"Where to next, any ideas?"
Kruise leaned back in her seat, sighing. She was tired, and frustrated. "I don't know, Dayle. I'm about ready to throw in the towel."
"Aw, you can't do that yet, Kruise. There's gotta be someone somewhere that saw her. She's been killing, and she can't make herself invisible."
"We've been to eight different bars, Dayle, six straight, two gay, and no one's seen her, or almost no one." They had found one person who thought she recognized the description, but she couldn't remember when she'd seen her last. "Maybe she's just sticking with the gay bars, or was branching out when Kelsey saw her and called Nix."
"Could be. Then I guess that means we'd better hit the other gay clubs, hm?"
Kruise sighed again and started the car. "All right. Mowzer's is where I met her. Might as well check there." Her hands tightened on the steering wheel.
Dayle watched as the woman beside her began to sweat. She waited until they were at a light, and then reached over to touch Kruise's knee.
"What?" Kruise jumped at the contact.
"Easy. Listen, if you don't want to go in, that's fine. I'd rather not separate, but -- if this is going to be difficult for you, you can either stay in the car or Tess and I can come back later and check it out."
"No, I'm fine."
They drove for several more blocks, then Kruise took the turn into Mowzer's back parking lot. Concentrating on the road in front of her, she didn't notice the woman starting across the parking lot in front of her, and had to slam on the brakes at the last moment to avoid hitting her.
She and Dayle looked at each other.
"So, okay, I'm not so fine." Inching the car forward, she pulled into a parking space and turned off the ignition.
Dayle waited as Kruise stared at the back door of Mowzer's.
"Hey. Why don't Tess and I just come back --"
"No." Kruise unfastened her seat belt and reached for the door handle.
"Might wanna take the keys out."
Looking down, Kruise saw Jesse's keys still stuck in the ignition. "I knew that." She pulled them out and pushed the door open.
Dayle chuckled and got out of the car.
Kruise led Dayle inside the back door at Mowzer's, her eyes darting nervously from side to side. "Start at the bar again?"
A few people called hello to Kruise, or waved a hand at her. She smiled back and waved at all of them, but didn't stop to talk.
"Friends of yours?"
"Drinking buddies. They'll eventually come up to the bar and we can ask them if they know her or if they've seen her."
They negotiated their way through the crowd, taking seats on the far end of the bar. It wasn't too long before the bartender came over to get their orders.
"Kruise! Damn, good to see you. How you doin'?"
"I'm fine, Mick. Jack and Coke, please. And my friend will have . . .?" Kruise raised an eyebrow at Dayle.
Mick nodded and filled two glasses with ice.
"Hey, Mick? You remember that woman I was with? The night I was attacked?"
Mick snorted as she poured whiskey into the two glasses. "Yeah, I remember. The bitch."
"Um, have you seen her since then?"
"Are you kidding? Kruise, if I'd have seen her, her ass would be in jail. That's one dead bitch if she ever comes back here."
Dayle raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"Thanks, Mick, I appreciate it. I wanted to ask you if you'd seen her before that night."
Mick nodded. "Sure. She'd been in and out for a couple weeks before that. She'd leave with people occasionally. I never thought about it. Then when you were attacked --" She stopped in the middle of filling the glasses with cola. "I remembered that two of those people had gone missing then or shortly afterwards." The bartender shook her head. "If I'd thought about that earlier, I could have maybe done something."
"You can't blame yourself, Mick." Kruise reached for her wallet to have her hand intercepted. Dayle layed a bill on the counter, and Kruise smiled at her in thanks. "You didn't know what was going on, and even I thought she was interesting when I met her."
"Yeah, well. That bitch shows her face around here, she's gonna lose it. I been talking to a few of the bartenders I know at a couple different clubs. They've seen her, and I put out the word about her. Next time she stops in at any of the clubs, she's toast."
"They've seen her?" Dayle asked.
Mick nodded. "Yeah. Last Tuesday, as a matter of fact. She showed up at the C-Club, and the bartender there recognized her. But -- C-Club is already on probation, you know? So, they told her they wouldn't call the cops if she just left and didn't come back."
"What happened?" Kruise sipped her drink. "Did she leave?"
Mick snorted. "Yeah. To wait outside till the bouncer that told her to leave came out. Then she started beating on her. Cops got called, but the bitch took off, and the bastards gave the bouncer a warning for fighting -- just as she was getting loaded into an ambulance." Mick shook her head. "But we got together with a couple female cops, and we know who to call -- and everyone's just waiting for the bitch to show up again. She'll be nailed to the wall before she can finish her drink."
She wiped the bar, then stopped and looked at Kruise. "We take care of our own, pal. You need anything, you let me know."
Kruise nodded and smiled. Mick nodded back, then glanced at Dayle and left.
Dayle sighed and threw back the rest of her drink. "Doesn't really help us, but at least we found out a little bit."
"Right. Like she's probably staying the hell out of the lesbian bars, and if she does attack a dyke, it'll be outside the bar." Kruise sipped her drink. "Which means she'll probably be prowling straight bars, which we don't have many contacts with. Also, there are so many, that we don't have a clue which ones she'd go to."
"Yep." Dayle swirled the ice in her glass. "Not a damn thing we can do. Let's hope that the others had better luck than we did."
"Woohoo! Hey, Cam, I'm in!" Jace put two fists over her head. "I'm so good sometimes."
Cam came in with two glasses of ice tea and looked at the computer screen that Jace was sitting in front of. "Wow, you did it! Nice job."
"Thanks. Now we just input the address that Nix gave us, and see what it tells us."
Pulling the chair over closer, Cam watched Jace enter the information.
When they saw the result, Jace sighed. "Damn. I thought for sure it would come up with the name that Kelsey gave us." She glanced to her right to find Cam staring at the screen with her jaw hanging open. "Cam? Something wrong?"
"Um. Maybe. That's not a name you would know, but it's definitely one I know. Would you run a check for the name Kelsey gave us?"
Jace entered the name and they waited. Moments later the computer beeped, and the screen said there were no matches to that name.
"Okay, try the other one, from the warehouse." Again Jace typed, and Cam cursed as she saw the list appearing on the screen. "Shit. That's how she's been doing it. Goddamn that --"
The front door buzzed, and Cam stood up. "See if you can get back into the DMV site, Jace."
"But we already tried that."
"Uh-huh. When you get in, though, I want you to enter that name we just tried."
Jace shrugged. "Okay."
Cam opened the door to find Jesse and Nix standing in the hall, their arms loaded with bags from Max's Burger Joint.
"What's all this?"
"Dinner." Jesse handed her a bag. "I wasn't in the mood for pizza."
"Oh." Cam backed into the apartment to let them in. "Okay. Thanks, Jesse. You didn't have to do that."
"Don't thank me; Tess paid for it. I just picked it up."
Nix led the way to the kitchen, and soon the table was covered in bags of burgers and fries, along with several drink holders with shakes and other beverages.
"Did you guys find anything at the warehouse?"
Jesse shrugged. "We found what she wanted us to find. Tess can tell you more. 'Scuse me." She left the room and Nix turned her head to watch Jesse go into the bathroom and shut the door.
She turned to Cam. "Jess is freaked. They found two of Star's victims, one of them still alive. Tess had to -- end it."
Cam closed her eyes and tightened her grip on the back of the chair she'd been leaning against. "Fuck. Where is Tess anyway?"
"Tess and Trey headed out to dump the bodies. Then they're calling Dayle and Kruise. Tess and Dayle will go over later and burn the fucking building."
"I'm . . . not sure that's a good idea." Cam bit her lip. "Jace and I found something, but not what we were expecting."
Jace chose that moment to step into the kitchen. "Hey, Nix. You and Jess alone?"
"Yeah, we brought my car back. Trey's still with Tess; they're on a mission and they'll be back in a while. What did you guys find?"
Shrugging, Jace handed her a sheet of paper. "Not much. The warehouse doesn't belong to Star, but Cam had me check the name of the person who does own it. She owns several other properties as well, along with several cars. This is the list of both that I put together."
Cam read the sheet over Nix's shoulder. She felt the sudden tension fill the body of the blonde vampire.
"You see the name, Nix?"
"Yeah. And I see something else as well." Nix pointed to a line on the page. It said that one Rita Vegin owned, among other vehicles, a four door 2000 Ford Escort sedan. It's color was listed as red.
"That's the car that Star was using. I'd bet anything." Nix handed the paper back to Jace. "We need to get ahold of Tess and Dayle. They can't blow that building yet."
Cam was reaching for the phone. "I suppose I better call Kelsey after that?"
"Not yet. Give the others a chance to get back here, and we'll see if Kruise and Dayle found out anything."
Jace leaned against the door frame. "Someone want to tell me what's going on? You two obviously know something I don't."
Nix sat in a chair at the table and rubbed her face. "Sorry, Jace. You've never met her, but Trey has."
"Yeah." Cam finished dialing and put the phone to her ear. "She nearly turned Trey into a zombie the other night."
Jace's eyes went very wide. "That's -- ?"
Sliding into another chair, Jace put her hands over her eyes. "Holy shit."
They'd just gotten back in the car when the phone rang.
Dayle answered it.
"Dayle, it's Tess. Where are you?"
"Outside Mowzer's. We were talking about making a quick pass at the Janx, but that was going to be it."
"Don't bother. You and I have a job to do."
"I'm not letting Star use her little slaughter house any longer. You and I are going to burn it down."
Dayle nodded and glanced at Kruise. "What about our partners?"
"Meet me back at the garage. They can join Cam and Jace upstairs, while you and I head out. I don't want them involved in this part."
"Right. We're on our way."
She hung up and looked at her driver. "Back to Tess's."
"What's up?" Kruise asked as she started the car.
"Tess and I are going to go commit arson and maybe some other major crimes. You and Trey don't need to be part of that."
"Oh." She backed the car out of the space and shifted into drive. "You guys like fire, don't you?"
Dayle smirked. "You have no idea."
Tess handed me the cell phone, looking closely at my face as she did.
"You all right, Trey? You look a little green."
I couldn't meet her eyes. "Fine. I'm fine."
"Uh-huh." She started the engine and put the car in gear. "Let me know if you need to throw up."
"Right." I turned back toward the window, trying not to look at the waters of the Hudson.
After we weighted down the bodies by attaching them to large cement blocks, Tess had told me to go back to the car. I protested, but she glared at me until I finally gave up and headed for the vehicle.
I'd turned back to see her stabbing each body repeatedly. After losing the contents of my stomach, I went back to the car and waited.
"Can you tell me why you did that?" I asked quietly. "Why you had to mutilate them any further?"
Tess sighed. "I wasn't trying to mutilate them, Trey. I just wanted to make sure they wouldn't float even if the wire holding them to the concrete breaks."
"And you do that by stabbing them?"
I watched her hands as she spoke, wondering if it was truly indifference she was showing, or an iron control over herself. Whenever one of her hands left the steering wheel, it shook ever so slightly. As if she was aware of that, Tess kept both hands clutching the wheel. Definitely clutching, since her knuckles were white.
It wasn't indifference after all, and I breathed a tiny bit easier.
"Yeah. As a body decays, gasses build up inside it, and that's what will make it float. But, if you puncture holes in it after the blood has stopped flowing, then the gasses are released, and the body will sink."
I could see that it made sense, but it didn't make my stomach feel any better. "Tess?"
She did, and I got out and vomited into the gutter.
As I got back into the car, she handed me a couple napkins and a bottle of water. I rinsed my mouth and wiped it, then leaned back in the seat.
"Gonna write about this, Trey?"
"About what? Finding dead bodies, getting rid of dead bodies, or vomiting?"
"Any of it."
I shrugged. "Maybe."
The phone rang, and I answered it.
"Hey, Trey, it's Cam. I need to talk to Tess, please."
"Hang on." I covered the mouth piece. "It's Cam."
She held out her hand and I gave her the phone. "Hey, baby."
I waited, watching the buildings fly by.
"Why? Did Jess and Nix get back okay?"
That made me glance over at her in concern, but she nodded at me, and I turned back toward the window.
"Then what's up?"
There was a pause.
Suddenly Tess slammed on the brakes and I nearly went through the windshield.
"Fucking hell! Are you sure?"
I took a deep breath and pulled my hands back from the dashboard.
"Damn. Okay, Trey and I are on our way back. Dayle and Kruise were supposed to meet us in the garage, so we'll pass on the news then. Have you called Kelsey?"
Wincing, I noticed that part of my hand was slowly turning blue. I'd bruised it against the dash.
"Fine. I'll see you soon. And save me a piece of pizza."
I almost gagged. Pizza, with all that red tomato sauce, was something I did not feel like looking at, and my stomach flipped again.
"Oh, she did? That's fine. Did Nix get me a shake?"
I rolled my eyes. We'd just sent two people into the depths of the Hudson River, and she was thinking about shakes.
"Great. I'll be home soon, love."
Finally she hung up and handed the phone back to me.
"Change in plans, I take it?"
She nodded. "Yeah. The warehouse belongs to Rita, not Star. So, we're not burning it down yet."
"Rita? As in Rita from the Shadowbox, with the slave and the blood and...?"
"Yes. Rita, who is also a member of the New York vampire council."
I frowned. "But, Kelsey said no one on the council would interfere. Didn't she? Or did I just imagine that part?"
"Yep. That's the message she gave us." She glanced at me. "I trust Kelsey. A hell of a lot more than I trust Rita."
Nodding, I asked, "What's the plan now?"
She shrugged. "Guess that depends on what Kelsey says."
I waited a few more minutes, then sighed. "Tess?"
She glanced at me, and pulled over to the side of the road.
I threw up into the ditch.
We pulled into the parking garage to find Dayle and Kruise waiting for us.
Kruise was still sitting in the driver's seat, with the door open. Dayle was leaning against the side of the car.
"Hey, Tess. Are we ready to go or do we need some supplies first?"
Tess shook her head at Dayle as she slammed her door and set the car alarm. "Neither. There's been a change of plans. The warehouse will have to wait."
Kruise frowned. "Something wrong?"
"Jace and Cam found out that Star's been working with someone. If we burn the building without proof, the council will go apeshit."
I followed the others into the elevator, watching Tess stab viciously at the button.
"Who's she working with?"
"Rita -- Dayle, you know her as Lorita."
"The blonde bimbo from San Francisco?" The disgust in Dayle's face was easy to read.
"The one and only. She goes by Rita Vegin out here. And she's on the fucking council."
Dayle shook her head. Kruise watched her with a slightly raised eyebrow. Tess continued to seethe, tapping her ring against the metal hand rail as the elevator rose.
I was really glad that Jesse had gotten burgers instead of pizza, even though my stomach was still a little queasy and I couldn't really enjoy them.
Still, I was more relaxed than I had been all day as I stretched out on the gray carpet, my head in Jace's lap while she fed me french fries.
Jesse and Nix were back on the loveseat, but Dayle and Kruise had chosen to take seats on the floor, leaving the couch open for Cam and Tess. Tess had declared that she didn't want to interrupt her chocolate shake with any serious discussion, so all eight of us watched tv till we heard the slurping that meant she'd finished her shake.
Nix reached for the remote and turned off the television.
One by one, each team gave a summary of their activities, and what they'd found. It wasn't much really. Star was killing humans, violently torturing them, but the lesbian bars had all ganged up to keep her away from them, so she wasn't as much threat to the lesbian community. The place she'd been playing belonged to Rita, who liked to turn humans into her personal slaves. Rita had obviously been helping Star since the older vampire's arrival in the City.
"Okay." I was surprised that it was Cam taking the lead, but Tess seemed comfortable enough with it. "Now we just need to plan our attack."
"How can you attack someone when you don't know where they're at?" Nix seemed a little frustrated, and Jess surreptitiously slid a hand onto her leg.
"Maybe the starting point isn't with Star, though. Maybe it's with her accomplice." Jess lit her cigarette and tossed the lighter on the table.
Dayle nodded. "I agree. I remember Lorita. She was a wimp."
I shuddered. "She may be a wimp, but she's a bitch as well."
"Trey's right." Nix leaned forward a little. "She's a bitch, and a dangerous one at that. Whatever we do," she glanced at Tess, "we have to neutralize her before we go after Star."
"Agreed." Tess nodded. "I think we should confront her with the evidence in front of the council. Dayle and I can take the printouts and prove our case."
Jace shook her head. "I'm not so sure. Or at least, not without a little support already guaranteed."
"What do you mean, Jace?"
"Cam, given how the council has responded to all of you already, I wouldn't try going in there and surprising them with this. I'd bring Kelsey here, then maybe meet a couple of the other members -- she'd know which ones are most likely to listen. Then you call a council session, when you've already won half the battle."
I looked up and nodded. "Good call, babe. I like that idea."
"Yeah." Cam leaned back into the couch. "I agree. We call Kelsey first, then approach the council.."
Tess picked up her lover's hand and kissed it. "No, babe. We call Kelsey, and then Dayle and I approach the council. You and Nix will stay here."
It looked like Cam would argue for a moment, but then she clamped her jaws together and nodded.
Jesse shook her head. "Won't work."
We all looked at her.
"Why not?" Tess asked the question we all wanted to. "Why wouldn't it work, Jess?"
"No proof." Jesse played with her cigarette a little. "You've told us that these people already have stuff against you four. So, unless you can, number one, prove what you're saying, and number two, get this Rita to admit it, you'll never get anywhere. They'll say your lying, and she'll grin in your face."
"What more evidence do we need? We have the papers stating, in black and white, that she owns these places."
"Sure you do, Cam, but that doesn't mean anything. So, she owns them. We can't prove that Star is using them. And even if we could, we couldn't prove that Rita is letting her. Without proof of what Star did, and a confession from Rita, we've got nothing to take to the council."
"So, what, Jess, we're back at our starting point?" Kruise's voice cracked a little, and I realized she was pretty close to the edge. I was ready to go sit beside her when I saw Dayle put a hand on her back. I raised an eyebrow when Kruise leaned into the touch, but didn't say anything.
Leaning forward, Jesse shook her head again. "No. We've got a list of places that Rita owns in the city. It's a safe bet that since Star was using one to play in, she might be using another to live in. I say we cover all those places tomorrow."
"And what about her playpen? Just leave it there for her to kill more people in?" Nix didn't look happy with that prospect. "I'd rather have the council on us for burning it down."
"Fine. Then we burn it down.
But first, we take a camera and get pictures of the blood and the chains. We
don't need the bodies to show she's been torturing people."
Cam stood up and picked up her coffee cup. "I don't know if that's such a good idea. Rita will know we did it, and she'll take it to the council first. We'll have lost our one edge."
Jesse nodded. "So, don't burn it down. Let me take care of it."
Nix shook her head. "No. I don't want you invol--"
"Nix, don't fucking tell me not to get involved. I got involved the minute I decided not to leave you in that fucking alley."
Nix bit her lip and folded her arms.
"No, Jesse." Tess was shaking her head. "I will not have you doing this. If we get caught by the cops, we can get away -- it's not that difficult for us. You'd be in jail, and none of us wanna see that."
"Fine. I won't do it." Jesse stood and pulled out her cell phone. "But neither will you." She dialed a number as she headed out to the balcony, closing the glass door behind her.
Kruise looked a little stunned. Jace did, too. The others just looked worried.
"Trey, what is she talking about?" Tess asked.
I sighed. "Jesse has . . . connections."
"Connections? To what?"
I was Kruise who answered. "To whom is the correct question, and the answer is -- well, you don't want to know the answer. Trust me."
Everyone was quiet, waiting for
Jesse to come back inside. Cam refilled drinks for everyone, and Dayle started
giving Kruise a back rub. I ate the rest of Jace's fries while watching Tess
tap her fingers on the coffee table.
Finally Jess closed the phone and slipped it back into it's holder on her belt. She took another drag on her cigarette, then flicked it off the balcony and came back inside.
"It's done. Now, get Kelsey here so we can talk, and she can swear to the board or council or whatever that you didn't have anything to do with burning the fucking building."
Tess nodded. "Set up an alibi for ourselves, eh?"
"Something like that."
Another nod, and then Tess was taking the cordless phone from the coffee table and heading out the balcony door herself.
"Jess, what about the pictures you want?"
"Taken care of, Kruise. I can pick them up tomorrow."
A nod, and then silence.
I looked up at Jace, then pulled her hand up and kissed her. "You okay?"
"Depends. Am I still green?"
She smiled and shook her head.
"Then I think I'm okay."
We both chuckled a little, and when I glanced around the room, I saw several smiles. I couldn't see Jesse's face cause she was staring at the floor, her dark hair hiding her profile.
Nix slid an arm around her shoulders and whispered in her ear. A shake of the dark head, and then Jesse was moving, leaning back against the couch and pulling Nix half onto her lap.
Kruise and Dayle switched off on their backrubs, and it was Cam's turn to tap fingernails on the table as she sat on the floor a short distance away.
We all looked like we were waiting for bad news, and as Tess opened the glass door, I held my breath unconsciously.
"Kelsey's on her way." She tossed the phone to Cam, who put it on the table.
It really wasn't very dramatic.
End Part Nine
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