In Vintage Soul, a beautiful 300 year old vampire is stolen from beneath her lover’s nose, despite arcane security. There is no demand for ransom, and there are no clues. When Donovan agrees to look into the matter, he finds that he’s up against a lot more than a single kidnapping – and it will take all the arcane knowledge at his disposal to prevent a very ancient ritual from being enacted and to save his client from a fate much worse than a second and final death.
David gives an overview of the book:
The private elevator had been busy since sunset, shuttling guests from the subbasement parking area to the top floor penthouse suite. Long, sleek limousines and dark roadsters were lined up like soldiers, and their drivers had gathered in the comfortable lounge provided for them just to the left of the elevator entrance.
By nine, the outer doors had been closed and secured, and the last well-dressed couple had been ushered into the plush elevator and deposited on the upper floor. As the elevator door closed there for the final time, a short, wizened man stepped up to the doors, laid his palm across an intricately designed panel imbedded in the metal, and dropped his head forward. A greenish glow seeped out around the edges of his fingers. His lips moved slowly in an almost silent incantation.
None of the guests paid him the slightest attention. In the garage below, the drivers watched in silence as the wall where the elevator doors had closed only moments before grew dark, shimmered, and solidified. No trace of the elevator’s existence remained. The outer wall of the parking garage made a similar transformation, leaving the drivers alone in the comfortable lounge.
“That’s that, then,” a sallow, pale-faced man said, turning to the driver next to him with a grin. “It’s a long time until dawn . . . cards?”
The other man nodded, and they broke into groups. Some took seats around the single round table in the center of the lounge; others gathered near a small but high-end television in one corner. There was a panel on the wall with a light corresponding to each parking space. When the owner of one of the vehicles was ready to leave, the light beside their number would flash, and the driver would know to prepare the vehicle for departure. None of them expected to leave for a very long time.
Many stories above, the guests gathered in the center of the penthouse’s large living room. The furnishings were Victorian; plush velvet and dark mahogany glittered in the dim light of candelabras spread across every available horizontal surface. The air throbbed with a hypnotic beat that emanated from rows of speakers and originated from a stereo rack tucked into a dark recess half-shrouded in the fountain-like fronds of dozens of potted spider plants. The stereo’s controls and multicolored LEDs peeked out past the deep green leaves and dangling vines creating a pleasant, jungle-like separation of technology and luxury. The music had no lyrics. It pulsed rhythmically and turned the room into a gigantic, beating heart. The guests swayed gently, transfixed by the sound.
The outer wall was a slick, ebony curtain. It glimmered like obsidian, casting the dancing flames of the candles back at the room. Preston Johndrow, the host, stood with his back to that wall and faced his guests. He held a glittering bottle in one hand and in his other a crystal goblet. Johndrow was tall. He was a slender man with a trim waist and deceptively broad shoulders that filled out his tailored suit immaculately. His hair was as black as the smooth wall behind him, flecked with just the hint of gray. His smile was wide and expansive.
A slender blonde woman stood to his right. She was dressed in a shimmering black evening gown that clung to her like scales. Her heels were so tall it seemed impossible she could balance on them and walk, but she showed not the slightest discomfort at the torturous pressure on her ankles. Her hand rested on the wall beside another control panel. The room was riddled with such devices, each cleverly hidden by plants, curtains, or various pieces of sculpture. Everything blended perfectly, and though they were out of period, the control panels and glowing indicators were swallowed by the overwhelming opulence of the room’s ambiance.
Johndrow tapped his goblet lightly, and the room grew silent. He turned to the blonde woman with a loving smile and nodded.
“Vanessa,” he said, “will you do the honors?”
Vanessa Di Caprio did not answer. Instead she pressed her palm flat on the switch. The wall behind Johndrow split down the center. It parted and rotated to either side, disappearing into recesses shaded by crushed velvet curtains that might once have hung in a great theater. In fact, that was the effect. The curtain of wall opened, and the night sky beyond was revealed. Stars glittered brightly, winking at those gathered. The moon hung low on the horizon, yellow and full. In the brilliant contrast of pitch black night and winking stars, with the glow of the city seeping up from below, the moon appeared heavy and sluggish, its color out of place.
Johndrow’s guests gasped in appreciation of the tremendous view. He turned, stared out over the city for a moment, and then faced the group once more.
“Amazing as it is,” he said, “I know you all haven’t come here just to admire my view. Shall we begin?”
The others murmured assent, and Vanessa stepped to Johndrow’s side. She had the smooth, flawless skin of a seventeen-year-old, and if it hadn’t been for the practiced grace of her movements and the direct, almost arrogant power projected by her gaze, it would have been easy to imagine that she was Johndrow’s daughter. This illusion was quickly dispelled as she wrapped herself around him, slid under his arm so her head was cradled against his shoulder, and pressed her leg seductively to his, the spiked heel of her shoe caressing the inner edge of his calf.
Johndrow’s smile broadened perceptibly, but he concentrated on his balance and on the bottle in his hand. He held the stem of the goblet between two extended fingers and gripped the neck of the bottle firmly with the same hand, being careful not to crack the two together. It should have been difficult to hold the full bottle in this manner, but Johndrow showed no strain or sign of concern. He reached down to a decorative table beside him and picked up a gleaming, golden corkscrew.
His performance was almost theatrical, and his guests followed his actions appreciatively. He twirled the sharp metal corkscrew in and popped the cork. The sound of its release was wet and rich. He handed the corkscrew to Vanessa, who unwound herself, lifted the instrument to eye level and licked the cork, very carefully, teasing every dark drop of liquid from its surface and then holding it in front of her like a lollipop as Johndrow, trying not to show the effect her actions had on him, poured a splash of glittering ruby wine into the goblet.
“Meredith?” he said, holding the glass out with a slight bow.
A red-haired woman stepped from the crowd. She gripped her escort’s arm for just a second, released him, and approached Johndrow.
“Such an honor,” she said. Her voice was breathy and deep. She wore an emerald green silk dress that reached nearly to the floor but was slit up the sides nearly to the tops of her thighs, revealing flashes of dark, tanned skin as she walked. To his credit, Johndrow watched only her eyes as she approached.
“We took the liberty of holding a drawing before any of you arrived,” Johndrow explained. “Vanessa thought it would be more fun to announce both contest-and winner-in the same instant.”
Meredith reached for the goblet, but Johndrow pulled it back out of reach. “Do you know what this is?” he asked.
The room erupted in a short burst of laughter and then quieted again.
Johndrow’s eyes sparkled. “Wine, indeed,” he replied. “Very astute of you, but-of course-this isn’t just any wine. If it were, well, I would not be standing here, and most of you,” he swept his arm in an arc that encompassed all present, “would likely not be either.”
Johndrow sniffed the wine experimentally, closed his eyes and rolled his tongue slowly over his bottom lip. His eyes flashed open once more, and he held the glass up for all to see clearly.
“The last time this wine touched the open air, Lord Byron himself was present. It was a party, much like this one, though with considerably more . . . mortality.”
Every gaze was locked on the glittering goblet as Johndrow spoke. There was no sound. No breath. No whisper of air, or shift of feet.
“The wine was already in the bottle at this point, ready to be sealed, but before they could do so, I begged this single bottle from the vintner, who was happy to part with it. I would say the small bag of gold I presented him had something to do with his good humor, but that is another story entirely. The grapes that year were particularly sweet, and bottles of this wine have sold on the collector’s market for in excess of ten thousand dollars.
“This bottle,” he softened his voice slightly, though he could be heard clearly throughout the penthouse room, “would bring a hundred times that amount, were it available for sale. Before it was sealed, on a dare, I convinced Byron himself to contribute seven drops of his own blood.”
“How in the world did you do that?” a man called out from a back corner of the room. He was tall with spiked platinum blonde hair and a long, egg-shaped platinum earring dangling from his left ear. More rings glittered up and down the side of his cheek and across his eyebrows. Some were gold, others copper, and still others glittered with jewels. “What would you say to a man of such power that he would willingly gift you with what must so often be taken?”
“That is a tale for another day,” Johndrow declared solemnly, “but let me state for the record: the difficulty was not in securing the blood but in controlling my nerves once the vein had been opened. I do not know if such blood exists in these later days . . . if so, I have not found it. I would have had more than the seven drops, but if I had not sealed the bottle and taken it from the room, I would have a different bottle for you tonight and a far different story of my time with Byron. Even now . . .”
Johndrow took another whiff of the wine and trembled visibly. He extended his hand to Meredith, who took the goblet eagerly. Johndrow snapped his fingers sharply, and the short man who had sealed the elevator stepped forward. He held a tray upon which one more goblet, and several ranks of slender, fluted cordial glasses were clustered. Johndrow poured half a glass into the goblet and then a small splash into each cordial glass. The short man stood still as stone, and within moments the single bottle of wine had been divided into more than two dozen small portions. Vanessa twined elbows with Johndrow and they waited, gazing into one another’s eyes over the top of the larger goblet Johndrow still held.
The short man turned smoothly on his heel, not even jostling the precious glasses, and wound his way slowly around the room, dispensing the cordial glasses carefully and quickly, until everyone was served. There were no extras. If there had been, Johndrow would have been outraged at the waste.
He stared at Vanessa a moment longer, and then he spoke:
“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.”
He nodded at Meredith, who took a quick sip, and then downed the heady tincture in a single gulp. Johndrow smiled and nodded at the lucky guest. There were murmurs of jealous appreciation throughout the room.
Johndrow tipped his goblet to Vanessa’s lips and watched as her head fell back, blonde hair shimmering over her shoulders. Her eyes closed, and she stretched up on her toes, the heels of her too-tall shoes actually lifting from the ground. Her back arched and he watched as she drank. She took exactly half. He drew her to him then and lifted the goblet from her lips, which she pulled back reluctantly. When their bodies met, he drew the glass up and drank. In that moment, Vanessa’s eyes flashed open and her gaze locked with his. They melted together and Johndrow drained the glass, flipping it distractedly over his shoulder. The short man appeared very suddenly, plucked the glittering projectile from the air, and placed it on the tray without a sound.
“Enjoy,” Johndrow called to the others in the room. “Enjoy, and there is more to come. I have brandy, I have the blood of kings . . . I have the exsanguinated voices of an entire choir in three cases, from bass and contralto to the shiver of soprano. Tonight, we will celebrate the blood. Tonight I will feed my passion, and sate your hunger. To life, and those who grant it. To the blood.”
As he fell silent, over two dozen glasses were raised and drained. Moans of pleasure and cries of delight rang out through the room. The conversations that had fallen silent when Johndrow stepped before them returned to full volume. Couples moved about the room, as bottles were brought forth and their cordial glasses were replaced by tumblers and goblets. The music rose slightly in volume.
Johndrow noticed none of it. He held Vanessa close. Their tongues danced, teasing the last droplets of the wondrously spiked blood from one another and blending it with the kiss. Vanessa had an inexplicable talent for caressing his body with hers, every inch of her a part of the motion and every raw nerve he possessed burned with the need of her. She knew it, and pressed closer, matching his heat but besting his control. She could keep this up all night, and he feared-and dreamed-that she would do so.
“Enjoying yourself, love?” she asked, pulling back slightly.
“Standing here like this, you ask me such a question?”
Vanessa laughed and stepped back, whirling away from him. The dress rippled with every shift of her well-muscled form and caught the candlelight perfectly, sending tiny reflected flames across her back.
“There is plenty of time, darling,” she admonished. “You have guests. You have cognac and whiskey.” She turned back and pointed at him with one long nail. “You’d better steer clear of the soprano tonight. I believe I prefer you closer to bass.”
Then she was gone, and Johndrow shook his head to clear it. He had trouble imagining a world that did not center on Vanessa. Even his collection would be an empty pleasure if she weren’t there to share it. This concern troubled him, because he knew it was a weakness. Any addiction, no matter how pleasant, was a handicap.
Johndrow turned to the wall beside the stereo alcove. There was another control panel tucked in behind a potted fern. He reached back, flipped a switch, and a portion of that wall slid back to reveal a mirrored bar. Lit with dim blue bulbs that were there more for effect than for any need of illumination, the bar was magnificent. Bottles of odd shapes and sizes lined four tiers of shelves. Johndrow reached to the bottom shelf, pulled out a round-based bottle of cognac, and tipped two fingers of the contents into a flat-bottomed tumbler. He thought briefly of the priest he’d first shared that bottle with. He closed his eyes-just for a moment-and the scent of the liquor brought back the man’s gray eyes.
“Take, drink,” Johndrow whispered, “for this is my blood.” He took a slow sip of the cognac, though he was reluctant to wash away the magnificent savor of Byron’s wine blended with Vanessa’s kiss.
The music shifted through a syncopated variance on the original heartbeat. Blood-scented candles in various corners of the room fed the illusion that they all stood within the walls of a giant, beating heart; the speed and regularity of the music orchestrated subtle changes in the mood of those gathered. It was going well. The wine had been a major coup, a onetime chance to present them all with something they had never had, and could never hope to have again. It was a moment’s distraction in an eternity gone bland, and he knew they would talk of it and relive it for days, years, possibly centuries to come.
Johndrow watched Vanessa move among their guests. She had a knack for coming just close enough to make the men uncomfortable, and to bring the women to the brink of anger, and then slip away, or pull back, or say something-more than likely about Johndrow himself-that set whoever she was talking to back on his heels, or at her ease. Every eye followed her when she was near.
Johndrow saw her turn into the hall that led to the kitchen, and he smiled. He wished, suddenly, that there was no party. He wished he had her to himself, that he could track her down that hall, corner her, and taste her again . . . thoroughly. He felt the ghost brush of her teeth on the skin of his throat and took a long gulp of the cognac, cringing at the waste. It should have been sipped-savored one small swallow at a time. A hand brushed his elbow lightly, and he turned, startled.
A short, very thin man with long moustaches, a beak-like nose, and dark eyes smiled up at him. The man held a small tumbler cupped between his palms, and Johndrow caught the scent of the bayou; Cajun blood. The drink was whiskey, warm and raw, served at room temperature. Johndrow smiled.
“It is marvelous,” the thin man said. His voice was soft, but it carried easily. He surveyed the room and took a sip of his drink. “Truly marvelous.”
“Thank you, old friend,” Johndrow replied, turning and refilling his own glass. “I wanted it to be special. Vanessa and I don’t get out as much as we once did. There are some here tonight we haven’t seen in years. It isn’t good to remain cooped up too long. There is too much to forget, and once it’s gone-you never really get it back, do you?”
He glanced thoughtfully at the cognac in his glass. It held a fleeting glimpse of the past. It held the essence of a life long fallen to ash, but it was a pale image of the reality that had spawned it.
“You have a better reason to remain locked away than most,” the thin man chuckled. “She is magnificent as well, but you know this. Even my Ligaya watches Vanessa with hunger.”
Johndrow laughed. The thin man, whose name was Joel, had traveled the world with his lover Ligaya for so long that nothing born of darkness or light could part them. They were insatiable, incorrigible, and Johndrow found that he had missed their company more than he’d realized.
“It is good to see you both,” he said, taking a sip.
A scream rose from the hallway where Vanessa had disappeared, and everyone in the room froze. The sound cut through the rhythmic heartbeat flowing from the stereo and slapped conversation into silence. It echoed, rose a second time, and then fell away. Johndrow dropped his glass and was at the door the hall before it touched the polished wooden floor.
He reached the kitchen in seconds, but it was empty. There was a crashing sound from farther down the hall, and Johndrow launched himself toward it. It came from the direction of the elevator. As he hit the hall, he saw the doors closing, but before he could reach them, they had sealed tightly.
The small man who’d served the wine and sealed the door lay on the floor. He was broken. That was the only way to describe it. His arms and legs jutted at impossible angles. Blood soaked the floor and leaked from his pale lips. His eyes were open wide, staring up at the ceiling in abject terror.
Johndrow turned to the panel on the wall to alert the drivers. Where the panel had been there was nothing but a molten mass of circuits and wire fused into a single, shapeless lump. Nothing remained. He knew this would alert the drivers as well as he might have, but he screamed in frustrated anger. The corpse beside him told him the intruder was no ordinary threat, and he knew there was nothing the drivers could do.
“What is it?” Joel cried, joining his friend in the hall.
“Vanessa,” Johndrow growled. “Someone got in here and they’ve taken Vanessa.”
“How do we get down?” Joel asked, turning and looking for a door, or a panel that might open on a stair.
“There is no other way,” Johndrow said flatly. “The elevator is the only entrance. It can be operated manually, assuming anyone is left alive below. If not, I’ll have to send someone down the shaft. It could take hours, and by then?”
Joel didn’t answer. Others poured into the hall, some clutching drinks, some half-amused, wondering if this was a new and unexpected amusement. With a snarl, Johndrow pounded his fist into the wood-paneled wall. The wood cracked and buckled inward.
Several floors below, the huge garage door slid open silently, and a single dark Mercedes coupe rolled out into the darkness. The door did not close behind it, and no one followed.
David Niall Wilson has been writing and publishing horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction since the mid-eighties. An ordained minister, once President of the Horror Writer's Association and recipient of the Bram Stoker Award for poetry and short fiction, as well as being...