The Lady By Night

mysterious woman

Image: TVTropes.org

From the Unlife and Curse of Sean Becker

The life of a private detective is a lot less exciting than you see on TV or in the movies. Okay, I’m not really a private detective, I just work for one. You see, my name is Sean Becker and I’m a vampire.

I recently discovered there’s a whole underground of vampires and human sympathizers who try to support the undead, usually by providing us with safe places to sleep during the day, night jobs, the occasional support group. That’s how I got my job working for Aidan Burke.

A kid, a vampire named Artemus, who is more than he appears to be, even for a night walker, hooked me up with Burke. I even get to sleep in Burke’s spare bedroom. Convenient for remaining safe while I’m unconscious during the daylight hours.

So I’ve got gainful employment with an understanding boss and a place to stay. Now, I can buy clothes and whatever else I need instead of stealing. I don’t have to be a loner anymore.

That’s what I think Artemus is doing. He’s trying find loners and get us hooked up to their network. He’s trying to make the world a safer place, both for vampires and humans.

It’s a perfect set up for me, but I know people, and even vampires are people (more or less). There are some of them out there who like being loners. They like being dangerous.

But there’s no danger lurking tonight, especially at my job. I’m tailing a guy whose wife thinks he’s cheating on her. If I find him in the sleazy motel room he’s just checked into meeting with a women and they start having sex, I take some discrete photos and hand them over to Aidan. He shows them to our client and they’re evidence to be used in an upcoming divorce case.

Bingo. I’m hanging out next to the motel room window. I can hear a knock on the door. What’s this guy’s name again? Oh, yeah. Al Hogan. Middle aged, pudgy, balding. Works as the manager of the produce department at a local Ralph’s supermarket. Not exactly a “chick magnet”. Maybe he’s meeting with a hooker and not a girlfriend. Then again, you never know. He could be someone’s type.

I take a peek as he opens the door. Wow! She’s gorgeous. Long, dark hair. The blood red lipstick is a bit over the top, but she’d give Angelina Jolie a run for her money in the looks department. Oh good, she’s taking off her overcoat. Terrific figure, tight, clinging, dark colored dress accentuating it. Not a girlfriend, but as hookers go, she must be really expensive. How does he afford her on his salary?

Got my phone out and set to camera mode. They’re not even turning out the lights. This is too easy. I start taking pictures.

Wait a minute. There’s something about her. That feeling I get when…oh no!

He’s extending his neck. Yep. She’s opening those blood red lips and exposing long, pointy fangs. She’s a vampire. I can’t show his wife these photos. I can’t show them to anyone. He’s not having an affair. He’s a blood donor.

Now what do I do? I can’t stop her because I do the very same thing every night, although with variations.

Finally, she’s done. He’s looking drowsy. Part of the defense mechanism we vampires possess. We not only take, we give back. The enzyme we inject into humans makes them forget us most of the time, or in Al’s case, makes him come back to this junk dive three nights a week to be fed on. She’s got him on a leash.

He’s dozing now.

Crap. She sees me, or more likely, she sensed me the way I sensed her. She’s motioning with her finger. She wants me to come in.

So I do. Walk bold as a Kardashian through the motel lobby, down the corridor, and knock on the door of Room 11.

She opens it and smirks. “Hi there, stranger. Want to come in for a drink. He’s still got plenty.”

“I’ll come in, but I’ve already had my fill.” It’s true. He was a would be mugger. I didn’t feel sorry for him.

I walk in and close the door behind me. “Sean Becker.”

“McKenna Palmer. Pleased to meet you, Sean. So what brings you to my dinner for the evening?”

“I work for a private investigator. The guy’s wife thought he was cheating on her.”

“In his dreams.” She walks over to the chair where she tossed her overcoat after she first walked in. “Our exchange is one way. My way.”

She’s putting on the overcoat. Getting ready to leave.

“I suppose you have other guys, other motels.”

“Beats hunting on the streets. A lot safer.”

“I don’t doubt it.” In the back of my mind, I try to figure out if I can leverage her idea to my own advantage.

“Well, must be off. Have a good evening, Sean.”

She buttons up the coat and starts walking to the door.

“Wait. Gotta rush off so quick?”

She turns toward me, walks right up to within a few inches and gives my face a soft caress. “What did you have in mind, handsome.”

It’s dialogue out of a 1940s B movie. “Not that. I mean, do you just want to talk. We’ve both got ‘business’ taken care of for the evening.”

“I’m kind of independent, Sean. I don’t need a lot of handholding and I’m sorry if you do.”

There’s a lot of disdain in her voice. She’s turning away again.

“Do you have a job, a place to stay.” I want to bring her into Artemus’s network, but I’ve never approached another vampire with the idea before, so I come off like a jerk.

“Oh how sweet. You’re worried about me.”

She’s about to take off. “There’s a network of us, vampires and humans. We work together. If you need anything, I could help set that up.”

“Gee, thanks Sean, but like I said, I’m the independent type. No strings on me. Tootles.”

I don’t know if she’s quoting “Pinocchio” or “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” She blows me a kiss and then she’s gone.

I stand in the middle of the room for a few minutes trying to figure out what just happened. Then I hear Al moan a little bit. It’s the first time I’ve paid attention to him since walking in here.

That’s when I notice his wallet is open on the bed next to him. I look. No cash. Not everyone carries cash, but why was his wallet open on the bed rather than in his hip pocket?

She ripped him off. She doesn’t just take blood, McKenna takes money, too. That’s probably one of the commands she gives her victims. Come to such and thus motel at this or that time, check into Room 11, and make sure to bring plenty of cash.

It’s kind of brilliant actually. Before getting this job, I had to steal what I needed. Blood, clothes, cash. I’m not proud of it but I had to do it to survive. I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore. I’m glad to be connected.

I made that same offer to McKenna Palmer, if that’s even her real name, and she threw it back in my face. Like I said. Some people like to be loners.

I left the room and walked back down the hall and out of the motel. No use Al waking up and seeing me there. He probably doesn’t even remember McKenna or that she lifted his wallet as well as siphoning off a pint.

There was just one more thing. When she made that off-handed comment about what I had in mind and rubbed her hand on my face…I actually started thinking about what I wanted…I actually felt it. I didn’t think vampires could do that.

*****

“So I think this McKenna Palmer is victimizing men for blood and money which, from an outside point of view, looks like these guys are either hiring prostitutes or having affairs.”

I’m giving my report to Aidan in his living room. It’s a little before dawn, which means he’s just gotten up and I’m about to go to sleep.

“That complicates things for our current case, Sean, especially because Hogan doesn’t even know he’s being taken. Even if we show him the photos of the ‘exchange’ with Palmer, he’d never remember it happened.”

“What are you going to say to his wife?”

“Beats me. I’ll think of something. Hey. I’ve got an idea. Message me the photos. I’ll meet with Al Hogan and show the first few to him.”

“You mean, before she puts the bite on him.”

“Right. The pictures, plus the fact that he’s obviously missing money, will be enough to indicate he’s being victimized, even if he doesn’t remember.”

“But I was there. He knows there was a witness. Won’t he want to know what I saw? We can’t tell him that part.”

“I’ll just say you were interrupted at that point. Someone saw you loitering and threatened to call the cops, so you had to leave.”

“Sounds plausible.” Sean’s tone of voice said he felt it was anything but plausible.

“Do you think he’ll be able to keep from meeting with Palmer for their next appointment?”

“It’s possible. I’ve never tried to control someone, but I think the longer you’re apart from the vampire, the weaker the connection becomes. If he thinks he’s being taken advantage of, he might be able to resist.”

“I don’t think we have any choice but to let Hogan know what’s happening to him, at least in a limited sense. Then I’ll meet with his wife, show her the photos, tell her our lie, and let the two of them sort it out.”

“That’s kind of a shame for Hogan since he hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“Well, I could kind of imply that I recognize the woman as a known con artist and suggest that she’s manipulating her husband somehow, but if we want to keep the existence of vampires hidden, we’ll have to let Hogan take his chances with his wife.”

“It’s your call, Aidan. Well, I’d better hit the hay. Sun’s coming up pretty quick.”

“And I’d better hit the shower. See you tonight, Sean.”

“Sounds good.”

I head for my bedroom, get undressed, and crawl into bed. The blackout curtains are shut tight, so it’s completely dark once I close the door. Perfect for a sleeping vampire.

*****

I spend the next week canvasing the various low priced motels downtown trying to get a line on McKenna. Moshe, the vampire who made me what I am today, once said that with practice, we can get better at tracking our own kind, but for seven nights, I don’t get so much as a tingle.

She’s good at covering her tracks, but then again, she is a vampire, and given our longevity, who knows how long she’s been doing this? Decades? Centuries? I wonder how old the oldest vampire is “living” today?

I can’t stop thinking of McKenna. I know she acted tough, but I felt like there was a sort of vulnerability underneath. Some of the most outwardly tough people I’ve ever known, were very hurt inside. Even guys like Aidan.

*****

Back home. Aidan’s car is already gone. Must have an early meeting. I go into my room, but before I can take my shirt off I realize I’m not alone.

“About time you showed up. We don’t have all night, you know.”

I can see by the light coming in from the hallway that McKenna’s in my bed. Her clothes are on the end table, all of them.

“What the…?”

“Don’t turn on the light. We don’t need it.”

I take my hand off the switch and close the door. Even in total darkness, we can still see each other.

“What are you doing here?” The awakening of certain feelings in my groin tells me why she’s here.

“Remember when you offered to help out if I needed anything? I realized there is one thing you can do for me.”

I don’t know if it’s me or something she’s doing to me, but I’ve never felt so attracted to a woman before, not even Janet, the woman who was once my wife.

I’m struggling with a thousand emotions. I’m not married to Janet anymore because the minute I died, our vows were broken, but inside I still feel married to her.

I’m a Christian, and even if I’m single in the eyes of God, I can’t just hop into bed with a woman, even one as enticing and alluring as McKenna, just because the opportunity offers itself.

“I’m glad you got home early. It gives us some time together before we have to go to sleep.”

She’s purring like a satisfied kitten, but her eyes glow like a tiger’s right before she pounces.

Without really realizing it, I’ve gotten undressed. Then I’m in bed with her. It’s like I’m drunk but also like my senses are hyper-stimulated. I notice every tiny feature on her back as I’m rubbing her skin. I can smell the salt in her sweat. There’s a hint of blood still on her breath. I can taste it when I kiss her.

God forgive me. Janet. I can’t stop. I lose myself in her body, her mind, her blood. We’re bonded as man and woman and as vampires.

*****

I wake up just as she’s getting out of my bed. It’s not like she can wake up early and sneak out. We both wake up at the same time when the sun sets.

“You were wonderful, Sean. I bet your wife really misses that about you.”

She’s cooing as she puts on her panties and bra, but I’m sullen. She mentioned Janet. She shouldn’t have.

“How do you know I was married?”

“You whispered her name…Janet.”

I’m sitting up now. “Leave her out of this.”

She stops dressing and sits on the bed next to me.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. This can’t be easy for you.”

“You’re being uncharacteristically compassionate.”

I’m pouting. I know it’s immature. I’m really mad at myself for having sex with her. Why did I do that?

“Look, Sean. How about we meet for that talk you wanted to have, say midnight?”

She’s thinking that we need to go our separate ways for a while to have our big meals.

“Okay. Where?”

“There’s a place on Figueroa. The Original Pantry Cafe.”

“I know it. Cash only. Kind of a landmark.”

“Been open since 1924. One of my favorites, or it used to be.”

“I’ll be there at midnight.”

“Looking forward to it, Sean.”

She leans over and softly kisses me. I respond still feeling like a cheater and traitor.

I watch her finish getting dressed and then she’s gone. Aidan’s still out. I wonder how I’d have explained her if he were home?

*****

original pantry

Image: The Original Pantry Cafe – Los Angeles, CA

We get a table in back but it’s not all that private. Fortunately, it’s a slow night so there’s not too many people around who might overhear us.

“You’ve never been with one of us before, you know, a woman.”

I know what she means. I’ve never had sex with a vampire before. I didn’t even know it was possible.

“No. Took me completely by surprise.”

“Don’t blame yourself for doing something you didn’t think you wanted to do. Our body chemistry is different.”

“You’re telling me.”

“We release a unique pheromone that is especially potent among our…kind. It makes our…women especially attractive to men, not just of our kind but the rest of them.”

“So that’s why I felt drugged.”

“Uh, huh. I could have any man I want, but as you can imagine, a relationship with anyone not like us can get complicated.”

“Can we have relationships with anyone else…people not like us?”

“All that stuff about how women find Dracula irresistible in the old horror films has its basis in reality, Sean. Yes, you could, just like last night with me.”

I figured I was basically dead or rather undead, so the thought of sex never occurred to me. Now that I’ve made love to McKenna, it’s almost all I think about. I’m glad I didn’t know any of this when I was watching Janet and the kids. I don’t know what I would have done.

“So that’s why you turned up in my bed. How did you find me, anyway?”

“I followed you back to Burke’s place.”

“But I didn’t sense you.”

“I kept my distance, and I think I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have.”

I was beginning to feel like no one was more of a novice at being a vampire than me.

“How long?”

For the first time, she got a vulnerable look on her face that matched what I sensed deep inside of her.

“My name wasn’t originally McKenna Palmer.”

She looked away. The waitress came to refill our coffee cups and then retreated.

“I was born the year this place was established.”

I whispered, “1924?” She was over ninety years old, and yet she looked like a beautiful young woman in her early to mid-twenties.

She nodded. “I forget sometimes…how long its been. I don’t like to talk about it. The night I turned. The night he took me.”

“You don’t have to.” I put my hand on her’s and she gripped it.

“Have you always been alone like this?”

“No. Once I had a partner, one of us. But he really was a monster. He liked to torture people, hurt them, laugh as they screamed.”

I could feel her hand tremble.

“I finally got away from him.”

“He was the one who made you.”

She wouldn’t make eye contact. Just looked at her untouched coffee and nodded solemnly.

I sensed there was more to the story, a lot more, but it hurt her too bad to remember and it would hurt worse to talk about it.

“So you are alone now.”

“It’s safer for me, for everyone, really. I have my regulars I visit. I don’t have to hunt, don’t have to steal.”

“You are stealing from them. I saw Hogan’s wallet.”

“Just what they can afford. How else can I support myself?”

“I support myself.”

“You want I should become a private dick?”

She did a really good imitation of a Bronx accent.

She was laughing, but there wasn’t a lot of humor in it.

“I was a small time actress signed with Warner Bros. You probably never heard of me.”

“Try me.”

“Laurel McKenna”.

I searched my memory. I prided myself on being quite a movie buff, but the name didn’t ring any bells.

“Pretty name.”

“It’s even my real one. In Hollywood, especially back then, they were always changing our names.”

“What now, Laurel…McKenna?”

“I’ve been alone a long time. You seemed like the sort of person I could trust. I haven’t trusted much lately, well…not in forever.”

“I could talk to Aidan. We have some contacts. Might get you set up with something.”

“I’ll have to think about it, Sean.”

All of her barriers went up again, but at least she wasn’t being that sarcastic smartass I’d met the first night in Al Hogan’s motel room.

She stood up abruptly. “I should be going.”

“Hours until dawn. We could talk more.”

“No, I really do need time to think.”

She put on her overcoat. We wear coats and jackets when it’s cold out, but we don’t need them. Just one more piece of camouflage so we can blend in with the human world.

I stood but I knew she didn’t want me to leave with her. She came over and hugged me. She whispered, “Thank you, Sean. I promise I will think about it.”

We let each other go. “Well, you know where to find me.”

She laughed. It was more genuine this time.

“That, I do. I promise not to blindside you that way again.”

“Deal.”

We hugged again briefly and she kissed my cheek. “I’ll be in touch, lover.”

She turned and walked away. I stood there staring at the door of the restaurant until another customer wanted to get past where I was standing.

*****

The internet is a wonderful thing. Laurel Marie McKenna. Born in North Platte, Nebraska on April 2nd, 1924. Wednesday’s child. Figures. Came to Hollywood in 1943 when she was 19. Got a job as a waitress at…good grief, The Original Pantry Cafe. No wonder it was her favorite. Her first film was a year later, “Crime by Night” starring Jane Wyman. She only had two lines of dialogue.

She acted in small roles for the next four years. Critics said she had promise and it was only a matter of time until she right role came along that would make her a star.

She disappeared in 1948. Her roommate Laura Chapel said McKenna had just met some man, maybe a week before she went missing, but no one knew anything about him. The police never solved her disappearance and it remains a mystery to this day. If she’d been more famous, someone might have made a movie about it.

So I solved the mystery of the disappearance of Laurel Marie McKenna, or sort of, anyway. I wonder if I could get Aidan to help me in investigating a sixty-eight year old cold case.

On the other hand, maybe I should trust that she’ll really consider my offer and that we’ll see each other again. She deserves the dignity of telling me on her own terms what happened and how I can help her.

Sean Becker first appeared in the short story Even Coffee Doesn’t Help. The most recent tale about his life before this one is Living One Night at a Time. The stories are interlinked, so if you want to read the entire series, Start at “Coffee” and click through until you’re back here.

I promise that the mysterious McKenna Palmer will return.

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