I arrived at the same substation on St. George Street where music pulsed from the Mill Top Tavern and Mick paced the small plaza dressed in street clothes and a windbreaker.
"God, Cesca, don't you ever check your damn cell phone?" was his cheery greeting when he spotted me. "Janie and I have tried to reach you a dozen times."
"I've been on the dead run all day."
"Dead run? Har, har." He punched me on the shoulder, the good one. "Seriously, answer you cell now and then. We were worried about you."
"Hell, yes. For some reason we like you."
I grinned. "Thanks. Hey, you're not on rotation tonight, are you?"
"No. I volunteered to give you this personally." He passed me a rolled piece of paper and a pen. "It's the medical waiver."
I unrolled the form, scanned it, signed it and handed it back.
"I'll take this to the office in the morning," he said, tucking the form and pen in his windbreaker. "You talk to the cops yet?"
"For more than two hours this afternoon."
"Have they found Stony?"
I pulled my hood tighter as a gust of wind blew off the bay. "They have a sketch but I don't know how hard they're looking for him."
"Well, Janie and I put in the good word for you."
"Thanks." I smiled and looked around. "Is any one signed up for the late tour?"
"Yeah, nine hearty souls. You're stopping at the drugstore, right?"
He meant the building that housed the oldest drugstore, circa 1737. The building was once a house of revelry north of town, then moved and plopped atop an Indian burial ground that was part of the Tolomato Cemetery. The drugstore is one of the most haunted places in an entire downtown of haunted places, and one of the buildings I'd skipped on Tuesday's tour.
"Yep, that's on tap tonight."
"Mind if I tag along for a while? Ghosts flock to you, and I want to find the one that bit my arm last week."
"Fine by me, but I've had two weird tours this week. Sure you want to risk another?"
"I'll chance it. I brought my digital Kodak. And if the ghost biter doesn't show, maybe Stony will."
"Oh, yeah, I'd love to hand his mug shot to the cops."
"Great minds think ali- What the heck?"
I turned in time to be engulfed in a Shalimar embrace.
"Francesca, you poor dear!" Shalimar Millie was back and dressed in Jacksonville Jags sweats again-minus the visor-as were two other ladies from Monday's tour. Their purses were beach bag-sized and hitched on their shoulders.
"Millie, you're all right," I said, smiling.
She pulled away, looking part confused, part indignant. "Did you think I was ill?"
"Oh, uh, no," I stammered to cover my apparent gaffe. In my admittedly limited experience, people of a certain age either complained about infirmity or denied it. "You just looked tired, or um, worried or something on Tuesday night."
She flipped a hand. "I simply had some unfinished family business on my mind."
"Well, I'm glad you're back."
"Oh, we plan to keep coming back." She nodded firmly. "We've adopted you."
I stared for beat. "Excuse me?"
"We're sure that frightful man from the other night killed the Frenchwoman and is trying to pin it on you." She smiled broadly. "Until that troublemaker is caught, two or three of us will take every tour you lead. And," she added, patting her purse, "we'll be packing."
My mouth fell open. Packing? As in armed? I wanted to laugh until I realized she was perfectly serious. Then I felt my eyes widen and stuttered, "B-but ma'am you don't need-"
"Not ma'am, just Millie. That's Grace Warner and that's Kay Sims," she said, pointing to ladies who both had short silver hair and identical determination-stamped expressions.
"Millie, I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but-"
"No buts," she said, holding up her beringed hand. "Some people adopt highways. We're adopting you. We have disposable incomes, senior discounts, and we'd love to help nail that nasty man. Not that the Frenchwoman wasn't a pariah, but that wasn't your fault."
I had two seconds to digest Millie's announcement-and puzzle over her pariah comment-when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I nearly jumped out of my shoes as I spun around to find a twenty-something man in jeans and Flagler College sweatshirt standing almost on top of me. When did he sneak up? Vampire Senses Stunned by Shalimar Lady. Film at eleven.
"Ms. Marinelli? Paul Thoreaux. Has the sheriff's department made any progress on the French Bride murder?"
"Hunh?" Quick when I'm startled, aren't I?
"Are you a suspect in the case?"
Yikes, a reporter? I glanced at the press ID clipped to the sweatshirt and gathered my sadly scattered wits.
"I don't think I can comment other than to say I had no reason to harm the bride, and the groom has my sincerest condolences."
"He says you didn't do it."
I blinked. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer tonight. "Who and what are you talking about?" I asked.
"The husband. Etienne Fournier. He says you didn't kill his wife but thinks some guy who was following them around did it."
"Stony, the Covenant guy?" I asked.
"The guy following them was an honest-to-God Conenant?" Reporter Paul all but wagged his tail in excitement. "Shit, they play rough, but I didn't think they bothered regular people." He darted me a glance. "No offense."
"None taken, but Mr. Fournier is right. I didn't kill his wife."
"That remains to be seen," a deep, mellow voice said from my right.
I turned. In slow motion. Hoping what I heard would prove to be a trick of the wind.
It wasn't. Deke Saber sauntered toward our little group in the same clothes he'd worn this afternoon minus the sunglasses. The jacket was buttoned to hide his gun, but I saw the slight bulge at his hip. Could this day get any worse?
I didn't even try for tactful. "What are you doing here?"
"Taking in the sights," he said mildly.
"You're taking my tour?"
"Who's this guy?" Reporter Paul asked, all eagerness.
"I'm a new ... acquaintance of Ms. Marinelli's," Saber said.
"She doesn't look happy to see you," Millie shot back.
"I'm hoping to grow on her." He flashed the kind of smile meant to charm the support hose off the older ladies.
Shalimar Millie didn't fall for it, bless her. "Humph. Handsome is as handsome does."
"Hell," Reporter Paul groused. "I thought you were that Stony guy. The one stalking the French couple."
"Oh, no," Millie supplied. "That man had a long scar on his face. If he tries to pull anything tonight, we'll shoot him."
Paul blinked long eyelashes.
"That's right," I jumped in. "These ladies are armed with their digital cameras tonight. So is Mick." I pointed to my colleague's goofily grinning face. "He's also a guide. Maybe you should talk to him."
The reporter brightened and headed toward Mick, whose goofy grin morphed into a dirty look at me.
I spun toward Millie and her merry band and shooed them back a few paces. "Ixnay on the gun-ay talk-ay, ladies," I whispered hoping Saber couldn't hear.
"Why? I have a permit," Millie said.
"To carry concealed weapons?" I hissed in frustration.
"We're seniors. The fuzz won't bust us," Silver Kay said.
"Not unless we actually shoot someone," Grace added.
Millie shook her head at me. "My dear, you're looking awfully frazzled. Did you get a chance to, uh, eat tonight?"
"Maybe you should've had a double," Saber drawled.
I jerked around to find him closer than he should've been. Super Hearing Fails Vampire Again.
Millie sniffed. "Maybe you're the problem, Mr.-"
"Are you the vampire?" a new voice on my left demanded.
I glanced over my shoulder to see four women dressed in more leather than an entire herd of cows. Black leather bustiers, second-skin pants, ankle boots with three-inch heels and long coats. Their acrylic nails-and exposed midriffs-were stark white in contrast. So were the fake fangs flashing behind bright red lips. None of them more than twenty-five or six, they made the goth gang look mature and well-dressed by comparison. Worse, faint bite marks dotted their necks and exposed arms.
I was thinking, Yikes, but must've nodded.
The tallest of the foursome, long-legged and black-haired, looked me up and down. "We're going on your tour."
"To check you out for the Daytona vampirth," a blonde added, lisping the s. Pointing to the tallest girl first, she introduced them as Claire, Barb and Tetha. "And I'm Thithi."
I almost said, "I'm Thethca," but caught myself when Barb and Tessa, both redheads, waggled their fingers and flashed big fangy smiles at Saber.
"We've missed seeing you at the club," Tessa pouted.
Yeesh. Wasn't his just peachy. Gun toting seniors, a reporter, Saber, and now blood bunnies. That's what they had to be. Human women who wore fake fangs and got their jollies hanging out with vampires. I'd read an article about blood bunnies, but seeing them was another plane of weird. If Stony did show, it'd be the highlight of the evening.
Saber had mentioned Ike this afternoon. Now the blood bunnies show up. Coincidence? I thought not.
I wanted to bang my head on the nearest coquina wall.
I plastered on a smile instead. "Welcome to the Old Coast Ghost Walk. We're a bit late getting started, so hand me your tickets, and let's get right along, shall we?"