Niles Gule drew a heavy sigh seeing the pink message slips scattered across his obsessively neat desk like a Pepto pink tree had dropped its leaves. He scooped them together and made a careful tower, all corners and sides matching. Then he flicked on his computer and logged in. As his email updated, he watched the counter on the bottom flipping by first in tens, then hundreds.
“Three hundred and seventy-four messages?” he complained. He rubbed his forehead. “I need a vacation.”
Police officer Jonas Williams wearing the black uniform of the Baltimore Police was lounging nearby, reading a newspaper and slurping coffee.
Hearing his co-worker’s complaint, he shot the vampire a look. “Didn’t you just get back from vacation?”
Niles’ partner, Detective Mariella Cruz, stormed in like the whirlwind she was. Niles slapped his hand over his organized pile of messages to keep the backwash of her arrival from sending it spinning into space. She flopped into her chair in the desk beside his. Her dark eyes shimmered as she smiled.
“Welcome back! How was your vacation?”
Niles shrugged. He started sorting the pink slips. “Fine.”
Cruz leaned towards him suggestively. “Do anything fun?”
Niles didn’t look up from his messages. “Not particularly, no.”
“Where’d ya go?” she asked in a sing song voice. She’d been trying to pry that information out of him for the two weeks before he left and was apparently not giving up now that he was back.
“Nowhere in particular.”
Niles should have known better than to try to elude his questioner. Cruz was small and feisty. Having her on the trail of information was like having a Chihuahua grabbing at your ankles. Chihuahuas never gave up and neither did Cruz.
She must have made a face at Williams to garner his aid because he set his coffee cup aside and lowered his paper. “What’s the big mystery?” he asked. “Where does a vampire go on vacation?”
Niles fluttered a slip at Cruz. “Got a lead on the Mondawmin stabbing.”
Cruz snatched the slip from his long delicate fingers and set it aside. Then she frowned. She grasped his hand before he could snatch it away.
“What did you do?” she breathed, studying his cold, pale hand. She ran her warm fingers across the back. “You’re all cut up. Almost shredded.”
That drew Williams’ attention. He bolted over. Cruz held up Niles’ hand to show off the damage.
“And your face!” Williams added, flicking a finger at a new scar along his temple. “You were cut there, and there… and there!” He pointed to freshly healing wounds on the vampire’s nose, cheek and chin.
Niles jerked away. “It’s nothing. Vampires possess excellent cellular regeneration. Far superior to humans. I’ll be right as rain by the weekend.”
“That’s not the point!” Cruz protested. She refused to give back his hand. She clutched it between hers, forcing him to either let her have it, or possibly injure her by retrieving it. He decided to let her have it for the moment. “Why do I suspect if we could see the rest of you, we’d find more injuries? Did you fall down a mountain?”
Niles couldn’t hold back a bark of laughter. She’d guessed a little too close for comfort. Trying to avoid the question, he focused on another message slip. “New York City returned my call about that mail fraud case.”
Cruz tightened her grip. Her twinkling eyes lost their sparkle as she grew more serious. “Stop it, Gule. What happened? Where did you go and how did you get hurt?” She gave his hand a shake when he refused to look at her. “Come on, Gule. We care about you.”
“Did you take a trip to Europe? Tangle with a Van Helsing?” Williams asked.
Niles rolled his eyes. “No and no. There’s no such family as the Van Helsings, Jonas. Abraham Van Helsing was just a character that fool Stoker made up to sell books along with a litany of other ridiculous ideas about vampires.” He shook his head with a snort. “Vampires should have targeted him before he published that rubbish.”
“Nice try, Gule,” Cruz warned, “but you aren’t filibustering your way out of my question. What happened to you?”
Niles tried to glare her into submission but those dark eyes stared right back, unblinking. When he conjured up some anger from the depths of his cold soul and allowed his eyes to shift towards yellow, she scoffed and tugged harder on that hand.
“As if you’ll scare me with that! I know you too well.” Her gaze hardened. “Out with it!”
Niles considered his next ploy. He brandished his fangs in a typical vampire threat display which only made Cruz laugh, much to his consternation.
“And I’m not afraid of those, either.” She tugged on the hand again. “Now, you’ve got me worried. What’s going on? This isn’t like you.”
“You may as well fess up, Ghoul.” Williams whacked him with the newspaper. “You know what she’s like. A piranha. She’ll keep at you until you’re nothing but bones.”
Drawing a great sigh, Niles slouched in his chair. “Ok. Fine. I went caving and had a little accident.”
“Caving?” Cruz repeated.
“Yes.” Niles gave his two human companions a sharp look. “You asked what vampires do on vacation. They go wandering in caves. Dark. Moist. Generally human free. What’s not to love?”
Cruz frowned. “So what happened?”
Niles shrugged. “I slipped. Fell. Banged myself up.” He finally snatched his hand from her. “It’s no big deal! Can we get back to work?”
With a huff, he turned his back on the both of them and buried his nose in his email. He would say nothing more.
Williams loomed over Niles’ desk, watching him with a thoughtful expression.
Without looking up, Niles flicked a hand at him. “You may go now.”
The police officer considered the hand with its quickly healing injuries. Then he glanced down at his newspaper.
“No shit!” he murmured.
“What?” Cruz asked.
Niles refused to respond.
“You still standing by your assertion that vampires can’t transform into bats?” the big man asked.
Niles stiffened. He started typing as if he could will his two pests to go away. “It’s not an assertion. I cannot transform into a vampire bat.”
Williams remained silent, staring at him.
With a strangled cry of frustration, the vampire leaped to his feet and stormed away to discuss a case with Sergeant Lo.
Cruz turned her questioning gaze to the officer. “What was that exchange about?”
Williams shrugged. “Dunno.”
He set his newspaper on the desk in front of her opened to one of the inner pages. It was The National Inquirer, a rag that mostly published stories of the ridiculous, impossible and bizarre.
Cruz turned it towards her. As she read the bold headline of the outrageous story, her mouth fell open and there it stayed.
Vampire Saves Thai Soccer Team!
In a secret meeting with the divers tasked with rescuing a group of boys from a deep cavern, Thai officials admitted the boys would never have been found if authorities hadn’t received assistance from a helpful vampire. According to one of the divers who attended the meeting, the head of the search operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn admitted they’d nearly given up trying to find the boys when they turned to an unlikely ally. A vampire. The vampire agreed to transform into a bat and search the cave system using its innate sonar capability. Said Narongsak, “We’d never have found those boys if we hadn’t turned to the one individual who could make it all the way to the bottom and back without getting lost.”
Cruz pursed her lips as Niles retook his seat behind her.
“Fell in a cave?” she repeated.
Niles flicked a glance at the newspaper. He considered it with his brilliant blue eyes, then waved a taloned finger at it.
“You should know better, Cruz. You can’t believe a thing those scandal sheets publish.”
Niles shook his head. “No. They might have you believing in something silly one of these days.”
He turned his attention to his keyboard and began typing. “Like vampires.”
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