Home > Lady Crymsyn (Vampire Files #9)

Lady Crymsyn (Vampire Files #9)
Author: P.N. Elrod

Chapter 1

Chicago, June 1937

I woke up in my basement sanctuary to the sound of a man's shoe heel cracking hollow against linoleum three yards over my head. It was exactly sunset so I'd be awake anyway without the alarm call; this was just my partner's way of telling me something was up and to get moving.

Having fallen into my daylight stupor still wearing a bathrobe and slippers, there was no need to don them as I rose from the army cot that was my humble bed. Being completely unconscious while the sun was high meant that comfort wasn't the big concern so much as having a layer of my home earth sandwiched in between two sheets of oilcloth on the thin mattress. No coffins for me; the damned confining things give me the creeps.

Escott thumped the floor again like a flamenco dancer with no rhythm and called down at me. "Jack? Are you there? Jack?"

It was a perfectly reasonable question. Sometimes I slept the day over at my girlfriend's place. Escott hadn't bothered to lift the hidden trapdoor under the kitchen table to see if I was in.

"Yeah, yeah," I muttered. My bricked-up alcove with its cot, desk, chair, and lamp vanished into a gray nothingness, and I shot upward until encountering the resistance of the ceiling. Like invisible vapor through a grille, I sieved swiftly through the minute spaces and cracks in the barrier until fully clear. How the process worked, I couldn't really explain, it just did, and though tiring, I often took advantage of the gift.

I materialized, annoyed and puzzled, in the bright light of the kitchen. "What is it, a fire?" I asked, squinting.

"A call," Escott said, pointing to the phone on the wall by the pantry.

"Something wrong with Bobbi?" Past events made me more than a little anxious about the welfare of my girlfriend.

"Miss Smythe is perfectly fine, so far as I'm aware. This has to do with that club of yours."

"Oh." A whole different kind of worry for me. I hurried to snag up the earpiece. "Yeah? Fleming here, what is it?"

"Mr. Fleming, we gotta problem." The voice belonged to Leon Kell, the foreman I'd hired to take care of the renovations of the property I'd leased. He sounded tense. "I donno how you wanna handle it, so I told the boys to back off until you got here."

"What's the problem?"

"I don't wanna say over the phone."

I kept my cursing to myself. He'd apparently seen one too many gangster films. "C'mon, Leon, the G-men don't wire phones of honest citizens," I lied. "What's wrong?"

"The boys found something when they started knocking through that last cellar wall you wanted cleared. It happened just before quittin', an' I told them to hang around until you got here to tell us what to do."

Which meant a crew of half a dozen able-bodied men were all standing about with their picks and shovels in hand getting paid extra by me to smoke cigarettes. "Okay, then let them go for the night and-"

"That might not be such a good idea, considerin'."

"Considering what?"

"I don't wanna say, Mr. Fleming, an' if you come down here you'll know why I don't wanna say it."

Shit and Shinola. This was a whole new side to Leon's otherwise sensible character that I could have done without. "Okay, I'll be right there." I slammed the earpiece back on its hook with more force than was really required.

"He strikes me as being a cautious soul," Charles Escott commented from his seat at the kitchen table, where he'd heard my end of the conversation. Before him was his modest evening meal, purchased on the way back from his office. A sandwich and spuds tonight, making a change from his usual white cartons packed full of Chinese food. "He gave you no clue to the problem?"

"Leon's crew found something in the cellar. He wouldn't say what."

Escott looked up, his gray eyes and lean face suddenly bright with interest and grim concern. "It must be a body, then."

"Now where the hell do you get that?"

"If they'd ruptured a gas or water main, Mr. Kell would have been much more forthcoming with information. If it had been buried treasure, he'd not have called, period."

It was too early in the evening for me to deal with this kind of thing, I thought.

"I'll accompany you, if you don't mind."

"You need to eat." It wasn't just his face that was lean. When he got busy on a case Escott sometimes forgot about food unless someone bothered to remind him. He didn't have a lot of friends, so that job usually fell to me. Besides, something was going wrong with the most important new thing in my life, and I didn't want to sit around waiting for him to finish his feed bag.

And damned if he didn't seem to read my mind. "I'll have ingested sufficient nourishment by the time you've finished changing, unless you plan to establish a truly informal atmosphere to the site by appearing in such attire."

I gave him a brief sour smile, then vanished between one eyeblink and the next to go upstairs for clothes. He must have expected the move, for I didn't get his usual comment of "damn" in reaction. Show-off antics like that nearly always got some kind of rise from him. I only did it now to divert myself from the gut-sinking idea that he was probably right.

This was post-Prohibition Chicago and still reeling from the aftermath of Big Al's near-uncontested reign. The old building I'd picked to house what would become Lady Crymsyn had a violent history; it'd be strange if there wasn't a nasty surprise in the cellar.

The creation of my own swank nightclub represented a lot more to me than just an interesting way to provide steady earnings for decades to come. It meant that for once I'd deliberately chosen a path for myself, not simply stumbled along on those created for me by the needs of others.

You see, unaware of committing my worst crime against myself, I'd wasted my first life.

I'd drifted, one year to the next, assuming I was in charge of my destiny until a murderous beating and a gangster's bullet put an abrupt stop to such foolish thinking. There it should have ended, my disappearance an open mystery to my distant family, but of no concern to anyone else, least of all to the men who'd killed me.

But much to their appalled surprise my weighted carcass didn't stay where they'd dropped it in the cold depths of Lake Michigan. The one good thing that had happened to me during that wasted life wouldn't leave me in such grim peace. I returned to the world of the living, confused and fired by rage, a dark rebirth attended by blood, madness, and, finally, no small amount of revenge. My killers were dead or the next thing to it; I was alive-or the next thing to it-and it was time for me to cease drifting and move forward.

   
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