Fade Out

Chapter Ten


Kim's loft was a crime scene. Maybe not literally, but Claire thought if the police had roped it off, nobody would disagree. . . . Things were tossed everywhere, broken junk was piled in the corners, clothes were tossed on every flat surface. It smelled of old Chinese food, and the at-least-month-old trash was overflowing with cartons and pizza boxes. One pizza carton lay on the floor with a couple of slices of sausage withered inside.
"Nice," Shane said, and looked around. "Well, we know she's not a closet neat freak." There was paint all over the walls, too - not paintings, just paint, thrown on in sprays as if Kim had taken a few gallons and spun around in a circle, splashing it all over. It was probably still art, just not Claire's favorite kind.
"She's busy," Eve said, and cleaned up the pizza box and a few other Chinese food cartons, which she jammed into a plastic trash bag. "She's an artist."
"She's a slob," Shane said. "I'm not judging, though. So, what's the plan? We look around? Can I have dibs on the underwear drawer?"
Claire winced. "I can't believe you just said that."
Shane took on an angelic look. "Somebody's got to do it."
"Then that somebody will be me."
Shane lost his smile and got serious. "Hey. I'm sorry. I didn't mean - "
"I know." It still hurt. She avoided his eyes and started rummaging through things. It wasn't as if Kim actually had an underwear drawer - she didn't seem bothered by leaving her bras and panties all over the place. Claire grabbed a bag and started stuffing the clothes into it, just because.
"Girls," Michael said. "We're here for clues, right? Not cleanup?"
"Right." Eve took a deep breath. "I'll check the bedroom."
"Bathroom," Shane volunteered.
"You're brave. All right, you keep going in here," Michael told Claire. "I'll take the kitchen."
"Good luck." She meant it. She bet mold had formed its own civilization in the refrigerator.
That left Claire on her own in the big, trashed-out room. She had no idea where to even start looking, but when she let herself ignore the trash, strewn clothes, and general mess, she found herself focusing on the walls. One of them had a mural painted on it, creepy elongated faces and staring eyes.
Staring eyes. They glittered. For a frozen second, Claire thought there was someone behind the wall, watching her, and then she got her head together. It was just glass, reflecting; it wasn't real eyes. But why would Kim put glass on the eyes - no, on only one eye?
"Guys?" Claire opened the closet beside the mural, shoved through piles of crap and boxes, and found the camera that looked out through the eyehole. It was a small high-tech thing, wireless. So there had to be some kind of receiver, somewhere. She ducked out of the closet to yell, "Any computers around here?"
"In here," Eve said. There was a Mac set up on a rickety table in the corner of the bedroom, jammed in next to a sagging, unmade bed. It had a screen saver on it, and when Claire tapped the space bar, it asked for a password. She looked at Eve, who raised her shoulders in a clear no-idea shrug.
Claire typed in Eve's name. Nothing. She tried Morganville, but again, nothing.
On a wildly unpleasant hunch, she typed in Shane.
The screen cleared, and Claire was looking at herself. She recoiled in surprise, and the screen image did the same, leaning back from the camera. Oh. The built-in camera was on. Claire clicked it off and looked at what was on the desktop, which was where she personally put things she wanted to use quickly . . . and there it was. It was a folder, marked Reality Project Cam #72.
There were video files there. Claire clicked one, and instantly, Kim was there, filling the screen, leaning in dramatically toward the computer's lens. "Day twenty-two of the project," she said in a loud whisper. "Still not sure whether or not any of the extra sites have been discovered, but I'll run it as long as I can. Great stuff so far. The official history project is still going, but most of the vamps won't talk. It doesn't matter anyway; this is going to be so much better. The Oscars are going to be kissing my ass." She grabbed a handy bottle of soda and held it in both hands, looking over-the-top happy. "Oh, thank you so much; I just can't believe this honor. I'd like to thank the Academy - "
Claire paused it and looked at Eve, and Shane, who'd come out of the bathroom to watch. Michael joined, too.
"What is this?" Claire asked. Eve was shaking her head, eyes fixed on the screen. "Seriously, you don't know?"
"No. What's she talking about?"
Claire fast-forwarded until Kim finished her acceptance speech, then clicked PLAY again. Kim's image was glowing with glee. Whatever she was talking about, to her, it was major.
"I can't believe it; I finally got to put some in the last Founder House. Connections look good, stream is starting up. God, why do people always fall for the stu pidest things? The old bathroom trick? She didn't even worry when I was gone for ten minutes, poking around. Sweet." Kim leaned in, close and confidential. "I may have to keep some of this for myself. Shane, undressed. Oh yeah."
"Excuse me?" Shane blurted. "What the hell?"
Eve's eyes widened, and she licked her black-painted lips and said, "When was this?"
Claire checked the date. "Early last week."
"Oh God," Eve said. "I - I met Kim at the auditions. I mean, I already knew her, but not like close friends or anything, and she just seemed really - interesting. She came over after we got done. You were at school, Michael was out, Shane was just leaving."
"And she asked to use the bathroom?" Claire prodded.
Eve looked miserable. "Yeah. She was gone awhile, but you don't ask, right? You're not supposed to hover, I mean, come on. Besides, she was so cool."
"She is cool," Shane agreed. "She's also a raving bitch manipulator. I dated her, remember? Once. You should have asked me. And what is this crap about seeing me naked? I wasn't even there!"
Eve covered her mouth with both hands. "What did she do? Oh my God - she used me, right? She used me."
"She uses everybody," Shane said. "Twenty-four, seven. I'm sorry, but I was kind of worried when you got so head over heels with her. She's not . . . yeah. She's just not."
Claire wondered if she should feel some kind of vindication, but she didn't. She felt nervous. "What did she do in our house?"
"What do you get Oscars for?"
Shane and Michael both said, at the same time, "Movies."
And the four of them looked at one another in silence for a moment. Claire didn't know how they felt, but her stomach seemed to be in free fall, and no end in sight.
She slowly turned back to the screen, shut down the video, and looked at the folder.
"What?" Shane asked. She pointed at the screen.
"This is Kim's personal video journal," she said. "It's where she recorded all her personal stuff."
"Look at the number."
"Reality project cam . . . number . . ." Eve drew in a sharp breath. "Oh, holy crap."
"There are seventy-one other cameras out there in Morganville," Claire said. "Somewhere."
"And at least one of them's in our house," Shane finished.
There was no sign on the Mac in Kim's apartment as to where the video was streaming to. . . . She'd need more computing power than a laptop to run seventy-one other cameras, especially if she was saving terabytes of data. "She'd need a server array," Claire concluded, after doing the math. "Or off-line storage dumps. Maybe she only records during certain hours, then dumps everything to DVD-ROM or something."
"What about the university?" Eve asked. "Plenty of servers there, right?"
Claire considered it, then shook her head. "Yeah, there's available space, but how would she get to it without somebody noticing? She's not even an enrolled student. And the TPU computer security's pretty tight - it would have to be, because the vamps monitor it to prevent anybody from sending compromising information out." That led her to another, badder place in her mind. "Kim thinks of herself as some kind of renegade indie filmmaker, right?"
"Right," Eve said. "She talks about that a lot. About TV, cable shows, all that kind of thing. She's kind of obsessed with it. The acting thing was really so she could see all the backstage stuff, the technical parts."
Shane lowered himself onto Kim's sagging bed, which gave Claire unpleasant associations she wished she hadn't made. "She's bugged the town," Shane said. "She's got it rigged up with surveillance. And she's going to cut it all into, what, some kind of ber-documentary about vampires?"
"Worse," Claire said. "Seventy-two cameras, all running at once? She's cutting together episodes. She wants a reality show. A Morganville reality show." She spun back toward the keyboard and brought up Kim's e-mail. As far as Claire could tell, the built-in in-box had never been used. "She's got to have e-mail."
"Web mail," Michael said. "If she wanted to cover her tracks, she'd do it that way. You think she's in communication with someone outside?"
Claire brought up the browser's history, but it had been cleared. "There's some kind of maintenance app running. It wipes out her temp files and history every twenty-four hours."
"Somebody's working with her," Shane said, and shrugged when they all looked at him. "Makes sense. Webcams don't fall off trees, right? Buying that many takes funding, and Kim isn't making that off her spare-parts art."
"Somebody outside Morganville knows," Claire said. "Do you think the vampires found out? That they're behind Kim's disappearing?"
"Oliver didn't seem bothered. If we knew, I guarantee you that this wouldn't still be here," Michael said, and nodded at the computer. We, not they. Claire didn't miss that, and she saw it register on Eve, too. "We'd have taken it."
Shane exchanged a look with both the girls. He hadn't missed the us-versus-them implications, either. "What's with the we, man?"
"You counting yourself on the vampire team now?"
Michael sighed. "Do we need to have this fight right now? Because I think we've got bigger problems."
"No, we don't," Eve said. "Kim's disappeared. She's doing something really dangerous, and a lot of people - including the vampires - might want her stopped, or just gone. But I need to know where you are, Michael. Are you with the vampires? Or are you with us?"
"Us meaning what? Humans? Eve - "
"Us meaning me, Shane, and Claire," Eve said flatly. "Are you? Or are you going to tell Amelie and Oliver what Kim's doing and make this an all-out witch hunt?"
He didn't answer for a few seconds. Shane got up off the bed, which groaned as the old springs adjusted. "Michael?"
"Don't do this," Michael said, straight to Eve. "It's not a choice. I don't have a choice."
"You always have one, you know that. You had one when you let Amelie turn you, and you've got one now. Sam didn't run with the crowd. You don't have to, either. You can - do good things."
"Not everything vampires do is bad."
Shane slapped his hand on the wall, a sharp gunshot of impact, and they all jumped and looked at him. "Are you going to help us stop this, or are you going to run off and snitch?" he asked. "It's a simple question, man."
"It's not about you three. This is about Kim trying to destroy all of us, make herself some kind of reality TV diva, and get rich."
"Maybe," Shane said. "And maybe it doesn't have to be. The video's streaming somewhere. She must still be trying to cut it together. We can still find her and put a stop to it. Nobody else has to know."
"Why do you want to protect her?" Michael asked. Shane glanced quickly at Claire, just a flash, but she saw the guilt in it. "Old-girlfriend blues?"
"Oh man, you'd better shut up."
"Eve wants to save her because they were friends; I get that. Claire just wants to save everybody - "
"Not everybody," she muttered.
"But you, you hold grudges. You'd throw Monica under the bus in a hot second, but you don't want Kim to get hurt."
"Seriously," Shane said. "Shut up. Now."
"See how it feels?" Michael said softly. "I don't like people questioning my motives, either. I'm a vampire. I can't help that. I drink blood. Get the fuck over it and don't make this about me. You want to save Kim? Fine. But if we don't find her in the next twenty-four hours, I've got to tell someone, and then it's on."
"It's all on," Eve agreed. There were tears in her eyes, shining like silver, but she blinked them away. "And it's all over. You bet your life on it, Michael."
She turned on her heel and walked out, shoving crap out of her way as she went. Claire looked after her, then began unhooking the computer. "Shane," she said. "Get the camera from the closet in the next room. Maybe we can trace the IP and see where she's sending the video."
Michael went after Eve, but Shane lingered as she stuffed the computer and power cord into the laptop bag. "Hey," he said. His fingers touched her hair lightly, then her shoulder. "I'm not - look, it's not like I'm in love with her. I'm not. It's just - "
"You slept with her once. Yeah, I heard." She snapped the catches closed on the bag and slung it over her shoulder. "She makes a hell of an impression."
Shane got in her way, and despite everything, all her best intentions, she looked up into his eyes, and the light in them took her breath away. His fingertips touched her face, and then he bent down and kissed her. "No," he murmured into her mouth. "She doesn't. You do."
Before she could think of anything to say, he turned and left to grab the camera from the closet. In the other room, Claire saw Michael talking to Eve - well, Eve's rigid back. He turned when he saw her and Shane coming.
Eve opened the front door and slammed it back, charging down the stairs and leaving them all far, far behind. By the time they caught up, she was already in the passenger seat up front, face turned toward the tinted window. If she was crying, Claire couldn't tell. She'd put on a gigantic pair of mirrored sunglasses that she absolutely did not need inside a vampire's car.
"Right," Michael said, and climbed behind the wheel. "Where to?"
"Take me home," Claire said. "I'll work on the technical stuff."
"Drop me off at Common Grounds," Eve said. "I need to talk to some people."
Michael cleared his throat. "Want company?"
"No." Her voice was flat and cool, and Claire winced and looked at Shane. In the dimness, she could only see the broad strokes of his expression, but it looked like a yikes. "You've got things to do, right?"
She must have been right, because Michael didn't exactly deny it.
Shane said, "So - I'll stay home and watch TV. Critical job, too. Not everybody can do that under pressure."
"You should come with me," Eve said. "I could use some help." Even though she'd just flatly turned down Michael's offer. Ouch.
Shane must have thought that, too; he flashed a look at Michael, clearly apologizing, and Michael nodded slightly.
"Okay, sure," Shane said. "Outstanding." Shane held out a fist, and Eve tapped it. "Claire? You'll be okay alone?"
"Sure," she said, and hugged the laptop bag closer. "What could go wrong?"
Michael's eyes flashed to meet hers in the rearview mirror.
"Besides everything, I mean," she said.