One of the first rules in protecting someone is that they never go first. Your job is to keep the person safe, which means not putting them out into an unknown space Ideally, wherever they’re going, you take them from cover to cover, through a known environment where you’ve already identified the various possible approaches so you can intervene before a threat becomes a threat.
Tonight, Alice was going to have to operate under less than ideal circumstances. Where they were headed, they would need to be on foot. It would be dark, unfamiliar terrain. Alice didn’t know how Esther would react under the pressure of a physical threat, but what she had already heard about her behavior that morning gave her more concern than assurance.
The cold whipped across Alice’s face. Her exposed skin, what little of it there was, bristled at the assault, snow swirled around them and down the long drive leading up to the Lucas house.
As they walked down the hill to the street, the wind became less oppressive, and Alice could see that it hadn’t actually been snowing, that the white glittering through the air was all just loose snow kicked up into the street lamps. The snow in the air simultaneously illuminated the night while obscuring everything, reducing visibility to a few feet.
As they walked, Alice calmed down and began turning the conversation she had just had with Esther over and over in her mind. Something was bothering her about it. Why did Esther tell her all of that? It was useful information, no doubt, and exactly the reason she’d started trying to line up this sort of gig.
But Esther didn’t seem like the sort to just help anyone out of the goodness of her heart. There was a reason she shared the information she had. She hadn’t seen the photos, but she had maybe gotten enough details from the police while she was in custody to know how Janice had died. So she could well have understood that they were facing a vampire. And if she expected Alice was going to have to face one, that was enough to justify telling her all of that, but something still struck her about the conversation as not fitting.
When they reached the trees, she turned to Esther, who appeared to have been swallowed by her shaggy fur coat. At only a little over five feet, bundled aggressively into her parka, nothing of her was visible, only a shadow in the small aperture left open by her hood.She decided to go the direct route. “What do you know about vampire that killed Janice?”
Esther didn’t respond right away. She kept walking down toward the pond, through the barren branched trees that surrounded it. There was a walking path plowed through the narrow wooded area, salted and sanded, and their boots crunched in it as they walked.
After a few minutes of silence, Esther finally stopped and spoke. “You should know that I tried to protect Janice. She was a good student, patient, dedicated. But she didn’t listen to me. I had tried to get her to understand the dangers that were out there, and she didn’t take them seriously enough. We don’t go out alone for a reason. For this reason. And I’m not going to have your blood on my hands.”
“So you came out here with me to protect me? You know that’s not how this arrangement works. It’s sweet, but it’s not how this works.”
Esther started to respond, but then just shrugged and started walking again. Alice tucked her chin down under her coat. Her lips were cold. Up ahead, the rental building where Janice was killed began to emerge into view. Parked in front of it was a police car with its engine running and the interior lights on. Alice could see the outlines of two men inside.
Esther stopped and asked, “How do you want to handle this?”
Alice looked at the cops. “Them? They can’t see us. They’ve got the dome light on. They’re nightblind. We could walk right in front of them and they wouldn’t notice unless we knocked on the windshield.” She started walking again.
Esther followed, and they made their way to the window of the rental building, both them eying the cops as they approached. “Let’s just hope they don’t decide to get out for a piss,” Alice added. Esther looked at her disapprovingly.
The door was covered in police tape, but a quick tour of the outside of the building showed that one of the windows wasn’t fully locked. It took a few tense seconds for Alice to jimmy it open, but the police never noticed them. She helped Esther in, and followed after her. She closed the window behind them to keep the snow from coming in.
Glancing around, she could see the tower of kayaks from the pictures she had looked through. The desk was still in the center of the room, and the salt was still in the groove cut in the floor. Janice’s body was gone, but there was something of a vibration in the room that Alice could only just feel at the edge of her mind.
This was going to be a little tough, since they would have to do their search in the dark. The police would see any lights on in the building. She looked over to Esther to say “no flashlights,” but Esther was crouched down, speaking very softly and intently as she held a lit match to a candle. “You’ve got to be shitting me” Alice said.
Esther ignored her, lifting the candle up and shielding the flame around her hand. She stood where the light wouldn’t be seen from the window and continued to speak, saying words Alice couldn’t quite hear or understand. Wax began to drip down the taper and patter on the floor, and Esther stopped speaking. She gestured for Alice to step closer, and when she did, Esther held the candle up between them and blew the candle out with a quick puff. Alice flinched, closing her eyes reflexively as she felt the sting of the hot wax on her face.