"What's the news, Kruise?"
"She was here. Fish, the bartender, said she had a few drinks and left. We missed her by about fifteen minutes."
"Damn." Dayle took a deep breath. "What's the plan now?"
Kruise threw her free hand in the air and sighed into her cell phone. "Jess and I are going to start hitting the other clubs. We don't really know what's in her head right now. Fish said she sat thinking for a while, then left. We're hoping she'll head home, but we're gonna keep looking till we hear from you guys that she's there."
"Right. Tell you what, Nix and I will wait here for her. You guys hit the normal bars, and Cam and Tess are going to a couple of vampire clubs, just in case. That way we'll cover as many bases as possible. Okay?"
Kruise nodded, glancing at Jesse. "Sounds good, Dayle, thanks. We'll keep in touch."
"Good." There was a pause as Dayle spoke to someone else for a moment. "Babe? Tell Jesse that Nix is going with Tess to check out the clubs, and Cam is staying with me. Nix said she'd want to know."
"Right, I'll tell her. Sounds like the two of them have patched things up."
"Actually, I think that's part of the plan. Good luck, and keep in touch."
"Love you, Dayle. I'll call soon."
Jesse waited for Kruise to finish her call before starting the car. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. They haven't heard from her, and Tess and Nix are headed out to join the search. Dayle and Cam are staying at the apartment."
"Nix is heading out?" Jesse glanced at her friend. "With Tess?"
"Yeah, they're hitting the vampire clubs, see if Trey went there."
"Ah. Yeah." Nodding, Jesse let out a relieved breath. "That's a good idea."
"You don't really think Trey would go to a vampire club, do you?" Kruise frowned at the idea. "I mean, she wouldn't -- um --"
"Let someone feed off her? I don't know. I'm just glad Nix is going to one. I hope she feeds."
"She had a blood packet with her, that should keep her from needing to feed, shouldn't it?"
Wincing, Jesse realized they were straying into dangerous waters. She took a deep breath, but let it out before saying anything. "Well, Nix is -- kind of -- well, she's been having a problem. Needing a little more blood than normal. She even had Kelsey check her out, but we haven't heard anything back."
Kruise looked at her friend in shock. "She's sick?"
"I didn't think they could get sick."
Another shrug. "Don't know. Could be anything, even just a reaction from Cam draining of her, though Kelsey doesn't think so."
"Huh." Kruise looked out the window as they turned into Mowzer's parking lot. "So, you guys are okay? Together, I mean? No more fighting, no more running away?"
A smile crossed her face as Jesse pulled into a parking space. "No, no more fights, no more running. We're good."
"Are you happy?" Kruise looked at her friend curiously.
Jesse looked at the car ceiling, an unconscious smile still on her lips. "Yeah. I'm happy." She turned her head and looked at Kruise. "You?"
"Yes." Kruise grinned. "Or I will be as soon as we find Trey and knock some sense into her."
Jesse laughed and they opened the car doors.
They were at the door to Mowzer's when they heard the distinctive tones of Jesse's phone. Letting the door close in front of them, Jesse slipped the cell out of her jacket and answered it.
"Hey, Nix, what's up?"
Kruise shivered a little and leaned against the brick wall. As she watched, Jesse's face curled with fury, her eyes narrowing and her teeth clenching.
The anger in the dark woman's voice sparked a jolt of fear in Kruise's stomach.
Tess had taken a cab to Trey's apartment, and Nix had come over with Jesse in the Mustang. Since Jesse and Kruise were using the Mustang to search for Trey, Nix and Tess were carless until Dayle let them borrow the PT Cruiser. She glared at Nix and reminded her that the car was not to be used as a punching or kicking target. Nix blushed and nodded, waving to Cam and Dayle as she and Tess left the apartment.
They agreed to start at the Shadowbox, as that was the club Trey knew best.
The drive started in a very quiet manner, neither knowing what to say to the other, even though they'd been best friends for centuries.
"Thanks for taking care of Cam."
Nix snorted at Tess's words. "Don't thank me. I just got back from Toronto."
"I know, she told me. She also told me about draining you, and how you didn't even fight her."
"She remembers it?"
Tess shrugged. "Not well. But she told me all that she remembers." The vampire gave a heavy sigh. "I should never have left her. I knew that a long time ago, but I let my ego get in the way of coming back, and," she raised a hand and dropped it, "this is what happened." Tess shook her head. "I'll never leave her again, Nix. I swear it."
"Good." Nix was looking out the glass, squirming a little. "I'm glad."
Tess glanced at her friend. "Are you okay? You look a bit pale."
"Yeah, fine." Nix winced at the coldness in her own voice. Then she sighed, deciding that maybe Tess should know what was going on. "Actually, that's not true. I'm not even close to fine."
"What's going on, Nix?" Tess's voice was low, with a distinct note of concern.
Nix sighed again. "I don't know. I even went to Kelsey, and she doesn't know. We thought maybe it was just from Cam draining me the way she did, but it's not -- it started before that, and it's getting worse."
"Constant blood cravings. At times they almost get uncontrollable. It's -- a little frightening."
Tess raised an eyebrow. "How long has this been happening?"
"I'm not positive, but at least a month, maybe more. It's changed though. At first it was just long periods of not wanting to feed, and then sudden desire to do so, so I thought it was just that I wasn't feeding enough. But now, I'm feeding pretty often, and it's not helping."
"Every few hours."
That got a whistle from Tess. "How much at a time? I mean, if you lost control and took someone, would it kill them before you could get control back?"
Nix shook her head. "Not yet. The amount is still pretty small; the craving goes away after several swallows. But just a few days ago, when I first noticed it, the craving was satisfied with just a couple swallows. Now it's several." Her voice dropped to just above a whisper. "It's starting to really scare me, Tess. I've never gone through something like this before."
Tess nodded. "I know." She cleared her throat. "So, you don't understand what's happening?"
"No." She paused a moment. "Do you?"
The younger vampire hesitated. "I might, but I'm not sure. Let's talk for a while after we find Trey. There are a few things I want to jar your memory about, okay?"
"Fine." Nix sighed, but this time it was in relief. "I was worried about whether or not you'd -- you know, want to be around me anymore."
Tess stayed quiet for several minutes before answering. "I know. After all, I'm the one who told you not to call. Must have felt like I hated you or something."
Her friend hesitated. "Did you?"
A nod. "Yeah. For a little while I think I did."
"Oh." Nix turned back to the window, her chest tight.
"But then I got on a plane, and while I was on the plane I had a lot of time to think." Tess shifted in her seat. "I went to Vienna. I went to her grave and talked to her. I remembered how much pain you were in when you told me. I thought about what was happening to all of us at the time. Cam and I, we fled. There was no way I was risking her to those bastards. But you and Nora stayed, and you worked together, and if she had killed you, she would have been as devastated as you were. Only, I don't think she could have handled it. She would have stayed there and died, and we'd have lost both of you." She shook her head to get rid of the tears. "And I don't want to think about that."
Nix let her own tears fall in response. "Tess, I --"
"No. No more apologies. It happened, it's over. I know the truth, and as much as it hurt, I'm glad I know the truth. You did the right thing, Nix. And I'm glad you're here."
"I'm glad you're home, Tess." The words came out in a strangled whisper as Nix felt the wave of relief pass over her. "I love you, my friend."
Without looking, Tess reached over and squeezed Nix's knee. "Love you, too, you brat."
They were quiet for a few moments longer.
"Nix? Do you think Trey took off cause she was afraid I'd kill her for sleeping with Cam?"
The blonde vampire shrugged. "I don't know, Tess. If I had to guess, I'd say it was a combination of that and her own pain. She's --" Her cell phone rang, and Nix pulled it out. She glanced at the number and frowned when it wasn't familiar. "Hello?"
"Hey, Lista, what's up?" As she listened, Nix sat straight up, her eyes widening in fury. "She WHAT?"
Jesse slammed her phone shut, then kicked the wall in anger.
"What? What is it?" Kruise grabbed her arm. "Jesse?"
"Shelby has Trey."
They stared at each other for a moment.
"What do you mean, Shelby has Trey?"
"Just what I said. That was Nix calling. She got a message from Lista. Shelby went to the club, and she had Trey with her. Evan was there as well, and they had Trey tied up."
Jesse turned away from Mowzer's and headed back to the car.
"What the hell does Shelby want Trey for?"
"Cause of me." She kicked a bottle off the sidewalk. "She blames Trey for bringing Nix into the club and screwing up everything. I'm with Nix now, and she blames that on Trey as well. So, she's looking for revenge."
"Are they at the club?"
"I don't know. We're supposed to meet Nix and Tess there."
"Damn." Kruise waited for Jesse to deactivate the alarm, then opened her door and climbed in. "Should I call Dayle?"
"Not yet. Cam's with her, and we don't want Cam to freak out. Let's get some more information first." Jesse left marks on the cement as she pulled out of the parking lot with a squeal of her tires. "I hope Shelby's still there."
"Cause I wanna watch Nix bleed her dry."
Kruise shivered at the fury in Jesse's voice.
I didn't think my nose was broken, but I wasn't so sure about my ribs. My side was killing me where Evan had punched me when I tried to run, and my nose hurt from being slammed into the wall.
Neither of those hurt as bad as my shoulders, though. Shelby had untied my hands, but then had retied them to opposite ends of a longer rope that she'd tossed over a rafter in the ceiling, pulling my arms straight up into the air. My feet were fully touching the floor, but it still wasn't comfortable. It also pulled on my very sore ribs, and made it even harder to breathe.
"You know, Jesse's gonna kill you, Shelby."
I saw Evan wince at that. Shelby casually walked over and backhanded me. When I regained my balance I could taste the blood on my lip.
"Don't say I didn't warn you."
Evan watched from his position by the wall. "You're sure she doesn't know about this place?"
"Oh, she knows about it. She just doesn't how to get here. She's been blindfolded both times I brought her to my playpen."
I glanced around, thinking that there wasn't much to the playpen. Just a couple chairs, a table, and and dirt. The dust had mixed with a greasy soot from the restaurant next door, and it clung to everyting. I couldn't help thinking that Jess must not have seen this place, or she'd never have agreed to play here. It really was disgusting.
"You know Jesse's smart, if she has any idea of the location, she'll find it."
There was a slight hint of annoyance in his voice. Or it might have been fear.
"Don't worry, Evan. I can handle Jesse."
"And if that blonde -- bitch shows up with her?"
Ah, I thought, it is fear. Not necessarily of Jesse, but fear all the same. Is this good or bad?
"I'll handle her, too." Shelby pulled out a cross and a bottle of holy water.
I choked, trying not to laugh. Shelby must have misunderstood my struggle, cause she turned back toward me and smiled.
"Yeah, Trey, I know she's a vampire. But there are lots of ways to kill a vamp, and I'm gonna ice that bloodsucking bitch."
Unable to hold it back, I laughed out loud, despite the pain in my ribs. "You don't have a clue what she is. A vampire? Sure. But if you think a cross and some water are any defense -- you've been reading too many bad Buffy fanfics."
This must have gotten to her, cause she slapped me again.
Evan shook his head. "Why don't we just leave her here and go? We can pick up that money and be out of town before Jesse even --"
Shelby turned on him and he stopped. "Shut the fuck up, Evan. We're not going anywhere. Once I get rid of that fucking vampire, Jesse will come crawling back, and I'll break her. After that, this town is ours."
"You couldn't break Jesse after a couple months of trying -- why do you suddenly think you can?" Evan threw up his hands. "And why the hell does it matter? Let's get the fucking cash and split!"
"You wanna split? Fine. Leave." Shelby folded her arms and glared at him. "Go for it. Walk. Right now."
He glared at her. "And leave the key with you."
Her eyes reflected the lights, giving her smile an evil glint with a touch of insanity. "That's right."
Evan resumed his position, but I could see his hands were curled into fists. I wondered what the hell was going on between them.
Then Shelby turned that maniacal smile on me, and I forgot everything except that I was in deep trouble here.
"So, tell me, Trey. Has Jesse been fired yet?"
I raised an eyebrow, but shook my head. "No. Why?"
"Oh, just wondering. I'm pretty sure she will be. After all, they test her once more, she's gonna fail." She laughed. "And with her job, it's more like two strikes and you're gone."
"Unless you're good friends with your boss and have his respect. Jesse already told him about what happened, and he agreed not to fire her."
She opened her mouth in shock, and some of the glee left her expression. "You're fucking kidding me."
"Nope." I shrugged. "It's Jesse; she always lands on her feet."
Shelby snorted. "Yeah. She does. But you know what, Little T? You don't." Bending over, Shelby picked up a cat with knots on the ends of the laces.
I swallowed hard and hoped Jess could find us -- fast.
"You just let them walk out of here?"
Jesse was furious and yelling at Lista from just a few inches away.
"What else could I do? Maz wasn't here, it was just me and Dina and the girls, and Evan was holding a knife on Trey. What did you expect me to do, jump Shelby and let Evan kill Trey?"
Nix put a hand on Jesse's back. Inside her, anger was mixing with her blood lust, and she wanted to rip something apart. But her first instinct was to reach for Jesse, to try and calm her. After all, one of them had to remain sane, and Nix didn't think she could do that much longer.
Tightening her fists, Jesse turned away. "I know. I'm just pissed. I wanna strangle Shelby for getting Trey involved in this."
"Well, she is involved, Jess. Let's concentrate on getter back." Kruise sounded deceptively calm, and Nix wondered if the tall woman wasn't as close to the edge as she herself was. The vampire almost smiled at that thought, then shook her head as Kruise spoke again. "Lista, any idea where they took her?"
"Shelby mentioned the play pen. I think they'll go there."
"Where's the play pen?" Nix asked.
Lista looked at Jesse. "You're the only one she's taken there, besides Evan."
Jesse put a hand to the back of her head and took a deep breath. "I don't know, exactly. I was blindfolded both times and all I know is the area."
"How large an area?" Tess's voice was soft and low. "How much territory do we have to cover if we do a search?"
The question got a shrug from Jesse. "About eight square blocks, maybe ten. I really can't say better than that."
Nix sighed and turned to Lista. "Did Shelby tell you why she was holding Trey? Did she say she wanted anything?"
"Said it was payback for Trey bringing you to the club. She wants Jesse back. She said she's got Trey's cell phone -- Jesse can call her and if she's nice, Shelby will let Trey go."
"Great. I go back to her or Trey gets worked over." Jesse folded her arms. "I know it's cold out, but I think we should search. If we don't find them in ninety minutes, I'll call." She missed the startled, slightly concerned look that Nix shot at her.
Tess nodded. "Where do we start?"
The answer came in a growl from Jesse.
"The South Bronx."
End Part Nineteen
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