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Authors: P.N. Elrod

The Devil You Know

BOOK: The Devil You Know
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The Devil You Know

 

Kindle Edition, Front Matter and License Notes:

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to Smashwords and purchase your own copy.

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author!

 

The Devil You Know
Kindle Edition copyright 2011, P.N. Elrod

VampWriter Books Edition copyright 2009 P.N. Elrod

Cover design copyright 2009, 2011 Jamie Murray

This is a work of fiction. Names characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

* * * * * * *

 

* * * * * * *

 

Jonathan Barrett and his reclusive girlfriend Emily were the only others like me that I knew
of;
we’re a rare breed. He’d been the one who’d made Maureen, who, some decades later, made me before vanishing out of our lives forever. We’d both loved her. She was a sore spot between us, though that was gradually healing. Barrett had been around since before the Revolutionary War, giving him a longer perspective on life, and he wasn’t above rubbing that in when he thought I needed reminding. Though our case with him was long over, I knew Escott kept in touch. Sometimes the mail would have an embossed envelope with Barrett’s distinctive copperplate handwriting on it. The fancy calligraphy was always made by a modern fountain pen, though, not a quill. He wasn’t the type to stand fixed in the past.

 

—Jack Fleming,
Song in the Dark

 

* * * * * * *

 

* * * * * * *

 

The Devil You Know

 

A Novel of the Vampire Files

 

Chicago, February 1938

 

The telegram arrived
while I was throwing out that evening’s disruptive drunk, which involved shoving the barely conscious mug into a taxi and slipping a dollar tip to the driver. How he collected his fare later was his business, so long as it was done away from my nightclub. As the cab chugged off, a uniformed messenger boy on a loud motorbike slipped into its place by the curb.

“Parking’s on the side,” I said, jerking my thumb that way, my mind still on the drunk. He’d guzzled about five bucks in booze in record time, broken thirty cents worth of glassware, and it had cost a buck to get rid of him. The balance sheet was still in the black, so I’d allow him inside again, but keep a better eye on things. He would return, too, being so far gone in his cups he’d never remember his eviction.

“Telegram for the boss,” the kid bawled over the bike motor, unimpressed. He cut the noise and, still straddling the saddle, slammed the kickstand down with an efficiency that only comes with practice. He dug into a big leather pouch strapped across his chest.

“That’s me.”

“Oh, yeah? Prove it.” He was half a year shy of his first shave, but had “Chicago tough guy” all over him like an old tattoo.

“You’re looking for Jack Fleming, you found him.”

“Don’t go kiddin’ me. You could be anybody.”

He had a point. I got out my wallet and showed him my driving license, an old press pass I carried for luck, and a quarter that had somehow appeared between my index and middle knuckles. A magician playing at my club had taught me a couple of sleight-of-hand tricks.

Still unimpressed, the kid squinted at my paper, made the two bits vanish, and slotted the corner of a yellow telegram envelope in the same space. “Thanks, Mack,” he said. The bike clattered to life. With a move reminiscent of a cowboy kicking his horse to a gallop, he bounced it off the stand and roared on to the next delivery.

Telegrams never bode well. A few years ago Western Union had tried to mitigate their bum reputation with the singing variety, but the kid had spared me from an
a cappella
solo in the street. I tore open the envelope, worried about my parents in Cincinnati.

The first line told me the message was from Long Island, New York.

“Bad news?” asked Escott, not quite looking over my shoulder.

I managed not to give a start. During my tango with the drunk, Escott had obligingly held the club’s door open but I’d missed that he’d also come outside. When it suited him my occasional partner in mayhem was good at not being noticed.

I read the thing again to be sure I’d gotten it right. “Depends. It’s about Maureen.” I passed over the flimsy. His lean face showed concern as he read:

 

FUNERAL ON 28TH. ADVISE ARRIVAL TIME IF ATTENDING. BARRETT

 

“Dear God. He found her then,” my friend murmured, more to himself than me. Escott didn’t ask the obvious question right away, waiting a whole ten seconds so I could think things over. “Will you go?”

“Guess I have to.” That sounded cold. “I mean, I don’t want to, but I should.” That was even worse. “It’s been two years . . . and another five before them. I don’t want to go through that again.”

“Of course not. You’ve had your mourning. I expect Barrett has, too.”

I’d not considered how it might be for him.

“But perhaps he would welcome some simple company.”

Or he’d figured out a few things since my last visit in ’36 and wanted to have a word. But were that the case, Barrett would just turn up on the doorstep and punch my ticket.

“I’ll go pay my respects.”

There, a good comfortable phrase, somber and appropriate. It put a safe distance between myself and old heartbreak. Seven years late I would stand by a graveside, say a prayer, and lay flowers down. Seven years late, but better than never knowing what had happened to her.

I owed everything to Maureen Dumont. Everything. Her dark gift had saved me a dozen times over.

Paying respects wasn’t enough, but nothing else was left.

 

* * * * * * *

 

* * * * * * *

 

Bobbi Smythe, my girlfriend,
proved remarkably understanding about my attending the funeral of the only other woman I’d ever loved. I broke the news in her dressing room after her last set for the night, showing the telegram.

Part of me (there was a craven, petty coward tucked away in one of the darker corners of my skull) hoped Bobbi would get the jealous sulks and thus provide a reason to stay home. Instead, she offered to drive me to the station. I said I’d take a cab.

“And of course Charles and I will look after the club,” she said reassuringly, smearing cold cream on her stage makeup and wiping it off with tissues.

Yeah, yeah, I knew that, but was glad she couldn’t see my reflection in the mirror. I had a long face on. I could feel it.

“Take whatever time you need. You don’t worry about anything here.”

I knew that, too.

“Unless you want one of us along?”

“I’ll be fine.”

Company on the trip would have been good, but not for the funeral itself. This was something out of my past I had to settle for myself and then close the door. Instinct told me I had to do that one alone.

“If you’re sure?”

“Yeah, baby. I’m sure.” I sat and watched her ritual of putting on all-new makeup. She was drop dead gorgeous without it, but I kept that to myself. She liked her warpaint, and I liked watching her primp. It took my mind off what was to come on Long Island.

“You’re the best, you know that?” I said.

She paused and glanced my way. Smiling. Oh, yeah. She knew it.

 

* * * * * * *

 

* * * * * * *

 

Travel is a little more
complicated when you’re a vampire, but not impossible.

That’s right, vampire: bloodsucking, sleep-through-the-day Bela Lugosi stuff, only I don’t wear a tuxedo if I can help it, and I don’t own an opera cape.

Forget about bats and hypnosis, too. The former is myth, the latter a talent that’s been burned out of me.
I
can
vanish if I need to—and that’s handy.

Especially when traveling.

To get to Long Island, I booked my light-proofed traveling trunk on the Twentieth Century Limited and shipped myself east. The easy part was wrestling the big, clumsy box out of the cab into the LaSalle Street Station and making sure it got on the right train. Then I had to give up being solid, slip unseen into the portable sanctuary that held my home earth, spare clothes, and a few magazines. After that, the hard part: waiting and trusting others to see to it that I reached my destination. After so much time of supervising every detail of running my club, I was too used to being in charge.

Not wanting to think about what awaited on Long Island, I wrestled out a pocket flashlight—a necessity when no other ambient light was available—and kept myself entertained with the adventures of The Shadow until the sun rose.

When I woke the next night, the world outside my trunk no longer swayed along rails and had gone silent. I cautiously sieved out, trying to get a sense of the surroundings, but there wasn’t anything within easy reach. A faint wind teased at my invisible self; I was outdoors, but where? It wasn’t the Grand Central Terminal . . . probably the local station closest to Barrett’s home, and how busy could that be at sunset?

I took a chance and went solid, taking a deep breath of what I assumed was chilly Long Island air, flushing the stale stuff from my usually dormant lungs.

Not a train platform, but just as big, I abruptly recognized the grand
porte cochère
of the Francher mansion. Jonathan Barrett, Esquire, lived here with his lady friend, Emily Francher, who was richer than Midas and too reclusive for my taste. She had her reasons, I guess. What the hell, they were happy, and where they hung their hats was none of my business.

Per instructions sent by Escott, Barrett must have arranged for someone to deliver my trunk to the estate. It had been sitting out all day, but was safe enough. This was a secluded property with a locked gate and a gatekeeper in residence. Still, I wondered why I’d not been trucked indoors.

I stretched out the kinks, not that I had any, only my clothes were creased. I was confident some Francher servant might be talked into ironing them into shape.

My memory of the last visit was clear, but not where it concerned the surrounding landscape. The road that led toward the front gate was . . . over there, lots of trees, bare for winter except for stretches of evergreens that hid the place from its neighbors. Somewhere behind the house to the north the land sloped toward the Sound. I took a second breath, this time noting the fresh tang of the sea in the chill.

Along the road to the gate was a large, unnaturally flat patch of ground. That had been where the original Francher house stood until it had burned down, taking Emily Francher’s mother with it. The ruins had been broken up and carted away, and what was left they pushed into the cellar, the gaps filled with dirt and bulldozed smooth.

Maureen’s remains had rested there for nearly seven years, her grave unmarked and unknown except by her clever, precocious murderer. If Escott and I hadn’t blundered in and upset things maybe a harmless cabby named John Henry Banks would still be driving his hack, and Emily Francher would still be getting around during the day.

There was no way of knowing. When you start looking into people’s secrets either nothing happens or all hell breaks loose. There’s usually no middle ground when murder is involved.

Maureen’s killer might well have taken more lives without our interference. I’d stopped her, and I’d not been thinking of future victims at the time. That night I allowed myself to be judge, jury, and executioner. Not something I was proud of, and it bothered me when I let it. Mostly I told myself that there’d been no other solution. It wasn’t the kind of case you could take to court: no evidence,
no
witnesses, no conviction, no justice.

Of course, coming here brought back the helpless anger I’d felt, but I’d known that would happen. Nothing for it but to take it on the chin and return home as soon as I could.

The flat patch on the land was gone—replaced by a big black pit. Piles of raw earth lay nearby with shards of burned wood sticking out like bones from a ravaged carcass. A diesel shovel, crane, and other heavy construction equipment were gathered around the hole like graveside mourners.

Not knowing where Maureen’s body had been in the ruins, Barrett had to excavate the whole thing. That could not have been easy. I was glad he’d found her, but God knows how tough it must have been for him. I don’t think I’d have been able to do it.

Behind me came the sound of a latch clicking, and I turned just as the front door swung wide.

Barrett looked at me; I looked back. It was a mutual sizing up. I could figure he was also comparing the man before him to the one in his memory and correcting the inevitable shifts that happen with the passage of time. I recalled him as being much shorter, but we were almost the same height. He hadn’t aged of course; like me, he seemed to be in his twenties, but there was a sad weariness in the set of his shoulders that added years to his manner.

He wore mud-smeared dark trousers, a wrinkled shirt, and ratty old carpet slippers on bare feet. Soon as the sun was down he’d have gotten right out of bed to see if his guest had arrived and had apparently slept in those clothes. Most noticeably, his hair hadn’t been cut in several months, hanging loose and ragged around his face, and he’d not shaved in at least a week. Last time he’d been neat as a cat and, I thought, just as smug. But he’d been working hard at a heartbreaking task, little wonder he’d gone downhill. This struck me as overdoing it, though.

He put his hand out. “Hello, Fleming.”

I returned the courtesy, keeping it brief. “Barrett.”

BOOK: The Devil You Know
13.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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