Meeting Meredith was one of those special events in life where you’re convinced you’ve found the one. It was the first party I had attended since I was thirteen years old, the chicks were running around in their underwear and the guys were studs that made Hollywood jocks look like hobbits.
When I saw her, I had no idea she had been watching me for a half hour. What I thought was meaningful eye contact was really just the dinner bell ringing. She never did tell me why she picked me out of the crowd and made me a vampire. I probably should’ve asked but I was too busy calculating my increased cool factor.
So far, I haven’t found a starting point to base that on.
—Vinny’s personal diary
The game was a bust. Those punk ass brats were on it and my dice went on strike. I’ve never heard a ten-sided die tell me to fuck off in such a meaningful way. I had better luck with Ophelia and considering how our conversation went, I was doomed the second I sat down at the table. My poor minis and I should’ve bowed out after the first blow to my ego.
I wasn’t that smart.
At ten o’clock, I was brooding behind the counter over my failures when I really started to think about Ophelia. She was right about Meredith, I had no idea why I was made. The thing I didn’t know was what it mattered. What made it suspicious? More importantly, why was she so against vampires? I had no answers, only questions but fortunately, I knew someone who might be able to help me out.
Unfortunately, he hung out at Club Eternal. I was hoping Jade would already be gone by the time I got there but it was a big enough place that we probably wouldn’t run into each other. As long as my employees could be trusted to watch the shop, then everything would be fine. I rarely left and none of them were used to soloing it.
I headed upstairs to the video game area and made Monte and Trevor relinquish their controllers for a quick store meeting. They looked pissed on their way down the stairs, that sort of put off expression gamers get when they’ve been interrupted from something they considered huge. I remembered wearing such an expression when I was a teenager but I really hoped I didn’t do it anymore.
Considering how pathetic I was anyway, I didn’t need to pout like a child too.
Monte was the youngest person at the shop at twenty-one. He looked seventeen with his honey blond emo haircut and baby face that couldn’t grow a beard if God himself smeared Rogaine all over his chin. He wore baggy tee shirts, sagging pants and always carried a skateboard I suspected he was too afraid to ride.
Trevor could’ve been his brother. Oddly, he looked considerably older even though he was only twenty-two. Bad complexion in his teenage years had left his face a mess and he was in a perpetual state of thin stubble marring his cheeks but never around the mouth. He didn’t have any style to him, just messy hair and whatever game tee shirt he grabbed off the floor when he woke up.
They gathered around the cash register, glaring at me.
“Guys, what’s up?”
“You tell us,” Monte grumbled. “What do you want?”
“Really Monte? I was under the impression you worked here but maybe I’m wrong. Would you like me to be?”
They both shuffled their feet, looking like scolded kids. Part of the problem with Nightlife was if I had to get serious, they had a hard time accepting it. Maybe I was too soft on them but I didn’t want to run my business like a tyrant. Still, they were getting money for hanging out there all day. The least they could do was help.
“No, we’re good,” Monte finally spoke up. “Sorry, man.”
“It’s cool. You know, I heard Jade had to do all the stocking again. That part is not cool. What happened to chivalry?”
“She’s a freak,” Trevor said. “Whenever we try to help, she gets all pissy about how we’re not doing it right. I don’t think I should have to fight to work with her so I just go do something else.”
“It’s true,” Monte jumped in. “She’s totally like that.”
“Whatever, just…make sure your assigned stuff is taken care of and I’ll talk to her tomorrow. Right now, I need someone to man the cash register for a while. I have to go out.”
“What?” Trevor looked like I had just kicked him in the balls. “But…what do you mean? Like…hang out down here?”
“Yeah, hang out down here, watch the shop, make sure things are cool, let people pay for shit…you know, you’ve done it before once…probably in a past life when you worked for Sears.”
Trevor shook his head. “Dude, there’s no way I’m a two life retail guy. I’m just here til I get my game on…you know, find the right career.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that for a while now and anyway, which one of you dumb asses is going to do it? I want some peace of mind.” I paused. “You know, I shouldn’t have to go through all this bullshit just to take off for a while. You remember when you asked for a raise, Monte? You don’t get it by me having to carry on like this.”
“Okay, okay, I’ve got it,” Monte said. “How long will you be gone?”
“I’ll be back in time to close,” I replied. “And I don’t want you doing it alone. Trade off. Who’s doing online orders tomorrow?”
“Tiny Tim.” They answered together.
“God damn it, he can barely spell.” I sighed. “Okay, anyway, just…call my cell phone if there’s a disaster otherwise, I’ll be back soon. Don’t make me regret letting Jade go on her little date.”
“Wait!” Trevor grabbed my arm. “Jade went out with someone? Was it a guy?”
“I don’t think she’s gay,” Monte said. “But there’s a distinct possibility. She’s turned me down plenty of times. I’m beginning to suspect.”
“What?” I asked. “That you’re a fucking idiot? A lady turning you down doesn’t make her a lesbian. And yes, it was a guy. Some lawyer if you really must know.”
“Dude, she’s hanging with the law?” Trevor let his chin tap his chest. “That’s rough.”
“Yeah, I’m crying on the inside. I’ll talk to you schmoes later.”
Club Eternal was exactly as I would’ve expected a place owned by a demon. Gorgeous, loud, elegant but with an underlying hint of danger. Alaton Rex was considered a Lord in whatever plane he came from but here, he was just Al, the proprietor of one of the more popular night spots in town.
There were several of us supernaturals who owned different businesses and we formed an informal committee. We didn’t have many meetings but once in a while, if there was something especially important, we shared it amongst ourselves. Al and I were as close to buddies as we could be considering our circumstances which meant he was nice to me and I tried not to stare at the chicks he always had draped on his arms.
Eternal was kicking when I showed up just after ten-thirty. People milled about outside, waiting for the bouncers to magically decide there was enough space for them to cram their sweaty asses on the dance floor. I didn’t even want to think about how much money the place raked in but then, that wasn’t why he owned it. Just like me, he had another purpose.
Mine was benevolent. His…well, the exact opposite.
Al had been on Earth since the eighties. It was clear he had almost immediately seen the movie Angel Heart because he looked and dressed exactly like De Niro did as the devil. Occasionally, when he was trying to make a point, he even let his horns come out. They were just a prelude to the form beneath the skin, something I never saw and really hoped I never would outside my crazy ass dreams.
Those seemed more tolerable somehow. I could pretend they weren’t real even as a bonafide demon with wings and claws sat in front of me sipping some wine I couldn’t pronounce the name of. I probably would’ve thought it tasted like ass too. I wasn’t a connoisseur, even before I was changed.
A fine beverage for me was Bahama Breeze Mountain Dew. Yeah, that was splurging.
The bouncer stopped me at the door and started scrutinizing me. He was a big bastard with no neck, arms the size of a Buick and the sort of body reserved for movie Cyborgs and morons who dragged trucks around on television. I waited patiently for the five neurons in his head to fire up and put two and two together. It took less time than I anticipated. Only one minute passed before he spoke up.
“You here to see Mr. Rex?”
“Right first time, Conan.”
“What? My name’s Burner.”
“Of course it is,” I muttered. “Can I get in? I’m a little pressed for time.”
“Sure, he’s up in the VIP booth.”
The club was louder than hell with close to a hundred people either gyrating around to the obnoxious four on the floor beat or schmoozing up to the opposite sex at various booths. When Al wasn’t making deals for their souls, people were vying for whatever physical pleasure they needed. Occasionally, a few vampires frequented the place but it was rare. There were better places to pick up a drink than a noisy ass bar.
Neon lights showed people where to go. Dance floor, bar, tables and bathroom. What else mattered? Getting out was a challenge but once in a while, a cool breeze would give a hint of freedom. Even regulars got confused. It had to be some of Al’s magic.
I headed up the stairs and was allowed straight into the VIP room. It was quieter in there with better lighting and a couple of leather sofas where people could chill. A plastic tarp covered the floor with a weird pentagram painted on it in black. I was suddenly glad I hadn’t been invited. Someone had a Lethal Weapon 2 moment coming. I didn’t know demons had to whack people but then again I wasn’t curious enough to find out what they did with their time.
Which was probably for the best.
Al was sitting on the sofa facing the door. His white suit was accented by a black shirt and red tie. Somehow, it worked. Maybe it was the way his black goatee contrasted his pale skin or the severity of his swept back hair but whatever it was, he seemed dangerous. Even dressing like a pimp I saw wandering around the mall didn’t discredit his menacing air. The skull topped cane didn’t help.
“What’s going on, Al?” I sat down opposite him and leaned forward. The goal was to appear at ease but quite the opposite was true. I was nervous as hell. “Been a while, right?”
“I don’t have a lot of time this evening, Vinny,” he replied in a deep baritone any self-respecting demon had to have. No one would’ve taken them seriously without it. Darkness from the movie Legend was an excellent example. He would’ve lacked all credibility if he sounded like the Thundercat nanny Snarf. “What do you want?”
“Well, you know everyone and I wanted to ask you about a Society investigator.”
“Why? Are you being investigated?”
“What? No, not me. I mean, I haven’t done anything to warrant any scrutiny. Not that I know of anyway.” I paused, feeling a wave of paranoia grip my voice. It quivered even as my mind raced over everything I had done for the past six months. “Why, do you know something? Am I being…”
“Settle down, you fool.” Al shook his head. “I would not have asked you the question if I already knew the answer. Now what is it you want to say?”
I let out a sigh and smiled. “Man, sorry. I just…you know, I worry. I try to keep a low profile.” He glared at me. “Right! Why am I here? I was wondering about a fairy named Ophelia Dupré. Do you know her?”
“Who doesn’t know her?” Al turned his attention to his sharpened nails, admiring them as if they were far more interesting than me or my question. “She’s a dangerous little thing. You didn’t hear any of this?”
“Nah…” I smiled at him. “I wouldn’t have asked the question if I already knew the answer.”
Tossing his words back at him was about as smart as poking a sleeping lion in the balls. I didn’t realize how bad of an idea it was until his eyes flashed red. “Sorry…” I muttered, clearing my throat. “Anyway, you were saying?”
“She works with an incubus named Algiers Stanton. They recently had a big case the Council put a lid on so tight even I don’t know exactly what it was about. One thing’s for sure, an old Cleaner was involved and Ophelia is being investigated for treachery.”
“What? They think she’s in on…whatever happened?” I shrugged. “Why? Investigators are all pristine and shit, aren’t they?”
“She was a cleaner herself. Hence why I said she’s so dangerous.”
Cleaners were one of the things Meredith did tell me about. They were hard ass killers, executioners for the Council. When someone fucked up as badly as possible, they dispatched one of them. They were responsible for the destruction of entire covens, nests of vampires and packs of shape shifters. The craziest part was they tended to operate totally alone.
If Ophelia was one of them, then she was among the most dangerous creatures in the city. She would have both the training and the natural aptitude to take on any other supernatural. It wouldn’t matter what sort of advantages we had from our respective species, she’d have a counter.
And that was terrifying.
“Wow…so do you think they’ll clear her?”
“Usually, they just kill people without bothering to do investigations unless they are very sure they are safe.” Al stroked his goatee like it was a long haired cat. “I’m sure she’ll be exonerated of whatever they think she did. I’m wondering a few things myself. Who screwed up? What were they up to? And how close did they get? If you learn anything, you will tell me…” He leaned forward and scowled, letting the full weight of his power rest on me. “Won’t you, Vinny?”
“Dude, I’ll have the phone in my hand so fast, you’ll think I developed light speed. NASA won’t be able to measure it. Seriously, anything I know, you’ll know right away.”
“See that you do,” Al replied, leaning back. “I don’t want to hear you held out on me. Why do you want to know about Ophelia anyway?”
“Um…she comes into my shop once in a while.”
He seemed genuinely perplexed. “Er…why?”
“She…likes comics?” I offered with an apologetic shrug. “And games…she buys every new game for the consoles when they come out. And she plays a mean hand of Magic…”
“That’s enough…” Al held his hand up. “I never would’ve guessed. I anticipated such a hardened killer to be…well…much harder I suppose.”
“She’s got nerves of steel, man,” I said. “You should see her poker face when she’s about to put a beat down on some kid with his Craw Worm. It’s a pretty spectacular sight.”
“You need to leave now, Vinny. Before I do something terrible.”
I knew that tone. He used it every time our conversations ended. The one thing I could’ve done better with Al was learn when to shut the fuck up. As it was, I rambled on like a telemarketer with a gun to my head. Self-preservation alone should’ve been enough to keep my lips from flapping. The dude was like Satan on Earth and he had all the smoothness to prove it.
I should’ve guessed he wasn’t in the mood for BS when the hot chicks weren’t around. There was some heavy business about to go down and the plastic tarp spoke volumes. Someone was going to die in there and if I didn’t bow out shortly, he might warm up with my stupid ass.
“See ya around, Al and thanks for the info!”
“Next time, make an appointment.”
“Right!” I waved on my way down the stairs. “I’ll just call your receptionist, yeah?”
The bouncer grabbed my arm and dragged me the rest of the way down, escorting me out of the club. It wasn’t my plan but it really helped anyway. I could’ve been lost in there for an hour.
The air outside was cool and I took a deep breath, happy to be free of the mindless, generic techno quickly fading to a muffled memory. I hurried to the car, head bowed in thought.
Al had been more forthcoming than I had anticipated. He didn’t give me a lot but he gave me enough to chew on. Ophelia had always seemed out of my league but now I understood her a lot better. Was it possible I could get her to go out on a date with me? Maybe…but now I understood if she said no.
She was the bad ass chick archetype, the lone gun woman turned bastion of the law. Her partner was a renowned flirt and seducer, a guy I guessed had more style than brains. How the hell he ever became a detective, I’d never know. Incubi tended to fuck their way around a city and move on. A cold thought filled my heart, a realization threatening to dash my hopes.
What if Ophelia and Algiers were dating? Could that even be possible? It happened to every couple eventually. Maddie and David, Scully and Mulder, Castle and Beckett, detectives of the opposite sex couldn’t help but eventually get together. Perhaps it was the long hours or maybe they could only seek an understanding relationship with someone of their profession. Whatever the chemistry was, if Ophelia and Algiers had it, I was fucked.
Or not as the case may be…
Wow, that was really crass.
Al was right. I needed to settle down.
*Robert Hazelton has been working in the entertainment field for twenty years. He has performed in the bands Abney Park and Deadly Nightshade Botanical Society as well as provided the lead writing for the casual game series The Clockwork Man. Between music and novels, he’s kept busy, constantly looking forward to the next project.
He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and four cats.
If you liked what you’ve read check our Roberts website at: http://www.roberthazelton.com