Brimstone Kiss (Page 5)



Ric called me the next morning for a date.

"At the county morgue?" I asked. "You have something kinky in mind?"

"Always, but this is business. Grady Bahr, the coroner, called me yesterday with info about the Sunset Park corpse couple. I mentioned I might bring a colleague. They'll make you a visitor's badge, so I gave him your name. He said you'd already met."

"Someone suggested I check with him earlier, so I did."

I didn't mention that the "someone" was Snow, who seemed to consider me his house detective at times. I doubt Ric would want me consulting, or consorting, with a guy whose hobby was addicting infatuated women to devouring onstage kisses.

"Anyway," Ric went on, "he likes you enough that he'll put you on the consultants' list like me. When can you meet me there?"

I liked it that Ric wasn't offering to pick me up. My independence seemed as important to him as it was to me. Damn, that man just wasn't making one wrong off-putting move.

"Ten?" I suggested.

"Fine. Maybe we can catch an early lunch afterward."

I laughed. "The law enforcement pro. Making a lunch date after a visit to the morgue."

"Shouldn't be gruesome. This pair has decayed down to the bones, remember?"

How could I forget? Yet those bones had communicated intimately enough with him and me, even before we'd guessed Ric's dead-dowsing abilities had hit a double jackpot in tranquil Sunset Park.

I was dying to hear what Grady "Grisly" Bahr had for us, but needed to grab an energy bar and take Quicksilver for a forty-minute run in the park across the street, then shower before leaving for the morgue.

Usually the desert air-dried sweat before it could form drops, but I did have to slather sun screen on my pale skin. And slather it on again after a shower. If I went out early enough, I could let Quick run off his leash to take great galloping loops around the far bounds of the park before coming back to me.

I knew a responsible pet owner would have him "fixed," but he'd already demonstrated one important paranormal gift. Did I want to eliminate a genetic line that could heal in this often-hurtful world? Besides, Quicksilver is smart and strong and a survivor; his offspring would be too. I'd adopted him at Sunset Park pet adoption event when I overheard he was scheduled to be put down, but one thing was clear from the first soulful gaze of his baby blues: He had "picked" me. He not only survived, but now did his considerable darnedest to ensure that I did too.

Quick's gait was loose and powerful, as beautiful as a thoroughbred's to behold. It made me wonder who had let this magnificent specimen get away from them.

I'd probably never know, like I'd never know who had dropped my infant self off on some Delilah Street somewhere twenty-four years ago. Or whatever exact day was my birthday, give or take a few. Me and Lilith? Abandoned together or apart? I needed to look into my options for tracing my "roots" as an abandoned baby, if any bureaucratic system would let me.

Not that I didn't have enough on my "To Do" list.

Right now I needed to find out more about who-what vampire, that is-had died with mob boss-hotelier Cesar Cicereau's lovely teenage daughter in Sunset Park almost seventy years ago.

Was he her prince charming or not?

RIC was waiting for me by his vintage bronze Corvette at the bland, boxy coroner's building-waiting for me and my 1956 black Cadillac, Dolly.

Dolly could have crushed the Sting Ray and maybe even outraced it. She would be worth plenty on the collectible car market, but she was my fortress, my mobile home, my soul sister, and no one was getting her and her chrome bumper bullets except over my dead body.

Which body, by the way, was feeling very lively as I took in Ric's usual business outfit: expensive vanilla-colored tropical weight suit, silky shirt and tie. The look was great for corporate consulting work. No one would ever take him for an FBI agent, already legendary in his late twenties as the "Cadaver Kid" for his knack of finding corpses.

Now he is ex-FBI and we were heading into Corpse Central to find out more about bodies we'd already found.

I say "we" because I'd contributed to this particular find. Ricardo Montoya could dowse for the dead since childhood, but walking skeptical me through the dowsing process had raised more than a pair of buried corpses. It had put us into close proximity, my back to his front, creating a sensual overload (okay, it was a mutual zipless orgasm) and my scary new psychic visions of the dead amplified Ric's inborn corpse-finding ability.

Ric opened Dolly's heavy driver side door for me, mainly to eye the pristine red leather upholstery. I knew he'd love to take Dolly out on a lonely highway outside Vegas and run her up to full speed, but he knew I wouldn't like that. He'd just have to settle for taking me out on lonely highways at full speed.

"Jeez," Ric said, slamming the door shut with the sound of a meat freezer locking, "the troops could use these in the Middle East."

When I stood up in my going-to-meeting high heels, we were nicely parallel in all the right places. We just stood there, silent, savoring the heat between us.

Ric took my elbow. "So you went out and seduced the coroner on your own. It took me a year to get an in with the old goat."

"You don't have my advantages."

"Definitely not," he agreed, grinning. Without the grin, he continued, "I want to nail the identity of the dead guy fast. You'll get the Cicereau syndicate on your tail any day now for knowing his daughter is one of the two corpses. Once the police can announce both identities, it's out in the open and you won't be worth going after." He paused. "At least you won't be worth going after in that way."

We stopped, gazed, smiled.

I'd never felt that odd combination of lust, love and looniness. Ric was much more sexually experienced than I, but I doubted he'd ever felt this way either. Me twenty-four, he twenty-eight, both orphans in the thrall of first love, like the bodies we'd found. Or had they found us and passed on the fatal infection?

Why did I think love was a lethal disease?

He shook my elbow a little to pull me out of my trance. "Come on, but don't lose the dewy look, Del. Bahr likes lovely young women, especially if they're alive. We want to play on our source's weaknesses."

"Is investigation work always this cynical?"

"Always," he told me, opening the door and washing us with a wall of icy air-conditioning as freezing as a casino's. Ever the gentleman. "I'll let you lead so you can cement your rapport with Bahr. I'm already on his A-list."

I nodded, glad I'd dressed in the professional on-camera clothes of my former TV reporter persona. I was even gladder that Ric was secure enough to defer to me. Circumstance had made us momentary partners; only we could make that partnership permanent and professional. The personal side of it was even trickier.

Miss Ortiz (I read her ID) gave Ric the glad eye and raised her eyebrows to see me with him. She hadn't been on duty when I'd first come here on my own.

"Hola, Yolanda," Ric greeted her. "The boss is expecting us and I think you have a new ID for Miss Street here?"

She passed him both IDs, ignoring me.

Ric clipped mine on my aqua linen lapel like it was a corsage. Our every gesture with each other conveyed a certain subliminal heat, whether we wanted it to or not.

He grinned companionably at Yolanda. "She's new to the coroner business, not a pro like you. Be gentle with her."

I'd never seen a guy both lead on and turn off a woman so smoothly. Yolanda couldn't help sighing. Ric might not have the Brimstone Kiss, but he sure as hell had a sterling silver tongue.

She dialed her boss and then nodded us in.

"I see why you wear suits, even in this heat," I told Ric, eyeing the plastic rectangle dangling from his own lapel. "You must get a lot of temporary ID tags in the consulting business."

He nodded, then smiled as Grisly Bahr came out in his lab coat to greet us. Even he wore an ID tag.

"Great to see you, amigo," he greeted Ric. "I should have known you'd have snagged Miss Street. She's a comer."

"I thought she'd snagged you," Ric said.

"Don't I wish. both will like this new mystery. I want to run it past you, C.K., before I lay it on Captain Malloy."

C.K.? Oh. Cadaver Kid.

"The captain likes her crime facts cut and dried and down to earth," Ric agreed.

"This is down to earth, all right, kiddies. Way down to earth."

By then we'd walked through a door or two, down a featureless hall and into a refrigerator-cold room littered with sheet-covered gurneys. Some sheets were alarmingly flat, others way too lumpy in all the wrong places. I knew the air would be icy, but that didn't completely eliminate the stench of death, so I'd treated my nostrils with Vicks VapoRub, a trick I'd learned as a reporter.

Bahr led us to one side of the room and pulled back two of the really shallow sheets to reveal the bare bones of our Sunset Park couple.

I winced to see what was left of the gently rounded flesh of the young woman I'd seen in my Enchanted Cottage mirror. Yet the brown bones were mostly whole and the facing skulls seemed to be smiling rather than grinning.

"You've placed the gurneys so they're still face-to-face," I noted, surprised.

Grisly Bahr actually stuttered a bit. "Yes, well, ahem, it duplicates the crime scene, doesn't it?"

"Don't let him fool you. He's a sentimental old dog," Ric told me.

Bahr gestured at the right side bones. "She was a healthy young woman in 1946. About seventeen years old."

I nodded, knowing and mourning all this.

Ric surreptitiously took my hand. He knew that too.

"But this guy," Bahr was saying. "This young buck of perhaps nineteen from the length and development of the bones, as we knew, we can now accurately date for age. He was a robust young fellow of six hundred or so." He eyed Ric under the shrubbery of his eyebrows and over the glint of his half-glasses. "You got any ideas on that, C.K.?"

Ric sighed. "It could only be... vampire."

"So you say. Still, you know our authorities are having a hard time dealing with supernatural showing up now in all ways, shapes and forms-including from the past. They still want to believe it's all the result of autoimmune disease or pollution or even global warming, God help us.

"I told Miss Street earlier that the male's cause of death was one used centuries ago to kill vampires. The head was cut off and a coin put in the mouth. But that's folklore. The age of the bones is scientific fact. I fear our friends in law enforcement are going to lay it on that disease that ages kids prematurely."

"Progeria," Ric said while I was still taking in the subtext of their comments. "That's ridiculous. These bones are full-size."

Did they mean that officialdom was a tad behind on recognizing the sweeping influence of supernaturals on the history of this planet? I'd noticed that the Wichita authorities were in a state of denial, but thought that was just small-city slowness in catching up with major national trends.

Now, I wondered if all the standard authorities- police, politicians, coroners, medical and health officials and religious leaders-were behind the curve on this. In that case, any investigations I could do for Hector or even Howard Hughes would add to the human knowledge pool.

While I'd been daydreaming, the two guys were still discussing those dry bones.

"Just as well, maybe," Ric told Bahr, "if your superiors are slow to see the supernatural cropping up here. The Cicereau mob is deeply involved in these kills. If the case can be solved to our satisfaction, privately, we might all be safer. I can always get Captain Malloy to sign off on it."

"Yes, you can, muchacho macabre."

So Bahr thought blond Captain Kennedy Malloy was utter putty in Ric's fingers too. Didn't like to hear that.

"No use agitating the public, or the police, on some of these dicier killings," Ric agreed.

"All part of the job," Grisly told me, winking. "Don't you worry, Delilah. This fellow's saving the attractively efficient Captain Malloy for me."

So much for the " Miss Street " act.

I asked my first question. "The man's manner of death. It was enough to keep him dead for eternity?"

Bahr nodded. "Decapitated, coin in mouth. Unless someone or something with some extra strong mojo we don't know about comes along." He glanced at Ric. "I'm keeping the corpses in separate stainless steel lockers. This guy's heaped with garlic. Just in case."

Ric nodded.

Grisly Bahr shook his head. "My wife is used to the orange after-odor of the formula that banishes the workplace air of decay around here, but this new garlic overtone is driving her crazy."