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9780812523850

An Old Friend of the Family

Saberhagen, Fred Author

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Kate Southerland has been murdered. But she is not dead. Johnny Southerland has vanished, a severed, bloody finger the only clue.

The Southerlands are trapped in a blood-feud older than history. Their enemy is no mortal madman but the undying mistress of evil enchantment, Morgan Le Fay.

But the Southerlands are not Morgan's true target. She seeks to do battle with their protector, their defender, the only being who can save these mortals.

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About the Author:

In addition to the popular Dracula Series, Fred Saberhagen is the author of the popular Berserker (tm) Series and the bestselling Lost Swords and Book of Lost Swords. Fred Saberhagen lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One
 
 
It looked like the North Atlantic raging at the Devon coast, Kate told herself, recalling a childhood trip to Europe, and the enduring memory of the ocean pounding at those rough English rocks. Now, under the glare of the close-ranked floodlights along the Outer Drive, she saw the black lake reach a fist in past the wintry void, where summer knew a strip of sunwhite beach. Above the ice-draped slats of snowfence the fist shook spume at city and civilization, then crashed down, dissolving itself in an open-handed splash that washed across six of the eight lanes of forty- mile-per-hour traffic. The traffic wavered, minimally slowing, some of it skidding perilously in the freezing wet. If things kept on this way, the police were going to have to close the Drive.
Twenty or thirty yards inland, on pavement separated from the Drive and the reaching waves by a wide divider strip of frozen parkland, Kate's Lancia purred sedately south. Most of her attention was concentrated upon the task of reading addresses from the endless row of tall apartment building fronting on Drive and park and lake. The particular numbers she had been looking for now suddenly appeared, elegantly backlighted against a towering granite wall. She slowed and turned. The righthand curve of driveway went down to a basement garage, but she stayed with the left branch, rolled past two parked Cadillacs and a Porsche, and pulled up under the building's entrance canopy.
Despite the heatlamps fighting down against the wind and cold, the uniformed doorman wore earmuffs above the collar of his winter jacket. His eyeglasses were so thick as to resemble frosted protective goggles of some sort. Taller than he, Kate swept in through the door that he held open for her, meanwhile pulling back the hood of her warm blue jacket from natural blond curls.
"I'd like to see Craig Walworth. Tell him Kate Southerland is here," she told the man when he had followed her into the lobby. A few moments later, after the intercom had brought down Craig's acceptance of her visit, she was alone in a small elevator.
If Joe were with her now, he'd be worrying about what the doorman was going to do with the car--or about something else, about anything, maybe just about dropping in on a party unannounced. But then if Joe were with her tonight, she wouldn't be coming here at all. Which, of course, was really the whole point. She hadn't made any commitment to Joe--not yet. If and when she did, things, would be different.
And how they would.
Maybe the real point was the fact that she felt compelled to make the point. If she was so certain of her present freedom, why was she here trying to prove something to herself? She could have gone Christmas shopping instead. And she probably should have. For one thing she still faced the problem of a gift for Joe, who was certain to spend too much of his money buying one for her…
The elevator, having gone as high as it could go, eased almost imperceptibly to a stop and let Kate out into a small marble lobby from which two massive doors of handcarved black wood, one at each end, led to two apartments. A small decorative table, ivory-colored to contrast with the doors, stood in the middle of the lobby facing the two elevators. On the wall just above the table there hung a picture, or perhaps it was a mirror, of which only an edge of antique gilt frame was visible. Someone had draped an old, worn-looking raincoat over it, perhaps thinking that the loser of the garment would be sure to see it there if he came back. He'd need something warmer than that if he came back tonight.
The right hand door stood slightly ajar, and through this opening came sounds of subdued partying: music, an alto laugh, a glassy clink, and voices murmuring. Kate pushed the thick door fully open and slowly walked on in. She stood in a brick-floored vestibule, from which two interior hallways led off at right angles to each other. A third wall was taken up by a great guest closet, open now to show a modest miscellany of coasts and scarves, some fallen from their hangers. It didn't seem that any very large party was going on.
"Hi" The greeting was conspiratorially low. Simultaneously a black-haired, black-bearded head bobbed into Kate's view from two rooms down the hallway to her right. Craig Walworth was three or four years older than her twenty. No more than an inch taller, but so wide across the chest that he looked larger than he was. Often, as now, his shirt was worn halfway open down the front to display some hair and muscle; and he tended to have his large hands planted on his hips--one of them was there now, the other holding a drink --so that standing near him put you at some risk from jutting elbows. "Glad you could make it, Kate. I was starting to think you were really out of circulation." The drink he had been holding somehow already stashed away, he took her jacket as she slipped it off, and with a toss consigned it to the closet's minor chaos.
"You put out a standing invitation for Friday nights, Craig. I'm just taking you at your word."
"I'm just delighted that you are, Sweetie. Our little group here will never be the same--thank God." Craig's voice was still low, uncharacteristically near the whispering level, and now he glanced about, a man checking to see if he might be overheard. "Now listen, Doll, there's a little house rule I've got to mention before you join the group."
"Rules? That's not quite what I would have expected at your parties."
"Well, you see, it's not your basic expectable kind of rule." As they talked, he had started her moving down the hall toward the still rather muffled sounds of partying, with an arm round her waist that she somehow minded more than the expected cheek-kiss following. "The thing is, everyone--expect me, of course--takes a new name for the evening, and pretends to be someone other than they are. You should be…how do you like Sabrina? Sabrina Something and I'll; say that you're an old friend of mine from Canada. How's that?"
"Well, I did think of becoming Sabrina once, believe it or not. When I was about thirteen years old."
They had now come to a room where four or five people were gathered, all standing, as if none of them had been here very long. Kate so rarely remembered names the first time round that sometimes she was tempted to give up trying; and since these were supposedly all aliases anyway, she made no effort to retain anything from the round of introductions.
Beside Kate stood a tall girl wearing an odd shawl who wanted to find out how much Kate knew about Tarot cards. When she heard the answer was nothing at all, she wanted to explain them at great length. Kate tried for a little while to make sense of it, and then, as the group shifted, took the first opportunity to move away. She was offered a drink, declined then thought that the next time she would accept. In the background she could hear a heavy door, probably the front door of the apartment, being firmly closed. Craig had excused himself, and was somewhere around a corner, talking on the phone.
"Try a joint?" This from a stocky young man with thick glasses who had not been in the group the first time round--no doubt there might be other people she had not met, in other rooms; it must be a huge apartment. The man making the offer got too close, and stared at Kate intensely. Being given a man's full attention is a thrilling experience for a woman--well, sometimes. Hadn't she seen him somewhere else recently? But she had no intention of asking that aloud.
Kate puffed twice and put the thing down. As expected, she felt nothing from it just at first. The first few times that she had tried, in school, nothing at all had happened to her. The few times after that had always resulted in a pleasant high, with slow onset and letdown. She wouldn't be surprised if it was nothing at all again tonight; quite likely she was just too keyed up, too nervous, though why she should be…
"…play games in a little while, you know, identities and such." Craig was back at her side, finishing a statement whose beginning Kate had somehow missed. "And someone else is coming, Sabrina, someone I want you to meet. I've mentioned you to him, and he's very interested."
Oh? My Canadian background?"
Craig's eyes were sparkling with some inner amusement under their dark brows. But now his attention was forced away by someone else, a blondish boy with a loud mouth, who had some interminable anecdote to tell him, as one insider to another. Craig responded with off-hand but deliberate insults, which the loud one laughed at foolishly.
Kate almost tripped over the tall girl, then sat down beside her on the thick, burgundy-colored carpet. "What sort of games is he talking about?" Kate asked. The girl said something Kate couldn't catch. Very loud music was starting in the next room. The Pointer Sisters?
Upon the wall that Kate was facing there hung an Escher print, the circle of lizards crawling up out of the flat surface of the drawing-within-the-drawing, crawling up and around an improvised ramp of books and geometric solids, to ease themselves at last down into the flat again, where in three shades of gray their bodies formed a tessellated pattern. Kate willed for a moment to lose herself in the intricacies of the plan, but her mind was too restless.
She looked around abruptly, with the feeling that someone, on one she knew, had just called her real name: a loud, rude calling in a strange man's voice. But no one else seemed to have noticed it at all. And the voice seemed to have come, now that she thought about it, directly into her mind, not through her ears. Dear Kate, she warned herself, neither you Sabrina had better smoke any more tonight.
Restlessness pulled her to her feet. A bar-on-a- cart offered bottles and glasses and ice. Shouldn't mix with the other stuff, but just a taste was not going to do her any harm. In her hand a glass half-filled with white wine she wandered, mocking a slinky tall-model walk, up to a window of very solid, unopenable glass that looked out far above the endless chains of head...

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