A Chill In The Blood (Vampire Files #7)

Chapter 2

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Jolt of panic when I woke, directly inspired by the absolute darkness cocooning me. In my regular sleeping area I always leave a light on. Muddled, thinking I was falling, I twisted in the narrow box and slapped my hands hard on what should have been an earth-filled mattress. Struck wood instead.

Ow.

Then I remembered. Made myself relax.

Usually, my wakings are quiet and smooth, my daylight rest complete and oblivious, and I pick up exactly where I left off, but this time… this time I'd dreamed.

That wasn't normal. Though not nearly as clear and horrific as the ones that came when I was separated from my soil, these hadn't been pleasant, what little I could recall of them. Escott thought they went on regardless of the presence of my home earth, that it only kept me from being aware of them. His idea was that the earth was some kind of safety valve attached to the larger one of the dreams.

The falling sensation had been me taking another sickening headfirst dive off the Elvira, I was sure. I glumly wondered if this was going to be a permanent thing.

Maybe my home earth was wearing out, but more likely it was a last shred of the morphine making itself felt, or perhaps too much had happened in too little time and my brain was having trouble digesting it all. Either way I didn't want a repeat come the next evening. Not that there was much I could do about it.

I floated out of the box and stretched. Quietly. From the sounds below, the tobacco shop was still open for business.

Back through to the washroom, where I brushed my teeth with my finger and rinsed with mouth gargle, fighting off the urge to gag before thoroughly spitting the stuff out. I don't care much for the process, but sometimes the smell of blood could linger on my breath after a heavy feeding and be picked up by others. Offensive to my friends, it was also a telltale clue to people who knew about vampires being real.

Not that there were many of those around, but I was only doing my part to keep it that way, since my one encounter with them had been a pretty lousy experience.

They'd decided I was a public enemy and nearly got me killed. Dammit, Stoker should have written his big book from the vampire's point of view; it might have improved things for the rest of us.

Speaking of revealing smells, I was fairly certain my wool pea jacket was going musty. Damn all this crap. I wanted a real shave, fresh clean clothes, and about five years of vacation. No rest for the righteous-or even those with seriously bruised consciences. Time away from this dog-and-pony show would have to wait until I found out how the day went for everyone else.

The outer office was as I'd left it. I tried the phone, figuring it pretty unlikely for us to be tapped like Gordy, and dialed the private number for Coldfield's club, the Shoe Box.

Escott answered. "Hallo, I thought it might be you."

"Time of day tip you off?"

"More like evening, old man."

"You guys all right?"

"Rested and restless."

"But quiet?"

"If you like that sort of thing."

"Heart and soul."

"Fortunately one of us has his senses. Shoe and I went out to the Paco mansion today."

If I'd had anything like blood pressure anymore, the top of my head would have blown right off just then.

"Jack?"

"I'm here. Charles, in the name of God, what the hell were you thinking?"

"That I cannot operate in a vacuum of information."

The man was incurable. I beat back all comment wanting to spill out on what an idiot he was and accepted the situation. He'd probably heard it earlier from Coldfield on the drive out. "What did you find?"

"Aside from a few craters and lines of tire tracks weaving over the grounds, nothing. I couldn't persuade Shoe to go very close, but as far as we could determine with field glasses, the place appears to be deserted. After a bit of futile observation we came back to the city and took a detour along Lakeshore Drive and noted that the Elvira is back in the yacht basin. She also appears to be deserted. Shoe refused to pursue that one as well. If you were up to it, I thought-"

"Oh, no, I'm not. I've had enough of boats and that damned lake to last me forever. Besides, we both know Angela and what's left of Kyler's mob have probably found holes to pull in after them."

"Actually, we don't know that at all. They could be huddled in the mansion cellar, or have left Chicago altogether. Not likely, but it is unwise to overlook all possibilities. I've asked Shoe about lending a hand in a search, but he is not too terribly inclined to risk any of his people by having them check around."

"I don't blame him for that."

"Nor I. He's more than willing to help us get out of town, but that is not a path I wish to take in regard to the resolution of this situation."

I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. "Yeah, same again here. It ain't gonna go away unless I put my foot into it with Angela one more time."

"Indeed. The only way out that I can see is if you could privately talk to Miss Paco and firmly request she cease and desist any plans she may have to eliminate either of us."

"I can do that, but I have to find her first."

"If you're not enamored of searching the yacht, then perhaps you would not object to looking the mansion over instead. It might provide a suggestion as to where everyone has got to."

I groused and grumbled on for a minute, just so he knew I wasn't a pushover. My objections mostly had to do with personal comfort. "This is something that can wait until I'm ready for it. Trudence took one look at me last night and thought I was a bum, and I'm ready to agree with her. I'm going to go by the house first and change."

"If you feel the need."

"You're damn right I do. I might as well check the mail while I'm at it. You want anything from there?"

"I left my pipe and a pouch of tobacco in the front room, and you might pull a bit of cash from the safe. Fifty should do it."

He'd surprised me. "That much?"

"I don't know how long all this will take and want sufficient funds for at least a few weeks."

"Jeez, Charles, if this goes on for that long, I'm gonna be bug-eyed crazy."

"Then we shall have to marshal our best efforts toward concluding things as quickly as possible."

We meaning me. "Yeah, yeah. But only after I pull on a pair of shoes that don't squeak. Gimme a couple hours and I'll come by the club with your stuff."

"I'd be most obliged."

I cradled the receiver. He'd want to hitch along, but on this I'd do my Rock of Gibraltar imitation against getting talked into it. I'd cracked some ribs once-hell, they'd been broken-and hadn't liked it one bit. He was going to rest or I'd save him the trouble of suicide by overwork and kill him myself.

The next call was to Gordy's; he didn't let it ring so long this time.

"It's me, how're things going?" I could take a good and probably accurate guess, but wanted to give him the chance to recognize my voice.

"Not so bad. Your friend sends regards back, wants to talk with you pretty soon."

"It might be a while before I can come over, I got some business to clean up first."

"How about we meet somewhere?"

"Sounds fine. Maybe you and my friend could go out, get some air, then call me at home in about an hour." By then I'd be in a fit state to talk to my beautiful lady.

"Can do," said Gordy, and hung up.

One cab ride later-and looking the way I did it was damned difficult to find one-and I was approaching the house by way of the alley that ran behind the buildings. Things looked all right there, though it's a sad day when you have to act like your own home is a bear trap. A shame, too, since it's a nice enough place, certainly much better than the cheap hotels I'd flopped in since I first began writing for newspapers and found out not everyone, myself included, has Pulitzer potential.

The house was three solid stories of brick. A couple of decades back when the neighborhood wasn't so nice it used to be the local brothel, then Escott bought the empty hulk last year and started fixing the insides up. I had a couple of rooms and a bath on the second floor, and a very unofficial chamber hidden behind a false brick wall in the basement. In its secret and silent fireproof safety I usually slept the day away in reasonable security and comfort. At night it also doubled as my office, so the clatter of my typewriter wouldn't disturb Escott's attempts at overcoming his insomnia.

I always entered this retreat using my sieving through the walls gimmick, but there was also a concealed trapdoor under the kitchen table. Escott used it to duck down to my room the other night in order to hide out from yet more of Kyler's men.

When they couldn't find him, they ransacked the place and hung around waiting for me to turn up. It wasn't to present me with a bunch of posies.

Because of me, Vaughn Kyler had missed collecting the payment on an important gambling debt. He had one solution for those interfering in his rackets: make the poor bastards disappear forever. He was too crazy for me to hypnotize and knew about my own kind of vanishing act, which made him a major threat to me and mine. While I was still trying to figure out how best to deal with him, Angela Paco had dropped herself into the fight like one of her own grenades and with about the same effect. Her game was getting her kidnapped father Frank back along with the control of his gang, and she didn't much care who she had to kill to do it. Since Kyler had felt the same way about her it was a hell of a mess for me, the cops, and all the other gangs in the city. Though Kyler was safely dead, the dust had yet to settle. I could figure everyone who had a hint of what was going on was waiting to see what would happen next between his lieutenants and little Angela.

Just put me at the head of the line.

All was dark and quiet now as I circled the area of the house, just the usual cars parked in their usual places, including my dark blue Buick out front. Escott usually kept his Nash (a secondhand purchase from Coldfield) in the garage out back, only now it was in a shop somewhere getting fixed. The motor was fine, but when the cops see a car drive past with the glass starred and cracked and the body pocked with a hundred or so bullet dents along one of its extra-thick steel sides-all courtesy of Kyler's goons-they get curious.

The back door to the house was locked; I left it that way and slipped inside nice and quiet, re-formed in the kitchen, and listened.

Nothing to hear but more quiet. The place had a hollow, deserted feel to it that I didn't like. My back hairs were up, but I wasn't sure if it was for something real or imagined. Hard for me to tell the difference after all I'd been through, my nerves were much too sharp, the edges ready to cut. A man shouldn't have to live like this.

Grimacing, I shrugged the stiffness out of my shoulders.

We hadn't had a chance to clean up much since all hell broke loose. I'm not as demanding as Escott when it comes to keeping things neat, so that wasn't the problem so much as the fact the house had been invaded. Someone had broken into my private territory and the violation hit me the same as with the office: I wanted some skulls to bust, preferably those of the ones responsible, except they were already dead. Guys like Chaven, Vic, Hodge, Kyler…

Had to stretch once more as my shoulders stubbornly bunched up again. I was giving names to roaches, and who in their right mind feels guilty about a dead roach? It was past time to stop doing this to myself or I'd be ready for the loony bin like Frank Paco.

Walked slowly into the hall, still listening. Nothing. Good. Went to the front door, unlocked and opened it, and pulled a wad of mail from the box, got the papers, too.

My arms were full when I backed inside, kicked the door shut, turned, and abruptly came nose to muzzle with a gun.

I don't know who was the more surprised, me or Deiter.

Escott's Webley, I thought a split second before disappearing again, mail, papers, and all. Having been shot several times too many I didn't care who saw.

Through my distorted hearing I heard Deiter's sharp cry of horrified shock. He'd been on the boat last night, had pulled the tarp from my apparently dead body and dragged me toward the edge of the deck ready to roll into the water. Chaven, repeating what Kyler had said, had told him about my being able to vanish; until now Deiter had no reason to believe him.

Great, another loose end to tie up. Well, I'd put a bow on this one.

"Where are you?" he said, his voice all shaky and hoarse. "Where?"

He had guts. Given the same circumstances, I'd have hoofed it out of there and kept on going.

I floated around him to the front room where he wouldn't see me and went solid only long enough to drop everything on the couch. No need to move after that, hearing the noise of it, he came to investigate. He walked right through me, which was not so much fun for him because the air gets real cold in the space I occupy.

According to Escott, the chill goes a bit more than bone deep, as in right down to the soul.

"Where are you?" Deiter demanded, still sounding like a kid whose voice had just broken. You could almost feel sorry for the bastard.

I reappeared right behind him, grabbed the gun with one hand, and snaked my free arm around his neck, lifting him clean off his feet. Being tall enough, I got away with it slick as sweat. He choked and struggled, and managed a kick or two to my shins, but never really had a chance, and I think he knew it. I wrested the gun away, firmly tapped the side of his head with the grip, and felt the sudden sag of his weight. His heels making long black marks on the wood floor, I hauled him around, dropping him on the couch with the other junk.

Listened again. Nothing. Not at first.

I tiptoed into the hall and noticed the door to the understairs closet was open.

He'd been hiding there, being particularly quiet, and slipped out to shoot me-Escott really, since I was supposed to be dead-while I'd been busy with the mail.

Time to close my eyes and really concentrate. Now that I was focusing on it I could hear them, like rats in the walls. I'd almost rather have the rats, they're smaller and harder to catch, but they don't pack any heat. Had to assume the human vermin lurking upstairs were all armed-they'd sooner be caught with no pants than leave their guns at home. Couldn't blame 'em for it, it's a rough world.

I checked the Webley. Deiter had reloaded it, though where he'd turned up the .455 ammunition I'd like to find out. Escott often complained about the stuff sometimes being too scarce for him to target-shoot regularly.

Tempting as it was, I left the Webley on the hall table. I wouldn't really need it this time. Too noisy. No reason to disturb the neighbors, after all. Besides, Escott did have a number of other useful weapons lying handy around the house. Left over from his acting days were a few working crossbows, spears for the spear carriers-stuff he'd made as stage props. There were other, more practical items tucked away in odd places and overlooked like old pencil stubs. I tried the drawer on the hall table.

Pencil stubs. Also a dried out fountain pen, scrap paper, rubber bands, a bowie knife that needed sharpening, and a couple of blackjacks-normal stuff for this joint.

Grinning, I picked out and hefted the larger blackjack, liking the feel of it.

Near as I could tell from their breathing-the one sound besides their heartbeat they couldn't stop-there was a guy in my set of rooms and another in Escott's down at the end of the hall. They must have heard the business with Deiter, but hadn't moved. Cagey bunch. I wondered how long they'd been waiting for Escott to come home. I was pretty sure from seeing Deiter's raw amazement that I was not their intended target. That led to the question of who sent them. Had Deiter taken over things from Chaven? Was he trying to pick up where he and Kyler had left off? Escott wasn't much of a threat when compared to Angela, so why still be bothering with him?

I'd get the answers shortly, first I had to flush out some rats.

Ghosting upstairs and thus making no sound at all, I vanished completely to enter my rooms. The door was nearly shut with the guy hiding behind it, probably peering through the crack to watch the upper hall. It didn't take much to put him out of business. I went solid and whacked him behind one ear with the blackjack. He dropped with a very satisfying thump. Son of a bitch, but I was actually getting my wish about busting some skulls.

Listened. The other guy held his place. I kept grinning, deciding to let him do all the work.

"Psst! I got him!" I whispered, putting some excitement into it. He took the bait and rushed out to see, but by then I'd vanished and got behind him. Whack again. At this rate I'd be breaking Babe Ruth's record for hitting 'em home.

No lights were on, so I remedied that for a closer look and was surprised to recognize them both. They'd tried this hide-and-hit game the other night during an attempt to kidnap Bobbi from her dressing room at the Top Hat Club. She'd helped me get the drop on them, then the club bouncers took it from there.

The big one was Chick, and the shorter guy with the scraped face was Tinny.

Much more of this and there wouldn't be any of the Kyler gang left to play with. I relieved them of their supplies of deadly hardware and went down to the front room to check on Deiter. He was still inert, but there was no need to take chances. I found some rope and trussed them up good, using dust rags I found under the sink to gag them.

Then I stopped, stood back, and took stock of the situation. All three were downstairs now, tied up snug-and me with no idea on what to do with them. I couldn't exactly take them to the cops. The more I thought of it the more exasperated I got, which was not a good state for me to be in when I started with the questions that were already bumping around up in my head. The last time I'd done the hypnosis stuff when I was angry had been with Frank Paco. That was why he went nuts, because my temper got away from me and tore things up in his mind. I didn't want to do that to anyone else, even if they were rats.

But the longer I thought about them and how they'd been waiting here to kill Escott, the worse I got. I needed time to cool down, to get in control again.

So I said to hell with them and went upstairs to do what I'd come here for in the first place.

By the time I was clean, properly shaved, and in fresh clothes, I felt a whole lot better about me vs. the rest of the world. My captive goons didn't have it so good.

Chick had woken up and nearly spit out his gag-couldn't blame him since it smelled (and tasted) like dust and furniture wax-but I stuffed it back in place despite his mumbled and no doubt obscene protests. He started to thrash around, so I fixed him with a look, and when I had his undivided attention told him to take a long nap. He instantly dropped off.

No need to worry about Tinny, he was still out to lunch, but Deiter was starting to come around. He was taking his time, though, so I went to the kitchen and called the Shoe Box again.

Coldfield answered.

"Something happened," I told him. "Three of Kyler's goons were at the house to jump Charles. I got 'em all quiet, but I don't know what to do with them. Any ideas?"

He said "shit" a few times then demanded details. There weren't that many to share-well, that many I could share- but I filled in the blanks a bit, giving their names. He repeated the whole thing to Escott, then finally turned the phone over to him.

Once more I said I didn't know what to do with them.

"You can't let them wander loose." His voice went faint as he turned from the receiver. "Shoe, do you think-"

"Uh-uh, I'm in as deep as I ever want to get. I ain't playing zookeeper to Kyler's leavings."

Escott came back to me. "Give me a little time and I'll see what I can arrange."

He hung up just as I heard Coldfield start with another objection.

It looked like we all had a peachy night ahead.

I got a glass, put some water in it, and went to the front room, sitting on the coffee table to face Deiter. Pouring the water on his face had been my initial idea to wake him, but Escott would only get all pained over having a damp couch. Instead I dipped my fingers and sprinkled. It had about the same effect. Deiter squinted and groaned and tried to move out of range, then his eyelids flew open.

After that he just didn't have a prayer.

He went under fast and hard, and I pulled out the gag, certain he wouldn't shout the house down. His eyes were as empty as a dead man's. I didn't like the look, but tough knuckles and all that.

"Deiter, we're going to have a little talk. You want to tell me everything. When I ask a question you will answer. Right?"

His jaw trembled and went slack, matching the rest of his expression. "Uh-huh."

"Now tell me what's going on with Kyler's people."

"Kyler's dead."

"I got that, what are his people doing?"

"Keeping low."

"And who gave you the bright idea of coming over here?"

"Frank Paco."

That stopped me short. Frank Paco was barely in shape to dress himself, let alone order a hit. "You mean Angela Paco?"

"She was just passing Frank's orders."

So, she was bulling through with her game of using her father as the front man, enabling her to run his mob. "You're working for Paco now?"

"He made us a sweet deal."

"I just bet he did. Did he hire all of you away?"

"Some. Others are holding off, see what happens."

"You expecting something to happen?"

"New York's sending a guy out to pick up the slack."

"What guy?"

"Sullivan, Sean Sullivan."

The name meant nothing to me, though Irish mobsters were not rare and as tough as they come. While the others would kill you for a reason, the Irish would ace you just for the hell of it. "What's he going to do?"

"Pickup the slack."

"Yeah, I got that part, but what's he going to do about Paco?"

"Don't know."

"What's Paco going to do about him?"

"Don't know."

Deiter was, after all, just one of the soldiers, why should Angela let him in on the big decisions? Or maybe she didn't know what to do herself.

Yeah, fat chance of that. She'd moved in one big hurry today, hiring on muscle from Kyler's leavings before they could scatter too far. "You were supposed to come here and kill Charles Escott for Paco?"

"Uh-huh."

"Where is he? Where's Angela?"

"Flora's Dance Studio."

"Where's that?" He didn't have the number, but gave the street name and that it was close to a movie theater. I realized the latter was an all-night place I'd been to a few times. I dimly remembered seeing a sign in the area advertising dancing, but the joint was always closed by the time I came around to catch a late feature. "How many people does she have with her?"

And so it went, with me finally taking notes to keep it all straight. Angela still had her core of insiders: Doc, Newton, Lester, and, of course, Daddy Frank. No news of Opal, though. She hadn't arrived by the time Deiter left with his friends to settle Angela's accounts with Escott.

"When does she expect you to report in?"

"When the job's done."

"What, later tonight, tomorrow?"

"When the job's done."

I was getting a headache. Too much of this eyeballing stuff makes me feel like I've got a rope twisted tight around my temples.

The phone rang. I told Deiter to take a nap. Maybe Escott had a solution for me.

Only it wasn't Escott, but Bobbi. My headache lifted.

"Hi, sweetheart," I said. It was so great to hear her voice again I wanted to hug the phone. "I've missed you. Is it safe to talk?"

"Yeah, Gordy drove us to a drugstore not far from your house. We can be over in a minute."

"Hang on, there're complications." I gave her the short version about my new guests and got some rather unladylike language back. "Easy, this ain't my fault."

"I know, Jack, but how much longer is this going to go on? Oh, don't answer, it'll only aggravate me more. Look, can you blindfold these jerks or something? I want to see you."

I tried to think of a good reason for her to stay away, and did, several of them, but talked myself out of 'em. In their present state Angela's goons were no threat to Bobbi. "Okay, but come in by the back way. Gordy can put the car in the garage."

"We'll be right there." She disconnected fast, maybe worried I'd change my mind.

One minute, then two, with me waiting in the kitchen peering out the window every few seconds before I saw the car lights turning into the alley. Like Kyler, Gordy favored a Caddie, and I had a bad moment before I got a good look at his big form behind the wheel and could relax. He slowed and stopped long enough for Bobbi to slip out, then eased the car into the garage while she sprinted up the steps to the porch. I had the door open already and she nearly knocked me backward onto the kitchen table when she threw herself into my welcoming arms.

"Easy, baby," I said, laughing, "it hasn't been that long."

"It's been years," she said, then fastened her lips onto mine as if to make up for lost time. It was better than great until she had to come up for air.

For someone who had been dragged without warning away from her club engagement and forced into hiding for the last few days, she looked wonderful. Short platinum hair shining, hazel eyes bright, and a smile that made my knees go weak every time I saw it flash in my direction, I knew without a doubt I was the luckiest s.o.b. walking the planet. When I last saw her she'd been in her stage costume, a white satin safari outfit with patent-leather riding boots, incongruously topped by a fur coat and hat. She still had the latter two on, but had turned up a less showy pair of dark pants tucked into ankle-high hiking boots, and a red plaid flannel shirt.

"What's this?" I asked, holding her away for a look. "You going off to a cabin in the woods?"

"Only if you come, too. The wife of Gordy's lawyer loaned them to me. She loves to ice-fish."

"Well, the wife of Gordy's lawyer has a helluva figure. You keeping okay?"

"I'm fine, but you-" Her turn to look. I collected a frown.

"What?"

"You've been through the wringer-backward. Three or four times."

How did she always know? I pulled her close, just wanting to hold her. "Guilty.

But I'm feeling better by the minute."

"Glad to hear it," said Gordy, filling most of the doorway as he came into the kitchen. I lifted one hand away from hugging Bobbi and put it out to shake his. He always seemed a little surprised at the least sign of friendship from me. "Want to tell us your side of things?"

"My side? What have you heard from others?"

"Just rumors and not much of them because of the wire. I gotta find me some bright boy who knows phones and can clean this one's line. It's cramping my business."

"You need a vacation," Bobbi told him with a crooked smile; it went away a second later. "Good grief, Jack, what happened here?" She let go of me as she got her first glimpse of the mess.

"Kyler's men came by the other night and threw a party. Then three of 'em came by again tonight for another one. They're in the front room with the sandman for the moment."

Gordy strolled through the dining area to the front and looked over the casualties.

"I can take care of 'em for you. This time tomorrow they can be part of the nearest WPA project, canal repair, maybe a new highway."

I'd have laughed, but he was completely serious. "Charles is already working on something. He'll call when he gets it all arranged."

Gordy shrugged. Stuff like this was no skin off his nose; he was honestly trying to be helpful.

"How are things at the club?" I asked, wanting to change the subject.

"Same as before, but with less broken glasses and more lawyers. Should have it all nailed together and running tomorrow."

"You in any trouble with your bosses because of this?" I knew he had to answer to people higher up.

"They're not happy. A raid they don't worry about; a raid started up by one of their own boys on their own place, they get annoyed."

"So they know Kyler ordered it?"

"Pretty much. He'd be in the stew now if he wasn't already busy feeding fish."

"What's your place in this fight with Angela?"

"They want me to stay out of it while they settle things their own way. I wouldn't be here now except to keep an eye on Bobbi. Be hell to pay with her when it's time to leave." His gaze slid in her direction and a smile barely showed itself on one side of his mouth. She made a face back at him.

"To your lawyer's place again?" she asked.

"Yeah."

Bobbi shook her head. "But not before I get some magazines to read. All they have are law books and stuff on sports."

"Can do," he said, all affability.

"And we give the phone number to Jack."

I found some paper and scribbled as she dictated. She was in the home of a mouthpiece named Anthony. It sounded familiar. "Do I know him?"

"He's the one who got Madison Pruitt out of jail that time."

Bobbi's friend Pruitt, a dedicated communist, had the misfortune to be born into a very wealthy family. He took every opportunity to publicly live down the shame of having tons of bucks coupled with a long pedigree. A few months back he'd been arrested while helping some of his red brothers at a sit-down strike turned riot at an auto plant. The muscle working for the factory owners broke his arm, and he was still having trouble keeping his eyes focused after a hit on the head with a club. Soon as he was out of the hospital, the cops grabbed him, then Pruitt's mother stepped in with lawyer Anthony and posted bail. She'd reportedly whisked her wayward son off to a private island on a lake somewhere in upstate New York and was spoon-feeding him lots of castor oil to make him behave. No one in Bobbi's group had seen him in a while, but they didn't mind, since he was a bore. He was an even worse bore when talking politics, his only real passion besides food.

"Has Charles got coffee here?" asked Bobbi. "I could use some about now."

"Try the fridge," I suggested.

She gave me a "you must be crazy" look. "He keeps his coffee in the icebox?"

"Says the beans stay fresher. I wouldn't know, so don't ask me."

She poked around the kitchen until she turned up the necessary items and started making a pot for herself and Gordy. Usually, any odors to do with food and cooking made me nauseous, but coffee was the single exception to that rule. I couldn't drink it, but it still smelled fine, made me wish I could have a cup.

As the stuff brewed away I filled her and Gordy in on all the fun and games from last night, and discovered I was getting real tired of talking. Repeating things made me remember them, when I really wanted to lock them all in a box and lose the key.

On the other hand, I could tell them the whole story. Last night with Coldfield I had to remember not to mention certain supernatural details, and it was a strain keeping things straight.

"Sullivan?" said Gordy, when I got to the part about questioning Deiter.

"You know him?"

"Not personally, but I heard a few stories."

"Such as?"

"He wasn't directly in on it, but he smoothed the road out so someone could bump his brother."

"Why'd he bump his brother?"

"Sullivan wanted his spot in the organization. Word was the brother was skimming off the top and would have been scragged anyway, but Sullivan made sure the right people heard about the scam. One funeral later and he steps into his brother's shoes while they're still warm. He didn't raise a stink about the hit and that's how lotsa guys figure he helped it along."

"Nice fella. His own brother."

Gordy shrugged. "It's business. There has to be some trust or everyone gets the screw."

I didn't smile at Gordy for talking about trust in his line of work. It was an important part of successful organized crime. Without it, the body count hits the ceiling. "So he's someone I need to avoid?"

"You and everyone else. He may not know about you or Escott yet-"

"I'll try to keep it that way. I got my hands full with Angela."

"Yeah, what's she like?" asked Bobbi.

"Cross-eyed, bowlegged, and covered in warts."

"She must be some cute dish, then. Do I need to be worried?"

"I'll tell you something I heard Chaven say, 'I'd rather sleep with a tarantula.' "

Actually, he said he'd rather do that than trust her, but Bobbi didn't need to hear the rest. Angela was a cute dish all right, very attractive and exciting, but then so's a box of dynamite on a bonfire.

The phone went off. It was Escott.

"I've arranged something with a friend of mine," he said.

"Not Shoe?"

"He's helping to some extent. Can you load the goods into your car and transport them to another location?"

"I guess so. What's the deal?"

"My friend is a federal agent, but I would prefer not to have him or his cronies seen near the house. Being part of an official group, they might attract the attention of the papers and-"

"Don't have to draw me a picture, I know what a reporter can do with this kind of story. Where do you want me to take 'em?"

He gave me an address and said to knock on the back alley exit door.

"I'll meet you there shortly," he added.

"Wait a minute, you're supposed to take it easy. Hello? Hello?"

He'd cut the connection. Maybe I'd have to break my private rule about leaving friends alone when it came to hypnosis and give him a fish-eye whammy about taking a rest.

Gordy asked what was going on, and I told him, then he offered to help me shift the bodies.

"I can manage," I said.

"My car's already in the back. What were you gonna do, haul 'em out the front door so some old lady walkin' her dog sees and goes into fits?"

Okay… I let him talk me into it.

But we didn't get a chance to do anything about it right away. First Bobbi all but shoved him onto a kitchen chair and made him have some coffee, to keep her company, she said. I think it was more so she could keep an eye on me, get me to talk about other disasters than my own. The ones going on in the rest of the world made my troubles seem small, like the Ohio River flooding. It washed half a million people out of their homes, killed over two hundred, was turning Cairo into an island, the WPA and CCC were up to their asses laying down sandbags, and more rain and snow were on the way. I wondered if I needed to be worrying about my folks and the rest of the family in Cincinnati. The city was well downstream from things, but not all that far distant, and the water had to go somewhere sooner or later.

But even with this bleak stuff for a topic it was good to just sit and gas on about it all with friends. It was something normal, and I really needed a big dose of normal, a moment of quiet before the rest of the night jumped on my back and started beating me up. Of course, it might not be that way, but recent events were to the point I was starting to always expect the worst.

Not a good way to live.

As for the wider world, Bobbi wondered what Escott thought about the way things were going in Europe. I didn't have much of an answer since we'd not really had a chance to talk politics lately, and what was the problem, anyway? Turned out that the Germans weren't giving the British a straight answer on making a lasting peace-when they even bothered to answer. The fracas seemed pretty far away until I thought about Coldfield's radio bringing Hitler's voice right into his living room.

"Think it'll be war?" Bobbi asked.

I shrugged. "You know more'n I do about it."

"They keep talking about peace all the time. The British."

"Which means they're scared shitless," said Gordy. "Every fight I ever been in with the wiseguys in this town always happened right after the bosses arranged for an understanding. You think it's gonna be the usual business, just start to breathe easy, and next thing you know bullets are flying."

Which wasn't exactly reassuring to me, what with my hopes of getting Angela to lay off and be nice. I stared at the scarred surface of the kitchen table, idly picking at some splinters around a hole that happened when Escott and I had to fight a crazy man wielding an ice pick. The place got quiet, and when I finally noticed, it was in time to see Bobbi and Gordy both looking at me like I'd sprouted a third ear.

"What?" I asked.

"Think about something else for a minute, why don't you?" Bobbi suggested.

She never lets me get away with anything, especially when it's not good for me.

Well, if she wanted me to think about something else, we'd have to find a polite way of asking Gordy to leave us alone for a while. That wasn't too likely, so I settled for gently bumping my knee against hers under the table until she smiled.

"I'm done," Gordy abruptly announced, standing and putting his coffee cup in the sink. "Let's get this show on the road."

Bobbi washed things up while he backed the Caddie out, spinning the wheel this way and that until the car was close to the door. I kept my eyes open, but no neighbors got curious enough to take a look. Maybe they were all cozy by their radios listening to Lum and Abner, or whatever was on tonight. Too bad I couldn't do the same.

I slung Deiter over my shoulder like a sack and carried him out to the car. My frame's not as large as Gordy's, but I'm a lot stronger, so it was no hardship. Besides, I enjoyed the look on his usually phlegmatic face as I shoved Deiter into the backseat like he was a two-year-old. Twice more and the Three Stooges were ready to roll. I made a quick trip to the basement safe to get that fifty out and shoved it in my pocket with Escott's pipe, tobacco pouch, and Webley. Then I pulled on my long overcoat, third best hat, locked the house up- for all the good it seemed to do-and piled into the front seat of the Caddie. Bobbi sat in the middle and snuggled hard against me as Gordy drove to the address I'd been given.

It was near the edge of the Bronze Belt, an aging vaudeville house turned film theater, though the movie title up on the marquee was new to me. I thought I knew

'em all. Gordy passed it, made two turns, and rolled into the brick-lined alley behind the place. He cut the lights, but left the motor idling. I got out, found the back door, and rapped it a few times. On the other side I heard music and dialogue from the show that was running. It sounded like a drama.

The door opened and a flashlight beam caught me square in the kisser. I winced against it.

"Easy, brother," I said, putting my hand up.

The light stayed put. "I ain't your brother 'less you gone color-blind in a big way."

I could guess the voice belonged to a black man, and he didn't sound too happy.

"Keep that in my eyes and I'll go blind, period."

That got me a single dry cough of a laugh and he aimed the light at the floor.

"My name's Fleming, I was told to come here."

"I know. I'm Mr. Delemare."

I stuck my hand out, but he didn't take it.

"Boss said you had a few bundles to store, but not for long."

"That's right. I'll keep a watch on 'em until someone comes to take 'em off my hands."

"Okay, but you have to be quiet. The audience is here to see the movie, not hear you banging around."

"No problem," I promised. "Where do you want the bundles?"

"Ten miles southeast of Halifax, but since that ain't gonna happen, you can put everything just inside the door. I'll hold it so it don't slam shut."

"Thanks," I said, and went out to the car and gave the news to Gordy. He nodded and cut the motor as I opened up the back. I did the hauling again, though he helped pull them out. Delemare watched, dark face made darker still by what seemed to be an expression of perpetual annoyance. It could have been for me specifically or for the whole world in general, no way to tell, yet. He didn't seem to be in the least surprised that the bundles were three unconscious white men. Most of his concern was for maintaining complete silence, though I didn't see how anyone could have heard us above the movie.

"I knew you'd come back, Johnny," a woman with a silken voice whispered above us.

"But I can't stay, doll. I'm in trouble-bad trouble," a man, presumably Johnny, rumbled in reply.

"Oh, Johnny!"

The music soared dramatically. From it, I got the impression they were kissing.

Couldn't see anything of the screen, I caught only a few vertical slivers of light coming through a thick velvet curtain hanging behind it. Its purpose seemed to be to keep the screen before it from being backlighted and thus spoiling the film's projected image.

I wanted to see more, but Delemare was in a hurry to lock up again because of the draft coming in. He said it was twenty degrees out, and I believed him as I returned to the car to say goodbye to Bobbi. Gordy was pretty decent about giving us some time and strolled a few yards off to have a smoke in the cold. I slid into the front seat next to her.

"Can't we wait around a little longer?" she asked.

"Too much of a risk for Gordy. He's in enough hot water helping me this much.

He can do without calling special attention to himself by having Escott's fed see him.

Don't worry, after I deliver this bunch, I'm going to try to wind things up with Angela tonight."

"If she's at this Flora's place."

"I'm willing to bank on it."

"Just don't get killed."

"That's at the top of my list."

"I mean it, Jack. When you were telling us about what happened last night I could tell how much you were leaving out so you wouldn't scare me. Well, it didn't work."

"Next time I'll have to try harder."

But she didn't think that was even remotely funny. "You wouldn't say such things if you could see your eyes."

I glanced at the rearview mirror, touched it. I made a fingerprint smudge, but raised no image. "Don't think I want to, I probably wouldn't like it much."

"I sure as hell don't. I want you to come back in one piece-inside and out. Don't let this kill your soul, Jack. I've seen it happen to others."

"What others?"

"Gordy for one. The things he does, the people he deals with, that's what got to him."

"But Gordy and I are different."

"Then what about you and Charles?"

"Charles? You trying to tell me his soul is dead?"

"Or so buried it might as well be. Haven't you figured that out by now? You told me how cold he can be at times. He wasn't born that way, life did something to him and hollowed him out. All the stuff he does now is to cover that space up so people won't see it or ever guess it's there."

"Bobbi, this is-"

" Not crazy talk."

"I wasn't going to say that."

"The hell you weren't. You can think it's crazy, but trust me, I know what I'm saying on this. I don't want you ending up like Charles. He's charming, he's fun, and he's smart, but think about what's underneath all that. I don't want the same thing happening to you, taking you away from yourself."

"Nothing's going to take me away."

"Oh, sweetheart, don't you know?"

"Know what?"

She touched the side of my face, looking as sad as a crucifixion angel. "It's already started."

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