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A Luminations Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
"This next part... You're not going to believe me."
Give me a buck for every time I got that line from one of my clients and, well, I'd probably be rich enough that I wouldn't need clients. Barry Olson was in his forties, balding, with a pot belly and a shifty nervousness about him. He suspected his wife was having an affair, which is what brought him to my office, and right up to that last line I'd held out hope that this was just gonna be a nice normal case. No such luck.
I'm Chester Hall. I'm a private investigator. I've made a pretty decent living by tolerating the oddballs and helping them with their problems. As a result, they keep referring their friends my way. I usually don't complain. It pays the bills. It's just that lately I've been craving a bit more normalcy in my life. Maybe next client.
I fed him my usual line of "go ahead, try me." Then I waited for the other shoe to drop.
He lowered his voice to a whisper.
"I have reason to believe the guy she's seeing is a vampire."
I nearly threw him out on his ass then and there. Probably should have, the way things turned out.
Instead, I nodded and smiled.
"Really? What kind?" I asked.
He looked incredulous. I'm not sure if it was my question that shocked him or just the fact that we were already past the part of the conversation that involved my believing him or not.
"You... You mean there's more than one kind?"
"Sure. Lots of kinds." I shifted my attention to my laptop and messaged Katy to please come into the office. We use instant messaging as the intercom system.
The door opened and there was Katy, the high school junior who handles my paperwork. She had a pen and a notepad in hand.
"Katy, is there more than one kind of vampire?"
"Sure, boss," I could tell that she was putting considerable effort into keeping a straight face. "Nosferatu, Tremere, um... Gangrel... and like those other guys, the really wacko ones. Oh, and a few more I'm forgetting."
The client was suitably impressed. In his mind we were the rightful heirs to the Van Helsing legacy. Or something.
"All right, thank you Katy. Could you please go locate the vampire kit? It's in the storage closet."
"You mean the box with all the ten-sided dice. I think that's in your desk..."
"No, not that. I mean the real... Look, just go check around the storage closet. You'll know it when you see it."
Katy went out and I turned my attention back to Mr. Olson.
"Okay, why don't we start with why you think your wife is having an affair with a vampire?"
Barry Olson nodded. "Well, this guy works the night shift at the hospital with my wife. He's in the pathology department. And get this: He's got access to the room where they keep all the blood!"
"And this man's name is?"
"Henry Mendelev. Probably right off the boat from Transylvania. That's where they come from, isn't it?"
I looked over the information he'd emailed me when he originally got in touch.
"All right, so your wife... Luciana, right? She has been telling you that she has weekend work shifts about once a month for the last... Let's see, looks like about eight months. And you called the hospital and found out she wasn't on duty. So she's definitely up to something. Now how did you find out that this Mendelev was involved?"
"Found his number on her cell phone. I called and got his voice mail. And she's been getting email from him. She thinks I don't know the password to her computer, but she's got it written under her mousepad." Olson beamed with pride at his show of detective skills.
"All right, well then it sounds like you've got her caught red-handed. Why not just confront her with the emails?"
"Well, see, that's the thing. This guy is sneaky. He never says anything too specific in the messages. They're just quick little bits that give the time and date, but no details. That's why I want you to follow 'em. They've got something set up for this weekend."
"All right, I should be able to give you conclusive evidence of whether they are having an affair, but I'm still a bit unclear on the vampire business. Mendelev works at night, and he's Eastern European, and he has access to the hospital's blood supply. Is that what you're basing your conclusions on?"
"Hell, no!" Olson reached into the knapsack he'd brought and pulled out an old book. He placed the book on my desk, turning it so that I could see the title: Maladyes of the Ethereal and Inferneal Spheres. I flipped it open. Published in 1894. Author was listed as Professor Ethan Scarboro. It didn't list what college the guy was a professor at. I figured Miskatonic University might be a reasonable guess. Inside were clinical descriptions of the symptoms of all manner of supernatural misfortune from poltergeists to curses to lycanthropy. There was a sizeable chapter devoted to vampirism.
"My grandfather's," Olson explained. "He was one of the founders of the New Hampshire Paranormal Society and he collected rare books. It just so happened that a few weeks ago, around the time I started to notice something wrong with Luciana, I dug these books out of the attic to see about selling them. It was taking forever, though. I didn't
want to get ripped off selling them on the internet and the local antique dealers either weren't interested or they wanted to borrow the books for two or three weeks to do an appraisal. I finally found one guy who just gave me a list of information he wanted. You know, the publisher, the dates, and so on. So I was getting that together and flipping through the books when I found the vampire chapter. And wouldn't you know it? It fit what was happening to Luciana exactly!"
Katy came back in holding a small wooden box with the image of a cross carved onto it.
I tapped a few keys on my laptop and a paper spat out of the laser printer.
"I'm gonna need you to sign for this, Mr. Olson."
Occasionally I share equipment with some other local P.I.s. I also use the form whenever Katy needs to take home one of the laptops or any of the camera equipment. My insurance guy told me I should have a form on hand for anything I loan out just to cover my ass. In the blank space where it said 'Type of equipment', I wrote 'Vampire defense kit'. Then I handed it to Olson.
"This kit contains a couple of different crosses, a small silver knife, and two vials of holy water that were personally blessed by the Pope. Oh, and there's a certificate of authenticity on the holy water. The vials have a marked wax seal. Break the seal, you bought it. Holy water blessed by the Pope goes for like three hundred bucks on Ebay, so don't just go throwing the stuff at every person you meet who dresses in black. And please, for God's sake don't do anything idiotic with that silver knife. Silver probably only helps with werewolves anyway. There's no garlic in there. If you want some, the supermarket variety should work perfectly well. No wooden stake either, but those aren't too hard to make."
I closed up the box and handed it to him. He nodded somberly and put it into his bag. We took care of some more paperwork and he paid my up-front fees, and we shook hands and he left.
Katy started giggling about half a second after he was out the door.
"Vampire kit? Chess, why do you have a vampire kit in the office?"
"My dad bought it for me for Christmas two years ago. Found it at the Atlantic City Antiques Fair. It cost about half a grand, but Dad had just hit on the slots and he was feeling generous. It's real, by the way. Holy water and all."
"Nice. Worth having around just in case, right?"
"That's right, kid. Just in case. And to make the client feel like we're doing something to address his concerns. Now let's get to work. We need to get the surveillance gear packed up."
Barry Olson came in on Thursday afternoon. I spent Friday doing research on Luciana Olson and Henry Mendelev. I didn't turn up very much. Mendelev wasn't from Transylvania. He was Russian, although his family had immigrated when he was two years old. He had an arrest record, but it wasn't anything too serious. Marijuana possession eight years back and driving without insurance a year before that. I found almost nothing on Luciana Olson.
Olson had left the book for me to look over, but there wasn't much there either. The victim of a vampire would have symptoms of "malaise," "melancholy," and "pallor." Seemed to me those could be symptoms of damn near anything.
The book was in nice condition, though, and I emailed Olson to ask him if he'd be interested in me hooking him up with a possible buyer. I was thinking of Nancy Matteo down in Worcester. She was working toward opening up a book store and a collection like the one Olson had might be just what she needed to get started.
Luciana had told her husband that she needed to leave early Saturday morning for her work shift. She didn't expect to be back until around midnight. I planned to get to their house before dawn so I could be ready to follow them.
Melissa called around five to cancel our plans for dinner. Things between us had been a bit strained lately and I wondered if she was taking some satisfaction in being the one canceling plans for once. Then I felt guilty for wondering that. I didn't feel guilty about being grateful for the chance to get some extra rest, though. I ordered a pizza from Christo's up the street and settled in to watch the Sox slip another game out of first place.
At four in the morning I sat in my car a block away from the Olson's nursing a large Dunkin Donuts coffee and checking the settings on my camera. I use a digital SLR camera. It's nothing all that special, but I have a long zoom lens that's top-of-the line paparazzi-style gear.
Luciana Olson's car pulled out a little past five and I put down the camera and followed. She wasn't going to the hospital. Instead, she drove to a local CVS pharmacy and sat in the parking lot. I went though the drive-through at the Burger King across the street and got an egg and cheese croissant and parked in a spot where I could keep an eye on her.
Mendelev showed up on foot ten minutes later. As vampires go he seemed pretty comfortable walking around in broad daylight. He wasn't even wearing sunglasses. He had a windbreaker on and he was dragging a small wheeled suitcase. I started taking pictures. They hugged, but no kissing. They talked for a few minutes and then she gave him the keys to the car and he stowed his gear and got in while she went into the drugstore. I put down the camera and took a stroll over there. That was a risk, but not because I was worried they'd spot me. Neither of them would recognize me. The risk was that I wouldn't get back to my car fast enough and I'd lose them when I pulled out. I wanted to see what she was buying in there, though. One pack of Trojans would be a very telling little bit of evidence.
Instead, I spotted her in line with a can of bug repellent. That seemed a little odd. Luciana Olson didn't seem like the outdoorsy type. She was pale and slight of build, probably was cute in a mousy way when she was younger. Now she was in an awkward in-between stage with her youth obviously fading, but lacking the air of wisdom of an elder lady.
I lucked out a little bit. Luciana got stuck in line behind a woman with something like eighty-five different cosmetic products and it seemed like half of them had no prices on them. The store opened up another register and I grabbed the Boston Herald, dropped three quarters on the counter and went out. I was back in my car by the time Luciana and her bug spray were out of the store.
I followed them as they pulled out of the parking lot. They drove to the highway and headed south. They took Route 3 to I-95, which passes to the west of Boston. In typical screwy Boston traffic patterns, the road then changes to I-93 north, never mind that we were just on I-95 south. Gotta love New England driving. From there the road splits and Route 3 suddenly reappears, and they got onto Route 3 heading for the South Shore. I followed them all the way down Route 3 toward Cape Cod.
This made sense now. Mr. Mendelev probably had a nice little cottage on the beach that was perfect for a quick getaway. We crossed the Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal and they took the Mid-Cape Highway to Hyannis. I was following them through the streets of Hyannis, feeling pretty good about having kept with them for such a long distance when they took a sudden right turn and the traffic got thick.
Shit. I suddenly realized where they were going. This was the road to the ferry port. They were heading for Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket. And you need a reservation to get your car onto one of those boats.
I got out of the ferry line and circled around until I found a parking lot. I got the camera packed up and ran for the ferry. At the ticket window I breathlessly asked for a round trip passenger ticket.
"That boat." I pointed. I'd spotted their car getting on as I'd run up to the terminal. I got my ticket and boarded the ferry. I didn't have to wait because they let passengers on board before they start loading the cars. It was crowded, and I head up to the open deck, only now checking my ticket stub to see where we were going. Nantucket it was.
The bad news was that they were gonna still have a car when we landed. The good news is that Nantucket isn't that big a place. Still, I needed to buy myself some time to rent a car or a bike or something. The ship's whistle sounded and the captain's voice came on the intercom telling us that the sea conditions were good and the snack bar was open and that passengers were not permitted on the automobile deck while the ferry was underway. That last bit gave me an idea.
I walked around the deck and spotted Luciana and Henry up by the bow. I even got a couple of pics with my cell phone camera. Still no public displays of affection, though. Maybe Luciana just wasn't into kissing.
About an hour into the trip I ducked down one of the stairways to the auto deck. There was a crewman working up front, but I knew their car was toward the back of the line and I ducked down and kept cars between me and the guy and managed to make my way over to Luciana's Honda. I took out my pocket knife and slashed the left front tire, and then hurried up the nearest set of stairs.
Back on deck I called Barry Olson and updated him on the day's progress. He didn't have a clue as to what his wife could possibly be doing on Nantucket other than the beach-house theory I was already running with.
"Would you describe Luciana as an outdoorswoman?" I asked.
"Hell, no. Lucy doesn't even like to work out in the lawn. She hates bugs and she hates dirt. I don't think she's been hiking or camping since she was a kid."
I hung up the phone and settled in to enjoy the scenery, watching as kids held potato chips out for the seagulls to snag as we sailed into Nantucket Harbor.
I was one of the first off the ferry when we docked, and I headed over to a bright sign advertising scooter rental. I picked one out and did the paperwork, then told the guy I'd be back for it after I grabbed a bite to eat. There was an outdoor café that had a decent view of the ferry terminal, so I sat down and ordered a cup of clam chowder and waited for Luciana and Henry to show. Their car came off the ferry slow and parked over to one side, and the two of them got out and Henry got his bag out of the trunk and started making calls on his cell. Luciana went and got them hot dogs from the ferry snack bar and they settled in to wait. After about twenty minutes, a tow truck came along.
I was a little surprised to see the truck tow the car away and leave them at the ferry terminal. Maybe their donut was flat too. That would be a nice stroke of luck. They weren't heading for the bus stop, so they probably had a cab on or a ride on the way. I finished my chowder, left some money on the table and went back to the scooter place to pick up my ride. I did a quick test-drive around the block and drove into the ferry terminal waiting area.
About ten minutes later a van pulled in and a guy in a camouflage jacket got out and threw Henry's bag into the back. I started the scooter back up and drove by slowly to take a look at the van, There was some lettering on the side, but I wasn't at a decent angle to see it until I was almost alongside. It said "Nantucket Paintball".
What the hell? Was sweet demure Luciana lying to her husband so she could go off to the woods and play war once a month? I'll admit the thought amused me. From what I'd seen of Barry Olson, I think if I had to live with him I might suddenly develop the urge to go shoot something. But it still didn't quite add up with what I'd heard and observed of Luciana Olson. The van pulled out and I followed.
I hung back a bit, and I almost lost them a couple of times. This guy was driving like someone who was trying not to be followed. That had me worried. I didn't think there was any way they could be on to me. Maybe these paintball people were just naturally paranoid. There's plenty of overlap between their crowd and the survivalist-types.
They pulled into a little dirt road marked by a small, barely-noticeable sign with the word "Paintball". I drove past and pulled the scooter off the road at some power lines about half a mile up, I got the scooter out of sight, crossed the road with my camera bag and made my way along the power lines toward what I guessed was the paintball company's land.
Paintball is popular in some of the towns around where I live because there is cheap land and you really don't need too much more than just some land to be able to start a business up. Most of the equipment pays for itself pretty quick as long as you advertise and don't piss off the customers.
Land on Nantucket is decidedly not cheap, so this operation would have to be pretty damn successful in order for it to turn a profit.
The terrain was sandy pine barrens strewn with small gnarled trees and areas of shrubs and tall grass that sloped gently upward away from the power lines until I reached a high chain-link fence topped with razor wire. My bolt cutters were in the car, back in Hyannis. I backed up into the woods and paralleled the fence looking for someplace that would give me a vantage point past the scrub pines on the other side. After about a hundred yards the trees on the other side of the fence thinned out. I could see a field, and across the field was the van parked at a small house. In back of the house were sand dunes, and I could see a little glimpse of the ocean back there and a couple of boats at moorings.
I set up my tripod and scanned the scene through the zoom lens. Off to the right at the edge of the field there were a couple of people dressed in camouflage gear walking. They carried guns, of the paintball variety I presumed. The were strolling slowly and they weren't heading my way, so I made a mental note to keep track of them and turned the camera back toward the house. I spotted Luciana and Henry talking with a man by the front door. Off to the side of the house, the driver who had picked them up was bringing out some boxes from inside the house one at a time and stacking them.
I snapped a few pictures. I still didn't have anything that really showed that the two were lovers, although Luciana was certainly going to have a lot of explaining to do if her husband decided to confront her with the evidence I'd gathered so far. Unfortunately, I'd pretty much run out of opportunities. There was no way I was getting past that fence and across that field with my camera without being noticed. I figured I may as well just stake out the ferry terminal and follow them home, maybe pick up another shot or two on the boat.
I took the camera off the tripod and put it back into the bag, and as I reached to start folding the tripod someone stuck a gun in my back.
"On your knees, asshole! Hands behind your..."
There was no way I was getting found out by some punk paintballer, and I started to turn around and got a hard kick in the side of my head that put me on the ground. I rolled with it, started to come up and then fell back on my ass when I realized three things.
The guy was a woman.
The gun was very definitely not of the paintball variety.
She was holding a badge open in her other hand.
She was a good-looking woman, tall and thin, dark skin and black hair, maybe part Mexican or American Indian, dressed like one of the paintballers. She moved like someone you'd want on your side in a fight.
I got my hands where she could see them and slowly moved them behind my head while I took a closer look at her badge and took a moment to choose my words carefully.
Lillian Juarez. United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
"I'm a private investigator. My license is in my wallet. Back pocket. Under the driver's license."
I resisted the urge to outright tell her that whatever was going on I wasn't involved. She'd either figure that out or she'd arrest me. Either way I was better off just keeping my mouth shut unless spoken to. She stepped around me, patted me down, and took the wallet quickly and carefully, then stepped back away.
"You've got exceptionally bad timing, Mr. Hall," she said. Then she took out her cell phone and pulled up a picture on the screen and let me see it. "You know this man?"
"Henry Mendelev. Suspected of having an affair with the woman I was following."
"He had a bag with him when he came out here?"
I nodded. She hit the call button on the phone and said something in Spanish.
"Let's go." She motioned for me to stand.
"Look, I don't wanna make any trouble, but how about you fill me in? Professional courtesy?"
She started to say something, but stopped and thought for a second, and then she said, "This place is being raided in a couple of minutes. Your guy Mendelev and his accomplice have had their fingers in the pharmaceutical cookie jar at the hospital where they work for the past year or so. The paintball guys are Russian mob. They're running the drugs over to Long Island and dealing to the yuppie crowd."
There was some activity over at the house. It looked like people were leaving in a hurry. Agent Juarez stopped and crouched, taking out a small set of field glasses.
The two guys who'd been patrolling the field were heading toward the fence a little ways from where we were watching. Over at the house people were making for the beach.
"Shit, there's a way through the fence. These guys are just goons but this was supposed to be a clean sweep." She looked at me like she was sizing me up.
"Lemme guess. Their guns don't shoot paint pellets either."
My own gun was sitting in a locked box in my bedroom.
They'd moved out of sight, but we could hear them cracking branches in the scrub pines. They'd get to the power lines and make for the road. I remembered a little bit of an embankment that looked down on the power line path. It was a good a place as we were gonna get. I motioned to Agent Juarez. She hesitated for a second and I held my breath as I started moving and hoped wouldn't decide to shoot me or something. She finally started to follow and we got ourselves set just as the two hired muscles came into sight on the path.
Lillian let them get two steps past us and yelled for them to drop their weapons. I flashed my badge, which looks official enough at that distance and tried to get my left hand in a position where it looked like I was armed as well.
They looked like they were thinking about making a move, but Lillian was yelling at them to get on the fucking ground or she'd blow their fucking heads off and I shouted something about them being fucking dead if they didn't fucking drop their guns, and I guess between the two of us we managed to sound, well, pretty fucking convincing. They assumed the position with an air of practiced familiarity and Lillian covered them for about ten minutes until her backup got there.
Henry and Luciana ended up trying to escape on a boat with a couple of the Russians, and they found the Coast Guard waiting for them.
I never got any official thanks, which was fine with me since I really hadn't done all that much to help, but I did get a call from Lillian Juarez about the next week. We had a pleasant chat, and she did thank me for the help, even though I still didn't think I had really done much of anything. In fact, I probably could have very easily screwed up the whole operation.
Lillian also asked me about some drugs that were still unaccounted for, and I ended up doing a little research on my own.
I called Katy into my office and showed her what I found.
"Oh gross! Chess, what's up with the bug pictures?"
"Just doing some follow-up on the Olson case."
"I though we were done with that. Luciana Olson wasn't having an affair, but that whole thing about her probably going to federal prison... That's gotta be grounds for divorce, right?"
"Probably," I said, "But I was following up on that other angle. There were some drugs that weren't recovered. Specifically, ceftriaxone, an intravenous antibiotic."
"Okay, Chess. I'm lost. Antibiotics? Drugs? Vampires?"
I smiled. I knew Katy was gonna appreciate the irony.
"This is a deer tick. Luciana Olson was treating herself for late-diagnosed lyme disease. If her husband had found out about it he would have asked questions. Like, where would someone who never even goes out in her own back yard caught a tick-borne disease? Nantucket has the highest incidence of lyme disease in the United States. Oh, and the symptoms..."
"Malaise, melancholy, and pallor?"
"Well, the terms they used on the website I checked were fatigue, mylagia, and depression. But close enough."
I took another look at the picture of the deer tick bloated with the blood of its meal.
"Think we should call up Barry Olson and tell him we've got his vampire right here?"
Story and photo by Rick Silva, Copyright 2006