\ Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes


2021-05-10 15:29 - Monday
Greenwich Village– Alison’s Apartment

The shoes were always the last items that Alison donned when she was dressing for Lucinda. Right up to the shoes, she still felt like herself, albeit in an outfit that revealed more flesh than she was comfortable exposing. She would catch sight of herself in the mirror as she padded about in her stockings and it was all still make-believe, like she was dressing for a fancy dress party. Applying the rich, colourful makeup and deep red lipstick would begin the first feelings of “being Lucinda”, as she called it, somewhere deep within her. But it was the shoes that brought Lucinda to life, every time.

Strapping on the spiky heels, Alison slowly straightened and regarded herself in the mirror. The shoes altered her stance, accentuating her already ample bosom and thrusting her bottom backwards. “Hello, Lucinda,” she murmured.

Since the success of her supernatural urban fantasies, Lucinda Graves had become more and more a part of Alison’s life. This evening, for instance, was devoted to one in a series of book signings for her sixth novel in the Darque Nights series. The smouldering vampire prince Donatien Darque had made her a wealthy woman, and Lucinda was a price she was all too willing to pay. She could only imagine how fast the series would have sunk without trace had it been the name Alison Scruggs on the cover.

Casting one last glance about her spacious apartment to ensure that everything was in order, she grabbed her purse and left to go downstairs and meet the limousine that her agent had arranged for her, as usual. What she found was her driver waiting for her with an apologetic expression.

“Sorry, Miss. I had to park down a ways. It’s only a block, but…”

Alison smiled her best Lucinda smile at him, all promise and glistening red lips. “Never mind. You go ahead and get the car ready, I’ll catch up.” He hesitated and she repeated, “I don’t mind, really. It’s only a block.”

He ducked his head and led the way down the pavement. Alison took her time, grateful for the extra few minutes to get properly into Lucinda’s skin. She let the shoes force her walk into something graceful, hips swaying with each step. She could see the driver was already standing by the limousine on the next corner, but a trio of voices made her pause.

“Look, a girl known by many names.”

“Like you.”

“Or you.”

“But not like us.”

Alison turned to look at the owners of those voices. Three women sat on the pavement, their age impossible to tell under layers of tattered clothing. The first thing that crossed Alison’s mind was to wonder why they wore so many clothes on such a warm May afternoon. Something about the trio made her flesh stand up in goosebumps.

“She likes to tell tales, this one with the ugly name.”

“Then listen, she should.”

“I beg your pardon?” Alison said. “How do you–”

The three women all turned their attention Alison, though they continued to babble as if she wasn’t there. She found herself rooted to the spot as they spoke, despite her urge to leave these crazy women behind.

“A deal.”

“A curse.”

“A murder,” the last one cackled.

“And who is to guard the kingdom?”

“The one with the ugly name?”

“I think not,” the other snorted.

“At least, not alone.”

Unexpectedly, the one in the middle made a sickening phlegmy noise, before spitting on the pavement. To Alison’s disgust the three began to fixate on the ground where the loogy had hit.

“A whore.”

“A knight.”

“A tiger caged!”

“I see a lamb and a lion.”

“The lamb is going to the slaughter?”

“Where else?”

The woman who had spat scrunched up her face in consternation. “We need something more.”

“You know what it needs.”

The third woman dropped to her knees and began to search the area around them. “This will do,” she said, grabbing a small stick and handing it to her companion. The three began to laugh again as the woman took the pointy end and cut her finger. Little blood droplets fell to the ground, and once again the beggars were fascinated.

It was too much for Alison. Shaking off the creepiness and repugnance, she fished in her purse and pulled out a $5 note. She let it drop into the bowl at the women’s feet and continued on her way. The voices of the three followed after her.

“Like crystal.”

“No doubt.”

“By the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes!”

Alison shuddered involuntarily, and as she approached the limousine her driver took her elbow.

“Is everything all right, Miss?” he asked with concern. “What was that?” His nod indicated the trio of figures up the street.

“Oh, nothing really,” Alison replied in a voice that she tried to make airy but held a small quaver. “Just some beggars trying to perform a street play or something. Let’s go; I don’t want to be late.”

When the limousine pulled away from the kerb, Alison let out a small sigh and tried not to dwell on crazy street beggars. Although… maybe she could use them in her seventh book. She filed the incident under ‘story ideas’ in her memory and turned her attention to the upcoming book signing, consciously banishing the last lingering feelings of dread the women had invoked.


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2021-05-10 - Monday

15:30 "Carmine"

Carmine looked down at his shoes and checked that they were tied.  Momma always said that you had to make sure your shoes were tied else you would trip and break your neck.  He was standing next to the mailbox ‘cause nobody used the mailboxes no more on account they had email now. Carmine had email and he liked to send jokes and funny pictures to his friends.  Some of them got angry so he didn’t send them pictures no more, but they still made him laugh.

Carmine liked to send pictures to Magdalena.  He sent her pictures with sparkly hearts and puppies and those cute cats that talked funny cause they made her laugh.  Magdalena laughed like an angel.  It was musical and pretty not like those other girls that hung around Balthazar.  Carmine had tried to tell them a joke and they laughed.  But they wasn’t laughing at the jokes they was laughing at Carmine.

Mr. Balthazar told them to get lost and gave Carmine a bag that he was waiting here on the corner to give to a wise-guy with the weird ears and the bumpy green skin that was gonna come by here at exactly 3:30. Carmine could tell time real good since he got one of those digital watches with the numbers and not the hands.  He could read the other kind but he had to look at them real careful sometimes to make sure.

He looked at his watch.  Three thirty came and then he spotted the guy.  He was right ugly, but a lot of the guys Mr. Balthazar worked with was ugly so he didn’t mind.  Carmine figured that their money was a green as the next guy and that was all that counted. “You Carmine?” the guy asked, “You look like a Carmine.”

“Yeah, I’m Carmine.  Mr. B. said I couldn’t say your name and that I shouldn’t try but you look like the guy I was supposed to meet too.  Here’s your bag.”

The guy hefted it and reached into a pocket and dropped a few folded bills into Carmine’s hand.  This was the part of the job he liked.  Sometimes the wise-guys gave him cash and sometimes they bought him lunch or a coffee.  It was fun trying to guess what kind of thing that they’d give him for being discreet and stuff.

“Carmine, listen, you did a god job here, take this too.”

The guy dropped a little red dot into his hand.  It was about the size of a pin-head, red, and real sparkly.

“Wow, is that a ruby?  I ain’t never seen one before!”

“Nah, its a Drop of Frustuglach. Its kind of a lucky charm among us Grathoki.”

“Bless you.  Momma says to say ‘Bless you’ when people cough.”

The guy laughed and smiled, “I like you Carmine, you’re a funny guy.”

16:01 "Barnes & Noble - Union Square"

Barnes & Noble - Union Square

With frappuccino in hand, Alison settled behind the desk the staff had set up in an open area of the bookstore. A handful of people were already lined up waiting for her, each clutching a brand-new copy of her latest book, Darque Desires. She was framed by life-sized cardboard cutouts of her main character, Donatien Darque. She'd never met the model they'd used to capture his image, but had sat down with her editor one afternoon going through head shots. This had been her second choice, but he still embodied the 'every woman wants him' aspect of the character and it was a choice she was not unhappy with. Taking a sip of her coffee, she smiled brightly at the first person in line and brandished her pen with a flourish.

"Hi, I love your work," the young man blushed as he spoke, fumbling with the book as he laid it on the desk.

Alison was used to tongue-tied fans, and warmed her smile a fraction. "Thank you," she said. "I'm glad you like it. Who would you like me to make this out to?"

"Uh. Greg, thanks."

To Greg, she wrote in her flowing script. May you find your heart's desire.

She signed it Lucinda Graves and drew a love-heart beneath her name. When she handed the book back to Greg his blush had deepened to crimson, and for just a moment she was uncomfortably aware that he was staring down the cleavage of her low-cut top. It usually took her a handful of lovestruck fans before she stopped feeling self-conscious about her body being on display, but she did her best to shake it off and kept her smile warm as Greg mumbled his thanks and moved away.

She looked up to the next person in line and kept up the high-wattage smile. At least this early in the proceedings the line wasn't too long yet. By 5:30 or 6pm it usually got so busy that she had no time to say anything much.

Anne was very nervous. It didn’t matter how many times she had attended an author’s signing, she always got nervous. She loved urban fantasy writers, they were imaginative and romantic and witty, and they got to put magic and allure to what, at best, was a fascinating realm. Sure, if you don’t get to be sucked by a real vampire, bitten by a werewolf or have your brains eaten by a Falanjoid demon… if so, fascinating my ass.

She got out of the short line in front of her and took a peek at the woman signing books; she liked urban fantasy writers, but she specially loved Lucinda Graves. In addition to being imaginative, romantic and witty, she was friendly, down to earth and decent. Not like Esmeralda Hermes who didn’t bother to raise her eyes as she signed a book, or Sara Lucia Montes who misspelled her name every time.

“Well, she's finally started. She looks nice.”

Cadee’s words startled Anne and she turned to look at her friend. “She is nice, you’ll see.” Cadee shrugged and looked at her watch, her boredom showing. “Come on, we’re almost there; it was you who wanted to come, remember?”

“I thought it was at 3 o’clock. You said it was at 3 o’clock. We’ve been here longer than an hour.”

“If we hadn’t got here early we’d be waiting outside the store; look at the line! Stop sulking. You’ll like her.”

Cadee looked at the line behind them and counted five people, raised her eyebrows and answered. “You’re right, maybe we should have camped out there last night too.”

Alison chatted briefly with each of her fans, writing something different for each one, and growing more relaxed as she got into the swing of it. The second and third in line were some of what she considered her 'regulars' - fans who showed up at almost every public event for Lucinda Graves. She lingered a little with them, trying not to spend too much additional time but genuinely glad to connect with her fans. The fourth in line was, like Greg, nervous and fidgety. He looked vaguely familiar so she welcomed him back and placed an extra love-heart beneath her name for him.

Then she glanced up at the next couple of women in line and grinned. "Hello again, Anne. How’s the acting career going?"

Anne smiled so brightly that her face became all teeth and blue eyes. It was incredible, Lucinda not only recognized her, but remembered her name and her career!

“Hello, Ms. Graves. It’s great seeing you again. Career’s going fine, I’ve got an audition tomorrow, and if that doesn’t work out, yet another next week.” For all her nerves of the previous hour, she felt confident now. She handed the book to Lucinda and smiled again. “I really loved the book, it’s your best one ever! Please tell me you’re planning on writing more Darque books, please do.”

“Oh yes, I’m working on the next one already. I can’t seem to get Donatien Darque out of my head.” Alison’s grin turned a little salacious. “And I’m not sure I want to. He’s quite a dish.” She grasped her pen and wrote in Anne’s book: My dearest Anne. Best of luck with your audition. Keep reaching for the stars. With warm wishes, Lucinda Graves.

Passing the book back and including Cadee in the sweep of her smile, she said, “And who’s your friend?”

“This is Cadee, my roommate. She’s not a book person, but I’m planning on turning her.”

 “No luck, probably. My blood is not very tasty, I’ve been told,” Cadee chirped in, and she smiled at Lucinda. “Nice to meet you. Anne is such a fan that I wanted to know you in person and not only from the cover of your books. Congratulations on your success; it’s good to know that critters actually pay.”

Alison kept her smile in place, but she blinked once. What an odd thing for someone to say. “Well, vampires and werewolves have been the stuff of good story-telling for decades. I’m just glad people still love to read about them.”

Noticing the author’s discomfort, Cadee frowned, regretting her words immediately. She hadn’t discussed the topic with Anne; she had just assumed the woman knew that the critters she wrote about were real. Me bad. Me bad, bad, bad, she said to herself.

“Of course,” she told the woman quickly, forcing a smile. “I was just joking. Actually vampires are the coolest, most romantic creatures ever. I just love how they sparkle in the sun and everything.”

Oh my! Anne cried to herself, watching as her friend worsened it with every word that left her mouth. She needed to make her stop talking, so she laughed aloud and punched Cadee in the arm. “Vampires don’t sparkle since Stephenie Meyer, Cadee. You’re a little outdated, you know?” She then turned to Lucinda and mocked a whisper. “Sorry, told you she wasn’t a book person.”

Alison laughed with relief. "It's no problem, Anne. Some like vampires that sparkle, while others like theirs a bit more..." She nodded to Cadee, who held no book. "Well, maybe Anne can lend you her copies of my books and you'll see what I mean. It's been a pleasure to meet you.”

Relieved as well, Cadee smiled in response. “Will do, I’m sure I’ll love them too. Come on, Anne, I embarrassed you enough for today.”

“Yeah, you did,” she answered, and then turning to Lucinda she added. “It was great seeing you again, Ms. Graves. Thank you for the signature. It’s a great book.”

After exchanging the last pleasantries, Anne walked away from the desk, with Cadee tagging along. Sulking, she started to walk home, she wouldn’t even look at her friend. She had never been more embarrassed, not even when she had spilled coffee on William Capuleto’s lap when he was signing his last Juliet series book. She just hoped Lucinda wouldn’t remember this conversation along with her name and profession next time. God forbid.

16:04 "Evie & Yves"

The store clerk turned away, taking her too “eager to please” smile with her as Evalyn continued her perusal of the diamond encrusted choker without bothering to glance up.

No, I do not need your help to see zat a piece of jewelry is pretty. She stole a look then at the clerk under her eyelashes and saw she was freshly occupied, nodding attentively with her head cocked to one side as she listened to a woman in a pink velour tracksuit making gestures over her wrist. Evalyn suppressed a shudder – she was sure that by now people would have had the sense to burn any form of pink velour tracksuit they possessed, or at least had the common decency to keep them out of the public eye!

What are you doing???

Ta gueule! Evalyn hissed inwardly, I am looking at a necklace, so sit tight.

I 'ave been sitting tight for thirty minutes! It is nearly 4:20! Get your ass out 'ere!

A small girl on her mother's distracted hand gaped at Evalyn who was growling in a low, threatening tone. Evalyn cut the growl short as she noticed the staring child and narrowed her eyes. The girl squeaked, darting for refuge behind her mother's legs and Evalyn suppressed another shudder.

Fine! Zere is too much pink velour and small children about anyway. Evalyn wasn't usually one to visit department stores, but she'd seen the necklace in a random catalogue and thought she'd pay the trinket a little visit and see what promise it held.

“Ello, Miss? Ello? Yes, oui, I would like zis necklace 'ere.”

What are you doing???

Shut up!

“No I would not like it gift wrapped.”


“Shut up! I said no! No gift wrapping!”

I am ready to go 'ome now!

Zen go 'ome! You 'ave short legs. I'll catch you up by ze end of ze block!

“I did not tell you to 'shut up'! Just put it in ze fucking box and let me pay!” Evalyn was all but fuming. She knew he was doing it on purpose too, but still, Yves small snickering in the back of her mind wasn't helping matters.

The store clerk finished the transaction with a tight lip. At some point, it appeared, the manager had wondered over and was giving Evalyn a flat, disapproving stare. And what for?!? Evalyn raised her eyebrows defiantly and stuck her chin up. After all, she was a paying customer today! They should feel privileged. There were definitely better places she could be spending her time and money. They should mind their own business and just do the mediocre jobs they're paid to!

“Merci,” Evalyn gave a curt nod as she claimed her bag from the clerk and turned to leave, the click of her heels following as she navigated her way through the too crowded store to the relatively less crowded street outside.

A silver striped cat sat perched just inside the alcove that was the store entrance way where it avoided being kicked by passers by. He was giving her a flat stare as the cold as the manager's inside. She didn't need him to speak to know what he was thinking. Instead, before he opened his mind, she calmly delved into her recent purchase, flipped the lid off the box inside, and pulled out a diamond encrusted choker to dangle before him.

“Your ozzer collar is starting to look a bit tatty, Mister Schnooky-poos!” She grinned wickedly, but the cat didn't move a muscle.

Je vais te tuer.

Evalyn chuckled and popped the choker back in it's box with it's cover, then set off, readjusting the bag on her shoulder as she walked. After a few strides Yves caught up and they continued side by side.

It is past 4:20.

Oh, désolée, I did not realise you were wearing your iddy biddy kitty watch today! Evalyn rolled her eyes. It is actually only 4:12, she continued on as she pulled out her phone to confirm and gave a nod of satisfaction. And anyway, I 'ave ze salad in my purse. We will be on time. Despite her words, though, Evalyn still picked up the pace.

They'd only walked near half a block when simultaneously, Evalyn and Yves' hackles rose as they sensed a certain creature approaching through the crowd, and automatically they made their way to the side to avoid it.

A woman appeared just then totting her petit little dog in a custom Louis Vuitton shoulder bag. Evalyn tried to ignore her upset and continue on, but she suddenly realised the woman was talking to her, “- Irresponsible!” she was saying.

“I'm sorry. Pardon?” Evalyn tried not to breathe through her nose as she replied to the woman.

“You should have that thing on a leash if you insist on walking it. It's irresponsible!” The woman repeated in what had to be a strong competitor for the world's haughtiest voice.

Evalyn glanced down at Yves who was now glaring at the pampered dog and emitting a menacing growl. When Evalyn glanced back, the woman was readjusting her dog to shield it from Yves as she returned glares and started to make shooing noises.

Evalyn paused for a moment, eyes narrowed, and wondered where this woman thought she had bought the right to lecture her on the street while she coddled a pathetic little cur to weak to even walk on its own!

“Yes, well. Zat it very interesting, and I am sure that if my cat 'ad a pea sized brain as small as your dog's that 'ee would run in front of a car too. Thankfully, 'ee does not! Au revoir!”

She left the woman then, ignoring her stuttered outrage and sympathy seeking of other passers by who could care even less than Evalyn at that moment. They all had better things to do.

After a few more strides, when she'd had a chance to calm down, Evalyn started to feel the warmth of Yves satisfied approval of her and turned her eyes to smile down at him. There was a genuine warmth and longing in her eyes as she held his gaze. It had been so long since they'd properly been able to hold each other and it all but killed her on the inside.

Come on – don't go soft now. Nous allons être bien!

Je sais, Evalyn sighed, I'm fine. Lets just get home.

16:58 "Graveyard Club"

Jasmin's Office
Graveyard Club
Jasmin sat behind her desk, an idle eye to a security monitor in her office as the clean-up crews continued to work. Her body was flush with anticipation of the coming evening, as it always was. She worked quietly herself, as she folded up cot, to move it inside the bottom portion of the liquor cabinet, closing the door and righting herself with a stretch.
Spring always did it, she remembered. It started the months, culminating in June, where the days always grew longer. It meant being creative: staying over at Graveyard during the day and renting out part of it to use for auditions, sometimes, or arriving somewhere before the first rays of sunlight pierced the heavens to show up in that building all day. So she had spent the better part of today asleep in her office, awakening a couple of times to make or take phone calls.
“And it's so easy when you're evil” her cell phone played, drawing her attention. “This is the life you see, the devil tips his hat to me I do it all because I'm evil....” she turned away from the monitor, back to the phone, looking at the number. Sighing to herself slightly, she reached across the mahogany desk to pick it up and answer.
“Hello, George,” she answered in an even and actually warm sounding voice. As much as she disliked the cretin, no reason to burn that bridge yet. “How are you do-”
“Don't you how are you me, you cunt!” Jasmin blinked back in surprise at the sudden outburst, his voice filled with vitriol. “I heard what you did to my woman.”
Admittedly, she thought this was the best part. The righteous anger, as though the human sense of self-entitlement truly did know no bounds. Maybe it was time to burn this bridge after all. “George, your woman failed rehab three times, then she called the judge an unreasonable hard-ass when he gave her a ninety day sentence for probation violation.”
A slow smile of sadistic pleasure crept to her face. Nobody to see, so she could enjoy this, even if it was true. The woman had destroyed herself; all she had to do was abide by a simple set of conditions, the most important of which was not getting caught drinking again. “You didn't have to fire her,” the other returned, sounding less than pleased.
“Opening day is July 4, and the run is through the end of August. I can't help fund a production of 1776 if Martha Jefferson is wearing an orange jump suit.”
“You dropped the lawyer.”
“Funding for her lawyer was conditional on her actually getting through the program, not washing out, especially multiple times. Maybe she should find a less stressful line of work.” Beep beep. She moved the phone around to see call ended on the screen. Jasmin closed her eyes and just enjoyed the pain for a few moments. That was almost as enjoyable as when she told the director that yes, they would need a new understudy.
With that taken care of, she put the phone down, moving her crystal ball paperweight to the side to get at the papers she was working on, and looking for her various bank statements. At least she could get something productive done while waiting for the sun to go down, she thought, before her cell phone rang again, leaving her to reflect that her time before she got to actually go out was going to be hellish indeed.

18:45 "Barnes & Noble - Union Square Part 2"

Barnes & Noble – Union Square

“NYPD, please stand back.” Pablo flashed his badge at the young woman standing in line with no less than three books clutched in her arms. He stepped over the velvet rope and up to the table where Lucinda Graves sat signing a book to a fan.

Pablo remembered her as Alison, but she must have changed her name when she got famous, like so many actresses and actors did. He had known she’d be successful in whatever she did. He had not expected to find her here dressed like this. He was about to wax philosophic about his memories when he realized he was next in line.

Alison finished signing the third book for Sarah, who had bought copies not just for herself, but for her mother and sister. Deliberately not looking past Sarah at the rude police officer who had used his position to jump the queue, Alison smiled at the young woman and accepted her gushing praise of the Darque books. When Sarah reluctantly gathered her prizes in her arms and stepped away, Alison let her gaze drift back to the interloper.

Her cool rebuke died on her lips when she recognised him. "Pablo?"

For a moment Alison Scruggs warred with the Lucinda Graves façade that she cultivated at these events, and she blushed. Her eyes were drawn to the book he'd laid on the desk before her and she swallowed her nerves and embarrassment.

"I didn't realise you were a fan," she said, trying to regain her composure. "That was a bit rude, though, butting into the line like that."

"I'm not, but I am a friend. I saw the display and recognized your ... face,” he said, lifting his eyes consciously to meet hers and feeling a little flush in his face. “Sixth in a series, eh? And from the crowd it looks like your books are popular."

He set the book he had picked up from the display in front of her. "I've am glad to see you are doing well. It's been at least six years hasn't it?"

Unsure exactly how to act, the Alison/Lucinda war still raging within her, Alison nodded a little distractedly. "Closer to seven, I think. Look, I'm sorry. Lucinda is my pen-name, and it comes with..." She glanced down at her attire. "...all this. Tell you what, if you're not busy I'll sign your book now as Lucinda, and maybe Alison can meet you in a little while. I'm due to finish in about 10 minutes, but it might go a little longer."

She glanced at the line still behind Pablo and gave a wry smile. "Say, half an hour tops? They have great coffee here, if you don't mind waiting."

She glanced up at Pablo and remembered the young rookie cop she'd gone out with all those years ago. Given that he'd flashed his badge he obviously still worked for the police, but had graduated to a plain-clothes position. For a moment her sultry Lucinda image dropped completely and she smiled at him with the fresh, open expression that she normally wore as herself.

"I do well at drinking coffee; I am a cop after all. Listen, after the signing, why don't we go out for dinner rather than hang around this bookstore? We can catch up properly."

He turned to smile at the impatient fan waiting eagerly behind him, "Without a crowd, and without our," he looked down at his attire, "work clothes, so to speak."

Suppressing a chuckle, Alison grabbed his book and opened it to the title page. She sobered as she realised he may not be single and hesitated to write what she'd been about to write. "Should I make it out to you, or is there someone you're giving it to?" she asked.

He hadn't thought that far ahead. "Me I guess, I don't have anyone in my life other than my Mama who reads books like this. Who knows, maybe I'll become a fan."

“Maybe you will, at that,” Alison replied with a grin, and she began to write her inscription. To Pablo: I’ll never forget that night by the fountain. With love, Lucinda Graves.

She added a couple of her trademark love hearts and passed the book back to him with a saucy wink. The mere act of writing out a dedication had snapped her back into focus on her job at hand. “Thanks,” she said. “And I’d love to catch up over dinner. I’ll come find you in the café here when I’m done.”

She watched his back for a moment as he turned away, then turned her attention to the next fan in line. “Sorry about him butting in like that,” she said. “Oh, I remember you. Robert? Robin? You’re the one with the arthritic dog, right?”

The young man nodded, obviously pleased that she’d remembered him. “How’s he doing?” Alison asked, drawing his book towards her and surreptitiously glancing out of the corner of her eye to see Pablo was making his way to the café at the back of the bookstore.

On his way past the table, Pablo bumped into a standee of a tall blonde model in a leather jacket. He fought the urge to grab the stake in his jacket when he saw the fangs before it registered that it was a cardboard cutout and not a real vampire.

He took his book and headed to the coffee bar at the back of the store. He glanced at her inscription and laughed. He remembered the fountain. He'd gotten a lecture from a park cop for 'abuse of authority' when he had told Alison it was all right to wade in the fountain. That afternoon had been one of their last dates. After five months they sort of drifted apart. Still friends, but not a couple.

He thought back to the cold November morning when they had met outside the SoHo walk-up surrounded by police tape...

2013-11-20 06:55 – Wednesday

It was unseasonably cold and Sandoval watched his breath form clouds that drifted, illuminated by the morning sunlight. He patted his arms at his side to keep warm. Puerto Rico never got this cold and even after years of attending school in New York he had never acclimated like a local. Morning commuters wandered past, focused on getting to the Subway or into their cars before feeling the bite of the cold. Guarding the crime scene while the various units did investigation was a boring and menial job, but it was appropriate for someone who had only graduated in June of this year. Rookie. That was him.

Yellow police tape stretched across the street, not that there were many onlookers this early in the morning – certainly not in this weather at any rate. A young officer stood huddled miserably against the biting wind and Alison felt a pang of pity for him.

“I hate to say this, but it feels like there’ll be snow later,” she said to him as she approached. She fished out her press pass and showed it to him. “Alison Scruggs, Officer… Sandoval.” She read his name off his uniform. “May I pass?”

“Sorry ma’am. I have strict orders – nobody gets inside. Especially people who tell me there’ll be snow.”

Alison shrugged, a motion almost lost in her heavy coat. “I deal with the truth. And it really does feel like snow I’m afraid. Maybe it’ll hold off until after your shift.” She craned her neck to see if she could spot anything, but there was nothing much going on outside the building. All the action was inside, where she couldn’t get to. Still, it might not be a totally wasted journey if she could get some details out of Sandoval.

“I’m doing a piece on this string of murders lately. People are saying they’re cult killings. Is this one of them? There were three others within a couple of blocks of this area just this week.”

"I'll tell you if you promise to go and get me a cup of coffee."

"Sure. Do you take milk and sugar?"

"Black is perfect," he said baring his teeth only long enough to smile and then burying his face back in his fur-lined collar and scarf. "It could be a cult. For my money, most likely, it's a vampire."

"Black is perfect," he said baring his teeth only long enough to smile and then burying his face back in his fur-lined collar and scarf. "It could be a cult. For my money, most likely, it's a vampire."

He continued despite her incredulous look. It was his experience that it was easier to bull through rather than to get into an argument over whether it was possible, "Two bodies exsanguinated. Forced entry with once body in the foyer meaning the vampire broke in after being invited. No signs of a meaningful struggle like skin or blood that isn't theirs. And the neck wounds."

He waited to see if she'd laugh, leave or report him to his superior.

For a long moment Alison just stared at Sandoval in disbelief. She’d thought at first that he was having a joke with her and only managed to stifle her laughter at the last second when she realised he was deadly serious. Did they really let cops join up who believed in fairy tales?

“Um… that’s an interesting theory. Vampires, eh? I… look, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make fun of you or anything, but there’s really no such thing as vampires. What you’ve described fits the MO of the other murders. I’ve got statements from the detectives on the case – it’s a cult that likes to emulate vampires by pumping the blood out of their victims. Heck, they may even drink some of it in some bizarre ritual. But that doesn’t make them, you know, Dracula.”

He shrugged. It wasn't anything that he'd not heard before. Most of the cops in his unit thought he was out of his mind already. They'd cut him some slack because he had trained as a priest. He was, after all, almost qualified to turn bread and wine into flesh and blood of Christ. If he could believe that, then vampires weren't that far off the mark were they?

But there were a few of the old guard who knew the truth and they'd defended him. "It could be albino alligators, if you choose to believe that too."

This time Alison did chuckle. "They'd have to be crazy cold-inured alligators if that's the case. Why don't I go get you that coffee and you can see if there are any other mad ideas you want to try out on me."

Without waiting for a reply she left him standing there with his arms wrapped around his body trying to keep himself warm. It was several minutes before she returned with two large, steaming cups. She didn’t fail to notice the look of relief and gratitude on Sandoval’s face as she approached with the promised reward.

“One black coffee, for services rendered,” she said as she handed his to him. “So apart from vampires and albino alligators, do you have any other theories?” She grinned cheekily. “Maybe a sasquatch would be more appropriate, given the weather.”

Sandoval sipped his coffee, but her cheer had already warmed him. "You'll forgive me a cold day's humor. The salient points from the press release are same M.O. and probably related. Aside from my 'crazy' theories there isn't much more to go on."

"However, I'd be willing to discuss some more pleasant subjects in a private interview with dinner and perhaps some dancing later, if you like."

Alison looked at him over the steam rising from her coffee and appraised him more carefully. There wasn’t much of Officer Sandoval to glimpse beneath his winter gear, but what did see she liked. And he seemed nice enough, albeit with some odd notions about mythical creatures. She’d been out with other guys, both back home in Indiana and since she’d moved to New York, but nothing had lasted more than a couple of months. And maybe this would be no more than just dinner.

“All right,” she said finally. “But only if you tell me what the J. stands for. You already know my name.”

"Juan. Juan Pablo. Pablo. My friends call me Pablo. My family calls me Paco, but that's only because my full name is Juan Pablo Federico Francisco Sandoval. But that's more than you wanted to know. Pablo. Call me Pablo."

Smooth. Rookie. That's me.


Pablo saw Alison finish talking to her agent and heading back to the coffee bar. He went and grabbed a frappuccino for her and handed it to her as she arrived. He held his up to touch the rims. "To vampires?"

Alison smiled broadly. “To vampires,” she murmured, tapping her cup against his. “And to chance meetings.”

20:28 "Bluewater Gril"

  2021-05-10 20:28 Monday
Bluewater Grill
31 Union Square West at 16th St


“Oh, excellent – more sushi.” Alison smiled her thanks at the waiter as he laid a fresh platter of sushi between her and Pablo. They sat at a small table in the courtyard of the Bluewater Grill, enjoying the warm spring weather and catching up on the last seven years. So far they’d kept it fairly light. Pablo had told her how he’d got promoted a few times and was now the highest-ranking Detective in his unit. She had a feeling there was more to it that he hadn’t told her yet, but for her part she’d also been a little coy.

When they’d been seeing each other they’d both been just starting out and neither of them had much by way of money or success. Now he was doing very well career-wise, but Alison still felt a little self-conscious about the wealth that her Darque books had brought her and was loathe to bring up exactly how well-off she was these days. She’d talked about her career as a journalist, and was pleased when Pablo revealed that he’d been following her byline, and he even remembered that she’d been nominated for a Pulitzer for that exposé piece on government corruption. She’d also told him about the various romance novels she’d written under assorted pseudonyms, but as she expected he hadn’t heard of any of them.

She selected a piece of eel sashimi and popped it in her mouth, savouring the sharp tangy flavours that exploded across her taste buds, and the cool fire that ran through her nose from the wasabi. She watched Pablo do likewise with some spicy shrimp and took a moment to appreciate that he’d obviously been looking after himself. They’d both taken a few moments to get more casual – Pablo had removed his tie and loosened his shirt, and while she didn’t have a change of clothes so was still wearing her book signing outfit, at least she’d been able to tone down her makeup. Without the dramatic dark eye-liner and vivid lipstick she was able to relax and feel more like herself.

“It wasn’t until I started writing the vampire novels that people began to take notice of me as an author,” she said once she’d finished chewing. “At first it wasn’t anything spectacular, but then after the second book it got a write-up on Wil Wheaton’s blog and he has a gazillion followers, so people began to read them.”

She paused and pointed a chopstick at Pablo. “You know, it was all your doing. I have you to thank for my success, I suppose.” He quirked an eyebrow at her and she explained. “You remember when we first met, at that crime scene? You tried to kid me and tell me it was vampires who’d murdered those people. It planted a seed – when I decided to write in a slightly different genre I thought about that and figured that vampires are always popular subjects. That’s why I made my new hero a vampire.”

Pablo smiled. He had thought about that very day many times himself. In some ways that same day had launched his career. Pablo had insisted to the detective in charge and to his superior that vampires had been responsible. Finally, despite the abuse his fellow officers had inflicted on him - fangs in his locker among other things - a Unit Chief named Kevin O'Barrow had told him that he had been absolutely correct. He had taken him to the Old Police building and down into the basement where he had seen the monsters that preyed on the citizens of the city. That week he had been transferred to SCU. His career had rocketed from there. And he had Alison to thank for not making him feel like an idiot for speaking his mind.

"Alison, I’m glad things have been so good for you. My life hasn't always been easy but I’m doing important work for the city and I even though I’m still alone, I'm happy."

“Believe me, I know how important police work is. I still do crime pieces now and then, and I know how dangerous it is too. And I honestly can’t imagine you doing anything else. I remember the fire you had about your work. Those times I stayed over, you’d head out in the mornings with such purpose.”

Her expression altered, grew a little wistful. “And sometimes you’d come home and I could tell something profound had happened, but you didn’t want to talk about it very often. I’m sorry you’re alone now – you need someone to hold you on nights like that.”

She dropped her gaze to her plate and blushed, something she hadn’t done in a long time. “I’m sorry, that sounded like a come-on, and it wasn’t. I just meant that you deserve someone nice in your life. Not that I meant me or… you know what, I think I’ll just shut up now.” To underline her statement, she popped another piece of sushi in her mouth and mock-glared at Pablo, daring him to make fun of her.

"Alison, it could easily have been you. Under different circumstances. I still have the church though. For those times I have to talk, I talk to God."

Pablo reached for her hand, "But it is nice to have someone you can hold, too."

“You haven’t mentioned anyone in your life. How is an intelligent, gorgeous,” he grinned evilly, “rich woman like you not seeing anyone?"

She let him take her hand, and ran her thumb over his knuckles. “Oh,” she said airily, matching his cheeky tone, “there’s been a veritable bevy of men through my doors, don’t you know? I keep a stable of them handy for social occasions, and one for Sunday best.”

She chuckled, and squeezed his hand lightly. “Well, there’ve been one or two guys I dated for a while. But they never seem to work out. Mostly they can’t understand that I have to devote an awful lot of time to my work. One of them in particular seemed to think that I should just retire and be his housekeeper for the rest of my life.” She made a face. “He didn’t last long.”

"It’s sort of the same here. The usual collection of supermodels and actresses, but the few that hung around past the length of time it took to get to know me weren't willing to share me with my duty."

She had to laugh. “Supermodels, eh? Anyone I might know?”

She’d forgotten how easy it was to talk to Pablo, how he got her sense of humour when so many others hadn’t: the way he’d seen her stable of boy-toys and raised her a few supermodels reminded her forcefully of that. Her last boyfriend would have had a fit if she’d made a joke like that with him.

“I feel like a bit of a fraud,” she confessed once her laughter had subsided. “You’ve got a far more important job than I do. I devote most of my time to making up fantasy stories about mythical creatures, and doing the occasional bit of investigative journalism, but you’re out there saving us from drug barons and murderers. I think you’ve got more right to be bitter about lovers who won’t stay the course.”

"Your work is important in the same way that any successful woman's is. You prove to the world that you’re a match for anything in this world. You don't need a man to protect you, provide for you or to speak for you. Don't sell yourself short, Alison, your work is important so that others will follow."

Pablo smiled and grabbed another bit of spiced tuna. He thought how ironic that he really believed what he had said but at the same time he was protecting her from the truth that was out there. The underbelly of monsters that lurked in the dark places. The same monsters that were cloaked in the very fantasies that she wrote. He knew he had to say something. But experience he had not yet earned when they had first met told him that this was not the moment.

“You make it sound so noble,” Alison commented. “Though I get what you mean. In a culture that’s still essentially patriarchal a strong, independent woman can be a role model for others. But,” she paused and sipped at her sake, “there are times when it’d be nice to be a tough, independent woman with someone safe and strong to snuggle down with.”

She rolled her eyes and withdrew her hand from his, ostensibly to pick up another piece of sushi. “And here I am again, sounding like I’m interviewing you for the job. I’m really not, honestly.”

Right now she wished she’d had the foresight to bring a change of top at the very least. Her low-cut ‘Lucinda’ look suddenly made her feel self-conscious again. She was interested, sure. She and Pablo had got on very well when they’d dated, and it’s not like it had ended badly or anything. They’d just sort of drifted into their own worlds and saw less and less of each other. But tonight, every time she opened her mouth it seemed like she was making veiled suggestions that they should get together. While she couldn’t say it was the furthest thing from her mind, it wasn’t something she wanted to leap into.

Pablo enjoyed sitting quietly with Alison. It was...comfortable. It had been a weird encounter. From seeing her picture in the window of the bookstore to now. Not planned, but organic and natural. It felt like something that had been meant to occur. "Listen, Alison, I know you’re a busy woman and that your life is going to be full of book signings and promo tours. It’s been a lot of fun to reconnect with you and I'd like to see more of you."

His eyes unconsciously strayed to her cleavage and he blushed. "I mean...see you again."

Something about meeting Pablo again had made her feel more like herself than she had for a long time. Maybe it was because she rarely met men who knew her as anything other than Lucinda Graves, and that was what they expected of her all the time. Even when she told them it was her public persona for the books, they still wanted her to be sultry in private and it simply wasn’t her nature. That was probably why she’d had so few relationships that lasted more than a handful of dates in the last few years.

“That would be great,” she replied warmly. “I’ve got signings most afternoons and evenings this week, and a party on the weekend, but I’m free most nights from about eight.” She toyed with her sake glass, watching the blush slowly fade from Pablo’s cheeks. “I’m really glad you came into the bookstore tonight.”

"I'm glad I made the impulsive choice to go and see you again. My evenings are usually busy since I work mostly in the evenings but I have a very flexible schedule. One of the perks of rank," he grinned, "I'm free tomorrow night, for instance, after 10 o'clock. I know this great Irish bar in Little Italy with some of the best food. And a lot of my friends...meaning cops...hang out there."

Alison grinned. “It sounds perfect. I’ll have time to get home and get changed after tomorrow’s signing, so I don’t give your cop buddies heart-attacks with my heaving bosom or anything.”

“It’ll do some of them a bit of good, more likely,” he laughed. “I’ll give you the address.”

He pulled out one of his NYPD business cards and wrote the address on the back. As he handed it to her he said, “I look forward to our second first date.”

22:18 "The Grindhouse"

The Grindhouse - 10:18pm

The lights faded and Meredith left the stage, naked except for her shoes and thong (there was no cover charge so if patrons wanted to see more they had to pay for the pleasure) and grabbed the bottle of ice water the backstage security held out to her. His name was Max and at a hefty 185lbs of pure Afro-American, muscle seemed to take up most of the space in the crowded dressing room. Meredith gulped down half the water before she even reached her dressing station.

“Great act Vi,” he growled, “damn sexy as always, nearly got a boner myself.”

“And we know that never happens.”

“Hey, there ain’t nothing I ain’t seen before.”

“Yeah well it’s what you do with it that counts. Or at least, that’s what my last boyfriend told me.”

Max chuckled, his huge frame shaking as he did. “Look, Charlie wanted me to tell you, your regular’s waiting for you in Room Three.”

Meredith sighed, “again?”

“Make it… twelve times in a row?”

“More like thirteen, I swear he has a screw loose.”

Max grinned, chuckling some more as he went to return to his post. “Nah, but if you need me, you know what to do?”

Meredith nodded at Max’s reflection in the dressing room mirror and started getting dressed. Not that it mattered. The client in question was Leonard Marsden and possible one of the strangest men she’d ever encountered - in a strip club anyway. Pulling a scrap of sheer scarlet fabric from the bulging dress rail, Meredith wriggled out of her sequined thong and tossed it into the laundry basket. Their whole arrangement was a joke really, as well choreographed as one of her routines. Leo first showed up at The Grindhouse about three months ago, as far as looks went he seemed nice enough (although Meredith had known many monsters with kind eyes and gentle smiles) and he was handsome she supposed, in an aging movie star sort of way, the kind of guy middle-aged women swooned over and called ‘distinguished’ rather than just plain ‘old‘.

With a twang of elastic, Meredith pulled a matching red micro thong into place, followed by spangled garter. She didn’t bother changing her shoes since the six-inch platform wedges went with pretty much everything. She did however, grab a pair of long, sheer arm sleeves. Meredith glanced in the mirror as she rolled them up past her elbow, covering the ugly redness of the puckered flesh on her left arm.

She sighed, fluffing up her hair before heading back out into the club. The music pounded from the stage as the new act twirled wildly around the pole, proving once again that fake tits really did have benefits in this line of work if only for their gravity defying properties. Meredith smiled at the clientele as she worked her way through the club - not the jaw aching smiles that most of her fellow ‘entertainers’ wore plastered across their faces, Meredith’s was actually genuine. Well, as genuine as anything got in this place. After chatting with some of the regulars and securing a couple of lap dances for later, she went to the back of the club where the private rooms were situated. Meredith opened the door and stepped inside.

Heavily cushioned, blue metallic walls greeted her - a soundproofing measure though Meredith couldn’t help but think of a padded cell. In the centre of the room was a brightly lit podium surrounded by plush velvet seating and the ceiling held a large glitter ball that brightly reflected across every seat and wall. Sat in the middle of all this was a man - about fifty years of age but still physically fit. Well-built in a way that his finely pressed slacks and fitted shirts couldn’t disguise, with a crop of dark hair that fell into his bright blue eyes, as though he were a couple weeks late getting it cut.

Meredith let the door close silently behind them, blocking out all sound except the music which was filtered into the room via speakers. “Good evening, Leonard,” she purred, leaning back against the wall to show him how every inch (and there were precious few of those) of thin, see-through fabric stretched tightly across her body and rode even higher up her thighs.

His eyes lingered, especially when he realised the only thing she was wearing underneath was a tiny pair of panties. Wetting his lips he looked away then pushed a bottle of beer towards her, clearing his throat before he spoke. “Sometimes you make it very hard-”

“Only sometimes.”

Leonard cleared his throat again. “What I meant was, you make it difficult for a man to keep his mind on track.”

Meredith walked up to the podium and took the offered beer, sliding onto the couch next to him as she took her first swig. “Good, then I’m doing my job properly.” Putting the bottle back down she looked at him directly, sliding one arm over the back of the couch while she absently twirled a lock of hair around the index finger of the other. “Leo, you come here every week, you always sit at the same table to watch me perform, you always neatly tuck a twenty in my g-string and afterwards you always book a private room and have a bottle of Sam Adams waiting.”

Leo’s dark brows furrowed, his jaw tightening beneath three days worth of stubble that somehow managed to look debonair rather than just plain scruffy. “And?”

“I assumed you wanted to get in my knickers only you never let me dance for you, in fact you never ask me to do anything for you.”

“That’s not true. I did ask, you refused.”

Meredith blinked. “I already told you, I can’t tell you my real name. You could be a psycho, you might find out where I lived and murder me in my bed.”

A slight smile tugged at the corners of Leo‘s lips. “Then the only way I can enjoy your company is to pay for it.” Meredith began to say something but Leo held up his hand. “Not that I mind, I like spending time with you though it would be nice to see what you look like without the body glitter and stilettos… and in something other than underwear.”

Meredith smiled sweetly and ran a hand slowly down her throat to rest between her breasts. “I could show you what I look like in my birthday suit.”

“That’s… not what I meant.”

“Don’t you like what I’m wearing?”

Leo sighed. “It’s… very nice Violet. But not very conducive to platonic conversation.”

“I think you’ll find that’s the point,” Meredith leaned back against the couch, her dress riding up her thighs again. “Most of my clientele don‘t come here to chit chat.”

“Most of your clientele only want to get a glimpse of what’s between your legs.”

“Except you. Unless you do, and you’re just too polite to ask.” Meredith scooted up to sit on the podium, her legs resting on the couch next to Leo. “You can, you know? Have more than a glimpse if you like-”

“-Violet. No.” Leo rose to his feet, taking hold of Meredith’s wrists as she moved to raise her dress even higher. He noticed her wince and loosened his grip though he didn’t release her until he’d pulled the long red sleeve from her left arm. “Shit.” he looked up at her, his glittering blue eyes full of concern and something else… fear? Or was it anger?

“Charlie said you’d been in some kind of accident the other week. That’s why you didn’t show. He said a stray dog bit you?”

A frown spread across Meredith‘s forehead as she looked at the scar. It was gross, red and angry looking. “Damn thing was huge, like a Great Dane but furry, you know? Like those sled dogs in the arctic? People shouldn’t be allowed to have dogs if they’re not gonna keep them under control.”

“Are you… okay?”

Meredith shrugged and looked up. Leo was watching her closely, genuine sympathy causing tiny wrinkles to form in the corner of his eyes. “Aside from having one ugly ass scar? I went to the hospital, had the shots. They said I was fine. I have the medical bill to prove it.” She ran her fingers down the length of the scar. “It itches a bit, but it’s healed loads so it must be okay, right?” Meredith narrowed her eyes slightly. “You’re not a doctor are you?”

Leo chuckled slightly, shaking his head. “Afraid not. But look…” he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a card. “I know someone who’s something of an expert in these sorts of… injuries. If you get sick, please, give me a call and I can arrange something. Will you do that?”

“Leo, I’m fine, but I appreciate your not too subtle attempt at once again trying to get me to meet up with you.”

Leo sighed, heavy with frustration and took her hand, pressing the card into it. Then he removed a couple more bills from his wallet and tucked them into her garter. “Make sure you eat, okay? None of that salad rubbish you girls are so fond of, something substantial, a steak or something.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

Another sigh. He straightened his jacket and walked to the door, his last glance lingering as though he wanted to say something more but thought better of it. “Take care, I’ll see you next week.”

22:32 "Inside the Hellfire Lounge..."

2021-05-10 22:32 - Monday
Inside the Hellfire Lounge...

By the time she got time to herself that night, Jasmin was already frustrated. It was a rare night when she dressed down, in a black dress with corset and lace shawl, and boots, her blonde hair hanging down straight. So she found herself, seated now in a booth in the lower lighting, listening to the music. Jasmin absently ran a finger over the rim of her glass, filled with blood that had a bit of green and black specs floating in it.

Her mind drifted to the day, and her schedule for the rest of the week. Monday evening free, and not an aide in sight. “That is an interesting choice of drink. What's in it?” she heard come from behind and draw her back into reality.

Jasmin turned her head, one arm over the back of the chair. She actually gave a light smile at the speaker; a young, fairly attractive woman in a knee-length skirt and short-sleeved top, and a distinctly scaley look to her skin. Holding up her glass and sipping at it, she spoke lightly. “Oh, this? It's a blend of crushed herbs and spices. Like to mix them in sometimes. Gives the blood flavor.”
“That really works?” The question sounded incredulous, but there was just something there. Some hint of genuine interest she thought that she detected.

“Oh, yes. It can fit moods. Tonight is steak. The right amount of cocktail sauce and spices, and it's like seafood.” She looked the other woman over again. To hell with it, before gesturing towards the empty part of the booth next to her. “Care to join me?”
She watched the other woman move around, and then stop, stammering out an apology as she turned to leave. Jasmin felt her annoyance level rise, even without a great deal of prompting; sometimes, you didn't need to ask what happened. It was just obvious. Without bothering to turn, she spoke up. “Why thank you, Balthazar. I do so enjoy the company, and must thank you for your many contributions to my social life.”

A jovial bellow rang out from behind her, "Oh Jasmin, darling, no need to pout about a silly demoness when you can have supper with two gorgeous studs like us."

Before he and his companion sat, Balthazar leaned over to Jasmin, giving her a kiss on each cheek. "As ravishing as ever," Fake pleasantry was always on the menu with Romano. "Jasmin, I'd like to introduce the newest of my associates, Logan Hunter."
Logan gave a brief smile and an almost inaudible 'hello' as he took his seat next to Balthazar.

"You know in our world, can never have too many people watching your back, which is why I got good ol' Logan here." Balthazar, said, slapping the young man on the back. "Actually, the real reason is because it's a lot easier to pick up pretty little things with this young stallion next to me!" The old man laughed loudly at his own joke.

Jasmin finally turned to face him, and actually returned the duel kisses. As much as she deeply disliked the human sorcerer, he at least tended to pay well, and the ripartee was enjoyable.

"Of course - and how very generous of you to bring an additional doner with you." She turned her head slightly, glass of blood in hand as she sipped at it. The opportunity was too good to pass up. "Tell me, Mr. Hunter. Have you ever enjoyed the rush of an attractive woman giving you a good bite, and trusting her to know when to stop?"

A stern look crossed the body guard's face but when he opened his mouth to speak, Balthazar cut him off.

"Jasmin i'm hurt. You've never offered me such an invitation. Is it because of my grey hair and wrinkes? You know, I couldnt possibly be too old for you. If anything, you'd be a cougar even coming after me, forget young Logan here." The man's tone became uncharacteristically serious for a moment as he locked eyes with Jasmin. "Now you know I love you Jazzy, but Logan is off bounds, so let's leave it at that."

The smile never left her face at the obvious discomfort, though hers did disappear at the use of the nickname. Jasmin hated the name; it was just the kind of thing he did. And then, she decided, the war or words was even… for the moment. "Come on, Balty. I fed from a sorcerer, once. Made me feel ill, and I'm not sure if it was the Belladonna, or just a property of his blood."

The anger melted away quickly from the elderly man's face. "Anyways, we're all just here to have a good time right?" Balthazar motioned to the closest waitress, who immediately scampered over. "Another round for the lovely lady, a Gin tonic for myself and..." he looked at Logan.

"Molson if you've got it"

Balzathar already slipped a 100$ bill into the girls pocket "Thanks, you're a love."

"Now Jasmin, honey, I must confess, I had alterior motives to ask you here tonight. I'm looking for something, and maybe you can help an old man out. See what I need..."

"Who's that?" Logan interrupted strangely. The man rarely spoke let alone interrupted Balthazar.

The old sorcerer was visibly annoyed for just a moment "who what?"

"That woman there," Logan said, pointing across the room towards to a young woman, in a tiny black dress. "Sorry to interrupt, it's just, she looks really familiar and she keeps looking over this way."

Both Balthazar and Jasmin recognized the woman Logan was pointing at - Persephone, the mysterious owner of the establishment.

The woman was indeed staring back. Her gazed lingered on Logan before turning dissaprovingly to Balthazar. One of the triplet bouncers suddenly strood up next to her, whispered something into Persephone's ear and immediately they both dissapeared to the back office.

"That's the beautiful Persephone my dear boy. I really doubt you know her, not many people do. Don't lose sleep over her stud, you'll soon find out, noone gets into those knickers!"

She looked more amused at the young bodyguard checking out Persephone. Granted, she had done it enough times as well. "You know, not everyone looks at a woman and thinks of nothing but sex," she idly mused, with a light sigh.

"Well I know when I was Logan's age, that's all I thought about, right!" he laughed again, nudging his bodyguard. Logan smiled politely, but said nothing.

Jasmin's drink sat on the table, running her finger around the rim. "So, what does my favorite sorcerer need?"

"What makes this complicated is that i'm not sure exactly what it is i'm looking for. Me and some associates are looking for some sort of artifact, potion, anything really that would aid in magical thermographication. Basically the end goal is to move someone from one body to another."

In the short time he was employed by Balthazar, Logan had gotten used to hearing weird and wacky things. He was just getting used to magic, vampires and demons, let alone the idea of people changing bodies. This sounded a bit sinister, even for Balthazar.

Sensing the concern on the young man's face, Balthazar piped in immediately. "Think of the possibilities, if someone comes down with an incurable disease or has a terrible accident, presto changeo, we put them in a new body. Even a synthetic, magically created body. Very positive stuff my boy, and also potentially very lucrative."

Thermograph… Jasmin's mind turned the word over two or three times. Personally, she blamed Star Trek for every single sorcerer thinking that they just had to technobabble up their art in an attempt to sound deep and mysterious. "Well, not off the top of my head anything quite that specific."

She moved again slightly, resting the side of her head in her hand. This was going to be one of those nights. The possibilities did occur to her, though far less altruistic. Stealing bodies could mean stealing power - she filed that in the back of her mind, and tried to push the film idea that occurred away. "Not sure I've heard of anyone actually accomplishing body theft - there was a rumor, once, that I heard from a vampire back in… 99? Something about someone on a Hellmouth turning into a giant snake. Not sure how accurate that was, since it was a third-hand story."

"Well that's not overly helpful is it," the sorcerer chuckled. "Plus, if i'm thinking of the right story, I dont think it ended to well for him did it?"

"If it even happened at all," she responded evenly. "Sure, he might have, but you can't honestly expect me to believe that an army of high school students brought it down, and then the entire town promptly forgot that? It's like all those stories about `And then I almost destroyed the world this one time at band camp`. If even half of those were true, the world would be Hell by now by the law of averages."

She returned to her thoughtful pose, racking her brain. What was that think she had heard of…. "There was also Lasarna's Seal from my days in LA - heard about that. But if half the things about the group of do-gooders that supposedly have it is true, you might as well just kill yourself now and save them the trouble." The moment the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them for actually being useful. Oh, well. There would be other chances to send the sorcerer to an untimely demise.

Sensing that Jasmine may not be able to give him the answers he wanted that night, he needed to move to plan b. There were other people in the city that could likely help and he needed answers fast.

"Logan, buddy, I hate to ask you this, but I need you to go across town."

"Now?" Logan replied, somewhat confused.

"If you don't mind".

"Uh...sure boss." the bodyguard took an uneasy look at the rest of the clientele in the Hellfire Lounge. "You sure you'll be ok here without me?"

Balthazar laughed heartedly. "Of course, don’t worry about me. Plus, I have this lovely lady with me incase anything goes south. Trust me, she's a lot nastier than she looks!"

"Whatever you want".

"Great, you are seriously number 1 in my books Mr Hunter!" Balthazar waved his hand across the table and a grey envelop appeared out of thin air. "I need you to go to this bar called Slainte and see the owner. You can't miss him, big burly redhead. Just give him this for me".

"Sounds easy enough." Logan took the envelop and tucked it into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. "Jasmine, nice to meet you". With that, Logan, left.

The vampire kept an eye on the young man as he left, giving a half-smile to Balthazar. Her instincts were right: the night was going to be hell, but damnit, this was supposed to be pleasant `me time.` She made a show of checking the time for his benefit, downing the remainder of her glass and standing. "I'm afraid, Balty, that I have to go. Have to make sure the party-goers are enjoying themselves. If anything happens, just turn on that wonderful personality of yours. I'm sure they'll respond appropriately."

Balthazar feigned disappointment. Jasmin was usually quite knowledgeable, and therefore useful, but if she knew nothing, he wasn't sad to cut the evening early.

"Enjoy your evening darling!" he called out to the vampiress as she walked away. While debating to stay and have another drink or not, something caught his eye. Once again, across the room, Persephone was blatantly staring at him. "You're one weird lady," he mumbled to himself as he folded his napkin and left the table.

23:15 "Slàinte"

Slàinte Bar

270 Centre St New York, NY 10013

The music was too loud, the people were too crazy, the lights were too bright, and her temples pounded too hard. Cadee usually liked her job and she loved the Slàinte, but tonight wasn’t the best of nights. *And it’s just Monday,* she told to herself, still two days to go till her free night.

It was unusual for Cadee to feel even slightly unwell, her constitution was literally waterproof, but today wasn’t the best of days. It didn’t help that Angus had needed to run some errand or other, and she had to stay at the bar. *But I love the bar,* she spoke to herself again. Well, she loved the bar, but not the annoying drunken customers, and that was probably it.

She smiled to the man in front of her, a young yuppie with sandy hair and bright eyes while she served him another whisky on the rocks; he thanked her absently and continued talking business to the guy next to him. She quickly checked the rest of the bar, but it seemed everybody was content, even the bothersome one, so she relaxed a bit.

“Hey, precious!” 

*Damn, you’re an optimist, Cadee*, she thought, as she put on her best bartender smile and walked towards the other end of the bar, where the man sat. She had positioned herself the farthest from him, but duty called.

Cadee could recognize bothersome customers right away; after all, she had been a waitress for many years, and most of them she could manage without much trouble. But she could also recognize the troublesome ones. And he was one of them. Drunk, too.

“It’s Cadee,” she replied, a little too sweetly. “I think I told you a couple of times already. What can I do for you?”

The man pushed one of the drinks in front of him towards her, “you can accept me a drink, I bought it for you.”

Cadee sighed. “I already told you I can’t drink with you. Policy.”

“That’s the problem? Tell me what time you get off then. We can have a drink then.”

It was not an unusual dialogue for a pretty waitress like her, she had been invited drinks countless times, and she always declined in a polite and friendly way, it wasn’t good for tips to go antagonizing customers, after all. However, this one was different. The man had an intense quality that repelled Cadee, she was sure something was off with him.

At that moment another customer called her from the other end of the bar. “I’m sorry, I have to go.” She said and walked away quickly.

As she handed the customer a pair of Guinness longnecks, she noticed a man walking towards the bar, scanning the seats to find one. *Nice bod, boy. Can’t deny this job is nice to the eyes.*

A hand in her wrist startled her, and she saw that the off-guy had followed her from his spot. “If you weren’t to drink with me, why let me buy the booze?” he said, while he squeezed her arm.

Logan was pissed; nowhere in the damned bar was a brutish bartender with flaming red hair. "Just my luck..." he mumbled to  himself, stopping short when he noticed just who was bartending. The girl was fit...really fit, the type that attracted creeps like the one following her across the bar.

"Hey buddy, how about you take a seat alright," Logan said, as he pulled up one of the stools at the bar.

"And why don’t you mind your own business," the man slurred back, still holding on to Cadee's arm.

"I'm not asking brother," Logan replied calmly.

Temporarily forgetting about Cadee, the man trampled over to where Logan was sitting. "Oh you're not asking," he mocked. "What? you a big tough guy? Why don’t you do something about it, tough guy?"

Logan kept his cool, never rising from his stool. He wanted to clock the guy, but he was drunk after all. "Listen, why don't you just calm down, take a seat and enjoy your drink alright?"

"You fucking loser," the creep chuckled, obviously pleased with himself. Now back to the bartender.

Now, Logan swiveled the barstool so he was facing the man. "Come again?"

"You heard me. I said you fucking loser. F. U. C..." before he could continue, Logan stood up, his hand whipping out around the man's throat.

The drunkard struggled to free himself, even trying to punch Logan in the face, but the young man was too quick. With one hand still on his throat, Logan used his other to grab one of the man's wrist and twist his arm behind his back.

The patrons around began to scramble, fearing they would get caught up in some sort of brawl. When they figured out however that the fight was really one sided, they all just stood around, waiting to see how the scene played out.

"First, you're going to apologize to the lady," Logan said, holding the man firm.

"Dude you're going to break my fucking arm!"

"Just apologize"

"Alright...I'm sorry"

"And you're going to leave her alone?"

"Yeah," Logan increased the pressure causing the man to yelp. "Yes, yes!"

"Ok buddy, now why don’t you go home?"

Finally, relief came as Logan released the hold. The man rubbed his sore arm and shoulder. He wanted to finish his drink, but his ego had been too badly bruised. Everyone in the bar was staring and he had been humiliated. He almost ran to the door, and when he was halfway through the threshold he turned back. "Yeah fuck you douchebag!" With the entire bar between them, the creep got some of his confidence back.

Logan jerked forward as if he were going to rush to the door. The slight movement was enough to send the man running.

To Logan's utter shock and embarrassment, the entire bar, which had been deathly silent during the whole ordeal, began to clap and whistle.

"Good stuff bro!" some frat boy called out from a booth, as Logan, now red as a tomato, took back his stool.

Cadee was surprised. She had been ready to mop the floor with the guy –or at least put him in his place, since she didn’t mop floors with people publicly– when the *nice-bod* guy intervened, And quite well too. Her trained eye had noticed the faster-than-normal speed and expertise of his movements, he had managed the drunk with an economy of effort that was nothing but extraordinary.

And she was moved. She wasn’t used to be the damsel in distress, and she liked it. She specially liked the way the guy blushed at the customer’s response to his gentlemanly behavior. Handsome, gallant and humble, a great combination.

Waving to the crowd to stop, Cadee smiled brightly to him and spoke.

“That was great, thank you. I’m Cadee, welcome to the Slàinte. What can I serve you? On the house, it’s the least I can do.”

"Well, if I knew I’d get free beer out of it, I’d make it a habit to beat drunk assholes," Logan replied, his face still blushing from the scene. "I'm sorry, that was a lame joke."

Cadee laughed, as she reached behind the bar for a glass. "I'm Logan, by the way. I'm actually here to meet an Angus. Is he working tonight?"

“I’m sorry, but he isn’t,” Cadee answered, as she poured beer in a high cup. “He’s out for some errands, and I don’t think he’ll be back tonight. He asked me to close the bar.”

She pushed the glass to Logan and smiled again. “Do you want to leave him a message or something?”

Logan reached into his jacket pocked. He could feel the envelop safely tucked away but stopped short before pulling it out. The type of things Balthazar dealt with were strange at best, and the man knew better than to leave one of his messages with an unknown bartender... even a fit bartender like Cadee.

"You know what," Logan said as he took a sip of his beer, "I think I should probably just come back when Angus is here. Is he in tomorrow?"

Cadee nodded.

"And will you be in tomorrow?"

Cadee nodded again, smiling this time. She liked him, she certainly did.  “Every day but Thursdays. But what’s the rush, you can stay a little longer, right?”

The man definitely didn't want to leave but he knew he shouldn’t linger. Balthazar wouldn't be happy that he couldn’t deliver the message tonight and would be even madder if Logan didn’t get back to work sooner rather than later. Of course, if Angus was here tomorrow, then he had a good reason to be back.

"Not tonight," Logan sighed, before chugging the rest of the beer. "See you soon, Cadee." Reaching into his pocket, Logan left a sizable tip on the bar before walking away.

Cadee smiled as he walked away, she was sure he’ll be back, Angus or not Angus. Hell, she wanted him to come back. *Girl, you need a social life, a.s.a.p.*

“Oh, yes. I certainly do,” she sighed, as she hurried to pour yet another drink.



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23:24 "NYPD Special Crimes Unit"

Pablo's mind was elsewhere as he passed Slainté on the way to the office.  He took a few steps past the door and stopped.  He turned and walked back to the bar.  Just one beer before closing out he day.  He had one foot into the door when his shoulder collided with a muscular young man in riding leathers headed out.

"Sorry buddy," Sandoval murmured. 

The man ignored him and straddled a Ducati that was parked on the street and pulled out into traffic.

Sandoval was half admiring the bike and half considering the dangers of riding in the city without a helmet when his mind connected the dots.  The mystery newcomer at Hellfire. The dead Kaosian demon that had attacked Balthazar. 

Balthazar loved to call the SCU to dispose of his demon corpses.  He knew that they wouldn't tell anyone and that he couldn't get in trouble as long as he said it was self defense.  It made him feel important to have the city do his housecleaning for him. But the uniforms had spotted the new guy hanging around and had gotten a photo.  It was on Sandoval's desk right now.  The guy was even wearing the same outfit. 

Sandoval sprinted down the street.  The Ducati was headed up Broadway.  He'd never catch him. But he'd been here in Sandoval's backyard.  And he'd probably be back.

Sandoval walked back to his office and skipped the beer even though it meant missing that cute waitress of Angus'. It was late and he wanted to get to bed. The doorman opened the door for him with a salute and Sandoval smiled and nodded.  He greeted the security guard at the desk in the lobby and walked down the wide marble staircase to the basement where he entered an ancient 2-person elevator marked "Official use only".

The cage rattled and jerked on its way down into the first sub-basement until is came to a squeaky halt with a thump.  Sandoval opened the cage door and walked down a hallway with marble floors, steel doors and lit with florescent lights. He stopped at the set of double doors at the end and looked over his shoulder.

Nobody there.  He could never seem to shake the feeling that something was down here every time he walked down this hall.  He shook his head and pushed into the room.  The large room was segregated with glass partitions into a foyer and a collection of desks arranged in a more-or-less grid-like pattern in the center.  In the foyer was a desk Sergeant who greeted him. 

It being nearly midnight the desks were full of activity.  He could see that there were victims in both of the interrogation rooms giving statements.  One of them had a bloody compress on his neck. Vampire, he thought. The other seemed to have her coat in tatters and a uniform was helping her re-enact the events that led to her wardrobe misfortune.

Sandoval grabbed a cup of coffee from the pot always present on the counter and went to his desk.  He passed the large whiteboard with the grid of open cases on it:

Detective Case# Status


  • Billings
  • Frank
Werewolf in Central Park  Open Investigation


  • Morgan
  • Theissen       
Balthazar connection to cursed artifacts  Open Investigation


  • Gregg
  • Villanova
Ghost @ The Metropolitan Opera  Open Investigation

Sitting at his desk he looked at the picture he had on his desk.  The post-it that Neumann had stuck to it lay curled to one side, "You know this guy, JP?"

"Nope, still don't know him," Juan Pablo muttered into his cup, "but I'll definitely keep an eye out for him."

Officer Green came over to his desk.  Green had the tattered coat from the victim in the interrogation room in an evidence bag. "I brought this to you because I know you are pursuing a werewolf case.  The woman's testimony doesn't sound like a wolf.  She mentioned it having horns and couldn't remember if it was hairy or not.  I wondered if you had anything on subnormals in Hell's Kitchen."

Sandoval logged into his desktop to open the spreadsheet he kept of sightings and rumors. Green looked in the Barnes & Noble's bag at the Darque Desires book while they waited for the always underpowered equipment of the NYPD to do its work. "My wife loves that trash.  I keep trying to tell her it is all crap.  Is it a gift for someone?"

Sandoval opened the book to the title page to display the inscription. Green raised an eyebrow.  "Nice!" he said turning the book over to leer at the sexy picture of Lucinda on the back, "Is she "researching" something?" he said adding his own "air quotes".

"You are awfully nosy about my personal life, Michael.  I suggest you focus on your job."

Sandoval scrolled through the hundreds of unconfirmed sightings, calls, rumors, stories from the Post and bits of information that they picked up every day but lacked the manpower, resources and ultimately money to pursue.  He spotted a likely lead. "Fyarl demon at an antique store from back in November.  Jumped out of an old steamer trunk found in an estate in Hells Kitchen and never found.  I'll bet that's our subnormal trying to get home.  Find out if our victim has recently rented a new place in the neighborhood or bought a house there recently.  Fyarls are notoriously thick-headed and this one might just think that she's an intruder in her own home.  You might want to get the recovery boys on the horn and line up a grab, too."

He pointed to the bag with the shredded coat, "Drop that in Sierra's box.  She can go over it tomorrow to make sure we're on the right track."

Green took the bag, "I'm on it Detective.  Thanks."

Sandoval went back to his coffee and watched the video from the werewolf attack in the park from last week on his computer.  In the grainy video a shapely, athletic woman with brown hair in a short ponytail runs at full tilt past the camera. Seconds later the huge wolf glides through the frame so fast that it looks like a blur.  To an untrained eye it could be a dog or even a large man in a fur coat.  But to Sandoval it was as clear as if he had seen it with his own eyes.

His mind cast back to Puerto Rico and his family.  His father telling him about the attack and seeing his sister, only fifteen at the time, hanging on by a thread.  He remembered her struggles to recover. He remembered her crying to end it.  He shook his head and wiped his cheek. That was the past.  This woman had a future if he could find this creature and end it before she turned.

But it wouldn't be tonight.  The full moon was weeks away and he had had a full day.  Time to take the train home.

Sandoval went down the elevator to the second sub-basement and slipped out through the exit that led to the platform on the "6" that would take him home to East Harlem.  He wasn't supposed to go out that way but frankly it was a lot quieter and safer than walking down the street.

2021-05-11 - Tuesday

04:15 "Cadee and Anne"


“How do I look?”

Anne Millet parted her eyes from the TV screen where an old vampire’s movie was showing, and distractedly inspected her roommate. Half a second later she pushed the ‘pause’ button on the DVD player and looked again.

“Have you decided to change careers?” She asked, appraising a scantly clothed Cadee with narrowed eyes. She had just returned from work, but it wasn’t unusual that she left again.

“Don’t be daft! Do I look like a hooker or not?”

“Sure you do… let me guess, you want to better your tips at the bar?” She suppressed a giggle when her friend rolled her eyes.

“Annie, I swear I don’t know how I bear with you.”  Cadee said in an exasperated tone, and opened her arms in a prompting gesture, so her roommate took her seriously.

“‘Cause you love me,” Anne stood up. She walked round her friend, watching her with her actress’ eye and nodded in approval.  Cadee’s blond hair was piled in a waterfall of curls at the top of her head, and she was wearing too much make up. The small red top showed too much of her bosom and the leather mini skirt wasn’t much better. She looked at Cadee’s kilometer long legs, clothed in fishnet stockings and frowned. “Are you sure you can run in those stilettos?

Cadee shrugged. “Somehow sneakers didn’t seem to fit.”

“You bet. You look fine; just don’t bring any clients home.” Anne giggled, but stopped at Cadee’s warning glance. Sobering up, she added, “I don’t suppose you’re gonna tell me what’s it about, do you?”

“Seems a vampire’s terrorizing the hookers around West Side Highway,” Cadee answered, giving her hair a final pat. She winked at Anne. “I overhead the cops at the bar.”

“Figures.” Anne knew Cadee usually ‘overheard’ the SCU cops frequenting the Slàinte. Poor people, they thought it safe to speak their business in a bar full of music, laughter and talking, but they didn’t count on Cadee having radar ears. Or she knowing of the supernatural. Or she ‘being’ part supernatural herself.  “And why don’t you let them handle the matter?”

“Need the rush." Cadee shrugged. "It's late, but I want to take a look, at least.”

“Girl, you so need to get laid,” Anne said, and Cadee laughed, but she sobered up when she remembered gallant-guy. She hoped he actually returned. She was going to mention him to her friend, when Anne spoke again. 

 “Just be careful, ok?” She was used to her friend ‘escapades’ at night, but usually she looked all Xena like and not Hollywood Blvd. 

“When haven’t I?” the blonde answered, smiling beatifically to her friend. 

“Now, I distinctively remember one time you got home with a bullet in your shoulder, and there was that time you burnt half of your hair. Ah, and don’t forget the time I had to take that nasty looking stick off your leg…”

Cadee laughed. “Trifles; and it was a stake.”

She took her leather jacket, heavy with hidden weaponry, and put it on while walking to the door.

“Well, at least you’re taking the Jacket.” Anne frowned, her actress gene showing up, “doesn’t go better with that outfit than sneakers, though…”

“Doesn’t matter. I may want to look like a whore, but I’m surely not stupid,” Cadee winked at Anne and left the apartment.

“Sometimes I wonder,” the girl said to the closing door. She sighed and concentrated on her movie again.

07:21 "Carmine and Magda"

Carmine waited at the bus-stop for Magdalena.  She had school but he liked to wait for her and give her things like Danishes from the corner bakery.  Mr Hooper from the baker sometimes gave Carmine the biggest Danish cause he was a big boy.  Magdalena wasn't a big boy cause she was only fifteen and not a boy but she liked the big Danishes, too.

Carmine spotted her coming this way with her bookbag.  Carmine stood up and smiled at her and waved and she waved back.  She jumped up to kiss Carmine on the cheek like she always did.  "I brought you something, Magda.  It's a...ruby," he fibbed a little because he couldn't remember what it was really called.  He figured it wouldn't be so bad.

He pulled out the tiny red dot and started to hand it to her tiny hand with his thick fingers.  As it moved closer to her hand it seemed that time slowed down.  The street got blurry and Carmine could feel the breeze slow down and the sound of the city fade into a distant echo.

A loud voice boomed in his ears, "Carmine Bocelli, that girl will never love you.  She is using you as long as you give her things, but the instant you stop she will leave you for someone smarter and more successful.  You are a stupid loser that she could never love."

"Nuh-uh!" Carmine said. 

He was a little confused about why he could talk but not move, but since he started working for Mr. Balthazar things had been a like that more and more frequently.  Mr. B. said that sometimes asking "why" or "how" was a way to show people your ignorance.  Truly intelligent men just allowed things to happen and looked up the answers later.

"Carmine Bocelli, you cannot lie to me.  I know your heart and I know your soul.  If you promise me your soul then I will see that the girl will love you for the rest of both of your lives.  I will promise that she will lay with you as woman lays with a man.  I will promise that your every dream for the two of you will come true."

Carmine wondered if the voice was Jesus, but he figured that was one of those questions that an ignorant men asks so he let it slide.  His only dream for Magdalena was to sleep with her.  He had been waiting until she was a older since her Mama said he was way to old for her.  His Mama said she was way to young for him which he saw as different but he couldn't figure out how.  Magdalena said that as soon as she was sixteen that it was okay under the law.  She was smart so he figured she was right. 

"If I give you my soul will it hurt?" This was the kind of question that Mr. B. usually allowed.  Making sure of things was a good thing.  That way you didn't become a fuck-up like Milo who had been told to get the ugly dog from the docks but not to sit on the cage.  He sat on the cage and got his ass bit up and so Mr. B called him a fuck-up every time he saw him.

"No, Carmine Bocelli, it will not hurt.  All you will feel is the bliss of knowing your woman will love you for the rest of your lives."

"Okay, then."

And just as suddenly it was over.  The red dot was in Magdalena's hand.  It seemed shiner and a little bigger too.  She held it up to the light and peered through it then squealed with delight. "God, Carmine, it is amazing!  I can't wait to show it to everyone!  Tonight.  Tonight, Carmine.  Mama's got choir practice and I'll be home alone.  Come over tonight and I can show you how much I love you!"

"Tonight," Carmine confirmed, "I'll be there.  I love you too!"


09:57 "Jasmin's Apartment, 151 Wooster Street, SoHo"

2021-05-11 9:57 – Tuesday

Jasmin's Apartment, 151 Wooster Street, SoHo

Jasmin looked at the clock on her wall, then back to her stack of about eight thick envelopes on the table. Once more, she considered scouring the supernatural world for a demon or some such to deliver mail for her on days like this, as it inched closer to ten in the morning. This was far too late to be up and moving about on a regular basis. Her home was modest for someone who had spent as much time working in the industry as she did, which still made it look rather upscale compared to everyone else.

She settled down onto the couch, older heavy metal playing to keep her awake. Unlike the modern stuff, she could actually understand that. So now she closed her eyes and waited as patiently as she could, listening to Sharon den Adele singing about Our Solemn Hour.

When the knocking at the door finally came, the woman dragged herself out of the couch, heading over to crack the door open with a tired look and slight smile. “Ah, there you are. Please, come inside.”

Anne smiled to the blond woman and stepped inside the shadowed house. Jasmin didn’t look too happy –she knew she as late– but it wasn’t like her to be put down by a client, and she knew better than to appear intimidated. She inspected the blonde and noticed her tired expression and almost transparent-looking skin.*She’s probably been up all night,* she thought, and felt suddenly guilty.

“Sorry, Jasmin,” she said, smiling beatifically, “traffic was hell. Even for me.”

She almost smiled as she saw the other flinch, she probably wasn’t very used to be addressed in a first name basis by errand girls. But of course, the woman was VIP. She owned a fancy club, and most important, she was a theatre producer, with connections back in Hollywood from where she came about five years ago.

*It could be so good if you could just, you know, suck up a little, Annie.* She thought to herself, but she knew that asking to be sent to Jasmin every time she called for a courier would be the whole expanse of her sucking up. *It’s enough. At least she recognizes me at auditions!*

“Be glad you are not in Los Angeles,” she said lightly, door closing behind her. Good, mild discomfort; her mission was accomplished. Good day for them to send Anne, since most of her deliveries today were going to people in the theatre. Not for the first time, she considered an ad for a personal asisstant. “This one time, we were going to pick up someone from the airport, and got stuck on the freeway for three hours. I could have walked.”

Still, she stopped and looked over the other woman, eying her carefully as she started to consider. Her regular courier had left the company, and it was always good to have someone carrying her things recognized. “You might be interested to know that we're having an emergency audition, by the way. Someone was stupid enough to fail rehab three times.”

“Oh. That’s interesting indeed, thanks for the tip, Jasmin.” Anne eyes shone and she smiled, but she forced herself not to ask for details. Maybe it was paying out after all. “What do you need me for this morning?”

Jasmin moved over, to pick up her stack, putting it down on the back of the couch. The letters balanced precariously on edge. “It'll probably be a good couple hours worth – this one,” she pulled out one of the envelopes, “is the only time-sensitive one. Needs to get there by one for a conference call. Rest of it is all at your leisure. Mostly people in the industry today, actually.”

Anne took the envelopes and looked at the address on the one Jasmin had sorted as top priority. She nodded, it shouldn’t be a problem. Then she checked the other ones, they weren’t too much trouble either. The addresses were well spread all around the Village and Broadway, but nothing that would take her more than the couple of hours Jasmin had predicted, Anne even recognized some of the names, including the director of ‘1776’, the play Jasmin was producing. Cool, she could get the details of the audition while delivering.

“No problema,” she raised her eyes and smiled. “From your hands to theirs, Madam. Anytyhing else?”

Jasmin shook her head and actually yawned, as the next song started up on the concert CD. She moved to her purse to actually pull out and peel off a small set of four $20 bills, holding it out to her. It was an unwritten rule of hers: tip well. Tip very well. “Let's see.... mail,” she turned to look her over as she spoke, “tip, and image in my head of an attractive woman when I fall into bed. Think we may be good.”

Without counting the bills, Anne folded them and pushed them into her corset – she was used to Jasmin’s generosity, another good reason for working for her. Then she frowned, the woman was practically falling asleep in her feet, she better go.

“All-righty,” she said, while walking to the door. “I’m off, then. Have a nice… day.”

16:30 "Love Scene"

Magda practically jumped off of the bus and into Carmine's arms. Carmine could tell all the other girls thought that Magda was pretty cool since she had an older boyfriend.  Especially one like Carmine who gave her nice things and who had an important job like working for Mr. Balthazar.

Magda ran inside and waved for Carmine to come in with her.  Magdalena's mom didn't like Carmine being inside with her alone.  She said Magdalena needed a chaperone.  Carmine didn't know what that meant exactly but Magda's mom made it pretty clear that Carmine and Magda couldn't be alone together.

"I'll kill you Carmine Bocelli if you defile my pure Magdalena.  I will beat your head in and spit on your corpse.  I don't like you seeing her but I can't stop that.  But I will see that she keeps her virtue intact, Jesus help me."

Carmine didn't think Jesus would approve of her beating his head in, but The Voice had said that Magdalena would be his.  Carmine was on the fence on whether The Voice was Jesus or not.  He figured it was somebody more important than Magdalena's mom.

Magda had lead him by the hand up the narrow stairs to her room. It was painted Barbietm pink.  She had stuck stickers with sparkles all around her mirror and on the computer monitor and had pictures of her and Carmine in frames with lots of pink hears and rainbows.  Magda's room usually made Carmine laugh, but not today.

Magda told him that her momma was at bible study.  She always had bible study on Tuesdays and that she wouldn't be home until after 7:00.  As long as Carmine wasn't here when she got home they'd be okay.

Magda was tugging at his belt.  Carmine just pulled down and his pants dropped off.  he wore them low so that part was easy.  She playfully pulled at his boxers and he pulled off her t-shirt.  Pretty soon they were naked.  Carmine had been naked with girls before.  He knew what was supposed to happen, but Magda wasn't really good like those other girls.

Neither of them had a condom, but Carmine said he didn't need one since he was gonna marry Magda.  She made a lot of noise and didn't smile much.  She didn't seem to like it like those other girls.  Carmine wasn't sure what to do when he saw blood, but Magda said that she had been told in Health class that that might happen.  Carmine finished doing it and then rolled back onto the bed and fell asleep with Magda in his arms.

He dreamed of how beautiful their kids would be.

18:40 "Meredith meets Cadee at Slainte"

Slainte Bar - Tuesday 6:40pm

She was doodling. That was never a good sign.

Meredith sighed and took a sip from her soda, stealing a furtive glance at the rest of the patrons of the Slainte Bar. It was still early, so hardly surprising that the current occupants were slim pickin’s indeed. She wasn’t in the habit of coming to bars on her own. No that wasn’t true. She did go to bars on her own, but it wasn’t for the obvious reason. Slainte was a cop bar, usually a very crowded one. Meredith had learnt a long time ago that the best place to sniff out a story was here, where some of the city’s finest came to chill out, to blow off some steam after another lousy shift and exchange stories with their buddies. And if a budding journalist just happened to overhear something juicy… well, two birds with one stone and all that.

But tonight was going about as well as a bacon-sandwich buffet at a bar mitzvah. So far, the best gossip she’d heard was that someone had broken Detective Hendrickson’s coffee cup whilst trying to trick shot it into his in-tray. Hardly front page news unless this Detective Hendrickson harboured a few homicidal tendencies and was overly fond of that particular mug.

Meredith shook her head, eying the bowl of chilli fries she’d ordered, picking at the melted cheese and drawing on every ounce of willpower she possessed not to just shove them into her mouth by the handful. Hunger gnawed at her stomach, stronger than she’d ever felt it before. It didn’t matter what she ate lately, it was never enough and it never satisfied her insatiable hunger. Maybe there was something wrong with her?

“You know, we have meatier treats than those,” Cadee said as she approached the table. At the girl’s confused look, she added. “I’m sorry, but I just heard your belly growl… and that’s not allowed at the Slàinte.”

Cadee had a rule not to bother clients who looked like they wanted to be left alone, chat with the ones that looked chatty, and even slightly flirt with the flirty ones. No wonder she was the better tipped girl in the bar. She could manage herself well in most bar-related situations.

Now, this girl, she had seen her several times before, and she was the ‘leave alone’ kind. She was usually working with her laptop or writing in some notebook, probably a student or a writer, or maybe a journalist. However, this afternoon she looked distracted, perhaps even… unhappy?

“Maybe a hamburger? Or a chicken salad? You won’t be disappointed, we have the best in town.” Cadee winked at the brunette and added, “my recipe.”

*Or maybe a great big fat steak, extra rare…* Meredith almost swivelled on her stool as another waitress emerged from the kitchen with a well loaded plate. Unfortunately, her budget didn’t run to such extravagances, besides, she had a set later that night and a full stomach didn’t sit well with a vigorous dance routine.

Meredith looked up and smiled at the waitress. She’d seen her working here most nights, in fact, she was probably the main attraction for most of the regulars. With her long golden locks and bronzed skin, she looked like she’d be more at home in a Californian beach bar than an Irish theme pub in New York.

“I’m sure it is,” she said, laying a hand self-consciously over her stomach to try and stifle any further protests. “But I’m good. Thanks.”

“You’re the paying customer here,” Cadee shook her head feigning sorrow, and then smiled. “Name’s Cadee, if you need anything else, just call me.”

She turned to leave, when, like in a second thought, she went back to the table, put the back of her hand to the bowl of chilli and held it there for a second. She almost lost her train of thought when she inhaled, but recovered quickly. “These are cold. Allow me to bring you another order. Hot this time.”

Was this girl pitching for Employee of the Month or what? Not that it mattered, food was food after all, and hot food was even better. Meredith nodded gratefully, now if only this girl knew about some secret government conspiracy or plot to assassinate the president. *Yeah, right…*

Thankfully the girl - Cadee, didn’t take the cold offerings with her as she left in the direction of the kitchen. Meredith grabbed her fork and shovelled in a couple of mouthfuls - just in case. She knew restaurants like this, they’d only throw it in the garbage and she was so fucking hungry…

She was licking cold chilli from her fingers when she returned, another bowl of steaming hot fries and chilli balanced expertly on a tray. The smell was enough to make Meredith’s stomach start growling again. Cadee smiled, her whole face brightening from her liquid brown eyes to her rosebud lips. Christ she was like an angel or something… *I wonder if she’s single… Gail would literally fall panting at this girl’s feet.*

“Thanks, you really didn’t have to… but thanks.” Meredith felt her cheeks flush as she saw Cadee’s eyes wander to the practically empty bowl. She probably expected a tip or something? Or maybe there was something else you were supposed to say when you got brought an extra hot bowl of chilli fries gratis. Meredith had always been a bit of a misfit when it came to social niceties and all that. Which was probably why she’d swapped waitressing for stripping. At least if she ran out of things to say she could always get her tits out.

Shrugging off her hoodie, Meredith hung it on the back of the bar stool. It was getting hotter in here or maybe it was just the chilli? “You… must be, what? Employee of the Month?”

Cadee blushed as she noticed she had been too intense. But her sense of smell seldom betrayed her, and she had sniffed something strange in the girl. And she was hungry. And now that she had taken off her sweater, she could see a bandage on her arm. Left forearm; like a self-defence wound. She frowned, not liking the possibilities. What had Sandoval mentioned about a werewolf running free in the city?

Forcing herself to smile, she bended a little towards the brunette, trying not to alarm her this time. Oh, yes. She definitely could smell wolf. She put her hand to her mouth, and mocked a whisper. “Look at that girl over there? She’s been Slàinte’s princess for two months. I’m planning a coup d’etat.”

“Well if you need a recommendation…” Meredith smiled but pulled back a little as Cadee moved closer. It hadn’t been an intentional reaction, though it seemed entirely natural considering the invasion of personal space. “Um…” she held her hand out awkwardly, “I’m Meredith.”

Cadee immediately took a step back, she had already learnt what she intended by the proximity; now she had to think what to do. She took Meredith’s hand and shook it, smiling, while she did some math in her head. Last full moon had been when… a whole fortnight ago? If she wasn’t mistaken, this girl had not had her first change yet. *Of course she didn’t, she’s just been bitten, * she told herself. *And probably she doesn’t have a clue on what’s happening to her. * How much till next full moon, ten days? She needed to think about it.

“Nice to meet you, Meredith. I’ve seen you around, do you live close by?”

*Oh crap* Figures this’d be the one time her gaydar was actually working. Was accepting extra fries and shaking hands flirting in the lesbian world? Gail would never forgive her.

“No, I mean, yeah, I live in the city - Lower East Side.” The words were out before she could even think of an acceptable lie. *What did you tell her that for!? Oh come on, it‘s not like the cute blonde waitress is gonna stalk me. Anyway, what‘s she gonna do? Feed me to death?* Or give her exceptional service all night long…

“Actually I’m a student.” *Why are you still talking? Have you turned dyke too?*

*Oh, my God, she so thinks I’m hitting on her.* Cadee thought, watching the girl’s obvious agitation. And no wonder, in her eagerness to learn more about the girl, she may actually shoo her away. She would have laughed if it weren’t so damn important that she kept track of Meredith. She couldn’t possibly approach her with the real reasons for her interest now.

*Sure, what would you tell her… by the way, that wound you have, it was a werewolf. Expect some serious hair growth in about ten days or so.* No way, the girl wouldn’t believe her until she started experiencing more drastic changes, and even then, it was doubtful she did.

Feigning a blush – and thanking her complexion that allowed her to do it, Cadee laughed lightly. “I’m sorry, Meredith, I know how I sounded. Sometimes I tend to be over friendly. I hope you didn’t think I was hitting on you… nothing could turn me away from men.” She sighed, “it’s been a slow evening and I was pretty bored, to be honest.”

*Sure, because why else would you be talking to me. Damn, girl, has it been so long since you made a friend you’ve forgotten how?* Which was a stupid question in itself considering she’d never known how in the first place. Besides which, Cadee was a waitress, she was only being friendly because she was paid to, because it meant bigger tips. Meredith knew all about that.

“Pity.” Her eyes widened as she realised what she’d said, then she couldn’t help laughing. “I mean… I have a friend, she would have liked you. Still would… she doesn’t usually let little things like sexual orientation get in the way. Says it’s all part of the challenge.” She shrugged, taking up the bowl of largely ignored fries and loading up a forkful.

The food eased her anxiety, as did the aimless chatter. A cigarette would have been even better. God she hated sounding so dumb around strangers. She’d have to work on it, after all, a reporter had to be able to talk the truth out of anyone.

“It’s quiet tonight,” she added between mouthfuls. “Not many uniforms.”

“Still early. The S.C.U.s don’t appear till ten, at least. Always hungry, those ones.” Cadee answered, relieved that they had resorted to easy conversation.

“You know, I have a friend who may like your friend…” and then she laughed, for real this time. “If she hears me, I’m dead meat. She’s always trying to set me up. Is yours anything like that?” *Specially if she learns I’m turning her gay*

“Not exactly,” Meredith grinned at the thought of Gail, she’d been her best friend - her only friend, all through college. They’d likely be friends for the rest of their lives, in fact they joked about being a couple of gin soaked old broads in Fort Lauderdale, reminding each other to take their pills and spending all their pension on a Harley. “She thinks men are a waste of breathable oxygen, she keeps trying to turn me on to the virtues of girl on girl.”

“But you’re probably as set in your ways as I am, right?” She took an appreciative look at Meredith and nodded to herself. She was a beautiful girl, slender and full ‘in all the right places’ at the same time, great eyes and full lips. She sighed. “I love men, but… they are childish. Have yet to find one who wouldn’t wish to have a Wii-girl instead of a real one. But when I do… God help him.”

Meredith nodded, sipping more of her soda. She couldn’t imagine Cadee would have much trouble holding a guy’s attention, even one with a serious Lara Croft obsession. She was feisty and confident and gorgeous and must have a date for every day of the week. But then most men were too dumb to see the difference between reality and fantasy-

“Oh shit!” she stood up so suddenly she nearly spilt what was left of her soda. Glancing at the clock she began collecting her things, stuffing her notebook into her bag and scarfing down the rest of the chilli fries. “Damn it, sorry, I’m gonna be late for work…”

“No worries. I’m not going anywhere, we’ll probably chat again. Pleasure to meet you, really,” she said, smiling, and this time she was serious. She liked Meredith and she’d do whatever was in her power to help her. She was about to face pretty difficult times.

*I can help her, I must.* She said to herself, and that made her feel a little better.

“Er… sure,” Meredith pulled her sweater back over her head before securing her bag on her shoulder. She wasn’t really used to people being so openly friendly, but Cadee seemed nice enough, at any rate she wasn’t likely to turn psycho on her. “It was nice to meet you too. I’ll see you around… I guess.”

"You bet," Cadee said under her breath, watching her go

20:04 "Carmine's final act"

"Wake up, Carmine!  You gotta wake up!" Magda was frantic.  She could hear her Momma downstairs in the kitchen. 

Carmine laid there like he was dead.  He wasn't dead because he was breathing. Magda thanked Jesus that he didn't snore.  Her Momma called her again for dinner.  She wrote a quick note and put it with his clothes which she left on her desk chair.  She quickly cleaned herself and looked in the mirror.

She didn't look any different.  She felt sore and stupid for giving Carmine what he wanted.  The gemstone sparkled on her dresser and she smiled.  He said he'd marry her.  She loved him more than anything.  He wasn't very bright, but he was hers.

She ran downstairs to her mother and dinner.

2021-05-11 22:39 - Tuesday

"Jesus Christ!"

Carmine was awake now.  The sound was like the second coming with banging and screams and the sounds of a fight.

"Mamma, I love him!  He's going to marry me!"

You WHORE!  You SLUT You gave yourself to that MORON!  He's in a gang for Christ's sake!  You could have gone to college and been a doctor or a lawyer.  Instead you will end up in the street begging for money to feed your God-damned crack babies!"

Carmine figured he'd better not be here when she got around to him.

He pulled on his boxers and had his pants about half-way on when Magda tried to escape into her room.  Her momma was hot on her heels.  "YOU!" she said with as much acid as Carmine had ever heard.

Magda's Mom had a frying pan in one hand and a pair of bloody panties in the other.  Magda only had on a t-shirt and she had several bruises on her arms and back.  Magda cowered behind Carmine.

Carmine's Mom hefted the pan as she spoke slowly with a voice raw from screaming, "Carmine Bocelli, you ruined my baby girl.  You did something which cannot be undone.  You have destroyed her life and I promised that if you did that you would die."

Tears rolled down her momma's face and Magda just whimpered "Momma, Mamma, he loves me Momma" behind him.  Carmine  wasn't sure if he wanted to fight Magda's mom.  He figured that she'd try to come at him with the frying pan so he braced for her to charge. 

But she didn't charge.  In a move faster than he could follow she hurled the pan.  The old wooden handle slid off the pan and the tang rotated 180 degrees and buried itself in Carmine's right eye.  He dropped with a slump.  Magdalena's mother calmly pulled the pan free and pounded his head several more times in a rage until the blood splatters had covered nearly every spot of pink around the room. 

Then she started pounding on her daughter.

Later, she took 30 of her prescription painkillers and drank the last of the wine in the fridge.

22:25 "Ambush!"

2021-05-11 22:25

The Ducati’s engine purred to a stop a few blocks away from Slainté. Déjà Vue Logan thought to himself as he kicked up the stand and headed to the doorway. He had been there the night before, but Angus wasn’t, which made delivering Balthazar’s message impossible. The night hadn’t been an entire bust though. He did manage to look like a champ in front of the hot bartender.

He pushed open the door and was welcomed by a cacophony of music, and chatter. Man, this place is busy even on a Tuesday Logan thought, impressed. He lingered at the entrance for a moment, his eyes scanning the room. Sure enough, this time, behind the bar stood a giant of man, with the token red hair. Definitely can’t miss him.

Logan hesitated a second longer, this time looking for someone completely different. A smile crossed his face when he saw Cadee at the other end of the room. He debated going to say hi, but the girl looked to be engrossed in conversation. At least the guy didn't look like a creep this time.

Figuring he could catch her on the way out, Logan once again pulled up a stool at the bar.

"What can I do you for?" Angus' booming voice rang out over the chatter of the crowd.

"Actually, I've got something for you, Angus right?"

"Yes". The barkeeps demeanor changed. A second ago, the big man was warm and jovial but now suspicion crept into his eyes.

"My name's Logan, I work for Balthazar," the young man said, as he reached into his pocket and retrieved the envelop. "He asked me to give you this."

Angus' took the envelop but made no move to open it. "What's this about?"

"No clue. He didn't tell and I didn't ask".

The barkeep was still dubious about the note and the man. Balthazar's reputation was gray at best and up to now, Angus had done a good job avoiding anything to do with him. "Jenna," Angus called, motioning for one of the waitresses to take his place momentarily behind the bar. "You sure this comes from Balthazar?"

"From his hands to mine." As Logan waited for the man to get on with opening the damned thing, he stole a glance back at Cadee. The timing was right and she looked up also, noticing him as well. 'Hi' Logan mouthed, as he flashed a smile.

Finally, Angus' large hands tore open the package and he peeked inside. His stone cold poker face never faltered as he withdrew a small note and read it quietly to himself.

The young man was getting impatient."Anything you want me to tell Balthazar"?

Angus seemed to be contemplating whatever it was Balthazar had written. "Hmmm," he rubbed his beard, still thinking. "Come back next week alright?"

"Come back next week and what?" Logan replied a bit annoyed. He knew what Balthazar was like and if he didn't come back with more info than that, his boss would be taking it out on him.

"You tell him I'll have an answer for him next week". Angus' tone was equally cold.

Logan sighed; something told him it was going to be a long night. "Alright, cool, next week." He didn't bother ordering a drink, instead he looked back to see if Cadee was free. Damn, the guy is going to talk her ear off. Figuring he wasn't going to catch a break, Logan didn't bother waiting around. Gotta come back anyways...

The door barely had time to swing shut behind him before three men followed Logan out. What he hadn't realized is that these men had trailed him into the bar minutes earlier...

22:26 "Helping a Stranger"

2021-05-11 22:26 – Tuesday
Slàinte Pub

Sandoval entered the pub and instantly relaxed. Being here was a relief.  He was hours later at work than he wanted to be and he was no closer to catching his werewolf than he had been the day before.  He was hoping to meet Alison here later, but all he wanted now was a cold ale and maybe some jalapeno poppers.

He stepped up to the bar and waited his turn.  Angus slid up and gave him a sympathetic smile. “Long day?”

“You know it.  Tall glass of the Stella?  And give me an order of poppers too.”

“Ach! Those awful beasties. The only reason I carry them is because you eat them,” Angus drawled in his thick Scottish brogue, “Why don’t you ever eat anything good for you like some of the leek soup or scotch eggs?”

“For the same reason I don’t eat street hot-dogs and Korean take-out.  I don’t know what in it.  Poppers I know come frozen from the factory like God intended.”

Angus set his beer on the bar and threw up his hands.  He clipped the food order to the overhead bar and rang a bell to alert Cadee. Sandoval enjoyed baiting Angus a little too much.  He’d had some of Angus other offerings and loved them.  His sandwiches and fish and chips were fantastic lunch alternatives.  But poppers reminded him of home.

He slid into a booth with Neumann and Morgan who were talking about some of the chatter around the station.  He heard Morgan say “vampire” and cut him off, “You know better than to talk shop out here.”

Morgan looked sheepish for a second and then Neumann started to snicker.  “Damn it, Charley, you always give it away!” he said with a playful punch into Neumann’s arm. 

“Sorry Pablo, but you are such a hard-ass in the station. These guys that don’t know you like some of us do.”

Morgan looked confused, “What, so we can talk about vamps and stuff?”

Sandoval took a sip of his beer, “Most people’s head is so far up their ass, Kevin, that if you told them to their face that vampires had killed their mother, they’d think you were kidding about it.  It means you can say whatever you want.”

Pablo’s face darkened for a second, “But never forget what is real.  These monsters are out there and they will kill you as soon as look at you.  Our job is to kill them first. ”

The three were silent for a moment as all of them reflected on the darkness they had seen; the evil that filled their lives and for which they had pledged to save the city.  Then a plate of jalapeño poppers slid in between them.

“Here you go, detectives, just like my mother used to make them,” Cadee said as she slid the plate of appetizers between the three men. She was well acquainted to them all, since they used to come to Slàinte all the time.

“I didn’t know your mother was a cook, Cadee,” Newmann said, as he took one of the poppers and put it to his mouth.

“My mother was a woman of many talents, Charley,” Cadee replied, laughing. “Cooking was the least of them.”

Then she placed a bowl of a rich reddish mixture next to Sandoval, not noticing that the sleeve of her blouse slid up and showed an ugly looking cut and bruises in the process. “And the cheese and chili dip you like, detective Sandoval. Again, straight from mom’s kitchen to your table.”

"You are too good to me Cadee, unlike your red-headed boss who accuses me of being a philistine when it comes to food." Sandoval held her arm, "Hey, what is that?"

He gave her a concerned look, "I know grip bruises, Cadee.  Who's been pushing you around?"

Confused about the remark, Cadee looked down at her own arm. The cut and bruises were actually much better than last night – she had been a little worried about the cut, actually, but finally her super-healing had kicked in – but of course they were still visible, and would be for another day at least. However, since the wounds didn’t hurt anymore, she had been sloppy, even if she had donned a long sleeved blouse to hide them, to no avail. *Damn.*

She retired her arm and quickly pushed the blouse sleeve down. “It’s nothing, detective. I cut when I was cooking and my roommate just pressed it down a little too strongly to stop the bleeding.” She smiled at him. “Nobody pushes me around, promise.”

"You can't cover for abusers, Cadee.  You aren't protecting them, you are hurting yourself."

Her look told him all he needed to know, "Okay, I'm overprotective. I get it.  But a girl can't be too careful in the city."

 “I have to agree with that; but I promise, it’s not what you’re thinking.” Cadee smiled again, she didn’t like being lectured, but she did like detective Sandoval. The man was nice, well-mannered and always polite. And she respected his job; it wasn’t his fault that he made the wrong assumptions, the wounds ‘were’ grip bruises after all, only not the kind he suspected.

Suddenly, she felt observed and raised her eyes. She saw Logan smiling at her from the other side of the room, and she smiled too, happy. But then Sandoval spoke again and she turned back to him.

"I don't get you sometimes, Cadee.  You are smart and attractive.  You could get a much better paying job at an upscale restaurant downtown or even a receptionist job on Wall Street.  Why you work in this hole-in-the-wall is beyond me.  I know it isn't for the tips that cops give."

“I guess I just like cops,” she joked, and then sobered up. She knew he meant well, so she tried to answer likewise. “You know, I love cooking, and I’m taking classes. Maybe you’ll find me ‘cheff-ing’ in a fancy restaurant in some years. Hey, maybe it’ll be my own!”

“I’d eat there,” Sandoval said as he watched the stranger leave followed suspiciously by three large men in hoodies. That doesn’t look good, Pablo thought.

“Cadee, excuse me a minute, I think I see trouble.”


Logan had just left Slàinte and was halfway to his bike when he felt the sharp pain in the back of his head.

“Oumph!" With a groan, Logan crumbled to the floor. He tried to struggle back to his feet, but his vision was blurred and his balance wobbly.

"Come on, hurry up".

"He's a lot heavier than he looks."

Logan felt strong hands grab at his arms, dragging him viciously from the street to a nearby ally.

With his eyesight returning, Logan managed to lift his head with great effort. Two men were holding him fast and a third, clutching what looked like a broken off broom handle, walked a few feet ahead, urging them to move faster.

"Who the fuck are you?" Logan coughed out. His head was still swimming.

The man with the stick spun around, driving the weapon into Logan's stomach. All the air exploded from his lungs as he collapsed down to one knee.

The two men released their hold, laughing loudly at the sight of Logan struggling to stand. "You stupid git. Did you think you'd just get away with it?"

Logan finally managed to make it back to both feet, but not before stumbling backwards into a wall which he now used for support. This is when he got the first look at his attackers. At first, they seemed like regular guys in their mid-twenties, but Logan quickly noticed something really off. All their eyes glowed reddish-orange like dark, burning embers. Everything became clear - Kaoshians.

"Yeah, yeah, now you get it, don't you pretty boy," one of them mocked, as he withdrew a switchblade from his pocket. "You stuck one of these right between Bill's eyes and now we're going to return the favor!"

The logical thing to have done was run, but running was not in Logan's vocabulary, even with odds like this. He pulled off his leather jacket and tossed it to the floor so he'd have full mobility and charged forwards. The move was so brazen that it caught the Kaoshians off guard and gave Logan a temporary advantage. He body-checked the one holding the stick to the floor and managed to punch the second before the one with the knife came at him, swinging wildly. Logan barely had time to jump back as the knife came whizzing by, nicking him on his left shoulder.

"Ahh shit," he yelped, blood was already oozing through his white t-shirt. The men clearly weren't trained fighters, but they had weapons and they were a hell of a lot faster and stronger than regular humans.

The knife wielder wasted no time, lunging forward, only to be greeted with Logan's foot in his chest. The Kaoshian flew back, crashing to the floor with the sickening thud.

"Holy Shit! Did you see that?" the empty handed one gasped, amazed at the human's apparent strength.

"Just shut up and get him!"

Ducking beneath a vicious haymaker, Logan retaliated with an uppercut of his own, sending the 2nd demon spiraling to the ground. It was a good hit, but left him open to the one holding the broomstick. Logan cried out as the rod once again collided with his ribs. The pain was intense, enough so to fog his vision for a second time. This was the opening the Kaoshians needed. The one without the weapon, tugged hard on the back of Logan's t-shirt, ripping it in the process. Logan lost his footing and as he fell back, the demon rammed its fist into his lower back.

For the third time, Logan found himself on the ground, battered and bruised.

"You're definitely a scrapper, I’ll give you that," one of the demons said, as he circled the floored human. With a sadistic smile, the Kaoshian lifted his boot and brought it down on Logan's right hand.

"Ahh, fuck!" Logan whimpered, as he rolled onto his back, clutching his broken hand.

By now, all three demons had made it back to their feet and were circling the wounded Logan like a school of sharks. "You had this coming asshole!" one taunted as he spat in in the man's face.

“NYPD!  Drop your weapons!“ A voice commanded from the corner of the alley by the bar, “up against the wall, all of you!”

Sandoval had his hand on his sidearm and his badge held high.  The three guys were big, but he had backup on its way. He only had to delay them for a few minutes until the cavalry arrived.  For now, the guy on the ground would appreciate the distraction.

One of the three pulled off his hoodie exposing his chest.  His muscles were toned and as he flexed, red cracks appeared in his skin.  Fire burned from his mouth as something ignited within him.  Sandoval felt the heat before he smelled burning fabric.

Damn.  Kaoshian demons, Sandoval realized.  He reacted even as he was thinking it.  He pulled and fired a single shot into the heart of the one who was starting to burn.  The demon dropped flat on his back, dead.  The bullet wound from the 9mm fountained flame like a volcano. His half-transformed body lay still.

Another half-second and he would have been too hot for that to have worked, Sandoval thought, I’m okay as long as none of the others fire up.

“You have no rights in the city, demons,” Sandoval spoke, moving forward towards the man on the ground. “Especially if you threaten humans. If any of you homies want to become an outdoor grill like your buddy, you are welcome to try my patience. ”

The Kaoshian backed up a step – but only one. They didn't drop their weapons. “He don’t smell human to me, pig.  He got something on him.”

 What is he talking about? Logan thought as he struggled to gather his wits. His hand throbbed, and his chest was killing him, but the cop’s timely intervention had saved his life. I owe you one buddy.

"Yeah, that's right, he ain't your kind!" the other Kaoshian holding the knife added. A smirk crossed the demon's face as he noticed the officer's momentary hesitation. The accusation was enough to put a ripple in Sandoval's concentration which the Kaoshian capitalized on. He charged forwards in a burst of speed, dodging to the right as the cop fired again.

The other Kaoshian, ready to join his friend in battle, had completely forgotten that Logan was lying at his feet. He managed to take only one step before the wounded man's good hand clasped around his ankle, causing him to plummet clumsily to the floor.

"You're a dead man," the demon roared, as he hopped back to his feet only to find that Logan was already up.

The demon took a wild swing, but Logan ducked beneath it, bringing his knee up into the monster's ribs. When the Kaoshian keeled over, the man's knee was waiting again, this time connecting with the bridge of the demon's nose. With a gruesome crunch, the Kaoshian sunk unconsciously to the floor.

A heavy breath escaped Logan's lips as he winced in pain. Two down, but the cop was still tangling with the remaining demon. Time to repay the favor.

Sandoval fired a shot at the charging Kaoshian but it passed through the demon's arm hardly slowing him.  Hot breath boiled hitting Sandoval's face and he could feel the heat from his hands as its momentum drove him to the ground. Sandoval rolled back smoothly and grabbed at the Kaoshian's jacket using its momentum to throw the creature into the street and the night-time traffic.  Horns blared as the cars screeched to a halt knocking the demon around Centre Street. 

Sandoval rolled to his belly and scanned the sidewalk for his gun. The street lit up as the demon in the street ignited in a fireball and grew a full foot in stature and a five-foot long tail sprouted from its spine. Sandoval snatched his gun.

He started shouting at the human defender, "Bike. Get on the bike. Now. Go. Fully ignited Kaoshian demon coming. Run!"

The flaming Kaoshian demon melted a Prius that was in the way as it made deliberate steps through melting asphalt on its way to crush the two men.

More of Pablo's bullets rang out into the night, but with the demon in its true form, they did little to slow him down.

"Fucking pig!" the last Kaoshian bellowed with a now deep and beastly voice.

The distance between the brute and Sandoval was closing fast and it was clear the human wouldn’t have time to dodge the attack. Pablo braced himself for the impact but it never came. Logan, haven taken a running start, threw himself shoulder first into the demon, knocking them both to the ground.

Logan groaned as he fought his way back to his feet. With his shirt ripped from earlier on in the encounter, there was no protection from the heat the demon was emanating. Already the skin on his shoulder and chest was blistering.

Sandoval turned his back to the demon and the stranger and pumped his last 3 rounds into the Kaoshian that was downed in the alley.  One less creature to worry about, Pablo thought to himself.

Sandoval ran down the alleyway and to the entrance of Slàinte where Neumann and Morgan were exiting, weapons at the ready. "Over there," Sandoval pointed at the creature in the street, "Don't hit the human."

Sandoval ran inside and grabbed the CO2 fire extinguisher from the wall and jogged back outside. 

"Your friends are down and now you're the one outnumbered" Logan said, trying to buy some time.

"One of me is more than enough for a bunch of humans and you." Spinning like a top, the demon whipped its tail at Logan's feet, but the man's reflexes were just too fast. Logan jumped over flaming tail, and managed to kick the demon square in the jaw. The blow was enough to send the Kaoshian stumbling back, giving Sandoval's friends the opportunity they needed. With expert precision, bullets whizzed through the night sky digging deep into the monster's forehead. Four shots later the demon fell to the ground, its fire extinguished.

Seeing that the demon was done with, Logan's adrenaline finally gave out. A soft groan escaped his lips as he fumbled back against the ally wall, unable to stand without its support. He struggled to look up, seeing Sandoval rushing back, fire extinguisher in hand. "Don't think you'll need it," Logan coughed as a mixture of dizziness and pain forced him to one knee.

Sandoval sprayed the car, demon and several other small fires that had started.  He shot a couple of blasts onto the stranger to extinguish the embers of his tattered shirt before helping him out of the street.  “What’s your name, stranger?” he asked quietly.

“Logan,” he said roughly.

“Thanks for the help Logan, but I have a few questions for you,” Sandoval looked at the man’s injuries and helped him into a booth inside, “But they can wait for a bit.”  Outside Neumann and Morgan were dispelling the crowd with tales of a gang of hoods dousing a homeless man in gasoline and setting him on fire.

The situation was contained and no serious injuries. Except for Logan, Sandoval thought, there is something about him.  He’s human… mostly.  I wonder what he’s caught up in?

22:27 "Rocky way to start a date"

Slàinte Pub

The taxi ride from Greenwich Village to Little Italy was short. It gave Alison just enough time to once again ponder the card that Pablo had given her. Most police departments were clearly labelled – homicide, fraud, narcotics, and so forth. The Special Crimes Unit didn’t mean anything. So what exactly did Pablo’s unit investigate? Her reporter instincts were piqued, but she didn’t want to jeopardise her renewed friendship with Pablo by going behind his back to find out. She’d ask him outright, and see what he told her.

As the taxi neared its destination, traffic crawled to a standstill. When they hadn’t moved at all for a few minutes, Alison checked the street ahead. “Accident?” she asked.

“Looks like,” the driver replied.

Alison realised she was only about half a block from her destination. “I may as well get out here. We’re almost where I was going.” She paid the driver and gave him a generous tip then made her way to the bar, walking past the honking cars caught in the traffic jam. Such things weren’t at all uncommon in Manhattan, and Alison paid the pileup no particular heed as she entered Slàinte.

She glanced around the interior of the bar, hoping to spot Pablo. The place was fairly full, for a Tuesday night, and after years of interviewing police she could tell that many of the tables were occupied by off-duty cops. Even if Pablo hadn't told her that they tended to come here after work, she'd have known it was a cop bar. No cop was ever really completely off-duty, and it lent a certain air to the atmosphere. Sure, everyone was relaxed and looked to be having a good time, but at a moment's notice that could all change.

She didn't see Pablo at the bar, so she ventured further into the room to see if he was at a table. He wasn't at any of the occupied tables, but she did come across a booth with a plate of half-eaten poppers and abandoned beers littering the surface. Ordinarily she'd have figured the people sitting there had left, but there was still a jacket resting on the seat. The whole thing struck her as a bit odd. Usually if more than one person was at a table, they didn't all get up at once. Turning her back on the empty booth, she scanned the crowd once more, looking for Pablo. Maybe he'd just stepped out for a minute, or had gone to the bathroom, or something. She had no reason to believe this booth was where he'd been sitting, though. Or whether he'd even got here yet.

Cadee noticed the woman as she passed by with a tray full with four quesadilla orders, two chicken sandwiches and a hamburger. Damn, the night was turning to be nightmarish; she had to talk Angus into hiring, or she and Jenna would have to grow four hands. However, as she got to her destination and placed the orders, she smiled and chatted lightly to the people. Newcomers, they were.

As she left their table, she saw that the woman was now standing next to the SCU’s abandoned booth. Strange, where the hell could they be? Yet she didn’t linger on that thought, and approached her. She looked familiar, but she didn’t recognize her as a usual customer.

“Hello, is there anything I can do for you? Find you a table?”

Alison jumped a little, startled by the sudden appearance of the waitress. She looked vaguely familiar, but Alison couldn't place her. "Hi. Actually, I was supposed to meet a friend here. You might know him - he said he's a regular. His name's Pablo Sandoval. Juan Pablo," Alison added, recalling that casual acquaintances didn't just call him Pablo and that the waitress might not know him by that name.

Cadee smiled brightly. “Sure I know Pablo, he comes all the time. Actually, he was sitting just here,” she said, signaling the now empty booth. “Still is, I guess… poppers are still hot.”

She took another look at the woman, she did look familiar... and then it hit her. The vampire lady!! Only she didn’t look like her at all, her make up was much subdued and she was wearing jeans and a top, not so much skin exposed. I like her more like this, she thought, and smiled again.

“You’re the author, right? Lucinda Graves? I was at the signing at Barnes & Noble, with my friend Anne.”

"Ah, that's where I've seen you. I thought you looked familiar." Alison racked her brains to dredge up the woman's name. She was sure Anne had told her. "Is it Kate? Katie? I'm sorry, I try to be good with names. And please, call me Alison. Lucinda is my pen name. Tonight I'm just Alison." She smiled warmly at the waitress and glanced back at the booth behind her. "So he was just here? Hmm. He can't be far, then."

“Cadee. And I can quite understand, there’s just one of you, but hundreds of us. I actually like Alison better, if you don’t mind my saying so,” she answered, then she took another look at the booth. “I guess not, Charley’s jacket is still there. Why don’t you sit and wait for him? If I see him around, I’ll tell him you’re here.”

Alison nodded and was about to thank Cadee, when a side door opened with a bang and Pablo rushed in, grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran straight back out again.

“Well, I think I just found him. What’s going on out there?” Alison began to make her way through the room to the door to poke her head out and see what was happening. Several other people were looking that way, some standing up ready to go help if needed. Weaving her way around the tables and stirring patrons, Alison was still only halfway to the side door when it opened again to reveal Pablo helping a young man inside. 

22:31 "Evie and Jasmin in the Graveyard"

2021-05-11 22:31 – Tuesday
The Graveyard

She was coming down from her earlier, 4:20 high with Yves when Evalyn decided it was time to head out and hit the night scene.

Dressing was a serious business no matter what the occasion. As Yves lay languidly on the bed, he watched lazily, head wavering on the edge of a nap as his half naked girlfriend slowly pieced her outfit together. Occasionally Evalyn would hold up a dress or two for his judgment, “Noire ou rouge?” but it never mattered what he said. She always knew what she was going to wear – at least that's what Yves figured, concluding the rest was just her ensuring she took the stereotypical time expected of a woman to infuriate her man. He wasn't going anywhere tonight, however, and was able to enjoy the show as she wriggled into her outfit.

As Evalyn finally made her way down 42nd Street, she was wearing a classic, slinky little black dress that flattered her form, 3 inch black stilettos with diamante straps wrapped about her delicate ankles, a well cut beige trench coat that fanned out below its tie cinched at her waist as she walked, a loose knit black beret that sat just back off her fringe line, and a sparkling new choker encircling her throat.

She approached the Graveyard entrance, skipping the line roped off in red velvet, and nodded in acknowledgment to the bouncer, Jake, on duty as she made her way inside.

Evalyn noticed a lot of regulars as she swanned her way through the early crowds, but kept to herself, not pausing for any hellos. She didn't have any planned business today and just made her way to, and up, the nearby stairs to the second level. It was simply another night for casual drinks by the bar and seeing what she could glean off the evening.

The bartender, an attractive man she'd spent many a pleasurable hour with in the past, smiled as he saw her approach. “Mademoiselle Evalyn, will it be your usual then?”

Evalyn's smile was small and chiding as she unhurriedly removed her coat and shook her head. “I 'ave told you before, Sebastian. It is 'Madame', not 'Mademoiselle'.” His smile didn't waver at her lecturing words. Evalyn draped her coat on the back of her chair and took the seat as she continued, smile contorting in a more sinister manner, “If you do not start addressing me appropriately, I will 'ave to become more firm wiz you!”

“It'd be my pleasure,” his smile deepened, but he added “Madame” anyway, according to her request, and received a more generous smile in return. “So what will it be?”

“Surprise me.” Evalyn waved a hand at him, “I am not in the mood to make any more decisions tonight.”

Sebastian bowed his head in acquiesce and stepped away to go about his task.

Evalyn sighed and turned her attention to the surrounding scene, shifting around in her seat so her back was to the bar. She let her smile slip as she allowed herself to drift alone with her thoughts.

Jasmin moved through the crowd tonight with her deft and practiced path, stopping to speak with patrons on occasion. It was good to put in a personal appearance sometimes, she knew, tonight in one of her longer red dresses and corset. As she moved about and stopped, she gave a glance to the bar, catching the familiar face there, and smiled to herself.

Moving behind Evalyn silently, she tapped her on the shoulder, not even giving her a chance to respond when she turned around. Kissing her quickly on both sides of the cheek, her lips as chilly as the room, “Evalyn, good to see you again,” she spoke softly, remembering the times they'd met before. “Thank you so much for that book you found me – it has been a very interesting read, indeed. How are you doing this evening?”

“Jasmin!” Evanlyn's surprise lasted momentarily, and she rose, smiling, to give her friend a warm hug to contrast the kisses, then parted to lightly plant two of her own. “As well as can be. I am glad you enjoyed the book!” Her eyes went distant then and her smile sly as she recalled what she'd done to acquire it. Sometimes stuffy old professors were quite fun. Yves didn't quite share her opinion, but she knew how he enjoyed the company of his “cat-sitter” regularly enough that he couldn't argue.

She tuned her attention back to Jasmin then, “And yourself? You are looking gorgeous as usual.”

“Much better now that I have someone very easy to look at seated in front of me.” She gave a slight smile as the banter went on. Evalyn bore the distinction of being one of the people who she actually, genuinely enjoyed her company. “A bit busy lately. Seriously starting to consider putting out an ad to hire a personal assistant. Business or pleasure tonight?”

“Pleasure, unless interesting business presents itself,” she sighed. Evalyn doubted the business she wanted would, but she'd wait as long as she needed.

Just then, Sebastian returned with her drink, “Here you are Madame,” he pronounced as he set the chilled martini glass on the bar containing a ghostly white substance.

“Oh!” Evalyn exclaimed with pleasure as she reached gracefully for the drink, settling her fingertips curiously at the base of the stem. “What is it?”

Sebastian's teeth sparkled as he grinned ear to ear at the obvious delight in Evalyn's eyes and lowered his voice, “It's a White Spider. Very popular with London-based fashion journalists.” He said, eying her appreciatively for one more lingering moment before turning that winning smile to his employer.

“Would you like anys'ing yourself, Mademoiselle?” Evalyn asked Jasmin as she admired the bartender over her glass and slid it toward herself. He was so genuinely eager to please, perhaps she could convince Jasmin to give him to her. She chuckled softly to herself at the images in her mind.

Qu'est-ce que c'est?


Mademoiselle. The address hung there. It always pleased her to hear the other woman call her that. It made her feel young again, and not at all as though she had watched the world change over the course of three generations thus far. The fact that she was still single just made it even easier to accept. “My dear, if I did not know any better, I would think that you wanted to take advantage of me.”

With a quick, dismissive hand to the bartender, she moved to steady herself with a hand on the bar. Why did she love surprises? If anything, after so long, she came to value routine and consistency. “Would you like to go somewhere more private to talk?”

“M-but of course!” Evalyn exclaimed, gently rising from her seat and lifting her coat off the back.

“Would you be a gentleman and take care of my apparel?” She turned to ask Sebastian. He grinned and, naturally, walked readily around the bar to take her coat with a gracious bow. Evalyn chuckled again. Yes, she'd definitely have to ask Jasmin if she could have an early birthday present. As he rose, she honeyed her tone, “Merci, Monsieur,” and blew him a kiss from her fingers now freed of the coat.

Picking up her White Spider, Evalyn turned back to Jasmin with a conspiratorial smile. “Once again, I must admit, you do employ ze finest specimens.”

Jasmin chuckled a bit, leading her across the floor, holding open the door to her office. The interior was designed in a Victorian manner, with mahogany furniture throughout; immediately behind her desk, with computer sat on it, in the center of the wall hung a Chinese broadsword. One wall held her liquor cabinet, with personal stock; while another was a bookcase with several of her own books in there, dominated by binders. Two posh chairs sat in front of the desk, with another behind. Jasmin took one of the seats in front of the desk as they came in, crossing one leg over the other.
“Always charming,” she said as Evalyn shut the door behind her. “And looking for business. With my evil self, I hope?”

“Always anys'ing for you, ma chère.” Evalyn answered with a warm smile as she let her gaze wonder over Jasmin's office. It lingered on the Orb of Thessala, as it always did. That particular acquisition of Jasmin's always amused her no end, and had she the mind, she'd inform her friend of what she possessed. But she never did. Would be too much of a good joke spoiled.

Smile deepening, her gaze continued until it fell on the Chinese broadsword where she paused a moment to appraise it.

Evalyn was trying to guess the age of the old artifact as she drew up the chair opposite her friend and settled back with a satisfied sigh, crossing her legs. “Is zat new?” She asked once comfortable, gesturing absently towards the sword with her drink before taking a sip.

What was so fascinating about her paperweight, Jasmin wondered? She wasn't about to ask; knowing her, it was just the other woman admiring pretty things, as she always did. “Yes, actually. Worked my way up to that and Snake. Get to do the exam at the start of next month to see if Sifu will pass me.” And it only took her most of the time practicing to advance that far.

“Félicitations!” Evalyn said raising her glass to her friend, then chuckled, “And 'ere I was for a second s'inking you 'ad cheated on me wiz anozzer.” She winked, then glanced curiously back at the sword, “Myself, I 'ave no idea 'ow to use a sword. Je préfère mes couteaux.” She grinned and, in her free hand that had been casually resting in her lap, a knife suddenly flashed into existence, throwing the light of Jasmin's desk lamp in all directions as it spun effortlessly in Evalyn's fingers. Then as quick as that it was gone again.

“Believe me, Evalyn, my dear – should I ever meet someone that I can love from the evilness of my heart, you will be the first to be introduced to her.” She folded her hands lightly, looking over to her. It was the nice thing of her being one of the few to know what she was. She could be more herself. “Anything I can help you with business wise?”

Evalyn cocked her head in thought, her foot bouncing lightly in the air, “Ozzer zan ze usual – a lead on zat murder back at the Standard in LA...?” she paused, letting her words trail off as she glanced back at Jasmin. She saw what passed for an apologetic look briefly cross the vampire's face and suppressed a sigh. She hadn't expected any news of the kind. It seemed less and less likely that she ever would get it! But still, she had to ask. If anyone could catch word, it'd be Jasmin.

“Zen no,” she resumed her smile, “I am just enjoying a night out wiz a beautiful friend.” Evalyn said and took a sip from her drink, allowing her bouncing foot to slow and lightly brush Jasmin's leg. “Iz zere anys'ing I can do for you, per'aps? Business wise, of course.” She grinned, lowering her glass.

“Not unless you can recommend a good personal assistant for me,” she answered evenly, eyes dropping to her foot for a moment. The flirting was always enjoyable, leading her to only conclude that Evalyn was a very strange woman indeed. “Otherwise? Just the company of a friend will be nice. Keep me from getting bored.”

“Alors, I do not know about a good personal assistant, but I s'ink I can 'elp wiz ze bordom,” Evalyn said and rose from her chair to place her drink on Jasmin's desk, ensuring there was a coaster beneath it before she set it down on the rich mahogony surface. “I brought some exquisite 'erbs wiz me,” She turned a sly smile back to Jasmin, “Can I fix you a Bloody Mary?” Without waiting for an answer she manouvered her way around the chair and made her way to Jasmin's liquor cabinet. “Where do you keep your finest stock?”

“The fridge a little to your left,” Evalyn twisted around to see where Jasmin was pointing at one of the paneled doors.

“Ah,” Evalyn exclaimed and bent forward from the waist to open the door and retrieve the vital ingredients. She then proceeded to make Jasmin's drink, sprinkling the tiniest bit of her special herbs into the mix and making sure it was thoroughly blended in. The stuff was of a pretty potent strain and she didn't want her friend to catch it all in one unfortunate hit. Although, she admitted to herself, it wouldn't be the end of the world and might prove quite amusing.

With the final flourish of a celery stick added, Evalyn carried the drink back to her friend, hips swaying as she walked, “Bon appétit!”

Jasmin's eyes fixed on her momentarily, raising the drink in a mock salute. “You are, as always, a charmer. Reminds me of the wrap party for King Arthur, except without the car crash.” She lifted the blood drink and tried it, closing her eyes and starting to feel very, very relaxed. “Is this what feeling high is like?”

Evalyn chuckled at the naivety of her friend as she picked up her own glass again. It was hard to imagine that, being as old as she was and having all she'd experienced in life and afterlife, she'd never experienced such a small and simple thing as a little weed. “Give it a bit longer, zen you'll see. It is a bit more powerful consumed straight up, but I 'ardly s'ink in'aling it will work so well for you.”

She watched a little longer, curiosity pulling the corner of her lips into a slightly warped smile to see how it'd effect her vampire friend. Initially she was unsure if it'd work at all, but as Jasmin started to slip a little further into her chair with a different kind of smile slowly spreading on her face, Evalyn grinned a little deeper. “Careful, or I s'ink you might be on ze floor soon,” She chuckled as Jasmin giggled in response. Yes, it'd appear the mixed drink was quite effective.

Suddenly Evalyn wished she could have her pipe in hand so she could join, but settled for her drink instead which was exceedingly good and quite powerful in its own right! Sebastian must have put something extra of his own in to spice it up a bit. Evalyn took another long draft, near finishing the remainder of its contents.

Jasmin looked at her evenly and had noticed the look of consternation that had passed across Evalyn's face before she'd eagerly downed her cocktail. “No smoking in here, dear. We can't cover that up here. Have to use the terrace of the apartment. She drank down some more of her bloody mary, and then made a quick decision. Last night's `me time` got ruined. She wound up working all night and having a hell day. Tonight would be better. “Do you want to actually see my apartment?”

Evalyn's head perked up. Check out Jasmin's apartment? Could be fun. She'd never seen where the vampire actually lived. She'd often wondered in the past if Jasmin had a pimped out crypt somewhere like other vampires she'd heard of. “Where do you live?” She asked.

“I have a penthouse apartment in Soho.”

Evalyn raised her eyebrows and suddenly wondered why she should be so shocked. Jasmin did, after all, appreciate the finer things in life nearly as much as Evalyn.

Her decision was made, and raising her glass to the rest of the night, she toasted. “Sounds delightful!”


22:38 "The date, proper"

2021-05-11 22:38 - Tuesday

The booth Sandoval left him in was plush and comfortable, allowing Logan a second of respite before he noticed the commotion that was growing in the bar. Ah, crap. The frightening sound of gunfire had caused half the patrons to flee the area, while those who stayed were now gawking and glaring like they were on the set of some Hollywood action film. The cops were scrambling to defuse the situation, offering up bogus explanations to anyone who may have caught a glimpse of the Kaoshians.

"Oh my god." Cadee broke through the crowd, pushing her way towards Logan. The remnants of his tattered shirt was soaked in blood, burn marks covered his exposed chest and shoulder and the way he was holding one of his hands did not look good.

"You know, it seems every time we run into each other, I'm getting into trouble. I'm beginning to think you're a bad luck charm." He tried to force a smile, but his weary eyes spoke volumes.

“You can call me Jinx..."Cadee scanned his wounds quickly and tried to smile. Not good, not good at all.  “Damn, boy, what happened to you?” Without waiting for his response, she turned around and shooed away the patrons gathering around Logan’s booth. 

“Show’s over, fellas, let’s give the man here some oxygen. ” She searched and found Angus with her eyes, and sent him a silent question. At his nod, she added. “Free drinks at the bar, for your inconvenience. You better hurry before Angus’ generosity runs out. ”

Pablo stepped to the side to let Cadee in. She seemed to know some first aid and he was still coming off the stress of the fight outside. He glanced back to his table where he knew he had a beer waiting and saw Alison making her way towards them. Pablo straightened his shirt and wiped his face with Cadee's towel before standing to go and meet her.

People moved away from the table: some to collect their free drinks, some heading outside to check on the commotion first-hand. Cadee slid into the booth next to Logan. He was resting on the back of the seat and had closed his eyes, his breathing quick, but steady. She looked at his scrapes and cuts, but focused on his burns. “What happened, Logan, did you stumble into a grill or something?” she asked. 

A slight chuckle turned into a cough, which had Logan wincing. What was he supposed to tell Cadee: there was a brawl outside the bar with a bunch of demons? When he had been introduced to the supernatural truths, Balthazar made it clear that it's not a topic to discuss with anyone outside of 'the know'. The pretty little blonde waitress was most definitely not in 'the know'.

"Some gangsters lit this homeless guy on fire," Logan finally lied, having overheard a bit of the cop’s story. "And what kind of guy would I be if I only came to the rescue of attractive, blonde bartender types?"

Cadee giggled, as she wiped the blood from Logan's chest. She knew better than to believe Logan’s lie about a homeless bum set on fire, but at the moment she was at a loss, and she wasn’t about to ask and blow her cover. You’ve got to be a liar to spot another, she said to herself. Never mind, she’d find the truth soon enough.

“A very bad guy indeed. Not at all like you, right?” Then she got serious again. She looked for Sandoval with her eyes; maybe he had other plans, but saw that he was engaged in conversation with the vampire lady. “Do you want me to call anybody? 911, perhaps? Somebody should take a look at those burns…”

Pablo stood awkwardly in front of Alison. Hug, kiss, what’s appropriate?

"Sorry for the excitement. It's the city. Always on duty. I'm glad to see you, though."

"Excitement is right." Oblivious to his indecision, Alison peered over Pablo's shoulder at the man in the booth. Cadee had got there first and was already tending to him. "What happened out there? I ran into a traffic jam on the way here - I presume that had to do with whatever this was about. I think your buddy there needs an ambulance."

"One of the horrors of the city. A homeless man set on fire by hoods. He ran into the street and set a car on fire. Needless to say, it caused a traffic issue. The guy in the booth is a bystander who rushed in to help." Pablo looked over his shoulder, "It's rare to find a person who will risk himself for a stranger."

He glanced back to Alison, "There are two of the men from my department out there dealing with it. It’s under control. I didn't want to miss you."

Alison quirked an eyebrow. “Wow. You have changed. I remember you standing me up more than once because duty called.” She smiled to take the sting out of those words. “Not that I minded, really. I understood. Like now. If you need to deal with this, we can take a rain check.” Once upon a time she’d have been horrified to hear about someone being set on fire. After living in New York for several years, she’d become somewhat inured to such things.

"Back then, I was trying to make a name for myself. I was a rookie cop with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove. Nowadays, I’m more confident in my career. People respect me and my position. I can afford to give some time to... other concerns. And maybe it’s about time I did." Impulsively he leaned in and kissed her.

It only took Alison a microsecond to get over her surprise and to respond to Pablo’s kiss. It was familiar, comfortable, and it didn’t particularly carry any overtones beyond that of old friends meeting each other after many years apart. But it was nice. He tasted of beer and jalapenos – sort of nutty and spicy, and it made Alison feel safe.

“It’s good to see you again, too,” she murmured. “Now, let’s get this poor man seen to. I think Cadee’s running out of towels to mop up his blood.”

Cadee was trying to clean an ugly cut in Logan’s arm without actually worsening things, when Logan finally answered. “No. No 911.” He could understand her concern, but Balthazar wouldn’t like to be oiling the path out of a 911 situation. “Just give me a few minutes and I’ll be good as new.”

She stopped her ministrations and frowned at him. “No way you’re leaving here like this. Either you tell me who to call or I’ll take you to a hospital myself. Or tell the detective right there that you’re being stubborn.”

Logan made a face but acquiesced. “Just let me call my boss,” he said, taking a cell phone from a clip in his belt. “He’ll send someone.”

An EMT walked into the bar and looked around. Pablo spotted him and waved. "Excuse me, Alison. Just some wrapping-up to do. I promise I’ll be right back."

Pablo showed the EMT his badge and handed him a card, "Listen carefully, take those dead and charred carcasses to this address. Tell them 'Code Seventy-Seven' and they will take it from there. Don't worry about anything strange you see, it isn't your problem. And while you’re here..." Pablo looked over at Logan who glared at Pablo. He didn't want to be seen. He also wasn't going to get better.

Pablo decided to stick his neck out for him. He'd saved Pablo's life after all. "Take care of this guy but don't put it in your log. If you need to put a name, put mine. It's on the card. I take full responsibility."

Cadee relaxed when she saw the EMT head their way, even if she saw Logan didn’t like it a bit. But, what the hell, he needed medical attention. She got up and left space for the technician to work.

“Well, I leave you in good hands, Logan. I have to go or Angus will have my head.” She smiled at him before leaving. “Let’s hope our next encounter doesn’t include a fight, ok?”

He smiled at her, but immediately gritted his teeth as the EMT started to work on him. "Third time's a charm right?"

Pablo slid in to the booth that Cadee had vacated. "Logan, I owe you so if you need help, just let me know. And don't worry about this," he said indicating the EMT. "It’s off the record."

He slid a card cross the table. "You have my number; I’ve got to go."

Alison caught Cadee's eye before she headed back to her job. She figured she’d get more information out of the waitress than from Pablo. "Is it always this... eventful in here?" She indicated the burned man in the booth. "Who is he? You seemed to know him."

“What can I say; it’s a cop bar.” Cadee laughed, then she looked again at Logan, who was now talking to Pablo, the phone forgotten in his hand. “Actually, no. He just helped me with a bothersome drunk last night, and we sort of connected. And now this… I guess he’s a Good Samaritan type.” She winked at Alison, “And I like him.”

Alison's gaze slid from the burned man to Pablo, who was already rising from the booth. "Yeah," she replied wistfully. "You should hang on to the ones you like."

She shook herself and looked back at Cadee. "Well, I shouldn't keep you from your work. It was good to meet you again. And who knows, you may see more of me here, if all goes well." She could feel Pablo stepping into place beside her so she said no more but merely smiled at Cadee.

"That'd be great," Cadee answered, smiling. She looked at Pablo who was approaching them, and realized what she meant. Niiiice. "Good luck with that."

22:50 "After Hours"

Slàinte Pub

Alison turned to face Pablo, who came up beside her as Cadee left to return to her work. She smiled at him abashedly and said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to abuse my position now. This isn’t my usual thing anymore, but there’s a story out there.”

Pablo's brow knitted. He had sort of forgotten this aspect of her personality. The newshound. Keeping the secrets of the SCU right after he was recruited to the unit had contributed to them drifting apart.

"I suppose if I’m going to play cop on our dates I have to expect you to play reporter."

"'Fraid so. A good reporter's never off-duty either." She leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek. "I promise I'll only be a few minutes, I just want to get some snaps. Can I tell your cop buddies out there that you've given me an exclusive?"

"I suppose," he said reluctantly. He was certain that they'd give the cover story that they had hastily thrown together. Anything vague or suspicious would be covered by 'that information is pending the investigation'.

"Just hurry back, I'd hate to ruin a date on account of work, for either of us."

“Definitely. If you want to finish off your poppers, I’ll be back before you know it.” She grinned at him and left him to find his own way back to his original table. Heading to the side door to get her pictures, she realised there was still activity nearby.

“No, I’m not going to hospital!”

It was the injured man in the booth who was talking. Alison could see that the EMT had more or less finished ministering first aid and was now speaking to someone on his radio – presumably with the ambulance outside. Seeing the merest of opportunities, Alison slid into the seat opposite the man while the EMT was busy conferring with his colleagues. Fishing around in her purse, she pulled out her digital recorder and set it on the table in front of her.

“Hi,” she said, sliding one of her business cards across to the man. “I’m Alison Scruggs, reporter. The Detective over there says you’re a hero. Would you mind talking to me about what happened? Just a brief statement will be fine.”

Logan gritted his teeth as the pain in his shoulder flared up. Ah shit. He could just imagine how mad Romano would be if it came out that Logan was somehow attached to this debacle. Low profile was one of his boss's major mantras.

"I'm not a hero," he finally said, trying to play up the pain so that maybe the reporter would leave him alone. "There was a guy in trouble and I did what I could to help him out, that's all really.” Keep it simple, he thought. Give her one little comment and maybe she wouldn’t fish around for more info.

Hmm. It was one of these non-talkative types. It wasn’t surprising, given his reluctance for medical treatment. Clearly this man had secrets of his own – but she wasn’t interested in those right now. She pushed gently. “A guy in trouble? I heard he was on fire. Did you see what happened?”

"It really happened pretty fast," he said, trying to come up quickly with some sort of story that would appease her appetite and stop any follow up questions. "I was coming out of here; saw these punks picking on some homeless guy. By the time I got there, the guy was up in flames and the punks jumped me."

"Wow. Most people in New York would just look the other way, you know. So what happened next?" Having already got Pablo’s side of the story, she knew there was more to it, and wanted to see how closely this man’s account matched Pablo’s.

"Then I did my best to try and fight the punks off and get the guy to drop and roll. I wasn't able to get to him in time, but I did manage to knock out a couple of the guys before the cops came out to help. They opened fire and it was all over. I was pretty banged up though...like I said, it's a bit of a blur."

"Well, you did far more than most people would. May I have your name for the story?" She saw the frown begin to crease his forehead before she'd even finished asking, and she couldn't say she was surprised. He'd already tried to refuse the EMT and had refused a trip to the hospital. "I won't publish it if you don't want me to," she added quickly, trying to allay his fears.

He sighed, relieved that she wasn't going to push it more than that. "My name's Logan... off the record."

"Off the record," she confirmed. "If you're not going to the hospital, you probably ought to get home and rest soon. Thanks for your time, Logan."

There was no way he’d agree to having his photo taken, she knew, so she didn’t even bother to ask. Instead, she slipped out the nearby side door that Pablo had used to bring Logan inside, and surveyed the alleyway where it seemed the bulk of the action had taken place. A couple of detectives were already on the scene – presumably Pablo’s drinking buddies, but they were busy directing EMT’s who were just zipping up a body bag. Knowing she had scant moments to get a candid shot, she held up her iPhone and grabbed a series of snaps of the alleyway, then zoomed in on the pair of body bags lying on the ground.

In the street beyond, she could make out the smouldering wreckage of a car, and tried to edge a bit closer to get a better angle on it.


She turned her head, her press pass already in hand. She lifted it up to show the advancing cop. “Hello, Detective. Alison Scruggs. I was just trying to get a couple of photos. I happened to be in the bar waiting for my old friend, Pablo Sandoval, when all this happened. He just gave me an exclusive on the story.” She smiled sweetly at the Detective. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, so she hazarded a guess. “You must be Charley, I suppose.”

He’d looked just about ready to order her back inside regardless of her story, but when she knew his name, he hesitated. “Look, you really shouldn’t be here,” he said sternly.
“This is an active crime scene. But since you’re Pablo’s friend, I’ll escort you up a little ways. But then you’re going right back inside, okay?”

“That’s fine. Thanks, I appreciate it.”

She got some good photos of the Prius and the attendant pileup, took photos of the Detectives, the EMTs and even sneaked in another shot or two of the body bags as they were loaded into the back of an ambulance. She made sure to get everyone’s name and chatted with Charley, getting yet another angle on the story. He spun the same line about a group of guys attacking some homeless man. Finally she flashed a smile at her escort.

“That’s it. I’ll get back out of your hair. Thank you so much, Charley.”

Back inside Slàinte, she pocketed her iPhone and recorder, and peered around looking for Pablo. He was back in his original booth, polishing off the jalapeno poppers. She joined him, sitting opposite him, and pushed a half-drunk beer out of her way. “They’re just about done out there. The bodies were being loaded into the ambulance when I left. Thanks for indulging me. It’s been a while since I did a crime scene like this, but I was right here…” She shrugged. “I couldn’t pass it up.”

"I wish I'd passed up the poppers. Blecch...they’re sitting kind of heavy."

She laughed at his stupid joke and in that moment he remembered what it was that had made him go to all this trouble to reconnect. He missed her, he realized. He'd dated a few women in the last seven years but they'd been short come-and-go relationships. They fit together in their lives but not their jobs. He held hope that time had changed that.

"So what would you like to do from here?"

"Well..." Alison gazed around the pub, seeing the red and blue flashes from outside reflecting off the mirrors behind the bar. "I'm easy. It's okay here, but I'd understand if you want to go somewhere else, all things considered. Hell, they may ask you to fill out paperwork or something. We can't be having that."

She picked up one of the poppers off the plate. They were starting to cool, but were still warm enough. Biting down on it, she grinned at Pablo. "Do you know, I don't think I've eaten one of these since... well, since we used to go out."

No guts, no glory, Sandoval thought. "We could take a cab back to my place in East Harlem." He let the suggestion hang for only a second before taking the hand she'd been
casually wiping on a napkin.

Alison raised an eyebrow. “Oh, Mr. Keen, are we?” she said lightly.

He replied offhandedly, "No pressure. Just two friends. Coffee. I might even have something on the video we could watch. Or...if it's too late, I'll gallantly see that you get home first."

"You know, my place is a lot closer than East Harlem. I'm just in Greenwich Village. And I have coffee."

"That makes the gallant part easy," he said, tossing some cash on the table. "Let's go. Cab or walk?"

2021-05-11 23:20 – Tuesday
Greenwich Village

Alison kicked off her shoes in the kitchen and padded over her hardwood floors to where Pablo sat at the dining table by the picture window. The view from the penthouse loft was impressive, especially at night. She handed a steaming cup of coffee to him and stood for a moment, staring out the window.

"I never get sick of this view. New York at night looks like someone's gone mad with Christmas lights. It's so beautiful."

She pulled out a chair and sat, resting her cup on a coaster to let it cool a little. It was just a trifle too hot to drink yet. "I owe this all to Lucinda Graves. That, and people's insatiable appetite for a good vampire story."

"Vampires and insatiable appetites go together well," he said cryptically. "From up here you might think everything was normal. But don't let this cynical cop ruin it for you."

He dragged his eyes away from the vista, and concentrated on Alison. "How much of Alison is Lucinda?"

Alison pondered that one for a moment. "It's hard to say. When I'm writing, I'm probably as much like her as I'll ever be. I let my imagination run wild and despite all the horrible things I put my heroine through I almost envy her the exciting life she leads. When I'm out in public as the author of the Darque series, though, it can be hard to keep up that sexy façade." She shrugged. "It feels pretentious a lot of the time, but it's the image we've cultivated and it seems to sell books."

"You don't have to put on sexy, it is part of who you are," he grinned at her. "Seductorisima."

She felt a slight blush creep up her neck and she glanced down at her coffee. Deciding it was cool enough to drink she picked it up and sipped at it, using the time to get herself under control. She discarded half a dozen flip lines to use in reply and settled instead for changing the subject.

"So what about you? Being a hard-boiled New York cop can't be easy.”
She figured she might as well just take the plunge and ask the question that was uppermost in her mind – the reporter part of her, at least. She wasn’t willing to listen to the other part of her just yet. “What sort of cases do you have to deal with, anyway? Your card said Special Crimes - but that could mean anything."

Where did that come from? Damn her reporter instincts. "You know how if a criminal commits a crime over state lines it goes to the FBI? Or if they threaten national security they go to Homeland Security? Or when it is a matter of diplomats and foreign powers the CIA takes the case? We make that determination. We act a central liaison between federal agencies and the NYPD. Our unit was formed just after 9-11 to deal with coordinating the New York enforcement agencies FDNY, NYPD, Border Patrol, Subways systems and City Hall with the US Government. New York does so much that it needs someone to figure out who to call when it goes over our heads."

Wow, write that down, it almost sounded plausible! he thought.

Alison blinked. Wow, he's good. That almost sounded plausible.

She toyed absently with her coffee cup, her eyes fixed on Pablo's face. The signs were subtle, but she was sure he wasn't telling her everything. "Uh huh," she said noncommittally. "So... what was Code 77? And why would the EMT see something strange? I get the feeling those weren't just regular thugs."

His expression hardened ever so slightly, and she grimaced. "Look, I know you've probably got sensitive material you have to deal with. And you think I'm just being a nosy reporter type. And, well, to an extent I am. But I'm happy to write a story about a homeless guy being attacked by hoods. I just want to know, for myself, what sort of work are you really involved in? If we're... I mean, if this... you and me meeting up again like this, if it's what it feels like, then I want to know."

Pablo sat quietly for a long moment.

Look at the time; I've kept you up too late, already.

He looked into her eyes and at her face and the soft curls of her hair on her shoulder and remembered what it smelled like in the cab.

I'm sorry, that's classified. I'm sure you'll understand.

He watched the steam from her coffee curling past her face and realized she was holding her breath.

We have just built this bridge, Alison, do you want to burn it so soon?

"Alison, if I tell you: am I telling you...or the reporter in you?"

Damn you for an idiot, Alison Patricia Scruggs, she berated herself. She let out her breath slowly, her lungs beginning to burn from holding it for that interminable pause while she watched an entire world of possibilities hang by a thread.

She reached over and laid her hand on his where it rested on the table. "You know what?
As long as you have to ask that question, I don't need to know that badly. Please, just tell me that you're not doing anything that's going to put you in danger. Well, no more than any cop does, that is."

"The mission is to enforce the laws, preserve the peace, reduce fear, and provide for a safe environment," he said soberly. "But there are ... obligations that come with that mission that I can't really talk about with you. Not right now anyways. It's good work though, Alison, just like it always has been."

"I don't doubt that for a second, not with you."

"I never thought you did. But part of my mission includes secrets. For what it's worth, a 'Code 77' isn't my secret; it belongs to a federal agency. It’s a pre-arranged message. It means 'I'll be in later to sign the paperwork.' Really."

"Sure it is," Alison rejoindered with a sly grin, lightening her tone to turn it into more of a joke. "Ooh, I know. You're Mulder and you're looking for aliens."

He stared at her for a beat, "That's a science fiction reference, isn't it? Sorry, I never got into it much. Just hopeless, I guess. I don't suppose your appreciation for modern art has improved either, has it?"

Alison shook her head. "Nope. I may have to tie you down and force you to watch Firefly in return for you dragging me to a gallery."

He stood up and walked over to hold her shoulders, "I want to try again. We have to remember who we are and discover who we've become. It isn't like starting over, it's like..." He glanced at his watch. "It’s like midnight. It's tomorrow already. Time to start a new day."

2021-05-12 - Wednesday

05:41 "Sunrise"

Carmine wasn't sure where he was or how he got here. It was dark.  He felt numb, like he did when he went to the dentist, but all over.  He heard distant sounds that sounded like wind but occasionally it sounded like words.  He could hear God, and Jesus, and Help. But it was hard to focus on individual voices there were so many.  Or maybe it was just wind.


He heard The Voice say. He tried to say "Yes?" but he couldn't.  But The Voice must have heard him 'cause it continued.


What? I don't understand.


What do I have to do every day?


He had to think about that.  Maybe. He could kill people if he had to.  He thought he could.  No, he was sure he could.  Yes.

Carmine opened his eyes.  He was in Magda's room.  Magda was positioned on her bed with her hands folded on her chest.  She was wearing a white dress that was covered with bloody hand-prints.  He couldn't see her face.  He smelled of piss and blood.  When he stood up to go to her, he saw himself in the mirror and realized that he only had one eye.  The other eye was sort of smooshed and dangling from its socket.  His head was throbbing and he could see that one side of it was sort of caved in.

He whirled to look at Magda.  Her face was a bloody pulp.  Carmine's blood boiled.  He raced through the house until he found Magda's mom face down in the kitchen.  She had puked all over the floor.  Her breath was shallow and her skin was pale and clammy.  The bloody frying pan was there on the floor.

Carmine picked her up and strangled her until she stopped breathing completely. Then he dropped her and he went through the house looking for something to put over his eye and a hat to wear.

As he was leaving the house he looked back into the kitchen.  Her body was gone. Back to Jesus, i suppose, like Magdalena, he thought.

"I still have to kill someone, too, can't forget that," he muttered to himself, trying to form a list of people he wouldn't mind killing. 


12:41 "The Wolf Awakens"

NYU Campus Cafeteria - 12:41


Meredith ran a frustrated hand through her hair as she scribbled another line out of her notebook - barely resisting the urge to tear the page out and toss it across the cafeteria. She had a paper due on Friday for her Critical Analysis class - usually the words flowed, spilling out of her head and filling up page after page. But lately… it was like her mind couldn’t focus.

It didn’t help that she was sat in the middle of the crowded cafeteria at lunch time. Students streamed through the packed room, crammed into overflowing tables. The chatter alone was enough to drive Meredith insane, but every time someone dropped a fork, or scraped their knife against a plate, it made her grind her teeth in irritation.

What the hell was wrong with her?

Reaching into her bag, she grabbed her Walkman and slid the headphones in place. That was better, nothing like a bit of Whitesnake to soothe the savage beast. Her fingertips tapped against the table in time to the music. Retrieving her notepad, Meredith reread what she’d written so far, her free hand snagging a fresh lollipop from her stash. Strawberry - her favourite. She’d rather it were a pack of Marlboro Lights… maybe that was what was wrong with her, nicotine deprivation. That and she was waiting, she hated waiting around. *Where the hell are you, Gail?*


Meredith rolled her eyes, feeling her jaw tighten at the mere sound of the voice piercing the din of the cafeteria. Pulling the hood of her sweater over her head, she turned the volume up on her Walkman. Maybe if she just ignored him…


No such luck. A rough hand yanked back her hood with a cruel chuckle as several chairs scraped against the hard tile floor. Meredith looked up, her dark eyes glaring with irritation. Jason Templeton, King of Delta-Kappa-Epsilon and general fuck-wit. He was also her ex. Sort of.

Jason grinned. He was a typical frat boy, built like a brick wall with classic all-American good looks from his perfectly gelled hair to his pressed slacks. Today he was flanked by two other frat-clones - Ben and Jerry or whatever the hell their names were - Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum for all she gave a rats ass. They were his groupies, his bitch-boys, just like the rest of Delta-Kappa-Epsilon, sucking Templeton’s dick for him like he didn’t have a flock of brainless sorority girls lined up and more than willing to oblige.

They had dated. Briefly. Back when Meredith was a doe-eyed little freshman grateful for the attention and Jason was still at least pretending to be a decent human being. On their third date they’d gone ice skating at the Rockefeller Centre, he’d bought her hot chocolate and warmed her freezing hands in his pockets. Then he’d driven her home in his Hummer. It might have been one of those movie perfect dates, if only he’d not pulled into a lay-by and torn her shirt and slapped her around the face when she wouldn’t let him cop-a-feel.

Meredith sighed, setting down her lollipop and sliding her headphones back. She pressed the clunky ‘STOP’ button on her Walkman with an audible ‘CLICK’. She could try ignoring him, but past experience had taught her that had little effect. Best to just indulge his super ego and hope he had some place better to be by the time Gail showed up.

“What the fuck is that piece of crap?” he was pointing at her Walkman, Meredith shrugged before sliding it into her book bag. “Fuck, Bell, if you were short on cash all you had to do was say…” he pulled out his wallet, counting out a wad of notes. He set the money down on the table and pushed it towards her. “Consider it a loan, you could chuck out that hunk of shit and get yourself an Ipod like mine,” his gaze turned leery, centring on her chest, “or some decent clothes.”

Meredith felt her temper flare but she held it in, it was too crowded and though they pretended not to be, everyone was listening. She inhaled deeply, her glare burning a hole through his smug forehead. “Go away, Jason.”

“Oh come on,” he insisted, looking to his buddies for encouragement - like he needed it. “If you’re worried about paying me back, I’m sure we can work out some kind of arrangement. Me, I got all the pussy I need, but my boys here could always find a use even for a frosty little prick tease like you.” Picking up her discarded lollipop, his lips quirked slightly. “Maybe give you something else to suck on.”

Neanderthal number one grinned, punching fists with Jason. “We could get bonus points for thawing the ice queen out of her panties.”

“You gotta watch out though,” Jason laughed cruelly, “Bell’s so frigid she nearly gave my cock frostbite.”

Her chair fell to the ground, the sound echoing in the now quiet cafeteria. Meredith had leapt to her feet but she couldn’t move. Her fingers clenched themselves into tight fists at her sides, itching to take a swing at the arrogant bastard, to vent that burning, consuming rage. She wanted to tell him to take his money and shove it up his ass, if he had room up there with all the sycophantic jerk-offs, she wanted to punch that smug grin off his face. She wanted-

“Oh, lookie what we have here! The Captain of the Mensa Society!” Gail’s breezy voice cut the tension like a knife. In half a minute she was at Meredith’s side, one arm wrapped casually around her shoulders in a silent sign of solidarity. “And who are your friends today, Jason? Professor Hawking and Cornel West? Oh no wait, it’s just Beavis and Butthead.”

“Says the Queen of the Dykes,” Jason glared, screwing up his money and shoving it back into his pocket. “Well, at least we know who wears the pants in the relationship now, and why Bell is such a stuck up frigid little shrew.”

Gail’s temper flared but unlike Meredith she didn’t even attempt to rein it in. “Go fuck yourself, Templeton!” she spat, planting her hands firmly on her hips. “Just because she dumped your sorry ass last year. What? Did it bruise you poor baby ego? Did Mommy have to kiss it better for her little Jacey-Wacey? Ha!”

She laughed, even as she grabbed the rest of Meredith’s belongings and slid them into her backpack, linking their arms as she straightened. “Anyway, from what I hear, a girl would need a fucking magnifying glass to find your dick,” she held up her little finger mockingly, “I hear it’s like a pencil.”

Jason kicked back his chair as he stood, leaning across the table. “Shut your mouth, bitch. Or I’ll shut it for-”

He never finished his sentence. It was like, Meredith just saw red, saw Jason threatening Gail, remembering how he’d hit her on their date. A mist of fury seemed to descend upon her and the next thing she knew, she’d vaulted over the table and had Jason by the throat. His entourage toppled back in surprise, stunned into inaction. Meredith could smell their fear - she didn’t even know what fear smelled like, but it was there, and it was making her heart pound with delight. Jason choked out a sound and she squeezed a little harder, her pulse jolting as he emitted a frightened gurgling noise.

“You lay one finger on her and I’ll rip out your goddamned throat,” she spat, her voice shockingly calm and devoid of emotion. It made the threat sound even better, it sounded like she meant it. And perhaps she did.

Grasping his hand, Meredith twisted his finger until he let go of her lollipop. She gave it a last lick then jammed it up his left nostril. A couple of girls in the cafeteria giggled.

“Just because a girl doesn’t fall on her back with her legs spread apart as soon as you walk in the room, doesn’t mean she’s frigid, or that she’s a lesbian. It means she has standards, that don’t include screwing disease spreading fuckers like you.”

She let him go. Jason stumbled, staggering backwards so fast he fell on his ass. His eyes were wide and he still had that lollipop shoved up his nose. Meredith didn’t move, just kept staring at him, daring him to retaliate. What if he did? He was bigger, stronger, he’d probably kill her. A strange part of her actually relished the challenge.

“You… psycho, BITCH!” he spat, trying to sound tough but the tiny tremor in his voice betrayed his very real fear.

Meredith smiled and even though she couldn‘t see for herself, she knew it was all teeth - feral, like an animal. “Damn straight.”

She might never have moved if Gail hadn’t slid her arm through hers and hurried them both out of the cafeteria into the fresh, open air. Meredith inhaled deeply and her legs suddenly felt like jelly. What the hell had she just done?

“Now that was so… fuckin’ awesome!!” Gail was beaming, barely able to contain her joy. “Way to go Meredith!” she punched the air, “I thought I was supposed to be your dyke in shining armour, then you go and…” she punched the air again, “pow! Bastard didn’t know what hit him! What on earth’s gotten into you? You getting your rag or something?”

“I don’t know, maybe?” Meredith laughed hollowly, letting Gail lead the way. “I just… I thought he was gonna hit you and-”

“Woah girl, no way do you need to justify it, he had it coming, he’s had it coming a long time. You were just… wow! Did I say, wow?” Gail grinned, quirking an eyebrow suggestively, “and hot, it was very hot too.”

Meredith rolled her eyes, nudging her best friend with her hip. “Yeah, yeah…”

16:30 "Adding to the burden of sin"

Freida, Magdalena's mother, knew why she was alive.  Satan had offered her revenge on her WHORE daughter and that RAPIST ASSHOLE Carmine.   She had killed her daughter and she had tried to kill the fucking MONSTER that had spoiled her sweet innocent child. But he refused to stay dead.  Even as she was aware he was choking the life out of her Satan whispered in her ear telling her that revenge was not damnation. She would burn for the death of her daughter to be sure, but she was not adding to her burden of sin to ruin the life of the FUCKER who had damned her child.

She would get a second chance. So here she stood in front Carmine's apartment.  Mrs. Bocelli had been a friend at one time.  They attended the same church and rode the same bus sometimes to get downtown.  But the first time Carmine had tried to touch her little girl, Freida had marched Carmine back to his mother by the ear.

Mrs. Bocelli had taken the boy in but had been harsh with Freida in the hallway.  "He's slow, he doesn't understand sometimes.  No reason to call him names and hurt him like that."

It is because of thinking like that, thought Freida, that you have GANGS and TEENAGE PREGNANCY.

Freida knocked on the door.  Mrs Bocelli opened the door and gasped. "Freida, my dear, you look ... unwell."

By the time she was done, Freida was actually winded.  The RAPIST'S mother was easy enough to convince to come back to her apartment.  But as soon as she saw blood in the hallway she started to balk.  Frieda had to grab one of the marble statues of The Blessed Virgin and hit her a few times to get her to stop trying to struggle.

Frieda has tied her to the kitchen table and had toyed with the irony of stuffing the CUNT that the RAPIST had come from with the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But she had opted to just slit her open and let her bleed to death.

Freida then went upstairs, showered and put on her nice church clothes.  She had to go to confession.  She packed one of her carving knives in her purse since she knew that the young priest Father NANCY-BOY wasn't going to let her confess that she had made a bargain with the devil and murdered a neighbor.

As she was leaving the flat she though idly, maybe I'll wait until tomorrow to tell him instead.

Carmine wandered into Balthazar's Building.  He had on a baseball cap and sunglasses but the guys at the desk recognized him. "Carmine, Mr. Balthazar doesn't have you on his schedule.  What are you doing here?"

"I think I'm in trouble, guys.  I think I should tell Mr. Balthazar."

An elevator made an extraordinarily loud DING noise and Balthazar stepped into the lobby.  He had his usual array of thugs, advisors, lawyers and such with him but he stopped by Carmine.

"Carmine, you look like shit.  Why are you wearing that ugly hat and those cheap sunglasses?"

Carmine reluctantly pulled off the sunglasses.  Since yesterday he'd tried to push his eyeball back into the socket but the juice was gone from it and his eyelid was a ragged flap of skin.  He wasn't bleeding and so it looked more like chicken skin than a wound.  Balthazar sucked air, "Ow, that looks like it hurts."

Balthazar placed his hand around Carmine's shoulders and took him off to the side, "Carmine, tell me what are you involved in?"

Carmine tried to tell him but the more he said the less sense it made.  Balthazar wasn't getting it.  "Look I have an appointment to get to.  Tell you what, Tony and the boys here will see that you get cleaned up.  They'll get one of my witches to fix that eye for you and we'll talk about this later."

"Thanks, Mr. B."

Carmine waited by the desk as Balthazar returned to his entourage.  "Tony, get the boy cleaned up and looking more-or-less normal.  Then drop him off a bride somewhere.  If he's in trouble it can't lead back here."

"Consider it done, Mr. Balthazar."


19:40 "Unexpected Trips"

"Tony, I appreciate you giving me a lift back to the house."

"Sure thing, Carmine, just grab a few things though, We have to put you in a safe-house until this blows over, okay?"

"Yeah, I understand, Tony, I'm just gonna tell Mama that I'll be away for a few days, otherwise she'll worry."

"You do that, Carmine."  That will delay the search for a few days longer at least.

Carmine walked to the door but paused a moment when he realized it was wide open.  The inside had been tossed and there were gang tags spray-painted on all the walls. There was no sign of his Mama.

Carmine ran upstairs and still didn't see any sign of her.  He grabbed his bag and threw in some shirts and underwear.  He raced downstairs to the street and out to the nice sedan parked there.

"Tony, something's happened to Mama!"

"You better get in the car, Carmine.  It might not be safe.  I'll go inside and look."  Tony took a handgun out of his jacket and screwed a silencer onto the muzzle.  He slipped into the apartment and looked around.  He recognized the gang sign as New West Berlin - sort of, it was sloppy and NWB prided itself on the quality of its tags - there were clearly valuable things here that had been left in place as well.  This had been staged to induce fear and to frame someone else.

He put his gun down and placed a call. Balthazar wasn't answering his phone, but Tony knew he was in a meeting, he'd leave a message, it wasn't that urgent, "Tony here, Carmine's mom's place has been trashed and someone is trying to frame New West Berlin for it.  I Thought you should know.  I'm going to see that Carmine isn't around to report it, but if someone finds her place like this they might go looking for him."

Tony left and locked the door behind him.  Carmine was in the back seat looking fretful. "Carmine, listen, there isn't anything you can do about this.  I've told Mr. Romano and he is going to look into it.  He's a powerful man and he's looking out for you."

Carmine nodded and wiped his cheeks.  Tony felt bad, but this was the job.  He drove into Brooklyn.  He pulled into an alleyway and got out. .  Carmine got out with his bag.  "Head down to the end of the alleyway, there's a door down there that opens into the safe-house.  I'll be right with you."

Carmine got all the way to the end before he turned back to Tony. Tony was pointing the silenced gun at him.  "I'm sorry, Carmine, Mr. B. said to make it quick and painless."

Two shots went through Carmine's head.  One of them dislodged his recently-fixed eye. This, more than anything else that had happened that day is what pissed him off.

Tony fired a half-dozen more shots into Carmine before Carmine could wrestle the pistol from him.  Tony took only one shot to drop.  Carmine wished he knew how to drive.  But Tony had a lot of cash in his wallet so he took that and planned to ride the train.  As soon as he got cleaned up.  Again.


22:12 "Voicemail and hangovers"

2021-05-12 22:12
Jasmin's Apartment
151 Wooster Street, SoHo
The first thing that the vampire began to notice as she woke was the fact that she was in her own bed, almost completely unsure as to exactly how, or when that happened. That and her mouth tasted like carpet. Jasmin lay in bed, staring at the cieling. Time. What time was it? It didn't smell like the sun was up, or on the way up – but then, it didn't feel like it was on the way down either.
Sitting up in bed gave her pause, reaching down around her waist. Dress, check. Corset... was where? A glance around the room revealed that on the bed. She shook her head and stumbled out into the bathroom of the master suite, turning on the water of the faucet to begin splashing on her face. No reflection to help there, she knew, but...
The memory of the previous night started to return. Her friend Evalyn, not that they did anything serious, except for a great deal of drinking, and for the first time ever, mixing drugs into her blood. The lightheaded, irrational feel. As she finished with her face, she found her phone and glanced briefly at the time.
Ten at night.
May Twelth.
You have voicemail.
Of course I have voice mail; I cancelled all my appointment last night... I think. She'd handle those later, she decided, as she took the time to shower and, at least for the moment, change into a black silk robe.
Jasmin opened her missed call list. No surprises there; half her messages were probably just confirmations anyway, though she'd still have to listen to them all. Memory came back from the night before as she sat out there.
"You know what we should do? Let's go kill something!" She had proposed that. "Come on. A demon or a mugger or something. The two of us giving chase. It'll be fun!" Jasmin groaned to herself as that part of the evening came back. As fun as it would have been, in restrospect, the protest Evalyn wisely raised was correct: too drunk and too high to kill, especially to do it and not get caught. The fact that she had promptly lost the fight of Vampire vs Stairs sealed the fact that they would not be killing anything, save for additional bottles of alcohol.
Then she made the mistake of opening her bedroom door.
It wasn't a mess that did it. Not a huge mess, as much as it was the collection of glasses, wine bottles, scotch bottles, and . . . "When did I buy the Viking's Blood?" she asked as she picked up a bottle of mead, sniffing at it. Nightshade? They made it with nightshade? A look at the couch confirmed a number of bottles over there, including one torn up, three-quarter finished packet of blood which only by some miracle had not spilled on the furniture.
She picked up the remainder of that to sniff it, remembering what she went through with her cabinet in the fridge to find it. "I need the special blood. The good stuff.. not this American crap. We've gone downhill since we started having a fastfood diet. American, American, Chinese never before midnight, the Russian is a bit more Red than most – here we go, Romanian!" She had popped up from there triumphantly, and went into a bad impression of George Hamilton doing a bad Romanian accent, quoting a film from 1979. "Look at me, I'm not even scary anymore. I am a skinny-legged yenta, a little black chicken flying around!"
Right. Time to survey the rest of the damage, as she turned around and poked her head into the bedroom that served as the combination of occult library and office. That was miraculously in tact. At least that room was spared, as she went to check the guest bedroom.
Clothing. Piles of clothing, much of it old. Then she remembered the "film through the ages" game, which resulted in her trying to dress like various old-time characters, and... she lost her train of thought going through the garmets. When did I buy this outfit? No, wait, why did I.... oh. That's right. That ex was fucking wierd. Jasmin put aside the fake cat ears and almost non-existent costume, having a memory of sitting in the other woman's lap and purring at her, somehow culminating in a discussion of how attractive and bitable certain necks could be.
Evalyn pointed out only that her flirting technique needed work.
At least, she thought, nothing serious happened, when she went up the stairs in the apartment to the terrace. More bottles. Plastic baggies that had to disappear, and singing a rap song about getting high with dinosaurs. Then the improvised rap song about getting high with demons and vampires, which somehow digressed into how music and cinema had gone downhill over the past ever.
"Never again," she swore to herself, starting back down to get to work on the arduous cleaning chore ahead of her.

2021-05-13 - Thursday

09:05 ":The New Initiative"

#3C 305 East 110th Street,
East Harlem

Upside inside out
She's livin' la vida loca
She'll push and pull you down
Livin' la vida loca

Sandoval pulled the iPhone close to his face as Ricky Martin's hit song blared. The seal of the US Department of Defense appeared with the familiar "accept" and "decline" buttons.  If he pressed decline there'd probably be a tactical extraction team here in 10 minutes.  Ten more minutes of sleep, he briefly pondered before pressing "accept".

"You gave me a Code Seventy Seven over nine hours ago, Sandoval.  I have not yet received your report."

"Good morning Lieutenant Colonel Dixon, I'm fine, how are you?"

"Don't be flippant with me, Sandoval, I put up with your civilian shit because I have to not because I like it.  I don't need to remind you that the American taxpayers money isn't being budgeted to take out the NYPD's trash it is for the defense of this nation. I expect to see you in my lobby in 30, am I clear?"

"As the piercing pain in my temples, Colonel.  I'll be there as close to that as I can manage."

And the bastard hung up on me in the middle of my being a smart-ass, too.

Twenty eight minutes later the cab pulled up to the unassuming drug-store next to the Manhattan Bridge.  Sandoval paid the cabby and waited until the cab was out of site before walking around the back to where the chin-link fence surrounded several large metal boxes.  The boxes were designed to resemble transformers (and they did) but when you approached to within a few feet of them a voice challenged, "Halt. Present identification."

There were no threats of action, but Sandoval had been briefed that if he failed to comply that he might disappear and never be heard from again.  He suspected that a few homeless people probably disappeared here each month. He held up his badge in one hand and his Driver's License in the other. There was a pause before the command, "Proceed."

Sandoval stepped between the boxes and a panel slid aside silently.  He stepped into the silver compartment.  An LCD Panel with a hand-print appeared. "Hand print and voice authorization is required."

Pablo placed his palm over the image on the screen, "Lieutenant Detective Commander Pablo Sandoval, NYPD" he stated clearly.

"Recognition complete," the neutral voice droned and the elevator descended.

When the door opened it was into a slick underground lair.  There were lots of metallic panels and huge smoky glass windows with obscure flashing lights.  Even with the elevator, he had to descend a stairway that left him exposed to crossfire from sentries positioned in unassailable firing points arranged along the walls.

On the ground floor he was met by a soldier who saluted before handing him a badge on a lanyard that he was expected to wear.  "CIVILIAN," it pronounced in easy-to-read block letters.

"You are two minutes late." the tall uniformed man said before turning to face him.  Rafael Dixon was an imposing figure whose mere presence made men want to pay attention to him.  He had charisma and leadership in his very fibre.

"I'd have been here sooner if I didn't have to drop my trousers and wag my penis five times to get  inside," Sandoval said with distaste for all the security inspection and secrecy.

"When you deal with an enemy that can invade any one of your command you deal with everyone with suspicion," he said, "A possessed or enchanted soldier is physically identical to a un-possessed or un-enchanted one.  There is no middle ground for this command.  Zero security tolerance.  We are not making the same mistakes that have been made in the past."

What did that mean, Sandoval wondered even as he shrugged, "Whatever.  I am here to take my lumps and sign your report."

"Sandoval, I know you don't like the way I do things here, but the least you can do is be respectful of my position."

Pablo looked up into Rafael Dixon's face.  His stance had not changed nor had his expression, but the tone of his voice was somewhat softer than the crisp military tone that made Sandoval want to bristle at everything he said.

"I'm sorry, Lt. Colonel, I had a very late night last night.  And you rang me very early this morning."

The Colonel waved a hand and a soldier bearing a cup of coffee in a Department of Defense mug appeared.  "Black if I remember correctly?"

Sandoval sank slowly into a chair at the briefing table, "Okay, you win, Dixon.  Peace. Debrief me."

"Last night you had three sub-terrestrials sent to us.  These have been identified as the Kaoshian sub-species.  These are rare and generally solitary creatures.  How did you manage to encounter three of them at once?"

"They were attacking a lone defender near my office.  It was really chance that I happened to see them at all."

"All three of these creatures were eliminated with 9mm weapons?"

"Yes, myself, Neumann and Morgan from my team all fired on them."

"This unknown 'defender'?"

"Human, as far as I could tell.  He was strong, agile and fast.  I'd say there's a chance that he had some sort of training, but I didn't get a good look at him and he left once the Kaoshians were dead.  I had to do some cleanup so I couldn't go after him.  I am going to do some looking around, but I don't think you need to get involved in this yet."

"We decide that, Sandoval."

Sandoval exchanged a look with Dixon but didn't say anything.

"We appreciate the bodies, but Kaoshians are rare and getting rarer every day.  We would have preferred a live specimen over dead ones, although you and your team managed to drop one post-transformation which is helpful."

A clipboard slid across a table and was followed by a pen.  Sandoval signed the report and looked back at Dixon. "Are we done?"

"For now, Sandoval.  The New Initiative doesn't like cowboys and superheroes.  You aren't either and so we let your little SCU operation continue, but don't cross us or we will shut you down."

Sandoval set down his mug a little harder than neccesary and stood face-to-face with the Lt. Colonel, "Dixon, inside the city the NYPD is the law.  We follow the book, but it is our book not yours. I don't mind playing nice-nice with you Feds but I am the first line of defense.  You and your toys are my backup and not in command of the show."

Dixon stared at Sandoval before dismissing him with a snort and a curt nod. God, that guy irritates the hell out of me.  I doubt there's anyone in the world he'd ever be nice to, Sandoval thought as he left the base.


11:22 "Balthazar's Building"

2021-05-13 11:22 - Thursday
Balthazar's Building

He tried to scream, but nothing came out. He just kept falling…



Logan’s eyes burst open as he woke. His heart was racing from the dream…nightmare…what was it? He tried to grasp at the images, but the dream just slipped away, his conscious mind unable to hold onto it. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for Logan. Since he moved into Balthazar’s building he’d often wake in a panic. Did I always have these dreams?” he wondered, trying to think back to when he didn’t live there.

“Arghh” he grunted, his head instantly throbbing from a sudden migraine. What was I thinking about again? The pain quickly subsided, but he had lost his train of thought - ah well.

Pushing off the covers he stood, stretching out the morning kinks. The late morning sun was pouring through his floor to ceiling window, gently bathing him in it’s warm glow. Enjoying the feeling, Logan let out a big yawn as he began to examine his wounds from Tuesday’s battle. Wow, not bad at all. The cut on his shoulder was hardly visible and the burns were just about gone as well. Balthazar must have done some hocus pocus he thought, as he realized, embarrassingly enough, that he was standing in in front of the massive window, wearing only a pair of white briefs. Logan let out a chuckle, a second later Oh yeah, tinted windows. Relaxing again, he took another mighty stretch.

It was rare he got to sleep in, but the boss had been really sympathetic about the whole thing and gave him some time off to heal up. He didn’t even complain about the fact that Angus hadn’t given an answer to whatever it was written in the note. Although, Balthazar wasn’t too happy when he had mentioned the cops got involved. ‘Keep a low profile and avoid Sandoval,’ is what Romano had said. Funny, Logan had a good impression of the guy, given that he had saved his life and all, but he wasn’t going to question the boss.

He stripped off his underwear and headed for the shower when he heard the familiar beep of his cellphone.


It was one of Balthazar’s templated text messages which he would send when he needed something fast.

“Guess the shower is going to have to wait,” he sighed, hurrying to change into a fresh pair of clothes. “At least it’s the world’s shortest commute” he mused, as he opted for the stairs up to the 13th floor.

“THAT’S IT!? A Fucking name?”

Logan could hear Balthazar’s familiar voice booming from down the hall. Whoever was with him was really getting their ass chewed out.

“I paid you for info, not just a fucking name! The Eye of St Vigeous, what the hell am I supposed to do with that? Ah, Logan, there you are,” Balthazar said as his body guard quietly slipped into the room. “Rob, this is my associate Logan, Logan this is Rob. Rob here is a Verbati demon, a bit of a shape shifter now aren’t you Rob. Now I, knowing Rob has been a little down on his luck these days, was kind enough to give him a job. I fronted this little shit five thousand big ones to get me info on something of interest to me and all he comes back with is a fucking NAME!” he barked again, causing the man to flinch.

Logan could sense the fear emanating from the young demon. He looked no more than 18, maybe 19 years old, wearing a dark hoodie and big, loud high-top shoes. What are you playing at kid Logan thought dismally, knowing what was expected of him. He’d probably have to rough the guy up, if not worse.

“I..I..I told you, that’s all I could find,” Rob stammered, “I swear, I hit up all my contacts and asked around everywhere. “The Eye, it kept coming up.”

“YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT IT DOES!” Balthazar was practically frothing at the mouth now. “I am going to say this one more time, I. Want. My. Money. Back”.

The kid shuffled uncomfortably, but said nothing.

Balthazar’s voice suddenly became chillingly calm. “Do you have my money Rob?”


“Logan, did you hear that?” Balthazar said, looking at his body guard. He didn’t need to say more, Logan had got the message loud and clear.

“That’s bad news for you Rob,” Logan said flatly, as he planted a punch in the kid’s gut.

With a loud groan, Rob keeled over.

“You shouldn’t have spent my money Rob.” Balthazar was practically grinning, enjoying the spectacle in front of him. He really couldn’t care less about five thousand dollars, this was about principle. Do not fuck with Balthazar Romano.
Logan gripped onto the back of Rob’s neck and practically dragged him back up to his feet. He was about to lay into him again, when the kid shifted, keeping the same form, just making himself a bit smaller. Wriggling free, Rob wasted no time as he bolted out of the office and headed for the stairs.

“Teach him a lesson Logan, and bring me whatever money he has on him” Balthazar ordered, a wide smile now plastered on his face. He loved these little unpredictable moments in life.

Like a jungle cat, Logan sprung into action, racing down the hall and into the stairwell. The kid was fast, real fast and was already down a few flights. “Come on Rob, don’t make this harder than it has to be!” he called out, taking 3 steps at a time to catch up.

It wasn’t long before they both reached the ground floor. He had managed to gain a bit of ground, but the Verbati was still just out of reach.

“Fuck off! Just fuck off ok!” the kid called back, terrified that Logan would eventually catch up. Willing his legs faster, Rob charged through the lobby and out into the street. “MOVE! MOVE!” he screamed frantically, as he raced between flocks of people.

And I just wanted a shower Logan huffed, following Rob as the kid headed into Central Park.

11:35 "Balthazar's Troubles"

"Thanks, Frank," Balthazar Romano said as the glass of Alka-Selzer was set on his desk.

He had a throbbing headache.  Ever since yesterday and that Boccelli kid and his fucked-up face things had seemed to be going steadily downhill.  Between the Verbati fili di cagna* Rob giving him nothing to work with and Logan running into the maiale*  Sandoval he had all the trouble he could handle right now.

Although things might be looking up on Saturday if everything worked out. He drank the fizzy drink and waited a second until the belches had stopped.  Better, he thought, that settles things some.  "Frank, have you heard from Tony yet?"

Frank shook his head, but didn't say anything.  Frank was good muscle, but it unfortunately extended above his neck.  "Did you call anyone?" Balthazar asked.

Frank pulled out his cell phone and started making calls. "I wish Logan was here," Balthazar murmured, "That boy can at least think."

Frank hung up the phone after a few minutes. "Tony's car was picked up in the Bronx and they got a body over there that ain't been identified yet," he said.

Then he stood there like a side of beef. "Well?" Balthazar asked.

"I should go and identify the body?" Frank said.

Balthazar waved his hands and Frank left.  Then Balthazar looked through his desk for some aspirin.  This was going to be a long day.

* Son of a dog

** pig

11:41 "Central Park"

Central Park - Thursday 13th May 2021 - 11:41

“Oh, that’s just… fucking, BRILLIANT!” Meredith snarled through gritted teeth, folding the newspaper up messily before giving up in angry frustration. She threw it back down on the bench where she’d found it and got to her feet. It seemed there’d been one hell of a disturbance outside Slainte on Tuesday night - some punk kids setting fire to a homeless guy and causing a three car pile-up - FOUR HOURS after she’d been there talking to that Cadee chick. She couldn’t believe her dumb ass luck!!! Four hours and she could have been the first on the scene - a story like that could have gotten her some serious column inches.

Muttering under her breath, Meredith resumed her run. Even twenty-four hours after her encounter with Jason she was still fuming, the rage churning beneath her flesh. Last night she’d been so furious she’d thrown a drink over a client when he’d tried to grab her ass during a lap dance. Charlie had given her a total bollocking and sent her home.

She was hoping a good long sweaty run would wear it out of her. It usually did. Just being on her own in the sunshine, breathing in the fresh air, nothing but the wind in the trees and the hard, solid ground beneath her feet… Meredith slid her headphones into place and switched on her Walkman, music made it even better and soon the rocking sound of Whitesnake was blaring in her ears.

“In the Still of the Night I hear the wolf howl, honey, sniffing around your door! In the Still of the Night I feel my heart beating heavy, telling me I gotta have more!”

She sang along, murmuring the words as she knew them and making them up where she didn’t. Each beat of the music punctuated with the contact of her feet against the path and the pumping action of her arms.

“I see the full moon rise, telling me what’s in store. My heart starts aching, my body started shaking and I can’t take no more, no, no…”

The stretching of her muscles felt good. Each time her sneakers impacted with the ground, it sent a tiny jolt of pure joy surging through her body, loosening those angry knots. One foot in front of the other, that’s all she had to think about. The repetition focused her mind so well, just as it always did, just like the cool breeze on her cheeks made her feel alive, made her feel like herself.

“Now I just wanna get close to you and taste your love so sweet, and I just wanna make love to you, feel your body heat…”

Meredith adjusted the volume on the old fashioned Walkman and the tinny hiss grew louder in the fuzzy orange headset. She’d had incredible luck to find it at Goodwill, and in such good condition, complete with headphones - two bucks, and the store guy chucked her in a couple of tapes too. Sure, it was the technological equivalent of banging away with a hammer and chisel, the sound was poor, it was clunky as hell and slapped against her ass as she jogged like a randy old uncle after one too many scotch and sodas, but it was hers and at least she didn’t have to worry about anyone trying to steal it when she wanted to do her stretches.

She was still messing with the volume control when a blur in grey sweats and hightops leapt through the trees. He was powering hard, coming downhill in a small avalanche of dirt and debris. Meredith gasped as he clipped her elbow, knocking her around - nearly knocking her off her feet actually. Without even so much as a pause or apology, he carried on running. Meredith pulled her headset down in anger, watching him while her temper boiled anew.

“Don’t worry about me!” she yelled after him, her good mood completely obliterated. “I’m just fine! Asshole!

Gritting her teeth, Meredith turned, reaching for her headphones when another blur exploded from the trees. This one hit her solidly in the chest and so hard it felt like she’d been knocked over by a freight train. Meredith yelped as they both went down, the back of her head cracking on the path. “Mutherfucker!

Logan was quick to his feet, about ready to explode into another dead sprint when he stole a glance at the person he had bulldozed through.

*Shit.* He had smashed straight into some girl and from the looks of it, he’d hit her pretty damn hard. *Shit, shit, shit.* Logan scanned the area, looking for anyone who could help but he and the girl were alone on the path. He hesitated for a moment, took another step, looked back at the downed woman and made a decision. Balthazar would be furious, but he couldn’t just leave the woman on the floor, especially if she was hurt.

“Are you okay?” Logan asked as he crouched next to her. “I’m really sorry, I didn’t see you.”

Meredith blinked, still dazed, her head ringing from the impact. A low groan escaped her lips, followed by a louder, more insistent one as she tried to sit up. “Fuckin’ hell!” she moaned, reaching back to touch what was gonna be one humongous lump on the back of her head. “Am I okay? Of course I’m not fucking okay!” she snapped, batting away his concern. “Some asshole just turned me into goddamned road kill!”

A second of regret passed through him. He should have kept up the chase rather than waste time getting chewed out, but after a deep breath, he calmed down. *Can’t blame her, for being mad* he thought, trying to coax himself into keeping his cool.

“The guy I was chasing, he tried to nick my wallet,” Logan lied, doing his best to diffuse the tension. “I guess I was just so focused on catching the punk, I didn’t notice you on the path.”

Managing to finally prop herself up, Meredith looked the guy over - he was plainly dressed in dark jeans, his white t-shirt tight over a well defined set of muscles. In short, he was just like every other frat boy come Abercrombie and Fitch model wannabe who made her life a goddamn misery. “Sure, I mean, why would you notice me? Heaven forbid a human being gets in the way of you getting your precious money back, just carry on. I’m sure you have a kegger you’re late for too.”

What the hell is a kegger? From the scowl on the girl’s face, he figured it wouldn’t be a good idea to ask. “It’s fine, I said he ‘tried’ to nick my wallet. I was just chasing him to teach him a bit of a lesson.”

There was a second where neither of them said anything, it was in this silence that he noticed just how attractive she was. Dark hair, pretty face and some…assets any man would admire. He reached out, offering the girl a hand. “Would her highness like some help up?” he said, eliciting an icy scowl. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding.”

“I don’t need anymore of your help,” Meredith snapped, leaning on her hands as she pushed up with her feet. A sharp stab of pain radiated from her right knee and she yelped, falling back onto her ass. She scowled again and held out her hand reluctantly. “Fine. You can help. But don’t get any ideas about trying to cop-a-feel or anything. I know self-defence.”

He seemed… amused? Well, she was so glad that her pain was such a bloody good source of entertainment for him! When it was obvious she wasn’t about to stand without a good amount of assistance, he wrapped one of her arms around his broad shoulders and his other around her waist, hoisting her up from the ground. Meredith groaned, she had one monster headache brewing and being fully vertical made her feel dizzy and ever so slightly nauseous.

“Hey, hey!” she shouted, wincing at her own voice as her head rang from the volume. The man looked at her like she’d gone mad. Meredith scowled and gestured to his hand that had slid up from her waist to her ribcage. “A little close to the boob don’t you think? Or is this how you get your women? Knock them out then drag them back to your cave.”

“I usually just rely on my bad boy good looks,” Logan retorted, making sure to reposition his hand so she didn’t get the wrong idea. He was starting to get annoyed with this girl’s attitude problem *and I don’t think it’s going to get better* he cringed, seeing the girls broken….walkman(?) on the ground next to her. “I think your walkman’s seen better days”.

“WHAT?” Meredith hopped around, giving the guy no option but to turn or let her go. Regardless of what he might have wanted to do, he held on and helped her stay standing even though her thinly reined in temper had just hit meltdown. “You broke my Walkman! Oh that is just-” she threw her only free hand up in the air, “and my Whitesnake tape, that was my- Brilliant! Just fan-bloody-tastic! What are you? A one-man demolition squad?”

“Would you calm down!” Logan finally burst. “It was a fucking accident alright? Do you think I thought to myself, ‘hey how about I mow over the first cute girl I see in the park?” He caught a slight glimpse of worry in the woman’s eyes, perhaps afraid that he was turning violent. “Ok, look,” he sighed, taking another deep breath to quench the fire that had begun burning in the pit of his stomach. “First, I think maybe I should take you to doctors to make sure you’re alright. And then we can see about stopping by an antique store to replace your walkman.”

“Ha ha, oh you’re so funny!” Meredith mocked, though her anger had cooled a touch. He was right, it was just an accident, and at least he’d not just left her crashed out on the ground, even after she’d torn into him. Maybe he wasn’t the total asshole she’d first pegged him as. “You should definitely stick with the ‘bad boy good looks’ thing, ‘cos the comedy routine? Needs some work.”

Logan could feel the girl relax slightly. “Don’t worry I wasn’t planning on quitting my day job, I’ll just stick to ‘one man demolition squad’. Here, let’s get you seated down for a second, there’s a bench over there”.

With Logan’s help, the girl took a step forward but winced when the weight came down on her right knee. “Here, hold on” without giving it much thought, Logan scooped her up into his arms.

“What are you-” Meredith squealed as he scooped her up, attracting the attention of a couple of joggers who slowed but didn’t bother to stop - obviously the sight of a girl being manhandled against her will didn’t warrant an intervention. Instinctively, Meredith clung onto the man as he lifted her from the ground. When she realised she’d practically shoved her tits in his face she loosened her hold.

“Put me down!” she demanded hotly, equal parts fury and embarrassment flaming her cheeks bright pink. “Put me down right now!

He placed her on the bench and took a step back. “What do you want me to do?” His patience had just about hit its limit. Just when he thought she had calmed down, the harpee reared it’s ugly head again - this girl was infuriating. “If you want, I’ll just leave. You don’t think I have better things to do with my day than hang around here listening to you bitch at me when all I’m trying to do is help?” Now, he was really beginning to regret not chasing after the guy when he had the chance.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Meredith grit her teeth against the pain in her knee as he set her down with all the grace of a rag doll. Just when she thought maybe she’d been too hard on him, he went and acted like a jerk again! “Was I supposed to be grateful that you crashed into me like goddamn steamroller? Or maybe trashing my personal belongings? No, no, it must be when you had your hand on my ass just now! Thank-you, whoever you are, thank-you for taking time out of your busy schedule of chasing down random men just to teach them a lesson to fucking cripple me!

Meredith stood up and immediately regretted it. “Owww!” she groaned and dropped back down on the bench, glaring up at the guy. Goddamn it he had some fucking problem if he expected her to be all dreamy eyed and swooning at his amazing display of strength in swooping her off her feet. She hadn’t been imaging his hand on her ass either, there had been definite cupping going on. “Well if you’re expecting some kind of medal you can just… piss off!”

Logan angrily reached into his back pocket, and pulled out his wallet. “Here’s twenty for a cab,” he said, tossing the money at the girl. “and here’s another hundred so you can get an Ipod to replace your fucking Walkman. Welcome to the 21st century, you’re only about 20 years late.” Logan began walking off, steam coming out of his ears. He almost felt a little bad leaving her there when…

“Hey, hey!” Meredith had been stunned when he’d thrown the money at her, now she was just plain furious. If she could have run after him she would have. “Don’t you walk away you… asshole! I don’t want your goddamn money! I said… I don‘t want your money!

Logan rolled his eyes, not surprised that the dragon woman would get in the last word. "And there it is".

11:43 "Central Park"

2021-05-13 11:43 – Thursday, Central Park

Evalyn had been on her way back from Manhattenville in a cab when they'd almost immediately hit traffic. After crawling for what had seemed an eternity, they'd come abreast of Central Park on 5th avenue where the greenery had looked so pleasant that, after a quick inspection of her rising cab fare and a general observation that people on foot were overtaking them, Evalyn decided it might be nice to take a turn about the park.

You could jump on the train, missy, instead of grumblin' about traffic in New York.” The cab driver had said after she'd instructed him to pull over.

And you could jump in front of one! Oh 'ow the metro can solve all our problems.” She'd remarked, leaving him a pitiful tip and exiting the vehicle.

Her instincts had been right! She was moving much faster now that she was out and walking on her own. Not only that, but she felt a certain sense of calm wash over her as she reconnected with nature. There wasn't too much of it in this concrete city, full of skyscrapers, apartment buildings, shopping malls, bumper to bumper traffic and irritable taxi cab drivers. Mentally, she made a note to escape it more often. It could be suffocating at times, and it certainly didn't compare to the rolling meadows and picturesque landscapes she'd grown up with.

When her phone started ringing, Evalyn had reached the main reservoir. She paused in her stroll and moved aside to a nearby park bench as she reached into her bag to retrieve her phone. 'Maman' was clearly displayed on the caller screen. Evalyn debated letting the call slip into voice-mail, but finally decided it had been a good six months or so since she'd last spoken to her mother. Plus, if she didn't pick up now, she'd only be bothered again tomorrow, then the day after tomorrow, and then the day after that until she finally did answer. It was never anything important, but it's something her mother felt to be a duty.

'Ello?” Evalyn braced herself for the experience.

Evalyn, dear, whatever took you so long to pick up?” Her mother's voice on the other end of the line was as dry and tiring as ever.

“Nossing, mozzer, I just could not decide if I wanted to talk to you.” She smirked. Sometimes being honest was good for the soul.

There was a dissatisfied sniff from the other end of the line, however, then-“When you speak French, you may speak French, but when you speak English, my dear, you must speak English!”

Evalyn dropped onto the bench beside her with an exasperated sigh, “Yes mother.” she replied in a flawlessly English accent. She hated it. She felt she sounded too uppety! Like her mother.

Heavens above, to think you're probably dragging that horrid accent all over America.”

“It is not a horrible accent, mother,” Evalyn said, clenching her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose, “It's my accent, unlike this fakery you insist upon me.”

It is nothing of the sort: it's civilised. Now tell me what you've been up to! I've got an abundance of things to do today and I don't have the time to fluff around chatting with you.”

“I could always let you go and we could catch one another up later!” Evalyn tried hopefully, but her mother wasn't having any of it, and it was as if the air itself was being tainted by this unwanted conversation. Evalyn wrinkled her nose in distaste.

Nonsense! But since you don't seem to be talking, I can tell you our neighbours have started building, of all things, a pagoda in their front yard! Hideous, let me tell you that!”

“Yes, I can only imagine.” Evalyn replied absently, frowning. What was that smell? It was getting stronger....

A sigh from the other end of the line betrayed that her mother knew she wasn't paying attention. “Is Yves there?”

“No, he's not.” Evalyn sniffed the air then opened her mouth slightly to breath that way instead as she looked around. A female jogger was in the distance heading towards her, but nothing else. “He's at home with the cat sitter.”

A cat sitter? Whatever on earth inspired you to get a cat sitter!”

Because Yves likes a nice bosom to 'eadbutt in 'is free time, “Because my neighbour thought it odd and irresponsible that I left him alone during the day.” She smiled as she recalled a few of the other interesting things her neighbour, the animal activist, had told her, like the time she was irresponsible for not having Yves neutered. That went down very well!

Ha! Yes, I can only imagine.” Her mother politely chuckled after Evalyn relayed the neutering episode. “Though I can hardly say it's a bad idea. He is a bit of a scoundrel.”

The jogger was nearly abreast of Evalyn when she was all but overwhelmed with the scent of dog, though there were no hounds to be seen! Evalyn eyed the jogger suspiciously as she swiftly passed by with her strong, determined pace, wearing some chunky contraption that bounced on her ass. A walkman? I didn't sink zey sold zem anymore!


“Quoi?” She snapped back to the present and her mother. Her attention had lapsed while she'd been watching the jogger, and she was still eying the woman sceptically as she tread further in the direction Evalyn had originally come from, the heavy dog scent trailing after her.

I said was it your idea or his to get the cat sitter?”

Quoi? 'Cat sitter'? Ah oui.... “It was my idea mother. Listen, I have to go.” Why did that girl smell so much of dog? Does she sleep with the damn beasts?

Why must you go? We only just started talking!”

“Yes, I know, but ... something weird just happened.”

Yes, a lot of weird things seem to happen when I'm talking to you.”

Evalyn rolled her eyes and tried to keep from throwing her phone into the reservoir. “Yes! But something weird seriously just happened!”

Well what is it?”


Evalyn's head snapped up from the phone at the sudden loud cussing. She couldn't see the jogger anywhere, but she could see a rather handsome man standing, perplexed, trading glances between something on the ground and someone else disappearing at a dead bolt. Perhaps the dog girl?

What was that?”

“Mutherfucker.” Evalyn replied honestly with another smirk.

I beg your pardon?”

“Mutherfucker mum! A real pain in the arse.”

Well I never-”

“-Yes you have mother. I know about you. I'll speak to you later, OK?”

Yes, yes. Very well. I do have this charity ball to finish arranging. The blasted 'big band' band has backed out, now insisting that they be paid! Honestly, you wonder if some people know what charity is anymore.”

“Excepting you mother.”

Most certainly! Anyway, kisses. Take care, darling!”

“Au revoir!” Salope! Evalyn hit 'end call' with a sigh and stood up from the park bench, still mulling over the bizaar scent.

One last glance toward the man down the path showed him trying to help someone up now. Evalyn shrugged and turned her back, unaffected, slipped her bag onto her shoulder and continued on down the path. She wasn't sure how charity was going these days, but chivalry still seemed to be alive at least.

13:02 "About Tony..."

Frank knocked on Mr. Romano's door.

"Come in, Frank," The voice spoke from inside.

Frank walked in slowly, "I went to the The Bronx Morgue and ID'd the body.  It ain't Carmine, it's Tony."

"You are sure?" Balthazar was fairly certain that even Frank wouldn't make a mistake like that, but he had to confirm it.

"I got his t'ings right here in a bag.  If Carmine killed him he did it good. Musta been four or five slugs in 'im.  I paid the usual fee to the coroner and brought the body back.  Its down in the garage in the trunk of the Lincoln."

Balthazar nodded.  He'd get his boys to pull the body into his lab where he could extract a few useful humours for later. His boys continued to work for him long after they were dead.  Tony would make an excellent zombie.

"I called a friend who might be able to answer a few questions for me and we are going to meet her over at the Hellfire.  We'll take the Escalade this time, I think."

Frank left the room.  Balthazar pulled out a silk bag from his desk.  He poured a small pile of the yellow powder onto his marble desktop.  He pricked his finger with a letter opener and squeezed a drop of blood on the pile and waved his hand. "ricordo, memoria," he incanted as he fought the urge to collapse into vision. 

The danger of this spell is that it is easy to get lost in it. I need to stay alert, he told himself forcefully.  He payed the events of the last few days like a video tape on fast-forward.

He saw Tony drive to Carmine's home.  He saw him leave the message he had gotten yesterday.  He saw him shoot the Bocelli kid and then watched as Carmine Bocelli rose again and attacked Tony and killed him instead.

He slapped his hand onto the pile of dust breaking the spell. Using a purified cloth he wiped the surface clear and poured himself a glass of water.  What could bring that Bocelli kid back from the dead like that?  Did he have it? Could Carmine Bocelli have the Eye?

That was on the top of his list of questions for his meeting. But this was the best lead he'd had all week which improved his mood tremendously.

13:14 "Balthazar's Office"

2021-05-13 13:14 - Thursday
Balthazar's Office

The elevator dinged opened, revealing the familiar hallway to Balthazar’s office. Logan lingered a few second; he wasn’t in any rush to tell Romano that Rob had gotten away because he had bee too busy taking care of some girl he bulldozed over to keep up the chase. man, what a mistake that was. It was almost funny when he thought about it. Just how many times would he get chewed out in the same day?

“You going to dilly dally out there all day my boy?” Balthazar’s loud voice boomed jovially from the office down the hall.

“No, sorry sir,” Logan called back as he sped out of the elevator.

His boss’s office was really something to behold. Close to 1300 square feet, with marble floor, a small fortune in imported furniture and a western wall completely made of tinted glass. As massive as it was, there was definitely still a lot of unaccounted space on the 13th floor. There must be a hidden room or something Logan guessed.

“So, how is our friend Rob?” Sitting behind his gargantuan mahogany desk, Balthazar had his back turned to Logan, as he stared out the window to the city below.

“Well, probably halfway to Mexico, to be honest”.

“Is that so? He managed to get away?”

“I’m afraid so sir.”

Slowly, Balthazar’s chair spun around, but to Logan’s surprise the man did not seem angry, in fact, he looked to be in quite a decent mood.

“Ah well, don’t worry about it Loggey, can’t expect a big, athletic guy like you to be able to run as fast as a gangly little demon.”

Logan felt a bit offended at first, but when he noticed that Romano was laughing at his own joke, he relaxed. “I ended up crashing into this girl in Central Park. Banged her up pretty bad actually”.

“HA!” Balthazar slapped his knee, delighting in the thought of Logan clumsily running into some hapless woman. “Is that your way of trying to get a date my boy?”

“Actually, she wasn’t half bad to look at, but man oh man, definitely a few screws loose.” Logan was now chuckling along.

“Isn’t that the irony of the world, the hotter they are the more crazy they tend to be! Anyways, don’t worry about Rob, the money’s not important and I think he got the message. Actually I wanted to ask, are you busy tonight?”

The question caught Logan off guard, “Well, sir, you’re the boss so that really depends on you”.

“Touché!” Balthazar laughed again. “Of course of course. We’re going to the Hellfire Lounge again. I’ve got a meeting with an associate. And, given some of my track record there, I think it best if you’re around”.

“Whatever you want.”

15:40 "Balthazar and the Soothsayer"

Bored, Logan spun the stir stick of his gin tonic as he gazed absentmindedly around the room. A mix of humans and demons littered the swanky establishment; a typical crowd for the Hellfire Lounge. Next to him, Balthazar was deep in conversation with his associate, laughing as he always did, a bit obnoxious and a lot too loud.

Balthazar’s ‘friend’ was a scraggily looking woman by the name of Tabitha. She wasn’t overly fond on the eyes. She had short, frazzled, grey hair which matched her greyish skin, and when she smiled, you could see the excess of plaque around her cigarette stained teeth. From the conversation, Logan pieced together that she was a witch, like Balthazar. However, where his boss specialized in spells and rituals, invocations and basically anything that was big and flashy, Tabitha’s talents were more subtle. She had a knack for divination. From cards to crystals, she was proficient, and this made her a useful pawn to someone like Balthazar. However, for all her skills, the witch was never able to see just how fake Romano was with her. He would lavish the hag with praise and adoration and in return, she would use her gifts for whatever he wanted.

“So tell me gorgeous, where can I find this Eye?”

“Oh you silver tongued devil, sometimes I think you only call me for information” she laughed, enjoying herself too much to realize that’s exactly what was going on. Maybe on some level she did realize, Logan thought, but she probably didn’t have much of a social life, and these suppers with Balthazar were the highlights of her year. Guess it’s a win win.

Logan tuned out again, scanning the other patrons for something, anything interesting. It’s then that he noticed Persephone, the Hellfire’s peculiar manager. The strange beauty was speaking quietly to three women, sitting in a plush booth at the back of the bar. The women were also lookers, not like poor Tabitha, and Logan couldn’t help but wish he was sitting with them instead. As he let his gaze linger on the quartet of beauties, a strange feeling brewed up in him. Why do they look familiar?. He sat there staring, racking his brain for any scrap of memory that could tell him just why he thought he knew them. Suddenly, the four ladies halted their hushed conversation and simultaneously turned their attention to Logan. Instinctively, he looked away, embarrassed to have been caught gawking. He waited a few seconds before stealing another glance their way. That’s weird. They were all still looking at him, each one now sporting a fresh scowl. Guess I’m not their type.

“He has what?!” Balthazar’s tone had suddenly taken a turn south, catching Logan’s attention once again.

“I had a dream of it last night and you know my dreams are never wrong. Your Grathoki friend gave your little gopher a drop.”

Logan kinda wished he had paid more attention. He had zero idea what they were talking about but his boss definitely seemed pissed.

“Well what else did you see?” Though he tried to keep his cool, Balthazar was seething with rage. He was on the verge of something big, something he’d been planning for months and the last thing he needed was a supernatural catastrophe going on in New York. In the hands of an idiot like Carmine, the Drop could lead to some serious problems, inevitably drawing unwanted attention to Balthazar.

“Oh Balthazar, you know I wouldn’t keep anything from you if I knew,” Tabitha said, taking a sip of her wine.

“No, of course you wouldn’t” Romano replied, his mind contemplating the repercussions of the news he just received. “Well my love, it’s been a pleasure as always, but I’m afraid we have to run.” Abruptly, Balthazar stood up, disregarding the glum look that appeared on the witch’s face.

“Why so soon?”

“Don’t be sad gorgeous,” Balthazar said, as he leaned in, giving the hag a kiss on each cheek. “We’ll do supper again soon. Can’t stay out late tonight, I’ve got a big party to attend on Saturday and you know at my age, too many late nights don’t agree”.

Tabitha did her best to hide her disappointment. “I’ll hold you too it.”

As Logan politely said goodbye, he noticed Persephone standing near the bar with one of her steroid ridden bouncers. She was fixated on Balthazar now, a mischievous smirk on her porcelain face. ‘The hotter they are, the more crazy they tend to be’,” Logan thought, remembering Balthazar’s words from earlier that day.

16:36 "Bless me father for I have sinned"

Frieda had been waiting for the SISSY  priest Father Gary to ceom to take confessions like he did at 4:00 pm every Tuesday and Thursday.  She usually came to confession on Wednesday's to see Father Herman who was a nice older man and who didn't  SASHAY and MINCE through the church but rather walked with properly reverent movements.

She also didn't like the way that Father Gary seemed to focus on the youth in the church.  She saw him trying to get those GANG-BANGERS and THUGS into the church with their SLUT girlfriends and she didn't see that as proper at all.  The lot of them should burn in hell like she was going to as soon as she got through doing the righteous work she had left to do.

Father Gary entered the confessional and Frieda stepped up to the door only to have some teenaged girl painted like WHORE wearing a skirt that made her look like a HOOKER jump past her and into the confessional.

She stood there for a long few minutes seething with rage.  She could hear murmured voices that her mind began to construct into a meaningful dialog:

"Bless me father for I have sinned, it has been a week since I last sucked your dick."

"Go ahead, sister, I am hard for you now."

"MMlphp slurp mplpht"

This was too much for Frieda.  To defile the church in this way was beyond the patience of anyone, damned or not.  She knew even as she was flinging open the door and plunging her knife into the girl and the young priest that she'd have to come back tomorrow and speak to Father Herman.  It would be a longer confession than usual, but there were usually fewer people here on Fridays than on Thursdays.


18:18 "A way with the ladies"

Carmine felt like throwing up but he didn't have anything to throw up in his stomach.  He had not eaten anything for about two days.  He wanted to tell Mr. B about Tony and how Tony had tried to kill him, but he wasn't sure what he'd say.  "I'm sorry I killed Tony, Mr. B.," didn't seem to be sufficient.

This wasn't like the time he'd beaten up that Henry Collins in 8th grade for calling him stupid. The teacher made him stand in the corner all day and then Momma had to come and get him from school and talk to the teacher.  That had been bad.  Henry had to wear braces for a long time after that.

Carmine had spent all his money on bus fare to get back to Manhattan.  He was standing outside Hellfire.  He looked at the sign with the fire and the dancing devil-girls all lighted up and how they smiled like they was having a good time.  Carmine knew Hell wasn't nuthin' like that.  Hell was dark.

He went inside to see if Mr. B was in there.  He'd have to tell him what happened, somehow.

"Hey Butterball, where's your Mommie?"

Carmine turned to see a waitress named Lina leaning against the bar.  She had on one of the trademark "devil girl" suits in black that looked so tight it seemed to be painted on. Carmine thought she looked pretty but she wasn't ever nice to him.  She said he was a Momma's boy and that real girls didn't need a guy like him.

"Hi, Lina, is Mr. B. in?"

"He's Mr, R, Butterball.  Ro-Man-O.  Balthazar is his first name.  And he is, but he's busy"

"He lets me call him, Mr. B." Carmine muttered.

"I'm sorry, Butterball, I didn't catch that because of your jowls flapping.  In fact, I don't want to.  If you want to wait in the kitchen, I'll tell him you are here and he can send for you if he can stand to look at you."

Cathie, another one of the waitresses, came over, "Carmine, don't let her make you mad.  I'll get you a sandwich and a Coke or something.  You look like you need something to eat."

Carmine was hungry and Cathie was nice even if she did have to wear that silly devil-girl costume with the sparkly horns.  In the kitchen, Connie got him a grilled cheese and she cut it in triangles like Momma did.  He drank his Coke and ate his sandwich quietly while he waited.

Lina walked into the kitchen and immediately frowned.  "Aw, shit," she said loudly, "Who let the retard into the food?  Are you going to pay for that sandwich, retard?"

"Cathie said..." he started.

"Cathie ain't shit to me, retard," Lina screamed at him, "Persephone said you don't get jack shit in this place without somebody paying for it, so give me your four bucks and get the hell out of here."

"I ain't a retard," Carmine muttered, "And I don't have four dollars."

"Don't mumble, retard. Its bad enough I have to wait four hours for you to finish a sentence, you got to mumble too?"

"I said, I'm NOT A RETARD!" Carmine slammed Lina into the stainless steel counter so hard she gasped.  He held one hand on her throat and the other he made into a meaty fist.

"Fucking retard!" she gasped, reaching for anything to use against him.

Carmine began to pound on her.  He outweighed her 115 lbs. nearly three times.  She stopped struggling after the first few hits, but in his rage he continued to pound her face and body until she was limp as a rag.  He dropped her lifeless body on the tile floor, swigged the last of his Coke and ran out of the kitchen. 

He had to go home, his Momma would know what to do.  She would hold him and tell him what to do now.

Tony straightened the tie he'd gotten from the security room lockers in Balthazar's building.  It had taken him a lot longer to get out of the Lincoln's trunk than he'd have though it possible but he hadn't expected to wake up there in the first place.  He called Mr Romano to tell him that he was back, and that Carmine Bocelli was a bigger danger than they had anticipated.

Mr. Romano wasn't happy, but he said he'd take care of it.  He wanted Tony to find a Verbati demon named Rob.  Tony frowned.  Verbati were hard to find when they didn't want to be.  All shape-changers were, but Tony had an idea where he might be.

Tony headed to the subway and took the 3 up to 137th street and walked over to City College.  He knew Rob was a bookworm.  If he was hiding there was only one place he would go to ground.  He entered the library and casually walked to top of the balcony to the wide landing at the top.  There, he looked around at the statues arrayed by the various shelves.  Muses. Practice, Memory, Song, and a fourth, unnamed muse standing on a stone plinth next to the ladies room.

Tony walked over and leaned on it.  It exhaled. "Hi Rob, perving the ladies room I see."

The statue melted and reformed into something resembling a college student. "Hi Tony, I'm sorry that Mr. Romano wasn't all that happy with what I got, but that was all they had.  You know how it is, sometimes you hit the jackpot, and sometimes you don't."

"I know, Rob, and I got some bad news for you.  Today you don't."

Tony dragged Rob into the men's room across the hall.  He glared at the only other occupant until he left and pushed the heavy metal trash-can against the door. "Anything to say, Rob?"

Rob paused momentarily but then his arms sprouted foot-long claws which he raked down the front of Tony's chest.  Blood fountained out and made the floor slick, but Tony just stood there.  "Are we done, now, Rob?" he asked, "Because not only do I have other things to do, but the cleanup is going to delay those even further."

Rob started to lunge again, but Tony just pumped seven or eight rounds from his silenced pistol into him.  When Rob stopped moving, Tony used a knife to skin him and cut out several vital organs which he placed in the sinks to drain.

It used all of the toilet paper and paper towels in the restroom to clean up all of the blood an viscera and the plastic bag in the trash-can was strained to its limit when he had finished.  Rob took the damp but serviceable hoodie and sweat-pants that Rob had been wearing to replace his shredded suit and left quickly so he could report back to Mr. Romano.

He'd made his kill for the day, he'd be good until tomorrow, and certainly Mr Romano would have plenty of work for him to keep busy with.

20:50 "Mamma's not here"

Carmine saw the police tape first. Then he saw the broken door and the spray-painted walls.  He walked slowly through the living-room and looked at all of the little glass puppies that he'd bought his Momma at the flea-market over the years now lying broken and looking with sad brown eyes in all different directions.

He walked into the kitchen and saw that someone had left the refrigerator door open and that stuff had melted into a puddle on the floor.  Momma would be furious when she saw that. He went upstairs and found that both his and momma's bedrooms had been thrown around.  There was spray paint here too on the pictures and on the walls.  All of Momma's nice things from her dresser were missing and the mattress was tilted up and had been ripped open on the bottom.

His room had been mostly just thrown around but all of his Star Wars toys were gone including the 12-inch Jar-Jar that he had saved all summer to buy. He laid down on his bed and just felt numb.  He didn't know what to do.  He didn't know where to go.  So he started to cry and he cried until he fell asleep.


22:15 "Graveyard Club Lower level"

Graveyard Club

*Now, where the hell are you, Annie?* Cadee asked to herself, as she pushed past the crowd on the dance floor until she reached the bar, taking a seat in the spot with the best view of the whole club.

Anne had probably infected her with some goth-virus, because she actually liked the Graveyard Club, albeit not with a passion like she did. It looked like a Victorian ballroom, all glass chandeliers and ornate floor to ceiling columns, with purple and blue lights and Goth artwork projected onto the walls. The bar was long and inviting, the dance floor was very spacious, and near the walls there were many tables, puffs and several couches, along with some booths that provided more privacy. It was great, very sophisticated and classy, not a bit of trashiness about the place.

Cadee even liked the people it attracted. Hell, she should, her best friend was a regular! Besides, the place not only attracted goths, but other city-fauna types as well – and the occasional vampire, of course. There weren’t many places where they could show themselves and pass as humans… and strangely enough, she hadn’t heard of any fatalities at the club.

She was startled as female bartender, hair as red as strawberries, came over to serve her. And still no sign of Anne. Damn.

"Hi, hon." She spoke to Cadee with a purring Brit accent, "want anything to drink while you wait?"

Cadee laughed, she had been so evident. "Sure, a virgin daiquiri, please.” She laughed again at the cute bartender’s raised eyebrow. “Got class in the morning, no alcohol for me.”

“You know, I have this hell of hangover recipe I could give you-” But at Cadee’s look, she raised her hands in resignation. “A virgin-bloody-daiquiri is it.”

“No blood, please” Cadee said, enjoying the girl’s confusion at her joke. “Not my thing.”

She was about to sip on her alcohol-free drink, when Anne suddenly appeared from behind. Her smile was so big, Cadee thought she could see her ears through it.

“Guess what?” She asked, and sort of bounced up and down in her excitement. 

“Where the hell have you been?” Cadee asked instead, and gave her friend her drink, in an attempt to still her. It sort of worked, for she stopped bouncing, at least.

“Upstairs,” she answered, and Cadee knew she was talking about the more exclusive part of the club. Kinda VIP section. “So, guess what?”

She laughed, either she tried to guess or Anne would keep asking the whole night. “Let me see… you bumped into that Darque vampire of yours and he asked you to be his bride?”

“Better still!!!”

“Oh? What could possibly be better than that?” Cadee asked, intrigued at last.

“There’s gonna be a book launch party on Sat! ‘Darque Desires’! Lucinda Graves will be here, and probably some other authors as well! Isn’t it great?”

“Yay!” Cadee agreed, she knew how much those things meant to Anne. Then she remembered her previous encounter with the author. “You know, she was at Sláinte the other night, your vampire lady.”

“She what???” Anne’s eyes grew as plates. “Lucinda Graves was at the bar? And when were you planning to tell me?”

*Oops…* “Oh… now?”

“You gotta be kidding me! When did this happen? Lucinda Graves was at the Sláinte and you didn’t tell me? I can’t fucking believe it, Cade!”

“I’m sorry, Anne,” she said, and she bit her lip. “It sort of slipped my mind. She was there on a date. With detective Sandoval, remember I told you about him? She said she may return,” she offered in an attempt to ease things.

“You better text me the moment she puts a foot on that fucking bar again.” She said, pointing Cadee as she spoke. “And now let’s go ask Jasmin for a couple of passes for Saturday. I wouldn’t miss that party for anything.”

“I work on Sats, Annie-” she started, but was stopped by her friend’s angry look. Cadee sighed. “Ok, I’ll ask Angus for the night off… but then we’re even.”

“Of course,” Anne answered, finally smiling again. Then she sipped at Cadee’s drink and sprayed strawberry juice all over, “what the fuck is this, Cade? You trying to poison me or what?”

“As if I could,” Cadee laughed. “Bad weeds are hard to kill."



22:20 "Graveyard Club Upper Level"

Graveyard Upper Level

It was the first time that Cadee had been to the upper level of the Graveyard, and she was pleasantly surprised. Everything, from the aspect and size of the place, to the patrons, the music, lightning and general atmosphere, was much more subdued than in the other level, but at the same time, it was much more classier. While the lower Graveyard reminded you of a Gothic castle, this upper Graveyard reminded you of a Victorian gentleman’s club, without losing its nightclub identity.

She looked at Anne, and smiled. “I like this, why haven’t you brought me here before?”

“’Cause you like hunks, and hunks don’t come up here,” Anne answered casually while she scanned the crowd looking for any sign of Jasmin.

“I so don’t… well, not always.” Cadee answered, looking around as well. She spotted a couple of guys looking at them from the dance floor, they weren’t your usual beefcake, but neither were they ‘regular’. She elbowed Anne and signaled them with her head. “And what do you call those, Mr.Ugly?”

Anne smiled sweetly. “No. Gay. They’re looking at you because they think you’re a man. Told you to wear a skirt.” She then spotted Jasmin near the bar. “Come on, I see Jasmin over there.”

“Funny, very funny.” She laughed. “So, explain me again why you so object to suck up the lady for a part, but you would for a pair of party passes?”

The brunette looked sternly at her, “if you have to ask, you don’t know me at all, missy. It’s not at all the same. Besides, it’s Lucinda Graves.”

“Of course.” Cadee rolled her eyes, but followed Anne.

Jasmin was near the back, looking every more frustrated at the evening. Her phone was out, in one of her long dresses and corsets. The catch-up of the past two days had been hell, and now on the time she was supposed to be out there, she was, once again, in an argument. “Yes, for Halloween,” she was in the middle of saying. “Yes, I know. That's only five months away. All the more reason to prepare now... yes, you heard me right. Shoggoth on the Roof.”

A pause. “Shoggoth, not saw goth.... S – H – O – G – G – O – T – H!” She listened to the other person for a few more seconds, as he recorded the idea for the pitch. Last time she decided to even try to anything charity-related. The frustrated vampire hung up, growling lowly to herself at the phone and getting an odd look from people around her. As she turned back and saw the pair of women approaching her, though, she forced her look to soften.

“Anne, what a pleasant surprise,” she spoke up to be heard over the crowd and the music as she approached. Her eyes turned to the young blonde woman with her, and back. The smile was as much a product of the old acting training as it was genuine interest. “Is this your partner, or just a friend?” Her voice remained lighter, and teasing. The better to put her at ease.

“Hello, Jasmin,” Anne answered the other woman, smiling herself. It had not been the first time that she had witnessed this… mutation from ruthless businesswoman to the old Hollywood charm Jasmin cultivated. *You gotta thank the servant’s invisibility thing* she said to herself. Even if she wasn’t Jasmin ‘servant’ herself, she had been around while waiting for orders enough to catch Jasmin doing business a time or two. She actually admired the duality involved, it was essential around the circles she moved in.

She looked at Cadee and back to Jasmin, blushing a little when she got the woman’s meaning. “Cadee here is my friend, Jasmin, sorry to tell you.” Then she turned to her friend. “Cadee, let me introduce you to Jasmin Taylor. Jasmin, this is my roommate, Cadence Cloud. Cadee.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Madam.” Cadee said, smiling as well as she extended her hand in greeting. “Let me tell you that your club is great, I so much enjoy it.”

It took her a moment to extend and take her hand so briefly in greeting. The delicate dance of contact: she knew that most people wouldn't notice the temperature. Not without an extended period. So after only a few seconds, she ended the handshake. “Please, don't call me madam,” she said a touch forcefully. “It makes me sound like I'm running a whorehouse.”

As the moment of bitch passed, she clasped her hands back together in front of her, turning attention back to Anne. “When I get this charity production approved, make sure you audition for the role of Asenath.”

“Shall do. ‘Shoggoth’ is one of my all time favorites, not easy to find Howard Phillips in a musical…” She then bit her lip and forced herself to continue speaking. It was easier to tell Cadee that she would ask for those darn passes, and another thing to actually do it. “See, Jasmin, I just learnt that next Saturday the club is going to hold a party for Lucinda Graves, and I so love her books… damn, this is difficult.”

She chuckled, amusedly; Jasmin could guess what was coming, after sixty years in the business. The unmistakable approach of someone asking for a favor but too afraid to ask. “Yes, we are,” she spoke softly at that. “Never hosted something quite like this before, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up.” Which was true: the event meant free publicity, and exposure to more people who might be inclined to come back another night.

“Yeah, well. The fact is that I love Lucinda Graves’ books, and I’d love to attend that party.” She smiled tentatively. “But I know those events are pretty exclusive, so… I was wondering if you could give me and my friend a couple of passes?”

There, she had said it.

Jasmin paused for a moment purely for effect. It was always good to do that; she looked between the two women. “Let me go see if I have any left; I will be back in a minute.” With the same fake look, she turned from them, heading back towards her office. Naturally, she already knew she had a few. But it was all part of the game.

Anne turned around and started the bouncing dance again. “We’re in, Cadee. Oh my god, we’re coming to Lucinda’s party!!” Then she noticed her friend’s serious expression. “What?”

But Cadee was too focused on the blonde’s retreating figure to actually hear her. She had been from the moment her fingers had touched Jasmin’s, that briefest contact had shocked her like white lighting. Cold. She’d been too damn cold.

And then there was a sum of other tiny bits of information that all but jumped to her. Her smell for one; she smelled off. It had taken Cadee a couple of minutes to get what the exact problem was. The club was crowded and not hot, but not cold either… yet, she couldn’t smell any sweat – not foul smelling sweat, but any kind of sweat, or any body odors, actually. Usually people smelled to… people. Jasmin just smelled of perfume. Her skin was too pale, translucent, and it wasn’t your usual goth make up, her chest movements didn’t indicate actual breathing, but moved only enough for her to actually ‘speak’…

It all screamed Vampire to her.


Anne’s shaking her finally woke her up. She looked at her friend and thought about what she had learnt, did Anne know? *Of course she doesn’t know, silly. * She opened her mouth to speak, when she changed her mind. It wasn’t the time or the place. She had heard enough of this Jasmin woman to know she didn’t pose an immediate threat to any of them. *Hell, you don’t build and maintain a place like this killing couriers and customers!*

She forced herself to regain her carefree ways and answer to Anne. “Yeah! It seems we have a party next Saturday!”

2021-05-14 - Friday

04:32 "Anything for a Story"

Outside the DeLuca House - Brooklyn - Friday 5th May, 04:32

“Shit, shit!” Meredith swore beneath her breath as she tore the leg of her skinny track pants on the old chain-link fence. Swinging her left foot over the top, she carefully lowered herself down the other side, dropping the last couple of feet to the ground. The sound was muffled by her sneakers but she still paused, holding her breath and listening in case anyone had heard.

Of course nobody had. Brooklyn was never silent, not even in the presence of a grizzly double murder. Sirens still wailed in the distance, people shouted and cats screeched and knocked over garbage cans. Meredith looked up at the house - a tiny two storey structure with crumbling brickwork and pink petunias growing in window boxes on the lower level. Bars had been screwed over the ground floor windows, but not the ones on the first floor. In fact one window had been propped open, and that was where she was headed.

The story had been broadcast that afternoon, Meredith had watched it on the TV in the campus cafeteria until someone had switched the station to Oprah. A fifteen-year-old girl raped and brutally beaten to death. Sadly, it wasn’t exactly a unique occurrence in this city. But what added to the bizarre nature of the crime was the equally bloody murder of her boyfriend’s mother - gutted and tied to the kitchen table. Meredith had been hooked, and after her last set at the Grindhouse, she’d wasted no time in taking the subway to Brooklyn. The last hour she’d spent at a nearby all-night diner compiling all the details surrounding the tragedy. Understandably the neighbourhood were unnerved by the events. Fear, tinged with a tiny amount of excitement that their mundane lives had been caught up in a real-life horror story.

People liked to talk at times like this, they needed to talk, and Meredith had been happy to offer a sympathetic ear whilst filling most of her notebook with background info on Magdalena DeLuca (the murdered girl) and her missing mother, Freida - a well-respected if not highly strung church going woman who hadn’t been seen since her Tuesday night bible studies group.

She’d learnt a lot. Such as the fact that Magdalena had a boyfriend, an older boy called Carmine Bocelli who worked as a general dogsbody for some big city trader called Balthazar Romano. Carmine wasn’t a clever boy, he was what Mrs Vitale (co-proprietor of Papa Vitale’s 24-Hour Diner) called ‘special’. But everyone had said how nice he was. A real Lennie Small type if ever there was one. Hardly the rapist and murdering sort.

To further add to the mystery, Vitale’s busboy, Joe Perrone, had been outside the house when the ambulance crew brought out the bodies. He’d heard the cops talking with the crime scene guys, something about how the young girl had been killed almost 24 hours before the Bocelli woman. How they’d found extensive blood evidence and tissue samples that didn’t match either of the two victims. Meredith put that together with what she already knew, and came up with at least a dozen different scenarios and a giant question mark. But something had happened in that house… and Meredith was going to find out what it was.

If she could get in there without breaking her neck or getting arrested that was. Still… nobody ever got anywhere without taking a few chances, right?

“Okay… if you’re gonna do this Meri, just do it.” Tightening the straps of her backpack, Meredith pulled the hood of her sweater up over her head and climbed up on the lower window box, clumsily crushing a couple of petunias in the process. Rock climbing had been one of her favourite pastimes in Montana, just being able to get away from everyone else, relying solely on your own strength to survive. This wasn’t much different really, and the crumbling masonry and shoddy drainage made it easy enough to find footholds.

Halfway up, a loose piece of mortar broke free beneath her sneaker. Meredith stifled a yelp and bit into her lower lip, her elbow scraping against the brick wall as she struggled not to lose her grip. Tentatively she groped around with her foot, finally finding an old outlet pipe jutting from the wall. Breathing a sigh of relief, Meredith gently rested her weight on the pipe, the window ledge was within reach if she could just… Her knee gave way. With a gasp of pain and surprise, she made a desperate grab for the window ledge, her feet flailing wildly in midair as she hung on for dear life.

“Jesus Fuc- Bastard…” Meredith swore between gritted teeth, sucking in a lungful of air and grunting against the pain in her knee as her sneakers scuffed against the wall in an attempt to find some purchase. The window was open, propped up with a couple of high school text books, and somehow she managed to half scramble, half pull herself inside.

Gasping for breath, Meredith rested with her back against the wall. That was when the smell hit her.

“Oh… my God…” she cursed under her breath, covering her nose and mouth with the sleeve of her sweater. She’d never smelled a dead… anything before. But she already knew this wasn’t a scent she’d ever forget. It was like rotting meat and faecal matter. Sour and sickly at the same time with a thick bitter tang that tainted the mucus in the back of her throat. The mere thought of breathing it into her lungs made Meredith want to retch and she could feel the muscles in her neck contract and the acrid taste of bile rising in the back of her mouth.

Fumbling for her pen torch, Meredith switched it on and a small, narrow beam of light highlighted the horror she’d so recklessly thrown herself into the middle of. Obviously there hadn’t been time for a clean-up crew yet. Blood spatter seemed to cover everywhere like the set of some slasher flick. The floor was still slick with gore, dotted with various yellow CSI markers and sporadic foot prints. The bright pink walls were decorated with several sprays of crimson as well as blood splattered posters of boy bands and one picture of two kittens in a watering can. The blood soaked teddy bear laying discarded on the bed was a bleak reminder of how young this girl had been.

Meredith batted away several flies that buzzed around the room relentlessly, and resisted the urge to sigh. The smell was repulsive, like some kind of insidious warning. She wanted to leave, to just get the hell out of here. But she had a job to do. Holding the torch between her teeth, she quickly pulled on her gloves and set to work. A diary would be a good start, something that mentioned the boyfriend - Carmine Bocelli. Someone at the diner had mentioned that he was in a gang, so maybe the girl had wrote about it. Meredith quickly looked in the girl’s underwear drawer, nothing. Then at the back of the wardrobe, nothing. Under the mattress? Nothing. She sighed, looking around when her foot creaked on a loose floorboard. Holding her breath, she looked down, the board wasn’t just loose, it had come free.

Meredith crouched low and lifted it away. There was a small hiding space underneath. Inside was a tidy bundle of cash - no more than eighty bucks but a lot for a young girl, some cheap make-up and several photos of a girl and an older boy. Meredith held one up to her torch, the guy looked… well, kinda goofy, but sweet and quite plainly smitten with the pretty girl at his side who had long dark hair and a sunny smile. Meredith felt a pang of sadness tear through her chest. She quickly sorted through a bundle of other papers until she found it, the holy grail - a small lockable diary. Shoving it into her backpack with a couple of the photos, she put the rest of the stuff back in its hiding place.

“Okay,” Meredith said softly to herself. She had to get out of here, now. The smell was oppressive, like something thick and evil pressing down on her. Or maybe that was the guilt of rummaging through a dead girl’s belongings? Meredith pushed it away, if it meant she exposed the murdering bastard who’d done this then it would be worth it. At least that’s what she told herself.

That’s when she saw it. Tiny, but it sparkled brightly even in the poor light. A ruby it looked like, though why a kid would have something like that she didn’t know. Meredith picked it up, holding it in her gloved hand. Maybe it was glass? But no, it was cut too well, and it glittered… really shimmered, better than any ruby Meredith had ever seen in any jewellery store.

She was still gazing at the tiny red stone when she heard a noise.

*Oh shit!*

Meredith slipped the stone into her back pocket, eyes fixed on the door as she slowly retreated back to the window. Her heart pounded hard in her chest, and she didn’t dare breathe. What if someone had seen her come in and called the cops? Meredith squeezed her eyes shut tight and forced herself to breathe. Whatever the sound was, she wasn’t about to stick around and find out. Carefully, Meredith climbed out the window. Down was always easier than up and in less than two minutes she was scrambling her way back over the chain-link fence. She took one last look up at the window, then ran.

05:40 "Sunrise - One side of several phone calls"

First Phone Call

"Balthazar.  Tony, why are you calling me at ... 5:40 am? what?  Who is this?  Sabine? Where's Tony?

"Slow down, Sabine, you aren't making sense.  He what? Are you okay? Okay. From the beginning, please, Sabine.

"Okay, let me see if I got this, you and Tony went back to your place, and he spent the night.  This morning you say something happened to him?

"Ash, hm?  Was there fire? No?  Okay, leave it there, I'll send someone to take care of it.  Go to your mother's or something. Sabine, I know this is upsetting, but it isn't your fault.  There, there.

"Listen, don't tell any one about it.  No, not even your mother, and especially not a priest. I am serious, Sabine, nobody. If I hear you have been talking then I will be very angry.  Very.  Listen, after you calm down some, take yourself to the spa here in my building.  On me.  It'll help, I promise.

That's a good girl."

Second Phone Call

"Frank, tell everyone on the staff that if they see Carmine Bocelli to keep him the fuck away from me.  All of them.  Email list, stupid! Shit! do I have to tell you how to do your fucking job?

"What do you do with him?  If you know where he is, then kill him.  No scratch that, that won't work.  Drop him in a well somewhere and watch  him for three days.  Then call me. 

"No, I don't fucking care which well it is, dumbass. 

"Oh, and call the spa and tell them to keep an appointment open for Sabine to come by today.  Tell them she needs to forget.  Yeah, one of those.

"Thanks, Frank."

Third Phone Call

"Logan, sorry to wake you up.  Whatever you are doing tomorrow night, cancel it, you are going with me to the Graveyard club. 

"I know you wanted the night off, but that's too bad, I really need you to be there. 

"It will be a lot of fun, but more importantly you blend better than Dumbass Frank.

"Tony isn't available.  No, he's really not. Look, just do it!"

07:10 "Cadee's revelations"

Friday, 07:10

“Good morning, my dear.” Anne entered the kitchen, with her usual impetuous quality. “I reckon you promised me Mexican,” she said, rubbing her hands. “A morning that starts with Mexican food can only lead to good things.”

“You’re very cheerful this morning, Annie,” Cadee observed, turning from her cooking and leaning on the kitchen counter. She watched her friend with a knowing eye,  she was wearing the same clothes than last night, and a smile that challenged the sun. “A good night, huh?”

“And a good morning,” Anne winked. “Too bad I have to work, wouldn’t have minded staying.”

“Oh, so Mr. tall and handsome is a keeper?”  She asked, even if she knew the answer, Anne was happy enough with sole encounters, said she liked to keep the doors open.

“Nah,” she said, confirming Cadee’s prediction. “But you can’t blame a girl for enjoying simple pleasures… like your cooking. So, Mexican it is?”

Huevos Rancheros,” she answered, waving towards the kitchen counter with an enormous knife, where little piles of perfectly sliced onions, garlic, tomato and chili were displayed. The smell of the tortillas was delicious. “Go clean yourself, it’ll be ready when you come back.”

“Okie dokie, artichokie,” Anne said, and saluted before leaving the room. Cadee chuckled and resumed her cooking. She hoped she wouldn’t take long, she didn’t have much time before she went to work, and she just needed to tell her about Jasmin.

By the time her friend came back, all showered and ready for work, the kitchen smelled spicy and warm at the same time. A couple of steaming huevos guerreros plates waited on the table, each with a mug of fragrant coffee at its side.

“Oh, wonderful, Cade. This is mouthwatering, I can’t imagine what you’re doing ‘serving’ food and not ‘cooking’ it.”

“Can’t stand being tucked up in a kitchen, you know that.”

“You don’t mind being tucked up in this one,” Anne mumbled, closing her eyes and yumming as she put a forkful of spicy eggs in her mouth.

“Not the same, this is pleasure, not work.” she replied. “Listen, Anne, there’s something I need to tell you.”  Cadee waited till Anne swallowed and looked at her before going on. “How much do you know this Jasmin Taylor?”

“Oh? Not much, I just try and deliver her stuff whenever she needs the service. She’s a great tipper and her errands usually involve industry people… so, good news. You should see her penthouse! And I see her at the Graveyard all the time, of course, but last night was the first I approached the woman there…” She eyed Cadee’s serious face and wondered. “Why are you asking?”

“The woman ’s a vampire,” she said, and waited for Anne’s reaction.

“What???” Anne lowered her coffee mug so brusquely that it splattered coffee all over her eggs, but she didn’t notice. Her eyes were fixed on her friend’s face as she nodded. “Are you sure?”

“I am.”

“But, but… are you fucking sure you’re sure? This is Jasmin Taylor you’re talking about. Hollywood, Broadway, the Graveyard… she’s a fucking public figure!”

“Stop cursing, and of course I’m sure. She’s a vampire, all right. If she looks like a vampire, smells like a vampire, and talks like a vampire... she’s surely not a duck!” Cadee frowned.   “Now think, have you ever seen her during the day? Enjoying sunshine, drinking margaritas in that fine penthouse of hers?”

Anne thought of the usually shadowed rooms  and the heavy curtains, of Jasmin’s pale skin and morning sleepiness, and cursed again. She must have been blind! But she was a public figure! She opened her mouth to speak again, but Cadee anticipated her.

“It’s not unheard of vampires mingling among humans. Not usual, I grant you, but not impossible either. I’ve been giving it some thought,” she said, watching her now cold eggs with distaste, what a waste! She sighed. “There’s plenty of ways she could feed without calling attention on herself. I don’t know, blood banks, willing donors, criminals…” she frowned at the thought of the latter, but continued. “We know for certain she doesn’t kill discotheque patrons, for one, there’s never been word of it.”

“Nor couriers,” Anne added, biting her lip; it was certainly scary to think she had been in the beast’s lair regularly. If Jasmin were an ordinary vampire, she should be dead, all right. A decent vampire at last?

“Nor couriers,” Cadee repeated, serious. “So, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I need to think about it.” Anne got up, her breakfast as forgotten as Cadee’s. “What are you going to do? Kill the big bad vampire?”

Cadee thought of the creature she had met last night, all blond and delicate, and laughed.

“I’d hate to spoil your acting possibilities, not to mention your great tip source, so I guess I’m leaving her alone…” Then she got serious, she had given the matter a lot of thought, in fact.  “I don’t think this vampire in particular poses a threat. Although she’s probably old and powerful, she has much to lose if she acts all ‘big bad vampiry like’. There’s probably nothing to worry about, well, as long as you take care, right? No paper cuts and the like, Bella…”

“Yeah, I guess.”

She was so absorbed that she missed Cadee’s joke. Bad signal. Cadee sighed as she followed her friend out of the kitchen, all her hunter instincts telling her she shouldn’t let Anne next to a vampire just like that, but then she reminded all the whys and wherefores this was not the typical vampire.

Anne moved to the door and took her bicycle helmet, not talking while she adjusted it. When she was ready she turned to Cadee who was watching her with a worried look in her face, and offered a weak smile. “I just hope Jasmin doesn’t need me today. I really need to think about this.”

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07:28 "Bad Times"

Carmine woke with the sun.  He showered and got dressed.  He worked on getting his eye more-or-less normal looking and sort of arranged the pieces of his skull that were poking out back into place.  He packed a bag with two extra changes of clothes.  He had been through a lot of clothes the last few days.  Momma would be mad he'd lost one bag already.

He went downstairs and found some Pop-tarts in the cupboard.  Then as he sat in the kitchen eating them dry he saw the pattern on the walls.  "NWB" New West Berlin.  He knew that tag very well growing up in Hell's Kitchen. They were a group of German and Russian thugs who ran the west-side from 42nd street to the Lincoln Tunnel. He hadn't really paid a lot of attention last night.  He'd been more in shock than anything else. But if they had done this...  If they had been in this house and broken all of Momma's puppies...

The Pop Tarts tasted like ash and he spit them out.  He reached up to the top shelf of the cupboard and pulled down the tin tea-box that Momma said was for "bad times".  This was the worst time that Carmine could ever remember so he figured Momma would understand.

Inside there was a roll of bills.  It was a lot of money, but Carmine carefully counted out the money and wrote a note to put in the can, just like Momma had showed him. He then replaced the can and put the bills in his pocket.  Carmine threw some crackers and Pop-tarts and some Fruit Roll-ups into his bag for later and left the townhouse quietly.  He was careful to look around in case there was Bloods watching the house because he didn't want to get caught just yet.

He hustled down the street.  He had to get over to the the Lucky Strike Lanes bowling alley before they opened. 

08:48 "Lucky Strike Lanes Bowling Alley"

Carmine was crouching in the alleyway between the bowling alley and the dry-cleaners next door.  He hid behind a dumpster full fo something that smelled worse than anything he could remember recently.  He had briefly thought he would hide IN the dumpster until he had smelled it and then changed his mind.

He knew that the NWB used this bowling alley as a "clubhouse" where they'd sit and drink and plan what mischief they'd get up to.  He knew this because he'd  bowled here with Magda few times.  He liked to go bowling.  NWB wasn't like the gangs up in Harlem that would mug you or the gangs over in Brooklyn that would shoot you. They were more like that gangs in Chinatown that stole and sold drugs and bullied people they didn't like.

Until yesterday, he'd thought that NWB liked Carmine okay and they had left Magda alone but they usually didn't like the black people or the Latinos that lived around here.  Those people didn't come bowling here at all.  But carmine knew that if he didn't do something that he'd die for real this time.  And if he had to kill someone then the guys who had ruined his Momma's puppies would be the ones.

The bowling alley didn't open 'til 9:00 and carmine hoped that Ivan who ran the place would let him in early.  He knew Ivan pretty good and sometimes if it was slow Ivan would let Carmine and Magda keep using a lane more than the time they'd paid for.

This wasn't a favor like that, but Carmine hoped he'd do it.  a few minutes later Ivan came and started unlocking the door.  Carmine slipped around the corner and said, "Hi, Ivan."

"Oхуел!*" he said jumping, "Carmine, you out of mind? Why you sneaking around corner this early?"

"I'm sorry, Ivan, I wanted to get in here first thing."

Ivan narrowed his gaze on Carmine, "Why you so eager be in here first, boy?  You in trouble?"

"Kinda," Carmine had to admit, "But if I get in here good and early then I can hide for a while."  Carmine didn't like to lie, but Mr. B. had said that it sometimes made things go smoother, and he was sure right about that.

"Why you have bag?" Ivan asked him, "What is 'Romano Investments'?"

Carmine looked at the bag.  He couldn't say he was running away so he lied, "It's clothes for work.  I do some cleaning up at Mr. B's building."

"I see," Ivan said, "So what you got planned if you need to hide here?"

"Um," Carmine hadn't thought this through, "It's a surprise?"

Ivan cocked his head strangely but unlocked the door and waved Carmine in.  "You start coffee while I set up till," Carmine said pointing to the dining counter, "Kristen and Gerlinda will come at 10:00 but is better if coffee is ready at 10:00"

Carmine looked at the dining counter.  There was a soda fountain and pizza ovens and a cabinet where the pretzels were kept warm.  Everything was turned off.  He nodded, he didn't know how to use the machines to make coffee, but he'd try.  He had an hour to get it done.

Ivan had to come and help him get the coffee made, but once he had been shown, Carmine was able to make three pots before Ivan told him that was enough.  While he was making coffee, Carmine spotted the big knives and the large flat pizza paddle that they used to pull the pizza out of the oven.  He figured that he could use those against those NWB boys.

Beyond that he had no plan and so he sat on the stool and spun back and forth until Ivan shouted at him to sit still because he couldn't think.  After that he just filled all the napkin holders and checked the ketchup and mustard bottles until he spotted the first of the NWB boys to come in.

Ivan didn't even look at them.  The two of them breezed in casually and went straight into the bar. They didn't even look at Carmine.  There wasn't anyone in the bar, but Carmine could see them in there pulling bottles of beer out from behind the bar and not even paying for them.  Carmine went into the bar.  His guts were in knots and he wanted to scream at them with the outrage and fear he had felt last night as he walked thought Momma's house looking at the damage they had done.

But he didn't say anything as he walked past the tall one seated at the bar.  The other one was behind the bar opening cabinets. "Hey, boyo!" the one behind the bar said to Carmine, "Where you keep the nuts, hey?  I h'aint had breakfast yet."

Carmine shrugged and walked around the bar and helped him look.  He opened one of the cabinets and spotted a box that said 'Nuts' on it which he pulled out.  When the guy reached down to dig through the box, Carmine pulled out the knife he'd had in his hand and stabbed him right in the back.

"Kosta!" the other guy cried out and drew a stubby revolver from under his jacket," Mamu ti nabije!" he said and fired the gun at Carmine.

Carmine felt the bullet rip through him and it hurt a lot.  But he didn't die.  He didn't even bleed much.  The guy under the counter had fallen and was trying to reach the knife while rolling on the floor.  Carmine ran around the bar and the other guy fired twice more at Carmine but missed both shots.  When Carmine reached him he was moving fast enough to body-slam him onto the floor. 

Ivan burst into the bar with an AK-47 rifle.  " Chto za huy!  Carmine!  Vat the Fuck?"

"I'm sorry, Ivan, Carmine said and pulled the gun from the guy he had pinned.  He then placed the revolver on his face and pulled the trigger.  The sound was loud, but not as loud as the three shots that came from the AK.  Carmine was knocked down from the impact.  Then he got back up.  Ivan began to shake, he clearly hadn't meant to shoot but this was too much for him so he dropped the gun and ran out of the bar.

Carmine picked up the machine-gun and looked at it.  It was simple to use.  Lever, safety, trigger.  He understood it instantly.  He slung it over his shoulder and started to leave just as three more of the New West Berlin gang entered.   They were drawing weapons but they hadn't even managed to get them clear before Carmine had the machine gun barking.  He struggled to control the weapon but it fired rapidly enough to compensate for his wild aim.

In a moment it stopped.  The clip was empty and all three members of the gang were on the ground.  Carmine dropped the rifle and grabbed a smaller machine gun from one of the men.  It was square and compact and again made simple.  Carmine pulled back the lever marked "Pull to fire" and flipped the switch marked safety before he walked out into the street.  

A tricked-out Mustang was parked in the lot across the street and Carmine spotted Drago, the leader of NWB, pointing a very large chromed hand-gun at him.  It made a sound like thunder and Carmine felt the slug slam into him like a train.  He staggered and another bullet slammed into him.  He staggered back again until his back was against the frame of the door, the glass having shattered by the bullets passing through him.

But he didn't go down.  He lifted the Mac-10 and sprayed bullets across the street.  Glass shattered, another person dropped to the grown and Drago ducked behind the door of his car.  Holes appeared in the hood and door of the bright red Mustang. And almost before Carmine knew it, the gun was empty.

This was nothing like in the movies, he thought, those guys seemed to fire for a LOT longer than these guns.

He looked around for another gun and didn't see any handy.  But no return fire came.  He could hear sirens in the distance so he ran.  He ran towards home because he didn't know where else to go.

Drago cowered behind his car.  He could feel the wetness in his pants and it shamed him.  He had hit that fat guy at least three times right in the chest and he didn't die.  When the machine gun had sprayed the car and he saw Zoran go down he was sure he'd die.  He had wet himself when he heard the bullet blow past his ear through the door. 

He got up and ran into the Bowling alley.  He looked at the dead bodies of Ladislas, Jefta and Savo in the lobby.  As he stood there in disbelief he heard the police pulling up out front.  He looked up and saw Ivan peering out from behind a counter.  Drago held the gun up and Ivan pointed to behind the counter where the cash register stood open.  Drago nodded and tossed the gun into the deep drawer which did not have a cash-tray yet in it and closed it.

Policemen poured in with guns drawn and shouting orders.  Drago patiently answered all of their questions withholding only the truth about his gun and the identity of the shooter.  When they were done and the ambulances had carried away their friends. Drago asked Ivan, "Who was he?"

"Carmine, don't know his last name.  Comes in here couple of times a month and bowls with teenaged girlfriend.  Kinda retarded, I think."

"This wasn't the work of a retard, Ivan."

"I know, but it was him.  I spoke to him this morning.  He couldn't even make coffee."

Drago pulled the gun out of the register. "I will see that he pays in blood.  Where can I find 'Carmine'?"

Ivan couldn't help until he remembered the duffel that Carmine's had brought -- the bag that had the Romano Investments logo on it.

* Are you crazy!

09:05 “Cooking 101”

Friday, 09:30

La Española Bar & Cantina


“Cadee, you should be taking professional classes, attend a Culinary School. I could get you a recommendation.” Imanol García said with his marked Spanish accent, watching his pupil, as she easily cleaned a squid for a ‘calamares en su tinta’ dish.

Imanol was the owner and cheff of 'La Española', a cozy restaurant in Greenwich Village. He was from Galicia, and his restaurant served the best Spanish recipes.  When he had just got from Spain, with big dreams and little else, Pedro had dated Cadee’s mother, but, while the relationship with Susan hadn’t prospered, he had recognized in her daughter a fellow cooking lover.  In fact, he had kept seeing the mother just for the pleasure of teaching the daughter to cook, until he had felt too Nobokov for his ease of mind and finally ended the relationship with Susan. 

Then, 4 years ago, just by chance, they had met again and he had taken her to his recently opened restaurant. Somehow, cooking lessons had naturally followed. Cadee was as eager to learn as she had been as a teen, and she was good, but it killed him to see her skill wasted in a waitress job.

“No matter how good of a cook you happen to be, no five star establishment will consider you without the right education. You know that!”

Cadee pulled the squid’s head away, all with entails attached, and gently extracted the ink sack from them. It was unbroken, smiling at her small victory, she proceeded to squeeze the dark ink into a small bowl with water.  When she was satisfied that the sack was empty, it followed the entails to another bowl, only then she turned to the man besides her. 

“Are you implying that you’re not a good teacher, Manny,” she asked, feigning worry. “’Cause I don’t think I could have extracted squid’s ink last week.”

“I’m an excellent teacher, el mejor! But a teacher is as good as his students are. And you’re too good to be serving tables!”  

Cadee sighed, they had the same conversation almost every other week. She looked around. There were plenty of people in the kitchen, ‘La Española’ was a medium sized restaurant and  at least half a dozen line cookers were working at any time, not mentioning Joan, Manny’s sous-cheff. It was early still, so everybody was doing prep-work.

There were several work stations, each dedicated to its own purpose.  A woman worked at the salads’ station, cutting romaine lettuce from a huge case under the table. She had already arranged  all of the dressings and big bowls of avocados, tomatoes and onions along the table, all within arm's reach. In another section of the kitchen, a latino man was working on the appetizers’ station – or tapas, as they were called in Spanish cuisine. He was toasting large quantities of sliced bread with olive oil and garlic. These would get prepared with different toppings – ham, bacon, olives, mushrooms – which already waited in neat bowls.

Likewise, the cooks in charge of the grill, the sautéing pans and the deep fryer were also getting ready for the working day. There were boiling pans and sizzling oil, smoked pork and ham; sausages, chorizos and morcillas hanging happily from the ceiling. The smells, and sounds were tempting, challenging, exciting…

She had already done her training in all of those stations. Imanol, Manny, had been her teacher, but also the rest of the cooks, who liked her and didn’t see her as a threat. She had gone from the easiest station, the salads one, step by step to what Manny considered the hardest: the seafood. She'd had four years of continuous –if not formal–  training in most areas of a restaurant kitchen; and contrary to what she had told Anne earlier, she wouldn’t bother to be tucked up in one at all.

However, she could relate to Manny’s frustration, sometimes she felt it too. But there was no way she could make him understand, in fact she wasn’t sure she could understand it herself. What the hell was she doing serving tables? She could be cooking and probably making more money than she did at the Slàinte, even without a degree from any fancy cooking school. She knew she had the skill. Or she could be working as a receptionist in Wall Street, like Sandoval mentioned, or as a secretary, even a cop. She would be a great cop!  If she could ever get over her distrust of them, of course.  But no, she was a waitress, serving another cooker's creations instead of her own. *Hey, don’t complain, it leaves you plenty of time to play slayer!* She nodded, it was as simple as that: it left her plenty of time to play slayer.

“Actually, Manny, I hunt vampires and demons during the night. The Sláinte is perfect for that. Plenty of cops, you know, sometimes I hear things. So I get into my ass kicking boots and go kill monsters.”

She looked at him seriously for a few seconds, enjoying his puzzled expression. She could almost hear his mind working, trying to decide whether she had gone suddenly crazy or was just pulling his leg. Then she laughed, a laughter so heartfelt that startled everybody in the kitchen, and Manny relaxed, grinning as well.

Niña loca. You almost got me there.” He said, and walked away to supervise some other thing, shaking his head as he went.

Feeling a little ashamed because of her joke, Cadee turned to the dismembered squid on her working table. She quickly sliced all the edible parts and placed them in yet another bowl, then she took the innards' one before somebody decided to clean up and throw its contents to the garbage. She knew of some who would enjoy the treat.

As she had thought, the usual collection of cats was waiting near the kitchen’s back alley’s door.  It wasn’t unusual to find cats near a restaurant, they were clean animals and helped keep the place clean. Cadee loved cats, in fact, Flora and Freddo, her own, had come from a litter she had found in that precise alley.

“I have something for you, sweets,” she told the animals as she descended the couple of steps. The cats meowed and rubbed themselves against her legs, making her laugh. She poured half the content of the squid’s waste on the floor and watched them eat for a few seconds. Then she scanned the alley, looking for a particular cat; she smiled when she spotted him.

“There you are. You knew I’d save something for you, didn’t you?” She said, walking towards the big dumpsters close to the door. A big silver stripped tomcat sat there, watching her as well. She patted his head, and poured the rest of the squid in front of him. As usual, the cat simply looked at her, his expression priceless, not one glance at the food whatsoever. “Oh, come on, Tom, I know you like squid, who wouldn’t?”

The cat just cocked his head.

Cadee chuckled, she knew the game, and didn’t mind playing it. “You’re a bad boy, aren’t you?” she said, finally giving up. She opened her arms and the cat jumped to her, immediately nuzzling her neck. Cadee laughed, delighted by the thick, soft feeling of his fur against her skin, and rubbed his head. He smelled clean and wild, and she could feel his heart going very quickly against his ribs. The cat purred and burrowed into her hair, as if smelling her too, his bushy tail extended in pleasure. After a couple of minutes of mutual cuddling, Cadee put him onto the dumpster once more. “Sorry Tom, duty calls,” she said, and with a final pat to the feline’s head, she walked towards the restaurant again.

It wasn’t until she closed the door behind her, that the cat started to eat.


Guest starring Imanol Arias as Imanol 'Manny' García



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10:41 “Party Planning”

Greenwich Village – Alison’s loft

“Alison, I’ve found the most darling outfits for you!”

Alison barely had time to open the door wide enough to let her agent in before Connie had swept into the room and dumped a stack of large, glossy photos onto the coffee table.

Connie Webb was a petite woman, several inches shorter than Alison’s 5’9”, but what she lacked in size she more than made up for in presence. Having offloaded her burden, she dashed back to the entrance where Alison was still in the process of shutting her door, and grabbed Alison’s hand. Tugging her over to the couch, she grabbed the top couple of photos and waved them in front of Alison’s face.

“See? All of these are available for tomorrow night, we just have to pick one. We’ve got the entire top level of Graveyard booked for us. Have you ever been? It’s a gorgeous Victorian/Gothic place, you’ll love it. Now we just have to dress you appropriately.”

Connie dropped the photos and caught Alison in a fierce hug. “Six books, and getting stronger every time. After this weekend, Lucinda Graves will be the talk of the town. I expect we’ll be in all of the social papers, at least.”

“Okay, okay,” Alison laughed, hugging Connie back before disengaging to sit on the couch. “I knew you were excited about the nightclub booking for this launch, but I didn’t realise how much.”

“Are you kidding, Alison? This is going to be your biggest launch party yet – only to be topped by the one for number seven.” Connie grinned wickedly. “Also, I’ve arranged for a surprise for tomorrow night. I’m sure you’ll love it.”

Alison raised an eyebrow. “As long as it’s not the same sort of ‘surprise’ as the male strippers you ordered for the last party. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I wish you’d warned me they were going the full Monty!”

Connie shrugged. “Hey, there’s a reason these things are adults only.” She patted Alison on the arm. “But never fear, my inhibited friend. It’s nothing so overt this time. I promise everyone will keep their clothes on. At least, until the party’s officially over.”

Shaking her head in mock resignation, Alison glanced at the photos. At the first one she paled visibly and stared up at Connie. “You can’t be serious.”

Connie sat on the couch beside her and peered at the photo in Alison’s hand. It showed a model wearing what could only loosely be described as clothing. A couple of leather straps crossed over her breasts, barely covering her nipples and little else, and an assortment of other straps covered her groin. It was clear that most of her bottom would be on display, though the photo didn’t show that angle.

“I might as well go naked, if you think I’d wear that,” Alison objected.

“Ah well, I had to try. You know, maybe I could…”

“No! I won’t let you turn up in something like that. Let’s keep some level of decorum.” Alison put the picture back on the coffee table, facedown, and gave Connie a sidelong glance. “I know you: you only brought that so I’d settle for something more risqué than I would normally.”

Connie laughed. “Yep, guilty as charged. Okay, let’s try the rest.”

“No black this year, please. I know it’s a Goth club we’re going to, but you’ve had me in black for the last three launches. I’m ready for a little colour.”

“Aww, not even this?” Connie held up a photo of a model wearing a gorgeous black beaded corset with a short skirt.

“It’s pretty, but no. And remember, I don’t have slender thighs like these models.”

“Tsk, such a shame. I was looking forward to seeing you in that.”

Connie put the photo away and they fished through the rest until they’d narrowed it down to a handful. She vetoed Alison’s favourite as being too demure. Eventually they settled on a blue dress with a plunging neckline, an open back and a floor-length skirt with two thigh-high slits. It was perhaps a trifle more risqué than Alison was comfortable with, but at least it wasn’t black.

“It’s a pity the model’s standing in such an awkward pose,” Alison remarked. “But I think that’ll look nice and swishy when I’m walking. I just hope my boobs don’t fall out of it.”

“Lovely choice,” Connie said. “And your boob will be fine. I’ll get that picked up for you this afternoon. Your hair stylist and makeup artist will be arriving here at your apartment at around 5pm, so be ready for them. Oh, and that surprise I mentioned earlier? It’s a surprise guest. I was thinking he could be your date.”

“Uh… I think I may already have a date for the party.”

Connie’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Do tell. He’s not another loser like that last guy you had, I hope.”

“No, no, he’s really nice. He’s a cop. And, well, we used to go out years ago.”

“Hold on, was he the one that came to the book signing on Monday? The one you blew me off for so you could go to dinner with him instead of me?”

Alison nodded. “Yeah, that’s him.”

Connie gave a low whistle. “Nice. If it doesn’t work out between you two, let me know. I could show him a thing or two.”

“Connie, you’re impossible!” Alison laughed. “But I think we may have something. I don’t know, it’s still early days. We’ve both changed a lot since we knew each other last. And I’m not sure how well he’ll fit in with the crowd tomorrow night. He’s more Alison’s kind of guy than Lucinda’s, you know.”

“Pfft. He’ll be fine. With all that free booze? I defy anyone not to enjoy themselves tomorrow. It’ll be an event to remember, I promise.”

2021-05-15 - Saturday

16:20 "Romano Investments"

Drago Sertic sat in the black van that they used for deliveries of "product".  He didn't care if the product was opium from Pakistan or Chinese girls from Taiwan, guns from Bosnia or TVs from Okinawa.  It was all product for him.  He could pick it up and deliver it to whoever needed it enough to pay for it.

Today, the product was three bodies.  But they were unlike any bodies he had ever had to deliver.  These men whom he had known since they were boys together were supposed to be dead.  But they had each risen from horrific wounds and walked out of the morgue.

Alarms had sounded, guards had chased but in the end they had gathered to him.  Drago felt like he had an army of Rasputins working for him.  Unkillable. Miro had enough holes in him that he could strain pasta.  Kosta had a deep gash in his back through which Drago could see his heart pump.  And Zoran.  The .38 that Carmine had fired into his face had entered his cheek, but the soft lead shells had removed the back of his head.  Now his jaw hung loosly from tendrils of flesh and his tongue hung out from the hole like a fat pink leech.  Drago could not look him in his remaining eye for more than a few seconds.  His face was a thing of nightmares.

Drago had been waiting outside Romano Investments looking for Carmine, since yesterday afternoon.  He'd watched as several people had come and gone but there had been no sign of him.  Then this morning he'd gotten the call from Ivan to meet him back at the bowling alley where the three ...strigoi was the only word he could think of... awaited.  Ivan was drunk as a fucker and these three told him they were back and had to kill. 

So now, they were outside of Romano Investments still waiting. 

Miro was impatiently muttering in Croatian, "I say we just run in there and make them tell us where he is.  It isn't like they can hurt us."  Zoran made a chuckle sound deep in his ruined face that made Drago's bladder weak.

Kosta was quick to counter, "No, they can't kill us, but it fucking hurts to get shot don't it?  I swear my insides itch from this fucking hole in my back."  Zoran just tuned and looked blankly at him.

"Okay, no contest, Zoran, But you know what I mean," he said.

Drago took charge, it was what he was good at. "Look, is easy, we grab one of guys hanging around back.  We ask him few questions; kill him if we must.  Then we repeat until either draw too much attention or get answer."

Kosta muttered, "We must, Drago, we fucking must."

Miro pulled on a jacket that hid the holes in his torso and Zoran pulled up a hood to hide his face.  The three walked around the block to an alley that led to the loading dock in the back.  There were two guys out there.  In their suits and ties they looked very out of place in the dirty alleyway clustered around a bucket full of sand and cigarette butts.

They talked casually about sports and TV until the trio got nearer. They then got quiet and watched suspiciously.  Miro spoke to them, "Hey, any of you guys know a big fat dude named Carmine?  We are lookin' for him."

They didn't seem reassured, but one of them spoke, "He doesn't work here any more. I don't know where he is.  Sorry."

Miro shook his head, "Sorry doesn't cut it."

The three pulled out guns and started shooting.  One of them men dropped quickly, the other managed to get his .45 Automatic out and shoot it at Zoran. The shot had the misfortune of hitting him in the head.

His jaw flew off in a different direction than the rest of him taking part of the right-hand side of his face with it.  He made a sound like "Wack!" which made Miro laugh.

Zoran slammed into the guy and stomped on him until his head cracked like a melon.  He croaked the sound "Waggah!" at him.

Miro and Kosta were going through the other guy's pockets.  Miro pulled out an iPhone and pressed the address book. It had names, numbers and addresses of most of Balthazar's men. A sound from the loading dock made them decide to run.

Back in the van they poured through the phone. Carmine's name and number wasn't in there, but there was a note that Carmine was to be kept away from Balthazar Romano at all costs.  Mr. Romano was going to be at the Graveyard club tonight.

Drago sat back in the van, "Balthazar Romano knows where Carmine is.  So if I can get to him at the club then I can ask him myself.  Boys, we are going clubbing tonight!"

19:02 “Graves at the Graveyard”

Alison and Connie emerged from the limousine, both stifling laughter brought on by a lewd joke Connie had been relating. Alison filed it away in the back of her mind as a joke that Lucinda might tell, in the right company. Tonight, with her hair and makeup both done professionally she was already immersing herself in the Lucinda role, adopting a sexy sway to her hips. The stiletto heels helped in that department too, of course. The blue dress she’d chosen draped gracefully around her, the slits revealing tantalising glimpses of her legs when she walked.

Leaning down to speak to the limousine driver through the window, she knew she was giving him one hell of an eyeful of her cleavage. She managed not to blush and considered it a dry run for later that night. “This is the address in East Harlem you need to go to pick up Mr. Sandoval. He’s expecting you.”

As he took the slip of paper from her she smiled. “Thanks.”

“No problem, Miss,” the driver replied. “I’ll have him here by quarter to.”

“Good, the party starts at eight.”

“I still think you should have brought Sven as a date instead,” Connie said with a mock pout. “Think what a lovely couple you’d make. And I still can’t believe you guessed who my mystery guest would be.”

Alison grinned. “It wasn’t too hard to figure out. As soon as you said it was a he, Sven was the obvious choice. Anyway, let’s get inside and meet the hostess, shall we?”

They entered the club. At a little after 7pm and still daylight outside, the club wasn’t yet open for regular business. Upon seeing the doors open, a man crossed the floor to meet them and directed them to a stairway on their left. Reaching the top, Alison smiled at the Victorian décor. “Oh, I can see why you picked this place, Connie. It looks very like the way I described Donatien’s club, even down to the dark leather barstools.”

As they came up stairs, Jasmin was already in the middle of her final arrangements. Yes, the publicity was good, but she'd had to sleep in the office yet again. Someone came up and put a box down on the table in front of her, looking inside at the Blood Energy Drinks. The irony was just too delicious to pass up. “Bar, hang them on the hooks. Make it look like a hospital wing.” And please don't let any actual vampires think it's real.

As she moved around with an eye out for the preparations, she could hear the latex of her skirt crinkle. She stopped another waiter on the way to a table with a small selection of food. “Other side, over by the punch.” The frustration in her voice at all the little things that could and did go wrong shone through. When she finally saw the other two women arriving, she started over to them, putting on her best smile and speaking up once she neared. “Ah, you must Ms. Graves and her agent. I do hope you don't mind the outfit. Someone failed to specify which Goth they wanted, so I decided to give them Industrial-Fetish.”

Alison blinked at the woman’s outfit. While technically it covered everything, the black latex was so skin-tight that it left absolutely nothing to the imagination. It took her a moment to get back into Lucinda mode and let a knowing smile cross her features. Connie, in the meantime, had beaten her to it.

“Oh, that’s an adorable outfit. You know, I wanted to wear something a bit more exotic than this,” she gestured to the black beaded corset that Alison had rejected yesterday, “but I was vetoed.”

With her reactions now under control, Alison turned to her agent and raised an eyebrow. “Oh please, you had no intention of really wearing that thing with the straps. At least, not at the book launch anyway.”

Alison turned back to the hostess and extended her hand. “Charmed to meet you, Ms. Taylor. This is my agent, Connie Webb. She’s the one who did most of the hard work organising this shindig. And I think, if you don’t mind, I might steal that look for a character in my next book.”

Jasmin took Allison's hand extremely briefly. The cold would, if she was fortunate, go unnoticed or be easily brushed off. “Of course not. Steal away, though if you do it for a vampire remember that they don't breathe, so they can probably lace the corset far tighter than mine.”

She looked over Allison's dress quite appreciatively, before turning to Connie with an equally appraising eye. “It is a pleasure to meet you, as well as your agent, who I must say would look adorable in a bunch of straps.”

Alison swore that Connie’s smile turned positively coquettish, before she dropped back into business mode. That was one of the things Alison loved about her agent: she would joke and flirt with anyone and everyone, but when it came to business she was on top of everything and nothing would slip by her.

“I see you’ve got refreshments well in hand,” Connie remarked, indicating the tables laden with food and drink. “Now how about that book display? It needs to be somewhere prominent, but not in anyone’s way. And naturally we’ll want an area for photographs. I have a photographer coming along later tonight. There are some very particular publicity shots I want to have taken.” She smiled broadly at Jasmin. “And of course there’ll be plenty of press here. I’m so glad we were able to hold this in your beautiful club.”

Alison quirked an eyebrow. “And these publicity shots wouldn’t have anything to do with that ‘mystery guest’ you told me about, would they?” She laughed her tinkling Lucinda laugh that had been designed to make men melt, and which she’d been practising in the limousine on the way over. “No wonder you’re disappointed that I’m bringing my own date tonight.”

Jasmin turned towards Connie, fixing her with slow and steady gaze. It was the kind of disapproving look that you gave for only a brief time. “My dear, I am an experienced professional. Trust me when I say that I am well aware of how to arrange these kind of events,” raising an arm with the matching arm warmer on it to point at a book display. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she always resented that. She only had six decades of experience in this. She knew her type. All business, and at least as far as business went, one of them had to establish themselves as the dominant figure. Her smile softened then.

“And I've found an interesting energy drink you might use in them – it's made by some geeky company called Blood Energy Drink. Looks like a packet of blood like you'd see hanging in the hospital for a transfusion....” She trailed off then, looking between the two of them. “And Ms. Graves, believe me, even with your own date, you can still pose for a photo or two.”

Alison ignored the woman’s momentary frostiness towards Connie, knowing that at events such at this feathers were occasionally ruffled when two organiser types first met. She trusted Connie to keep things friendly and not to let Jasmin’s minor display of bitchiness get to her. After all, Connie was an experienced professional as well. Instead she focused on the discussion of photos.

“Well, that depends on my date. This isn’t really his sort of thing, so he may be a bit shy.”

She headed towards the book display to get a better look. Personally she wasn’t sure that the blood packets weren’t perhaps a trifle cheesy, but she supposed it fit with the theme for the evening. She glanced at Connie to see what she thought, and Connie shrugged in her “what the hell, roll with it” manner and conducted a quick visual tour of the rest of the arrangements.

Once she was satisfied that everything was in order, Connie turned to Jasmin. “Superb,” she said. “It looks wonderful. Thank you so much for helping us out with this. Tonight’s going to be a huge success, I’m sure. This club and Lucinda’s books will be the talk of the town tomorrow.”

Like any typical Leo, when the conversation turned to praise, her smile turned more genuinely warm. Dominance established, she decided, speaking more lightly. “Oh, no problem. It's part of my job to try to make sure that events like this go off well. No doubt some of the gossip columns will have fun describing how, once more, I was a secret and epic bitch.” That, she tried to keep very light. Jasmin was well aware of her reputation.

“Give you a trick for your date,” she turned back to Lucinda. “Something that helped me with these things. No, not that cheesy underwear or naked thing. If his nerves get too bad, tell him to just focus on making his breathing rhythmic – trust me, between that and you, he'll be too distracted to be nervous.” It wouldn't help much with dealing with crowds either, she knew, though she did have more than a little curiosity at who, exactly, her date might be.

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll be fine. He just may be reluctant to have any publicity shots taken. I’m sure the papers will get a few candid shots through the night, but he’ll be fine.” Alison grinned. “We’ll just have to behave until the press go away.”

Connie laughed. “Trust me, the press will be too busy taking photos of you with… oh, speak of the devil.”

A man emerged at the top of the stairs. He was tall, blond, and handsome, and anyone who’d ever seen the cover of a Lucinda Graves book would recognise him immediately.

“Sven, darling, over here!” Connie called. “I’d love to introduce you to the creator of Donatien Darque. This lovely creature, my dear, is Lucinda Graves.”

Alison had guessed this was who Connie had invited, but even so Sven Tonnesen was imposing in person. She hadn’t realised just how tall he was. Seeing the man who’d become the face of her vampire hero was a very surreal moment for her. “Hello,” she said eventually, “It’s lovely to meet you in person at last.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” he replied, sweeping up her hand to bestow a kiss upon it.

Alison laughed. “Oh, please tell me Connie put you up to that.” His only reply was a grin.

“And this, Sven darling,” Connie interjected, “is Jasmin Taylor, our gorgeous hostess for the evening.”

Sven nodded to Jasmin, his eyes dropping from her face only momentarily to take in the curves that her outfit accentuated. “Charmed, I’m sure,” he said.

Jasmin squinted her eyes at him when he came in, looking and peering at him more closely. The man seemed familiar, extremely so, but she couldn't quite place him. Not at first. It wasn't until she gave a look at the books on display that exactly who this was actually clicked in her head. Maybe it would have helped if I actually read one of these books before agreeing to this, or at least, read it for more than the humor. “Pleased to meet you, Sven.” Her eyes fixed for a moment on his neck, confirming that there was indeed a pulse there.

She clasped her hands together in front of her, as another person came up to ask her something about the arrangements, staring. “So get some Bailey's from the downstairs stocks. There's always a call for Irish Coffee at these things.” Turning back as he went away, she gestured broadly. “Well, is there anything else that I can do for all of you this evening?”

Connie took the lead. “I think we’re all set for the moment. My photographer should be here any minute, and we’ll get a few publicity stills with Sven and Alison before the guests start arriving. So if you don’t mind us camping out in this corner here for a bit, we’ll leave you to any last-minute details you need to attend to.” She cocked her head slightly. “I do hope I’ll get to spend some time chatting with you properly once the party’s underway.”

Jasmin hung on to the actual name used, filing it in the back of her mind. Alison. She'd need to remember that Lucinda Graves was a pen name. “Not at all. The doors will be open in a bit, and if you all need a drink, might I recommend the Black and Blue? It's extremely tasty. Be seeing you all.” With one final polite smile, she began to move off, making a final set of rounds to be certain that everything was in order. It was going to be a long night.

19:24 "Waiting for the limo"

Pablo waited in his apartment.  He had his badge and off-duty gun sitting on the coffee table in front of him and he was considering them carefully.  This was a party, there was no reason to carry the piece.  But something told him he should.  Some instinct said that in a room full of goth crazies in a bar where there had been reports of vampire bites there would be trouble.

Alison, however, had been very specific: Be yourself, don't be a cop for one night.  You'll meet some of my friends and maybe even have some fun. Don't be a cop.  He had been thinking about this for days.  How do you not be a cop? You don't carry a gun.

He picked up the badge and slid it into his pocket. Some things were too hard to ask.  The buzzer downstairs rang and a voice came over the intercom.  "Limousine for Mr. Sandoval."

He punched the button, "Be right down"

He removed the clip and checked the chamber before placing the gun back in its drawer and locking it.  I'm going to have fun, tonight, he thought.  But that damn voice in the back of his head wouldn't let him believe it.

Downstairs the limo looked big enough for twelve.  Several of the barrio boys were admiring it.  They shouted to him, "Ese carro esta que echa caldo!*" and "En el mundo de la Farandula!**" and he laughed and waved.  They were good kids and he knew they were having some fun at his expense. The driver held the door and he slid into the leather seats.  Inside was all chrome and black Lexan with neon running lights. 

There was a bar, tv, stereo system, and bags of snacks.  He helped himself to some pretzels and poured a bourbon and sat back in the car to enjoy the ride.  He wondered if Alison spent a lot of time rising in limousines and if this was going to be a typical date night for them.

Probably not, he finally admitted to himself.  She only seemed to release one or two of these books a year and only the last few had been the huge best-sellers that had prompted launch parties like the one tonight.  Once again he found it hard to reconcile his memory of Alison the eager young reporter with the big-time author.  But that little dinner date they'd had really made it clear that "Lucinda" wasn't Alison. 

He liked Alison and for that he'd indulge Lucinda.  He hoped that he could offer as much separation between Juan Pablo and Detective Sandoval.

*  Your car gives broth - Slang for "your car is badass"

** You are in celebrity land - slang for he's in the "big time".

20:04 Meredith Intro

“Oh pleeeeeeeeease, please, please! Pretty please with sugar on top!”

Meredith folded her arms across her chest. She felt dumb for letting Gail talk her into getting dressed up and coming out tonight. They both had to work later, so they’d dropped by the Grindhouse and ‘borrowed’ a couple of their less revealing outfits. They were supposed to be going to a hot new club that had just opened, but Gail had wanted to drop into The Graveyard for a couple of drinks first.

It wasn’t Meredith’s scene or Gail‘s either for that matter. Too pretentiously gothic, all heavy drapes and chandeliers. Like walking into Grandma’s house… if Grandma had been into S&M… and if she’d had a Grandma. Plus it attracted all the Emo crowd, not to mention the vampire fantatics - they were the real weirdos. Absinthe drinking, corset wearing, piercing obsessive weirdos. Some of them even glued fake fang veneers onto their regular teeth.

So it came as no surprise that Gail ‘suddenly remembered’ the hot coat check girl who worked there, and how she’d been meaning to get her number.

“You’re ditching me so you can cop off with some girl!”

“Like I said, it’s important. Pleeeease Meredith!” Gail clasped her hands together in fake prayer. “I haven’t had any in like a week! Okay I’ll admit it, I’m a horny dyke and I don’t care who knows!”

“We were supposed to be going dancing.”

“You still can!” Gail held up an envelope, a wide grin on her face. “Julie, did I mention her name is Julie? Well, she said there’s a private party going on upstairs. A book launch, for Lucinda Graves! She‘s that reporter right? The one you idolised for the best part of last year?” She thrust the envelope into Meredith’s hands. “She scored you an invite, how cool is that? Plus there’s free food…”

Meredith snatched the envelope. “What sort of food?”

“Ha! Like you care!” Gail laughed, slapping her on the ass. “The way to a girl’s heart… I promise, I’ll make it up to you. Pizza and a movie, anything you want, my treat.” She grinned wickedly and added, “I’ll even go down on you if you like, convince you to switch sides.”

“Pizza and a movie is fine,” grumbled Meredith, resisting the urge to grin and let Gail off the hook. “And beer. You can save the rest for coat check girl.”

“Oh I have plenty to go around,” Gail stuck out her tongue and waggled it suggestively. “We’ll meet up here later?” She took a step back and gave Meredith’s outfit a full once over. “You look terrific, Freckles! Totally hot! Maybe you’ll get lucky yourself.”

“Yeah,” Meredith was less than convinced, in fact she felt completely exposed. She tugged self-consciously at the hem of her dress which barely covered her backside and made her legs look about a mile long. It was one thing being all on show when she was at work, but it was different out here, in the ‘real world’. It was like being stuck between identities. Like if Clark Kent had turned up to work dressed as Superman. Besides, she wasn’t the flirtatious type, not really. She hated talking to strangers and dressed like this there would only be one reason anyone would want to talk to her.

“Come on, you need to get laid girl. Hump out your frustration, it works for me.”

“You do enough of that for both of us, in fact, you should be the least frustrated girl in Manhattan, perhaps even the entire state.”

Gail grinned, but she wasn’t done. “I mean it, Meri, you haven’t been on a date since that fuckwit, Jason. You’ve been off the horse long enough, it’s time to saddle up and smack that pony girl!”

Meredith planted her hand on her hips. “I’m not interested in getting on a horse or pony or any other equine mammal. Or man for that matter. I’m done, sick of the whole damn species. Which,” she held up a hand to hold Gail back, “doesn’t mean I’m switching sides either. In fact if the journalism thing doesn’t work out I may just decide to become a nun.”

“No, no, no,” Gail pulled her into a sisterly embrace. “That would be a criminal waste of the best piece of ass in Manhattan.” Meredith tried to punch her playfully but Gail didn’t loosen her hold. “Look, have fun, have some drinks and eat some canapés. And if you see that Lucinda chick, get me her number. I’ve seen the book cover and she is hot!”

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20:20 Cadee Anne intro

As she practically danced her way up the stairs to the upper level of the Graveyard Club,  Anne was sure she could understand what Charlie had felt at the gates of the chocolate factory.  She turned around and prompted her companion, a much more composed Cadee.

“Come on, come on, come on, brighten up! It’s vampires’ night. My kind!”

Cadee took a look around and nodded appreciatively. The already Victorian atmosphere of the place was heightened by the lightning and ‘old vampire movie’ decorations; even if the blood bags hanging  above the bar looked more Mel Brooks than Bela Lugosi. Cadee smiled, it was a nice touch, though. *Especially if the owner is a vampire*, she thought .  

The room was full with the expected vampire wannabes, assorted goths and more serious book lovers, also members of the press –if the flash lights were any indication – and people in general. An important book display stood near the bar area too, complete with a cut out of Anne’s future husband, and Anne’s future husband too, if she wasn’t mistaken…

“Oh my, oh my, oh my! It’s Donatien Darque!” Anne cried and Cadee smiled. Nope, she wasn’t mistaken. However, Anne looked more the vampire than the infamous Donatien, she thought , her dress all black satin and lace, the only touch of  color a red and black stripped under-bust corset, and even a vampire bite choker! Well, at least she had been able to talk Anne out of wearing plastic fangs…

“You know he’s not a real vampire, don’t you?”  She asked, and received a killing look in response. She giggled, feeling wicked. “Just promise me you won’t go and offer your jugular to him, please.  Imagine how many of these… vampirettes will do that, you don’t want to be so obvious, do you?”

“I wouldn’t be so predictable,” she said, a little too quickly, and Cadee knew she had been thinking of doing just that. Then her face softened, “but you can’t deny the man is beautiful. Look at those shoulders, and those eyes! Maybe I’ll offer him something else…”

“Sure. Because that wouldn’t be predictable at all, right?” Cadee answered, an appreciative look in her eyes. Actually, the man was beautiful, blond and tall. Not bad at all. And he played his part well; he was pretending to bite a convincingly languid Lucinda Graves in the neck, for the pleasure of their fans, while reporters took picture after picture.  

“I won’t bother talking to you, heretic no-book person,” Anne replied with a sneer.

“No nonsense person, you mean?”

“No. I mean heretic no-book person,” Anne repeated, watching her friend and sighing. “And I had such hopes for you…”

“What you had was a vampire costume for me; you’re still sulking because I’m not wearing it.”

“You look OK, I guess, for a layma –woman,” Anne lied, watching her friend. Cadee was clad in a sequined smoke colored mini-dress that showed off her long legs, and incredible cow-fur boots. She knew Cadee had been waiting for months for an occasion to wear the outfit, and she looked really hot, but she wasn’t going to admit it.

“Not everybody can come as a vampire, Anne. I could have brought a stake and come as the Slayer…”  Cadee said.

“Sure, because that would have been appropriate!” Anne replied, rolling her eyes.  “Now, if you excuse me, I think I saw Mr. Tall and Wonderful. Maybe not as wonderful as dear Donatien, but you know what Marie Antoinette said, right?”

“If they have no bread, let them eat cake?” The blonde asked, suppressing her laughter.

“Exactly,” Anne said. “And I happen to have a craving for sweets tonight.”

“Don’t delude yourself, what you have is a sweet tooth,” Cadee answered, but she was already gone.

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20:23 Alison, Pablo, Anne and Cadee

“Pablo, there you are.” Alison found Pablo filling up his plate, juggling the platter with a glass of some concoction or other. “What are you having? I could use one, whatever it is. I didn’t think those photographers were ever going to stop asking for me to pose suggestively with Sven.” She linked her arm through his and picked an hors d’oeuvre off his dish. “I’ve hardly had a moment to talk with anyone yet.”

Pablo surrendered his something-tini. He thought they had called it a "Blood-tini B-Neg" but it tasted like cherry schnapps. "I'll say this for your publicity people, this is quite a spread. But as I look around all I see are ribs and elbows on these girls. Do they even eat? I'm sorry I left you to the photographers; I was afraid they were going to ask me to pose with you. I'm a little camera shy."

"I know. That's why I warned you they'd be here, give you a chance to scurry off to some dark corner to hide." She grinned at him, her smile broadening further as she saw a familiar face over his shoulder.

"Hi there, Anne. It's great to see you here." She glanced around a little. "Did you bring your friend Cadee with you?"

Anne smiled, happy. She had hoped to get near Lucinda at the party, and had watched her from afar as she did all the publicity shots and met all the important people. She had told herself she would approach Lucinda later in the night, when things got a little less hectic. But then, things got even more hectic, as people kept arriving.

So she had forgotten Lucinda for a little while, especially when she caught sight of ‘Mr. Tall and Wonderful’ and decided she could give him another chance, she was soft hearted like that, only to find Lucinda alone in a corner! Well, not completely alone, she thought, as she assessed the guy with her.

“Lucinda!! I’m really happy to finally get to talk to you!” she said, smiling at her idol. “Cadee is around, but I lost her. This is packed like sardines in a can! What a success, you must be thrilled!”

"Cadee? Pablo wiped his hand on a free napkin quickly. Our Cadee?” he said to Alison then turned to the woman. “You know each other?"

Surprised, Anne looked at him with more attention. Sure, he fitted the description of the detective Cadee mentioned often enough. Pablo Sandoval, wasn’t it? Cadee had mentioned he was Lucinda’s date. She smiled.

Your Cadee? If you’re talking about tall Cadee, blonde Cadee, beautiful Cadee… It’s my Cadee. I saw her first!”

Alison chuckled. “It’s okay, Anne. We promise not to steal her away. I’ve only met her the once, anyway, the other night at Slàinte.”

She glanced at Pablo. “Anne’s one of my best fans,” she said by way of explanation. “I don’t think she’s missed a single one of my book signings.”

"Glad to meet a fan, I'm kind of the opposite. I've never read any of Alison's books, but I am looking forward to doing that. Are you Cadee’s...girlfriend?"

Anne laughed, delighted. “Oh no no no, Cadee’s as straight as they come. We’re roommates, known each other for ages. BFF, you know?” She looked at Lucinda then, and back to the man. “Are you her boyfriend?”

Pablo looked at Alison with a smile then back to Anne, "Working on it. I'll have to get back to you on that."

Alison shared a small, secret smile with Pablo. It was still early days, but getting back together seemed to be working out well for both of them so far. She sipped at the red drink Pablo had given her and made a face. She didn’t really fancy cherry-flavoured drinks and resolved to get herself something more to her liking as soon as she could get to the bar.

“So Anne, how did that audition go? Did you get the part? I was keeping my fingers crossed for you.”

Anne made a face. “Not good, actually. Seems Martha Jefferson was not supposed to be petite… but I’m looking forward for another. ‘Shoggoth on the Roof’! Can you imagine?”

"Shoggoth?" Alison blinked "Can one play a fiddle with tentacles, I wonder?"

She shook her head. "Well, I hope you get something soon." She paused for a moment in thought, and glanced over her shoulder where she'd recently been sitting on Sven's lap while he pretended to bite her neck. She started to say something, but then thought better of it. If the project ever got off the ground, she'd make sure to mention Anne's name then. There was no point bringing it up now and getting the girl's hopes up when it may never transpire.

"Did you notice our special guest tonight?" she said instead. "I've never actually met him in person before, but now I can't imagine anyone else as Donatien."

“Ohhh, yes!” Anne cried, and almost bounced, as she tended to do when excited. “I couldn’t believe it, he’s sooooo tall! I promise you, I wouldn’t mind him biting my neck,” she laughed, and showed Lucinda the choker she had specially bought for the occasion, it sported two red crystals simulating teeth punctures and a spray of smaller ones falling from it, like little blood drops. “Do you think he’ll be tempted?”

“I’m sure he would be. He’s a bit of a ladies’ man,” Alison said with a wink. “What about you, Pablo? Would you be tempted?”

Pablo turned, startled. Crumbs sprayed from his mouth where he’d been stuffing it with food. “Wouff wha?”

Alison merely rolled her eyes, and turned away from him when she heard a new voice.

“Please, don’t tell me you’re offering your throat again, Anne. I thought you were over that already. I’ve been looking for you all over, no wonder you didn’t come back!” Cadee said, as she appeared from behind her friend. She then turned to the other two. “Hello, it’s great to see you! Great party, Lucinda.”

“Hi Cadee,” Alison greeted her. “Thanks, though most of the organising wasn’t my doing. I just have to show up and smile a lot.” She nudged Pablo with her elbow and whispered, “You’ve still got cocktail sauce on your fingers.”

Pablo swallowed his mouthful in one painful gulp and wiped his hand while smoothly dropping his plate on a passing tray. Then he really saw Cadee. She looked nothing like the Cadee in his mind. That Cadee wore t-shits, jeans and an apron. "Wow," Was what he meant to say but his mouth just sort of moved soundlessly.

He took his Blood-tini back from Alison and had a quick swallow, "Ugh, I should know better than to come to a party without eating first. You look great."

He put his arm around Alison, "But Ali...er...Lucinda is still the star of the show."

“Thank you, Pablo.” Cadee grinned, flattered; the dress had cost a little fortune, but it was definitely worth it, she thought. She looked at Lucinda who shone in a beautiful blue dress, and agreed with him. “And she should, Vampire Lady perfect.”

“Oh, please.” Alison’s blush was quite genuine. “I had the help of a team of professionals tonight, believe me.”

"Money well spent," Pablo said, "Look, hon, there is an open bar over there that I need to interrogate. Do you want me to get you something? Lovely to meet you Anne, and always a pleasure Cadee.”

Alison mouthed ‘yes, please’, and looked suitably parched.

“See you at the Slàinte, detective,” Cadee answered, and Anne saluted with her hand.

Alison could see Connie gesturing to her from the far side of the room and nodded, holding up one finger to indicate ‘in a minute’.

“Well, it’s lovely to meet you both again,” she said with a smile. “Anne, do you have a card, just in case I hear of any potential jobs for you? And then I’m going to have to dash – my agent is summoning me.”

“Of course,” Anne replied, grinning, and she started looking for one of her cards in her small black reticule, she was never without them; one never knew when one could need them, like now. She finally found a card and handed it to the woman. “That’d be great, Lucinda. It’s very nice of you. Thank you.”

“It was a pleasure, Lucinda,” Cadee said, and Anne nodded.

“Loved to talk to you. See you around.” She smiled again, genuinely happy. This night was getting better and better.

“Lovely to chat with you both.” Alison slipped Anne’s card into her purse and glanced over at the bar, trying to catch Pablo’s eye, but he had his back to her. She headed off to where Connie had lined up some bigshot to talk with her, and had to hope that her drink would eventually catch up.

20:24 Balthazar and Jasmin

As the party continued, Jasmin moved about with the practiced grace of one long experienced to hosting upscale events. The evening was going well, she thought. Nothing well and truly major had gone wrong, and as far as she could tell, she hadn't run in to anyone there to cause trouble. It left her making her way through the crowd with a Singpore Sling, highly alcoholic though it was and having less of an immediate effect. A slight frown crossed her face, though, at the newest arrival she found herself almost literally crashing in to, gone just as quickly.

She forced a smile to her face as made out the familiar sight of Balthazar Romano and his new associate standing to the side. Putting on her best smile, she moved to put her free hand up on Balthazar's shoulder, moving to kiss each cheek lightly. "Ah, Balthazar, such a pleasure to see you. Didn't realize you were on the list or I would have made it a point to come greet you, personally. How are you this evening?" And how many women have you tried to pick up so far? she wondered.

“Oh you know I hate to miss any A-list party”. The older man took in the sight of the vampiress, decked out in her overly sexualized outfit. A grin crossed his face. “You‘re so stunning, I think my heart might just stop,” he purred, turning on the charm. “Perhaps that was your plan all along; shame on you, trying to kill an old man.”

You have to have a heart before I can make it stop. "Alas, you have uncovered my hidden agenda. As always, however, you have managed to survive my best attempts to do you in." She clears her throat slightly, taking a perhaps longer sip of her drink than she intended. "I hope things are going well?"

Taking Jasmin’s arm, the two began circling the room, Balthazar’s bodyguard trailing a few steps back.

“Things are well, for now,” the sorcerer said cryptically. “Great party by the way,” he added, changing the subject, as he smiled and mouthed ‘hello’ to some bossomy blonde across the dance floor. The girl giggled, waving back as she flashed a coquettish smile. “Money and power, it’s the best aphrodisiac,” he whispered, into Jasmin’s ear.

Jasmin stopped and turned to him, with her thin smile. She knew he was like that, but the earlier ruining of her evening several nights before still grated. "Yes, it is. Many young women have told me the same thing." Well for now. That hung in the air, along with their earlier discussion. Just what was he planning? "I know you. You've got something on your mind, and it's more than A Little Piece of Heaven."

“You’re always so straight to business,” he sighed, their arms still locked. Romano was about to speak, when he noticed a familiar face across the room. Balthazar scowled. “Playing with fire are we?” Jasmin followed his gaze to the Hispanic man at the bar, waiting for drinks to be delivered. From the look on her face, he knew she wasn’t following. “His name is Pablo Sandoval. He’s a cop who specializes in cases dealing with people who run in our social circles. If I were you, I’d be wondering exactly why he’s here”.

Jasmin looked over at him, flashing a small smile. Special Crimes Unit. Of course. It was the way that her luck went. Still, she wasn't too concerned. It wasn't without the realm of possibility that something strange could happen at an event which was, in a sense, dedicated to the supernatural. Even when said dedication was to a romantic, highly inaccurate version of how things really were. “Probably just a fan. You worry far too much for your own good some nights.”

“Well, there’s something else, but we need to talk private. Especially with people like him, around”.

“Unless you haven’t noticed, this is a bit of a busy night and I don’t have time to…”

Balthazar interjected “well if it’s time we need,” he huffed, catching Jasmin off guard as he grabbed her hand. The sorcerer began to mutter under his breath, weaving together the pieces of the spell which would offer them some privacy. “Perhaps you now you’ll be more willing to listen”.

Jasmin looked about the room again. Balthazar was still clear, but everything else seemed slowed down, blurry. Like looking through a glass. I really hate it when he does that. No matter how often he dropped the Cone of Silence, she would never get used to it. "This is important if you're willing to risk this. What's going on?"

“I need your help finding an artifact,” he said, his face serious for the first time all night. “We both know that you have the most comprehensive library in all of New York and I need some information which no one else seems to be able to provide. Of course," he added, the sly smirk once again emerging, "If you help me, i'll be indebted."

Most comprehensive in all of New York, now? Now she definitely knew that he was up to something. Yes, she had a decent collection of general knowledge. But she knew damn well that her own collections could not hold a candle to the more specialized occultists around. “What are you looking for, Balthazar?”

“Whatever you can find on The Eye of St Vigeous”. Balthazar seemed to waver, the exertion of the magic catching up on him. “And this is time sensitive my dear. The quicker you can help me, the more I'll make it worth your while”. The wizard hesitated a moment, considering if he should bring up the other topic that was weighing on his mind. The Drop...Tabitha had mentioned Carmine had the object and that spelled trouble. Let's just see how that plays out he decided, not wanting to show all his cards to the crafty vampiress.

The Eye of St. Vigeous. The name hung there, not because of what it was but because of part of the name. She knew in the vaguest sense who St. Vigeous was. Any artifact related to him, though, spelled trouble in the hands of a human. Especially among the older vampires, it would make him both a target and a person with leverage. “I'll see what I can find,” she said softly to him, mind already racing to recall details. “No promises, though.”

With that, the room came back into focus as he let the spell drop.

“Now, that business is out of the way,” he huffed, his breath coming a big heavy, “I think it’s time to enjoy the party”.

“Yes, it is,” she spoke, staying locked into his arm for a few moments longer, as her mind considered the possibilities. Whatever he had gotten himself in to had to be bad for a meeting, and if that bad gave her bad publicity, he'd pay. She was broken from her reverie, disengaging from him gratefully as someone else approached.

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20:35 Alison, Balthazar and Logan

Wending her way through the crowd, Alison caught up with Connie after having to stop only a couple of times to sign autographs and chat for a few moments with assorted people.

“There you are!” Connie grabbed Alison’s hand and pulled her through one more crush of people to where an older man stood with Jasmin. The two seemed to be very close, their heads together, and Alison tried to pull back.

“Connie, I’m not sure we should disturb them.”

“Nonsense, it’s a party. Besides, it’s my turn to have a chat with our lovely hostess anyway.”

As they drew closer, Jasmin carefully disengaged her arm from the man’s and cast a glance her way that looked like gratitude. Ah, and haven’t we all been in that situation? Alison mused, glad now that Connie had insisted on breaking into this tête-à-tête.

“Balthazar, you old devil,” Connie began cheerily, “I’d love to introduce you to tonight’s guest of honour. This…” She gestured, game-show girl style, over Alison from head to foot as though she were a fancy car on display. “…is Lucinda Graves. Lucinda, meet Balthazar Romano, one of New York’s most eminent entrepreneurs.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” As Alison extended her hand to Balthazar, it wasn’t lost on her how Connie took the opportunity to sweep Jasmin off to one side. Still, helping to rescue the owner of the club from the unwanted attentions of one of the guests could be considered her good deed for the day. And gaining the ear of a businessman was never a bad thing, either.

The older man took Alison’s hand and brought it to his lips. “The pleasure is all mine. I’ll confess right now, I haven’t read your series - I don’t think an old man like me is quite the right demographic,” he laughed, charmingly. “I’m being rude keeping you all to myself,” Balthazar said, taking a step to the side, to reveal his associate that was lingering in the background. “This is one of my associates, Logan.”

As if being pulled out of a daydream, Logan snapped back to attention. Mechanically, the young man‘s face turned friendly, but it quickly faded when he noticed just who his boss was introducing. The woman was dressed to the nines and looked quite different from when they first met, but there was no doubt who she was. Aw man, the nosey reporter.

“Hi again,” Logan said politely, extending his hand.

Alison blinked. Damn, but it was turning out to be a small world tonight. “Well, hello Logan,” she said, resting her hand in his for her light Lucinda version of a handshake. “You’re looking mostly recovered from the other night, thank goodness.”

She turned to Balthazar, disengaging from Logan’s grip as she did so, and smiled coquettishly at the older man, in full Lucinda mode. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but Logan here is a bit of a hero. He helped fight off a group of thugs the other night.”

Balthazar’s expression never faltered, despite the fact that his blood pressure had just risen a notch or two. Logan had recounted in detail the whole story and the wizard had not been too happy about it. Obviously it hadn’t been Logan’s fault, but still, attention like that was never a good thing.

“Yes I know. Logan here is a real life super hero,” Balthazar chuckled. “You’re just missing the spandex outfit, aren’t you?” Logan blushed slightly, praying the conversation would take a turn and quick.

“Anyways, enough about us. Tonight is all about you and your success!” Waving down a passing waiter, Balthazar grabbed three glasses of champagne which he distributed to Alison and Logan. “A toast to you, whose success in literature is only outshined by her radiant beauty.”

Alison blushed and reacted as Lucinda, lowering her head and fluttering her eyelashes a little. The male punters always seemed to expect it and who was she to disappoint? “Well, aren’t you a charmer?” she said, taking a sip of the champagne. Pablo still hadn’t turned up with her drink, so this would do nicely in the meantime.

“As for my demographic, you’d be surprised at the variety of people who read my books. I have a feeling this latest book in particular would have elements you enjoyed.” Alison’s smile never faltered for a moment, but she was definitely getting dirty old lech vibes off this guy. He’d definitely like the sex scenes, she was sure.

The thing that had her puzzled was Logan’s role with Balthazar. At first she’d assumed the shape she’d seen behind the businessman was just a bodyguard. But one didn’t introduce their bodyguard to everyone. And the fact that it was Logan, who also seemed to know Pablo… there was some weird connection here. She just didn’t know what.

“I guess you have a lot of different talents,” Logan said, cutting into the conversation. “I wouldn’t have expected a hard hitting reporter like yourself to also be a top author in supernatural fiction.”

Balthazar did not miss the hidden meaning behind the young man’s comment. You’re a clever boy, Logan. If this was the reporter that had been interrogating his bodyguard after the events at Slàinte, it was not the wisest idea to stick around. The less anyone knew of the sorcerer’s connection to that fight the better.

“Well, my dear, I know you must be very busy, and you don’t want to spend your evening talking to an old geezer like myself. Go enjoy the party - it is in your honour after all.”

“Of course. It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Balthazar.” She nodded to his ‘bodyguard’. “Logan, good to see you again.” She backed away from the pair and weaved her way slowly through the throng, deep in thought. That was an incredibly abrupt dismissal, coming suspiciously close on the heels of Logan’s revelation of her as a reporter. Something was going on there, that was for sure. And she’d be damned if she didn’t work her butt off to find out what.

“Hi, yes, lovely to meet you.” But first, she had a room full of people to schmooze.

20:36 Connie and Jasmin

The look of relief on Jasmin's face went from subtle to downright blatant as they retreated from Lucinda and Balthazar. Her Singapore Sling went up to her lips and she drained about a third of the drink in one go; to hell with the subtle of it. Balthazar showing up just added to the stress of the evening. When she turned back to Connie to say something, though, her voice caught for a moment.
“Thank you for that,” she finally said, actually looking over the other, young woman. If only it were easier for the alcohol to have an actual effect. “Must say, the present company is certainly a far more pleasant and attractive alternative. How has the night been so far for you?”
“Fabulous. I got to watch Sven playacting at being a vampire, got him in all sorts of sexy poses pretending to bite Lucinda.” Connie sighed wistfully, “You know, I could be the meat in that sandwich, no problem.”
She glanced at the woman beside her, appreciating the way the shiny latex accentuated Jasmin’s curves. “Have you ever thought of writing a book? We don’t just publish fiction, you know. I can just imagine the stories you must have from this place – the tell-all of a sexy nightclub hostess. Could be a bestseller, you know.”
Jasmin gave a highly amused chuckle. Of course there would be the sales pitch. Should have known. “Hmm, yes, clubs and theater. I could write a riveting tale of tax time, and the stack of forms my accountant gives me that I don't understand.” She gave a more appreciative glance over the other woman, finally allowing herself to relax.
“No time to write, anyway, I'm afraid – my life is all work, no play.” That was a lie, but a plausible one at least. In some ways, there was far too much time, and the last night to herself, well... she wasn't doing that again soon.
Connie glanced around at the party going on in full swing, ending on the nearly-empty glass that Jasmin held. “As work goes, this isn’t too tough,” she said with a wink. “Technically, I’m at work tonight too.” Holding up her hand to forestall any protest she added, “Yes, yes, I know. Believe me, I’m well aware of the effort that goes behind the scenes to produce something like this. Lots of people think my job is all glitz and glamour too, but trust me it isn’t.”
She drank a generous gulp of her own cocktail and nodded her head at the bar. “Let’s get another drink each and find somewhere quiet to commiserate about how tough our jobs are.” Connie let one hand trail down Jasmin’s latex-clad arm, feeling the cool smoothness of the material. “And maybe you can tell me how long it takes to get into an outfit like that.”
Inwardly, there was still a bit of surprise at some of the bluntness to it. Part of her questioned if a pass had just been made at her, though she knew better. She debated how to respond for a moment, before throwing caution to the wind. Taking a chance, she slipped an arm around Connie's to start towards the bar. “I think I'd like that.”
Along the way, she cast casual glances around the place, looking for somewhere that could qualify readily. “We can steal a nice, quiet booth over in the corner, or even in my office if you prefer some extra privacy.”
Relief relaxed some of Connie’s tension. She was sure she’d read Jasmin’s signals right before, but hadn’t been completely sure until now that they were on the same page. However, she wasn’t ready to abandon Alison entirely to the wolves just yet and wanted to be close enough to keep an eye on things. Occasionally one of Lucinda’s weirder fans would gain access to a launch party and she didn’t want a repeat of the events of the Darque Dreams launch.
“The booth, I think.” She glanced up at Jasmin, a knowing smile curling the corners of her mouth. “For now, at least.”
At that Jasmin felt a bit of relief; test the first passed of her mental checklist. Connie hadn't jumped straight at the office, which she took as a very good sign. “The booth it is, then,” she spoke softly, ordering a couple of drinks and offering one to Connie. The booth that she would lead her to was deliberately designed to afford privacy, and something of a view of the floor.
Jasmin stayed silent for the trip over, letting anticipation hang in the air, until she slid down inside with a refilled Sling, scooting over a bit to give just enough room to see how close Connie would want to get. “Please, come into my dark and foreboding lair. I promise not to bite unless requested.” A crooked smile formed on her face at that last.
Connie chuckled. “Ah, but who’s the spider and who’s the fly? Maybe I’m ensnaring you in my web.” She set her drink on the table and slid into the booth beside Jasmin, so that their hips and elbows barely touched. Picking up the glass, she sipped her drink and spent a few quiet moments studying Jasmin’s profile.
It was hard to judge her age, for one thing. Connie herself was in her mid-30’s and had been around the block many a time, but even though Jasmin looked like she was probably in her early 30’s or so she exuded an air that bespoke of much greater age. Such people existed, of course. Old souls. But there was something about Jasmin that was … different. Oh please, she chided herself. Don’t start getting all misty-eyed and whimsical.
To counter her strange feeling of nerves – something Connie rarely experienced – she placed her drink carefully on the table and leaned her face fractionally closer to Jasmin. “So,” she murmured, “now that you have me in your lair…”
Jasmin tilted her head slightly, relaxing in. She considered Connie closely. Oh, she was sure she would pay for this later; though she reflected that she was already having trouble pinning her down. Connie was blunt, and tap-dancing at the same time. “You know, I'm not entirely sure,” she said softly. “Normally, I'd try to cleverly draw you into a trap that results in you agreeing to buy me dinner tomorrow at nine in the evening.”
The closeness sealed the instinct for her. She could tell that the other was interested, dropping an arm across the table to lightly brush the back of Connie's hand with hers.
Jasmin’s hand was cool to the touch, and a frisson of excitement thrummed through Connie. “Let’s not play games,” she said. “I think it’s pretty clear that neither of us are the dinner and a movie type.” She twisted in her seat and reached across to cup the far side of Jasmin’s face in her hand, exerting light pressure to encourage Jasmin to lower her head as Connie tilted hers upwards.
“We both know what we want,” she murmured, leaning in for the kiss.
Let's not play games. The phrase hung there in a bit of confusion for her. The problem was that she was very much the dinner and movie type. Still, she was surprised to find herself actually leaning down into the kiss, lips pressing against hers softly. What happened to caution again? They'd always had a word for women who moved this quickly to the main event, and it wasn't a pleasant one.
Pulling back just a bit after, she blinked a couple of times to herself, speaking softly, seductively. “Then let me take you out. Think of the anticipation....” There was still a bit of wonder there, herself; it was rare to find someone whose personality could actually stand up and demand attention, and she did know exactly what she wanted.
A small sigh escaped Connie’s lips. Ah, so Jasmin was going to be one of the ones who played hard to get, it seemed. Still, it wasn’t a complete rejection. She knew she was very upfront and forceful about her advances and had scared off more than one potential sexual partner because of it.
“Anticipation, is it? Honey, I’ve been thinking about you all night. But… dinner could work. Did you have someplace in mind?”
Down around the lower thigh; nice, erotic vein there. Not that she would ever dare to say that, especially now. The success invigorated her, the battle of wills. Dueling this way was always half the fun. “I know a nice little place in SoHo called Aurora. Italian – and near home.” That seemed like enough of an enticement, she thought.
“SoHo it is.” Connie glanced out to the party. She spotted Alison talking and laughing with a small group of people. Everything was under control out there. She could spare a few minutes for personal pleasure.
Her hand still rested on Jasmin’s cheek, and now she moved it, caressing her earlobe and running her fingertips across the nape of her neck. “Now as for tonight… I think a little appetiser might be in order.”

20:43 Alison and Pablo

Pablo downed the shot at the bar. Let's get this party started, he thought. When the bartender came back he ordered a strawberry mojito for Alison and a Hell-Firetini he'd heard someone else order. Something with cinnamon he suspected.

He glanced over his shoulder and saw ‘Lucinda’ swimming through the crowd. He had to make sure not to lose her. Again, he thought.

Soon the drinks were up and he started the juggling act that was moving through a crowd with drinks. It only took him a few minutes to cross the twenty or so feet to get to her.

“Oh, thank you.” “Yes, you're too kind." Titter delightfully at a lewd joke. "Yes indeed, I have a whole new trilogy in mind.” “Absolutely. Lots more sex.” “Oh, Pablo, thank God.”

Alison reached the end of a string of well-wishers to find Pablo holding the promised drink for her. It was, indeed, red. She reached for it, then realised she was still holding the glass of champagne that Romano had given her. She juggled the two for a moment before thrusting the champagne into Pablo's free hand. Taking a sip of the drink she sighed in appreciation. "Ah, strawberry mojito. Perfect."

Pablo looked nonplussed and Alison felt a pang of guilt. "I'm sorry," she said, leaning her head close to his so they could talk without too much chance of being overheard. "I have a tough enough time at these things, but I've had time to get used to them. I shouldn't have been so selfish as to drag you here. I knew you wouldn't want to hang off my arm while I worked the room." She pecked him on the cheek knowing that it was entirely inadequate as thanks, but it was all she could do right now.

He kissed her bare shoulder and spoke back into her ear. "I understand, I really do. I just promise to make you pay for it one night when duty calls."

He sipped the Hell-Firetini. Nasty, just like the other one. Sooner or later, he'd find one he liked.

“Fair enough, I suppose. If we’re keeping score, we’re one-all at Slàinte, and you owe me one for tonight. Shall I get out the blackboard?” She grinned and took another sip of her mojito. “Try the champagne, if you don’t like that… whatever the hell that is.”

“Ok, ok, we won’t keep score, how's that? Except for keeping track of drinks. Where'd you get a champagne? More specifically a non-red champagne?”

Alison wrapped an arm around Pablo’s waist and turned slightly so they both faced back more or less the way she’d come. “That’s a whole story in itself,” she said. “I was introduced to this guy who got champagne to arrive as if by magic. Seriously, the waiter was there in about five seconds flat. How he did it in this crowd, I have no idea.”

Pablo gave her a look, so she sipped more of her drink and continued. “Anyway, it started out like a normal conversation, but as soon as he found out I was a reporter, he gave me the brush-off. Real fast. He’s supposed to be some sort of businessman, but he got awfully nervous – ever heard of a guy named Romano?”

Pablo looked like the champagne had turned to vinegar. "Balthazar Romano?" he glanced around the room, "He's here?"

Alison nodded. Somehow she wasn’t surprised at Pablo’s reaction. Just a few minutes in the man’s presence had left an oily aftertaste. “Yeah, he was over there,” she indicated with her head. “But that’s not the best part. You’ll never guess who was with him. Romano introduced him as an associate, but I got more of a bodyguard vibe. I tell you, my reporter’s instincts are screaming at me that something weird is going on.”

Pablo looked back at her intently, "Did he gesture at you, or give you anything? This champagne came from him?" His wild-eyed look and frantic tone was more than a little alarmed.

"Uh, yeah..." Alison stepped back a pace to really look at Pablo. "Are you okay? Whatever he's up to, I'm sure he didn't put anything in the drink." She shook her head, as if to clear it. "Look, the other bit I wanted to tell you about was who he was with. It's too much of a coincidence. It was that guy... whoa."

A couple descended on her, sweeping her away from Pablo. "Lucinda Graves! Oh god, it really is you. We just love your books!" the man enthused. "When is the next one coming out?"

As she stumbled back a couple of paces to keep her balance, she waved to Pablo. "I'll tell you later, okay? Try not to drink too much."

"Watch out for..." but it was too late. She was out of earshot and perhaps even out of reach. He saluted with the Hell-Firetini and casually dumped the champagne onto a nearby tray. Then he headed off the floor. He needed some air.

20:53 Evalyn and Meredith

I can not believe you followed me.

I was not staying at 'ome again.

Well you can't come inside! No cats allowed.

Zat's fine! I am sure I could find some action in zeh alley.

You do zat. Just do not bring any fleas 'ome!

Sometimes that man could be nothing but infuriating! Still, Evalyn couldn't quite blame him – it was tough being stuck in only one form, but it was easier to acquire general items of pleasure when you were in human form.

Such as alcohol.

Evalyn entered the Graveyard and decided to discard her jacket at the cloak room herself this time, but almost immediately regretted it. The girl standing in front of her, who's dress sense could be better described as that of a strippers, was blatantly flirting with the cloak girl. On any other day, Evalyn might enjoy watching such a show, but tonight she just wanted to get her drink and check out this event Jasmin had been telling her about. Fantasy novels about vampires!

Evalyn looked at the copy she was holding in her free hand while she waited and shook her head. Clearly the author didn't know vampires really existed, but that's just what made this party all the more amusing. This woman would be here, meeting and greeting, not realising that a good many of those around her were actual vampires! She'd half wanted to be there when Jasmin first greeted her – that alone would be entertainment enough for Evalyn to be satisfied tonight – but she loathed to appear some ditsy fangirl, and watching that exchange, she just knew she'd have a stupid grin on her face.

After two minutes of waiting, she'd had enough and squeezed herself in beside the stripper lesbian, earning her a rather hostile glare. Evalyn smiled at her sweetly, “Pardon me, I do 'ate to interrupt, but...” she turned to the coat girl who was looking a touch indignant herself, but the red flooding her cheeks ruined the effect “I 'ave a jacket I would like to drop off.” Evalyn spared a glance for the stripper girl who was smiling vengefully. Evalyn scrunched her own eyes in mock joviality and turned back to the coat girl. “And make sure nossing 'appens to my jacket, Julie! I would 'ate for Jasmin to find out.”

Without a backward glance for Julie's wide eyed horror, Evalyn left the cloak room and made a bee line for the stairs. She needed her drink, and now! If she'd had her tail, it'd be lashing, but obviously it wasn't needed much for the surrounding people to know she was pissed off and to be avoided at all costs. A good thing, since she was too busy fuming to really notice the people around her. All that mattered was the bar and her drink. Perhaps another white spider? Yes, that'd be nice. A white spider and an attentive bartender by the name of Seba-


“What the fuck?” Meredith whipped around as the woman slammed into her back, nearly knocking her through the goddamn bar. In fact the impact quite knocked the breath from her lungs. She eyed the other woman frostily. “You wanna look where you’re going!”

Fuck! Evalyn collected herself and glared at the new girl blocking her way. It was embarrassing enough to have blindly walked into something while not paying attention, but all the more to have her foolishness witness by this.... Evalyn frowned. Something was off. The girl in front of her was dressed as scantily as the girl below, but that wasn't it.

“It would 'elp if you did not get in ze way!” Evalyn jutted her chin up with an indignant sniff and immediately wished she hadn't for the scent that flooded her nostrils in that one breath.

“Oh, well… excuse me your Highness!” Meredith was already pissed off, now she was down right furious. Who did this woman think she was talking to her like that? Her goddamn doormat? She gave her a quick appraisal, skinny, clad in a delicate black lace dress, with a face like she could freeze the North Atlantic if she wanted to. She immediately felt her shoulders tighten, the muscles bunching like hackles rising.

“Maybe if you got rid of that bug up your ass people would be more inclined to give way.”

What IS zat scent?

You do not recognise it? Yves broke into her thoughts.

Evalyn frowned, it did seem familiar, if repulsive. She didn't much fancy standing around this creature, and not just for the inconvenience of her existence blocking her path. Something else told her to keep her distance, but damned curiosity made her want to puzzle everything out! Why did she seem so familiar? She tried casting her mind back through the week when the girls last comment hit home.

'Bug up my ass'?” How dare she! “I am sorry, but I s'ink you just you should check up your own arse. You might be surprised at what resides zere!”

Meredith rolled her eyes. “Uh, God… you’re French aren’t you?”

Evalyn glared, then grinned as she spoke, “Mais bien sûr! Je suis française. Et toi? Tu es une chienne americaine?” The pitiful girl thinks to insult her by calling her French? Evalyn could have laughed! She-

Evalyn froze as her own words echoed in her ears.

Ze jogger! Ze dogless dog woman!

No more smoking for you after six.

Oh shut up, I was referring to where I recognise the scent from.

Yes, I know. Zat is why I say no more smoking. I worked zat out before you even bumped into 'er! And zat was borrowing your senses!

Evalyn glared inwardly, cursing Yves under her breath.

Meredith scrunched up her nose, she knew a little French from high school so she could just about follow some of what she’d rattled off. Something like ‘of course I’m French and you?’ She wasn’t sure about the rest, apart from ‘American’, but her tone had been enough to suggest that it wasn’t exactly complementary. She took a threatening step towards the woman, she could probably skewer this skinny bitch on her six-inch heel and still be able to walk.

“What did you just call me?”

Evalyn straightened, pulling her head back and trying her best to keep from breathing in without losing any ground, but unfortunately she knew that was near impossible to do that without losing some dignity. Common “common sense” would say she should sacrifice one of the two, but Evalyn's common sense told her to suck it up. She'd already looked the fool once tonight because of this... girl?

She help up a finger, warning the girl to stay back, forced a smile to her face and instructed herself to breath normally. “I called you nossing to concern yourself wiz,” Her smile slipped a bit as she observed her compromised personal space and wrinkled her nose. “What you should concern yourself wiz is buying more perfume.” She must own a whole pack of dogs to smell so bad, but there was nothing on her to suggest she even owned a pet, excepting the purse clutched in her fist, and that was cat fur!

Funny thing... she didn't smell so strong here now as she had when she was jogging the other day.

*What?* Meredith took a discreet sniff at her shoulder but she smelled fine to her, in fact she was wearing perfume - the good stuff, that Gail had bought for her birthday last year.

“Oh I’m not concerned, wiz anyting you have to say,” she said mockingly, “and at least I don’t smell like… a Parisian bordello!”

When she was jogging, she would 'ave been perspiring. Ze smell of perspiration is generally stronger. came Yves.

What are you suggesting? Zat she is ze dog scent?

Only silence answered her, but she knew what Yves meant. Werewolf. He used to know a werewolf before they met – perhaps this was a similar scent? Oddly enough, Yves had also been friends with that werewolf, though Evalyn couldn't imagine how he'd managed to put up with the smell!

Do you sink she knows?

You could always ask her! Yves replied, amusement tinging the edge of his thought. Evalyn looked at the woman before her and decided, without the sarcasm of Yves suggestion to assist her, that she would do no such thing.

Ignoring the woman's poor attempt at a French accent and insult, Evalyn quirked her head and asked bluntly. “Do you own a dog?” It was as good as any other question she could think of to confirm things for herself.

Meredith was confused. Maybe it was the French thing, but this woman was Odd. “A dog… what? What has that got to do with you? Conducting a survey of all the people you’re rude to? Are you a cat or a dog person? No, I do not own a dog. Yes I am a smoker. Twenty-one, and I was born in the state of Mind-Your-Own-Fucking-Business!”

Evalyn nodded to herself once in confirmation, then couldn't help but smirk at the irony. She kind of liked the girl. Werewolf. Whatever you call them! One thing she had to wonder - did the personality of a werewolf affect the human, or was this one just naturally a bitch? She chuckled a little at that musing, then composed herself when she saw the look of the other woman. If she was pissed before, she was surely about to rip Evalyn's throat out now!

“I'm sorry,” Evalyn apologized – an odd thing - tasted strange in her mouth – then let her eyes drift to the girl's purse again when she felt another rare feeling. Sympathy?

“Do you still 'ave a cat?”

“Christ Almighty!” Meredith was ready for walking away, this woman was weird. Bitchy and then suddenly Little Miss Animal Lover? She should walk away, but this was her spot goddamn it! She’d been here first and she’d be damned if she was gonna be shooed away by this oddball.

“Yes, I have a cat!” Actually that wasn’t exactly accurate. For a start Thomas J had never actually been her cat, he was a stray, but she and Gail had fed him and let him into their home whenever he dropped by. Mind you, they hadn’t seen him in over two weeks… “H-how? How did you know? I had a cat, I mean…” *Shit, don’t ASK her!* Too late.

Evalyn took a deep breath to compose herself, suppressing the horrid images that conjured up in her mind of a poor cat being torn limb from limb, and almost gagged. Unless this girl planned on moving soon, she was going to spoil the taste of any drink she got!

With a sigh, Evalyn nodded to the girls purse. “I noticed the fur on your purse.” She sniffed wryly, “I 'ave a cat of my own. Fur gets everywhere.”

She raised her eyes back up to level with the girls. Evalyn didn't really want to ask the next question, but she couldn't help herself. At the very least she had to know when it happened. “So when did you first turn?”

“When did I… turn what?” Meredith frowned. This chick was seriously messed in the head, but then she was French, the strain of looking down her nose at everyone probably caused some permanent brain damage or something. “Are you, you know?” she tapped a finger against her temple, “a little bit slow? Do you have a care worker I can contact?”

Evalyn frowned. Maybe she'd pinned this girl wrong? That or she hadn't turned yet, in which case she must sound stupid to the ignorant girl's ears. Now didn't that rankle!

The discomfort of this girl's presence was finally beginning to overpower her curiosity. Time to just get her drink, then get away.

“Forget eet!” She said brusquely, turning from the girl and laying a hand gently on a guy's shoulder who was also at the bar on the girls left. He turned to peak over his shoulder at the hand then peered up into Evalyn's purring eyes.

“Pardon moi, mais....” She glanced briefly at the bar to finish the sentence. He smiled, casting an appreciative glance over her as he stepped aside, saying something appropriate about her being a beautiful woman and how he'd loath to get in her way. He even offered to pay for her drink! Evalyn heard the girl scoff beside her and slipped up to the bar, purposely bumping her a little in the process.

Meredith’s frown darkened, aside from the general rudeness she didn’t understand why this woman’s presence irritated her so, nor why she just had to bump her back - tit for tat. But the mere thought of backing down, of ceding any kind of ground - even half an inch of booty space at the bar, stuck in her craw.

A low, threatening growl reverberated in the back of her throat. Some women couldn’t help it, they turned the feminine charm on and off like a goddamn faucet. Stroking the male ego like a fur coat, without a single thought as to the possible consequences of such behaviour. That their agreeable smiles might be interpreted as compliance or that something might be demanded in exchange for their so-called acts of gallantry. Meredith liked to leave them with no doubt and if they thought she was a bitch, all the better. They’d leave her the fuck alone then.

“Why don’t you just go the whole hog?” she muttered under her breath. “Flash him your tits, maybe he’ll buy you dinner too?"

Evalyn rolled her eyes, but turned her charming smile to the girl. “My dear, if I wanted dinner too, I would not need to flash my tits. I control zis situation, not 'im,” she glanced briefly at the man who'd made way for her and saw him chatting with a friend who was now openly watching her. Evalyn smirked, “quite contrary to what you might think.

“Now you...” Evalyn gave the girl an appraising look that mingled with pity. She looked ready to explode in a fury, but Evalyn wasn't concerned that she couldn't handle her. There was no full moon tonight. “You send an 'orribly mixed message. What do you want?” She paused briefly to accept her drink, two fingers of Ardbeg Uigeadail, from the female bartender, and sighed. “You are utterly clueless in so many ways, but you 'ave my pity.”

Your pity?” Meredith snorted, this woman was damaged, especially if she really believed she was in control of anything. And if anyone was giving mixed signals here it was her. But that was typical of French women, wasn’t it? Saying yes when they meant no, and no when they meant yes? Pouting and sulking like little girls and expecting the whole world to pander to their whims. “Thanks, that means so very much!”

“Bonne nuit!” Evalyn ignored her dripping sarcasm, gesturing vaguely with her glass in salut, “You 'ave some interesting ones to come. Try to 'ave fun when you can.” She threw the girl a sly wink and slipped away from the bar before she thought she might suffocate. The single malt scotch helped only a little to kill the surrounding air, but she meant to scour her throat good, far, far away. Which bar was Sebastian attending tonight?

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21:03 Alison and Evalyn

Evalyn was starting to feel somewhat more in control of herself now. The last of her Ardbeg slid down her throat, its smooth, pleasant burn lingering with a strong taste of hickory smoked bacon. Sometimes there was nothing more satisfying than a good Scotch, straight up with nothing fancy.

Sebastian was leaning against the bar beside her – apparently he had the night off tonight, but decided to come anyway for the event. “Can I get you another one?” he asked genially as she placed her glass down, his eyes smoking. No work to preoccupy him tonight!

Evalyn smirked back at him and poked a finger on his chest. “Non, merci mon cher, you would get me too drunk before the evening 'as even started!” His look said he didn't mind, but she pushed herself up off her seat to end further discussion. When he started to follow her, however, she held up a hand and lowered her voice, “Stay where you are. I will find you again.” She winked, then turned to leave him standing there with her empty glass. After a couple of steps, however, she paused and turned back to him. “Actually... you can get me anozzer drink. I will enjoy it wiz you later.”

She left him completely that time and glided off into the crowd. Evalyn was still curious to meet this author, Lucinda Graves. Jasmin had recommended she read her book and that she might enjoy it from what she heard, and though books weren't really Evalyn's thing, she couldn't put it down! Excepting Jasmin herself, it was a nice change from the real demons who weren't nearly half as alluring. Yves had made fun of her for reading it, but then she found the book also made an excellent club.

She didn't have to wonder long before a brilliant blue caught her eye near the restrooms and drew her attention, and once caught, the dress held it. That had to be the author – she looked similar to the woman in the cover of her book at least.

Evalyn put on her most charming smile and made her way over.

“Bonjour! You are the wonderful Lucinda Graves, oui?”

For just a few moments, Alison had managed some peace and quiet in the ladies’ room. She’d finished her first drink, having nursed it for some time, and the couple of minutes alone in the bathroom had done much to fortify her for the next hour of the party. She’d learned to take these things one hour at a time – it was the only way to retain her sanity amidst the scores of strangers. All she had to do now was track down another mojito and she’d be set.

It was while on this mission that the French-accented voice stopped her in her tracks. She turned and flashed her best smile at the young woman who faced her. “Why yes, I am. How are you doing?”

“Very well, merci.” Evalyn looked over the other woman's outfit and had to compliment her. “You are stunning! I 'ave seen your photo in my copy of your book, but you are even more beautiful in real life. I love your dress!”

“Oh, thank you. I must say, you look fantastic as well. I’ll bet you’ve turned a head or two in here already.” From the corner of her eye Alison caught sight of Sven surrounded by yet another bevy of beautiful girls and wondered how long it would be before his tastes turned to the Continental. About half a second after he saw this woman, she figured.

“I’ve met so many new fans here tonight. It’s humbling to see how many people like the books.” And it really was. Alison knew how lucky she was to be able to live this life. She had to remind herself of this at the times when keeping up the Lucinda façade became tiring.

“Merci! I did enjoy your book quite a bit, al'zo I 'ave to admit, I 'ave only read your latest so far.” Evalyn apologized with a small shrug, but continued smiling. “My friend, Jasmin, actually recommended zat I read it before coming. Now I believe I am 'ooked! I shall 'ave to read ze rest!” Yves and his mockery be damned!

Evalyn sighed. This woman was quite pleasant, but she didn't seem nearly as gothic as she'd assumed she would be. “May I ask: what made you write about vampires?”

For a moment Alison almost gave her usual glib reply, but just then spotted Pablo out on the balcony and almost in spite of herself she found herself saying, “I met a man, years ago. He said something about vampires to me in connection with an event… well, that’s not really important. We dated for a while, but he had his work and I had mine and we sort of drifted apart. But the idea of vampire stories stuck with me. People love to read about them. They’re dark, mysterious, terrifying, sexy. And best of all, they’re imaginary. So as a writer I can make up all sorts of stuff about them. Although I did spend a stupid amount of time researching vampire myths and legends. There’s such a variety, it’s hard to pick which version to go for.”

She chuckled. “And then, of course, once I got to book two I had to include werewolves. The zombies showed up in book three… You know how it goes. Once you start down the path of supernatural fiction, it seems every branch ends up in there sooner or later. The vampires have always been the mainstay, though.”

Evalyn chuckled with Lucinda, she hadn't expected quite the detailed explanation, but she felt grateful for the honesty. Made it much easier to talk.

“Per'aps you should 'ave a Chatuman or two in your next book as well,” she joked when Lucinda finished. At the woman's polite but confused look, Evalyn waved her hand in dismissal. Bad joke. “Just some random demon I 'ad 'eard of once. I sink it is more of a French sing.”

Evalyn suppressed her embarrassment and resumed her smile, “'As zis man ou planted zese ideas ever come back to claim royalties?” This felt like a much safer joke than the last. Evalyn didn't much fancy explaining Chatuman to the woman, no matter how pleasant she was to talk to. Evalyn felt she'd be more embarrassed than anything else to have her kind published like that. She'd never hear the end of it from Yves!

No. You would not.

“Not royalties, as such. But we did recently bump into each other again. You know, I think the old spark never quite died.” Alison tried to spot Pablo again over the woman’s shoulder, but couldn’t see him on the balcony anymore.

“And I’m afraid I’ve never heard of this French demon. I’ll have to look them up; I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. Giving me ideas is a great way to end up on an acknowledgements page,” she grinned. “Though for that, you’d have to actually tell me your name,” she added with a wink. “Now, Chatuman… how do you spell that?”

Merde! Evalyn cursed inwardly for getting caught up in niceties. She racked her brains, trying to think of any dignified way she could get out of giving this woman ‘new material’. “Uh... 'ow do you spell it? I uh... can not be too sure, but....”

Yves! Aide moi!

“I sink it's....”

Désolé, mais Yves n'est pas ici maintenant!

Con! That man was insufferable. However, just as Evalyn was about to lay into him with a few more choice words, an idea struck her. Bien sûr!

“Uh... S-H-A... ah...” Evalyn continued repeating the word softly trying to find other alternate letters that were close enough to the mark, “D, zen double O... M-A-N.” Evalyn mentally congratulated herself, refrained from sighing in relief and instead pulled an apologetic smile to her face, “I do not expect you will find much zo. It is a very obscure sing.” She held out her hand, “My name is Evalyn, by the way.”

Looking for something else to quickly change the topic, Evalyn recalled Lucinda peering past her shoulder as if looking for someone, then turned to look herself. “Is your muse 'ere tonight?”

With no small amount of amusement at the woman’s antics, Alison took the proffered hand. “Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Evalyn.” She made a mental note of the spelling given for the demon, but resolved to check alternatives. Evalyn hadn’t seemed too sure, that was certain, and if it was of French origin she would have expected a C-H beginning for the ‘sh’ sound.

“As for my ‘muse’…” She nodded. “He’s here somewhere. Hopefully getting me another strawberry mojito. My first appears to have evaporated.”

“Ah...” Evalyn nodded sagely, “Oui. It is a common evil zat troubles us all. Myself, I 'ave a drink waiting for me somewhere.” She smiled with a distant look as she thought of Sebastian and the fun they might still have. Jasmin did have a gloriously wonderful club filled with a many dark corners.

“Well,” Evalyn continued, refocusing on Lucinda, “I am sure you 'ave many more people wishing to see you tonight, but it 'as been a pleasure.” She gently took the author’s shoulders and passed a faint kiss by either cheek. As expected with most Americans, Lucinda stiffened slightly at the gesture, but Evalyn liked the woman and it was a common courtesy. “Per'aps we will see each ozzer again before ze night ends.”

Alison smiled as warmly as she could, ashamed at having given in to her insecurities even for that brief second. She was so used to being hugged and kissed by strangers, why the sudden stiffening when Evalyn did it? She had no real explanation, but dismissed the aberration as being merely the cumulative effect of the evening’s encounters.

“I’m sure we’ll see each other about. Especially if you’re a friend of Jasmin’s. She makes a wonderfully gracious host, I must say,” Alison said, gesturing around at the club. “This is perfect. And I do believe I need to go in search of that mojito.”

21:04 Pablo and Logan on Balcony

 “Logan, you don’t need to hover around all night,” Balthazar whispered, as he waved to yet another person he presumably knew. You had to give the man credit, he was an expert at working a room.

“Just doing my job sir.”

“I know, I know, but how am I supposed to meet any of these gorgeous ladies with a guy like you standing next to me?” The sorcerer had one of his mischievous grins plastered all across his face. He slapped Logan on the back and pointed discreetly to a red headed bombshell just a few feet away. “If we go talk to her, who do you think she’s going to be more interested in, an old man like me, or a young buck like you?” Logan smirked, he had a point. “Now give a player a chance Logan, go get a drink or something.”

The bodyguard was hesitant. “You sure?”

“Of course. This place is filled with publishing suits and literature groupies, not really the most dangerous crowd. Now I’m going to make my move, so skedaddle would you”.

“Alright, but I’ll be close”.

With Balthazar scurrying off after the vivacious redhead, Logan was left standing alone. *This is a bit awkward*. Not sure what to do with himself, he decided to get the lay of the land so to speak. The place was crowded, but Balthazar had a point, no one looked particularly dangerous.

"Sorry....excuse me....sorry about that." Logan did his best to wade through the mass of people, until he noticed a man going through an archway to a more sparse area of the club. Smart guy Logan thought, following him, hoping to get some respite from the crowds. As he passed through the threshold, he immediately regretted his decision. The man he had been following to salvation had stopped to lean against the wall.  Even from behind, Logan immediately recognized him. The cop! Fantastic. Was this just another coincidence or was something going on Logan wondered.

Sandoval breathed easier now that he was out on the balcony, even though he didn't smoke, it was clear that this was usually a smoker's refuge. The beat of the music was still loud but it wasn't making his temples throb like it had been. He set his drink down on the railing and closed his eyes only to hear a voice behind him.

"Hey Pablo, right?"

Pablo turned and saw Logan, the strange man from earlier this week that had been attacked by the demons. He'd not stopped to get to know him because of Alison, but he still had questions. It’s was a party, it might be better to approach this as a social contact rather than a police matter. Pablo smiled and extended a hand.

"Pablo, tonight, Detective Sandoval most of the time. Logan, isn't it? Look don't look so stricken. I'm off duty. I had to come out here because if I hear that 'unh-chik unh-chik unh-chik' beat for another second I'm going to either have to start dancing or go postal."

 “Not sure which one is worse,” Logan smiled, though he still remained a bit on edge. Balthazar’s warning about Sandoval rang in his ear, even though his own ‘spidey sense’ was definitely not tingling.

 “Funny, I wouldn’t have pegged you as a Lucinda Graves fan,” he said, trying to make small talk. It was a tough situation - on one hand, he knew he couldn’t just excuse himself without drawing suspicion, but on the other, if he stayed and chatted, for sure the topic would turn back to Tuesday night.

Pablo laughed, "I'm not. Lucinda is shallow and vain, and I've not read any of her books. Alison, on the other hand, is someone I admire and am looking forward to getting a lot closer to in the coming days."

The cop and the reporter together? It was as if the coincidences were just compounding. “Well, tonight’s probably not the best date night is it,” Logan chuckled, taking a quick glance back at the crowded interior.

Pablo thought that Logan was glancing over his shoulder uncomfortably.  Almost as if he was embarrassed to be seen with a cop. Pablo hated to push him for fear he'd run again, but he had a feeling that he'd be back before long.

Pablo leaned back and lifted his drink, "I didn't think it would be, but it has actually been very entertaining. I've been able to see another side of Alison I didn't know. I've been able to be an insider and an outsider tonight. You, for instance, why would you be at this party? What is your connection to either Lucinda Graves or Graveyard Club?"

The young man knew the cop wouldn’t buy it if he said he was a die hard Lucinda fan, but what was the other option? The club owner was a vampire so it wasn’t a good idea to connect himself to her either. Unconsciously, he began to rub his neck nervously. “I’m ah…I’m actually working tonight. I do security”.

Pablo nodded, lots of guys work security at clubs, especially if they are strong and have some training. "Nice work, especially tonight," Pablo tipped his glass toward a cluster of young, half-naked, heavily made-up ladies surrounding the blond giant who modeled the covers of Lucinda's books.

"Of course, if you were doing security, you'd be closer to her," Pablo pointed the other way towards Jasmin who was being a gracious hostess and greeting people as they came in, "or him," Pablo pointed at a darkened corner where Balthazar was lurking.

Pablo's eyes burned across the darkened room. He talked absently as if thinking aloud, "I spotted him a few minutes ago. I am trying to guess what his interest is in this particular event."

Then he returned his focus to Logan and the moment, "Never mind, It isn't your problem." He drained his drink, "I'm going to get another and maybe strafe the buffet again. Have fun."


21:27 Sven and Helen

Sven was in his element. As someone who appreciates the female form in all its variety, he was indulging in a veritable smorgasbord tonight. The evening had started out well enough with some licensed groping of the voluptuous author, and had gone from strength to strength since then. So far four women and one man had given him their phone numbers, entirely unsolicited. Right now he was holding court with three luscious young women who hung on his every word, his height advantage affording him an incredible view down their cleavages. Everywhere he looked he could see flashes of thigh, bosoms bulging out of tightly-laced corsets, and alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol. All that remained was for him to figure out who he’d end up bedding tonight.

That’s when he saw her. Dark eyes, dark hair, pale skin. She seemed to glow from within as she crossed the room, her eyes fixed hypnotically on his as she approached. The noise of the party around him faded into the background and all he could hear was his beating heart. He wanted her. He needed her. Even if it meant his very life.

“I’m sorry, what?”

The girl beside him gave an exasperated sigh. A copy of Darque Desires lay open in her hands. “The book, silly. Weren’t you listening?” She stabbed a finger at a line in the book and read aloud. “She seemed the very essence of perfection, and as she drew near the scent of lilies wafted over him, enveloping his senses. Unable to break away from her gaze, in his mind’s eye he envisioned them entwined together, could all but feel the weight of her breasts against him.” The girl paused as she read ahead a few lines, silently. “Wow, this gets pretty hot. Is this the guy that’s meant to be you?”

Sven dragged his eyes away from an approaching woman who uncannily resembled the description that had just been read out to him and glanced down at the girl who’d been reading. She looked suddenly very mousy and plain in comparison to the dark-haired beauty he’d been watching. “Hmm? No, no. I’m supposed to be the vampire guy. He’s not in this bit. This is one of his vampire women who’s been sent to seduce the cop and kill him.”

“Oh.” The girl sounded disappointed, and started flipping through the pages. “Well, where do I find your sex scenes?”

Rolling his eyes, Sven excused himself from the group of girls, two of them glaring daggers at the one with the book. As he left them, he heard the exchange behind him.

“Sex scenes,” scoffed one.

“Yeah,” the other chimed in. “We could have had the man himself, you stupid…”

Their voices blended with the hubbub of a dozen other conversations and the constant thump, thump of the music. The woman he’d been watching hadn’t exactly made a beeline for him, but she’d definitely been getting closer. He intercepted her somewhere near the middle of the room. She stopped, gazed up at him with one hand on her hip and seemed to appraise him.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Sven Tonn–”

“Yeah, I know who you are,” she interrupted in a brazen New York accent that was completely at odds with the way she looked. It took a little of the magic out of the meeting for him. “You’re the guy on the cover there. Have you ever met a real vampire?”

Sven’s face fell. This wasn’t the first time he’d come across someone who thought vampires were real. “No,” he said dismissively, already starting to turn away to find someone who, while they may not look nearly as alluring as this woman, would at least be sane.

“Nah, of course you haven’t. There’s no such thing, right?”

She moved, placing herself before him again. He had to admit, she was probably the most stunning woman at this entire party. The way her eyes seemed to bore into his, holding his gaze. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she really was the vampire woman from the book.

“No, there isn’t,” he affirmed, and the woman nodded.

“I’m Helen,” she said, her accent suddenly softening to something far more normal. “And I’m glad you’re not one of those nut jobs who thinks he really is a vampire. I had to be sure.”

Although he was a little taken aback by her methods, Sven had to admit that Helen had certainly attracted his attention. In more ways than one, as she stepped closer until they were all but pressed against each other. He could have his pick of most of this room, he knew, but Helen had apparently made it her mission that he choose her. And frankly, he wasn’t about to argue. He slipped his hands about her waist, letting one drop to cup the cheek of her arse.

“Easy now, lover boy,” Helen purred. “Not out here in the middle of the floor. Let’s find someplace quiet.”

He made no protest as she led him to a dimly-lit booth. He made even less protest when she pushed him into the far corner and practically clambered into his lap. And protesting was the last thing on his mind when she pressed her lips to his, even though she was curiously cool to the touch. He explored her body with his hands, growing bolder as Helen not only didn’t dissuade him but began her own examination of him.

For her part, Helen was tired of docile meat. She abided by Jasmin’s policy simply because it was expedient to. But her baser appetites needed to be sated, and tonight was a perfect opportunity to indulge a little. She experimented with the merest nip at Sven’s throat. He twitched, but didn’t object. If anything, his response was encouraging. She felt a definite surge of interest in certain parts. Oh good… She’d had a feeling, when she chose this one, that he might enjoy a little rough play.

“Hmm, you taste good,” she murmured in his ear. Unbidden, her game face transformed her from beauty to beast, but Sven had his face buried against her, nuzzling her neck, and was in no position to see it. She squirmed against him and bit in earnest. Sven’s brief yelp of shock was lost in the general hubbub of the party, and Helen was careful to take only a small amount.

Ah, but taking the blood of someone who wasn’t a willing sheep – that was ambrosia. Part of her wanted to take it all, but she restrained herself. Jasmin would tie her to the roof at dawn if she did that. So she lapped at the crimson trickle, glad that she’d at least had the presence of mind to make the bite low on Sven’s neck – practically at his shoulder. It would be easy for him to cover up until it healed. Next time she’d have to make sure it was somewhere that wouldn’t show at all.

Hmm. Next time. Was she seriously considering a ‘next time’? Well, and why not? He was young and strong, very virile, and his blood tasted sweet and exciting. Yeah, she could deal with a next time. She sat up, her face returning to normal, and looked down at Sven as he lay back panting.

“What was that?” he gasped. “It was… wow. Weird, but it felt great.”

She stroked his face, her smile predatory. “I’m glad you liked it. We should do it again sometime.”

His eyes fluttered open and fixated on her bodice where it lay partly open, her breasts almost spilling completely out of her dress. “Oh yes,” he agreed. “That, and much more, I hope…”

21:33 Pablo vs Balthazar

Pablo looked into the alcove where Balthazar chatted to a pair of women.  One of them looked barely seventeen.  That old letch, Pablo thought darkly, I wonder if he’s using some sort of glamour on them.  Or a talisman.  Possibly a potion in the drinks?

He looked down into his empty glass.  His fifth. He made a disgusted face at both himself and his quarry. With the way the booze was flowing tonight he didn’t need a potion to make those girls interested.  He just needed a smooth line.  Pablo fingered the badge. In his pocket.  He’d promised to behave, relax, be a date and not the cop tonight.

But he’d been neglecting Alison most of the evening.  He’d been lurking in the dark corners and around the food like a loser because this wasn’t his kind of place.  He would have been more comfortable in an Irish pub or an Italian restaurant.  He wanted to be listening to a folk-rock band in a coffee shop somewhere with Alison not tarted up at a dance club with Lucinda.

And the more he thought about it the less satisfied with the situation he became. And then he was standing next to Balthazar.  Sandoval snapped his fingers and the two girls looked at him.  He waved at them and they blinked dazedly. “Hi Ladies, “ he said flashing a badge, “Do either of you have ID?  I’d understand if you had to scuttle back to your coats to get some.”

They looked nervously at each other and then left without another word.  Balthazar turned to face Pablo.  His brow was knitted and he was not smiling. “Detective,” he said in a low tone, “you seem to have interrupted my conversation.  How rude of you.”

“Sorry, Balthy, I didn’t know you had brought your grandchildren with you.  I’ll be more considerate in front of the kiddies next time.  Wouldn’t want to set a bad example or anything.”

“In that case, Detective, I’ll make sure that you live to have some seeing as you seem so eager to raise them right.”

Sandoval could feel the buzz leaving as the adrenaline began to surge through his system, “Was that a threat, Mr. Romano?  I’d hate to make a scene while we are both having such fun.”

Balthazar moved a step closer.  His shoes were practically touching Sandoval’s.  The two men stood stick-straight and looked into each other’s eyes which were mere inches away. Neither man wanted to provoke the other by leaning in, but neither was willing to back down first.

Sandoval was keenly aware of where Balthazar’s hands were.  He didn’t want to risk the mage casting a spell or something.  Balthazar as well was waiting for Sandoval to make an aggressive move so he’d have an excuse.

A perfectly manicured hand slid between them. Both men looked into Jasmin's ice-blue eyes. "Gentlemen, the booze and the food is free, but I will tell you that starting trouble tonight will cost you both...dearly."

Balthazar took the hand and kissed it almost tenderly and wandered away.  Jasmin nodded and turned to Sandoval who just glared then turned and stomped away.

21:35 Logan and Meredith

Tonight was turning out to be just too weird. First the reporter, then the cop...It was like the fates were playing a trick on him. *I need a drink.* As he finished pushing his way through the crowd, Logan's face dropped. *You’ve got to be kidding me.* Standing there, with a drink in hand, was the girl from the park, *The Harpee*, he cringed.

Not that she looked at all the same as before, in fact, he had to take a moment to be absolutely sure. For a start she was wearing the tiniest dress he’d ever seen, the fabric clinging in all the right places like a second skin, then there were the heels that just made her legs seem endless… actually she looked pretty damn hot. Not that Logan was fooled. He knew that behind that soft, attractive exterior was a cold, angry dragon woman. Stopping in his tracks, he debated whether to just turn around and avoid the situation – but avoiding conflict was just not in his nature. Moving closer in, he saddled up to the bar next to her. “So how’s the knee doing?”

Meredith had nearly choked on the olive in her martini when she saw they guy... the asshole who'd not only nearly crippled her, skinned her elbow and gave her one monster headache - he'd also abandoned her in the middle of Central Park. It had taken her two hours and half a pack of Tylenol to get home, she'd missed two days of lectures not to mention work. *Fucking hell...*

Their eyes met briefly and she knew he'd recognised her. Swiftly she turned around, gulping down the rest of her martini, hoping he would go away… but sure as hell he came right up to her!

At his query Meredith turned around, piercing him with an icy glare. "Like you give a damn," she snarled, her earlier frustration at being ditched by Gail and having that catty French bitch talk to her like a piece of shit burned as hotly as the martini in her stomach. "D'you have any idea how long it took me to get home after you just deserted me? Thank god someone with a little more chivalry arrived or I'd probably still be on that bench right now."

Logan met her gaze without flinching. The claws were out instantly and he guessed it wouldn’t be long before she started to breathe fire. "More chivalrous," he said with a 'hmph'. "Not quite how I remember it going down. I was trying to play the knight in shining armour, but you pretty much accused me of sexual harassment. For the record, I was just being nice."

Abruptly, the bartender arrived, cutting their conversation short. "What'll it be handsome?" she said, leaning over the bar so Logan could get a good view of her hefty cleavage.

Logan cast Meredith a smug smile, before turning back to the waitress. "I'll have a gin tonic and the lady here will have...what's your drink of choice? I'm guessing the blood of the innocent?"

Meredith rolled her eyes. “Still persisting with the comedy routine, I see?” she turned to the waitress who suddenly switched off the flirty cheeriness. “I’ll have another martini, extra dry.” Looking back at the guy she smiled sarcastically. “Obviously you’re a guy who’s easily pleased. That happen a lot in your world does it? Flash them that boyish grin, flex your muscles and,” she mimed a doe-eyed expression, fanning herself with her hand, “hey Handsome, can I get you anything? A drink? My number? Or maybe you’d let me have your babies?”

Logan chuckled – had to give her credit, the girl had a sense of humour.

The barmaid returned with both drinks, setting Meredith’s down with all the grace of an ox. “Need anything else?” she purred suggestively.

Taking out a twenty, Logan made a point of having their hands touch as he paid the girl. “I’ll let you know.” The bartender could hardly contain her squeal as she rushed off to another set of patrons.

Turning back to Meredith, Logan was more than a little pleased with himself. “Yeah, actually, that does happen a lot. And I can’t figure out why you seem to be immune,” he joked, knowing it would probably enrage her further.

Was he for real? “Of course not,” fumed Meredith from behind her fake smile, “it must be tough being God’s gift to all women, especially when one doesn’t fall instantly to her knees with gratitude the moment you grace her with your presence. Really, who do you think you are? Swaggering around, chest puffed up like some self-satisfied tomcat,” she made a show of imitating him, stomping her feet comically, “tossing your trust fund about the place and expecting everyone to just swoon at your feet simply because you’re good-looking.”

“So what you’re saying is you think I’m good looking?” Logan said, still sporting the cocky smile. For a moment, he literally thought the girl’s head would explode with rage. “You know, without even knowing me, you sure jump to a lot of conclusions. We’ve spent a total of maybe 10 minutes together, and you’ve already got me pegged as an arrogant, trust fund semi-rapist who bulldozes helpless girls in the park. So for your information,” he continued, counting off on his fingers, “Smashing into you in the park was an accident which I did apologize for, you’ve seen that I don’t need to sexually harass girls to get a date, and I’m not a trust fund brat spending his dad’s cash. I work for every penny I have, and I paid for your drink because, contrary to popular belief, I’m not a bad guy.” He practically huffed, as the tirade ended. “In fact, I’m only here tonight because I’m working”.

Meredith was thrown for a second, she perched on a bar stool then immediately regretted it when her already short dress rose even higher up her thighs. “A job where you flirt with waitresses and drink cocktails?” she queried with a quirk of her brow, tugging as discreetly as she could at the hem of her dress, “hardly working your fingers to the bone.”

There was really no getting through with this girl was there? So if that were the case…”I’m a stripper,” he said bluntly, doing his best to keep a straight face. “Yep, in about 15 minutes, I’m going to be lowered over the dance floor in a cage, wearing only a zebra print g-string. And Let me tell you, after the show you wont be saying I don’t work hard”.

Meredith felt a cool chill down her spine, but she quickly fought it down, taking a gulp of her fresh martini. He was just making a joke, there was no way he knew what she did to make ends meet. “Thanks for the warning, I’ll make sure I leave before the stray panties start flying.” She fished the olive from her drink and bit into it firmly. “I doubt I’d survive the stampede of insatiable women desperate to get their hands on your oiled up body.”

“Yeah, you should have seen the death toll at the last party I worked”. The girl was still as cold as the ice in his drink. “Well, you know I’m kidding, so don’t go plucking your eyes out just yet.” Taking a big gulp of the gin tonic, Logan set the glass down, not sure what else to say. “Anyways, as always, it’s been a pleasure. The name is Logan by the way. I figured you’d want to know what to call me in your dreams later,” he added with a sly wink as he prepared to join the massive crowds on the dance floor.

If she hadn’t just eaten her olive she would have pitched it at the back of his smug head. Logan. Figured. Pretentious name for the most arrogant, condescending guy she‘d ever… “Yeah,” she muttered, “when I’m cursing the day I ever met you.” Silently fuming, she slammed the cocktail stick on the bar and downed the last of her drink. *What a total, fucking ass…*

21:42 Logan and Pablo in the bathroom

Pablo slammed the door of the bathroom hard enough to make two of the men at the urinals jump. That rat bastard, he fumed, How dare he threaten the innocent people at this party in a game of my dick is bigger? I'd win, anyways.

He splashed water on a towel and wiped his face, the cool feeling on his hot face eased his nerves. He'd had a drink or two too many, he thought. He should know better than to mix work and pleasure. He was here to enjoy himself and goading Balthazar Romano didn't accomplish anything useful.

Logan was still smiling to himself, picturing The Harpee’s face, red and ready to blow. Did that girl have a chip on her shoulder or what? But she’s got a great pair of legs….

Squeezing through another set of Lucinda fans, Logan pushed open the bathroom door, only to once again run into the cop - and he did not look happy.

 “Hey buddy, everything ok?”

Pablo sighed and straightened himself. "Yes, I'm fine. I just let some...thing get to me. I needed a second to cool off. I'm good now."

He forced himself to smile at the young man, "I'm under control," he said, but he wasn't sure who he was trying to convince himself or Logan.

 “You know how people get with a few drinks in them, don’t worry about it”.

He couldn’t help but wonder why his boss was so adamant that he stay away from Pablo. Balthazar wasn’t a bad guy, so why exactly did he have beef with this cop? One thing Logan knew is that his gut told him Lt. Sandoval was one of the good guys.

 “You know, I never really got to thank you,” Logan began awkwardly, already semi regretting the words that came out of his mouth. He was definitely opening a can of worms, but some things needed to be said. “Had you not been there on Tuesday night…” he let the words trail off.

Sandoval could feel the alcohol fogging his mind again, "What? Don't sweat it, us humans have to stick together. They are out there, you know? Out to get us."

He felt ill. Something he'd eaten, drank, or put up with tonight was having its say.

"'Scuse me!" Sandoval mumbled and bolted for a stall.

The rush of food and liquor was out in a flash. A second heave finished the deal. "Ugh, I should know better,"  he said flushing away the evidence. His mind was clearing. 

Logan was caught a little of guard by Pablo’s sudden turn for the worse - then again, probably a blessing in disguise. He didn’t want to dwell on Tuesday’s events.

“Buddy, you alright?” he called at Pablo.

A mumbled, “Fine,” came from the stall.  He slipped out nonchalantly.Man, this night is turning out to be fucking weird.

Sandoval spit a few times to clear the bits in his mouth before heading back to the sink to clean up. “This isn’t you, Juan Pablo,” He said to the face in the mirror, “What has gotten into you?”

He made a final check before he, too, exited the restroom.

21:44 Meredith and Cadee

“When will I learn not to count on lil’orphan Annie to stay put?” Cadee asked to herself while she once again scanned the room for her friend, seeing no sign of her. She had left her at the bar about fifteen minutes earlier, while she went to the restrooms, with the firm promise to wait there.

“What the hell, I can play disappearing girl too,” she answered immediately, and started looking around again, but this time searching for something completely different, trying to decide whether or not she wanted to grab somebody's attention tonight. But nothing, or no one, really stood out to her, she was about to get up and start dancing by herself, when suddenly, something did catch her eye.

*Is that Meredith?* She looked at a girl standing by the bar, and had to look twice to confirm her identity. The brunette was wearing a revealing one shoulder mini dress and was probably wearing very high pumps, for she looked taller from the distance. She looked great, actually.  *Oh, yes. It’s her all right, what a change!* She smiled, that was great; she had tried to get information on Meredith to no avail, and the girl hadn’t returned to the Sláinte since their meeting.

Then she saw the man she was talking to, and her smile grew. * Logan!* Well, that was a surprise.  He looked great too, in a black suit and white shirt. Elegant. But then she frowned, they were talking in earnest, a little too close for her liking. Damn, Cadee, you don’t own him; not even know him, actually. You have no saying in how close he stands to pretty girls like Meredith.

“I have to talk to Meredith anyway,” Cadee said aloud, and started moving toward the two, while she worked at erasing her frown and smiling again.

Meredith was still staring after the guy - Logan - as he wove his way through the crowds. Maybe if she glared hard enough she could make laser-beams shoot from her eyes and zap him in the ass - it was a nice ass, she had to give him that, even with his head stuck so far up it. And now she was staring at his ass… perfect, if he saw her doing that his ego might just ignite and take out a couple of emo’s.

”The name is Logan,” she muttered in a mocking tone, ”figured you’d want to know what to call me in your dreams later… as if!”

Snorting irritably, she rummaged around in her purse for another one of those drinks tickets Coat Check Girl had given Gail. Like she’d needed sweetening up, they were probably already making out under a pile of jackets and fur stoles. Not that she begrudged Gail her fun, Meredith just wished it didn’t mean she got ditched in the process. Now if she could just get a couple of minutes with Lucinda Graves, aka Alison Scruggs, investigative reporter at the New York Times… it might not be a total waste of an evening. Of course, the likely hood of getting the bestselling novelist on her own were practically nil…

“Hello, Meredith,” Cadee said, reaching the girl at last. The club was getting crowded and crowded as time passed, quite a success. Meredith raised her head brusquely and Cadee noticed she had surprised her. “Wow, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Oh… wow…” it took Meredith a moment to place the girl, but stunning blondes with dazzling smiles weren’t all that common, even in New York - at least, not genuinely pretty ones anyway. “Cadee… sorry, no, I was just…” she waved a hand dismissively, finally pulling out a couple of drinks tickets from her purse. “Can I get you a drink? If I can get any service here, it’s certainly not as good as the Slainte.”

“Sure, thanks. And thanks. Although, to be honest, the Slàinte seldom gets this crowded…” She grinned, watching the packed room and pitying the personnel. “Thank God.”

She turned to Meredith again, she had somehow gotten the attention of the bartender who was taking her order. “A bloody Mary, please,” she asked. “So, what are you doing here? It’s been a surprise.”

“A friend dragged me here, actually, the one I was telling you about? She’s had a major crush on the Coat Check Girl who works here. Tonight was her night to pounce.” Meredith grinned, it was easy talking to Cadee, she was just one of those people that, despite being utterly gorgeous didn’t actually seem to know it. It made a nice change from Mr Tall Dark and Arrogant. “This place is a bit too Goth, not really my kind of thing. I mean, a guy actually introduced himself as Lestat. Seriously, someone should tell people that vampires aren’t real, know what I mean?”

Cadee laughed, amused. She always found it quite ingenuous that people could actually live their whole lives and not know that monsters really existed. Then she sobered up, remembering who she was talking to. Not such happy life for her, unfortunately.

“Well, I came because of my friend too. She’s totally into this vampire fashion. In fact, you could mistake her for a vampire, I’m sure.” She leaned towards her a little, “and don’t tell her I told you, but Anne chose Anne Millet as her stage name because millet is a cereal.” At Meredith confused look, she explained. “Anne Rice, you know?”

“Ah, clever…” *in a geeky sort of way* Which was cool, Meredith had been known to go geek herself from time to time. At least she hadn’t offended Cadee with the Goth remark, she’d slightly cringed when she realised what she’d said.

“So you’re not a Darquette?” she gestured towards the display of books and where a huge cardboard cut-out of the protagonist stood. “I heard Lucinda Graves was gonna be here, but I haven’t seen her yet. Probably surrounded by fellow novelists and executive types. Bodyguards too I hope, by the look of some of her fans, she’d need them just to make sure she lasts the night in one piece.”

“Not really, as I said, I was as dragged here as you were. Lucinda Graves is around, all right… we chatted a little with her when Anne and I got to the party. And I met her at the Slàinte the other day, she was making notes. You know she’s a reporter too, don’t you?”

 “Yeah, she was a guest lecturer last year at NYU,” Meredith picked up her drink - another martini. She’d rather have a beer, but it was a cocktail kind of event. Even though it was her first (and probably last) book launch party, it didn’t seem like the sort of occasion where you chugged back on a bottle of Sam Adams.

“I read her piece in the paper last week. I was so beat I missed out on that story, of all the dumb luck, right?”

“Oh, I didn’t know you were a reporter. So that’s why you’re around the Slainte so often? To catch cop’s talk?” Cadee smiled, “and I thought it was because of the great service!”

Meredith felt her cheeks redden. She hadn’t meant to say that, it had just sort of slipped out. She narrowed her gaze slightly, obviously Cadee was more intelligent than the blonde stereotype would have people believe, sharp too, coming to such an accurate conclusion from such a throw-away statement.

“Ah, no, not a reporter. At least not yet… not at all if I keep being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And… well I figured a cop bar was as good a place as any to pick up a juicy lead. Not that it’s worked yet.” She hesitated a moment, stirring her drink with her olive. “You’re not gonna blow my cover are you?”

“My lips are sealed,” she promised. This was great, she thought, realizing there was a way she could guarantee the girl would go back to the bar time and again. Besides, she really liked Meredith, and not just as a wolf-fur-coat prospect. “Actually, I may be able to help you. I do catch cop’s talk, you know? I should, working there 24/7! Well, not really, I don’t live at the place, but you catch my drift.”

“For example, that guy you were talking with… Logan? He was the Good Samaritan of the other night, you know?” Cadee added, trying to sound casual. Then she went on, wanting to know, but a little afraid of the answer. “Is he your friend?”

*What?* Meredith nearly choked on her martini. She really had to stop drinking when people were talking. “Logan?” her voice was full of disbelief, but really, was it that surprising? The guy fancied himself as some kind of knight in shining armour, it wouldn’t surprise her if it turned out he’d started that fire, just so he could rush in to save the day and be congratulated on being such an all-round wonderful guy.

“My friend? I wouldn‘t call him that…” Meredith wanted to laugh but then she probably would choke. Instead she took a slow drink and sighed. “You know how some guys you just can’t stop thinking about? You know, they make you smile and feel excited when they walk in a room? And when they’re talking all you can think about is what their lips taste like and how much you want them to just reach out and touch you?”

Cadee swallowed. *Oh, my, this is so much worse than I thought.* And she didn’t know whether she referred to Meredith’s words or how she went all soft inside when she applied them to Logan.

“Well, yes. I do.” She finally said.

Meredith put down her drink and folder her arms over her ample chest. “Right. And then there are those other guys that you just want to drop an anvil on from a great height?” She nodded in the general direction of the dance floor where Logan had headed and a scowl wrinkled her forehead. “Well he would fall into the latter category.”

Cadee didn’t realize she had been holding her breath till she couldn’t find any air to laugh. “Come on, he’s not that bad!” she found herself defending him when she could actually speak. “He helped me with a bothersome drunkard the other day, and he was  pretty battered up after the incident with those fire loving morons. I think he’s cute.”

“Sure, he’s cute and doesn’t he just know it? You should have seen him flirting with the waitress! It was… just typical! Guys like him think they can get whatever they want just by spinning a line and flashing a charming grin.” She finally looked at the girl, *Oh no…* she’d seen that moony eyed expression before and it wasn’t good. “Oh Cadee, don’t waste your time on Mr Wonderful, he’s the fuck em’ and chuck em’ type if ever I saw it. Believe me, I know and you don’t wanna end up just another notch on his no doubt already whittled down bedpost.”

Cadee blushed, embarrassed.

“Was I so obvious?” She asked, wondering if Meredith was right. He had flirted with her at the bar, and he was pretty enough to be lucky with girls. But he also had helped her (not that she needed help, but he didn’t know that) and intervened trying to help some unknown guy -she had not learned anything that contradicted that version, at least, and she had paid attention. Besides, two could play that game too, she wasn’t a saint herself. Not that she notched her bedpost up, but…

 “I’ll be careful, Meri, I promise.”  She looked at Meredith’s stern face and smiled, trying to reassure her. She knew the girl meant well, but she wanted to change the topic. “About the cop’s thing, what do you say? Want me to tell you if I learn something?”

Meredith was more than happy to change the subject, no doubt Logan would get a kick out of thinking they had nothing better to talk about. “You’d do that? I mean, you wouldn’t get into any trouble would you?”

“I don’t think so, as long as you don’t cite your source,” Cadee smiled. “I’m sure I could get something juicy for you.”

 “Excellent,” Meredith was genuinely excited now, her first official, unofficial source! “I don’t have a cell but I could give you my pager…” she rummaged in her purse again, jotting down the number on her trusty notepad and tearing it out. “I really appreciate this, maybe next time I’ll scoop Lucinda Graves.”

Meredith’s excitement was contagious, and she grinned as she took the piece of paper. “You actually may,” she said.

22:17 Meredith and Alison

This party was gonna be a total blow out, Meredith could just tell. After Cadee had excused herself and Meredith had knocked back her fifth free martini of the night, she’d not even had so much as a glimpse of the infamous author. Yeah, total bust. Gail was gonna have to do better than pizza, beer and a movie. Maybe a steak dinner, and margaritas, lots of margaritas, and a double feature.

Meredith tossed another canapé into her mouth and turned the page. She’d decided to see what the fuss was all about, especially seeing as there was a display full of books. When Alison had come to talk at NYU last year she’d done a little background research, that’s when she’d discovered that the Pulitzer nominated journalist was also bestselling novelist Lucinda Graves. She’d picked up one of her books, Darque Shadows but it hadn’t really been her thing. Apparently this was book number six in the same series… she couldn’t say the plot had improved any.

That wasn’t fair really, the writing was good, colourful and with a lively pace. But geez… what was with all the sex? Was the woman obsessed or what? Meredith snorted as she was launched into yet another steamy scene where the protagonist seemed to have an endless stamina. It was a good job vampires weren’t real, no man could compete with this guy. Meredith chuckled, her fingers blindly reaching for another of the spicy crab crostini.

“Oh man,” she snorted between giggles, “geez… I know it’s fiction but… bloody hell!”

“It’s not to everyone’s taste, that’s for sure. You wouldn’t be the first person who thought it was all a bit far-fetched.”

Alison was used to hearing her work being derided as outlandish and derivative. Since the surge in supernatural fiction over the past couple of decades there was little new to write about. But it sold books. By the truckload. And book six… well, the title wasn’t named Darque Desires for nothing. After five books of build up Donatien and Rachel had finally given in to their lust.

It would have bothered her once to hear someone giggling over her book, but these days it water off a duck’s back. So she paused by the young woman, clearly a little in her cups, and smiled warmly. “You don’t have to force yourself to read it, if you don’t want to. I really don’t mind.”

Meredith turned and copped a veritable eyeful that her pal Gail would have drooled over. And silk, lots of blue slippery silk. Meredith blinked, juggling the book with what must have been her sixth martini of the night, though in all honesty she’d stopped counting after the third.

“Right,” she mumbled awkwardly. She didn’t make a habit of getting drunk, at least not in public. That was the trouble with cocktails, you never realised just how much you’d knocked back until your head was woozy and the room was spinning. Meredith wasn’t quite at that point yet, but as she turned to the woman, the book slid out of her hands and landed on the floor with a loud THUD. Her cheeks reddened instantly as several people turned to look. Meredith dove for the book, glass still in hand, not even realising how her dress rode up even higher and certainly must have given a few of the other guests a first-class view of her ass as she scrambled around on the floor to retrieve it.

“You’re into this stuff huh? I mean, sure you’d have to be, but vampires, werewolves and an army of zombies? Really, isn’t it all a bit… trashy? Like-” Meredith picked up the book and finally got to her feet, getting her first proper look at the other woman. And she froze mid-sentence. Looking down at the book in her hands and turning it over to the picture of the author - Lucinda Graves. The same woman that stood in front of her now.

“Shit.” she swore, mortified beyond all belief. This was Lucinda Graves aka Alison Scruggs, respected reporter and Pulitzer nominee, and not only had she snorted and sneered over her book, she’d dropped it on the goddamn floor! “I mean, no, not that,” Meredith held her head, which suddenly felt very woolly. “I’m a…” her mind was blank, there was just nothing there. “Sorry,” she said finally with a sigh, “really, sorry Ms… Graves?”

Alison smiled. “Guilty as charged.” She glanced down at the book in the woman’s hand. “I’m willing to bet you’ve just read the descriptions in there of the earlier books, since the zombies only appeared in Darque Rising. If it’s the fantasy aspect that’s bothering you, at least they aren’t traditional shuffling undead. Unlike vampires and werewolves, there are real zombies in the world and I used those as my inspiration rather than the Romano model.”

She shrugged. “As for trashy, well… they pay the bills, and most people seem to like them. Just be grateful my vampires don’t sparkle,” she said with a grin. “But honestly, if it’s not your thing don’t worry about it. These books really aren’t to everyone’s taste.”

Taking a sip of her strawberry mojito, Alison examined the young woman. Perhaps she was the daughter of some dignitary at this party, or someone’s date. Her state of inebriation said to Alison that the woman was bored out of her skull, at any rate. “So if you’re not a fan of my books, who or what dragged you here tonight?”

Meredith was still cringing on the inside and fought against the martini-induced fog that threatened to turn her brain to mush. “A so-called friend had a, uh, thing…” and really it was all Gail’s fault, if she hadn’t ditched her she wouldn’t have run into that French bint, or Logan and she wouldn’t have drank nearly so much, or be in such a bad mood to bag the very book that was being launched.

“…with a girl who works here, she kinda blagged me an invite. I mean, yeah this…” she held up the book, “isn’t exactly my thing, but… you actually gave a guest lecture at NYU last year, on your career as an investigative reporter? I did a bit of research and found out that you were…” she held up the book with the picture of Lucinda Graves facing out, “also her.”

Alison grinned. “Ah, yes. My agent decided nobody would buy an urban fantasy written by an author named Scruggs, so we used the name Lucinda Graves. It’s amazing how many people think that’s my real name.” She glanced down at herself and made a wry face. “Or that I’m really this slutty in real life. It’s all part of the marketing, though.”

As grateful as Alison was for her success at writing – and selling – vampire romances, it was her career as a journalist that gave her the most satisfaction, and she was pleased to have met someone who was entering the field. “So, are you still at NYU or are you out working now? Have you written any pieces I might have seen? What’s your by-line?” She paused, aware that only about one word in two was making it through the woman’s alcoholic haze.

“Sorry,” she said, more slowly. “I get excited when I meet another journalist. I’ve been freelance for so long that I don’t get to mingle with them much anymore.”

*Wow, this is amazing!* Alison Scruggs of the New York Times was actually talking to her as a ‘fellow’ journalist. If she hadn’t been so tipsy and wearing six inch heels, Meredith might have done a little jig of happiness. Or maybe not.

“Bell,” she said finally, “my name, it’s Meredith Bell. But I doubt you would have seen it on any by-line, unless you read the university press. But I’m trying, you know, if I could just manage to be in the right place at the right time and not a day late and a dollar short. Like that fire, at the Slante bar? With the homeless guy? I was there that afternoon, and then all that kicked off a few hours later? Goddamn I was so fuc- er, disappointed I missed out on that one. I read your piece in the Post.”

“You were there?” Alison blinked and glanced over her shoulder to where, just an hour or so ago, she’d met up with the very subject of that news story. “What a coincidence. And yes, you’ll find that although most of the time it’s hard work and research that gets you a good story, sometimes one will just fall right into your lap. This time it was sheer luck that it happened when I was there and not you.”

She chuckled. “I was there on a date, but I always carry my recorder with me.” She fished into her small clutch purse and pulled out her digital recorder. “Even tonight – just in case. Rule number one: always be prepared for a story to break right under your nose.”

Meredith quickly dug around in her purse and whipped out her trusty notebook and pen. “Snap!” she said gleefully, “sort of, if not a little more primitive.”

Alison’s grin broadened. “Awesome. Primitive isn’t an issue. Technology’s just a tool. It’s our eyes and brains that make us reporters. Gods, listen to me! You don’t want to have another lecture tonight, I’m sure.”

As she put away her recorder, she grabbed one of her cards. Her real cards with her actual phone number on them, not her Lucinda Graves ones that only had contact details for Connie’s office. She started to hand the card to Meredith, but thought better of it and slipped it into the front of her notebook so that she wouldn’t lose it. “If you ever need help with anything, please give me a call. Sometimes a reporter can find themselves in a hairy situation. Don’t be afraid to contact me, okay?”

“Wow,” she hadn’t meant to say that out loud, but no doubt she looked suitably fan-girlish even if it was for a different reason to everyone else who met the famed author that night. Meredith wasn’t about to ask if she meant it, or anything like that. Besides, Alison hadn’t offered to introduce her or take her under her wing - which was good, because even though she wasn‘t above the odd helping hand, Meredith had made it this far on her own, she wasn’t about to take a free ride now. She wanted the rights to her own success. Even if it took another twenty years.

“I mean, thanks. Say, I don‘t suppose-” she had been about to ask about the moral implications in getting a story. The ‘hairy situation’ remark had made her think about Magdalena DeLuca, and how she’d broken into the girl’s home and rooted around in her belongings. Not to mention actually stealing some of them. But she was too late, someone had obviously decided she’d had her 15 minutes of fame with Lucinda Graves and her time was up. In mid-sentence in fact, as a mob of fans descended, their arms laden with books. Meredith was practically shoved aside as the group fought for their share of the author’s time.

“Ow! Fuckin’ hell! Hey!” Meredith scowled but finally relented, stepping back. She settled for giving Alison a little wave of thanks before she disappeared from view. Then she was gone.

22:30 Jasmin and Evalyn

Jasmin made her way through the crowd, not for the first time. Playing hostess through the evening went as it always did: you greeted, you talked, you monitored everything; nobody realized the work that went on even during. Half of her evening was spent directing staff to replenish this table or that one, or sometimes, getting involved making sure that a fight failed to happen. It meant drinking enough to become slightly tipsy, and in low moments like this, getting lost in more pleasant memories.

In this case, memories of having another young woman sat next to her, who only after they had to get up, did she realize had managed to take charge of virtually the entire conversation, save for inviting her to dinner. That, she considered a minor victory, but couldn't help feel that she must have been slipping. Especially if -

“Oh, I'm terribly sorry,” she said as she ran straight into another person, stopping, staring, and look turning into a genuine smile. “Evalyn, my friend! So glad you managed to get here tonight. How have things gone so far?”

Evalyn only had a moments irritation at being bumped before noticing the familiar face, then beamed in delight as she turned to regard her. “Jasmin! Look at you!” she said as she opened her arms to hug her friend and plant a kiss on either cheek, “I would say zat sings are going fairly well.” She smirked, glancing aside to where Sebastian was standing. On Jasmin's approach he gave a short, respectful bow. “I 'ave to say, even when zey are not working, some of your staff are most accommodating.” Evalyn winked at the man and turned back, ignoring Yves who was clawing at the back of her mind. “But what about you? You look... different. What 'as 'appened! You must tell me!”

She felt almost a bit overwhelmed, and probably looked it. Having to overcome her metabolism was one thing; but after a certain point... Ok, time to stop drinking for tonight. Still Evalyn received the same kisses on either cheek in return, with her taking a quite relaxed look. “Patience, my dear. I have a potential business partner here for you you should at least be aware of,” pointing out Balthazar across the room.

“And, a potential job for you,” she noted, mind racing with those details again, as it had, off and on. She would sort that out when she was sober, though now her smile grew more genuine, the implications gone. “I also have a date for tomorrow night, now.”

Evalyn glanced briefly at the gentleman Jasmin had indicated across the room, but at her friends last sentence, she lost any interest in potential work.

Smirking she gave Jasmin a playfully stern look over her glass, “You sink I care to 'ear about work when you 'ave a date?” she quirked her eyebrow and gestured absently to Sebastian who was still standing somewhere nearby, “Sebastian, dear, would you please get me anozzer drink? I fear I 'ave nearly finished zis one.” She wasn't watching to see if he obeyed her request, but she did inhale sharply as he stepped up close behind her to whisper assent in her ear and promise other things for the evening.

She watched him leave, hungry to have him back again, gripping her upper arms, but she took the opportunity she'd created to focus on Jasmin who was quirking an eyebrow of her own at the little exchange that took place. “'Ee is an excellent bartender.” Evalyn said simply to explain herself, then shook her self. “But tell me about you! Who is zis date?”

“Yes, he is. Not as good as the girl that I have to make... these,” she proclaims, holding up the glass with the remains of the latest Sling in it. She didn't fight the memory returning of earlier in the evening, and the promise of another night to come. “Her name is Connie. She's Lucinda Graves' agent... I suppose I should actually read Lucinda's books, now, shouldn't I?”

Jasmin let the thought trail off, finishing off her drink with a quite pleased look to her. “Bold, direct, and I realize this now, apparently able to direct me when I've been drinking. And also, a skilled kisser,” this last she added more softly, and a bit conspiratorially. “Tell you what. Come by my place... evening after next. Can tell you how it went, and then, we plan business.”

“Connie...” Evalyn repeated the name thoughtfully, then smiled, “I actually met Lucinda Graves earlier zis evening, but I did not see any Connie wiz her,” her grin turned teasing, “zat would not 'ave been, per'aps, because you 'ad already stolen 'er by zis stage?”

Jasmin got a quite thoughtful look to her. “You know, I'm not sure which of us stole the other... just that we spent some time getting along.” She cleared her throat a bit as she inwardly reminded herself that it had certainly been a while since she had a shot. “It is so good that you could make it, though. Aside from one or two minor inconveniences? This night seems to be going quite perfect. Nothing could ruin it at this point.”

“Oui,” Evalyn agreed, raising the remains of her drink. The evening was proving to be quite a pleasure indeed, and there was still more to look forward to!

I could ruin some sings for you, Eevie.

Why Yves! I can not imagine what you are talking about.

Evalyn's grin deepened as she toyed with Yves jealousy and continued to speak aloud- “To perfect nights and perfect companies!”

22:31 Chiedra at work

A long, rolling laugh erupted from the handsome, dark-haired man seated only a few feet in front of her, at a small table near the back of the dark, crowded club.  Shifting her weight slightly from one foot to the other, Chiedra stood with her back to the wall, looking out over the table and into the crowd.  Her eyes scanned the people milling about continuously as she watched for any trouble that might come her way.  Ricky Chiang was an important young man, particularly to his father, Tommy, and as such his safety was important as well. 

The Chiangs pretty much ran things in Chinatown nowadays, and as such, the family had an enemy or two who might at any time come crawling out of the woodwork.  That was the exact reason Tommy was paying Chiedra so much to stand in the background of this soiree dressed in skintight black leather and just watch.  She was Mr. Chiang’s insurance policy that his spoiled little prince would come home safe and sound after yet another evening of drunken debauchery.  Chiedra had been guarding the heir apparent to the Obsidian Blades dynasty for almost three months now.  In that time, she’d watched him pickling his liver on a nightly basis and shopping for the STD of the month as well, but she’d yet to see any real danger. 

As far as Chiedra was concerned, Tommy Chiang thought a little too highly of the value of both his spoiled, arrogant first born son, and as an extension of that, of himself.  But who was she to question or judge? Chiang’s money was just the way she liked it, large and timely.  As long as he kept paying her, she’d keep wasting her time and talent standing behind this blowhard while he wasted daddy’s ill-begotten gains on booze, drugs, and women.  Funny, actually, that.  Ricky was spending the family wealth on the very things that had generated it to begin with. 

Chiedra’s waist length black hair was tied up in a tight knot at the top of her head.  The glamour spell attached to the silver charm bracelet she wore made her skin appear as a warm chocolate brown, and tinted her eyes to a similar shade.  Her tattoos were invisible in this guise, as well.  For tonight’s launch party, she’d dressed in skin tight leather, a catsuit with low-heeled black leather boots adorned with matte silver buckles.  Similar buckles and zippers decorated her clothes.  She felt the overall effect was just dominatrix enough to blend in, while still allowing her the freedom to move should things get hairy. 

Chiedra’s attention was drawn to her charge when he reached out and hooked an arm around her leather clad waist, sidling a little too close to her body for comfort.  She sneered down at him as he winked lasciviously at his tablemates.  “She’s here to guard my body, right, boys,” he said.  “You really need to get a little closer to do the job right, Chiedra.”

“I’m good right where I am, Mr. Chiang,” Chiedra’s voice was low and smoky.  She felt the eyes of all the psychophants at the table as they watched Ricky run his hand up and down the side of her body.  Chiedra barely restrained the urge to throw the creep across the room.  “Being mauled wasn’t in the job description as your father explained it to me.”

The pointed reminder about who really paid the bills was meant to subtly put Ricky back in his place.  Chiedra didn’t want to alienate the kid.  His father’s money was good, and he was just overindulged enough to make her life difficult.  On the other hand, Chiedra did have a real job to do, and while she was distracted by Ricky taking liberties, that job wasn’t getting done.  The other men at the table chortled at Chiedra’s put-down.  Chiedra saw Ricky’s eyes narrow as he looked at them, and the hand on her waist tightened painfully.  She rolled her eyes inwardly, even as she was carefully extracting herself from Ricky’s inappropriate embrace.  *Tactfully,* she thought before she spoke again, her anger simmering just beneath the surface.  *This job will be enough to pay for that consultation with Brisbane.  He may actually have the power to make something happen this time.*

“I’m sorry, Ricky,” she said, in a simpering tone.  “I just want to keep you safe.  No one wants anything bad to happen.  And you’re so distracting, I can’t keep my mind on the job.  Couldn’t you sit back down with your friends and enjoy the party, please?”

Ricky smirked at the other men.  He deliberately rubbed his body against hers as his hand caressed her ass.  Chiedra seethed silently, while maintaining an appropriate look of chagrin.  “Maybe next time, sweetheart,” Ricky replied.  He slid back into his seat, beckoning for a passing waiter to stop for another round of drinks.  Chiedra leaned back against the wall, trying to make herself as inconspicuous as possible, not only to avoid being noticed by potential hitmen, but also to avoid any more amorous attention from the asshole she’d been hired to protect.   

22:35 Cadee and Logan

Logan, descended to the lower level of the Graveyard, looking for some respite from the crowded party, only to find an equal amount of dancers downstairs. No better luck here he though, about to head back up when something strange caught his eyes. Across the dance floor he saw them, three beautiful woman conversing quietly together - the same three women that Persephone had been talking to at the Hellfire Lounge earlier that week. Completely forgetting about his boss, Logan studied the trio intently. They must be sisters, he guessed, noticing that they resembled each other. Tall and thin, they all had similar garb and identical haircuts, long and straight. Their only real differentiating factor were the hair colours; one blonde, one raven and one brunette. Logan couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was definitely something off with these girls. They had an eerie, otherworldly quality about the way they held themselves, almost as if gravity was just barely holding on to them. He was about to move in for a closer look when another pretty lady caught his eye.

Is that Cadee? Seeing Slainte’s bartender through a gap in the crowds he altered his direction, trying to catch up with her. However, not wanting to lose track of the trio, he shot one last quick glance back to make sure they were still in eyesight. “Holy shit,” he gasped quietly - the girls had vanished. Making a mental note to speak to Balthazar about them, he rushed towards his new target. “Cadee, hold up!”

Only Cadee’s  inhuman hearing allowed her to hear him in the noisy nightclub. She even thought she recognized the voice, she turned around and smiled. Sure she did, it was Logan all right. She had hoped to run into him again after seeing him with Meredith, and voilà, here he was. She straightened her skirt and brushed the hair off her face before answering.

“Logan, it’s great to see you again. What are you doing here?”

Man, everyone and their mother is here tonight, he thought, as he returned her grin. “Well, funny enough I’m ‘working’…well at least I’m supposed to be”. Like any red blooded male, Logan became weak at the sight of the blonde bombshell in her form fitting, sequined mini-dress - what an outfit. “Cadee, you look fantastic.”

“Well, muchas gracias, señor.” Cadee laughed, enjoying his open-mouthed expression. Like any other woman, she loved being appreciated, and she knew she looked good. *It’s the boots,* she said to herself, lowering her eyes just for a second to admire her cow fur 5” high heel boots.

“It’s not the boots, Cade. He probably never even got to them, you know?” Sounded a voice next to her, and Cadee chuckled. As usual, Anne could practically read her thoughts. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?”

 Cadee turned to Logan just in time to get his confused frown. Poor man, they must be talking gibberish to him. “I’m sorry, Logan. This very obnoxious girl here is my roommate, Anne.”

Attractive in her own right, the girl was Cadee’s polar opposite; pale, dark hair and dressed in a typical gothic outfit. “Nice to meet you Anne.”

"Logan?!" Anne cried out, realizing just who the man was. "So this is the studly super-hero from the bar? You should hear how she goes on and..."

"That's enough Anne," Cadee giggled nervously, elbowing her roommate in the ribs.

Logan blushed, unable to hide the beaming smile that forced its way onto his face. He had thought about Cadee a lot since meeting her and it was good to hear the feeling was mutual.

"I heard you say you were working," Anne cut in, trying to change the subject as a way of apologizing to Cadee.  "What do you do?"

"I'm actually a body guard," he replied, unsure just how Cadee would react.

 “Ohhhh, so that explains your expertise with the fists,” Cadee piped in, as suddenly pieces fit together.  She smiled. “I just knew you weren’t the regular business man. Cool.”

“So who do you work for?” Anne asked, curiously. “Oh my god, are you Lucinda’s body guard!?”

Logan laughed. She was quirky, but the girl definitely had an infectious enthusiasm. “Naw, nothing so exciting. I work for a ‘regular businessman’,” he said, not giving too many details. “He’s got some ties to some of the publishing powerhouses here, so that’s how I managed to crash the party. How about you two?”

“Anne here is your classic vampire fan. She even dresses the part, I’m sure you can tell.” Cadee answered; and as she spoke, the girl spun on her stilettos and curtsied, making Cadee roll her eyes. “She couldn’t possibly miss a vampire book launch, much less if it was a Lucinda Graves’ one. I just got dragged along…”  

She thought about Meredith’s warning, the man was a charmer, and he may be a womanizer, but she also liked him very much. Trusting her instincts had saved her life time and again, so she finally added, “and I’m glad I did.”

"Well, I'm glad you did too".

“Stop drooling, you two,” Anne interrupted. “I don’t want to be sued because the floor is all slippery.”


22:37 Attack in the Alley

Ricky Chiang stood five feet away from Chiedra, talking to two young women dressed nearly identically in red pleather miniskirts paired with red and black pleather corsets.  The girls were both short, but teetered on spiked heels.  Ricky had one hand on the bare shoulder of the brunette of the pair, and he was leaning over towards the blonde, whispering in her ear.  Both girls held martini glasses half-full of some sort of pinkish liquid.  Chiedra watched the scene carefully, while taking in the surrounding room deliberately. 

“The Obsidian blades?” a familiar, cultured voice dripped sarcasm from just beyond Chiedra’s left shoulder.  “Really, Ki, don’t you think that’s a bit much even for you.  I mean, those guys really are scum? Dangerous, criminal scum.”

Without turning her head, Chiedra sighed softly.  “Niall, what are you doing here?”

Niall Tiergnan, dressed in a dark brown oxford shirt and even darker brown dress pants, stood beside Chiedra, watching Ricky Chiang make time with two obviously underage girls.  He shook his head.  “Not protecting a sleaze while he prepares to perpetrate statuory rape, so obviously not the same thing you are, my girl.”

“Please, Niall, do we have to do this again?” Chiedra asked, exasperation evident in her tone.  “I’m working.  I know you don’t approve of my work, but I am working now.”

“So, you are working for Chiang, then?” Niall asked, disapproval dripping from every word. 

“Yes, I am,” Chiedra replied, moving forward as Ricky started to walk away with a girl tucked under each arm. 

“Where are you going?” Niall moved with her. 

“As we’ve already established, I’m doing my job,” Chiedra replied, staying only a few feet behind her charge as he headed towards the crowded stairwell.

Rolling his eyes, Niall trailed Chiedra, who trailed Ricky and his new “friends” as they fought their way through the crush of people at the party.  When Ricky hit the bottom floor, he veered towards the back of the building.  Chiedra stayed with him, her eyes moving constantly from side to side, watching and waiting for any sign of trouble.  As they moved, Niall kept his lecture going.

“Don’t you care about what these people represent?”


“Isn’t there some better way for you to make a living?”


When they reached the door into the back alley behind the club, Chiedra paused to glare at Niall.  “We’ve talked this to death, Niall.  You know I love you, but I am not going to stop doing what I do.  I’ve told you that, many, many times.”

At that moment, Chiedra’s sensitive hearing picked up the sound of running feet coming from the head of the alley.  Instincts suddenly on alert, Chiedra turned to the sound.  She was momentarily stunned at the sight that greeted her.  Two men ran down the alley towards Ricky and the girls, who had yet to realize anything was amiss.  However, Chiedra had never seen men quite like these before.  The one in the lead appeared to be riddled with bullet holes, and the man behind him was in even worse shape.  His head was basically missing.  It looked sort of like someone had attacked the man with a shotgun and blown the upper right side of his face away.  He had a gaping hole where his right eye and the right side of his forehead should have been.  Chiedra took a moment to process that fact.  By all rights, these two men shouldn’t be standing, let alone running towards Ricky, brandishing two rather lethal looking knives, and rather mad, bloodthirsty grins. 

“Behind me, Ricky!” Chiedra shouted, jumping in front of the young man and pushing him behind her, towards the door.  The two girls followed him, screeching when they caught sight of what was coming towards them.

“What the fuck?!” Ricky yelled, craning his head around Chiedra’s shoulder to see what she had seen. 

“Get back inside!” Niall shouted to the screaming women, as he stood next to Chiedra and brandished the staff he’d been leaning on.  “Of course, I had to check my damn coat.”

Despite the seriousness, Chiedra grinned.  “Come on, old man,” she joked, “you can make it without your security blanket, right?”

Niall grinned fiercely back at her, and gestured tightly as he pushed the staff out towards the advancing attack.  “You haven’t bested me yet, little girl.”

Niall shouted a strange word and a blast of hot air shot out from his hands to blow the men back, making a terrible racket as it did so.  Trash cans, and other debris in the alley flew with the harsh breeze.  The two attackers tumbled backwards, one flying back into a sharp metal pole protruding from the far wall. 

“Not bad,” Chiedra moved forward as the second man struggled to stand.  She kept an eye on the one stuck to the pole though, as they appeared hard to kill.  The man on the pole was the onemissing most of his head.  She faced the man whose body was peppered with a pattern of holes as he lumbered to his feet. 

Niall glanced quickly back at Ricky and his “girlfriends”.  The girls were sobbing and shrieking.  “Take them back inside,” Niall ordered.  Ricky, eyes wide with disbelief, nodded dumbly.  He grabbed the two girls and led them back into the building. 

Meanwhile, Chiedra had begun to fight with “bullet-holes”.  He charged her, and she dodged, reaching out with her power to grab at him with solid tendrils of shadow that flowed out of the dark edges of the alley.  The tendrils wrapped around his body and pulled him towards the nearest wall.  The man skewered on the pole was slowly pulling himself off the offending appendage as Chiedra moved towards her opponent again.  “Headless” was reaching into his jacket, pulling out a gun.

“Look out, Ki!” Niall shouted, throwing out a hand with a silver bracelet made of interlocking shields.  He spoke softly in the strange tongue again, and a silvery light enveloped Chiedra as “Headless” fired his gun.  The bullets bounced off the shield of force and the man turned his head towards Niall, making, "Ooo 'i roo” sounds.

“Great! How do you stop these things?!” Chiedra shouted in frustration as the gun was aimed at her mentor. 

“Beats me,” Niall replied.  “I’m not even sure what these things are.”

Chiedra dropped as the monster in front of her took a swing.  She dropped to the ground and swept her leg out, landing a kick at the side of the man’s legs.  He stumbled, the tendrils of shadow holding him as he struggled and nearly fell over.  Chiedra came up with a long, thin, lethal looking stiletto in her hand.  Niall had a moment to wonder where she’d concealed the weapon, before he saw that “Headless” was finally free of the pole and was moving towards him.  Swearing under his breath, Niall began to prepare a larger spell. 

Chiedra was beginning to feel weak as the bullet-ridden hulk struggled against the shadow bonds she’d formed.  She had to drop the tendrils if she was going to be able to finish this fight and hope to win.  It was always this way.  Her shadow powers drained her quickly.  Wishing she was just a bit stronger, Chiedra dropped the shadows as she moved to attack the monster before her with the knife.  She was unprepared for how quickly the creature was able to recover when he was free.  She misjudged his agility and found herself struggling as one of his meaty hands grabbed hold of her long ponytail.  Not for the first time, Chiedra cursed herself for keeping the hair, an unnecessary affectation for someone who regularly engaged in hand-to-hand combat, but Niall had always kept it long when she was growing up, and…

“Niall!” she shouted, struggling to free herself as tall, nasty, and undead pulled her closer.  Niall’s head swung round, and he snarled.  He ran towards Chiedra and her attacker, leaving his foe to his own devices for a few minutes. 

As soon as Niall had moved away, a man stuck his head in the end of the alley and shouted, “Zoran, Miro! Quit screwing around! The boss says we got to get inside!”

“Headless” looked from where Niall and Chiedra struggled against his partner to the head of the alley and then shrugged.  “Waa’,” he replied, moving towards where the third man had stood when he called out. 

Niall reached Chiedra and her opponent, who had pulled the young woman off her feet by her hair so that only the toes of her boots scraped the ground.  Cheidra’s face was contorted with pain and fury.  She reached behind her, slashing blindly with her knife but failing to make contact.  Pointing his staff straight out, Niall called another strange word and a shaft of light streamed out from the end, burning the hand the gripped Chiedra’s hair like a laser and causing her assailant to howl as he dropped the girl.  Chiedra tumbled to the ground and rolled a few feet away, breathing hard as she lay on the ground, facing up into the night sky.  Niall turned back to the perforated attacker and shook his head.  “Enough is enough!” he shouted.  Drawing himself up to his full height, Niall once more extended his staff, counterbalancing it with his empty hand.  He shouted, his voice nearly hoarse, one more alien word and a blast of fire flew from between his raised staff and his outstretched hand.  The fire flew out to the man before him like a wave, igniting the paper and other flammable trash in the alley as it blasted through the attacker and left him smoldering against the far wall. 

From the ground near his feet, Niall heard Cheidra say very softly, “That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.”

Chuckling, Niall helped Chiedra to stand and with a significant glance between them, they raced into  the club just as the first of the shots sounded from inside.

22:41 Alison and Pablo on the Balcony

He knew she couldn't hear him over the sounds of the club. Ever closer he inched being careful to stay behind her, in her blind spot. She was leaning against one of the windows looking out over the city at night. Between the lights in the club and the angle of the glass even that wouldn't help her detect him moving ever closer to her. Tonight, Lucinda Graves was his prey. He would have her and she would not suspect him.

When he was within inches of her he leaned over her bare shoulder. He placed his lips on the warm skin of her neck.

She jumped slightly, letting out a small yelp at this sudden intrusion into her personal space. She guessed - hoped - who it might be, but she couldn't be sure. Without turning her head, she decided it would be fun to speculate.

"Hmm, Sven?"

He made a "mmm" sound against her neck. Not really an answer wither way. He knew the spot she liked right...there. He passed his tongue over her neck while surrounding it with little kisses.

Alison shivered. Now she was sure.

"Oh, of course. It must be Logan."

He snorted derisively and nibbled lightly at the side of her neck while making growling noises. He set the strawberry mojito next to her on the windowsill.

"Ooh, strawberry mojito. I'll bet that's a clue." Alison picked up the drink and sipped at it, enjoying the shivers Pablo was sending down her back. "Let's see... there was a man earlier tonight who brought me a couple of these. Now what was his name again? Pedro? No... Patrick? No, I give up, sorry."

Pablo moved his mouth next to her ear, "Your lover, Juan Pablo has baited, hunted and captured you."

He moved around in front of her and smiled, "Or at least cornered you. Sorry I've been so scarce all night. But you have been the queen bee in this hive of activity."

"Oh, lover is it?" She grinned and moved a little closer, wrapping her free arm around his waist. "And I'm the one who should be sorry. I feel like I've abandoned you. But, you know, that's how these things tend to go." She gazed back at the party that was still going in full swing. "Thank god this place has quiet noooks and crannies like this."

With her high heels, she was actually a little taller than Pablo, but even so she leant her head down and rested it on his shoulder and closed her eyes. It felt warm, comfortable - safe. She brushed her lips against his neck, in much the same manner he'd been doing to her moments before. "I hope you managed to stay entertained, at least."

"That feels nice. Overfed and over excited, would be closer to the truth. And maybe more than a little drunk. I don't know what they are putting in these drinks but my last two have been bottled water. I practically had to show my badge to even get one of these bartenders to give me water."

He held her hand and stroked her palm with his thumb. "It is fun to play dress-up, but I am feeling really out of place. I'd rather be outside. I found the balcony is really nice even though some smokers have been using it. It's less noisy than the club and the night air feels good."

"I'm sure we can find a corner that's relatively smokeless. And it'll be nice to rest my ears from this music for a bit," she agreed. Clutching her mojito in one hand and holding onto Pablo's hand with the other, they strolled outside. The fresh night air felt good on her face and she breathed deeply. Only a couple of other people were out here at this point, and they were up the far end. They had most of the balcony to themselves.

"Oh, yes, I wish I'd come out here earlier." She turned and kissed Pablo, a light peck. "Thanks for suggesting it." A few paces brought her to the railing and she leaned her back against it, revelling in the respite from the demands of the evening.

He settled in to enjoy the moment. Here with his arms around her looking down on the street he felt comfortable. I could get used to this, he thought.

Shouting drifted up from the street, peppered with gunfire. It was loud and Pablo glanced over the railing to see what it was. A cop is never off-duty, ran though his mind. Then a blast of fire blew out of the alley and into the street. Pablo instinctively pulled Alison away from the railing.

Even as Pablo tugged on her arm, Alison twisted to see what was going on. A reporter is never off-duty, she thought, remembering her words to Pablo in Slàinte. Her first thought was that it was some sort of drunken domestic dispute, but the rattle of bullets and the whoomph sound as fire erupted along the alleyway put paid to that. She rooted around in her purse and pulled out her phone, setting it to video as she stepped back towards the edge of the balcony.

Pablo glanced around. It was only twelve feet to the ground, give or take. It was the fastest way. "Stand back," he said in his best cop voice and climbed over the railing. He slid over the edge and used the ledge to dangle towards the street. Hanging this way reduced the drop to only six feet or so.

Alison stared down at Pablo, the video recording the dying fires in the alleyway, the retreating figures of two people racing into the club downstairs, and the dangling figure of Detective Sandoval hanging by his fingertips off the ledge. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she hissed in a stage whisper.

He landed lightly on his feet, pulled out his badge and reached for his gun. Reached for and realized he didn't have it. He looked up at her leaning over the railing with her phone pointed at him, "Trying to get myself killed while saving lives. Please stand back so I don't have to worry about you so much."

He peered into the alleway cautiously. Perhaps even more cautiously than he would have if he had had a gun with him. From here he could see a charred corpse and nothing else. Whoever had been running away had gone inside. He spared one last glance back at Alison and then stepped into the alley.

The charred body stirred and swore vehemently, "Jebem ti majku! Jebem ti miša! And jebem ti kuću poganu!"*

As it stood, blackened clothing and flesh sloughed off revealing bare muscles and bone. Pablo saw a pistol, no longer supported by his smoldering pants, drop to the ground. The charred man wasn't interested in the pistol so much as hopping around angrily so Pablo snatched it up and pointed it at him. "Police! Up against the wall, charcoal man."

Alison leaned out as far as she could. It was difficult to see what was going on, but Pablo's words rang out loud and clear. "If someone's hurt, shouldn't you call an ambulance?" she called out. "I'm coming down."

Putting away her phone for the moment Alison turned, abandoning her mojito on the balcony ledge, and returned to the noise and hubbub of the party. Now all she had to do was make her way across the expanse of the room without being waylaid so she could get downstairs to where Pablo was. If she'd been dressed any other way, she probably would have taken Pablo's route, but that wasn't an option for her tonight. Putting on her determined face she ploughed through the partygoers, most of whom were thankfully too drunk at this point to pay her too much attention.

Pablo was debating using his belt to tie up this ... whatever this was. He looked like a barbecued corpse and smelled terrible. But he was still moving and talking and swearing. Pablo didn't know what "Da bi šel v pizdo materno!"** meant, but it didn't sound good.

Suddenly there were sounds of gunfire from inside the club. Pablo glanced up towards the balcony, hoping that Alison hadn’t left yet. "Da bee sel peez doh materno!" he said, or something close to it, and ran back into the lower level of the club.

*Fuck your mother! Fuck your rat! And fuck your infidel house!
**If only I could crawl back into my mother’s cunt.

22:45 Evalyn and Jasmin on the second level

Having just raised her drink with Jasmin, Evalyn was taking a sip, feeling the warmth of the alcohol and pleasure of the evening together when Yves suddenly interrupted her again.


Ta gueule! Let me enjoy myself.

I am serious. I 'ave a feeling your night is about to be ruined.

Putain! Je ne se soucie pas de ta jalousie!

Regardez! He all but snarled back and Evalyn's mind was suddenly flooded with the vision of a fireball as if it were directly in front of her. Immediately she began choking on her drink, the warmth of it suddenly burning unpleasantly as it assaulted her sinuses and throat.

Ah... Evalyn? Have you forgotten how to drink?” Jasmin asked in mock concern at the same time Evalyn spotted Lucinda walking determinedly through the crowd.

Evalyn shook herself, ignoring the author for the moment and frowned back at Jasmin, unsure of what to say. The vampiress wasn't aware of her connection with Yves, but she'd definitely want to know of anything that sounded remotely like 'fireballs' happening around her club. “I uh... s'ink I need to get some fresh-”

-Non! Zey're inside. I do not s'ink you can 'andle zem. Evalyn suddenly got new, vague images of a bullet ridden man, and another who was decently char grilled, walking around. The sight of it made her feel ill.

Jasmin lifted her glass to finish her latest drink of the evening when preternatural hearing picked up the sound of gunfire coming from downstairs. The vampiress froze solid in place for several seconds, fighting to keep her countenance human, teeth griting. A moment later, she heard the sounds of Avenged Sevenfold come from the small pouch at her hip that held her cell phone, Emilie Autumn's voice coming up to greet them.

So let the record show that you murdered me in your coldest blood with your own two hands don't think no one understands it happens every day.

Fucking security.

The phone was out of its case and up to her ear, speaking low and dangerous. “Yes! I can hear it! Don't ask me for fucking directions, just DO SOMETHING!” The phone disappeared as the look on her face grew more dark, turning on her heel to start for her stairs down, Evalyn following her. “Let's get dangerous,” she mumbled in a voice icy and cold, devoid of any hint of compassion or mercy.

I do not sink zat is the best idea.” Evalyn muttered softly behind the vampiress. She'd heard the shots from downstairs when they went off, and after Yves warning, it seemed less and less like a situation she wanted to involve herself in.

Jasmin?” She tried calling her friend back, but the vampiress was only increasing her pace as she closed on the stairs. Evalyn reluctantly followed, “Jasmin? I do not s'ink zese are your regular... fiends....”

Do not worry about 'er! Stay away! Je vien!

Jasmin stopped for a moment and turned back, giving a low, inhuman growl, barely noticable but still there. “Someone comes in here, shooting, and I'm supposed to do nothing why?” She shifted her weight impatiently, as though waiting for an answer.

Evalyn froze. What should she do? Let human security handle it? There was little she had to fear herself of being killed unless they happened to have a stake launcher. And if she did manage to kill one of the things that was down there, it'd certainly send a strong message of 'don't fuck around in this establishment!'.

“If you get shot in front of ze media and do not go down...” Evalyn cursed inwardly as Jasmin snarled “adrenalin” and turned savagely back down the stairs. Evalyn sighed, following cautiously behind as she slipping a knife from under her dress and muttered. “Just be sure zat adrenalin does not show on your face!”

Jasmin stopped dead in her tracks at that, the displeasure clear on her face as she reached and gripped the railing. Her friend raised a point, too good of a point. The rational part of her brain came up and began to take control. Vengence could come later. Or maybe a nice hunt. For the moment, however, this was the age of cell phone cameras, and she knew all too well what an instant of the demon fully coming forth could mean: even if she passed it off, it would draw SCU attention. But the SCU is already here; I don't want to give them even more reason. And as she stood and thought, the decision was made, nodding to her. "Let security handle it...." Hey, maybe I'll get lucky and won't have to pay unemployment to that one I was going to fire!

22:46 Logan and Cadee again

“Stop drooling, you two,” Anne interrupted. “I don’t want to be sued because the floor is all slippery.”

Watching the two soon to be love-birds go all blushed and shy, Anne rolled her eyes. People were so predictable!  Of course, she couldn’t find fault in Cadee’s taste, Logan was hot indeed, and certainly she couldn’t fault his taste either.  Too bad she wasn’t into girls, or she would want a piece of Cadee too. *Or good you aren’t, she wouldn’t give you the time of day anyway,* she corrected herself, on a second thought.

Cadee laughed at her friend’s comment, fortunately not aware of her thoughts. “So Logan, would you like a drink? They make great martinis here-”

“You’re not the waitress tonight, Cade,” Anne interrupted.

Cadee smiled apologetically to Logan. “Don’t you have to go upstairs, Annie? Chase any tall vampire-wannabe?”

“Oh, no! This is so much better!”

“How about I get you girls a drink,” Logan laughed. It was the first time he was enjoying himself all evening.

As the three began to snake their way closer to the bar, a blood curdling scream rang out in the club, eclipsing chatter and music a like. It was one of those unbelievable moments, so strange and unexpected that it all seemed to go in slow motion. The sound of gunshots exploded into the club as a number of armed men barged in, indiscriminately taking aim.

Logan’s heart began to race, instantly sobering him as he jumped into action. “Duck!” he screamed, fiercely pulling both Cadee and Anne next to him. Bullets continued to whiz through the room, cutting down whatever was in their path. With instinct taking over, Logan turned his back to where the majority of the ruckus was coming from and did his best to cover the two women. “Just stay down” he yelled over the cacophony of screams.

Shit Logan was cursing. He had to get to Balthazar, but his heart wasn't going to let him abandon Cadee and Anne

Cadee’s first reaction was to jump into action, like Logan did, but a lifetime of going low- profile prevailed. She ducked behind the man and did her best to cover Anne herself.  She could hear the bullets and all the screaming, but from her present position, she couldn’t really see what was happening. Damn, she needed to get rid of him so she could actually do something. And she needed to take care of Anne.

“What the hell is happening?” she shouted to Logan, trying to get heard over all the noise in the room.

“I have no idea!” Logan yelled, pulling them both closer into his chest as another round of ‘BANGS’ sounded out. “You have to get behind the bar, you’ll be safer there! The room had now descended into complete and utter chaos, which, fortunately enough, gave the trio the opening they needed to make a move. “Now, go!” he screamed, trying to usher the girls to safety so he could race into the action.

Right, behind the bar. Good thinking.  Cadee nodded in consent  and grabbed Anne by her arm, thankful that for once, the girl wasn’t complaining.  They were close enough to the bar to get there without much danger, she moved swiftly and all but throw her friend over and behind the solid mahogany bar. She looked back for a moment, before jumping herself, Logan only seconds behind.

“Just stay here ok!” Logan shouted. Anne had started to sob, but Cadee was surprisingly much more composed. He looked at the blonde and then took Anne’s hand, squeezing it comfortingly. “You’re going to get out of this, I promise. Cadee, I’ve got to go help, so you have to be in charge here. Please, just stay here.”

 “And you just be careful,” Cadee said, nodding. She liked being protected, but at the moment she needed to be left alone so she could do her thing.  Feeling all princess Leia, she pulled him close and gave him a quick kiss. "For luck."



22:47 Alison ventures downstairs

Five minutes. All she’d wanted was five minutes alone with her man, and she couldn’t even have that.

Alison’s progress across the floor to the head of the stairs had been accompanied by little other than that thought. She barely noticed Jasmin and Evalyn as she passed them by, lost in her own ruminations. She couldn’t help feeling bitter about the interruption to her balcony rendezvous with Pablo, but she also felt sorry for the poor man in the alleyway. He’d seemed terribly burned, what she could see of him. And as for the rest of it – whoever had been involved had gone inside. Even as she put her foot on the first step she was fishing out her phone again, ready for whatever awaited her downstairs.

That’s when all hell broke loose. Shots rang out below, and someone screamed. Alison hesitated. Human instinct told her to run and hide, but her reporter’s instinct told her to head down and get it all on HD video. The two sides warred momentarily, until a portion of her human side reminded her that Pablo was down there in the midst of that chaos. The gunfire and screaming and breaking glass began to crescendo, and she forced herself to start walking down those stairs once more.

Keeping her grip on the railing let Jasmin focus on keeping herself under control. It was still tempting to head down there and begin snapping a few necks. No matter how fun that would be, however, the necessity of not getting caught loomed overhead. So instead she stood, listening and watching in a mix of anger and anticipation when the woman she knew as Lucinda started walking downstairs. She moved quickly, probably too quickly, laying a firm and cold hand on her shoulder.

"You may want to stay up here," she spoke in her chilly tones, the warmth and compassion still gone from her voice. "Don't try to be a hero, Ms. Graves."

Alison started slightly at the touch on her shoulder. She hadn’t noticed anyone right behind her on the stairs. Turning to see that it was Jasmin she wondered how the woman had got there so fast – hadn’t she just passed her by further back in the room? Those thoughts flitted by, filed away somewhere for later consideration. Right now she had other things on her mind.

“Oh believe me, I’m not planning on doing anything stupid.” She held up her phone which she’d just thumbed over to video mode. “When I’m not writing novels, I’m a reporter. I’ll be hiding behind some heavy scenery, taking pictures. Ghoulish, perhaps, but it’s that or cower up here. Besides,” she added with a quick glance down the stairs, “Pablo’s down there.”

....I can't catch a god damned break, can I? The police and the press are both already here! Maybe Connie is secretly an EMS so she can have brought the medical services, too. The thought flew through Jasmin’s head, her eyes falling onto the video phone. She made a note to thank Evalyn for, once again, stopping her from doing something stupid. Video.

She made one more attempt to stop the horrible headline, ‘Celebrity gunned down in shooting’. "Not necessary. We have security cameras." Still, she relaxed her grip now in case the other woman pulled away.

“I’m sure you do.” Alison kept her tone polite but professional. “However, I’m sure you also understand that reporters like to get their material first-hand where possible.” She half-turned, freeing her shoulder from Jasmin’s cool fingers. “And like I said; Pablo’s down there. If he gets himself hurt, I want to be right there so I can tell him off. You probably ought to call the police and ambulance, though, if you haven’t already. Now excuse me.”

Not caring whether Jasmin had a reply and not wanting to be held up on the stairs any longer, Alison continued her downward journey. A man was coming up the stairs. He wasn’t running, as Alison would have expected of someone escaping the fray, but was climbing with a deliberate tread, a scowl on his face. Keeping her phone by her side she pressed the record button, knowing where it was from long practice, and surreptitiously angled it to film the man’s ascent. Their eyes met briefly as she passed him by.

“Is dangerous down there, girly,” he growled in heavily accented English.

Alison ignored him, and he seemed unconcerned whether she heeded his warning or not. Keeping her video running, she took the last few stairs slowly, crouching behind the banister as much as possible while holding her phone just above the railing.

What Alison saw sent icy tendrils of fear through her guts. Several people lay still on the floor, some twisted at unnatural angles. Blood was everywhere, spattering the walls and pooling on the floor, showing as dark stains in the electric blue lighting of the club. From where Alison crouched at the bottom of the stairs she could see several people hiding behind whatever furniture they’d managed to find, some of it entirely inadequate for protection from bullets.

She panned her camera around, zooming in on some of the grisly details. She’d never be allowed to publish anything too graphic, but she had to get as much footage as possible. After her survey of the existing carnage, she finally focused on the section that her brain had been screaming at her to look at from the beginning. Two men stood to one side of the dance area, the muzzle flashes from their guns erupting in bright orange against the subdued lighting of the nightclub. Alison wished for some normal white light, knowing that she’d see far more details that way, even though part of her was glad that the imagery was somewhat surreal and muted.

A pair of gunshots sounded from further back and one of the figures stumbled. He didn’t go down, however. Pablo, that was a lousy shot. Take them down before they get you! She had to assume it was Pablo who’d shot the man, at least. From here she couldn’t see him at all. There were other people still moving about the room, not hiding. She focused her camera on them for a few moments.

Two people – a young black woman and an older man – looked to have recently come in the front door of the club. Their backs were to Alison as they moved around the room. Too far away for them to hear her over the ruckus, Alison willed them to dive for cover, or better yet to turn and run back out the door.

Another person was on the far side of the room, appearing from behind the heavy bar and circling around behind the two shooters. Alison zoomed in on the man’s face and stifled a gasp of shock when she recognised him. Logan? What was he doing down here? Damn fool’s going to get himself killed if he keeps on playing hero, she thought to herself.

Biting her lip, resigned to her role as observer and chronicler of events, Alison watched and waited to see what would happen next.

22:48 Drago meets Balthazar Romano

Balthazar was looking out the window into the alleyway.  He was fascinated by the figure that was out there making the party-goers scream and run.  It ran back and forth, clearly in searing pain, wailing.  Occasionally some one or another drunk would approach and get kicked or beaten for his trouble and stagger away.  

Downstairs he could hear the mayhem of screaming women, shouting men, gunfire, and breaking glass.  Up here people were more quietly terrified, crouching under tables and sobbing or whimpering in fear.  It was a heady mix.  He sipped the glass of deep red port wine and savored the flavor.

"Balthazar Romano, I am Drago.  I came find out where find your man Carmine.  I owe him.  You tell me."

Balthazar looked lazily away from the spectacle in the alley and looked at Drago.  He was very tall and lean with a leather vest and tattoos that would seem to indicate his connections to several big-name criminal groups.  He held a deliciously large Chromed Desert Eagle pistol in one hand, but not pointed this way.  Balthazar felt uninclined to help the man so he turned back to watching the man in the alley.

Drago cocked the gun loudly.  Balthzar didn't look at him, "Drago, do you have any idea how far out of your league I am?"

"All men are equal to bullet," Drago said in a heavily accented voice.

Balthazar said, "What about your man in the alley?  Is he equal to a bullet?  I guarantee that even a hand-cannon like yours wouldn't drop him for long...if at all."

Drago laughed, "No, and he is not alone.  I have two more in bar downstairs.  You tell me now what I ask."

Balthazar curled a finger at Drago to come to the window.  He pointed down into the street at the figure who had managed to locate his knife.  Romano closed his eyes and summoned some force.  "Elemtarius Electrico!" he invoked.

Lightning arced from the sky and struck the thug.  White light blinded Drago and left a burned in image of Miro exploding in incandescant fire as he was instantly heated and burned to ash.  Even before the image had faded from his retina the thunderclap blew through the alley shattering a few panes of glass and cracking many more.

Drago flailed and knocked the drink fro Balthazar's hand as he clutched at his face in pain from the light, heat, sound and confusion.  Balthazar frowned at his fallen drink, but patiently waited for Drago to stop blinking and shaking before saying clearly, "Why would I cooperate with a lowly thug like you, Drago?  What is in it for me?"

Drago instantly realized he had pissed himself for the second time in two days.  Balthazar's display had left him dazed, temporarily blinded and he had lost his advantage. He had no idea what he should do. Balthazar stepped next to him and placed a fatherly hand around his shoulders. He spoke in a friendly voice, "Drago, I appreciate the effort you've gone to here.  Not many men would have had balls enough to try something like this so i am going to throw you a bone.

"I'll give you Carmine, but first you have to get a little red gem from him - it's about this big," he said indicating a tiny portion of his fingernail and waited for Drago to nod his comprehension.

"Once you have the gem, kill him. I mean really kill him -- as in no coming back -- dead.  If you can do that and bring me the gem and I'll make sure that you and your men have a prominent place in my organization."

Drago's sight was still a little blurry but it had mostly come back.  The ringing in his ears was still subsiding but Balthazars offer came through loud and clear.  Balthazar Romano was holding out his hand. Drago looked at it for a long second before taking it, "You have deal, Romano.  Drago will do this."  With most of his gang gone he could not stay in business.  With Romano on his side, business would definitely improve.

And two problems roll down into one, Balthazar thought.  He pulled out a card and pen and scribbled an address on the back and tossed it to the thug.  "Better hurry, Drago.  My bodyguard will be back here shortly and I trust him to protect me."

Drago fled from the upper level as Balthazar wandered casually over to the bar.  That was a nice port, he thought, I could go another.


22:48 Logan and Pablo on the dance floor

Logan’s eyes glanced back up the staircase scanning for any sign of Balthazar. If he couldn't see him then he felt reasonably sure he was safe from gunfire. So much for ‘what bad could happen?’, he swore silently, pushing his way past a group of hysteric party-goers.

Time for plan 'B'. If Logan couldn’t be by his boss’s side upstairs the only other option was to incapacitate the gunmen downstairs. Plus, the faster he could take down the psychos, the better chance Cadee and Anne had to get out of this bloodbath unscathed.

With iron resolve, Logan pushed onwards towards the action. He felt like a salmon swimming upstream, his path considerably slowed by the wave of frenzied patrons doing their best to get away from the shooting.

Pablo shoved his way upstream from the front door and ducked around a corner.  He pulled the chain on his badge over his head and checked the .45.  It wasn't a full clip but the remaining seven bullets should be enough as long as it didn't turn into a prolonged gunfight.  A pretty girl with a panicked look got shoved into him.  She saw the gun and nearly screamed but then she saw the badge. "Thank God you are here! Two nut-bags came in the back and started shooting!"

Pablo listened to her politely while trying to see around her.  He could hear shots at the back of the room which made her statement irrelevant. There was still a lot of activity inside and he needed to get closer.  "I have called for backup, lady, but I have to get you out of here. Head to the door.  Keep down.  Go!"

She nodded sheep-like and started to move when a bullet hit her square in the back.  Her blood sprayed over the people in front of her.  She laid there on the ground bleeding out while looking at him to do something. He had to pull his eyes away from the sight and did what he could.  He kept his head down and charged in while saying a prayer...for both her and him.

“Watch out!” Logan all but tackled a young man who was about to stray into the path of the newest round of gunfire. “Look there’s an exit there, go! Run now!”

With a terrified nod, the man mumbled something that resembled a ‘thanks’ before charging to safety, which now provided Logan with a clear view of the shooters.

For a moment, he stopped dead in his tracks, astonished at what lay before him “Oh Fuck!” One of the shooters was missing the better part of his face and for, all intent and purposes. There was no way he should even be alive. The other assailant, though not as disfigured as his jawless counterpart, had a huge gash running down his back, exposing his gruesome innards. Being employed by Balthazar had opened up a world of crazy, but these guys just topped the scale of weird. Of course, strange or not, Logan had a job to do and he wasn’t about to let the crazed zombies get away with this.

Fighting his natural instinct, Logan held back, waiting for a break in the gunfire – sure he was strong and fast, but he sure as hell wasn’t bulletproof. Luckily, it didn’t take more that a few seconds for the moment he needed and with one final, deep breath, he exploded into a full sprint, straight for the one with an intact head.

Completely caught of guard by the speed of his attacker, Kosta had no time to raise any defense before the man connected with a flying shoulder tackle. Both Logan and revenant tumbled to the ground, the force of the impact sending the gun flying harmlessly out of the killer’s hand.

Quicker to recover, Logan pounced on Kosta, and wrapped his powerful arms around the villain’s head, “You piece of shit!” Logan spat. With one violent twist, there was a sickening crack as he snapped the man’s neck. Expecting the man to fall down dead, Logan rolled to a stance facing the faceless wonder.

A voice behind him said, “Not so fast pretty boy!”

it was Logan's to be caught by surprise. He was completely unprepared when the zombie jumped back to his feet.

“Sitting duck right over here, Zoran,” Kosta yelled to his partner while struggling to hold the would-be hero in place.

"Hur ghur ghorgee," the grotesque tongue flapped over the ragged hole of the ghoul's throat as he raised his machine-gun to point at Logan.

The sound of two loud shots rang out through the club.  Logan flinched only to see Pablo Sandoval standing behind the bar wielding an automatic pistol in a tow-hand stance.  Zoran's remaining eye looked down at the huge holes in his torso and his eyebrow knotted, "Wiizzg wee,"  it said. And aimed at Pablo.

Pablo yelped and ducked behind the bar as the glass, bottles, Lexan and neon lighting exploded around him.

Logan twisted and managed to get an arm free long enough to grab his attacker's ear and he pulled, hard.  The ear ripped free of the skull and the attacker let go of Logan long enough for him to hop aside.  He was about to counter-attack when two burly security guys grabbed the leather-clad thug and began to wrestle him to the ground.

Ensuring that his attacker was properly subdued, Logan tossed the dismembered ear and headed towards the remaining zombie. The cop had arrived in the knick of time to save his life, and it was time to repay the favour! Déjà vue For the second time this week he and Pablo found themselves fighting side by side, just another weird coincidence to add to the already bizarre chain of events.

Logan was about to distract the headless gunman when circumstances did the work for him.  A bright flash of light flooded the alleyway alongside the building.  The strobing white light turning the dark abattoir of a dance floor into a macabre still-life of bodies and blood.  Then the CRACK of lightning that made the window panes shake, crack, and shatter in places.

Logan did not hesitate to take advantage of the distraction and with expert precision spun like tornado, his first leg kicking the gun out of the monster’s hand, his next kick landing square in Zoran’s chest.

The beast garbled some form of inaudible protest, but Logan only continued his rampage. No one could argue that fighting a zombie in the middle of a New York party was definitely strange, and yet, the bodyguard couldn’t help but feel a strange sensation of what he could only describe as ‘rightness’ wash over him. The battle, the blood, the mayhem…it all seemed vaguely familiar and so oddly comforting.

“I’ll find some way to kill you, you Fucker!” Logan roared, as he speared the ghoul to the floor and began to beat on the already pulverized head.

Zoran, pinned by Logan's body, reached into a boot and pulled out a hunting knife which he sank deep into his attacker's leg.

Even as Logan paused his assault momentarily a heavy studded boot kicked him hard in the shoulder to knock him to the ground. "Don't beat Zoran like dat! His head not so good no more," a heavily accented voice said and punctuated with it a .50 cal. Desert Eagle pointed at Logan's head.

Pablo rose from the bar in time to see the gun rise.  Without hesitation he climbed to the top of the ruined bar and launched himself in a dive at Drago. Pablo had no idea who he was, but he was defending one of those...things.  They weren't dead or rotten, so they weren't zombies.  He didn't know what they were. 

The security guys had pretty thoroughly pinned the other one and the cops would deal with him soon enough.  While behind the bar he'd had just enough time to call dispatch to make sure that his men of the SCU Tactical were being sent rather than the usual NYPD boys.  He'd had enough time to specify what was going on in a vague sort of way since he wasn't sure what was going on himself at the moment.

He hit Drago hard enough that he fell over and dropped his cannon, but it ended up with him, Pablo, the thing and Logan all sprawled among the corpses and wounded lying on the dance floor.  Drago and Zoran scrambled towards the exit as Pablo crawled towards Logan.

“Shit,” Logan winced, the pain running from his thigh through the rest of his body. The knife was buried deep and it was going to be a bitch taking it out. But out it needed to come, so with gritted teeth, and one deep breath, he tugged with all his might. “Arrghggg Fuck!” The agony was intense, and it clouded his vision, causing him to recognize Pablo only when he was close.

“I’m fine, and thanks for the save” he huffed, applying pressure to the gaping wound. “We’ve got to make sure those bastards don’t get away”. With fierce determination, the man struggled to his feet, only to have his leg give out half way up. Pablo was quick, catching hold of the man before he crumbled back to the floor

Geez, he’s a lot heavier than he looks

“Forget me, they’re getting away” said Logan, pulling himself free of cop’s grasp.

Pablo held on despite Logan's protests.  "Let them go.  I got a good look at the big one and the other guy isn't going to be able to hide for long with a head like that. There are people here who need help first, starting with you."

Pablo lowered Logan into a booth and lifted his leg onto the table to examine the wound. "¡Miércoles!, This is a deep cut.  You need to keep pressure on it.  Can you feel your toes?...no nerve damage?"

Logan shook his head in pain and Pablo nodded. He went back into the dance floor to check for any other survivors he could help.

22:49 Cadee watches

As soon as Logan left them, Cadee turned to Anne. “Are you all right?” she asked, “I should go help, but if you prefer I stayed...”

The other girl raised her head, she was scared, but she recovered quickly. “I’m OK. It’ll be safe here, I guess…”

Cadee sneaked a look over the counter and at the fray; somehow it was a little more controlled, she didn’t think they were in immediate peril. She looked back to Anne, and then to the other people who had also sought refuge behind the bar, the strawberry haired bartender included.  She tried to reassure them. “Yes.  Those gunmen won’t come behind here, you’re safe.  Just stay put. All of you.” Then she squeezed her friend’s hand, and added: “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Without another word, she jumped over the bar, and moved towards the dance floor. It was incredible how fast people could move when they were in panic, and how viciously. A lot of people were fighting their way to the door, not minding if they stepped over fallen bodies in their rush. Cadee could count at least half a dozen injured or dead people on the floor, and blood, lots of blood. Some other people were hiding too, behind tables, in the booths, beneath the stairs… it was utter chaos.

Then she focused on the actual fight, and she had to look again. The gunmen were like anything she had ever seen, even if the low lightning of the nightclub didn’t help much, she could clearly see them. There were only two, a small number for all the destruction they’d caused, but then… they didn’t seem to die. One of them looked like he was missing half his head and the other could have escaped ‘Shaun of the dead’, except he moved extremely fast for a zombie. They both did. *’Zombieland’, maybe,* she thought as she approached the fray.

She watched Logan break the headed one’s neck with ease and drop the body to the floor, only to see the thing rise again, as if he had just gotten a neck massage, leaving Logan to face the two freaks at once. She prepared to jump into action, throwing inbred caution to the wind, when she saw Sandoval put another bullet into the already performed body. A series of shots followed, as the cop, the freak and a seemingly normal one said hello to each other with their guns. Fortunately, the Latin cop got away unscathed, even if Logan had gotten stabbed.  

Damn, there was nothing she could do there. She couldn’t risk showing any fighting expertise in front of Sandoval, she thought, as she continued to watch the fight from the cover of darkness. It wasn’t easy, but Logan and Sandoval, together with some bouncers, managed to reduce the pseudo-zombies. Maybe she wasn’t needed at all…

They weren’t the only ones in action, either, a sudden flash from the entrance way caught her attention and she saw a black woman and a man putting some order to the exiting people. Curious of where the flash had come, Cadee watched them with more attention, and she could see that the older man wielded a kind of walking stick/staff like a mage, parting the running people like Moses the Red Sea. Strange, watching a real mage do his mojo wasn’t the most usual occurrence, but then, there was nothing ordinary about that night.

At that point she noticed that, in the confusion, the only human gunman and one of the ‘zombies’ were getting away. Making her mind, she started behind them towards the exit door to the back alley. Maybe she was needed after all…

22:50 Meredith Eavesdrops on Balthazar

The gunfire woke up Meredith with a start. After the initial excitement at meeting Lucinda Graves, she’d felt the effect of too many martini’s, not to mention devouring her own body weight in free shrimp cocktail, take hold. Meredith had managed to steal herself a secluded corner seat in one of the booths to shut her eyes for five minutes. Of course she must have fallen asleep, because the next thing she knew the music had stopped and terrified screams filled the club alongside the relentless explosion of gunfire.

Meredith had still been half asleep and half drunk too. She’d remained seated, struggling to process the scene while everyone around her staggered about, whimpering in confused fear or sobbed while hiding under nearby tables. The untrained instincts of a newbie reporter kicked in several seconds later and Meredith reached for her purse, fumbling for her notepad.

"Balthazar Romano, I am Drago. I came find out where find your man Carmine. I owe him. You tell me."

She froze, her fingers tight around her book. Slowly she angled her head and peered over the back of the booth in the direction of the voice. Two men stood, one tall and lean in a black leather vest and tattoos that Meredith tried to memorise as she blindly sketched in her book. In his hand he held a hefty looking gun, not that she knew what kind it was aside from the fact that it was shiny and the guy held it like he knew exactly what to do with it. The other was older, framed in the glittering view of the New York skyline through the window behind him. He was dressed like almost every other guy that night, expensive looking suit and a crisp white shirt holding a wine glass in one hand. He also didn’t seem particularly bothered by the fact that the other man was pointing his gun at him.

*Balthazar Romano…* That was the business man Magdalena DeLuca’s boyfriend supposedly worked for. Carmine was hardly a common name either. So… this guy, Drago… was looking for Carmine Bocelli? Meredith frowned and slid back down into the booth to listen, her pen frantically scratching out notes.

The two men volleyed faintly cloaked threats at one another. How could Romano be so unfazed by all this? Drago had to be some kind of gang leader and from what he said, the gunmen downstairs were acting on his command. Plus he had a gun that could probably blow a man’s head off. And yet Romano paid him the barest amount of interest, as though he were no more dangerous than an annoying fly invading his personal space.

Meredith was ready to dare another peek over the back of the booth when a sudden blinding flash of lightning erupted from outside followed by a heavy crack of thunder. *What the fuck!?* That was impossible, right? There hadn’t even been a cloud in the sky when she’d arrived. Drago seemed similarly confused, he flailed, knocking Romano’s glass from his hand and grasped his face in clear pain. He must have been looking directly at the flash when it came.

"Why would I cooperate with a lowly thug like you, Drago? What is in it for me?"

Again Romano seemed unfazed, by either the sudden lightning strike or the young thug trembling before him. Meredith wrinkled her nose as an unpleasant odour wafted from their direction - urine, but damn it absolutely reeked, she actually had to hold her nose and breathe through her mouth to stop from choking and giving away her presence.

And then Balthazar did something amazing. He actually put his arm around the other’s shoulders like they were suddenly best buddies and when he spoke his voice was soft, kind, almost fatherly. *What… what the hell is going on!?*

"I'll give you Carmine, but first you have to get a little red gem from him - it's about this big," he gestured with hands and Drago nodded. Meredith’s eyes widened in horror. *Oh… shit!* "Once you have the gem, kill him. I mean really kill him -- as in no coming back -- dead. If you can do that and bring me the gem and I'll make sure that you and your men have a prominent place in my organization."

*Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck!!* Meredith slid back down into the corner of the booth. Her pen frozen on the last word she’d written. It couldn’t be… could it? That tiny red stone she’d found in Magdalena DeLuca’s bedroom… but why? Why would a man like Balthazar Romano give a damn about that? It couldn’t be worth more than a couple hundred bucks at most. Was that why Magdalena was murdered? And Bocelli’s mother?

Meredith didn’t even notice that Drago had gone. Her mind was too busy reeling out theories. This was bad. This was so fucking beyond bad she didn’t even have a word for it. And yet… it was also the story she’d been waiting for. The kind of story that could be the big break she’d been dreaming of! Romano wanted Carmine dead, but why? For stealing some dumb little gem to give to his sweetheart? But then why was he so desperate to get the stone back if he just wanted to teach Bocelli a lesson?

She waited while he heart pounded, her blood hammering in her ear drums with a mixture of terrifying alarm and gleeful excitement. But no one could link her to Carmine or Magdalena. No one had seen her enter the house and she hadn’t told anyone about the stone. The only people who’d seen her were the few she’d talked to at Papa Vitale’s - and she’d been careful to give them a fake name. The only info they had would be a description, and that she was a student at Columbia. Another lie, and surely, dozens of people must have been around, asking questions. Right?

Right. This guy had no way of finding her. But just to be on the safe side she’d write up her story and get it to her editor at the NYU Tribune. And fast.

22:51 Jasmin Reviews Security

With a sharp turn, Jasmin stormed away from the sound of downstairs, letting Lucinda Graves head down unopposed. Stupid, stupid woman. At least she could claim, honestly, that she had tried to stop her now. Her eyes turned to the other man, coming up the stairs, with a bit of purpose to his stride. For a moment, the vampire considered following him, then changed her mind. Priorities.
Pushing past Evalyn, she made directly for her office, slamming the door shut behind her as she reached to dial 911 on her phone. She heard a young operator answer the line, cutting said operator off mid-greeting. “This is Jamin Taylor. No e on the end of the name. Need police and ambulance at Graveyard, address....” she trailed off, slowing down just long enough to give the address, pausing a moment to think of how to describe the situation.
“There are at least two people firing on the lower-level of the club,” a gloved hand reached out to the controls for her monitors, flicking through security cameras. “Yeah, there's injured people. Send ambulance. Back to work for me.” She ignored the standard request to please stay on the line they were always trained to give, hanging up on the operator and placing the phone down on the desk.
Click. Click.
Jasmin stopped and stared. In the privacy of her office, she finally gave up, a pair of now-yellow eyes watching the security monitors. She clicked through, stopping on the upstairs one. Good. That was looking normal, and her security had, finally, moved over to the stairs. It was about time.
Click. Click.
A low, deep, animalistic growl escape from her throat at the image that greeted her on the screen. Was that one really missing half his face? It was an injury that should have left him dead, and given that the remainder of his face looked human, she had to assume not vampire.
Something inside of her snapped, the glass in her hand sailing into the wall. Every instinct told her to go down there and give in, to join the battle; to feed and to kill these things that were invading the territory of a predator which would not brook interference on this level. The rational part of her mind answered back about the dangers and the need to hide, and conceal, to be that predator.
A minute later, the chair across from her desk stood in pieces, and the vampire began to calm. There. She had destroyed something; the urge was settled for the moment. Training before bed would also help. When she turned her eyes back to watch, she let the fantasies of destruction pass through her…
Then she reached for her phone again to dial her lawyer. There would definitely be a Special Crimes Unit investigation at this point. Copies of security tapes could be made and reviewed later. Whoever managed to escape, found and dealt with. Yes. I can get through this. It's not like I'm getting any older.

22:53 Cadee fights

Cadee got to the alley a couple of minutes after them, it wasn’t very easy to swim a terrified people sea, this time going ‘inside’ the club, the sound of shooting in the alley was explanation enough for that change of direction.

The back alley was mostly empty, but for the strange freak who was now coldly finishing off a goth girl with a shot to her head. The thing didn’t even bother to look at the woman he was killing, as he turned to follow the other one to a van parked at the head of the alley.

Really mad, Cadee silently dove towards the gunman, who at the warning cry of his partner, turned and fired , scorching the wall of the club with bullets that missed her by inches. But he didn’t count on her unnatural speed, taking him by surprise, she efficiently grabbed the firing hand, yanked the freak towards her and hit him with a solid left to the remains of his head while at the same time she twisted his wrist, making him lose the gun.

The ‘zombie’ muttered in surprise, but he recovered quickly, seemingly unaffected by her attack. He lashed out with a kick to her ribs, making her double in pain, and before she could regain her balance, he plowed towards her.  Cadee gasped as he slammed her against the wall; however, she also recovered quickly, and bracing herself against the wall, she kicked him with both feet, sending him flying across the alley. He crashed into some dumpsters, scattering their content all over the ground. She ran towards him, leaping into the air and rolling into a flying somersault to land on a legdrop on his groin.

“So, you’re still male, aren’t you?” she laughed, as he doubled in pain beneath her. She beat the thing’s face, listening to the unmistakable sound of a broken nose, and quickly got to her feet.

“And you are stupid devojka!” a heavily accented voice sounded to her left. Cadee turned and paled when she saw the cannon of the other one’s gun just a couple of feet from her chest. She had made a stupid mistake and not paid attention to the human creep; in her mind, he was already in that damn van. *That’s how you get killed, Cade,* she thought.*Being careless.*

As she frantically contemplated possible moves, she saw the man cock the gun and smile. He was enjoying himself, and she decided to play on that.

“You know you don't frighten me, right?” Cadee said with derision, looking at him in the eye.

“You should,” he said, but she saw him falter half a second, puzzlement in his eyes, he had probably expected her to ask for mercy, act terrified. Stupid man, hadn’t he seen her beat the crap out of his partner?

She gave a step further, shortening the distance between them. She knew the risk, she had seen them shoot indiscriminately inside the club, but she was dead either way.  

“Your man there, he can’t die.” She said, signaling the fallen creep with a movement of her head.  “Well, I can’t die either,” she lied, and watched his face go all baffled again. Another step and he would be at her reach, if she moved fast enough, maybe she could surprise him before he shot…

But before she could say another word, a screeching mass of fur and claws jumped out of nowhere and landed on Drago’s face, making him reach with his hands, involuntarily shooting the gun as he moved. Cadee ducked and rolled, hearing the bullets pass just inches from her for the second time of the night, and saw the zombie-thing convulse on the ground as they hit him instead. From behind the dumpsters, she watched as the man comically dealt with a furious silver cat who was firmly clawed to his head.  

He finally disentangled from the cat, and aimed at it, but the animal was too fast and got out of sight. Cursing, his face a mass of bleeding scratches, the man run to his van, all the time firing that automatic of his towards the alley. He didn’t even once look at his partner on the ground.

When Cadee saw him start the van and drive away, she got out of her shelter and approached the zombie on the floor. She kicked him; he didn’t move, but she wasn’t fooled. They had proved impossible to kill. He was probably just unconscious.

It was just as well, somebody would find him out there; she could hear the police sirens finally approaching.

23:08 An Hypnotic Encounter

Slowly, Meredith slid from the booth, checking the way was clear before bolting for the cover of the bar. She had to get out of here, preferably before the cops arrived if she had any hope of actually getting to work tonight. More importantly she had to find Gail and make sure she was okay.



“Oh, shit! Shit!” Meredith cursed under her breath as she fumbled inside her purse, trying to find her pager. She quickly shut off the alarm and read the message.

10-4 U? Meet ASAP.

Gail. Thank-god. It was one of their standard messages when they got separated on a night out meaning she was fine and that they needed to hook up quickly. That last was kind of unnecessary considering, but Meredith’s heartbeat slowed to a more reasonable pace just knowing that her friend was safe.

"Hello, what treats are they hiding behind the bar? Trust Jasmin to save the good stuff for later."

Meredith’s gaze shot upwards, meeting that of the very man she’d been trying to avoid. Balthazar Romano leered down at her and she could almost feel the slimy trail of his gaze as it glided slowly up her legs before coming to rest on her tits. For a moment she was thrown, thinking that maybe he’d noticed her listening in on his conversation. However, it quickly became apparent, as Meredith rose to her feet and Romano’s ogling gaze fell to the hem of her dress as she held it from riding any higher, that he had other, more sordid thoughts occupying his mind.

“Dream on, Grandpa,” she snorted dismissively as she replaced her pager in her purse, easily able to mask her unease behind genuine disgust. This man had not only just faced down a gun-toting criminal, he’d struck up a deal with him. Ordering the murder of one of his own employees with as much concern as ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese. Now he was coming on to her while people were still screaming and sobbing all around them?! He really was a stone cold bastard.

Romano laughed scornfully, "I understand if you aren't interested, honey, but I am. And I get what I am interested in. Look into my eyes and tell me I'm wrong."

Meredith did look, she gave him her iciest glare, the one that could freeze Satan’s underpants. This guy wasn’t just a murdering son-of-a-bitch, he was delusional in the extreme. He had to be like three times her age for a start!

Only… the more she looked into his dark eyes, deep and bottomless like the depths of the ocean… the more she felt her determined resolve slip away. It was like having a warm bath after a tiring day, heating her body from the inside and slowly easing out any knots of resistance one by one. The more she continued to look into Romano’s eyes, the more she felt like… maybe he was more handsome than she’d given him credit for and maybe she wouldn’t mind getting to know him better… a lot better actually…

*What!? Snap out of it girl!* The voice inside her head was practically screaming that something wasn’t right. That… fuck he had to have slipped something in her drink when she wasn’t looking! Meredith was usually so careful about that sort of thing, she never accepted a drink she hadn’t seen poured and if she ever took her eye off her glass she’d get rid of it. But… wait, hadn’t she put down her drink when she’d been at the buffet? It hadn’t been for long but… perhaps long enough for someone to slip her a roofie?

And after all, if Romano was capable of sanctioning murder, date rape was probably how he got his kicks.

“You… bastard!” she spat, though even the act of speaking took too much concentration. He’d drugged her, it was the only explanation for how she was feeling. Anger flared like a struck match. Her eyes burned with it while her fingers gripped the edge of the bar for support.

"There, there, temper, temper!” Romano’s voice was like honey dripping off the edge of a knife. You could stop one, but not without starting another. “Wouldn't you rather have a nice drink with me rather than fight me?"

She did, actually. A drink sounded nice. Especially if Romano would be there. *And then what? You know what he wants, just like the rest of them. You weren’t big enough or strong enough to stop that happening before. But you are now.*

Meredith frowned and some of the last lingering flickers of her resolve returned. Blindly she grabbed one of the empty beer bottles on the bar and threw it at him. It missed by miles and smashed noisily on the floor. Romano looked faintly amused, his gaze intensifying as she reached for another bottle, her fingers halting in midair…

Suddenly rough hands grabbed Meredith and pulled her forcefully away from the eyes that threatened to sap her will. Instantly her mind began to clear, like stepping from a dark room into the sunlight…

"None of that, now, lady! There's been enough disruption for one night without starting more trouble."

A bouncer had hold of her by both arms and was dragging her towards an exit. Meredith could see another bouncer talking to Romano, occasionally throwing her an angry glare. "Are you okay sir? Did she injure you? Do you want to press charges?"

"Best be on your way, Ma’am,” the man said in a gentler tone than he had used before. “The party is over for tonight, I think.” Releasing her arms he pointed to the exit. "Watch your step."

Meredith nodded, casting one quick look back at Balthazar Romano as she stumbled uneasily towards the fire door, lit with a bright green EXIT sign. Pushing down on the bar, she heaved open the door and stepped out onto the metal staircase that was the emergency fire exit. The cool night air felt good, really good against her hot skin and she breathed it in deeply, clearing out the last of that woolly headed sensation. Whatever Romano had slipped in her drink it seemed to have worn off pretty fast.

And had only made her more determined to uncover the truth.

23:10 A meeting of old friends

From the moment they’d stepped inside the club, Niall and Chiedra had been on crowd control and triage.  With only two gunmen, and a whole host of people engaging them, it had seemed like the best option.  They had guided as many people through the exit as they could, and kept things on an even keel to avoid any additional injury from a mob rushing the door.  Through a combination of cajoling and threatening (from Niall and Chiedra respectively) the pair had managed to move most of the partygoers outside as the police and paramedics arrived on scene.  Now that the shooting was over, and the two maniacs appeared to have disappeared out the other door, Chiedra had moved on to focus more on triaging the wounded.  Unfortunately, there were quite a few bodies lying in and around the area that were too still.  Niall cursed himself for every kind of a fool when he saw a man younger than even his former ward lying a few feet away, his glassy eyes staring from below the bullet wound that had taken his life. 

Should have stopped them before they came back in here, damnit.  Chiedra was working her way towards a young woman sitting dazedly nearby.  She glanced up now and again to check and make sure that her employer, Ricky, still sat behind the makeshift barricade of a thick table she’d thrown down against the wall when she’d caught up to him.  Even for a hardened ganger like Ricky, the last few minutes had been harrowing.  He kept looking around the room, his eyes wide and his mouth grim.  Niall watched him, nearly feeling sorry for the bottom dweller, despite his well-known reputation. 

Niall glanced over at Chiedra, who was wrapping the arm of a wounded young woman in what had obviously once been a pretty cocktail dress. When he turned back towards the stream of people making their way out the door, now slowing down to the few stragglers who could still make their way on their own, Niall noticed Balthazar Romano exiting, followed closely by a limping man.  The man was considerably younger than Romano, and even Niall realized how good looking the man was. Unfortunately, the poor guy had a deep, ugly cut on his thigh and blood was steadily running down his leg beneath the tear in his pants. That's just like Romano, to except his guard to walk out of here while he's practically bleeding to death.

"Nice, Balthy, you hoping this poor kid dies before you have to cut his next paycheck?" Niall stepped in front of the young man, coming between Romano and the other man. He glared at the back of the older man's head.

Logan was cut completely off guard – he had assumed they’d make a quiet exit amongst the chaos and yet, someone had managed to recognize Balthazar. Balthy? The bodyguard cringed? The guy was either stupid or brave. Unsure how to react, Logan simply looked to his boss who had now spun around.  Luckily, Romano was never at a loss for words.

“Niall,” Balthazar smiled with all the charm of a crocodile. “Are you getting rusty? You know I counted maybe 4, 5 people dead inside…I would have thought if you were around you’d do a better job stopping that unfortunate incident”. Before the man could respond, Balthazar flashed a look at his bodyguard, nodding towards the limo as if to say ‘hurry up’. Though always a nuisance, Niall’s presence here was even worse than usual. Balthazar couldn’t afford the do-gooder wizard to have any exposure to his favorite work associate.

"You're definitely right, Balthy," Niall replied icily. "If I were up to snuff, you'd be the one limping out of here, or better yet waiting to be carried out in one of those black bags."

Niall turned to the other man. "Please, stop for a moment and let me help you, son," Niall urged. "Whatever this bastard is paying you, it's not worth your life. That's a bad cut you've got there. Let me at least bind it to stop the bleeding."

Logan’s head was swimming. On top of the excruciating pain of standing on his stabbed leg, he was now being offered assistance by a stranger who just outright threatened the very man Logan was in charge of protecting. For a moment he hesitated, unsure how to react until a strange sensation began to wash over him. For a brief instance, the pain subsided as Niall’s offer to help flittered out of Logan’s mind, leaving him only to remember the menacing comment to Romano.

“I don’t know who you are buddy, but you better watch the way you speak to Mr. Romano,” Logan said, puffing out his sizable chest and purposely bumping the man as he made his way to stand protectively in front of Balthazar. Behind him, the older mage was smirking devilishly.

“Well Niall, it’s always a pleasure, but why don’t you run along now,” Romano chuckled as he and Logan turned their backs on the man and continued on to the waiting limo.

Niall felt the surge of magic flowing from somewhere on the younger man's body. Niall could easily recognize the flavor of the power he sensed. Obviously there was something more than just regular compensations involved in this relationship. Balthazar was definitely up to something. And knowing Balthazar, whatever it was, it wasn't good for anyone but Balthazar Romano.

We'll see about that. Niall moved to intercept the men once more, placing a gentle hand on the younger man's shoulder as he reached into the reserve of power he held within one of the many fetishes he wore. Over the years, Niall had built a number of fetishes to store his power. The bracelets, rings, and other items he carried or wore at all times were reserved wells of pure magical power. Niall drew upon one now, pulling power from the warm pool as he pushed gently upon the younger man's emotions, soothing as he spoke. "What is between your employer and I has no bearing on your current condition. I just want to help. If you'd give me a moment, I could at least bind your leg. I can take away some of your pain. Then you can do your job more effectively."

Niall’s magic began to wrap around Logan like a comforting blanket, but the feeling was fleeting. Deep within the young man, darker charms were triggered by the presence of the foreign spell, and they worked quickly to unweave any of the good Niall had intended. The result of the battling magics left Logan dizzy and aggravated. Though Niall’s power was great, he had not been prepared for the resistance and unfortunately it was not long before his energy was completely blocked out.

Balthazar almost laughed, seeing that his magic had won the invisible war that was raging within Logan’s head. This left the bodyguard seeing red.

 “This is your last warning asshole” Logan spat. Unable to control the sudden flash of anger, he found himself shoving the stranger backwards with surprising strength.

Niall turned his attention fully to the older mange. His face twisted with rage and disgust. "I have no idea what game you are playing with this poor boy, Romano," he all but snarled, his eyes narrowed with fury. "I promise you, though that I will not just let this one go. I am going to find out what you are doing, and I am going stop you."

Niall turned back to the younger man who was nearly shaking with his own rage. "As for you," his voice gentled, full of remorse and sympathy as he spoke these words, "I don't know who you are or why Balthazar is willing to spend so much energy on you, but I know him. I know him well. So, when his plan comes to fruition, please remember that you are not alone. Whatever is within my power to do to help, I will do so. My name is Niall Tiergnan. You can find me in the yellow pages. Please come to me when you find yourself in need of friend."

Balthazar’s eyes shot daggers at the young sorcerer as he physically pushed his bodyguard towards the car. “You’re always such a delight,” he practically hissed. With that, he slammed the door of the limo closed.

As he relaxed into the seat, Logan’s rage began to subside, leaving him once again with the pain. Niall Tiergnan – the name sounded funny. Well, he was one hell of a crazy bastard, that’s for sure.

Niall watched Balthazar and his guard leave, feeling frustrated and useless once again.  Tonight he couldn’t seem to get anything right.  He would have to see about the young man, though.  Even besides Balthazar’s interference, there was something…something that set Niall’s instincts on edge.  There was more going on there than was even apparent after their brief encounter.  Niall would have to do some digging when he had the time.  Anything he could do to thwart Balthazar Romano was worth the effort after all.   

23:12 - Balthazar's Limo

“You know you’re bleeding all over the leather,” Balthazar said coolly, as he reached into the limo’s liquor cabinet for the bottle of brandy.

After Pablo had left Logan on a bench in the club, the shooters either got away or were apprehended, he wasn’t quite sure which. After that, it wasn’t long before Logan spotted his boss, strolling casually down the stairs, completely unaffected by the night’s events. Knowing Romano’s aversion to cops and messy situations altogether, the bodyguard had no choice but to pull himself to his feet and hobble after Balthazar. Together, the two had made a discreet exit from the Graveyard bloodbath.

“So what exactly possessed you to get involved in all that nonsense?”

Logan’s head was swimming. He leg was mangled, people were dead and despite all that, Balthazar didn’t seem the least bit worried. You sadistic piece of….. In the blink of an eye, a wave of intense dizziness washed over the injured man, causing him to lose focus as he struggled to suppress the bile rising in his throat. But, as quick as it came, the nausea left and with it, his train of thought as well.

“Cat got your tongue my boy?”

“No, sorry sir,” the bodyguard winced. “I just figured it was better for me to try and stop the shooters before they got up to the second level where you were”.

“So preemptive body-guarding is what you’re saying,” the sorcerer replied, his voice flat and ambiguous.

“I guess you could call it that”. Biting down on his lip, the man fought through the jolt of pain coming from the stab wound.

While Logan struggled to keep himself together, Balthazar on the other hand seemed cool as a cucumber. “Well you’re nothing if not proactive. I like that, you don’t find that quality in a lot of employees these days. Of course,” he added, taking a sip from his glass, “being recklessly proactive is not necessarily a good thing”. The sorcerer had to play his cards right. There were so many moving pieces on the board now and with his plans so close to completion, he couldn’t risk Logan getting himself killed.

“People were getting shot, I couldn’t just stand by and..”

“I know I know,” Balthazar said in his most understanding voice. “You’re good at being the hero Logan, but that’s a dangerous game to play. You keep tempting the odds like that and eventually your number will get called”.

“You pay me to look out for you and that’s what I was doing.” Though technically true, Logan had other personal reasons to get involved. With Cadee and her friend at the party, he definitely had had a reason to try and help put and end to the chaos.

The two sat quietly for a moment, draped in an awkward silence. Logan knew his boss well enough that he could tell the old man’s mind was elsewhere, but where? His gut told him Romano knew more about tonight than he let on, but before Logan could question, the sorcerer spoke.

“You plan on visiting Angus this week? I’m still waiting for an answer”.

“Yeah, actually, I’ll go tomorrow,” Logan replied almost eagerly. Stopping at Slainte meant he could check up and make sure Cadee was alright.

“Will you be up to it?”

“Well, if you can do some hocus pocus on my leg, I should be good to go. I heal pretty fast anyways”.

Balthazar smiled as he noticed that the bodyguard’s leg had already stopped bleeding. “They make them tough where you come from,” he chuckled slyly.

2021-05-16 - Sunday

06:00 Sunrise with Resurrection

Jeffrey Gordon had his Starbucks in hand and his iPhone playing Pandora as he walked into his desk at the City morgue.  He plopped into the chair that his overnight counterpart James Franco had vacated only minutes before.  He and James played this game, they would try to time Jeff's entrance so that he would never see James on his way out.  It was a stupid game but ever since James had decided to steal Jeff's girlfriend it worked pretty well for both of them.

James had left a mess on the desk and was still logged into the intake program they used.  The damn program would only run on Windows 7 so they had this ancient computer that took forever to update the database and so it took a long time to enter more than one or two records.  Judging from the pile of records on the desk, James must have had a busy night.

Looks like a dozen bodies, Jeff thought as he looked at the order.  Gunshots, lacerations, trampling (nice!).  He pulled out his iPhone and Googled the news.  Awesome!  A massacre in a nightclub.  Sweet, I bet a lot of those bodies were hot babes. Jeff wasn't turned on by dead chicks, but if they weren't too mangled he wasn't above taking a good look. 

Wow, 15 injured, and 8 of those in critical condition. Could be busy here over the next few days, no wonder he didn't finish.  But he should have logged out at least. Jeff swigged his Starbucks and proceeded to close the records and told the program to save.  Knowing it would be a while, he then went down the hall to the vending machine and got a bag of Sun Chips for later and then headed for the cooler.

He opened the door and dropped his Starbucks. There was blood all over the floor and James was there on the table with a horribly stupid expression on his face lying naked with his guts hanging over the side.  Two men and one woman stood around him.  All three were bloody.  The woman looked as if she had been shot in the chest and one of her breasts was hanging out in an odd way that Jeff knew was a ruptured implant.  He'd seen that before.

One of the men had four or five holes in his chest and the other man had a gash through his neck that should have been fatal. They looked up in surprise and the woman said, "Grab him, I need to kill one!"

Even as Jeff threw his Chips at the approaching man (What was THAT all about?), the other turned to her and said, "Hey, I need to kill one too, bitch!  Who said you got dibs on him?"

Jeff was thinking to himself as the other man pummeled him into unconsciousness that he really wished he hadn't run into James this morning and that he'd lost this round of the game for good.


2021 05 16 19:30 The Curious Case of Logan

2021 05-16 19:30: The Curious Case of Logan

“Damn! Damn! Damn!” Niall threw down the book he’d been perusing and stood abruptly, pushing a hand through his already disheveled hair.  He began to pace the small dining alcove, muttering to himself. 

Chiedra glanced up from the soup she was adding herbs to at the stove.  She smirked at Niall as he paced.  “Careful, old man,” she teased, “if you get too worked up, you could have a stroke.”

Niall stopped pacing and sent a wry look at his young friend.  “Very helpful, Kiki,” he drawled.  “Do you mind?”

“What?” Chiedra asked innocently. 

“If you aren’t going to helpful…” Niall said significantly. 

“Alright, alright,” Chiedra turned the burner down to leave the soup to simmer and walked over to sit down at the cluttered dining table.  “What is it that you’re working on now?”

Niall had invited Chiedra over for dinner when they’d parted ways yesterday morning, but when she’d arrived he’d been deeply involved with one of his projects.  He’d looked at her quizzically when he’d opened the door for a few moments, before realization dawned.  Immediately he’d begun to make his apologies and excuses, but Chiedra had simply bent down and picked up the two brown bags of groceries she’d brought with her.  She had been raised by this man, so she was more than aware of how he could be.  Despite his occasional absentmindedness, Niall had been an amazing father figure.  He’d always made sure that Chiedra was safe and cared for when she was little, and as she’d matured, she’d taken over the simple domestic duties.  She’d cooked many a meal in Niall’s little apartment over the shop.  Tonight was nothing new to her.  Chiedra had simply carried her groceries into the small kitchen, past the papers and books and pulled out some pans and other accoutrements.  Niall had watched in bemusement, shrugged his shoulders and gone back to his project.  This was nothing new to him either.

“It’s that boy that was with Balthazar, Logan,” Niall replied. 

“What about him?” Chiedra asked, reaching out to pick up one of the books Niall had been studying.  She read for a moment.  “Mind control?”

Chiedra picked up a sheaf of papers, and thumbed through it.  “Possession? Did I miss something Saturday? Was that guy’s head spinning while he spit pea soup? Cuz I would’ve liked to see that.”

Niall shook his head, taking the book away from Chiedra carefully.  “This is a very old, very valuable text, KiKi,” he said, placing it gently on the table.  “And when I was talking to Logan, I noticed something odd going on.  Balthazar is up to something with that boy, and whatever it is, knowing Balthazar, it isn’t something good.”

Chiedra nodded.  She was well aware of Niall’s feelings about Balthazar Romano.  The other wizard had a pretty shady reputation, honestly, despite how Niall felt about him.  Chiedra had heard more than once that Romano was dangerous and not to be trusted.  She’d even turned down a few jobs offered by his organization.  There was apparently a line she wouldn’t cross, although that line had more to do with upsetting Niall than anything else. 

“So, what have you found?” Chiedra asked.  Niall had access to a lot of information.  Whatever was up with the hottie in Balthazar’s employ, Niall had to have some ideas.

“Not a lot,” Niall replied.  He glanced down at the page before him, shaking his head.  “There are a few texts which mention ways to control the thoughts or actions of another, but most of what I can find indicates that it would be difficult to do so for a long time or in as complete a way as Balthazar has apparently done to Logan.  From what I can tell, this sort of magic requires a lot of energy and power.  What I can’t figure out, is why would Balthazar go to all this trouble? What is so special about this boy?”

Chiedra shrugged.  “Aside from the fact that he was hot, I didn’t see anything to write Guiness about.  But…”

Niall looked up to see a contemplative smile on Chiedra’s face.  “What’s going on in that devious mind of yours, little girl?”

“I was just thinking that maybe the best way to find out more about Logan would be to just ask him,” she said. 

“Right,” Niall scoffed.  “I’ll just catch him outside Balthazar’s building and ask him what makes him so special.”

“Well, maybe not you,” Chiedra grinned.  “But if I were to run into him somewhere, and maybe strike up a conversation with him…”

“You know, that might work,” Niall agreed.  “You could befriend him, and try to get to know him better.  If you don’t find anything about him, you would at least be in a position to keep an eye on him, just in case.”

Chiedra shrugged.  “Sure, I could do that.  If you’re right, and Balthazar is up to something, then this Logan might be in trouble.  I could watch out for him for you.  If you want me to, I’ll do it.”

Niall smiled fondly at her.  He knew Chiedra would do this for him.  He knew there were many things she’d do for him.  Kiki was his little girl, had been for years, and he was proud of her.  She was smart, strong, and beautiful.  She was dangerous too.  Niall appreciated all of that.  But most of all, no matter what she did or why she did it, Niall loved Chiedra unconditionally.  That was why she always did her best to make him happy. 

“Thanks, Kiki,” Niall said.  “Let’s figure out where you can ‘run’ into him.”

Niall and Chiedra put their heads together and tried to pin down Logan’s habits.  Together, over bowls of hot homemade soup, they hammered out a plan. 

21:34 "Return to Slainte"

Logan found himself pushing open the doors to the Slainte pub for the 3rd time this week – and what a week it had been. From battling Kaoshian demons at this very spot, to the attack at The Graveyard, the man had seen more action in seven days than most people see in their life. An on top of that, the week had seen an abundance of coincidences. Everyone he had met in the last few days was at the Saturday night bloodbath; the cop, the reporter, the Harpee (he shuttered), Cadee – it was weird, really weird…almost as if the events were planned.  I’m being crazy he thought dismissively as he scanned the room for the blonde waitress. Sure he was here to follow up on last week’s meeting with Angus, but his top priority was making sure the girl had gotten out of the Graveyard unharmed.

Sundays were good days at the Slàinte. Not so many cops and the ever present happy-hour yuppies, and more family people and dates. It wasn’t the best of days for tips, but they were easier to handle, and after last night, she needed easy!  She slid two orders of the Slàinte special in front of a couple –obviously a first date– and moved back to the bar, stopping at other tables on her way. She was taking another order, when she saw Logan moving towards her. She smiled, and voicelessly greeted him, before writing down what the client was asking in her little pad.
The man breathed a silent sigh of relief. Cadee was clearly A-ok and at work which meant both she and Anne made it out alright. He plopped himself near the bar, waiting until Cadee finally had a second free. “I’m really glad to see you here. I really wanted to call you last night to make sure you and Anne were ok, but realized I don’t have your number”.

“That makes two of us,” Cadee lied. She had seen him, after the whole thing had finished, and she knew he had been hurt, but made it out alive. But well, she was supposed to be hiding behind the bar all the time. She smiled, “maybe we should solve that and exchange numbers?”
“Yeah…you know, in case there is another weird gang shooting that we’re involved in thanks to you ‘jinx-eeness”. The two shared a laugh as they exchanged numbers in each other’s mobiles. “Look, I know you’re pretty busy, and I need to have a word or two with Angus, but I’m not in a rush. Your shift end soon?”

“Actually, not that long,” she said, glancing at her watch. “Maybe 20, 30 minutes.”

“Mind if I stick around?”

“Not at all.”

A grin crept onto the man’s face as he settled on a stool and watched Cadee disappear back into the kitchen.

Suddenly, a booming voice pulled Logan out of his reverie, “Hasn’t been a week yet”. The massive red-haired owner was now standing opposite him on the other side of the bar, glaring at Logan with definite suspicion.

The young man returned the bartender’s cool gaze. There was no doubt Angus likely intimidated most, but Logan was not one to back down. “So do you need more time? I came to check on Cadee after last night but I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone.”

“Did you now…” Angus‘ voice trailed off, his face unreadable behind the massive red beard.  After what seemed like an eternity of silence, the burly Scotsman spoke, “Well you can go back at tell your boss I can’t help”.

“Can’t or won’t?” Logan didn’t even know what Balthazar had asked of this man, but he had a hunch Angus was hiding something.

“Just what are you implying?” The tone was icy, bordering on angry.

Logan stole a glance back at the door Cadee had gone through. He could tell the situation was heating up and the last thing he wanted was to make a scene. “Look, I’m not implying anything. But, if you know Mr Romano, which I have a feeling you do, you know he gets what he wants. I just want to save everyone a lot of time and trouble”.

Angus’ face started to turn as crimson as the hair on his head. “I don’t like your tone kid. I said I couldn’t help and it ends there. And, if Balthazar has a problem, you can tell him to come see me in person.”

Logan was a surprised and a bit impressed. He could appreciate the man’s guts if not his questionable judgment. I just hope this doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass big guy.

“You got me boy?”

“Yeah I got you,” Logan conceded, deciding not to press the issue before speaking with Romano. “But if you ever want me to tip, you better not call me ‘boy’ again - you got me? Now how about a beer?”

Angus huffed - what he wouldn’t give to wring the neck of the arrogant young man.

The day had been good, Cadee thought again, happier this time, the bar closed earlier and her shift was shorter. Quickly, she took off her apron and vest and put on a light jacket from her locker, then she looked at herself in the mirror and let her pony tail loose, combing her hair with her fingers in an unsuccessful attempt to put some order to her curls, and finally she applied some gloss, with better results. When she was satisfied with her looks, she returned to the bar.  
She knew Logan was still waiting for her, she had seen him talking with Angus when she left to the personnel area, hopefully he would be done by then. She smiled when she saw that he was sitting alone, sipping from a long neck beer, Angus busy on the other end of the long bar.  
“I’m ready when you’re ready,” she told him, leaning on the counter next to him.
“Definitely ready,” Logan replied, struggling to get off the stool. His face grimaced as a shot of pain erupted in his leg where he had been stabbed the night before.

“What’s wrong?” Cadee asked concerned, though she already knew the answer. She had seen the zombie stab him, of course she couldn’t let the man know that.

“I banged up my leg during the fight last night.” It wasn’t a lie per say, but Cadee definitely didn’t need to know the extent of the injury - no need to worry her. “I’ll survive though,” he smiled, as they left the bar, “they make’em strong where I’m from”.

Didn’t push the subject. “Good to know. So, where are you from by the way?”

“New York”.

“Oh, you’re a born and bred New Yorker then?”

Logan opened his mouth to answer, but the words never came and his mind clouded over. Huh…what? For a moment, the man couldn’t focus and he completely lost his train of thought. “So nice night, eh?” he said, changing the subject.

Cadee looked at him, puzzled; that was strange. Maybe he wanted to go somewhere and didn’t know how to propose it?  That was even stranger, he didn’t seem the shy type. She looked at the night sky, the moon was shining brightly, even if it wasn’t full already –fortunately – and it wasn’t cold. “Yeah,” she finally said, going with the flow, “it’s a great night, much better than yesterday!”

He couldn’t hold back the laugh. “Well, it doesn’t take much to be better than last night. So,” Logan began with a playful grin, “every time I seem to hang out with you I find myself in some sort of trouble. Think I'll manage to get through the night without getting shot or shanked?”
“I don’t know… but it’s worth a try,” she answered, grinning, and fervently hoping they didn’t find any vampires in their way. “I don’t live too far, just a couple of blocks. But I need to get my bike from the back alley. Mind walking both of us home?”
"Well, I'll walk the bike home, you, not so sure," he answered teasingly as the two made their way into the night.

23:45 Newspaper clippings research


Sunday, 23:45


“Tell me, does this look familiar to you?” Cadee asked her roommate, handing her an old newspaper clipping over the sofa where she had been lying.

“What!?” Anna asked, startled, raising her head over the back of the sofa.  She had been studying the ‘Shoggot on the roof’ script for hours, and obviously dozed off. She hadn’t even noticed Cadee had returned.  A quick look at her watch told her she had been asleep for at least a couple of hours. Damn.

Cadee was at the table, busily rummaging through her albums. Several thick folders laid open on the table, each one containing dozens of different newspaper clippings – all news related to strange or unexplainable events.  Some of them were pretty old, since it had been Cadee’s mother’s hobby for years, one that Cadee had continued.  Anne knew that those clippings had proved her useful time and again, but never understood the need for albums and albums of dusty old pieces of paper.  

“When are you going to scan all that stuff and enter the 21st century?” She asked her friend for the thousandth time, as she took the polyester-film folder.

“Just look at the damn thing, Annie,” Cadee answered, her voice strained. She had been looking for that particular piece of news forever, and was tired as hell.

“Ok, ok,” she acquiesced and looked at the date first; it wasn’t so old after all, just a couple of years.

“Young thugs savage attack on restaurant owner. ‘Magician’ saves the day” was the title. Interested now, Anne started to read. It was the usual recount of drugged teen violence, and her expression got serious as she went on. Ten young  teenagers  had burst into a restaurant about closing time, causing a nuisance until the owner managed to usher them out. Problem was, two were armed with knives and another picked a road-side railing to hit the owner with it. The gang managed to push the man around, hitting him in the head and even cutting his arm, when one of the restaurant customers got in the middle, somehow appeasing  the wild youths just by talking to them.

“It was incredible,” were Mr. Pitorri’s –the restaurant owner– words when interviewed about the events at Cornell Medical Center where he is recovering.  “He just talked to them, you know? With a soothing deep voice, and those… druggies just dropped the knives and calmly waited for the police.  I’d never seen anything like that in my life, they were like hypnotized or something.  I guess Niall is a magician all right. I just need to thank him, free meals forever.”

When asked about the ‘magician’, Mr. Pitorri expressed that Mr. Niall Tiergnan was a patron of the restaurant, and a magician by profession, evidently including hypnotism in his act. Unfortunately, Mr. Tiergnan didn’t want to make a statement.  

The teenagers –aged between 12 and 15– were derived to Social Services.


“Look at the pictures,” Cadee prompted next to her ear, startling Anne again. She had been reading over her shoulder, approaching her with that silent cat walk of hers. “The last one, does he look familiar?”

There were four pictures at the end of the article, one of the restaurant’s façade and  a couple of Mr. Pitorri, with a bandaged head and arm, lying on a hospital bed. The last one showed the mysterious ‘magician’. The picture’s grain was thick, so Anne guessed it had been taken from a distance, and it showed a man around his thirties, with dark hair and scruffy looks, standing in the threshold of an office and looking at the camera, as if he had caught the paparazzi in the act.

She frowned, the man looked familiar indeed, but she couldn’t place him; she turned to Cadee for help, and the blonde nodded.

“At the party, yesterday. Isn’t he the one who was helping get people out?” Anne slowly nodded as well, and Cadee smiled. “I knew it! I was talking to Logan earlier, about the attack at the party, and it struck me that I’d seen him before.  Now look at this!” she said, and handed Anne the heavy Manhattan yellow pages phone book, opened almost at the end.

“Logan, huh?” Anne teased, an impish look in her eyes, but at her friend’s serious look, she added, “all right, but don’t even think I’ll drop the matter.”

Cadee had circled one of the advertisements: “Niall Tiergnan: wizard for hire” The add was short and offered the wizard’s abilities for different issues; it was simple, it was neat, and probably a fake too.

“He’s not a fake, I saw him do magic at the party;  real, powerful magic.  The man is the real thing.” Cadee replied, and Anne realized she had been thinking aloud. 

Anne’s disbelief was understandable, and Cadee wondered what kind of true wizard offered his services to the world like this. But he was real, no doubt about that. She could use a sorcerer at the time and paying him would make things much easier too, she didn’t like owing any favors. And she certainly needed some help, or at least advice.

“So about Logan…” Anne interrupted her thoughts, and Cadee laughed, relaxed now that she had finally solved the mystery of Mr. Tiergnan.

“He came to the bar tonight, and walked me home.” Cadee answered, blushing.

“Cool! I want to hear all the dirty details,” Anne demanded, and slapped the sofa for Cadee to sit.  The blonde sighed and sat, preparing herself for an interrogation worthy of the CIA.





2021-05-17 10:25 "Confronting a Vampire"

Jasmin's Apartment - 151 Wooster

Anne stopped in front of the double doors of Jasmin Taylor’s elegant department building, doubting. As usual, her manager had appointed her for the woman’s runs, but for the first time, Anne wasn’t thrilled.
She remembered the last time she had seen Jasmin, at the Graveyard, dressed with an incredible Goth outfit. Remembering her like that, it was incredible she had been so blind not to notice the vampire in her, but then… it was Jasmin Taylor! Then she thought about the psychos in the party and she shuddered. Anne shook her head, it wasn’t the moment to ramble, she needed to decide what to do. Either she entered the vampire’s lair again, or she didn’t, it was as simple as that.
*Who are you fooling, Annie?* she asked herself, taking a step further and pushing the huge door to enter the building. *There’s no choice and you know it. She’s not gonna eat you… much.*
Jasmin sat in the living, with the stereo on, notebook out next to her and a stack of sealed envelopes. She always wrote her releases by hand - technology made the world easier, but writing statements felt more real that way. Still, the press… the only thought on her mind as she went back to work was how to take advantage of the events at the club. Now that things were open today, it was easy enough. A little "charity" payment here, a carefully worded statement there, and with luck, when they re-opened, people would show up in droves to show their support for the generous owned.
Now, if only that damned bouncer had had the decency to die. Oh well. She'd fire him next month.
At the sound of knocking at the door, she pulled herself up in the darker room, heading over to it with the notebook in hand. She unlocked and opened the door, stepping back from it. A brief glance and a smile to Anne in greeting followed. "Hello. Please, come inside - how are you doing?"
Anne smiled briefly, congratulating herself for her acting skill; she was scared to death, but still she managed to smile.
“Fine, thank you,” she answered and followed Jasmin into the apartment, her eyes watching it as if it were the first time. And in a way it was, she had been blind about it too. Suddenly, she needed to fill the air with conversation. “It’s terrible what happened at the club on Sat, Jasmin. I’m glad you’re all right.”
"Thank you," she replied lightly, letting the door fall shut. A few quick scribbles, and finally, the release was done, the stereo flipping over to a track by Emilie Autumn. Jasmin looked over to her and smiled a bit at some memories. "I was relieved to see that you and your friend weren't on the casualty list. Sorry I didn't get a chance to run into you - playing hostess is busy work."
She trailed off, tearing out the sheet as she moved to pack, and begin label one final envelope. "Be ready for things to go out in a moment here…."
“No problem,” Anne said casually, and prepared to wait. It wasn’t the first time a client had taken his or her time before giving her instructions, but of course, they usually weren’t blood sucking monsters.
She watched Jasmin work, concentrated in the letter she was writing, listening to some ancient music she couldn’t identify… no wonder she liked old music. How old was she? Maybe she had the wisdom of millennia like Queen Akasha? She didn’t think she was a newly risen, they couldn’t stand being so close to a human and not attack, like Jasper Cullen. She was so blond and delicate; one could easily forget she could go game face any moment. Maybe Carmilla? Oh yeah. Think Carmilla meets the Snow Queen.
Then she frowned. What the hell was she doing? This wasn’t a damn book she was reading; this was real. Jasmin was real. She was a not-to-be-taken-lightly fucking vampire. What the hell was she thinking, playing charades like that?
“I know what you are.” she spurted suddenly, before she could stop herself.
Jasmin worked hurridly to finish addressing the evelope, the words penetrating almost distantly. “Yes, I was making out with another woman, and yes, I am gay,” she said flatly, almost disinterestedly. “I work in theater, often musical theater, in New York; I didn't think I had to spell it out.” Everyone always acted so surprised when they realized that about her, even if it had taken her several decades to come to terms with it. Death didn't stop emotions.
She moved to pick up the envelopes, looking over to Anne... and stopped in her tracks. There was something in her stance and pose. She couldn't mean that, could she? That would... no. No jumping to conclusions, as the smile returned to Jasmin's face. She tried to keep her words light and joking. “Didn't think you were like that. Wow, my gaydar must be off.”
Anne was so surprised she couldn't speak for a few seconds; then, as she realized what the other woman had said, laughter erupted from her, like lava out of a volcano.
“Oh, my. You are Carmilla, all right!” she managed to say, after the laughter subdued a little, only to start laughing again, almost hysterically, all the tension of the last few days raging off her system with her laugh.
Realization dawned. Yes, she meant vampire, and now she was... laughing? Not good. People who laughed like that tended to do stupid things, and she really did not, on top of everything else, have to hide the body of a dead courier if that became necessary. “....uh, Anne? Are you alright? I actually have some tea on hand to help the nerves, if you need some.”
Granted, if she knew what she was, that could be an act to throw her off. It wouldn't be the first time some hunter thought playing the easy prey routine lead to an even quicker kill for them. Jasmin wasn't falling for it. Please don't make me kill you. I don't need more paperwork.
The mention of tea received another peal of laughter. The vampire was inviting her to drink tea… how did the nursery book go? ‘Miss Spider's Tea Party’? Oh no, no tea for her, please! However, sanity crept into her slowly, as she fought for control between hiccups and tears. As the laughter died, Anne’s mind got clearer and she realized the danger her impulsiveness had put herself into. It seemed she didn’t do anything right that morning. What the hell was she thinking? She asked herself not for the first time. Evidently, in nothing. Mayhap she would need that tea after all. To help the nerves.
“I know you’re a vampire,” she finally said, her mind strangely calm after her outburst. She couldn’t even say she was scared anymore.
Nope! She couldn't catch a break. For a moment, she considered the usual flat denial. Telling the other woman that was crazy. That usually worked... but she considered where they were. In her home, with blinds blocking out the sun at ten in the morning. “Calm down, my dear. Unless this is the part where you tell me you're a hunter. “
She stopped again, frustration coming to the forefront after everything else for just a moment. So much for finally being in the clear. Jasmin pushed her bitchy urges aside as a scathing remark threatened to come to the surface. “Right. What makes you say that, then? I'm a nightclub owner. Doesn't translate into soulless, evil creature readily, wouldn't you say?” Maybe there was some chance for salvation... maybe she didn't know everything about vampires.
I’m not a hunter, but you’re a vampire.” Anne grinned, adrenalin making her fearless. “And I’ve been running your errands for months with my blood count intact… now, that is strange, isn’t it?”
Jasmin shook her head slowly, circling around as she kept her eyes on the other woman. “Not really. Think about it,” she raised her hands slowly, fixing her with a steady gaze, an almost impish look in her eyes. “Consider this, if you will, from the most selfish angle possible. I could grab and bite you. But then, you're likely to never come back or word will get around. I could kill you, but then, you couldn't deliver my mail for me, could you? And if all the couriers I hire disappear, someone is going to come looking.
“Or,” she trailed off, taking a more relaxed stance, “I could keep you in the dark, plead a late night working at the club, and tip you well enough to not care that I look and act a touch on the eccentric side. You're happy not knowing, I'm happy getting my little jobs taken care of, and your company is happy to collect your fee.”
Rotating slowly to face the vampire at all moments, Anne did consider Jasmin’s words. It was just what she and Cadee had discussed, but still… vampires were soulless, evil creatures. No, she wasn’t buying the Jack Sparrow’s act. Much.
“How do you feed?” she asked. “You don’t kill couriers, your club is clean… how do you feed?”
Jasmin continued to keep an eye on her, studying the reaction as she propped herself against the wall. Waryness, to be expected; but no sign of recognizing that she moved with the careful steps of someone trained to fight. “There's a couple of butchers that I pay well enough to not tell anyone about the blood they give me. Then the fans more than willing to experience the danger of a vampire feeding from them.” Her eyes continued to dance impishly. No, she wouldn't tell her everything, of course. Just enough. Let the poor woman think her not a threat.
Anne nodded. She knew of those fans, addicted to the thrill of nursing vampires. You could recognize them, if you knew where to look; the Graveyard wasn’t one of those places, but it made sense.
She could see Jasmin relaxing at her nodding, and that put her on guard again. Could she trust her? Her explanations made sense, the club was clean, and so was her theatre company or Cadee would have heard of it. In fact, Cadee herself hadn’t considered the vampire an immediate threat. ‘Immediate’ being the key word, but what the hell...
“So, this is the ‘show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ act, but in reverse? I don’t tell on you and you won’t kill me?” she asked at last. But she raised her hand before the vampire could talk, and went on. “Just so you know, I’m not a hunter, but I’m closely related to one. I’m sure that, if I disappear, she’ll come looking here first thing.”
Clever. Very clever. Whether a lie or not... she had assumed that Anne had to have something up her sleeve. One does not confess, generally, to knowing about a vampire without reason. Death had been a consideration if needed. Time to try an approach, more subtle. Bending someone to her will was always much more fun.
“You knew I wasn't going to kill you already, or you wouldn't be here,” she said evenly. “You could have turned down being sent here, or pleaded illness. Could have even said that I was a colossal bitch, and lord knows they would have believed that if they read the gossip columns. And then you not only came... you tipped your hand to me.”
She smiled again, a slightly more predatory, but still restrained look. “You're a smart woman, Anne. So why tell me all this? This the part where I get blackmailed, now? It's not like I don't have the connections to help your career. I've only been involved in entertainment since the 1950s. Looking for parts, or to move into producing?"
“Ohhhhh, so you were Bathory in ‘First Bite’” Anne’s eyes brightened at the thought, her love for all things vampire –fictional at least – overcoming the seriousness of the situation. Besides, she wouldn’t deign discussing those blackmail implications, better let her believe she was daft. “I was sure she looked familiar. Did you work with Jack Arnold? Ever been a vampire in a vampire movie? So, just how old are you?”
“No; no Jack Arnold, though my partner has been in Hollywood long enough to remember the Wild West,” she returned lightly to that, spotting the opening, noticing that she sidestepped the question of blackmail. It also told her that the young would-be actress knew the craft, though not all of the tools involved. Oh dear lord, the enthusiasm.
Times like this was when she was very, very glad that Twilight and the like had softened the mythos, made them invigorated and sexy again. “And think, Anne. No reflection. Most cinema techniques require your actor to have that in order to be imprinted to film, even if you're playing say, Morgana le Fey. Digital recording is a new medium. I'm just old enough to be, quite literally, worth more to you and your hunter friend still mobile.”
Yes, she would bring it back to that. She had to – she knew that the focus on that tended to break down walls. Ironically, the very offer made her harder to exploit from past experience. Humans so wanted to take the moral high ground on the big bag, so to have them suggest the very thing they were considering so casually made them pause. “I'll give you and your friend a free piece of advice – Balthazar Romano. Avoid him and his close associates if you know him, and tell your friend the same. When the vampire tells you someone is bad news, listen to them.”
Anne frowned, she didn’t recognize the name but she would tell Cadee about it. She too was glad the topic had somewhat moved from veiled threats to less personal ground. “Is he another vampire?”
“No. He's a mortal sorcerer,” she said, watching her reaction. “Yes, those are real too, if you didn't know. He's also quite wealthy, connected, and ambitious. If the Special Crimes Unit could pin even half activities to him, the man would be locked up in solitary for the rest of his life.”
“Oh, I know about sorcerers and such. Living with a hunter gives you that kind of knowledge… but I never heard of Romano. I’ll tell her.”
She looked at Jasmin’s attentive face, the vampire was watching her closely, probably seizing her up. She wondered about her thoughts. The morning was coming quite differently of how she had expected; from her spurting her knowledge to them talking movies. It was evident Jasmin wouldn’t harm her; besides, the vampire was right, if she had thought so, she wouldn’t have come. She would have to think about everything that had transpired... Now, how do you leave the beast’s lair?
“Okay… it’s been fun and all, but I have other errands to do.” She looked at her watch casually, “are yours ready?”
She inclined her head slightly, moving over to the stack of envelopes to hold out for her. Jasmin, truth be told, had nearly forgotten about them. “Ah, yes. A different kind of theater – public relations. It's all a pagent,” as she passed the envelopes over. “Releases for a few press contacts, something for the lawyer and police, and a nice legal document pledging to cover the expenses for any injured patrons who were uninsured.”
Then cash appeared, her usual tip for Anne. She paused for a moment to scribble on a piece of paper quickly, slipping it inside the stack of cash.
Anne nodded, checking the addresses; she’d been to most of them. “Piece of cake,” she said with a smile. She walked to the door, but paused a second before leaving; she slipped the bills into her corset as usual, and as she did so, realization that the vampire was gay downed on her. Amazing.
“You should consider producing ‘Carmilla’, you know? A pity such unique perspective put to waste…”
"Already did it - 2015 release, Taylor & Anderson Productions, Showtime original movie, Dark Passion. Not the best work, but it paid relocation expenses."
Then she left.

2021-05-20 21:45 - Thursday - "Bookworm"

As she had done for the past two evenings solid, Jasmin didn't bother with changing out of her night clothes, simply pulling the black silk robe back around her. Ever since the Monday visit from Anne, the vampire had let business sort itself, and sequestered herself, largely, for research.
She made her way to the kitchen to reach into the fridge, pull out a container of blood, and pour an oversized mug. Bringing it up, she drank a bit, the inner demon coming out. Satisfied with the selection, she nodded to herself and started for the bedroom that she used as a study.
Windows were covered over heavily, to block any potential sunlight; one end was dominated by a table against the wall, holding a desktop computer, external hard drive with the Graveyard surveillance footage, her notebooks and a number of open books; a low shelf sat under it, containing Jasmin's personal journals. And then there were the bookcases of her normal books.
She sat the mug down, reaching for the notebook to read over the night's previous notes, and the list of items to try to obtain from the Grathoki. Taking another sip from the mug, she reached over to pick up the chart on Mystery Number 1 for her: the Eye.
Jasmin turned to look over her notes.
Mallory's Artficact Compendium
Providence: Claims creation by St. Vigeous, c. 1000 to 1100 AD. Defeat of Vigeous 1254. Posession of Knights Templar, on Malta; last record 1375.
Powers: Revivification of vampire from dust.
Physical Description: None given
Vallus' Commentaries
Providence: "Created or Found" by St. Vigeous c. 950 to 1050. Defeat in 1254. Knights Templar ambushed 1255; last record 1255. Note, Vallus commentary on Latin text points out the latin used, invenire, means both to create and to discover.
Powers: "Restoration" of vampires; unclear what "restoration" entails.
Physical Description: None given
Zulkash's Vampiric Lore
Providence: Created by St. Vigeous c. 1025 to 1100 AD. Defeat in 1254. Eye disappears from 1254 to 1317. Templar vault on Malta, 1317. Last record 1412.
Powers: Said to "hold power over the soul and life of the dead, and to restore them"
Physical Description: None given
She put the blood down, going back to her shelves to peruse the books, pulling another off the shelf, one of her most guarded books: the diary of a Watcher. After about two hours of reading, she stopped, and had to read the paragraph again.
The Fourth of October, Year of Our Lord 1437
My slayer brought in a local today who was badly beaten and tortured. It took some time to get him able to speak, but his reporter was reputedly the vampire Kadmus, who based on the description had five followers with him, engaged in a ritual blood feast of some sort. The name `Vigeous` was used, and I believe from the description that Kadmus may have been a personal discipline of Vigeous. Kadmus was seen reading from a book, as though giving an unholy homily.
Grabbing her notebook, she made a new entry. The Eye wasn't mentioned directly as she read on, but some other pertinent pieces of information were. As Jasmin made a new entry in her notebook, she began to record the details: Kadmus was, indeed, a contemporary and Lieutenant to Vigeous; had seen and known the legendary vampire; and that a few books had been reportedly recovered from him, to be sent to England, reputedly containing first-hand accounts of the vampire.
Jasmin made a few more notes, and knew what she was looking for. No, still no description or anything solid. But something had happened to the Watchers in 2007. She still didn't know exactly what, and wasn't sure she wanted to, but a number of their works had appeared in underground markets over the years. Doubtless, they would be trying to recover their holdings. But it meant a chance that the works of Kadmus were available.
For the first time since Monday, Jasmin went to her room to get changed.
It was time to go to market.

2021-05-20 22:14 - Thursday - Fox and Hound

It was late and Logan was in no mood to be working. His leg, though mostly healed, was still sore, and had it been up to him, he’d be having a drink at Slainte rather searching this dive bar for one of Balthazar’s missing associates. The recent string of murders in the city had caught the sorcerer’s attention, and from what Logan could gather, his boss thought there was a connection between the killings and a specific Grathoki demon he did business with. Problem was, this demon seemed to be laying low and avoiding Romano like the plague.

Well you can’t hide forever Logan thought, his eyes darting between the various patrons. Some of Balthazar’s other employees had given Logan a tip that the Grathoki frequented this place often enough, (Lord knew why?), which is what brought him there that night (and a few other nights earlier in the week).

Man I don’t want to waste another evening here he began to skulk when something caught his eye. Near the back of the bar, in one of the darker sections of the room, two men were drinking together. Normally, it wouldn’t seem odd, except one of them had the hood of his sweater pulled high and a scarf covered the majority of his face. Unless he’s some urban ninja, I’m betting he’s my guy. Balthazar had warned him that the demon was a low level psychic but in his excitement, Logan completely forgot to ‘mask his thoughts,’ - whatever that had meant.

As Logan stalked forward, the demon’s attention quickly turned from his companion to the man he recognized as Balthazar’s bodyguard. The demon could practically see himself in the man’s mind and he had no doubt that Romano’s pitbull was there for him.

“Fuck!” Logan cursed. The Grathoki must have picked up his thoughts and the second he noticed Logan, he had bolted towards the emergency exit only a few steps away.

Pushing past some other patrons, Logan broke into full sprint out of the bar and onto the street… it was not his brightest idea. Pain shot through his leg and he winced, biting down on his lower lip. “Why do they always run?” In tip top condition, he would have caught the demon in no time, but he was far from 100%.

“Watch where you’re going asshole!” Logan could hear someone behind him scream as he charged onwards, clipping people occasionally when they didn’t manage to get out of his way in time.

“Hey, hey! I just want to talk!” It was no use though, the demon kept running, before unexpectedly turning into some club called “Grindhouse”.

“Heh, should have kept running,” Logan huffed to himself and he pushed the doors open and dashed into the club. 

2021-05-20 22:21 - Thursday - Inside The Grindhouse


I'm saying all the things that I know you'll like,
Making good conversation.
I gotta handle you just right,
You know what I mean.
I took you to an intimate restaurant,
Then to a suggestive movie.
There's nothing left to talk about,
Unless it's horizontally…

Meredith danced, sliding her hands up and down her body. It was about the only thing she enjoyed about the job. When the music pounded, when the beat got inside her, it was almost like she was someone else. Which was good, because at the Grindhouse she wasn’t Meredith Bell, she was Violet Raine (“Always wet for you“ - as Charlie frequently announced her on stage). She caught a glimpse of herself in one of the many mirrors, tonight she was every inch the smouldering temptress, from her smoky eye make-up and glossy cherry-stained lips to the sheer, barely-there black mini dress and six inch heels. Although ‘dress’ suggested more fabric than there actually was - it was pretty much a bra and a skirt joined with a metal ring. Still it was more clothes than she usually wore and it was always hot in the club… it encouraged the clientele to drink more.

Let's get physical, physical
I wanna get physical
Let's get into physical
Let me hear your body talk, your body talk
Let me hear your body talk

Writhing in time to the music, Meredith pressed her scantily covered tits into the bars of the dance podium, wiggling her hips and shimmying her shoulders. Dancing was like sex… at least, that’s what Gail said, Meredith’s experience had made her a little more jaded to make such a comparison. Still, she understood the basic concept, it was about teasing, giving the client a taste that left him begging for more. Sure, you could shove your cunt in his face - some girls did, just like some clubs encouraged that behaviour. But the Grindhouse was a little different. If you wanted sex, get a prostitute, but a striptease was just that - seductive, tantalising and provocative. ”Who’s gonna pay to see the cow when you’ve already tasted the milk?” - that was Charlie again, and while it was a distasteful comparison he had a point. If you played all your cards in the first hand there was no incentive to return. Meredith always kept something in reserve, and that’s why she had more regular patrons than any other dancer.

I've been patient, I've been good
Tried to keep my hands on the table
It's gettin' hard this holdin' back
You know what I mean
I'm sure you'll understand my point of view
We know each other mentally
You gotta know that you're bringin' out
The animal in me

One of the guys watching held up a ten dollar bill, a goofy grin slowly spreading across his face. Meredith smiled seductively, crouching down to where he sat and hitching up her dress to reveal the elastic of her thong. The guy’s grin widened as he reached through the bars, sliding his finger between the fabric of her panties and her hip, tucking the bill securely in place. Meredith winked and blew him a kiss before rising back to her feet and resuming her dance.

Let's get physical, physical
I wanna get physical
Let's get into physical
Let me hear your body talk, your body talk
Let me hear your body talk

Tipping her head forward, Meredith quickly flicked her hair back, several strands sticking to her lip gloss. She watched the room as she moved, sliding up and down against the bars of her cage. It was then that she saw him, his defined muscles and angles of his jaw unmistakable even in the club’s subdued lighting.

“Oh… fuck,” she muttered beneath her breath. Meredith faltered for a moment, watching the man as he wandered the club. Surely he wasn’t going to stay, he‘d never been here before so why now? Oh god..… no… “fuck, fuck, fuck…”. Flinging open the cage door and ignoring the protests of her adoring clientele, Meredith headed in the opposite direction. Not that she cared what Logan… whatever else his name was, thought of her. Hell no. But the smug smile on his face would haunt her for the rest of her days.

“Hey Violet! Where’s the fire!”

Meredith tried to duck out of the way but her boss caught her arm, fixing her with a stern glare even while his voice remained light and playful. “Whatcha think you doin’? You got another ten minutes in the cage…”

“Charlie, sorry. Um, personal thing, you know?” she chanced a glance back at the doorway. Logan was still there, seemingly looking for someone. Not her. God please, don’t let him be looking for me. “A girl thing? Emergency. I‘ll make it up.”

“Oh I know you will, I pay you to wiggle your ass out there, not haul it to the ladies.”

Shit! Logan’s eyes darted back and forth scanning the room for the blasted demon. He couldn’t have picked a better place to hide – the club was dark and packed, and had enough scantily clad girls to distract any warm blooded guy. “Damnit!” He was out of luck. By now, his target could be anywhere. With a final huff, Logan was about to give up and leave when he noticed something or rather someone looking back at him from the back of the club.

“The Harpee?!” A weird sense of dread and amusement simultaneously filled him. On one hand, the coincidence seemed just too outrageous to be mere chance, which was definitely unnerving. On the other hand, he had just caught the girl… at the Grindhouse… and she definitely wasn’t dressed as one of the patrons. “Un-bloody-believable!”.

Unable to fight the smirk that made it’s way onto his face, Logan could not help himself as he waved.

“Oh Christ,” Meredith groaned, turning away quickly and trying to hide her face with her hand. Maybe he hadn’t really seen her.

“Violet? Are you even listening to me?”

Meredith turned her attention back to her boss. Charlie looked annoyed, waiting for an answer but she couldn’t even think what he’d been talking about. “Er… just forget it, okay? It’s fine… false alarm.” Charlie threw up his hands, muttering something about ‘dames’ as he headed to the bar. Meredith sighed and turned swiftly, just as Logan emerged from the crowd, slamming into her barely covered tits.

“You know, you don’t let it go how I ran into you and yet, here you are slamming right into me,” Logan laughed, enjoying the look of complete and utter horror on the girl’s face…then his eyes trailed down the rest of her, specifically the tiny black see-through number that barely covered her considerable and decidedly perky assets – damn the Harpee was smoking. Still grinning, Logan turned his gaze back to meet Meredith’s. “I’ve got to say, never in a million years would have guessed you worked in a place like this”.

“And what is-” realising they were still rather close, Meredith stepped back a little, planting her hands on her bare hips. “And what is that supposed to mean?” she asked, her voice rising defensively. “All I do is dance, and… actually this happens to be a very respectable business.”

It didn’t take long for the girl’s claws to come out. Did it ever! Logan thought. The competitive side of him loved the fact that the girl was thrown off by his presence, yet, he couldn’t help but feel a bit of empathy for her. He didn’t judge her for dancing, in fact he couldn’t have cared less, but it was obvious a part of her was embarrassed that Logan had caught her in such a vulnerable situation.

“Well I’m sure it is, but don’t you actually have to be nice to work in a place like this? Your attitude doesn’t really scream ‘I love working with the public’ especially when said public is probably trying to oogle your goodies half the time”.

Meredith fixed him with a very fake smile. “Well I see my attitude doesn’t put you off ‘ogling the goodies’,” she flicked her hair back, nonchalantly, raising her chin, “besides, there’s a two drink minimum, plus, if you want me to be nice you have to pay me. You, I notice, haven’t done either. So I think I’m probably free to behave how I like, Logan.”

“You know what’s not fair,” Logan responded, completely disregarding her chilly attitude, “This is what, like our third date and I still don’t know your name”. If he knew the Harpee that would really set her off.

*Date! God, this guy really thought he was Mr Super Fucking Charming didn‘t he!?* Just when she thought she was being too hard on him, he flashed her that smug-ass grin that just made her want to… *Gah!* She considered walking off, then caught Charlie watching her from the bar with a scowl on his face. She’d already lost her temper a couple of times this week, kneeing one guy in the groin when he made a smart remark, and giving another a black eye after his wandering hands wandered too far. Charlie had given her a simple warning, one more strike and she was out. Whether he meant it or not didn’t matter, the last thing she was gonna do was give Logan the satisfaction of seeing her get chewed out by her boss.

“My name is Violet,” she purred softly. Fuck it, if Logan thought he could mess with her, he was gonna be in for a surprise. Tonight she was Violet Raine, playful, flirtatious and accommodating. Not to mention uncompromisingly sexy. When she turned it on full blast most guys - even the ones who thought they were players, didn’t know what hit them.

Sliding a hand up his chest, she rested it on his shoulder, though she’d rather be slapping that smug look off his face. “Welcome to the Grindhouse, if you want to take a seat, I’ll get someone to bring you over a drink.” God this was harder than she’d thought, her jaw was actually aching from keeping her smile in place. “I’d love to stay and chat, but, as you see, I’m working. Enjoy your evening.”

Logan couldn’t deny that the girl was sexy and that he was a little turned on, but something about her act bothered him - Did he really prefer the Harpee to this?

“Well, then if you’re working, how about you have a drink with me?” Logan pulled out a twenty, from his pocket, and held it high so that her boss could see - now she’d have no choice but to stick around.

‘Violet’s’ smile never faltered, but her eyes said it all; he swore he could feel his skin starting to freeze over. Logan surprised himself. He didn’t particularly like the girl yet a part of him wanted to know more about her. It was as if their paths seemed to keep crossing. Could it mean something? Three encounters in one week, seemed more than just coincidence.

“I’ll make you a deal,” Logan said, looking the girl straight in the eyes. “You tell me your real name, and I’ll leave”.

“My real name..” Meredith plucked the twenty from Logan’s fingers with a smile, “…is Violet.” She paused a moment, narrowing her eyes in thought as she looked at him. “…Vodka tonic, right?” With the hand on his shoulder, Meredith directed him back a couple of steps then pushed him down into one of the seats. “Take a load off, have your drink, then you can leave.”

She gestured to one of the other girls at the bar to get their drinks, then sat down too. “So… Logan,” Meredith smiled, genuinely this time, enjoying the look of frustration on his face. “I get the feeling this is your first time. So what are you doing here? Oh wait, lemme guess… you’re working.”

“I was looking for someone actually,” he answered, a bit thrown off. How did that happen? One second ago he had the girl squirming and now she was the one in control of their little back and forth. “You got it wrong by the way”.

Violet blinked, not understanding what he meant.

“The drink. You said Vodka, but it was gin tonic I drink. Don’t worry about it though, I know it’s hard for girls to keep a clear head when I’m around”. Logan could barely keep a straight face as he said it. He figured Violet would be dying to give him a lashing, but the interesting circumstances prevented her from being overtly offensive. like a lioness caged.

“Whatever you have to tell yourself to get outta bed in the morning, playboy.” Meredith rolled her eyes but kept her smile in place. Leaning forward, she laid a hand on Logan’s knee, while absently playing with her hair with the other. “So… this person you’re looking for…? ‘Cause I have to say, seeing you here, after the party last weekend… kinda feels like you might be stalking me.”

The man smirked, enjoying the feeling of Violet’s hand on his leg. He had to give it to her – she had a knack for manipulating men and if he hadn’t had his guard up, he may have fallen for her pouty lips and sexy hips. “Sorry to disappoint, but it’s just coincidence,” as he said it, he wasn’t sure himself if he believed it.

“Coincidence?” she purred back, her hand moving ever so slightly from his knee up to his thigh where he had been stabbed just days before.

Logan winced, drawing in a sharp breath and Meredith cocked her head to one side, frowning slightly as she pulled her hand back. She certainly hadn’t caused that reaction, not directly anyway. *Perhaps he got caught up in the shooting, Cadee said he fancied himself some kind of hero*

Sitting back in her chair, she watched him for a moment. Chit-chat was fine, and in truth, she was kind of curious about Logan… so long as he didn’t turn out to be some kind of crazy stalker man. Plus, though she hated to admit it, he was kinda handsome… in an arrogant ’and doesn’t he know it’ sort of way. If they’d been anywhere else it would have been fine, they could share a drink and pass the time of day. But her boss was watching and if she wasn’t finding ways to part Logan from his hard earned cash, she wasn’t earning him money either.

“So…” she said eventually, “you want me to dance for you, or what?”

The man swirled the ice in his drink, as he met her gaze. The comment was so blunt that any pleasure he was taking out of their repartee instantly vanished. The girl was usually a bitch, but at least the bitchiness was authentic. Her... the conversation… all the fakeness really grated on Logan’s nerves for some reason. Finishing the drink in a single gulp, he turned back to Violet. “I think I prefer the Ice Queen from the park.” With the smile completely gone from his face, Logan got up. “It’s good to see nothing happened to you on Saturday,” he said flatly, as he rose to leave.

Meredith huffed in annoyance. Whenever she thought there was more to this guy than the arrogant, smug asshole he appeared to be, it turned out she’d been absolutely right all along. “You’re leaving,” she actually felt somewhat relieved, she barely knew Logan but he confused the hell out of her every single time. “Without knocking anyone over or setting fire to the place? Must be a first.”

The comment set Logan’s fuse ablaze. This chick really was something else! “You wanna know something, Violet,” he replied, emphasizing the fake name with contempt. “You know why I cringed when you grabbed my thigh before?” Logan’s voice rose as his blood began to pump. “I got stabbed by one of those freaks at the Graveyard Saturday night while doing everything I could to stop them from hurting anyone else, yourself included! Then, after I find you working here, I didn’t even make one little comment because, despite everything, some little voice in my head said ‘don’t be an asshole’. But I guess it’s par for the course eh!? I try to be nice and I get raked over the coals for it. I don’t even know why I bother…I should have walked the other way when I saw you across the room!”

Nice!?” Meredith rose to her feet too, and with her six inch heels she was a good couple taller than he was. Logan’s anger fuelled her own, so much that she forgot where she was completely. “You’ve been fucking stalking me for the past week, then you show up here asking for my name and when I try and keep things professional you act like I’ve grown a second head! And if you did get hurt the other night, well…” her fiery indignation faltered for a moment, “...I’m sorry about that, but you got to admit, Logan, trouble sure as hell follows you around! Or is that just another coincidence too huh? Muggers, arsonists, armed thugs shooting up a night club-”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Charlie held out his hands, separating the pair before they started tearing strips off one another. His face was as red as a beetroot and he glared at Meredith with barely concealed anger. “What’s going on here? Violet?” he lowered his voice, grasping hold of her arm and dragging her off to one side. “What in Sam Hill do you think you’re doing?! I’ve warned you before about shooting your mouth off girl-”

Meredith took a deep breath, brushing her hair back with one hand. “But.. Charlie he-”

“I don’t want to hear it!” Charlie turned back to Logan, straightening his jacket collar. “Sir, I’m terribly sorry, I can assure you I’ll deal with this… situation personally. Violet here… well,” he flashed Logan a conspiratorial grin, “she’s young, feisty… in need of a firm hand, a good… man to break her in, know what I mean? I’m sure…” he turned to give Meredith another fierce glare at all her huffs and snorts of protest, “she would be willing to apologise… profusely.”

Logan’s face was flush, and he took a deep breath to calm down. The conversation had definitely turned heated and he now realized they must have been causing a bit of a scene.

Looking between the stripper and manager, he contemplated the man‘s words: …needs to be broken in The comment was disgusting and degrading and it made Logan realize something. If this was the world Violet lived in, no wonder she had a chip on her shoulder. He wouldn’t even let Balthazar speak that way to him, let alone some loathsome nobody like this guy.

“You know what,” Logan said, locking eyes with the girl as he debated what to do. Man, he couldn’t stand her but… “it was my fault,” he said turning to the manager. “I guess I drank too much and was a bit too forward”.

Meredith’s cheeks flamed and she hated it, hated that she felt indebted to this guy she barely even knew. Better that Charlie had docked her wages, or fired her - not that he would have, he was all mouth around the clientele, but ‘his girls’ were how he made his living and Meredith had too many regulars that might follow her if she suddenly started dancing elsewhere.

Charlie watched them both, clearly not buying the ‘drunk’ card. He was pretty sharp when it came to his club, he probably knew how many drinks most of the guys in here had bought, not to mention how much got tucked into a girl’s g-string, or who paid for a lap dance and all those who hung back trying to get the freebies without flashing the cash. Still he nodded, loosening his hold on Meredith’s arm.

“Well, if you’re sure, sir. If you’ve had enough to drink tonight, how about I get one of my girls to give you a lap dance - on the house, naturally. You’re new tonight, right? I’d hate for your first visit to end on such a sour note.”

He placed a hand around Meredith’s waist, pulling her forward. “Violet here is one of my most popular dancers. These are 100% natural you know?” Charlie gestured to her tits and Meredith grit her teeth against the indignity of being showcased in front of Logan like a piece of steak. “And a great ass too,” he slapped her backside for good measure, chuckling, “or if you prefer blondes, Candy and Angel are both available for your viewing pleasure.”

“It’s cool, but I think I’m going to take off,” Logan said, still looking at the girl. For sure he wouldn’t have minded taking her down a notch, but at that moment, the playing field wasn’t even.

“Suit yourself buddy,” Charlie replied, deciding not to waste anymore time on the guy.

Logan waited until he was out of earshot. “You’re welcome by the way.”

Meredith scowled, folding her arms over her chest even though the gesture in no way provided any kind of cover. This guy was unbelievable! He‘d almost gotten her fired and he wanted thanking!? “Yeah, well… I didn’t ask you to do any of that.”

Logan sighed, Hell’s flames would have a hard time melting the frigidness out of this bitch.

“Was just trying to save you some trouble,” he said, figuring now was a good a time as any to leave. The night had been a complete failure; from losing the demon to running into the Harpee again, it all just…sucked. and if I see her again, it would be too soon.

Having already turned to leave, Logan paused and spun back around. “And Violet,” he said, a smile sneaking it’s way onto his lips. “With a face like this, do you think I’d need to stalk girls?” Before the girl had time to blow a gasket, he flashed the stripper his pearly whites, winked and walked off.

“I’m sure Ted Bundy said the same thing!” Meredith growled after him, holding in a frustrated scream and stamping her foot before turning in the opposite direction and stalking back into the club.

2021-05-20 23:52 – Thursday “An Evening in the Market”


Finding the Grathoki Market proved as easy as it usually did. Long experience taught Jasmin how to deal with them in her own way: they would drive a harder bargain with her, but still be fair. One simply had to remember that one paid for everything obtained from them; and so finding out where a bookseller who dealt in certain books might be based was as simple as finding one who knew where specific sellers did business, and giving him a small fee upfront for the location.
Jasmin pulled her car onto the side of the street, paying the parking meter, as she went into the used book store. A man looked up from behind the counter as she came in, glasses resting on his head. “Can I help you, miss?”
She kept her voice light and cheerful as she spoke. “I'm here to see Mr. Grath about a book.”
The other watched her, and nodded, pointing towards a door. “Through there. Make sure you remain polite.” Jasmin nodded, leaving a small payment on the counter, then adding a second bill to the side. “I don't understand. What's this for?”
“Your discresion in not mentioning I was here.” He nodded, as she passed through to the next area beyond. It wasn't busy tonight, but the books here were bound in a variety of materials, many of them quite old in appearance. She waited patiently for her turn to talk to the Grathoki dealer, whose name nobody, it seemed, could afford to buy aside from calling him merely, “Mr. Grath.”
When she finally reached him, he did a momentary recoil, veiny blue-skin striking her immediately. “You, vampire. What brings you here?”
The woman looked about the books, and back towards the dealer. “Something I am attempting to acquire. I have been told that you have a reputation for locating hard-to-find texts. Name your price and time.”
“How long, depends on offer. How much, depends on what.”
Jasmin smiled to herself. Of course, he wasn't going to reveal his cards first. It needed a baseline. “I am told that you have access to texts from the Watcher's Council.”
That got the Grathoki's attention fully on her. Vampires, as a rule, tried not to attract that kind of attention. Not without an angle, or something important. Immediately, in his head, the Grathoki jacked up his price accordingly. “Council texts highly sought. Very dangerous to have. That will cost you more.”
“I understand that,” she spoke evenly, almost biting out the word. Now began the dance, of letting the Grathoki know that she wasn't trying to fleece it, appearing desperate enough to pay the undoubtedly high fee. Moving to his shop desk, she drummed her fingers lightly. “The text that I am looking for was reportedly recovered in the fifteenth century. Written by a vampire named Kadmus.”
“Kadmus, Kadmus....” the Grathoki spoke. “The name sounds familiar. Religious context, I believe?”
She smiled to him lightly. At the very least, it meant he was familiar with the contents of what she was looking for. “There is a book of his that I would like to acquire.”
Very dangerous book, that is.” It considered her more closely now, studiously, with a knowing look. “If one had knowledge of such a book, it is one whose value would be registered in the tens of thousands, minimum.”
“If one had such a knowledge,” she repeated, considering him. She patted the oversized purse she carried. She calculated out the likely price in her head, and felt her heart sink. This would, she knew, run into the kind of cash that she couldn't easily move without drawing attention. Not that quickly. No, she would have to trade.
Jasmin reached into her purse, pulling out a book wrapped in brown paper. “If one had the work of a Watcher, could one acquire it?” The Grathoki reached out for the book, but she pulled back. “I show you mine if you show me yours.”
It considered her again, before moving down several shelves, and recovering a book bound in leather, bringing it back. The Grathoki opened the first pages as she looked over it. The two traded books, each looking through the initial pages. Finally, the Grathoki spoke up. “You offering a trade, of book for book?”
“And money,” she added hastily, making a couple hundred dollars appear on the table. “I trust you won't speak of how you acquired that tome, yes?”
The Grathoki smiled. “No. This one much more valuable. Much.”
“Only to you,” she returned, slipping the book into her bag. As she left the place, she felt surprised and elated, felt guided by fate, as she made her way out to the car. A sense of elation ran through her as well.

2021-05-21 - Friday 07:25 - An Interesting Conversation

The Office of Balthazar Romano

…Police still have no comment on the recent spree of murders which have overtaken New York…

“This has something to do with what happened at that party doesn’t it,” Logan asked, as Balthazar clicked the remote control to shut off the 70inch TV in his office.

“And why would you think that?” The sorcerer answered, seemingly preoccupied with something else. He kept checking his watch and glancing out his massive window at the street below.

“Call it a hunch. We both know the two guys at the Graveyard were not ‘normal’ and when it comes to the ‘abnormal’ you’ve always got your ear to the ground”.

Balthazar’s face grew cold in annoyance. “What does it matter if I know something or not. Does this crime wave concern you? Perhaps you should channel some of that interest into doing your job better,” he snapped. Logan had failed in finding the Grathoki demon, and because of it, Balthazar was no closer in finding that damn gem. Only when it was in his possession could he get control over the situation afflicting NY - and when Romano wasn’t in control, he wasn’t happy.

Logan kept quiet for a moment, not sure how to respond. His pride couldn’t stomach being patronized but with Balthazar he didn’t have much of choice. Plus, the man had a point. He had lost the demon, there was no denying that. “I told you, I’ll find him.”

Romano waved his hand dismissively, “Don’t bother. You’ve been out of step these days and it got me thinking, maybe I should just keep you to simple bodyguard work. It seems the other assignments are a bit too much for you to handle”.

The young man’s teeth grinded as he fought to keep his tongue in check. “Whatever you want, sir.”

A sudden voice from Romano’s intercom interrupted as security announced the arrival of another guest, “Sir, Tabitha is here to see you”.

“It’s time to get your head back in the game, you understand,” Romano said as he glanced at the door, making it obvious that it was time for Logan to leave.

Without another word, the bodyguard nodded. As he left the room, he passed the grizzly, old oracle. The woman made no effort to hide the disapproving look on her face as she gave Logan the once over.

What’s your problem

As Tabitha shut the door of Balthazar’s office behind her, a small voice in Logan’s mind told him to hold back. Normally, he would never have thought to spy on his boss, but the feeling in his gut was undeniable. Quiet as a mouse, he took a step back towards the door.

“This is a dangerous game to be playing Balthazar, even for you.”

“With risk comes rewards my darling. You can only win big when you bet big.”

“True, but I have a bad feeling and you know I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Logan could hear the old man laugh. “A feeling is all you have. Come now, you’re more skilled than to rely on just ‘feelings’.

“Yes, but things have always been foggy with that one. I told you from the beginning”.

“Well once we find ‘The Eye’ we wont have to worry about it will we?”

“Yes but who knows how long it will take to find? And the longer he’s cooped up, the more his nature is going to come out and the harder it’s going to be to keep the spells intact”.

What is this all about?! Logan wondered. Were they talking about him? None of it made sense. A strange sensation of dread washed over him. Soemthing told him Balthazar knew more about the murders than he let on and just what was this ‘Eye’ he wanted so much. Before he could give it more thought, the conversation in the room came to a halt.

Shit With seemingly inhuman speed, Logan dashed to the stairwell, disappearing into it before Tabitha had time to open the door to scan the hallway.

“Something amiss my dear?” Balthazar asked.

“No…everything is fine”.

Only a few steps down, Logan stumbled as he suddenly became extremely dizzy. Feel like im going to hurl…steadying himself against the railing, he took a few deep breaths to regain his composure. What had he overheard? He tried to think back but things were suddenly cloudy. “What am I doing in the stairwell?”

2021-05-21 Friday - Central Park - "Running Commentary"

2021-05-21 Friday 09:10 – Central Park

The muscles in Logan’s legs cried out for relief, but he ignored the pain and continued to press onwards, as he passed a group of fellow joggers. Sure it was tiring, exhausting actually, but when he ran, Logan’s mind would clear and after the last few weeks, an empty mind was a bit of a relief. Balthazar was on edge since the shooting at ‘The Graveyard’ and was taking it out on everyone, and Logan was no exception. When Romano found out that he had lost track of the Grathoki earlier this week, the mage screamed until his face turned blue. There was more to Balthazar’s rage than just losing the Grathoki though, but damnit if Logan could figure it out. Lots of whispered calls and meetings packed his boss’s schedule these days and more often than not, he didn’t want Logan around for them. What good is having a body guard when he’s not allowed anywhere near the body he’s guarding? Things didn’t add up, but Logan wasn’t paid to question. Hell, as much as his instincts were warning him that there was weirdness afoot, his couldn’t help but enjoy the extra free time he was now allowed. Before his job was pretty much 24/7, but now he had whole afternoons free. He even managed to take Cadee for a coffee on the Wednesday morning.

Chiedra glanced up surreptitiously from her stretch as Logan approached on the path. *Bout time.* She'd been waiting nearly a half an hour in this spot.
The research that Niall had done had turned up some of Logan's regular habits, particularly that he enjoyed jogging through Central park a few afternoons a week. Chiedra had staked out the park the last couple of days, hoping to "stumble upon" him. Today, apparently, her luck had finally come in. Chiedra waited until Logan passed her, and then dropped into a loping stride that soon brought her beside him.  Casually, Chiedra turned her head towards Logan as they jogged in unison. "Hey, don't I know you?" she asked the young man.

The man snapped out of his reverie, caught off guard by the fellow jogger. Without slowing his pace, he turned, smiling politely until he noticed the strange tattooes on her face. His mind instantly raced back to the shooting at the Graveyard. He remembered seeing the same markings on a girl that night and something told him, you didn’t find more than one lady with geometric shapes on her cheeks. Strangely, even with the tats, she was attractive in a bad chick kinda way.

“You were at the Graveyard that night, weren’t you?”

Chiedra had known from the moment she'd agreed to this scheme with Niall that she'd have to tread carefully. After their first meeting, Logan was naturally suspicious. So, with that in mind, she nodded and smiled her most disarming smile. "Yeah," she replied. "I thought you looked familiar. I think maybe you and that older guy were having some sort of disagreement. Weren't you hurt or something?"

“It wasn’t anything serious,” he answered dismissively. If she had seen the extent of his wound, she would probably question how he was able to run less than a week later and Logan did not want to have that conversation. “and the old guy was my boss. I think he was just frazzled by what happened. Was pretty crazy wasn’t it”.

Chiedra snorted. "Pretty crazy is an understatement," she replied. "I was there with my boss too actually. Never thought work would turn into a," she made air quotes around the next words, "'massacre at a popular nightclub'. That's not my normal nights work. Although when you work as a bodyguard, you do see all sorts of things, right?"

“You’re a bodyguard?” Logan answered in disbelief. “That’s crazy, I’m a bodyguard also.” The second the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. He was usually good at being discreet, but the coincidence was so surprising that discretion went to the wind. There was that word again ‘coincidence’. Something in the pit of his stomach was doing flips. Was it warning him or was he just excited to have found someone with something in common with him. “So which big wig were you watching?”

"Ricky Chiang," Chiedra answered. There was no reason to lie about that. It was too easy for him to check. Besides, this was definitely an in. "You know him? His family are a big deal in and around Chinatown. Although, honestly, he's a total creep."

Bodyguard for a one of the Obsidian Blades, this girl must be one serious badass, he thought. This time, he knew playing dumb was a better plan. If he acknowledged having more knowledge than he should on seedy crime families, it may cast a suspicious light on his boss. “Can’t say I’ve heard of him. I work for a big Wall Street hot shot,” he half lied, thinking it better to answer the question before she got nosey. “Don’t really see much action, but it pays decently. So I gotta ask,” he said, as he flashed his devastating smile, “how does someone like you end up in being some guys bodyguard. Seems like an odd career choice”.

"Someone like me?" Chiedra asked, a hint of danger in her voice. "I'm not sure what you mean? Is it that I'm a woman that is giving your pause? Or could it be...how did Ricky put it?...that I'm smokin' hot?"

The man couldn’t hide his smile. He was known to be cocky and it seemed this girl was cast from the same mold. “How about a bit of both,” he answered playfully. There was just something so damn attractive about confident, fiery women – maybe it had something to do with the strange exhilaration he got from fighting, who knew. “I’m Logan by the way.”

"A pleasure, Logan," Chiedra responded, grinning at him. She let her gaze wander his form deliberately before continuing. "My name's Chiedra, but my friends call me Kiki. I hope you will too."

“Then Kiki it is,” he winked. “You really are a walking contradiction,” the man chuckled as he upped the pace of his jog, Chiendra easily following suit. “Kiki has got to be the least fear inspiring name in the history of the body-guarding profession, which means you’ve got to be one serious bad-ass to have gained any credibility. Should I be worried?” Logan wore that arrogant smirk that fit him so well as the two briefly locked eyes.

"Worried? About whether or not I can kick your ass, as you so eloquently put it?" Chiedra teased. "I don't know. Guess that depends what you're into. Personally, I'm more of a drinks and dinner kind of girl...although, I'd be okay with sparring sometime."

Chiedra once more let her gaze roam over him in frank approval. "We could get a little close and...sweaty," she all but purred. It was no hardship to flirt with this guy, and it would make Niall's day as well. Sometimes Chiedra loved her life.

“I have a bit of a rule that I don’t hit women, so drinks are probably a better idea than sparring. And I think we can consider this our first close and sweaty encounter,” he said, as he used his wrist band to wipe his forehead. Putting the jog on hold, he came to a stop and pulled out his mobile. “Fancy meeting up again, I promise I can clean up nice.” For a moment, he wondered if he had played his cards right. He’d been out with Cadee a few times and things were going well with her. Don’t think she’d take it well to find out I’m going out with other girls…. Then again, they weren’t really serious yet, and Logan’s red blood was definitely getting the better of him. Pushing the thoughts from his mind, he smiled, “So, going to give me your number?”

"Was there ever any doubt?" Chiedra asked. Cocking her head to one side and smirking, Chiedra rattled off her digits. "Call me, anytime. I like drinks. I like dancing too. And I'm pretty sure I'm gonna like you."

Chiedra reached out and trailed one hand down Logan's sweaty bicep. She stepped closer to him, brushing her body against his as she invaded his personal space right there on the busy jogging path. "And I'm usually real good about recognizing what I like when I see it."

Logan’s heart was racing and he wasn’t completely convinced it was from the workout. He slipped his phone back into his pocket and shot Chiendra a final grin before he started to jog away. Only a few steps away, Logan looked back, and called over his shoulder. “Enjoy this view then”.

2021-05-21 12:10 - Friday "Some juicy news"

Meredith bounced lightly from foot to foot, stretching her hamstrings while occasionally glancing at her watch. Cadee had paged her last night and they’d arranged to meet up at Central Park for lunch. Meredith had a free period before her next lecture and she’d planned a short run anyway, so it all worked out very well. Cadee hadn’t gone into detail about what info she had, but if she wanted to meet away from The Slainte, it had to be something pretty juicy. Right?

Her eyes scanned the various paths snaking off in all directions. At midday, Central Park was bustling with activity, cyclists and other joggers cut their own tracks over the green, while office workers enjoyed the sunshine and shared a sandwich on a park bench. Meredith’s nose twitched, catching the scent of fried onions from a hotdog vendor, though she couldn’t even see one. In New York there was always a hotdog vendor somewhere.

“Come on Cadee,” she muttered, her stomach growling in protest.

Cadee saw Meredith in the distance, near a fountain, as she stopped on a high spot of the park pathway.  Smiling, she stood on the bike pedals, bent forward, and lunged  easily and swiftly towards her, relishing in the warm May breeze while doing so. She had spent five years working as a bike courier, and she felt as comfortable on the bike as she did on foot. As she rode her Trek down the path, she promised herself to make some time for riding, just for fun.

She reached the other girl in a couple of minutes, and smiled brightly. Stepping down from her bike, she greeted Meredith with enthusiasm, trying to cover her nervousness. 

“Hello, Meri! What a day, right?” Then she signaled her bike’s attachable basket. “I hope you’re hungry, ‘cause I brought enough for a battalion.”

“Great, ’cos I’m starving!” Meredith blurted without even thinking. She was glad to see the other woman, Cadee was always like a ray of sunshine on a rainy day, which probably accounted for why she was so popular at The Slainte. But Meredith’s attention was pretty much taken up with the contents of her basket, she really was hungry, she always seemed to be hungry lately.

 “There’s a picnic area just over there,” she pointed behind a clump of trees. “And you can tell me all about this breaking story you have for me.”

She laughed, and nodded. “Lead the way, miss” she said, as she started to walk next to Meredith.  “I’m sure you’ll be interested in what I have to tell you.”

Obviously more familiar with that area of the park than Cadee was, the brunette led her to a clearing between the trees, close to the pathway, but at the same time, isolated enough to have a nice, private picnic.

“This is perfect.  How did you find this spot?” Se said, looking around. Incredibly, they were the only ones in the area. *Excellent for bizarre revelations, too* Cadee thought, as she extended a tablecloth on the ground. She had known she wouldn’t go wrong bringing food, Meredith was probably ravenous.

“The news is good, but the food is better. I made it myself, I take cooking lessons, you know? I want to have my own restaurant some day.” Then she started taking treats from the basket. “Tortilla de papas, club sandwiches, ham tapas appetizers, chicken salpicón, and good solid roast beef with potato salad… hope you like Spanish.”

“Wow,” Meredith’s eyes widened as Cadee lay a selection of cartons out on the blanket. The smell alone was amazing, a hundred times better than any hotdog, in fact her mouth was salivating. “The best I can rustle up is pasta, and whatever else is in the cupboard. Cupboard Pasta, it’s my speciality.” Meredith sat down and snagged a slice of the tortilla, devouring it in three easy bites. “Hmmm, this is amazing,” she mumbled appreciatively between mouthfuls, “you’ve got some talent, Cadee. What the hell are you still doing waitressing?”

Cadee watched Meri gobble down her lunch and laughed. She really loved to feed people, enjoyed their pleasure. “Money matters,” she answered, matter-of-factly, it was easier to answer that than explaining the real reasons, and it was true, anyway. She grabbed a club sandwich and took a bit. “I’m saving the tips, I’ll get there eventually.”

They ate in silence for a couple of minutes, time enough for Meri to deplete the contents of most boxes, and Cadee to think how to go on. Better start with the news.  “I’m glad you got out safely on Sat, Meri. I was very relieved when you answered my page.” She said finally. “Actually, what I have to tell you is related to that.”

Meredith nodded, chewing a forkful of chicken salpicón slowly. “Now that was one psychotic night, you should hear some of the things I’ve heard. One guy swore to hell and back that zombies had attacked the club, kept rambling about guys with their faces rotting off,” Meredith shuddered, “obviously a big Lucinda Graves fan. I have my own theories of course, so tell me, whaddaya know?”

“No zombies, that’s for sure.” She said, happy to be able to deny that truthfully, whatever those things were, they weren’t zombies. “But strange enough for the SCU to poke its nose.”

At Meredith’s puzzled look, she asked “You don’t know about them?” The girl shook her head, her mouth full, and Cadee went on. “Ok, SCU stands for ‘Special Crimes Unit’. They are regulars at the Slàinte, their offices stayed in the old Police Headquarters on Center Street, just a couple of blocks away. They are like… the X-files of NYPD. If a crime is strange enough, who’s you gonna call?”

She waved her hands, dismissingly. She didn’t want to sound too strange herself, not just as yet. “Usually there’s a logical explanation for everything, of course. Some psycho that believes himself a vampire, enough to kill girls with a syringe, or a burglar that covers himself as a ‘ghost’ in an old building” Those two were true too, she had heard the cops laugh about them.  Not all cases were true supernatural stuff.

“Or three strangely deformed guys rampaging into a nightclub…”

As Cadee talked, Meredith had taken out her notebook, scribbling down notes and circling SCU in bold. It kinda made sense and it was probably an excellent way of rounding up all the kooks and cranks - and there were a lot of both in New York.

 “Thanks for the tip, so you recognised some of the cops at the Graveyard? I don’t suppose you could throw a name my way?”

Cadee reflected a little on that. It wouldn’t do any harm, would it? Meredith would probably do her own investigation on the police unit and Pablo Sandoval was in the payroll.

“Actually, I can. Detective Juan Pablo Sandoval, he’s top man in there, and a regular at the Slàinte. I think he was just attending the party, though. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.”

Cadee smiled, she was getting there with Meredith without disclosing any ‘private’ information still, but she had some news she could share, she had been busy snooping around. 

“However, all that is public news, you wanted some juicy info.” She paused for drama, and went on. “The SCU believes one of the men was the leader of a small gang from Hell’s kitchen: the New West Berlins. They deal in drugs, girls, firearms, you name it. The guy’s name is Drago, but I couldn’t get his surname.”

Meredith’s pencil stopped scratching out her notes on the paper. Drago… that was the name of the guy Balthazar Romano had been talking to. So her suspicions had been right, he was a gang leader, the New West Berlins. She’d read a few articles about them and another gang operating out of Chinatown, The Blades, or something like that.

Without looking up, Meredith slowly jotted a few more notes down before casually asking: “You ever hear about a guy called Balthazar Romano?”

Cadee hand stilled midair to her mouth, the ham tapa she was eating forgotten in it. Bathazar Romano again? First Jasmin’s warning and now this. Besides, how the hell had Meredith got to know Balthazar Romano? That was no good news, one thing was to give her information to investigate the NWBs, washed-out as they were, and another a VIP of the supernatural world like Romano. She swallowed, before answering.  Probably the truth –or as close to the truth as she could get–  would be the best way to go.

“Romano is bad news, Meri. The man is dangerous, more so because he covers his smoky business under a layer of legitimacy. The cops have never been able to nail him.” She was worried and she didn’t mind showing it, besides, there was something in Meredith’s casual way that scared her. “Please promise me you won’t get into that…”

*Now that’s…. interesting.* Meredith looked up, surprise clear in her features. “You sure hear a lot at The Slainte,” she frowned slightly then shrugged, “I’m well aware of what kind of guy he is, you can add primo-sleaze-bag to his list of not-so redeeming features too. I have a lead on a story that might just give the cops something to nail him with, but it’s nothing solid, just theory. So don’t worry, I’ll keep my distance, if only to avoid him hitting on me again.”

“Good,” she said, relaxing. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to sound all mommy-like, but that man gives me the creeps.  He hit on you? Disgusting.” she shuddered, the thought of that slimy old man and Meredith was really disturbing. 

Meredith knocked the cap off a bottle of soda and took a gulp. “I think he tried to spike my drink or something, it was the weirdest thing, for a moment I actually considered leaving with him. You know, like it almost seemed like a good idea!? I swear I thought he’d slipped me a mickey but then all of a sudden, I was myself again, so I figure I had a momentary lapse of sanity, right?”

She shrugged, leaning back on her elbows and enjoying the midday sun for a moment. “Don’t worry about me, I’ve dealt with plenty of sleaze-balls in my time. Besides, if my hunch is right, he’ll get his soon enough.”

Cadee watched Meredith for a little while, thinking about her words. Some kind of drug in her drink was a possibility, but given Romano’s skill, a spell was more like it. It talked about Meredith’s strength that she had been able to fight it and not ended in the man’s bed. That was good, she’d need her strength if she was to survive the next full moon.  

Then she frowned. “Do you have something on the guy? You mentioned a lead on a story.”

Meredith eyed the other girl for a moment before shaking her head. It’s not that she figured Cadee would scoop her story, but trust was nothing something that came naturally to her. “Just theories and circumstance at the moment, the girlfriend and mom of an employee of his were brutally murdered about a week ago. Then he just happens to be at a party which is the target of a gang related attack?” Meredith shrugged again. She decided not to mention that she’d overheard Romano talking to Drago, or the red gem she’d taken from the girl’s bedroom that Romano seemed so eager to retrieve. She’d like to think she could trust Cadee, but the truth was you just never knew. Besides, if she did get into trouble, the last thing Meredith wanted was to drag the other girl into it by association. No, it was safer all round if she kept the majority of what she knew to herself until she had concrete evidence.

“It could be coincidence, but Romano is the common factor in both events, plus we’ve already established that he’s as slippery as an eel, not to mention a total sleaze and a potential date-rapist.”

Cadee nodded, not wanting to press Meri, but taking a mental note on what she had said. She would investigate about those related killings, hopefully she’ll get the names of the murdered women by herself.

“It makes sense,” she said finally. The gang part, the employee, the killings, not to mention magic –something that Meri ignored but she didn’t; those creeps in the party had to be powered by magic, and Romano was a sorcerer.  “Too many coincidences.”

Then she laughed, “you probably believe I’m a little snoop myself, right?”

“Though in my case it works to my benefit,” at Cadee’s confused frown, Meredith smiled, continuing. “Well, you’d be a lousy source otherwise. Besides, I intend to make snooping my career, so, you’re in good company.”

“Fair enough,” Cadee replied, and leant back herself, closing her eyes, an arm resting on her face. The sun was warm and there was a nice breeze; the sounds of the people in the park sounded far away, so far it was almost as if they were alone in the world.  She wanted to extend the easy moment as much as she could, forget about magic, zombies or werewolves;  forget they weren’t just a couple of ordinary girls having a picnic in Central Park. Be normal for once in her life.

Too bad that wasn’t possible.

2021-05-21 12:39 - Friday "Cadee's Warning"

*Just how the hell do you tell somebody she’s been bitten by a werewolf?* Cadee asked herself for the thousandth time that week, after she had made up her mind about the matter.

“You show your colours first, girl. ‘Look, I’m not normal myself: I heal fast, I am strong!’” had been Anne’s answer, accompanied by a very silly performance of cutting veins and bending spoons. “And then you point out the changes she must be suffering.” If she could, she would have made an internet survey or a ballot!

Thing was, she was alone with Meredith, planning to tell the other woman some news she couldn’t possibly believe, so… what was the point?

*She needs to know,* she answered herself for the thousandth time too. *She won’t believe it, but if I can’t help her, at least she’ll know what happened… and she’ll know she can count on me afterwards.* It wasn’t much, but it was all she could do.

Cadee turned towards the other girl, who was enjoying the sunshine just like she had and grinned. “I see you don’t have the bandage on your arm anymore; you heal fast.”

Meredith looked down at her arm, fingering the light scar that curved around her forearm. “It still aches, actually I thought it’d scar more… thank-god it didn’t right? Last thing I need is some ugly ass scar…” *because sometimes I feel like this body is the only thing I have going for me* was the unspoken thought that would have finished that sentence. Meredith continued to touch the scar in silence for a moment before smiling as she returned her attention to Cadee.

“I’d not really noticed, to be honest, the healing thing. I guess that surgeon did a pretty good job, huh? Maybe I shouldn’t bitch about medical bills so much.”

“Well, it looked pretty nasty when I saw it, so I guess you shouldn’t. How did you get it?” Cadee asked, even if she already knew the answer.

“Oh, some huge dog bit me, I was jogging around here actually,” Meredith gestured around the park, “at night, I know, dumb idea, but it’s nice at night. Really… peaceful, and I’m careful, I always carry a knife- not that I’m some freaky knife wielding maniac, but a girl has to be careful, right? Anyway, this dog, I think it was wild, it just flew out of the bushes and-” she held up her arm. “I banged my head, in fact, I’m not really sure what happened next, except this young couple crouching over me asking if I was okay.”

“Hope you don’t believe I’m a knife wielding maniac myself…” Cadee said, grinning as she sat down and raised her well worn jeans to take her own knife from its ankle holster. “A girl has to be careful.” Then she frowned. “I remember something about a big dog in the park, the SCU was investigating it.”

“The SCU? Why would be they be interested in some dog… oh wait! Lemme guess…” Meredith laughed, thinking for a moment. Seeing that knife strapped around Cadee’s ankle made her feel strangely happy. If a pretty, popular girl like Cadee thought it was okay to take that sort of precaution, then maybe she wasn’t so odd herself.

“Um… okay, so they would be looking for dog sized aliens or.. Oh wait, wait! A werewolf! That’s what it was!” Meredith grinned, laughing and taking another swig from her soda. “It was a full moon too!. Oooooh, I guess that makes me a werewolf too! Damn, I‘d better stock up on those home waxing kits! Extreme body hair coming my way!”

Cadee grinned again, but got serious before jumping for the window Meredith had opened. “I don’t know. Have you been ravenously hungry lately? What about mood changes, sudden anger? Are you stronger than usual? We’ve already stated you heal faster…”

“Yeah, well…” Meredith laughed, brushing her hair out of her eyes. It took her a moment to realise that Cadee had stopped smiling, that in fact her face was intently serious and watching her every move closely. Meredith sat up suddenly, her back stiff and that last mouthful of tortilla sitting heavy in her stomach. Was she joking? She certainly looked serious enough… though she could just be trying it on, pretending to be a kook to freak her out. A prank, but not a nice one. “Come on, Cadee…” she said after a minute, “don’t take the piss.”

Cadee noticed Meredith’s agitation and forced a smile. “Look, Meri. Just listen to me for a second before biting my head off, okay? I wasn’t completely honest with you earlier. The SCU investigate scams, yes, but sometimes they investigate the real thing too. And there is a werewolf running wild in Central Park. I know I can’t prove it to you, and you’re probably thinking I’m a nut job right now, but…”

Okay, she was getting there, but Meredith was reacting exactly as she’d expected. Maybe Anne’s approach could soften things a little… *or scare the crap out of her, but, what the hell.*


She took her knife from out of its holster again, and opened a gash in her forearm, long, but not very deep, enough to soak the picnic blanket in blood though. Quickly, before the other girl would start shouting or tried to stop the haemorrhage, she extended her arm to her and said. “Shhhh, Meri, please don’t shout. Look!”

As the horrified girl watched it, mesmerized, the bleeding stopped and her flesh started to restore itself. A couple of minutes later, her arm looked perfectly fit, bloody, but fit.

Meredith scrambled up, rolling back onto the balls of her sneakers in a crouched position. “What the fu-” she looked around but no one was within earshot to be able to hear them. “Cadee…” Meredith hesitantly ran a finger over the other girl’s bloody arm, but there was no cut, not even a scratch. She continued to frown in puzzlement until realisation finally dawned. “Oh, good one,” she said with a grin, “but I think they showed that one on Fox, Breaking the Magician’s Code. It’s a dummy knife with a channel for fake blood, right?”

It was Cadee’s time to stare, of all the reactions, all the things that Meri could say, that was… just incredible.

“It’s no dummy… Be careful, it’s sharp,” she said, when she managed to speak, as she presented the knife to the other girl, handle first, but Meredith didn’t move from her spot. Frustrated, Cadee moved a little forward, but the girl just drew back. “Please, Meri, I’m not joking and this is not an act. I just wanted to show you that I’m not an ordinary girl either... there’s not a rational explanation for me, or the cut.”

She wasn’t going to take the knife, Meredith wasn’t even sure why, but everything inside was screaming at her not to. “Maybe you’re not ordinary…” *No, you’re a fucking weirdo, that’s what you are!* she thought, a slight edge of panic making her breathing just a little more heavy. Cadee had seemed so normal, but she was obviously seriously mental. “But I am, just an ordinary girl and nothing more. What? You do some stupid trick with a knife and I’m suppose to believe that I’m a- a… what? A werewolf? Because I got bitten by some stray dog? You‘re disturbed,” she tapped a finger against her forehead, “in the head.”

*Well, this is more like it, * Cadee thought as she watched Meredith rant about her mental health. She wasn’t really hearing what she said, it all seemed a slow motion scene in a movie. *Were you really expecting something different?* She wasn’t but it hurt every time it happened. She liked Meredith; it wasn’t nice to have her believe she was crazy.

She thought frantically, trying to find a way for the other to believe her, even if she knew it wasn’t possible. Meredith was protecting herself using the ‘logical explanation’ approach; she’d seen it happen often enough. Vampire victims who insisted they had been attacked by scarred crooks or ghost sightings that were explained away as ‘holograms’. If she followed Anne’s advice and bent a spoon, she’ll probably say it was made of Plasticine.

She let the woman blow off a little steam, and then spoke again, trying to sound calm, have her actions, at least, not be those of a lunatic. She was going for plan B –which had been the only viable one all along.

“Listen to me. I understand you not believing me, but just listen to me.” She said, looking intently into the agitated woman’s eye. “You want to be an investigative journalist, so investigate . Research, gather data and then reach a conclusion. One: you were bitten by a big dog. On a full moon. Two: you’ve been ravenous lately. Third: your healing rates have risen. I don’t know about the mood changes, but I’m sure they are there, along with some heightened senses and reflexes too, if I’m not wrong.” She sighed, “can you honestly tell me none of this is true?”

“It’s insane, is what it is…” Meredith tried to calm herself, starting with her breathing which was heavy and ragged. She didn’t know what was upsetting her the most, the things that Cadee was saying, or the fact that she was obviously a very sick girl. So what if some of what she’d said was true? So she seemed to be more hungry than usual… that could mean anything, diabetes, hyperthyroidism… even pregnancy. Not that the last seemed likely considering…

And what if her bite wound had healed quickly? Some people did heal faster than others that wasn’t so strange. She was healthy and young, why shouldn’t she heal fast? And the stuff about mood swings… well that was just a lucky guess and a symptom of being a pre-menstrual woman. As for heightened senses and reflexes… well, sure she had noticed that she could hear better, and her sense of smell did seem more acute… but did that automatically mean she was a werewolf? The mere thought was absurd!

“Cadee,” she couldn’t help but feel angry. Meredith had spent her whole life feeling like an outsider. First she was the orphan girl without any parents, the girl who screamed and wet the bed at night, the girl who’d had three failed adoptions. Then she was the frustrated foster child, passed from one family to another, never at any school long enough to make friends so what was the point in trying? Then she was the attention-seeking teen, making up stories about her foster father who touched her in places that felt wrong, that made her feel dirty, then called her a liar and a troublemaker.

She’d spent the past ten years trying desperately to fit in, to be normal. It was all she ever wanted - the kind of ordinary, boring life that most people took for granted. What Cadee was saying was mad, it was ludicrous, but it did make Meredith feel that the gulf between herself and that ordinary life she longed for grow even wider.

“Cadee,” she said again, barely able to keep herself calm, “I really think you need some professional help. I mean, you obviously really believe all this, for whatever reason… Do you have any medication you should be taking? Or is there someone I can call for you?”

Cadee closed her eyes, it shouldn’t bother her so much to be treated this way, but it did; she had anticipated it, predicted every word, but yet, it hurt. She could hear the fear in Meredith’s words, disguised as anger, and the anger too, and hated herself for being the cause. She felt fortunate for knowing the real word, being part of it; even if she had had to hide herself for most of her life, wander around half the nation, fleeing some not-so-imaginary danger in her mother’s mind. She liked being who she was, what she was… most of the time. At that moment, she hated it.

Finally, she opened her eyes and watched Meredith for a second before answering her. “I’m sorry, I really am.” She stood up, and raised her bike from the ground, then she smiled weakly to the other girl. “I understand if you don’t want to speak to me again, but please remember: I’ll be here for you when the time comes… just call me, ok? I can help, even if it’s just to hear you out.”

“No, Cadee… look, this is wrong,” Meredith got to her feet quickly, glancing around. She’d believe this whole thing to be some dumb joke, a cruel trick designed to humiliate her… except there was no one around to witness it. The lack of an audience left her with the sad truth - that Cadee was indeed mentally disturbed. What other explanation was there for a girl that believed in werewolves? Not only that but seemed obsessed with making her believe that she was one!

Meredith sighed. She’d never met a truly crazy person, even in New York. Sure she’d crossed paths with the odd kook, but never someone who had absolutely no idea they were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. What was she supposed to do? Alert the authorities? Walk her into the nearest hospital? Aside from the werewolf thing and the knife trick she appeared okay…

“Look… you seem like a really nice girl, but obviously you‘re… So thanks for the lunch… and, you know… maybe think about calling someone, a professional. There are drugs you can take nowadays that can help.” Hesitantly, Meredith patted Cadee on the shoulder before gathering her backpack and heading off towards one of the jogging tracks. She gave Cadee a last glance - to make sure she hadn’t decided to follow her, then resumed a steady pace.

Cadee just watched her go, her hands gripping the handle of her bike as if it were a piece of driftwood in the middle of the sea. Again, Meredith words stung like hell, probably because prior to that day, she hadn’t really cared what people thought… it was the first time she’d tried to convince somebody of the ‘real world’.

The whole conversation had been a fiasco and she was clueless about how to go on, hopefully she’d contact that wizard, and with any luck he’d had some answers, but she wasn’t very optimistic about it.

“I’ll figure it out,” she spoke to Meredith’s retreating figure, even though she wasn’t out of earshot. “I don’t care if I have to chase you myself and lock you in a cage. I promise.”

2021-05-22 06:00 - Saturday "Dawn worries"


Anne woke up to the smell of dough.  She wiped her eyes and looked at the fluorescent numbers of her alarm clock. 6 am. What the hell? Cursing softly, she got up and walked to the kitchen.

Cadee was in there. The incongruence of finding her friend just in fishnets and bra, up to her elbows in flour, making what looked like biscuits and drinking a cup of red wine, wasn’t so strange to Anne. Cooking was Cadee’s way of unwind. Anne walked into the room and sat down on a high stool near the other girl. She watched Cadee mix chopper butter with the flour, using two sharp knives to dice the mixture together with sure strokes. A pro. Anne was used to that too.

She yawned. “Cadee, it’s almost day.”

“Yup.” Cadee answered as she added water to the mixture. “Thought it’d be nice to have warm croissants for breakfast.”

“I see.” Anne took Cadee’s cup and drank a sip of wine. Cadee didn’t look at her, didn’t sound like herself either. “Never one to discourage your cooking urges, girl. But what’s the problem?”

“No problem,” Cadee kneaded the dough with the heel of her hand, careful not to crush the small lumps of butter.

“No shit,” Anne answered. She watched her friend closely, she was in hooker disguise again, and there were some fading bruises in her neck, and an already healing cut in her arm, but nothing that would put Cadee in such a mood. She’d seen much worse wounds on her friend, and she’d survived. “Spit it up, you’re not shitting me.”

Cadee shook her head,  she didn’t want to think about last day’s events, she had even gone hunting after leaving the Slàinte. Not that it had helped much, so after dusting a couple of vampires, she found herself home and cooking, the bad feeling in the pit of her stomach as strong as before.  It was years since she had felt this ‘different’, this... useless.

“I spoke to Meredith yesterday,” she said, as she looked for her marble rolling pin in a drawer, she sprinkled some flour on her dough and started rolling. “In the park.”

“Uh,” the redhead said, and sipped the wine, tasting it against her tongue. *Wine at this hour!*, she wondered, but didn’t speak not to stop Cadee. She knew she had planned on exposing the werewolf thing to the girl, but hadn’t seen her all day. *I guess that didn’t go very well, no wonder,* she thought, as she watched her friend expertly roll the pastry into a thin layer of dough. 

“And...” she prompted when Cadee stopped.

“She thought I was mad. Offered me some help! Psychiatric help!” As she spoke, Cadee raised the marble rolling pin in a frustrated movement.

“Easy Cade, that’s too good to waste!” Anne warned, taking the cup of wine before the rolling pin swept it off the table in its pass. She wasn’t surprised at all, that ‘confession’ was doomed from the start. Who in her sane mind would believe such a thing?

“I’m sorry,” Cadee smiled weakly. “It’s just... I don’t know, I just... Look at me! Dressed up like this, killing vampires, warning her about werewolves - no wonder she thought me mad!”

Anne watched Cadee seriously, it wasn’t like her to have this kind of doubts. She was a cheerful person in general, sure and well adjusted. She enjoyed life, and enjoyed helping people. As she watched, her friend sighed and and got back to her dough, cutting it into small squares with a sharp knife. Cadee used the knife with precise, confident movements. Anne had seen her use a knife like that in a fight too: precise, confident moves that usually got her winning.  She had saved her life with that same sure precision, and she hadn’t been yet seventeen.

“Maybe you should quit.” She said nonchalantly, sipping again at the wine and passing the cup to her. “Look at your arm, you’ll get seriously hurt someday, and I’m tired of mending your clothes.”

“Ti’s nothing.” Cadee answered, massaging the already scarring skin, which, funnily, was in the precise place she’d cut herself earlier - she knew that in a couple of days not even the scar would show. “Worse on the jacket than my arm.”

“Whatever,” Anne said. “You shouldn’t be doing this. What do you care about furry girls in parks? It’s her problem, not yours; she can take care of herself. I say, let people alone. Nobody will blame you...”

“I can’t leave her alone, Anne! She’s going to turn in less than ten days, if I don’t help her, she’ll kill somebody. That if she doesn’t get killed in the turning herself-“ Cadee turned to her, exasperated, her rolling pin almost flying, but when she saw her friend’s laughing face she stopped. “Very funny. You knew I wouldn’t leave her alone.”

“Of course, as you didn’t leave me alone that time. I know you, girl. You’re good, deep down.”

"You were easier to convince," Cadee said, smiling.

"I didn't have much choice, did I?" She poured another cup of  wine for herself and she handed her friend hers “So, why don’t you tell me more about Ms. Wolf, did you follow my advice?”

Cadee accepted the cup and took a sip. “Yes, I opened a gash in my arm the size of the Red Sea. She thought it was a trick. I didn’t even try the spoon bending one, or she’d call Guinness.”

Anne nodded slowly, it hadn’t been a sure thing, but she had thought that maybe, maybe, if Meri saw Cadee’s supernatural side, she’d be more keen on believing her. “So, what are you going to do? Still seeing that wizard?”

“Yeah, I finally contacted him. I’m seeing him Monday morning.” Cadee turned to her croissants and started placing them on a buttered pan, careful to leave enough space between them to rise.  Then she placed the pan in a kitchen’s corner, free of drafts, so as to not disturb the process. After that she sat down next to Anne, and refilled her cup; they had half an hour to wait, anyway. “But it’s a last ditch effort, I don’t really think there’s a way to cure or prevent the change.”

“What about the New Initiative,” Anne asked, and prepared for the blow that was surely coming. However, Cadee’s reaction wasn’t what she expected, which could only mean that her friend had pondered on it by herself, but of course, she would. She just placed her cup down and looked at her in the eye.

“I won’t call Rafe,” she said calmly. “There’s no way I’m putting Meri in the Initiative’s sight. She’ll end up strapped to a dissection table with wires in her head in no time.”

“You don’t know that. It’s not the same Initiative, you’ve told me that.”

“I can’t risk it. I don’t trust them; I won’t.” She suppressed a shudder at the thought of the government facility; the Initiative was a part of her life that she wanted to forget, but she still had nightmares about it. She wouldn’t, couldn’t, turn Meredith to them. Sighing, she pushed her flour matted hair back and smiled brightly at the brunette. “What did you decide about Jasmin? Please tell me you’ll decline the offer.”

Anne frowned; she understood Cadee’s feelings about the New Initiative, but if the wizard’s route failed, she didn’t see any other option. It wasn’t as if you could leave a werewolf loose in New York… however, she also knew it was a dead end street to try and talk Cadee into it. At least not that night.

“I think I’ll do it.” She said, and stopped her friends with a look. Much to her surprise, after last meeting with Jasmin, she had found a little note tucked between the neat bills of her tip. It was simple and to the point: Jasmin wanted Anne to work for her, doing her usual stuff, but just for her. This wasn’t the first time they had discussed the pros and cons of such a position, and Cadee was completely opposed to it. “Don’t say a word, you’ve made your position quite clear. But I want to do this. And no, you won’t go and threat the woman on my behalf. I forbid it.”

“Damn it, Anne. The woman is a bloodsucking monster!” Cadee couldn’t help saying, even if she knew it was a lost battle; she could recognize defeat when she faced it. However, she would pay the vampiress a visit, with Anne’s approval or not.

For a few minutes, both women sat in silence, sipping at their wine, deep in thought. Then Anne smiled and turned to her friend.  “So, what about Logan? When are you seeing him again?”

“Sunday,” Cadee answered brightly, happy to change the topic.

“Niiice, third date. You want me to stay over at Warren’s for the night? The Brady Bunch’s been bugging me about it, anyway.” Anne rolled her eyes at the thought of her overprotective brothers.

Cadee laughed at her friend, but corrected her quickly. “Second date, you can’t count walking me home as a ‘date’. Besides, he’s taking me out for lunch, I work Sunday night.”

“Geez, girl. You need to get laid, how long has it been?” She feigned severity and pointed at Cadee. “And that one’s a treat; I warn you, if you don’t, I will.”

“Over my dead body. Don’t worry, you’ll pay a visit to Warren soon enough.” Cadee laughed, and stood up. It was time to put the croissants in the oven. “Why don’t you brew some coffee? These will take no time to bake, and they don’t go well with red wine.”

2021-05-23 12:10 - Sunday "Second date"

A large smile crossed Logan’s face as he saw the diner’s door open and Cadee step in. The girl was really a natural beauty; she definitely didn’t need fancy clothes or too much makeup to get a guys attention. In fact, Logan noticed more than one head turn to admire Cadee as she made her way towards him.

This was their second date in one week, which was insane in and of itself. Logan had never had much time off but it seemed now Balthazar was giving him more and more days off. Something in his gut still warned that something was amiss with his boss, but for now, he was going to push those thoughts away and just enjoy the time with his date.

“You look great,” he said as he stood up to pull out her chair.

“Thanks,” Cadee’s smile mirrored Logan’s, and she looked at him appreciatively.  He looked as good in just jeans and a casual shirt than in a suit, better, if you might.  “you look great too, actually.”

She sat down and smiled up to him as he helped her with her jacket. She really liked Logan, and it was a little disturbing but he made her feel butterflies in her stomach when he smiled like that.  It had been a while since she had felt this way, and she didn’t want to think much about it… else she would spoil it.  It was difficult to conciliate a hunter’s disposition and a relationship, not to mention too many secrets and demon’s DNA.  But she didn’t want to think about that at that moment, not when she could be enjoying lunch with Logan.

She took a look around as he sat down again, “this is a nice place, never been here before. I've lived in this city for ten years, even worked as a courier, but you can never really know NY, right?"

“Ain’t that the truth. Sometimes I still feel like I’m lost in this city.”

As the two scanned the menu, Logan stole a glance at Cadee. He was happy to spend time with her, but he couldn’t help hear the small voice in the back of his head that was nay-saying. Realistically, where was he going with this? His life was far from normal, dangerous even, and was it far to bring someone else into that? For some reason, he couldn’t picture the girl sitting with him at the Hellfire Lounge, surrounded by demons. Still, for now, he could enjoy himself.

“So you like working at Slainte?” he asked, trying to make some casual conversation.

“It’s OK. I like the place and Angus is a good boss;  a bit on the weird side, though. And it’s always full of cops,” she chuckled, feeling naughty.  “I like cops, you know what they say about uniforms, right?”

“Well sorry to disappoint,” he laughed, but was cut off as the waiter arrived. As the two ordered, Cadee was not oblivious to the looks the server was giving Logan.

“I think you might be his type,” she chuckled as he walked off.

“Really? You think so,” he smiled, as he feigned getting out of his seat, pretending to go after the waiter. The two shared a laugh and continued to make ‘date conversation as they waited for their food - things were going well.

“So how’s your roomate? She wasn’t too rattled after the Graveyard incident?”

Cadee shook her head. “Anne’s tougher than she looks, after the first shaky moment she was OK. We just stayed behind the bar until it was over.” She smiled,  trying to steer the conversation away from that night, she didn’t want to lie more than absolutely necessary. “Actually, it did her good too, she’s considering working for the club’s owner, Jasmin Taylor.  She got an offer after that night. Talk about a silver lining, huh?”

Frown lines crossed Logan’s young face. “You know, my boss knows her and I’ve had the pleasure, or displeasure of meeting her a few times. It may not be any of my business, but I would stay away from Jasmin. That woman’s bad news”.

*You have no idea,* Cadee thought, not very happy with the idea herself. They had discussed it more than once, but Anne was being mulish about it. She alleged it’d be good for her career, and that Jasmin was a good vampire, as if those existed. Fact was, killing Anne wasn’t the brightest of moves, and from what Cadee had been able to discover, Jasmin Taylor  was no fool, so she was probably safe. She planned to pay the vampiress a visit if Anne finally took the job, anyway. 

“I’ll tell her about it, but Anne can be pretty pig-headed.” Cadee shrugged, “She’s an actress, you know, and Jasmin’s a producer… it’s her dream job.”

"So you mentioned your boss knows her," Cadee said casually. "Does he also work in the entertainment industry?"

Logan took a sip of water. “Nah, he’s just a bigwig from Wall Street who now owns his own investment firm, and about a thousand other subsidiaries. Balthazar Romano, have you heard of him?”

Cadee choked on her drink at the mention of Romano, she coughed and failed to breathe, making Logan get up and slap her back. When the coughing finally subdued, she managed to reassure him that she was all right.

“I’m sorry, it went down the wrong pipe,” she said. At least, she’d had some seconds to think. Balthazar Romano again? What were the odds? First Jasmin’s warning, then Meredith’s conjectures and now this? And Romano was at odds with Jasmin? That was something to think about later. Now all she could thing about was Logan’s connection to that sleazy man. He didn’t fit the mould for a Romano’s man.

“I’ve heard of him,” she said, not lying. Wary for the first time with Logan, Cadee needed some time to think. “Never met him personally, not that we move in the same circles… well, apart from book launches, I mean.”

Having no reason not to believe her, Logan was completely oblivious to Cadee’s sudden change in mood. “Not many people do. The guy’s got more money than god, probably why he needs a bodyguard. To be honest though, the job isn’t that exciting. Business men don’t usually attract many stalkers or weirdos, so most of the time, I’m just standing around at functions. He’s generally a cool guy and it pays pretty decently, so I shouldn’t complain”.

“Have you been working for him for long? How did you end being a bodyguard?” She raised her hand, she didn’t want to sound judgamental. “It’s just that when I think about bodyguards, they’re more on the ape side.” She laughed, feeling silly. “Although that’s probably a stereotype, right? Like all us blondes are air-heads.”

“Well you fit the stereotype pretty well,” he teased. “Actually, I haven’t worked for him that long,” he replied. “I kinda fell into the job, I guess”. Logan tried to think back to when he started, but couldn’t retrieve the memories. His brow furrowed momentarily in frustration, but it passed quickly. A moment later, unbeknownst to him, he had zero recollection of Cadee’s question. “So have you lived in NY awhile? You don’t seem rushed and stressed enough to be a New Yorker”.

“Twelve years. And I’m not stressed because I’m your typical California girl.” She laughed, “I was born in a small town in California, but my mother was like a gypsy, she couldn’t stay put for long. So we moved around: Miami, Seattle, Chicago … just to mention the big places. However, when she passed away about ten years ago, I decided to stay here. I was kinda tired, to be honest.”  Cadee’s expression softened at the thought of her mother, but she shook the memories away before she would get sad. “Besides, I was a little young to hit the road too.”

“And you? Have you lived in the city long?”

“Yep, New York has always been my city,“ Logan responded proudly.

“Wow so a real born and bred. Did you grow up in Manhattan?”

The man’s head cocked to the side, almost as if he didn’t understand the question. “Yep, grew up in New York,” he reiterated again robotically. “You’re going to love the food here. I know the place doesn’t look like much, but the food is fantastic”.

Cadee frowned. It was obvious that he was hiding something, and she felt kind of cheated, since she had already told him more than she told most people.  She really wanted this relationship to work, and was trying not to repeat the mistakes she usually made… like lying through her teeth about practically everything.  Maybe work secrets? That douche bag of a boss forbid him to give personal details? That thought made her frown even deeper, and she raised her menu to cover her expression.

“That’s good. And the place is not bad, besides, I love food!” She said from behind the menu. Actually, looking at the menu with knowing eyes, the selection of meals was varied and interesting, and her mouth watered; she was hungry.

“I think I’ll try the mushroom burger, with hash browns on the side, please.” She asked the waiter, who had approached them again.  Feeling a little more like herself, she lowered the menu, and watched the exchange between the two men, amused. The guy had a crush on Logan all right, and she chuckled. If she dated him, she should get used to that; the man was gorgeous! When the waiter left with their orders, she joked. “Don’t be surprised if he writes his number in your napkin.”

He flashed Cadee a flirtatious smile. “Too bad for him, I’m more into blondes”.

2021-05-23 22:22 - Sunday "Out of State Trip"

Jasmin drummed her fingers on the dashboard of her car, looking down at her spedometer one more time. It was rarer for her to travel, and she knew that she had to get back to New York as quickly as possible. Still, the ride was only a few hours on I-95. If all went according to plan, she would have the Eye and be back in New York before anyone knew that she was gone. Looking up at the latest sign, she decided that it was time to make the call she had been dreading, putting her Bluetooth headset on.
Reaching down, she picked up the phone to dial a number, waiting for someone to answer. A secretary picked up, and asked her to wait a moment as she was transferred to him. “Balthazar!” she let out before he could say anyway. “How are you doing this evening?”
“Jasmin, darling!” The voice on the other end of the phone was loud and excited. “I was beginning to think you’d never call. Put an old man out of his misery and tell me you have some good news”.
Her eyes glanced over to the seat beside her only briefly, with the address and sketch. Once she'd seen the Eye in Kadmus' work, it had proven surprisingly easy to locate. It lead to a flurry of phone calls and deals to make arrangements to meet the demon who had it to discuss a possible deal, and used up most of her favors owed to do this discretely. It was, she decided, fate bordering on predestination. “Unfortunately not,” she said, trying to keep her voice light. “The information on the Eye is scant at best, despite my records. By all accounts, it vanished into the vaults of the Knights Templar – if it existed at all.”
There was a long silence as the mage was contemplated her words. Balthazar was not used to being disappointed and the bad news clearly weighed heavy on him. “That’s quite upsetting. You’re telling me that with your extensive library you found nothing? No leads, ideas, anything?” His tone was becoming frantic. “I can’t stress how important it is I get the Eye”
Any doubt she had had before at the course of action faded, though she could smell the opportunity. Balthazar was desperate for something, and desperation breeds stupidity. “I don't know. Can you travel back in time a couple hundred years or so? There are limits, even to my knowledge. Although, maybe if you gave me some idea as to what you needed it for, that would help me broaden my search.”
There was another pause and for a moment the vampiress thought that he just may show his hand. However, despite his anxiety, Romano remained tight lipped. “I have some critical experiments I want to do and I believe the Eye has the properties I need for them to be successful”. It was enough to shut her up, but not enough details for her to ask questions. No, no one could find out the true reason he needed the artifact. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and he damned well sure wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize it now. “I need you to keep looking Jasmin. If you find it, whatever you want, you name your price and I’ll get it”.
So. Close. She swerved to the side to avoid an asshole who cut her off letting out a slight shriek. “Sorry, stuck in traffic,” she said, returning her voice to a light tone. A blank check. He had offered her a blank check. “I'll keep looking. But no promises. It doesn't look good - especially with St. Vigeous, it's hard to separate fact from myth. Call you back when I have more.”
“I look forward to it.”
Sitting in his office, Balthazar sighed as the phone clicked and went dead. He tried to calm his nerves but the bad news put him over the edge, “Fuck!”
“Oh Balthazar, don’t fret my sweet.”
Balthazar turned to the old woman who was sitting on the edge of his desk. She had been there for the entire conversation and from the coy smile on her face, the mage was certain she was about to be the bearer of good news. “Well out with it. What did you see”
“The vampire is lying through her pointy little fangs.”
Romano practically jumped out of his chair, as he grabbed hold of Tabitha’s withered old hands. “You beautiful woman, tell me more,” he flattered.
“She knows where it is and she’s on her way to get it now.”
“Where is it?” His voice was almost hysterical.
“That I’m not sure. But she’ll be successful in getting it. By tomorrow night, it will be in her possession here in New York”.
Balthazar beamed with delight as he pulled the Tabitha close and, to her delight began to waltz around his office. “You’ve made me a very happy old man my darling”. As Tabitha laughed, a wicked smile crossed the mage’s lips. If Jasmin wanted to play games, he would be happy to oblige.

2021-05-24 10:00 Monday "Of Wolves and Wizards"

The door wasn’t the biggest of doors, just as the office didn’t look like the biggest of offices. An unpretentious door opening to the street, with a very simple sign written on its frosted glass upper half: “Niall Tiergnan, Wizard-for-Hire”

It was just as well, Cadee thought.  She would have probably backed away if Tiergnan’s office had given her a flamboyant ‘fortunetellermediumscam’ vibe . She liked discreet.  It spelled seriousness (and a little insolvency too, but that was to be expected… wizard clientele usually liked flamboyance). And a wizard who didn’t use his trade to get rich spoke of honesty as well.

She checked her watch, she was just in time for the date she arranged by phone. She had liked the man’s voice too.  How had Pitorri put it?  Deep and soothing, right. Without more thought, she rang the bell and waited.

At the sound of the electronic buzz filling the quiet stillness of his arcane laboratory, Niall glanced up from the confusing book laid out before him. He'd spent the last few days perusing any and all of the text he could find on zombies, but none of what he had found seemed to explain the strange events of the other night at the book party. Niall saw on the grainy monitor mounted near the door to his workroom that a very attractive young woman had just entered the shop upstairs. He checked the analog watch on his wrist and saw that the time had arrived for his appointment with Ms. Cloud. *She's right on time,* he thought. *That's a nice surprise.*

Niall hurried up the stairs and opened the connecting door leading back into his shopfront. "Good afternoon, Ms. Cloud," he said as he walked through the door. "Sorry. I've been working on a project and sometime's I'm a bit narrow-focused."

Niall headed for the small cart to one side of the door, where a teapot and coffee machine sat. "Can I offer you anything?"

“A cup of tea would be perfect, thank you,” Cadee answered, smiling. Even if she had been almost sure, she was glad to confirm that the man was indeed the wizard from the other night. Again, she liked the man’s voice and his general aspect was as unpretentious as his office, but she liked that too.

She took a look around while he poured tea in a couple of mugs. It was a little cluttered, but very neat and inviting. Several magical implements were scattered around, candles and jars and bottles too. Also, she noticed runes and mystical signs written in the walls and windows, again, some she could recognize, and some others were just a little too strange for her. All in all, the place was warm and made her feel comfortable, secure.

 “I’m glad you could see me on such a short notice, Mr. Tiergnan,” she said, as she took her tea and followed him to a big, scarred desk. The wizard sat down and she did the same on the other side, setting easily in an old but comfy chair. “As I said on the phone, there’s something I need some advice on.”

Niall offered Ms. Cloud some sugar and milk. "I don't know how much you might want to follow any advice from me. As you can tell from this place, I'm not exactly the most successful wizard in the business. Still, if I can help, I will. That's sort of what I do."

 “In your business, lack of success doesn’t equal to lack of skill. On the contrary, it is telling in itself.” She answered, and sipped at her tea; it was good, no wonder. Then she went on. “And I saw what you do. At the party, last Saturday.”

Niall paused, taking a sip of his tea to cover gathering his thoughts. This was an unexpected turn. If she had been at The Graveyard Saturday night, then it was very likely that Ms. Cloud had indeed seen quite a lot, much of which could not be explained by normal means. The fact that she was here, had sought him out intentionally, suggested that Cadence was not as "normal" as she seemed. Certainly, she had a breadth of knowledge not normally seen in your average beautiful young woman. *I wonder,* Niall thought, reaching out with his magical senses towards the young woman seated across from him. He probed gently, hoping to discover something of what had brought her here.

Cadee watched the wizard as he sat behind his desk, sipping his tea, not talking; it was clear that he was reflecting on her words. She imagined that the wizard’s usual clientele was probably not aware of his true nature, and she had said enough for him to realize that she wasn’t among those numbers.

However, she wondered how she measured up to him, but most importantly, how she would sound when she mentioned werewolves; his being a real sorcerer didn’t mean that she couldn’t be a real nut job…

Well, best to get it over and done with.

 “I have a friend who’s in trouble, real trouble,” she said, and stopped, not very sure how to go on.

Niall was surprised by what he sensed in this young woman. She was far from your average girl. There were strange, magical energies floating all around her aura. There seemed to be magic inherent in her very make-up, but she was like no demon or hybrid he had ever seen before. Niall was fascinated by what he could sense, but it would be rude to ask all the questions teeming in his mind.

"Rescuing damsels in distress may not be my job, but some people think it's my calling," Niall joked, hoping to put Cadee at ease. "Please tell me about your friend. If I can help in some way, I will...gladly."

Cadee smiled, a little more confident. She could believe his words too, all about him made her feel … safe, for lack of a better word. She wouldn’t want him to believe her crazy, though.

*Oh, for God’s sake, he isa wizard! He’s probably dealt with strangest things than lycanthropy, you know?* she said to herself, *and he can probably read your mind or your aura or whatever to know you’re saying the truth, right? Right,* Having made up her mind, she was ready to put her cards on the table .

 “I guess all we talk about here is confidential, right?” she asked, and at his affirmative answer she nodded. “Please, don’t think I’m crazy or something, but, well, this girl, you see… she was bitten by a werewolf this past full moon.” She paused for a second, cleared her throat and went on. “I researched on the topic, all that I could, and I found some interesting bits. But there was nothing on… cure. I mean, I now know several ways to kill a werewolf, but none to keep her alive.”

 “She’s just a girl, you know? She doesn’t even know what’s happened to her. It’s just… not fair.” She stopped, frustrated, and looked at the man in the eye. “I thought that maybe, if I consulted an expert… a wizard, like yourself, maybe, just maybe, you’d be able to help me. I mean, her.”

Whatever he had expected, Niall was not prepared for what he'd just heard. Once more he probed carefully with his magical senses. He had to be sure that, one, Cadee wasn't actually referring to herself, and, two, that Cadee was telling the truth. Carefully, Niall focused on Cadee's aura. He could not detect any untruths in what she had said.  *Which only makes this harder,* Niall thought.

"Lycanthropy?" Niall looked thoughtful. "When and where was your friend attacked? Has she shown any...symptoms yet?"

 “Last full moon,” Cadee answered securely, Meredith hadn’t changed yet, so it couldn’t be earlier than that. “And I’m pretty sure it happened in Central Park.” Then she frowned, the part of the symptoms was a little more complicated to explain.

 “Well, she’s extremely hungry; she was bitten in her arm, and she’s healed very fast.” In about three days, she thought, she wasn’t wearing a bandage at the party and the wounds were almost healed, showing pink new skin underneath. However, as she spoke, she noticed that not a thing she was saying shouted werewolf, not even to a wizard like Tiergnan. Those… symptoms could be explained away by a variety of reasons. If she didn’t give the man something more, he would dismiss her as a pathological liar, if not just a lunatic. She bit her lip.

 “I know this sounds completely crazy. Hunger and a high healing rate do not equal a werewolf, and I didn’t see the attack, but I know by a very reliable source that there is a werewolf in NY and it’s been roaming Central Park during full moons.” Still, not enough; you have to give some to get some, right? She looked at him in the eye again, a little defiant. “And she smells wolf. I can tell, believe me, the same way I know you aren’t wearing any cologne but you use lemon scented glycerin soap and mint shampoo.”

She looked around, scanning the room again, inhaling deeply as she did so. After a couple of seconds, she started pointing: “those candles there, they’re beeswax and thyme, nice, and I’m sure you keep dried flowers in those jars… poppies and rosemary and… damiana? You should close them better. I can also smell bile and blood, probably lamb, and-” she reached his desk and took a small desiccated animal’s paw, sniffed it and continued. “This isn’t a rabbit’s foot, but a cat’s; hope you weren’t expecting some luck from it.”

Niall was suitably impressed. He'd sensed that Cadee was...different than other girls her age. Her enhanced senses were only the tip of the iceberg if he was correct in his assumptions. *What a fascinating young woman.*

"It sounds like your friend could definitely have been exposed to lycanthropy," Niall rubbed his chin, his eyes going slightly out of focus as he thought deeply. "I hate to tell you this, but I don't actually know of any for certain cure for lycanthropy either. The research you've done undoubtedly has come up with some of the 'speculation'. There are some who believe that killing the progenitor of the werewolf line will free all the others from the curse, for instance. I have read and heard about people controlling their lycanthropy through the use of meditation, herbs, rituals, spells, you name it. I even heard once about an organization that was experimenting with controlled lycanthropy through the use of drugs and training."

Niall snorted derisively. "If only The Initiative had been willing to work with some of the supernatural community. Despite their dubious motivation, they did manage to come up with some very interesting findings in their research and experimentation." Niall spoke these last sentences almost to himself and it was clear he was commenting on his own thoughts.

“Interesting is not the word I’d use,” she answered, before even thinking herself. She immediately tensed, automatically becoming in the defensive. Could this be some kind of trap? One she had jumped in with both feet. Maybe Tiergnan read minds or something?

Trying to cover her mistake, although not very hopeful it’d work, she continued quickly. “I read about killing the progenitor, yes, but I have no idea who he or she is, and by next full moon it will be too late anyway. Meditation won’t work in a fortnight either, we have no time” She sighed, “this is very frustrating. Should’ve know there’s no such thing as miracles.”

Niall noticed Cadee suddenly seemed wary, but he couldn't be sure what he'd said to put her on the defensive. "Unfortunately, even wizards don't work in miracles. I'm afraid that's a calling for a much higher power. Hmmmm...," Niall paused, standing and moving to the bookshelf behind his desk. He scanned the spines of row after row of books, pulling out one or two and muttering to himself. Finally, after he'd amassed a pretty good sized stack, he sat back down, placing the books on the desk between himself and Ms. Cloud.

"I don't know what exactly I can do, but I'm willing to do some research," Niall said, with a kind smile. "I may be able to come up with something, even if it's only a temporary solution. I think I might have read a thing or two about delaying the change. If it can be postponed, then at the very least it could be controlled. If we can keep your friend from changing, we might have time to find the progenitor. It's a thought anyway."

Niall opened one of the books and scanned the text for a couple of minutes. "Yes, there is something here." Suddenly Niall had a thought. "Ms. Cloud, why are you here instead of your friend, if I might ask? Surely she wants to be included in any plans we make."

Cadee moved in the chair, uncomfortable; she didn’t like admitting to Friday’s debacle. She still didn’t know how else she could have acted, though. However, she should be honest with him.

“Please, call me Cadee. And, actually, we’re not really friends, more like… acquaintances.” She smiled weakly to the man, and went on. “She’s a regular at the restaurant where I work, and I discovered the wolf thing when I was waiting on her. I just couldn’t leave her alone, so I forced our association a little.”

“We could have become friends, but then I introduced the lycanthropy topic and she freaked out; no wonder.” Cadee sighed, the failing of the potential friendship was something she didn’t want to think about, people she felt keen on were so rare she didn’t want to lose any of them. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get close to her again… more probably she’ll file a restriction order. However, if there is a way to delay the change, a potion or something… I could try and make her drink it, and kill that wolf. She’s not the first one it’s attacked.”

She let out a little laugh. “You probably believe me very naïve, don’t you? But, how do you go
and tell somebody she’s a werewolf?”

Niall laughed as well. This young woman had found herself in an interesting predicament. It was difficult to tell anyone that you thought they had a disease or infection, but it was particularly challenging if the disease in question was supernatural in origin. Niall guessed that Cadee's friend didn't have a clue about the things that shared the world with "normal" folk either.

"Actually, there is very little chance we can do anything without your friends cooperation. I may be able to come up with something to supress her change, but the best I can imagine would be a ritual and series of renewable spells that she would have to engage in daily. And even that would only work for a short time. We might be able to gain a couple of weeks leeway to find the progenitor and try to cure your friend. I'm willing if you are, but the first step is getting your friend here so I can, unfortunately, convince her that neither one of us is crazy."

Cadee thought about the way she had parted with Meredith, and despaired. The little hope Tiergnan had raised with his earlier words, sunk as lead in water.

“I see. I was being naïve again, thinking just a potion would do the trick. As if it could be so easy!” Cadee sunk in her chair, thinking about the way she had parted with Meredith, and despaired, the little hope Tiergnan had raised with his earlier words vanishing in thin air.

 “I’d be willing,” she finally said, discouraged. “But I don’t think she’d give me the time of day, even less accompany me to see a ‘wizard’.” She was silent for a moment, pondering the situation. Meredith struck her as somebody highly independent and even wary, any new approach would definitely end in an ugly situation, for both of them, and forcing her didn’t sound like an intelligent course of action. “I don’t think kidnapping her would do much good either… not if she has to be cooperative in those rituals,” she said, not noticing she was speaking aloud.

 “No. She won’t come with me, not on her free will at least.”

“I’m stuck, Mr. Tiergnan. I’d already planned on hunting that werewolf next full moon. He’s done enough damage as it is. But that would be too late for Meredith, and there’s not a real consensus about it being effective anyway. Or I could try and found Meri when she turned, and get her to a safe place, so she won’t kill anybody or spread the disease.” She sighed. “I understand you can’t work miracles, not with what I’m giving you, anyway.”

“Well, Cadee, as they say, ‘If Mohammed won't come to the mountain, then the mountain shall go to Mohammed’," Niall replied. "I don't intend to give up on your friend without giving this my very best effort and I have a sneaking suspicion you feel the same way. So, is there a way we can...confront this young woman? I am fairly persausive, and I think I might be able to convince her that you are not mad. As a matter of fact, when I'm finished, she will definitely believe in all manner of things currently hidden behind the veil.  What do you say? Willing to give it a shot?"

Cadee’s smile lit her whole face. “I say it’s a great idea. I don’t know where Meri lives, but I’ve managed to learn where she works at nights… in a club called ‘Grindhouse’. I guess she’s a waitress there. Maybe we could pay her a visit at her work?”

“The Grindhouse?” Niall thought, fighting to hide his grimace.  He’d heard of the place.  It was a seedy sort of establishment and not the sort he normally he found himself in, but he wanted to help Cadee and her friend.  “How bad could it possibly be?”

“That might work,” he finally replied.  “Give me a day or so to pull stuff together for a ritual, and assuming we can convince your friend, I guess we’re on.  So, we’ll meet here on…let’s say Wednesday night? We can head over to the club together and see how it goes from there.  Does that work for you?”

“What about Thursday? It’s my free night.” Besides she had promised dinner to Logan on Wednesday, and even if it felt terrible to postpone Meri’s ritual because of a date, she really needed the time for herself. At the wizard’s affirmation she smiled. “Great, I’ll be her about 8:00. I hope you have a bag of tricks, cause she’s a tough girl to convince.”

"I'll bring out the big guns. By the time I'm done, your friend should be a believer in the supernatural if nothing else," Niall promised, rising. "Until Thursday, try not to worry too much, Cadee. We will figure out how to help her, somehow."

“It’s easier said than done, but I’ll try my best.” Cadee smiled at him and stood up as well. It was good to have an ally at last, even if it was to convince a girl that the monster in the closet was real. 

2021-05-24 15:12 Monday "Same old, Same old"

Niall set two steaming mugs of strong, black coffee on the small, worn table in his tiny apartment kitchen.  Chiedra sat with her back to the wall, facing him.  She was just finishing attaching the last bit of medical tape to the new bandage covering the gash where a stray bullet had grazed her arm during the firefight at the Graveyard.  Niall had demanded to see it when she’d arrived just a few minutes earlier.  He’d grumbled at her about not taking adequate care and pulled out his battered first aid kit.    Chiedra reached out when she finished and picked up the hot mug of coffee and held it between two hands, smiling gratefully at Niall as he sat across from her with a heavy sigh. 

“Thanks,” Chiedra said, taking a sip of her coffee.  “Mmm, you still know how to make a great cup of coffee, Niall.”

“It’s the beans,” he replied.  “If you spend a few dollars on good beans, you get a good cup of coffee.”

Chiedra glanced down at Niall’s clothes and chuckled softly.  “That figures.  Did you pay more for these beans than that outfit you’re wearing?”

“What?” Niall tried to sound offended.  “What’s wrong with my clothes?”

“The same thing that was wrong with them when I was 15, T’Sher*” Niall could hear the laughter in Chiedra’s tone.  He smiled fondly.  “Honestly, you dress like a homeless man.  Don’t you care about the impression you make?”

“It doesn’t matter, KiKi,” he responded.  “It never has.  And you’ve never understood that.  What I wear, where I live, what others think.  Those things are unimportant.  What matters is what I do, and why I do it.  That’s all that matters.”

Chiedra didn’t respond.  They’d had this talk many times.  She thought Niall sacrificed too much for too little.  He worked so hard and pushed himself to help others at almost any cost to himself.  Chiedra couldn’t understand why he tried so hard.  It wasn’t like he got anything out of all that effort really.  Sure, maybe some demons or witches or whatever thought he was the shit (because he seriously was), but no one ever rewarded Niall.  No one ever offered him anything at all.  So why bother? What good was being so…good all the time?

Niall could see from the look on Chiedra’s face that they were about to have the same argument they’d had time and again.  Even though he’d raised the beautiful demoness through her formative years, he’d never been able to instill in her the same ingrained morality that had always been the compass by which Niall measured his life.  As always before, Niall sensed Chiedra’s restlessness.  She sought something elusive.  Chiedra believed that what she was looking for was a way home, but Niall suspected it was more than that.  He believed that Chiedra sought a purpose, a reason to explain why she’d been ripped away from her life and thrust into a cold, bright world that so poorly fit her.  Niall had tried time and again to convince Chiedra to aid him in his fight.  He believed that if she joined him she would finally find that purpose.  He thought, or at least hoped, that by joining him Chiedra would finally find a measure of peace. 

“Do you want to hear about Logan?” Chiedra asked, pointedly changing the subject.  With a sigh, Niall nodded.  Chiedra quickly reviewed for the older man how her meeting with Logan in the park had gone.  When she finished, she waited for his take on matters. 

Niall looked thoughtful, taking a sip of his coffee.  “Do you think this is the best idea? I mean, you aren’t being forthright about who you are.  What happens if he finds out about your connection to me? He’s liable to be…upset to say the least.”

“And how do you think he’d feel if I told him when we met that I was your ‘daughter’ for lack of a better term, Niall?” Chiedra’s voice was full of sarcasm.  “You think he’d have been willing to overlook that failing just for my pretty face? I seriously doubt Logan is ever really hard up for a date.  And I was there when you two first met.  Whatever hold Balthy’s got on the kid, he’s got some failsafe in place to keep Logan far away from the likes of you.  This seemed like my best option.  If I can get to know Logan, maybe figure out how Balthazar is using him, maybe I can even get Logan to trust me enough to let us help him.”

Niall nodded reluctantly.  “Okay, but I don’t have to like it, right? I just feel funny lying to Logan in order to help him.”

“That’s cuz you’re basically honest,” Chiedra quipped.  “Which is exactly why you keep me around.  I’ll handle the lying.  I’m good at it.”

Niall grimaced.  He hated how easily this sort of task came to Chiedra.  Sometimes he felt that he would never really understand his ward.  But he loved the girl anyway.  And he was determined to protect and guide her in whatever way he could. 

“Alright, so after your ‘date’, you’ll get in touch and let me know if you learn anything else, right?”

“Of course,” Chiedra replied.  “Well…maybe not right away.  I mean, if the night goes really well, I might wait to call you until the morning.”

Niall rolled his eyes.  “Okay, KiKi, that’s enough.  You can spare me the gruesome details.  Just be careful and keep your eyes open.  I want to know what Balthazar is up to, but I’m not willing to sacrifice you to find out.  You’re more important than this little project.”

Chiedra smiled at Niall, and on impulse leaned across to kiss him on the cheek.  “I’ll be careful.  T’Sher, I love you too.”

*T’Sher is Shadrese demon.  It is a term of endearment reserved for a favorite uncle or close male friend.* 

2021-05-24 20:15– Monday

The lone car pulled off to the side of the road in Maryland, door shutting. Jasmin moved around to the trunk of her car, keys out as she unlocked it. Her normal patrons wouldn't recognize her tonight: jeans, boots, a black turtleneck, and trenchcoat; her broadsword left the trunk and quickly got tied around her waist and covered. Patting her phone and bluetooth in the back, she gave a final look across the area, before making her way into the woodland area.
After twenty minutes, she finally heard a voice coming at her from a tree behind her. "That is quite far enough. Have you brought the money?"
She turned in place, looking for the source, unable to see. Just my fucking luck. Only her inborn night vision permitted her some degree of sight and navigation. "Yes, I do," she spoke up, her voice carrying. "Do you have the item?"
"Show me." Of course, she had expected that, as she pulled a large envelope from the right side of her jacket. "Toss it on the ground," she heard the voice say. Jasmin complied stepping away from it. There was a rustling a few moments later as it opened.
Moments later, she turned to find the greenish, Chameleon-resembling demon looking at her, highly annoyed, a bag over its own shoulder. Angry teeth bared at her. "This is half of what I asked for, bitch."
"Yes, it is," replied evenly, hands resting at her waist. Her eyes never left the demon this time. Why this demon needed money, she didn't know or care – cash had become a more common currency among some demons, she knew, for the same reason she had the practices she did. In the modern world, integration and camoflage was not just a luxury, but a necessity.
"I told you. I get the money, and you get the item."
"And I told you that you get half in advance, and half following delivery."
For a moment, the two of them stared at each other. Then it reached into its bag, and removed a box, opening it up to show the contents. Jasmin moved closer to look inside, the look on her face turning reverent. Here, at last, was the item Kadmus had written about: an item carried by St. Vigeous, which became a symbol of his station and authority. While she didn't share the religious devotion some were said to, Jasmin did have an admiration for someone able to amass a following large enough to require three armies to defeat him.
"Satisfied?" he asked, as she looked over the design. It was a braclet, held on with a single clasp; three chains connected to a ring, clearly meant to be worn on the middle finger. And in the braclet itself was a stone, a small jewel which did resemble an eye.
She looked up, and back at him steadily. "Yes. I am. Just... one more thing."
The demon tilted its head slightly. "What's that?"
Her broadsword was out a moment later, giving an inhuman growl as the blade flashed around, cutting into the back of its kneecap. The demon was on the ground as the blade swung back into its arm, the vampire moving around behind it. When the blade dropped to the ground, she wrapped her arms around its neck and began to pull back.
"....wh....why....?" it choked out.
"Because I want the tactile pleasure of ending your existence, and I can't afford to have any loose ends." It continued to struggle as her phone rang. Of course, the phone rang. Always at the worst possible times. Jasmin reached up to hit the blue tooth button, speaking light. "Hello?"
Anne's voice came back. "Hello, Jasmin?" The vampire gave a jerk back on the demon as it tried to make a pained sound. "What was that?"
"Oh, nothing. I'm at a dinner meeting and some just," she gave another good jerk, fulling crushing the windpipe, "had something go down the wrong pipe. What can I do for you, lovely?"
"I was thinking about your offer," Anne sounded a bit hesitant, she thought. Nervous, but not offput. "I'm thinking of accepting, and was wondering about the details."
A quick twist as it tried to throw her, and she felt the struggling start to lessen. The power was intoxicating. "Tell you what. I'm currently out of town on a business trip. Be back -" she winced at the audible snap of the demon's neck, standing and recovering her sword – "rather late tonight. How about if you come see me at the club tomorrow night? We can talk details, pay, benefits then."
"Really?" Now Anne sounded excited. Jasmin couldn't help but think that she hadn't heard the sound. It made her all giddy.
"Really, my dear. We'll get together then, and you can make a final call. Come by whenever you have time; I'll tell the bouncers to send you right to me."
"Alright. I'll see you then. Thank you."
Jasmin looked into the box briefly, and then down at the demon's body. "No, my dear. Thank you. Have a good evening." She thought she heard the usual, bandying reply, but she missed it as the phone hung up. Reaching down, she collected the envelope as well. "Thank you, indeed.." She rapped her knuckles on the back of the demon's head, beginning back to the car with an extra spring in her step.

2021-05-25 05:10 - Tuesday "A flying vampire"

Jasmin paced back and forth on the terrace, her gaze turning East, always East. The rage had threatened to overwhelm her when the first calls went to voice mail. She'd kept dialing however, and eventually, in desperation, turned to dialing Anne's number. That finally produced someone answering their phone, and her pleading with the young woman to come at once. For her plan to work, Jasmin knew she'd need someone to help her get somewhere safe once she got off the roof.

Now her gaze moved between horizon and phone. Anne didn't know the details, just that she needed the other woman to come now and that her life was in danger. *Trusting the friend of a hunter. I must be mad. I'm liable to end up as dead from this as if I'd done nothing.* But in the end, she knew that likely death was better than certain.

As her pacing continued, she looked at the time once more, before moving to look over the edge, and then returning to the pacing. She knew she should stop, but it helped the nerves. Dawn was coming, after all. Finally, she just collapsed into a lawn chair, and waited. Someone would be here soon.

Cadee followed Anne, cycling wildly through almost desert streets.  She knew Anne was choosing their route, she knew the neighbourhood streets, its twists and turns, as the back of her palm, and she was evading populated streets; sacrificing distance in lieu of speed, reasons unknown.

She had been returning from a busy hunting night –those strange not-quite-dead creatures again, it seemed they were growing in numbers too – when she had almost collided with Anne in her way out. She hadn’t explained much, but ordered her to take her bike and follow. It was almost dawn and she looked determined, so Cadee had obeyed.

“Are you gonna tell me where we’re going?” Cadee shouted to Anne, in a moment the other girl got close enough to hear.

Anne looked back over her shoulder and laughed, she was enjoying herself, the imp. “To Jasmin’s,” she shouted back at last. “Sounded dead scared on the phone, needs me asap.”

Cadee almost yelled in outrage, Jasmin? She was too tired for this! Dammit! But she kept pedaling, if Anne was going to Jasmin at dawn, she surely wanted to go along.

She picked up her phone, and looked at it again, getting up to pace. For a moment she looked at it again and considered calling Balthazar. Just to fuck with him one final time, just in case. Maybe swearing – no, no, no forgiving him. It'd cause the wizard worry to hear her do something like that. Then she decided against it. Better not to give him the satisfaction.

It was when she looked over the edge that she couldn't believe what she was seeing. People.... biking? Biking? That couldn't seriously be her, could it? The figure looked familiar. Pulling her phone, she dialed Anne again quickly, trying to get an answer. When she heard the answer, she wasn't sure what Anne said, her mind racing.

“Hello. Is that you down there on the bikes? I can see a couple of riders. You can drive, can't you? Please say yes.”

“Sure I can,” Anne answered, breathless from the ride. She looked up; was Jasmin watching from her terrace? She couldn’t make it from the street, not at night, at least. This was getting stranger and stranger. “What do you need, Jasmin? Should I go up?”

Jasmin gave an audible sound of relief, patting her back pocket. Her keys were still there. That was a relief at least. “No, no don't come up. There's nothing you can do for me up here.” She paused for a moment, moving over to the side. “Look, Anne. I don't have much time to explain. It's a long story. But I'll need you to help me to a motel I know that won't ask questions. Is that you down there?”

“Yeah, it’s me. Cadee’s here too.” She continued looking furiously up, she really couldn’t see a thing.

“She’s in the penthouse terrace,” Cadee interrupted her, looking up too, aware of her efforts. “I can see her.”

Anne nodded and continued talking on the phone. “I’ll take you wherever you want to go, just tell me what to do.”

Jasmin continued to watch the area. At last, things were looking up, though with her roommate along? No. No time to complain. She rattled off an address quickly. “That's in case... Anne. Thank you,” she moved back to the sword momentarily, running her tongue along the blade and shuddered. It might not do much. But that deliciously powerful blood might help some.

She made the mistake of looking down for a moment, snapping her head up and steadying herself, eyes closed. That was a long way down. Jasmin waited a few more moments to gather her nerves, before taking a single, fateful step forward, air rushing around her, arms up and over her head. Then suddenly her jaw was clenched, and pain shot through her body as she stopped moving, fighting the urge to scream.

Anne watched the vampiress’ fall with horror, frozen. For half a second she stupidly thought she would turn into a crow or a bat or something, like in one of her novels, but Jasmin fell like lead, seemingly gaining speed with momentum; she looked like a broken doll being tossed by a careless child.  And then it came the noise, something between a splash and a thud. She didn’t react until she felt Cadee spring into action next to her.

Without a word, Cadee jumped off her bike and in two strides she was next to the vampiress, looking at her thoroughly before daring to touch her. Jasmin had fallen legs first, probably on purpose, and they were clearly broken, in more than one piece, too. One of the femurs was showing through her jeans, a mess of ragged flesh and shattered bone, the other was twisted in a very unnatural way at the height of her calf; her arms didn’t look broken, but she had damaged them pretty bad protecting her head, which wasn’t as bad as she had feared it would be. 

What could have possessed the vampire to attempt a fall like that? Even if she couldn’tdie, she must be in excruciating pain. But this wasn’t the moment to ask.

“Jasmin?” she called the vampire, softly. “Can you hear me?”

Pain. Oh the pain was incredible. She moved her hands just enough over her mouth to scream into them, an event which seemed to last an eternity to her, but couldn't have been more than about a good half minute. Then she started to laugh, unaware of Cadee's question, nearly hysterical. “I'm... going... to LIVE!”

One of her arms moved behind her back slowly, fishing the keys out of her pocket. They fell on the sidewalk next to her. That was when the voice began to penetrate at last, laughter decreasing although not quite stopping. “Oh, yes, Cadee was it? ... oh yes, I can hear you just fine... you know how we are in theater, have to make an entrance....

Through the laughter, she pushed herself to roll over, phone forgotten as she did so, screeching in pain again. Her face was bruised and battered as well. She looked over the two women as she began to calm. “Let this... let this be a lesson to you,” she laughed again, pointing at Anne. “Don't leave... don't leave someone in the death trap... they will do something stupid and escape.”

Cadee looked from the hysterical Jasmin to Anne, and they exchanged a puzzled look. She didn’t really follow the vampiress histrionics, but this wasn’t the moment to try and do that either.  She took the car keys Jasmin had dropped and threw them to Anne.

“Bring the car,” she ordered. Anne nodded and left for the buildings underground parking entrance. Cadee looked back to Jasmin. “Oh yeah, it’s Cadee and you’re alive, or as alive as you can be. Now, let’s forget theatrics and get you somewhere shady, right? Sun is about to rise.”

“Well, this will hurt,” she added, moving so she could raise her. Cadee slid an arm under Jasmin’s broken legs and another beneath her back, and raised her effortlessly. The vampiress groaned and closed her eyes. “Sorry, Jasmin. But I guess the less we’re in open sight, the better.”

Jasmin dropped her head back, blinking several times at the pain and actually breathing. It was a rare event, but it stopped the urge to scream. She was... off the ground? This easily? Her head turned to the side. “Listen to me,” she managed to croak out, and breathed deeply again.

“Romano,” she said at last, with the car coming around. The rage welled up inside of her, fighting through the pain. “That lecherous old troll did this... this... and the worst is the insult! What am I, a new fucking turn? Not dangerous enough to kill?”

*Romano again! Who is he? Fucking Houdini to appear everywhere?* At the thought of the escape artist, she looked up and chuckled; Jasmin probably deserved the title best, surviving such a  fall. “My guess’s  you’re not easy to kill, Jas,” she said as she walked to the car. “And I wouldn’t be so angry at not being a pile of dust, if I were you.”

With care, she managed to get the vampiress in the back seat of the car, as comfortable as she could get, while Anne moved the bikes to the building’s parking lot. Five minutes later, they were in their way to the motel.

2021-05-25 00:46 - Tuesday - Waiting for a Friend

Balthazar's Office

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring him,” Balthazar whispered to Tabitha. He pointed to the two, meathead goons that were sitting patiently on the other end of his massive office, “Dumb and dumber over have all the muscle I need for this”.

The weathered seer rubbed the sorcerer’s shoulder affectionately. “I don’t doubt that you couldn’t handle this vampire alone darling, but it’s not the point. A dog needs its exercise so to speak. The more he can get out of his system, the easier he is to deal with”.

“I know, I know,” he sighed. “But I can’t afford anything to happen. Not tonight of all nights”.

“It will be fine. Take him, let him live his nature and if anything happens, just use your magic to make right the situation”.

“Thank god this is almost over. I’m getting too old to deal with this shit,” Romano laughed, his fears quelled somewhat by Tabitha’s logic. Just then, his young bodyguard entered the room.

“Ah Logan, there you are. How you feeling tonight? Full of piss and vinegar I hope!”

Logansurveyed the room, instantly knowing it wouldn’t be a typical evening. He recognized the psychic and the two henchmen, what were their names, Bill and Frank?. It didn’t really matter. Logan knew their presence meant that whatever he was doing tonight, it involved some sort of strong arming. The young man’s blood began to pump in excitement. “So what’s on the agenda then?”

“We’re visiting my friend Jasmin. She went to pick up something for me and I want to save her the trouble of coming all the way over here”.

Logansmirked. His boss was obviously being facetious. In reality he knew they were probably going over to forcibly take something from the woman, not that he minded. When it came to humans, Logan had a strong moral compass, but in the demon world, all that went to the wind. Morality and ethics never came into play for him when dealing with monsters. “Sounds like fun”.

“My limo is waiting downstairs, I’ll be there in a second,” Romano ordered. As the three men left, he turned towards Tabitha. The smile on his old face was big and bright. “Ironic isnt it?”

“The irony wasn’t lost on me,” she smiled back.  

Balthazar practically skipped out of his seat as he grabbed hold of Tabitha’s arm to walk her out. “What a beautiful evening,” he sang loudly, as he flicked the lights off.

2021-05-25 01:57 - Tuesday

The vampire took the steps to her condo two at a time. If nothing else, Jasmin was in a good mood tonight. There wouldn't be much that could get her down, after all. She was home, she had the Eye safely stowed in a small box; her sword hung in her left hand in the sheeth, carried like she had just come home from practice, if anybody had bothered to ask. Her keys were out and in the lock as she passed inside, shutting the door behind her and locking it.
Jasmin turned then and stopped at the sight before her. Balthazar she knew; Logan she knew. The other two heavies with him, she didn't. “Balthazar,” she spoke with more venom than usual. “I come to find you invading my personal home without an invitation. Is there a reason for this? I thought we had an understanding.”
The sorcerer was sitting calmly on the woman’s sofa, surrounded by his three henchmen. “You know what, I also thought we had an understanding. But then, you had to go and lie to me. I don’t like liars Jasmin, I don’t like them one bit”. Balthazar crossed his legs, making himself comfortable as if he was in his own home. “So it leads me to wonder, why did you do it Jasmin, why did you have to go behind my back? It’s just so very disappointing”. Balthazar gave a quick glance to his two brutes and they began to advance.
Jasmin looked between the two of them and sighed to herself. Humans, she knew from the smell. More importantly, how the fuck did he... the old geezer must have been scrying. She put the sword aside for a moment as they started to walk over, setting the box down, moving to stand with both arms out before her, palms in.
“Let's do this the legal way. This is your warning to leave now.”
The first one aimed a fist to her face, the vampire's face quickly shifting as she reached up to knock the arm away. His other other came around to be blocked easily enough. As her fingers came out to strike his windpipe, she could feel the other one kick her in the kneecap. Jasmin dropped down to one knee, rolling aside in time to avoid a stake aimed at her back.
Then she was back on her feet, and moving again. She caught the next blow on the way to her chest, pulling him towards her. A quick grab, twist, and audible crack as his neck snapped. Her attention returned to the first one now, trading blows with him quickly. The din, the flow of battle, she just felt so alive when it happened. As her palm struck bone of the nose, she again felt another life snuff out. Another lifetime of possibility, gone in a moment.
Jasmin licked her lips as she picked up her sword again, holding it in the left at the ready position. “....you have no idea what a turn-on it is when someone provides foreplay like that.”
“Well, that was a waste of two perfectly good employees,” the sorcerer yawned, completely unconcerned that two men were just killed. “Logan, can you please retrieve that box there. Then we can be on our way”.
Logan nodded, as he advanced slowly. The vampire was clearly dangerous, but he was no push over himself. When he got into range, Jasmin lashed out like a viper, her blade arching up, down and then straight towards his chest. Matching her inhuman speed, Logan spun sideways, his hand shooting out to grasp Jasmin’s wrist. She was quick to react, kicking up, but Balthazar’s bodyguard had anticipated the response and his foot was up even faster, knocking her leg out of the way with his own. With strength that he shouldn’t have, he tugged to his left, practically throwing the vampire across the room.
As she sailed through the air, she had to wonder. What was he? A normal human shouldn't be this fast or strong. Maybe one of those half-breed dem- the thought broke as her back landed on the ground. Legs came into the air, jumping back up onto her feet. “Logan, this man is not worthy dying for,” she snapped at him.
When he began to come close, she struck again with blinding speed, Logan catching the blade of her sword in his hands. She could smell the blood in the palms this closely, more pungent and sweet than normal, drawing her blade back towards her, Logan's advance forcing her to actually retreat up the stairs, towards the terrace.
Logan ignored Jasmin’s comment as he continued to stalk forward, preparing to pounce.
“That’s enough Logan,” Balthazar’s voice called out seriously. Although relatively sure his bodyguard could finish off the vampire, at this point, he was not going to take any unnecessary risks.
Grinding to a halt, Logan stopped his advance and stole a quick glance back. The sorcerer had the box in his hand. “Whatever you want boss,” he answered, honestly a bit disappointed. His blood was pumping and he was itching for battle.
Always an opportunist, Jasmin tried to take advantage of the distraction. Running forward, she intended to decapitate the young man, but it was now the mage’s turn to intervene. With a flick of his wrist, he summoned an unseen force which he used to hurl Jasmin through the windows to the balcony outside.
Balthazar casually walked towards the newly smashed window and inspected the small outdoor space. No fire escape, no other close rooftops - this was perfect. “You know, I do believe morning is just over the horizon,” he laughed, enjoying the sight of his enemy struggling to her feet. “When was the last time you got to see the sunrise? I bet it’s been far too long”.
Calling out words of power, the broken glass flew back into place, reforming the window. One final small spell to reinforce everything and it was done - the sorcerer had sealed her fate. “Thanks for picking this up for me Jazzy,” Romano called out, holding out the box to taunt the woman caught on the other side of the glass. “I owe you one”.
With that, Romano and his bodyguard disappeared out the front door, leaving Jasmin locked out on the balcony.
Jasmin rushed forward. Rage boiled up inside, over any sense of pleasure she might have at the battle, her blade left on the roof. Hands moved over her face, expecting to crash through her own window, fantasies of digging her fangs into Balthazar's neck running through her mind....
....a moment later, she was looking up from the ground, up at the windows, banging fiercly on it. “Get back here you coward!” she screamed at it. “BACK HERE” A final, frustrated bang on the door, and she turned back to survey the area, face returning to normal.
The vampire paced, and felt around in the back of her pocket. There it was. Cell phone. Handy inventions, as she looked back inside. He was gone with the Eye. For a moment, to soothe her rage, she reclaimed her blade and made just a small taste of the blood there... and the rush was incredible. Oh, it was always was, but this, this was special. Powerful.
When she came down from the high, a plan formed, beginning to dial her contacts.

2021-05-25 06:15 - Tuesday

The ride to the motel was eerily silent, punctuated mainly by the occassional grunt of pain when they hit a bump in the road. Eventually, light conversation made its way in after the initial shock after her jumping passed, directing them to the glove box for the envelope full of money. Naturally, Jasmin just kind of shrugged when they asked why she had a fairly large quantity of cash in her glove box.
Getting to a room proved to be more painful, the effect of the blood from before starting to wear off on her. The two women did eventually get her into a room, and on bed though, leaving the vampire finally able to relax, staring up at the cieling. "Thank you, both of you," she managed, with a glance over at the clock.
Jasmin pulled blankets over her damaged legs. No sense having the distraction, and she'd need to cover herself completely very soon. "I owe both of you my life, now. Thank you, again. I'm sorry I couldn't explain more, but...." she gestured to the window. "Sunlight. It is a slight issue, as both of you seem to understand."
Anne, feeling more like herself, chuckled at Jasmin’s words and looked at the clock too. It was almost dawn. Frowning, she got up quickly and closed the curtains of the only window in the room; but, not happy with the results, she proceeded to take a blanket from the closet and secure it against the window as well. “This will do,” she said finally.
Cadee watched Anne work silently for a few seconds and then turned her attention on the vampiress. Now it was the time to ask questions, even more so if Jasmin’s ‘gratitude’ may have softened her a little. All cards were in the open, they knew she was a vampire, and she knew they knew. It was time to talk openly.
"You said Romano did this to you,” she asked the other. “That’s why you were in the open almost at dawn? Did he lock you out or something like that?”
"Something like that, yes," she replied evenly, folding her hands over one another. The legs still hurt, and probably would for a while. But at least now they could rest. "He was waiting for me when I got home with his thugs – two of them are still on my living room floor. Romano did... something. Not sure what, but couldn't break the glass doors."
Jasmin chuckled to herself, and shook her head. "And you know, the worst part of it all really is the insult. Like I'm not dangerous enough to properly stake or set on fire."
Cadee smiled, understanding her outrage. “You’re in entertainment; you surely understand the need for a grand finale. He probably thought your despair as the time went by was worth it.” She shrugged, “men usually underestimate women, more so that lecherous one. You may not be dangerous, but you sure are resourceful enough.”
"Hey!" Jasmin snapped back at her, glaring. That was... how could she? Ok, she'd never seen her fight, but still. To hear herself called that by this young woman, whether or not she was a hunter grated her. "I am plenty dangerous. You don't get to be my age without it."
Cadee’s eyes twinkled in mischief at the vampiress’ outrage. “Maybe when you’re recovered we could do a little sparring? Show me how good you are? I’d like the sport.” Her eyes moved to Jasmin’s covered legs, which showed not too straight, even below the blanket, and she sobered up. “Maybe we should straighten your leg up before it heals like that, don’t you think? Or do you have some kind of vampire physician that can do it?”
Jasmin nodded a bit at that, relaxing back a bit more. She studied Cadee in a new light now, appraising her with a thing smile coming to her lips. "Ah, yes. You must be Anne's hunter friend. I suspected she would bring you." And it wasn't obvious, either. It meant the woman was either lucky or dangerous herself. "There aren't exactly doctors among us. Most would find my laid up in bed like this hilarious. Have a good laugh at the jumper."
“Guilty as charged,” Cadee nodded. “I’d intended to pay you a visit, in a few days, but alas, things got a little hurried.” She looked at Anne who was glaring at her. “Sorry, Anne, but if my best friend is working for a vampire, the least I can do is meet her.” Then she turned to Jasmin again. “I’m not the typical hunter, I don’t kill just for killing… never been my way. But I protect my own.”
Jasmin watched the two like ping-pong balls going back and forth, giving out a small chuckle of hers. Of course she had planned it; and she fully expected that any such meeting would have probably included warnings. "Well, then, we're suprisingly more alike than you realize," she spoke lightly, trying her best to put on a bit of roguish charm.
"Killing just seems so pointless." And fun, she didn't say. It could be fun, but there were times to avoid it. Besides, going for the pain was so much better. "I've got a nice life, well, unlife I suppose. It's got power, money, and a nice little niche for myself. Add to that immortality, and it's a nice little gig. Not something you throw away."
“I guess we understand each other, then. Although, to be honest, it’s the first time I talk with a vampire with your… unique approach to life.” Cadee nodded again, thoughtful; she remembered her mother’s stories about Californian slayer Buffy Summers and her vampire lover, Angel. He had been souled, if she wasn’t mistaken, and lost his mind eventually, years after his slayer’s death. However, she didn’t believe it was the case with Jasmin, and maybe there were more vampires like her and she just hadn’t meet them… she was young; she didn’t pretend to know everything.
They understood each other all right, there wasn’t need of more talking on the matter. And she didn’t think Jasmin would tell her more about Romano, but she had to try; besides, her interest in the sorcerer had grown since Logan had told her he worked for him.
“What did you do to enrage Romano like this? You sure he won’t follow you here?”
Now she continued to appraise Cadee carefully. She had to tread especially carefully now; that she wasn't dead already meant that this might be why, though she did doubt that the other woman would do anything with Anne around. At least, not right now. Unfortunately, with Balthazar, she had a great deal in the way of conjecture and very little in the way of evidence for any of her conjectures.
"I have a reputation among the local community," she spoke evenly, simply. Start with the true and easily verifiable. "My library isn't nearly as good as any of the more specialized ones, but being a generalist means being able to point people in the right direction. Romano... I recently tried to lead him astray in some of his research. This was him stealing an item from me that I was attempting to keep out of his posession."
She paused again in her consideration. Yes, that would do. Cadee had no need to know what the exact item was, and unless there was no other alternative, she wasn't about to tell her, either. But Jasmin knew the next question that was to come; and she knew that the answer was terrifying. "I confess that I don't know his exact intentions. But, I believe that Romano is attempting to achieve immortality. His questions of late have involved artifacts relating to restoration of life, and once, regarding to mystical theft of bodies."
Anne’s gasp was clearly audible in the silence that followed, even if she felt cast out of the conversation, she didn’t miss the gravity of the situation. After Jasmin’s warning about Romano, she had questioned Cadee about him, and worried about her friend’s answers. An evil sorcerer, unscrupulous enough to take whatever measures to attain his goals; owner of a multimillion worth company that covered for a myriad of shady business, natural and supernatural… who could achieve immortality? Not good news at all.
Cadee looked at her and read her expression easily enough; besides, she was sure it mirrored her own. “I didn’t think Romano’s area of expertise was necromancy,” she said slowly, and then a thought hit her. “Those… things in the club, they weren’t alive… I’ve found two more of them since then, and I’ve overheard the cops of the SCU talking about their growing in numbers, all over the city, they are worried sick about the matter… You mentioned body theft, could they be Romano’s doing?”
Jasmin perked up at the question. The things that had attacked Graveyard fell to the wayside in her research in favor of the Eye. But if the Special Crimes Unit was talking about them, and there were more? That wasn't exactly the best news. She whistled lowly at that. "If they were, why were they there? But, it's possible. I know less about what those things are and more what they're not."
She raised her hand, counting off fingers, wincing a bit at her rib cage as she moved. "Feels like three broken ribs. Anyway, they aren't vampires. They weren't room temperature. They also aren't zombies of either stripe I've heard of. Too intelligent for one, and even zombies tend to stop moving faster than them."
“No, not zombies. I dealt with two of them that night, in your back alley; maybe you have me on film,” she winked at Jasmin at that. “The ones I found in my rounds, I couldn’t kill them either, and one of them was an old woman, she still had her bathrobe on. They were attacking a homeless guy, at least I could help him.” Cadee sighed, frustrated at the memories of that night. Those things hadn’t even tried to fight her when they noticed she wasn’t easy prey, finally managing to escape after she had hidden when a police patrol passed by.
“However, they surely are too fast and awake for zombies… they talk too. But you’re right, why would Romano attack a place he was in; too much risk.”
She looked at Jasmin in the eye, a little doubtful about what she was going to propose; but she knew her limits, and if what the vampire had said was true, she could be a good source of information. “What if I can get one of them here, so we can interrogate it… maybe we can learn something that way? Seems you know Romano better than me."
Jasmin listened to the new information, testing the movement she had in her arms without eliciting extreme pain. "That's... odd. Extremely odd, actually. Someone could be experimenting, but I don't think Romano would be careless enough to allow his experiments to escape. It's not like the man. He's far too careful."
She drummed her fingers a bit. "If we could get one to question, it might provide answers. I could even tell you if it's human, with a drink of its blood. There's differences in flavors and textures, you see."
“I’m sure you can.” Cadee smiled broadly, wondering what she would notice if she drank her blood, she guessed it’d be like a cocktail of different beings. “So it’s settled, I’m a little busy tomorrow and the night after, but I’ll get you one of those things by Saturday night tops. Now, about your legs? Want me to try my best?”
Jasmin nodded slightly at that. "Knock yourself out. I'm going to need a wheelchair. Be a regular terror on wheels by the time this is all through. Can make the best of it, though. Just get a nice blanket and drape it over. Be like FDR. Shame I could only vote for Truman and Ike." That's right, hide your worry about her behind bravado. Just like your femme fatale roles.
Cadee nodded, serious, not buying the bravado but respecting the vampire for it. “Just get something to bit on, then. We’re in for a ride.”

2021-05-26 20:00 - Wednesday - Awakenings

Cadee exhaled deeply, before taking a look around her apartment for the thousandth time . Everything was perfect, the table was already set –candles included – and dinner was in the oven. When Logan had suggested another date, this time for dinner, she had proposed home cooking at her apartment; she had wanted to cook for him, open up  yet another aspect of her life.  She had selected the menu with care, as usual, and decided for simple American food, to be on the safe side: roast spring lamb with steamed vegetables with onion gravy.  The smell of the roasting meat filled the apartment, and Cadee smiled.  

However, now she was anxious and a little nervous; not because of the cooking, she was confident that would be great, but because everything else.  Anne’s continuous innuendos and winks before leaving for her brother’s apartment hadn’t helped much either.  *I guess Anne’s right and I’m just rusty.* She thought, *if I got laid more often, I wouldn’t be this anxious, would I ?*

“Of course she’s right,” she said to no one, as she walked to the bathroom to have a shower and get ready for her guest.

Cadee barely had time to pull on her top when the doorbell rang.

“A man on time, I’m shocked,” Cadee laughed as Logan greeted her on the other side of the door with a huge smile.

“I guess I couldn’t stay away,” he laughed, planting a playful kiss on her cheek. He welcomed the opportunity to spend an evening with Cadee. Things at Balthazar’s had been crazy since that night at Jasmin’s. Romano was like a man possessed; obsessed with whatever it was they took from the vampire. He wouldn’t let anyone disturb him, yet at the same time, he almost freaked out when Logan requested the night off. Balthazar had finally conceded, but had made Logan promise that he’d be back by latest 8:00 the next morning. *I guess he has something important tomorrow he needs me for.*

As he walked into the beautifully traditional New York style apartment, got a big whiff of her cooking. “Man, smells fantastic”.

 “I hope it tastes as good,” she said, closing the door behind him.

Cadee smiled happily.  After the events of the night before, she longed for some ‘normality’, and what was more normal than a date with a gorgeous guy? Oh, yes. It was good to be just a girl in a date. She was determined to have a nice time. No falling vampires, werewolf wannabes or not-dying freaks; just the two of them.

“Please, sit down. Would you want a drink before dinner? It won’t be ready for a while yet.”

“Sounds good.”

Cadee poured two glasses of pinot noir, as Logan took a seat at the table. “So what do we toast to?”

“How about to…” he paused for a moment, contemplating as he lifted the glass. Logan‘s smile widened “I’ve got nothing”.

The two laughed, and ‘clinked’ their glasses.

“How about to new beginnings,” Cadee chuckled before taking a sip. She thought it was fitting; little did she know how appropriate it was for the man as well.

“I’ve just got to check on the food, if you’ll give me a second.”

As she disappeared into the kitchen, Logan followed quietly behind. She really is beautiful.  He took a moment to admire the blonde as she toiled expertly over the stove. He snuck forwards, and placed his arms on either side of Cadee, trapping her against the large stainless steel appliance. “Need some help?” he whispered mischievously in her ear, hoping to catch her off guard.

Cadee didn’t so much as turn around. “I heard you come in.”

“Aw, there goes my aspiration to become a ninja.”

“I wouldn’t quit your day job if I were you,” she laughed, though her mind wandered to someplace dark. She didn’t want to dwell on the fact that he worked for Balthazar, but no matter how much she tried to suppress it, it was always at the back of her mind.

“Ugg, no talk about work,” Logan sighed, brushing Cadee’s hair to one side. He moved his body closer, gently kissing the nape of her neck.

“Rough night? Cadee purred, dropping her stirring spoon and finally turning around. God he was sexy. He had never been so forward, but it wasn’t like Cadee minded.

“You could say that,” he mumbled, now kissing Cadee passionately against the stove. “Way too late meeting with the owner of that Club we were at last week. But like I said,” he growled, lifting the girl up and spinning her so she wouldn’t hurt herself on the burners, “no talk about work”.

Oh yes, Cadee let herself be engulfed by him as his touch made her skin come alive; her arms moved to his nape and her legs wrapped around his waist, enjoying the ride to the kitchen countertop where he sat her,  before he moved forward, his tongue slipping inside her mouth, coaxing hers to play.

Cadee kissed him back fully, too lost in the moment to even think about his words, and then it hit her.  *The Club we were last week? The Graveyard?* She knew it was Romano and his men who had attempted to kill Jasmin, but she had refused to believe Logan was in their numbers, how naïve of her…

“Wait, wait,” she pulled him apart, out of breath, his kiss still lingering in her lips. “Were you in Jasmin’s building last night?”
“What? Oh yeah, my boss had a late meeting with her,” he practically panted, caught off guard by Cadee’s hesitation. “But don’t worry, I’ve still got plenty of energy for tonight.” His hand began to move up her thigh, but she quickly grasped his wrist. “Whoah, you’re stronger than you look,” he said, realizing that she was no longer in the moment. “Did I do something?”

Cadee closed her eyes, gritting. Could she be more witless? It seemed everything she did lately was tinted with stupidity. Like believing that Logan could work with Romano and not be touched by his corruption and ugliness. “A late meeting?” she said at last, unbelievable. “That’s how you call it?”

Taking a step back, Logan and Cadee locked eyes. A second ago, they were glowing with passion and now they just burned with anger. “What are you talking about?” he asked innocently. Flashes of the fight with Jasmin flooded back into his mind. But she couldn’t know about that… “Cadee, seriously what’s going on?” Gently, he reached out again to touch her arm soothingly.

“Don’t,” she said recoiling.

“You’re scaring me Cadee, what is this about?”

“You. It’s about you. And your boss. And locking Jasmin out to wait for sunrise, that is this about.” Cadee trembled with anger; she knew she was overreacting but she didn’t mind. It was too much; she’d passed through too much these past few days: with Meredith, and with those damn zombies, and Jasmin’s broken body last night. All that and justifying her feelings for Logan despite his boss. Unrealistically, she had held to the hope that he was different, that the man she had recognized in his eyes was the real one, and not the dodgy, lying son of a bitch a Romano bodyguard must be. “How could you?”

Logan felt like he had been hit by a train. How did a sweet, normal girl like Cadee know about what had happened the previous night? None of this made sense. A chill crept over his body. Now it was his turn to take a step back. “You need to calm down Cadee. Things with my job are complicated, things with Jasmin are complicated,” he began, only to be cut off.
“I know she’s a vampire, and I know what you did!”

 “I…but….” he stammered, his mind racing. She knew about the supernatural, she knew about Balthazar, she knew what he had done. “Just who are you?” Logan suddenly asked coldly. Sure, he was guilty of keeping secrets from her, but obviously the girl had her own skeletons.

Cadee inhaled deeply, trying to calm herself; she was already regretting her outburst, but she was very, very angry. Her eyes flashed when she looked at Logan again.  “I’m a freak, just like Jasmin. I’m a vampire, a werewolf and a hundred different demons, and just in the bottom, deep down, I’m human. Are you going to kill me too?”

“Of course not!” his voice softened slightly. “Look, I said things are complicated”.

“Well I’m going to give you about one minute to uncomplicated things. Who are you really?”

“Cadee, come on,” Logan said, trying to wrap his mind around what was happening.

“How long have you worked for Balthazar?” she fired off.


“How long!”

Logan tried to think back, but no memories came. Wait…when did he get hired.

Cadee’s frustration was rising; she was so angry that she didn’t even consider that she had done her own lying. “Is anything you told me true?” she demanded. “Are you even from New York?”

“I didn’t lie.”

“Where did you grow up?!”

“In the city…”


The man winced, as a sharp pain stung his forehead. “I…I told you, I didn’t lie.” His voice faltered. He tried to picture himself as a child; tried to imagine growing up, having a mother, a father…but there was nothing. “Cadee, stop”.

“You’re a fucking liar!” Cadee couldn’t stop; she just needed to know the truth. She was falling for this guy; she just needed to know the truth. “Now it all makes sense. Your secrets, your round about answers!”

“Cadee,” he pleaded, not wanting the situation to escalate further.

“Tell me the truth. Just one thing without dodging the question. Is Logan even your real name?”

The man didn’t answer. Suddenly the name sounded so foreign. Was it his name? Why couldn’t he remember anything. The room began to spin around him, causing his stomach to do summersaults.

Cadee continued to assault him with a barrage of questions. Was he human? Why did he work for Balthazar? Where did he learn to fight? And one by one, Logan realized he couldn’t answer a single one.

“Who the hell are you really?”

A heat began to swell up inside him. At first it was just a slight warmth, but within seconds his whole body felt like it was on fire and for a moment, Logan thought he was going to explode. With each question, Logan’s mind pushed further and further for answer, weakening the enchantment  that shrouded him. He was just about to cry out in pain when the agony subsided. And just like that, the fog was gone.

“Answer me! Who are you?!”

“I…I…I don’t know!” Logan’s rage shocked Cadee and himself alike. For the first time it was like the clouds had parted and he could think clearly. And with his new found clarity that he realized he couldn’t remember a damn thing. Not his name, where he was from, how he came to work for Balthazar, how he learned to fight, why he was so strong, not a damn thing!

“Magic!” The word came out with a roar. It was the only plausible explanation for his amnesia. And there was only one man who had the power to pull something like this.

The sound of that word got Cadee out of the frenzied state she’d been in. She covered her mouth with her hands, immediately regretting her callousness. *Magic* It made sense, he wasn’t responding because he couldn’t, not because he wouldn’t.  She watched him, despaired and confused, and she felt terrible, she just hoped it wasn’t too late…“Logan,” she said hesitantly, walking towards him, “I’m-  I’m sorry…”

“Don’t!” Logan barked, halting Cadee in her tracks. His mind was reeling with a thousand questions and his blood was about to hit a boiling point. He was a man of action, and every cell in his body urged him to do something, problem was he didn’t know what to do. Where did he start? Every aspect of his life was artificial…or was it? Everything was upside down and he needed to lash out. “You, are you part of this?” he yelled, his voice booming. It was just too much of a coincidence that the girl he was falling for ended up being part of the supernatural world. She had to be involved in this conspiracy. “Are you part of this!?” he repeated, louder than the first time.

“No! I’m not!” Cadee answered, and her face was the picture of confusion. She could understand if he hated her for grilling him like she had, but how the hell could he believe she was in league with Romano? “I have nothing to do with whatever happened to you! I promise you, Logan, I don’t.”

He was only half listening to her pleas while he played back the events of the last few months in his head. The images were all there, but when he tried to access anything pre-Romano, it was just white. I’ll kill him…no, I’ll get some answers and then I’ll kill him!

Cadee once again advanced but Logan’s hand flew up, his finger pointing accusingly. “I’m leaving Cadee,” his voice was shaking with a mixture of emotion. “And I better not find out you have anything to do with this!” He backed away, his eyes locked on hers as if she was some sort of dangerous monster.

The girl recoiled at his look - it hurt.  He accused her of conspiring against him, he threatened her... only the recognition of her mistake prevented her from answering him similarly. Instead, she breathed deeply and tried to calm herself. “You won’t,” she said at last, evenly, when she felt she could talk without lashing back at him. “I have nothing to do with Balthazar Romano; I never had and I never will. I despise him. That’s the only reason I reacted like I did with you, and I’m sorry for that.”

A part of Logan wanted to believe her, but how could he? How could he believe anything at the moment? Grabbing his jacket, he opened his mouth to reply, but his throat was so clenched, nothing came out. It was probably for the best anyways - anything he was going to say would not have been nice. With one final icy glance, he slammed the door, leaving Cadee alone with her uneaten roast.

2021-05-26 21:40 - Wednesday – Afterwards

Cadee was furious. Furious with herself for her callousness and with Logan for his suspicions and distrust. How could he believe she was in league with Romano? That she knew about subterrestrials didn’t automatically make her Romano’s spy. Besides, he had come to her, hadn’t him? That night at the Slainté.  Damn, damn, damn.

She took a look around the apartment, the table all set up, the candles burning brightly, and tears sprang to her eyes. She slumped on the sofa, and anger became frustration and then misery.  It wasn’t possible that all her relationships ended being fiascos. Bah, relationships! Attempts at relationships! She couldn’t call what she had with Logan a relationship yet, but she had liked him. A lot. Too much. Why couldn’t he be just a man?

*Because you’re not just a woman, that’s why. * Cadee sobbed, and felt even more miserable.  She had actually liked that Logan was aware of the supernatural world, it was a good thing. It meant he could understand her, and eventually accept her differences. It was evident now that he wasn’t ordinary himself, else Romano wouldn’t bother to put a spell on him. And it was evident he had, now that she thought of it. His lack of details and his sudden changes of topic whenever she asked about his past, not mentioning his strength and ability to fight – it exceeded simple bodyguard skills. She should have known, but well, hindsight is always 20/20.

But it wasn’t her fault if his boss was a corrupt, sleazy bastard! He had no right to accuse her of being part of whatever had happened to him.  She had been a insensitive bitch, granted, but she would have answered his questions if he had bothered to ask, and not just assume…  or threaten!

Cadee felt the anger returning, and got up. She turned the oven off, blew the candles and walked to her room. She wouldn’t stay home, balancing herself between rage and self-pity.  She could use her anger to do something productive.  She took off the nice clothes she’d donned for Logan’s sake and changed into hunting gear:  worn out jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt, military boots that could crack a head open and her multi-pocketed leather jacket, complete with stakes, blades and even a pair of handcuffs.  

She was angry, very angry, and she felt miserable;  hunting would let some steam off.