Authors: Adrienne & Scott Barbeau,Adrienne & Scott Barbeau
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction
We were standing on the sidewalk outside my office, waiting for Jesus to bring the car around, when Maral’s phone rang. My kind don’t have premonitions—well, no more than humans do, I suppose. But when you’ve lived as long as I have you do develop your sixth sense: I knew it was trouble. Maral slipped her Bluetooth receiver over her ear as she glanced at her phone screen. “It’s the production office,” she murmured, “Bobby Wise’s line.” Bobby is the unit manager on
. “This is Maral, Bobby, what’s up?”
The last time I’d seen the color drain from someone’s face like that was when I was feeding and lost track of time. I love the description, though; it’s so apt. At moments of stress blood is drawn away from the non-essential parts of the body and pushed to the extremities, readying to fight or flight. The face pales. Maral’s face turned waxen, her eyes and lips bruise purple. She pulled the receiver off her ear and closed the phone.
“Eva Casale was found dead in the effects hut,” she said.
“She was nailed to the wall, partially decapitated, and her insides scooped out.”
“That’s murder, all right,” I said grimly. Maral didn’t respond; she knows my gallows humor.
We didn’t speak again until we were in the car. Without asking me, Maral headed back towards the studio. We drove in silence for a few minutes; then, sitting at the light at Sunset and Coldwater, she finally said, “I think we need to talk about this.”
“About Eva?” I asked, though I knew that was not what she was talking about.
“About Jason and Mai and Tommy. And now Eva.” A frown creased her unlined forehead. “But Eva’s different, isn’t she? She’s not part of the pattern, is she?”
“Jason, Mai, and Tommy were your…
” Maral said flatly. It wasn’t a question.
Maral knows what I am, and accepts it. But she’s never questioned my past; what she knows about me and my kind she’s picked up over the past ten years of our association. We don’t discuss it. Maybe that’s why we’ve been together for so long. She knows that I have what might be called
. I call them kin—though never children—but she’s never exhibited any desire to be one of them or enquired into the actual process of creating one. She also knows that everything she’s seen on the screen or read about my race is just so much bullshit.
“Eve was not one of yours.” Again it was a statement, not a question.
“No, not one of my kind.” Most of my kind are in front of the camera, although I make it a rule never to have more than two in any one movie. For purely selfish reasons. If I’m starring, I want the audience looking at me.
The light changed and we pulled away.
“So why was she killed?”
“Two possibilities—accident or design,” I said quickly.
“This was no accident. You don’t get nailed to a wall by accident.”
“So it was planned. Again, we’re down to two choices: is this murder a coincidence or somehow connected to the other deaths?”
Maral glanced sharply at me. “It has to be connected.”
I nodded, absently picking strips of polish off my abused nails. I knew damn well it wasn’t a coincidence.
“Maybe someone mistook her for one of your…kin,” Maral suggested.
“Unlikely. Whoever picked off the other three knew what they were and knew the tried and trusted methods of killing them: impalement, decapitation, dismemberment, and drowning. We don’t die easy, you know.” Something icy and old ran down along my back, a bitter memory of another place and another century.
“Well, her neck was cut almost clean through—that’s close to decapitation. Maybe someone’s trying to let you know they know what you are. Maybe Eva’s death was meant to frighten you.”
I laughed, a sharp barking sound. Even to my own ears, it sounded ugly. “Death does not frighten me. You would not believe the number of deaths I’ve witnessed,” I said. “I’ve survived wars, famines, plagues, and persecutions. Even the Crusades—all sixteen of them. All death does is make me angry.”
“So it has to be a warning.”
“Oh, of that I am sure.”
“But what does it mean?” Maral asked, as we turned into the studio.
“It means that there’s a Vampyre Hunter in Hollywood,” I said grimly, “and he’s just made his first mistake.”
We made the rest of the drive in silence until we got to the gate and Officer Gant waved us through. God damn it, you’d think with a murder on the lot, he’d learn his lesson and stop the car.
“What mistake?” Maral asked finally.
“I’m not the only vampyre in Hollywood, you know that, but I was the first to come here and that makes it my domain. I am the Chatelaine. A few others came after me, and went into the business. Charlie and Rudolph, of course, and Douglas and Mary and the outrageous and dangerous Theda Bara. We created very few kin. We were careful, very careful. Except for Theda. She nearly brought us down, taking chances like making
A Fool There Was.
She played herself, a vampyre, for God’s sake. She delighted in the image and the notoriety. We were forced to destroy her entire clan one bloody night in 1919. She hated California anyway, so she was more than happy when we suggested she retire. By then I’d introduced her to one of mine, silent film director Charles Brabin, and they married and moved to New York. But the others still have kin in and around the city. What’s interesting is that this killer has targeted only my Creations.”
“And now your employee.”
There was fear in her voice. I laid my hand on Maral’s pale flesh and allowed a little of my energy to flow through my hand, bringing my fingers to glowing light. She moaned as the white energy coursed through her body. “I will allow no one and nothing to harm you,” I said formally. “You may not be of my blood, but you are my family, and therefore under my protection.”
As I got out of the car, I silently vowed to do a better job than I had with Tommy, Mai, and Jason.
I disliked the cop on sight.
A ninety-dollar haircut and designer jeans. Cocky and overconfident. He probably drove a Hummer to make up for the size of his cock. And I’ll bet he watched reruns of
. A Don Johnson wannabe.
He was standing outside the effects hut, making notes in a small spiral notebook, while white-suited CSIs moved in and out around him. Through the door I could see the flashes of a camera as someone recorded the close-up details of Eva’s butchery.
Even from outside the hut I could smell the meat and blood of her, and it was taking an enormous effort to keep my fangs in place. I didn’t need to see her; I needed to get away. I saw the cop look up, hazel eyes widen as he recognized me just as I turned my back to leave.
I heard his footsteps behind me as I strode toward the set of
. I was going to have to shut the set down; I couldn’t ask Eva’s crew to keep working without some downtime, and I didn’t even know if they could handle the rest of the film without her to run things. I’d have to meet with them immediately.
“Yes, Officer.” I struggled to keep my voice neutral.
“Detective Peter King, ma’am, BHPD.”
He didn’t offer his hand but I put mine out anyway, and after he’d surreptitiously wiped his palm on the leg of his trousers he reached for it. I try to avoid physical contact with strangers whenever possible because I don’t need to be bombarded with unwanted impressions, but this time I welcomed them. I wanted to know how to handle him. They were a jumble of visual and physical sensations…
…curiosity…anxiety…a poster from one of my films…the merest hint of awe…a filthy man in a preacher’s collar…anger and disgust…Eva’s body crucified against the wall…a Jaguar XKE.
Well, no Hummer, at least.
“Are you all right?” He was staring at me with concern. I ran my tongue over my teeth to make sure I wasn’t losing control.
I nodded, saying nothing. I’m not sure what I’d learned from the contact—more than I anticipated certainly, and enough to revise my initial impression. Maybe he wasn’t a complete asshole after all.
“Is there someplace we can talk?” he asked.
“We can go to my trailer.”
We cut through the set of
. I saw King glance at it—and suddenly the severed head on top of the Christmas tree didn’t seem like such a good idea.
“I thought it was a special effect,” he said suddenly. “The body on the wall,” he explained, catching my look. “When I first saw it, I thought it was just another special effect. It’s so hard to tell what’s real anymore.”
“Especially in this city,” I agreed.
All I could think was she must use a great cinematographer or a really fine makeup artist because up close and personal, she was older than I expected. Still hot, but older.
She didn’t look like she’d had any work done, either, which, in this town, almost puts her in a category by herself. Women don’t get older in Hollywood; they get freakier. Between Botox, laser peels, liposuction, and that stuff they shoot into their lips, there’s not a real face walking Rodeo Drive. And that’s before the cheek implants and the lunchtime thread-lifts. My tenant, SuzieQ, is a
fan—well, the first two seasons, at least—and she keeps me up-to-date on all the available procedures. Whatever happened to a good old-fashioned nose job like my sister had in the sixties? Although, come to think of it, that wasn’t too successful, either.
And it’s not just the women.
I’ve never been tempted to go under the knife myself, not yet anyway, but when the time comes and there’s more gray than black in my hair, I’ll get Enrique, my barber over in Los Filez, to start adding a little color. Not too much, though; there’s nothing worse than an older man with jet-black hair. I had my eyes lasered a while back, but that was practical; I’ve got to be able to see. And I use those teeth-bleaching strips from the drugstore, but in this town that’s also practical—nobody wants to see a Beverly Hills cop with yellow teeth. But that’s where I draw the line. I don’t want to end up looking like David Gest.
I couldn’t guess Ovsanna Moore’s age from looking at her. Could be at least a decade older than me. No doubt it was listed in IMDb; I’d check when I got back to the office. There were the faintest traces of lines on her forehead and around the edges of her eyes, but as far as I was concerned, that only enhanced the package; everything else looked real and natural, moving and swaying in all the right directions. Ovsanna Moore looked like she’d been a few places, seen a few things, and maybe even done a couple of them. I’d have said mid-forties, but I could have been off by ten years.
The girlfriend, however, had to be at least fifteen years her junior. I say “girlfriend,” but no one introduced her that way. She was waiting in the trailer with the door opened as we approached, a cell phone in one hand, folded laptop under her arm.
“Allow me to introduce Maral McKenzie, my personal assistant and right hand. Maral, this is Detective King, from the BHPD.”
The assistant looked at me as if I was something she’d scraped off her expensive shoe. She didn’t extend her hand.
McKenzie was a knockout. Ash-blond hair tumbling down her back, gray eyes behind black-framed Buddy Holly glasses, not enough of a rack to draw attention, but no question she was a girl. She was wearing some sort of strangely cut black and white suit that looked like high-end Rodeo Drive.
As Ovsanna stepped into the trailer a look passed between them.
I knew immediately there was something going on between these two that was more than professional. You can’t spend fifteen years on the force and not read between the lines. Maral McKenzie had a personal stake in protecting Ovsanna Moore. And something to be afraid of. At that moment, it seemed like it was me. As we stepped into her boss’s trailer, I watched her insinuate herself between the movie star and me. She almost bristled as I deliberately moved farther into the room. Then she turned away from me, stared into Ovsanna’s eyes for a beat too long, and without a word went to the fridge and pulled out a White Ginkgo Tea. Another look passed between them when she handed it to Ovsanna. And a touch, fleeting and if you blinked you missed it, but it was there, nonetheless. I wasn’t sure what the deal was between this pair, but with “personal assistant” as Maral McKenzie’s job title it was pretty obvious the accent was on “personal.” I’ll bet the job covered a lot of ground.
I had three dead movie stars, all of whom had worked for Ovsanna Moore; a dead special effects supervisor, also working for Ovsanna Moore; and a personal assistant with an agenda—maybe she didn’t like anyone coming between her and her sweetheart, or maybe she had something bigger to hide. Whatever was going on, Maral McKenzie was involved.
My dad told me four things when I joined the force: never go out without your vest, make sure your underwear is clean, buy comfortable shoes (preferably with steel toe caps), and never get involved with another officer (but if you do, wear protection). So far I’m good on all four counts. He also said that there are lots of reasons for crime—social deprivation, rage, anger, fear, societal factors—but at the end of the day it usually comes down to sex and money. People who haven’t got either, want one or the other, or both. I used to think it was a simplistic, even anachronistic, point of view. Then I started clocking up the years. Now I think he was right.
It comes down to sex and money.
Money hadn’t raised its head in this case yet, but sex just made an entrance. Ovsanna Moore and Maral McKenzie reeked of it. I added Ms. McKenzie to my short list of suspects. I only had two names on it—McKenzie and Moore—but it was a start.
And hell hath no fury and all that….
Moore sipped at the iced tea. “Detective King is investigating Eva’s death. Although why you’re involved, Detective, and not the local police, is a question I’d like answered,” Ovsanna added, without missing a beat. She’d taken a seat in one of those tall director’s chairs with the name Marilyn Monroe printed on the canvas back. It looked like Marilyn had signed it in black ink under her name. I’d seen enough copies of her distinctive signature in my mom’s collection to believe it was real. My mom would love it.
The only other places to sit were the sofa and the two banquettes on either side of a built-in table. I stayed standing because I didn’t want Ovsanna Moore towering over me while I tried to interrogate her without her realizing that’s what I was doing.
“Actually,” I said, “I found the body.”
It took the girlfriend a moment or two to process what I’d just said, but Ms. Moore realized the implications immediately. She sat back in the chair and crossed her legs at the ankle, Citizen of Humanity jeans riding up to reveal python Tony Lamas. SuzieQ would shit. “So you came to talk to Eva,” Ovsanna said.
“That’s an interesting assumption. Any reason you’d say that?” Give people enough rope and they’ll talk themselves into the noose.
“Why else would you be in the FX hut, Detective King? It’s not on the beaten path. Something brought you here; what was it?”
“I’m an investigator, Ms. Moore. I investigate. It’s my job to ask the questions, not answer them.”
“And it’s my job to run this studio and to know what’s going on here every minute of every day. I’m not a fool, Detective, don’t treat me like one.” There was a fast shift to ice in her voice and genuine anger. “I listen to the news,” she said. “You’re the lead detective on the Cinema Slayer case. You drove out here because of that, didn’t you? You were looking for Eva.”
“You’re right, ma’am.”
“Call me Ovsanna. ‘Ma’am’ makes me sound old.” Another shift in her attitude. She smiled, maybe attempting to lighten the atmosphere, but the smile didn’t go anywhere near her eyes.
“Ms. Casale’s name came up as part of our ongoing investigation.”
The personal assistant leaned forward, offering me a glimpse down the gaping neckline of her expensive-looking suit. I appreciated the gesture, but it didn’t work. Given the distraction of sex or the obsession of work, I take work almost every time. “You’re not seriously suggesting that Eva was somehow involved in those terrible deaths, are you?” McKenzie went on the attack.
“I’m not suggesting anything,” I said mildly. “Would she have worked with any of the deceased?”
Ms. McKenzie was about to snap a response, but Ovsanna reached out and laid a hand on her arm. I thought movie stars got their nails done, but Moore’s were a mess. “Eva is—
—one of the best up-and-coming special effects artists in the business. Everyone wanted her. She trained with Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, and Stan Winston. And yes, she worked with all three of the deceased—Jason, Tommy, and Mai.”
“I know all three did movies with this studio. Did you personally work with any of them?”
“Yes, I did,” she said immediately. “I gave Jason his break in this business; he played the priest who gets butchered in the confessional in
Tell Me What You’ve Seen
. Mai was my co-star in
and Tommy played a cop in
I made my notes and wondered if Netflix carried copies.
“What else can you tell me about Eva?”
“She’s worked for me for six years now. Started out as an FX assistant on
Tell Me What You’ve Heard,
the sequel to
Tell Me What You’ve Seen.
—the department with a permanent staff of four and hired extra people as she needed them, depending on the demands of the film. Her strength was getting the best effects for the least amount of money. She was clever and inventive and stayed on budget. Take a look at
The Convent II
and you’ll see what I mean. When Hurricane Katrina hit and production on
Blood on the Bayou
got held up because they couldn’t get supplies, she used V8 juice mixed with Yoo-Hoo to simulate the blood they needed for the were-alligator’s victims. Nobody knew the difference.”
“Very inventive,” I said, suddenly realizing what was in those bottles Biblical Benny was selling. Ms. Moore certainly knew a lot about her staff. I deal with Beverly Hills bigwigs every day; most of them don’t even know their employees’ full names. Ovsanna Moore was obviously a more hands-on type of boss. “Can you think of any reason—no matter how improbable—that someone would have wanted to kill her?” It’s the standard question, and it always sounds ridiculous.
Ms. Moore shook her head, but I was watching the girlfriend. I saw the tiniest crinkling at the corner of her eyes and knew instantly that she knew something.
“And what about you, Ms. McKenzie?”
Her pupils dilated just before she lied to me. Doesn’t make for a good poker player. She took a step back, her hands crossing her body in classic defensive-denial pose.
Years ago I’d dated a psychologist who taught me the basics of interpreting unconscious non-verbal communication. She had a dozen books on what we cops call body language. Ms. Shrink said mine showed unresolved oedipal issues—I enjoyed hanging out at my mom’s. I said hers showed unresolved Esther Williams issues—I found her fucking my pool man, in the pool. She walked out with her tan and left her books. I always figured I got the best part of the deal. Took me ages to find a new pool man, though.
“I have no idea why Eva was killed,” McKenzie said quickly.
I love it when people lie to me. Means I’m getting close.
“What about her private life? How much do you know about that? Was she seeing anyone?”
Maral shook her head. “There was someone she was sleeping with, off and on. I didn’t get the feeling it was a big romance or anything. I think he was a Born Again or a preacher or something. Every time she came back from screwing him she’d talk about God’s love and blessings.”
Flipping my notebook shut, I looked from Ovsanna Moore to Maral McKenzie. “I think that’s all for the moment. I apologize in advance if this is inconvenient, but I hope neither of you has plans to leave the city in the immediate future.”
“None, Detective,” Ovsanna said shortly.
“And I’m going to have to declare the FX hut off-limits.”
“For how long?”
“A couple of days, at least. I realize that this will cause a problem with your shooting schedule, but the CSIs need time to go over the entire building. We’ll do our utmost to release it as quickly as possible. I’ll also need your fingerprints, of course, and the fingerprints of all your crew.”
Again a flare of anger from Ms. McKenzie, tinged now with what might have been alarm as her eyes found Ms. Moore. Moore reacted, too, her expression shifting to a blank mask. “Why?” she asked.
“For elimination purposes. We take your fingerprints and the fingerprints of everyone we know who had business there, we dust the building, we eliminate all the recognizable ones, and see if anything unusual pops up. It won’t take long and we can do it here, rather than bringing you down to the station.” I smiled my best professional smile to take the sting from the unspoken threat. Neither woman returned it. “Is there anything else you think might be relevant? Anything unusual or out of the ordinary happen recently, any strangers wandering around the set, fights on the set, differences of opinion, arguments?”
The two women were shaking their heads even before the questions were out of my mouth and I knew then that I wasn’t going to get any more out of them. But I’d gotten enough.
“Well, thank you for your time. I’ll leave you my card in case anything occurs to you.” I was tempted to ask for a signed photo for my mother, but I resisted. I didn’t want to look like some starstruck fan even though a part of me couldn’t wait to call home and tell my mom whom I’d been grilling. Besides, I knew I’d be seeing both women again.
But before then, I needed to know a little more about them. Something I wouldn’t find on IMDb or