Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(13)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(13)
Author: L.J. Smith

"Who goes there?" I asked, my voice echoing off the wal s of the al ey.

Then, I heard a long, low, al -too-familiar laugh, and Damon strol ed around the corner, a lit cigar in his mouth.

"Saving the day again," he said, a bemused grin on his face. He dropped the cigar on the ground, and the ashes glinted in the darkness. Next to me, the girl stirred, moaning and sighing as though she were in the grips of a terrible nightmare.

"He's here," I said, my voice fal ing to a whisper.

"Who, the murderer?" Damon dropped to his knees and glanced at the girl. His fingers brushed against the wound on her neck. "This is amateur work. Just a baby vampire who doesn't know better. If we find him, we'l stake him for the pesky trouble he's causing. But he's not a threat," Damon said, smiling as he wiped a trickle of blood from the side of the girl's mouth.

"More . . ." the girl gasped, clawing the empty air in front of her. "More!" she yel ed in a strangled cry, before col apsing back against the pavement.

"My type of girl." Damon smiled. "Sadly, no more. Stefan's decided you've had enough," he said in a singsong voice. "Stefan always likes to control people," he added cryptical y.

I glanced at him in suspicion. Could this have been a trap set up by Damon? He'd done it before - half-kil ed a girl, only to ensnare me into rescuing her. That had been back in New York City, shortly before Klaus and Lucius had beaten Damon at his own game, nearly kil ing both of us in the process. I was about to remind him of that when a wavering shadow caught my eye.

It was the figure of a man, wearing a top hat, al the way at the far end of the al ey. I shot up.

"Did you see that?"

Damon nodded, his eyes widening slightly. "Go. I'l take care of her."

I made a split-second decision to trust my brother. He was al I had.

I lunged toward the shadow, only several meters away from where Damon and I were crouched over the girl.

The shadow bolted as wel , stealing around the corner toward the river. I took off after it. My legs were pumping like pistons, and I was running faster and faster, my feet barely hitting the cobblestones. Stil , the figure stayed ever so slightly ahead of me, darting this way and that, closer to the rushing Thames.

Faster, I whispered to myself, wil ing myself to run. Buildings were passing me in the blink of an eye, and I knew I was going as fast I possibly could. Debris blew in my face and caused my eyes to burn, and wind was whistling by my ears. Stil , no matter how fast I urged myself to run, I couldn't catch up to the shadow's creator, a tal , thin man who I now knew without a doubt was no human.

We ran, faster and faster, toward the river. I could hear a mob of people far off in the distance, but I didn't look over my shoulder. Al my attention was directed at the shadowy man, who was speeding up with every step. The river was now in ful sight, the moon casting a dul sheen on the pitch black water. We were one hundred yards away, then fifty . . . would he jump?

"Stop!" I cal ed, my voice ringing like a clarion bel in the darkness. My feet hit the uneven boards of a dock, but the vampire had disappeared.

An abandoned pier stood on one side of me, a warehouse on the other, but no sign of the kil er. Police bel s were clanging from the al eys. I gazed wildly in al directions.

"Show yourself!" I cal ed. My gaze fixed on the warehouse. Could he have ducked in there? I picked my way toward it, stepping on an overturned milk crate to get a view inside one of the windows.

The window was frosted and filthy. I squinted, but even with my heightened senses, I couldn't make out anything within, though I knew the vampire was in there. He had to be. I didn't want to break in and find myself in a death trap. And I knew that if I stayed here, the police would soon find me - and the vampire. A cornered vampire could easily take on the police, and that would lead to more bloodshed. But I couldn't go into the warehouse on my own. There was nothing to do except turn back and get Damon to devise a plan.

I kicked the side of the warehouse in frustration, but then I heard a sound. It was so subtle, I thought it was the waves of the river lapping against the dock until I realized that wasn't it at al .

It was the sound of laughter.

Turning, I trudged back to the tavern.

Unlike an hour earlier, a sober atmosphere had taken over at the Ten Bel s when I returned. Candles had been lit, brandy had been poured, and almost every table was occupied by a policeman taking a report from the various revelers who'd been in the tavern when the drunk had come in screaming bloody murder.

"I saw the girl. She was lying in her blood," the man kept saying, his face red. "I told you, there was no one else." Eliza walked up to me, holding a snifter of brandy. "I was worried about you!" she said. "You ran out, and I thought, that bloke's going to get himself kil ed, he is. 'Ow's Martha doing?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said. Martha must have been the girl. Had Damon brought her back? I caught a glimpse of Violet, fil ing brandy glasses as quickly as she could behind the bar. Her face was white with fright.

"Violet!" I cal ed, relieved to see her. "Where is the girl? Is she alive?" I asked brusquely.

"U-u-upstairs," she stuttered, sounding scared and exhausted. "Damon took her up to my old chambers. The d-d-doctor is supposed to be here any minute," she explained.

"Very good," I said. I clasped her hand and she flinched, clearly on edge. "I'm sorry. I want to let you know . . ."

"What?" Violet asked.

"Where's your vervain?" I asked, suddenly in a panic.

"'Vervain'?" she parroted.

"Yes. The charm I gave you."

"It's here!" Violet said, pul ing it out of her pocket. "It's a rough crowd here, so I don't like wearing jewelry. But I do like it."

"Good. I was afraid you'd lost it," I said. I leaned down and planted a kiss on her forehead. "Stay brave," I said.

"Okay," Violet said, eyes wide, without any idea of what she was agreeing to.

Hurrying upstairs, I clambered the wooden steps two at a time until I reached a door that led to a tiny room with a slanted roof. Two thin cast-iron beds were on opposite sides of the room, and a single candle was burning in a pewter holder that was precariously placed on an overturned orange crate. Damon was nowhere to be found. In the melee, everyone seemed to have forgotten about Martha. She was lying alone on one of the beds. Although her neck had been bandaged, blood was stil seeping out of the wound, forming a sticky red puddle by her ear.

I perched on the edge of the tattered flannel coverlet and smoothed my cracked hand against the girl's forehead. It didn't take a doctor to know that she was stil deathly il . Her breath would catch, then she'd gasp. Al I could hear was an ever so faint thump-da-thump coming from her chest.

I looked down at my wrist. Already, the wound I'd created less than an hour ago had faded. But although the mark had healed, I stil felt depleted, and I knew I had to be very careful with my own reserves of blood. Even so, she needed something more than I'd given her. I brought my other wrist to my mouth and dug my teeth into my flesh, flinching as I felt my mind go woozy.

"Here," I said, cradling the back of the girl's head in my hand. "Drink." I put my wrist up to her lips.

Guided by instinct, the girl tentatively began to suck until I pul ed my wrist away. Her head lol ed back, and a smile of sleepy satisfaction played on her lips.

Just then a door opened and a man wearing a white coat walked in, carrying a basin of water.

"Are you a friend?" he asked firmly.

"I'm Stefan," I said, putting my hand behind my back and pressing it into the fabric of my coat, hoping he wouldn't notice my wound. "I found her."

"Very wel ," the man said. "You can stay for a moment, but I'l need some time alone with the patient."

"Yes, of course," I said, relieved he didn't find it odd I was up here. The girl was starting to stir. She'd wake up soon. I hung back as he approached, wanting to make sure she was al right.

The doctor took a towel and dipped it into the basin, then held it against the girl's forehead. As her eyes snapped open, they locked with mine.

Then, her features froze and an unholy shriek emerged from her lips.

"Murderer!" she screamed.

The doctor pul ed away in shock, almost dropping the basin. His eyes went immediately to the door, as if he was considering yel ing for help.

"Shhh, you're safe," I hissed. "I'm your friend. I'm her friend!" I added desperately, turning to the doctor.

"Murderer!" she yel ed again, tears springing from her eyes. "Help!"

"She must be in shock," I said to the doctor, hoping there was a medical explanation for her behavior, and not what I feared: that she thought I was her attacker.

The doctor nodded, although I couldn't be sure he wasn't just agreeing to appease a suspected criminal.

A starry blackness was forming at the edge of my brain, threatening to overtake me into a faint, but I summoned al my strength. She needed to calm down. Whether she thought I was the murderer because she remembered me kneeling by her side, saving her, or whether she thought I was the murderer because someone had compel ed her to think that way, I needed to correct her.

"Listen to me," I said to the girl, forcing my Power into the words. She stopped mid-scream. The room was suddenly so quiet you could hear a pin drop. "I'm your friend. I'm Stefan. I found you. I saved you. You're safe now. There's no murderer here." It took everything I had to keep my gaze on the girl. Thankful y, her weakened state made the compulsion possible. She nodded, then turned to look at the doctor.

"Good girl," I murmured.

"She's al yours," I told the doctor. I had just narrowly escaped that one and I didn't want to push my luck by staying a second longer. The look on his face made me think compel ing him wouldn't be necessary. He was starting to relax and get back to his work.

I marched down the stairs and into the tavern, where I caught sight of my brother, laughing as if he'd never been more amused in his life.

Chapter Eleven

Entering the main part of the tavern, I headed to the bar to get a drink and colect myself. Had Martha been compeled to believe I'd attacked her?

Had Damon compel ed her? It was possible, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. She'd barely even opened her eyes before she blamed me. And she hadn't listened to me at first, she'd simply screamed, as if she'd been primed to do so. There were only two people that could have compel ed her to think that way: the vampire I chased to the docks, or Damon, after I'd left her with him.

I ordered a whiskey and turned back to the tables. I could question one suspect right now.

"Hel o, brother!" Damon said pleasantly, holding his glass out to me as a form of greeting. "I'm afraid the excitement distracted you from your duties for the evening. I believe you were in charge of the bar tab?" he asked expectantly. "I had a few more whiskeys than I'd intended, but I think they're justified, given the circumstances."

"Why did you do it?" I hissed as I slid into the chair opposite him. I kept thinking of the girl's thin, reedy scream.

"Do what?" Damon asked innocently, taking another sip of his drink.

"You know what I'm talking about," I said darkly.

"No, I don't, actual y. I'm sorry if I was unsatisfactory in playing nursemaid to some no-name girl. How was your kil er-catching?" he said, arching an eyebrow.

I'm not playing games. And I don't care if you don't want to help, but I know the killer is a vampire, I said under my breath, in a voice low enough that only Damon could hear. If anything, I thought I saw a vague flicker of surprise cross his eyes. I couldn't catch him.

So what? Damon asked after a pause. In all your years roaming you never encountered another one of us, except for the vampire freak house you and Lexi lived in down in New Orleans? You always seem so surprised. We kill, brother. It's nothing novel. Or particularly interesting.

The only thing interesting about this is seeing you learn this lesson, over and over again. Hasn't this finally taught you not to meddle? No one appreciates it. Not humans, and not vampires, Damon said, stil smiling.

A chil crept up my spine. Had Damon framed me for the murders? Had that been his grand plan? Because he knew that I'd try to help. I couldn't stop myself from getting far too involved in human problems.

I don't seek out problems, I said simply. And I don't create them.

Well, maybe you should. They can be fun. Of course, this problem is stupid and careless and blood-drunk, leaving us to clean up his dirty work, Damon mused. "But what's the point?" Damon asked in his normal voice.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"So you find him. Then what?" he asked, steepling his fingers, then resting his chin against them.

"Then I . . ." I floundered. Would I kil him? Bring him to the police?

Damon looked at me with a bemused expression. "See? You used to think too much. Now you don't think at al . I always thought it would do you good to be more impulsive, but your impulsivity is getting you nowhere. And you know why?" he asked, leaning in close toward me, so much so that I could smel rich, sweet blood on his breath. But was it Charlotte's blood? Or Martha's? Or could it be someone else's entirely?

"Why?" I asked. The scent of the blood was overwhelming.

"Because you're not doing it for yourself. You're doing it for humanity. For the greater good," Damon said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "But remember, we're not part of humanity anymore."

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