"The night was humid," Billy Crystal said on the TV, wrestling the words back and forth as I stared out the window of my office at the rare sight of a nearly clear sky with the sun falling towards the horizon. I was nearly ready to call it a day. I didn't like to be out when the things that went bump in the night, or things that came out on a humid night, for that matter. When on case I didn't have a choice, but I didn't have case.
I toyed with the card in my hand, good for one free massage at Mrs. Woo's new massage parlor. The Chinese woman's buffet had done well enough that she had decided to branch out in true entrepreneurial fashion. I just happened to stop in there one night for some good food and lucked into the promotional free massage. I had to admit that an oriental woman walking up and down my back made for a good image even if it wasn't going to be a "happy ending" massage parlor.
The phone rang, but I let it go a couple of times before sitting and reaching for it. There had been too many crank calls in the last two weeks, and my patience was almost used up. It wasn't like I had anything better to do, though, so I picked it up.
"Matt Allen," I said, leaving it at that. If they recognized the name then they knew what they were calling for.
"Yeah, I'm calling about the job," a guy said. From the tone of voice I'd have guessed he was in his twenties, and I already had a bad feeling about this one.
"Go on. What are your qualifications?" I hated replacing Ira; the guy couldn't dress anywhere near professionally, not that I held up much of a standard, but he knew his way around computers and libraries well enough, especially the little-used occult sections at the city and college libraries. Still, he had an internship, and while it wouldn't pay as well as I did—meaning it didn't pay at all—it would open up doors for him in the future.
"Well, first I had some questions about the job. It says in your ad that you deal with vampires and magic. Does that include bogeymen?"
As soon as the question was out there I knew I was going to regret answering it straight. "Never dealt with them, personally, but, yeah, even bogeymen."
"So when they're out late you have Boogie Nights?" laughter exploded on the other end of the phone as more than one guy couldn't keep quiet any longer. I lay the phone down on the receiver once again having lost two minutes to drunken fraternity guys. This was just one of the hazards of my job. This was why I needed a receptionist, secretary, girl Friday—I would dearly love that last one—to screen out the junk calls I got on a daily basis. I couldn't afford to wait on hiring someone, either, but so far I only had two applicants who had actually been semi-serious, and I would have hired either on the spot except that one thought the pay much too low, which is probably was, and the other I actually had hired. She only lasted an hour, though. She had completely freaked out when typing up my notes from my last major case. The idea of a bloodstone and the vampires completely unhinged her, so she quit.
Those were the ones that were at least somewhat normal. The others flat out scared me. Girls with the heavy makeup talking about how much they love vampires, witchcraft, and the occult, thinking they'd be perfect for the job because of that. One even went so far as to ask if I could introduce her to a vampire she could date! I politely told them I'd let them know if they got the job, but had to keep screening people. Where was my Effie Perine or Clarice from my dreams? A savvy gal who was easy on the eyes and could handle just how weird my job got. After the vampire girls came the sci-fi and fantasy geeks; oh, and the role-players. They were generally good people, but didn't have the requisite secretarial skills. I wanted a decent researcher, too. Sifting through the internet wasn't my forte.
I needed one, too, since I had had three cases in rapid succession since the last, which had also been Ira's last. One of them had turned out to be perfectly mundane, a woman who believed in the new age stuff and trusted in her husband so much that she thought he must be possessed or bewitched or something instead of staying late with his secretary. I had gotten some pictures for her of the two of them going off to a hotel and assured her that the only magic going on happened to be the kind between the sheets. Of course I put it more tactfully than that, but she had still broken into tears.
The next two had actually been legitimate, but very minor, which was good as major cases had a habit of trying to off me. The first had been an astrologist wanting to track down a specific crystal through which she could "more accurately perceive the positions and alignments of the stars." It was mush to me, but she gave me a basic rundown of what she wanted and I had went off to a local gem dealer to root around a box of quartz crystals trying to match one up to what she had asked for. I found about a dozen of them, and presented them to her. She scrutinized each one, creating to piles, one significantly smaller than the other. When she had it narrowed down to two, she decided to take them both and paid me for my services. I had no problem with that idea. I spent the afternoon sorting through rocks and got paid my usual fee. If she had done the work herself she would have saved a lot of money, but I wasn't going to point that out to her.
The third case had come from a man who had spent too much time watching pirate movies and believed he had been cursed by a purse of Spanish coins he had found when scuba diving off the of Carey Island. I poked around on the Internet for a little bit to find out pirates had been in the area, though it was rare for them to be this far north on the Pacific. I opted for the simple approach, though, and decided not to go on a wild goose chase for other coins in the hopes of removing the curse through some ancient loophole. I went the direct route. I took him to his priest, since he was Catholic, and asked for an exorcism. It was more in the "humor me" department than anything, but the priest, seeing Chuck's desperation, agreed and performed the rite. Sure enough, near the end of it, the priest said he did feel an evil presence, so it wasn't all in Chuck's head. He donated a coin to the church, one to me—in addition to my fee—and went home happy man.
The phone rang again, and I hesitated a moment before answering yet again, "Matt Allen."
"Mr. Allen, this is Larry at Firearms and Hunting. I just wanted to tell you that the recall reimbursement came through for your weapon, and that Stoeger has included two free magazines as well. I have the magazines here for you to pick up whenever you want."
"But I've already got my gun. When you told me it was recalled, you gave me a replacement right away." That had been luck, for sure. My own gun had been peppered by buckshot when Regular Joe had blown it out of Jared's hand. It had been dented and pitted to the point where it had jammed when I tried to fire it. When I took it into Larry, he told me that this lot had been recalled due to a defect with the cartridge ejection mechanism. Even though my gun was literally shot to hell, the recall would replace it.
"I know, Mr. Allen, but this just came through from Stoeger that everyone who had been affected by the recall would receive two free magazines for the gun. Must be some PR thing to make up for the recall."
"Huh. Thanks, Larry, I'll be there in a day or so to pick them up."
"No problem, Mr. Allen. Can I put a box of ammunition with them for you?" Of course he would try and do the salesman bit, now. When he had given me the new gun I bought a couple of boxes and used them to break in the new gun at their firing range, but I had the feel of it, now.
"No, thanks, I've still got plenty." That wasn't entirely true. I was out of regular rounds, but I didn't use regular rounds in my job; I used silver, and I had one box of ammunition; silver rounds were expensive because they had to be custom-made. Normal rounds wouldn't do much against some of the things I faced, and since the silver rounds would do just as much to regular people, I only carried the one type of ammunition. Especially at the prices I had to pay for those rounds. They weren't local, either. I had to buy them from a guy online with his own equipment for making them. I didn't know how he went about it, but I couldn't argue with the results of the rounds John Flint produced.
"All right, well we'll see you soon, Mr. Allen. Have a nice day."
I hung up the phone. That had actually been a pleasant surprise in a day filled with nothing but tension in my neck from dealing with the usual crowd.
The phone rang again, and I thought it was Larry again, so answered, "Matt Allen." Only, it wasn't Larry.
"Are you serious about investigating vampires and the occult?" A sultry, feminine voice said.
"Yes I am. How can I help you?"
"Have you ever met any vampires?"
"Yes I have," I said slowly. I got the sinking feeling again that this wasn't going to be a call I wanted.
"Can you introduce me to one. I want to become a vampire. I think that is so sexy to live forever and drink blood. It can be a man or a woman, I'm fine with either," she said sexily, which made me worry about the type of woman I was talking to.
"Sorry, I'm not a dating service, and I'm not going to be responsible for you getting into that kind of trouble," I said, hanging up the phone.
"The night was humid. Class dismissed, I have a headache in my eye," Billy Crystal said from the TV again, and I had to agree as I pinched the bridge of my nose to stave off just such a headache. Throw Momma from The Train was one of those cult classics that often made me laugh when I had a bad day. Luck was with me since it was on TV right now at my most desperate need to simultaneously kill time and relieve the pressures via melodramatic humor. The television, too, had been luck since the accounting firm across the hall had closed its doors to move into a new building. They were getting all new stuff and graciously handed me armfuls of office equipment and the thirteen inch TV they had used to track the market. Jim Dobbs had gone on and on about the new plasma screen they would have up to replace the beat up tube he had given me. I was grateful, too, since I got a perfectly good TV with a remote for the office.
I glanced out the window again and decided that I wouldn't resume my game of cards in the hat, but go ahead and leave. Night had fully fallen, and that massage beckoned me like a siren. I got as far as shutting off the TV, and reassembling my deck of cards from my fedora—I had to wear it when I left—when there was a knock on my door. I usually didn't get knocks on that door. That was my private entrance to the hallway, and it usually stayed locked and dead-bolted all the time, but since I had no one to run interference for me in the other room, I had just let people use it to come in to see me with a sign on it actually directing people in.
"It's open!" I called out. Chances were good that it would be just another prank application for the job or someone wanting to jerk me around for a job that didn't exist. On the off chance it was a real case, though, I had to at least check it out.
I nearly fell over backwards when I saw Nikki waltz in, though. The dame was flat out gorgeous as she walked in with the click clack of high heels on the wood floor. She was dressed to the nines in a pinstripe business suit with a skirt that ended just above the knee. She wore black hose to match the shoes and the skirt. Her auburn hair was done up tightly except for a strand at each temple which hung down her pale cheeks. Brown eyes looked at me with much amusement as she poised there in front of my desk with one hip cocked and her briefcase hanging from her right hand. She was definitely here for business.
"It's so very good of you to invite me in, Matthew," she said with her Kathleen Turner voice, nearly laughing, and I knew exactly what she meant, too.
Yet another reason to have someone running interference was that I wouldn't do stupid things like ask someone to come in as now the consecration that had been done on my office was now completely gone. The whole thing about vampires being invited in was true, but only in a certain way. The place first had to be consecrated or made holy to keep such creatures out. Of course, an invitation in neatly dispelled such consecration. I'd have to call Richard Perkins, my minister, again and see if I could convince him to reconsecrate the place. That was another thing that the stories never covered. Once anything crossed over with an invitation, that was it; anything could. Now an entire army of darkness—sans Ash—could plow through my office.