"So... what's our lead, then?" I asked, as Kate's unmarked grey car took a corner at a moderate pace that made my foot itch, sitting in the passenger seat as I was.
"Our lead is Doctor Greg Martin," Kate said. "And he used to head up the psychiatric staff at Sunny View Psychiatric Hospital."
We passed a club where bright lights and music blared out into the night air, and gaudily dressed people stepped up off the edge of the road onto the sidewalk as Kate irritably punched the heel of her hand into the horn and kept it there until the lights of the club were a distant shimmer in the rear-view mirror.
"Doc Martin, huh? I thought that was a shoe?"
She frowned at me and continued, "There was a man, about ten years ago. His case was in all the papers. They thought it was a big funny joke. He bit people. Thought he was a vampire. This was way back before we had any of this shit to deal with on a regular basis, before corpses drained of blood were showing up almost as regularly as the rapes and muggings. Anyway, they arrested him for assault, and he was committed to Sunny View."
After a few seconds, she added, "It was Captain Renson who remembered. I don't remember any of it. I must have heard about it at some point - it was going on while I was in training, and my father had some involvement in the case too. But I didn't remember, I still don't. I guess... it wasn't anything to me, back then. Just another crazy." Her face, flickering yellow and red flashes of headlights throwing her features into stark relief, was set in a grim expression.
It felt odd to me, too, to think back to more innocent times, when a guy thinking he was a vampire could be a media joke. "So you think he could've progressed, huh? Then I guess the question is - what's happened to vamp guy now?"
She nodded grimly. "His name was Ernest Hannoy, but we can't find him on record. He was never convicted, on grounds of insanity, so we haven't any record of his progress. Sunny View itself closed down three years ago. For all we know he could have been out there rehabilitated and working nine to five with a wife and kids for half a dozen years, or he could be locked up in the most secure nut-house in the country. But Dr. Martin runs his own private practice now, and I called his secretary at the precinct when I was checking around: he's working late tonight in his office."
"And you're hopin' he can point us in the right direction." I sighed, staring out of the window at a bunch of guys fallin' down drunk all over the sidewalk, who sure looked to be having a better night of it than us. "For all we know, we're chasin' the wrong guy. This could be a copycat, if the publicity was like as you say, gettin' too involved in his role. Or just a coincidence, plain and simple."
She didn't turn her eyes from the road ahead as the traffic slowed to a crawl for a set of stop lights which were no more than minute flecks of brightness way ahead along the length of the street. "Right. And there really is no reason to assume a person with a slight over-enthusiasm for necking a decade ago would be into killing people now, after several years of professional treatment," she said dryly. "Although at the very least we still need to drag him in for DNA testing to rule him out."
Listening to her speak, I had to shake myself out of an instant's peculiar delusion that the events of the past half year hadn't happened. Kate's clipped tones and our present, familiar companionship took me back to an era of my life that was past and gone.
It was odd, to be together again on a case, after the working relationship established over years had been absent for months. Oh, we'd compared notes, talked, seen each other two or three times most weeks, but this was the first time we'd actually worked together since I left the force. Old habits, old patterns, resurfaced with only a slight trace of awkwardness. And I realised, for the first time since Faith and Wesley had joined up with me and put an end to those lonely months of working solo, just how much I'd missed this.
Faith and Wesley had never had to fight the good fight silent and alone in the face of a world which would probably lock them up as crazy if they ever dared break that silence. They'd never had to worry about how maybe they were crazy, believing these things and having nobody to verify them. They'd never had to stumble along without support because they'd always had their own support net, the Watcher's Council, backing them.
They didn't understand what it was like to be alone.
And now I had Faith, and Wesley, and an overwhelming sense of guilt because Kate still didn't have anyone but me. And that, of late, had meant nobody.
The car finally drew close to the stop lights. Moving headlights left blurring trails in front of my eyes, after too many hours straight spent awake and working. I tried to blink them away. Blinking brought into focus the girl in leather gear walking past us. She turned around and her dark hair flicked back to reveal a profile I didn't recognise, despite an instant's baited breath.
A different stab of guilt.
Should I really have walked out like that, leaving Faith and Wesley to deal with the danger I'd seen in my vision?
Of course I should, I told myself crossly. Kate had needed me more. They'd be all right.
Yeah - Faith was the Slayer, after all, and more than capable of defending herself from any danger without me. The gal could kick my ass all over the room: seemed to find it greatly entertaining, in fact. I gritted my teeth at the memory of the workout session the previous day and thought sourly that, no, she didn't need me. Never had, except as general mediator and translator between her and Wesley.
Kate gave me a sideways glance, maybe concerned at my silence. Her eyes flicked back to the figure of the leather-clad girl, now almost out of sight in the mirror, and she studied me for a second or so before reluctantly returning her attention to the task of driving. "I'm sorry," she said, "If this has caused problems between you and your employees. I know it didn't help that your girlfriend and I, um, sort of got off on the wrong foot."
I shook my head. "There's no problem," I said determinedly, telling it to myself as much as to her. "After all, it's not as though the arguments are precisely a rarity."
Doctor Martin ran his private psychiatric practice from a small modern building only a few blocks from where the hospital had been where he'd worked caring for a very different class of patient.
"Apparently, he treats some pretty big names," Kate murmured, as we walked up the drive, with its well-tended exotic plant borders and palm trees, illuminated by strategically hidden garden floodlighting. Somehow I doubted Dr. Martin did his own landscape gardening. I bet that'd cost a pretty penny. The building itself looked purpose-designed too, sporting lots of mirrored glass and odd angles and curves.
"'Shrink to the stars', huh?" I said.
"He sees Kelsey Grammar twice a week, I heard," she murmured conspiratorially.
We went inside past an empty receptionist's station, following signs along a corridor and up a broad, polished pine staircase, at the top of which we found a door with a name plate fixed to it - "Dr. Gregory Martin", with a list of initials underneath it that took up about half the door.
Kate slapped the door back briskly. I followed rather more cautiously through no longer having a badge and official duty to justify my presence there. The man sitting behind a desk with paperwork strewn over it looked up and blinked at us in vague suspicion.
"Good evening, Dr. Martin. You are working late."
Dr. Martin was maybe in his fifties, with balding grey hair and a face that was deeply lined and weathered. His natural expression seemed to be a sour grimace, which he fixed now upon Kate. "I don't believe we had an appointment," he remarked.
"We're not patients," she said dryly. "Although, given our lifestyles, by now we probably should be... but on second thoughts, given our pay cheques, probably not yours." She showed him her badge. "Lockley. LAPD."
Surprise knocked the superior look off his face, though it didn't last more than a second. His attention turned to me expectantly, waiting for the show of a badge. I stuck my hands in my jacket pockets and said nothing. Didn't think it would be too stellar an idea to verify to him that I wasn't a cop.
Kate had more or less told me to let her do the talking. At least, she'd muttered "Bite your tongue in there, for Christ's sake, or I'll arrest you" as we climbed out of the car.
"What do the police want with me?" he asked, turning back to her, although his eyes kept sliding over to me like he was trying to figure me out.
"Our information indicates that you once headed up the staff at Sunny View Psychiatric Hospital. Is that correct?"
"Seven years ago. Yes."
"We're looking for a man named Ernest Hannoy, who used to be a patient there. Do you know the current whereabouts of this man?"
The deep, frowning creases in Martin's face intensified visibly at the mention of the name, although I thought he was trying to mute his reaction. "Patient files are normally confidential," he said evasively, obviously unhappy.
"You know that doesn't apply in cases where the patient may be connected to a crime," Kate shot back. "This man could be responsible for a series of 'vampire' style killings - I trust you remember why he ended up in your care in the first instance?"
Dr. Martin sat very still, purposely not reacting, indication in itself of his shock. "Killings?" he breathed, barely audibly. His expression hardened. "I assure you, that's quite impossible. Mr Han- the patient was cured. He no longer suffers from those delusions. I must strongly suggest you are on the wrong track with this line of enquiry."
He hesitated, studying her intently, and from whatever he saw there he found a weapon. "In fact, you do appear somewhat tired, Detective Lockley. I think you could look into some stress management techniques, or counselling - maybe I should get back to your superiors with that recommendation -"
"Or maybe you could help us on this case and set a lot of people's minds at rest," I interrupted - before Kate had chance to reply in a manner that probably wouldn't do us any favours in persuading the guy to part with whatever information he might have.
I'd had doubts about speaking up and drawing his attention, and they were proven right. Martin turned his hostile glare onto me.
"And who would you be? Another policeman? I don't think so, somehow. Even the LAPD have certain standards. You look more like you work on the other side of the law. What, then? Some independent muscle who couldn't hack it in the force? A vigilante thug little different to the creatures he hunts..."
I winced and quelled an angry response that wouldn't help our case much either.
Kate cleared her throat and cut in for me. "I'll thank you not to insult my colleagues, Doctor. He's Doyle, an independent investigator helping me on this case. Now, Dr. Martin." She leaned forward over his desk aggressively and trapped his gaze with hers. The expression on her face brooked no argument. "I'll ask again. Do you know the whereabouts of a man called Ernest Hannoy, who thinks he's a vampire?"
"He seems human enough to me," he said testily.
"As human as I do?" I snapped.
He gave me a long, odd stare, trying to work out what the hell I could possibly mean. I repressed my twinge of satisfaction at his confusion, and reminded myself angrily what was at stake. The remembered image of the girl stretched out on the examining table, her skin the colour of paper, flashed before my eyes.
"Look, man," I said, leaning forward over Martin's desk, staring fiercely into his eyes. "I see you're not over-comfortable with betrayin' a confidence here, but think about it a moment. If he's not vampin' after people again, then fine - but we need to see him to rule him out as a suspect quick, so we can move on an' stop whoever actually is doin' this. If he is killin' people - well..." I left it hanging, and slowly drew back.
Dr. Martin's expression looked set in stone.
"Every minute we waste is another minute the murderer - whoever they might be - has chance to kill again," Kate said. She kept her distance from Martin, her back straight and her arms crossed, the expression on her face almost impassive. "The last victim was a sixteen year old girl... do you have any family, Doctor?"
Seconds ticked by, while the horror of the brutal truth and the shock of Kate's trademark bludgeon tactics warred with each other for control of the atmosphere in that room.
"All right," he said finally, his voice heavy with bitterness and ragged irony. "Yes, I know where Mr Hannoy can be found. I meet him every Thursday for lunch in a local club, and have done so for several years now. He is an extremely articulate and educated man. In the years since he was discharged, he has earned two degrees and secured a high-placed job. He is completely recovered from the... unusual delusions he was known to suffer in his youth. I helped him to recover, in the years he spent as a patient in my care."
He hesitated. "He was my patient, he is now my friend. And I assure you he did not commit these horrible crimes."
"If that's the case," Kate said levelly, "Then neither you nor he have anything to concern yourselves about. A DNA test will settle the matter."
"We need the address, Dr. Martin," Kate said softly.
Dr. Martin, grimly loyal to his friend, stared back at her, clearly torn between the betrayals of suspecting or informing.
And after a few seconds, he decided he trusted his friend enough to give us the address.