I'm posting these in a group to catch up to where I intended to be in the postings today. Snippets will be M-W-F until Baen releases the E-ARC.
Chapter 4: Flirting and Clues
Two hours later, I wasn't so sure. "Funny, Jason… that picture looks the same."
"Oh, very funny, Syl." I stared at the screen, willing a faint outline to appear.
"Sorry, Jason. But this is not exactly the most exciting date I've ever been on."
"I'd have thought last night would have been all the excitement you could handle. Besides, we are not dating."
"Oh? So you kiss your male friends good night too?"
"Okay, then I won't do that any more." I pounded another set of instructions into the machine, a little harder than was really wise. Syl always rattles me when she gets on that subject.
"Oh, honestly, Jason! Don't sulk like that. I didn't mean to pressure you. It just strikes me funny."
"What strikes you funny?"
"You, Jason. You can face down an angry policeman, send crooks to jail, run a business, and you're calmly trying to track down a vampire… and you just fall apart whenever a woman smiles at you."
"I do not fall apart!" With dismay I watched the entire background turn a pale lavender. Hurriedly I undid my mistake. "I just… don't want to get involved. I don't have time. Besides, we are off the subject here." I ignored her tolerant smile.
"So what are you doing now?"
I turned back to the screen, then shrugged. "Nothing, actually. I've tried everything and it's no use. Either he simply does not show on any wavelengths or else, more likely, this film just has no sensitivity at all in any non-visible spectra. I can't bring up something that the film doesn't have on it." I slumped back, depressed. I really hate losing.
"Well, then, why not work with what has to be there?"
I looked at her. She looked serious, but there were little smile wrinkles around her eyes. "What exactly do you mean?"
"Well, this vampire's solid, isn't he? I mean, you don't shake hands with a ghost."
She pointed to the area in front of Connors. "He's standing right there somewhere. So his feet must—"
"—be on the ground there… and he'll be leaving footprints! Syl, you are a genius! And I am an idiot!" I selected the area in front of Connors that his invisible opposite should be in, started to enlarge it.
A few seconds went by as I searched. Then I smiled and sat back.
On screen, in the gravel of the pathway, were the unmistakable outlines of two shoes. A sprig of grass was caught underneath one shoe, showing an impossible half-flat, half-arched outline. "Syl, I could kiss you!"
"I'll bet you say that to all the guys." She looked pleased, though.
I saved the data and hid the disk away. "For that, I'll buy you dinner."
Chapter 5: An Invitation You Can't Refuse
I knew there was no point in calling Elias in the morning; he was still on the night shift. The police removed the yellow tape that day, and I found myself busy with regular customers until six-thirty; two major research literature searches for a couple of professors at RPI, a prior-art and patent survey for a local engineering firm, and a few simple source searches for a few well-heeled students who'd rather pay me than spend hours in the library. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing people like that a service, but what the heck, they'll pay for it one way or another. At seven I locked up and called Elias.
He protested at first, but eventually gave me what I asked for: Verne Domingo's phone number, which was of course unlisted. As I hung up, it occurred to me that Elias had actually not fought very hard. According to regulations, it was illegal for him to hand out that information, so he had to have wanted me to get it. I remembered him looking at the books yesterday. Maybe he just didn't want to get directly caught in the weird.
I punched in the number. After a few rings, it was answered. Yes, Mr. Domingo was in. No, he could not come to the phone. No, there would be no exceptions. Would I care to leave a message?
"Yes. Tell Mr. Domingo that I have a photograph that he is not in."
The dignified voice on the other end was puzzled. "Excuse me? Don't you mean one that he is in?"
"I mean exactly what I say. Tell him that I have a picture that he is not in. I will call back in one half hour." I hung up.
I booted up a secure VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) package I'd found and heavily customized, tied my phone into that. Someone trying a traceback on the call would find it going to various service providers, since I'd hacked together an effective anonymizer for VOIP work. The package also included some signal analysis packages for the incoming signal; if they were using conventional phone lines, I'd be able to tell how many lines were in use.
Precisely thirty minutes later, I called back. A different voice, with a faint accent I couldn't place, answered. "Verne Domingo speaking."
"Ah. You got my message."
"I did indeed. A most peculiar message. I must confess that my curiosity is piqued. What, exactly, does it mean?"
I felt a faint tinge of uncertainty. Could I be wrong? I dismissed it, though. The photo was unmistakable evidence. He was playing it cool. I looked at an indicator; there were more than two people on this line. "Are you sure you want me to talk about it with all those others listening?"
There was a fractional pause, then a chuckle. It was a warm, rich sound. "Very good, young man. I suppose there is no harm in talking to you privately. The rest of you, off the line."
The indicator showed four connections dropping off. Quite a staff he has; unless he called in the cops, but I really doubt that. "All right, young man… what should I call you?"
"Call me… um, John Van Helsing."
That got a real pause. "Most… intriguing. Go on. Tell me about this picture."
"I have a photograph that could place you in a very difficult position. A photo of you involved in a felony."
"You said that I was not in the photo."
"Indeed. Your accomplice is, but even though you should undoubtedly be in the photograph, there is no trace of your image."
He chuckled again. "Obviously the photographer made a mistake."
"Not in this case, Mr. Domingo. You see, even though you do not appear, your physical presence left definite traces, which modern technology could define and discover. I think that you would find life even more difficult if this photo were publicized than if you simply went to jail."
I heard no humor in his voice now. "I despise cliches, Mr…. Van Helsing. But to put it bluntly, you are playing a very dangerous game. Vastly more dangerous, in fact, than you may think, and I will credit you with the intelligence to have already realized considerable danger lay in making this call. You sound like a young and, it would seem, impulsive person. Take my advice and stop now. I am impressed by your initiative and resources… not the least of which is your ability to nullify my tracer. But if you do not stop this now, I will have no choice but to… convince you to stop. And no matter the result of that attempt, you will remain in more danger than you can imagine."
That response confirmed everything. If he hadn't been a vampire, he would have dismissed me as a nut. "Sorry, Mr. Domingo. It can't be dropped. This is a matter of life and death. Several deaths. I'll be in touch."
I hung up the phone immediately.
Now I had to figure out what to do. I'd verified my guess. Domingo was the vampire, no doubt about it. Now what? I couldn't just march up to him some night and hammer a stake through his heart. Never mind the technical difficulties like bodyguards and the fact that he'd probably be less than cooperative; I'd probably be arrested for Murder One and put away. But aside from just killing him, what other choices were there? Lieutenant Reisman would believe me, and maybe Elias Klein if I pushed him. But try getting a warrant out for a murderer with no witnesses except a photo that doesn't show him and some wild-eyed guesses.
I decided to sleep on it. Sometimes the subconscious works out solutions once you stop consciously worrying at it. I had dinner, watched Predator on cable, and finished reading Phantoms before I turned in.
I woke up suddenly. I glanced at the clock; it was 3:30. What had awakened me?
Then I heard it again. A creak of floorboards. Right outside my bedroom door.
I started to ease over towards the nightstand; I keep my gun in that drawer at night.
The bedsprings creaked.
The door slammed open, and three black figures charged in. I lunged for the nightstand, got the drawer halfway open, but one of them smacked my wrist with the butt of a small submachine gun. "Hold it there, asshole. Move and you are history."
I used to think Uzis looked silly on television, like a gun that lost its butt and stock. There was nothing funny about the ugly black snout with the nine-millimeter hole ready to make a matching hole in my head. My voice was hoarse and my heart hammered against my ribs. "Okay! Okay, I am not moving! What do you want?"
"It's not what we want," one said, his voice neither angry nor gloating, but simply factual. "Mr. Domingo wants to talk to you. Now."
After a nasty but impersonal frisking, I was dragged out to a large car. My captors made it clear I was to sit down and shut up. The ride was fast and silent. We pulled up in front of a very large house, fenced and guarded; I recognized the location as we approached. I'd actually driven by here a few times, but never realized there was anything like this on the other end of the gated drive.
The three hustled me out and into the hallway. "Ah, very good, Camillus," said a gentleman with a perfect English accent, dressed in the impeccable formalwear of a Holly wood butler. "I'll take the young man from here."
The one addressed as "Camillus" looked narrowly at me. "Don't give Morgan here – or anyone else – any trouble, Mr. Wood. If you do, I'll be back with a pair of tinsnips and you won't ever need to worry about having kids. Got it?" I didn't doubt he meant it.
"Please, Camillus, this gentleman is not one of our… more obstreperous visitors. I am sure he does not need such crude threats." Morgan bowed to me. "If you would come this way, Mr. Wood?"
Morgan led me into a library that looked like Alistair Cooke should be sitting in it for the next episode of Masterpiece Theatre. I sat down in one of the chairs to wait. I'm glad it was a cool night; if it had been hot I might have been sleeping in little or nothing, and my captors had shown no inclination to let me change clothes. As it was, a red-and-blue running suit looked pretty silly.
Of course, I supposed that what I looked like was probably the least of my problems. But if I didn't think about inane topics like this, I'd probably be screaming.
I hadn't even heard the door open again, but a voice suddenly spoke to me. "Good evening, Mr. Wood. Welcome to my house."
I guess I was jumpier than I thought. I leapt out of the chair and whirled. "Jesus!" He smiled slightly as I did a double-take. "Son of a… you even look like a vampire!"
He did, too. Not the walking-corpse kind; he looked like a taller Frank Langella. "Fortunate casting on their part, I assure you." He smiled again, and this time I noticed pointed teeth. Two fangs. It suddenly felt very cold here. "Sit down, please." He rang a bell; the door opened almost instantly, framing the silver-haired butler who'd guided me upstairs. "Morgan, bring a suit of clothes for my guest here." He rattled off my measurements in a lightning-fast stream. "And send up some hors d'oeuvres; I have yet to meet a young bachelor who isn't hungry at all hours."
What in hell was going on? I expected to be taken out back and shot. Now he's treating me like a visiting dignitary? This is very weird. "How in the world did you find me?" I asked once the butler left.
He shook his head, looking amused. "Mr. Wood, you are indeed a very clever man. But you are, I am afraid, not an expert in espionage or covert operations. Certainly you left no direct clues, but consider! From my conversation with you, I knew the following: you were a young man – your voice, manner on the phone, and approach left me with little doubt on that score; you were in possession of a photo which, from your description, could only have been obtained from a covert surveillance camera; you were certainly not the police; you had considered possibilities that most people would dismiss offhand; you had either access to someone with the ability to, or or yourself actually possessed abilities to, process the images on that film and from them discover the evidence you and I discussed recently.
"In short, then, I had to look for a young man who was on close terms with the police, who worked with computer-enhancements or had access to them, who had an open mind, and, from the tone of your voice, who had had at least one death recently that he was personally concerned with. I think you will admit that the field of choices becomes very narrow."
I flushed. Nice work, moron! I had set myself up perfectly.
The clothes and food arrived; he directed me to a small alcove to change. I came out feeling almost human again and I was actually hungry. "So what are you going to do with me? I presume that if you intended to kill me you'd already have done so."
"I do not kill unless in self-defense, Mr. Wood. You are entirely mistaken in your impression of me. I have killed no one since I arrived here three years ago."
The last thing I expected here was denial. "Entirely mistaken? Are you saying you are not a drug dealer?"
He winced. "I dislike that term. I am a supplier of substances which your government terms illegal, yes."
"Then you've killed hundreds by proxy. That's even worse."
He glanced at me; his expression was mild, but his eyes appeared to flame momentarily. "Do not seek to judge me, young man. What your culture calls illegal is its business, but I do not acknowledge its sovereignty over me or others. I walked this world long before the United States was even a possibility, and I will exist long after it has gone and been forgotten in time. If members of your population choose my wares, that is their affair. I do not sell to children, nor do I sell to those who do. Adults make their own choices of salvation and damnation. I supply the means to make that particular choice. I live in comfort on the free choices of these people."
"Once they're addicted, it isn't much of a free choice! And some of them — many of them — turn to drugs because of their dead-end lives."
He flicked a hand in a negation, red light flashing from a ruby ring on his finger. "Mr. Wood, this lecture of yours is at an end. I did not bring you here to discuss my business affairs. But I will say that I target my wares to those who can afford them. They have both the choice and the resources to make or unmake the choice. I take no responsibility for the idiocy of others." He held up the hand as I started to answer. "No, that is enough, Mr. Wood. You are a well-meaning young man, and I would enjoy talking with you on other subjects. But this discussion is closed.
"To the point, Mr. Wood. I presume that you believe that I killed your… friend, this Lewis. Would you tell me why I might do such a thing?"
Could he be that dense? "Obviously you were hungry."
He nodded. "I see. And can you think of any other reasons?"
"Lewis was one of my contacts. Maybe he knew something about you or your operation."
He began to smile, then he laughed. It was as warm and rich as the chuckle, ringing like a deep bell. "Come with me, Jason."
He led me out of the library, down a hall, and into his own chambers. He pointed at a cabinet. "Open that."
I pulled on the handles. The rosewood opened, to reveal a large refrigerator. Inside were dozens of bottles filled with red liquid.
"I can obtain blood legitimately from several sources, Jason. It can be expensive, but I have many millions. I can even warm it to the proper temperature. I can eat normal food, though I derive no nourishment from it, and it gives me what a mortal would call cramps; but thus I can maintain a masquerade."
I was stunned. I had missed all this totally. How could I be so stupid? "But what if Lewis knew something? You—"
"Really, Mr. Wood, you can't think that I would personally kill him? I have people – such as Camillus – for that, who can use bullets or their bare hands, or strangle with generic wire, or cause automobiles to go out of control at convenient locations. What earthly reason would I have to kill someone in a fashion so bizarre as to draw just this sort of attention?" He led the way back to the library. "You are a reasonable man, Jason. Unless you believe me so insane that I have lost any semblance of rationality, then you cannot believe I am responsible for these terrible killings."
I nodded. How could I argue? I should have seen all this stuff without ever having to have it rammed down my throat. "Then what you are saying is that there is another vampire in the city?"
"I see no alternative."
I cursed, earning me a scandalized raise of an eyebrow. "Sorry. But this puts me back to square one. Now I'll have to sort him out from a hundred and fifty thousand people in the area."
"I may be able to help you."
He sure had my attention. "How?"
He leaned back in his chair. "Normally I do not get involved in squabbles between my other brethren and you mortals. If they are stupid enough to be discovered, they deserve the fate that you weaker but numerous mortals will inevitably dispense. But in this case," his voice grew hard, "this one's actions have almost led to me suffering that fate. So I will tell you something very useful." He reached out, pulled out a drawer, and dropped an envelope on the desk.
I opened it; the negative was inside. "How …" I began, then thought a moment. "Never mind."
Verne Domingo pointed to the photo. "That is the key, you see. Not in the way you thought, of course. It is the fact of its existence."
"How do you mean?"
"I have been well aware of my effect, or lack thereof, on photographic film for many years. Therefore, I do not permit myself to be photographed. Moreover, I am always aware of all mortals in my vicinity. If I concentrate—and I always do when outside—I know who is about me, within a large radius." He shifted his gaze to me. "The only beings I cannot sense—and thus the only beings who could photograph me without my knowledge—are my own or similar kind."
My appetite vanished and my stomach knotted. It was suddenly as clear as the crystal glass in front of me. Who had taken the picture? Who liked night shifts? Who had argued with me until I realized I had a photo of a vampire? Who had handed over a phone number and practically pushed me toward Verne Domingo?
Lieutenant Elias Klein.
I stood and crossed the room to the desk, reached out. Verne Domingo's dark-skinned hand came down on mine, effortlessly forced the telephone receiver back to its base. "No calls, Mr. Wood, please."
"I have to at least let Sylvie know I'm all right."
"You do not have to do anything of the kind."
"Will you listen to yourself! Think, mortal, use that mind of yours! Why are you here?"
That was a silly question. "Because three thugs with Uzis dragged me out of my bedroom and brought me here."
He closed his eyes and drew a breath. "That is a simplistic answer, Mr. Wood. It is nearing dawn and I am tired. Now please think about your situation."
Okay, what did he mean? I thought about it, piecing together causes, effects, Klein… "I'm here because Klein wanted you to come after me; he wanted me out of the way, or maybe if I got lucky, you out of the way."
Domingo opened his eyes and smiled. "Light begins to dawn. So what will happen if you call?"
"Sylvie wouldn't tell."
"Perhaps not; I lack the pleasure of the young lady's acquaintance, so I am ill-equipped to judge. However, she would very likely not show an appropriate level of worry. Why should you risk your present position when her authentic emotions can serve a better purpose?"
Finally the idea clicked. God I am slow sometimes. "You mean, let Klein think you got me… that I'm dead or removed."
"But then what? I can't prove a thing against him without coming back out, and even then I'd have to expose you, and I assume you wouldn't…" I looked at him and his eyes answered the question. "No, you wouldn't."
Domingo drained a wineglass of red liquid; I tried not to watch, but it had a horrid fascination about it. He set the glass down and looked at me. "I shall have to help you, Mr. Wood. There are certain things—'loose ends,' as you would say—which Elias must clear up in order to secure his position. One is this negative. He must find it and destroy it; he can ill afford to let evidence of vampires remain. I am, of course, another."
"Loose ends… Sylvie!"
He nodded slowly. "Yes, she is certainly one. She knows far too much for him to be safe, and moreover she believes… and has psychic resources as well."
I started to stand, then looked at him suspiciously. "How do you know that Syl's… psychic? I didn't think you even knew her!"
Domingo chuckled slightly. "Personally I do not. However, it is in my best interests to determine what people of Talent exist in my vicinity, and it was not long at all before my people had compiled a considerable dossier on the young lady. Your own reaction, skeptic though you are, merely confirms my impression; she is one of the few who truly possesses what she claims to have."
This time I did stand, and started for the door. "Then I have to go! Her safety's more important than mine or even nailing Elias."
Without so much as a flicker, Verne Domingo suddenly stood between me and the door. "Not more important to me, young man. This Elias has dared to use me—me—as a pawn in his games." For a moment I saw, not a vampire of the modern world, but a man of a far more ancient time, a lord whose honor had suffered a mortal insult. "He will regret that."
"I don't give a damn about your stupid ego, Domingo! He could be going after Syl this minute!"
He spread his hands, yielding a point. "Well spoken; if I do not respect your reasons, I cannot expect you to respect mine. But he will make no move until tomorrow night; or rather, tonight, since we are well into the morning. He must have the police—probably through your young lady—discover that you have been taken. He believes me ruthless and willing to kill to protect myself, and will assume you dead. Only tonight will he search your quarters and deal with your Sylvia."
An idea occurred to me. "Is it true that vampires cannot enter a dwelling unbidden?"
He hesitated a moment. "Yes. It is true."
"Then Syl should be safe if she stays home."
"Indeed? Elias Klein, respected lieutenant of police, friend of yours, shows up on her doorstep with news of you; do you truly believe she would have him stay on the porch?"
I shook my head reluctantly. "I guess not." I thought that Syl's… talent might warn her, but it might not. Syl had been in an accident or two, so while her power might be a hundred percent accurate it was far from a hundred percent reliable.
"I guess not as well! No, there is only one way to handle Mr. Elias Klein, and this is the way it shall be done…"
Chapter 6: Fright and Flight
I ejected the magazine from the .45, checked it, returned it to the gun.
"Believe me, Mr. Wood. I have no reason to tamper with your weapon. Your captors were instructed to bring any weapons they might find; not to interfere with them."
I clicked the safety off. "It isn't that; it's just always wise to recheck your weapon before you might need it."
"Indeed." Verne Domingo touched my arm suddenly, and pointed.
From our concealment to one side of Tamara's Tanning, I saw the tall, angular figure of Elias Klein emerge from the Silver Stake. There was no mistaking the long black hair of the person with him. "Sylvie! He's got her!"
Domingo's hand almost crushed my bicep. "Wait! Can you not see that she is leading him? Obviously he has not yet revealed himself to her; she is probably trying to aid him. When they enter your office, then will be your time."
"My time? What about you?"
For a moment I thought I saw conflict on his face, a shadow of a feeling of responsibility. But then his face hardened. "I have done all I intend to. If you fail, then I may have to act more directly. I prefer, however, to let you finish the job at hand."
I glared at him, but he simply gazed back with expressionless eyes. "Are you sure he can't sense me?"
"Quite. Any vampire can cloak a limited number of mortals from the senses of other vampires; undoubtedly our friend Klein used that to conceal whatever partners he worked with. Mr. Klein will not notice you until he actually sees you. At that point, my protection will be gone." He glanced outward. "They have entered. Good luck, Jason Wood."
I gave his hand a quick shake. "I wouldn't say it's been fun… but it has been interesting."
Carefully, I started for my front door. I slipped inside and walked with great care along one side of the hallway. As I approached my office, I heard Klein's voice.
"Where else? Think, Sylvie! That negative may be the only thing keeping Jason alive now!"
Sylvie's voice trembled faintly. "I don't know, Elias—wait. He kept really important data in a safe, over there behind the wall panels."
Footsteps as they went from the upstairs towards my workstation; then a rattle as the panel was pushed open. I peeked around the corner from the den.
Sylvie was standing behind Elias, who was bent down over the small safe. "Sylvie, do you know the combination?"
"I don't know if I should tell you that."
He turned towards her; I ducked back just in time. "Sylvie, please! Domingo knows that negative is the only hard evidence we have! Without it we don't have a thing to bargain with."
She sighed. "All right. It's 31-41-59-26."
He snickered a bit. "Of course. Pi." I heard him turn back to the safe.
My only chance. As quietly as I could, I stepped through the door and snaked an arm around Sylvie, clapping my hand over her mouth and nose so she couldn't make a sound. Then, as Elias was swinging the safe door open, I yanked Sylvie's head towards me enough so she could see me. Her eyes widened, then narrowed when I put a finger to my lips. I could see her glance towards Klein as I let go. One nod told me she'd figured out the situation. She slowly started back out the door.
"Sylvie, it's not there! Where else—you?!" As Elias turned, he caught sight of me. I'd never seen someone's jaw literally drop before. He stood there for several seconds, just staring.
"Hello, Elias." I raised the gun.
"Wood? Wood, what the hell are you doing? How did you get away from Domingo? We were worried to death about you!" He started forward.
I gestured with the gun; he stopped. "No, I don't think you were worried at all, Elias. You were sure that after I called Domingo he'd cancel my ticket for you. Save you the trouble."
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't try it, Elias; I can see you thinking about moving. It must've been a shock to you when you came in and saw all those vampire books on my desk. You knew right then that I was closing in on you. You saw one chance to send me off on a one-way chase after the wrong guy; that negative. All you had to do was call my attention to it; you could rely on me to imagine the rest."
I shook my head. "Even then, you almost blew it entirely by pointing out that SLR—Single Lens Reflex—cameras show exactly what's in the picture. You see, SLRs use mirrors to send that image to the viewfinder. I knew that, but with everything else I didn't think of it at the time. Anyone taking snapshots of a vampire through an SLR would've known something was funny… if, of course, he wasn't a vampire himself.
"I don't know if you even realized you'd made a mistake there, but whether you did or didn't the whole thing was fantastic control on your part; you must've noticed the books as soon as you came in, and you never gave a sign. And your shock at seeing them—only after you'd made sure I knew the significance of the photo—oh, that was perfect. But Domingo wasn't quite the ruthless guy you thought he was." I clicked the safety twice, so he knew it was ready to fire. "There's only one thing that puzzles me, Elias."
He dropped the pretense. "What, Jason?"
"Well, two, really. How'd it happen?"
Klein shrugged. "I don't really know, to tell the truth. I was on a job a while back, got jumped, put into the hospital, remember?"
Now that he mentioned it, I did. About half a year ago; he'd been taken out of a regular hospital to some rehab facility.
"Yeah," he said, still watching my hand with the gun. "So I actually don't remember much after the accident for a while. And when I came back, I knew what I was, and that there was another one here. One that I couldn't afford to have around. But if I took the right course, I could get rid of Domingo and clean up the streets. Get the drug traffic shut down, and at the same time make sure Morgantown's undesirable population went… down."
Undesirable population? I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Klein hadn't ever talked that way before. "What the hell, Elias? Why?"
He sneered. "It just seemed a lot clearer. People like Lewis, and that Corrigan woman – wastes of space. And since I needed something to eat…"
"But you didn't… I mean, does it have to be human blood? And do you have to kill?"
His hands twitched aimlessly. "Human blood has… more of a kick to it, I guess. And when they die, you get this incredible rush, a feeling of such power …" He'd been looking at his hands. When he raised his face, my guts turned to ice. Deep in his eyes was a hellish red glow. And as he spoke, I saw lengthening fangs. "Besides," he continued, and now his voice had an edge of hysteria, "besides, they had to die. They saw me, you see. And it wasn't as if they were anyone important."
"Not anyone… Elias, they were human beings!"
"You always did take the liberal view, Jason." His face was distorting, somehow shifting before my eyes. "I really liked you, Jason… But now you have to die too." He smiled, and there was very little of the old Elias in that deadly smile.
"Don't, Elias. I don't want to kill you."
He started forward slowly. "Let's not pretend, Jason. You can't arrest me, and I need blood."
I backed away, trying to make myself pull the trigger. But, Jesus, Elias was my friend! "Stop, Elias! For God's sake, you're… addicted, that's what you're talking about! Think about it! A big rush, something you need, something that you're going after for that rush…"
He laughed. "That's funny, Jason. Should I go to AA? 'Hello, my name is Elias, and I'm a vampire?' " He shook his head. "I didn't want to kill you, but I have no choice. Neither have you. It's a shame that you can't do anything about it." He was barely human now, a Hollywood vampire straight out of Fright Night. "Good-bye, Jason." He rose straight off the floor, a nightmare of fangs and talons.
My finger spasmed on the trigger.
There was a roar of thunder.
Elias was hit in mid-descent. The force of the round, as it mushroomed within him, hurled him back over my desk. He rose, only a scorched bullet hole in his suit showing he'd been hit.
"So much for silver," I said as I sprinted out the door. I almost bowled Sylvie over as she came running back. "Go, Syl, Go!" I heard jarring footsteps behind me, whirled and fired the second bullet.
The bullet caught him square in the chest; Elias' scream shook the windows as white flame exploded from the incendiary bullet.
"Wood! You bastard! That hurt!" As I backpedaled away, I could see the burns healing. "I think I'll break a few things before I kill you!" He ducked away before I could get another clear bead on him.
"Crap. Anne Rice failed me too. I should have known better than to trust a book with a punk vampire." I glanced around nervously. If I were a vampire, where would I come from next… ?
I whirled, in time to see Elias coming through the wall like a ghost. I leapt through the doorway to the kitchen, but Elias' hand caught me just as I reached the side door. "Gotcha!"
I tried to pull away, but I might as well have been pushing on a vault door. He bent his head toward my neck. I screamed.
Then it was Elias who screamed, a yell of utter shock and agony. I fell to the floor and rolled heavily away, looked up.
Sylvie stood there, holding a large ankh before her. "Back, Undead! By the power of Earth and Life, back!"
The incantation sounded silly; Elias obviously saw no humor in it. As he turned away, trying to get around the looped cross, I saw a black imprint on his back where the ankh had hit him. I raised the .45, fired the third bullet.
The heavy shell hit him like a sledgehammer, spinning him completely around, smashing him into the stove. He put a hand to his chest, where a red stain was beginning to spread. His expression was utter disbelief. Then he fell facedown.
"What did you shoot him with?" Syl demanded, face pale.
I looked down at the body. "A wooden bullet. Thank you, Fred Saberhagen."
"He wrote The Holmes-Dracula File; that's where I got the idea." I holstered the gun and started out of the kitchen—I didn't want to look at the body while I tried to figure out what I was going to say to the cops.
Elias' hand shot out and grabbed my ankle.
I felt myself lifted like a toy, smashed into Syl, sending her ankh flying. Then there was a crash and I felt slivers of glass cut me as I was hurled out of the window. I remember thinking vaguely that I'd gotten the genre wrong. It wasn't a mystery novel; it was Friday the 13th, where the psycho never dies.
I landed badly, barely rolling. I heard the gun skid out of the holster. I scrabbled after it; but then a leather-skinned hand closed clawed fingers around it. "You almost had me, Jason," said the thing that had been Elias Klein. "Too bad you missed the heart. It still might have worked, but you must've used an awfully tough wood; most of the bullet went right on through." He squeezed. The barrel of my gun bent.
I got up and ran.
I didn't get twenty feet.
Talons ripped my shirt; he pitched me the rest of the way across the street and through a storefront. A shard of glass ripped my arm, and my ankle smashed into the edge of the window. I looked up, seeing Elias approach me, the inverted neon letters above lending a hellish cast to his distorted features.
I scrambled away from the window, limped towards the back of the store, grabbed the doorknob, ducked inside.
It was a tiny room with no other exit. I was trapped. The door opened. "A dead end. How appropriate." Elias smiled. No reluctance now, he was happy to kill.
I tried to duck past him; his hands lashed out like whips, lifted me clear of the ground. He turned while holding me. "Trying to get out the door?" He shoved me through the doorway, pulled me back. "It's over, Wood… and I am hungry." He bent his head again.
Suddenly the crystal hammer went warm against my chest. Elias cursed and dropped me. "Damn that bitch! She made that, didn't she?"
I didn't answer. I hurled myself towards the switch by the door.
Elias caught me with one hand. But I swung my body and kicked the switch up.
The tanning booth blazed to life, uncountable rows of sunlamps flooding the air with concentrated sunshine. Elias shrieked, dropped me, threw his arms across his face. "Shut it off! Oh, God, shut it off!"
I took a limping step back.
"Please, Jason, please!" Elias stumbled blindly towards me.
I swung my right fist as hard as I could.
He was off balance already. He fell backward onto the tanning bed. "Oh God oh God I'm burning alive Jason please!!"
Blisters popped across his flesh. There was a stench like burning meat. I felt my stomach convulse, turned away.
"Oh I'm sorry I'm sorry oh just help me Jason!"
"I'm sorry too, Elias," I choked out. I put my hands over my ears but I couldn't drown out the sound of frying fat.
"HELP MEEEeeeee …"
Slowly I uncovered my ears. Then I opened my eyes and turned around.
On the tanning pallet lay a blackened, scorched mummy, mouth gaping wide, revealing the razor-sharp fangs. One hand was frozen above the clouded eyes, clawing the air in a vain attempt to fend off the radiance, blistered skin drawn tight over the bone. As I watched, the skin began to peel away and turn to oily smoke.
I managed to make it just outside the door before I was violently sick.