Heart of the Vampire, Vol. 2 by Tasha Black

 

1

Dru gazed around the lobby, taking in all the anxious faces.

They were snowed in at Hemlock House, with no way for anyone to come or go.

The power and phone lines were out, the cell tower was down, they were trapped with a group of strangers…

And one of them was a murderer.

The Van Buren sisters hid their faces in Zander’s chest. Poor Hazel and Honey were too old and too sweet to find themselves in this mess.

Zander patted their backs awkwardly, the tension in his jaw giving away his own fears.

Melody Young, the photographer, was similarly patting Mayor Emily Tuck’s back. The mayor herself reminded Dru of a fuller-figured Jackie O, with her startled eyes and Chanel knock-off suit.

Only Oscar Hawkins observed the scene with the same dispassionate expression he always wore. But that wasn’t necessarily suspicious. Birdwatching required extreme patience and a placid nature, and birdwatching was why Oscar had come.

Johnny Smith stood in the corner, stabbing angrily at his phone with his index finger, as if threatening it would bring the cell tower back online. The huge, bald man in the tailored suit looked more frustrated than scared, but in Dru’s experience men like that didn’t like to show their fear. The fury could just be a cover for his real feelings.

Hugh Channing paced back and forth. As an actor and director, he was probably used to chaos, but this was extreme.

Tyler Park still knelt beside the body, looking lost. His EMT skills were of no use to the dead man, but he couldn’t seem to walk away from his patient.

Behind the front desk, Hailey was trying the landline and the computer, but Dru didn’t even have to ask how it was going. The dismayed look on Hailey’s face was clear - all lines of communication with the outside world were down. They were on their own.

A clattering on the stairs drew everyone’s attention.

Hazel Van Buren yelped out in fear and Honey yelped in reaction to that.

Cell phone flashlights strobed onto the stairs to reveal Jeffrey and Jenna Wilder, their clothing pulled on haphazardly, hair mussed as if they had been about to share some private time before chaos descended on Hemlock House.

“What’s going on?” Jenna asked. “Is the power out?”

“Mom, God,” Angie yelled out from the lobby below. “Button your blouse. This is a freaking crime scene.”

“This is a what?” Jeffrey yelled.

“Okay, let’s remain calm, everyone,” Howie yelled out. “I need to go find Chester to turn on the generator. Who’s coming with me?”

No one volunteered.

It suddenly occurred to Dru that until they figured this out, it wasn’t really safe for anyone to be alone with anyone else.

She glanced over at Viktor.

He was standing in the far corner of the lobby, eyes still locked on the swirling snow outside, like the body on the floor was the last thing on his mind.

So much for wanting to be with her always.

“Come on, Zander,” Howie yelled to Dru’s co-worker, clearly too scared to walk back to the groundskeeper’s cottage alone.

Zander let go of the Van Buren sisters, who looked like a pair of frightened sheep without him.

“Tyler, could you help Hazel and Honey to their rooms,” Dru whispered to the handsome EMT.

“What?” he said, looking up as if he didn’t recognize her. “Oh. Oh, sure, yeah.”

He looked almost relieved to have something productive to do.

To their credit, Hazel and Honey went with him passively, trading one good-looking young male protector for another was apparently all in a day’s work for the charming octogenarian pair.

When Dru turned back to the lobby, the door was just closing behind Zander and Howie and a hush had fallen over the room.

“A crime scene,” Hugh Channing said suddenly, his voice ringing out with authority and a slight Southern accent Dru hadn’t noticed before. “The child is right. That’s just what this is.”

In the pale blue glow of her phone, Angie rolled her eyes at being called a child.

“Our first step is to alert the local authorities,” Channing informed them.

“No dice,” Hailey piped up. “It’s all down.”

Channing considered for a moment, then continued.

“In the absence of the authorities, the responsibility falls to us,” Channing explained. “We will investigate, but we must observe proper protocol at all times.”

Channing strode over to the body.

“Our first job is to scan the scene for danger,” he said. “A man has died. Do not move, but look around you. Does anyone see a weapon or anything else that could cause harm?”

The beams of cell phone flashlights leapt into motion.

After a few minutes it appeared that no one had found anything dangerous on the scene.

“Excellent,” Channing said, clearly gaining confidence. “Next, I will need to record the name of the medical professional who examined the victim. Where is he?”

But Tyler had gone upstairs with the Van Buren sisters.

“I’ll get his info for you from the log,” Dru offered, relieved that someone was taking charge, even if she wasn’t entirely sure he knew what he was doing.

“Very good,” Channing said. “While you take that down, we’ll move on to the next step - apprehending the suspect. Who did this? Was anyone present at the time of the crime?”

Dru heard the whispering as she pulled the paper log from the drawer, grateful for once that Howie made them keep an old-fashioned written record.

“No one stepping forward. Unsurprising,” Channing said. “And no witnesses either? Well. We’ll get to the bottom of it. Don’t you worry. The next step is to secure the scene. No one move from where they are right now. We’ll need photographs of everything just as it is. If you see anything out of place near you, call out to me and I’ll come photograph it.”

Dru slipped back out from behind the desk with a note pad and pencil. She had already taken down all of Tyler Park’s info and marked it Medical Professional (EMT).

“Take note of the weather,” Channing advised her. “You can put it on the same note pad.”

He was photographing the body. Each flash of his camera phone illuminated the grisly image of Brian Thompson’s lifeless body, surrounded by a pool of blood.

Dru was grateful to have a reason to turn away and make notes about the snow storm.

The dead man had made unwanted advances on Dru when she was alone in the hotel corridor at night. He was a total creep. But no one deserved to die like that.

“Look at this,” Angie called, shining the light from her phone onto the spatter of blood near the head of the body.

“Interesting,” Channing agreed. “There is a small break in the pattern. That means that there was someone standing right here when the body fell. And that person is likely to have some of the victim’s blood on his shoes.”

“Or hers,” Hailey added from behind the desk.

“Naturally,” Channing added. “Now, if everyone would be so kind as to shine your phone lights on your shoes, we can have a quick look right now.”

There were some glances exchanged, but for the most part, all of the phone lights swung down to highlight the eclectic collection of footwear present. Channing moved from one person to the next, taking enough foot pics to start a fetish site, but not finding any trace of the expected blood. Even Viktor moved from his spot at the window to offer his leather boots for inspection.

But Channing stopped short when he got to Johnny Smith, who still stood off to the side, poking at his phone screen, but making no move to light his own shoes.

“If you would be so kind, Mr. ...?” Channing said.

“Smith,” the man said flatly, meeting Channing’s gaze, but making no move to comply.

There was a moment when Dru wondered what they would do if people just stopped cooperating. It wasn’t like they had any real authority.

But then Johnny activated the light on his phone and aimed it at the ground near his feet. Channing snapped a pic, but the man’s expensive Italian loafers were spotless.

There was an almost audible sigh of relief from the gathered crowd.

“Now then, do we have any witnesses to suspicious behavior of any kind?” Channing called out. “Did anyone see Mr. Thompson with someone in the last hour or so? If you saw something, by all means say something.”

Dru made a mental note to mention last night’s argument to Channing when things calmed down. It might be important, but it was embarrassing to yell about what you had seen in front of everyone. And after all, it had happened last night, and she hadn’t seen the person he was arguing with.

And then there was the matter of her own encounter with the victim shortly after that. And Viktor’s reaction when he’d come onto the scene. He hadn’t exactly been pleased.

Dru pushed the thoughts aside for now. It wasn’t like either of them was the murderer, so there was no point overthinking it.

“I will remain in charge of this case until the proper authorities can be notified and arrive on the scene,” Channing went on, his Southern accent growing more pronounced. “If you find evidence, or remember something, do not talk with other potential witnesses or suspects. Come straight to me.”

He walked over to Dru. He was clearly playing a part at this point, but it was working so far, so she didn’t see any reason not to play along.

“At this point, we would normally identify a recording officer,” he told her quietly. “But I think I’ve already found one.”

He gave her notepad a significant glance.

“Will you lend us your efforts toward solving this heinous crime?” he asked.

“Uh, sure,” she said, glancing over at Viktor, who had gone back to staring out the window.

She wished he were by her side right now. But he seemed to be staying as far away from the crime scene as possible. She supposed that was natural. She wasn’t exactly enjoying it herself.

“You can go back to your rooms,” Channing called out to the others. “But stick together in groups. Until we find out what happened, we have to take the attitude that every one of us could be in danger.”

There were whispers of surprise and horror.

“What makes you an expert?” Jenna Wilder called out. She seemed more upset by the fact that her private time had been interrupted than she was by the body at her feet. “Aren’t you that dinner theatre guy with the cart ad at the ShopRite?”

Behind her, Angie rolled her eyes so hard that Dru was worried she might injure herself.

Hugh Channing drew himself up to his full height, which was probably about five-foot-four.

“Yes, I am that dinner theatre guy,” he said with great dignity.” But for my role in The Perfect Crime, I did a ride-along with the Willow Ridge Police Department. I am the only one here with first-hand experience in securing a crime scene.”

“What, like a cat up a tree?” Jenna asked with a sneer.

“No, madam,” he replied. “A serious crime that I do not wish to discuss. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to confer with my recording officer.”

He turned on his heel and headed back toward the sitting room, and Dru was left with no choice but to follow him.

It was going to be a long night.