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Authors: Adrienne & Scott Barbeau,Adrienne & Scott Barbeau

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BOOK: Vampyres of Hollywood
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PALM SPRINGS
3:00
P.M.

 

Palm Springs.

That made sense. If she and Maral really are lovers, Palm Springs is the place to be.

I left the Jag in my spot, grabbed a squad car, and made the freeway doing eighty-five down La Cienega with my flashers on. I didn’t know where I was going exactly, but I needed to get there before anyone else lost his head. Literally.

I reached Delaney at the office. “I need you to track down some property records for me, Del. Fast. In Palm Springs or maybe Palm Desert. See if Ovsanna Moore or Maral McKenzie owns anything down there.”

“What about Rancho Mirage? Lady with Moore’s kind of money oughta be in Rancho Mirage.”

“That’s good. And if that doesn’t work, start calling the hotels. See if there’s a reservation in either name for tonight. And put a BOLO into the system for Moore’s black Lexus SUV. License number’s in the Casale murder book. I’m heading down there and I’ve got to find them. I’ll be on my cell.”

He was halfway through telling me to be careful when I cut him off. I was past being careful now. My every instinct was telling me that this case was rolling toward the endgame…and that was going to mean bodies. Probably lots of them.

I made it to Banning in under an hour, probably some kind of record. The flashers come in handy. Del called back just as I passed the outlet stores. “Well, if either of those ladies owns property down there, it’s not in her own name. I couldn’t find a damn thing. And they’re not sleepin’ overnight in any of the big hotels, either. But I gotta tell you, the more I’m digging, the more I’m thinking something’s really wrong here, Pete.”

I hate being called Pete, and he knows that. “Tell me something I don’t know,” I snapped.

“Your Ms. Moore’s so squeaky clean, she’s suspicious.”

“When did being innocent make you a suspect?” I asked.

“We’re cops, Pete. We know that no one is entirely innocent or that clean. I mean there’s too many loose ends and not enough paperwork. She was born in Rome, Italy, in ’60, except there’re no hospital records for the birth, just that it was registered with the American Embassy there. Her mother, Anna Moore, didn’t spend much time with her and I can’t find anything at all about a father. Looks like she went to a lot of boarding schools. She’s registered with a dozen high-class ones all over Europe: London, Paris, Geneva, then back to Rome to start acting, then to London and RADA. Whatever that is,” he muttered.

“Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Upscale acting school.”

“Studied there for three years, then came over here when her mother’s increasing ill health forced her to give up acting.”

“Sounds fine to me.”

“If she was studying in RADA, why do they have a record of her finishing, and graduating with honors, but no record of her daily attendance? Where was she living in London? Where was her bank account? She must have taken public transport everywhere, because there is no evidence of a car registered in her name. I’ve no records of transatlantic calls to Mummy dearest, no evidence that Mummy ever sent her a dime. And if she came back here to look after a sick mother, why are there no hospital records?”

“She wasn’t in a hospital?” I suggested.

“I’m talking about
no
medical records of any kind. No doctor bills, no prescriptions, no insurance payout. No record of what the mother died of or when.”

“The rich pay for their privacy,” I said.

“No one is this private! You can’t move through the modern world without leaving a shitload of tracks and paperwork. There are big pieces missing from the Ovsanna Moore jigsaw. On the surface, it looks fine. She’s got all the paper here she needs: passport, driver’s license, Social Security, but when you start digging past twenty-five years ago, there’s nothing there.”

“So…more to Miss Moore than meets the eye,” I said.

“Less, I’d say. Much less.”

“What about Maral McKenzie?”

“Oh, she’s legit. I’ve got everything on her, right down to her shoe size. Her story is real movie-of-the-week stuff.”

“Anything else?”

“I checked on the Japanese connection: that turns out to be true. Three investors, ex-Sony, ex-Mitsubishi, ex-Toyota, with more money than sense, are deep in negotiations with Anticipation. It’s very hush-hush, but it’s legit.”

“Thanks, Del. Keep digging. And patch me through if you get a hit on the BOLO.”

Two minutes later, the phone rang again. I was reading the marquee at the Morongo Casino and I flipped it open without even looking at it.

“That was fast, Delaney; did the car show up?”

“Detective King?”

“Yes?” It wasn’t Delaney.

“This is Maral McKenzie.”

“I’ve been trying to find you,” I said, deliberately allowing the snap of anger to show in my voice.

“We’re in Palm Springs.”

Well, at least I knew she wasn’t lying. And at least I knew now that I was driving in the right direction.

Her words tumbled out in a rush. “Ovsanna doesn’t know I’m calling you—”

“Hold on,” I said. “Where are you exactly? Where is she…?”

“I don’t know the address. I’m in the car on a private drive off West Chino Canyon, a road that runs right into the foothills. But you can’t miss it—it’s the only house for miles and it’s built high up, right into the mountain. Ovsanna went inside to talk to someone about the murders. She wouldn’t let me go with her. She said—”

Maral McKenzie never finished her sentence. I heard the shatter of safety glass and a truncated scream. Then the thud of the phone hitting the floor. A car door opened. Pressing my hand against my right ear, I concentrated intently on the sounds of fabric dragging against leather. A door slammed shut…and there was dead silence.

 

 

Palm Springs is basically a small town. The PSPD officer who answered the phone knew exactly which house I was talking about. He said he had two men in the vicinity and he’d call me back when they got there. I took down the directions and guessed it was no more than fifteen miles from my present positon.

Night falls fast in the desert, and it was almost dark by the time he got back to me. His men had found the phone and the SUV. The driver’s window was broken and Maral wasn’t in sight. So tell me something I didn’t know.

I was on West Chino when an unmarked police cruiser flashed its lights. I pulled over to the side of the road and two plainclothes officers got out of their car and introduced themselves. Robert Montoya looked to be Native American and Robert Morales was Hispanic. With their black hair and desert tans, all I could see in the darkness were the whites of their eyes and their teeth when they talked. Which they didn’t do much of. Neither was happy.

“What did you see beside the smashed window?”

“Glass on the road, key in the ignition, phone on the floor. No signs of a struggle, no signs of blood. House is so walled in you’d need a low-flying plane to see if anything was going on inside.”

“What do we know about the neighborhood?”

“Closest neighbor is quite a ways away. Everybody’s got at least a couple of acres up there. Old money mostly. Lots of it. Lots of the houses show up in architectural magazines. Lotta weird houses. Elvis spent his honeymoon in one of ’em.”

I turned and headed back to the car, calling over my shoulder, “I’ll follow you. Don’t announce our arrival.”

The two Bobs turned onto a dirt road and killed their lights as soon as they parked. I pulled in behind them and did the same. Turned the dome light off and got out of the car as quietly I could. Ovsanna’s SUV was parked about fifty yards down on the right. In the dark, I could barely make out a huge stone wall surrounding a massive stone, steel, and glass structure that looked like it was growing out of the mountain. The top floor was lit, but the glass must have been electrochromic because I couldn’t see a damn thing inside. Someone really wanted his privacy.

Morales had been driving the cruiser. He rolled down the front window and I leaned in. “You know anything about this place…who owns it? Local gossip?”

“Nada. House has been here a long time; I remember seeing it as a kid and thinking how cool it must be to live inside a mountain like that.”

“What about the rest of the area? Ever been called out here for anything? Any neighbor complaints—loud parties, drug traffic?”

Montoya was reading his PDA. “Here’s one. Six weeks ago—got a call from an Abigail Hilton. Address is Shangri-La, which is down here to the left, the last house we passed before the dirt road. It was midnight, Halloween. Said there was a party going on up here and she couldn’t stand the noise. Officer came out to investigate, but by the time he got here everything was quiet. He didn’t even enter the premises.”

“Where was the party?”

“That house back there, almost opposite where the SUV is parked. It’s called Eden.”

 

 

Abigail Hilton took an inordinate amount of time opening the door, and when I saw her I understood why. She was ninety if she was a day. Maybe five feet tall to begin with, age had hunched her over to even less. I think if I’d taken her cane she would have collapsed on the floor. Her voice, however, was razor sharp, her diction pure Boston Brahmin.

“You’re investigating what? My complaint? That was six weeks ago, young man, and why is a Beverly Hills police officer investigating a crime in Palm Springs at all?”

“It’s intra-agency policy, ma’am, helping out our neighboring departments.”

“Well, that’s a bullshit answer if I ever heard one. Let me see some identification, young man.”

She took my badge and closed the door in my face. The two Bobs sat in the car and watched me, their faces expressionless; I was guessing they both wore mirrored shades during the day. I knew the producer of
Reno 911;
maybe I’d pass on his number.

Mrs. Hilton returned to the door, opened it, and handed me back my badge. “Okay, young man, what do you want to know?”

“You called in a complaint on Halloween night. A loud party, I understand.”

“Loud. And I’m partially deaf, so the noise must have been very loud indeed.”

“What did you hear, ma’am?”

“Screams, shouts, howling.”

“Howling? When you say ‘howling’—”

“Animal howling. We get a lot of coyotes around here, but it didn’t sound like that. More like dogs or wolves. It was disturbing.”

“And this was close to midnight.”

“It started about ten, but I never called the police until midnight. By the time an officer got here, it had stopped. That was one o’clock.”

“Did you talk to any of the occupants of the house?”

“I tried,” she snapped. “I phoned Miss Lilly, but I couldn’t get her on the line. Her creepy driver said she was ‘indisposed.’ Believe me, I gave him a piece of my mind. Pasty-faced little fuck!”

I was so stunned by the “little fuck” coming out of her mouth that it took me a second to take in the rest of what she’d said.

“Pasty-faced?”

“An albino,” she snapped. “You know, white? Pasty-faced? Man gives me the creeps every time I see him.”

“There’s an albino working in that house?”

“That’s what I said, young man. Are you going deaf?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, we’re done here. My Manhattan’s getting warm.” She stopped and squinted at me. “You’re smiling like an idiot,” she barked, and slammed the door in my face.

I guess I was, too.

Chapter Thirty-Three
 

 

“Lilith, darling. How lovely to see you,” I lied.

A ghostly shape moved in the gloom behind Lilith, and Ghul the ghoul appeared. I’m not sure what Ghul is—I know he’s not full-blooded human. He’s been with Lilith for millennia, so there must be some vampyre in there somewhere. But he doesn’t claim any clan and he’s enough of an aberration that none of the clans claim him. Only Lilith. She keeps him by her side constantly. Whether he’s her servant, her son, or her lover, no one knows. Perhaps he’s all three.

I do know he is a genuine graveyard-haunting, flesh-eating ghoul, though, and there are probably no more than a handful still on this earth.

“Why have you come here?” Lilith demanded. She was wearing some sort of black Vivienne Westwood number, a cross between a Goth wedding dress and a dominatrix nightgown.

“I’ve come to see you, Lilith.”

“You’ve seen me, now go.”

“You’ve moved things around since I was last here,” I said, looking at the living room, which was empty, save for two more chandeliers. “Are you going into hibernation or is this just your minimalist period?”

“You know what I love about actresses, Ghul?” Lilith said, turning away from me. “They have an opinion on everything. Fashion, politics, art, world peace—as if anyone cares.” She tilted her head to look up at him. “These are the same people who make their living parroting words written by others, who move where they are told to move and dress the way they’re told to dress. They can’t even take care of their own business affairs, but they can tell people how to vote.”

Ghul said nothing. He rarely spoke.

I wandered toward the window, keeping as far from the mismatched couple as I could. I was under no illusions: individually they were deadly; together they were unstoppable. The danger in the room was palpable.

“What do you want?” Lilith demanded.

“I have some questions for you. I’d like some answers.” I moved closer to the rear door. Four ancient vampyres prowled in the darkness, hideous misshapen shadows.

“I have nothing to say to you,” Lilith snapped. “You forget yourself, Ovsanna Hovannes Garabedian. You are my subject. You answer to me!”

“Not in this country I don’t,” I snapped back, deliberately raising my voice, hoping the Ancients would hear me and start paying attention. “That is not the tradition.” The Ancients were very keen on tradition. “I came here first, Lilith. I staked my claim and therefore this is my fiefdom—and in my kingdom you answer to me.”

Lilith waddled forward. She’d put on a little weight since I last saw her, and I didn’t even want to think about what she might have been eating. I could smell the acrid rage coming off her in waves. She was shivering with it. If I’d had a gag reflex, I’d have been bent over; she smelled of sulfur and sour milk. “I am Lilith, the First, Everlasting, Immortal. Mother of the Vampyre and the Were. You owe me fealty.”

Lilith had other names—the Night Hag, the Night Monster—but I wasn’t about to remind her of those at the moment. I wiped flecks of her hot spittle from my cheek. “I am Clan Dakhanavar of the First Bloodline, Chatelaine of Hollywood. There is none above me on the West Coast of America. Not even you, Lilith. You know the tradition!” I yelled my last words at her, drawing in more and more of the Ancients.

Some of them had gathered in the foyer and someone had lit the chandelier. Most of the bulbs were broken, however, and the few that remained threw a dull yellow glow down on the Ancients, revealing cracked, black leather skin, misshapen molted wings, split talons and claws—a genuine Nightmare before Christmas. God help me if I get that old. Of course, Lilith could put paid to that concern in the next few minutes if I wasn’t careful.

Behind Lilith and Ghul, I saw others move into the room, her army of Bobhan Sith and Dearg Due, the
dhampirs
and the were.

“What do you want, Chatelaine?” Lilith whispered, her face turned down and to the side.

She wanted to keep the conversation unheard by the others, but I wouldn’t allow it. “I want answers, Lilith,” I repeated, so all could hear me. “I want to know who is responsible for the deaths of my kin.”

“I have no answers for you,” Lilith said, turning away. “It would be better if you left now.”

“That sounds like a threat.”

Lilith turned to face me and, in that moment, no longer looked like a grotesque old woman in too much makeup. There was no humanity in this face, nothing human at all. This was evil—ancient and implacable. “I have killed vampyre before, you know. Feasted off their flesh, sucked the marrow from their bones, eaten their brains raw from the bowls of their skulls.” She no longer made an attempt to keep our conversation quiet. Lilith stepped closer and her cloying ancient mustiness enfolded me. “Do you know what vampyre tastes like, Ovsanna?” she asked.

“Chicken?”

“Memories.”

A tongue, short and black, darted out from between her painted lips. “Everything they have ever done, every place they’ve been, all that they’ve seen, is there, wrapped in flesh and sinew, bone and marrow. A vampyre is a feast indeed. I can make one last for days.”

Lilith was now so close that I could touch her. What I had thought at first was caked-on Baby Jane makeup wasn’t makeup at all; it was her skin. Pale yellow and cracked and mottled, like a desiccated grapefruit. Her teeth were little more than stubs barely protruding above her gums. Worn down by millennia of eating human bones, no doubt. In contrast, her eyes were bright and impossibly blue.

“Is that something you want to be saying in the present company?” I asked, indicating the Ancients gathered behind me.

“They are in no danger, Ovsanna,” Lilith said loudly, walking around me. “You are.”

I turned to follow her.

“A danger to yourself and to others. The police are investigating you, Ovsanna. How long will it be before your somewhat nebulous past comes to light? The police will shine a light on you, actress. The press will turn that into a spotlight you cannot escape from. Your very existence endangers all the vampyres of America, Ovsanna Hovannes Garabedian.”

I turned again, trying to face Lilith and keep an eye on Ghul at the same time. I did not want him at my back. “A Hunter is destroying my clan, killing them in the old ways, the traditional ways, ensuring that there will be no regeneration. Now, he’s started killing humans around me.”

“Sending you a message.” Ghul spoke, his voice dead, devoid of expression, his mouth shaping the words with difficulty. “But what is the message, vampyre? Do you understand it?”

“This Hunter seems determined that this spotlight will only illuminate me and my world.”

“You Dakhanavar always were paranoid.”

“Kept us alive,” I reminded him. I turned quickly, aware that Lilith was behind me. She was standing at the door leading out to the pool, talking quietly with a saurian creature. Something was wrong here, horribly wrong. I was beginning to believe I’d made a terrible mistake coming here.

I turned to face the ghoul. Tall, unnaturally thin, with pink-white skin and a pale oval face split by blood-red eyes and the thin red line of his lips. I doubt he had ever been handsome, but now he looked like a dissipated walking corpse in a tuxedo that might have been in fashion when Capone was paying taxes.

If the Hunter was another vampyre, then he would have needed the blessing of the most senior vampyres in the country…and no one was more senior than Lilith. I also had little doubt that if someone was looking to usurp me, he would have Lilith’s blessing. She’d always hated me for claiming Hollywood before her, and I think she secretly wanted to be an actress. Val Lewton gave her a small part in the original
Cat People
—they were sleeping together—but she must not have been very good; by the time he produced
The Body Snatcher,
she was playing a corpse. She couldn’t even do that properly. They had to do six takes on one scene. I mean, how hard is it to hold your breath?

And I had walked right into her bestial arms.

Lilith was standing at the door to the garden, surrounded by her
dhampirs
and weres. More Ancients had gathered in the gloom. It was impossible to guess their numbers, but there must have been dozens. In my entire lifetime, I’d only encountered a handful and never more than one at a time. The last time the Ancients had gathered in any great number, in September 1666, the Great Fire of London had claimed hundreds of vampyre lives. Many believed the fire had been set deliberately, probably by agents of the Church Militant, though there had been rumors at the time that a Rogue vampyre had been responsible.

I moved across the room, purposely ending up near the huge fireplace. Perhaps I could effect a change into something small and birdlike and escape up the chimney. With the cool marble protecting my back, I folded my arms across my chest and confronted Lilith. “I believe you have authorized a Hunt against me.”

She was staring at me. According to legend, when the world was newly formed she had been beautiful beyond compare, but that was before she had been cast out of Eden and consorted with demons. The Night Hag had not been beautiful in millennia. But now, with the evening gloom blurring the lines of her face, leaving only her blue eyes clearly visible, bright and almost innocent, I could understand how Adam had been seduced by her.

And then she laughed. It was the most terrifying sound I have ever heard. If evil had a voice, then this was it. When the laugh trailed off, she stepped closer to me, put her hands on her hips, and snarled. “No, Ovsanna, I have not authorized a Hunt against you. It is
I
who have declared war on you!
I
have been hunting you!”

She slashed out with her right hand and her claws raked across my face, shredding the flesh on my cheek. My fangs unsheathed, my talons extended, I went for her throat, but her creatures were on me before I got to her flesh.

I am Dakhanavar, vampyre elite, trained from the moment of my birth as a killer. I fought back. I kicked and slashed, tore flesh with my teeth, sliced through bodies with my claws, ripped through
dhampirs
and were-creatures. I could see Lilith standing back, arms folded across her chest, her bizarre wedding dress splashed with my dark blood. She was urging on her female vampyres. I fell back under the onslaught, leaving Dearg Due and Bobhan Sith writhing on the floor in pools of their own blood and intestines.

There was a moment when I thought I was going to make it, when the door was in sight, and then the Ancients attacked….

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