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36 Thirty-Six

    That night, I dreamed that Will and Keats fought. They punched and bit each other, both bloody, both ignoring broken bones and torn arteries to get in one more hit. They snarled like animals.

    I watched them, unable to help.

    Will clawed one of Keats's ears from the side of his head. I saw it fly toward me, landing at my feet, a pale, curled thing, like a fetus.

    Keats roared and his hand was a bear's paw when he brought it against Will's face; Will's head wrenched to the side at an angle.

    I heard Will's neck snap and saw his face slacken, all thought and feeling and self vanishing from his expression. He fell to the ground.

    Keats, bloody and broken, looked at me and laughed his beautiful laugh.

    I woke up just in time to stop myself from screaming.

    I called Will when I woke up that day and every day, sure that he would eventually pick up the phone so I could yell at him.

    I tried not to think about him, tried not to worry, even though a list was building in my mind of places he could be and reasons why he hadn't told me he was going.

    Secret government project in Washington. Kidnapped by aliens or neo-Nazis. Kidnapped by pirates and kept in the brig until he agreed to say the pirate pledge of allegiance. Fell in love and shut himself and his ladylove in a hotel room less than a mile away, forgetting that anyone else in the world existed, a scenario not vastly different from what had happened when Keats and I met.

    And the most and least likely answer to Will's disappearance: the judges. His research

    uncovered something that the judges had sworn to keep secret, and Will revealed his discovery somehow. Perhaps one of the judges came to test him. Knowing Will, I thought he might have used the opportunity to ask about his information, volunteering what he should have kept hidden to see if the judges would tell him if his assumptions were correct.

    I could too clearly imagine that situation:

    The judge appears in long black robes that billow majestically in Will's windless lab. The judge stands in a sparkling aura of light, and in a voice like thunder, he says, "Make an accounting of your works, my son."

    "My works?" Will asks, terrified.

    "You are a brilliant scientist. What has your research shown you?"

    "I believe vampires are made by a careful switchamathingy of chromosomes that transmogrifies the mitochondria. Am I right?"

    The judge comes forward, dragging his aura along with him. "Yes, my son," he says. "Have you told anyone else of this discovery?"

    "No, sir. Of course not."

    "You understand that this is a great secret that must be hidden at all costs?"

    "Absolutely, sir," Will says with a serious expression.

    "Then you understand why I cannot accept the smallest chance that you might reveal this secret."

    "Are you going to kill me?" Will asks.

    "No, my son. But you will be incarcerated in a damp dungeon beneath the Holy City for the rest of your existence."

    Will trembles. "Alone?"

    "Of course not. There are hundreds of fascinating individuals beneath the City: Michelangelo, a few Popes, Kurt Cobain, Marie Curie, Marie Antoinette, two of the Beatles. I'm sure you will immensely enjoy your first hundred years in the dungeon."

    "Oh," Will says. "Well, okay then."

    The judge doesn't have a one-phone-call rule, and Will doesn't ask to use his cell phone before he's deposited in a damp room twenty feet under the surface. If he thinks to use his cell phone there, it won't work.

    Otherwise, he would have thought to call me eventually. Will always called eventually.

    I began carrying my cell phone with me from room to room, and if I walked out the door without it, I turned back to get it, even if Humphrey and I were already downstairs. I slept with it in bed beside me, hoping.
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