My ISBN registration is processing, and my book cover is still cooking. But I remain hopeful of releasing the full book next week.
Note: if you want to start at the beginning, go here. Chapters 22 & 23 are here.
I see Sammy coming from the other end of the hallway. Jerome is right behind him.
"Mengele," says Oscar. "I thought your name was Means?"
Without answering, Mengele backs away from us and turns to face the approaching Sammy.
Sammy isn't wearing his jacket. His sleeves are rolled up and the top two buttons of his shirt are undone.
Sammy spins and strikes Jerome right in the neck. Jerome collapses at the knees, but Sammy catches him by the armpits. Sammy drinks for a while. I think about pulling my pistol and shooting Sammy in the back of the head. But Mengele's between us, and he's no fledgling. And now Oscar's somewhere behind me.
When Sammy releases from Jerome's neck, he says, "Okay, Doc, where do you want him?"
Mengele gestures to a set of double doors on Sammy's left.
Oscar picks Edgar up and we follow Sammy and Mengele into a large examination room with two tables and lots of equipment.
Sammy lays Jerome face up on one table while Oscar puts Edgar on the other. The front of Jerome's pants are wet with a round stain.
"Got the whole building to yourself, do you?" I ask Mengele.
Instead of answering, he looks at Sammy.
"The Doc maintains this lab, and the clinic next door," Sammy says. "He performs a great public service here."
"Just how many more team-mates do we have?" I ask Sammy.
"Well, the Doc isn't really a member of the team," Sammy answers. "He's more like an independent contractor."
I look at Sammy, then at Mengele, who is busy examining Jerome.
"You turned him," I say to Sammy. "And you didn't answer my question."
"You're a sharp one," he says. "Josef and I go back forty years."
"You got him out of
," I say. Brazil
Mengele begins using shears to cut the bedspread off Edgar.
"When you're going into the livestock business," Sammy says, watching Mengele work. "It's important to have someone who's good with livestock."
Mengele calls Oscar over and has him cut Edgar's clothes off as Mengele pours Edgar's head out of the pillowcases onto the table. The head lands with a thud. It's caked with dried, black stains and streaks, and Edgar's eyes are open in a droopy, sorrowful expression.
"Exquisite," Mengele says, talking more to himself than any of us. "I've never had a vampire corpse before."
He turns Edgar's head over so it's resting on its forehead. He begins examining the severed neck and making delighted little noises as he prods the flesh with his finger. He even licks his lips.
"Knock yourself out, Doc," Sammy says. "He's all yours."
I follow Sammy over to Jerome. He's unconscious and breathing heavily.
"But, Doc," Sammy says. "If Jerome here doesn't turn, we'll have to use Edgar's body to stage a nice accident for them."
Sammy looks at me.
"It's a real shame when two cousins get killed in a house fire," he says. "Or a car wreck."
Mengele comes over, holding Edgar's head in one hand, neck up.
"But Jerome's test came back negative," Mengele says.
"You yourself said your test wasn't perfect," Sammy tells him. "Let's see how negative Jerome really is."
"Ah, yes," says Mengele. "Of course."
"So get him strapped in," Sammy says. "And let me know how it goes."
Oscar finishes cutting away Edgar's clothes. He hands the shears to Mengele.
"We good here, Doc?" asks Sammy.
"I believe I can manage from here," Mengele replies.
"Oscar, get the keys out of Jerome's pocket," Sammy says. "You're driving."
"You need to appreciate what I've built here," Sammy is telling me. He's also typing into his cellphone.
We're headed east down
Charleston Boulevard. We've gone a couple of blocks, passing . University Medical Center
"I appreciate that something happened about a year or so ago," I say. "And you started building your own little gang of vampires."
Sammy reads something on his phone, then types some more. Then he looks up at me.
"How many have you turned?" Sammy asks me.
"None," I answer.
"Not one," I say.
"So," Sammy says. "Everyone you've ever bitten has died. You're a real predator."
"And you're different?" I ask.
"You're right," Sammy says. "I used to be the same as you. You know how hard it is to turn someone. Most of them just seize up and die, begging for us to drain them."
I think of
, holding her head and screaming. Alice
"But what if I told you the Doc has come up with a way to predict who turns and who dies?" Sammy asks. "Even before you bite them?"
Oscar swings the limo south on
Las Vegas Boulevard.
"What makes you think that's a good idea?" I ask.
Sammy puts his phone away and leans towards me.
"Just how many of us do you think there are?" he asks.
"Not many," I answer.
"From what I can gather, there's maybe a hundred," he says. "On the whole damned planet."
"Maybe there's a reason for that," I say.
Sammy looks up through the open moonroof of the limousine as we pass the
. Stratosphere Tower
"By the way," he says, pointing upwards. "We have a meeting there tomorrow. Noon. And it's with Curt. So be ready."
"Noon?" I ask.
"Don't worry," Sammy says. "We'll be indoors, and the Stratosphere's a neutral location. There'll be lots of press around."
"None of that reassures me," I say.
"Well, that's why we have you," Sammy says. "To keep us on our toes and safe."
Sammy hits a button and all of the limousine's windows roll down. Even the moonroof slides open. Sounds and smells rush in and swirl around. Someone in a car near us is smoking cloves.
The window to the driver's seat has also gone down, and the music Oscar is listening to wafts back towards us. It's the same station he had on in the van, but, when a commercial for a pawn shop ends, "In The Midnight Hour" by Wilson Pickett starts up.
"Turn that up," Sammy says, and Oscar cranks it.
We just sit for a while as the limousine cruises slowly southward with the traffic.
Sammy takes his phone back out and looks at it.
When another commercial comes on, Sammy tells Oscar to turn it down.
"You still have Edgar's key?" Sammy asks me.
"Good, because you'll have to stay there a couple of days while we get you a place," Sammy says. "Oscar, take us to the building."
Riviera Boulevard, we take a left off the Strip and soon we're pulling up to the high-rise. This time, instead of going down into the parking garage, Sammy is letting me off at the main entrance.
"I'll pick you up around ten," Sammy says. "Iris says she'll have another suit delivered in the morning."
I get out and the limo pulls away. Neither the doorman nor the security guards in the lobby even look at me as I go through to the elevators. I guess stepping out of Sammy's limousine is good enough.
Back in Edgar's apartment, I grab a bottle of water, sit on the sofa in the living room, and turn on the TV.
Then my phone goes off.
"You need to feed?" she asks.
I think about it.
"Sure," I tell her as I put the TV on the news channel. "But only two girls."
"Got a preference?" Iris asks. "How about the girls from earlier?"
"Surprise me," I tell her and hang up.
I take my jacket off and put my weapons on the coffee table. Then I go and find bedding in a closet and remake Edgar's bed. I don't find another bedspread, though.
About ten minutes later, the girls ring the doorbell. It's Landry and the girl from my suite at the
"You owe me a dress," says the girl as she sits on the sofa.
Instead of answering, I strike. As I finish, Landry starts to say something but I strike at her, too, taking a long, deep drink. I don't come anywhere near draining either of them, but I'm bloated and blood-drunk as I lay them out on Edgar's bed.
I'm watching the news when my phone buzzes. It's a text message from Iris.
U can use the PC now. U r welcome.
When I boot up Edgar's PC, it doesn't ask for a password, so I begin browsing, aware that Iris is watching everything I do.
I read up on Josef Mengele, then on Gunn Enterprises and the clinic they sponsor on
According to their website, the Las Vegas People's Clinic specializes in providing primary care to the homeless and underprivileged, under the direction of Dr. Joseph Means, who brings a wealth of public health experience from a career spent building clinics in Africa and
South America. Recently, he started an outreach program focusing on rescuing teenage runaways arriving at the bus terminal.
The doorbell rings.
Through the peephole I see a man and a woman, both in sportcoats. The woman is holding up a badge.
I swing the door open and grab the woman by the arm, throwing her headlong into the foyer. The man's reflexes are slightly better. He pulls out a pistol, but I get to him before he can trip the safety. I crush his pistol hand and drive my other elbow into his face, spinning and pushing him into the apartment.
I push the man down on top of the woman, pinning her, and I smash the man's pistol hand on the floor. The weapon skids away, and he starts howling, until I reach up and snap his neck.
The woman is trying to crawl or turn over, but I strike, knocking her out.
After I make sure his spinal cord is severed, I roll the man's body off her and start going through his pockets.
I get his wallet, a notebook, a cellphone, and two sets of keys, one of which is just a car-key. I retrieve the man's pistol, and leave it all in a pile next to him.
The woman takes a few shakes to revive. She starts to scream.
"Stop," I say. "I'm trying to help you."
"What happened?" she asks.
"Your friend here tried to kill me," I say, turning her so she can see her partner's body.
The panic rises in her again, but I give her a shake.
"Listen to me," I tell her. "I'm going to get you out of this, but I need your help."
I hand over her partner's pistol. She takes it, holding it by the slide.
"Which one of you drove?" I ask her.
She's looking at the pistol and I wonder if I put enough venom in her.
"He did," she says. "He drove."
"Do you live near here?" I ask.
"What?" She says. "Yes. Down off Flamingo."
"Do you live alone?"
She doesn't answer, just staring at me.
I strike her again, pushing the venom in. Then I pull off without drinking.
I wait a whole precious minute before reviving her.
When her eyes open, I ask her, "Do you live alone?"
"What? Yes," she says. "What are you doing to me?"
I can't afford to bite her again. Not if I want her conscious.
"Listen to me," I say to her. "Tell me where you're parked."
"We-We're out front," she says.
I stand her up. She's having trouble focusing and I'm running out of time.
I kiss her.
When I pull back, her eyes are on mine, her pupils wide.
"I need you to pull the car into the parking garage," I say to her. "Can you do that?"
"Pull the car up near the elevators on the bottom floor and wait for me," I say.
I lead her to the door. Before pushing her through it, I give her another long kiss.
"Hurry," I say. She looks at me for a second, then goes.
After closing the door, I get another sheet from the closet and quickly shroud the man. I don't bother with any duct tape. I strap on my pistol. I put my jacket on and put the knife in the pocket. I fill my pockets with his belongings.
My hope is that the foyer doesn't have a camera in it, or that the woman doesn't take off or call for backup, or that Sammy doesn't send anyone before I can get away.
I hoist the shrouded man onto my shoulder and check the hallway before heading for the stairs.
I figure I can always just drop everything and run for it.
Comments? Questions? Criticism?