Circus of the Damned is a combination of traveling carnival, circus, and one of the lower rungs of hell. Out front, fanged clowns dance above the lights that spell the name. Posters stretch the sides of the building, proclaiming, "Watch zombies rise from the grave. See the Lamia--half-snake, half-woman." There is no trickery at the Circus, everything advertised is absolutely real. It is one of the few vampire tourist attractions that welcome children. If I'd had a kid, I wouldn't have brought the little tyke near the place. Even I didn't feel safe.
Edward had picked me up outside the police station, just like he said he would. My statement had taken three hours, not two. The only reason I got out that soon was Bob, Catherine's husband and fellow lawyer, had finally told them to charge me or let me go. Truthfully, I thought they might charge me. But I had three witnesses saying the killing was self-defense, witnesses that I'd never met before tonight. That helped. The DA usually didn't charge on self-defense cases. Usually.
Edward took me into the Circus through a side door. There were no lights to mark it as special, but there was also no doorknob on the outside of the steel reinforced door. Edward knocked. The door opened, and in we went.
Jason closed the door behind us. I had missed him earlier at Danse Macabre. I certainly would have remembered the outfit. He was wearing a sleeveless plastic shirt, molded to his body. The pants were half crinkly blue cloth that looked like colored foil, with oval plastic windows, exposing his thigh, calf, and as he turned, one buttock.
I shook my head, smiling. "Please tell me Jean-Claude didn't make you wear that out where people could see you."
Jason grinned at me and turned so he flashed his butt at me. "Don't you like it?"
"I'm not sure," I said.
"Discuss fashion later, in a more secure place," Edward said. He glanced at the door to our right that led into the main part of the Circus. It was never locked, though it had a sign above the door about authorized personnel only. We were standing in a stone room with an electric light dangling from the ceiling. It was a storage area. A third door was set in the far wall. Behind it was a stairway and the nether regions where the vampires stayed during the day.
"I'll be underground, literally, soon enough, Edward."
Edward looked at me for a long moment. "You promised to hide out for twenty-four hours. No going outside for any reason. Don't even go into the main part of the Circus when it's open to the public. Just stay downstairs."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
"This isn't a joke, Anita."
I tugged at the bulletproof vest I'd put over my dress. It was too large for me, hot, and uncomfortable. "If I thought it was funny, I wouldn't have worn this."
"I'll bring you some armor that fits when I come back."
I met his pale blue eyes and saw something I'd never seen before. He was worried.
"You think they're going to kill me, don't you?"
He didn't look away. He didn't flinch. But what I saw in his face made me wish he had. "When I come back tomorrow, I'll have help with me."
"What kind of help?"
"What does that mean?"
He shook his head. "Twenty-four hours means that you hide until dawn tomorrow, Anita. With luck, I'll have a name for us, and we can kill him. Don't be careless while I'm gone."
I wanted to say something casual, joking, like "I didn't know you cared," but I couldn't. I couldn't joke staring into his serious eyes.
"I'll be careful."
He nodded. "Lock the door behind me." He went outside and Jason locked the door.
Jason leaned against the door for a second. "Why does he scare me?"
"Because you're not stupid," I said.
He smiled. "Thanks."
"Let's get downstairs," I said.
"It's been a long night, Jason. No games."
He pushed away from the door and said, "Lead the way."
I opened the door to the stone stairway, which led downward. It was wide enough for us to walk abreast. In fact, there was almost room for a third, as if the stairway had been built for wider things than human bodies.
Jason closed the door with a resounding thank. It made me jump. He started to say something, but the look on my face stopped him. Edward's parting comments had unnerved me. If I didn't know better, I'd have said I was scared. Naw.
Jason walked down the steps ahead of me, exaggerating his walk just a touch to show off his derriere.
"You can cut the peep show," I said.
"You don't like the view?" He leaned against the wall, hands pressed behind him, showing off his chest.
I laughed and walked past him, clicking my nails down his shirt. It was solid and hard as a beetle's carapace. "Is that as uncomfortable as it looks?"
He fell into step beside me. "It's not uncomfortable. The ladies at Danse Macabre liked it a lot."
I glanced at him. "I bet they did."
"I like flirting."
He laughed. "For someone who doesn't flirt, you have a lot of guys after you."
"Maybe because I don't flirt," I said.
Jason was quiet as we walked to the bend in the stairs. "You mean because you're a challenge, they keep coming around?"
"Something like that."
I couldn't see around the bend of the stairs. I hated not being able to see around corners. But this time I was invited; I hadn't come to kill anybody. The vamps tended to be a lot friendlier when you weren't trying to kill them.
"Is Richard here yet?"
"Not yet." He glanced back at me. "Do you think it's a good idea to have them both here at the same time?"
"No," I said, "absolutely not."
"Well, at least we all agree it's a bad idea," he said.
The door at the bottom of the stairs was iron bound, made of a heavy, dark wood. It looked like a portal to another time--a time when dungeons were in vogue, and knights rescued ladies fair or slaughtered a few peasants and no one minded, except maybe the peasants.
Jason drew a key out of his pants pocket. He unlocked the door and pushed. It opened on well-oiled hinges.
"Since when did you get a key?" I asked.
"I live here now."
"What about college?"
He shrugged. "It doesn't seem very important anymore."
"You plan on being Jean-Claude's lap-wolf forever?"
"I'm having a good time," he said.
I shook my head. "I fight like hell to stay free of him, and you just give in. I don't understand that at all."
"You have a college degree, right?" he asked.
"I don't. But here we both are, ending up in the same place."
He had me there.
Jason motioned me through the door with a low flourish that had imitation Jean-Claude written all over it. Jean-Claude made it seem courtly and real. Jason meant it for a joke.
The door led into Jean-Claude's living room. The ceiling stretched up into darkness, but silken drapes hung in black and white folds that formed cloth walls on three sides. The fourth side was bare stone, painted white. A white stone fireplace looked original, which I knew it wasn't. The mantlepiece was black-veined white marble. A silver fireplace screen hid the hearth. There were four chairs in black and silver grouped around a wood and glass coffee table. A black vase sat on the table filled with white tulips. My high heels sank into the thick, black carpet.
There was one other addition to the room that stopped me in my tracks. A painting hung above the fireplace. Three people dressed in the style of the 1600s. The woman wore white and silver with a square bodice showing quite a bit of decolletage, her brown hair styled in careful ringlets. She held a red rose loosely in one hand. A man stood behind her, tall and slender, with dark gold hair in ringlets over his shoulders. He had a mustache and a Vandyke beard, so dark gold they were almost brown. He wore one of those floppy hats with feathers and was dressed in white and gold. But it was the other man who made me walk towards the painting.
He was seated just behind the woman. He was dressed in black with silver embroidery and a wide lace collar and lace cuffs. He held a floppy black hat with a single white feather and a silver buckle across his lap. Black hair fell in ringlets over his shoulders. He was clean shaven, and the artist had managed to capture the sinking blue of his eyes. I stared at Jean-Claude's face painted hundreds of years before I was born. The other two were smiling. Only he was solemn and perfect, dark to their lightness. He was like the shadow of death come to the ball.