( ix )
Red and Leila were driving to the third location. He had just gotten off the phone, as his agent perched on the roof of the parish just informed him that the sheep is still alive and well.
“Have you eaten anything yet?”
Red looked at Leila and shook his head as an answer. “Did you?” He asked her.
“I had my fill two days ago.” She looked at her phone where she kept track of her feeding schedule. “I am feeling a bit jittery though. I still have a couple of days before I reach frenzy. But I think I will be okay.”
Red knew Leila for most of his adult life. He has seen how Leila becomes when she remains unfed for too long. To call her violent at her hungriest would be a dangerous understatement.
“Bazin might have some care package in his fridge if you want some later.”
“That’s good to know!” Leila exclaimed. “How is the old man doing these days?”
“Still the same, but a touch angrier.” Red replied.
“He’s still pissed about the exile?” Leila asked with a touch of concern. “It’s the best we could do for him. He understands that, right?”
“He still blames me and Jean-Pierre for whatever happened.”
Leila looked down and after a pensive pause, she asked, “Is he angry with me?”
“He is over three hundred years old Leila. He doesn’t give a shit about the world and hates most people living in it.” Red paused. “But I don’t think he can bring himself to hate you.”
“I should’ve visited him more often.” Leila said with a hint of guilt.
“Wouldn’t make it much of an exile if you did.”
Red stopped his car and verified his GPS again to make sure he’s at the right address. This was no house, but a large mansion. A cast-iron gate and a tall green topiary fence blocked their way. He got out of the car and looked at the mansion. Some of the lights were lit and. A fountain with a statue was in the middle of a lush garden that looked like it was cared for. The gate had a keycard scanner similar to the one they had seen in the last residence. Red swiped his master keycard. But the door did not budge.
“That’s odd!” Red’s forehead creased.
“These keypads are usually installed by our subcontractors. A warden’s keycard should be able to open these doors. Unless…”
“Unless they hired their own people and changed the settings.”
“That’s a direct violation of the treaty.” Leila looked concerned.
“They are definitely hiding something.” Red looked at the locking mechanism in the middle of the gate. “You can’t break it without triggering some alarm. Jumping over it could also be…”
Red got startled by the screeching and crackling sound of bending metal. Leila bent the metal rods of the gate and made a big enough space for them to pass through.
A myriad of thoughts wanted to rush through Red’s mind, but this is not the time to be paralysed by analysis. In all likelihood, the one they are looking for, the culprit who had been feeding on people and made people disappear, the rogue, the feeder, who might be responsible for the unfortunate incident at the cemetery, might be waiting for them at the other side of the door. He made sure his gun was loaded and ready to shoot.
Leila knocked on the door. A blue-eyed elderly man of short stature opened the door enough to see his face.
“Who is this? How did you get in?” He asked furiously.
“Is this the home of Pierre L’Aubespine?” Red asked sternly.
“Never heard of him. Go away!” The old man looked nervous.
This time there are no fake badges or intricate false names presented.
“By the authority of Jean-Pierre Abélard, lord and caretaker of the Eastern Seaboard, open the door. We have some questions for you and your master.”
The old man shut the door on them loudly. Red looked at Leila and drew his gun out. Leila took her hand gloves off to reveal pointy razor-sharp claws that could tear through flesh. She kicked the door loudly to bust it open and caught a glimpse of the elderly man brandishing a shotgun on them. Red quickly pulled the trigger and shot three times at the old man’s chest. But the bullets didn’t hit their intended target. Before one could blink their eyes, a white object blurred past their line of sight and blocked the rounds aimed at the man.
“Stop!” The white object turned out to be a man barely past his twenties, wearing an archaic white shirt and pants held by suspenders, long silver mane running down his shoulders, protruding fangs peeking out of his mouth and glowing eyes red as an eclipsed moon. “It’s not his fault. If anyone should die for my crimes, it should be me.” The man uttered these words sincerely, as trails of blood black as tar flowed out of the bullet holes on his stomach.
Red, startled by this new development, now pointed the guns much higher, to the direction of the silver-headed man’s forehead: a clean shot.
“Pierre L’Aubespine, by the authority of our Lord and caretaker, you are under arrest. You are suspect of multiple disappearances and possible illegal feedings.”
“What? No! I haven’t done any of that!” Pierre L’Aubespine protested with a confused look on his face.
Leila looked dumbfounded. “You just mentioned that you ‘should die for your crimes’. What crimes are you talking about?”
Red kept his gun aimed at Pierre’s head, just as the old man took a step to his side and kept his shotgun aimed at the pair of intruders. Pierre dug his fingers deep into his wounds and groaned in pain as he took out three crushed and flattened bullets, and threw them on the floor.
“Thank God these are not silver.” Pierre rubbed his stomach wounds and looked at Red. “Why don’t we put down our guns and talk like civilized folks.”
“Master. I wouldn’t let them take you. Over my dead body, they will…” The old man rubbed his finger close to the trigger, his muscles tensed up.
“Just put down the gun, George.” Pierre commanded in a stern but tired tone.
The old man hesitated but knew best to follow his master’s orders. Red took his gun away from his sight but kept it close to his body, finger caressing the trigger in case he needs to fire. Leila put herself at ease from her attacking stance but had her claws ready.
“Why don’t we have a seat and talk.” Pierre pointed at a series of antiquated sofas and the pair noticed that the mansion interior was akin to a museum. The walls were adorned with masks, stuffed heads of various animals and a chandelier hooked on the ceiling, similar to those hanging from the roof ceiling of Versailles.
“I’m not falling for this trick.” Red wouldn’t move a muscle.
“There’s no trick. Please, be my guest, I will explain everything.”
“Explain it here.” Red was stern.
“We’re not alone,” Leila whispered. “We’re being watched.”
Red was about to point his gun one more time, but Pierre interrupted.
“Your friend is right. We are not alone.” Pierre tilted his head sideways and spoke loudly, with a tremor in his voice. “Natalie, my dear, could you please join us?”
There was a dual staircase that was at the extremities of the hall, leading the way upstairs to a corridor of connected doors. One of those opened with a creak and a pale-skinned, middle-aged, raven-haired woman wearing jeans and a black hoodie appeared. Her eyes had a similar red glow to those of Leila and Pierre but had a visibly frightened look.
“She’s not on the records.” Red muttered angrily as he looked at Pierre. “Who is she?”
Pierre looked at the woman with affection and answered, “My reason to live.”