Alice looked herself over. She was suited up and felt better in her battle dress, but she needed gloves and a hat if she was going to be outside for any real length of time. Even wearing 40 pounds of gear, she’s freeze before the night was through. She headed down the stairs to have a last word with Bruce before she went out. If Esther was in jail, there wasn’t much more she could do to protect her. And it looked like there was something out there killing people and draining all of their blood. She was going to see what she could find out about it. But first, she needed a hat.
As she was coming to the stairs, Alice could hear the front door open and close with a dull thud. A sharp female voice rang out. “Bruce.” She said it like a statement, not a question or a command, like it was simply an assertion, like saying his name simply described the fact that he was there.
Alice stood at the top of the stairs and listened. She could hear the sound of Bruce shuffling out of the kitchen to the entryway. “Essser,” he slurred, “I thought you were gonna be locked up all night.”
Alice could hear the iron in Esther’s voice. “I was released at the end of the day. The detective recanted his statement, and they had no further reason to hold me.” She paused. “My uncle was instrumental.”
“Sure, sure,” said Bruce. “Well, that Levy girl ish here. And I got your pitchers. The coronersh report isn’t done, but we’ll get it. Not gonna say much anyway.”
“Good. I’ll look them over after I’ve eaten. All they had were donuts and vending machine food.” She paused. “Where is the Levy girl?”
That was all Alice needed for a cue. She coughed to draw attention to herself and started down the stairs, the boards creaking under her. Standing in the hallway was a woman with severe features staring intently up in her direction. Her dark hair was pulled back into a bun, and she wore an assortment of jewelry, including rings on nearly every finger. Alice recognized her immediately.
Esther Lucas was wearing a loose fitting dark brown blouse and what looked like black yoga pants. She had a long dark coat folded over one of her bare arms. Her other arm displayed a sleeve of tattoos underneath bangles and bracelets. Each finger of her hand sported at least one ring, and she wore a torc around her neck with a yellow gem set into it, held against the base of her throat.
Esther looked at Alice expectantly. She couldn’t have been a hair taller than five feet, but Alice felt the pressure of her presence fill the space. Alice’s back tensed and she clenched her teeth. It felt the same way Alice imagined a cat would feel when seized by the scruff of its neck. She put her hand against the railing to steady herself before continuing down the stairs.
“Hi.” Alice held out her hand, and Esther took it, lightly, but somehow managing to avoid being gentle.
“Yes. Hi.” Esther spoke crisply. “I am glad you made it. As you know, I’m in need of protection.” She paused. “You’re dressed like you’re going out. Are you going out?”
Alice suddenly felt just how out of place she was, in a strange town, wearing a flak vest and a shoulder holster in some rich woman’s house, ready to go out and do what? Hunt vampires? She forced a smile. “I was. Bruce showed me the pictures. I was going to go down to the crime scene.”
Esther turned slowly to look at Bruce, and Alice could feel the oppression of the Esther’s attention shift away from her and onto him. “He did, did he?”
Bruce did not seem to notice the shift. “They’re in the sh- sh- there,” he said, gesturing to the sitting room. “I’m going to bed.” And he shouldered through them to get to the stairs.
Esther let him pass, turning her attention back to Alice. “Alright then. Ms. Levy. Come sit with me while I eat. The police station has a limited menu.”
In the kitchen, Esther efficiently and silently put together a salad for herself, pausing once to look at Alice with an expression that suggested that if she wanted one as well, she need only speak up, and Esther would make her one. Alice didn’t take her up on the semi-offer. Within minutes, Esther was eating her salad and sipping a chardonnay with an ice cube in the glass, while Alice sat across the table from her, drinking her third bottle of water.
“So you were going to go investigate the crime scene where Janice was killed” Esther said, taking a drink of wine.
Alice nodded. “You weren’t back, and Bruce had shown me the pictures. It looked like something I know a little about. So I was going to see what I could see.”
Esther put her glass down. “And what is that? What did you see that you know about?”
Alice took a deep breath. It was one thing to know that there were things out there, vampires out there. That she had hunted one, she and Ed had. And they had put it down. It was another to say it out loud. Though there probably wouldn’t be a more receptive audience than Boston’s mistress of the occult, she had to admit. There was no point in beating around the bush. “Vampires. Janice was killed by a vampire.”
Esther raised an eyebrow. “What is your experience with vampires?”
“I have some experience with them. That’s all. I’ve seen some of what they do. And I fought one of them.” She felt simultaneously vain and embarrassed, talking about this to Esther.
“You fought one of them. And how did that go?” Esther took a bite of her salad, slowly, deliberately chewing.
Not well, is what Alice thought. Not well at all. Not for Ed. But they’d done what they needed to do, and he’d known what he was getting into. “We won. We destroyed it.”
A look of concern passed over Esther’s face. “What do you mean you destroyed it?”
“We… well, I, burned the body,” then she hastily added, “in sunlight.”
“Oh, Alice.” Something approaching, but not quite reaching, compassion crept into Esther’s voice. “That’s… we have another problem to discuss.”