Paradigms Lost – Chapter 05
Chapter 5: An Invitation You Can’t Refuse
I knew there was no point in calling Elias in the morning; he was still on the night shift. The police removed the yellow tape that day, and I found myself busy with regular customers until six-thirty; two major research literature searches for a couple of professors at RPI, a prior-art and patent survey for a local engineering firm, and a few simple source searches for a few well-heeled students who’d rather pay me than spend hours in the library. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing people like that a service, but what the heck, they’ll pay for it one way or another. At seven I locked up and called Elias.
He protested at first, but eventually gave me what I asked for: Verne Domingo’s phone number, which was of course unlisted. As I hung up, it occurred to me that Elias had actually not fought very hard. According to regulations, it was illegal for him to hand out that information, so he had to have wanted me to get it. I remembered him looking at the books yesterday. Maybe he just didn’t want to get directly caught in the weird.
I punched in the number. After a few rings, it was answered. Yes, Mr. Domingo was in. No, he could not come to the phone. No, there would be no exceptions. Would I care to leave a message?
“Yes. Tell Mr. Domingo that I have a photograph that he is not in.”
The dignified voice on the other end was puzzled. “Excuse me? Don’t you mean one that he is in?”
“I mean exactly what I say. Tell him that I have a picture that he is not in. I will call back in one half hour.” I hung up.
I booted up a secure VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) package I’d found and heavily customized, tied my phone into that. Someone trying a traceback on the call would find it going to various service providers, since I’d hacked together an effective anonymizer for VOIP work. The package also included some signal analysis packages for the incoming signal; if they were using conventional phone lines, I’d be able to tell how many lines were in use.
Precisely thirty minutes later, I called back. A different voice, with a faint accent I couldn’t place, answered. “Verne Domingo speaking.”
“Ah. You got my message.”
“I did indeed. A most peculiar message. I must confess that my curiosity is piqued. What, exactly, does it mean?”
I felt a faint tinge of uncertainty. Could I be wrong? I dismissed it, though. The photo was unmistakable evidence. He was playing it cool. I looked at an indicator; there were more than two people on this line. “Are you sure you want me to talk about it with all those others listening?”
There was a fractional pause, then a chuckle. It was a warm, rich sound. “Very good, young man. I suppose there is no harm in talking to you privately. The rest of you, off the line.”
The indicator showed four connections dropping off. Quite a staff he has; unless he called in the cops, but I really doubt that. “All right, young man… what should I call you?”
“Call me… um, John Van Helsing.”
That got a real pause. “Most… intriguing. Go on. Tell me about this picture.”
“I have a photograph that could place you in a very difficult position. A photo of you involved in a felony.”
“You said that I was not in the photo.”
“Indeed. Your accomplice is, but even though you should undoubtedly be in the photograph, there is no trace of your image.”
He chuckled again. “Obviously the photographer made a mistake.”
“Not in this case, Mr. Domingo. You see, even though you do not appear, your physical presence left definite traces, which modern technology could define and discover. I think that you would find life even more difficult if this photo were publicized than if you simply went to jail.”
I heard no humor in his voice now. “I despise clichés, Mr.…. Van Helsing. But to put it bluntly, you are playing a very dangerous game. Vastly more dangerous, in fact, than you may think, and I will credit you with the intelligence to have already realized considerable danger lay in making this call. You sound like a young and, it would seem, impulsive person. Take my advice and stop now. I am impressed by your initiative and resources… not the least of which is your ability to nullify my tracer. But if you do not stop this now, I will have no choice but to… convince you to stop. And no matter the result of that attempt, you will remain in more danger than you can imagine.”
That response confirmed everything. If he hadn’t been a vampire, he would have dismissed me as a nut. “Sorry, Mr. Domingo. It can’t be dropped. This is a matter of life and death. Several deaths. I’ll be in touch.”
I hung up the phone immediately.
Now I had to figure out what to do. I’d verified my guess. Domingo was the vampire, no doubt about it. Now what? I couldn’t just march up to him some night and hammer a stake through his heart. Never mind the technical difficulties like bodyguards and the fact that he’d probably be less than cooperative; I’d probably be arrested for Murder One and put away. But aside from just killing him, what other choices were there? Lieutenant Reisman would believe me, and maybe Elias Klein if I pushed him. But try getting a warrant out for a murderer with no witnesses except a photo that doesn’t show him and some wild-eyed guesses.
I decided to sleep on it. Sometimes the subconscious works out solutions once you stop consciously worrying at it. I had dinner, watched Predator on cable, and finished reading Phantoms before I turned in.
I woke up suddenly. I glanced at the clock; it was 3:30. What had awakened me?
Then I heard it again. A creak of floorboards. Right outside my bedroom door.
I started to ease over towards the nightstand; I keep my gun in that drawer at night.
The bedsprings creaked.
The door slammed open, and three black figures charged in. I lunged for the nightstand, got the drawer halfway open, but one of them smacked my wrist with the butt of a small submachine gun. “Hold it there, asshole. Move and you are history.”
I used to think Uzis looked silly on television, like a gun that lost its butt and stock. There was nothing funny about the ugly black snout with the nine-millimeter hole ready to make a matching hole in my head. My voice was hoarse and my heart hammered against my ribs. “Okay! Okay, I am not moving! What do you want?”
“It’s not what we want,” one said, his voice neither angry nor gloating, but simply factual. “Mr. Domingo wants to talk to you. Now.”
After a nasty but impersonal frisking, I was dragged out to a large car. My captors made it clear I was to sit down and shut up. The ride was fast and silent. We pulled up in front of a very large house, fenced and guarded; I recognized the location as we approached. I’d actually driven by here a few times, but never realized there was anything like this on the other end of the gated drive.
The three hustled me out and into the hallway. “Ah, very good, Camillus,” said a gentleman with a perfect English accent, dressed in the impeccable formalwear of a Holly wood butler. “I’ll take the young man from here.”
The one addressed as “Camillus” looked narrowly at me. “Don’t give Morgan here — or anyone else — any trouble, Mr. Wood. If you do, I’ll be back with a pair of tinsnips and you won’t ever need to worry about having kids. Got it?” I didn’t doubt he meant it.
“Please, Camillus, this gentleman is not one of our… more obstreperous visitors. I am sure he does not need such crude threats.” Morgan bowed to me. “If you would come this way, Mr. Wood?”
Morgan led me into a library that looked like Alistair Cooke should be sitting in it for the next episode of Masterpiece Theatre. I sat down in one of the chairs to wait. I’m glad it was a cool night; if it had been hot I might have been sleeping in little or nothing, and my captors had shown no inclination to let me change clothes. As it was, a red-and-blue running suit looked pretty silly.
Of course, I supposed that what I looked like was probably the least of my problems. But if I didn’t think about inane topics like this, I’d probably be screaming.
I hadn’t even heard the door open again, but a voice suddenly spoke to me. “Good evening, Mr. Wood. Welcome to my house.”
I guess I was jumpier than I thought. I leapt out of the chair and whirled. “Jesus!” He smiled slightly as I did a double-take. “Son of a… you even look like a vampire!”
He did, too. Not the walking-corpse kind; he looked like a taller Frank Langella. “Fortunate casting on their part, I assure you.” He smiled again, and this time I noticed pointed teeth. Two fangs. It suddenly felt very cold here. “Sit down, please.” He rang a bell; the door opened almost instantly, framing the silver-haired butler who’d guided me upstairs. “Morgan, bring a suit of clothes for my guest here.” He rattled off my measurements in a lightning-fast stream. “And send up some hors d’oeuvres; I have yet to meet a young bachelor who isn’t hungry at all hours.”
What in hell was going on? I expected to be taken out back and shot. Now he’s treating me like a visiting dignitary? This is very weird. “How in the world did you find me?” I asked once the butler left.
He shook his head, looking amused. “Mr. Wood, you are indeed a very clever man. But you are, I am afraid, not an expert in espionage or covert operations. Certainly you left no direct clues, but consider! From my conversation with you, I knew the following: you were a young man — your voice, manner on the phone, and approach left me with little doubt on that score; you were in possession of a photo which, from your description, could only have been obtained from a covert surveillance camera; you were certainly not the police; you had considered possibilities that most people would dismiss offhand; you had either access to someone with the ability to, or yourself actually possessed abilities to, process the images on that film and from them discover the evidence you and I discussed recently.
“In short, then, I had to look for a young man who was on close terms with the police, who worked with computer-enhancements or had access to them, who had an open mind, and, from the tone of your voice, who had had at least one death recently that he was personally concerned with. I think you will admit that the field of choices becomes very narrow.”
I flushed. Nice work, moron! I had set myself up perfectly.
The clothes and food arrived; he directed me to a small alcove to change. I came out feeling almost human again and I was actually hungry. “So what are you going to do with me? I presume that if you intended to kill me you’d already have done so.”
“I do not kill unless in self-defense, Mr. Wood. You are entirely mistaken in your impression of me. I have killed no one since I arrived here three years ago.”
The last thing I expected here was denial. “Entirely mistaken? Are you saying you are not a drug dealer?”
He winced. “I dislike that term. I am a supplier of substances which your government terms illegal, yes.”
“Then you’ve killed hundreds by proxy. That’s even worse.”
He glanced at me; his expression was mild, but his eyes appeared to flame momentarily. “Do not seek to judge me, young man. What your culture calls illegal is its business, but I do not acknowledge its sovereignty over me or others. I walked this world long before the United States was even a possibility, and I will exist long after it has gone and been forgotten in time. If members of your population choose my wares, that is their affair. I do not sell to children, nor do I sell to those who do. Adults make their own choices of salvation and damnation. I supply the means to make that particular choice. I live in comfort on the free choices of these people.”
“Once they’re addicted, it isn’t much of a free choice! And some of them — many of them — turn to drugs because of their dead-end lives.”
He flicked a hand in a negation, red light flashing from a ruby ring on his finger. “Mr. Wood, this lecture of yours is at an end. I did not bring you here to discuss my business affairs. But I will say that I target my wares to those who can afford them. They have both the choice and the resources to make or unmake the choice. I take no responsibility for the idiocy of others.” He held up the hand as I started to answer. “No, that is enough, Mr. Wood. You are a well-meaning young man, and I would enjoy talking with you on other subjects. But this discussion is closed.
“To the point, Mr. Wood. I presume that you believe that I killed your… friend, this Lewis. Would you tell me why I might do such a thing?”
Could he be that dense? “Obviously you were hungry.”
He nodded. “I see. And can you think of any other reasons?”
“Lewis was one of my contacts. Maybe he knew something about you or your operation.”
He began to smile, then he laughed. It was as warm and rich as the chuckle, ringing like a deep bell. “Come with me, Jason.”
He led me out of the library, down a hall, and into his own chambers. He pointed at a cabinet. “Open that.”
I pulled on the handles. The rosewood opened, to reveal a large refrigerator. Inside were dozens of bottles filled with red liquid.
“I can obtain blood legitimately from several sources, Jason. It can be expensive, but I have many millions. I can even warm it to the proper temperature. I can eat normal food, though I derive no nourishment from it, and it gives me what a mortal would call cramps; but thus I can maintain a masquerade.”
I was stunned. I had missed all this totally. How could I be so stupid? “But what if Lewis knew something? You –“
“Really, Mr. Wood, you can’t think that I would personally kill him? I have people — such as Camillus — for that, who can use bullets or their bare hands, or strangle with generic wire, or cause automobiles to go out of control at convenient locations. What earthly reason would I have to kill someone in a fashion so bizarre as to draw just this sort of attention?” He led the way back to the library. “You are a reasonable man, Jason. Unless you believe me so insane that I have lost any semblance of rationality, then you cannot believe I am responsible for these terrible killings.”
I nodded. How could I argue? I should have seen all this stuff without ever having to have it rammed down my throat. “Then what you are saying is that there is another vampire in the city?”
“I see no alternative.”
I cursed, earning me a scandalized raise of an eyebrow. “Sorry. But this puts me back to square one. Now I’ll have to sort him out from a hundred and fifty thousand people in the area.”
“I may be able to help you.”
He sure had my attention. “How?”
He leaned back in his chair. “Normally I do not get involved in squabbles between my other brethren and you mortals. If they are stupid enough to be discovered, they deserve the fate that you weaker but numerous mortals will inevitably dispense. But in this case,” his voice grew hard, “this one’s actions have almost led to me suffering that fate. So I will tell you something very useful.” He reached out, pulled out a drawer, and dropped an envelope on the desk.
I opened it; the negative was inside. “How …” I began, then thought a moment. “Never mind.”
Verne Domingo pointed to the photo. “That is the key, you see. Not in the way you thought, of course. It is the fact of its existence.”
“How do you mean?”
“I have been well aware of my effect, or lack thereof, on photographic film for many years. Therefore, I do not permit myself to be photographed. Moreover, I am always aware of all mortals in my vicinity. If I concentrate — and I always do when outside — I know who is about me, within a large radius.” He shifted his gaze to me. “The only beings I cannot sense — and thus the only beings who could photograph me without my knowledge — are my own or similar kind.”
My appetite vanished and my stomach knotted. It was suddenly as clear as the crystal glass in front of me. Who had taken the picture? Who liked night shifts? Who had argued with me until I realized I had a photo of a vampire? Who had handed over a phone number and practically pushed me toward Verne Domingo?
Lieutenant Elias Klein.
I stood and crossed the room to the desk, reached out. Verne Domingo’s dark-skinned hand came down on mine, effortlessly forced the telephone receiver back to its base. “No calls, Mr. Wood, please.”
“I have to at least let Sylvie know I’m all right.”
“You do not have to do anything of the kind.”
“Will you listen to yourself! Think, mortal, use that mind of yours! Why are you here?”
That was a silly question. “Because three thugs with Uzis dragged me out of my bedroom and brought me here.”
He closed his eyes and drew a breath. “That is a simplistic answer, Mr. Wood. It is nearing dawn and I am tired. Now please think about your situation.”
Okay, what did he mean? I thought about it, piecing together causes, effects, Klein… “I’m here because Klein wanted you to come after me; he wanted me out of the way, or maybe if I got lucky, you out of the way.”
Domingo opened his eyes and smiled. “Light begins to dawn. So what will happen if you call?”
“Sylvie wouldn’t tell.”
“Perhaps not; I lack the pleasure of the young lady’s acquaintance, so I am ill-equipped to judge. However, she would very likely not show an appropriate level of worry. Why should you risk your present position when her authentic emotions can serve a better purpose?”
Finally the idea clicked. God I am slow sometimes. “You mean, let Klein think you got me… that I’m dead or removed.”
“But then what? I can’t prove a thing against him without coming back out, and even then I’d have to expose you, and I assume you wouldn’t…” I looked at him and his eyes answered the question. “No, you wouldn’t.”
Domingo drained a wineglass of red liquid; I tried not to watch, but it had a horrid fascination about it. He set the glass down and looked at me. “I shall have to help you, Mr. Wood. There are certain things — ‘loose ends,’ as you would say — which Elias must clear up in order to secure his position. One is this negative. He must find it and destroy it; he can ill afford to let evidence of vampires remain. I am, of course, another.”
“Loose ends… Sylvie!”
He nodded slowly. “Yes, she is certainly one. She knows far too much for him to be safe, and moreover she believes… and has psychic resources as well.”
I started to stand, then looked at him suspiciously. “How do you know that Syl’s… psychic? I didn’t think you even knew her!”
Domingo chuckled slightly. “Personally I do not. However, it is in my best interests to determine what people of Talent exist in my vicinity, and it was not long at all before my people had compiled a considerable dossier on the young lady. Your own reaction, skeptic though you are, merely confirms my impression; she is one of the few who truly possesses what she claims to have.”
This time I did stand, and started for the door. “Then I have to go! Her safety’s more important than mine or even nailing Elias.”
Without so much as a flicker, Verne Domingo suddenly stood between me and the door. “Not more important to me, young man. This Elias has dared to use me — me –as a pawn in his games.” For a moment I saw, not a vampire of the modern world, but a man of a far more ancient time, a lord whose honor had suffered a mortal insult. “He will regret that.”
“I don’t give a damn about your stupid ego, Domingo! He could be going after Syl this minute!”
He spread his hands, yielding a point. “Well spoken; if I do not respect your reasons, I cannot expect you to respect mine. But he will make no move until tomorrow night; or rather, tonight, since we are well into the morning. He must have the police — probably through your young lady — discover that you have been taken. He believes me ruthless and willing to kill to protect myself, and will assume you dead. Only tonight will he search your quarters and deal with your Sylvia.”
An idea occurred to me. “Is it true that vampires cannot enter a dwelling unbidden?”
He hesitated a moment. “Yes. It is true.”
“Then Syl should be safe if she stays home.”
“Indeed? Elias Klein, respected lieutenant of police, friend of yours, shows up on her doorstep with news of you; do you truly believe she would have him stay on the porch?”
I shook my head reluctantly. “I guess not.” I thought that Syl’s… talent might warn her, but it might not. Syl had been in an accident or two, so while her power might be a hundred percent accurate it was far from a hundred percent reliable.
“I guess not as well! No, there is only one way to handle Mr. Elias Klein, and this is the way it shall be done…”