Read Love Bites Online

Authors: Adrienne Barbeau

Tags: #Fiction, #Vampires, #General, #Fantasy, #Hollywood (Los Angeles; Calif.), #Mystery & Detective, #Contemporary, #Supernatural, #Motion picture producers and directors, #Occult fiction

Love Bites (9 page)

BOOK: Love Bites
6.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


I’d never been to the Coroner’s office. Vampyres don’t have a lot of relatives who end up dead. And I didn’t understand why Peter wanted me there to begin with. He’d told Maral he wanted me to look at a body; I thought bodies went to the morgue.

Maral drove us down the 5, past Chavez Ravine, and onto North Mission in Boyle Heights. We’d barely spoken since I’d bled her, save for my asking her for Thomas’s robe and her telling me Peter wanted to see me. I noticed she’d removed my ring from her finger. It was a serpent carved in coral, something I’d had since Victoria was queen. Not only was she not talking to me, she’d stopped wearing the gift I’d given her. Her childish way of letting me know she was pissed.

She looked haggard. She’d gone out last night after I left her bed, probably thinking if she were quiet enough, I wouldn’t know. You’d think after all these years she’d remember I can hear everything. I heard the click of the space bar on her computer—she must have been scrolling down Web sites—and then her bare feet on the stairs when she tiptoed outside to smoke a joint. I hate it when she smokes; she gets paranoid and crazy. Especially this new weed she gets from one of the actors in the kids’ movie we just wrapped. Leave it to a seventeen-year-old Disney star to have high-quality cannabis. He probably laces it with something. She thinks if she goes far enough onto the property, I won’t smell it. Not only can I smell it, I can hear her striking a match all the way across the yard. Plus, I taste the THC curdling her blood for days afterwards.

After she got stoned, I heard her come in to get her shoes, and then she left again. At least she took Peter’s warning seriously—his business card was missing from the table. She must have taken it with her. I should have stopped her from driving, but I knew she needed to put some space between us. I figured she was going to stay at the beach house, and at that hour, with so little traffic, she’d be okay.

Instead, she was home a couple of hours later. She must have really been loaded because she started making tea in the kitchen—some god-awful herbal concoction, from the smell of it—and then she locked herself in her bathroom at four in the morning and took a shower. She was talking to herself. It sounded like she was praying. I stopped listening when I realized that’s what it was.

My dear, sweet Maral. She’s got her own demons to contend with. And some of them I can’t help her with.

The view of the downtown skyline from the freeway was spectacular. The street we ended up on wasn’t. It looked like an aging industrial park, bounded by a hospital maintenance building, a parking lot, a reproductive biology lab, and the L.A. County College of Nursing and Allied Health. There were also a thrift shop, a flower shop, and a Jack in the Box. Maral parked at a broken meter in front of a tortilla stand. Instead of flashing “fail,” the meter flashed “dead.” Somebody in the Department of Transportation had a sense of humor.

The Coroner’s building was a turn-of-the-century architectural gem in the midst of all that grayness. Red and taupe brick with a lot of neoclassical stonework and beautiful black cast-iron streetlamps. The floor tiles in front of the huge glass doors spelled out “Los Angeles General Hospital.” They looked original. Peter was standing on them, waiting for us. He was wearing the same clothes he’d had on last night, and when I saw the fatigue on his face, I realized he hadn’t been to bed yet.

“Thanks for coming. This is the homicide I went out on last night. Body was found at the Sportsmen’s Lodge. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was the Cinema Slayer again. I want you to look at it. I know you get images sometimes when you touch things. I can’t believe I’m even asking you this, but I’d like to know what I’m dealing with here. I need all the help I can get.”

Inside the lobby, Peter stopped at a glass cubicle and told the receptionist he was there to see Investigator Shin. Maral sat down to wait on a wooden bench across the room, and I drifted over to an opaque glass door labeled “Gift Shop.” The sign said they opened at eleven, but I tried the handle and it was unlocked. I couldn’t resist. What kinds of gifts could they be selling in the Coroner’s office?

Beach towels and welcome mats. With a chalk outline of a dead body on them. And mouse pads reading, “We’re dying for your business.”

The woman behind the counter said, “Welcome to Skeletons in the Closet.” Only in L.A., I thought. The whole place was filled with merchandise aimed at those “of dubious distinctive taste.” That’s what it said on the catalog: body bags for traveling, “Undertaker” boxer shorts, Department of Coroner lunch boxes, a kitchen cutting board with the dead body outline and the line “We have our work cut out for us” on it. They even had golf balls and club covers with dead bodies on them. My favorite was a hoodie with the drawing of a foot with a toe tag; it reminded me of my Dakhanavar ancestors, who liked to suck feet.

Peter joined me as I was browsing through the Cutting Edge office supplies. Looking past him into the lobby, I saw an elderly woman and her family come out from a side room. They were all crying. The woman fainted into the arms of one of the men, and an attendant rushed over to help.

“What is this place, Peter?” I asked.

“Well, it started out as an adobe infirmary in the late 1800s. It’s the last of the four original brick buildings that made up Los Angeles General Hospital, and now it’s the administration building for County. And the Coroner’s office.”

“I thought they kept dead bodies in the morgue.”

“They do, if they’ve died of natural causes and if they’re identified. Jane and John Does and homicide cases come here. Welcome to the crypt.”

We walked back into the lobby.

An attractive Asian woman came down the stairs. Peter introduced her as a Coroner Investigator and thanked her for helping him out.

“Only for you, Detective King. I’m breaking all kinds of protocol, letting you take someone in there with you. If I didn’t owe you big-time, this would never happen,” she said under her breath. “Don’t let me down.” She opened a door and motioned the three of us inside. Peter knew where he was going; she left us to get there on our own.

We walked through a hallway with a large scale set into the floor. An attendant was weighing a body on a gurney. A young girl with a string of bullet holes across her chest. My first thought was that she’d been caught in a drive-by. What a tragedy. At least when my kind kill, we choose our victims deliberately.

I damped down my sense of smell. I was aroused enough just being around Peter; the last thing I needed was the smell of blood. It didn’t matter whose. Even old, dried blood—still an aphrodisiac.

Maral never said a word. I don’t think she saw the little girl. She stared straight ahead until we reached our destination and then stopped behind me, standing just inside the door.

It was a long, refrigerated room, with metal trays extending out from the left wall, stacked four high with a three-foot space between them, thirty in a row. Filled with dead bodies. Some were covered loosely in sheets, others were wrapped in clear plastic and tied with rope. I was amazed that there could be that many unidentified bodies or homicide victims dead at the same time. I guess with upwards of five hundred gangs in the city of L.A. alone, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I wondered if any of my kind were responsible for any of the deaths.

Peter rolled a metal lift over to the sixth row, cranked a handle to bring it level with a tray holding a sheeted body, and pulled the tray out to the middle of the room. He uncovered the body.

I understood immediately why he’d asked me to come. This body had been shredded. Eviscerated. If a human did this, he’d have had to use some kind of serrated knife or cutting tool. It could very well have been done by an animal. Or a beast.

I reached out and touched the woman’s forehead, the only part of her face still intact. Sensations flooded my body . . . a drug high, and then terror. And then I couldn’t breathe. I was in water. Drowning. Something had sliced into my stomach and was holding me down. Churning the water around me. The water was so bloodied that I couldn’t see through it. Something had me by my body and was turning me, rolling me over and over, and making a loud, ratcheting sound—like a mechanical growl. A lion’s snarl in a tin bucket or an idling motorboat engine or something. I couldn’t place it. I pulled my hand away from the woman’s forehead and took a couple of deep breaths to center myself. This woman’s last moments had been horrific.

“I think you’re going to find she drowned, Peter. Whatever tore her apart pulled her down in the water first, the way alligators do. She wasn’t alive when she got shredded. But he must have attacked her from behind because I don’t think she saw him before she drowned. At least, I didn’t see any other images.”

“You think it was human?”

“I couldn’t tell. Maybe. Whatever it was, it was strong. I’m sorry, that’s not much help.”

“Well, it was worth a try. Thanks for making the drive down here. At least I got to see you.”

Peter walked us back to Investigator Shin’s office. He tapped on her door and opened it long enough to thank her and tell her he’d let her know as soon as he got an ID on the body.

We stepped out into the sunlight, and the yelling started. Reporters raced up the steps to shove mics in our faces. News crews from the local networks had cameras set up. The paparazzi were waiting at the bottom of the stairs.

“Detective King, what’s going on with the body you found at the Sportsmen’s?”

“Is it another Cinema Slayer case?”

“How come you’re here, Ms. Moore? Did the dead woman work for Anticipation? Did you know her? Look over here! Give us a shot!”

“Come on, Ovsanna—smile!”

“Yeah, Ovsanna, what’s your connection to the case? Come on! Come on, speak into the microphone!”

“What’s your connection to Detective King? Can you tell us that?”

“Is that Zac Posen you’re wearing?”

Peter put his arm around me and shielded me with his body as we pushed past the photographers to the car. Maral was behind us. At one point, I turned around and couldn’t see her through the wall of paps between us. They were yelling at her, too.

“Miss McKenzie, is your boss helping the police?”

“How come she’s here? Is this research for the next film?”

“Was the dead woman a friend? What was she wearing?”

Peter opened the passenger door for me. I slid in and closed it and rolled down the window to say good-bye. Peter leaned in so no one else could hear him.

“I don’t know how they knew you were here,” he whispered. “Maral wouldn’t have told anyone, would she?”

“Not if she wants to keep her job.” I looked over at her. She was sitting rigid in the driver’s seat, staring straight ahead. Straining to hear what Peter was saying, I think.

The photographers had followed us down to the car. They were still yelling, but now they were jostling for the best angle to shoot Peter and me together. Peter turned on them.

“Take a hike, fellas. I’d hate to have to ruin someone’s morning with a trip downtown. That means you, Eddie.” He glared at the photographer who was leading the pack. It was Steady Eddie—a bald, three-hundred-pound behemoth wearing lime green suspenders and two Nikons around his neck. I see him outside my house from time to time. He’s got a reputation as one of the town’s top paparazzi.

“Ah, the illustrious Beverly Hills sleuth, winner of medals for heroism, destroyer of fine photography.”

“What’s he talking about?” I asked.

“It’s nothing,” Peter responded. “The last time I saw him, he made the mistake of showing me some fast-frame shots he’d taken of something he shouldn’t have. I borrowed his camera to get a closer look and handed it back with a reformatted disk and no forbidden pictures.”

Eddie overheard him. “Well, you ought to tell her the whole tale, Detective. Who are you trying to protect? They were shots of your abode, Ms. Moore, with some nice detail work of the code for your gate. Truly creative on my part, I thought.”

“Get fucked, Eddie, and get out of here, or fine photography won’t be all I destroy.”

“In truth, Detective, methinks the time you’re spending with the lovely Ms. Moore is not all in the line of duty.”

Peter advanced on him, and he scrambled back to the safety of the pack. They were still firing off shots. Peter pulled himself together and came back to me.

I asked him if that meant he’d known my security code all this time. He avoided an answer, which was an answer in itself. Interesting. Maybe Maral was right when she talked about trust.

Instead he asked, “How do you deal with this every day? They’re like a pack of wolves waiting to get their teeth into something juicy. I’ve watched them do it for years, but they seem to be getting more and more vicious. There are no boundaries anymore.”

“You get used to it,” I said. “Although they’re not usually on me like this. I’m not nineteen and in rehab, I’m not starving myself to death, and I haven’t got any kids to fight for in a bloody divorce. Unless I have a film coming out, or we’ve made a deal with some other celebrity, they usually leave me alone. All this attention started with the Cinema Slayer. And for some reason, it got worse after we came back from Palm Springs.”

BOOK: Love Bites
6.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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