Blood Red Chapter 6


Sean Canady had taken the call while he was standing on the sidewalk on Conti Street, having just made sure that Lauren and her friends had gotten safely into their cottage.

’’Canady here,’’ he said.

’’It's Bobby, Lieutenant. We've got trouble.’’

’’Go on.’’

’’We have another floater.’’

Sean's heart sank, and he swore silently. ’’Where?’’

Bobby gave him the coordinates. He was thankful to hear that they weren't in the heart of the city.

’’Send a car for me now,’’ he said, and gave his exact location.

’’Yessir.’’

’’Bobby?’’

’’Yeah?’’

Sean paused. ’’Headless?’’

’’Yeah, Lieutenant. Headless.’’

’’Don't scream. Please, don't scream. I swear to God, I have no desire to hurt you, I'm trying to help you.’’

Thoughts plowed through her mind with the speed of lightning as she was dragged from her own doorway.

She should scream. Definitely, she should scream.

She would pretend to agree, but the minute he lifted his hand, she was going to scream bloody murder.

His eyes seemed so sincere. And he was definitely a powerful man, all muscle;if he had wanted to drag her somewhere else, he could have done it easily.

Scream.

How many women throughout history had died because they had listened to the words don't scream?

She wasn't an idiot.

She was the daughter of a cop, for God's sake.

’’Please, if you'll just listen to me, I swear I won't touch you again. You just have to listen to me. You have to understand the danger you're in.’’

Actually, I want you to touch me, even if you look at me and think of Katie, even if I'm not quite sure whether you're sane or not....

Bad thought.

But when he eased his hand away from her mouth, she just stood there, staring daggers at him, shaking. Despite her promise to herself, she didn't scream.

’’The cops know all about you,’’ she warned.

’’Some cops may know what I'm talking about.’’

’’They know you're staying here.’’

’’Please.’’ He didn't touch her, though she could tell he wanted to. ’’Come next door. For ten minutes. And you can leave any time you want.’’

Not only was she not going to scream, she realized, she was going to go into his cottage with him.

Not a grave danger, she tried to reassure herself. The cottages were small and close together. If she screamed, someone would hear her.

Wouldn't they?

’’If you still think I'm totally insane after listening to what I have to say, I swear...I'll leave you alone.’’

’’I could have you arrested,’’ she lied.

’’Your lives are worth the risk.’’

He sounded so sincere.

She knew that the voice in her head telling her to just say no was right. Sure, she was attracted to the man, attracted in a way she had never believed she could feel again. In his presence, she felt as if her every sense was heightened, but that was a stupid reason to trust him. And yet...

’’This better be quick,’’ she said brusquely. ’’Wait here. I'm going to lock the door.’’

And to her amazement, she calmly went for her key, then made sure that the door was locked behind when she exited the cottage, this time of her own volition. He led the twenty feet or so to his own cottage and opened his door, ushering her in.

She took a deep breath as she walked through the doorway.

Had she just signed her own death warrant?

The cottage was like her own, with a bedroom, kitchenette, bath and living room. In their cottage, the sofa bed in the living room was made up. Here, it remained a sofa. She took a seat on the chair that faced the sofa. She was not going to let him sit next to her.

’’Would you like something to drink?’’

’’No. You said you want to talk to me, so talk.’’

He sat on the couch opposite her, a coffee table between them. He leaned forward and took a breath. His eyes caught and held hers

’’You know the danger is real. A headless body was found floating in the Mississippi.’’

’’It's hard to miss the newspaper reports,’’ she replied.

’’And I told you, I know who the killer is.’’

I should be suspecting that it's you, she thought. But somehow she couldn't believe that. If she had, surely she couldn't-wouldn't-have calmly walked over here.

No, he might not be entirely sane, but he was entirely sincere.

’’How can you be so certain?’’ she asked him.

’’Because I know Stephan.’’

She stared at him, as if digesting what he had said, then asked carefully, ’’And you're certain that what you're telling me is...real?’’

’’Stephan Delansky is very real,’’ he told her quietly. ’’I've come here because I came across one of his...associates who told me he was coming here. With an army.’’

’’An army?’’ she queried. ’’Who is Stephan Delansky?’’

’’An old enemy. But not just my enemy. A very dangerous man. Many years ago I took a trip to Kiev, in the Ukraine. I met a woman there. Katya.’’

’’The one I remind you of.’’

’’Yes,’’ he said very softly, then took a deep breath. ’’I'm from this area originally. After I met Katya, she came back here with me. I was head over heels, and so was Katya. Katie, I called her. We were going to go back there to get married, though. To Kiev. She had always dreamed of being married in a castle, and there are some great castles over there. But while we were still here, she thought she kept seeing an old friend of hers-Stephan. I saw her speaking to him once and asked her about him, even suggested she introduce us, but he had no interest in meeting me. Meanwhile, we kept planning our wedding. But before it could take place, Katie was dead. Because of Stephan.’’

His voice was mesmerizing, compelling. It touched her in some deep core over which she had no control. She wanted to listen to him, wanted to believe him.

But she couldn't help thinking that maybe the pain of his loss had made him delusional. She knew what it was like to deny the truth, to go through the fury, the agony and then the dull acceptance of loss.

Maybe he hadn't come quite so far.

’’Did he shoot her? Stab her? What?’’ Lauren asked softly.

His head lowered for a minute. She was tempted to reach out. To touch the lush darkness of his hair.

He looked up at her again, straight in the eye.

’’Stephan is a vampire.’’

She froze, staring at him.

Wishing that she hadn't heard him correctly.

Knowing that she had.

’’I see,’’ she said. But the only thing she saw was that he was delusional. It was so sad. The first man who had made her think she might want to at least have a relationship again, maybe even love again.

A relationship...?

OK, se*..

She told herself that she needed to get a grip. She had never been the type to indulge in casual se*.

Except there was nothing casual about this man.

Even now, after hearing him talk with complete seriousness about the existence of vampires, she still longed to reach out and touch the night-rich darkness of his hair.

He shook his head, the curve of his smile self-mocking.

’’I know you don't believe me. But I know your cop, the one who showed up at the bar,, the one who followed you here. His name's Lieutenant Sean Canady. I went with him today to the morgue.’’

’’The morgue?’’ she repeated, staring blankly at him.

’’I needed to see the body.’’

’’The headless woman?’’ That thought scared the hell out of her.

’’Yes.’’

’’Let me get this straight. Lieutenant Canady, a police officer, took you in with him to see the corpse of a crime victim?’’

’’He did. You can ask him.’’

There was a note of absolute truth in his tone. She knew that Canady really had taken him in to see the corpse.

Great. The cops were crazy, too.

He lifted a hand. ’’Please, hear me out. The cops aren't insane any more than I am. But this is New Orleans. Voodoo central. They're aware of all kinds of cultists and weird practices going on here.’’

’’Sure,’’ she murmured.

She needed to get out of here. He had sworn he wouldn't stop her. All she had to do was stand up and leave.

But she didn't.

’’And when you saw the body?’’

’’Even though she had been beheaded, you could still see the marks.’’

’’The marks? From a vampire?’’

’’Yes.’’

She inhaled, wary, feeling as if she needed to run as fast as she could, but fascinated by the conversation despite herself.

Wishing desperately that...

That they weren't having this conversation at all.

’’All right,’’ she said. ’’Let's go back to what went on tonight at the bar. Deanna considers that man, Jonas, a friend. Why were you trying to beat him to a pulp?’’

’’Because he's a vampire.’’

’’I thought Stephan was the vampire?’’

’’Stephan is one vampire, a very old one. Very powerful. He can influence people around him, command respect.’’ He let out a sound of derision. ’’Just like a cult leader,’’ he said quietly. ’’I think Stephan has come here with an army of vampires. And I'm convinced he knows you're here.’’

’’And he's after me because I look like Katie?’’

’’I don't know if he'd been in love with her, after her, for years, or if having her simply became a matter of pride, an obsession, for him. But, yes, if I saw you and thought-even for a split second-that you were Katie, I can promise you that Stephan would have reacted exactly the same way.’’

She moistened her lips and spoke softly, reasonably. ’’All right, so...so if Stephan wants me, why is Jonas after Deanna?’’

’’I had hoped to find that out tonight. Deanna is beautiful. Any man would notice her in a crowd. Maybe that's all it is. Perhaps Jonas, having seen her, just wants her for himself. Or maybe Stephan has decided to pick off your friends one by one to get to you, so he's ordered Jonas to go after Deanna. And of course Stephan knows I'm in the area now, as well.’’

’’How does he know that?’’

Mark looked grim. ’’Trust me. He knows. And he's been here-on the grounds. I know that, too.’’

’’You've seen him?’’

’’I've...smelled him.’’ Smelled?

A chill shot through Lauren. She should be laughing.

No, she should leave. Should have left ten minutes ago.

But once again, she simply watched him, amazed. There was something in his words, a calm sincerity, that was disturbing. He spoke with such an element of truth...or true belief, at least.

She sat still for a moment, then leaned forward and said, ’’Mark. I know what it's like to lose someone. I was engaged myself. My fiance was in the military, and he was killed overseas. I knew he was in danger over there, but somehow you don't believe anything terrible will happen to someone you love. He was a pilot, and his plane went down. I tried for months to believe it was a lie, a mistake, that it was someone else...but then his body came home and I had to face the truth. There are stages of grief, you know. Denial, fury, guilt...I'm sure it hurt terribly to lose Katie. I know there were days when I thought I'd lost my mind. Seriously, I'm a pacifist, but I wanted to nuke half the world.’’

He shook his head, dark lashes shielding his eyes. Then he offered her his rueful grin, the one that made her long to get closer to him.

’’I have no desire to hurt anyone other than Stephan-and his kind.’’

’’As in vampires.’’

He hesitated. ’’As in his kind,’’ he repeated.

She lifted her hands. ’’What do you want me to do?’’ she asked.

’’Let me protect you.’’

’’You want to follow us around?’’

’’Yes.’’

She rose, thinking that she very seriously needed to get away from him, to listen to the voice of sanity again. At the same time, she couldn't resist being with him, near him, seeing his eyes, hearing his voice. All she wanted was for this to be a normal conversation. Like a date. She wanted to laugh with him. She wanted to be pulled into his arms...to explore the dream.

’’I have to think about this,’’ she told him.

He stood, as well. ’’You want to go to the police in the morning and report me as a lunatic, and you want to put your life in the hands of the authorities. But they can't help you. I'm not sure the police can even help themselves.’’

’’Look, I'm really tired. I had a few drinks, and right now I don't know what I think.’’ She started for the door but turned back. ’’And I'm not Katie.’’

He shook his head. ’’I know that. You're very different, entirely yourself.’’ There was a husky tone in his voice, and she couldn't help the very se*ual images that he aroused in her mind, even though she knew that she had to be bordering on insanity to even be considering a relationship with him.

She realized that she had needed to know he realized she was different, her own woman, and she wasn't sure why. And she was angry with herself becasuse it was so important. She didn't intend to be a substitute for any other woman, so if...

If she did wind up in bed with him...

But she wasn't going to. For one thing, he clearly wasn't right in the head.

’’So why the interest in me?’’ she demanded harshly. Too harshly.

’’Because you're remarkable,’’ he told her.

Suddenly it was all too much for her. ’’I need to get back. Heidi or Deanna might wake up, and they'll panic if I'm not there.’’

’’Of course.’’

As he said the words, the night was suddenly broken by a bloodcurdling scream.

The sound of helicopters over water practically deafened Sean.

Without that, and the sounds of the work force gathering, it might have been any other slow southern night on the river. Though he couldn't hear them, he knew that insects were chirping nearby, and there was actually a breeze off the water, carrying with it the scent of magnolias. If he closed his eyes...

He would still hear the helicopters and the shouting all around him.

A couple of kids out in a canoe had reported the grisly find;they were now huddled on the embankment, wrapped in blankets, pale and scared. Sean knew they'd had nothing to do with the murder, and he called for a couple of officers to take them home.

’’Oh, man, this guy is one sick f*k,’’ someone muttered near him.

He didn't say anything. He knew the guy wasn't sick at all. Wasn't demented. He was demonic. And smart. Sean knew he had to keep the situation under control, keep local cops thinking there was a run-of-the-mill deranged killer on the loose.

’’I don't want her touched until Mordock gets here,’’ he said, nodding to Bobby, who would see that his word was carried out as law.

He walked down closer to the water, knowing it would give him no clue. No, this guy was more than some sick f*k. He was enjoying every minute of what he was doing. Population control. Leaving just enough hints to throw the cops on the wrong track. Dumping the bodies in the Mighty Mississippi, knowing the water would wash away so many clues.

’’Lieutenant? Mordock is here,’’ Bobby called.

Sean strode back to the body. He looked down. He'd never become a dispassionate. This was his city, and he loved it, fought for it. He cared for its people.

But the dead girl didn't even seem real. No head. Her skin sickly white, her flesh swollen from immersion.

Mordock looked up at him. ’’I'll know more after the autopsy,’’ he said.

’’What do you know now?’’

’’Dead two to four days, maybe. I don't think much longer.’’

’’Decapitated before or after death?’’ Sean asked, but he already knew the answer.

’’After.’’

One of the cops standing nearby crossed himself. ’’Thank God for that,’’ he muttered. Then he turned around and walked away. Sean could hear him retching.

’’Drained of blood?’’ Sean asked wearily.

’’You bet,’’ Mordock said. He looked at Sean. ’’Do we have another vampire cult or something on our hands?

’’Yeah. Or something,’’ Sean said. ’’Excuse me. I've got to call my wife.’’

Mark might have been big and tough and fast, but Lauren still beat him outside.

Where she saw....

Something.

A shape.

Living darkness?

At the end of the pool, looking like a large black hole in the universe, someone-or some thing-in conversation with Deanna.

Deanna, looking gorgeous, was in a nothing but a white cotton nightgown, her hand to her heart, staring at...What?

Lauren couldn't see clearly, but she was sure there was something there. Something besides darkness.

Darkness that moved.

Mark flew past Lauren. She was amazed anyone so big could move so fast and immediately thought he must have played football, then wondered how she could waste time thinking about something so inane thought when she was so afraid. As Mark ran, she noticed that he had pulled something from his pocket. Suddenly liquid went flying into the living darkness that lurked just behind Deanna.

Lauren came to a halt, her heart pounding. Mark had moved beyond Deanna, setting himself between her and whatever had been there. She refused to accept her feeling that she had seen a dark cloud of evil in the air. Someone had been there. She was simply being tricked by the shadows.

But when the liquid had flown, she was sure she had heard something.

A hissing.

Now the shadow was gone, and so was Mark. He didn't go out the gate, though. Like a quarterback heading down the field with the ball, he ran-and leapt over the wall separating the cottages from the next property.

She stared after him blankly for a moment.

Then she jolted back to reality. Deanna was just standing there, shaking.

’’Deanna!’’ she cried, and rushed forward, putting her arms around her friend.

Deanna didn't move, didn't acknowledge her.

’’Deanna?’’ she said again, tentatively.

Deanna jumped, as if suddenly awakening from a deep sleep, and stared at Lauren.

’’I...’’ She fell silent, looking around in confusion. ’’I don't remember coming out here,’’ she said, and shivered. ’’Was I sleepwalking again? I had a dream. I thought that I was going out to see Jonas...but then it wasn't Jonas.’’ She sounded lost and afraid. Then, suddenly, her demeanor changed. ’’Were you talking to Mark Davidson? What on earth is the matter with that man? Why was he trying to hurt Jonas?’’ Her tone had gone from confused to impatient and irritated.

’’Deanna, this is serious. And it has nothing to do with Mark or Jonas,’’ she said firmly. ’’You were sleepwalking again. And you screamed.’’

’’I did not!’’ Deanna said, shocked.

’’Is everything all right?’’

Lauren swung around. It was Helen;she and Janice had emerged from their cottage, clutching robes around themselves.

’’Oh,’’ Deanna groaned. ’’Did I wake you? Did I really scream?’’

’’You did,’’ Janice said. ’’Someone did, anyway.’’

’’I didn't mean to. I'm so sorry. I even watched my drinking tonight,’’ Deanna said apologetically.

Heidi came wandering out then, half asleep, confused. ’’Hey, what's going on out here?’’

’’It's all right,’’ Deanna said, seeming like her usual self again, dismissing her disturbing behavior as if it were pure silliness. ’’You can dress me up, but you just can't take me anywhere,’’ she said lightly. ’’I've had dreams my whole life, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but I never woke up the whole neighborhood before. I am so sorry.’’

’’No problem. Good we're all nearby, huh?’’ Janice said cheerfully, then murmured, ’’That's strange. Where's tall, dark and to die for from cottage six? You'd think he'd be out here. He's such a...’’

’’Lean, mean, fighting machine?’’ Helen teased.

’’I think he's a cop or something,’’ Janice said.

’’He's a writer and musician,’’ Lauren corrected.

’’So he says. I think he's a cop. FBI, maybe.’’

I think he's crazy

, Lauren longed to say.

Then again, this whole night was crazy. Though the courtyard felt entirely normal now, she had to admit-no strange eyes watching them, no living shadows-it was damp, late and dark. And Deanna was ashen and still shivering.

’’Mark...’’ Deanna murmured. She laughed. ’’I think he went off to fight the monster from my dream.’’

So much for Deanna being angry with him for attacking Jonas, Lauren thought.

’’Well, as long as everyone is all right...’’ Janice said, and yawned.

’’Fine. And I'm really sorry. Hope you all get back to sleep okay,’’ Deanna said.

’’Not a problem,’’ Helen assured them.

’’So cn we go back to bed, too?’’ Heidi asked. ’’We'll block the door, Deanna, so you won't be able to get back out.’’

Deanna stared at Lauren. That's what you did last night, her eyes said. Why didn't you do it again tonight?

Lauren couldn't answer the silent question. She could hardly say, Because I was listening to a madman talk about vampires.

They went inside, and Lauren made a point of locking the door, then dragging a chair over and wedging it under the knob.

Heidi and Deanna watched from the hallway.

’’Look good?’’ Lauren asked, determinedly cheerful.

’’Look's good to me,’’ Heidi said.

’’Thanks,’’ Deanna told her.

Then they turned and went into the bedroom.

Lauren curled up on the sofa bed, found the remote, turned on the television and flicked around until she found an old repeat of ’’Three's Company.’’

She hugged her knees to her chest protectively as she watched.

They had to leave.

That was it. They had to go home.

Heidi would be upset at cutting her bachelorette weekend short, but Lauren would make it up to her somehow. It was just insane to stay in a place where their neighbor was convinced he was a vampire hunter, Deanna kept sleepwalking and she herself thought she'd seen the darkness come alive.

And where a headless body had been discovered floating in the river...

Lauren stayed awake for at least an hour, staring at the screen, trying to concentrate on the TV, but she didn't see a thing.

She couldn't turn off her mind.

She kept remembering how Mark had gone chasing after that shadow and thrown some kind of liquid at it .

And back at the bar Big Jim had thrown beer at the fighters in the alleyway.

Vampires. Mark had insisted there were vampires.

Oh, please.

Mark Davidson was crazy. Gorgeous, but crazy.

She wondered if craziness was contagious, because even Janice had been convinced that she was being watched.

She tried, but she just couldn't make sense of any of it.

Somehow, somewhere along the line, she fell asleep. And she didn't wake up until, for the second time in a matter of hours, the sound of a bloodcurdling scream filled the air.

Second Day-Second Corpse

Sean groaned as he stared at the headline. He had known it would be there, and he was afraid it would give rise to a general panic throughout the city.

Bobby entered the office. ’’You okay, Lieutenant?’’

’’Oh, yeah. Right as rain.’’

Bobby was silent for a minute. ’’We've got every cop on the force-and all up and down the Mississippi-on alert.’’

Sean stared at Bobby. ’’Yeah. Like that's going to stop this guy.’’

Bobby flushed. ’’Well, what should we do? Should I track down the guy that woman was talking about last night? Mark Davidson?’’

Sean sat back. ’’We need to find him. But I don't want him arrested and brought here. I'll deal with him, all right? If I need help, I'll let you know.’’

’’Yes, sir.’’ Bobby hesitated. ’’I've warned people, but I don't know how much good that will do.’’ He walked to the door and looked back over his shoulder as he spoke.

’’Good.’’ Sean rose. ’’I'm going to hit the streets, ask some questions. I want you to call the hospitals. You know what we're looking for. Also, get someone to check out the missing persons bulletins. And I need to know about any reports of people acting crazy.’’

Bobby stared at him.

’’What?’’ Sean said sharply.

Bobby shrugged. ’’Hey, this is New Orleans. People here pride themselves on acting crazy.’’

’’Bobby, check the reports.’’

’’I can't wake her up!’’ Heidi said, wide-eyed with alarm as she stared at Lauren over Deanna's prone body. ’’Look at her! She's not just pale, she's gray. She's really sick, Lauren. And she won't open her eyes.’’

Lauren strode straight to the phone and dialed 911. Then she sat down next to Deanna and tried to find a pulse.

Nothing at her wrists!

Then, at her throat, at last...

’’She's alive,’’ she breathed in relief.

Almost as she spoke, she heard the sound of a siren.

The next few minutes were a blur, as EMTs came rushing in, and she and Heidi tried to answer all their questions. The techs worked over Deanna, one of them in constant contact with an ER doctor through the entire process..

Lauren and Heidi scrambled into the bathroom quickly, one after the other, to get dressed, and Lauren found Deanna's purse, then made sure her ID and insurance information were there. The EMTs said one of them could ride with Deanna;the other would have to find her own way to the hospital.

With Deanna strapped to the gurney, they were just heading out when Helen and Janice came into the courtyard, already dressed for the day, to see what was going on. They had a car and were quick to offer a ride, along with their concern.

Lauren sent Heidi with Deanna and let the other women drive her over, thanking them profusely. At the hospital, as she exited the car, she paused.

’’Please, you two be careful, okay?’’

’’Of course. Trust me, we're plenty street-wise,’’ Helen assured her.

But Janice frowned. Something wasn't quite right, and Lauren could tell that she felt it.

Just like she did herself.

’’Keep us posted,’’ Helen told her, and Lauren promised that she would.

Lauren walked into the emergency room to find Heidi sitting in the waiting room.

’’They're working on Deanna right now,’’ Heidi said.

’’Any word?’’ Lauren asked.

’’They're transfusing her. She's dangerously anemic, that's what I've been told so far. This is so scary, Lauren. Maybe this is why she's been sleepwalking.’’ Heidi shivered. ’’She would have died if we hadn't gotten her here when we did.’’

Lauren saw the sheer exhaustion and terror on Heidi's face and gave her a fierce hug. ’’She didn't die. She's here.’’

’’It's my fault. I just know it is,’’ Heidi said, and Lauren could tell that she meant what she said, but she was also perplexed as to just how it was her fault.

Lauren couldn't let her carry the guilt.

’’If she's sick, there's no way it's your fault. And think about it. If you hadn't been with her and noticed that she'd passed out, she really might have died. We were there to get her straight to the hospital,’’ Lauren said.

Heidi nodded, but she still didn't look entirely convinced.

’’It's all right,’’ Lauren promised.

And it was. Or at least it would be, because as soon as Deanna was strong enough to travel, Lauren was going to get her the hell out of here.

She just hoped they weren't followed.

She chided herself for the thought and told herself not to be ridiculous. It was all Mark Davidson's fault for trying to convince her that they were being stalked by something evil.

By vampires.

Bull!

’’Hey...there's that guy,’’ Heidi said.

’’What guy?’’

’’The one who came in to watch the band last night. Didn't you say he's a cop?’’

Lauren swung around. It was the cop. Sean Canady. He was at the triage station, asking questions.

As she stared at him, he turned, his eyes fosusing straight on her.

He came toward her. ’’Miss Crow?’’

’’Yes, hello, Lieutenant. This is my friend, Heidi Weiss.’’

He nodded gravely to Lauren. ’’I hear your other friend is very ill.’’

’’Yes.’’

He smiled gently at Heidi. ’’I'm sure they'll let you sit with her for a bit, if you ask.’’ His voice didn't sound quite so gentle when he spoke to Lauren again. ’’I'd like to ask you a few questions, Miss Crow.’’

Was he suspicious of her?

Heidi frowned, but said, ’’Okay. I'll go in with Deanna.’’

The lieutenant took Heidi's seat once she had left.

’’You followed us home last night. I can't imagine what else you might have to ask me,’’ Lauren said.

He smiled and shrugged. ’’Sorry. I thought you'd appreciate the escort.’’

Lauren looked away to collect her thoughts. A man sitting across from them had a bloody bandage around his jaw. He stared at Lauren, unnerving her. Nurses were hovering over a little girl who had gotten her finger slammed in a car door. People here were sick, hurt, but the ER itself was busy and bright.

It made her memories of last night and the living shadows seem unreal.

’’I want you to tell me more about the man who was involved in that bar fight,’’ Canady said to her.

She turned and looked at him again.

’’He's crazy,’’ she said.

’’Oh? Why?’’

’’He believes in vampires.’’

She waited for him to react, to shake his head in derision, to make a derogatory comment.

’’Did you hear me? The man is nuts. I don't think he's dangerous, and he can be quite charming, but...he's crazy.’’

Canady still didn't say a word.

’’Lieutenant?’’

’’I see you're still wearing your cross,’’ he said.

Her hand flew to her throat. She'd forgotten all about it.

’’It's not my cross,’’ she said.

’’Well, you should keep it on anyway,’’ he said solemnly. ’’It's very nice. And you won't lose it that way, will you? So do you know anything about the other guy? Jonas?’’

She shook her head. ’’No. Only that Deanna talked to him a few times.’’ She stared at him, once again feeling that something wasn't quite right.

’’What on earth is going on here?’’ she demanded.

’’I intend to find out,’’ he told her. ’’Listen, I'm not sure you're safe where you're staying, and I don't have the manpower to look after you there.’’

’’Why are you so worried about us?’’ she asked.

He was silent, looking across the room for a minute. Then he replied slowly. ’’I've been a cop a long time. It's just a hunch, but I think you three have been targeted by...well, by some lunatic, for lack of a better word. I know a place that's well protected.’’ He shrugged and grinned. ’’One of my officers is there all the time. He's dating the manager. The owner is out of the country. I think you and your friend Heidi would be better off if you moved over there It's called Montresse House. It's right on Bourbon.’’ He rose. ’’I'll have a man here watching your friend's room to make sure she's safe.’’

’’I don't even know if they're admitting her yet,’’ Lauren said.

’’They'll be admitting her,’’ Canady said softly.

A lump of fear rose to Lauren's throat.

’’She can't be that bad. I need to take her home,’’ she said.

’’She has to get better first,’’ he said. ’’Meanwhile, you two move over to Montresse House. And rest assured. I intend to get to the bottom of what's happening.’’

He handed her a business card, and Lauren took it from him without looking. He gave her a smile of reassurance and headed for the door.

She stared after him for a moment, then looked across the room. The man with the bloody jaw was gone.

By his empty chair, she saw the day's paper.

And the headline.

Second Day-Second Corpse

She froze, flesh, blood and bones.

She closed her eyes, opened them, stared at the business card in her hand.

It was the same as the card Big Jim had given Deanna the night before.

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