I left it for the morning news buddies. Somehow the sound of a human voice teasing with news I figured I already knew was not worth sweltering in the front room. So I went upstairs, found a box fan in a closet and sweltered in my bedroom.
The morning news buddies offered the same trailer-teaser: “We have the latest on that major arrest in the Myrtle Hill area, but first, here’s the latest on the Mothers in Pearls!” Destiny with her wide eyes made up to smoky, bruised perfection sounded a little too caffeinated that morning. I wondered why I had never noticed before how she bared her teeth in something like a grin between each report. No fangs, but glaring white surrounded by painfully red lips.
I heated a frozen waffle.
Enough of the noise of the report followed me into the kitchen. I caught the noise of more pundits, mostly male, chewing over the Mothers’ demands yet again. One throaty old fart supported their petition and decried how “trashy” women today were encouraged to behave. Both sides predicted candidates Spaccone and Kluzky would have to weigh but neither campaign would address the Mothers’ petition or answer any questions concerning Beth’s TV sermon. This led to mutual accusations of cowardice and being out of touch with the voters’ interests and the rest of the exhalations that aggravated an already hot day.
The telephone rang as Destiny parted her red lips to announce, “Police have arrested Rudy Grogan and –“
“Sayresville Cemetery,” I said into the receiver.
A lump swirled and swelled in my throat. “Charlie.”
“I’m in jail and I need a lawyer.”
Fine, how would you respond to that?
“Grace, they’re saying I murdered Jerry. That I hit him over the head with a shovel.”
“No! Somebody hit me first! I’ve the knot on my head to prove it, but the police don’t think much of that.”
“Did Rudy do it?” “I don’t know. I don’t remember him getting out of the car. Grace, I’m in trouble here. Do you know a lawyer?”
Sue me. I still loved the man, but I had nothing for him. That fact boiled acid in the pit of my stomach. “Strange as it sounds, not really. I can’t go to the Board with this –”
“Oh, fine! Be a stuck up bitch and leave me to rot here! It’s only my life, Grace!”
I redressed my bed after bleaching the hell out of the sheets and bedspread, but I refused to go back to my tee shirts. I also did not pick up one of my romance novels all that week.
But I wanted to do something.
I kicked my grandfather’s tank of a car into operation the next morning and made it down to the courthouse. Charlie was arraigned and granted bail of two hundred thousand dollars. He didn’t look hurt or beaten, as I feared after watching so many crime dramas over the years. He shuffled in with a harried, frowsy lady public defender at his side. I think it wasn’t until the figure was pronounced by the judge that Charlie saw me. I held up helpless hands and he nodded. Neither of us had that kind of cash. So he returned to the county jail.
Trial was set for early October.
I went home dazed and soaked my down pillow with tears.
The next week passed with the filmy edges of a dream. The Meechams announced a long vacation in some Colorado location noted for a high-end sanitarium. The new burial grounds got its first division to accommodate a Messianic church who wanted no interlopers from the other denominations come the Rapture. Kluzky led in the polls and Spaccone carried a baseball bat with him at all times to brandish at reporters with impertinent questions.
And the Mothers in Pearls rioted downtown by the law library.
There were no reports of seeing Ambr’, but her name echoed like the worst ear worm song you’d like to forget from the news buddies’ nonstop chatter. I closed my windows even in the worst of the heat; I did not want to hear that ending’s scream.
The next night brought a boiling humid heat in and out of the house. I decided to go on sleeping atop the bedclothes and out of my clothes.
Then, around midnight, I began to shiver. I felt cold. Cold as death. Cold as Derek’s hand on my naked shoulder.
“Cover yourself,” he hissed.
“Turn your back,” I said. “If you can’t stand my nakedness, that’s your problem, not mine. It’s too damned hot to sleep in clothes.”
He sighed, but he did turn away. And I did get up and dressed in a button down shirt and panties. “You were correct, Grace,” he said finally.
“Owch! That must have hurt!” I said. “You can turn back now. The important parts are covered.”
He grimaced, but settled into one of my chairs. “Ambr’ has indeed gone too far.”
“I know. She killed Charlie’s friend Jerry and framed Charlie for it.”
Derek blinked. “She did what?”
I settled onto my bed, keeping my legs together. I needed him and an argument over my “exposure” would not help Charlie’s cause. “About ten days ago, you two had a tiff?”
Derek sniffed. “Ten nights ago, yes. She was impertinent and then whining and clinging. I cannot abide that combination.”
“You punched her in the face.”
“I slapped sense into her, yes.”
“Well, she blamed Charlie and me and promised she’d get even. So she knocked Charlie out – I’m guessing with the shovel they had – and then killed Jerry with the same shovel, leaving it in Charlie’s hands, or near enough to make him a handy suspect.”
Derek smiled a little. “She is thorough.”
“Not funny, Derek.”
Derek crossed his legs, then crossed them the other way. “There is not much I can do. Ambr’ will never stand trial for murder.”
“And Charlie can’t stand trial. Circumstantial evidence and a district attorney running for re-election. He’s as good as sentenced to life without parole.”
“Do not become hysterical. I cannot abide female hysteria. And I thought you two had separated?”
I leaned forward, praying he did not see the tears welling up in my eyes. “I love him, Derek. It makes no sense, and it may well be the death of me, but I love him.”
He stood with his jaw working and his eyes looking everywhere but at my face. “Yes. We all must face the fact that we love.”
I studied him a little too closely. He pushed past me, but was halted by his own image in the mirror. The long fingers went through his hair again. “You love Ambr’.” Then I committed a sin: I put my hand on his suit sleeve.
“I suppose,” he started, then waved the idea away. “That is not your concern. My mind wanders when I have not fed.” His hands came down quite gently to take away my hand. “I see. Yes. Well, I have more pressing matters to attend to first.” He pulled at the sides of his gray worsted suit. I envied his imperviousness to the heat. “I shall return tomorrow night after feeding. And for the love of your God, have yourself dressed.”
Why is it that, once cut so deeply, we pick at wounds and welter in our own suffering?
I had to listen to the “latest” reports from the news buddies the next morning; despite the fact that they had no more new information than they had the vocabulary to reword the reports from the riot to the murder to the weather. Twenty-six ladies. One man dead, two in jail. Hot and humid with no sign of rain to break the humidity. And a sale on a bedroom suite if you came into the store between the hours of two and three that afternoon.
I could not eat. I could not sit at my desk. I could not bear to go upstairs again once I’d pulled on jeans and come down. I wandered the ground floor of my familial home, round and round, catching this sound bite and that from the buddies. It was just as well the floors were hardwood; I’ve have worn a track in carpeting. If Missy or Mischa had come through the walls, I would have thrown myself into the furniture trying to hug them. For one insane moment, I missed Old Sharpe.
It was a mercy the telephone did not ring again. Not even the City Commissioners called about a new body for the Potter’s Field. The mailman did not leave a package and there was little traffic along the road. Mansfield Road again simply hummed with its people inside, hiding from the heat.
Derek came to me as the cuckoo clock twittered eleven. He’d changed suits, but it still looked to be one hundred percent wool. And he wasn’t sweating, damn him, the way I was in shirt and jeans. I waited for him to criticize my bare feet. We’d have an argument then.
“Ambr’ is back in her crypt,” he announced without preamble. “She’s fed, but I do not think she will go far to feed for quite some time. I fear rodents and small dogs may be in more danger than people for a time.”
“Okay,” I said. I waited.
Derek sank into one of my chairs. His olive-skinned cheeks twitched and worked as if he had gristle between his jaws and was working on breaking it down to jelly. “I have a proposal. A bargain, if you will.”
I said nothing for a time. Neither did he. “Please continue,” I said finally.
“I can save your, er, lover from life imprisonment,” he said, “or execution if this state hasn’t gone totally off the death penalty. However, you must do something for me first.”
I felt the vertebrae in my back go rigid. “What?”
“The tree at the top of Section A, it is a hardwood, yes?”
“You know it’s an oak tree, Derek.”
He nodded. He leaned forward, keeping his eyes through the glasses focused on my face. “Go to the carriage house – “
He made an impatient noise. “And find a saw.”
“Jail cells don’t have barred windows to the outside anymore, Derek.”
“Close your mouth for once, Grace Farmer, and listen! Cut a branch about twenty-four inches long and sharpen one end.”
I sat down heavily on my bed. “I don’t think I understand.”
“Yes, you do. When you find the saw, you can also find a hammer or mallet, I am sure. Your grandfather kept a selection of tools, as did his father. I recall your great-grandmother complaining about the monies spent on tools rather than food and clothing.”
“Why can’t you end her? It would be simplest. I’ve seen you do it and the rest of your crew would enjoy the feed.”
Derek stood over me in less time than I needed to blink. “Hear me, Grace Farmer. I will not say this again. I will not end Ambr’. I cannot. As you say, I made her. To rip her apart might well do the same to myself. And I,” he said with an emotional rasp creeping in to his voice, “in my own way, have loved her.” He shook his head and returned to the chair. “But she must be silenced for the foreseeable future. I can terminate her little entourage with a single killing. You must stop her.”
My clothes, damp up to this point from the heat, stuck to my skin and I felt salt in my eyes. “Not the old ladies.”
“I am sure Ambr’ has them drugged or will drug them. They will forget. It is the other vampires I will end, although I will have to meet with Gowers Trios in Baldwinsville to get his cooperation. I loathe that braggart. He looks so much like a boiled chicken in Izod.”
Derek resumed his normal sneer. “Do this for me and I will save your Charlie.”
“You’ll get him out of jail.”
“I said I would save him. I will say no more.”
Your questions again. Excuse me if I give them what may sound like short shrift. This was a bad time for me. It claws at my insides even now.
Yes, Derek asked me to stake Ambr’. Yes, I knew it would not kill her, but I did not know if Derek would come afterwards by night and finish the job or let her starve or in fact what he had in mind. You try reading the mind of the undead. A lake of oil and eels is easier to wade through.
No, I had no idea what Derek would do. I didn’t even know if he could represent himself as a lawyer or if he could enter the jail to see Charlie, which would presuppose he had been invited in there once before. So, yes, perhaps I did not know as much about him as I had thought.
Strangely, and to the news buddies and their weather man’s amusement, it rained the next day. All day. The interment of an urn of ashes near Section G was postponed. One of the sales-hunters called again to see if we had discounts. I offered him a place in the new Potter’s Field, but suggested he sell all he had and go live with the indigent first.
I won’t repeat what he told me to do.
From my praying each night, you may have gathered that I believe in God. I do. I have little or no idea of what God is or who God is, but I believe in a Power beyond our mortal knowledge Who started this comic tragedy we call life. It had to start somewhere and had to be started by someone who understood comedy and tragedy and how both have to play out.
This implies that I believe He created the undead as well. Well, why not? Frankly, human beings can get a little boring and predictable. Especially when they believe God is a cure-all pill of their creation that they are Divinely ordained to shove down other human beings’ throats, while the others are equally committed to administering their own pill. Or maybe these human beings are the pills themselves.
Some of them are pretty big, pretty bitter pills, if you think about it.
But I did not want to think. I had a vampire to stake.