Chapter 20: I would be friends with you, and have your love
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
Fall had set in, so it got dark at a reasonable hour. After leaving the meeting, I hung around out of sight for a bit to see if Ned was going to go run to Martha or her sorceress with news of what I had uncovered. But he seemed to be settling in for a long discussion with Hagopian and Zalensky, so I decided to go see my sister Kate instead. It wasn’t even 10 P.M. yet.
Kate lived on the North Side in a house that fell just short of being a mansion. Husband number three was an industrialist with pretentious political ambitions, and it doesn’t look good to the electorate to appear too rich. Still, they employed house servants, including Roger James, the butler who was very startled to see me at the door.
“Why . . . Mr. . . . I mean, Detective Kammen. We have not seen you for a while,” he finally managed to get out.
I replied, “Thanks for attending my memorial service, Roger. I appreciate it. Sorry I wasn’t there myself, but I was sleeping in a coffin at the time. Would you let Kate know I’m here? I’ll be up in the library, catching up on the newspapers.”
Roger wasn’t quite unflappable, but he was doing a good job trying. “Yes, yes, very good, Detective Kammen. Mrs. Fox is hosting a party, so she may be some time, though.”
“As long as she’s there before sunrise, Roger.” And I walked past him into the house. I could hear music coming from the direction of the ballroom. Good, it meant the evening’s entertainment was a recital, and wouldn’t stretch past eleven. I headed up the stairs, down the hall, and went into the library, closing the door behind me.
The library looked as if it suffered from a split personality. On one side were dark shelves of heavy, leather-bound volumes, big, soft, comfy chairs and sofas, and the liquor cabinet. On the other side, the lightly stained shelves held hardbound volumes with gay dust jackets, paperbacks, and piles of recent magazines and newspapers. There was a small refrigerator underneath, stocked with soft drinks and mixers, and a Danish modern table-and-chair set that always looked to me as if it belonged in a kitchen. Kate had wanted it that way, as she liked using the library whatever mood she was in. It was, she said, her retreat from a too-hectic social life. This from a woman who was a great one for throwing parties.
I’d settled down in one of the comfortable chairs with the newspaper for about an hour when I saw the door opening. Kate stepped in, wearing a burgundy red formal dress, sleeveless and cut above the knee. Not many women aged fifty could wear such a dress and look good in it; Kate was one of them. She had “accessorized” her dress with a thin golden torque, golden arm bands, and a gold-plated pistol, which she pointed directly at me once she’d closed the door. Count on my sister to be fashionable, even when planning to shoot someone.
Fashionable, yes; but she had made an uncharacteristically bad judgment with the pistol. And I told her so. “Hecate, Hecate,” I said in a sing-song voice, “out for a thrill. I’d have to stand close for that pistol to kill.”
She smiled in spite of herself. “All right, so you really are Lock. What are you now, a ghost? A vampire? A zombie? And what are you doing here?” “Lock” was her nickname for me.
I stood up. “How do you know I’m not still alive, Kate? Did you see a body?” I shook my head, switched to an ominous sounding voice. “But I was killed. The notorious cop-killing vampire Martha Fokker attacked me, drained me of blood, and killed me. I have risen from the dead to drink the blood of the living.” I switched back to a normal voice. “I’ve got fangs, suck people’s blood, and even sleep in a coffin, which incidentally isn’t terribly comfortable. Think you could buy me a better one?”
She laughed, shook her head. “Lock, Lock, Lock . . . So you’re not here to drink my blood and make me into a vampire as well?”
“To talk, Kate. Maybe a favor. Maybe even a coffin upgrade.”
She lowered the pistol, came over and sat down in a chair facing me, putting the pistol on a side table. I sat down as well. Kate may hop into a lot of men’s beds, but she never does anything, not even that, without thinking it through. It makes for very restful conversations. After looking me over from head to foot, she said, “I signed over my share of your estate to Jacob. He needed the money. I don’t. What happens now? Can you reclaim your estate? Do you need money?”
She may be rich now, but Kate’s never forgotten the practical side of money. “I’m legally dead, Kate. Can’t reclaim what little money I had, and I bet Jake’s already spent it anyhow. I don’t need much money anyhow. Vampires don’t pay for the blood they suck, and I can enthrall people into giving me what I need if I have to. I don’t need much.”
Another long pause while Kate considered what I said. In a low voice, she replied, “No, you never did have much use for money, Lock.” Another long pause. “Why aren’t you trying to drink my blood, or are you going to?”
“I did the equivalent of mugging someone on the street earlier this evening. She won’t clearly remember what happened, will feel a little weak, but she’ll recover. I’d have to drain someone completely to turn them into a vampire.”
She smiled at that. “She, eh? You must really enjoy being a vampire, Lock, being the way you were always into pain and fear. I’m sorry Theo doesn’t enjoy your sexual games as much as Genie did, or else I’d call her up here.” Kate hired Society girls as her live-in social secretaries, and always got them married off in a year or two. She’d not been happy a few years back when one of them, Genie, had an affair with me. Theo was the current social secretary.
I looked Kate straight in the eye. “It’s not really that enjoyable, Kate. Too tempting, too easy to really hurt someone. Leave it be.”
She shifted uncomfortably. “Very well. My apologies. What’s on your mind, Lock?”
“I need information on sorcerers.” And then, because I was still a bit hurt from her comment about my sex life, added, “Slept with any?”
Again the long pause. “No. Never. People who do that tend to come out of the relationship rather twisted from what they were before.” She leaned back, closed her eyes. “Not long after I married him, my first husband’s sister Marge was seduced by a sorcerer and went off with him for a few weeks. When she returned home, she wouldn’t wear any clothes and was afraid of anyone who did. They had to put her away.” Kate opened her eyes, sat up, looked me in the face. “That’s just one. There have been others. Twice I’ve had sorcerers pursue me for an affair. I managed to divert their attentions to other people.” Her face screwed up in a frown. “It didn’t turn out well for those other people.”
“If he should have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a sorcerer, I should rather he should shrive me than wive me.”
Kate smiled and nodded. “That’s about it.”
“Charming, all that. But I’m more interested in who’s who, in particular Edward Cross and who’s for and against him.”
“Hmmmm.” Kate got up, went across to the other side of the room, got herself cigarettes and some matches, and came back. Lit one up and offered the pack to me.
“Can’t, Kate. Vampires don’t eat normal food and we can’t smoke, either.”
“You poor suffering bastard.” Kate gave me a real glance of sympathy. She put the cigarettes to one side, took a draw on hers. “So, Cross. Poses as a businessman, but all his real power, apart from his sorcery, comes from his political connections. Daley and he are supposed to be tight, and he’s got some of the aldermen and people in Springfield under his thumb. Doesn’t talk much. Neither forgives nor forgets. Rumored to be bisexual, almost certainly is. Married, wife not a sorceress, about my age, cousin to my second husband. She’s kind of pathetic, worships the ground he walks on but knows he cheats on her.
“Rumor has it the relationship between Daley and Cross is starting to develop some friction, but there have been only been hints of some sort of breach. I’ve seen the two of them together. My bet is that each has started to look on the other as the junior partner. You can imagine how Daley feels about anything like that. Cross isn’t much different.”
I nodded, and Kate went on. It took her almost three hours to cover what she knew. When it came to the mighty and powerful in Chicago, my sister had either married them, had an affair with them, or was related to them, and she was very good at getting information out of people. So she went through thumbnail descriptions of all the notable sorcerers in the Chicago area, past and present, describing what was known about their power and where they stood vis-à-vis Cross.
The big picture was that Cross was in trouble, not immediate trouble, but trouble nonetheless. To dominate the Midwest, Cross had decided to make Chicago an absolutely secure power base. As it turned out this was “a thing not in his power to bring to pass, but swayed and fashioned by the hand of heaven.” But in the process of trying, Cross had killed off or driven off a lot of sorcerers, so that there weren’t that many left in Chicago. It left him with a secure but weak power base, which meant his policy had actually proved counterproductive. But he had gotten increasingly irascible and paranoid with age, so he wasn’t likely to change his strategy. At least it meant that there was no serious magical opposition to him within the city or its suburbs. What conflict existed among the city’s sorcerers seemed to be over their share of the spoils Cross secured for them. Sorcerers had managed to take up positions in the city and Cook County administrations, but not directly in the Chicago Police Department. Apparently that was one of the sources of friction between Daley and Cross: Cross wanted a sorcerer as superintendent, or at least a deputy supe, but Daley and the superintendent were standing firm.
Mitchell Foster, the sorcerer Sally had killed under Ivy’s influence, had been Cross’s main troubleshooter. By reputation, he was considered a killer, though Kate couldn’t offer any details. She didn’t know he had died, and was unsure which of Cross’s supporters would become Foster’s replacement.
Once she was through, my sister sat back, took a few drags on her sixth cigarette, sipped at the port she had poured herself. She gave me a quizzical look. “You haven’t told me why you’re interested, Lock. Has this anything to do with the cop who came by here this afternoon asking about you?”
That got my attention. “What cop was that?”
Kate tossed her hair back, gave me a grin. “Female cop. Figured it was your long-lost lady love. Short name. Dirty blond hair . . .”
Oh, no. I should have known. “Truax? Sally Truax?”
Kate gave me a saucy look. “That’s the one. So she really is your lady love?”
I thought very carefully about what I had to say next. “Kate, if she comes back, tell her to stay away. And don’t under any circumstances make any queries about sorcerers in the near future, until I personally tell you otherwise.”
Kate looked less troubled than curious. “That bad?”
“It might get you killed.” I didn’t want to say more, but it was Kate. “Some other former cops that Fokker turned into vampires are working with me to get us reinstated. Somehow or other, Fokker has dragged us into a sorcerers’ war. We don’t know how or why for sure. But if Cross thinks you’re involved, he might just pay you a visit.”
Kate flicked her ash into the ashtray. “Or make me come to his place. There are rumors he does that to people he wants to use in various ways.” She gave me her calculating look. “I’ll keep my ears open and my mouth shut, Lock.” She gave a low laugh. “But if you do get back on the force, you owe me. Got it?”
Her face switched from a smile to a look of concern. “I don’t know how vampires live. You say you don’t need much, but is there anything I can do for you, Lock?”
I stood up. “No, Kate, you’ve done what you can for now.” I stood up, prepared to leave.
Kate held up a hand. “One last question. The pistol.”
I picked it up, looked it over, put it back down. “Cute. But if you’re going to use it against a vampire or sorcerer, I’d try to seduce them, and then shoot them in the head or the heart at point-blank range. Where’d you get it?”
“A former flame gave it to me.”
“Did you use it on him?”
“I should have.”
On that note, I took a few steps forward, gave my sister a kiss on the forehead, and walked out.
As I’ve said, being a detective involves investigating events and circumstances. Not everything pays off immediately. Some things never pay off at all. One just has to use one’s best judgment, and accept that sometimes one will be wasting time.
Kate’s information was valuable, but not immediately useful. I wrote it up that night and dropped it off with Hagopian to circulate to Ned and Zalensky tomorrow. At least we now knew the general shape of sorcerer politics in the city. What we didn’t know was where Martha Fokker fit in.
There was only one way to find out, and that was to confront Martha. I doubted I could get Ned O’Donnell to budge on telling me where she was. So I was going to have to tail Ned until he went to see Martha, or dropped some sort of clue in an unguarded moment that would lead me to her.
And then there was Sally. We had agreed to break contact, and Sally still managed to find a connection to me. I should have realized my sister’s name would be in Internal Affairs’ files. Sally’s contacting my sister worried me. It meant both Sally and Kate were potential leads back to me, leads Cross or any other sorcerer interested in the vampires could follow. Sally had put all three of us at risk. I understood why, but I definitely felt like finding some way to punish Sally for doing that. And thinking about punishing Sally brought up so many enjoyable ideas that it got my blood lust going. I had to go out and take prey for the second time that night.
All in all, while I felt I was making progress, I was worried about the risks we were running. I felt it in my bones that unless we got to the bottom of the conflict among the sorcerers, we’d never get our vampire bureau in CPD. Moreover, we were running out of time. Ned was planning to go public soon. If there were sorcerers who thought we were a problem, they’d have to move against us then. And we were vulnerable. There were only a handful of us, and we had no reliable means of fighting sorcerers as yet, apart from Ivy, and she was too weak to confront other sorcerers openly.
Worse, if any sorcerers decided to take us out, I was likely to be one of their first targets, along with Ned. I had to seriously consider that I might not survive long enough to unravel what was going on. What I needed a fallback plan of some kind to allow someone to pick up the pieces in case either or both of us were killed.
End of chapter twenty
“secure but weak power base”? Isn’t that an inherent contradiction, rather than two distinct things?
Ah but only readers of “Dragon Lady” will catch the minor joke about the butler being named James!
“Secure but weak” is a brief way of stating that his power base is secure internally, but now weak relative to external threats. I’ll have to see if I can come up with a better turn of phrase.
It is good to see Shylock’s sense of humour hasn’t departed him. He’s been serious of late, by that opening dialogue with his sister amends and makes up for it.
By this point, he needs the relief of humor himself. I suspect it’s always been a coping strategy for him. And it livens up what would otherwise be a dull expository chapter.
it works 🙂
Good chapter, nice development, and good job with the library. Mechanical stuff like the layout and appearance of a room should be more or less transparent to the reader, but can be daunting, unless you were just describing your personal surroundings 🙂
I think that library is one that would look very odd in reality . . . but I want it!
Yeah, I agree it would be…eclectic, but a large room well-stocked with books and booze is not one I’d turn down.