From a Work in Progress:
Detective Ware stepped back so fast he almost jumped. I looked down at my hand in his. I had not even noticed his taking it. He dropped it.
I looked at the woman he’d addressed as Belinda expecting to see raging jealousy on her face but saw only…confusion.
“James? What are you doing here and who is…”
As I watched, here eyes drifted downward then widened. Her face went pale.
“What in God’s creation is that?” She pointed at the vampire corpse on the floor.
“It’s a vampire!” Liz said.
I winced. This was getting too complicated.
“I see what it is!” Belinda screamed. “It’s a dead body. Why is there a dead body in my living room?”
I looked at Ware. He was not going to like this but I had no choice.
“Miss,” I said, my voice sharp. “Belinda!”
She turned to face me, fury raging across her face, her mouth open to shout. My eyes met hers. I Pushed.
“Please, have a seat.” I Pushed through my words. Confusion replaced fury on her face. I pointed to a chair. “Please. This can be explained but it will take some time.”
She lurched like a sleepwalker to the chair and sat.
Ware stared at me. “What did you just do?”
“Something I inherited from my parents,” I said. “I can sometimes…influence people.” I rubbed my temples. “I’m going to have a beaut of a headache. It’s been too soon since…well, it doesn’t matter.”
“Influence,” Ware said. He looked at Liz. “And did you?”
I sighed. “I didn’t. I promise. If I had, do you think she’d be jumping up and down talking about vampires? No. I can’t do it often and I don’t unless I absolutely have to.”
“And you had to here?” He waved at his wife who still sat calmly in the chair.
“I’m sorry, detective, really I am, but you saw that she was about to have a full meltdown. I just…calmed things down a bit. No harm has been done. I’m just buying some time to figure out what to tell her.”
“But…” Liz waved her hands at the corpse. “Vampire.”
I looked at Ware and tilted my head to the side, my lips pressed thin. He sighed.
“Liz, sweetie, you can’t tell anybody about the vampire.”
“No ‘buts’ Liz. You can’t tell anyone. Police business.”
“But…vampires. They’re real.”
I sighed. “Yes, they’re real. And they’re secret. And they want to keep it that way.”
She started to speak and I held up a hand.
“A few times in the past, people became aware of the vampires. When that happened, the vampires started to kill. Not just feed, but kill and kill and kill. By the time they were done, a large portion of the population was dead, including anybody willing to admit to the existence of vampires. A generation later vampires were reduced to legends and the deaths attributed to a plague.”
I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered. I had seen Matei’s records of the event. He had never admitted it, but I did not doubt that he had been part of that slaughter. Whatever his behavior currently, I could never forget that he was a monster. I hated myself for allowing myself to like the creature, knowing what I know about him.
“There are never many vampires. There are several hundred thousand humans for every one of them. They cannot fight you openly so if they cannot prey on you in secret, they turn to terror. You cannot talk about this. Nobody would believe you but it would be worse if they did. Other vampires would come and they would kill your mother, your father, your friends, you, everyone you know.”
The throbbing in my head grew to the point of creating sparkles in my vision. I squeezed my eyes tight for a moment then looked at Belinda. The confusion on her face had transformed into shock. She had heard and processed my words to Liz.
“What should I do with your wife?” I asked Ware.
“Ex,” he said absently then shook his head. “You need to release her. You know how many rights you’re…”
I held up a hand. “Fine.”
I eased up on the push, pausing a moment to implant a suggestion that sitting and waiting was her own idea. Shock, I thought. Yes, shock at seeing the dead body and the blood. Close enough to the surface that only a slight nudge presented it as a reason to obey my earlier instructions.
I released the rest of the push and sighed. I still needed a handful of Tylenol but at least the sparkles had started to fade.
“What are you talking about?” Belinda rose to her feet like a wrathful deity and pointed a finger at me. “Vampires? In my house? Are you insane?”
“It’s real, Mom,” Liz said. “I saw the fangs and everything.”
Belinda turned the finger at Liz. “You stay silent, little girl”
“Silent. This is between me, your father, and his…”
I watched her search for the word she wanted to use.
“Consultant,” Ware said. “Ms. Herzeg is up from Nashville, consultant on the recent cult murders.”
“Is that what you were doing when I came in? Consulting?”
“Detective Ware got word that there was a possible threat against your family related to the cult. He called me about it and I was in a position to get here quicker. As it happened I was just in time to stop the attack on your daughter.” I compressed the time. No need to tell her about my handling of the body. “Ware arrived soon thereafter and saw how close we had come to losing your daughter. I guess it was an emotional moment.”
Ware sighed. “Belinda. There’s no reason for you to be…”
“Jealous? Of course not. We’re not married any more, are we?”
“No, but…” He pressed a hand to his face and bowed his head.
“Um, Detective?” I touched his arm. “We have more important things to deal with right now.”
He looked at me, a strange expression on his face. Frustration? Maybe regret?
“They’re still out there,” I said. “We’ve got to get your family safe.”
His face cleared immediately. All business once more. “Both of you need to pack up an overnight bag. I’ll have the department take you to a safe house.”
“I’m not going with your cop buddies.” Belinda set her hands on her hips. “It’s clear I can’t stay here. Do you know how much it’s going to cost to get this carpet cleaned? And the walls. God, how did you get blood on the walls? No, I’ll take Elizabeth to my mother’s.”
Ware looked at me, a question in his eyes. “Her mother lives in Fort Wayne.”
I nodded. “Should be okay. I haven’t heard of any activity there.”
“All right,” Ware said to his ex. “But you can’t tell anyone where you went, not even…”
“I know the drill,” Belinda snapped. I tried not to use the term harpy even in my own mind, but it was a challenge. “I was married to a cop for ten years. Don’t talk to anybody. We simply vanish until it’s safe to come back.”
“Three can keep a secret,” Liz said.
Ware chuckled. “If two are dead.”
“I’ll go pack, Dad.” She held out her arms. “Hugs.”
I suppressed the urge to smile. Divorced or not, Ware seemed to have a close relationship with his daughter.
As mother and daughter disappeared into the back of the house I touched Ware on the arm again. “You okay?”
“How are we going to explain this to the force?” He shook his head at the carnage. “God, if you’d just shot him or stabbed him, we could make a clear case of self defense but. Cutting his head off? The Prosecutor will be after your scalp. Hell, he’ll be after mine too.”
I held up a hand. “We don’t, explain anything that is. This isn’t the first vampire I’ve taken down by a long shot. The body? Well, while the beheading and garlic sewn into the mouth will have it permanently dead at sunrise, I’d feel much better with the body burned to ash. As for the blood., I’ll see if Matei can set up a very discrete cleaning crew.” I suppressed a giggle. “Do you think your ex would appreciate some new carpet? I don’t think anything is going to get this clean.”
“Are you shitting me?” Ware stared at me. “This is a crime scene. We can’t…”
I held up a hand and spoke softly. “This is a vampire. As far as the public, the force, and the prosecutor is concerned it never happened. It has to be that way.”
Ware let his head fall into his hands. “Disturbing crime scenes, moving and concealing bodies, what else are you going to have me doing before this is over?”
I frowned. Ware had been far to easy to convince. My frown deepened with suspicion. Matei, I thought, what did you do? Aloud, I merely offered an oblique answer to Ware’s question.
“Frankly, detective, I don’t think you want to know.”
I hoped this would be the worst we would have to do. I feared it was the least.