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CHAPTER 9

He was tired when he returned to his apartment. It was only ten

p.m. but he had been through much. Besides, the poisoned air had burned away hisvitality. The respite of the breeze had not helped much. The air was stilldead, and itseemed to him that it was getting gray again. That must be one of thetricks his imagination was playing him, because there were not enough cars onthe streets to account for another build-up of smog. He called the LAPD and asked for Sergeant Bruin. He did notexpect Bruin tobe there, but he was lucky. Bruin had much to say about his troubleswith traffic that day. Not to mention that his wife had suddenly decidedto get outof town. For Christ's sake! The smog was gone! For a while, anyway. No tellingwhat would happen if this crazy weather continued. He had to get tobed now, because tomorrow looked even worse. Not the traffic. Most of the refugees shouldbe past the state line by now. But they'd be back. That wasn't whatwas worryinghim. The crazy weather and the smog, the sudden departure of thesmog, rather, had resulted in a soaring upward of murders and suicides. He'd talkto Childe tomorrow, if he had time.

"You sound as if you're out on your feet, Bruin," Childe said. "Don't youwant to hear about what I've been doing on the Colben case?"

"You found out anything definite?" Bruin said. "I'm on to something. I got a hunch..." "A hunch! A hunch! For God's sake, Childe, I'm tired! See you!" The phone clicked. Childe cursed, but after a while he had to admit that Bruin's


reaction was justified. He decided to go to bed. He checked his automatic-answerdevice. There was one call. At 9:45, just before he had gotten home. MagdaHolyani hadphoned to inform him that Mr. Igescu had changed his mind and wouldgrant him aninterview. He should call back if he got in before ten. If he didn't, he was not to phone until after three the following afternoon.

Childe could not go to sleep for a long time because of wonderingwhat could have made the Baron change his mind. Could he have seen Childeoutside the walls and decided to invite him within for some sinister reason?

He awoke suddenly, sitting up, his heart racing. The phone wasringing onthe stand beside him. He knocked it over and had to climb down out of bed to getit off the floor. Sergeant Bruin's voice answered him.

The crooked hands of the clock on the stand touched the Gothic style 12 and

8. "Childe? Childe. OK! I'd feel bad about getting you up, but Ibeen up sincesix myself. Listen, Budler's car was found this morning! In the samelot Colben's car was found in, how you like that? The lab boys, what'reavailable, are going over it now."

"What time in the morning?" Childe said. "About six, why, what difference does that make? You gotsomething?"

"No. Listen, if you got time," and Childe outlined what he haddone. "I justwanted you to know that I was going there tonight in case Ididn't..."

He stopped. He suddenly felt foolish, and Bruin's chuckledeepened thefeeling.

"In case you don't report back? Haw! Haw!"

Bruin's laughter was loud. Finally, he said, "OK, Childe. I'llwatch out youcheck in. But this deal about this vampire--a baron, no shit? A reallive Transylvanian vampire-type Rumanian baron, what runs a line ofsupermarkets, right? Haw! Haw! Childe, you sure the smog ain't been eating awayyour braincells?"

"Have your fun," Childe said dignifiedly. "Have you got anyleads, by theway?"

"How the hell could we? You know we've had no time!"

"What about the wolves, then?" Childe said. "Isn't there somesort of law about having wild animals, dangerous animals, on the premises? Thesesounded as if they were running loose."

"How do you know they were wolves? Did you actually see them?"

Childe admitted that he hadn't. Bruin said that even if there were laws against keeping wolves in that area, it would be the business of theBeverlyHills Police or perhaps the county police. He wasn't sure, becausethat area was doubtful; it was on the very edge of Beverly Hills, if he rememberedright. He'dhave to look it up.

Childe did not insist on finding out. He knew that Bruin was toobusy to beinterested and even if he wasn't busy he probably thought Childe wason a false trail. Childe admitted to himself that this was most likely. But hehad nothingelse to do.

The rest of the day he spent cleaning up his apartment, doing hiswashing inthe building's basement machines, planning what he would do thatevening, speculating, and collecting some material, which he put into histrunk.

He also watched the TV news. The air was as motionless and as gray as lead. Despite this, most of the citizens seemed to think that conditionswere returning to normal. Businesses were open again, and cars werefilling thestreets. The authorities, however, had warned those who had left thearea not to return if they had some place to stay. The "unnatural" weather mightcontinue indefinitely. There was no explanation for it which could be provedor even convincingly presented. But if normal atmospheric conditions didreturn, itwould be best for those whose health was endangered by smog to stayaway, or toplan on returning only long enough to settle their affairs beforegetting out.

Childe went to the supermarket, which was operating at almostsixty percentnormalcy, to stock up. The sky was graying swiftly, and the peculiarghastlylight had now spread over the sky from the horizon. It subdued thehuman beingsunder its dome; they spoke less frequently and more quietly and eventhe blaringof horns was reduced.

The birds had not returned.

Childe called Igescu twice. The first time, a recording said thatall calls would be answered only after six. Childe wondered why the recordedcall of the evening before had said he could phone in after three. Childe calledagain a fewminutes after six. Magda Holyani's low voice answered.

Yes, Mr. Igescu would see him at eight that evening. Sharp. Andthe interview would be over at nine. Mr. Wellston would have to sign apaper whichwould require that any material to be published could be bluelined byMr. Igescu. He could not bring a camera. The chauffeur, Eric Glam, wouldmeet Mr. Wellston at the gate and would drive him up. Mr. Wellston's car wouldhave to be parked outside the wall.

Childe had hung up and taken three steps from the phone when itrang. Bruinwas calling. "Childe, the report from the lab has been in for sometime but I didn't have a chance to see it until a coupla minutes ago."

He paused. Childe said, "Well?" "It was clean, just like Colben's car. Except for one thing. Bruin paused again. Childe felt a chill run over his back and


then up his neck and over his scalp. When he heard Bruin, he had the feeling ofdeja vu, ofhaving heard the words before under exactly identical circumstances. But it was not so much deja vu as expectation.

"There were hairs on the front seat. Wolf hairs."

"You've changed your mind about the possible worthwhileness ofinvestigatingIgescu?"

Bruin grunted and said, "We can't. Not just now. But, yeah, Ithink youought to. The wolf hairs were put on the seat on purpose, obviously, since everything else was so clean. Why? Who knows? I was looking foranother film, this time about Budler, but we didn't get any in. So far."

"It could be just a coincidence," Childe said. "But in case Idon't reportin to you by ten tonight, if it's OK for me to call your house thenyou bettercall on the baron."

"Hell, I probably won't be off duty by ten and no telling whereI'll be. I could have your call relayed, but the lieutenant wouldn't like that, we're pretty tied up with official calls and this wouldn't rate as that. No, callSergeant Mustanoja, he'll be on duty, and he'll take a message forme. I'll contact him when I get time."

"Then let's make it eleven," Childe said. "Maybe I'll get hung upout there."

"Not by the balls, I hope," Bruin said, and, laughing, clickedthe phone.

Childe felt his testicles withdraw a little. He did not care much for Bruin's humor. Not while the film about Colben was still bright inhis mind.

He took three paces, and the phone rang again. Magda Holyani saidthat she was sorry, but it was necessary that the interview be put off untilnine.

Childe said that it would make little difference to him. Holyanisaid that that was nice and please make it nine sharp.

Childe called Bruin back to report the change in plans. Bruin wasgone, sohe left a note with Sergeant Mustanoja.

At 8:30 he drove out. From Beverly Boulevard, the hills appearedlike ghoststoo timorous or too weak as yet to clothe themselves with denseectoplasm.

By the time he had pulled up before the gateway to the Igescuestate, nighthad settled. A big car inside the gate was pouring out light from itsbeams upthe private road away from the gate.

A large form leaned against the gate. It turned, and theextraordinarilybroad-shouldered and lean-waisted figure of a giant was silhouettedagainst thelights. It wore a chauffeur's cap.

"I'm Mr. Wellston. I have an appointment at nine."

"Yes, sir. May I see your I.D., sir?" The voice sounded as if it were being pounded out on a big drum. Childe produced several cards, a driver's license, and a letter,


all counterfeit. The chauffeur looked them over with the aid of a pencil- thin flashlight, handed them back through the opening in the gate, andwalked off to one side. He disappeared behind the wall. The gate noiselessly swunginward. Childe walked in, and the gate swung back. Glam strode up, opened therear door for him, and then shut it after Childe was in the back seat. He gotinto the driver's seat, and Childe could see that his ears were huge and atright anglesto his head, seemingly as big as bat's wings. This, was anexaggeration, ofcourse, but they were enormous.

The drive was made in silence; the big Rolls-Royce swung back andforth effortlessly and without any noticeable motor noise. Its beamssprayed trees, firs, maples, oaks, and many thick bushes trimmed into variousshapes. The lightseemed to bring the vegetation into existence. After going perhaps ahalf a mile as the crow flies, but two miles back and forth, the car stoppedbefore another wall. This was of red brick, about nine feet high, and also had ironspikes withbarbed wire between the spikes. Glam pressed something on thedashboard, and thegate's grille ironwork swung inward.

Childe looked through the windows but could see only more roadand woods. Then, as the car came around the first bend, he saw the beamsreflected againstfour gleaming eyes. The beams turned away, the eyes disappeared, butnot before he had seen two wolfish shapes slinking off into the brush.

The car started up a steep hill and as it got near the top, itsbeams struck a Victorian cupola. The drive curved in front of the house and, asthe beams swept across the building, Childe saw that it was, as the newspaperarticle had described it, rambling. The central part was obviously older and ofadobe. The wings were of wood, painted gray, except for the red-trimmed windows, and theyextended part way down the side of the hill, so that the house seemedto be like a huge octopus squatting on a rock.

This flashed across his mind, like a frame irrelevantly insertedin a reel, and then it became just a monstrous and incongruous building.

The original building had a broad porch, and the added-onbuildings had alsobeen equipped with porches. Most of the porch was in shadows, but thecentral portion was faintly illuminated with light leaking through thinblinds. A shadow passed across a blind.

The car stopped. Glam lunged out and opened the door for Childe. Childe stood for a minute, listening. The wolves had not howled once. Hewondered what was to keep them from attacking the people in the house. Glam did notseem worried about them.

"This way, sir," Glam said and led him up the porch and to thefront door. He pressed a button, and a light over the door came on. The door wasof massive highly polished hardwood--mahogany?--carved to represent a scene from(it seemedlikely) Hieronymous Bosch. But a closer look convinced him that theartist had been Spanish. There was something indefinably Iberian about thebeings (demons, monsters, humans) undergoing various tortures or fornicating in somerather peculiar fashions with some rather peculiar organs.

Glam had left his chauffeur's cap on the front seat of the Rolls. He was dressed in a black flannel suit, and his trousers were stuffed intohis boot-tops. He unlocked the door with a large key he produced from apocket, swung the door open (it was well-oiled, no Inner-Sanctum squeaks), and bowed Childe on through. The room inside was a large (it could even becalled great) hall. Two halls, rather, because one ran along the front of the houseand halfway down it was a broad entrance to another hall which seemed torun the depth of the house. The carpets were thick and wine-colored with avery faintpattern in green. A few pieces of heavy, solid Spanish-lookingfurniture sat against the walls.

Glam asked Childe to wait while he announced him. Childe watched the giantstoop to go through the doorway to the center hall. Then he jerkedhis head to the right because he had caught a glimpse of somebody down at the farend justgoing around the corner. He was startled, because he had seen no oneat that end when he came in. Now he saw the back of a tall woman, the floor- length fullblack skirt, white flesh of the back revealed in the V of the cut, high-piledblack hair, a tall black comb.

He felt cold and, for a second, disoriented.

He had no more time to think about the woman then, because hishost came to greet him. Igescu was a tall slim man with thick, wavy, brown-blondhair, large, bright green eyes, pointed features, a large curving nose and adimple in hisright cheek. The moustache was gone. He seemed to be about sixty-fiveyears old, a vigorous athletic sixty-five. He wore a dark-blue business suit. His tie was black with a faint bluish symbol in its center. Childe could not make it out; the outlines seemed to be fluid, to change shape as Igescu changed position.


His voice was deep and pleasant, and he spoke with only a tingeof foreignpronunciation. He shook hands with Childe. His hands were large andstrong-looking and his grip was powerful. His hand was cold but notabnormallyso. He was a very amiable and easygoing host but made it clear thathe intended to allow his guest to remain only an hour. He asked Childe a fewquestions abouthis work and the magazine he represented. Childe gave him glibanswers; he wasprepared for more interrogation than he got.

Glam had disappeared somewhere. Igescu immediately took Childe ona guidedtour. This lasted about five minutes and was confined to a few rooms on the first floor. Childe could not get much idea of the layout of thehouse. Theyreturned to a large room off the central hall where Igescu askedChilde to sit down. This was also fitted with Spanish-type furniture and a grandpiano. Therewas a fireplace, above the mantel of which was a large oil painting. Childe, sipping on an excellent brandy, listened to his host but studied theportrait. The subject was a beautiful young woman dressed in Spanish costumeand holding alarge ivory-yellowish fan. She had unusually heavy eyebrows andextremely darkeyes, as if the painter had invented a paint able to concentrateblackness. There was, a faint smile about the lips--not Mona Lisa-ish, however-the smile seemed to indicate a determination to--what? Studying the lips, Childe thoughtthat there was something nasty about the smile, as if there were adeep hatredthere and a desire to get revenge. Perhaps the brandy and hissurroundings madehim think that, or perhaps the artist was the nasty and hateful oneand he had projected onto the innocent blankness of the subject his ownfeelings. Whateverthe truth, the artist had talent. He had given the painting theauthenticity ofmore than life.

He interrupted Igescu to ask him about the painting. Igescu didnot seem annoyed.

"The artist's name was Krebens," he said. "If you get close tothe painting, you'll see it in miniscule letters at the left-hand corner. I have afairly goodknowledge of art history and local history, but I have never seenanother painting by him. The painting came with the house; it is said to beof Dolores del Osorojo. I am convinced that it is, since I have seen thesubject."

He smiled. Childe felt cold again. He said, "Just after I came in, I saw awoman going around the corner down the hall. She was dressed in old- fashioned Spanish clothes. Could that be...?"

Igescu said, "Only three women live in this house. My secretary, mygreat-grandmother, and a house guest. None of them wear the clothingyoudescribe."

"The ghost seems to have been seen by quite a few people," Childesaid. "You don't seem to be upset, however."

Igescu shrugged and said, "Three of us, Holyani, Glam, and I, have seen Dolores many times, although always at a distance and fleetingly. Sheis no illusion or delusion. But she seems harmless, and I find it easier toput upwith her than with many flesh and blood people."

"I wish you had permitted me to bring a camera. This house isvery colorful, and if I could have caught her on film...or have you tried that andfound out she doesn't photograph?"

"She didn't when I first moved in," Igescu said. "But I did shoother and the developed films show her quite clearly. The furniture behind hershowed dimly, but she's much more opaque than she used to be. Given time, and enoughpeople to feed off..."

He waved his hand as if that would complete the sentence. Childewondered if Igescu were putting him on. He said, "Could I see that photo?"

"Certainly," Igescu said., "But it won't prove anything, ofcourse. There is very little that can't be faked."

He spoke into an intercom disguised as a cigar humidor in alanguage Childedid not recognize. It certainly did not sound Latin, although, unacquainted withRumanian, he had no way of identifying it. He doubted that Rumanianwould have such back-of-the-throat sounds.

He heard the click of billiard balls and turned to look down into the next room. Two youths were playing. They were both blond, of mediumheight, wellbuilt, and clothed in tight-fitting white sweaters, tight-fittingwhite jeans, and black sandals. They looked as if they could be brother andsister. Their eyebrows were high and arched and the eye sockets were deep. Theirlips werepeculiar. The upper lip was so thin it looked like the edge of abloody knife; the lower lip was so swollen that it looked as if it had been cut andinfected by the upper.

Igescu called to them. They raised their heads with such a lupineair that Childe could not help thinking of the wolves he had glimpsed on theway up. Theynodded at Childe when Igescu introduced them as Vasili Chornkin and

Mrs. Krautschner but they did not smile or say anything. They seemed eagerto getback to their game. Igescu did not explain what their status was butChilde thought that the girl must be the house guest he had mentioned.

Glam appeared suddenly and noiselessly, as if he slid spacesaround him instead of moving himself. He gave a manila envelope to Igescu. Childe glancedat Igescu as he removed the photo frame the envelope, then he lookedup. Glamhad gone as swiftly and silently as he had entered.

The photo was taken from about forty feet during the daytime. Light floodingin from the large window showed everything in detail. There wasDolores del Osorojo just about to leave the hall through a doorway. The edge ofthe doorwayand part of a chair nearby could be faintly made out through her. Shewas looking back at the camera with the same faint smile as in herpainting.

"I'll have to have it back," Igescu said.


CHAPTER 8 | Image of the Beast | CHAPTER 10