“Over here! I found some!” Lester was crouched behind a shrub. An early morning jogger averted her eyes and quickened her pace as she passed.
Wilcox had to admit that Lester did resemble a bum taking a dump. He didn’t blame the jogger for her reaction. But they were here to find scat, not make it. “What have you got?” He crouched down beside his apprentice.
“Cookie,” said Lester. “Chocolate chip.”
Wilcox’s knees creaked as he stood. “No.”
“It’s just a cookie, left out in the rain.”
“How do you—”
“Because. It hasn’t been chewed. And it’s not the right shape.”
“Well, I tried.”
“I know.” Wilcox offered Lester a hand as the younger man stood up. The park looked dismal in its coat of slush and mud. Wilcox thought about Jolly’s patience with him, back when he was training. But thinking about Jolly inevitably made him sad. “Let’s go,” he said.
Two weeks later, in an alley behind the Greek bakery downtown, they found a long thin coil, pale yellow, almost white.
Wilcox picked it up in his gloved hands and broke it open. It was fluffy inside, almost as if it had been freshly baked.
“Challah,” said Wilcox.
“Egg bread. The best in town.”
In an obscure corner of the art gallery’s rooftop sculpture garden sat the heaped remains of an entire Chinese meal. In the lightly macerated tubular formations Wilcox identified noodles, snow peas, and stir fried beef. The scent of soy sauce and ginger wafted from the pile.
“This is fresh,” said Wilcox. “And see how it seems almost dehydrated? The water’s been absorbed, but nothing we would call digestion has occurred.”
Wilcox regarded his apprentice critically. “And why would our target consume such a meal, if he derives no nutritional benefit?”
Lester’s brows furrowed. “Camouflage. To get close to people. Or—to one specific person. A victim.”
“To lull the victim into a sense of normalcy.”
“Gold star, Lester.”
“Now, let’s go rest up. Tonight we’re dining out.”
Le Chinois. Gate of India. Papagayo, the upscale Mexican place. They ate at all the nicest restaurants in town, but never caught their target in the act.
They found the evidence of meals, though. Rice and curry behind a dumpster. A bratwurst, torn into bite sized pieces and recomposed in something very much like its original shape, hidden in the alley between a dive bar and the Black Forest Inn.
They caught their break when they found three variably aged servings of seafood pasta, extruded as if through a pastry bag and covered by piles of leaves in a west end backyard. A pattern. Repetition.
“There’s one thing I don’t get,” said Lester over prime rib at Bistro 1010.
“Why don’t they use toilets?”
Wilcox had asked Jolly the same question when he was an apprentice. “We don’t really know. Perhaps the call of nature is rather abrupt. Think about the last meal you had that went right through you. How much time did you have to hit the can?”
Lester laughed quietly.
“More likely, we’re dealing with an old one. Study your European history. Toilets are rather recent. In some periods, the nobility disdained to use them. The halls of Versailles, Lester, were littered with shit.”
Lester chuckled and took another bite of prime rib.
“And consider that our target digests his usual sustenance completely. When he eats regular food, how uncomfortable he must be with the one reminder that he was once just like us.”
Lester’s gaze shifted to something over Wilcox’s shoulder. “Tall, pale, and gruesome,” Lester whispered. “He’s got a girl with him.”
“Six feet. There’s a mole.”
Wilcox shivered. It was the one who killed Jolly.
The tall man sniffed the air. “You!” he shouted. “I smell you!”
Wilcox hoisted himself to his feet and turned, pulling the stake from his jacket pocket. Too late: the vampire’s hand was already around his throat, squeezing his windpipe.
As black walls closed in on Wilcox’s vision, he saw people scrambling for the door. He saw something else, too.
The vampire stumbled. He released Wilcox and pitched forward. As he fell, he crumbled into ash.
Lester stood where the vampire had been, holding a wooden stake in his trembling hand.
“Good show,” said Wilcox.
Lester offered his arm for support and smiled. “Gold star?”