PARIS PRELUDE: PREVIEW

CHAPTER ONE


Patient X was only half human and she’d be dead in less than two hours. Doctor Bruno Steiner dropped the patient’s wrist, his heart thudding at her faint, sluggish pulse. He could stop this. He could save her.

“Well, what is your diagnosis, Steiner? I understand you are skilled at dealing with cardiac cases. The girl must have an underlying heart condition which was aggravated by her rough treatment at the hands of these …” the grey-bearded French doctor trailed off, looked over his shoulder to the door and continued in a murmur, “…these Gestapo thugs. I treated her last night for severe cuts and bruising though, oddly, those have practically healed. Her heart sounded strong when I examined her, but I must admit I found the rhythm…unusual. The poor girl does not look more than nineteen or twenty. I cannot find any reason for her deterioration unless it is her heart or an internal bleed. I should have investigated further.” Laval rubbed his eyes. “This is my fault, all my fault.”

Bruno glanced at Doctor Laval. The elderly man looked worried and exhausted. He’d probably been on duty for over twenty hours. Here, in Paris’s sprawling Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, many doctors had come out of retirement to tend to the sick. They’d had no choice. Someone had to fill in for the doctors who’d fled Paris before the Nazis marched into the city in nineteen-forty, and the ones who’d been sent abroad against their will.

“No sir, it is not your fault.” Bruno glared at the two Gestapo men guarding the door of the austere side ward. “It’s their fault. Two grown men beating up a young woman? It’s disgraceful. I agree, a hidden heart condition may have been exacerbated by the trauma. Do you know why they arrested her? And why is she here and not in a cell? The Gestapo don’t usually worry about the condition of their prisoners.” Bruno’s mind raced. To save the woman, he had to get rid of those men and Laval.

Doctor Laval frowned. “They arrested her last night, but I don’t know why. They gave her the rough treatment to extract information, but she wouldn’t talk. They tried to force a confession and knocked her unconscious. They need to keep her alive so she can lead them to those who helped her.” The Frenchman tutted and rattled the hand-cuff fixed to the bed-rail. “And this is not necessary. The poor girl isn’t capable of escaping.”

“And we have no idea who she is?”

A distracted head-shake and a murmured, “No, no papers, no bag, nothing…though,” Doctor Laval lifted Patient X’s arm and pushed up her sleeve, “She has this rough tattoo. Most unusual, I have no idea what it signifies. It appears to be some kind of runic script which looks almost Norse in appearance. What do you make of it, Steiner?”

Bruno struggled to keep his expression blank to hide his stab of shock. He’d heard about this, but had never really believed it. He hadn’t wanted to believe the many whispered stories, but the evidence was right there on the woman’s slender arm. He knew exactly what that stark black tattoo signified. Doctor Laval was closer to the truth than he knew; the ancient language spoken by all vampires and their Empath cousins had many similarities to Old Norse.

“I have no idea. A symbol of some kind of secret society perhaps?”  Bruno glanced at his watch then at the patient. Time was running out. Squaring his shoulders, he faced the two Gestapo guards, thankful he had inherited his father’s powerful physique. At six feet three, he towered over the two men. Switching from French, he pulled out his identification papers and addressed the men in fluent, upper-class German.

“I want those cuffs off my patient. Now! And in case either of you gentlemen is tempted to put me in my place or deny my request, I suggest you take a careful look at my papers. Specifically, at the person who sent me here to Paris.” Bruno gave a curt nod as the men examined his papers then paled and stared at him warily. “Yes, him. Glad you recognized his signature and official seal. Now, un-cuff the prisoner and wait outside.”

Flipping his ID shut, Bruno stuffed it in the pocket of his white coat. He had no idea how the Warriors’ Council had obtained Himmler’s signature and seal and had decided it was better not to ask. It worked like magic here in Nazi occupied Paris and that was all that mattered.

Doctor Laval waited until the Gestapo guards left the room before fixing Bruno with a hard, suspicious look. “They say you are Swiss, but forgive me, Steiner, you sounded like an autocratic German aristocrat just then. A true Prussian. I’ve grown to like you these last six months and I have always considered myself a good judge of character. I hope you are not, as some of the others insist, a German spy planted here to report on us back to your superiors. After all, for such a skilled physician, you are unusually young.”

Bruno returned the elderly doctor’s level stare. Despite his curmudgeonly ways, Laval was an experienced and compassionate doctor. Having his respect…mattered. “I just look young. It runs in the family, you should see my father,” he said truthfully, “And you have my word of honour that I am not a German spy. Now sir, I need help to treat this patient and I’m going to fetch someone capable of assisting. I won’t be long, may I leave her in your care?”

The two Gestapo guards leapt to attention and nodded their vigorous assent when Bruno ordered them not to enter the room. Marching down the long, disinfectant-scented corridor, Bruno’s back prickled. The men were tracking his every move. He couldn’t blame Laval for being suspicious that a young man who looked no more than twenty-five years old was so knowledgeable a doctor. He’d heard the rumours circulating that he was either a young genius or a product of Nazi nepotism. These humans had no idea he was fifty-one years old and had been practising medicine for almost thirty years. Bruno sighed and broke into a run the second he rounded the corner. Sometimes, he grew tired of living a double life.

White-coated doctors racing down corridors were an everyday sight in the Pitié-Salpêtrière. Bruno made straight for the psychiatric wing. There was only one person capable of helping and he hoped to god she would agree. The Ice Maiden, as he secretly called the esteemed Doctor Martin, treated him with hostility and went out of her way to avoid him. Her coldness towards him was no surprise; unbeknownst to every human in this hospital, Doctor Martin was an Empath and Empaths were his people’s oldest and most deadly enemy.

Bruno swerved to avoid the petite, attractive nurse who always gave him appreciative glances in the staff canteen. No, not his people, his father’s people. Like Patient X downstairs, he was a half-blood. It didn’t usually bother him, but, right now, he’d give his right arm to be a pure-blood vampire in full possession of an impressive array of mind-controlling abilities.

Arriving at the top of a second flight of stairs, Bruno composed himself and raked his hair into place before knocking. He should try to tame his unruly hair, but he hated the scent and greasy feel of hair pomades. The painted white letters on the door read:

S MARTIN – PSYCHOTHÉRAPEUTE.

It was typical of the Ice Maiden that she wouldn’t bother with the prefix ‘doctor’ though, like him, she had qualified in Vienna and Heidelberg. Bruno pushed the door open in response to a curt “Entrez!” No one on earth could be better qualified to work as a Psychotherapist than an Empath.

 

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