Shadows of the Night
Late one fog-shrouded evening, Dirk Hammond, private detective, is called to the mansion of Baron Vladimir Cardula. A series of grisly murders are sweeping San Francisco and the Baron, fearful that he is slated to be the next victim, asks Hammond to enter the investigation.
Sensing the play of dark powers beyond his ability to cope, Hammond hesitates, but the lure of $50,000 and the Baron's fiery daughter, Talia, finally convince him to take the case. The corpse littered trail leads him to a diabolical cult that indulges in human sacrifice, a beautiful Assistant District Attorney with secrets of her own, a clandestine organization of blood-thirsty vampires, and a group of wealthy businessmen with their own ideas about how to save the world from itself.
In a startling finale, Dirk Hammond confronts the murderer in a form he least expected, and must call upon all his powers to prevail. A final horrifying surprise awaits him when he meets the Devil himself and is introduced to the real meaning and significance of Evil.
I took another swallow of the fine old brandy I'd found in the bar set into the back of the front seat and gazed out the window at the fog-shrouded streets of San Francisco. Thick mist hid the moon and stars and made the other cars on the road look like dumplings floating in soup. The few pedestrians out at that time of night seemed like disembodied wraiths gliding down the sidewalk. As the Mercedes purred through the traffic, the warmth of the brandy helped loosen the tight ball of tension knotting my guts and relieved some of the loneliness and isolation I felt on that cold, wet night.
We turned left and glided by Ghirardelli Square. The lights streaming from the windows of its shops and restaurants sent a feeble glow through the mist before it was swallowed up by the darkness. We passed through several side streets and entered an old neighborhood where bushy trees lined the sidewalks and luxurious mansions peered haughtily from behind well-manicured lawns.
I glanced at the driver through the glass partition as he maneuvered the big Mercedes through the narrow streets. Slender and dark-haired, he was in his mid-twenties, pale and quiet. His sloping forehead, hooked nose, thin lips, and slightly receding chin gave him the appearance of a weasel in human form. Bored, I turned away and watched the long streams of moisture race each other across the window—glass, and listened to the sinister hiss of the tires as they sped over the wet pavement.
My mind drifted to why I was going to see a prospective client so late at night. I reached into a pocket of my leather flight jacket and pulled out the letter that had come in the mail two days before at my office.
Beneath a fancy coat of arms and a standard business heading, it read:
Dear Mr. Dirk Hammond,
I would greatly appreciate it if you would come to see me this Friday night on a matter of urgent importance. It is my wish to retain you in your capacity of private detective. I will send my car to pick you up at your office at 10:30pm sharp, so that you will arrive at my home by 11:00. Please forgive me for not coming to see you during normal business hours, but my own affairs press upon me to the point where I have very little time to spare. Rest assured that any inconvenience this arrangement may cause you will be adequately compensated.
Baron Vladimir Cardula
I folded the letter and put it back in my pocket, no wiser than the first time I had read it. The aristocratic title suggested European nobility, and the neighborhood indicated considerable wealth. Beyond those obvious details, however, I didn't have the slightest idea of what this meeting was about. I stared moodily out the window again. I didn’t like mysterious meetings in the middle of the night, and I didn’t like stepping until I was sure on what my foot was going to land.
I snapped out of my reverie when the chauffeur made a sharp right turn into a narrow driveway and stopped in front of two tall wrought iron gates. Through a hedge and across an expanse of lawn, an old mansion loomed ghostlike in the fog. The driver pushed a button in the teakwood dashboard and the gates swung open. We glided down a brick-paved drive and came to a halt in front of a garage about the size of my apartment building.