Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chapters 24 & 25 of my vampire novel

The preview of "Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir" continues with chapters 24 & 25 below. Again, I have to thank everyone who takes the time to email their comments to me. I never would have thought that my first book would be a vampire novel, but life is funny that way.

My ISBN registration is processing, and my book cover is still cooking. But I remain hopeful of releasing the full book next week.


Note: if you want to start at the beginning, go here. Chapters 22 & 23 are here.

Chapter 24:

                        I see Sammy coming from the other end of the hallway. Jerome is right behind him.
                        "Mengele," says Oscar. "I thought your name was Means?"
                        Without answering, Mengele backs away from us and turns to face the approaching Sammy.
                        Sammy isn't wearing his jacket. His sleeves are rolled up and the top two buttons of his shirt are undone.
                        Sammy spins and strikes Jerome right in the neck. Jerome collapses at the knees, but Sammy catches him by the armpits. Sammy drinks for a while. I think about pulling my pistol and shooting Sammy in the back of the head. But Mengele's between us, and he's no fledgling. And now Oscar's somewhere behind me.
                        When Sammy releases from Jerome's neck, he says, "Okay, Doc, where do you want him?"
                        Mengele gestures to a set of double doors on Sammy's left.
                        Oscar picks Edgar up and we follow Sammy and Mengele into a large examination room with two tables and lots of equipment.
                        Sammy lays Jerome face up on one table while Oscar puts Edgar on the other. The front of Jerome's pants are wet with a round stain.
                        "Got the whole building to yourself, do you?" I ask Mengele.
                        Instead of answering, he looks at Sammy.
                        "The Doc maintains this lab, and the clinic next door," Sammy says. "He performs a great public service here."
                        "Just how many more team-mates do we have?" I ask Sammy.
                        "Well, the Doc isn't really a member of the team," Sammy answers. "He's more like an independent contractor."
                        I look at Sammy, then at Mengele, who is busy examining Jerome.
                        "You turned him," I say to Sammy. "And you didn't answer my question."
                        Sammy laughs.
                        "You're a sharp one," he says. "Josef and I go back forty years."
                        "You got him out of Brazil," I say.
                        Mengele begins using shears to cut the bedspread off Edgar.
                        "When you're going into the livestock business," Sammy says, watching Mengele work. "It's important to have someone who's good with livestock."
                        Mengele calls Oscar over and has him cut Edgar's clothes off as Mengele pours Edgar's head out of the pillowcases onto the table. The head lands with a thud. It's caked with dried, black stains and streaks, and Edgar's eyes are open in a droopy, sorrowful expression.
                        "Exquisite," Mengele says, talking more to himself than any of us. "I've never had a vampire corpse before."
                        He turns Edgar's head over so it's resting on its forehead. He begins examining the severed neck and making delighted little noises as he prods the flesh with his finger. He even licks his lips.
                        "Knock yourself out, Doc," Sammy says. "He's all yours."
                        I follow Sammy over to Jerome. He's unconscious and breathing heavily.
                        "But, Doc," Sammy says. "If Jerome here doesn't turn, we'll have to use Edgar's body to stage a nice accident for them."
                        Sammy looks at me.
                        "It's a real shame when two cousins get killed in a house fire," he says. "Or a car wreck."
                        Mengele comes over, holding Edgar's head in one hand, neck up.
                        "But Jerome's test came back negative," Mengele says.
                        "You yourself said your test wasn't perfect," Sammy tells him. "Let's see how negative Jerome really is."
                        "Ah, yes," says Mengele. "Of course."
                        "So get him strapped in," Sammy says. "And let me know how it goes."
                        Oscar finishes cutting away Edgar's clothes. He hands the shears to Mengele.
                        "We good here, Doc?" asks Sammy.
                        "I believe I can manage from here," Mengele replies.
                        "Oscar, get the keys out of Jerome's pocket," Sammy says. "You're driving."

Chapter 25:

                        "You need to appreciate what I've built here," Sammy is telling me. He's also typing into his cellphone.
                        We're headed east down Charleston Boulevard. We've gone a couple of blocks, passing University Medical Center.
                        "I appreciate that something happened about a year or so ago," I say. "And you started building your own little gang of vampires."
                        Sammy reads something on his phone, then types some more. Then he looks up at me.
                        "How many have you turned?" Sammy asks me.
                        "None," I answer.
                        "Not one," I say.
                        "So," Sammy says. "Everyone you've ever bitten has died. You're a real predator."
                        "And you're different?" I ask.
                        "You're right," Sammy says. "I used to be the same as you. You know how hard it is to turn someone. Most of them just seize up and die, begging for us to drain them."
                        I think of Alice, holding her head and screaming.
                        "But what if I told you the Doc has come up with a way to predict who turns and who dies?" Sammy asks. "Even before you bite them?"
                        Oscar swings the limo south on Las Vegas Boulevard.
                        "What makes you think that's a good idea?" I ask.
                        Sammy puts his phone away and leans towards me.
                        "Just how many of us do you think there are?" he asks.
                        "Not many," I answer.
                        "From what I can gather, there's maybe a hundred," he says. "On the whole damned planet."
                        "Maybe there's a reason for that," I say.
                        Sammy looks up through the open moonroof of the limousine as we pass the Stratosphere Tower.
                        "By the way," he says, pointing upwards. "We have a meeting there tomorrow. Noon. And it's with Curt. So be ready."
                        "Noon?" I ask.
                        "Don't worry," Sammy says. "We'll be indoors, and the Stratosphere's a neutral location. There'll be lots of press around."
                        "None of that reassures me," I say.
                        "Well, that's why we have you," Sammy says. "To keep us on our toes and safe."
                        Sammy hits a button and all of the limousine's windows roll down. Even the moonroof slides open. Sounds and smells rush in and swirl around. Someone in a car near us is smoking cloves.
                        The window to the driver's seat has also gone down, and the music Oscar is listening to wafts back towards us. It's the same station he had on in the van, but, when a commercial for a pawn shop ends, "In The Midnight Hour" by Wilson Pickett starts up.
                        "Turn that up," Sammy says, and Oscar cranks it.
                        We just sit for a while as the limousine cruises slowly southward with the traffic.
                        Sammy takes his phone back out and looks at it.
                        When another commercial comes on, Sammy tells Oscar to turn it down.
                        "You still have Edgar's key?" Sammy asks me.
                        I nod.
                        "Good, because you'll have to stay there a couple of days while we get you a place," Sammy says. "Oscar, take us to the building."
                        At Riviera Boulevard, we take a left off the Strip and soon we're pulling up to the high-rise. This time, instead of going down into the parking garage, Sammy is letting me off at the main entrance.
                        "I'll pick you up around ten," Sammy says. "Iris says she'll have another suit delivered in the morning."
                        I get out and the limo pulls away. Neither the doorman nor the security guards in the lobby even look at me as I go through to the elevators. I guess stepping out of Sammy's limousine is good enough.
                        Back in Edgar's apartment, I grab a bottle of water, sit on the sofa in the living room, and turn on the TV.
                        Then my phone goes off.
                        It's Iris.
                        "You need to feed?" she asks.
                        I think about it.
                        "Sure," I tell her as I put the TV on the news channel. "But only two girls."
                        "Got a preference?" Iris asks. "How about the girls from earlier?"
                        "Surprise me," I tell her and hang up.
                        I take my jacket off and put my weapons on the coffee table. Then I go and find bedding in a closet and remake Edgar's bed. I don't find another bedspread, though.
                        About ten minutes later, the girls ring the doorbell. It's Landry and the girl from my suite at the Como.
                        "You owe me a dress," says the girl as she sits on the sofa.
                        Instead of answering, I strike. As I finish, Landry starts to say something but I strike at her, too, taking a long, deep drink. I don't come anywhere near draining either of them, but I'm bloated and blood-drunk as I lay them out on Edgar's bed.
                        I'm watching the news when my phone buzzes. It's a text message from Iris.
                        U can use the PC now. U r welcome.
                        When I boot up Edgar's PC, it doesn't ask for a password, so I begin browsing, aware that Iris is watching everything I do.
                        I read up on Josef Mengele, then on Gunn Enterprises and the clinic they sponsor on Charleston Boulevard.
                        According to their website, the Las Vegas People's Clinic specializes in providing primary care to the homeless and underprivileged, under the direction of Dr. Joseph Means, who brings a wealth of public health experience from a career spent building clinics in Africa and South America. Recently, he started an outreach program focusing on rescuing teenage runaways arriving at the bus terminal.
                        The doorbell rings.
                        Through the peephole I see a man and a woman, both in sportcoats. The woman is holding up a badge.
                        I swing the door open and grab the woman by the arm, throwing her headlong into the foyer. The man's reflexes are slightly better. He pulls out a pistol, but I get to him before he can trip the safety. I crush his pistol hand and drive my other elbow into his face, spinning and pushing him into the apartment.
                        I push the man down on top of the woman, pinning her, and I smash the man's pistol hand on the floor. The weapon skids away, and he starts howling, until I reach up and snap his neck.
                        The woman is trying to crawl or turn over, but I strike, knocking her out.
                        After I make sure his spinal cord is severed, I roll the man's body off her and start going through his pockets.
                        I get his wallet, a notebook, a cellphone, and two sets of keys, one of which is just a car-key. I retrieve the man's pistol, and leave it all in a pile next to him.
                        The woman takes a few shakes to revive. She starts to scream.
                        "Stop," I say. "I'm trying to help you."
                        "What happened?" she asks.
                        "Your friend here tried to kill me," I say, turning her so she can see her partner's body.
                        The panic rises in her again, but I give her a shake.
                        "Listen to me," I tell her. "I'm going to get you out of this, but I need your help."
                        I hand over her partner's pistol. She takes it, holding it by the slide.
                        "Which one of you drove?" I ask her.
                        She's looking at the pistol and I wonder if I put enough venom in her.
                        "He did," she says. "He drove."
                        "Do you live near here?" I ask.
                        "What?" She says. "Yes. Down off Flamingo."
                        "Do you live alone?"
                        She doesn't answer, just staring at me.
                        I strike her again, pushing the venom in. Then I pull off without drinking.
                        I wait a whole precious minute before reviving her.
                        When her eyes open, I ask her, "Do you live alone?"
                        "What? Yes," she says. "What are you doing to me?"
                        I can't afford to bite her again. Not if I want her conscious.
                        "Listen to me," I say to her. "Tell me where you're parked."
                        "We-We're out front," she says.
                        I stand her up. She's having trouble focusing and I'm running out of time.
                        I kiss her.
                        When I pull back, her eyes are on mine, her pupils wide.
                        "I need you to pull the car into the parking garage," I say to her. "Can you do that?"
                        She nods.
                        "Pull the car up near the elevators on the bottom floor and wait for me," I say.
                        I lead her to the door. Before pushing her through it, I give her another long kiss.
                        "Hurry," I say. She looks at me for a second, then goes.
                        After closing the door, I get another sheet from the closet and quickly shroud the man. I don't bother with any duct tape. I strap on my pistol. I put my jacket on and put the knife in the pocket. I fill my pockets with his belongings.
                        My hope is that the foyer doesn't have a camera in it, or that the woman doesn't take off or call for backup, or that Sammy doesn't send anyone before I can get away.
                        I hoist the shrouded man onto my shoulder and check the hallway before heading for the stairs.
                        I figure I can always just drop everything and run for it.

Note: if you want to start at the beginning, go here. Chapters 22 & 23 are here.

Comments? Questions? Criticism?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chapters 22 & 23 of my vampire novel

Here is the preview of chapters 22 & 23 of my vampire novel. "Bloodsucking Vegas" is its current title, and it works on a couple of levels. But I'm still open to suggestions. Enjoy.

Note: You can start at the beginning of the novel by going here. Chapters 20 & 21 are here.

Chapter 22:

                        Now we're all sitting at Edgar's dining room table, except for Sammy, who's standing. He has a hand on Chuck's shoulder.
                        "Now, I assume everyone's been fed already," he says. They all nod, and Sammy continues, "So let's go over your assignments."
                        He points to Raymond.
                        "You roust the livestock and get them back home for the night," Sammy says. "Then you do your normal rounds. Same with you, Pike. And I want those reports on-time or earlier. You can text. It doesn't have to be email. It doesn't even have to be complete sentences. So, no excuses."
                        "Yes, sir," Pike says.
                        "And, Pike," Sammy continues. "The next time you get wind of a wanderer coming onto one of our properties, do not wait an hour before telling me. What if Henry here had left before I got the chance to recruit him?"
                        "Yes, sir," Pike repeats.
                        "Another thing," Sammy says. "Remember the rule about biting. You have to clear it with me, unless it's a contact. No exceptions. It happens again, and I won't just punish the biter. The next unauthorized bite is going to cost the entire team."
                        "Hey," Oscar pipes up. "Miles was the biter."
                        "Well," says Sammy. "The next bite costs everyone a month's cut. I'm sorry to be so harsh, but it's time we enforced some professionalism here. Besides, Miles never fed on a contact, now did he, Oscar?"
                        Oscar hangs his head and looks at his hands.
                        "And what happens when we feed on a contact, Oscar?" Sammy asks.
                        "It costs us double," Oscar mumbles.
                        "That's right," Sammy says. "It costs us double. More, actually. Because now you've turned a contact into livestock, and we have to cultivate a whole new contact."
                        Oscar shrugs without looking up.
                        Sammy squeezes Chuck's shoulder.
                        "Now, since Edgar is no longer with us," Sammy says. "I'll need you to pick up his route."
                        "Got it," Chuck says, nodding.
                        "This means you meet every contact and report everything they tell you," Sammy says.
                        "I'm on it," Chuck says to him.
                        "It's a lot of responsibility," Sammy continues. "And you have to be nice."
                        "I'm ready for this," Chuck responds.
                        "You do realize," Sammy says. "That you have Henry to thank for your promotion."
                        Chuck frowns.
                        "What?" he says.
                        "Thank him, Chuck," Sammy says. "Go ahead."
                        Chuck looks at me.
                        "Shake his hand and thank him," Sammy says, pulling Chuck to his feet. "It's what you do for people who help you get ahead."
                        Chuck takes a couple of steps towards me and holds out his hand.
                        "Thanks, Henry," he says.
                        I play along, stepping up and taking his hand and shaking it.
                        "You're welcome," I tell him.
                        We go back to our seats.
                        "Now, I didn't make you do this as just a team-building exercise," he says to Chuck. "I honestly think Henry here has done us a great service."
                        Sammy then takes the seat between me and Chuck.
                        "How's that, exactly?" asks Raymond.
                        "I'm glad you asked," Sammy says. "See, before Henry arrived, here we were, working our network and building our team, and we had no idea how soft we were. We were insulated. Protected. We had become comfortable."
                        He points to me.
                        "But then Henry comes," he continues. "And he challenges us. He sees us for what we are, and he has shown us where we need to improve. In the end, I think Henry has come here to make us better."
                        "So Miles and Edgar were weak," Chuck says.
                        "Exactly, and teams are only as strong as their weakest member," Sammy says. Again, he puts his hand on Chuck's shoulder. "It's a hard lesson, I know," he continues.
                        "He says he's second-in-command," Pike says.
                        Sammy smiles at me.
                        "I think that's a fair assessment of the situation," he says. He looks back at Pike and says, "Unless, of course, you wish to challenge his authority. I mean, I like to reward proven talent. So would you like to put your talents up against his?"
                        Pike looks at me and goes slack-jawed. He shakes his head.
                        "Um, what do I do?" asks Oscar.
                        "You're with me," Sammy tells him. "You and I are going to help Henry clean up his mess."
                        Soon, I'm in the master bedroom with Sammy and Oscar. Pike and Chuck have left, and I hear Raymond waking the girls up in the living room.
                        "Fuck that," says one of them. It sounds like Renee. "It's early," she says. "Let's party."
                        "You know the rules," I hear Raymond telling her. "Just be back by morning and keep your cellphone on."
                        The girls start making whoops as they go out the front door.
                        "So, second-in-command," Sammy says to me as he gestures towards Edgar. "Any ideas?"
                        "Are you going to tell me you don't already have a procedure for this?" I say to him. "You've got a high-rise full of vampires and livestock."
                        Sammy laughs. To Oscar, he says, "Go get the stuff from under the sink."
                        While Oscar heads for the kitchen, I ask Sammy, "What's this about routes?"
                        "Connections," Sammy replies. "I have a network to maintain. I can't do it alone."
                        Oscar comes back with a box of trash bags and a roll of duct tape.
                        "Your job is to get Edgar here all packaged up," Sammy tells me. "Oscar will go down to the garage and pull a van around. We'll take the staircase down."
                        "You don't own the whole building?" I ask.
                        Sammy shrugs.
                        "It's complicated, and it's a big building" he says. "But I'm working on it. I didn't think it would be wise to house the team in one of our resorts."
                        I look at what Oscar's holding.
                        "You expect me to chop him up?" I ask.
                        "That would be our normal procedure," Sammy says. "If this were livestock."
                        I say, "But because this is one of us, we do something different."

Chapter 23:

                        Now I've got my phone in my left hand and Edgar's shrouded body slung over my right shoulder, and I'm standing just inside Edgar's front door. The bedspread is held tight with bands of duct tape.
                        "It's clear," Sammy's voice says over the phone. "Come on out."
                        I pull the door open and sprint down the hallway to where Sammy is holding the door to the staircase.
                        We go down as fast as we can, with Sammy following me, jumping whole flights of stairs with a single stride. We make it to ground level inside of a minute.
                        Before we go through the door, Sammy calls Oscar.
                        "Are we good?" Sammy asks into his phone. When he nods at me, I go out into the parking garage.
                        We're just a couple of yards from the elevators I used earlier, but no one's around. Right in front of me, Oscar is at the back of a white windowless van with its rear doors open. I jump into it with Edgar, and Oscar slams the doors shut.
                        I drop Edgar in the back of the van and, as I slide into the passenger seat, I see Sammy's limo roll past us. Oscar gets into the driver's seat and guns it, almost rear-ending the limousine.
                        "Easy, kid," I say.
                        "Sorry," says Oscar.
                        We follow the limo out onto the street and head west. Then, at the light, we go north on the Strip. Oscar has the radio on some hiphop station with commercials between every song.
                        "Where we headed?" I ask.
                        "The lab," Oscar replies. He begins mouthing the words to the rap song on the radio while easing us into the left lane behind Sammy's limo.
                        I roll down the window to let in some of the night air. Vehicle exhaust clouds the scent of the crowds on the sidewalks. And even though I'm full, it's intoxicating.
                        A truck passes us in the center lane. It has a glass cage on its bed. The edges of the cage are outlined in pink neon and there's a giant, lighted sign on top. CRAZY'S. Inside the cage, a woman in a bikini dances around a brass pole.
                        Oscar points.
                        "Technically, that's illegal," he says. "But Sammy keeps all the right wheels greased."
                        "Sammy owns that place?" I ask.
                        "Not on paper," Oscar says. He chuckles. "One time," he tells me, "The cops tried to shut those trucks down. Said it was unsafe because the girls didn't have seatbelts. So we just tied the girls to the poles in, you know, a very suggestive way. And we put a sign on the side saying something like 'Come to Crazy's Where These Girls Get Turned Loose!' It turned the whole thing into a news story. Best publicity you could imagine."
                        On our right is the Sahara, with its rollercoaster running along its front. Looming ahead of us is the needle-topped spire of the Stratosphere Tower.
                        Oscar puts the van in the left-turn lane.
                        "When did Sammy turn you?" I ask.
                        Oscar frowns.
                        "Well, it was right after I got the security job," he replies. "I'd put in for it, did the interview, and they told me I had to get this check-up to make sure I was healthy enough for the job."
                        He shakes his head.
                        "No, wait," he continues. "It was after that. I got the job, and at orientation, Sammy was there. So was Edgar."
                        The left-turn arrow comes on. First, the limo goes, then we do.
                        "It must have been then," Oscar says. "I just remember him walking up and saying, 'Congratulations.' Then bang. I wake up like this."
                        He goes back to mouthing the words to the song on the radio.
                        We roll further west and then, after going under the Interstate, we turn north on Rancho Drive.
                        "How'd you feel when you realized what Sammy did to you?" I ask.
                        "Oh, I was pissed," Oscar says. "But I got over it. I mean, Sammy's a persuasive dude. And he basically made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Besides, why would I want to?"
                        "How does your family feel about how you've changed?" I ask.
                        "What family?" Oscar says. "I'm an orphan. I was living out of my pickup when I got the porter's job. Now I got a nice place, lots of women, and more money than I can spend."
                        "Yeah," I say. "It seems like a good gig."
                        "Sure is," Oscar says. "And now, with you, we're total badasses. I mean, I'm not real happy about Miles and Edgar, but you gotta know I'm cool with you being the new right-hand man. I'm down with the program, with you teaching us some moves."
                        "Well," I say. "I've never really been part of a team before."
                        "Feels good," says Oscar. "Don't it?"
                        We turn right on Charleston Boulevard, go down a block and take another right, driving around the side of a square, two-story building. Ahead of us, Sammy's limo stops at the entrance, but we keep going to the back, where there's a recessed loading dock.
                        Oscar backs the van up to the dock, leaving just enough room to open the rear doors.
                        I get out of the van and come around just as Oscar pops the rear doors from the inside.
                        The dock is unlit, but that's not a problem for us.
                        On the dock, there's an open set of doors leading into the building, and Oscar steps out of the van, turns and picks up Edgar with both hands, and heaves Edgar through the open doors like a missile.
                        Oscar jumps onto the dock, following Edgar's flying corpse. I do the same.
                        Edgar travels feet-first for a couple of yards at about knee-level before hitting the floor of the long, brightly-lit hallway and skidding like a log down a flume. The shrouded corpse comes to a stop at the feet of an old man in a white lab frock.
                        I almost swear out loud.
                        Another fucking vampire.
                        As we get closer, I size him up. He has the appearance of an elderly white man, complete with liver spots and a bald head and bristly white eyebrows and big bushy mustache that almost makes me crack up.
                        But, as a vampire, he's not as old as I am. And he knows it.
                        "How's it going, Doc?" Oscar asks. "This is Henry."
                        I hold out my hand and the lab-frocked vampire takes it. I give his hand a friendly shake but I don't let go.
                        "Glad to meet you," I say. "What should I call you?"
                        "A pleasure," he says to me. "Call me Doc. It's what everyone calls me."
                        I can't place his accent. He's worked hard to make it sound American.
                        "What's your real name?" I ask him. "The one you had before you were turned."
                        His smile is gone. I squeeze his hand and step into him, taking his shoulder with my other hand and pulling him to me until our noses almost touch.
                        "Tell me," I say. I can feel Sammy getting closer, so I don't have much time. I squeeze his shoulder, coming close to snapping his collarbone. He winces. "Tell me," I say again.
                        "Josef," he stammers. "Josef Mengele."

Note: You can start at the beginning of the novel by going hereChapters 20 & 21 are here.

Comments? Questions? Criticism?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chapters 20 & 21 of my vampire novel

Here's chapters 20 & 21 of my vampire novel. Which means I've now previewed a full quarter of the finished product. But I've been touched and inspired by the number and range of responses, so I'll probably keep adding to the preview until the book itself is published.

Also, the new working title is "Bloodsucking Vegas" - which is a compromise of several suggestions I've gotten. It's growing on me. Let me know what you think.

Warning: there's R-rated material below.

Note: you can start at the beginning of the story here. Or backtrack to chapter 19 by clicking here.

Chapter 20:

                        Iris leads four women into the living room. They're all big-boned, fleshy girls in cocktail dresses. I shake each one's hand as Iris introduces them, which cracks them up. Landry, Dana, Renee, and Pru, all looking at me with wide eyes.
                        The girls sit on the couches, and one of them turns the TV on. Pru, a redhead who's easily the shortest of the bunch, sets a bottle of tequila on the coffeetable.
                        "Well," Iris says as she slides her laptop into her messenger bag. "I'll leave you all to your fun."
                        "Bye, Iris," the girls say in a rough chorus.
                        "This is for you," says Iris, handing me Edgar's keycard. Then she leaves.
                        "Is Edgar joining us?" asks Landry, a tall brunette, as she opens the tequila.
                        "He's working," I say.
                        The taint off these girls is dizzying. They're shared livestock. I'm nearly nauseated.
                        "You girls live here in the building?" I ask.
                        "We're on fifteen," Pru says. "If you ever want to stop by."
                        They all laugh at this.
                        I join Pru on the loveseat.
                        She leans into me, putting a hand on my chest.
                        "You know," she says. "We have a rule about new guys."
                        "Oh? And what would that be?" I ask her.
                        "You gotta bite all of us," says Renee, the black one.
                        "Well," I say, putting my hand on Pru's cheek and tilting her head away from me. "I'd better get started."
                        I strike, hitting Pru just above the collarbone. The hand she's got in my crotch clenches, but nowhere near enough to hurt. As I drink, she rubs furiously. I drive in deep, giving her almost too much venom. She slumps against me and I lean her back, with her head against the armrest.
                        I stand.
                        "Who's next?" I ask.
                        "Well, you're not much of a drinker, are you?" Renee says, getting up. "But I can see you're in the mood to party."
                        "I just didn't want to fill up before I get a taste of the whole menu," I say.
                        Renee throws herself at me. I catch her, holding her ass as she wraps her legs around my waist. She has my head in her hands and presses my face into her neck. Her bosom is mashed against my chest so I have to crane my neck for a bite. Once I get my fangs in, she relaxes, letting out a sigh. Her legs are still locked around me, so I'm able to get my arms under her armpits.
                        She tastes even worse than Pru, and I only take a swallow before putting her down at the other end of the loveseat. I have to reach back and pry her legs apart to free myself, even though she's unconscious.
                        Landry and Dana are on the sofa. Landry pats the seat between them while Dana takes a long swig of tequila. I sit and put my arms around them.
                        "Now," I say, playing along. "Which of you is my entree, and which of you is dessert?"
                        They giggle at this, but, really, I feel a little sick.
                        Once I'm done, I go into the bathroom off the master bedroom. The shrouded bulk of Edgar still lies on the bed. It was careless of me to leave the bedroom door open. Or was it? Having one of the girls find Edgar would have forced my hand.
                        I take my jacket off and hang it from the hook on the back of the door. I undo the top buttons of my shirt. I roll up my sleeves and take a washcloth and soak it with hot water and slowly wipe my head and neck and chest, scrubbing any trace of slobber from the livestock. Then I brush off the jacket with my hand. I give it a spritz from some of Edgar's cologne.
                        I decide to sit in the dining room, turning on the flatscreen above the sideboard. This one doesn't break into quarters like at the Como, but I get the channel eight news on the main screen and put a small, soundless version of the classic movie network in the upper corner. "Out of the Past" with Robert Mitchum is just starting.
                        I pull out my phone. The first thing I do is turn off the ringer. Then I pull up a browser and begin searching under "Curt Dirigian" and find a long article in Wikipedia. Dirigian helped make the original land purchase for Caesars Palace, after building his fortune creating Dirigian World Airlines. When it opened in 1969, Dirigian's Las Vegas Majestic was the largest hotel in the world. Nowadays, he is the controlling interest in Stripline Gaming, which owns and operates nine Las Vegas properties, including a majority stake in the CityScape complex.
                        Later, as Jane Greer mouths to Robert Mitchum she doesn't want to die, the phone vibrates in my hand. An incoming call. From Sammy.
                        "I've been a good boy," I say as I pick up.
                        "No casualties, then?" Sammy asks.
                        "Not yet," I say. "I just saw the promo for your interview with Curt. You're a regular pillar of the community."
                        "You feeling well-nourished?" Sammy asks.
                        "Still getting used to the taste," I say. "What's the plan with Edgar?"
                        "We got that covered," Sammy says. "You're about the meet the rest of the team. Remember the rules, Henry."

Chapter 21:

                        I get up and go into the living room. The girls are still passed out. I turn and pull the curtain back from the patio door, slide it open, and step out. Straight ahead of me, down the block, is the Riviera. Just beyond is the Circus Circus, with its wide white towers and purple dome.
                        But the night breeze isn't any more refreshing than feeding on the livestock, because I smell the stink of other vampires, one of whom has just crawled over the rail at the far end of the patio.
                        I think about shooting him in the face. But I don't.
                        "You Henry?" he asks. He's a tall, wiry hispanic wearing a blue aloha shirt and jeans.
                        I nod.
                        "Where'd you come from?" I ask.
                        "My place," he says. He walks up and holds out his hand. We shake. He's a fledgling. He's trembling but working hard not to show it. "My name's Oscar," he tells me.
                        I think about breaking his neck but decide not to.
                        I step aside to let him through the patio door.
                        "Where's Edgar?" he asks.
                        "The bedroom," I say.
                        As he passes the snoring girls he says, "Enjoy your snack?"
                        "I've had better," I tell him.
                        "I've heard the free-range stuff tastes kind of gamey," Oscar says.
                        I follow him into the bedroom.
                        Oscar gives a little whistle when he sees Edgar's shroud.
                        "You got him all wrapped up and ready for shipping," he says.
                        "He pulled a gun on me," I say.
                        "So I've been told," Oscar says.
                        "How long have you worked for Sammy?" I ask.
                        "About a year," Oscar tells me.
                        He walks up and pokes the shroud, as if not quite believing it's Edgar.
                        "How long since you got turned?" I ask.
                        "About a month," Oscar replies. "It's cool. My place isn't as nice as this, but it's getting there."
                        "What did you do before?"
                        "I was a porter," Oscar tells me. "Then this posting for a security job went up. I put in for it. The rest is history."
                        I hear a ringtone, a song I don't recognize.
                        Oscar pulls a phone out of his pocket and puts it to his ear.
                        "Yeah?" he says. "No...I know...But I'm already here."
                        He pulls the phone away from his head. The doorbell rings.
                        "I'll get it," Oscar says.
                        I go out to the living room with him, and he continues on to front door. When he comes back, Pike and two other guys are following him, a stocky white guy and an older black man with a gray afro. Pike and the black man are in uniform. The white guy is in an Oakland Raiders jersey and jeans.
                        Pike looks like he swallowed something that he can't quite get down.
                        I stick my hand out to him.
                        "So we meet again, Pike." I say. "Why don't you introduce me to your friends?"
                        Pike takes my hand, gives it a quick shake, and lets go.
                        "Uh, this is Raymond," he says, pointing to the black man. Then he points to the Raiders fan. "And this is Chuck."
                        "Miles was my best friend," Chuck says to me.
                        I think about how I'd do this, reaching out and snapping Chuck's neck, then kicking Raymond and pulling my pistol to shoot Pike and Oscar. It would take a bit of luck to pull off.
                        "Well, Miles wasn't very smart," I say. "He didn't know his place."
                        "Take it easy," says Raymond. "Sammy says we're all on the same team, right?"
                        "Tell that to Miles and Edgar," Chuck says.
                        "You seem a little slow," I say, taking a step towards him. "And I doubt Sammy would approve of your manners."
                        Chuck backs up a couple of feet.
                        Pike is looking at the girls when he says, "Why don't we take this into the dining room?"
                        "That sounds like a good idea," I say. "Let's get to know each other."
                        At the dining room table, I take the seat at one end while Pike sits in the chair at the other. Raymond and Oscar sit on the same side, facing the living room, with the flatscreen TV on the wall behind them. Chuck sits on the other side but at Pike's end of the table.
                        A commercial for toothpaste is playing, while up in the corner, it's a scene from "The Killing" with Sterling Hayden.
                        "Is this the whole team?" I ask Pike.
                        "This is everyone," Pike says.
                        "Except for Sammy," Raymond adds.
                        "And Miles and Edgar," Chuck says.
                        "Listen," I say to Chuck. "I'm sorry about your friend. But he crossed the line when he got in my face before I knew who he was. And I gave him a chance to back off, but he kept coming. Isn't that right, Pike?"
                        Again, Pike looks like he's choking down something he can't quite swallow.
                        "That's one way to put it," he says.
                        "What the fuck are you talking about?" Chuck asks him. "You said he ripped Miles's head off as he was getting on the elevator! After he'd already taken your guns away!"
                        "Yeah," says Pike. "I said that. But he's right about Miles coming at him."
                        "And I'm supposed to believe that Edgar just went psycho?" Chuck says. He's worked up enough that he's looking at me now.
                        "You know," I say. "Out in the real world, when monsters like us meet, it usually ends with one of us dead."
                        "How long you been one of us?" Oscar asks.
                        "Longer than you've been alive," I tell him. "And I'm not exactly sure I'm one of you yet."
                        "Longer than Sammy?" asks Oscar.
                        "What do you think?" I reply.
                        No one says anything for a moment, and I smile at Chuck. He's stopped looking at me. Instead he just keeps glancing at Pike.
                        "Are there many of us out there?" Raymond asks.
                        "Not many," I say. "But we do occasionally meet."
                        "So it's kill or be killed," says Chuck.
                        Quicker than he can react, I move, coming out of my chair to stand next to him, leaning down into his face.
                        "That's right, Chuck," I say. "So you better be ready."
                        No one moves. They're shocked. I could easily kill them all right now, without resorting to the pistol. It'd be interesting to try, anyway.
                        But I just sit back into my chair.
                        "And from what I see," I continue. "You guys are nowhere near ready."
                        "So you're saying that Sammy brought you in to whip us into shape," Raymond says. "Like some kind of consultant."
                        "Maybe," I tell him. Raymond looks like he could be a distinguished, middle-aged professional. Maybe a school principal or a lawyer. But I can tell he's as new as Pike. And in that uniform, he looks ridiculous.
                        "You looking to take over for Sammy?" Raymond asks.
                        "Definitely not," I say. "But I will say this. Sammy's our boss. What he says goes. But when he's not around, I'm in charge. Right, Pike?"
                        Pike nods.
                        "Is that how Sammy sees it?" asks Chuck.
                        "That's how it is," I say.
                        I hear the front door open. I stand, and so does everyone else.
                        Sammy comes in. He's dressed casually, in a white shirt, a black sportcoat, and jeans.
                        "Well, now that you've introduced yourselves," he says. "I think it's time we get to work."

Note: you can start at the beginning of the story here. Or backtrack to chapter 19 by clicking here.

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