Dalton James could hear the heavy footsteps banging against wooden stairs. He’d always been able to hear them. His office was very much on the old side of things. Mt. Pleasant, Cleveland. This was Browns country and moreover, this was one of the city’s worst neighborhoods.
The rent was cheap enough and the building had been everything Dalton had desired. Even down to the shitty wooden steps which led up from the street below. A warning system, if nothing more.
“Time to wake up, Sleeping Beauty.” Adam said as he entered.
The office door was just as sad looking as you’d imagine in a building that was decades behind a builder’s code. Thick wood with an antique knob and milky glass with no other purpose than to be there with his name plastered on it.
Dalton James. Private Detective.
“Beauty my ass.” Dalton replied as he raised his head from the desk.
Like everything else, his desk was a relic of severe age and neglect. It had likely been a fine piece of furniture once upon a time. The kind that you’d imagine in some upscale bank, shining beneath fancy overhead lighting. Now it was littered with the haze of age and the scars and nicks of everyday use.
“You said 8 o’clock.” Adam reminded.
Grumbling under his breath, Dalton stared at the clock which hung on the wall. It was rather large and wrapped in a steel band, resembling the clock in one of any of the thousands of labor factories around the world.
“It’s fifteen after.” Adam said. Holding up his antique pocket watch.
“Shit,” Dalton complained.
Taking a large cigar of questionable origin, he quickly wrapped his lips around it as though he were snugging a newborn and flicked his windproof lighter. Drawing several deep breaths and lighting the cigar in the process.
“Had the weirdest damn dream. Didn’t sleep much.”
Adam looked at him with curiosity. Finally going a bit further.
“The dream? Same one?” Adam asked.
“Shit, I don’t remember all of the details, honestly. Yea. You and me were hunting vampires in space. Something like that. They had me in charge of a fleet-”
“They had you in charge?”
“Yea, me,” Dalton defended. “It’s my damn dream. I can be the hero if I want to be. Anyway, it doesn’t feel like I’ve slept a wink.”
It certainly wasn’t his first sleepless night. He could remember far back, even into his childhood. The same dream with details changing ever so slightly along the way. Those who knew him had pushed for the tough man to visit a sleep clinic. He had, though his was housed inside of a whiskey bottle.
“Science fiction huh?” Adam asked, taking a moment to stare at Dalton’s tiny black and white television.
Wondering if they still made the damn things. Also laying on the desk were an emptied bottle of cheap wine and a half-eaten pizza. Pepperoni; banana peppers; onions; sausage; bacon and extra cheese. Just the way Dalton liked it.
“Well, it could have something to do with the binge drinking, late night pizza and television.”
“Piece of shit won’t work,” Dalton snarled, glancing to the older TV.
“Besides, what are you? A damn detective or something?”
“Yes, as I matter of fact I am,” Adam replied with a grin. “And so are you, so you might want to act the part. Shave or something.”
Dalton puffed away on his cigar, daring not to give a damn. Adam was clean shaven enough for the both of them. He was the type who dressed the part. He even had an antique pocket watch on a chain in his jacket’s front pocket. A watch that was very near and dear to his heart. Adam smelled of the perfect cologne crispness. He’d never been attractive, but he tried.
Getting all jazzed up wasn’t Dalton’s style. Give him a gun and a brown coat, preferably made from a cow’s ass and he was ready to go to work. Lack of sleep be damned. Grabbing a slice of the room tempered pizza, he commenced to having his breakfast.
“You keep having these dreams,” Adam said. “Maybe you should look into becoming a writer. I saw this fantastic piece on TV about-”
“Shit,” Dalton said with a cackle.
“Ain’t no money in that. Besides, people would just think I was another long-winded, underpaid fool with no social life. Maybe even fetch me one of those editors. You know, the official type. One that lays on the beach all year long and takes too many damn cruises.”
“Yea,” Adam agreed. “Best stick to being a detective.”
He’d meant to answer his good friend, but Dalton stopped completely. Once again, he could hear the creaking of wooden steps. It was a lot less deafening this time around, which usually came from the steps of a client. Someone who wasn’t familiar with the building, unlike Adam Michaels, who seemed to march up the steps like a herd of buffalo fleeing a pack of burly ranch
“Look professional.” Adam suggested.
His statement was returned by Dalton James, who held the smoldering cigar in his mouth. Tucked limply into the corner. His face was covered in brown man fur and experience. His back was covered with a whiskey-stained brown coat. He understood that with budget cuts across the board, the police would stay two steps behind criminals and that brought him a lot of business. So he remained casual.
As the door opened slowly, both men found themselves in awe.
I should have hidden the fucking pizza. Dalton thought.
It was a woman, but certainly no ordinary woman. Red hair fell down to the middle of her back and most importantly, she was dressed fancy. The kind of woman that there was no mistaking her importance. She had money and could have blended well with any higher class crowd. Her skin was flawless and her eyes were the perfect color. They were russet brown and very much resembled the autumn of winter.
“I’m looking for Detective James.” she said with timidness.
Even so, the woman sounded too proper to be from Cleveland. At least Dalton’s side of the city, which often saw grown men fighting over the last bite of a Polish Dog from Quincy’s Bar and Grill. Where the only thing thicker than cigarette smoke were the bars on the windows.
“That’d be me,” Dalton replied. “What can I do for you?”
A night of love-making, he’d hoped. He’d long been accustomed to women coming to him with suspicions of a cheating spouse. Normally, they were a bit thick and odd-shaped. Homely looking, even. Still they found comfort in his arms more times than not. He’d always felt a bit of guilt when it came to bedding down women in distress.
But a part of him had considered it a benefits packages. God knows he had no vision or dental insurance to speak of. Even the schmucks at Starbucks had that. This woman was quite different than any he’d encountered before. She was beautiful in every conceivable way. Enough so that it hurt.
“My husband…” she began.
Dalton quickly wanted to find this man. Not only to expose him as the cheating rat that he was, but to lay five forceful ones across the man’s eyes for being stupid enough to cheat on such a beautiful woman. He wasn’t alone. Dalton could see the way Adam stared at her and he knew the look well. It was like watching the eyes of a cat with prey only feet away. He suspected that there was a boner in them there slacks of Adam’s.
“You file a report with the police?” Dalton asked.
It was a damn shame, too. He’d so hoped for a cheating spouse. At least he would have a chance with her if that were the case.
“Yes,” she replied. “But they don’t work so fast. The Cleveland Police are overbooked, as you might imagine. I need to find my husband. I have money,” she said, confirming Dalton’s theory. “I’ll pay whatever it takes.”
“OK,” he replied, pulling a yellow legal pad from his desk.
Finding slight embarrassment in the fact that the he’d scrawled stick men and names on the first sheet, he quickly tore it off. Knowing that Adam was likely staring a hole through him.
“I need to know what he might be wearing and the last place you-”
“I know where he is.” the woman admitted.
It was the first time either man had heard such an admission.
“I know where my husband is,” she said once more. “I tried to tell the police, but they won’t go after him.”
“Why’s that?” Dalton asked.
“Vampires have him.”
“Vampires have him.”
All of the sudden, his shitty legal pad artwork felt a little less embarrassing. Of course! A woman this fine somehow found her way into his office and as fate would have it, she’s batshit crazy! Just the luck.
“OK, well,” Dalton replied. Doing his best not to laugh. “I believe we’re done here. If you want, I can walk you-”
“Why will no one help me?” she asked. “I understand how ridiculous it all sounds. I do. But I’m telling the truth and I’m willing to pay. They told me you’re the best.”
Of course they did! The Cleveland Police had likely sent her away with tears of laughter. They’d thrown her into his lap, the cocksuckers!
“Look,” Dalton said in a sobering tone. “I’m not trying to offend you here Mrs-”
“Blaine. Sarah Blaine.”
“Mrs. Blaine,” Dalton said. “We’re not ghost hunters and we don’t chase after the paranormal. Why? Because we have bills to pay and-”
“These aren’t ghosts,” she argued. “I’ve seen them with my own eyes. They are very real and they’ve threatened to kill me if I show back up at their doorstep. I can easily pay your bills – whatever the asking price. I have enough money.”
“They threatened you?” Adam asked.
“Yes!” she replied frantically.
There it goes. Dalton thought.
His friend Adam had always been a victim of the complex. Helping a desperate woman in need. It didn’t matter how much risk or reward was involved, if you put a skirt in front of his face and tears in her eyes, Adam would bite like a slithering catfish. It was likely his only hope of getting laid. He considered himself to be good looking. He was anything but.
“No one will help me.” she said, beginning to cry.
Son of a bitch. Dalton thought.
“May, I have a word with Detective James, alone?”
Stepping out into the narrow stairwell, Sarah left them to discuss the fate of her husband. The thick glass and shitty wooden door did very little to muffle her crying.
“No,” Dalton said quickly. “Hell no.”
“Just hear me out.” Adam replied.
“She’s in here talking about vampires, Adam,” Dalton said with a laugh.
“Closest I’ve ever been to a vampire was my ex-wife. She’d suck a bank account dry really quick, especially toward the end of things. Believe me, I even tried garlic on her. All of that shit.”
“Look,” Adam pleaded. “I don’t believe it either. But I do believe that she believes it. She’s willing to pay. We could go and talk to the folks she suspects. It would ease her mind and pay our bills for a couple of months. These dreams you keep having about vampires in space… This could be an omen. Either way, everybody wins.”
“They probably told her not to come back because she’s fucking nuts.” Dalton argued with emotion.
“Then let’s just go and hear it from them. Collect a paycheck in the process.”
“OK,” Dalton said. “But it’s one trip. I don’t believe in omens. We’re not running all over the damn city chasing ghosts-”
“Whatever!” Dalton fumed. “We do it my way. One and done, with payment up front. And the Cleveland P.D. never finds out. OK?”
“I’ll let her know.” Adam said with a grin.