Sample Excerpt





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 uneasy.
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.
       "By who?"
       "A friend."
       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 good legs.
       "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. . .more mature."
       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 internal wandering.
       "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 the feature.
       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 Cooper, too.
       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 manner.
       "Thanks," I said.
       His bright eyes clouded slightly as he tried to recall why I was thanking him, then comprehension dawned. "Don't mention it."
       "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."
       "You what?"
       "I sell money. You never heard of the business?"
       "No . . ." I'd either stumbled across a counterfeiter or a lunatic. Now might be a   good time to find another seat.
       The guy put away his bag of peanuts. "I know what you must be thinking, but it's perfectly legal. I really do sell money."
       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, right?"
       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, thanks."
       "It's not a fiddle," he earnestly assured me. "Think of the profit."
       "What do you get out of it?"
       "A sale."
       "Maybe not this time, but thanks all the same."
       "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 peanuts again.
       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 exaggerated anticipation.
       "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 and others.  Maintained by Mystik at mystikmerchant@sbcglobal.net    No artists or writers were injured or exploited in the production of this website, though blurred vision, a few hangovers, and extensive chocolate abuse took place, but  were quickly hushed up.