Chapter 4

On the drive to Mayfair Joel tells me about his life. Maybe I pry the information out of him a bit Maybe he has nothing to hide. I listen attentively and grow to like him more with each passing mite, much to my disquiet Maybe that's his intention-to be open with me. Already, I think, he knows I am more dangerous than I appear.

"I grew up on a farm in Kansas. I wanted to be an FBI agent from the first time I saw that old series, The F.B.I., that starred Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.  Do you remember that show? It was great I suppose I did have dreams of being a hero: catching bank robbers, finding kidnapped kids, stopping serial murderers. But when I graduated from the academy in Quantico, Virginia, I was assigned to blue collar crime in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I spent twelve months chasing account?ants. Then I got a big break. My landlady was mur?dered. Stabbed with a knife and buried in a cornfield. That was at the end of summer. The local police were called in, and they found the body pretty quick. They were sure her boyfriend did it. They even had the guy arrested and ready to stand trial. But I kept telling them he loved his woman and wouldn't have hurt her for the world. They wouldn't listen to me. There is an old rivalry between the FBI and police. Even in Los Angeles, working on this case, the LAPD constantly withholds information from me.

"Anyway, privately, I went after another suspect- the woman's sixteen-year-old son. I know, he sounds like an unlikely candidate-the woman's only child. But I knew her son as well as the boyfriend, and the kid was bad news. An addict ready to steal the change from a homeless person. I was their tenant and I caught him breaking into my car once to steal my radio. He was into speed. When he was high, he was manic-either the nicest guy in the world or ready to poke your eyes out. He had lost all sense of reality. At his mother's funeral he began to sing "Whole Lot of Love." Yet, at the same time, he was cunning. His bizarre behavior hid his guilt. But I knew he'd done it, and, as you're fond of saying, don't ask me why. There was something in his eyes when I talked to him about his mother-like he was thinking about how nice it was finally to have the house all to himself. "The problem was, I didn't have a shred of evidence that linked him to the crime. But I kept watching him, hoping he'd reveal something. I was anxious to move to another place, but during my off hours, I told myself, I was on stakeout. I felt in my gut something would turn up.

"Then Halloween came, and that evening the sonofabitch was out on his front porch carving a huge jack-o'-lantern. He flashed me a nauseatingly sweet smile as I walked to my car, and something about his expression made me pause to look closer at his knife. By this time the victim's boyfriend was in the middle of his trial, and losing. As I mentioned, the woman had been stabbed, and as I studied her son and the pumpkin on his lap, I remembered how the autopsy report noted the unusual spacing of the metal teeth marks on the victim's skin. This knife was weird-the cutting edge had irregularly spaced ridges.

"I hid my interest in the knife with a nonchalant wave, but the next day I got a warrant to search the house. I obtained the knife, and its cutting edge was compared to the photographs taken by the coroner. There was a match. To make a long story short, the son was eventually convicted. He is serving a life sentence in Iowa as we speak." Joel adds, "All because of one jack-o'-lantern."

"All because of one sharp agent," I say. "Was your success on the case your ticket to bigger and better things?"

"Yes. My boss was pleased by my persistence, and I was put on a couple of old unsolved murder cases. I solved one of them and was promoted. I have been working difficult murder cases in LA. ever since." He nods. "Persistence is the key to solving most myster?ies."

"And imagination. Why did you tell me this story?" He shrugs. "Just trying to make casual conversation with a potential witness."

"Not true. You want to see how I react to your tales of insight and intrigue."

He has to laugh. "What do you want with me, Alisa? To make me into a hero or a goat? I did as you requested-I told no one where I was going. But I'll have to call in some time today. And if I tell them I'm in Oregon riding around with a cute blond, it's not going to look good on my record."

"So you think I'm cute?" I ask.

"You catch the operative words, don't you?"

"Yes." I add, "I think you're cute as well."

"Thank you. Do you have a boyfriend?"


"Is he normal?"

I feel a pang in my chest "He is wonderful."

"Can he verify where you were the last two days?"

"That's not necessary. I already told you I was in the Coliseum watching necks being broken and chests pierced. If there is guilt by association, then I'm guilty as sin."

"Aren't you worried about telling that to an FBI agent?"

"Do I look worried?"  

"No. That's what worries me." His tone becomes businesslike again. "How did this abnormal person break the young man's neck?"

"With his bare hands."

"But that's impossible."

"I told you not to ask me these questions. Let's wait till we get to Mayfair, see what we find out from the local police. Then perhaps I'll tell you more."

"I will have to call the local office of the FBI and have them notify the police that I'm coming. They won't open their files to me just because I walk in the front door."

I hand him my cellular phone. "Notify whoever you have to, Joel."

The Mayfair police give us scant information, and yet it is crucial. While I wait in the car and listen to the conversation that takes place inside the station, Joel learns that there was a body recovered from the explosion at my house, not just pieces of flesh as I expected. I have to wonder-how did Yaksha's form survive the blast? He was more powerful than any creature that walked the earth, but even he should have had to bow to several crates of dynamite. The police tell Joel that the body was taken to a morgue in Seaside, seventy miles south of Mayfair, the city where I combated the people Yaksha sent after me, Slim and his partners. "Please! I don't want to die." "Then you should never have been born." Slim's blood was bitter tasting, as was his end. So be it.

Joel returns to my car and I give him every chance to lie to me about what the police have told him. But he gives me the straight facts.

"We're going to Seaside," I say, handing him the phone again. "Tell them we're on our way."

"What was the name of your friend who died?"


"What kind of name is that?"

"It's Sanskrit." I glance over. "It's the name of a demonic being."

He dials the Seaside morgue. "Love the company you keep."

I can't resist-I give him a wink. "It's improving by the hour."

Joel is big-time FBI. The morgue is only too happy to show him whatever bodies they have on ice. The problem is, when we get there-this time I go inside with Joel-the body we are looking for is missing. Now I know what the Mayfair police were holding back. Joel looks irritated. I fed dizzy. Is Yaksha still alive? Did he create the monster who attacked me? If that is the case, then we are all doomed. Seymour can have all the confidence in the world in me, but I will not be able to stop my creator if he is bent on spreading our black blood. Yet it makes no sense. Yaksha was looking forward to his end, secure in the knowledge that he was going to his death having done the Lord's bidding.

"What do you mean, it's missing?" Joel demands. "What happened to it?"

The bespeckled coroner shakes at Joel's question. He is the kid who has been caught with his fingers in the cookie jar. Only this guy's fingers look as if they have been dipped in formaldehyde every morning for the last twenty years. The jaundice virus could be oozing out of his big ears. Here I am a vampire, but even I can't understand why anyone would want to be a coroner and work with corpses all day, even fresh ones filled with nice blood. Morticians are an even stranger lot. I once buried a mortician alive-in France after World War II-in his most expensive coffin. He made the mistake of saying all Americans were pigs, which annoyed me. He kicked like a pig as I shoveled the dirt on top of him. I enjoy a little mischief.

"We don't know for sure," the coroner replies. "But we believe it was stolen."

"Well, that's just great," Joel growls. "How long was the body here before it disappeared?"

"A week."

"Excuse me," I interrupt. "I am Special Agent Perne and an expert when it comes to forensic evi?dence. Are you absolutely sure the body we are discussing was in fact a body? That the person was dead?"

The coroner blinks as if he has tissue sample in his eyes. "What are you suggesting?"

"That the guy simply got up and walked out," I say.

"That would have been quite impossible."

"Why?" I ask.

"Both his legs had been blown off," the coroner says. "He was dead. We had him in the freezer all the time he was here."

"Do you know who might have stolen the body?" Joel asks.

The coroner straightens. "Yes. We had an employee here, an Eddie Fender, who vanished the same time as the body. He took off without even collecting his final paycheck. He worked the night shift and was often unsupervised."

"What was his position?" Joel asks.

"He was an orderly, of sorts."

I snort. "He helped prepare the bodies for dissec?tion."

The coroner is insulted. "We do not dissect people, Agent Perne."

Joel raises his hand as a call for peace. "Do you have a resume on this guy? A job application?"

The coroner nods. "We handed over copies of those items to the Seaside police. But you are welcome to see the originals. If you'll come into my office, I'll dig them out of our files."

"Go ahead," I say to Joel. "I want to browse, check out the sights."

He rolls his eyes. "Don't disturb the dead."

I check the individual freezer lockers in the back. My keen sense of smell brings me quickly to the one Yaksha occupied. The aroma of the venom-still there even in death, in ice. Yet the odor is not precisely as I remember it, even from six weeks or five thousand years ago. There is something wrong with the faint traces of his blood that remain in the cold locker. Somehow it has been polluted. Grotesque vibrations linger over the hollow space. If Yaksha is in fact dead, he did not leave the world thinking about Krishna, as he hoped. My disquiet deepens.

While Joel stays with the coroner, I wander deeper into the morgue and find an office space with a secretary with her feet up on her desk, doing her nails. I like a woman who doesn't take her job too seriously. This gal doesn't even bother to sit up as I walk in. Of course, to some, I look like a teenager. About thirty, she has a National Enquirer and a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi sitting on her desk beside a computer screen that keeps flashing: TEMPORARY MALFUNCTION! Her lips swim in red paint; her hair stands up like an antique wig. Twenty pounds overweight, she looks jovial, a little slutty.

"Wow," she says when she sees me. "Aren't you a pretty little thing! What are you doing in this haunted house?"

I smile. "I am with Special Agent Joel Drake. My name is Alisa Perne. We are investigating a murder."

Now she sits up. "You're FBI? You look like a cheerleader."

I sit down. "Thank you. You look like an executive secretary."

She pulls out a cigarette and waves her hand. "Yeah, right. And this is the executive suite. What can I do for you?"

"Did you know Eddie Fender?"

"The guy who stole the stiff?"

"Did he steal it?"

She lights her cigarette. "Sure. He was in love with that corpse." She chuckles. "It did more for him than I ever did."

"Did you see Eddie socially?" She leans forward and blows smoke. "You mean, did I screw him? Listen, sister, I would just as soon blow my brains out as do it with Eddie Fender, if you get my meaning." I nod.  

"What's your name?"

"Sally Diedrich. I'm not German, just got the name. Is Eddie a suspect in a murder case?"

"We're just gathering background information at this point. I would appreciate anything you could tell me about him."

Sally whistles. "I could give you background on that guy that would make you want to turn your back and run the other way. Listen, you got a minute? Let me tell you a story about Eddie and his relationship to reality."

I cross my legs. "I have many minutes. Tell me everything you know."

"This happened three months ago. We had a temp in here helping me search through some of our oldest files for missing X rays. Don't believe what the cops and the papers tell you-none of that forensic evi?dence should hold up in court. We're forever mixing autopsy reports together. We had a dead guy who stayed here a few days, and it says on his death certificate that he croaked because of a tubal pregnan?cy. Anyway, the temp's name was Heather Longston and she was pretty as pie, if a bit slow. Eddie flirted with her and asked her out, and she said sure before I could warn her. By the time I did talk to her, she felt 'committed.' That's an example of how stupid she was. A guy compliments her on her dress and offers to take her to dinner and she feels committed. Heather was the kind of girl who felt obligated to buy every?thing that gets sold over the phone. I visited her home once, and she had two sets of those carving knives that they say can be used as dowsing rods to find water and oil.

"So Heather went out with Eddie, and let me tell you, that was one date for Ripley's Believe It or Not! First, he took her to McDonald's for dinner. She told me he had three hamburgers, nothing else. No drink, no fries, no nothing. He ate the hamburgers plain- meat on a bun. Then he took her for a walk. Guess where he took her?"

"The cemetery," I say.

"You got it! He wolfed down his burgers and took her hand and they went tombstone sighting. Heather said he got all giddy when they got to the graves. He wanted to lie down on top of them and make out. Said he would give her a rush like she wouldn't believe. Well, she believed it. They made out six feet above some rotting corpse. Heather said he wasn't a bad kisser. He swiped some flowers off a grave and gave them to her as a present. The gesture touched her, I swear." Sally shook her head. "Isn't it just lovely when two loonies get together?"

"As lovely as when two uglies get together," I say.

"I hear you. Anyway, here comes the sick part. Eddie takes her back to his apartment to watch videos, and guess what he pulls out of his drawer?"

"Pornographic films?"

Sally leans farther forward. Her big breasts crush last week's work and push her bottle of Diet Pepsi aside. "Snuff films. Do you know what those are?"

"Yes. Videos made where people-usually woman -are supposedly killed."

"Sick, huh? Eddie had a whole set of them. He showed Heather three or four-they're usually pretty short, I understand-before she figured out she wasn't watching the latest Disney releases. Then she got up and wanted to leave. The only problem was, Eddie wouldn't let her."

"Did he threaten to harm her?"

Sally scratched her head. "I'm not sure. I don't think so. But what he did do was tie Heather up in his bedroom closet, standing up and wearing his high school jacket-and nothing else-and force her to suck on Popsicles all night."

"How did he force her?"

"He would tickle her if she stopped. Heather was very ticklish. She worked those Popsicles until the sun came up. Said when she got home she felt as if she had gargled a whole pint of novocaine."

"But he didn't hurt her in any way?"

"Her wrists had rope burns on them, but other than that she was fine. I tried to get her to talk to the police about what had happened, but she wouldn't. She wanted to go out with him again! I said no way. I went to Eddie and told him if he saw Heather again, I would personally speak to the police about his collection of snuff films. They're illegal, you know. Of course you know that! You work for the FBI. Sorry, I forgot that for a moment, with you just sitting there looking so young and everything. Anyway, Eddie backed off 'cause he didn't want to lose his job. Jesus, I tell you, that guy was born to work with the dead. You'd think they were his Barbie dolls."

"You said he loved the corpse that was stolen. What do you mean?"

"He was always fooling with it."

"Exactly how did he fool with it?"

"I don't know. He just always had it out is all."

"Didn't anyone tell him to stop fooling with it?"

Sally giggled. "No! The corpse never complained."

I pause a moment to take this all in. Fooling with Yaksha's remains might mean fooling with his blood. Could the blood of a dead vampire make a living vampire? I didn't know.

"He didn't bother Heather again?" I ask.


"Did he take any revenge on you for threatening him?"

Sally hesitated; her natural gaiety faltered. "I don't know for sure. I had an old cat, Sibyl, that I'd owned since she was born. I was very fond of her. Two days after I spoke to Eddie, I found her dead in my backyard."

"How did she die?"

"Don't know. There wasn't a mark on her. I didn't bring her to a vet for an autopsy." Sally shivered. "I get enough of that here. You understand."

"I do. I'm sorry about your cat. Tell me-did Eddie have startling green eyes, bony hands, and an acne-scarred face?"

Sally nods. "That's him. Has he killed anybody?"

I stand. I feel no relief that I have found my man. He is worse than I feared.

"Yes," I say. "He is making his own snuff films now."


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