Authors: Adrienne & Scott Barbeau,Adrienne & Scott Barbeau
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction
I was still in the dining room when I heard the voices outside. Darting down the hall, I reached the door just as it was opening. I saw a gun and let nature take control: my sheaths retracted to expose my fangs; my shitty-looking nails lengthened, hooked into cat’s claws, and slashed at the hand holding the gun. Whoever belonged to the hand let out a curse, and the weapon clattered to the tiles.
“Ovsanna! It’s me!”
I recognized the voices simultaneously: Peter King and Maral. It took all my power to retract my claws while the last of the polish flaked to the floor, but I had my hands in the air when King darted through the door, a small revolver clutched in his left hand. He was brave; I’ll give him that. Or stupid.
I pulled my fangs back in and bit down on the sheaths to keep them closed. “I’m alone. I’m okay. There’s no one here.”
King’s right hand was balled into a fist and I could smell the blood before it even started dripping. I must have hurt him, but his face was a mask and his eyes didn’t give anything away, and in that instant I reevaluated him. Maral came through the door after him and threw herself into my arms…and at the same time pressed a flat metal star into my hand.
“What in God’s name happened?” King demanded. “What did you cut me with?”
He kept his small pistol in his hand and trained in my general direction while he retrieved what I identified as a Glock—not the snub-nose police issue but one of the military-style models with a barrel that was at least six inches long. I’d used one like it in
Highway to Hell.
He picked it up off the floor, checked the clip, and popped the round from the chamber before he put the revolver away. I held up the eight-pointed metal star Maral had slipped me. “I used this. When I saw the gun coming in through the door, I’m afraid I just lashed out. I’m sorry I cut you.”
“A shuriken!” King held up his right hand. Three deep slashes began at his wrist and ran to his knuckles. “You damn nearly cut my hand off.”
“It was a reflex reaction. I’m terribly sorry. Thank God I didn’t shoot you.” I smiled my best apologetic smile, but it didn’t seem to work. He was suspicious and very, very on edge.
“Where’s your gun? When I came through the door, I saw a gun.”
I held out the weapon, muzzle pointed to the ground, then opened the cylinder and turned it so he could see the five copper cartridges and the one empty chamber. “It hasn’t been fired.”
“And of course you have a permit.”
“Of course.” I closed the cylinder, gently squeezing it into place—you only flip them on camera—and placed it on the table behind me. “I think we should take a look at your hand. I’ve got a first-aid kit in the bathroom. Maral, would you make some coffee, please. And maybe Detective King should have some cognac.”
Maral didn’t move. “You said if you weren’t out in thirty minutes, I was to contact Detective King.” The fear in her eyes was giving way to hurt.
“I know I did. And I’m sorry.” In truth, I’d actually forgotten that I’d given her that instruction until she burst through the door after King. I’d been distracted. Having ten of the most powerful creatures in North America gathered in your dining room threatening you with death—a True Death—will do that to you. “Make us some coffee, dear,” I said, softening my voice, “while I tend to the detective’s wounds.”
“It’s not a wound,” he began, and for the first time took a look at the long cuts dripping blood across the Spanish tile and changed his mind. “Actually, it
“Let’s get you fixed up.” I turned my back on him. Smelling his blood was seductive enough; having to stare at it really riled me up. It was the human equivalent of sitting down to the 18-ounce filet mignon at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. And Peter King’s blood was flooded with adrenalin and endorphins. That’s like passing the béarnaise sauce at the table. It took a tremendous effort of will to control myself. If I Changed, I would have to kill him, and that would be a shame.
I once watched Peter Lorre make a full transformation into his real self—fangs, claws, bloodred eyes, tailed spine—just because they guillotined Robespierre faceup and Peter had a spectator’s seat. Fortunately, there was such hysteria in the crowd, no one else noticed. Took all my strength to keep him from grabbing Maxie’s head and lapping up his blood right from his neck.
“Follow me, please,” I said, and started toward the bathroom. I concentrated on the artwork at the end of the hall, damping down my senses as best I could.
“Do you always carry a shuriken with you?” he asked. “What do you need with a Japanese throwing star?”
I didn’t turn around. “I’m impressed,” I said. “I wouldn’t expect a Beverly Hills police officer to know what a shuriken is.”
“Hey, I go to the movies,” King said. “And I’ve seen the real thing. My mother buys and sells movie memorabilia. She’s got a set signed by Chuck Norris. I think they were used in a movie called
. She’s even sold a few of your own pieces,” he added. “Which reminds me: Little John sends his regards.”
“Big boy? Tiny voice? Tattooed?”
“That’s him. With a major crush on you, by the way.”
“He’s actually very sweet. And harmless.” Detective King was full of surprises. But in that tiny snippet of information I recognized the real danger that those of my kind now face in this modern world. There have always been collectors, but only in the last fifty years have the ordinary, the mundane, the trivial, and the disposable become collectable. I am convinced that it is the collectors, the gatherers of ephemera, who will finally bring down the vampyres. Someone will stumble upon something—something trivial which should have been disposed of centuries ago—that will blow our whole world wide open. It also revealed that King had been doing some research on me and that his contacts were a little out of the ordinary.
I led King into the largest of the downstairs bathrooms—which incidentally was the farthest away from the dining room. I wasn’t sure if any of the vampyre odors still lingered, but with King’s senses still heightened by adrenaline, I didn’t want to arouse his suspicions further.
“You didn’t answer my question,” he said, crossing to the room-length mirror to look at the three long slashes in his flesh. “Why are you carrying a shuriken?”
Desperately trying to ignore the blood pooling into the sink—bright and red and so incredibly appealing—I kept my eyes fixed on the first-aid box. “I’m a bit paranoid about dangerous fans; I’ve had a couple in the last few years. I travel a lot and I can’t carry a knife on the plane anymore, but I can stick the shuriken in with my jewelry and it passes unnoticed. I usually keep it on an Aztec silver chain and it looks like a necklace. When I heard the door opening, I grabbed it out of my purse.” Not a word of truth in that story except for my purse lying open on the hallway table. I don’t need bladed weapons—my nails and teeth are more than sufficient. While Detective King was staring at the wound on his fist, Maral had snatched the shuriken from its display on the wall and slipped it into my hand. It was that type of quick thinking that made her invaluable to me.
“I just saw the gun coming in through the door and lashed out,” I said, repeating what I’d said earlier. It was a trick I’d learned from that wonderful charlatan Anton Mesmer before he was forced to leave Vienna in disgrace: emphasize positive reinforcement. All I had to do was to keep reminding King that I’d cut him with the shuriken and not allow him to consider any other possibility. If Mesmer were alive today, he’d make a fortune selling self-help books. “Take off your jacket.”
King shrugged out of an unstructured Armani jacket that had to be ten years old at least, taking care not to get any blood on the sleeve as he pulled his arm through. Under the jacket he was wearing a black ribbed T-shirt, maybe Calvin Klein. The black was on its way to an indeterminate gray but the cut was still great on him. I took a quick glance at his left hand—no ring, no pale band of flesh, either. He was carrying two guns—the expensive Glock on his right hip and the snub-nose silver revolver on his left. I thought it an odd mixture of the ultramodern and the traditional that again revealed a little of the man: not afraid to embrace the new but still happy to utilize the tried and true in an emergency.
“Does this qualify as assaulting an officer? Are you going to charge me?” I asked, taking his large hand in both of mine and holding it under the tap. The water diluted the blood, making it a little easier for me to calm down.
King’s laugh was genuine. “No, I’m not going to charge you. Not only would I be laughed out of the station, but I’d never work in this town again. I may ask you for a bribe, though.” His eyes were smiling, but I wasn’t sure where he was going with the conversation. I was disappointed. I consider myself a good judge of character and I didn’t think King was the type of cop who would ask for a bribe, but maybe this was another sign that I was slipping up in my old age.
“What can I do for you, Detective King?”
“Could you sign one of your photos for my mother? She’d be thrilled.”
The request was so unexpected that I spilled slightly more iodine onto the wounds than I’d planned. He yelped.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby!”
“What is that: acid? First you try and cut my hand off, then you try and burn it.” He was smiling as he said it, to take the sting from the words.
“You can take your pick from my photos. Is your mother a horror fan?”
“She’s just a fan of the movies in general and of you in particular. Not the dangerous type of fan, though. No need for shuriken
” Now the smile had reached his eyes.
I rinsed the cuts clean and applied Neosporin as gently as I could—God knows what I’d had on my fingernails before I slashed him. The slashes were too long for simple Band-Aids, so I covered them with a gauze pad and secured it with surgical tape. It wasn’t going to make drawing his gun any easier. He had good hands, with strong, long fingers, but his flesh was surprisingly soft, uncalloused, not at all what I expected. As I wrapped the tape, I caught a glimpse of him looking at me in the mirror. After nearly five hundred years on this earth, I know when I’m being checked out.
“I truly am sorry,” I said, snapping him out of his reverie. He caught my eyes in the glass and knew he’d been caught.
“For nearly slicing your hand off.”
He flexed his fingers. “I’ll live. I’m just relieved I found
on the other side of the door and not the Cinema Slayer.”
“Is that who you thought?”
“It seemed like a possibility. Given what happened today at the studio.” He shook his head in exasperation. “What spooked you? Ms. McKenzie said something frightened you.”
“When we pulled up earlier, I thought I saw movement inside the house,” I lied. I helped King back into his coat.
His face tightened in exasperation. “So you took a gun and went inside to check it out. Hardly the smartest move. And why did you have your assistant call
“I didn’t want the entire police force descending on my home and I certainly didn’t want a 911 call recorded for any persistent reporter to get hold of—especially if I was overreacting. It doesn’t look good in print, having the Scream Queen screaming in real life. Besides, we’d just met, you and I, and I had your business card in my pocket. At least you weren’t a complete stranger.” I walked out of the bathroom, forcing him to follow me, and down to the library in the east wing of the house. I wanted him away from the music room and I also wanted him to exit by the back door. If he ended up in the front hall, he’d be staring at the starburst display of shuriken hanging on the wall…minus one piece. “We’ll have coffee in the library.”
Beverly Hills real estate agents love announcing the home they’re showing has a library. Of course it does—they make sure they stock the one room in the house that has built-in shelves with gilt-labeled, aged leather-bound sets of Shakespeare and Dickens and as soon as the house is sold move those crumbling masterpieces into storage to wait for the next listing that needs an impressive display. I’ve known decorators who buy classics by the carton or the length; in the antique book trade they are known as furniture. Every producer in this town has a library, and in my experience the more successful the producer, the less likely it is those books have been read. Movie people don’t have time for the printed word in novel form. Or non-fiction, either, for that matter, unless it’s the latest political exposé that might do box office like
All the President’s Men
did in the seventies. Movie people read scripts. They read coverage of scripts. They read treatments. They do not read classics.
I, on the other hand, do. Or did. I’ve had a lot more time in my life than Jerry Bruckheimer or Joel Silver, and most of it hasn’t been spent in Hollywood. So in my case, I can honestly call the room we entered a library: close to two thousand volumes surrounding us in floor-to-ceiling shelves. I only ever bought books that interested me, so it’s an eclectic mix, history and geography, poetry and plays, and fiction: lots and lots of fiction. Everything from vellum-bound copies of Galileo’s
most of them dated and signed. My prize is a 1897 edition of
inscribed by Bram, “To Ovsanna…my Lucy.”
Maral had already set out the coffee service and three snifters with a bottle of L’Esprit de Courvoisier. I was expecting Detective King to decline the cognac while on duty, but he didn’t give me any indication one way or another, just started walking the room, head tilted slightly to read the titles.
I settled on the couch I’d stolen from Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s farm outside Havana.
“I’m impressed,” King said. “These don’t look like they’re for show. I like a lot of these myself.” He was at the crime section. “I’m a big Connolly fan. And Crais and Sandford and Thomas Perry. You’ve even got Henning Mankel.” He moved on down the wall. “Ah, Ed McBain. I read all the 87th Precinct.”