Best Mainstream Novel
#1 - 4th Quarter
#6 - 1st Quarter 2005
Best Horror Novel
New Orleans, Louisiana
Wednesday, 2:37 a.m.
June 25, 2002
and arterial, dripped into the bag, filling it quickly. The
man ran a reverent finger over the plastic surface, feeling
the warmth of it. He looked at the other bags, lovingly
stacked just so in the cooler at his feet, and considered
the woman lying bound on the table. She was unconscious and
had been so since long before he began the procedure. She
had to be calm while the blood was drawn out. Adrenaline was
bad for the blood.
A carefully gauged blow to the back of
her head had assured she wouldn't contaminate the blood
with any unwanted chemicals of terror or agitation. He’d
made that mistake with his first kills. They had struggled
and fought, sullying the blood. He’d learned quickly,
though. Since then woman after woman had fallen without
resistance beneath his blackjack. He was an expert at
delivering the right amount of force to render women
insensible without killing them. He could also snap their
necks carefully, but that was riskier. They were more likely
to die before he could draw their precious blood.
He took a long, deep breath at the thought of all that
wonderful elixir just waiting for him to extract it.
He turned his
attention back to the task at hand. The bag filled, he freed
it carefully from the IV and placed it with the others. The
girl was almost drained, he could tell. He had vast
experience with this sort of thing now and could judge to a
nicety just when they were ready to expire. He opened the IV
again, letting the rich liquid flow into a beautifully cut
crystal tumbler. He kept it just for these occasions.
watched with anticipation as the last of her life bled away
into his glass. Those last few ounces were always the most
perfect, most potent ones. Those had to be savored directly
from the vein. It would be sacrilege to place those special
dying drops in cold storage.
As her heart ceased beating,
the flow into his glass ebbed and stopped. He raised the
glass to eye level and watched the play of candlelight on
the cut facets of its surface.
“More beautiful than any
ruby,” he murmured to himself.
Slowly, delighting in each
sip, he drank the warm fluid. He could taste strength and
vigor in every mouthful. He had no doubt that this would
keep him young forever. As long as these useless women gave
him their blood and their lives, he’d live forever.
"The Big Easy"
New Orleans, Louisiana
Monday, 2:39 p.m.
January 20, 2003
Jack Niemczyk looked at his designated liaison for the City
of New Orleans Police Department as the other man strode
through the tourists and vendors crowding the narrow street.
The sun shone too brightly, making it difficult to look at
the wares on display. The dazzle from cheap beads and the
relentless drone of hucksters deadened his senses and
brought a nagging pain to the back of his eyes.
“You want to
explain where we’re going again? I don’t think I really
understood you the first time.”
accent,” Captain Remy Lambert said jokingly. “Nobody who’s
not from South Louisiana can understand a word I say.”
“Well, I must
have been from here in another life because I understand
most of it.” While Lambert had a slight Cajun French accent,
his English was completely intelligible. It slurred his
speech in a pleasant way but the Chicago native had no
trouble understanding his Louisiana counterpart.
months of working off and on with Remy had given Jack a good
idea of when the other lawman was jerking him around. And
Remy was trying his damnedest to jerk the FBI agent around.
“Damn it, Lambert, slow down.” Jack caught Remy’s arm.
“You’re not getting rid of me.”
“Why don’t you go get some coffee?” He gestured across the
street to the Café du Monde. “Have a beignet. I just need to
do a couple of things and then I’ll be right back.”
Jack shook his
head in disbelief. Subtlety was as foreign to Remy as gyro
sandwiches and bagels with lox. “Yeah. You’ll be back, some
time tomorrow or the next day. You’re not sneaking off and
you’re not dumping me.”
Jack wanted an explanation for this
frenzied trip through the Vieux Carré. Shading his eyes
against the glitter of the afternoon sun, he tried again.
“So tell me... why are we in the French Quarter when we should
be back at the office? The task force has a meeting in
“Which we ain’t
gonna be at, fils,” Remy said.
Jack was sure
Remy had purposefully called Jack 'son' in French and
deepened his accent just to be annoying.
“Your task force
has been on this for three months now and we aren’t getting
anywhere, Agent Niemczyk. It’s time we got some real help on
this.” Remy paused to shout across the plaza at a vendor.
“Hey, Jonna! How’s your mama and them?” The woman waved back
and shouted something unintelligible to Jack. Remy laughed.
“Yeah, that boy can’t stay out of trouble no matter what he
He dodged a cart loaded with t-shirts and souvenirs,
clusters of many-colored beads and trinkets hanging from its
metal framework, swaying and glinting in the bright sun. He
whistled and waved at another vendor before turning his
attention back to Jack.
“Look, we’ve got too many dead
bodies already. I want the killing to stop and this may be
our only chance to do that.” He turned onto Royal Street and
headed away from the early Mardi Gras noise surrounding
Jackson Square. With the Carnival season preparing to enter
its busiest time, the Quarter was already becoming crowded.
Remy shook his head. “I don’t really want to think of what
this place is going to be like in a few weeks when the
Mardi Gras Day was growing ever closer. At
Jack’s quizzical look he explained. “I love Carnival but I’m
not too happy with the hassles that go along with it.” He
scanned the narrow street. “With a murderer to catch, the
last thing you and I need is a few hundred thousand extra
people in town.”
Remy pushed a
lock of dark brown hair off his forehead and squinted up at
the late winter sun. Jack knew what he was thinking; Jack
was thinking the same thing. Remy was wondering what would
happen when the sun set. The moon would be full tonight and
both men knew what that meant. It had been over three weeks
since the body of the latest murder victim had been found
and Jack knew they were due for another death any time now.
Their killer always struck around a full moon. So each day
Jack wondered if the coming night would bring the discovery
of another body. He had come to hate sundown.
Remy glanced at the FBI agent before offering words that
were more a warning than an explanation about why they were
in the Vieux Carré. “Now, I don’t expect we’ll get to see
the Man. You don’t just show up on his doorstep and get
invited in. But maybe, if we’re lucky, we can get to see one
of his lieutenants.”
He walked in relative silence for a
couple of blocks, refusing to answer any of Jack’s
questions, but occasionally exchanging greetings with people
on the street. Jack couldn’t decide if he’d prefer
strangling Remy or just shaking the other man until his
Lambert had an amazing ability to annoy Jack.
The federal agent was quite certain that not a day passed
without him experiencing at least one wish to kill the
Cajun. He didn’t think he’d ever gotten a straight answer on
any of Remy’s wild ideas. He wondered yet again what evil
entity had seen fit to team him up with the biggest loose
canon in New Orleans.
They stopped in
front of one of the older houses on Royal. Jack was
impressed. The balcony above and the narrow supporting
pillars below were fine examples of the wrought iron work
for which New Orleans was famous. Forever frozen in metal,
roses climbed and twined in ornate splendor. The windows
were shuttered, the old cypress boards concealing the
interior from view. Its brickwork was painted a sedate
oyster-beige in defiance of the grime that coated everything
in the city. A recent coat of midnight blue paint glinted on
the trim and the iron roses.
Well-maintained and tidy with
baskets of bountiful flowers spilling from its gallery
despite the January chill, it stood out from its somewhat
shabby neighbors. A small bronze plaque beside the door read
"La Maison du Rose—1823." Jack frowned for a second and
translated, “Rose House.” Who could Lambert possibly know
that would live in this glory of a historic home?
“Now, you let me
do the talking,” Remy ordered as he rapped on the dark blue
door then tucked his fingers inside his jacket.
Pansy-filled planters to the contrary, it was chilly in the
heavy shade. Jack frowned and indulged in a brief fantasy of
dumping the contents of a planter over the Cajun’s head.
The door was
opened almost immediately by a young black woman. “What you
want?” she demanded. “What you think you’re doing
coming around here knocking on the door at this time of the
day?” She acted as though it were the wee hours of the
morning rather than two in the afternoon.
Remy gave her an
indulgent grin. “Aw now. Don’t be that way, cher.” She
harrumphed but thawed a bit, her face softening and a glow
lighting her dark eyes.
Jack was mildly
surprised she hadn’t asked for Remy’s ID but her next words
revealed that she knew and liked the policeman. "I'm
supposed to be happy you're keeping me up, Remy?" She leaned
against the doorframe and crossed her arms.
“I know it’s a bad time of the day for y’all,” Remy
apologized. “But I’d like to set up an appointment with the
Master if he’d be so kind?”
Jack looked at
the Cajun as though he’d lost his mind. The man was just
The girl snorted, though there was now a smile curving her
chocolate rose lips. “You wait right here. Don’t move. I’ll
be back.” She shut the door firmly.
You’re lucky she didn’t slam the door in your face.” Jack
ran a hand through his sun-streaked brown hair; it was
probably time to get it cut again. “Haven’t you ever heard
the term racial harassment?”
It was Remy’s
turn to look confused, but before he could say anything, the
door opened again. “Jean’s busy and there ain’t no way in
hell I’m interrupting them.” The young woman sighed. “You got a card or something you can leave? Maybe Jean
can call you later.” She pronounced the man's name in the
Remy grabbed her
cool hand and kissed it. Jack wanted to roll his eyes.
Remy’s too-effusive nature was making Jack nauseous.
are one sweet, sweet thing!” Remy gushed.
Jack was pleased
to see that she didn’t seem too impressed but then she
favored Remy with another half-smile. Maybe she was as
susceptible to Lambert’s charm as all other women seemed to
be after all. That nauseous feeling was growing.
quickly pulled a business card from his pocket and jotted
the briefest of notes on the back. Jack couldn’t tell what
the note said.
petite!” Remy said as he handed
it to her. “You sleep well, now,” he admonished just before
she shut the door again. He clapped Jack on the back. “Well
now, that went better than I thought it would,” he said with
a blinding smile and fake camaraderie. Jack was now fairly
certain Remy was a complete lunatic.
They headed back
the way they had come, but had only gone a few steps when a
voice called from above them. “Captain Lambert?”
stepped out into the street, barely avoiding a passing car,
its driver honking at him. He stood in the middle of the
street so he could look up at the balcony. “Yes, ma’am,” he
Jack shook his
head. The man really was crazy. Jack checked that traffic
was light and stepped out just far enough so he could see
who had called out. Leaning carefully over the blue wrought
iron of the balcony was a woman clad in a peacock kimono,
iridescent and shimmering in the shade. She was easily only
a few years younger than Jack’s own forty-two years. Far too
old to be on a public balcony in her underwear and robe in
Jack’s opinion. Even though she remained in the deep shadows
of the balcony, he could tell her dark red hair was tousled
and mussed and she exuded an air of decadence that seemed so
appropriate for this city.
“You got problems, detective?”
she drawled in an accent more belle than beau.
Remy spread his
arms wide in a gesture of helplessness. “Yes, ma’am, Miss
Baby, I surely do.” He smiled up. The corners of
his mouth tilted up impishly and dimples creased both
cheeks. Jack had heard that most women found Remy’s boyish
charm very attractive. He couldn’t see it himself. Mostly,
he found it annoying.
The woman nodded
and grinned at his dramatics. “Do you know Amato’s over in
Fat City, Captain Lambert?”
She pronounced Remy's name
correctly, in the French fashion. Jack liked to say it the
English way just to get a dig in at the Cajun sometimes. He
grinned to himself and resolved to say it wrong for the rest
of the day. Jack was willing to get pay back where he could
and wasn't above a touch of petty behavior. His plan for
making Remy sorry he'd dragged Jack through the French
Quarter with no explanation firmly in place, Jack turned his
attention back to the woman on the balcony.
At Remy’s polite
affirmative that he knew the place, she continued, “You come
by there tonight after ten. He’ll see you. Tell them at the
door that I said let you in.”
Remy threw her
an exaggerated kiss. “Thank you, ma’am. You are the finest
woman in the city, Miss Baby.”
She shook her
head at his fulsome compliment and was about to retort when
a pale hand settled on her shoulder and a rich voice purred,
“Come back to bed, Rose.” Her laugh flowed down onto the
street as she disappeared from sight.
danced back to the sidewalk. “Well, now. It’s just good to
be alive some days, Agent Niemczyk.”
Jack finally gave into
temptation and rolled his eyes as Remy threw his arm around
Jack’s shoulders and the two men sauntered back up Royal
"We got us an appointment with the Man himself.
Damn, we may get this thing done after all!"