I looked down and saw the small piece of remaining steak sitting amid a pool of red fluid that even the most dedicated gourmand would hesitate to call “au jus”.
“It is cooked,” I protested. “Well, anyway, it's warm. Have some, you might enjoy it.” I offered it, and laughed at his grimace. “I should think, Detective, that with your job you would be better accustomed to the sight of blood.”
“Blood, yes. But not to the sight of someone making a meal of it.” I caught my breath, but he went on happily, not noticing. “You really should have had the fettucini, it's much healthier. All this garlic is good for the digestion.”
I crinkled my nose in distaste. “My digestion is just fine, thank you.” I pushed my plate aside and poured myself another glass of wine. The waiter came to clear the table and offer coffee and dessert. The restaurant had been crowded when we entered, but was now empty except for us and an elderly couple who had just been seated. When the waiter returned with pie for Mitch, coffee for us both, and the tab was paid, we were left virtually alone.
“Thank you for the dinner,” I said sincerely. “It was nice of you to ask me.”
“My pleasure,” he said. He reached across the table and took my hand. “Next time, I'll pick some place a little fancier.”
“This place is just fine. I didn't expect fancy,” I said noncommittally. There would be no next time. He was human, not someone I could afford to get involved with. Still, I felt a twinge of sadness about using him to track the other. I had discovered over dinner that I liked Mitch, and thought that I would miss his sharp eyes and dry humor when it was all over. I inadvertently sighed at my own thoughts.
“Do you want to go?” he asked solicitously. “It's not late and I have tomorrow off for a change. I thought maybe we could go somewhere and talk, or just drive around, or . . .”
“Go to your place?” I finished the thought with a smile.
“Well, now that you mention it, yes.” He still had hold of my hand and pulled me up from my seat with a boyish eagerness. I did not resist, but allowed him to steer me out of the restaurant and into the car.
As it turned out, Mitch's apartment was no more than three blocks from my hotel. He lived in an area midway between the exclusiveness of where I lived, worked and fed, and the terrible poverty on the other side. Undoubtedly I had passed this street in my search for a victim less than a week ago. I must have given him a doubtful look as we exited the car; he was quick to reassure me. “It may look like no-man's land, but it's really quite nice and relatively safe. Besides you're in the protection of one of the city's finest, remember?”
“I was just surprised at how close we actually live to one another.” Clasping my arm in his, we walked up the steps to his building, a rather typical, nondescript stone structure.
“So near and yet so far, right?” he joked. “I know where you live. My brilliant investigative work again, remember? I only hope you don't feel too far below your league.” He was still smiling, but I noticed a look of doubt enter his eyes.
“Now that is just plain silly, Mitch. I may be rich now, but I came from very humble beginnings and have had my share of hard knocks, believe me.” I moved closer to him as we climbed the few stairs to the entrance.
When he opened the door on his apartment, I discovered a small place, tastefully decorated and painstakingly neat. The walls were lined with bookshelves on all sides, crowded with an amazingly diverse selection of books. A complete set of Shakespeare stood next to a row of cheap detective novels, science fiction mingled with astronomy and pure science volumes, legal textbooks competed with famous erotic works. He watched as I studied this array. “I read a lot,” he said casually. “Can I get you a drink?” He was heading toward a small kitchenette, while removing his tie and loosening his collar.
“Wine, if you have some, please,” I replied, settling into what looked like his reading chair. Several books were stacked on the small end table and I perused his current reading material.
“Cabernet, okay?” he called from the kitchen.
“That would be wonderful.” I picked up a small volume of poetry on the top of the pile. It opened of itself to a dog-eared page and a marked passage. I read it softly to myself.
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitterâbitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”
I laid it back on the table, and in doing so jostled the stack. On the bottom was an obviously new copy of a book extremely familiar to me. I pulled it from the table and held it in my hands; the price tag, still intact, did nothing to obscure the title, which flashed at me in blood red letters,
The Annotated Dracula.
As I hurriedly replaced it, my pulse racing, Mitch returned with the wine and glasses.
“Not my normal nightly reading,” he said, pouring us each a glass of wine, “but I must admit I found it rather fascinating. Have you read it?”
“Yes, some time ago,” I admitted, “but surely this sort of thing is completely ridiculous. You can't think that the recent murders were actually committed by a vampire.” The dreaded word, that I tried to avoid even in my own thoughts, seemed to hang heavy in the air. The voice that said it sounded high-pitched and slightly hysterical.
He looked at me with the intense gaze that so unnerved me. Every instinct cried out that this man is a dangerâstrike, Deirdre, it urged. Strike, kill and flee. The blood thirst, which no amount of rare steak could assuage, welled up within me. I will take him, I thought, without mercy, as an enraged wolf will take even an armed man, savage and quick. I moved in his direction, feeling my teeth enlarge, scenting the blood beating in his veins. I saw myself reflected, wild and feral, in his eyes; somewhere within me, a voice called for caution, but I ignored it. God, how I wanted this man's blood.
Then, thankfully he dropped his eyes and began to laugh. “You're really spooked by this, aren't you?” he said, still laughing. “No, of course I don't think we have a real vampire on the loose. But we may have someone who
that he is. I just didn't think it would hurt to bone up a little on the legends, just in case I could find something that might trip our man up.”
“And you think it's a man?” I rose from the chair and walked to the window, trying to compose myself.
“We're not entirely sure, of course. But it seems unlikely that it's a woman. Both victims were tough, each in their own way. Andrews worked out quite frequently, and the girl had street smarts, a real scrapper. I just can't see a woman being able to subdue either one of them long enough to drain their blood.”
“How was the blood drained?” My voice sounded casual again, curious but not too eager. I had managed to submerge my desires, for the moment, and turned away from the window and sat down again.
“We don't really know yet; a syringe perhaps. Although our âvampire,'”I cringed at the word, “was cautious enough to leave the obligatory bruises and fang marks on their necks. But that could be easily faked, I suppose. Pathology is working on it.”
I made a sort of noncommittal grunt and he gave me an appraising glance. “You know, I didn't bring you here to discuss police business.” He offered me a glass of wine and I accepted it, gratified to notice that my hand was steady.
“Why did you bring me here, Mitch? To be perfectly honest, you seem to be above pursuing a one-night stand and you've already discovered that I'm not the type to sustain a relationship.” I felt betrayed by the situation that forced me to remember and echo the hurtful words once said to me in a dark field, under a clear night sky. Regardless of what could be assumed from my seemingly promiscuous behavior every week at the club, I had not made love without feeding since the night I heard similar words issue from Max. I was not even sure that I could perform sexually now
the taking of blood. A silence fell over us as I occupied myself with draining my glass and refilling it. His wine had not been touched.
“You sure don't pull any punches, do you?” His voice sounded harsh, but his eyes were kind. “I think you give yourself too little credit and me too much. But let's just say that I brought you here because you're the first woman I've reacted to since the divorce and I wanted to prolong our evening.” He turned and went to a small stereo system on one of his bookcases. “Would you like to dance?” he asked with a shy smile.
“That I can do,” I said and as I entered his arms and we merged with the music, all awkwardness vanished. The thoughts of guilt and deceit, death and blood all fell from me, leaving me with only a body that enjoyed the rhythmic closeness of another and a mind that relished the thought that the neck so warm above my mouth need never be violated by my hunger.
The night sped by, occupied as we were with dance and conversation. A bond had begun to grow between us, incongruous as it seemed. Mitch, I discovered, was a complex and fascinating person. His natural reticence dissolved with the wine we drank, and he told me of his private life. He talked of his earlier aspirations of a career in law, and how that was abandoned due to the financial aspects of an unexpected pregnancy. “I was thrilled with the baby,” he explained, “and I didn't mind leaving school for him.” Two years ago, his wife filed for divorce. “She said she was tired of struggling with the problems of being a policeman's wife, tired of waiting for the late night call to say I'd been killed or injured.” They'd had no other children but the son, Chris. Mitch's eyes shown with a quiet pride when he spoke of him. “He'll graduate from law school this summer,” he said with a rueful grin, “so the cycle will be complete.” They kept in touch by phone and letters and occasional visits. “I'd like you to meet him next time he comes in; he'd really think old Dad hit the big time.”
“Have you?” I asked, getting up from the couch and making a halfhearted attempt to tidy up the wine glasses and bottles that had accumulated during the evening.
“Who knows? Stranger things have happened.” He smiled at me as I went into the kitchen.
Once there, I glanced at the clock and saw it was nearly six. “God, Mitch,” I called to him, “how did it get so late? I've really got to go.”
“Stay and watch the sunrise with me?” He came up behind me and rested his chin on my shoulder. His voice was soft and scratchy in my ear. “I'd like to see the sunlight in your hair.”
“I can't, Mitch. You may have the day off tomorrow, or I should say today, but I have details to take care of that can't wait. I stayed too long as it is, and although it has been a lovely evening . . .” I could not remember what time sunup was, but I knew it was close. I had to leave soon.
“I've had too much wine to drive you, but at least let me walk you back to your hotel.” He moved to get his coat.
“That would be nice,” I said, considering the situation, “but let's make it the office instead. I can catch a few hours sleep on the couch until Gwen gets in. It's only a few more blocks, can you stagger that far?”
He laughed. “I imagine so, if you can.”
“Never fear, Detective. I can drink a lot more than I have tonight and still find my way home in the dark.” I moved toward the door and he followed.
On the streets we walked arm in arm, silent once more, but no longer uneasy with each other. The sky was dark and cloudy with no sign of the impending dawn, but I could feel my body's warnings begin. I quickened my step involuntarily and he looked at me questioningly.
“In a hurry?” he asked abruptly.
“Yes,” I answered simply and we were quiet once more until we were within a block of the office.
“God damn it, Deirdre, slow down, will you.” He pulled my arm sharply as we stood at a corner. “I have some questions to ask you.”
I winced from his tight grip and he lightened it a bit, but still kept hold as if he thought I would run away. “Can't it wait, Mitch? I have to get some sleep soon or I'll drop.”
“No, it can't wait. It's important.”
“Isn't it a little late to be discussing police business, Mitch? I can't think what else would be so critical that it didn't come up earlier.” My fear of the approaching sunrise forced me to speak sharply.
“Don't be so damned jumpy, not everything I do or say is connected with my job. I'm a man, too and I want some answers.” His eyes searched mine and held them for a second, then fell away to study the empty street.
He paused for a long time, avoiding my gaze. I waited as patiently as was possible for me.
Hurriedly, he blurted it out. “Who sent the flowers?”
“What?” I could hardly make the connection.