Cristiãn / Page 8 of 8

It's not blood that excites the vampire, it's the container.

Cristiãn

Chapter 25/Denouement

Cassidy started listening to the messages on her cellphone after she merged onto the I-95. She deemed only one of them to be of enough importance to make a return call. After listening to all the messages, she dialed her parent's home. The call was picked up after three rings.

"Hi, Mom," Cassidy began. "I'm going to be late getting home today. Can you or Jared go get John and Cynthia?"

Cassidy listened then responded to her mother's reply.

"Yeah, I'm sorry, but I'm going to be really late. But I'll be there."

Cassidy listened to her mother again.

"Okay, thanks, Mom, and tell Dad I'm sorry for being late."

They said their goodbyes and then Cassidy put her cellphone down to concentrated on her driving. Today was her father's birthday. She, her brothers and their families were scheduled to have dinner at their parents' house. She suspected Jared was already there or on his way. His shift with the NYPD started later that evening at 11:15 p.m.

Cassidy had given no thought to her father's birthday for most of the day. Her life or death fears had marginalized all her personal commitments—except for her children. The events of the day had her worried for them far more than usual. The thought of dying made her wonder who would care for them and how well they would do the job. She feared that James was ill equipped to be a good father, and the advancing age of her parents made them unlikely alternatives. The thought of one of her brothers stepping in to raise her children was an even less likely scenario. This worry repeatedly entered her thoughts over the course of the day, but it was not the only fear she had concerning her children. She also worried what their lives would be like if the city, and possibly the world, became infested with vampires. And it was that concern alone that gave her the strength to confront the vampires.

Cassidy was not sure that she had brokered a successful agreement with the vampires. She knew that the possibility of them increasing in number was more possible now that she knew of their existence and their identities. She feared that an expansion of their numbers might be a reflex response to the threat that she represented to them. Despite that fear, she knew she had taken the only course that had a chance of preventing their numbers from growing. She had no doubt that Razvan and Dumitra were going to develop their own clique of vampires in secret and expand the weight of their influence within the world of humans. And she feared that exposing the existence of the vampires to the world would incite all of them to barter their capacity for turning mortal humans into immortal vampires in exchange for shelter and security.

The fact that the vampires allowed her to drive away with knowledge of their existence gave Cassidy hope. She saw it as evidence that they trusted her to keep her word, but that did not convince her that they would not change their minds later. She also feared that Razvan was not bluffing. If he did arrange for his dossier to go public after his and Dumitra's demise, then the other vampires would have no reason to be preferential to her and every reason to despise her.

Cassidy wrestled with these fears and thoughts all the way back to Staten Island. The rush hour traffic made the drive twice as long as it would have taken an hour earlier. She first went to her home to shower and change clothes. The exertions of the day made her feel unprepared for a social engagement, but she quickly readied herself for the evening. A half hour later, she hurried out of her house, got into her car and drove off without hesitation.

It took Cassidy approximately ten minutes to reach her parent's street. The traffic made her drive slightly longer than normal. Seconds after turning onto their block, she watched the car behind her do the same. She had been aware of the vehicle for the past several minutes but thought nothing of it. Her drive was short and the car simply looked to be traveling in the same direction for a portion of her journey. It was only during the last minute or so on the way to her parents' house that the car became interesting enough for special notice. It had moved up through traffic and was separated from her by one car, then it followed her into the right lane. She could not see who was in the car, but she could tell that there was more than one person inside.

Despite the identical lane change, Cassidy was not convinced that there was a need for her to go on the defensive. She chided herself that it was just a coincidence and made the right turn onto the narrow residential street where her parents lived. When the car followed her onto that residential side street, her concern rose substantially. When she saw who was inside, her concern elevated to alarm. Her fear caused her to consider driving past her parents' house and leading them away. She quickly decided that would be a wasted effort since the occupants of the car following her either had her parents' address or the means of acquiring it now that they knew what block to search. She also suspected they followed her from her home and that confronting them was the best way to protect her kids.

After parking her car in a space as near to her parents' house as possible, Cassidy unbuttoned her dress coat, removed her handgun from its holster, checked the weapon for sufficient rounds and then put it back in its holder. Her holster was affixed to her belt just above her right hip and concealed from view beneath her dress coat. As she checked her weapon, she watched the vehicle following her pass by and park in an open space three car lengths ahead. Cassidy quickly stuffed her father's birthday present in her left overcoat pocket, then she hurried out onto the sidewalk and stood facing the mysterious car with her coat unbuttoned. She fixed her stare on the vehicle so that the occupants would have no doubt that she knew they were there. The front doors of the car opened a second after the engine shut down.

Nadja stepped out from the front passenger side followed by Petru on the driver's side. It was late in the afternoon. The sun was partially below the horizon. The entire block was bathed in the shadows of the buildings on the west side of the street. Despite the lack of direct sunlight, Petru and Nadja wore sunglasses. Petru closed his door, moved around to the passenger side and leaned against the back half of the car. Nadja closed her door and started moving toward Cassidy.

"What do you want?" Cassidy called out when Nadja came to within five yards of her.

Nadja came to an abrupt stop when she saw Cassidy thrust her hand beneath her overcoat.

"Hey! Don't shoot!" Nadja exclaimed, bringing her hands up chest high. "I come in peace."

Cassidy was neither convinced nor amused. And with a cold stare, she kept her hand under her coat and on her gun while repeating her question.

Nadja first glanced to her left and then to her right in a way that suggested she was uncomfortable shouting her answer.

"Permission to approach?" Nadja queried without projecting her voice.

Nadja lowered her hands then waited on a reply. She noticed Cassidy's reluctance to answer one way or the other.

"If I wanted to hurt you, I wouldn't do it on a city street in the daylight," Nadja plainly stated.

Cassidy considered the remark for a moment then removed her hand from her coat and dropped it to her side. Nadja smiled pleasantly at the sight and then walked calmly forward. She stopped a foot away from Cassidy.

"Thank you for saving my brother," Nadja almost whispered.

Cassidy consider her gratitude for a moment before commenting blandly.

"I didn't do it for him."

Nadja returned a wide smile just short of a grin.

"What are you grinning at?" Cassidy asked with annoyance.

Her question reinforced Nadja's mirth. She took a moment to let it subside a bit and then responded.

"Oh, it's just that I now know four women that my brother has been willing to give his life for: me, my mother, Constantia and now you. I find that very amusing."

Cassidy was slightly flustered by her answer. She had no glib or dispassionate response. The idea that Cristiãn was willing to die for her melted her façade of indifference. Nadja noticed her subtle change and then spoke into her silence.

"Lucian is very excited about this deal you made with us."

"Deal?" Cassidy returned with a confused look.

"Yes," Nadja said with a smile. "He's looking forward to working with you."

Cassidy was more confused behind her reply.

"Working with me?"

"Yes," Nadja replied with a hint of excitement. "Some of us were really worried that all hell was going to break loose. But now that we have you to keep the unruly members of our alliance on the reservation, we're breathing a little easier."

"And what is that supposed to make me, your vampire agent?" Cassidy challenged.

"If you like," Nadja answered with a little mirth and indifference.

"I don't like," Cassidy nearly growled back.

"Well, like it or not, I think you're stuck with it," Nada returned. "Razvan and Dumitra would never have done what they did if this agreement with you had been in place. They were able to intimidate us because we had nothing to hold over their heads. But you are a threat that none of us will dare challenge. Lucian is quite pleased with that."

Cassidy could not respond. She understood what Nadja was saying, but it was not a situation she wanted nor a situation that she could casually dismiss. She took several seconds to consider her situation. As she stood before Nadja thinking, Angela Holtz hurried up and stopped alongside and between the two of them.

"Cassidy!" Angela greeted with an abundance of excitement. "It's been so long. How are you doing?"

Angela Holtz was one of Cassidy's childhood acquaintances. Their association as children was limited due to a two-year age difference, but they were aware of each other and had many friends in common.

"Hi Angela," Cassidy greeted with a meek smile and a nod.

"I heard your name on the news a few days-ago. I turned to a friend and said, 'I know her,'" Angela continued to gush with enthusiasm. "It's so good to see you again. I heard that you were a police officer like Aaron and your little brother, but I didn't know you were a detective."

"Yes, almost two years now," Cassidy returned with a marked absence of enthusiasm.

Cassidy maintained her close face-to-face position with Nadja as she responded to Angela with sidelong glances and brief turns of her head. This fixed posture between them soon caused Angela to feel out of place. She glanced at Nadja several times as she spoke and smiled profusely. After Cassidy's last low energy remark, Angela looked toward Nadja with a broad smile. Nadja returned the look while briefly tipping her sunglasses down to display how annoyed she was with the interruption. Angela quickly noted her displeasure and reacted.

"Well, it was great to see you again," Angela said nervously. "Bye."

"Goodbye," Cassidy returned with a quick look in her direction as she walked away.

Cassidy immediately turned her eyes back to Nadja after saying her farewell to Angela. They looked at each other for several seconds without saying anything. Cassidy was waiting to hear everything that Nadja had to say, and she wanted to see her drive away. When a slight smile curled up on Nadja's face, Cassidy tired of the wait.

"Is there anything else?"

The question incited Nadja to smile even more. Cassidy's defensiveness caused her much amusement. She took a moment to contain her glee.

"You know, Detective, you've made some friends, and I am not the least of them."

"I have enough friends," Cassidy countered in an angry tone.

Nadja reacted with a wisp of a grin before responding.

"None the less, you've made some new ones. And if this gamble works out, I wouldn't be surprised if the alliance agreed to turn you into an immortal if you asked."

"No thanks," Cassidy returned sharply.

"Are you sure about that?" Nadja countered with a smile. "I believe I can convince my brother to do the honors."

Cassidy hesitated to respond. She had no desire to become a vampire, but her affection for Cristiãn stopped her from saying no decisively. This conflict had her befuddled. After a moment of thought, she managed a reply.

"I have a family. I have children," Cassidy blurted out. "That's too much for me to give up."

Nadja reacted to her reply with a pleasant smile. She held it for several seconds as she examined Cassidy with approval.

"Elisabeta was fifty-seven years old when she was turned into a vampire. Lucian was seventy-two. They were married mortals for thirty-two years before they were turned. A vampire turned Lucian, and he turned Elisabeta. Before our incident with the cave, they had been mated immortals for more than four centuries. They are the oldest of us. The change gave them back their youth and their vigor. It sustains us at the peak of our vitality. Vampirism is a cure for most things that would kill a human. That includes… decrepitude."

Nadja paused to give weight to her statements.

"Trust me, Detective Tremaine, there will come a day when you will have nothing to lose. And if I'm around when that day comes, I may ask you this question again."

Nadja paused again and gave Cassidy a knowing look.

"Between now and then I suggest you think about your answer," Nadja finished with a smirk.

Cassidy did not know what to say. She only looked at Nadja with a bewildered expression. Nadja held her smirk and gaze on Cassidy for several seconds and then she turned and walked away. Cassidy watched as Nadja and Petru got back into their car and drove away. When they were gone from sight, Cassidy took a moment to ponder all that she heard over the last few minutes, and then she turned and went into her parents' house. Inside, she found her children, siblings, sister in-law, niece, nephews and parent's eating at the dining room table.

"Happy birthday, Daddy," Cassidy greeted a few seconds before hugging her father and kissing him on the cheek.

As Cassidy was sitting down at her parent's table to celebrate her father's birthday, an unusual event was occurring across town. Inside a large freezer chest in an illegal drug lab setup in the basement of a small apartment building located next to a two-door auto repair garage, Tony McGuire was waking up.

THE END