The girl acting as counter help at the hotel was spectacularly stupid and if Charlotte hadn't been trying so hard to be good and keep under the radar she would have drained the girl just to keep her from breeding and reproducing! A stunned look of ignorance lit her face. Well, there was that -- and the overdrawn blue sparkly eye makeup and kewpie pink lips heavily lined on with a shaky hand. Charlotte could tell that the kid smoked and current state and federal laws pretty much made that a crime. The jitters were from nicotine withdrawal and too many mocha frappaccinos from the local coffee shop.
"Girl, a Cadillac is not a sports car. That's a luxury car. What about a Mustang or something like that?" She smiled with a push of compliance for effort. The girl shrugged and carefully looked at the keys in a box. She slowly picked each tag up and read silently while mouthing the words slowly. She tossed back more keys than she had in her hand. It was all Charlotte could do to not snatch the rest from her and read them for herself.
"This one looks okay. And wow, it's pink!" That seemed mean something to the girl, but it was better than nothing, Charlotte figured. Maybe in her world a pink car was automatically a sports car. Not like she was going to ask her. Just the small glimpse into this child's world was frightening. The future looked a bit dismal for the human race if this was all they could breed.
"Can I just charge it to my room or do I need to fill out something?" Charlotte looked bored and uncaring. She was hoping to keep this transaction off the books but figured if she asked, that wouldn't work at all. She let the innate lack of inertia and lack of desire to actually do any more work than required push the kid to make the right choice.
It worked. The girl flipped her hand out towards the large parking lot and said, "Don't worry about it. It's in slot fourteen on the left. You're in room 323 for a few days right?"
Charlotte said, "Sure, thanks."
She hadn't a clue what room she had checked into but figured it didn't seem to matter to the girl so she wasn't going to sweat it. Besides it wasn't like she checked in using her real name. Kenyon and Jim both wouldn't have a clue where she was until she showed up. Just the way she liked it.
Charlotte walked back to the parking lot and found numbered spaces painted on the asphalt. The car wasn't really a sports car per se but it didn't totally make her want to go back inside and kill the clerk. It was thankfully a soft pink and under the right lighting it would look more white than pink. She bounded into the driver's seat and adjusted the mirrors. When she started the car the stereo blared into her face. The last driver had obviously been a teen or had a kid. She punched buttons to find a station not playing rap and lowered the volume to a decibel within vampiric hearing range -- which was on the opposite end of the dial than it had been cranked to when she got in the car.
The city was just beginning to come alive and the traffic had changed from the nine to five insanity of trapped angry commuters and begun to reflect more of an urban blandness typical of midsized cities. For Charlotte it was familiar and comfortable. She cruised some random areas outside her usual haunts. The music coming out of the stereo was nice and nobody had flipped her off in at least ten minutes and she was enjoying the city pretending to be a visitor. It was just past ten when a car caught her eye.
Charlotte was on a side street near the newly renovated Gaslamp section of downtown when a white car cut in front of her from a side street. The car had been some sort of SUV until one of the brain trusts behind the wheel decided to pull out a blow torch and cut off the top. The smattering of bondo and primer gray let Charlotte know it was a recent adjustment to the car design. Checking out the occupants Charlotte let off the gas and dropped back. Having good vision she waited until they blew through an intersection and she indicated a right turn. Once they had gone a bit over the hill she turned off the blinker and her headlights and headed straight for the unusual car and the bizarre occupants. The moment the light had turned green she stepped on the gas pedal and soon caught up with the boys.
They didn't even look back. With a half block between the cars Charlotte found the surfboards tied into the old trunk area to be comical. The four men looked like a gang or ex-cons more than surfers. There were four of them and only two surfboards that were unwaxed and short boards. Not one of the guys looked athletic enough to ride anything but long boards, if that. Long boards could handle the heavy bodies of older surfers while the short boards tended to require skill and accuracy that these men didn't seem to have. As she thought more about it they didn't look qualified to use any surfboards, or even boogie boards for that matter. There was something wrong with this picture and Charlotte had nothing but time to kill before she went to see Kenyon.
It was funny, but now that she was home she was somewhat afraid to face the music. She knew perfectly well that Jim was racing back to give Kenyon an earful. Since phone conversations with vampires weren't as honest as a fanging in sort of confrontation there tended to be command performances when vampires stepped out of line. She knew perfectly well Kenyon would get his pint of blood and know the truth. A phone call just didn't work. That was the beauty of being a vampire. One couldn't lie.
The guys in the chopped off car slowed and turned onto a wide street with huge overhanging trees and dense shadows -- lots and lots of shadows. With the lights off in her car Charlotte kept looking at the men and trying to see why they were ringing her bells. Rarely did she play with four men at once, but there was something off about them all. She really wanted to tear into the carload of men and ruthlessly slash and sip -- not necessarily in that order.
The driver was African American and the fittest looking of the lot. He had a closely cropped haircut and was wearing a baseball cap of an East coast team. Riding shotgun was a very large Mexican man wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt. The two men in back were what clinched it for Charlotte that they weren't the average group of boys simply cruising for chicks. They were constantly swiveling and watching everything from the right side to the left continuously as they drove slowly down the street. Stupidly they didn't bother to look behind them. They weren't breaking any laws now, once they had run the traffic light they had changed behavior and were acting responsibly.
Yes, the back seat occupants were what caught Charlotte's attention. The man on the left was very white. She could practically see him glowing in the dark. His head was shaved and his scalp tattooed with symbols and signs. She could see scars from his scalp being opened up by professionals. He had a bullet scar on the back of his head. She knew that instinctively the shot was what caused a turning point in his life. Plus he definitely wasn't dressed to surf. The blue silk jacket wasn't water friendly in the least. His buddy was another large man with thick curly hair. When he turned his head to look for something Charlotte caught a definite Italian look. Yup, these boys didn't belong together. They weren't military but there was something that triggered an immediate gut feeling.
Then it hit her. They weren't vampires but nevertheless Kenyon controlled them. They were sweepers. The killing spree of near-vampires and baby vampires was always sanctioned by a Master and usually done to secure boundaries or extend their lands. Kenyon's sweepers were just cruising as far as Charlotte could tell.
Then they stopped.
Charlotte pulled behind a panel van and got out the passenger side. She had nothing to fight with but her fangs and wits. She smiled. It was the way she liked it. She walked slowly towards where they were parked. None of them had got out of the car yet. She could see them clearly and heard them talking.
"So, you sure this is the right address?" The Mexican was asking one of the guys in the backseat.
"Fuckin' A it is. She lives here." It was the Italian man. He spit out from the car and pulled out a scrap of paper.
He squinted at the numbers on the house and compared with the paper.
Charlotte saw the house. It was a small sized bungalow with black decorative bars on the windows, typical of the area. Nothing was remarkable to her eyes she skipped the visual and breathed in deeply. Not a vampire. The house was lived in by humans. Closing her eyes she pushed deep through the walls and found a small teenager was the only person at home. The kid was busy typing away on a computer and listening to the music plugged into her ears oblivious to the interest outside. The child was nothing remarkable as far as Charlotte could tell. She fell back and listened to the rest of their conversation.
"So how do we do this?" A gravelly voice asked. It was the driver. He pulled a pair of dark wrap around sunglasses from his pocket and put them on his face. The effect was chilling. Charlotte watched the bald man reach between the surfboards and begin to pull out guns. Silently he gave each man a weapon and kept one of the largest ones for himself.
"Ah, the basics," the driver said as he got out checking his weapon and walked to the front door. He rang the doorbell and stood to the side while the others joined him. The Mexican man had pulled a baseball cap out of his pocket and put it on quickly. Charlotte saw it had a familiar logo of a delivery pizza place and nodded. She saw how they would gain entrance.
They hadn't figured on the kid ignoring the doorbell. Her music was playing loudly in her head and she didn't hear the sound. Hell, Charlotte could nearly hear the lyrics and she was four houses away. The sweepers were intent upon attracting the kid's notice and had missed her slowly approaching form. The Italian swore and went off to the side of the house. She froze because it was on her side of the street. If he looked up she was only two houses away and did not exactly fit into the environment. She softly exhaled and thought soft and relaxing thoughts so as to not attract his attention. It worked. He paced out of her view and opened the gate to the backyard. Obviously they had gone to plan B since the fake pizza delivery man's hard pounding on the door had been ignored, like the doorbell.
The kid was still clicking and typing unaware that her world was changing. Charlotte was mildly curious what made this child so important. Kenyon was risking certain death targeting children. He could explain hunting her down to the vampiric council, if need be, but they didn't allow death of human children. The sweeps were tinged with vampire flavor but she had yet to smell or see another vampire. The backdoor must have been unlocked, or the man improvised because he was opening the front door and letting his pals inside. Charlotte was only one house away and unsure of what she wanted to do.
Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-01-01