Garreth Mikaelian has an enemy … time. He thought he knew all about being a vampire after sixteen years. Now he realizes that while Time ignores him, he cannot ignore it. Around him everyone he knows is aging. The price of his existence is standing rooted while Time carries away everyone he cares about. Then he suddenly has more urgent matters to worry about, when chasing a lethal trio playing deadly blood games ends in a car crash and a death. Garreth finds himself racing to learn whether the trio’s leader is the centuries-old vampire he appears to be, and locate the suspects before other officers do…to be sure they are captured alive. Because if not yet vampires, they have drunk vampire blood — his, at the crash site — and if killed will rise again even more deadly, and unstoppable.
Later, Garreth Mikaelian wondered if he should have seen the pain coming. Ingrained police habits in him insisted that memory might just be revising itself in accordance with subsequent events, but having grown up around his Grandma Doyle and her Feelings, uncanny visions of the future, should he have sensed that his life was about to be ripped apart once again?
The evening certainly began inauspiciously, with a cold front permeating the Baumen Police Department headquarters. That despite being August and the temperature outside a stifling ninety-eight degrees. Voice flat, never looking up from her computer screen as she completed her final reports, Maggie Lebekov briefed Garreth on existing warrants and the activity occurring on her shift.
Then she disappeared into the locker room with her duty belt, reappeared a minute later carrying her shoulder bag, called, “Good night, Sue Ann,” to the Swing shift clerk/dispatcher, and disappeared into the short hallway between the locker room and Chief Danzig’s officeleading to the back entrance.
Pointedly excluding fellow officer and sometime lover Garreth Mikaelian. Though who could say he did not deserve it. Grimacing, he adjusted his own duty belt more comfortably on his hips and reached down for his briefcase sitting beside the desk.
“The thaw is later than usual this time ‘round.”
Garreth eyed Sue Ann Pfeifer over the top of his mirror-lensed glasses. “You’re keeping track?” A rhetorical question, of course. In towns the size of Baumen everyone lived in a show window.
Her plump face crinkled in a shameless grin. “What other office romance do we have to watch? And yours and Maggie’s is like a soap opera.” The telephone rang. “Police department. Oh, no…Again?… Of course. Baumen Four,” she said into her headset. “You go together, fight, break up, date other people– You’re needed at Hammond’s Greenhouses. Della Stott’s locked herself out of her car again. Then you two break up with them and get back together. Seven times in sixteen years.”
He stared at her. Sixteen years? A current of dismay trickled through him. That long? Somehow he never noticed how many years he had lived here.
She logged the call on her computer. “I asked Maggie why you keep doing this on/off, hot/cold, love/hate thing and she said that– Go ahead, Seven. Sorry, I can’t run any DL’s right now. The DMV files are down.” She scribbled on a note pad. “I’ll run it as soon as we’re up again. She said that while nobody understands her the way you do, why she wants to be a police officer even more than having a family–though you know, she could have the kids, too, if you two got married.”
He grimaced. “I’ve been married twice already. That’s enough.”
“Did you ever think the third time might be a charm? But anyway, Maggie says that what always ends up driving her crazy is you’re always so guarded and never give her more than a hint of what you’re feeling and thinking.”
Hearing the words he saw Maggie’s face, the hurt and anger in her eyes. He sighed. Maggie…if only I could tell you everything.
“I said that from what I’ve seen you never have a whole lot to say and can’t she just accept that you’re the Gary Cooper type? Why would she even want you to talk about painful stuff like your second wife dying, and waking up in the morgue after that psycho woman in San Francisco attacked you, and being responsible for your partner out there almost dying? And she said it isn’t the past stuff that bothers her but the now stuff, like why you’re always going out to the cemetery to the grave of that guy who used you and Ed Duncan for archery practice when you first came and why you’ve never taken her out to California to meet your family.” The phone rang. “Police department. Just a moment, please. Maybe she has a point. Why haven’t you ever taken her to meet your parents?”
“I’d better hit the street.” Carrying the briefcase, he headed for the rear entrance. “See you on the radio.”
Outside he slogged across the parking lot to his patrol car. Even this near sunset, daylight remained crushing. He opened the briefcase on the passenger seat and belted it in place, then started the car and turned on the radio. To the accompaniment of Sue Ann’s voice and traffic from Sheriff Offices in Bellamy and surrounding counties, he punched the row of rocker switches on the console between the seats and walked around the car checking his light bar and flashers, buzzed the siren, then made sure the shotgun was locked and loaded in its overhead rack.
But he ran the check automatically, his thoughts lingering on the conversation with Sue Ann. Why had he not let her meet his family? He grimaced, cold knotting his gut. Because that would reveal the lie he had been living here. That he came on false pretenses. He had claimed to be hunting his grandmother, Madelaine Bieber, born here but after leaving had his father out of wedlock and then abandoned the baby with her landlady. In reality he wanted Mada because living under the name Lane Barber, she had been the woman who attacked him in San Francisco. Dressed in men’s clothing, she had also been the archer who attacked him here. After killing her in self defense, he tampered with the evidence to conceal her identity. How could he tell Maggie that?
More…how could he reveal the real nightmare, that Lane had not merely tried to kill him in San Francisco but succeeded. He re-lived the red glow of her eyes in the darkness of that alley, the pain of her teeth tearing out his throat, his terror as he lay in his blood listening to his heart and breathing stumble to a halt.
A tilt of the rearview mirror reflected sandy hair and a thin face, a face that sixteen years had not aged, that in fact looked even younger than the twenty-eight years he had been when he came here. He pulled his glasses down his nose. Above the mirror lenses, his gray eyes caught the reflected rays from the setting sun coming in through the rear window. They flared red.
Most of all, how in the world could he tell Maggie that Mada/Lane had made him a vampire.
He shoved the glasses back in place and readjusted the mirror. A few people knew about him…his ex-partner Harry Takananda, and Harry’s wife Lien, who had accepted him without hesitation. His Grandma Doyle knew, too. Their love and understanding helped made his existence bearable. Could Maggie be like them? Down-to-earth Maggie, skeptical of ESP and UFOs and the supernatural? He could not bring himself to risk finding out.
Putting the car in gear he pulled out of the parking lot and east toward Kansas Avenue, Baumen’s main street. An easing of pressure signaled coming night. Clouds overhead glowed in a spectrum of reds, bright copper in the west darkening eastward to blood red.
He grimaced. My color. Even if Maggie accepted that vampires existed, would she believe the only blood he drank came in pint bottles labeled liquid protein health food. Bought by the carton from the Philos Foundation, an organization the public knew as a match service for organ donation and blood collector equal to the Red Cross.
He turned south on Kansas, into the thick of Friday night traffic. If he had not changed in sixteen years, neither had Baumen. The local teenagers wore different faces, drove different cars, but those in town on Friday and Saturday night still spent the evening cruising Kansas Avenue…south to the Pizza Hut, across the railroad tracks running down the middle of Kansas, north to the Sonic Drive-In, then back across the tracks and south again, honking horns at each other and calling back and forth between cars, with passengers sometimes jumping out at the two traffic lights to change cars.
He burped the siren in warning at a pair of vehicles ahead running abreast with a girl hanging out the passenger window of a car toward the pickup in the other lane. “Back in the car…and buckle up!”
The girl rolled her eyes but pulled back into her seat.
At the Pizza Hut corner he crossed the tracks along with everyone else and headed back up the other side of Kansas, one ear listening for his number on the radio. Leland Nancy, the newest addition to the department and one of the two officers working the Swing shift, requested car registration information. Sue Ann sent Ed Duncan, the other Swing officer, to take a car burglary complaint. A Bellamy County deputy called an open pasture gate into his office.
The sun slid below the horizon, but even with that release and his deep breath of relief, a sense of pressure lingered, disquiet prickling in his gut and along his spine. About Maggie? About time? Well, he would sort it out later.
Past the Sonic, the northbound lanes ended. But instead of crossing the tracks with the cruise traffic, he turned off, passed the railroad station, and swung into the sale barn parking lot.
The sale barn sat idle this time of night, but not its parking lot. The ritual here, too, remained untouched by time. Summer evenings it filled with pickups and horse trailers and riders warming up horses as they waited their turn to practice in the rodeo arena. They had just two more weeks before the county fair and rodeo down in Bellamy.
A calf scrambled for the far end of the arena with a horse and rider in pursuit, while in the field beyond several girls took turns barrel racing. Near the bleachers, a barrel suspended between four posts served as a practice bull, with four grinning cowboys making it buck by hauling on the attaching ropes.
Laughter and roans reached Garreth from the group at the barrel as the boy on it lost his grip and nose-dived into the surrounding mattresses.
A horse halted outside Garreth’s window…too close for him to see more than a bay shoulder and the rider’s leg, but he recognized the leg. “Evening, Nat.”
“How’s it going?”
Sweat darkened the hair around the leading edge of the saddle. Its acid scent and that of the horse drifted in through the window, strong enough to almost mask the blood scents of horse and rider.
Garreth’s disquiet sharpened. Lieutenant Nathan Toews had been Sergeant Toews when Garreth first came. The department had probably changed more than the rest of Baumen: personnel retiring, others promoted, new faces joining, blue uniforms replacing the old tan ones.
Another rider landed on the mattresses.
Garreth shook his head. “Those guys are crazy.”
“And you’re not?” Nat said. “Inviting the bulls to chase you?”
“Call it just more serving and protecting.” The increased speed and faster reflexes that came with being a vampire kept him well out of danger. Capering around in his comic sheriff’s costume, though, big plastic star on his chest, while he drew bulls away from fallen riders, gave him a chance to let loose, his physical prowess applauded rather than arousing envy or speculation. And it gave him a way to join a community activity, to feel, almost, that he belonged.
“Which only confirms that you’re crazy. Have a safe tour.” Nat legged the bay into a jog off across the parking lot.
Sue Ann’s voice came over the radio. “Baumen Five, we have a domestic at 230 South 3rd.”
Garreth groaned. The Snyders again! Give him a charging bull any time over that crazy old couple. He sighed, “Ten-four,” and put the car in gear.
For a change no screams or breaking crockery greeted his approach to the house. Their neighbor Alice Brede hovered near a tree in the front yard…probably the reporting party.
She rushed to meet him. “Thank goodness you’re here! He’s got a knife and he’s threatening to use it!”
Turnabout. Last time she had been waving the knife at him. “But Mrs. Snyder is all right so far?”
“Oh, he isn’t threatening Marilyn. I heard him yell that he’s going to kill himself and make a mess of the living room! That’s when I called you people.”
A change of venue, too. Usually they squared off in the kitchen.
Inside Mrs. Snyder’s voice sneered. “You won’t kill yourself. You can’t stand pain.”
Garreth pictured her with arms crossed over the generous bosom that together with her rosy-cheeked plumpness and white hair made her look, incongruously, like a Mrs. Santa Claus.
He peered through the front window. Mr. Snyder stood in the middle of the all-white living room with the point of a butcher knife against his throat. Bent with age but still near six feet tall, he glared through the strands of hair falling down his face. “I can take it if it’ll hurt you, you witch!”
Garreth tried the door. Unlocked. Gingerly, he pushed it open. In this situation he had legal entry and even as a vampire he had long ago secured free access to the house, but he still never touched a house door without remembering the searing agony barring him from entering a dwelling uninvited…and how Harry Takananda almost died because of it.
As he stepped into the hall the blood scents of the couple enveloped him: warm, salty, Snyder’s mixed with the acid tang of adrenalin. “Good evening, Mrs. Snyder. What seems to be the problem tonight?”
She stood in the archway between the hall and living room, arms folded. “Hello, Officer Mikaelian. Come and see this peckerwood make an even bigger fool of himself than usual!”
Garreth hung his glasses on his pocket. Having stepped on the land mine of this domestic situation, he needed every tool available to step off without detonating it.
Mr. Snyder shouted, “Go away!”
“Don’t pay any attention to him.” Mrs. Snyder smirked. “You come in, too, Alice. Three witnesses are even better than two.”
Garreth swore silently as Mrs. Brede followed him inside. An audience might make it impossible for Snyder to back down.
Already Garreth smelled a new charge of adrenalin in the blood scent from the old man.
Through the archway he saw Snyder’s grip tighten on the knife handle. “I’ll show you, you damned harpy!”
In one flash Garreth envisioned the point breaking the old man’s skin, followed by a yelp and the knife falling as pain startled him into releasing it. And if so much as a drop of blood touched that carpet, Mrs. Snyder would explode…probably turning on Officer Garreth Mikaelian, blaming him for the damage.
He stepped into the living room…positioning himself where he could watch both of the couple. “Mr. Snyder!” As Snyder focused down at him, Garreth stared into Snyder’s eyes. “Wait. We don’t want anyone hurt here.” The fixing of Snyder’s gaze told him he had control of the old man. “Listen to me. Put…down…the…knife.”
Snyder’s grip on the knife eased. He reached toward a table.
So far so good. But there remained Mrs. Snyder to neutralize, and strong-willed, she never yielded easily and never without hard eye contact.
Even as he turned toward her, though, she snorted in the laugh that preceded one of the barbs Leland Nancy had dubbed her coup de taunts. “That’s right…use any excuse that comes along to give up. Rather than be a man, you let this kid–”
“Mrs. Snyder!” Damn her! He caught her gaze. “Be…quiet! And stay right where you are!”
“You can’t talk to my wife–”
“Freeze, Snyder!” The motion in his peripheral vision halted. Adrenalin blasting icy hot through him, Garreth snapped back to Snyder…to the fury twisting the old man’s face, the foot sliding along the carpet in his direction…the hand frozen in the act of swinging forward with the knife. Garreth stared into Snyder’s eyes until he hoped the old man felt impaled. “Don’t…move…one…muscle!”
Snyder petrified until even his breathing seemed to stop.
Garreth wrenched the knife away. “What the f—” He caught imself…took control of his anger. “That was really really stupid! I might have shot you!” Cold washed him thinking of it…Snyder bleeding out on the carpet, the white room splattered with blood, Alice Brede screaming. The vision edged his voice in steel. “Put your hands behind your back!”
Moving mechanically, Snyder obeyed.
While Garreth slapped on the cuffs, he focused on Mrs. Snyder again. “Both of you listen to me! Mr. Snyder is going to jail, and it’s your fault, Mrs. Snyder. If you hadn’t opened your mouth this could have been resolved quietly. You think about that when your husband is in court charged with assaulting a law officer. I’m taking him out to the car now and you will not interfere. You will stand right there with Mrs. Brede and not move until I drive away.”
Every nerve alert, Garreth propelled Snyder out of the living room past Mrs. Snyder and the gaping neighbor.
He left the front door open so he could keep watching behind him. But Mrs. Snyder stood motionless, and when he had Snyder secured in the back seat and the patrol car in gear, Garreth breathed easily again.
With Snyder locked up for the night, the rest of the evening passed with routine calls, and brief amusement rescuing Duncan from a Rottweiler that had come over the fence from its own yard to tree him while he investigated a prowler complaint at the neighbor’s house. The dog quit snarling up the tree at Duncan to fling itself on its back at Garreth’s feet, tail stub a frantic metronome. Then it meekly followed him back to its own yard.
Duncan slid to the ground and brushed bark from his trousers. “Damn dog was jumping around so much I couldn’t hit it with the pepper spray. Cody is lucky, my cousin or not, I didn’t just shoot it. I don’t know why you won’t show the rest of us your trick for making animals and people roll over for you.”
Duncan and Nancy went off at midnight, leaving Garreth alone for the night. Cruise traffic had petered out when the fast food places closed. The few cars still parked along Kansas belonged to hard-core drinkers determined to close down the bars, the only businesses still open.
An office light still shone at Duerfeldt Chevrolet, however. Garreth pulled into the lot and tugged on the show room door. Locked. The light might have been left on accidentally. Still, he walked around the building checking each door and playing the beam of his flashlight across the ars in the rear lot. All seemed in order.
Back in front, Garreth found John Duerfeldt, the dealership owner, peering out of the show room. He unlocked the door, forehead smoothing. “I hoped from the car there it was you I heard walking around back.”
“You’re working late tonight.”
Duerfeldt grimaced. “Employer wage reports to the state. I need to move to a planet with, oh, a forty hour day.”
Garreth nodded in sympathy. “Do you know your car isn’t anywhere outside?”
“Today I’m driving a ‘Vette we got in trade and pulled it inside the garage.” He frowned. “While we have pretty good kids around here, I’m not so sure about the ones who come up from Bellamy and I hate to tempt them.” He cocked a brow at Garreth. “You ought to take this car for a test drive. You’d love it. Yeah it’s a ‘78, but it’s a T-top Indy Pace Car replica. One of just 6500 built.”
Only one car in the area fit that description. What would make Hal Landreth ever sell his beloved ‘Vette, symbol of recapturing his youth? “Is the engine blown?”
Duerfeldt grinned. “As a matter of fact, it has a new aluminum V-8, 375 horsepower. Mr. Landreth remarried and I guess started feeling more responsible. Anyway, he traded for a minivan.”
A minivan? That had to qualify as some class of blasphemy.
“I know it’s older than your ZX,” Duerfeldt said, “but as long as you have Helen Schoning for a landlady, she might as well help you keep a better class of car running. Every time I see her driving that old Rolls I think what a waste all that mechanical talent is clerking for the unicipal Court. She should have been born either a boy or a generation later. We can make you a good deal on your ZX.”
Except, how could he give up the car he and his late wife Marti bought together? While he kept it, he still held a piece of her…and last time he had been truly happy. “I’ll think about it. Good night, Mr. Duerfeldt.”
The next time he passed that end of Kansas, the office light had gone out.
After the bars shut down at one, followed by the inevitable handful of discussions with citizens about walking home rather than driving, nothing moved downtown but him and a couple of cats prowling along the tracks.
At two, when Garreth walked both sides of Kansas and the alleys behind, checking doors, the disquiet he had managed to ignore through most of the evening returned in force, raising goosebumps on his arms and neck, and he found himself repeatedly glancing over his shoulder. When the cats clashed, squalling, over some mouse or cricket, he started, heart pounding. Why? He usually enjoyed this time of night. Only the occasional barking dog or distant yipping of coyotes broke the silence. A breeze coming in from the prairie swept away the lingering reek of exhaust fumes, replacing it with the scents of grass and dust. Little but static came over his radio, often going fifteen minutes between calls, and those just county traffic or time checks from Doris Dreiling, his Graveyard dispatcher. So what spooked him so much tonight?
He whipped around at the familiar voice. About eight feet away stood Grandma Doyle.
But that was impossible! She lived with his parents in California. She could not possibly be here, and certainly not dressed in just a nightgown. Could he be experiencing something like one of her Second Sight Feelings? Except none had ever happened to him before. “Grandma? What–”
“I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to me favorite grandson, and warning you.”
Then he understood. She was doing this, not him. Her vision must be a terrible one for her to come to him like this. She had never done anything like it before. “What do you see?”
“A man…evil…pale as Death with eyes of blood. He brings death and pain. And he can destroy you!”