I would miss Judge Judy today, which was always a damn shame. Judge Judy should be required viewing for anyone without a backbone. Tough woman. Fair woman. Scary woman.
My kind of woman.
Instead, I found myself being escorted by a young cop with perhaps the third- or fourth-cutest buns I’d ever seen. I ranked his buns right behind Rand’s, the UPS driver who’d turned out to be a vampire hunter. Officer Cute Buns led me down a hall that ended up being far too short. I had just barely started ogling him when he turned to me, smiled and motioned for me to enter.
I did so, smiling in return, and I think I might have—just might have—had me some smiling sex.
Whatever that was.
Waiting inside was, of course, Detective Sherbet. I knew he would be waiting for me because he’d called and asked me to come down and meet with him. I also knew he was inside because I could smell the bag of donuts from the hallway.
Who I wasn’t expecting was the tall guy sitting opposite the detective. He was tall and dark-haired and sporting shoulders nearly as wide as Kingsley’s. Nearly.
“Detective,” I said to Sherbet, who made no attempt to stand. Rude. Then again, the old detective had been gaining a little bit of weight these days, and he was veritably poured into that chair.
I heard that, he thought, telepathically catching my thoughts. The detective, among a small handful of others in my life, could read my thoughts...and I, theirs. I might have put on a little holiday weight.
It’s the summer, Detective. And there’s no ‘might have’ about it. I’m a trained observer.
Well, the Fourth of July is a big deal in the Sherbet household.
I grinned. He didn’t, although he did look down at his growing belly.
“I didn’t bring you in here to judge me,” said the detective.
“Excuse me?” said the other gentleman, who had been looking at me, but now snapped his head around to glance over at Sherbet.
Sherbet, unfortunately, still hadn’t quite gotten the hang of telepathic communication with someone like me. The old guy would occasionally blurt his thoughts, rather than think them. Rookie.
“Nothing,” said Sherbet. He motioned to the partially masticated pink donut with rainbow sprinkles. “Samantha Moon likes to give me a hard time about my donuts.”
“I didn’t say anything, Detective,” I said, shrugging innocently.
“You didn’t have to...now, let’s cut the crap. Samantha, this is Detective Sanchez from the Los Angeles Police Department.”
He stood like a true gentleman, reached over and shook my hand with a firm but soft grip. His grip told me a lot: confident, warm, comfortable with himself. Most important: human.
I’d had my hand in my jeans pocket where I had been holding a hand warmer. Yes, a hand warmer. They sold them at the local market...and they did wonders for creatures like me. If I knew a handshake was imminent, I could pop one of these open, grip it in my pocket...and shake hands with confidence.
Sherbet asked me to have a seat, and I did, next to Sanchez.
“Boy,” I said. “Two big, bad homicide detectives and just little ol’ me. I feel honored.”
“Cut the crap, Sam,” said Sherbet. “We’re going to need you on this one.”
Sanchez listened to this exchange and smiled. An easy smile. Friendly. But there was a strength to his jaw, and the way his forearms rippled as he moved slightly. He sported a thick, gold wedding ring. He said, “You were a federal agent, Ms. Moon?”
“Call me Samantha. And yes. For a few years.”
“You’re too young to retire. Sorry if I’m prying. Call it occupational spillover. Sometimes, I can’t stop asking questions.”
I nodded. I understood completely. I said, “I developed a...condition.”
“A condition that kept you from working as a federal agent?”
“No. A condition that kept me out of the sun. It’s called xeroderma pigmentosum and it’s a bitch.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. And here we dragged you out into the sun. My apologies.” Sanchez’s concern was real as he leaned forward and looked from me to Sherbet. “I hadn’t known. I would have met you at your home, or anywhere that you were more comfortable.”
I smiled at his sweetness. “It’s okay, Detective. I’ve learned to adapt.”
Truth was, six months ago, I’d adapted quite nicely, as I had then sported a medallion that enabled me to step out into the light of day. That the medallion had been buried under my skin was another story—or that a body-hopping demon had torn it from me...was, in the least, a horror story for another day, too.
Lots of stories, I thought.
Focus, Sam, came the detective’s thoughts.
I nodded to him as Sanchez said, “As long as you’re okay.”
“Oh, I’m fine, thank you,” I said. “So, how can I help you, gentlemen?”
Detective Sherbet looked at me for a long moment. Then he looked at Sanchez, who was looking down at his hands.
“Either someone starts talking about the case, or I’m going to start knocking heads,” I said.
That seemed to break the ice. Sanchez chuckled. Sherbet might have grinned. Finally, the handsome LAPD homicide detective said, “We think we have a serial killer on our hands.”
There was, of course, no reason why two experienced homicide detectives would be talking to me, a lowly private eye, about a serial killer. Homicide detectives, in general, didn’t look favorably upon us. We were seen as a nuisance, amateurish. There was, of course, only one reason why I had been called in. Something wicked this way comes.
I had been called in on such a case last year. Sherbet and I eventually caught the bastards behind what had turned out to be a blood ring. Right, a blood ring. For vampires. Sherbet, of course, no longer had any memory of my involvement in the case, thanks to Detective Hanner, a fellow creature of the night who had been overseeing—and concealing—the bloody enterprise for many years. Thanks to her otherworldly ability to remove and replace memories, most of the department—and anyone involved in the case, for that matter—believed that only one man had been behind the killings. The fact that the bodies had been drained of all blood had never made it into police reports or autopsy reports. Any connections to vampires had been removed from documentation. Sherbet himself was remembering more and more of the case, thanks to my help. But much was forgotten and would, undoubtedly, remain forgotten.
Now, I looked at Sherbet and thought: How much did you tell him about me?
Sherbet held my gaze then finally looked away. Everything, Sam. Everything.
“Sam, he agreed to have his memory removed. About you, about vampires. Everything.”
Sanchez nodded, although he kept staring at me. “Whatever it takes to catch the bastard killing these people. That is, of course, if you really are a, you know...”
“A vampire,” I said.
“Yeah, that.” And now, Sanchez looked a little uncomfortable.
He should look uncomfortable. Either he was surrounded by a lot of craziness, or he was sitting next to something that, had I lost my grip on it, would like nothing more than to drink from his writhing body.
Jesus, Sam, came Sherbet’s thoughts. Dial it down a little. You’re scaring even me.
I’m pissed, Detective.
Don’t be pissed, Sam. Sanchez is a friend of mine. A good detective. No, a great detective. He’s dealing with something he doesn’t understand. You can see how willing he is to find the killer. He’ll do whatever it takes.
Still, I fumed. My life was difficult enough as it was, without the world knowing what I was. I drummed my longish, pointed nails along the wooden arm of the guest chair.
“So, it’s true, then,” said Sanchez, watching me carefully. God, I hated to be watched carefully.
“Maybe,” I said.
“I told him everything, Sam,” said Sherbet. “No need to be evasive.”
I sighed. “Fine,” I said. “I’m a blood-sucking creature of the night. Hide your kids and all that.” I raised my clawed fingers half-heartedly like the vampire in the silent movie, Nosferatu. “Rawr.”
Sanchez laughed lightly, hesitantly, undoubtedly not sure what to make of all of this. He never took his eyes off me. Hell, if I were him, I wouldn’t take my eyes off me, either. It wasn’t often that someone met a freak like me.
“You’re not a freak,” said Sherbet, picking up my thoughts like a freak himself.
“Like hell I’m not,” I said.
“Am I missing something here?” asked Sanchez.
“Sorry,” said Sherbet. “Sam and I can sort of, ah...”
“Sort of what?”
“Read each other’s minds,” said Sherbet, and he suddenly looked like he wished he was having any other conversation but this one.
“Trust me. I wish I was.”
Sanchez thought about that—or tried to—then looked back at me. “I’ve never met a vampire before.”
“That you know of.”
“Do they all look like you?”
“Short, cute, spunky?”
Sanchez grinned. “Something like that.”
“We look like you, Detective, until you look a little deeper.”
“Your skin is pale,” he said. “Your nails...they’re pointed.”
“Very good, Detective. Anything else?”
“Your eyes. They are...never mind.”
“They’re what?” I needed to know this. I’d seen vampire eyes—Hanner’s eyes. And they were wild and not very human.
“You don’t blink very much,” said Sanchez, but I knew he was holding back. He wanted to say more.
“My eyes look cold,” I said. “Don’t they?”
He held my gaze, studying me, looking deeply into me. “Yes.”
“Like a killer’s eyes?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Like I’m not all there?”
“Yes,” he said again. He held my gaze. He didn’t shy away.
I sighed. When had the change in my eyes happened? I didn’t know. Maybe it had happened the instant I had turned. Then again, I wouldn’t know since I hadn’t seen my eyes in more than seven years.
They don’t look that creepy, Sam, thought Sherbet.
Thanks, Detective. But maybe you’re just used to them.
Or maybe we’re all nuts.
Have they changed to you, Detective? I mean, recently?
I haven’t noticed—
He sighed, look at me again, looked deep into my eyes, and thought, Yes, Sam. They’ve changed recently. Darker, perhaps.
I wouldn’t go that far.
“You guys are doing it again, aren’t you?” asked Sanchez. “That whole teleport thing.”
“Telepathy,” I said, winking. “Get it straight.”
He gave me a crooked smile. A handsome smile.
A married smile, added Sherbet. His wife is a bit nuts. She would take you on, vampire or not. And she just might win.
I almost grinned. Yes, someone wanted the world to know that Detective Sanchez was married. I was guessing the psycho wife. After all, he sported a thick, gold band that could have been seen from the Russian Space Station.
Sanchez said, “So, you’re really a vampire?”
“That’s what it says on the tombstone over my grave.”
Sanchez might have smiled. Mostly, he kept his considerable stare on me. I was noticing more and more how he was making the small office even smaller. Either that, or Sherbet was bigger than I thought.
Hey, Sherbet thought.
I grinned, and said to Sanchez, “Tell me about your case.”
He said, “Better I show you.”
We were driving.
While we drove, I looked through Detective Sanchez’s police file. In particular, I studied photos of the bodies. Two women. Both with grisly wounds to their necks. Not so much bitten as torn.
“Who found the bodies?” I asked.
“The same hikers?”
“No. Two different hikers. Two different days. But the bodies were left on the same trail.”
“Or killed on the same trail.”
“That, too,” said Sanchez.
We were winding our way through heavy traffic along the I-5. It was past seven p.m. and the sun had set and I was feeling damn good.
Sanchez glanced at me. “You look a little different.”
I was intrigued. “Different how?”
He studied me for a heartbeat longer, then looked forward again like a good boy—or a good cop—keeping his eyes on the road. “I dunno. You have more color in your face. You seem...”
“Cops don’t say words like peppier.”
“Sure they don’t.”
We drove some more. I continued studying the photos of the two dead women. I searched for a psychic hit but found none. What kind of a psychic hit, I didn’t know. Hell, I would have taken anything: a face, a name, a distorted image. However, nothing came to me.
“You know a friend of mine,” said Sanchez, as he pulled off onto Los Feliz Boulevard—along with about half of Southern California.
“Well, he’s not so much a friend but a great admirer of mine.”
I groaned. “Knighthorse.”
“How did you know?”
“Because you two are the cockiest sons-of-bitches I’ve ever met.”