Virtual virgin, p.1
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       Virtual Virgin, p.1

         Part #5 of Delilah Street series by Carole Nelson Douglas
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Virtual Virgin

  Meet Me, Delilah Street

  EVERYONE HAS FAMILY issues, but my issues are that I don’t have any family. My new business card reads “Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator,” but my old personal card could have read “Delilah Street, Unadoptable Orphan. ”

  I was supposedly named after the street where I was found abandoned as an infant in Wichita, Kansas. (I guess I should just thank God and DC Comics it wasn’t Lois Lane. ) I’ve googled and groggled (the drinking person’s search engine) the World Wide Web for Delilah Streets and not a single bloody one of them shows up in Wichita.

  Whoever my forebears, they gave me the Black Irish, Snow White coloring that is catnip to vampires: corpse-pale skin and dead-of-night black hair. By age twelve I was fighting off aspiring juvie rapists with retractable fangs and body odor that mixed blood, sweat, and semen. Really made me enjoy being a girl.

  My growing-up years of group homes are history now that I’m twenty-four and on my own. I had a good job reporting the paranormal beat for Wichita’s WTCH-TV—until the station’s jealous weather witch forecaster forced me out.

  Now I’m a freelance investigator in wicked, mysterious post–Millennium Revelation Las Vegas. Vegas was wicked, of course, long before the turn of the twenty-first century brought all the bogeymen and women of myth and legends out of the closet and into human lives and society. Now, in 2013, Vegas is crawling with vamps and half-weres and all-werewolf mobs and celebrity zombies and who knows what else.

  My ambitions on hitting town were simple.

  One, staying alive. (Being turned into an immortal vampire doesn’t count. )

  Two, being able to make love in the missionary position without having panic attacks. (Whoever thought someone would aim for the missionary position?) Position hadn’t been an issue until recently and neither had sex, until I finally found a man I want to make love with, ex-FBI guy Ricardo Montoya—aka the Cadaver Kid. He’s tall, dark, handsome, Hispanic, and my twenty-four-hour partner. Scratch this one off the list. Phobia solved. I am now fully adjustable and ready to rock and roll.

  And, three, tracking down Lilith Quince—my spitting image—to find out if she is a twin, double, clone, or simulacrum. Or if she is even alive. Seeing her/me being autopsied on Crime Scene Instincts V: Las Vegas one rerun-TV night in Wichita brought me to Sin City in the first place.

  Lucky me, Lilith became the most desirable corpse ever featured on the internationally franchised show. When that CSI episode made Lilith Quince into a macabre international sex symbol, it inadvertently made me, Delilah Street, a wanted woman. And not necessarily wanted alive, but as the naked and dead image of another woman. So not me.

  The CSI cameras showed a discreet maggot camping out in a nostril that held a tiny blue topaz stud like my very own, so Lilith’s corpse, dubbed “Maggie,” became the It Girl of 2013: Maggie dolls and merchandise are hot and so are bootleg Maggie still pictures, outtakes, and my hide, if anyone could snag it—dead or alive. One werewolf mobster almost did already.

  At least ambition number four is now also a done deal: Identifying the embracing skeletons Ric and I discovered in Vegas’s Sunset Park just after I hit town and just before the town hit me back, hard.

  I discovered more than Ric and corpses in Sunset Park. I found an ally who has heavenly blue eyes and is seriously gray and hairy. That’s my dog, Quicksilver. He’s a wolfhound-wolf cross I saved from death at the pound. He returns the favor with fang, claw, and warm, paranormally talented tongue.

  (I have a soft spot for dogs—especially since Achilles, my valiant little white dust-mop Lhasa apso in Wichita, died from blood poisoning after biting a vampire anchorman who was trying to bite me. Achilles’s ashes rest in a dragon-decorated jar on my mantel. Lhasa apsos are a Tibetan breed, Grasshopper, so I haven’t given up the ghost on him. )

  Oh, where that mantel is might be of interest. It’s in the Enchanted Cottage on the Hector Nightwine estate. Hector rents the place to me cheap because, as producer of the many worldwide CSI franchises, he’s presumably guilty of offing my possible twin on national TV. Hector doesn’t really have a conscience, just a profit motive. He’s banking on my finding Lilith or becoming her for his enduring financial benefit.

  The only thing Hector and I have in common is loving old black-and-white films. The Enchanted Cottage is a setting from a 1945 movie of that name and I suspect it’s supplied with the wicked stepmother’s mirror from Snow White. Although it’s been mum about my degree of “fairness” so far, I do see things in it besides me.

  The most complex beings in my brave new world are the CinSims. Cinema Simulacrums are created by blending fresh zombie bodies illegally imported from Mexico with classic black-and-white film characters. The resulting “live” personas are wholly owned entertainment entities leased to various Vegas enterprises.

  Hector and Ric blame the mysterious Immortality Mob for the brisk business in zombie CinSims, but can’t prove it even exists. Hector wants to wrest the CinSims from the mob’s control into his. Ric aches to stop the traffic in illegally imported zombies. It’s personal—he was forced to work in the trade as a child.

  I’d like to help them both out, and not just because I’m a former investigative TV reporter used to crusading against human and unhuman exploitation. My own freedom is threatened by various merciless and sometimes downright repellent factions bent on making life after the Millennium Revelation literal Hell.

  Luckily, I have some new, off-the-chart abilities simmering myself, most involving silver—from the silver nitrate in black-and-white film strips to sterling silver to mirrors and reflective surfaces in general.

  Which reminds me of one more sorta sidekick: a freaky shape-changing lock of hair from the albino rock star who owns the Inferno Hotel. The guy goes by three names: “Christophe” for business; “Cocaine” when fronting his Seven Deadly Sins band in the persona of Pride, and “Snow” to his intimates. He seems to consider me one of them, but no way do I want to be.

  While thinking of my lost Achilles, I made the mistake of touching a long white lock of Snow’s hair he’d sent as a mocking gift. The damn thing became a sterling silver familiar no jeweler’s saw or torch can remove from my body. Since it transforms into different pieces of often-protective jewelry, it’s undeniably handy at times. I consider it a talisman-cum-leech.

  That attitude sums up my issues with the rock star-hotelier, who habitually enslaved groupies with a onetime mosh pit Brimstone Kiss.

  Then I discovered why those post-concert kisses are so bloody irresistible . . . and Snow forced me to submit to his soul-stealing smooch in exchange for his help in saving Ric from being vamped to death. This kiss-off standoff between us is not over.

  Now Snow owns a prized new CinSim, another gal famous for being confined in a glass coffin like Snow White, only she’s a silent film hottie who’s part virgin saint, part sexy silver robot, and part Babylonian love goddess. Wouldn’t you know my partner, Ric, is responsible for raising this Three Faces of Eve babe who will endanger all our lives.

  Not to worry. I’m on the case. I’ve been called a “silver medium,” but I won’t let anyone define me or my world, or stop me from exposing every dirty supernatural secret in Las Vegas, if necessary, to find out who I really am, and who’s being bad and who’s being good in my new Millennium Revelation neighborhood.

  Chapter One

  THE CADAVER KID isn’t such a kid anymore and he isn’t in the FBI anymore either.

  Yet here he stands in Quantico, Virginia, a guest lecturer with an attentive audience.

  And there’s still a cadaver on tap. And it’s horny.

  Death and sex, that’s where it’s
always at in criminal matters.

  Behind the Kid, an eight-foot-wide screen displays a decomposed human corpse that would make any CSI TV show producer proud.

  Its muted gray, black, and beige tones don’t offer the graphic punch of color. The photo was obviously shot at night. Still, the grinning skull shows a pair of small, ramlike horns, two ribbed ridges growing back from where the hairline would start.

  Welcome to post–Millennium Revelation crime scene issues. It’s not just who the corpse du jour is, but what.

  I’m sitting at the back of the room, the Cadaver Kid’s anonymous but proud significant other. I’d been introduced as a “consulting partner” when the senior agent in charge had escorted us in. He’d found us quite the “dramatic pair. ”

  This is my partner’s solo show, though, and I’m happy to play wallpaper. I’m wearing my dullest TV reporter navy-blue suit, chosen to blend in here, but when we’re a duo my Snow White looks are the cream in Ric’s rich, Latino coffee-bar coloring.

  Besides, he looks so great in the foreground.

  Ricardo Montoya left the FBI in his midtwenties for freelance consulting work and landed a reunion lecturer spot before he’s even pushing thirty, but he’s cool with not being part of the dark-suit-and-tie crowd anymore.

  No monotone façade that reads “FBI Agent” for him. His usual pale tropical-weight suit would look good on Brad Pitt. It also proclaims he’s from a hot climate and a hot crime town, Las Vegas, Nevada,

  So do the Lucchese cowboy boots whose pointy roach-stomping toes peek discreetly from his pant legs. They warn he might have a switchblade or two on him to handle a motorcycle gang on instant notice.

  He’s been introduced today as a former agent “phenomenally gifted” at finding buried corpses. Hence the nickname.

  The Cadaver Kid surveys the large conference room converted to a mini-auditorium in his honor.

  Once the Kid had to keep his methods secret from his FBI colleagues. Now the agency has lightened up and smartened up. Ric’s been invited here to confess just how “phenomenally gifted” the FBI’s legendary Cadaver Kid was. I get to watch.

  “We all know the Three D’s of Finding Bodies 101,” Ric begins. “Directions, Dogs, Digging. ”

  A knowing chuckle shivers through the audience, all models of the modern FBI agent, serious, dark-suited people in their early twenties. They’re relaxed enough to show a sense of humor. Good. He’s going to take them into the horror side soon enough.

  He paces like an attorney in court, keeping eye contact with the most people possible. “The perpetrator or a witness or the investigation team itself supplies Directions to where the body might be. ”

  Ric picks a remote control off the desk. A dark, woodsy site fills the screen. “If the area is large and success isn’t forthcoming, we bring in the cadaver Dog teams. ” Another slide of dogs at work, oddly resembling truffle-hunting pigs in France. “And then we Dig. ”

  In the next image Ric clicks to the screen to focus on a body freshly pulled from an excavated hole.

  The audience has been nodding along with Ric, not nodding off. He’s showing procedure as usual but each body and every “dig” is different and fascinating for different reasons. I can hear the unspoken question. “When will we see a close-up of those weird horns?”

  Ric steps around the tabletop lectern. “To find bodies when I worked with the FBI, I used a fourth D. ” He holds up an odd object, a fallen branch from the thick brush that so often surrounds body dumping grounds.

  “A Dowsing rod,” Ric announces, being definitely dramatic in his own right.

  I study the audience as their murmuring profiles turn to one another. Polite frowns indicate attention but not full understanding. Yet.

  “This fork of willow wood,” Ric says with a smile, “was the Cadaver Kid’s secret weapon for all those remarkable body finds I made while with the Bureau. Even though it was long after the Millennium Revelation, my superiors called it ‘gifted profiling. ’ This small forked stick is my trade secret. It was all I used and absolutely free for the taking. ”

  Now they laugh softly.

  “Let’s see if there are any buried bodies beneath this conference room. ”

  “Oooh,” the audience coos in spooky unison. Somebody hums the iconic Twilight Zone theme music. “The truth is out there, Mulder,” someone else shouts.

  Ric grins. “This just a demonstration. I promise no corpses will be harmed. ”

  His wrists twist, forcing his hands and the Y end of the implement downward.

  “Here I’m obviously moving the dowsing or divining rod myself. In the wild, I use my strength to hold it level until some possibly chemical-magnetic force rotates the wood in my hands so forcibly I can’t keep it from spinning until the end stem points due Down. One last D. ”

  Everyone chuckles. Are they solid D students now?

  “I’ll paraphrase an infamous politician, ladies and gentlemen. I am not a water witch. That’s what dowsers are sometimes called. My family was adept at finding water. I dowsed up dead lizards instead, not a valued gift in the desert. ”

  Murmurs stir the crowd as people consult one another on how much of this to believe.

  “The force is really undeniable,” Ric continues, now sounding like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. “Perhaps we can hold a future talk at the Body Farm so you all can get some hands-on experience. I can work through anyone, true believer or skeptic.

  “The Millennium Revelation, as you know and are now allowed to admit and use in your profession, intensified any borderline paranormal abilities ordinary humans had. Its major effect was bringing unhumans out of their protective shadows and into our twenty-first-century lives in many roles . . . unsuspected neighbor, possible ally, victim of hate crimes or violator of the law, enemy of the state, and perpetrator of crimes against humanity undreamed of. ”

  Ric leans against the front of the desk, the object in his hands now the focus of every eye. The rod reminds me of the chopped-off forked tongue of a giant snake. He’s holding a branch of the fork in each fist with the stem of the Y aimed at the audience like a gun barrel.


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