Chapter 30

Cops and Corpses

"This guy is pissing me off," Cavuto said, expelling a blue cloud of cigar smoke against the file drawers of the dead. "I hate this fucking guy." He was standing over the body of Gilbert Bendetti, who had a thermometer sticking out of the side of his abdomen.

"Inspector, there's no smoking allowed in here," said a uniformed officer who had been called to the scene.

Cavuto waved to the drawers. "Do you think they mind?"

The officer shook his head. "No, sir."

Cavuto blew a stream of smoke at Gilbert. "And him, do you think he minds?"

"No, sir."

"And you, Patrolman Jeeter, you don't mind, do you?"

Jeeter cleared his throat. "Uh... no, sir."

"Well, good," Cavuto said. "Look on the side of the car, Jeeter. It says 'Protect and Serve, not 'Piss and Moan. »

"Yes, sir."

Rivera came through the double doors, followed by a tall, sixtyish man in a lab coat and silver wire-frame glasses.

Cavuto looked up. "Doc, this guy done, or what?"

The doctor pulled a surgical mask over his face as he approached the body. He bent over Gilbert and checked the thermometer. "He's been dead about four hours. I'd put the time of death between one and one-thirty. I won't be able to tell for sure until I finish the postmortem, but offhand I'd say myocardial infarction."

"I hate this guy," Cavuto repeated. He looked down at Jody's toe tag, which was lying on the linoleum with a chalk circle drawn around it. "Any chance this guy misplaced the redhead?"

The coroner looked up. "None at all. Someone removed the body."

Rivera had his notebook out and was scribbling as the doctor talked. "Any news on the one that just came in, the cowboy? Any blood loss?"

"Again, I can't say for sure, but it looks like a broken neck is the cause of death. There may have been some blood loss, but not as much as we've seen with the others. Since he was sitting up, it could just be settling."

"What about the wound on the throat?" Rivera asked.

"What wound?" the coroner said. "There was no wound on the throat; I checked the body myself."

Rivera's arms fell to his sides, his pen clattered on the linoleum. "Doctor, could you check again? Nick and I both saw distinct puncture wounds on the right side of the neck."

The doctor stood up and walked to the rack of drawers and pulled one out. "Check for yourself."

Cavuto and Rivera moved to either side of the drawer. Rivera turned Simon's head to the side while inspecting his neck. He looked up at Cavuto, who shook his head and walked away.

"Nick, you saw it, right?"

Cavuto nodded.

Rivera turned to the doctor. "I saw the wounds, Doc, I swear. I've been doing this too long to get something like that wrong."

The coroner shrugged. "When was the last time you two slept?"

"Together, you mean?" said Cavuto.

The coroner frowned.

Rivera said, "Thanks, Doc, we've got some more work at the other crime scene. We'll be back. Let's go, Nick."

Cavuto was standing over Gilbert again. "I hate this guy, and I hate that cowboy in the drawer. Did I mention that?"

Rivera tuned on his heel and started toward the doors, then stopped and looked down. There was a distinct footprint on the linoleum in brown gravy. Made by a small foot, a woman's bare foot.

Rivera turned to the coroner. "Doc, you got any women working here?"

"Not down here. Only in the office."

"Fuck! Nick, come on, we need to talk." Rivera stormed through the double doors, leaving them swinging.

Cavuto ambled after him. He paused at the doors and turned back to the coroner. "He's moody, Doc."

The coroner nodded.

"Nothing to the press about the blood loss, if there was any. And nothing about the missing body."

"Of course not. I have no desire to advertise that my office is losing bodies," the coroner said.

Rivera was waiting in the hallway when Cavuto came through the doors. "We've got to cut the kid loose, you know that."

"We can hold him another twenty-four hours."

"He didn't do it."

"Yeah, but he knows something."

"Maybe we should let him go and follow him."

"Give me one more shot at him. Alone."

"Whatever. We've got something else to consider too. You saw those puncture marks on the cowboy's throat the same as I did, right?"

Cavuto chewed his cigar and looked at the ceiling.

"Well?"

Cavuto nodded.

"Then maybe the others had wounds too. Maybe they had wounds that went away. And did you see the footprint?"

"I saw it."

"Nick, do you believe in vampires?"

Cavuto turned and walked down the hall. "I need a stiff one."

"You mean a drink?"

Cavuto glared over his shoulder and growled. Rivera grinned. "I owed you that one."

Tommy guessed the temperature in the cell to be about sixty-five, but even so, his cellmate, the six-foot-five, two-hundred-fifty-pound, unshaven, unbathed, one-eyed psychopath with the Disney-character tattoos, was dripping with sweat.

Maybe, Tommy thought, as he cowered in the corner behind the toilet, it's warmer up there on the bunk. Or maybe it's hard work trying to stare at someone menacingly, without blinking, for six hours when you only have one eye.

"I hate you," said One-Eye.

"Sorry," said Tommy.

One-Eye stood up and flexed his biceps; Micky and Goofy bulged angrily. "Are you making fun of me?"

Tommy didn't want to say anything, so he shook his head violently, trying to make sure that nothing remotely resembling a smile crossed his face.

One-Eye sat down on the bunk and resumed menacing. "What are you in for?"

"Nothing," Tommy said. "I didn't do anything."

"Don't fuck with me, ass-wipe. What were you arrested for?"

Tommy fidgeted, trying to work his way into the cinder-block wall. "Well, I put my girlfriend in the freezer, but I don't think that's a crime."

One-Eye, for the first time since he'd been put in the cell, smiled. "Me either. You didn't use an assault weapon, did you?"

"Nope, a Sears frost-free."

"Oh, good; they're really tough on crimes with assault weapons."

"So," Tommy said, venturing an inch out of the corner, "what are you in for?" Thinking baby-stomping, thinking cannibalism, thinking fast-food massacre.

One-Eye hung his head. "Copyright infringement."

"You're kidding?"

One-Eye frowned. Tommy slid back into his corner, adding, "Really? That's bad."

One-Eye pulled off his ratty T-shirt. The Seven Dwarfs danced across his massive chest between knife and bullet scars. On his stomach, Snow White and Cinderella were locked in a frothy embrace of mutual muffin munching.

"Yeah, I made the mistake of walking around without a shirt. A Disney executive who was up here on vacation saw me down by the wharf. He called their legal pit bulls."

Tommy shook his head in sympathy. "I didn't know they put you in jail for copyright infringement."

"Well, they don't, really. It was when I ripped the guy's shoulders out of their sockets that the police got involved."

"That's not a crime either, is it?"

One-Eye rubbed his temples as if it was excruciating to remember. "It was in front of his kids."

"Oh," Tommy said.

"Flood, on your feet," a guard said from the cell door. Inspector Nick Cavuto stood behind him.

"C'mon, cutie," Cavuto said. "We're going for a last walk."

The blood-high wasn't racing through her with flush and fever as it always had before. No, it was more like the satisfying fullness of a lasagna dinner chased with double espressos. Still, the strength sang in her limbs; she ripped the loft-door dead bolts through the metal doorjamb as easily as she had torn the plastic crime-scene tape the police had put across the door.

Strange, she thought, there is a difference in drinking from a living body.

Her remorse over killing Simon had passed in seconds and the predator mind had taken over. A new aspect of the predator had reared up this time, not just the instinct to hide and hunt, but to protect.

If Tommy was in jail for putting her in the freezer, it meant that the police had also found Peary, and they would try to connect Tommy to the other murders. But if they found another victim while Tommy was behind bars, they would have to set him free. And she needed him to be free, first so that she could find out why he had frozen her, but more important, because it was time to turn the tables on the other vampire, and the only safe way to hunt him was to do it during daylight.

She had bit Simon's neck and used the heel of her hand to pump his heart as she drank. There was no guilt or self-consciousness in the act; the predator mind had taken over. She found herself thinking about the burly fireman who had come to Transamerica to teach the employees earthquake preparedness, which had included a course in CPR. What would he think of one of his students' using his technique to pump lifeblood from the murdered? "I'm sorry, Fireman Frank, I sucked like an Electrolux, but it just wasn't enough. If it's any consolation, I didn't enjoy it."

What little strength she had gained from Simon's blood seemed to evaporate as she walked into the loft. It was in worse shape than the day the Animals had come for breakfast. The futon was bundled against the wall; the books had been taken out of their shelves and spread out on the floor; the cabinets hung open, their contents tumbled across the counters; and a fine patina of fingerprint powder covered every surface. She wanted to cry.

It reminded her of the time she had lived with a heavy-metal bass player for two months, who had torn their apartment apart looking for money for drugs. Money?

She ran to the bedroom and to the dresser where she had stashed the remaining cash the old vampire had given her. It was gone. She threw open the drawer where she kept her lingerie. She'd kept a couple thousand rolled up in a bra, a holdover habit from the days of hiding cash from the bass player. It was there. She had enough for a month's rent, but then what? It wouldn't matter if Tommy didn't stop the other vampire. He was going to kill them both, she was sure of it, and he was going to do it soon.

As she weighed the rolls of bills in her hand, she heard someone open the stairwell door, then footfalls on the steps. She went to the kitchen and waited, crouched behind the counter.

Someone was in the loft. A man. She could hear his heart  -  smell sweat and stale deodorant coming off him. Tommy's deodorant. She stood up.

"Hi," Tommy said. "Boy, am I glad to see you."

Chapter 31

He Was an Ex-Con, She Was Defrosted...

She started to lean over the counter to give him a hug, then stopped herself. "You look awful," she said.

He was unshaven, his hair stuck out in greasy tufts, and his clothes looked as if he'd slept in them. He hadn't. He hadn't slept at all.

"Thanks," he said. "You look a little tattered yourself."

She raised her hand to her hair, felt a tangle, and let it drop. "And I thought my red hair went so well with freezer burn."

"I can explain that."

She came around the counter and stood before him, not knowing whether to hold him or hit him.

"That's a great dress. Is it new?"

"It was a great dress before the gravy and cobbler melted all over it. What happened, Tommy? Why was I frozen?"

He reached out to touch her face. "How are you? I mean, are you okay?"

"Good time to ask." She glared at him.

He looked in her eyes, then away. "You're very beautiful, you know that?" He crumpled to the floor and sat with his back against the counter. "I'm so sorry, Jody. I didn't want to hurt you. I was just... sort of lonely."

She felt tears welling in her eyes and wiped them away. He was genuinely sorry, she could tell. And she had always been a sucker for pathetic apologies, going back as far as the time the bass player she was seeing hocked her stereo. Or had that been the construction worker? "What happened?" she pressed.

He stared at the floor and shook his head. "I don't know. I wanted someone to talk about books with. Someone who thought I was special. I met a girl at work. I was just going to meet her for coffee, nothing else. But I didn't think you'd understand. So I... well, you know."

Jody sat down on the floor in front of him. "Tommy, you could have killed me."

"I'm sorry!" he screamed. "I'm afraid of you. You scare the hell out of me sometimes. I didn't think it would hurt you or I wouldn't have done it. I just wanted to feel special, but you're the special one. I just wanted to talk to someone who sees things the way I do, who can understand how I feel about things. I want to take you out and show you off, even during the day. I've never really had a girlfriend before. I love you. I want to share things with you."

He looked down, would not meet her gaze.

Jody took his hand and squeezed it. "I know how you feel. You don't know how well I know. And I love you too."

Finally he looked at her, then pulled her into his arms. They held each other for a long time, rocking each other like crying children. A half hour passed, ticked off with tear-salty kisses, before she said, "Do you want to share a shower? I don't want to let go of you, and it'll be dawn soon."

Warmed and cleaned by the shower, they danced, still wet, though the dark bedroom, to fall together on the bare mattress. For Tommy, being with her, in her, was like coming to a place where he was safe and loved, and those dark and hostile things that walked the world outside were washed away in the smell of her damp hair, a soft kiss on the eyelid, and mingled whispers of love and reassurance.

It had never been like this for Jody. It was escape from worry and suspicion and from the predator mind that had been rising for days like a shark to blood. There was no urge to feed, but a different hunger drove her to hold him deep and long and still, to envelop and keep him there forever. Her vampire senses rose to the touch of his hands, his mouth  -  as if finally her sense of touch had grown to feel life itself as pleasure. Love.

When they finished she held his face against her breast and listened to his breathing becoming slow as he fell asleep. Tears crept from the corners of her eyes as dawn broke, releasing her from the night's last thought: I'm loved at last, and I have to give it up.

Tommy was still sleeping at sundown. She kissed him gently on the forehead, then nipped his ear to wake him. He opened his eyes and smiled. She could see it in the dark; it was a genuine smile.

"Hey," he said.

She snuggled against him. "We've got to get up. There's things to do."

"You're cold. Are you cold?"

"I'm never cold." She rolled out of bed and went to the light switch. "Eyes," she warned as she flipped on the light.

Tommy shielded his eyes. "For the love of God, Montressor!"

"Poe?" she said. "Right?"

"Yep."

"See? I can talk books."

Tommy sat up. "I'm sorry. I didn't give you a chance. I guess we were always talking about  -  about your condition."

She smiled and snatched a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt from the pile of clothes on the floor.

"I talked to the other vampire the other night. That's why I left the note."

Tommy was wide awake now. "You talked to him? Where?"

"In a club. I was mad at you. I wanted to go out. Show off."

"What did he say?"

"He said it's almost over. Tommy, I think he's going to try and kill you, maybe both of us."

"Well, that sucks."

"And you've got to stop him."

"Me? Why me? You're the one with X-ray vision and stuff."

"He's too strong. I get the feeling he's really old. He's clever. I think that the longer that you're a vampire, the more you can do. I'm starting to feel... well, sharper as time goes on."

"He's too strong for you, but you want me stop him? How?"

"You'll have to get to him while he's sleeping."

"Kill him? Just like that? Even if I could find him, how would I kill him? Nothing hurts you guys  -  unless you have some kryptonite."

"You could drag him into the sunlight. Or cut his head off  -  I'm sure that would do it. Or you could totally dismember him and scatter the pieces." Jody had to look away from him when she said this. It was as if someone else was talking.

"Right," Tommy said, "just shovel him into a garbage bag and get on the forty-two bus. Leave a piece at every stop. Are you nuts? I can't kill anyone, Jody. I'm not built that way."

"Well, I can't do it."

"Why don't we just go to Indiana? You'll like it there. I can get a union job and make my mom happy. You can learn to bowl. It'll be great  -  no dead guys in the freezer, no vampires...

"By the way, how'd you... I mean, where did you thaw out?"

"In the morgue. With a pervert all ready to live out his wet dreams on me."

"I'll kill him!"

"Not necessary."

"You killed him? Jody, you can't keep  - "

"I didn't kill him. He just sort of died. But there's something else."

"I can't wait."

"The vampire killed Simon."

Tommy was shaken. "How? Where?"

"The same way as the others. That's why the cops let you go."

Tommy took a minute to digest this, sat for a moment looking at his hands. He looked up and said, "How did you know I was in jail?"

"You told me."

"I did?"

"Of course. You were so tired last night. I'm not surprised you don't remember." She buttoned up the flannel shirt. "Tommy, you've got to find the vampire and kill him. I think Simon was his last warning before he takes us."

Tommy shook his head. "I can't believe he got Simon. Why Simon?"

"Because he was close to you. Come on, I'll make you coffee." She started into the kitchen and tripped over the brass turtle. "What's this?"

"Long story," Tommy said.

Jody looked around, listened for the sound of turtle claws. "Where's Scott and Zelda?"

"I set them free. Go make coffee."

Rivera and Cavuto sat in an unmarked cruiser in the alley across the street from the loft, taking turns dozing and watching.

It was Rivera's turn to watch while Cavuto snored in the driver's seat. Rivera didn't like the way things were going. Weird shit just seemed to follow him. His job was to find evidence and catch bad guys, but too often, especially in this case, the evidence pointed to a bad guy who wasn't a guy at all: wasn't human. He didn't want to believe that there was a vampire loose in the City, but he did. And he knew he'd never convince Cavuto, or anybody, for that matter. Still, he'd dug out his mother's silver crucifix before he left the house. It was in his jacket pocket next to his badge wallet. He had been tempted to take it out and say a rosary, but Cavuto, despite his growling snore, was a light sleeper, and Rivera didn't want to endure the ridicule should the big cop wake up in the middle of a Hail Mary.

Rivera was getting ready to wake Cavuto and catch a nap when the lights went on in the loft.

"Nick," he said. "Lights are on."

Cavuto woke, instantly alert. "What?"

"Lights are on. The kid's up."

Cavuto lit his cigar. "And?"

"I just thought you'd want to know."

"Look, Rivera, the lights coming on is not something happening. I know that after ten or twelve hours it seems like something, but it's not. You're losing your edge. The kid leaving, the kid strangling someone, that's something happening."

Rivera was insulted by the admonition. He'd been a cop as long as Cavuto and he didn't have to take crap like that. "Eat shit, Nick. It's my turn to sleep anyway."

Cavuto checked his watch. "Right."

They watched the windows for a while, saying nothing. Shadows moved inside the loft. Too many shadows.

"There's someone else up there," Rivera said.

Cavuto squinted at the shadows and grabbed a pair of binoculars from the seat. "Looks like a girl." Someone passed by the window. "A redhead with a lot of hair."

Tommy took a sip of his coffee and sighed. "I don't even know where to start. This is a big city and I don't know my way around that well."

"Well, we could just wait here for him to come get us." Jody looked at his cup, watched the heat waves coming off the coffee. "God, I miss coffee."

"Can't you just wander around until you feel something? Lestat can..."

"Don't start with that!"

"Sorry." He took another sip. "The Animals might help. They'll want revenge for Simon. Can I tell them?"

"You might as well. Those guys do just enough drugs that they might believe you. Besides, I'm sure the story was in the paper this morning."

"Yeah, I'm sure it was." He put his cup down and looked at her. "How did you know about Simon?"

Jody looked away. "I was in the morgue when they brought him in."

"You saw him?"

"I heard the cops talking. I slipped out during the excitement when they found the dead pervert."

"Oh," Tommy said, not quite sure of himself.

She reached out and took his hand. "You'd better go. I'll call a cab."

"They took all the money," Tommy said.

"I have a little left." She handed him two hundred-dollar bills.

He raised his eyebrows. "A little?"

Jody grinned. "Be careful. Stay around people until it gets light. Don't get out of the cab unless there are a lot of people around. I'm sure he doesn't want any witnesses."

"Okay."

"And call me if anything happens. Try to be back here by sundown tomorrow, but if you can't, call and leave me a message where you are."

"So you can protect me?"

"So I can try to protect you."

"Why don't you come with me?"

"Because there's two cops in the alley across the street watching the loft. I saw them from the window. I don't think we want them to see me."

"But it's dark in the alley."

"Exactly."

Tommy took her in his arms. "That is so cool. When I get back, will you read to me naked, hanging from the ceiling beam in the dark?"

"Sure."

"Dirty limericks?"

"Anything."

"That's so cool."

Five minutes later Tommy stood at the bottom of the stairs with the fire door cracked just enough to see when his cab arrived. When the blue-and-white DeSoto cab pulled up, he opened the fire door and a furry black-and-white comet shot past him.

"Bummer! Stop!" the Emperor shouted.

The little dog skipped up the steps with a yap and a rattle every step of the way; his pie-pan helmet was hanging upside down by the chin strap, hitting the edge of each step. He stopped at the top of the stairs and commenced a leaping, barking, scratching attack on the door.

Tommy leaned against the wall holding his chest. He thought, Good, a heart attack will sure mess up the vampire's murder plans.

"Forgive him," the Emperor said. "He always seems to do this when we pass your domicile." Then, to Lazarus, "Would you be so kind as to retrieve our comrade-in-arms?"

The golden retriever bounded up the stairs and snatched Bummer out of the air in mid-leap, then carried him down by the scruff of the neck as the rat dog struggled and snarled.

The Emperor relieved Lazarus of his squirming charge and shoved the smaller soldier into the oversized pocket of his coat. He buttoned the flap and smiled at Tommy. "Dogged enthusiasm in a handy reclosable package."

Tommy laughed, more nervous than amused. "Your Highness, what are you doing here?"

"Why, I am looking for you, my son. The authorities have been asking after you in regard to the monster. The time to act is at hand." The Emperor waved his sword wildly as he spoke.

Tommy stepped back. "You're going to put someone's eye out with that thing."

The Emperor held his sword at port arms. "Oh, quite right. Safety first."

Tommy signaled to the cabdriver over the Emperor's shoulder. "Your Highness, I agree, it's time to do something. I'm on my way to get some help."

"Recruits!" the Emperor exclaimed. "Shall we join forces against evil? Call the City to arms? Drive evil back to the dark crevice from whence it came? Can the men and I share your cab?" He patted his still squirming pocket.

Tommy eyed the cabdriver. "Well, I don't know." He pulled open the rear door and leaned in. "Dogs and royalty okay?" he asked the cabbie.

The driver said something in Farsi that Tommy took for a yes.

"Let's go." Tommy stepped back and motioned for the Emperor to get in.

Lazarus jumped into the back seat with a rattle of armor, followed by the Emperor and Tommy. As soon as the cab had gone a block, Bummer settled down and the Emperor let him out of his pocket. "Something about your building vexes him. I don't understand it."

Tommy shrugged, thinking about how he was going to tell the Animals about Simon's death.

The Emperor rolled down the window and he and his men rode through the City with their heads out the window, squinting into the wind like mobile gargoyles.

Cavuto slapped Rivera on the shoulder, startling him out of sleep. "Wake up. Something's going down. A cab just pulled up and that old wacko just came around the corner with his dogs."

Rivera wiped his eyes and sat up. "What's the Emperor doing here?"

"There's the kid. How in the hell did he get hold of the old wacko?"

They watched as Tommy and the Emperor talked, Tommy glancing from time to time at the cabdriver. A few minutes passed and they loaded into the cab.

"Here we go," Cavuto said as he started the car.

"Wait, let me out."

"What?"

"I want to see where the girl goes. Who she is."

"Just go ask her."

"I'm out of here." Rivera picked up the portable radio from the seat. "Stay in touch. I'll send for another car."

Cavuto was rocking in the driver's seat, waiting to go. "Call me on the cell phone if you see the girl. Keep it off the radio."

Rivera stopped halfway out of the car. "You think it's the girl from the morgue, don't you?"

"Get out," Cavuto said. "He's leaving."

The cab pulled away. Cavuto let them get a block away, then pulled out after them, leaving Rivera standing in the dark alley fingering the crucifix in his pocket.

Four stories above him, on the roof of a light industrial building, Elijah Ben Sapir, the vampire, looked down on Rivera, noting how much heat the policeman was losing though the thinning spot in his hair. "Jump or dive?" he said to himself.

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