Jillian unlocked Page’s two deadbolts with her keys and reached inside to flip on the lights. Last night Page had been sitting in candlelight, but now two antique lamps glowed in the far corners of the room. She tossed a dark hat onto the coffee table as she went into the bedroom to check on him. I didn’t follow her. A sleeping vampire in his coffin isn’t exactly on my bucket list.
I made sure the deadbolts were securely locked, set Rachel’s bag of vampire-fighting gear on the floor, and checked my jacket for my Taser. I looked at my cell phone for tonight’s sundown. 6:29. The time right now was 4:15 a.m.
Jillian came out of the bedroom with a sigh. “He’s fine.”
“It’s like a coma.” She sank down into his chair, running her fingers over her short hair. “I didn’t get any sleep.”
I sat on the leather couch. “Maybe we should talk.”
“About what?” She seemed surprised.
“Things that are maybe none of my business. You don’t have to answer anything.”
She blinked, then pointed a finger. “What’s in the bag?”
I hesitated, but I figured I had to tell her the truth if I wanted the same from her. “Stuff for killing vampires. A friend loaned it to me.”
She stiffened, starting to rise. “Is that what—oh, hell! I can’t believe—”
“Hang on.” I lifted a hand. “I’m not going to kill him. Not unless he tries to kill me, and I don’t expect him to do that. We’ve met a few times already. I’m pretty sure if he wanted my blood it would be gone by now.”
She shook her head angrily. “He doesn’t kill people! Not . . . well, not anymore. Not for years. He stopped. He wanted—he said it was getting too dangerous, but I think he was really just tired of it. Not like he developed a soul again, just—it started to bother him. He never wanted to talk about it. I could tell.”
She slumped in the chair.
“Where does he get his blood? And his money, for that matter?”
“He invests, like everyone else.” Jillian shrugged. “He’s had a long time to grow his money, and for a long time he didn’t really have any, you know, regular expenses. And the blood—well, there’s a black market. And people willing to let vamps feed because they get a kick out of it.”
“He thinks you’re a vampire.”
She looked at the floor and nodded. “Yeah.”
“How does that work?”
Jillian stood up and started pacing the hardwood floor. “Vamps . . . turn me on. I loved reading about them when I was a little girl. And no, I’m not talking about Twilight. More like Dracula, and Interview with a Vampire. Then when I met some real ones at college—”
“They didn’t try to kill you?” I glanced at Rachel’s bag.
She laughed. “The first one I met was a prof who taught film studies at night. When I figured out he was a vampire, I made him tell me everything. He was like Cliff—he gave up attacking humans 20 years ago. We didn’t do anything . . . I mean, like that. He was my professor.”
She stopped pacing and sat down again. “He just told me what to look for. So when I met Cliff, I knew how to act. Most vampires don’t want relationships with people. They don’t trust them. Us. And a vampire can live a long time, but people get older. And turning a person into a vampire—it sounds fun, but the thing is new vamps don’t have much impulse control. They’ll attack anything. Even other vampires. So anyway, I pretended to be one.” She shrugged again. “It worked.”
“Was it hard?”
“Sometimes.” She rubbed her nose. “I have to be careful about history, pretending to be a lot older than I am. But I can fake it pretty good, and I just say I just don’t remember when I screw up.”
I looked her over. Tight jeans, a black leather vest over a loose T-shirt. “So you’re really—what? Twenty-five?”
“Twenty-eight. I had to write my own autobiography just to keep everything straight.” She grinned. “But it was fun. I watched the Berlin Wall come down. I saw Rent on Broadway. That kind of stuff.”
I have enough trouble keeping the truth straight with Rachel. I couldn’t have handled something like this for five minutes.
Okay, I’ll be honest—I really wanted to ask about vampire sex. But that definitely came under the heading of “None of my business.” So instead I asked, “What happens if he finds out?” I didn’t want to say “when.”
She glanced around as if he might walk through the bedroom door. “I don’t know. I didn’t think it would last this long. I mean, I like him. A lot, actually. He can be nice. And funny. And the, uh . . .” She blushed. “Forget it. I’d miss him. I just wouldn’t want him to be mad at me.” She sighed. “But I guess there’s no way around that now, right?”
“I’m no Dear Abby, but you should probably be the one to tell him.” Mostly, I thought, because Page was somewhat less likely to kill her than me.
She grimaced. “Yeah. One of these days.”
The bedroom door opened.
“Jillian?” Page staggered in a black robe and his slippers. “What time is it?” Then he spotted me. “Jurgen? What are you doing here?”
His eyes were dazed, as if he was dizzy, still half asleep. Jillian jumped up and ran to him. “It’s okay. Just sit down. Do you want me to get you some—” She glanced at me. “Something to drink?”
His face looked paler than before. “Yes. It’s . . .” He kissed Jillian’s cheek. “Why are you here? Jurgen, what’s going on?”
I stood up. “You probably want to sit down and drink—whatever you drink. We can explain. Both of us.” I shot a look at Jillian. She nodded.
Page dropped into the chair, his eyelids drooping. Sundown was still an hour and a half away.
Jillian brought out a jar filled with thick red liquid. “Here. Drink this.” She knelt on the floor next to his chair.
Page downed three-quarters of the blood the way I sometimes swallow half a beer on a hot day. He blinked and wiped a hand across his lips. “Okay. Better. That’s—”
Then he looked at the window and saw streaks of sunlight through the dark curtains. He jerked up in the chair, and Jillian caught the jar before it spilled on the floor. “What is this? What are you doing here?” He twisted to glare at Jillian. “What is happening?”
I stood up. “I tried to call you. Stuff’s been going on. Do you know a man named Patrick Hurst?”
“Oh no.” He clutched the arms of the chair. “Is he back?”
Jillian put the jar on a table. “Cliff . . . we have to talk.”
Page twisted around toward her, his eyes wide. “How did you get here? What did he . . .” Then he looked at me, and I felt my blood freeze. And when you’re facing a vampire, that’s a very scary sensation.
Jillian put a hand on his arm. “I can explain. It’s—it’s going to be tough, but I need you to listen. Please?”
For an undead being who didn’t breathe, Page gave a good impression of a man taking a deep breath. He sat back. “All right. I want to hear it.” He nodded to me. “All of it.”
But before either of us could speak, a loud knock pounded at the door.
“Page!” Hurst’s voice thundered through the door. “Let me in and nobody else needs to get hurt!”
What the hell? “He can’t get in.” I looked at the deadbolts. And the door was thick as a vault.
But Page lurched up. He grabbed the jar from the table and finished it in one quick gulp, then threw it down on the floor, shards of bloodstained glass splattering across the wood. “It’s time to finish this.”
“Cliff, don’t!” Jillian grabbed at his arm, but he pushed her away and stalked toward the door.
“Hurst! Is that you?” He didn’t have a peephole.
“Hah!” Hurst’s voice was harsh. “It’s about time, you coward! How are you when people aren’t defenseless? Open up, you monster!”
For a moment I thought Page would back away. Instead he drew his shoulders up, looking six inches taller and six times more menacing, even in his dark robe and slippers. He snapped the two deadbolts, pulled the door open, and stepped back.
I fumbled for my Taser.
Okay, Page was a vampire. He’d killed people. But he was my client. And Jillian was watching us.
Hurst marched into the room in short khaki jacket belted at the waist, looking like a big game hunter. I expected a crossbow, or at least a stake. Or maybe a flask of holy water. But his hands were empty.
Adam and Dego stood behind him. They looked nervous. I didn’t blame them.
Jillian darted to Page’s side. “Get the hell out of here!”
“Page.” Hurst smiled. “Clifton Page. Vampire. Monster.”
Page pushed Jillian away. “It’ll be okay. Just let me talk to him.”
“Talk?” Hurst laughed. “We’re not going to talk. It ends now, tonight. One way or the other.”
“Fine.” Page jabbed a slim, sharp finger at Hurst’s face. “Whatever you want with me, it doesn’t have anything to do with these people. Let them go away. And then . . .” He lifted his upper lip, and I could see sharp fangs waiting to strike. “We can have it out. If you’re man enough.”
“Screw that!” Jillian swung around and grabbed a candlestick from a side table. “I’m not leaving! You have no right! You don’t know him!”
“I know he killed my family.” Hurst kept his voice quiet. His body was taut, like a cobra ready to spring. “My sister was only seven. Do you even remember it, monster? Or were they just something to play with and destroy? Like ants on the sidewalk?”
Page licked his lips, his tongue red from the blood he’d just drank. “Oh, I remember them. Their taste, their smell. They begged for their lives. Most of all, they pleaded for you. So I let you live.” He shook his head. “Maybe that was a mistake.”
“He doesn’t do it anymore!” Jillian stomped a foot on the floor. “He’s different! He’s not a monster—”
“It is a monster! And you’re its whore!” He leered at Jillian. “Do you like his bed, slut? Do you lie there in its coffin with your legs spread wide, ready to take it? Do you groan when it plunges down—”
“Don’t you talk to her like that, asshole!” Page took a step back, ready to strike. “Do you really think you can destroy me? I’d like to see you try.”
I had my hand on my Taser, and my eyes on Dego and Adam. They looked nervous.
“Hey, Dego!” I pointed at Hurst. “Do you guys really want to be part of this? You work for a pest control company, right? Killing bugs, not battling vampires. Is this what you signed up for?”
Dego looked at his partner. They backed away toward the hall.
Hurst laughed. “You’re right, Page. I can’t hurt you. We all know that. But I can hurt someone else.”
He reached under his jacket and came up with a handgun. He pointed it straight at Jillian’s chest.
“No.” Page snarled. “No!”
Hurst smirked. “Yes.”
Several things happened at once:
Page lunged forward. I fired my Taser. Adam, the big guy, ran away. Dego reached out to grab his boss’s arm.
Hurst’s gun went off, and Jillian screamed. I fired my Taser.
The bullet went wild, shattering one of the antique lamps. The Taser’s dart hit Hurst in the leg. Dego pulled Hurst down as he twitched from the electric shock. Page jumped on him like a mad dog, his fangs flaring.
Then Jillian was on top of Page, pulling at his shoulders. “Cliff! Cliff! No—no! Please!”
Page’s fangs slashed at Hurst’s neck. I grabbed at his arm. Dego punched his face.
Page reared up, fresh human blood dripping down his chin, a snarl on his face. But Jillian slapped his cheek. Hard enough to leave a deep red mark on his pale skin.
“Damn it, Cliff, stop!” She grabbed him in a hug. “You don’t do this anymore! You promised me! Please stop! Please . . . please . . .”
For a moment I was afraid Page would fling her away and finish Hurst off. But then he froze, his long fingers wrapped around Hurst’s throat. Dego punched him one more time, then scuttled away on his knees.
I grabbed a handkerchief from my back pocket and pressed it against Hurst’s throat. He was bleeding, but Page’s fangs hadn’t punctured any arteries. He was gasping, his face red, and he peered up at me with hatred in his eyes.
“You too,” he grunted. “I knew you were on its side.”
I wanted to punch his face, but I kept the pressure on the wound. “You’re done here, Hurst. Let it go.”
He pushed my hands away. “I can’t believe it.” He shook his head. “You’re defending this—this thing?” He glared at me. “Do you have people you love? A family?”
“Is that a threat?” My heart was pounding. “Don’t even—”
“No! But what if you lost them to a monster like that?” He glared up at me. “What would you do?”
I thought of my parents, who lived far away. My brother in California. And Rachel. Right upstairs. “Yeah. But none of them would want me to turn into a monster like you.”
Page was on his feet, holding Jillian tight in his arms. He looked down at Hurst, one foot next to his face.
“You were a brave young man when I killed your family.” His eyes were gray and tired. “You wanted to fight me then. I could say I’m sorry, but we’d both know I’m lying. But I’m not lying now. If I see you again, I will kill you.” He nudged Hurst’s shoulder with his slipper. “Go. Now.”
Hurst rolled over, holding my handkerchief to his neck. He rose to his shaky feet with Dego holding onto him and stumbled to the door.
Adam was in the hall behind them. He and Dego caught Hurst before he fell over. “Come on, Pat. Let’s go home.”
Dego looked over his boss’ shoulder at me. Thanks, he whispered.
I nodded. Good luck.
Jillian led Page to the couch. I retrieved my Taser and locked the door again. Page slouched down, and Jillian ran to the kitchen.
Page looked up at me. “Thank you.”
I sat in his chair, shaking. The remains of the shatter lamp lay in shards on the floor. “We’d better get rid of that handgun. Do you think the neighbors will call the police?”
He smiled. “I’ll talk to them. There won’t be a problem.”
Jillian came out with a fresh jar of blood. “Drink this. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Page sat up. “I’m—sorry. I don’t like being threatened. Or when . . .” He took a sip, then handed the jar back. “When my friends are threatened.”
Jillian looked at me. I nodded.
She knelt next to the couch. “Cliff? I have to tell you something . . .”
I gave Rachel her bag of vampire-killing equipment back. “Thanks. I didn’t need it.”
“So you didn’t . . .” She mimed a staking motion.
“No. Actually, I saved his life. Or unlife, I guess. So, do you have any beer?”
She punched my shoulder. “Does today end in a Y? Get in here and tell me what happened.”
“Love conquers all, I guess.” By the time I’d left Page’s apartment, he knew the truth about Jillian. How that would turn out I had no idea or opinion. But I’d seen less likely relationships succeed.
Rachel brought me a beer and sat down next to me. “Just tell me one thing: How do vampire lovers, you know—do it?”
I took a long swallow. “I didn’t ask.”
# # #