Misty’s carefree life of dealing only with the living has come to a dead-end with the arrival of Roland the vampire. Now she finds herself in the midst of an invisible feeding frenzy for Roland’s soul box, a heavy paperweight that does nothing but ruin her rugs.
Roland’s troubles become her own as she’s dragged into a murder mystery that sends her to the last place she thought vampire-hunting would lead her. Now she has to contend with something far trickier and more destructive than the undead: relatives.
“Where the hell have ya been?” Ralph growled at me.
“Getting here,” I snapped back.
Normally I didn’t snap back to Ralph, but a lot of things had happened to me in the last twenty-four hours. I’d dealt with two vampires, a box with a sensitive soul inside, and a fear that maybe I was one episode away from being measured for a white jacket and padded cell. Being yelled at by my boss because I was twenty minutes late for my job at the diner didn’t exactly sit well with me.
Ralph’s squinty eyes narrowed until they were as thin as his legendary cheap pancakes. “Well, ya better learn to get here faster or ya won’t have ta get here at all. This is the second time this week ya’ve been late and Ah won’t stand for another time, ya understand?”
My shoulders slumped and I nodded my head. “I get ya.”
“Good.” He waved at the swinging doors that led from the kitchen to the front. “Now go get Candy out of there.
The boys aren’t playing nice today and ya can dish it out better than she can.”
“Lucky me. . .” I murmured as I swept through the pair of doors.
The front of the diner was full of truckers crowding the counter and tables. They were usually good boys, but one rotten tire would blow out the whole bunch. The usual troublemaker was Ned, and tonight wasn’t any exception. He sat at the counter with a bunch of guys crowded behind him.
I stopped dead in my tracks at the conversation.
“You know there ain’t no vampires,” I heard one of the bunch speak up, a fellow who delivered hay to most of the local farmers.
Ned sneered at him. “That just shows what you know, Brady. That family up in Northton didn’t die of heart attacks, ya know. No, they was drained dry of their blood.”
“How do you know that?” another asked him.
Candy walked up to them and put her hands on her hips. “Boys, if you’re not going to order something could you please leave?”
Ned glared at her. “I’m talking here, so don’t interrupt.”
“And I’m trying to work here, so move out,” Candy snapped back.
“We’ll move out when I’m telling my tale,” Ned snapped at her.
“And it’s just a bunch of tall tales,” Brady retorted. “Ain’t nobody’s killed by a bunch of vampires.”
Ned smirked and pulled a newspaper out from his coat. He slapped it down on the counter with the front-page headline facing up. “Then what’s this?”
Everyone leaned over the paper, and I walked over for a peek. The top headline had bold black letters that screamed Vampires On the Loose! The sub-headline read Family of Four Found Dead At Dinner Table With Blood Drained From Their Bodies. There was a picture of a farmhouse in the nearby town of Northton on a road I’d driven on maybe twice in my life.
“What do you say to that?” Ned preened.
“I’d say it’s all a bunch of hogwash,” Brady argued.
Ned scowled at him. “Hogwash when all them folks up there inspecting the corpses think it’s something not natural? I heard from one of the deputies myself that the sheriff’s plumb scared out of his mind, and the doc who looked at the folks couldn’t find a drop of it anywhere, neither.”
“Maybe it was a wild animal,” one of the other men suggested.
Ned scoffed and tapped the article. “Then where’d the blood go, huh? Animals don’t suck the blood from someone without ripping a big hole in ‘em, and these folks were found in their beds.”
“Guys, come on. Order something or leave,” Candy insisted. She noticed me out of the corner of her eyes and turned to me with a frown. “About time,” she hissed.
I smiled and stepped past her to the counter. “All right, boys. What’ll it be?” I asked the crowd.
“Scram,” Ned growled.
I looked around at all the frightened faces and tapped on the newspaper. “We’ve got a hell of a garlic steak for anybody that’s interested.”
“I’ll take it!”
“I’ll get one!”
“Sure thing, but you all better find a seat,” I ordered them. “No seat, no service.”
The men scrambled for a seat or booth, and in a moment Ned’s little group was gone. He grabbed the paper and stuffed it into his jacket. “Like a stupid garlic steak’s gonna save anybody.”
“You’d be surprised. . .” I murmured as I turned to grab a pad and pencil.
“What was that?” Ned asked me.
“You’d better order some for yourself or the boys aren’t going to believe your tall tale,” I told him.
He glanced over his shoulder and sneered at the others. His voice was so low even I could barely hear it. “They’d better believe it. There’s something fishy going on here and I’m going to find it out.”
He slipped off his stool, tossed down some change for the coffee cup in front of him, and sauntered from the diner. The other truckers watched him go and spoke among themselves. Their vocabulary was full of the words ‘vampire’ and ‘blood.’ Not words I wanted to hear after the fun I’d had earlier.
Candy came up to me and grasped my arm. “Where the hell have you been?” she hissed.
“I went to see somebody,” I told her.
“Well, see them some other time. I’m tired of holding down your shift,” she snapped.
I jerked my head towards Ned’s empty seat. “They been at that for a while?”
She rolled her eyes. “Just all evening. Arguing about vampires and that family that got killed.” She bit her lip and her eyes flitted to the empty stool. “I hate to admit it, but it does sound pretty weird.”
“Must be the exhaustion talking,” I told her. “You go home. I’ll take things from here.”
“All right, but don’t be late tomorrow,” she insisted.
Candy left and I manned the wilderness outpost for a few hours. The truckers had their fill of garlic and steaks, and one-by-one they got into their trucks and went back out on the road. The last one left at about midnight with the jingling bell on the door ringing behind him. I wiped his table clean and plopped myself down in the booth seat that faced away from the door.
“Vampires. . .” I murmured. “Why couldn’t it have been magical rabbits or unicorns?”
“Because those don’t exist,” a voice spoke up behind me.
In one quick motion I stood, spun around, and flung the tablecloth at the voice. The person raised their arm and grabbed the tablecloth before it smacked them in the face. He lowered the arm and I got a good look at him. I had no idea who he was. The guy was about forty with speckled gray hair and steely brown eyes. He wore a long black overcoat that brushed against the ground. It was buttoned up to his neck and had a high collar that hid his throat. I had to get me one of those.
The man showed off a crooked grin and spoke in a slight Scottish accent. “Is this how you greet all your customers?”
“Sorry about that.” I glanced past him at the door. It was closed. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Because Ah didn’t want you to,” he told me. He tossed the tablecloth at me and I caught it. “Now could Ah get some service, and some information?”
I frowned. “Maybe the first, but the second depends on what you want to know.”
He walked past me and slipped into the booth seat opposite where I’d sat. The man clasped his hands together and grinned up at me. “Ah want to know about vampires.”
I snorted. “Then you’ve got the wrong place. Transylvania is a couple thousand miles east of here.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Not that old kind, but the new one. The one that did this.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a newspaper clipping. It had the same story Ned had showed off earlier that evening. He tossed it onto the table and it slid towards me. “Do you know anything about this?”
“Why should I know anything about it?” I returned.
“Because Ah heard you had a run-in with a vampire the other night,” he told me. “One of your friends by the name of Charlie told me all about it.”
My heart beat to the tune of a tango, and I slid into the seat opposite him. “What’d Charlie tell you exactly?”
He nodded at the paper clipping. “That you both had an encounter at your apartment with the creature that did that.”
“How do you know he’s the one who did it?” I countered.
The man’s smile slipped from his lips and he raised an eyebrow. His eyes looked me over like he was a Catholic and I’d just professed my love for the devil. “Ah get the feeling you know something about this vampire that you’re not willing to tell me.”
I held up my hands. “Listen, Mr.-”
“David Ginsleh,” he told me.
“Mr. Ginsleh. I don’t know if what Charlie and I saw was a vampire, but I’m not going to tell you what I saw and what happened here-” I tapped the newspaper clipping, “-are connected because I don’t know. All I know is that if you order the steak we’re all our of garlic, and if you want some coffee it’ll come as black as tar and twice as thick. Now what will you have?”
He inspected me a couple more moments like he expected some monster to jump out of my chest before he leaned back and shrugged. “Ah will take the apple pie. Charlie told me it was unusually well made.”
“I’ll get it in a jiffy,” I replied. I stood, paused and looked at him over my shoulder. “By the way, how’d you find Charlie?”
The man smiled that crooked smile of his. “We both will keep our secrets.”
I shrugged and turned away. “Suit yourself.”
I got him a slice of apple pie and got back to my cleaning, but I kept an eye on him. He ate the pie, but didn’t relish it. I could tell by the way he kept staring out the window every few bites. He was more interested in the night than the extra-cinnamon filling.
Ginsleh finished his dessert and walked over to the cash register to pay. He opened his wallet and I noticed there was some strange looking money in there. Colorful stuff like monopoly money. He pulled out some cash and handed it to me.
“Keep the change,” he offered.
“Thanks,” I replied.
He turned, but paused and looked back at me. “A word of warning before Ah go. It isn’t wise to be dealing with these creatures. They can’t be trusted to keep their words.”
“I’ll remember that when I see one,” I returned.
“You’d better,” he answered. He tipped his head at me and walked out. The bell over the door still didn’t ring.