I had a sense of deja vu' as I walked down the steps to the Shadowbox. I could remember entering this bar with Nix back in April, the one and only time I'd been here. It had been as nerve wracking then as it was now, and I had to take a deep breath before reaching for the door handle and going inside.
But there was also a stronger feeling of having of having done something similar in recent memory. I was currently on the same mission I'd been on two nights ago, which was looking for Nix. Then, my quarry had been at the Janx club. This time, I was hoping she was here.
There was no sign of Phoenix, and I frowned, my shoulders dropping a little bit. I'd hit every bar or club I could think of, and the Shadowbox had been a last resort. There'd been no word from the Nix since the night I told her of the attack on Kruise. She'd promised to contact me on Thursday, but had never appeared or called. I was willing to wait a little while longer, but Jesse and Kruise were on the verge of hunting Nix down themselves, and it didn't take a psychic to foretell what that scene would look like. So on this Friday night I was once again hunting a short blonde vampire.
I approached the bar, hoping I could find some information from the woman who worked there. But she hadn't seen Nix either, and couldn't remember the last time she'd been in.
"What about Tess and Cam? Do you know them?"
"Sure. They're in back." She motioned to the room in the back of the bar, from which I could hear the same heart pounding music as my last visit. The bartender winked at me. "You're welcome to go back and look for them."
Memories assaulted me, memories of being in that darkness, the feel of being caught between two immovable forces, the searing pleasure that I felt at Nix's bite.
I swallowed hard and wiped a hand across my upper lip which was suddenly sweating. "Um, actually, I think I'll wait out here, thanks. Can I have a beer please?"
There was an amused look on the woman's face, but she asked what kind I wanted and gave me a Rolling Rock. I took the bottle and went to find a table in a corner.
I was half finished, and getting tired of waiting, when I recognized someone coming down the steps near the back.
Wincing in memory, I tried to sink further into the darkness, hoping she'd pass right by.
Instead, she detoured away from the bar and came toward my table. That same swagger was in her walk, and she had a cigarette in her mouth. The only real difference was that her 'slave' wasn't anywhere around.
Rita hooked a boot around a chair near mine and pulled it out. Propping one foot on the seat, she put her forearm across her thigh and leaned forward on it, eyeing me.
"So, what're you doin' out here? Not enough action in back?"
I tried very hard to be nonchalant. "I'm just waiting for a friend."
"Uh-huh." She took a drag off her cigarette and exhaled the smoke into the air between us. Then she extended one hand toward me. "Name's Rita."
I shook her hand. "Nice to meet you."
"And now that we've met, I'd like to be friends." With that she moved her foot and dropped into the chair, leaning in until she was only inches from me and I was backed up against the wall. "I can be a really good friend, you know?"
"Um, right. Okay. But, I think the friend I was waiting for is going to be here in just a minute, so --"
"No, baby, you were waiting for me. Come with me, and I'll be the only friend you need."
The image of her slave flashed in my mind, and I swallowed hard. The woman had been nothing but skin and bones and was completely in Rita's thrall. I had no intention of taking a place beside her.
"Where's your friend? Or should I say, your slave?" There was a strength in my voice I wasn't really feeling.
Rita shrugged. "She's not here anymore." And leered at me. "But you are."
Oh, crap. "Thanks, but I don't think so." I started to stand up and was jerked back into the chair by one large hand that curled itself in my T-shirt. "Look --"
She put a finger to my lips to stop my words, and grinned. "Oh, I do think so." Using one hand to keep me in place, she raised the other to her mouth and put her thumb to one of her fangs, which I hadn't even realized she'd lowered. Then she brought it back towards me.
"Now. You remember how you sucked your thumb when you were a kid? You're gonna do the same thing now."
I could see the blood welling up through the puncture on her thumb. Realizing I was in serious trouble, I reached slowly for my beer bottle, hoping a whack across her temple would at least draw attention, and give me a way to escape.
"Let her go, Rita."
I recognized the voice, but didn't dare take my attention away from the danger in front of me. Rita, however, turned her head and frowned.
"Go the fuck away, Tess. This ain't your business."
"She's a friend of mine, and if you don't let her go, I'm gonna shove a beer bottle so far up your ass you'll be spitting glass for days."
For a moment, no one moved. I tightened my grip on my bottle, just in case.
Then Rita slowly withdrew her hand and moved back. She stood, kicking the chair away. "No problem. Just thought the bitch might like a little pleasure."
"She said no. Now get the fuck out of here." Tess's jaw was clenched tight, and her hands, though open, looked like they wanted to be wrapped around someone's throat. Her hair was a little shorter than I remembered it, but it framed the angry expression on her face, and added to the aura of danger that surrounded her.
Rita raised her hands. "No problem. Another time."
"Some other woman."
She shrugged. "Whatever." Then turned and left out the door I'd come in.
I stayed still, slowly letting the fear and tension drain out of my body. Peeling my fingers from the beer bottle, I stretched them out, trying to get the cramps out of them.
Cam pulled a chair up next to me. "You all right, Trey?"
I nodded, not quite trusting my voice yet.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Tess leaned across the table and glared at me. "You could have gotten in serious trouble, Trey."
"Easy, babe." Cam reached over and put a hand over her lover's. "It's over. Calm down."
Taking a deep breath, Tess held it for several seconds, then let it out slowly. Then she pulled a chair from another table and sat down.
"What are you doing here? Did Nix bring you?"
I shook my head and cleared my throat. "No. I came here looking for Nix. The bartender told me you two were in the back, so I figured I'd wait for a little while." A shudder ran through me. "Was definitely not looking for Rita."
Cam and Tess looked eyes over the table. Although there were no words, it seemed to me that they were having an entire conversation.
"I was hoping you guys would know where Nix is. I've gone to all her normal haunts, and no one's seen her. Short of banging on her apartment door, I don't know what to do."
Tess leaned back, rocking her chair onto two legs and folding her arms.
Cam touched my shoulder gently. "Trey, why are you looking for Nix? What's up?"
I sighed. "A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was attacked, by a vampire. I asked Nix to look into it, and she said she would. She was supposed to get back to me, but I haven't heard from her. And there was another attack a few days ago."
"Are you sure it was a vampire?" Tess raised an eyebrow. "I don't know of anyone that would be stupid enough to do that."
"We're pretty sure. Nix even said she knew a vampire who fit the description, though she thought she was dead."
The two of them looked at each other. Tess leaned forward, her chair smacking the floor with a bang. "What's the description?"
"Tall, stocky build, dishwater or dirty blond hair."
"Well, that and that there was a scar under her left eye."
Tess's eyes went wide, and Cam gasped.
"That's not possible." Tess's hands had curled into fists. "She's dead."
"Then a dead vampire is attacking lesbians in New York City." She glared at me and I held my hands up. "Hey, all I know is what I've been told. Someone wanna clue me in on whatever I'm missing?"
I felt Cam squeeze my shoulder, and she leaned closer, putting her forearm on the table. "Trey, your friend that was attacked. Did the woman bite her? Is that why she thinks it's a vampire?"
"No, and that's what I don't get. We think it was a vampire because the woman was really strong, and pretty fast. The thing is she didn't bite Kruise. She jabbed this thing in her neck and started to drink from the wound. Kruise saw fangs on her attacker, but the woman never used them."
Tess stood up quickly, knocking her chair over onto the floor, where it landed with a loud crack. I saw heads turning to watch as she left the table, heading for the bar.
"Cam, what the hell?"
Her hand moved from my shoulder to my hand and she squeezed it gently. "It's not you, Trey. You're just the messenger; she's not angry at you."
"Tell me what the fuck is going on."
She took a deep breath and ran a hand through her dark hair, brushing it back behind one ear. "It's a long story. May take a while."
"Last train to Huntington doesn't leave for a couple hours. Talk to me."
Jesse leaned against the back wall at the C-Club and watched the crowd moving past her. It was early for a Friday night crowd, but there'd been a fundraiser earlier, and the crowd from that hadn't yet thinned out. The regular night crew was just starting to arrive, and the mixture of the two groups filled the bar to its capacity. Between the clink of glasses and loud music, there was no place in the club that you could speak without yelling to be heard.
This didn't bother Jesse, she didn't feel like talking anyway. She glanced at the glass in her hand, noticing it was just about empty. Her choice was to stay here and nurse the last couple of sips until she saw either a waitress or a way through the crowd at the bar, or to finish it and fight her way across the floor to get another one.
Or she could finish it and just stand there with an empty glass.
From where she stood, she could see almost the whole club in front of her. On the dance floor were those energetic youngsters who liked head banging. In the opposite corner from the dance floor were the goth chicks, decked out in make up and piercings. The pool tables were all filled, mainly with the biker crowd. The only place where all three crowds really mixed was near the bar, and at the back where there were six or seven chairs. It was behind this area that Jesse stood, her back against a cement wall, one booted foot up against the wall, her glass resting on her bent leg.
This back area was also where most of the people from out of town came to sit or stand. They often were either amused or downright shocked by the C-Club. It was, after all, one of the smallest, yet most frequented lesbian bars in New York. Along with its reputation for loud crowds and generous drinks, the C-Club was also the only lesbian place in the city with topless dancers. Ringing the dance floor, on raised pedestals, three young women gyrated their hips and moved along with music. From nine till midnight they wore shorts and bras. After twelve, the bras came off.
Normally Jesse would have felt something watching the dancers, who had just now taken their positions. At the very least they were a pleasure to watch. Often times she found them downright arousing.
But there was no feeling tonight. The only emotion Jesse could find tonight was a mild irritation at the high nasal voice of the d.j.
A voice off to her side was raised in excitement, and Jesse paused to listen for a moment.
"Dude! You will never guess what happened!"
"What? Where'd you go?"
"You know that back room, with the little bar?"
"I thought it was closed."
"They just opened it, and I was able to get my beer back there. But anyway, you know all those small rooms, down that corridor? I asked the bartender what they were for."
"What did she say?"
"She asked me if I wanted to have sex with a stranger tonight!"
Jesse had to chuckle at the shock in the voice. "Gotta be a tourist," she muttered.
Finishing her drink she moved toward the bar, intending to get another Jack and coke. Pushing her way through the crowd, making scant progress towards her goal, she stopped, taking a deep breath. The air was stale, and stank of beer and sweat, and she decided she'd had enough of the crowd. Changing direction, she dropped her empty glass on the tray of a waitress who was also stuck in the crowd, and cut between groups of people on her way out the back door.
The air seemed much cleaner, and she took another deep breath. Shaking her head, she pulled her pack of cigarettes from her jacket and shook one out.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, Jess?" Although she asked the question out loud, she wasn't expecting anyone to answer. The three women headed into the bar glanced her way and waved. They were regulars, and Jess had hung with them many times.
For a moment she thought of going back inside. Then she shook her head again and pulled out her lighter as she walked towards her car.
A sound off to the side stopped her. She closed the lid on her zippo and looked around, her cigarette unlit. The sound came again, and this time she could tell that it was coming from the shadows near the building across the alley, behind an old wooden crate.
She took a step forward, not sure if it was her imagination or not. A third noise, and this time she could tell it was a voice, and someone calling for help.
Jess glanced back at the back door of the bar, but there was no one there. The parking lot was empty save for her and whoever was hidden in the shadows.
The sound of her voice made her head snap back towards the source, and she stepped closer, peering intently into the shadows. A hand reached out and pushed a piece of cardboard away from the top of the wooden crate. The dim light of the alley filtered further into the darkness, and Jesse felt her cigarette drop from her fingers as she realized who it was.
Three running steps and Jesse was dropping to the ground, her hands pushing aside the debris to uncover the body of the blonde vampire. Nix's face was covered with bruises, and there was dried blood on her cheek and under her nose. One of her eyes had swollen almost shut. Her short blonde hair was bloody, and part of it was matted to her skull. One of her legs was obviously broken, and both her hands were curled around a bloody spot on the stomach of her shirt.
"Fuck, Nix. What the hell happened?"
The vampire shook her head and tried to say something. Instead, all she could do for several seconds was cough weakly. Jesse moved closer to wrap an arm around her for support.
Nix waited, trying to catch her breath. "Phone. Please, Jess."
Jesse felt her pocket and realized her cell phone wasn't there. "Shit, I left it in my car. Come on, I'm gonna move you over there. Just hang on."
Sliding one arm gently under her friend's knees and keeping the other one tight behind her back, she lifted Nix off the ground, bouncing her once to settle her weight.
"Sorry. Just hang on."
Jesse got to her Mustang, and set Nix down next to the passenger door. Digging her keys out of her pocket, she unlocked the door and opened it. Her cell phone was there on the seat and she moved it to the dash, then leaned the seat back.
"Okay, in you go." Picking Nix up once more, she got her into the car, letting her lean back in the seat. Jess reached into the back seat and found a torn T-shirt she'd tossed back there. Balling it up, she gently pulled Nix's hands away from her stomach, then put the cloth against the wound.
"Hold that tight. What's the phone number, who should I call?" Jess picked up the phone from the dash, dialing as Nix gave her the number between gasping breaths.
"It's a machine. Should I leave a message?"
"No." Nix gave her a second number.
"Ringing. Who am I asking for?"
The phone was picked up.
"Is this Tess?"
"Yeah, who's this?"
"It's Jesse. I'm a friend of Nix's, and I'm in the parking lot of the C-Club. Nix is hurt, bad. Normally I'd be heading for a hospital, but --"
"No. No hospital. Hurt how bad?"
"Beaten. Broken leg, stabbed in the stomach. I found her in the alley behind the club."
"Fuck. Okay, listen, you need to ask her when she last fed."
Jesse relayed the question, and frowned at the answer. "She said it's been about ten days."
"Damn it, Nix!" Jesse could hear the sound of breaking glass. "Fuck. You said the C-Club?"
"Yeah. You know it?"
"Uh-huh. Listen, it's gonna take me a little while to get there."
"Want me to meet you somewhere? I've already got her in my car." Jesse moved back, then closed the passenger door and headed around . "She looks pretty damn pale, Tess."
"Shit. Okay, you're closer to our place, so go there, and we'll meet you as soon as possible. Do you know the area?"
"I live in the area. Give me an address and I'll find it."
Tess gave her the building number and the code to get them into the parking garage. "Don't go in the building itself, wait in the garage for us."
"She needs blood. Think about it, okay?"
Jesse hesitated, then let out a breath. "See you at the garage."
She hung up and got into the car, starting it before looking at her passenger.
Nix was very pale, making the bruises stand out on her face. She was shivering slightly, and Jess could see that the T-shirt against her stomach wound was already half soaked with blood.
"Hang on. We're gonna go meet your friend Tess at her place."
She didn't get an answer, but when she glanced back at Nix, the vampire nodded a little.
Jesse pressed down on the gas pedal a little harder.
By the time Cam was done with her story, I was on the verge of either crying or breaking something.
"What was her name?"
"Star. She fits the description your friend gave."
"But you said she's supposed to be dead."
Cam nodded. "We tracked her down to a place in Florida. I can't tell you exactly what happened, cause I wasn't there. Tess and Nix and Dayle went to confront her and I've never gotten Tess to tell me the whole story. All they said was that there was a fire, and Star was trapped."
"Obviously she wasn't trapped."
Cam shrugged. "Guess not."
Tess returned and picked up her chair from where it had fallen. She turned it around so she was facing the back of it and sat down, leaning her arms across the chair back.
"You told her?"
"Yes. About San Francisco anyway. I don't know enough about Florida to tell her that part."
Tess winced. "I know. It just -- I can't --" She stopped, her mouth opening and closing a couple of times. Finally she snapped it shut and shook her head. "I'm sorry, I just don't have the words."
I nodded, staring at the table.
"Tess, do you think Nix . . .?"
"Yeah, babe, I think she did."
I looked up at the two of them. "Do you think Nix what? What's going on?"
Tess sighed and shook her head. "Trey, listen, Nix came by our place late Tuesday. She said she was leaving for a little while, but she'd be in touch. Said it wasn't anything big, but she needed to take care of some old business." She shrugged. "I thought maybe she meant in Toronto, where her other gallery is, and where she's got an apartment. But when I called up there this morning, I got her machine at her place, and nobody at the gallery -- " She was interrupted by the ringing of a phone, and she looked down at her belt.
"You get that. I'll tell Trey the rest."
Tess nodded and stepped away from the table, pulling the phone from her belt and answering it.
I turned to Cam. "So, Nix took off, didn't go to Toronto, and no one knows where she is?"
"Right." She sighed. "And I'll bet anything she went to look for Star."
A nod. "She's been different this last few months. Depressed, not taking care of herself. She went over two weeks without feeding, which is not only unusual, it's downright dangerous."
"D'you have any idea what's going on?"
"Not a clue. She won't talk to us. Usually, even if she doesn't feel comfortable talking to me, she'll talk to Tess. They've been friends for a hell of a long time -- since Tess was just a teenager. Nix knew Tess's mother."
"Really? How old is --"
The sound of shattering glass was loud in the bar and I looked up to see what was going on.
Tess was standing close to the front of the bar, and she looked angry. Still holding the phone, she was also clutching the neck of a broken beer bottle, the rest of which had fallen at her feet.
I looked at Cam, and we both shrugged at the same time.
After talking for another minute, Tess took the phone away from her ear, slipping it back into it's belt holder as she walked back to us.
"That was your friend Jesse. Nix has been found, in the alley outside the C-Club. Somebody beat the hell out of her and stabbed her." She motioned to Cam. "Come on, babe. They're meeting us in the garage at our place."
Cam stood, and I followed both of them, right up to the front door, where Tess stopped and looked at me. "Where do you think you're going?"
"With you. I may not have known her for centuries, but Nix is my friend, and so is Jess."
She looked like she wanted to argue, but Cam put a hand on her arm. After a moment, she nodded and went through the door.
I mouthed a thank you at Cam and she gave me a solemn wink before following
her partner. I made sure the door was closed tight before heading up the
stairs after them.
End Part Three