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.”
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—”
Page grinned, showing his fangs. “That’s what a vampire’s life is like, Tom. It’s hell.”