Saturday, August 13, 2016

Vampire Lovers, Part One

A tall man in a long dark coat looked around the coffee shop, spotted me, and walked slowly to my table at the corner. “Tom Jurgen? I’m Clifton Page.”
            I stood up to shake hands. Page had thin white hair and pale skin, a long nose and slender fingers. His palm was cold, although at nine o’clock on a warm summer evening the fans overhead were swirling slowly and the air conditioning kept the air mild.
            “You’ve probably heard this before.” Page sighed. “It’s my girlfriend. I’m afraid she’s—unfaithful to me.”
            Yeah, that was familiar. Half my cases are cheating partners, and the other half are bogus workers comp cases and various insurance scams. The rest . . .
            I know. That’s more than 100 percent. The rest go into a different computer file highlighted in red. I’m a P.I., not an accountant.
            “What can you tell me?” I moved my coffee and opened up my laptop.
            His gray eyes looked old and weary. “Jillian Donovan. I’ve known her about six months.” Another sigh. “Everything was fine—movies, plays, museums. She stays over one or two nights a week, but lately she’s been going home earlier. She used to stay until just before sunrise, but now she’s gone at two or three in the morning. I’m starting to wonder.”
            Tailing someone in the middle of the night would be a challenge, and not just because I’d be sleepy. But . . .
            My fingers froze at the keyboard. Cold hands, meeting after dark, leaving before sunrise—my friend Rachel says I’m not that quick on the uptake, but I can pick up a clue every now and then.
            I looked at Page. “This is going to sound like a strange question, but—are you a vampire?”
            He blinked, as if it was obvious. “Yes.”

I managed to resist the impulse to shove my chair back and flee the coffee shop screaming “Vampire! Vampire!” at the top of my lungs. Mostly because Page was between me and the door.
            I’ve met vampires. I’ve even staked a few. I’ve been dealing with supernatural creatures and crimes since I was a reporter. It’s one reason I’m on my own now as a private detective.
            But I don’t go looking for monsters and demons. Somehow they just seem to find me. I knew I had a reputation for dealing with weird cases. I just didn’t know it had leaked through to the other side. 
            Page was my first vampire client. But I had a cable bill to pay.
            So I took a deep breath and leaned back in my chair. “Tell me about . . .” I looked down at my screen. “Jillian?”
            Page smiled. “She’s younger than me—I’ve been undead for 82 years, and I was 46 when I turned. She’s been a vampire for 32 years, and she was 21 or 22, I think. Anyway, we met at the park one night and we just sort of clicked, but she’s always been mysterious about where she lives or what else she does.” He shrugged. “It’s not so unusual, really. We guard our homes very carefully.”
            I’d never really chatted with a vampire before, so I asked the first question that popped into my head: “So vampires go on dates?”
            Page laughed. It was an odd sound from a vampire. “We’re not all soulless maniacs, Mr. Jurgen.” He stroked his throat. “Well, soulless, yes. But we get lonely like everyone else. I don’t want to kill everyone I see. I stopped hunting humans decades ago. Now I just want . . . companionship. A friend. Like everybody else.”
            What about blood? But I kept that to myself, along with the obvious question—do vampires have sex like regular humans? But I wouldn’t ask a regular client about his or her bedtime routine, although some had insisted on sharing the details with me (“She never did THAT before!”). A few had even pushed pictures in my face (“This is so you can identify him . . .”).
            At least Page wasn’t trying to kill me, or anyone else in the shop. I sipped my coffee. “So, here’s a question—do you have a bank account?”
            He smiled and reached into a pocket. “Yes. I even write checks. How much do we start with?”
            I glanced at my laptop. “Let’s go over some details.”

Rachel—my upstairs neighbor and sometime girlfriend—wasn’t exactly happy that I was working for a vampire. “Are you completely INSANE?” were her exact words, minus a certain amount of profanity, But I couldn’t blame her, seeing as how we’d actually met each other when she was running a support group in her apartment for victims of vampire attacks.
            But Rachel was a freelancer herself—graphic design—so she couldn’t argue about any paying job. Still, she forced all her vampire-hunting gear on me: a big silver cross, a bottle of holy water, a heavy mallet and a sharp pointy stick, and a copy of the New Testament that a street preacher had shoved into her hand years ago.
            “I swear, Tom Jurgen—” Rachel punched my chest, her hazelnut eyes blazing, her red hair swirling around her head. “If you get turned into a vampire I will stake you, cut off your head, stuff garlic down your throat, and leave you out in the sunlight to burn into a crisp. I want my stuff back, all right?”
            Then she kissed me. It’s how she shows she cares.
            So with the memory of her kiss on my lips, a bag of vampire-killing tools in the back seat of my Honda, and a Taser in my windbreaker, I was parked on the street opposite Page’s three-story apartment building in the Irving Park neighborhood at 1:30 in the morning. Page owned the entire building; his apartment was on the third floor.
            Of course Page didn’t have any photos of Jillian Donovan. But he’d spent almost five minutes describing her in minute detail, until I was afraid I was going to hear about birthmarks on her butt. Basically, Jillian was a short slender blonde who looked about 25. She usually wore jeans or corduroys. She carried a black leather purse, and she almost always had some sort of hat—sometimes a stylish fedora, other times a White Sox baseball cap. As a Chicago Cubs fan, I tried not to hold against her. She used Uber a lot to get home.
            It was enough. I figured I wouldn’t see too many people matching that description coming out the front door in the middle of the night.
            One advantage to a nighttime stakeout is that hardly anyone’s on the street to wonder why you’re just sitting in your car doing nothing for hours at a time. On the downside, you look a lot more like a stalker at 1:45 a.m. than you do at most other times. So I kept the lights off and the radio low and concentrated on trying not to speculate about vampire sex.
            An hour passed. Wow, a lot of idiots call into talk shows in the middle of the night. Why were these people awake? Oh, wait—why was I awake? Or was I awake? I turned the radio down and splashed water over my face from one of my bottles.
            I wanted to call Rachel. But I’d just wake her up, and then she’d yell at me. What time was it?
            Damn it. The clock read 2:10. Did I fall asleep? I’d met another P.I. once who claimed he could stay awake for 36 hours straight without closing his eyes once. Then he got hit by an SUV on Lake Shore Drive in broad daylight. Idiot.
            So I rubbed my eyes and peered across the dark street. If I’d missed my target tonight, well—as Scarlett O’Hara and a lot of other P.I.s say, tomorrow is another day.
            But then the front door opened, and a woman walked out, peering at her cell phone.
            Slender and young, she wore a wide-brimmed hat with a long red feather on her head, and a big leather purse slung over one shoulder. She stayed back in the shadows near the door, peering at her cell phone. Checking her Uber ride? I put my hand on the ignition.
            Then a door slammed, as loud as a gunshot.
            I couldn’t really see them clearly in the darkness, but one man in a green T-shirt had thick shoulders that looked like he ate steroids for breakfast. The other guy was short and bony, his arms tensed for a fight.
            Jillian shoved the phone into her purse as they approached. I waited for her to attack. She was a vampire like Page, after all. She could probably take these two guys out and still catch her Uber.
            Instead she ducked her head and ran.
            She fled like an Olympic sprinter in the shadowy moonlight, her legs pumping hard and fast. But they chased her, the thin bony guy in the lead, and I was pretty sure she couldn’t keep up her pace for more than a block or two.
            So without thinking about it too much I twisted the key, wrenched the wheel, and jerked the Honda around. I cleared the side of the car across the street by half an inch, then hit the pedal. Fast and—well, not so furious. But I reached the corner before Jillian and leaned over to push the door. “Get in! Now!”
            The short bony guy leaped forward and grabbed her leg.
            Jillian tumbled onto the sidewalk. But she rolled over and kicked a foot up into the guy’s crotch, and he doubled over, grunting, and dropped to his knees.
            I pounded the horn, a long honking blast. Jillian looked up. I leaned over and popped the door open. “Come on!”
            She darted forward. The bigger guy in the green T-shirt stopped to check on his partner, and that gave her enough time to jump into the passenger seat. “Are you my driver?”
            I hit the accelerator.
            I don’t usually do this sort of thing, by the way. My heart was pounding like a drum solo.
            She glanced over her shoulder as she scrambled around, fumbling with the seatbelt. “Thanks.”
            “No problem. I love driving for Uber.” I checked my mirror. “Who are those guys?”
            “I don’t know.” Jillian leaned back, trembling. “Just get me out of here.”
            “Sure. Back home?”
            “Yes. No. Wait a minute.” She leaned her head against the window, catching her breath.
            “You want to call the police?”
            “No!” She jerked up. “I mean—I was visiting my boyfriend. I don’t want him getting mixed up in this.”
            “So who were they? Private detectives? Man, I hate those guys.” I took the first right turn.
            “No. It’s not like that.” She sat back against the seat. “Just find me a motel.”
            “Sure.” I pulled over next to a hydrant and searched my phone. “So, there’s a Holiday Inn a few miles away, and a Red Roof—”
            “Whatever. Just get me somewhere fast.” She rubbed her face. “Sorry. I’m just upset. Will this screw up your fare?”
            I had no idea what an Uber driver would say. “Don’t worry about it. Sounds like you just need to get somewhere safe before the sun comes up, right?”
            “Something like that.”

I took her to a Comfort Inn near the corner of Diversey and Clark. She didn’t need me to come in with her, but she did shove some extra money at me, even though Uber would already have paid me for the trip. If I was really an Uber driver. So I watched her go in, and then waited on the street for half an hour in case she came back out.
            She didn’t, so I drove home. I was planning on calling my client in the morning until I remembered he probably wouldn’t be answering his phone after sunrise. So I pulled over again, yawned once or twice, and called Page.
            “Yes?” He sounded sleepy too. I checked my clock. The time was 4:05.
            “It’s Tom Jurgen. Jillian is fine, but I need to tell you that she was attacked leaving your building.”
            “Oh my g—” He seemed to choke on the word. “Is she all right?”
            “She’s fine,” I said again. “I picked her up and took her to a motel. She thought I was her Uber driver.” Somewhere in Chicago a very confused Uber driver was probably wondering what had happened.
            “What happened?”
            “Two men. One large and stuffed with muscles, in a green T-shirt, the other shorter and skinnier. Both male Caucasians, no weapons that I could see. Jillian denied knowing who they were or why they were after her.”
            “It’s them.” Page groaned. “Oh, g—” Another choke. “It’s them.”
            “Can you get over here? Before dawn?”
            I tried to hide another yawn. He was the client, after all. “Yeah. I’ll be right there.”
            “Thank you. It—I know it’s hard on humans. I’ll pay you more. Just please come soon.”
            I spotted a Starbucks down the street. “Just let me get some coffee.”

The vampire’s lair looked like a normal apartment, except for the thick curtains over every barred window. A few candles burned in tall silver candlesticks. Page formally invited me inside, even though I was pretty sure that being invited in worked the other way around. He offered me coffee, but I still had half my Venti left.
            He wore sweats and slippers, like any ordinary guy binge-watching Game of Thrones in the middle of the night. He sat in a big reclining chair and looked at me as I sagged onto a leather couch. “Tell me again who you saw. Please.”
            I described the attack as accurately as I could. “I can say again that Jillian is unharmed. Shaken up. The only other thing . . .” I hesitated, but Page was still my client, and I owed him the truth. “She said she didn’t know the attackers. I’m not sure she was telling the truth.”
            “You have to protect her.” The menace in his voice made me nervous.
            I shook my head. “I’m not a bodyguard. I can recommend a security service, but they may not have experience with—clients like you.”
            Page leaned back with a sigh. “I know who it was. At least, I know who they’re working for. He’s been trying to get to me for years. Now he’s trying to hurt me through Jillian.”
            “Who is it?”
            He looked away from me. “An old enemy.”
            I remember with a jolt in the pit of my stomach that I was working for a vampire. They aren’t usually nice.
            “I’m not sure there’s much I can do.” I leaned forward, hoping to stand and leave. “And this is outside of what you hired me to do.”
            His gray eyes turned a sharp red. I slowly moved my hand, reaching for Rachel’s silver cross in my windbreaker.
            “Just make sure she’s okay.” His voice was a whisper. But a plea, not a threat. “That’s all I want, and that’s what I’m paying for. I’ll take care of the rest.”
            I took a deep breath. “I’m not going to help you kill anyone. I can’t.”
            He frowned. “I just want to keep her safe.”

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