I carefully worked my way back up the stairs. I could hear Erika cursing behind me as she kept slipping on the icy steps. Jasper hadn't got out with the snow shovel in a while, if he even had attempted to shovel anything. The footsteps of previous guests were now crusting over as the night air was much colder than the day. The sun was a mere memory and the snow had begun to fall again. I shivered at how bleak the area looked. Erika stumbled down a few stairs below Harry and me and then I heard a few more choice swear words. Harry wisely kept his head down and his right hand hovered just behind me. I thought it funny that he was thinking he would catch me if I fell. If I fell I would take him and Erika all the way down to the bottom with me. I knew it for a fact. Gravity was a wicked thing and a palm in the middle of my back wasn't going to do much but give me a new bruise.
"I am stronger than you think," Harry murmured to me as he caught my skeptical glance. Recalling how hard I knocked on the door the previous evening he may have a point but I knew I was less than graceful when I had sprawled down stairs in the past. Somehow being a vampire didn't guarantee ballet grace from what I could tell. I wished I was some charming ballerina type but reality was much more boring. Even if I was a vampire now.
"Damn it, Harry, this is stupid," Erika grabbed the rail and awkwardly pulled herself upright. "How the hell are we going to keep calling in fake leads for our cases? I mean someone is going to get wise." The snow kept pelting us as we made our way up to the top of the stairs finally. We waited for Erika to catch up.
"Not likely since the main boss man died, Erika. There hasn't been much in the way of follow up on the field reports. You might say that things have been a total mess at the Bureau. Gwendolyn, you should have picked up on that by some of our stories." Harry seemed pretty casual about the fairly recent death of the long time head of the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover had been in office as long as I knew. I know there had been talk it wasn't a natural death but something more mysterious. I was pretty sure he was the first director of the FBI, and I didn't quite know how the agents felt about change. Even now I could see that Harry wasn't overly thrilled having a woman agent with him and I knew that female agents in the field were pretty new. And there was no way Erika would say what was on her mind in front of her boss. That just wasn't smart politics.
We reached my room finally and I found that the maid had cleaned the room and changed the sheets in the short time we were downstairs. That was odd but once I gave it a thought in the back of my mind I was pretty sure it was done by Kitty. Granted we hadn't been down in the lobby for very long but I figured after twenty odd years of running the place she could swap out the sheets and towels in her sleep. Besides she seemed like the fussy type. Soon Art and Cinda were back with the cats. I cautiously opened the bags since I could hear them talking as they were carried in and set carefully on the bed. Art was sporting some large gashes on his hands from putting them back inside the duffle bags. He was bleeding but I didn't find myself even vaguely interested in drinking from him. Yet all the while Cinda's eyes were dancing with humor at damage the cats had done. I saw her eye glowing mossy green and knew Misty was waiting to push Cinda out for a spin. Misty liked to needle people even more than Cinda. Hell, it may have been Misty acting out all those years when Cinda was especially vicious.
Once released from captivity both cats butted their heads against me and vocalized their distain at the cold journey to and from the car. I sat on the bed and stroked their heads until they stopped complaining and settled into purring balls on either side of me. Art leaned against the desk still somewhat reminding me of Melinda and Vinny. Human prey. I pushed that image out of my head quickly before I could spring fangs and ruin a perfectly good room. I wasn't really hungry but it was some automatic response to the victim in Art. Harry sat down on the same bed as the cats and me but when Erika began to join him there was a decidedly ugly growl from both El Diablo and Cinda. Cinda masked hers quicker than the cat but not by much.
She plopped on the other bed and said, "So kids now what?"
Art said, "I think I can make it. There has to be a base from all the trucks passing through during the day and once we find the ruts in the road we will have clear sailing to Chicago."
Harry just looked at him without a word. It dawned on me that I was the only one who didn't know Art's deep dark secret. I hated not knowing and couldn't see a way of getting Cinda away from everyone long enough for her to spill the story. Art certainly wanted us far from him as soon as possible. That alone made it a tad more interesting. Add in Erika was now sitting on the bed with Cinda looking at me with ill-hidden hatred. She had decided something about me during the night and it wasn't positive. Joy, an angry woman who carried a gun now hated me.
And yet for no real good reason I had this decidedly sweet feeling of smug superiority knowing I was a vampire and they both weren't. That alone could make them a tad more jealous than just the fact Harry and I had been spending time together. Okay, time and some necessary bloodletting. But it wasn't like I picked the vampire life. Hell, up until a week ago I hadn't even known vampires were real much less that I would soon be one.
Erika broke the silence, "Art, we are not driving to Chicago in a blizzard. There is no need to risk our lives. I have already been in one accident this week and I think my body doesn't need any more battering."
She looked remarkably good for someone who had been in a severe auto accident but then that seemed to be the side effect of associating with vampires. All my aches and pains from before I was a vampire were gone and with a stunned thought it dawned on me I didn't feel tired. I wasn't an insomniac anymore I guess. The downside was the having to suck blood for fun and to sustain my life.
Art tried to become invisible but it didn't work. Now everyone was looking at him. I wanted to ask what was wrong but knew it had to do with Art's past. Cinda took pity on me saying, "Lynn, we need to go down and raid Kitty's stash. I want some chocolate!" She grinned at me as she dragged me out to Harry and Erika's shock. They expected us to stay just because they had commanded it. Oh well, their mistake.
We flew out the door before anyone could object. Soon we were half sliding down the stairs to the lobby. I glanced at Cinda and saw it really was her not Misty doing the Cinda masquerade. I waited, knowing she couldn't keep information to herself no matter how hard she tried. It nearly was comical. Once we hit the bottom we began to walk down towards the motel Cinda had said my next door neighbors had headed for earlier. I had some money in my pocket so if nothing else we would kill time shooting pool. We weren't even half way across the parking lot when Cinda blurted out with, "Art is a killer."
"Yes," I replied somewhat puzzled. I knew he had killed his mom. He told us. This wasn't some huge conspiracy. We already knew this about Art. I was dumbfounded by Cinda's intensity.
"No, he is like this mass murderer or something." She exclaimed.
I still was unclear why this was news. So he killed his mom. He admitted to this. Cinda was easily excitable and I waited for more. She really wasn't one to keep a secret. How she kept Misty from me for so long was nearly a miracle in Cinda-land.
"Erika found out that his prints were at this murder scene last year about two hours from home. And now they think he may have had something to do with the murder of that girl, Connie Shaw, that Erika and Harry came out here to solve. And like Harry had this idea it may have been Art and had his prints cross checked, or something, with the grandma's mail box. I guess there was a demand for ransom that Erika didn't tell us about when she talked at the diner."
I wasn't surprised that Erika had lied. She was pretty good about lying from what I could see. Cinda leaned towards me as we neared the seedier motel and said, "Harry will probably make him confess before we get to Chicago."
Cynically I thought that or make him into another vampire. Harry didn't have any problem with turning folks from what I could tell. A twinge of panic at my wayward thought and then I mentally shrugged. Murderers were probably ideal vampires. I was just some stupid fluke.
Cinda continued to prattle on about how Erika had figured this all out from her long-time FBI friends back in the main office. From what Cinda gathered last night, before Erika became a field agent she had put some time in at the clerical level. She not only had a law degree but also had a business degree in accounting, Cinda had discovered. Cinda was captivated by Erika with all her education and apparent poise. She certainly wasn't that impressed back home, I thought while I plodded through the snow carefully placing my feet to avoid falling on my butt. The snow pelted us with shards of ice cutting through our coats and pants. Cinda was nicely blue on the edges yet I could still see her veins pulsing her blood along her skin. I shook my head to dispel that fantasy. It wasn't a fantasy, I knew, but I left that alone as we neared the door. Two very drunk men bounced out the doorway into the frozen air.
"Oh, Jed, what have we here?" The smaller of the two men said. His red plaid shirt was nearly screaming, 'kill me now' but I resisted.
"I think we have some pretty little girls that need to be played with don't you, Jed?" the smaller one was still chattering as they approached us. Jed had yet to utter a word but his face grew even scarier as he smiled. He had a silver tooth in front and wasn't overly concerned with the gaps. I think he had eaten more humans raw than I had. I didn't mean that in a fun way either. Carnivore with limited social skills was all but tattooed on his arms. Instead he had charming little death heads and skulls with snakes weaving in and out. Not a single heart, rose or mom inked anywhere I could see. I wasn't in any rush to examine this human closer. He had no fears but certainly could inspire a few dozen nightmares just by being in the room.