Authors: R.J. Jagger,Jack Rain
Day One—April 12
RAVE LAFELLE SHIFTED her 24-year-old body nervously in the dark interior of her rusty VW and tried to convince herself that the headlights in the rearview mirror weren’t following her. But when she turned onto Sheridan, and the other vehicle did too, she swallowed and decided that she could no longer fool herself. The car had been there for too long and for too many twists.
Rain poured down out of a black night sky, one of those Denver springtime gushers.
She kept one eye in the rearview mirror and tried to see the driver whenever the streetlights gave her a chance, but the storm kept her from picking out anything except a black silhouette. Suddenly, in spite of her better judgment, she pulled over to the curb and stopped.
The mystery vehicle edged in behind her.
The driver immediately got out.
And walked through the weather towards her.
Rave’s first instinct was to wait until the person was almost at her door and then take off as fast as her four cylinders would let her. But now the silhouette took on the outline of a woman and caused Rave to pause.
She pushed the door lock down.
Then cranked the window handle until the glass came down a crack.
The person turned out to be a strikingly beautiful black woman in her mid-twenties with long, straight panther-black hair that was already flattening from the storm. “My name is London. Your life is in danger,” the woman said. She spoke in an English accent with a French overlay. “I’m here to help.”
“What do you mean?”
“Not here. It’s too dangerous,” the woman said. “Follow me. We’ll find a place to talk.” Rave must have had a look of doubt on her face because the woman added, “This isn’t a joke.”
THEY ZIGZAGGED THROUGH SIDE STREETS for ten minutes and finally ended up in a tavern on Colfax called the Mesa View Bar. The woman bought two glasses of white wine, handed one to Rave, clinked glasses and said, “You’re going to need this.” She reminded Rave of one of those perfect-body, perfect-skin island girls that sailors killed for.
They took a booth near the back as rain beat on the windows.
“The storm’s getting worse,” London said.
“Why are we here?” Rave asked.
The woman retreated in thought, as if not quite knowing where to begin. Then she said, “When I was fifteen, my mother got a job in Paris as a historian, and we moved to France from Jamaica. During my mother’s research, she learned that she was a bloodline descendent of a man named John Haigh from Yorkshire, England. He, in turn, was reputed to be a vampire.”
The word seemed so weird.
The woman cast a stern look.
So severe that Rave realized what was so mysterious about the woman’s eyes. They were blue instead of brown.
“Yes, a vampire,” London said. “As was the custom in those days, a wooden stake was hammered into his chest and his body was burned to consumption in a bonfire. His wife, who was impregnated at the time, fled and started a bloodline that continues to this day. My mother is part of that bloodline and so am I.”
A SUDDEN FLASH lit the world outside and a deafening clap of thunder immediately followed.
So near that Rave twitched.
“Close,” she said.
“So what are you saying?” Rave asked. “That you’re a vampire?”
The woman cocked her head.
“Maybe,” she said. “But only to a point. I’m mostly just a bloodline descendent. To the best of my knowledge, there are no full-blooded, immortal vampires left.”
“Does that mean that there were real ones at some point?”
London took a sip of wine.
And got a strange expression on her face.
Then looked Rave directly in the eyes.
“I’m sure you’re going to find this very strange, but yes,” she said. “I have lots of reasons to support that conclusion which I’ll be happy to share with you later if you want. Right now, however, the thing you need to concentrate on is staying alive.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Rave asked.
“It means that you’re just like me. You’re also a bloodline descendent of a vampire. That’s why your life is in danger. And I’m talking about immediate danger, as in tonight or even the next ten minutes.”
Rave studied the woman.
And looked for lies.
But found none.
Her pulse raced.
“Danger from who?”
“Slayers. They’re here in Denver, as we speak.”
Day One—April 12
TUESDAY NIGHT AFTER DARK, Nick Teffinger—the 34-year-old head of Denver’s homicide unit—drove into a ragged industrial area on the north edge of the city and killed the Tundra’s engine in front of an abandoned warehouse. A storm beat down. His blood raced and for a moment he thought about heading home and cracking open a Bud Light. Instead, he grabbed the flashlight and stepped into the weather. By the time he got the door open and stepped inside the structure, he was drenched.
He stood there for a second in the dark.
Not hearing anything except the hammering of the rain on the metal roof.
HE PULLED UP AN IMAGE FROM LAST NIGHT, when he first came here—an image of a woman killed with a wooden stake through her heart, as if she was a vampire. The end stuck out of her chest four inches. Teffinger wiggled it to get a feel for how deep it was.
“Deep,” he said.
Detective Sydney Heatherwood—a 27-year-old African American woman—held the flashlight steady. She was the newest member of the homicide unit—personally stolen by Teffinger out of the vice unit a year ago—but had already cut her teeth on Denver’s worst.
She studied the stake and said, “This is too freaky.”
“I’m guessing it goes all the way to her spine,” Teffinger added.
“This isn’t Transylvania,” Sydney said.
Teffinger grunted and said, “It is now. Whoever pounded this thing in wasn’t screwing around.”
They were a considerable distance inside a lightless gutted warehouse. Teffinger moved his flashlight down the dead woman’s body. She was tied securely with rope on her wrists and ankles, stretched in a tight spread-eagle position on an old rickety workbench that hadn’t been worth hauling away.
She was naked.
Her eyes were open.
Fear was still etched on her face.
A face that otherwise would have been nice.
Her clothes and purse were piled on the floor.
Teffinger guessed that she was in her late teens or early twenties.
“I don’t see any other injuries to the body except for the stake,” he said, meaning it was pounded in while she was still alive.
Teffinger raked his thick brown hair back with his fingers. It immediately flopped back down over his forehead. “What a way to go.”
“It wouldn’t be on my top twenty list,” Sydney said.
THIRTY MINUTES LATER they brought the crime unit in, set up halogen lights, and started the arduous task of processing the scene. According to the victim’s driver’s license, she was 20-year-old Cameron Leigh who lived in the 1300 block of Race Street.
In her purse they found a vial with a screw-on cap.
Holding four or five ounces of a red substance.
A substance that looked like blood.
“So what’s this?” Teffinger asked as he slipped it into an evidence bag. “A little vampire snack? Something to get her through the day?”
Sydney grunted and said, “We all have to eat.”
Teffinger looked around, spotted Paul Kwak, waved him over and handed him the vial. “Blood,” he said. “Let me know if it’s animal or human. If it’s human, let me know if it’s hers or someone else’s. If it’s animal, let me know what kind.”
Kwak scratched his truck-driver’s gut.
“Weird stuff just finds you, doesn’t it?” he questioned.
“Apparently so,” Teffinger said. “You work with me, after all.”
“Not meant to be,” Teffinger said, turning to leave.
“Where you going?”
“Coffee,” Teffinger said.
Kwak chuckled and said, “Why don’t you just drink the blood? Save me some work—”
“Blood has no caffeine.”
“Yours does,” Kwak said.
“I mean besides mine.”
OUTSIDE, THERE WERE NO STREETLIGHTS in the area and an oppressive blackness floated overhead. A full moon with an eerie ochre tinge hung in the east, flickering in and out of drifting clouds. Teffinger looked at it and said, “If I hear a werewolf, just one single werewolf, I’m going to wake myself up, take a long piss and then go back to sleep.”
Sydney chuckled and then grew serious.
“So what’s your theory?”
“My theory is the same as always. We need to find someone with a motive,” Teffinger said. “And then figure out if this whole scene got staged to throw us off track.”
“So you don’t think she’s a real vampire?”
“She is in a sense,” Teffinger said. “She’s going to come back from the dead, through me, to get the guy who did this to her. I guarantee you that.”
THAT WAS LAST NIGHT, after the property’s security company conducted its periodic inspection and discovered the scene. Now, alone and drenched, Teffinger maneuvered his six-foot-two frame into the ominous structure as he flickered the flashlight from side to side.
He didn’t believe in vampires.
Or anything occult.
Never had and never would.
Still, the place had a creepy feeling to it. He pushed it down and headed deeper inside.
Day One—April 12
TRENT TRIPP CREPT through the French nightscape twenty miles south of Paris under a chilly moon. He should have his full concentration on the target—French model Diamanda—but the Paris prostitutes wouldn’t leave his thoughts. When this was over, later tonight, he’d take his pleasant face and his perfect six-foot-four body to them for servicing one more time before heading to the airport.
Diamanda was going to be tricky.
A spiked fence encircled her estate.
She had a fulltime bodyguard.
Plus she was a vampire descendent, meaning she could have strength. The yellow Lotus parked in the circular cobblestone driveway indicated she was home.
Tripp carried no wallet or identification.
He left that in the glove box of the rental, parked a half mile up the road.
He carried no gun.
What he did have was an 8-inch knife with a serrated blade, a wooden stake and a mallet.
From what he could tell, the woman was alone in the master bedroom walking on a treadmill and watching TV. She wore white panties and a short black tank that left a flat, tanned abdomen well exposed.
Her strawberry hair bounced.
Her mouth hung open.
At the fence, Tripp hugged the shadows and listened for dogs. When none came, he muscled his way over and landed on grass with cat feet. Then he put on a black ski mask, latex gloves and crept towards the structure.
The sliding glass door to the deck off the master bedroom was open far enough that he could hear the pounding of his target’s feet on the treadmill.
He muscled his way up to the deck.
Then stood in the dark, listening.
Suddenly the whining of the treadmill stopped.
The door slid open.
And the vampire stepped outside.
TRIPP STOOD THERE, FROZEN, not knowing if the woman heard a noise and came out to investigate, or whether she ventured out for an innocent breath of fresh air. He held the blade in his right hand.
Then he pounced.
To get the knife to her throat.
And keep it there until she calmed down.
She turned just before he got to her.
He expected her to scream but instead she kicked his arm and the knife flew out of his grip. The woman got her hands on his neck and pressed her thumbs into his throat.
She was strong.
He couldn’t get air.
She was suffocating him.
He punched her wildly in the back. Instead of twisting in pain, she pushed her thumbs even deeper into his throat. He hit her in the stomach. She groaned but didn’t let go.
He struck her again.
Still no air came.
Then he dropped to the ground, rolled, and broke her grip. It was at that moment that a second figure appeared and kicked him in the ribs.
Day One—April 12
RAVE’S UNIVERSE suddenly seemed creepy and eerie. She parted company with London at the bar and drove home alone in the storm. Her modest two-bedroom Lakewood bungalow appeared to be as she had left it, with no visible evidence that anyone had entered.
She poured a glass of wine, put in a Billie Holiday CD, forwarded to Track 4 and sang along to a lamenting tale of love gone wrong.
End of story.
She was one of the reasons, if not the reason, that Rave grabbed a microphone four years ago at age twenty and never looked back, dropping out of college and everything else to bare her soul on stage every chance she got.
Maybe a stupid move.
Time would tell.
Most people described her style as “soul.” She agreed to an extent, but didn’t think that any one term could pigeonhole her. Her sets included Billie Holiday’s “Autumn in New York,” Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly,” Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” and several from Alicia Keys. But her trademark talent was taking an eclectic mix of rock songs, slowing them down and giving them a sexy, sultry edge.