Blood Maidens (Page 26)

TWENTY-SIX

Asher reached St Petersburg at 7:55 in the morning of Wednesday, May tenth – the twenty-sixth of April by Russian reckoning – and took a cab straight from the station to Krestovsky Island.

He’d cabled Lydia from the train station in Vilna, hoping against hope that, after a week of hearing nothing from him, she had not undertaken some investigation of her own.

Ysidro might have stopped her – or helped her . . . If Ysidro had gone on to Petersburg.

He didn’t know that, either.

Prince Razumovsky’s izba was shut. Not even servants moved around its closed-up doors, its tightly shuttered windows.

Damn it. Damn it . . .

‘Jamie!’ The Prince sprang up from his desk when Asher appeared in the study’s French doors. ‘Good God, man, where have you been? Madame Lydia—’

‘Where is she?’

‘They have been searching Petersburg for her for four days!’

The izba had been cleared up, the broken glass of the windows removed and the windows themselves replaced. ‘Zudanievsky said they found a little blood on the wall of the pantry cupboard in the basement,’ reported the Prince, as Asher turned over the two makeshift pikes that the police had left lying on the long parlor table: a broom handle and a kitchen poker to which silver knives and forks had been roughly lashed with string. ‘There was a man’s jacket there also: light gray wool, rather small, from a tailor in Jermyn Street—’

Ysidro’s.

Asher’s heart seemed to pound more heavily as he looked around the dim room. The police had piled the twisted garlands of garlic and wild rose stems on the table as well. He wondered what Zudanievsky had made of them. The bespectacled officer had impressed him as a quintessential city bureaucrat, but one never knew, with Russians. In any case, there wasn’t a Russian in Petersburg who didn’t have relatives still on the land. Despite the ramshackle tenements, the gritty factory-smoke of the industrial slums, over two-thirds of its people were villagers, straight from the wheat fields and birch woods. They would know what all this meant.

Four days ago. He must have made his way straight here from Berlin.

Strain and exhaustion had left him numb, perfectly calm, and cold inside.

The Petersburg vampires attacked . . . Probably as soon as Count Golenischev left town.

Why? How would they have known who Lydia was, or where she was?

Or was it Ysidro they were after?

He said, ‘No bodies.’ He felt he was viewing all of this as if from a very great distance. As if it were someone else he was looking for, and he himself was someone else as well. ‘No sign of burning?’

‘Burning?’ The Prince’s heavy eyebrows knotted, but he’d been in the business of secrets for a long time and did not ask further. ‘No. Rina – Madame Lydia’s cook here – said that a young girl came to see her that night, a dark-haired girl dressed like a lacemaker or a milliner. Madame Asher sent the servants away at once, back up to the house. Jov says they all of them woke up the next day where they’d dropped off to sleep, all at once, still in their clothing, like the castle of Sleeping Beauty. The men in the stables as well. I think someone must have introduced something into the tea in the servants’ hall.’

Asher went to the corner of the table, touched the three little heaps of silver there: the chains Lydia had worn around her wrists, and on the other side of the table – as if it had been taken off later, or by someone else – the longer chain that had guarded her throat. Beside them lay her spectacles, like a killed daddy-long-legs of silver and glass.

Lydia.

Someone – not a vampire – must have taken the protective chains off her. That would mean Texel or Theiss.

He was aware of the Prince’s cornflower gaze on him, not only troubled but probing, questioning . . . Reading – as Zudanievsky had read – in Asher’s silence a knowledge of precisely what was going on. What is it that you can tell from these weapons, these chains, these herbs, my friend, that we do not know?

‘I’ll send for Zudanievsky. He should be at his office—’

‘Not yet,’ said Asher. He took a deep breath; it cleared his mind. ‘There’s something else I need to see first.’

‘What?’ The Prince grabbed him by the shoulder, almost shouted the word at him. ‘Good God, man, if you know anything, I can have half the Okhrana out—’

‘And it only takes one second for someone to panic and cut his losses.’ Asher stepped from his grip, gathered up the chains and the spectacles and slipped them into his pocket. The butler on the shallow front steps of von Brühlsbuttel’s house in Potsdam had said, A telegram that seemed to upset him very much. He left this morning . . . St Petersburg . . .

The German would have only a few hours’ start on him.

‘I should be back this afternoon,’ he said at last, as they stepped out onto the veranda, locked the door again behind them. ‘Yes, please, get in touch with Zudanievsky, tell him to have some men ready. But he is to do nothing without my express orders.’ Asher blinked, seeing Razumovsky’s bitter grin, and corrected himself: ‘Without your express orders.’

‘As it little behooves an officer of the Okhrana to be taking orders from Mr Jules Plummer of Chicago . . . Is there anything that you need? You look like you’ve spent a night in the train station—’

‘On the train.’ They walked up the path to the main house again, and he rubbed his face, unshaven and still itching from the spirit gum of the now-discarded Berliner beard. ‘And I’d probably better not be Mr Plummer anymore. He’s wanted in Germany for murder and espionage. You’d better explain that to Zudanievsky. I’m Jean-Pierre Filaret from Strasbourg—’

‘I doubt he’ll care. When did you last eat?’

‘Nineteen oh-seven, it feels like. I’ll need a pistol – an automatic, if you’ve got one – and something to eat, whatever you’ve got in the kitchen.’

He stepped through the French window again and stopped beside the study desk, looking down at the newspaper lying on the corner of that handsome plain of inlay and ebony.

There was a badly-printed photograph of Dr Benedict Theiss, above the headline: SLUM CLINIC DOCTOR BRUTALLY MURDERED.

‘Just give me the pistol,’ he said. ‘I’ll return as soon as I can.’

The town house of Petronilla Ehrenberg, on the Sadovaia Oulitza, reminded him a good deal of Lady Irene Eaton’s, which lay only a few streets away, and even more of La Ehrenberg’s house in Neuehrenfeld. Expensive, stylish, it was situated on the end of a short row of identical expensive and stylish town houses; there was no mews behind. Not for people who kept their own carriages, or who were in Petersburg for long enough at a time to want to be troubled with the upkeep of animals or permanent servants on-site. A pied-à-terre, for Moscow industrialists with business connections in the capital, or the mistresses of men in the Court or the Army.

Small gates opened into an alley behind. The lock on Number 12’s was surprisingly expensive, for where it was, but Asher had little trouble climbing over. A narrow yard, like Lady Eaton’s: kept up just enough not to look unkempt. Upstairs and down the rooms were showier, with the expensive and rather heavy-handed taste – and many of the same prints on the walls – he had seen in the Köln town-house. But it was a house designed simply to establish the fact that the occupant lived in a house like other people, and slept in a bed.

A crypt had been walled off the shallow basement, its door concealed behind boxes that cost Asher a struggle to shift. Like many basements in St Petersburg, its walls were clammy and everything smelled dimly of sewage. The coffin – mounted on trestles – was empty.

When Asher sprang lightly down from the top of the rear gate of Number 12 again and started back up the alley, a man stepped out from around the corner and held out his hand to him. ‘Please, mein Herr, ten thousand pardons—’

This didn’t sound like either the Okhrana or the St Petersburg police, so Asher stopped and waited while he approached. He walked like a cavalryman, though he was a man in his fifties. His cavalry whiskers were grizzled silver, and his tall, thin form was rather stooping in a baggy but expensive suit as travel-creased and soot-smutted as Asher’s own.


‘Please, I beg you, forgive me,’ the German gentleman went on, with a formal bow. ‘I am not the police. I saw you come over the gate – I am trying to find the lady who lives in that house, for I fear she is in some terrible trouble. I do not ask questions, but please, as you are a gentleman, tell me . . . Did you go inside?’

Asher almost retorted, Of course not, what do you take me for? A burglar? but something in the man’s pleading gray eyes stopped him. Instead, he asked, ‘Who is it that you seek, mein Herr?’

‘Madame Ehrenberg,’ said the German promptly. ‘She is – a most dear friend. On Sunday I received a telegram that horrified me. I do not like to go to the police. One hears such frightful things of the Russian police. Yet when I reached Petersburg last night it was to hear the news that the physician who was treating Madame’s nervous condition – the man I was directed to see – has been murdered, and I find now her house locked up . . .’

‘And have I the honor of addressing,’ said Asher gently, ‘Colonel Sergius von Brühlsbuttel?’

With a startled look, von Brühlsbuttel replied, ‘You have.’

‘Is he a vampire?’ Lydia whispered, as air – sweet as a thousand kisses – seeped back into her lungs, cleared her mind, though she found herself still unable to open her eyes. It didn’t matter. The room, wherever it was, was dark, and she knew it was Simon with her.

The glassy claws – like the angel’s, in her earlier dream – brushed her cheek. ‘He is, Mistress.’

‘I’m sorry.’ Her fingers closed around his, thin and strong and familiar, though she thought, They should feel colder . . . Her own hands must be icy, though she felt dreamily warm. ‘He’s won, hasn’t he? He’ll go to the Kaiser now . . .’

‘Do not concern yourself with it, Mistress.’

‘You should have let me die . . .’

‘Do not concern yourself. I would not let you die by the hand of such a one, and a heretic at that.’

Her head lay against his thigh, as it had in the cupboard at the izba. Under her cheek she felt rough cloth worn threadbare, and she remembered – a dream? Dreaming of being carried to a room in the crypts, a monk’s narrow cell. When she opened her eyes – or thought she did – by the faint glow of lamplight, leaking through the judas in the door, she saw he’d clothed himself in a monk’s black robe, retrieved from some catacomb and rotting to pieces around his body, splotched with cobweb and dust. His shirt and trousers lay folded on the floor in front of the cell’s door – why there? she wondered. She wondered, also, if she’d have the strength to put them on, then thought about Texel and told herself she’d find the strength somehow . . .

The memory brought others. ‘She’s dead,’ she whispered. ‘Irene. Lady Eaton. I’m so sorry, Simon. He said . . . It sounds as if Petronilla killed her.’ When he looked aside from her, and did not speak, she said again, ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘It is as I had thought. It is nothing.’

‘You came all this way. That isn’t nothing.’ Jamie had told her of finding two of Irene’s fingers in a tin box, and had said that Simon had cared for her, though he didn’t say how he knew this – she knew enough to know Ysidro would never have told him that.

‘In the end it is.’

‘Texel wanted to get Lady Irene to make him a vampire,’ she murmured. ‘Only he couldn’t find any way to force her to do it; a way that he’d be safe. I think that’s why Petronilla killed her. Before he could figure one out. It’s why you said there couldn’t be friendship between the living and the dead, isn’t it? Because someone could use me . . .’

‘As did I,’ he reminded her, with the palest wisp of amusement in his voice, ‘to bend James unto my will. ’Twere best the dead were dead utterly and life left to the living, Mistress. In any case, ’twould have been foolish in him to have dealings with Irene, or indeed with Petronilla. ’Tis not only the blood that the fledgling needs, to become vampire – as James saw, in the case of those two poor maidens, who knew not even enough of their own state to seek the safety of a chamber without light, and as you found with little Genia. If he thinks Petronilla will instruct him in all those matters of which he is clearly ignorant, of what it is and means to be vampire, he had best think again. ’Tis clear he thinks he knows everything about it because he has observed Theiss’s experiments. Yet Petronilla is the only vampire to whom he has spoken at any length. We are an untrustworthy breed.’

‘The others will have gone, won’t they? The Petersburg vampires.’ She shivered, remembering the white faces swimming in the darkness outside the izba’s broken windows. The horrible strength that had wrenched at hers when she’d slammed and locked the doors . . .

‘I think so, yes.’

‘Is that why Petronilla picked Petersburg in the first place? Jamie said she only made her fledglings in the spring, when there was enough light that she knew they couldn’t escape—’

Her hands caught at his fingers again, strengthless. Even the time-smoothed gold of his signet ring didn’t feel cold. ‘Will he kill me?’

‘Not if he hopes to go on controlling me through you.’

She clung tighter, whispered, ‘What he did – what he injected me with . . . Did it hurt my baby?’ The thought that she would lose yet another child pierced her, and rather than go through that again, she thought, it would be easier to simply die herself. ‘I – I’m carrying Jamie’s child . . . You can hear heartbeats. You can feel dreams . . .’

‘I can,’ murmured Ysidro. ‘And I tell you, your child lives and is well.’

‘Can you—’

The crash of a gunshot woke her. Lydia gasped, jerked upright, alone on a cot in the cell. Shadows flickered by the judas in the door, and she stumbled towards it as a second shot echoed in the corridor outside. The next moment the door was flung open, Texel’s tall form silhouetted against the dim gaslight as Lydia staggered, dropped to her knees.

A dark smear of fresh blood trickled down the outside of the door, just beneath the judas. Texel strode in, caught her arm, dragged her to her feet: ‘Was he in here?’

Lydia stared at him, managed to collect her thoughts enough to gasp, ‘Who?’ even though she knew perfectly well who.

The judas grille was made of silver. So was the handle of the door. All he could do, she thought, was stand pressed to the iron-strapped wood, reach through into her dreams . . .

Texel shook her, the strength of his grip terrifying, and flung her down again. In the near-darkness of the cell his eyes seemed to glow, from the reflected gaslight of the corridor. His hand was as strong as granite, and as cold, and she could feel his gaze on her through the thin cotton of her nightshirt. Not nastily lustful now, as he had been – that had been forgotten, with the sloughing-away of his body’s life.

What he smelled was her blood.

‘Call him,’ he said.

Numbly, Lydia shook her head, and Texel pulled her to her feet again, pressed the muzzle of the pistol he carried against her back.

‘Call him. The bullets in this are silver, but they’ll make just as big a hole in living flesh as in dead.’

He dragged her to the cell door. The corridor outside was narrow, low-roofed, and puddled with the perpetual trickles of water that crept into every Petersburg cellar. The smell was the smell of the river, sewery and foul. Spots of blood were dispersing slowly into the water for a little distance on the floor, then lost themselves in shadow.

She managed to say, ‘If the bullets are silver, he’s probably unconscious. Silver does that to them.’

By the shift of those feral eyes, the movement of his head, she saw that he didn’t know if she was speaking truth or not.

Simon was right. Petronilla is the only vampire he’s ever spoken with about the vampire state . . . and she probably didn’t tell him the truth about anything.

We are an untrustworthy breed . . .

And he’s afraid to go after Simon into the darkness.

After a moment he pushed her back into the cell and slammed the door. But as she heard the key turn in the lock – the lock she guessed to be silver – she thought of the serum Dr Theiss had made, the serum Texel had to have taken now. Whatever Simon says, the Kaiser has his vampire.

Jamie . . . Her mind reached out to him as she sank down to the wet floor again. Jamie, be careful . . .