bloody. What a terrible waste."
He didn’t mean of Doug, of course. He didn’t know Doug, and Claire doubted he would have really cared. No, Myrnin was talking about the waste ofplasma. Which made Claire shiver, and reminded her again that no matter how cute and cuddly Myrnin could sometimes be, there was something about him that just…wasn’t quite right.
Not for a human, anyway.
"Frank!" Myrnin yelled, making her jump. "Do you have any insights to share? At all?"
Frank Collins’s voice came out of every speaker in the room–the old radio set in the corner, the newer TV mounted on the wall, the computer on the antique desk, and Claire’s own cell phone in her pocket. "You don’t have to yell. Believe me, I can hear you. Wish to hell I could shut you off."
"Well, you can’t, and I need your particular expertise," Myrnin said. He sounded smug and a little bit vindictive; Myrnin didn’t like Frank, Frank didn’t like anybody who drank plasma, and the whole thing was just plainweird.
Because Frank Collins, Shane’s dad, had once been a badass vampire-hunting criminal, and then Mr. Bishop had made him a self-loathing vampire, and now he was…dead. She was listening to a dead man speaking over the radio.
Well, notdead , exactly. After Frank had died saving Claire and Shane, Myrnin had scooped out his still-sort-of-living brain, stuck it in a plasma bath, and hooked it up to a computer. Frank Collins was now the brain that ran Morganville, and, thankfully, Shane didn’t know.
Claire could honestly not imagine howthat conversation was going to go when he found out. It made her ill to even try to imagine it.
"This would go easier if you’d show your face," Myrnin said. "Please. You may be assured that by please , I meando it , or I’ll put an injection of something nasty in your plasma."
"Myrnin!" Claire blurted, wide-eyed. He shrugged.
"You have no idea how difficult he’s been lately. I thoughtAda was a problem, but she was positively the model of decorum next to this one," he said. "Well? I’m waiting, Frank."
In the corner, a faint shadow appeared, a blur of static that resolved into a flat image on the three-dimensional background. He wasn’t bothering with a color image; maybe Frank thought shades of gray made him look more badass.
If so, he was right.
His computer image looked years younger than Claire had last seen him. He had grungy good looks, though his hair was long and messy, and he still had a wicked bad scar on his face. He was dressed in black leather, including a jacket with lots of silver buckles, and big, stomping boots. "Better?" his voice asked. The image’s mouth moved, but his voice still came in surround sound from the speakers. "And if you mess with me, I’ll hit you back, you bloodsucking geek. Don’t think I can’t."
Myrnin smiled, fangs down. "Well, you cantry ," he almost purred. "Now. Let’s have a chat about the
criminal elements of Morganville, since you have such a fine and intimate acquaintance with them."
Frank’s 2-D avatar didn’t have much in the way of facial expression, but, then, Frank in 3-D form hadn’t been big on emoting, either. His voice, however, was full of sarcasm. "Always glad to be of help to the vampire community," he said. "We all know there is no crime in Morganville. And the humans are all just happy to be here. It’s paradise on earth. Ain’t that what it says in the brochure?"
Myrnin lost his smile, and his dark eyes got that dangerously hot look that made Claire nervous. "I suppose you think you’re irreplaceable in your current position," he said. "You’re a brain in a jar, Frank. By definition, you are eminently replaceable."
Now Frank’s avatar smiled. It seemed just as artificial as the rest of him. "Then pull the plug, if you think you can do better."
Myrnin’s gaze slid to Claire, and she felt that chill again, the one that rushed from the bottom of her spine right up to the top of her head. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. She knew he’d always thought she was a better candidate for the brain-in-a-jar thing–which meant he thought she’d be easier to control. Frank had just been at the right, or wrong, place at the right time to take her place.
That could always change.
Frank must have figured that out, too, because he said, "You touch my kid’s girl, and I’ll end this miserable town. You know I can."
"Ada couldn’t pull that off, and she had much longer to think about it than you have," Myrnin said, suddenly back to his old self. "So let’s abandon the empty threats, shall we? And get back to the subject. I need to understand who in this town might be willing to kill for a sample of vampire blood."
Frank’s laugh was dry and scratchy and full of contempt. "You want me to print out a phone directory? Between the people who want to figure out how to kill you faster, the ones who want to protect you because they have money riding on it, and the ones who just dig the whole undead look, it could be anybody."
"A list of anyone who is known to be making antivampire weapons, then," Myrnin said with icy precision. "And anyone who might possibly be researching how to use vampire blood as a drug."
"That ship sailed last century," Frank said. "Everybody knows it makes a crap drug. No real high to it. Makes you stronger for a while, but it’s got no bump, and the fall’s worse than steroids. They tried combining it with other stuff, but there’s nothing you can add it to that vampire blood won’t break down in a hurry."
Silence. Myrnin was surprised, Claire realized; he hadn’t known humans had even thought about any of this. And it bothered him. If it botheredMyrnin , it would make the other vampires crazy. "How far back does this go?"
"It was already old news when I was in high school." Frank shrugged. "People kept on trying, but nothing ever worked. So I think you can write off the drug angle. Now, the killing-your-kind-better motive…that I can believe. It would have been at the top of my Christmas list."
Frank was still identifying vampires asyou , notus , which was interesting. He’d been a vampire a relatively short time, and Claire knew he’d been forced into it; it wasn’t something he would ever have
chosen for himself. He took a special delight in seeing the vamps one-upped.
"Then I’ll need a list of those people," Myrnin said. "We’ll need to interview them."
The word came out flat and final. And it rang on the cold stone of the lab’s walls and floors, until Myrnin repeated it very softly. "No?"
"No. I was one of them, and I’m not going to put their names on a piece of paper for you and yours to go out and hunt down."
"Maybe your son knows," Myrnin said. He said it in a very offhand way, and without looking at Claire. He was staring at Frank’s flickering image. "Maybe I should ask him instead. Forcefully."
Frank’s image shifted, and Claire could actuallyfeel the menace coming off it now, like an icy wind. "Maybe you shouldn’t even think about going there."
"Oh, I do," Myrnin said, and raised his eyebrows. "I think about it quite a lot." There was something fey coming out in him in response to Frank’s defiance; it was something Claire hardly ever saw. Maybe it was a guy thing.
She picked up the first pointy thing that came to hand–a pair of scissors–and jammed them against Myrnin’s back, notinto his back, stabby-wise, but enough to make an impression.
"Ow," he said absently, and looked over his shoulder at her. "What?"
"Leave Shane out of it," she said very quietly. That was all. No explanations, no threats.
Myrnin turned very slowly to face her. That strange, uncomfortable light in his eyes was still glittering, but as he stared at her, it faded, like someone turned down a dimmer switch. "All right," he said. "Since you ask so nicely."
"I wasn’t asking."
"I’m aware of that. The sharp point in my back did make it clear." He caught her wrist in one of those lightning-quick vampire motions and took the scissors away from her. He put them in the pocket of his lab coat. "Wouldn’t want you hurting yourself."
"No," Claire said. "You think that’s your job."
A quick flash of a smile, not a very nice one, and Myrnin turned back to Frank. "All right, my unpleasant friend, we’ll have done with threats, both yours and mine. Please, for the sake of young Claire here, will you be so kind as to provide me with a few places where I might look for a murderer?"
"The mirror’s a great place to start," Frank said. "But if you’re talking humans, I can give you maybe two names. We’d be better off if they were off the streets, anyway."