Sex with Tobias was becoming an addiction I think. He ordered me some fresh steaks and I devoured them quickly enough that he ordered two more immediately. I was feeling less like an emotional shipwreck now. He ran a hand through my hair absently. He was propped up against the headboard, flipping channels, and I lounged against him, head on his chest.
“You still need more pants,” he remarked. “Those jeans have blood spattered on them and some of the shirts in your closet have dry rot. When did you last buy clothes?”
I considered. “1976, I think.”
“Yeah, we’re going shopping after you eat.”
“Fine. So we’re clear though, I am not buying any polo shirts.”
He snorted. “I can’t even picture you in a polo shirt.”
“Good, because you’re never going to see it.” I paused for dramatic effect. “Never.”
“How about a suit?”
“For what? I never go out. I really just need jeans and some more t-shirts. Maybe a button down shirt for the office.”
“You’re impossible. Every man needs at least two button down shirts. It’s a rule.”
“How is that a rule?” I asked.
“It just is. Like wearing black socks with dress pants.”
“That’s a rule?”
He made a defeated groan. “You are such a heathen.”
“We didn’t attend church regularly when I was a boy, for some reason.” I smiled as winsomely as I knew how.
He shook his head and paused in his petting of my hair. I grunted in annoyance. “You are a cat,” he muttered, and started up again. “Seriously though, you need clothes.”
“Very well. I will acquiesce on this matter. Just for you.”
“Using big words today. It’s so refreshing.”
“I’d be happy to return to my monosyllabic utterances.” Now I was just being pedantic.
“No, thank you.” There was a knocking on the door, the arrival of my steaks no doubt. “I’ll get it.” Tobias stood up and headed for the door while I contemplated the horror about to befall me. I, unlike many vampires I knew, had never been a clothes horse. Now it seemed, I would have to bend a little bit to the whims of my partner. Ah well. We must change to survive after all, and I was willing to change a little in order to keep Tobias around. I’d already changed in more significant ways after all, what were a few shirts in the face of my new status?
The steaks were rolled in and my stomach rumbled. Time for seconds.
It was only after shopping with Tobias that I realized however horrible an experience I found shopping to be, it was slightly less horrible when I had something pretty to look at. A brief make-out session in the changing room didn’t hurt matters either.
“So,” I glanced over my shoulder at him, swinging bags of loot back and forth. “What now?” He’d made sure I left the department store in new pants, mostly I think because there had been blood on the other pair. “Because I could go for violence and mayhem.”
Tobias’ forehead wrinkled. “Really? It’s what, two o’clock in the afternoon?”
“It’s never too early for mayhem,” I replied. “Besides, I should check in at work, shouldn’t I? There’s certain to be something interesting to do.”
“I think there’s still some paperwork left on your desk,” he said sweetly.
“Fuck paperwork. I feel—antsy. Edgy.”
“You look like a terrier that got into coffee.”
I blinked at him. “Clearly I need to beat something to death. I bet we could find some ghouls if we really tried.”
“Or we could do something productive and try and find out where Jonah is keeping himself during the daylight hours.”
“Ghouls are often found around vampire nests.”
“You just want an excuse to get blood on your new clothes.”
“That is completely untrue.” I opened my eyes wide. “I love my new clothes.” I hadn’t worn a shirt collar this tight since 1856, it made me uncomfortable. “Either way we have to go the station. I plan on sleeping there until I put a stake through Jonah Swift’s heart.”
“A sensible idea.”
“You sound surprised.”
“Well, you are the one who said it.” He smiled. “Come on then, I’ll drive.”
I still wanted to go kill something. I was pretty sure it was an aftereffect of my recent transformation but I couldn’t do anything about it. My inner monster did not find clothes shopping a good expenditure of energy. Sex had been, but I was on edge again. When we arrived at the funeral home, I found things louder than usual. There was a lot of commotion around the front desk. I stashed the bags in the common area and headed to the desk.
“What’s up?” I asked the nearest hunter. It turned out to be Waxford and I withheld a shudder.
“Captain Cooke is making an announcement,” he hissed in his usual moldy breathed whisper.
I looked away from him and over the heads of the other gathered hunters. Captain Cooke stood in front of the front desk, Sheila still sitting behind it and focusing on her nails.
“—with the discovery of a new master vampire in Chicago, obviously we must all be on high alert. Everyone will remain in the company of their partner. We work in squads of six from this point onward. Assignments are posted on the board and will cycle weekly until the vampire is killed. That is all.”
The conversing continued amongst the hunters, who had barely lowered the volume when she was talking. In a bit of a huff she turned around and went up to her office. There wasn’t much that could distract one of us when we got excited about a hunt.
“I missed the name,” I said.
Johannsen heard me. “Jonah Swift. He’s on more than a few lists around here.”
I had no doubt and nodded. Too bad none of these would get the chance at him. Jonah Swift was mine.
“Wayland,” Tobias called. Smart of him to revert to surnames in front of the others. “Come here.”
I headed over to the bulletin. “Who we with?”
“That’s not important,” he whispered. “What do you intend to do? That master nearly killed you. What will he do to them?”
“Have lunch,” I replied. I saw his point. I was the biggest fish in the pond as far as the hunters were concerned, and sure, as a team them might be all right but still.
Tobias gave me a look. “We get him first.”
“We have to find him.” I took a deep breath. “Fast.” I considered for a moment the possibilities.
Tobias stared. “Do you have a plan?”
“I think I do.” I looked him in the eyes. “We’re going to need a lot of clay.”
“That is a terrible plan.”
“Do you have a better one?”
“No.” He took a breath. “Let’s go.”
Yes, before we got dragged onto our new team.
I started the plan by calling my brother. It seemed like the most responsible thing, which of course meant he was totally caught off guard. I liked being unpredictable though. Almost as much as I liked rare steak. Almost. Aramis promised to try and find Jonah’s hidey hole for me while Tobias got his hands on an obscenely large quantity of clay. I didn’t ask questions, I was confident he had it all under control. Besides which, I had no idea where to buy clay. I mean, was there a Clay-R-Us or something?
Nah, there’s no way there’s a market for that. Maybe a construction company? I had to stop wondering about this shit.
Instead, I sat quietly in the car while Tobias did his thing. All right, not quietly, I turned on some Def Leppard and sang along. I don’t sound bad either. That was totally from my mother’s side of the family I’m told. She used to sing at the brothel where she met my father. It was nice to have a connection to her, even if it was a small one. I liked spending my Christmas’ running around singing carols in Bulgaria.
It was always a good time. There was lots of food, alcohol and willing bed partners once the lights died down.
“Could you turn it down?” Tobias asked, leaning into the open window.
I paused in the middle of a lyric and then turned it down a tick. “What?”
“Are you done reliving the eighties? Or would you like a few more minutes?”
I blinked. “Fuck off. How’s the clay order coming?”
“Well. I should have everything in order. It took more money than I would like, that’s for certain.”
“So sorry. I’ll reimburse you.”
“With what? I’ve seen your apartment.”
“All right, fine, my father will reimburse you.” I flipped the music off completely. “Aramis is looking for Jonah, in the mean time we should hit some hot spots, see if anyone has heard anything. You know, detective stuff.”
“Wow. Detective stuff. That is so impressive. Sure, why don’t we do that then?” He opened the door and got in the car. “Where do we start then, detective?”
I rolled my eyes. “There are a few places vampires still like to hang out in this city.” I could start asking questions at the blood bar. There were some who would be loyal to Jonah, but even more of them would be terrified.
“Okay then. Let’s go.”
I revved the engine and turned my music back on. “I drive, I set the volume.”
Tobias rolled his eyes and shook his head, but I won that battle.
The blood bar was doing brisk business until our arrival. Perhaps my scent had changed in some significant way, but for whatever reason, the better part of the clientele cleared out shortly thereafter. I eyed the bartender.
“Is there a fire?”
“Wayland. Your father’s in town I here,” the bartender remarked. “And Swift.”
“Two masters, one territory. Fuckfest for everyone.” I smiled. “Where’s Swift?”
“How should I know? I keep my head down, you used to. You smell different. I don’t like it.”
“I don’t care.” I leaned onto the bar and continued to stare at the bartender. “You have any ideas?”
“If you want to keep your throat from being ripped out? I’m in that kind of mood.”
The bartender swallowed. “You don’t scare me.”
I reached across the bar and grabbed him by the throat. My fingers dug into his skin far more easily than I could have accomplished before. My nails drew blood. Warm blood that ran down my fingers and palm and dripped onto the bartender’s crisp white shirt. He was making very interesting sounds. Prey sounds. Whining and whimpering that set my heart racing and my bloodlust rise.
The bartender looked me in the eyes and I saw fear.
“I—I haven’t heard—anything. I swear.” He swallowed. “Jordan though. He said something about Swift.”
“Yeah, you know. Snake tattoo and bad aftershave.”
“Yeah, you know. Snake tattoo and bad aftershave.”
“Jordan…right.” I let go of the bartender and back away. “Thanks for the tip.” I flashed a smile at Tobias. His eyebrows were raised and his eyes wide. I raised my own eyebrows. “What?”
He took my hand in his own and tugged me out of the bar proper and into the dimly lit hallway that led inside. Once the door to the bar swung closed he pushed me against the brick wall and kissed me. I found the kiss both arousing and odd given the circumstances, but with the adrenaline from my power high still coursing through me, I took the opportunity to take control of the encounter. I leveraged myself off the wall and pushed him against the opposite wall, digging my still bloody hands into his hair with a growl.
I bit down on his lip and reveled in the spicy taste of his blood.
“Jesus, what’s gotten into you?” I asked when I broke away.
“Seeing you threaten that fellow just made me…” He shrugged. “What can I say? I’m vaguely attracted to violence.”
We were a matched set then, weren’t we? I smiled. “Well, you have blood in your hair now so—maybe we should go someplace you can get cleaned up.” I looked at my hands and licked off the remaining blood like a little boy eating melted ice cream off his fingers. Tobias kept his eyes on me the whole time.
He smiled. “My place is closer.”
I considered that option for a solid thirty seconds. “As wonderful as that would be…I think we should hit a bathroom and then go find Jordan. All right?”
Tobias furrowed his eyebrows. “Sure. A bathroom.” He looked around. “There’s one back in the bar, right?”
Seventeen minutes later we left the bar having thoroughly used the bathroom facilities and I was left with the sweet taste of Tobias lingering on my tongue, his scent in my hair and on my hands and a bit of blood dried under my fingernails.
When it came to tracking down Jordan, I had a fair idea where he might be. Vampires like that still hung out at the Red Room. There were always plenty of idiots willing to feed them. We had to avoid a team of hunters to get inside, but that wasn’t the biggest problem we’d face tonight. I was certain of that. The Red Room was run by Joker’s brother, but he’d died a while back during a raid to track down a Nordic master vampire. That bastard took a whole room full of people with him before Fynn Adder took his head off.
These days it was run by a woman called Lilac. She had the appearance of a fifteen-year-old girl, but that was deceptive. The five foot nothing, hundred pound little monster was always impeccably dressed in white, lavender or any number of shades in between. Today, she wore a lavender gogo dress with white thigh high platform boots. Her hair was straight as a stick, dark purple and put back with a white headband. She filed her nails, sitting up on the bar counter with a bored look on her face. Her make-up matched the era of her attire, bold with large false lashes with glitter on the tips.
Lilac was fey, not vampire, and I had no idea how old she really was or what variety. What I did know was that after the old king of the elves got himself killed in a duel, we’d seen a lot more fey around and they loved to get their fingers into things they had no business in. Lilac looked up at us when we entered the nearly empty bar. It had been a red concrete wasteland before the vampire massacre. These days it had been redecorated. The floor and walls were a white and red tile checkerboard, black chandeliers hung from the ceiling, between the black Greek columns. The bar was stainless steel and black marble with a big mirror behind it with shelves of liquor.
“Well, wow. Wayland.” She looked at Tobias. “Who’s he?”
“My—Tobias. Looking for Jordan. Snake tattoo. Smells bad.”
Lilac raised her perfect purple eyebrows and put down her nail file. “Why?”
“I just do.” It was best not to explain things to fey. They had a way of twisting things around to their own advantage. Keep it short, keep it sweet and never make them a promise. Ever.
She wrinkled her sharp little nose. “Fine. Only because you keep the place in order for me.” She batted her eyes and hopped down from the bar, making no sound at all as heavy boots hit tile. That was a fey thing. “Snake boy comes in sometimes. He does. He does. Saw him last night. I did, I did. I’ve heard he lives in that tenement. You know? The one with the other lowlifes who drink blood. I hear. I hear.”
“I see.” Lilac had a habit of repeating any information she gave in threes, so we would know she wasn’t lying to us. Powerful thing that. It sounded fucking annoying in her little girl voice though. “I’ll be off.” You never said thank you to a fey either. That meant they’d done you a favor. That meant you owed them a favor. Lilac knew full well that withdrawal of Night Shift protection could mean all sorts of bad things for her club though, so she wasn’t going to clam up over one little vampire.
The tenement in question wasn’t far. It was, as she’d said, occupied by vampires. Mostly the young ones leftover from the last master’s expansion attempts. There were about five of them, and they kept their noses relatively clean enough that we hadn’t come out to kill them. You had to set priorities after all.
We walked to the crumbling brick. It had condemned notices on all the doors, but that didn’t stop the vampires. Condemned buildings were a bit safer, by and large, for the young ones. If they killed anyone, they had a whole building to hide the body in and there were some hunters that just weren’t willing to walk into a building that big and decrepit on their own, leaving the baby vampires to live another day.
I’d have to kill Jordan after I spoke to him though. I couldn’t risk him going off to Jonah and shooting his mouth.
Tobias made a displeased sound as we eyed the building. “How do you want to do this then, detective?”
I rolled my eyes. “We go in together, we come out together.”
“That’s very helpful.”
“I do my best.” I pulled a knife from my boot. “Let’s go then.”
“I do my best.” I pulled a knife from my boot. “Let’s go then.”
Tobias was going to be a pessimist this whole evening, I could tell. Not that I could blame him.
It wasn’t like we were planning on a direct assault on a centuries old, incredibly dangerous master vampire or anything. Oh wait. Yeah. If I survived till morning, I was going to have to make this up to him somehow. So long as it didn’t involve wearing a polo shirt.
The interior the condemned building was no better than the exterior. It smelled of trash, piss and vomit—not to mention decay and blood. Old blood. I wrinkled my nose and ignored the crunch of trash underfoot. I could hear heartbeats in the building. The quick staccato of rats, the slower beat of an old man not long for this world two floors down, and the incredibly slow beats of vampire hearts, three of them, scattered around the structure. Tobias had a gun in his hands, a standard issue large caliber revolver with a crucifix carved into the handle to denote its vampire-killing capabilities. Never mind that not all vampires were crucifix-phobic.
We kept quiet and stalked up to the next floor where I could hear one of the vampires sleeping. The other two also seemed to be at rest, but were higher up the building. It only seemed logical to start at the bottom and work our way up. One in three odds don’t usually work out in my favor, and really it was a one in five odds given that two of the five weren’t there so it was completely possible Jordan wasn’t even in the building in which case I’d have to go looking for him and I was not looking forward to the that possibility.
Instead, I assumed we’d find him, relying on the fact that I was now a master dhampir and things in the universe should go the way I want them to by default at least some of the time now instead of never.
I was becoming too optimistic for my own good.
We found vampire one asleep in a back closet. He was not Jordan. I considered leaving him be, but it was never wise to leave an enemy behind you. I put a broken chair leg through him and we moved up to the next target. This vampire was a bit smarter. His hole in the wall apartment was at least well fortified. The door barred and no direct access inside.
“This one is smarter,” Tobias muttered.
“Not smart enough.” I kicked out the bottom of the dry-rotted door and bumped the bar off its track. I swung the door open and paused to listen. Our vampire might be a bit smarter but he was still young, and even this much noise didn’t wake him from his daylight enforced sleep. His heartbeat was still steady and slow.
I kept the noise to a minimum anyhow. There was no need to push our luck.
This vampire had a coffin. How fucking cliché.
I looked at Tobias and raised my eyebrows. He nodded once and crept around to the other side of the coffin. I held up three fingers in a silent countdown and on zero, Tobias jerked open the lid and I put a silver blade to the vampire’s throat.
It seemed my optimism was not ill-placed after all. We had found Jordan.
Chapter Eleven- Final Chapter
Chapter Eleven- Final Chapter