Blood CallLilith Saintcrow
A Preview of Trailer Park Fae
Thin winter sunlight spilled through a window, a square of anemic gold on blue carpet. He stared, turning the knife over in his hands and watching the bright gleam of the blade.
Spent a lot of time doing that, these days. Retirement wasn’t boring—once a man got old enough, he learned to like it when bullets weren’t whizzing overhead.
A faint sound broke thick silence.
He’d fooled himself into thinking he’d heard it so many times, the actual event was a dreamlike blur. Then the phone buzzed on his desk again, rattling against the leather cup that held two pens and a letter opener.
It was the phone. He’d had the number transferred to a newer one, just in case, and the bill was paid automatically every month from an account that never went dry.
Just in case. It was silly, it was stupid, it was probably a wrong number. The ID started with 1-89, and that meant a pay phone.
Definitely a wrong number. Still…Josiah Wolfe dropped the knife and snatched up the slim black plastic case, hit TALK with a sweating finger.
“Hello.” No betraying surprise in the word. His hands were steady. It’s just a wrong number. Someone hit a nine when they should have hit a six, a two when they wanted to hit five. Don’t give anything away.
Her voice came through. “Jo? Josiah?” A staggering gasp, as if she’d been punched in the stomach.
His knees had turned to water. Sweat sprang out on his lower back, under his arms, in the hollows of his palms. Was he dreaming?
Pinch me. No, don’t. Let me sleep. He managed to speak. “Anna.” I still sound calm. Jesus God, thank you.
Wait. Is she crying?
The thought of her crying made his chest feel hollow and liquid.
“I wasn’t…” Another one of those terrible gasps. Was she trying to catch her breath? Drunk? Was that why she was crying? “I wasn’t sure you’d answer. Or if the number was even s-still good.”
He had to drop down into the chair. His legs wouldn’t hold him up. “I told you it would be.” When you left me. The words burst out, hard little bullets, surprising him. “I keep my promises.”
He almost winced as soon as it left his mouth. That was like waving a red flag in front of a bull; she might have a sudden attack of good sense and hang up. Keep her talking, idiot. Keep her on the line.
Finally, after three years, Anna had called him.
There is a God. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Another deep ragged inhale, as if bracing herself. She sounded like she’d just paused during a hard workout, sharp low gasps. He heard city noise behind her. Cars, the imperfect roar of traffic, and the sound of cold wind. Where was she?
“I d-didn’t know.” Her voice broke, and he was now certain she was crying.
Warning bells were ringing. It wasn’t like Anna Caldwell to cry, especially on the phone with the man she’d sworn at, slapped, and dropped like a bad habit three years ago when she’d found out what he did for a living. It doubly wasn’t like her to be at a pay phone, especially on a winter day that, while sunny, was only in the thirty-degree range. She felt the cold acutely; she slept with a blanket on all but the stickiest of summer nights.
It especially wasn’t like her to sound so terrified, she was stuttering.
“I d-d-didn’t th-think this n-number would w-w-work, b-but I h-had to…” She broke down again, hitching sobs thin and tinny in his ear.
This isn’t good. “Anna. Anna.” He used his calm-the-waters voice, nice and low but sharp to grab her attention, cut off the panic. “Where are you, baby? Tell me where you are.”
It worked. She took a deep breath, and he could almost see her grabbing for brittle calm, the way she’d done right before she’d walked out on him. That little sound, and her green eyes going cool and distant, her shoulders drawing back—he could picture it clear as day, even now. “I’m on the corner of Maple and Twentieth, in an awful ph-phone booth. I’m cold and I think I’m still wet from the p-pond and I’m scared, and I need your help. I need your help.”
He was already moving, taking the small pad on his desk and making notes. Pay phone. Maple and 20th. Pond. “Stay put. I’m coming to get you.”
“I d-didn’t know who else to call,” she whispered, and the most amazing thing happened.
Josiah began to get a hard-on. He still remembered the way her hair smelled. Still remembered the taste of her sweat, and her low, throaty moan at delicious intervals.
Jesus. Three years, and the woman still managed to turn him on.
“I’m in trouble,” she whispered into the phone, as if afraid someone might hear. “Bad t-trouble.”
So you called me. “Maple and Twentieth.” He was already scooping up his car keys and his black hip-length jacket. His legs shook, but they would carry him. Of all the scenarios he’d played out in his head over the years, he hadn’t ever dreamed this one up. “You’re outside?” Idiot. She said a phone booth. You can hear the traffic behind her. Is she at a gas station? Good for a grab, someone could just take her right off the street. “I’m on my way.”
“No!” She practically yelled, and he stopped dead, inhaling sharply and closing his eyes.
Focus, Josiah. Control is everything.
Calm returned, the killing quiet. Anna was in trouble, and he had to be cool and collected. Get her locale, get in, and retrieve her. It’s that simple. He opened his eyes and got going again, placing each foot with precision.
“No,” she repeated, as if he’d argued. “It’s not…it’s not safe. The Blake, in the foyer. Come in on the…the east side. Through the revolving doors.”
The Blake Hotel was less than three blocks from Maple and Twentieth. It had three exits and usually a clutch of tourists taking in the old-fashioned foyer with its crystal chandeliers, ancient wainscoting, and red velvet upholstery. In other words, a security nightmare. He’d done a few jobs in the Blake, none serious. Just deliveries, a long time ago.
Don’t foul your own nest was a good maxim to follow.
“It’s not safe?” The question was out before he could stop himself. Even worse, it sounded cynical. Condescending. As if he suspected her of setting him up.
Nobody in the gray knew about him and Anna. He’d kept that secret successfully, at least. Of course, in this business, it was hard to be sure.
“I think they’re still f-following me.” She was whispering again. “If you see someone…oh, God. God.”
A cool bath of dread began at his nape and slid down his sweating back. Just what kind of trouble are you in, baby? He didn’t want to waste time asking. “Anna. Calm the fuck down and breathe, I’m coming to get you. The Blake. I’ll be there in twenty.”
Hitching sobs, again. “I d-didn’t know w-who else to—”
Yeah. Who else could you call if you were in trouble? “Get to the Blake, get inside, and put your back to the wall. Warm up. I’m coming to get you.” He was already on the stairs on his way to the garage, thankful that it was Hassan’s day off and Wilhelmina was in the kitchen; nobody would see him leave. “Hang up and get moving, baby.”
“Oh, God…” She sucked in a sharp hissing breath. “The car. That goddamn black car.”
What the hell? “What black car?”
Too late. She’d hung up, or had run out of time on whatever change she’d dropped into the phone. Unless she’d used one of the newer ones with credit card readers. No, she was too smart to do that, if she was in trouble bad enough to call him. She was too goddamn smart for her own good.
The wonder was that she’d found a pay phone at all.
They were a vanishing breed.
Great. Now his heart was hammering and he tasted copper, as if he was under fire. He shrugged into his coat and checked his watch, habitually noting the time, and slipped the cell into his left-hand pocket. There were a couple of prepaid ones each in the cars, nice and disposable. His shoes made no noise on the stairs; he avoided the creaky spots out of habit as well. He made it to the garage, chose the blue BMW because it had a 9mm and ammo in the concealed compartment, and it would blend in around the Blake.
He’d never expected her to call.
Then why did you keep the phone, Josiah? The garage door went up, and the engine roused itself like a sleepy cat. Willie’s little red sedan, the sleek gleaming SUV, and the dirty, primer-spotted Taurus sat in their accustomed places, watching with blank, dead headlights as he pulled out.
What kind of trouble was she in? Trouble so bad she would call him, of all people.
I don’t care.
The sun struck him fully, and he slid a pair of shades on. Frost still glimmered in deeper shadows where the light didn’t hit until afternoon; the roads would be treacherous. He flipped the radio off, and felt the little subconscious click inside his head that meant he was thinking clearly again.
She’s called me. She needs my help.
All right. This time she’s not getting away.
Josiah Wolfe smiled as he drove.
She’d wanted to warn him about the black cars, but she’d run out of change and she didn’t dare use her bank card or her beloved iPhone. Who knew what they could trace? They might think she was dead.
I certainly hope they think I’m dead. Everyone else, too. Maybe nobody else would…die…if they all thought she was gone.
Anna shivered, glancing nervously at the gas station. She looked like hell; she hadn’t combed her hair and she was still wet to the knees from the goddamn pond; her makeup was probably running and blisters starting inside her shoes. Heels were not the best way to escape men with guns and walk for miles, ending up in a phone booth that smelled like someone had used it for a urinal. Vivian at Fillmore West would be furious, thinking Anna wasn’t even bothering to show up to her own showing; Tasha would be heartbroken. She’d missed drinks with Robbie and Tor; they would be perplexed and hurt.
Also, she was beginning to run out of ideas.
Not only that, but she’d stood and stared at the phone for a little while, zoning out. The numb glazed calm echoing inside her head and chest had to be shock. Nobody could be as calm as she was right now after seeing what she’d seen.
She pushed the thought away, shoved the door open, and stepped into a light breeze knifing up from the lake’s faraway, innocent baby-blue shimmer. Her black canvas purse strap dug into her shoulder; the purse itself was freighted with the files they presumably wanted to kill her for. Pale winter sunlight poured down on a convenience store parking lot, weeds poking up through cracked concrete and graffiti tangling on a wall over a huge dumpster around the back. The booth was at the very edge of the lot, and she stepped over two broken syringes as her weary body started to shiver again, reminding her that she’d run away from George Moorhouse’s lovely split-level wearing only a gray business suit with a thin jacket over a silk shell, a knee-length skirt, and a pair of nylons that were definitely the worse for wear now. She’d had a long black scarf, but she’d lost it in the mad scramble to get away, hearing bullets pockpockpock into the freezing earth behind her.
A car horn blared. “Hey, baby! You sellin’?”
Anna, yanked back into the present, whipped the guy in the chopped-down Cadillac the finger. I look like a hooker? Or you’re just an asshole. The Caddy zoomed off, the kids inside laughing, and she choked back another black wave of desperation masquerading as hilarity. Little jackasses in mama’s car. What a way to get propositioned.
She had to wait, shivering and shifting her purse from shoulder to shoulder, for the light at the corner of Fifteenth and Verne; she hadn’t told Josiah exactly where she was, for no other reason than the instinctive caution of a hunted animal.
I’m doing pretty well. At least I’m still alive. And he might help me.
At the thought of Josiah, she shivered again. She crossed her arms and stared at the red DON’T WALK sign, willing it to change.
For a horrifying second, she’d thought she’d forgotten his number. Then her brain had kicked into gear and she’d dialed, hoping, praying, begging God. After the last four days, she seriously doubted she could do anything else but pray.
I don’t have anywhere else to go. And he…knows about this sort of stuff.
That’s why you dumped him.
Her stomach growled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since yesterday afternoon. The wind was going straight up her skirt. She was down to ten dollars in cash and a purse stuffed full of incriminating paperwork she hadn’t even had a chance to look at yet. Tears burned under her eyelids. Eric. God, Eric.
Don’t start. You already look strange; you start sobbing on a street corner and someone will call the cops, and you’ll be dead before you know it.
A molten tear trickled down her cheek. She swiped it away with the back of her cold hand, swallowing the sudden lump in her throat.
The nightmare rose behind her eyes again, Eric’s head tilted back and the gruesome smile of the gash in his throat leering at her, the terrible stink and the heat; someone had turned the thermostat up and it had been tropical in the bedroom office. They’d stuffed a ball of paper in his mouth, probably one of the scattered pieces always strewn around his offices like confetti. They had torn his place apart, probably looking for the folders she had in her purse right now.
The files Eric had asked her to keep safe, because he thought his place might be burgled. One thing, Annie, he’d said, laying his hand on her shoulder. If my house is tossed, I’m not calling the police. You get me?
She came back to herself with another jolt. The DON’T WALK sign was flashing; had she missed it?
Her high heels clattering, Anna bolted across the street and took a right. A stitch slammed up her ribs, forcing her to slow. A short Latino man walking his dog gave her a curious look but stopped outside a bakery, which was sending out a tantalizing smell into the chilly air. It would be break time at work, leaving the desk to Alan so she could run out for her morning latte. Hunger cramped as fiercely as the stitch in her side.
Don’t stop, and don’t spend any money. If he doesn’t show up you’re going to need every penny.
Yeah, like ten bucks is going to get me very far.
When she could walk again, she set off toward the Blake. The buildings were getting higher on either side, breaking the force of the wind, but they also blocked the sunlight. There wasn’t much of a crowd at this end of Verne Street. Nearer the Blake, there would be well-dressed people out for shopping or the tourist attractions; the museum was up a few blocks and the opera hall a short cab ride away.
Could you hide out in a museum? Now there was a thought.
Anna’s arm clenched, keeping the black canvas purse tight against her side. She swiped at the icy tears on her cheeks, willing herself to keep moving steadily. If I could get away from armed men, I can do this. I’m going to make them pay, dammit.
She had never even dreamed she would ever dial Josiah’s number again. She racked her brain for alternatives one last time as she walked, her heels clicking against the pavement and her teeth clenched to stop them from chattering, her head held high.
There was nothing else she could do. Eric and George had both warned her not to go to the cops, and she didn’t know anyone else who was likely to have even an idea of how to handle this. She was a temp; nobody at the office would miss her or think anything of her sudden absence. Her few friends and fellow artists were good people, but you couldn’t ask someone whose last installation had been all Plexiglas cocks and red Jell-O vulvas to risk taking a bullet over this. Tasha would hide her, but how c
ould Anna ask her best friend to take that sort of risk?
There was no one, now.
Nobody except the man she’d walked out on. Less than a week before their planned Las Vegas elopement, as a matter of fact. She had gone on with her life and her art, and done her best to forget him.
No matter how much it hurt.
Her hair fell in her face, tendrils of dark brown she wished she’d had a chance to dye. Maybe blond. She’d look bimbo-licious as a blonde, but it might be enough to throw someone off.
The walloping unreality of the last four days hit her again. I’ve called Josiah.
He’d sounded unsurprised. Calm, as usual. I’m coming to get you. As if she’d been stranded at a bar or with a flat tire somewhere. Even, casual, and completely confident.
For a killer, she supposed, an ex-girlfriend calling at ten in the morning with a crazy story and a hysterical demand to help must be small potatoes.
Can you just focus on getting to the goddamn hotel? You don’t have anyone else you can trust right now. Tasha knew a woodcarver who happened to be a cop; she’d probably want to go to him—and end up shot.
Don’t trust the police, Eric and George had both said.
Anna walked along at a good clip, each step hammering into her sore ankle, her busted-up knee—scraped from falling into the ornamental pool; she’d erased most of the skin on her kneecap with that move, but it had saved her head from being turned into hamburger—her aching hips, and finishing up by stabbing into her lower back with a bar of fire. As she got closer to the hotel, crossing Verne Street and cutting up Eighteenth, she started running her fingers back through her hair, trying to straighten it. Maybe she had a comb in her purse?
She wasn’t going to be able to talk her way past the doorman. Which was why she’d asked Josiah to come in the east door; she could catch him on the street outside if she was lucky.
I wish I could take my nylons off. That would be even colder, though. She shivered at the thought.
The crowd thickened. One of the great things about living in the city was the way everyone minded their own business—or at least, pretended to. She got a few curious looks, but not many. At least she didn’t have blood or muck splashed on her; she had avoided the worst of the gunk in the pool and a scrubbing with paper towels in the gas station restroom had worked whatever wonder it could.