhaled. After a moment of silence, Kate muttered:

"I wasn't his girlfriend."

Graham's jaw tensed. He covered his eyes with his hand and dropped his head.

At that moment, the door of the operating room opened. Two men walked in. Kate carefully peered around the curtain, and recognized one of the two as the night security manager of the hotel. That explained the attack in the garage. The other she had never seen before.

Zherlon turned to Mickey and asked:

"How long has the sun been down?"

"About forty-five minutes," Mickey replied.

"Do you have everything?"

"Yep," Mickey said. "Any word from Hank?"

"Not yet," Zherlon said. "He's probably still dumping the cop's body."

Don't be too sure, Kate thought, tightening her grip on the stake.

A loud groan echoed through the room. Withers sat up, clutching his chest.

"It hurts," Withers gasped. "It...hurts."

"Here," Zherlon said, handing Withers a jar of viscous red fluid. "Drink this."

Withers took the jar and gulped the fluid down. "What was that?"

"Pig's blood," Zherlon explained.

"It tastes...strange," Withers said. "There's an aftertaste. Like a diet soda."

"It's not human blood," Zherlon said. "You'll have to wait for that. From the scars on your chest, it's apparent they've finished the autopsy. Your wife will be by to claim your body tomorrow. Until then, lay still."

"I feel...different," Withers said. "I can't explain it."

"Let me ask you a question," Zherlon said. "Did you ever feel any regret for stealing money from all those people?"

"A little, yes."

"Do you now?"

"No," Withers said. "It's like...it doesn't matter."

"A little bonus from the change you've undergone," Zherlon explained. "No more pesky conscience."

"I'm feeling a little better," Withers said. "Are the papers in order?"

"Yep," Mickey said, holding up an envelope. "They're all here. Passports. Drivers Licenses. Everything. You and your wife are now Jason and Linda Morris, from Ontario. We'll hand these over to your wife when she gets here."

"Mickey, in his former life, worked for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing," Zherlon explained. "You'll find the documents to be perfect forgeries."

"You can take off for Mexico as soon as you're buried," Mickey continued. "Mrs. Withers will have to wait a couple of months for the life insurance claim to go through. After she's sure she's not being watched, she can join you."

"And you can send us our money," Zherlon added. "Don't get any bright ideas about double crossing us. We know the names you're using, we know where you're going, and we know what you are. We'll hunt you down like rabbits if we don't get our money. You can run from anyone in the world, but you can't run from us. We gave you immortality. We can take it back just as easily."

"Don't worry," Withers said. "A hundred grand is well worth getting out of the mess we were in. Not to mention it's small potatoes compared to the million dollars of life insurance my wife will collect."

"I wouldn't count on that," Kate said, walking out from behind the curtain. Riley and Graham remained behind the curtain. Riley shot Graham a worried glance. Graham shrugged.

"You," Zherlon said to Kate. "You're proving to be quite resourceful."

Kate raised her stake in a threatening gesture. "More resourceful than that goon you sent after me."

"I assume Hank is...?"

"Powder," Kate said. "You're next."

"You're rather confident," Zherlon said. "But I assume you can tell that, with three of us, the odds are a little more in our favor?"

A flying object whizzed past Zheron. He followed it with his eyes. He turned just in time to see Mickey grab a wooden stake that was buried in his chest, and then disintegrate.

"The odds are looking better," Riley said, emerging from behind the curtain.

Zherlon morphed into his vamp face, and lunged and Riley. Graham jumped out from behind the curtain, and pushed an instrument tray into Zherlon's path, sending Zherlon falling to the floor. Withers, still weak, turned to run out the door. Kate leapt toward him, and buried her stake in his back. He turned to dust.

Riley had pinned Zherlon to the ground. Graham stood above Zherlon, ready to bury the stake into his heart.

"Wait," Zherlon said. "We can make a deal."

"Thanks," Riley said. "But I don't think comping our hotel bill is going to cut it."

Graham plunged the stake into Zherlon's chest.


Epilogue


"Kate, you're checking out?"

"Yeah," Kate replied to Riley. She held her suitcase in one hand, and was signing her hotel bill on the lobby counter with the other.

"It's still early," Riley said. "It's only about ten. Graham and I were going to go out and get a drink. You know, to unwind? And I thought tomorrow we were going to...?"

"I don't think Graham will miss me."

"Listen, Kate," Riley said, "if this is about what Graham said...."

"It's not," Kate said. "Well, it is, but it's not because he said it. It's because he's right. I am pathetic. I've spent the last two years of my life trying to prove what I'm not: I'm not a vampire's girlfriend; I'm not crazy; I'm not wrong; I'm not helpless. And in all that time, I never stopped to ask what I actually was. I was a cop, but I'm not anymore, and that was never enough of an answer anyway. I've got to stop running. I've got to find something to do with my life. I've got to find out what I am."

"Look, Kate...."

"Riley," Kate said, "you're sweet. A really nice guy. And I'd love to stay and...well, you know. But who are we kidding? I've got a lot to sort out, and from what you've told me, so do you. If I stayed, would it really make anything better?"

"I guess not," Riley said. "I mean, it be one thing if...well, you know..."

"If it was just...physical," Kate said.

"Yeah," Riley replied. "But I guess that wouldn't help any. It would probably just leave us feeling emptier. Especially since, well....."

"I know," Kate said. "I like you, too. Maybe, someday...."

"Yeah," Riley said. "Maybe."

Kate tore the yellow carbon from the hotel bill, slid the white copy toward the desk clerk and said:

"Goodbye, Riley. Take care of yourself."

"You too, Kate," Riley replied. "Take care."

Kate turned and walked to the door that led to the parking garage. Riley could only stand and watch her go.

"Hey, Riley."

Riley turned to see Graham walking from the bar.

"Hey, Graham."

"Get in here," Graham instructed. "I've got these two stewardesses waiting for us."

"Graham," Riley replied, "I'd think after your last attempt to set me up you'd give it a rest."

"This time will be different," Graham said. "Trust me."

"Oh yeah," Riley said. "How do you know?"

"Because this time," Graham said, "they're both brunettes."

THE END


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