The next week went by swiftly. Every day after school, Schuyler and Oliver hit the stacks at the Repository, trying to find any record or mention of "Croatan." They combed through the computer database, trying every conceivable spelling of the word. But since the library files were only automated in the late 1980s, they also had to reference the ancient card catalog.
"Can I help you?" a grave voice asked as they huddled together at Oliver's desk one afternoon, poring over dozens of old books and several cards from the "Cr - Cu" drawer.
"Oh, Master Renfield. May I introduce Schuyler Van Alen?" Oliver asked, standing up and making a small, formal bow.
Schuyler shook the old man's hand. He had a haughty, aristocratic visage and was dressed in an anachronistic Edwardian greatcoat and velvet trousers. Oliver had told her about Renfield - a human Conduit who took his job way too seriously. "He's been serving the Blue Bloods for so long he thinks he is a vampire. Classic Stockholm Syndrome," Oliver had said.
"I think we've got it covered." Oliver smiled nervously. They had tacitly decided not to ask any of the librarians for any help with their search, intuitively understanding that it was an illicit subject. If The Committee was hiding something, and that something had to do with "Croatan," then it was probably best if they didn't tell anyone about it.
Renfield picked up a piece of paper from Oliver's desk, where Schuyler had scribbled down a series of words. "Croatan? Kroatan? Chroatan? Chroatin? Kruatan?" He quickly put the paper down, as if it burned his fingers.
"Croatan. I see," he said.
Oliver attempted a casual tone. "It's just something we heard about. It's nothing. Just a school project."
"A school project," Renfield nodded somberly. "Of course. Unfortunately, I have never heard of the word. Would you care to enlighten me?"
"I think it's a piece of cheese. Something to do with an old English recipe." Oliver replied with a straight face. "From Blue Blood banquets in the sixteenth century."
"Cheese. I see."
"Like Roquefort or Camembert. But I'm thinking it's more like a sheep's milk, maybe," Oliver said. "Or a goat. It could be a goat. Or maybe like a mozzarella. What do you think, Sky?"
Schuyler's lips were twitching and she couldn't trust herself to answer.
"Very well. Carry on," Renfield said, leaving them to their task.
When he was safely at a far distance, Schuyler and Oliver burst out laughing - as softly as they could.
"Cheese!" Schuyler whispered. "I thought he was going to faint!"
It was the one bright spot in an otherwise dreary week. The colder weather brought a rash of ailments. The flu bug hit the school, and several students had been out for the past couple of days, Jack Force among them. Apparently, even vampires weren't immune to the flu epidemic. Schuyler also heard Bliss had been grounded since the party, and the tall Texan girl kept to herself. Even Dylan complained about it - Bliss was moody and remote, and never left Mimi's side.
The next day was bitter cold and gray. The first sign that winter was approaching. It was a New York gray - from the buildings to the smog to the skies - as if a dark, damp cloud had descended on the city like a wet blanket. When Schuyler arrived at the Duchesne gates, a dark mist hung over a bustling commotion in front of the school. She passed several white news vans with satellite antennas, and a crew of reporters primping, checking their teeth in handheld mirrors, and grooming before the cameras rolled. There were camera crews with tripods everywhere, as well as newspaper and magazine reporters and photographers - an even bigger mob than on the day of Aggie's funeral.
Several Duchesne students were huddled at the front doors, watching the scene. She found Oliver in the crowd and joined him.
"What's happened?" she asked.
Oliver looked grim. "Something awful. I feel it."
"I feel it too," she agreed. "It's not another death is it?"
"I'm not sure."
They waited at the gates. From the front door of the Duchesne mansion, two burly policemen were escorting a young man between them. A scruffy, disheveled young man wearing a beat-up leather jacket.
"Dylan! Why? What's he done?" Schuyler asked, horrified.
The crowd of reporters and cameramen pressed forward, covering the scene with flashes and a barrage of questions. "Any comment?"
"Why did you do it?"
"Care to share your feelings with our readers?"
Schuyler felt panicked and distressed. Why were they taking Dylan away? And in such a public fashion? She couldn't believe the school would let them do something like this! She found a wild-eyed Bliss in the crowd.
"Schuyler!" For the moment, Bliss had forgotten she and Schuyler weren't really friends.
Schuyler took Bliss's hands in hers. "Why? What happened? Why are they taking him away?" she asked.
"They think Dylan killed Aggie!" she said. Bliss was fighting to hold on to her composure, but seeing Oliver's and Schuyler's stricken faces made her break down. She held on to them for support. "I overheard them talking to the headmistress. Aggie didn't die of a drug overdose, she was murdered... strangled, and she had Dylan's DNA on her fingertips..."
"It's got to be a mistake," Bliss said tearfully.
"Bliss, listen to me," Schuyler said, a hard edge to her voice. "He's being set up. Dylan couldn't have killed Aggie. Remember?"
Bliss's eyes focused. She nodded. She knew what Schuyler was saying. "Because..."
"Because he's human and a Red Blood can't kill a Blue Blood... Aggie would have overpowered him in a second. It's a lie. Aggie was a vampire. There was no way Dylan could have killed her."
"Right," Schuyler said. The rain was coming down in torrents, and all three of them were getting soaked, but none of them seemed to notice.
Bliss looked fearfully at Oliver. "But Schuyler, there's no such thing as a vampire..." she said lamely.
"Oh. Don't worry about Oliver. He knows. He's okay. He's a Conduit. I'll explain later."
Oliver tried to look trustworthy and reassuring. He remembered his umbrella in his pack and opened it, shielding them from the rain.
"Jack told me last week that there's something out there killing Blue Bloods. My guess is Dylan's being framed," Schuyler explained.
"So that means he's innocent..." Bliss said hopefully. "Of course he is. We need to find out who is behind this, and we need to get Dylan out of there." Schuyler declared. Bliss nodded.
"We need to find out what's going on. Why Dylan is being charged all of a sudden, when the official report was a drug overdose. Where did they get this 'evidence'? And why Dylan?"
"Your dad's a senator. He's got to have some connections with the police department. Can't he help?" Oliver suggested.
"I'll ask him," Bliss promised. The three of them walked through the school gates. They were already late for their homeroom classes.
Later, at lunch, Bliss met up with Oliver and Schuyler at the cafeteria. They were seated at the back table as usual, hidden behind the marble fireplace.
"You spoke to your dad?" Schuyler asked.
"What did he say?" Oliver prodded.
Bliss pulled out a chair next to them and planted her elbows on the table. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the two of them. "He said, don't worry about your friend. The Committee is taking care of this."
Schuyler and Oliver digested the information. "That's strange isn't it?" Schuyler asked. "Because Committee meetings have been canceled until further notice."
The whole school was still buzzing with the news that afternoon - and in Schuyler's ethics class, Mr. Orion was trying to calm down his students.
"Settle down, settle down, please," he said. "I know this is a tough time, but we need to remember that in the United States, we are innocent until proven guilty."
Schuyler walked into the room and noticed that Jack was back in his usual seat next to the window "Hey," she said, giving him a shy smile and taking the desk next to his. She would never forget the way he'd kissed her, almost as if he'd kissed her before.
Jack looked more handsome than she'd ever seen him. His hair gleamed white-gold underneath the light, and his clothes were crisply pressed, his shirt neatly tucked for once. He was wearing a black sweater and a gold watch she'd never seen on his wrist before. He didn't look up at her.
"Yes?" he asked coldly.
Schuyler recoiled at the arctic tone in his voice. "Is something wrong?" she whispered.
He didn't reply.
"Jack, we have to do something! They've arrested Dylan! And you know it's wrong. He couldn't have killed her!" She whispered fiercely. "He's human. He's being set up. We need to find out why."
Jack took out his fountain pen and scratched the nib on his notebook. He didn't look at her. "It's none of our business."
Schuyler whispered fiercely, "But what do you mean? You know it is. We need to find out about what's killing us off. Don't you - didn't you want to - ?"
"Care to share with the rest of the class, Miss Van Alen?" Mr. Orion asked, interrupting the conversation.
Schuyler slouched down in her seat. "No, sorry."
For the rest of the period, Jack sat silent and stony-faced. He refused to look at Schuyler, or even to read the notes she passed to him.
When the bell rang signaling the end of class, Schuyler ran after him.
"What's gotten into you? Is it your sister? What's wrong?" Jack snapped. "Don't bring Mimi into this."
"But I don't understand. What you said on Saturday night - "
"I spoke recklessly. It's not the way I feel. I'm sorry to have misled you."
"Why are you shutting me out? What's happened to you?" Schuyler asked, a catch in her voice.
Jack looked Schuyler up and down. "I'm really sorry, Schuyler. But I made a mistake. I shouldn't have said the things I said that night. I was wrong. My father set me straight. The Committee isn't hiding anything. They've investigated the circumstances of Aggie's death, and we just need to trust them to know what's best. They'll let us know once it's been resolved. I think we should just forget about the whole thing."
"Your father - your father has something to do with this, doesn't he?" she accused him.
He put a heavy hand on her shoulder; gripped it tightly, then released it, pushing himself away. "Leave it alone, Schuyler. For your sake and mine."
"Jack!" she called.
He didn't turn around. She saw him walk purposefully down to the second landing, where Mimi Force was coming out of a classroom. She saw the two of them together, noticing as if for the first time that they had the same lithe form, the same panther limbs, they were the same height, the same coloring. She saw Mimi smile when she saw Jack. As Jack slung an arm around his sister's shoulders in an intimate and affectionate way, something in her heart broke.
"What did Jack say?" Bliss asked, meeting Schuyler and Oliver for coffee at the Starbucks across the street during their free period.
"He's no help," Schuyler said, the words dead in her mouth.
"He's changed his mind. He says that what he told me was a mistake. He told me to forget about it." She tore a paper napkin into tiny pieces, meticulously ripping it apart until her tray was filled with confetti. "He said The Committee will explain everything in time, we just need to be patient," she said bitterly.
"But what about Dylan?" Bliss asked. "We can't just let them charge him for something he didn't do!"
"We're not. It's up to us," Oliver said. "We're the only, ones who can help him now."
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