I spent the next day sleeping off my injuries. There is one thing about shooting a vampire that most people don’t realize. Sure, we heal fast, but we’ll also still have a piece of metal lodged somewhere in our bodies. So after I got home, I had to dig the bullets out, including the one in my lung. Then I got a bottle of blood from the fridge, hid under the covers, and whined like a baby for a while.
Being a vampire isn’t all seductive gazes and gothic tears. Vampires still breathe, sleep for a third of the day, and their hearts beat just like normal humans beings. They also suck the blood of the living, live forever, and explode if they go inside a church. As a vampire, you still have to live in the same world as everybody else, get a job, remember to switch up your identity every so often, and clean the bathroom every couple of days so people don’t think you’re a slob. I have been a vampire for a very long time. I used to be a nice Jewish twelfth-century girl, and sometimes I still like to think of myself like that, but I’ve had to deal with the supernatural night life for over eight hundred years now. I went from marveling in amazement at gunpowder to futzing with my smart phone for hours. Those birds sure are angry.
I am old. I am very old. As a general rule, vampires maintain the same level of mental maturity they had when turned, but I am still old. And whether you’re an old person or an old monster, you have to keep busy. You can’t just lie around in your castle sucking on maidens, as tempting as it sounds. So I’m a detective. It’s good work, the hours are great, it provides a challenge, and it gives my conscience a little boost, something I have always needed.
After spending a little more time recovering and feeling sorry for myself, I went back to work. My office was about a block away from home. While it’s true that if I am out and the sun comes up, I’m pretty much stuck, but the office was close enough that I had been able to sneak back to my dark apartment with its tinted windows and heavy curtains the few times when I needed to. My home had the kind of clutter I like, but my office was just messy. Most of it was sheer organization. I needed a secretary, but it is hard finding somebody who works nights.
The sun had been down for about a half hour by the time I made it in, and my answering machine was blinking. I know, I have a cell phone, but it’s good to have a separate work line. So I pressed the button and listened.
“Hello? Miss December?” A woman’s voice, anywhere between thirty and fifty years old. “I’d like to set up an appointment for seven-thirty. I’m coming in anyway. My name is Deborah Kirsch. Please, it’s really urgent. They said you’re good at finding missing persons. Please help if you can. I’ll pay you. My number is…”
I wrote down the number and checked the clock – 7:15. I sat behind the desk and arranged the mess of papers on my desk, adjusted my hat, and waited. I’d say that the dame walked into my life, bringing trouble with her, but that’s just noir-speak. A harried, middle-aged mother came into the office in a panic. I could tell by her eyes that she’d crying, and I already guessed where this was going. The second kidnapping case in as many days.
“Miss December?” she asked. “Did you get my message?”
I stood to my feet and shook her hand. “I did,” I said. “Nice to meet you. What seems to be the problem, ma’am?”
“It’s my son,” she said. “I think my ex-husband took him.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“Friday morning, when he left for school,” she said. “Bill – that’s my ex – was supposed to pick him up and take him home for the weekend, then bring him back yesterday morning. But he hasn’t been back, and won’t answer his phone. Is there anything you can do?”
“All right. May I have a description?” I asked, and then nodded as I listened. I’d heard this kind of story before, and it always ends the same – the jilted husband or wife loves their kids just a little too much, and doesn’t want to share.
She handed me a photo of the two of them – Paul Kirsch and his son Tom. The boy looked about nine, and there was already a pretty good resemblance between father and son. The back of the photo had Bill’s address and phone number.
“Try seeing if you can find Paul,” she said. “But I guess the address won’t help if he’s fled.”
“You never know,” I said. “Sometimes you can find clues anywhere. When you were married, did you both live at this address?”
“I’m just curious, did you?”
She nodded. “Yes, we did. Why?”
I shrugged. “I’m just checking. Standard question. Do you have a key, by any chance?”
“No,” she said. “Not anymore. But you can still get in, right? If he’s run away?”
I smiled. “Yeah, I can.” Well, that took care of the invitation problem. “I’ll check it out tonight.”
“Will you? You really will?” She just looked so hopeful that I had to nod. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“It’s all in a day’s work, ma’am,” I said, avoiding the obvious pun that it was all in a night’s work.
“Thank you, Miss December.”
“And I would call this in to the police if I were you,” I said. “They issue Amber Alerts pretty quickly if it looks like a child’s been kidnapped.”
“I… all right, ma’am,” she said, and walked out the door.
After Deborah Kirsch left, I waited a little while before going out. San Francisco had as much of a night life as any city – perhaps a little more – but it still took until an hour or two after rush hour ended before traffic became anything approaching reasonable. So I waited, and ate a sandwich from the mini-fridge. My “real” food was something I kept at home away from prying eyes, and technically I haven’t needed anything else for centuries, but it’s true that nothing beats a good pastrami sandwich. And I was Jewish before pastrami existed, so it’s not a stereotype. Honest.
It gave me a chance to think about the week. Two missing children – kind of unusual, but at least it wasn’t another cheating husband. One thing they don’t tell you about detective work is how boring it is. It isn’t really very exciting, just sleazy and sad. Most of the time, your job is to tail people to bars, and then back home, and take pictures of the sordid aftermath. The rest of the time, it’s depressing, bloody, and miserable. On the scale of things a vampire could do, it is a little better than haunting an abandoned castle, but nowhere nearly as exciting as stalking young Romanian virgins.
Not that they were related – LaRoux was a psychopath, but his little trail of destruction was localized in the same area. This was nowhere near, and doubtlessly the same story that plays out all over the world. Sometimes the jilted ex was really a better parent, and tearing their kids from them was sad. Other times, they panicked and it got nasty. Who needs monsters when there are human beings around? People do enough murdering and raping on their own time, that it’s easy for a vampire to keep a low profile. And despite what people think, it is not the actions of a few especially twisted individuals or evil men. Good and decent people can be bad enough on their own. It was good and decent people who killed me eight hundred years ago, and very little has changed since. So for all I knew, Paul Kirsch was a perfectly kind and loving father who just got fed up with everything. And for all it mattered, maybe his son wanted to stay with him. None of that would matter if Mr. Kirsch decided that if he couldn’t have Little Tommy, nobody could.
Like I said, great job. And you call me the monster.
When rush hour subsided, I got in my car and drove. What I hoped was that Paul Kirsch would be home, his boy would be there with him, and maybe he had just forgotten what day it was. But still, I put on my game face and parked in front of the pleasant little town house on the side of a hill, sandwiched between a couple of others. I left my gun in the car before knocking on the door. Concealed-carry license or not, there’s breaking and entering, and there’s breaking and entering while in possession of a weapon. I’m not stupid.
No answer. So I knocked again, and waited a few minutes. Finally, I went to pick the lock. Mrs. Kirsch had already taken care of the hardest part. It is true that vampires cannot enter a home without an invitation, but the definition of “invite” is very vague. I got into LaRoux’s place because of his welcome mat. Debbie Kirsch used to live here, and part of her family still resided in the place. She gave me permission, so it worked by the rules. And really, the Kirsches weren’t very secure, not by Bay Area standards. Only two deadbolts – if this were Oakland, they’d have been cleaned out years ago.
The door opened to a quiet house. No people, no family dog, no TV left on to pretend that somebody was home. I wiped my feet on the mat and sneaked in side. The trick with invading somebody’s home is to be careful about what you disturb. Make messes where there are already messes, and put back what you disturb, and likely nobody will know anything is wrong. I checked the bedrooms first, looking for any signs of a quick flight – obviously-missing suitcases, emptied drawers, that sort of thing. What I saw was that the kid’s weekend suitcase was on top of his dresser, still with some clothes in it. The rest were in a pile of dirty laundry in the corner. Good signs. So maybe the two of them were still home. Maybe they were out watching a movie. Lots of people do that in the evening. My options were staying and waiting for them to come back, panic, and call the police, or go home and try again later. Maybe at three in the morning. But not until I had combed the house a little further, just in case Kirsch had left a note on the fridge saying, “Abducting child. Be back Wednesday,” or something like that.
My phone rang before I could look around much more. Yeah, I know, I brought my phone on a stealth mission. I’m not always that stupid, all right? Okay, maybe I am. But I usually keep my phone on airplane mode. I checked the number, and it was important.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Miss December, it’s Lt. Ortiz.”
“Hi, Tony,” I said. I knew Ortiz. He was a good guy, and he knew my little secret. He trusted me because his father trusted me – one of the perks about being immortal. Also, he was a cop, and any positive connection to the police is a good thing. Still, I moved out of the Kirsch house to take the call. Even locked their door for them.
“Hi, Lucy,” he said. “Do you have a minute? There’s something I think you should see,:
“Well, I’m kind of on a job,” I said. “But I can be there. Where are you?”
“On Sutter and Geary.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes, okay? Can you hold the fort? Keep any other crimes from happening till I get there?”
“Very funny. We can wait about that long, but don’t be too slow. This one’s messy.”
“Very,” he said. “Come over here and you’ll see. This’ll be your standard consulting fee.”
“Right,” I said. “Thanks.” Getting me contracted as a consultant was a little tricky, since I didn’t officially have a specialty, but I had a couple of connections in the force, and more importantly I was in good with the “special” night life. The less that people had to officially acknowledge things that went bump in the night, the better.
The Kirsch case looked pretty simple, but I didn’t like Ortiz’s tone. When he said something was messy, he meant it. Messy for Tony usually meant that somebody had gotten dismembered.
And what do you know, it really was messy after all! I got to confirm this when I arrived on the scene.
The body was of one Arthur Carey, tax accountant, found dead in his home this morning. There were no signs of a struggle, unless you counted the bloody mess that was his neck. The blood pooled around his head, while the room itself was otherwise untouched. I stuck by Tony Ortiz as the other officers did their duty.
“What happened to his throat?” I asked.
“That’s why we called you,” Tony said. He towered over me, and nobody could guess that of the two of us, I was older – his kids were in college. “We would have guessed an animal attack, but animals don’t climb up into a third-story apartment, attack somebody, and lock the door on the way out. His housekeeper found him today, and she had to use her key.”
I looked at the body again. “Are you wondering who in this fair city might, just maybe bite out somebody’s throat?”
A moment of awkward silence fell. “I didn’t mean it like that,” he said.
“I’m not accusing you.”
Of course not,” I said. And I don’t leave that much of a mess. At least not usually.”
“What about your, ah, your associates?” Ortiz asked.
I shook my head. “Not likely. I mean, it’s not impossible, but one of us wouldn’t usually go for the throat unless we meant to… well, to feed. But I’ll ask around if that’s what you want.”
“Do that,” he said. “Can you think of anything else that might do this?”
I shrugged. “Lots of things. This is San Francisco.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I know. But keep an eye out.”
“I’ll try,” I said. “Tony, can I ask you something? Since we’re talking about throats? How did you handle LaRoux?”
“Have you been watching the news?” Tony asked.
I shook my head, so he went on.
“It wasn’t easy. Official word is, he committed suicide by cutting his own throat. They’re still digging bodies out of his basement, so it’s sensational enough to cover the bizarre death, but there’s still a chance we can’t cover it up if it gets too sensational.”
“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “He was going to kill her. The little girl.”
“Understood,” he said. “Try to keep it less bloody if you can.”
“Of course,” I nodded. “But we’re talking about Mr. Carey right now. I’ll let you know anything I find.”
“And vice-versa,” he said. “If we find something.”
I nodded again. People think that forensics is some sort of magic trick where you can lift fingerprints out of thin air and find DNA on everything. But the truth is, you can press your fingers to the wall without leaving any good prints, and DNA testing takes a month but is almost never conclusive. And somehow I didn’t think this was the kind of murderer who left fingerprints.
“I’ll call you when I can,” I said. “Probably tomorrow night. I’ve got another case, and it’s kind of urgent.”
“This isn’t exactly a low priority,” he said. “Let us know what you find.”
I smiled, and shook his hand. “I will. Say hi to your wife for me, all right?”
San Francisco became a magnet for weirdness sometime in the mid-sixties. When the hippies took over, and the night life also moved in. You name it – vampires, werewolves, ancient creatures pulled from the deepest legends, and a whole host of things I don’t even have a name for. You name it, we’ve got it. Creatures of the night held more of a foothold here than anywhere else in the United States. You want proof? You actually need a license to perform necromancy in the city. Seriously, look it up. It’s the law.
I was fairly entrenched in San Francisco’s supernatural side – my doctor was a golem, for crying out loud. And mixed in with the trendy Wiccan and occult shops are places that offer the real thing, schools of magic pulled straight out of your wildest nightmares. Most people never saw the true city hiding underneath its metropolitan façade. And those who did never forgot it.
I pulled into a parking lot across from The Front Line. The Front Line wasn’t just any vampire club – it was the club. Lots of people imagine a vampire club like a sort of rave – flashing lights, techno music, and gyrating bodies. Others think of something with a lot more velvet and leather, and just as much gyrating. Sure, some places like that exist, but come on. We’re vampires. We have style. The Front Line was a jazz club.
There was no leather in sight – the Front Line was a place of hardwood floors, smoke in the air, spool tables, and the blues. Light poured in through the shuttered windows, the electric lamps simulating long-lost sunlight. Most vampire hangouts were places I hated – buildings of debauchery and hedonistic death. This place pandered a little more to the humane crowd, in part because of its owner. Cole Spade was a member of the North American Vampire Council, and they had policies about killing. Sure, it didn’t come from a place of charity, but practicality, instead. Most vampires looked at humans as walking Happy Meals, but if we went around snacking on necks willy-nilly, it would gain way too much attention. So there were limits. And since The Front Line was managed by a Council member, he had to keep up appearances. This was where I usually ordered my spare blood – the bottled stuff was supposedly humane, so my conscience felt better for it.
Spade was on stage, as he usually was – the lanky, smoky-voiced vampire was a blues singer. And if anybody in the vampire world knew what was going on, it would be him. I took my place at the bar, settled on one of the stools, and watched the stage. Most noir heroes have a special relationship with their local bartenders, often relying on them as confidantes and for moral support. Me? I could recognize one or two of them, kind of. Certainly not the lady working the counter this time.
“What would you like?”
“Can I order by blood type?”
“I’ve never heard that one before,” she said. “What would you like, Lucy? We have ordinary drinks, too.”
Damn it. She knew my name. This means we had probably met. Maybe. As I wracked my mind to remember the name, I disguised it with a joke.
“Nothing strong, I’m driving,” I said with a wink.
“I’ve never heard that one before, either.” She sighed. “I’m on the job. Please stop joking and place an order if you want anything.”
“Fine,” I said. “I don’t need any blood right now, so I’ll take a sweet tea. Lots of sugar.”
“Very fancy,” The tender said. “And you don’t recognize me at all, do you?”
I tried. I really tried. Maybe it was the makeup, but I couldn’t tell who she was. She just looked like one of any number of women behind a bar – brunette, buxom, trying too hard for tips.
“I’m really sorry,” I said.
She grinned suddenly. “Awesome! It worked! Lucy, it’s me. Meg.”
And then she changed. Brown hair became red curls, makeup faded, her curves shifted a little, and her face transformed entirely as the glamour wore off.
She nodded. “So now I’ve got a disguise that works on your kind. This is great.” She changed back suddenly, but now that I knew it was her I could see it. Meg was… she was something special. The culture she’s from doesn’t exist anymore outside of the history books. We’ve been friends off and on for a very long time. We even moved into the Bay Area together. Now she runs a debt collection agency or something like that.
“Meg, what are you doing here?” I asked.
“Practicing my new disguise,” she said. “And yes, the boss knows. I’m not stupid. It’s really good to see you, Lucy! I’ve been wondering when you’d come out here… but you really aren’t here just for a drink, are you? I know you.”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I just got another case from the police. Have you heard of any strange murders lately?”
“Stranger than usual?” she asked flatly. “Come on, you know what business I’m in.”
“Right,” I rolled my eyes. “They found some guy in his house with his throat torn out. Locked-room mystery, no struggle or anything. His blood wasn’t drunk, and he had to have been killed this morning or last night at the earliest. Does that ring a bell?”
She shook her head. “Nope, not at all. I guess I can look in the list of debts, but you know it isn’t as comprehensive as it used to be.”
Right, Meg’s list. She knew better than Santa who was naughty or nice, or at least she used to. “Maybe,” I said. “Would it be too much trouble?”
Her eyes flashed for a moment, but it was more playful than angry. “It is never too much trouble for me, Lucy sweetie. I don’t get enough chances to do my real job anymore. Even with the agency.”
“Business is slow?”
“No,” she said. “But repossessing someone’s car or calling in a late bail bond just isn’t the same.”
“No, it isn’t,” I agreed. “Not at all.”
“Not at all,” she echoed, and poured me some iced tea. “I’ll check the records for you, Lucy, but don’t expect much. But if it’s in my domain, I’ll catch it.”
“Thanks, Meg,” I said, and lifted my glass. “I toast you.”
“Love ya, babe,” she winked, and turned toward the rest of the customers, now just a nondescript bartender again.
I took a few minutes to drink the tea, and watch the club. And waited. Cole finished his performance eventually, and I got up to intercept him. I’m not exactly the Council’s favorite person, but they don’t hate me, and he and I have always been cool. He gave me a nod and tipped his hat. He had a cowboy hat. The look worked, trust me.
“Evening, little lady.”
“Hey, Cole,” I said. “Got a minute?”
The elder vampire put his hands in his pockets, and nodded.
“Thanks,” I said. “I wanna know if you know about anything strange that’s been going on lately.”
Cole took off his sunglasses, and put them in his shirt pocket. “Now come on, that’s a silly question to ask around me,” he smirked.
“I’ve heard that before,” I said. “Okay, there’s been a murder,” I said. “Locked-Room type. The victim’s name was Arthur Carey. Does that ring any bells?”
He shook his head. “None at all,” Cole said. “Was it a bite?”
“Maybe,” I said. “His throat was torn out. Sometimes we cover up our kills like that, I don’t know.”
“Coulda been a lot of things,” he said. “But don’t you worry, little lady. If it’s one of us, then it ain’t authorized.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Speaking of unauthorized,” he put his shades back on. “I hear there’s one less ice cream truck driving around. Do you know anything about that?”
I took in a deep breath. “Yeah,” I said. “He was going to shoot a kid.”
“Yeah, we figured that,” Cole said. “You worry too much about humans. But it ain’t as bad as it could be. Just watch the rampaging if you wanna stay in our good graces.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
He grinned. “Have you met the new gal yet? She’s been waiting to meet you.”
“Yeah, about that,” I said. “She’s–”
“I know exactly who she is,” he interrupted. “Just wanted to make sure you did. Your drink’s on the house tonight, little lady. Don’t be a stranger.”
Oh, yeah, baby. Free iced tea. I probably broke his bank that night.
I called up Deborah Kirsch shortly after I left the club.
“Miss December? You have news?”
“Not yet,” I said. “But I checked Paul’s place. It was empty. Didn’t look like they fled, though I can’t tell for sure. I’m going to check again later tonight, when they should be home. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Just bring back my Tom, please.”
“Will do,” I said, and hung up.
I didn’t go back to my office. I went home to pass some of the time before heading back to the Kirsch’s. Like I said before, my place was a mess. Just not a bad mess. The apartment was decently-sized, but between my books, forensic materials, occult supplies, and random stuff I had picked up over time, it became cluttered. Not that I ever minded – the clutter was something I could deal with. It wasn’t really a mess, it was organized my way. I even had space set aside for a little magical circle if I needed one. And don’t judge me, it’s a vampire thing. If you live long enough, you eventually learn the occult. Just like Grandpa Munster.
I hung up my hat, threw off my coat, unbuckled my belt like a fat middle-aged man, and slouched on my couch. Vampires are very dignified. I turned on the television.
“Today on Biography,” came a neutral-sounding Narrator voice. “We explore the life of King Richard I, better known as Richard the Lionheart. See how he commanded his own army by the time he was sixteen. Watch as we explore his rivalry with the famed Saladin. And journey with us as we ask, ‘Was Robin Hood real?’”
“Robin Hood was a fraud!” I shouted and shut off the TV. Stupid History channel. They should stick to Hitler. I grumbled and started puttering around my apartment, pretending to clean but fooling no one. It was stupid, really, something like that setting me off. That was a long time ago. Not just water under the bridge, it was water under the ground.
So I stopped even pretending to clean and just went for the safety-deposit box under my desk. The case that held my humanity was plain, lead-lined, and scratched with a little star. I always thought about it, but I never really opened it unless something was wrong. And why would I? I am not a masochist. I had no real reason to be upset, either. I had rescued one little girl, there was no indication that the boy was in any real danger, and murders like Arthur Carey happened all the time. Maybe it was the documentary, or maybe it was because sometimes you just feel down, but I went ahead and took the key off my chain to unlock the box.
A feeling washed over me – not of love and peace and nostalgia, but pain and discomfort from being so close to objects of faith. It is hard to explain to non-vampires, but think about how unpleasant it is to stand near a really hot fire. It’s somewhat like that, only more intense when the wielder has actual faith. People usually only think of vampires and crosses, but the box didn’t contain a cross. It held three items – a tiny necklace with a six-pointed star, a small metal case containing a few scraps of parchment, and an ancient copy of the Torah. I took those out of my family’s ruined house even though they burned me. I ripped the mezuzah right off the door post, my hands wrapped in tattered cloth, still feeling the pain, anyway. And sure, I felt it again now, but… it was still somehow comforting. Like a portal to the past. To my husband, my children, my parents – the things I had left behind so long ago. So unimaginably long ago. The passage of time is an amazing thing. Events that happen long ago can somehow seem so very close, while what you had for breakfast last week might as well have been in another lifetime. In the grand scheme of things, none of this meant anything – wasn’t life “meaningless, a chasing after the wind?” Hell, I couldn’t even keep kosher, not with my dietary requirements. And yet there I was, willfully getting sunburned by my family’s old religion.
After I spent a while feeling sorry for myself, I shut the box and put it back. Then I waited there on the floor until I had recovered from the holy-whammy I gave myself. Well, water underground and all that. I let myself recover, and then lazed around for another hour or two before I decided that it was time to check on Paul Kirsch again. Midnight visits were always something special – if I were a man, I could terrify people out of bed and intimidate them for answers. As a woman, I ended up looking lost, vulnerable, and potentially sexy. It was irritating, but the promise of potential sexytimes was a great way to find things out. Though since a kid was involved, I didn’t think that would have been a good idea. I decided to go with something else.
I parked half a block from Kirsch’s house, got out of my car, and then cut one of the tires with my fingernail. I can do that kind of thing, I’m a vampire. The dire deflated with a hiss, I mussed up my hair and rumpled my coat, and then ran up to knock on the door. The idea was simple – look panicked and stupid, desperate for help changing a tire. Women can’t change tires, right? And maybe just check to see if the kid is there. A simple plan, but very effective. And that’s why I was irritated when nobody answered after five straight minutes of hammering.
Well, somebody did. One of the Kirsch’s neighbors poked his head out of his front door and asked, “Keep that down! People are trying to – ma’am, are you okay?”
I deflated. There went the simple plan. Might as well keep up the act, though. “Oh, can you help me? Please?” I asked the neighbor in a mock panic, running across the yard. “I have a flat tire, and I don’t… I don’t know how to change it!”
And so, a Good Samaritan changed my tire for me. Funny, because Samaritans were supposed to be the unclean dregs of society, but this fellow seemed like a pretty nice guy. I gave him a peck on the cheek and promised to call him (I wouldn’t), and went on my way.
So. No sign of Paul or the kid. I won’t say that this didn’t bother me. It probably meant nothing – maybe they just didn’t answer the door at two in the morning – but it just didn’t feel right to me. Unless you’re psychic, a hunch is when your subconscious mind picks up details you don’t actively realize, and starts to piece together a picture based on those details. I’m old. Sometimes I pick up a lot.