Blood Red Chapter 12


Mark headed to Jackson Square. He had noticed Susan the woman Lauren had sketched, when he had first come back to the city and had wandered through the Square, seeing what had changed, what had remained the same.

It always amazed him. Take away a few signs, add a few cosmetic details, and the Square was just as it always had been.

There were a few musicians out, a few artists, and one tarot card reader. There was no sign of Susan.

He walked on to the police station, where, with little difficulty, he was ushered in to see Sean. Canady, who was at his desk, bent over some paperwork.

He studied Mark as he came in. ’’You look refreshed,’’ he said.

’’You got a minute?’’

Canady indicated a chair.

’’Was there anything unusual about the autopsy?’’ Mark asked, cutting right to the chase.

’’Would you call it unusual to find three headless bodies in the Mississippi in three days? Because I would,’’ Sean said. ’’It's obviously the same killer. You can only see one puncture mark on the latest victim-the other went with the head when it was severed. I don't know if Stephan is leaving the marks on purpose-to let those who know in on what he's up to-or if he's just being careless. Thankfully, the ME says they were all dead prior to the decapitations. The state police have set up a task force extending up and down the river.’’

’’They having any luck?’’

’’There's nothing to go on. No prints, nothing left behind, and the water is doing a number on any evidence that might have been left on the bodies. They brought in a profiler, who believes we're looking for a man in his mid to late twenties, maybe early thirties, someone with feelings of inadequacy, and a menial day job. May or may not have a wife at home. Everyone is baffled by his ability to decapitate his victims and hide the heads, although it's likely they're in the Mississippi, as well-it can be merciless. Everyone agrees it will be a major breakthrough if we can discover where the crimes are taking place. They're looking for something like an abandoned slaughterhouse, since the victims have been practically bloodless.’’

’’Did you make any suggestions?’’ Mark asked him.

’’Of course. I suggested we were looking for a vampire.’’

Mark arched a brow. ’’And you're still employed.’’

Sean smiled ruefully. ’’I've spent many years now knowing that what we're up against doesn't always fit the normal expectations. Sorting out the crazed human from the crazed in human. Since we've had cultist activity here before, sometimes people listen to me. I've told them that I'm personally convinced we're up against a cult, and that they should think as if they were up against real vampires, because that's what this group thinks they are.’’

’’Good call,’’ Mark said. ’’What about your own men?’’

Sean shrugged, his smile deepening. ’’The non-believers have thought for years that I'm a little bit crazy-worse, they believe I can think like a deranged killer. But they've seen things come to a satisfactory conclusion before by thinking my way, so...The men I put in the hospital to watch over Deanna...they've been on similar duty before. They believe.’’

’’What's your take on Jonas?’’ Mark asked him.

’’Like I said before, seems like he's on the right side. But I don't personally know him.’’

’’Neither do I.’’

’’Truthfully, I don't know you, either,’’ Sean said.

Mark almost said, Your wife knew me, but he refrained. She had really only known of him, and that had been a long time ago.

’’Stephan is holed up somewhere. The problem is, I don't think it's in your jurisdiction. He's got to be out of the Quarter somewhere, maybe even out of the city and the parish. I was thinking of taking a closer look down Plantation Row, out past your place. I already took a quick ride out that way, and I didn't see anything that looked empty-that looked like some cultist group was sneaking in and out of it.’’

’’Maybe it won't look empty,’’ Sean suggested. ’’Maybe Stephan made a few contacts before he came here. Maybe, by day, it looks like any other house.’’

’’Have your guys keep their eyes and ears open, huh?’’

Sean just stared at him.

’’They're already doing that, huh?’’ Mark said.

’’Yes.’’

’’I'll be in touch,’’ Mark assured him, rising.

’’By the way, we've got IDs on all the girls. They all have records for prostitution. One from Baton Rouge, one of them from Lafayette, and one from Poughkeepsie.’’

’’Poughkeepsie?’’

’’New York state. Maybe she was relocating. She didn't have a known address down here, anyway.’’

Mark shrugged. ’’Working girls will always go off alone with a man,’’ he said. ’’It makes sense.’’

’’Yes,’’ Sean said simply, then drew a deep breath. ’’I've got men watching the bars and strip clubs. But I don't think you'll find Stephan that way. He's more subtle. If he's committing the murders himself, I think he's having the women brought to him.’’

Mark nodded. ’’Makes sense. I found one of his minions in a bar when I first arrived. I followed him when he took a woman to a cemetery and killed him.’’

’’I guess he found someone who thought that doing it in a graveyard would be exciting.’’

’’Even young vampires can be seductive,’’ Mark said.

Sean nodded. ’’We're on the alert for anything unusual. I'll call you, right away if I hear anything at all.’’

Mark thanked him and left the police station.

Stephan and his followers were targeting easy prey, he thought. Women who were ready to be seduced-for a price. They just didn't know that they were the ones who would be paying.

Well, he'd hit the bars, and he had found one of Stephan's lackeys, though the young woman he'd gone after had been just a tourist.

But Stephan had an untold number of followers. They could be anywhere. Not one of them, so far, seemed to have acquired the kind of strength and power Stephan had learned over the years, though. By day most of them were probably resting. But maybe not all of the.

During the day, the city was quieter than it was by night. Most people spent their time checking out the historic district, the museums, the restaurants and the shops. Parents took children for carriage rides. The aquarium and the zoo drew crowds.

But the bars were open.

And so were the strip clubs.

He wandered in and out of a few of the bars, catching snatches of live music along the way. At one place, the group was so good that he wanted to forget his quest and stay to listen, but he resisted the urge. Everywhere he went, he sensed nothing, saw nothing. Everything was quiet.

He decided to try a few of the strip clubs. At the Bottomless Pit he found worn carpets, cheap patrons and tired strippers. No one appeared the least bit menacing. In fact, performers and audience alike seemed to be asleep.

He moved on and found a neon sign that promised Bare, Bare, Bare!

A hawker with bad teeth was out front, trying to lure people in. Mark decided to pay the cover charge and take a look.

It was quiet.

There were a few scattered patrons, including a heavyset man in the front row, with a prime location right next to the pole. As Mark entered, a weary announcer was trying to make his voice excited as he raved about Nefertiti, goddess among women.

She appeared on the walkway, and on contrast to the rather cheesy atmosphere of the place, the ennui of the announcer and the shabby appearance of most of the patrons, she was good-looking to the point of beautiful. Tall, golden skinned, with long, sleek dark hair. She made her way to the pole and eyed the heavyset man who had taken up the catbird seat.

She twisted and writhed. She started out wearing spangly harem pants and a jeweled bra, with finely meshed material connecting the skimpy bits. The mesh went quickly, then the top, and before long, just as promised, she was bare, bare, bare, and everything was gone.

She elicited a fair amount of applause for her act, considering the room wasn't particularly well populated.

Then Nefertiti stepped down, and the announcer called out the next girl, Annie Oakley, with a faux hearty ’’Ride'em, cowboy.

Annie Oakley had clearly been around a while. Her breasts were definitely silicone, and gravity was establishing dominance.

Few people were watching her.

Nefertiti had gotten dressed, though she wasn't exactly ready for church, and gone over to the man in front, offering him a lap dance. Mark kept one eye on the stage and the other on Nefertiti. It was the usual stuff, but the heavy-set man was evidently enamored.

Mark's phone rang. Still watching Nefertiti negotiate, he answered with a soft, ’’Yes?’’

’’I've got something.’’ Sean's voice.

But Mark barely heard him;he swore and snapped the phone shut, staring at Nefertiti. Her hair was a good foil, but not good enough to hide the fact that she was just about to take a bite out of the beefy flesh and pulsing jugular of her heavyset client.

Heidi did seem more like Heidi, Lauren thought. She seemed confused by her own actions, though, almost as if she didn't really remember a thing about the day before.

’’Hey,’’ Lauren said, giving her a hug when she found her downstairs at the breakfast table.

’’Hey,’’ Heidi echoed, then asked anxiously, ’’Do you think Deanna is going to be all right? I can't...I can't seem to make much sense of yesterday. I guess I was coming down with something. And you're not going to believe this. It's awful’’

’’What?’’ Lauren asked, her heart thumping.

’’I can't find my engagement ring. How in God's name did I lose my engagement ring?’’

’’It might show up,’’ Lauren said.

’’Barry will kill me,’’ Heidi said.

’’No, he won't. And...you're still going to marry him?’’

Heidi frowned. ’’Of course I'm going to marry him.’’

’’I'm glad.’’

’’When did I say I wasn't going to marry him?’’ Heidi pressed.

Stacey, coming to the table with fresh coffee, answered flatly, ’’Yesterday.’’

’’Never!’’ Heidi protested.

Lauren looked at Stacey and then at Heidi. ’’Uh, yes,’’ she murmured.

’’Tell her. You have to tell her the truth,’’ Stacey insisted.

Lauren stared at Stacey again. Just what ’’ truth’’ was Heidi going to believe?

’’You were bitten by a vampire,’’ Stacey said. ’’You have to know all this, and you have to get with the program.’’

Heidi's jaw fell. She looked at Lauren accusingly, as if Lauren had forced them to move to a crazy house.

’’A vampire?’’ Heidi demanded. Stacey was quiet. Heidi picked up her coffee cup, and her fingers were shaking. ’’A vampire,’’ she repeated tonelessly.

’’Yes, actually,’’ Lauren told her.

’’Who's the vampire?’’

’’We think you were bitten by a vampire named Stephan,’’ Lauren told her.

Stacey took a seat at the table and leaned toward Heidi. ’’Think about it. When you were at the hospital, you let him in. Thankfully, he went after you and didn't suck the remaining life out of Deanna.’’

Again Heidi's jaw dropped. ’’You are all stark raving mad,’’ she said, and started to rise.

Stacey set a hand on Heidi's arm. ’’Think hard. Make yourself remember yesterday. Remember Bobby and I coming in. Remember Lauren! Think about going to dinner with Mark and then coming back to the hospital. None of it was a dream. None of it was in your imagination. It was all real.’’

Heidi looked pale and uneasy. ’’All right, yesterday was strange. I'm sure I had a fever. Maybe a bit of whatever made Deanna so sick.’’

Lauren started to reply, but she didn't get a chance to. Stacey had decided there was going to be nothing gentle about getting Heidi to see the real picture and kept going.

’’You bet it's the same thing. Deanna would have died if she hadn't gotten to the hospital when she did. And she could have died again when you let that monster into her room. Fortunately he decided he would try poisoning you, as well. But luckily Mark recognized your symptoms right away, and we were able to get you back here before anything worse happened. But he's still out there, and you're weak-’’

’’I am not weak!’’ Heidi flared.

’’Wait!’’ Lauren spoke at last. ’’Stacey, this...man is extremely powerful, and Heidi had no idea what she was up against. Stephan has hypnotic powers. I was almost frozen myself when I came across him, and I was armed and knew what I was up against.’’

’’You were armed?’’ Heidi demanded.

’’Water pistol,’’ Lauren told Heidi. ’’Holy water.’’

’’Forget that for now,’’ Stacey interjected. ’’It's incredibly important that you think back and remember everything,’’ Stacey said to Heidi. ’’Vampires really do exist, and Deanna and you have both been tainted. He has a gateway to you now, unless you really understand the danger and fight against him,’’ Stacey said firmly.

Again Heidi just stared.

’’I do remember going to dinner with Mark. He wouldn't let me eat my hamburger,’’ she said thoughtfully.

’’He knew, once he was with you, that you'd been tainted,’’ Lauren told her gently.

Heidi shook her head. ’’You guys have all had a few too many. I know something is very wrong, but vampires?’’

Before either of them could answer, Heidi's cell phone began ringing. It was Barry, Lauren knew. She recognized the ring tone.

’’Hey, sweetheart,’’ Heidi began.

Both Lauren and Stacey could hear the anger in Barry's voice, though they couldn't make out what he was saying.

’’No!’’ Heidi said. ’’I didn't! It must have been someone's idea of a practical joke. I would never-’’

The phone went dead in Heidi's hand. Tears were apparent in her eyes as she stared at the other two women.

’’He...he says I called him yesterday and said that it was off, that I was sorry, but I wanted to sleep with other men. And then I hung up on him!’’

’’I'll call him,’’ Lauren said quickly. ’’I'll think of something to say. I mean, we all know how much you love him. And how much he loves you.’’

’’He hates me!’’ Heidi said, distressed. ’’I didn't call him, I would never have said those awful things.’’

’’You did call him. And that's the problem. He's your fiance-he knows your voice.’’

Heidi burst into tears.

’’It's going to be all right,’’ Lauren said, the words hollow in her own ears, but they were the only ones that seemed appropriate at the moment.

Stacey was harder and firmer. ’’You need to start out by being glad you're alive, and then you need tostart believing what we're saying. You are going to do every single thing I tell you to do, and then, when we've all survived this, we'll work on getting your fiance back.’’

’’I'll call Barry today,’’ Lauren told Heidi, handing her a napkin to dry her eyes. ’’Don't cry, Heidi. It won't help any.’’

’’Don't cry?’’ Heidi exploded suddenly. ’’You're telling me I was bitten by a vampire-because I 'm weak-and that I called my fiance and trashed the prospect of my marriage. And you don't want me to cry?’’

’’No, don't cry, get mad,’’ Stacey said. ’’You need to be angry. Take a good hard look at what the creature trying to seduce you made you do. Wake up!’’

’’I am awake. Believe me, I'm awake,’’ Heidi retorted angrily. She wiped her face and stared at the other women. ’’If this is some kind of practical joke...’’

’’I wish it were,’’ Lauren said softly, reaching across the table to gently touching her friend's hand. ’’I'll call Barry. We'll convince him your phone was stolen by someone who overheard you talking about him and decided to be cruel.’’

’’Will he believe it?’’ Heidi asked.

’’Will he believe it if you tell him you were under the influence of a vampire?’’ Stacey asked curtly.

’’You will call him? You'll convince him?’’ Heidi said to Lauren.

’’Of course. You love him, and he loves you. He's just angry right now-but he loves you.’’

Heidi was quiet for a minute. ’’So...what now?’’

’’I have to get back over to the hospital,’’ Lauren said.

’’Yes, of course, we need to go back,’’ Heidi said.

’’Not you,’’ Stacey told her firmly.

’’What?’’ Heidi protested.

’’You're with me. You need another day to replenish what you lost-and you need to learn the ropes,’’ Stacey told her.

’’What ropes?’’ Heidi asked.

’’Vampire killing ropes,’’ Stacey said in a tone that left no room for argument.

Mark leapt up, knocking a table over in his haste to reach ’’Nefertiti’’ before she could sink her fangs into the man.

’’Stop!’’ he shouted, and threw himself at the woman.

She went flying down to the stage beneath him. Her eyes-a deep brown with a hint of the light that gave her away seething fire-met his.

Then the heavyset man had him by the arm and was dragging him up.

’’He's a psycho!’’ Nefertiti shrieked.

’’Bastard! Pay for your own entertainment,’’ her big client bellowed.

’’Call the cops,’’ Nefertiti said.

’’I'll handle this asshole better than the cops,’’ the man said, drawing back his massive fist.

Mark easily dodged the blow. ’’She's diseased!’’ he shouted as he ducked. The other man had put so much weight into his attempted attack that it carried him down to the floor with an oomph.

’’Diseased?’’ he said. ’’Oh, God!’’

Nefertiti took that moment to race, naked, backstage. Mark leapt over the big man on the ground and followed her.

A half-dozen not-so-hot looking showgirls in various stages of undress shrieked as he went flying through the dressing room in pursuit.

Nefertiti grabbed a silk robe and kept running, heading for the back door.

She pushed through it;Mark was right behind her.

The door led to a long hallway.

She reached the door to the street just a split second before he did. She burst outside, and he followed, catching her by the arm.

She spun around, fangs bared, ready to shape-shift. By then he'd drawn a small little squirt gun from his pocket. He fired and hit her squarely between the breasts.

She screamed.

People stared.

’’Cops! Somebody call the cops!’’ came a cry.

’’He's got a gun!’’ someone else roared.

’’It's a frigging water pistol!’’ a third person chimed in.

One way or the other, Mark couldn't afford to stick around. They made a pretty ridiculous picture, the stripper in her heavy make-up and robe, him with a water pistol shoved against her side, a wave of smoke rising from her chest.

He had to move, and quickly. He didn't want to lose his hostage, but he also didn't want to destroy her.

He wanted answers from her.

’’Come with me-now. And quietly. You know what I have here. You can die for real, or you help me. The choice is yours,’’ he said.

’’I'm hurt,’’ she said pathetically.

’’You'll be more than hurt in two seconds if you don't shut up and do what I tell you,’’ he assured her.

She slipped an arm around his shoulders, pretending to be with him. Onlookers would probably just assume they'd had a lovers'quarrel, he thought.

’’I'm nearly...gone.’’

’’Nearly, but not quite.’’

’’You need to show some mercy,’’ she whined.

’’Like you were about to?’’ he suggested.

’’I wasn't going to kill him.’’

’’We'll never know, will we? Just shut up and come with me, or the cops will be here. And then I'll have to kill you, because I can't let you go,’’ he promised her swiftly. ’’Let's go.’’

She complied without further complaint.

The older woman sitting across the desk from Sean Canady was very upset. The desk sergeant had tried to explain that she couldn't fill out a missing persons report, because the missing person hadn't been missing long enough.

But the woman had been persistent.

Her name was Judy Lockwood, she said. She had raised her niece, Leticia, since she had been a small child and Judy's brother, Leticia's father, had passed away. Leticia had grown up to be a fine young lady. She worked at the hospital as a nurse, and she hadn't been sick a day since she started. She went to church;she always came home at night.

But she hadn't come home last night. And she hadn't reported in to her job at the hospital.

Because Sean had insisted on being told about absolutely anything even slightly out of the ordinary, Judy had been shown into his office.

He had put through a call to Mark Davidson the minute he had heard the two keywords ’’disappeared’’ and ’’hospital.’’

The woman in front of him was straight and slender, wearing a flowered dress that was clean, smelled of fresh air, and was perfectly pressed. She wore dignity about her like a cloak;she sang in the church choir, and she lived by a code of right and wrong. Sean's heart seemed to squeeze as she spoke to him. He prayed her niece was fine. He doubted that she was-though, from all he was hearing, she was a far cry from the previous victims whose pitiful remains had been pulled from, the mighty river.

’’When was your niece last seen, Miss Lockwood?’’ he asked.

’’Just yesterday evening-and I know, I know, she hasn't been missing long enough, but I'm telling you, something's wrong. She said goodbye to Bess Newman, who was taking over her patients. Bess said she left late, because Leticia always stays longer, just to make sure all her paperwork is filled out and all her patients are in good shape. She's a really good nurse, Lieutenant Canady,’’ Judy assured him.

’’But no one saw her after she left the hospital?’’ Sean asked.

’’No,’’ Judy said.

’’Did she drive to work?’’ Sean asked.

’’Yessir, I was getting to that. Her car's not in the parking lot.’’

’’And you don't think she drove somewhere, and that...something came up?’’

She stared at him as if only a complete idiot could have made such a comment. ’’Lieutenant, you haven't been listening to me. Leticia is a very good girl. She goes to church. She has never missed a day of work. What can you imagine that would suddenly make a woman like that just decide she wouldn't go to work?’’

’’Miss Lockwood, I am worried about your niece, and that's why I'm taking this report myself.’’

Huge tears suddenly filled her eyes. ’’She's a good girl. Not that I wish any ill on anyone, but from what I read in the papers...those other girls took chances. My Leticia didn't. She went to church. She went to work. She'll go out on a date now and then, but with a good boy, a boy from the church. She's never had any truck with boys in gangs. So she couldn't have been taken by...by whatever horrible monster...killed those other girls...could she?’’ she asked weakly, hopefully.

Sean covered her hand with his. ’’I'm going to follow up on this, Miss Lockwood. I promise you, I'll do my very best to find her.’’

As Judy Lockwood started to rise, there was another tap on his door. The desk sergeant stuck his head in. ’’A friend of Miss Lockwood's is here, Lieutenant,’’ he said.

Another woman walked in. She was almost Sean's size and, like Judy, beautifully dressed, down to her straw hat. ’’Excuse me, Lieutenant Canady, and thank you for your time. Judy, I just got a call from Leticia. She ran late into work, and that was all. She's sorry you were worried, Judy, and she'll talk to you tonight. But she's fine, and that's what matters, right?’’ She turned to Sean. ’’I have a cell phone, you see. The grandkids bought it for me last Christmas. Judy doesn't like them, so she never got one.’’

’’Thank the Lord!’’ Judy said, rising, clapping her hands together. She turned sheepishly to Sean. ’’Lieutenant Canady, I thank you for your time. And I am so sorry I wasted it.’’

’’I don't think it was a waste of time, Judy. We need answers around here right now, and I hoping anyone will come in when they're afraid, just as you did.’’

’’You're a fine young man, Lieutenant.’’

He smiled. He was pushing fifty. He wasn't sure that made him a young man at all.

They left his office, and he had just started to pick up his phone when there was yet another tap at his door. The desk sergeant was back.

’’I'm sorry, sir.’’

’’No. You did the right thing,’’ Sean said.

As soon as the sergeant left and closed the door behind him, Sean picked up his cell and called Bobby Munro. ’’Stay there,. Stay in that room and don't leave until I get there.’’

’’Right, Lieutenant,’’ Bobby said.

’’Jonas still there?’’

’’Sir,’’ Bobby said very softly, ’’he hasn't left even to take a leak.’’

Let's hope to hell he's as decent as he seems, Sean thought, then asked, ’’So what's going on there? Everything fine?’’

’’Yup. The doctor was in this morning. He hopes she'll come to soon, and that she'll be fine. It's looking good. Well, as good as it can look, at any rate.’’

’’Cansee you the chalk board that lists the nurses assigned to the room?’’ Sean asked.

’’Yeah, I can see it from here.’’

’’Is someone named Leticia coming on?’’

’’Yeah, how did you know?’’

’’Don't let her in the room,’’ Sean said.

’’Um, actually, that would be a problem, Lieutenant.’’

’’Why is that?’’

’’She just walked in. She's here right now,’’ Bobby told him.

The pulse in the throat, he had told her. ’’Find the pulse in the throat. You're a nurse, so you won't have any problem. You're starving, and you will be in this pain until you fill yourself with what you need, but you must be careful. There is only one who can stop your pain. You must go to her room. There will be someone there, so you must be careful, but you are a nurse, and you can go right in and ease your pain.’’

The words pounded in Leticia's head. She had very little memory of exactly what had happened;she only knew that she was supposed to do as she had always done. Go to work. Sign in. Once she had done what he had commanded, all would be well. He would find her again. She would be rewarded as she had never been rewarded before.

She found the patient, Deanna, who was lying there in silence. There were also two men in the room, one sitting by the bed and watching Deanna intently. The other was a cop, but he was on the phone. She had seen him in the room before. Bobby. The cop's name was Bobby. For some reason, evern though so much was a blur, she knew his name.

She walked over to the bedside and replaced the IV drip, just as she normally would. Then she leaned lower. She could hear the pounding of the woman's heart, could see the pulse in her throat.

She felt a streak of agony worse than anything that had plagued her so far. A hunger unlike anything she could have imagined before. It tore at her insides like a razor blade. It demanded satiation.

She opened her mouth, and she felt another stark and terrible pain as her teeth actually...stretched. Somewhere, in the very back of her mind, she knew that biting another woman and seeking to drain her of their very last drop of her life's blood was wrong.

But the hunger...

The hunger was unbearable....

She paused suddenly, terrified.

The pain continued to brutally tear at her stomach, but something worse, something as powerful as an atomic bomb, had exploded within her mind.

She was nearly blinded.

Yet she saw.

There was a chain around the woman's neck.

A chain and a cross.

Leticia remembered Aunt Judy and Pete, how she'd wanted to be a nurse to save lives, how she had loved to sing with the choir and...

No! The pain raked her and made her bleed inside. She was insane with hunger, ravenous. She had to feed.

She leaned lower, her fangs closer...

And then heavy hands fell on her shoulders, and she screamed at the agony tearing her apart.

It took Lauren so long to smooth things over between Barry and Heidi that she was ready to scream at them both when Barry at last agreed to speak with Heidi again.

They were on the phone, cooing away to one another, when she finally felt able to leave, Big Jim Dixon accompanying her.

She was glad of his company. Big Jim seemed to take everything in stride, and he didn't talk much;she was happy just to be with him.

He drove her right up to the front door of the hospital. ’’Are you coming in?’’ she asked him.

’’I want to get back to the house. I don't like to leave Stacey alone,’’ he told her. ’’Heidi seems just fine,’’ he said, noticing the way she quickly looked at him. ’’Honestly,’’ he added firmly.

’’Of course,’’ Lauren said. ’’Thank you for driving me here.’’

’’We watch out for one another here. You go on up and see your friend. She won't be alone. Bobby will be with her.’’

Lauren walked through the halls and down to the elevator. People said hello all along the way, and she greeted them politely in return. New Orleans really was a great place-if you just discounted the vampires.

She reached Deanna's floor, where there was the usual activity at the nurses'station. It was a busy place. Doctors, orderlies, nurses, all going about their business.

She walked down the hall.

There was no officer outside the door..

She felt a little leap of fear, then remembered that Bobby was on duty, and he would be in the room with Deanna.

But when she reached the room and walked in, there was no one there.

Just Deanna, sleeping as usual. So beautiful, so peaceful, like the fairytale princess awaiting her lover.

The windows were open, the drapes blowing inward.

There was no sign of Bobby, or even Jonas.

As she stood in the doorway, puzzled, a scream echoed from down the hall.

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