Authors: Richie Tankersley Cusick
can't find anything.”
As Darcy came into the kitchen, Jake got up from the table and scowled at her.
“You cleaned up the place. I can't find a damn thing.”
Darcy was taken aback. “I'm sorry. It's just that â¦ I thought â¦ I was trying to help.” She waited for an apology, but he only fiddled with the coffeemaker. “Don't you think it looks better?” she coaxed him.
“You want cereal? Toast? Both?”
“Neither. I'm not awake enough yet. I kept having nightmares all night. Rats and things.”
“Yeah, okay.” Jake poured a cup of coffee and slid it down the counter toward her.
“Wow. Not a spill.” Darcy looked impressed.
“From my short-order cook days. Among other things.”
“What other things?”
“Butcher. Baker. Garbage Taker. Only now I'd be called a Sanitation Engineer, I think.”
Darcy sank into the chair and rested her elbows on the table, chin in hands. “I didn't hear you come in last night.”
“I never get in early. Early night, that is.”
“Doesn't the Club ever close?”
“That doesn't mean the boss quits working.”
“Oh.” Darcy spooned some sugar into her cup and stirred it thoughtfully. “I was wondering â¦ how come there aren't any mirrors around here? Not even in the bathroom.â¦”
Jake busied himself at the counter and didn't look at her. “Mirrors?” He was silent for a long moment, then glanced back over his shoulder. “Gus was pretty blind the last years of his life. He didn't need mirrors. When I got this place, I just never got around to buying any.” He picked up his own coffee mug and sat down opposite her. “Ready to work?”
Darcy looked surprised. “What am I doing?”
“Earning minimum wage. You're in charge of the Dungeon.”
“I am? How do I do that?”
“Stand in the lobby and welcome people. Take their money. Hand them a brochure. Tell them to have a good time.”
“I thought Liz did all that,” Darcy mumbled.
“Liz is too sour. She scares people away. As a matter of fact,
should be one of the exhibits.” He stood up and stretched. “Anyway, I fired her.”
“Fired her. Last night when she was leaving the Club. I told her I was giving you the job instead.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Oh, I've been wanting to for a long time. You were a good excuse.”
“Oh, God â¦” Darcy covered her face with her hands. “Thanks a lot. As if she doesn't hate me enough alreadyâ”
“Forget it.” Jake headed for the door. “She hates everyone.”
Darcy followed him glumly downstairs to the office as Jake kept talking.
“You'll be working with Elliott. You met him last night, right?”
Darcy felt her stomach sink. “The guy who had the wreck?
“Sure. Who else would fit in so well?” Jake started for the Dungeon, motioning her to follow. “He's my security. Makes sure no one steals anything from the exhibits.”
“He doesn't look very strong to me. How could he stop anyone from stealing?” Darcy followed Jake through the dark tunnels, noticing how he acknowledged each mannequin by name, as if every one of them was an old friend being met on the street. She rubbed the goose bumps from her arms and tried not to look at the monsters as she went by.
“He hides,” Jake said, picking up the conversation again. “Elliott's very good at hiding.”
“Will I â¦ you know â¦ have to come in here?” Darcy asked.
Jake glanced back over his shoulder. “You really don't like my family much, do you?”
They stopped, and Darcy found herself looking up into the pitiless eyes of Count Dracula as he anticipated the taste of his victim.
“He's so perfect.” Jake lifted an eyebrow. “Don't you think?”
Darcy's eyes fastened on the Count, who looked back at her with a fixed, shiny gaze. “He looks pretty real,” she admitted reluctantly.
Jake reached out and rearranged the hem of the cape ever so slightly. “Brandon has the look,” he said quietly. “He's a natural.”
Darcy felt the hair prickle along the back of her neck. As she reached up to rub the chill away, she suddenly touched skin that wasn't her ownâlong fingers brushing against her shoulders. With a scream she jerked back and saw Elliott's ghostly face hovering beside her.
“You're so cold,” Elliott said softly. “When I touch you â¦ you feel like death.”
“Don't sneak up on me like that!” Darcy's voice came out harsher than she meant it to, and she struggled for control. “You scared me to death, Elliott. Please don't ever do that again.”
He nodded slowly, as if trying to capture every word, every gesture in his brain. “I'm very quiet when I move,” he said at last.
Darcy took another step away from him, and Jake tapped her shoulder.
“Okay, I'm going to leaveâif you need anything, help yourself. And if you don't see it, ask Elliott. And if Elliott can't help you, call the Club. The number's by the phone.” He walked around her and peered urgently into Elliott's face. “Got that, Elliott? You'll help Darcy out here, right? Great.”
As Jake went back through the tunnel, Darcy hurried to catch up with him.
“Waitâwhere should I do the laundry?”
Jake turned with a blank look. “You've only been here one day. How dirty can you get?”
“The sheets,” Darcy reminded him as they reentered the lobby.
“Oh, yeah. That.” He waved one arm vaguely. “Up the street. About five blocks or so.” And with that he was gone, leaving Darcy staring at the front door.
“What do you want me to do?”
Darcy whirled as Elliott spoke behind her. She didn't have to see his eyes to feel the creeping intensity of his stare.
“Look, Elliott, I'm not your boss, okay? We're just working together. Just do what you always do.”
He nodded. Then very slowly he turned and went back into the Dungeon.
Darcy busied herself arranging souvenir postcards on the counter, relieved when ten o'clock brought some curious sightseers. She gave them a cheery welcome and a brochure, then sat back, amused, as their nervous laughter and screams drifted back from the tunnels. She wondered where Elliott was hiding and hoped he wouldn't step out unexpectedly and give someone a heart attack.
At noon she suddenly remembered how long it had been since she'd eaten and went to ask Elliott about lunch. She couldn't find him in the tunnels, and when she called, only silence answered. Puzzled, she made the rounds of all the exhibits. If Elliott was trying to play a joke on her, it was certainly workingâshe seemed to be the only living person in the whole Dungeon.
“Elliott?” She tried to sound authoritative, but her heart was beating wildly. “Come on, Elliott, this isn't funny. Stop playing around, and let's get some lunch.”
No answer. Darcy glanced nervously to her left and saw Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory â¦ the sickly greenish light â¦ the tray of surgical instruments, all neat and gleaming in a row. The monster's contorted face looked straight at her.
“Elliott?” Darcy yelled, but it sounded almost pleading. She forced her eyes to the darkness ahead, then froze as a soft creaking sound echoed down the tunnel. “Elliott,” she whispered, “is that you?”
“Yes,” he murmured. “It's me.”
His hands slid over her shoulders, and Darcy whirled around, looking fearfully at his pale face.
you?” Stammering, she twisted out of his grasp, and she could feel them, his eyes, following her from behind the dark glasses.
“You should know this,” Elliott said. “I think another body will be found tonight.”
hat do you mean?” Darcy tried to breathe again, tried to calm her racing heart.
Elliott turned and began walking away.
“Wait! Where are you going?”
He stopped and looked back at her. “Don't you want to eat? I got some lunch.”
“You did? When?” Still shaking, Darcy went back to the lobby, where Elliott was arranging slices of pizza across the counter.
“I hope you like vegetarian. That's what I got â¦ vegetarian.”
Darcy hardly glanced at the topping. “It's fine. Now, what about this body?”
He kept realigning the pizza, making new patterns. “Well â¦ I think it might have happened again.”
“What did? Another murder?”
He nodded. “The throat. Just like the other one. The police are calling him the Vampire, you know. Because so much blood's drained out. And because of the marks on the neck. They're not real bites,” Elliott mused, “but they're supposed to be. They're right over the jugular.” His hand slid slowly along the left side of his neck. “And that's where vampires bite, you know.” His face was leveled at hers. “The jugular vein.”
Darcy looked down at the untasted pizza. “What about this new murder, Elliott?”
“It happened in my dream last night. So maybe it's happened again.”
“Where?” Darcy's eyes searched his expressionless face. “Where did this murder happen?”
He shrugged and turned away. “We have customers,” he said.
Hurriedly Darcy swept everything off the counter and into a bag just as a noisy group came through the door. It was just the beginning of a constant stream of visitorsâby the time the lobby finally cleared and Darcy had a chance to grab a bite of cold pizza, it was after five. She hadn't seen Elliott all afternoon and was just debating whether or not to look for him when he suddenly materialized through the beaded curtain, startling her.
“Elliott, I wish you'd quit sneaking around like that!” she said crossly. “What time do we close up?”
“I wasn't sneaking.” Elliott stared at her.
“Well â¦ do you know what time we close?”
“Now. We can lock the doors now.”
Darcy nodded and came around the counter. “Okay, you go on, and I'll lock up after you.”
“I have a key.” He reached into his jeans pocket and withdrew the key, letting it dangle, swinging it ever so slightly. “I have my very own way to get in, as you can see.”
Darcy looked back at him, trying to appear calm. “Then I have some things to do. Should we check out this place before we leave or anything?”
“I do that. That's my job.”
“Okay, then.” She backed toward the office, not liking the idea of leaving him there, thankful that the apartment door had a lock on the other side. “I guess I'll see you tomorrow.” She couldn't tell from the slight movement of his head if he'd nodded or not. She turned and hurried upstairs.
After gathering up some dirty towels from the bathroom and kitchen, Darcy bundled everything up with the sheets and let herself out through the lobby. The weather was still muggy, the sun weakening behind a late blanket of clouds. She found the self-service laundry with no trouble and threw in a load, then went back outside. This would be a perfect time to do some exploring, and there was so much in Westonport to see. She covered every block, checking out every shop window and posted menu, then stopped in front of a quaint brick building to read its old-fashioned sign.
She hadn't really intended to go in. But as she inched her way into the small lobby and through some doors, she saw a stage at the front and recognized Brandon's voice.
“It's my hour,” he said softly. “The hour of darkness.”
“Again,” the director urged from a front-row seat. “Put more
“It's my hourâ”
, Brandon, more
It's the last thing she hears before you sink your teeth into her!”
Darcy craned her head, trying to see Brandon's face as he embraced a girl onstage.
“It's my hour â¦” Brandon began, his voice hardening. “My â¦ hourâ”
“Sorry, but you're not supposed to be in here,” someone said quietly behind her.
As Darcy turned around, a relieved smile went over her face.
“Darcy!” The boy looked surprised and then pleased. “What are you doing here?”
“It was just an accident.” She tried to keep her voice down, noting some annoyed stares from the stage. “I was just out sightseeingâI didn't even know the theater was around here. I know I shouldn't have come inâ”
“Hey, forget it. Come on and sit down. Rehearsal's almost over for tonightâI just stopped by to make sure Brandon didn't back out.” Laughing, he steered her down the aisle, and they hurriedly took some seats. “He's good, don't you think?”
“I think he'll be wonderful,” Darcy agreed. “Does he want to be an actor?”
Kyle nodded, looking amused. “It's a toss-up with music. But I tell him, hey, do both. He'll make it in whatever he chooses. He's really dedicated.”
“Well, that's a big part of the challenge.”
“But I mean
dedicated. Like when he wants to learn a new song or something, he'll spend hoursâdaysâuntil he's got it down perfect. I mean, he won't think of
else. He saturates himself. He becomes that music.”
Darcy listened with interest, but half her attention kept wandering back to the stage â¦ Brandon's voice â¦ Brandon's graceful movements across the floor.â¦
“And like this play,” Kyle went on. “This Dracula guy. Brandon really wanted this part. So he's been going nuts over vampire stuffâyou know, reading books, watching movies, taking notes. Trust me, from here on out he'll be eating, sleeping, breathing vampires.”
Darcy thought back, remembering Brandon and Jake's conversation last night â¦ “
If you're going to be a vampire, then you'd better understand how they think.â¦