Bloodcircle Chapter 2

THE HOLLOW-EYED image in the dark glass was a sinister version of Escott's sharp face. I settled in opposite him. He glanced at me, then contemplated my apparently empty chair reflected in the window between us. Beyond it the last lights of Chicago sped or dawdled past, depending on their distance from the train. We had the smoking car to ourselves and Escott puffed on a final pipe while the porter was busy elsewhere making up his compartment for the night.

"Something funny?" I asked when the corner of his mouth curled briefly.

For him, it was the equivalent of a broad grin.

He gestured at the window with the pipe stem. "I was only recalling the night I first noticed this about you at the train station and what a shock it had been."

"Yeah, what were you doing there, anyway?"

"At the station? Using the train, of course. I had returned from the completion of some minor out-of-town case. It was quite a shock to look up and see something that wasn't there." His eyes traveled to the window again.

"Most people would have figured they were seeing things and shrugged it off."

"Most people see many things, but few ever draw sensible conclusions from them."

"And right away you concluded I was a vampire? Not too sensible."

"Hardly," he agreed. "I'll admit I did initially think your lack of a reflection was from some trick angle of the glass, but eliminated that option after a few moments of observation. The conclusion that you were a vampire was the result of an improbable line of reasoning. Improbable, but obviously not impossible. I've read my share of lurid literature."

I looked at the empty spot in the glass for a long time, cautiously touching the feeling of eeriness mirrors now inspired in me. After nearly a month in my new life I was still not used to the way they ignored me. It was a constant and irritating reminder of my isolation from the rest of humanity. On those occasions when I was feeling particularly low, it was as if I no longer existed at all.

"And after all that reading you still wanted to risk meeting me?"

He rested his head on the back of his chair and closed his eyes. "There were many small indications that it was less of a risk than you would think. Trifles, really, but important trifles. A person's posture and movements reveal his soul far more clearly than his words, and once one has studied this alphabet of expression, the thoughts flashing through a man's mind are as easy to read as a child's primer."

"How'd you figure all this?"

"My theatrical background: in order to imitate life, one must first study it. When I first noticed you, your movements and expression suggested a deep preoccupation with some problem, but an energetic willingness to face it."

"Maybe I was worried about finding a victim to drain."

"Perhaps, but after witnessing your purposeful walk to the stockyards, I concluded you had no need to subsist exclusively on human blood."

"Unless I was hunting up some handy worker there."

"Why go there when more convenient meals were strolling the crowded streets? If it were very difficult to isolate a pedestrian for some nefarious purpose, the crime rate for mugging would be strangely low."

"I hadn't thought of it that way."

"After you emerged from the yards, your posture had not changed. You still had a problem and it was not hunger. At that point I knew I wanted to arrange to meet you and to find out more, so I intruded myself--' "I wouldn't call it an intrusion now. You just wanted to get my attention."

"You are most forgiving on that point."

"Why not? I got my earth back and you got your questions answered.

Everything turned out all right."

"True." A lazy puff of blue smoke rolled slowly to the ceiling and his eyes opened a crack, studying me. After another puff, he said, "I was wondering if everything was all right now."

It was pretty vague and at the same time a pretty personal question, at least for him. "What d'ya mean?"

"I'm inquiring about your physical and mental state after that stairwell incident. Are you all right?"

A simple yes would have been the easy and obvious answer, but he wasn't one to ask casual questions, so I thought things over until I concluded I felt fine. It was crazy, too, considering I'd been staked in the heart and left to die by inches in my own blood.

Without passion I remembered the silent, paralyzing agony in the blackness, the near-insanity, and the final icy cold creeping up to claim me forever. Ultimately, in my mind, I saw my would-be killer as I'd left him: his face blank, his eyes staring pinpoints, and his mouth hanging slack. I'd left him as he had left me, except no one would come by to save him, now or ever. No one could.

It might be a popular conception in some circles that vampires are selfish creatures of pure appetite, that we can only take. In the brief time since my violent rebirth I'd learned that we are able to give of ourselves. I believe it's a way of venting off all the negative stuff that gets stored up in the memory, leaving only the memory, but not the destructive emotions. I'd freely given mine away to a man who deserved them. He was forever lost in my nightmare and would never wake from it again. I had no regrets.

"I'm fine," I said at last, and meant it. "Been reading my posture or something?"

"I did that on our way to the station."

"Yeah? So what trifles did you observe and conclude from them?"

He kept his eyes on the darkened city slipping past our window. His tone was kindly and amused. "My dear fellow, there are certain things a gentleman just does not discuss and still expect to be considered a gentleman."

I went a little red in the face. "What about you? Are you okay?"

He dismissed his own feelings with a decisive wave of his pipe. It was what he didn't say that filled my head now. He'd read the papers and talked to the cops and doctors. By now he knew all about what I'd done to the man. Apparently he had no regrets, either.

We'd booked a double, but Escott had it all to himself. My place of rest was elsewhere on the train, and I remained in the smoking car long after he'd gone off to bed. It was lonely; no die-hard insomniacs were aboard, and the staff had better things to do than keep me company. I got busy reading a fresh copy of Jibaro Death that I'd bought at the station newsstand. It kept me busy over the next few hours, though it was poor occupation when compared to my recent time with Bobbi. Sometimes I'd drift out of the plot entirely and catch myself looking at nothing in particular, no doubt with a sappy smile on my face.

Toward dawn I moved on to the baggage car and slipped inside without getting caught. Buried deep among the tons of suitcases, crates, and other luggage was my own traveling bedroom--a lightproof and very sturdy trunk. It was large enough to hold some extra clothes, a sack filled with my home earth, and me, though it was less than comfortable to someone with my long bones. Standing vertically as it was now, I'd have to rest my rump on the sack with my knees crowding up by my ears. During the day the awkwardness of the position hardly mattered; as long as the earth was next to my body I slept the sleep of the dead.

No joke.

Outside the car I could sense the searing, blinding sun start to roll above the horizon line. I quickly folded away my magazine, sieved into the trunk, and let the rocking motion of the train ease me safely out of the world for another day.

I'd been alive once, in the normal sense of the word. In that time, I'd met a woman and fallen in love. All the cliches I'd ever read about the subject had turned out to be absolutely correct. Floating--not walking--around in a gauzy pink haze of giddy happiness, I could charitably understand how the power of love had changed the course of human history. I felt a kinship for other courting couples and pity for those who were still searching.

Maybe Maureen's nature set us apart and made us feel unique from all the others who'd ever been in love, but I didn't see it at the time and still don't. Love is love and I'd have felt the same about Maureen no matter what. You see, Maureen Dumont was a vampire.

Of course, she wasn't the kind of white-faced, blood-obsessed zombie found on the screen at the Bijou down the street; she wasn't the freckled girl next door, either. She was rare and special and so was our relationship, and we were smart enough to know it. We took steps then in the hope of making our love last beyond my own short life span. The one thing the books and movies do get right is our method of reproduction; it takes a vampire to make a vampire--only there's no guarantee it will work. You can get into bed, make love and exchange all the blood you want, but the change won't necessarily happen or there'd be a lot more of us around. Maybe it's like a rare disease and nearly everyone is immune to it.

In my case it was a success. One traumatic night I woke up dead--only Maureen wasn't there to see it happen. Five years ago she'd packed a few things together and vanished, leaving me a cryptic note with a promise to return when she felt safe again. She never returned.

I'd waited and then searched for her. Not knowing if she'd been caught by the people she'd feared or if she'd grown tired of me and wanted an easy way to say good-bye, the bewildering pain was still inside me, fresh and harsh after all the years in between.

I'd finally decided to try to leave it behind, desperate enough to quit my job with a New York paper in the middle of the Depression to attempt another start on life in Chicago. My efforts caught the attention of the people who had also been hunting her. One of them had been her younger sister Gaylen, who had been as murderous as Maureen had been gentle.

Escott and I had managed to survive that encounter, and now we were outward bound to pick up where he'd left off on his trail after Maureen.

He was a professional, and damned smart, and I trusted him enough to take care of things on his own, but he insisted I come along this time.

Between us was an informal agreement to work together, so I came, willing to render whatever help he thought I could offer, but doubting our chances of success.

We arrived in New York during the day, so I was completely out of things while Escott took care of the business of getting us routed to our hotel. His plan was to check in, then hop a train up to Kingsburg.

Maureen had had Gaylen confined to an expensive asylum there, and Escott wanted to talk with her doctors again. He must have had a hectic time before he took off; when I came to at sunset my shoulders and spine were all twisted and aching. A sloppy wooziness sloshed between my ears and I felt oddly heavy all over.

Outside the trunk, a door opened slowly and closed abruptly and Escott muttered a pithy exclamation. My confined world lurched, tilted, and whumped solidly onto the floor. He clicked the key in the lock and pushed the lid up.

"Mm?" I said, still dizzy from being on my head.

"Terribly sorry, old man. I didn't have time to see you to your room.

The train schedule was just too close. I distinctly told the fellow how I wanted your trunk placed and he deigned not to listen."

"Welcome to New York," I said philosophically and winced at the blinding dregs of a new dusk burning through the thin curtains. The sun was officially down, but more than enough light lingered in the sky to be painful. I fumbled for my dark glasses and found they'd slipped from their pocket and were burrowing into my ribs. One earpiece was bent, but they were still serviceable, and I slipped them on with a sigh of relief. Sometimes I really hate waking up.

"How are you?" he asked, walking to the open window and considerately pulling down the shade. A stale breeze made it flap a bit. It was the familiar used air of a big city, but some thirty degrees cooler than the stuff we'd left behind in Chicago.

I rubbed the sore place on my head and a few grains of dirt from my bag of soil trickled to the floor. "Gritty."

He liked puns, but only when he was making them. "Facilities are just over there if you wish to refresh yourself."

I did and got untangled from my mixed-up belongings and staggered into the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. "How was Kingsburg?"

He dropped into a fat chair, stretched his long legs out straight, and looked smug. "I have the address of Gay ten's next of kin--"

"Next of kin?"

"--to be notified in the event of an emergency."

"It's not Maureen, is it?" I'd read that from his attitude.

"No, it is not Maureen, but some other woman named Edith Sedlock."

I'd never heard of her and said as much. "Where is she? Have you checked on her?"

"She lives here in Manhattan, and I've not had time to look her up."

It flashed through my mind that Edith could be Maureen. "Let's get going, then."

He held up a cautionary hand. "You'd create a better impression if you had a quick wash and brush-up."

"Damn." But he was right; I looked rumpled and felt the same. Spending twelve hours packed in a trunk does that to a person.

He checked his watch. "There's a cafe off the lobby just left of the elevator. I'll wait for you there. Thirty minutes?"


He'd just finished his sandwich and I gave him no time to linger over the coffee. Playing native guide for a change, I led the way to the nearest subway station, taking the fastest route to the address we wanted.

"How did you manage to get it?" I spoke just loud enough for him to hear over the background noise of the train. "I thought doctors were first cousins to clams."

"By talking a great deal."

"The Ronald Colman bit, huh?"

"Hardly. I merely told them the truthsome of it, anyway."

"How much is some?"

"That I was hired by an interested third party to search for Gaylen's missing 'daughter,' Maureen. I had only to show them my credentials and a stunning letter of reference."

"Letter of-- ' Then the dawn came. "You mean you're still packing all that stuff from the blackmail list?"

"I haven't had time to return it yet and it seemed a waste not to use it in a good cause."

"But how could it be used?" I wasn't accusatory, just curious about his mechanics. As far as I knew, the stuff in his safekeeping consisted of nothing but embarrassing photos and indiscreet letters and documents.

"There are ways. I simply hinted around that my client was very prominent, but wished to remain anonymous. When pressed, I reluctantly revealed an important name on a miraculously appropriate letter, one of a most interesting series. It was child's play to keep my thumb over the name of the original addressee."

"Jeez, don't you take the cake. What did you learn from them about this Edith Sedlock?"

"They believe her to be Gaylen's other daughter."

"Other--Maureen's got another sister?"


"She'd have to be a younger woman if the Kingsburg doctors thought her to be Gaylen's daughter. Then she could be--"

"Like you, yes, but I am not inclined to think so."

"Yeah? Why?"

"Because she was able to answer the phone during the day when they called to tell her of Gaylen's escape."

"Maybe she was rooming with a human friend."

"There's that," he conceded. "She instructed them to keep her informed on the situation, and that's all they were able to tell me about her."

"Would they phone her about you?"

"I'm sure they already have. Anyone else searching for Gaylen would certainly be of interest to the next of kin."

"Did Maureen leave any other address for them?"

"Her own--that is, the one you originally gave to me. All the bills for Gaylen's care were sent there and promptly paid via Western Union. Did Maureen always pay in cash?"

"As far as I know, when she did buy anything. We didn't exactly spend a lot of time shopping."

"Yes, and I know you hardly keep banker's hours. I did find out something quite interesting: the date of Gaylen's escape coincides exactly to the date you found Maureen's note."

That was no real surprise and made a lot of sense. "I wish she could have found some other way of handling things than by running."

"Perhaps she once tried."

"What d'ya mean?"

"In the same situation, what would you have done to neutralize Gaylen as a threat?"

"Same as I did to Matheus, I guess."

"But no matter what the provocation, she might have been most reluctant to do so with her own sister. You weren't happy with the idea yourself."


"Or perhaps Gaylen's will might have been strong enough for her to resist such an imposed influence. The woman was utterly obsessed with getting her own way and quite mentally unbalanced, considering the lengths she went to to finally achieve her goal."

"Tell me about it," I grumbled, and thought about Bobbi with a pang of guilt over what she'd been put through. "I hope to God we can clear this up now."

"As do I," he agreed, and left me alone with my thoughts until our stop came up.

We emerged in the east fifties and walked a couple of blocks south to Forty-eighth and a promising line of brownstones. It was a respectable working-class neighborhood with a few shops along the street, a drugstore on one corner, and a quiet little tavern at the other. We found the right number and went up.

Edith Sedlock lived in the back corner flat on the third floor, and her door remained firmly locked as she asked our business.

"My name is Jack Fleming," I called through the plain panel of wood.

"I'm a friend of Maureen Dumont--"


"Yes, we've just come from Kingsburg--"

A key clicked and the door opened exactly four inches. Two dark brown eyes glared at us suspiciously. She had matching brown hair, bobbed short, and was nearer thirty than forty. Aside from the giveaway of her age, she had a strong and fast heartbeat. She was definitely not a vampire.

"What's this about?" she demanded.

"May we come in and tell you, Miss Sedlock?" Escott asked politely, his hat in hand. I took the hint and grabbed mine off.

Still doubtful, she stepped back, swinging the door wide and leaving it open after we walked in. She looked us over carefully, frowning, but apparently we weren't too threatening. She gestured us to a small lumpy sofa.

It was a simple one-room flat, and the place was littered with too much furniture, clothes, books, magazines, loose papers, and used dishes. A radio sang to itself on a table next to a tiny stove and sink. She turned it off and dragged a wicker chair from the table and sat facing us, her knees and ankles pinched tightly together and her hands yanking the hemline of her dark dress down as far as it could go.

"Our apologies for intruding on you, Miss Sedlock," Escott began.

She interrupted. "I've been expecting to hear from you. The sanatorium called me. They said you'd been asking after Gaylen Dumont. Are you Mr.


"I am."

"May I see your identification?"

He solemnly opened his wallet, she peered at it, then at me. In turn, I peeled out my old press card for her inspection. She sniffed at both of them, vaguely dissatisfied. With her, it was probably a chronic condition.

"It's out of date," she said to me. She looked as if she wanted to find fault with Escott's but couldn't think of anything.

I put my card away.

"You're very observant," Escott commented neutrally.

"I have to be, I'm a teacher."

"No doubt you are quite good at your job." He was turning on the charm again, but keeping it to a low level so as not to scare her off. From the pallid pink spots that appeared and vanished from her cheeks it seemed to be working, too.

"How did the sanatorium come to give you my name?" she asked.

It was Escott's show, so I gave him the nod. He explained about our search for Maureen and that he had at least located her mother as having been a patient at Kingsburg. Since Gaylen Dumont was no longer in residence and since he had excellent references, the administrator there had every confidence in Escott's professional discretion. The doctor in charge had no qualms in giving out the name listed as Gaylen's next of kin.

"Yes, I'm sure he's got every confidence in you, Mr. Escort, but his lapse in releasing such information is nonetheless deplorable; hardly what I would have expected from a doctor."

"I agree, but the circumstances of this situation are most unusual.

Believe me, we have no wish to impose upon you any longer than necessary." He was being utterly sincere. No doubt he found her personality just as grating as I did, but was better at hiding it.

Her frown softened a little, but not by much. "Well, at least they did call and tell me about your visit, though I think they should have first asked my permission before giving out my name to just anyone walking in."

"Quite so," he agreed, all sympathy.

She sighed, affecting a slightly world-weary exasperation at life in general and said, "All right, now that you're here, what do you want?"

"As I said, we are trying to trace Maureen Dumont. We thought--"

"First of all, I am not related to the Dumonts, and second, I have no idea where Maureen is. I haven't heard from her in years."

"How many years? And how did your name come to be-"

"July or August, 1931," she stated. "It was a little over five years ago. We were neighbors at the same apartment building back then and lived next door to each other. She asked if I'd mind taking deliveries and phone messages for her during the day if I happened to be at home.

She worked at night, she said, and hated having her sleep disturbed. She said she had to follow a very strict schedule because of her health and get so many hours of sleep or become ill. She was quite serious about it, as I never saw her during the day, but her other hours were very irregular. She wasn't one of those women, at least, or I wouldn't have had anything to do with her. I don't know what she did, but she was a quiet neighbor, and that counts for a lot with me."

"What about the last time you heard from her?" I asked.

"I'm coming to that. When the crash came, it upset everything for me, and I had to move. I kept the same phone number, though, and so we kept the same message arrangement as before. I expect she got someone else to take her packages. As for the sanatorium, she'd asked if she could put my name down along with her own for next of kin. The idea was that if anything should happen to her mother and they called during the day, I could pass the call on to Maureen in the evening. It seemed a reasonable precaution, so I didn't mind. The only call for her was when her mother escaped. I immediately tried to call Maureen; it seemed enough of an emergency to justify waking her up, but I couldn't get hold of her till evening."

Escott nodded, soaking up every syllable. "Can you tell us her exact words?"

"No, not after all this time, but she was very upset. I thought she'd go right to pieces then and there. I asked if I could help in some way, but she said she had to think first and hung up. About three hours later, she called and left a number where she could be reached if they had any more news of her mother. She sounded a lot calmer by then, and made a point of saying I was not to give the number out to anyone. The old lady was quite dangerous and violent despite her years, and Maureen wanted to take no chances on being found by her. It's a terrible shame that she was so terrified of her own parent, but that being the situation, I promised."

"Would you object to giving the number to us?"

"What makes you think I still have it, Mr. Escort?" Her lips thinned a bit into a kind of smile.

"You have me there, Miss Sedlock," he admitted, responding with a warm one of his own.

She must have been trying to flirt with him. She liked his reaction. She went to a small phone table, picked up a flat address book, and brought it back to her chair. She flipped through the pages until she came to the Ds, and read off a number penciled in next to the neat ink lettering listing Maureen's name and former address. Escort carefully copied it down.

"That's a Long Island exchange," I said. "What was she doing out there? Did she say?"

"No, I don't think so, presumably she was getting help. It was a very short call, we didn't want to tie up my line in case the asylum had to get through to me."

"So she didn't give this number to the asylum?"

"Obviously not," she sniffed, "or she wouldn't have bothered giving it to me. Besides, Mr. Escott would have gotten it from them during his visit there."

Escott acknowledged her deduction and returned her out-of-practice smile with another of his own. She responded with a near-wiggle. "Did the asylum ever call you?"

"The next day, but nothing had changed."

"Did you try the Long Island number?"

"Of course I did. Some man answered, I asked for Maureen, but his manner was very off-putting, as though he were surprised. He asked how I'd gotten his number and I told him, then he wanted to know who I was, but I only gave him my first name and asked for Maureen again. He said she had left and wanted to know who I was, but I said Maureen would know and hung up."

"You have a very clear recollection of that conversation," said Escott.

"Yes, I do, don't I?" She considered it a moment. "I think it was because he was so insistent. It made me uneasy. I never called back."


"Silly, isn't it? After all, he was only a voice on the phone; an ordinary voice, except for his accent."

"What kind of accent?"

"Almost like yours, but not quite."

"An English accent?"

"Not quite."

"Perhaps from another region there?"

"NoI think that it was more American than English, but I couldn't place it now. I just noticed at the time that it was unusual."

"And you heard nothing more from Miss Dumont?"

"No, and the asylum called only one more time. They'd notified the local police, of course, but they wanted to talk to Maureen, and by then I didn't know what had happened to her. I expect they were waiting for her to call them."

"Didn't you think it odd?"

"I most certainly did, but what could I do about it? I went by her apartment to see her, but she was gone. The landlord said he thought she'd moved out. She'd left behind most of her clothes and books and other things, so it seemed likely she might return. The landlord wasn't too concerned. She'd paid her rent, but he was planning to put her things into storage in the basement if she wasn't back by the end of the month."

"Did he have any theories?"


"And you didn't contact the police?"

"I thought about it, but didn't see how they could help. Besides, from what I heard, someone else was looking for her, and he'd have done all that. The landlord said that Maureen's boyfriend was always pestering him for news of her return."

I had trouble finding my voice, but just managed. "And you never thought to contact him?"

" 'Yes, I did, but for all I knew he might have been the unpleasant man on the phone." She sniffed again. "If she wanted to cut things off with him, that was her business, not mine."

I had no choice: I could walk out or strangle her.

I walked out.

Escott came down a few minutes later and found me hunched against a street lamp trying to light up a smoke. My hands were shaking so much I couldn't even fire the damned match. I finally threw it and the cigarette into the gutter.

"That stupid, idiotic bitch!"

Escott listened patiently while I raved along similar and much more obscene lines for some time until I wound down into coherency again. We walked for several blocks and the movement and damp night air helped to cool down my frustration.

"I am in total agreement with you," he said in a mild tone when it was over. "She might have saved you a lot of anguish had she spoken to you then, but we've yet to see if her information is of any value."

"Then let's find out."

We went back to our hotel and Escott started out with a phone call.

First he checked with the operator to make sure the number was still in service, and then he got an address and name to go with it.

"Emily Francher?" I said, echoing his inquiry. "No, I've never heard of her."

"You don't sound too certain."

"I'm not. I don't think I've met her personally, but maybe I saw her name in the paper or heard it on the radio"

"Perhaps it was an advertisement," he suggested, his eye falling on the newspaper he'd bought in the lobby stand when we'd returned. He tilted his head, considering his own thought, and noisily attacked the paper, tearing open the pages in a sudden fit of energy. "There." His long finger stabbed at a name.

I stared at it awhile. "Naw, it couldn't be, not the shipping line Franchers, that's just too big. Maureen never mentioned she knew anyone like that."

"You've also stated she never talked about her past," he pointed out.

"Well, yeah"

"It may only prove to be a coincidence of names, as it was rather easy to trace the number, but first thing tomorrow I shall check it out thoroughly."


"Indeed. The sources I intend to exploit are all closed by now--"

"But we could rent a car and drive out there."

"I plan to do just that, but only after I find out all I can about this Emily Francher first--and about the man who answered the phone."

"The one who made little Edith uneasy?"

"The same. Granted, the woman is certainly a touch paranoid as far as men are concerned--"

"You can say that again."

"--but for her, the form it takes is that of bossiness and a general hostility."

"I get you. Her normal reaction should have been to tell him off when he got nosy?"

"That or ignore him. But I'm getting ahead of my research. It is Miss Emily Francher I shall concentrate on in the morning."

I idly flipped the pages of the paper. "Then that's it for tonight as far as the investigation goes, huh?"

"Regrettably, it would appear so."

Disadvantages abound with my physical condition, and spending the day locked up in a lightproof trunk is the one that irks me the most. I miss out on a lot of life, and once awake and free, I try to make up for the lost time.

"The last thing I feel like doing now is to sit around in this fancy box the rest of the evening," I told him. "What about you?"

"I hadn't really thought of it. I was going to unpack and perhaps listen to the March of Time, but if you feel restless--"

"Yeah, I'm restless, but it's no fun trying to cure it alone. I want to find some entertainment."

"It does sound somewhat more distracting." He glanced at his watch. "A pity, but it's past curtain time by now."

"A play?" I rustled the amusement page around, folding it to the outside. "This is New York, Charles, they've got more than plays going on. Here we go, Swingtime is playing at Radio City and a new place just opened called The Paradise-"


"Here, this is the one, Foliesd'Amour, three shows a night and dinner thrown in with the jokes and dancing girls."

He looked a bit shocked as he scanned the details of their ad. "Good heavens. Have you noticed the two-fifty cover charge?"

"You get what you pay for. Besides, this is my idea and my treat. You know as well as I do that I don't spend any money on food, so how 'bout it? I know I could do with some high kicking."

He chuckled suddenly. "It sounds most educational."

We took a cab and got there in time for the last half of the second show and stayed on for the third. Escott enjoyed his late supper and didn't seem too put out when he had to imbibe drinks enough for two in order to cover for me with the waiter. They had little visible effect on him other than a slight glazing of the eyes, but then he looked the same way when driving his Nash.

Outwardly he seemed more interested in the mechanics of the production than the show itself, and his conversation was limited to comments on the efficiency of the crew involved.

It was hard to tell, but I eventually concluded that he was indeed enjoying himself. The glazing disappeared from his eyes at intervals, usually when the girls in their spangled costumes were strutting their stuff to the brassy music.

The wee hours were upon us when the place finally closed down. The air was a humid mixture of exhaust, oil, and hot tiresand something else, very faint and distant. In response, there was a familiar and insistent stirring in my belly and throat. I lifted my head to catch the scent again, but it was gone.

"Like the show?" I asked between my efforts to whistle up a cab.

Escott put a lot of thought to the question before coming up with an answer. "Very much. Next time it shall be my turn. I hope that you will then have no objections to seeing a play?"

"None at all. I wanted to see a show like this just to get the taste of Edith Sedlock out of my mind."

"It was an excellent idea," he said, enunciating carefully. "I must admit I do prefer a stage production of any kind to a film, though I've nothing against film as a medium for entertainment."

"Your acting background has nothing to do with it, huh?"

"It has everything to do with it, my dear fellow."

"Why'd you leave it for this business?"

"Why, indeed?" he asked the general air, looking just a shade wistful.

"I mean it, Charles. From what I've seen, you're a born actor. Why'd you switch to being a private inves--private agent?"

"Because taking up acting as a profession is a good way to starve to death. The company I was in folded for lack of funds--that is to say, the manager stranded us. I made it my business to find him. It was my first case."

"Did you find him?"

"Yes, after a time. I even recovered the money he'd stolen and divided it with the rest of the company. This, of course, after I'd indulged myself and thumped the miscreant a few times so he wouldn't object to things. It was interesting work, so I decided to go into it."

"Thumping managers?"

"Finding things; doing things for others." He waved his hand vaguely.

"Wouldn't acting be safer, though? I mean, since you took up with me, it's been--"

He laughed a little. "You've obviously never tried staging the battle of Bosworth Field in a barn full of drunken lumberjacks. When King Richard started calling for a horse, they were more than happy to oblige him with one. No, I much prefer to do what I'm doing now, there is a certain exhilaration to this kind of business that I never found on the stage."

He took a deep breath, held it, and let it out slowly.

Perhaps he'd realized he was talking about himself and his attitudes rather than about things he'd done, which was his usual run of conversation. On certain levels, he was a very private man. I pretended not to notice and waved unsuccessfully at another occupied cab.

"I think it is long past my bedtime," he concluded after a long moment.

"If I begin quoting Shakespeare to no good purpose, please bring it to my attention and I shall cease immediately."

A cab finally pulled up and I got the door for him and shut it. He gave me a questioning look.

"I've still got a lot of night left to me. Thought I'd take a walk in the park."

He nodded, perhaps guessing the real purpose of my walk. "Right. Then I'll see you tomorrow evening."

The cab grumbled away into the night, its exhaust swirling around my ankles. When it had grown small and its lights had merged with dozens of others, I abruptly turned in the opposite direction. I walked quickly, my head raised to catch that tantalizing scent once more.

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