Dunn Kelly hardly ever has a problem covering for his alcoholic father. As the only Special Populations detective on the police force, his dad's responsibilities usually consist of freeing zombies tangled in turnstiles, checking rabies tags on werewolves, and sweeping up vampires who oversleep when moon bathing. But when teen pop star Delilah Idaho sees a wrinkle on her forehead, Dunn's world is turned upside-down.
A television show is being filmed in his town- You Suck, a reality show in which vampires, from sparkly to old school, compete for the privilege of biting Delilah, keeping her young and beautiful forever. But a murderer is loose on the set and it's up to Dunn to save his father's job and solve the mystery. Oh, and his teacher is hitting on him, the football coach hates his guts, and he just might lose his spot on the swim team. Dunn's life, like the television show, sucks.
"An original mystery that not only drips humor and suspense, but has more twists than a tangled artery."– Terry W. Ervin II, author of Blood Sword
"A biting, laugh-out-loud funny commentary on our culture's obsession with youth and celebrity. Smartly paced and tightly written, I can't recommend it enough."– Justin R. Macumber author of A Minor Magic
"Rip roaring action from start to finish. Wit and humor throughout. Just one question - how soon until the next one? Because I can't wait."– Graham Brown author of Black Rain
It was definitely a wrinkle. No matter how many different ways Delilah twisted and contorted, the line remained— an unsightly gully eroded across her otherwise perfect forehead. She used the tips of her fingers to stretch the skin, careful not to let anything touch her freshly lacquered nails, and released it, only to watch the line reform.
"It looks like the Grand Canyon." Her voice was as dark as her mood, lacking the bubbly effervescence she'd have to exude upon taking the stage twenty minutes from now. With a curse that was very unlike her television persona, she hefted her diet cola, always a glass bottle, never plastic and never, ever a can, and hurled it at the mirror. The satisfying shattering sound washed over her in a soothing wave, calming her nerves as breaking things always seemed to do.
The door burst open and her daddy hurried through, latte foam clinging to his soul patch. Concern filled his brown eyes as he hurried to her side and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"What's wrong, Darlin? Your makeup artist came running out of here like his hair was on fire. Did they forget to take the brown M&M's out of the bowl again?" Since retiring from action-themed B movies, Buddy Jay Johnson served as his daughter's manager, assuring that things conformed to her very exacting expectations. He was always nearby, ready to put out the fire.
"No." Delilah jerked away from her father's coffee breath and returned to her dressing table. She placed her hands on its cool, hard surface, careful not to cut herself on the glimmering shards of glass, and leaned in close, taking one more look at the first blemish ever to mar her flawless skin. The cracks that cobwebbed the last surviving section of mirror taunted her, a thousand echoes of the line on her face. "I'm old, Daddy."
"What's that?" Buddy Jay's face relaxed and he adopted the molasses-sweet tone he always used to placate her. "You're only seventeen. You got your whole life ahead of you. Now your Daddy, he's an old man." He sidled up next to her and made a face at the mirror. "Look at that the gray hairs on that fella there. You see? You ain't old. He is."
"Look at my forehead." Delilah pronounced each word like a death sentence. She pushed back her blonde bangs and thrust her head up at her father, who leaned back to avoid a busted lip. "I've got a wrinkle. A wrinkle!" She could not help but feel a measure of satisfaction when her shout made him wince. "If I've already got one wrinkle at seventeen, what am I going to look like when I'm really old, like twenty-five?"
"Darlin, those are laugh lines. Everybody gets them."
"You don't get laugh lines on your forehead, Daddy. You get wrinkles. I already looked it up online. But thank you for reminding me what else I have in store." She flounced across the room to the pink sofa, sank heavily into its cotton candy depths, folded her arms across her chest, and engaged in a staring contest with the wall.
"Come on, now. You can't look like that." Buddy Jay pulled up a director's chair and sat down facing her. "You're on stage in fifteen minutes, and you've got to be all smiles. Delilah Idaho ain't no mopey emo girl."
"Delilah Idaho is never going to smile again. Smiling causes laugh lines." She knew she was being ridiculous, but she didn't care. All her life she had gotten what she wanted, either by throwing a tantrum or throwing money at the problem. She supposed there were cosmetic procedures out there that would hold back the ravages of time, at least for a little while, but not forever. The last thing she wanted was to look like those aging celebrities whose failing battle against time led them to undergo horrid facelifts that left a person looking like a skeleton with a thin membrane of humanity stretched across its bony form. And then there were the changes that weren't so easily seen, like sagging... She forced that thought from her mind and turned to her father.
"Daddy!" She stretched the word into a good five syllables, and poured every ounce of wheedling she had into her voice. "I don't want to get old! I just won't do it."
"Everybody gets old, darling," Buddy Jay whispered, his eyes narrowing. "There ain't a human being alive who stopped the hands of time. But don't worry so much. You've got years and years before you got to think about getting old and, by then, you won't care, I promise you that. It seems like a big thing now, but it ain't. It's the vanity of youth talking, that's all."
"Vanity of youth?" Her blood boiling, she rose and stalked around the room, ripping down each and every Delilah Idaho poster. Seventeen images of her smiling face, one for each year of her life, just like she required in every dressing room, lay shredded in her trembling hands. "All I am is vanity! Look at me, Daddy. Boys want to date me and girls want to be me. That's who I am, and I like it that way." She hefted the bowl of M&M's and hurled them across the room. Buddy Jay ducked as it flew past his nose, candy shrapnel bouncing off his head. The candy dish, a Waterford crystal creation in the shape of a rose, smashed into the wall and shattered in a rain of crystal.
"Calm down." Buddy Jay was unfazed by her tantrum. He'd been dealing with them for fourteen years, since she was the notorious toddler beauty queen on Daughters and Diadems. "You keep on screaming like that and you'll lose your voice. Then what are you going to do?"
"I don't care." She looked around for something else breakable, but her daddy had done a good job of keeping such things in her dressing room to a minimum. "I'm done with singing and acting and everything else. I'd rather go out like James Dean than Elvis."
"Come on now." He cocked his head. "You know what, I think you've got something behind your ear." He reached out but Delilah smacked his hand away.
"I don't need your magic tricks right now."
"Delilah, you settle yourself down this instant. This is the last night of your tour, and the show is going to be broadcast all over the world. You got ten minutes to settle your temper and get ready to give the performance of your life." Buddy Jay rose to his full height, his brown eyes boring into her. The former University of Tennessee linebacker hadn't lost an ounce of muscle and, when he dropped his easygoing manner, it was easy to see how he earned the nickname "Kneecapper" in his playing days.
"I'll do this one show." It was all Delilah could do to keep the tremor from her voice. Daddy only got like this once in a while and, when he did, it always scared her. "But after that, I am done. I mean it. Unless you can find a way to keep this from happening," she pointed to her disfigured forehead, "I am finished with the entertainment business." She turned her back on him and added in a soft voice, "And maybe with everything."
Five seconds of pulsating silence hung in the room in the wake of her proclamation. She looked at Buddy Jay's reflection in the remains of the shattered mirror, and was surprised to see, not concern, but something like triumph in his eyes.
"Are you one hundred percent sure?" His voice was like velvet. "No doubt in your mind?"
She nodded. Was it possible that he actually had a way to solve her problem? She didn't dare let herself hope it was true.
"I need to hear you say it, darling, because if we do this, there ain't no turning back. Not ever."
"Yes." She swallowed hard, somehow aware she was making the gravest commitment of her life. "I'm sure. There's no way I'm letting myself get old, and nothing is going to change my mind."
Buddy Jay smiled, drew a folded sheet of paper from the pocket of his denim jacket, and handed it to her. "I've been working on this for a while. I was planning on talking to you about it after the concert."
She unfolded the paper and held it under the vanity lights that had somehow escaped her fit of rage. It was a promotional flier for a television show. Lush, ruby red lips smiled back at her, but she had eyes only for the gleaming white fangs. "You Suck," she read. "Are you telling me that's the name of a show?" What was he up to?
"That's the name of your show!" Buddy Jay hurried to her side, took her by the shoulders, and turned her around to face him. His eyes gleamed with that manic look he got when he was cooking up one of his big plans. "It's a reality game show. Seven vampires will compete to see who gets to be the one to make teen sensation Delilah Idaho young forever."
"Make me young forever," she repeated. She knew where he was going with this, and she suddenly felt dizzy. He couldn't think she'd consent to it. "So the vampire would..."
"Bite you. We'll do it live on your eighteenth birthday. It'll be a big old party with all the biggest names in Hollywood and, at the end, you pick the winner. Right there, with folks all around the world watching, Delilah Idaho becomes immortal. Beautiful, beloved, and eighteen forever. What do you say?"
"But I wouldn't be me anymore, would I? I'd be a vampire." Once again she glanced down at the paper and imagined those fangs belonging to her. The idea both frightened and thrilled her in equal measure. No, she wouldn't exactly be herself. She'd be something more. The world already found vampires sexy and mysterious. She could make them mainstream. She could do it, couldn't she?
"Of course you would." Now it was her father whose tone was wheedling. "You'd still have the same mind. The same heart and soul. You just have to add a little something to your diet, and make sure you use plenty of sunblock when you go outside during the daytime." He winked.
"Shoot, I sleep most of the day anyway." She was practically convinced already, but she didn't want to give in too easily. She liked to make daddy work for his victories. "This is all pretty sketchy. Tell me how exactly how it would work."
"Every episode, the vampires compete in a different challenge, just like any other reality show. The winner gets the Talisman of Immunity, and can't be kicked off. Out of whoever's left, you, me, and the producers choose who we want to get rid of." Buddy Jay smiled down at her. "Here's the best part. Every episode ends with a dismissal ceremony. You call the name of the person you're kicking off, hand him a red rose, and say..."
"You suck." A genuine smile crept across her face and her spirits lifted for the first time since she'd spotted that dreadful wrinkle. "I like it! How soon can we make it happen? My birthday ain't too far off, you know."
"It's already a done deal. At least, it will be when you sign off on it." He gave her a knowing grin. "I started making arrangements a couple of months ago when you found that gray hair."
Delilah blushed at the memory of the titanic fit she'd thrown upon finding a snow white hair in her brush, only to later discover it belonged to Lourdes, her Himalayan.
"We've rented a luxury cabin in the woods outside of Topanga Falls."
"Where is that?" The place sounded distinctly hillbilly. She got more than enough of that every Thanksgiving when they headed to Tennessee for their obligatory visit with the kinfolk. And, every year, they endured the hints, some less subtle than others, that Delilah and Buddy Jay should be doing more to help their ever-growing extended family. She swore some of her cousins multiplied like possums.
"A tiny little town on the edge of Topanga State Park. Close enough to civilization to suit you, but enough out of the way for my liking. Besides, we can't do a vampire show in L.A. The city's got too many regulations, and we ain't using PAG members." The Paranormal Actors Guild was a notoriously touchy lot, and they made life miserable for any Hollywood or New York City production that used non-PAG performers, or used humans in paranormal roles, for that matter.
A loud knock made her jump. "Five minutes until show time, Miss Idaho." Even through the thick door she could hear the speaker's hesitation. Her fit must have been especially loud.
"Thank you!" she called back. The prospect of perpetual youth was better than any anti-depressant. She turned back to her father, whose twinkling eyes told her he had noticed her uncharacteristic courtesy. "If you're wanting to have this done by my eighteenth birthday, I'm guessing you've already picked the cast?"
"That's right." He produced another paper and she snatched it from him with eager hands.
"Nasty!" she cried as her eyes fell on a sallow faced young man with oily hair and a complexion to match. "And this one," she tapped the image of a twisted, bestial-looking man with an unruly mane of silver-streaked black hair, "looks like an animal."
"There's all kinds of vampires in the world, and everbody has a favorite. This way, we can appeal to a wider audience."
Delilah nodded. Vain though she might be, she understood marketing. She scanned the other pictures, wincing at the leering, ancient dude with the widow's peak, who had to be at least forty-two. There were two females in the group. One was an attractive young goth about her own age. The other looked to be a few years older. She was stunningly beautiful, but her eyes were filled with an avarice that made Delilah uncomfortable, as if the young woman could see her, and thought of her as dessert. "Girls? Really Daddy? What do you think I am?"
"You don't got to marry them. The winner is just going to bite you, and that's it. Besides, we'll kick off all the nasty ones along the way. There ain't no Talisman in the finals, so you get to pick the one you want. It'll be fine. Now, look at the other side of the paper."
There was only one word to describe the last two vampires—hot. One was in his late twenties, and was the epitome of the rugged, masculine leading man that made every girl swoon. His roguish grin brimmed with confidence. The other looked to be college age. He was handsome in an entirely different way, with shaggy hair, full, almost feminine lips, and thick eyebrows that shaded intense eyes. "Now this is more like it!" Suddenly, it all became real. She didn't have to grow old and fade away. She could be like one of these people— eternally fabulous! She looked up at her daddy through a kaleidoscope of unshed tears. "How did you do all this so fast?"
"You know how I get when I put my mind to something. Nothing and nobody can get in my way. I got a top-notch producer and one of the best film crews around. No cheap video tapes for my little girl." He reached out and gave her cheek a gentle pinch like he used to do when she was a little girl. "I sort of reckoned you'd be open to the idea considering how upset you were about one gray hair. If you're sure you want to do it, we can start filming as early as day after tomorrow."
"Yes!" Her voice was alive with excitement. "Matter of fact, let's announce it when I come out for my final encore."
"My thoughts exactly." Buddy Jay glanced at his watch. "Looks like it's time for you to take the stage." His words were underscored by a voice on the other side of the door.
"Show time, Miss Idaho!"
She gave her daddy a tight hug, flashed him her most winning smile, and hurried to her dressing table where she patted some makeup over the offending crease in her skin. As she swept out of the dressing room door, she mouthed a quick word of thanks to the stage hand as he handed her the wireless microphone. Her politeness surprised him so much he almost dropped it. Suppressing a giggle, she strode out onto the stage, letting the hot lights and the roar of the crowd wash over her. This was the place she was most alive and, soon, she'd have eternity to relish it.
Her heart sang along with the music as she launched into the opening lines of "Forever Beautiful."
"If life is a dream, I don't want to wake. I'll keep flying high, whatever it takes..."
The crowd joined in as she stood over them like a queen gazing down upon her subjects. It was really going to happen. Delilah Idaho would live forever.