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Crimes by Moonlight

Charlaine Harris

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page


  Dahlia Underground


  Small Change

  The Trespassers


  House of Horrors

  Sift, Almost Invisible, Through

  The Bedroom Door

  The Conqueror Worm

  In Memory of the Sibylline

  The Bloodflower

  The Awareness



  The Insider

  Swing Shift

  Riding High

  Grave Matter - A Mike Hammer Story

  Death of a Vampire

  Taking the Long View





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  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  Copyright © 2010 by Mystery Writers of America, Inc.

  The Edgar® name is a registered service mark of the Mystery Writers of America, Inc.

  A complete listing of individual copyrights can be found on page 358.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the authors’ rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  p. cm.

  At head of title: Mystery Writers of America present

  eISBN : 978-1-101-40428-7

  1. Detective and mystery stories, American. I. Harris, Charlaine. II. Mystery Writers of America. III. Title: Mystery Writers of America present.

  PS648.D4C73 2010




  After years of belonging to the mystery community, I’m used to being regarded as nonthreatening, good-natured ... sometimes even (shudder) “sweet.” All that changed when I was asked to edit the MWA anthology that had been designated supernatural.

  I sent out an e-mail to some of my favorite writers, all MWA members, to let them know the good news: I was offering them a slot in Crimes by Moonlight.

  You would think I had offered to ship them a rattlesnake.

  Instead of greeting this golden opportunity with cries of glee, I got a batch of awkward e-mails that began, “Gee, I don’t know ... I’ve never written woo-woo.” (That’s a highly technical industry term.) “I don’t know about trying to do a supernatural,” they moaned. I had to practically poke some of my fellow writers with a sharp stick to get them in line.

  I must admit there were a few who did react as I’d expected. Some mystery writers were simply waiting for the chance to cross over to the dark side. I’m keeping my eye on them.

  In the end, my call for stories got some amazing responses.

  This volume consists of entries by writers you’ve read and loved for years, and writers who aren’t well-known yet. What all these writers have in common is their membership in MWA and their willingness to tackle an offbeat story element.

  Half the stories were ones I requested. The rest of the stories were submitted without any identifiers to a stellar panel of volunteer judges: noted writers Daniel J. Hale, Dana Cameron, Doug Allyn, Jane Cleland, and Heather Graham. The number of blind submissions came to more than three hundred, so my hat is off to these stalwarts, who may never volunteer for anything again in their lives. Barry Zeman oversaw the whole process from start to finish and was a great help, and John Helfers at Tekno Books was willing to let me wail in his ear when the process got to be overwhelming.

  After all the work of writing, editing, selecting, reediting, and literally hundreds of e-mails, here’s the final result. Our work is done. Now all that remains is for readers to enjoy the result.

  We’re counting on it.

  —Charlaine Harris

  Dahlia Underground


  Dahlia Lynley-Chivers woke up as soon as the sun went down. But this awakening was like none she’d experienced in her long second life: on her back, pinned down, and injured.

  Badly injured.

  Dahlia cursed in a language that had not been spoken for centuries. She’d lost a lot of blood. Though the air was filled with smoke and dust, she could smell a body close to her. The blood of the dead person was repellent, but it would help.

  She carefully extended her right arm to discover it was free and unbroken, unlike her left. Her left leg was immovable, though her right leg wasn’t, because the beam trapping her lay at a slant.

  While she was evaluating her situation, Dahlia wondered what the hell had happened when she was in her day sleep. She heard distant screams and sirens, while around and above her lay destruction. A huge pane of glass, intact, had landed upright on a vampire, shearing him in half. Though he was beginning to flake away, he looked familiar.

  Her memory began filling in the blanks.

  The Pyramid. She’d suddenly decided to spend the day at the Pyramid, the vampire hotel in Rhodes. The disintegrating vampire had been a handsome male in the service of the Queen of Indiana, and she’d accepted an invitation to dally with him rather than return to her room in the mansion of the Sheriff of Rhodes.

  Though the night had been notable, the day must have been more so.

  High above her, Dahlia could see a bit of night sky lit by flashes of artificial light. Every now and then there was an ominous creak or groan from the heap of twisted metal, shattered glass, and concrete. Dahlia wondered how long it would be before it shifted. She might yet end up in the same condition as her bedmate. Dahlia had not been afraid in a long time, but she was almost afraid now. She wasn’t so afraid she was going to yell for human help, though.

  A smaller beam was lying crossways on the one that pinned her, very close to her right hand. Dahlia figured if she could grip the smaller beam, she’d get enough purchase to drag herself out. Then she could work her way over to the dead human, feed, and begin the perilous climb upward.

  She had a plan.
br />   Dahlia’s right hand gripped the crossbeam, and she pulled. But she realized instantly that her left leg would rip off unless the heavier beam was lifted at least another inch.

  “Well,” said Dahlia. “Crap.”

  Dahlia was extremely strong, but extricating herself cost another hour. By the time her leg slid free, she was close to exhaustion. As she rested, she looked down at herself. Ugh! She was naked and streaked with dirt, soot, blood, and pale, powdery dust. She held up a strand of her long, wavy hair, normally coal black. In the dim light, it looked white. She’d been there awhile. How much time before dawn? She made herself move.

  The corpse was that of a uniformed hotel maid. Her neck had been broken in the explosion. Since she hadn’t bled much, Dahlia was able to tank up. The blood of the dead was even worse than the bottled blood substitute that had enabled vampires to become legal citizens of the United States. The vampires could truthfully say they no longer needed to feed from live humans. Of course, they still enjoyed it much more.

  Dahlia lay across the maid’s body, gathering strength for the climb up through the rubble. For a black moment, her normal confidence wavered, and she wasn’t sure she could manage it.

  “Hello!” called a hoarse voice from above. “This is Captain Ted Fortescue, Rhodes Fire Department! Anyone alive down there?”

  She thought about remaining silent. Then she bit her lip. Dahlia was very proud, but she was also a survivor of no mean skill. “I’m here,” Dahlia called up out of the darkness.

  “Human or vamp?”

  “Vampire,” she said defiantly, even though she feared he’d leave her where she was when he found out she wasn’t a breather.

  “Ma’am, how hungry are you?”

  He’d been coached. Good. “I’ve had the blood of a corpse. I will not attack you.”

  “‘Cause we can have Red Stuff O Positive ready when we raise you . . .”

  “Not necessary.”

  “There’s a corpse?”

  “Two, Ted Fortescue. A vampire, though he’s mostly gone. A human woman dead before I found her.”

  “We gotta take her word for it,” said a lighter voice.

  “Can you grip a rope if we send it down?” Fortescue called.

  “Yes,” Dahlia said. “If I try to climb, the ruins will shift.” Humans were going to save her. Humans. Though Dahlia hadn’t wanted to build her character, after all these hundreds of years it was apparently going to be built.

  “Okay, here comes the rope.”

  The lifeline uncoiled about a yard from Dahlia. She pulled herself to it with her right arm. Gripping the pieces of wreckage that looked most firmly lodged, Dahlia pushed herself erect. Luckily, she was a very small woman. She seized the rope with her right hand. Gritting her teeth, she wrapped her right leg around the rope and called, “Pull!”

  After a swaying, painful ascent, Dahlia Lynley-Chivers emerged into a nighttime landscape of horror.

  One glance at Dahlia had Ted Fortescue bellowing for a blanket. The captain looked almost as battered as she did. His brown face was as dirty as hers, his close-shaved hair white from the powdery dust. Above his mask, his wide brown eyes were shocked.

  Dahlia found his smell enticing. She needed some blood very soon. But her need was drowned by the humiliation of having to stand with the man’s support until her blanket was passed up. When he’d wrapped her in it with impersonal hands, Fortescue handed Dahlia down to the next human in line until she reached the base of the mountain of debris. The last person in the chain directed Dahlia to a line of humans waiting on the nearest clear sidewalk. She said, “Those are people willing to give you a drink, ma’am. Please try not to go overboard.”

  “They volunteered?” Dahlia tried not to sound disbelieving.

  “Yes, ma’am. A lot of people are upset that the Fellowship of the Sun took such an extreme action against your people.”

  “The Fellowship is taking responsibility?”

  “Yes. I guess they figured a vampire conference would be a prime target. Some of their own people hired onto the hotel staff. But they didn’t feel the necessity to tell their fellow humans to get out before it blew. In fact, their news release says it served the staff right for serving vampires. Not too many people are happy with the Fellowship.”

  “My home is here in Rhodes. Is there a way I can get a ride to my house?”

  “Get your drink, if you want it, and then head over to that other line over there. They’ll help you out.”

  “Thank you for your courtesy,” Dahlia said stiffly. “Can you help me over to the donors? My arm and leg are broken.”

  Captain Ted Fortescue had descended from the mountain of rubble by that time, and he overheard Dahlia’s words.

  “Jesus Christ, why didn’t you tell me?” Ted Fortescue took Dahlia in his arms and carried her to the donor line on the sidewalk.

  “Thanks so much,” Dahlia said through clenched teeth. “Where do you serve?”

  “We’re the Thirty-four Company from the station at the corner of Almond and Lincoln. You gonna be okay, now?”

  She assured him she could stand on one leg while she fed. He needed to get back to his work, so he left her there. Dahlia watched him walk away.

  For a short time, she’d loved a werewolf. He hadn’t been exactly human, of course, though close enough to cause her qualms. Dahlia had always felt the same kind of contempt for humans that most humans feel for Brussels sprouts. They were good for her health, but she didn’t like their proximity.

  The donor was a short woman with long white hair. Her name was Sue, she told Dahlia, and Sue held Dahlia’s hand during the feeding. If Dahlia had been herself, she would have been put off by the woman’s prattle about “we’re all one family.” She didn’t like her food to talk. But tonight was different.

  Having fed, Dahlia was able to hobble to the impromptu cab rank, where a free voucher got her a ride to her home. The vampires who lived in Cedric’s mansion, already beside themselves with grief and rage, were glad to see a survivor come through the door. All Dahlia wanted to do was shower and crawl into her own bed in her own room in the windowless basement.

  THE next night, all the Rhodes vampires met in the mansion’s common room. At least fifty vampires from the central United States had died in the bombing, the newspapers said. Their deaths were not the worst part of the attack, to this assemblage. The worst part was the loss of face. Their city had been targeted, and the attack obviously had been planned well in advance—but they had not detected it or forestalled it, though the plan had been devised and carried out by humans.

  “We have been dishonored,” Cedric, Sheriff of Rhodes, said. Every vampire in the city had been present at the meeting, from those who had their own homes to those who lived in the nest. Even Dahlia’s friend Taffy, married to a werewolf, had been present.

  Cedric turned his large blue eyes on Dahlia. Pink tears glistened in their corners. “Our sister Dahlia nearly met her final death and had to be rescued by humans.”

  “I accepted human help because it cut short the time I was trapped,” Dahlia said, her back absolutely straight and her face utterly composed, though it was an effort.

  “We must meet this challenge directly,” said Cedric. “This is our city. Now we are at war.”

  The vamps of Rhodes had not been at war since Prohibition, when some bloodsuckers from Chicago, frightened away by the aggression of A1 Capone’s henchmen, had tried to move into the tunnels below Rhodes. They’d survived one night.

  “Tell us what to do,” Taffy said. Taffy was tall and buxom, her physique emphasized by the slut-biker outfit her husband, Don, favored.

  “Taffy, you and Dahlia must visit the headquarters of the Fellowship. Get in by whatever means necessary. Look for membership lists. We want to know their leaders.”

  “This will have been done by the police,” Taffy said.

  “And will the police share with us what they found?” Cedric had a point.

ll do whatever I can to bring the whoresons to justice,” Dahlia said carefully, “but the lists will be on computers, and Taffy and I are not conversant with these machines.”

  “One of the Arkansas vampires is adept with computers, but he was burned so badly he’ll take time to heal,” Cedric said. “Wait! I know someone.” He whipped out his cell phone again. It was the one piece of modern technology that thoroughly entranced the sheriff. “His name is Melponeus, he’s a half demon, and his services do not come cheap.” Cedric, who was cheapness personified except when it came to maintaining his pride, grasped the financial nettle firmly.

  The half demon was at the mansion within thirty minutes. He was a short man with reddish skin, a head of thickly curling chestnut hair, and pale eyes the color of snowmelt. When Dahlia greeted him at the door, those pale eyes showed instant admiration. Dahlia, though used to this, was nevertheless pleased. She was glad she’d worn her pink three-piece suit with the pencil skirt.

  “I hope you’re as good with modern technology as your reputation has it,” she said tartly and beckoned him to follow her to the common room.

  “I love a good, strong vampire woman,” Melponeus said. “Such a woman, if she is willing, can take a lot of ... energetic activity.”

  “I am several hundred years old,” Dahlia said. “I assure you, I can take anything you could imagine handing out.” She didn’t turn to look at the half demon, but her lips curled in a little smile.

  “You’re older than Cedric,” Melponeus observed. “But you’re not the sheriff.”

  “I don’t want to be,” Dahlia said. “And some think I’m not diplomatic enough.”

  “I remember your name, now. It was you who broke the newscaster’s arm?”

  “She wouldn’t stop asking me questions, after I’d warned her,” Dahlia said reasonably. “I told her I would break her arm if she didn’t leave me alone.”

  “Foolish woman,” Melponeus said.