Bloodlist Chapter 1

Author: P.N. Elrod

Series: Vampire Files #1

Genres: Fantasy , Mystery

THE CAR WAS doing at least forty when the right front fender smashed against my left hip and sent me spinning off the road to flop bonelessly into a mass of thick, windblown grass.

It was a well-engineered accident, involving no small skill on the part of the driver. A body, depending on its size and weight in relation to the speed and position of the car usually does two things: it either goes under the car or bounces over it. Going under, it can get dragged, leaving a lot of bloody physical evidence all over the road and vehicle.

If it gets flipped up and over, the driver risks a dented hood and roof or a broken windshield or all three. The professional hit-and-run artist knows how to avoid such risks and will try to clip the target with just the front bumper or fender; that way he has only some scratched paint to touch up or at most a broken headlight to replace.

I had been hit by such an expert. There was minimal pain, though, and that was swiftly receding. The idea my spine had been broken was the first real thought to surface in my cobweb-clogged brain since I woke up on the beach. I'd been groggy then, with only enough stuff working in my head to shakily stand and blink down at my soaked clothes. It never occurred to me to question why I was on a beach and in such a condition, and I was still in a thought-numbing state of shock when I climbed a short, sandy rise and found the road. There was no rational decision on what direction to go in, my legs took me left and walked. When I heard a car motor rumbling up behind me I stuck out a thumb and walked sideways.

The small dot down the road swelled into a dark green Ford with a big lumpy-looking man at the wheel. While still a little distance off, the car slowed abruptly, its headlights raking painfully into my eyes. I shaded them, blinking stupidly as the motor gunned, gears shifted, and the thing shot forward. The driver held a straight course, as though he'd changed his mind about picking up a hitchhiker, then he swerved at the last possible second. If my brain had been running on more than one cylinder. I might have been able to jump away in time.

The landscape stopped spinning and I lay belly-up, staring at an unnaturally brilliant Milky Way a few feet from my nose, wondering what the hell was going on. I tried moving a little, the initial pain of the impact was gone, but I was cautious of broken bones. Everything worked perfectly, though--I'd been incredibly lucky. Twisting onto my stomach, I stared down the road.

The Ford stopped, the motor cut, and the lump behind the wheel was just levering himself out the door.

The only cover for fifty yards was long grass. The beach was just across the road, but this particular stretch was clear of concealing rocks.

Except for the car, the only option left was a stand of trees on my side of the road, which was much too far away.

The man was coming up fast and had a gun in one hand.

Anything was better than waiting for it. My feet dug into the ground and I bolted for the trees like a frightened rabbit. He spotted me, changed course, and yelled for me to stop. After hitting me with the car, he couldn't have really expected me to do him any convenient favors.

In an open space a gunshot doesn't sound like a gunshot, not like the ones you hear at the movies. All I heard was a flat, unimpressive crack, then the impact sent me sprawling.

It'd been a lucky hit; we were at a slight angle to one another and the narrow part of my body was toward him. The bullet entered my lower right back, just above the pelvic bone, traced through my vitals and out the front, just above the belt buckle. I doubled up and instinctively tried to hold things in, but there was nothing. The sharp, hot pain was already vanishing and my hands came away clean from what should have been a bloody mess.

My would-be killer trotted up, turned me over, and stopped short as I stared accusingly at his stupefied face. He was puffing hard and looked ready to say something but gulped it back. He quickly leveled the gun with my eyes. The business end looked as big as an open manhole. His finger was ready on the trigger; orders were being sent from his brain to the tiny muscles, telling them to contract. Before they could respond I grabbed the gun and twisted it out of his hand. His finger was caught in the trigger guard, there was a soft pop, and he yelped with surprise and pain as one of the bones snapped.

He fell back, trying to get away, and I seized an ankle, jerked, and pulled him down. His left fist swung up and slammed into my face, but with little effect. I managed a weak, backhanded swat and left him half-stunned. In another second his arms were pinned to the ground and he was utterly unable to break free. It was easy to hold him still even though he was built and muscled like a wrestler and outweighed me by a good eighty pounds. He looked up at my face hovering inches from his own and whimpered.

The man's heart and lungs were thundering in my ears like a train. All my senses were sharp and new and wonderful. I could even smell the blood, an exciting scent when mixed with the sour tang of fear. On his thick, rough neck the skin seemed oddly transparent where the large vein pulsed. First it disturbed, then it tantalized. My mouth sagged open, dry and aching with sudden thirst. I felt drawn to it like a cat to milk.

He gagged and his bladder let go as my lips brushed his throat, then he passed out.

I jerked back, wondering what the hell I was trying to do. Pushing away until I no longer touched him, I lay facedown in the spiky grass, shaking like a fever victim until the thirst faded.

With a hand under each arm, I dragged him backward over the irregular clumps of grass and sand to his car. I felt strong enough to carry him, but didn't relish coming into contact with his wet pants. Fortunately the key was in the ignition, so I was spared a search of his lower pockets. I opened the passenger door and stuffed him inside.

My mind was more or less functioning again and full of questions. Who this stranger was and why he wanted to kill me seemed like good ones to start with, so I picked his coat pocket and went through his wallet.

The driver's license was issued to a Fred Sanderson of Cicero.

The name might have been fake, it meant nothing to me, but the town struck a sour note in my general memory. A bare ten years had passed since the Capone gang invaded the place and took over. Big Al was in jail now, gone but not forgotten if Sanderson was any example.

Except for five dollars and the phone number of someone named Elsie, there was nothing informative in the wallet. I unbuckled Sanderson's belt and slipped it from his well-muscled waist. He was heavy, but in solid condition. As I'd thought, the leather strip had been specially constructed to overlap on the inside. Working it open, I took careful count and transferred the five hundred dollars hidden there into my own pants pocket without a single pang of conscience. After what he'd put me through he owed me, and I needed the operating funds.

I looked long and hard at his face. The heavy jaw and thick lips were frustratingly familiar, but nothing clicked in my memory.

It was very bright now, the sky all strange with the sun and stars shining improbably together. It was confusing until I realized it was the moon that was flooding the place with such brilliance. Like icewater, fear spread out in my guts and left me shaking at the edges.

The night was too bright, it was wrong, totally wrong.

Distraction. I needed distraction. Where was I?

East of us were tall buildings in the distance. I was still more or less in Chicago. The last thing I recalled was some phone call launching me out of the hotel I'd just checked into. I'd left at midafternoon to do something and ended up that night soaking wet on a deserted patch of Lake Michigan shoreline with some crazy trying to kill me. Wonderful.

I felt my head for lumps, found a swelling behind one ear, and smiled with relief. A concussion of some kind; that would account for the initial disorientation, the memory loss, maybe even make my eyes overly sensitive. I'd only imagined the gunshot and had taken care of Sanderson on adrenaline alone.

Almost as an afterthought I checked my wallet and was surprised to find it in place and intact. I thought I'd been mugged. The papers were out of order and damp, but everything was there, including the money and change left over from the precious twenty I'd used to pay for the hotel room. It was when I returned the wallet to its inside pocket that I noticed my shirt front. A big burn hole was in it just over my heart, surrounded by water-diluted red stains. There was a smaller hole lower down, next to my belt buckle.

I tore the shin open and found an ugly round scar just left of the breastbone. It was large, but looked freshly healed.

The lapping of water on the shore sounded loudly in my ears. Far out on the silver lake, the streamlined shape of a rich man's yacht glided slowly east and disappeared behind an intervening point of land. My left hand twitched and clenched. I made it open again. The palm had more than a dozen puckered red circles on it. More scars, and I couldn't think of how I'd acquired them or what might have caused them. At least they didn't hurt. My right hand was also damaged with a narrow pink welt like a nearly healed cut just above the knuckles. It, too, was painless.

Cautiously I spread a hand over my heart. It should have been banging away like a trapped bird, but there was nothing, nothing but the scar and still night-cool flesh.

I rebuttoned the shirt, not wanting to look or speculate anymore and stared helplessly at the lake. It gave no answers or comfort so I opened the driver's door and slid behind the wheel. I rubbed my face and was surprised at the heaviness of the beard there. Reaching over, I swiveled the rearview mirror around and stared with an icy shock of comprehension at the empty glass.


Please, God, no.

Death had come to me that night, unexpected and unfair. Death had changed me, then left, taking with it the memory of that supreme moment we all must face. Eyes shut, I hung on to the steering wheel and vainly tried to adjust emotionally to what had once been a distant and purely intellectual concept. In a way I was more frightened by the idea that someone had wanted to kill me than by the fact that they'd succeeded. It was too much to take in, the best thing was to shut down the feelings for the moment. I'd get used to things soon enough, not that there was much choice about it now. In a larger sense it was what animals and mankind had faced since old Adam found himself outside the garden: adapt or die.

Having died already, there was only one alternative left, even if it was mentally distressing.

For something to do I tied Sanderson's arms behind his back with the belt and used his flowered necktie on his ankles. Rooting around in the glove compartment turned up several road maps, so I was able to make a good guess about our present location and figure out how to get back to my hotel.

It was a tight fit behind the wheel, we were about the same height, but my legs were longer. I didn't bother adjusting the seat, that was always more trouble than it was worth. The starter started, the engine kicked and caught, and I eased it into first. Thirty minutes later I stopped in what looked like a safe, secluded place and cut the motor. We were about a mile from my hotel according to the maps; an easy walk through the sleeping neighborhoods. This was a dead-looking business district, with a few tired stores, some dusty warehouses and empty lots decorated with weeds and broken glass. From the look of things, the Depression hadn't been kind to the place.

Sanderson was awake, but playing possum, the altered rhythm of his heart and lungs betraying his condition. He was either very controlled or too scared to flinch when I plucked his yellow silk handkerchief from his front pocket. I used it to rub my prints from the steering wheel, dashboard and gearshift, and stuffed it back in his pocket. His gun was weighing heavily in my own pocket as I leaned across the seat and gave his cheek a solid pat.

"You can open your eyes now, I know you're awake." My tongue played over teeth which had receded to their normal length. At least I'd be able to talk without lisping. "I said you can open your eyes." I gave him a hard shake.

They popped wide.


"F-Fred Sanderson."

"Sure it is. What are you doing in town, Fred?"

"Visiting friends."

"They got a boat?"

He shut up until shaken again. "Yeah, so what?"

"Why'd you run me down?"


"You heard me, why did you try to kill me?"

The heavy jaw snapped shut again, his eyes rolled toward the door, and he struggled against his bonds. I lost my patience then, and for the first time took a great deal of pleasure hitting a man. I pulled the punches, though. I wanted to persuade, not kill him, and it took surprisingly few blows to soften him up. Despite his tough looks, he had no tolerance for pain.

"Frank Paco--said--I--just a job--" he burbled through a bloody nose.

"He your boss?"

"Yeah." Sniff.

"He wanted me dead? Why?"

He coughed messily.

"Why?"' "You wouldn't talk."

I got the handkerchief again and wiped his nose. "Neither are you."

"He wanted the list, you wouldn't tell him where, so he-He froze. "How did you--it was right in the heart--

"I got a bulletproof vest. Come on, keep talking."

Sanderson looked anything but convinced. "You know all this." His voice was rising with panic. "Why do you ask, you know all--"

"What's the boat's name?"

"Elvira. "

"What's the list? What's on it?"

"I dunno--honest, I don't. You got it, you know what's--

"How did I get it?"

"I dunno."

"Answer. "

"It was Benny Galligar. You got it from him. You got it! I dunno nothing, I swear! Just lemme go!" He was all but screaming, and the panic had him rolling around, trying to break free. I tapped him again, did it too hard, and that ended the questioning for the night. Shoving the exasperation to one side, I went over the car again for prints and found it was registered to International Freshwater Transport, Inc. It might not be of much use, but I filed the name away for future reference.

Outside the car, I wiped the handles clean with the bottom of my coat and repeated the action on the passenger side. Sanderson's head was lolled over, leaving his neck taut and vulnerable, with the blood-smell rising from his body like perfume. I stepped back quickly before something regrettable happened, and hurried down the street.

Sooner or later, God help me, I would have to feed.

* * * The hotel night clerk was half-asleep when I asked for my key.

"That's two-oh-two?" he mumbled, groping for it, but there was no key hanging next to the number. "Hey, you're not Mr. Ross."

"No, I'm Jack Fleming and I want my key."

"Fleming? Oh, yeah, we had to move your things out. Don't worry, I got them right back here."

One thing after another. "Why'd you move them out?"

"Well, you only paid for the one night and when you didn't come back, we couldn't leave the room go empty. There's a convention in town an' we gotta rent the room while there's business. You know how it is."

"Yeah, I know. Can I have my stuff?"

"Sure, no problem." He hauled out a battered suitcase and a smaller, but no less battered case that held the means of my livelihood, a typewriter. I found my clothes intact, if sloppily folded, and my portable seemed to be in working order. While I checked my things, the clerk had woken up and was checking me.

"Been having some trouble?" he asked cautiously. His eyes trailed with open curiosity from my unshaved face to my damp, grubby clothes.

"Something like that." I pulled out another coat from the suitcase, turned my back to the clerk, and changed the old for new.

"Jesus Christ, are you all right? There's a big hole and blood all over your back!"

It was annoying. In sparing the guy the sight of my punctured shirtfront, I'd given him the full benefit of the back, where the bullet that killed me had exited. I buttoned up the fresh coat and tried to bluff it through.

" Hey, you shoulda seen the other guy."

"No kiddin', there's--"

"Yeah, well, don't worry about it," I snapped. "The less you know, the better for both of us, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah, sure." He backed off unhappily. Perhaps as a longtime resident of Chicago he knew exactly what I meant.

"Do I owe any on my bill?"

"Just for one more day, that's all."

"You could have left things alone for another day, couldn't you?"


"Couldn't you have left my stuff up there for one more day?"

"Mr. Fleming, you were gone--"

The man's tone alerted me. "Gone for how long?"

He looked in his book. "It was right here, you checked in Monday, then left your key with the day clerk--

"Did I get any phone calls?"

"I dunno, we don't keep records of that. The switchboard girl might know. Anyway, when you didn't come back by checkout time Wednesday, we packed your things up. It's Friday now and we couldn't keep the room not knowing if you were coming back or not, not for no three days we couldn't."

Friday morning.

I paid up and left the hotel on shaking legs.

I wandered around for a couple hours, unhappy and frustrated by the lapse of memory. Perhaps it was the shock of being killed. Some people could block out horrible experiences in that way, and being murdered had to rank pretty high up on the horrible-experience list.

List. Whatever the hell that was.

Benny Galligar. I might have known him from New York.

It was getting brighter, the added light hurt.

The moon was long gone, the stars were fading, and things were brilliant enough right now that if I were still out when the sun came up, my eyeballs would fry in their sockets. I spotted a hand-painted hotel sign at the end of the block and hurried for it.

At the cost of fifty cents, and that was a severe overcharge, I got a monk's cell with a single dirty window overlooking a narrow alley. I locked the door, the lock a piece of bent wire that slipped through a metal eyelet screwed into the frame. The door still sagged open, so I shoved a rickety chair under the knob, but it was even money it'd all give way the first time someone breathed on it wrong.

Despite the limited view, the sunlight might still find a chink in the dirt and come in. I thought of sleeping under the bed, but one look at the floor changed my mind. I had joined the ranks of the Undead, but still retained firm ideas about basic sanitation. A thin blanket hung over the window dimmed things, but not by much.

I dragged my clothes off, poured water into the washbowl, and splashed my face and neck. Shaving would have to wait till tomorrow, there was no time tonight. It was creepy, anyway, not being able to see my face peering out from the mirror. I examined myself without one. Purple and black bruises were all over my stomach and flanks, with many short rows of small crescent marks that had cut the skin. I could guess they had come from brass knuckles. My wrists were encircled with raw-looking weals, indications I'd been tied down. Large crescents overlay the smaller ones, probably the result of some well-placed kicks.

I'd seen bodies like this before, but only in the morgue when I'd been covering a gang killing. The sight was always sickening. Considering the amount of damage I'd taken, the shot in the heart might have been an act of mercy. The bullet mark was still there, but looked less ugly than before. I felt for the exit hole and found a large rough depression on my back. Both were painless. The small circles on my left palm were still a puzzle, but they were quickly healing as well, the angry red softening to pink.

The sheer violence that had been directed so personally at me was more than enough to leave me emotionally stunned. Why it had happened was a total blank and overwhelmingly disturbing on every level.

I rubbed down with a wet towel and pulled on clean underwear and threw out the old. Of the bullet Sanderson had fired, there was no sign, except for the holes it left in my clothes. For some reason I thought about what my mom once told me concerning underwear and accidents and smiled, then my limbs went all stiff and sluggish. The sun had just come up.

Pulling the pillow and spread from the bed, I walked into the closet and shut the door. I dropped the linen on the floor to foil any light leaks and to put something between me and the dirt, then I dove headfirst into the pillow and didn't come up.

Maybe I expected something like sleep or straight black oblivion, but it wasn't that good. Frozen in place for the day, the body was utterly still, but occasionally it sent a sensory message along to the brain.

Hard floor.

Footsteps somewhere in the building.

Something crawling on the right hand.

The brain noted it all, but wouldn't or couldn't respond. It was busy dreaming.

Water, floating, darkness, pressure, blinding light. Cheap birth symbolism, but the midwife had brass knuckles and a gun. She had Sanderson's grinning face and stood aside so the doctor could aim his own gun and blast me back into the dark forever.

Heat, bad air, clothes soaked with a thousand years of sweat. Voices, yelling, wanting something. Where is it? Where did you put it?

Fighting them, but no control.

Her hair was a dark nest on the pillow, soft and thick in my fingers.

Sky blue eyes flushing deep red as I gave her blood and she gave me heaven on earth in return. Where are you? Where--did you put it? Just tell us, we'll let you go.

Liar, I forget. I don't know. I'm dying.

I'd always bring her flowers. She didn't eat candy. She never ate. Our private joke.

Leave me alone, I don't have it, but they kept at me, killing an inch at a time.

Books tumbled open, the words clear and sharp and utterly false.

Thousands of books lined up in uneven rows like an army before the uniforms are issued. One thick black book, almost, but not quite true.

Her thick dark hair--forget the books, just love her, that's all she really wants. Give her--the list, where did you put it?

Where did you go? Why did you leave me?

A boat, a big one, but the water still closes over us all, pulling us down into the cold--and stiff, I've got to move. If I can just move I'll stop dreaming.

God, let me sleep or wake, but not this.

No control.

A man screaming.



No control.



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