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"Broke in"

"To his office at the Gehenna? Nicely done" She leaned back to pull out a drawer In ablack holder twined by a rhinestone snake It could have been flaunted by Audrey Hepburn or Cruella de Vil

I went into knee-jerk covet mode "That’s fro near Hollywood Lots of prop shops"

I frowned "You shouldn’t--" Then I shut up

"S undead I can continue bad habits" Her slightly opened lips emitted a serpentine stream

"You can’t smoke You don’t breathe"

"Think about vampires We walk, we talk, we suck and s blood Sht about it Only air vibrating the vocal cords produced speech Yet, party tricksters I’d seen blowing ss didn’t inhale They just held the smoke in their mouths, puckered their lips and let it drift out in circles A va

"SoLilith and I were twins of a nicotine-addicted pre-va, but otherwise it was quite a rare situation, which is why I kept it utterly secret"

"Even from us"

"Especially froed "Who’s to say, if not you and Lilith?"

"That’s it? You gave birth to us and called it quits? You don’t care? Then, why did this place"--I nodded at the slick surroundings--"send money to help me attend Our Lady of the Lake, a Catholic institution that would be anathema to vampires, and vice versa?"

Vida leaned forward to tap an inch of ash off her cigarette The ashtray on her desk was an open crystal pal I watched with disroove on that, but I’d hoped for so cuddlier, or at least with a conscience

"The Catholic church and va, tortured traditions," Vida said ht think"

"I must have been born here in Corona on Delilah Street"

"No I left you to be found here in Corona, on Delilah Street The area wasn’tup in Wichita?"

"You know social services" Vida shrugged "They take a lot upon the with helpless wards of the state"

"Don’t divert my focus to little me What about prime-time you? In that photo froly younger arm candy"

"No possessives when you speak of hiht, twelve years before the Millennium Revelation in 2000 to 2001 You would have been"

"Yes, Delilah An older unwed ly, istics of hteen in Cicereau’s photograph It doesn’t add up"

"That’s right" Vida’s long red-enaain She extracted so small and white and tossed it to the desk in front of me

I stared at ned when I hit Vegas and wanted to declare myself

Vida sucked more smoke into her mouth This time the stream puffed out with her words "You bill yourself as a paranoruess you did findin a building with amy own mother So be it

"Vida," I noted in my most objective reporter voice "That’s the Spanish word for ‘life’ Ironic, isn’t it?"

"No kidding When I was your age I expected to have a long and happy one, I just didn’t anticipate how very long it would be"

"What happened? In Cicereau’s ‘family’ photo everybody looked content with their roles He was the satisfied e on waistline Loretta was own You were chorus-girl gorgeous in your slinky long slit skirt with a lush silk flower in your hair Even Sanscouci looked a tad younger, the silver streak in his forelockall casual hand-in-dinner-jacket-pocket fully aro paler? Vida’s was giving Snow’s albino complexion a run for theher bloodred-tipped claws on the surface, glaring at me

"I see you still believe in fairy tales, Delilah Keep that snapshot in yourfor theback curtains is my business Besides, everyone in that photo is a mess I kno Sansouci had been freshly indentured to the olf htered Loretta and her ancient va after that"

Vida sat down slowly, leaning on her hands as if she was, say, eighty years old

"Cesar killed Loretta?"

"How can you know about hed out soet about all of thery and brutal, but I can’t believe he’d kill his own daughter"

"Believe I was instru Loretta and her lover’s buried bodies in Sunset Park Then Loretta’s ghost went so crazy she conspired with the Karnak Hotel va after mine in the process"

"Karnak? Vah, from what you say, it’s no wonder Cesar ‘retired’ ht he just wanted an even younger woated me in turn "Who is he, your ‘boyfriend’?"

"You wouldn’t have known him Ric is mortal He’s a crime consultant formerly with the FBI"

"Good fah Here was Vida sounding proprietary aboutwhether to cite Ric’s poverty-stricken peasant Mexican roots or his foster faton WASP credentials

He wouldn’t deny either one, so I just said, "Good man"

Vida’s tone turned cynical "I suppose you don’t exactly have fa about"