She’s Like a Virgin . . . Simulated for the Very First Time
For a red-blooded male, Las Vegas offers a virtual smorgasbord of temptation: sexy showgirls, vampy vampires, zombie starlets, you name it. But paranormal investigator Delilah Street isn’t worried about losing her man to these vixens. Especially when the one woman with a soft spot for the guy also has a hard-shelled exterior. . . .
She’s a robot—or a CinSim, to be exact—a near-perfect simulation of the silver-metal robot Maria from the classic science fiction movie Metropolis. Part innocent teenage actress, part depraved sex goddess, the new Maria is hooked on Delilah’s partner, Ric, who raised her from the dead. She also happens to be the perfect secret weapon for a demonic drug lord. Which could be one hell of a problem. Delilah’s not the jealous type, but this tin-can temptress must be stopped—even if it forces Delilah to forge a dangerous alliance with her wicked mirror-twin, Lilith. If robo-girl goes ballistic, every player in Vegas loses. . . .
Virtual Virgin Chapter One THE CADAVER KID isn’t such a kid anymore and he isn’t in the FBI anymore either.
Yet here he stands in Quantico, Virginia, a guest lecturer with an attentive audience.
And there’s still a cadaver on tap. And it’s horny.
Death and sex, that’s where it’s always at in criminal matters.
Behind the Kid, an eight-foot-wide screen displays a decomposed human corpse that would make any CSI TV show producer proud.
Its muted gray, black, and beige tones don’t offer the graphic punch of color. The photo was obviously shot at night. Still, the grinning skull shows a pair of small, ramlike horns, two ribbed ridges growing back from where the hairline would start.
Welcome to post–Millennium Revelation crime scene issues. It’s not just who the corpse du jour is, but what.
I’m sitting at the back of the room, the Cadaver Kid’s anonymous but proud significant other. I’d been introduced as a “consulting partner” when the senior agent in charge had escorted us in. He’d found us quite the “dramatic pair.”
This is my partner’s solo show, though, and I’m happy to play wallpaper. I’m wearing my dullest TV reporter navy-blue suit, chosen to blend in here, but when we’re a duo my Snow White looks are the cream in Ric’s rich, Latino coffee-bar coloring.
Besides, he looks so great in the foreground.
Ricardo Montoya left the FBI in his midtwenties for freelance consulting work and landed a reunion lecturer spot before he’s even pushing thirty, but he’s cool with not being part of the dark-suit-and-tie crowd anymore.
No monotone façade that reads “FBI Agent” for him. His usual pale tropical-weight suit would look good on Brad Pitt. It also proclaims he’s from a hot climate and a hot crime town, Las Vegas, Nevada,
So do the Lucchese cowboy boots whose pointy roach-stomping toes peek discreetly from his pant legs. They warn he might have a switchblade or two on him to handle a motorcycle gang on instant notice.
He’s been introduced today as a former agent “phenomenally gifted” at finding buried corpses. Hence the nickname.
The Cadaver Kid surveys the large conference room converted to a mini-auditorium in his honor.
Once the Kid had to keep his methods secret from his FBI colleagues. Now the agency has lightened up and smartened up. Ric’s been invited here to confess just how “phenomenally gifted” the FBI’s legendary Cadaver Kid was. I get to watch.
“We all know the Three D’s of Finding Bodies 101,” Ric begins. “Directions, Dogs, Digging.”
A knowing chuckle shivers through the audience, all models of the modern FBI agent, serious, dark-suited people in their early twenties. They’re relaxed enough to show a sense of humor. Good. He’s going to take them into the horror side soon enough.
He paces like an attorney in court, keeping eye contact with the most people possible. “The perpetrator or a witness or the investigation team itself supplies Directions to where the body might be.”
Ric picks a remote control off the desk. A dark, woodsy site fills the screen. “If the area is large and success isn’t forthcoming, we bring in the cadaver Dog teams.” Another slide of dogs at work, oddly resembling truffle-hunting pigs in France. “And then we Dig.”
In the next image Ric clicks to the screen to focus on a body freshly pulled from an excavated hole.
The audience has been nodding along with Ric, not nodding off. He’s showing procedure as usual but each body and every “dig” is different and fascinating for different reasons. I can hear the unspoken question. “When will we see a close-up of those weird horns?”
Ric steps around the tabletop lectern. “To find bodies when I worked with the FBI, I used a fourth D.” He holds up an odd object, a fallen branch from the thick brush that so often surrounds body dumping grounds.
“A Dowsing rod,” Ric announces, being definitely dramatic in his own right.
I study the audience as their murmuring profiles turn to one another. Polite frowns indicate attention but not full understanding. Yet.
“This fork of willow wood,” Ric says with a smile, “was the Cadaver Kid’s secret weapon for all those remarkable body finds I made while with the Bureau. Even though it was long after the Millennium Revelation, my superiors called it ‘gifted profiling.’ This small forked stick is my trade secret. It was all I used and absolutely free for the taking.”
Now they laugh softly.
“Let’s see if there are any buried bodies beneath this conference room.”
“Oooh,” the audience coos in spooky unison. Somebody hums the iconic Twilight Zone theme music. “The truth is out there, Mulder,” someone else shouts.
Ric grins. “This just a demonstration. I promise no corpses will be harmed.”
His wrists twist, forcing his hands and the Y end of the implement downward.
“Here I’m obviously moving the dowsing or divining rod myself. In the wild, I use my strength to hold it level until some possibly chemical-magnetic force rotates the wood in my hands so forcibly I can’t keep it from spinning until the end stem points due Down. One last D.”
Everyone chuckles. Are they solid D students now?
“I’ll paraphrase an infamous politician, ladies and gentlemen. I am not a water witch. That’s what dowsers are sometimes called. My family was adept at finding water. I dowsed up dead lizards instead, not a valued gift in the desert.”
Murmurs stir the crowd as people consult one another on how much of this to believe.
“The force is really undeniable,” Ric continues, now sounding like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. “Perhaps we can hold a future talk at the Body Farm so you all can get some hands-on experience. I can work through anyone, true believer or skeptic.
“The Millennium Revelation, as you know and are now allowed to admit and use in your profession, intensified any borderline paranormal abilities ordinary humans had. Its major effect was bringing unhumans out of their protective shadows and into our twenty-first-century lives in many roles . . . unsuspected neighbor, possible ally, victim of hate crimes or violator of the law, enemy of the state, and perpetrator of crimes against humanity undreamed of.”
Ric leans against the front of the desk, the object in his hands now the focus of every eye. The rod reminds me of the chopped-off forked tongue of a giant snake. He’s holding a branch of the fork in each fist with the stem of the Y aimed at the audience like a gun barrel.
“I call on Miss Delilah Street to stand and testify. She knows I only needed to touch the backs of her hands on a dowsing rod to dredge up the dead.”
A wolf whistle shrieks from somewhere and another anonymous guy calls, “The pretty shill in the audience, Montoya. Cheap trick.”
I can see Ric smolder from fifty feet away at someone inadvertently calling me a “cheap trick,” but I can speak for myself.
“Can you argue with his FBI record?” I ask. “I’m a former award-winning TV reporter, no shill and no patsy, and I don’t believe in water dowsing.”
That gets the group mumbling again, bewildered that I’m not supporting the speaker who’d introduced me.
“But I do believe in dead dowsing,” I go on, “because the Vegas police dug up the seventy-five-year-old bones of an embracing couple on the park site where”—How am I going to put this delicately for a mostly male crowd? Not possible—“where I saw and felt the dowsing rod act as if it had a twenty-mule team pulling it.”
The mental picture of the mules distracts attention from how I saw and felt the dowsing rod perform, which is just too, too phallic for bureaucrats. The audience quiets as I sit back down.
“Most authorities,” Ric reminds them, “most people don’t believe anyone can water dowse, or dowse for precious ores and stones, much less the dead. Traditionally dowsers favor certain tree woods, like willow, but most can also use bent metal rods, glass, or improvise with a coat hanger if necessary. I’ve even dowsed with barbed wire.”
A mass intake of breath makes the room seem to sigh. The audience has made the leap to realizing how painful that would be . . . barbed wire spinning in your palms so hard and fast the point of the Y aims down.
Ric nods. “Tore my hands up on that occasion, ladies and gentlemen, but the blood is necessary for stage two of my facility. When my blood drops to the ground where the dowsing rod has indicated it harbors a body, the dead will rise.”
Actual gasps fill the room.
Ric clicks a 3-D night scene into life on the screen behind him. At first glance, to me, it looks like a still from the first great zombie movie, the black-and-white Night of the Living Dead.
“This is a night shot of a desert ranch I call the Lazy Z,” he explains. “I’m not presenting a day scene because I don’t want any landmarks to betray its location. These are zombies I’ve reclaimed from the traffic in unhumans across the Mexican border.”
A horse ambles through the corral, led by a poky cowpoke.
“Is the horse a zombie?” a smart-ass voice calls from the audience.
“No. Horses calm feral zombies. Consider the ranch a rehab facility for the supernaturally abused. Here’s one reason I’ve come here today. I know how skeptical people who haven’t fought in the trenches of the border wars the US and Mexican governments are waging on drug cartels gone demonic can be. Still, you might have seen traces of a new and hidden force on the crime front, the Immortality Mob at work in your own cases.”
Now the murmurs are serious, questioning.
“Some of you might have borderline abilities of your own that will aid in your work. I’ve come before you, risking ridicule, to ask you to merely open your minds. It starts with inhuman traffickers smuggling zombies like those I showed you into the US from Mexico. Next comes a secret process to combine them with figures from black-and-white film. Only the silver nitrate in vintage film can animate zombies and that may be a scientific lead. Las Vegas is the nexus of this latest illegal trade.”
“Isn’t it always?” someone yelled. “Viva Las Vegas.”
Ric clicks again. The screen switches from still images to moving ones. “Here’s some of the Immortality Mob’s handiwork. You may recognize a few favorite movie sleuths.”
I sure do, and settle back in my seat with a nostalgic sigh as the luminous black-and-white scene plays onscreen.
Nick Charles, in his white tie and dark dinner jacket, is leaning on the Inferno Hotel bar, handing a martini to his sophisticated wife, Nora, whose plunging neckline draws a lot more wolf whistles from this crowd than my buttoned-up navy-blue career blazer.
“I deduced where the body is buried, darling,” Nicky drawls, “but I need Asta to dig it up.”
“I am not having Eau de Corpse on Asta and all over our apartment.” Nora is her delightfully feisty self. “You’ll have to take Asta to the groomer after the dog does its dirty work for you, and you’ll need to visit the groomer too, or there’ll be no treats for the both of you.”
Even as chuckles echo through the room, a white blur passing in front of the bar obscures the famous film couple.
“Pay no attention to the man in the white suit,” Ric says quickly. “He wasn’t supposed to be in the film clip.”
Snow? The Inferno Hotel owner and albino rock star had been caught on film, like a ghost? What is that about? Why is Snow showing up in a conference room in Quantico, Virginia?
Ric turns to face the screen. “And, by the way, in real life that horned skull you saw first off belonged to a half-demon CPA. Okay. This is . . . an example of how the Immortality Mob manipulates illusion and reality for its own profit.” The film jerks, breaks, resumes.
More wolf whistles. The robot from the silent film Metropolis stands front and center, a curvaceous silver metal woman robot out of a Playboy centerfold.
Ric hasn’t revealed the truly fantastic side of his dead-dowsing gifts . . . not just raising the dead but raising a dead actress off the movie screen in her robot likeness.
I want to stand up and explain how it’s all done through mirrors and the power of silver, the silver that can vanquish werewolves and even vampires sometimes and can now walk characters off the silver screen.
Once again I watch Ric raise Brigitte Helm, a dead silent-screen actress in the form of the robot costume that had been molded to her body.
People are used to 3-D movies, but seeing this blend of human and machine walking off the screen into their midst without the aid of the usual eye devices is even too much for FBI agents. They run screaming, overturning chairs in their fever to escape the room. My hands lift to block the painful light from the huge screen, from the sight of the Second Coming of the Silver Zombie.
I guess the Cadaver Kid has more than made his point.
“Ow!” RIC SAID beside me, suddenly.
At least he recognized my existence again.
“Delilah! Your flailing elbow almost put my eye out.”
A small lamp clicked on from the direction of his voice. I stared at his at his naked chest, at his eyes blinking in the light—one espresso-brown, one silver if not disguised by a brown contact lens, as it wasn’t at night—and looked around.
Oh. We’re not in Quantico anymore, unless an FBI conference room has a double bed.
What’s new? Irma, my in-board invisible friend, has kicked into On in my head again.
“This isn’t Quantico,” I said slowly.
“I hope not.” Ric’s pupils widened as they got used to the light. “You had a major dream?” he asked.
“No. Good, I guess. At least at first.”
He braced his head on his hand to turn to me and block the harshest rays of the bedside lamplight. “We’re in a motel in Cold Creek, Colorado, Del, one that’s a teeny bit more upscale than the one we stayed at on our way out to Kansas from Vegas. We’ll be home late tomorrow. Everything okay?”
“Yeah. Maybe I get different dreams now that I can lie on my back.”
“I gotta say that’s nice. We can finally sleep and, ah, do other things any which way we want. You’ve pretty much ditched that phobia against lying on your back now that you know what caused it.”
“Ye-es. Except having Family Services implant an unnecessary intrauterine device that morphed to coat my pelvic bones and organs in sterling silver makes me feel like an unnatural woman. Like the semiBionic Woman.”
I don’t mention “like a dime-store Silver Zombie.”
His hand burrowed under the covers to find my left hip bone and swiped across like you would on a computer screen, smooth and fast, to the opposite hip bone.
Umm, amorous, Irma moaned.
He got the reaction he wanted. I felt the silver familiar’s thin hip chain writhing in anticipation and my fingers found a new charm tickling my temporary belly-button ring . . . in the Y-shaped form of a dowsing rod.
“You feel like my woman in the middle of the night,” Ric said. “Maybe that imported metal only makes your pelvis stronger, makes your, uh, reactions more intense, especially in this new flat-on-your-back position. We should test that theory.”
Even the silver familiar had been won over by our sexy FBI lecturer. Unfortunately, we’d be back to unfinished business all too soon in Las Vegas.
“We have a lot to do when we get back tomorrow,” I fretted.
“Such as?” Ric was totally awake now.
“You need to find out more about that silver she-devil you waltzed off the movie screen into our lives. Snow grabbed her and the film she came in on and flew out of Wichita, leaving us to make the three-day drive back to Vegas.”
“She’s his property.”
“But your responsibility. I don’t get why you’re eager to wash your hands of her.”
“They’d rather be on you.”
Seriously amorous, Irma noted.
“I’ve got issues of my own to follow up on when we get home,” I pointed out.
“I can’t let a werewolf mobster’s daughter keep me out of mirror-world just because I tried to stop her from doing harm and she escaped.”
“You can’t escape Loretta Cicereau and I can’t escape the Silver Zombie, is that what you’re saying?”
“I don’t see any trace of either of them here and now.”
He hadn’t had my nightmare either. Loretta had been one of the embracing skeletons we found on the day we’d met.
“So,” Ric said, “I see no reason not to take advantage of the fact that you woke me up.”
“Quicksilver?” I asked.
“Out and about. Your dog likes night patrols, you know that. So do I.”
And I did too.
He nuzzled my neck under my hair, a green light to foreplay that would implant a red-hot and blue hickey on my pale skin. We’d be back home tending to far less interesting unfinished business all too soon.
So I gave up worrying about robot dreams and vengeful ghosts.
But I knew I’d have to look myself in the mirror as soon as I got back to Vegas.
Carole Nelson Douglas, author of more than fifty fantasy and science fiction, mystery, mainstream, and romance novels, was an award-winning reporter and editor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. After writing some bestselling high fantasy novels and SF thrillers, she imported fantasy notions into her Midnight Louie mystery series, which features a hard-boiled Las Vegas PI who’s a feline “Sam Spade with hairballs.” Her Irene Adler historical series made Carole the first author to use a woman from the Sherlock Holmes stories as a protagonist in the 1991 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Good Night, Mr. Holmes. She’s won or been short-listed for more than fifty writing awards in nonfiction, sf/fantasy, mystery, and romance genres, including several from the Romance Writers of America and Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine, and the Cat Writers’ Association. In 2008, RT BOOKreviews magazine named Carole a “pioneer of the publishing industry. Carole and husband Sam Douglas, a former art museum exhibitions director and kaleidoscope designer, are kept as pets by five stray cats and a dog in Fort Worth, Texas. She collects vintage clothing, and does a mean Marilyn Monroe impersonation, and, yes, she does dance, but not with werewolves. As far as she knows.