DH’s next installment of the Drake Diamond Saga. I like Betty. Unusual for me as vampires aren’t usually my thing.
Betty has to rush off to meet Papa Thorne, and she swears to me she’ll be back as soon as she can.
“I’m already a dead man in a cemetery,” I assure her, smirking. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
She smiles apologetically at me, and I catch another glimpse of her fangs. Then she turns and runs off with a superhuman speed that surprises me. Although it really shouldn’t. It occurs to me that I’ve spent the evening with a blood-drinking creature who preys upon the living. I’m not afraid of her, myself. I’ve got no blood to drink. But how would I feel if Betty preyed upon someone like Maxine to meet her dietary needs?
In all the stories I’d read about vampires, they were monsters. The bad guys. The stories were filled with fear, tragedy, and death until the happy ending where the good guys finally destroyed them. Usually involving a wooden stake and a mallet. Dracula. Nosferatu. Varney.
Maybe they’re not so bad once you get to know ’em.
Of course, I’ve only known Betty for one night. She’s likable enough. Not sure I trust her though.
I’m not the trusting sort to begin with. The trusting sort doesn’t do well in my line of work, for one thing. But that’s not the only reason.
I’d worked on a fair number of kidnapping cases, both as a cop and as a private eye. When making ransom demands, kidnappers almost always say “don’t go to the police or your loved one gets it”. They do that ’cause police have a lot of experience and proven techniques at their disposal for effectively dealing with kidnappers. If you go the police for help, the kidnappers are likely going to wind up behind bars instead of getting paid. So they use fear to keep you from doing the smart thing and going to the professionals who know how to effectively unravel their plans.
Same thing with brainwashing cults. They tell their recruits…their victims, that is…that psychologists are evil. To be avoided at all costs. That’s because psychiatrists and psychologists are really good at recognizing brainwashing techniques, and the cults don’t want that.
So earlier when Betty told me not to think too much about the magic she used on me, or it would stop holding me together, I couldn’t help but see the same pattern. I got to wondering if besides raising me from the dead she cast another spell or two on me.
And then there’s the matter of giving me a place to stay. In her family’s mausoleum. In a cemetery surrounded by a brick wall with decorative wrought-iron spikes and heavy wrought-iron gates. She says she didn’t know I’d be vulnerable to iron. But she knew ghosts were. And I’m not exactly a ghost, but whatever I am, Betty’s the one who cast the spell. I was a desperate experiment, she says. Maybe she was telling the truth. Maybe.
I may not trust Betty. Not fully. But for now she’s all I’ve got. For now.
Now that she’s run off, I might as well head inside the mausoleum. She’d said she spent a lot of time fixing up the inside. Might as well have a look.
Right inside the entrance there are some steps down. Not very many. Coming into the crypt is like stepping down off of a porch. First thing I see is a row of plaques on the wall. A bunch of names I don’t recognize, and Salvatore “Sonny” Malone. His plaque is recessed into the marble wall about an inch. The other plaques are flush with the wall. Odd.
I press my hand against his plaque. There a soft “clunk” sound, like a weight somewhere shifting position, and the plaque springs out, flush with the wall like all the others. And the entrance quietly slides closed behind me.
And now there’s not even moonlight. The darkness is absolute, pitch black.
And I can see just fine in it.
Guess from now on the only thing I’ll need a lighter for is my cigarettes.
It’s different, seeing without light. And yet it’s still “seeing”. I can see all the colors and textures and patterns I can see in light. But I see them in the dark, while also seeing that it is, in fact, perfectly pitch-black dark.
Is that hard to picture? Once I figure out how to describe color to someone who was born blind, I’ll have the words.
Past the row of plaques are walls with long recessed shelves. And on each shelf lays someone wrapped in a shroud. Well…this is a crypt.
“Pardon me. Don’t get up. Name’s Drake Diamond. Betty said I could stay here. Hope you don’t mind. It’s just for a few days.”
Nothing. Either Betty was telling the truth about them Resting in Peace, or I’m being snubbed. Hard to say which is more likely.
There are three layers of shelves, from about waist high all the way up to the ceiling. It’s a narrow corridor, only slightly wider than a closet. I don’t recognize the names carved on the shelves either. Three body-length shelves later, about twenty feet, the corridor ends but there’s a stone spiral staircase down.
One rounded flight down, and I find myself in a cozy one-room apartment. No kitchenette, and no bathroom, but that’s okay. I don’t need them anymore.
There’s a desk with a blotter, and a wheeled leather swivel arm chair. On the desk is a crystal decanter and a couple of matching glasses. No filing cabinet. Not sure I need one, but the desk doesn’t look right without it. There’s a coat rack by the desk, too. Across the room there’s a comfy looking sofa and some cushioned chairs. The floor’s even covered by a decent rug. In another corner there’s a wardrobe and a few other cabinets.
Of course, when you fix up a crypt, it’s still a crypt. All four walls are more of those shelves, and there are a few dozen folks interred here, by my guess. And it’s still pitch-black darkness. Something tells me if I wasn’t undead, I’d find it awfully creepy in here.
“Evening, folks. You may have heard me upstairs. Drake Diamond.” I give a slight nod to the crypt in general and touch the tip of my fedora. “Betty assures me none of you will mind my staying here for a few days. If she’s wrong, don’t hesitate to speak up. I’m sure we can work out a reasonable arrangement.”
After what feels like a full minute none of them voice any objections. Yeah, I remember what Betty said, but that’s no reason to be impolite.
After hanging up my coat and hat on the rack, I make my way over to the desk and take the crystal decanter and pull out the knob and give it a whiff. Bourbon.
I pull over a glass and I’m about to pour, but stop myself before a single drop leaves the decanter. Why the hesitation? Because wasting good bourbon is a travesty, and the question just occurred to me: Is bourbon going to be the same, like cigarettes? Or a hollow sensation of its former pleasure, like eating?
Frowning, I recap the decanter and put it down, and put my hands in my pockets. Empty. My matches and smokes are in my coat. Betty’s right. I’ve got no wallet. No keys. No cash. Couldn’t have gotten a room or a bed without bumming more off of her. Macho pride, she called it. Well, dead or not, a man needs his dignity.
“Anyone here mind if I smoke?”
They’re exactly as chatty as they were before. I go over to my coat and fish out my smokes and matches. Six cigarettes left. I’ll have to buy more soon. Maybe later I can find some loose change over in the sofa cushions.
Striking a match, the tiny flame makes the room suddenly oppressively dark. I can barely see a thing. I let the match fizzle out, and I can see again.
I take out another match and do the same thing. Light it, and let it fizzle out. Same thing happens. And again with a third match. Now I’ve got a working theory.
Seems as though when there’s any light at all, even from a single match, I see like I did when I was alive: by light. It’s only when there’s utterly pitch black darkness I can see like the dead.
With a fourth match I light up and take a few puffs, shaking out the match and looking around for an ashtray. None. I’ll have to get one of those. No way I’m even going to try to quit smoking now that I’m already dead.
I crush the match out on the stone floor of the crypt, like Malone once did in my office carpet. Even such a minor desecration makes me feel guilty. I’m just here for a few days. But to these other bones, this is their final resting place. I should be a more considerate guest.
The glow from the end of my cigarette when I inhale is dim enough that my dead-sight still works. Good thing, too. I’d hate to stumble in the dark and knock over the bourbon.
Betty’s words in the diner come back to me: tobacco nourishes death. Well, in my case bullets beat it to the punch, but that’s why I still enjoy smokes while food, which nourishes life, gives me no pleasure.
Booze? That seems like a gray area to me.
Sitting at the desk, I pull over one of the glasses and tap my cigarette ashes into it. Until I get a proper ashtray it’ll do. I’ve made enough of a mess as a guest here. The other glass I set next to the decanter, and pull out the top once again. I carefully pour myself two fingers of bourbon, and set the decanter back down and cap it. Moment of truth.
I sniff the bourbon, and there’s a hint of a bitter, nutty aroma to it that complements it well. I take a sip.
I’ve had good bourbon before. Smooth, smoky, and slightly sweet. But now I feel like I’ve just tasted it for the first time. I have no idea what brand or label of bourbon is in this decanter, but this is top-shelf stuff.
I’m not too proud to admit, I’ve got a tear in my eye. With all that I’ve lost, suddenly the little, simple pleasures that I still can enjoy mean that much more.
I sip the rest of the bourbon in the glass very slowly, savoring the taste of each drop. The smoky, nutty, sweet taste sprinkling lightly on my tongue. After I’ve finished my drink and my cigarette, I feel more alive than I’ve felt since I woke up in Betty’s chalk circle.
That’s when I notice the lamps. There are a couple of unlit kerosene lamps here too. One on the desk in front of me, and another one over by the wardrobe, on top of one of the cabinets. They were there all along. I just didn’t notice them until now.
Betty brought all this stuff down here, just so I’d have a place to stay. She may have raised me tonight, but she’s been planning this for a while.
And besides all the furniture, and the most expensive tasting liquor that’s ever graced my unworthy mouth, she also brought a pair of kerosene lamps. So I’d have light down here. To see.
She doesn’t know I can see in the dark? Maybe she really didn’t know about the iron. What else doesn’t she know about me?
Is she wrong about Lana?
I mean, about my being able to talk to Lana. See her again. As far as I know Betty’s never met Lana. But that whole business about Unfinished Business…I’d give up being able to enjoy bourbon and cigarettes if I could have another chance to…to…
Of course there are tears in my eyes. Crypts are dusty places.