Chapter 7

That concerns me. Just because he's a vampire he's not necessarily a crack shot, although he could quickly become one with a couple of lessons. Myself, I have practiced with every weapon I own. My skill is such that I use every gun to its full capacity.

"Just don't shoot yourself in the foot," I say.

"I thought you were going to say, just don't shoot me."

"That, too," I say, feeling uneasy.

Edward Fender's job application and resum®¶ contain only one permanent address, which is his moth?er's. It is my belief that the lead is valid. Mrs. Fender's house is located only four miles west of the Coliseum, in the city of Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles. It is a quarter after nine by the time we park in front of her place. Rolling down the window and bidding Ray to sit silently, I listen carefully to what's going on inside the residence. The TV is on to "Wheel of Fortune."

An elderly woman sits in a rocking chair reading a magazine. Her kings are weak; she has a slight dry cough. A front window of the house is half open. The interior is dusty and damp. It smells of poor health and of human serpents. A vampire has recently been in the house, but he is no longer there. Now I am absolutely certain of the identity of the monster I pursue.

"He was here less than two hours ago," I whisper to Ray.

"Is he in the area?"

"No. But he can come into the area swiftly. He has at least twice my speed. I am going to speak to the woman alone. I want you to park out of sight down the street. If you see someone approach the house, don't try to warn me. Drive off. I will know he is coming. I will deal with him. Do you understand?"

Ray is amused. "Am I in the army? Do I have to take your orders?"

I take his hand. "Seriously, Ray. In a situation like this you can't help me. You can only hurt me." I let go of him and slip a small revolver into my coat pocket. "I just have to put a couple of bullets in his brain, and he will not be making any more vampires. Then we can go after the others. They will be a piece of cake."

"Do you like cake, Sita?"

I have to smile. "Yes, of course. With ice cream, especially."

"You never told me when your birthday is. Do you know?"

"Yes." I lean over and kiss him. "It is the day I met you. I was reborn on that day."

He kisses me back, grabs my arm as I go to leave. "I don't blame you, you know."

I nod, although I don't completely believe him. "I know."

The woman answers the door a moment after I knock and remains behind the torn screen door. Her hair is white, her face in ruins. Her hands are arthritic; the fingers claw at the air like hungry rats' paws. She has flat gray eyes that look as if they have watched black-and-white television for decades. There is little feeling in them, except perhaps a sense of cynical contempt. Her bathrobe is a tattered gown of food and bloodstains. Some of the latter look fresh. There are red marks on her neck, still healing.

Her son has been drinking her blood.

I smile quickly. "Hello. Mrs. Fender? I'm Kathy Gibson, a friend of your son's. Is he at home?"

My beauty, my smooth bearing throw her off bal?ance. I shudder to think of the women Eddie usually brings home to Mother. "No. He works the graveyard shift. He won't be home till late." She pauses, gives me a critical examination. "What did you say your name is?"

"Kathy." My voice goes sweet and soft, strangely persuasive. "I didn't mean to stop by so late. I hope I'm not disturbing you?"

She shrugs. "Just watching TV. How come I've never heard Eddie mention you before?"

I stare at her. "We only just met a few days ago. My brother introduced us." I add, "He works with Eddie."

"At the clinic?"

The woman is trying to trick me. I frown. "Eddie doesn't work at a clinic."

The woman relaxes slightly. "At the warehouse?"

"Yes. At the warehouse." My smile broadens. My gaze penetrates deeper. This woman is mentally un?stable. She has secret perversions. My eyes do not cause her to flinch. She is fond of young women, I know, little girls even. I wonder about Mr. Fender. I add, "May I come in?"

"Pardon?"

"I have to make a call. May I use your phone?" I add, "Don't worry, I don't bite."

I have pushed the right button. She enjoys being bitten. Her son drinks her blood with her consent. Even I, an immoral beast, have never been drawn to incestuous relationships. Of course, in the literal sense of the word, we are not talking about incest. Still, the Brady Bunch would never survive in this house. She opens the screen door for me.

"Of course," she says. "Please come in. Who do you have to call?"

"My brother."

"Oh."

I step inside, my sense of smell on alert. Eddie has recently slept in this house. She must let him sleep away the days, not questioning his aversion to the sun. My ability to handle the sun is hopefully my ace in the hole against this creature. Even Yaksha, many times more powerful than myself, was far less com?fortable in the sun than I am. Secretly I pray Eddie can't even leave the house in the daylight hours without wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 100 or better, like Ray. Although my senses study the interior of the house, my ears never leave the exterior. I can?not be taken unaware, like before. Mrs. Fender leads me to the phone beside her rocking chair. Her reading material lies partially hidden beneath a dirty dish-rag-a back issue of Mad Magazine. Actually, I kind of like Mad Magazine.

I dial a phony number and speak to no one. I'm at Eddie's house. He's not here. I'll be a few minutes late. Goodbye. Setting down the phone, I stare at the woman again.

"Has Eddie called here tonight?" I ask.

"No. Why would he call? He just left a couple of hours ago."

I take a step toward her. "No one's called?"

"No."

She's lying. The FBI has called, probably Joel himself. Yet Joel, or anyone else for that matter-with the exception of Eddie-has not been in the house recently. I would smell their visit. Yet that situation will soon change. The authorities will converge on this place sooner or later. That fact may not be as crucial as it appears. Eddie would not easily walk into a trap, and clearly he does not meet with his cohorts in this

house. The warehouse is the key. I need the address. Taking another step forward, I force the woman to back against a divider that separates the meager living room from the messy kitchen. My eyes are all over her, all she sees. There is no time for subtlety. Fear blossoms inside her chest but also awe. Her will is weird but weak. I stop only a foot away.

"I am going to visit Eddie now," I say softly. "Tell me the best way to the warehouse from here."

She speaks like a puppet. "Take Hawthorne Boule?vard east to Washington. Turn right and go down to Winston." She blinks and coughs. "It's there."

I press my face to her face. She breathes my air, my intoxicating scent "You will not remember that I was here. There is no Kathy Gibson. There is no pretty blond girl. No visitor stopped by. The FBI didn't even call. But if they should call again, tell them you haven't heard from your son in a long time." I put my palm on the woman's forehead, whisper in her ear. "You understand?"

She stares into space. "Yes."

"Good." My lips brush her neck, but I don't bite. But if Eddie pisses me off again, I swear, I am going to strangle his mother in front of him. "Goodbye, Mrs. Fender."

Yet as I leave the house I note a cold draft from the back rooms. I feel the vibration of an electric motor and smell coolant. The house has a large freez?er next to one of the back bedrooms. I almost turn to explore more. I have planted my suggestions, however, and to return may upset the woman's delicate state of illusion. Also, I have the location of the warehouse, and finding Eddie is my first priority. If need be, I can return later and search the rest of the house.

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