Saturday, May 6, 2017

Vampire Ambassador

P.I. Tom Jurgen’s life is complicated now that he’s the liaison between the police and the vampire world. When a terrified woman starts killing vampires, he has to walk a fine line before the shaky truce between vampires and humans falls apart.

Vampire Ambassador, Part One

The corpse had almost dissolved on the kitchen floor. Except for the clothes—a red vinyl jacket, dusty black jeans, and heavy boots—the body was melting fast. In an hour the vampire would be dust.
The wooden stake sticking out of its back was stained with black blood.
            “The woman who lives here is named Beth Eubanks.” Detective Anita Sharpe read from her phone. “She’s gone. Her son Brandon talks to her every day. When she didn’t answer the phone yesterday, he came over today. He has a key. This is what he found. What do you think, Jurgen?”
            I crossed my arms. We were in a West Rogers Park apartment at 10:30 a.m. Sunlight streamed through the windows, speeding the decomposition process.
This wasn’t as bad as some murder victims I’ve seen—not that many, thank god—but the bare skull and hand weren’t much fun to look at.
“So it’s a vampire, obviously.” The body was probably only a few years old. “Younger, or there’d be more—stuff left behind. Older and there wouldn’t be anything left by now.”
            Yeah, that’s me talking, Tom Jurgen, vampire expert. Private detective. And because of a truce worked out between the Chicago Police Department and the two reigning vampire lords of Chicago—Clifton Page and a female vampire named Anemone—I’m now unofficial ambassador between the forces of light and darkness.
            Not something I’d dreamed about growing up. Mostly I wanted to be Batman.
            I crouched down, keeping my hands far away from the remains. “Why is there a stake?”
            “Yeah, I wondered that too.” Sharpe didn’t miss much. “Most people don’t keep a wooden stick handy to kill vampires in their house.”
            So Beth Eubanks had been expecting a vampire attack? I peered down at what was left of the body. “Somebody should check all the pockets, obviously.”
            Sharpe sniffed. “You know, I have been a cop for a long time, Jurgen.”
            “I meant somebody aside from me.” I stood up. “Where’s the son?”
            “Downtown, filing a report. Missing persons on the mother. This?” She shook her head. “We’re still trying to figure out how to classify vampire killings. When the vamp is the victim, I mean.”
            “And keep it out of the papers.” That still bothered me. I used to be a reporter. Every instinct in my body told me that this was news, that the people of the city had a right to know. But the cops were determined to cover it up for as long as they could. And if I ignored them and went rogue, they could make my life very uncomfortable.
            So I went along with it. Being a private detective had taught me to keep secrets. Besides, they were paying me. Not much, but enough for cat food. If I had a cat.
            I looked around. “How long can you keep this place clean?”
            “It depends on the landlord.” Sharpe shrugged. “I don’t think he’ll be a problem until the rent comes due.”
            “Fine.” I looked down at the dissolving corpse. “I’ll need to talk to the son.”

Brandon Eubanks, 26, had short brown hair, wide glasses and nervous hands. “I just walked in and—what the hell was that, anyway?”
            We sat in a coffee shop near police headquarters—just me and Brandon. Sharpe had paperwork and meetings. Plus, I didn’t want her to intimidate Brandon too much.
            “And that stick of wood?” Brandon shook his head. “Did someone really stab—whoever it was—with that?”
            “We’ll see.” I opened my laptop. “Tell me about your mother.”
            Brandon’s fingers were tense as he lifted his latté. “Well, she’s, uh 58, I think. She lives in Lakeview. She and my dad got divorced 10 years ago. It was . . .” He sighed. “Well, he was abusive. To both of us. That’s why I call my mom every day.”
            “Does she answer?”
            “Up until the day before yesterday, yeah. That’s why I got worried.” He ran a hand over his forehead. “She’s not picking up now. I think she’s got it turned off.”
            “I don’t know!” He wanted to pound the table, but a woman in a wheelchair was watching a movie on her tablet at the table next to us. He leaned down. “Sorry. I’m just scared.”       
I nodded. “What’s your father’s name?” I opened my laptop and tapped the local password.
            “William. Bill. Bill Eubanks. Mom kept the name, for some reason.”
I tapped the local password and entered the name. “Has he threatened her since the divorce?” Ex-partners were always the obvious place to start with every unexplained death. Even a vampire’s.
            Brandon sighed. “There’s a restraining order, for whatever that’s worth.”
            That came up right away. Along with a few other reports. “When was the last time you saw him?”
            He closed his eyes. “About a year ago. He came to my office—I’m in real estate. He was drunk. Said he just wanted to talk to me, but all he did was talk about mom. Eventually he left. Do you think . . .”
Brandon shook his head. “It can’t be him. He’d never wear a coat like that.”
            Red vinyl? He had a point. Probably something from a vampire victim from the 1970s. Or a garbage can. “Where would your mother go if she was in trouble?”
            Brandon sighed. “I already gave a list to the police. Her best friend Kate lives down the hall, but I called her before I went over. There’s Alicia, they went to college together, she lives out in Oak Park. I don’t have her number, but—”
            “Was she seeing anyone?”
            His eyebrows shot up. “Mom? I mean . . .” Then he laughed. “Yeah, she’s my mom. No, I don’t think she’s ever dated anyone since my dad. I would’ve . . . had to get used to it, I guess, but I even told her a few times she ought to think about it. But no, she’s not dating anyone.”
            “All right.” I finished my coffee and closed my laptop. This was just like meeting with a client. “I’ll be in touch.”
            “Uh, are you a cop?” He looked confused.
            I hesitated, “I’m a—consultant. I work with them on cases like, well, this one. The unusual condition of the, uh, body . . .” I gave him my card. “I’m a private detective. Call me if you think of anything else.”
            “All right.” He put the lid on his latté. “I suppose I should try to do some work. If I can.”
            “Oh, one thing?” I didn’t want to go all Lieutenant Columbo on Brandon, but I’d been saving the question. “Can you think of reason why your mother would have kept a wooden stake in her apartment?”
            A magnetic strip above the kitchen sink had held a dozen knives of various lengths. I’d checked for a handgun all over and found nothing.
You don’t usually sharpen a stake unless you’re expecting a vampire.
            “Uh, no.” Brandon seemed confused by the question. “It’s not like she was into Buffy the Vampire Slayer or anything. Maybe the guy brought it with him?”
            That was one possibility. “Maybe. Well, thanks.”

I called Sharpe from my Honda. “Can you email me the list of Beth Eubanks’ friends?”
            “I already did. And yes, we’re looking for the ex-husband.” Once again, Sharpe was letting me know she knew her job better than I did. “
            I couldn’t really blame her. During the crisis that led to me becoming the vampire-human ambassador, she’d volunteered to become a vampire in response to an ultimatum from Anemone, the vampire queen. We’d talked her out of it, and she’d quit the CPD, but Hughes—the police commander in charge of the task force—had talked her back somehow. But she sounded like she was dealing with some serious depression either way—why else would someone sign up for eternal hell, even to live forever?
            And now she was stuck with me. Probably not the bonus she was expecting.
            “Okay, I’ll get right on it.” I hung up and checked my email.

“She was angry.” Beth’s best friend Kate from down the hall sounded angry too on my phone. “I mean, she got nothing from him. He walked out when Brandon was 15, after beating her every other day for years? And she had to move in down the hall with one bedroom and a bathroom that didn’t always have hot water. And pay for college? He didn’t pay for anything. What an asshole.”
            I sat in my apartment listening to her, scanning the list of names and numbers Sharpe had sent me. “Did you ever meet him? Bill Eubanks?”
            “Yeah, I saw him once or twice. In the hall, banging on the door. He looked drunk. What’s going on?” Kate sounded tired. “I saw the cops this morning around her apartment. Who did you say you are?”
            “Tom Jurgen. I’m a—a consultant with the police. So was Beth afraid? Her ex-husband must have been—”
            “She’s just kind of tense, you know? Jerking around at every noise. I asked her once, and she just said she couldn’t ever let her guard down. She had trouble sleeping sometimes. But she’s not scared of Bill. I saw her shout him down the staircase at him one night. She just wants him to leave her alone.”
            I called more of Beth’s friends. Most of them didn’t want to talk to me. One hung up on me. I left messages with the others. The second to last name picked up, set her phone down for two minutes, and then started out with a burp. “Oops. Sorry. You wanted to talk about Beth?”
            Her name was April Potts, and she lived in the Edgewater neighborhood. “Yes. Have you heard from her? Her son is trying to get in touch with her.”
            “Brandon? Or that son of a bitch Bill? I can’t stand him.”
            I was hearing that a lot. “It’s Brandon. Like I said, all I need to know is whether Beth has been in contact with you.”
            “No.” She paused. “Well, yeah. She left this weird message last night on my phone.”
            I leaned forward. “What did she say?”
            “She said, uh . . . ‘I’m tired of it. Nobody calls me . . .’ What was it? Pathetic. That was it. ‘Pathetic.’” April burped again. “Sorry. Long day. Little bit of wine.”
            “I know the feeling.” I was thinking about the beer in in my refrigerator. “How did she sound? What do you think she meant?”
            “She sounded tired. Not like she’d just been to a workout. The message was at 9:30 at night. I got in at 11:00, because—anyway, never mind. I just think she meant . . . I don’t know.”
            I kept my mouth shut. Silence is sometimes the best way to get people to talk. I’d learned that as a reporter.
            “She just said, ‘I’m tired of everyone thinking I’m pathetic.’ And then she said, ‘Things are going to change.’”
            “What does pathetic mean?”
            “I don’t . . . “ I heard a gulp. “We’ve been friends a long time, all right? We took a creative writing class once, and that’s how we met. But—and you can’t say this, okay? Beth doesn’t stand up for herself. All her stories were about girls getting screwed. She is . . . I mean . . .”
            “Kind of pathetic?” I couldn’t help it.
            “I’m trying to build my own life here.” April sighed. “Sorry. It’s not easy. I’m divorced too. And Beth’s good, you know? But it’s hard. I could see she’s trying, but she’s just . . . too nice. She needs to kick her ex-husband in the balls. She needs to get laid. She needs to do something, anything. Just stop being so, so nice.”
            Pathetic. “I think I get it. Thank you.”
            “Oh god! Please don’t tell her I said anything! I mean—” Another gulp. “She’s my friend. I just want her to be okay . . .”
            “It’s all confidential.” I checked April’s name off on my list. “Thanks for your help.”
            “Have her call me, all right? We should get together. Maybe you could come too? You sound cute.”
            One of my editors had described my phone voice as the spawn of Eeyore the donkey and a grating telemarketer. “I’ll ask my girlfriend. Will you call me if you hear from Beth?” I gave her my number and my email address.
            “Oh, sure.” She giggled. “Hope to hear from you.”
            “Same here.” I decided not to tell Rachel that women on the phone were hitting on me.

I took a nap. Being the vampire ambassador kept me up nights. I woke up at 5:30 and started dinner, waiting for sundown when I could call Anemone. Yes, vampires have cell phones. Welcome to the 21st century.
            Two vampires, Anemone and Clifton Page, had carved the city up between them. As promised, they’d stopped the epidemic of vampire attacks in the city with our truce, but they could restart the chaos at any time. I left a message as twilight faded across the sky outside my window.
            Rachel came down at 6:00, while I was stirring chickpeas, turmeric, and onions in a skillet. Rachel is my upstairs neighbor, my girlfriend, a vegetarian, and sometimes an associate on cases that require someone who’s at least somewhat psychic. She’s no vampire fan, but she was relieved I was no longer working directly for the police force against them. She dislikes cops and authority as much as people who eat veal.
            I was turning down the heat when my phone buzzed. Anemone, calling me back.  “Hello, Tom Jurgen.” She laughed. “I was just about to go look for something to drink.”
            Gulp. Anemone liked to hunt early in the evening. “This won’t take long. Do you know anything about—”
            “The vampire killed in West Rogers Park? Of course. What are you doing about it?”
            I moved the skillet off the burner. “Humans have the right to protect themselves from attacks. We agreed on that.”
            “But the human ran away, didn’t she? Vampires have the right to protect themselves too.”
            “We’re trying to find the human, and find out what happened. Do you know who—wait.” I was about to ask about the dead vamp. “What do you know about the human? I never mentioned she was, uh, a she.”
            “Oh, you’re so clever.” Anemone laughed again. “I know a lot. The vampire who was killed? His name was Anthony V. No last name. Probably derived from his human name, but I don’t know that for sure. I do know that he hires out.”
            “Hires out.” I leaned against the counter. “You mean he was a hitman?”
            “Of a sort. He took money and then got blood. Everyone was happy.”
            Except his victims. “So who hired him?”
            “No idea. We all need money. And we all need blood, one way or another. Well, I have to hit the street. Keep me up to date.” She hung up.
            Rachel stood in the kitchen doorway. She’s got red hair and hazelnut eyes. “Are we going to eat soon?”
I grabbed bowls. “Vampires working as assassins. Who knew?”
            She opened the refrigerator door and brought out two beers. “Well, it makes sense. Want to watch ER after dinner?” We were on season four. I was getting jealous of her crush on young George Clooney.
            I spooned dinner into the bowls. “I should call Sharpe.”

Vampire Ambassador, Part Two

Sharpe called me back three hours later. “Get down here. Something’s going on.” She gave me an address in Lincoln Park.
            “What is it?” Rachel paused the stream right before George Clooney was going to say something dramatic.
            “Not sure. Something. Want to come?” I grabbed for my jacket and my silver cross. “You can stay and see what George is going to say.”
            “Nah, it’ll give me something to look forward to.” She found her leather jacket. She had her own cross in a pocket. “Where are we going?”

A stake jutted out of the vamp’s chest. Its body, mostly intact, lay behind a dumpster off of Sheffield Avenue.
            The alley was cordoned off with yellow police tape, and the cops did their best to keep passersby from turning into amateur crime scene photographers.
            Sharpe swung her flashlight over the body. “Young vamp. Probably stupid for blood.”
            The face was still recognizable. Blonde beard, scar on his neck. I leaned down and got a picture on my phone to send Anemone. “Did anybody see it?”
            Sharpe pointed a finger. “That guy.”
            Rachel and I looked at a tall figure in a white vest and cargo shorts, leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette. A uniformed cop stood guard on him.
            “Hi!” I walked over. “Tom Jurgen.” I held out my card. “Can we ask you a few questions, sir?”
“I’m Marilyn.” Her voice was deep and raspy. “What do you want?”
            Oh. I felt stupid. “Sorry. What did you see?”
            Marilyn shoved my card into a pocket. “I was just walking down the street. This guy was following me. I was looking for a store where I could buy another pack of smokes and get away from him, and then this old lady comes out of the alley. She gets between us, and then she says, ‘Am I pathetic?’”
            Pathetic. April Potts had said that.
            Marilyn lit another cigarette. “So I go into the store. When I come out, she’s walking away.”
            “What did she look like? What was she wearing?”
            “Old, you know?” Marilyn looked in her twenties. Fifty-eight was probably ancient to her. “Red sweatshirt, and her hair was kind of gray and frizzy.”
            I had a photo of Beth Eubanks on my phone from her apartment. “Is this her?”
            Marilyn blinked. “Yeah. I think—yeah. That’s pretty much her.”
            Great. What the hell was going on? I looked at Rachel.
            She leaned forward to shake hands “Hi, I’m Rachel. Tom’s associate. I’m kind of psychic. You know, cigarettes will kill you.”
            “Screw you.” But Marilyn smiled. “Nice to meet you, Rachel.”
            We walked away, back down the alley. “She’s telling the truth.” Rachel can’t read minds, but she can usually pick up obvious lies. “And there’s something here—not rage, exactly. More like frustration. What did she say? Pathetic?”
            “Yeah. That was the word.”
            Rachel’s shoulders twitched inside her leather jacket. “That’s almost a trigger word. I can feel a snap in the air.”
            “So what are we working on here, Jurgen?” Sharpe stood in front of us.
            It fit. Sort of. “One of Beth’s friends told me Beth was tired of being pathetic. That was before the first one. Maybe . . .” Oh god. What was I going to tell Anemone?
            I turned to Marilyn. “Thanks for your help. Call me if you need anything. You’ve got my card.”
            “Yeah, he can go.” Sharpe nodded to the cop watching her.
            “She—” Rachel and I spoke at the same time. We looked at each other.
            Marilyn laughed. “I’ve got to get home. Work tomorrow.” She headed across the sidewalk and down toward the nearest bus stop.
            Sharpe grimaced. “I can’t keep up these days.”
            Me too. But I’m trying to get better. “I have to call the queen. Are we good?”
            “For now.” She waved a hand to the patrol officer. “Come on, let’s wrap this scene up.”

“Oh, Tom.” Anemone’s whisper was sad. “You know what this means, don’t you?”
            “It doesn’t have to mean anything.” I paced around my dining room table. Rachel watched me, sipping her beer. “Murders happen all the time in Chicago. Humans get killed, vamps get killed—”
            “But your human is hunting them! That’s what this sounds like. And that means—”
            “Anthony V came to her apartment.” I paused. “I don’t know about the other one. I admit it sounds bad. Did you know him?”
            “I can’t keep track of every infant vampire in the city.” She sucked in a breath. “If there’s another one, though—a dead vamp targeted by a human vigilante, which is what this sounds like, well . . . we may have to reconsider our truce.”
            And the wars would start again. “That’s bad for both of us.”
            “Worse for your side. Ciao!” Anemone hung up.
            I sat down. Rachel brought me a beer. “How’s the queen?”
            “Ready to start up again.” I shuddered. The weeks before our truce had cost dozens of lives—mostly human. And that’s what the cops cared about.
            Damn it. I picked up my phone and called Brandon.
“H-hello?” He sounded as if I’d woken him up from a bad dream.
“It’s Tom Jurgen. Sorry to call you so late.
“What does ‘pathetic’ mean?”
            “What? Uhh . . .” He sounded confused. “It’s—I don’t know. It’s what my dad used to call my mom when he was mad at her. ‘You’re just pathetic.’ What are you talking about?”
            “It’s just . . . come up a few times. I talked to a few of her friends. And it’s possible she was—spotted tonight, and somebody heard that word.”
            “Somebody saw her? Where?”
            “Lincoln Park. We’re not sure it was her. But . . .” I hesitated. Still, he had a right to know. “There’s another body. With a stake.”
            “What? Oh my god.” Brandon started breathing hard, as if he was going to hyperventilate. “I can’t—I can’t believe—”
            “Calm down.” Easy advice to give, I know. “We don’t know what happened yet. I’m trying to find her as soon as I can. Can I ask you another question?”
            “S-sure. Just a—just a minute.” I heard him gulp a drink. “Okay.”
            “Do you know where your father is?”
Brandon’s voice got quiet. “I gave them the last address I have for him. But there’s this bar he used to go to all the time. It’s called the Stinkwater. It’s on Irving Park and . . . somewhere. Hang on, it’s, uh, here . . .” After a moment he read me an address and phone number.
I scribbled them down. “You said you haven’t seen him in over a year. Have you been in any kind of contact recently?”
            A long sigh. “Yeah. There was a message on my phone. I deleted it”
            “About a week ago. He was drunk, and rambling. I didn’t tell you about it because, well—he called me pathetic. Just like my mom. That’s kind of his favorite word. I only listened to about half of it, and then I hit delete.”
            “Hang on.” I looked at Rachel. In addition to being psychic, Rachel knows a lot about computers. She’s a web designer, and has some awesome hacking skills that I sometimes rely on but don’t want to know much about. “Is there a way to retrieve deleted voice mail messages from a phone?”
            She shrugged. “Sure. You can Google it.”
            “All right.” I checked the time. 11:37. “Brandon, can we meet in the morning? I want to try listening to that message.”
            “Okay.” He sounded tense. “I guess.”
            It was late, but Sharpe was the only person I was allowed to talk to about vampire cases. She picked up, grumpy. “Yeah, Jurgen?”
“Have you checked Beth Eubanks’ voice mail messages? Was there anything from her ex-husband?”
            “Nothing on her landline machine. She’s not picking up her cell phone. And yeah—” Sharpe yawned as if she’d been asleep. “We’re trying to locate the ex. That’s Cop 101. He’s not at the address the son gave, his last job was six months ago, and his car hasn’t gotten any tickets or run any lights. We’re working on it.”
            “Okay.” I tapped my fingers on the table. “He left a message on his son’s phone a week ago. It’s deleted, but we can retrieve it in the morning.”
            “Sounds good. Call me if you get anything. Say hi to that girl of yours. She’s too good for you.”
            I looked at Rachel. “Glad we’re on the same team.”
            “What was that?” Rachel stared at my phone as if she’d heard every word. Especially the last few.
            “Sharpe says hi.”
            Rachel smirked and picked up the remote. “So are we rushing out to fight crime? Or can we watch TV?”
            As much as I needed some George Clooney right now, I had a lead to run down. “Want to go to a bar?”

A neon Budweiser sign hung in the Stinkwater’s window, and a red, white and blue awning covered the step to the door.
            The TV on the wall was turned an old movie channel with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Swing music played quietly from the speakers. The place smelled like beer and barbecue sauce. Most of the stools were empty.
            A tall woman in a tight tank top walked up behind the bar as Rachel and I hopped onto two stools. “Hi! I’m Felicia. What can I get you?”
            I peered at the taps. Philip Marlowe and other classic P.I.s are hard drinkers, but I can’t think straight after half a whiskey. “Maybe a Heineken?”
            “Sure. You?” She smiled at Rachel.
            “Ohh,” Rachel wiggled on her stool. “I haven’t had St. Pauli Girl in ages.”
            “Coming up.” She winked.
            We sipped our beers. On the TV, Cary Grant argued with Kate. At the far end of the bar, two kids who looked too young to be out this late laughed and kissed, giggling.
            “Hey.” I waved Felicia over. “Do you know a guy name Bill Eubanks? I think he’s a regular here.”
            Felicia looked me over. “And you are . . .?”
            I handed her my card. “His son is trying to reach him.”
            Felicia checked out my card, and then checked out Rachel again. “Is this legit?”
            “Of course it is. He’s my boyfriend.” Rachel rubbed my arm. “I’m Rachel.”
            “Boyfriend, huh? Nice to meet you.” Felicia dropped the card on the bar. “Yeah, Bill comes in here sometimes. I haven’t seen him in a few days. If he’s not here now, he’s probably not coming in tonight.”
            I sipped my beer. “What’s he like?”
            Felicia sighed. “Let’s just say I’ve had to throw him out a few times. And I can do it without any help.”
            Rachel smiled, gazing at Felicia’s muscular shoulders. “I bet you can.”
            I dropped a twenty on the bar next to my card. “Maybe you could call me if you see him again?”
            “Sure.” The bill and the card disappeared. “Have a great night.”
            “Is she your type?” I waited for a punch.
            “I just picked up a vibe and I went with it.” She gazed down the bar at Felicia’s jeans. “You jealous? Or turned on? Don’t get any ideas, shamus. We’ve been over this.”
            “Yeah.” Rachel’s history was—complicated. I gulped my beer and checked my phone for the time. “If he doesn’t show in a few minutes, I’m going to have to get home. Early day tomorrow. Unless you want to stay and flirt with Felicia some more.”
            “Hmm. Let me think . . .” Rachel gazed at the bartender’s jeans. “Nah. I’ve got work to do.” She punched my arm. “Whenever you’re ready.”

So at 8:15 the next morning Brandon came to my apartment with his cell phone.
            Rachel was there. She came home with me, but she didn’t spend the night—for all I knew she’d been up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning working on some client’s web page. But she was there, drinking coffee, when Brandon rang my buzzer and then knocked at my door and handed his phone over.
            His glasses were fuzzy and his hair was tangled. But he took a mug of coffee and slumped at the table.
            “Brandon, this is Rachel. She’s my associate. Kind of a tech genius.” I sat down next to him. “Thanks for coming.”
            “Hi, Brandon.” Rachel nodded, her eyes red. “Nice to meet you. And your phone.” She pressed buttons. “Give me a minute.”
            “Just, uh, ignore that message from Melissa M.?” Brandon looked nervous. “We broke up, but I saved it because . . .”
            “Don’t worry.” Rachel laughed. “I’m only looking for old messages.”
            “It was last week. Thursday. One or two in the morning. So Friday, I guess.”
            “This must be it.” Rachel hit speaker.
            “Brandon? It’s your father.” The voice was hoarse, and I could almost smell the alcohol through the recording. “I know you never pick up on me anymore. Maybe you’re just asleep. That’s okay. I don’t care. I don’t care what you do anymore. Your mother . . .”
            “This is about where I deleted it.” Brandon rubbed his eyes, embarrassed.
            “ . . . so pathetic. I can’t believe I ever married her. You know, don’t you? You know what she’s like. But she’s not going to bother me anymore. I’m not going to let her. One way or another, it’s all going to end. Soon. Soon as I . . . never mind. Go to hell, both of you.” The call ended.
            Brandon dropped his head, his shoulders trembling.
            “I’m sorry.” Maybe we shouldn’t have let him listen.
            “No, it’s . . . that’s just dad. Damn it.” He gulped his coffee.
            “That sounded like a threat.” Rachel pointed at the phone.
            “Yeah.” And Anemone said Anthony V hired out.  She’d probably be asleep in her coffin now, wherever it was, but I could leave a message.
            Rachel picked up the phone and scrolled through his contacts list. “We can try tracking her location through her phone.” She scribbled down Beth Eubanks’ number, and the ex-husband’s number too.
            “Thanks.” I gave Brandon his phone back. “We’ll be in touch.”
            He left, mystified and depressed.
“Does he know about the vampires?” Rachel asked.
            “I don’t know. He probably will before this is over, though.” I left a message with Anemone. And also with Clifton Page. Then I started to call Dudovich—
            Except Dudovich was dead. I sighed and called Sharpe.
            “Yeah, we’re working on locations.” Sharpe sounded as if she hadn’t gotten any sleep. Tracking vamps is mostly about the night shift. “And the ex’s number too. But both their phones are off right now. The theory makes sense, though. If it is Beth killing vamps, maybe something like a murder attempt sent her off.”
            “Any word on the ex?”
            “Nothing yet.  You check on that end. I’ve got reports to write. Uh, good work on that deleted message, all right?”
            It was possibly the first compliment Sharpe had ever given me. Or anybody. Maybe she’d been reading self-help books. “Thanks. I’ll be in touch.”
            I looked at Rachel. “Any way to track a cell phone when it’s off?”
            “No. Maybe.” She sipped her coffee. “I’ve got a friend . . .”
            She usually does. “Is it legal?”
            “It’s magic. We need something personal, though. Like hair, or a toothbrush.”
            That left Bill out. But I could get Sharpe to let me back into Beth’s apartment. “Okay, call him. Or her. Or whoever.”
            Rachel grinned. “On it.”
            I got up, sipped my coffee, and headed for the door. “Back soon.”
Rachel has lots of friends in the supernatural community in Chicago, which comes in handy when I’m working on paranormal cases. Even before my new post as vampire ambassador, that happened more than I liked.
            This guy was Derek. Young, Asian, with a wide smile that made me jealous of the way Rachel was laughing with him when I got back to my apartment. “Hi. Tom Jurgen.”
            “Hi!” Derek shook my hand. “Rachel told me all about you.”
            “That’s what I’m afraid of.” I handed him the toothbrush, wrapped in a ziplock bag. “Can you do anything with that?”
            “Perfect.” He sat down on my dining room table with his iPad. A map of the city sprawled across the screen. Rachel smiled at him as he started typing.
            “How do you know each other?” I sat next to him so I could see the screen.
She punched my shoulder. “Just let him work.”
            “This should be easy.” Derek tapped some keys. “Rachel and I are pals. But I’m part of a whole different thing. Let me see . . .” He rolled the toothbrush onto a napkin and rubbed its bristles. Then he rolled some dice.
“Oops, no.” He rolled again. “Give me a minute.”
I watched Derek throw his dice. Two, three times. Finally they came up with a trio of threes. “Yahtzee!” Derek shouted, and he ran his fingers up and down the iPad screen. “Okay. Okay. Here it is. Here she is . . . yeah.”
He jabbed a finger. A circle of red dots descended on Irving Park road near Cicero—and a few blocks from the Stinkwater, the bar that her ex-husband hung out in. A photo sprang up—a dilapidated hotel with gray walls and greasy windows.
“That’s it.” Derek tapped the screen. “Somebody got a pencil?”
            I always carry a notebook. “She’s there now?”
            “Looks like it.” The red dots swarmed in a tight swarm on the map. “She’s not moving. Maybe asleep. You could probably surprise her.”
            Asleep. Yeah. I picked up my phone to call Sharpe. “Thanks for your help, Derek.”
            “Yeah, I’ve got to get going.” Derek stood up. “Nice seeing you, Rachel.”
“Say hi to Leo.” She kissed his cheek
            “Nice meeting you Tom.” He shook my hand again. “Be careful. You never know what’s coming.”
            What the hell? I waited for Rachel to close the door. “Who’s Leo?”
            “Oh, you don’t want to know.” Rachel smiled. “Just be glad he’s on our side."
            I shivered. Then I picked up my phone to call Sharpe.

Vampire Ambassador, Part Three

Beth Eubanks sat on dirty sheets in small room with the curtains shut tight, staring at an infomercial on the TV for a herbal supplement guaranteed to cure every ailment known to medicine (pending FDA approval).
            “I’m not . . . “ She shook her head. “I’m not . . .”
            Sharpe held her handgun with both hands as we entered the room, but she kept it low, her hand on the trigger guard. Rachel leaned next to my shoulder. The key from the hotel manager swung on the door.
            Beth blinked at the TV through bloodshot eyes. She wore jeans and a loose red sweatshirt. One hand was covered with bandages. Her feet were bare.
            A bloody stake lay on the sheets next to her.
            Sharpe stepped back. “All yours, Jurgen.”
            Terrific. I glanced at Rachel. She slugged my shoulder. But gently.
            “Beth?” I stepped forward. “I’m Tom. I’m a friend of your son. Brandon. Can we talk?”
            She wiped a wrist across her nose. and looked at Sharpe. “Are you arresting me?”
            Sharpe grimaced. “We’re just talking for now. I’m detective Sharpe. Can you tell us what happened?”
            Instead of answering, Beth looked at Rachel. “Are you a friend of Brandon too?”
            “Sort of. I work with Tom.” Rachel edged around me.  “Brandon’s fine. We saw him this morning. He’s worried about you.”
            “I’m sorry.” Her voice quavered.
            “I don’t know how he got in.” Beth ran her hands over her face. “It’s not like Bill has the key or anything. He called me . . . he called me the night before. He said to be ready. I don’t—don’t usually listen to his messages, but this one was different. He didn’t sound drunk, just—evil.” She shuddered.
            “So you were ready.” I nodded. “That’s good.”
            “He just said to have a stake handy. I didn’t know what he meant, but I—I had some wooden picture frames I wasn’t using. so I made a couple of them.”
            I wanted to sit down. But it seemed inappropriate to just plop down next to her on the bed. So I stuck my hands in my pockets. “What happened after that?”         
            “I don’t . . . remember.” She sighed. “That sounds stupid, doesn’t it?”
            “No.” Rachel pulled the room’s lone chair over and sat down at her side. “Perfectly natural.”
            “I don’t know how he got in. I don’t know how I . . . or leaving, or anything like that. I was just walking around on the street. It was late. I was thirsty, but I was too scared to get something to drink. Then this man—like the first one. He was following someone. So I—I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just so tired. And mad. So I—”
            Sharpe cleared her throat.
            Right. There’d been a witness. Marilyn. And enough of a body left to make a charge stick.
            The CPD’s job was complicated now. Arresting vampires and bringing them to trial? The policy was to stake them on sight. Even Anemone had agreed to that: “If they’re stupid enough to get caught, they deserve what they get.”
But arresting citizens for killing vampires was . . . problematical at beast. The legal team was still working on it, last I’d heard.  
So Sharpe didn’t want to hear a confession she’d have to report. Not right now.
            “How did you get to this place?” I asked quickly.
            “I got on a bus.” Beth shrugged. “I think I fell asleep. When I woke up, I saw this place. It was almost sunrise. So I got a room. I’ve been . . . sleeping for a while.” She rubbed her eyes. “What happens now?”
            I looked at Sharpe.
            She frowned, then motioned me over. Rachel stayed next to Beth.
            “I have to take her in.” But she didn’t look happy about it. “Then talk to Hughes about what to charge her with. She might get a plea bargain or an insanity defense, but that’s not up to me.”
            “But it’s pretty obvious that her ex-husband hired that vamp to try to kill her.”
            “Conspiracy cases are hard enough to prove. But now we’re stuck with the second vamp. And there’s enough of a body left—and a witness—to make a charge stick. I’ve got to take her in, Jurgen. I’m still a cop.”
            I nodded. Did the D.A.’s office know about the vampires? The city was trying to keep them out of the news media—and a former reporter I hated that—but it probably wasn’t the kind of secret they could keep up forever.
            “There’s another problem.” I looked over my shoulder. Rachel was talking to Beth as quietly as Sharpe and I. “Anemone’s going to want her.”
            Her shoulders stiffened. “We can’t give her up.”
            “No.” I nodded immediately. “Self-defense is covered under the truce, but she might argue that the second killing doesn’t count.”
            Sharpe’s lips curled in smile that was half a snarl. “That’s your job, Mr. Ambassador. Thank god it’s not mine.”
            I sighed. “Yeah.”

Beth went peacefully with Sharpe. She looked as if she just wanted to sleep some more.
            I called Brandon. I was treating him like a client, even though I wasn’t technically working for him. “Your mother is safe. The police have her—”
            “The police? Oh god, what happens now?” He sounded as if he was going to hyperventilate.
            “You can visit her. They’re working out the details.”
            “Okay.” He took a deep breath. “Thanks.”
I waited until sundown to open a beer and call Anemone.
            “We’ve got her.” I hoped that would be enough, but I didn’t expect it to be. “She’s in police custody.”
            “What’s going to happen to her?”
It was the question I’d been dreading. “I don’t know. Do you really want her to go on trial and testify that she killed a vampire?”
            “Two vampires. Maybe more.”
            “One was clearly self-defense. Her ex-husband hired Anthony V to kill her. The other was about to attack a citizen.”
            Her voice grew low. “Is this how it’s going to be? You’re going to make excuses for every one of my people who gets killed? This truce isn’t going to last long if that’s your plan.”
            “Keeping vamps in line is your job. Humans are our problem.”
            She laughed. “Okay. I’ll have to think about that. After I hunt.”
            I groaned. “Don’t tell me that.” We had to tolerate a certain amount of bloodsucking, as long as no one got killed or seriously injured. But a certain amount of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was called for.
            Anemone breathed deep. “Just remember, I expect justice. Or at least punishment. Otherwise the deal is meaningless.”
            I sipped my beer. “I’ll see what I can do.”
            My phone buzzed almost before I hung up. It was Hawkins—one of the cops on the vampire squad during the war that had gotten Dudovich killed. “Hi there. I’ve got—”
            “She’s gone. She’s a vampire too.”
            Wait—what? “What are you talking about?"
            “Beth Eubanks. She got out.”

Vampire Ambassador, Part Four

Films at police headquarters showed a cop opening a door, and then flying back as it hit him in the face. Beth marched out as the cop sprawled on the floor.
            “That can’t be right.” I shook my head. “She was fine this afternoon.”
            Commander Daniel Hughes glared at me. He always glared at me. “Tell me something I can work with, Jurgen.”
            “Oh, come on.” I was getting tired of arguing. “You heard all of it at the Carson Hotel. You get turned into a vampire and you lose all self-control. You just want blood. But this is something different. She didn’t drink blood from that cop. I don’t know.”
            Hughes sat back in his chair. “We’ve got to get a handle on this. You found her once. Where is she now? What’s she going to do?”
            Could Rachel call Derek again? I didn’t want to tell Hughes about him. Or Leo, whoever he was. “I have no idea. But this doesn’t sound right. I’ll have to ask some people.”
            “Fine.” Hughes shook his head and turned to his computer. “Just find her. Before this whole thing breaks down. You’re the ambassador, Jurgen. This is your job.”
            It was a job I wanted to quit. But I couldn’t, at least not right now. “Okay. Just remember, my job isn’t to keep you happy.” I stood up. “It’s to keep the peace. Somehow.”
            “You do that. Just keep the noise down.”
            That was the best job description I’d heard so far. “Sure.”

I called Clifton Page from my car. Don’t worry, I was parked.
“Tom.” He sounded as if he’d just woken up. “What can I do for you?”
            “I’ve got a situation here. “ I tried to phrase the question carefully. “Is it possible for someone to be—part vampire? Without going through the whole ‘desperate for blood’ phase?”
            He chuckled. “It can happen. Typically a human becomes a vampire through a mixing of blood. The vampire drinks, and then the human drinks from the vampire, getting his own blood back. But if a human drinks a vampire’s blood alone, he could pick up some vampire traits.”
            Or she. I thought about the bandage on Beth’s hand. “What if some blood got mixed with a wound?”
            “I suppose.” Page sounded bored. “I’m not an expert. I’m just old. What’s this about?”
            “I may have a half-vampire I need to find.”
“Oh. Well, good luck.” He hung up.
            I called Brandon next. “Your mother somehow got out of police headquarters.”
            “Yeah, I know. They told me.” He swallowed. “She hasn’t called me. I’ll let you know if she does.”
That might be too late. “What did your mother say when you visited her?”
             “What?” He sounded half drunk. “I don’t know. She wasn’t very . . . coherent. She’d been asleep. She said they were treating her all right. They gave her food, but she wasn’t hungry. She talked about dad, mostly.”
            “What about him?”
            “Oh god.” I heard something fall in the background. “Sorry. I guess—she talked about how she, she wasn’t afraid of him anymore. She always used to be, but something—changed. After that guy in her apartment.”
            After she killed the vamp that Bill had sent to kill her. “Anything more?”
            “I think—I think she wants to find my dad. And . . .” He started to cry. “I don’t know . . .”
            Damn it. “I’ll do my best, Brandon. I have to go now.”
            “Right. T-thanks.”
            With a sigh, I called Anenome.
            She didn’t answer. Probably out hunting. I tried not to think about that. So I left a quick message telling her that Beth had escaped and we were handling it. At least part of that was the truth.

Tonight the TV on the Stinkwater’s wall was turned a sports channel. Hip-hop music played from the speakers. The place still smelled like beer, although now the aroma of tacos filled the air. Most of the bar stools were filled.
            The bartender was a young guy in a heavy metal band T-shirt. “Hi!” He grinned. “I’m Fernando. What can I get you?”
            “Heineken, please?”
            “Coming up.” He poured me a beer, went to serve a woman at the far end of the bar, then came back to check on me. “Food? We’ve got a kitchen.”
            Actually I was getting hungry. “Maybe. Uh, I’m looking for a guy named Bill Eubanks. His son told me he hangs out here.”
            Fernando tilted his head. “His son, huh?”
            “Brandon. I’m a private detective.” I gave him my card.
            “Huh.” He tucked the card in a pocket. “Okay. Bill comes in a few days a week. Usually later than this. Talks about his son a lot. And his ex-wife.”
            Maybe tonight I was in the right place. Hopefully at the right time. “Uh, could I get some tacos?”
            He wrote up my order and carried it to the kitchen. I called Hawkins to let him know what was going on, and then I called Rachel to tell her where I was.
            “Wow, you’re like a real private eye, hanging out in bars, questioning bartenders.” She sighed. “You never take me anyplace fun.”
            “I took you to that resort in Wisconsin.”
            “Yeah, and there was a ghost. You ended up working all the time.”
            She was kind of right.  We hadn’t gone out on a real date in a while. “Okay. Pick a play. Or a concert. Just not an opera, unless it’s got Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.”
            “You’re so classy. What about a movie with subtitles? Think you can handle that?”
            “As long as they’re not in the original Klingon.” My phone buzzed with another call. Damn it. Anemone. “Sorry. I have to take this.”
            “Call me.” Rachel hung up.
            “Hello, Tom.” Anemone could make a simple hello sound like a blood-chilling threat from Hannibal Lector, complete with the promise of eating my brain with fava beans and a nice Chianti. “Talk to me.”
            “Beth apparently got infected by vampire blood from the first one she staked. I’m running a hunch right now.”
            “Well, good for you. What will you do when you find her?”
            I swallowed the last of my beer. “Well, since she’s part vampire right now, that makes her partly your responsibility too. What do you think we should do with her?”
            For the first time I heard Anemone hesitate. “Nice job, Tom. I’ve never heard that one.”
            “It’s an undiscovered country for all of us.” Fernando brought me a fresh beer. “I’ll be in touch.”
I nursed my beer for as long as I could and ordered another one, but I finished my tacos in ten minutes. Fernando tolerated me, but eventually I had to buy a third beer and pay my tab until I ordered another one. I couldn’t blame him.
            People came and went. Some played the jukebox and danced. Others sat and drank and talked. It was a typical neighborhood bar. I figured they didn’t get too many vampires in here. Fernando kept busy, welcoming customers, pouring beers and drinks, and chatting with the regulars.
            Around 9:30 the door opened and a hot redhead sauntered in. She wore a leather jacket and tight jeans. Fernando raised his eyebrows as she looked around the bar.
            It was Rachel.
“Hey, sailor.” She slugged my arm. “Buy a girl a drink?”
            I’d been talking to a guy named Bryan, an off-duty taxi driver who was drinking vodka and tonic. He took one look at Rachel and moved over to give her a stool. “Sit here. I was just leaving.” He leaned over and whispered: “Dude. She’s way out of your league.”
            I didn’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed. I shoved my stool close as Rachel sat down. “Hi there. When you were talking about a date, I thought you meant something a little more formal. “
            “This isn’t a date, you idiot.” She kicked me. “Just buy me some nachos. I’m starving. Hey, where’s Felicia?”
            I couldn’t fight it. “Fernando, this is Rachel. Give her a St. Pauli and an order of nachos. And anything else she asks for. Within reason.” I looked down the bar shoulder. “And buy Bryan a drink.”
            Bryan nodded. “Thanks.”
            Rachel winked at Fernando when he brought her beer. Then she leaned down, elbows on the bar. “Fernando’s kind of cute. Not like Felicia, but . . .”
            “What are you doing here?”
            “I got a bad feeling tonight about the place when you called me.” She shrugged. “Plus, I was hungry.”
            I looked around. “What kind of bad feeling?”
            She sat back and sipped her beer.  “Derek’s got his dice. I’ve got . . . other stuff. And this place is dangerous right now. That’s all I know.”
            “Who the hell is Derek? And Leo? I know you’ve got friends, and that’s okay, but this is—”
            She kicked me again. “Shut up. Just wait—”
            The door opened. Fernando looked up.
            Beth Eubanks staggered into the bar. She wore the same jeans and sweatshirt, and she carried a big leather bag over one shoulder.
            I jumped from my stool. “Beth . . . It’s me. Tom Jurgen. Are you okay?”
            She blinked, looking around as if the lights from the jukebox and the TV and the fluorescents overhead hurt her eyes. Then she looked at me. “Tom? What are you doing here?”
            I eased her onto my stool and waved Fernando over. “Just water,” I whispered.
            “Hi, Beth.” Rachel put a hand on her wrist. “I’m Rachel. Remember me?”
            “Oh.” Beth smiled. “Yeah. You’re nice.”
            “I just came here to meet Tom.” She glanced at me. “You remember him, right? It’s okay. He’s my boyfriend.”
“Oh. Right.” She looked me over. “Sorry. Hi, Tom.” She sipped her water.
“Good to see you again.” I leaned against the bar. “How’ve you been?”
Beth shook her head. “I had to get out of that place. I’m sorry if I hurt anyone. But I just couldn’t stay there. I woke up and I just had to get out.”
“You woke up at night.”
“I didn’t know what time it was. I just knew I had to get out.”
I nodded. “So why are you here?”
            Beth shivered. “I have to kill him.”
            Damn it. I slapped a handful of twenties on the bar. “Fernando, are we okay? Beth, you don’t have to do this. You can be safe—”
            “No!” Beth pounded a hand on the bar. “He tried to kill me! I don’t need to be safe! I’m not pathetic!”
            A man at the other end of the bar waved his beer mug. “Can I get one more?”
            Rachel flipped a finger at him. “We’re having a conversation here!”
            Instead of getting mad, the guy shrugged. “Sorry.”
            Rachel rolled a shoulder. “Yeah. Me too.”
            Then the door opened again.
            Oh hell. My hunch turned out to be right. At exactly the wrong time.
            Bill Eubanks looked as if he’d already consumed a 12-pack of beer as he stumbled in the Stinkwater. He glanced around, as if the lights confused him, and then stumbled toward the bar. “Fernando? Or whoever. I need a beer.”
            Fernando crossed his arms. “I don’t know, Bill. You look like you’ve had enough already.”
            “No.” Bill leaned on the bar. “I’m fine. I just need another drink. Come on.”
            Then Beth stood up. “Hello, Bill. You bastard.”
            “Beth?” He reared back. “What are you doing here?”
            Beth smiled and reached into her bag. “I’ve been hunting you.” She lifted a wooden stake.
            Bill staggered back, fear in his bloodshot eyes. “W-what?”
            “You did this to me.” She stalked forward. “You hired a vampire to kill me. You weren’t even brave enough to do it yourself. And now I’m not scared of you anymore.”
            Bill lifted a fist. “Don’t you talk to me like that, you, you bitch. I gave you a son! I gave you everything, you pathetic bitch!”
            “NO!” Beth screamed. “I am not pathetic, you son of a bitch!”
            I jumped up and tried to grab Beth’s arm. She kicked my knee. Rachel lunged between us, pushing at Bill’s chest.
            Bill punched her in the face.
            Everything got lost in a red haze for a moment. When my eyes cleared, Bill was backing toward the door, holding onto his stomach and glaring at me with tight eyes. “You son of a bitch.”
            My hand ached, but I was ready to hit him again. “You’ll get out of here right now if you’re smart.”
            Rachel was on the floor, rubbing her nose. I leaned down. “You okay?”
            “I’m fine.” She pushed me away. “Stop her!”
            I lurched up. But I was too late.
Before I could get between them, Beth plunged her stake up into Bill’s chest. “Take it, you asshole! See what it feels like!”
            Bill’s eyes went wide as he staggered back. “What? What? You bitch. You . . .”
            He collapsed on the floor, blood leaking through his shirt.
            Someone in the back of the bar screamed.
            I helped Rachel stand up. “Are you okay?”
            “I think so.” She twisted around. “Oh god. Is he . . .”
            Bill Eubanks rolled over, gasping. For a moment. Then his body slumped down, and he didn’t move anymore.
            Beth was crying. “He shouldn’t have—he shouldn’t have said that . . .”
            “No.” I put a hand on her shoulder. “No way.”
            Fernando put the phone down. “Cops are coming.”

I called Hawkins, but he couldn’t do anything to protect Beth. A half dozen people had seen her drive a stake into her ex-husband’s chest. No way to keep this out of the criminal justice system.
            I called Anenome after midnight. “You’ve got what you want. Beth Eubanks is in jail for the murder of her ex-husband. She might have an insanity plea. It depends on whether the prosecutor really wants to talk about vampires.”
            Her sigh was a long hiss. “Well, thanks, Tom. You handled this well. You may have a future in this role.”
            I shuddered. All I ever wanted to be was a reporter. And an astronaut, but I was nine years old then. Now I was the vampire ambassador. Stuck in the gray zone between humans and vamps.
            How did I get here?
            “Okay.” I took a breath. “How’s the poetry?”
            “Check out my blog. You might like it.” She hung up.
            I leaned back, finished my beer, and thought about the bottle of whiskey I had in the cabinet. I hadn’t touched it in two years.
            Rachel brought me another beer. “You okay?”
            I groaned. “Did you have to do that?”
            “Do what?” She sat next to me.
            “Jump in between two people who wanted to kill each other?”
            “Oh. That.” She rubbed the bruise on her face. “Maybe not my best move. I just . . . couldn’t sit there and let him tell her she was pathetic. I don’t care what he called me. But yeah, it hurt. All of it.”
            Rachel leaned down on the table, her head in her arms. I rubbed her shoulder. “No one does that to you. Not while I’m around.”
            “Yeah, I sort of remember you socking him in the gut.” She sat up. “I’m not some helpless girl you have to defend, you know? But . . .” She kissed my wrist. “Thanks.”
            I nodded. “Anytime.”