Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Vampire Queen

Tom Jurgen has killed the vampire king. But the killings are getting worse. His only hope is to recruit a new vampire leader to take control and stop the chaos. But there’s a price …

Vampire Queen, Part One

I parked my Honda and slammed the door. It echoed in the night.
            Eleven-thirty was a bad time to be out in the darkness, especially lately. But it was the only time I could meet my contact. He slept during the day.
            In a coffin.
            The building was close, down a tree-lined street, but sweat rolled down the back of my neck. This was a bad idea. But I couldn’t bring anyone else. No one would trust me.
            Except maybe Dudovich. But Dudovich was dead.
            I saw the door and walked faster. Almost there—
            Then a vampire jumped out of a tree, landing right in front of me.
            He was short, with a bald head and big ears. His eyes burned red. “I’m hungry.”
            I reached for the six-inch silver cross around my neck. “Get back.”
            He took one step away, hunching his shoulders and growling. “You think that will protect you?”
            I had a wooden stake in my back pocket. I’d turned down the handgun loaded with silver bullets the cops kept trying to force on me, because I’d probably shoot my foot off before I actually hit a vampire. But now I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea. My hand was slippery. And the vampire looked like it could move fast.
            I stepped back into the glow of the streetlight. “I know you. Tom Jurgen. You killed Asmodeus.”
            He knew my name. Oh god.
            Yeah. I’d stabbed a wooden stake into the vampire king’s back right after he killed Dudovich. So that apparently made me famous in the local vampire community now? Great.
The vamp snarled. “Just as a favor, I’ll snap your neck before I drink your blood. You won’t come back. You won’t have to know what it’s like. Say your prayers now, Tom Jurgen.”
My hand was sweating as I crouched. “Asmodeus killed a friend of mine. You want to be next?” I tried to sound tough and fearless. I just wished I had a pair of fresh boxers in the car. “Come and get me, asshole.”
            Not very snappy, I know, but I’d had a bad few days. Dudovich dead, and my girlfriend Rachel gone—mad at me. Okay, I’m not very brave. But I can do a lot when I’m scared.
The vampire laughed. “Oh, I’m going to enjoy—”
            His voice cut off as a dark shape from behind lifted him up and hurled him against a tree. The vampire yelped, and then cowered in the dirt. “No! Wait!”
            Big clawed hands grabbed his shoulders and lifted the vampire off his feet, dangling him over the sidewalk. “This street is mine!” His voice was quiet but fierce. “Get out of here. Stay off this street. The next time I see you I’ll kill you.”
            “Right. Right.” The vampire dropped to the pavement. He scampered back on his hands and knees, staring at me. “You got lucky, Jurgen.”
            “Looks like you did too.” I let the cross fall and tucked it under my windbreaker. “Thanks, Mr. Page.”
            The vampire ran. Clifton Page—also a vampire—watched him disappear. Then he pointed to the door of his apartment building. “Inside.”

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” Clifton Page glared at me from his big leather chair. His eyes glowed like red-hot coals.
“I killed the vampire king.” I sipped the beer Page had offered me, trying to calm my shattered nerves. “Asmodeus? Have you heard of him?”
“Sure.” He looked out the window, curtains open at night to let the starlight in. “He was an asshole—dangerous. To you and to us. I’m not exactly sorry he’s dead, but …”
Page was a “friendly” vampire—he hadn’t hunted humans in years. He survived on blood from animals, a blood bank black market, and a cult of kinky humans who got off on letting vampires feed from them. Plus, a human girlfriend. Still, he could be scary.
“But Asmodeus was in control!” Page slammed a fist on the arm of the chair. “What have you got now? Vampires roaming the city, citizens terrified, police hunting us down like animals.” Page took a breath. “I’m going to have to leave the city. I can’t stay here.”
“What about Jillian?” Jillian Donovan, his human girlfriend. I’d met her when Page hired me to find out whether she was really a vampire like him. Spoiler alert: She was human, but she liked vampires. And she loved Page. Go figure.
His glowing eyes dimmed. “That’s none of your business. You called me. What do you want?”
Two days ago I’d texted him for information about Asmodeus. The Chicago PD had recruited me to help with the sudden rise in vampire killings in the city. I have some experience dealing with the supernatural, and after years of calling me crazy, the cops had decided they could use my expertise.
So two nights ago we’d tracked the vampire king to his lair. It was an ambush—vamps all around the place. And then a double ambush—a police helicopter and a SWAT team.
In the end, 22 vamps were dead. Along with Elena Dudovich, the one cop on the CPD who actually tolerated me.
I was still dealing with that.
“So what do we do?” Vampire attacks were up—and the cops were having a hard time hiding it. They’d been blaming a bad load of meth across the city, but people were starting to wonder about the lack of arrests.
You couldn’t put a vampire on trial. The only thing to do was stake them. But that wasn’t something the cops could talk about.
As a former reporter, I was conflicted. My job had always been about sharing the truth. That was one reason Rachel was gone—not permanently, I hoped, but after a big fight she’d left to spend a few days with her friend in a shack in Nowhere, Indiana. At least she called when she heard about the battle. To make sure I was safe.
Page lifted a glass of red wine from the table. At least it looked like wine. “You have to find a new king.”

Vampire Queen, Part Two

I walked into police headquarters at 11:00 the next morning, juggled my coffee as I showed my ID, and took an elevator up to the floor where the Silent Force was grouped.
            The Silent Force. I’d suggested that name. It had sounded cool at the time—better than its original name, “Special Team.” Now it only reminded me to keep my mouth shut.
            A wall-sized map of the city greeted everyone who entered. Red pins marked the site of every vampire attack within the last 24 hours. The latest total was 14.
            A printout taped to the map listed all the names of the dead since the attacks had started two weeks ago: Jacqueline McNeil, Robert Dorsett, Morgan Keitte . . . the list went on and on.
            On the top corner, a photo of Elena Dudovich. Cop. Sort of my friend.
            “Jurgen!” It was Hawkins, a tall African-American cop who wasn’t exactly my friend. But he’d listened to me once in a while. “You missed the morning meeting.”
            “Yeah.” I yawned. “I was up half the night with a source. Any new intel?” I liked saying “intel.” It made me feel like a spy.
            Hawkins folded his arms “What’d your source say?”
            “We need to find a new king. And convince him to shut this thing down.”
            He laughed. “Right. You better go talk to Hughes about that.”
            Commander Daniel Hughes was in charge of the team. He was a good cop. He even listened to me sometimes.
            Hughes could look tall even sitting behind his desk. African-American, with short hair and broad shoulders, he looked up at me with dark brown eyes. “You missed the meeting.”
            “I overslept.” I plopped down in a chair and gulped some coffee. “What did I miss?” 
            Hughes laughed. But it wasn’t friendly. “That’s the Tom Jurgen we all like around here. The P.I. who thinks he doesn’t have to follow the rules.”
            I sighed. “So, I talked to a vampire last night.”
            “Is it dead now?”
            “No. He’s not exactly on our side, but he’s not the enemy, either. He saved me from a vampire attack.”
            “Who is it?”
            I shook my head. “No. He’s a source. You’re not getting his name.”
            “You’re not a reporter anymore, Jurgen.” Hughes leaned forward. “There’s no confidentiality here. If you want to keep working for this team—”
            “You came to me, remember?” I struggled to keep my voice under control. Stress and fatigue were getting to me. “At least Dudovich did. So I’ve been helping you as best as I can. I killed Asmodeus. And now there’s nobody capable of controlling them. Fourteen people last night.” I might have been a red pin on the board. “How long do you think you can keep hiding this?”
            Hughes rolled his eyes. “What do you want to do, Jurgen? Start a panic?”
            “We can’t kill all of them. We need to make a deal.”
            I waited for Hughes to throw me out. Or possibly shoot me. Instead he sat back in his chair, arms crossed.
            “Asmodeus was right.” And I hated to say that. “Without a leader, we’ve just got an army of vamps doing whatever they want. We need to find a new leader, or make one, and convince him to pull back. Him or her.”
            “It.” Hughes looked ready to spit. “You keep treating them like they’re human. A vampire is an it, Jurgen. A monster.”
            “But you can reason with them. Some of them.” The more mature vampires are intelligent. Page had been a vampire for 84 years, and he’d told me Asmodeus was more than 170 years undead. Most young vamps don’t last too long because they’re too scared and hungry to think straight. With enough time, they sometimes develop a level of self-control and do what Page did—decide it’s safer to find alternate sources of blood.
            I leaned forward. “We need to find someone to lead them. Someone old. Vampires listen to older vamps.”
            “Then what? Do vamps hold elections?”
            “Just get him—all right, it,” I said in response to Hughes’ frown. “Get it to talk to other vamps, and they’ll spread the word.”
            Hughes grimaced. He didn’t like the idea. I didn’t blame him. But he was pragmatic enough to explore anything that had a chance of working. “Got any candidates?”
            “One.” Page had declined the honor when I asked him, but he’d given me the name of another elder vampire. “It’s a female. Her name is Anemone.”

Unfortunately Page couldn’t give me the location of Anemone’s coffin—vampires guard that the way Donald Trump hides his tax returns. All he could tell me was where she hunted: Logan Square, a neighborhood on the west side.
            That meant we had to stake the area out. At night. A dangerous time to hunt a vampire you weren’t actually trying to kill.
            Hawkins got stuck with me in an unmarked car that smelled like cigarettes and stale cheesburgers. He obviously didn’t like the duty—he told me to buckle up when I got in the car, and didn’t say anything after that—but he didn’t seem actively hostile. Just on edge.
            No one liked the plan, of course, but everyone listened to Hughes. I was pretty sure at least half the squad blamed me for getting Dudovich killed, but no one said it out loud. By this point nobody was talking to me much at all.
            I didn’t have a location for Anemone, but I had a description: Tall and slender, with short black hair, she usually wore black jeans and T-shirts. She wore dark glasses all night, and she chose older humans to attack—people in their fifties and sixties. That mean she usually had to hunt early after sunset.
            We drove the streets, looking for Anemone and her potential targets. I spotted a man and woman leaving a diner. The woman walked with a cane. But they immediately got into an Uber and sped away.
            Hawkins followed a slim figure in jeans and a T-shirt for half a block before we realized we were trailing a man. Then one of the other cars reported seeing a female matching Anemone’s description in an alley. But by the time we got there, she was gone.
            “Shit.” Hawkins stared down the street. “Could be a long night.” Five words. Six, counting the swear word. A breakthrough. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
            So we spent two more hours driving around the same handful of blocks. The next shift would take over soon. I was thirsty, because I hadn’t had a drink of water since an hour before meeting Hawkins in the car. Bottles with wide openings just weren’t right for me.
            Then Hawkins pumped his brake. “Is that her?”
            A woman stood on a corner, leaning against a bus stop shelter. She fit the description: Short hair, black clothes—and her eyes were gleaming behind her sunglasses.
            “Might be.” I had a bigger cross now, a foot tall, heavy enough to crush a skull, thanks to Amazon same-day delivery. “Call it in.”
            Hawkins talked into the car’s radio as he crawled around the corner. He double-parked in front of a minivan, checked his handgun, then opened his door. “You coming?”
            I struggled with my Kevlar jacket. “I’m right behind you.”
            Hawkins was out on the street as I was still strapping the Velcro across my chest. I followed him, huffing and puffing to keep up. We rounded the corner.
            The woman was still standing at the stop like she was waiting for a bus. Two kids crowded in the corner of the shelter, making out. An older woman sat on the bench, her hands in her lap.
Anemone watched her, smiling. It was her. I was sure of it.
            The two kids looked around as Hawkins pulled at the boy’s arm. “What—”
            “It’s okay.” Hawkins smiled. “Just find another bus stop.”
            The girl shivered. Her boyfriend grabbed her hand, and they scampered away.
            I could see Anemone’s eyes burning behind her dark glasses. She looked ready to lunge at us, but then two of our cars pulled up, blocking the bus stop. Two cops—Dmitry Smith and Anita Sharpe—came out and, weapons drawn but pointed down at the sidewalk. Another car skidded to the curb.
            The old woman lurched up. “What’s going on?”
            A cop from the third car helped her walk away. “I was just waiting for a bus …”
            Now Hawkins and Smith and Sharpe aimed their weapons at Anemone. Silver bullets and a stake to the chest could take her out forever. But that wasn’t the plan.
            Hawkins glanced at me. “You’re on. Make it good.”
            I stepped forward. Like always lately, my heart was shaking like car with a bad engine. “Hi, Anemone. Tom Jurgen. Do you know who I am?”
            Anemone laughed. “Everyone knows your name, asshole. You killed Asmodeus.”
            It was nice to be famous for something.
I crossed my arms, trying to stand steady. “Asmodeus killed a friend of mine. A cop. All these cops around here? They want to kill you too.”
            She let her sunglasses droop down on her long nose. Her eyes were white, not red. Her shoulders rose. “Okay. Let them try.”
            I gulped. “I’ve got a proposition instead.”
            “Ooh …” Anemone licked her lips. Her tongue was long and red. “It’s been a long time.”
            What the hell? “No, not that kind of proposition.” I had a girlfriend. Maybe.  “It’s an offer. An idea.”
            She stood tall. “Fine. I’ll listen.” Her eyes darted at all the cops pointing their weapons at her. “Three minutes.”
            I swallowed, trying to remember my carefully prepared speech. “Vampires are going crazy around the city. It’s only getting worse. You kill a bunch, and then we kill a bunch. But you can stop this.”
            Anemone growled. “Why the fuck would I want to?”
            I’d tried to plan every response, like a reporter mapping out an in-depth interview. “Look, all the killings will go on and eventually everyone in Chicago will know that your kind are behind them. Is that good for you? Or your people?”
            I felt Hawkins flinch behind me at the word “people.” But I kept my eyes on Anemone.
            “I don’t have any ‘people.’” Anemone made sarcastic quotes sign with her fingers. “I’m alone. I write poetry. Have you read it? It’s online. I hunt to live, just to like everyone. You eat meat, don’t you?”
            “I enjoy a good cheeseburger, yeah, but we’re not here to have a philosophical discussion. We need to end this. You can do that.”
            Anemone leaned back, gazing around at all the weapons pointed at her. For the first time she seemed nervous.
            She shook her head. “I’m not a leader.”
            “You’re one of the oldest vampires in the city. They’ll listen to you.”
            Anemone shook her head. “I’m not the one you’re looking for, Tom. I only want to drink blood.”
            “And humans in Chicago only want to live. There’ll be a war.”
            “War?” She laughed. “I read the newspapers too. I even have an internet connection. Humans in Chicago are killing each other every single day.” She leaned forward. “Are we any worse?”
            Gun violence in Chicago was out of control. That was true. But add vampires to the mix? I couldn’t image the carnage.
Maybe I’d made a mistake thinking I could actually recruit a new vampire king. A vampire queen. But after watching Asmodeus butcher Dudovich, I didn’t have a lot of mercy left in my soul. Maybe I’d pay for that someday. But not tonight.
“Fine.” I backed away behind the cops. “Okay. Kill her. It.”
            Not a line I’d ever used to finish up a newspaper interview. Not an order I wanted to give, either. But if Anemone wouldn’t help us, then we had nothing else.
The cops behind me pointed their weapons. Except for Sharpe. She lifted her stake.
            “Wait!” Anemone raised a hand. “This is insane! All of you goons are here for one lone vampire?”
            “One less in the city.” That came from Hawkins. “You make the call.”
            Silence. Eyes darted around. Like the end of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Except I wasn’t Clint Eastwood. Or Lee van Cleef. Or the other guy.
            “Hold on.” I raised a hand. “Give us another second.”
            Hawkins groaned. “Do it or don’t, Jurgen. We can’t hang around here all night.”
            He was right. A TV news truck could pull up behind us and start filming any second now.
I talked fast. “I’m not trying to play the good cop here. I just don’t want to start all over again, finding a potential leader.” I took a breath. “Do you really want a war? Because I can’t hold these guys back much longer. They don’t want to talk. They just want to kill you and every vamp in the city. You can do something about it. Or you can just dissolve into a cloud of dust. After 90 years? Is that what you want?” I looked her up and down. “You’re still here. I can see that. What a waste.”
Anemone stared at me. For a moment I was sure she’d spring at me, rip my throat out, and claw my face to shreds while the cops pumped silver bullets into her body.
But instead she laughed. “Fine, Tom. Give me your number.”
Really? I handed her my business card, my arm shaking. “So now what?”
She shoved the card into the back pocket of her jeans. “We’ll meet. Bring whoever can negotiate for you. I’ll tell you the time and the place. Tomorrow after sundown.” Anemone looked down the street. “Are we done here?”
Hawkins looked ready to shoot her, deal or no deal. But after a moment he lowered his weapon with a sigh. “Stand down, everyone.”
I heard muttering all around me. But Sharpe and Smith and the rest followed orders. Anemone smirked and fluttered a hand as she walked down the sidewalk. “See you later, guys.”
I was pretty sure Hawkins and the others wanted to shoot me. But they jammed their handguns into their holsters and dispersed, right as a Channel 7 news van pulled up.
Hawkins waved an arm. “Nothing to see here, guys.” He grabbed my elbow, his hand like a clamp. “Let’s go, Jurgen.”

Hughes glared across his desk the next morning. “All right, Jurgen. What now?”
            I rubbed my eyes. I’d spent half the night unable to sleep, split between binge watching random episodes of Deep Space Nine and waiting for a text from Anemone.
            I looked at my phone. “Now we wait. I guess. If she wants to talk—if she’s willing to negotiate some kind of …”
            “Truce.” Hughes grimaced. “I have to tell the commissioner and the mayor that we’re trying to work out a deal with vampires. That’s the best case scenario, I guess.”
            “It might be.” I shrugged. “You had eight new attacks on the board this morning. And blaming them on a bad load of meth is only going to get harder—”
            My phone buzzed in my pocket. “Sorry, let me, uh . . .”
            Not Anemone. Rachel.
            I hadn’t heard from Rachel in almost a week. Of course, I’d told her to stay out of Chicago after the ambush that had ended up with Dudovich dead. But she’d left town after an argument about me working with the cops. Our relationship was always complicated. Now it seemed more tenuous than I wanted to think about.
            But she was calling me now.
I stood up. “I have to take this.”
            Hughes glanced at the sunlight filtering through his blinds. “Is it her?”
            “Yes. No. Not who you’re thinking of. Just give me a minute, all right?”
            He glowered. “Take your time. Come back when you have something to tell me.”
            Out in the hallway I managed to hit the answer button one second before the call went to voice mail. “Hi! It’s me.”
            “I’m home.” She sounded tired. “You were right. A week with LeAnn in her cabin, without an indoor bathroom, washing in the lake, and no coffee … I drove in the daylight. Mostly. It was worth the risk.”
            “As long as you’re okay.” And speaking to me again. “It’s been kind of crazy here.”
            “Yeah.” Rachel sighed. “Are you okay?”
            I leaned against a wall. “I’m doing the best I can. I’m trying to negotiate a peace treaty between the vamps and the cops.”
            “And how’s that going?”
            “I won’t know until tonight.”
            “So you’re still with them?”
            That’s why Rachel had left. She couldn’t deal with me working with the CPD. We both had issues with authority.
            “Yeah. For now.” With Dudovich gone, though, I didn’t know how much longer I’d last.
            “Okay.” She yawned. “I need to take a long shower and then a nap.”
            “Can I see you?”
            One second … two … three … My heart pounded almost as hard as it had last night, confronting Anemone.
            “Sure.” Rachel sighed. “You can make me lunch. Or dinner. Whatever. But that doesn’t mean we’re all okay, all right? We’ve got to talk.”
            I bit my lip. “Okay. Whatever you want.”
            “See you.” She hung up.
            Hawkins was walking down the hallway as I slipped my phone back into my pocket. “Good news?”
            “Yeah.” I smiled. Rachel was back. “I have to go.”

Vampire Queen, Part Three

My phone buzzed. I rolled over, half asleep. Rachel punched my shoulder.
Yeah, we’d missed each other. I grabbed the phone. “Tom Jurgen here.”
“Ahh …” Anemone’s voice whispered in my ear. “I knew you’d be ready. Your girlfriend is home. She’s so hot.”
            Oh hell. I sat up, checking Rachel’s blinds. The sun was still up. How did she—
It didn’t matter. “Stay away from her.”
            Rachel lurched up. “Who are you talking to?”
            “Nobody.” I pushed my phone close to my ear. “So what do you want?”
            “What you asked for. A meeting. At 10:30 tonight. The building at 1400 LaSalle. They’re tearing it down, but you can get in. Bring someone who can actually speak for your kind.”
            “Wait—” Was I hearing her right? “You’re ready to talk? And you can actually shut this all down? The attacks?”
            Rachel grabbed my shoulder. “Who is it?”
            “I can make a deal.” Anemone’s voice was clear and quiet. “Maybe not the one you’d like. But we can end this.” She hung up.
            “Hey!” Rachel punched my shoulder. Just like old times. “What’s going on?”
            “What time is it?” I looked at her clock radio. Only 6:15. “I need to make some calls.”
            “Right.” Rachel groaned. “The cops again?”
            “The new queen. Maybe.” I looked for my shoes. “She goes by Anemone.”
            “What?” Rachel stood up, her face flushed. “You’re not talking to that bitch, are you?”
            I froze. “You know Anemone?”
            “I’ve heard of her.” She pulled at a pair of shorts. “She’s dangerous.”
            I’d met Rachel when she was leading a support group for survivors of vampire attacks. “So she knows who you are. That explains …” How she knew Rachel was home. Oh god. “What do you know about her?”
            “She’s old. She’s powerful. She doesn’t need to drain a body, she just needs a few fast gulps.” Rachel shuddered. “One girl said she only chewed on her neck and then licked the blood that came out. But she told her that name—Anemone. And later I asked around. Carrie, and other people.”
            Rachel’s friend Carrie hated me. But I needed all the information I could get. “What did they say?”
            “Stay away.” She ran across the room, opened a drawer, and pulled out a big silver cross. Then another one. “You need this? I’ve got lots.”
            “Uh, I’ve got my own. Thanks.”
            Then she yanked a wooden stake out of a bottom drawer. “What time’s the meet?”
            “Uh, 10:30.” I picked up my phone. “Like I said, I need to make some calls.”
            “The cops?” Rachel twisted a T-shirt over her shoulders. “Look, I’m sorry about Dudovich, but you know how I feel. I’m coming with you.”
            We’d had this discussion before. I couldn’t argue with her. Not any more.
            I called Hughes. “It’s 10:30 tonight.” I gave him the LaSalle street address.
            Hughes put me on hold for a moment. Probably telling Hawkins or someone to check out the address. Then he came back. “Do you trust this vamp, Jurgen?”
            “Hell, no.” I looked at my cross on the night table next to Rachel’s bed. “But it might work. Right now it’s the best shot we’ve got. But someone has to be able to negotiate an agreement that will stick. You, or the commissioner, maybe not the mayor—”   
            “It’ll be me.” Hughes groaned. “It has to be me. Goddamn it.”
            “Sorry.” As much as we argued, I knew he was a good cop who only wanted to do his job.
            “Yeah.” I heard him started typing at his computer. “It’s almost 6:30. That gives us three hours to get ready. We’ll see you there.”
I made sandwiches. Roast beef and cheese for me, tomatoes and avocado for her. And a lot of coffee.
            The sun went down. Vampire time. I made sure the windows were locked.
            Rachel chewed her sandwich. “Mmm. Thousand Island dressing?”
            “Only the best for you.”
            She swallowed. “We still have to talk.”
            I’d known this was coming. “Look, I’m going to quit. After tonight. It was different with Dudovich there. But now …”
            “I don’t care about Dudovich!” Rachel pushed her chair back. “I mean … shit, I’m sorry. That came out wrong.” She punched my arm. Gently. “I know she was your friend. And I’m sorry.”
            I nodded. “Yeah. It’s okay. I just keep flashing back to it. I should have done something different. I could have . . . I don’t know.”
            “Look, whatever happened—and I wasn’t there, but . . . “ Rachel squeezed my hand. “I’m just glad you’re still here. All right?”
            I couldn’t think of anything to say. Except the obvious. “Rachel, I love you.”
            Rachel glared at me. “Well, of course you do. Jerk.” She slugged my arm.
            Her punch was almost better than a kiss. Although I liked those too.
            Then she folded her arms. “So now what?”
            I looked at my phone. “Now we wait. It’s only 7:30, so—”
            “No, you idiot.” Rachel looked ready to fling her cup at me. “About us.”
            Us. “Well …” What the hell did she mean? “I want to be together. Somehow. Uh …” Oh god. Okay. “Do you want to get married? If you want me to drop to my knees, I’ll—”
            “Oh god, no!” She turned away. “Don’t ever say that again.”
            Wait—was Rachel crying? “Uh, hey, I’m sorry. What did I—”
            “Shut up!” Rachel pounded the table with her fist. “Just stop it right now! I can’t … I don’t want to … don’t you know anything, you asshole?”
            Apparently not. So I did the only thing I could think of, and it scared me almost as much as confronting a vampire.
I stood up and pulled Rachel in a hug.
            I expected a punch to the arm and a slug in the stomach. Maybe a kick. But Rachel just wept, her arms around me, so I held her as close as I could.
            Then she pushed me away.  “Okay. I’m … okay.” She grabbed a napkin to wipe her eyes.
            I backed away. “You want more coffee? Or a beer?”
            “I want …” Rachel ran a hand through her red hair. “I want ice cream. And a pony. And world peace. And I hate you so much it hurts.”
            Ouch. “Well, I’ve got ice cream.”
            Rachel rubbed her eyes. “I didn’t mean that. I mean yeah, I want ice cream and a pony and all that. Not—not the other thing.”
            I glanced at the kitchen, trying to remember what I had in my freezer. “Chocolate? Vanilla? Neapolitan?”
            “Well, chocolate of course. Don’t you know anything about women? And more coffee. And …”        
Rachel stood up and kissed me. “And I’m coming with you.”
I stiffened. But we’d had this argument before. “Sure. Let me get you that ice cream.”

Vampire Queen, Part Four

So at 10:25 we were parked in my Honda across LaSalle Avenue from the remains of the Carson Hotel, a longtime refuge for transients and low-income residents that was being torn down for yet another high-priced highrise.
            The sidewalk in front of the hotel was fenced off. A large funnel on the roof emptied into a huge waste container. All the windows were dark. It was a ghost hotel. Literally.
            A young couple holding hands walked around the fence and looked up. Did something move in one of the windows? Probably just a bird. Or maybe a bat. The guy said something, and the woman laughed, and they walked on.
            A door in a large black van opened ahead of us. Hughes stepped out, along with Hawkins and Anita Sharpe.
            I wanted to tell Rachel to stay in the car, but she only would have punched me. “You ready?”
            She bit her lip. “I guess.”
We got out. I locked the doors.
            Hughes walked back to my car. “Who’s this?”
            “She’s Rachel. She’s psychic, and she’s with me. Don’t hit any of them,” I told Rachel quickly. “Detective Anita Sharpe, and Detective, uh, Hawkins. I’m sorry, I don’t remember your first name.
            “David.” He smirked. “I remember her.”
I nodded. “Yeah, we all met that one time with the dogs. This is Commander Hughes. He’s sort of my boss here. Try not to embarrass me.”
            “Pleased to meet you.” Rachel shook his hand. “Don’t worry, I won’t scream like a little girl. I kick like one, though.”
            Sharpe chuckled.
            Hughes sighed. “All right. Let’s do this.”
            We dodged cars at the crosswalk and reached the other side of the street.
            The fence around the hotel was wrapped with wire and plastic webbing. Port-a-johns stood inside, next to a big blue locker the size of a minivan.
            A big steel padlock hung from the gate in front of the lobby door. It was open. Hawkins gave the gate a push. It opened with a slow rusty creak.
Hawkins drew his handgun. “Guess we’re expected.”
            A battered sign over the front door still said CARSON HOTEL. Next to it a smaller sign advertising Chinese food hung down, ready to fall.
The door was unlocked.
I looked at Rachel.
“Yeah.” She swallowed. “She’s in there. Somewhere.”
“Okay.” Hughes pushed the door. “Come on.”
            We flicked on our flashlights and walked into darkness.
            The interior looked like an abandoned mausoleum, gutted and barren. No registration desk, no furniture, no carpeting or light fixtures. Just a big room, walls and floors stripped bare. The floor was strewn with fast food wrappers and rat droppings. A pile of soda cans lay in one corner.
            We flared our flashlights around, casting wide, ominous shadows over the walls and floor.
            I pointed my light up toward the ceiling. The anchor of a chandelier was still embedded above our heads. Sleeping bats hung from the ceiling. Rats skittered in the walls.
Rachel swung her flashlight at a long staircase where a thick bannister still stood at the back. “She’s close.”
            “Yes.” A voice floated in the stale air. “I’m right here.”
            Anemone stalked slowly down the steps, still in her black jeans and sunglasses. She stopped at the bottom step and looked us over. “You’re all here. Good. I’d ask you to sit down, but …” She laughed.
            “What do you want?” Hughes’ voice was low and raw. He was scared. Just hiding it better than most of us.
            “The question is, what do you want?” She leaned against the bannister. “I never dreamed of being a princess or a queen. I only just wanted to write my poems, you know? Like anyone. But you’re right.” She crossed her arms. “This city is getting too dangerous.”
            “Tell us about it,” Hawkins muttered.
            One lone bat swooped through the room, flying in circles as it looked for an open window. Anemone giggled.
            “He can feel it in the air.” She pointed toward the nearest wall. “Like those rats in the walls. I can feel all their rage and fear mixed together, and that’s a dangerous combination.”
            “Why are we here?” Hughes’ voice thundered around the big room. “Are we going to talk, or what?”
            “I’m willing to make a deal. But there’s a price.” She grinned.
            There always is. I hated this part. “Like what?”
            Anemone licked her lips. “I haven’t sired a new vampire in 50 years. I want one now. One of you.”
            “Screw this.” Hawkins turned for the door. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Then get ready for the war.” Anemone’s voice was a vicious whisper. “It’s coming. You know it is.”
            “Then bring it on!” Hawkins reached for his handgun. “You can be the latest—”
            “Hawkins, stand down!” Hughes held up a hand. “We’re still negotiating here.”
            “Oh, it’s not a negotiation.” Anemone shook her head. “It’s an ultimatum. Otherwise I’m out of here tonight. The rats will take over. And you and your city can all go to hell.”
“Just wait.” Hughes wasn’t willing to give up that quickly. “You want a vampire of your own? You can go out and do that now. You don’t need our cooperation. And we’ll stop you if we can.”
            “If you can.” She smirked. “I don’t want just anybody. I mean, any body. I want you to make a commitment.”  Anemone pointed two cawed fingers at us “I want a cop.”
            “No.” Hughes’ response was a hoarse whisper. “No way.”
“He can keep working for you—night shift, obviously—but he’ll report to me. He’ll still be a cop. You can give him orders, assign him to a desk, but he’ll be as much mine as yours.” Anemone shrugged. “That’s the deal. Otherwise I’m packing my bags and getting out of this city tonight.”
            A cop. Anemone wanted a cop. I was ashamed of the surge of relief I felt. She wouldn’t pick me. Or Rachel.
            But then I looked at the cops around me. We weren’t exactly friends, but we’d been working together on the same goal for weeks. I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel if one of them—
            “What’s it like?”
            That came from Sharpe. Anita Sharpe, a tall African-American woman with a nose that looked like she’d had it broken in a boxing match. And I would have bet she’d won the match anyway.
She pointed her flashlight at the vamp’s sunglasses. Anemone didn’t flinch. “What happens? What does it feel like?”
            “Shut up.” Hughes kept his eyes on Anemone. “Detective Sharpe, I won’t let you—”
“It hurts at first.” Anemone cut off his voice, quiet as she was. “I’m not going to lie to you. I’ll drink most of your blood. Then I’ll let you drink a little of mine. It’ll mix. You’ll wake up, thirsty and frightened. But I’ll protect you and make sure you get fed. I’ll control you, but only to keep you compliant—I’m not a pervert.”
Anemone giggled and strode forward. “And over time you’ll have more control, and eventually—in 50 years or so—you’ll be more or less independent. You won’t remember most of your life before this. But you’ll never die. Unless you attract the wrong kind of attention.”
            Sharpe leaned back, her face tense. “Okay. Okay.”
            “No.” Hughes pulled at Sharpe’s arm. “I won’t let you do this.”
            “Relax, commander.” Anemone clamped a hand on Hughes’ shoulder. “We don’t need to do this right now. She can—sorry, who are you?” She pulled at Sharpe’s chin, forcing her to look into her eyes. “What’s your name, honey?”
            “Sharpe.” She straightened her shoulders. “Detective Anita Sharpe.”
            Anemone backed a step away. “Anita, you can think this over for 24 hours. I’m not a monster.” She swung her face at Hughes. “Whatever you think.”
            Hughes clenched his jaw. “You’re a vampire.”
            “You came to me, remember?” She whirled around and stalked back toward the staircase. “Tomorrow night. Same time, same place.”
            She leaned against the bannister. “I’ll stop the attacks tonight. As much as I can. Just so you know I can do it. But by tomorrow night, you have to decide. And if the answer is no, I’m gone. And the vamps take over.”
            Then Anemone looked at Rachel. “Hey! You? Great to see you again! I think you two have a chance, you know?” She blew a kiss. “Good night, everyone!”
            Rachel shuddered. I realized she hadn’t said a word inside the crumbling hotel, which wasn’t like her. I nudged her arm. She nudged me back, and turned for the door. “I need to get out of here.”
            I followed Rachel through the hotel’s door. “Is she—?”
            Rachel nodded. “Yeah.”
Hughes and the cops followed us out to the sidewalk, slamming the gate, catching out breaths.
            Hawkins looked ready to explode. “Anita? You can’t do this!”
            “Screw you, Dave!” Sharpe backed away, her hands high as if ready to fight him. “You don’t know anything about me! I can make my own—”
            “Both of you shut up!” Hughes put a hand on the fence. “Back in the van! Now!”
            Sharpe dropped her fists. Hawkins shook his head. But they both headed across LaSalle to the car.
            Hughes sighed and stared at me. “Jurgen. What do you think?”
            I glanced at Rachel. She was staring at the pavement. “You okay?”
            “Yeah. Fine.” She looked across the street. “I’ll be in the car.”
            “What’s that about?” Hughes watched her cross the street.
            No idea. “Anemone’s trying to make a deal. I’m not sure it’s worth it, but Rachel thinks she’ll hold it.”
            Hughes looked down the street. “I can’t tell Sharpe to do it. Can I tell her not to?”
            He was asking me? I jammed my hands into my pockets. “Anemone wants a cop. You could fire her. It’s one way to shut it down.” I shrugged. “But that won’t solve the problem.”
            Hughes laughed. “You have any idea how hard it is to get a cop fired? I could start it up tomorrow, and it would be two years before anything happened. I have to make a decision right now.”
            “So …” I watched Rachel opening the door of my Honda. “Maybe you should talk to Sharpe. Maybe you can change her mind. If you want her to.”
            Hughes leaned back. “What the hell do you mean? You started this—negotiating with that thing in there!”
“You called me, remember?” I missed being a private eye, taking cases and occasionally blundering into the supernatural between cheating spouses and workers comp frauds. “But Anemone’s right—we’re looking at a war here. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll help you …”
            Shit. I’d told Rachel a few hours ago I was ready to quit. “I’ll help you as much as I can. But after tomorrow, I’m out. I can’t do this anymore.”
            “Goddamn it.” Hughes looked at the pavement. “I thought I could depend on you.”
            “You get my judgment. Not my soul.” I crossed the street.
            “So what do you think?” Rachel watched me buckle my belt.
            I put the key in but didn’t start the car. “I don’t know. It may be the best deal we can get. But can I really someone for their soul?”
            “You’re not asking. Anemone is.”
            “But I set it up. This was my idea.” I turned the key. Then I waited.
            Actually, it was Clifton Page’s idea. Maybe …
            I checked my mirror. “Want to go visit another vampire?”

Clifton Page was home, watching House of Cards by candlelight. I introduced Rachel, and they shook hands. He offered us beers and refilled his own wine glass in the kitchen. Then we sat down.
            “We’ve contacted Anemone.” I looked at the floor. “She’s willing to step up, become queen, and stop the attacks. But her price is that she wants to turn a cop into a vamp.”
            Page’s face grew darker in the candlelight. “That sounds like her. Anemone is treacherous. Manipulative. I can see her doing this just to make all of you squirm.”
            “I got that too.” Rachel sipped her beer. “I’m kind of psychic.  But I know how serious she really was—I think she mostly just wanted to see how you’d all react.”
            “Was she satisfied?”
            Rachel closed her eyes. “She was—excited, maybe. A little surprised when Sharpe said yes. But she started getting more eager as we were arguing about it.”
            “Can we trust her?” I asked both of them.
            Page took a long time before answering. “Yes. One time we both wanted the same boy, and we rolled dice for him. I won. She walked away.” He took a gulp of red wine.
            I tried not to shudder. “Are there any other options?”
            Page sipped his wine. “I could challenge her. But I won’t. If she won, her vengeance would be horrific. Plus, I’d be dead.” He shrugged.
            “Yeah.” I drank some beer. Maybe Sharpe would change her mind. That would put us back at square one, but …
            “What was it like for you?” Rachel asked. “When you first . . . got turned into a vampire?”
            Page laughed. “I was angry. And hungry. Ravenous. I did stupid things and I almost got killed a dozen times. Eventually I got enough blood so that I wasn’t thinking about it every moment of every night. But after killing enough humans—”
            I flinched.
            Page grinned, showing his fangs. “That’s what a vampire’s life is like, Tom. It’s hell.”