Diamond Part 4: Final Resting Place

 DH’s next installment of the Drake Diamond Saga. I am really enjoying seeing where this is going, and DH won’t give me any hints!

Part1Part2and Part 3 are available if you want to read them for the first time or get a refresher.       

Ace

Final Resting Place

The clouds outside are starting to break up, showing irregular patches of clear night sky.  We’re a few blocks away from Frank’s Diner.  Not sure where we’re going, but I figure Betty knows.  Puddles and wet pavement in the street shimmer in reflection of the intermittent moonlight.  I take a deep breath.  There’s always that smell in the air, after it rains.  It reminds me of my childhood, even if it mixes with the adult smell of cigarette smoke in my nostrils.

I frown.  Something isn’t right.  “Betty?”

She tilts her head slightly and gives me a coy grin.  “Yes, Drake?”

“I just took a deep breath.  How is that possible with bullet holes in my lungs?”

She raises one eyebrow at me.  “Really, Drake?  Don’t get hung up on it.  If you think too much about magic it might stop working.  And since it’s what’s holding you together, you don’t want it to stop working.”

“Then you’d better give me something else to think about.  Because thinking about things that don’t add up is what I do.  Cop trained, street honed.  Isn’t that what you wanted me for?”

Betty stops walking, so I stop too.  She looks me right in the eye, then quickly looks around, and even scans the rooftops.  Then she looks me right in the eye again, and beckons me close with her finger.  I take a step closer and lean in.

She whispers quiet enough that if someone dropped a pin, the racket might drown out her voice.  “I need you to find out Papa Thorne’s daytime resting place.”  Before I can say anything, she turns and starts walking at a brisk pace.  The clacking of her heels on the wet pavement is oddly quieter than one would expect.  Magic?  Or just the way she walks?

I catch up to her just as she turns right at the corner, onto Ravenswood Avenue.  Almost no traffic.  Streets are deserted this time of night.  But she’s worried about being tailed.  Or eavesdropped on.  And not taking any chances.

“Finding him isn’t the problem, Drake.  He’s…”  She gives an exasperated sigh.  “He’s my Master.”  She says the word like it leaves a taste in her mouth she can’t spit out fast enough.  “He’s the Master of all the vampires in the city.  If I needed you to find him I’d just bring you with me.  He’s expecting me later.   And he’ll get suspicious if I’m late.”

I shrug.  “So?  Bring me with you.  I ain’t afraid of him.  Like you said yourself, I ain’t gotta worry about dying no more.”

She gives me an irritated look.  “Neither does he, Drake.  For the same reasons I don’t.  Do you know the first thing about fighting vampires?”

“I suppose I don’t,” I admit, “seeing as how I never thought they were real.  You got any pointers for me?”

“Yes,” she hisses.  “Find his daytime resting place.  Where he goes before the sun comes up.  All vampires need one.  Direct sunlight burns us.  And just like we still need to eat, we still need to sleep.”

We walk a few more paces in silence, other than a gust of wind blowing some leaves and trash along the sidewalk.

“Betty…this might be a touchy subject, but are you and he…”

“Occasionally,” she sneers.  “I don’t dare refuse him.”  The disgust in her voice is so clear a deaf guy could hear it.  There’s rage there too, but that’s less obvious.  Easier to miss, unless you’ve got experience reading people.

I let a few more silent paces go by.  I need answers, but some questions have to be asked in a certain way.  But she seems to realize what I’m getting at and pipes up on her own.

“No, Drake, he’s never brought me to his daytime lair.  I don’t think he trusts anyone that much.”

The wind picks up.  I turn the collar up on my coat and tug the brim of my fedora down.  “You said all vampires need one.  Does he know where yours is?”

She frowns.  “I honestly don’t know.  I’ve tried to be careful, but…he has ways.”

I shrug.  “Is there a reason you only have one?  Why do you think he only has one?  That another vampire rule?”  We come to the corner.  There’s no traffic, but the light is red.  Betty stops, looking down at her shoes, so I stop too.

She doesn’t look up as she answers me.  “It’s more than just a place to get out of the sun and sleep, Drake.”  The light turns green and she starts to cross, the wind blowing her coat and hair.  I follow.

On the other side of the intersection we’re walking alongside a tall brick wall with wrought iron spikes on top.  Something about this place gives me the heebies…and I’m already dead.  Then I see the elaborate balustrade of the front gates a ways ahead, and I realize where we are.

“Rosehill Cemetery,” she says.  She grabs one of the cold iron bars of the gate, and pulls it open with a rusty creak that can clearly be heard above the rising wind.  “Come on.”

“This is where you sleep during the day?”  Suddenly I feel hackles rising in my neck.  I’m on edge.  If I still had a heartbeat, it would be hammering against my ribs.  Instead it feels like my body is trying to fly apart, and sheer force of will is the only thing holding me together.  I grit my teeth and ball my fists.

“No.  Cemetery’s too obvious.  Any vampire that makes their lair that easy to find doesn’t last long.”  She tilts her head at me and raises an eyebrow.  “Drake?  You okay?”

“No!  No, I’m not okay!  I’m dead!”  I feel like I’m covered in ice-cold sweat.  Freezing rivulets running down my body.

“Drake!”  It’s Betty, still holding the Cemetery gate open.  She looks real worried all of a sudden.  “Drake, listen to me.  I can help you, but you have to focus on something.  Take out a cigarette, Drake.  Take out a cigarette and put it in your mouth.”

Hands shaking, I do as she says, nearly dropping it with my fumbling fingers.  Holding it between my lips, I reach for one of the books of matches from the diner.  But the wind is too strong.  I’ll never be able to light it in this wind.

I hear the sound of Betty snapping her fingers, and the end of my cigarette glows red hot for a second.  I taste the smoke in my mouth.  My throat.  Feel it in my lungs.  I inhale the smoke, and I feel alive.  Of course, I know I’m not.  Not really.  But the smoke helps me accept that sometimes what you know isn’t as important as what you do.

“Come through the gate, Drake!  Quick!”

I do as she says, and she slams the gate shut.  She’s a lot stronger than she looks.

…And she’s terrified of Thorne.  So how strong is he?

“How are you feeling now, Drake?”  The winds is really picking up.  Leaves and smaller bits of paper trash sweep along the ground and against the iron gates.  The branches of the trees in the cemetery sway and twist.  But I can still somehow hear every word she says crystal clear.

“Better, I guess.”  I reach up and take my cigarette out, and hold it between two fingers at my side, flicking it a couple times.  The ashes disappear in the wind.  “Why are we here, Betty?  I gotta tombstone here?  You wanted to show me my own grave?”

She gives me that same look she gave me when I woke up on her marble altar, surrounded by candles.  Scrutinizing me.  Like she’s not sure I’m all right in the head.

“It must have been the iron,” she says.

“The what now?”

“Drake, in those pulp magazines you used to read when you were younger, do you remember any stories about werewolves?  About their weakness to silver?”

I manage to sort of nod and shrug at the same time.  “I guess so, yeah.”

She points to the heavy cemetery gates.  “Old folklore says ghosts can be warded off by iron.  Or harmed by it.  You’re not exactly a ghost, Drake.  But apparently you’re close enough.  Being near those gates seemed to…disrupt you, somehow.”

The wind has cleared away almost all the clouds now, and the half-moon casts it’s silvery patina over everything.  I raise the cigarette to my lips and take another quick puff, and look towards the tall brick wall all around the cemetery.  Those decorative iron spikes along the top must have been what was bugging me as we walked along the sidewalk outside.

“I’m sorry.  I had no idea.”

I shrug again.  “It’s a trade-off.  I’m vulnerable to iron now.”  I point to the bullet holes in my chest.  “But I used to be vulnerable to lead.”

Betty smiles, and it’s oddly like tasting the sandwich at the diner.  My senses are as sharp as ever, but the same sensations don’t mean the same thing.  Betty’s a real looker.  And despite being Malone’s daughter, she’s got class.  But I don’t respond to her charming smile the way a living man would.  It’s just as well.

“You seem fine now that you’re away from the gates.  Come on.  I need to go see Thorne before he suspects I’m up to something.  And I can’t take you with me.  Let’s hurry.”

Now that the sky is clear, the wind is starting to die down.  But for now it’s still strong enough that the trees are swaying and my trench-coat’s flapping.  Betty’s dress, too.  But she either doesn’t notice or mind.  The wind doesn’t slow her down at all.

“Just so I understand: you have to play along with Thorne for the time being, so you don’t want him knowing that you and I know each other?”

“I don’t want him knowing about you at all,” she replies.  “That we know each other, who you are, or that you even exist.”

I drop the butt of my smoke to the cemetery path and crush it out with my foot.  “Fine.  But I’ll need a place to lay low for a bit.  After we’re done here I’ll have to go find a flophouse.  Or a cheap motel.”  I keep forgetting that it’s three years gone by.  I’d swear I was only out a few minutes.  My office, and the small apartment I had above it, are probably leased out to someone else now.

“I tried to take your needs into consideration.”  Betty sounds like she’s apologizing.  It strikes me as odd, considering without her I’d still be an inert pile of calcified remains.  “To have everything ready for you, so you could focus all your attention on helping me bring down Papa Thorne.”  She stops in front of a private mausoleum, and turns to look at me.  I look up and see the family name, carved in marble: MALONE.

I’m confused and I probably look it.  “Betty, I thought you said no vampires rested in cemeteries anymore.”

“I knew you would need a place to stay once I brought you back, Drake.  But Thorne would have found out if I’d rented an apartment, or bought a house.  And I spent a lot of time fixing up the inside…”

“Betty…”

“I’ll find somewhere else, Drake.  I honestly didn’t know about the iron.  But for now you’re far enough away from it here.”  She’s right about that.  But the gates and the spikes on top of the wall surrounding the place means I’m trapped in the cemetery until she comes back to open the gates for me.

“Betty, didn’t you say cemeteries were a bad idea?  Too obvious?”

“For vampires, yes.  You’re different, Drake.  No one will find you here.”

“You don’t sound too sure of yourself.”  She didn’t.

She hesitates for a moment, then nods.  “You were a desperate experiment, Drake.  I really can’t trust anyone else.  But I’d never brought anyone like you back from the Other Side before.  You’ve surprised me in a number of ways already, and it’s only your first night back.  Even though it was my spell that raised you, I’m still not exactly sure what you are.  You’re too solid to be a ghost, and you’re far too smart to be a zombie.”

I grit my teeth and look over the stone construction.  “Betty, I don’t want to sound ungrateful.  I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, and you can count on me to bring down Thorne.  But…I do not want to share a mausoleum with your father.”  Dead or not, we’d make lousy roommates.

Betty looks confused for a second, then smiles.  “He’s not in there.  There’s a plaque with his name on it, but the police never found his remains after Thorne’s men murdered him.”

I have to think it over for a few seconds.  “Well, in that case, I guess it’ll do.  For now.”

Betty reaches up with both hands and tweaks one ornate carving while pressing inward on another.  The heavy marble slab swings open revealing granite stairs leading down into a dusty crypt.

“I don’t suppose the other members of your family interred here will mind me crashing the place?” I ask a little nervously.

“I doubt they’ll say a thing,” she replies with a chuckle.

“Betty, I wasn’t cracking a joke.  Whenever I see my reflection, I see a skeleton.  And you don’t have a reflection at all.  And the only reason there’s any spring in my step is that you can apparently do amazing things with candles and chalk.”

She frowns.  “Fair enough.  All kidding aside.  Every Malone in the family mausoleum was given a proper burial.  As a fairly skilled necromancer…and you are proof that I am…I can tell you that it’s next-to-impossible to do anything with someone who was given a proper burial.  You and I are the only up-and-around dead here.  Everyone else should be Resting in Peace.”

Diamond Part 3: Frank's Diner

 DH finished the next part in the Drake Diamond Saga. I like the set-up for this character, but I am biased. hard not to be excited about what DH is working on, but I could see a series of fun, snarky, gritty stories about an undead detective. Flesh out the world. The people in it.

Part1 and Part2  are available if you want to read them for the first time or get a refresher.       

Ace

Frank’s Diner

            Outside, the gray sky matched the wet pavement.  Cold, dirty puddles covered the sidewalk beneath dim, flickering street lights.  I fished my pack of smokes out of my pocket, raised it to my lips, and took one between my teeth and pulled it out.  I was about to light up when I remembered my manners.

“You want a smoke?”  I’d never been raised from the dead before.  Wasn’t familiar with the etiquette.  Figured the least I could offer Betty Malone for bringing me back to the World of the Living was a cigarette.

“Sure, thanks.”  I hold the pack out and she takes one between her fingers.  I notice her nail Polish is the exact same shade of red as her lipstick.  She holds the cigarette up and stares at it for a second.  It lights itself, tiny curls of smoke raising from the now glowing end, and she gives a slight smirk and puts it between her lips.

“Neat trick.”

“Want me to teach you?”  She raises an eyebrow at me, with a coy smile.

“I’ll stick with my lighter, thanks.”

“I thought you lost yours.”

She’s right.  I remember being hit in the jaw by an entire side of beef at the end of someone’s arm, sending me, my thirty-eight, and my lighter in three different directions.  And then some bullets decided to move into my chest cavity, ruining the whole neighborhood.

“Damn.  Guess I’ll have to start carrying matches until I can get a new one.”

“We’re not to far from Frank’s Diner,” Betty says.  “You can get some there.  It’s just as well.  Doubt you’ve got the patience to learn magic anyway.”

Betty’s probably right.  I never believed in it before.  Now, with my reflection in the puddles below an eyeless skull grinning back at me, it’s kind of hard to remain a skeptic.  But time spent learning how to light my smokes with a snap of my fingers is time I’d rather spend tracking down Thorne.

 

Frank’s Diner is one of those places you can tell exactly what it is from the outside, and the inside is just what you’d expect.  Hash browns, steak and eggs, grilled ham and cheese sandwich…you can have whatever you want as long as it ain’t fancy.  Its open late, and never very crowded.  There’s a few other customers there, getting their late night fix of greasy food and cheap coffee.  Betty picks us out a few stools at the counter, down a ways from the other patrons.  First thing I do when I sit is pocket a few books of matches, and strike one to finally give myself a light.

Seconds later, Maxine appears with an order pad and a pen at the ready.  Forty-something, dishwater blond hair up under a hair-net.  Been a fixture at Frank’s for all the years I’d been eating there.  An incurable gossip, she’s both a good source of information, and a bad source of misinformation.  On a number of my past cases, I’d come to Maxine to check what she’d heard.  Can’t always trust her info, but it’s a place to start.

“And what can I get you folks tonight?  The apple pie’s fresh, and we have…Drake?  Drake Diamond!”  It would be cliche to say she looked like she’d seen a ghost.  But saying she’d seen an old acquaintance back from the dead doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

“The usual, Maxine.  And a slice of that apple pie, too.”  I tap some ashes from my cigarette into a tray and turn to Betty.  “You want anything?”

“I am positively ravenous,” she smirks, narrowing her eyes.  Maybe bringing a vampire to a public place was a bad idea.  But then she says, “Pastrami on rye, and a cherry cola.”

“One pastrami on rye, cherry cola,” she says as she scribbles on her pad, “and Mr. Diamond’s usual: black coffee and a fried egg sandwich with ham and Tabasco sauce.”  She winks at me.  “And a slice of pie.  I’ll be right back.”

Betty watches Maxine hustle off and turns to me.  “You two have a history?”

“Nah.  She winks at everybody like that.”

“Good.  Don’t get too involved with the Living, Drake.  You’re not one of them anymore.  It wouldn’t end well for either of you.”         She crushes out her lipstick-stained cigarette in the ashtray.

“Sounds like the voice of experience.”  I don’t mean to pry, but it never hurts to throw out a line.  You never know what you might catch.  Betty looks at me and shakes her head.

“Not me.  I’m not the same as you.”  She glances around to make sure no one’s eavesdropping, and lowers her voice.  “You’re Undead, Drake.  You were Dead, then I undid your death.  That’s what Undead means.  That’s not what I am.  I was never Dead.  Not entirely.  No one Undid anything that had happened to me to make me what I am.”

I purse my lips into a frown as I try to recall what I know about vampires.  Nothing, that’s what.  I never believed they were real.  There were some stories about them in a few of the pulp magazines I read as a kid, but I’m guessing those were more full of misinformation than Maxine on a bad day.  But I think I get the basic idea.

“I’m Undead.  You’re the Living Dead.”  Betty thinks about that for a second, then nods.

“Yes.  And there are Rules for each of us.  But the Rules I have to follow aren’t the same as the Rules you have to follow.  And the consequences for breaking our rules aren’t the same.  You don’t have to drink blood or avoid direct sunlight, like I do.  But trying to reestablish the close personal relationships you had when you were alive…will turn you back into a sack of bones.”

“I…what?”  It takes me a minute before I realize my cigarette has fallen into my lap.

Maxine comes by and gives us our sandwiches and drinks.  “I’ll be back with your pie in a sec, hon!”

Betty waits until she’s gone, then speaks.  “Acquaintances are fine: people you worked with, or passing familiarities,” Betty takes a bite of her pastrami, then continues, “But interacting with any close friends or, worse, loved ones, risks undoing the magic keeping you intact.  I doubt I’d be able to bring you back again after that.”  She somehow has a way of speaking clearly even while she chews her food.  “So…if you and that waitress had anything beyond casual meaningless flirting, every word she says to you…or that you say to her….increases the risk of you getting sent back the the Other Side.”

Taking a bite of my own sandwich, I chew in silence for a long time.  This is a lot to to take in.  The sandwich isn’t very satisfying, even though it’s dripping with Tabasco.  I swallow, washing it down with a gulp of coffee.

“I don’t remember being dead.  I just remembering dying.  Three forty-four magnum rounds to my chest, and the next thing I know I’m sitting up on a marble altar surrounded by ritual candles.  You say I’ve been dead three years but I didn’t feel any time passing.  Now you tell me I can only have professional relationships, or superficial ones.  Any real genuine human connection…could end me?”

Betty shrugs.  “With the Living, yes.”  She takes another bite of her pastrami, speaking with her mouth full.  Still, she manages to pronounce everything flawlessly.  “You know how people who’ve lost a close friend or relative sometimes regret an apology never made, or a hatchet never buried?  Something important that needed to be said or resolved, but they never did, and now it’s too late?”  I nod, taking another bite of my sandwich.  It’s not bland or tasteless.  It’s just that I don’t seem to enjoy the taste anymore.  I don’t dislike it either.  It’s just…a sandwich.

“Turns out that’s one of reality’s biggest Rules: if you’ve got something important to say to someone, you have to say it while you still have the chance.  Once they die, or you die, anything left unsaid stays unsaid.  And you died, Drake.”

“I didn’t die.  I was murdered.”

She shrugs again.  “Getting murdered is one way of dying.  Doesn’t change the fact that you’re still bound by the Rules, Drake.  I know there’s a lot of ghost stories where there’s a spirit that’s restless from some Unfinished Business, and needs it taken care of before they can pass on.  And those are just stories.  If you wanted to Finish your Business, you needed to do it while you were still alive.  I’m not trying to rub it in, Drake, but you’re not alive anymore.  Any Business you left Unfinished is going to stay that way.  You’re not allowed break that Rule.”

Lana.  I never told her…I never…she…

And now it’s too late.  I should…should’ve said…should’ve let her know.  But it’s too late now.  I’m…gone.

I put the fizzed cigarette from my lap into the ashtray and light up a new one, inhaling deeply.  It’s rich and satisfying in a way the sandwich wasn’t.  I look up to see Maxine is back.

“Here’s your pie, hon!  And the check.  Now, don’t you worry.  You take your time and enjoy, and just take care of it at the register on your way out.  Glad to have you back in town, hon!”  She hustles off, other diner patrons to see to.  I’m just another customer.  A familiar one, maybe, but just a customer.

And that, apparently, makes her safe.

The pie is warm and sweet.  The crust is crispy, the apple filling just right.  It’s just not…satisfying.  It’s as if I no longer enjoy warm and sweet.  Take no pleasure in a crispy pie crust.  I take another long drag off my cigarette.  Now that feels good.  Betty’s slurping up her cherry cola through a straw until nothing is left in the glass but ice.

“I thought vampires drank blood,” I whisper.

“We do,” she whispers back.  “But we still need to eat and drink.  The blood doesn’t replace the need for other nourishment.  It’s an additional requirement.”

“What about me?  Do I need to eat?”

“Well, apparently you can eat.  I honestly wasn’t sure about that, before.  But as far as needing to?”  She shakes her head.  “No.  You’re not the Living Dead, like me.  You’re Undead.  It’s a subtle distinction.”

“But apparently a profound one,” I say.

She nods.  “I’ve heard it said that to the Undead, all food tastes like ashes.  Is it true?”

I take another drag from my cigarette and shake my head.  “Nah.  I can taste it just fine.  All the flavors, all the textures.  It’s all still there.  I just don’t enjoy the flavors or textures anymore, you know?  But cigarettes?”  I stop to take another deep inhale and let it out slow through my nostrils.  “Those are just like they always were.”

“Makes sense, I guess,” she says, taking the guest check between a finger and a thumb.  “Food nourishes and sustains Life.  You’re not alive, so it doesn’t do anything for you.  But tobacco is tied to Death.  Now that you’re Undead you may actually get some kind of nourishment or energy from it.”

“Let me get that,” I say, pointing to the check, and grateful to have something so mundane to talk about.

“Drake, you were murdered by one of Papa Thorne’s thugs.”  So much for mundane topics.  “Did you really think that when I found your remains that you were buried along with your wallet?  And that it was full of cash?”

“Err…hmm.”

“Swallow your macho pride, Drake.  I’m paying.”