The butcher knife flashed in the dismal light of an uncovered bulb. Guinness bit through his lip attempting to stifle the scream ripped out his throat. It turned into a dull, shuddering moan. His pencil sat eschew behind his ear spattered with his own blood. Sweat soaked his whole body turning the blood dripping off of him pink. Fabric hung in tattered shreds from his skin sliced and diced to the bone. He tried to get a look at the killer through drenched, disheveled hair hanging in his face. He tried to see where he was. He had to be able to tell them something. Something when they came to get him. Please come….
So fast. So fast. The attack had come at a stop sign. Someone drug him out of the Buick and into the darkness. Chained to a chair. A light blinked on. A knife slashed. He gibbered like a baby.
“Who is she?” the killer asked.
Guinness shook his head spraying the room with fluid. The light flashed on the slashing blade. Guinness screamed.
“You’re a smart guy, tell me about this woman.”
Guinness squeezed his eyes shut.
The pain changed. The blade disappeared and an axe head flew down. Guinness grunted. Blood bubbled on his lips. Tears leaked from his eyes. Spasms rocked his body.
“No, no, no.” Sophie said, “Oh God, please.”
“Guinness?” West moaned watching Sophie.
Sophie gathered all the love and friendship inside her. She wrapped herself around Guinness’ damaged soul, so full of holes, and poured it into him. She turned her back on the killer and enveloped her dear friend taking all the terror and pain into herself.
The killer attacked. He beat, cut, chopped, stabbed and reduced all that was Guinness – smart, helpful young man – into a delirious bloody mess, no longer human. Sophie did not let go.
As she held his soul, Benj took her hand. He anchored her to himself. Jack shook his head refusing to believe what happened.
“She sees him. She sees Guinness. He’s killing Guinness. He’s killing my husband,” West chanted. “He’s killing him.”
Her hands fluttered around her face as she watched Sophie tremble and flinch in her chair. Walking around the bar, West took Sophie’s other hand. JC joined her, taking West’s right hand. Jack completed the circle, linking JC and Benj. The cops stared, open-mouthed. Stan broke open the circle between JC and Jack, joining them. He shared their pain.
The questions came. His lack of response, his soul far away, brought new pain – blade, axe, file, drill. The chain clinked as it dropped from what was left of his body. The sound made Guinness open his eyes. He toppled to the floor and lay in a puddle of his own blood and mangled body parts.
A light, holy and pure, flashed from Sophie and the circle.
The cold concrete floor, stained with Cora’s blood and his own, chilled Guinness.
“Give her to me and I will let you go free. The doctors can still fix everything I have done.”
Boots and a dripping axe head appeared in Guinness’ small line of sight. He closed his eyes and the light flashed, linking him with the circle, linking him one last time with his wife and friends.
“Go to hell…”
Blackness sundered them forever.
A numb headache masked all of Sophie’s emotions. She curled into a tiny ball on the sofa pressed into Benj as tight as she could. His cold arm lay across her shoulder, a non-moving, comforting weight. West sat next to Sophie withdrawn, staring into nothing. Stan stroked her hair and mumbled nonsense into her ear. JC sat on the floor lost without the kid. Jack cupped an ashen face in his hands, elbows on his knees. He stared at the desk phone between his feet, the cord stretched across the carpet, willing the call that would never come. The call saying it was all a hoax and Guinness had not died. The call saying Sophie had not shown them what she had.
“Hell. Is that how it is every time, Sophie?” Jack asked.
Sophie pulled her head out from under her arm. West’s eyes focused, Stan went silent, and JC looked up. Sophie shook her head before tucking it back under her arm.
“She doesn’t usually know the victim,” Benj said.
West moaned and dropped her face in her hands. JC’s phone rang at his desk, and he got up to answer it. Jack followed him with his eyes until JC shook his head indicating the call came from someone other than the wished for Guinness. JC turned away to talk. After a moment he hung up and rejoined them.
“Guys. They think they found his body and the car. Someone needs to come I.D. it.” He took a deep breath. “Sophie? Cora’s parents are at the station.”
Benj jerked like someone slapped him. Sophie sat up and silently pleaded with him.
“No. You know I cannot do this.”
“I don’t understand what you have to do.” Stan said.
“I am not talking about it,” Benj growled.
“I’m going to the station. I owe him that much,” JC said.
Stan stood up next to him. “Me too.”
“I don’t think I can go,” West whispered. “I don’t want to remember him that way. But I don’t want to be by myself.”
Jack sighed. “I feel like such a coward, but I’ll stay here with West.”
They all nodded.
“Y’all armed?” Jack asked.
JC nodded and so did Benj.
“Here Stan, take my Magnum.” Jack took off his coat and un-strapped his shoulder holster.
Stan held the heavy gun, unsure of what to do.
“Accept the gift for what it is, Stan, a sign of friendship and trust. You are one of us now.” Benj patted his shoulder and disappeared.
A moment later he returned in his hooded black coat which fell to the ground. He took Sophie’s hand and helped her up off the sofa. They started for the door. Sophie stopped. She turned back to Jack, wrapped her arms around him and held him close. Backing up, she cupped his face in her small hands. The grizzled growth of beard tickled her fingers. He smelled the smell of Jack – all old man adventure. Gently, she turned his head and kissed his cheek.
“I love you,” she said.
“Love you too, Sophie.”
Sophie turned to West. Both girls embraced only as girls who are close can, crying their loss. Sophie stepped back, cupped West’s soft, scared face in her hands and kissed her forehead.
“I love you, West.”
“I love you too, Sophie.”
Sophie headed out the garage door into the early morning, the hooded vampire at her heels. Pulling Stan’s old station wagon into the garage, they loaded Benj in the back and covered him with a heavy wool blanket. JC chauffeured the quiet group of wounded souls to see Guinness one last time.
Golden morning light touched the police station but did not warm it. Its gray concrete walls soaked with sadness and suffering housed both the best and the worst of humanity. And the best fade the fastest when they hunt the worst. Sophie’s heart pounded in her ears. Her racing blood left her faint and hot. JC and Stan’s skin turned ashy green. Deep anger flickered in the depths of Benj’s heart as he lay in the back. He had lost friends before. He had killed some, too. This murder sickened him.
Morry and Lyons showed them into a room with a curtained window opening into another room. On the other side of the glass squatted a table shrouded in a lumpy, mint green blanket. In too many places blood soaked through the green. The blanket did not lay, like it did in the movies, over a model’s sculpted body. Odd, inhuman angles poked up. It seemed too small to cover a man. A stony faced technician came in a side door. He lifted the green blanket off the head but no further, trying to spare them. Sophie squeezed Benj’s hand and pressed her lips together. A red gash split Guinness’ young face in two. One eye peered unseeing at them through hair caked with blood. Stan backed away, gagging, while JC stared unblinking.
“I’m so sorry, kid, so sorry, sorry. . ,” he mumbled leaning his face on the glass. “Sorry.”
“Is it him?” Morry asked lamely.
“Yes. It is Guinness.” Benj answered for everyone.
Sophie’s knees trembled. The room stood on end as heat washed over her. Benj slipped his arm around her, supporting her.
“I think I’m going to faint. I can’t do this.”
“Detective,” Benj said, “do you have a room where we could be alone for a few moments before Sophie meets Cora’s parents?”
Morry led them down the hall to an empty questioning room. “I’ll make sure no one’s on the other side of the mirror and wait outside. Just knock when you’re ready to come out.”
Benj let Sophie in and pulled the door closed behind them.
“I hate these rooms,” Sophie tried to say with a laugh.
“Sophie?” He turned her to face him. Tears swam in her eyes, turning them silver. She blinked them back. Benj cupped her chin in his hand and lifted her face.
“Let the tears fall.” He bent down and kissed her, oh so gently.
Her beating heart changed from fearful sorrow to quiet joy at his kiss. Benj took her damaged gentle soul into his icy being. He longed for more, long to fill himself with a lust for something good. He captured her with his violet eyes and held her. Music filled the small room, filled the space between them, filled Sophie’s mind. She slip into the music, thankful to escape. She sank into the depths of his eyes, falling, loosing herself. Her world turned to violet darkness.
Gowned and jeweled, Sophie found herself surrounded by dancing couples. Richly dyed gowns and suits matched masks – feathered, flowered, and sparkling. The couples examined her, curious as they spun round and round. Guarded desire marked one or the other of each pair, sometimes the lady, sometimes the gentleman. The cold, calculated glances of one and the glassy, hypnotized eyes of the other dancing partner sent a tremor of fear arching through Sophie. She stumbled back and her feet tangled in her white dress. It fitted close to her skin down to the waist and then leapt out into a full ball gown down to the floor. Golden sunbursts trimmed the hem and the dangerously low neckline. A yellow mystic topaz carved in the image of the sun rested on her chest. Her gray hair piled high on her head and spilled down her back. Glimmering gold strands and golden beads touched the bare skin of her neck and shoulders. Tentative fingers found a beaded sun mask covered her face.
A hand reached out of the shadows to her. It waited, asking her for a dance. Sophie followed the arm up to a man in a black velvet jacket and fitted trousers tucked into black boots. A silver shirt gleamed like the moon under the mandarin collar which framed his long thin face and white sculpted hair. A black crescent moon covered half his face.
Unable to speak, Sophie accepted the hand Benjamin offered. He led her out onto the dance floor. The music of the masquerade ball started with a haunted note of lust and longing before it built into a heart racing tempo. The dancers moved with the beat weaving in and out faster and faster. Blood red, brilliant gold, rich plum flashed in and around one another, each pair focused on their partner alone.
With a wave of his arm, Benjamin sent Sophie flying from him in a circle of white light and just as fast brought her back. He pressed against her in a breathless passion, his darkness masking her, his face so close to hers, his lips…
Away again he flung her.
Back again he pulled her.
The room faded until it was only them, only their dance. It became more passionate, more longing. Sophie’s heartbeat set the pace with its sharp, excited tempo. They moved in unison to each resounding beat.
A tiny discordant note sounded.
Sophie slipped. They stopped, searching one another’s gaze. The regular strong pulse of Sophie’s heart refilled the room. Again they started their dance.
The little heart beat sounded.
Benjamin stopped, startled. He looked around, searching the shadows outside his ballroom floor. The darkness moved closer and the room faded. His gaze returned to Sophie, piercing her with its intensity. Her world went black.
“What has happened?” Benj said.
Sophie’s eyes popped open. She lay on the cold floor of the questioning room and most of her clothing had disappeared. Benj pressed across her. His long black coat covered them. She drew her eyebrows together in a question. Benj yanked the coat back and rolled off her. He rested his ear on her belly. He listened so long Sophie grew uncomfortable. She started to move. The realization of what they were doing, or had been about to do in the police station dawned on her. Her whole body flushed with embarrassment and guilt – see dead friend, make out with your vampire.
“I will be damned.”
“What is it, Benj?” A rush of excitement from Benj surprised her.
“I will be damned.” He repeated shaking his head.
Sophie gasped. She felt it. She felt him, through herself, through Benj and the kiss which bound them – a child, in her. Their child. Fear and delight blossomed in her heart.
“I thought we couldn’t have children?” she whispered.
“I should not be able to sire a child. There are only gypsy myths, legends, and fairy tales of vampire children. He should not be. None of my kind has ever had a child with a human of which I am aware. But, he is mine. I can sense him in a way only a vampire master can sense the one he made. But, it is also different. I did not turn him.” Benj shook his head again, overcome with awe.
“So is he. . .” Sophie did not know how to finish.
“Yes. He is part vampire. Part me, but he is also part human, part you.”
“And the SoulReading?”
“I do not know. Magic is generally not shared…or so I thought.”
Joy and wonder flowed from Benj like never before. Sophie had never felt such pure, untainted happiness in her husband before. Benj laid his hand on her stomach and, with the other, took hers. He channeled all their love through his vampire side into the small person inside Sophie.
“My son,” he whispered.
A discreet knock sounded on the door. Benj pulled them up and hugged Sophie, bringing them together, all three of them.
“Emma knew,” she whispered as he held her.
They came apart and quickly dressed.
“Benj? What is that, that thing you did? That place you took me?”
“It was vampire magic.”
“Is that why you aren’t supposed to look in a vampire’s eyes?”
“Yes. We take you, your mind to a place all our own and woo you until you give yourself freely to us. Some vampires do not use it. They prefer terror in the eyes of their victims. There are rules of conduct that govern such a place which they do not wish to follow.”
Sophie shuddered. The full meaning of Benj’s words hit her.
“Those were other vampires, evil vampires!”
“All vampires are evil.”
“You know what I mean!”
“Yes. Those were vampires stalking their prey.”
“I’m not sure what I think about you taking me there.”
“You seemed to be enjoying yourself.”
Sophie could not hide her smile. Another knock came. She stood on her tip-toes, kissed Benj, and then went to the door.
“Ready?” Morry asked.
“As I can be,” she said coming back down to earth to face Cora’s parents.
Morry led them down several hallways. Sophie clutched Benj. Her desperate grip on his arm could not hurt him and she needed something to hold onto. The emotional toll of this good-bye would be one more ascension and plummet on the rollercoaster of events rushing past her. Whiplashed exhausted her. Over the past few days she got married, found the body, dealt with detectives, connected with Cora, faced Benj’s agony over her spilled blood, watch Guinness’ tortured death, found out they were going to have a baby, and now this. Any more ups and downs and she might lose her grip on reality. Something deep inside her said the downs were going to get deeper and the ups less frequent.
“Why are they able to say good-bye now and we were able to hear the girl when you were in the conference room, but not in the holding cell?” Morry asked as they walked along.
“The blood,” Benj answered. “The blood lets the soul be heard. Issues of the soul can only be solved with blood.”
With his fingers hooked through blue suspenders, Morry led them to a room furnished with two small couches, a table with water and coffee, nothing more. Providing décor for a room designated to tell families bad or terrifying news about their loved ones proved impossible and never attempted. A man and a woman stood as Morry ushered them in. Sophie hesitated on the threshold at the mixed expressions of horror, sadness, and shock etching deep lines in their faces. It drained them of all color and painting dark circles under their eyes. Morry indicated Sophie and Benj.
“Mr. and Mrs. Beare, this is Sophie and Benj, they…” he paused, unsure how to explain them. They stared at one another in silence. Benj took pity on all the bruised souls in the room without a voice.
“We are not what you would call normal. We have a gift to give you from Cora.”
Mr. Beare jerked back. Mrs. Beare raised her hand to her mouth. Tears spilled down her face.
“Is this some sick joke?” Mr. Beare demanded.
“No.” Sophie stepped up touched by their pain and what she was about to do. Her voice broke as she talked but she pressed ahead. “No, this isn’t a joke. This is a chance for you to say good-bye to her.”
“How could you?” Mrs. Beare whispered.
“I’m here at her request.”
Mr. Beare trembled with rage. He raised his hand to strike Sophie. Morry jumped. Benj grabbed Sophie. He pulled her back behind him while Morry stepped between them. Everyone started yelling and gesturing.
Sophie closed her eyes as she called out. The room’s temperature dropped. The pitcher froze. The glasses cracked as their contents expanded and turned to ice. Puffs of air filled the suddenly silent room. Benj caught Sophie as she slipped into unconsciousness. Her silver after-image held out a hand. The sheer veil, rippling in a faint breeze appeared beside Sophie. Cora grasped her offered hand. Sophie’s tummy flipped at Cora’s touch. She laid her other hand across the girl’s cold one accepting her and calming her own child. The idea of being in the Beare’s position tore at her heart. Benj held her body close to his own. He sensed her sorrow, and he sensed their child. He held onto his family, willing to protect them at whatever cost to himself.
Cora stepped in front of the veil, visible now. Mrs. Beare let out a muffled scream while her husband grabbed her shoulders with a loud moan.
“Mom. Dad. Please don’t be upset with Benj and Sophie. Their gifts are hard burdens to endure.”
Both parents dropped to the couch. Cora moved, with the veil still flowing behind her, past Sophie and approached her parents.
“Please don’t be so sad. I am fine now. I miss you. I am trapped on this plane so I am going to help Sophie catch him. Please help them. I love you.”
Mr. Beare reached out a hand to touch her but it passed through her shade.
“I’m sorry, Dad, I am gone now.”
Mrs. Beare dried her eyes. “Cora?” her voice broke. “Cora, dearest, we love you.”
“I love you too! Please tell Evelyn I said bye.”
Sophie’s image began to strobe in and out.
“I have to go. Remember I am at rest. I miss you and love you both.”
“We love you too,” both parents said.
Cora stepped back, blew them kisses, and disappeared.
Sophie gasped for breath. She sat up to a room without a dry eye, but for Benj. Detective Morry cleared his throat without bothering to wipe his tear streaked face. Mr. Beare tried to say something, could not, coughed loudly, and tried again. “She said she was helping you catch ‘him’? Is that the man who did…did this to her?”
“Yes,” Sophie said as Benj sat her on one of the couches. “I have the ability to find him with her help.”
“What can we do?” Mrs. Beare said.
Sophie gave Benj a pleading look but he shook his head.
“Right now just stay available. She wanted to say good-bye. Now, we’ll get to work.”
Sophie stood up and held out her hand. She shook both of theirs.
“We will call you,” she promised. She turned and walked out, angry at Benj, angry at his cold heart unwilling to help them because it might cost him.
Morry followed after an awkward pause and then Benj.
“This way to where I left the others.” The detective took the lead down the hall.
“Sophie?” Benj said.
“Don’t talk to me,” she snapped. Her words hurt him. She knew, she felt his hurt. He started to speak again. Sophie stopped and rounded on him.
“How can you be so selfish?”
Benj said nothing.
“You hold the power to help Cora, her parents, Guinness and whoever else this monster attacks and you won’t.”
“Sophie.” He grabbed her shoulders. “If I create this link, this blood link, I will never again love you like I do now. I will lust after your blood and the power which flows in it which will make my blood lust last night pale in comparison. I will want to kill you and our child for my own pleasure. Not only that but I will lust after Cora’s mother as well. How will you feel when my thoughts are obsessed with another woman? I am not being selfish!”
Benj trembled as he spoke. He tried to stay calm but his chill vampire persona slipped. “I want to be with you. I want to be with our son. I love you. I do not…I will not destroy all of this. We will find another way.”
Sophie’s anger evaporated under the full force of his despair. She flung her arms around him, hugging him.
They held each other, comforting one another. Deep between them the pulsing bond of their child, the vampire’s child, grew. A strange vibration fluttered through Sophie from her womb and into Benj. He started. On the back of both their hands, the ones without belonging tattoos, eerie black spots appeared and expanded.
“He is growing faster than a normal child. Look.” Sophie pointed down to a small bump in her tummy.
“He just got a tattoo,” Benj said. A chill spiked up his spine.
“The link between a vampire and someone they turn is very strong at first, similar to ours. That is why many of my kind do not turn often. Too much must be focused on the new being and not on one’s self. This link wanes after a time but never completely fades. My link with our son is the same as that link only made stronger by our own.”
He titled his head to the side as if looking at something faraway and shuddered again.
“What is it Benj?”
“I am not sure…”
Stan ran up. “It’s Jack! West is missing!”