I come out of the tattoo shop to find a twenty-something year old Hispanic punk leaning on my motorcycle.
"Son, you better be an illusion, 'cause if your ass is leaning on my bike you're gonna get hurt."
He looks up at me with this "I know something you don't" smirk and lights a cigarette without responding. The cigarette dangles between his lips, but he doesn't inhale. I tilt my head to get a good look at my rear view mirror. He's not casting a reflection.
"Whoa, impressive. You can light a cigarette and lean on a bike. But can you walk and chew gum at the same time?"
He removes the cigarette from his mouth and proceeds to extinguish it on the seat of my bike. He takes a half step toward me.
"Kid, if you want to commit suicide, there are less painful ways to die."
He pushes his long curly black hair behind his ears to keep it out of his eyes. His eyes are narrow and set a little too far back in his head. The right eyebrow looks slightly pushed back, as if it had been smashed and never healed right. I point to my own eyebrow.
"Did the shovel do that?"
"Not all of us were afforded an embrace among silk sheets, Alexandra."
There are only two people in the world who ever called me Alexandra. One is dead and the other should be. I KNOW my dead mother didn't send this kid, so that leaves…
"Belzitane still talks about me. Isn't that sweet. So how is dad? That eye ever heal?"
"Our sire is in better spirits these nights."
"OUR sire? Oh, I get it. Family reunion. Hell, come over here and give your big sister a hug." I extend my arms toward him in an exaggerated fashion.
He flicks his cigarette at me.
I look down at the cigarette as it hits the ground, then slowly look up at the guy with the death-wish. A couple bikers come out of the tattoo shop, jump on their Harleys, and ride off. I sigh.
"Look…ah, chico, you're boring me. State your business and let's get on with it."
"It doesn't bother you that I followed you here?" he says with a smug look.
"You think you're the ONLY person watching me right now? I can damn well guarantee the Prince has got at least one sewer rat watching me. I know the Scourge has a tail on me just waiting for me to jump back to the Sabbat. Belzitane's probably got a tail on you to make sure you do whatever it is you're suppose to do. And somewhere in the bushes is a big ass spider reporting back to my neighbor. So no, I'm not bothered. Question is, are you?"
He breaks eye contact and looked around nervously.
That got a response out of him. His head jerked toward me and he growled.
"Looks like you blinked first. Now that we've established my superiority as a trash-talker, why don't you tell me what you want?"
"My name is Carlos Montanez. I have been sent to kill you. Thought it would make the game more interesting to let you know."
"Really? Well, that's nice. Thanks for sharing. Now do you mind?" I motion from him to get out of my way so I can get on my bike. He doesn't budge.
I stare him right in the eyes and yell, "MOVE!" He instinctively steps back. I get on my bike. "You have much to learn about the Force, my young padawan."
He curses himself for falling victim to my Dominate power. "You think I can't get the job done?" he says as he steps in front of my bike.
"I know you can't. You're sloppy and you don't do your homework."
"What makes you say that?"
"A. If you did, you'd know that every would-be assassin that tried to socialize with me first isn't around any more."
"And B…" I put my hand on the special headlight switch Ralph installed on my Harley. "…if you did your homework, you'd know better than to stand in front of THIS bike."
His eyes go wide as he realizes his error. But before I can turn him into toast, a few more people come out of the tattoo shop. Damn the Masquerade. A look of relief washes over Carlos' face.
"You're a lucky boy, tonight." I hit the normal headlight. He twitches as if expecting the other one.
Heather yells at me when I get home and tell her what happened.
"You just left? My God, maybe if you weren't so busy running your mouth you could have just disposed of him before anyone saw anything. Why didn't you just use your shadows? You could have killed him and nobody would have saw a thing!"
"I haven't eaten in two days. I didn't feel like spending the blood."
"You could have eaten him."
"Since when do you encourage me to diabolize my fellow undead?"
"Oh, you HAVE to diabolize every vampire you feed on?"
"No, not every one. But if I ate him I would have to for general principal."
"Calm down before you start glowing blue."
Did she just growl at me?
Heather slumps into her chair and puts her head in her hands. At first I think she's just frustrated with me. Maybe she's right. But I was having fun. And isn't that what it's really all about?
Then I hear her start to cry.
"What happened?" I ask as I sit on the floor next to her.
"I've been having bad dreams. Seeing things. Getting visions."
"You're hanging from a cliff. And there are blue flames above you and red flames below. And then your falling, but you don't fall into the fire."
"Well, that's good."
"No, it's not. You just get swallowed by shadows. And then I can't see you any more. You're just gone." She starts brushing my hair with her hand as if I was a child. I rest my head on her knee and let her cry. There's nothing I can say to comfort her, or me.
"Are we interrupting a special moment?" says Jason as he and Ralph come into the house. His joking demeanor changes when we both look up at him. "What the hell happened?"
"Heather's been having bad dreams," I say as I stand up.
"About?" asks Jason.
"Oh, good," says Ralph with a sigh of relief. "Because I've been working on some serious experiments and…" The brat pauses when he sees the three of us staring at him. "…Not that I'd be running any dangerous experiments in the house, but with the volatile nature of discovery bad dreams would be…well…bad."
I look at Heather. "Jason, could you keep mini-mage here while we go check something?"
Heather and I start up the steps as Ralph struggles to get away from Jason's grip. As we reach the door, we here Ralph complaining about getting webbed in place, then Jason lets out an incoherent yelp about a bug zapper. I grab the doorknob and get electrocuted. I grate my teeth as I look at my newly char-broiled hand. Heather puts a hand on my shoulder to try to calm me down. I turn to see Ralph in the hallway with web sticking to him.
"You…are so lucky…you're a kid." The beast is screaming for revenge. It takes all my will to just lean against the wall, holding my burnt hand and refraining from killing him. It's gonna take days for this to heal.
"Open this door, Ralph," says Heather.
"But I haven't made my bed."
"Now, Ralph," says Heather.
"And I have dirty underwear all over the place."
"Ralph!" I growl.
"Let me handle this Alex. Why don't you go downstairs with Jason?" Heather's tone is very controlled and deliberate. She's feeling the beast just below the surface.
"Going downstairs involves walking by the little demonspawn. I'll stand here."
Heather stands in front of the door for a moment then waves her hand in front of it. I hear several manual and electronic locks open then an artificial voice that sounds like a robotic Ralph says "Death-Con 1 through 19 deactivated." The door pops open.
"When did you learn that?" Ralph and I both say in awe.
"Craig taught me," she says as she walks into Ralph's room. Ralph chases in after her apologizing in advance for whatever it is she is about to find in there. I just stand in the corner of the hallway.
"Alex, you o.k.?" asks Jason as he pokes his head around the corner.
"No, I'm not o.k. My left hand looks like a burnt spare rib and I just found out Hunters can undo all the locks on my coffin."
"Not all Hunters!" shouts Heather from inside Ralph's room.
"That's NOT reassuring, Heather!" I reply as I head down the steps.
I sit down at my computer to start researching the unlife and times of Carlos. I let out a wail as I mistakenly try to type with my damaged hand and hit a key with a charred finger.
"You want me to help…" starts Jason.
"NO," I snarl.
Jason holds his hands up and steps back. "Maybe you should go over to the club and beat up on Martin for a while. You're building a lot of pent up hostility there."
"Maybe you're right. I haven't broken his spine in a few months. He'd appreciate that."
Jason just shivers nervously and leaves.
I spend the next hour hacking into various databases looking for Carlos. I don't like what I find. My young friend "disappeared" from his home six months after I turned on my sire and escaped Philadelphia. He had graduated top of his class at the police academy, even though his parents died in a car accident three months before graduation. His record got him promoted twice in his short two years on the force, in spite of the fact that his fiancée was gunned down during a botched bank robbery and his brother killed in a skydiving accident. His cases closed percentage is almost as good as mind (almost, not quite). It's obvious Belzitane had been testing him for years before his embrace. It's how my clan works. They find a potential recruit and set out to destroy your life to see if you sink or swim. If you sink, they abandon your shattered mind to whatever mental hospital you end up in. If you swim, you end up a vampire.
It's a lose, lose situation all around.
As I'm looking at the timeline, it occurs to me Belzitane started grooming this one only a few months after my embrace. This kid was meant to be my replacement from the beginning. Belzitane knew he could only control me so long as my mother was alive, and he knew I'd never contaminate her with my own vampiric blood to extend her life. So Carlos was his contingency plan for when I broke rank.
Which means he wasn't just sent to destroy me. He's been promised my blood and soul as well.
I bang my fist on the desk, realizing Heather was right. I should have taken out the brat when I had the chance. I've gotten strong enough with the Jedi Mind Trick I could have cleaned up the potential breach.
Of course, I stupidly bang my burnt hand on the desk and a jolt of pain shoots up my arm. I throw the keyboard across the room and punch the monitor with my good hand.
"Alex, you need to…" begins Heather as she storms down the basement steps. She pauses on the landing as she surveys the situation. "Never mind. You got other things going on."
"I think I broke my computer again."
"You want me to have Ralph fix it tomorrow?"
"He's still alive? Must not have been as bad as I thought."
"Actually worse. But he promised to get rid of it by the end of the week."
"You don't wanna know."
"The only thing I hate worse than being right is bring wrong."
"You should have killed Carlos when you had the chance?"
"I think he was playing naïve. I think he knew I wouldn't risk the masquerade by taking him out in public. This guy's suppose to be my replacement. He's the Sabbat Paladin I was supposed to be. And it won't be enough for him to just kill me. He'll gun after everybody else first. That's why he introduced himself, so I'll know whose killing my friends."
"So can't you just report to the Prince that a Sabbat assassin is in town?"
"And what? Expect protection? Or even expect him to believe me? I was in the Sabbat for two years. He barely tolerates me being in this city as it is. I'm better off him not knowing." I get up and start up the steps pass Heather.
"Where are you going?"
"I need to feed if I'm gonna heal this hand."
"You can't go out alone."
"What, you gonna follow me and watch me feed?"
"Well, no. But…Have Jason go with you."
"Well, you guys share a similar diet."
I give her an eyebrow.
"Just humor me, Alex. Until we straighten this mess out, we shouldn't travel alone."
"Fine, but if he makes one comment about this being our first date or something…"
"Well, he is a good looking guy."
I lean in close to her. "He's a werespider."
"So? You're a vampire. It could work."
After a contemplative pause, we both bust up laughing.
I stop laughing when I start to cross the street to his house. Every shadow seems menacing. Every patch of darkness wields a secret. I feel my paranoia level rising.
Guess I'm the one who blinked first after all.