The front door buzzer sounded persistently, echoing down my entry hall. I ignored the noise and tried to keep my concentration on my paintbrush. The acrylics I used dried far too quickly in the dry desert heat to allow for any unscheduled interruptions. A loud pounding replaced the annoying buzzing and the picture frames lining the walls began to vibrate along the corridor. My nerves were rattled by the increasingly angry tempo of the unexpected visitor's fist.
Frustrated, I gave up trying to ignore the sounds. I tossed my brush down, uncaring where it landed on the drop cloth beneath my work area. My morning was ruined by this break. I felt my muse slipping away. Shadows and shades of inspiration and drive were quickly evaporating. Later, I would look to see if I could repair the damages caused by the interruption, but I didn't care at the moment. I dabbed unsuccessfully at the crimson paint on my hands with a well-used cloth as I raged down the hall towards the front door. How much further would I have to move from civilization to be unbothered?
I neared the front door and could hear the damn dogs barking in the distance. Great dogs, trained to protect me with their very lives, were now far off in the distance -- they'd probably dug under the fence again -- chasing a wild cat or a rabbit to death while somebody circumvented my security system. The same person was now yelling along with heated pounding on my door.
I grabbed my revolver from the entry hall table and automatically snapped the chamber open, checking my loads. A quick spin showed me the alternating hollow points and Teflon coated rounds. Yeah, illegal as hell for the most part but I didn't give a damn. My house, my rules. Snapping the chamber back in place, I slowly pulled back the hammer.
Aware of the danger, I stood off to the right side of the steel-lined security door next to the computer panel to my system. Quickly I hit the central button to the closed circuit camera trained on the visitor on the other side of the door. My security system was the best money could buy with some special additions. If it had been night there would have been a pop up choice on my computer screen of either a floodlight -- brighter than a stadium scoreboard -- or a nice discrete infrared camera with a various degrees of scanning. My favorite was always heat signatures. Given my life I knew the creatures with the least amount of body heat were always trouble. Vampires didn't always fly right and with my history I couldn't take any risks. Even in the desert they still showed up now and then. Like I cared??? I mean I didn't reveal them years ago, but still they thought I was going to expose them. Hell, I had really human issues to worry about and vampires weren't even on my radar. Their arrogance wouldn't allow me privacy. No matter how many times I told them I didn't care.
With both choices of infrared and simple closed circuit cameras facing the visitor on the door, I keyed in for visual. The various arrays of cameras didn't do much during the morning and if this was a vampire at my door in the middle of the day basic scans weren't going to work and I was pretty much dust. I really hated knowing so much about the vampire world, but nevertheless it was part of who I was. I keyed in the basics for my camera outside simply to see who was knocking.
The human frantically pounding on the door was nobody I immediately recognized. He was wearing a suit of probable Italian descent by way of New York and massive mark ups. I activated my security system's synthesizer to mask my voice. Synthesizers could disguise personality, sex and age quite easily and were well worth the cost. I'd been told by my various acquaintances that I sounded like a robot from the other side of my door. I was more than okay with that.
"Identify yourself," I barked out. The computer did the job and I knew on the other end an android voice was demanding a reply.
While waiting for a reply I automatically set up a new back up recording to download the camera's images as I viewed and interviewed the man I saw was waiting impatiently on my threshold. The download went straight to the database hard drive in my house and an online back up for my security system. Paranoid much -- yep. I knew what was out there. In turn my system backed up any data both in my home system, out in my security system and copied it to a close friend for safekeeping.
The man stopped moving immediately after I had spoken and started looking around the entryway to my home. I was always amused by that instinctive reaction to the robotic voice. What they thought they would find I hadn't a clue, there was nothing out in front of my house. I had no visible eaves or spots for concealment. The camera lens was actually in one of the screws holding up my house numbers. The screw holding one of the numbers in place was actually a pinpoint camera. The facade wasn't overly obvious and rarely was even glanced at by visitors. Unlike most of my 'guests,' he immediately focused on the small camera. The disembodied voice usually threw people for more than a few minutes. He found the lens as if he'd known exactly where it would be. A chill raced down my spine.
"Detective Michael Stockwell." He flipped a badge at the concealed camera as if that was all he needed to say.
Smiling, I pushed the keys to my security system on the keyboard to reveal the program I liked to call, "information central". It wasn't overly flashy but the system was amazing. My friends in all the wrong places had done more hacking than I would ever be comfortable knowing about in order to let me access any database out in the known cyber world. Most government offices didn't even know all the information available, but my friends did, and I was able to key into them undetected. It let me sleep at night.
Even as I began to key in the name I still had the gun gripped in my hand; after all anyone can buy a badge. A few keystrokes, and I enjoyed watching him jump as the motorized door to the false panel underneath the house numbers slid open. The screen and setup facing him had a marked resemblance to an old-fashioned ready teller machine. Quite a few of my expected guests kidded me about making some withdrawals before they left.
"Please place your right hand palm on the screen for verification," the tinny and well-metered instructions came out automatically from the identification system I had started. I no longer had to talk since the system was now on automatic. The routine initial examination was something I had programmed into my security and I saw no need to skip the security clearances just because he waved a badge. I think I could order one on the internet -- an identical one -- and have it overnighted to me by the next day for a price.
Grudgingly he placed a gloved hand onto the face of the screen. Immediately a persistent beeping was sounded. Another instruction came out with more of a menacing tone.
"Place your palm on the panel at once. Please place your hand on the panel at once -- failure to do so promptly will terminate this interview and the proper authorities will respond to our trespass-intruder alert." The robotic commands were stern and very specific.
Looking puzzled for a moment the man looked down at his hand. As the alarm continued jangling his puzzlement fled as he rushed to pull off his fancy black leather driving glove, a reaction that such messages always produced. This particular message had repeated itself while increasing the volume of the alarm sound. Once he placed his bare hand on the screen silhouette -- shaped like a human hand naturally -- all the noises abruptly stopped. A hum from the hand scanner could be heard in the silence -- if his hearing was still working. The designers of the system had told me that if someone waited too long the bell and clanging would nearly deafen the visitor before the cops arrived. I think that was what sold me on the system.
The next step in the programming never failed to unnerve my visitors. A screen to the left of where he'd placed his palm started digitalizing his most recent picture. In most cases the picture would be from a person's driver's license or identification card. His was no exception.
Inside on my computer system there were various biological facts displayed on my monitor for me to analyze and read. As the man observed his face rendered almost perfecting on the screen in front of him, I was perusing my screen. His face was the one from his driver's license while I had that and other shots recorded in various systems over the years. There was detailed information on his personal work history, credit and other fact. I hit the intercom button again and asked, "State your business, please."
A flush of color ran up his collar as he tried to control his rapidly spiking temper. From the biography that popped up on my monitor I knew what that cost him. Detective Michael Xavier Stockwell had made many mistakes in his career with his hot temper. His available file was littered with examples of his temper and impulsive nature.
"Look, if this is the home of Alanna Hagen I need to speak with her," he answered tersely.
I keyed in and overrode the program, "State your business."
"Argh, damn it! I mean just tell her it's regarding her husband Randolph Hagen." His voice was beginning to get the noticeably nasty tone of a cop used to having his way.
Seeing he wasn't going to just go away, I figured I would stop toying with him and find out what the hell brought him here looking for Alanna Hagen. I hit the keys to shut down the outside panel and continued to shut down the monitor to my interior system while locking out anybody else. I held my gun by my side while deactivating only the front door alarm. Slowly I opened the door to find the harried looking detective.
"The name is Alanna Gilliam. I have no husband. Randolph Hagen and I were quite expensively and thoroughly divorced over four years ago," I spoke softy while gesturing unconsciously with the gun still in my hand.
"My God! Your hands!" the detective exclaimed while tearing his sunglasses off his face.
"Oh, it's just paint. I forgot." Sheepishly I glanced down at my right hand wrapped firmly around the gun while very vivid red streaks of wet paint still radiated from the handle. Damn that was going to be a pain to clean off. The rag I had been using earlier was still on the desktop where my computer security system was idling. There was little white left on the cloth and it looked like I had tried to use it to staunch a deep wound.
A flood of red ran up his neck as jumping to a conclusion embarrassed him. He looked more than a bit lost by my reply. Then the gun caught his attention and the weapon distracted him, giving him a focus.
"Do you mind putting that away?" He somewhat asked. His tone was less than a request and more along the lines of a demand.
I didn't know what he was talking about for a beat. "Oh, wait, you mean this?"
I gestured with my gun automatically. He winced. I didn't have my gun pointed at him, so I didn't know why he was whining. I raised an eyebrow and said, "This little old peashooter? Please, it's for my safety. A girl's got to take care of herself."
Granted, I didn't care for guns as a rule, but had found over the years it was worth my time to learn more about them than just a passing knowledge. Nobody was going to protect me. I had to protect myself. Shrugging, the cop ignored my gun and looked into the living room.
Hell, given my past, I knew better than anyone how fast things could happen and refused to ever give into the chaos. Time would tell if I would survive this new round. I looked at the man and indicated a choice of chairs. I might as well figure out what was happening this time
To be continued ...