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All characters are fictional. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Being someone’s girlfriend isn’t easy, especially when you’re a mermaid. Mermaids are natural flirts, natural teases. When a guy flirts with us, our first reaction is to flirt back, maybe even tease him a little. It doesn’t matter if the guy is handsome or not.
Being someone’s girlfriend means you have to suppress those urges. When a guy flirts with you, you’re not suppose to flirt back. You’re supposed to be polite but aloof. That’s why I was ignoring the guy at the next table, the one smiling at me.
I’m thirty years old, which isn’t that old for a mermaid. Our average life span is between two to three hundred years. So you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that I just got my first boyfriend. As such, I’m still learning the rules, still learning what a girlfriend should and shouldn’t do. Sometimes I make mistakes, or fall into old habits, but tonight was important to John, so I was doing my best not to screw up.
John had been a friend with benefits, one of many to be perfectly honest, then he got engaged to a siren named Crystal. I would’ve called her an evil siren, but that seems redundant. As far as I’m concerned, all sirens are evil.
I should probably mention that sirens and mermaids are natural rivals, so I might be a bit biased. Although she did fire John after they broke up, and then give his name to a bogeyman, who kidnapped him and put a gun to his head. That seems pretty evil to me.
It wasn’t until I rescued John from the bogeyman that he asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend. Why did I agree? Like most mermaids, I’m naturally curious. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be in love, what it would be like to have someone in love with me.
Most supernaturals aren’t capable of loving someone else. We’re driven by our baser instincts. Fear. Lust. Hunger. Greed. Compassion, empathy, love, are feelings we don’t seem capable of experiencing. So it wasn’t like I was going to fall in love with someone. To experience love, romantic love, I needed someone to fall in love with me. That’s why I didn’t want to screw up my relationship with John, and why I was on my best behavior.
Unfortunately, life, or God, or fate, or whatever you want to call it, likes to screw with me. This time that screwing came in the form of a supernatural I call Elvis vamp.
I was having dinner with John and a couple of his friends, a husband and wife named Mark and Rachel. Maybe friends isn’t the right word. Mark was John’s new boss. John holds a doctorate in marine biology and Mark was in charge of the marine biology department at one of the local colleges. The one that just hired John.
And no, Elvis Presley isn’t a vampire. Elvis vamp is just some vamp that looks like a young Elvis, complete with the thick black hair and the matching sideburns. For all I know, he could’ve been an Elvis impersonator before he became a vampire, or he could’ve been turned into a vampire back in the fifties, when Elvis was a rising star.
I don’t know what he did when he was human. Now that he’s a vampire, he works as a bouncer at a club owned by an older, more powerful vampire named Titus Hawthorn. A club called O Positive.
“Titus wants to see you,” Elvis vamp said, stopping at our table. He was wearing his work clothes, black slacks and a black tee shirt with O Positive written across the front in red letters that dripped blood.
We were in a restaurant. An expensive restaurant. The kind of place that charges a lot of money and serves tiny portions on expensive plates. The kind of place I usually avoid. I didn’t know how Elvis vamp managed to find me, nor did I care.
“I’m a little busy,” I said. “Tell Titus I’ll stop by tomorrow night.”
I waved Elvis vamp away with my right hand, the hand with the emerald ring that I took from him. Won it in a bet to be precise. He bet me that I couldn’t get by him. I bet him that I could. Then I froze the water inside his body, inside the blood coursing through his veins, inside the individual cells that made up his body. Doing that would’ve killed a human, even most supernaturals, but vamps aren’t like most supernaturals.
You want to kill a vamp you got to boil the water inside their body. Of course, if I had killed Elvis vamp, I wouldn’t be able to tease him by waving his ring under his nose. And truth be told, there are few things I enjoy more than teasing vampires.
“Titus said that this is important.”
“That would explain the twelve text messages he sent me today.”
Rachel leaned toward Mark, her eyes locked on Elvis vamp. “I’ve never seen a man that pale.”
“He’s a vampire,” I said. She had been whispering, but like most supernaturals, I have very good hearing. “Probably hasn’t fed in awhile.”
“I prefer my blood fresh, not to mention body temperature,” Elvis vamp said. “Nothing worse than having to drink cold blood from a plastic bag.”
“Yeah, life is tough.” I waved Elvis vamp away with the hand containing his ring. “Tell Titus that I’ll see him tomorrow.”
“I can’t,” Elvis vamp said. “Titus told me not to return unless you were with me.”
“You know what this is about?” Rachel asked John. She was still whispering, but I could still hear her, as could Elvis vamp.
“Low is a private detective,” John said. “Humans and supernaturals hire her for all kinds of things.”
“Does Titus want to hire me?” I asked Elvis vamp. “Or does he think I owe him a favor?”
“He says you owe him a lot of favors.”
“I owed him one favor, and I paid him back. I gave him a wisp.” The wisp was actually a professional assassin that had been hired to kill me. She was tall and thin, and looked like a model. She even sounded like a model, speaking in French.
“He let the wisp go. Said she was too annoying.”
“I don’t care what he did with her. I gave. He accepted. That means we’re even.”
“Tell him that. All I know is I’m not suppose to return without you.”
I decided to freeze Elvis vamp from the inside out. It would turn him into a statue for a good hour, which would give me time to finish my dinner. I nixed that idea when I looked at John and he shook his head, like he knew what I was thinking. Apparently, freezing the water inside a vampire’s body was something a normal girlfriend didn’t do. At least not when she was dining out with her boyfriend and his boss.
“Looks like I’m going to have to take this meeting,” I said, smiling at Mark and Rachel.
“One of the disadvantages of being a private detective,” John added. “You never know when someone is going to need you.”
“Do you want us to wait for you?” Mark asked, when I pushed my chair back and stood up.
I looked at Elvis vamp, to see what this was about.
Elvis vamp shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t look at me. I’m just the errand boy.”
“Better not,” I said. “These things can take awhile.”
John stood, wrapped an arm around my waist, and kissed me. It was a long passionate kiss that involved tongue. Maybe too passionate for a public place, but then that was John, when he fell for a girl, he fell hard. That was one of the reasons I agreed to become his girlfriend. He didn’t just fall hard, he tended to fall for the wrong girls. Like Crystal. The evil siren.
I probably wasn’t the right girl either, but at least I was up front about it. I warned him when he got engaged to Crystal that supernaturals aren’t capable of falling in love. And if one tells you that she loves you, she’s lying. Myself included.
“You two are such a cute couple,” a grinning Rachel said.
“We are, aren’t we,” I said, flashing a grin of my own. Was that something a girlfriend would say? It sounded like something a girlfriend would say. Never having been someone’s girlfriend, I wasn’t sure. I was playing it by ear.
“Call me,” John said, as he sat back down.
I nodded and turned my attention to Elvis vamp. “Lead the way, King.”
Elvis vamp wrinkled his brow, probably trying to figure out why I called him, King. He gave up and headed toward the exit. I fell in behind him.
O Positive occupied the top two floors of a steel and glass tower. Not only did Titus Hawthorn own the club. He owned the entire building. A glass elevator located on the outside of the tower led directly to the club.
A big human wearing the same outfit Elvis vamp wore guarded the elevator. He was the one that decided who got to go up and who didn’t. He had a line of about two dozen people standing there, waiting, hoping to get into the club. We bypassed the line, pausing just long enough for him to call the elevator.
The club occupied two floors, three if you counted the mezzanine where Titus Hawthorn held court. The first floor contained a chrome dance floor. Red, blue, and green lights hanging overhead changed color at regular intervals.
The second floor was a balcony that circled the first floor. A chrome and smoked glass bar covered three of the four exterior walls. The fourth wall contained a chrome staircase leading to the first floor as well as Titus’s little balcony. The interior of the second floor contained a chrome and smoked glass rail. Chrome and smoked glass tables rested against the rail, allowing customers to look down on the dance floor. Music with a driving beat pounded out of speakers hidden throughout the club.
We headed up to the mezzanine, where we found Titus. He was in his usual spot, sitting at a chrome and glass table, looking down upon his domain.
He looked just like you’d expect a guy named Titus Hawthorn to look, tall with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and blond hair that just covered his ears. He appeared to be in his late twenties and wore a dark gray suit made out of a material that shined. His shirt was light gray and made out of silk. The top two buttons were open. He wore no tie.
The look was just that, a carefully cultivated look. Titus Hawthorn had been around a long time, hundreds of years, maybe thousands. In truth, I had no idea how old he was. Nor did I know where he came from, let alone what name his parents gave him when he was born. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t Titus Hawthorn.
Before we came out of the closet, so to speak, it was standard practice for supernaturals to change their identity and move around, less people realize that they didn’t age like normal humans.
“I see you found her,” Titus said, when Elvis vamp and I stepped onto mezzanine. “Nice job.”
“What’s up?” I said.
Titus waved the fingers of his right hand in a brushing style. Elvis vamp bowed his head and headed down the stairs, leaving Titus and I alone, which in itself was unusual. Every other time I was there, Titus was feeding off the thigh of a leggy blond. Like Elvis vamp, he detested drinking cold blood out of a plastic bag. Unlike Elvis vamp, he had lots of money, which meant he didn’t have to drink cold blood out of a plastic bag.
I moved to the seat across from Titus and sat, crossing my right leg over my left. I was wearing a conservative suit, black knee length skirt, white silk blouse, black suit jacket, black two inch heels. It was the first time I met John’s new boss so I opted for a professional appearance. My hair was short and red, not human red, mermaid red. Human hair that’s red is either brown-red or orange-red. Mermaid hair that’s red is cherry red. I used to wear it long, but I cut it awhile back, when I was working on another case and needed to change my appearance.
“I want to hire you,” Titus said.
“I’m not swimming topless in that mermaid tank at your strip club.” Not that I had a problem with going topless. Like most mermaids, I’m not what you would call shy. A lot of supernaturals prefer to keep a low profile, but mermaids aren’t among them. I had a problem with swimming around in a tank in mermaid form so people could gawk at me. It was kind of like being a freak in a sideshow, or an animal in a zoo. “And I can’t work as an exotic dancer. I have a boyfriend now. I don’t think he’d approve of my doing that kind of stuff.”
“A boyfriend,” Titus said in a mocking tone. “Pretty soon people will start confusing you for a real girl.”
“What do you want?”
“I want to hire you. As a bodyguard.”
“You’ve already got plenty of muscle working at this place. Both human and supernatural.”
“I don’t want to hire you to work at my club. I want to hire you as my personal bodyguard.”
“Why do you need me?”
Titus was the oldest, most powerful vampire in the city, not to mention the richest. I couldn’t imagine who he feared so much that he felt he needed me to protect him. Then there was the fact that protecting Titus kind of went against everything I believed.
My mother, the mermaid, taught me how to be a mermaid. My father, who is human, and an ex-cop, taught me to protect the little guy, protect those who couldn’t or wouldn’t protect themselves, protect those who had no one else to help them. Titus was as far from the little guy as you could get.
“The Count is coming to town,” Titus said.
He spoke like I should know who the Count was. Maybe in vampire circles the Count was famous, but I wasn’t a vampire, so the name meant nothing to me. “And you fear this count because?”
“Not this count, the Count. It’s his name. Or at least the only name he’s known by.”
“And you fear him because?”
“Because he’s the oldest vampire in world. And in vampire circles the older you are the more powerful you are.”
“What do you think he might do to you?”
“He likes to push people around, take things from them, torture them, kill them.”
“By people, you mean vamps.”
Titus nodded. “I mean vampires.”
“How does he do all of that?”
“He compels vampires that are younger than him to give things to him, or to walk out into the bright sunshine and stay there until they burn up.”
“And you don’t like being pushed around.”
“It’s been awhile since I’ve met a vampire that’s older than me, that had the power to take my empire from me, let alone kill me.”
“I take it you and the Count run in different circles.”
“He lives in Europe, has never paid much attention to the new world. Until now.”
The fact that Titus referred to this as the new world, gave me a clue as to just how old he was. Usually he avoided terminology that gave away his age. The fact that he was using it now, told me just how scared he was.
“So you want me to stop the Count from bullying you, forcing you to turn over your empire to him.”
“Because he’s older than me, he can compel me. You on the other hand are a mermaid.”
“And like most mermaids, I’m not very good at taking orders.” That was how I became a private detective. I had been a cop, like my father, but I had trouble following orders. I received a lot of commendations for saving lives, and a lot of reprimands for not doing what I was told. Eventually, I decided I was better off on my own.
Titus reached underneath his chair and set a wooden box on the table. The box was made from polished maple. The hinged lid contained pieces of ivory inlaid in the shape of a star. The box was one foot long, one foot wide, and one foot high. It reminded me of a jewelry box. A very large, very old, extremely well made jewelry box. The fact that it looked like a jewelry box made my mouth water.
There are a few things you should know about mermaids. We don’t live in coral castles at the bottom of the sea. That’s a myth. You may not be aware of this, but it’s cold and dark at the bottom of the ocean. Plus there are some really weird looking fish down there. And just for the record, none of them sing and dance.
If you throw water on our legs, they won’t turn into a tail. That’s another myth. We can change form at will, like most shape shifters. Nor do we have gills, we’re not fish, we’re mammals, like whales and dolphins.
We do love shiny things. That’s not a myth. Mermaids are obsessed with collecting shiny things. I converted the extra bedroom in my condo into a walk-in vault. That’s where I keep my shiny things. My gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and pearls. My treasure.
Drugs and alcohol don’t affect me the way they affect humans, probably because of my accelerated metabolism. When I want to get high, or just need to relax, I walk into my vault, turn on the spotlights, and stare at shiny shiny treasures.
If Titus was intending to pay me with whatever was in that very large, very old, very ornate, jewelry box, then he was serious about needing my help. Deadly serious.
“You must want my help pretty bad if you’re offering me whatever is in that box.” I was trying to act like I didn’t care what was in the box, but I’m not sure I was succeeding. I had already uncrossed my legs and slid forward in my seat, anxious to see what Titus had inside the box.
Titus hesitated for a few seconds, letting the anticipation build, then he opened the box’s lid, slowly. Resting on a cushion of red velvet was a crown. A genuine honest-to-god crown.
It was hand made, out of solid gold. There were seven peaks on top of the crown, with a small cross on top of each peak. In the middle of each cross was a small diamond. A line of rubies, emeralds, and sapphires circled the middle of the crown’s headband. The rubies were diamond shaped. The emeralds were oval shaped. The sapphires were cut in the shape of rectangles.
“You agree to serve as my bodyguard,” Titus said. “Protect me from the Count, and this crown is yours.”
I had to give Titus credit. He knew how to get to a mermaid. How to win her over. I had a lot of stuff in my vault, chests full of gold doubloons, chests full of silver pieces, a fifty gallon Plexiglas barrel full of pearls. I had a chest full of diamond rings, another full of emerald and ruby necklaces. I had gold and silver bracelets up the wazoo. I even had a couple dozen diamond tiaras, but I didn’t have a crown, let alone a solid gold crown that had been around for centuries as this one clearly had.
I could already see myself walking around my condo with that crown on my head. I would have to hang a few more mirrors in my place, so I could really enjoy it. But that was okay. What was the point of wearing a crown as magnificent as this one if I couldn’t see myself in it?
I reached for the crown, wanting to touch it, hold it, try it on, but Titus snapped the box’s lid shut, almost taking my fingers with it.
“First you agree to protect me from the Count. Then you get the crown.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I needed a minute to come down from the high I was experiencing. The high that shiny shiny crown had given me.
“I take it you’ve had that for awhile,” I said when I felt more like myself.
Titus smiled. “I took if off the head of the king it once belonged to.”
“What king would that be?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Titus said. “His kingdom doesn’t exist anymore. Hasn’t existed for quite awhile.”
“How did you know I don’t have a crown?”
“Lucky guess. Do we have a deal or not?”
“We have a deal,” I said.
Truth be told, I would’ve taken the job even if he hadn’t offered me the crown. I wanted to meet the Count. I wanted to meet the individual who could scare the most powerful vampire I knew.
Following my morning swim in the ocean, I paid a visit to Wormby’s Pawnshop. Wormby’s was located a couple of blocks from the beach, so I went there straight after my swim. I was wearing a green bikini. A blue silk scarf that fell to mid thigh was wrapped around my waist. Flip flops were on my feet. Sunglasses hid my emerald green eyes.
My red hair was dry even though I just got out of the ocean. Mermaid hair repels water rather than absorbs it, so it always looks dry, even after a swim. Mermaids are either blonds or redheads, there are no brunette mermaids, although I don’t know why.
Wormby’s was owned and run by a gnome named Nicholas Wormby. Like all gnomes, he was short and ugly, with cauliflower ears, a bulbous nose with a wart on the end, one eye that bulged out, and another one that was always squinting. His lips were huge, taking up a full third of his face. He was completely bald, all gnomes are, even the females, and his taste in clothes was highly questionable.
Today he was wearing pink high top sneakers, a lime green tuxedo, and a pink ruffled shirt that looked more like a woman’s blouse. Like all gnomes he was short, barely reaching my bellybutton.
Rumors in the supernatural world said that gnomes lived to be one thousand years old. I don’t know exactly how old Wormby was, but I knew that he had been around awhile. As such, I figured if anybody knew about the Count, it would be Wormby. He was my go-to-guy for information on other supernaturals.
We also had a business relationship. Wormby kept his over sized cauliflower ears open for rumors of sunken treasure and then passed that information on to me. I retrieved the treasure and we split the profits. Unless of course the treasure was shiny and glittery and something I just had to have. If it was, I put it in my treasure room and told Wormby that I didn’t find anything.
“You still dating that human?” Wormby said when he saw me.
“I am,” I said.
Wormby finished dusting the junk in his shop and popped behind counter. There was a raised floor behind counter and it enabled Wormby to look me in the eyes, or more accurately, the cleavage.
Popping in and out was something only gnomes could do. One second they were here, the next second, they were somewhere else. Poof. I had no idea how they did it, it was a power that was unique to gnomes.
“Did you tell him that supernaturals lack the ability to love, let alone fall in love?”
“Told him that when he got engaged to the siren.”
“And he doesn’t care? You must be really something in bed.”
“You ever heard of the Count?” I said, changing topics. But just for the record, I am something in bed.
“Titus Hawthorn has hired me to serve as his personal bodyguard, protect him from the Count.”
A worried look crossed Wormby’s face. “The Count’s coming to town?”
“So I’ve been told.”
“Sounds like it’s time for me to take a vacation.”
I wasn’t surprised that Wormby wanted to skip town. Gnomes had an abnormal fear of vampires. They were convinced that every vamp alive wanted to drain them dry. They refused to go out after dark and never went near a vamp club, not even during the middle of the day.
“What can you tell me about the Count?” I leaned across the counter so my cleavage was inches from Wormby’s face. Wormby was obsessed with my breasts. Not that I could blame him. They were spectacular.
Mermaids have extremely dense muscle tissue, not thick, dense. There’s a difference. A chunk of lead and a chuck of wood can have the same thickness, but when you pick them up, you can feel the difference. The lead is denser.
Our muscle tissue is designed to withstand the extreme water pressure at the bottom of the ocean, which is why it’s so dense. That extreme density means gravity doesn’t affect us the way it affects human woman. It also mean we’re strong, ridiculously strong. Even if we don’t look it.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have gills, which means I can’t breathe under water. What I can do is hold my breath, hold it for a long time, much like whales and dolphins. Eventually, I have to come up for air, just like whales and dolphins.
“The Count is the oldest vampire alive,” Wormby said. “At least that’s what the rumor mill says.”
“Is he the first vampire?”
“Probably not. Vampires can be traced all the way back to ancient times, just like all supernaturals.”
I didn’t bother to ask what he meant by that. Like all supernaturals, I knew the story of our origin. The Book of Genesis even talks about it, when it mentions the Nephilim, beings created when the sons of God, angels if you prefer, or more accurately, fallen angels, had children with the daughters of men.
It certainly explained our extended life spans and other powers, not to mention our inability to love. We were descended from angels that lack the ability to love the God that created them.
“Why is everybody so afraid of him?”
“Rumor is he’s the only vampire alive that can go out in the middle of the day.”
“Direct sunlight doesn’t hurt him?”
“They say he’s got a tan. How many vamps have you seen with a tan?”
“None,” I admitted.
Vamps are extremely pale, mostly because their bodies contain about half the water of a living being. Living beings are about sixty percent water. A well fed vamp like Titus is about forty percent water, normal vamps, like Elvis vamp, are about thirty percent water.
Like most mermaids, I can control water with my mind, even the water that makes up a person’s body. I can order it to freeze. I can order it to boil. I can order it to burst through a person’s veins, arteries, and skin. That’s why Titus hired me to protect him from the Count.
“Titus said the Count usually sticks to Europe.”
“Usually,” Wormby said.
“I wonder why he coming here?”
“The Count is a dictator, and like all dictators, he wants to expand his empire.”
“But why start here?”
Wormby shrugged his shoulders. “He’s got to start somewhere. And we don’t know how long he’s been in this country. For all we know this could be his last stop before he heads home.”
Wormby was right about that. My knowledge of supernaturals was limited to those that lived in and around this city. I had no idea what they were up to in other parts of the country nor did I care. “So you think the Count wants to take over the city?”
“No idea. I do know it’s time for me to close up shop and taken an extended vacation. Maybe I’ll go to Costa Rica or Panama. No way I’m going to stay in this town, not as long as the Count is here.”
“What makes the Count so dangerous, besides his ability to withstand sunlight?”
“His ability to compel others is second to none. At least that’s the rumor.”
“Compel them to do what?”
“Pretty much anything he wants them to do. Rumor has it he amuses himself by compelling younger vampires to walk out in the noonday sun and stay there until they burn to death.”
That explained why Titus was afraid of him. I had seen Titus moving around during day, had even seen him step outside on a dark rainy day, but I had never ever seen him step outside on a bright sunny day.
“Sounds like a bit of a sociopath.”
Wormby grunted. “Aren’t all vamps sociopaths?”
“I don’t know. I have yet to meet all vamps.”
“You should come south with me,” Wormby said. “Think of all the sunken treasures waiting to be found in the Caribbean, there’s got to be a ton of pirate ships sitting on that sea’s floor.”
Like most mermaids, I was obsessed with expanding my treasure, my collection of shiny things. As tempting as Wormby’s offer was, and make no mistake about it, it was a tempting offer, there was just one problem. My mother was down there and I don’t think she’d appreciate my encroaching into her territory.
“You do know my mother’s down there.”
“On Marathon Island. Which is north of Cuba. We’ll be in Costa Rica, which is southwest of Cuba.”
“You really have no clue as to how far a mermaid can travel in one day do you?”
“Enlighten me,” Wormby said.
“When I swim, my top speed is in excess of seventy miles an hour.”
“Yeah but it’s not like you can maintain that speed for ten straight hours.”
“Seventy miles an hours, no. Fifty miles an hour, definitely.”
“You telling me that it’s not uncommon for a mermaid to travel three to five hundred miles in a single day?”
“You forget, the oceans have currents, and we know how to find them and ride them.”
Wormby snapped his fingers. Like all gnomes he had giant hands with four fat fingers. Well, three fingers and a thumb. “I forgot about the currents.”
“And keep in mind, Marathon Island is only ninety miles from Cuba.”
“We could always settle on the Pacific side of the country.”
“This is my territory and I don’t plan on giving it up just because another vamp is coming to town.”
“Not just another vamp,” Wormby said. “The most dangerous vamp alive. If I were you, I’d turn down this job. Let Titus Hawthorn find somebody else to protect him.”
“Can’t,” I said. “I already accepted payment.”
Wormby sighed, probably because he knew about my weakness for shiny things. “What did he offer you?”
“A crown. A genuine honest-to-god solid gold crown. You should’ve seen it. It was . . . magnificent.”
Wormby shook his head. “You’re hopeless. You know that don’t you?”
“Not hopeless. A mermaid.”
Our conversation was interrupted by the door opening. Savanna Green, the only other mermaid in town, sauntered in. Like me, she was wearing a bikini with a scarf wrapped around her waist. She had a knife strapped to her left bicep and a small plastic box strapped to her left wrist. That told me she had been pearl diving. No big surprise. Like all young mermaids, she was obsessed with expanding her treasure, her collection of shiny things.
Like me, she was tall. I’m five nine, which is actually short for a mermaid. Savanna is an inch or so taller. Her hair is long and thick and blond. Her eyes are blue. The same color blue as her tail. She was younger than me. I’m thirty. She’s twenty-one.
Our relationship got off to a rocky start. When she first came to town, she lied to me, then sold me out to a bogeyman. I forgave her because she did it for a ruby and diamond choker. A really shiny, really expensive ruby and diamond choker. We’re talking six figures.
Giving a young mermaid something shiny and expensive is like giving a bottle of booze to an alcoholic. Something Titus obviously knew when he stuck that gold crown under my nose.
Savanna lived with me for awhile. When the bogeyman sent some assassins after me, we moved in with a young cop named Doug. I moved back to my condo when my run-in with the bogeyman was over, but Savanna didn’t. She was still living at Doug’s place. I have no idea if they were sleeping together. Savanna didn’t volunteer and I didn’t ask. My guess was they were. Doug was young, attractive, and single. And Savanna was, well, a mermaid.
“Guess what?” an excited Savanna said.
“What?” I said.
“I found a wreck.”
“About one hundred miles out.”
“What kind of ship is it?”
“Wooden and really old. Problem is its hull is buried, can’t tell if there’s any treasure until I figure out how to move all the silt that’s covering the ship’s hull.”
“Use the water that surrounds the ship.”
“Use it how?”
“Order it to wash the silt off the ship’s hull.”
“You mean like waves washing up on the beach?”
“I can do that.”
Savanna couldn’t control small bodies of water, like the water inside a person’s body, but she was very good at controlling large bodies of water, like a swimming pool, or a lake, or part of the ocean. You might think it’s easier to control a glass of water than a swimming pool full of water but it’s not. The bigger the body of water, the easier it is to sense and touch and feel with your mind.
“So what’s happening with you?” Savanna asked.
She stopped next to me and leaned across the counter, giving Wormby a good view of her cleavage. Was she doing it on purpose? Definitely. Mermaids are notorious teases.
“Titus hired me to protect him.”
“Another vampire. Some guy known as the Count.”
“Never heard of him,” Savanna said.
“He’s supposed to be the oldest vampire on the planet.”
Wormby pulled his eyes away from Savanna’s breasts and shook his head, coming out of his cleavage induced trance. “Not just the oldest vampire on the planet. The most powerful. You need to remember that.”
“I’m a little short on cash right now,” Savanna said. “You think Titus would be interested in hiring a second mermaid to protect him?”
Wormby groaned and shook his head. “Why do I even bother.”
Savanna turned to Wormby. “What?”
“I was just trying to convince Low to leave town before the Count gets here. Not only did she refuse, but now you want to get involved with him.”
“I could use the work,” Savanna said. “I’m a little short on cash.”
Wormby pointed to the plastic box on her wrist. “You need cash, sell me those pearls you just found.”
Savanna looked at Wormby like he had just asked her to commit suicide. No surprise there. Asking a mermaid to give up her treasure pretty much was asking her to commit suicide. If a mermaid doesn’t have a treasure to look at, she can go into a depression, a deep, dark, depression.
“She’s not going to give up her pearls. So don’t even ask.” I turned to Savanna. “Why don’t you show me that wreck you found. If we work together, we can wash the silt off it pretty quick.”
“What’s it going to cost me?” Savanna said.
“Ten percent of everything we find.” Odds were there was no treasure. The vast majority of sunken ships didn’t contain a treasure chest, or anything else of value, but then again, you never knew.
“You can have ten percent of anything we find if you convince Titus to hire me as one of his bodyguards.”
“You really want to meet this Count?”
“The oldest vampire in world. Don’t you?”
“Wouldn’t pass up the opportunity in a million years,” I said.
“This is why your species is so few and far between,” Wormby said. “You’re always sticking your noses where you shouldn’t.”
That and the fact that we couldn’t expand our numbers with a couple of well placed bites the way vampires and werewolves could. We had to do it the old fashioned way, sex, pregnancy, and a baby. When that baby started to grow up, you had to teach her how to shift from human form to mermaid form, and then you had to teach her how to control water. I say her because mermaids rarely give birth to boys. Nature’s way of ensuring the survival of our species, I guess.
“Let’s go check out that wreck,” Savanna said. “By the time we finish and get back, Titus’s club will be opening.”
Savanna and I headed for the exit.
“Don’t bother stopping by tomorrow,” Wormby said to our backs. “I won’t be here. I’m closing the shop and heading to Panama. Where there ain’t no Count.”
“Maybe we should give him a reason to stay,” a grinning Savanna said.
“I got a boyfriend now. I don’t think he’d appreciate my flashing people.”
“It’s not people. It’s Wormby.”
I thought about it for a second, then I smiled. “Maybe one last time.”
Savanna pulled her bikini top up to her chin, exposing her breasts. I did the same, then we spun around, so we were facing Wormby. As soon as we did that, Wormby disappeared. One second he was behind the counter at the far end of the shop, the next second, he was standing right in front of us.
“I guess I don’t have to leave tonight,” Wormby said, staring up at our breasts. “I mean it isn’t like the Count is coming today.”
He reach up with his giant mitts, intending to grab one of Savanna’s breasts and one of mine. Needless to say, he got his hands slapped. By both of us.
“Uh-uh,” Savanna said. “You can look but you can’t touch.”
We pulled our tops back down, turned, and headed out the door. Behind us, I could hear Wormby mumbling to himself. “I hate mermaids.”
We didn’t find any treasure buried in the sand that covered Savanna’s wreck, but we did find some two hundred year old china, hundreds of pieces. Savanna wanted to sell it to Wormby, but I told her that she’s get a better price if she sold it to an antique store, or better yet, have an auction house auction it off.
We used an inflatable raft to transport the china to shore, then put it in a storage unit that Savanna had leased. Mermaids are always expanding their treasure, so it’s important to have some place to keep it.
After that, we grabbed a quick dinner. Four extra large pizzas, two for Savanna and two for me. I should mention that mermaids eat a lot. One of the side effects of having such dense muscle tissue and needing to maintain it.
By the time we finished eating, the sun was setting, which meant Titus’s club, O Positive, was opening. I drove us there in my Honda Del Sol. No one tried to stop us from going in, or up to the mezzanine where Titus held court.
“You’re late,” he said when he saw me.
“You just opened five minutes ago.”
“Maybe, but I’ve been up for over an hour.” He nodded at Savanna. “What’s she doing here?”
“Thought you might appreciate some extra muscle.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Titus said. He seemed to relax a little, even so, he was as nervous as I could remember.
“I expect to be paid for my time,” Savanna said.
“Whatever you want,” Titus said. “But I want the two of you to put on uniforms. I don’t want the Count to think you’re anything more than eye candy.”
“The Count isn’t coming tonight,” I said.
Titus nodded. “He’s already here.”
Savanna looked around, searching for the Count. “Where?”
“Not here at the club,” I said. “He means here in the city.”
“Vampires can feel other vampires, feel their presence. We can tell when an older more powerful vampire is nearby. And the Count is in town, probably at the airport.” Titus nodded at a door in the middle of the back wall. “Uniforms are in my office. You guys can change in there.”
Savanna and I headed into Titus’s office, where we found a stack of uniforms of various sizes. The uniforms consisted of black calf high boots, black leather short shorts, and black tee shirts that left our waists bare. Written across the front of the tee shirts in red letters that dripped blood were the words, O Positive.
“This is exciting,” Savanna said as we donned our uniforms. “Meeting the oldest vampire in the world. What do you suppose he’s like?”
“Wormby said he likes to amuse himself by compelling younger vampires to walk out into the sun and stay there until they burn to death.”
“Assuming Wormby knows what he’s talking about.”
“One thing I’ve learned is to not dismiss what Wormby says. Especially when it comes to other supernaturals. He usually knows what he’s talking about.”
“What exactly is our job here?”
“Protect Titus from the Count.”
“Not letting the Count exert control over him.”
“How do we do that?”
“I’ll handle the Count, you keep an eye on his entourage.”
“If he has an entourage.”
“He’ll have an entourage. Guys like him always have entourages.”
Savanna wrinkled her brow. “Guys like him?”
“Guys that think the universe revolves around them.”
“How do you want me to handle his entourage?”
“Anyway you want.”
Savanna grinned and rubbed her hands together. “Sounds like this could be fun. I hear vampires are quick.”
“Quicker than humans, but no where near as fast as that speed demon we killed.”
“They’re supposed to be strong.”
“Not really. I’m pretty sure if you dragged a vampire to the bottom the Mariana Trench, the water pressure would crush him.” Now it was my turn to grin. “Maybe before this is all over, we’ll have a chance to find out.”
We finished dressing and headed out of Titus’s office. Titus was still alone, looking extremely nervous.
“You ever met the Count?” I asked him.
“Once,” Titus said. “Long ago.”
“How long ago?”
Titus looked at me and grinned, although it wasn’t his usual smug grin, it was more of a nervous grin. “I’m not going to tell you how old I am.”
“How did your first meeting with the Count go?” Savanna asked.
“I was a young vampire at the time, just another face in the crowd. The Count didn’t know who I was, didn’t even notice me.”
“He knows who you are now,” I said.
“Does he actually amuse himself by compelling other vampires to walk out into the sun and stay there until they burn to death?” Savanna asked.
“Yes,” was all Titus said.
“How big is his entourage?” I asked.
“What makes you think he has an entourage?”
I snorted. “Guys like him always have an entourage.”
Titus wrinkled his brow. “Guys like him?”
“Self-centered ego manics.”
“You know what your job is?” Titus asked me.
“Keep the Count from killing you. Stop you from doing anything you don’t want to do if the Count tries to compel you.”
“You know how you’ll stop me?”
“Probably just freeze the water inside your body. You can’t do anything if you can’t move.”
“What does the Count want from you?” Savanna asked.
“He likes to exert his authority over other vampires, let them know that there’s someone out there that’s bigger and badder than them.”
“There’s always someone bigger and badder around,” I said.
“That’s one of the reasons you’re here,” Titus said. “I want you to remind the Count of that fact.”
We were interrupted by the arrival of two men. No they weren’t part of the Count’s entourage. I knew that because they weren’t vampires. They were human. They were also cops. I spent ten years as a cop, six in uniform, four as a detective, so I knew a lot of cops.
I became a cop because my father was one and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I left the force because I’m not very good at following orders. Like most mermaids, I tend to do what I want.
I knew one of the cops, but I didn’t know what they were doing here. The taller one, and when I say tall, I mean tall, like six feet six, was Eric Dudrow. His nickname was Stringbean. He was in his mid thirties and became a detective the same time that I did. Unlike me, he was very good at following orders. Possibly because he spent time in the army and had a father that was career military. He wore a gray suit with a white shirt and a red tie.
I didn’t know his partner. He was young, fresh out of college young. He was short and slim and had red hair and freckles. He wore a brown suit that was too big for him. The sleeves were so long, you couldn’t even see his hands.
“What are you doing here?” Stringbean asked me.
“I was about to ask you the same thing. Last thing I heard you were working vice.”
“Got transferred,” Stringbean said. “New department. Supernatural Affairs.”
He pulled out his badge, flashed it to Titus, then slipped it back in his suit pocket.
“What exactly does the Department of Supernatural Affairs do?”
“Keep track of what’s going on in the supernatural community. Remind them that when they’re in this city, we expect them to follow the law.”
“So you heard about the Count.”
Stringbean nodded. “Department sent us down here to remind him who’s in charge.”
I nodded in the direction of his partner. “Who’s the Frat Boy?”
“My partner. Suppose to be an expert in supernaturals.”
“I have a degree in supernatural studies,” Frat Boy said.
Savanna looked at me and grinned. Then she sauntered up to Frat Boy, purposely stepping into that three foot ring of personal space that humans like to maintain.
“So what kind of a supernatural am I?” Savanna said.
Frat Boy looked her up and down, not an easy thing to do considering she was practically pressed up against him. He gulped, then said, “Blond hair, blue eyes, tall, you’re clearly a mermaid.”
“How do you know I’m not a mermaid turned vampire?”
Stringbean laughed. “Cut the kid some slack. It’s his first week on the job.”
“Promoted to detective right out of college,” I said. “Is his dad the chief of police?”
“Naw,” Stringbean said. “Someone upstairs decided to pair each cop with an expert. Department has half a dozen more just like him.”
“You still haven’t answered my question?” Savanna said, still crowding Frat Boy’s personal space. “How do you know I’m not a mermaid turned vampire?”
Frat Boy gulped. “There’s, ah, no record of a mermaid ever being turned into a vampire.”
“Maybe I’m the first.”
Frat Boy backed up but Savanna just moved with him. “You’re not pale enough to be a vampire. Plus, you, ah, give off considerably more body heat than a vampire.”
Stringbean looked at me. “Would you tell her to leave the kid alone.”
“When have you known a mermaid to do what she’s told?”
Stringbean laughed. “If she’s anything like you, never.”
“So how many supernaturals have you met?” Savanna said, pressing up against Frat Boy.
“Well, there was the vampire downstairs, and now, ah, you.”
Savanna laughed and ran her hand through Frat Boy’s short red hair. “Wow. You really are a supernatural expert.”
Perhaps I should point out that there’s no such thing as an ugly mermaid. In point of fact, there’s no such thing as an average looking mermaid. We’re all pretty spectacular. You add that fact to what Savanna was wearing, and well, it was easy to see why Frat Boy was flustered.
“Savanna,” I said, figuring she had teased Frat Boy enough. Savanna looked at me, I motioned with my head, indicating that she should back off.
“Come on,” Savanna said. “I’ve never met an expert on supernaturals. Especially one this cute.”
She ran her hand through his hair one more time, and then sniffed his face, a move which was entirely for show, since our sense of smell is only slightly better than that of a human. When she finished, she returned to her spot next to me, allowing Frat Boy a chance to catch his breath.
“This is quite a night,” Savanna said. “Not only do I get to meet the oldest vampire in the world, I got to meet a genuine honest-to-god expert on supernaturals.”
“Yeah, we’re all thrilled about that.” I started to turn to Titus, but got distracted by a laughing Stringbean. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” Stringbean said. “I just forgot how much I love mermaids. Most of the supernaturals we meet are all dour and serious. They either try to intimidate you or ignore you. You guys are a welcome change.”
I turned back to Titus. “Shouldn’t you send Elvis vamp home?”
Titus wrinkled his brow. “Elvis vamp?”
“Your vamp bouncer.”
“His name’s Tony, and you’re right, he probably shouldn’t be here when the Count arrives.”
As soon as Titus finished talking, Elvis vamp appeared at the top of the stairs, as if he had received a mental summons, which I suspect he had. “Go home and don’t come back until I tell you.”
Elvis vamp didn’t question Titus’s command, he just nodded and left.
“Why are you sending him away?” Stringbean asked Titus.
“Ask your expert,” Titus said.
Stringbean looked at Frat Boy, who took a moment to collect himself, then said, “The Count has a history of making younger vampires, weaker vampires, do things they don’t want to do. Most of the time those younger vampires end up dying.”
“How does he feel about humans?” Stringbean asked.
“He doesn’t like them,” Titus said. “But he’s learned not to cross them. He knows hurting a human could get him killed. But since supernaturals aren’t protected by human laws . . . . “
Stringbean nodded and finished the sentence for him. “He considers them to be fair game.”
“Sure you want to stick around?” I asked Savanna.
“If I left now I wouldn’t get to meet the world’s oldest vampire, and while it isn’t nearly as impressive as meeting a genuine expert on supernaturals, it should still be fun.”
“Only a mermaid would call meeting the Count fun,” a laughing Titus said. His attention turned to the floor below us. “He’s here.”
Savanna, Stringbean, Frat Boy, and myself, moved to the rail at the end of the mezzanine. Savanna and I were on one side of Titus’s table, Stringbean and Frat Boy were on the other side.
The people down below, dancing on the chrome dance floor froze. They didn’t step aside or make way, they just froze, as if time had stopped.
Then a line of people entered, walking through the middle of the frozen dancers single file. Perhaps people isn’t the right word. They were vampires. I could tell because of how pale they were compared to the frozen humans on the dance floor, and because of how dry they felt, each of their bodies containing less than half the water of a living being. There were twelve of them, six men and six women, with the women walking ahead of the men.
“Which one’s the Count?” Savanna asked.
“The one you can’t see,” Titus said.
“He can turn invisible?” Stringbean asked.
“No, but he can compel you to not see him.”
“What does that mean?”
“He doesn’t want you to see him, so your mind refuses to acknowledge that he’s there.”
It looked like I had underestimated the Count. Not only could he compel an entire room full of humans to stop moving, he had the power to compel everyone within eyesight to refuse to see him. That meant he was influencing my mind, all of our minds, right now. Not that it mattered. As a mermaid, I could always feel people, feel the water that made up their body. And that’s what I did.
I closed my eyes and focused on the line of vampires walking across the first floor of the club. Then I counted them, two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, thirteen. “He’s there all right. Almost sixty percent water.”
“Sixty percent,” Savanna said. “You mean he feels like a living being?”
The vampires headed up the stairway directly beneath us, disappearing out of sight. We straightened up and spun around, facing the chrome stairway the led to the mezzanine. Ready or not, it was time to meet the Count.
The Count and his entourage reached the mezzanine, still walking single file. The females moved to the left, the males moved to the right, forming a semi-circle. The Count was still invisible, or more accurately, still compelling us to not see him.
I decided that it was time to put an end to that so I reached out with my mind, to the water that made up almost sixty percent of his body, the water that enabled him to walk and talk and compel people to not see him. Then I ordered that water to freeze, not flash freeze, just freeze, nice and slow like, just enough to drain him of the power that was compelling us to not see him.
It took a few seconds, but eventually the Count became visible. To say he wasn’t what I expected was an understatement. I expected a middle aged man in a black suit, with short black hair slicked back with a ton of hair gel. That wasn’t what I saw.
The Count looked more like a surfer, with sandals on his feet, tan board shorts, and an over sized red and white Hawaiian shirt. His black hair was short and had a lot of gel in it, but it stuck straight up, forming little spikes with frosted tips. Wraparound Maui Jim sunglasses hid his eyes. He appeared to be in mid twenties rather than his mid forties. Unlike his pale entourage, his skin was the color of coffee with cream in it.
Titus rose from his chair, then he did something I had never seen him do before. He dropped to one knee and bowed his head.
The Count ignored him and moved toward Savanna and myself. “Which one of you did that?”
I was a little taller than him, but only because the boots I was wearing had four inch cube heels. If I had been wearing sandals, like he was, we would’ve been the same height.
“Did what?” Savanna said.
The Count ignored her and looked at me. “I guess that means it was you.”
“My friend and I have this ongoing debate,” I said. “Is a vampire strong enough to withstand the water pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, or will it crush him the same way it crushes the steel hull of a submarine. Step out of line and we’ll get an answer to that question once and for all.”
I hadn’t intended to threaten the world’s oldest vampire, at least not when we first met, but what can I say. I’m a mermaid, and like all mermaids, I can be a bit, shall we say, impulsive.
For his part, the Count just smiled. His eyes still hidden beneath his wraparound sunglasses. “And here I thought this was going to be a boring stop.”
The Count moved in front of Savanna and looked her up and down. “You’re not nearly as powerful as your friend.” He pressed his hand against her bare stomach then slid it up and under her cropped tee shirt. For her part, Savanna remained passive, probably because he was compelling her to do so.
“You really want to see that trench tonight?” I said, when he started to fondle her breasts.
The Count laughed and withdrew his hand. He turned toward Titus, who was still on one knee with his head bowed, then he held out his left hand. Titus took the hand and kissed the ring on it. The ring was crude, handmade out of gold. It had an ankh engraved on it. A symbol that was popular in ancient Egypt, which gave me an idea of where the Count came from, not to mention how old he was.
If he was from ancient Egypt, then he could be anywhere from three to five thousand years old. Realizing that made me think that maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to threaten him. Anyone that old must’ve picked up a few tricks, tricks that could get me and my friends killed.
“You may rise,” the Count said to Titus.
Titus stood up but didn’t say anything. While he did that, Stringbean and Frat Boy circled the table, until they were standing behind the Count. Stringbean pulled out his badge and held it up.
“Nice of the local authorities to send a welcoming committee,” the Count said, turning and facing them. “Although it is a bit small.”
“We were sent here to warn you,” Stringbean said. “Step out of line and you’ll face the full wrath of the law.”
The Count smiled. “Why would I waste time with humans when there are so many supernaturals to play with.”
He looked at me, like a child who had just found a brand new toy in his toy box.
“What you do with supernaturals is your business,” Stringbean said. “Although I should warn you, some of them got friends in the department.”
Stringbean looked at me, so the Count would know who he was talking about. Then he slipped his badge back inside his pocket, turned, and headed for the exit. Frat Boy hurried after him. The Count’s entourage parted to let them pass, then closed their ranks.
“Humans can be so annoying,” the Count said to no one in particular. “But what can one do? They reproduce in such prodigious numbers, much like ants.”
“Weren’t you human once?” I asked.
The Count paused, almost as if he was considering what I said. “Was I? You know, you might be right. It’s been so long, it’s hard to remember.”
“Do vampires become senile?”
The Count laughed. “If we do, I guess I’ll be the first to know.”
“Without humans, you wouldn’t have anything to eat.”
“Truth be told, I gave up human blood several millennium ago.” The Count snapped his fingers. One of the female vampires stepped forward, pulled her long black hair away from her neck, and tilted her head. The Count grabbed her by the shoulders and bit her neck.
“Isn’t this the vampire version of cannibalism?” I said to no one in particular.
At least now I knew why he kept the entourage around. A lot of people like to snack when they travel, apparently the Count was one of them. The only difference between him and all those other people was that his snacks could walk and talk.
We waited for him to finish eating, waited for what seemed like forever. Eventually, the female vampire began to shrivel, her body collapsing in on itself, her skin wrinkling. The Count released her and stepped back. The female vampire fell on her back and bounced on the chrome floor, looking nothing like a vampire and everything like a dried out mummy that had been around for thousands of years.
“Much better,” the Count said.
He moved to Titus’s chair and sat, then removed his sunglasses, dropping them in his shirt pocket. That’s when I saw his eyes. They were two black orbs, you couldn’t see the pupils or the irises, everything was just black, even the whites of his eyes were black.
“You,” he said to Savanna. “Get rid of that.”
He nodded at the remains of the female vampire. Savanna didn’t even hesitate, she just walked over to the remains, picked them up, and carried them down the stairs. I was beginning to think that letting her stick around had been a mistake. The Count was way older, way more powerful, and way more dangerous, than I suspected. His ability to control Savanna made it pretty clear that she was in over her head, way over her head.
Stories circulated around the supernatural kingdom that the very first supernaturals, the Nephilim, had eyes like that, eyes exactly like those of the fallen angels that fathered them. Through the centuries, breeding with humans had made us more like them and less like the fallen angels that originally created us.
The Count wasn’t like that. It was clear that he had more in common with the Nephilim and the fallen angels that fathered them than he did with the rest of us. That thought sent a shiver down my back, but I suppressed it. I reminded myself that even the Nephilim were half human, and if you had human blood flowing through your veins, you could be killed.
“Why the ankh?” I asked the Count.
He looked at the ring on his finger. “In ancient Egypt, it was the symbol of life. It was worn by physicians.”
“You were a doctor?”
The Count paused for a second, as if he was trying to remember his life as a human. “I believe I was.”
“You can’t remember?”
“I’m not sure this body was designed to hold five thousand years of memories.”
“Was the vampire that turned you a Nephilim?”
“No, but the vampire that turned him was.”
That meant he was the grandson of the Nephilim, or the great grandson of a fallen angel. That explained why he was so powerful. Most supernaturals were mutts. By comparison, he was a purebred, or as close to a purebred as still existed.
“You can’t remember your life as a human, but you remember being turned?”
The Count ignored me and turned his attention to Titus. “Why is she here?”
“She’s one of my bodyguards.” Titus tried to sound confident, but I could tell that he was nervous. Which was different, since it wasn’t too often a thousand year old vampire got nervous.
“Has she always been one of your bodyguards? Or did you hire her to protect you against me?” Titus didn’t answer. Not that he needed to. It was pretty clear that the Count knew the answer to the question before he asked it. “That’s what I thought.”
The Count sighed, like he had just reached a decision. I’m pretty sure I knew what that decision was. He was going to kill Titus, eliminate him for no other reason than he had hired me to protect him. I figured I better do something and do it quick, otherwise I wouldn’t be much of a bodyguard.
“Can I ask you something?” I said.
“No,” the Count said.
“So who was better looking? Nefertiti or Cleopatra?”
The Count turned his attention to me. “You a student of history or something?”
“Just curious. We know what Nefertiti looked like because her bust is in that museum. The only images we have of Cleopatra are on the side of some Roman coins and they make her look more like a man than a woman.”
“I know what you’re trying to do,” the Count said. “You’re trying to protect your boss by distracting me.”
“And you still haven’t answered my question.”
“I never met Cleopatra. By the time she came along, I wasn’t living in Egypt. Does that answer your question?”
“Depends,” I said.
“On whether you’re still planning on killing Titus.”
The Count paused for a second then laughed. “It’s been awhile since I’ve run into a mermaid. I forgot how much fun your species is.”
“What do you call awhile?”
“Five hundred years, give or take a century or two.”
“I’ve got another question,” I said.
“Let me guess,” the Count said. “You want to know who’s better looking, you or Nefertiti.”
“Don’t be silly. Nefertiti was human while I’m a mermaid. It’s not a fair comparison.”
The Count laughed, which was fine with me. My job was to protect Titus and I’m pretty sure he didn’t care how I did it. “So what’s your question?”
“What are you doing here?”
“By here you mean?”
“This country. This city. This club.”
“When you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ve seen everything, done everything.”
“So, after awhile you grow bored.”
I nodded and finished the thought for him. “Which is why you move around a lot, looking for something that sparks your interest.”
“That’s a good way to put it,” the Count said.
“You want excitement, all you got to do is walk into the local police station and start biting humans without their permission.”
“I said I was bored, not suicidal.”
I thought about calling him a coward, but Savanna’s reappearance prevented that, which was probably a good thing. The Count’s entourage parted to let her pass, then closed their ranks. Savanna returned to her spot next to me. There was a blank look on her face, the kind of look you might find on someone that was sleepwalking.
“What did you do with the body?” the Count asked her.
“Dropped it in the garbage bin in the alley,” Savanna said. Her voice was as emotionless as her face, which told me that she was still under the Count’s control. Letting her stay had been a mistake, a big mistake.
Taking this job had been a mistake. Not just for her, but for both of us. Wormby was right, this guy was trouble, big trouble. Titus knew that, which was why he made me an offer he knew I couldn’t refuse.
“I have another question,” I said.
“You’re definitely a mermaid,” the Count said. “You are by far the most curious supernaturals that I’ve ever met.”
“Are you the oldest supernatural alive?”
“Someone your age, amusing himself with supernaturals that are thousands of years younger is kind of like an adult playing with four year olds, you can’t help but get bored.”
“You’re saying I should find someone closer to my own age to play with?”
“Might keep you from getting bored.”
“As well as keep me from playing with your friends here?” He nodded at Titus, then at Savanna.
I shrugged my shoulders. “That too.”
“I’ll tell you what,” the Count said. “I’ll give you forty-eight hours to find a supernatural closer to my age.”
“If I do that, you’ll leave Titus and Savanna alone?”
“I’ll leave them alone, alive, and in good health.” He looked at Titus. “Well, as alive as a vampire can be.”
“And if I can’t find someone?”
The Count smiled. “Then your two friends will die.”
I thought about reaching out with my mind and ordering the water that made up sixty percent of his body to boil. It was an extremely effective way to kill vampires, regular vampires, but this guy was far from a regular vampire. Which meant I wasn’t sure if it would work. I figured I better exhaust all other avenues, see if there was another way to get rid of him before trying to kill him, because if I failed, I wouldn’t get a second chance. I’d be dead.
“Forty-eight hours?” I said.
“Forty-eight hours.” The Count checked the watch on his wrist, which I noticed was a Swatch. He could’ve afforded something more expensive, but I guess he figured it went with the surfer dude persona that he was trying to project. “Starting right now.”
I thought about changing into my own clothes, but glanced back at Titus and Savanna. Savanna looked like she was in a trance, no surprise there, clearly she was still under the Count’s control. The look in Titus’s eyes was completely different, it was more of a pleading look, one that was telling me to hurry.
I figured the easiest way to find a supernatural that had been around as long as the Count was to check with Wormby. Nobody knew more about supernaturals than he did. Even if he couldn’t direct me to another supernatural that was really really old, he had access to the darknet, which was the part of the Internet that most supernaturals used.
Maybe I could hire a supernatural assassin that would be willing to take a crack at the Count, although I doubted if they’d have much success. Three supernatural assassins tried to kill me and failed, so the odds of them killing the world’s oldest vampire probably weren’t very good.
It was close to midnight when I reached Wormby’s place. His pawnshop was closed, no big surprise. Gnomes had this abnormal fear of vampires and rarely went out after dark. For all I knew, Wormby had already made good on his pledge to leave town.
All he had to do was pop out. Poof. One second he was here. The next he was in Panama. Maybe he had another home down there. Wormby and I had a relationship, but it was a business relationship, we weren’t friends. We didn’t invite each other over when we barbecued. I wasn’t even sure if gnomes barbecued.
Wormby’s shop was located in a two story brick building a couple of blocks from the beach. He owned the building and kept an apartment on the second floor. The door that led to Wormby’s shop was in the middle of the building. There was a second door on the right hand side of the building. Behind it was a staircase that led to the second floor. Another door was located at the top of the stairs, it led to a short hallway at the back of the building. You hung a left at the end of that hallway and you found yourself in a longer hallway, one that ran the length of the building. There were three doors on each side of that hallway, each leading to a different apartment.
Wormby’s apartment was on the right, at the front of the hallway. I pounded on the door then squatted. The peephole in Wormby’s door was located in the bottom half, at gnome level. If you wanted him to see your face, you had to squat, otherwise he would be staring at your crotch.
“What do you want?” Wormby said from behind the door.
“I need your help.”
“Come back tomorrow.”
“I’m sort of on a deadline. Would you open up. Please.”
“How do I know you’re not a vampire?”
“Because I’ve never been a vampire.”
“Did you meet the Count?”
“Maybe he turned you into a vampire and sent you here to kill me.”
“Even if he did turn me into a vampire, what are the odds that he’d send me out to kill a gnome that he doesn’t even know exists?”
“Maybe you told him about me.”
“Why would I tell him about you?”
“Why wouldn’t you tell him about me?”
“Because you’re not that important.”
“If I’m not important, why are you here, asking for my help?”
“Wormby open the damn door before I kick it down.” I stood up, so Wormby would know I was serious. One advantage of having such dense muscle tissue is it makes us extremely strong, strong enough to rip the door off a big heavy safe.
I heard a lock unlatch, and then a second, and then a third, and then a fourth. When the door finally opened, Wormby tossed me a bulb of garlic. “Eat this.”
I looked at it and tossed it back to him. “Only if you grind it up and sprinkle it on a big plate of spaghetti. Besides, garlic doesn’t affect vampires, you and I both know that’s an old wives tail.”
“Maybe,” Wormby said. “But if you had been turned into a vampire, you wouldn’t insist I grind this up and sprinkle it on a plate of spaghetti.”
“Cause everybody knows vampires don’t eat spaghetti?”
“Or any other kind of food.” Wormby opened the door wide and stepped aside. “Come in.”
Wormby’s apartment was surprisingly tasteful. White walls, a white ceiling, polished oak floors, polished oak window frames, with oak blinds covering the windows. The paintings on the walls were all originals, famous originals, expensive originals. The only thing that made it different was the furniture. It was scaled down to fit a gnome, which made me feel like a giant, an out-of-place giant.
“I take it you met the Count,” Wormby said. He was wearing pajamas. They contained alternating horizontal stripes that were green and purple in color. A blue sleep cap with yellow moons on it covered his bald head.
“And you were right, I should’ve avoided him.”
Wormby moved to a gnome sized sofa made out of white leather and sat. There were no normal sized chairs so I remained standing.
“Tell me about this deadline you mentioned.”
“I’ve got forty-eight hours to find the Count a playmate, otherwise he’s going to kill Savanna and Titus.”
“What kind of a playmate is he looking for?”
“Someone that won’t bore him. Someone that’s been around as long as he has.”
“How long has he been around?”
“Five thousand years, maybe longer. His eyes are black orbs.”
Wormby sat up straight. “He’s Nephilim?”
“No, but he’s only a couple of generations removed.”
“I told you we should’ve left town. I told you. I told you. I told you.”
“And I already admitted that you were right. But the fact is, he’s got Savanna and Titus, and if I don’t find him a new playmate, he’s going to kill them.”
“If you’re thinking of making me his new playmate, you can forget it cause it ain’t gonna happen. No how. No way. And Titus is a vamp, as far as I’m concerned there are already too many vamps in the world, way too many.”
“You could care less about Titus, I get it. But what about Savanna? She’s one of the few people on this planet that actually likes you. She even thinks you’re kind of cute.”
Wormby’s head perked up. “She thinks I’m cute?”
“Kind of cute, but she also thinks that clowns are adorable, so don’t let it go to your head.”
“So what do you want from me?”
“Like I said, I’ve got forty-eight hours to find him a playmate, someone that won’t bore him, someone that’s been around as long as he has. I figured if anybody can point me to somebody like that it would be you.”
“Sounds like you need to find an elf.”
“Elves really exist?” I know. I know. It was a silly thing to say, especially when you considered it was coming out of the mouth of a mermaid.
“They’re around, but finding one. That’s the hard part.”
“They use glamor to hide.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“They have the power to make people see whatever they want them to see. That’s how they hide their true appearance. Instead of seeing the pointed ears, dark blue hair, and dark blue eyes, you see another human.”
“So they hide in plain sight.”
“Why would an elf be a challenge for the world’s oldest vampire?”
“Because they’re immortal.”
“They can’t die?”
“They can be killed, but they can’t die.”
“They don’t grow old, nor do they get sick, but if you rip out their heart or cut off their head, they will die.”
“Otherwise they’re immortal?”
“Why what?” Wormby asked.
“Why are elves immortal?”
“They’re not like you and I. We’re descended from the Nephilim, which were the sons of women and fallen angels. Elves are a completely different species. Less powerful than angels, more powerful than humans. They walked the earth long before man appeared.”
“So they’re older than the Count.”
“How do I find one?”
“Now that’s the problem. If they don’t want you to recognize them, you ain’t gonna recognize them.”
“Could you post a notice on the darknet? Elf wanted?”
Wormby chuckled. “I could, but I doubt if elves pay attention to the darknet. The darknet is used by supernaturals and humans dealing in illegal activity. Elves aren’t supernaturals, they’re a completely different species.”
“So you don’t know where to find one?”
“I know where you’re not going to find one.”
“And where is that?”
“Right here in the city. Elves are what you might call country folk. You want to find one you need to get out of the city, find yourself a small town where everyone is tall and thin and looks like they used to play basketball.”
“Elves are tall?”
“Everybody wants to confuse elves with fairies. Fairies are small and have wings, elves are tall and don’t have wings.”
“Any suggestions?” I said.
“Where I should start looking?” I figured if Wormby knew this much about elves, he probably had some idea as to where they lived.
Wormby sighed. His way of letting me know that I was going to owe him for dispensing such information. “There’s a place about two hundred miles southeast of here, in the mountains, a small town called Woodlawn. If I were you, I’d check there.”
I didn’t ask him why I should check there. I learned a long time ago, that when Wormby suggested you look here, or there, then that’s where you should look. Plus, I was on a deadline.
“I don’t suppose you could transport me there? I could save a couple of hours if you could just pop me on over.”
Wormby held up both hands. “I’ve already said more than I should.”
I nodded and left. I climbed in my emerald green Honda Del Sol, used my phone to find the quickest route to the town of Woodlawn, and took off. I like to drive fast, but Woodlawn was tucked away in the mountains, on a back road that was hard to find. The town was so hard to find that it made me think they didn’t want anyone to find it.
It was a small town, maybe a thousand people, at the most. It had a single stoplight, right in the center of town, where the main north-south route intersected with the main east-west route. It had a turn of the century look to it, turn of the twentieth century, not the twenty-first.
The buildings were all brick and had that early twentieth century style to them, as did the street lights, which looked more like gaslights rather than those that used electricity. And of course there were a lot of trees, big trees, old trees, their branches formed a canopy over the towns two main streets.
I saw no bars, taverns, or pubs, but there were a lot of cafes, bakeries, and coffee shops. If this town was full of elves, then it appeared they preferred caffeine to alcohol. No surprise there. Alcohol didn’t affect me either, if I wanted a jolt, I drank something that contained caffeine. If I wanted a high, I went into my treasure room, turned on the spotlights, and stared at my shiny shiny treasures.
It was morning by the time I reached town, so the streets were busy. The people were all tall and thin and athletic, but none of them had pointed ears or blue hair. I passed a small park, but it contained no playground equipment. Did immortal beings even have kids? In truth I didn’t know. Vampires didn’t, but I had no clue about elves. My knowledge of elves was extremely limited.
I could tell that the town was different, and that the people that lived there were different. Different enough to warrant my checking the place out. I pulled the Del Sol into a spot directly in front of a coffee shop called Magical Java. The street had diagonal parking, that alone should have alerted me that this place was different.
I climbed out of the Del Sol and headed inside, still dressed in the uniform Titus insisted we wear, the black boots, the black leather short shorts, the cropped tee shirt with the words O Positive printed on the front in red letters that dripped blood. I couldn’t do much to hide my cherry red hair, but aviator style sunglasses hid my mermaid green eyes.
It was my eyes that always gave me away, told people that I wasn’t human. My eyes were bigger, brighter, greener than human eyes.
The coffee shop was small and quaint. The round tables that filled the place were made out of chrome and red Formica, making the place look like something out of the nineteen fifties. The people were all tall and thin and athletic, with broad shoulders and narrow waists. They all had long faces and long narrow noses. They all looked to be in their twenties or thirties. There were no elderly men or women, no teenagers, no little kids.
Whoever these people were, they definitely weren’t human. Not all that surprising. A lot of supernaturals preferred to avoid humans. There was a town fifty miles north of the city that was inhabited and run by werewolves. It was a pack town. Although if what Wormby said was true, elves weren’t exactly supernaturals. They were a completely separate species, one that had been around long before we came into being.
I attracted a lot of attention from the people in the coffee shop. Maybe it was my outfit, maybe it was my mermaid red hair, more likely it was the fact that I wasn’t a local. If these people were elves using magic, or glamor, to hide their true appearance, then they were probably leery of outsiders, and I was definitely an outsider.
The girl working behind the counter was tall. I’m five nine in my bare feet. The four inch heels I was wearing put me over six feet, yet the girl behind the counter was just as tall, everyone in the place looked just as tall as me if not taller. What’s more, they didn’t smell human.
All supernaturals have a distinctive smell to them, werewolves smell like wet fur, vampires have a musty smell, gnomes smell like sugar, bogeymen smell like citrus. Mermaids smell like sea salt, at least that’s what I’ve been told.
Beyond the coffee, and donuts, and sugar, the people in this place smelled like flowers, and it wasn’t because they were all wearing perfume or cologne or aftershave. This was a natural smell, one humans couldn’t detect, but supernaturals could. I wasn’t sure if these people were elves or something else, but they definitely weren’t human.
“You’re not from around here,” the girl behind the counter said when I stepped in front of it.
She appeared to be in her mid twenties. Her hair was long and straight and black, or dark blue. One second it looked black, the next it looked dark blue. The same could be said for her eyes. I assumed that was the glamor, the magic, she was using to hide her true appearance.
“Just passing through,” I said.
“What can I get you?”
“I’ll take a large caramel mocha latte and six glazed donuts.”
Her blue black eyes widened in surprise. “Six?”
“I’m a mermaid,” I said. “If I don’t consume at least seven thousand calories a day, I lose weight.”
The girl smiled and set about fulfilling my order. She put my coffee in a large paper cup and covered it with a plastic lid. She put the donuts in a white paper bag and set everything on the counter in front of me. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Yeah. I need an elf that’s powerful enough to take on the world’s oldest vampire.”
“You need a what?” the girl said, pretending she didn’t understand me.
“An elf. Preferably one that’s powerful enough to take on the world’s oldest vampire.”
The girl didn’t seem to know what to say, so she looked at a man sitting by himself in front of the shop’s main window. He looked a little older than her, maybe ten years. He wore blue jeans, a red shirt, and black cowboy boots. His hair was short and black. Unlike the girl’s hair, the color didn’t seem to waiver, which told me that his magic, or glamor, or whatever you wanted to call it, was more powerful than hers.
“Forget what I said.” I grabbed my latte and donuts and headed for the man in the red shirt. I set them on his table and grabbed the chair across from him. “I take it you’re somebody important around here.”
“Jim,” the man said. “Jim Smith.”
He had been reading the local paper, but he folded it up and set it off to the side.
“Really?” I said. “You couldn’t come up with anything more original than Jim Smith?”
The man smiled, his face was similar to that of every other face in the place, except for myself of course. He had a long narrow face, with a sharp chin, high cheekbones, and a small mouth with full lips. He was clean shaven. I’m not sure he could’ve grown a beard if he wanted to. I couldn’t see a single whisker on his face and I’m a mermaid, which means my eyes are designed to see in the oceans dark hazy depths. I didn’t know if he was an elf, but he definitely wasn’t human.
“You would prefer I call myself something else?” His voice was very melodic, like that of an operatic tenor.
“You look more like an Elron to me, or maybe an Elrod, or even an Elward. You definitely don’t look like a Jim Smith.”
“Then I guess I’m going to have to change the name of my nursery from Smith’s Nursery to, what, Elrod’s Nursery?”
His eyes were pale blue, but occasionally they would darken, making me think that masking the color of their eyes was harder than masking the shape of their ears or the color of their hair.
“I’ve never understood why non-humans try so hard to hide who they are.” I didn’t want to call them supernaturals. Supernaturals descended from the Nephilim, and from what Wormby had said, elves weren’t descended from the Nephilim, they were around long before the Nephilim came into being. Non-humans seemed to be the best term.
“You don’t try to hide who you are?”
“I’m a mermaid. We’re not what you would call shy.”
Elrod, I just couldn’t bring myself to call him Jim Smith, looked at what I was wearing. “No, you certainly aren’t.”
“Just for the record, this isn’t my normal dress, I’m operating on a deadline and I didn’t have time to change.”
“What sort of a deadline?”
“The world’s oldest vampire, a guy that calls himself, the Count, is going to kill two of my friends if I don’t find him a playmate.”
“Someone as old and as powerful as him.”
“How old is he?”
“His grandfather was Nephilim. I assume you remember them.”
“Unless they bought some plants or fertilizer from me, I’m probably not familiar with them.”
I didn’t say anything. I just took the lid off my latte and took a sip. It was good, really good. I pulled one of the donuts out of the bag and took a bite. It was even better. “So, were these baked in a hollow tree?”
Elrod smiled. “What makes you think we’re elves?”
“You’re definitely not human.”
“You don’t smell human. And you’re having trouble masking your eye color. All of you are. A human probably wouldn’t notice. Most supernaturals probably wouldn’t notice, but I’m a mermaid and my eyes are designed to see in the ocean’s dark murky depths. Plus, I’m a trained detective. I notice things that others don’t.”
“Let’s assume for a minute that I am an elf. Why would I want to help you?”
I polished off one donut and started on a second, taking a minute to decide how I wanted to approach this. I could plead, appeal to his good side. I could threaten, force him to help me. In the end, I decided to take a third route, I decided to be my irresistible self.
“If you help me, you’ll get to hang out with me. Who wouldn’t want that?”
Elrod laughed, watched me polish off a second donut, and start on a third. “How many of those are you going to eat?”
“Like all mermaids, I have an extremely fast metabolism. If I don’t eat at least seven thousand calories a day, I’ll lose weight.” I took a couple of bites of my third donut and washed them down with a sip of my latte. “So, are you going to help me or not?”
“Tell me about this Count? You said he’s looking for a playmate.”
“He’s bored. I guess that happens when you’re five thousand years old.” I paused to see if Elrod would disagree. “But I guess you would know that better than I would.”
“I take pleasure in the little things,” Elrod said. “The sound of the birds chirping, the feel of the grass beneath my bare feet. Perhaps if this Count learned to do that, he wouldn’t bore so easily.”
“Why don’t you come with me and tell him that. Maybe you can show him how to be less of a homicidal prick.”
Elrod laughed. “Are all mermaids as blunt as you?”
“Can’t you take this Count on by yourself?”
I shrugged my shoulders, finished my third donut, and washed it down with a swig of my latte. “I prefer to avoid face to face conflicts where I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. Don’t get me wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the supernaturals I go up against, I can handle by myself, but this guy . . . .”
“Falls in the other one percent?”
“I spent ten years working as a cop, alongside humans, the one thing that taught me is it never hurts to have backup.”
“And you want me to be your backup.”
“I want the most powerful elf in this village to be my backup. If that’s you then great. If it’s somebody else, I’d appreciate it if you pointed them out.”
“Let’s assume I am an elf. What do you think I could do to this Count?”
I shrugged my shoulders, started in on a fourth donut. “Use your elfin magic on him?”
Elrod laughed. “My elfin magic? I think you’ve seen too many movies.”
At least he had stopped denying that he was an elf. That was progress.
“You expect me to believe the only power you have is the glamor you use to hide your real appearance?”
Elrod didn’t say anything, but he did let the glamor drop. His hair color went from black to dark blue. His eyes went from pale blue to dark blue. His ears went from rounded to pointed, his skin became so pale that it was almost translucent. It was also flawless, there wasn’t a wrinkle, mole, or blemish on him.
“I take it the jig’s up?” the girl behind the counter said.
“She’s a mermaid,” Elrod said. “She won’t give us away.”
“Not if you help me,” I added.
“Just because we’ve been around a few centuries doesn’t mean we have powers,” Elrod said.
“I’m not asking you to kill the guy. Just come and meet him. Maybe the two of you will hit it off. You can talk about the good old days, back when Ramses the Second ruled Egypt. If nothing else, you can sell him on the joys of walking barefoot in the grass.”
“In the moonlight?”
The elf made a joke, which was nice to hear. Most supernaturals didn’t make jokes, mermaids being the main exception. Vampires, werewolves, gnomes, bogeymen, wisps, and every other supernatural I met took themselves so seriously. Too seriously in my opinion.
“A real businessman wouldn’t pass up an opportunity like this,” I said. “This guy is loaded, travels with an entourage and everything. Imagine the amount of fertilizer he could purchase from you.”
“You’re not like most of the supernaturals I’ve met,” Elrod said. “Most supernaturals don’t go out of their way to help others. They’re mostly concerned about themselves.”
“Sounds like you haven’t met too many mermaids.”
“We’re forest dwellers, not too many mermaids live in the forest.”
“One of the people the Count is threatening to kill is a mermaid that grew up in Montana.”
“I thought mermaids had to live near the ocean.”
“We prefer to live near the ocean, for obvious reasons, but we don’t have to live there.”
“I’m afraid we’ve never paid much attention to the other species on this planet. We prefer to keep to ourselves.”
“Well, here’s your chance to reach out, make new friends.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“To help you out, I’d need to get approval from the council.”
“The town council?”
“You could call them that.”
“What do you call them?”
“The elf council. We have rules, laws, if you will, that we’re required to follow, just like humans. To interact with another species, at least on the level you’re requesting, requires council approval.”
“So, let’s go talk to the council.”
“They only meet once a week.”
“I think I mentioned this, but I’ll mention it again, I’m sort of on a deadline here. Can’t you call an emergency meeting or something? The way the others in the building have deferred to you, I’m guessing you’re somebody halfway important.”
“A long time ago, they referred to me as the elf king, today they just call me the mayor.”
“Are you the king of all elves, or just the ones that live around here?”
“Just the ones that live in this forest. Although king might not be an accurate term, since it implies absolute power and my power has never been absolute. We have laws, everyone is required to follow them, even the king.”
“Which is why you need to call an emergency meeting of the council. Preferably right now.”
Elrod nodded. “There’s a bed and breakfast on the south end of town, why don’t you get a room, change into something less . . . noticeable.”
“You think that will make a difference?”
“My people are set in their ways, some of them view supernaturals as . . . polluted. If you show up dressed like that, it will just confirm what they already think.”
If he expected me to argue, he was going to be disappointed. When you’re descended from fallen angels, you kind of are polluted.
I grabbed my last two donuts and latte, climbed in the Del Sol, and headed off in search of the bed and breakfast. I found it on the south end of town. It was a white clapboard house, two and half stories high, with a wraparound porch. Like everything else in town, it looked like it was built early in the twentieth century. A small sign in the front yard identified it as Claire’s Bed and Breakfast. When I say the sign was small, I mean it was small, almost as if Claire was trying to not attract customers.
Considering how the people that lived here were all elves that wanted as little to do with the rest of the world as possible, the bed and breakfast was probably here for appearance sake, and for any stray travelers that happened to wander through town.
I wasn’t planning on staying the night, after all, I was on a deadline. But I did need a place to change clothes. I kept an emergency duffel bag in the trunk of my car. Something I learned to do after I started working as a private detective. It contained some extra clothes and money. I also kept a locked box with a gun and some ammo in the trunk, although I rarely used it. When you can control the water that makes up a person’s body, you don’t really need a gun.
I grabbed the duffel bag out of the Del Sol’s trunk and headed into the bed and breakfast. I opened the front door and stepped into a foyer. To the left was a dining room and a kitchen. To the right was a sitting room. At the back of the foyer a steep stairway led to the second floor.
The furnishings were all turn of the century, turn of the twentieth century, not turn of the twenty-first century. Both the dining room and the sitting room contained bay windows with lush green ferns. To my right was a standing coat rack. Next to that was an umbrella holder and a small table with a silver bell. On the wall above the table was a wooden sign that said, ring bell for service.
I picked up the bell and rang it. It had a clear sweet tone, which made me think it had been made by elves. They had a reputation for being superb silversmiths.
A woman, who I took to be Claire, appeared at the top of the stairs, looking more than a bit surprised to find a customer standing in her foyer. She was tall and thin and athletic, like every other person that lived in town. She had a long thin face with a sharp chin. Her long hair was black, her ears rounded, but she was clearly an elf, using elfin magic to hid her true appearance.
“I need a room,” I said. “Not for the night. I just need to freshen up and change clothes before meeting your council.”
“You mean the town council?” Claire said.
“Town council. Elf council, call them what you want.”
“Elf . . . council?” Claire said, playing dumb.
“I’m sort of on a deadline. I don’t really have time for this we’re not elves, we’re just everyday run of the mill humans crap. If you could just show me to my room, I’ll be out of your hair as fast as I can.” Claire pointed to the hallway behind her. “First door on the right.”
I sprinted up the stairs, stopped next to Claire, and offered her my hand. “Low Campbell, ex-cop, private detective, mermaid.”
“Claire Smith,” Claire said.
“Got to be honest, you look more like a Gladrielle than a Claire.” Her eyes were dark blue, elf blue. I found it interesting that she wasn’t trying to mask the color of them. Masking the color of their eyes seemed to be hard to master, maybe she just couldn’t do it, or maybe she thought I wouldn’t notice.
The room she pointed me toward was dominated by a king sized bed with a white lace bedspread. White lace curtains covered the room’s large window. A lush fern hung in front of the window. Two more ferns on nightstands framed the bed. An old steamer trunk sat at the foot of the bed. In the middle of the opposite wall was a door leading to a bathroom.
I peeled off the outfit Titus insisted I wear and took a quick shower. Then I donned the most conservative outfit in my bag, a black pantsuit and a white silk blouse. One of the advantages to being a mermaid is our hair is always dry, even after a shower or a swim in the ocean.
Gladrielle and Elrod were waiting for me in the foyer, right at the bottom of the stairs. Neither was using glamor to mask their appearance, both had dark blue hair, dark blue eyes, pointed ears, and flawless skin.
“Do I get my meeting?” I asked as I descended the stairs, my bag in my right hand.
“You get your meeting,” Elrod said. “But if I were you, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”
“Because your people prefer not to get involved with polluted species.”
“Some of us prefer to not get involved with anybody. Humans or supernaturals.”
“I just need one person, not the whole town.” I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked at Gladrielle. “What do I owe you?”
“Nothing, you weren’t here that long.”
“Shall we go?” Elrod said.
I nodded and led the way out the door. Elrod fell in behind me, Gladrielle followed him. “You on the town council, or the high council, or whatever you guys call it?” I asked her.
“I am,” she said. “So is Jim.”
I wrinkled my brow. “Jim?”
“She means me,” Elrod said. He turned to Gladrielle. “She says I look more like an Elrod.”
Gladrielle laughed. “You don’t know a lot about elves do you?”
“Nope, but I’m a quick learner.” I looked at Elrod. “So what are my chances of convincing your council to help me?”
“Slim and none. And if you listen real hard, you can hear Slim riding out of town.”
The town council, or elf council, or whatever they called themselves, didn’t meet at city hall, assuming the town even had a city hall. They met in a small park in the middle of town.
There was a large gazebo in the middle of the park and that’s where we headed. There were half a dozen people waiting there by the time Elrod, Gladrielle, and I arrived. Three of them were men, three of them were women. I’m not sure what that said about elf society, or if it said anything at all.
The six people waiting for us were using glamor, or magic, or whatever you wanted to call it, to mask their true appearance, doing their best to look human. When they saw that Elrod and Gladrielle weren’t hiding their true appearance from me, they dropped the glamor, revealing the dark blue eyes, the dark blue hair, the pointed ears, and the flawless skin.
“What’s this about?” a woman asked.
Like everyone else, she was tall and thin and beautiful. Like everyone else, she appeared to be around thirty years old. She was wearing a dark green track suit with matching sneakers, making it look like we had interrupted her afternoon jog. Did people that didn’t age even need to work out? In truth, I wasn’t sure. Vamps didn’t, but then vamps were, well, vamps.
“This is Low Campbell,” Elrod said, introducing me to the others. “She wants our help.”
“She’s not human,” track suit said, looking me over.
“I’m a mermaid,” I said.
“So you’re one of those.” Track suit made no attempt to hide the contempt in her voice.
By one of those, I assumed she meant a supernatural. Apparently, she was one of the people Elrod was talking about when he said that some of his people viewed supernaturals as a polluted species.
“What kind of help do you need?” a man asked.
“What difference does it make?” track suit said. “You know the rule. We don’t get involved with . . . her type.”
“Some friends of hers are being threatened,” Elrod said. “By a vampire. A very old vampire.”
“Are your friends elves?” track suit asked me.
“So they’re like you.” If a voice could drip with disdain when using the word you, hers certainly did.
“One’s a mermaid like me,” I said. “The other is a . . . .”
Track suit held up a hand silencing me. “We don’t really care what you call yourselves. You all come from the same corrupt source.”
“I’m willing to help her,” Elrod said. “But our law says I need the council’s permission.”
“Why would you want to help her?” track suit asked, adding more disdain to her voice when she used the word her.
“She’s a mermaid,” Elrod said. “Mermaids have human fathers, which means she’s got human blood in her.”
“You’re saying that she’s not irredeemable?”
“In all of our years, how many supernaturals have come here asking us to help them save their friends?”
“He makes a point,” the man that spoke earlier said.
“I understand helping humans,” track suit said. “Like us, they were made in the Creator’s image. But her kind is an abomination, they weren’t made in the Creator’s image. In point of fact, they shouldn’t even exist.”
“And the world would be a better place if you just let us kill each other off?”
Track suit folded her arms across her chest and glared at me. “Your words, not mine.”
“Why can’t you handle this vampire by yourself?” Gladrielle asked me.
“The longer a vampire has been around the more powerful he is,” I said.
“And this one has been around a long time?”
“His creator’s creator was Nephilim.”
“Haven’t heard that name for awhile,” a woman that had been silent said.
“Creatures that should never have existed,” track suit said. She glared at me. “Like her and her friends.”
“I take it you’re voting no,” Elrod said.
“Of course I am,” track suit said. “The world will be a better place when her kind kill each other off.”
It was pretty clear that some of the elves, like track suit, divided the world into two camps, beings that were created by God, like angels, and elves, and humans, and beings that shouldn’t exist, like the Nephilim and their descendants, supernaturals. The fact that we were part human seemed to make no difference to her.
“You’ll get no argument from me,” I said. “Most supernaturals are irredeemable, but one of the people I’m trying to help is a mermaid. Like me. She’s twenty-one years old, her father is human, and I’m not sure you can put her in the irredeemable category. Not yet anyway.”
Track suit grunted. “You’re honest. I’ll give you that much.”
“What do you expect us to do?” Gladrielle asked. “If we agree to help you?”
“I don’t know. Use your elfin magic to put the fear of God into the Count.”
“The Count?” track suit said.
“That’s what everybody calls him, what he calls himself.”
“Is he harming humans?” the man that spoke earlier asked.
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“He doesn’t dine on them?”
“He prefers to dine on other supernaturals.”
“Sounds like we should keep him around,” track suit said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s doing the world a favor. The more of your kind he gets rid of, the better off the world will be. No offense.”
“None taken. But then I don’t offend easily.”
“You don’t expect us to kill this creature do you?” a man that hadn’t spoken asked me. “Because we don’t kill, it goes against everything we believe.”
“To be honest, I don’t care whether you kill him or not, I just need you to put the fear of God into him. Convince him to leave my friends alone.”
“I’m not sure we’re capable of doing that,” Gladrielle said. “Most of our abilities are defensive in nature. We can protect ourselves, but we’re not really good at threatening people. Or as you put it, putting the fear of God into them.”
“I could talk to him,” Elrod said.
Gladrielle looked at Elrod. “And say what? We all remember the Nephilim. You couldn’t reason with them. They were full of themselves, so much so that they thought they were gods.”
“He’s not Nephilim,” I said.
“He’s not far removed.”
I nodded. “True. He’s got the eyes of a Nephilim. And he is full of himself.”
Track suit studied me for a second. “You show uncommon wisdom for a creature of your . . . background.”
“This is why I think we should help her,” Elrod said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve dealt with supernaturals. They may have changed.”
Track suit looked at Elrod. “Why would they have changed?”
“If you were to trace her linage, I think you’d see that she has more human blood flowing through her veins than anything.”
Track suit grunted. “The Nephilim had human blood flowing through their veins, but it was still polluted by their corrupt fathers. I’ll admit that hers may not be as polluted as theirs was, but it’s still polluted. Her hair and eyes tell you that.”
“We can’t avoid supernaturals forever,” Elrod said. “Their numbers continue to grow, at a much faster rate than ours.”
Sounded like elves did have kids, they were just rare, kind of like mermaids.
Track suit looked at me. “How did you find out about us anyway?”
“I’m a detective. Finding things is what I do.”
“I bet it was the odious little imp, the one that keeps popping in and trying to have sex with me.”
I almost burst out laughing, picturing Wormby hitting on track suit. “He has a bucket list. I suspect doing it with an elf is at the top of that list.”
Track suit wrinkled her brow. “Bucket list?”
“Things you want to do before you kick the bucket.”
“Kick the bucket?”
“Die,” Elrod said. “Kicking the bucket is a slang term mortals use for dying.”
“I can understand why he’d want to do it with me,” track suit said. “But why would he ever think that I’d want to do it with him?”
I didn’t have an answer to that question, so I just shrugged my shoulders.
“I think we’re getting off point here,” Gladrielle said. “We need to decide if we’re going to get involved with this young woman and these other supernaturals, or continue to avoid them.”
“What do you think we should do?” a woman who hadn’t spoken asked Gladrielle.
“I think Jim’s right. Their numbers are increasing, not as fast as the humans, but they are increasing, which means we can’t avoid them forever. It wouldn’t hurt to establish some kind of a relationship with them.”
“They have no leader,” track suit said. “They’re just a bunch of wild dogs, running around untethered. You can’t establish a relationship with a pack of wild dogs.”
“Certainly not with all of them.” Gladrielle looked at me. “But we can establish relationships with some of the more reasonable ones.”
“Waste of time.” Track suit looked at me. “No offense.”
“None taken.” I wouldn’t get their help if I got upset or angry. It would just prove that track suit was right, that me and my kind were little more than wild dogs. I needed to remain cool and calm. I needed to seem rational and reasonable.
“If there’s no more discussion on this issue, I think it’s time we vote,” Elrod said. “Do we help the mermaid save her friends, or do we send her on her way, tell her to find help elsewhere?”
“Send her on her way,” track suit said. She stepped out of the gazebo and took off across the park’s freshly cut grass, determined to finish her jog.
“I didn’t know immortals needed to jog,” I said to no one in particular.
“We may not get sick or grow old,” Gladrielle said with a smile. “But if we sit too much, and eat too much, we can still get fat.”
“What about the rest of you?” Elrod asked the remaining five council members. “Do we help the mermaid or send her packing?”
“Send her packing,” the man that had been silent said.
“I’ll leave it up to you,” the second man said to Elrod. “If you want to help her, you have my blessing.”
Elrod turned to the two women that were still there. “I vote no,” the one that had been silent said.
“I vote no,” the one that had spoke briefly said. She looked at me. “I’m sorry.”
Elrod looked at the third man, to see what he had to say. He answered. “I think we should help her.”
“I think we all know where I stand on this issue,” Elrod said.
That meant it was three votes in favor of helping me and four votes against helping me, with Gladrielle still needing to cast her vote.
“What happens if the vote is a tie?” I asked.
“Then I’m free to do as I wish,” Elrod said. “Assuming the vote ends in a tie.”
He turned to Gladrielle, as did the rest of us, waiting to see how she would vote. She had already talked about establishing relationships with some of the more reasonable supernaturals, so I assumed that she was going to vote yes. Turned out that I was wrong. Sort of wrong.
“I’m going to vote no,” she said, looking at Elrod. “As in no, you shouldn’t help her. But I’m voting yes that we should help her, but I should be the one that helps her.”
“Why you?” Elrod asked.
“Because I know the man she’s talking about.”
Got to admit, I didn’t see that one coming. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised. The Count had been around for thousands of years, just like Elrod and Gladrielle. It wasn’t unreasonable to assume that at some point in their long long lives, they had run into each other.
“You know this vampire?” a surprised Elrod said. “This Count?”
“We met along time ago, in ancient Egypt. You might even say we were friends. Of course that was when he was still human. Given the chance, I think I can convince him to let her friends go.”
Elrod nodded like he understood and turned to me. “Looks like I was wrong. Slim didn’t leave town after all.”
Elrod turned and left, as did the rest of the council, leaving me and Gladrielle alone.
“So you knew the Count,” I said, mostly because I didn’t know what else to say.
Gladrielle smiled, but it was a sad smile. “A long time ago. My people lived along the banks of the Nile River. In what was known as the Upper Kingdom.”
“That’s going back a few years.”
I tried to remember my ancient history. Before the pyramids had been built, before ancient Egypt became one kingdom, it had been two kingdoms, the Upper Kingdom, and the Lower Kingdom. I just couldn’t remember if the Upper Kingdom had been up north, or up river, which would’ve put it south of the Lower Kingdom, not that it really mattered, what mattered was that this had happened over five thousand years ago.
“To you it’s ancient history,” Gladrielle said. “To me it seems like yesterday.”
“I’m not sure the Count feels that way. He seems to have trouble remembering his life back then. He told me that he thinks the human brain wasn’t designed to hold that much information.”
Gladrielle left the gazebo and headed across the park, strolling. I fell in alongside of her. “But then he’s not human anymore.”
“He certainly isn’t.” Gladrielle didn’t say anything else. She just strolled through the park, lost in thought.
“So you knew him when he was human.”
“He was a physician?”
Gladrielle looked at me, surprised I knew that. “How did you . . . .”
“He wears this gold ring. It has an ankh on it. I asked him about it. He said that the symbol was used to identify physicians in ancient Egypt.”
“That’s how I met him. His little sister was dying and he couldn’t help her. He showed up at our village one evening, hoping that we had some sort of elfin magic that could save her.”
“He knew you were elves?”
“The world was different back then. There weren’t nearly as many humans as there are today. We didn’t feel the need to protect ourselves by hiding who we were.”
“Did your people help him?”
“We don’t grow old or get sick. Aside from setting the occasional broken bone, we have no need to master the healing arts.”
“So you couldn’t help him.”
“One of us went with him to take away his sister’s pain. That was the best we could do.”
“Let me guess, you were the one that went with him.”
Gladrielle nodded. “That’s how we met.”
“You think he’ll remember you?”
“He’ll remember me.”
“You seem pretty sure.”
Gladrielle smiled, another sad smile, then she looked at me. “That’s because I’m the reason he became a vampire.”
I didn’t ask Gladrielle why she was responsible for the Count becoming a vampire and she didn’t volunteer, not until we were in my car heading to the city.
“You can ask me if you want,” she said, breaking the silence. “I don’t mind talking about it.”
I glanced at her and smiled. “I am a mermaid, and we do have a reputation for being, how shall I put this, curious.”
Gladrielle returned my smile, although it was a sad smile. “He fell in love with me, not an uncommon occurrence, humans falling in love with elves. They do seem to find us physically appealing. But I suspect you have some experience with that.”
“Some,” I admitted. “But I’m not sure how his falling in love with you turned him into a vampire.”
“When he told me that he loved me, I rejected him, told him that it would never work out.”
“Because . . . .” I said, when she looked out the side window, lost in her memories.
“Because he was mortal and I’m immortal.”
“So he figured if he became immortal, the two of you could be together.”
Gladrielle nodded. “That’s pretty much it.”
“But it didn’t work out that way.”
Gladrielle smiled, another sad smile. “I forgot to tell him how my people viewed the Nephilim and their descendants.”
“Did you love him?”
Supernaturals, myself included, might not be capable of love, but elves had no such problem. One of the things that separated the Nephilim and their descendants from angels, and elves, and humans. One of the reasons they viewed us as polluted. They were capable of loving someone else, from what I had seen, we weren’t.
“I liked him,” Gladrielle said. “He was, kind. At least when he was human.”
“But you didn’t love him.”
“How I felt was irrelevant.”
“So you did love him.”
“Didn’t matter. He had been corrupted. We could never be together.”
Did you tell him that?”
“Eventually, when he refused to give up.”
“How did he take it?”
“He turned and walked out of the room.”
“And I haven’t seen him since.”
We rode in silence for awhile. Mostly because I didn’t know what to say. Her version of the story certainly made it sound like she was responsible for the Count becoming a vampire. I say her version of the story because one thing being a cop had taught me was that no two versions of a story are the same. Everybody has a slightly different version of the same story. For all I knew, she was nothing more than a footnote in the Count’s life. He might not even remember her.
“So what kind of powers do you have?” I asked Gladrielle. “Aside from the ability to hide your true appearance and make humans fall in love with you.”
“I can take away pain.”
“Which is why you were the one that tried to help the Count’s sister.”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“I can control energy.”
She held out a hand, palm up. A few seconds later, a ball of fire appeared floating above her palm, looking just like a miniature sun.
“Can all elves do that or just you?”
“We all excel at different things, the same way all humans are unique. It’s how the Creator designs his creations.”
Which according to track suit and some of the other elves, didn’t include me or my kind. Although in truth, I didn’t really think of vampires, and werewolves, and gnomes, and bogeymen, as my kind. We didn’t have a whole lot in common with each other than the fact we weren’t human.
“Does the Count know you live around here?” I asked Gladrielle.
“That’s a good question. My guess is no.”
“How do you think he’ll react when he sees you?”
“Another good question.”
“Which you don’t have an answer to.”
“You’ve seen him more recently than I have. How do you think he’ll react?”
“He claimed that he barely remembered his life before he became a vampire. That being said, other vamps have told me that they never forget when they were turned. They say it’s the most vivid memory in their minds.”
“I wonder why that is.”
“When they’re turned, their senses change, which changes how they see, hear, and smell the world around them.”
“Then I suspect he’ll remember me. One of the first things he did after being turned was to come to my village. When he got there, he told me what he did, told me that now we could be together, forever.”
“At which point you told him how your people viewed the Nephilim and their offspring.”
“And when I did, he walked out the door without looking back.”
“I’m guessing he’ll remember you. Although he might pretend that he doesn’t.”
“How do you think he’ll react to seeing me?”
“Now that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it.” I glanced at Gladrielle. “Either way, I think your showing up will fulfill my end of our deal.”
“What exactly was your deal?”
“He gave me forty-eight hours to find someone who’s been around as long as him, someone who could amuse him.”
“Otherwise he would kill your friends?”
Gladrielle leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. “This should be interesting.”
I could only nod in agreement. “Yes it should.”
It was early evening by the time we reached the city. I didn’t know if the Count slept during the day like other vampires or not. For all I knew, he was out surfing. He certainly looked the part. I also didn’t know how he’d react to seeing Gladrielle.
Yeah, I know, she was going by the name Claire these days. She just didn’t look like a Claire to me. She looked like a Gladrielle, especially when she stopped using glamor to hide her true appearance. Speaking of which.
“You sleeping?” I asked.
Her eyes were still closed, had been closed for quite awhile. “No.”
“Do immortals even need to sleep?”
Gladrielle opened her eyes and smiled. “Just because we don’t get sick or grow old doesn’t mean we don’t get tired.”
“Probably not as tired as humans get.”
“How come there were no children in your town?”
“It’s not easy for us to get pregnant.”
“Kind of like mermaids.”
“We can reproduce, just not in great numbers.”
“How did your people come into being?”
“The same way Adam did. The first of us were created from the dust of the earth.”
“Maybe that’s why your people have such an affinity for nature.”
“The Book of Genesis says that after Cain killed Abel, God marked him, so everybody would know who he was.”
“I’m familiar with the story.”
“Can I assume that elves were the people the mark was for?”
Gladrielle looked at me. “Are all supernaturals as curious as you?”
I laughed. “Probably not. I’m a mermaid, we’re naturally curious. Some say too curious. My friend’s need to see the world’s oldest vampire is what got her into this mess.”
Gladrielle grunted. “World’s oldest vampire.”
“Speaking of curiosity. I’ve have another question. One that no one has ever been able to answer.”
“And you think I can answer it?”
“If you can’t then nobody can.”
“What’s the question?”
“Was Eve a blond, a brunette, or a redhead?”
Gladrielle looked at me and laughed. Not a sad laugh. This was a genuine laugh.
“You might want to start using that glamor again,” I said. “The blue hair won’t attract attention, but the pointed ears and flawless skin might.”
Gladrielle looked around, noticed that traffic was picking up, and changed her appearance. Her shiny blue hair became a mousy brown. Her flawless skin developed freckles.
“Better?” she said, looking at me.
I nodded. “Do you want stop by my place, change clothes?”
She seemed puzzled by my question. “Why would I want to change clothes?”
“When most girls look up an old flame, they like to dress up.”
“I’m not sure. To be honest. I’ve never had an old flame that I needed to look up. I just know that’s how the humans do it.”
“And you know this how?”
“I’m a bit of a movie buff, and in the movies, the girls always dress up before looking up an old flame.”
“I thought you were going to tell me because that’s the way your girlfriends do it.”
“I don’t actually have a lot of girlfriends. Not human girlfriends anyway.”
“Why is that?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Probably because I’m not human.”
“Even if I wanted to change, I didn’t bring any other clothes with me.”
“You can borrow something from my closet. We’re about the same size.”
“You think I should change?” She was wearing jeans and a tee shirt, loose fitting jeans and a baggy yellow tee shirt.
“I would, but then I’m a mermaid and we like to stand out from the crowd.”
Gladrielle looked at what she was wearing and nodded. “Maybe I should change.”
As soon as we reached the city, we swung by my condo so Gladrielle could change.
“What should I wear?” she said. She was surveying my closet, which was stuffed with a little bit of everything.
“What were you wearing the last time you met?”
“An off the shoulder white linen . . . .”
She uttered a word I wasn’t familiar with. I couldn’t even tell you if the word was elfish or ancient Egyptian or something else.
“I’m not familiar with that word,” I said. “I’ve only been around for thirty years, and I only speak one language.”
“I’m not sure how to translate it,” Gladrielle said. “Sarong maybe.”
I dug through my stuff, pulled out a blue latex dress, and held it in front of Gladrielle. “Try this.”
It was a simple design, sleeveless with a scoop neckline. It stopped short of mid thigh, leaving a lot of leg on display, and like me, Gladrielle had a lot of leg to display. Plus it was tight, it would show off her figure and match her dark blue hair and eyes. I found a pair of dark blue heels that would match and handed them to her.
“I’m not used to high heels,” she said.
“Really? Five thousand years old and you’ve never worn high heels?”
“I didn’t say I had never worn them, I just said that I wasn’t used to them.” Gladrielle took what I gave her and headed into the bathroom to wash and change. When she reappeared, she looked at me and said, “Aren’t you changing?”
I was still wearing the black pantsuit and white silk blouse I donned for my meeting with the elf council. Since this meeting was business and not pleasure, I saw no reason to change. Besides, with Gladrielle decked out in form fitting latex, no one would even notice that I was there. There aren’t too many females on this planet that can overshadow me, but Gladrielle was definitely one of the few that could.
“Tonight isn’t about me,” I said.
“I suppose it isn’t.” She ran her hands across her stomach and hips. “How do I look?”
“Like the immortal you are.”
“You think he’ll remember me?”
“If he doesn’t then he was right. The human brain isn’t designed to hold five thousand years worth of memories.”
It was dark by the time we reached O Positive. I parked the Del Sol in the lot across the street from the club and opened the car door.
“You can drop the glamor,” I said as we climbed out of the car. “The Count is controlling everyone around here. I doubt if they’ll remember what they see or hear.”
Gladrielle nodded and let the glamor fade. Her mousy brown hair turned dark blue, as did her eyes. Her skin became blemish free. Her ears grew pointed.
I noticed that her skin and hair sparkled at night, although I couldn’t tell if she was reflecting the streetlights that were shining on her or giving off her own glow. Considering her ability to make a miniature sun that she could hold in her hand, my guess was that she was making herself sparkle. Humans had their way of dolling up, I guess elves had theirs.
“I can see why he fell in love with you,” I said. “I’d fall in love with you myself, if I was capable of falling in love.”
We turned and headed for the club. Gladrielle almost stepped in front of an oncoming car, forcing me to grab her and yank her back.
“Sorry,” she said. “Been awhile since I’ve been to the city.”
“Let’s just say the horseless carriage had yet to be invented.”
“I suppose from your perspective that must seem like yesterday.”
We waited for a break in the traffic then hustled across the street. The bouncer in front of the building’s exterior elevator was exactly where I left him last night, standing as still as a statue, staring at nothing. He didn’t even seem to be aware of our presence.
“Is he doing this?” Gladrielle asked me.
“You mean the Count?”
She smirked, finding his new name amusing. “Yeah, the Count.”
“All vampires have the ability to compel people, but he’s a bit better at it than the others.”
“Because he’s had more years to practice.”
I pressed the elevator’s up button. The elevator was already there, so the doors opened immediately, probably hadn’t been used since I stepped off it last night. Gladrielle and I stepped on it. I pressed the up button. The elevator doors closed and we headed up. Whether the Count was ready or not, it was time for him to meet his past. In all her stunning immortal glory.
We stepped off the elevator and onto the first floor of the club. There were people on the dance floor, but they were frozen. What’s more, they were the same people that had been there last night.
The colored lights above the chrome dance floor were still changing colors and music was still pounding out of the many speakers built into the club’s walls, both being controlled by computers that weren’t subject to the Count’s powers.
“It’s very noisy,” Gladrielle yelled. “Do you think anyone would mind if I turned the music off?”
“If you can find the controls,” I said.
Gladrielle waved a hand. The music stopped playing, the lights stopped changing color. The green lights were left on, but she waved her hand again and the blue lights replaced them.
“Much better,” she said.
“How did you do that?”
“Electricity is energy,” she said.
I nodded. “And you can control energy the way I can control water.”
We passed through the crowd of dancers, and from what I could see, they hadn’t moved a muscle since last night. I could see them blink, could even see their muscles twitching, the Count just wasn’t letting them move. He was compelling them to remain still. Whether they wanted to or not.
We headed up the stairs to the second floor. The bartenders were frozen behind the bar, the people at the tables were frozen, and the waitresses were frozen, their trays still in their hands.
“So where’s he at?” Gladrielle asked.
“One more floor.”
We headed up to the third floor, slipping past the human bodyguard that remained frozen at the bottom of the chrome staircase. As we climbed, I moved in front of Gladrielle, so the Count couldn’t see who was behind me. Although the glow she was giving off might give him a clue as to who was there.
The Count was still sitting in Titus’s chair. Titus was standing next to him, his eyes were glowing red, which told me that he hadn’t eaten since last night. I also noticed that the Count’s entourage was down to six people, three males, three females. Titus might not have eaten since last night but it was pretty clear that the Count had. Six people in just under twenty-four hours, that wasn’t just eating, that was gorging. If vampires could get fat, the Count would have to turn sideways just to squeeze through doors.
Savanna was still there, but she had lost her top. She was standing in front of the Count dancing, grinding her hips with her hands laced behind her head and her bare breasts bouncing. Like everyone else in the place, save for Titus, she had a blank look on her face.
I couldn’t help but wonder if she was even aware of what she was doing. I suspect she was, like everyone else, she just wasn’t strong enough to overcome the the compulsions the Count was forcing upon her.
I figured this was why the Count had gone through so much of his entourage. Exerting control over this many people for this long a period required a lot of energy, and for a vampire that required a lot of food. Blood if you preferred.
“It’s nice to see you haven’t killed anybody yet,” I said. I glanced at what was left of his entourage. “Well, anybody I care about.”
“I’m a man of my word. I promised you forty-eight hours.” He stretched his neck to see who was standing behind me. “So, have you brought me a playmate?”
“I have, and I’ll show you who it is once you let Savanna go.”
The Count watched Savanna grind her hips for a few seconds then sighed. “I was growing bored with her anyway. She’s been doing the same move for the last twelve hours. The girl clearly needs to take some dance lessons.”
He waved his fingers and Savanna seemed to come out of her trance. She stopped grinding her hips and lowered her hands, then she looked at me. That’s when I took off my jacket and tossed it to her. “Go home and don’t come back until it’s safe.”
Savanna nodded, slipped into my jacket, and hustled down the stairs.
“All right,” the Count said. “Once again, I’ve held up my end of our deal. Now, it’s time to see if you’ve held up yours.”
“Oh, I’ve more than held up my end.” I stepped aside, so the Count could see who was behind me.
“Hello Eradu,” Gladrielle said. “It’s been awhile.”
The glow she was giving off brightened, making her look every bit like the immortal that she was. I wondered if she did it on purpose, or if it was a subconscious reaction to seeing an old flame. Assuming the Count was an old flame. He might have been in love with her, but that didn’t mean that she had been in love with him. Although the way she seemed to get lost in thought when she talked about him made me think that the attraction hadn’t been one sided.
“The voice is vaguely familiar,” the Count said. “But I’m afraid I can’t see your face. Don’t suppose you could turn the wattage down a little bit.”
He placed his hand in front of his eyes, shielding them from Gladrielle’s glow. It made me wonder how he thought they could ever be together if he couldn’t even look at her when she used her powers. Of course, when he decided to become a vampire, he probably didn’t understand all the side effects that came with the immortality. According to Gladrielle, he just wanted to be immortal. Like her.
Gladrielle turned the wattage down, so she looked normal again. Well, as normal as an immortal elf dressed in a skin tight latex dress was likely to look.
The Count stared at Gladrielle, finally, he said, “Long time no see.”
The way Titus’s eyes were glowing bright red, it was pretty clear that he needed to eat. I figured now was a good time to take advantage of Gladrielle’s being there, take advantage of the distraction she provided, and do what I had been hired to do. Namely, protect Titus.
“You mind if Titus gets something to eat?” I said.
“Yeah, fine,” the Count said, without taking his eyes off Gladrielle.
“Go,” I said to Titus.
Titus bowed to the Count, brushed past me, and headed down the chrome staircase. He didn’t like drinking cold blood from a plastic bag. He preferred it to be ninety-eight point six degrees, no more, no less, but I suspect he would make an exception in this case.
“You can go too,” the Count said to me. “In fact, everyone can go.”
What was left of the Count’s entourage, turned and followed Titus down the stairs. I started to follow them, but Gladrielle grabbed my arm.
“She stays,” Gladrielle said.
The Count bowed his head. “As you wish.”
“Mind if I ask where she found you?”
“Where do you usually find elves?”
“In a forest or along a river.”
“That’s where she found me.”
“You look good,” the Count said.
“You look . . . different,” Gladrielle said.
The Count ran his hand through his spiked hair. “I stopped shaving my head. The style kind of disappeared with the pharaohs.”
“It’s not just the hair. You never used to hide your eyes. At least not when you were human.”
“Immortality comes at a price, at least for some of us.”
“My people have paid a price for our immortality,” Gladrielle said.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“We can’t reproduce as fast as the humans can.”
The Count laughed. “I’ve never really considered that to be a bad thing. Children are a nuisance.”
“That’s why we would’ve never worked out. We’re too different. Especially now.”
“Sounds like you haven’t changed your mind about us.”
“Gladrielle shook her head. “No.”
“Then why are you here?”
Gladrielle nodded at me. “She asked for my help, said you threatened to kill a couple of her friends.”
“Did she tell you that her friends aren’t human. They’re supernaturals, just like me. In fact, one of them is exactly like me.”
“You’re still bitter,” Gladrielle said. “I thought maybe time would change that.”
The Count rose to his feet. “Of course I’m bitter. I became this . . . this creature for you, for us. You think I would’ve done this if I’d have known it wouldn’t have made a difference?”
“You could’ve asked me. You should’ve asked me.”
“Why do I get the feeling that this is the same argument you guys were having the last time you talked,” I said.
“Because it is,” Gladrielle said. She glanced at me, then turned back to the Count. “Go home, Eradu, wherever your home is these days, go home and leave these people alone.”
“They’re not people,” the Count said. “They’re abominations, just like me. That is the word you used to describe me isn’t it? The night I told you what I did.”
“The beings you spring from were made by those that rebelled against God, which makes them and their off-spring abominations. And yes, that includes you. ”
“Since we’re all abominations, why would you care if one of us kills another. It would be one less abomination in the world, which from your perspective, would be a good thing.”
“Low asked for our help to save her friends. When’s the last time you tried to help someone?”
The Count didn’t respond, prompting Gladrielle to respond for him.” That’s what I thought. From what I hear, all you do these days is hurt people.”
“Not people,” the Count said. “Abominations. I don’t harm humans.”
“You used to.”
“That was a long time ago. I was still learning to control my . . . compulsions.”
“How long have you kept those humans on the two lower floors frozen?”
“What difference does it make. I’m not hurting them.”
“You’re not letting them lead their lives, but then you always did like to show off.”
The Count scowled at me. “I should make you pay for bringing her here.”
I held up both hands. “You said you were bored, then you gave me forty-eight hours to find someone that wouldn’t bore you. Whether you’re glad to see her or not, you gotta admit, she’s not boring.”
“Release the humans,” Gladrielle said. “Let them go home.”
“Fine,” the Count said. “They’re released.”
I could hear noise below us, people talking and shuffling around. I moved to the chrome railing and leaned over it. The dancers on the first floor were moving and talking, heading for the exits. It would probably be a few months before they returned to the club. But then that was one of the dangers of hanging out at a vamp club.
There was even a sign inside the elevator that led to the club, pointing out that the club was owned and frequented by supernaturals, and that one entered at their own risk, but I suspect that was one of the club’s main attractions. Humans were always looking for that next big thrill, and from their prospective, hanging out with vampires was a definite thrill.
“The humans are leaving,” I said.
“Thank you,” Gladrielle said to the Count.
“Since when have you and your people felt the need to help an abomination?”
I felt I should protest, since I was the abomination he was referring to, but I had been called a lot worse in my ten years as a cop, so I remained quiet.
“Five thousand years ago, her kind was an abomination, but that was then and this is now.”
“And?” the Count said.
“And she’s got more human blood in her than her ancestors.”
“So that means what? She isn’t an abomination?”
“It means I’m no longer sure,” Gladrielle said. “Supernaturals don’t ask for help to save others. At least they didn’t until now.”
“What do the rest of your people think?”
“Some of them haven’t changed their opinions of supernaturals, some are no longer sure, like me.”
The Count smiled. “So there’s hope for me yet.”
Gladrielle paused for a second, almost as if she didn’t want to say what she was about to say. “There’s hope for her, and others like her, but not for you. You’re too close to the Nephilim and the fallen angels that created them.”
“I was human once.”
“Until you allowed yourself to be turned into something else.”
“So, what, I’m irredeemable?”
“When’s the last time you tried to save someone’s life?” The Count didn’t answer, not that Gladrielle expected him to. “That’s what I thought. I’m guessing you haven’t tried to help someone since you were human.”
“So the only reason you came was to help others. You didn’t come to see me, to see how I was doing?”
“I’m the reason you became what you are, which means I’m responsible for everything you do, for everyone you hurt.”
The Count rose to his feet and moved toward Gladrielle. “You want to know what I think? I think you’re here because you wanted to see me. I think you’re here because you still care about me.”
“And I think you need to stop right there.” Gladrielle began to glow, brighter and brighter, forcing the Count to stop and shield his eyes with his hand.
He held up both hands and retreated. “I’m backing up, turn down the wattage, please.”
Gladrielle let the glow fade, until she was her normal blue haired, blue eyed, flawless elfish self.
The Count returned to Titus’s chair and sat. “So let me get this straight. If I hadn’t been causing trouble, threatening to kill people, you wouldn’t be here?”
“I am responsible for what you’ve become. At least in part. I shouldn’t have led you on, let you think there could’ve ever been something between us, but I liked the attention. That’s always been my biggest failing.”
“An elf admitting that she’s not perfect, now there’s a first.”
“You’re mocking me,” Gladrielle said. “Still, it’s probably the least cruel thing you’ve done since you arrived in this part of the world.”
“When it comes to cruelty, I’m just getting started.”
Gladrielle wrinkled her brow. “I don’t understand?”
“Neither do I,” I said.
“It’s very simple,” the Count said. “If killing people is what it takes to get you here, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
“You wouldn’t,” Gladrielle said.
The Count grinned, actually, it was more of a sneer. “Why not? After all, I am an abomination. In fact, I think I’ll start with your little friend here.”
He stood up and faced at me, then he began advancing toward me.
“Don’t,” Gladrielle said. “Please.”
The Count didn’t listen, so I reached out with my mind, until I could feel the water inside his body, inside the individual cells that made up his body. Then I ordered that water to freeze.
I couldn’t kill the Count by freezing him, but I could incapacitate him until he thawed out, which would give me enough time to get away. Of course, that was assuming I could freeze him faster than he could bite me. Considering he was only five feet away from me, that was a big assumption.
Before I could freeze the Count from the inside out, before the Count could bite me and drain the blood from my body, a fireball flew between us, forcing the Count to stop his advance toward me.
“You’re not going to hurt her,” Gladrielle said. “You’re not going to hurt anyone, not while I’m here.”
“Then it looks like you’re going to be here awhile,” the Count said. “Because as soon as you leave, I’m going on a killing spree the likes of which the world has never seen.”
Gladrielle made another fireball, a big one, which sat in the palm of her hand. “I could kill you right now.”
The Count laughed. “We both known that’s not going happen. You’re an elf, and your kind doesn’t believe in killing, not even abominations like myself.”
“You’re right,” Gladrielle said. “I won’t kill you. But if you try to harm her, I will hurt you.”
“The only way you can keep me from killing is to follow me around twenty-four seven. Personally, I’d love it, but we both know you don’t want to do that.”
The fireball in Gladrielle’s hand faded. She had the power to hurt the Count, maybe even kill him, but she didn’t have the will. Which from my perspective was too bad. She could solve a lot of problems for a lot of people, myself included, if she used her power to get rid of the Count.
“You seem to have a dilemma,” the Count said to Gladrielle. “You don’t want me to hurt anyone, but the only way you can prevent me from hurting others is to follow me around twenty-four seven, which we both know, you don’t want to do. That of course raises the obvious question, what do you do?”
“Speaking as an ex-cop, I said. “I can tell you that killing a supernatural isn’t a crime. There won’t be any legal repercussions if you decide to get rid of him once and for all.”
The Count laughed. “Killing me might not carry any legal repercussions, but there would be repercussions. At least for her.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“You want to tell her or should I?” the Count said.
Gladrielle looked at me. “If an elf takes the life of another, even the life of an abomination like him, we become what’s known as a dark elf.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means she’ll become an abomination herself,” the Count said. “Just like me.”
“Taking another life goes against our nature, against who we are, against everything we believe. It corrupts us.”
I looked at Gladrielle. “And this happens to all elves?”
Gladrielle nodded. “If they take a life.”
“Sometimes, when we’ve been forced to defend ourselves, an elf has gone too far and taken a life. Every time that’s happened, that elf became a dark elf.”
“So what happens if you step on an ant? Or swat a mosquito?”
The Count chuckled at my question, finding it funny. Gladrielle ignored his chuckling and answered. “This only happens when we’re dealing with sentient life forms. Life forms that know the difference between right and wrong.”
“Then I think you’re probably safe.” I nodded at the Count. “Because he clearly doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong.”
Gladrielle smiled, but it was a sad smile. Something she seemed to excel at, at least since I rolled into her life. It made me feel guilty for dragging her into this mess. Although she was kind of responsible for creating the Count.
“I’m thinking,” the Count said. “That this might be the solution to our problem.”
Gladrielle wrinkled her brow in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“Kill the mermaid and become a dark elf. Then we can be together. Forever.”
“I’m not killing anybody,” Gladrielle said.
“We’ll see about that?” the Count said.
He must’ve reached out with his mind, commanding Titus to join us, because Titus came sprinting up the stairs, moving at vampire speed. His eyes were still red, which told me that he still needed to feed.
“Drain her dry,” the Count said. He was compelling Titus to kill me, trying to force Gladrielle to come to my defense and kill Titus, thereby turning her into a dark elf.
Titus moved toward me, his eyes glowing red, his fangs protruding. I responded by reaching out with my mind, to the water in his blood, in his body. There wasn’t as much water as there normally was, but there was enough for what I needed to do.
I ordered the water in his body, in his blood, in his cells, to freeze, flash freeze. Freezing the water inside a living being’s body would kill them, but vampires weren’t exactly living beings. All this would do is incapacitate Titus for an hour or so, until the water inside his body thawed out.
Titus was almost upon me when he stopped moving. He froze right in front of me, his arms reaching out to grab me by the shoulders. His mouth open, fangs bared for biting.
“Drain her dry,” the Count said, repeating his earlier order. When Titus didn’t move he got angry. “I gave you an order, what’s the matter with you?”
“He can’t move,” I said.
“Why not?” a still angry Count said.
“Because I froze the water inside his body.”
“You can do that?” a surprised Gladrielle said.
“I can do anything I want with water, including the water that makes up a person’s body.”
“Can all mermaids do that?”
“We all have the power to control water, although some of us are better at it than others.”
Gladrielle looked at the Count and smirked. “Nice try.”
Before the Count could do anything else, I reached out to the water that made up his body. Then I ordered that water to freeze, flash freeze.
“What’s . . . happening . . . to . . . me?” the Count said, his teeth chattering.
“I’m freezing the water inside your body. It won’t kill you, anymore than it will Titus, or any other vampire for that matter, but it will incapacitate you for awhile, until I can decide what to do with you.”’
The Count growled, like a feral animal, then he rushed me. Fortunately, he never reached me. He froze just in front of me, his arms reaching out, just like Titus.
I wasn’t sure if my power would work on him, since he was way older and way more powerful than Titus, or any other vampire for that matter. Fortunately, water is water, and it responds to my commands no matter where it is, no matter whose body it’s inside.
“You’re very good at that,” Gladrielle said. She walked up to the Count and poked him with her finger. He rocked a little, like a statue would if you pushed it, but that was it. “My god! He really is frozen.”
“For about an hour. He’ll thaw out eventually.”
“If you had the power to do this to him, why did you need my help?”
“I wasn’t sure it would work on him. He’s way more powerful than your average vampire.”
Gladrielle nodded. “And you wanted to have backup before you tried anything.”
“If it didn’t work, and I didn’t have backup, he would’ve killed me.”
“What are you going to do with him?”
“Turn him over to Titus. He can decide what to do with him.”
I reached out with my mind, to the frozen water inside Titus’s body. Then I ordered it to return to its normal temperature.
Slowly, Titus began to move. At first he was stiff and awkward, moving more like a robot than a vampire. But that went away after a minute. While Titus collected himself, I reached out to the water inside the Count’s body, then I ordered it to remain frozen. He had more water in his body than your average vampire, but he was also more powerful than your average vampire. I didn’t want him thawing out before we could decide what to do with him.
“You okay?” I asked Titus.
“Fine,” Titus said. He looked at the Count. “You froze him?”
“What do you plan on doing with him?”
“I thought I’d leave that up to you.”
Titus circled around the Count, studying him as if he were a work of art. “I think there’s only one thing we can do?”
“Which is?” I said.
“You mean put a wooden stake through his heart?” Gladrielle said.
Titus nodded. “Yes.”
“That will kill him?”
“You’re sure it will work on him?” I asked. “He’s not your average run of the mill vampire.”
“I’m a vampire,” Titus said. “I know what will and won’t kill a vampire. And he may not be your average run of the mill vampire, as you put it, but he is a vampire.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, he’s got a tan, how many vampires do you know have a tan? As far as I know, he’s the only one.”
“Your point being?”
“I think I already said it, he’s not your average vampire. What works on other vampires might not work on him.”
“Only one way to find out.” Titus turned and headed toward the stairs, instead of heading down the stairs, he headed through the door at the top of the stairs, the one that led to his office.
“Is he really going to kill Eradu?” Gladrielle asked me when we were alone.
“He’s a vampire. Vampires don’t really have a sense of humor. If they say they’re going to kill someone, they’re going to kill someone.” I looked at Gladrielle. “Do you have a problem with that?”
“I don’t like seeing others die.”
“Even the Count?”
To you, he’s the Count. To me, he’s Eradu, the human doctor that asked me to help save his little sister.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“From your perspective, not from mine.”
Titus stepped out of his office, carrying a wooden stake in his right hand. It was about a foot long and a couple of inches thick. One end had been whittled to a sharp point. The wood was black, as if the stake had been carved from a piece of burnt wood.
“You’re going to drive that into his heart?” Gladrielle asked.
“I am,” Titus said
“And that will kill him?”
“This is no ordinary stake. It was once part of the pole that Joan of Arc was tied to when the English burned her alive.” He transferred the stake to his left hand and showed us his right hand. It was burned, freshly burned, almost as if he had just pulled the wood from the fire that killed Joan of Arc. Titus looked at me. “You’re keeping him frozen?”
I nodded. “Like an ice cube.”
Titus stepped in front of the Count, raised the stake, and pointed it at the Count’s heart.
“Is this really necessary?” Gladrielle said. “Can’t you just keep him frozen, like he is now?”
“That would require my being with him twenty-four seven,” I said.
“Couldn’t you stick him in a freezer or something? Wouldn’t the frozen water inside his body remain frozen if you did that?”
“To be honest, I don’t know.”
“If it didn’t,” Titus said. “He’d kill both of us as soon as he thawed out. And that’s a risk I’m not willing to take.”
Titus aimed the stake at the Count’s heart, then pulled his hand back, intending to use his enhanced speed and strength to plunge the stake into the Count’s heart.
“I’m not sure I can allow this,” Gladrielle said.
“It’s either him or us,” Titus said.
“You must have a walk-in freezer in this place. Can’t you just put him in there? Please.”
“If he thaws out, he’ll kill Low and me. That’s why he ordered me to drain her dry. He wanted me to kill her so you’d be forced to kill me.”
“There will be no killing,” Gladrielle said. “Not while I’m here.”
She was holding her right hand palm up. There was another fireball in it, a big fireball. I could feel the heat radiating off it from where I was standing, which was a good ten feet from her.
“Maybe I should take you home,” I said. “There’s no reason for you to see this.”
Gladrielle nodded and let the fireball fade. She lowered her hand and followed me toward the stairs. Titus watched her for a second, then turned his attention back to the Count. He pointed the stake at the Count’s heart and pulled his hand back, preparing to plunge the stake into the Count’s heart.
Only it didn’t happen. A fireball flew through the air, struck Titus in the back, and set him on fire. The flames consumed him so quickly that he didn’t even have time to scream. He burned up in a matter of seconds, like a match. A paper match. A paper match dipped in gasoline.
For a few seconds he just stood there, a blackened and charred body, then he crumbled, until he was nothing more than a pile of ash at the Count’s feet.
Interestingly enough, the wooden stake didn’t burn. It just fell to the ground, landing in the middle of the pile of ash that had once been Titus Hawthorn.
I turned to Gladrielle and said the first thing that came to mind. “What have you done?”
Gladrielle seemed as stunned by what she did as I was. “I didn’t mean to kill him. I just wanted to make him back off, to leave Eradu alone. He shouldn’t have burned up like that.”
“Vampires have about half the water in their body as a living being. Titus hadn’t ate in awhile so he had even less in his body.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Tossing a fireball at a hungry vampire is kind of like tossing a fireball at a mummy. They’re both dry and brittle and extremely flammable.”
“You need to get out of here,” Gladrielle said. “Before it’s too late.”
She started to change, physically change. Her dark blue hair became as black as coal. Then her blue eyes turned black, until they looked just like the Count’s eyes. Two black orbs in which you couldn’t see the pupils, or the irises, or the whites.
It took me a second to realize what was happening. She was changing, into a dark elf. Whatever that meant.
Gladrielle writhed, as if she was in pain. Her fingernails lengthened, then darkened, until they were as black as her hair and her eyes, until they looked more like claws than fingernails.
“You need to run,” she screeched. Even her voice was changing, from something that was soothing and melodic, to something that sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. “Now!”
I didn’t know what else to do, so I took her advice. I ran. I sprinted down two flights of stairs and across the club’s deserted dance floor. I jumped into the deserted elevator and hit the down button.
As the elevator doors closed and the elevator started down, I could hear Gladrielle screaming in agony.
When the elevator stopped and the doors opened, I dashed across the street, hopped in my emerald green Honda Del Sol, and roared off.
It wasn’t until I was several blocks away, that I slowed down, and breathed, literally taking my first breath since Gladrielle told me to run.
Like all mermaids, I have a membrane in my nasal passages. Before diving underwater, I take a deep breath and close those membranes, so I don’t have to worry about water getting into my lungs.
In a state of panic, I do the same thing, I take a deep breath and close the membranes in my nasal passages. It’s a natural reaction, something mermaids do without even thinking about it. Kind of the way birds take flight when they panic.
I stopped for a red light, tried to calm my breathing, and tried to sort out what had just happened. Titus Hawthorn, the vampire that hired me to protect him was dead, killed by Gladrielle, the elf I brought in to stop the Count from killing Titus and Savanna. How ironic was that.
Gladrielle in turn, had done something no elf was supposed to do. She had taken the life of another sentient being, that was causing her to turn into something called a dark elf. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but from what she said, and what I saw and heard, it didn’t seem to be a good thing.
The question was, what did I do now? I knew what I wanted to do, namely go for a swim. A nice long swim, like all the way to the Hawaiian Islands. Unfortunately, that would be the coward’s way out. I needed to stick around and clean up the mess I had made.
That meant going back to Gladrielle’s hometown and telling the other elves what happened.
“Hey guys remember me? I borrowed the girl that ran the bed and breakfast. You won’t believe this but the funniest thing happened. She sort of killed the guy I was hired to protect and turned into a dark elf.”
Suddenly, living in a coral castle at the bottom of the ocean didn’t seem like such a bad life, even if there was nothing down there but a bunch of weird looking fish.
I drove through the night. One of the advantages of being a mermaid is that we require very little sleep. We catch a few minutes here, a few minutes there, rarely do we sleep for more than an hour at a time.
I reached Gladrielle’s home town just in time for breakfast. I didn’t know where else to go, so I headed for Magical Java, the coffee shop where I found Elrod the last time I was there. I parked the Del Sol in front of the shop and headed inside.
The tall girl that served me the last time I was there was working behind the counter. She used glamor to hide her true appearance from me when I stepped through the door, then she realized who I was and let the glamor drop.
“Caramel mocha latte and six glazed?” she said.
“Make it a dozen,” I said.
Elrod was at his usual table by the window, sipping black coffee, eating a single donut, and reading the local paper.
I collected my latte and bag of one dozen donuts, paid for them, and drifted over to his table.
“You’re back,” he said, without looking at me.
“I am,” I said, grabbing the seat across from him.
“You drop Claire off at her place?”
I stuffed a full donut in my mouth and washed it down with a sip of my latte. “Actually, Gladrielle’s still in the city.”
That got Elrod’s attention. He set his paper down and looked at me. “Why would she still be in the city?”
I wolfed down a second donut before answering. “She’s kind of going through something. You might call it a change.”
“She’s an elf, elves don’t change. We’re the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”
“Unless you kill someone.”
“Would you mind repeating that.” Elrod didn’t seem to understand what I said. No big surprise, considering I stuffed a third donut in my mouth after the word unless.
I finished eating the donut, washed it down with a sip of my latte, then braced myself. “She killed someone. Specifically, she killed the vampire that I was hired to protect. Went by the name Titus Hawthorn. Burned him to a crisp with a big fireball.”
“Why would she want to kill him?”
“She didn’t mean to kill him. She just wanted to singe him a little, force him to back away from the Count. Thing is, vampires have about half the water in their bodies as living beings. And vampires that haven’t ate in awhile, like Titus, have even less.”
“Your point being?”
“Hungry vamps are kind of like mummies, dry and brittle and extremely flammable.”
“So the vampire she killed was going to kill another vampire? This Count?”
“She called him Eradu. A name he used a long time ago. I got the impression that she still had feelings for him. Which she all but confirmed when she killed Titus to save his life.”
Elrod paused for a minute, digesting everything I had just told him. “What happened then?”
“She started to change. Her hair turned black, her eyes turned black, her fingernails turned into long black claws. Even her voice changed.”
“She told me to run. So I ran. Hopped in my car and came here.”
“This Count, this Eradu, is still alive?”
“He was when I left. I suspect the two of them are doing the horizontal mambo right about now. Either that, or they’ve gone on a killing spree the likes of which the world has never seen.”
“The Count wanted her to take someone’s life?”
“He said if she became a dark elf, they could be together, for eternity. Then he tried to force her to kill Titus.”
“Sounds like he succeeded.”
“Not in the way he planned it, but, yeah, I guess he did.”
“This is my fault,” Elrod said. “I never should have let her go to the city. I should have went instead.”
While Elrod took a few minutes to place the blame on himself, I polished off a couple more donuts. All right, three more donuts. I had spent the drive up here blaming myself for what happened, so I knew how he was feeling. I also knew that it wouldn’t do any good to argue with him, tell him that it wasn’t his fault.
In truth, we were all at fault. The Count for coming here and threatening people. Me for asking the elves for help. Elrod for letting Gladrielle go with me. Titus for deciding to stake the Count.
But ultimately, Gladrielle had chosen her own fate. She created the fireball and threw it at Titus. Maybe somewhere in the back of her mind, she wanted to become a dark elf, wanted to be with the Count.
“We’re all at fault,” I said. “Me, you, Titus, the Count. Most of all Gladrielle. She didn’t have to throw that fireball at Titus. She could’ve stepped between him and the Count. She could’ve grabbed his arm. She could’ve glowed so bright that he couldn’t see what he was doing.”
“You make it sound like she wanted to become a dark elf.”
“I think part of her did. It was obvious that she still had feelings for the Count, Eradu, as she called him.”
“And the Count encouraged her to kill someone?”
“Then it sounds like she chose her own fate.”
“I think she did. You and I may be responsible for waving the temptation under her nose, but she’s the one that succumbed to it.”
Elrod sat back and sighed. “Sounds like we’re trying to justify our own innocence.”
“Maybe we are.” I started on another donut, eating this one like a normal person rather than a hungry mermaid. Then I asked the obvious question. “So what happens now?”
Elrod wrinkled his brow. “What do you mean?”
“What do you do when one of your kind becomes a dark elf? Can you bring her back from the dark side?”
Elrod chuckled. “I wish it were that easy.”
“Why isn’t it?”
“We were put on this planet to nurture life, protect it, not destroy it. Taking the life of a sentient being changes who we think we are.”
“You make it sound like this is all in your heads.”
Elrod shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it is.”
“Has anyone ever tried to bring a dark elf back?”
“Not that I know of.”
“So what do you do?”
“We let them go, forget they ever existed.”
“That’s it?” I said. “No snuffing out a candle, or some other kind of ceremony?”
“Her stuff will be removed from the bed and breakfast, but that’s about it.”
“What if she comes back for it?”
“You seem pretty sure.”
“I’ve been around a long time,” Elrod said. “Long enough to see more than a few elves turn. None of them ever came back.”
“Yeah, well, don’t throw her stuff away just yet.”
“Because I’m going to see if I can bring her back.”
Elrod’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “How do you plan on doing that?”
“The first thing I need to do is get rid of the Count. I think her desire to be with him is what made her throw that fireball, made her want to change. Once he’s gone, she’ll have no reason to remain a dark elf.”
“And if she doesn’t change back?”
“Then I might have to kill her. Depends upon how big a nuisance she is.”
“Or the humans might have to kill her,” Elrod said.
I nodded. “They don’t care what we do to each other, as long as we don’t harm them.”
“And if you do?”
“They either lock us up or exterminate us.”
“You came here because you needed help to get rid of the Count. Now that help is on his side.”
“Your point being?”
“How do you plan on getting rid of him without anyone’s help? Can you get rid of him without anyone’s help?”
“I came here looking for backup,” I said. “Because I didn’t know if my power would work on the Count. Mostly because he’s not your average vampire. But now that I know it will work on him, I can handle him by myself.”
“But can you handle him and Claire together?”
“Are you offering to join me?”
Elrod chuckled. “I don’t think the council would allow that. We sent Claire with you and looked what happened.”
“Gladrielle was the wrong person to send. You should’ve come and she should’ve stayed here.”
“You’ll get no argument from me. Not on that point.” Elrod pushed his chair back and stood.
“If you’ll excuse me, it’s time to open the nursery.”
“Any advice on how to bring Gladrielle back from the dark side?”
“Remind her of the things that she loved. The bed and breakfast. Her flower garden. Elves delight in the simple things. Remind her of those.”
“Elves delight in the simple things. Got it.”
Elrod turned and headed for the door. When he reached it, he stopped and looked back at me. “I hope I see you again, but I suspect you won’t survive this encounter.”
He headed out the door before I could think of a witty reply. Not that his comment bothered me. I was a mermaid, and like all mermaids, I was constantly being underestimated. Most people, supernaturals included, didn’t know what we were capable of.
The only thing they know about mermaids is what they see in the moves. Throw water on our legs and they’ll turn into a tail. Not true of course. We’re shape shifters, we can change at will. They also think that we like to sing with clown fish and hermit crabs. Truth be told, I’m tone deaf, the last thing anyone wants to listen to is me singing. Oh, and just for the record, clown fish and hermit crabs don’t sing.
Before heading back to the city. I stopped by Gladrielle’s bed and breakfast. The front door was unlocked, even though nobody was home. Guess crime wasn’t a problem in the world of elves. I headed into her sitting room and reached out to the water in the plush green fern sitting in front of the room’s bay window. Then I commanded the water to leave the fern. When it did, the fern turned dry and brown. I took a picture of the lifeless brown fern with my phone, then ordered the water to flow back into the fern, which it did, causing that brown and lifeless fern to turn green again.
I did the same with the fern in her dining room, then headed to her backyard. I ordered the water to leave the flowers in her garden, then took a picture of the garden looking wilted and lifeless.
What better way to get the old Gladrielle back than to show her what her absence was doing to the things that she loved the most. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t. Either way, it was worth a shot.
After restoring her flowers to full health, I climbed in the Del Sol and headed back to the city.
It was lunch time when I got back. I didn’t go looking for Gladrielle and the Count. I assumed they were still at Titus’s club, O Positive. Mostly because neither of them had anywhere else to go.
Instead, I drove to the campus where my boyfriend worked. I do love using that word. Boyfriend. Perhaps some day using it will become commonplace. But that day wasn’t today. Being able to say that I had a boyfriend was still fun and exciting. It almost made me feel normal. Well, as normal as a mermaid is likely to feel.
John gave me his schedule, so I knew which building he was in. It was almost one o’clock, so whatever class he was teaching, something on marine biology, would be getting out in a few minutes.
Personally, I don’t find fish nearly as interesting as John does, but then I guess that’s why I’m a private detective and he’s a marine biologist.
A bell rang and students started piling out of the classrooms. Most of the students coming out of John’s classroom were girls. I’m not sure if that was because girls liked fish more than guys did, or if they just liked handsome blond professors. I figured it was probably the latter.
Not only was I still learning how to be somebody’s girlfriend, something most human women have mastered well before their thirtieth birthday, I was still learning how balance my private life with my professional life. Probably because I never had a private life.
I had a lot of friends with benefits, but they were pretty low maintenance. You’d call them up, ask them if they wanted to get together. They either said yes or no. If they said yes, you hooked up for an hour or two, then went your separate ways. If they said no, you called somebody else.
Except for Savanna, I’ve never really had girlfriends that I could hang out with. Probably because I was home schooled. While other girls were going to the prom, I was learning how to control water, learning how to be a mermaid.
Not that I have a lot in common with human women. Most of them can’t relate to someone that can swim as fast as a speedboat, hold her breath for hours on end, rip the door off a steel safe, and eat seven thousand calories a day without gaining weight.
John was the last one out of his classroom, not counting the three coeds circling around him like sharks circling around a bleeding swimmer. He was wearing what he always wore, deck shoes, board shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt. Today’s was green and blue. One of the advantages of teaching on a campus that was just minutes from the ocean was that no one expected you to wear a suit and tie.
“This is a pleasant surprise,” John said when he saw me.
He grabbed me by the waist, pulled me to him, and kissed me. He was strong for a human, but not stronger than me. Truth be told, I could tuck him under my arm and run a marathon without getting tired. Although why I’d ever want to do that, I have no idea.
“I read somewhere that you keep a relationship fresh by surprising your partner,” I said when he released me.
“You had lunch?”
“Student Union cafeteria okay?”
“As long as you’re buying.”
We turned and headed off, exiting the building and heading across campus. It was a warm sunny day, a gentle breeze was blowing, rustling the leaves on the palm trees.
“How’d your meeting with Titus go?”
“He hired me to protect him, but I sort of failed.”
“How can you sort of fail?”
“He’s sort of dead. That’s how I sort of failed.”
“How can one be sort of dead? You’re either dead or you aren’t.”
“He was a vampire, so he was sort of dead to begin with. Now, he’s just really dead. I’m talking a pile of ash on the floor dead.”
“I’m sorry.” John looked at me. “You okay?”
“Titus wasn’t a friend, just a business associate. He never gave me anything without expecting something in return.”
“Can I ask who killed him?”
“Is that who he hired you to protect him from?”
“He hired me to protect him from another vampire. A really old vampire. I brought the elf in to help us, but she sort of turned on us.” I grabbed John’s hand and began to swing our hands as we walked. Mostly to let the drooling coeds know that we were a couple. “But I don’t want to talk about work. It’s the same old crap. Supernaturals killing other supernaturals. I want to hear about your day.”
I read that to have a successful relationship, you had to listen to your partner, you had to take an interest in his or her life. I’m not sure how accurate all those books were, but they were written by humans, and John was human. Even if they weren’t one hundred percent accurate, I figured they still knew more about human relationships than I did.
Besides, listening to John gave me a chance to forget about Gladrielle and the Count. Forget that I still had to get rid of the Count, still had to find a way to bring Gladrielle back from the dark side.
After lunch, I went for a swim in the ocean. I’m a mermaid and there are things I have to do every day, otherwise the world just seems off. One of those things is to go for a nice long swim.
The other thing I try to do on a daily basis is go into my vault and stare at my treasures. My pearls, my diamonds, my rubies, my emeralds, my gold and silver. If a mermaid doesn’t have a treasure to stare at, she can go into a deep depression. Don’t ask me why, that’s just the way we are.
I was just coming back from my swim when I ran into Savanna. Like me, she was dressed in a bikini with a silk scarf wrapped around her waist. I was wearing green. She was wearing blue.
“I just was on my way to see you,” she said, hooking up with me in front of my condo, a three story brick building that had once been an apartment building. “What happened with the Count?”
“I froze him. When Titus tried to kill to Count, Gladrielle threw a fireball at him and burned him to a crisp.”
“Titus is dead?” That news seemed to catch Savanna by surprise.
“She reduced him to a pile of ash.”
“Wasn’t she supposed to help you protect him?”
“The Count and her have a history. A long history. Turns out she still has feelings for him.”
“So what’s happening now?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Gladrielle started to turn into a dark elf. She told me that I should run, so I ran.”
“I take it a dark elf is bad.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“What happens to O Positive, not to mention Titus’s other holdings?”
“I don’t know. I guess they belong to the Count, or anybody that can take them from him.”
“How are you doing? Titus did hire you to protect him and you did sort of fail.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
Savanna gave me a sheepish smile. “Sorry.”
“Titus was around for a long time, hundreds of years, maybe a thousand. Odds were pretty good that somebody would take him out eventually.”
“That’s a pragmatic way of looking at it.”
“Those are his words, not mine.”
“So what now?” Savanna said. “We live with the fact that the Count is now the big vampire in town?”
“Not exactly. I’m going to take the Count out.”
Savanna’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Why? Titus is gone. Getting rid of the Count won’t bring him back.”
“True, but getting rid of the Count is the only chance I have of bringing Gladrielle back from the dark side.”
“And you want to do that because?”
“Because I’m the one that dragged her into this. If I hadn’t asked the elves for help, Titus would still be alive and Gladrielle would still be home, tending her flower garden.”
“If you hadn’t brought Gladrielle here, Titus would still be dead. Only it would’ve been the Count that killed him. What’s more, I’d be dead too. This may sound selfish, but I’m glad you brought her here. Damn glad.”
“I’ll concede that Titus’s number might have been up no matter what I did, but I did bring Gladrielle here. Which means I have to help her, try to bring her back from the dark side.”
“Is that even possible?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I have no idea.”
“So how do you bring an elf back from the dark side?”
“The first thing I need to do is get rid of the Count.”
“How do you do that?”
“I’m going to freeze him from the inside out. Then I’m going to take him to the bottom of the ocean and watch the water pressure crush him like a stale peanut.”
“And you think that will bring Gladrielle back from the dark side?”
“He’s the reason she came here. Not to mention the reason she killed Titus.”
“What exactly is the difference between a dark elf and a regular elf?”
“I’m not really sure. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.”
“Can you handle a dark elf and the Count by yourself?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess we’ll find out.”
“I’d help you if I could,” Savanna said. “But I think I’ve already proved that I’m more of a liability than an asset. I just can’t control water as well as you can.”
“You’ll get there. I was still learning to control it when I was your age.” Savanna was twenty-one, nine years younger than me. Mermaids lived between two to three hundred years on average, so she was still a baby by mermaid standards. A tall, shapely baby, but a baby.
“You should get some help before you take on the Count and Gladrielle.”
“Like who? Wormby?”
“I was thinking maybe his sister, Ida. She’s way more aggressive than Wormby.”
“She’s also a gnome, which means she has an abnormal fear of vampires and won’t do anything unless there’s a profit in it, a big profit.”
“There must be somebody who can help you.”
“There is,” a male voice said.
I spun around to see Elrod climbing out of the cab of a blue Ford pickup. Printed on the truck’s doors were the words: Smith’s Nursery.
“I thought you said the council wouldn’t let you help me?”
“They wouldn’t,” Elrod said. He circled around his pickup and joined us on the sidewalk. “If I told them where I was going and what I was doing.”
He looked at Savanna so I introduced them. “Savanna Green, mermaid. Elrod, king of the elves.”
Elrod offered Savanna his hand. “Jim Smith. I own a nursery, but I’m also the mayor of a small town a couple hundred miles south of here. I’d tell you the name of the town, but I doubt if you’ve ever heard of it.”
“If your name’s Jim, why does Low call you Elrod?”
“She says I look like an Elrod.”
“He does,” I said. “When he’s not using glamor to hide his true appearance.”
Like he was now. His dark blue hair was a dull brown. His dark blue eyes were a matching brown. His pointed ears were rounded, making him look as human as everyone else on the street. Well, everyone except Savanna and myself.
Savanna’s blond hair and sea blue eyes made her stand out from the crowd, just like my red hair and green eyes made me stand out from the crowd. Mermaid hair is different from human hair. First off, it repels water instead of absorbing it. Secondly, it sparkles. Especially in the sunlight. Then there are our eyes, which are bigger and brighter than human eyes. But unlike elves, we don’t mind standing out from the crowd. We kind of live for it.
“Let’s be honest,” I said to Elrod. “Jim Smith isn’t your real name. It’s a name you pulled out of a hat when you moved here. So until you tell me your real name, I’m going to call you Elrod because it sounds like the kind of name an elf king would have.”
“How’d you know where to find her?” Savanna asked.
“I asked around. Turns out there aren’t that many mermaids in the city. Plus, you guys don’t exactly keep a low profile. You can pretty much stop anyone on any street corner and ask them if they know where the mermaid lives.”
“And?” Savanna and I said in unison.
“And they all say the same thing, do you want the blond or the redhead?”
“We’re kind of the exhibitionists of the supernatural world,” I said.
“Which is why we’re more popular than everyone else,” Savanna added. “We don’t try to hide who we are. Now if you two will excuse me, I’m going pearl diving.”
She had a plastic box strapped to her left wrist and a knife strapped to the same forearm, so I already knew that’s where she was headed. She turned and headed for the beach then spun around and walked backwards. “I’m glad you got some help. If he’s an elf king, he must be pretty powerful.”
I turned and looked at Elrod. “She raises a good point.”
“Gladrielle can control electricity, as well as throw balls of fire. What kind of powers do you have?”
“I can restore dead things.”
“That could come in handy, especially if Gladrielle or the Count kills me.”
“When I say dead things, I mean plants.”
“You can bring plants back to life?”
“Yeah.” Elrod puffed out his chest, proud of the fact that he could bring plants back to life.
“And what else can you do?”
“Well . . . nothing.” Elrod squared his shoulders. “But plants are important. They give us oxygen to breathe and food to eat.”
“Maybe, but even I can restore dying plants.”
Palm trees lined both sides of the street that we were on, their roots extending deep beneath the concrete and asphalt. I went to the nearest tree, which had a lot of brown leaves, and touched it with my hand. Then I reached out to the water deep beneath the ground and ordered it to flow into the tree’s roots, which it did. Within seconds the tree’s brown leaves became a bright green.
“Very nice,” Elrod said. “But I’m guessing that you just gave the tree a nice long drink.”
“So, my power works a bit different. I repair the plant on a cellular level. What’s more I don’t need water to do it.”
“And that’s going to help me defeat Gladrielle and the Count how?”
“My power might work on a person, I say might, because I’m not really sure.”
“You’ve never tried it?”
“Never? Not in all the centuries you’ve been alive?”
Elrod gave me a sheepish grin. “I’m afraid not. But then we don’t exactly associate with humans or supernaturals. You know that.”
“So if Gladrielle or the Count kills me, you might or might not be able to save me.”
“I was thinking that maybe I could use my power on the Count.”
“You want to save the Count? From me?”
“I was thinking that maybe I could restore him to what he once was.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I might be able to make him human again.”
“But you’re not sure.”
“I won’t know until I try.”
“How close do you have to be to the Count to try it?”
“I’ll need to touch him.”
I laughed. “The Count doesn’t impress me as the kind of guy that lets people walk up to him and place their hands on him.”
“I was thinking that maybe you could freeze him. Like you did earlier.”
“If you turned him human while he was frozen, the ice inside his body would kill him.”
Elrod shook his head. “He should thaw out when he transforms. His cells will return to what they were when he was human.”
“Even if he does, there’s still one small problem.”
“Gladrielle will be there. And she’s a dark elf. A dark elf that can throw fireballs.”
“So, freeze her too.”
“I’m not sure I can, not without killing her.”
Elrod wrinkled his brow. “Now I’m the one that doesn’t understand.”
“I can freeze vamps without killing them because they’re not living beings. The cells inside their bodies are already dead, not decaying just dead. But freezing the water inside a living being would kill him or her.”
Elrod nodded. “Because water expands when frozen.”
“And if that water is inside a cell, it punctures the cell’s outer membrane, which ends up killing the cell. Unless your immortal bodies are immune to that kind of stuff.”
“We don’t get sick or age, but our bodies aren’t invulnerable. A knife can cut us. A bullet can kill us.”
“So freezing Gladrielle is out,” I said.
“Looks like it.” Elrod’s face brightened. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t freeze the Count. I can distract Gladrielle while you freeze him, then you can distract her while I try to turn him back into a human.”
I laughed. “You do realize that she’s going to be tossing fireballs at us. Big hot fireballs.”
“I didn’t say it would be easy. But I still think it’s worth a try. This way we can save both of them.”
“And that’s important to you?”
Elrod shrugged his shoulders. “I’m an elf. Preserving and protecting life is what we do.”
“What if you can’t turn him back into a human?”
“Then I guess we’ll go with whatever you had planned.”
“I was going to freeze the Count and take him to the bottom of the ocean, to what submariners call crush depth.”
“How deep is that?”
“For your average submarine it’s around five thousand feet, about a mile.”
“And for a vampire?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Don’t know. But I’m betting he can’t go any deeper than a steel submarine without being crushed by the water pressure.”
“How deep can you go?”
“Mermaids don’t have a crush depth.”
“We’ve got extremely dense muscle tissue.”
Elrod looked me up and down. “Your muscles don’t look that thick.”
“I didn’t say thick. I said dense. There’s a difference.”
“You’re telling me that you’re harder than steel?”
“Harder and more flexible,” I said, flashing the elf king a teasing smile.
“I don’t believe you.”
Anytime somebody told me that, I always did the same thing. I placed my hands on my hips and told them to punch me in the stomach. Most guys wouldn’t do it because they were taught to not hit girls. Elrod, for whatever reason, decided to take me up on the offer.
“You really don’t mind if I do this?” he said, making a fist and pulling it back.
“It’s your hand.”
He was about to throw a punch when an elderly woman saw what was happening, came up behind him, and whacked him on the back of the head with her purse.
“What’s the matter with you?” she said, scolding Elrod. “Didn’t your mother teach you that you don’t hit girls?”
“I never had a mother,” Elrod said, rubbing the back of his head.
“It shows,” the woman said. She looked at me. “Dump him. You can do better.”
The woman headed off. Elrod watched her go then looked at me. “I think I’m going to pass on punching you in the stomach.”
“Everyone does,” I said, lowering my hands from my hips.
“So where are Claire and the Count at?”
“They were at Titus’s club, O Positive. I imagine they’re still there.”
“So we go there and what? You freeze the Count while I distract Claire, then you distract Claire while I try to turn the Count back into a human?”
“And if you can’t turn the Count back into a human. We grab him and run.”
“Seems simple enough,” Elrod said.
I laughed. “Yeah it does, except in my world, things never go as planned.”
It was dark by the time Elrod and I headed for O Positive. Mostly because I had to shower, change, and grab a bite to eat. When you consume seven thousand calories a day, it can take awhile to finish a meal. And to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t in a hurry to confront Gladrielle and the Count. Not after hearing those blood curdling screams Gladrielle let loose when she changed into a dark elf.
“What’s the difference between a dark elf and a regular elf?” I asked Elrod as I parked the Del Sol in the lot directly across the street from O Positive. The lot was practically empty, which was a bit unusual, especially for this hour of the evening.
“Normal elves preserve life, or at least try to. Dark elves destroy life.”
I turned the car off and looked at Elrod. “Then I guess Gladrielle won’t hesitate to kill us.”
“She killed your friend didn’t she?”
I nodded. “And that was before she became a dark elf.”
“Elves are highly moral. From what I’ve seen, dark elves have no morals.”
“Kind of like the Count.”
“I’ve never met the Count,” Elrod said. “So I can’t really respond to that.”
“When I left her, Galdrielle was screaming. Why was that?”
“I don’t know, but then I’ve never been a dark elf.”
“Maybe they were screams of anguish from her good half.”
“Let’s hope so,” I said.
“Why do you say that?” Elrod asked me.
“Because that still means she has a good half.” I climbed out of the car and headed for the thirty story tower that housed O Positive. I was wearing jeans, sneakers, and a black tee shirt. Elrod was wearing penny loafers, khakis, and a green polo shirt with his nursery’s name printed above the left breast pocket.
Elrod fell in alongside of me, scanning the street as we walked. “Not many people around.”
“The Count has that affect on people.”
“Probably a good thing that nobody’s around.”
“Fewer people for the Count to compel.” I looked at Elrod. “Are dark elves capable of love?”
We crossed the street and approached the building. There was no line of people waiting to ride the elevator to the top of the building, no bouncer deciding who got to go up and who didn’t. The elevator looked like it hadn’t even been used since I last left the place. Elrod and I stepped on it and headed up.
“Gladrielle saved the Count’s life because she loved him,” I said. “But if dark elves aren’t capable of love then those feelings probably won’t be there.”
“Your point being?”
“Maybe Gladrielle won’t try to protect the Count, maybe she won’t even care what we do with him.”
“We’re about to find out,” Elrod said.
The elevator reached the club and the doors whooshed open. It seemed strange to be there when nobody was around. The dance floor was empty. The balcony that circled the dance floor was empty. There were no customers, no employees, nor was there any music playing. The lights weren’t even on. The only light came from the surrounding buildings and the floor to ceiling windows that made up the club’s exterior walls. A place that was usually full of life was now as dead as Titus, its owner.
“We have guests,” the Count said, looking down on us from Titus’s balcony at the very top of the club.
“I take it that’s the Count?” Elrod said.
“He seems to be in a good mood.”
“He finally has the girl of his dreams. A girl he’s wanted for five thousand years. Why wouldn’t he be in a good mood?”
“Does he love her?”
I shook my head. “Supernaturals aren’t capable of love. He desires her, but desire isn’t love.”
“Love endures,” Elrod said. “Desire fades.”
“If Gladrielle throws a fireball at you, can you defend yourself?”
“I can.” Elrod reached into the pocket of his khaki’s and pulled out a handful of seeds. “With these.”
“What? You going to throw them at her?”
“They’re vine seeds. I can make them grow. I can also make them wrap themselves around someone, or form a protective wall around me.”
“Faster than Gladrielle can create a fireball?”
“Faster than Claire can create a fireball.”
“I guess what they say is true. It’s good to be the king.”
Elrod grinned but didn’t say anything. We started up the chrome staircase to the second floor, then headed up to what had been Titus’s private domain on the third floor. I felt a pang of guilt as I climbed that last set of stairs. Titus hired me to protect him from the Count, which I did, sort of. But in the process, I brought in the person that killed him. Either way, I failed to do my job. I failed to protect him.
Halfway up that final set of stairs, I stopped and grabbed Elrod’s arm. “The Count isn’t going to be able to compel you is he?”
“A vampire compelling an elf king would be similar to a six year old compelling an adult. What about you?”
“He already tried and failed.”
“So it’s just Claire that we need to worry about.”
I nodded. “I guess so.”
We finished climbing the stairs to discover that Gladrielle and the Count had done some redecorating. Titus’s table and chairs were gone. In the middle of the mezzanine sat a bed, a king-sized four post bed. I had no idea where they found it. Most likely, the Count compelled somebody to deliver it. Or maybe he just did it the old fashioned way and paid someone to deliver it.
Gladrielle lay in the middle of the giant bed’s blood red sheets, wearing a slinky black negligee. Her blue hair was coal black. Her eyes were black orbs with no pupils, no irises, no whites. Her fingernails were long and black.
Other than that, she looked pretty much the same. Same pointed ears, same flawless skin. Although she wasn’t glowing like she was when I first brought her here. But that might have been out of deference to the Count, who like most vampires, wasn’t a big fan of too much heat or light.
“You’re welcome here,” Gladrielle said, looking at me. She pointed at Elrod. “But he’s not.”
Her voice was different, deeper, sultrier, sexier. She seemed more like the Count, or myself, or any other supernatural for that matter, than her old self.
For some reason that made me sad, sad that I was partly responsible for turning her into someone, something, that was less than what she once was.
A ball of fire appeared above Gladrielle’s palm, but she never got to use it. Elrod, reached into his pocket, pulled out some seeds, and tossed them at her.
The seeds turned into vines that were as thick as my forearms. They wrapped themselves around Gladrielle’s wrists. Then they wrapped themselves around the posts at the head of the bed, binding Gladrielle to the bed. She was sitting up, but her arms were spread wide, bound tightly to the bed posts. She flicked the ball of fire at the vine, but it had no effect.
“Let me go,” Gladrielle screamed. She struggled to free herself, but failed. The vines were too strong. Maybe it was good to be the king.
The Count moved forward, stepping between us and the bed. He was still dressed like a beach bum, still wearing the wraparound Maui Jim sunglasses. He looked at Elrod, said, “I’m afraid we haven’t been introduced.”
“I’m a friend of Claire’s,” Elrod said.
“Clearly not a human friend.” The Count offered Elrod his hand. “Eradu Matuff.”
Elrod looked at the Count’s hand, but didn’t take it.
“The man’s offering you his hand,” I said. “The least you can do is take it.”
I looked at Elrod, hoping he got the message that I was trying to convey. Mainly that this was his chance to touch the Count, use his power on him, hopefully turn him back into a human, if that was even possible.
He must’ve got the message because he gave the Count his best used car salesman smile and grabbed the Count’s hand. “Jim Smith.”
“Don’t you touch him!” Gladrielle screamed.
Another fireball appeared above her palm. She tried to throw it at Elrod, but with her wrist bound to the headboard, she lacked the leverage. The fireball landed around her knees, setting the bed’s blood red sheet on fire.
I reached out with my mind, to the sprinkler system in the ceiling. I ordered the water in the sprinkler head directly above the bed to come on. A second later, it did, drenching Gladrielle, the bed, and the vines tying her to the bed.
The water made Gladrielle’s slinky negligee, even slinkier. It also made the vines bigger and thicker, but it did put the fire out.
With that taken care of, I turned my attention back to Elrod and the Count. Elrod still had a tight grip on the Count’s hand.
“What are you doing?” the Count said, realizing that Elrod was up to something.
He tried to free his hand, but Elrod refused to let go. The fact that the Count couldn’t free himself surprised me. I didn’t think Elrod had that kind of strength, but then I didn’t really know that much about elves. Apparently the elf king was stronger than he looked.
When Elrod refused to let go of the Count, the Count bared his fangs, intending to bite him. Before he could do that, I reached out with my mind, to the water inside inside his body. There was just as much water in his body as the last time I froze him, which told me that he was still eating regularly, which explained why his entourage was no longer around. He had turned them into dinner. Well, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Before the Count could bite Elrod, I wrapped my arms around him, pinning his arms at his sides.
One of the advantages of having such dense muscle tissue, is it makes me strong, extremely strong. Stronger than your average vampire. That being said, the Count wasn’t your average vampire.
As soon as I grabbed him, I could tell that I wouldn’t be able to hold him for long, but then I didn’t need to. I just needed to hold him for a few seconds, just long enough for the water inside his body, inside the cells that made up his body, to freeze. Which it finally did. From my perspective, it seemed to take forever, in reality, it probably wasn’t more than three or four seconds.
“Okay, he’s frozen,” I said, releasing the Count and stepping back.
He was leaning forward, his head was turned sideways, his mouth open, his fangs protruding, like he was about to bite somebody on the neck, which is exactly what he had been intending to do.
“How long will he remain like this?” Elrod asked as he circled the frozen Count.
“Long enough for you to do your thing. Or me to do mine.”
Elrod grabbed the Count’s frozen head in both hands and began to use his restorative power on him, trying to turn him back into a human, the same way he turned those dry seeds into big thick vines.
While he worked his elfin magic on the Count, I sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Gladrielle. She was still sitting up, with her arms spread wide, the thick vines around her wrists prevented her from tossing fireballs at us.
“You made it sound like a dark elf was horrible and scary, which is why I ran when you told me to. I can see now that when you become a dark elf you become less of what you were. You become more like the Count, more like me, more like every other self-centered supernatural that’s out there. Which is kind of sad.”
Gladrielle didn’t seem too interested in what I had to say. She seemed more interested in what Elrod was doing to her frozen lover. “What’s he doing to Eradu?”
“He’s trying to fix him.”
She wrinkled her brow. “Fix him?”
“Make him human again.”
“He doesn’t have that kind of power.”
“He thinks he does.”
She started yelling at Elrod in a language I didn’t understand. I assumed that it was elfish. If there even was such a language. I assumed there was, assumed it was the language they spoke before God decided to create humans.
In the end it didn’t matter. After a minute of trying, Elrod stepped back and shook his head. “I can’t do it. My ability to heal at the cellular level doesn’t seem to extend to people. I’m sorry.”
I rose off the bed and moved toward the Count. “Then I guess we’ll do this my way.”
“What’s she talking about?” Gladrielle asked Elrod. “What’s her way?”
I picked the Count up, threw his frozen body over my right shoulder and headed for the stairs.
“Where’s she going with him?” Gladrielle said. She yelled at me.“Where are you going with him?”
I stopped when I reached the top of the stairs and looked back at Elrod. “You coming with me?”
“Give me a minute to talk to Claire.”
Elrod sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Gladrielle. “Our plan was for me to use my power to restore the cells in his body to their original condition, to make him human again. Unfortunately, my powers only seem to work on plants. Which means we’re going to have to do this her way. I’m sorry about that. I know how much you care for him.”
“Tell her we’re doing this for her,” I said.
“Do what her way? What is she going to do with him?”
“He’s the reason you became . . . this. We’re hoping that once he’s out of the way, you’ll have no reason to remain like this and revert back to your old self.”
Gladrielle ignored Elrod and glared at me. “If you harm him, I’ll kill you. I swear it on everything I hold dear.”
“What does a dark elf hold dear?” Elrod asked Gladrielle.
Gladrielle continued to ignore Elrod and focus on me. “I demand that you tell me what you’re going to do with him?”
“I’m going to take him to the bottom of the ocean, to what submariners call crush depth, then I’m going to release him and watch the water pressure crush him like a stale peanut.”
I expected Gladrielle to explode with anger. she didn’t, she just smiled, really it was more of a sneer. “It won’t work, he’s too strong.”
“It’ll work,” I said.
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because he’s not the first vampire I’ve gotten rid of this way. Granted the others hadn’t been around as long as he has, but they were still vampires. Just like him.”
“When you’re back to your old self, you can come home,” Elrod said.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and tossed it to Elrod. There’s a picture of her flower garden on that. Show it to her.”
While Elrod looked for the picture of Gladrielle’s dead flowers, I reached out with my mind, to the water inside the Count’s body. I ordered the water inside his cells to remain frozen, inside the blood that flowed through his veins to remain frozen.
Elrod found the picture I took of Gladrielle’s dead garden and showed it to her. “Your garden misses you. Everyone misses you.”
He rose off the bed and joined me at the top of the stairs.
“You ready?” I said.
Elrod nodded. “I guess.”
As we headed down the stairs, a struggling Gladrielle yelled at me. “I’m going to gut you like a fish, mermaid! You hear me?”
“Mermaids aren’t fish,” I said as we headed out of her view. “We’re mammals. And somewhere down the road, you’re going to thank me for this.”
The Honda Del Sol isn’t a big car, which meant I had to stick the Count in the trunk. Problem was, he was standing up straight, so his legs, at least from the knees on down, were left sticking out the back of the trunk. That meant I had to drive with the trunk lid open.
“We should’ve taken your truck,” I said as we pulled out of the parking lot.
“Speaking of which, can you drop me off before you, ah, dispose of the Count.”
“My place is only a couple of blocks from the beach, so I’ll just head back there and walk the rest of the way.”
“He won’t thaw out?”
“Not as long as I’m around to keep him frozen.”
“You sure you have to kill him? There must be another way to get Claire back.”
“I’m open to suggestions.” Elrod didn’t say anything, not that I expected him to. His best idea, his only idea, was to use his power to make the Count human and that failed. “I was hired to protect Titus and I failed. Not only did I fail, I dragged Gladrielle into this and she’s now a dark elf. The least I can do is save her. But we both know that she won’t go back to being her old self as long as the Count is around.”
“I hope you succeed,” Elrod said. “But in all my years, I’ve never seen a dark elf turn back into a regular elf.”
“Then Gladrielle will be the first.”
“You’re very determined.”
“I was hired to save somebody and I’m damn well going save somebody. I don’t care if it’s the last thing I do. Nor do I care if she wants to be saved. Speaking of which, how long will those vines hold Gladrielle?”
“An hour, maybe two. Their roots aren’t embedded in the soil so they won’t live very long.”
“Does that bother you? The fact that those plants won’t live very long.”
“They’ll leave seeds behind. Eventually those seeds will get swept outside, take root, and spring up elsewhere.”
“You’re more worried about my killing the Count.”
“He’s a sentient being. Plants aren’t.”
“He’s evil. He brought twelve vamps with him, vamps that he probably created. You know what he did with them?”
“He killed them, ate them for dinner to be precise. Well, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
“At least he doesn’t kill humans.”
“Only because the humans will come after him if he does. So he sidesteps the law that forbids supernaturals from killing humans by turning them into vampires and then killing them.”
“It’s not against the law to turn a human into a vampire?”
“Not as long as it’s done with their consent.”
“Why would someone want to become a vampire?”
“They like the idea of living forever.” I glanced at Elrod. “If anybody can understand that it should be you.”
“Being immortal only works if the people you love are immortal. I suspect having to watch the people you care about grow old and die isn’t all that pleasant.”
“What those people that want to become vamps don’t understand is there’s a ridged hierarchy in the vampire world. Older vamps are more powerful than younger vamps and have the power to compel them to do things they might not want to do.”
“Like serve as the Count’s dinner?”
“You got it.”
There was a small parking lot next to my condo, reserved for the people that lived in the building, although as far as I know, no one ever checked to see who was actually using the lot.
I pulled the Del Sol into the lot and hopped out, pausing just long enough to order the water inside the Count’s body to remain frozen. The last thing I needed was for him to thaw out before I had a chance to show him Davy Jones locker.
“You going to stick around?” I said, as I pulled the Count out of the trunk and stood him up behind the car. “Help me bring Gladrielle back from the dark side?”
“I’ve got to get home, before I’m missed.”
“Have you told the council about what happened to Gladrielle?”
“Not yet. Thought I’d put it off for awhile.”
“How long is awhile?” I peeled off my tee shirt and tossed it in the trunk. Before heading to O Positive, I donned a bikini underneath my clothes, just in case Elrod wasn’t able to make the Count human again. I didn’t have a problem with going topless in public, but the human authorities didn’t like it, hence the bikini.
“I won’t say a thing until somebody asks where Claire is.” He watched me remove my jeans and slip my sneakers back on. “You’re really going to do this? You’re really going to kill him?”
“Like I said, if you got another way to bring Gladrielle back from the dark side, I’m willing to listen.”
“I wish I did,” Elrod said.
I hoisted the Count over my shoulder, dressed in nothing more than a bikini and sneakers, I suspect I looked like a surfer with a vampire shaped surfboard, getting ready to catch some midnight waves.
“Thanks for your help,” I said.
“I didn’t really do anything,” Elrod said.
“You kept Gladrielle tied up while I neutralized the Count.”
“I hope you succeed in bringing Claire back from the dark side, but you’ll understand if I don’t hold my breath.”
“Oh, ye of little faith.”
Elrod turned and headed for his truck. I turned and headed for the beach. I was almost there when a patrol car, a brand new Dodge Charger, pulled alongside of me. John Simkins, the older of the two policemen lowered the passenger’s window. “Mind if I ask what you’ve got on your shoulder?”
Doug Wert, his handsome young partner was driving. Which was unusual, since Simkins was normally behind the wheel.
“How come you’re driving?” I said, ignoring Simkins and focusing on Doug.
Savanna and I had stayed at Doug’s place for awhile, when we were hiding out from assassins. When the assassins were no longer a problem, I moved back to my place. Since Savanna didn’t have a place of her own, she was still staying at Doug’s. I don’t know if they were sleeping together, but I suspect they were.
“John’s not allowed to drive at night,” a smirking Doug said. “Bad eyesight.”
“Is it night?” I said, pretending to glance around. “I really hadn’t noticed, but then I’m a mermaid and like most mermaids, I don’t suffer from bad eyesight. Day, night. They look the same to me.”
“Very funny,” Simkins said. “Now what do you got on your shoulder?”
I set the still frozen Count on the sidewalk, so he was facing the patrol car. His head was still canted sideways, his mouth was still open, and his fangs were still protruding.
“As you can clearly see, this is a vampire. Oh, wait a minute, that’s right, you probably can’t see, not in this light.” I turned my attention to Doug. “As you can clearly see, this is a vampire.”
Was I making fun of Simkins, hell, yeah. When I first joined the force, he was constantly making fun of me, leaving dead fish in my locker, replacing the gun in my holster with a dead fish. Asking me if I avoided sushi bars because I didn’t want to eat a relative. That kind of crap.
“What do you plan on doing with that vampire?” Simkins asked me.
“Normally, I wouldn’t do much of anything with him. But this is no ordinary vamp, this just happens to be the Count.”
“That’s the world’s oldest vamp?” a surprised Doug said.
“You’ve heard of him?”
“They mentioned he was in town in our briefing, told us to keep our eyes open for increased activity in the vamp community.”
“Actually, when he shows up, most of the other vamps go into hiding.”
“Why is that?” Simkins asked.
“Because he uses the other vamps for his food.”
“Sounds like we should be giving him a good citizen award,” Simkins said. “I assume you froze the water inside his body.”
“And why is that?”
“Because he killed someone I was hired to protect.”
And you’re going to take your revenge on him by what, using him as a surfboard?”
“I’m going to take him to what submariners call crush depth.”
“What’s that?” Doug asked.
“That’s the depth a submarine can’t go below, otherwise the water pressure will become so great, it will crush the sub’s steel hull like a tin can.”
“You can go that deep?”
I flashed Doug a teasing smile, mostly because what I was about to say sounded really dirty. “I’m a mermaid. I can go as deep as I want.”
Simkins looked at the Count. “Can he hear what we’re saying?”
“I don’t know, but then I’ve never bothered to ask any of the vamps that I’ve froze what it was like.”
“Who was he trying to bite when you froze him?”
“The local elf king.”
“There are elves in this city?” a surprised Doug said.
“There’s one in the city. The rest live in small towns, usually near a lake or a stream or a forest.” I ordered the water inside the Count’s body to remain frozen, then I picked him up and hoisted him over my shoulder. “Now if you boys will excuse me, I’ve got a vampire to kill.”
“Knock yourself out,” Simkins said.
He put his window up the the Charger roared off.
It was against the law for supernaturals to kill humans but it wasn’t against the law for supernaturals to kill other supernaturals. The law treated it as an act of self-defense. But then the laws were made by humans and written to protect humans. They didn’t really care what supernaturals did to each other. Supernatural A kills supernatural B, the humans have one less supernatural to keep an eye on, one less supernatural to worry about. Maybe that’s why the humans liked me so much, when it came to cleaning out the supernatural world, I was a one mermaid wrecking crew.
I reached the beach without running into anybody else. It was deserted except for a group of young people sitting around a campfire, drinking beer and smoking a joint.
“Rad surfboard,” one of the guys said as I passed them.
“It’s one of a kind,” I shot back.
“Where’d you find it?”
“Found it at a place called Wormby’s Pawnshop.”
No harm in throwing a little business Wormby’s way, although these people were so wasted, I doubted if they would remember much of what happened come morning.
I kicked my sneakers off and left them on the sand, then I waded out into the ocean. I stopped when I was in waist deep water and set the Count down, he floated like a vampire shaped iceberg.
I peeled my bikini bottom off and wrapped it around my wrist. Just because I could change form didn’t mean my clothes could. Once my bikini bottom was out of the way, I changed form.
In a matter of seconds, my legs transformed into my beautiful green tail. All I have to do is think about changing form and it happens. And just for the record, it isn’t painful. All I feel is a mild tingle, kind of like when your hand or foot falls asleep and then wakes up.
A mermaid’s tail always matches the color of her eyes. I have green eyes, so my tail’s green. Savanna has blue eyes so her tail is blue. I can’t tell you why it’s that way. Genetics, I guess.
I grabbed a fist full of the Count’s shirt and headed south. I was moving at a good clip, around fifty miles an hour. I could go faster, but I couldn’t maintain that pace for several hours. This was a pace I could maintain, although when I got back to shore, I would need to eat. A lot.
I took the Count to a part of the ocean called the Cedros Trench, just off the coast of Baja California. It’s not the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, but it was deep enough for what I needed to do.
Once there, I took a deep breath and closed the membranes inside my nose. Like all mermaids, I can open and close them at will. That way, when I’m underwater, I don’t have to worry about getting any water into my lungs, not as long as I remember to keep my big mouth shut.
Fortified with enough air to last for several hours, I grabbed the still frozen Count and headed straight down, into the briny deep, as the pirates used to say.
Just before I reached crush depth. Well, crush depth for a vampire. I reached out with my mind, to the water inside the Count’s body. Then I ordered the water in his body, in his blood, in his cells, to thaw out.
No way was I going to let the Count die peacefully. I wanted him to be awake when he died. I wanted him to know what was happening to him. I wanted him to know who was putting an end to his unnaturally long life.
It took a couple of minutes, but the Count eventually came back to life. The first thing he did after coming back to life was close his mouth, if for no other reason than to stop himself from swallowing sea water.
Then he looked around, to see where he was and who had brought him there. When he saw me, I smiled and waved. He glared at me for a second, he might have been trying to compel me. Not that it did any good. He couldn’t compel me when we were on land, no way was he going to be able to compel me when we were in the ocean. He might have been a count, but I was a queen of the sea. And this was my kingdom.
When the Count realized that he couldn’t compel me, he looked up and then swam for the surface. Before he could get very far, I grabbed his ankle and headed down, straight down, pulling the Count down with me.
He tried to kick me in the head, but missed. I responded by slapping him in the face with my tail. I didn’t miss.
You can’t drowned a vampire. They’re already dead. They don’t need air to survive anymore than they need food. All they need is blood. It supplies their bodies with everything they need to remain active. That meant the Count could stay down here longer than I could. He just couldn’t go as deep as I could.
The Count fought me as I pulled him down, fought me hard, trying everything he could to free his ankle from my grip.
He failed. We were both strong, ridiculously strong. But while the water fortified my strength, it robbed him of some of his. This was my domain and even the world’s oldest vampire couldn’t compete with me down here.
As we neared the bottom of the trench, his struggling stopped. I turned around to face him but he wasn’t there. There was no body attached to the foot I was still holding. There was nothing but blood and chum, chunks of meat if you prefer. Not counting the Hawaiian shirt, board shorts, and Maui Jim sunglasses, which were floating back to the surface.
The ocean had done its job. The Count was dead, which meant the title of the world’s oldest vampire would pass to someone else. It just wouldn’t pass to Titus Hawthorn. He was gone, because I had failed to do my job.
It was morning when I walked out of the ocean. My sneakers were still on the beach, right where I left them. The kids that had been partying were still there, sleeping off last night’s revelry. I slipped into my sneakers and headed back to my condo. When I got there, I found John, he was sitting out front, on his motorcycle, a shiny black Buel.
“I was just about to leave,” he said when he saw me. “You just finish your morning swim or have you been working?”
“Working,” I said. I stopped next to John, leaned in, and gave him a quick kiss.
“Killing the world’s oldest vamp.”
“You killed a vampire last night?”
“I killed the Count, formally the world’s oldest vampire.”
“Couple of reasons.”
“Do I want to know what they are?”
“How’d you kill him?”
“Took him to the bottom of the ocean and watched the water pressure crush him like the arrogant little peanut that he was. So why are you here?”
“My first class isn’t until ten. Thought I’d stop by and see if you wanted to get some breakfast.”
“I do. Let me shower and change.”
John smiled, a mischievous smile. “You want me to come up with you?”
“I’m too tired for that. Not to mention too hungry.”
“One of those mornings huh?”
“It was a long night.” I gave John another peck on the lips and headed upstairs. Ten minutes later, I had showered, changed into jeans and a black tee shirt, and joined John downstairs.
“What are you in the mood for?” John said as I climbed on the back of the bike and he fired it up.
“Bacon, eggs, toast, pancakes, more pancakes.”
“Burned a lot of carbs did you?”
There was a Denny’s just a couple of blocks away so John took me there. He knew me well enough to know that when I was hungry, really hungry, I was more interested in quantity than quality.
John’s a big guy, six foot four, two hundred and thirty pounds. Most of it muscle. Not surprisingly, he eats like a big guy. Even so, he can’t hold a candle to how much I can eat. Especially after a busy night.
While he ate a stack of pancakes, I pretty much downed everything on the breakfast menu, drawing the attention of every other person in the restaurant. We didn’t talk while we ate. John knew me well enough to know that when I was this hungry, I wasn’t interested in talking, I was interested in eating.
Unlike some humans, my eating habits didn’t seem to embarrass him. Once he finished eating, he just sat there, sipping his coffee and watching me eat. That was when Gladrielle appeared. She burst into the restaurant and surveyed the room, looking for me.
“You might want to leave,” I said, stuffing a bite of pancakes into my mouth.
John spun around and glanced at Gladrielle. She wasn’t trying to hide her appearance from the humans, not like she did when she was a regular elf. Her eyes were two black orbs. Her ears were pointed. She hadn’t even bothered to dress.
She was still wearing the slinky black negligee that she had been wearing last night. She didn’t even have any shoes on. It was pretty clear that as soon as she had freed herself from the vines that Elrod used to bind her, she set off in search of me.
How she found me, I have no idea. Maybe elves have really sharp noses. A lot of supernaturals do. They can track you across a busy city better than a bloodhound.
“Who is she?” John asked as Gladrielle stormed toward us.
“The dead vamp’s girlfriend.”
“She can’t be a vampire. Not if she’s walking around in the bright morning sun.”
“She’s an elf. A dark elf to be precise. She specializes in throwing fireballs, so if I were you, I’d leave, right now.”
John nodded and slid out of the booth. Gladrielle reached us just as John stood up.
“I don’t know who you are but you’re not going anywhere,” she said.
She grabbed John and tossed him back in the booth, handling him as if he were a child. Apparently, super strength was a standard option in immortal bodies, it didn’t seem to matter if they were male or female, vampire or elf.
“You want some breakfast?” I said. “I’m buying.”
I shoveled some more pancakes into my mouth. I wasn’t going to let Gladrielle interrupt my breakfast. Besides, if Gladrielle wanted to fight, I would need the energy.
“Where’s Eradu?” she said, glaring down at me.
She watched me eat for a few seconds, realized that she was hungry, and sat down next to John. Then she grabbed a bowl of oatmeal that I hadn’t gotten around to yet, found a spoon, and started eating.
“Where’s Eradu?” she said, as she ate.
“He’s moved on. You should too. You should go home, your flower garden isn’t looking too good right now. Neither are the ferns in your house.”
“I meant what I said. If you harmed him, I’ll gut you like a fish.”
“What will killing me get you?”
“Won’t bring the Count back.”
“You killed him?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Then where is he?”
“First you let him go.” I nodded at John. “Then I’ll tell you what I did with the Count.”
“You tell me where Eradu is or I’ll kill him. Turn him into a human barbecue.” She stopped eating and held her hand out. A fireball appeared, floating above her palm.
“You can’t harm him,” I said, downing my pancakes with a swig of orange juice.
“Because he’s human. Supernaturals that kill humans are hunted down and executed.”
Gladrielle grinned. “I’m not a supernatural. I’m an elf. There’s a difference.”
“Not to the humans. As far as the humans are concerned, you’re another supernatural. Which means the laws that apply to me also apply to you. Besides, what would the other elves think? Killing a vamp is one thing, you can come back from that, but if you kill a human, I’m pretty sure there’s no coming back from that. You’ll be a dark elf forever. And I don’t think you want that.”
I stopped eating and looked at Gladrielle, curious to see how she’d respond.
For a minute, she did nothing. She just sat there. glaring at me. Finally, she slid out of the booth and nodded at John. “Go.”
John looked at me, checking to see what I wanted him to do. I nodded once, letting him know that he should leave. He slid out of the booth and headed for the exit without looking back. He knew me well enough, knew my work well enough, to know that when I wanted him to do something, he should do it, without question.
Once he was gone, Gladrielle sat back down and resumed eating my oatmeal. “The human is gone. Now where’s Eradu?”
“He’s dead.” I stopped eating and looked at Gladrielle, waiting to see how she’d respond to the news.
For a few seconds, she didn’t do anything. Then she grinned and shook her head. “He’s not dead. No way.”
“Yes, he’s dead. Which means there’s no reason for you to remain a dark elf. The Count is gone and he’s not coming back. You should go home, go back to your bed and breakfast, and your ferns, and your flower garden. I never should’ve brought you here. I should’ve handled the Count by myself.”
“You couldn’t handle him by yourself.”
“I could. I just didn’t know I could. There were a lot of rumors about him, and I believed them. But in the end, he was just another vamp. And like most vamps, he wasn’t nearly as tough as he thought.”
“He’s really dead?”
“He’s really dead.”
“Then so is the human that was just here.”
Gladrielle was testing me, to see how I’d react. She didn’t know who John was, didn’t know what he meant to me. I figured my best bet was to call her bluff.
I went back to my stack of pancakes. Alright, if you want to get technical, it was my fourth stack of pancakes. But who’s counting. “You want to kill him, kill him. He means nothing to me.”
“You’re lying,” Gladrielle said.
“I’m a supernatural. An abomination, as your people put it. I lack the ability to feel empathy, or compassion, or love. You can kill all the humans you want and it won’t make a bit of difference to me.”
Gladrielle shook her head. “You’re not like the other supernaturals. You’re different. You care about people. You even cared about that vampire I killed. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have asked for my help.”
“You cared about people too. A couple of days ago. And you can go back to that. Go back to being who you were, who you are. You don’t have to remain a dark elf. You killed Titus to protect someone, someone you cared about. That’s not evil. You’re not evil.”
Gladrielle laughed, actually it was more of a cackle. The kind you’d expect to hear from an evil witch. “You know nothing about me, nothing about elves. You want to see evil. I’ll show you evil.”
I shoveled the last bite of pancakes into my mouth. “Meaning?”
“Meaning, I’m going to ruin your life, just like you ruined mine. I’m going to turn you into me.”
“I hate to break it to you, but you can’t turn me into a dark mermaid. There’s no such thing.”
“Maybe not, but I can destroy everything you care about, everyone you care about.”
Before I could respond, a pair of uniformed cops entered the restaurant. Not just any cops, it was Doug and Simkins.
A waitress met them at the door and pointed in our direction. Apparently, someone had called the police when Gladrielle burst into the place. Can’t say that I was surprised. Walking around barefoot, in nothing but a slinky negligee, with her long black hair all messed up, she did look like a crazy woman. Or in this case a crazy elf.
“I should’ve known you were involved,” Simkins said as they approached our booth.
“What can I do for you guys?” I said, topping my breakfast off with a sip of coffee.
“We got a report of a crazy woman wandering into the place. Could’ve saved us a lot of trouble if they mentioned that she had red hair and a bottomless pit for a stomach.”
I nodded at Gladrielle. “I think they were referring to my friend here.”
Doug and Simkins turned their attention to Gladrielle. When she turned to look at them, they retreated a step, taken back by the black orbs that served as her eyes. “Are these friends of yours?”
“The fat one is,” I said. “Actually, him and I are lovers. So whatever you do, please don’t hurt him.”
I don’t think she believed me, probably because I didn’t put enough feeling into my plea, but then I’m a mermaid, not an actress.
“I’ll have you know I just lost five pounds,” Simkins said.
“Five down, five hundred to go,” I said.
“Mind telling us what’s going on?” Doug said to me.
“This is Gladrielle,” I said. “She’s an elf. Actually, she’s a dark elf. I’m trying to convince her to give up her life as a dark elf and go home.”
“Aren’t you the humanitarian,” Simkins said.
“Are you and her friends?” Gladrielle asked Simkins.
Simkins laughed. Long and hard. “Low and I have been a lot of things over the years, but I don’t think anyone has ever called us friends.”
Doug turned to Gladrielle. “Look miss. I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but we got laws around here. You can’t walk around half dressed, threatening people and tossing them around like rag dolls.”
“Unless you’re a mermaid,” Simkins said. “That’s pretty much how Low spends her days.”
“You and I should go to the beach together,” I said to Simkins. “Then people can point to us and say, ‘look, it’s a mermaid and a great white whale.’”
Simkins wasn’t fat when I first joined the force, but he had gained a lot of weight in the past couple of years. Now, he looked more like a cartoon version of a cop than a real cop, with his belly hanging over his belt.
Gladrielle wasn’t paying attention to the barbs Simkins and I were throwing at each other. She was focusing on Doug, eying him the way a hungry cat might eye a bird.
“You and Low are friends?” she said to Doug.
“My relationship to Miss Campbell is irrelevant,” Doug said. “Now, I’m going to have to ask you to leave this establishment. You’re making the other people here uncomfortable.”
“Uncomfortable?” Gladrielle said. “You mean as in too cold?”
“I mean they’re not able to enjoy their breakfast.”
“I think they’re cold,” Gladrielle said.
I realized what Gladrielle was about to do and shouted. “Run!”
Doug didn’t run, nor did Simkins. Not that Simkins could run, waddle maybe, but run, no freaking way. What they did was go for their guns. Not that it did any good. Before they could reach them, Gladrielle hit both of them with a fireball, setting their uniforms on fire.
I noticed that the building had a built-in sprinkler system, so I reached out with my mind, to the water flowing through the pipes. Then I ordered that water to burst out of the sprinkler heads and drench the restaurant.
A second later, the sprinkler heads came on, soaking everybody in the place, including Doug and Simkins. I ordered the water to concentrate on the two cops and their burning uniforms. It did. In a matter of seconds the fires were out.
I could hear Gladrielle cackle from near the door. “This is just the start, mermaid. Like I said, you ruined my life, now I’m going to ruin yours.”
Paramedics took Doug and Simkins to the hospital. Neither man’s life was in danger but both had second degree burns on their chest. Okay, Doug had second degree burns on his chest. Simkins had second degree burns on his giant belly.
Since John brought me there, and had left, I had to walk home. On my way back, I called him.
“It’s me,” I said when he answered.
There were a lot of cars and trucks roaring up and down the street, making a lot of noise, which would make it hard for Gladrielle to overhear my conversation, even with those big pointy ears of hers. That was assuming she was following me and listening, which she might have been.
“You okay?” John asked me.
“And the elf?”
“Threatening to destroy everything and everyone I care about.”
“And you’re calling to tell me that you think we shouldn’t see each other for awhile.”
“And to tell you to watch your back. She knows what you look like, what you smell like, she can probably track you down anytime she wants.”
“One of my advanced classes is scheduled to take a three day cruise aboard a ship called the Marine Explorer. Perhaps I should join them.”
“When does the ship leave port?”
“Tomorrow morning, eight o’clock.”
“I think your going on that cruise is an excellent idea.”
“Then I’ll see you when I get back.”
“You can count on it.”
“And you watch your back,” John said. “After all, you’re the one she’s mad at.”
There were two cops waiting for me when I got back to my condo. Stringbean and Frat Boy. The two suits that told the Count to mind his p’s and q’s while he was in town. The two that were part of the department’s newly formed supernatural division.
“What’s up?” I said, slipping my phone back in my pocket. They were sitting on the hood of their car, an unmarked, black Dodge Charger.
“We’ve been told there’s a rogue elf on the loose,” Stringbean said. “And that she’s already assaulted a pair of police officers.”
“And that’s where you get involved.”
Stringbean nodded. “We’re supposed to investigate, decided how big a threat she is to humanity.”
“I’m not sure she’s a threat to humanity,” I said. “She’s just trying to ruin my life, which means she’s going to go after anybody and everybody that she thinks I care about.”
“Why does she want to ruin your life?” Frat Boy asked me.
“I sort of killed her boyfriend.”
“Sort of?” Stringbean said with a smirk.
“I took him for a swim, a deep swim, when we got deep enough, the water pressure crushed him.”
“I’m assuming her boyfriend was a supernatural.”
“Her boyfriend was the Count.”
“You killed the Count?” Frat Boy said, sounding more than a bit surprised.
“The Pacific Ocean killed the Count, I just introduced them.”
“But he was the world’s oldest vampire, the world’s most powerful vampire.”
“Your point being?”
“You’re just a mermaid.”
Stringbean chuckled. “I thought you were supposed to be the expert on supernaturals.”
“I never said I was an expert,” Frat Boy said. “I was hired because I majored in supernatural studies. It’s everyone else that keeps calling me an expert.”
“And yet you know nothing about mermaids.” Stringbean pulled his gun out of his shoulder holster. “Well here’s your first lesson.”
Before I could protest, before Frat Boy could protest, Stringbean shot me in the stomach. At point blank range. It wasn’t a small gun either, it was a police issue thirty-eight.
“Sonofabitch!” I said, recoiling from the force of the blow.
I looked down, there was a hole in my tee shirt, just above the bellybutton. I pulled my shirt out of my pants and lifted it up. The head of the bullet was embedded in my stomach, the back half was sticking out.
I licked my thumb and index finger, so I wouldn’t burn them, then I grabbed the still hot bullet and pulled it out of my stomach. The skin was burned where the bullet hit me, and a single drop of blood trickled down to my bellybutton, but other than that I was fine. Not counting the fact that getting shot at point blank range hurt like hell.
“Lesson number one,” Stringbean said as he holstered his gun. “Mermaids have the densest muscle tissue in the world, which means their entire body is like a bulletproof vest.”
“Lesson number two,” I said, grabbing Stringbean by his scrawny neck and lifting him high into the air, not an easy thing to do considering his height. “That dense muscle tissue makes us extremely strong.” I looked up at Stringbean. “Next time you do that, I’m going to take you for a swim. You got that?”
Stringbean nodded as best he could. I lowered him to his feet. He took a moment to rub his neck and adjust his tie.
“The point being,” Stringbean said, sitting back down on the Charger’s hood. “Mermaids are a lot tougher than their reputation. If one of them tells you she killed a vampire, you had best believe her.”
“Vamps aren’t nearly as tough as their reputation” I said. “In the supernatural world, they rank somewhere in the middle in terms of how dangerous they are. There are a lot of beings out there that are way more dangerous than vampires.”
“Like a deranged elf,” Stringbean said.
“She’s not deranged,” I said. “She’s just working through some . . . issues.”
“Sounds like she’s turned into a dark elf,” Frat Boy said.
Stringbean looked at Frat Boy. “What’s a dark elf?”
Frat Boy looked at me, checking to see if I wanted to answer the question.
“You’re the expert,” I said. He scowled, clearly not likely the title ‘expert’, which I suspect was Savanna’s fault. “I’m sorry, supernatural studies major.”
“Elves are nonviolent,” Frat Boy said. “But they are powerful.”
“Not to mention immortal,” I added.
Frat Boy nodded and continued his recitation. “If an elf is forced to take another life, they suffer a mental breakdown and become what’s known as a dark elf.”
“And the difference between a regular elf and a dark elf is what?” Stringbean said.
“Regular elves are highly moral beings,” Frat Boy said. “Dark elves have no morals. They don’t care who they hurt or kill.”
“I don’t believe that,” I said. “I think there’s still good inside Gladrielle. And I think I can bring her back from the dark side.”
“Gladrielle?” Stringbean said. “That’s the elf that attacked Simkins and Wert?”
“That’s what I call her.”
“We’ve been ordered to track her down.”
“And?” I said, realizing there was more.
“And if we decide that she’s a threat to humanity, we’ve been given permission to execute her. No judge. No jury. No trial. But then you know how it works.”
I nodded. “I know how it works.”
“Can you tell us where she is?” Frat Boy asked me.
“No. And even if I knew where she was, I wouldn’t tell you.”
“Why is that?” Stringbean said.
“I already told you. I think I can bring her back from the dark side.”
“That’s not what I was taught,” Frat Boy said. “I learned that once an elf goes dark they never come back.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” I said.
Stringbean slid off the Charger and stood up. “I’ll make this simple. You find her first, maybe you can turn her back, maybe you can’t. We find her first, maybe we put her down, no judge, no jury, no trial.”
“That always was your favorite line,” I said.
Stringbean circled around the Charger and opened the driver’s door. “You want to save this elf, Low, you better find her before we do.”
He climbed in the car. Frat Boy slid off the hood and moved toward the passenger’s door. As he passed me, he glanced at the hole in my tee shirt, the one made by Stringbean’s gun.
“Can I . . . .” his voice trailed off, not quite sure how to phrase the question.
This wasn’t the first time I had been shot, nor was it the first time someone wanted to see the wound. I grabbed the hem of my tee shirt and pulled it up, showing Frat Boy the spot where Stringbean shot me. It was still red, still sore, would be for another day, but it had already stopped bleeding.
While Frat Boy stared at the wound in disbelief, I thought about pulling my tee shirt up higher, teasing him by flashing my breasts. I thought about it, but I didn’t do it. I had a boyfriend now, which meant I had to learn to suppress my natural inclinations.
Well, maybe I didn’t have to suppress them all the time. Besides, I was wearing a very nice, very expensive, black lace bra. What was the point of buying something like that if you couldn’t show it off. It’s not like I needed it for support, my dense muscle tissue took care of that.
Frat Boy’s eyes followed the hem of my tee shirt up, all the way to my chin, a move which prompted Stringbean to climb out of the car and lean on the roof. “Leave the kid alone, Low.”
“Sorry,” I said, yanking the hem of my tee shirt back down. “Old habits are hard to break.”
“Get in the car,” Stringbean said to Frat Boy.
Frat Boy scrambled into the car.
“You want to save that elf,” Stringbean said to me. “You better find her before we do.”
He climbed in the car, started it up, and drove off. As soon as their car disappeared around the corner, Gladrielle appeared. She looked the same as when she walked into the restaurant.
She still had the black orbs for eyes. She was still dressed in the long black negligee. Her long black hair still had that wild untamed look, and she was still barefoot.
Apparently, she had hid and then followed me when I left the restaurant. No big surprise. If her goal was to ruin my life then she had to stick close to me. At least until she figured out who I did and didn’t care about.
“I trust you heard what they said. You attacked two cops, two human cops, if they find you, they could execute you. No judge, no jury, no trial.”
“You think I care?”
“I think part of you cares. I think part of you wants my help.”
Gladrielle cackled, another maniacal laugh. I was beginning to think that maybe Elrod and Frat Boy were right, once an elf crossed over, became a dark elf, there was no going back.
“The humans want to kill me,” Gladrielle said. “Let them. Now that Eradu is gone, I’ve got no reason to live.”
“What about your bed and breakfast, and your ferns, and the flower garden? What about all your friends back home? You went five thousand years without having the Count in your life, I suspect you can go another five.”
“Even if I wanted to go back, which I don’t. They wouldn’t take me.”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“Because I’m a dark elf now and they would never take a dark elf back.”
“They might not take you if they knew you were a dark elf, but they don’t know. And Elrod has no intention of telling them what’s happened to you. Not if he can avoid it.”
That bit of news caught Gladrielle by surprise. I knew it caught her by surprise because her voice changed, from the deep sultry voice she had been using to her regular voice, the one she had used on our drive into the city.
It confirmed what I already suspected, that there was a war going on inside Gladrielle, a war between the dark side that emerged after she killed Titus, and other side, the side that ran the bed and breakfast and watered the ferns and tended to the flowers in her garden.
“They really don’t know what’s happened to me?”
“They really don’t know. And if you let me take you home, right now, they’ll never know.”
For a brief second, Gladrielle’s eyes changed color. The whites reappeared. The dark blue irises reappeared. Then they disappeared, so fast that if I had blinked, I would’ve missed the change.
Not that it mattered. It confirmed what I suspected. The woman that I drove to the city was still in there, still fighting for control.
That was why I couldn’t give up on her. If I didn’t help her, no one would. Not Elrod. Not the other elves. Certainly not the police. They just wanted to put her down, like a rabid dog.
“I know mermaids like water,” Gladrielle said, her voice changing to a high pitched cackle. “But I’m curious to see if you can stand the heat.”
She held her hand out, palm up. A fireball appeared above it. A big yellow fireball that looked like a miniature sun. It was bigger than the fireballs she threw at Doug and Simkins. Those were about the size of softballs. This one was the size of a beach ball. It was so hot that I could feel the heat a good twenty feet away.
I’m not sure why the heat didn’t affect Gladrielle, maybe her immortal body was immune to fire. But then I didn’t know a whole lot about elves.
“You really don’t want to throw that at me,” I said.
Even as I spoke I began to back up, moving toward the beach, which was only two blocks away. Literally a stone’s throw, well, a stone’s throw if you’ve got the strength of a mermaid.
“And why is that?” Gladrielle said.
“Because I’m the only friend you’ve got. Elrod has given up on you. The police want to execute you, and no one else in this city knows or cares about you.”
“What’s that old saying? With friends like you . . . .”
Gladrielle never finished the sentence. Instead, she pulled her arm back and heaved the fireball at me.
I responded by kissing the concrete, literally falling onto my stomach.
The fireball passed overhead. It struck the trunk of one of the palm trees that lined the street and set it on fire.
As the fire roared up the tree trunk, I scrambled to my feet and sprinted toward the beach.
I’m not as fast out of water as I am in it, but I’m not slow either. I reached the beach before Gladrielle could heave another fireball at me.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach the ocean. Just as I thought I might make it, a fireball struck me in the back, knocking me off my feet.
As I tumbled to the sand, my tee shirt in flames, I could hear Gladrielle cackle. “It’s time for a fish fry.”
I’m not sure which was worse. Getting shot in the stomach at point blank range. Getting struck down by a fireball. Or being called a fish. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, mermaids aren’t fish. Fish have gills. Mermaids don’t. We’re mammals, like dolphins and whales. Anyone that can’t understand that is an idiot.
And no, I didn’t think Gladrielle was an idiot. She was just trying to come to grips with the fact that she had taken a life. She believed, all elves believed, that taking a life made you evil, even if you did it to protect someone else. Even if you hadn’t meant to do it.
Somehow, I had to convince her that she wasn’t evil, I had to convince her that trying to protect someone she cared about didn’t make her evil. I had to convince her that what happened was an accident, that the Count, and his refusal to let Titus eat, was as much to blame for what happened as anything she did.
But that was kind of hard to do when she was throwing fireballs at me, cackling about a fish fry.
The first thing I did after hitting the ground was to roll on my back and use the sand to put out my burning shirt. Then I reached out with my mind, to the ocean behind me. I ordered the water to rise up, until it formed a twenty foot wall of water. Then I ordered it to crash down on me and Gladrielle, who was marching toward me with another fireball in her hand.
The water hit Gladrielle hard, knocking her off her feet and drenching her. It also put out the fireball.
As the water retreated back into the ocean, I ordered it to take me with it, which it did. The retreating water surrounded me and swept me into the ocean., away from Gladrielle and her fireballs.
I pulled off what was left of my tee shirt. The front was okay, but the back was burned. I was also burned, but unlike Doug and Simkins, I would heal quickly. One of the advantages of having an accelerated metabolism. By tomorrow morning, the bullet wound and the burns on my back would be gone.
My problem was convincing Gladrielle that she didn’t want to kill me, and that she wasn’t evil, and doing it before Stringbean and Frat Boy found her.
I’m pretty sure she didn’t have much to fear from Frat Boy, but Stringbean was a different matter. We attended the police academy together, graduated together. Stringbean was smart, tough, and when he needed to be, ruthless. When he was given an assignment, he carried it out.
That meant I was working on a deadline. I had to turn Gladrielle from the dark side and get her out of town before Stringbean found her and put her down.
While the water carried me deeper and deeper into the ocean, Gladrielle walked to the edge of the water. Her hair was soaked as was her slinky black negligee, not that she noticed or cared.
“You can’t stay in there forever,” she yelled.
Was she serious? I couldn’t stay in here forever? I’m a mermaid, of course I could stay in the ocean forever. Assuming I was willing to exchange my diet of pancakes, cheeseburgers, and pizzas for one of sushi and seaweed. Which I wasn’t. I liked my carbs. I needed my carbs.
“Actually, I can stay in here forever. I’m a mermaid. The question is, do you want to spend the next three hundred years waiting for me to come out?”
“Three hundred years is nothing to me.”
“You realize you’re mad at me for killing a vampire you spent the last five thousand years ignoring? Does that make sense to you?”
“He loved me.”
“Vampires aren’t capable of love. Supernaturals aren’t capable of love. He may have wanted you, but he didn’t love you.”
“I think I’m going to go find that guy you were having breakfast with,” Gladrielle said. “I don’t know who he was, but I”m guessing he means something to you.”
“I have breakfast with a lot of people,” I shot back. “Clients, witnesses, enemies. I’m a private detective. Meeting with people, talking to people, is part of the job.”
“Nice try,” Gladrielle said, turning and heading away from the ocean. “But I saw the way he looked at you. He likes you, cares about you. I’m guessing you care about him.”
“I’m a supernatural. I don’t care about anybody but myself.”
Gladrielle laughed and disappeared between the cars in the parking lot that bordered the beach. I peeled my pants and briefs off, changed my legs into my tail, and headed south at a high rate of speed.
Gladrielle might be able to use her nose to track John, but I knew where he lived. And as luck would have it, he lived right next to the ocean, next to the docks where the tuna boats moored. In a building that had originally been a canning factory.
It only took me a couple of minutes to reach John’s place. That’s when I remembered that he had a ten o’clock class.
I changed my tail back into my legs, ordered the water that was soaking my clothes to run off them, and got dressed. Well, except for my tee shirt, which was ruined. Luckily, I had a key to John place, which I wore on a chain around my neck, along with all of my keys. When you spend as much time in the water as I do, you learn to carry whatever you need around your neck, wrists, or waist.
I let myself into John’s place, found another tee shirt, and headed for the campus where John taught. The school was next to the ocean, about halfway between where I was and where Gladrielle had been.
Gladrielle had a bit of a head start on me, but I had the advantage of knowing where I was going. Plus, she would have to go back to the Dennys, pick up John’s scent, and follow him that way. Not an easy thing to do in a city congested with cars, trucks, people and food, no matter how sharp your nose.
I ran to campus. I’m not as fast out of the water as I am in it, but I”m fast enough, about as fast as your average vampire, which is way faster than your average human. Of course, all this swimming and running meant I would have to replenish my carbs with a big lunch.
I found the building where John’s class was held, found the classroom, only John wasn’t there, neither was his class. I was about to go into a panic when a passing coed said, “I think they’re outside. When the weather’s nice, some of the professors will hold their classes out on the lawn.”
She pointed to the side of the building they were on, which was opposite the side I entered. The building was U shaped. I found John and his class in the middle of the U, sitting on the grass beneath a palm tree.
It was a small class, maybe a dozen students, mostly girls. Had to be an upper level course since his introductory courses had hundreds of students.
John saw me, realized that something was up, and brought his class to an early close, giving them a reading assignment. I stood quietly off to the side until his students headed off elsewhere.
“What’s up?” John said, giving me a quick peck on the lips.
“Gladrielle, the psychotic elf you met at breakfast, is looking for you.”
“Because she wants to ruin my life and she figures the best way to do that is by going after the people I care about.”
John grinned, that big, goofy grin that he specialized in. “You know, I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you admit that you care about me.”
“No no. I didn’t say I cared about you. I said that Gladrielle’s going after people she thinks I care about.”
“That’s not what you said,” a still grinning John said. “You said she’s going after the people you care about. I also know that you have trouble admitting that you care about people, you think it makes you seem weak.”
I never had a chance to respond to John’s comment because Gladrielle appeared. We were at the bottom of the U, she was at the top. She was still barefoot, still wearing the black negligee. Her eyes were still black orbs. Her hair had dried from the soaking I had given it, frizzing in the process, which made her look even wilder and crazier.
“You got here quickly,” Gladrielle said. “But then you had an advantage over me. You knew where he was.”
She held her right hand out, palm up. Almost immediately, a beach ball sized fireball appeared.
“You really want to do that here?” I said. “On a crowded college campus? Someone could get hurt.”
Even as I spoke, I reached out with my mind, searching for any water that might be nearby. I found it beneath the lawn. The campus had a built-in sprinkler system. It probably wasn’t enough water to discourage Gladrielle, let alone put out the fireball that she was holding, but it was better than nothing.
I ordered the water to burst out of the sprinkler heads and soak that part of the campus. A second later, the sprinkler heads came on, drenching the lawn, and trees, and people in the middle of the U.
The students that were there scattered, which was a good thing since none of them even noticed the crazy elf with the fireball in her hand. For her part, the crazy elf only laughed. “You’re going to have to do better than that.”
She heaved the fireball at us. I say us, because John was standing beside me, ignoring the water that was drenching him.
Gladrielle wanted me to do better, so I did better. I ordered the water droplets that were in the air to come together, to form a wall between Gladrielle and us, which they did. It wasn’t a big wall, nor was it a thick wall, but it did reduce the size of Gladrielle’s fireball from a beach ball to that of a soccer ball.
John had played college football. He wasn’t good enough to play in the pros, but he was athletic enough to dodge Gladrielle’s fireball, which exploded harmlessly against the brick wall behind us.
“You’re treading on dangerous ground here,” I said as another fireball formed in Gladrielle’s palm. Even as it did, I ordered the water in the air to come together, putting another thin wall of water between us. “Killing a supernatural is one thing, your own people consider us to be abominations. But you’re trying to kill a human. We both know that if you do that, there’s no coming back. You’ll be a dark elf forever. You’ll never see your bed and breakfast again, you’ll never see your flower garden again, you’ll never see the people that care about you.”
“The only person I cared about was Eradu.”
“Eradu died five thousand years ago. When he became a vampire. You knew that back then, that’s why you walked away from him.”
“He died today, when you killed him.”
Another beach ball sized fireball came flying at us. Once again, my thin wall of water reduced the size of the fireball but didn’t put it out. Once again, John had to jump out of the way. Once again, the fireball exploded against the brick wall behind us.
“Maybe this is why my teachers made us play dodge ball when we were kids,” John said.
He didn’t seem scared or worried. If anything, he seemed to be enjoying himself. Maybe it was the athlete in him. Maybe he missed the competition. Then again, maybe he just trusted me to protect him, which probably wasn’t a good idea. Titus trusted me to protect him and look what happened to him.
I glanced at John and indicated the door directly behind us. “I think you should go inside.”
“She’ll just follow me. Plus that building is full of students. If I go in there somebody will probably get hurt.”
Off in the distance, I could hear sirens. I’m not sure John or any of the other humans could, but I knew Gladrielle could, what with those big pointy ears of hers.
“Cops are coming,” I yelled as Gladrielle created another fireball. “If I were you, I’d leave. They’ve been given the go ahead to execute you.”
Gladrielle heaved the fireball at John. He dove onto the wet grass, landing on his stomach. The fireball sailed harmlessly overhead, bursting against the brick wall like fireworks.
I was trying to be patient, after all, I was the one that dragged Gladrielle into this. If I hadn’t gone to her hometown and asked for help, she wouldn’t be here. She would at home, tending to the ferns in her bed and breakfast, tending to the flowers in her garden.
On the flip side, John was my boyfriend. My first boyfriend. For all I knew, my last. I had gone thirty years without anyone wanting to be my boyfriend. If she killed John, I might not find anyone else that was willing to put up with who I was, not to mention what I did for a living. If she kept this up, I would be forced to retaliate.
Fortunately, she retreated, disappearing out of view. I suspect it wasn’t just me and the water that forced her to retreat. The police sirens were louder now, loud enough for the humans to hear.
I waited to see if Gladrielle was coming back. When I was sure she wasn’t, I ordered the water to stop running out of the sprinklers.
“I think you can get up,” I said to John. “I don’t think she’ll be coming back, not for awhile anyway.”
John pulled himself off the grass and scrambled to his feet. Like me, his clothes were soaked, but I took care of that in a second, ordering the water drenching his clothes to run off them. A second later, he was dry. A second after that, I was dry. A second after that, the cops appeared at the top of the U.
Two cops to be specific. Stringbean and Frat Boy. Both had their guns in their hands, although Frat Boy didn’t look too comfortable with a gun in his hand. Not nearly as comfortable as Stringbean.
When Stringbean saw me, he lowered his gun. “I should’ve known you’d be here.” He slipped his gun back inside its shoulder holster, then noticed Frat Boy’s gun was still drawn and pointed in our direction. “You can put the gun away, kid. The elf is gone.”
Frat Boy looked at the gun in his hands, almost as if he had forgotten that it was there, then he quickly put it away, slipping it back inside the holster attached to his left shoulder.
“We got a call,” Stringbean said. “Crazy women with black hair and black orbs for eyes, walking around in her underwear, hurling fireballs at people. They didn’t say you were one of the people that she was hurling the fireballs at.”
“I guess I’m not that memorable, maybe it’s the haircut.”
Stringbean chuckled, but then he was one of the few people that found me funny. Always did. Then again, maybe he just wanted in my pants, a lot of men did. Problem was, that’s pretty much all they wanted from me. Except for John. He was different. He liked hanging out with me, even liked watching me eat. He was big and strong and smart and handsome, but he did have a weakness. Namely, a highly questionable taste in women.
“Don’t suppose you can tell us where the elf went,” Stringbean said.
“Even if I could I wouldn’t.”
“Because you’re trying to kill her and I’m trying to save her.”
“She’s a danger to society. Human society.”
“Only until I can turn her from the dark side.”
“If you can’t turn her from the dark side?”
“If I can’t, I’ll put her down myself.”
“Mermaid’s promise?” Stringbean said.
Damn. He boxed me into a corner. I forgot he knew that when a mermaid gave you what we called a mermaid’s promise, we would either keep it or die trying. Why? It’s simple. Everyone holds something sacred. To a mermaid, the most sacred thing there is, is what we call a mermaid’s promise. My grandmother ground that fact into my mother and my mother ground it into me.
“Mermaid’s promise,” I said. “If I can’t turn Gladrielle from the dark side, I’ll put her down myself.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Stringbean said.
He turned and headed back the way he came, with Frat Boy scurrying after him.
“What now?” John said when we were alone.
“Now, I have no choice. I either turn Gladrielle from the dark side, or I kill her.”
John’s boss, Mark Penning, the head of the marine biology department at the university, called John into his office as soon as he heard about the fireball incident, which was less than an hour after Gladrielle made her appearance.
Mark was the guy that we were having dinner with when Elvis vamp appeared, insisting that Titus needed to see me. He was about what you’d expect the head of a college department to look like, a man in his mid fifties with thinning brown hair, a pot belly, and a rumpled suit.
I waited in the hallway outside his office, but used my supernatural hearing to listen to what was being said behind the closed door.
“I heard about the fireballs,” Mark said.
“I suspect everyone has,” John said. “Rumors travel fast on a college campus.”
“Especially when they involve a fireball throwing elf.”
“It is something you don’t see everyday.”
“You want to tell me about it,” Mark said.
“Not much to tell. A deranged elf appeared and tossed a few fireballs at me. The cops arrived and she left.”
“Why was she throwing fireballs at you?”
“Apparently, Low did something that upset her.”
“You mean your girlfriend. The mermaid.”
John didn’t say anything, but I suspect he nodded.
“I understand why you like her,” Mark said. “She’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met. That being said, are you sure being involved with her is a good idea?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“She seems to be involved with some, I’m not sure how to put this, highly questionable individuals. There was that vampire that showed up while we were eating dinner, now we have this incident.”
“She’s a private detective, being involved with highly questionable individuals is part of the job.”
“Maybe she should find a new line of work.”
“You do know that she used to be a cop. Rose to the rank of detective faster than anyone in the history of the department. She left the force having received more commendations than any other officer in history. What’s more, she did it all before she turned thirty. So do I think being involved with the most decorated police officer in the history of this city is a good idea. Yeah. I think it’s a very good idea.
“It’s people like her that ensure people like you and I can hold our little wine and cheese parties without having to worry about our safety. Now if you, or the dean, or the president of the university, want to make an issue out of this, then that’s fine with me. Let’s take this issue to the media, who do you think the public is going to side with? You or us? And don’t forget. This is a public institution. Taxpayer dollars pay our salaries.”
I almost cheered, then I remembered that this was supposed to be a private conversation. Was what he said true? Yeah. It was. I kept some of those commendations in frames, hanging on a wall in my living room. Not because they meant a lot to me, but because they made my clients feel better. Especially my human clients.
A lot of them were reluctant to hire a girl to do what they considered to be dirty work. I tried to explain that I wasn’t a girl, I was a mermaid. That always seemed to fall on deaf ears, so I just started inviting them to punch me in the stomach. Most refused. The few that did punch me usually wound up with a broken hand. Not that they seemed to mind since each and every one of them hired me.
“Point taken,” Mark said. “I’m just concerned about the safety of our students.”
“This isn’t the first time somebody that wanted to get to Low came after me,” John said. “And it probably won’t be the last. The good news is, that was my only class today. And tomorrow, I’m going on that explorer cruise with my graduate students. Hopefully, Low’s issues with the elf will be resolved by the time we get back.”
“Sounds like being a detective is a dirty business.”
“It can be, especially when you deal with supernaturals. They don’t think like you or I, nor do they follow the same rules.”
I tuned out the rest of their conversation. Mostly because the conflict was over and they were just making small talk. Besides, John had already made it clear that he wasn’t going to dump me just to save his job.
Was I surprised by that? Yes. And no. I was surprised that someone was willing to sacrifice their career for me, but I wasn’t surprised that John would do it. John was a jock, ex-jock. He loved competing, and when someone pushed him, he pushed back. Sometimes without thinking about what he was doing.
Although, after listening to his argument, it was pretty clear that he was thinking when he told Mark why he wasn’t going to break up with me.
The door to Mark’s office opened and John stepped out, followed by Mark.
“I see you’re still here,” Mark said to me.
“The fireball throwing elf is mad at me,” I said. “Wants to make me suffer. She thinks the best way to do that is by going after the people I care about. As such, I figure it’s best to keep an eye on John until he’s beyond her reach.”
“Can I ask why she’s mad at you?”
“I killed a vampire. Actually, he was the world’s oldest vampire. I guess the elf and him had a relationship, a long long time ago.”
“You killed a vampire?”
“Took him to the bottom of the ocean, to what submariners call crush depth. The ocean did the rest.” I smacked Mark on the side of his arm, maybe a little too hard since I practically knocked him off his feet. “If you want, the next time I do that, I can take a camera with me. Film it. Might be educational, let your students to see what happens to a vamp when they reach crush depth.”
I know. I was being a smart ass. But the guy called John into his office to tell him that it was in his best interests to dump me. You do that. You try to convince the only boyfriend I’ve ever had, may ever have, that he should dump me, and you move right to the top of my shit list.
“I suspect some of our students would love to see that,” Mark said. “Although I’m not sure it would be appropriate.”
He turned and disappeared into his office, rubbing his arm.
“He thinks I’m inappropriate company.”
John dismissed Mark with a wave of his hand. “He’s an academic, spent his entire life on a college campus. The ironic thing is, his job is to prepare students for a world that he knows nothing about. A world he’s spent his entire life avoiding.”
“He’s not wrong you know. If you weren’t involved with me, you wouldn’t have to worry about bogeymen kidnapping you, or elves throwing fireballs at you.”
“And then my life would be as boring as Mark’s. I might be working as an academic, but that doesn’t mean I have to live like one.”
“I’m just saying if you want to end this, I”ll understand why.”
John took my hand in his and held it as we walked down the hall. “Nice try but you’re not getting rid of me that easily. You want to dump me, you’re going to have to give me one of those --I’ve met somebody else--speeches.”
“I think we both know that’s not going to happen. Most guys run the other way when they discover that I can bench press their car.”
“Maybe you need a secret identity. Like all those superheros you see in the movies.”
“That would involve wearing dark glasses twenty-four seven.” It was my eyes that always gave me away, told people that I wasn’t human. Mermaid eyes are bigger and brighter than human eyes. And in my case, greener.
We headed downstairs, still holding hands, which I found touching. John was the only man I knew that wanted to hold my hand. There were plenty of men that wanted to hold other parts of my body, but none of them had ever wanted to hold my hand.
“What now?” John said.
“Now we find a place to hide you, where Gladrielle and her big nose can’t find you.”
“I have a friend who owns a sailboat. It’s not a big boat, but it does have a bed big enough for two. We could put to sea, spend the night there.”
“Spending the night at sea sounds perfect.” Suddenly, I was in the mood to share a bed, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the fact that John stood up for me. Maybe it was the fact that he liked holding my hand. Maybe it was all of the above.
The next morning, John and I headed back to shore. John joined his class for a three day expedition aboard a ship called the Marine Explorer. I’m not sure what they were looking for, but the ship did contain a submersible big enough for six people. I told the ship’s captain that if they went to the Cedros Trench, they might find some vampire chunks floating around, but he just looked at me funny. Little did he know that fish won’t eat vamp chunks, even the sharks won’t touch them.
John said they were hoping to see a mermaid. His idea of a joke. I said the best place to see a mermaid was at the International House of Pancakes, which is where I headed for breakfast, right after watching John’s ship leave port.
I had just started in on a stack of pancakes topped with strawberries and whipped cream when Stringbean and Frat Boy arrived.
“I haven’t seen her,” I said as Stringbean slid into the booth, right across from me. “I spent the night at sea.”
“We know,” Stringbean said.
Frat Boy didn’t seem to know where to sit, whether to slide in next to his partner or next to me. I solved the dilemma by patting the seat next to me, then I looked at Stringbean, and said, “You’ve been following me?”
“The elf has a grudge against you. Easiest way to find her is to follow you around.”
“I already gave you my promise. If I can’t turn her from the dark side, I’ll put her down myself.”
“I’m aware of that, but we still have a job to do.”
My waitress arrived, checking to see if my friends wanted anything.
“Order what you want,” I said. “I’m buying.”
“Since when did you become so generous?” Stringbean said.
“You know me, always willing to help the . . . I was going to say boys in blue, but in the case of you two that wouldn’t be accurate. How about this. You know me. Always willing to help the boys in an off-the-rack ill fitting poly-cotton blend.”
“She’s referring to you,” Stringbean said to his partner.
I was, but then Stringbean was too tall and too skinny to shop where everybody else shopped. His suits were either tailor made, or purchased from specialty stores. Not that he couldn’t afford it. His mother’s family was rich, filthy rich. They owned a fleet of ships that transported those big metal cargo containers you see sitting on the docks.
Stringbean turned his attention to the waitress and ordered a big stack of pancakes, Frat Boy opted for waffles, a small stack of waffles. I changed it to a large.
“At this table, we eat like men,” Stringbean said.
“If I ate like a man, I’d starve to death,” I said. “At this table, we eat like mermaids.”
Stringbean grinned. “I got no problem with that.”
He was the only human I knew that could come close to putting away as much food as I could. He was the only human I knew that I would call dangerous. He looked human, he smelled human, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a strand or two of supernatural DNA in him.
Stringbean and Frat Boy were in the middle of their first stacks, and I was in the middle of my second, when Gladrielle burst into the place. I don’t know where she spent the last twenty-four hours, but wherever it was, she hadn’t bothered to change clothes or comb her hair. This raised and interesting question. What did she do when she wasn’t throwing fireballs at me or the people I cared about?
“I understand you boys have been looking for me,” she said, sauntering up to our table.
As soon as he saw her, Frat Boy dropped his fork and went for his gun. Stringbean didn’t even blink. He just continued to eat his pancakes and sip his coffee.
“Uh-uh,” Gladrielle said. She held her right hand out, palm up. Another fireball appeared above it. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“You turning yourself in?” Stringbean said between sips of coffee.
“Maybe,” Gladrielle said. “I guess it depends.”
“Upon whether you boys are willing to make a deal with me.”
“What kind of a deal?”
“I was going to ruin the mermaid’s life by killing all the people she cares about, all the people that care about her, but as it turns out, there don’t seem to be too many people around that care about her. Although I can’t say I’m surprised. She’s not that likable.”
“Is there a point to this?” I said between bites of pancake.
“The point is, I’ve decided not to kill your friends. I’ve decided to go back to my original plan and kill you. Except my killing you wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as watching, say, one of these guys kill you.”
“Let me get this straight,” Stringbean said. “If I shoot Low, you’ll turn yourself in, you’ll let us take you to the station for booking.”
Gladrielle giggled. A psychotic giggle that made me wonder if Elrod was right, if there was no way for an elf to come back from the dark side.
“That’s my offer,” she said. “Take it or leave it.”
“How do I know your word is any good? How do I know you won’t just set us on fire after I kill Low?”
“I’m an elf, my word is always good.”
“You’re dark elf,” Frat Boy said. “The word of a dark elf can’t be trusted.”
“He has a point,” Stringbean said. “And you did set two cops on fire yesterday. That being said, I’m willing to risk it and take you up on your offer.”
Stringbean reached into his suit coat and pulled out his thirty-eight. Then he pointed it at me and looked at Gladrielle. “Anything you want to say to her before I shoot her?”
Gladrielle looked at me and giggled, then she shook her head. “I just want to watch her die.”
Before I could protest, Stringbean fired, shooting me in the stomach for the second day in a row.
When the bullet hit me, I groaned. Even if your muscle tissue is dense enough to stop a bullet, it still hurts to get shot. Hurts something fierce.
I didn’t know what else to do, other than groan, so I slumped forward, landing face first on the table. Maybe if Gladrielle thought I was dead, she would hold up her end of the deal and let Stringbean and Frat Boy take her into custody.
If they locked her up, I wouldn’t have to worry about her throwing fireballs at me or anyone else. What’s more, it would give me a chance to talk to her, convince her that she wasn’t evil, convince her to come back from the dark side.
“All right,” Stringbean said. “I held up my end of the deal. I shot her. Now, it’s time for you to hold up your end of the deal and let us take you into custody.”
“You shot her,” Gladrielle said. “But you didn’t kill her. I can still hear her heart beating.”
“That’s because I didn’t shoot her in the heart. I shot her in the gut.”
“Why would you do that?”
“You shoot someone in the heart, they die instantly. What’s more, there’s practically no pain. Only a brief second. Gut shots on the other hand, they hurt, they hurt bad.”
“So, she’ll die slowly?”
“Unless someone calls for help. Now, are you going to come with us quietly, or do I have to shoot you in the gut too. Let you experience what it feels like first hand.”
“I’d like to watch her die,” Gladrielle said.
“That wasn’t our deal. Our deal was, I shoot the mermaid and you let us take you into custody.”
“I want to watch her die,” Gladrielle whined. She stomped her foot on the floor, like a recalcitrant child.
Stringbean slid out of his seat and pressed the barrel of his gun against the side of Gladrielle’s head. “You can either come with us, or I can put a bullet in your head. The choice is yours.”
“Everybody relax,” Frat Boy said, sliding out of his seat. “We’re cops.”
He must’ve pulled out his badge and held it up because the excited crowd quieted down. I could see Stringbean and Gladrielle out of the corner of my eye, but with my head on the table, I couldn’t see Frat Boy.
“And I told you,” Gladrielle said, anger creeping into her voice. “I want to watch the mermaid die.”
Stringbean and Gladrielle disappeared out of my view. That was followed by the sound of a scuffle. A second later, Stringbean’s head slammed onto the table next to mine. One of Gladrielle’s hands was holding him there, the other one was holding his thirty-eight, pressing the barrel of the gun against the back of Stringbean’s head.
Stringbean looked at me and mouthed the word, help.
I figured I better do something before Gladrielle put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger, so I sprung into action. I grabbed the gun Gladrielle was holding against Stringbean’s head and jerked it out of her hand. She was strong, stronger than your average human male, but she wasn’t strong enough to prevent me from ripping the gun out of her hand. One of the advantages of having such dense muscle tissue. Plus, I was using two hands while she was using one.
“He shot you,” Gladrielle said, stating the obvious.
I slid out of the booth and stood up. I shifted the gun to my right hand and pointed it at Gladrielle. I had no intention of shooting her, I was still hoping to bring her back from the dark side. I just thought if I pointed the gun at her, she might behave herself.
“He did shoot me.”
“Let me guess. The bullets in the gun are blanks.”
“The bullets are real,” Stringbean said, as he pulled himself off the table.
He pulled out his handcuffs and moved behind Gladrielle, intending to handcuff her. Gladrielle didn’t resist, she let Stringbean pull her hands behind her back and cuff them. She was more focused on trying to figure out why I wasn’t hurt.
“Then why isn’t she dying?”
“I have extremely dense muscle tissue,” I said. “Dense enough to stop a small to medium sized bullet. That’s why the water pressure that crushed the Count, didn’t hurt me.”
In retrospect, reminding Gladrielle what happened to the Count probably wasn’t a good idea. Her face turned red with anger and she snapped the steel cuffs as if they were made of paper. Then she moved toward me with another fireball in her hand.
Since I had no intention of using the gun on her, I tossed it underneath the table where I had been sitting. I would’ve tossed it to Stringbean, but he would’ve just shot Gladrielle.
I also had no intention of getting hit with another fireball, so I grabbed the nearest table that wasn’t bolted to the floor and picked it up. Then I held it in front of me like a shield, just in time to deflect the beach ball sized fireball that Gladrielle threw at me.
For his part, Frat Boy took refuge behind me. Stringbean remained where he was, standing just off to the side. However, he didn’t remain passive. He pulled an electric stunner out of his pocket and pointed it at Gladrielle. I barely had time to yell no, before he fired it at her.
Two wires shot out and hit Gladrielle in the stomach. It was enough electricity to bring down a small gorilla, but then Gladrielle wasn’t a small gorilla, she was an elf that possessed the ability to control energy, including electricity.
She glared at the two wires in her stomach, then she glared at Stringbean. A second later the electricity headed back the way it came, traveling along the wires and back into the stunner, which exploded in Stringbean’s hands and knocked him off his feet.
I was still holding the table in front of me, protecting Frat Boy and myself from Gladrielle’s fireballs. Which I have to admit, I was getting tired of ducking. Every time, I ran into her, she ended up throwing fireballs at me.
I figured it was time I do something about that, so I reached out with my mind, to the water that made up over sixty percent of Gladrielle’s body. Then I ordered that water to cool, not freeze, just cool a couple of degrees, just enough to stop Gladrielle from heaving fireballs at me. Only it didn’t work.
“Nice try, mermaid,” a cackling Gladrielle said. “But my ability to control heat includes my body heat. I can turn it up, I can turn it down. At will.”
She began to glow brighter and brighter, as she turned her body heat up. A second later, the black ankle length negligee that she was wearing burst into flames. A second after that, she became so bright that everyone in the place had to shield their eyes.
Eventually, Gladrielle turned her body heat down. When she was no longer glowing, when we could look at her again, I lowered the table I was still holding in front of me. I didn’t set it down, I just lowered it enough so I could look at Gladrielle.
Her negligee was reduced to a ring of ash around her feet, which meant that she was buck naked. She started to create another fireball, but got distracted by the sound of approaching sirens.
“This isn’t over mermaid,” she said, looking in the direction of the sirens.
She turned and sprinted out the door. I waited a few seconds, to see if she would pop back in and toss another fireball at me. When she didn’t, I set down the table, returning it to its spot on the floor.
I glanced around, checking to see if Stringbean was the only one that was hurt. As far as I could tell, he was. Frat Boy was holding his phone, which told me that he had been the one that called for backup.
I knelt next to Stringbean, checking to see if he was okay. He was alive, but unconscious. His hands were burned, bad enough to warrant medical attention.
“How is he?” Frat Boy asked, kneeling next to me.
“Alive, but it looks like his hands got burned. I’m guessing he won’t be holding a gun anytime soon.”
“He’s going to hate that.”
We both stood up as a pair of uniformed officers burst into the restaurant. Frat Boy flashed his badge, identifying himself and telling them an officer was down and needed medical attention. While they called an ambulance, Frat Boy turned to me. “This is the third officer she’s injured in the last twenty-four hours.”
“I’m aware of that,” I said.
“And you still think that you can bring her back from the dark side?”
“I’m getting less sure all the time.”
“When the captain hears about this he’s probably going to order a city wide manhunt for her.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I said. “The more cops you send after her, the more likely those cops will get hurt.”
“Wasn’t that your job when you were with the department?” Frat Boy asked me. “Hunting down rogue supernaturals.”
“Eventually. After I got promoted to detective. And they found out what I was capable of doing.”
“Yeah, well, they just hired someone else to do that job.”
To say that I was surprised was an understatement. It was hard to find supernaturals that were willing to work with humans. Most supernaturals tend to avoid humans. They didn’t view humans as their equals, despite the fact that humans outnumbered them a million to one. Not to mention that all the roads and cities and pretty much everything else on the planet, was built by humans.
Not only did humans possess the ability to love, something supernaturals seemed to lack, they also possessed the ability to create, something else supernaturals seemed to lack. Think about it. What has a vampire ever created, other than more vampires? What has a werewolf ever created, other than more werewolves? Maybe that was why supernaturals tended to avoid humans. Maybe they were jealous of the fact that they couldn’t create. Not like humans.
Then there was the fact that a lot of supernaturals saw humanity as a walking buffet. That’s how most vamps and bogeymen viewed them. Of course, what they wanted from them was slightly different. Vamps wanted the humans for their blood while bogeymen fed on their youth.
I was curious as to what kind of a supernatural the humans had brought into the police force. What kind of a supernatural could work alongside humans without turning them into a midnight snack?
“The department hired a supernatural to replace me?”
Frat Boy nodded. “Just started this week.”
“So what kind of a guy did they hire.”
“It’s not a guy. It’s a girl. A siren to be exact.”
I burst out laughing. “Let me guess. Petite little blond, calls herself Crystal.”
“Sounds like you’ve met.”
Sirens and mermaids are natural rivals. Mostly because we both love shiny things. Sirens would use their magical voices to lure sailors to them, forcing them to crash their ships upon the rocks. Why did they do it? Simple. They wanted whatever treasure the sailors were carrying. Not that they always got that treasure. A lot of the time some mermaid snatched it up before the siren could get to it.
Sirens aren’t big or strong or fast, but then they don’t need to be, their hypnotic voices can put anyone in a trance, causing them to do something they don’t want to do. Like crash their ship upon the rocks. They also have long life spans, way longer than the two to three hundred years a mermaid lives.
Crystal and John used to work together. They even dated and got engaged. Not that Crystal loved John, like most supernaturals she didn’t possess the ability to love someone else. She was just using John to get back at me.
I snatched a few treasures from underneath her nose, treasures that she had spent a lot of money looking for. Since I took something from her, she decided to take something from me, namely John. When that didn’t work out, she decided to try something else, like getting John kidnapped.
I have no idea why she was working with the cops. I assumed it was another scheme to get back at me. As far as I knew, she didn’t have a background in law enforcement. But then I didn’t know how old she actually was. She was older than me. That’s all I knew. Who knows, maybe Adam or Eve appointed her to be the town sheriff after they got kicked out of the Garden of Eden.
“We’ve met,” I said. “And as far as I know, she has no background in law enforcement, which makes me wonder how she convinced the department to hire her.”
“I heard she volunteered her services,” Frat Boy said. “Free of charge.”
If she was doing this for free, then she was definitely up to something. The question was what?
“I’m not sure a siren is powerful enough to bring down a dark elf,” I said. Nor did I believe Crystal was interested in bringing Gladrielle to justice. It was more likely that she wanted to help Gladrielle kill me.
“Elves have very good hearing,” Frat Boy said. “Which means she should be more susceptible to the siren’s power.”
“And you’re hoping the siren can put her in a trance long enough to allow you guys to lock her up.”
Frat Boy shrugged his shoulders. “She’s done it before, with other supernaturals.”
“She’s not a cop, never went to the police academy.”
“The department refers to her as an independent consultant.”
“And she just showed up one day, volunteering her services.”
“I’m not sure how she hooked up with the department. Rumor is the mayor suggested we hire her.”
That I believed. Crystal did have a lot of money. She owned a business called the Kragen Institute for Marine Research, which is where John used to work. She also had partial ownership in several other businesses, some with supernaturals, some with humans. It didn’t surprise me in the least that she was friends with the mayor. Charming men, human men, was her specialty.
“Speak of the devil,” Frat Boy said.
He nodded toward the door, and to the people that had just entered the restaurant. They included a pair of paramedics, a couple more uniforms, and Walter Francis.
When I was with the force, Walter was a lieutenant in homicide. Which made him second in command in homicide, which made him my boss. He had also been partnered with my father when they were younger. They were still friends, even though my father now lived on the other side of the country.
Walter had recently been promoted to captain and put in charge of the newly formed supernatural division, which meant he was Stringbean’s and Frat Boy’s boss.
There was one more person in Walter’s entourage, Crystal Kragen. She looked the same as the last time I saw her, petite, with long blond hair and bright blue eyes. She looked more like a college cheerleader than a powerful supernatural that was hundreds, if not thousands of years old.
She was also living proof that you didn’t have to be a superhero to have an arch nemesis. Because she was without a doubt, my arch nemesis.
Crystal saw me and smiled. It wasn’t a warm or friendly smile. It was one of those smarmy smiles you can only see on the face of a siren. It was a smile that couldn’t mask the hatred she felt for me.
Not that I could blame her for hating me. I had snatched a lot of shiny shiny treasures from her in the past couple of years. But was it my fault she hired humans to retrieve sunken treasure, a job that was clearly designed for a mermaid.
“I heard you were playing cops and robbers,” I said as Crystal approached me.
“There are a lot of rogue supernaturals in this city,” Crystal said. “Somebody has to bring them to justice.”
“How’s your treasure room these days? As empty as ever?”
Crystal glared at me. If looks could kill, I think it’s safe to say that I would be dead. Several times over. She’s not a big person, but then most sirens aren’t. Crystal was just a couple of inches over five feet. Even with the two inches heels she was wearing, she was still a good five inches shorter than me.
That’s another misconception, that mermaids are little. We’re not. I’m five nine in my bare feet and I’m short for a mermaid. Savanna’s a couple of inches taller than me and she’s about average.
Crystal was wearing a white linen pantsuit, an expensive white linen pantsuit. A sharp contrast to my jeans and tee shirt. Her blue silk blouse was the same pale blue as her eyes. She wore her long blond hair straight and pinned it behind her ears with a headband that made her look younger than she was, like one thousand years younger. The headband was silver inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
She was always projecting the same image, I’m sweet and innocent and rich. I don’t know if human women bought her act, but human men sure did, John certainly did. And from the enamored look on his face, it was pretty clear that Walter Francis, excuse me, Captain Walter Francis, bought it. He would learn the hard way, just like John did, that you can’t judge a siren by her perky facade.
“I see your deranged elf has hurt another one of my men,” Walt said to me.
The best way to describe Walt was average. Average in size. Average in build. Average in looks. Average in intelligence. The most noticeable thing about him was his thick black hair, which he wore short. The reason I noticed it was because it used to be salt and pepper in color. Somewhere along the way, he dyed it in an attempt to make himself look younger than his fifty some years. My guess was that happened after he met Crystal.
“The two men she hurt yesterday aren’t in your department,” I said. “And Stringbean kind of brought this on himself.”
“How do you figure that?”
“He tried to stun an elf that has the power to control electricity. Among other things.” I nodded at Frat Boy. “If your expert here really was an expert, he would’ve passed that information on to his partner.”
“No two elves have the same gifts,” Frat Boy said in his defense. “How was I supposed to know she could control electricity. The only thing we’d seen her do was toss fireballs.”
“Even so,” Walt said. “You were hired because of your supposed expertise.”
“It’s not his fault,” Stringbean said. “I should’ve known better than to use electricity on an elf. Especially one that can control energy like she can.”
Stringbean was awake and sitting on a chair, having his hands bandaged by one of the paramedics.
“Looks like you’re going to be out of commission for awhile,” Walt said to him.
“Just because I can’t fire a gun doesn’t mean I can’t work,” Stringbean said.
“Even so, I think I’m going to add Crystal to your team. If she can’t bring this elf down, nobody can.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Walt,” Crystal said. “But elves are extremely powerful. First off, they’ve been around a long time. They were here long before humans walked the earth. And when I say they, I mean the elf we’re chasing.”
“As the head of the supernatural division, shouldn’t you know that?” I said to Walt.
“One thing I don’t miss,” Walt said. “Is that smart mouth of yours.”
“At least with me, what you see is what you get.” I glanced at Crystal. “Unlike some sirens I know.”
“I’m just trying to be a good citizen,” Crystal said. “Show the world that not all supernaturals are self-centered ego manics.”
I ignored Crystal’s comment and focused on Walt. “Do you know that when my boyfriend dumped her one thousand year old ass, she gave his name to some bogeymen, even suggested that if they were to take him hostage, they could use him as leverage against me.”
Walt held up a hand. “The department doesn’t involve itself in the affairs of supernaturals. You know that, Low.”
“Thing is, my boyfriend isn’t a supernatural. He’s human.”
“Really,” a surprised Walt said. He looked at Crystal, curious to see what she had to say.
“We were engaged to be married,” Crystal said. “The next thing I know, the mermaid is sticking her nose into our private affairs and John’s calling off the engagement. You can’t blame me for not thinking rationally.”
“She was thinking rationally,” I countered. “She was thinking about what she could do to ruin my life.”
“It’s clear the two of you have issues. And to be frank, I don’t want to hear about them.” Walt focused on Crystal. “I want you to work with these two officers. I expect the three of you to stop that crazy elf from hurting anybody else. I don’t care how you do it, just stop her.” He turned to me. “And you keep out of their way.”
Walt turned and walked out of the restaurant, leaving the rest of us behind. As soon as he was out the door, I confronted Crystal. “What are you up to with this good citizen crap?”
“Rumor is you’re trying to save the elf.”
Crystal grinned, an evil grin if I ever saw one. “So, I can’t help but think how it would ruin your day if she were to wind up dead.”
“You’d kill an innocent elf just to ruin my day?”
“This elf is far from innocent. She’s already injured three police officers. She could’ve just as easily killed them.”
“Trust me, if she wanted to kill them, they’d be dead. She’s just working through some issues.”
“I didn’t know elves had issues.”
“I brought her here to help an old friend, someone she felt responsible for. She’s still trying to come to grips with the fact that things didn’t work out the way she hoped they would.”
“You brought her here?” Crystal said. She nodded at Stringbean and his bandaged hands. “So you’re responsible for this.”
“Nobody’s responsible for what happens to me but me,” Stringbean said. He looked at me. “I don’t suppose you can tell us where she went?”
I shook my head. “Haven’t a clue, but then how hard can it be to find a naked fireball throwing elf.”
“Finding her isn’t the problem,” Frat Boy said. “Bringing her into custody, that’s the hard part.”
“You don’t have to bring her into custody,” Crystal said. “She’s a rogue supernatural, you can just put her down.”
“The law does give you permission to put rogue supernaturals down,” I said. “But elves aren’t supernaturals. They’re immortals, and they were here long before humans or supernaturals came onto the scene. Whether the law gives you permission to put an elf down without a trial has yet to be determined.”
That was because no elf had gone rogue since the discovery of electricity, perhaps since the invention of the wheel. But then I hadn’t been around to drag one of them into my world.
“These officers have a right to defend themselves,” Crystal said. “If she starts tossing fireballs at them, they can put her down.”
“She’s right about that,” Stringbean said. “We do have the right to defend ourselves, and I’m pretty sure that shooting a fireball throwing elf wouldn’t be considered an excessive use of force.”
I nodded at Stringbean’s bandaged hands. “Looks to me like you won’t be shooting anybody for awhile.”
“Maybe I can’t shoot anybody, but my partner can.”
“I’ve never shot anything but a target,” Frat Boy said.
“First time for everything,” Stringbean said.
“I’m thinking we should take the mermaid into custody,” Crystal said.
“We can’t arrest Low,” Stringbean said. “She hasn’t broken any laws.”
“I’m not talking about arresting her. I’m just saying we should take her into protective custody. From what I’ve heard, she is the one the elf is after.”
“You’re saying we should use her as bait,” Stringbean said.
I glared at Crystal. “And I’m thinking I should boil the water that makes up sixty percent of your body.”
“You boys might want to cover your ears,” Crystal said. “I feel a song coming on.”
Stringbean rose to his feet and stepped between us, then he held up his bandaged hands, pointing one palm at me, one at Crystal. “It’s pretty clear you two don’t like each other, so I don’t think taking Low into custody is a good idea. Plus, we can’t take someone into protective custody without their consent.”
I looked at Crystal. “If you had gone to the police academy like the rest of us, you’d know that.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been involved in law enforcement,” Crystal said.
“Let me guess,” I said. “You were the Roman soldier that pierced Christ in the side when he was hanging on the cross. Or maybe you were the judge that sentenced Cain to walk the earth after he killed Able.”
Was I making fun of Crystal’s age? Hell, yeah. I was always making fun of her age, although in truth, I had no idea how old she was. I knew she was older than me, but I didn’t know how much older. Several hundred years at least. I liked to make fun of her age because she was always trying to project this image of a sweet, young, innocent ingénue, three things she most assuredly wasn’t.
“The only one that’s been around that long is that crazy elf you turned loose on the city,” Crystal shot back.
“Which is why you can’t bring her back from the dark side,” Frat Boy added. “When you’ve been around that long and you cross over, there’s no coming back.”
“Maybe Crystal can help her come back,” I said. “If there’s anybody that knows their way around the dark side it’s Crystal here. She’s spent her long long life on that side of the fence. Haven’t you granny.”
“I really am in the mood to sing,” Crystal said. “Let’s see if I can’t compel a mermaid to drowned herself in a toilet bowl. It would be a fitting end for the supernatural communities version of a piece of crap.”
“And I’m in the mood to see how far I can throw a siren.” I moved toward Crystal while balling my hands into fists. “Let’s see what good that voice does you when you’re one hundred feet in the air, with no net beneath you.”
“I’m thinking that it’s time for one of you to leave,” Stringbean said. He was still between us, like a referee separating two prize fighters. He looked at Crystal, then he looked at me. “Since Crystal’s been assigned to work with us, you’re the one that’ll have to leave.”
“Fine with me. Crystal’s perfume was beginning to get to me anyway.” I leaned around Stringbean, so I could look Crystal in the eyes. “What is that you’re wearing granny? Ode of Ben Gay?”
“Wow,” Frat Boy said. “You two really don’t like each other.”
“That’s because she’s evil,” we said in unison.
“I’m evil?” Crystal said, pointing at herself. “I’m not the one that’s been stealing other people’s treasures.”
“Those treasures were sitting at the bottom of the ocean,” I shot back. “They belonged to whoever got to them first. Is it my fault that you don’t know how to swim?”
“Maybe I’m not a great swimmer,” Crystal said, “but I do know how to sing. As you’re about to find out.”
Stringbean draped an arm around my shoulders and steered me toward the door. “Why don’t I walk you out.”
When we were outside, I turned to him and said, “You need to be careful around her. She’d betray her mother if it got her what she wanted.”
“What does she want?”
“She wants to hurt me.”
“Because you grabbed some sunken treasure before she could?”
“More like half a dozen sunken treasures. Actually, I think it was eight. She spent a lot of money looking for those treasures and has nothing to show for it. Not surprisingly, she blames me.”
“Why would she need those treasures? From what I hear she’s already rich.”
How did you explain to a human that wasn’t affected by shiny things the way we were that finding a sunken treasure wasn’t about money, wasn’t about getting rich. It was about having something shiny to look at, something that sparkled and glittered and made you feel good all over.
“Finding a treasure isn’t about money,” I said. “It’s about . . . other things, things a human wouldn’t understand.”
“Sounds like you’re the one that needs to be careful around her,” Stringbean said.
“True, but you still shouldn’t trust her. If it gets her what she wants, she’ll get you and your partner killed and won’t lose any sleep over it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Stringbean said.
He turned and headed back inside, leaving me alone in the parking lot with my thoughts. Crystal sticking her snooty little nose into this was not a good thing. I was having enough trouble dealing with Gladrielle. The last thing I need was to be looking over my shoulder for that devious little siren.
Maybe I needed to get out of town. If Gladrielle was as bent on killing me as she claimed, then she would follow me out of town, which would put her out of Frat Boy’s jurisdiction, out of Stringbean’s jurisdiction, and best of all, out of Crystal’s jurisdiction. Not that Crystal actually had a jurisdiction. She wasn’t even a cop.
But how did you get an elf that didn’t even have clothes, let alone a car, to follow you out of town?
I couldn’t see Gladrielle from where I was standing, which was in the parking lot of the International House of Pancakes, but I figured she must be around. If she had rededicated herself to killing me, like she claimed, then she needed to keep an eye on me.
“Listen,” I said, talking in a normal voice. If Gladrielle was around, I figured those big pointed elf ears would be able to hear everything I was saying, at least I was hoping they would be able to hear everything I was saying. “That little blond that showed up with the cops is a siren. An evil siren that wants to kill you, which means we need to get you out of town. And since you don’t have clothes, let alone a car, you’re going to have to hitch a ride with me. So what do you say we call a truce, just until we can get away from the cops and the siren and everybody else that wants to kill you.”
I climbed behind the wheel of my emerald green Honda Del Sol, fired the engine up, and sat there, waiting and hoping that Gladrielle would join me.
I didn’t have to wait very long because a minute later, she slipped into the passenger’s side of my two seater. Her long black hair was still a tangled mess. Her eyes were still two black orbs. And she was still buck naked. Although with her immortal body and flawless elf complexion, she was probably one of the few people that could pull off the buck naked look. Being a mermaid, I was of course one of the others.
“This truce is only until we can get away from the siren and the cops,” Gladrielle said. “Once we’re out of their jurisdiction, I’m going to kill you for what you did to Eradu.”
“Understood,” I said. I put the car in gear, pulled out of the parking lot, and headed south. “How did you managed to hide from the cops?”
“I used glamor,” Gladrielle said. “Made the cops believe that they couldn’t see me. Same way I made you think that I was human when we first met.”
“There’s a bag behind your seat,” I said. “Should be some clothes in it. Help yourself.”
Gladrielle found the bag behind the seat, pulled a pair of tan cargo shorts and a red tank top out of it, and squirmed into them. “You always carry extra clothes in your car?”
“I’m a private detective. In my line of work, you never know when you’re going to have to slip out of town with a naked elf.”
Gladrielle looked around. “Where we headed?”
“I’m taking you home.”
“No!” Gladrielle said, her voice rising in a panic.
“You can’t spend the rest of your existence running around the city naked. Suppose you succeed in killing me, what do you do then, where do you go?” She had no answer to that question, not that I thought she would. “It’s time to go home, time to go back to your bed and breakfast, to your ferns, and your flower garden, and your friends.”
“I can’t go home,” Gladrielle said. There was no bitterness in her voice, no anger, no hatred for me or anybody else, there was only sadness.
“You know why. I’m a dark elf now. I took the life of another sentient being. That means I’m evil.”
“You took a life trying to protect someone you cared about. Caring about someone doesn’t make you evil, nor does trying to protect them.”
“Look at me,” Gladrielle said. “Look at my eyes, my hair, look at what I’ve become.”
“It’s not real,” I said.
I caught Gladrielle off-guard with that statement, because she responded with a surprised, “Huh?”
“I said it’s not real. It’s an illusion.”
“You’re saying I’m using glamor on myself?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
I had been thinking about this for awhile, asking myself the question: what if none of this was real? What if Gladrielle was masking her true appearance, not just from the rest of us, but from herself as well. She wasn’t a shape shifter, like me, so being able to change her appearance made no sense. Unless she hadn’t really changed her appearance.
She believed that if she took a life, she would turn into a dark elf, she would turn into something evil. What if her appearance and her actions over the last couple of days were nothing more than a self fulfilling prophecy, caused by the remorse she felt, not to mention what she believed.
“You’re not evil,” I said.
“And you know what evil is?”
“In my line of work, you see evil a lot, and that’s not you. If I thought you were evil, really evil, I wouldn’t try and save you, I’d just get out of the way and let the cops kill you. Maybe I’d even help them.”
“But I hurt those cops.”
“You singed them a little, you didn’t really hurt them.”
“I hurt you.”
I smiled at Gladrielle. “Do I look hurt?”
Gladrielle sat back in her seat and sighed. Then she changed. Her tangled black hair became sleek and shiny and dark blue in color. The black orbs that had been passing for eyes, became real eyes, with whites, and pupils, and dark blue irises.
“Thank you,” she said. Her voice changed, going back to her normal voice, one that didn’t sound like fingernails on a chalkboard, or like she was trying to seduce someone.
“I didn’t do anything.”
“You didn’t give up on me.”
“It’s like I said, I know evil. I know what it looks like, I know what it sounds like, I know what it acts like.”
“Eradu was evil.”
I nodded. “Which is why he had to go.”
“What about the vampire, the one I killed?”
“Titus.” She paused for a few seconds, then she asked the question that I knew was coming “Was he evil?”
“He was a vampire, they’re leaches by nature. And he was a thousand years old.”
“So, you’re saying he was evil.”
“I’m not sure there is such a thing as a good supernatural. It’s like your people said, we’re abominations that shouldn’t even exist.”
“You don’t seem evil,” Gladrielle said.
“I’ve got more human blood in me than most supernaturals, maybe that gives me a conscious, something most supernaturals don’t have.”
“What about the cops? Will they still come after me?”
“Be kind of hard considering they don’t know your real name, let alone where you live. They don’t even know what you look like.”
“And Jim hasn’t told anyone about what I did, about what happened to me?”
“Elrod said that as long as nobody asked, he wasn’t going to say anything.”
“Is my garden really as bad as it looked in that picture you showed me?”
“I dried your flowers out, so I could take a picture. Once I had the picture, I gave them their water back and they returned to normal health.”
“What about the siren the police brought in? The one you said wants me dead.”
“The only reason she wants to kill you is because I want to save you. Once you’re gone, she’ll find another way to ruin my life.”
“Sounds like she doesn’t like you.”
I laughed. “That’s one way to put it.”
“Mind if I ask why?”
“She’s a siren. I’m a mermaid. Historically, we’ve been in competition for the same things.”
We rode in silence for the rest of the trip, around noon, we reached Gladrielle’s village.
As far as we could see, it was business as usual. No one pointed and stared or gasped in shock when they saw Gladrielle in my car, although a few people did wave.
“Looks like Elrod hasn’t said anything about what happened to you,” I said.
“Looks like it,” Gladrielle said, waving to a couple of people that were waving to her. “If there’s anything I can ever do for you . . . well, let’s just say I owe you for not giving up on me.”
“You could buy me lunch.” She looked at me and laughed, prompting me to say, “I’m a mermaid, I burn a lot of carbs. And you did manage to interrupt my breakfast.”
“Lunch it is,” Gladrielle said.
We headed to a restaurant on the far end of town. A place called the Whispering Oak. I don’t know if Gladrielle knew Elrod would be there, or if it was mere coincidence, but he was there, sitting by himself eating a giant salad, which worked out well for us. Or so I thought.
“Oh my god! You’re back,” Elrod said when he saw Gladrielle with me. “I can’t believe it.”
I slid into the booth next to Elrod, Gladrielle slid in across from us.
“Is it really you?” Elrod said, staring at Gladrielle in disbelief.
“It’s really me,” she said.
“How did she bring you back?”
“Turns out there was no back to bring her from,” I said.
Elrod wrinkled his brow. “I don’t understand.”
“You guys don’t actually change, you don’t actually turn into dark elves, you just end up glamoring yourselves into thinking you’ve changed. It’s all in your head.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“I thought I had done something evil,” Gladrielle said. “So I saw myself as evil and made sure everyone else saw me as evil. Everyone believed what they saw, including me.”
“You’re telling me there’s no such thing as a dark elf?”
“That’s exactly what we’re telling you,” I said. “There are elves, and there are elves that are feeling guilty over something they’ve done, so guilty that they see themselves as evil and begin to act that way.”
“I just needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t evil, that I was still me,” Gladrielle said. “Not just once, but over and over again, until I began to believe it.”
A waitress approached our table. Gladrielle ordered a salad similar to what Elrod was eating. I did a quick scan of the menu, noticed there was no meat, and settled on an extra large cheese pizza.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Elrod said when the waitress left. “But we’ve got a small problem.”
“Which is?” Gladrielle and I said in unison.
“Susan wanted to know what happened after she left the council meeting, so I told her.”
“Who’s Susan?” I said.
“The council woman that spoke up against helping you.”
I nodded. “The woman in the green track suit.”
“That’s the one,” Elrod said.
“What did you tell her?” Gladrielle said.
“The whole truth?” I said, dumbfounded.
Elrod shrugged his shoulders and flashed a sheepish grin. “I’m an elf, I’m not used to lying.”
“So you told her the council voted to help me.”
“Which she already knew,’ Elrod said. “I just filled her in on the rest.”
“You told her that Gladrielle turned into a dark elf?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“But you said that you weren’t going to say anything.”
“I said I wouldn’t say anything unless I was asked. Susan asked.”
“So the council thinks I’m a dark elf,” Gladrielle said. “So what. We’ll just show them that I’m back to normal.”
“Why do you have to show them anything?” I said. “What difference does it make to them?”
“It matters,” Elrod said. “When I told Susan what happened, she called a meeting of the council and they issued an official banishment.”
Gabrielle gasped. Apparently an official banishment was a big deal in elf land.
“If you can banish someone. Then you can lift the banishment.” I looked at Gladrielle, then at Elrod. “Can’t you?”
“I don’t know,” Elrod said. “It’s never been done before.”
“Probably because no one’s ever come back from the dark side.”
The waitress returned with our lunch, Gladrielle’s salad and my extra large cheese pizza. While we ate, I asked the obvious question. “What happens if they don’t lift the banishment?”
“I’ll have to leave town,” Gladrielle said. “Forever.”
“And if you don’t.”
“They’ll shun her,” Elrod said.
“Shun her. You mean pretend that she’s not here, that she doesn’t exist?”
“They won’t wait on her when she comes into a restaurant like this one. They won’t talk to her when they pass her on the street, they won’t ring up her purchases when she’s at a store.”
“Should you be talking to her now?” I asked.
“She hasn’t been shunned yet,” Elrod said. “Just banished. Even then, the banishment just occurred last night. The information hasn’t even been disseminated.”
“Which is why people were waving at me when we drove down the street,” Gladrielle said.
Elrod nodded. “And why they’re waiting on you now.”
I wolfed down a piece of pizza and looked at Elrod. “Sounds like you need to call another council meeting.”
Elrod nodded. I let him out of the booth and he headed off to talk to the council. While he did that, I ate my pizza and Gladrielle played with her salad. The realization that she might be banished from her home seemed to have stolen her appetite. No big surprise.
One hour after we finished lunch, the elf council met in the park to discuss the banishment they had issued against Gladrielle. It was the same group of people that met in the gazebo the first time I was there. Three men and three women. All looking around thirty years old. All tall and thin and attractive, with blue hair, blue eyes, pointed ears, and flawless skin.
The woman that did most of the talking the last time I met the council, green track suit, pointed at me as soon as she saw me. “This is all your fault.”
She was wearing an outfit similar to what Gladrielle had on, sneakers, shorts, and a tank top. The only difference was, hers were green. Her color of choice.
Elrod, Gladrielle, and I joined the others in the gazebo. Green track suit continued to point at me. “If you hadn’t come here, we wouldn’t have voted to help you, and Claire wouldn’t have gone with you and turned into a dark elf, forcing us to issue a banishment.”
“You’re right,” I conceded. “And if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t come here, nor would I ask for your help. I made a mistake, which is why I’m here now. I’m trying to fix it.”
Admitting that she was right and I was wrong seemed to take some of the air out of green track suit’s sails. She didn’t seem to know how to respond to my admission, which gave Elrod a chance to take control of the meeting.
“Whether Low should’ve come here or not is irrelevant,” Elrod said. “Whether we should’ve agreed to help her or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that we issued a banishment against Claire. And since it’s pretty obvious that we issued that banishment under false information, I think we need to lift it.”
“The banishment was issued under information you provided,” green track suit said. “You’re the one that told us that Claire had crossed over and become a dark elf.”
“I thought she had,” Elrod said. “Turns out it isn’t that simple.”
Green track suit focused on Gladrielle. “Did you or did you not cross over and become a dark elf?”
“She didn’t,” I said, answering before Gladrielle could.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” green track suit said.
“It’s easier if I answer,” I said.
“Because I’m the one that figured out the truth.”
“And what’s the truth?” one of the three men said.
“There’s no such thing as a dark elf.”
Green track suit laughed, a cynical laugh that made it pretty clear that she didn’t believe me. “How old are you?”
“Each of us has been around for thousands of years, while you’ve only been around for thirty, yet you claim to know more about what happens to us than we do?”
“In the human world, doctors don’t diagnose themselves and lawyers don’t defend themselves. Do you know why?”
“A better question would be, do I care why? And the answer to that is no.”
I ignored her snide comment and continued. “The reason is because they’re too emotionally involved to render an objective opinion.”
“You’re saying we’re too emotionally involved to render an objective opinion about what happens to one of us when we cross over,” the man that had spoken said.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, what’s more, you don’t actually cross over and turn into dark elves. There’s no such thing as a dark elf.”
Green track suit stepped back, acting like I had just slapped her. “Blasphemy.”
“It’s an interesting theory,” the man said. “Problem is, we’ve all seen friends turn. We know for a fact that dark elves do exist.”
“They exist,” I said. “But only in their heads.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” green track suit said.
“Actually it does. When you guys do something you regret, you become so full of guilt that you convince yourselves that you’ve crossed over, that you’ve become evil, that you’ve become a dark elf. That belief is so strong that you end up glamoring yourselves.”
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Is it?” I shot back. “Think about it. You’re not shape shifters. You shouldn’t be able to change your hair color, or your eyes, or anything else. Unless you aren’t actually changing, unless you’re using your glamor, your ability to hide your true appearance, on yourselves.”
“I have a different theory,” green track suit said. Why was I not surprised. “My theory is that Claire is still a dark elf and that you’ve mesmerized her into believing that she’s not evil.”
I laughed. “You think I mesmerized a dark elf into thinking she’s not a dark elf.”
“Isn’t it true that mermaids possess the power to mesmerize others with their eyes?”
“Well, yeah, but only male gnomes and drunken humans. Even then, they have to stare into our eyes while we tell them what to do. And the humans have to be really really drunk. We can’t compel people to do things the way vampires can.”
“If she could, do any of you think that she’d admit it,” green track suit said to the others.
“I know I’m not suppose to talk,” Gladrielle said. “Having been banished and all, but I can tell you, Low hasn’t mesmerized me, let alone compelled me to do anything. All she did was refuse to give up on me, refuse to abandon me.”
“You took the life of a sentient being,” green track suit said. “How do we know you won’t do it again? How do we know you won’t do it to one of us?”
“She was trying to protect someone she cared about, someone she felt responsible for,” I said. “That doesn’t make her evil. Not to mention it was an accident. She never intended to kill him.”
“Says the walking abomination.” Green track suit looked at the other council members. “I vote that we keep the banishment in place.”
She turned and headed off, jogging away, just like she did at our last meeting.
“I taught her too well,” Gladrielle said to no one in particular.
I looked at Gladrielle. “You were her school teacher?”
If someone had a feather, they could’ve knocked me over with it, because I never saw that one coming. Although in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
They wouldn’t have been the first mother and daughter to butt heads. Then again, considering how long Gladrielle had been around, they just might have been the first mother and daughter to butt heads.
“Look,” I said, turning to the other council members. “I didn’t mesmerize Claire, I don’t think I could even if I wanted to, all I did was give her time to come to grips with what she had done. I can tell you that she’s not evil. I’ve worked as both a cop and a private detective. I know what evil looks like, I know what it sounds like, I know what it feels like. Trust me, Claire is not evil. She never was.”
The remaining five council members looked at each other and nodded. Whatever they were agreeing to, it was unanimous. I didn’t know if that was good or bad, but we were about to find out.
“I’m sorry,” the man that had spoken earlier said. “But if what you say is true, then everything our parents taught us, everything we’ve taught our children about dark elves, must be called into question. I’m not sure if anyone in this village is prepared to do that. At least not today. The banishment remains in place.”
The five council members turned and left, leaving Elrod, Gladrielle, and myself alone in the gazebo.
Gladrielle looked at Elrod. “I’d like to get some of my things from the bed and breakfast, if that’s all right.”
Elrod nodded. “Take all the time you need.”
He turned and walked away, leaving Gladrielle and I alone.
“That’s it?” I said. “You’re just giving up?”
“I never really expected them to lift the ban,” Gladrielle said. “It was a long shot.”
“Even though they could see for themselves that you haven’t changed.”
“We were taught that when an elf crosses over to the dark side, there’s no coming back. It’s going to take time to change that way of thinking, a lot of time.”
“So nothing we say or do will make a difference.”
Gladrielle shook her head. “I’m afraid not.”
“So what now?”
“I collect my belongings and start a new life elsewhere.”
“You could just stay here.”
“And be ignored?”
“For awhile. Eventually, they’d figure out you’re not evil and start talking to you again.”
“Perhaps,” Gladrielle said. “But I’d be making a lot of people uncomfortable. I’m not sure I’m prepared to do that.”
“Fine,” I said. “Then you can stay with me.”
“What about the cops, not to mention the siren?”
They’re looking for a black haired, black eyed, fireball throwing elf, not a blond haired, blue eyed human.”
Gladrielle’s hair changed from dark blue to blond. She left her blue eyes alone, but her pointed ears disappeared, becoming as round as mine. I’m not sure how elf glamor worked. I only knew that it was some kind of magic that made you see what they wanted you to see.
We climbed in the Del Sol and headed to the edge of town, to the bed and breakfast that Gladrielle called home.
“Your daughter wasn’t very sympathetic,” I said as we drove across town.
“Not all that uncommon in elf society,” Gladrielle said. “I think it has something to do with having a mother that never grows old.”
“They grow up and see you as a competitor rather than a mother.”
“Something like that.”
“So what happens to this place?” I said as we rolled to a stop in front of the big white house with the small bed and breakfast sign in the yard.
“All the buildings in town are community property,” Gladrielle said. “Someone else will move in, take over the garden.”
“The county requires a registered owner. Who’s that?”
“The buildings are registered to a corporation, Woodlawn Real Estate, or something like that.”
Gladrielle was putting on a good front, but I could tell that she was struggling, struggling with the fact that she was no longer welcome among her friends and family, struggling with the idea that she was an elf that was no longer welcome among her own kind.
It was too bad she couldn’t start a new, what did a group of elves call themselves? A tribe of elves? A clan of elves? A gathering of elves?
Then again, why couldn’t she start a new tribe? Or clan? Or gathering? Or whatever they called it. She wasn’t the first elf to be banished from her tribe for crossing over to the dark side. There were others out there, once the shock of what they had done wore off, some of them must’ve realized they hadn’t actually turned into the evil creatures they thought they had.
“So what does a group of elves call themselves?” I asked Gladrielle as we headed up the bed and breakfast’s walkway.
“We refer to ourselves as a family.”
“A family of elves?”
“Looks like you’re going to have to start a new family.”
“How do you propose I do that?” She opened the bed and breakfast’s front door and headed inside.
“You’re not the first elf to be banished from her family for crossing over to the dark side.”
“Once the shock of what they had done wore off, some of the others must’ve realized that they were still the same elves they always were. That they weren’t evil.”
Gladrielle stopped in the doorway and looked back at me. “You’re saying I should find these elves, see if they’re interested in starting a new family?”
“It would give you something to focus on, and right now, I think that’s a good thing.”
Gladrielle perked up, the dark cloud that had been hovering over her since we arrived in town seemed to lift, but only for a few seconds, then it settled back into place.
“Even if I did manage to find other banished elves, we wouldn’t have any money, not enough to buy some property and start a real community.”
“You don’t have anything tucked away?”
“Any income we make goes into what we call the community chest.”
“Like in Monopoly.” Gladrielle wrinkled her brow, apparently elves didn’t play Monopoly. “It’s a game, invented by humans.”
Gladrielle nodded, said, “Basically, I’m broke.”
“Tell you what,” I said. “If you can find the elves, I’ll buy the property.”
“You can afford that?”
“One of the reasons the siren is mad at me is because I’ve been snatching some sunken treasures from underneath her nose. The shiny treasures I put in my treasure room, so I can enjoy them. The not so shiny ones, like money, I stick in a safety deposit box in a bank. Everything else I sell.”
“Just how much do you have in that safety deposit box?”
“Depends upon which box your talking about, one has fifty thousand, another has one hundred thousand, a third has a couple hundred thousand.”
“Just how many boxes do you have?”
“Twelve. No. Thirteen. They’re not all at the same bank, so sometimes I lose count.”
Gladrielle laughed, which was nice to see. “You’re like a squirrel that buries so many nuts he forgets where they all are.”
“I’m not sure I’m there yet,” I said. “But maybe some day. With a little luck.”
“How am I supposed to find these elves? I wouldn’t know where to begin to look.”
“You have heard of the Internet haven’t you?”
Gladrielle stared at me with a blank face. Of course she hadn’t heard of the Internet. She hadn’t even heard of Monopoly.
“Okay,” I said. “To put it simply. The humans have created something called the Internet. It basically connects everybody with a computer to everybody else with a computer. Anyone that’s spent any amount of time in the human world uses it. You can use the Internet to find these other elves, see if they’re interested in starting a new family.”
“This is kind of exciting. Reaching out to other disenfranchised elves, bringing them together to start a completely new family.”
It was nice to see Gladrielle smile, perhaps because it made me feel less guilty about her banishment, a banishment that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t shown up looking for help.
It was early evening when Gladrielle and I got back to the city. The sun was low in the west, turning the sky red, orange, and pink. Traffic was heavy but it was heading in the opposite direction. People had finished work and were heading home for the evening, back to the suburbs.
As I pulled into the parking lot next to the building that housed my condo, I noticed an unmarked Dodge Charger parked in front of my building. Stringbean was behind the wheel while Crystal sat in the passenger’s seat. I couldn’t see him, but I assumed Frat Boy was in the back.
“Time to glam up,” I said to Gladrielle.
“I see them,” Gladrielle said.
She used her elf magic to make herself appear human. Her blue hair appeared to become blond, her pointed ears appeared to become rounded, her flawless skin appeared to develop blemishes.
Once she was all set, we climbed out of the Del Sol, popped the trunk, and grabbed the two bags containing Gladrielle’s clothes. I closed the trunk lid to find Stringbean and Frat Boy standing there, with Crystal wedged between them, still wearing her expensive white linen pantsuit.
“Been somewhere?”Stringbean said to me.
“Took the elf home and picked up a new client.”
“The elf has left the city?”
“The dark elf has left the city,” I said. “Don’t expect her to return, ever.”
“She’s lying,” Crystal said.
“Because?” Stringbean said.
“Because she’s a mermaid.”
Frat Boy looked at Gladrielle. ‘Who’s your friend?”
“New client. Not that it concerns you. As you can see, she’s human, and since you’re part of the supernatural division . . . .” I let my voice trail off, thinking Frat Boy was bright enough to figure out the rest.
“You got a name?” Stringbean said, waving one of his bandaged hands at Gladrielle.
“Name’s Claire,” Gladrielle said.
“Mind if I ask what you’re doing with Low here?”
“I just had a run-in with my . . . family. Needed a place to stay. Low invited me to stay with her.”
“How did you meet the mermaid?” Crystal asked Gladrielle.
“You’re not a cop. Which means she doesn’t have to answer your questions. You want to get technical, she doesn’t have to answer any of your questions.” I glared at Stringbean. “You bring this creature to my home again and you and I are going to rumble. And that badge you carry in your pocket isn’t going to protect you. You got that?”
“You can’t threaten him,” Crystal said. “He’s an officer of the law. You should arrest her for saying that. If you need someone to testify that she threatened you, I’ll be more than happy to do it.”
Stringbean ignored Crystal and responded to my comment. “I didn’t ask for her, Walt assigned her to us. You know that.”
“I don’t care if Walt assigned her, or if God himself assigned her, you never bring her to my home. Ever.”
“We’re just looking for the dark elf,” Frat Boy said.
I glared at Frat Boy. “The dark elf is gone and she’s not coming back. You want to follow me around, that’s your business. Either way, you don’t bring this creature anywhere near my home.”
Was I upset. Hell, yes. If there was one person in this city that wanted to steal my treasure, if there was one person in this city that was stupid enough to steal my treasure, it was Crystal.
I had little doubt that while Stringbean and Frat Boy were sitting there looking for Gladrielle and myself, Crystal was casing the building, looking for the best way to break into my place and steal my treasure.
While I was glaring at Frat Boy, Crystal was using her snooty little nose to sniff Gladrielle.
“This one’s not human,” she said.
“What are you talking about?” Stringbean said.
“I know what humans smell like and this one isn’t human.”
“What is she?”
“I don’t know. I’m not familiar with her kind, whatever she is. I just know she’s not human.”
“Mind if I see some ID,” Stringbean said to Gladrielle.
Gladrielle patted the pockets on her tan shorts. “I don’t seem to have anything on me. I guess it’s because I left home in such a hurry.”
“And yet you had time to pack two bags,” Crystal said.
“I packed the bags,” I said, stepping between Crystal and Gladrielle. “While she waited in the car.”
“Like we can believe anything you say.”
I ignored Crystal and turned my attention to Stringbean. “The dark elf is gone and she’s not coming back. I’m asking you as a friend and colleague to trust what I tell you and walk away.”
Stringbean looked at me, then at Gladrielle, then he nodded. Once. “If Low says the dark elf is gone, then the dark elf is gone. Let’s head back to the station.”
He turned and headed for their car. Frat Boy hesitated a second, then fell in behind him. Crystal, however, remained rooted in place.
“You know what I think,” she said to me. “I think this is the elf that’s been causing trouble. I think she’s using glamor to hide her true appearance.”
“The dark elf is gone,” I repeated, “The only dark and evil thing around here is you. And since you’re not a cop, let alone human, I know for a fact that I can kill you without repercussions.”
Crystal hesitated for a second, probably checking to see if I was serious. She must have decided I was because she stuck a finger in my face. “This isn’t over. I’m coming back, with officers that aren’t afraid to do their duty. And we’re taking her into custody, and you along with her.”
She turned and stomped away, following Stringbean and Frat Boy back to the Dodge. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was anything worse than an evil siren working with the police, then decided there was one thing worse, an evil siren in charge of the police department. Fortunately, we hadn’t come to that, not yet anyway.
“Are we in trouble?” Gladrielle asked me.
“How much pull Crystal has with Walt and the other higher ups.”
“Maybe I should just turn myself in.”
“I did assault three police officers.”
“Which is why you can’t turn yourself in.”
Gladrielle wrinkled her brow. “I don’t understand.”
“Supernaturals don’t have the same rights as humans. They can lock you up for life, or even execute you. All without a trial.”
“I’m not a supernatural. I’m an elf. We’re an entirely different species. You know that.”
“I know that. You know that, but the humans won’t see it that way. They divide the world into two classes, humans and nonhumans, and you’re a nonhuman, just like me.”
“So what do we do?”
I forced a smile that I wasn’t feeling. Mostly because I knew that Crystal would be back, with reinforcements. “We take you upstairs, get you settled.”
Which is what we did. My condo was on the building’s third floor, its top floor. As you entered, the living room was to the right. The dining table was straight ahead, behind the dining table were a pair of sliding glass doors that led to a small balcony. To the right of the dining table was the kitchenette. Behind that was the bathroom.
Across the hall from the kitchenette and bathroom were a pair of bedrooms. I converted the first bedroom into a walk-in vault, complete with a steel door strong enough to withstand a merman pulling on it. Inside was where I kept my treasures, my shiny shiny treasures. The back bedroom was just that, a bedroom.
I didn’t use it all that much, not for sleeping anyway. Mermaids don’t sleep for extended periods like humans. We take catnaps, five minutes here, ten minutes there, never more than an hour at a time.
“The first bedroom has been converted into a vault,” I said. “So you can have have the back bedroom.”
“Where will you sleep?” Gladrielle asked.
“I’m a mermaid, we don’t sleep for extended periods of time. We grab five minutes here, ten minutes there.”
We put Gladrielle’s bags in the bedroom, then I sat her down and gave her a quick primer on the Internet, showing her some of the ways that she could use it to find other disenfranchised elves. That’s what we were doing when the call came. It was Stringbean.
“Yeah,” I said.
“She’s coming back,” Stringbean said. “With Walt and a tactical unit.”
“Thanks for the heads up.”
“You did take a bullet for me.”
“Twice,” I said. “But who’s counting.”
Stringbean chuckled and hung up. I did the same, slipping the phone into the back pocket of my jeans.
“By she, I assume he meant the siren,” Gladrielle said.
She was sitting at my dining table, pecking away on my laptop, figuring out how to use the Internet, figuring out how to find other disenfranchised elves like herself. Not only did she hear what I said, she heard what Stringbean said. No big surprise considering how sharp those pointed elf ears of hers were.
“He did,” I said.
“So they’re coming for me, in force.”
“They are, although it’s not really you the siren wants, it’s me. Actually, she wants me out of the way so she can steal my treasure.”
Gladrielle stopped looking at the computer and turned her attention to me. “What is it with mermaids and sirens and treasures anyway?”
“We like to look at shiny things, things that sparkle and glitter. It makes us feel good. It makes us happy. I can’t speak for sirens, but without a treasure to look at, a mermaid can go into a deep depression.”
“Kind of the way I feel about flowers,” Gladrielle said.
“What’s a tactical squad?”
“A bunch of heavily armed humans.”
“Sounds like I should turn myself in.”
“Would you like to see my treasure room?” I said, shifting the direction of the conversation.
Gladrielle’s dark blue eyebrows arched in surprise. “I thought mermaids didn’t share their treasure with others.”
“I’m not going to show it to a siren or another mermaid, mostly because they’d get jealous. Wouldn’t show it to a human either, mostly because they’d want to steal it. But you’re an elf and elves aren’t into shiny things, so I think you’re safe.”
I had another reason for wanting to show Gladrielle my treasure. Not only did my treasure room have a solid steel door, the ceiling, floor, and walls were also solid steel. Gladrielle would be safe inside that room, safe from Crystal, safe from the humans that were coming for her, and safe from doing something stupid, like turning herself in.
The outer door to my treasure room was wood. It looked just like every other door in the place. You opened that door to discover another door just inside it, a solid steel door attached to a solid steel frame. That door was several inches thick and strong enough to withstand most supernaturals. It could only be unlocked with a large key, a key I wore around my neck twenty-four seven.
Once both doors were open, I stepped aside, so Gladrielle could enter the room. “After you.”
Gladrielle smiled and stepped into my treasure room. The room’s lights were attached to sensors, so they came on automatically, as soon as anyone entered the room.
The walls, ceiling, and floor were all stainless steel. Plexglass shelves fronted each of the walls. Plexglass boxes full of gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds, and rubies rested on the shelves. There were boxes full of gold doubloons, boxes full of silver pieces, boxes with diamond rings, boxes with diamond necklaces, boxes with emerald rings, boxes with emerald necklaces, and so on.
I kept my diamond tiaras on a separate shelf. Actually, I had four shelves with diamond tiaras. In the middle of those shelves, sat the gold crown that Titus gave me. Seeing it reminded me why I couldn’t let the humans have Gladrielle. I had failed to protect Titus, but I wasn’t going to fail again. I dragged Gladrielle into this mess and I was going to get her out of it.
In the middle of the room sat a fifty gallon Plexiglas barrel stuffed full of pearls. Some of the biggest, smoothest, shiniest pearls in the world. And of course, the lights were angled to make sure everything shined and sparkled.
“Oh my God!” Gladrielle said. “This is utterly insane.”
She shielded her eyes with her hand, protecting them from the blinding lights and the way they made everything glitter.
“It is, isn’t it.” Just seeing my shiny shiny treasures, even for a second, was making me feel better, prepping me for what was to come.
As Gladrielle moved deeper into the room, I backed out. Then I grabbed the heavy steel door and pulled it shut. Locking her inside.
“Low, what are you doing?” she said, pounding on the solid steel door.
“Keeping you safe. I’ll let you out when this is all over.”
Gladrielle said something else, but I didn’t listen. I just shut the wooden door, locked it, and moved back into the main part of the house.
I could hear sirens off in the distance, growing louder with each passing second. Crystal and her army were on their way, an army made up of people I used to work with. That meant one thing. It was time for a showdown with my arch nemesis.
I headed out onto the balcony and looked down on the street that fronted my building. An unmarked Dodge Charger rolled to a stop in front of the building. A large black van followed the Charger. Walt and Crystal climbed out of the Dodge. A tactical squad piled out of the van. It consisted of twelve heavily armed men dressed in black uniforms topped with Kevlar vests and helmets.
I took a deep breath, grabbed a bottle of drinking water from the fridge, and headed downstairs. I didn’t bother to lock the door. What was the point, they would have no trouble breaking it down.
Breaking into my vault, well, that was a different matter. They would have to blow up the entire building to get in there. Even then, I’m not sure they would succeed.
The tactical team had formed a semi-circle in front of my building. Each man was on one knee. Each man had his rifle raised and ready to fire. Half of them lowered their guns when I stepped out the front door. That would be the half whose lives I saved when I was with the department.
Walt and Crystal were standing behind the Dodge. Walt had a bullhorn in his hand, an honest-to-god bullhorn, like he was about to negotiate with someone that had tried to hold up a bank, bungled it, and had been forced to take hostages.
I stopped in front of my building, opened the water bottle I was holding, and took a drink. “What are you doing here, Walt?”
“Crystal says that you’re protecting the dark elf.”
He was actually talking to me through the bullhorn, even though I wasn’t more than fifteen feet away. That was one of the reasons Walt and I never got along when I was with the department. Walt was a by-the-book kind of guy, no matter how ridiculous it looked or seemed, he always followed the book. That way, if he screwed up, or things went sour, he could shift the blame to whoever wrote the regulations.
“The dark elf is gone and she’s not coming back.”
“Crystal says that she’s with you, that you’re protecting her.”
He was still talking to me through the bullhorn. I figured I better help him out, since a television film crew had just arrived and was about to start filming. If people saw Walt using a bullhorn to talk to somebody that was only fifteen feet away, he would become the laughing stock of the force, not to mention the Internet, and that would mean a call from my father, yelling at me for embarrassing his friend. He would expect me to diffuse this situation without hurting or humiliating anyone.
I had no intention of hurting or embarrassing Walt or the other officers. The siren, well, that was a different matter entirely. If dad tried to yell at me for hurting or embarrassing a siren, he would get more than a earful from mom.
I ordered the water in the bottle I was holding to fly out of the bottle and saturate Walt’s battery powered bullhorn, short it out so it wouldn’t work.
A second later, the water flew out of the bottle, past the sidewalk, past the hood of the Dodge Charger, and into Walt’s bullhorn. When I was sure the bullhorn would no longer work, I ordered the water to return to the bottle I was still holding.
“Was that necessary?” Walt tried to say it into the bullhorn. When the bullhorn didn’t work, he was forced to lower it and talk to me face to face. “Was that necessary?”
I nodded in the direction of the television crew. “They’re filming this, which means dad will see it. He wouldn’t be too happy if I let you make a fool of yourself.”
When Walt first joined the force, dad was his training officer. He was the one that taught Walt the ropes, taught him how to survive the streets. Dad wasn’t as by-the-book as Walt, but then few people were.
Walt tossed the bullhorn into the Charger just as the cameraman raised his camera and started filming. “I don’t think he’d be too happy to learn that you’re harboring a dangerous fugitive.”
“I’m not harboring a dangerous fugitive. The dark elf is gone and she’s not coming back.”
“Crystal says you’re lying.”
“Do you know that a siren doesn’t actually have to sing to you to make you fall under her spell. All she has to do is whisper in your ear.”
“This has nothing to do with Crystal.”
“She wants my treasure and she’s using you to get it. It’s how her kind survives. They get others to do their dirty work for them.”
“Turn over the dark elf, Low, or we’ll be forced to take her from you.”
“Send the siren home and we’ll talk,” I said. “As long as she’s by your side, controlling you, I can’t cooperate.”
I spoke up when I said that, so the television crew could hear what I was saying. I had two goals in this confrontation, protect Gladrielle and humiliate Crystal. A news story on how she was controlling a police captain, getting him to do her bidding, would not help her image.
“You got sixty seconds to turn over the dark elf,” Walt said. “Otherwise we’re going to take her by force.”
“The dark elf is gone, Walt, and she’s not coming back. You can come up and look if you want, but you can’t bring the siren with you. She stays here.”
Crystal whispered something to Walt, who nodded and turned back to me. “Thirty seconds, Low, turn over the dark elf, or we’ll take her by force. This is your final warning.”
My building was at the end of the block, near the corner, where a fire hydrant sat. I reached out with my mind, to the water inside that hydrant, inside the pipe connected to the hydrant.
I ordered the water pressure to build up. And up. And up. Then I ordered it to burst out of the hydrant and soak the twelve members of the tactical force kneeling in front of my building.
A second later, a cap burst off the side of the hydrant and water sprayed out, knocking half the tactical squad off their knees and forcing all twelve men to retreat behind their big black van.
While they were recovering, I ordered the water still pouring out of the hydrant to rise up and form a wall between me and the cops. Then I ordered that water to freeze, forming a wall of ice between me and everybody else.
As water continued to pour out of the hydrant, that wall got thicker and thicker. One inch thick. Two inches thick. Three inches thick. Six inches thick. One foot thick. That’s when I heard gun fire.
Walt had ordered the tactical squad to open fire, to bring down my wall of ice. It didn’t work. My wall was too thick for their bullets to penetrate and the water rushing out of the hydrant enabled me to replace the ice faster than they could shatter it.
After a couple of minutes, the gun fire stopped. Then I heard Walt yelling, “All right Low, you win. Crystal’s gone. Get rid of the wall of ice and we’ll talk.”
I didn’t get rid of the wall of ice. I did the opposite, I kept making it thicker and thicker.
At the same time, I reached out with my mind, using the water inside their bodies to count how many people were on the other side of the wall. I counted fourteen. Thirteen were standing on the street. One, probably Crystal, was sitting inside the Dodge.
“She’s not gone,” I said. “She’s sitting inside your car.”
Walt didn’t reply. But I could feel Crystal moving, climbing out of the car and rejoining Walt behind the hood of the Dodge. A second later, an ear piercing scream could be heard. It was so loud and high pitched it that forced me, and I suspect, everyone else, to cover their ears with their hands.
In addition to shattering ear drums, it shattered my wall of ice, which broke into thousands of tiny pieces that collapsed onto the sidewalk.
I didn’t wait for Walt to say something before making my next move. I ordered the water that was still gushing out of the hydrant to drench Crystal, and more importantly, pour into her big fat mouth.
The water hit Crystal with such force that it knocked her off her feet, not to mention back several feet. She ended up lying on her back in the middle of the road, coughing and gagging and spitting up water.
Walt rushed to her side and knelt down to make sure that Crystal was okay. He said something to her and she nodded. Then he stood back up and returned to his spot behind the Dodge.
“You could’ve killed her,” Walt yelled at me.
“It’s not against the law to kill supernaturals,” I yelled back.
“No it isn’t,” Walt said through clenched teeth.
Walt turned to the commander of the tactical squad, pointed at me, and yelled, “Shoot her!”
Fortunately for me, the commander of the tactical squad was one of the men whose life I had saved when I was on the force. It was also fortunate, at least for me, that he wasn’t under Crystal’s control, not like Walt was.
When Walt gave the order to shoot me, the commander, just looked at him and said, “I can’t do that sir.”
“Why not?” an angry Walt yelled.
“She saved my life. She’s one of us.”
Walt grew red faced, marched over to the commander, and grabbed his rifle. “Then give me your gun and I’ll do it myself.”
Walt tried to yank the rifle out of the commander’s hands, but the commander refused to let go. The commander was bigger, younger, and stronger, so Walt failed.
“Give me the damn gun,” an angry Walt said.
“I can’t do that sir.”
“Because I think Low is right, I think you’re under the siren’s control.”
Walt finally gave up, reached inside his suit jacket, and pulled out his own gun. A police special thirty-eight. The bullets inside the rifle were big enough to penetrate my dense muscle tissue and kill me. The bullets inside Walt’s thirty-eight weren’t. Even so, I had no intention of letting him shoot me. I had already been shot twice in the last couple of days and it hurt like hell. I had no intention of letting it happen again.
That’s why I ordered the water gushing out of the hydrant to soak Walt, knock the gun out of his hand, and knock him off his feet. Which it did.
The spray of water hit Walt with enough force to knock the gun out of his hand. It flew through the air and landed in the middle of the street several feet behind him. A second later, a drenched Walt landed on his back, a few feet away from his gun.
Before Walt could get back to his feet, another unmarked Dodge Charger came roaring up, its siren wailing and its lights flashing. Stringbean got out from behind the steering wheel, his hands still bandaged. Frat Boy climbed out of the back seat. The chief of police climbed out of the passenger’s seat.
The chief marched over to the commander of the tactical squad and said something to him. The commander nodded, lowered his rifle, and said something to his men. The men lowered their guns and climbed into the back of their van. The commander and a second man climbed into the front of the van and it roared off.
That was when I ordered the water that was still gushing out of the hydrant to stop. It did and things quieted down considerably.
“Mind if I come up?” the chief asked me.
“I’ll meet you halfway,” I said.
I stepped off the building’s stoop, which was only two feet high, and met the chief on the sidewalk directly in front of the building.
“Officer,” the chief said. Nodding at me.
“Chief,” I said, returning his nod.
Even though I was no longer with the department, he still addressed me as officer. One of the advantages of being the most decorated officer in the history of the department, I guess. When you take a bullet for someone, they tend to remember you. When you take over a dozen bullets to save a dozen different people, well, a lot of people remember you.
“I’m told this is about an elf,” the chief said. He was in his mid fifties, tall and lean and hard, with silver hair cropped short and a silver mustache that hid his upper lip. He wore a dark blue suit, a white shirt, and a red tie. His loafers were polished with a spit shine.
“There was a dark elf in town, but she’s gone now.”
“I have your word on that?”
“Mermaid’s promise,” I said.
The chief nodded. Once. “Good enough for me.”
He turned to head back to his car, stepping in front of me in the process. At the same time, Walt scrambled to his knees, pulled out a second gun, and fired it. I barely had enough time to push the chief out of the way before Walt got off three shots, pop, pop, pop.
Three bullets hit me in the stomach, knocking me off my feet.
“Lower your gun, captain,” the chief yelled. “That’s an order.”
“She needs to die,” Walt replied. “She’s dangerous. Deadly.”
“Take his gun,” the chief yelled.
I heard the sound of a scuffle, followed by Walt yelling, “No. She needs to die.”
I couldn’t see what was happening, since I was still on my back on the sidewalk, but I assumed that Stringbean had grabbed Walt’s gun from him.
I pulled my tee shirt out of my jeans and pulled the hem up, baring my stomach. I reached for the bullets, intending to pull them out, only I couldn’t find them. All I could find was blood, way more blood than there should’ve been.
The bullets went in deeper than normal, way deeper than thirty-eights should have, which told me that something wasn’t right. Maybe Walt had switched from regular bullets to hollow points.
I wondered if he reached that decision on his own, or if Crystal had suggested it. Probably one of Crystal’s suggestions. I knew one thing. Actually, I knew a couple of things.
First off, I knew that Walt’s career was over. You didn’t almost shoot the chief of police on live television and keep your badge. Secondly, I knew that dad was going to be pissed at me for destroying his friend and partner’s career. Not just destroying it, but destroying it on live television.
Before I could decide how pissed dad was going to be, Frat Boy knelt next to me and pressed his jacket against my stomach, trying to slow the loss of blood.
There really was a lot of blood. No big surprise. My heart was twice as big as a human heart and could pump four time faster. Kind of necessary when you swim at speeds in excess of seventy miles an hour.
“Hang on,” Frat Boy said. “Help is on the way.”
He looked scared, probably wasn’t used to seeing so much blood. Truth be told, I wasn’t used to seeing that much blood.
I forced myself to smile at Frat Boy, trying to get him to relax. “Not going anywhere.”
I’d like to report that it worked, that he relaxed, but I can’t. Truth be told, I don’t know what happened because I passed out.
I woke up in a hospital bed. The first time in my life that had happened. The door to the hallway was open and a uniformed officer was standing guard outside my door, which made me wonder if I was under arrest.
I did shove the chief of police, which meant they could charge me with assaulting a police officer if they wanted to. Seemed a bit petty to me, but maybe Crystal had gotten to the chief just like she had gotten to Walt.
I tried sitting up, but a stabbing pain in my stomach convinced me I should stay where I was. At least for a couple more minutes. I looked around the room to discover Savanna standing next to the windows gazing out of them.
We were several floors up and it was dark outside, so the lights of the city were sparkling, competing with a full moon.
“Hey,” I said.
Savanna turned around, saw that I was awake, and smiled. “You’re awake.”
“How long have I been out?”
“Just a few hours.”
“What are you doing here?”
“You needed a transfusion. Human blood wouldn’t work and since I’m the only other mermaid in town.”
“We got the same blood type?”
“From what they told me, all mermaids have the same blood type.”
“How much blood did they take from you?’
Savanna shrugged her shoulders. “Two, three pints, I didn’t really count. I was too busy focusing on all the free pizzas they were giving me.”
“A thirty-eight shouldn’t have caused that much blood loss,” I said. “Not even with hollow points.”
“It wasn’t a thirty-eight,” Stringbean said, slipping into my room with Frat Boy in tow. “It was a forty-four Magnum, with hollow points.”
If you’re familiar with the Dirty Harry movies, you’re probably familiar with a forty-four Magnum, so I won’t bore you with the technical details. All I’ll say is it packs a slightly bigger punch than a thirty-eight.
“What was Walt doing with a forty-four Magnum?”
“Claims it was a gift.”
“From the siren,” Frat Boy added.
Stringbean and Frat Boy moved to the side of my bed opposite Savanna. Frat Boy wasn’t wearing his suit jacket. Then I remembered why.
“Looks like I owe you a jacket,” I said.
“That one didn’t fit very well anyway,” he said. “I needed to upgrade.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Why would you think that?” Stringbean said. I nodded at the cop in the hallway. Stringbean glanced at him and grinned. “Well . . . you did shove the chief of police.”
“He’s just joking,” Frat Boy said. “That’s just an honor guard. Chief insisted on it. If you hadn’t reacted as fast as you did, those bullets would’ve hit him.”
“Walt and Crystal?” I asked Stringbean.
“Walt’s been suspended pending on official review. My guess is he’ll be taking an early retirement.”
“Technically, she didn’t do anything illegal, so we couldn’t arrest her. But I suspect her days as a consultant for the department are over.”
I turned to Savanna. “John know about this?”
Savanna nodded. “A helicopter picked him up and is flying him back even as we speak.”
“Who’s paying for that?”
I looked at Stringbean but he just shrugged his shoulders. “Not the city.”
“Wormby’s paying for it,” Savanna said.
It was a good thing I was laying down, otherwise they would’ve had to pick me up off the floor. Gnomes are notorious cheapskates. They don’t pay for anything, not if they don’t have to. And Wormby, well, he was king of the cheapskates.
“He said he didn’t want to break in a new treasure hunting partner,” Savanna added.
The word treasure reminded me that I had locked Gladrielle in my vault and left her there. Somebody needed to let her out and it was obvious that I wasn’t in any condition to do it. I needed somebody to do it for me.
Savanna was the obvious choice, but she was also the wrong choice. If she saw what I had in my treasure room, she would just feel bad about her own treasures, or a lack thereof. Stringbean wouldn’t understand what I was doing with all of that stuff and would launch an investigation to see if any of it was stolen. Which it wasn’t.
Frat Boy on the other hand had majored in supernatural studies. He would know about mermaids and their treasures. He would understand why I had all of that stuff, and seeing it wouldn’t make him envious. Dumbstruck, yes. Envious, no.
“I need you to so something for me,” I said to Frat Boy.
Savanna and Stringbean headed off to grab a bite to eat. I told Frat Boy what I needed him to do. He retrieved the keys I normally wore around my neck from a drawer next to my bed. I showed him which key would let him into the building, which key would unlock my condo, and which key would open the vault door.
“Why me?” he asked before heading to my place.
“If Savanna saw what was in my treasure room, she would just feel bad about what’s in hers. And Stringbean, well, he just wouldn’t understand why I need all that stuff. You on the other hand studied us in school. You know about mermaids and their treasures.”
“I won’t let you down,” Frat Boy said. He headed off then stopped in the doorway and looked back at me. ‘The girl in the vault. What should I call her?”
“Claire,” I said. “Her name is Claire.”
I must’ve dozed off, because when I woke up, John was there, sitting in a chair next to my bed, staring at me.
“Hi,” he said, when he saw me staring at him. “How do you feel?”
I tried moving. My stomach didn’t hurt nearly as much as it had earlier, which meant my accelerated metabolism was already doing its job and healing my body.
“Hungry,” I said.
John glanced out the window, it was growing light outside, which meant I had slept most of the night, a highly unusual occurrence for a mermaid. “You want me to run out and get you something? Pancakes? Waffles? Donuts?”
Yes, yes, and yes. Not that I said that, instead, I slid to the side of my bed, to make room.
“After awhile.” I patted the bed. “Right now, I want you to join me.”
John slid onto my bed, laying down next to me. Then he draped an arm around my shoulders. I rested my head on his shoulder and sighed, as content as I had been since Elvis vamp had interrupted our dinner.
“Mind if I ask what you were doing jumping in front of a forty-four Magnum?”
“Technically, I didn’t jump in front of a forty-four Magnum. I just pushed the chief of police out of the way, so he wouldn’t get shot.”
“How did you end up in a confrontation with the police anyway?”
“I was doing what my dad taught me to do, defend those that can’t or won’t defend themselves.”
“Your dad taught you that?”
“When I was young, he used to sit me on his lap and tell me that I had to look out for the little guy. You’re special, he used to tell me. That means you have special responsibilities. You have to look out for the little guy. You have to look out for those that don’t have anybody else to help them.”
“By little guy, you mean the elf that was throwing fireballs at you, trying to kill you.”
“The other elves banished her. If I didn’t help her, no one would.”
John smiled and kissed me on the forehead. “That’s my girl.”
It was at that exact second that the sun broke over the horizon, turning it into the perfect moment. Well, except for the fact that I was in the hospital and had just taken three hollow points to the gut. Still, it was about as perfect a moment as a deadly little mermaid is likely to have.
Dirty Little Mermaids
Deadly Little Mermaids
Lost in Time
J.D. grew up in a house where women were in charge of everything, which may explain his preference for strong female characters. He studied history and law in college and uses that knowledge to help build the worlds he creates. J.D. makes his home in Montana.
Low Campbell, ex-cop, private detective, and mermaid, has been offered a job that she can't turn down. Titus Hawthorn, the city's oldest and most powerful vampire, wants Low to protect him from an even older and more powerful vampire, a man known simply as the Count. The Count gives Low forty-eight hours to find someone that's been around as long as he has, someone that can amuse him, otherwise he will kill Titus and another one of Low's friends, a mermaid named Savanna. Not only does Low have to contend with the Count, who just happens to be the world's oldest vampire, she has to contend with a fireball throwing elf, cops that keep shooting her in the stomach, her human boyfriend's boss, who thinks that he should dump her, and her arch nemesis, a siren that wants to steal her treasure.