Authors: Adrienne Barbeau
Tags: #Fiction, #Vampires, #General, #Fantasy, #Hollywood (Los Angeles; Calif.), #Mystery & Detective, #Contemporary, #Supernatural, #Motion picture producers and directors, #Occult fiction
We left the party at midnight. Ovsanna was a big hit with the family, and I think she had a good time, but it may have been a little overwhelming. I saw her eyes start to turn when my nephew ran his tricycle over her foot.
She was quiet on the way home, staring out the window across the houses on Mulholland. It was one of those remarkable evenings in L.A. when the wind had blown the pollution somewhere else and you could see the lights on the mountains all the way across the Valley. If I’d been alone, I’d have been thinking about the people who live out there, separated from one another by acres and acres of scrub. I’ll bet they could see stars for miles. I always wonder who they are and what their lives are like. As much as I love the wilderness, I couldn’t stand the isolation.
“You’re probably not used to that much commotion. Did you have a good time?” I asked.
“I did,” she said, and she smiled. She was beautiful when she smiled. She was beautiful all the time, but I realized I hadn’t seen her smile often. Maybe it had something to do with hiding her . . . whatever they were . . . teeth. “It made me feel . . . I don’t know what. I’d say homesick, but that’s ridiculous. I’ve never had a home like that to begin with. I guess I experienced the connection you all have to each other—even Aunt Addie—and it was nice. Loud, but nice. Is it like that for every holiday?”
“Pretty much. Except Bastille Day. Aunt Addie’s not a big fan of the French.”
A pack of photographers stood waiting outside her gate. Seven of them. There’d been more when I’d come to interview her about her partner’s murder, thirty or forty, not counting the TV crews. All of them screaming for Ovsanna to come to the door so they could get shots of her to put money in their pockets. But that had died down; she was no longer a suspect, and I couldn’t see any reason for them to be there. When they realized I was driving, they stampeded across the road in a herd to get to Ovsanna’s side of the car.
“Is it always like this?” I asked her. “It’s midnight. How late do they hang around your house?”
“They don’t, usually. I don’t know what this is all about. And these guys I’ve never seen before.”
I hadn’t, either. And I know most of the paparazzi in town. You can’t be a cop in Beverly Hills for sixteen years and not know the photographers by name. Half my time is spent smuggling drunken celebrities past their flashbulbs or breaking up fights between them and some star’s bodyguard. Or the star himself. Sean Penn calls me Pete. I rolled the window down a few inches. “Haven’t you guys got something better to do on Christmas Eve?”
Normally they would have answered back, made some kind of joke, even asked me what I was doing with Ovsanna in the car, was I on duty? As much as I have to police the paparazzi, we’ve got a pretty good relationship. But these guys, nobody said a word. Nobody yelled, “Ovsanna, over here! Give us a smile!” Nobody yelled anything. They just aimed their cameras at the car, shooting silently through the side window. Ovsanna turned her head toward me, hiding her face from them, and gave me the code to the gate. When I tapped it in, they stopped shooting and stared at us, still without speaking. It bothered me. There was something creepy about it. I wondered where they were from, who sent them. I rolled up the window and waited on the other side until I was sure the gates had closed completely. Maybe I’d get out and talk to them on my way home. Assuming I was leaving.
I had to brake twice on the quarter-mile drive to the house to avoid hitting the geese. Ovsanna has them wandering all over the yard. She says they’re as good as any alarm system. They’re as loud, that’s for sure. And a lot more messy.
Her house was great. Spanish architecture like mine, only on a much bigger scale. Probably ten million dollars bigger. It had a music room, a screening room, a gym, three offices that I knew about, God knew how many bedrooms, a separate guesthouse, a library, and a dining room with a fifteen-foot-long table. I don’t even know that many people I’d want to eat with. My sister would have thought she’d died and gone to heaven in the laundry room—a plasma TV, a built-in sewing machine, and spindles holding every color thread in the rainbow. And the art on the walls—original Toulouse-Lautrecs and stuff. What the hell was I doing there? How do you date a woman who spends more on her water bill than you make in a year?
I’m a damn good detective, but I didn’t have a clue about what to expect now that we were back at her house. I opened her door and gave her my hand to help her out of the car. Instantly, heat ran up my arm and flooded my chest. It felt like I’d grabbed hold of a live wire and a couple thousand volts were frying my body.
“Jesus!” I said, pulling my hand away. “Did you do that on purpose?” She might as well have Tasered me. I looked to see if my skin was burned.
“That heat thing. Shooting out from your hand into my body like a lightning strike.”
She’d moved away from me and reached the front door. She put her key in the lock and without looking back said, “I think you’d better come in, Peter. We have a lot to talk about.” She opened the door, disarmed the security system, and disappeared into the house, not even waiting to see if I’d follow.
My arm was still tingling. I knew I shouldn’t go in. I shouldn’t have been there at all; I was already pushing the limit on departmental policy. But I couldn’t resist. It had only been two weeks since I’d discovered
was a reality series. Everything I’d ever believed about monsters and ghouls had gone right out the window, and I was still trying to get a handle on Ovsanna’s lifestyle. Plus, I’d had a great time with her at my parents’, and I wanted to talk to her some more. I wanted to find out a lot more about her. I needed to . . . if I was going to decide to see her again.
As long as I didn’t get burned.
It was all I could do to keep my fangs in place and my nails from elongating. I was damned if I was going to ruin another manicure. The last time I’d gotten emotional, I’d left polish all over L.A.
Anger had caused that change, though; this was another emotion entirely.
No, not just lust . . . something more complicated. I
this man. He made me laugh. He was strong and fearless, and I didn’t intimidate him, even after he found out what I am. I mean, it’s hard enough to handle approaching a movie star, but how many men could deal with discovering that an age-old, terrifying myth is actually true? Peter not only rescued the Vampyres of Hollywood—Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin among them—he even let me feed on him to save my life. That takes balls.
I barreled into the house and headed for my downstairs office, not waiting to see if he followed. I knew what was going on, and I had to get myself under control. It’s a pattern of mine, although it took me a century or two to recognize it because it happens so infrequently. I’ll go years without finding anyone attractive, and then someone comes along—sometimes it’s a man, sometimes a woman—with a certain look in the eyes, and I am captivated. It was like that with Rimbaud. You’d think after him I would have learned my lesson. What a mess he turned out to be. But no, when there’s a response, when I see the same interest reflected back at me, then a subtle current of sexual arousal sets in. I start sleeping even less than my usual five hours, my skin gets hypersensitive to the touch. I have more trouble keeping my fangs in place, my nails from elongating, and the Thirst comes on me more insistently and too often. It takes a real effort of will not to change.
That’s what Peter had felt when he took my hand getting out of the car. I lost control. Not good. I needed either to shut him out completely—walk away and not let him in my life in any way—or to explain to him what was going on with me and let him decide what he wanted the next step to be.
I didn’t want to shut him out. I wanted to get closer. I wanted to find out more about him. How his mind worked. Why he didn’t run for his life when he discovered what I am. And what it would feel like to kiss him. I’d already tasted his blood; it was spicy and rich. Complex, like the man seemed to be. What would it feel like to have him inside me? That’s what I wanted to know.
It would be better for both of us if he walked away.
For the most part, vampyres are solitary creatures. Vampyre couples do exist—I turned Rudy Valentino and we stayed together for several years, and Theda Bara and Charles Brabin have been together since 1921—but they’re the exception, not the rule. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, both members of my clan, eventually went their separate ways, although I believe Mary still loves him. But vampyres taking human lovers? They tend to be brief affairs, born out of the need to feed off a compliant partner who has some aberration of his own to work out. I have yet to understand humans who have convinced themselves they
to drink blood. Psychologists call them hematomaniacs. They’ve even got vampyre support pages on the Internet, for God’s sake, for “sanguinarians” and “vampiric people.” And vampyre dating services. If they only knew the reality.
We’ve been together for ten years. When I hired her, she was so grateful to get out of the mess her life was in, she would have done anything for me. She was an eighteen-year-old runaway facing a manslaughter charge for killing a man who’d broken into the house where she was staying. He’d attempted to rape her. The cops questioned her claim of self-defense, primarily because she’d managed to decapitate him. They didn’t believe a little bit of a thing like her could do that without premeditation. I still wonder about it. Had she been lying in wait for him? At any rate, she didn’t have money for a lawyer, and the only job she could get was starring in a porn production “mockumentary” about her story,
The Real Killer Commits the Real Kill!
The producer was a scuzzy weasel who’d just finished knocking off a porno version of my movie
. That pissed me off. He’d titled it
I Scream with Pleasure
and used a girl to star in it who bore a slight resemblance to me. At least her face did. Her body looked like Britney Spears on a bad day, and that pissed me off even more. Then, in a real moment of sleaze, he’d given her the screen name Oval Moore. I wanted to kick the shit out of him. When I showed up at his “studio” (a two-bedroom house in the Valley), Maral had just started filming. He stopped the camera long enough to pull a gun on me. She grabbed a fire extinguisher and blasted him. His toupee went flying. I started laughing. She hadn’t really saved my life—the gun was a .22, about as effective on me as a mosquito bite—but she’d made the effort, and I was intrigued. I hired her to work for me and hired my lawyer to get her out of the manslaughter charge. She’s been committed to me ever since.
A year after we met, I was filming on Slieve More (the Big Mountain) in Ireland. It was our day off, and I’d gone hiking up the mountain alone when the sky turned black and torrential rains started falling. Whether I slipped in the downpour or was pushed, I’ll never be certain. The locals believed strongly that banshees lived on Slieve More and that said banshees weren’t happy with the movie crew being there—sort of like trying to film in Bolinas, California, where the residents insist on screaming, “Go home!” every time you roll cameras. Whether it was banshees or bad luck, I lost my footing and crashed sixty feet down the side of the mountain, rolling over and over again on scree and razor-sharp shale. I ended up in a river of mud with a broken left arm, two bone fragments sticking out of my calf, a punctured lung, a shattered cheekbone, two cracked ribs, and a broken collarbone. My vampyre physiology attempted to heal itself immediately, but it had been weeks since I’d fed and I didn’t have the nutrients I needed to sustain the healing process. My wounds were too extensive. I was dying.
Maral found me before I lost consciousness. I couldn’t move my head, but I saw the look in her eyes and knew she was seeing the violent movement beneath my skin as my muscles and bones attempted to fuse back together. It must have been terrifying for her. The blood drained from her face as she watched protruding leg bones angle back towards the top of my tibia, cells reaching for cells to reconnect. “What are you?” she asked in a quavering voice, and eventually I answered with the truth.
She stared at me a moment longer, shaking her head as though to confirm something she might have suspected for a while. And then she sliced her wrist on a jagged rock and she nursed me back to life.
“How did you know what to do?” I asked her later as I healed the wound on her wrist with my saliva. It took only minutes.
“Everyone knows what an injured vampyre needs,” she said. This time her voice was stronger. “You see it in the movies all the time.”
She’s been allowing me to feed on her ever since. Not just allowing—needing. There are times when she begs for it.
The tabloids never tire of questioning our relationship—we’re the Oprah and Gayle of the film industry—but only my clan knows the truth.
And now Peter. He knows part of the truth. It was time to tell him the rest.
I wasn’t going to tell him everything, though. He didn’t need to know I’d been attacked again. There was nothing he could do to help. Not until I knew a lot more about what was going on. Like who was after me, and why.
And even then, I’d take care of it myself.
I heard him enter the house and called out to him to meet me in the library. If Maral had been there, I would have asked her to make him an espresso, but right then dealing with the massive copper machine was more than I wanted to bother with. It was an original; Achille Gaggia had given it to me in Italy soon after he designed it. In 1945. I remember because we were celebrating Mussolini’s capture. Achille was so excited that I didn’t have the heart to tell him I don’t drink coffee.
Peter was standing in front of the bookshelves when I came in. He’d turned on a single amber-shaded floor lamp and the room was bathed in soft gold light and shadows. He had a Gary Disher novel in his hand, the Inspector Challis series. He put it back on the shelf and turned to stare at me. I could see a vein throbbing across his left temple. I heard his blood pulsing through it. He didn’t speak, he just stared.
“Would you like some wine or something to drink?” I asked. Tremors of nervousness tightened across my chest. I rarely feel fear, but this was something else. Anxiety. I didn’t want him angry with me.
“No. I’d like to know what’s going on.” He was deadly serious, with not a hint of warmth in his voice. “What’s going on with you and what’s going on with us. I don’t know if you’re controlling my mind or what, but I can’t stop thinking about you. And I really don’t know
to think. I don’t know how any of this works. It’s pissing me off.”
“Sit down. Over there.” I nodded towards the leather club chair, and I stretched out on the sofa opposite. I wanted to keep the coffee table between us. The closer I was to him, the harder it would be to keep my hands off him. In this light, he looked like a Greek god. If I touched him again, I might not be able to stop.
“Okay, look,” I continued, “you know what you saw in Palm Springs. You know I am not of your kind, your race. I
vampyre. I am
evil incarnate, although I can be a class A bitch when I want to. And I don’t go around killing people so I can survive. Give or take a few film critics when I first started acting. But that was when I was Anna Moore, not Ovsanna.”
“Anna Moore, your mother? You were your mother?” Peter was struggling to take it all in. I knew I probably shouldn’t throw too much at him at one time. But I might not have another chance. Better to get as much out on the table as possible.
“I’m old, Peter. More than four hundred years old. I came to this country at the turn of the century as my ‘grandmother,’ an actress in silent films, and then when talkies came in I was her daughter, Anna Moore, and when Anna had outlived her career, I let people think she was dying and I showed up as her daughter, Ovsanna, supposedly raised in Europe and here to nurse her mother through her final days.”
“You were your mother? Jesus. All this time my mother’s been selling Anna Moore memorabilia on eBay. If she only knew.” Still not a smile, but his hazel eyes had softened a bit. “She could raise her reserve.” With his black hair and high cheekbones, he looked like he should be modeling for Hugo Boss, not fighting crime in Beverly Hills. “What about all the others, those old-time movie stars you introduced me to? And the three that were killed—Jason Eddings and Mai Goulart and Tommy Gordon? What’s their story?”
“All members of my clan, all Vampyres of Hollywood. You see, it wasn’t until the birth of the cinema that my kind found their true calling. Have you seen us on-screen? Well, you have, you just didn’t know we were vampyres. The camera loves us. It’s something about our vampyre physiology; we’re luminescent on-screen. You can’t take your eyes off us. Charlie Chaplin, Theda Bara, Peter Lorre, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks—so many of my clan became stars as soon as they found the camera. Any vampyre with a shred of talent became a star back in the twenties. And then some, like Pola Negri and Olive Thomas, couldn’t make the cut when talkies came in. But that’s how I started, or rather, my ‘grandmother’ started, back in 1915. When the talkies came in, I retired for a while and came back as Anna Moore, and then in the late sixties, right before Anna ‘died,’ her daughter, who bore a striking resemblance to her—even down to her first name, ‘Ovsanna’—arrived from Europe to follow in her footsteps. Some of the others who started with me and became too recognizable to relocate or fade into obscurity simply staged their deaths and went into hiding. I always thought Orson was so clever, waiting until the day Yul Brynner died to dilute the press coverage of his own ‘death.’
“And we controlled the industry, so we controlled our mythology,” I continued. “All that stuff humans believe about garlic and mirrors and living only in the dark—we made that up. And put it on the screen. As for controlling your mind, I’m not. I can’t. My clan doesn’t do that. I am Dakhanavar, from the Mt. Ararat region of Armenia. My ancestors weren’t the brightest of the clans—remind me to tell you the toe story sometime—but we are guardians by nature and I will fight to protect you, but I will not bend you to my will. If anything, right now, I want you to know the truths about me so that you can make your own decision.” I held my breath, just a little bit. He looked so formidable in the dim light.
the truths, aside from your ability to change into whatever William Blake–looking creature that was that you became in Palm Springs? What’s the story with you and Maral?”
Just like a man, I thought. I’m telling him I’m the überbeast he’s only seen in horror films and all he wants to know about is who I’m screwing. “Maral is my family . . . my helpmate . . . and my source of life. I think she’s beautiful. She’s the only human I’ve let get close to me in many, many years, and I care for her deeply. She lives with me in this house. Not in my house in Malibu, though. She has her own bedroom and office here. We’re lovers when the desire arises, but it’s not an exclusive relationship. She knows she can have romances with other people.” I didn’t tell him she hadn’t slept with anyone else in more than a year and the longer we were together, the more emotion she wanted from me. Emotion I wasn’t capable of providing. Maral can be a problem sometimes.