Saturday, May 6, 2017

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.


  1. Rachel's rolodex must be amazing.

  2. I just thought it would be fun to bring Derek in. He's a character from another novel. You might like to meet Leo. Maybe someday I'll do the complete crossover between Tom, Luther, and the Black Guard.