Darker After Midnight (CHAPTER SEVEN)

THE ENFORCEMENT AGENCY hangout in Chinatown looked like the aftermath of a war zone. Mathias Rowan, current director of the region for the Agency, struggled to ignore the dull throb of his emerging fangs as he stepped farther inside the private club to survey the carnage. Blood covered everything, from the floors and walls, seats and tabletops, to the raised platform of the stage – even the damn ceiling was foul with the stuff.

"Hell of an hour to call you down here like this, Director Rowan, but I thought you needed to see for yourself," said the Agent beside him.

It would be dawn soon, no time for any of their kind to be away from their Darkhavens with the sun about to rise. But a thing like this could not wait. A thing like this – such reckless, unspeakably savage anarchy – jeopardized all of their kind.

"I contacted you as soon as my team and I arrived to discover the situation, sir." The Agent's polished shoes crunched in broken glass and scattered debris as he came to a pause beside Rowan in the silent, corpse-littered establishment. "The humans were all dead and the place was already vacated when we got here. By the look and smell of the place, I'm guessing it's been over for several hours now."

Rowan's glance traveled over the evidence of the violence and death that had gone on unchecked in the club earlier that night. That it was perpetrated by members of the Breed was obvious, but never in his hundred-plus years of life had he seen such brutal disregard for human life. The fact that the slayings had almost certainly been carried out by his fellow Enforcement Agents sickened him to his soul.

"And no one has come forward as a witness to what went on here?" he confirmed. "What about Taggart; isn't he usually manning the door most nights? He had to have seen something. Or any one of the other dozen Agents who frequent this place like it's going out of style?" "I don't know, sir."

Furious over all of it, Rowan wheeled on the Agent. "You don't know if they were here tonight, or you don't know if they're responsible for slaughtering these humans in the middle of goddamn Boston?"

"Um, neither, sir." The Agent's face blanched a bit under his superior's glare. "I wasn't sure where to begin with a situation like this. You were the first call I made."

Rowan blew out a frustrated sigh. The Agent was young, new to his post. Freshly promoted from the general ranks, he was afraid to step out of line or make a mistake. And he was devoted to justice, a rarity within the Agency these days, Rowan had to admit. He wondered how long the kid would maintain his sheen.

"It's okay, Ethan." He clapped the youth lightly on the shoulder. "You did the right thing here. Let's call in your team and start cleaning this mess up."

The Agent gave a brisk nod. "Yes, sir."

As he strode out to summon the others, Mathias Rowan took another long look at the bloodshed and death that surrounded him. It was heinous, what happened here. It was inexcusable. And he couldn't help feeling that the carnage bore the stamp of a villain he was coming to know all too well.


During the several months that Rowan had been covertly allying himself with the Order, he'd learned firsthand what Dragos was capable of – from the abduction and abuse of scores of innocent Breedmate females, to the recent attack on a local Darkhaven that took the lives of nearly everyone in that prominent Breed family.

And then there was the breach of the Order's secret headquarters by human law enforcement less than twenty-four hours ago.

More havoc instigated by Dragos.

Now this.

Rowan was certain Dragos was at the root of what went on here tonight. What better time for the devil to come out to play than when the Order had their hands full with a forced relocation of their compound and the surrender of one of their own to police custody? Rowan should have expected something like this. He should have been prepared to step in for Lucan and his warriors tonight, with half the Agency behind him.

Of course, that assumed half the Agency was still loyal to their oath of service. Rowan really wasn't sure about that, definitely not anymore. The Agency had not been without its share of problems over the many long decades of its existence. Bureaucratic, slow to move, far too political at times, it was the bloated, impotent cousin to the Order's lean, surgically precise efficacy as protectors of the Breed and humankind alike.

Corruption among the ranks was rampant, if festering below the surface. More and more, it was growing impossible to know who could be trusted. Good men did remain, but there were others – more than Rowan cared to admit – who hid their malfeasance behind a mask of Agency duty and authority. Dragos himself had been one of them, rising to one of the highest positions in the organization, and no doubt garnering a league of loyal followers, before the Order exposed him and sent him scurrying into deep hiding roughly a year ago.

No, Rowan thought grimly. There was no question that the mass slaughter tonight on Enforcement Agency turf was Dragos's way of pissing on both the Order and the Agency at the same time.

"Son of a bitch," he snarled into the tomblike silence of the club.

There was nothing to be done now, with morning about to break and the Order setting up temporary camp some five-plus hours north of Boston, but Lucan had to be informed of the situation.

Rowan pivoted away from the carnage and headed outside, passing the incoming team of Agents armed with body bags and cleanup equipment on his way to his vehicle. Once seated inside the sedan, he dialed a scrambled access line given to him by the Order. It rang through. "Gideon, it's Mathias Rowan," he said when the line connected on the other end. "We have a situation down here. Lucan isn't going to like it. Bad news, my friend, and it's got Dragos's name written all over it."

"SHIT, SHIT, SHIT." Tavia checked her watch again, impatiently waiting for the snarl of early morning commuters in front of her to step off the train at Boston's Government Center Station. It was almost 8:00 A.M., and she was late to work.

Definitely a first for her, although it wasn't as if she didn't have a good excuse. The stress of the past few days apparently was getting to her. She was still tense from the incident at the police station and Senator Clarence's odd behavior afterward.

The troubling dream hadn't done anything for her nerves either. While doubling down on her antianxiety meds had allowed her to sleep, it had also made her hit the snooze button on her alarm one too many times this morning.

She saw an opening in the slow-moving throng and dashed through it. Walking briskly, she crossed the snow-spattered bricks outside the terminal, rushing past a florist stand bursting with red and white poinsettias and evergreen wreaths. On the street, a brisk, cold wind blew, carrying the repetitive jingle of a Salvation Army bell from somewhere nearby and the smoky aroma of coffee beans and baked goods from the Starbucks on the corner. Tavia's stomach growled in response, but she headed in the opposite direction.

She tried the senator's cell phone, but it went straight to voice-mail, just as it had the two other times she'd called on her way into the city. He would be at the charity breakfast by now. Normally she would have double-checked with him first thing to make sure he had everything he needed for the event. Normally she would have been in the office for at least an hour already, getting a jump-start on the day's tasks while he was out courting his public.

Normally …

Nothing about the past few days seemed normal.

Not even close.

Tavia walked along the City Hall plaza toward the senator's offices, her head down, face dipped into the folds of her knit scarf as another wintry gust rolled up. She cut between the pair of towers and the squat government building next to them, hearing the cacophony of a gathered crowd even before she rounded the corner and saw the commotion.

News vans and camera crews from every local network and a couple of national cable channels lined New Sudbury Street like vultures. Police vehicles, not an unusual sight at the government offices when a large precinct sat directly across the street, were blocking the entrance and exit, shadowed by black federal-issued SUVs parked in front of the building doors and all along the arched fire lane at the curb.

Dread squeezed her stomach, turning it into an icy fist in her gut.

"Excuse me." Tavia approached a reporter from Channel Five who was fluffing her unmoving helmet of blond hair and performing a sound check. "What's happening here?"

"Get in line, honey," the woman replied. "That's what we're all waiting to find out. The police commissioner just called a press conference for eight o'clock."

Tavia stepped through the groups of hovering reporters and the gawkers who'd been drawn from around the neighboring streets by all the noise and activity. She weaved between the sea of bodies, trying to make her way closer to the building entrance where most of the police and federal agents had clustered.

Someone took sharp hold of her arm. "Ms. Fairchild."

"Detective Avery," she said, the kick in her chest relaxing a bit as she met the older man's sober gaze. "What's all this about?"

"Come with me, please." He walked her through the crowds and into the front entrance of the building. The lobby was busy with more uniformed officers and armed men in SWAT gear. The detective paused with her, his face fatigued, aging him even more. "When did you last speak to or see Senator Clarence, Tavia?"

The cold knot in her stomach got even harder. "Last night, when he dropped me off at home." "Do you remember what time that was?"

She shook her head. "I'm not sure. It was right after we left the police station. Has something happened to him? Is that what all this is about?"

Detective Avery braced his fists on his hips and exhaled a heavy sigh. "There's no easy way to say it, I'm afraid. Someone broke into his house overnight and … attacked him. He was killed, Tavia. He and a couple of his security guards as well."

"What?" She struggled to process the news, even though her instincts had already been warning her that something terrible had occurred. Shock crept over her – shock and disbelief. "This can't be happening. Senator Clarence can't be dead. He was supposed to give a speech today at a hospital charity breakfast …"

Avery laid his hand consolingly on her shoulder. "We're gonna catch this guy. Don't you worry about that, all right?"

She mutely shook her head, trying to make some sense out of the awful news. Looking for explanations, answers. "The man last night at the station – he warned that the senator was in danger. You heard what he said, didn't you? He said someone wanted to kill Senator Clarence. Someone called Dragos."

A harsh scoff sounded from beside her. Tavia looked over and met the hard gaze of a uniformed policeman who had drifted over while she and Detective Avery were talking. A scar split the dark slash of his left eyebrow, making his scowl look even more severe. "Nothing but bullshit out of that bastard. Shoulda pumped his skull full of bullets. Maybe that woulda kept him down."

At Tavia's confused look, Avery said, "The man we had in custody … he escaped last night from the infirmary."

"Escaped," she murmured. "I don't understand. How is that possible?"

"We're trying to figure that out ourselves. I saw the guy when he was brought out of the lineup room. He was in bad shape. Somehow he managed to overcome a two-hundred-pound male nurse, knocking him unconscious before slipping out of the building unnoticed. I mean, the guy shouldn't have been able to walk out of there on his own motor, let alone find his way to Marblehead to go after the senator like he did. I've never seen anything so brutal. So goddamn bloody."

Tavia swallowed past the lump of sadness and horror that had lodged in her throat.

"I'm sorry," Detective Avery said, looking at her in concern. "I realize you probably don't need to hear the ugly details. You've been through quite a bit yourself lately."

"It's all right." She drew in a quick breath, regaining her composure. "I'll be fine." "We'd like you to come into the station, if you feel up to it. We have some more questions for you, and the feds will want to talk to you as well – "

"Of course."

He gestured toward the door of the building, to where the reporters had seemed to multiply in the time since she'd been inside. "We can go now, before this place really turns into a zoo." Tavia nodded, falling in behind him as he and a small group of uniformed officers escorted her out to a waiting police sedan.

For a moment, as she stepped outside into the cold morning, she felt as though she were walking through a different world, one that didn't belong to her. There was an unreal quality to everything, as though she were peering through the gauze of a veil, unable to see anything clearly.

Or maybe it was simply that she didn't want to see.

She was unable to imagine the kind of man – the kind of inhuman lethality – it would take to do to Senator Clarence what Detective Avery had implied. She didn't want to think about the senator's final moments. She'd worked for him for years, knew he was a good man who believed he could make a difference. Sure, he'd seemed to be acting a bit odd lately. Detached somehow. Distracted. Who wouldn't be, after the shooting at his house just a few nights ago? A bullet that could have easily struck him but had instead hit one of his VIP guests. Drake Masters.

The name played through her head, and she returned again to what the man in the jailhouse lineup had said – that at the party he'd shot the person he knew as Dragos. The person he seemed convinced meant to harm or kill Senator Clarence. Someone who probably didn't exist except in his imagination.

It sounded crazy to her now, even in her thoughts.

All the more so when she considered how violently that same man in police custody had leapt at Senator Clarence the moment he saw him in the viewing room.

And today Bobby Clarence was dead.

A confessed killer, clearly deranged, was on the loose.

Suddenly the troubling dream that had woken her last night felt even more disturbing in the chilling light of day.

As the police sedan rolled away from the curb, Tavia could only hope that the scorching blue eyes and merciless face that she could still see so vividly in her mind stayed relegated to her nightmares.