"Okay, so we all know the situation now. Any suggestions?"
Tess looked around at all of us, and all of us looked back at Tess.
It had been a late morning, and Cam and Jace and I had fixed a hasty brunch for the eight of us. Nix and Jesse were curled up on the love seat again, Jesse looking rumpled and tired. Nix looked much better this morning, but her leg was still not healing well.
Dayle and Kruise had closed up the couch and Jace and I had joined them, in basically the same positions we'd been in the night before. Only Cam was out of place as she was sitting on the floor near Nix.
"Come on, people, doesn't anyone have any ideas?"
"You mean, other than finding Star and killing her?"
Tess crossed her arms and looked at Jesse. "That is the general goal of the group, I believe. The question is, how do we find her?" Nix looked up and Tess shook her head. "No, we're not throwing another party, Nix. Don't even suggest it." Nix grinned and dropped her gaze.
I was a little surprised when it was Jace that raised her hand. "Um, we could start with that warehouse that she took Nix to. It sounds like it's not the first time she's used it, and I'm wondering if it belongs to her."
Cam nodded. "That's a good idea. We can check into who owns it, see if we can match them to Star, or at least if the trail leads to her."
"Good. Any other ideas?"
"Um," Kruise went quiet as everyone turned to her. "I -- um, I was just thinking. If Kelsey is still on our side, maybe she can let us know the last name that Star is using and we can have Jace try to track her on her computer. She's a decent enough hacker that she might find out where Star is staying."
Tess looked at Jace. "You're a hacker?"
"Eh." Jace waggled her hand. "A little. I'd never be able to crack the security of most banks or anything, but I've done hotels before, and a few other places."
"Cool." Tess nodded to Cam. "Okay, why don't we pair you two up? Jace, Cam is a pretty good hacker herself. The two of you can start with -- the warehouse, I suppose. Nix, do you remember the address?"
"She never gave it to me." Nix cocked her head to one side. "But, if we go back to the bar I was at when she took me, I could probably retrace the route and find the place."
Tess thought about that for a minute, then nodded. "Okay. You and I will go."
"The three of us will go, you mean." Jesse glared at Tess.
"Jess, I was hoping to pair you with Trey, and send you off to different bars."
Dayle leaned in. "Um, could I make a suggestion?"
"What is it?"
"If you're going to pair people, stick with your original idea of pairing one human with one vampire. That way we've got teams that can protect each other."
"And how is Nix supposed to protect Jesse?"
"She's not, Tess." Nix looked up at her friend. "But if we're pairing one on one, Jesse's the one most likely to be able to protect me."
Tess had to admit that was true. "All right. Then Jess and Nix are a team, and Jace and Cam are one as well. That leaves Kruise and Trey. You got a preference, Dayle?"
I raised my hand.
"Tess, if you're going to try this thing of taking Nix to go track down the warehouse, could I suggest that you take me with you? You might need someone who can think fast and take notes and such. Also, it makes sense that someone stay with Nix if you guys find the warehouse and you and Jesse want to check it out."
Nix grinned. "You just want to go where all the action is going to be, don't you, Trey."
I grinned back. "Can you blame me?"
Several people chuckled.
"What do you think about that, Dayle, Kruise?"
Dayle shrugged. "Fine with me, Tess."
Kruise nodded. "Yeah, that's good. Dayle and I can hit the bars, see if anyone has seen Star, maybe find out if she has a pattern."
Dayle seemed pleased with that suggestion, and Tess finally agreed.
"Okay, then, the second issue is how to stay in touch with each other."
Dayle reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone. Tess nodded and patted hers on her belt.
"I left mine in my car," Jesse said.
Kruise snapped her fingers. "That's gonna be another thing. I'd rather not be at the mercy of cabs or subways if Dayle and I are hitting the bars."
Jesse pulled out the keys to her Mustang. "Tess, are we taking the SUV?" Tess nodded, and Jesse tossed the keys to Kruise. "Here. One scratch and I'll take it out on your hide."
Kruise smiled. "I get to drive Baby? All right!"
Everyone else laughed while Jesse narrowed her eyes and growled.
"Only one problem with that." Nix nodded to Dayle. "Before you two head off in Jesse's car, you'll need to clean the passenger seat. I'm afraid I bled all over it."
"Ick." Dayle winked at Nix. "I'll take care of it, don't worry."
Tess nodded. "Then it looks like we all have our assignments. Jess, Nix, Trey, you're with me. We'll get your cell phone on the way, just in case, Jess."
"Jace, you're here with me, I guess." Cam motioned with her head. "Come on. I'll call Kelsey while you check out our computer system."
Jace grinned. "Cool. New toys." She kissed me. "You be careful. No heroic stuff, right?"
Another kiss and then she was headed into the computer room with Cam.
Dayle rose and looked back at Kruise. "You wanna come keep me company while I clean Jesse's car?"
"I can help with it." Kruise stood up.
"Um, no. That's not a good idea." Dayle took a breath. "See, vampire blood is --"
"Toxic?" Kruise asked.
"A drug." Jesse answered.
"An intoxicant." I nodded. "We know. Kruise knows. I'm sure she'll be very careful."
Kruise nodded, winking at Dayle. "Don't worry, I have no intention of getting the stuff on me, and there's no way I'll taste it. Uh-uh."
Dayle chuckled. "Okay, then. So long as you know what you're getting into."
"Oh, yeah. After I saw what it did to Trey, no way did I want to try it."
"What it did to Trey?"
I groaned. "Kruise, not that again, please?"
"See, we had just met Nix, and she and Trey went off to . . ."
Thankfully her voice faded as she and Dayle left the apartment.
I rolled my eyes. "Jesse, why does she only tell about my tasting the blood and not about you?"
Jesse shrugged, handing Nix the pair of crutches Kelsey had left for her. "Cause I can beat her up and you can't."
I nodded. "Good logic, that."
Dayle closed the passenger door of Jesse's mustang and belted herself in. "Where are we headed?"
Kruise checked the mirrors, then reached for the ignition key. "I figured we should start with some of the straight bars. Most of the gay clubs don't get busy until much later."
They pulled out of the parking garage and Kruise sighed. "I love this car. Jesse keeps it in such great condition, and I love driving it."
"Remember, one scratch and you're dead." Dayle grinned.
"I know. And she's serious, really. She will take it out on me. By not letting me drive it anymore."
"Is that the only punishment?"
"She knows it's the most effective one. I love this car." Kruise glanced at Dayle and noticed that she was rolling her sleeves down. "You okay? Sun bothering you?"
"A little. I'll be okay. You'll have to help me keep an eye on my neck and face though. They burn less easily due to more exposure, but when they do burn, I don't always feel it."
"Guess vampires don't tan well, do they."
"We kind of skip tan and go to broil."
Kruise laughed. "Don't worry, I'll make sure you don't fry."
"No problem. Jesse would kill me if I melted a vampire all over her car."
Nix's directions to Tess were given in a soft voice, but it was obvious she was tense. When I glanced into the back seat I noticed that Jesse was holding her hand, and they were sitting very close together.
"Turn left here. It's behind that blue brick building."
Tess nodded, and took the turn as she'd been instructed. As we came around the corner there was a black BMW parked close to the warehouse.
"Well, she left your car here, Nix."
"That's not necessarily a good thing, Tess."
After driving all the way around the building and finding no sign of anyone else, Tess finally pulled in next to Nix's car.
She stared at it. "Nix, did she take you to that alley in her car or yours?"
"Her's. I was wrapped in the tarp when she put me in, but I saw the car when she took me out. It was a red sedan. Escort, I think."
Tess nodded. "Well, there's no other car, but that doesn't mean much. Star could still be here." She flipped open the storage bin between the front seats. Reaching in, she pulled out an automatic handgun. After checking the clip, which was full, she lifted her gaze to Jesse in the back.
"Okay, you wanna come in, or stay here?"
"I'll be right beside you."
"Cool. Trey, you climb over here into the driver's seat, in case we need to make a fast getaway. Nix --" Tess looked back at her friend. "Take Jesse's phone and call Cam. Give her the address, and then you stay put no matter what, got it?"
"Until I'm needed, sure." Nix nodded. "Careful, Tess. You too, Jesse." Jesse handed her the phone and winked.
"Jesse, you want a weapon?"
"You got another .45, Tess?"
"No, but there's a Sig .22."
Tess passed back a clothe bundle, and Jesse unwrapped the weapon.
Jesse nodded, and they opened the doors together.
I waited until Tess had closed the door, and then climbed over the center console to the driver's seat.
"We're not leaving without them, no matter what, so don't even think about it, Trey."
I glanced up at Nix in the mirror. "No shit, Nix. Did you forget Jess is my friend to?"
She half smiled. "Sorry. Just nervous."
"Don't blame you. The whole place is creepy."
Nix called Cam with the address of the warehouse, and then we were silent as we watched Jesse and Tess through the tinted windows of the SUV.
Both of them were wary as they approached the windowless building. Jesse had slipped her gun inside her unbuttoned vest, but Tess was holding hers at her side, her hand down as she walked.
As they got to the door, Tess stopped, trying to think of the best way to handle their entry. The door was metal, with no window. They could only hope it was unlocked.
Tess stood near the handle, and motioned Jess to take the far side, behind the hinges. The darker woman said nothing and moved into position, frowning. She reached out to the handle and twisted it gently. It moved, and Jesse glanced up to Tess, who nodded. Moving swiftly, Jesse yanked the door open.
Glancing carefully around the doorway, Tess looked to make sure there was no danger, then moved through, keeping her arm up, her gun pointed straight out. She felt, rather than heard, Jesse slip behind her, and she stepped farther into the building
They were in a small office, with white washed cement brick walls. The door between the small office and the main area was open, and Tess heard no sound coming from the other room. Slowly she stepped up to the door way and looked around the corner.
What she saw made her swallow hard and turn back.
"Jesse. I don't think she's here. Go back to the car."
"Uh-uh. Not unless you're coming with me."
"I need to check something out."
"Then I'll be right behind you." Jesse motioned toward the doorway. "Go on. Unless you want me to go first."
Tess shook her head. "You don't want to see this, Jesse."
"Probably not. Doesn't matter; I'm not leaving."
"Fine. Suit yourself." Tess stepped into the main room of the warehouse and slipped her gun into the back of her belt.
Jesse followed her, stopping short at the scene before her. "Aw, holy fuck."
There was a body lying on a mattress, covered by a bloody blanket. Whips and other torture instruments had been tossed around the area. Hanging from chains in the center of the room was a second body. This one, a man, was clearly dead, the open gash down the sternum showing white bone and pink flesh. Blood still occasionally dripped from the corpse, but there was no beating heart to pump the blood from the gaping wounds.
Tess glanced back. "You gonna be sick?"
Jesse swallowed a few times and shook her head. "No, I'm all right. Are we sure the bitch isn't here?"
"I'm sure." She motioned to the rest of the empty warehouse. "There's no where to hide. Besides, this is staged. She wanted us to find this."
"And we did." Jesse slid the .22 into her waist band. "Now what?"
Tess pulled the bloody blanket back and looked down at the woman underneath.
"Now we figure out what Star was trying to tell us -- and why she left this woman alive."
Nix and I were both watching carefully, and I heard her breathe a sigh of relief as the door opened and Jesse stepped out of the building.
She was followed moments later by Tess and it looked like the two were arguing about something.
"Damn. Wonder what they found."
I shook my head. "Whatever it was, it couldn't be good."
Tess went back into the building and Jesse came toward the car, her eyes glittering in anger.
She yanked open the driver's door and growled at me. "Get out."
"Jess, what is it?"
"Just get the fuck out, Trey."
I climbed out of the SUV and stood back as Jesse got in.
"Nix, you're out, too. Go on. The keys are in your car and I'll join you there in a few minutes."
"Just go, Nix."
Phoenix opened the door, wincing as the sun hit her. She maneuvered her crutches out of the vehicle and joined me. We watched as Jesse started the car and pulled forward, then turned and backed it toward the warehouse door.
I looked over at Nix who was squinting painfully in the afternoon sunshine. "Come on. Let's get you in your car."
As we walked over to her BMW, we could see Tess giving Jesse a wrapped bundle, and then another one. Both bundles were loaded into the back of the SUV. A few more words, and then Jesse was heading for Nix and the BMW.
"I'm driving, so head for the passenger door, Nix."
"Don't argue with me. Just go." Jesse passed me and motioned back to Tess. "You're with her, Trey."
"What's wrong, Jess?" I took a risk and grabbed her arm. She turned toward me furiously, and for a moment I thought she'd hit me. Then she seemed to control herself, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.
"Ask Tess what's wrong, okay? I don't feel like talking about it."
"Okay." I nodded. "Where are you two headed?"
"We're going to get pizza and head back to Tess and Cam's. Meet you after -- well, just after." She yanked open the driver's door. "Be careful, Trey. Remind Tess not to speed. The two of you don't wanna get caught with those packages."
She got into the black car and started it. I leaned over and waved to Nix a little, then headed back to join Tess.
"What's in the packages, Tess?" I asked as I fastened my safety belt.
"Star's playthings. She left them there for us to find."
"And we're taking them where?"
She started the car.
"And we're just leaving the building?"
"No. Later on Dayle and I will come and burn the thing down."
"Oh." I waited. "Why not do it now?"
"Cause I don't want Jesse or you to be a part of it. It's bad enough I have to take you along for the ride on this one."
"Hey, I signed on for the long haul. Whatever we're doing, I can handle it."
"Okay." Tess glanced at me. "We're transporting two dead bodies to a place where they'll never be found. Can you handle that?"
I stared at her with my mouth open. "Um. No." I looked back out the window. "I think I like the word packages better."
Jesse was silent for several long minutes. Nix waited until the warehouse was out of site before she turned to her companion.
"Wanna tell me what happened?"
In response, Jesse slammed her hand against the steering wheel once, and then again.
"Sorry." She ran a hand through her hair, then raised her eyes to look at the strands in front. "Need a haircut, damn it."
"Yeah, you do." Nix chuckled lightly. "So do I, really."
Jesse glanced at the vampire beside her. "Nah, you're fine. Don't want to let it get much longer, but you're fine for a little while longer."
They drove in silence for a few more minutes.
"You all right?"
Jesse snorted. "Oh, just great."
"Can you tell me what happened?"
She took a deep breath as they pulled up to a red light. "We found two bodies, one man, one woman."
Nix nodded. "I figured that when I saw the bundles you carried out."
"Yeah. Well, the guy was dead. She'd cut him from throat to pelvis and peeled back the skin. Cut off his privates as well."
"Uh-huh. He was hanging from the chains like a slab of meat." Jesse swallowed hard. "But the woman. The woman was --" She broke off and squeezed her eyes shut. "The woman was alive."
Jesse nodded. "The bitch broke her neck, but she did it carefully enough that it didn't kill the girl. Just paralyzed her. Then she . . . cut her . . . mutilated her."
"But -- she was still alive?"
"Yeah. She was bleeding slowly, like you were. She couldn't talk, cause she didn't have a tongue."
"Oh, gods." Nix wrapped her arms around herself. "Star has always been brutal, but she's never been so fucking insane before."
Jesse was silent, her hands tight on the steering wheel.
She pulled into a parking space by a restaurant. "I decided I didn't want pizza. This okay with you?"
Nix nodded, then reached out a hand to touch Jesse's arm. "The girl is dead now?"
Jesse looked up at her. "Yeah. Tess gave her a drop of blood so she wouldn't know what was happening. Then she smothered her."
The blond vampire sighed. "Are you upset with Tess for doing that?"
Leaning back in her seat, Jesse stared up at the ceiling of the car. "I'm angry about this whole goddamn thing. We're having to chase a thousand year old vampire cause out of all the vampires out there only four of them give a damn that the bitch is insane and killing people." She shook her head. "The police are supposed to be doing this. I'm just a fucking overage punk with a respectable job during the week so I can pay the party bills on the weekend. I'm not supposed to be handling corpses and hanging out with vampires and shit." She took another deep breath. "What the fuck am I doing?"
Nix waited, watching the emotions flow over Jesse's face. After her friend had been silent for a several moments, the vampire spoke quietly.
"Do you want to leave?"
Jesse's dark head turned towards the blonde vampire.
"Say the word, Jesse, and you're out of it. We can call Dayle and Kruise and meet them somewhere, and you can take your car and head out."
"You think that's what I want?"
"I don't know. What do you want, Jesse?"
Jesse sighed. "I want this to be over. I want to not have to worry that I'm gonna find your body in an alley again. I want --" She broke off, swallowing hard. "I want to kiss you."
Nix smiled. "I think I can handle that."
The kiss was soft and gentle, more for comfort than anything else. Nix reached up and stroked Jesse's face with her fingertips, not stopping even as the kiss ended. For several seconds they just sat like that, neither saying anything or moving away.
A horn honked close by, and Jesse turned to see a cabby get the finger from a driver he'd just cut off. She chuckled and looked back at Nix, who was smiling.
"Wanna go get dinner now?"
They climbed out of the car, Nix pulling her crutches out after her and moving carefully through the crowd.
"Burgers and fries, huh?"
Jesse nodded. "That's okay, isn't it?"
"Sure. Just make sure we get a chocolate shake for Tess or she'll never forgive us."
"Got it. You want one?"
"Nah. I like my chocolate in bars, not shakes." She grinned as Jesse held the door open for her. "And I like my chocolate bars the same as my women -- dark and strong." She winked and left Jesse standing there holding the door.
Five or six people passed
by before Jesse realized it. Then she cursed and stepped inside to join a laughing
End Part Eight
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