"What the hell are we going to tell him? He's coming here in twenty minutes!"
Mr. O regarded his colleague's theatrics with a bored stare, thinking that if the lesser did any more hopping up and down, the idiot would qualify as a pogo stick.
Goddamn, but E was a fuckup. Why his sponsor had brought him into the Lessening Society in the first place was a mystery. The man had little drive. No focus. And no stomach for their new direction in the war against the vampire race.
"What are we going - "
"We aren't going to tell him anything," O said as he looked around the basement. Knives, razors, and hammers were scattered out of order on the cheap sideboard in the corner. There were pools of blood here and there, but not under the table, where they belonged. And mixed in with the red was a glossy black, thanks to E's flesh wounds.
"But the vampire escaped before we got any information out of him!"
"Thanks for the recap."
The two of them had just started working the male over when O went out on an assist. By the time he got back, E had lost control of the vampire, been sliced in a couple of places, and was all by his little lonesome bleeding in a corner.
That prick boss of theirs was going to be shit-wild, and even though O despised the man, he and Mr. X had one thing in common: Sloppiness was for crap.
O watched E dance around a little more, finding in the jerky movements the solution to both an immediate problem and a longer-term one. As O smiled, E, the fool, seemed relieved.
"Don't worry about a thing," O murmured. "I'll tell him we took the body out and left it for the sun in the woods. No big deal."
"You'll talk to him?"
"Sure, man. You'd better take off, though. He's going to be pissed."
E nodded and bolted for the door. "Later."
Yeah, say good-night, motherfucker, O thought as he started to clean up the basement.
The shitty little house they were working in was unremarkable from the street, sandwiched between a burned-out shell that had once been a barbecue restaurant and a condemned rooming house. This part of town, a mix of squalid residential and lowbrow commercial, was perfect for them. Around here, folks didn't go out after dark, gun pops were as common as car alarms, and nobody said nothing if someone let out a scream or two.
Also, coming and going from the site was easy. Thanks to the neighborhood hardies, all of the streetlights had been shot out and the ambient glow from other buildings was negligible. As an added benefit, the house had an exterior bulkhead entry into its basement. Carrying a fully loaded body bag in and out was no problem.
Although even if someone saw something, it would be the work of a moment to eliminate the exposure. No big surprise to the community, either. White trash had a way of finding their graves. Along with wife beating and beer sucking, dying was probably their only other core competency.
O picked up a knife and wiped E's black blood off the blade.
The basement was not big and the ceiling was low, but there was enough room for the old table they used as a workstation and the battered sideboard they kept their instruments on. Still, O didn't think it was the right facility. It was impossible to safely and securely store a vampire here, and this meant they lost an important tool of persuasion. Time wore down mental and physical faculties. If leveraged correctly, the passage of days was as powerful as anything you could break a bone with.
What O wanted was something out in the woods, something big enough so he could keep his captives over a period of time. As vampires went up in smoke with the dawn, they had to be kept protected from the sun. But if you just locked them in a room, you ran the risk of their dematerializing right out of your hands. He needed something steel to cage them...
Up above, the back door shut and footsteps came down the stairs.
Mr. X walked under a na**d bulb.
The Fore-lesser was about six-four and built like a linebacker. As with all slayers who'd been in the Society for a long time, he'd paled out. His hair and skin were the color of flour, and his irises were as clear and colorless as window glass. Like O, he was dressed in standard-issue lesser gear: black cargo pants and a black turtleneck with weapons hidden under a leather jacket.
"So tell me, Mr. O, how goes your work?"
As if the chaos in the basement wasn't explanation enough.
"Am I in charge of this house?" O demanded.
Mr. X walked casually over to the sideboard and picked up a chisel. "In a manner of speaking, yes."
"So am I permitted to ensure that this" - he moved his hand around the disorder - "doesn't happen again?"
"What did happen?"
"The details are boring. A civilian escaped."
"Will it survive?"
"I don't know."
"Were you here when it happened?"
"Tell me everything." Mr. X smiled as silence stretched out. "You know, Mr. O, your loyalty could get you in trouble. Don't you want me to punish the right person?"
"I want to take care of it myself."
"I'm sure you do. Except if you don't tell me, I might have to take the cost of failure out of your hide anyway. Is that worth it?"
"If I'm allowed to do what I will with the responsible party, yeah."
Mr. X laughed. "I can only imagine what that might be."
O waited, watching the chisel's sharp head catch light as Mr. X walked around the room.
"I paired you with the wrong man, didn't I?" Mr. X murmured as he picked a set of handcuffs off the floor. He dropped them on the sideboard. "I thought Mr. E might rise to your level. He didn't. And I'm glad you came to me first before you disciplined him. We both know how much you like to work independently. And how much it pisses me off."
Mr. X looked over his shoulder, dead eyes fixed on O. "In light of all this, particularly because you approached me first, you can have Mr. E."
"I want to do it with an audience."
"Trying to prove yourself again?"
"Setting a higher standard."
Mr. X smiled coldly. "You are an arrogant little bastard, aren't you?"
"I'm as tall as you are."
Suddenly, O found himself unable to move his arms or legs. Mr. X had pulled this paralyzing shit before, so it wasn't entirely unexpected. But the guy still had the chisel in his hand and he was coming closer.
O fought the hold, sweat breaking out as he struggled and got nowhere.
Mr. X leaned in so their chests were touching. O felt something brush against his ass.
"Have fun, son," the man whispered into O's ear. "But do yourself a favor. Remember that however long your pants are, you're not me. I'll see you later."
The man strode out of the basement. The door upstairs opened and shut.
As soon as O could move, he reached into his back pocket.
Mr. X had given him the chisel.
Rhage stepped from the Escalade and scanned the darkness around One Eye, hoping a couple of lessers would jump out at them. He didn't expect to get lucky. He and Vishous had trolled for hours tonight, and they'd gotten a whole lot of nothing. Not even a sighting. It was damn eerie.
And to someone like Rhage, who depended on fighting for personal reasons, it was also frustrating as hell.
Like all things, though, the war between the Lessening Society and the vampires went in cycles, and they were currently in a downturn. Which made sense. Back in July, the Black Dagger Brotherhood had taken out the Society's local recruitment center along with about ten of their best men. Clearly, the lessers were reconnoitering.
Thank God, there were other ways to burn off his edge.
He looked at the sprawling nest of depravity that was the Brotherhood's current R & R hangout. One Eye was on the edge of town, so the folks inside were bikers and guys who worked construction, tough types who tended toward the redneck rather than the slick persuasion. The bar was your standard-issue watering hole. Single-story building surrounded by a collar of asphalt. Trucks, American sedans, and Harleys parked in the spots. From tiny windows, beer signs glowed red, blue, and yellow, the logos Coors and Bud Light and Michelob.
No Coronas or Heinekens for these boys.
As he shut the car door, his body was humming, his skin prickling, his thick muscles twitching. He stretched out his arms, trying to buy himself a little relief. He wasn't surprised when it made no difference. His curse was throwing its weight around, taking him into dangerous territory. If he didn't get some kind of release soon, he was going to have a serious problem. Hell, he was going to be a serious problem.
Thank you very much, Scribe Virgin.
Bad enough that he'd been born a live wire with too much physical power, a fuckup with a gift of strength he hadn't appreciated or harnessed. But then he'd pissed off the mystical female who lorded over their race. Man, she'd been only too happy to put down another layer of crap on the compost heap he'd been born with. Now, if he didn't blow off steam on a regular basis, he turned deadly.
Fighting and sex were the only two releases that brought him down, and he used them like a diabetic with insulin. A steady stream of both helped keep him level, but they didn't always do the trick. And when he lost it, things got nasty for everyone, himself included.
God, he was tired of being stuck inside his body, managing its demands, trying not to fall into a brutal oblivion. Sure, his stunner of a face and the strength were all fine and good. But he would have traded both to a scrawny, ugly mo'fo, if it would have gotten him some peace. Hell, he couldn't even remember what serenity was like. He couldn't even remember who he was.
The disintegration of himself had started up pretty quick. After only a couple of years into the curse, he'd stopped hoping for any true relief and simply tried to get by without hurting anyone. That was when he'd started to die on the inside, and now, over a hundred years later, he was mostly numb, nothing more than glossy window dressing and empty charm.
On every level that counted, he'd given up trying to pretend he was anything but a menace. Because the truth was, no one was safe when he was around. And that was what really killed him, even more than the physical stuff he had to go through when the curse came out of him. He lived in fear of hurting one of his brothers. And, as of about a month ago, Butch.
Rhage walked around the SUV and looked through the windshield at the human male. God, who'd have thought he'd ever be tight with a Homo sapiens?
"We going to see you later, cop?"
Butch shrugged. "Don't know."
"Good luck, man."
"It'll be what it is."
Rhage swore softly as the Escalade took off and he and Vishous walked across the parking lot.
"Who is she, V? One of us?"
"Marissa? As in Wrath's former shellan?" Rhage shook his head. "Oh, man, I need details. V, you gotta hook me."
"I don't ride him about it. And neither should you."
"Aren't you curious?"
V didn't reply as they came up to the bar's front entrance. "Oh, right. You already know, don't you?" Rhage said. "You know what's going to happen."
V merely lifted his shoulders and reached for the door. Rhage planted his hand on the wood, stopping him. "Hey, V, you ever dream of me? You ever see my future?"
Vishous swiveled his head around. In the neon glow of a Coors sign, his left eye, the one with the tattoos around it, went all black. The pupil just expanded until it ate up the iris and the white part, until there was nothing but a hole.
It was like staring into infinity. Or maybe into the Fade as you died.
"Do you really want to know?" the brother said.
Rhage let his hand drop to his side. "Only one thing I care about. Am I going to live long enough to get away from my curse? You know, find a slice of calm?"
The door flew open and a drunken man lurched out like a truck with a broken axle. The guy headed for the bushes, threw up, and then lay facedown on the asphalt.
Death was one sure way to find peace, Rhage thought. And everyone died. Even vampires. Eventually.
He didn't meet his brother's eyes again. "Scratch it, V. I don't want to know."
He'd been cursed once already and still had another ninety-one years before he was free. Ninety-one years, eight months, four days until his punishment was over and the beast would no longer be a part of him. Why should he volunteer for a cosmic whammy like knowing he wouldn't live long enough to be free of the damn thing?
"I'll tell you this. Your destiny's coming for you. And she's coming soon."
Rhage laughed. "Oh, yeah? What's the female like? I prefer them - "
"She's a virgin."
A chill shot down Rhage's spine and nailed him in the ass. "You're kidding, right?"
"Look in my eye. Do you think I'm jerking you off?"
V paused for a moment and then opened the door, releasing the smell of beer and human bodies along with the pulse of an old Guns N' Roses song.
As they went inside, Rhage muttered, "You're some freaky shit, my brother. You really are."