“I didn’t mean to get into a fight with her.” Figg said, looking innocent. “Who knew Renfield was an insult?”
“Anyone who’s ever seen the movie,” Carl laughed so hard that he snorted. “I love you, you crazy bitch.” He said to Figg.
Figg handed over the letter from Olivia and I broke the wax seal on the expensive vellum paper, dreading what I was about to read. It didn’t matter if it was a death threat or a love letter; we were about to be thrust into another hornet’s nest.
Olivia, Master of the city of Dallas will grant you an audience this evening at 1:00am Central Standard Time. You will be allowed one person in your entourage along with Mr. Carl Tharpe. Any type of projectile, bladed or wooden weapon is prohibited. Please dress in accordance with the standing of the Master of the City.
I read the note aloud for a second time.
“What does that even mean? In accordance with her standing?” Figg asked.
“Formal, I would guess.”
“Jeans and t-shirts are out.” Carl said, looking directly at Figg when he said it.
“My sources tell me that she was turned in 1583. For all I know she might expect tights and puffed bloomers.”
Figg was oblivious to the fact that she’d just had a fight with the emissary of a four hundred year old vampire. Carl was not. He sat in his chair, staring at some point over my right shoulder, his eyes showing way too much white. “I should just leave,” Carl said, “find someplace new to hide out.”
“No.” Figg said, grabbing Carl’s hand. “Lian will work this out.” She said, giving me a look that told me I’d better.
My mobile ringing saved me from a lengthy conversation with her. It was the hospital.
“This is Sarah Johnson calling from the hospital.” I recognized the name. She was a sweet young nurse, a brunette, almost my height and built like an American football player. “I have some news regarding your brother.”
“Has he come out of the coma?”
“Yes, a couple of hours ago, around four o’clock this afternoon.”
“Thank you for calling,” I said, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“I’m sorry Dr. Cairn, but there is one other thing.”
I sighed, knowing exactly what she was going to tell me. “He’s gone.”
She immediately burst into sobs. “I’m so sorry Dr. Cairn. I only left him for a minute and he was gone when I got back.”
“It’s not your fault Sarah. I’m certainly not blaming you.” I said trying to calm her. I was relieved that she hadn’t been there to try and stop him from leaving, maybe getting herself hurt in the process. “John has always been impulsive.”
I hung up and gave Figg and Carl the information that I had, including that John had not been located on hospital grounds and that the police and social services would be involved, after all, the hospital had to protect itself in the event that John came to harm. I couldn’t tell them that it was unlikely.
“We should call Childs.” Figg said.
“And we should tell him what?” I asked her. “To be safe and load his gun with silver?”
Carl had to get to work. That left me and Figg to find John before he hurt someone. Figg climbed into the driver’s seat of the Lincoln with her cell phone stuck to her ear. Holding the line for Detective Childs I assumed.
“Figg,” I said, climbing in beside her. “There’s no reason to involve Childs in this.”
“They need to know what they’re up against if they find him.” She fiddled with her rear view mirror a little before she began speaking again. This time it wasn’t to me. “Childs, it’s Figg.”
“Aww Christ,” I heard Childs’ exclamation in the passenger seat. “More fucking zombies?” He asked.
Figg rolled her eyes, holding the phone away from her ear. Childs’ voice definitely carried. She hit the speaker button and laid the phone on the seat between us.
“John Marsh just walked out of the hospital.”
“You’ve got to be kidding, the man in the coma?”
“Yup, and he’s dangerous.” Figg said.
“Shit.” Childs said and hung up.
“So much for letting him know what he’s up against.” I mumbled. Figg glared at me and put the car in gear.
We drove around the hospital grounds until it started getting dark. We’d occasionally pull over and talk to someone, mostly indigent looking folk. On the pass that I was determined would be our last, Figg pulled up to a bus stop. The guy on the bench looked like he hadn’t bathed in a very long time. His long, greasy hair and beard was likely home to a wide variety of parasites. As he shuffled up to the car, I found myself breathing through my mouth to avoid gagging.
“Hey man,” Figg said to him, leaning over to my side of the car. She quickly backed away when the smell hit her. “We’re looking for a big blond guy.”
I took the lead, describing John a little more thoroughly to the man. “He might have taken a cab a few hours ago.”
The guy leaned in, hand outstretched, palm up. Figg nudged me.
At this rate, I wasn’t going to have any cash in my wallet. She’d had me bribe several people who’d come up with useless information. I pulled a twenty out of my wallet. It was the last bill I had. “Here.”
Figg snatched the bill from me before I could put it in the man’s dirty hand. “For twenty, it better be good.” She said.
“Yellow cab, number 5435.” He smiled at her with a mouthful of teeth that were in shockingly good shape compared to the rest of him.
“Thank you, sir.” I reclaimed the money from Figg and gave it to the homeless man.
Figg pulled her behemoth into a fast food drive-thru adjacent to the hospital, ordered two hamburgers and parked in the lot. Figg found the number for the cab company and dialed between bites. She gave an Oscar-worthy performance; she was a sister frantically looking for her brother as far as the cab company was concerned.
The person on the other end of the call gave her John’s last known location in less than five minutes. Frankly, I was awed by her. Half eaten burger clenched between her teeth and mustard dribble on her shirt, Figg started the car and we were on our way to get John.
The neighborhoods steadily declined as Figg drove. The roadside structures went from fairly respectable looking establishments to mostly industrial with a sprinkling of nightclubs. Figg slowed the car, looking for the address the cab company gave her. Unfortunately, that gave the wide variety of prostitutes along the street the impression that we were interested in their services.
“Hey baby girl,” A rail thin, African American prostitute in a skin-tight gold dress approached the car, “you looking for a date?”
Figg waved her off. That offer was only the beginning.
“I can be butch for you, honey.” A man wearing red bike shorts, fishnet stockings, high heels and a stuffed brassiere approached the car. Figg actually stopped for that one. I hoped it was more curiosity than interest. She cocked her head to the side and leaned out the window.
“Are those Jimmy Choos?” She asked the man.
“They knock-offs,” he said, “I can hook a sister up if you want.”
“Thanks,” Figg said, “but I’ll pass.”
Before she could fully decline the offer of counterfeit shoes, a pudgy girl with pink hair snuck up behind the man and pushed him.
“This is my street motherfucker.” The pink-haired prostitute told the man.
He regained his balance and took a swing which she narrowly escaped. The rival prostitute started swearing and jumped on the man, slamming him into the car and riding his body all the way down to the asphalt. Fists, hair and clothing scraps flew as the two of them went at it.
Figg leaned across the seat and got her gun out of the glove compartment. She honked the horn, breaking up the fight long enough to show them that she was armed.
“If there’s a scratch on my car, I’ll shoot both of you.” She told them. “Where is 3025?” she asked.
They both pointed down the street. “Two blocks down on the left.” The woman with the pink hair said, watching the gun in Figg’s hand. “You want some company?” She pushed her enormous breasts inside the window.
“No thanks.” Figg put the gun on the seat between us and hit the gas.
Two blocks down, we found the motel John had been dropped at. Seedy was too soft an indicator for the dilapidated, 1960s motor court style motel.
Figg pulled the big car up to the office. We got out and forged ahead, through the litter and stench of stale alcohol in the parking lot. I opened the barred glass door and then followed her through. The rates displayed were hourly and the décor was late-seventies garage sale. The man behind the reception desk leered at Figg, looking her over, perhaps trying to wrap his mind around the concept of a fully clothed woman. His beady eyes shifted to me and a look of alarm crossed his face. Figg was still in her business attire, worn for her earlier meeting with my contractor and I was wearing my usual suit.
He raised his hands over his head. “Hey, I just rent the rooms. I got no idea what goes on inside them.”
Figg caught on quicker than I did. “I don’t care about hookers,” she said, “we’re looking for a guy named John Marsh.”
The genuinely dull look on the clerk’s face was a give-away that John had probably used a pseudonym. “Big blond guy, dimples, blue eyes,” I told him. “He may or may not have been wearing a hospital gown.”
Realization dawned. “You missed him.” The clerk seemed relieved that we weren’t there about the prostitution. “He was here a while ago, room 12.” He grabbed a key off of the pegboard behind him and handed it to me.
Outside the office, Figg nudged me with her elbow. “I liked your Joe Friday back there, just the facts ma’am.” She said, imitating a character that I didn’t recognize. “It was kind of sexy.” She walked ahead of me, swaying her hips in the exaggerated way that women do when they want a man to look. I did, all the way down the long hallway to room 12.
There was nothing amiss inside the room. The furniture was old and worn, the reddish brown linens were thread-bare, but nothing was obviously out of place. The dust on every available surface would have been clear indicators if anything had been moved.
“John came here for a reason.” Figg said. I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or herself.
“We have to assume he found whatever he was looking for.”
Figg paced a little. “If he hid something here, before he was hurt, it wouldn’t be out in the open.” She climbed up on the bed and tried to remove the landscape hanging above the headboard. She gave it a hard tug and fell backward, onto the bed.
“Great,” she said, “now I need to be decontaminated.”
Neither the landscape, nor the seascape on the opposite wall revealed any hiding place.
“Check the edges of the carpet.” She said and headed for the bathroom. Her heels clacked on the dingy tile floor, “Lian, I found it.”
A human size hole in the bathroom’s drywall that had probably been covered by the full length mirror, now lying broken in the tub, revealed John’s hiding place. “What do you think was in there?”
Figg bent over, and felt around inside the hole. She pulled out a black belt made of some kind of synthetic, woven mesh with pouches on it. “I’ll give you three guesses.”
John Marsh was armed, somewhere in the city. I hoped for the sake of innocents that he was consciously aware of what was happening and that he would find a safe place to make his first shift. There was unfortunately no more time to waste on our search. The hour was approaching midnight, and I had to find a way to keep Figg out of the vampire business at hand.