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November 27, 2023
"Mes de los Muertos"

The Complex 4

By Lydia Manx

The photo department wasn't overly crowded but that didn't stop the twenty-year-old manning the shift from acting like doing her job was an expectation from potential customers beyond belief. Rudely snapping a dirty purple hunk of gum she somewhat asked, "You guys need something?" Obviously she didn't want to move from her spot leaning against the back counter glaring at customers. The CVS drug store was one of the few powered places in the area. The power outages due to the storms were far reaching, and more than likely the chain store had a generator on the grounds keeping the juice running and the cash registers working. Much to the girl's horror, there were actually customers in the store.

Normally Jerry would have taken the time to reeducate her on customer service, but he was pressed for time and didn't see that he'd easily sway the girl. She was pretty immune to thoughts other than her own and whatever Madison Avenue media experts had ordained as 'it'.

"Yes, we need passport pictures." Jerry Cooper went for the basics. He really didn't have a lot of time if he was going to make the meet with Tony at the Bru's Room.

She elaborately rolled her eyes and said, "Okay, so like now?"

Julia snarled, "No, we came here just 'cause we had nothing better to do on a dark and stormy night. Screw this, hon, let's go over to Wal-Mart and get real service."

The girl's supervisor was passing by to ogle Julia's sexy look and heard the comment.

"Excuse me, Roxanne, why aren't you helping these folks?" His obsequious tone was geared at impressing Julia and his youthful face was screwed up in obvious concern. That or he'd eaten something that disagreed with his stomach -- either way his face was pain-filled.

Roxanne snapped her gum one more time and said, "I am, Mister Grady, like they just got here! So you like need some passport pictures, huh?" She didn't look any more excited to help them, but shuffled up to them at the photo counter and feigned mild interest in front of her young boss. Mister Grady couldn't be much more than twenty-something himself, and the dark tie he wore looked like it was a snap-on that he'd got with a tuxedo rental in high school and forgot to give back.

Mister Grady nodded and stood back to watch his employee do her lackadaisical interpretation of her job, while carefully posing to look as sincere as possible for her boss. Jerry didn't care for the extra attention, but didn't see of any easy way to make the young man go away without creating a scene and making their visit further memorable. Then a few teenagers came bouncing in through the front entrance shoving each other and swearing loudly. The manager quickly went to see that the kids didn't destroy anything or scare any of the older patrons wandering the aisles.

Soon Jerry and Julia were heading out with the necessary photos to give to Tony to create their paperwork. Jerry chanced a minute at his bank's ATM and pulled out the maximum cash allowed. Another camera recorded his presence. He was getting extremely tired of the constant surveillance in society. The fact that he had his bank codes, and yet didn't even look like the photograph on record meant any human stupid enough to try to back track him would be forced to conclude that he'd been robbed of his identity. He made a mental note to call in his bankcard as stolen if he got the time. Once he'd finished with Ben he'd work on transferring the funds from his hacker's bank accounts into a few of his own offshore, where his features weren't well-known, and the ID tended to be numbered codes not photographs. He had to hand it to the Swiss, they really had grasped the concept of managing money long before it was fashionable. As a vampire he'd kept up on the banking industry. When he'd been kidnapped and his accounts wiped out, he didn't bother to try to argue with the Swiss. No, he thought that when he came into money again he'd keep them somewhere more tropical and less accessible to younger vampires. Pirates of old well knew that the Caribbean was a delightful place to hide assets. He looked down at the money he'd removed from the ATM and bit back a sigh. The crisp bills weren't sequential but a bit too new for his tastes. He handed them to Julia and said, "Crumple these up and straighten them. We need them to look a little used so Tony doesn't over- think our visit."

She nodded and began making the money look a bit more worn. Jerry would've tossed them through the laundry if he'd had the time but they didn't have that luxury. He didn't want to mess with Tony's mind any more than he had to because that could create another set of problems. A document forger needed to be able to think and anticipate problems, and Jerry wasn't up on all the latest features of the computers and didn't need to shop for another forger so late in the night if he mistakenly fried the one he already had lined up with a bad mind sweep. But if he had to, he would.

Soon they were driving over the Hillsboro drawbridge onto the barrier island of Deerfield Beach. It was one of a few small barrier islands built to help protect the coastline in the event of a major weather event like a hurricane or storm surge. It had a quaint little drawbridge complete with a human manning the works. Jerry'd already gone to the isle in the past few days when he got Trina and used her to trap Celina but he didn't think the humans were smart enough to monitor every car going back and forth over the bridge without good reason. That there were more than a dozen notable restaurants and bars on the small island meant that it was a common meeting place and popular with natives and tourists alike.

But still he didn't want to overdo the trips back and forth. Shunning the parking structure built above the Bru's Room and surrounding local businesses, he found a parking spot a street over by a house with hurricane-shuttered windows. There weren't any heartbeats coming from inside the home so he doubted that anyone would be calling the cops on his car. Not that it mattered. If push came to shove vampires tended to keep the keys of any vehicle they picked or easily acquired another.

Julia breathed in deeply and said, "It smells like salt and seaweed. I can actually smell coconut oil and sunlight from those girls ahead of us."

Jerry saw the three girls she was talking about who were about a block ahead of them. He could smell the shampoos they'd used along with the slathering of oil from earlier when they'd been near a chlorinated pool and catching some of the sun. He also could smell the urine soaked into the alleyways and sidewalks where drunken patrons had unloosed their bladders along with some other not so pleasant aromas. That was one of the major downfalls to having superior senses -- it wasn't always the good noticed, but far more often the bad. He didn't point it out to Julia, allowing her the illusion that the strawberry blonde with a slight razor cut above her bikini line was something normally scenting the night air. He watched her nostrils flare and she added, "The little one on the right is bleeding."

She indicated with a jerk of her chin towards the girl as her fangs snicked out briefly. He arched an eyebrow at her teeth, and she concentrated hard and they disappeared.

"Wow! That was totally intense." Jerry resisted wincing at the verbiage. Some of the photo counter gal, Roxanne, had rubbed off on Julia he figured. Well, he hoped. The last thing he needed was to find out his fledgling was actually an empty-headed idiot whose pain had been camouflaging a stupid nature. She caught the wince and said, "Sorry Sire."

Properly subservient, she shuffled a bit off to the side and said, "It won't happen again."

"I hope not," was all he offered as he prayed he wasn't living in false hope. "You are allowed to explore your nature, but we don't need to discuss every nuance right now." He tried to be accommodating since he didn't have the buffer of another fledgling to help guide her. He caught the door as a drunken woman stumbled out onto the street. She looked at the two vampires and slurred, "Damn hot! I wish I didn't have to go home." She fell off the curb into traffic, nearly getting hit by a passing car. The driver furiously honked and swore loudly out his window at the weaving woman. She ignored the chaos she caused as she lurched away and down the street towards the beach, and naturally, a few more bars.

They continued in silence; using the already-open door, they went inside and headed towards the bar. The Bru's Room was full, and he noticed that there were multiple TVs hanging from the ceiling, high up against the walls, illuminating the various patrons slugging back their drinks. The screens varied with different types of sporting events. Behind the main bar, there was a pretty blonde bartender replacing the drinks for her customers nearly as soon as their glasses were emptied, all the while casually asking about family and friends to other customers around the countertop.

Jerry's eyes narrowed as he quickly figured out that anything that happened at the bar under that woman's watchful eye would not be good for them. She didn't miss a beat as she pulled an empty plate from one customer while handing off a bill to another without seeming to break a sweat. He opened up his mind to find out where the forger was hiding since the bar area was fairly full and everyone was talking loudly over each other very excitedly.

It was then he saw that some sporting event was being telecast on nearly every screen, and it dawned on him that it was football. He rued his arbitrary decision to meet at a sports bar in light of the obvious popularity of the teams playing. Not wanting to attract any sort of attention from the locals meant he had to feign slight interest in the game. They found a table that was being cleaned by a bus boy and they both quickly sat down before one of the other customers got on the stools. The table was still slightly damp but presentable. Jerry shook his head and tried to sense a man named Tony.

Julia was staring, completely transfixed, looking at one of the larger screens across the room. Not seeing what it was above some tall booths that caught her eye he asked softly, "What is it?" All Jerry noticed was that there were a half dozen or so people crammed into each of the booths yelling at the TV sets on the opposite side of the room.

"Sorry, it's stupid. I was supposed to go with William to one of those games this year." Her humanity took over for a second and he watched something sour flow over her features.

Jerry took it to mean something of far more interest to him -- she could assist in diffusing any interest in them, "Good then you can fake enjoyment of the game if anyone gets too close to us and tries to listen into our conversation."

It seemed like an easy solution to him, but he felt her rolling with pain at no longer having that touchstone of humanity to look forward to, so he quickly volunteered, "After all this gets resolved we'll go to a night game if you want."

Her eyes shone with excitement and she squealed softly reminding Jerry just how young and still partially human she was. A waitress came over to them and asked if they wanted something to eat. She held a couple of menus but Jerry ignored them as he quickly glanced around the room at the other patrons' tables. His quick answer was, "Sure, why don't you set us up with a pitcher of Bud and a large plate of wings?"

"Okay, so like, mild, garlic, spicy," she started rattling off choices while pointedly looking over their shoulders. A breeze chased up the back of Jerry's neck causing goose bumps to rise over his skin -- not something that happened to most vampires -- he felt that he was the focus of someone's attention. He resisted reaching out and mentally reducing the human to a blubbering idiot because he didn't want to start anything before he met up with the forger. Something was smacking into the back of his mind, and instantly he knew that Tony had arrived. He'd sneaked into the sports bar amid the cheering and jeering while the waitress was trying to take their order.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-12-26
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