Blood Red Chapter 4


Mark Davidson was charming, and of course both Heidi and Deanna were outrageous flirts when they wanted to be.

First, though, Lauren demanded to know where her friend had been. Deanna seemed surprised that Lauren had been so worried just because she'd wandered off and told her, ’’Shopping. And I'm perfectly capable of going in and out of stores alone. You're the one who left us high and dry, you know.’’

Ignoring that, Lauren asked, ’’Did you take a carriage ride?’’

’’A carriage ride? Why would I have taken a carriage ride?’’

So whatever had so disturbed her was really nothing, Lauren thought. Maybe she needed to start worrying about herself.

Over a couple of really po'boys, Mark entertained them with tales of his travels, his writing-and his playing.

’’So are you good?’’ Heidi asked good-naturedly.

’’I leave that to the listener to decide.’’

’’I'd love to hear you play sometime,’’ Lauren said.

He justshrugged. ’’So, tell me more about your business,’’ he said.

He had quite a knack for turning the conversation away from himself, she thought-and decided not to allow it. ’’Mark lost a fiancee, too,’’ she said. ’’Her name was Katie, and she looked like me. Or I look like her.’’

The table went dead silent.

’’I'm so sorry,’’ Heidi said.

’’Me too,’’ Deanna told him. She reached across the table and squeezed his hand.

Lauren noted the way he studied her in return. Not lasciviously, more as if he were searching for something, expecting her to give herself away somehow.

’’He's worried about us,’’ Lauren added.

’’Why?’’ Heidi asked.

’’Because of that body they found in the Mississippi,’’ Lauren said.

To her surprise, Heidi bestowed a tremendous smile on the man. ’’That is so sweet of you!’’

’’Imagine. We go on vacation and find a handsome protector,’’ Deanna said. She turned to Lauren. ’’And he's in the cottage right next to ours.’’

They were both crazy, Lauren decided. The sun was too much for them. And the way they were flirt...She wasn't sure whether to scream or vomit.

’’He thinks he knows who the killer is, that it's the same man who killed his fiancee.’’

’’Oh, my God!’’ Deanna said, leaning forward and touching him gently, real concern in her eyes.

’’I didn't actually say that he killed her, but he was responsible for her death,’’ Mark said, frowning at Lauren.

’’You should go to the police if you have any information at all,’’ Heidi told him.

’’You're right, I should,’’ he said. To Lauren's surprise, he stood. ’’I think I'll take a stroll down to the station right now. Thanks so much for letting me join you for lunch,’’ he said. ’’And I'm in cottage six, if you need me.’’

’’Are you two insane!’’ Lauren asked in a vehement whisper as he walked away. When he looked back with a glance of amusement;she knew that, even at a distance, he had heard her, and she blushed.

’’What is the matter with you?’’ Heidi demanded. ’’He's unbelievable.’’

’’That would be the point,’’ Lauren muttered.

’’You're being ridiculous,’’ Heidi announced. ’’He obviously has the hots for you, but if you're going to be an idiot and turn down a good man, let Deanna have a crack at him.’’

’’Lauren, if you're not interested in him, you're going off the deep end,’’ Deanna told her.

’’Hey, I wasn't the one sleepwalking,’’ she snapped. ’’And he's lying-I'll be you he's lying. He isn't going to the police station.’’

’’We can follow him and find out,’’ Deanna suggested.

’’Yeah-right after we pay the check. He joined us for lunch and walked out,’’ Lauren reminded them, waved a hand to signal the waitress.

’’May we have the check, please?’’ Lauren asked when the woman came over.

’’The gentleman gave me his credit card before he joined you,’’ she said. ’’You don't have a check.’’

’’Oh. Thanks,’’ Lauren said, staring at her blankly.

’’I'll leave the tip,’’ Heidi offered.

’’He was really generous,’’ the waitress said. ’’You don't need to. Honestly.’’

’’Thanks,’’ Heidi told her. ’’We'll...we'll just add to it,’’ she said lamely.

Lauren rose along with Deanna, as their friend dug in her purse, then laid a bill on the table. ’’Hey, look at this.’’ Heidi said.

It was the beautiful antique cross. He'd left it on the table, Lauren realized.

’’Where did this come from?’’ Heidi asked curiously.

’’Mr. Gorgeous left it,’’ Lauren said. She shook her head, but took the cross from Heidi. ’’Come on, I'm going to prove to you both that he's full of shit.’’

She led them quickly through the French Quarter, for once ignoring the architecture that never failed to enthrall her and the street musicians who somehow always sounded so good. When they reached the police station. Lauren opened the door to go in, then froze.

Mark Davidson was there, talking to the desk sergeant.

She backed out of the doorway, stunned.

’’Ouch,’’ Heidi protested, as Lauren stepped on her foot.

’’I take it Mr. Davidson is inside?’’ Deanna said dryly.

’’Yes,’’ Lauren said, puzzled.

’’See?’’ Deanna said.

’’Something's still...not right,’’ Lauren said.

’’You always think something not right,’’ Deanna told her. ’’Lauren, you can't live your life with nothing ever being right,’’ she added gently.

’’You don't understand,’’ Lauren tried to explain.

’’Yes, we do.’’ Both of them spoke in unison, looking at her in concern. They were convinced that she couldn't get beyond the past, and that she desperately needed to.

’’No,’’ she insisted. ’’I'm fine-these days. I would love to meet the right guy...or even a decent enough wrong guy. Movies, dinner...music,’’ she said. ’’Honestly, I know you don't have to plan a lifetime with someone to enjoy his company.’’

’’You know what she needs?’’ Heidi said gravely to Deanna.

’’I do,’’ Deanna said.

’’And that would be...?’’ Lauren asked.

’’se*. Wild, hot, passionate se*,’’ Deanna said.

’’Oh, please!’’

’’Spontaneous. Wicked,’’ Heidi said, agreeing with Deanna.

’’Can we move on?’’ Lauren said.

’’Look-she's blushing. She is attracted to him,’’ Deanna said triumphantly.

’’How could she not be?’’ Heidi said.

’’Look,’’ Lauren insisted, ’’something just isn't right here.’’

’’The fortune-teller,’’ Deanna told Heidi gravely.

Heidi linked an arm through Lauren's. ’’I don't know what we're going to do with you. Wait! Brainstorm! I do know what we're going to do. I'm having a vision. It's me, and I'm standing at a craps table.’’

’’You lose at craps all the time,’’ Lauren said.

’’And I have a hell of a good time doing it. Come on, slave, let's trot on back over to Harrah's. I see us sunning in the late afternoon sun later. A dip in the pool will be followed by dinner. K-Paul's tonight. Then we'll hit Bourbon Street for music and jazz. Cool?’’

’’Cool,’’ Lauren said, though she didn't sound convinced. Then she looked at Deanna and frowned. ’’You're sure you didn't take a carriage ride today? I could have sworn I saw you with a tall, dark-haired guy, like the one I saw you talking to in the bar last night.’’

’’The cute guy?’’ Deanna said.

’’Yeah. Were you in a carriage with him?’’

’’No,’’ Deanna said.

It could be difficult to tell if Deanna was blushing, because her skin was such a beautiful shade of copper, but Lauren thought she had reddened.

As if she were lying.

’’Hey, pay attention here, slaves,’’ Heidi demanded.

They both looked at her. ’’Harrah's,’’ she ordered.

Lauren let out a breath, still staring at Deanna. ’’Right. Harrah's,’’ she said.

And she started to walk.

Mark had known the women would follow him, egged on by Lauren.

Luckily, they had quickly departed.

And he had gotten more of a response at the police station than he had been expecting. Of course, it had been some time since he'd been in New Orleans. Things here had changed.

At the desk, he'd informed the sergeant that he didn't have any solid information, but he knew of a European national now in the country who had been linked to various crimes overseas-crimes that left victims resembling the woman found in the Mississippi.

He had expected to give information to a bored paper-chasing officer in a cubicle somewhere.

To his surprise, he was ushered into the office of Lieutenant Sean Canady, an impressive man with steel blue eyes and a rock-hard chin.

’’I understand you have information regarding the body in the river?’’ Canady said, taking his seat after a handshake and indicating a chair across from his desk.

’’Not exactly,’’ Mark corrected. ’’But I do have reason to believe that the crime may be associated with a man named Stephan??? who I believe is in this area now.’’

’’I see.’’ Canady's hands were folded on his desk. ’’Sadly, Mr. Davidson, murder isn't unusual. Nor is decapitation, though I admit it's somewhat less common.’’

’’No.’’

’’So...?’’

Mark took a deep breath. ’’There are a number of ancient beliefs that suggest decapitation will prevent someone from becoming a vampire. And there's a modern belief that some vampires are careful to dispose of victims they aren't entirely...sure of. Population control, if you will. Survival of the...’’

’’Hottest? Most clever?’’ Canady said.

The man must think he was an idiot, Mark realized. ’’Yes.’’

Canady's eyes didn't flicker. He was either trying to humor him until the padded wagon bound for the asylum arrived, or...

Or nothing surprised him at all.

Or maybe...

He'd had previous experience with vampires.

’’Your suggesting there's a vampire loose in the New Orleans?’’ Canady said.

Mark shook his head. ’’No,’’ he said. Then he took a deep breath. ’’No, I'm suggesting there are several.’’

’’Look! He's up again!’’ Deanna said triumphantly, looking at Lauren with sheer pleasure in her eyes. ’’The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Bonus, bonus, bonus!’’

Deanna loved the slot machines with bonus features. Especially this one.

They had both wandered away from the craps table after losing far too quickly, leaving Heidi, had been making all the right bets, to play on her own.

Deanna and Lauren had scaled down to the penny machines, and though the stakes were low, they were winning.

’’Isn't that just great?’’ Deanna asked, pointing at the Creature. ’’Can you believe that movie actually frightened people?’’

Lauren reflected on the question. ’’It was a long time ago. Before they could do the kind of special effects we have now.’’

’’I don't think that creature would have frightened me, no matter what,’’ Deanna said, grinning.

’’Cocktails?’’ an attractively and scantily attired waitress asked, interrupting their conversation.

Deanna looked at her watch. ’’Sure.’’

’’Remember sleepwalking?’’ Lauren asked softly.

Deanna waved a hand in the air. ’’It's almost five o'clock.’’

’’It's three o'clock.’’

’’Close enough. Rum and coke, please. And you, quit acting like my mom. This is supposed to be a wild weekend.’’

’’A light beer, please,’’ Lauren said.

’’Wow. Going all out,’’ Deanna teased.

Lauren looked hard at her friend. Deanna was super-model gorgeous, with her height and exotic features and coloring. It was hard to mistake her for anyone else.

’’You really didn't go for a carriage ride today?’’ Lauren asked her.

Deanna stared at her. ’’No.’’

’’Where were you?’’

’’Where were you?’’

’’Looking for you.’’

Deanna ’’I left Heidi trying on her twenty-fifth hat and wandered into a few stores.’’

Lauren was sure she could see color suffusing her friend's cheeks again.

’’What aren't you telling me?’’ Lauren asked.

Deanna shrugged. ’’I ran into that guy from the bar last night.’’

’’Oh?’’ Lauren felt a strange surge of unease. ’’That's who I thought you were with in the carriage.’’

’’How strange,’’ Deanna murmured, then looked at Lauren again.

’’What?’’ Lauren persisted.

’’There was a carriage-well, there are lots of carriages in New Orleans-and I was tempted to take a ride, but then I saw Jonas.’’

’’Jonas?’’

’’The guy from the bar.’’

’’And then?’’ Lauren persisted.

’’We chatted, he said he'd hoped we'd run into each other again tonight, he left, I found Heidi, and then we found you. And the hunk-next-door.’’

’’The scary hunk-next-door,’’ Lauren said.

Deanna let out a laugh. ’’You know what's scary about him?’’

’’What?’’

’’You.’’

’’Me?’’

’’Yes, you. Your reaction. You're afraid to get close to anyone. You're afraid to so much as have lunch with someone. And you need to get over it. Here's what I think. You're actually attracted to this guy, se*ually, attracted, so you're trying to push him away. You don't want to be hurt, to lose someone again.’’

’’Thank you, Dr. Deanna.’’

’’Give the guy a chance, why don't you?’’

’’I was perfectly nice to him at lunch.’’

’’He's looking for more than lunch. And I think you are, too.’’

Lauren felt her own cheeks redden. She was paler than her friend. Deanna didn't have to blink to realize she'd struck a chord.

’’You feel it, don't you?’’

’’I feel what?’’

’’The desire to...well, I was going to say jump his bones, but it's you, so I'll just say the desire.’’

Lauren groaned and rose, stretching.

’’Where do you think you're going? We just ordered drinks from a hard working waitress. At least wait for her to come back so we can get our drinks and give her a tip, huh?’’

’’Oh, all right,’’ Lauren said. To kill time, she hit the button on the slot machine, then watched as five Creatures from the Black Lagoon appeared neatly in a row across the screen.

Bells started ringing.

’’Fifty-thousand pennies!’’ Deanna said delightedly. ’’You just won five hundred dollars.’’

’’Now that's cool,’’ Lauren had to agree.

The bells were still ringing, and people around them were coming to check out her winnings. There were much larger jackpots to be had, she was certain, but fifty thousand cents was definitely fun, and most people seemed cheerful, apparently happy to see someone get the better of the house.

There was one cranky old fellow, though, who walked by them muttering, ’’That was my jackpot. That thing cleaned out my pockets’’

At least the rest of the place seemed happy. The attendant was happy signing their sheet, and once they got their drinks and duly tipped the waitress, the cashier was pleased to give them their money. It really wasn't that much. The man in front of them was cashing in five thousand in poker chips.

’’It isn't the amount;it's the excitement of the win,’’ Deanna told her.

’’I'll bet you the excitement of a five-thousand-dollar win must feel pretty good, too,’’ Lauren said, but she was laughing. It really had been fun.

And they'd all but forgotten Heidi.

’’Craps tables,’’ they said at the same time.

Their timing was great. They got there just as Heidi, who had apparently been on a roll, crapped out. The table cheered her when she got up, looking flushed and happy.

’’Hey, you can't go now, lady luck!’’ a nicely dressed middle-aged woman called to her.

’’Don't worry. The dice will come around again,’’ a handsome young guy in a Harley Davidson jacket assured her.

’’We should leave now, while we're all ahead,’’ Deanna said.

’’Why didn't you make me leave earlier, when I'd won even more?’’ Heidi demanded as they waited while she cashed in her chips. ’’How did you two do with your pennies?’’ she asked, her tone patronizing.

’’Lauren won five hundred dollars,’’ Deanna said.

Heidi frowned. ’’Five hundred dollars?’’

’’Yep,’’ Deanna said proudly.

’’I think I have three hundred and thirty five,’’ Heidi said, then grinned. ’’That means you pay for dinner.’’

’’Bathing suits, sun and the pool first, right?’’ Lauren asked.

’’You bet,’’ Heidi agreed.

A little while later, they stepped out into bright afternoon sunlight and headed back to their B and B.

But despite the blazing sunlight, Lauren couldn't shake the feeling that they were surrounded by darkness and shadows.

’’Vampires. Plural,’’ Sean Canady said, looking steadily at Mark.

Mark was surprised that he hadn't called in the men in the white coats, though he had excused himself for several minutes, then returned.

Maybe the men in the white coats were already on the way.

All right, time to try another tack. ’’Look, I love New Orleans. It's like no other place, but there are plenty of cultists and crazies here.’’

’’True enough,’’ the cop agreed sagely.

I don't mean me, Mark added silently, then kept going. ’’Stephan is a...cult leader. He's also psychotic, a man who never feels any regret for the pain he causes, and he can mesmerize others and turn them into killers.’’

’’Well, thank you for your information. I appreciate your coming in.’’

’’You haven't filled out any forms.’’

’’I will.’’

’’Usually cops take notes while someone is talking.’’

’’You're familiar with police procedure?’’ Canady asked.

Mark hesitated just slightly, then said, ’’Hey, I watch television. Law and Order.’’

’’Right,’’ Canady agreed politely. ’’And CSI. We always get our guy in just one episode, too,’’ he said dryly.

’’I assure you, you need to find this man, and stop him.’’ He stood. There was so much more he wanted to say, but if he did, he really would risk being committed.

He frowned, noticing the chain around the lieutenant's neck. ’’Cross?’’ he asked.

’’Yeah, why?’’

’’No reason. Just curious,’’ Mark said.

He decided to depart quickly, before things became complicated. He'd tried, but he was still on his own against Stephan.

’’Thanks for your time. Before I go, I should tell you that I'm certain he has some kind of...lair around here. Probably somewhere in the French Quarter, maybe the Garden District, or even uptown. I'll be looking for him. If you go looking for him, too, do it carefully.’’

The cop blinked but still betrayed no emotion.

’’Good luck, Lieutenant,’’ Mark said, shaking his head. Well, what the hell had he expected? for the lieutenant to form a posse armed with stakes and holy water?

’’Back at you,’’ the cop said as Mark turned and left

Mark knew without looking that the steel-eyed lieutenant followed and watched him all the way out to the street.

The sun was still hot when they made it out to the pool, even though it was four o'clock. They had the place to themselves, the rest of guests apparently having gone off to other pursuits.

Jumping into the water felt delicious, and crawling out wasn't bad, either.

Many of the lounge chairs around the pool were shaded by umbrella tops and they pulled three together. They chatted about the wedding, the city and their plans for their winnings, but not about the headless corpse that had been dragged from the Mississippi or the tall, dark strangers they had encountered in the course of the weekend.

Heidi stood at last, yawning and stretching. ’’I'm going to shower, okay? If I stay out here much longer I'll burn to a crisp.’’

’’Poor, pale darling,’’ Deanna teased her.

’’Hey, you can burn, too, my copper beauty,’’ Heidi warned.

’’I know,’’ Deanna assured her. ’’But you're by far the most delicate of us.’’

’’I'm pale and I come in a small package, but I'm fierce,’’ Heidi told her.

’’Of course you are,’’ Deanna assured her, waving a hand dismissively. ’’Go on. Take your shower.’’

After Heidi went inside, a gentle breeze suddenly arose, not chilly but balmy and, since they were still damp from the water, quite nice. Lauren felt as if she had returned to the world of the normal. She felt relaxed.

Deanna turned to her suddenly.

’’Did you feel it?’’ she demanded tensely.

’’What?’’

’’I could feel it.’’

’’Feel what?’’

’’Eyes. Being watched.’’

Lauren stared blankly at her friend, then asked slowly and carefully, ’’Um...do you think Mark Davidson is watching us from his cottage?’’ she suggested.

’’No. He's not there.’’

’’How do you know?’’

’’I knocked on his door while you were still changing to see if he wanted to hang with us at the pool.’’

Lauren digested that information. ’’Maybe he just didn't answer his door,’’ she suggested.

Deanna shook her head firmly.

’’How can you be so sure?’’

’’Because I saw the maid go into his cottage, and she left his door open. He wasn't there.’’

’’Okay, so Mark isn't watching us. But you think someone is?’’

’’I don't think. I know.’’

Despite herself, Lauren felt her pleasant aura of peace and calm evaporate. She looked around. The breeze was rustling the foliage around the house and pool, but it wasn't as if they were in a deep, dark forest.

She stood, then walked around the courtyard, around a hibiscus and a croton;she went so far as to head to the parking lot at the rear and check the trees there.

’’No one,’’ she told Deanna, returning to her chair.

Deanna didn't seem appeased.

’’Maybe someone was watching from the main house,’’ Lauren suggested. ’’Maybe our hostess, checking to be sure we aren't throwing a wild pool party.’’

’’I'm not making you understand,’’ Deanna said.

Yes, you are. You're totally giving me the creeps

, Lauren thought.

’’Well, Heidi should be out of the shower by now. We can both go in. You can have first dibs. I think I'm going to brew up some coffee before you guys decide to hit the bars again.’’

’’Okay,’’ Deanna said and began to gather her belongings.

Lauren did the same, then stopped. ’’Deanna,’’ she said.

’’Yeah?’’

’’Do you...do you think it was the man you ran into last night at the bar?’’

’’The cute guy?’’ Deanna asked.

’’I didn't really see him. I don't know how cute he was,’’ Lauren said.

Deanna frowned in thought, then shook her head. ’’No. There was nothing...creepy about him. Now, the other guy...’’

’’What other guy?’’

Deanna hesitated. ’’I don't know,’’ she said, puzzled.

’’You're losing me. What are you talking about?’’ Lauren asked.

Deanna shook her head. ’’There are two guys.’’

’’Two guys?’’ Lauren said, frowning. ’’Do you mean Mark Davidson, maybe? Mark and the man you met at the bar?’’

’’No, Mark is your guy,’’ Deanna said.

’’Then who do you mean?’’

’’I...don't really know. Maybe I had too much to drink or something, but I can't exactly remember. But I'm sure I've seen...or met...two men. The one at the bar last night. His name is Jonas. I like him. He's very sweet. And I ran into him today, right when...’’

’’Right when what?’’

’’What you said,’’ Deanna told her. She sounded impatient.

’’What I said about what?’’

’’The carriage ride.’’

’’You did take a carriage ride?’’

’’No. But I was tempted to.’’ She looked at Lauren. ’’This is crazy. You know what? I'm with you from now on when it comes to fortune-tellers. But...’’

’’But what?’’ Lauren persisted.

’’There's someone else,’’ Deanna said, troubled.

’’The second man you've seen? Have you talked to him? Maybe you've just walked past him a few times or something. Deanna, I wish you made sense. I don't know what you're talking about.’’

’’Neither do I. It's more like a feeling,’’ Deanna murmured. ’’I'm sorry. I know I sound...confused. It must be the sleepwalking.’’

’’It's okay. I'm just trying to understand.’’

Deanna stopped suddenly, looking around. ’’It's gone.’’

Lauren hesitated. ’’It?’’

’’Whatever was watching us.’’

’’Who ever was watching us, you mean.’’

Deanna shivered. ’’No. Whatever was watching us.’’ She stared at Lauren with wide eyes. ’’It wasn't human. I'm sure of it.’’

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