Saturday, December 27, 2008

Blood is Thicker than Water: Tea with Shalimar and Simpson

Simpson drummed his fingers impatiently on the table. Where was the woman? If she were such a bloody powerful undead, why couldn't she be on time? Did internal clocks go off after death? Drat and bother!

Yet, Simpson could wait longer. Not every day did the world's greatest consulting detective meet a deadly enemy for tea. There was an element of high drama to the situation certainly. She'd want to kill him, of course. That's why Simpson decided he would invite Shalimar to tea in the hotel salon he detested so much. People did in occasion come in handy, especially mass quantities of them.

Doyle munched on a finger sandwich. He was uncertain that he wanted the vampires to come. What on earth could Simpson hope to gain by confronting the enemy? This wasn't his usual style. Doyle knew that Simpson was effective as a blackmailer, and many direct confrontations had this purpose in mind, but what could one blackmail a vampire about, especially one who was so little concerned about image?

“I say, Simpson,” said Doyle, “you don't actually think that Shalimar will drink this tea?”

“Probably for appearance's sake. She's no fool.”

“Oh.” Since their last encounter with Monsieur Lalaureie, Doyle was more than ready for any undead. He touched the spot on his shirt where he could feel the cross underneath the material. Simpson had told him that wearing a cross wasn't going to be effective because Doyle wasn't particularly religious. Doyle insisted Simpson was wrong. He attended church just as much as any other man. But just in case Simpson was correct, in his right pocket, where Doyle usually carried his old service revolver, Doyle also carried a stoppered bottle of holy water. Just to be prepared.

Doyle glanced over at Simpson, who appeared to be reading the paper. The illusion of calm was a good one, but it couldn't fool Doyle, who knew Simpson was internally fidgeting in his seat, ready to continue with the case.

“I don't think they're coming,” said Doyle. “It may have frightened them, all these people.”

“She's coming,” insisted Simpson.

“She won't confront us on our ground. That's not a wise strategy.”

“Very true.” Simpson didn't look up from his paper. “But she will come. Her kind enjoys flexing their claws around her adversaries.” The prophecy proved true. “Here she comes now.”

Doyle looked at the woman who had been giving him nightmares, and was pleasantly surprised with what he saw. High cheeks and a delicate nose. She was almost translucent in color. As the woman and her female companion neared the table, Doyle decided he didn't find Shalimar as pleasant as he initially thought. Her eyes were cold and empty, glittering like the black onyx eyes of a cobra. He hoped Simpson was up the role of mongoose as they rose to meet the ladies.

“Welcome,” Simpson said cordially. “Do have a chair.”

Shalimar and her companion seated themselves. The blonde who was with Shalimar smiled at Doyle agreeably, not unlike a cat who was thinking about swallowing a goldfish. He patted his pocket and found the vial reassuring.

“A cup of tea?” the blonde repeated. “I asked if I could have a cup of tea?”

“Oh, certainly. And you?”

Shalimar ignored Doyle. “Such good planning, Ulysses. Tea? I haven't had tea in quite some time.”

“A useful prop,” said Simpson, watching the blonde pour her some from a delicate china pot. “Helps us fit in with the natives.”

She took a long sip, and then made a judgmental face. “Bitter. I can see why I prefer other drinks.” She occasionally sipped from the cup throughout the conversation.

Doyle decided he would make pleasant conversation with Shalimar's companion. “So, do you miss it?”

Dalia batted her eyelids at him. “Miss what?”

“Being alive.”

She looked at him in disbelief. “Are you joking?”


Dalia laughed, her hand genteelly covering her fangs. “Why should I miss being alive when being undead gives me incredible power?”

“Yes, but you know, seeing life through living eyes must be different. Don't you have any regrets?”

Dalia considered. It looked as though she hadn't given the matter much thought.

“Why,” Shalimar asked Simpson, “did you ask me to come?” A cruel smile made her face stern. “The years have not told well on you.”

“They've told very ell on you. My guess is that you are a vampire. You are your people fascinate me.”

Shalimar gingerly lifted a petit-fours from a tray. “Is that why you pointedly encounter us at every opportunity?” I thought you might have had a more crusading purpose.”

“Each time,” said Simpson, “we have met by accident. I can assure you of this.”

“Ah. Well, then how did you know how to reach me?”

“For a good detective, that sort of information is easy to obtain. The procedures are elementary.” Simpson's keen eyes twinkled back at her. They were matched, wit to wit.

Dalia was flustered. Doyle had asked her about the odor of flowers. “I only smell one thing,” said Dalia.

Doyle pursued his point. “You don't smell flowers?”

“Predators don't need to smell flowers. The scent only gets in the way of what you're hunting.”

“Then you only smell human blood?”

“This room smells divine,” said Dalia. She quickly picked up the bouquet centerpiece and buried her nose in it. She smiled back at Doyle, who was finding their exchange fascinating and macabre.

Shalimar broke the tension. “Get in my way, Simpson, and I will kill you and your friend in painful ways.”

“I have no intention in getting in your way.”

“You've been asking all the wrong questions to indicate that. You know I'm New Orleans new voodooienne since Placas is gone. You've been asking the voodoos questions about me.”

Simpson maintained eye piercing contact. “I will stop.”

“What do you want, Ulysses?”

“Safety.” Simpson lowered his eyes.

Shalimar laughed triumphantly, and Doyle, who was asking Dalia how she could see if she had turned into mist, looked toward them in alarm. Simpson must have played the wrong card.

“The great detective defanged at last?” Shalimar laughed again. “There is no safe place for you in my city!”

“That is why I wish to leave it. Doyle and I will take no action. We will return to England and give you no further trouble.”

“Why,” Shalimar cooed, “I”m surprised. This is so unlike you.”

“I'm getting too old for this. I'm no fool. I want to see my old age, and I don't want to damage those around me.”

“Simpson,” said Doyle, “you can't just walk away from this!”

“But we will, nevertheless,” said Simpson, annoyed. “Shalimar, if you promise to leave us alone, we promise to leave your plans to you.”

Shalimar sighed. “It would be so much more fun to kill you.”

“Yes,” said Simpson. “I'm sure. I am rather famous, you know. That would give what you wish to have happen here undue scrutiny. I'm sure you would rather be covert in your actions.”

Shalimar hesitated. She decided and rose abruptly. “It will be a shame for you to leave so soon. None of my people will harass you until tomorrow sundown. Do give me your word as a gentleman you will be gone?”

“Oh yes.”

“Good. If you or your partner are found tomorrow after sundown, I will have my way with you both.” She smiled toothily at Doyle. “Ask Mr. Simpson what that means.”

Shalimar began to walk away. Dalia picked up two of the small cakes and scrambled after her mistress. She twinkled her fingers at Doyle in an almost affectionate leave taking.

When he had seen them both clearly out of the salon, Doyle turned on his partner. “I would never have pegged you as a coward!” he sputtered.

“Oh, surely you didn't buy any of that?”

“What do you mean?” asked Doyle cautiously.

“You never do quite catch on.” Simpson sighed and rolled his eyes. “Of course, we are staying right here.”

“But you gave your word as a gentleman.”

“You know I am not a gentleman. I'm an American.”

“Then why this meeting? Why warn them of our intent to stay.”

“I want her to be looking for me. I'll be disappointed if she doesn't come.”


“You think about it, old man.” Simpson glanced at his pocket watch. “Must scoot. I'm off to see a man about a chicken.”

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