Read Innocent Blood Online

Authors: Graham Masterton

Innocent Blood (41 page)

BOOK: Innocent Blood
7.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
But Astrid stayed where she was, still smiling, her eyes serenely half closed. Her white dress reflected the sunshine in a blurry dazzle, so that Frank felt as if he were looking at her through layers of muslin curtains.
Charles Lasser seized her by the throat and started to shake her head backward and forward. ‘Lasser!' Frank shouted. ‘Lasser, let her go!'
Charles Lasser was letting out that furious pig-like screech and pressing his thumbs so deeply into Astrid's throat that they almost disappeared. Astrid's face was strangely expressionless and her arms and legs were floppy, as if she were a life-size doll rather than a woman.
‘Lasser!' Frank bellowed. But just then the remote control box flew out of his hand. He made a grab for it, missed, and made another grab for it.
There was a moment when the world seemed to disappear and there was nothing.
Somebody punched Frank square in the chest, and he found that he was flying backward. He tumbled helplessly over and over, and then he hit the concrete, jarring his shoulder, hitting his head, twisting his back. He lay there, winded, for five or ten seconds, and then he realized that he was wet. His face was wet, his hair was wet, his shirt was soaked through.
He sat up. He lifted both hands and saw that he was smothered in blood. He thought for one moment that he had been horribly injured, but then he looked around and realized that the blood had been sprayed in all directions, and that it had come from the spot where Charles Lasser had been standing.
A cloud of smoke hovered in the air like a huge gray vulture with outstretched wings. Beneath it, strewn all over the concrete, were pieces of Charles Lasser. His legs had been blown off at the hip and were lying at an angle, as if they were running. Not far away, his pelvis lay like a bloodstained washbasin. His intestines had unraveled into yards of multicolored gack. At first Frank couldn't see his head, but eventually he spotted it close to the garage doors, looking in the opposite direction, as if he was deliberately being stand-offish. There was no sign of Astrid anywhere. Not her body, not her white dress, nothing.
Frank climbed unsteadily to his feet. His ears were ringing but he could still hear the next 747 that went over, which blotted out everything. He didn't know what to do. It occurred to him that he ought to call the police, but he wouldn't be surprised if somebody hadn't heard the explosion and dialed 911 already.
He felt extraordinarily light-headed, almost
. He kept turning around and around, wanting to tell somebody what he had done, but there was nobody there.
evile opened the door himself. ‘Come on in, Frank. Good to see you.'
He led Frank through to the living room, where a bottle of rosé wine was waiting in a frosty silver ice bucket. He was wearing flappy black Spanish-style pants and a satin shirt that flowed like quicksilver.
‘How are you feeling?' he asked. ‘You're looking a little worse for wear, to say the least.'
Stiffly, Frank eased himself into one of the white leather chairs and took off his sunglasses to reveal two purple-bruised eyes. ‘Considering I was hit on the head with a golf club and blown up with plastic explosive, I think I'm in damn good shape.'
Nevile poured him a glass of wine. ‘I was down at headquarters this morning, talking to Lieutenant Chessman. He says they're totally baffled by what happened, which doesn't surprise me. The police are always baffled. It's their natural state of mind. The crime scene people are still collecting up Charles Lasser with grapefruit spoons. Perhaps they'll know a little more when they've finished their lab work, but I doubt it.'
Frank said nothing for a long time. He wasn't quite sure how he was going to phrase his question. Eventually, however, he said, ‘Did you have any idea?'
‘What? About Astrid being dead?'
‘You make it sound so . . . commonplace.'
‘Being dead
commonplace. Let's face it, Frank, the dead outnumber the living by millions to one.'
‘She seemed so
. I could feel her, touch her, talk to her. Make love to her.'
Nevile nodded. ‘I know. She was a very strong spirit, very determined.'
He went to the window and looked out. Frank could see his reflected face looking back in. He said, ‘When you first introduced us, I had a very strong feeling that she wasn't quite what she appeared to be, although I didn't immediately realize why. And there was something else, too, for which I'm kicking myself. I smelled
, which is the same smell I picked up at The Cedars. The acid aroma of extreme vengefulness. I'm just sorry that I didn't connect it.'
‘She wanted me to kill Charles Lasser, didn't she?' said Frank. ‘And she didn't care if I died doing it.'
Nevile nodded. ‘I'm afraid so. She had such
, but she couldn't tell you who had killed her, not directly. Spirits can't do that, which is something of a pity, as far as we psychic detectives are concerned. It would make our lives so much easier. But . . . she gave you a motive for punishing Charles Lasser, didn't she? Jealousy, one of the most destructive motives of all.'
He sipped his wine, and then he said, ‘The first time Danny appeared to us, that was Astrid, taking his shape. She was deliberately trying to break up your marriage, so that you would need to find somebody else to comfort you. The
time she appeared as Danny was when she met us at Travel Town. She must have been growing frustrated because she gave us the clue about St John the Evangelist and Orange Grove Avenue – that was about as much information as the laws of natural justice would allow.
‘Charles Lasser insisted that he didn't know any Astrid because it was true. He didn't. All of Astrid's bruises and cigarette burns were totally illusory. If she could appear as somebody else – as Danny – then she could certainly look as if somebody had beaten her up. She never went to see Charles Lasser, Frank, and Charles Lasser never hurt her. At least, not then.'
‘What about the real Danny, when he appeared?'
‘Well, you could certainly tell the difference
, couldn't you? The real Danny did everything he could to take care of you, and to stop you from being hurt. He untied you, even though that must have taken almost all of his strength.'
‘I guess . . . I guess he must have forgiven me, then.'
Nevile laid a hand on his shoulder. ‘Oh, yes. I'm sure of it. But look here, there's one more thing I want you to see.'
He sat down next to Frank and switched on the television. Then he started his video player. On to the screen came an episode of
Law & Order
, the fictional cop drama dealing with sex offenders in New York City.
‘This was one of the early episodes,' Nevile explained. ‘It took me quite a while to find it. But look, here you are. The two detectives go into this bar to talk to this hooker – and what do you know?'
Frank saw Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay. But he also saw a striking young girl in a silvery sequined top and silver hoop earrings. Astrid.
‘How did you find this?' he asked. ‘Freeze it – let me take a look at her.'
Nevile froze the picture and there she was, shuddering slightly, with that dreamy look in her eyes and that smile that had tightened his scalp like a drumhead.
‘I looked up Tori Fisher on the Internet,' said Nevile. ‘You know, the girl suicide bomber at The Cedars. I kept thinking to myself, why did the security guard open the gates and allow that van into the schoolyard, without checking the driver's credentials? The only feasible answer was that he knew one of the people in the van. He knew Tori Fisher, and the reason he knew Tori Fisher was because she had once attended The Cedars herself, as a pupil. Tori Fisher was the stage name of Amanda Lasser, the only daughter of Charles Lasser and his second wife, Rebecca. Of course, he was on to his fourth wife by the time he popped his clogs.'
‘“Daddy hurt me,”' Frank quoted. ‘That was what she said when she was impersonating Danny. It wasn't Danny referring to me at all . . . it was Astrid talking about her father.'
‘That's right,' said Nevile. ‘And that's why she joined Dar Tariki Tariqat. She was the victim of serious sexual abuse and she wanted to get her revenge on society at large. What she didn't realize, until the instant she was killed, was that her own father had created Dar Tariki Tariqat as a bogus means to a very vindictive end.'
‘How would she have realized that?'
Nevile switched off the television. ‘When you die, Frank, you'll realize that everything is open to you. There are no secrets in heaven.'
Frank finished his wine. ‘I feel exhausted,' he admitted. ‘I think I need a good night's sleep.'
‘You won't have another glass?'
‘No, thanks.' He stood up. ‘I just want to thank you for all of your help. If you hadn't agreed to do those séances . . .'
‘Don't thank me, Frank. I could have had you killed.'
Frank took hold of both of his hands, and squeezed them. ‘Let's get together in a couple of days. I'd like to talk some more about this. In fact, I think I need to.'
‘You could always try Margot. I'm sure she'll listen.'
Frank left the house, climbed into his car, and drove up the steeply winding driveway to the main road. He was about to turn left, back to Hollywood, when he looked into his rear-view mirror and realized that he had left his sunglasses behind. He drove as far as the Earth Mother Juice Stand and did a U-turn. He steered slowly back down the driveway to Nevile's house, parked the car and climbed out.
To his bewilderment, all of the blinds had been drawn. He went up to the front door, pressed the door chimes, and waited. It was strange, but the front yard was strewn with dead leaves, as if it hadn't been swept in months. There were even dead leaves up against the front door. He pressed the chimes again.
He waited and waited but nobody answered. ‘Nevile?' he shouted. ‘Nevile, are you there?' He listened, but there was only the wind, sighing in the trees.
He pushed the front door and it opened. ‘Nevile? Is everything OK?' He hesitated, and then he stepped inside.
The house was deserted. There was no furniture, no sculptures, no paintings hanging on the walls. Frank's footsteps echoed as he walked from room to room. Eventually he opened the door of Nevile's study, and found it empty. No books, no marble-topped table from Delphi, nothing. Not even marks on the wall where his photographs might have hung.
‘Nevile,' he said under his breath. A few dry leaves rattled into the hallway, and circled around in a little dance. ‘Nevile, you bastard.'
Frank saw a dark-blue rectangle on the floor. He bent down, picked it up and turned it over. It was a card from the Cats and Moons deck. It showed a star map of Andromeda, and underneath it were the words
He drove back down Laurel Canyon. As he drove, he started to hum, and then he started to sing. He was singing for Astrid, or Tori, or Amanda. He hoped that she could hear him, wherever she was.
‘The girl I love is so beautiful
She makes the roses look ugly.
Her eyes they shine like a bald man's bean
And her sweaters fit oooh so snugly.
‘The girl I love is a goddess on earth
But one day she fell from a blimp.
She hit a haystack at fifty-four and a half miles an hour
And she now has a left-footed limp.
‘The girl I love is brilliant and bright,
“But I'm going noplace,” she frowned.
“Every time that I try to walk straightly
I keep going round and around.
‘“I go round, I go round, I go round, I go round
I try but I simply can't starpet.
I'm a gimp with a limp, a left-footed limp
And I've worn a round hole in the carpet.”'
As he reached the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Hollywood Boulevard, he saw two odd figures standing beside the traffic signals. One was an old man in a duck-billed cap and baggy blue shorts, with legs that were gnarled with varicose veins. Next to him, holding his hand, his hair shining in the sunlight, was Danny. They didn't wave; they just stood there, watching him, and then they turned around and walked away.
A car horn hooted behind him. The signals had turned to green. Frank lifted his hand in apology and drove on. But he had only gone as far as Genesee Avenue when he had to pull into the side of the road, because he was blinded by tears.
BOOK: Innocent Blood
7.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Love Restored by Carrie Ann Ryan
Woman in Black by Eileen Goudge
Floralia by Farris, J. L.