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Dancing in the Dark

Best Mainstream Novel
2nd Place

#1 - 4th Quarter 2004
#6 - 1st Quarter 2005

2004 Finalist
Horror Category


Best Horror Novel
2nd Place

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New Orleans, Louisiana
Wednesday, 2:37 a.m.
June 25, 2002

Blood, bright 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.

Their 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.

He 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

Special Agent 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.”

“It’s the 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.

Over three 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.”

Remy sighed. “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 thirty minutes.”

“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 does.”

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 parades start.”

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 teeth rattled.

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 unbelievable.

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.

“The master? 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 French fashion.

Remy grabbed her cool hand and kissed it. Jack wanted to roll his eyes. Remy’s too-effusive nature was making Jack nauseous.

“You 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.

The policeman 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.

“Thank you, 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?”

The Cajun 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 called up.

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.

Remy practically 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 Street.

"We got us an appointment with the Man himself. Damn, we may get this thing done after all!"


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What People Are Saying About the Book:
"Above average...with a very nice sense of setting and culture of New Orleans... Engaging characters and dialogue... Good pacing, nice description, good conflicts between the two cops...First rate..." -




Copyright © 2006 T.D.McKinney. All Rights Reserved.