Brimstone Kiss (Page 29)


"Loitering again?" a harsh voice asked.

I looked up, expecting Snow. He usually hassled me in the Inferno Bar.

Instead, it was his security chief, Grizelle, wearing heavy metal and black leather like a motorcycle nightmare goddess. The boss must be recovering from the Seven Deadly Sins performance. How do walking, strutting unhuman rock-star vibrators relax after the show?

The only things on my cell phone from my Karnak visit were photos. I needed more inside info on the Egyptians fast. The Internet would have that.

"I need a computer," I told Grizelle.

"They sell them online and at mall kiosks."

"Now. I need a computer right now!"


"It's a matter of life and death, at least so your CinSim over there says."

Her green eyes, brightened as they glanced Rick's way. They radiated fury.

"One of our CinSims? At large without permission? He must return immediately to his slot in the lower depths."

"Glad you can take the lost sheep in hand. First, Miss Bo Peep, point me to a computer."

Her head lashed back to me, white dreadlocks whipping against her black velvet cheeks. "You presume."

I said nothing, but my silver familiar loosened a string of rhinestones from my belt and whipped it around her tabby-shadow-patterned bare black forearm.

Her glossed lips snarled, but she backed down. "Use the one in the boss's office. I believe you know the way. It's empty."

"Fine. And, Nicky-" I turned to find my dapper ally looking a more than a little dead-white around the gills. "Please send me an Albino Vampire there. Snow said they were on the house. Eternally."

Grizelle glowered at Nicky. Nicky shrugged. Behind them, Rick Blaine glowered at his half-empty Brimstone Kiss glass, then eyed Grizelle with manly appreciation. Grizelle glowered at Rick.

I figured it was a draw all around and headed through the dancers and then the wandering crowds and the casino to Snow's office far behind the main floor.

The cell phone was in my metal mesh vintage purse, an unlikely partnership of technology and style, of current events and past fashion.

Despite its cool, metal sheath, it felt like a hot potato in my hand.

It felt heavy beyond the few ounces it weighed.

It felt like a matter of life and death that might mean the world to me.

HOW did the human race accomplish anything before the Internet became the fountain of all knowledge-good, bad and unreliable?

I tended to think these heavy thoughts because I was sitting in the tufted white leather chair behind Snow's desk, accessing the Internet from his desktop. What extremes of evil might be found on it with some adept snooping on my part?

But I was here to deal with grave matters of my own, not the state of Snow's soul.

Getting on Groggle always made me feel like I was cheating on a test in school. It was sinfully easy to bone up on any subject in a half hour or so. Obviously, I needed to research ancient Egyptian culture to get a handle on just what the Karnak was and what might be going on there.

First I confirmed that no Egyptian pharaohs had been named Kephron or Kepherati, and no royal twins ever had jointly ruled the Upper and Lower Kingdoms.

The sixty-four million-dollar question about the lavish managerial setup at the Karnak was who, or what, the over-devoted head pair were. Were they actual surviving ancient Egyptians hiding out? Were they deluded wealthy modern wannabes? And what were they doing in Las Vegas?

People today, fascinated by the richness and beauty of tomb treasure and the royal lifestyle, might think progressing to the afterlife was a high-end adventure tour. Not so. It was terrifying, Groggle revealed. The Egyptians didn't have things like The Book of the Dead and The Book of the Netherworld for nothing

According to one reputable-looking Web source, the spirit went to a Hall of Judgment, which sounded a lot like the two Kephs' reception chamber. After passing seven gates, the wandering corpse had to face the judgment of Osiris, god of the netherworld, in a weighing of the heart ceremony in the presence of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead, and the whole darn Egyptian set of forty-two gods. The heart was the only organ left in the body just to star in this final ceremony. A Weight Watcher's fear of the weekly scale was puny by comparison.

Could Las Vegas be the eternity that lurked beyond the ancient Egyptian river journey of the dead? Were there so many Egyptians here at the Karnak because they'd been crossing over for centuries? The royal twins' reception hall was beneath the surface of the desert. An entire Egyptian necropolis and city could lurk under all this Nevada sand, a secret Area 51 for aliens from Earth's past inner space, rather than outer space.

I kept skimming some of the hundreds of Web sites on Egyptian customs and beliefs, looking for a reason for the Kephs being in the here and now. I played hooky too, taking a detour to museum sites, comparing the loot there to what I'd seen in the netherworld at the Karnak hotel. Even if it was reproduction, the Karnak stuff was worth millions.

A Web page about the tomb of Tutankhamun reminded me of the attack hyena that shared the young pharaoh's cute modern nickname, King Tut. I gazed on color photos of the boy ruler's impressive mummy case, tomb furnishings, the gold and lapis lazuli, the exquisite collars and bangles.

Talk about a vintage treasure trove! Art Deco style was influenced by the art and artifacts Howard Carter discovered in Tut's tomb. I loved that period, but Art Deco furniture would never fit in the cozy late-forties atmosphere of the Enchanted Cottage.

But the gold, piles of it, was beautifully wrought. And the tall gold lily in the pot, maybe five feet high...There, found in King Tut's tomb, was the duplicate of the pair of artifacts flanking Keph and Keph's paired thrones!

I opened my cell phone and took my first gander at the photos I'd managed to take surreptitiously while a guest of the royals. Yup, the same paired artifacts.

I went back to the Web site, eagerly reading the text beside the online photo.

The weird dangling forms I'd seen both online and at the Karnak were Imiut fetishes!

So what were Imiut fetishes? A stuffed or decapitated animal skin tied by its tail to a pole which was, in turn, inserted into a flower-pot-like stand. The skin, usually from a leopard or a bull, was sometimes wrapped in bandages. Its tail often ended in a papyrus flower. In some depictions, the skin dripped blood into the pot. Gruesome!

The ones in Tut's tomb and the Karnak throne room were stylized, gilded versions.

The fetish was originally connected with a god named Imiut-"He Who is in His Wrappings," wrappings as in "mummy." He eventually became an aspect of Anubis, the jackal-headed god who evolved into the gatekeeper of the underworld and who protected the dead as they journeyed there. Anubis wasn't so much a death god as a god of dying and therefore associated with embalming and funerals. He was also the patron of lost souls and therefore...gulp!...orphans.

We have a patron, Irma crowed.

I sat back in Snow's cushy chair, sipped the Albino Vampire Grizelle had sent, and then huffed out a sigh. My shoulders ached, not just from being hunched over a computer screen but from holding up the slippery silk velvet of my vintage gown, which wanted to become an off-the-shoulder style. Who knew sedentary scholarship could be so wearing?

I drank deeper of the Albino Vampire to unchain my brain and relax my shoulders. The alcohol had an immediate effect of loosening my inhibitions and opening my mind. I leaned toward the weird onscreen image again. Something about these ghoulish and oddly undecorative decorative objects had bothered me from the moment I spotted them. It had been suspicion at first sight.

They simply weren't grand and gorgeous enough to flank pharaonic thrones.

Like I'm an expert in Egyptian funerary objects. Still... I studied the dangling beheaded object. It gave me the creeps and seeing a pair of them placed so close to those entwined twins creeped me out even more.

Headless skins were hardly an elegant accessory for a throne room. Keph and Keph had intentionally placed symbols of... to their thrones?

Reading further, I found the blue lotus-the lily topping the golden pole-closed nightly only to reopen with the morning sun and was a symbol of rebirth. So a symbol of dead flesh combined with one of renewal...could this odd object embody a ritual by which the dead were returned to life?

I wanted to pound my head to jolt out the fugitive thoughts rattling around the far reaches of my brain.

Were Keph and Keph flanked by evidence that they had been buried but still lived? Did they flaunt the Imiut fetishes that were meant to entomb them for eternity as banners to show what fate they had escaped to enjoy a double undead life hereafter? To show they now lived forever? Immortal undead... vampires?

What if Howard Hughes wasn't the flower of Vegas vampiredom? What if these warped, hidden creatures were the king and queen of the ancient vampire breed and they were gathering armies under the city?

What if they weren't the only ones? That would explain why the Imiut fetishes were found in Tut's tomb and in others going back to the First Dynasty. The fetish is still considered "strange" by Egyptologists despite its link to the bandages used in mummification.

King Tut had died young, about age nineteen. So had Loretta's European vampire prince-except Prince Krzysztof died the vampire's true death six centuries after his fifteen-century birth: beheaded, then buried in Sunset Park. He remained in his grave for sixty years until Ric and I found his skeleton with a coin in the skull's fleshless mouth. Could Tut also have been beheaded, proving him a vampire?

Alas, an article I found online written by modern radiologists said the original 1925 autopsy X-rays showed the skull attached rigidly to the cervical spine, but further research revealed intriguing contradictions. Those same radiologists, examining better X-rays taken in 1968, noted a "bright beaded line" of solidified resin that might have masked a possible severing.

The mummy was stuck fast to its coffin by hardened embalming liquids used to anoint it, so Howard Carter's team cut it into large pieces. (Poor Tut!) They sliced off the arms and legs and halved the trunk. But-and here my instincts quickened-King Tut's head, cemented to its lavish golden mask by the solidified resins, was severed by the archeologists and removed from the mask with hot knives. So he had been beheaded in 1925, millennia past his burial date.

Egyptian antiquities authorities now guard his mummy as closely as Quicksilver guards me, but they did allow a CT scan back in 2005. This examination showed a fracture at "the first cervical (topmost) vertebra and the foramen magnum (large opening at the base of the skull)." There was, according to the scientists, no way to know if this happened during the ancient embalming process or if the rough handling by Carter's crew caused it. The king may have been decapitated back in 1327 BC after all.

One way or another, more than three thousand years ago or less than one hundred, Tutankhamun had lost his royal head.

I also had a huge "Aha!" moment reading this extremely suggestive notation about the Tut skull scans: "He has large front incisors and the overbite characteristic of other kings of from his family (the Tuthmosid line)."

Of course, even in the post-Millennium Revelation world authorities like to hush up finding vampires under every cultural icon. No one would thank an amateur like me for this theory.

Long teeth and beheading might not be proof of vampirism, but they were clues my theory could be right. I found others.

Vegas Coroner Grisly Bahr had said that the Sunset Park bone boy's head had been cut off and a coin placed in his mouth because that was a tried-and-true old European method of killing a vampire forever.

Might not the ancient Egyptians also have had vampires and used the same decapitation method to destroy them forever, sans the coin? My research revealed Egyptians didn't use coins until the Greco-Roman era, a thousand years after Tutankhamun's reign.

Yet were there, layered among Tut's wrappings, items that functioned like the coin in the mouth to keep a slain vampire dead?

Studying detailed drawings (reproduced on a Web site) made when the mummy was first unwrapped, I noticed many of the one hundred and fifty or so amulets and articles of jewelry on the body were clustered around the neck. But many items were also centered on the chest and forearms and in the pelvic, thigh, lower leg and scrotum area. Pretty much everywhere I'd spotted tattoos on the tandem Pharaohs.

The Book of the Dead prescribed the various placements of these pieces, so they were probably potent magic, even more effective than coins.

Maybe the scientists wouldn't buy it, but I found further proof for ancient Egyptian vampires in the fact that juniper was probably used in the embalming materials. In later European tradition, juniper, hawthorn and ash wood are recommended for staking vampires. Likewise, keeping a branch of juniper or holly in the home supposedly helps protect it from vampires.

Maybe that's why so much resin was used on Tut's body. It was literal overkill.

If Egyptians had entombed vampires, the Imiut fetishes featuring headless animals dripping blood could have been a warning to future generations that the tomb's mummy was a beheaded vampire and not to be interfered with. That meant even beheading might be circumvented. Certainly Keph and Keph thought they could resurrect the beheaded Prince Krzysztof and it was possible someone had revived the royal pair themselves centuries earlier.

And those tattoos I'd noticed...

I called up Groggle again and searched for major artery locations in the human body. A "play" vampire, like Undead Ted, the anchorman at WTCH-TV, would want to bite a neck, but avoid the carotid artery there, just under the skin. A seriously hungry real vampire would want a royal road to the blood source. I found artery sites in the neck, wrist, inner arm and knee, groin and inner thigh, the very sites where Kephron and Kepherati bore tattoos. Their mostly bared bodies had acted as billboards advertising their breed and habits.

That answered the "vintage" treasure versus reproduction question. Vampire Egyptian artists and sculptors could replace aging monuments and furnishings endlessly.

Oh, my God. Who did I warn first? Ric, of course, but who would believe us? Who would have the will and power to confront this undiscovered cabal of vampires, or even believe the urgency of some major force dealing with them?

First things first.

I needed to let Ric know so we could figure this out together. If only he hadn't been out of touch since mid-morning. Damn Las Vegas ' notoriously spotty cell phone reception on the Strip and off! I took out my cell and hit redial. Again, voice mail. Where was he?

And then the true, awful meaning of two CinSims's unheard-of struggle to escape their venues to reach out and communicate hit me like a bolt of lightning.

My cell phone hadn't made or accepted calls underground at the Karnak either.

I had to place my dawning, stomach-churning suspicion into a logical scenario.

The royal freaks had taken an interest in me and were annoyed with me because they thought I'd disturbed the bone boy's sleep before they had time to "reclaim him." Then, their interest deepened because of the showdown in the Spring Mountains with the Cicereau Mob werewolves. They'd been fascinated that zombies had been raised to help defeat the werewolf packs. When I'd been in their royal clutches, they'd asked more about who had raised the dead than about me. A "servant of Anubis," they concluded, must have been present.

I'd assumed they were interested in zombies, since they commanded companies of them in the form of mummies and Egyptian warriors.

Were they really interested in Ric's abilities to raise the dead? Were they after not merely the bone boy, not merely zombies, but long-laid-to-rest vampires reborn, the age-old powerful vampires so absent in the Vegas of today? Except for themselves.

Ugarte had sent me Casablanca 's "Rick" as a messenger for two reasons.

One, this Bogart persona was already working at the Inferno, a hotbed of CinSim defiance. Peter Lorre/Ugarte had a second major film connection with Bogart, so maybe he could use some form of telepathy to break the "Rick" Bogart lose from his venue. But how the heck could he pass on the Lip Venom case I'd dropped during my athletic escape leap? Maybe he had somehow gotten to the Inferno in person. I blinked. My eyes felt as dry as my little gray cells.

I'd nail down the Lip Venom transmission mystery and nuances of CinSim inter-species communications later. Right now I needed to concentrate on the other key part of the message.

Casablanca Rick was the perfect messenger, not only to spur me to examine the cell phone photos I'd taken of the fetishes, but because Ric himself, my Ric, couldn't come. Only the CinSim Rick was available. He was used to remind me of my own Ric, and to make me realize that he was in danger. Terrible danger.

That had to be why I couldn't raise Ric's cell phone. The twin pharaohs already held Ric prisoner. They needed him to raise the old vampires hidden here and maybe elsewhere.

And Ric had walked right into their trap: his appointment at the Luxor today with the "Mexican consulate" people. The Luxor had been one of the first Vegas hotels after the Crystal Phoenix to create an internal lobby waterway. They'd discontinued it years ago, but the channels might well still exist beneath the hotel-casino, a quick way to smuggle anyone anywhere. I'd practically led them straight to him. I hoped like hell I was wrong about Ric being held captive, because the thought made me desperately fearful.

After being forced as a boy to raise zombies for misuse by the Mexican smugglers, Ric had sworn never to raise the dead for another's use and abuse. I knew he'd never consent to share his secret of dowsing for the dead or his skill. I guessed the spoiled Egyptian rulers would never accept anyone's defiance.

It would be a struggle of wills to the death, Ric's death.

How long had he been out of touch? I hadn't heard from him since ten o'clock, hours before my groupie gathering. My brain was as fried as the Bogart Rick's had been.

I stood up from the desk, the huge white leather chair spinning away from me, almost knocking me off my feet as my mind juggled huge questions.

How to penetrate that fortress beneath the Karnak? Who was mighty enough to fight Pharaoh's army and marching zombie mummies? How could I save Ric from a fate worse than death? From the curse of eternal living death he would loathe with every cell in him? Servitude of any kind after his enslaved childhood was unthinkable.

How could I rescue Ric?

I had to.