The first time I woke up in a place I wasn't familiar with, I panicked. I was nine years old. The second time wasn't so bad, and the more it happened, the more used to it I became. I'd open my eyes and take stock of what lay over me. An open stretch of sky, most like, or the roof of an abandoned barn or shack, and, increasingly as I got older, the ceiling of an unfamiliar bedroom or hotel room.
I'd never seen a ceiling like this one before, at least not in these circumstances. Two chandeliers, smaller than the ones in the parlor, but plenty big, hung from a ceiling that had to be twenty feet high.
The bed was huge, as well. Vivian seemed very far away for such an intimate setting. She had her back turned to me.
In past situations like this, I've quietly dressed and left. Could I do so now? Did I have any clue how to get out of here? I could barely remember how we got from the parlor to this room. I also began to understand that my clothes weren't here. That was right; we'd both left them on the floor of the parlor right before we tested all the sofas and settees in there.
I tried to retrace the steps from last night's flurry of activity to this room, and gradually, a path formed in my mind. I stood, and tried the first of four doors leading from this bed chamber. The first led to a powder room, the second to a closet larger than my apartment. The third was the door I was looking for. A long hallway, dimly lit and obviously for no one's use but Vivian's, would lead back to the private sitting room we defiled last night.
Just as I was about to leave, I heard a voice from behind me. It was Vivian. She was talking in that firm, authoritative voice she'd used in my office. The sultry purrs of last night were nowhere evident.
"No," she said. I spun on my heel, firmly suspecting to see her sitting up in bed with a heater aimed for my chest. Trust me, it's not an unfamiliar sight.
But instead, I found her still asleep, only she'd rolled onto her back. Her eyes were closed, but her face had twisted into a mask of disgust.
"You cannot indulge yourself this time," came her voice again, from lips that barely moved, but every word was clear. "We need her, and we need her as she is."
Instantly Elmebrigge's voice swam through my ears. Some have been known to talk in their sleep...
I turned back to the hallway and crept quietly along it. Her voice continued behind me. "And remember, we cannot use it until the time is right. If the book is opened without her, all is lost."
I stopped listening and walked faster. I reached the parlor, quickly hugging the wall with my back and making sure I wasn't about to walk in on a guard patrolling. Hey, I don't make a habit of spending the night in mansions, and too many times I've had to do just this to avoid being seen.
But the room was empty. I guess it truly was a private parlor. Servants had to come and clean it, but it would appear they didn't do so overnight. Vivian's dress was just where she'd dropped it, near my coat. My clothes were everywhere, as I recall Vivian was rather eager to get down to business even before everything of mine was off.
Enough light was coming through the windows for me to do a pretty thorough search of the room. Probably about ten minutes later, even if it felt like an hour, I managed to find everything I'd brought in with me, and put it back where it belonged. I immediately felt a little better; a little more like me. My training came back, and I realized that even without knowing how I got here, I could find my way out.
Chauncey thought he'd tricked me last night by taking me up two flights of stairs and then down one. He hadn't. Even a person without the training I have can count floors. After ducking down a quiet hallway, I can to a staircase, and began my descent. In a few heartbeats I was on the ground floor. I found a large window that looked out on what had to be the back yard, and got my bearings. I would, regardless of the twists and turns the corridors took, continue to head in the opposite direction of this wall. The house was not designed as a labyrinth, even if Chauncey had tried to turn it into one. My only real worry was running into someone who might alert the house to my presence.
I crept quietly along the corridors, turning left if I came to a fork, and found that a large majority of the house was quiet and still. This bothered me. The woman was worth a mint; did she have nobody to keep an eye on things while most of the others slept?
I did hear some murmurings from behind a few doors; sounded like people muttering as they worked. Okay, so there were people up. I kept my strategy of hugging wall as I rounded corners, and only once did I see the retreating figure of a night watchman. This was starting to feel too simple.
And then, in the sprawling foyer, his back to me and watching the door, stood Creepy. I sighed inwardly. I had to have known there would be some challenge getting out.
Creepy was a breed apart; I'd gathered that much last night. If he worked for a possessed woman...might he be possessed himself? I still wasn't sure if I believed Elmebrigge that anyone who talks in their sleep had to be possessed by these beings, but then, he'd never said that, had he? Just that it was one possible sign of possession. To be honest, it wasn't the fact of her talking in her sleep that had set my regard of Vivian Vanderhoff back a few paces, but what she had been saying. A new level had opened up in this case, and it made me distrustful of her and everyone in her employ. But especially Creepy, here.
They hadn't taken my gun. I'd found ol' Pappy still in his holster by my shirt, and he was snug against my chest right now. I kept one hand ready to dart for him, and began to walk toward the door. Creepy kept his back to me. I closed the distance. Fifteen feet. Ten feet. Five feet.
"That will be far enough," said Creepy, without turning around. I froze, my hand just inches from ol' Pappy. If he tried anything, I would draw. Slowly, Creepy turned to face me.
"I don't want any trouble," I said. "But I'm not staying here. Step aside, and I'll go."
"I cannot allow you to leave," said Creepy, his inflection never changing. "Miss Vanderhoff was quite clear on that point. You are to stay, and I am to make certain you do not leave this house."
"So, I'm her prisoner," I said grimly.
"Her guest," replied Creepy. "Until such time as she has finished with you. Until then, here you will stay. I suggest you return to where you slept. You might even find Miss Vanderhoff is still in...good spirits. But press her...press me, and you'll find yourself wishing you had not."
"I don't care for forced guesthood," I said. I moved my hand closer to my gun. "Listen, gee, I'm in the business of answers. Staying here has piled on question on top of question and I somehow doubt the answers are here. So, unless you're prepared to answer these questions I've got, I'm afraid you and me are gonna have a problem."
"There is no problem," said Creepy. That calm monotone was getting on my last nerve. "And some questions should remain unanswered. Now, if you will kindly..."
"If you will kindly," I cut him off. I drew ol' Pappy and aimed it between his beady little eyes. "Now, I don't know how many guys like me a daisy boob like you had the misfortune of crossing before, but you are one seriously odd bird, and I have no problem putting daylight through your skull if you don't stand aside."
Creepy did the one thing he could have done that was virtually guaranteed to piss me off. He started laughing. Even his laughter had a hollow, unreal quality.
"Detective Zeddicker," he said. "Even if I let you go, how do you expect to leave the grounds, much less get back to the city? The grounds are patrolled by dogs, and the gate is locked, and the city is miles away."
Damn. He was right. Time to re-think this.
"Okay," I said, keeping ol' Pappy trained on him. "You're the driver. Drive me."
"Absolutely not," came the calm reply.
"I'm guessing I pump metal into you, you get blipped off same as any other bird," I replied, just as calmly. "You're really willing to die for your boss?"
"I have nothing to lose by staying put," he said. "If you shoot, you will alert half the estate to your presence, and if you don't...well, I suppose it's what your type might term a 'Mexican standoff', you might say."
I sighed, and turned ol' Pappy over in my hands. To Creepy, I'm sure it looked like I was getting ready to return him to his holster. I took a few more steps forward.
"What are you doing?" he said, a tinge of alarm in his voice.
"You're right. I can't shoot you." As I spoke, I swung. The butt of ol' Pappy met skull with a sickening crunch, and Creepy folded like a sheet of paper. I bent immediately and frisked through his pockets. I found a giant ring of keys in the breast pocket of his jacket and pocketed them in my flogger. The door was locked, but with a simple twist of the gleaming glass nob, I heard a small click, and the nob now could be twisted freely. I flung open the door and booked it down the front steps...
...There was no car. Nothing in sight except that ludicrous fountain and the trees lining the driveway. I heard a baying from the side of the house. Creepy was right; dogs were out patrolling the yard, and who knew what else?
A small dirt drive seemed to head off to the left side of the house from the main circle of the driveway. I ran in that direction, and heard the baying again, this time closer, and from behind me. They had my scent.
I saw a small building in the distance. It seemed as far away as the city itself, but I was closing the distance faster than I would have thought. As I got closer I saw three large doors on the side and realized that it had to be her garage. I kept running. I fumbled in my pocket for the giant key-ring, wondering how many I would have to try before I found the one that fit the lock, never mind which one would start a car.
By the time I reached the middle of the three large doors, the baying sounded like it was right behind me. I turned to look, and bounding around the corner of the house was one of the largest dogs I'd ever seen. It didn't look like a rottweiler. It looked like it could eat a rottweiler. It was grey or greyish black all over, with a large scruff of fur around its head, small ears that stood straight up and a mouth that was all teeth. I don't just think, I know, that it could have closed those jaws around my neck and pulled my head from my shoulders with minimal effort.
I pulled out the keys. There looked to be at least thirty of them. Creepy was a driver; surely he had to have a key to the garage on him. I immediately eliminated a large number that didn't even look like they'd fit in the lock, palming them as I began trying the others while the dog continued inexorably toward me.
One key; no luck. Two keys; nothing. A third. I kept going. I kept trying to slow down my senses, tried to compensate for how fast things felt. My hands were steady, but I couldn't ignore the five hundred pounds of fur and fury that was nearly on me. Seven keys; all failed. Eight. Nine. Ten. I was starting to feel panic building. Eleven...it worked! The door swung open and I darted inside, slamming it closed behind me...
...And realized that it only locked from the outside. I ran between three long lines of cars, more cars in one place than I'd ever seen other than outside a public building. They began about two car lengths from the door, and the three lines were spaced about a car length apart from each other. I briefly saw an Alpha Romeo, a Cadillac V-16, a Lincoln Model K, a Marmon, a Ford V8. I turned and faced the door, gun drawn.
The baying became a growling, as if the dog knew where I was and knew there was nowhere for me to run. On foot, he was right. But I wasn't planning to escape on foot. For what seemed like an eternity, I stood, facing the door, hearing that growling grow closer.
It came through the door in slow motion. I saw its jaws, lined with teeth like a band saw, and watched its eyes, full of murder, as the bear-like body came in behind it. Moonlight silvered its fur, made the fangs glisten.
I fired. My hand was as steady as a rock, and the aim was between its eyes. I fired again. Blood was spurting from the creature's head now. But it kept coming. I fired again, this time aiming for its leg. The dog faltered, losing its footing, but hopped up again. I fired at its other leg, and it went down.
I stared at it for a few seconds. The thing was determined. With a fatal wound in its forehead and both front legs out, it still was trying to get up and run for me. The growl was weaker now. A large pool of red was forming under it. I felt bad, like I'd broken an antique vase. An animal like this didn't deserve to be cut down by a guy like me.
"At least you died in the course of your duties," I murmured to it. Then I went to the Ford V8. Of all the vehicles I could see, this was the one with the speed I was looking for. I sorted through the keys. It was a little easier this time, as the keys had the names of the makes they went with stamped into their metal, and there were only three Ford keys. Within a few moments I had started her up.
Rover was gone, now. No longer moving, and not breathing that I could see. "Abyssinia," I muttered, tossing a useless salute.
A few moments later I crashed through the gates of the estate, headed back to town. Behind me, lights were coming on all through the house, and I knew that I would need every ounce of the flivver's speed.