Patricia liked laboratories, especially at night. The dark slate tables were clean, the room was quiet and only quiet noises intruded; a centrifuge, the air conditioning, the hum of her PC. Only rarely did she hear from the animal labs down the hall. Even the most restless subjects were usually asleep by now.

Patricia smiled as she tapped away on her keyboard. She had forgotten how peaceful research could be, when it went well. As usual, she was the only technician on night shift, her fellow employees thought she was mad to work such a shift...

She scrolled back through the last few lines of the letter she was writing to Bob while she waited for the latest blood draws to be ready.

I have a new job, she had written. Iím working for Shaeffer Pharmaceuticals now that the statute of limitations has expired on that unfortunate incident before my Embrace. The only thing I was ever grateful to Michael for was that he paid off an outstanding malpractice suit. It would have been a little difficult to get hired if that was still hanging over my head.

But the research community is desperate for experienced help. Iím a glorified technician running tests on the blood of some poor benighted lab animals, busywork really, but at least I can pursue my own projects during the slow hours...

And that was why she had finally decided to return to the job market - at least, thatís what she was willing to tell Bob and the rest. She didnít like to remember that she had also been driven there by financial need. So much to do, so little ready cash...she had sighed to herself as she distributed resumes.

Once she had managed to get an interview at Shaeffer, the rest had been laughably easy. A Kindred can get almost anything they want from a mortal. She had alternately charmed and pushed her way through the interview. The only tricky part was ensuring that she wouldnít have to take a drug test. She frowned as she thought of that. She wasnít sure how long her suggestion that the administrator accept a bribe was going to remain in place, visiting him again might not be a bad idea. Whatever, she had things to do now.

She saved her letter onto a disk and turned to the now-still centrifuge.

If this oncogene treatment works out, Iím going to have to exercise my stock options. She mused as she prepared slides. This stuff would be worth more than itís weight in gold...

 

A few weeks had passed and Patricia, much to her annoyance, was confused. The initial results from the experimental oncogene inhibitor had exceeded all expectations, albeit with some potentially worrying side effects, but now...

Thirty percent of the subjects have come out of remission. She noted on her machine. Why? No clue. Patricia didnít like that. She felt a certain pressure to demonstrate that she could keep up with the demands of the job, that she had to prove that her medical abilities hadnít atrophied over the decades, and now she felt they had. Am I missing something, or is there a genuine flaw in the treatment? Why has it shown up now, so late in testing?

Shaeffer, she knew, was working on the FDA to obtain permission to go to Phase 3 testing, which would be performed upon human subjects. Permission for Phase 3 practically guaranteed the drugís approval. So far, the drug, which inhibited the reproduction of cancer cells had worked almost like magic, with one major drawback. The oncogene had a tendency to effect kidney function, encouraging nephritis and, occasionally, kidney failure. This was the one major hurdle Shaeffer Pharmaceuticals still had to get past before going on to the next step. Side effects were expected in any new drug, especially chemotherapy, but the FDA would tolerate only so much.

Patricia was quite sure that Shaeffer wasnít going to be entirely honest with the FDA about these side effects, but she didnít particularly care. This job was primarily a mean to an end of her own, and she was too occupied with her own research to wonder what her bosses would and wouldnít tell the government. She knew it wouldnít be the first time. Look at Prozac, she told herself.

She stared at her computer screen and drummed her fingers on the lab table.

"Why would this treatment lose effect now, with these subjects?" She frowned. "I wish I knew more about the lab situation." Indeed, most of these questions she had been asking werenít part of her job description, but professional curiosity based on her own observations. All her job description demanded was slide preparation and the occasional cell count. But she couldnít resist the temptation to indulge her curiosity. Who was going to know?

However, not being an official part of the loop meant she knew very little about any lab procedures and testing that had occurred prior to her arrival, or even after it, if it happened during the day shift, as most research did.

She shrugged. "Time to poke around some." she told herself. The convenient thing about working graveyard shift was that there was rarely anyone to tell her where she couldnít go.

The lab records she could obtain without any problem, she decided. She was cleared to access the work of her daytime counterparts, but going beyond that might be difficult. She doubted any of them kept notes like hers. Well, not where she could get to them.

A few moments of keyboard clicking brought up what she wanted: all of the lab reports from the entire testing of Shaeffine, as the drug was named for marketing. Stupid name, she thought in passing. But I suppose Oncogene Inhibitor doesnít sufficiently communicate to the unwashed masses exactly whoís saved their life. She shook her head. Pride goeth before the fall.

Patricia ignored any records more than a month old and focused on when she noticed the sudden increase of remission, three weeks ago.

"Oh crap, what a mess." she muttered. Many of the test animals had been steadily failing for several weeks, some of them had wildly fluctuating levels of illness, and a few of them were just fine, they were still responding to the treatment. But a significant percentage of them were sick again, and were under the same controls as the others.

To her relief, her associates had noticed this also, sheíd hate to think she was overreacting. Their notes, in cool, careful scientific language translated to "Beats us. Whatís going on?" The general conclusion was that the development guys (always blame someone else, she thought harshly) had missed something major and now, with regret, it was back to the drawing board.

Frowning, Patricia resumed her finger drumming. Something wasnít quite adding up and she couldnít tell what it was. Címon, Trish, part of her wheedled. The drugís fucked and the animals are dying. Like they said, back to the drawing board. Who cares, anyway? Youíve got those tissue samples of your own to take care of, get back to work. Patricia shook her head at this train of thought.

"Itís become a challenge, now." she almost smiled at such sentiment. "Besides, it makes a nice break. You never know, I might find something out." she sighed. "That would be a change, Trish discovers something to the benefit to mankind." She was silent for a moment and then laughed. "Iíve got to quit doing that. Justin would kick my ass."

Remembering what she was being paid for, she performed minimal duties for the next half hour and returned to her desk. A pox on this Neissan stain, Iíll never get it off my fingers, she thought absently, rubbing inky blue fingers against her lab coat.

She stared blankly at the reports still glowing on her PC, and decided to keep looking. A few seconds later, she had the project chiefís monthly report brought up. Paul Dexterís tone was certainly more cautious and conciliatory than his inferiors, but, then, Patricia realized, he had to face the bosses and explain why Shaeffine might not make them millions. He wanted to continue the research and discern where the drug was failing, and try to counter it. It certainly might be cheaper and quicker than returning all the way back to the beginning.

What was he saying last month? She wondered. Things were just beginning to fall apart, then... She navigated her way through the network and found the report for June.

"Okay..." She re-read the concluding paragraph from Juneís report. "Should these latest results be the beginning of a trend, I am very doubtful that the project can be continued, and I would have to recommend returning Shaeffine to development. It is to be hoped that this is merely a momentary mishap, one that can be identified and remedied with minimal time and effort, but I still have my doubts"

Whereas, in July, he had written: While this new trend is worrying, I believe it would be more effective to continue testing and identify the factorís inhibiting Shaeffineís efficacy, rather than abandon the project.

"Maybe he panicked in June." Patricia muttered. "Well, heís chilled out now." she realized. Maybe he really does think the problem can be fixed. But he sure as hell didnít think so in June. What gave?

"Riddle me this, riddle me that." Despite herself, she liked that movie. "Some initially bad results come in and he freaks. I donít blame him for that. Shaeffineís been in this stage for months. Itís too damn late for this kind of shit to be happening now. But a month later, things are worse and he wants to continue testing. Something stinks. I think. I hope." she added. "Then again, maybe he just vested his stock options in May and now heís afraid itís going to go up in smoke."

She took the slides that she had stained and stared at them through the microscope, making notes as she did.

"Yeah, everything still stinks." she looked at the note on one slide. "Iím surprised number eightís still alive." she commented to herself, continuing with her work.

 

I donít see much alternative, Patricia typed several days later. Iím up against a wall, but Iím still sure that somethingís not right. Iím going to have to observe how the labís been running for the past month. She stopped typing and sighed. Psychometry wasnít particularly difficult, but it could be draining when used on the scale she was contemplating.

No use putting it off, she realized. The janitor wonít be through for at least two hours.

She left her quiet lab for the much less quiet animal containment area. It was only two doors away from her.

As always, she was struck by the foul smell of the lab. Every effort was made to keep things clean, but animals have a tendency to stink, no matter how sterile the surroundings. Some of the test subjects were awake and made noise at her presence. They knew this wasnít the usual time for them to get poked by sharp needles, or worse.

Patricia could almost feel sorry for them. Better you than me, she thought, remembering her own research. Apparently there were mortals out there doing the same things to the Kindred as she did. She thought this very presumptuous of them. It would be like a monkey vivisecting a human, what could they learn?

She sat down in one corner, where she could see most of the lab, and began to look into the labís past...

 

"Miss Montfort? Are you okay?" Patricia realized that the a lab tech was tentatively shaking her awake.

She yawned, convincingly, she hoped, and blinked a few times for good luck. "Oh, Iím fine..." she struggled to remember his name. "Keith. Night shiftís wearing me out more than I thought." And why are you setting off a little alarm in my head?

"Yeah, well, it takes a while to adjust." he smiled. Patricia carefully reached out towards his mind.

...damn doctors shirking while Iím working my ass off Dexter and them think theyíre so smart but heís gonna be in trouble anyway if they knew about that but I donít care as long as I got a job... Patricia let go. Somethingís there.

"I guess youíre right." she smiled back. "Well," she stood up. "Back to work."

She left the silently seething janitor and headed back to her own work area. Of course, thereís work and thereís work. Keith thinks Dexterís in trouble, does he? Iím surprised he even hears any office gossip.

Keith Robertson was much lower than Patricia in the office hierarchy, and she felt she rarely heard anything of value. Then again, she had a habit of tuning it out. She had enough gossip in her life.

Once she had returned to her lab, she belatedly realized that she had less than an hour left on her shift. Examining the past had taken longer than she thought. She hadnít noticed anything unusual, no animals not receiving treatment, or being abused, although she had caught a glimpse of a liaison between Dexterís assistant and one of the technicians. Patricia decided sheíd save that for the office party.

But the interfering technician had brought one memory to light.

It was early one evening a few days ago, about six thirty or so. Most of the staff had left for the day, just Dexter and his assistant were left pottering around the animal area, consulting charts and making notes. Then Keith came in to take care of bio-hazard waste and Dexter wasnít glad to see him, made a point of looking straight through him.

Patricia was almost willing to believe that this was just a natural reaction to an almost worthless employee, but she knew Dexter was big on the fashionable office egalitarianism that currently infected most work environments. Dexter had a nauseating habit of trying to be friends with every staff member he came in contact with. She had managed to rebuff him with a cold "I drink human blood." when he had asked after her hobbies. And he thinks I was joking, she smiled.

Patricia sighed, very tired. She had spent far too long peering into the past, and it had worn her out. Glancing at the clock, she decided to call it a night and return to her haven.

 

The next evening Patricia, much refreshed after an early visit to one of her favorite blood dolls, returned to the lab feeling ready for anything.

"Okay, itís not something going on in the lab." she told herself. "So it must be something with the drug. Is someone tainting the stuff, maybe?" She doodled on her notebook cover for a moment, trying to think of reasons why someone would do such a thing. "There are three reasons for anything in the universe, love, money and power." She frowned. "I think I can rule out love." she decided. She doodled some more. "Money and power..." she muttered.

It could be a spy from a different company, stealing and selling the stuff. Or trying to copy it. But they must be stealing a lot to guarantee these results. And why hasnít anyone caught on to the missing supplies? Or it could be an attempt to ruin Shaeffer. Or it could be stolen and sold to cancer victims. That wouldnít be new. She realized.

"Crap." she muttered. "Thatís not cool." Okay, itís hypocritical of me to say so, but if some jerk is selling Shaeffine and not telling them about the side effects, if the thief even knows about them... Thatís wrong. She shook her head. Must be Liamís influence. Next thing you know, Iíll be helping little old ladies across the street. Yeah, right.

"Conclusion." she announced. "Go check the supply. I even have clearance for that..." That would make things easier.

 

Patricia swore and slammed the heavy metal door shut. Not a thing out of place, not one misplaced label, not a needle hole where one shouldnít be, every little bottle lined up and happy as could be.

"Damn, damn, damn."she spat, crumpling the several sheets of paper she carried. It would have been so much easier if stuff was missing off the shelf.

She walked slowly back to her work area. The inventory on file matches whatís in there. Unless, of course, someoneís gone to the trouble of cooking the books. Surely they would have thought of that.

Patricia didnít pay particular attention to the fact that she had decided that she was on the trail of some malpractice. A little voice in the back of her mind chanted caution, but she ignored it. This was too much fun! In a grim sort of way...

She stopped in the corridor and slapped her forehead a little too hard.

"Ow!" she smiled. "Dummy!" she turned back the way she had come. "Check out the supply closet!" she scolded herself.

Returning to the supply closet, Patricia considered the best way to go about this. She leaned on the door, deep in thought and hoped no-one would stop by wondering why she wasnít at work.

Sighing, she rested a hand on the keypad/doorlock and asked herself Whoís been here?

The answer came, provoking a curse. "Keith!" she exclaimed, startled. Thereís no way in hell heís cleared to go in there Heís a glorified custodian. She reached for the keypad again. What PIN did he use?

Patricia received her answer and almost ran back to the relative safety of her lab. Even though she considered herself familiar with all forms of corruption, she was still surprised.

Dexter! Keith used Dexterís PIN to get in there! She had determined this by memorizing the PIN Keith had used and then looked for another person using the same number. Less than a dozen people had access to those supplies, so the answer had come easily.

She tried to rationalize a way Keith would have her bossí access without his consent. He could have seen Dexter use it and decided...no...she shook her head in frustrated realization. Keith having Dexterís PIN is one thing, but I saw him replacing vials with replicas. Could he have thought of this himself? Is someone helping him? Could a hacker access our PINs?

Patricia banged an angry fist against a lab table, upsetting a microscope. Whatís in the vials? Saline or poison? Iíll have to grab one. She thought for a moment. What the fuck, itís nearly time to dose the beasts, anyway. She realized. She left her desk and reluctantly returned to the steel bound walk-in closet.

Does Dexter know whatís going on? If he doesnít, then whoís helping Keith? Heís not doing this alone...and what the fuck can I do about this without getting burned?

She took the necessary supplies, including a vial she knew to be a replacement. Holding it up to the light in the corridor, she could see no difference. "Looks like every other vial of muck we have." she shrugged.

Treating the lab animals was such a routine chore as to be absolutely boring. Patricia absently noticed that subject number eight had finally gone on to better things. Probably got too much of the bad stuff. Patricia decided.

Back at her desk, with two vials in her pocket, Patricia righted her microscope, hoped she hadnít broken it, and prepared a slide. To the tiny drop of suspect Shaeffeine, she added an equally small drop of something from a beaker on the shelf above her, and waited.

A long minute passed, Patricia staring at the slide the whole time, not even bothering with the microscope. Nothing happened.

Patricia sat back in her chair and heaved a sigh. Nothing happening was prove enough. The fluid she added to the sample should have reacted to the presence of a certain protein in Shaeffeine and turned a very ugly dark purple. She tried the test again, with a sample she knew to be genuine. The expected reaction occurred in seconds.

She rested her chin on a hand and returned to the question sheíd been asking herself all night. What do I do now?

One idea came to her. I could send out a general e-mail reminding everyone to be careful about their PINs. If anyone asks, Iíll tell them my phone card got ripped off or something. Itís going to provoke a lot of self-important indignation...fuck Ďem. She thought gleefully. Those complacent bastards need shaking up anyway.

With this thought cheering her, she returned to her computer.

 

Patricia stared at her computer, worried about other things. The declaration of a self styled prince in the all too anarchic Kindred territory she liked to reside in worried her, and the apparent defection of almost all of Clan Tremere had her near panic. If the reports she had heard of Mr. Greenís death were true, things were going to go from bad to worse. Dammit, he was necessary to her plans! Without him, Tremere could only become more stable...

And to add to that stress, Berkeley was going through one of its episodic fits of trying to recall its glory days. She wasnít sure what the students and disgruntled wanna-be radicals were hurling bricks and setting fires about, but it upset her deeply, especially the fire setting part. She was glad she had moved her haven further away from campus before this had started. Most of downtown Shattuck Avenue, her former haven area, had been damaged in some way. Her current address on College cost her almost more than she could afford, but it was a much quieter, older, neighborhood. Fewer fires.

She tried to force herself to focus on her job, the Shaeffine problem, Bootsieís blue eyes, anything, but failed. Well, Bootsie was usually a good distraction...she shook her head. Concentrate! She commanded herself, to no avail.

Patricia had just started to write out a few desultory words on her latest lab report when the warning struck her. More than once, the peculiar danger sense she possessed had saved her life and she knew better than to ignore it now. As the door to her lab was pushed slowly open, Patricia moved quickly away from her work area and crouched down behind a lab table, taking care to hide herself carefully. Whoever was coming in shouldnít see her.

Keith entered the room, dressed in his usual outfit of jeans and tee shirt, and carrying a large sports bag. Patricia didnít understand how he could be a serious threat until she caught the faint scent of gasoline about him. Keith placed the heavy shoulder bag on the table next to her computer and looked around.

"Damn." he muttered quietly. In her hyperalert state, she heard him as clearly as if he had shouted. He unzipped the bag next to him and the scent of gasoline grew stronger. Keith wrinkled his nose as he noticed it. "Oh, shit." he swore. "Must have spilled some."

Patricia decided that she had heard enough and began moving carefully towards the door, still watching Keith. He had pulled a small point-and-shoot type camera out of one of the bagís side pockets. "Might as well play the part." he said to himself. He flipped open one of the many folders on Patriciaís desk, pointed the camera at it and took a picture.

Patricia swore as the flash blinded her for too many seconds and she felt herself stumble over a stray stool. The stool clattered to the floor and Patriciaís vision cleared in time for her to see Keith, startled, face her.

"Oh, Miss Montfort." he said quickly, lightly forceful. "I didnít see you."

Patricia decided to try to brazen it out. "Itís Doctor Montfort." she reminded him stiffly. "And what are you doing here, Keith, with a can of gasoline?"

The blood drained from his face. "I donít know what youíre - oh hell." he grabbed at the sports bag, reaching for something inside.

Patricia didnít think, she lunged at him and caught him in a clumsy tackle. Her momentum pushed both of them onto the work surface that ran around the perimeter of the room and upset several of the shelves above them. Bottles and beakers fell on them in a chaotic rain of glass and liquid. Shaking stinging liquid out of her eyes, Patricia took a firm hold of Joeís throat in one hand and grabbed his hair with the other.

"What are you trying to do?" she demanded. Now was not a time for niceties. She wondered if she could reach for the straight razor in her pocket and decided against it. He was bigger than her, and her advantage was tenuous.

Keith had also been soaked by the upset shelves, his face and shirt were sodden. His breath was coming in ragged, nervous gasps. Patricia had great difficulty resisting the urge to show her fangs to encourage him to talk. Damn Masquerade... She tightened her grip on his throat.

"Come on, damn it! I know youíve been stealing Shaeffeine! Why?" she shouted.

Keith swallowed several times, she could feel the convulsive move of his larynx under her hand. She allowed her grip to loosen slightly, realizing that heíd need his breath to talk. He seemed to be on the verge on speaking when she felt his body stiffen and saw his eyes roll back.

"Jesus Christ! No way! Not again!" Patricia felt a terrible deja vu. She released him, pushed him down to the floor and examined him.

Keithís body was contorted and twitching in a seizure. "That makes a change." Trish growled to herself. Still watching the seizure and realizing, with the cold medical mind that never left her, that there was nothing she could do, she dipped a finger into one of the many puddles on the floor, brought it close to her face.

Inhaling carefully, Patricia smelled many chemicals.

Her eyes scanned the ruined shelves as Keith quietly died on the floor. Sure enough, the glass beakers belonging to her own project had been amongst those upset. They were tissue samples preserved in formalin, a fluid that was invariably fatal upon ingestion, or even overexposure to the fumes of an open container.

Patricia sighed and gave a cool glance at the corpse on the floor. He was the threat she had sensed and now that he was gone, so was her disquiet. The tissue samples werenít particularly important. Most of them had been taken from her own body, anyway, and could be easily replaced, but it was going to be difficult to explain to her boss why there was formalin in a lab that had no need of it...

 

"Most people, Miss DeMontfort, go through their entire lives without killing anyone." Detective Second Grade Milne stated blandly. Patricia didnít bother to correct him, tried to return his dull look, but was seething far too much to be successful.

Detective Milne must have read too many Dashielle Hammet novels, Patricia decided. The five oíclock shadow, the ugly shirt and the stench of cigarette smoke was just too theatrical for her to believe. The note scratching partner in the corner was beneath Patriciaís notice. His name was Taylor or something, but Milne was the one she had to worry about.

"Your point?" she asked tightly. She didnít like this setup at all. The tiny interrogation room of the East Oakland Police Department reeked of unpleasant things and Patricia was very aware that dawn could be no more than an hour away.

All hell had broken loose at Shaeffer Pharmaceuticals. Once Patricia had ascertained that Keith was quite dead, she had called security and notified them of his presence, while taking care of the chemical spill. That in itself was inconvenient, as formalin and one of the other spilled substances was classified by the FDA as a biohazard. Those bloody chemical pillows...like throwing ice at a firestorm...Patricia had insisted that no-one else enter the room without protective clothing, aware that what may be uncomfortable for her (and the formalin that had soaked through her skin had made her feel ill) was probably fatal for ordinary humans. As for her own survival, she pleaded extreme luck, and the panicked security guard was too distracted to contradict her.

Milne bristled, he didnít like death, under any circumstances, and he had already decided that he didnít like this doctor. Accidental death or not, she shouldnít have been so complacent. So he had gone to the trouble of inquiring about her past while she was left waiting, furious, in the squadroom. The computer had turned up a couple of very interesting tidbits.

"My point is that youíve killed two people so far in your life and Iím wondering how you feel about that."

Patricia was ready to snap. It was bad enough that dawn was close, it was bad enough that she had to expend huge amounts of effort pretending to breathe and blush, it was even worse that she knew Dexter was waiting outside to have a word with her about her unauthorized research, but now she had to cope with some arrogant mortal who wanted to drag out old skeletons.

"Both of those deaths were accidents." she said carefully, trying not to shout. "And if you voice any other theory in front of witnesses..." her voice trailed off. She realized that threatening a detective with a torn throat was unsubtle and potentially hazardous to her health.

Milne raised an eyebrow. Hit a nerve there, he thought, finally. "Then why did you leave the country after-" he consulted his notes. "Mr. Valinís death?"

Patricia put her head in her hands. "Wouldnít you?" she asked quietly. Milne didnít answer. "His death was an accident, but it was my fault." she admitted. She looked up at Milne "No charges were filed," she continued. "And the suit was settled out of court, quite generously, I thought."

"Yeah, it was. Where did you get five million dollars from, Miss DeMontfort?"

"Montfort." she said shortly. "Iíve dropped the first syllable. Sounds pretentious."

"Whatever." Milne said roughly. "You still havenít answered my question."

"I donít see how this has any relevance to tonight." she snapped.

"Call it curiosity." he smiled lazily.

"Screw your curiosity. Curiosity isnít a valid reason for holding me here. Iím tired, Iím upset and Iíd like to go home. Surely any questions, even your curiosity can wait until tomorrow?"

"No, they canít wait." Milne snapped back. "Iím investigating some ugly industrial espionage thing with a corpse and Iíve got to find the truth behind all this shit. It canít wait."

Patricia glared at him for a long moment, calming herself with the thought of Milne kept in a small cage, covered in tumors and being given a placebo. "Iíve given my statement. Why do you think Iíve got more to add?"

I donít, you stupid bitch, but I have to follow procedure! Milne thought furiously."Gut instinct." he replied.

Patriciaís imagination turned to the state of his intestines. This is almost amusing. She forced herself back to the present. "Well, youíre wrong." she said simply. "I have no idea why Keith decided he wanted to torch the place. Maybe he just got laid off?" she suggested.

"Weíd thought of that already, thanks." Milne muttered.

"Well, thatís the only idea Iíve got. Can I go now?" Patricia stood up. Milne gazed levelly at her.

"Alright, you can go, but expect another call from us." he told her.

Patricia smiled. "Oh goody, do I get jack-booted thugs tramping through my apartment too? Remind me to flush the drugs." I hope he thinks Iím kidding.

"Good idea." Milne said darkly. He knew the circumstances behind Valinís death, and wondered how a former (supposedly former, he reminded himself) drug addict got a job at a pharmaceutical company. Heíd call her back later and ask about that. Right now he had the lab boss, Dexter, and the big boss, Shaeffer himself, waiting outside. Not to mention his own boss was bitching about why the fuck this shit was going on in Oakland, why couldnít it happen over in some well staffed precinct. Like one exists, Milne thought wryly.

Patricia made a show of brushing herself down before she left the room. Milne decided he really didnít like her, but he had more important things to think about.

 

Patricia did her best to breeze past Dexter, but failed miserably. The hallway was too narrow and too well lit for her to even try one of her tricks, and she got the distinct impression that Dexter had been watching the door like hawk since he had arrived.

"Patricia..." he began. His attempt at grace made Trish want to retch. "If we could have a word."

Patricia scowled and considered the alternatives. She shrugged. "Okay."

Dexter seemed surprised by her assent and paused for a moment, considering his words. "I was wondering what formalin was doing in that lab." he said finally.

Patricia gave him as insolent a look as she could muster. She was feeling reckless. Go for broke, she decided, and get the fuck out of here while he recovers. She leaned towards him, so only he could hear. "It must have slipped by me while I was wondering what Keith was doing lifting Shaeffine out of the supplies with your PIN number." She whispered.

Dexter couldnít hide his surprise. He looked at her, suddenly nervous. "I like this job." she continued. "But itís a little dull, so I have my projects to pass the time. If Iím allowed to keep myself busy, maybe Iíll forget to mention this to the cops. Of course, if I were to get fired for my recreational pursuits, Iíd have nothing to lose, would I?" she concluded, glaring at him.

He swallowed nervously and Patricia could smell the all-too familiar odor of fear about him. Well, that confirms that. "Youíre vermin, Dexter." she told him. "But Iíve encountered worse. I donít care why youíve been doing it. I donít care if your mother is dying of cancer. Stop lifting the shit, or Iíll come after you one dark night." she smiled the smile that had once scared a Gangrel. "I could. Iíve killed before, maybe itíll become my new hobby." Dexter backed away from her, into the cold concrete wall. "Understand me?"

He nodded convulsively. She kept smiling. "Good." she told him. "Iím going home now. Iíll be back on shift tomorrow. After all, weíve got a disease to cure."

Feeling much better, Patricia left the precinct station.

 

The next evening, Patricia made a belated realization. How did Keith and Dexter know I was onto them? They must have known it was me, that arson attempt was planned right at me, or, at least my lab with the computer and notes....There were easier ways to destroy computers, though. A magnet on the hard drive would do that.

Patricia resisted the urge to start throwing things around her haven. Well, there were the tapes from the security cameras. All those would have shown would be her taking a nap in the animal lab one night. Her other actions were completely in line for a lab technician.

So how could they have known? She didnít leave fingerprints anywhere unusual, nowhere where she wouldnít be expected to. In fact, to her knowledge, Kindred only left lousy partials which had long been the bane of forensic experts.

As she was stamping around her house and cursing the empty air, she finally noticed the light blinking on message machine. Her mind elsewhere, she pressed the playback button and heard Detective Milneís voice.

"Miss, ah, Doctor Monfort." Patronizing asshole, she thought in passing. "This is Detective Milne over at the East Oakland station, and I was wondering if you could come in for another...talk. Weíve got a couple more questions weíd like to ask you. You can call me at 702-6461 anytime." Click.

Patricia glared at her machine for a long minute. "If I donít go, Iíll probably get dragged in." She concluded. "I might as well act like a co-operative citizen."

But she did take the time to destroy several incriminating substances in her bathroom before leaving the house.

 

"How well did you know Keith Robertson, Miss Montfort?" Milne asked without preamble once Patricia had sat at his desk in the East Oakland squadroom.

Patricia thought carefully before answering. Milne obviously hadnít been home since they had last met. He still wore the same ugly shirt and the acrid smell of him was cloying to Patriciaís acute senses.

"Not at all." she told him. "He was some type of custodian with lab access. I know he had to take care of biohazard disposal and general clean up. I never knew him as an individual. Iím not in the habit of being friendly with my inferiors." she concluded coldly.

Milne didnít rise to her implied insult. "Well, he knew you somewhat better." he told her.

Patricia was surprised. "How so?" she asked carefully. Oh please, not another psycho stalker. Iíve seen enough of those in my life...

"He had your picture in his wallet. Do you have any idea why heíd have that?" Milne was watching her carefully now.

Patricia tried to hide her disquiet. Other than that Iím an example of a mythical creature? No idea... She stifled a nervous laugh.

"Maybe..." she said slowly. "Sounds like Robertson might have been some nut-case who decided to fixate on me. And we know how such fixation leads to arson attempts." she said wryly.

Milne glared at her. "Yeah." he muttered. "Well, I had to ask. He had your picture in his wallet, a can of gas and an illegal gun with him when he encountered you. You sure you donít have any ideas?" Milne asked roughly.

"An illegal gun?" Trish asked. "How so, illegal?" Gods, I hope he just means "unlicensed".

"That really isnít relevant." Milne told her awkwardly.

"It might be." she insisted.

"It might not. The photo is much more relevant." he insisted.

"Oh really?" she asked, scornful. "What was it, a copy of my Shaeffer id?"

"No, it was this." Milne removed a plastic evidence bag from the desk drawer and placed it in front of her.

Patricia picked it up and examined the photograph sealed inside. She had difficulty suppressing real surprise. The photo was taken on the street, it looked like Shattuck Avenue, some evening. Patricia was across the street from the photographer, partially obscured by parked cars and street people, walking somewhere. What bothered her wasnít the location, or even the fact of the photoís existence, but that the image of her as she actually was, not her with a carefully aged face, the face she wore around mortals, now that she knew how.

She didnít look at Milne. "It canít be me." she said carefully. "Sheís too young." she continued.

"Thatís what I thought." Milne agreed quietly. "At first I thought it was an old photo, but look at the ad on the side of the bus moving out of frame." An advertisement for the film "Mortal Kombat" was partially visible. "So it canít be that old, can it? That movieís been advertised for what, three weeks?"

Patricia retained her grip on the photo. "So I have a double somewhere. Itís not that unusual." she insisted.

Milne seemed immune to her insistence. "Maybe not, but the odds of your doppelganger hanging around Berkeley, too? And for Robertson to confuse you with a woman twenty years younger?"

Patricia quelled her rising panic. I can get out of this. She assured herself. She finally looked up at Milne. He was waiting for some kind of explanation.

"This photo is a mistake." she insisted. "Itís not me, how could it be me? Iím going to take this and Iím going to leave. This conversation didnít happen, this piece of evidence doesnít exist." She hoped the suggestion would take.

Milne frowned. "You can wish all you like, Miss Montfort, but that is a piece of evidence, and itís staying here."

Dammit! Just once I would like things to go my way! She raged internally. She scowled and Milne looked at her strangely.

"Do you usually go through life trying to wish stuff away?" he asked.

"Yes." she said sharply. "Youíd be surprised how often it works." she added. "Whatís the deal with Robertsonís gun?" she asked suddenly.

Milne frowned. She reached out towards his mind and overheard him contemplating the potential harm in telling her that Robertson was carrying an unlicensed Glock loaded with incedinary rounds. He decided not to tell the whole truth, but that didnít surprise Patricia.

"Just that it was unlicensed, and probably a street gun." he shrugged. "We wondered where Robertson would have the connections to get that." he added unnecessarily

Patricia was once again fighting down an urge to flee, and she felt very close to losing. "Beats me." she said, somewhat dishonestly. "Look, I donít know why this freak decided he wanted to come after me, or my bosses. Iím feeling really creeped out right now." That much was the truth. "Could I go, now?"

Milne sighed. He did that a lot, she noticed. "Alright, if youíre sure you have nothing to add."

"Iím sure. Really I am." she assured him. "If I was being stalked, youíd be the first to know." In a pigís eye. "But I guess thatís sort of irrelevant now." her attempt at levity was lost on Milne, but she realized that it was rather ill-timed.

Patricia got up, prepared to leave.

"Just make sure you stay in town." Milne cautioned her. "Iím certain weíll have to meet again, soon."

Weíll meet again, alright. Trish told herself. I still need to get that photo...

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