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18:45 "Barnes & Noble - Union Square Part 2"

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Barnes & Noble – Union Square

“NYPD, please stand back.” Pablo flashed his badge at the young woman standing in line with no less than three books clutched in her arms. He stepped over the velvet rope and up to the table where Lucinda Graves sat signing a book to a fan.

Pablo remembered her as Alison, but she must have changed her name when she got famous, like so many actresses and actors did. He had known she’d be successful in whatever she did. He had not expected to find her here dressed like this. He was about to wax philosophic about his memories when he realized he was next in line.

Alison finished signing the third book for Sarah, who had bought copies not just for herself, but for her mother and sister. Deliberately not looking past Sarah at the rude police officer who had used his position to jump the queue, Alison smiled at the young woman and accepted her gushing praise of the Darque books. When Sarah reluctantly gathered her prizes in her arms and stepped away, Alison let her gaze drift back to the interloper.

Her cool rebuke died on her lips when she recognised him. "Pablo?"

For a moment Alison Scruggs warred with the Lucinda Graves façade that she cultivated at these events, and she blushed. Her eyes were drawn to the book he'd laid on the desk before her and she swallowed her nerves and embarrassment.

"I didn't realise you were a fan," she said, trying to regain her composure. "That was a bit rude, though, butting into the line like that."

"I'm not, but I am a friend. I saw the display and recognized your ... face,” he said, lifting his eyes consciously to meet hers and feeling a little flush in his face. “Sixth in a series, eh? And from the crowd it looks like your books are popular."

He set the book he had picked up from the display in front of her. "I've am glad to see you are doing well. It's been at least six years hasn't it?"

Unsure exactly how to act, the Alison/Lucinda war still raging within her, Alison nodded a little distractedly. "Closer to seven, I think. Look, I'm sorry. Lucinda is my pen-name, and it comes with..." She glanced down at her attire. "...all this. Tell you what, if you're not busy I'll sign your book now as Lucinda, and maybe Alison can meet you in a little while. I'm due to finish in about 10 minutes, but it might go a little longer."

She glanced at the line still behind Pablo and gave a wry smile. "Say, half an hour tops? They have great coffee here, if you don't mind waiting."

She glanced up at Pablo and remembered the young rookie cop she'd gone out with all those years ago. Given that he'd flashed his badge he obviously still worked for the police, but had graduated to a plain-clothes position. For a moment her sultry Lucinda image dropped completely and she smiled at him with the fresh, open expression that she normally wore as herself.

"I do well at drinking coffee; I am a cop after all. Listen, after the signing, why don't we go out for dinner rather than hang around this bookstore? We can catch up properly."

He turned to smile at the impatient fan waiting eagerly behind him, "Without a crowd, and without our," he looked down at his attire, "work clothes, so to speak."

Suppressing a chuckle, Alison grabbed his book and opened it to the title page. She sobered as she realised he may not be single and hesitated to write what she'd been about to write. "Should I make it out to you, or is there someone you're giving it to?" she asked.

He hadn't thought that far ahead. "Me I guess, I don't have anyone in my life other than my Mama who reads books like this. Who knows, maybe I'll become a fan."

“Maybe you will, at that,” Alison replied with a grin, and she began to write her inscription. To Pablo: I’ll never forget that night by the fountain. With love, Lucinda Graves.

She added a couple of her trademark love hearts and passed the book back to him with a saucy wink. The mere act of writing out a dedication had snapped her back into focus on her job at hand. “Thanks,” she said. “And I’d love to catch up over dinner. I’ll come find you in the café here when I’m done.”

She watched his back for a moment as he turned away, then turned her attention to the next fan in line. “Sorry about him butting in like that,” she said. “Oh, I remember you. Robert? Robin? You’re the one with the arthritic dog, right?”

The young man nodded, obviously pleased that she’d remembered him. “How’s he doing?” Alison asked, drawing his book towards her and surreptitiously glancing out of the corner of her eye to see Pablo was making his way to the café at the back of the bookstore.

On his way past the table, Pablo bumped into a standee of a tall blonde model in a leather jacket. He fought the urge to grab the stake in his jacket when he saw the fangs before it registered that it was a cardboard cutout and not a real vampire.

He took his book and headed to the coffee bar at the back of the store. He glanced at her inscription and laughed. He remembered the fountain. He'd gotten a lecture from a park cop for 'abuse of authority' when he had told Alison it was all right to wade in the fountain. That afternoon had been one of their last dates. After five months they sort of drifted apart. Still friends, but not a couple.

He thought back to the cold November morning when they had met outside the SoHo walk-up surrounded by police tape...

2013-11-20 06:55 – Wednesday

It was unseasonably cold and Sandoval watched his breath form clouds that drifted, illuminated by the morning sunlight. He patted his arms at his side to keep warm. Puerto Rico never got this cold and even after years of attending school in New York he had never acclimated like a local. Morning commuters wandered past, focused on getting to the Subway or into their cars before feeling the bite of the cold. Guarding the crime scene while the various units did investigation was a boring and menial job, but it was appropriate for someone who had only graduated in June of this year. Rookie. That was him.

Yellow police tape stretched across the street, not that there were many onlookers this early in the morning – certainly not in this weather at any rate. A young officer stood huddled miserably against the biting wind and Alison felt a pang of pity for him.

“I hate to say this, but it feels like there’ll be snow later,” she said to him as she approached. She fished out her press pass and showed it to him. “Alison Scruggs, Officer… Sandoval.” She read his name off his uniform. “May I pass?”

“Sorry ma’am. I have strict orders – nobody gets inside. Especially people who tell me there’ll be snow.”

Alison shrugged, a motion almost lost in her heavy coat. “I deal with the truth. And it really does feel like snow I’m afraid. Maybe it’ll hold off until after your shift.” She craned her neck to see if she could spot anything, but there was nothing much going on outside the building. All the action was inside, where she couldn’t get to. Still, it might not be a totally wasted journey if she could get some details out of Sandoval.

“I’m doing a piece on this string of murders lately. People are saying they’re cult killings. Is this one of them? There were three others within a couple of blocks of this area just this week.”

"I'll tell you if you promise to go and get me a cup of coffee."

"Sure. Do you take milk and sugar?"

"Black is perfect," he said baring his teeth only long enough to smile and then burying his face back in his fur-lined collar and scarf. "It could be a cult. For my money, most likely, it's a vampire."

"Black is perfect," he said baring his teeth only long enough to smile and then burying his face back in his fur-lined collar and scarf. "It could be a cult. For my money, most likely, it's a vampire."

He continued despite her incredulous look. It was his experience that it was easier to bull through rather than to get into an argument over whether it was possible, "Two bodies exsanguinated. Forced entry with once body in the foyer meaning the vampire broke in after being invited. No signs of a meaningful struggle like skin or blood that isn't theirs. And the neck wounds."

He waited to see if she'd laugh, leave or report him to his superior.

For a long moment Alison just stared at Sandoval in disbelief. She’d thought at first that he was having a joke with her and only managed to stifle her laughter at the last second when she realised he was deadly serious. Did they really let cops join up who believed in fairy tales?

“Um… that’s an interesting theory. Vampires, eh? I… look, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make fun of you or anything, but there’s really no such thing as vampires. What you’ve described fits the MO of the other murders. I’ve got statements from the detectives on the case – it’s a cult that likes to emulate vampires by pumping the blood out of their victims. Heck, they may even drink some of it in some bizarre ritual. But that doesn’t make them, you know, Dracula.”

He shrugged. It wasn't anything that he'd not heard before. Most of the cops in his unit thought he was out of his mind already. They'd cut him some slack because he had trained as a priest. He was, after all, almost qualified to turn bread and wine into flesh and blood of Christ. If he could believe that, then vampires weren't that far off the mark were they?

But there were a few of the old guard who knew the truth and they'd defended him. "It could be albino alligators, if you choose to believe that too."

This time Alison did chuckle. "They'd have to be crazy cold-inured alligators if that's the case. Why don't I go get you that coffee and you can see if there are any other mad ideas you want to try out on me."

Without waiting for a reply she left him standing there with his arms wrapped around his body trying to keep himself warm. It was several minutes before she returned with two large, steaming cups. She didn’t fail to notice the look of relief and gratitude on Sandoval’s face as she approached with the promised reward.

“One black coffee, for services rendered,” she said as she handed his to him. “So apart from vampires and albino alligators, do you have any other theories?” She grinned cheekily. “Maybe a sasquatch would be more appropriate, given the weather.”

Sandoval sipped his coffee, but her cheer had already warmed him. "You'll forgive me a cold day's humor. The salient points from the press release are same M.O. and probably related. Aside from my 'crazy' theories there isn't much more to go on."

"However, I'd be willing to discuss some more pleasant subjects in a private interview with dinner and perhaps some dancing later, if you like."

Alison looked at him over the steam rising from her coffee and appraised him more carefully. There wasn’t much of Officer Sandoval to glimpse beneath his winter gear, but what did see she liked. And he seemed nice enough, albeit with some odd notions about mythical creatures. She’d been out with other guys, both back home in Indiana and since she’d moved to New York, but nothing had lasted more than a couple of months. And maybe this would be no more than just dinner.

“All right,” she said finally. “But only if you tell me what the J. stands for. You already know my name.”

"Juan. Juan Pablo. Pablo. My friends call me Pablo. My family calls me Paco, but that's only because my full name is Juan Pablo Federico Francisco Sandoval. But that's more than you wanted to know. Pablo. Call me Pablo."

Smooth. Rookie. That's me.


Pablo saw Alison finish talking to her agent and heading back to the coffee bar. He went and grabbed a frappuccino for her and handed it to her as she arrived. He held his up to touch the rims. "To vampires?"

Alison smiled broadly. “To vampires,” she murmured, tapping her cup against his. “And to chance meetings.”

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