Karlebach now plucked a sugar cube from the saucer Asher offered him, tucked it into his cheek behind its jungle of snowy beard, and sipped his tea through it, lost for a time in his own thoughts. ‘And did he speak to you, this vampire of yours?’ he asked at length. ‘Did he tell you of the Others? Of whether the thing that this Bauer woman found is the same as the creatures that haunt the crypts beneath Prague?’

‘He did,’ replied Asher. ‘But he could tell me nothing beyond what you and I already know.’

‘Could tell you, or would tell you.’ The old man’s dark eyes glinted in the dim gleam of the shaded electric lamps. ‘You cannot trust the vampire, Jamie. Even in the tiniest of matters, they deceive. It is their nature.’

‘That’s as may be. But before the killing was discovered, Sir Grant Hobart told me that Dr Bauer has a clinic in a place called Mingliang Village in the Western Hills, about twenty miles from here. There are bandit gangs in the hills, to say nothing of the Kuo Min-tang – Republican fighters opposed to President Yuan and the Army. I expect we’ll need an escort. Hobart suggested his son,’ he added drily. ‘But it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen.’

‘Beast!’ Lydia rapped his elbow with the backs of her knuckles as he returned to the chair arm at her side. ‘Her poor parents – what a horrible thing! And poor Sir Grant! One would think, though,’ she added reflectively, ‘that if Richard Hobart had proposed to Miss Eddington in his cups, and truly couldn’t stick going through with it, he could simply have fled the country.’

‘That depends on what he was drinking. If he was down in the Chinese city, it could have been anything.’

Lydia winced, but nodded sadly. Despite the elfin features and her air, in company, of having never done anything in her life but attend dress fittings and Royal Flower Shows, Lydia had trained as a physician at a charity clinic in Whitechapel and had had ample occasion to observe the effect on human behavior of alcohol. She started to ask something else, glanced at Karlebach, and closed her mouth again; Asher guessed her question echoed his own thought.

What, if anything, did Ysidro see?

Evidently Karlebach guessed this as well. For later, when Asher walked him down the hall to his own small room, the old man brought up the subject of the vampire again. ‘Trust not what he tells you, Jamie,’ he rumbled in his thick bass. ‘This vampire seeks to use you for the purposes of the Undead. Deception and seduction is how they hunt. You well know how they can manipulate the human mind to see things as they wish you to see them.’

It was late – the clock had struck midnight when Asher had first come into the parlor – and even Rue Meiji, one of the main streets of the Legation Quarter that lay below the windows of Asher’s suite, had gone quiet. In the bright glare of the electric lamps, the corridor had the queer, dead look of such places very late at night; doubly disturbing, Asher had found, since he had learned what walked the dark hours.

‘When first you spoke to me of this Spanish vampire of yours,’ Karlebach went on, ‘I feared for you, my son. I could see that he had placed you under the spell of the vampire mind: the spell whose first effect is to make the victim believe that he is not under a spell. Fear this. Fear him.’

‘I do,’ said Asher, quite truthfully.

‘It is unfortunate that your friend Hobart will now be taken up with this shocking business. Quite aside from his personal agony, of course – but the truth is that we could have done with one who could help us, here in the Legations.’ The old professor opened the door to his room, which was freezing cold. Asher pushed him into a chair, fetched every shawl he could find for him, and made up the fire, despite Karlebach’s somewhat mendacious protests that there was no need to bother about him . . .

No matter how tough the old scholar was, he was still ninety – not an age at which a man should be obliged to journey to China to hunt monsters. Yet Karlebach, when he had turned up – to Asher’s shock – in Oxford in September, had insisted, and would not be left behind.

As Asher set a pan of water on the hob to heat for the old-fashioned stone water-bottle, Karlebach continued, ‘I could speak to mine own ambassador about an escort, but they will want to know why. And I fear who they might tell, if indeed we find these creatures here.’

‘I’ll speak to Sir John Jordan tomorrow,’ promised Asher. ‘Now that I have the assurance that there’s someone in Peking who’ll vouch for it that, appearances to the contrary, the man who was here in ninety-eight wasn’t me.’

‘You’re very good to me, Jamie.’ Karlebach caught Asher’s hand, when he returned to the chair to help his old mentor to his feet. ‘I would say like my son, if it wasn’t that one of them is a good- hearted blockhead who can’t tell Maimonides from the funny papers, while the other is a slick momzer whose heart begins with the law courts and ends at Accounts Payable. Bless you.’

Wind moaned around the hotel’s Gothic eaves as Asher walked back down the corridor to his own suite. He wondered where Ysidro was staying and how the vampire had managed to procure the human assistance that the Undead needed in order to travel any great distance from their homes.

For that matter, he reflected, he had no idea where Ysidro called his home these days. Had he returned to London, after Asher had left him asleep in the crypt of St Job’s monastery in St Petersburg last year? Had he chosen some other city as his headquarters, since Lydia had acquired such a disturbing adeptness at tracking down vampire nests through bank records and property transactions?

And if that were the case – his mind returned uneasily to the fear that never quite left him – what about the other vampires of London? Did the Master Vampire of London know that Lydia had ways of finding them? He had long suspected that the London nest only kept their distance from Lydia, and from Asher himself, out of fear of Ysidro. Would that fear hold, if the Spanish vampire left London for good?

For people who’re in danger because we know too much about the vampires, we know damn little about them . . .

His hand was on the door handle when he heard Lydia say inside the parlor, ‘He should be back any minute . . .’

Ysidro. Who else would it be, at this hour of the night? Damn his impudence

Anger flared in him, and he thrust open the door.

Grant Hobart turned from where he stood before Lydia by the fire.

‘You have to help me, Asher.’ The translator paced a few steps away from the hearth, as if incapable of sitting down. His face, heavily scored with lines though he was only a few years Asher’s senior, looked ten years older than it had five hours ago. ‘Ricky didn’t do this thing. He couldn’t have. He’s incapable of it.’

‘You said he drank.’

‘He gets stupid when he drinks, not violent.’ Hobart took a deep breath as if remembering where he was, inclined his dark, leonine head to Lydia. ‘I beg your pardon, Mrs Asher. We shouldn’t—’

‘It’s quite all right, sir.’ Lydia rose, a slim tallish figure in ivory point-lace, the firelight picking threads of brass and copper from the auburn masses of her hair. ‘I can retire if you gentlemen would like to be alone so you can speak more freely, though I assure you,’ she added, her brown eyes wide, ‘nothing much shocks me. Did your son habitually mix opium with liquor, Sir Grant? I only ask,’ she went on, into Hobart’s startled silence, ‘because generally if one isn’t accustomed to opiates, one just falls asleep . . .’

‘He had used them together before.’ The words came out stifled, shamed.

‘Tell me about your son and Miss Eddington.’ Asher pressed their new guest into the chair which Rebbe Karlebach had vacated and fetched a clean teacup from the sideboard while Lydia dug a notebook from beneath a pillow. ‘You said you thought he might have proposed to her while drunk?’

‘He could have.’ Hobart sighed. ‘It’s what that—’ He made himself swallow words descriptive but unwise. ‘It’s what that mother of hers hinted, when I went to her and Sir Allyn to try to see if there were a way of breaking it off, the more fool I. Myra Eddington had already put the announcement in the paper. Not just that little rag the Legations put out – she’d telegraphed it to The Times, da— curse her –’ he glanced apologetically at Lydia – ‘and sent word to the whole cursed family.’ His hand, huge and heavy, as if he were a navvy instead of the scion of a well-respected diplomatic family, bunched into a fist on the polished marble beside the cribbage board. His mouth twisted in an ugly sneer.

‘It’s all because of Julia’s money, of course,’ he continued after a brief struggle with his anger. ‘Julia and her damn money-grubbing father. I’ll have to write to Julia of this in the morning. God knows what I’ll say to her.’

He rubbed his face, as if trying to wake from nightmare. ‘It’s why I’m here, Asher. I have to be able to tell my

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