Finding a dead man on your doorstep does take a lot of time in paperwork...
Finding a body on the doorstep does keep you up with paperwork...
Chapter 2: Picture Imperfect
I got back to Wood's Information Service at 2:45. The cops were gone but one of those wide yellow tapes was around the entire area. Damn.
I went to the pay phone on the corner (lucky there still are any… pretty soon I'll have to get a cell phone myself), dialed the station, asked for Lieutenant Reisman. I was in luck. She was still in. "Reisman here. What is it, Jason?"
"You know, I happen to live in my place of business. Do you have to block off the entire building?"
"Sorry," she said. "Hold on a minute."
It was actually five minutes. "Okay, here's the deal. You can go in, but only use the front entrance and stay out of that back hallway."
"But I store a lot of stuff there."
"Sorry, that's the breaks. Tell your informants to die elsewhere from now on. Anything else?"
"Yeah. This thing has Sylvie really spooked. She's really nervous about this, and being in the business she is, it gives her weird ideas."
"So what can I do?"
"Just give me a call when the ME report comes through. If there's nothing really odd on it, it'll make things much easier."
She was quiet for a moment. "Look, Jason, medical examiner reports aren't supposed to be public knowledge, first off. But second, just what do you mean by 'odd'?"
I grinned, though she couldn't tell. "Believe me, Lieutenant, you'll know if you see it."
"Huh." She knew I was being deliberately evasive, but she knew I probably had a reason. She'd push later if events warranted. "All right, Jason, here's what I'll do. If the ME's report is what I consider normal, which includes normal assaults, heart attacks, and so on, I'll call you and tell you just that, 'normal.' If I see something I consider odd, I'll let you know."
"Thanks, Renee. I owe you one."
"You got that straight. Good night."
I went back to my building and up to my bedroom. I was drifting off to sleep when I suddenly sat bolt upright, wide awake.
The figure I had seen in the alley, backlighted by a streetlamp. I had thought it just moved away too fast to follow in the fog. But the Tamara's Tanning neon sign had been on its left, and the lit sign for WKIL radio on its right. One or the other should have flickered as it passed across them.
Both had stayed shining steadily. But that was impossible.
It was a long time before I finally got to sleep.
I got up at twelve-thirty; that yellow tape would keep away the customers who might drop by, and as a consultant I keep irregular hours anyway. I was just sitting down with my ham sandwich breakfast when the phone rang. "Wood's Information Service, Jason Wood speaking."
"This is Lieutenant Reisman, Wood. I've just read the ME report."
"And I would like to know what your girlfriend thinks is going on here, Mr. Wood."
"Syl's not my girlfriend." Not exactly, anyway, I thought. "What did the ME find?"
"It's what he didn't find that's the problem." Renee's voice was tinged with uncertainty. "Your friend Lewis wasn't in great shape—cirrhosis, bronchitis, and so on, and various minor malnutrition things—but none of those killed him. He'd also suffered several bruises, someone grabbed him with great force, and after death the body was thrown into your door. But death was not due to violence of the standard sort."
"Well, what did kill him then?"
"The ME can't yet say how it happened," the Lieutenant said quietly, "but the cause of death was blood loss." She took a breath and finished. "There wasn't a drop of blood left in his body."
I made a mental note that I owed Syl a big apology. "Not a drop, huh?"
"Well, technically speaking, that's not true. The ME told me that it's physically impossible to get all the blood out of a corpse. But it was as bloodless as if someone had slit his throat with a razor and then hung him up to drain. The thing that's really bothering the ME is that the man had no wounds that account for the blood loss. He'll have the detailed autopsy done in a few days, but from what he said I doubt he's going to find anything."
"You're probably right. Well, thanks, Renee."
"Hold on just one minute, mister! You at least owe me an explanation."
"Do you really want one?"
She was silent for a minute. Then, "Yeah. Yeah, I do. Because there's one other thing that I haven't told you yet."
After a few moments, she said, "All right, here it is. This body is not the first we've found in this condition. The others all had wounds that could explain the loss… but the ME told me privately that there were certain indications that made him think that they were inflicted after death."
"Okay, Lieutenant, but you are not going to like it."
"I don't like it now, Wood. Let me have it."
"Sylvie thinks we are dealing with a vampire."
There was a long silence. "Would you repeat that?"
"A vampire. As in Dracula."
Another silence. "Yeah. And damned if I don't half believe it, either. I must be getting gullible. But no way can I take this to my supervisor. He's the most closed-minded son of a bitch who ever wore blue."
I laughed. "I don't expect you to do anything about it. Just keep an eye out. I'm going to start some research of my own. If we are dealing with something…" I trailed off, paused, then force myself to say it, "… paranormal, I doubt that normal approaches will work."
"God, listen to us. Vampires? I'll call you later, Jason. This is too weird for me to handle right now."
I cradled the receiver. I couldn't blame her for needing time to sort it all out. Hell, I was stunned that she accepted it as much as she did. Somewhere in the back of her mind she must already have decided that something was very wrong about those other deaths.
All right. Let's get to work, Jason.
I went upstairs into my library, started pulling down books – folklore references I'd collected over the years, mostly, including Vampires: A World Survey, which was the closest thing to a scholarly compendium on the subject I'd ever found. Most of these things came from my information addiction overlapping with my fiction reading; I couldn't resist trying to fact-check even my horror novels. Bad facts didn't stop me from reading them, of course, but I liked to know what was real and was wasn't.
I sat down at my workstation, started keying in information from each book. The World Survey emphasized what I'd already known: the vampire myth existed in some form in almost every corner of the world – from South America to Japan, from China to Europe. The abilities and weaknesses of the creatures, of course, varied wildly, from the original shambling zombie-like corpses of Eastern Europe to China and Japan's strange "hopping vampires" to…
I glanced back up at the shelves and wondered if I should include anything from the fictional side. Yes, at first glance that sounded stupid, but if I was going to assume there were such things as… vampires, there was the possibility that one or more books had been written by people who knew they existed and something of what they were like.
And… again if I was right… they'd already apparently shown two of the characteristics often attributed to fictional vampires: superhuman strength and the ability to disappear or turn into mist.
I sighed, got back up, and picked out a selection of vampire novels – the original Dracula, Yarbro's Saint Germain books, Rice's Lestat, a few others that covered a range of tastes. I'll extract the key points as possibilities and put them in with a low but significant weight.
After three hours, my neck and arms started getting really cramped. I broke for a late lunch or maybe dinner, headed back towards the computer just as the phone rang.
"Wood's Information Ser—"
I knew that gravel-scraping voice, even though it usually didn't call before the night shift. Then I looked at the clock and realized it was the night shift by now. That's what you get for sleeping until after noon. "Hi, Elias. I've got your photos done."
"Let's just say that I'll be real surprised if we aren't electing a new Assemblyman soon."
He laughed, a quick explosive chortle. "With an attitude like that, I don't see you getting on jury duty, that's for sure. Listen, I'll be over to pick 'em up soon. 'Bout an hour and a half good?"
"Sure thing, Elias."
I needed a little break from bloodsucking freaks anyway. I pulled the envelope from the safe, rechecking the pictures on disk against the negatives. By the time my recheck was done, Elias was there. "Hey there, Jase," he said, ducking slightly as he entered. He really didn't have to—the doorway's seven feet high and he's six foot six—but it was a habit he had. Add a gangly frame, a sharp-edged nose, black hair, black eyes, and a slight stoop; Elias Klein always reminded me of a youthful buzzard. He came into my office to get a quick look. He liked them all, until we got to the last one.
"Nice joke, Jason."
"What do you mean, joke? It looks pretty good to me."
"Oh, sure, Assemblyman Connors looks just lovely. But without Verne Domingo to complete the picture it's nothing but a publicity shot."
I pointed to the next to last. "What about that one? They're swapping right there, what more could you ask for?"
"That's just a second-string doper, Jason! Domingo's the big man, the guy we've been after for the whole time I've been on this case, and that is the photo that should show him."
I shrugged. "Too bad. Next time make sure he's in the picture."
"Don't give me that, Wood! I know he was in that shot, I was the one looking through the viewfinder."
I handed him the negative. "Look for yourself."
He stared at it. "What the hell?" Then he swung towards me. "Wood, you'd better not be dicking around with the evidence! I've been on this for eight damn months, and if you're—"
"Oh, cut the tough cop act, Elias. You know damn well that I only play jokes, I don't really mess with my clients' stuff. If I did, would the city PD be paying me ten grand a year? That negative is the one you gave me and it's in the same shape as it was when it got here."
"But that's impossible." Elias glared at the negative as though a hard stare would make the missing figure materialize. "If you look through the viewfinder of an SLR, what you see is what you get. Besides, dammit, look at your own enhancement. He's got his mouth half open, saying something, and he's about to shake hands. Then look at that angle. Do you put your hand out twenty feet from the guy you're going to shake with?"
"Nope." I was mystified now. Then a quote spun across my mind: "This time there could be no error, for the man was close to me, and I could see him over my shoulder. But there was no reflection of him in my mirror!"
I took the negative and stared at it again. "You're right, Elias. Mr. Domingo should have been in this picture. That leaves only one explanation."
He looked at me. "And that is… ?"
"That you are dealing with someone whose image doesn't appear on film."
Elias didn't like that at all, but he had to admit that I had no motive to screw around with the negatives. "So what're you saying? He's got some kind of Star Trek cloaking device that wipes his image off film? I won't swallow it."
"Trust me, Elias, you don't want to know what I think. Since this negative is worthless as is, mind if I keep it? Maybe there's some kind of latent image I could bring up."
"Dammit, Jason! Tell me what is—" He broke off, having caught sight of the pile of books and papers on the desk.
He looked at them. He picked them up, examined them. Looked at me. "And Reisman said …" he began, then stopped. He glanced at the negative again. Back at me. A long pause. "You're right." he said finally. "I don't want to know. Keep the negative." He grabbed his hat and sunglasses, left quickly.
I went back to typing.
The phone rang again.
"Hello, Jason," said Sylvie. "What have you heard?"
"Enough. I apologize for doubting you, Sylvie. We've either got ourselves a real honest-to-God vampire here, or someone who is doing his level best to fake it. And with the technical problems of faking some of this, I'd rather believe in a vampire than in a faker." I glanced down. "And I think I've found our bloodsucker, too." I gave her a quick rundown on Klein's negative.
"But, Jason, isn't that an incredible coincidence?"
"I thought so myself, at first. But I've been thinking, and it isn't as far out as it first seems. In most legit businesses you have to do business in daylight hours at some point. Maybe a vampire can live in a musty coffin underground all the time, but I'll bet they sure don't want to. They want all the creature comforts they can enjoy and that means money. So they'll just naturally gravitate to the 'shady' side of commerce, pardon the pun. And with their natural advantages, it isn't surprising at all that one might be high up on the ladder."
"I hadn't thought of it that way. But drug deals happen in the day, too."
"But if you've got muscle to back you up you can get away with a lot of odd quirks. Avoiding sunlight might be possible." I nodded to myself. "And Lewis acted as an informant to me; might have done so to the police, or – more likely – he'd tell me and expect I'd get it to them. So if Lewis had seen something and come to tell me…"
"Oh, the poor man," Syl said softly. "But you're right, it does make sense. And, by the way, apology accepted. I've been calling around and getting my better occult acquaintances on the alert. They'll see what they can find."
"Good." Privately, I didn't expect much from Sylvie's pals. Sylvie herself might have something, but most of the people who visited the Silver Stake were your typical muddled New-Age escapists who confused Tolkien and Star Wars with real life. "I'm working on something here that might help. Stop by after you're done, okay?"
"Sure thing, Jason. Just promise me no more bodies, huh?"
"I make no guarantees. Bodies never consult me before arriving. See you."
It was ten o'clock by the time I finished. Then I put WISDOM to work. Wood's Information Service Database Online Manager can analyze information using many different statistical methods and a lot of other heuristics. WISDOM was instructed to examine the information on all different kinds of vampires to construct the most likely abilities that an actual vampire might be expected to possess. It took WISDOM only a few minutes to do its calculations. I sat down and read. It was grim reading.