Sheriff Lewis Malloy of Belford, Ohio, didn't like me or Escott on sight, but we were all in the mayor's house and the mayor, who owed us for a number of favors, thought we were just fine. The sheriff had to behave himself, but only up to a point. He took Kircher to one side and muttered at his honor, "Just who the hell are those ambercrombies?"
I had my back to them and was on the other side of the living room pretending to look out a window, but had no trouble hearing the conversation. Escott slipped quietly into the hall so I could focus.
The mayor made a small calming noise in the back of his throat. "Simmer down, Lew, they helped me, they helped the boys, they're just here to tie up things."
"That creep in the black shirt looks like a gangster. Is he?"
"No idea. Fleming runs a nightclub in Chicago--"
"There you are, then."
"--and it was his girlfriend who found Katie Iverson and got her away from Duvert. The guy with the nose is a detective--"
Malloy rumbled a rude comment relating to Escott's distaff parentage.
"--he thinks Duvert figured in a confidence game that he's been tracking."
"Howard, you don't believe that cock and bullshit."
"I've no reason not to believe it. I am vouching for them."
"You vouched for Duvert and look how that turned out."
"Don't throw that to my face in my own house! I was taken in by that son of a bitch the same as everyone else and I'm still trying to figure out how. You don't have to like either of these men, but I will take it as a personal favor if you could be civil to them. Soon as they're done with their business, they'll leave."
"Fleming's here to keep an eye on his girl and Escott I just said. I know that after what happened we're all gun shy on strangers, but get off your hind legs. They're not moving into my house, after all."
Malloy snorted loudly enough that anyone with normal hearing would turn to look, so I did.
"Is there a problem, Mayor Kircher?" I asked, showing polite concern. Mrs. Fleming's youngest had on his best Sunday-go-to-church manners and butter, had I been able to tolerate it, wouldn't melt in my mouth.
"Sheriff Malloy wants to know where you'll be staying while you're in town."
"Hadn't thought of it. Miss Smythe is with the Iversons, they insisted. I saw a hotel on the way in. Mr. Escott and I can hang our hats there. We can't stay long. I've got to get back to my business."
"Which is?" growled Malloy.
He was never going to like me, but by now I was used to some people being that way. I didn't know if they were reacting to me or if on an unconscious level they sensed the vampire side and it scared them. It didn't matter, and there was no point antagonizing him. In Chicago I might have given him the wiseacre treatment, but being on his patch obligated me to show a respect and hope it was enough. I pulled out my wallet and offered a red business card with white lettering that declared Lady Crymsyn, Chicago's Top Nightspot. In smaller letters were the address and phone number.
Malloy was unimpressed. "Your name's not on it."
"I can write it on the back if you like." I kept to an even tone of voice, but it was a struggle. "Mr. Mayor, I expect you have a lot to look after right now."
Kircher grabbed the opening. "You're right, I need to get to it. You boys go on and do what you do."
"What would that be?" asked Malloy.
I shrugged. "Escott's the detective, I'm just along for the ride. He'll want to see if Duvert left papers that could trace him. I don't expect much. Con artists might avoid keeping records."
"I want to see everything he finds."
"No problem. He'll welcome your experience." I'd have to warn Escott to smile and pretend to like it. "I'll see where he's gotten to, excuse me, gentlemen."
I thought I was laying it on too thick, but Kircher didn't seem to notice and to Malloy it wouldn't matter. Escott was down the hall, just coming from the kitchen in the back.
"Do not open the icebox," he warned.
"Never occurred to me. What's wrong with it?"
"Duvert never bought ice. What was there melted away weeks ago."
I marveled that the mayor had such a big house but no refrigerator. That might change if his wife got a whiff of the rotted food. The odor that rushed out when Escott checked the box was all over the kitchen and spreading. I regretted taking in air to talk.
"Is the local constabulary cooperating?" he asked. "He did not look amused."
"Kircher's keeping him in line, but let's not push it."
"Very well. I was going to check the study next."
"I'll do the basement. Duvert would have slept down there."
The entry was from the hall, not the kitchen, as I found when I opened a door on steps leading into absolute darkness. I balked and, unable to control the reaction, backed up a step. Just under four months ago I had a bad experience in a basement. It left the kind of scars you don't see on the outside. Had they been visible I thought I'd look like that picture Dorian Gray kept so well hidden. Of course, his deformities of soul were his own fault, mine were from bad luck and occasional lunacy.
Escott didn't know about that incident, even Bobbi didn't know, and I wasn't going to tell them. They didn't need the nightmares; I didn't need them seeing me as a grotesque cripple in want of a cage and keeper.
But Escott was aware that I didn't like walking into dark rooms. Granted, with my night eyes that didn't happen often, but without any scrap of light to work with I was as blind as the next guy. "The wall switch is on the outside," he said, flicking it.
The dark vanished, along with my perfectly rational qualms.
"I"ll keep watch so you're not interrupted," he said.
Damn him. He'd picked up that I was wobbly. I should get more exercise and cod liver oil. I'd have to settle for exercise.
The stairs were properly finished with a rail on both walls. The walls seemed to press in, the space between narrowing, but that was just an illusion as I descended. Someone had painted them white a long time ago and it had yellowed. Smaller someones had used the unbroken expanses for artwork; crayon drawings covered the walls on both sides under the rails. I could imagine the mayor's kids sitting on each step and patiently drawing horses, dogs, planes, and self-portraits. Their indulgent parents had not scrubbed any of it away.
All right, if a pack of five year olds could do that, then a grown up vampire could walk down and brave the rest of the place.
Kircher's basement was a lot nicer than Escott's. The walls were plastered, the floor was a checkerboard of black and white linoleum that had been kept polished and there were plenty of lights. It was either above the water table or he had a first rate sump pump keeping things dry.
At one time it had been a playroom for the kids. Miniature furniture, long outgrown, crowded one corner, dusty and waiting for the next generation to put in a claim. The main part of the wide, low room was for storage, same as any other basement. A few rows of folding chairs leaned against a wall. Apparently those were brought up for social events held in the big house. Rolled rugs lay on top.
The center of the room had been cleared, presumably to make space for Duvert's traveling trunk and home earth. That one was still in the panel truck he'd taken on the hunt for his runaway bride. A second trunk of similar size remained here, and that would hold his spare clothes and papers.
It was open, which was odd. Not knowing when he'd be back, he should have closed and locked up. Come to think of it, why hadn't the basement door been locked? That was careless.
I started to call up to Escott, but the intake of breath to do it. . .son of a bitch.
Old, but not too old, though there was a stinking thread of decomposition in it. In the silence I became aware of flies buzzing.
My first thought was that Duvert had drained some luckless citizen and left behind a body that he'd deal with after the trip. With the hypnotic hold the bastard had exerted on the town of Belford that would be easy as hell.
Checking the floor, in case there were spots to avoid, I came around the trunk.
The man lay face up, arms spread wide. He wore a suit, but the coat and shirt were open and his undershirt pulled up to his arm pits. His eyes were open and long faded to a milky glaze. His mouth sagged as though to speak, but other than that he almost looked peaceful.
Next to the body was a heavy mallet and scattered around were dozens of wrapped packs of banknotes, thousands and thousands of dollars.
Sticking straight up from his blood caked chest was a wooden stake about two feet long.
It looked as though it had been rammed right through to the linoleum.
Yeah, I rocked back on my heels from shock, anyone would. I knew the guy, had been talking to him just a couple nights ago and for a second I could not take it in. You know it's real, you don't want it to be real, and the picture of it is going to be in your head forever.
So I looked anyplace else but at the body and that's when I saw an amorphous dark gray blob hanging in mid air in a far corner from the lights. It shifted the way shadows don't. There was nothing visible casting that shadow.
I stared for a long time at the unnatural thing, forgetting about the body at my feet, stared and was silent. I didn't know what to do or think.
Then it began moving slowly, seeming to feel its way along the wall like a blind thing. It made the opening to the stairs, hovered there as though getting bearings, then flowed quickly upward.
That got me going. I hurried after, watching in fascination as it made the top with me tiptoeing as close as I dared. It almost brushed against Escott, but avoided him and continued down the hall.
Escott saw me emerge from the basement and reacted to whatever look was on my face.
I shook my head, one hand up in warning, and followed the grayness. It bumbled into the kitchen and with hideous speed slipped through the back door. I was there in an instant, vanished and shot past its resistance, re-forming outside on the steps.
The thing kept going and was much harder to see in the open. I could only track a hint of movement as it bowled along fast as a running man. I followed, dimly aware of Escott banging out the back door in my wake.
It swept across the dark street, going between houses. I couldn't tell if it knew I was behind, but that didn't seem likely. I almost caught up but the thing suddenly paused and rose high. I knew what was next and ducked under the thick foliage of a tree to hide. It couldn't see me, but then I couldn't see it.
After a five count, I risked a check. The sky was empty now.
Escott came pounding up, puffing from the dash.
"What?" he asked.
I growled a curse and suddenly knew how Sheriff Malloy felt about interlopers.
I gave him a disgusted look. "There's body in the basement. He's been staked in the heart."
He gaped at me.
"But that's not the worst of it."
"And that would be. . . ?" he finally said.
"We got us another goddamned vampire."
To be continued . . .but only with your help!