"Mrs. Peel," intoned a suave, urbane tenor voice from the hotel doorway behind Di Tregarde, "We're needed."
The accent was faintly French rather than English, but the inflection was dead-on.
Di didn't bother to look in the mirror, although she knew there would be a reflection there. Andre LeBrel might be a 200-year-old vampire, but he cast a perfectly good reflection. She was too busy trying to get her false eyelashes to stick.
"In a minute, lover. The glue won't hold. I can't understand itI bought the stuff last year for that unicorn costume and it was fine then"
"Allow me." A thin, graceful hand appeared over her shoulder, holding a tiny tube of surgical adhesive. "I had the sinking feeling that you would forget. This glue, cherie, it does not age well."
"Piffle. Figure a back-stage haunt would know that." She took the white plastic tube from Andre, and proceeded to attach the pesky lashes properly. This time they obliged by staying put. She finished her preparations with a quick application of liner, and spun around to face her partner. "Here," she said, posing, feeling more than a little smug about how well the black leather jumpsuit fit, "How do I look?"
Andre cocked his bowler to the side and leaned on his umbrella. "Ravishing. And I?" His dark eyes twinkled merrily. Although he looked a great deal more like Timothy Dalton than Patrick Macnee, anyone seeing the two of them together would have no doubt who he was supposed to be costumed as. Di was very glad they had a "pair" costume, and blessed Andre's infatuation with old TV shows.
And they're damned well going to see us together all the time, Di told herself firmly. Why I ever agreed to this fiasco . . .
"You look altogether too good to make me feel comfortable," she told him, snapping off the light over the mirror. "I hope you realize what you're letting yourself in for. You're going to think you're a drumstick in a pool of piranha."
Andre made a face as he followed her into the hotel room from the dressing alcove. "Cherie, these are only romance writers. They"
"Are for the most part over-imaginative middle-aged hausfraus, married to guys that are going thin on top and thick on the bottom, and you're likely going to be one of a handful of males in the room. And the rest are going to be middle-aged copies of their husbands, agents, or gay." She raised an eyebrow at him. "So where do you think that leaves you?"
"Like Old Man Kangaroo, very much run after." He had the audacity to laugh at her. "Have no fear, cherie. I shall evade the sharp little piranha teeth."
"I just hope I can," she muttered under her breath. Under most circumstances she avoided the Romance Writers of the World functions like the plague, chucked the newsletter in the garbage without reading it, and paid her dues only because Morrie pointed out that it would look really strange if she didn't belong. The RWW, she had found, was a hotbed of infighting and jealousy, and "my advances are bigger than your advances, so I am writing Deathless Prose and you are writing tripe." The general attitude seemed to be, "the publishers are out to get you, the agents are out to get you and your fellow writers are out to get you." Since Di got along perfectly well with agent and publishers, and really didn't care how well or poorly other writers were doing, she didn't see the point.
But somehow Morrie had talked her into attending the RWW Halloween party. And for the life of her, she couldn't remember why or how.
"Why am I doing this?" she asked Andre, as she snatched up her purse from the beige-draped bed, transferred everything really necessary into a black-leather belt-pouch, and slung the latter around her hips, making very sure the belt didn't interfere with the holster on her other hip. "You were the one who talked to Morrie on the phone."
"Because M'sieur Morrie wishes you to give his client Robert Harrison someone to talk to," the vampire reminded her. "M'sieur Harrison agreed to escort Valentine Vervain to the party in a moment of weakness equal to yours."
"Why in Hades did he agree to that?" she exclaimed, giving the sable-haired vampire a look of profound astonishment.
"Because Miss Vervaincherie, that is not her real name, is it?is one of Morrie's best clients, is newly divorced and alone and Morrie claims most insecure, and M'sieur Harrison was kind to her," Andre replied.
Di took a quick look around the hotel room, to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. One thing about combining her annual "make nice with the publishers" trip with Halloween, she had a chance to get together with all her old New York buddies for a real Samhain celebration and avoid the Christmas and Thanksgiving crowds and bad weather. "I remember. That was when she did that crossover thing, and the sci-fi people took her apart for trying to claim it was the best thing since Tolkien." She chuckled heartlessly. "The less said about that, the better. Her magic system had holes I could drive a Mack truck through. But Harrison was a gentleman and kept the bloodshed to a minimum. But Morrie doesn't know Valentineand no, sexy, her name used to be Edith Bowman until she changed it legallyif he thinks she's as insecure as she's acting. Three quarters of what La Valentine does is an act. And everything is in Technicolor and Dolby enhanced sound. So what's Harrison doing in town?"
She snatched up the key from the desk, and stuffed it into the pouch, as Andre held the door open for her.
"I do not know," he replied, twirling the umbrella once and waving her past. "You should ask him."
"I hope Valentine doesn't eat him alive," she said, striding down the beige hall, and frankly enjoying the appreciative look a hotel room-service clerk gave her as she sauntered by. "I wonder if she's going to wear the outfit from the cover of her last bookif she does, Harrison may decide he wants to spend the rest of the party in the men's room." She reached the end of the hall a fraction of a second before Andre, and punched the button for the elevator.
"I gather that is what we are to save him from, cherie," Andre pointed out wryly, as the elevator arrived.
"Oh well," she sighed, stepping into the mirror-walled cubicle. "It's only five hours, and it can't be that bad. How much trouble can a bunch of romance writers get into, anyway?"
There was enough lace, chiffon, and satin to outfit an entire Busby Berkeley musical. Di counted fifteen Harem Girls, nine Vampire Victims, three Southern Belles (the South was Out this year), a round dozen Ravished Maidens of various time periods (none of them peasants), and assorted Frills and Furbelows, and one "witch" in a black chiffon outfit clearly purchased from the Frederick's catalog. Aside from the "witch," she and Andre were the only ones dressed in blackand they were the only ones covered from neck to toesthough in Di's case, that was problematical; the tight black leather jumpsuit really didn't leave anything to the imagination.
The Avengers outfits had been Andre's idea, when she realized she really had agreed to go to this party. She had suggested Dracula for him and a witch for herbut he had pointed out, logically, that there was no point in coming as what they really were.
Besides, I've always wanted a black leather jumpsuit, and this made a good excuse to get it. And since I'm doing this as a favor to Morrie, I might be able to deduct it. . . .
And even if I can't, the looks I'm getting are worth twice the price.
Most of the women hereand as she'd warned Andre, the suite at the Henley Palace that RWW had rented for this bash contained about eighty percent womenwere in their forties at best. Most of them demonstrated amply the problems with having a sedentary job. And most of them were wearing outfits that might have been worn by their favorite heroines, though few of them went to the extent that Valentine Vervain did, and copied the exact dress from the front of the latest book. The problem was, their heroines were all no older than twenty-two, and as described, weighed maybe ninety-five pounds. Since a great many of the ladies in question weighed at least half again that, the results were not what the wearers intended.
The sour looks Di was getting were just as flattering as the wolf-whistle the bellboy had sent her way.
A quick sail through the five rooms of the suite with Andre at her side ascertained that Valentine and her escort had not yet arrived. A quick glance at Andre's face proved that he was having a very difficult time restraining his mirth. She decided then that discretion was definitely the better part of valor, and retired to the balcony with Andre in tow and a couple of glasses of Perrier.
It was a beautiful night; one of those rare, late-October nights that made Di regretbrieflymoving to Connecticut. Clear, cool and crisp, with just enough wind to sweep the effluvium of city life from the streets. Below them, hundreds of lights created a jewelbox effect. If you looked hard, you could even see a few stars beyond the light-haze.
The sliding glass door to the balcony had been opened to vent some of the heat and overwhelming perfume (Di's nose said, nothing under a hundred dollars a bottle), and Di left it that way. She parked her elbows on the balcony railing and looked down, Andre at her side, and sighed.
He chuckled. "You warned me, and I did not believe. I apologize, cherie. It ismost remarkable."
"Hmm. Exercise that vampiric hearing of yours, and you'll get an ear-full," she said, watching the car-lights crawl by, twenty stories below. "When they aren't slaughtering each other and playing little power-trip games, they're picking apart their agents and their editors. If you've ever wondered why I've never bothered going after the big money, it's because to get it I'd have to play by those rules."
"Then I devoutly urge you to remain with modest ambitions, cherie," he said, fervently. "I"
"Excuse me?" said a masculine voice from the balcony door. It had a distinct note of desperation in it. "Are you Diana Tregarde?"
Di turned. Behind her, peering around the edge of the doorway, was a harried-looking fellow in a baggy, tweedy sweater and slacksnot a costumewith a shock of prematurely graying, sandy-brown hair, glasses and a moustache. And a look of absolute misery.
"Robert Harrison, I presume?" she said, archly. "Come, join us in the sanctuary. It's too cold out here for chiffon."
"Thank God." Harrison ducked onto the balcony with the agility of a man evading Iraqi border-guards, and threw himself down in an aluminum patio chair out of sight of the windows. "I think the password is, `Morrie sent me.' "
"Recognized; pass, friend. Give the man credit; he gave you an ally and an escape-route," Di chuckled. "Don't tell me; she showed up as the Sacred Priestess Askenazy."
"In a nine-foot chiffon train and see-through harem pants, yes," Harrison groaned. "And let me know I was Out of the Royal Favor for not dressing as What's-His-Name."
"Watirion," Di said helpfully. "Do you realize you can pronounce that as `what-tire-iron'? I encourage the notion."
"But that wasn't the worst of it!" Harrison shook his head, distractedly, as if he was somewhat in a daze. "The worst was the monologue in the cab on the way over here. Every other word was Crystal this and Vibration that, Past Life Regression, and Mystic Rituals. The woman's a whoopie witch!"
Di blinked. That was a new one on her. "A what?"
Harrison looked up, and for the first time, seemed to see her. "Uh" he hesitated. "Uh, some of what Morrie saiduh, he seemed to think youwell, you've seen thingsuh, he said you know things"
She fished the pentagram out from under the neck of her jumpsuit and flashed it briefly. "My religion is non-traditional, yes, and there are more things in heaven and earth, etcetera. Now what in Tophet is a whoopie witch?"
"It'suha term some friends of mine use. It's kind of hard to explain." Harrison's brow furrowed. "Look, let me give you examples. Real witches have grimorie, sometimes handed down through their families for centuries. Whoopie witches have books they picked up at the supermarket. Usually right at the check-out counter."
"Real witches have carefully researched spells" Di prompted.
"Whoopie witches draw a baseball diamond in chalk on the living room floor and recite random passages from the Satanic Bible."
"When real witches make substitutions, they do so knowing the exact difference the substitute will make"
"Whoopie witches slop taco sauce in their pentagram because it looks like blood."
"Real witches gather their ingredients by hand" Di was beginning to enjoy this game.
"Whoopie witches have a credit card, and lots of catalogues." Harrison was grinning, and so was Andre.
"Real witches spend hours in meditation"
"Whoopie witches sit under a pyramid they ordered from a catalogue and watch Knot's Landing."
"Real witches cast spells knowing that any change they make in someone's life will come back at them three-fold, for good or ill"
"Whoopie witches call up the Hideous Slime from Yosotha to eat their neighbor's poodle because the bitch got the last carton of Haagen-Daaz double-chocolate at the Seven-Eleven."
"I think I've got the picture. So dear Val decided to take the so-called research she did for the Great Fantasy Novel seriously?" Di leaned back into the railing and laughed. "Oh, Robert, I pity you! Did she try to tell you that the two of you just must have been priestly lovers in a past life in Atlantis?"
"Lemuria," Harrison said, gloomily. "My God, she must be supporting half the crystal miners in Arkansas."
"Don't feel too sorry for her, Robert," Di warned him. "With her advances, she can afford it. And I know some perfectly nice people in Arkansas who should only soak her for every penny they can get. Change the subject; you're safe with usand if she decides to hit the punch-bowl hard enough, you can send her back to her hotel in a cab and she'll never know the difference. What brings you to New York?"
"Morrie wants me to meet the new editors at Berkley; he thinks I've got a shot at selling them that near-space series I've been dying to do. And I had some people here in the City I really needed to see." He sighed. "And, I'll admit it, I'd been thinking about writing bodice-rippers under a pseudonym. When you know they're getting ten times what I am"
Di shrugged. "I don't think you'd be happy doing it, unless you've written strictly to spec before. There's a lot of things you have to conform to that you might not feel comfortable doing. Listen, Harrison, you seem to know quite a bit about hot-and-cold-running esotericahow did you"
Someone in one of the other rooms screamed. Not the angry scream of a woman who has been insulted, but the soul-chilling shriek of pure terror that brands itself on the air and stops all conversation dead.
"What in" Harrison was on his feet, staring in the direction of the scream. Di ignored him and launched herself at the patio door, pulling the Glock 19 from the holster on her hip, and thankful she'd loaded the silver-tipped bullets in the first clip.
Funny how everybody thought it couldn't be real because it was plastic. . . .
"Andrethe next balcony!" she called over her shoulder, knowing the vampire could easily scramble over the concrete divider and come in through the next patio door, giving them a two-pronged angle of attack.
The scream hadn't been what alerted hersimultaneous with the scream had been the wrenching feeling in her gut that was the signal that someone had breached the fabric of the Otherworld in her presence. She didn't know who, or whatbut from the stream of panicked chiffon billowing towards the door at supersonic speed, it probably wasn't nice, and it probably had a great deal to do with one of the party-goers.
Three amply-endowed females (one Belle, one Ravished and one Harem) had reached the door to the next room at the same moment, and jammed it, and rather than one of them pulling free, they all three kept shoving harder, shrieking at the tops of their lungs in tones their agents surely recognized.
You'd think their advances failed to pay out! Di kept the Glock in her hand, but sprinted for the door. She grabbed the nearest flailing arm (Harem), planted her foot in the midsection of her neighbor (Belle) and shoved and pulled at the same time. The clot of feminine hysteria came loose with a sound of ripping cloth; a crinoline parted company with its wearer. The three women tumbled through the door, giving Di a clear launching path into the next room. She took it, diving for the shelter of a huge wooden coffee table, rolling, and aiming for the door of the last room with the Glock. And her elbow hit someone.
"What are you doing here?" asked Harrison, and Di, simultaneously. Harrison coweredno, had taken cover, there was a distinct differencebehind the sofa beside the coffee table, his own huge magnum aimed at the same doorway.
"My job," they saidalso simultaneously.
"What?" (Again in chorus).
"This is all a very amusing study in synchronicity," said Andre, crouching just behind Harrison, bowler tipped and sword from his umbrella out and ready, "but I suggest you both pay attention to that most boorish party-crasher over there"
Something very large occluded the light for a moment in the next room, then the lights went out, and Di distinctly heard the sound of the chandelier being torn from the ceiling and thrown against the wall. She winced.
There go my dues up again.
"I got a glimpse," Andre continued. "It was very large, perhaps ten feet tall, andcherie, looked like nothing so much as a rubber creature from a very bad movie. Except that I do not think it was rubber."
At just that moment, there was a thrashing from the other room, and Valentine Vervain, long red hair liberally beslimed, minus nine-foot train and one of her sleeves, scrambled through the door and plastered herself against the wall, where she promptly passed out.
"Valentine?" Di murmuredand snapped her head towards Harrison when he moaned"Oh no," in a way that made her sure he knew something.
"Harrison!" she snapped. "Cough it up!"
There was a sound of things breaking in the other room, as if something was fumbling around in the dark, picking up whatever it encountered, and smashing it in frustration.
"Valentineshe said something about getting some of her `friends' together tonight and `calling up her soul-mate' so she could `show that ex of hers.' I gather he appeared at the divorce hearing with a twenty-one-year-old blonde." Harrison gulped. "I figured she was just blowing it offI never thought she had any power"
"You'd be amazed what anger will do," Di replied grimly, keeping her eyes on the darkened doorway. "Sometimes it even transcends a total lack of talent. Put that together with the time of yearAll Hallow's E'enSamhainis tomorrow. The Wall Between the Worlds is especially thin, and power flows are heavy right now. That's a recipe for disaster if I ever heard one."
"And here comes M'sieur Soul-Mate," said Andre, warningly.
What shambled in through the door was nothing that Di had ever heard of. It was, indeed, about ten feet tall. It was a very dark brown. It was covered with luxuriant brown hairall over. Otherwise, it was nude. If there were any eyes, the hair hid them completely. It was built something along the lines of a powerful body-builder, taken to exaggerated lengths, and it drooled. It also stank, a combination of sulfur and musk so strong it would have brought tears to the eyes of a skunk.
"Wah-wen-ine!" it bawled, waving its arms around, as if it were blind. "Wah-wen-ine!"
"Oh goddess," Di groaned, putting two and two together and coming up withshe called a soul-mate, and specified parameters. But she forgot to specify "human." "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
The other writer nodded. "Tall, check. Dark, check. Long hair, check. Handsomewell, I suppose in some circles." Harrison stared at the thing in fascination.
"Somethingthat will accept her completely as she is, and love her completely. Young, sure, he can't be more than five minutes old." Di watched the thing fumble for the doorframe and cling to it. "Look at that, he can't see. So love is blind. Strong and as masculine as you can get. And not too bright, which I bet she also specified. Oh, my ears and whiskers."
Valentine came to, saw the thing, and screamed.
"Wah-wen-ine!" it howled, and lunged for her. Reflexively, Di and Harrison both shot. He emptied his cylinder, and one speed-loader; Di gave up after four shots, when it was obvious they were hitting the thing, to no effect.
Valentine scrambled on hands and knees over the carpet, still screamingbut crawling in the wrong direction, towards the balcony, not the door.
"Merde!" Andre flung himself between the creature's clutching hands and its summoner, before Di could do anything.
And before Di could react to that, the thing backhanded Andre into a wall hard enough to put him through the plasterboard.
Valentine passed out again. Andre was already out for the count. There are some things even a vampire has a little trouble recovering from.
"Jesus!" Harrison was on his feet, fumbling for something in his pocket. Di joined him, holstering the Glock, and grabbed his arm.
"Harrison, distract it, make a noise, anything!" She pulled the atheme from her boot sheath and began cutting Sigils in the air with it, getting the Words of Dismissal out as fast as she could without slurring the syllables.
Harrison didn't even hesitate; he grabbed a couple of tin serving trays from the coffee table, shook off their contents, and banged them together.
The thing turned its head toward him, its hands just inches away from its goal. "Wah-wen-ine?" it said.
Harrison banged the trays again. It lunged toward the sound. It was a lot faster than Di had thought it was.
Evidently Harrison made the same error in judgment. It missed him by inches, and he scrambled out of the way by the width of a hair, just as Di concluded the Ritual of Dismissal.
To no effect.
"Hurry up, will you?" Harrison yelped, as the thing threw the couch into the wall and lunged again.
"I'm trying!" she replied through clenched teeththough not loud enough to distract the thing, which had concluded either (a) Harrison was Valentine or (b) Harrison was keeping it from Valentine. Whichever, it had gone from wailing Valentine's name to simply wailing, and lunging after Harrison, who was dodging with commendable agility in a man of middle age.
Of course, he has a lot of incentive.
She tried three more dismissals, still with no effect, the room was trashed, and Harrison was getting winded, and running out of heavy, expensive things to throw. . . .
And the only thing she could think of was the "incantation" she usedas a joketo make the stoplights change in her favor.
Oh hella cockamamie incantation pulled it up
"By the Seven Rings of Zsa Zsa Gabor and the Rock of Elizabeth Taylor I command thee!" she shouted, stepping between the thing and Harrison (who was beginning to stumble). "By the Six Wives of Eddie Fisher and the Words of Karnak the Great I compel thee! Freeze, buddy!"
Power rose, through her, crested over herand hit the thing. And the thingstopped. It whimpered, and struggled a little against invisible bonds, but seemed unable to move.
Harrison dropped to the carpet, right on top of a spill of guacamole and ground-in tortilla chips, whimpering a little himself.
I have to get rid of this thing, quick, before it breaks the compulsion She closed her eyes and trusted to instinct, and shouted the first thing that came into her mind. The Parking Ritual, with one change. . . .
"Great Squat, send him to a spot, and I'll send you three nuns"
Mage-energies raged through the room, whirling about her, invisible, intangible to eyes and ears, but she felt them. She was the heart of the whirlwind, she and the other
There was a pop of displaced air; she opened her eyes to see that the creature was gonebut the mage-energies continued to whirlfaster
"Je-sus," said Harrison, "How did you"
She waved him frantically to silence as the energies sensed his presence and began to circle in on him.
"Great Squat, thanks for the spot!" she yelled desperately, trying to complete the incantation before Harrison could be pulled in. "Your nuns are in the mail!"
The energies swirled up and away, satisfied. Andre groaned, stirred, and began extracting himself from the powdered sheetrock wall. Harrison stumbled over to give him a hand.
Just as someone pounded on the outer door of the suite.
"Police!" came a muffled voice. "Open the door!"
"It's open!" Di yelled back, unzipping her belt-pouch and pulling out her wallet.
Three people, two uniformed NYPD and one fellow in a suit with an impressive .357 Magnum in his hand, peered cautiously around the doorframe.
"Jee-zus Christ," one said in awe.
"Who?" the dazed Valentine murmured, hand hanging limply over her forehead. "Wha' hap . . ."
Andre appeared beside Di, bowler in hand, umbrella spotless and innocent-looking again.
Di fished her Hartford PD Special OPs ID out of her wallet and handed it to the man in the suit. "This lady," she said angrily, pointing to Valentine, "played a little Halloween joke that got out of hand. Her accomplices went out the back door, then down the fire escape. If you hurry you might be able to catch them."
The two NYCPD officers looked around at the destruction, and didn't seem any too inclined to chase after whoever was responsible. Di checked out of the corner of her eye; Harrison's own .44 had vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared.
"Are you certain this woman is responsible?" asked the hard-faced, suited individual with a frown, as he holstered his .357. He wasn't paying much attention to the plastic handgrip in the holster at Di's hip, for which she was grateful.
House detective, I bet. With any luck, he's never seen a Glock.
Di nodded. "These two gentlemen will back me up as witnesses," she said. "I suspect some of the ladies from the party will be able to do so as well, once you explain that Ms. Vervain was playing a not-very-nice joke on them. Personally, I think she ought to be held accountable for the damages."
And keep my RWW dues from going through the roof.
"Well, I think so too, miss." The detective hauled Valentine ungently to her feet. The writer was still confused, and it wasn't an act this time. "Ma'am," he said sternly to the dazed redhead, "I think you'd better come with me. I think we have a few questions to ask you."
Di projected outraged innocence and harmlessness at them as hard as she could. The camouflage trick worked, which after this evening, was more than she expected. The two uniformed officers didn't even look at her weapon; they just followed the detective out without a single backwards glance.
Harrison cleared his throat, audibly. She turned and raised an eyebrow at him.
"YouI thought you were just a writer"
"And I thought you were just a writer," she countered. "So we're even."
"But" He took a good look at her face, and evidently thought better of prying. "What did you do with thatthing? That was the strangest incantation I've ever heard!"
She shrugged, and began picking her way through the mess of smashed furniture, spilled drinks, and crushed and ground-in refreshments. "I have no idea. Valentine brought it in with something screwy, I got rid of it the same way. And that critter has no idea how lucky he was."
"Why?" asked Harrison, as she and Andre reached the door.
"Why?" She turned and smiled sweetly. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a parking place in Manhattan at this time of night?"
This is the very first attempted professional appearance of Diana Tregarde, my occult detective. I've always enjoyed occult detectives, but there is a major problem with themwhat are they supposed to do for a living? Ghosts don't pay very well! So Di writes romances for a living and saves the world on the side. This story was originally rejected by the anthology I submitted it to; it became the basis for Children of the Night by Another Company, and was then published in this form by Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine.