I awoke from my sleep very restless. My dreams had been haunted by my life and the deaths I had used to sustain that life. I was feeling melancholy and somewhat out of sorts. Then I remembered I made a few resolutions earlier in the day. I rolled over and finally smiled. Damn fangs, my nightmares had allowed them full range and I felt the droplets of my own blood on my lips. Stupid amateur vampire mistake, something I had not done in decades. After the first fifty or sixty years you woke and learned to retract your fangs before doing anything else. That just went to show me how upset I still was about Greg.
I got up and stretched, went to get coffee started. The best thing about living alone was I got to make my coffee as strong as I liked without having to adjust for others. Maybe my friend, Liz, was right. I was becoming a stick-in-the-mud. My mood was swinging more than usual, another sign I was upset. I thought about my 'cousin' Greg and started musing about how I would kill him. Greg had deserved killing years ago, but I figured someone else would take care of it. Now it looked like he was following in Kenyon's ill-advised footsteps, and changing his lovers into vampires without giving it much thought. Kenyon was high enough up the food chain that he could get away with some of these things, but Greg was still a baby vampire by current standards and should not have been allowed to make anything but a whimper when his elders walked by him.
I mulled over the problem while catching up on my email and the daily news. The phone rang, disturbing my reading about the deaths of Petra Lake and her current husband. What number was he again, nine or something? Dropping the section of paper to grab the phone, I noted the call was blocked from my caller id. With a shrug I picked up the receiver anyway.
"Hello," I said. My lips were still sore from my fangs raking them earlier. My tongue licked them, trying to console my mouth. There was a sigh of sound on the other end, and for a moment I thought it was going to be the heavy breather finally reaching me instead of filling my mailbox with pathetic sounds.
"Cassandra Pepper?" A man's voice asked.
The reason I hated being called Sandy was quite evident. When I had picked the last name of Pepper a few decades ago, it was unheard of for anyone to call acquaintances informally by their first names, much less stupid nicknames, without being asked. I never would have selected Pepper because Sandy Pepper sounded like a porn star or something in a picnic basket. I answered, "Yes."
"Hello, I am Kirk Grady, you have a cousin named Greg Pepper?" The voice was serious and somewhat reserved. All my instincts said this was an FBI guy or something else with letters.
"Excuse me, Mr. Grady, you said?" I asked firmly.
"Yes, I told you that, Kirk Grady." He seemed impatient with my question.
At the same time, I was quickly keying in an email to Kenyon trying to find out what had happened while I had caught up on my sleep. The email went out, but there was no immediate reply. I was frustrated by Kenyon's phobia about computers. Like they could harm him? Sheesh, all this technology and so few vampires would actually try any of it. Kenyon must have heard my mental scream, because he emailed back he would meet me in an instant message program. He gave me his nickname and the program he was running. I quickly accepted his invitation to chat while I was shocked he even had such a thing on his computer. The last time I had heard, only brand newly minted vampires used the computers. I was an exception because I preferred life to death.
"Hey, you there, Cassandra?" Oops, I had not been paying attention to the guy.
I recovered with, "I am sorry, I was waiting for you to mention which branch of the government you work with currently."
"I hadn't mentioned I work in the government." He seemed put out by my question.
In the meantime I was filling Kenyon in on my phone conversation, asking what the hell happened after I left last night. He messaged me that he had sent Greg out to finish up one of his escaped victims. Elisa had a best friend that had been pulled into the club, but escaped during a frenzied feeding. She was out there, still human and aware of what they were. They had been unsuccessful at finding this Lani Patterson for weeks and with my promise to eliminate both Greg and Elisa soon, Kenyon had to push Greg to find the lady.
I played with the phone caller a bit more while trying to figure out what my exposure should be, "And you still haven't answered. You don't sound like a local cop because you would have identified yourself as such. I don't talk about my family to just anyone and find an open-ended question from someone I don't know a reason for concern. So again I ask you to tell me where you are from before I commit to any further conversation with you."
I was using super bitch mode to keep the guy off balance while I multitasked with Kenyon. He had been talking with others online at the same time and told me the bad news before Kirk Grady could. Greg's van had been found down by the river, and there was a lot of blood but no bodies. Both Greg's wallet and Elisa's purse had been recovered inside the messy crime scene. They were found by an early morning fisherman and foul play was suspected. It sure sounded like someone had beaten me to the punch. Kenyon did ask if I had anything to do with it, and I quickly replied no while shutting down my computer. Kenyon was still an idiot. Why would I have tried to reach him to ask if he knew anything, if I had done the crime? I focused back on the sputtering male still on the phone trying to intimidate me with his voice. Another slow male, I thought, listening to his patter.
"Well, I belong to a branch of Homeland Security."
Nice and vague, and a lie. His voice didn't ring true. Nevertheless, I didn't want to become the focus of his energy so I said with the right amount of fear, "What stupid thing has Greg done now? Yes, he is my cousin. I hadn't seen him for years up until a New Year's Eve party last night. He was with some gal named Elisa."
That much information he could have found out from one of the straights at the party. I volunteered just enough words to seem like I was nervous and worried. Which I quite honestly wasn't, but that lack of emotion rarely played well with cops; they liked you to be afraid of them. I also was careful to use the present tense so I wouldn't tip my hand that I knew Greg might be dead, again, and permanently.
"Are you free to meet with me this evening?" His voice was properly strong, and he seemed to fathom that one should not tell folks their loved ones were dead over the phone.
I pushed just because I could, "What's wrong? Is Greg in jail or something? I knew he would do something stupid. He is forever getting mixed up with the wrong sorts." That was true. Having too many vampire friends was nearly as bad as too many humans. Either way, at some point one would be noticed by the other side. Greg had liked to be seen as popular by both humans and vampires alike.
"It would be best if we spoke in person, Cassandra." Well, at least, he didn't call me Sandy.
"Right now?" I put some more fear in my voice and just the right amount of disbelief.
"In a half hour, meet me down at the diner on the corner of your street."
Oh, yeah, that was government folks for you -- asking, while telling you they knew things about you. The diner in question was one I had coffee at often, and he was showing that he already had that bit of information. I shuddered at the heavy-handed attempt, but replied okay and got off the phone quickly. I was not looking forward to this meeting. At least he had not just dropped by my place. I went to get ready and was happy to see my lips had healed. Punctures might have been noticed.
Once I arrived at the diner, I immediately saw the only stranger seated at a booth near the window. I looked around the parking lot and found the four-door sedan that must belong to the guy. He was sipping at water and reading the menu while I walked inside shaking off my coat and draping it over my arm. The diner was warm and my coat unnecessary. He was still wearing a casual jacket over slacks, and nice shiny shoes. He would have been noticed in this crowd of regulars just for the shoes alone. I watched as he edged out of the booth and stood up, offering his hand.
"Kirk Grady, you must be Cassandra Pepper."
I took his hand and said, "I must." He indicated the opposite side for me to sit. I sat and waved Rosie over with a quick wave.
"Hi ya, Cassie." The other horrible nickname I was saddled with in the current society. I had learned not to flinch.
"Hi, Rosie, just a coffee for me." Rosie stood tapping a pencil against a green order pad waiting for Kirk to give an order.
"Ah, yes, decaf coffee and a chef's salad." He looked apologetic as he said to me, "I haven't had dinner yet."
"Okay, thanks, Rosie." Rosie walked past him and poured two cups of coffee into white mugs. Neither was decaf as Rosie thought it was a waste of money, and stupid. She put down a orange-rimmed paper coaster under his cup without a word, since it was the universal symbol for decaf coffee. He instantly drank and sighed, "Good stuff here, I see why you come here."
Rosie grinned and walked away; she wasn't overly fond of cops and had noted his clothing and car. I would be curious to know how his salad was made, but probably it was best if I didn't ask. Lou, the short order cook, had served a few years in prison and various stints in jail, and had little love for the government in any form. Kirk's research of my favorite diner obviously was not as in-depth as it should have been. His problem, not mine. I waited for him to speak.
"I have some disturbing news for you. It seems your cousin's van has been found and there is quite a bit of blood inside." He looked over his coffee mug with hazel eyes filled with pseudo-concern. His ash blond hair was cut close to his head in a decidedly official manner and it hid the encroaching gray pretty well. I figured him for his late forties or so, but wasn't sure since his face was lined heavily. It could have been the job or his age, either way.
I shook my head and said, "Okay, but that doesn't mean anything is wrong with Greg. I just saw him last night. Maybe he lent his van to someone else. He had been drinking." I didn't think I should mention his drink of choice was O-type blood chased by some AB-Negative.
"There were some items found in the van that lead us to conclude he may have had some troubles, and we are trying to find him and his companion, but it isn't looking good. The dogs brought in to investigate keep going to the river's edge, and we had some divers out looking, but they haven't found much."
That was pretty much death for Greg. Water's edge and lots of bloodshed. Kenyon had been right. Someone took him out hard. Oh well, I shaped proper sadness and fear saying, "But why are you here? What has Greg done?"
"I am not at liberty to say. But Cassandra, he had lots of enemies." Tell me something I didn't know. This year had started out more confusing than I had counted on. I cast my eyes down and waited for Kirk to spill. They always did. It was part of my charm.