Robby MacKay had murder on his mind as he approached the rendezvous site in Central Park. The peaceful scene did little to dissuade his violent thoughts. Moonlight sparkled on the still lake and gleamed off the aluminum hulls of overturned rowboats along the shore. The boathouse sat nearby, empty and quiet. Robby only took notice because he was checking for signs of an ambush.
He and his companions halted in front of a series of steps that descended into a dark gully. At the bottom was a tunnel with a Malcontent waiting inside. Waiting for his death, if Robby had his way.
He started down the stairs with Zoltan and Phineas. Angus MacKay and his wife Emma charged over the hill with vampire speed so they could investigate the far side of the tunnel.
"I told you...come alone," a Russian-accented voice whispered from the black interior of the tunnel.
Phineas stopped on a landing halfway down the stairs, his hand curling around the hilt of his sword. "You've been trying to kill me for months, Stan. Of course I brought some mean and nasty dudes with me. One wrong move and they're gonna make you look like beef Stroganoff."
After surviving entirely on blood for almost three hundred years, Robby wasn't sure what beef Stroganoff looked like, but he took grim pleasure in being called a mean and nasty dude.
Unfortunately right now, he was more of a clumsy weakling. Each step felt like he was sinking into wet shifting sand. The casts and bandages had been removed last night from his feet and hands, so tonight he'd claimed he was ready for action. It was a bluff he could pull off only if he didn't fall down the stairs.
Meanwhile, the other mean and nasty dude, Zoltan Czakvar, zipped down the stairs at vampire speed and positioned himself against the brick wall to the right of the tunnel entrance.
The Russian had insisted earlier on the phone that he would come alone to meet Phineas. Robby and his fellow Vamps suspected a trap, but the question was, where? No doubt the Malcontents realized a group of Vamps would accompany Phineas to Central Park. Did the Malcontents plan to attack in the park, or were they hoping the Vamps would leave their base at Romatech Industries understaffed and vulnerable? Either way, the Vamps knew they had no choice but to divide and protect both Phineas and Romatech.
Robby had asked to go with the group to Central Park, figuring it afforded him the best chance at killing a Malcontent. One wouldn't be enough, but it was a good start. He made it to the bottom of the stairs and stationed himself to the left of the entrance.
"Yo, Stan," Phineas called to the Russian. "You paying rent for that tunnel or what?" He drew his sword and affected a gangster voice. "Come out and say hello to my little friend."
The Russian vampire, dressed in black cargo pants and a black sweatshirt jacket, eased slowly from the tunnel. The hood was pulled over his head, casting his face in shadow, although the icy blue of his eyes glittered as his gaze darted nervously about. He flinched when Zoltan whipped his sword out, the blade gleaming in the moonlight mere inches from the Russian's shoulder.
Robby followed suit, reaching overhead to draw the claymore from the sheath on his back. When his grip faltered, he grasped the hilt with both hands to keep from dropping the weapon and making a dent in his thick skull. Bugger. He should have brought a lighter weight sword. He lowered the sword and rested the tip on the ground.
The Russian lifted his hands in surrender. "I did not come to fight. I have no weapon."
"And he's alone." Emma emerged from the tunnel and sprinted up the stairs to stop on the landing next to Phineas. "The tunnel's clear."
Angus exited the tunnel, returning his claymore to the sheath on his back. He patted the Russian down from behind, then moved in front of him to pat him down again. He jerked the hood off the Russian's head, then stepped back to glower at him. "Stanislav Serpukhov. What are ye up to?"
Robby stiffened at the sight of the Russian's spiky white-blond hair. He'd seen that hair before. His newly healed fingers flexed jerkily around the hilt of his sword. "Ye were there. In the cave."
Stanislav whirled around toward him and his eyes widened. "You?" He moved back, stumbling onto the first stair step. "You're alive?"
Memories shot through Robby's mind. Images of the torturers with their twisted, gleeful faces. The stench of his burning flesh. The snap of his breaking bones. "Ye bloody bastard. Ye were there." He used both hands to raise his sword.
"Robby, stop!" Angus ordered.
"He was there!" Robby lurched toward the Russian, who scurried up the steps to the landing.
"I said stop." Angus planted one hand against Robby's chest and his other hand on Robby's arm, forcing the sword down.
Robby glared at his great-great-grandfather, who only looked a few years older than himself. "I require revenge. Ye canna stop me."
Angus glared back. "I expect you to follow orders."
Robby pulled away from Angus's grip and focused on the Russian. "I know who ye are now and where to find you."
"I do not want trouble." Stanislav sidled closer to Phineas.
The young black Vamp gave him an incredulous look. "What the hell are you doing, man? You think I'll protect you? You've been trying to kill me."
"I did not want to," Stan grumbled. "Jedrek said I must kill you...or he will kill me. But he is dead now. Everyone who heard the order is dead. So I do not feel that I must kill you now."
Phineas scoffed. "That's real sporting of you."
Stan glanced warily at Robby. "I did not like what Casimir did to you - "
"But ye stood there and watched," Robby growled. "Ye helped tie me to the chair with silver chains. Did ye enjoy the smell of my burning flesh?"
Stan's jaw shifted. "Nyet. But I tell you this. If they catch me here, talking to the enemy, they will do things to me that make your torture look like...walk in the park. Instead of thirty pieces of silver, they will take thirty pieces of flesh from me, and the first piece will be my tongue."
"Then let me kill you now and save you the misery!" Robby lunged toward the stairs, but ran into Angus's outstretched arm.
"Enough, lad," Angus hissed softly. He turned toward the Russian. "Are ye thinking of betraying yer master?"
"If you mean Casimir, I never met him till he came here to America and said he was our leader. I am not killer. I never was. I was...farmer. I stayed with Russian vampires because I am Russian, and they helped me learn how to live here."
"And ye learned how to kill mortals," Robby grumbled.
"I never killed," Stan insisted. "I feed from mortals, that is true. But I never kill mortals."
Zoltan snorted. "He expects us to believe that?"
Stan stiffened. "You are one to talk. You killed my best friend at the Battle at DVN. I lost another friend in South Dakota. You Vamps act like you are...better morally, but when it comes to war, you do the most killing."
Phineas cocked his head with a grimace. "He has a point there. We've been whipping their ass."
Angus shrugged. "They're bloody fiends. They deserve to die."
"Then I can kill him now?" Robby muttered.
Angus ignored him. "Ye have two minutes, Stan. Talk."
"And then I can kill him?" Robby asked a bit louder.
Angus shot him an annoyed look.
"I came to America seven years ago," Stanislav began. "Me and three vampire friends from Moscow. We wanted...new life with no tyranny and no terror. We went to coven in Brooklyn so we could learn English. We hoped to get jobs someday and our own place - "
"The American dream." Phineas pretended to wipe away a tear. "I'm getting choked up."
Stan scowled at him. "But all we found was more tyranny. Ivan Petrovsky liked to capture mortal women for food and sex. If we did not follow orders, he would kill them. He killed so many, and he abused the vampire women. I was glad when Katya and Galina murdered him."
"So you just fell in with the wrong crowd." Phineas rolled his eyes. "Where have I heard that one before?"
"My friends and I, we hated following orders from the ones you call Malcontents, but we knew if we try to escape, they would kill us. I lost two friends in battle. And last night - " Stan glanced away, his eyes watering. "My last friend died. Nadia killed him because he was blond."
Phineas winced. "Tough break."
"Isn't she the one who stabbed Toni?" Emma asked Zoltan, and he nodded.
"Nadia is crazy bitch," Stan growled. "And Casimir put her in charge of the coven."
"Bummer. So what do you want from us?" Phineas motioned to Stan's white-blond hair. "Some L'Oréal hair color? I'm not sure you're worth it."
"I want asylum. If you can hide me from Malcontents, I will tell you everything I know."
The Vamps grew silent as the Russian's request sank in.
"Doona trust him," Robby whispered. "He did nothing while they tortured me."
"Robby has a point," Angus said, regarding the Russian sternly. "Ye've never given us reason to trust you."
Stan glanced nervously about. "You checked the area? It is clear?"
"Yes," Emma answered. "What can you tell us? Do you know where Casimir is hiding?"
Stan licked his lips. "You scared him very much. He thought Apollo's place was secret, but you knew about it. And he thought his camp in South Dakota was safe, but you attacked with no warning. I do not understand how you knew about his camp."
Robby snorted. "He's fishing. He's still working for them. Let me kill him now."
"No!" Stan raised his hands. "Please. I can see how it is going. Ivan, Katya, Galina, Jedrek - they are all dead. You killed over sixty Malcontents in South Dakota. Casimir will lose. He must lose. He is evil."
"Nice speech," Zoltan said. "Where is Casimir?"
"He was afraid you would find him if he stayed in America, so he went back to Russia. He is very angry, and he cries for revenge. He will come back."
"When?" Angus asked.
Stan shook his head. "I do not know. He lost too many men in South Dakota. And then he killed more himself, because he thinks one of his men betrayed him and told you our location. He is...paranoid now. He trusts no one, and many followers have run away to hide. He is in very bad shape till he can find way to rebuild army."
Robby leaned close to Angus. "We should go after him, finish him off while he's weak."
Angus nodded, then addressed the Russian. "We appreciate the information. We'll have to verify it first, of course - "
"Then you will take me?" Stan asked.
"Eventually, perhaps." Angus crossed his arms. "For now, I want ye to go back to the coven in Brooklyn and continue to bring us information."
Stan grew pale. "You want me to spy for you." He ran a hand through his white-blond hair. "You know how dangerous that is? If they find out - "
"We're no' asking you to die," Angus interrupted.
"Speak for yerself," Robby muttered.
"If ye have the slightest inkling of danger," Angus continued, "ye must teleport away immediately. Then call us, and we'll take you somewhere safe. Phineas will give you his cell phone number. Memorize it. What do ye say?"
Stan took a deep breath. "All right. I will do it."
"Good." Angus turned to Phineas. "He'll be reporting to you. Take him away and make yer plans."
"Yes, sir." Phineas took hold of Stan's arm. "Let's go." He teleported away, taking the Russian with him.
Robby shook his head. "I should have killed him."
"Nay," Angus said. "He's much more valuable as a spy."
"We canna trust him," Robby argued. "Casimir could have sent him as a double agent. I should have killed him."
"Robby." Emma descended the stairs, frowning. "All this talk about killing - it's not like you. I know they did terrible things to you, and it breaks my heart, but - "
"I doona want yer pity," Robby growled. "And I'm no' sorry for what happened. It bloody well opened my eyes. We should have killed all the Malcontents years ago. I say we teleport to Moscow immediately and hunt Casimir down."
"We will." Angus motioned to Zoltan. "Call Mikhail in Moscow. Find out if there's any news about Casimir."
"Got it." Zoltan headed up the stairs, slipping a cell phone from the pocket of his black leather jacket.
"If it's still dark in Moscow, we'll teleport there right away," Angus told his wife. "If no', we'll go as far as our castle in Scotland."
Emma nodded. "I hope Stanislav was telling the truth."
"'Twill be bloody well impossible to find Casimir in Russia," Robby grumbled. "The place is huge, and he knows it much better than us. I think we should divide up - "
"Robby," Angus interrupted. "Lad, ye're no' going."
He stiffened. "Of course I'm going. My hands and feet are healed - "
"Nay," Angus said softly. "I can tell that ye're struggling, lad. Ye're slow and weak."
A flash of anger sizzled through him. "Dammit, Angus. I'll heal quickly, ye know that. By the time we locate Casimir, I'll be ready - "
"I said ye're no' going."
Robby squeezed the hilt of his sword so hard, his newly healed fingers ached. "Ye canna do this to me. I have the right to avenge myself."