The drive back to California wasn't going to be any fun. Charlotte knew she had to double check her trail while picking up the various bits and pieces she had deposited during the trip. Time and experience had taught her to leave bolt holes to go for safety with easy-to-pick-up bundles of money and cut gems to trade. Even when she had headed to Florida she knew to scatter her belongings. It had served her well in the past and still did. She shouldn't have been dismayed to find out that Eloise McCabe had been in an accident according to the newspapers. Naturally she hadn't survived. Once she found that out she rushed back to her friends' club, Green Eyes.
The club was closed. There were a couple of stray kids hanging around outside when Charlotte arrived. It was well past midnight and should have been open and crowded. The main door was shut, and the kids leaning against the building looked arrogantly lost.
"Hey," she walked up to the doe-eyed leader. The girl had been huddling against a large, tough looking boy. Charlotte knew by the set of her eyes that the boy wasn't the one to talk to but the girl.
"What?" The girl couldn't be more than mid-teens and would never have been granted entrance into the twenty-one and over club even had it been open.
"What gives?" Charlotte indicated the shut door with a flip of her head. She was trying to give off the happy vibes of a frustrated club patron. Mentally she ran down the check list, lipstick on, makeup fresh, fangs away. She was good.
"Why do you care?" Surly with too much anger was the best description of her reply. Something in Charlotte's glance frightened the boy into putting his arm tighter around his girlfriend. Their air of rough-and-tumble was definitely diving south.
Charlotte still hadn't popped her fangs out or even changed her tones; it just was how she came off at times. She tended to cause fears. She resisted the pull from the guy and focused on the tough chick in charge. One of the other boys stepped in between the vampire and the couple saying, "Leave us, lady, before you get hurt."
She liked that he called her lady even with all the fear floating around but it didn't slow her down any. He was around the same size as the other boy. Framing their little leader they looked suitably menacing and very protective. Not a one of them was over eighteen. They were just bored kids hanging out. Charlotte had no desire to harm them because she needed information. Besides they were children. She had been raised in the age of vampires that didn't prey on children as a rule. A girl that had been hanging back behind the cluster flipped out a small switchblade. The audible snick of sound as the blade was snapped open made the kids postures change. No longer were they exhibiting prey behavior but had become predators.
Charlotte sighed. "Get real, kids. I am just asking a question. I really don't want to hurt you guys." Charlotte put her share of a snarl in her tones.
The gal in charge laughed.
"You and what army?" She genuinely was amused by Charlotte.
Charlotte laughed even deeper and now with a bit of fang peeking out from her lips. The boys stepped back and gasped. Once they stepped back Charlotte took a step forward into the dominant girl's space. The other girl with the knife was now framed by the boys who had deserted their leader. Charlotte smiled even wider and they all froze. God she loved that look. There was nearly nothing as delightful as that first crack in the defenses. But she wasn't here to do anything but find out more about her friends.
"My my, it seems your protectors aren't interested in playing with me. You seem to want a piece of me but mark my words, I will have a piece of you before that happens. You still want to play?" Charlotte pushed some of her more wicked thoughts into the urchin's head. She was happy to see the color drop to dead white on the child's face. The fear now was drifting off all four of them deliciously. She resisted. She so missed the vacation time. She thought of palm trees and tropical drinks and tried to keep calm. A small bit of the pirates snuck in and she pushed it aside since it just made her hungry.
"Bitch," the girl with the knife hissed as she saw her leader falter and step back, nearly joining them.
"Oh, I can play with you next, just wait." Charlotte laughed and felt more fear rising. The other small clusters of kids hanging outside the closed club a bit further along the perimeter had slunk off into the shadows once the knife had been pulled, and she was alone with the four kids. They were no longer predators but back to prey.
"Amber, talk to her," one of the boys whimpered. His fear was heavily scenting the air. Charlotte inhaled deeply and flashed her fangs at him. He sucked back another comment and whimpered. She had them.
"To hell with this. You guys are such losers," Amber stepped forward to meet Charlotte, defiant yet scared. Her face was still pale but her brown eyes flashed anger tainted with very little fear. She wasn't giving up but she knew Charlotte had her beat.
"Very good. You aren't stupid." Charlotte smiled with her fangs still lightly pushed out to make her point. Amber was dressed in the usual teen wear of black balanced with tattoos and attitude. Nothing remarkable, but still Charlotte knew she was the one in charge of this little band of misfits.
"Whatever," false bravado dripped from her tones but she still was sweating out fear. Charlotte waited for Amber to continue.
"The club closed down last week. Nobody knows why. They just stopped opening up the doors. Rumor is that the owners took off with the money and didn't pay the employees," Amber finally met Charlotte's eyes.
"See now that wasn't hard now was it?" Charlotte had stepped even closer to Amber and her pals stepped even further back edging along the wall.
"Why are you here?" Amber glared and tried to stand tall.
"Because the owners were my friends. Okay?" Charlotte looked deeply into Amber's eyes and pushed. She genuinely didn't plan to harm these kids but she must have pushed a bit harder than she thought. The smacking sounds of the kids running off in their high heels and thick soled shoes echoed back to them as Charlotte and Amber locked eyes.
"Sure, that's fine." Amber was trying to be calm because her friends had run into the night. Charlotte wasn't worried about them telling anyone because she could hear them talking about how they had tripped on bad drugs and imagined the fangs in Charlotte's face; they had already started convincing each other. Amber was stuck with Charlotte.
"You have any idea where the owners went?" She was still trying to be good. Amber was trembling softly now. She had nobody to back her and wasn't stupid enough to think it was a good thing.
"No, I wasn't here that night." A thought flashed across her face and she yanked her cell out saying, "But Beverly had to be!"
Defensively she stabbed at some buttons and began chattering quickly once the call was answered. Charlotte could hear the other side clearly but kept her face composed. Amber snapped her cell shut saying, "Okay, so Beverly was here when they began to bail."
Charlotte nodded and waited to see if Amber was going to tell her everything or carefully edit the information. Amber started explaining. "Beverly is really small for her age." Charlotte got the image of a petite elfin child no bigger than a ten year old but was actually all of sixteen.
Amber pulled out a package of clove cigarettes and offered Charlotte one while she lit hers. She accepted and joined Amber in the ritual of fire and smoke. Nobody was in the area now. There was a break in the cloud cover and the moon sliced down and illuminated them against the wall. Charlotte saw their shadows and shuddered. It was dismal. The stark black and white world was chasing away any hope. It didn't sound like Giselle and Theo had died but she needed to find out what did happen. Jim wasn't going to stay pinned nicely to the wall, and he wasn't going to be happy about her escaping his little plans.
"So like Beverly was hanging out by the back door trying to weasel inside when someone comes out," here Amber paused and sucked in some of the fragrant smoke while forming in her head how much she was going to tell Charlotte.
Charlotte simply stared directly into Amber's eyes and waited. It didn't take long before Amber began filling the space with words, "See, it's 'cause Beverly's fake ID never fools anyone so she has to skulk inside by any methods available. She usually slides in when some couple goes out to have sex in the parking lot." Charlotte recalled using the same door to help Theo move some of the corpses from their playtime. She wondered if little Beverly had watched them drag the bodies out. Mentally shrugging she waited to see what else Amber was going to tell her.
"So she saw Giselle and Theo head out with a duffle bag. She said they were arguing about somebody called Charlotte. Saying how she had caused all the problems." Here Amber looked over and her eyes widened.
"Oh, damn, you're Charlotte! Aren't you?" Amber was not happy, while Charlotte was amazed at how fast she made the leap. Granted 'Charlotte' was a relatively new name, but still it had been the one she had been using for the past few decades, give or take a dozen years. She vaguely remembered all the names she had used in her lifetime. Those sorts of memories were depressing and tended to cause a vampire no end of torment. It was the opening of a door to the edge. She knew many a vampire who had given up over the little thing like a name.
She blew a steady stream of smoke out and waited. Amber shuddered and said, "Damn it, you are!"
Charlotte laughed and said, "Boo!" Amber jumped a foot.
"So like you made the club close?" Her tone was awestruck.
"Yeah, these dumb ass people I know have been going around spreading vicious rumors about me! I am sure you know how that is." Charlotte let that sink in. Amber nodded.
"Totally, I mean just because I dress like this doesn't mean I don't have a brain," Amber was defensive yet Charlotte did understand. The youth looked up at Charlotte and asked, "So what did you do to piss off your friends?"
"Snuck away from a boyfriend," Charlotte thought that sounded cooler than running from her vampire master. Ugh, she hated that term. She so had to switch this whole fiasco in her favor. There was tons of money left. Okay, not what she left with but still plenty to bribe her way back in favor.
"Yeah, Bobby was super possessive until I threatened to break his face." Amber wasn't kidding. She must have done some damage to that boy's ego.
"Bobby was the cute guy who was with you earlier," Charlotte tried to keep her face pleasant and must have succeeded because Amber was grinning.
"He used to be like this really popular football player. I told him scars are cool but broken backs made it really hard to have sex. The coach was pretty mad when he quit the team. But seriously you know how many high school kids get hurt playing?" Amber was intense and no longer afraid of Charlotte. She nodded and waited for the rest of the kid babble.
"And so like now he is kind of attached to me. But he is so dead for leaving me here. He has the car keys!" Amber had forgotten that Charlotte was the 'reason'.
"I'll drive you home." She owed the child and was curious to see if there was any more information in the cell network of outsiders.
"I live like far from here. And I need my backpack." It dawned on Charlotte that most of what the girl was wearing could be covered or converted to make her appear to be a good child quite easily. Amber was playing a game with her parents. Typical teen behavior too bad she had run into her.
"You have another pal you can call and grab some 'fake you' clothes from?" Charlotte called her on the obvious reason for the pack.
"Yeah, actually Beverly has some of my spare clothes. We can swing by and see her I think. Let me check," she hit redial and asked. Soon Charlotte was driving through a suburban nightmare a few steps down on the social scale from her place back in California.