Tess tossed the paper onto the bed and stood. "Okay, so we're pretty sure she's here. It's a big city, Nix, how the hell are we going to find her?"
From the Miami Herald, October 9, 1976
Robert Pearson, 22, was arrested last night when he attempted to dig up the coffin of his girlfriend, Lisa Johnson, who died last week after the couple was attacked in a Miami suburb.
Pearson, who has been in the hospital since the attack, said he did it because a vampire killed Johnson, and he was afraid Johnson would rise as a vampire herself.
Police apprehended the man without incident at the grave site in Rosewood Memorial Cemetery. Along with two shovels, Pearson was also carrying a large ax, with which he intended to remove the head of the deceased girl.
"He (Robert) has been having a hard time discerning reality from fantasy ever since the attack," Pearson's father said in a short interview at the police station. "He says it was a vampire, and who knows? This is Miami, and anything goes. Maybe it was some sicko pretending to be a vampire."
The official cause of death in the Johnson case is listed as blood loss from a gaping wound in the throat. The police spokesman said the weapon was a round boring tool of some kind, "like an ice pick, but larger in diameter." Asked if there was a bite mark, he said there was no evidence of such a wound.
There have been no arrests made in the Johnson murder.
Robert Pearson is being held in the county psychiatric hospital for observation. No charges have been filed at this time.
Her friend stood at the balcony door, gazing out at the ocean. "She's here. We'll find her." Nix finished her drink and turned back to the other three gathered in the room. "We'll find her."
The four of them had been searching for Star for fifteen years, following her trail of dead bodies from San Francisco to New York, then across to France, and back to the United States. They had been close several times, once even spotting her in a club in Paris. But always the hunted vampire had seemed to sense the hunters, and she would flee, leaving them no choice but to follow again.
Now they were in Miami, in a hotel right off the beach. They'd been here for two weeks, following up clues from other vampires and underworld figures. There was no doubt that Star had been here. The question was if she was still in the area.
"Nix, she hasn't been seen at the clubs since before the attack on Pearson. You don't know that she's still here. She could have hopped a flight for anywhere." Dayle took the paper from Tess. "It doesn't matter that the article is from today. The attack occurred last week. She's probably long gone."
Nix shook her blonde head. "Nope. She's here. I can feel her."
Dayle threw up her hands. "Fine. Then how do you expect to find her? Put an ad in the paper?"
She was surprised to see Nix grin. "Uh-huh."
The plan, they had to admit, was brilliantly simple.
Star had a thing for killing lesbians; they'd noticed this throughout their travels. Gay boys were occasional targets as well, but mostly it was gay women, preferably femmes. With this in mind, the obvious place for their quarry to hunt was at a lesbian bar or gathering. As Halloween was three weeks away, there was a perfect excuse to throw a party.
Dayle nodded. "That's good. But how do we make sure that she's there?"
"She always enjoyed dressing up like a vampire. But she hated to see humans do it." Nix smiled. "We have a vampires only party. Put on by humans, of course. She'll never be able to pass it up."
"And the ad in the paper?" Cam asked.
"A notice to all vampires. Big party. We put it in all the lesbian newsletters; there's like five of them in and outside Miami. We flyer the clubs, and put posters at the community center."
Tess snapped her fingers. "And we have it somewhere along the beach. Star loves to party outdoors, remember, Nix?"
"I remember. Good thought, Tess." Nix leaned back in her chair. "I think we should have it on the thirty-first itself. And it's free, of course. We can put a hat up for donations and anything we get goes to the community center. But no charge. The more people we get, the more likely Star will show up."
Cam raised a hand.
"Um, I hate to throw water on all this enthusiasm, but what if she leaves town before we can get word out about the party?"
Nix shrugged. "Then we throw one hell of a damn good party and start the search again the next day."
Dayle had to raise an eyebrow. "You mean if we get evidence tomorrow that she's hopped a boat for, say, the Bahamas, and will be arriving there in two days, you still want to throw the party?"
"Sure." Nix stood up. "Course, if we get a tip like that, we can go kill the bitch and then throw the party." She winked at Dayle. "I doubt we're gonna hear anything, and I'm betting she's staying in the city for a while. She thinks she gave us the slip when she was in New Orleans. And as far as she knows, we're still there. Besides, she loves being in a big city for Halloween. Last year it was New York, the year before that Los Angeles, and before that --"
"Paris. I remember." Tess nodded. "Okay, we set up a party and we make sure it's the biggest thing since Halloween started. Cam, why don't you and Dayle find a place to hold this shindig?"
"Sure, babe. What are you and Nix going to do?"
"Well, we can handle the rest of the arrangements, I think, can't we, Nix?"
The blonde vampire nodded. "Sure. First arrangement, though, is to see how much help or hindrance we're going to get from the council."
Tess snorted. "Are you expecting help?"
"No. Just hoping they won't alert her like those idiots in Mexico."
"Why are we even going to any of the councils? She's had a death sentence on her head for fifteen fucking years. We have every right to take her out."
"I know that, Dayle. But --" Nix sighed. "The councils today are different. They have different ideas of what's right and wrong for a vampire. They don't use the same codes that we grew up with."
"Too many youngsters on them, if you ask me." Tess folded her arms and glared at the table.
Cam smiled and put a hand over her lover's. "Babe, not all of them have the advantage of yours and Nix's experience."
"I have to agree with Tess, Cam." Dayle shook her head. "I'm much younger than the two of you, Tess, but still older than most of those on the councils. From what I've been told, there's a movement to get rid of all the elders. They think we need a new way of thinking as we go into the next century."
"Like what? Conquering the humans and making them all our slaves? Announcing our existence as being fact instead of fiction?" Nix shook her head. "Several thousand years of history have proved just how dangerous either of those ideas can be."
"I know, Nix. I'm not arguing with you." Dayle shrugged. "Just telling you what I've been hearing."
"Yeah." Nix moved over to the bar and lifted the whiskey bottle, pouring a generous amount into her glass. "Well, they're going to hear from a couple of elders. Tess and I will talk to them and let them know what's going on. But if they dare try to interfere --" she slammed the bottle down, "I'll show them just how strong their elders can be."
There was silence in the room as Nix pulled open the balcony door and stepped out into the evening air.
"Try to remind her that they're not our enemies."
Tess nodded. "Right. Soon as they prove it to me, Dayle."
Cam put the finishing touches on her poster design and set it aside to dry. She looked up as Dayle hung up the phone.
"We got the beach house?"
"Yeah, we did. Glad Nix is footing the bill, cause it's going to be expensive. But we got it, and they gave me the name of a good liquor supplier, so we're good to go."
"Super." Cam lifted the flyer she'd finished. "What do you think?"
"Good job. Is Tess going to --"
Dayle broke off at the sound of the door opening, and she and Cam both turned to watch Nix and Tess come in.
"Hey, how'd it --"
Cam stopped as Tess stepped into the apartment, raised a beer bottle and threw it across the room where it shattered against the wall. Without a word she crossed to the bedroom and went in, slamming the door behind her.
There was silence for a moment longer in the suite. Nix closed the door they'd just come in, and walked dejectedly to the couch, dropping onto it with a sigh.
Dayle and Cam looked at each other and they both got up and joined Nix in the front room area.
"What happened, Nix?"
The blonde vampire ran a hand over her face and blew out a breath. "Well, the good news is, they won't interfere. They won't alert her to our presence, and they won't try to stop us."
"That's good. Right?"
Nix nodded. "But, they also won't help. Which means it's just us. And if any humans are killed in our attempt, they're going to blame us and we'll be banned from Miami."
"But --" Dayle looked confused, "Star's whole thing is killing humans. If she kills any it's our fault?"
"If they die during our attempt to kill Star, yeah."
"Even if she kills them?"
Another nod. "So, at this party, we need to be on our toes. We need to know exactly when she arrives, and we need to be able to separate her from everyone as soon as possible."
"Is that what upset Tess so much? That we'll be held responsible?"
Nix hesitated. "That and something else they said. But, she'll have to be the one to explain that part, Cam. I won't." She stood up. "I'm tired, and I'm hungry, and -- I need to feed. I think we should take the night off, go to one of the hidden clubs, and relax. We can get back to hunting tomorrow."
Dayle nodded. "I think we've done good. Gotten a band set up, another one available yet if we ask. The place is rented, or will be when we sign the papers. Cam did the posters and flyers. We deserve a break."
Cam looked at the bedroom door. "I -- don't know if we'll join you. I have a feeling Tess isn't going to want to be around a lot of people, or other vampires."
Nix's blue eyes followed her gaze. "You need to talk to her, Cam."
"I will." But she didn't move.
"Aren't you going in?"
"Not yet, Dayle. If I do, she'll just shut down and it'll take me longer to get her to talk. If I wait, she'll miss me, and she'll open the door."
"How do you know that?"
Cam gave her a sad smile. "Two hundred years together." The door opened, and Cam stood. "That's my cue. If you two take off before we come out, have fun." With a deep breath she headed toward the bedroom, slipping inside and closing the door behind her.
Nix watched her go and sighed.
"You gonna tell me what's up, Nix?"
"Yeah, Dayle. But dinner first. I'm starving."
Tess was sitting on the edge of the bed staring out window at the ocean that rolled up the beach in waves. Though she couldn't see the setting sun, the last rays of daylight bounced across the water on the horizon, lighting the evening sky.
She could feel the bed shift as Cam sat down behind her. Her lover's hands came down gently on her shoulders, and Tess sighed as Cam started a gentle massage.
"Do you wanna talk, love?" Tess shook her head. Cam leaned over and kissed her neck. She knew Tess would eventually tell her what was wrong, but it took time. "Do you want me to leave?" Again, a negative shake. "Is there anything I can do?"
Tess shrugged. Cam half smiled. "Well, how about I try to find something to help, hm?" She leaned in and kissed Tess again, moving from the side of her neck to the bottom of her ear, gently biting her earlobe. She heard Tess's quick intake of breath, and she smiled softly.
Halting her massage, Cam reached around her lover and began unsnapping her shirt, easing it off her shoulders and down. Tess's muscular back and broad shoulders had always been one of the things Cam found so arousing her partner. Planting kisses in a line from one shoulder to the other, Cam unsnapped Tess's bra, and reached around to release soft breasts from their confinement. The bra straps slid down Tess's arms, then dropped to the floor.
Cam wrapped her arms around Tess and rocked her back and forth.
"Is this helping, baby?"
Tess nodded, and Cam felt the body inher arms relaxing just a little.
She began her massage again, kneading tight muscles and kissing soft skin. Tess's body became more pliable and her breathing picked up. Slowly, a different tension filled her. As Cam's hands finally reached and cupped her breasts, Tess's hands moved, covering Cam's and squeezing gently.
"Feeling better, Tess?"
"Mmhmm." Tess turned and pressed Cam back on the bed. "You always make me feel better, baby."
It didn't take them long to get the rest of their clothes off, and soon Cam found herself under Tess's body, sweating and straining as her lover caressed her. She felt Tess enter her and she gasped, thrusting up, needing to feel her lover inside her and around her. Her hands curled in the sheets as Tess made her way down her body, her mouth and fingers coaxing whimpers and moans from Cam.
As the explosions rocketed through her body, Cam felt Tess's fangs in her thigh, and she had to pull a pillow over her mouth to muffle her screams.
Later, as the two of them lay exhausted under the sheets, Cam heard Tess take a deep breath. She rolled over and propped her head up on one arm.
"Are you ready to talk, babe?"
Tess smiled and gave a light chuckle. "You do know me well, don't you."
Cam winked and nodded. She watched as Tess's face turned serious again.
"What did Nix tell you?"
"About the council? They won't help, and we'll be held responsible for any human deaths when we try to kill Star."
Tess nodded. "Yeah. That's the short version of it."
"Tess, I don't get it. The council from London, when you changed me -- they would never have been as -- uncaring as the ones we've dealt with over here. What's going on?"
Lifting her head, Tess slid one hand behind it while the other one met Cam's and held on. "It's different here," she sighed. "In London, Paris, Frankfurt, most of the cities in Europe, the councils are still made up of older vampires. Those of us who have been alive longer than a few centuries. A few are even older than Nix, and several are older than I am. There's a continuation there, a sense of history. In Europe, we know who we are."
Cam shifted, moving a little closer. "I remember you and Jeanette giving me lessons on vampire history. She was so much fun."
Tess smiled, remembering. "Yeah." The smile dimmed a little. "You know she died, right?"
"Mmhmm. The Nazis."
Cam felt her lover swallow hard and she squeezed her hand in sympathy. Tess had her own reasons to hate the swastika. "We lost so many in that war."
The two of them were silent for a moment, remembering. Then Tess shook her head. "Even though many vampires died then, it didn't put any kind of break in our understanding of our history. But here -- here they've never had that understanding, that feeling of connection with so many others before them. Most of them aren't even as old as you. They think of those that weren't born here as being foreigners, ancients. And -- I suppose in some ways they're right. We have strong ideas on the way things should be, and it comes from having grown up with strong influences around us."
"Like Jeanette. And Phoenix."
Tess snorted. "Phoenix is the oldest vampire to set foot in the US. You'd think they'd have some respect for her experiences."
"Especially since many of their parents came from across the sea."
"An excellent point. But most of their parents are dead -- this country wasn't kind to those that first came across to settle it, vampire or human."
Cam nodded. "Right. So they grew up without the connection to history, and they don't care about what it was like in the old country."
"Exactly." Tess shook her head. "This one was the worst. I thought the one in Montana was bad, but they were just poorly organized. Here, they're organized, but they don't want anyone telling them what to do."
"Uh-huh. So, what was it that got you so angry, babe? Nix told me two things that they decreed, but said I had to ask you for the third." Cam felt the tension return to Tess's body, and she reached out to gently rub the soft skin of her lover's stomach. "Baby?"
Tess's voice was very soft. "Cam, when we go after Star, you can't be with us." The hand on her stomach froze.
"You can't go with us. You'll have to wait here till it's over."
Cam sat up. "Why? I'm part of this, Tess. Julie was my friend, and I loved Chris. Why are --"
Tess put a hand over her partner's mouth. "Listen to me, love."
She raised an eyebrow, but nodded.
Taking a deep breath, Tess put her hands on Cam's shoulders.
"The council said that they won't get involved in a feud between ancients. Star's had a death sentence on her, and they have no problem if we take her out. But --" She paused, not knowing how to say the next part without hurting her lover. "But, they said -- they won't allow a nosferatu to kill a vampire. Not even one that's half vampire, and has the protection of an ancient." Tess swallowed. "They said if 'the half-breed' participates, they'll hunt her down." She waited, watching the shock filter into Cam's grey eyes. "They'll kill you, love."
It was Cam's turn to swallow, and she blinked back tears. She had known there were those vampires that considered her as something less than themselves, but had never been threatened because of it.
"They -- But I -- " She stopped, the tears finally falling down her cheeks. "They can't --"
"They can." Tess wiped tears from her eyes. "And I'm not taking chances. You're staying here, Camille."
Cam's composure broke at the sound of her real name. Tess used it very seldom, only in the most serious circumstances. Hearing it now took Cam into Tess's arms, where she clung to her lover.
"It's all right, love." Tess kissed one wet cheek and rocked the sobbing woman in her arms. "I love you. Everything will be all right."
They stayed wrapped around each other, occasionally exchanging whispers of comfort. Slowly they lowered themselves to the bed, this time with Cam on her side watching the surf pound the beach. Tess stayed behind her, one arm draped over Cam's stomach, her fingers idly drawing circles around her navel.
"When this is over, can we go home? To London?"
Together they watched the moon rise.
The afternoon of the 31st found all four of them finishing the set up for the blow out party. Judging by the comments they'd gotten at several of the bars earlier that week, this was guaranteed to be the largest lesbian Halloween party in the city. The theme was vampire night -- everyone coming was required to be in some kind of vampire garb, whether it was a cape with false fangs, or a full out Dracula tux.
There had been no attacks they could attach to Star, and Dayle had expressed doubts in the other vampire's presence in the city.
"She's here. Trust me." Nix had seemed certain, and no one had argued beyond that.
Since Dayle and Tess were doing most of the tech work for the band, it was agreed that they would stay at the beach house and change into their costumes while Nix drove Cam back to the hotel.
Tess stood on the porch with her, an arm around her waist, just out of the sun.
"You'll call me, right? When it's done?"
"Of course." Tess turned to Cam and kissed her gently. "You stay put until you get a call, right?"
Cam nodded. She wiped her eyes, and hugged Tess. "Be careful."
"I'll be fine. Promise."
Nix let the screen door bang as she came out onto the porch. "I'm sorry, Cam, Tess. But we should get moving. I still need to get changed and back over here to sign for the kegs when they arrive."
The two of them separated, and Cam smiled. "Remember, you promised."
"I know." Another kiss, and then Cam was heading to the car, her arms folded around herself.
Nix put a hand on Tess's shoulder as she passed.
"Damn it! I can't get this. Cam, can you help?"
Cam stepped up to the mirror beside Nix and shook her head. "A vampire who can't tie a bow tie? Disgraceful."
"Oh, ha." Nix cursed as she pulled the knot loose again. "And I suppose you can do it easily, right?"
Laughing, Cam put her arms around Nix, watching in the mirror as she straightened the tie and made a perfect bow. Then she patted Nix on the shoulders. "You're all set, handsome."
"Thanks, Cam." The blonde vampire took a step back and lifted the sides of her cape. "So, do I look like a vampire?" She quickly put her fake fangs in her mouth.
Her friend nodded. "Just dye the hair and you'd be a female Dracula."
"Tsank oo." Nix rolled her eyes and took the fangs out. "Thank you."
"Why the fake fangs? You do have your own, you know."
"Yes, and what happens if someone wants to look at them? They look very real, so if we just wear them people are going to want to know where we got them and they might ask us to take them out so they can see them. I'd rather not have to try to explain that I can't take them out."
Cam nodded. "Good detail, Nix."
"Thanks." She shrugged. "It actually was Dayle's idea, but thanks anyway." Nix took one more look in the mirror and gathered herself. "We're gonna get her tonight, Cam. I know it."
"I know." With a slight smile, Cam picked up the top hat Nix was going to wear. "I'm just sorry I'm going to miss it."
"Yeah." Nix took the hat. "But you'll be with us in spirit, right?"
Nix kissed her cheek and turned toward the door. Her hand was on the knob when Cam called to her. She turned, raising an eyebrow.
"Bring Tess home. That's all I ask."
The blonde vampire nodded. "I promise." She winked, and left.
Cam turned and looked out at the waves.
"Is everything ready?" Nix signed off on the receipt for the beer and then turned to Tess. "Tess? You all right?"
"Hm?" Tess started, then shook her head. "Sorry, Nix. Yeah, I'm fine, and yes, everything's ready. Dayle's in her watcher post, the band is here and ready for their first set, and I've got a couple people for door duty. Since you signed off for the beer, the last of the refreshments are here. We're on hold until Star shows up."
Nix nodded. "Good. You're going to hang around the band, right?"
"Yeah. They offered to let me sit in with them later, but I said no. Don't want the distraction."
"Sorry, Tess, I know you like playing."
"Sure, but this is more important. We've been waiting for this for fifteen years."
Her friend nodded again, and her gaze turned inward. "Fifteen years." Nix's eyes closed, and she put a hand on her chest, feeling the locket that held Chris's picture. "It's been so long."
Tess's hand on her shoulder startled her, and Nix managed a smile. "I'm all right." She shook herself. "I think I'm off to mingle. You know what to do when Dayle signals."
"Yeah, I know. We'll get her tonight, Nix."
Nix smiled. "I know." She winked and headed toward the front of the house where a crowd was beginning to gather.
The house they had chosen was a six bedroom, two level monstrosity that was as close to the beach as was legal. The smell of the ocean was strong in the air outside the house, but inside was the smell of cigarette smoke and alcohol.
There was one tiny room up front that they were using as a coat room. It was Miami, but it was also October and it had been unseasonably cool that year, so there were some people in coats. Both jackets and capes were casually tossed into the room, to be gathered later or forgotten, depending on how drunk the owner got.
The large front bedroom was open as a room to sit and relax. There were chairs and even a couch, and many couple had taken the opportunity to talk or do something else that required they use their mouths. There was even a small circle of people playing truth or dare, which had lately replaced spin the bottle as the drunk game for parties.
As one came in the front door of the house, they entered a foyer which led past these first two rooms. After these doors, the small hall opened into a large living room, complete with bay windows and a grand staircase heading up to the second floor. To the left of the room was a series of long tables, filled with food and drinks of all kinds. Even though it hadn't been a requirement, there had been many people bringing things to add to the food part of the table. Nix had laughed at Tess's joke of, "Lesbians and their potlucks."
On the right side of the room, beside the bottom of the staircase, the band had set up a small stage. There was a dance floor laid down there, one of the movable ones that could be rented. Nix had spared no expense in the effort to trap their prey.
Towards the back of the living room there were two doors, one leading to the kitchen, and the other opening onto a study. It was the study in which they hoped to complete their mission. This room had a huge fireplace, and even though it was warm enough, a fire had been started. The object of the evening was to get Star into the room, then kill her, and let the fire take care of her body.
Everything was set. All they needed was the guest of honor.
Dayle paced back and forth in one of the upstairs bedrooms. She was the watcher, and the two windows in front of her looked out over the parking lot and front area of the house. Because of the huge privacy fence surrounding the beach house, the only way for someone to approach it was from the front gate. If Star drove, Dayle would be able to see her before she'd even reached the edge of the parking lot. If she didn't, she'd still have to come up the front walk, and Dayle would see her in plenty of time to give the alarm.
Beside her was a switch that Tess had rigged up. When Dayle hit the button, the lights in the main room would dim for several seconds, alerting Tess and Nix that their quarry was approaching.
After that, it was a matter of guiding Star into the study, which they'd spent hours arguing about, It was finally agreed that they could use Star's appetite against her. They hired a young prostitute to tempt the vampire. The woman would wait until the signal, then watch for Star, whose picture they'd given her. After that, she'd try to seduce Star into the back room where Nix and Tess would be waiting. Dayle would join them after that.
The party had been going strong for a couple hours, and there was no sign of Star. Nix was beginning to get nervous. There were more people there than they had expected, and already Tess had needed to break up fights between a few drunk butches that got overly aggressive. Several people had tried to slip into the study for some serious screwing, even though that area was posted as off limits.
There were also a number of illegal drugs floating around, though she and Tess had tried to confiscate the harder stuff. The last thing they needed was someone dropping dead due to an overdose.
Another skirmish broke out, this time near the stairs, and Nix moved forward to help Tess pull the combatants to their feet and away from each other. One of them was bleeding heavily from the nose, and Nix took a firm grasp on her arm to lead her to the kitchen. Tess watched her go, keeping a hold on the other fighter till the door closed behind Nix. She let her go with a warning. The woman nodded, but Tess knew she was too drunk to really understand.
She had just turned back to watch for Nix's reappearance when the lights dimmed.
Tess froze, undecided. She and Nix had arranged their hiding places for when Star arrived -- they knew if she saw them, she'd bolt.
Since Nix was in the kitchen, she didn't know that Star had been spotted. If Tess alerted her, she'd never be able to make her hiding place.
But if Star spotted Nix coming from the kitchen, the game was over.
With a glance at the front door, she cursed and headed for the kitchen.
Dayle, who knew nothing of the trouble downstairs, left her lookout post and moved into the upstairs hall. The plan was that she would wait for five minutes before going downstairs. She was the only one of the three that was wearing a mask, and though it wouldn't fool Star at close range, if she kept her distance, she could observe the other vampire and the seduction by their human assistant.
It took her a few minutes to spot the human, and when she did, she was surprised to see her alone. The girl was at the bar getting a drink. Cursing, Dayle took the last few steps down the stairs, turning the corner to head for the study.
Suddenly, there was a hand on her shoulder and something sharp and painful pressing into her lower back.
Dayle froze at the sound of Star's voice.
"Did you really think I wouldn't know this was a trap?"
She didn't answer.
"I almost decided not to come, but -- I got tired of you four always spoiling my fun. So, tonight I thought I'd spring your trap. On you."
Star prodded Dayle in the back. "Go on. Take me to where ever that little human bitch was supposed to take me. But don't try anything or I'll cut your spine in half."
Dayle nodded, walking slowly toward the study. She opened the door, surprised to find it empty.
"Oh, good. Nice place. This is where we're supposed to wait for Nix and Tess, hm? I hear they had to leave the half-breed at the hotel. Tsk. Pity. But, I'll take care of her later tonight after I kill the three of you."
"Nix!" Tess's voice echoed in the kitchen, and the blonde vampire looked up from tending to the nose of the drunken fighter.
"What's up, Tess?"
"The signal! Star's here!"
"Shit." Nix pulled the drunk's girlfriend closer and had her put a hand over the woman's nose. "Keep the pressure on. It should stop bleeding soon." Then she joined Tess by the door. "How long ago?"
"About two minutes. I came to get you, figuring we'd give Sarah a few minutes to get her into the study. We can't take a chance on her seeing us."
Nix nodded. "Good plan. I guess we wait for a few."
Twenty minutes later Sarah came through the kitchen door.
"What the --"
"Okay, I want my money. I tried to do what you said, it's not my fault the bitch wasn't interested."
"What d'you mean?" Nix grabbed the girl's arm. "Where is she?"
"She met up with your friend, that other bitch, Daryl or something? Yeah, and the two of them headed off to the back room, so she's there. You can just give me my money. Ain't my fault she went for her instead of me."
Tess looked over at Nix to see the blood drain from her friend's face. She knew she probably looked just as white.
Nix reached into her back pocket and pulled out her wallet, counting out four fifty dollar bills. She handed them to Sarah who took them and flounced out of the kitchen.
"You ready?" Nix asked.
"Yes." Tess opened the kitchen door and they moved over to the entrance to the study.
They each took a deep breath and entered.
"Welcome. So very glad you could join us."
Star was standing in front of the fireplace. Dayle was on her knees next to her, Star's hand wrapped in her hand. She was already wearing several fresh bruises on her face, and there were slowly bleeding cuts on her neck, along with a burn that Nix thought was probably made by the fireplace poker.
Slowly, Star pulled on Dayle's hair, forcing her to her feet. The renegade vampire showed off the large hunting knife in her right hand, then pressed it to Dayle's throat.
"Now. You two are going to come join us and watch as I cut this bitch into pieces."
Tess's fingers itched to reach for the gun she was carrying at her back. Nix curled her hands into fists and slowly moved further into the room. "You're not leaving this room alive, Star."
"Wrong. You're not going to, Phoenix. Now sit down and shut the fuck up." Star made another cut on Dayle's throat. "Or I'll cut her throat to the bone, I swear it."
Nix eased forward and sat. She met Dayle's eyes, trying to find a way to reassure her friend. She noticed that Dayle's eyes kept going back and forth between her friends and something on the table. Following the trapped woman's gaze she saw what Dayle was trying to point out.
There was a bottle of whiskey on the table. It was one of the more expensive ones that they'd bought for themselves and left in the study. Star had found it and had obviously enjoyed a glass while working over Dayle.
"So, still pining after your human bitch, Nix?"
Nix's eyes blazed in anger and her lips curled. "I'm going to kill you for what you did, Star."
"Right. Sure you are." Star motioned to something next to her on the couch. "Put those on, bitch. And give one of them to your friend. Don't want the two of you getting any funny ideas while I'm still playing with my little friend here." She jerked Dayle's head back a bit more, making her shift her body.
Star never noticed that Dayle was getting closer to the bottle on the coffee table.
Nix reached over and picked up the handcuffs that Star had motioned to. She knew as well as the others did that each of them could eventually break the metal chains, but it would take a couple of minutes, and in that time Star could gut one of them.
Slowly turning, she reached out to hand the other set to Tess, making sure she was facing away from Star completely. 'Bottle' she mouthed. Tess nodded surreptitiously and slipped the metal bands around her wrists, making sure there was plenty of room to slip out of them.
"Uh-uh. You put those on tight, Tess. I wanna see them biting into your skin."
Tess reluctantly tightened them, feeling the metal close tight. She moved her hands, showing Star that the cuffs stayed on.
"Good." Star nodded. "Now you, Nix. put 'em on. Tight."
Nix had taken advantage of Star's focus on Tess, placing her foot against the leg of the coffee table and pushing it ever so gently towards Dayle. The whiskey, in its breakable glass bottle, was now only inches from Dayle's hand.
Trying to buy time, Nix twisted the cuffs in her hands. "You know, these are the real cheap ones. I know a place you can get the expensive ones, the ones the police use --"
"I don't fucking care; put them on!"
In her anger, Star moved the knife away from Dayle's throat by an inch or two. It was enough. Dayle ducked and reached for the bottle getting one hand around its neck and lifting it. She felt the point of the knife enter her shoulder, driving deep, but she twisted out of Star's grasp, throwing the bottle against the brick mantel above the fireplace. It shattered, showering Star in glass and whiskey.
Star had thrown her arm up to ward off the blow she thought was aimed at her. She never saw the kick Nix leveled at her. It caught the vampire in the chest, pushing her back into the fireplace, where the flames, fed by the explosion of whiskey, had shot up. They gathered around Star's body greedily, as she began to scream.
Sparks had landed in the whiskey soaked carpet and the rug was on fire. The couch began burning as Star fell forward onto it. The woodwork above the mantel caught, and the fire spread.
Tess concentrated for a moment and pulled on the chains of the handcuffs. She felt the metal cut into her skin, but the metal gave and her hands came apart. She grabbed for the door and threw it open as Nix helped a bleeding Dayle to move away from the flames.
Smoke poured out of the study, and screams began. Women ran, most heading for the front door, but a couple decided the open windows were enough of an escape, and they dove out of them, landing in the bushes or on the lawn.
"Nix, you get Dayle out the back door, and clear the kitchen! I'm going to clear upstairs and make sure everyone's out!"
"Tess, no!" But Tess was already headed to the staircase and fighting her way up the steps through the crowd running down them. "Fuck!"
Nix dragged her badly bleeding friend out into the kitchen. There were several people gathered around the table. They were passing a pipe between themselves and they looked up at the two vampires with gazes dulled by the pot.
"Wow. She's bleeding."
Coughing, Nix nodded. "Yeah. And the house is on fire. I'd get out if I were you."
"Oh, wow, really? Shit."
They began grabbing beer and liquor bottles, and Nix shook her head. Moving around them, she kicked open the back screen door, knocking it from it's hinges. Slipping an arm under Dayle's knees she picker her friend up and moved down the short stair case and into the back of the yard.
The women from the kitchen followed her out. One of them stopped and looked at her and Dayle. "You want us to call an ambulance?"
Nix smiled. "Thanks, but no. We'll be okay. But you might check and see if anyone out front is hurt."
The woman nodded and left.
"Dayle? Hang on, pal. It's gonna be okay."
"Nix, you gotta find Tess."
"I will. You just stay put." The blonde vampire ripped off the white shirt to her costume, leaving her in just a black bra and her pants. "Hold this onto your shoulder. You'll heal, but you gotta keep the pressure on."
"Yeah, I got it. Go!"
Nix took two steps back to the house only to have an explosion knock her off her feet. She coughed out smoke and crawled the few steps back to Dayle.
"Well, that didn't work."
"Nix, we need to find her!"
"I know. Come on; we'll go down the right side where the flames aren't so bad. Tess is probably waiting for us out front." Dayle nodded and allowed Nix to help her back to her feet. They struggled down the side of the house, having to duck a few times as flames shot out of the open windows. A few minutes later they collapsed just outside the front gate.
"Any sign of her?"
"No." Nix stared at the crowd, trying to find Tess in their midst. The vampire wasn't there, and Nix's heart moved into her throat, making her swallow hard several times.
The sound of a car horn made them turn. It was the sports car Cam and Tess shared, and as it came to a stop in the sand, Cam jumped out of the driver's door.
"Nix! Are you all right?"
Nix nodded. "Dayle's hurt." Her voice was very quiet. Together she and Cam lifted their friend and helped her into the back of the Firebird.
Then Cam was looking for Tess. "Nix? Where -- " She broke off when she saw the agony in her friend's face. "Nix, no."
Stepping forward, Nix put her hands on Cam's shoulders. "Cam, I --" She broke off not knowing what to say. "Tess --"
"Is right here."
They both turned at the sound of Tess's raspy voice. Covered in soot and limping, Tess was moving toward them slowly.
"Tess!" Cam ran to her lover and put her arms around the woman.
Nix felt her heart rate slow, and she smiled as Cam totally ignored the filth on Tess, hugging you and kissing her.
The sound of sirens cut through the night, barely heard above the roar of the flames from the house.
"We better go." Tess gave Cam a quick kiss to her forehead. "Feel like drivin', babe? I don't think I can."
Nix crawled into the back seat, next to Dayle. "How's the shoulder?"
"Healing. Found Tess, did you?"
"Actually, Tess found us, thank all the gods."
Dayle nodded. "Sounds like her. Never lets us get any glory."
Nix chuckled softly.
Tess settled into the passenger seat and glanced in the back. "Okay, Dayle?"
"Oh, great. I love jumping from the second floor of burning buildings."
Cam closed her door and started the engine. "Just tell me we can leave."
"Punching it." Cam stepped on the gas pedal and sand flew as the car took off.
They hit pavement a few minutes later, and Nix sighed.
"You didn't exactly wait for our signal, Cam."
"What, Nix, you mean the fire wasn't it?" She glanced in the rear view mirror with a smile.
"Wasn't supposed to be, but I guess it worked." Nix leaned back against the seat. "So, where we going, Cam?"
"I have us booked into a hotel near the airport. Our stuff is already there, and all the bills are paid." She glanced into the back. "You didn't tell me you were going to burn the house down, Nix, so I'll have to pay off that, but everything else is clear. We're booked on a flight to Orlando tomorrow afternoon. I figured we'd get up there, go to Disney World, and then decide what each of us is going to do." She paused. "Tess and I are heading for London."
Nix nodded. "Good job, Cam. You did great."
Cam shrugged. "I'm just glad it's over."
Tess leaned her head against the window and watched the streets fly by as they headed for the new hotel. "Me, too."
New York City
Once again, Tess found herself leaning against a pane of glass. This time it was the bedroom window of the apartment she shared with Cam.
The memory of that night, the fire, and the screams, had given Nix, Dayle and Tess the night sweats for weeks after. But the stain that Star had left on their lives had now been mostly erased.
They'd each gone their separate ways after arriving in Orlando. She and Cam had headed for London, spending ten years living off of Soho square. Nix had gone to gone to Paris, where she got involved in the art trade. When she got bored with Europe, she went to New York, buying an art gallery there, and opening another one in Toronto.
Dayle had gone to Canada, eventually settling in Quebec. She was running a hotel in Montreal.They'd each gone to visit her. It was a good place, and Dayle was happy -- that was all that mattered.
And now it was about to come crashing down. The stain that was Star had leached its way back into their lives.
Tess remembered her jump from the second floor of the beach house. She'd landed on her feet, then rolled, feeling her knee give slightly on the landing. After catching her breath, she'd worked her way around to the front, much like Dayle and Nix had done.
She also remembered glancing at the window to the study, which they'd left closed. It was busted out, and there were broken branches in the bush underneath it.
It hadn't meant much to her at that time. There was debris all over the back yard, and it wouldn't have been surprising that some had fallen on the bushes.
Now she wondered. If she'd told Nix, they might have ended up searching the area, finding a burned and injured Star. Making sure of the kill.
Instead, they were faced with a renewed Star, one who was looking for revenge. She had put Nix on the verge of death, and it had been dumb luck that Jesse found her. Tess knew Nix would never have called out to anyone else. She'd have stayed there, waiting, and died.
All because Tess didn't mention a broken window.
She shook her head and turned to look at her friend who was sleeping, trying to let her broken body rebuild itself.
"I'm sorry, Nix. I should have told you."
Turning back to look at the night, Tess swallowed.
"There's no escape for you this time, Star. I'll see your body dead
-- or I'll die trying."
End Part Five