Home > The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(4)

The Asylum (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #5)(4)
Author: L.J. Smith

Cora clapped her hands in delight. “Violet and I always walked this way on our day off. We called it the cheap zoo tour. The admission counter is on the other side, but why would you pay admission if you can just watch from here?” Cora stood on her tiptoes and shielded her eyes. I followed her lead and spotted two camels feeding at a trough. I took a step closer to Cora, drawn by her innocent curiosity.

“Which is your favorite?” I asked. For the moment, it was nice to be in the sunlight, having a normal conversation.

Cora stepped closer and leaned lightly on the iron fence. “I like the zebras, but Violet always liked the peacocks. She was drawn to their dramatic flair…” Cora trailed off wistfully. “Sometimes you can see them. But not today,” she said, disappointed. She turned toward me and took another bite of her roll.

I remembered how pleased Violet had been when she picked out a gorgeous emerald-green dress from Harrods, and how she seemed to sparkle with infectious enthusiasm at the few parties I’d attended with her.

“Violet always wanted to be an actress. We both did,” Cora said, turning away from the zoo. Her gaze was focused on her feet, clad in filthy white shoes. “But I think Violet could have made it. I wanted to meet exciting people and have a few years of adventure, but I didn’t necessarily want to be on display. Violet wanted people to notice her. She wanted to be special.”

“She was special,” I said after a moment.

“I guess now she’s special in a different way,” Cora said sadly.

“I did everything I could to protect her…” I said.

“I know,” Cora said, reaching up to touch the vervain necklace still clasped around her throat. “You gave her this.”

“Yes, and it—”

“Protects me against vampires,” Cora finished. “Damon told me. I just wish…” She trailed off and reached into the bread bag to take another roll. It was evident that there were certain things Cora kept to herself, a wall around her thoughts. I knew the feeling. Sometimes the privacy of my own mind was the only thing that kept me sane.

“We’ll find her. I’ll make sure of that,” I said finally, knowing as soon as I heard the words that it somehow wasn’t enough.

“Will we?” Cora asked, turning her gaze on me. “You keep saying that, and I know you mean well, but it seems you and your brother are rather occupied, what with trying to one-up each other.” She tossed the remaining crumbs from the roll toward a lone pigeon hopping down the path. It startled, then began to feast, pleased at this meal from the heavens. “I’ll save her by myself if I have to. After all, she was trying to save me. It’s what sisters do,” she said in a vulnerable voice at odds with her jutted chin and proud expression.

“I know,” I said. “But you won’t have to do it alone. I’m here to help.”

Cora took a deep breath and looked into my eyes. “I know. And I trust you. I trust Damon, even. But when you’re both together…” She trailed off and shook her head.

“My brother and I have a … complicated relationship. As you’ve seen. But we’re on the same side. We’re not fighting each other anymore.”

A brief smile crossed Cora’s lips. “Good,” she said. We’d walked the length of the zoo and were entering a rougher section of the park. Litter was strewn across the grass, the paths were cracked, and fewer well-dressed couples wandered by. We passed a group of children, but instead of playing with expensive wooden toys, they were improvising war games with sticks.

I watched as two boys, probably only five or six, tussled violently. Both had bloody scratches and I couldn’t help but wonder whether that was how Damon and I seemed to Cora: brothers so desperate to fight, they didn’t care how childish, counterproductive, or useless it was.

Just then, I heard a commotion behind us. A dark-haired figure ran by us at a speed no human could possibly match. Five officers followed, not caring about the people they knocked down.

I grabbed Cora’s hand. She was looking at me in fear, knowing just as well as I did what this chase meant.

Damon was in the park.

“Danger!”

“Killer!”

“Stop him!”

Almost unbidden, a word bubbled to my lips as I watched Damon flash across the landscape: Run!

4

The Ripper!” boomed one officer as he rushed by in panic.

“The Ripper?” A crowd had gathered and I heard someone take up the officer’s cry. Another followed suit, and soon the park was full of voices raised in a cacophony of fear. People were running this way and that, as though they were a flock of sheep who’d discovered a wolf in their midst.

“I see him!” another officer yelled, swinging a club in the air and taking off toward a grove of trees. I watched in horror. Damon was fast, but this was broad daylight. It would only take one person in his path to slow him down long enough to be caught.

To ensure Damon had enough time to escape, I knew I needed to create a distraction. “Help! Police! Help!” I shouted, an idea forming in my mind. I grabbed Cora’s waist and pulled her close to me.

“Pretend you’ve fainted,” I whispered under my breath. “Help!” I called louder.

An officer running by slowed and turned toward us, his eyes flickering with suspicion.

“My sister fainted!” I called, allowing my voice to break a bit for dramatic effect. Playing along, Cora had gone heavy and limp in my arms.

Two more officers halted, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Seconds were paramount, and I was hoping this pause would give Damon time enough to escape. Why had he left the tunnel? He knew he was on the front page of the paper. He knew Jack the Ripper was the name on everyone’s lips. Why was he always tempting fate?

“Boys, keep going. I’ll tend to this,” the first officer ordered, charging at me. The other policemen took off in Damon’s direction, but the ruse should have gained him thirty seconds on them. Time enough to put significant distance between himself and his pursuers.

“Please, come quickly!” I continued, my voice ragged as the officer puffed up the hill toward us. I felt Cora’s sides involuntarily contract and knew she was laughing at my admittedly terribly overacted performance. “Please help!”

The officer leaned over to inspect Cora, and she stilled. “Probably just fright,” he said, prying her eyelids apart with his pudgy fingers. At that moment, Cora righted herself unsteadily.

“What’s happening?” Cora asked, fanning her face with her hand. “I heard the Ripper was here, and I just … why, fear must have overtaken me.” Cora blinked her large eyes up at the officer.

“Yes, ma’am, you fainted,” the officer said sternly as he fished a handkerchief out of his pocket and rubbed it over his sweaty, moon-shaped face. He was in his late forties and looked like he’d rather be chasing the Ripper than dealing with a hysterical young woman. “You shouldn’t be out here, even with your brother. A murderer is on the loose!”

“Oh, thank you for protecting us,” Cora said. “I don’t know how to repay you, except to pray that you catch the Ripper soon, Officer…”

“Officer Evans,” he said gruffly, tipping his black hat at her. “And I don’t want to be rescuing you again!” he called over his shoulder as he jogged down the hill. The rest of the police had disappeared into a patch of trees, and I only hoped Damon had outrun them all.

Cora turned toward me, her blue eyes wide, the flirtatious expression she’d given the officer wiped from her face. She looked deadly serious. “We need to go back to the tunnel and find that idiot brother of yours.”

I nodded, pressing my lips together. If Damon knew what was good for him, that’s where he would hide out until this all blew over.

I grabbed Cora’s hand, acting as if we were just out for a stroll. Cora squeezed it, and together, we made our agonizingly slow way through London’s winding alleys. The streets smelled like sewage and rotting vegetables, and the cobblestones were covered in a thin layer of water. I tuned into my vampire senses, picking up the whoosh of blood coursing through millions of bodies. But nowhere did I hear Damon.

Instead, what I heard was fear. I couldn’t help catching strains of conversations between passersby.

“Said he fled London, but what good does that do? Still means the Ripper’s terrorizing our country.”

“And for the killer to be that well-off? Shows money doesn’t buy common moral decency.”

“My bet is he’s back on the town and will be terrorizing again tonight.”

“I’m telling you, any man who allows his wife out of his house after dark is asking for trouble.”

“What are you doing?” Cora asked curiously.

“Sorry.” I straightened up and shook my head abashedly. Concentrating on the conversations wafting past us had pushed me into full-on hunt mode. My head was cocked, my jaw set, and my eyes were flicking back and forth across the crowd. “People are talking about the Ripper.”

“Of course they are.” Cora set her mouth in a firm line. “All of London wants him dead. I know Damon thinks he can outwit everyone, but he cut it really close. Let’s just hope he learned his lesson today.”

“He hasn’t learned it in twenty years,” I mumbled under my breath.

Cora whirled around sharply, and I knew she’d heard me. “Stefan Salvatore, I bet there’re some lessons you still need to learn, too.”

I nodded. “That’s true,” I said quietly. I liked Cora’s spirit.

When we got to the tunnel, I took the lead in climbing down. Even from the fifth rung, I could hear the scurrying of the rats, as familiar a background noise to the tunnel as cicadas had been on June days back in Virginia. But underneath that I heard an angry sigh that I’d recognize anywhere.

“He’s here,” I said in relief, taking off into the dank tunnel.

Finally, after a few twists and turns, I found Damon, sitting in a dark corner, illuminated by the glow of a makeshift fire. His hair flopped over his forehead, his dark eyes were bloodshot, and he was reading a well-worn paper. Stubble covered his face, and he looked every inch the outlaw he now was.

“Samuel’s killing me,” Damon said, looking up from the fire. “He has single-handedly made sure that I cannot go anywhere in London. I even wore the disguise. That worked well,” Damon said in disgust, throwing the gray conductor’s hat on the fire. A plume of smoke rose up.

“Why did you go out at all?” I exploded. “You know you’re being watched. You’re the biggest news story in the country!”

Damon shrugged. “You don’t get anywhere without a little risk. People barely looked at me when I was wearing the conductor uniform. And it wasn’t as if I was sightseeing. I was trying to find Samuel, do the dirty work so you wouldn’t have to. Instead, I got chased down like a common criminal.” Damon shook his head in disbelief. “Of course, those police officers had nothing on me. I felt sorry for them, huffing and puffing like that.”

“They almost caught you. You’re welcome, by the way,” I said angrily. If we hadn’t distracted the officers and given Damon the space he needed to dash into the woods, who knew where he’d be by now?

“That was you? ‘My sister fainted!’” he lisped, mocking me. “Well, that was highly unnecessary. I was fine.”

“You could have gotten yourself killed,” Cora said sternly.

“It’s either kill or be killed in my world,” Damon replied tersely. “And I intend to kill Samuel for this. After all, he’s the one who concocted this Jack the Ripper nonsense. And then to attach my name to it! As if I’d ever be so sloppy.” Damon fumed. “He can’t face me himself, so he sends humans to do his bidding. And if that isn’t enough, I read this little item in the paper. The fool’s having a party tomorrow night to announce his political aspirations. Let’s consider this our invitation. His party will be his funeral,” Damon said ominously. The hair on the back of my neck bristled. If there was one thing I knew about Damon, it was that he always followed through on his convictions.

“Do you think he’s compelling the police?” I asked. “Or do you think they recognized you from the paper?”

“How would I know?” Damon asked, throwing his hands up in disgust. “It’s not like I’m privy to his master plan. I thought he was just another London aristocrat, someone I could use to introduce me to the right people. I never imagined he was a vampire with rage issues. If anything, he should have been thrilled to have found another one of his kind. But now, he’s running me out of my city, and I won’t have it.”

“What about Henry?” I asked. “What do you think his motive is?”

“Whatever Samuel says,” Damon spat. “Henry’s a useless sap who follows Samuel around like a farm dog. Not unlike another brother I know.”

But before I could come up with an insult of my own, Cora piped in.

“So who is Samuel, really? Is he that important?” she asked.

“Samuel’s running for London councilor. I was helping him plan his campaign,” Damon said, a twisted grin forming on his face.

“Well, then we need to come up with a plan to stop him. We’ve already wasted a day.” The one thing I’d learned in my two decades as a vampire was that inaction always seemed to backfire. Biding my time and waiting for the perfect moment to strike had never worked. I’d always been late by a minute, an hour, a lifetime. But no more.

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