Authors: P.J. Tallis
P. J. Tallis
Copyright 2013, P. J. Tallis
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‘It’s about my husband,’ she said.
I waited for her to go on, taking in her details as I did so. Green chiffon Donna Karan dress, pearls round the neck, and were those Blahniks on her slim, elegantly tapering feet? Probably. She was around thirty, maybe a year or two over, and pretty in a carefully put-together way that had taken a lot of time and effort to get right. Her makeup was designed to be worn nowhere but indoors, most likely in a controlled temperature, and her blond hair was styled in a way it would have cost someone like me a month’s pay to achieve, if I’d had a normal job.
Which I didn’t.
I let her twiddle her wedding band on her finger for ten more seconds. Then I said, ‘Mrs DeVane?’
‘Yes?’ She looked up sharply, as if – forgive me if I sound crude, it’s just my style – as if someone in a distant room had farted.
‘You were saying you’re here about your husband?’
‘Ah. Yes.’ She tried to meet my eyes, couldn’t, and dropped her gaze to the floor, her lashes batting furiously.
Usually in this kind of situation, when a woman like this comes to see a private investigator about her old man, she’s distraught, angry. My clients on the other hand tend to be struck dumb. Disbelieving. It’s as if they wished their spouse really
having an affair. At least that would mean he was in some way normal.
‘I think…’ she ventured. Was she going to get there on her own? I wondered. Normally I had to lubricate them first with the bottle of rotgut tequila I kept in the closet of my pokey little office.
‘I think my husband may be a vampire.’ She shut her pretty Cupid’s-bow lips with a snap and stared at me, as if defying me to laugh at her.
Good, I thought. That’s
out the way. The air’s clear, and we don’t have to shilly-shally round the issue, using euphemisms and hints. I felt enormously relieved.
‘Sorry to hear that,’ I said. Except I didn’t mean it, because without vampires I’d be out of a job and would have to find some soul-sapping nine-to-five rat-race gig. No thanks. ‘What makes you suspect it?’
She continued to stare at me, as though she didn’t quite believe she was having this conversation, least of all with somebody she’d just met. Somebody who’d been recommended to her as a hunter of the undead.
‘Because…’ At this point they usually started to pause again, to fumble for words. To her great credit Mrs DeVane pulled herself together and leaned forward in her chair. She laid an arm palm-up on the desk between us and with fingers manicured to within an inch of their lives she pointed to the inner aspect of her elbow.
I peered at the marks. Four of them, apparently irregularly spaced but in fact two overlapping sets of two. Small, slightly ragged puncture wounds around which the flesh was taking on that typical puffy, puttyish hue.
It was fang spoor. No doubt about it.
Whoah. Back up a minute. A vampire who bites people on the arm? What kind of a dumbass concept is that?
I hear you ask. And you’re not alone. Because everybody who goes to the movies, everybody who reads popular fiction – hell, every sentient human in the western world – has been indoctrinated with the notion that vampires go for the throat.
Think about it. Yes, you’ve got the jugular veins there. The carotid arteries too, if you really want to party. But if you want to keep your presence among humanity hidden, if you want to keep a ready supply of food on the go without drawing attention to yourself, then why bite people in one of the parts of the body most visible in public? Crowds of people walking around with holes in their necks will soon start raising questions. Next thing you know, the government will snap out of its self-imposed coma and actually start to take the vampire threat seriously. God forbid that happens, because yes, once again, I’d be out of work then.
Ah. Maybe I’m being too hard on you. I haven’t explained about vampires and how they want to stay hidden among us. Okay. Sorry. I get ahead of myself sometimes.
So I looked at the wounds on Mrs DeVane’s arm, and I nodded.
‘I’ve been noticing them for the past two, three months now,’ she said, her voice quavering. ‘Every time they seem to be getting better, I wake up one morning and they’re worse again. Not every day, just sometimes. And there are others.’
‘Here.’ She shuffled back in her chair and lifted a foot onto the desk. At the back of her tiny ankle, just in front of the Achilles tendon, there were two more marks.
‘And, uh… somewhere else. In a more, ah, intimate area.’
‘Your inner thigh?’ I offered.
‘Yes.’ She stared at me. ‘How did you –?’
‘I know my stuff,’ I said.
I didn’t really mean
but I said it to avoid upsetting her sensibilities. Actually I meant
. The femoral blood vessels run there, a rich seam of the red stuff. And that area’s usually well hidden from public view, unless you’re a stripper or a porn star. Neither of which I thought applied to Mrs DeVane.
I opened my laptop. ‘I need some details about your husband,’ I said, as I started a new document.
He was Oscar DeVane, age thirty-six, a stockbroker who was clearly doing well for himself despite the recession, judging from the way his wife was dolled up, and from his address. They lived off of Mountainbrook Drive in Green Island Hills, where some of the most expensive real estate in Columbus, and indeed in the whole of Georgia, was to be found. The happy couple had been married three years, had no kids, and had been getting along fine and dandy until around seven or eight month ago, when Oscar had become aloof and moody, and had started coming home late.
‘Of course I suspected an affair,’ said Mrs DeVane – Letitia, her name was – sniffing. ‘So I hired a private investigator. Not someone like you. A… normal one.’ She darted a quick glance at me. ‘Sorry. No offense.’
‘None taken.’ She was right. What I do
pretty freakin’ abnormal.
‘The PI followed him around for two weeks, but all Oscar did in that time was wander the streets, aimlessly. Night after night, just roam around, following no particular pattern.’ She shook her head in wonder. ‘He never met anybody, never went to bars or strip clubs or anything like that. Then he’d come home.’
It was classic behaviour. The newly turned undead go through this phase of disorientation, of yearning, which can last several months. It’s before they’ve completed the transition to full vampire status, and before they’ve discovered the need for human blood to sustain them. One theory is that they’re responding to some primal, atavistic call of the homeland, wherever that is. Transylvania, maybe. Or it could be another planet, or hell itself. I don’t know where these creatures came from, and frankly I don’t much care. I just want to send as many of them back there as I possibly can.
‘Do you have a photo of Oscar?’ I asked.
She rummaged in her purse – Louis Vuitton, natch – and handed over her cell phone. I looked at the image on the screen.
Wow. Letitia had bagged herself a looker.
He was smiling at the camera, a perfect set of brilliant white teeth contrasting with his deep tan. Jet-black hair flopped roguishly over his forehead and his eyes were intelligent and smokey. His cheekbones were like blades, his chin firm and cleft.
‘Is this recent?’ I asked.
‘Last week.’ She sniffed again. I pushed a box of Kleenex across the desk but she’d already produced some fancy lace hanky thing which she used a corner of to dab her eye.
A vampire with a suntan?
And with teeth that have been made the way they are by orthodontic science?
Fair points, both. If, that is, you buy into the legend in every detail.
Maybe once upon a time vampires burst into flame if sunlight touched them. Not today. Now they roam the streets with the rest of us. That’s why you get them here in the South, in equatorial Africa, for all I know at the Arctic circle in the summer when there’s daylight all the time. As for the teeth, they can retract their canines at will, and the rest of their gnashers are subject to the same rot and crookedness as the rest of us.
I transferred the image of Oscar’s face to my laptop and ran it through the database of known undead. There was no match, but I wasn’t surprised. It sounded like he’d been a vampire less than a year, not long enough to have made his mark yet. If you’ll pardon the expression.
‘Okay,’ I said, handing the phone back to her.
‘So what happens now?’ she said, in a voice so shaky it was almost a whisper.
‘Now, I need to get to work proving your husband’s a vampire.’
‘The evidence you’ve given me is strong, but it’s not enough to be one hundred per cent certain,’ I said. ‘I need to run some tests. You needn’t concern yourself with the details.’
‘And then?’ she said. ‘Once you’ve proved he’s… one of
? What happens then?’
I studied her, feeling genuinely sorry for this woman. A wife who hires a private eye to confirm that her husband’s cheating on her doesn’t need to ask what happens afterward, because she’s usually got a pretty clear plan herself. Divorce, or revenge, or both. But when your hubby’s found to be one of the living dead? Try taking that one into a marriage counselor’s office.
‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, Mrs DeVane.’
I hate this part. Giving evasive answers. Because there’s only one acceptable outcome if your target does indeed prove to be a vampire. The bastards need to be eradicated, every last one of them. Independent of what your client wants. I have a responsibility to my clients, and it’s one I take very seriously. I’m a professional. But I also have a responsibility toward humanity.
‘Might we discuss the costs?’ she said, sounding more assertive, as if she was back on familiar ground.
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘I charge a flat fee. No expenses. Fifty per cent up front. Cash.’
I told her.
I don’t think I’d ever actually seen a person
‘Holy shit,’ Mrs DeVane said. An instant later she clapped a shocked hand over her mouth.
holy shit I take care of,’ I said. ‘Hence my fee.’
She promised to have the cash by the next morning. As we both rose, I noticed her giving me the once over.
‘Forgive me, but… how old are you?’ There was an imperiousness in her tone I hadn’t heard before. I imagined this was the way she spoke to all the hired help.
‘You don’t look like…’
‘Like all the other vampire hunters you’ve met?’ I put out a hand and, after a moment’s pause – as if I’d done something presumptuous – she shook it. ‘I’m good at my job, Mrs DeVane. The best.’
She left, the scent of Christian Dior lingering. I sat back down in my scarred old office chair, fired up the laptop once more, and got straight to work.
The alarm clock screamed at me from miles away and I thrashed blindly up through layers of sleep before knocking it off the bedside table.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up, immediately wishing I hadn’t as a spike drove through the middle of my skull and stayed there, throbbing viciously. I pressed my hands over my face to shut out the brightness. My mouth felt so arid I thought there might be cacti growing in there.