Thomas’s senses evidently didn’t compete with mine, because the Black Court vampire was up to its shoulders in the Beetle before he choked out a startled, “Holy crap!”
I threw my left elbow at the vampire’s face. I couldn’t hurt the creature but it might buy me a second to act. I connected, snapping its head to one side, and with my other hand I reached into a box on the floor between the seats, right by the stick, and withdrew the weapon that might keep me from getting torn to shreds. The vampire tore at me with its near-skeletal hands, its nails digging like claws. If I hadn’t laid those spells on my duster, it would have shoved its hand into my chest and torn out my heart, but the heavy, spell-reinforced leather held out for a second or two, buying me enough time to counterattack.
The vampires of the Black Court had been around since the dawn of human memory. They had acres of funky vampire powers, right out of Stoker’s book. They had the weaknesses too garlic, tokens of faith, sunlight, running water, fire, decapitation. Bram Stoker’s book told everyone how to kill them, and the Blacks had been all but exterminated in the early twentieth century. The vampires who survived it were the most intelligent, the swiftest, the most ruthless of their kind, with centuries of experience in matters of life and death. Mostly death.
But even with centuries of experience, I doubted any of them had ever been hit with a water balloon. Or with a holy-water balloon, either. I kept three of them in the box in my car, in easy reach.
I snatched one up, palmed it and slammed it hard against the vampire’s face. The balloon broke, and the blessed water splattered over its head. Wherever it struck the vampire, there was a flash of silver light and the dead flesh burst into white, heatless flame as bright as a magnesium flare.
The vampire let out a dusty, rasping scream and convulsed in instant agony. It began thrashing around like a half-squashed bug. It slammed a flailing arm into my steering wheel and the metal bent with a groan.
“Thomas!” I snarled. “Help me!”
He was already moving. He tore his seatbelt off, drew up his knees and spun to his left. Thomas let out a shout and drove both feet hard into the vampire’s face. Thomas couldn’t have matched the Black Court vampire’s physical power, but he was still damned strong. The double kick threw the vampire out of the car and through the flimsy wooden wall of the guard kiosk outside.
The squeaky growling turned into ferocious little barks while the vampire struggled weakly. It tried to rise, its white-filmed eyes wide. I could see the damage the holy water had inflicted. Maybe a quarter of its head was simply gone, starting above its left ear and running down to the corner of its mouth. The edges of the holy water burns glowed with faint golden fire. Viscous globs of gelatinous black fluid oozed forth from the wounds.
I picked up another water balloon, and lifted my arm to throw it.
The vampire let out a hissing shriek of unmistakable rage and terror. Then it turned and darted away, smashing through the back wall of the kiosk without slowing down. It fled down the street.
“He’s getting away,” Thomas said, and started getting out of the car.
“Don’t,” I snapped over all the barking. “It’s a set-up.”
Thomas hesitated. “How do you know?”
“I recognize that guy,” I said. “He was at Bianca’s masquerade. Only he was alive back then.”
Thomas somehow grew even more pale. “One of the people Mavra turned?”
“Crap,” he muttered. “You’re right. It’s a lure. She’s probably hiding out there watching us right now, waiting for us to go running down a dark alley.”
I tried the steering wheel. It felt a little stiff, but it still functioned. Hail the mighty Blue Beetle. I found a parking space and pulled into it. The puppy’s barks became ferocious growls again. “Mavra wouldn’t need a dark alley. She’s got some serious talent for veils. She could be sitting on the hood and we might not see her.”
Thomas licked his lips, keeping his eyes on the parking lot. “You think she’s come to town for you?”
“Sure, why not. I cheated her out of destroying Amoracchius, and she was an ally of Bianca’s up until I killed her. Plus we’re at war. I’m surprised she hasn’t shown up before now.”
“Christ on a crutch. She spooks the hell out of me.”
“Me too.” I bent over and reached beneath the driver’s seat. I felt a fuzzy tail, grabbed it, and drew the puppy out as gently as I could. It was the insane little notched-ear pup I’d stolen back for Brother Wang. The puppy ignored me, still growling, and started shaking his head back and forth violently.
“What’s that he’s got in his mouth?” Thomas asked.
The puppy lost hold of whatever he was savaging, and it landed on the floor of the Beetle.
“Ugh,” I said. “It’s that vamp’s ear. Holy water must have burned it right off.”
Thomas glanced down at the ear and turned a bit green. “It’s moving.”
The puppy snarled and batted at the wriggling bit of rotted ear. I picked it up as lightly as I could and tossed it out. The grey and black puppy was evidently satisfied with that course of action. He sat down and opened his mouth in a doggy grin.
“Nice reflexes, Harry,” Thomas said. “When that vamp came at you. Real nice. Faster than mine. How the hell did you manage that?”
“I didn’t. I was trying to feel out this little nuisance after he started growling. I felt the vamp coming a couple seconds before it jumped me.”
“Wow,” Thomas said. “Talk about your luck.”
“Yeah. It’s sort of a first for me.”
The pup abruptly spun, facing the direction the vampire had fled. He growled again.
Thomas went rigid. “Hey, Harry, you know what?”
“I’m thinking we should get indoors.”
I picked up the puppy and scanned the darkness, but saw nothing. “Discretion is the better part of not getting exsanguinated,” I said. “Let’s go.”