Vampire Games (Chapter Seventeen)

They were eating ice cream together on a bus bench.

Buena Park's Park and Ride was a big station, perhaps the biggest in north Orange County, too big for a little girl to be sitting alone.

I parked just behind the benches, where I could see Tammy and Spinoza, both happily munching on their ice creams. Tammy was swinging her legs. I could just make out Mary Lou's gym bag sitting next to her.

With the 5 Freeway roaring above, choked with rush hour traffic, and Orangethorpe Avenue opposite, nearly as busy, no one would have noticed a screaming girl being yanked into someone's car, never to be seen or heard from again.

I inhaled slowly, deeply.

But there she was, safely eating ice cream with Spinoza as if she knew the man. She didn't, of course. She had never met the investigator, and yet, there she was eating ice cream with him. So trusting. So innocent. He could have been anyone. Someone dangerous. Someone with not very good intentions. He wasn't dangerous, of course. He was a damn fine investigator. But she didn't know that.

Spinoza turned and saw me sitting in my van. Perhaps he was psychic himself. He waved, holding his ice cream. There was a vending machine nearby. No doubt it had been the source of the frozen dessert.

I sat in my car and waited for my heart to calm down, for my breathing to calm down, and, as I waited, never once did I take my eyes off my daughter.* * *Spinoza got up and pulled me aside as I approached.

"You know the drill," said Spinoza quietly. He was only a few inches taller than me. His height always surprised me. My memory of him was always as a bigger man.

I nodded, knowing where this was going.

The evening was giving way to dusk, and the lights in the bus stop were turning on. Tammy kicked her feet…and looked away. So far, she hadn't made eye contact with me. She was dressed in jeans and T-shirt. She had on a pink belt. She was too damn cute to be alone at a bus station.

"She thinks you're going to be mad at her," he said.

I nodded. It's the same speech I gave parents myself, after finding their own runaways.

"She's also angry."

I snapped my head around. "Angry?"

Spinoza gave me a wry smile. "Life's unfair and all that. You know, typical girl stuff."

I nodded, relieved, although I wasn't sure about that "girl stuff" comment.

He continued, "Sherbet's on his way, too, so you'll have a few minutes alone with her. I tried to call him off, but he has to follow up, access the situation, finalize a report, and call off the hounds, so to speak."

I nodded, looked at Spinoza. "How did you know she was here?"

"A hunch. I listen to them."

I suddenly gave him a hug which, I think, surprised the hell out of him, although it shouldn't have. He was lucky I didn't give him a smooch, too.

"I do, too," I said, releasing him. "Except this time I couldn't think straight."

"Hard to think straight when your kid's gone," he said, and now there was no mistaking the sorrow in his voice. I knew his own kid was gone. Long gone. He nodded toward Tammy. "Talk to her, Sam. Gently."

I said I would. He smiled and nodded and touched my elbow awkwardly, then slipped out into the night.

I turned to Tammy.