The bundle of blood red roses stuffed under his nose made Niles Gule sneeze. He was a vampire, with a vampire’s sensitive ability to smell, so carrying two dozen long-stemmed red roses into the precinct was torture. He hadn’t realized he was allergic to the things. His blue eyes watered as he sneezed again.
The woman at the front desk gave him a look. “Maybe I need to see some ID,” she joked. “Can’t see your face behind all that.”
Niles peered around the bouquet and gave Miranda Gonzalez his most brilliant smile, which melted her instantly. She was a lady in her late fifties, divorced twice, and desperate for a new man. She’d always watched Baltimore’s resident vampire with hungry eyes, not aware he was a vampire. He realized her longing gaze was just that, longing. She knew better than to hope she could capture the attention of an apparently handsome young man in his twenties. She had no way to know he was actually more than a century old.
He set the bouquet with its crystal vase on her desk then offered her the second object he’d been juggling. A large red heart of candies.
Miranda’s eyes grew huge. “You brought these for me?” Her voice squeaked.
Niles glanced around the office, seeing vases of flowers, boxes of chocolates, balloons and cards scattered about. Valentine’s Day, or in the case of the night shift, Valentine’s Night, had been generous to most of the people he worked with. He’d known, however, Miranda would go without. He knew how it felt to be ignored on such days.
“I did.” He gave her an elegant bow, sweeping his arm before him as he’d been taught in Boston when Queen Victoria reigned. “You work so hard and no one seems to appreciate it. So I’m offering my appreciation.”
Miranda oozed boneless into her chair. Her face was dazzling, stunned, wondrous, beautiful in its aging way. “Thank you, Detective.”
“My pleasure.” He pretended to tip a non-existent hat and sauntered on.
Officer Krewelski whistled as Niles passed his desk. “Hot stuff, Ghoul!” he jibed.
Officer Cooksey, a small, fat, balding man, scowled. “It doesn’t mean anything. Damned Ghoul is gay.”
Niles shot little Cooksey a hard glare from his blue eyes which immediate shut the little man up. He didn’t bother to correct Cooksey, however. There was no point. Cooksey was a hopeless bigot who’d decided long ago the tall, elegant vampire had to be gay. Only gay men were allowed to be tall and elegant, apparently. Niles no longer tried to change the man’s thinking.
If he thought at all, Niles grumbled.
He dropped into the chair at his desk and considered the messages written on pink slips piled on its always neat surface. Tips about the robbery of a supermarket in East Baltimore. A possible lead on a Fell’s Point break in. A detective from Jessup returning his call about a stolen vehicle. Mundane stuff.
His partner, Mariella Cruz, popped a vase of flowers onto her desk next to his and fluffed them.
“Dechamps came through,” Niles commented. He leaned back in his creaky chair to study first the flowers, then his partner’s glowing face.
“He never forgets a holiday.” Cruz swept aside the mess on her desk to make room for the card.
“Or his secretary doesn’t.” Niles couldn’t keep the waspish comment in check. Malcolm Deschamps was Cruz’s current beau. A power broker in Baltimore, he was an attorney for the rich and famous. Some said he also worked for the mob.
Cruz stuck her tongue out at him. “You’re just jealous because no one sent you anything for Valentine’s Day.”
Niles considered his empty desk. It was devoid of anything personal. Other desks held pictures of family, shots from vacations to distant lands, strangely warped coffee mugs in neon colors made by children in nursery school. His desk held nothing. Not a single clue into the man behind the job.
“Vampires don’t celebrate the day,” he said. He tapped the end of his pen on his blotter. “And no human is going to send me anything.”
Cruz’s face fell. She blinked rapidly then turned her attention to her computer screen.
“Not true!” Miranda’s voice sounded triumphant as she approached his desk with a vase of carnations and a small square box wrapped in red paper. “Someone remembered you.” She placed the objects beside the stunned vampire.
Cruz’s eyes perked up as she studied the flowers. “Well, well!” She propped her elbow on her desk and her chin in her hand. “Gule’s got a secret admirer.”
Niles shot her a look as he pulled the card from the flowers. Opening it he read: To my darling in remembrance of a New Year’s Eve I’ll never forget.
His eyes narrowed and grew yellow with anger. Tossing the card aside, he unwrapped the box to find chocolate from the Fudgery. He recoiled as the warm, enticing smell tickled his nose and begged him to dive in. Turtles, no less! As if he’d touched poison, Niles shoved the box at Cruz.
“Get that away from me!” he exclaimed.
Cruz frowned as she accepted the box. “It’s just chocolate, Gule.”
Niles wasn’t going to explain to her what chocolate did to a vampire. He’d only eaten the stuff in quantity once. On New Year’s Eve. He’d binged on turtles, not realizing chocolate worked like a narcotic on his system. He woke from a drug induced haze three days later, naked in a cheap hotel on the Jersey Shore. With only his nemesis, Jonas Williams, for company.
“Williams!” he shouted, spinning around in his chair to find the prankster.
Williams sauntered in from the men’s room, looking innocent. “What? I thought you’d appreciate my thinking of you. It was such a special evening.”
Niles snatched the box from Cruz and threw it across the room. He hit Williams. Chocolate turtles flew in every direction.
Williams howled with glee.
“That wasn’t very nice,” Cruz complained. She turned pained eyes to the vampire as he snorted and focused on his messages. “You’re such an ass, Jonas.”
Williams grinned and headed for the coffee machine.
Cruz reached across the desk to grasp Niles’ hand. “I’m sorry. That had to hurt.”
Niles jerked himself free and shrugged. “Not important. I’m used to his abuse.” He kept his eyes on his work. Started typing. Short, staccato stabbings of the keyboard.
Cruz studied him then quietly rose. Niles paid no attention. He had work to do. Crimes to solve. Criminals to prosecute. He was there to do a job, not socialize.
About a half hour later, Cruz returned. She silently placed a cupcake with a red heart decoration beside his keyboard.
Niles flicked it a glance then returned his eyes to his computer screen. “That wasn’t necessary.”
“It was,” she said. “We’re not all assholes, Gule. Some of us love you.”
He paused in his typing. His eyes sought hers. She smiled.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Gule.”
© 2017 Newmin