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Bad Blood

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From the L.A. Herald-Examiner, March 17, 1985:


LOS ANGELES — Harold Wolfe (60), and Jean Wolfe (61) were found stabbed to death in their home Monday morning. In addition to the stab wounds, both victims were missing internal organs. Investigators suspect the killer may have drained the victims’ blood.

From the L.A. Times, March 27, 1985:

Law enforcement authorities in Los Angeles County are searching for the killer of a 30-year-old Glendale woman. Ruth Keller was found Wednesday morning with her throat slashed and her blood drained. Investigators are withholding details surrounding the death pending further investigation.

From the L.A. Herald-Examiner, May 14, 1985:


Two more victims have turned up in a string of brutal slayings in the Los Angeles area, but authorities said Tuesday they weren’t close to solving any of the cases. Police have been searching for clues to the murderer’s identity since March 17, when the bodies of the first two victims were found in Burbank.

The newest pair of victims, discovered dead Tuesday morning in their two-bedroom Arcadia home, were identified as Max and Linda Fortuna, both 31.

Sgt. Frank Salerno, who is heading the investigation in the Vampire murders, said that while there was evidence of ransacking in the couples’ home, robbery was not considered as a motive.

From the L.A. Times, May 30, 1985


The search continues for the “Valley Vampire,” a madman who mutilates his victims and drains their blood. Seven people have been slain by the gruesome killer in the past two months. The latest victims, Joy Chan, 37, and Leon Chan, 38, were found yesterday in their Pico Rivera home, where they were killed, butchered, and drained of blood, police said.

As a result of the murders, sales of guns, guard dogs, window gates, and alarm systems have sky-rocketed.

June 1985

The worst heatwave in a century had hit California that summer, baking the city in a stupor of hazy sun and swelter. Stocking shelves at the local Vons grocery five nights a week kept Rico from the worst of the heat. After sunset, the temperature dropped to a balmy eighty degrees or so.

“I think it’s the heat,” Cynthia said, lingering alongside Rico as he refilled chicken noodle soup in the canned goods aisle. “It makes people crazy.”

“Crazy enough to stab people and drink their blood? Maybe this guy’s nuts regardless of the temperature.”

“What makes you think it’s a guy? Women can be vampires too. Ever heard of Elizabeth Bathory?”

Rico loved that Cynthia knew enough about murderers to make that reference. “Sure, but look at the violence. Slit throats, stab wounds… In my experience, girls don’t like to get messy.”

“And what experience is that?” Cynthia said, giving him a knowing smile. A small, petite blonde with a dark sense of humor, Cynthia kept Rico sane during their long, boring night shifts. And if, on occasion, they sometimes sneaked into the back room for a quickie or two, that was their little secret.

Rico just winked at her.

Cynthia helped Rico restock the cans. “You ever wonder if you’ve passed him on the street? You could have stood right next to the Valley Vampire at the post office or something and never known how close you were to a killer.”

“He could be anybody. He could even be me.” Rico flashed her a tight-lipped smile.

“You are a biter,” Cynthia said, as if thinking it over. “And you’re into all that occult shit. Maybe you are the guy.”

“Don’t go selling your story to the Enquirer.” Rico wondered how many of the killer’s ex-lovers would come forward when the Valley Vampire was caught. There was always at least one person eager to cash in on their link to a murderer.

After their shift, Rico walked Cynthia to her car. Not that the Valley Vampire was known for striking his victims as they got into their cars at night, but safety was paramount, and Cynthia had asked Rico this favor in mid-May when the Vampire murders were ramping up.

Rico took the I-5, heading toward East L.A. under the cover of darkness. During the day, Los Angeles was full of tourists and sightseers, but the cloak of night cut through the crowds like a reaper’s scythe, leaving only the disciples of the dark.

It was easy to press the gas a little harder at night when the freeway traffic cleared up and left Rico plenty of room to push the speedometer in the fast lane. He turned the stereo up, belting out “Holy Diver” with Ronnie James Dio.

Rico made it home in the quiet stillness of the night. His apartment complex was pinprick lit with porch lights. One of the street lamps was still out, and had been for at least two weeks. The Vampire hadn’t hit Rico’s little pocket of comfort yet, but judging by the killer’s previous crime scenes, he was mobile, and a busted streetlight would make the complex an easier target.

Once Rico was inside, he locked the door and slid the deadbolt in place.

No sense inviting a vampire inside, is there?

Posters and magazine cutouts of rock bands adorned the walls of his apartment. A weathered bookcase stood in the corner of the living room, displaying Rico’s small collection of books and records. The leather-upholstered cushions of his sofa had begun to split, their foam stuffing exposed like guts. The nicest thing he owned was a framed Patrick Nagel print his sister Mari bought him as a housewarming gift when he moved to L.A. three years ago.

The red light on Rico’s answering machine was blinking. He played the message, expecting to hear his sister’s voice on the tape. Instead, it was Manny, the promoter of Rico’s heavy metal band Hell’s Night; Manny asked if the band could pick up the slack tomorrow night at the Roxy since another group had dropped off the roster.

Hell’s Night played Sunset Strip clubs on weekends and sometimes on Friday nights. They were scheduled at Gazzarri’s on Sunday, but Saturday was open.

“I hope you called the other guys too,” Rico chided the voice on his answering machine. “You know the ol’ saying about shooting the messenger.”

Rico couldn’t exactly justify calling either of his bandmates at a little past two a.m. Not everyone slept during the day like he did. But he had plenty of new songs to work on. Phone calls could wait.

In the morning, Rico made the short drive to his sister’s house.

Marisol and Ruben Kendell lived in Monterey Park with their eight-year-old son, Miguel. The house itself was Mediterranean style with stucco siding and a tiled roof, squeezed into the suburbs. A lemon tree bore fruit in the front yard alongside the cypress and palm trees. It fell short of elegant, but it was cozy, the kind of house Rico wanted for himself someday.

On his walk to the front door, he hoped he wasn’t about to stumble onto a crime scene. The Valley Vampire last hit Pico Rivera, and that wasn’t too far from here…

Terror leaped up his throat, and Rico’s trembling hand hovered over the doorbell. What if he rang that bell and no one answered? It was a Saturday morning, which meant Mari was off work from her job at the bakery. Miguel was out of school in the summertime. Ruben worked out of his home, so he wasn’t expected anywhere either.

Both cars were in the driveway. There was no newspaper on the front steps of the Kendells’ home. Maybe the paper hadn’t been delivered yet. Rico didn’t see untouched newspapers lying on the neighbors’ doorsteps in telltale translucent green plastic.

They should be home. Alive. They have to be, because I don’t know what I’ll do if they’re not.

Rico pressed the doorbell. The chime echoed through the house. His pulse pounded in his neck, fluttering like a hummingbird’s wings. His hands curled into anxious, sweaty fists.

Mari opened the door in a silk floral print robe, and the tension in Rico’s body simply dissolved.

“You live to fight another day,” Rico said, smiling at the sight of her.

Mari frowned. “Don’t joke about that.”

“Laughing and crying are two sides of the same coin, hermana.”

In the morning, the Kendells always ate a large breakfast, especially on the weekends when Mari could spend more time cooking. Today was no different, and the house was filled with the savory aromas of green chiles, scrambled eggs, and chorizo.

At the table, Ruben sat reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. Two of his cats weaved around his ankles, while the other three lounged in the living room.

“Hey, Tío Rico,” Miguel said, sitting on the couch with his legs tucked underneath him, eating a plate of what looked like scrambled eggs. The TV was on, in the middle of some cartoon. Miguel didn’t seem to mind that Rico was standing in front of the screen. If he did, the kid didn’t bother leaning one way or the other to see around him.

“Hey, changuito.” Rico grinned when Miguel frowned at the nickname. Miguel often proclaimed he was too old for silly nicknames, which only made Rico tease him more. He’d never had a little brother (or any younger siblings), so his nephew was the next lower rung on the hierarchical ladder.

“Do you have a show tonight?” Miguel asked. “Can I go?”

“No way,” Mari called from the kitchen. “Not ‘til you’re older.”

She wasn’t wrong. Clubs like Whiskey a Go Go and The Troubadour probably weren’t the best environment for a third-grader.

Miguel groaned. “Mom, you say that every time! How much older do I have to be?”

“A teenager, at least.”

Miguel gave Rico a despairing look, as if to communicate that mothers were impossible to reason with.

Rico shrugged. “You heard the lady. I got no power here.”

Miguel gave up with a sigh and said, “I got some new comics. Wanna see?”

“After breakfast,” Mari told him, then, looking at Rico: “¡Come algo, calaca!”

Always glad to indulge in Mari’s cooking, Rico made himself a heaping plate of chilaquiles and some sort of breakfast casserole. He sat beside Ruben at the table and ate in a hurry, wolfing down forkfuls of eggs and meat. Rico had two helpings, washing it all down with can after can of cold Coca-Cola.

When the meal was over and the table cleared, Rico told Ruben, “I read your draft.”

Ruben gave Rico a curious look over his thick-rimmed reading glasses. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”

Ruben was a moderately successful horror novelist currently in the midst of writing his seventh book. Apparently he sold well enough to buy this house and keep the family comfortable where finances were concerned. What a relief it must be for Mari to know Miguel would never need to hustle pool for a few bucks just to buy a soda and a couple hot dogs at the local diner.

“I love the concept,” Rico said, taking care with his words. Even after knowing Ruben for years, Rico still couldn’t predict how the guy would react to criticism, no matter how gentle.

“I hear a ‘but.’”

“But the ending is so disappointing! The guy’s just crazy? Why not pull a Twilight Zone twist and have his weird bullshit be for real?”

“Language, Rico,” came Mari’s admonition.

“Stephen King got there first with The Dead Zone,” Ruben said.

“Tons of stories have covered the ‘evil twin’ thing, but that didn’t stop you, did it?”

Ruben’s first novel was a science-fiction horror piece in which the main character’s evil twin (created in a lab and composed of his toxic, worst traits) wreaks havoc with his other self’s life, culminating in the gruesome murder and decapitation of his mother. Which would have been fine, all par for the course with horror, but then Ruben, with a twinkle in his eye, had to inform Rico that all first novels are highly autobiographical.

Ruben nodded with grudging acknowledgment. “I like to think I’ve evolved beyond simply copying what other authors have done.”

Rico scoffed. “Look, if this book was about a dude who had to kill people to stop the continents from falling into the ocean — and that wasn’t just a delusion in his head — it would be a million times more interesting.”

“He’s right,” Mari said, leaning against the kitchen counter. “I like it better already.”

“Well, that settles it, then,” Ruben said, shifting in his chair, and for a moment Rico feared the guy would stand up to his full six-foot-nine height and wring him like a dishtowel. “I’ll give it the Old Yeller treatment and start over.”

“You don’t have to do that. Just change some things. Maybe make the lead a few years older with a wife and a kid or something,” Rico said. “‘Saving the world’ for the sake of it is boring, and no one can relate. But saving your family and the people you love? That could make a person do anything.”

“Yes, very compelling,” Ruben said, like all of this was beneath him. He got persnickety sometimes, though Rico never held it against him. It must be a creative thing; Rico often got that way about music, when his bandmates accused his solos of being overindulgent or derivative.

“Since I’ll have to burn the midnight oil on this rewrite, would you mind taking Miguel to Disneyland on Monday?” Ruben asked him. “I’ll give you enough cash to cover everything.”

Please?” Miguel begged, stretching out the word the way kids often do. He peered at them over the top of the couch. “Dad’s been promising we could go to Disney since school got out!”

Rico had never been to Disneyland. By the time he moved to L.A., all his money was funneled into paying rent and saving up for better equipment; the decision between a Gibson SG or a day at Disneyland was a no-brainer. It would be nice to finally see the park, especially on Ruben’s dime.

Rico looked at Ruben with amusement. “You’re gonna pay me to go to Disneyland? Hell yeah, dude. I’m in.”

Mari didn’t admonish him for that one; maybe ‘hell’ was a lesser tier of swear word.

“For real? We’re going?” Miguel asked with trepidation, like he knew how easily adults discarded their promises.

Rico rose and pushed a hand through Miguel’s dark hair. “For real. It’ll be fun.” Miguel reminded Rico of himself at that age, though the most Rico could have hoped for as a kid was a trip to the art museums in Santa Fe rather than a day at a theme park. “Especially if your dad’s footing the bill.”

“We have to get there early before the lines get too long,” Miguel warned him. “You sure you won’t sleep late?”

“Cross my heart, hope to die.”

“Stick a needle in your eye?” Miguel pressed.

“Sure,” Rico said with a laugh. “Now why don’t you show me those comic books of yours?”

Hell’s Night was somewhat notorious in the L.A. club scene, along with up-and-comers Poison and Guns N’ Roses, and this underground fame gave way to groupies. Being the guitarist and the lead singer, Rico garnered most of the female attention. Tonight at the Roxy, the groupies were in full force, crowded around the stage and singing along with schoolgirl fervor.

Hell’s Night had an entire demo tape of original songs, but they only needed one to bring down the house at the end of their set. “Be My Baby” would punch the band’s ticket to a record deal, if they ever got so lucky to play for a crowd with the right person waiting in the wings. The rip-roaring guitar sounded straight off an AC/DC album, with the drums and bass pounding out a steady beat.

Even though the lyrics were in Spanish, music is a universal language, and the audience took Rico’s energy and threw it back, everyone linked in mutual appreciation of the music.

Me envuelvo en la oscuridad y escapo
Todo el mundo quiere hacerlo como yo
Ardiendo, te acorralaré
Sí, estás en mi control
Be my baby~

Te enseñaré el dolor de las espinas
De esa rosa con dulce aroma, ¿cómo es?
Oh, te va a encantar
Sí, estás en mi control
Be my baby~ 1

It was a twisted sort of love song, a beckoning finger of temptation to dance with darkness, and the girls ate it up. They always did. Not like he could blame them. The song was a banger and a total crowd-pleaser, even if half the audience probably didn’t understand the lyrics.

La sangre sucia corre alrededor de mí
Mi ojos están locos pero te robaré el corazón
Aún no ha terminado, te voy a acorralar
Se los advertí, “no puenden escapar de mí!” 2

The solo was a blistering array of melodic hammer-ons and pull-offs, channeling the phrasing and style of Angus Young. It was one of Rico’s favorite pieces to play; the notes sounded wild while being tight and controlled, but there was still room for improvisation if he chose to use it.

The club surged with energy, the crowd erupting in applause and cheers, and that was the pure, concentrated essence of what music is supposed to do. Playing was a euphoria close to ecstasy, a high no drug could match (and Rico had certainly tried plenty). No feeling on earth beat the rush of commanding a crowd to move to his music and hearing them sing along.

After the thrashing set, Rico found his favorite groupies, gave them free drinks in the bar above the club (a benefit of being with the band), and eventually disappeared with each one into the bathroom for a quickie. There was a condom-dispensing machine in the men’s room of which Rico took full advantage.

“What’s ‘Be My Baby’ about?” one of the girls, Eva, asked him after they were finished. “I bet it’s romantic. Everything sounds romantic in Spanish.”

Rico snickered as he hiked his dark jeans over his hips. “It’s a love song in the same way ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police is.”

That implication wasn’t lost on her. “So, like, a kinky stalker vibe? Hot.” Eva took his face in her hands, gazing at him with adoration. Her thumb brushed over the beauty mark near his lower lip; growing up, Rico had hated the unsightly spots (one near his mouth and one under his eye), but girls seemed to consider them part of his appeal.

The men’s room door swung open, and Hell’s Night drummer Tony D’Angelo stood there glaring at Rico. “Goddamn it, quit hogging the bathroom! Some of us have to fucking drain the lizard!”

“Hi, Tony,” Eva said with a wink and a wave.

Tony regarded her with a terse, albeit friendly nod then pushed his way inside the room. “Get the fuck out,” he said to Rico. “I’ve had three beers and I’m dying.”

Tony was piss-shy, a fact which he would have absolutely murdered Rico for sharing in this particular moment — or any moment, really.

It was probably for the best if Rico left now. A familiar lurking pain had begun to grow in his temples, a pain he knew would progress into a monstrous migraine by the end of the night.

“I know you’re just jealous. Hang in there, cabrón. Somebody’s bound to mistake you for John Oates again.” Rico laughed as he took Eva’s hand and led her back into the club.

Another band was onstage now, tearing through their set. Rico supposed they were alright, but they lacked polish.

The Hell’s Night groupies sat in their own booth near the back, beneath signed photographs of rock stars who had cut their teeth here. Alessio, Hell’s Night’s bassist and Tony’s younger brother, had found himself at home amongst the women. With his boyish looks and innocent face, Alessio had more success with groupies than his brother.

“Care to join us?” Eva asked, tugging Rico in the direction of their booth.

Rico let go of her hand, which he hadn’t realized he was still holding. “I’m gonna step out for a bit, but I might be done for the night.”

Eva pouted and moaned her disappointment.

Rico gave her a one-armed hug and said, “Be careful on your way home, alright? Lock your doors and windows.”

“Same to you.”

Rico left through the back door and stepped into the cool night air. The pounding music receded to a dull, distant thump. The back lot was tucked away behind tall hedges, palm trees, and the edifice of the club itself.

Rico unlocked his car, an orange Toyota station wagon he’d bought out of a Greensheet ad a few years back, and retrieved two aspirin from the bottle in the glovebox. He attempted to dry-swallow the pills, but they got stuck in his throat. He found a plastic bottle of Pepsi rolling around below the passenger seat and got the pills down with a splash of old, warm cola.

Rico coughed at the acrid taste and tossed the empty bottle back into the car. He would have to tidy up the interior before taking Miguel to Disneyland, but today was not that day.

Someone spoke up. “Y—you were really good in there.”

Rico whirled in the direction of the voice, irrationally afraid. A man stood near the club’s back door, watching Rico with curious interest.

“Yeah? Thanks, man. I do my best.”

The stranger moved closer, stepping out of the shadows and into the glow of the streetlights. He was a few inches shorter than Rico, but probably around the same age. Slim and toned, his shaggy dark hair hung in short curtains over his ears. His clothes were unremarkable, just a T-shirt and dark jeans, but his face…

Maybe it was the mixture of stubble and scruff decorating his jaw and the area around his mouth. Or it might have been his lips pulled into mischievous smirk. Or his pale skin that looked satiny soft to the touch. Or maybe it was his high cheekbones, a feature Rico himself shared with this curious stranger.

But Rico knew it was the warm golden eyes that had him gobsmacked (though Ruben might have described them as butterscotch to be unnecessarily pedantic).

“You’re, uh, you’re really good,” the stranger continued, oblivious to Rico’s momentary ogling. “Like, um, Robert Plant and Ronnie James Dio.”

“Fuck off,” Rico said with a laugh. “You’re fucking with me, aren’t you?”

“N—no! I—I mean it!” He glanced away, rubbing the back of his neck. “You must be Rico. I’m Damon.”

Rico almost asked how Damon knew his name. But Rico often introduced himself and the rest of the band before their sets, so that was a likely explanation.

It occurred to Rico that Damon might be a talent scout from a record label. He assumed everyone who worked at a record company was a stodgy, balding white guy who thought rock and roll was the devil’s music, but bands like Mötley Crüe and W.A.S.P were getting signed to record deals; a handful of execs with actual taste had to exist somewhere. Maybe Damon was one of them, a nervous rookie trying to sign his first client.

Rico nodded, aware that he was staring again and should probably say something. Deciding Damon wasn’t a threat, Rico shut the car door he’d left hanging open since the start of their conversation. “Well, thanks, man. I’m glad you liked the show.”

“Do you, uh, do you write everything?”

“Just the lyrics and the guitar parts. Are you a musician too?” Or perhaps a record executive looking to sign that next big group?

“N—no, I just like music,” Damon said, and Rico’s hopes sank. Still, it was nice to chat with someone who appreciated his music, and it didn’t hurt that Damon was incredibly easy on the eyes either. “How long have you been playing?”

“As Hell’s Night? A couple years. Overall? Almost fifteen. I always loved listening to music, but Led Zeppelin was the first band I heard that made me want to play guitar.”

“You sound like Zeppelin a little,” Damon said. “Just — raw, like when they were starting out.”

Rico grinned, reflexively averting his face to hide his teeth and the hot flush creeping up his neck. “Aw, shucks.”

Highly aware of those warm eyes, Rico noticed Damon’s gaze raking over him. The thought of being appraised sent a thrill down Rico’s spine.

“Cool tattoo,” Damon said. Rico had two tattoos, but thanks to his ratty tanktop, the only one visible tonight was the inverted pentagram on his right shoulder. “I guess you’re into occult stuff?”

“What tipped you off? The song called ‘Hail Satan’ I played in there?”

Damon laughed. It was a nice sound, one Rico wouldn’t mind hearing again. “You’re not real subtle.” Carefully, Damon took a space beside Rico and settled against the car, as though unsure if he was allowed this proximity. Perhaps he didn’t want to scratch the paint. “Do you get a lot of shit for the Satanic stuff?”

“Sometimes,” Rico said, shrugging. “But if ignorant, small-minded people want to judge me, then fuck ‘em.”

“I wish I had that kind of confidence at your age.”

“How old are you, grandpa? Thirty?”

“I’m twenty-eight,” Damon said, “but I feel thirty-five.”

“Well, there’s worse ways to spend a midlife crisis. For the record, I’m only three years younger than you.”

“Oh.” Damon sized him up once more, and Rico felt the thrill again. “You looked younger under the stage lights.”

“Not for long. All this fuckin’ murder going on is gonna turn my hair grey.”

“Keep your doors locked. A—and your windows. I read that’s how he’s getting in.”

“Gotta be invited in, huh? Shit, this guy really is a fuckin’ vampire!” Rico laughed, because the idea was absurd.

“Or he thinks he is one, at least,” Damon said with an air of certainty. “Belief can be very powerful.”

“Tell that to the victims who thought God would protect them.”

“Is Satan more benevolent?” Damon asked, a hint of a smirk on his lips.

“He’s not real. The devil is a symbol of defiance against any belief system that wants to control you.” Rico was suddenly afraid that he sounded young and stupid. Certainly he was, but it had never bothered him before. “I like to shock people, which is really easy to do when you flash pentagrams and talk about Satan.”

Damon raised an eyebrow, but the playful smirk was still there. “Your parents must have loved that.”

“My mom doesn’t have strong opinions on religion. My dad is… less than enthused, let’s say.”

The headache Rico had feared began to thrum again, more intense this time. He shut his eyes and grimaced.

“Did I say something wrong?” Damon asked.

“No — I get these killer migraines every once in a while. My line of work probably doesn’t help, huh?”

“Have you seen a doctor?”

“Once as a kid, and again as an adult. Clean bill of health both times. I’m a medical mystery.”

As much as Rico wanted to linger here in the back lot of the Roxy and talk with this tantalizing human being, he needed to lie in his darkened bedroom until the headache ran its course.

Rico pushed off the car. “I should get home before it gets worse. Would you wanna get a drink sometime? We play Gazzarri’s tomorrow, but I don’t limit my drinking to the nighttime.”

“You go out in the sun? I guess I can cross you off my list of potential Vampire suspects.”

“You have a list? How many weirdos do you know?”

“Just you.”

“Don’t I feel special.” Rico popped open the car door so he could fetch a scrap of paper and a pen. He scribbled his number on the paper and handed it to Damon. “Give me a call sometime. We’ll talk music.”

“Great! I’ll see you around, Rico,” Damon said with a pleasant little grin as he walked away.

Rico dragged himself out of bed around mid-afternoon on Sunday. Squinting against the bright sun, he snatched the newspaper off his doorstep and turned the deadbolt. As he drank his morning Pepsi, the cola turned sour on his tongue when he saw the front page headline: