Swimming The Dusty River Ch. 01bymadam_noe©
This is the sequel to "The Forever Ghosts" And will make much more sense if read in order. Please feel free to leave or send any and all feedback!
"So this is Portland?" I asked my best friend, Donna Rosenstein as we emerged from the taxi and paid the hefty fare. "Well, they can keep it."
"Alex," she chided me. "Don't be such a snob."
"Wait until they see the leather, sweetie. You know this is tree-nut central."
"But we're in the richest neighborhood in town." Her pout was sublime, and had conquered many a strong man. I had seen it thousands of times and just stuck my tongue out in retort.
The neighborhood was on a hill, the houses packed close together, and compared to the richest neighborhood in Chicago, I found it laughable. "Again, look. These houses would barely surpass middle class back home."
She shrugged and hefted her bag higher after the cabbie handed it to her from the trunk. "So how long are we here for?"
"Until we're summoned by the vampire king." I grinned when I caught the look on the cabbie's face and was glad I'd been stingy with the tip as he dove into the driver's side and sped off.
The house was 1920's fake hacienda, perched on the edge of the steep hill, one of the many such in the Western Hills of Portland. The driveway was sunken into the basement, sloped down, and from the muddy footprints down it that seemed to be the door to use.
"So tell me about the vampire Duke of Oregon," Donna said, huffing as she jogged behind me. I was eleven inches taller than her five feet, a lot of it in the legs, and we often walked like a dachshund and a greyhound. Now we did, if the greyhound packed for vacation in one bag, the dachshund in ten.
"His name is Alessandro Santiago, he's originally from Spain, about four hundred and fifty years old, give or take, and very powerful. He's also apparently a womanizer, so watch out."
She wrinkled her perfect nose at that, pushing up her coke-bottle glasses. Beneath her giant frizzed-out hair, her face was classically beautiful, but she had no idea of it. Sure I was pretty enough, and tall, but when we went out she was the one who drew the most attention. Again, not that she realized it, and if I didn't love her like a sister, I'd hate her even more for that.
It was night, barely, and so I felt confident knocking on the door.
It was answered by the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. He was male, no doubt, but the arrangement of bones was truly beautiful. His hair was long and auburn, his eyes the warmest brown I'd ever seen, and beside me I heard Donna sigh. She mumbled something about a young Johnny Depp and drooled.
"Are you the paranormal investigators?" he asked with a flat American accent.
Donna and I exchanged puzzled looks. "We'll we're private investigators, the one Mi-"
"Good, come in." He slammed the door shut behind us and led us up a set of stairs to a living room that resembled Bela Lugosi's wet dream. It was black and red and Gothic out the yin-yang, everything a vampire groupie would decorate with, except he was the real thing.
"I'm Alexis Bindle, call me Alex, and this is Donna Rosenstein."
"Where's Mardin?" Santiago asked pausing at a bar. "Can I get you a drink?"
"Whiskey neat for me, water for Donna."
"And who's Mardin?" Donna said. She held all her bags, too tough to let me help her, and was tottering under the weight, but reticent to sit down. Seeing the red and black leopard throw on the couch, I heartily agreed.
Santiago paused with his hand on a bottle of whiskey. "What do you mean? Mark Mardin, the owner of Rose City Paranormal Investigations. Your boss?"
Donna and I glanced at each other with eyebrows raised. "Um, why did you call Rose City?"
He poured the whiskey and passed it to me, handing a bottle of water to Donna who had finally collapsed on the red velvet sofa, bloody leopard print and all. She kept her bags as a buffer around her, looking like a mangled Gothic lion.
He sat on a chair of carved ebony that resembled a childish version of a throne. "I called you because I have amnesia."
"Come again?" Donna said, barely suppressing a belch.
His steady gaze fixed on her. "Someone has stolen my memory, and unless you find out who, they'll come back to kill me."
"Out of the frying pan, and into the fire, huh?" Donna said as we unpacked. We'd been given rooms on the upper floor. The Gothic scheme didn't extend there, instead the whole floor looked like Marie Antoinette's place. If she had run a bordello.
It had taken half an hour and a phone call to Chicago Detective Michael Durand, but Santiago allowed us to stay. He even offered to put me under his protection if I helped find who had done this to him. Which was peachy-fucking-keen to my way of thinking. Without his protection I was dead.
Santiago was a Duke, one level below the king of vampires. Apparently, they knew less about aristocracy than I did. Since I had killed the Duke of Illinois, only the protection of another Duke would stop the king from sucking me dry like a bottle of coke.
Durand had placed me under his protection, as a friend, but since he was persona-non-grata with the big vampire jamboree, it wasn't much help.
Donna sighed heavily. "So how do we find out who wiped his brain clean? Neither one of us knows enough about vampires to know A: how it's done, and B: who could do it."
I flopped on her bed silently agreeing. "Maybe this Mark guy will know more."
She snorted. "Haven't you ever seen A&E? These ghost hunters are fakes, liars. They're not Binders like you."
I sat up. "And remember to keep it that way. We have to keep Santiago from outing himself to this guy. The world isn't ready to know about all this."
She stopped stuffing things into the dresser and looked at me in the mirror. "Alex, what if there's more?"
"I dunno, like witches and werewolves and hobgoblins and stuff."
"The only witches I know are either tourist attractions or well-meaning neo-pagans. As for werewolves how could that go unnoticed? Vampires at least look human all the time. And what the hell is a hobgoblin anyways?"
She rolled her eyes and finished folding her socks. "Do you ever read?"
I grinned. "Do car magazines count?"
"All right. Now you know we don't have conceal and carry permits in Oregon, right?"
"So don't get caught."
Her retort was cut off by the doorbell and we flew down the hall and stairs to beat Santiago to the door.
I don't know what I was expecting, but Mark Mardin was not it. He was a full 5'4" in sneakers, had curly blond hair that melded into his full beard, making him resemble a green eyed lion. He wore blue flannel, blue jeans, and a Seahwaks ball cap. My first startling thought was that he was a perfect match for Donna.
A man of many words. "Hi, I'm Alex and this is Donna. We're PI's and personal friends of Mr. Santiago's, we'll be working with you."
I moved back to let him into the McMansion of Doom but Donna blocked the entryway, staring at him. I elbowed her which won me a grunt and a dirty look, but she moved aside.
He flashed her a rusty-looking smile and closed the door behind him. As Santiago had done I locked it. "Look, before you meet him, something you should know. Someone injured Santiago, resulting in memory loss. Total memory loss. He's under the mistaken assumption that he's a vampire, you see, he's a total vamp buff."
He frowned at that. "This is why he called a a paranormal investigator?"
I nodded. "It's likely someone else believed he was a vampire and that's why they did this. We know nothing about the paranormal community here, that's why you were called."
He pursed his lips and shrugged a shoulder, following us into the living room. He was polite, only his eyes bugged out at the style, and the beautiful man waiting in a full maroon velvet suit. His white shirt was ruffled, and he looked like an Austin Powers impersonator, just more pretty.
"I am Santiago, you are Mark Mardin?" The way he said Mark's name made it sound exotic and sensual, and next to me Donna sighed, her brain checked out.
Mark hesitated before extending his hand. "That's me. So, um, your friends tell me you have no memory? Let's start from the beginning. What's the last thing you remember?"
"Please sit. Would you like a drink?" Santiago was already pouring me another whiskey. I smiled at him and pulled my cigarettes out raising an eyebrow for permission. He nodded, so I lit up.
"Water, please." Mark sat on a chair, Donna and I took the couch, leaving the other chair for our host. He brought two waters, a whiskey neat, and an ashtray shaped like a coffin for me.
Donna grinned, unrepentant, a woman fond of calling my Camels "coffin nails."
"I woke two days ago, here in the living room. It was almost dawn, I knew I had to hide. My door was open, there was a puddle of water next to me, and I was wearing only pants."
"I know the answer; he's a fish," Donna whispered in a giggle.
"Shh. Any thoughts, Mr. Mardin?"
"Mark, please. Well I can ask around, see what vampire rumors are about. Have you ever handled a case like this?"
Donna scooted forward. "Not amnesia, but missing persons. It's similar."
"Well, what would you do?"
"We'll try and retrace his last steps. Look for receipts, appointment books, computer records."
Mark nodded, a man in command, his eyes tight. "Sounds good. S- Mr. Santiago do you have an office?"
"Call me Santiago. I do, it's the door to the right of the kitchen."
"Alex why don't you and Santiago search his bedroom, Donna why don't you help me with the office?"
I watched Santiago and Donna nod, and as we stood I pulled her aside. "Don't let him discover anything. Got it?"
She grinned up at me. "If I have to flash him to distract him, I will."
"Oh, lord." I rolled my eyes and released her.
And then I followed the vampire to his lair.
Mark was amazing, Donna thought as she climbed the three steps to the back of the house. His butt was tight, his shoulders broad, and he exuded pure masculinity. It had been so long since she had seen a man she was interested in, the last year Alex had been missing and all her energy was spent tracking her friend.
Now her hormones were raging, but there was a strange guilt. Alex had been raped by vampires, and Donna, who's mother was a psychiatrist, knew the haunting of that trauma well. For Donna to have casual sex and enjoy it she felt a tug on her conscience as she thought of her friend.
"Holy crap," Mark said as they entered the office.
The windows had been blacked out, the furniture was all painted black. The walls and carpet were pure white, the only footprints entered the door and formed a line of pacing.
"It was vacuumed. Does he have a housekeeper?"
She realized he was asking her as Santiago's friend. Knowing he was a vampire it was likely he had a sheep who cleaned for him. "He does, we'll have to track her down."
"I need to speak with you, Donna." Mark swung the door closed drawing him to her side and her heart jumped into her throat. In her boots he was only two inches taller, the perfect height in her mind, and he oozed a casual maleness men in Chicago didn't ever seem to.
"What?" Her voice came out breathy, making her blush. He smiled at her, her inside melting, her brain screaming "Kiss me! KISS ME!"
"Donna, you and Alex have to get out of here."
She groaned and backed up a step. "Why?"
He took the step, bringing her heartbeat back up. "You may think I'm crazy, but Santiago is truly a vampire."
All Donna could do was laugh.
His bedroom was pure sex. It was red walls, white carpet, black bed with maroon satin sheets. The furniture was scant and there were eye hooks on the bed frame where chains could be placed.
My mind flashed back to a room where I'd been kept chained, raped and fed on, beaten and psychologically tortured. My heart beat sped up and my brow started to sweat.
"You fear me." Santiago turned and put on a pleasant face. His body language screamed that he was friendly, but I knew just how deadly he could be. How deadly all vampires could be.
"I have bad memories of vampires and their bedrooms, that's all. Let's look for receipts, condoms, a little black book. Do you know if you have a girlfriend or a sheep?"
His face fell. "I don't know. I've been feeding off of strangers the last two nights. No one has come to my door. I know my name and position from emails in my in box, but beyond that, nothing. I do know the names of my underlings, but I cannot share this with them. I cannot be seen as weak."
I understood the need somewhat, but wanted a distraction from the despair at the edges of his voice. "Condoms, receipts, black book. Got it?"
He smiled at me. "Somehow I do not think one speaks to a Duke this way."
My lips flattened. "Just remember I burned the last Duke I knew to a crisp, okay bud?"
He raised an imperial eyebrow but took one nightstand while I hit the other. I didn't find condoms, but since they couldn't impregnate a woman or contract a disease, I wasn't surprised. I did find an assortment of sexual oils, most of them for massages or clitoral stimulation which raised an eyebrow. A man who cared about his partner's pleasure, how novel.
Especially since vampire bites were orgasmic.
Best not to think of that, I thought and pushed the oils aside. Beneath I found a writing pad with six phone numbers on them. "I found something, some phone numbers."
"I found an appointment book, but the two days before I woke up have been removed."
I looked and saw they had been crudely torn out. "Well that does us little good. Let's check the dresser and closet, but I doubt we'll find anything."
He took the closet and I discovered he hung up all his clothes. The dresser was filled with lingerie, all size M, and more sex toys. Most of them battery operated. "You have a girlfriend or a sheep it seems. Size medium and partial to red and black lingerie."
"Not counting the shirt and jacket I'm wearing, I am missing one of each. Empty hangars."
Something hit me then as I slid the top drawer closed. "The water you woke up in, did it smell like your bottled water, or from the faucet?"
He raised a brow. "It smelled like holy water."
"So we're dealing with humans who know little of vampires. Your clothes probably had little of his, her, or their blood on it, and you had arranged to meet them and written it down. Let's bring the numbers and the book downstairs."
The office door was locked and we heard giggling behind it. Santiago held his hand up to ward off my knock and cleared his throat loudly. "Flagrante Delicto," he said.
"Hunh?" I asked and he shook his head. He waited a few moments and then knocked.
When the door opened Donna's shirt was on backwards and Mark's hat was sideways, his pants open. Santiago leered as I memorized the ceiling. "I, um, take it not much searching was done?"
"Come in," Donna mumbled.
I walked past her, nose still up, and banged my shin on a chest of drawers. Cursing I started to hop as three pairs of glittering eyes watched me.
"Donna on the computer with Santiago, and look up these numbers." I tossed her the pad and rubbed my shin. It was where I had chipped a bone over a month ago, and though Durand's blood had healed the wound it still ached every now and then.
"Mark, you search the desk I'll take these drawers."
I found meticulously filed receipts for furniture, cleaning services (Maid To Order cleaned his house once a week and he paid automatically) clothes, and sex toys. He had spent more on sex toys than I had spent on rent in the last year.
The next drawer was for mistresses. He filed them by date and I saw the last had left his life just two weeks before. The man had had seven in the year, and it was only April. With the sex toys, gel, looks, and money, I wasn't surprised. I was surprised that her file was empty of papers, the name ripped off, the date tag left on. They should have taken the whole thing, the names were written in pen and there was a clear impression, Sara Alvarez.
"A list of mistresses. Interesting, the last one's name and papers have been removed. You've been solo for two weeks, Santiago, so I'm guessing you have a-" I bit my lip remembering Mark was in the room.
"He knows," Donna said quietly, looking up from the monitor.
"Mark knows Santiago is a vampire."
All three of us stared at the shorter man who fidgeted under our gazes. "We've actually met before, that's why you had my card. You helped me with a...situation about a year ago."
"Situation?" Donna asked.
"It was messy, involved one of his vampires. Santiago solved my problem, so I figured I owed him anything."
I looked at Santiago, assessing. A vampire boyscout? The mental image made me shiver. He smiled at me, nice and slow, and it was liquid sex, filling me with heat. I thought of the fangs and an image of Nikola came, looming over me in the dark, teeth and cock plunging in as I screamed no. My body turned as cold as my heart in an instant.
"Well all right then. Find anything, Mark?"
"Budgets, notes on the vampire community processes. Nothing of interest I'm afraid."
"Hey Alex, here's the list of names that match the numbers you gave me. We're not finding anything in the email."
I took the list from Donna and one name stood out. Sara Alvarez, mistress for two weeks in February. "Does the name Sara Alvarez mean anything to you?" I asked Santiago and pulled the woman's file. He shook his head and cast a glance at Mark.
I glanced over and the blond had gone deathly pale. "What? What is it?"
He ogled Santiago. "You fucked Sara Alvarez?"
Santiago gave a delicate shrug. "Who's Sara Alvarez?" Donna asked suddenly, jealousy in her voice.
Mark cleared his throat. "Sara Alvarez is president of the Mission." when no one recognized the name he sighed. "She's a vampire hunter."
Santiago's eyes turned the deep color vamps in blood lust or other such base urges did. His were the color of a dark chocolate lab, albeit an angry one. "Then she dies."
Mark and Donna nodded but I held my hand up. "Well let's talk to her first. Why would a vampire killer give him amnesia and not kill him? It makes no sense."
Mark sighed. "Let me sit at the computer, I think there's something you should see. I knew you looked familiar," Mark said to me as he crossed the room.
We crowded around as he sat and and typed in a web address. There, on the front page, under the title "RECLAIMED: A Story of Victory" was a big picture of me smiling.
"Shit," we all said in unison.
We took two cars. Mark's Geo Metro had no leg room in back, and everything Santiago owned was built for speed and carried only two people. If I had any doubt about his money before, the Ford GT told me all I needed to know.
He drove it at a maddeningly slow pace behind Mark, the car as hungry for speed as I was.
Santiago was quiet, contemplating meeting his destiny. For a moment I felt bad for him. To lose his life, 450 years of it? Sheer hell.
"I can hear the wheels turning," he said quietly.
He smiled. "In your head. Alex, I know from what you told me you have suffered greatly at the hands of vampires. I want you to know we're not all like that."
"You're predators and we're prey."
He pursed his pouty lips. "We can live off the blood of animals. Many do, those of us with tender feelings for all of humanity. Sharing of blood is intimate, as much so as making love. It is an act of trust, frequently coupled with making love."
His voice was low, but not very deep, the lilt of attitude shown through it left me breathless. I could almost close my eyes and imagine the added pleasure of sharing blood to a gentle act of sex.