Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
“Run that by me again.” Vince sat across the desk from Frolich, trying to comprehend the significance of what the little detective had just told him.
Following his morning phone call, Frolich had insisted he come down to headquarters in San Bernardino, bringing all of Annie’s notes with him. He’d waited for a reserve deputy to show up and take over his duties before starting down the mountain. Even with the Caltrans snowplows working to clear the highway, the trip had taken close to three hours.
He’d found Frolich in his office, looking like a zombie. The homicide chief had taken Annie’s notes, asked Vince a few clipped questions as he pored over them, pausing once to order up computer printouts of several unsolved cases and mumbling to himself when a uniform brought them up from downstairs.
Around four, he had looked up and seemed surprised to see that Vince was still there. He sent him out to get something to eat, ordering him to return in an hour when a fax was due in from LAPD. Baffled, and irritated that he’d been kept hanging around all day, Vince had ducked out and made a quick run to the Taco Bell down the street. He had returned a few minutes ago to find Frolich staring at a single sheet of fax paper.
“I said,” Frolich repeated like a man in a trance, “that there’s at least two killers working and neither of them is human.” Vince wasn’t sure what to say. He’d thought he was the one who was cracking up, but the diminutive homicide chief had really gone off the deep end. “Look,” said Frolich, digging through the mess on his desk and extracting a file which he pushed across to the confused deputy, “this is the coroner’s report on the two kids who died up at the lake. Remember how hilarious we thought it was when he said they were killed by a big dog?”
Vince opened the file, not bothering to re-read the familiar autopsy results.
“OK,” said Frolich, tossing a slim sheaf of computer printout on top of the file, “and these are the reports on the kid who was killed in your wife’s car and the woman they found in Elysian park. Guess what they say?”
Vince thumbed the reports, both bore identical remarks under the box reserved for cause of death. “Uncontrolled hemorrhage of wounds to the throat and neck due to animal attack.” He raised his eyes to Frolich, who was rummaging in his desk drawer for something he couldn’t find. The detective slammed the drawer shut and looked at him through red-rimmed eyes.
“You didn’t mention this stuff this morning,” said Vince. “I thought the dog angle had been ruled out.”
“The dog angle!” Frolich emitted a strangled hiccough. “There is no dog angle, Junior,” he laughed.
“Then I don’t get it.”
“Look,” said Frolich, “this is a summary coroner’s report on the four victims from last night’s killings down in Hollywood.” He passed the single faxed sheet across the desk.
“One male, animal attack, three females, slashed throats…” Vince started to hand the paper back.
Frolich pushed his hand away. “Read the next paragraph, where it talks about the sexual assaults on the three women.”
He scanned the paragraph, then read it again slowly. “I don’t understand,” he finally said. “What does it mean?”
“It means,” said Frolich, snatching the paper back and staring at it again,” that all three of the female victims were raped by some kind of goddam animal, and it wasn’t any fucking dog.” He tossed the paper onto the desk and buried his head in his hands. “The semen found in the victims’ bodies doesn’t match up with anything the L.A. Coroners have ever seen before. They ran their tests again, then sent a sample over to UCLA Med Center for DNA typing. That’s the preliminary report.”
Vince picked up the fax and read it for a third time. “Species unknown,” he read. “Then the Evans girl did see some kind of an animal. And that campus cop from USC who claimed to have gotten a look at the Vampire Killer….” He stopped as the full impact of the logic chain he had just created began to hit him. “Jesus… That’s impossible. I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
“Yeah?” Frolich lifted Annie’s notes and waved them meaningfully under his nose.
“But what kind of an animal is it?” Vince stammered.
Frolich glared at him. “Well, you’re a pretty smart guy, Junior. You tell me. What kind of animal has pale skin, looks human and rips out people’s throats?”
“Shit!” Vince breathed.
Frolich nodded. “Yeah, it’s hard to say, isn’t it? But like it or not, Junior, we got something on our hands that walks, talks and smells just like a fucking comic book vampire.”
The detective leaned forward on his elbows, clasping his hands and forming his index fingers into a steeple. “Now, let’s suppose this… thing… isn’t a real vampire like Count Dracula, so it can’t walk up walls or change into a bat or shit like that: let’s say it’s just an animal.”
“A pretty damn smart animal,” Vince muttered.
“OK, a smart animal,” Frolich conceded. “We got two problems: One, how to catch it…”
“Or them,” Vince interrupted.
“Or them,” Frolich agreed. “And two, how to keep it quiet.”
Vince laughed. “Keep it quiet?”
“Come on,” Frolich growled. “What in the hell do you think would happen if it got out that we’re looking for a vampire? Sanford’s already backing off of this like a cat covering up shit, and the Sheriff has decided to extend his vacation in the Bahamas for another week. We’re on our own on this one, Junior.”
“Wait a minute,” said Vince. “You said this morning it was L.A.’s problem now.”
“They have a discrete team working on it,” he said evasively. “We’re cooperating, but frankly they’re scared shitless of the publicity.”
“That still doesn’t explain why it’s up to us.”
“The guys from the university think…”
“What university?” Vince was on his feet now.
“Sit down, goddammit!” yelled Frolich.
Vince sank back into his chair.
“OK,” said Frolich, his voice dropping to a low whisper. “This is extremely confidential, but after they got the tests back from UCLA Med, the L.A. homicide guys called in an Animal Behaviorist from Pierce Agricultural University. Now this guy,” he shuffled through the papers on his desk until he found a slip of paper with a name and phone number scrawled above several lines of crabbed handwriting, “Dr. Whytock, has a lot of experience with predators; lions, wolves and things. According to him, most big hunting animals tend to stake out a territory around a den. They might range away from that base, but sooner or later, they’ll probably come back.
“Whytock thinks at least one of our animals has a den in the mountains around the lake.”
“Come on,” said Vince. “There were only two murders up there.”
Frolich pulled a printout from a folder. “Do you know how many campers, hunters and hikers disappeared in the San Bernardino Mountains last year?” he asked. He flipped through the fanfold sheets without giving the deputy time to answer. “Eight.” He turned the page. “Now if you extend that number down to San Berdoo and Redlands, factoring in suspected kidnappings, runaway kids and guys who just went out for a six-pack and never came home, you’re missing thirty-nine more people. Hell, a coyote snatched a baby right out of a backyard in Pomona last year, why not a vampire? Besides,” he added, “what’s to say this thing only kills people. You got dogs, deer, cattle…. You know how many sheep were reported taken by predators in this county alone last year?”
Vince raised his hands. “OK, OK! Say there is some kind of a predatory animal up at Condor Lake. Why would it suddenly decide to leave its territory, and what makes you think it’s going to come back?”
“Well, now I’m glad you asked me that, Junior.” Frolich scanned Whytock’s notes. “Many territorial predators,” he read, “including mountain lions and several varieties of bear, range far beyond their usual hunting grounds in search of mates, the females generally returning to their original dens in order to bear their young.”
“This is insane,” muttered Vince. “So what are we supposed to do?”
He looked up to see Frolich gazing at him with his most ferocious Fearless Fosdick grin. “You and me are going vampire hunting, Junior. Whytock figures the female has got a den someplace up behind your place at the north end of the lake.” He looked at his watch. “I figure we can drive up there this evening and go out at first light. Think it’ll be OK with your wife if I bunk at your house?”
Vince nodded dumbly. “I’ll call her,” he said, picking up the phone.
Annie Melman-Wright wasn’t home. The snow had let up at about the same time that Frolich’s FAX had arrived in San Bernardino and she’d decided to take advantage of the lull to run into the village at the other end of the lake for a few groceries. Now, her arms loaded down with two paper sacks, she was trudging across the parking lot of the small shopping center toward the new green Jeep, admiring the rich luster of the paint beneath the glare of the overhead security lights.
She placed the groceries into the back and walked around to the driver’s side to get in. She was unlocking the door when she noticed the two men coming out of the ski shop on the other side of the post office.
Flatlanders, she thought, smiling to herself. The two were even odder than the usual odd spectrum of weekend tourists who trekked up to the lake from L.A. for winter skiing and summer hikes. The smaller of the men, a slender youngish guy in a casual suit and dark glasses, carried only a letter-sized parcel, while his rotund companion, a swarthy fellow in a red polyester suit, staggered under a load of packages. Fascinated, she got behind the wheel of the Jeep and sat watching as they crossed the snow-filled lot to a five-year-old Cadillac. The slender one waited impatiently as his fat companion ripped open a shopping bag and stuck his arms into a Dayglo yellow ski parka.
The big man fumbled with keys, opening his door and activating the electric door locks. The slender one got into the car while the other loaded the rest of his packages into the back seat. Satisfied that he hadn’t forgotten anything, the big man looked around mournfully at the snow-filled parking lot and the brooding mountains, then dropped heavily into the drivers’ seat, slamming the door with a solid thunk.
Annie frowned. The big man looked vaguely familiar to her. She watched the red Cadillac start up and pull away toward the parking lot entrance, catching a glimpse of the personalized license plate between the red flare of its brake lights.
“My God,” Annie whispered, “Rollo Castle!” The driver of the Cadillac was older and heavier than she remembered from his zany TV commercials of a decade earlier, but it was definitely Rollo Castle. She was stunned at the sudden appearance of the man she and Vince had been laughing about just the night before. Rollo Castle! It was amazing. She started the Jeep’s engine and pulled out into the light traffic behind the Cadillac, wondering what on earth the bedspread czar was doing at Condor Lake.
A distant alarm sounded in the back of her mind as the red car turned onto the lake road, heading north. Remembering Vince’s chiding about her paranoia over the events of the past few days, she shrugged off the strange coincidence, slowing the Jeep and signalling for a turn into the dry cleaners where she had left two pairs of Vince’s uniform trousers the previous afternoon.
She was anxious to see Vince and learn the reason behind Frolich’s mysterious orders of that morning that he personally deliver her notes on the century-old Condor Lake murders directly to department headquarters. She grinned, envisioning his reaction when she told him about her sighting of Rollo Castle
“Look,” said Rollo, his oily voice involuntarily cracking in a pleading whine. “Where are we going? I oughta at least call the store.” He was nervous and miserable and the silent vampire beside him had said or done nothing to allay his nervousness since Rollo had picked him up on a corner in Hollywood almost three hours earlier. He had even had to practically beg the guy to let him stop at the little store they’d just left so he could buy himself some warm clothes and boots: the pasty faced son of a bitch evidently wasn’t bothered by the cold.
The tire chains he’d had fitted at the gas station down at the base of the mountains in San Bernardino clanked annoyingly against the scraped pavement and Rollo wondered what kind of damage they were doing to the Caddy’s rear end. To hell with it, he thought. When he got out of this he planned on buying himself a new car anyway, something classy like a Mercedes. His great grandmother’s wrinkled face returned to mock him again and he wondered if he would get out of it.
Hell, he didn’t even know what it was. All the creature had told him so far was that his new bride had taken off after the wedding and he wanted Rollo to come with him and order her to honor her vows. As far as Rollo was concerned, the female had been as scary as the thing in the front seat beside him and he couldn’t imagine himself ordering her to do anything. He glanced down at his bandaged hand, remembering the feel of her tongue against his skin, the sound of her lapping up his blood…. A cold chill shuddered through his body. Jesus! What had he gotten himself into?
The lights of the little village faded in the rear view mirror and Rollo peered out through the windshield at the dark expanse of road ahead. The pavement was not as well cleared out here among the towering pines and the Caddy’s tires bumped and clattered over humps of frozen snow. Just to make everything perfect, a few flakes of new snow pelted against the glass. He looked over at the creature, who had unfolded the backpacker’s map he’d purchased in the ski shop, and saw that the son of a bitch was reading it in the dark. “Look,” he said worriedly, “it’s starting to snow again. We could get stuck out here real easy.”
Yellow eyes glowed back at him from the darkness. “It is not far to our stopping point,” said the disembodied voice of the vampire. “We will soon obtain more suitable transportation for the final leg of our journey.”
Shit, thought Rollo, what the fuck does that mean?
Straight Razor Dan returned his attention to the topographical map of Condor Lake and the surrounding mountains. He was supremely confident that the female would soon return–if she had not already done so–to this familiar territory. When she did, he intended to be waiting for her with the Oracle, who would forcefully remind her of her vows.
He had listened very carefully to her long and detailed account of the time she had spent in these mountains, and of her subsequent journey to the city, his hunter’s brain storing the information against possible future need. One of the many useful facts he had retained about the sparsely inhabited north end of the lake was that there were special vehicles available near the place where she had made her first kills after awakening from her long slumber: He had recognized the machines she had described having seen beneath a nearby cabin as snowmobiles. Such a machine would be useful in transporting the Oracle to the place where he expected to find the bitch, and, if she proved uncooperative, to carry her back by force.
The vampire placed a long white finger at a spot on the map where the cabin should be located, wondering if the human female the bitch had seen coupling with her mate that first night would be at home.