Smashwords Edition, copyright 2011, by P.N. Elrod
Originally in Many Bloody Returns, Ace, 2007
Chicago, February 1937
When the girl draped in black stepped into
the office to ask if I could help her with a seance, Hal Kemp's version of
"Gloomy Sunday" began to murmur sadly from the office radio.
Coincidences annoy me. A mournful song for
a dead sweetheart put together with a ceremony that's supposed to help the
living speak with the dead made me uneasy--and I was annoyed it made me
I should know better, being dead myself.
"You sure you"re in the right place?" I
asked, taking in her outfit. Black overcoat, pocketbook, gloves, heels, and
stockings--she was a walking funeral. Along with the mourning weeds, she wore
a brimmed hat with a chin-brushing veil even I couldn't see past.
"The Escott Agency--that's what's on the
door," she said, sitting on the client chair in front of the desk without an
invitation. "You're Mr. Escott?"
"I'm Mr. Fleming. I fill in for Mr. Escott
when he's elsewhere." He was off visiting his girlfriend. I'd come to his
office to work on the books since I was better at accounting. Littering the
desk were stacks of paper scraps covered with dates and numbers--his usual
method of recording business expenses on the fly. After a couple hours of
dealing with the monotony, I was ready for a break.
"It was Mr. Escott who was recommended to
me." Her tone indicated she wanted the boss, not the part-time hired help.
I waited, but she left it at that. Nothing
unusual in it, much of Escott's business as a private agent came by word of
mouth. Call him a private-eye and you'd get a pained look and perhaps an
acerbic declaration that he did not undertake divorce cases. His specialty
was carrying out unpleasant errands for the unable or unwilling, not peeking
through keyholes. Did a seance qualify? He was interested in that kind of
thing, but mostly from a skeptic's point of view. I had to say mostly since
he couldn't be a complete skeptic what with his partner--me--being a vampire.
And nice to meet you, too.
Hal Kemp played on in the little office
until the girl stood, went to the radio, and shut it off.
"I hate that song," she stated, turning
around, the veil swirling lightly. Faceless women irritate me, but she had
"Me, too. You got any particular reason?"
"My sister plays it all the time. It gets
on my nerves."
"Does it have to do with this seance?"
"Can't you call Mr. Escott?"
"I could, but you didn't make an
appointment for this late or he'd be here."
"My appointment is for tomorrow, but
something's happened since I made it, and I need to speak with him tonight.
I came by just in case he worked late. The light was on and a car was out
front. . ."
I checked his book. In his precise hand
he'd written 10am, Abigail Saeger. "Spell that name again?"
She did so, correct for both.
"What's the big emergency?" I asked. "If
this is something I can't handle I'll let him know, but otherwise you'll
find I'm ready, able, and willing."
"I don't mean to offend, but you look
rather young for such work. Over the phone I thought Mr. Escott to be. .
Escott and I were the same age but I did
look younger by over a decade. On the other hand if she thought a man in his
mid-thirties was old, then she'd be something of a kid herself. Her light
voice told me as much, though you couldn't tell by her manner and speech,
which bore a finishing school's not so subtle polish.
"Miss Saeger, would you mind raising your
blinds? I like to see who's hiring before I take a job."
She went still a moment, then lifted her
veil. As I thought, a fresh-faced kid who should be home studying, but her
eyes were red-rimmed, her expression serious.
"That's better. What can I do for you?"
"My older sister, Flora, is holding a
seance tonight. She's crazy to talk with her dead husband, and there's a
medium taking advantage of her. He wants her money, and more."
"A fake medium?"
"Is there any other kind?"
A Night at the (Horse) Opera
Smashwords Edition copyright 1995, 2011, P.N. Elrod
Originally in Celebrity Vampires, DAW 1995
Chicago, Autumn, 1936
The smell of buttered popcorn
was distracting until I settled in my seat and stopped pretending to
breathe. I wasn't able to drink soda pop anymore, and the darkness wasn't
really dark anymore, but a movie was still a movie, and it was rare that I
didn't drop in on one of Chicago's shadow palaces two or three times a week
take in the latest show.
This particular one wasn't especially new;
The Plainsman had been out for a while, but I'd somehow missed it until now,
a sad lapse for a Gary Cooper fan. Of course, I also liked Jean Arthur, who
was mighty eye-catching done up in Hollywood cowgirl style. I lost track of
the dialog at one point, speculating how my girlfriend, Bobbi, might look in
a similar outfit of made of buckskins. Probably very good, I thought; then
things started happening in the plot I couldn't follow because of my
"I fell asleep--what's going on?" I
whispered to the man next to me. Not taking looking away from the screen, he
obligingly leaned over and filled me in, speaking low and with a decided New
York accent. I'd lived there for a long time before moving to Chicago and
was mildly curious to find out why he'd left, but it could wait until after
De Mille's epic danced over the screen with
enough thrills and drama to keep the most jaded Western lover satisfied,
myself included. If it was still playing here tomorrow, which Bobbi's night
off, I'd ask her out. She wouldn't need much persuading; she liked Gary
The movie rolled to its end, and the lights
came up. Other people rose to leave, uniformed ushers appeared to clean up
the trash, and the rest of the audience remained seated to wait for the next
feature to start. Bobbi's last show at the night club where she sang
wouldn't be over for another couple of hours; I was in no hurry to leave.
The same apparently went for my seat mate, who pulled out a crumpled sack of
peanuts from somewhere and began shelling and eating them in a leisurely
"Thanks," I said.
His bright eyes clouded slightly as he
tried to recall why I was thanking him, then comprehension dawned. "Don't
"New York?" I asked.
"Ninety-third Streeter," he promptly
replied. He had a sloping nose, wide at the base, a wide, expressive mouth,
receding hair, and enough mischief packed into his mug for a dozen Christmas
elves. He looked as though he ought to be somebody, and I had a nagging
feeling that I knew him. "You from there, too?" he asked.
"Not since last August. You ever hang out
at a place called Rosie's? Across from the Dispatch?"
He shook his head solemnly.
"Thought I might have seen you there."
"You probably saw me here, is what I'm
thinking." He tossed a peanut high and caught it in his mouth with the easy
skill of long practice. "Want some?" He shook the bag, open end toward me.
"No, but thanks anyway." Maybe I'd seen him
here before and just hadn't noticed him among the hundreds of other movie
watchers. "Been away from New York long?"
"Long enough. California's home now, least
when we're not on the road."
"Salesman?" But that didn't seem quite
right for him. Another peanut shot high and dropped in. He chewed it slowly
while his eyes, his whole expression, turned steady and serious. "Yeah. I'm
a salesman, all right. I sell money."
"I sell money. You never heard of the
"No . . ." I'd either stumbled across a
counterfeiter or a lunatic. Now might be a good time to find
The guy put away his bag of peanuts. "I
know what you must be thinking, but it's perfectly legal. I really do sell
Okay. He'd hooked me. I had to hear the
punch line. "What is it? Like coin collecting or something?"
"Nah, this stuff." He pulled out his wallet
and fished for a five dollar bill, holding it up. "Take a look. It's real,
As far as I could tell it looked just like
any other used bill. "Right. . ."
"Okay, I'll sell you this five for four
dollars and fifty cents."
I shook my head, chuckling. "Ah. No,
"It's not a fiddle," he earnestly assured
me. "Think of the profit."
"What do you get out of it?"
"Maybe not this time, but thanks all the
"You sure? It's a great bargain you're
passing up." At this point he looked too innocent to be believed. He read
that I wasn't going to fall for whatever gag he had in mind, gave a
good-natured shrug, and put away the bill and wallet. He brought out the
The nagging set in again with a vengeance.
"I know you from somewhere."
"Go to the movies a lot?" he asked.
"All the time."
"You really don't know?"
"You're gonna have to tell me."
He grinned, his whole face going into it.
"Wait a second. . ."
He dropped his chin a bit and letting his mobile mouth hang slack in an
"Oh, jeez, you're--"
A hand clamped down on his shoulder from
behind and made him jump. He looked around in irritation to the source of
the interruption. The man looming over us was big even by Chicago standards,
and he had company: two large friends waiting in the aisle. The three of
them looked as though they could take on the Wrigley Building and win. Their
hundred-dollar suits were not well-tailored enough to hide ominous bulges
under their left arms.
The man's hand flexed and lifted, and my
seat mate rose like a puppet.
"Oh, hell," he said, irritation suddenly
changing to fear. The smell of it fairly leaped off him.
"You don't know the half of it yet," the
man told him.
Continued in the P.N. Elrod Omnibus
Copyright 2011 P.N. Elrod
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No artists or writers were injured or exploited in
the production of this website, though blurred vision, a few hangovers, and
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