Halfway to the Grave

Page 27

"Trixie, missed you," Bones greeted her. She actually had to bend down to return his kiss on the cheek.

"Been a while, Bones. Heard you'd left these parts."

He grinned and she returned it, showing gold incisors in her smile. Nice.

"Don't believe everything you hear. That's how rumors get started."

We slipped through the door, to the consternation of the waiting patrons. It was dark inside, with low beams of reduced light making brief flashes across the ceilings, and immediately I knew what kind of a "different" club it was.

There were vampires everywhere.

"What the hell is this?"

My whisper was low and savage, because plenty of things here had great hearing.

Bones waved an unconcerned hand to encompass the general surroundings.

"This, luv, is a vampire club. It doesn't even really have a name, although the locals call it Bite. All sorts of things come in here to mix and mingle comfortably, not having to hide their true natures. Why, right over there you have some ghosts at the bar."

My vision swung to where he gestured. Damned if there weren't three transparent men sitting (sort of) on barstools, looking for all the world like a couple of regulars from Cheers. Well, Cheers Macabre, maybe. The energy that vibrated off the inhuman inhabitants made my entire body feel like it touched a live wire.

"My God...there's so many of them..."

And there were. A couple hundred, at least.

"I hadn't known there were that many vampires in the world..." I went on in disbelief.

"Kitten," Bones said patiently, "'round five percent of the population is undead. We're in every state, every nation, and we have been for a very long time. Now, I give you, there are certain areas where you'll find more of us. Ohio happens to be one of them. I told you it has a thinner line separating the natural and the paranormal, so the whole region gives off a faint charge. The younger ones love that. Find it invigorating."

"You're telling me my state is...a vampire hot spot?"

A nod. "Don't feel too unlucky. There are dozens around the globe."

Something brushed past, and my radar went haywire as I craned my neck to see who, or what, had just slipped by.

"What was that?" I whispered, having to press my mouth nearly to his ear to be heard. They were a noisy bunch of immortals.

"What?" He glanced in the direction I stared.

"That." Impatiently. "That...thing. It's not a vampire, I can tell, but it's definitely not human. What is it?" It being of male gender, though I wouldn't have been sure of anything, and looking human but not quite.

"Oh, him. He's a ghoul. Flesh-eater. You know, like Night of the Living Dead, only they don't walk so funny or look as hideous."

Flesh-eater. My stomach heaved at the thought.

"Here." He pointed to the bar. There was an empty seat near the ghosts-or would the politically correct term be living-impaired? "Wait there, have a drink. Your bloke will show up soon."

"Are you crazy?" My mind couldn't compute fast enough all of the reasons not to do as directed. "This place is crawling with monsters! I don't want to be an appetizer!"

He laughed low. "Trust me, Kitten. See all the normal people waiting to get in? This is a special place, like I said. Mostly vamps and ghouls, but also humans as well. That's part of the lure. The humans that come here are handpicked or they wouldn't know about it. They come to mingle with the undead, and even to get some blood extracted. Believe me, there are those who get off on it. Whole Dracula thing, y'know. But there is a strict etiquette here. Absolutely no violence on the premises and only willing feedings. Can human nightclubs say the same?"

With that, he melted off into the crowds, leaving me with no choice but to sit where he said and wait for my victim. How was I supposed to spot him here? It looked like Creepshow met Studio 54.

The bartender, a vampire, asked me what my pleasure would be.

"Leaving," I snapped, then realized how rude that was. "Uh, sorry...um...do you have gin and tonic? You know...for normal people?" All I needed was a flesh spritzer, or a Bloody Mary the likes of which I'd never forget, to make my night complete.

The bartender laughed, showing teeth without a hint of fang. "First time here, honey? Don't be nervous, it's perfectly safe. Unless you leave with someone, of course. Then you're on your own."

How comforting. After assuring me the drink contained nothing more than regular gin and tonic-he showed me the bottles to allay my suspicion-I gulped it down as though it were a magic elixir that could make the whole place disappear. It was delicious, better in fact than any I'd had before. The bartender, whose name was Logan, smiled when I complimented him on it and informed me that after a hundred years, one got rather good at the trade.

"You've been a bartender for a hundred years?" Goggling at him, I quaffed another healthy sip. "My God, why?"

A casual shrug. "I like the work. You meet new people, get to talk a lot, and don't have to think. How many jobs can you say that about?"

How many, indeed. Certainly not mine.

"What do you do, young lady?" he inquired politely.

Kill vampires. "I, ah, go to school. College, that is."

Nervousness made me sputter. Here I was, having a casual conversation with a vampire in a club full of ungodly things. Where had my life gone wrong?

"Ah, college. Study hard, it's the key to success." With that advice and another quick smile, he turned away to take an incoming order from a ghoul across the counter. This was too weird.

"Hello, there, pretty girl!"

The voice made me turn around, and two young men grinned at me in a friendly way. From their looks and heartbeats, I knew they were human. Wow, what a relief.

"Hi, how ya doing?" I felt like someone in another country who met a stranger from her hometown and was inordinately glad to see people with pulses. They gathered around me, one on either side of my chair.

"What's your name? This is Martin"-he gestured to the brunette with the boyish smile-"and I'm Ralphie."

"I'm Cat." Smiling, I shook hands with both of them. They eyed my glass with interest.

"Whatcha drinkin'?"

"Gin and tonic."

Ralphie was about my height of five-seven, not tall for a man, and he had a sweet smile. "Another gin for the lady!" he bellowed importantly to Logan, who nodded and brought a fresh glass.

"Thanks for the offer, boys, but I'm kind of...waiting for someone." As much as I liked having my own kind around me, still there was a job to be done and they would hinder my plans.

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