Los Angeles County
I tried one by one the keys in the car and was disappointed that they didn't fit either the car door or the trunk. But then I would have had more problems with leaving a rental car and taking Randolph's car had one actually fit the locks. I tossed the keys back into my purse and caught a flicker out of the corner of my eye. In one of the upstairs the curtains were moving and I could see a pair of eyes glaring down from the window. I wasn't overly surprised to see it was Marge.
She was dressed fully in black and her taut white face was floating above the clothing. Naturally hatred was again directed at me. It seemed like no time had passed since she'd last cursed me with her eyes. I smiled and waved, resisting flipping her off with a nasty gesture just in case she'd had something to do with Michael's abduction and Paul's brutal beating. Not to mention the dead body in the warehouse who very well could be my old friend Katherine Tompkin. She'd been coming down to visit me as a semi-cult gal now called Dew Drop, according to Brother Georgie Elliott and since he was the leader of her little band of friends, he'd be the one to know. The idea that she might be murdered horrified me nearly as much as Marge bitterly watching me.
"Alanna??" I heard a voice coming from behind the hedge.
"Is that you?" The disbelief was the clue. Only one person near the Hagen's homestead every time I visited was their neighbor Lance. He was probably one of the nosiest neighbors I ever met. I didn't really have time to chat but I couldn't exactly be rude.
"Yes, Lance, it's me." He gestured for me to come closer to the hedge with a hand just over the top. I was surprised that Rachel hadn't let the hedge grow higher over the years. When I got near I could see why the hedge wasn't as thick as I'd first thought it should be. The clippers in Lance's hand told me why the hedge wasn't growing. It was his hedge.
"Girl, you look lovely! I thought you were long done with these crazies?" His voice lifted on the last note.
"So did I. But sometimes one doesn't get to choose the battles." I tried to make it sound light and unimportant but Lance wasn't fooled.
"I see the evil princess upstairs glaring at us. Oh wait, she's run from the window must be going to tell Auntie Rachel that we are chatting. We are chatting aren't we?" He sounded the same but I could see his weight had dropped and his features were etched in pain. With that I knew his cancer had returned. Racking coughs and a choking sound broke through the greenery making me positive of my assessment of his health.
I tried to keep my thoughts to myself but felt compelled to ask, "Are you okay?"
Another rattle of his lungs and choking broke into his first unintelligible answer so he started again.
"Of course, darling. But wicked witch aside as you can obviously hear from my labored coughing that the Big C has returned to fuck with me some more." He freely admitted and a little more of my past broke and creased my heart.
"Is Mercy home?" I felt compelled to inquire. His wife was a spry and lively little thing who earned her name and loved her man with a fierceness that was amazing given their sixty or so years together. He claimed that they were childhood sweethearts; either way they both had to be well into their late seventies.
"Darling, Alanna, nobody tells you anything anymore do they?" I waited and hoped to hear something better than what I suspected was going to come.
"No, totally out of the loop." I infused my voice with a hopeful demeanor while my throat tightened to spite my efforts.
"Oh, hell, not that!" His laughter was broken but accompanied by even more coughing and spitting.
"She's on a long cruise with her coffee klatch!" His laughter and coughing continued. I was relieved. I vaguely remember her old hen group clucking in the yard.
"So Randolph been around much lately?" I fished.
"Nice try, missy. Rachel says he's very dead. I hope so. I can have cats and dogs again, well at least Mercy can." He confirmed more of what Randa had implied years ago about her nephew and his nature. Psychopaths were groomed slowly and usually scattered animals' corpses in their wake before they harmed humans. Lance had been handing out flyers about a missing cat the first time I met him. Now, looking back, I figured Randolph had been bored and killed the fat and sassy feline.
"So he really is dead?" I hesitantly asked.
"Yep and may he rest in hell!" More coughing and spitting.
I had to leave as time was ticking, but I felt bittersweet about seeing Lance through the fence.
"On that note, I must fly. But Lance, do you want to have lunch later in the week?" I felt like I had a chance to keep a wisp of my former life alive if only for a meal.
"Oh, I'll need to check my calendar, naturally," his tone was dry and droll but I knew he meant his doctor visits.
"Phone number still the same?" I knew I had it on one of my stray scraps and bits of life I'd brought with me in my purse. Most of those were dead ends of a real nature, but nevertheless it was uplifting to hear someone was still alive and having fun if only by spying on the Hagens. For how much longer, I didn't have a clue but if life permitted I wanted a chance to find out.
"Yes, looking forward to your call. Best times for me now are at late afternoon to middle of evening." He sounded pained by the admission.
"Not a problem. Maybe it would be best if we were reckless and maybe had cocktails and dinner instead?" I figured that would be better given his condition and what he'd told me. A bit of my heart protested the knowledge. He wasn't doing very good, but putting on a brave front. Damn, I hated this.
"Lovely, looking forward to it!" And I knew he was.
If nothing else, I was taking Lance to dinner once this hell ended.
When this hell ended. I hoped.
I got into the rental car and sped down the highway back to Los Angeles. I didn't have a clue how I would contact the kidnapper and didn't know where I'd go. Hotels got me nasty little taunting cards and strangers 'safe houses' got one cop beaten nearly to death and the other taken hostage. Yeah, this was good.
My cell phone rang and again the caller ID showed a restricted phone number.
"Yes?" I didn't bother with formalities.
"Alanna?" It wasn't who I had expected.
"Yes, Peter?" I'd forgotten he was going to call in and let me know what was going on. It was like my home no longer existed.
"Where are you?" Funny that he'd ask. I wasn't comfortable telling anyone anything anymore. Go figure.
"Los Angeles, why what's up?" I went for the generic answer. Not exactly in the city but after all I would be in about an hour.
"Most of your house is clean but I keep getting phone calls from people with unlisted numbers calling you." He sounded really worried.
"They leaving any messages?" I asked half serious.
"No, they hear my voice and hang up. Nobody leaves messages either when I'm out or don't pick up." Peter hated not knowing the simple facts like who was calling.
"Did you bother to try to trace them?" I was mildly amused at his exasperated tone.
"Of course," he sounded put out I even asked.
I waited and he spit out, "They were too complex to trace in the time available. If I'd had more time or some better equipment I'd be able to tell you who it was but they stopped calling yesterday."
That obviously upset him.
"So other than telling me my stalker is still out there looking for me, why'd you call?" I hurried towards nowhere as I neared the downtown section of Los Angeles. Then it dawned on me that Brother Georgie had a room already and I did tell him I'd check in with him. I wondered if he'd made it to the hotel yet.
Peter made an angry sound in his throat and I resisted sighing because he'd just get more defensive. "Alanna, I called because you haven't been checking in with me."
I hadn't realized he decided to be my father or whatever.
"I am alive. So nothing else huh?" I was bored with the call and needed to figure out where to head next. Besides Peter was a potential leak. I was losing friends and acquaintances right and left and didn't need this anymore. Everyone was possibly part of the terror happening all around me or going to lose their lives simply for helping me.
Reluctantly Peter hung up after babbling some inconsequential things about my house and the system he was putting in. He'd mentioned his office gal, Marlene Wayne, was still missing but now presumed dead. After all the deaths I'd heard about in the past few days it didn't even register until he'd hung up who he was talking about and why it concerned me.
I swore under my breath but didn't bother calling him back. Why bother at this point? It wasn't like I could help find the rude woman I didn't truly remember.
The phone again and I automatically picked up the call without looking, "What now, Peter?"
"Wrong again," the mechanized voice made that odd laughing sound, "but you did guess right. You have the key now. You just bought your cop friend a few more hours. Why don't you grab dinner and wait for my call?" It wasn't really a question I knew as the person simply hung up. What the hell was the 'key' I possessed? I drove for the Westin and parked the rental car with the valet. I didn't know how long I'd be but it made more sense than spending a half hour or more trying to find a spot for the car.
If my luggage got stolen out of the trunk I would be shocked given the reputation hotel had. I went inside and found the house phones. I asked for Georgie Elliott. I was connected to a room with a minimum of time and carefully studied politeness that truly fine hotels staff had.
"That you, Dew Drop?" Was the first thing Georgie asked, his voice was back to velvet softness and carefully crafted cult magnetism.
"Sorry it's just me. Alanna." I felt bad telling him it was me. I knew he was well aware the odds were against it being Katherine but telling that he assumed she would call him at the hotel. She meant something more to him than just of his mindless followers of his flock.
"Did you hear something?" His voice was clipped and back to the way he'd been earlier. He definitely had more than one persona for folks. At least he stopped with the odd cant he'd done earlier. That got on my nerves.
"No, I've been busy chasing down my past. I'm in the lobby. You want to meet in the bar or something?" I was growing nervous and feeling vulnerable standing in the lobby talking on the house phones. Another person had moved close to me and was dialing on another line. The feeling of being watched again was back. I trusted that instinct.
A smile creased the Vampire's face.
Lance and Mercy were bitter tasting old people that was a stone cold truth. The pint just sipped off the chemical filled old cancer ridden man wasn't satisfying to me in the least. Mercy had escaped on the cruise but according to the schedule held in place on the fridge with garishly bright magnets she'd be back in a few more days. Holding out til then would be the real work. Beyla in the house was from the old country. She willingly donated blood. I knew Alanna would run to the God man. He was still looking for Dew Drop. She had long dropped off the face of the earth.