Saturday, May 6, 2017

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.”



  1. Job stress, bad marriages, bad manners, and the redemptive properties of a sharp stick. The diplomatic tango between dark and light continues . . . I can hardly wait. Sexy Rachel is lots of fun. Kudos.