Chicago, February 1938
The telegram arrived while I was throwing out that evening's disruptive drunk, which involved shoving the barely conscious mug into a taxi and slipping a dollar tip to the driver. How he collected his fare later was his business, so long as it was done away from my nightclub. As the cab chugged off, a uniformed messenger boy on a loud motorbike slipped into its place by the curb.
"Parking's on the side," I said, jerking my thumb that way, my mind still on the drunk. He'd guzzled about five bucks in booze in record time, broken thirty cents worth of glassware, and it had cost a buck to get rid of him. The balance sheet was still in the black, so I'd allow him inside again, but keep a better eye on things. He would return, too, being so far gone in his cups he'd never remember his eviction.
"Telegram for the boss," the kid bawled over the bike motor, unimpressed. He cut the noise and, still straddling the saddle, slammed the kickstand down with an efficiency that only comes with practice. He dug into a big leather pouch strapped across his chest.
"Oh, yeah? Prove it." He was half a year shy of his first shave, but had "Chicago tough guy" all over him like an old tattoo.
"You're looking for Jack Fleming, you found him."
"Don't go kiddin' me. You could be anybody."
He had a point. I got out my wallet and showed him my driving license, an old press pass I carried for luck, and a quarter that had somehow appeared between my index and middle knuckles. A magician playing at my club had taught me a couple of sleight-of-hand tricks.
Still unimpressed, the kid squinted at my paper, made the two bits vanish, and slotted the corner of a yellow telegram envelope in the same space. "Thanks, Mack," he said. The bike clattered to life. With a move reminiscent of a cowboy kicking his horse to a gallop, he bounced it off the stand and roared on to the next delivery.
Telegrams never bode well. A few years ago Western Union had tried to mitigate their bum reputation with the singing variety, but the kid had spared me from an a cappella solo in the street. I tore open the envelope, worried about my parents in Cincinnati.
The first line told me the message was from Long Island, New York.
"Bad news?" asked Escott, not quite looking over my shoulder.
I managed not to give a start. During my tango with the drunk, Escott had obligingly held the club's door open but I'd missed that he'd also come outside. When it suited him my occasional partner in mayhem was good at not being noticed.
I read the thing again to be sure I'd gotten it right. "Depends. It's about Maureen." I passed over the flimsy. His lean face showed concern as he read:
FUNERAL ON 28TH. ADVISE ARRIVAL TIME IF ATTENDING. BARRETT
"Dear God. He found her then," my friend murmured, more to himself than me. Escott didn't ask the obvious question right away, waiting a whole ten seconds so I could think things over. "Will you go?"
"Guess I have to." That sounded cold. "I mean, I don't want to, but I should." That was even worse. "It's been two years . . . and another five before them. I don't want to go through that again."
"Of course not. You've had your mourning. I expect Barrett has, too."
I'd not considered how it might be for him.
"But perhaps he would welcome some simple company."
Or he'd figured out a few things since my last visit in '36 and wanted to have a word. But were that the case, Barrett would just turn up on the doorstep and punch my ticket.
"I'll go pay my respects."
There, a good comfortable phrase, somber and appropriate. It put a safe distance between myself and old heartbreak. Seven years late I would stand by a graveside, say a prayer, and lay flowers down. Seven years late, but better than never knowing what had happened to her.
I owed everything to Maureen Dumont. Everything. Her dark gift had saved me a dozen times over.
Paying respects wasn't enough, but nothing else was left.
Bobbi Smythe, my girlfriend, proved remarkably understanding about my attending the funeral of the only other woman I'd ever loved. I broke the news in her dressing room after her last set for the night, showing the telegram.
Part of me (there was a craven, petty coward tucked away in one of the darker corners of my skull) hoped Bobbi would get the jealous sulks and thus provide a reason to stay home. Instead, she offered to drive me to the station. I said I'd take a cab.
"And of course Charles and I will look after the club," she said reassuringly, smearing cold cream on her stage makeup and wiping it off with tissues.
Yeah, yeah, I knew that, but was glad she couldn't see my reflection in the mirror. I had a long face on. I could feel it.
"Take whatever time you need. You don't worry about anything here."
I knew that, too.
"Unless you want one of us along?"
"I'll be fine."
Company on the trip would have been good, but not for the funeral itself. This was something out of my past I had to settle for myself and then close the door. Instinct told me I had to do that one alone.
"If you're sure?"
"Yeah, baby. I'm sure." I sat and watched her ritual of putting on all-new makeup. She was drop dead gorgeous without it, but I kept that to myself. She liked her warpaint, and I liked watching her primp. It took my mind off what was to come on Long Island.
"You're the best, you know that?" I said.
She paused and glanced my way. Smiling. Oh, yeah. She knew it.
Travel is a little more complicated when you're a vampire, but not impossible.
That's right, vampire: bloodsucking, sleep-through-the-day Bela Lugosi stuff, only I don't wear a tuxedo if I can help it, and I don't own an opera cape.
Forget about bats and hypnosis, too. The former is myth, the latter a talent that's been burned out of me. I can vanish if I need to-and that's handy.
Especially when traveling.
To get to Long Island, I booked my light-proofed traveling trunk on the Twentieth Century Limited and shipped myself east. The easy part was wrestling the big, clumsy box out of the cab into the LaSalle Street Station and making sure it got on the right train. Then I had to give up being solid, slip unseen into the portable sanctuary that held my home earth, spare clothes, and a few magazines. After that, the hard part: waiting and trusting others to see to it that I reached my destination. After so much time of supervising every detail of running my club, I was too used to being in charge.