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Publisher's Note: This expanded version of Release Me by Fiona Wilde replaces the original version of Release Me by Mona Whitlock. It is almost twice as long as the original. Any customers who purchased the original version may download this expanded version at no charge from their online libraries.
Detective Gavin Markley is stumped. Men are being found dead, their blood drained, in abandoned buildings in the downtown district of his city. They all have one thing in common, a criminal record. Gavin is not a religious man. He does not believe in the supernatural or an afterlife. So the discovery that the killer is a beautiful female vampire living under a curse, he must suspend disbelief and face the incredible reality of what he is dealing with.
Delilah hates the existence she has been forced to live, and wants nothing more than to be released from the torment of nightly feedings. She hates the solitude, so when Gavin decides to risk his career to protect her, she tries to live under his rules. When she breaks them, she is spanked. Corporal punishment is hardly unusual to a woman who lived a hundred years ago, but can Gavin's guidance save Delilah from herself?
Release Me is a story of love, redemption and sacrifice with a disciplinary twist.
Detective Gavin Markley yawned as he accepted the cup of coffee an officer shoved into his hand.
“I know it’s early,” the officer said apologetically. “But we were told we were to call you if we came across another one of these.” He stopped at the door of the abandoned building they were approaching. “If you don’t mind, I’m not going back in. This whole thing has gotten me kind of creeped out.”
“I understand perfectly,” the detective said, and turned to walk in.
“Is it true?” the officer called after him. “Is it true what they’re saying about the bodies? That they’re�”
The officer looked puzzled.
“Drained of blood?” Gavin clarified. The officer nodded, even though his expression indicated he did not want the truth as much as he thought he did.
“According to the coroner, yes.” He turned and went into the building, leaving the officer shuddering at the base of the steps.
Other officers were in the building, clustered outside a door. Gavin could hear the click, click, click of cameras coming from behind it and see the light from the flash. The clutch of officers parted like the Red Sea as he approached and went in.
The coroner was crouching down before the ghostly white corpse of a man who - in his temporal state - was average size and build and sported the beginnings of a beard. The man's shirt was off and his pants were undone. His penis lay flaccidly to the side, a limp worm draped across a line of zipper teeth. The condom was still on, but unfilled.
“Same as last time?” he asked.
The coroner glanced up and nodded. “Yep. Another guy thinks he’s about to get lucky and ends up dead.” He pointed at the condom and then at the neck. “He was looking to get drained, but I’m not thinking this is what he had in mind.”
Gavin kneeled down and peered at the two punctures on the neck.
“Complete blood loss with this one, too?” he asked.
The coroner nodded and Gavin raised an eyebrow. “So where’d the blood go?”
“Wherever it went with the last three victims,” he said, standing to take another photo. “Our serial killer must have one big blood bank set up somewhere. Unless of course it’s like some of the cops are saying�.”
“Shut it, Cooper,” Gavin said. “Do not even say the word ‘vampire.’ That’s all we need a week before Halloween, is for this to get out.” He sighed. “The press will go wild with it and our jobs will be impossible. Not to mention the copycats that’ll try to replicate it.”
The medical examiner turned to the detective. “Just how long you expect us to keep this under wraps, Markley? Fourth death, and this one no more sympathetic a victim than the other ones.” He reached down and picked up a Ziploc bag off the floor. Inside was a driver’s license.
“Hector Minges,” Gavin read. “I thought he looked familiar. Just released after serving, what? Three years for rape?”
“Would have been more except for good behavior,” Markley said. “I just hope the guy who did this made this worthless piece of shit feel the fear his victims felt.”
Gavin studied Minges’ face. Judging by his eyes, still wide in death, it was pretty obvious that Cooper had gotten his wish.
“Look, I can’t ask you for miracles, but try to keep this under wraps if you can. This is the freshest body so maybe we can find more evidence this time.”
“I hope so,” the medical examiner said. “We were just lucky. The lady in the apartment building next door - name’s Helen Privett - was trying to get her cat off the fire escape when she said she saw - and I believe these were her exact words - a ‘cloaked figure’ fly from that window right over there.” He pointed to the shattered window with the tip of his pen. “The 911 dispatcher thought she was whacked out or something but she kept calling back. When he got to her apartment she was just about hysterical so to humor her he went up her to check it out. That’s when he found Mr. Congeniality here.” He nodded towards the corpse.
“A cloaked figure, huh?” Gavin said.
“Yep.” Cooper reached down and picked up a body bag. “Could you call for my assistant? She’s out there gabbing with the cops and she needs to help me get this guy wrapped up.”
Gavin did as requested, nodding at the portly, shorthaired assistant medical examiner as she walked in.
“Let me know what you find, will you?” he asked Cooper.
Gavin exited the room, writing the one lead down in his notebook as he walked. It wasn’t much to go on, the statement of one crazy old woman. But her hallucination or whatever it was had been a remarkable coincidence that had led police to a fourth murder victim.
The Coat of Arms Apartment building was one of the oldest in the city. Gavin always thought that going into the lobby was like going back in time. The lobby was very much as it was in the 1920’s when the building was erected. The elevator was his least favorite feature of the building. While some called the contraption “quaint,” Gavin had always considered it an accident waiting to happen despite what the inspectors said. He tapped his notepad nervously with two fingers as it lurched and groaned in an unsteady ascent to the third floor.
Apartment 328. That was the one he was looking for. The hallway carpet was red and clean despite being threadbare in some places. The tenants of The Coat of Arms were mostly older folk who kept to themselves.
He found the apartment and knocked on the door. The first sound he heard from within was cat cries followed by a timid voice. “Who is it?”
“Police, ma’am. We’d like to talk to you about your call to 911.”
The chain on the other side of the door slid from the bolt and the lock clicked as it was disengaged. The door opened a crack.
Gavin stepped in. There were cats everywhere - on the back of the couch, the floor, and the chairs. One perched above his head on the grandfather clock. He tried to imagine what it must be like for the old woman to haul all the cat litter she probably needed up to the third floor.
“Mrs. Privett, correct?” he asked, turning to the prim-looking white-haired woman.
“Yes,” she said.
“I’m here to ask you about what you said you saw this morning before you called the police.”
She looked towards the window above the fire escape on the other side of the room. “Something horrible has happened, hasn’t it? I saw the flashing lights and the ambulance. They just took someone out on a stretcher before you got here. The person was covered up. I’ve seen them do that on television. It means the person is dead.”
Gavin tried to settle the old woman with a comforting smile. “I’m not at liberty to say,” he replied. “This is a rough neighborhood, Miss Privett. People do sometimes die in these old buildings, vagrants and such.”
“That monster I saw killed him, didn’t it?”
“Mrs. Privett�” Gavin tried to keep his voice patient. “I’m not at liberty to say. I’m just here for your help. Can you tell me what you saw?”
She walked over to the window and pointed towards the building. I was leaning out here trying to call Boots in off the fire escape when I saw it. I thought at first that my eyes were going, but the streetlights were on and the moon was full and I knew what I was seeing was real because Boots was looking at it, too, and was growling. There was a figure perched in the broken window. At first I thought it was a large bird.” She laughed. “That was disconcerting enough, but I realized it was a person - or something - when it stood. It had on a cloak. Its face was mostly covered but what I saw of it was pale. It looked like a woman, although there was no way to tell. I started to call out because it was right on the edge and that’s a long drop, but it looked in my direction and something told me not to say anything or even move. That’s when it flew away.”
“Flew away?” Gavin looked up from the notebook. “It jumped?”
“No. It flew,” she said, and she was adamant. “It flew from the window there down to the basement of St. Mark’s.”
Gavin raised his eyes. “St. Marks�”
“You know, the old Catholic church, the one that closed after the scandal with the priests and those children�”
He nodded. “I know where it is.” Gavin used to go to St. Mark’s as a child. The church had been one of the many urban ones that had closed two years earlier when the leaders decided to merge some parishes to save money in the wake of mounting legal fees.
So now he had a dead body and the only lead was the sighting of a bird lady flying into an abandoned church. It was going to be a lousy Monday.
Gavin thanked Mrs. Privett and declined her offer of coffee, even though with the sun coming up and three hours of sleep he could have used it. He wanted to get what investigating he needed to do done before going back and taking a ribbing for the report he was going to have to turn in.
He decided to look for leads at the church. Perhaps the figure Mrs. Privett had seen used some sort of zip line to get down from the building. Gavin made a mental note to check above the window of the abandoned building for a fastener of some sort. He didn’t want to believe what the old woman said was true, but he had to make the begrudging admission to himself that she seemed credible, sane and despite her age had good eyesight.
The morning was gray and cool. A breeze tossed trash from the gutters and turned it into paper tumbleweeds that rolled across the sidewalk. The road to the church was lined with broken down or old cars that sat in front of row houses. Some were boarded up; others were home to poor families or were under surveillance as drug houses. Gavin moved his hand inside his overcoat and pushed it aside to expose his service revolver as he approached a band of loiterers who were either up to early or had not yet been to bed.
He stopped and asked them if they’d seen anything in the hours before dawn, anything unusual. The men shook their heads. He asked them if they’d seen anything near the old church.
One of the men laughed. “Hell no, man,” he said. “That place is haunted anyway. Nobody goes there!” His companions began to laugh and poke fun at him for his statement.
“Haunted?” Gavin asked. “Humor me. Tell me more.”
“Nah, it’s nothin’,” said the young man. “It’s just that there was this homeless dude who was going to sleep in the basement one night and he came out sayin’ he’d seen a ghost or some shit. Ain't nobody go there now. Not even the rats.”
His friend continued to laugh. Gavin smiled and thanked them.
“You guys ghost-bustin’ now?” another young man asked.
“Yeah, we’re ghost-busting,” Gavin said, shaking his head.
“Well good luck, dawg,” the man said.
Gavin chuckled as he walked on. If nothing else, this was turning out to be one of the more interesting cases, even if the lead he was chasing was already being dismissed in his own mind as something of a fool’s errand.
St. Marks loomed up ahead, the spires reaching into the cloudy skies. In its heyday, the large brick church had been beautiful. Gavin’s parents, faithful Catholics, had taken him and his five younger siblings there each Sunday without fail. They were a close family, and Gavin’s father� - a city cop until his death five years earlier - had been strict but fair. Gavin often thought of his dad when he saw kids running wild on the street.
“A good spanking, that’s what they need,” Gavin Sr. would have said. Gavin wasn’t married and didn’t have a family, not yet anyway. He was holding out for an old-fashioned woman, but so far he’d not found what he was looking for. His sister Jolene joked that he was looking for someone like their mother - sweet, docile and submissive. But Jolene was wrong. He wasn’t looking for docile, or even sweet. Like most men, he liked a challenge. But he wanted a woman who - when it came down to it - would realize that he was the boss in his own house.
He was approaching the side of the church and now stopped in his tracks. Now this was odd. The door leading to the basement had been bolted shut in the past. He knew because he’d gone by it before. But now the bar and the bolts that had secured it from entry were lying on the ground. Gavin walked over for a closer look. It seemed as if someone had just popped the steel bolts out of the frame. Bizarre.
He looked back at the window the old woman claimed she’d seen the figure fly from, the window to the room where Minges’ body had been found. It was a clear shot down the narrow street to this doorway. Still, to believe the old woman had seen what she said she saw, the figure would have needed a quarter mile zip line that would have been impossible to remove from the window.
Gavin pushed against the door to the church. It was heavy and it felt as if something had been pushed against the other side. It took all his force and several minutes to wedge it open enough to get inside. Sure enough he found an old safe on the other side. He was 6’3” and a former rugby player and it had taken him some real effort to budge it. Whoever had wedged the safe against the door had had some help.
Gavin picked up the radio at his hip and called for backup. Phantom Menace or not, something was in that church and he wasn’t going to go in without someone to cover him. Fortunately there was a unit in the area and within minutes it had rolled up. Two officers got out and Gavin explained that he was investigating what looked like a break-in at the church that he thought may be connected to a nearby homicide.
“You mean the vampire murder?” the younger of the two cops asked.
Gavin frowned. It hadn’t been two hours and already the news had already circulated around the station.
“Let’s not call it that, OK?” he asked. The officer nodded.
They went into the church. The basement was dark. The older officer took a flashlight from his belt and shone it around. Dust danced in the beam of light.
“What’s down here?” the younger cop asked.
“Mostly stuff the church didn’t take. Extra pews, an old altar. When I was a kid they used to say that a martyr’s bones buried in a crypt down here.
Gavin looked up. “You heard that too?”
“Yeah,” the cop said. “Story used to scare the hell out of me. They said it was some lady who had sold her soul to save a priest she’d fallen in love with or something like this.”
“I’m not sure if that would qualify for martyrdom,” Gavin said.
The older cop chuckled and shone his light around. Gavin walked with him and the younger cop around the entire basement. They looked behind pieces of sheetrock leaning against the wall, in closets filled with musty prayer robes and in every corner. The door to the upper level was still locked and bolted from the inside. Gavin frowned. If someone had come in they were gone now. He told the cops they could leave, but asked if they could have a unit keep an eye on the place. He made a note to call the diocese head and inform him they needed to put a new lock on the basement door.
The cops left. Gavin started to leave, too, but found himself turning around. Something was telling him to stick around, that there was something there to be found. He had his own flashlight and removed it now to look around. It wasn’t as bright as the street cop’s, but it did the job. Gavin walked around, looking back over the places he’d already inspected. He’d just turned away from looking behind an old organ when his foot hit something on the floor. He looked down. There were a few floorboards that had come loose and were lying at an angle. Underneath was a concrete slap. He shone his light on it. It was a rectangular lid to something, something that at one point had been hidden under the floor.
Gavin looked towards the door and wondered if he should call the other officers back but decided not to. If he opened the lid and found another subterranean passage he would, but it looked like this was just some sort of compartment. It took some effort to move the lid to a 45 degree angle but Gavin got it done an shone the light into the opening.
He immediately fell backward from his crouched position, breathing hard. His heart was pounding and the flashlight he’d been holding rolled away from where he’d dropped it. He continued to sit there, unable to move, his disbelief rooting him to the spot.
“Get a grip,” he told himself, and reached for the light, rising slowly as he did and taking a deep breath before looking back into the opening.
She was beautiful, the young woman. She was lying in a bed of tattered satin, a rosary clutched to her chest. Her face was pale, the white skin juxtaposed against the black hood that framed her face. He ran the light down the length of her body and up again. He froze as he studied her feature. A line of dried blood ran from the corner of her mouth to her chin.
Gavin picked up his radio and started to call for help but stopped. It could not be, could it? Even though he’d been raised in a religious home, his parents had believed in otherworldly things. His father had spoken of exorcisms in the old world, of demons being cast out. Gavin had never really doubted that there were things unseen by humans that walked among them.
He stood and walked to a small window that ran the length of the basement. It was just at ground level; just enough that light could stream through it. The window was covered from the inside with tarpaper. Gavin tore a piece away now, allowing a shaft of dim sunlight to penetrate the room and fall across the crypt. He saw smoke rising - a small tendril of it. He smelled burning flesh and walked over. The light was falling across the skin of the sleeping woman’s hand. It was burning her, but she was oblivious. He ran over and put the paper back over the window.
For the next few moments he paced the room, his hand falling to the radio every so often and then going back to his side. He could not do this. He could not call for help. He needed to think.
Gavin walked back over to the hidden crypt and looked inside. She was so beautiful, her face placid in sleep. She looked so innocent; only the eerie streak of blood betrayed what she was.
Gavin turned to pace the floor once more and then decided he’d have to handle this one on his own. First, though, he’d have to figure out how. Leaning down, he replaced the lid, rearranged the floorboards and left the basement, knowing that what he’d just seen meant two things: One: He’d found his murderer. And Two: Nothing would ever be the same.