Jeanne C. Stein
IT’S NEVER A GOOD THING WHEN YOU’RE AWAKENED
from a deep sleep by someone pounding on the front door.
It’s worse when you stumble downstairs and see it’s a cop.
A cop you recognize.
My first impulse is to creep back upstairs and pretend I’m not home. But I know this cop. He’s probably already gone around back and checked the garage. Both my Jag and the Ford Crown Vic I use for work are parked inside. He knows I’m home.
I pul open the door.
“Detective Harris. What a surprise.”
For a pain-in-the-ass cop, he’s not bad looking. Five-ten—
probably one hundred eighty pounds. Dark hair touched at the temples with gray. Square jaw, serious eyes. Beneath that off-the-rack suit, a body I suspect is neither lean nor flabby. Carries himself like he was once an athlete — a boxer, maybe. Now he’s a fortysomething man fighting middle-age spread and from the looks of it, winning the battle.
The suit tel s me he’s not here on a social visit.
He gives me the once-over. I’m barefoot, wearing a pair of running shorts and a tank top. As a vampire, I’m not bothered by the effects of ambient temperature so I could be wearing anything. Or the nothing I was wearing two seconds ago when I crawled out of bed.
A bed stil occupied, by the way.
Harris purses his lips, glances away as if uncomfortable.
“Sorry to disturb you so early. Would you like to run upstairs and put some clothes on? I can wait.”
I pul the door open wider and motion him inside. He’s the one who appeared at the door at seven a.m. on a Sunday morning. Unannounced. I’m not exposing anything more than the joggers he sees every day on the street. I wave away the suggestion. “I’d rather put the coffee on.”
He fol ows me to the kitchen. He watches silently as I go about fil ing the coffeemaker, grinding beans, setting the machine to brew. He stil hasn’t said why he’s here. We’re not friends. Our paths have crossed a few times. Most recently, with the death a couple of months ago of the ex–
police chief, Warren Wiliams, a vampire, too, thoug of course Harris doesn’t know that.
Or that Wiliams was kil ed by another vampire.
Could it just be a few weeks? Seems like much longer.
Wiliams’ death set into motion a chain of events that changed my life.
I’ve got my back to Harris and al ow a smile. To a vampire,
Harris clears his throat. I turn, grab two mugs and join him at the table.
He takes one of the mugs, says, “Thanks.”
I pause, waiting to see if he’s going to tel me the reason for this early morning visit. The bel on the coffeemaker chimes before he does. I take cream from the fridge and sugar from the counter, set out spoons and pour us each a cup of coffee before plunking myself down on a chair across from him.
I take a sip, let the magic of caffeine awaken half-sleeping brain cel s. Harris seems to be doing the same. He’s avoiding my eyes now. Concentrating on the mug in his hand with far more attention than he needs to.
This is getting old.
“Did you have a reason for stopping by unannounced at seven a.m., Harris? Or was my place closer than Dunkin’
When he looks up, there is a strange expression on his face. And I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of his expressions.
Anger, frustration, exasperation being the most common. This one is different. Hesitant. He’s got something on his mind and he doesn’t know how to bring it up.
That’s certainly out of character.
I wish I could worm my way into his head the way I can with vampires. But Harris is human and there is no psychic connection between vampires and humans. A design flaw for sure.
Final y, whatever battle he’s been fighting is resolved. He sits up in his chair and pushes the cup aside.
“I don’t know why I’m coming to you with this,” he says.
“You always seem to be mixed up in cases you have no business being mixed up in. The child molester a while back, the murder investigation involving that model, the missing DEA agent. But you had the respect of Warren Wiliams, and he was a good man. You were one of the last people to see him alive.”
My turn to fix my mug with a riveting gaze. Where is he going with this?
“I know his wife believes you had something to do with his death,” Harris continues. “I don’t. But we just got the last of the forensic reports from his car. We found something—”
He pauses, as if searching for the right word. After a moment, he shrugs. “Odd. We found something odd.”
I wait, wondering. Wiliams was set on fire by another old-soul vampire. There would have been nothing left but ash.
I compose the question careful y. “What could you have found? I thought the body was completely burned.”
“So did we. At first.” He pul s a sheet of paper from an inside jacket pocket and smoothes it open on the table. “But turns out, our CSI’s found something. DNA. And what they learned about that DNA has us baffled.”
To keep the shock from rgistering on my face, I hoist my coffee mug and take a long pul. I don’t know much about DNA, but I do know about vampires. When a vampire is immolated, there’s nothing left to run tests on. Wiliams was identified by his badge and wedding ring.
Final y, I lower the mug. “I don’t understand.” An understatement.
Harris raises his eyebrows. “Neither do I. When a body is burned at high temperature, like cremation, there’s usual y no testable nuclear DNA left. But in this case, three things were able to be determined by something cal ed mitochondrial DNA found in a bone fragment fused on his ring. It was human. It was Wiliams’. It was over two hundred years old.”
My hand tightens around the mug, a gesture not lost on Harris. He leans toward me.
“The FBI lab is asking questions. Questions I can’t answer.”