Art In The Blood

Chapter 7

chapter
Chapter

HE DIDN'T RESPOND to his name, not at first, and I didn't want to have to go in and pull him out.

"She's dead," he stated faintly.

"I know, Alex. Please come away." God, it was surprising how calm I sounded.

"Alex. Now."

His hand stopped, hovering just above her still face. I thought he was going to shut her eyes. The fingers drew back. Delicately. He abruptly stood up and swung toward me, or rather the door. I moved aside to let him pass and listened as he went downstairs. Bobbi asked him a question and got no answer. It was a very strong wall.

I couldn't blame him for it.

I backed out and followed, utterly heartsick and with knees like jelly.

"Jack?"

Bottom of the stairs. Bobbi's arms. Her warmth, her living warmth. I said something to her, answering her question, and held on to her a little longer. When the worst was over, I was just able to talk.

"This is going to be a mess. Do you want to go home?"

"I can't."

"You can. You haven't really seen anything. The police-"

She shook her head Firmly. "I need to be here."

And I was the one who needed her. I pulled her close again, then reluctantly broke away to knock on the super's door down the hall. He was a little peach-colored man with flyaway gray hair clinging to the back of his scalp. I told him that I had an emergency and needed to use his phone. He looked at me and at Bobbi standing forlornly next to the stairs. He seemed about to ask something, then shrugged and let me in. He got all the answers he needed as he listened to my end of the conversation.

The first to come were two uniformed cops; a few minutes later Escott arrived. I'd called him first, but he had the longer drive. Before the uniforms knew he was there he slipped inside the building and was upstairs for a quick look. He came down more slowly, his face somber.

"What do you know?" he asked.

In low tones we told him what we could of the evening, A inch didn't amount to much, as far as I could see. Just as I finished, one of the cops came up and asked for our story. His partner was trying to question Evan, who was still huddled out on the steps shaking his head. Adrian watched them both, his face expressionless. I repeated it all again, but more simply, and Bobbi corroborated. By the time he'd finished taking notes a car with two detectives pulled up.

The cop went out to talk to them, then held the door as a well-built man in expensively cut clothes stepped out.

Escott glanced at me, one brow raised.

"Thought it'd be a good idea to call someone we know," I said.

"It cannot hurt," he agreed.

I'd specifically talked to Lieutenant Blair despite the fact that the last time I'd seen him he'd been one short step away from booking me for murder. We'd worked things out, sort of, but he had no memory of how I'd convinced him to let me go. He only knew we were friends. At the time I'd felt like a heel for artificially inducing the friendship, but now it seemed more like a good investment.

Blair walked around Evan, looked Adrian up and down, then came over to us. We didn't shake hands, it wouldn't have been appropriate. He nodded at Escott.

"Charles. Thought you might turn up since Jack phoned it in."

Escott nodded back. "I'm here solely as moral support."

"Sure you are." He went to one side with the cop who questioned me and listened to him, then made the pilgrimage upstairs. More uniforms appeared and followed, keeping emerging tenants out of the way and asking more questions.

Hours later they were still asking them, but not making much progress. They'd taken over the super's flat. He didn't seem to mind, it was the most excitement he'd seen since Lindbergh landed.

Evan sat in the borrowed kitchen, his eyes hollow and staring at nothing. He was as cold sober as the stale cup of coffee in front of him, and still in shock. Adrian was the same, but able to respond to things in a slow way. Some time earlier he'd formally identified the body, his voice flat and soulless as he pronounced her name.

Now he stood bolt upright with his arms crossed and his back pressed to a squat icebox, watching Evan, but not really seeing him.

Escott, Bobbi, and I had found a corner and quietly talked. I filled him in on the fight with Francis Koller and Tourney and all the business of the portrait and some of the business with Barb Steler. The latter had been judiciously edited since Bobbi was listening, but I would have done that anyway.

"And you say he must have gone out for cigarettes?" Escott murmured, carefully not looking at Adrian.

"That's what he had in his hand when he drove up. I know what you're thinking, Charles."

"It's just a thought, and certainly not the only possibility open to us, but all have to be considered."

"Let's try considering something else," said Bobbi. "He may have had the time to do it-it was at least an hour between us leaving with Evan and getting to Alex's-but you're short on motive."

"For Adrian, but motives may also be found in the best of families." Escott's eyes flicked in Evan's direction. Bobbi gave him a look that would have burned through steel. He took it stoically enough but did not retract the suggestion. "The police are well aware of that fact and are of the opinion that she did know her killer. From the little Lieutenant Blair has shared with me-"

Her eyes flared again. "But he couldn't-look at the poor man-"

"I know, but it might be interpreted as guilt, mightn't it?" Before she could reply he mitigated it all with a brief, dismissive gesture. "I'm only looking at this from their point of view. As yet, neither they nor we have enough data to work with, a circumstance I am more than willing to remedy. When the police are finished questioning the other tenants, I'll have a turn. Jack, you might find a conversation with Lieutenant Blair to be profitable."

"He'll be wanting to talk with us anyway. I'll see what I can get."

"Goodman."

He started to say something else, but there was a muted commotion in the hallway and all eyes except Evan's turned toward the open door. Two beefy men were thumping heavily down the stairs. No one spoke as they carried the long wicker basket past the door and out into the night. I felt Bobbi's slim hand grip my arm tightly and she gulped breath back as the reality of Sandra's death hit her all over again. She had taken it all quietly enough when I'd broken the news to her, but there's a big difference between hearing and seeing.

She continued to hold on to my arm and stare long after they'd gone. Her reaction troubled Escort as well, and he covered the back of her other hand lightly with his long fingers, waking her from it.

"I'm very sorry," he told her.

Bobbi had been dry eyed until now. Escort's compassion tipped things for her and her lips trembled and twisted. I offered my handkerchief and she dabbed at the tears that suddenly spilled out. It was all very quiet and over in a minute; she'd wait for more privacy before really letting go with her grief.

Lieutenant Blair had followed the body down and now stood in the doorway, his dark eyes traveling and pausing on each of us. He murmured something to the cop who was watching things, and both of them moved in on Evan. Blair sat at the table across from him while the other cop took Adrian to one side, just out of earshot.

Blair spoke to Evan for several minutes. Evan could only shake his head mechanically to the gentle questions. In his bright and totally ridiculous clothes he looked like a sad-faced clown left stranded by his circus. Blair gave up for the time being and crossed to Adrian to hear his brief version of events, then it was our turn.

Unasked, Escott slipped quietly away and Blair took his place in our corner. We went through it all again, but no amount of talk could change the facts or soften them. He was interested in Evan's connection with Dimmy Wallace and the scuffle Adrian and I had with his stooges. He noted it all down, but kept his conclusions to himself.

Bobbi asked to be excused and disappeared into the bathroom. It was more diplomacy than body need or wanting to repair her makeup. She knew I could get more out of Blair alone and I silently blessed her brains and tact.

Blair followed her departure and turned his attention back to me. "Bad business, her getting involved in another murder so close to the one during her radio broadcast. And before that, it was those two at the Nightcrawler Club. Death seems to follow that young woman."

"That's why I'd like to keep this short, I want to take her home as soon as I can."

"Of course. Now, what can you tell me?" He put on the kind of manner that invites confidences, but I wasn't having any because I'd already told him everything.

"You know as much as I do, Lieutenant. I only met this bunch a couple of days ago. God knows I want to help, but I really can't add anything more."

"What about the names of their other friends at this party? They might provide us with more information on the Robleys' personal lives."

"There's Reva Stokes and Leighton Brett. There's also a tough named Dreyer who was at the party. He took a few swings at Evan over a crap game…"

We went around on the business for a while until I was repeating myself. Unlike our last meeting I was trying to cooperate, as this time I had nothing to hide.

"What now?" I asked when he looked ready to end the interview.

"Now we try and get Mr. Robley upstairs to see if anything was stolen."

"In his condition?"

"We haven't much of a choice. You only just met him and Mr. Adrian has stated he hasn't been here in some months. We just want him to take a quick look. If there was a robbery it will affect our investigation."

From that angle I could see the sense of it, but before he could start, another uniform came in and whispered in his ear. I heard it quite clearly but pretended not to. Blair looked at me, cocking his head slightly.

"Well, you speak of the devil and watch what happens. Miss Smythe's been making some phone calls."

Bobbi had long since emerged from the bathroom and was standing protectively close to Evan. "I felt I had to. They are friends of the family."

"That's all right," he assured. "I'm glad you did." He sent the cop off and a moment later Reva Stokes and Leighton Brett walked tentatively in. Reva looked shaken and was very white except for the red rims of her eyes, and she was hanging on to her fiance like a lifeline. Brett had his arm around her and simply looked grim.

Bobbi went to them and spoke in discreet tones, gesturing to Evan in explanation.

Reva shook her head-in sadness, not refusal-found some strength within herself, and went over to take Evan's hand.

At this touch, he slowly raised his lost eyes. The muscles under his skin twitched a little, and he seemed ready to cry as he looked at her. I was hoping he would. He needed some kind of release; his blank silence was much more disturbing than Adrian's.

I glanced around for him, but at some point he'd left the room.

Blair introduced himself to Brett and explained the need for Evan to go up and see if anything was missing.

"The man hardly knows where he is, how can you expect him to help you?"

Diplomacy came easy for Blair, but then he was used to handling all kinds of belligerents in his job, and Leighton Brett was just another voice in the crowd. "He's the only one who can do it. I would appreciate your help." He was polite, but there was an edge to his voice even Brett could not ignore. Growling and sullen, he went to Reva and told her what was wanted.

As though acting as translator, Reva spoke to Evan and somehow broke through the fog that was holding him. He nodded listlessly and the chair scraped over the faded linoleum as he found his feet. Blair proceeded and said nothing as Brett and I followed the slow parade upstairs.

A chalk outline and a little blood on the floor were the only indications of what all the fuss was about, unless you wanted to count the fingerprint dust everywhere. Evan identified Sandra's purse and nodded to confirm that the smaller change purse that would have carried her money was gone.

"Two dollars," he said clearly.

"What about two dollars?" asked Blair.

Evan searched his mind for the answer. "She doesn't carry more than two dollars.

We don't have much, you see-

"Is anything else missing? Did you keep any money or valuables?"

"We don't have much, you see." Evan was drifting again. He wandered around the room, blinking at the familiar now become horrible and unable to absorb the change. "You see…"He stared at the stacks of oil paintings in their storage slots against the wall.

Brett bulled his way past the cop at the door. "That's enough, the man needs a doctor, not pointless questions. If you're through-"

"Yes, I'm through, get him out of here."

Evan was now looking at the outline on the floor, a place we had all carefully stepped around. He was breathing faster, the air chopping in and out of his lungs in silent gusts. His mouth sagged shapelessly and a line of spittle spilled over the right corner in a fine thread. He began that terrible keening again, hopeless and frightening to hear.

Brett stepped forward to take his arm and the smaller man shook him off with unexpected strength. He rocked slightly from the waist, as though from cramp, and the keening grew louder.

The uniform next to me was gaping. He was young and had never seen anything like it before. I nudged him out of the spell. "You got a doctor here?"

His attention shifted reluctantly. "Yeah, maybe he's still-"

"Then go get him and make sure he's got his bag. Move."

He moved, clattering down in his regulation shoes.

Brett tried to guide Evan out again, talking to him in a low voice. Evan stayed rooted to his spot and shook him off again. I stepped forward and motioned Brett to keep back. I looked into Evan's straining face, but couldn't quite reach his eyes. He wasn't seeing me or anything else in the room but the pathetic marks on the floor where his sister had fallen and left him forever.

I called his name, loudly. He matched it with more sound, which was beginning to rise into a full scream. I tried to focus onto him, but it was like squeezing quicksilver, he just wasn't there. He was lost in a place I could not follow. Sending men into madness is one thing, bringing them out of it was another and beyond even my powers at the moment.

Evan's scream died away for want of breath. No one touched him. We were waiting for him to go berserk, for him to start breaking things up so he could be restrained, but nothing like that happened. We could do nothing but wait, and it seemed like forever before a thin man with a black bag appeared. No one needed to explain what was needed. He quickly dug into the bag and prepared a syringe.

"Blair, make sure he doesn't kill me," was all that he said, fie approached Evan as though the man were an unexploded bomb.

We moved in a little closer as the doctor slid the shoulder of Evan's coat back and freed one arm. With a pair of scissors, he cut open a section of the shirtsleeve below the elbow, swabbed the bare skin with cotton, and sank the needle into the vein.

Evan never knew he was there.

It must have been a pretty massive shot, for within a few minutes his staring eyes began to glaze over and his heart and breathing slowed. As the tension leached out of his muscles, it seemed to do the same for the rest of us and we all visibly relaxed to a certain degree.

The doctor put his stuff away. "He's going into the hospital, Lieutenant, at least for overnight observation."

"No objections," said Blair. He mopped at the sweat on his forehead with a silk handkerchief.

"My fiancee and I are his friends, we want to take care of him," Brett offered.

The doctor shook his head. "He needs professional help for now. You can check on him in the morning if you like."

Evan could have complained about being invisible again, because they were talking as though he weren't in the room. In a way, he wasn't."

The drug in his system took him a few steps further along to oblivion and he swayed a little. I got to him just in time and swept him up before he hit the floor. By now he was utterly limp, a deadweight in my arms as I carried him to his room and put him onto the bed. The coverings were still unfinished from Sally's interrupted housekeeping lesson. Only a few hours ago the world had been normal.

The doctor came in and took his pulse. "Help me with the blankets," he said. "I want to keep him warm."

I pulled the bedclothes out from one side and folded them over Evan, then added a crumpled quilt that had been thrown over a chair. "He gonna be all right?"

"He's got enough stuff in him to keep him out for some hours yet. Ask me then.

Has he a relative or friend who can come with him to the hospital?"

Adrian, perhaps, if I could find him. He was in only slightly better emotional shape than Evan, but perhaps having something to do might help him. "I'll see."

Brett was trying unsuccessfully to pump Blair for information and barely concealed his annoyance at my interruption.

"I'm taking Miss Smythe home, lieutenant," I said.

"Right." He looked at the young cop and told him to clear me with the others, then returned his attention to Brett.

Bobbi had reheated the coffee and was pouring some for Reva when I came down.

Both had heard the scream and both had questions on their faces. The answer seemed inadequate to the experience.

"He's going to the hospital," I told them. "I thought Alex would want to go along."

"I'll find him," Reva volunteered, and gave her hot cup to me.

I looked at it stupidly, wondering what to do. A faint smile ghosted over Bobbi's face and she took the cup back.

"Can we go home yet?" she asked.

"As far as I know. I want to talk to Charles."

"He can call you at my place."

It sounded good to me. I told the cop on duty where we were going and walked out into a blinding burst of light.

Reporters. Of course. The kid with the camera knocked out the used flashbulb, quickly replaced it, and yelled at me to look at him. I spun Bobbi around and hustled both of us back into the house.

" Damn. Where's the back way out of this dump?"

The cop pointed and we followed his direction, but two of them were waiting in the alley behind the house, kicking idly at the spillage from the garbage cans and smoking. It was a hell of a way to make a living and at the moment I was hard pressed to believe I'd been one of them only a month or so back.

"Let's just go on," said Bobbi.

But I dug in my heels, feeling the anger surfacing and badly needing to do something about it. "Wait here a minute, I'll take care of them."

She nodded and let me go out the battered screen door. They were on me like flies on fresh meat, shouting questions over each other and threatening to bring more people in with their noise. I held up a hand and achieved a pause in the barrage.

"Okay, fellas, one at a time." I pointed to the older one. 'You first. Come over here so you can see what you're writing."

"That's fine, I just wanna know who's talking."

He backed me over to the door, where we could make use of the light from the house. His crony hung close enough to listen, his notepad ready and pencil poised over it. I ignored him and froze onto the older man's eyes.

"I want you to stand very still and not move for five minutes. You won't see or hear anything during that time and you won't remember me."

It helps when they're off guard. His partner's cigarette sagged in puzzlement, but it only lasted as long as it took for me to give him the same instructions. I went in for Bobbi and we walked past them, two improbable statues on display in a dank setting.

Bobbi was all wide-eyed. "They'll bum themselves-"

"Good point." I went back and thoughtfully removed the cigarettes from slack mouths, dropping them into a handy puddle.

"You… I mean, you hypnotized them?" she asked. "You really hypnotized them?"

"It comes with the condition."

"That's just like in that book."

"No, that's just like me."

"Do you do it a lot?"

"Not often."

"How do you do it?"

"Beats me. Watch where you step, sweetheart."

We picked our way out of the alley and came up to my car from behind, it was across the street from the house and as yet had not been noticed. I opened the door and slid across to the driver's side. By the time Bobbi was in I had the engine going and shifted it into first. We took the first corner right and headed for her hotel.

"Poor Sandra," she whispered. I only just heard her above the low rumble of the car. I took a hand off the wheel and covered hers briefly. It felt very small and cold.

"You want to stop somewhere for a drink?"

"No, I just want to be home. I want my own things around me."

It was a natural reaction to head for the safety of one's own nest. We said nothing for the rest of the trip. The silence held until I unlocked her door and turned on the living-room light. She was spooked and I obligingly checked all the rooms of her apartment before she took off her jacket and sat down. A brief raid on her liquor cabinet produced a medicinal shot of brandy, which she gratefully accepted.

"You all right?" she asked.

"I was wondering the same about you."

"I'm just scared and shaky."

"It'll pass."

She nodded absently and went into the kitchen to put her empty shot glass in the sink. When she came out she didn't settle back on the couch with me again, but wandered around the room touching and straightening things. Blair's words about death following her floated annoyingly through my mind.

She poked at some nonexistent dust on her Philco and rubbed her fingers clean.

"I think I'll get out of this stuff and have a shower. Will you keep me company? Talk to me?"

"Anything you want."

I watched her take her clothes off, her movements unselfconscious and automatic. That fist gripped my gut again as I thought of the young girl I'd killed.

She'd been the same way.

While the water hissed on the other side of the protective curtain we talked of God knows what, about anything except what had happened tonight. She shut the water off and I handed her a towel.

"I guess there is an advantage to short hair," she murmured, dabbing at the damp ends the shower spray had caught. She dried off and I helped her slip into her white satin robe. She tied off the belt and put her arms around me, resting her head on my chest. Her skin was warm and smelled pleasantly of soap. This lasted a minute and she broke away to go back to the living room.

She curled up on the couch, tucking her bare feet under the folds of the robe.

"Tell me what's on your mind," I said.

Her eyes dropped. "I'm trying not to think. It's what I feel and I feel guilty for feeling it."

I shoved some magazines to one side on the coffee table and sat on it to face her.

"I know what it's like."

"I know you do. Were you scared when it happened?"

"What? Tonight?"

"No, back then… when… when they killed you."

This wasn't what I had expected.

"I'm scared, Jack. I'm scared of dying and I thought if you could tell me about it…"

She'd watched them carry Sandra out and had seen herself in that long basket.

"Tell me what scares you," I said.

"All of it. I'm afraid it might hurt or take days and days, but mostly that it won't make any difference, that I'll just not be here and no one will notice. I know you would, and Charles, and some of my friends, but the world will go on and I won't be here to see it. I don't want to be left behind. I don't want to leave you."

"You won't." But my heart was aching already. With care and caution I could live for centuries, but Bobbi… I shied away from that agonizing thought.

I moved to the couch and cuddled her into my arms. Maureen and I had faced the same decision, though the circumstances had been very different. I'd chosen out of love for her, not fear of my own mortality.

As though reading my thoughts, Bobbi said, "I love you. Jack. I can't bear the thought of leaving you. That's what scares me the most."

"What did you say?"

"I love you, I don't ever want to leave you." She turned to look up at me, her hazel eyes searching mine for a response. "The only other thing that scared me was telling you that, but after tonight I knew I had to."

"You were afraid of telling me…"

"It's an important word to me and everything that goes with it is frightening-at least for me."

That was true; it was frightening and exhilarating and the best and the worst all rolled together, and I'd been afraid to say it, too. We could go to bed and make love, but say nothing about it before, during or afterward. It was ridiculous.

"You don't have to be frightened," I said, my voice shaking. "At least you don't have to be frightened to love…" And for the next few minutes everything got gloriously, radiantly incoherent.

Bobbi lay contentedly back in my arms, her breathing normal again, her eyes sleepy. "Are we awful?" she asked.

"How so?"

To do this after poor Sandra-"

"It's normal. You get close to death and you want to reaffirm life. That's why a lot of babies are born during wars."

"What we do doesn't make babies."

"The instincts are still there, though."

"According to you it doesn't make vampires, either."

"Not unless we exchanged blood. Your famous book at least got that right."

"Stop picking on my book." Okay."

She was waking up a little, one hand stroking the spot on the vein under her jaw where I'd gone in. "That's been on my mind, you know."

"Exchanging?"

"We talked about it before."

"I remember." We'd talked about it, but not nearly enough. It was a hard subject for me to open up on.

"You said that's what Gaylen wanted, but you didn't want to give it to her."

"She was insane. It didn't show, but part of me must have known. That's why I didn't want to do it."

"What about to me?"

"How do you feel about it?"

She shrugged. "I don't think I know enough yet to tell you."

"That's a good answer."

"It's not easy for you, is it?"

I drew a breath and sighed. "It's just at times all I see are the disadvantages. My life is limited in a lot of ways, ways I'd never thought about until it was too late."

"Like what?"

"For one thing, I miss socializing over food, and I'm really beginning to hate mirrors. Sunlight blinds and paralyzes me, and if I don't sleep on my earth I have the most god-awful dreams. Going to the Stockyards is a real pain. I often leave it till late so I don't have the cattle smell on me all the evening and can wash it off when I get home."

"Did she feel the same way?" She was referring to Maureen.

"She let me know what to expect, but she never complained, except about mirrors whenever she bought new clothes." But Maureen had had decades to adjust to things and I was still grass green. Maybe in time…

"Then why did you want to change?"

"I loved her."

"Don't you believe I love you just as much?"

"Yes. I see what you're getting at, Bobbi, but you need to know there are no guarantees. We could do it, but it might not work."

"And then again, it might. I don't see it as a promise or even as insurance, but it is hope. That's all I really want, Jack, just that piece of hope."

I thought long and hard about it for maybe two seconds. She had a serious decision ahead, though I was sure she'd made up her mind already. When I'd talked things out with Maureen, I'd been the same. I'd loved her and we both wanted the hope in the background of our lives that it would continue. Now I loved Bobbi and life was repeating itself.

"Look, you need to see exactly what it's like for me. I want you to know the worst of it, and then if you still feel the same-"

"What are you talking about?"

"I want to take you to the Stockyards. I think you need to see what it is that I have to do every few nights."

"You want to show me how you eat?"

Things twisted inside. "I don't eat, Bobbi. I open up a vein in a live animal with my teeth and drink its blood."

She shifted around a little and crossed her arms, prepared for hostilities. "Are you trying to put me off?"

"I'm trying to give you an idea of what it's like to live this way."

"And painting anything but a rosy picture about it. Don't you think you're being too hard on yourself?"

"Well, I-"

" And passing that attitude on to me is hardly fair to either of us."

"Uh…"

"Exactly," she said. "Now, how about some straight honesty? Is what you do really so horrible? What happens to the cow after you're through with it?"

"Well, nothing. I don't drain them dry, you know."

"I didn't know, but I'm not too surprised or you'd have to have a hollow leg. As for the cow, she hangs around in a smelly pen until driven to the slaughterhouse, then some guy smacks her between the eyes with a sledgehammer. Depending on how she's processed, sooner or later she ends up on my dinner table. Does that make me better than you just because I pay to have someone else do the dirty work?"

I'd thought the whole business out before, but had never applied such logic specifically to Bobbi. She had me cold and she knew it. She smiled as the dawning finally broke on me.

Somehow things didn't seem so hard, after all.


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