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Authors: Adrienne & Scott Barbeau,Adrienne & Scott Barbeau

Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction

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BOOK: Vampyres of Hollywood
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Chapter Twenty-Nine
 

 

Palm Springs.

Depending upon whom you believe, the area was originally named Agua Caliente by early Spanish explorers or Agua Caliente by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Either way, it translates into “Hot Water,” and I was pretty sure that’s what we were heading into. I tapped Maral on the shoulder as we passed Mr. Rex and Dinny, the Cabazon Dinosaurs Claude Bell built in the sixties. They started out as a roadside attraction and now they’re a “museum” teaching Intelligent Design. Evidently Noah had the dinosaurs on his ark.

“You know why I hate Palm Springs?” I said softly.

“You’re not gay?” Maral suggested.

“Very funny.”

“Well, maybe not gay enough. I don’t know…it’s too hot? You don’t play golf?”

I ignored her. “Starting in the thirties, the town was known as ‘The Playground of the Stars.’ The Hollywood elite came down here in droves to stay at the Desert Inn or El Mirador and party at the Palm House and the Mink and Manure Club. Any actor who didn’t want the studio to know what he or she was doing escaped to Palm Springs. There was even a railway that ran right into town. They called it the ‘Station from Hell’ because its location was originally so isolated. Then, in the fifties, they opened the Spa Hotel with the hot-springs mineral baths and the town was booming. Sinatra bought here, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, Lucille Ball, Clark Gable. Bob Hope was honorary mayor.”

“So what’s not to like? Didn’t you used to know some of these people?”

“I’ve always had friends here. Liberace and Dean and Jane Russell. I also have clan. And there are others who are like me that I don’t control. They’ve been here since my ‘mother’ was alive. They came for the privacy, too. But not just to escape Louis B. or Hedda Hopper. They came to be themselves. I’ve always hated Palm Springs because it’s where every vampyre in Hollywood came to hide out and…well…do what vampyres do: drink blood. This town had a reputation for debauchery that would have put Sodom and Gomorrah to shame…and no, I wasn’t there for that,” I added quickly. “I’m not that old.”

“I know that.”

“But there is one here who is,” I said very softly. “She’s the real reason my kind came here. To worship.”

My left hand, resting lightly on Maral’s shoulder, twitched and suddenly my claws appeared. If she noticed, she never reacted. I sat back on the soft leather and moved directly behind her so she wouldn’t see my reflection in the mirror.

“When you say ‘worship’…?” Unconsciously she put her foot on the brake and our speed began to slow.

“I mean worship. As in pray to. Honor. Revere. As in, make sacrifices to.”

Traffic was backed up most of the way. We stayed on the 10 to the 111 and Palm Canyon Drive, driving in a sudden silence while I watched the farm of wind turbines, wondering why some were rotating wildly and others were completely still. They looked like circus performers marching on stilts in a line across a barren dirt stage. The air was clean and crisp, and the colors the sun threw on San Gorgonio Mountain were enough to distract me for a minute.

Maral finally spoke. “Are you in danger?”

“Some.” There was little point in lying.

“Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“If I knew, I would,” I said truthfully. “I’m really not certain. At the moment, I’m just following a hunch.”

“Vampyre’s intuition?”

“Something like that.”

We finally came to the road I’d been looking for. What should have been a two-hour drive had taken four, and my mood wasn’t improving. “Turn here.”

“What’s your hunch based on, can you tell me that?” I watched as she took one hand off the wheel and eased the little nickel-plated Colt out from under her seat and onto her lap.

“I lied to Peter King yesterday when you came in and found me alone in the house. I didn’t just forget to call you for no reason; I forgot because I walked into a room full of my clan—all the Vampyres of Hollywood I’m supposed to control. I can’t tell you how bizarre that was, all of them together at one time. That rarely happens. They came out of hiding because they were frightened for themselves. The killings, first of the vampyres and then of my staff, had convinced them that the police and press investigation were going to reveal my true nature. They gave me a choice: find the killer or destroy my clan and retire.”

“Retire! You mean—”

“Officially, I would die. Unofficially, I would go into hiding for a century or two.”

“And if you refused?”

“They would not allow me to refuse. The Vampyres of Hollywood will always protect themselves. We’ve done it before. We’ve destroyed clans, forced actors and actresses to die or retire in order to protect ourselves.”

“But what is it about these deaths that’s got them so terrified?” Maral wondered.

“It’s the nature of this Hunter,” I said, allowing the pieces to fall into place as I spoke. “The nature of the killings. They deliberately target the vampyre and human halves of my existence. Someone is determined to not only destroy me but destroy my world also. So, the vampyres gathered to give me my ultimatum.”

“How can this hunter know so much about you?” Maral asked. She frowned and then her eyes flared in understanding. “You think it’s another vampyre,” Maral whispered, arriving at the same conclusion I had earlier.

I nodded. “It’s a possibility. But if another vampyre has declared war on me, he would need permission from the most senior vampyre in North America. Vampyre wars are very carefully controlled now; previous wars in the Crimea and the Transvaal almost eliminated the race.”

“But you are powerful…very powerful,” she said, a note of doubt in her voice.

I shook my head. “Powerful by human standards, but not especially so as vampyres go. Remember, I’m not even that old. Solgar is twice my age. I have influence, though. I am Chatelaine of Hollywood and, inasmuch as Hollywood is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, that gives me extraordinary power. As Chatelaine I am entitled to take a tithe of all earnings of the vampyres under my protection.”

I could hear Maral swallow. “Remind me to ask you for a raise.”

“Hiding it from the IRS is the hardest part. But Solgar has had centuries of practice. He was the Medicis’ banker.”

We came into town and turned right on Via Escuelo. “When this is over,” I said brightly, “we’ll come back here another day and I’ll show you Albert Frey’s Tramway Gas Station, the Neutra House, and my favorite, Bob Hope’s flying saucer house.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Maral said, in a voice that suggested she didn’t.

“Keep on this road. It’ll take us into the foothills near the Agua Caliente reservation.”

“And this ‘friend of the family’ we’re going to see…this person who hates you—”

“Is no person.”

“Is she the one your kind came to worship, to honor?”

“Oh yes, she is vampyre royalty. We are going to see a genuine legend and possibly the oldest creature on this planet: Lilith, the Night Hag.”

Chapter Thirty
 

 

BEL AIR
2:00
P.M.

 

I called the meat wagon and then cooled my heels waiting for Jake Long to get to Milla Taylor’s apartment. Mrs. Kater was pretty concerned…about the room.

The CSI techs got there about the same time Jake did. I filled them in with what I knew—but that didn’t amount to much. The ME was of the opinion that Milla Taylor’s head had been ripped off, very similar to a couple of the decapitations in Rough Trade.

“Ripped?” I asked.

“As in pulled,” he said.

The rest of the apartment was clean and the door hadn’t been forced. Jake was booting up her computer when I left. I told him to keep an eye out for an albino, or indeed any guy with pale skin, and said I’d meet him back at the office. I had a call to make.

Milla Taylor’s murder just didn’t tie in to any of the other killings. She wasn’t a movie star; she wasn’t close to Ovsanna. She’d only worked for Thomas DeWitte a short time. The only person who had even the slightest motive to want her out of the way was Ovsanna.

It was so obvious it screamed setup.

Or maybe I just wanted it to seem that way.

And there was one other tiny factor…we already had Milla’s statement and there was no way that Ovsanna even knew that she had come forward.

I tried Ovsanna’s numbers, the house and the cell, and got voice mail on both. I’d come back over the hill on Beverly Glen, so it wasn’t that much out of my way to drive back up Stone Canyon. Maybe she was holed up in the house, screening her calls.

There were no reporters outside the gates, which were firmly closed, and I guessed, even as I was pulling up, that Ovsanna would not be there. I was leaning across to hit the intercom when a shape detached itself from the bush and set my heart thumping. “Jesus, Eddie, I nearly shot you!” In truth, I’d been nowhere near my gun.

Steady Eddie lifted his Canon EOS Digital and I heard the motor whirr as it fired five quick shots. “Decorated police hero Detective Peter King arrives at the home of Ovsanna Moore with a search warrant,” he intoned.

Steady Eddie Albert is one of this city’s top paparazzi. If you’ve seen this month’s hot starlet getting out of a limo sans underwear, you’ve seen Eddie’s work. He was the one who got the close-up of the Oscar in Jason Eddings’s ass as they pulled Eddings out of the limo. Must have made twenty-five thousand dollars off that one shot. He spends it all on food and suspenders. Eddie weighs 300 pounds if he’s an ounce and he’s got a collection of suspenders for every day of the year. He needs them to keep his size 50 pants up over his gut. Today they were red-and-white diagonal stripes with turquoise stones on the bronze clips. Steady Eddie is probably my age; he looks ten years older. He’s completely bald but cultivates one of those long drooping moustaches that makes him look perpetually miserable.

“You’re wasting your time, Detective; she’s gone.”

Something must have shown on my face, because Eddie took a quick step back and grabbed another couple of shots. “Frustration shows on the face of Detective Peter King—”

“Shut up, Eddie. I suppose you were here when she left? I suppose you got it all on film?”

“That’s my job.” He held up a second camera he had dangling around his neck. This one was a Nikon with a telephoto lens.

“Anyone else still inside? Her assistant?”

“Nope, her assistant left about twenty minutes before she did, driving the black SUV.”

“What time was this?”

“Around noon. The other guys quit when they saw the SUV take off, but I guessed it was a ruse and stuck around.”

“A
ruse
?”

“Yeah, a ruse. It’s a good word, isn’t it? I’ve been reading a lot of Dorothy L. Sayers. Lord Peter Wimsey. You got a lot of time on your hands with this job.”

“Well, what was Ovsanna Moore driving when she perpetrated this ruse?”

“Silver Mercedes SLR McLaren. The $450,000 model. Sort of hard to keep a low profile in that one.”

“Anyone else coming or going? Anyone still in the house?”

“There’s been no movement, but I don’t think they’ll be gone long.”

“How do you make that out?”

“No luggage.” He grinned. I was guessing he hadn’t seen a dentist’s chair in years. “I got some images of them leaving the house.” He called up a series of blurred shots. “Right at the limit of the zoom. But you can see that neither of them put cases in either car. They’re either staying local or they’re coming back.”

“Shit!” I banged the steering wheel in frustration.

Eddie fiddled with the back of the camera and then said slyly, “We could go inside and check out the grounds, though. I’ve got the code to the gate.”

“You’ve got what?” My blood started to boil. After everything I’d said to both those women about protecting themselves and someone goes and gives Steady Eddie access to the yard? What the hell were they thinking? “Who gave it to you?”

“Well, no one really gave it to me. I sort of took it.” Eddie leaned in my car window and turned the back of the Canon toward me. Images flickered by on the large LCD and then stopped at one particular shot. What looked like a Lexus 470 was partially in frame, stopped outside the gates.

The next image showed a hand stretched out the open window, index finger pointed.

The next image was a close-up of the same finger pressing on the keypad. Eddie must have set the camera to burst mode. Each subsequent image showed the finger pressing a different button. I had him scroll back and forth through the images until I was reasonably sure of the sequence. “Very impressive,” I said, taking the camera out of his hand, and turning it away from him. I hit the menu button, found FORMAT, and then waited while the gigabyte card reformatted. Without saying a word, I handed it back to him. “Now, beat it.”

“Hey, I thought I could go inside with you, grab a few images of the gardens, maybe get a couple of shots through the windows—”

“Eddie. That would be trespassing.”

“I could always cut you in—”

“Don’t say another word! Even what you’re thinking now is illegal. Now get outta here before I find something to arrest you for. Loitering, maybe. Move!” I shoved open my car door and that pushed him back onto the street. He looked like he was going to cry. I waited while he got into his car, a sixties Ford Fairlane with a new paint job, and drove down the street—giving me the finger as he passed—before I turned back to the keypad and hit the combination I’d memorized. One five five zero. It worked. The electric gates clicked and started to open. “Thanks, Eddie,” I murmured, and jumped in the Jag and drove through. The gates closed behind me.

I wondered how long it was going to take him to discover I’d blanked his images.

The geese started cackling and calling as I drove up the driveway and parked outside the front door. I sat in the car for a moment, watching the windows, looking for signs of movement, but finding none. Finally, I climbed out of the car and walked around the house. There wasn’t anyone on the property, and the house was sealed up tight. No back door left open for the housekeeper. I could see in through the windows. Everything was neat and tidy, much as it had been when I’d left this morning. Ovsanna had left a few lights on, which told me she didn’t intend to return any time soon.

I needed to find her…either to keep her alive or to keep her from killing someone else.

 

 

I tried Ovsanna’s cell again; it went to voice mail. As long as the phone was on I could track her location, but getting the phone company to help without a court order would take too long. I’d gotten the plates on the SUV when I’d interviewed Ovsanna at the studio and I’d seen the Mercedes parked outside the garage the night Maral had called me in a panic. It was brand-new, with the temporary registration taped on the front window and the dealer’s ubiquitous logo on a business card beneath it. That made things easy for me. I called Auto Steigler in Encino and asked to speak to Ms. Schyjer.

“This is Renee.”

“It’s Peter, Renee, a voice from the past.”

“Peter King? You son of a bitch, how are you? What’s it been, three years? Saw you on the news this morning. You looked tired.”

“Thanks. Look, I need a favor.”

“Well, you haven’t changed a bit, have you? Still get right to the point. Honest to God, Peter, I don’t know how you get away with it.”

“It’s my enduring charm. And my long memory. What was it you said the last time I saw you…something about owing me big-time?”

“I do. You know I do. Kenny would still be on the streets if it weren’t for you. So what can I do for you? Loan you a car to impress the next Mrs. King?”

“Something a lot simpler. For you, at least. I need the password for the Teletrac system on a car you just sold in the past couple of weeks. A Silver McLaren SLR.”

“Jesus, Peter, that’s Ovsanna Moore’s car. She’s got the only silver McLaren we’ve sold in the last six months. I processed the paperwork myself.”

“Can you help me?”

“Is she in trouble?” I said nothing, and she filled in the rest herself. “This is about the Cinema Slayer, isn’t it? You were at her house this morning.” Anxiety flooded her voice and I knew Ovsanna had another hard-core fan. Made my job easier.

“I need to find her, Renee, and I need to find her fast. That’s why I’m not going through channels. I need that password.”

“Hold on.”

She put me on hold and I listened to Weird Al Yankovic sing two verses of “Weasel Stomping Day” before she came back on the line. One of these days I’ve got to download that song.

“You still there, Peter? I’ve got the password.”

“Go ahead.”

“It’s ‘lifeeverlasting’. Lowercase, all one word, no spaces. Strange choice, huh?”

“There’s a lot about Ovsanna Moore that’s strange, Renee. This is the least of it.”

 

 

Once I had the password, the rest was easy. I called Del Delaney and asked him get into the Teletrac system, and to do it on his personal laptop rather than the department computers. I was sailing into murky legal waters now. There was going to be a whole lot of explaining to do when this was over. But if I solved the case, then I was golden, and if I didn’t…well, then nothing much mattered.

It took Del about six minutes: Ovsanna’s Mercedes was parked at the Airport Valet on Sepulveda and 96th.

I sent Milmore over to brace the valet company and I headed back to the office to talk to the Captain. My cell buzzed just as I pulled into the lot. It was Milmore. “She didn’t take a plane, pardner. No tickets in her name or the girlfriend’s name, no one matching their description on any specified flight, commercial or private.” Milmore went to the University of Wyoming in Laramie. He talks like an educated cowpoke. “It’s a fancy car. The valet remembers that she didn’t have any luggage. Left her car and drove off in a black SUV driven by a blonde. When the valet asked what time he should have the car ready for her, she said maybe later tonight. She’s gonna call him.”

“She didn’t tell him where she was going, did she?”

“Nope. But she did tell the blonde. Valet heard her say it’d take ’em about two hours to get there. They’re headin’ to Palm Springs, pardner.”

BOOK: Vampyres of Hollywood
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