"So, Natasha, let's get over to the diner. I hope to hand off the relic before Renee and the werewolves show up." Harry had the box containing Solomon's Fang sitting in the middle of the coffee table. The aged wood was etched with an energy I couldn't describe but could feel inside me like a candle burning.
Thankfully he snapped off the television. Watching the fires burning in the county made me even queasier and more than a little nervous. Evacuations were well underway and the percentage of the containment of the various fires wasn't much above zero. Archer's funeral pyre would be national news for the next few weeks. I had hoped Carlos and Marcus knew what they were doing when they set the blaze on the rogue werewolf's land. From the news it didn't look like they'd thought much beyond the basic slash and burn mentality but it was done. Not much we could do about it now.
"How will we know who's from the council?" I hadn't heard them make any arrangement of signs or specialized attire. Harry was naturally in a nice pricey suit and left the tie off, his idea of casual. I knew he was a recognizable figure by either human or vampire standards but still it would be helpful to know who we were meeting. There was too much being left to chance lately and it was making me edgy.
Harry chuckled, "How many vampires do you think will be wandering into a coffee shop?"
"Besides us?" I flashed fangs. "What if they send a minion?" I felt obligated to point out. It was a possibility. The travel alone was a chore as a vampire thus humans were often employed as errand runners or simply the human face on treaties and meetings. The higher levels of vampires tended to surround themselves with many humans or minions for their day-to-day needs. Flunkies were rarely fledgling vampires.
"I'd still smell the Master vampire on the human." He had a point there. I knew that I could also if I got close enough, but most humans frowned on being sniffed by strangers. And the ones that didn't weren't the type I wanted to meet in public.
Laughing, I agreed. Harry handed me back some of my weapons and a few new ones. I liked the bright and shiny objects; I always enjoyed his selections in weaponry and worked at quickly securing them on my body. Feeling much happier and better armed we headed out. I wasn't surprised when Harry steered me towards one of the other cars. The sleek lines of the black BMW with custom rims and lush interior fit him. The windows were tinted a tad darker than legal but I knew with his badges and vampiric talents he didn't exactly catch tickets for the offense. Wanting to play a bit, I snuggled into the leather and asked, "So you think anyone will try to carjack you this time?"
Harry laughed, "You won't let that go, will you?"
I grinned, "It's not every night I get to watch a kid take a car from you. It was pretty amusing."
A few years back Harry had been visiting Simon, and we had headed into the City to get a bite when some punk thought Harry's car looked too good to resist. The streets were teeming with people and the kid was higher than a kite on some chemical misfiring. Harry watched the tremble in the hand holding the gun and listened to the humans hysterically screaming and had to relinquish the car. I had scrambled out of the passenger seat laughing while Harry tried to look scared. Naturally after we'd filled out the paperwork Harry had to go find his car. He left me to find my own way home because I couldn't stop giggling. I stifled another giggle and looked out the window.
He sighed heavily and drove us quickly to the coffee shop for the meetings.
There wasn't valet parking, but he was lucky enough to find a spot near the window, so at least he'd be able to watch his car if someone decided to steal it. As we exited the car he chirped a few buttons on the key fob and a blue light illuminated the dash accentuating the red LED glowing indicating his alarm. I grinned and took his offered arm. If nothing else he'd taken all the precautions needed to keep the car somewhat armed. Living so close to the Mexican border and the associated chop shops had some disadvantages. Low-jack devices just got tossed into the furnace when they finished stripping out the bits and pieces that sold well on the Internet. The metal was sold for scrap and the car unrecognizable within a few hours.
We walked in and all the conversations dropped off. I guess Harry's suit made him a bit overdressed, but without the tie it wasn't as bad as it could've been. There wasn't a waitress visible and the sign next to the podium said to seat ourselves so we found a booth next to the window. Harry could easily see his car and I could see anyone approaching the doorway with less than honorable intentions.
The menus were jammed behind the salt and pepper shakers wedged between the ketchup and Tabasco sauce. I carefully pulled out two and slid a plastic coated menu across the table to Harry. He arched an eyebrow at me.
"When in Rome," I said softly.
"Go to the Coliseum?" He winked. He pretended to read the fascinating choices with their American fare and limited descriptions. It wasn't like American coffee shops tended to serve overly complicated dishes. The ketchup and Tabasco sauce on the tables were a big clue.
While holding the menu up, I glanced around the diner. The people had resumed their conversations once we'd sat down. I didn't see anyone that looked remotely like they belonged with the vampire council. Harry was still busy studying the menu. I found myself picking up the conversations table by table.
One very casually dressed couple was seated on the same side of their booth sharing an order of chili cheese fries. They were very young and obviously pretty broke. The water in front of the gal was sweetened with sugar and a few lemon slices floated on the top, the classic college student's free lemonade. Her boyfriend was busy trying to explain some complicated idea he had read in a text that involved many hand gestures and constant touching. They weren't aware of us much less anyone else in the room. I liked seeing the intensity of their relationship. But the gal had a secret that was going to blow apart their world. She was four months pregnant and hadn't worked up the courage to tell her lover yet. That wasn't the tragedy she thought since he was thinking how he wanted to build a family with her. I dismissed them and continued to let my mind and eyes wander.
At the counter there was a biker hunkered over his dish. I couldn't see what was in the bowl but he wasn't looking around, and was focused on eating. There was paper sack on the chair next to him. I wondered what was inside when a woman came from the restrooms and slid into the chair on the other side of the bag.
She softly asked, "Did you like it?"
Her hands were clenched and she was trying to be unconcerned with his reply. I could sense it was important to her. He put down his fork and said, "You can make me more of them?"
I was mildly curious what was in the sack now. I didn't smell gun oil on her so it probably wasn't a gun but with the rough exterior of the biker I wasn't so sure. I smelled some machine oil but that could have been from the biker's motorcycle. My curiosity was rewarded when the man reach inside and carefully removed the most delicate music box I'd ever seen in this century. The craftsmanship was reminiscent of work I'd seen from Russian artisans and in hidden Austrian estates during the Wars. It was a treasure.
Sighing, I looked to see Harry grinning.
"I can find out who she is and get you one if you want." He was serious. I flapped a hand at him, pretending I didn't covet the box. He knew better and casually snapped a picture of her with his cell camera without anyone noticing.
Another older man with a book was in the corner reading a dog-eared paperback novel with an intensity that let me know he wasn't paying attention to anything but his book and meal. His cup of coffee blocked the book's title at first then he shifted and I could see he was reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. He didn't clock in as anything remotely related with vampires. His mind was a jumble of politics and work-related slights. He was thinking of slaughtering his coworkers in an abstract way that was more common than humans realized. He had mentally blocked out the routine he'd take to attack and what set of guns and knives. What he wanted to do to the human resources manager was a tad graphic for someone trying to keep his shit together. And he wasn't a government worker -- just a basic office worker under pressure.
Three guys were sipping coffee and talking about sports. They looked tired and worn out by their day. I made them as construction workers from their jeans and build. They were laughing about somebody on the job. Definitely not the vampire minions. The one closest to us was deeply tanned and had shaggy blond hair. His build was from lifting materials and working on a job, not hours in a gym. I'd take a pint of his blood any night. I caught Harry's grin and said, "What? Not on the menu?"
He chuckled and said, "Not now at least." He sketched me a wink and resumed pretending to decide on something to eat.
A waitress came rushing from the back of the diner balancing three full plates and a basket of rolls in her arms. She slid the food in front of the construction workers and made sure they had enough flatware. The napkin dispenser saved her from having to fuss anymore but from the wistful look on her face she wanted to linger and run her fingers over them all. She was looking for Hubby Number Three and figured the construction workers were well-insured if nothing else. Her mind was filled with worldly concerns like her two kids, car payment and rent. She shook herself and headed for our table with a distracted air. She thought we'd order coffee and stiff her on the tip.
"Coffee?" She asked not bothering to bring out her order pad.
Feeling bad for her, and not really knowing how long we'd be stuck waiting for whoever the vampire council sent, I glanced at the menu and picked the priciest item.
"Do you still have the roast chicken platter available?"
Looking surprised she pulled out her notepad and pencil saying, "Sure do. You two going to split that? It's pretty big."
"No, I'd like the hot roast beef sandwich with a glass of iced tea." Harry had caught on to my plan.
"Can I have a garden salad to start?" Harry tacked on another item.
She nodded and turned back to me asking, "Soup or salad?"
"Soup, please. I see you have chicken noodle, I'd like that please." We could eat but slowly. I wasn't thrilled with the effect on my body but would take my time consuming the food.
"French fries, home fries or baked potato?"
"Hmmm ... what do you recommend?" I smiled. She looked thoughtful and said, "Tonight I'd have the baked potato. They come with butter and chives. Actually green onions. Sour cream is extra."
"Okay, skip the chives and add the sour cream." She nodded and continued to write.
"Vegetables tonight are green beans but I can get you something raw if you'd rather." I seriously bit the inside of my cheek as I resisted asking her if I could have that scrumptious blond construction worker raw. Harry kicked me softly underneath the table.
"Whatever. Thanks. And some iced tea, also."
She nodded and walked briskly by the young couple. The girl was shaking and the boy looked excited as I heard him say, "You sure?"
I guess she'd finally told him. She smiled and he kissed her and grinned like a fool. Harry smiled and met my gaze, "Young love. Truly amazing to see."
"Sure is. So where is your courier?" I fussed with the fork on the placemat while wondering how long we'd be stuck waiting.
The waitress interrupted his reply by setting down two tall glasses of tea and placing a small basket with various sugar and sugar substitutes in between us saying, "It'll be a few minutes, do you want me to bring your salad and soup first?"
"Sure," Harry answered her and she trotted off to see what else she could fetch.
The door opened up and a small female scurried in while looking back over her shoulder. Right behind her was a thin man wearing a black trench coat. These two looked about right for minion.
To be continued...