“Great! Still standing!” Caleb cheered, setting down his passengers. April landed gracefully and smoothed her clothing down elegantly, watching with disdain as Faith brazenly tugged her skirt into place, flashing her bottom as she did so, probably deliberately. April winced as she watched her friend jiggling her ample bosom back into her bra as if she wasn’t standing outside and right next to someone else’s boyfriend.
“That was one heck of a ride, Fringey,” Faith purred, making that little knot in April’s tummy tighter, “And this quite some pile of stone. You’ve finally done something right! Now, let’s get in before my skin falls off.” Faith rubbed her bare arms and laughed. “This is where you tell me that it’s locked and you don’t have a key, right?”
“It’s locked and I don’t have a key,” Caleb said, wryly.
“Fringey!” Faith shouted, but Caleb only smiled. He reached towards the door knocker, turning it a few times in each direction until the door swung open to permit them.
“Wow,” Faith said at the same time that April whispered, “Oh my gosh.”
The three vampires crossed into the cool, dark house and surveyed their surroundings in silence for a while, before Faith spoke, her voice sounding harsher than usual as it echoed off the stone walls.
“I’m just going to come out and say what I’m sure everyone is thinking; why does this tiny house have a great big fucking pipe organ in it?”
“Lilith liked to play,” Caleb answered. “She was never very good at it, but don’t tell her I said that.”
“Huh, maybe I’ll take it up. Could use a new hobby,” Faith joked, wandering off to explore the kitchen.
“What do you think, April?” Caleb asked.
April looked around at dusty furniture and the scary looking cracks that seemed to be running down every wall, then back at Caleb’s hopeful face.
“We can get some cushions and some flowers, make it super nice,” she said, quietly. “Open a few windows to let out the musty smell…”
Caleb looked crestfallen for a second before he smiled. “It is over four hundred years old; a bit of damp is to be expected.”
“You’re over three hundred and you’re not damp or smelly.”
He chuckled. “You say the sweetest things.”
April watched as Caleb’s fingers interlaced with her own, trying to understand that odd mix of happiness and sadness she felt every time he touched her.
“I hate to break up this beautiful moment, but where’s Mel?” Faith asked.
At the mention of the name, April pulled her hand away, the sad definitely overtaking the happy.
“Oh my goodness! Where is Mel!”
Melinda had finally reached the gosh darn dogwood tree after running seemingly in circles for what felt like forever.
She paused in its shade to catch her breath. Not that she had any breath to catch, she noticed. She pressed her hands to her still chest, longing to feel the solid pounding of a heartbeat beneath her palm. She remembered how she used to feel after a run: the pulse that rang in her ears, the heat that flamed her cheeks, her ragged breaths and the sweat that would soak her t-shirt.
None of these things were happening now. Melinda was as as motionless, cool and dry as she had been when she’d left the hotel. The only sign of life in her at all was a tightness in her chest and stomach; a grinding, twisting sensation that she’d last felt the first night she’d met Lilith.
There was only a mile to go now. Melinda scratched idly at her prickling skin as she noted the position of the sun in the sky and tried to think what time it was. She couldn’t be a hundred percent sure which direction was south without a watch, but she could take a good guess.
And if she was wrong? Well, what else was new?
“What if she’s lost! Or she’s a pile of ash! We need to go and look for her!” April wailed.
Why? Caleb wanted to hiss at her, but instead he shook his head.
“You’re not going anywhere,” he said, firmly, watching as April folded her arms as if fighting his order before conceding. “I sent her on the less direct route because it had landmarks,” he explained, defending himself even though she wasn’t attacking him. “We’ll give her ten more minutes and then I’ll go and look for her, I swear. She’ll be fi—“
He was cut off mid-word by the sound of Melinda, clattering in and landing on the stone floor, kicking the door closed behind her. She stumbled to her feet as April ran over, almost knocking her chair flying in the process.
“See? Fine,” Caleb said through gritted teeth, not leaving his seat.
“Mel! Oh my gosh!” April gushed. “I was so worried, I— oh no!”
“What?” Melinda asked, her voice raspier than usual.
“What?” Melinda asked again. “What’s happened?”
“Your… your eyes are missing,” April whispered.
“Missing?” Melinda gasped, lifting her hands to her face.
Caleb glanced over. “That’s her dark form, April. She just needs a drink.”
“I am parched,” Melinda admitted. “Where are the plasma packs? I think I’m going to need a few.”
“…I thought you had them,” April said quietly.
After being rudely interrupted from his meeting with Wilbur Wangshaft, where he’d been enjoying sipping on whiskey that cost more than his car, Ralf had personally inspected every room of the honeymoon suite at the Glimmerbrook Grand hotel and had come to the conclusion that the ‘assailant’ was no longer here.
The hotel’s day manager had called in when he found the night manager slumped across the hotel bar. The woman – who was slurring her words, seeing double and surrounded by empty glasses – claimed that she had been attacked by a young man and possibly drugged as she had no idea how she’d ended up where she was.
Ralf didn’t like saying he didn’t believe an alleged victim, but—
“Boss! I found something!”
Ralf let out a huge sigh and wandered over to where Jessica was standing. The girl sure liked to make work for herself. She was lingering next to the coffee table, closely scrutinising a small bag.
Ralf wasn’t really interested in whatever piece of rubbish she was holding, but he still asked, “What is that?”
Jessica started squeezing and shaking the packet. Ralf watched as it yielded and melded under the pressure from her fingers; the thick, squelching sound it made as she turned it over made his stomach flip.
“I think it’s a bag of jelly,” she replied.
“Jelly?” Ralf repeated. “Why would anyone put jelly in a blood bag, Jess?”
“People do weird things.” Jessica shrugged and knelt down to rummage through the backpack, pulling out a dozen more full blood bags and a load of empty ones, along with a pink book. “No, wait. You’re right. It’s blood,” she replied breezily as Ralf turned green. “There’s traces of it all over these empty pouches.” She looked around at the pile of rubbish she’d deposited on the floor. “I should probably stop handling everything, shouldn’t I?” she asked, getting to her feet. “It’s not every day you find a backpack full of blood in a fancy hotel room; you’ll be wanting to get the forensics team involved, won’t you?”
No. Ralf really did not want to do that. He needed a distraction.
“What’s in the book?” he asked.
“Do you think I should touch it?” Jessica queried.
Probably not. “Yeah, go ahead. Might explain away this bizarre find; this bag was probably left behind by a travelling doctor or something completely normal.”
Jessica nodded and leafed through the book by herself for a while, as Ralf glanced at his watch, wondering if he’d remembered to set his favourite show to record. Darn it, he hadn’t. He’d been distracted this morning by his sister calling about her son; it appeared that Chase hadn’t been in contact with anyone for a couple of days now.
Ralf would be concerned about his deputy if he wasn’t so annoyed at him. He stared at the huge television, wondering if he could somehow convince Jessica that watching his show was vital police work.
“Boss!” Jessica exclaimed, snapping him from his daydream. “I think this book belongs to one of the missing girls in the Moss case. There’s sketches of all three of them, although the third girl seems to be having an identity crisis as she’s drawn herself a hundred different ways. And then there’s a sketch of a guy, who looks oddly familiar…”
Ralf looked at the image Jessica was pointing to. A young guy with a strange haircut. Ralf was familiar with most of the faces of the residents of Woodland Borough, but he’d never seen this guy before. Or anyone who even looked like him. “Who’s that?” he asked, genuinely curious.
“I know his face; I know it!” Jessica replied, tapping her chin, thoughtfully. “I feel like I’ve seen him recently, too. Gah! Think, brain!”
“If he knows April, maybe he’s an actor?” Ralf suggested. “Although, not a famous one as I don’t recognise him. Perhaps he’s still at the commercials stage and hasn’t quite made it into movies—“
“Oh my gosh! That’s it! I saw him the other night, outside the cinema!”
“The night you passed out on the playground? Are you sure?” Ralf asked, his brain groaning as it anticipated the paperwork that would be involved if all this was somehow connected.
“Yes!” Jessica screamed triumphantly and started running towards the door.
“Wait! Jess, where are you going?”
“First I’m going to see if the manager recognises this guy; I bet she will. Then I’m going to Joe’s bar.”
“I have a hunch!”
Ralf glanced down at the backpack full of blood. The book had certainly distracted his enthusiastic officer from wanting to call in the forensic team, but all the way back to Joe’s bar with a hunch?
Sounded like work.
“We can’t go back to the hotel, Melinda. There’s nothing else you can do; you’re going to have to feed on someone,” Caleb said.
“But I’m not ready!” she cried, wiping her wet face. “And what about my sketchbook! They’ll know we were there!”
“But we’re not there now! It will be fine, Mel,” April said. “Caleb will bring someone home for you, I can mesmerise them for you—“
“And if it all goes tits up I’ll help you fill ’em with rocks and drag them into the river,” Faith said.
“Rocks?” April asked. “Why do you need rocks?”
“Dead bodies float. Duh.”
“They do?” Caleb asked.
“Yeah, but it’s sort of a moot point because it’ll all be fine, Mellybean,” Faith reassured her. “You might even like it.”
Melinda screwed her face up. The thought of sinking her teeth into someone made her feel weird. It felt so invasive. Icky.
“I doubt it,” she said, sadly.
Caleb pushed his chair back, sighed. “I’ll be as quick as I can. Do you have a prey preference, Melinda?” he asked. His face looked calm, even friendly, but his voice definitely sounded irritated. Was he mad at her for getting lost and ending up all dried out? It was his stupid directions that got her lost. He didn’t tell her that the dogwood tree wasn’t actually visible from the darn river.
“Whatever,” Melinda replied. What did it matter?
“Male or female? How old?” Caleb continued as if he hadn’t even ruddy heard her. He was so annoying. “I can get children if you really want, but they’re not very nutritious and keeping them locked in a basement seems a bit cruel.”
Holy potato. Melinda thought. This is really happening.
“Um. I…” Words completely escaped her.
“Get her a young woman, Fringey. A pretty one, the kind you like,” Faith said, looking between the two of them. “Then you can share. Something else to have in common.”
“I’m… I never said… I don’t really have a preference… I’m not fussy,” Caleb stated, looking at April.
“Sure you’re not.” Faith winked. “So remind me; how many of your ten thousand lovers were male?” At Caleb’s silence, she grinned and continued. “Just don’t bring us back any drug-addicted hookers, OK? Don’t want them going through withdrawal and banging around the basement. Or just banging in the basement. Actually, probably best that we just stick to one gender then we don’t have to worry about potential little extras popping up at any point. I vote for men purely because they have more blood and a faster turnaround time and not for any other reasons whatsoever…”
“All right, only men,” Caleb said, a twinge of disappointment in his voice. “Anything else?” he asked casually, as if he was simply popping out to buy milk and not to prowl the streets looking for someone to abduct. “Tall, short, fat, thin?”
“No,” Faith murmured. “I’m not fussy. I will sink my teeth into anything.”