I rock ‘n’ roll back to Berkeley the supersonic way: on a city street. Forget the gridlocked, fume-polluted freeway. Telegraph Avenue is a straight shot of normal stop-and-go from uptown Oakland to downtown Berkeley. Not only is my chosen route more scenic, less obnoxious, and a hell of a lot quicker, but I can stop at Whole Foods at the corner of Ashby and go on a serious shopping spree.
My Abracadabra check is on its way. Yes!
Organic strawberries find their way into my cart before I swoon from the fragrance of the fruit. Spring mix and salad fixings. Vegenaise and cage-free eggs. Whole wheat linguine and nine-grain bread. Crunchy peanut butter and three kinds of jam. More spring water, milk and yogurt, an expensive Cakebread chardonnay, and I’m almost done.
I stop at the meat counter. “Half a pound of ground beef,” I tell the ruddy-faced butcher. “It’s for my piranhas. They won’t eat anything else.”
“Know what you mean,” the butcher says, scooping out the meat. “My Beth and Billy are just like that.”
One last stop at Prepared Foods where I splurge on a sinful pound of citrus salmon. Now I’m done.
I swing out onto the Av, drive four blocks to Derby, and negotiate the sharp right that takes me onto Mirage Way. I stable Heigh-Ho Silver in Garage Number One, unload my grocery bags, and padlock the doors.
I’m toting the bags to my patio door when I hear the shouting.
“Just what do you think you’re doing to the Master’s car?”
“Admiring your awesome paint job.”
“I don’t think so. I think you’re trying to pick the lock. Car thief, car thief! Begone, before I call Nine One One.”
I thump the bags down on the café table and sprint to the parking lot.
A lanky, goateed guy in a T and jeans kneels at the flame-licked door of the Rolls Royce. He jams a device that looks very much like a high-tech can of spray paint into what I now recognize as a blue plastic evidence kit. He shoves the kit in a scruffy canvas shoulder bag, the kind of bag students like to beat around, and grins sheepishly.
An FBI operative searching for fingerprints? He’s got to be.
The Odd Person stands scowling over him, hands cocked on his whale-sized hips. He/she is striking today in a flowing orange dashiki and matching orange turban, orange Birkenstocks, and a collection of copper rings and bracelets. In the revealing light of day, I still can’t quite reconcile his/her eyeliner and pouty orange lipstick with the hint of stubble beneath the pancake makeup on his/her chin.
In the revealing light of day, the Odd Person is out and about. Which means the Odd Person isn’t a vampire, but a human servant of Scorpio Rising. Which also means the Odd Person is my go-to person when it comes to overdue rent, breaches of leases, city code violations, and selling alcohol to minors. Not to mention if the police come to arrest the vampires for murder.
It’s good to cozy up to go-to people. I smile my best award-winning smile. “What’s the trouble?”
“This person is trying to steal the Master’s car,” the Odd Person sniffs. “Where are the police when I need them?”
“I’m not, I swear,” the guy says, scrambling to his feet. “I’m an art student at Cal. I just wanted a closer look at your paint job. Honest.” He coaxes awe into his eyes. “It’s bitchin’.”
“Darling, you cannot see the parking lot from the street. How could you have seen our paint job?”
The guy hems and haws, and I jump in.
“Everyone’s seen the Rolls around town.” It doesn’t quite follow that the guy would know where the Rolls is parked, but I let Hollywood logic work its magic.
The Odd Person harrumphs, unlocks the door, and wedges his/her hulk behind the steering wheel. I politely close the door. The Odd Person backs the Rolls out of its slot and navigates out of the parking lot, snout held high in righteous indignation.
The guy and I trade looks, then a laugh.
“Wow, is that a DESI?” I say.
“Sure is. The latest and greatest in fingerprint tech.” He pulls the evidence kit from the shoulder bag, the DESI from the kit. “See, we spray an area with an electrically charged mix of methanol and water. The charged droplets contact the surface of the print and form a liquid film. The film is sucked into a spectrometer”–he points to one side of the device–”which chemically IDs the molecules collected. It all happens in less than a second. Like magic.” He snaps his fingers. “Very cool.”
“Very, very cool. You need to invent a magic detector that works on the same principle. Some electrically changed mixture gloms onto bits of residual magic, which can be collected and identified.”
“Kovac said you mentioned that idea to him yesterday afternoon. He was impressed.”
“Then you know I’m Abby Teller?”
“I figured. Kovac described you to a T. I’m Ben Lofland.”
Now I’m intrigued. “How did he describe me, Ben?”
“Nope. I’ll let him do the honors.”
“Oh, go on. I’m having a rough day. Give me a hint.”
“‘The doll in the white dress.’”
I glow with more satisfaction than is strictly necessary. I can still feel Kovac’s lips pressing on my forehead. I want those lips lower. “Kovac sent you? You mean he actually listened to me?”
“Of course. Even if Scorpio Rising didn’t do Tilden Park, he’s hoping to score a cold hit on other unsolved vampire murders. We’ve got more vampire unsolveds than you care to know.” Lofland tucks the DESI in the evidence kit. “Honestly, Abby, I doubt if I lifted anything off the door handles. The Incredible Hulkster must polish them daily.”
“One of his duties as butler to the undead.”
I like and trust Ben Lofland at once and sense from his voice his respect and affection for Kovac. I’m sorely tempted to ask him what happened to Kovac. What injured the man so grievously. Why he grimaces in pain one day, but not the next.
Before I can cobble up a not-too-nosy way to ask, Lofland hands me his business card, urges me to call anytime, and strides down the driveway.
Leaving me pondering the mystery of Jack Kovac.
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