ohn Rawlins stood amidst the deepest shadows in front of the cemetary gates. The susurration of the wind high in the trees kept time with the erratic beating of his heart. His breath came in short bursts of mist that dissipated quickly like the ghosts of long-forgotten dreams.
Deep in an outer pocket of his overcoat, his hand clenched a vial of holy water. He also carried a wooden stake--oak, as legend said it should be--within an inner pocket. The silver cross around his neck was no longer ice-cold but warmed to body temperature lying next to his skin.
His baby sister Christina thought him mad. If she had seen the tools he brought, she would have driven him to Bay Psychiatric instead of the cemetary. But Chrissy hadn't witnessed the horror of twenty years ago. She patiently listened to his ravings. She didn't ridicule but she didn't believe. He couldn't blame her. He could hardly believe either when he'd entered that apartment and seen what lay behind the sliding panel.
John looked up at the wrought iron gates. Chrissy had tried to persuade him to wait until morning, but he had insisted. Tonight. Night. The murderer of his wife might return here on this anniversary.
I have returned, John thought miserably. Wasn't he the one who ended the life of his beloved Leslie?
Tears blurred his vision. He wiped at them with his free hand, reluctant to release the vial for an instant. He couldn't let himself think that way. He had freed Leslie's soul, not condemned her. Voytek had killed her and damned her. Voytek was the murderer. He had to remember that.
He found no comfort in the truth.
If he didn't go in soon, Chris would try to talk him into leaving. He would let her. If he didn't enter the cemetary right now, he never would. He lay his hand on the cold iron latch and the echo of the horrendous screech rang in his ears long after the actual sound died away. He stepped into darker shadows.
The walk seemed longer than the night he and Harry carried Leslie's body to rebury her after--yes, after he had driven a stake into her heart. They had tracked one of Voytek's coffins to an abandoned theater. John had been shocked to discover Leslie instead of Voytek.
She lay against the white satin as if she were asleep. No markings on her creamy skin to show where Voytek had ravaged her. As Harry Kilcoyne urged him to do what he must, Leslie opened her eyes and taunted him with his own words: "Oh, babe. I love you so much. I love you more than life." She reached up and caressed his cheek. "I miss you so much. My love..." Her voice was soft and sweet and he wanted to gather her into his arms. Her death was a mistake, after all!
Then Harry had shouted and Leslie hissed like a demon. He knew she was no longer his beloved. He'd done what he had to--but he couldn't make Chris understand. She thought he had listened to the ravings of an old man and dreamed it up.
Lost in his thoughts, he was upon the gravesite before he knew it. Here in the open, there was enough starlight to see the headstone: Leslie Ann Rawlins. Beneath the dates of her birth and death: Beloved wife.
Although tears had clouded his eyes earlier, he couldn't summon them now. Not for lack of grief. He remembered the first night he had visited Harry's apartment. "Oh God, I miss my wife!" he had cried out in anger and frustration. Harry told him not enough time had passed. Wasn't twenty years enough? He missed her today as much as he had then.
"Well, Rawlins," he whispered as he fell to his knees on the smooth carpet of grass. "What Voytek said, is it true? Did you want it?"
As soon as he voiced the words, John realized how much the question meant to him and how desperately he needed an answer. In the psychiatric hospital, Voytek had loomed over him as he lay on his cot. When John looked into the depths of blue eyes turned black, he was almost lost himself. If Harry hadn't come . . .
"We'd be here together, wouldn't we? And the past twenty years would be a blink in our eternity."
John rested his head against the marble stone and closed his eyes. He should stay alert in case Voytek did return this night. He also recognized the futility of it. Voytek was long gone.
"We tried, Rawlins. We did try. Harry and I spent years searching for any trace of Voytek. Harry used up most of his retirement fund and I led the company into bankruptcy and we never found out where Voytek fled to that night. Poor Harry." John sighed deeply. "He got old. Five or six years ago, he had some health problems and couldn't go on. He died last year. And I . . . sometimes I don't want to go on either."
John didn't know how long he sat beside the grave before Chris came and led him
away. The cold and the emotional drain left him staggering and he had to lean
on Chris as they walked back to the car. His hand never left the vial in his
hris was loath to leave her brother but she had to get away by herself for awhile. She gave him a pill prescribed by the doctor to help him relax, then put him to bed. Before he drifted off, she told him she was going out.
"No, Chrissy, not tonight!" he implored.
Long ago, when she was much younger, she had been amused by his calling her Chrissy. Now, the poignant nickname only called attention to how dependent upon her he had become.
"I won't be gone long, I promise," she said and kissed his forehead. "I'll wait until you've fallen asleep."
John tried to stay awake and talk her out of it, but his own exhaustion and the tranquilizer at last took effect. She slipped away without disturbing him.
As she stepped back out into the chill night air, she thought she must be the one who was mad. Yet, a quiet drive all by herself sounded like what she needed to untie the knots in her nerves. She settled behind the wheel and drove aimlessly over the rolling streets.
Six months before, John's oldest friend Christopher Bell had contacted Chris about her brother's deteriorating health. Chris' divorce settlement a few years ago had left her enough money so she didn't have to work and her twin daughters were grown and on their own. Nothing kept her from immediately flying to San Francisco.
Chris found her brother in a seedy apartment in a bad part of town. Every room was filled with stacks of old books and crumbling newspapers. If she was shocked by his living conditions, she was completely horrified by his emaciated appearance. Chris rushed him to a doctor.
Diagnosed with dehydration and malnutrition, John regained his strength in the hospital while Chris cleared out the apartment. She was puzzled by the cache of wooden stakes, silver crosses, and vials of water, but she packed them along with the books, discarding everything else.
Chris had gone to Christopher Bell with her concerns and questions. Bell related the circumstances surrounding Leslie's death. In 1979 a serial killer stalked the area and Leslie had been one of many victims. Then Bell told her what John and ex-cop Harry Kilcoyne believed and Chris understood the significance of the items she had found in John's old apartment.
Chris knew the idea of a vampire involved in Leslie's death was incredible, but John and his friend seemed to have a valid reason to suspect Anton Voytek of somehow being involved. John had taken away his treasures and Voytek had threatened to reciprocate. Bell was present when Voytek voiced the threat.
Chris asked if it was possible to see the original police records and Bell made the arrangements with a friend in the department. They poured over the old files and found signatures and photos ruined. Voytek's prints had been corrupted long before the department started uploading their files into the computer system. Every shred of evidence that could be used to identify Anton Voytek had been obliterated. Bell called him a slick con man and Chris had to agree.
The deaths had been by exsanguination and, as she skimmed the reports, Chris noticed the difference in the killer's choice of victims before Leslie. Until her death, the murderer had chosen convicted felons and vagrants suspected of various crimes. The dregs of society . . . until he was allowed entrance into the Rawlins upscale home and drained a member of the upper echelon of the San Francisco community of every drop of blood. The next victim, while not as prestidigious as Leslie Rawlins, was a private detective and a very good friend of Harry Kilcoyne, explaining the connection between her brother and the retired cop. The abduction of Andrea Parker was not in the records, but Bell told her what John and Harry claimed had occurred.
Chris tried to locate John and Leslie's friend, Nicole DeCamp, but could find no trace of her. She tracked down Tom Parker who had gone to live with his father in Arizona twenty years before. She spoke with him briefly on the phone but he wouldn't allow her to talk to his mother Andrea. "She isn't well," he said and refused to discuss anything connected with John, Harry Kilcoyne, or Anton Voytek. Every lead played out to a dead end.
Chris gave up her futile endeavors and concentrated on her brother. She leased a spacious apartment in a nice neighborhood and brought him home. As she nursed him back to health, they got to know one another again. She learned he had a delightful dry wit that always made her laugh. The times she doubted his sanity was when he spoke of Leslie and his need to finish what Harry Kilcoyne and he had started so many years ago. Then Chris wished she'd thrown out the vampire books and paraphernalia with the rest of the trash.
Under her care, John rapidly gained weight, filling in the gauntness of his cheeks. His bones no longer protruded through his skin and his clothing fit him once again. The waxy pallor of his skin had been replaced by his natural olive complexion. John had always looked like a dark gypsy next to her paler Celtic coloring, but both had inherited the Rawlins black hair with only a few strands of silver to mark the passage of time. John was still frail but so much healthier looking than when she'd first seen him.
As he became stronger Chris showed him how to operate the computer she'd set up. She had hoped worldwide access to every subject imaginable would broaden his interests. He was fascinated by the equipment and quickly learned how to use it. Chris was dismayed to discover she had only handed him another tool in his unflagging search for Voytek.
John scoured the internet and chat rooms for mention of "The Golden Vampire" from Heidenreich's work, the only text to mention the 700-year-old vampire. He bought books online and packages began to arrive nearly every day. Early every morning he bought international newspapers and spent hours pouring over them looking for any mention of a series of murders similar to those committed in Bryant Park in 1939 and 1979. Anything to lead him to Voytek.
Chris sighed and checked her watch as she turned down another street. She
had been gone much longer than she planned. Then a coffeehouse caught her eye.
Cafe latte was her downfall. She would go in for a quick cup, then return
home, she decided as she pulled the car into the parking lot.
soothing instrumental played in the background of the dimly lit room as Chris removed her jacket and took a seat. She had chosen a table as far away as possible from everyone else. She wanted peace and quiet. A waitress took her order and she settled back to wait.
Mostly, she wanted peace for her brother. Vampires were legend and lore and myth, nothing more. She knew of the gothic scene where people pretended to lead vampiric lifestyles to the point of consuming blood, but they didn't need it for survival. They didn't turn to dust if exposed to sunlight. How had that crazy old man conned her sensible brother into believing his wife's murderer was a vampire?
On the other hand, how had every shred of proof of Voytek's existance been corrupted? The blurred photo, the smeared fingerprints, the stained signature. How had Voytek gotten into the police records and effectively wiped out any way to trace him? Or prove he was Voytek if he was ever caught again?
Interesting questions but her most pressing need now was to decide what to do about John. More doctors? Commit him? She closed her eyes and wished with all her heart that her brother was not insane.
Suddenly, Chris jerked upright with the sensation she'd almost gone to sleep. Uneasiness crept through her as she tried to tell herself it had been a long, tiring evening and falling asleep was natural, but there was nothing natural about the feeling of being watched.
Her eyes swept the room. A dozen or so patrons, grouped in twos and threes, occupied some of the tables. Except for one. He was seated alone and . . . he watched her.
When he saw that she had noticed him, he nodded, a gentle tilt of his head. Chris sighed softly. He was attractive with a full head of white-blond hair and a charming smile. She'd kick herself later but she was in no mood to strike up a conversation with a total stranger . . . no matter how handsome.
Chris nodded curtly then dropped her eyes. She hadn't smiled. The waitress brought her cafe latte and Chris took a sip. John needed all her attention and energy now. When she had decided how to deal with her brother then she would consider smiling at strangely handsome men in dimly lit coffeehouses.
She set the cup down and looked up and--he was right there, as if he'd been standing at her side all along. Startled, she glanced across the room at the empty table. She'd had no sense of his movement.
He smiled down at her and Chris couldn't help it. She smiled back. Stop it, she scolded herself. Don't encourage him.
"May I join you?"
His voice was low, throbbing, soft, yet more than a whisper. The sound sent a small shiver through her.
"No," she said. Then, "Yes, but I won't be here long."
He was older, closer to John's age, but his deep penetrating blue eyes were far younger. He wore his overcoat draped from his shoulders like a cape. Something stirred in the back of her mind. Something John had said. Then it drifted out of her reach like a balloon cut loose from its mooring. Forget John a few moments. How long had it been since she'd had the attention of a male who wasn't a relative?
"Neither will I," he said and slid into a chair, his overcoat never once threatening to slip from his shoulders.
"Aren't you having anything?" Chris asked and took another sip of the latte.
He shook his head. "I don't drink . . . coffee."
Chris couldn't help but laugh. "I'm sorry but you are in a coffeehouse."
He shrugged. "I met someone earlier. Business."
None of her concern. Business or a lover. She'd never see this man again beyond these few minutes. Yet, she could almost imagine being taken in his arms, his lips trailing kisses along her cheek, her neck--
Her body jerked as if pulling her from sleep. Her hands were loosely wrapped around the cup and it rattled in the saucer, spilling over.
"Are you all right?" he asked, but she detected amusement rather than concern on his face and in his voice.
That little fantasy had seemed too real. She could almost feel the lingering pressure of his lips on her skin. She moved her hands away from the cup.
"Yes. It's been a long day and I'm more tired than I thought." She rose and pulled on her jacket.
He stood also. "May I see you out?"
"No, I--Thank you but no," she stammered. She wanted him to walk her out and talk with her. Part of her needed to be with a man tonight, but the practical, sensible Rawlins within warned her to be cautious. As handsome and charismatic as he was, he was still a stranger.
"Of course," he nodded and bowed slightly. "It's been a pleasure, Mrs. Delaney."
Chris murmured good night. He took her hand briefly, and Chris thought he was going to bring it up to his lips. Instead, he let her go and smiled one last time.
She had paid the clerk and was at the door before it occurred to her she had never told him her name. Uneasy, she stepped back into the sitting area and glanced around the room. He was gone.
"Did you forget something?" a waitress asked.
Chris shook her head and retraced her steps to the door. She hesitated. Should she call a cab to be safe? Or wait until others left so she wouldn't be alone? Indecisive, she bit her lip. No. He'd gone to the restroom, that's all. How did he know her name? Perhaps she had told him. She was exhausted and kept drifting off. She might have mentioned it. Well, she hoped she gave him her phone number as well.
Chris pushed through the door and the blast of night air was colder than it had been earlier at the cemetary. Poor John. He'd never recovered from Leslie's death. Chris had repeatedly urged him to seek counseling but John scoffed at the idea. Voytek, he insisted, had committed all the mutilations in '79, including Leslie, as well as those in '39.
But John had described Voytek as 35 to 40 years old. If so, he hadn't been born in 1939. What else did John say . . . Voytek was tall, regal, sophisticated. He had long blond hair and dark blue eyes that turned black when--
Chris stopped short. She had just described the man in the coffeehouse! John had said--oh, yes, the something that had floated out of her mind--he wore an overcoat like a cape. It's not possible, Chris thought.
"Anything is possible," his asperous voice whispered in her ear.
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