The home of Esmerelda Hannity, possible vampire, looked as serene and kempt as it had the last time the little band of detectives visited it. Now, of course, they marched on with more determination: Emerson with head lowered and brow furrowed, Chuck carrying on an animated conversation with Ray Van Helsing, and the Pie Maker stalking along behind them, hands in his pockets. They marched past the steel-railed fence, through the pointed-steel gate, and onto the neat little porch to the door.
"But you don't seem to understand," Chuck was saying to the vampire hunter, hands waving around in the air. "They were alive, once, and now they're alive again. How is it any different? Why don't they have the same rights?"
"You don't seem to understand," said Ray, gripping tightly on his flashlight. His shoelaces were coming undone and he stepped carefully. "They were dead, and now they're not. Dead things shouldn't just come back to life again. It's not natural."
"Maybe it's being dead that's not natural," argued Chuck. She looked at the home that housed the vampire's girlfriend, and for a moment her eyes reflected the helplessness that the Pie Maker felt, knowing he was unable to comfort the woman he loved. "Don't you see, that this is a second chance for him? A second chance at life, at love?"
"It's all fun and games till someone gets bit on the neck," said Ray Van Helsing, with determination, and joined Emerson, who had been waiting with infinite impatience on the front step. Together, they rang the bell.
Hanging back a step or two, Chuck confided in Ned.
"He doesn't understand."
"How could he?" Ned asked gently, lifting his shoulders in a slight shrug. "How many people have been in that situation?"
"Other than us? Not many, I guess."
Ned nodded, casting his eyes down to the pavement. "So— I guess— we can't give everyone the same second chance that you have. It just— doesn't work that way. But that doesn't mean that you don't take advantage of the chance you've been given."
Lonely tourist Charlotte Charles stared at the man she loved; his hunched shoulders, his sheepish gaze.
"I will never stop being glad of what you've done for me," she said, clearly if quietly, still mindful of the interloper in their midst. "I promise you, I will try to live every day as though it's a gift, a gift that you've wrapped up in sunshine and rainbows and clear clean air and with ice cream on top, and left for me just outside my door so I find it when I step out."
"The ice cream'll get all melty," said Ned, smiling a little.
"I'll eat it anyway," promised Chuck.
"You guys have got to be kidding me," rumbled Emerson. Ray, standing at his side, cast confused glances between Chuck and the Pie Maker.
"Is it somebody's birthday?" he said.
In response, Emerson hammered on the door.
Silence still from within the house, and then only a few whispers from outside it. Emerson wheeled around again and directed his ire to the quietly happy couple a few steps behind him.
"I'm sorry," he said, "is this murder investigation gettin' in the way of y'all's lovey-dovey time?"
"Vampire investigation," said Ray helpfully. Emerson stared him coolly down. "But, y'know, never mind."
"Maybe she's not here," suggested Ned. "Maybe when her undead boyfriend came back, they decided to run off together. Knowing that there was a vampire hunter on their trail—"
"I've been thinking on that," said Ray. "You said he died, right? Died again, I mean."
"We really need a better term for that," Ned opined. "Undead, redead, dead again, alive again, I mean, it gets all confusing and redundant."
"Uncle Gabriel is working on a grammar," Ray told him, "but it's incomplete as yet. So you'll just have to wait. Anyway, what I was saying, was— he was dead, then alive again, then dead again—"
"You see what I mean?" interrupted Ned, now wary of where this was going.
"I see what you mean," said Chuck, likewise.
"—and now he's alive again, again," Ray went on, ignoring him this time. "So— what happened? Was there a mix-up somewhere? How'd he get woken up again if the day-dark put him in a permanent bat nap?"
"That's irrelevant," snapped Emerson. "Point right now is, how we gonna find ol' Batman and Batgirl if they're hidin' from us? You know of any caves 'round this region?"
"No, but—" Ray frowned, and looked up. "Doesn't this house have an attic?"
There was, indeed, an attic on top of the second story, which was discovered in due course, after Emerson broke and entered.
("But it's so messy," complained Chuck. "And leaves glass everywhere. Can't you just let me tricky-dick the lock again? I promise not to upstage you. Much."
But Emerson had had it with Dead Girl, and said so, carelessly, before he smashed the window pane.)
Up to the attic they quietly went, trooping up the stairs with as little noise as possible. The silent house produced a groan or two, reminiscent of Halloween drafts, and Chuck twined her fingers together as she could not hold the Pie Maker's arm. The Pie Maker, likewise, pushed his hands deeper into his pockets, wishing for the warmth of the lonely tourist's hand. Instead he felt the cold hard certainty of a twitch in the onset, like a cobweb at his temple. No, he realized then, there really was a cobweb at his temple.
"Ew," said Chuck, brushing at her hair with both hands. Emerson shushed her, ironically, by bellowing,
His nerves were somewhat worn, at this point. From somewhere up ahead there was a flutter, like that of wings. Ray Van Helsing pointed dramatically to the door at the top of the stairs. Emerson Cod pointed dramatically at Ray.
"You do this for a livin'," he hissed. "You're the expert. You go first."
The young vampire hunter swallowed and crept past Emerson's bulk, up the last two steps to the top. The door creaked only a little as it swung open to reveal the dusty, cobwebbed, spider-infested attic.
The couple hung from the ceiling, upside down, their arms about each other. Though at first glance it may have appeared that they had returned again to their true dead state, that they had bought the farm and shuffled off this mortal coil, that they had perhaps kicked the bucket and begun to push up the daisies, they were in fact only sleeping. This fact was shortly born out when some sixth sense alerted them to the presence of the investigators, and they awoke with identical yells of surprise.
The investigators, no less surprised by the suddenness of this, reacted in kind.
The vampires were on their feet in a trice, turning at bay; Esmerelda clutched the arm of her beloved close.
"Leave us alone!" she cried. "We didn't do anything to you!"
Ray Van Helsing stepped forward. "There's been a rash of vampires all over the city in the past month."
"Really?" said Ned, diverted by this information. "A vampire rash?"
Ray, now on a mission, ignored him. "All kinds of undead sightings, bats at the windows and in the belfry, virgins waking up with fang marks! You can't just go around biting people on the neck! It's unhygienic, for one thing—"
"But it's our nature," said Edmund Hillary, not in the least bit related to the Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest-climbing fame. He frowned a bit, looking perplexed. "That's the way things are for us. It just comes naturally."
"Nothing natural about it," proclaimed Ray; from his pocket he removed a small replacement vial of essence of garlic, designed for use in the day dark. "You're unnatural beings. You're supposed to be dead, both of you. Now, hold still for a minute, won't you?"
He took aim.
But lonely tourist Charlotte Charles had a warm heart of golden empathy for these creatures of the night; for the duration of the case she had wrestled with feelings of sadness, melancholy, the unfairness of it all. Why should she get a second chance with life, with love, when these two were denied? She too was an unnatural creature; she too was supposed to be dead. But here she was, alive, alive again.
She rushed forward to stand between the hunter and the hunted.
"Chuck!" Ned started forward, but she waved him back.
"It's not fair," she told Ray. "I understand where you're coming from— and maybe once upon a time I felt the same way. Maybe vampires are unnatural. But think of what I said before, think of the second chance you could give them! If they would just—"
Her sentence was cut off as the vampire's arm snaked around her neck, hauling her back against him. Esmerelda ran for the window and jumped out; they did not hear her fall. Edmund Hillary paused to consider his options.
"I don't want to hurt anybody," he said.
"Chuck!" said Ned.
"Ned?" said Chuck.
"Huh?" said Ray, who was not quick on the uptake.
"Hillary!" thundered Emerson. As incensed as the private detective frequently was with Dead Girl and her idiosyncracies, he was secretly rather fond of her, and did not take kindly to her being used as a human shield, undead or otherwise. He advanced on the stuttering vampire, who backed away and headed for the corner. "Listen here, Hillary. You got two options: one, you let the girl go now and I bust a cap in your butt. Two, you let the girl go a little later and I bust two caps in your butt. Which one you partial to? I like a combination of one and two, myself."
"Chuck!" said Ned.
"One more option," said the vampire, who was obviously nervous. His lily-white hand trembled on Chuck's throat. "I hold you at bay with my captive, take the stairs to the roof, and escape that way."
"How, exactly?" Emerson demanded.
Edmund Hillary shrugged. "Well, everyone always told me that vampires could fly. I always wanted an excuse to find out for sure."
"Chuck!" said Ned.
"Ned," said the lonely tourist, her heart peering out of her eyes at the distraught Pie Maker, "don't do anything silly. I know I said I love it when you're silly, but you really have to pick your times and your places."
"What stairs?" said Emerson.
Edmund Hillary reached with his free hand to the string hanging from a trapdoor in the ceiling. "These stairs," he said, and they tumbled down in front of him. He stared at them. "This rope ladder, I mean."
"Wait!" bellowed Ned, clutching at his hair with both hands. "Leave Chuck! Take me instead!"
Edmund Hillary considered him for a moment, then shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Maybe that magic finger of yours malfunctioned for a while, earlier, but that doesn't mean it won't kick back in. I like being undead, thank you very much. Here, you go first," he directed Chuck, and urged her up the ladder.
The three left behind stood and watched him as he made his way out of sight, then Emerson shook his head and sighed.
"There has got to be another way," he said.
"I know!" said Ned, frantically, still pulling at his hair. "Got to be!"
"No, I mean," said Emerson, "there's no way you gettin' me to climb a rope ladder."