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It looked like North Atlantic raging at the Devon coast, Kate told herself, recalling a childhood trip to Europe, and the enduring memory of the ocean pounding at those rough English rocks. Now, under the glare of the close-ranked floodlights along the Outer Drive, she saw the black lake reach a fist in past the wintry void, where summer knew a strip of sunwhite beach. Above the ice-draped slats of snowfence the fist shook spume at city and civilization, then crashed down, dissolving itself in an open-handed splash that washed across six of the eight lanes of forty-mile-per-hour traffic. The traffic wavered, minimally slowing, some of it skidding perilously in the freezing wet. If things kept on this way, the police were going to have to close the Drive.

Twenty or thirty yards inland, on pavement separated from the Drive and the reaching waves by a wide divider strip of frozen parkland, Kate's Lancia purred sedately south. Most of her attention was concentrated upon the task of reading addresses from the endless row of tall apartment buildings fronting on Drive and park and lake. The particular numbers she had been looking for now suddenly appeared, elegantly backlighted against a towering granite wall. She slowed and turned. The righthand curve of driveway went down to a basement garage, but she stayed with the left branch, rolled past two parked Cadillacs and a Porsche, and pulled up under the building's canopy.

Despite the heatlamps fighting down against the wind and cold, the uniformed doorman wore earmuffs above the collar of his winter jacket. His eyeglasses were so thick as to resemble frosted protective goggles of some sort. Taller than he, Kate swept in through the door that he held open for her, meanwhile pulling back the hood of her warm blue jacket from natural blond curls.

"I'd like to see Craig Walworth. Tell him Kate Southerland is here," she told the man when he had followed her into the lobby. A few moments later, after the intercom had brought down Craig's acceptance of her visit, she was alone in a small elevator.

If Joe were with her now, he'd be worrying about what the doorman was going to do with the car—or about something else, about anything, maybe just about dropping in on a party unannounced. But then if Joe were with her tonight, she wouldn't be coming here at all. Which, of course, was really the whole point. She hadn't made any commitment to Joe—not yet. If and when she did, things would be different.

And how they would.

Maybe the real point was the fact that she felt compelled to make the point. If she was so certain of her present freedom, why was she here trying to prove something to herself? She could have gone Christmas shopping instead. And she probably should have. For one thing she still faced the problem of a gift for Joe, who was certain to spend too much of his money buying one for her . . .

The elevator, having gone as high as it could go, eased almost imperceptibly to a stop and let Kate out into a small marble lobby from which two massive doors of handcarved black wood, one at each end, led to two apartments. A small decorative table, ivory colored to contrast with the doors, stood in the middle of the lobby facing the two elevators. On the wall just above the table there hung a picture, or perhaps it was a mirror, of which only an edge of antique gilt frame was visible. Someone had draped an old, worn-looking raincoat over it, perhaps thinking that the loser of the garment would be sure to see it there if he came back. He'd need something warmer than that if he came back tonight.

The right hand door stood slightly ajar, and through this opening came sounds of subdued partying: music, an alto laugh, a glassy clink, and voices murmuring. Kate pushed the thick door fully open and slowly walked on in. She stood in a brick-floored vestibule, from which two interior hallways led off at right angles to each other. A third wall was taken up by a great guest closet, open now to show a modest miscellany of coats and scarves, some fallen from their hangers. It didn't seem that any very large party was going on.

"Hi." The greeting was conspiratorially low. Simultaneously a black-haired, black-bearded head bobbed into Kate's view from two rooms down the hallway to her right. Craig Walworth was three or four years older than her twenty. No more than an inch taller, but so wide across the chest that he looked larger than he was. Often, as now, his shirt was worn halfway open down the front to display some hair and muscle; and he tended to have his large hands planted on his hips—one of them was there now, the other holding a drink—so that standing near him put you at some risk of jutting elbows. "Glad you could make it, Kate. I was starting to think you were really out of circulation." The drink he had been holding somehow already stashed away, he took her jacket as she slipped it off, and with a toss consigned it to the closet's minor chaos.

"You put out a standing invitation for Friday nights, Craig. I'm just taking you at your word."

"I'm just delighted that you are, Sweetie. Our little group here will never be the same—thank God." Craig's voice was still low, uncharacteristically near the whispering level, and now he glanced about, a man checking to see if he might be overheard. "Now listen, Doll, there's a little house rule I've got to mention before you join the group."

"Rules? That's not quite what I would have expected at your parties."

"Well, you see, it's not your basic expectable kind of rule." As they talked, he had started her moving down the hall toward the still rather muffled sounds of partying, with an arm round her waist that she somehow minded more than the expected cheek-kiss following. "The thing is, everyone—except me, of course—takes a new name for the evening, and pretends to be someone other than they are. Sabrina Something, and I'll say that you're an old friend of mine from Canada. How's that?"

"Well, I did think of becoming Sabrina once, believe it or not. When I was about thirteen years old."

They had now come to a room where four or five people were gathered, all standing, as if none of them had been here very long. Kate so rarely remembered names the first time round that sometimes she was tempted to give up trying; and since these were supposedly all aliases anyway, she made no effort to retain anything from the round of introductions.

Beside Kate stood a tall girl wearing an odd shawl who wanted to find out how much Kate knew about Tarot cards. When she heard the answer was nothing at all, she wanted to explain them at great length. Kate tried for a little while to make sense of it, and then, as the group shifted, took the first opportunity to move away. She was offered a drink, declined, then thought that the next time she would accept. In the background she could hear a heavy door, probably the front door of the apartment, being firmly closed. Craig had excused himself, and was somewhere around a corner, talking on the phone.

"Try a joint?" This from a stocky young man with thick glasses who had not been in the group the first time round—no doubt there might be other people she had not met, in other rooms; it must be a huge apartment. The man making the offer got too close, and stared at Kate intensely. Being given a man's full attention is a thrilling experience for a woman—well, sometimes. Hadn't she seen him somewhere else recently? But she had no intention of asking that aloud.

Kate puffed twice and put the thing down. As expected, she felt nothing from it just at first. The few times that she had tried, in school, nothing at all had happened to her. The few times after that had always resulted in a pleasant high, with slow onset and letdown. She wouldn't be surprised if it was nothing at all again tonight; quite likely she was just too keyed up, too nervous, though why she should be . . .

". . . play games in a little while, you know, identities and such." Craig was back at her side, finishing a statement whose beginning Kate had somehow missed. "And someone else is coming, Sabrina, someone I want you to meet. I've mentioned you to him, and he's very interested."

"Oh? My Canadian background?"

Craig's eyes were sparkling with some inner amusement under their dark brows. But now his attention was forced away by someone else, a blondish boy with a loud mouth, who had some interminable anecdote to tell him, as one insider to another. Craig responded with off-hand but deliberate insults, which the loud one laughed at foolishly.

Kate almost tripped over the tall girl, then sat down beside her on the thick, burgundy-colored carpet. "What sort of games is he talking about?" Kate asked. The girl said something Kate couldn't catch. Very loud music was starting in the next room. The Pointer Sisters?

Upon the wall that Kate was facing there hung an Escher print, the circle of lizards crawling up out of the flat surface of the drawing-within-the-drawing, crawling up and around an improvised ramp of books and geometric solids, to ease themselves at last down into the flat again, where in three shades of gray their bodies formed a tessellated pattern. Kate willed for a moment to lose herself in the intricacies of the plan, but her mind was too restless.

She looked around abruptly, with the feeling that someone, no one she knew, had just called her real name: a loud, rude calling in a strange man's voice. But no one else seemed to have noticed it at all. And the voice seemed to have come, now that she thought about it, directly into her mind, not through her ears. Dear Kate, she warned herself, neither you nor Sabrina had better smoke any more tonight.

Restlessness pulled her to her feet. A bar-on-a-cart offered bottles and glasses and ice. Shouldn't mix with the other stuff, but just a taste was not going to do her any harm. In her hand, a glass half-filled with white wine, she wandered, mocking a slinky tall-model walk, up to a window of very solid, unopenable glass that looked out far above the endless chains of headlights and taillights of the Drive. Beyond the few additional streetlamps that were scattered through the park, the lake stretched out to the edge of everything, a vast black invisibility like death.

One of the nameless boys she had just met came to the window too, ice cubes tinkling in his glass like Christmas music. God, the shopping she had yet to do. What was she here for, anyway? Trying to prove a point to Joe, who didn't know where she was, and who, when she told him, would fail to get the—

Her name again, but still unspoken.

Looking down a vista of the apartment's archways, Kate saw a huge, dark-haired man standing gazing toward her. An early Orson Welles, but harder-faced, in a brown coat made of one of those rich fake-furs, like her own blue. Or maybe in his case the fur was real. He was standing there as if he had just arrived, though if her sense of the place was right, he was nowhere near the front entrance.

With a vague feeling that it was important, necessary for her to do so, Kate turned from the window and walked toward the newcomer. No one else seemed to be paying either of them the least attention. The Pointer Sisters grew louder still, then faded abruptly as a door somewhere behind Kate was closed. She was alone with the huge man in the hallway—no, not quite alone. From the corner of her eye Kate saw Craig walk out of another doorway to her left. Craig fell into step beside her as she walked the last few strides toward the big man who stood waiting.

They stopped. Craig put his hands on his hips, then at once let them slide off to hang fidgeting at his sides. "Enoch Winter," he said, almost whispering again, "this is Kathryn Southerland."

The huge man said something (what?) to her in an offhand sort of greeting, and she replied. He was really massive, and Kate was reminded of when she had met an All-American defensive end: perfect proportions, but blown up larger than real life seemed to have the right to be.

Enoch Winter's dark hair was slightly curly, and worn shorter than that of most young men. There were only the beginnings of lines in his face. Still, at second glance Kate would not have called him young if she had had to set down a description. His eye were gray-blue, his broad, pale cheeks a little blue with what would be heavy stubble in a few hours if he let it grow. He was smiling confidently at Kate, and all but ignoring Craig. He spoke to her again; once more she somehow could not grasp what he had said.

There was a brief distraction as the short young man with thick eyeglasses appeared from somewhere to stand at Kate's right, looking on in silence. The four of them in the hallway were closed off now by doors on every side. Beyond the closed doors, the sounds of the party went on.

Enoch Winter spoke, and Kate stared at him, straining to understand. His voice was loud enough. And she thought the pot would not take hold of her tonight. She shouldn't even have tasted the wine.

He chuckled, perhaps at something he had just said himself. He didn't seem to notice that she could not comprehend what he was saying. Or else he did not care. With a faint inward start Kate realized that Craig and Thick-glasses were no longer at her sides. They had gone away somewhere, leaving her standing in the shut-off hall with Enoch winter, who talked and talked, to her alone. She must not ever let her attention waver from him for a moment, must not . . .

His whitish hand, raised, was so big that the great dark stone that rode one finger in a silver ring seemed not only modest but scarcely adequate. Just past his waving hand Kate's eye caught sight of a phone on a hall table, and it came to her with desperate force that there was something she must do at once.

"Excuse me a moment," she broke in clearly. "I've got to call home right away."

". . . hafta do that for?" His accent was midwestern, vaguely rural. All of a sudden he wasn't happy any more.

"I have to. That's all." Walking to the phone was the most utterly wearying thing that Kate had ever done. She managed to do it, though.

". . . careful whatcha say. All right." Enoch's voice had regained some of its good humor, and now good-humoredly he fell silent.

Kate punched at buttons. She could hear the phone at home start ringing, and then a familiar voice.

"Hello, Gran. I just wanted to tell you . . ." What could she say? What was she able to say? "I didn't do any shopping after all. So I couldn't get those things you wanted."

"Well, goodness, dear. Don't worry about it. You sound upset, are you all right?"


"Well, I expect I'll be going out myself tomorrow, I can do my own shopping. Where are you?"

A leaden pause, in which Kate could feel her own mind groping. Crawling. Trying to get free, but leashed. "Downtown," she got out at last. It was almost the truth, the closest thing to truth that she could manage.

"Take care now, Kate, they say the roads are very nasty."

As she cradled the phone Enoch started talking to her again. In this case it really was flattering to have such concentrated attention from a man, attention of a kind she could not get often enough from Joe.

Somehow or other they now were standing by the guest closet and Enoch was watching while she put on her blue jacket. In some far-off room of the apartment voices were cheering now—probably a game was being played. Craig was here again, though, to see them out in silence. Enoch tossed a—condescending?—wink at Craig, whose own face displayed a vast . . . well, admiration, as though for something Enoch was doing or had done. Kate puzzled over all this while she walked out to the elevator, her hand on Enoch's arm.

Going down with Enoch, she thought for the most part about nothing at all. While he perhaps was thinking of her, for once or twice he put out his huge, pale hand and brushed her cheek with it, rather as if she were something that he had long coveted and had just allowed himself to buy. She wouldn't like it if Joe behaved so possessively. But this was different . . . of course.

The elevator let them out in the subterranean garage, and there was her Lancia, keys and all. Kate slipped into the driver's seat, Enoch waiting till he was invited to get in on the right. There was no doorman to be seen, but gates opened ahead of them and out they went, into the cold and up the curving driveway.

Kate drove, without having to think of where to go. As before, Enoch talked, and it seemed to her that she could not understand a word. White needles filled bright globes of air around the streetlights. In some clear corner of Kate's mind the thought occurred that nothing she had ever smoked before had hit her this way. Once the situation struck her so ridiculous that she began to laugh, and laughed so hard and wildly that it was difficult for her to see where she was steering. Enoch spoke sharply to her and she calmed down. Then it was his turn to laugh, loudly and heartily, evidently at something Kate had just tried to say. The trouble was that something in his laughter hurt Kate's ears, so she wanted to put her fingers into them, but instead she had to go on driving.

They had already turned inland, away from the lake, leaving the Outer Drive and the Gold Coast behind. Was this Diversey she was following now? She wasn't sure. Probably they were farther south. Presently she turned again, going where she had to go. Here the street lamps were fewer, and gave a different light, wan and wintry. It was surprising how in the city the neighborhoods could change from one block to the next.

Now here was where they were to stop. Certainly no doorman here, in fact not even a break in the row of dull vehicles parked along the frozen curb. Near the end of the block a fireplug-space at least was open, and Kate halted just ahead of it and started to back in.

A car just behind them turned into the same space headfirst, jounced to a halt there just as Kate also hit her brakes. At the moment both vehicles had a tirehold on the precious space, but neither could occupy it.

She turned to Enoch helplessly. There was an abstracted expression on his face; he opened his door and got out. His head vanished from Kate's view, but from the attitude of his body it was plain that he was facing back into the glare of their challenger's headlights. Cold air swirled in through the open door to paw Kate's legs. An engine gunned behind them; the other car was backing away. Enoch slid in beside her again and closed the door, the look on his face unchanged.

Kate parked the car—must have parked it, though the next thing she was aware of was walking along the cracked and narrow sidewalk beside Enoch, whose arm encircled her but brought no warmth. The footing was treacherous, half uneven pavement, half blackened ice in old refrozen mounds, all under a powdering of new snow. When had she ever felt cold so intense before?

They passed beneath an ancient neon sign humming to itself and sizzling with unplanned flashes. A man went by them, his face as hard and his clothes as grimy as the street itself. Suddenly there were two wooden steps, a narrow door that yielded to Enoch's shoulder, and now at least the wind was gone.

The cold kept pace, though, as they walked up stairs, bare wood creaking underfoot beneath the gritty crunching of a layer of grime. It would be terrible to have to face a night like this alone, but she would not, no, she would not. She clung hard now to Enoch's arm.

He used a key, then brought her through a door into a room of utter cold, a wretchedly furnished room, dark but for pale streetlight coming in through an undraped window. Kate saw smeared glass, one broken pane with rags stuffed into it.

"You'll have to hold me," she whispered, shivering violently. "I'm here and I can't help myself, you know. At least hold me so I won't be so cold."

He laughed. When he spoke now she could hear him plainly. "Oh, I'll hold you, okay. You'll get to like it here. Think of it as home, maybe, even. Wise little rich-bitch." He had closed the door and was standing right in front of her. "You think you know just what is gonna happen now. But you don't know at all, at all."

Then he seemed to descend upon her like a great slow wave from the black lake.


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Title: The Vlad Tapes
Author: Fred Saberhagen
ISBN: 0-671-57878-2
Copyright: © 2000 by Fred Saberhagen
Publisher: Baen Books