An Excerpt From Vampire Sunrise by Carole Nelson Douglas
[ Information on Vampire Sunrise ]
Dead-tired, I headed "home" in the early evening Las Vegas Strip traffic.
Instead of sugar plums--or even three cherries in a slot machine window--other
far less delightful images danced in my head.
I was only two days of sleep-deprivation past an endless night fighting
Vegas's hidden ancient Egyptian underworld of blood-thirsty supernaturals. My
cup of nightmares was sure to runneth over for weeks with visions of zombie
mummies, hyena carcasses, and vampires in eyeliner.
Even worse would be visual reruns of Ric chained to a dungeon wall under the
Karnak Hotel, victim of a vicious suck-fest. That was the ancient Egyptian
vampire empire's version of waterboarding as they sought the secret of his
ability to raise the dead.
Now my investigative partner was out of the Karnak's supernaturally infested
bowels and alive, barely, in a high-rise suite at the rival Inferno Hotel. In an
hour, Ricardo Montoya had gone from the pit of Hell to the heavens, or the Vegas
version of both.
Thanks to Ric and my separate life-threatening investigations at the Karnak,
I was alive but iffy on the matter of my soul and sanity. Ric was in a
coma--possibly more dead than alive--and possibly possessed of a more
compromised soul than I was.
I'd been too frantic to do anything but hover over Ric for hours and was
finally heading home under doctor's orders to "freshen up" before returning to
his comatose side.
Getting myself together enough to drive my big black '56 Caddy, Dolly,
through brassy Vegas Strip traffic forced me to focus. My heart felt a faint
ping of security when the Nightwine estate's iron side gates opened
automatically to admit us.
After parking Dolly near the carriage house, I could hardly wait to enter my
soothing rental digs and start to feel human again. In a city built on flash and
flesh, unhuman seemed the dominant life, or death, form.
I headed for the Enchanted Cottage, then stopped. Its Hobbity front door
formed a gray wooden frame for something black-and-white and silver all over
that stood before it, blocking my way. Yes, this "something" was also "someone"
I welcomed seeing. My favorite CinSim.
"Godfrey!" My voice quivered with mingled grief and joy.
"My dear Miss Street," he began in the brisk tones of that fine actor,
William Powell, playing the ultra-competent My Man Godfrey in the 1936 romantic
comedy film classic. "How splendid to see you alive and well and back on the
Godfrey was my landlord's butler and looked more than double my age. He was
actually three or four times it, depending whether you counted birth dates or
film dates. Godfrey was as formal as an English tea caddy, but he'd been my
first real friend in Las Vegas. That he was a Silver Screen movie image imposed
on a zombie body "canvas" made him no less dear to me.
"Where is our Master Quicksilver?" he asked, worried and glancing behind me.
That's what an old-school butler like Godfrey called my
hundred-and-fifty-pound wolfhound-wolf-cross dog: "Master Quicksilver." Godfrey
honored my adopted dog by addressing him as he would a young male human.
Quicksilver indeed had awesome qualities above and beyond the ordinary dog.
Godfrey's always amusing formality helped me focus even more. Stiff upper lip
and all. Right.
"Quick's fine, Godfrey. I left him guarding Ric at the Inferno."
"Ah." Godfrey's pencil-thin black mustache twitched ever so slightly with
sympathy. "I understand Mr. Montoya is secure and doing well in Christophe's
I noticed Godfrey hadn't described Ric as he had me, "alive and well."
"How do you know what's...happened?" I asked.
"Word gets out," he murmured, as discreet as ever.
"'Word.'" My stress-dulled mind grabbed that one piece of mental flotsam and
clung to it.
Apparently, "word" had been thorough enough to make everyone I knew
uncomfortable with the "alive" designation for Ric's current state.
That kicked me back into reliving the nightmare of Ric's rescue. I saw our
war party retreating quickly through a trail of downed Egyptian warriors, attack
mummies and hyenas as the underground river Nile became one of the rivers of
Hell flowing beneath Snow's Inferno hotel.
Snow, acting fast like the big shot he was, had already arranged a
state-of-the-art hospital set-up in the hotel. No outsiders would know what had
happened to Ric. The Vegas bigwigs involved wanted news of a rival supernatural
vampire empire at the Karnak kept secret.
I was just as eager to keep Ric's one paranormal power private.
Cesar Cicereau's Gehenna Hotel werewolves had peeled off at the Inferno back
Snow's security head, Grizelle, a six-feet-something black supermodel type
who can turn that catwalk strut into the stalking stride of a six-hundred-pound
white tiger, had borne Ric's unconscious body along so fast she was out of
When I caught up with Grizelle at the hotel's forty-second floor high-roller
penthouses, I'd found Snow's designated hospital site was the bridal suite.
Snow always played Mr. Discreet, but, like the scorpion, his every move could
bear a sting in its tail. My "bridegroom" might never awaken.
I couldn't carp about the set-up.
Ric was soon ensconced in a hospital bed so accessorized it resembled a
Bowflex home gym workout station. He had twenty-four hour guards and nursing
care. As he slept, blood dripped around-the-clock into his circulatory system,
an oddly vampiric process.
That last memory of him made me shudder now.
"Miss Street." Godfrey gently broke into my dark trip down bad-memory lane.
"You're not here to brood, but to rest, recover and change clothes. Please go
inside and do that."
"Oh. Yes. Yes, Godfrey." I looked down at the shopping bags dangling in my
hands. "Thanks for packing me some things to use at the Inferno. I'm going right
back, of course. Directly back."
"Of course." He used that agreeable tone that didn't quite gibe what he just
said. "I'll wait here until you're safely inside."
"Getting pushy, are we, Godfrey?" I smiled. "I'm super-safe on Nightwine's
ultra-secure estate. I'm just not safe alone inside myself right now."
I let Godfrey feel useful. He took and slid my key card into the door slot,
nodding goodbye as I shuffled my boot-clad feet over the threshold. Everything
inside looked the same, but felt oddly alien.
I felt like I'd been on a two-day bender--like Ray Milland in The Lost
Weekend--although alcohol hadn't been my downfall. Since I work free-lance,
weekends don't have the significance for a 24/7 on-call snoop like me that they
hold for the forty hour-a-week wage slave I used to be.
Life in post-Millennium Revelation Las Vegas is one long---one might even say
eternal---Lost Weekend anyway. Before the millennium turned, party hardy Vegas
was full up with social vices . . . drinking, dicing, doing anyone and any
illegal substances in sight.
Me, here and now, I'd just ODed on fighting supernatural crime. I ached from
ankle to angst but mostly I was mentally sucked dry.
I'd left the Enchanted Cottage thirty-six hours earlier a relatively
well-adjusted woman with a mildly important mission . . . handling a rogue
CinSim at the Inferno Hotel. That was more a public relations assignment than a
serious case for a fledgling paranormal investigator.
Here I was coming home a virtual zombie, a husk who'd danced cheek-to-cheek
with sex and death and destruction and--even more blasphemously---perhaps given
When I left my fairy-tale digs I hadn't anticipated meeting a particularly
iconic CinSim: Humphrey Bogart as "gin joint" owner Rick Blaine in the 1944 film
classic, Casablanca. Who wouldn't want to share a bar with Mr. Noir Guy, even if
he was just a CinSim?
Once placed, CinSims are chipped to stay where put, within a room or a set
range of so many feet. They are property on loan. One of them strolling off
assigned premises, even in their home hotel, was big news.
Wouldn't you know it was tough-guy Bogart/Blaine who'd wandered from his
proper place in the hellfire bowels of the Inferno Hotel? He'd made it all the
way to the ground-level bar. There he'd asked for me, Delilah Street. Well, he
didn't exactly ask for me, personally.
He'd muttered about a woman of my description: "black and blue." That's me on
a police blotter--black hair, blue eyes. Add a funeral-lily pale complexion and
red lips and you have Snow White wearing Lip Venom gloss.
Since my "summoning" then and my exhausted return now, my attire had gone
from a midnight-blue velvet gown from my personal vintage clothes collection to
an armored catsuit fit for a sixties James Bond movie action climax.
The steel-studded, patent-leather suit and crotch-high flat-heeled boots I
wore, sans the black mail hood, were unnaturally light and tight and adapted to
the wearer's physical dimensions, permanently.
At least Grizelle said so.
That's why I'd worn the thing home under a jersey caftan. The suit moved like
muscle with my weary body and kept me upright, thanks to spandex and some
possibly supernatural spell known only to Snow.
For all its creepy flexibility, the outfit felt as hard as a scarab-beetle's
shiny carapace. Inside it my joints creaked as if cased in concrete. My mind
felt duller than a battle-worn sword and my heart heavier than a black hole
filled with lead.
How odd that instead of a weapon I now toted something as trivial as a Prada
shopping bag loaded with my clothes from my original dress-up outing to the
Inferno. I pulled out midnight-blue sequined pumps---call them Dorothy Gale in
mourning--and matching evening bag, and a tiny but significant container of Lip
Venom plumping gloss.
All very chi-chi, yet to me the limp blue-velvet vintage gown draping the
crook of my arm was now about as attractive as a vamp-drained corpse.
I let it slide to the floor with the shoes and bag as soon as I crossed the
cottage threshold, the beginning of my personal safety zone.
There was no place like the Enchanted Cottage for R&R.
My landlord, another triple threat like Snow--TV producer, film buff, and
morbidity entrepreneur Hector Nightwine--had built the set from a forties movie
called The Enchanted Cottage as a livable guest house on his estate.
I can't swallow the fairy tale that quaint settings create a stage for true
love, as happened in that movie. Still, since the Enchanted Cottage had been
recreated in a post-Millennium Revelation Las Vegas, what had been merely
"charming" before was now actually "charmed," in the sense of hosting a mostly
unseen magical staff.
Yup, I knew that lodging me here was like reinventing Snow White with pixies
and gnomes instead of workaholic dwarves. The best part was these shy, often
unseen creatures worked for me, not Hector.
And work they did, leaving no domestic duties to distract this kick-ass
late-model Snow White from just how bad things looked for her Prince Charming.
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Copyright © 2009, Carole Nelson Douglas.
All Rights Reserved.