Finally my cell phone rang and I answered tersely, "Well?"
Joel didn't bother trying to calm me but just simply said, "You were right. It was Billy and he's dead."
"Dead -- dead? Or like Babette?" I didn't see how anyone would be stupid enough to make Billy into a vampire but had to ask. He'd know if his vampires made another vampire I figured but wasn't willing to ask that aloud. It was only logical. I wanted to slap my forehead for even thinking there was anything logical about vampires, but the past twelve or so hours most of those illusions had been blown away. Logic and vampires were starting to be part of my new worldview.
"Josie, you already know." His reply caught me cold. He was right. I did know. My heart was sore and for all my earlier venom towards my husband, I knew Joel was telling the truth. Somebody gunned down Billy while he was calling in asking stupid questions of the talk show host about me. My mind made some leaps and bounds and I felt like crap as another stray thought pushed darkly inside.
Gulping I asked, "So now the cops are looking for me, aren't they?"
On the radio Billy's last words had sounded like he'd been greeting me while opening up the front door. The popping sounds that followed were obvious to me as gunshots, and the host of the radio show must have agreed, given the unbleeped profanity that escaped her lips live on the radio before the station went to commercials followed by a rerun show about guilty pleasures. Forbidden sex trumps death every time, I'd found over the years, and the studio staff must have thought so also.
"Most definitely as a 'person of interest' if nothing else." Oh goodie -- vampires and cops wanted me. That had to be one of the more unusual aspects to my newfound world. I was wanted. Oh, and how. Old West images of tattered posters hammered into posts and pillars along beat up wooden walkways popped unasked into my head, with my picture sketched between the words 'Dead or Alive' underneath the overly large 'Wanted' printed up at the top. Yeah, that's a real calming thought.
"Guess you're happy you didn't take a wrong turn, now aren't you?" He was flaunting my momentary lapse where I thought I'd take a nice little detour and avoid meeting up with yet another set of his vampires. That was before I knew that he'd put a car or two of vampires behind me. Once he'd revealed his friends I kept true and continued to follow him down the highway. We'd been driving a little over a half hour and I noticed we were heading into the foothills. The night was deep and I found the fog chasing us eerie and haunting. All I needed to hear was the howl of a coyote or wolf and I'd be screaming.
"There was never any danger of me heading off course, Joel." I dryly replied. Whatever direction I'd driven would have been my course I assuring myself that I was telling him the truth. I didn't think I could lie outright to Joel and not be caught. He was good at piercing through lies. I could misdirect but had to be careful about the straight out lies.
"You keep telling yourself that -- anything to get you through the night." His longer time on earth gave him an edge on tone and sarcasm.
I resisted a smart-ass reply as he'd slowed down and begun indicate we needed to exit.
My silence stretched as I watched five other cars follow us off the freeway. The sheer number of watchers stunned me. I had seen the one car for sure, but to see four others fall in behind us made me very glad I hadn't strayed on the way to wherever it was Joel was taking us.
"Josie, you still there?"
I had forgotten I was on the cell. It wasn't like he breathed to help remind me. Vampires, it seemed, didn't need to breathe but did it for fun or something.
"Yes," I answered.
"I'll need to hang up in a minute or so to negotiate the road ahead. You okay or should we stop for something to eat?" His kindness and consideration nearly broke me. I was undone by the humanness of his thoughtful question.
"I'm fine." For a change, I hung up on him without saying goodbye.
He stomped on the gas and his car jumped quickly away from me. I guess he didn't much care for being hung up on, either. Not that I thought my spiteful little gesture would suddenly change his behavior. Vampires didn't think much of us humans from all he'd said. Not even talking about how his cadre of vampires treated the human cattle in their clubs. Joel had really given me some things to think about when he was talking about how they mind swiped humans and by his ability to make both men and three vampires disappear.
Thinking about that I wondered if Billy 'escaped' or was sent home empty-headed to wait for me. Too many variables were running around and all the unknown vampires weren't helping me figure it out either. I barely knew which way is up. I stopped thinking and concentrated on catching up with Joel's car. He really wasn't a happy boy I could tell, as I had to kick it up a notch to catch up with his taillights. Stubbornly I refused flip on the GPS to hear the sappy voice instruct me to turn right into a hillside when there's a perfectly good road on the left.
The road he turned down was quite narrow, and I almost missed it. Any idea I had about how many vampires were following us was pretty obvious as all five vehicles that exited behind me from the freeway fell into line. Happy days for me, I concluded as I saw that there were at least six vampires and little old me going to an unknown location for who know what fun. The pit of my stomach hurt. I wasn't going to be able to count on any rescue from Billy since he was now dead. I shook that ugly thought out of my head and concentrated on the taillights.
A thin blacktop gave way to dirt, and the ruts in the worn out road were getting irritating when a plume of dust indicated another turn. My undercarriage was pinging as I turned down the gravel path. It couldn't be called a lane, but that's what was on the road sign I skidded past. I wondered if it was a misprint and should have read Mockingbird Lane when Joel turned into the driveway of a huge house.
It wasn't quite as bad as the Munsters' Mansion on the old TV show, but pretty damn creepy. The other cars quickly boxed me in as I followed Joel's car into the pebble-strewn driveway. I wanted to hit the brakes and see if they'd play bumper cars behind me but resisted. I was content to hop out and snagged just my purse.
I tossed my keys to the large man who got out of the car right behind me while saying, "Cool, there are two bags in the trunk and one in the back seat. No need to wax it okay?"
Joel laughed and called out, "Fred, ignore her but have Theo take her bags to the Green Suite."
Fred didn't look like a Fred to me. Frankie or Bruno easily. The large man had a definite Italian flair and I wasn't just looking at his pricey suit. Shoulders that needed no padding and a thin silk tie added to a certain polish. I did check for a pinky ring -- which seemed to be code for mobster nearly as much as a gold chain -- but didn't see a glint of gold so maybe he wasn't dead mob. I knew he was dead, because the grimace he gave Joel had fangs. Yeah, he was a vampire. And more than a few vampires were in each of the cars that had been following us. They swarmed around Joel and me. I was feeling smothered by the sheer size and number of them. And it took me a minute to see what exactly was missing -- certainly not fangs. They all had fangs out from a first glance. Joel's weren't out but I had already seen them so I did know they existed. Yep, there was something missing from the vampires Joel had assembled. I was the only female.
I couldn't think how to bring it up without it sounding odd. Joel caught my look at the men nodded smiling he said, "I will introduce you to everyone later after you've had a chance to freshen up."
Nodding, I didn't ask if I smelled weird or what I had done that I needed to freshen up, figuring I wanted to wash off my human smell if nothing else. Fred grunted and swept a hand forward. I took that to mean I was to follow him. Resisting the urge to look for reassurance from Joel, I stumbled behind in the dark.
Following the gangster called Fred, I was edgy. When he grunted as we cleared the entry hall it was all I could do to not jump. Showing fear around this crowd couldn't be good. I gathered this was a vampire lair or something since I didn't hear any flashy words or see any humans on the other side to welcome us in once we cleared the doorway.
The staircase was grimy and dark pointing upwards Fred said, "Second door on the left. Towels are under the sink."
I walked slowly to the stairs and found a switch. I flipped it up and was less than impressed by the dingy bulbs in the wall sconces. Spiders nesting in the sconces weren't happy with my use of wattage either I concluded by the sizzle and popping as they fried. I'd already figured out vampires didn't need much light if any. Resisting the urge to shudder and become fang bait I walked up with my spine stiff to the bathroom.
The bathroom was where promised. I was pleased to see it was a large bathroom and not as creepy looking as the stairs. There was a second door that led to a bedroom. Shrugging, I closed the door and looked for the towels. I found them underneath the sink like Fred had said. Yanking out three, I wasn't overly surprised to see they were all dark colors. Probably easier to clean up blood with darker colors. Cream and white towels wouldn't be very easy to wash. I was not overly impressed by the cleanliness of the place but it would do. I was pleased to find soap in the shower and some nice shampoo. I guess someone around the place was human and from the scents female. I didn't figure Joel a big fan of lavender scented soap and clove shampoo.
The showerhead was large and I quickly stripped and played with the temperature waiting for the hot water to come up from the heater. I wasn't looking forward to putting my dirty clothes back on but unless Theo dropped my luggage outside the bathroom my options were limited. I wrapped the largest towel around my body and peeked into the bedroom again. No luggage yet but now there was a satin robe was hung on the outside knob. I snatched it from the door and put it on a hook at the top on the inside of the door.
Once I placed the robe on the hook the back of my neck prickled. I spun to see a tall blond man standing just inside the other door. I'd never heard a sound but the bathroom didn't have locks so it wasn't hard to open the door and slide inside. With the vampires running the house I didn't think locks did much to dissuade them from going where they wanted.
Not that it mattered, because it seemed that I knew the blond features as well as any loved one. The glint in the hazel eyes was mocking and yet absolutely familiar. I watched him stroke a long tongue over his fangs and resisted jumping back. Yeah, he was one of Joel's crew all right. But not lower end fang set, but nearly equal. He was in my face and inhaled deeply saying, "You smell like Joel."
"Thanks, and you smell like fresh blood." His damned eyes were pulling me. I knew that I had never met him before but there was something teasing the back of my mind. It took me a second then I figured it out -- he was playing a different kind of mind trick on me.