“The hunger! It grows,” the voice whispered. “I need more. I need all. More.”
Stein parked in front of his trailer. He lurched from his car with a wheezing cough. “Should have taken my blood pressure medication this morning,” he muttered. He stumbled towards the stairs that led up to the porch attached to his trailer.
“Are you drunk?” A tall, dark-haired woman in a long, tight dress stood on the porch of a nearby trailer. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and she glared at the police officer.
Stein peered towards the voice. “No, Mrs. Teffet. Went for a hike, and now I don’t feel so good.”
“If you’re drinking, I’m reporting you,” the woman huffed before she went back inside her trailer.
Stein rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Morticia,” he muttered under his breath. He stumbled up the stairs, fumbled with his keys to unlock the door, and managed to drop his cell phone while he was inserting the door key.
When Stein opened the door he hit the phone, knocking it into a crack in the stairs. It fell into the darkness under the porch. “Ah, hell,” he swore. He staggered back down the stairs.
As a youngster, Stein had a fear of dark spaces. The spaces beneath and between other things that inspire a child’s imagination of monsters and other lurking evils. He had mostly conquered the fear, telling himself that any self-respecting adult male didn’t fear these places, while the kid deep inside still cowered at the sight of them.
Under his porch was one such spot.
It was dark and musty with very little penetrating light. Stein dropped to his knees, and he crawled under the porch. He groped around for the phone in the dirt. A hissing sound got his attention. Stein peered into the darkness. “Don’t tell me Morticia lost her damned snake again.”
Stein continued to grope for his phone all the while hoping he wouldn’t meet up with Merty, Mrs. Teffet’s pet snake. The hiss sounded again, only louder this time. “Hope the fucker’s not poisonous.”
Stein ignored the hissing sound while he strained to see his phone. Even if he had been paying attention, he wouldn’t have been able to see the encroaching viscous cloud about to envelope him. Stein let out a muffled grunt when something cold brushed against his face. He put up a hand to brush it away only to encounter flesh so icy his fingers tingled. Stein jerked his hand away. There wasn’t that much room under the porch. Who on earth was under it with him?
“Who’s there?” Stein put his other hand on the butt of a gun.
“Your puny weapons can’t hurt me,” the voice whispered. It used the human’s open mouth to invade the body. Souls tasted so much sweeter when they were filled with fear. “So much delicious power.”
Stein reached up to grasp his throat. He felt like he was drowning. When his phone started to ring, Stein groped around hoping that help would be on the way. No air passed through his mouth into his lungs, and as the world went dark, he heard hissing again. Stein fell to the ground with his legs thrashing out under the failing sunshine.
Mrs. Teffet petted her snake Merty while she stared out the window. “What is that fool doing now?” After a few moments, she heard ‘Wheel of Fortune’ come back on her television, and she turned away from the window.
Buffy stopped at the mouth of the alley, and she took a deep breath. After a few moments, she adjusted her jacket. Buffy stepped into the alley where she greeted the patrol officer. “Hey, Ernie. Where’s Wally?”
Ernie pointed further into the dark alley. “He’s down there with the body and the gentleman that found it.”
“Thanks.” Buffy let out a small sigh. “If you see Stein, send him on back. The chief called him at home.”
“Gotcha.” Ernie saluted. “Can’t wait till you’re on patrol duty with us, Summers. I’m gonna teach you to like Star Wars if it kills me.”
“Be careful what you say, Ernie, or it might bite you in the ass.” Buffy gave the young man a wave before she followed the direction he had indicated. She muttered under her breath. “Most likely will too, knowing Sunnydale.”
As Buffy proceeded into the alley with caution, she was assaulted by very familiar tingles on the back of her neck. “What the hell is he doing here?” she muttered under her breath. She surged into a wide spot in the alley.
Buffy covered her mouth when she saw Giles lying lifeless on the ground. He looked so peaceful she had the urge to shake his shoulder and tell him to quit pretending.
“Hey, cadet, where’s your partner?” Wally asked. He was surprised to see the young woman without a supervising officer.
“The chief is calling him,” Buffy said. Her eyes were glued to Giles’ body.
“Okay, well, this here is William Jamison. He says he was taking a shortcut through the alley when he found the body.” Wally flipped through his small notebook.
Buffy’s eyes shot to Spike. She raised one eyebrow at the vampire, who tilted his head towards a shaded manhole cover down the alley a few feet. Buffy nodded her head. Obviously, he had been travelling via the sewers when he’d popped up onto the surface for a reason.
“Normally, I’m not one for callin’ in the Bobbies, but since I have a passin’ acquaintance with the victim, I thought it best if I report it.” Spike smirked at the Slayer. “Scene looks hauntingly familiar if you ask me.”
“You know the victim?” Wally looked at Spike. “You didn’t tell me that before, Mr. Jamison.”
“Buffy wasn’t here.” Spike gave a simple shrugging gesture. “I only talk to her.”
Buffy let out another puff of air while she suppressed the urge to cry. “I knew the victim too. I think he might have been on his way to the magic shop to pick up a book. He was expecting one in.”
“The M.E.’s on the way,” Wally replied. “If you can handle this, I’m going to check to see if anyone heard or saw anything.” He pointed to the surrounding buildings.
“I’ll be fine, really.” Buffy nodded. “I’ve seen dead bodies and I can handle William here.”
After Wally left the scene, Buffy turned to Spike. “You just happened to find Giles dead. What is going on, Spike? That’s four in two days.” She went over to Giles and knelt beside him.
“There’s no reason for him to be dead, Slayer. There’s not a mark on him. No injuries, no nothing.”
Buffy touched Giles’ shoulder. “He looks like he’s sleeping. If I shake him, he’s sure to wake up.”
“If he wakes up now, luv, I suggest you run for your life.” Spike glanced around the alleyway with a sniff of the air. “There’s no scent here that’s out of the ordinary.”
Buffy did her own quick survey of the alley. “Maybe that’s the problem. Who or whatever is doing this isn’t out of the ordinary. For Sunnydale, anyway.”
“You’ll figure it out, Slayer,” Spike replied.
Buffy’s shoulders sagged. “What am I going to do without Giles? He always was my go-to guy when I needed to know something. What am I gonna tell Willow and Xander? I’m sure they’re going to blame me for this, just like they do everything else. They’re going to want answers and we don’t have them.”
“You’ll do great.” Spike reached out to touch Buffy’s shoulder when a voice interrupted.
“Hey, cadet, the chief couldn’t get a hold of Stein. Looks like we’re partners.” Wilkins, another detective, jogged up. “Who’s this?”
“He found Giles’ body.”
“You know the vic?” Wilkins studied the cadet and the witness. There was obviously some kind of connection between them.
Buffy stood up, and she bumped into Spike’s hand as she did. “Yeah, we both did. I know William from way back.”
“Any clues to the perp?”
Buffy shook her head. “No, it’s as clean as the other crime scenes.” Behind her, she felt Spike’s subtle agreement with her assessment. “If I didn’t know better I’d say that they dropped dead in their tracks.”
Wilkins looked around to make sure none of the patrol officers were around. “You know something, don’t you? Something the others will deny or validate with a different explanation. Kinda like when Uncle Rich turned kinda snaky and ate the principal last year?”
“First victim was a humanoid demon outside the tattoo parlor.” Spike jerked a thumb in the direction of the building in question. “One of the last victims was one of m’minions. Wasn’t the greatest vamp in the world, but he got the job done.”
Wilkins stared at Spike in shock. “Aren’t vamps supposed to dust when they die?”
“Not if something removes the demon and leaves the body,” Buffy muttered. “So far it’s been two demons and two humans.”
“There’s only three that we’re dealing with. Who’s in charge of looking at the other death?”
Spike raised a finger. “That would be me. Master of Sunnydale at your service, mate.”
Wilkins nodded his head. “Ah, okay.”
The M.E. arrived at that moment, and no more was said about demons and the mysteriousness of the deaths. By the time the man was done examining Giles to proclaim that there were no apparent cause of death, Chief Corderman had already radioed that Stein still hadn’t answered his phone. Buffy and Wilkins were ordered to go check on the errant detective while Spike went to rough up Willy at the Alibi Room.