Zerbrowski agreed it was a hell of a thing.
"Moffat was at the club one night. He made it sound so easy. I would have to stop drinking, because I couldn't drink anymore. Simple." He reached for another cigarette.
"Can you wait until we're gone for that?" I asked.
"It's the last vice I got," he said. But he stuffed the cig back in its pack. He kept the lighter in his hands, playing with it, as if even that was a comfort. "I'm what my counselor calls an addictive personality. Do you know what that means, officers?"
"It means that if you can't drink, you've got to be addicted to something," I said.
He smiled, and really looked at me for the first time. Not just like I was a cop come to hassle him, but like I was a person. "Yeah, yeah, my counselor wouldn't like that definition, no siree she would not. But yeah, that's the truth. Some people are lucky, and it's just they're addicted to drinking, or smoking, or whatever, but for those of us who are just addicted to being addicted, anything'll do."
"The blood lust," I said.
He laughed again, and nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I can't drink liquor but I can still drink. I still like to drink." He slapped the lighter down on the table, and both Zerbrowski and I jumped. Benchely didn't seem to notice. "Everyone thinks you get to be pretty when you're made over. That you get to be suave and good with the ladies just because you got a pair of fangs."
"You get the gaze with the fangs," I said.
"Yeah, I can trick 'em with my eyes, but legally that's not a willing feed." He looked at Zerbrowski as if he represented all the laws that had held him down all his life. "If I use vampire tricks, and she comes out of it yelling force, I'm dead." He looked at me, and it wasn't exactly an unfriendly look. "It's considered sexual assault, as if I slipped her a date rape drug. But I'm a vampire, and I won't see trial. They'll give me to you, and you'll kill me."
I wasn't sure what to say to that. It was true, though they'd amended the law so that you had to have more than one count of gaze-induced blood taking to execute someone. That's what they called it, gaze-induced blood taking. The far right was crying that it was letting sexual predators loose on our communities. The far left just didn't want to agree with the far right, so they'd help push for the change in the laws. Those of us in the middle just didn't like the idea of a death warrant being issued on the say-so of one date who woke up the next morning with a bad case of buyer's remorse.
"I don't have the money to throw around that the church deacons do," Benchely was saying, "I've got to get a woman to donate her blood through charm." He said the last word like it was curse. "I know drink ruined my life, but I am a hell of a lot more charming when I've had just a few drinks."
"That's not usually true," I said.
He looked at me. "What isn't true?"
"A lot of drunks think they're charming drunk, but they aren't. Trust me, I've been the only teetotaler at a lot of parties. There is nothing charming about a drunk, except maybe to another drunk."
He was shaking his head. "Maybe, but all I know is that I'm reduced to feeding off the church. The church makes taking blood as tame as it can. Something that should be better than sex, and they make you feel like you're at one of those places where you only get your food after you've listened to the sermon. It makes the food taste bad." He picked up his lighter again turning it over and over in his hands, until the gold of it swirled in the dim light, shining. "Nothing tastes good when you have to swallow your pride with it."
"Are you saying that Moffat, a deacon of the church, misrepresented what life would be like after you became a vampire?" I tried for as casual a question as I could make it.
"Misrepresented, not exactly. More like he let me come in believing all the stuff in the books and movies, and when I talked about it like it would be that way, he didn't tell me different. But it is different, real different."
If you were Belle Morte's line you spent eternity with people lining up to donate. If you were from some of the bloodlines that gave power, but not beauty or sex appeal, then in a country where using vampire tricks was illegal, you were screwed. The only vamp I knew well that was descended from a line like that was Willie McCoy. I had never wondered what Willie, with his ugly suits and uglier ties and slicked back hair, did for food. Maybe I should have.
The Church of Eternal Life didn't promise much more than most churches promised, but you could join the Lutherans, and if you didn't like it, you could quit. Joining the Church of Eternal Life as a full member meant never being able to do anything about regrets you might have.
Zerbrowski got us back on track. "You didn't see anyone in the parking lot who could confirm when you left the Sapphire?"
He shook his head.
"Did you smell anything?"
Those washed out eyes flicked up to me. He frowned. "What?"
"You didn't see anything, or anyone, but sight isn't the only sensory input you've got."
He frowned harder.
I bent down so I could meet him eye-to-eye. I would have knelt, but I didn't want to touch the carpet with anything but my shoes. "You're a vampire, Benchely, a bloodsucker, a predator. If you were human I'd just say what did you see, or hear, but you're not human. If you didn't see or hear anything, what did you smell? What did you sense?"
He was looking positively perplexed. "What do you mean?"
I shook my head. "What did they do, make you a vampire, then not teach you anything about what you are?"
"We're the eternal children of God," he said.
"Bullshit, bull-fucking-shit! You don't know what you are, or what you could be." I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him. He was five years dead. I didn't think he was involved, but he'd walked through that parking lot damn close to the time of the killing. If he hadn't been such a pitiful excuse for the undead, he might have been able to help us catch the bad guys.
"I don't understand," he said, and I believed him.
I shook my head. "I need air." I went for the door, leaving Zerbrowski to mutter, "Thanks for your help, Mr. Benchely, and if you think of anything, call us. I was on the cement walkway, breathing in all the night air I could, when Zerbrowski came to find me.
"What the hell was that?" he asked. "You just decide we stop questioning a suspect?"
"He didn't do it, Zerbrowski. He's too damn pitiful to have done it."
"Anita, listen to yourself. That doesn't even make sense. You know as well I do that murderers can make you feel sorry for them. Some of them specialize in pity."
"I don't mean I felt pity for him, I mean he's too damn pitiful a vampire to have pulled it off."
Zerbrowski frowned at me. "You've lost me."
I wasn't sure how to explain it, but I tried. "It's bad enough that they let him believe that becoming a vampire would fix everything that was wrong with his miserable life, but then they killed him. They took his mortal life, but they've done everything they can to cripple him as a vampire."
"Cripple him, how?"
"Any vampire that I know would have noticed things, Zerbrowski. They're like this hyperfocus predator. Predators notice things. Benchely may have fangs, but he still thinks like he's a sheep, not a wolf."
"Would you really want every member of the church to be a good predator?"
I leaned my back against the railing. "It's not that. It's that they took his life and didn't give him another one. He's not better off than he was before."
"He's not getting arrested for drunk and disorderlies anymore."
"And how long will it be before he can't take it anymore and he uses his gaze on somebody, drinks their blood, and blows it? They wake up and decide they were abused. He's not a good enough vampire for them not to wake up and regret it."
"What do you mean he's not a good enough vampire? Anita, you're not making sense."
"I don't know if it'll make sense to you, Zerbrowski, but I've seen the real deal. They're terrible, or can be, but they're like watching a tiger at the zoo. They're dangerous, but they have a beauty to them, even the ones that aren't from a bloodline that makes them prettier after death, even those have a sort of power to them. A certain mystique, or an aura of confidence, or something. They have something that every member of the church that we've talked to since last night lacks."