Marconi shook his head and said what I'd been thinking. "Commanding presence tonight, Zerbrowski."
"You're just jealous that he's better at channeling Dolph than you are," I said.
Marconi smiled at me and gave a nod. But his hand was at his belt, and he was moving his gun a little more forward. Sometimes the more jokes you do, the more nervous you are.
Smith was new enough that his eyes were all sparkly, and he was almost vibrating with eagerness, like a dog straining at a leash. He hadn't been a detective for a month yet, and that can make you eager to prove yourself. I hoped not too eager, since I'd recommended him.
Zerbrowski noticed and gave me a nod, like he'd keep an eye on him. He asked my advice about only one thing. "Do we go in bold, or quiet?"
I thought about it for a second, then shrugged. "They know we're here, Zerbrowski, at least the ones near the back."
"They can hear us?"
I nodded. "But let's ask an usher near the back to get Malcolm's attention. Being polite doesn't cost a thing."
He nodded, then went to the big, polished, wood doors. Before he could push them open, a man opened them from inside. He was young with short brown hair and glasses. I'd seen him before on another case. His name began with a B, like Brandon, or Brian, or Bruce, or something. Bruce, I thought. He eased the door shut behind him, before we had more than a glimpse of people turning to stare. His brown eyes were still lovely behind his glasses, and there was still healing bite marks on his neck. It was as if no time had passed, but it was nice to know that he was still among the living.
"You are interrupting our worship service?" His voice was soft, measured.
"You're Bruce, right?"
His eyes widened just a little. "I'm surprised you remembered me, Ms. Blake."
"Marshal Blake, actually," I smiled when I said it.
His eyes did that little widening act again. "Do I say congratulations?"
"Is he stalling?" Zerbrowski asked.
"Not in the way you mean," I said. "He doesn't want us to interrupt the services, but I don't think he'd deliberately hide a murderer."
That got me another eye widening. "Murderer? What are you talking about, Ms. Marshal Blake? We of the church do not advocate violence in any aspect of our lives."
"There's a dead woman in the home of one of your members who would argue that, if she could," Zerbrowski said.
A pained expression crossed Bruce's face. "Are you certain that it is the home of one of our members?"
We both nodded.
Bruce looked down at the ground, then nodded, as if he'd decided something. "If you will remain near the back of the church, I will tell Malcolm what has happened."
Zerbrowski looked at me as if to ask if that was okay. I shrugged and nodded. "Sure."
Bruce smiled, obviously relieved. "Good, good, please keep your voices low. This is a church, and we are having services." He led the way through those highly polished doors. The uniforms stayed outside, but Marconi and Smith followed us in.
There was no vestibule inside the doors. The doors led directly into the nave, so we were just suddenly facing pews packed full of congregation members. The vamps close to the doors were already glancing our way.
Bruce motioned for us to stay where we were, then walked wide around the pews up the side underneath the red and blue abstract stained glass windows. Where there should have been saints or the stations of the cross, or at a least a cross or two, there was nothing but the bare white walls. I think that was why the church always looked unfinished to me, na**d like the walls needed clothes.
It's never comfortable for me to be standing in front of a group of people unexpectedly. To be on display, especially when it's a potentially hostile group. Zerbrowski had his smile in place, the good-to-meet-you smile. The one that I'd finally realized was his version of a blank face. Marconi looked bored. A lot of cops perfect that I've-seen-worse boredom after a few years on the force. Smith's face was all shiny with excitement like a kid on Christmas morning. He was looking around at everything and totally not bothered by the staring crowd. I guess most cops don't get to see inside the Church of Eternal Life much, or see hundreds of vampires in one place at one time. Hell, even I didn't usually see that many at one time in one place.
The first few pews had had their look-see at us, but the glances spread upward from there. Quick glances with whispers, so it was like a wind moved through the room. A wind that turned faces toward us, widened eyes, sent more furious whispers spreading through the room, until it crashed against the pulpit and the strangely empty altar area at the front of the church.
Malcolm was standing at the white altar, but had already stepped out from behind it and moved to one side so he could meet Bruce, as the young man came up to one side of the raised area. Even the steps leading up to it were white. The only color was a strip of blue cloth that hung in the back of the sanctuary. A brilliant royal blue that moved slightly in the central air, as if the cloth didn't sit flat to the wall. I wondered what was behind the cloth. It was the only thing that was different since I'd last been inside the building, some three years ago. About two years ago, the building had been fire-bombed by right-wing extremists. The attack hadn't stopped the church. The attack had gotten the Church of Eternal Life some of its best national and international coverage ever, and donations had flooded in from people that were not so much for vampires as against violence. I'd seen what had been left when the fire department had gotten through with the building. Standing here now, I would never have known there had ever been even a small fire in this white, white space, let alone a bomb.
Malcolm spoke with Bruce at the side of the altar area. I wasn't at all surprised when he came down the wide main aisle between the pews. Bruce trailed after him. The first thing you notice about Malcolm is that his short blond curls are the bright yellow of goldfinch feathers. Three hundred plus years in the dark will do that to bright blond hair. The next thing is, he's tall, and almost painfully thin, so that he looks even taller than he truly is. He was wearing a black suit tonight, modest cut, but thanks to Jean-Claude's fashion sense, I knew that that simple-seeming suit was tailored to that lean body, and probably cost more than most people make in a month. The shirt was a blue that helped point out that his eyes were the blue of a robin's eggs. His tie was narrow and black with a silver tie bar, unadorned. Up close once you can look past the hair and the eyes, Malcolm has a very angular face, almost a homely face, as if the angles needed smoothing out to make them work together.
The first time I'd ever set eyes on Malcolm I'd thought him beautiful, but with even one vampire mark on me, I'd known differently. He prided himself on not using his vampire powers on us mere mortals, but he wasted enough to make himself seem handsome. That bit of mind-fucking he allowed himself. Vanity, all is vanity.
I'd also thought him one of the most powerful vampires in St. Louis once; now as he moved toward me, he seemed somehow diminished. Or maybe I was just shielding too well now for his power to creep over me. Maybe.
He held out one of his big hands, which always seemed like they should belong on a beefier body. He held it out sort of in between Zerbrowski and me, as if he wasn't sure who was in charge and didn't want to offend anyone. The last time I'd seen Malcolm he hadn't offered to shake hands. He'd known I wouldn't take it.
Tonight, I took his hand, because Zerbrowski was only human, and whatever I was, only human didn't cover it.
Malcolm hesitated in the middle of the handshake, as if I'd surprised him, but he recovered, smiling, his blue eyes glowing with pleasure at the opportunity to help the police. It was a lie. He didn't want us here. He certainly didn't want a murder involving his church. I felt nothing as our hands touched, except that he was cool, so he hadn't fed recently. Other than that, I felt nothing, because I was shielding. I'd gotten really good at shielding lately. I realized that I'd been shielding almost as hard as I could since Jean-Claude, Richard, and I had bound ourselves together in that bed. It wasn't just guilt that had made me afraid. So Malcolm's hand was just a hand, cooler than human normal, but just a hand. Good.
I think we would have been fine if Malcolm hadn't tried a little vampire power on me. Maybe I was shielding too much, hiding too much of what I was, or maybe he was simply that arrogant. Whatever, he pulsed a little power down his hand into mine.
I was dizzy for a second, and he got an image of the dead girl in the apartment before I pushed back. I was still a little fuzzy on the whole psychic thing. I tend to overcompensate when I feel attacked. Yeah, I know, of course I overcompensated. It was so terribly me.