Chapter 4

Our table was nearly bumping up against the stage. The room was full of liquor and laughter, and a few faked screams as the vampire waiters moved around the tables. There was an undercurrent of fear. That peculiar terror that you get on roller coasters and at horror movies. Safe terror.

The lights went out. Screams echoed through the room, high and shrill. Real fear for an instant. Jean-Claude's voice came out of the darkness. "Welcome to Guilty Pleasures. We are here to serve you. To make your most evil thought come true."

His voice was silken whispers in the small hours of night. Damn, he was good.

"Have you ever wondered what it would be like to feel my breath upon your skin? My lips along your neck. The hard brush of teeth. The sweet, sharp pain of fangs. Your heart beating frantically against my chest. Your blood flowing into my veins. Sharing yourself. Giving me life. Knowing that I truly could not live without you, all of you."

Perhaps it was the intimacy of darkness; whatever, I felt as if his voice was speaking just for me, to me. I was his chosen, his special one. No, that wasn't right. Every woman in the club felt the same. We were all his chosen. And perhaps there was more truth in that than in anything else.

"Our first gentleman tonight shares your fantasy. He wanted to know how the sweetest of kisses would feel. He has gone before you to tell you that it is wondrous." He let silence fill the darkness, until my own heartbeat sounded loud. "Phillip is with us tonight."

Monica whispered, "Phillip!" A collective gasp ran through the audience, then a soft chanting began. "Phillip, Phillip . . ." The sound rose around us in the dark like a prayer.

The lights began to come up like at the end of a movie. A figure stood in the center of the stage. A white t-shirt hugged his upper body; not a muscleman, but well built. Not too much of a good thing. A black leather jacket, tight jeans and boots completed the outfit. He could have walked off any street. His thick, brown hair was long enough to sweep his shoulders.

Music drifted into the twilit silence. The man swayed to the sounds, hips rotating ever so slightly. He began to slip out of leather jacket, moving almost in slow motion. The soft music seemed to have a pulse. A pulse that his body moved with, swaying. The jacket slid to the stage. He stared out at the audience for a minute letting us see what there was to see. Scars hugged the bend of each arm, until the skin had formed white mounds of tissue.

I swallowed hard. I wasn't sure what was about to happen, but was betting I wasn't going to like it.

He swept back his long hair from his face with both hands. He swayed and strutted around the edge of the stage. He stood near table, looking down at us. His neck looked like a junkie's.

I had to look away. All those neat little bite marks, neat little scars. I glanced up and found Catherine staring at her lap. Monica leaning forward in her chair, lips half-parted.

He grabbed the t-shirt with strong hands and pulled. It peeled away from his chest, ripping. Screams from the audience. A few of them called his name. He smiled. The smile was dazzling, brilliant melt-in-your-mouth sexy.

There was scar tissue on his smooth, bare chest: white scars, pinkish scars, new scars, old scars. I just sat staring with my mouth open.

Catherine whispered, "Dear God!"

"He's wonderful, isn't he?" Monica asked.

I glanced at her. Her flared collar had slipped, exposing two neat puncture wounds, fairly old, almost scars. Sweet Jesus.

The music burst into a pulsing violence. He danced, swaying, gyrating, throwing the strength of his body into every move. There a white mass of scars over his left collarbone, ragged and vicious. My stomach tightened. A vampire had torn through his collarbone, ripped at him like a dog with a piece of meat. I knew, because I had a similar scar. I had a lot of similar scars.

Dollar bills appeared in hands like mushrooms after a rain. Monica was waving her money like a flag. I didn't want Phillip at our table. I had to lean into Monica to be heard over the noise.

"Monica, please, don't bring him over here."

Even as she turned to look at me, I knew it was too late. Phillip of the many scars was standing on the stage, looking down at us. I stared up into his very human eyes.

I could see the pulse in Monica's throat. She licked her lips; her eyes were enormous. She stuffed the money down the front of his pants.

Her hands traced his scars like nervous butterflies. She leaned her face close to his stomach and began kissing his scars, leaving red lipstick prints behind. He knelt as she kissed him, forcing her mouth higher and higher up his chest.

He knelt, and she pressed lips to his face. He brushed his hair back from his neck, as if he knew what she wanted. She licked the newest bite scar, tongue small and pink, like a cat. I heard her breath go out in a trembling sigh. She bit him, mouth locking over the wound. Phillip jerked with pain, or just surprise. Her jaws tightened, her throat worked. She was sucking the wound.

I looked across the table at Catherine. She was staring at them, face blank with astonishment.

The crowd was going wild, screaming and waving money. Phillip pulled away from Monica and moved on to another table. Monica slumped forward, head collapsing into her lap, arms limp at her side.

Had she fainted? I reached out to touch her shoulder and realized I didn't want to touch her. I gripped her shoulder gently. She moved, turning her head to look at me. Her eyes held that lazy fullness that sex gives. Her mouth looked pale with most of the lipstick worn away. She hadn't fainted; she was basking in the afterglow.

I drew back from her, rubbing my hand against my jeans. My palms were sweating.

Phillip was back on the stage. He had stopped dancing. He was just standing there. Monica had left a small round mark on his neck.

I felt the first stirrings of an old mind, flowing over the crowd. Catherine asked, "What's happening?"

"It's all right," Monica said. She was sitting upright in her chair, eyes still half-closed. She licked her lips and stretched, hands over her head.

Catherine turned to me. "Anita, what is it?"

"Vampire," I said.

Fear flashed on her face, but it didn't last. I watched the fear fade under the weight of the vampire's mind. She turned slowly to stare at Phillip as he waited on the stage. Catherine was in no danger. This mass hypnosis was not personal, and not permanent.

The vampire wasn't as old as Jean-Claude, nor as good. I sat there feeling the press and flow of over a hundred years of power, and it wasn't enough. I felt him move up through the tables. He had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure the poor humans wouldn't see him come. He would simply appear in their midst, like magic.

You don't get to surprise vampires often. I turned to watch the vampire walk towards the stage. Every human face I saw was enraptured, turned blindly to the stage, waiting. The vampire was tall with high cheekbones, model-perfect, sculpted. He was too masculine to be beautiful, and too perfect to be real.

He strode through the tables wearing a proverbial vampire outfit, black tux and white gloves. He stopped one table away from me, to stare. He held the audience in the palm of his mind, helpless and waiting. But there I sat staring at him, though not at his eyes.

His body stiffened, surprised. There's nothing like ruining the calm of a hundred-year-old vampire to boost a girl's morale.

I looked past him to see Jean-Claude. He was staring at me. I saluted him with my drink. He acknowledged it with a nod of his head.

The tall vampire was standing beside Phillip. Phillip's eyes were as blank as any human's. The spell or whatever drifted away. With a thought he awoke the audience, and they gasped. Magic.

Jean-Claude's voice filled the sudden silence. "This is Robert. Welcome him to our stage."

The crowd went wild, applauding and screaming. Catherine was applauding along with everyone else. Apparently, she was impressed.

The music changed again, pulsing and throbbing in the air, almost painfully loud. Robert the vampire began to dance. He moved with a careful violence, pumping to the music. He threw his white gloves into the audience. One landed at my feet. I left it there.

Monica said, "Pick it up."

I shook my head.

Another woman leaned over from another table. Her breath smelled like whiskey. "You don't want it?"

I shook my head.

She got up, I suppose to get the glove. Monica beat her to it. The woman sat down, looking unhappy.

The vampire had stripped, showing a smooth expanse of chest. He dropped to the stage and did fingertip push-ups. The audience went wild. I wasn't impressed. I knew he could bench press a car, if he wanted to. What's a few pushups compared to that?

He began to dance around Phillip. Phillip turned to face him, arms outspread, slightly crouched, as if he were ready for an attack. They began circling each other. The music softened until it was only a soft underscoring to the movements on stage.

The vampire began to move closer to Phillip. Phillip moved as if trying to run from the stage. The vampire was suddenly there, blocking his escape.

I hadn't seen him move. The vampire had just appeared in front of the man. I hadn't seen him move. Fear drove all the air from my body in an icy rush. I hadn't felt the mind trick, but it had happened.

Jean-Claude was standing only two tables away. He raised one pale hand in a salute to me. The bastard had been in my mind, and I hadn't known it. The audience gasped, and I looked back to the stage.

They were both kneeling; the vampire had one of Phillip's arms pinned behind his back. One hand gripped Phillip's long hair, pulling his neck back at a painful angle.

Phillip's eyes were wide and terrified. The vampire hadn't put him under. He wasn't under! He was aware and scared. Dear God. He was panting, his chest rising and falling in short gasps.

The vampire looked out at the audience and hissed, fangs flashing in the lights. The hiss turned the beautiful face to something bestial. His hunger rode out over the crowd. His need so intense, it made my stomach cramp.

No, I would not feel this with him. I dug fingernails into the palm of my hand and concentrated. The feeling faded. Pain helped. I opened my shaking fingers and found four half-moons that slowly filled with blood. The hunger beat around me, filling the crowd, but not me, not me.

I pressed a napkin to my hand and tried to look inconspicuous.

The vampire drew back his head.

"No," I whispered.

The vampire struck, teeth sinking into flesh. Phillip shrieked, and it echoed in the club. The music died abruptly. No one moved. You could have dropped a pin.

Soft, moist sucking sounds filled the silence. Phillip began to moan, high in his throat. Over and over again, small helpless sounds.

I looked out at the crowd. They were with the vampire, feeling his hunger, his need, feeling him feed. Maybe sharing Phillip's terror, I didn't know. I was apart from it, and glad.

The vampire stood, letting Phillip fall to the stage, limp, unmoving. I stood without meaning to. The man's scarred back convulsed in a deep, shattering breath, as if he were fighting back from death. And maybe he was.

He was alive. I sat back down. My knees felt weak. Sweat covered my palms and stung the cuts on my hand. He was alive, and he enjoyed it. I wouldn't have believed it if someone had told me. I would have called them a liar.

A vampire junkie. Surely to God, I'd seen everything now.

Jean-Claude whispered, "Who wants a kiss?"

No one moved for a heartbeat; then hands, holding money, raised here and there. Not many, but a few. Most people looked confused, as if they had woken from a bad dream. Monica was holding money up.

Phillip lay where he had been dropped, chest rising and falling.

Robert the vampire came to Monica. She tucked money down his pants. He pressed his bloody, fanged mouth to her lips. The kiss was long and deep, full of probing tongues. They were tasting each other.

The vampire drew away from Monica. Her hands at his neck tried to draw him back, but he pulled away. He turned to me. I shook my head and showed him empty hands. No money here, folks.

He grabbed for me, snake-quick. No time to think. My chair crashed to the floor. I was standing, just out of reach. No ordinary human could have seen him coming. The jig, as they say, was up.

A buzz of voices raised through the audience as they tried to figure out what had happened. Just your friendly neighborhood animator, folks, nothing to get excited about. The vampire was still staring at me.

Jean-Claude was suddenly beside me, and I hadn't seen him come. "Are you all right, Anita?"

His voice held things that the words didn't even hint at. Promises whispered in darkened rooms, under cool sheets. He sucked me under, rolled my mind like a wino after money, and it felt good. Crash - Shrill - Noise thundered through my mind, chased the vampire out, held him at bay.

My beeper had gone off. I blinked and staggered against our table. He reached out to steady me. "Don't touch me," I said.

He smiled. "Of course."

I pushed the button on my beeper to silence it. Thank you God, that I hung the beeper on my waistband instead of stuffing it in a purse. I might never have heard it otherwise. I called from the phone at the bar. The police wanted my expertise at the Hillcrest Cemetery. I had to work on my night off. Yippee, and I meant it.

I offered to take Catherine with me, but she wanted to stay. Whatever else you can say about vampires, they are fascinating. It went with the job description, like drinking blood and working nights. It was her choice.

I promised to come back in time to drive them home. Then I picked up my cross from the holy item check girl and slipped it inside my shirt.

Jean-Claude was standing by the door. He said, "I almost had you, my little animator."

I glanced at his face and quickly down. "Almost doesn't count, you blood-sucking bastard."

Jean-Claude threw back his head and laughed. His laughter followed me out into the night, like velvet rubbing along my spine.

Chapter 5

The coffin lay on its side. A white scar of claw marks ran down the dark varnish. The pale blue lining, imitation silk, was sliced and gouged. One bloody handprint showed plainly; it could almost have been human. All that was left of the older corpse was a shredded brown suit, a finger bone gnawed clean and a scrap of scalp. The man had been blond.

A second body lay perhaps five feet away. The man's clothes were shredded. His chest had been ripped open, ribs cracked like eggshells. Most of his internal organs were gone, leaving his body cavity like a hollowed-out log. Only his face was untouched. Pale eyes stared impossibly wide up into the summer stars.

I was glad it was dark. My night vision is good, but darkness steals color. All the blood was black. The man's body was lost in the shadows of the trees. I didn't have to see him, unless I walked up to him. I had done that. I had measured the bite marks with my trusty tape measure. With my little plastic gloves I had searched the corpse over, looking for clues. There weren't any.

I could do anything I wanted to the scene of the crime. It had already been videotaped and snapped from every possible angle. I was always the last "expert" called in. The ambulance was waiting to take the bodies away, once I was finished.

I was about finished. I knew what had killed the man. Ghouls. I had narrowed the search down to a particular kind of undead. Bully for me. The coroner could have told them that.

I was beginning to sweat inside the coverall I had put on to protect my clothes. The coverall was originally for vampire stakings, but I had started using it at crime scenes. There were black stains at the knees and down the legs. There had been so much blood in the grass. Thank you, dear God, that I didn't have to see this in broad daylight.

I don't know why seeing something like this in daylight makes it worse, but I'm more likely to dream about a daylight scene. The blood is always so red and brown and thick.

Night softens it, makes it less real. I appreciated that.

I unzipped the front of my coverall, letting it gape open around my clothes. The wind blew against me, amazingly cool. The air smelled of rain. Another thunderstorm was moving this way.

The yellow police tape was wrapped around tree trunks, strung through bushes. One yellow loop went around the stone feet of an angel. The tape flapped and cracked in the growing wind. Sergeant Rudolf Storr lifted the tape and walked towards me.

He was six-eight and built like a wrestler. He had a brisk, striding walk. His close-cropped black hair left his ears bare. Dolph was the head of the newest task force, the spook squad. Officially, it was the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team, R-P-I-T, pronounced rip it. It handled all supernatural-related crime. It wasn't exactly a step up for his career. Willie McCoy had been right; the task force was a half-hearted effort to placate the press and the liberals.

Dolph had pissed somebody off, or he wouldn't have been here. But Dolph, being Dolph, was determined to do the best job he could. He was like a force of nature. He didn't yell, he was just there, and things got done because of it.

"Well," he said.

That's Dolph, a man of many words. "It was a ghoul attack."


I shrugged. "And there are no ghouls in this cemetery."

He stared down at me, face carefully neutral. He was good at that, didn't like to influence his people. "You just said it was a ghoul attack."

"Yes, but they came from somewhere outside the cemetery."


"I have never known of any ghouls to travel this far outside their own cemetery." I stared at him, trying to see if he understood what I was saying.

"Tell me about ghouls, Anita." He had his trusty little notebook out, pen poised and ready.

"This cemetery is still holy ground. Cemeteries that have ghoul infestations are usually very old or have satanic or certain voodoo rites performed in them. The evil sort of uses up the blessing, until the ground becomes unholy. Once that happens, ghouls either move in or rise from the graves. No one's sure exactly which."

"Wait, what do you mean, that no one knows?"


He shook his head, staring at the notes he'd made, frowning. "Explain."

"Vampires are made by other vampires. Zombies are raised from the grave by an animator or voodoo priest. Ghouls, as far as we know, just crawl out of their graves on their own. There are theories that very evil people become ghouls. I don't buy that. There was a theory for a while that people bitten by a supernatural being, wereanimal, vampire, whatever, would become a ghoul. But I've seen whole cemeteries emptied, every corpse a ghoul. No way they were all attacked by supernatural forces while alive."

"All right, we don't know where ghouls come from. What do we know?"

"Ghouls don't rot like zombies. They retain their form more like vampires. They are more than animal intelligent, but not by much. They are cowards and won't attack a person unless she is hurt or unconscious."

"They sure as hell attacked the groundskeeper."

"He could have been knocked unconscious somehow."


"Someone would have had to knock him out."

"Is that likely?"

"No, ghouls don't work with humans, or any other undead. A zombie will obey orders, vampires have their own thoughts. Ghouls are like pack animals, wolves maybe, but a lot more dangerous. They wouldn't be able to understand working with someone. If you're not a ghoul, you're either meat or something to hide from."

"Then what happened here?"

"Dolph, these ghouls traveled quite a distance to reach this cemetery. There isn't another one for miles. Ghouls don't travel like that. So maybe, just maybe, they attacked the caretaker when he came to scare them off. They should have run from him; maybe they didn't."

"Could it be something, or someone, pretending to be ghouls?"

"Maybe, but I doubt it. Whoever it was, they ate that man. A human might do that, but a human couldn't tear the body apart like that. They just don't have the strength."


"Vampires don't eat meat."


"Maybe. There are rare cases where zombies go a little crazy and start attacking people. They seem to crave flesh. If they don't get it, they'll start to decay."

"I thought zombies always decayed."

"Flesh-eating zombies last a lot longer than normal. There's one case of a woman who is still human-looking after three years."

"They let her go around eating people?"

I smiled. "They feed her raw meat. I believe the article said lamb was preferred."


"Every career has its professional journal, Dolph."

"What's it called?"

I shrugged. "The Animator; what else?"

He actually smiled. "Okay. How likely is it that it's zombies?"

"Not very. Zombies don't run in packs unless they're ordered to."

"Even" - he checked his notes - "flesh-eating zombies?"

"There have only been three documented cases. All of them were solitary hunters."

"So, flesh-eating zombies, or a new kind of ghoul. That sum it up?"

I nodded. "Yeah."

"Okay, thanks. Sorry to interrupt your night off." He closed his notebook and looked at me. He was almost grinning. ""The secretary said you were at a bachelorette party." He wiggled his eyebrows. "Hoochie coochie."

"Don't give me a hard time, Dolph."

"Wouldn't dream of it."

"Riiight," I said. "If you don't need me anymore, I'll be getting back."

"We're finished, for now. Call me if you think of anything else."

"Will do." I walked back to my car. The bloody plastic gloves were shoved into a garbage sack in the trunk. I debated on the coveralls and finally folded them on top of the garbage sack. I might be able to wear them one more time.

Dolph called out, "You be careful tonight, Anita. Wouldn't want you picking up anything."

I glared back at him. The rest of the men waved at me and called in unison, "We loove you."

"Gimme a break."

One called, "If I'd known you liked to see naked men, we could have worked something out."

"The stuff you got, Zerbrowski, I don't want to see."

Laughter, and someone grabbed him around the neck. "She got you, man . . . Give it up, she gets you every time."

I got into my car to the sound of masculine laughter, and one offer to be my "luv" slave. It was probably Zerbrowski. Copyright 2016 - 2024