bird-bath, and a gate in the garden wall at the far end. Two white-coated Chinese servants ran out with lanterns, followed by the first rush of guests. The jolting glare showed Asher a young dark-haired woman standing in the graveled path – he recalled her slim-cut pale gown from the drawing room – and, a few feet in front of her, the white form of a woman lying on the ground.


Shock nearly suffocated him, rage and horror.

He’d never

He knelt. There were two bodies, not one.

The woman who had screamed sobbed out, ‘Holly! Dio mio, Holly—!’

It was indeed Holly Eddington who lay on the path. Asher recognized the dress – white tulle with pink rosebuds at the bosom, appropriate for a girl of seventeen but not for a woman whose age (when he’d seen her speaking to her mother) he’d guessed as mid-twenties. He’d have been hard put to recognize her face, so distorted it was with strangulation and unuttered screams. She’d been garroted with a man’s necktie, the red-and-blue silk still twisted tight around her throat.

The man sprawled on his face a few paces from her snored drunkenly. Despite both cold and the wind Asher could smell the liquor on him. Tweed trousers and a well-cut jacket of the same material: wherever he’d been, he’d left for there in the afternoon. The gleam of the lantern picked out bronze-gold glints in his rumpled hair. When he stirred, and fumbled about him with his hands as if to rise, Asher saw he was young – probably barely twenty – and that his collar was open, his throat bare.

Sir Allyn Eddington pushed his way to the front of the crowd, cried, ‘Holly! Oh, God!’ in a voice that seemed to rip the words from his viscera.

His wife screamed, ‘NO!!!’ and shoved Asher aside, fell on her knees beside the girl in white. ‘Oh, God, is there a doctor—?’

The surgeon from the German Hospital struggled out of the crowd, squatted beside Holly Eddington, whom Asher knew at a glance to be already dead.

The young man beside her struggled to his hands and knees, blinked owlishly up at the crowd before him, then threw up with alcoholic comprehensiveness.

Eddington screamed, ‘Bastard! Bastard!’ as if those were the worst words that he could produce, and flung himself on the young man. Asher and the Japanese attache Mizukami grabbed him by the arms before he could reach his intended target. The Trade Secretary fought them like a roped tiger. ‘You murdering young pig! You filthy beast—!’

Grant Hobart thrust past them, dropped to his knees beside the drunken youth.

‘Richard!’ His cry was the sob of one who has lost his final hope of salvation.


‘A known killer attends a festivity, at which a young girl is killed.’ Rebbe Solomon Karlebach’s deep voice ground the words with a heavy-handed sarcasm that was almost relish. ‘I am astonished! Do you suppose there is some connection?’

‘There might be.’ Asher refused to be baited. He glanced at the doorway which separated the parlor of his suite at the Hotel Wagons-Lits from the little hall which led to the servants’ rooms and the nursery, where the widowed Mrs Pilley – twenty-two, sweet-natured, and wholly convinced that China would be a better place if taken over by England and forcibly converted to Methodism – slumbered with tiny Miranda.

Then he crossed to the other chair, took his wife Lydia’s hands, and kissed her. ‘On the other hand, I am a known killer – known in certain circles, which I trust do not include anyone here in Peking – in that I’ve murdered total strangers when no war has been declared between our countries.’ And not always total strangers . . .

His mind flinched from that memory. ‘Colonel von Mehren has killed people, if he’s been in the German Army for thirty years. I know – of my own knowledge, as the lawyers say – that Count Mizukami killed at least one man in the Shantung Peninsula fourteen years ago, because I saw him do it. And I’m sure he had his bodyguard on the premises somewhere—’

‘You know what I mean.’ The old professor leaned back in the deep-green velvet chair beside the hearth, folded the more mobile of his arthritis-crippled hands over the gnarled and frozen knot of the other. His dark eyes, far from the mocking tone of his voice, studied Asher with troubled concern.

‘I know what you mean.’ Asher tightened his grip on his wife’s long, ink-stained fingers. After six weeks at sea together in the Royal Charlotte, she still wouldn’t wear her spectacles in Karlebach’s presence, and consequently – by the look of the cribbage board on the marble-topped table between them – was being annihilated at the game. Like a leggy, red-haired marsh-fairy in one of her astonishing collection of lace tea- gowns, and nearly blind as a mole, Lydia was unshakeably convinced of her homeliness and to Asher’s knowledge had only been seen wearing her glasses by himself, their tiny daughter Miranda, very occasionally by her maid Ellen . . .

And by Don Simon Ysidro.

He went on, ‘But I doubt Don Simon had anything to do with Miss Eddington’s death. She was strangled with Richard Hobart’s necktie, not bitten and exsanguinated.’

‘It is death that the vampire feeds upon,’ retorted Karlebach darkly, ‘not the blood alone. This you know, Jamie. The energies released by the human psyche in death are what feed his ability to manipulate the minds of men. He was being careful. He knew he had been seen.’

‘Yes, but in that case, why kill at all?’ Lydia moved over to make room for Asher on the arm of her chair. ‘Why murder the daughter of the Assistant Trade Secretary, of all people, in a public place, when there were probably Chinese beggars asleep in some alleyway twenty feet from the spot? No one would make a fuss if they died.’

Karlebach sighed deeply and regarded Lydia for a moment over the rims of his own spectacles, beneath a shelf of white eyebrows that seemed to curl with the strength of his vital personality. ‘You defend him too, little bird?’

Lydia looked away.

Someone – probably Ellen – had, in the few hours that Asher had been gone, rearranged the parlor of the Ashers’ suite with all the small comforts that Lydia had brought from home to adorn their stateroom on the Royal Charlotte: small red-and-blue silk pillows had been added to the green velvet chairs, favorite books placed in the shelves and on the room’s central table. Even the familiar gold-and-sky-blue Royal Doulton tea-set was laid out, the pot gently steaming.

Though Asher always felt bemused when he traveled with his wife and his wife’s staggering caravan of luggage, there was a good deal to be said, he reflected, for coming in from an icy foreign night to find all things exactly as they were at the house on Holywell Street in Oxford.

‘Who knows why the Undead do as they do?’ Karlebach held up one crooked hand, as if to stop an argument that neither his former student, nor Lydia, made any attempt to pursue. ‘The vampires cease to be human when they pass beyond the realm of the living. Their thoughts are not like ours. Neither are their motives anything which the living can fathom.’

He lapsed into brooding silence, and Asher – who knew that Lydia tended to become absorbed in conversation, to say nothing of not being able to see across the table – fetched the teapot and refilled the old professor’s empty cup.

Rebbe Solomon Karlebach had been old when Asher had first met him almost thirty years ago, an undergraduate already on his second tour of Mitteleuropa and eager to speak with one of the most respected scholars of the superstitions rife in the remoter corners of what had been the Old Holy Roman Empire. He had spent all that summer of 1884, and the following three, studying at Karlebach’s feet in that moldering stone house in the Prague ghetto, and had come to love the old man as a father. Only the previous year, however – some years after he himself had encountered, in Undead flesh, what he had long believed to exist only in legends – had it occurred to Asher to ask his teacher whether he, too, had had personal contact with vampires.

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