"Ease down, it's okay. He's just not awake yet."
Zerbrowski looked puzzled at me. "What does that mean?"
"I can feel vampires, Zerbrowski, if I concentrate, or they're doing something powerful. He's not awake yet. I was hoping he would be, he's supposed to be the oldest one of the three, longest dead. Longest dead usually wakes up first, unless one of them is a master. Masters wake up first."
"I knew the part about longest dead," he said. "So a master vampire that is two years dead can wake up before a vampire that is five years dead, but not a master?"
"Yeah, though some vamps don't accumulate enough power in five hundred years to rival masters I've met that were under five years."
"That'd be a bummer. A flunkie for all eternity."
I nodded. "Yeah." I felt that instant spark inside the room. It hit me almost like a punch to the stomach, or lower. Once I could only sense vamps that I had a connection to, to this degree, and once it was just a small quiver of recognition. Apparently, I'd gone up a power level or two.
"You okay?" Zerbrowski asked.
"Yeah, just, yeah. Now you can use the doorbell."
He gave me a look.
"I was concentrating too hard when he woke up, okay? My bad."
I don't know if he really understood the comment, or was just used to me being weird, but whatever, he pushed the button. We heard the strident sound inside the room beyond. So many people think that being a vampire automatically gets you the big house on the hill, or a coffin in a dungeon somewhere, but most of the vamps I knew had apartments, houses, and lived pretty much like everyone else. Vampires living in a central location surrounding their master, the way Jean-Claude had it, was becoming a thing of the past.
I missed it. Not nostalgia. If I had to kill a bunch of vamps, having them spread miles apart made my job harder. But we weren't here to kill anybody, not yet. Of course, that could change. All we needed was proof, or, depending on the judge, strong suspicion. Once I'd been okay with that. Now, it bothered me. To my knowledge, I'd never killed vamps that hadn't done the crime, but I had to admit that at the beginning of my career, I hadn't checked as carefully as I did now. They were just walking corpses to me once, and making them lie down and be still hadn't felt like murder to me. My job had been easier then, fewer conflicts. Nothing helps you sleep at night so much as being absolutely certain that you're right, and everyone else is evil.
The door opened, and the vampire stood blinking at us. His blond hair was tousled from sleep, and he'd thrown jeans over his boxers, or maybe slept in both. They were wrinkled enough. He squinted at us, and it took me a second to realize the squint was permanent, like someone who'd worked outdoors all their life, and not worn sunglasses. His eyes were pale and washed almost colorless. He looked tanned, but he was five years dead, and it couldn't be a tan. Artificial tan was starting to be big business among the recently dead. The ones who hadn't gotten accustomed to that paler than pale look. His looked better than most, a professional job, not homegrown.
"Jack Benchely?" Zerbrowski made it a question.
"Who wants to know?"
He flashed his badge, and I flashed mine. "Sergeant Zerbrowski of the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team."
"Federal Marshal Anita Blake."
Jack Benchely blinked harder, like he was really trying to wake up. "Shit, what did I do to get the Spook Squad and the Executioner at my door just after sundown?"
"Let's go inside and talk about that," Zerbrowski said with a smile.
The vampire seemed to think about that for a second. "You got a warrant?"
"We don't want to search your place, Mr. Benchely. We want to ask you some questions, that's all." Zerbrowski was still smiling. The smile didn't even look strained.
I wasn't trying to smile, I didn't feel like it.
"What kind of questions?" he asked.
I said, "The kind about you being across the river at a strip club, when I know for a damned fact that Malcolm has ordered you all to stay away from shit like that." Now I was smiling, but it was a smile the way a flash of teeth is a smile. Sometimes it's a smile and sometimes it's not. Put your hand close to the dog's mouth and find out.
Benchely didn't look like he wanted to find out. He looked awake now, awake and almost scared. He licked his thin lips and said, "Are you going to tell Malcolm?"
"That depends on how cooperative you are," I said.
"What Marshal Blake means, is if we get enough information from you, there won't be a need to trouble the head of the Church of Eternal Life." Zerbrowski was still smiling and pleasant. I guess I was bad cop for the day. That worked for me.
"I know what she meant," the vampire said. He moved to one side of the open door and was careful to keep his hands where we could see them. Jack Benchely, human, had a record. Minor stuff. A few drunk and disorderlies, an assault charge that started out as a domestic disturbance call. Nothing too serious, and all of it involving too many drinks and not enough common sense.
When we were inside, he shut the door and went to the couch. From a coffee table that had almost as much crap on it as the backseat of Zerbrowski's car, he fished out a cigarette and a lighter. He lit up without asking if we minded. How rude.
There were no other chairs in the room, so we stayed standing. Again, rude. Though the place was so messy that I wasn't sure I'd have taken a seat if it had been offered. There was so much clutter that you expected it to smell stale, but it didn't. It did smell like the inside of an ashtray, but that's not the same thing as dirty. I've been in houses that looked spotless, but still reeked of cigarettes. Being a nonsmoker, my nose isn't dulled to it.
He took in a big drag on the cig and made the tip glow bright. He let the smoke trickle out through his nose and the corners of his mouth. "What do you want to know?"
"Why'd you leave the Sapphire early last night?" I asked.
He shrugged. "It was after eleven. I don't call that early."
"Okay, why'd you leave when you did?"
He looked up at me, eyes narrowed as smoke oozed past them. "It was boring. The same girls, same acts." He shrugged. "I swear that strippers were more fun when I could drink."
"I bet," I said.
Zerbrowski said, "What time did you leave exactly?"
Benchely answered. We asked the usual questions. What time? Why? With whom? Was there anyone in the parking lot that could verify that he got in his truck and didn't linger in the parking lot?
"Linger," Benchely said, and he laughed. Laughed hard enough to flash fangs. The fangs were as yellowed from nicotine as the rest of his teeth. "I didn't linger, officer. I just left."
I debated on whether I could tell him to put out his cigarette in his own house, and if he'd do it if I asked. If I ordered him and he didn't, we'd look weak. If I grabbed the cig and smushed it out, I'd be a bully. I tried to hold my breath and hoped he'd finish it soon.
He took another healthy pull on the cig and spoke with the smoke coming out of his mouth. "What did I miss? One of the other vamps get out of hand with a dancer? One of the other upstanding church members trying to frame me for it?"
"Something like that," I said softly.
He fished an ashtray out of the mess. It was an older one, pale green ceramic, with upturned sides and a tray of cig holders in the middle, like dull teeth. He stubbed out his cig and didn't try to hide that he was angry. Or maybe five years dead wasn't enough time to learn to hide that well. Maybe.
"Hell, it was Charles, wasn't it?"
I shrugged. Zerbrowski smiled. We hadn't said yes, we hadn't said no. Noncommittal, that was us.
"He's a member of their damn club, did he tell you that?"
"He didn't volunteer it," I said.
"I'll bet he didn't. Damned hypocrites, all of them." He ran his hands through his hair, made the thickness of it stand up even more. "Did he tell you that he's the one that recruited me for the damn church?"
I fought the urge to share a glance with Zerbrowski. "He didn't mention that," Zerbrowski said.
"I'd tried to quit drinking. I tried just quitting, twelve steps, you name it, I tried it. Nothing worked. I'd lost two wives, more jobs than I could count. I've got a son who's nearly twelve. There's a court order against me seeing him. Isn't that a hell of a thing, my own son?"